ROYAL(85)

By: Winter Renshaw



Mom stares into her cup of coffee, and I’m sure she’s debating whether or not to leave the room. Talking about Royal will upset her all over again, but she needs to hear this.

“Mom, do you know what happened that night?” I ask. “Did Dad tell you?”

“Oh, um.” She looks to him then back to me. “He told me some things, yes.”

“You knew Royal just as well as any of us. Can you even believe for one moment that he did that horrible thing?” I ask.

“None of us want to believe it, Demi,” Dad interjects. “But the evidence spoke for itself.”

“So in all your years of prosecuting, you never once had a case where someone was falsely accused and deliberately set up?” I ask.

“It happens, but it’s extremely rare. The legal system has its flaws, no doubt about that, but a case like his would’ve been considered open and shut.” His thick brows rise, and his lips narrow. “I analyzed his case the way I analyze all my cases, objectively and without emotion. Emotion clouds judgment. It distorts our thinking. I treated him like a prospective client, not a family member, and I gave him my best legal opinion and did what I thought was right for us as a family at the time.”

“Yeah, well, he was like a son to you. You could’ve at least treated him with a little bit of compassion,” I say.

“Demi,” Mom scolds.

“He was nineteen, and he was terrified,” I say.

The doorbell rings, and we all glance down the hall at the same time.

“And now he’s here.” I rise to get the door, rendering my parents speechless.

Imagining how they’re going to react when they finally see him again, after all this time, makes it hard for me to breathe, but this is happening. He wanted to come here. He wanted to speak with them in person.

“Hey.” I open the door and pull him in, greeting him with a conservative kiss. A tickle of butterflies flutter in my belly when I look at him. He’s dressed up. No greasy, gray auto body uniform. No jeans and t-shirt. He’s dressed like a respectable gentleman, in gray slacks and a gingham button-down with a navy sweater over top.

He’s incredibly attractive regardless, but still, I smirk because it looks like Derek dressed him. I wish Derek were here and not manning my father’s office. These two need to reunite. Derek’s never admitted it, but losing Royal as a friend affected him deeply. I saw it in the way he befriended Brooks but always kept a bit of distance.

“Come on back. They’re waiting,” I say.

Royal slips his hand in mine, and I catch the tip of a white piece of paper poking out of his back pocket. On second glance, it appears to be an envelope.

Dad rises when Royal walks in. The air is thick, the mood tense, but within seconds, Royal extends his hand.

“Sir,” he says. “Good to see you.”

Dad nods, gripping his hand tight. “Have a seat.”

“Bliss,” Royal smiles at Mom, and she smiles back, her eyes glassy and her hand on her heart. I’m sure seeing him like this, all grown up after so much time has passed, brings up a lot of emotions for the woman who once loved him like he was one of her very own.

Royal tugs the white envelope from his pants pocket before he sits, unfolding it and pulling out a sheet of paper.

I have no idea what it is, and I sure as hell didn’t know he was bringing anything with him today. All he told me was that he wanted to talk to my parents.

“This is for you.” He hands the papers to my father, who adjusts his glasses and squints as he reads.

Dad’s chin juts out with each passing second, and then he tilts his head. When he’s finished, he folds it up and nods, giving Royal a softer glance.

“What? What is it?” Mom asks. “What does it say?”

“It’s a copy of a police statement,” Dad says. “Royal’s accuser, Misty Lockhart, has retracted her statement and accusation.”

Mom’s face lights, her hands clasping over her chest. Her eyes move from Dad’s to Royal’s and back.

“When did that happen?” I throw my arms around Royal. “I had no idea. You didn’t tell me . . .”

“It came today, along with a letter from the district attorney in Saint Charmaine.” He fights a smile that threatens to take over his entire face. “They’re working on clearing my name.”

“Oh, my God.” I squeeze him tighter. “Royal.”

“I know,” he says, burying his face in my neck.

Dad clears his throat, and I release Royal from my embrace. My father stands, and Royal follows suit.

“I need to get to the office,” Dad says.

“Robert.” Mom gives him a sideways look.

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