As I walked into the small courtroom, my nerves were at an all time high. My thoughts were running a mile a minute. I couldn't speak, I couldn't think and I didn't know what to feel. The pounding in my chest and the sweat building in my palms reminded me of how nervous and anxious I felt. Today was going to be the day that determined the rest of my life. Well not just my life, our life.
How did we get here? How has this been our life for the past year?
Ben didn't deserve this. None of this was his fault. No matter how hard I tried to prove otherwise, no judge or jury wanted to listen to him. They sealed his fate long before he ever faced a jury at his trial. The second Ben was arrested, our fate was sealed. I knew it would be a hard-fought battle, but I never could have imagined just how hard this could get.
I guess that's what happens to men like Ben when they don't have the money or power like other men in this town do. Ben was a good man, no correction, he is a good man. He had a dark past that no one besides me was ever able to look past. When I look at Ben, I don't see the things he did or the man he used to be. I see the man that he is now, the man who loves me and has always taken care of me, from the first moment I laid eyes on him in the cabin.
I sat down in the courtroom in the first row that was behind the defense table. The small knot that had been in my stomach grew intensely when I stared at the empty chair Ben would soon be sitting in. Ben was the defendant trying to defend for the rest of his life.
Ben has been tried and convicted of first degree murder of his sister Jordan. Now the question just remained: would Ben spend the rest of his natural days in prison or would he… would he be sentenced to death? With no strong evidence to prove his innocence no one was just willing to believe he was telling the truth. No matter how hard I tried, every lead led us right to a dead end.
No matter how hard we fought there was no fighting the men responsible for this Victor and Xander Kirakis. My own grandfather arranged all of this to happen. Just a year ago, I would have referred to my grandfather as a big ol' softie. But now? Now, the thought of my grandfather sends a shiver down my spine.
He promised Xander the title of CEO of Titan Industries if he went along with the murder of Jordan. Just so he could remove Ben from my life. The money and power my grandfather had was no match for anyone, especially Ben. The evidence that was planted against Ben alone was enough to make him look and seem guilty.
Then you add in Ben's past as being a serial killer, more infamously known as the Necktie Killer. They didn't care when I testified to the changed man he had become, or my mom who even herself didn't trust him and made our lives hell believed in his innocence. My grandfather paid off everyone. The jury, the lawyers, and even the judge. It was nails in Ben's coffin.
I made it my mission to prove he was innocent and I was not going to rest until we got Ben to come back home. Ben had one appeal left and with a new lawyer: my cousin Justin, I finally felt we were going to save him. He believed me when I told him, he believed in Ben. He fought to get us a trial for his last appeal outside of Salem. And we won that. It was a small victory, finally it was a step in the right direction. And for hope that someone was going to listen to us. To listen to Ben.
After four long days we were finally finished telling our sides. Me, my mom, and Marlena all testified on Ben's behalf. Stefan and my grandmother Julie wrote letters on behalf of Ben all in hopes to show how much of a changed man he had become. But most importantly, in this appeal my cousin Will testified on Ben's behalf as well.
Will was a key factor in Ben's case because he was one of Ben's victims. Well, so we thought for 4 years until we found Will to be alive. He was also a pawn in one of my grandfather's games. He did the same to Will as he did to Ben he framed him for the murder of his husband's mother. Will was cellmates with Ben while he was in prison. Ben confided in Will but Will was very skeptical at first. After time, Will came around to Ben and they actually formed a friendship. Will finally forgave Ben for the past.
When Will won his appeal, it gave us both so much hope. Will's testimony in Ben's case was very strong and shed light into how vindictive my grandfather and Xander could be.
I looked up at the clock on the wall. The time read 11:45. That meant in 15 minutes my life was about to change. Sitting in this courtroom, it felt as if the walls were closing in on me. I was suddenly hot. Very hot. I was trying my best to stay calm. So much so I was afraid to move. I was afraid to speak. I was even afraid to breathe I knew at any moment I would break if I shed one ounce of how I was feeling. I had to stop myself from letting the tears fall because if I did, I feared they would never stop. I was so nervous I was shaking.
My mom was sitting to the left of me and Marlena to the right. I don't know if I could have gotten through the morning without their support. My mom took my hand and said,
"Baby it's going to be okay. I'm here for you."
"Thank you Mama, I am so nervous." A tear finally escaped as it began to fall she wiped it away brushing her thumb over my cheek.
"You're so strong Ciara Alice, don't forget that."
I gave her the biggest hug. I couldn't let go as she rubbed my back.
I took the deepest breathe I could and let it out slowly.
Marlena looked over at me and rubbed my knee
"We got you Ciara. I firmly believe it's going to be okay. We built a strong case for Ben."
"Oh Marlena I sure hope so."
I dabbed my eye as Will made his way into the courtroom he sat down next to Marlena.
"I'm so sorry I'm late guys traffic was brutal this afternoon."
"Oh Will, thank you so much for coming it means so much to me and Ben."
I reached out to him and he held my hand.
"Of course Ciara I wouldn't miss it. Hopefully this will be the end of this nightmare."
"We can only hope right?"
My mom continued to squeeze my hand as I continued to stare straight ahead at the clock it was so quiet in the courtroom it was as if I could hear the ticking of the clock on the wall. As I watched the hands move around. The door to the left of the room opened. As Ben made his way through the door I could feel my heart almost drop to the floor as he scanned the room for me. He smiled at me as the guard ushered him into his seat. He was in the suit that I had bought for him to wear during the appeal. It was a dark navy blue with a matching tie. I couldn't help but think of how handsome he looked wearing it even if he was in handcuffs. Even given the situation and the seriousness of the circumstance, locking eyes with Ben both made my heart race and gave me a sense of calm. He's always been able to do that for me.
I smiled back at Ben and waved a small wave just little enough not to bring attention to myself. I wanted to run to him and take him in my arms to give him the biggest hug and kiss him all over, telling him everything was going to be okay. How I longed to feel a hug from him and for him to tell me it was going to be okay. I always felt so tiny in Ben's arms. His big, strong arms around my tiny frame always made me feel delicate, safe, and protected. I sighed for how I longed to feel that again.
I could see the worry all over his face even as he continued to smile at me. He couldn't hide it, I know him too well. I mouthed the words
"I love you"
And he returned them with
"Love you more"
All the tears I was holding back sprang to life as my mom continued to squeeze my hand. Just as he was about to sit down he looked up at me and mouthed
"It's okay, don't cry" I could tell he wanted to comfort me just as badly as I wanted to be comforted by him.
I wiped the tears away with my finger and filled my lungs with the deepest of breaths I could manage. And let them release so slowly.
Ben was so close but so far at the same time. I hated all of this so much. It was almost too much for me to bear. I fanned myself my free hand.
Marlena reached in her purse and took out some Kleenex for me.
"This is just breaking my heart for you Ciara."
Just as I was about to reply to her the bailiff walked in and said,
"Will everyone please rise?"
Everyone in the courtroom rose. I never let go of my mother's hand. It was keeping me balanced. Keeping me center. I think without it I would have fell over.
The DA and Justin made their way through the door. Just as they took their seats. Lastly it was the judge. As he made his way up the bench he sat down.
"You may all take your seats."
As we sat, my eyes couldn't leave Ben's as he stared straight I could see him fidgeting with his hands. His knee was bouncing almost a mile a minute. It was his nervous habit, something I used to stop with just my hand on his knee. He always smiled at me when I did it. This time though, I couldn't stop it.
The judge then called up Justin and the DA to the bench. I couldn't make out what they were saying but they returned shortly after.
Justin gave Ben's shoulder a tight squeeze. As he reached in the folder in front of him and slipped Ben a note. I could feel my stomach tighten. I squeezed my mom's hand a little tighter.
This was a note I wrote to Ben yesterday after Justin assured me no one would question it if it was inside the folder with his case. He hid it in between papers as he promised me not to read it. These words were for Ben's eyes only.
No matter what happens today, good or bad, right or wrong, know that I love you. I loved you from the first moment you came into my life. I'm here for you always. Never doubt that. I will never deserve your love, Ben Weston. But I'm lucky to have it, I'm lucky to have you. Babe, Whatever the verdict is, just know that you always have been and always will be the love of my life and my great love story. Everything is going to be okay, we're in this together. Don't ever for even a second think you're alone. You never will be again.
PS stop bouncing your knee ;)"
As he read it he kept is head down and wiped his tears with his index finger. Ben looked down at his knee and stopped bouncing it instantly when he read that last line. The tiniest chuckle escaped him. When I heard Ben chuckle, I couldn't help but let a small smile come to my lips. I was glad I was able to provide Ben at least a moment of comfort. Ben's laugh was one of my favorite sounds. I knew it helped ease his nerves. I needed to hear his laugh to ease mine.
He folded up the note and squeezed it in his hand he turned his head so I could see his mouth and said
"Thank you. I love you so much"
"I love you too, Ben." I whispered to myself.
"Ciara, what was that all about?" My mom asked
"I'll tell you later."
She gave my hand a tight squeeze.
I continued to look straight ahead at Ben. My nerves were giving me the worst shakes. Every second felt like an hour. Every minute felt like a day.
"Benjamin Weston, would you please rise as I have reached the verdict in this case?" The judge's voice echoed throughout the courtroom.
As Ben and Justin rose from their chairs my eyes did not leave Ben once. My butterflies quickly grew to the size of elephants. My hands continued to shake even more.
Marlena wrapped her arm around mine and as my mom squeezed my hand tighter, I squeezed her hand in return as if I was a scared little girl. This was it. This was going to determine the rest of our lives.
The judge sat at his bench looking down at the papers in front of him as he picked one up, his eyes darted from the DA to Justin and fell upon Ben before he spoke.
My heart is already aching and I know that I'm not prepared for whatever he is going to say.
"Benjamin Weston, your appeal in this case has been denied. I am now approving the prosecution's request for death by lethal injection on December 19th, 2020. Which is exactly 48 hours from today. The prosecution has made it public knowledge of your ties to Stefan Dimera. Many factors have helped me come to this conclusion they deem you as a flight risk, and a concern for the public's safety if they drew this out any longer. But most importantly it is your past and given the amount of evidence against you, it's hard for me to turn a blind eye. You tried to reform yourself yet here you are again being tried for murder once again but this time someone who shares the same blood as you: your sister. This will now conclude your final appeal in this case. May God have mercy upon your soul."
He pounded his gavel and in that exact moment my heart stopped. All of the air seemed to be sucked out of the small room. As I found myself almost gasping as the reality of it all set in. My heart felt like it was in my throat and I couldn't catch my breath. This couldn't be real, this couldn't be happening.
"No! No! No!" This wasn't happening. This wasn't true. I was dreaming, having another nightmare. I was going to wake up at home. I squeezed my eyes shut as I opened them the tears that were streaming down my face reminded me that it was real. I couldn't see a thing in front of me.
"No! No!" I didn't even realize I was screaming out loud. As I tried to move close to Ben, he turned around to face me. His face pale white soaked in tears, he was in just as much shock as I was. We never thought this would happen.
Confusion rams into my already jumbled thoughts, disrupting any attempt to make sense of what I'm hearing. Confusion is quickly replaced by a burning mixture of pain and fright. All of the memories of us begin to flood through me pile and piece together.
I push myself closer to the partitioned wall that was separating us. I reach out to him and as he reached for me our fingers grazing as quickly as he touched me he was just as quickly pulled away by the Bailiff.
He was just standing there unable to do anything. Unable to move; just standing there as my entire world crashed around me.
My cries for Ben echoed loudly throughout the courtroom. As I continued to fight my way towards Ben, Ben continued to fight his way towards me.
Will had to hold me back as I continued to fight,
"Will, let go of me. Let me go"
"Ciara, you have to calm down." He whispered.
He let me go but the strength that I had left in me was quickly sucked from me as my legs began to give out. I fell down to the floor.
"Order in the court!" The judge pounded his gavel.
My sobs got louder as I balanced myself and did my best to steady myself on my feet. The guards continued to hold Ben back as he reached out to me over them.
The judge pounded his gavel 3 times as his voice boomed through the courtroom,
"Benjamin Weston, if we don't get control and order back in this courtroom I will charge you with contempt of court."
He continued to fight his way to me ignoring the judges request. It didn't matter to him if he was charged with more charges, he only cared about me. The judge already ruled for Ben to be executed, what else could he do to us? He couldn't make it any worse for us.
As devastated as I was the thought of making this worse for him sent a shiver down my spine, the thought of anyone hurting him just because of his fight to get to me and comfort me. I had to compose myself. I couldn't make this worse for him.
I looked at him with pleading eyes held my hand up palm facing him and mouthed,
"Baby, please stop."
I composed myself as my mom, Will, and Marlena helped to calm me. I continued to stare into Ben's eyes as our tears fell. He finally took a breath and began to calm. He got what I was trying to say without a word needing to be verbalized. I nodded ever so slightly at Ben.
We were the calm to each other's storms. My mom sat me down in my seat as Ben sat down in his.
"Judge, do to the circumstances of this case, I would also like to suggest the inmate to be remanded to solitary confinement until the time of execution." The DA asked.
"I will grant that request as I believe it would be in the best interest of the inmate."
Tears burned my cheeks and anger consumed me. I couldn't stop myself, "In the best 'Interest of the inmate'?" I questioned.
"Like they care about him at all." I mumble under my breath. Keeping him locked away like he's a disease. Like he was garbage to throw away. I knew how hard Ben had worked to stop seeing himself as worthless and worthy of being loved, but being put in the hole that his father was put in would undo all of our work. The thought of Ben being in solitary broke my damn heart.
Justin rose to speak and when I heard his voice it helped me get outside of my thoughts.
"Your Honor, this defendant has followed all the proper procedures and has been very compliant in this case. He has been a model prisoner and I would like to ask for a small request for Ben to say goodbye to his family and friends who are like family before he is sent back."
"Well let's make this clear Mr. Kiriakis: Mr. Weston has no family here so I can't grant that request for just his friends. Anyone wanting to say their goodbyes to Mr. Weston will have 48 hours to arrange their last visits."
Tears continued to flow out of me and burned my skin as they fell. 48 hours. 48 hours until my life would be completely and utterly destroyed. This nightmare that we had been living for the past year, I never thought it would actually end like this. I always hoped that we would get through this and Ben would be home with me and we could have the life we desired so badly we could just about taste it. And now, with one swing of the gavel, it was all over; all of our hopes and dreams are gone.
"Very well Judge. This is a complete injustice. The system has failed Ben Weston. His past has been used against him in the worst way. His past crimes which were used against him, he was found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. If you approve the DA's petition, he will die an innocent man." Justin said defeated as he sat down and gave Ben a hug. I knew that Justin wasn't exactly head over heels for Ben or the fact that Ben was the man that I had chosen to love. But the fact that Justin tried to comfort Ben, meant everything to me. That was the only comfort he could have and I longed for it to be me and I knew Ben felt the same way. It was destroying me to sit in this room being so close to Ben but feeling so far at the same time. Hearing and seeing him this way, I felt so useless. Just like Ben had always done with me, I wanted to be able to comfort him and wipe away his tears. Devastated changed to anger as it boiled through me. I just wanted to ring the judge's neck. He doesn't know Ben, not really. But he gets to decide if Ben lives or dies?
I gasped for breath to breathe. I couldn't stand to hear anymore. I can't take it. I'm sick to my stomach, and the pain of this betrayal and 'injustice' as Justin put it was cutting me. Making me weaker and weaker by the moment. I'm convinced if anything else was said there would be nothing left of me. I'm terrified about what is happening. I have never felt pain like this before, well once I did. Until Ben brought me out of that dark place. What would I do without him here to help me with this? Ben calls me his anchor, but he's mine too. He's my quiet to my storms, he's always know just what I need: whether that's to talk or just be an ear and an open arm. I don't know how to handle this, or if I could at all. The thought of going through life without Ben and without having Ben to grow old with made my blood run cold.
I felt a hand on my shoulder as I turned around and realized the person behind me was Stefan. I hadn't even realized he was there. He whispered to me,
"Ciara, it's going to be okay."
"Stefan, I don't think it is."
I continued to cry as he squeezed my shoulder.
So many people in the town have so many feelings about Stefan, but through all of this he's been a great friend and support for Ben.
"So that will conclude this case. Court is adjourned."
The judge's gavel echoed once more throughout the courtroom. And that was it. Nothing I could do would change this outcome. Nothing would make this go away. In a matter of 15 minutes, my whole life was shattered into a million pieces and nothing would ever be the same. I would never be okay or whole again.
Everyone stood to rise as the Judge exited the courtroom. Stefan kept his hand on my shoulder as Ben stood at the exit with the Bailiff
holding onto his arm he turned to face me and this time, he didn't whisper.
"Ciara, I love you. It's going to be okay."
His face was bright red from crying to match his bloodshot eyes. His voice was raw and shaky from his sobs. All I wanted to do was run to him. I stepped closer to the partition wall and reached for him again.
"Ben, I love you too. So, so much." Our fingers grazed each others but before I could wrap my fingers around Ben's. the bailiff led him away.
Ben looked up at Stefan this time and back to me. I turned slightly to Stefan to see him close his eyes for a brief moment, nod and say,
"I've got her."
Ben slumped his shoulders. Devastated by his outcome but also a bit of relief washed over his face as Ben nodded. It was as if there was some prior agreement between the both of them, for Stefan to look out for me if things went this way. I tried everything to keep Ben optimistic but from the looks of it, Ben had made some plans of his own. I shook my head ever so slightly, even given the situation, Ben always managed to put me first, no matter what. I couldn't picture how I was going to get through life without him.
Just as Ben made his way through the door he turned to me one last time to face me, I blew him a kiss. He did the same as tears continued to spill from his eyes and sobs echoed through the courtroom from both of us.
As the door closed behind him, I couldn't believe this was the outcome. How could this be happening? I couldn't make sense of anything.
I couldn't get the image out of my head of Ben returning to his cell, cold and dark with no one there to comfort him.
I sat frozen in my seat replaying all these moments over and over. This was a nightmare I would never wake up from. The look that Ben had on his face today was a look I have never seen from him before.
Terror. Complete and utter terror. It was now burned into my brain. Quickly replacing the image of his beautiful smiling face that I always fell asleep too. I will never be able to erase that image of him. How will I ever sleep again? The only thing that's gotten me through this last year was the hope that Ben would be with me again. That soon I'd be falling asleep feeling his arms around me. I'd never felt so secure or so safe in my life than when I fell asleep with feeling Ben's arm snaked around my waist. How am I going to do that now? How will I fall asleep knowing I will never feel the security of his body or his breath on my neck as he slept?