Silence rang across the room, ricocheting off the jelled heads and cloaked shoulders. As Mary scanned the room, too fast to linger on any particular eyes, a dry lump swelled in her throat.
Urgently, she gulped it down.
She knew how important her audience was, and as she struggled to make a connection with the faces looking back at her with piercing judgemental looks, she knew they were anxious to hear her speak.
Only she wasn’t ready.
She tightened the grip on her chair, stretching the sheen of skin that clothed her knuckles. Despite the wintry breeze that raged beyond, beads of perspiration lined up on her forehead.
They were all looking.
Will she stumble? Forget her lines?
Breakdown and cry?
No way. She wouldn’t cry. She was an adult now, and this wasn’t her first grade school play. This was real life.
They waited patiently. Impressive, she reminded herself, considering she’d arrived ten minutes late. Though with straight faces and pursed lips, they’d welcomed her with the respect she deserved.
And it’s only fair that she spoke. Now.
She took a deep breath and, “Let the proceedings begin,” permitted the newly-appointed High Court Judge.