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2| Law abiding citizen

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The judge begins to read out my court number, her voice as monotone as the machines that serve us at checkout. Then, just as slowly, she outlines my case, sometimes using the exact words from the statement I'd made shortly after my arrest.

Some of it's true, too, like how I'd woken up in the middle of the night to my mother struggling with a burglar. Or how the burglar had been trying to flee when he was shot once in the thigh, a shot, it turned out, that severed an artery. And yet there is one piece of information in the statement I'd given that she has completely and irrevocably wrong.

It wasn't me who shot him.

Afterward, my mother is called forward to the podium to give her character reference. She shifts from her seat in the spectators section and walks down the aisle. My breath hitches in my throat as she passes; I have to stop myself from reaching out to touch her. She doesn't look at me as she steps up to the podium, the microphone self-adjusting to her lithe, five-foot frame. She delves into her pocket and pulls out a crumpled piece of paper, opening it up before holding it out in front of her.

"If you could please identify yourself for the record," the judge says. 

Finally, my mother's eyes meet mine. "My name is Ana Gomez," she says, her voice wavering slightly. "I am the mother of Zoe Gomez."

I don't look at her when she speaks. I have to look at my hands because I can feel I'm on the brink of losing it, of screaming out or bursting into tears or curling into a fetal position until this nightmare's over.

"And I am here to beg you to spare my daughter's life," she says. An eerie silence befalls the courtroom. My mother takes a moment to scan the spectators. "She may have been found guilty, but she is not the murderer you're making her out to be, and the man she shot was not an innocent man. He broke into our home and tried to steal my wedding ring, the only piece of my husband I have left."

I flinch at that. She's making it sound as though my father died or something, not that he packed up his bags and snuck out in the middle of the night, never to return again.

"This man tried to strangle me," my mother says, indicating to her still bruised neck, and I swallow hard, forcing myself to look away. "I couldn't breathe, and when Lucas Reed tried to leave the house with my wedding ring, I screamed for somebody to stop him. My daughter then shot him in the leg to immobilize him."

I risk glancing at the judge to see she is focused on my mother, her eyes shining with what I'm certain is sympathy. Have I been lucky? Have I been given a judge that sympathizes with my case? If so, does this mean there's a chance my crime might not end in execution, after all?

In the state of Texas, any and all types of murder shall be met with the Harvest, America's latest method of execution. If sentenced to the Harvest, I'll be forced to lie down on a cold, metal operating table in nothing but a blue gown and have my organs removed, to be given to someone more deserving. The only exception to this rule is those who've murdered in self-defense–already ruled out in my case–and women who are pregnant, in which case they'll be sentenced after they've given birth. But maybe if my judge is sympathetic enough, she'll see reason. She'll spare my life.

"I know you think my daughter used unnecessary force, but you're wrong," my mother says, her voice harder now, more resilient. "She didn't mean to murder that intruder, and she didn't anticipate a leg shot would result in his death. My Zoe was brave that day and because of her bravery, I might be left without a daughter."

Once the judge has thanked her, my mother heads back to her seat. The next person to ascend the podium is Caroline Lewis, my employer from the diner I waitress at on the weekends. Only small diners like Caroline's still take on human servers, which means it is harder than ever for someone my age to get a job. I suspect the only reason I'd gotten it in the first place is because my mother has been Caroline's employee of the month for the last three years. I hadn't even spotted her amongst the spectators until now. It surprises me that she's bothered to make the journey at all, especially considering she's never seemed to like me all that much.

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