“Tell me about it. I’m so ready to do a story on jail reform.”
“So, I went back home and thought that if you couldn’t be here to sign the forms that I could be here for you. I mean, look at that bailiff. His pants crease is crooked, his hair is a disaster and he has a crust of pastry on his lip. Do you really think he’s taking a good look at who signs this crap? Hell, he doesn’t even look in the mirror. So I came to sign for you in case you didn’t make it.”
This isn’t the first time today I’ve heard something unbelievable, but my heart is actually pounding as I process what she is telling me.
“Janice! That’s perjury. Lying to a court is a federal crime!” Now, I’m whispering. “You could go to prison if you got caught.”
“Duh,” she says rolling her eyes. “I’m aware of that. I watch Law and Order too, you know.”
“You would have...” I pause to let the reality of this wash over me in an overwhelming wave of humility and gratitude. “You would have gone to prison for me?”
“Of course I would, Julia. You’re family to me, and a better sister than my real sister. I love you.”
“Miss Julia Sharp, step forward,” the bailiff calls. I wish Janice hadn’t pointed out the pastry because now that’s all I’m going to see.
“Tell me one thing,” I say to her quickly as I turn to sign the rejoinder. I point out her ludicrous disguise from head to toe. “Do I really look like that?”
Hands on her hips, lips pursed, she answers me in her loving, droll fashion.
“Honey, you look a lot worse.”
I laugh and walk over to the bailiff. Paul explains each form I’m signing and points out the many initials and signatures required. The bailiff says he will now present the documents to the court and we will be seen momentarily.
Finally, after all the tears, danger, laughter, running, fighting, and hoping…our moment has arrived and it will be settled one way or another. I give Mark a huge hug and feel his strength as he stands with me, his arm around me in public. No more hiding, no more lies.
His lips brush my cheek in a quick kiss as we stop, frozen in the moment. I look around at the motley crew assembled for what may well be the defining decision in the future of my career. Paul—my attorney, passionate and gifted, Valerie—a powerful rival, now a respected peer, Kevin—a symbol of my employees, loyal and willing, Robert Clank—needed and able, ready to help. Janice—my best friend, full of love and courage, and Mark.
Mark—my lover, my light, my friend, my strength, my mentor, my… soul mate. I nestle myself against his strong body and smile at this family of friends. I’ve been through a lot, my company lost, my father gone, my inner self challenged and exposed. Through it all, I finally understand, I have never been alone.
“Thank you, all,” I say with a full heart. “No matter what happens, thank you.”
The large double doors down the hall open and the untidy bailiff with the big booming voice calls out.
“Sharp versus Sandstone Ventures. Proponents step forward and be heard.”
The warmth of the bailiff’s signing room stands in direct contrast to the coolness of court. I’m sitting with Paul at the proponent’s table. Because it is a rejoinder the defender’s table is empty, which lifts my spirits because if I had to look at Blake Stone and watch him worm his way into getting Lynx, I think I would end up getting arrested for a third and final strike.
Mark and Kevin sit behind me, with Valerie and Mr. Clank behind them. I think she purposely didn’t sit with Mark, but it wouldn’t matter if she did. Throughout this crisis, I finally managed to cross the line. When I saw Valerie and thought she was getting ownership of Lynx, I was furious but I knew Mark had nothing to do with it, or if he did, it was for the best. I trusted him instinctively. I don’t know if he noticed that or not, but it sure made me feel good.
The good news is that I don’t have to say anything unless asked. Paul lays out our case that Blake as the co-president of Sandstone Ventures had no right to close down Lynx without cause and any cause he could produce would be unfounded due to the fact he compromised Lynx’s accounts for his own embezzlement scheme. Paul did a masterful job showing the links between Blake, Kenneth, the computer program, and the legal maneuvering Blake used to push me out of the way. Valerie and Kevin both rise in their seats and affirm their testimony about Blake’s misdeeds. The judge then gets to the records and graphs which show the “how” of the embezzlement.
“Mr. Mark Stone, please approach the proponents table,” the judge say, flipping back and forth through the pages on his desk. Mark rises and comes about the table, placing his hand on my shoulder because he can tell I’m concerned.
“Mr. Stone, did you supply these numbers, charts and records for this rejoinder?”
“Yes, your honor,” Mark says without waiting for Paul to give him a nod. Mark’s clearly used to making his own way in the world.
“Considering the fact I’ve heard all about stolen photographs, illegal internet connections and unlawfully obtained information in this case, would you please verify for me that you obtained this evidence in a clearly legal and above-board fashion?”
My mind flashes to Mark, placing the fake folder in the bookshelf and taking the real one while I am offering sexual favors to his brother. There was nothing clear, legal or above board about any of it. If he lies, it’s perjury. That may not send him to jail but it would certainly ruin his reputation as an investor and venture capitalist. I bite my lip and look at Paul, who doesn’t seem afraid in the slightest.
“I am the co-president of Sandstone Ventures. I have just as much right to the records of my company as my brother Blake Stone. They were my documents to take, and mine to turn over to the court, your honor.”
“Mr. Stone, don’t you find it a conflict of interest that a co-president of Sandstone Ventures is standing on the proponent’s side of this rejoinder?”
“Not at all, Sir.” The judge may have legal authority, but Mark clearly owns this room. “I am standing on the side of what is legal, what is fair, and what is morally right. Nothing about Sandstone’s position in regard to the transfer of Lynx Magazine or the firing of Miss Sharp can say that.”
“Thank you, Mr. Stone.” The judge nods, satisfied with the answer. I let out a long-held breath, and smile when I hear Mark call me by my business name. I’ve gotten used to being just “Julia.” Mark takes the seat next to me at the table, places his assuring hand on my leg and winks at me when no one else seems to be looking. God, I love this man!