08-30-2011, 08:31 PM
Court reconvened an hour after the judge had declared recess, just enough time for everyone to grab a bite to eat and stretch their legs or whatever. The judge entered the courtroom and sat down at the bench as the bailiff called the court to order. No one breathed a word as the judge prepared to give his verdict.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, "upon careful consideration of the testimony presented before this court, absent of any concrete evidence worthy of note, absent of any useful testimony from any of the witnesses short of hearsay and conjecture, absent of any proof whatsoever to support these charges bought against the defendant, it is the decision of this court to decide in the favor of the defendant, Criss Angel, and to dismiss these charges as unfounded." He bought down the gavel with a loud bang.
Cheers erupted from the side of the Loyals. The judge banged his gavel for order. "Furthurmore," he continued over the fading din, "furthurmore, the court charges the plaintiffs to pay all court fees for bringing these scurrilous charges against the defendant."
Mrs. Shook was aghast. "Your Honor! This is--"
"Madam," the judge interrupted her, "Whatever perceived threat you fear Mr. Angel poses is groundless; the court has not found one shread of evidence to support your claims. He has done no wrong in the eyes of the law as far as this court is concerned. You can't charge a man for sorcery and witchcraft--this isn't the seventeenth century. You claim to be a guardian of morality, yet you falsely accuse a man of being immoral, a man who had served his community with distinction in the short time he had been here. In my book, that is immoral. This case is dismissed."
A final bang of the gavel, and it was over. Criss had won again. Now, everybody would finally be convinced that he was the great guy I knew he was. He would finally be fully accepted. Oh, sure, the CBB would try to appeal, but after what the judge said about the lack of evidence, they'd be beating a dead horse as far as the legal system was concerned; it would be a waste of time and money, and I was pretty sure they were short of the latter, especially since they had to pay court costs, however much that was. I was confident that the CBB was finished once and for all.
Criss treated the Magic Castle staff to a party that evening to celebrate. I remember it as the first really "grown-up" party I ever attended. Back in the day, my party experience was limited to the cake-and-ice-cream, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey variety, or the awkward teen church social, heavily guarded by those same old biddies acting as "chaperones" keeping an eagle-eyed watch for any "inappropriate" behavior. A few lousy balloons and paper crepe streamers had done nothing to liven up the atmosphere, and the refreshments hadn't been exactly Martha Stewart quality, either--cookies and Hawaiian punch from the local grocery store with a side of corn chips. I had been served better snacks at my grandfather's funeral.
But nothing was like the party Criss threw--no chaperoning old biddies, no lame party games, and not a balloon in sight. I mean, this party rocked! Loud, jamming music, and all the pizza we could eat. We were free to mingle, to talk about whatever we wanted, to dance on the main floor. No one was allowed to smoke, but the bar was open to those old enough to drink.
Okay, I have to confess right here, I succeeded in sneaking a Coke and rum from the bar; someone had left it there and forgotten it. I knew it had rum in it because the bartender used a color-coded swizzle stick system for telling apart drinks--red for rum, white for vodka, green for gin, blue for mixed, and so on. Any drink without alcohol had a standard drinking straw. So, when I spotted that abandoned Coke and rum sitting on the bar, no one coming forward to claim it, I took a chance and swiped it when the bartender's back was turned. It was a bit watered down after sitting there in its own ice for so long, but I enjoyed it just the same. I never told a living soul about it until now, not even Criss.
That summer ended all too quickly for me. A week before Labor Day, I got a message from school reminding me to register for classes for the upcoming term. Mom had forwarded it to me with a personal note insisting I come home so I could concentrate on my education. She didn't say anything about Dad and his feelings about it.
I weighed my options. If I did move back home, I'd be subject to my parents' authority, and I liked living on my own too much to do that. But I couldn't go to school and work full time--it was my senior year, and I wanted to graduate as much as anyone. Yet I still had to consider rent and food if I stayed here with Natalie, and a part time job would barely cover those expenses. Living at home meant free room and board, but was it worth surrendering my newfound freedom?
I sat down with a piece of paper and outlined my expenses. My share of the rent was two hundred a month, laundry came to about two-fifty a week, so that was ten dollars a month, and I didn't make that many calls, so the phone bill was another ten a month, and of course the electric bill (heat and water was included in the rent, thankfully), which came to five a month on average. Natalie didn't have cable, and I used the computers in the public library, so that was a big savings right there. Food was one hundred and thirty a month, but I figured I could scale down that amount to eighty if I had to. Natalie once suggested that I apply for food assistance since I was on my own, working part time and going to school full time. I decided to take her up on that.
So my monthly expenses totalled three hundred and five dollars a month. I checked my earnings when I worked last spring. I had worked fifteen to twenty hours part time at nine dollars an hour, so I grossed one hundred and thirty five to one hundred and eighty a week. With taxes, that came to about ninety eight to one hundred and twenty a week or so. That bought my earnings to three hundred and ninety two to four hundred and eighty.
Okay, maybe I could swing it financially, I thought. Time, however, was another factor. I had to figure in homework time, and who knew what kind of assignments I would get in my senior year; I could get saddled with a major term paper for all I knew. Working and going to school wasn't going to leave me with much of a social life, not that I had much of one in the first place. I'd have to give up movies for a while.
But what if I moved back home? I could save up my money for film school and not have to worry about knocking myself out about living expenses. I'd have home cooked meals and free laundry service. I'd have more time to concentrate on my education, as Mom pointed out, and probably have a little bit of a social life on the side, provided I kept curfew and didn't run around with a bad crowd...
Curfew? Bad crowd? What was I thinking? A line I remembered from a poetry class I took in my junior year--I can't remember the author's name--sprang to mind: You can't go home again. How true that was. I could never, ever, go back to that oppressive, restricted life I had lived before-- being told what to eat, when to go to bed, how long I could stay out, forbidden to do certain things because they were deemed "unfit", and coerced into attending dull, lifeless church services every week. I would be reduced to the state of a child, and I was not a child, I was an adult. I had been earning my own living, paying my own expenses, and making my own way in the world. I had changed too much to go back to my old life of dependency.
No, I decided, I would stay here and work my way through school. It would be a sacrifice, but in the end, it would be worth it. Freedom had its price, and I was willing to pay it. I took out a sheet of paper and wrote a letter to Mom and Dad:
Dear Mother and Dad,
As much as you want me to come back home, I decided to stay here with Natalie and work part time to support myself while I go to school. I just can't bring myself to return to you, with all your rules and regulations concerning my behavior and my actions. I can no longer abide with "Do what I say, when I say", from either of you. I have been living on my own, and I like it. I have changed. I have become my own person now, with my own thoughts and opinions. I still love you very much, but I am no longer a little girl, but an adult who is capable of making her own decisions. I don't want to be stuck in this stale little town for the rest of my life as you are. I am going to follow my dreams. I am going to study cinematography and go into filmmaking. I am going to see the world. I am going to be alive! I am going to be me! I hope someday you will understand.