Chapter Ten

It was a searingly cold Monday night in late January, the day after the group meeting that Dennis had attended. Zoe and Tam were at the apartment with Carys and Jami, talking about what to do next. They had finished filling Zoe in about the poems, the disk and the incident at the mall.

"I see why you're concerned," said Zoe, "but there's no real evidence of anything, though we don't know what's on that disk."

"What about that comment Crystal made last night, about other kids at the high school being involved? Where did that come from?" said Jami.

"Have you said anything about all this to Crystal?" Zoe asked Carys.

"I did ask her to ID those two guys from the mall incident, though I didn't give her any details about it, just that one of them seemed to know who I was." said Carys. "But Crystal is a senior at the high school and she knew Kathy."

"I asked Alex about the mood at the high school," said Tam. For Zoe's benefit she added, "Alex is my little sister. She's in the GSA, and she's also the quiet, all-ears type."

"So what does Alex say?" asked Jami.

"She says that way more people were reacting to and talking about Kathy's death than she would have expected. Including, as she put it, the loser low-life crowd. Of whom, in her opinion, Linda's brother is the king."

"Was there a connection between Kathy and Carl?" said Tam.

"My friend's feel-good?" said Jami.

"No! I can't believe that," said Carys.

"You sure you want to know what's on that disk, girlfriend?" said Zoe, softly. "We could stop right here with all of this."

"Why did she send me the blasted disk? There has to be a reason! I feel like I'd be abandoning her if I don't go forward with this," said Carys.

Jami and Tam nodded agreement.

"Okay. I think for the initial meeting with the lawyer," said Zoe, "it's fine if only Carys and I go? When we get into details, then obviously you need to be involved, Jami." They both nodded.

Zoe stood up. "I need to get going while there's still some warmth left in my car. I'll be in touch, and I'll meet you at the lawyer's office Wednesday morning, Carys."

* * *

Carys, Jami and Tam remained at the kitchen table after Zoe left.

Carys looked at Tam. "You want to stay here tonight? It's fricking cold out there. You'll freeze solid waiting for the bus."

"My mother is already wondering why I spend so much time here."

"Is she upset about it?" asked Jami.

"Not really. I guess I need to get over feeling like I should be there because I'm the oldest child. My Mom is a bit odd, but she can take care of herself, and Alex at least has her head firmly attached."

"You should take us to meet your mom," said Jami.

"Yeh, I should. You need to meet Alex, too."

"I'd like that," said Carys.

Tam thought for a moment. "No time like today." She pulled her cell phone from her pack, flipped it open and dialed.

"Mom? I'm still with Carys and Jami. Yes, I've heard it's ten below zero. I was thinking of just staying the night. I have my stuff for classes tomorrow with me. No, they don't mind. They are very nice. Can I bring them over Saturday to meet you? I think you should know them. Great! Love you. Bye." Tam closed the phone.

"That was easy," said Carys.

"She's really great. So are my sisters. They've never made fun of me. I mean because I'm trans."

Jami yawned. "It's getting late, and I think the heat is having trouble keeping up with the outside temperature. How about we go get under a pile of blankets and watch something?"

"Fine by me," said Carys. "I don't see any point in talking about this whole mess further until we've seen the lawyer."

* * *

Wednesday morning Carys met Zoe outside the offices of the lawyer Dennis had recommended. They'd spent some time Tuesday talking about what to say, how to feel their way through the situation.

The secretary showed them into the lawyer's inner office, then closed the door after them. Standing from behind her desk, the lawyer, a serious woman who looked to be about fifty, spoke. "Hello. I'm Holly Emerson."

She leaned forward to quickly shake their hands, then motioned them to take seats. Carys and Zoe introduced themselves after they did so.

Looking back and forth between the two, Ms. Emerson said, "I'd like you to tell me, briefly, what your situation is. The purpose of this meeting is to determine whether I can help you, and whether you want my help."

They had agreed that Zoe would begin talking. Carys would fill in details as needed, especially if they decided to go on to discuss the disk.

"Ms. Emerson," said Zoe, "Carys and I are the co-facilitators for a discussion group of artistic and otherwise different young people. We have members who participate in the group on a face-to-face basis. We also have members who participate primarily through the group's online community. One of our members who participated online was Kathy Hansen."

The lawyer inclined her head, concentrating. "That name almost is familiar, but not quite."

Zoe took a breath before continuing. "Kathy died in a car crash in December. She hit a bridge support at high speed. She was alone, and she was not wearing a seat belt."

The lawyer leaned forward at her desk. "Go on."

"Kathy had made some posts in the community about becoming more desperate at home. The day she died, in fact it must have been immediately before she went out in her car, she made a post saying that she'd just been told by her parents that she would be placed in a behavior modification program this summer. Evidently she was constantly in trouble with her parents, who wouldn't let her have the friends she wanted or do the things she wanted to do. And there's more."

The lawyer leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms. "Did she say what she planned to do?"

Carys handed the lawyer a copy of the post.

After reading the post, the lawyer handed it back to Carys. "Who knows about this?"

Carys and Zoe exchanged looks. Zoe continued, "The community moderators did not approve that post for publication, so most members of the group have not seen the post. But everyone in the group knows about the posts that Kathy made last fall in which she talked about feeling more and more desperate."

"And your concerns are?"

Carys spoke now. "Two things. First, are we under any legal obligation to give this information to the police? If so, do we have to show them all the posts? There's a lot of stuff there that people would be uncomfortable having a stranger read.

"Second, the members of the group would like to do something with the poetry that Kathy wrote, some of which is critical of her parents and her religion, and talks about the possibility of her being gay. Is there any way we can make her poems public? Could we be sued if we do so?"

"How old was Kathy when she died?"

"Seventeen," said Carys. "She was a senior, still living at home."

The lawyer drummed her fingers on her desk. "First, if alcohol or drugs were involved in her death, the autopsy would reveal that. Since Kathy was a minor, the supposition would be that they were given or sold to her by another person. The post you showed me doesn't actually supply any information that would be useful in an investigation.

"As for being sued if you publish her poetry; anyone can bring suit. Whether they can win depends on a lot of things, including how much money they have. If you think you stand a chance of being sued, I suggest you think long and hard about whether it's worth that risk to do whatever you're thinking about doing.

"If you want to hire me, I can advise on specific actions, but my general advice is don't risk it. In particular, if you're thinking about saying anything that might suggest that the actions of any particular person or persons drove her to kill herself, don't do it."

Zoe and Carys nodded, looked at each other again. Zoe raised an eyebrow. Carys nodded.

"There's one other thing."

"Yes?"

"Shortly before she died, Kathy arranged for a package to be given or mailed to me. The package contained a small hard disk, like what is used in laptop computers, a sheaf of poetry and a note giving me permission to use what she sent me, or not. I'm wondering what the legal status of her permission is, because she was a minor."

Carys pulled Kathy's note from her folder and handed it to Ms. Hansen. Her eyebrows went up as she read it. Then she handed it back to Carys.

"You have not looked at the contents of this disk?"

"No," said Carys. "We're aware that doing so may be like opening Pandora's box."

"And what are your thoughts about this?" asked the lawyer.

"I think," said Carys, "that I need to either look at what is on the disk, or destroy it and forget it ever existed. I will not let it fall into the hands of Kathy's parents. Not only did Kathy clearly not want that to happen, but Jami says there may be information on the disk that could be used to hurt other people; Kathy's friends and contacts."

The lawyer nodded.

"But Kathy was my friend, even if I didn't know her very well, and I really want to look on the disk. I want to find more of her poems, her stories. Maybe we could publish them anonymously? It's what she wanted me to do, one of her final wishes. As for the disk itself, we could make a copy, wipe it, and give it back, except that I wouldn't want her parents to know I had it."

The lawyer thought for a moment before saying, "Again, I think this hinges on your actions. If no one knows you have this disk, then if you destroy it, that's an end of the matter. If you use any of the material on the disk, then you'll need to think about the risks."

Carys spoke carefully. "Libel only applies to untruthful statements, though. Isn't that right?"

"The note you showed me does not explicitly mention the disk, so the choice to publish anything you find on the disk can be alleged to be yours alone, not Kathy's. And proving that you did not alter something on a computer disk is next to impossible. I'm afraid you'd be taking quite a risk if you use anything from the disk that could upset people."

Carys pulled a printout from her folder that Tam had given her. She read a marked passage. "Article 13.1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice."

"What are you reading from?" asked the lawyer.

"The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child," said Carys. "The United States is a signatory, but has not actually ratified the convention. It's about the only country in the world that hasn't."

Ms. Emerson sighed, but also smiled. "Carys. You are an idealist and, I suspect, an activist?"

Carys nodded.

"I realize that one cannot always choose one's battles, because sometimes there are other things more important than winning. Think through what you're doing. Even if you have world opinion on your side, you live in this country." She looked at her watch and stood up behind her desk. "I'm sorry I've not been able to be of more help."

Carys put Kathy's letter and Tam's printout back in her folder and stood up, along with Zoe.

"Thanks for your time," said Zoe.

"I think you have helped me clarify things in my mind," said Carys.

"If you do decide to look at the material on the disk, and would like to talk again, please get in touch. I'll try to fit you into my schedule." They shook hands again. "Good luck."

"Thank you," said Carys. She and Zoe left the office.

Carys and Zoe stood on the sidewalk for a moment to talk about what had just happened.

"Did that help, Carys? She seemed rather, I don't know, cold."

"Yes, but I think she was mostly being careful to not encourage us. It's pretty much up to me what we do now."

"Well, let me know," said Zoe.

"I need to talk with Jami and Tam about the disk. I may not say more about that to anyone else for a while."

"I understand. Take care."

"I will. And I'll warn you if I decide to do anything, well, dangerous. I'll talk to you again soon, Zoe."