The Last Text
“Junie Robeson,” the sharply dressed lawyer spoke to her, “how long have you been working at the Happy Hyper Diner?”
Junie rolled her eyes. That cafe name would go down as the worst in history. Her brother, also a lawyer, responded for her.
“Ms. Robeson has been a valuable employee at the, er, diner—community diner—for nearly 20 months.”
“And What is your textual relationship with my client, Ms. Robeson?”
“Textual relationship? That’s not a thing.”
“Junie,” her brother shushed her. “Let me speak. You shouldn’t speak.”
“Come on Sam. You know that’s not a thing. This whole thing is ridiculous. I had nothing to do with the robbery.”
Older brothers were the worst. Sure, he was a free lawyer, but why had she been called in, anyway? She shouldn’t be a suspect. She was a normal teenage kid.
There had been a crime. Fairly early in the evening, after dark on a Monday night—that’s right, on a normal, boring, weekday night in her hometown—someone had broken into the local restaurant, where she happened to work, and they had taken something so stupid, so trivial, that she couldn’t believe the case was even being investigated.
The thief had stolen a pitcher—hardly bigger than a mug, shaped like a penguin. It was ridiculous.
In a way she could see why the penguin pitcher had been stolen. It was a special piece—locally renowned.
So many cheesy echoes should follow that statement.
At the Happy Hyper Diner, the only restaurant in town, on your birthday you could order a pitcher of the house wine or coffee or whatever, and when it was delivered, every member of the waitstaff would gather around you and sing to you as you took your first sip. Ridiculous.
But she got it. She had seen the glow in their eyes. She could only imagine some customer putting the pitcher on display in their home on a top shelf.
Bragging rights for life.
After the preliminary hearing, Junie turned to her brother with an intentionally exaggerated roll of her eyes. “Why are we doing this?”
“It’s the law, little sister. We’re not choosing whether or not to go to Disneyland. If you are suspected of a crime, you have to defend yourself.” He raised his eyebrow at her, “Can you?”
“You think I did it! Why!?” They stopped where they were in the parking lot, near the family sedan that used to be her mother’s but was now Junie’s. “Explain yourself.”
“Fine.” He put out his hand. “I’m driving, obviously.”
“What do you mean, obviously?” She didn’t really need to protest. The first snow had fallen the night before, after a whole lot of rain, so the roads were not pleasant.
He sighed and started the car, going to work turning up the heat and defrost, but turning down the fan. “Why didn’t I drive initially? At least I have seat warmers.”
“Oh, because lawyers always have seat warmers.”
“No. I have seat warmers.”
“Never mind, now why do you think I did it?”
He turned to look at her with at least an etch of pity on his face. He sighed again. He was big on sighing now that he was a full adult with a big law job—or as big as possible in this small city.
“Do you want the lawyerly version or the brotherly version?”
“I only care about the law… I certainly don’t care about your snooty opinion,” she added under her breath.
“My snooty help will be keeping you of the slammer.”
“The slammer! I would go to jail?”
He looked at her incredulously.
“I mean, if they wrongly accuse me, I could go to jail?”
“Possibly, yes. The charge is breaking and entering, and that threatening text your boss received about the singing penguin… That’s not going to be easily forgotten.” He looked at her again, probably taking in her wide eyes. “Not for long, but someone could have been hurt. The rock that was thrown through the window was not small, and again… that text.” He shook his head, as if trying to shake it off.
Junie gulped. What if they really thought that she had done it.
Her brother turned up the fan and warm air began to blow out on them. “Junie, I can help. Now, would you like my analysis of the situation, or not?”
She pulled off her gloves and held her hands in front of the vents, then pulled of her stocking cap and gave him a glance. “Yes.”
“Alright then. I would like to thank you in advance for listening to my full and well thought through analysis-”
“You, shut up. Oh! I’m an adult. How is this even happening to me? I shouldn’t be defending measly teen court cases-”
“I’m 19. I’m an adult.”
“Unfortunately- As I was saying, I am a lawyer at a highly reputed law firm.”
“Oh, get off it. You’re a lawyer at the only law firm in town, and although I’m sure you’re good, I’m still a case-”
“I know that there aren’t many cases to go around around here-”
“You just said around twice in a row.”
“Oh, just explain your ‘analysis.’”
“I heard those air quotes.”
“_That’s_ my big brother.”
“Ugh. Alright. Enough of this.”
He took a deep breath, and his face changed. She knew this face. He was changing his persona. He was about to become a lawyer. He began.
“As I see it, you are a suspect from the get-go because you work there. Anyone associated with the establishment-”
“The Happy Hyper Diner. And can lawyers say ‘get-go’?”
“Don’t interrupt, I’m in the flow. Now that is the baseline. For most employees, it stops there, but you, however, have a bit of a history.” At this point he turned to look at her in a way that made her look down in shame. How did he do that? “From what understand, during your training you refused to sing the birthday jug song aloud during your final day of orientation.”
“It was so stupid!”
“Did- you- refuse- to sing the song?”
Ugh. He was being so lawyerly. “Yes.”
“I was also told that on multiple occasions, you were said to have, and I quote, ‘a sudden case of the runs’ when were asked to join your colleagues in singing the birthday song to a family of patrons.”
“Don’t call them my colleagues. We’re a bunch of high school and college kids flipping burgers with no other prospects.”
“You’re a waitress.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Again I ask, is- this- true?”
She looked at him smugly. “Is this on or off the record?”
“Answer the question little sisty.”
Ugh. That song was the worst. And the hand actions!? Jazz hands with far too much happiness… “Yes,” she responded.
“Ok, so there are a few starting points. You have motive; you clearly hate the birthday song jug. Next, let’s talk about your alibi and your record as a rule breaker.”
“I was with Mom!”
“You weren’t with Mom, and we both know it.”
“I was with Mom.”
“Mom was home asleep on the couch after tv time, and as usual, you snuck out of the house the second the final rose put her to sleep. And don’t think that I didn’t notice that you did not deny the claim that you are a rule breaker.”
“I don’t understand how she can’t make it to the end. The whole point of the show is to see who the guy is going to kick off the show. She obviously doesn’t respect Chris Harrison.”
He barked a laugh and then closed his lips tightly. She always could make him laugh with ridiculousness.
“So you could very easily have gone out that night… from the hours of 8:45 to 11:15 when Mom got up and went to bed, you were technically unaccounted for. She doesn’t remember.”
“Living outside the law, are we?”
“You call this living outside the law!? Sneaking out after watching ‘The Bachelor’ with my mother on a Monday night!?”
“It was a Monday night. Many children are at home with their parents on a Monday night.”
“Don’t call me a child.”
“You are technically a child. You are our mother’s child, just as I am our mother’s child. That will never change.”
“You’re so weird when you’re being like this. Our mother’s child? What is that?”
“What is this!? I am working for free to protect you from a criminal record! You think that I want to be doing this right now?”
“What? You don’t like hanging out with me?”
“Oh, shut up.”
She smirked and then gave him an impudent nod. “Go on, dear brother.”
“Fine… So you have a very loose alibi, which is also weakened by the fact that just six months ago, you were ticketed for underage drinking at 11 p.m… on a Monday… Plus, when the police brought you home, you had to open the door, and there they found your mother on the couch asleep.”
“So my presumed guilt is Mom’s fault? Because she falls asleep early and then sleeps like a stump?”
“A stump? Whatever. Junie…”
“Stop. Just get on with it.”
“In addition, a witness saw you buying a Jones Soda at-”
“Well, I couldn’t well buy a beer!”
“Oh, Junie.” He shook his head as he pulled into the driveway of their childhood home, Junie’s current home. “A witness saw you buying a Jones Soda at the convenience store within one mile of the diner that night, within one hour of the break in.”
“Who saw me?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Don’t say ‘I beg your pardon’ to me. I’m your little sister.”
“That’s dumb. Don’t do that either.”
“What was your question?”
“Who saw me!? Who is it that is incriminating me!?”
“Someone has declared, on the record, that they saw you that night.”
“I cannot divulge that information at this point in time.”
“Ugh. Fine. So are you done? With your brief?”
“Yes, I do believe I am.”
“Fine then… And the brotherly version? What does my brother have to say about this court case?”
He shrugged and a faint grin slipped onto his face. “Seems like something you would do.”
The case went to trial. On the big day, Junie put on her suit, the one her mother had purchased for the many upcoming job and university interviews she was expected to have. She felt stressed; she couldn’t deny it. What if somehow, she was convicted? She was just a kid. She couldn’t handle going to jail. She couldn’t even handle a fine. All the money she’d made at the H2D went right to clothes from Maurice’s and iTunes credit. She didn’t know how to save. She didn’t know how to live. She hadn’t lived! The worries were screaming inside her. A jug—a stupid jug at the local restaurant was causing her this much strain and tension on her life. What should she do if found guilty? Should she repeal? That was the correct word, right?
The first witness, the anti-alibi, was her very own father. He looked up at her, a very guilty look on his face.
“My father is the one who is supposedly destroying my alibi?!”
“Order in the court.”
“Junie!” Her brother reprimanded seriously. “You can-not talk.”
“Ugh, fine, but you know-” She looked up at him expectantly, feeling more uncomfortable and ill at ease than she had throughout this whole ridiculous ordeal.
“I know,” he whispered. “That’s why I didn’t want you to know… I didn’t want you to get arrested for punching your father in the face the day before the court case.”
She raised her eyes to look at him. “Ya.”
She and her dad were estranged. She’d learned that word from her mother, or rather, overhearing her mother, when she was just a kid. The divorce had not done good things for their relationship.
The trial went on forever. You’d think the penguin jug was the Holy Grail. The witnesses called included her mother, who explained that she had spent a lovely evening with her daughter June, and then drifted off to sleep early on in the evening, knowing that her dear sweet daughter was home resting before the coming day of community college coursework.
It was sweet, but perhaps nearing a bit too much, Junie thought. Still, she appreciated it. Her mother had been very understanding after the underage drinking as well.
They brought in the manager who trained her, the manager who nearly fired her when she refused to be sung to on her own birthday—didn’t she have the right!? And finally, one of her coworkers, who was fine, and more or less testified in her defense, saying that Junie did her work and was a pleasant companion. Junie felt touched by this testimony, actually. In the future, she’d be sure to thank her. She would also be a little better at helping our her co-workers from now on. Lesson learned.
When it was all over, she went home. It wasn’t Christmas Eve, but it may as well have been. That day of class had been the last before Christmas break. From then on, it was nothing but baking Christmas cookies and drinking hot chocolate with a full candy cane stir stick.
Or had her case ruined that? She hoped not. It hadn’t been easy for the last few years. Her mother was essentially a single mother. Her father was around, but not exactly present. In a Christmas moment, Junie hoped that she hadn’t made this all worse for her mother. She should have been a better worker. She should have spent her evenings talking to her mother, and then maybe she wouldn’t have fallen asleep at 8:45, before the final rose was even given.
She drudged through the following days. It was not a normal Christmas, or she was not normal. It was either one or the other.
On New Year’s Eve, despite her friends’ protests, she stayed home. She felt that she owed it to her mother, after all that she’d put her through in the past year. She hoped next year would be better.
For New Year’s Eve they made cheese fondue and dipped too many random things. It was kind of fun and funny actually. They dipped bread and apples, and then later—hard cheese, and strips of bacon, tater tots, the list got longer and their creativity stronger as midnight neared.
It was fun.
Just before midnight, almost seconds before the ball dropped—they always watched it—obvs, she felt the buzz of her phone in her hooded sweatshirt pocket. She took a deep breath and pulled it out. It was unlikely that it was her brother with news, but who knows.
All charges dropped.
It was the best possible text she could receive on New Year’s Eve. It was over. Next year would be a new start after all. A feeling of warmth washed over her. Wonderful. She felt wonderful. She stood up from the baby rocker where she was sitting and moved to the couch next to her mother. She leaned into her and let out a huge sigh. Her mother’s child, for another year.
And she’d never have to sing that song again. Ugh, that glow in their eyes.
The countdown began, and she turned to look at her mother with a smile. Her pocket buzzed once more. 7… 6…
Strange, another one from her brother.
Don’t do it again.