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this long last road

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“I’ll become a barrister,” Holly says, first jail visit to Becca, voice calm and even. Becca fidgets behind the cool blue glass, and looks so, so young. Her trial’s still months away. Holly wants to burst right through the window, wrap her arms around her, whisper into the pale delicate curve of her ear, I’ll get you out.

Instead, Holly clasps her hands on her lap, counts, one, two, three, four, heart beating fast and fierce. Last year, she could walk through locked school doors. She could summon light. This year, she tried to build them back a temple, a safe haven, an escape hatch, and it turned to dust, to shadow and smoke, right in front of her eyes. The ways she betrayed them, the ways they betrayed each other, are so staggering, if Holly thinks about them too hard, she’s left hollow, aching.

“Trust me,” she tells Becs.

***

Back at St. Kilda’s, she sits crosslegged on her yellow and white comforter, looks at Lenie, looks at Jules. Tomorrow’s the end of spring term, summer stretching out wildly, incomprehensively, ahead of them. Julia’s nearly all the way packed; Selena, barely started. Holly’s already decided: next year, she’s not boarding.

“We need to talk,” Holly says. “About the trial.” She nods at Becca’s stripped down mattress, the empty spaces where her clothes, books, slight skinny self used to be.

“What are you talking about, the trial,” Julia asks, stuffing the balled up contents of her bottom desk drawer into a giant trash bin Holly nicked from the corridor. “That’ll be ages away, and anyway, there’s not much we can do, other than show up and refuse to say anything.”

Lenie blinks, and looks up at Holly.

Holly steels herself. “We just need one shred of doubt.” She feels it resonate in her chest, her ears, her throat, and knows, knows, deep in the marrow of her bones, she could weave it together, she could wring it out of thin air. “Just one.”

“You’re mental,” Julia says, flatly. “We’ve already given our statements. Absolutely not.”

But Holly’s already thinking: what if.

***

In the end, it doesn’t matter what they do, or say, or don’t. Becca’s mother hires a lawyer who talks rings round the prosecutor, who wraps the judge and jury around her gorgeously manicured hands.

***

Holly watches them grow apart, her, and Lenie, and Jules.

Holly watches Becca’s face fall as she’s declared not guilty.

Holly watches Stephen Moran.

***

“I’m still planning on going into law,” Holly says, casually, over dinner.

“You sure that’s want you want, chickadee?” her dad says, purposefully blank face.

And—it isn’t, is the kicker. It isn’t what she wants at all. Justice, she’s learned, isn’t something won in courtrooms, in law briefs. It’s something wrested out of someone, by force, or guts, or smarts, in a small, quiet room. It’s building piece by careful piece of evidence. It’s looking into a person’s eyes and knowing, knowing, what rings true.

***

Becs, she’s lost now, with the trial in the distance, aimless, wandering. Holly used to know her every thought, every feeling, every flinch of an eye or cheek or hand. Holly used to know her inside and out. What Holly doesn’t know: what a detective can tell a person about themselves, that even a ruling of innocence can’t set them free.

***

Holly puts her application in for Garda College.

“You don’t get to pick sides with the guards, Hol, her mother says, worried. She swipes her sleek blonde bangs out of her eyes. “It’s guilty or not guilty.”

***

Holly makes a couple calls, casual, asks to confirm hours, schedule. Strolls into Dublin Castle at noon on a Thursday and asks for Moran. She lets him lead her into an interview room, ask her about a cup of coffee, or tea.

She pulls her training college paperwork, acceptance, ID, out of her bag. Pushes it across the table.

“You’ll be my mentor,” she tells Stephen. “By now, I’d say you owe me.”