Jade’s stomach flipped and bumped around, worse than when a big kid pushed her on the spinner at the playground.
Someone coughed. She slid her hand into Miss Chelsea’s and wondered if Miss Chelsea could hear the thump-woosh of her heart too. They’d practiced here yesterday but there hadn’t been other people and Jade hadn’t realized how much other people would matter. She glanced at the man who sat up front, the one who wore a black bathrobe, and he smiled at her. His eyebrows swallowed up his eyes like big, hungry white caterpillars.
Jade tried to smile back but her mouth wouldn’t and her eyes prickled so she looked at Miss Chelsea instead. Miss Chelsea called her brave. Jade’s cheeks got warm. Miss Chelsea didn’t know she never stood up to the bullies at lunch and she never offered to answer the math questions Mrs. Ludlow asked even though she knew them. Brave felt big and loud, like Miss Chelsea.
Not like Jade.
She tried not to think about him at the other table but couldn’t stop even though it made her belly hurt.
Jade dropped her head and whispered, “I can’t.”
“Can you look at me?”
She peeked up and met Miss Chelsea’s kind sunshiny eyes. Her eyelashes looked like thick spider legs, the really creepy kind, and usually that was one of Jade’s favorite things about Miss Chelsea. Not now, though. Nothing felt like her favorite now.
Miss Chelsea squeezed her hand. “I know it’s scary.”
“Counsel?” The bug-brow man’s voice boomed.
Miss Chelsea stood. “Your Honor. May I approach the bench?”
The man nodded. Miss Chelsea whispered she’d be right back. Jade’s mom would call Miss Chelsea’s dress “profeshaful.” Jade figured that meant “pretty” and she thought so too. The man in the bathrobe should ask Miss Chelsea for help picking out clothes.
Jade caught words she couldn’t make sense of, like “stand” and “scared” and “Miss Trial.” Miss Chelsea tapped one finger against her leg, like she did before she said a good idea out loud. The man’s eyebrows jumped around. He waved someone over who looked like a policeman but wasn’t and they whispered. The not-policeman left and Miss Chelsea came back. She squatted down in front of Jade.
“We have a helper for you named Roxy. The judge will let you sit together, and I want you to tell your story to Roxy. Nice and loud, okay? You’ll like her, I promise.”
Jade nodded because she was supposed to. If she was bigger, she might say no thank you.
The not-policeman came back, leading a fluffy dog who wore an orange vest. The dog took two steps up to a seat by the bathrobe man. The judge, Miss Chelsea called him. Jade slid off her chair, and Roxy wagged her tail as she got closer. Jade petted her, then buried her face in Roxy’s fur and breathed in its warmth. Roxy’s tail thumped on the floor and Jade’s tears felt a little farther away.
Jade sat in the chair and Roxy put her head on Jade’s lap. She ran her fingers along the soft fur at the top of the dog’s ears. Jade focused on Roxy’s eyes, the colors of raked leaves and honey, and told the story of how Daddy’s friend hurt her.
Author Bio: Amanda Pica is a speculative fiction writer, dog lover, and peanut butter enthusiast. She lives in a state of what-if, and loves when life bends around the corners of her expectations. She has had flash fiction published in F(r)iction’s Dually Noted. Find her on Twitter at @aspicawrites.