Title: Criminal by Proxy
Author: S.E. Smyth
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 10/25/2022
Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Coming out, college, criminals, dark, doctors, enemies/rivals to lovers, established couple, friends to lovers, gender-bending, hurt/comfort, illness/disease, in the closet, law enforcement, lawyers, medical personnel, mental illness, over 40, prison, private detective, reunited, revenge, road trip, security guards, soulmates, tear-jerker, therapist, UST
Christine is on the hunt to find out more about her great aunt, Rose, hoping to decipher their severed relationship and the murder Rose committed, for which June is in prison. With a stroke leaving Rose incapacitated, it’s a rush against time to find the truth.
Things are doubly complicated when Christine’s girlfriend Terrie is accused of assaulting someone. Nervous about what she might do next, Christine and her friends avoid Terrie. With everything at stake, Christine must stick to the cold hard facts, reminding herself not to let her emotions get in the way.
Christine must evaluate everything happening in her life. The weight of the events buried by her aunt so many years before and the shame of the actions of the love of her life rest squarely on her. If the eyes of the law are always 20/20, how do love, emotion, and insecurities distort fact?
Criminal by Proxy
SE Smyth © 2022
All Rights Reserved
“I loved her… That’s what I tell myself at least,” June uttered. Her exertion, her plea, resonated. “I told her that…yelled across the courtroom…in 1968, the day I went to prison, and I’ve said it a thousand times since.”
June had been a psychiatrist years ago, but Christine was the one listening now, decades later.
Christine was pretending to be a law student to get information, clarity on historical facts about the actions of her great-aunt Rose from the time she was in a mental hospital in the late 1950s. Her aunt, who was in her seventies, was not in Christine’s direct blood line but rather the child of her grandmother’s sister. She’d lived with Christine’s aunts and uncles and family from a young age, nonetheless. Christine had gathered scattered details in bits and pieces all her life. Every other family holiday or so, some new bit of information would surface. But she never asked. It was something everyone quietly avoided to begin with.
June had been Rose’s psychiatrist at one point while she was in a mental hospital. Sometime after she was released, she’d moved in with June, and they had developed a relationship. Rose had ended up shooting and killing a man, but Christine was confused about the chain of events and who was to blame. June was in prison, and Rose had been free since 1972.
Several letters followed the initial blunt hello letter to June. In those, they discussed basic things Christine got wrong and developed a loose friendship. After about four letters, Christine suggested a meeting. June recommended an interview room since she was a student, and Christine went about finding out if it was possible.
In an act of indiscretion, she set up an appointment to see the infamous June, someone she had recently found out to be Aunt Rose’s ex-lover. This interview, her time in the room with a prisoner who held a life sentence, was dedicated to asking questions to elucidate events from decades ago, that her aunt Rose never discussed.
Christine attempted to gauge if June was telling the truth. She needed to know if the legal decision was warranted. She was sure if she listened very carefully, she could figure out if June actually did love Aunt Rose and if the correct decision had been made in the courtroom in 1968. All this, Christine attempted to assess with a conversation. She would have an answer by the end of the conversation. It was her only objective.
June wasn’t the same person she had been years ago—when June had loved Aunt Rose and Aunt Rose had presumably loved her. That fact stuck out. Christine’s initial assessment was any flame June still held for Aunt Rose was one-sided.
June only half faced her, sitting sideways on the chair, the corner of which stuck out between her legs. June glanced over her shoulder. She held a waning seventy years in her limbs, but she still glowed with energy. Christine didn’t mind she threw a sneer down across her nose. Christine pried and chipped at information at first, but the conversation soon flowed more smoothly.
Christine had first heard about June from her great-aunt, who kicked up old memories and dropped them right away. Christine let her get away with her excuses—she didn’t remember. June was her aunt’s ex-lover. She mentioned she was in prison. That was everything her aunt would tell her. Christine had found out June was labeled a criminal by the media. She was a prisoner with a life sentence. Aunt Rose had fired the gun, but they’d given the slot in prison to June. Christine imagined her day, filled with bitter resentment for her free ex-lover. The lover who didn’t contact her. There had to be bad blood. Christine eyed her goal at this point—information. She needed to know what had happened. Christine was interrogating her, asking her to relive it for a law school report, what she thought about the case so many years later. Unfairly picking at issues June wasn’t ready to answer, she continued the questions.
June went on, describing everything in bits and pieces. She would pause and continue, restart with irrelevant comments, diverting the conversation. “It was different all that time ago. All the hoopla over something agreed to be truth. If someone thought you were a lesbian and if they caught you, arms were up in the air—sirens roared. It was a travesty, and something was done about it.” June continued on about the past, how people thought of her and talked about her.
She spoke about the past as if events weren’t real, as if life were a story she was reading to children, the grim side of a fairy tale. Off and on, June would shift, indicating her tongue had taken her too far. She shouldn’t have let the full story go. Her knowledge was an out-of-body reflection, too real. The trauma showed through.
Christine’s life of rumors, her life, seemed trivial. Three close friends gossiped about Christine and the woman she’d slept with last summer, Amy. Her friends told her to move on, but she wouldn’t let the friendship go. They said, “She’ll mess you up.” It was still the same shameful behavior: whispered gossip, stern talks, and scandalous goings-on. Her reality was different from June’s in that Christine didn’t have the same amount to lose. Nothing was a malicious, life-ruining assault.
“We were taking risks. Real risks. Higher stakes than today. I didn’t want to change the world or loosen people’s opinions. I wanted love. She gave me that. So, what else was I supposed to do?” June said. She grabbed at short tufts of hair at the base of her head.
“What people were doing was so important. I don’t want to say it wasn’t. We had love, and we wanted to keep it. We fought that battle every day from our apartment, from our place of work. In a way, very quietly, but we fought. We certainly didn’t change the minds of the world when the murder happened. We acknowledged how strong our love was before the murder. It was so well bonded that I still love her now, after all these years.” Her words softened and rounded as she spoke again about her love. She dipped her head as if the frown that extended cheek to cheek were pulling it down.
Wrinkles emerged in the corners of June’s eyes as Christine tapped her pencil. Christine stopped to cease any errant irritation. When Christine tried to bring June back and force her to be present, talk about the case, June’s vocal qualities changed.
The soft voice June spoke with when talking about the past and love disappeared into one of an aged woman when she spoke about what was going on in her life now. “You see. They all believe me in here now. I love her. My friends in prison. It’s okay to be gay, even though it definitely wasn’t when they locked me up.”
Christine sat stiffly as a board in the chair listening to June, catching every word. As she performed the gesture, she committed to brushing off immature and unserious actions, those not indicative of a law student. She was already in a precarious balance with June, a relaxed new friend facing a studious law student—both skeptical of masked lies, strangers in an unfamiliar room. Christine’s great-aunt Rose was dying. Who was this woman she kept speaking of?
Meet the Author
S.E. Smyth is a versatile author putting words into the world. The stories she tells are never exactly how they happened. Elusive as she proclaims she is, you can usually find her nose buried in primary sources plotting a story. Despite persisting historical references, she wholeheartedly believes she lives in the present.
She resides in a smaller sort of town in Pennsylvania, carries heavy things for her wife, rubs cat bellies, and can often be seen taking brisk walks. The household is certain there is something odd going on. She and her wife travel when the air is right looking for antique stores, bike trails, and the perfect beach. S.E. rises unnecessarily early and usually falls asleep by 9 p.m.