Gio sent Sam on ahead to tell Mary that they had a guest for dinner. Mary graciously tipped him, and put an extra loaf of bread in the oven. She then hurried to the Sean’s butcher shop, for some additional stew meat, and at home browned and added it to the stew already cooking. Her husband had said they would be home at 7, 7:30 at the latest, and it was nigh on 6. She hurried about the house, duster in one hand and her latest design portfolio in the other. Mary was a woman who appreciated order, even if their guest was a literal outlaw who’s last worry would be the state of the house. But Mary cared.
Thus, an hour and a half later, Kelly was ushered into the parlor by Gio to see everything comfortably neat. Her first impression was that she wanted to sit down and stay for ages. Mary had hit an excellent chord, making everything neatly lived in.
“Honey!” Gio called. “We’re here!”
“Right on time.” Mary came sweeping into the parlor. She kissed her husband, and turned to her guest. “It is lovely to meet you, Miss Rose.”
“Kelly, please.” Kelly let her hands be seized and herself be led into the living room.
“Dinner will be ready in only a few minutes, the bread is just cooling. Is beef stew alright?”
Kelly nodded enthusiastically. “Oh yes, anything but sausage. I see and eat it all day at the Goose.”
Mary smiled, sitting across from her on the armchair. “Oh, I understand. There was a year where my parents’ corn crop simply exploded. I remember telling my sister, ‘if we have one more creamed corn dinner, I shall go to bed hungry!”’
Kelly laughed. “Gio was quite right. You are a woman of fortitude. If I had said that, there would have been a shouting match of unrivaled volume.”
“You shouted at your parents?” Mary said, a somewhat surprised note in her voice.
“Oh yes. We are a volatile family. Everything was always forgiven, and I’m grateful for that fighting. It taught me to hold my ground. Much to my father’s chagrin, I’m sure. He probably thanks the Lord every day I’m an only child.”
Mary made sure Gio was out of hearing range, having gone to change his clothes. “If this is too personal a question, please don’t answer, but do you miss them?”
Kelly smiled. “Ask personal questions, dear. It means you’re interested in me as a person, and I appreciate that. Yes, I miss them dearly. I can’t even write them, as they couldn’t reply. I hope they don’t believe what everyone says about me.”
“You’re close, then?”
“Oh, very. It’s just the three of us, and the dog and cat. Everyone was involved in the other’s business, which you think would be aggravatin. But really, when I married, I would call on them at least three times a week, just to get out of the house. They never liked John anyway, they’d have much preferred someone like…well, just someone more attentive and carin.”
Mary laughed. “My parents were alarmed at how attentive Gio was! They thought for sure he was makin a show of it.”
“Well he certainly isn’t!” Gio had come back in time to defend his honor. “Are we gossipin already?”
“Oh yes we are dreadfully vapid,” Mary assured him. “Nothin but the most scandalous tidbits for us.”
Kelly laughed. “Speakin of tidbits, is there anythin I can do to help with dinner?”
“Well you could help my husband set the table, if you’d be so kind.” Gio helped his wife to her feet, gave her a kiss, and led Kelly over to the silver drawer. He passed her the steel set (the true silver was all antique, family heirlooms. He quite hated the design). Mary and Kelly chattered between the dining room and the kitchen; Gio noticed Mary tactfully did not mention the trial. He assumed she knew of the other sheriff’s arrival, as word had spread like wildfire. Mary asked her what she would like to do as a vocation, if she could. Kelly seemed surprised, but answered that she would like to write; “Books and articles and such. Maybe I could take up art.” She said as Mary pulled the bread from the oven. “But in any case, I would like to stay in Haven. Perhaps move my parents here. My mother would be right at home. My father would certainly enjoy the Goose, he loves a good pub. And he could find work here. He’s a builder.”
“Oh, certainly, folks are fixin up left and right these days.” Mary brought the breadboard out, Gio following with the tureen of stew.
“You both are so kind for havin me.” Kelly said as Gio handed her a steaming bowl.
“No no, we love havin dinner guests. And please forgive me for saying this, but you are the most interestin dinner guest we’ve had in a long time!” Mary quipped. Kelly laughed.
“Hey, Sass is interestin!”
Mary rolled her eyes at her indignant husband. “Oh, Sass. We’ve known him since childhood, we know everythin already!”
“Have you really?” Kelly exclaimed enthusiastically, poised with her wine glass. “Oh tell me everythin! What was he like when he was younger? Was he quite as grouchy?”
“Oh he was positively wild,” Mary said, buttering her slice of bread. “Always running off these two, to some big adventure. Though I must admit, I tagged along more often than not.”
“More often than not, my hat!” Gio cried. “You were the chief architect in those adventures. Why, you built our carts! Our slingshots! This woman you see before you,” he appealed to Kelly, “could hit a fly out of the air at 50 paces with a slingstone! She built a raft for us, and when the springs were no longer full enough to sail, she turned it into a sleigh for haulin supplies for campouts. Sass and I were but her lowly subjects, toilin in the hot hours of the day, lest she sent a stone at our -”
“Now see here, I’ll sling that stew right over your head!” Mary chided as Kelly cried with laughter. Gio threw his hands in the air with an enormous grin.
“Do ye remember the time we had to rescue Elek from the schoolhouse before Miss Heather caught him writin dreadful messages on the blackboard?” Mary asked him.
“He didn’t!” Kelly giggled. “Did you succeed?”
“Oh yes, but we had to sneak him out in a cart full of dirty chalk rags! He looked like a ghost for a week, clouds comin off him every time he sneezed!” Mary told the story, Kelly laughing and Gio objecting, and they passed a very pleasant evening.
“Have you always been friends?” Kelly asked them over dessert.
“Sass and I were raised together, and Mary moved to Haven when we were 7 or so.” Gio said. “I never thought I’d be so lucky.”
Mary smiled at her husband, and Kelly sipped the last of her wine, closing her eyes and letting herself enjoy, perhaps only once more, the feeling of safety and peace and softness of friendship.
With the trial looming, Elek released Kelly from her official duties at the Goose and offered the bar as a workspace. In the two days leading to opening statements, the Admiral and Kelly poured over every aspect of the case. There were few photos of the crime scene, but the Admiral said he could still glean information. His list of witnesses included several of Kelly’s relatives, in-laws, a banker, a renowned gunsmith, old friends. A few names had not responded, and some witnesses the Admiral refused to tell her about. They hadn’t even been on the list of addresses he asked her for.
“Trust me, my dear, I have a plan. Now, about this clause of the will…”
The day of the trial, Kelly awoke at 5:00 on the nose. She heard the front door close, and Jones whistle to his horse. She sat on the edge of her bed, looking at the grey frock she’d chosen last night. She felt quite numb. The sound of birds outside, carts going by, seemed dulled in her ears. She wondered for a brief moment if perhaps the universe outside her room had stopped existing, and she was hearing echoes. She fervently hoped it had. But then she remembered Gio smiling at Mary over dinner, Sass laughing at her jokes, Owen’s stories at the bar, the Admiral’s reassuring voice, Persephone’s gentle nudge for more oats. She put on the dress.
As she looped a ribbon around her frenched braid, there was a knock at the door. “Come in,” she said. Gio stepped into her room.
“Oh, good morning,” she said, smiling at him in the glass. “I’m ready. I thought this-” she gestured to herself “would look right.”
“You look lovely. Deceivingly demure.” Gio nodded. “I just came to see if you needed anything.”
She let her smile fade. “No,” she said quietly, “no, I’m not quite sure what I’m feeling right now.” She rubbed her side. Walt had taken the stitches out the day before, but it still ached.
Not for the first time that morning, Gio was glad he was not acing as judge, as he did for small cases. He had grown to like this young woman, and feared for her. She was a good friend for him, even with the unorthodox situation. “Shall we?” Gio opened the door.
“Gio,” she said. He turned back to her. “If I come through this…that is, if I am found innocent and free, I was wonderin…I don’t know where to go and-”
“Kelly,” Gio said, in the most heartfelt interruption, “Haven is, and always will be, lucky to have you, and a home if you have us.”
Kelly made a choked squeaking noise and flung herself at him for a hug. He hugged her back, and laughed. “Oh little lady, I wouldn’t have it any other way. And neither would Mary, nor Sass. We’re here for you, ye know that, don’t ye?”
Kelly nodded into his shoulder. He patted her head and she pulled away, hastily dabbing at her eyes, though smiling now. “Now let’s get some coffee and a good breakfast in ye. You’ll need it.”
The courtroom was packed. Nearly all of Haven had turned out to see the trial. Kelly nervously walked to the council desk. Mary reached out from the rows of seats to squeeze her hand as she passed. The Admiral was waiting at the gate separating the onlookers from the proceedings; he opened it for her and pulled out her chair. Just 20 paces to the left, Thomas and his council leered at her.
“An excellent choice of outfit, my dear.” The Admiral whispered to her. “Very understated.”
“It’s the only thing! Look at all these people! My god, Admiral, less people were at Jesus’s trial!”
The Admiral chuckled as the courthouse usher called out, “All rise for the Honorable Judge Fauna!” A stately, purposeful woman strode into the room. Kelly was unsurprised; the Admiral had told her before the Haven had elected one of the first female judges in the country. Thomas, however, looked livid.
“What is this?!” He burst out. “I will not be handed a verdict by a mere woman pretending to wear the robe!”
The judge, not yet at her bench, turned to him frostily. “Then,” she said in a clear and cool voice, “You are fortunate in that I am no mere woman. I am a judge of American law, certified and with better credentials than any other judge in 5 counties…including your own. You may sit, Sheriff.”
Thomas sat, shaking with rage. Kelly smiled. The judge sat at her bench, smacked her gavel, and commanded, “Let this case, 331, State v. Rose, commence. Opening Statements!”
And with that, the trial began.