In Shadow or in Light, Part Two

Special byline acknowledgement for Kym who went above and beyond; some of Keisha's words are hers. Usual disclaimer: any errors are mine. Warning: it's a long one. ;-p

Monday, November 12th

Thinking Justin was looking down at the demonstrators below, Brian was surprised to hear him say, "It's modeled after the Bridge of Sighs in Venice."

"What is?" he asked as he joined him at the window.

Justin pointed to the bridge connecting the courthouse and the jail. "That is." He laid his finger against the glass absent-mindedly. "We're supposed to come down here on a field trip next semester."

"Well, you're just ahead of the curve." Kissed the top of his head. "As always." By then Justin's eyes had wandered from the bridge to the crowd below. Brian tugged on his arm. "We've got all this time on our hands," he said, "might as well put it to good use."

Although Keisha had her own office, it seemed to Justin to still be kind of high risk to fool around in the courthouse. "We can't," he protested, as Brian pulled him away from the window.

"Can't talk about our trip next summer? Why not?"

"Trip?" Justin asked stupidly, then belatedly understood.

"The Bridge of Sighs? Venice?" Brian shook his head. "Kids. You've got an attention span of what? Two seconds?" Justin pushed him as he sat down. "Behave, little boy, or I'll have to spank you."

But Justin, already plunging headlong into thinking about the trip, ignored him and took a pad and pencil from out of his bag. "Have you decided when we're going?"

"Last two weeks in July, first two weeks in August," replied Brian. "So where do you want to go?"

"Everywhere?" suggested Justin.

"We've got four weeks," Brian reminded him.

"Italy, France, England, Spain, and Greece."

Amused, Brian reiterated his statement. "We've only got four weeks."

"I know." His eyes sparkled as he thought of the two of them wandering through the streets of Montmartre or gliding down the canals of Venice in a gondola; climbing to the Acropolis or staring up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. "I can't wait."

The smile on Justin's face infectious, Brian remarked, "Neither can I." With all of the opportunities he'd had to travel, he couldn't believe that he'd never gone to Europe but he was glad that his first time would be with Justin. And he laughed at that phrase, 'his first time.'



Justin reached for his hand. "Have I ever thanked you for this trip?"

And Brian thought of all the times he'd needed Justin and the boy had been there; the times he'd failed Justin and yet the teen had never given up on them; the mornings and evenings and afternoons of lovemaking, of talking at the table over a meal, or just laying together watching TV, and he replied softly, "Yeah. You have."

However, in spite the joy they found in planning for their holiday, they couldn't forget where they were now and why. The here and now intruded upon thoughts of the future and eventually overshadowed them.

"Do you think," Justin asked, "it's going okay in there?"

Brian shrugged. "I'm an advertiser, not an attorney." He didn't know, had no clue. It was completely out of his hands and even though he had vowed not to worry about the things he couldn't control, he found himself fretting about the jury selection and hoping it wouldn't take as long as Keisha seemed to think. Already he was getting tired of her office, despite being with Justin. He glanced at the clock. Nine twenty-eight. Only a half hour had passed and how many more left to endure?

9:30 a.m.

It never failed to fill her with a sense of wonder, of pride, and of purpose: the law. And not the law in the abstract or even the codes and cases bound in handsome leather volumes that lined her office, but the law in action, the process of the law, the living law as she thought of it. She wasn't a crusader, didn't believe that she could single-handedly right every wrong perpetrated in her district, but she did believe in the power of the law. Look at what it had done for her.

Taken her from one of the roughest, poorest sections of Philly to the University of Pennsylvania. And from there to the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office. She supposed she could have gone back to Philadelphia but she hadn't wanted to prosecute people she knew, people whose parents went to church with her mother and father, people she'd grown up with, run with until she'd realized that there was a better way. Sparing a glance for her opponent, she wondered if Mason had ever felt that way about the law or if it had only been a matter of a fat paycheck and notoriety, since those were definitely two things he could say he'd gained as a result of being an attorney.

Guiltily she realized she'd let her mind wander for a moment. Kramer was just finishing his opening instructions to the first group of prospective jurors in the box. "I ask you not to withhold information in order to be seated on his jury. Please answer the questions the way you feel and not the way you think I or the attorneys would wish you to answer. If you have something to say because of a question I've asked, please raise your hand, and if you're not sure if you should speak up, raise your hand anyway and I'll decide if it's important. Let me remind you," he added, "that the term voir dire means in Latin 'to speak the truth.' That's what the jury selection process is all about. We need you to speak the truth about yourself so that a fair and impartial jury may be selected for this case, so please be straightforward and honest with your answers. Now, that's all I'm going to say about that, as I believe you're all honest persons who've never lied in their lives."

Keisha noted the people in the jury box who smiled or chuckled at the judge's statement and the ones who seemed to stiffen or take umbrage. Personality counted for a great deal when it came to jurors, not only the attorney's personality but that of the jurors themselves. On the whole she preferred people who could relax and be themselves, who could take a joke, who were approachable and, while taking the process seriously, didn't take themselves too seriously. She understood how difficult the process itself was, and she understood the burden some people felt when deciding the fate of another human being, she respected that, respected the courage it took to be able to pass judgement on a person, but the last thing she wanted was a jury full of uptight, nervous, rigid, righteous, and humorless people. Of course, she didn't want a jury box full of con artists and crooks either.

The judge went over the basic requirements for service on a jury: that a person be eighteen years of age, a citizen of the United States, a resident of Pennsylvania and of Allegheny County, mentally competent, and hadn't been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year or if so had been granted a pardon or amnesty, and then he asked if anyone on the panel failed to meet any of those requirements. No one raised their hands. He moved on to the next set of questions. "Having consulted with the attorneys for both sides, I anticipate that this case will last approximately three weeks, is there anyone who has a physical condition or illness which would make it difficult to sit through a trial of that length?" A woman in the second row and a man on the first raised their hands. "Would you like to come forward to answer the question in private?"

"That's okay, Your Honor," the woman replied. The man shook his head.

"Then please answer the question."

She touched her hair unconsciously as she replied, "I have breast cancer, Your Honor, and I'm just starting chemotherapy." The other women in the jury box look on with pity at the woman, who was in her early forties. It seemed as if, these days, everyone knew someone with breast cancer. The pink ribbon, like the red one, had taken on personal significance for many people.

The man replied, "I have a degenerative disk in my back, Your Honor. I'm on disability because I can't sit for any long periods of time or stand for that matter."

Keisha waited for the judge to excuse them both and for the Clerk to call two new jurors.

When the replacement jurors were called, the judge quickly went over the requirements for service and the previous question, then continued with his list of inquiries. "Is there any juror who has any physical or mental disability which would affect their ability to participate in the trial? For example, does anyone have a hearing or visual impairment or problem concentrating?" No one raised their hand. "All right. Now, under the law, a person may be excused from jury service only if their absence from work would materially or adversely affect the public safety, health, welfare, or interest or if their jury duty would impose an undue hardship upon them."

This was where most jurors tried to get out of jury duty because it didn't pay much and even if your employer paid three quarters of your salary while you were on jury duty, that might be just enough to set you back a little. But, surprise, surprise, no one claimed undue hardship. Probably realized it wasn't worth the hassle.

"Is there anyone who cannot read, write, speak, and understand English well enough to participate?" A couple of the jurors glanced over at two men who were Hispanic but the men didn't raise their hands. "Are there any persons who are active members of the armed services either of the United States or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?" No response. "Has anyone served on jury duty in the previous two years?"

As always, Keisha had found this part of the voir dire a little tedious. Necessary but tedious. Now that the preliminary questions were out of the way, they could get down to the nitty gritty as her mama called it.

At that point the judge asked if anyone had sat as a juror before at any time and four people raised their hands. One woman had served on a civil trial, a sexual harassment case three years ago in Pittsburgh, and the jury found in favor of the plaintiff. Another woman had sat on the jury for an armed robbery trial ten years ago in Harrisburg and they had found the defendant not-guilty. The other two people had similar experiences. Interesting but not cause for dismissal from this particular jury.

Moving on, Judge Kramer asked if any of the jurors knew either of the attorneys professionally or socially. If they knew any member of the law firm of Mason, Biddle and Holt either professionally or socially. Looking over at most of them, even dressed in their good clothes, Keisha could tell that if they had been in trouble in the past, none of them could actually afford Mason, Biddle and Holt, and they certainly wouldn't have attended any social functions with any of the partners.

Kramer asked if they knew the defendant, Christian Hobbs, or anyone in the defendant's family. If they knew any of the witnesses named by either side. If anyone had had any legal training in the past at any time or if they were currently a student pursuing coursework in any area of the law.

A man in the second row responded that he'd gone to law school but had only completed a week before he'd dropped out. He laughed out loud as if he couldn't believe it himself while a couple people did so discreetly.

As the titters died down, Kramer checked the time and, as it was nearly 10:45, decided that a break was in order.

Keisha, for one, was glad. It'd give her a chance to look in on Brian and Justin and see how they were holding up and to have another cup of coffee if the two men hadn't drunk it all. It wasn't a long break, just twenty minutes, but that was enough. As she left the courtroom, she studied Christian Hobbs. Just from the outside, he seemed good-looking enough and it wasn't hard to believe that Justin had found him attractive. Unfortunately for Justin, that momentary attraction had had dire consequences and she knew that he regretted it, had probably regretted it the first time Chris Hobbs had struck out at him in the locker room. Making her way upstairs, she paused to speak to one of her colleagues and then strolled down to her office and pushed open the door.

Justin leapt from Brian's lap guiltily and began straightening his clothes. She gave them an incredulous look. "Excuse me?"

"You're excused," Brian said straight-faced. Unlike Justin, he had no shame.

"Don't get smart with me." She brushed past Justin who had taken his seat and sat with his hands in his lap to hide an erection. Which did nothing for the fact that his lips were swollen (as were Brian's) and his face and neck were flushed. Suppressing the urge to laugh, she continued to chastise them. "What if that had been someone else?"

"Who else would have come into your office without knocking except you?" Brian asked, determined not to back down on the issue and implying that she was in the wrong by not knocking.

The point was not lost on her. "Listen up, this is a public building, which means people might just come and go without knocking or they may knock and come in without waiting for an answer. So behave. Got it?"

Justin ducked his head. "Yes, ma'am. I mean, yes," he corrected himself having gotten the 'I'm not a ma'am,' speech once before.

She waited for Brian to answer. He looked dead in her eyes and said nothing. "I'm waiting," she finally said.

"Fine," he replied and crossed his legs and examined his nails as if he didn't care in the least bit one way or the other.

"Is it done?" Justin asked despite the fact that she had told them it would take two days probably to pick a jury.

"Break." She understood it was nervousness that prompted him to ask.

He glanced at Brian before asking, "Is Chris Hobbs in there?"

"Yes." When it appeared that he wouldn't ask any more about the defendant, Keisha poured a cup of coffee and stirred about a teaspoon of creamer and a couple teaspoons of sugar in it. Took a grateful sip. "Mmm, that's good."

"Viennese Roast?" Brian asked.


He pursed his lips. "Not bad. Least it's not fuckin' Starbucks. I hate Starbucks."

Shaking her head at the audacity of the man, she chuckled. "I'll try and remember that the next time I'm out buying coffee." Checked her watch. "We'll be breaking for lunch around 12:30. What do you guys want? There's Mitchell's Restaurant nearby, Sammy's Famous Corned Beef, Au Bon Pain, Dingbats, and the Apollo Cafe."

Justin waited for Brian to shoot down every one of her suggestions.

"I'm Irish, so the last thing I want is corned beef. Mitchell's is overrated and not worth the money. Au Bon Pain, well, that's just too easy. And the Apollo Cafe- - beneath my radar."

She'd noticed he hadn't said anything about Dingbats. "And Dingbats?"

"I don't care."

Wondering if Justin had to put up with His Big and Badness' attitude about everything all the time and amazed at how he managed to do it without killing him, Keisha decided the teenager had to be a saint. And then she remembered that Justin was an eighteen-year-old college student and Brian was a thirty-year-old advertising executive and she couldn't begin to imagine the number of times Brian probably had to compromise about something Justin wanted to do and she amended her judgement: neither one of them was a saint, they were just in love. "Well," she said, "I guess it's Dingbats. If you don't have any objections?" she asked Justin. He shook his head. Probably didn't want to cause any more trouble after being caught making out. Smiling, she gathered her papers and dug out a menu. "Here. Decide what you want and call it in around noon. Give them my name. Order a tuna griddle sandwich for me. I'll pick everything up when we recess and bring it back here."

Tired of being cooped up, Justin asked, "Can't we go outside? Just for a little while?"

"We'll go down to the courtyard to eat. Okay?"


Pausing at the door, she said, "Next time I'll knock."

Justin giggled and Brian punched him in the arm. "Told you," the teen said as she left. Brian crooked his finger.

11:05 a.m.

The Clerk brought forward an easel with a series of questions written on it. Kramer instructed the jury to, "Please stand, in turn, starting with the person in the first chair, and state your name, address, occupation, marital status, and the names and ages of any children you have."

One by one the members of the jury panel stood and gave the information asked. A couple of people stumbled over the information and the others laughed but not maliciously, just relieved that it hadn't been them. Only one person caught her attention: Malcolm Stanley. Gay. Like Brian, Keisha took pride in her gaydar and she pegged Malcolm Stanley as gay from the moment he first opened his mouth. It'd be interesting to see if Mason picked up on it and if he'd try to get the man dismissed for cause. Certainly, if she were the defense attorney, and she suspected he was gay, she'd reserve one of her peremptory challenges for him and hope he'd get dismissed for cause instead. Not that a gay man couldn't be open-minded about a gay bashing, she just wouldn't bet on it. At least not a lot of money.

Continuing on, Kramer inquired if they'd ever been the victim of a crime or if any of their close friends or relatives had ever been a victim of a crime. A man raised his hand and said that he'd been mugged in Central Park once on a visit to New York and that the police had never found the person who'd done it. "I had a hundred and thirty dollars in my wallet, driver's license, credit cards, and a picture of my mother that was irreplaceable."

"Do you think that experience prejudiced you against persons accused of crimes?"

"No, just against the guy that took my wallet."

Keisha held back her laughter as several of the jurors laughed.

Another man said a friend of his had been killed several years ago by a drunk driver. The mood turned sober, with persons lowering their eyes, as if merely looking at the speaker would some how infect them with the sadness he obviously still felt regarding his friend.

"Did it go to trial?"

"Yes, sir."

"And did you witness the trial?"

"Yes, sir. Went everyday."

"Did you form any opinions about the criminal justice system as a result of that experience?"

"Well, it came out that the guy had been arrested before for drunk driving and they let him off with a fine instead of taking away his license and then he went out and did it again and killed my friend." Several of the other jurors looked down as the man related that bit of information. "So, I guess I would say I don't think the system worked that first time around."

"Do you believe that the system works in other instances?"

"Yes, sir. They sent him to prison for killing my friend. Vehicular manslaughter. So it worked that time."

"Do you believe that the system only works if someone is convicted of a crime?"

"Well, why would they bother to have a trial if the person hadn't done something?"

Judge Kramer paused and addressed all of the jurors. "The law requires the Commonwealth to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant is presumed innocent by the law which means the defendant doesn't have to prove his innocence or produce any evidence to support his innocence. The burden of proof is on the prosecution. Is there anyone who doesn't understand what that means?" One woman raised her hand a little tentatively so he explained, "It means that it's up to the prosecution to prove that the defendant is guilty. The onus is on the Commonwealth to produce any evidence to prove that guilt. The defendant is not even required to testify in his defense. Now, does anyone feel that the fact that the defendant doesn't have to testify is evidence of his guilt?" A man responded positively. "Could you explain your views?"

"Well, if the defendant didn't have anything to hide, he'd testify."

"But you understand," Kramer emphasized, "that the defendant is not required to testify?"

"Yes, sir, I do. I just don't believe that an innocent person would have anything to hide."

Mason stood. "Challenge for cause, Your Honor."

"Thank you for your honesty, juror 16. I am going to excuse you from serving as a juror on this case." The Clerk called a replacement and the judge spent a couple of minutes bringing that person up to speed. Once he had solicited answers to his previous questions, he returned to the idea of burden of proof. "Now, with regard to the Commonwealth's obligation to provide all of the evidence of guilty, does anyone feel that this is too great a burden or responsibility for the Commonwealth?" Negative. "Do any of you feel that the fact that the defendant is charged with this offense is some evidence of his guilt?" No one raised their hand. "I would instruct you that the fact that the defendant has been charged with an offense and is on trial here today is not evidence of his guilt. It is, in fact, not evidence at all." He turned back to the juror he'd been questioning. "Now, do you still feel that the fact that the defendant is on trial is evidence of his guilt?"

"No, sir, I suppose not." The man looked a little hang-dogged but Keisha would have bet that there had been more than a few of them who'd felt the same way before the judge had instructed them.

Noting Mason making a tick mark by the man's name, Keisha figured he'd been placed on a list for dismissal by peremptory challenge.

Having listened to all of the responses regarding being victims of a crime, the judge then asked if any of the jurors or any of their close friends or relatives had ever been accused, arrested, or convicted of a crime. Four persons raised their hands and the court and the attorneys listened to the responses but none of the crimes were related to the current case, mostly misdemeanors or simple assault charges. One of the jurors had a friend who'd been in jail more than once for burglary but never for armed robbery. "He's afraid of guns, Your Honor," was the man's explanation.

On the flip side, no one had a close friend or family member who'd been involved in law enforcement or had been in law enforcement themselves. The woman who'd served on the sexual harassment jury was a member of a neighborhood watch that mostly met and had coffee and pastries and complained about one of the absent neighbors' annoying dog.

Keisha checked the time. It was getting close to twelve thirty and they still hadn't had an opportunity to question the jurors. She raised her eyes, waiting. The judge had just asked if anyone had any sympathy for or feeling against the defendant by reason of his race, sex, age, appearance, or because of the charges against him? None of the jurors responded in the positive. She watched Malcolm Stanley closely to see if he reacted to the question but he didn't. And she wasn't convinced that he didn't have strong feelings against Hobbs.

"I think this is a good place for us to stop and recess for lunch. When we return, I'll have some final questions for you after which the prosecution will have an opportunity to question the panel and then the defense will question you. Please remember that although you may leave the Courthouse, you're still under oath and, as such, I ask that you refrain from discussing the case with anyone, including one another. We'll reconvene at 1:30."

Gathering her belongings, Keisha hurried upstairs and this time knocked before she entered. But Brian and Justin were both sitting in their respective seats, Justin flipping through an old House Beautiful magazine she'd had laying around and Brian scribbling on a notepad, deep in thought. Exchanging her notebook for her purse, Keisha dashed out again before Brian or Justin had an opportunity to offer her money. They'd settle that later. Right now she wanted to get the food from Dingbats, get back, and eat before 1:30 came.

The crowd at Dingbats made her glad that she'd had them call ahead. Thankfully the food was ready and she paid for it and returned to the Courthouse within fifteen minutes. Not bad at all. As she'd promised, they took their food down to the interior courtyard and found a place to sit not far from the fountain. Brian had ordered a simple garden salad while Justin had gone for the Chicken Gorgonzola Salad but she noticed that Justin managed to coax Brian into eating some of the proscuitto and one of the marinated artichokes that came with the chicken. Keisha couldn't imagine that Brian had a weight problem as he seemed, to her, to be six three of nothing but skin and bone and muscle. Calling him slender would have been an understatement. Justin, although younger and shorter, was stockier. Of course, it might have just seemed that way because of that butt. More than once she had noticed it as they'd walked and smiled to herself. Just one more reason why the older man had fallen for the teen, she supposed. They certainly were a very photogenic pair. As they ate, she noticed people glancing at them. Whether they'd recognized them from the newspapers or television, she couldn't tell, but a couple of the people seemed to admire them just for their looks. She could tell. The way someone's eye would linger on Brian's lips and legs or Justin's smile and his perfect blond hair. And she wondered if the fact that they were a couple bothered any of their admirers or if it was a turn-on, imagining the two of them together. She had to admit her pulse had quickened just a bit when she'd come in on them. Putting any thoughts of them having sex out of her head, she smiled and reminded herself that she was there to convict Chris Hobbs, not put the make on the victim and his lover.

"Uh-oh," said Brian, "I feel sorry for Chris Hobbs."

Surprised that he had thought of Hobbs as well, she asked, "Why's that?"

"Cause you're smiling like a shark." He looked over at her from beneath half-lowered lids. "What sharp teeth you have."

"All the better to eat you with, my dear," she replied and he grinned.

"Why, counselor, is that a request?"

As she had said in his bedroom, she instructed him again: "Don't flirt with me."

He laughed and dodged Justin's poke in the ribs, catching the teen's hand in his and holding it. Then, as he realized where they were and why, he let go. Not abruptly, but he released him all the same.

Around one fifteen she herded them back upstairs despite Justin's protests and collected her notebook and the jury seating chart and questionnaires before returning to the courtroom.

With Keisha gone and lunch over, Brian grabbed his notepad and went back to jotting down notes on the Latham account. Although he'd left things in Bob and Brad's less-than-capable hands, he figured he'd check with them once a day regarding the account and give them feedback on their ideas. They were supposed to send over the mock-ups for the initial ad campaign this afternoon. He couldn't wait to get home. It'd do him good to tear into them in retaliation for having his day ruined by this fucking trial.

But even though he had the best intentions to work, Justin sabotaged those plans by taking out his sketch pad and starting to draw Brian. At first he tried to ignore the teen but after a while he found that he couldn't. So he stopped working. "Do you have to do that right now?"

"I'm bored."

"I suppose we should have brought the Leggo blocks after all."

Making a face, Justin turned the page on his sketch pad and began working on a sketch of Keisha's desk. Brian, satisfied that the teen's attention had been diverted, returned to his work.

1:30 p.m.

After everyone had settled down, the judge turned to his last two questions. "Now, I'd like to direct your attention to the particulars of the case itself. The defendant, Christian Hobbs, is charged with aggravated assault with the intent to cause serious bodily injury on April 20, 2001 at the Regents Hotel. The defendant is alleged to have struck one Justin Taylor in the head with a baseball bat. As some of you may be aware, the attack was covered in the papers and on the news a great deal when the incident first happened and it's been back in the news recently with the advent of the trial. Have any of you seen, read, or heard anything about this case in the media?" All but four of the jurors raised their hands. "I'm going to ask each juror who raised his or her hand and the counsels for the prosecution and defense to approach the bench." Keisha got up and joined the named persons at the bench where Kramer questioned the first juror as to what she'd seen, read, or heard and where. She replied that she'd seen stories about the attack in the local Pittsburgh papers and on the news when it first happened and then September 11 came along and she'd forgotten about it, but then about a week ago she began noticing the papers and the news covering the attack and the upcoming trial again. Then he asked her if she'd formed an opinion about the case.

"Well, Your Honor, it's kind of hard not to. I mean, there was a witness and everything and no one ever said that the defendant denied doing it. I even read somewhere where a nurse or someone in the hospital said that Chris Hobbs said that he hoped the boy he hit would die."

"Do you think you'd be able to set aside your opinion and be fair to both sides?"

"To tell the truth, Your Honor, I don't think I could. I thought I could, but now I know I've just seen way too much about it."

Sending that person back, he called for the next and in that way questioned all twelve of the jurors. Although four of them said that they'd formed an opinion, three assured the judge that they would be able to set aside their opinions and be fair to both sides. Keisha mentally made a note of their names to put check marks by once she'd returned to her seat.

"Dismissal for cause?"

Mason asked that Jurors 1, 6, 10 and 14 be dismissed for cause. The named jurors were dismissed and four replacement jurors called. And again Kramer went through the previous questions put forth to the panel until the four new jurors were caught up with the rest.

Finally, the judge asked if anyone could think of any reasons why they couldn't be objective, fair, and impartial to both sides. When no one replied, he said, "Now, ladies and gentlemen, the Assistant District Attorney is going to ask you some questions and when she's finished, the defense attorney will have the opportunity to do the same."

Keisha checked her watch. It was about two thirty. Aware that all eyes were on her, she stood and went around the table and took up a position about two feet away from the jury box. Before speaking a word, she looked each one of them in the eye, forging a connection with all of them, even with the ones who could only sustain a brief contact. One or two of the jurors gave her the impression that they didn't wholeheartedly approve of her. Not blatantly racist, just suspicious of a relatively young woman who happened to be black; how many strikes was that against her?

"Ladies and gentlemen, how many of you feel that everyone in America is entitled to equal protection under our laws? That everyone should be treated fairly under the law? Raise your hand if you feel this way." When they had all raised their hands, she asked, "What if that person is African American?" No one lowered their hands. "Hispanic?" Still no dodgers. "What if that person is a non-English speaker? A senior citizen. A child?" She could tell a few of them were getting tired of holding up their hands, but she wasn't done. "What if that person was a woman? How about a teenager?" A couple of the men looked at one another as if they couldn't believe she'd be so dense. She knew the look. Intended to turn the heat up on them. "What if that person is a drug addict? A crackhead. I'm sure you've all heard that phrase. Maybe on Law and Order? How about heterosexuals?" Malcolm Stanley smiled and one of the women near him looked around as if she hadn't heard correctly. "Are straight people entitled to equal protection under the law? What if the victim happens to be gay or straight?" She swept her eyes across the two rows of jurors. No one lowered their hand although the eyes had begun to glance around furtively, hoping, she knew, that someone else would put their hand down and make it okay. "I want you to be honest, ladies and gentlemen, because this is important. Everyone, no matter what their race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, or financial status is entitled to equal protection under American law. Do we all agree to that?"

"Except for Osama Bin Laden," someone said and the other jurors laughed, grateful to release some of the tension that had built up.

Keisha nodded, "Well, we've got the Hague Court for that." She decided to release them. "All right, you can put your hands down." They all did. "As Judge Kramer told you earlier, my name is Keisha Thomas and I'm the Assistant District Attorney that will be presenting the Commonwealth's evidence in this case. Now, we don't have a lot of time together, so I'm just going to ask you straight out about some of the issues of this case. I'm not going to be cute, and we're going to talk about some things that might make you uncomfortable. I'm not going to lie to you about that. But I have to bring them up because I need to make sure that you can be fair, that you can be impartial, and that you can listen to the evidence presented and come up with a verdict based on the evidence.

"Now, the facts of the case. Judge Kramer told you that the defendant, Christian Hobbs, was charged with striking Justin Taylor in the head with a baseball bat. What he didn't tell you is that it's the Commonwealth's position that the defendant attacked the victim because Justin Taylor was gay. Not only is Justin gay, but his boyfriend was a witness to the attack. That's what this case is about: gay bashing."

Mason fairly leapt from his seat. "Objection, Your Honor, the defendant is charged with aggravated assault. There is no law on the books regarding 'gay bashing.' "

"Your Honor, the victim was gay and he was struck or bashed with a baseball bat." She held her breath. Even she thought that was a little precious.

"Objection sustained."

Well, she'd got it out in the open at least. Smoothly, as if she hadn't been interrupted, Keisha continued. "Just a few moments ago, all of you said that you believed everyone was entitled to equal protection under the law regardless of race, ethnicity," each of them she ticked off and watched them for reactions, "religion, sexuality, or financial status. So if you're offended by homosexuality, if the idea of two men or two women being involved sexually bothers you, then you need to let me know because you're going to hear a great deal of testimony regarding the victim's sexuality." No one moved, some of the jurors looked, however, mortified.

"How many of you have never, to your knowledge, associated with anyone who was gay or lesbian?" A man in the second row raised his hand. "But you've heard about homosexuals, about gay and lesbian persons? Maybe seen them on TV or in the movies?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"And what have you heard? Or seen?"

The man looked distinctly uncomfortable. "That they're not like regular people."

"How do you mean? Do you mean straight people?"


"Well, gay men sleep with other men so I guess that's correct. Is that what you mean?"

"No, ma'am. Although that's true. I mean, that gay men sleep around."

"Have you ever known a man who slept around?" She didn't ask him about himself.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Was he gay?"

"No, ma'am."

"What else have you heard about gay people?"

"That they molest children."

"How many of you remember that case last year, little Melissa Roberts," Keisha asked, referring to a local case of child molestation and murder. They all raised their hands. It'd been on the news everyday for six months. "Was she molested by a lesbian?"

"No, ma'am," the man replied.

"She was molested and killed by a male relative, right?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"So we've established that regular people, that straight people, sleep around and molest children." She waited for the information to sink in and made note of the ones who seemed angered by her statement. "Now, I want to ask you a hard question and I want you to think about it before answering. Would the fact that the victim and one of the key witnesses in this case are gay render you unable or unwilling to be fair to the Commonwealth? And be honest. We're not here to pass judgement on you." Three people, including one of the Hispanic men, raised their hands. "Your Honor, I'd like to dismiss jurors 4, 7, and 11 for cause."

Kramer, barely keeping a sigh in check, dismissed and thanked the three jurors and instructed the Clerk to replace them. Once three new persons had been called forward, he went through his set of questions again and discovered that one of the two new persons had actually gone to high school with Coach Smithers, so that person was dismissed for cause and replaced.

Now that her attention could waver from the jurors, Keisha took the opportunity to observe Christian Hobbs. Although he had maintained his composure during the questions, she could tell he hadn't been unaffected. Even now Mason spoke hurriedly to him and she saw him grasp Hobbs' arm briefly. Too bad she couldn't hear what they were saying but she didn't need to, not really. Hobbs was getting his first taste of what it was going to be like during the trial and she could guess he wasn't too pleased with the issues that were going to be covered. She couldn't believe Mason hadn't warned him. Then again, if everything Justin had told her about Hobbs was correct, he probably hadn't believed his attorney.

The moment the court finished questioning the new jurors she addressed them and queried them regarding Justin's sexual orientation and its impact on the trial. When none of them admitted that it would impact their ability to render a fair and impartial verdict, she approached the idea of Justin's being gay from a slightly different angle. "We've established that the victim is gay. Although he's not on trial there are certain issues that have to be discussed. How many of you would enjoy sitting on the witness stand, " she pointed to it, "and talking about your sexual orientation? What you do in bed and with whom?"

Mason stood. "Objection, Your Honor, this is not a case about a sex crime."

"But it is, Your Honor. It's the Commonwealth's position that the victim was attacked because he was gay, because of whom he had sex with. And the jury's going to hear more about gay sex than they ever wanted to know or were afraid to ask. Justice demands that these jurors be able to be objective about that."


Keeping her face neutral, she turned back to the jurors. "Would anyone have a problem listening to a witness give explicit testimony regarding sexual matters?" When a couple of people raised their hands, she asked, "Would it bother you to the point where you wouldn't be able to listen objectively?"

"I don't know," the man said. "I just know I don't want to hear any details. I don't mind that people are gay, I just don't want to know about it."

"Do you feel the same?" she asked the woman.

"I believe so."

"Your Honor, I'd like to dismiss jurors 8 and 14 for cause."

And again they went through the process of replacing the jurors and the judge asking his questions before Keisha was able to question them. Meanwhile, it was getting close to three thirty. Two days, she'd called it. Finally, when she felt the issue of Justin's sexual orientation had been covered adequately enough, she moved to the second explosive issue of the trial: his relationship with Brian. "Ladies and gentlemen, you've heard that the victim, Justin Taylor, is gay. Now, there's something else I want you to know about him, no beating around the bush, and I need to know if it's going to affect your ability to sit on this trial as well. How many of you have heard the expression "May-December romance'?" Almost everyone raised their hand. "Could someone explain what it means?"

A lady on the first row, far end from Keisha, said, "It means when one person in a relationship is much older than the other person."

"Thank you. That's exactly right. Remember I told you Justin has a boyfriend and his boyfriend witnessed the attack. Well, Justin Taylor is eighteen and in college and his boyfriend is thirty. When they met, Justin was seventeen and his boyfriend was twenty-nine. Now, there's no issue of legality here, Justin was legal when they met, because legal in Pennsylvania is sixteen. But there is a twelve year difference in their ages." She glanced at her notes and singled out juror 10. "Juror 10, you indicated that you were married. Is there an age difference?"

"No, ma'am," he replied. "We graduated high school together."

She smiled. "Juror 5, is there a difference is ages between you and your husband?"


"I'm not going to ask you how much but I do want to know this: if your husband were five years older or younger than you, do you think it would have made a difference to your failing in love with him?"

"No, ma'am."

"What if he were seven or eight years older than you?"

"Objection, Your Honor."

"Your Honor, I believe the question of age is an important one. After all the victim was attacked leaving a high school prom. But if the defense will agree never to bring up this point, I'm more than willing to drop it."

"Overruled. But," he said to Keisha, "I think your point has been made. Ask your question and move on, counselor, your time is running out."

"Yes, Your Honor." She addressed the jury panel. "You've just heard me say that the victim was attacked leaving a high school prom. Justin's prom, of course. Would that fact affect your ability to be fair in this case?" No one responded. "Would the fact that there is a twelve-year age difference between the victim and his boyfriend, who is a key witness to the attack, affect your ability to be fair in this case? If anyone feels that way, please let me know because that age difference isn't going anywhere and you're going to see them together in court, you're going to listen to each of them give testimony, and I don't want any prejudice or bias to affect your ability to listen objectively to that testimony and to weigh the facts in this case. Can everyone here do that?" When she didn't see any hands go up, she addressed the bench. "No more questions, Your Honor."

By then, it was about three-forty. Deciding they'd all needed it, Kramer called a short recess, ten minutes, no more, and admonished the jury members to be prompt in their return to the courtroom.

Since there wasn't really time to run upstairs, Keisha sat at her table and made notes on each of the remaining jurors. With only four peremptory challenges available to her, she had to use them carefully. Having tried to dismiss for cause anyone with blatant issues regarding Justin's homosexuality and the age differences, she had to pay particular attention to the answers the jurors gave to Mason's questions in case someone revealed a reason for dismissal for cause. There were only a couple of people that she had gut instincts about but nothing major, nothing that said she had to get them off the jury panel.

Court reconvened and Mason left his table to begin his questioning. Looking at him, she could barely keep a sneer from her face. What a pompous asshole. It'd figure the Hobbs family would have retained him. Expensive and not above grandstanding in the worst Johnny Cochran fashion, he was exactly what the defendant needed to try and muddy the issues, to distract the jurors' attention from the facts in the case. If Kramer didn't keep a tight rein on him, Mason was capable of turning the trial into a circus sideshow. So far, the judge had shown, in her opinion, good judgement and she had no problems with his rulings, even the ones that had gone against her. She just hoped he continued to keep a firm hand on the proceedings once the evidence phase of the trial began.

"Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Raymond Mason and I'm the counsel for the defense. I want you to know that I agree with the Assistant District Attorney. On one point. All persons are entitled to equal protection under the law. I believe that wholeheartedly. What I don't believe is that some persons are entitled to more than equal protection under the law. Right now, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has no statute or law granting homosexuals special protection under the law. In other words, crimes against homosexuals are treated the same as crimes against straight people."

Keisha tightened her lips. That's the way she would have done if she'd been defending Hobbs.

"So if a homosexual is robbed, the perpetrator is tried the same as if he'd robbed a straight person. If a homosexual is involved in a car accident, he's treated the same as if he were a straight person. If a homosexual is assaulted, it's treated the same as if a straight person were assaulted. Now, does everyone understand that? That the law grants equal protection to all persons, and does not single out homosexuals as being more worthy of special protection than you or me."

Keisha watched as Malcolm Stanley's eyes went hard. There was currently being debated in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, anti-hate crime legislation. After a tough fight, the Senate had passed to approve the legislation and it had gone to the House where opposition was expected to be just as fierce.

"So. Does anyone on the panel believe that homosexuals should be granted special protection under the law?"

Still watching Malcolm, Keisha willed him to remain calm and quiet. But, of course, the man couldn't. He raised his hand.

"Yes?" asked Mason, solicitously.

"I don't think it's a matter of being granted special protection. It's that some crimes are motivated by hatred of homosexuals, the same way there are racially motivated crimes. And there is a law against that."

"But the current law doesn't include homosexuals, does it?"


"And you believe that it should?"


"Do you believe you would be able to sit in judgement of the defendant based on the facts of the case and not allow your personal beliefs to color said judgement?"

Malcolm was silent for a moment. Keisha marked him off the jury list. Either for cause or through peremptory challenge, he was gone. "No," he said softly. "I guess I wouldn't."

Addressing the rest of the jury panel, Mason repeated his question. "Does anyone else believe that homosexuals should be granted special protection under the law?"

A woman raised her hand, her eyes not quite meeting Mason's.

"Yes, ma'am. Could you tell the court why?"

"Well, it's just that after Matthew Shepard-"

"Your Honor, I would ask that juror 4 and 9 be dismissed for cause."

Keisha could tell that some of the jurors felt that Mason had been rude, but she understood. The last thing he wanted was to color the issues with any discussion of Matthew Shephard. Too prejudicial. He shouldn't have asked her to explain herself but Keisha was sure he'd just wanted another opportunity to showboat. Well, that nearly blew up in his face. Still a chance that it might as now the issue was out on the table. The name had been mentioned and it had to be on their minds. The horrific murder and the fact that Justin bore a resemblance to the slain college student.

So Malcolm and juror 9 were dismissed and the other jurors waited while they were replaced and the new jurors were questioned by the judge, Mason, and Keisha.

A little after four o'clock. Less than an hour to go.

Looking somewhat pleased but a little chagrined too, Mason continued. "I don't recall if it's been mentioned yet in court, but the defendant and the victim were students at St. James Academy when the assault allegedly occurred. For those of you who don't know, St. James Academy is a private school. Almost all of the students who attend St. James come from well-to-do families, upper middle class to upper class families. Now, a little bit of envy is natural but I need to know if the fact that Christian Hobbs comes from an upper class family bias anyone against him." No one said anything. "Does anyone believe that rich people are able to get away with something because they're wealthy and can afford high priced lawyers like myself." As he'd intended a couple people laughed but the remaining Hispanic man on the jury panel raised his hand. "Yes, sir, do you believe that wealthy people have it better in court than poor people?"

"Yes, I do."

"And do you believe this would prevent you from being fair and impartial to my client, Christian Hobbs?"

"No. It might not be true in this case. Not all rich people get off."

Raising an eyebrow, Keisha smiled. The only way Mason would be able to get rid of him was through a peremptory challenge. But she put a tick mark by his name because she figured no way would Mason risk it.

"St. James is also a religious-affiliated institution. Would that fact affect you?"

She didn't expect that it would. Now, if it had been Catholic

"All right. I'd like to mention that one of the issues in this case is the idea of intent. The judge will instruct you on the charges once the voir dire stage is over but I just want to mention that the intent of the defendant will be very important to the outcome of this trial. Let me ask you something. How many people like chocolate?" Some of the members laughed but most people raised their hands. "Now, let's say you had chocolate on the first of the month and then two days later and then a week later and then five days later. So that's four times you had chocolate in a month and you told yourself, that's it, no more. Now, let's say you were running late for a meeting and you hadn't had any lunch and you asked a coworker if they had anything and all they had was chocolate. So you ate it. So your intent was not to have chocolate but it just happened. Can everyone understand that?" A lot of people nodded. "Now, do you think it's possible to have a history of doing something and still not intend to commit that act again?" Most people nodded. "Do you think committing the act itself is the same as intending to commit the act?" A man raised his hand. "Yes, sir?"

"But you had an opportunity not to eat the chocolate. No one forced you to eat it."

Yes! thought Keisha. And then, You're gone.

"I agree. No one forced you to eat it. But, remember, the issue isn't whether or not you did eat it, it's whether or not you intended to eat it. Does that make sense?"


"Does anyone else have a problem separating intent from the act itself?"

Another juror raised her hand. "I don't think it makes any difference."

"You mean you don't think intent is an issue?"

"No, I mean whether you intended to or not, you did it. So it doesn't matter what your intent was."

Mason turned to Kramer. "Your Honor, I'd like to dismiss juror sixteen for cause."

After dismissing juror sixteen and going through the entire replacement rigmarole with both Kramer and Keisha questioning the juror, the clock steadily inched towards four forty-five. Mason was given the opportunity to question the new juror about issues he'd already raised but as soon as he was done with that and about to begin with a new topic, Kramer stopped him.

"I think this is a good place to stop for today. When we reconvene tomorrow, Mr. Mason will resume questioning the panel and we'll continue until we've selected a jury. Please remember, ladies and gentlemen, that you are all under oath, even those jurors who have not been called to the box. This means you are to refrain from discussing the case, or from reading any newspaper or magazine articles about the case, and from watching any news stories or any other televised items about the case. Thank you for your cooperation. Court is adjourned until 9:00 a.m. tomorrow."

When the day's session ended, Keisha sent the guys home. Having sat in her office most of the day, they were anxious to go back to the loft. Before they headed downstairs, she called them a cab, and they waited until it was scheduled to arrive, then braced themselves for a final push through the crowds which was composed mostly of the press, the demonstrators having given up and gone to their own homes to rest up for another day. For which Brian and Justin were eternally grateful. Climbing into the cab, Brian was surprised to see that it was the driver from that morning. As he'd remembered the man's earlier disapproval, and needing to release some tension, he said sarcastically, "This just isn't your day, is it?"

Amazingly, the man replied, "I'm sorry about this morning. I guess I had kind of an attitude."

Unsure as to why the man had had an apparent change of heart, Brian was, nevertheless, willing to let bygones be bygones. "Whatever." No one said he had to be gracious about it. Justin, for his part, said nothing, wanting to get home as quickly as possible and let go of this day.

But the driver continued to talk as he drove. "Must be tough. Getting that coming and going," he said, indicating the media.

"Yeah, well, what can you do?" Brian asked, hoping the guy would drop it. He thought he liked him better when he'd only scowled. Maybe he should have tipped him less. Testing the man's newfound goodwill, Brian reached for Justin's hand and held it, fingers entwined. The teen glanced over at him and smiled.

The guy grabbed a card from the dashboard and handed it back to Brian. "Willie, that's me. You need a lift, I'm your man."

When he saw that Brian wasn't going to take it, Justin did. "Thanks."

"I don't have much to do with gay people, " Willie said, "but today I went home and my son was there, out on some kind of a teacher work day, and I told him about picking you up. And he said, 'That could have been me.'"

Justin was instantly alert. "What could have been him?"

"You. With some guy at school picking on him." Willie hesitated. "Because he's gay." Shook his head. "I never knew. I mean, maybe I suspected, but I didn't know for sure. Guess I didn't really want to know. But now I do."

"So what are you going to do about it?" Justin asked.

"Still my kid," Willie replied. "Got a right arm you wouldn't believe. Pitches on his high school team. Smart too. Graduates next year. Hoping he'll get a scholarship."

"I hope he does too."

After that Willie fell quiet, the traffic, having picked up a little, demanding all of his attention but as he dropped them off in front of their building, reporters blocking the way, he punched his horn angrily and yelled out the window, "Get the fuck out of the way or I'll mow you down. Goddamn vultures." The reporters gave him some room.

Brian shook his head in admiration of Willie's style. "Tomorrow. Eight o'clock."

"Sure thing."

As they disembarked, Justin waved goodbye and then rushed inside once Brian got the door opened. The doorman stood by impassively, six feet of grey-suited quiet menace. After the fiasco last Monday, no one was getting past him without having first submitted DNA, he was that thorough.

Leaving Justin to lock the door, Brian checked the answering machine for messages. Hit the play button while he went through the mail. Most of the calls were from their friends and family asking about their day at the courthouse. One was from Cynthia telling him Ryder was going to kill Bob and Brad, and one was from Bob and Brad begging him to give them a call because they needed help and wouldn't be able to send him anything on the Latham account until tomorrow. Ignoring all the messages, Brian tossed the mail unopened upon the desk and went to change his clothes. Justin was already out of his and stood in his briefs. Not intending to play for long, Brian enveloped him in a hug and kissed him softly, then released him.

But Justin had other ideas. Letting Brian remove his coat and shoes, Justin sidled up behind him and wrapped his arms around Brian's waist.

"Baby. . ."

"Shut up," Justin ordered and the man obeyed and started to turn around. "Be still." Brian stopped.

Curious as to where this was going but willing to let Justin lead, Brian swallowed any further objections or comments and waited for Justin to make the next move.

Slowly, Justin ran his hand down Brian's torso, and over his groin. Locating his penis beneath layers of cloth, Justin began stroking him. He'd been waiting all day for this, for the opportunity to touch Brian in private. The kissing they'd done in Keisha's office had only whet his appetite, not satisfied it. Pressing his face against his lover's shirt between his shoulders, he inhaled his scent. Brian used the lightest of colognes as if not wanting anything to compete with his natural fragrance. He always smelled good; even after he'd been running on the treadmill, his musty odor drove Justin wild. As did the sweat gleaming on his skin.

Brian felt his cock responding to the teen's motions, stiffening as the blood rushed to his pelvic area. In a few minutes a wet spot would appear over the head and soon after that he'd have to come out his pants because his dick wouldn't have it any other way. But he wasn't too worried about being freed because already Justin was unbuttoning his shirt. The trousers would soon be next.

Sliding his hand inside Brian's shirt, Justin tweaked his nipple and heard the man gasp. He continued to pinch and tease the aureole of flesh until it drew to a hard nub. Leaving that one, he turned his attention to the other nipple until it too stood out from Brian's chest. Even better, the teen could feel Brian's prick lengthening, thickening beneath his hand. It pressed against the inside of Brian's underwear, tenting the front of his pants. His own cock was stirring too, growing heavier and more sensitive. Like a rutting animal, he rubbed his crotch against the back of Brian's thigh and sighed, the sensation going through him like an electric current.

Any moment, he thought, I'm going to start moaning. Brian bit his lip to keep the sound from escaping and squeezed his eyes shut. If Justin didn't release him soon, he was certain he was going to come right inside his briefs, staining his new trousers, especially now as the teen had begun to use both hands to knead and ply his cock. It tingled and throbbed and ached. Having sworn to himself not to, Brian begged Justin to let him go. "Justin," he pleaded. "I can't- -"

"Shh," the boy replied and he undid the button on the waistband of Brian's trousers. Took hold of the zipper and slowly, unhurriedly, began drawing it downwards.

Brian almost groaned. He was so hard, even the sound of the zipper acted as an aphrodisiac, sending pulses racing up his cock and throughout his body. His neck and check felt flushed and he'd begun to breathe faster. Suddenly burning up, he squirmed in Justin's arms to try and remove his shirt.

The teen stopped unzipping him and helped. Drew the shirt over his muscular shoulders and back. Only, he left the tie on.

Brian didn't question him, glad to be rid of the hot shirt. The cool air on his skin felt good, distracted him for a moment from his erection. But not for long as it began to throb once more.

Justin returned to his task and completed the job, bringing the zipper to the end of its track. He pulled the two halves of the fly back, then reached in and encircled Brian's cock with his fingers. But instead of freeing him from the cotton briefs, Justin started stroking him again.

Brian did moan then, and his pisshole opened and the cloth over his cock head became wet with precum.

Encountering the spot, Justin released Brian and pushed the man's trousers down around his hips. Gently, he reached in and withdrew Brian's dick from his underwear. Heard his lover sigh. Kneeling, Justin pulled off both the briefs and the trousers. Stood and stripped free of his remaining piece of clothing. Then, eyes fixed on Brian's, he removed the tie from his neck and wrapped it once around the man's cock and balls. Holding one end in either hand, he pulled, first one way, then the other, the silk material sliding around his lover's genitals and cutting off his breath.

His head swam and he was dizzy with lust. The silk tie was a most exquisite torture and he was certain that the Marquis de Sade must have dreamt it up inside his prison cell and committed it to paper in order to instruct future generations. Precum dripped from his cock as Justin continued to work the tie around him and he imagined erupting while Justin held the tie in his hands, coming on the boy's stomach.

Only Justin had other plans. He was hard and wet as well and strands of precum streaked his thighs. Releasing the tie, he removed it from Brian's hard-on and eased the man onto the bed. Brian lay on his back. Then, as thoroughly as he'd stroked him, Justin began licking him. Holding Brian's cock upright by the base, Justin's tongue flittered about the shaft and head, darting around the rigid column of flesh. Using only the tip of his tongue, he traced the veins in his man's cock from just above his balls to just below the fleshy head. Pressed closed his mouth and sucked on the area around one such vein, sucked on it until the skin was red and Brian was moaning, writhing about on the bed, the tendons in his thighs taut, his small, firm buttocks rising from the mattress. Justin engulfed the peak and rotated his head so that the tip of Brian's penis rubbed against all of the inside surfaces of his mouth, leaving traces of precum from tongue to roof. Letting him go, Justin spat upon Brian's dick and licked the shaft, spreading saliva along the length of him. Spat again and licked, and again until Brian glistened from tip to root. And then Justin took him inside his mouth once more, the swollen organ sliding with ease between his lips as the teen pleasured them both.

Brian panted as Justin sucked him, hands entwined in his own hair making it look as if he'd just awakened from a week-long sleep, saliva trickling from the corner of his mouth, back arched. He slumped to the bed, then fought against Justin's grip, but the teen kept him down, his capable hands pressing against the man's hipbones, holding him in place as his lips slid up and down and around the his cock. Finally Justin allowed him to slip free with a sucking sound. His dick slapped against his belly, balls firm and drawn up along the shaft. Justin's tongue and lips rooted between his cheeks. He raised his legs and caught them in his hands, held them up and open while Justin lapped at his hole. Over and over the teenager's tongue washed the wrinkled pucker until his dark, rosy skin shone. The edges tensed and released as Justin rimmed him, loosening him up with each foray until finally he'd relaxed enough for the tip of Justin's tongue to enter him.

"Uhhh!" he groaned and inhaled deeply, raggedly exhaled. Justin curled his tongue inside of him and the tip touched the roof of his hole sending him into convulsions. Head lolling about on the bed, body drenched in sweat, he moaned, "Fuck me." God, he wanted it so badly, wanted to feel Justin's thick cock buried in his ass. "Fuck me," he repeated but there was no need as the teen was more than willing and ready to mount him without further delay. He lifted his legs and laid them over Justin's shoulders, reached down and held onto the boy's hips, holding him in place as his body accustomed itself to being filled. And then Justin began to withdraw.

Toes curling, Brian sucked in a draught of air as Justin's cock backed up inside his hole and then changed direction again, the thick tube of meat plowing into him. Involuntarily, his muscles tensed and held Justin in place for a moment before surrendering and allowing the teen to thrust and withdraw as he pleased.

Brian's hole was so slick, so slippery, so warm, the puffy lips sucking the length of his cock as he pulled away and kissing him as he plunged forward, that Justin lost himself in the motion of fucking. Leaning forward, he supported himself on his hands and drove his dick into the man's hole furiously for a while, then slowed down, and with his cock buried to the hilt, merely rotated his hips. He could tell Brian was pleased by the way the man smiled at first, and then his mouth fell open and all he could do was moan. Justin pulled out completely amidst complaints from his lover but the sounds of complaint quickly turned to ones of contentment as Justin turned him over and entered him once more.

Cock hidden in the bedclothes, hard and aching, Brian groaned into the comforter as Justin fucked his ass with abandon. Each thrust jolted him. He raised his head and gave a cry, clenching his cheeks. Justin gasped in surprise, the tightening of Brian's hole around his cock sending him barreling headlong into his orgasm. Pumping his hips, he came, shooting his load up Brian's moist tunnel. He collapsed on top of Brian, still inside him, and tried to catch his breath. Then, begrudgingly, he withdrew completely. Brian's hole remained open and Justin could see traces of cum around the edges.

Brian rolled over and began pulling on his cock. Without being asked, Justin pushed two of his fingers inside the man and began fucking his already well-fucked ass. But Brian loved the additional attention. Gasping, he squeezed his muscles around Justin's fingers and tugged on his dick even harder. Justin's lips formed a seal around the head of Brian's penis and he waited for his thirst to be quenched. With a jerk, the man came, cum squirting inside the teen's mouth.

Sliding his fingers free, Justin swallowed, then kissed Brian's cock and sighed. That had been well worth the wait.

For once no one had interrupted them while they were making love and even if someone had knocked or called, they would have been out of luck this time as neither man had had any intention of stopping to find out what they wanted. But no one had rang or buzzed. Grateful for the time alone, they lay together, drowsily kissing until exhaustion claimed them and they slept.

Tuesday, November 13th

9:00 a.m.

The two men settled in her office upstairs, Keisha prepared herself for round two of jury selection. Although Mason hadn't completed his questioning, she didn't anticipate any surprises, but it never paid to underestimate your opponent, especially one with ethics as slippery as Mason's. So she stayed on the alert.

Mason approached the jury box. "Ladies and gentlemen, I have one last issue I want to talk with you about. It's not a pretty topic but it's something that we need to address before any witnesses are called to give testimony. How many of you are familiar with date rape?"

She was on her feet so quickly she didn't know how she'd gotten there. "Objection, Your Honor. No evidence has been given or uncovered in this case regarding a rape of any kind."

"Your Honor, I believe counsel is aware of the incident to which I'm referring."

"I'm aware that mutual consent was given."

Mason corrected her. "My client never consented to anything."

Keisha repeated her objection. "Your Honor, again I object."

Kramer maintained an air of neutrality. "I believe that this issue is relevant to the case. Objection overruled. I'll allow questioning to continue along this line of inquiry but proceed cautiously, Mr. Mason."

"Yes, Your Honor. Now, as I was saying, how many of you are familiar with date rape?" Hands rose in the air. "How many of you believe that a person has a right to say 'No' at any time regardless of circumstances?" Most of the jurors raised their hands with three exceptions. Mason questioned the ones who'd abstained. "Juror 5, am I to understand that you believe a person doesn't have a right to say no at any time regardless of circumstances?"

"That's right."

"Could you explain what you mean?"

"Well," he said, "if a woman goes home with a guy and it's two a.m. and they're in the bed together naked, what else does she think she's there for, except to have sex?"

"Juror nine, is this how you feel?"

The woman nodded. "I think people get themselves into situations and then yell rape when they're caught."

Mason asked the last juror if she felt the same way and she agreed. "I think if you put yourself in a situation like that, then you know what you're asking for."

Of course, he asked Kramer to dismiss them for cause and they were replaced. Again, the judge went through his list of questions, then Keisha was allowed a reasonable amount of time to question the jurors that had been newly appointed to the panel. Finding no fault with any of them, she sat back down. Mason queried them on the areas he'd covered with the other jurors until he was back to his questions about date rape.

"Does anyone believe that every sexual encounter between two people is by mutual consent?" No one gave an indication that they thought so. "Does anyone believe that a man is incapable of being forced into having sex?" No one raised their hands. "Do you believe that physical size or strength means that a person can't be forced into having sex?" Again, no one admitted to believing that was so. Finally Mason had come to the end of his questions.

Judge Kramer then asked, "Challenges for Cause?"

"Pass for Cause, Your Honor," Keisha said.

"Pass for Cause, Your Honor," said Mason.

Turning to the prosecution first, Kramer asked, "Any peremptory challenges?"

Although she hadn't gotten a bad feeling from any of the remaining jurors, she'd had slight reservations about one woman who seemed to flinch whenever sex was mentioned. That was someone she'd rather not have on this particular jury given the graphic, sexual nature of some of the testimony. "Your Honor, I would like you to thank and excuse juror number twelve."

When he had finished excusing her, he turned to the defense and asked the same question. Of course, Mason asked to excuse the Hispanic man who'd made the comment about rich people making out better in court. That didn't come as a surprise at all to Keisha. Once the two jurors had been replaced, she and Mason had to wait while the judge went through all of his questions before they had a chance. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you looked at it, one of the jurors was dismissed for cause as she told the judge, "I think homosexuality is an abomination before God." Keisha asked that she be dismissed and another juror was called up to take her place. Again, Kramer went through his questions and this time it seemed as if things were looking all right until he asked about their exposure to the media. Both jurors had read about the case voraciously and had definitely formed opinions about whether or not they thought Christian Hobbs was guilty. With something akin to relief, Mason asked that they both be dismissed.

By then, the remaining jurors began to get restless. It was about a half past ten so Kramer called a brief recess, fifteen minutes and not a minute more and again cautioned the jurors about being under oath.

Keisha took the opportunity to run to the Ladies' Room as she'd had one too many cups of coffee that morning having stayed up too late the night before working on her opening statement. It paid to be prepared. If they finished the jury selection this afternoon, the trial would begin immediately, which meant she had to be ready to go at a moment's notice. After leaving the bathroom, she ran upstairs to check on her charges. Found them innocently surfing the web for information about Europe. They'd told her that they were planning a fabulous, four-week vacation in the summer and she'd offered to let them use her computer during the voir dire as long as they didn't visit any gay porn sites.

Brian, of course, had said, "You might learn something."

"Are you close to being done?" Justin asked when he saw her.

"Maybe. Maybe not. You can never tell with jurors."

Justin turned to Brian. "You think we should call my mom and Deb, to let them know?"

"Yeah. The guys probably can't get off with this late notice, but at least your mom would be in there with you. I'll try Lindsay too, she might be home this afternoon."

Her time having slipped away, Keisha left them to make their calls and return to court.

For the next twenty minutes the judge questioned the two new jurors, then turned them over to Keisha who ended up asking for one of them to be dismissed for cause as the person had a definite attitude about "older men corrupting young boys." And the process began all over again. By eleven twenty-five, Mason had completed his questioning with no dismissals.

Again Kramer asked if there were any challenges for cause and there were none. Then he asked Keisha if she had any peremptory challenges.

She paused. Again, there was no one on the jury about whom she had strong feelings but she had an uneasy feeling about a man on the second row who seemed a bit too blasi about the whole thing. He'd answered his questions without reservation and gave good answers but something in the pit of her stomach told her not to trust him. "Your Honor, I'd like you to thank and excuse juror number fifteen."

Kramer dismissed the man and turned to Mason who asked that he dismiss juror number three.

Eleven thirty and they called two more people to the box. Keisha looked over at the jurors and began to see signs of fatigue. The process was, at best, boring to them. And they were probably sick of hearing the same questions over and over again. But it had to be done in order to insure that they had the best jury for this case. Within reason.

By the time she got finished questioning the two new jurors, Keisha had begun to believe that they might actually be able to go forward soon. She had no problems with the new jurors and with the removal of juror number fifteen, she'd gotten rid of the last of her gut instinct dismissals. There was really no need for her to use her other peremptory challenges. Of course, Mason could still exercise his remaining challenges based on hunches as well. She could only hope that he didn't and they could begin the evidence phase of the trial early this afternoon before they lost the jury's attention.

Mason sat down after questioning the two newest jurors without having challenged either of them for cause.

"Challenges for cause?" asked Kramer. Neither of the attorneys responded. "Any peremptory challenges?" he asked Keisha.

"No, Your Honor."

He asked the same of Mason.

"No, Your Honor."

Yes! thought Keisha.

Kramer announced, "We have a jury. I'd like to thank those jurors who were not called. We appreciate the time you took out of your busy schedules to participate in this process. I'd also like to thank those jurors who were excused, we appreciate your candor and your honesty in answering our questions. And, finally, I'd like to thank the members of the jury for their patience. Now, as it is twelve twenty, I'm going to recess for lunch for an hour and forty minutes. This may seem like a long time to all of you but the attorneys have things to do during this time as do I. We will reconvene at two o'clock at which time the jury will be sworn in again as the trial jury and the two counsels will present their opening statements. As the break is such a long one, I ask that all jurors be back in the courtroom promptly at two o'clock and ready to focus on the task ahead."

1:45 p.m.

Alone, inside Keisha's office, the two lovers embraced one another, Justin's heart pounding as he contemplated going into the courtroom and facing Christian Hobbs- - without Brian. Facing the people in the courtroom, some of whom would be hostile towards him just because he was gay or because of Brian. Luckily they'd been able to spend the entire lunch recess together although they couldn't go out into the courtyard as too many people had shown up today in anticipation of the trial beginning and they knew they'd never be able to sit quietly in public. So they'd remained in Keisha's office while she went to a colleague's office to concentrate on her opening statement and to eat as well.

Now the time had come for them to part again.

The man raised the teen's face and kissed him gently. A soft smile curved Justin's lips and brightened his eyes. "I'll be waiting right here." Brian kissed him again. "I love you."

"I love you too."

Keisha knocked then opened the door. "Ready?"

Giving Brian a final kiss, Justin pulled away. Before he crossed the threshold, he turned and said, "Later."

Brian smiled. "Later, baby." And then Justin was gone and he was left alone in the empty office. Refusing to look out of the window at the demonstrators below, Brian sat in one of Keisha's uncomfortable office chairs to do as he'd promised: to wait.

As they walked down to the courtroom, Keisha asked him, "Are you all right?" He nodded, his heart in his throat, making it almost impossible for him to speak. "You sure?"

He filled his lungs with air, as if preparing to dive underwater. "No."

"It's okay to be nervous. Just remember, you're not on trial. Just tell the truth, answer the questions I ask you, and don't worry about that asshole, Mason. When I'm done with direct, there won't be anything left for him to ask you. Only, he's desperate because he doesn't have a case so he's liable to do anything. But if he tries anything sneaky, I'll be on him like that," she snapped her fingers. "I had this aunt, she lived out in the country and we'd go visit her in the summer. She could spot a snake out of the corner of her eye. She'd be talking to you one minute and the next, she'd be up with a hoe in her hand, chopping away. I'm just like that when it comes to underhanded defense lawyers. So if he messes with me, he's going to get his head chopped off too. If he's lucky." Keisha made a motion with her fingers, as if she were cutting something with a pair of scissors and Justin grinned, knowing exactly what she meant.

As they neared the courtroom, the noise level increased. Already they could see members of the press milling around hoping to catch a glimpse of anyone involved with the case. Most of the press was confined to the press room but the judge had allowed a certain number of reporters access to the courtroom so they were making the best of their privilege by scouting out leads. Justin looked up and saw Jeff, Michael's ex-boyfriend, among the gaggle of reporters. Brian had told him that Michael said they broke up because they weren't compatible but neither of them had believed that. They'd broken up because of the trial.

Keisha escorted Justin to the witness waiting room. Ordinarily Brian would have been in there too but they all thought it was best that he stay out of view of the reporters. He was on edge enough as is and didn't think he could face the press, not today, not when his temper was liable to flare up at the slightest thing. It was better that he wait alone and out of sight.

"Okay," Keisha told him, "I'm going inside. The bailiff will come and get you when it's time for you to testify."

The jury had been sworn in and the Judge had given a second set of preliminary instructions to the jury regarding the charges, the order of the trial, and the treatment of evidence whether oral testimony or physical evidence. "I believe that gives you a general understanding regarding what we're going to be doing in the course of this trial. The first order of business is the opening statements. Because the Commonwealth has the burden of proof in this case, the Assistant District Attorney will present her opening statement first. Ms. Thomas."

She stood and knew that immediately all eyes were upon her. "Thank you, Your Honor. May it please the court. . ."


Aware of the audience's attention on her, she, nevertheless, focused all of her energy on the jury. Those sixteen men and women were the only ones who counted in the courtroom. Although she had notes, she didn't pick them up. Left them laying on the table next to her trial notebook. She knew what she was going to say. She hadn't memorized it, but she knew the points she wanted to cover and she'd done this so many times, if given a case and a strategy, she could write a half-decent opening statement in fifty minutes or less. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, on April 20th of this year, Justin Taylor attended his senior prom with his best friend, Daphne Chanders. For them, as for so many other eighteen-year-olds, the prom represented a rite of passage, one of those final steps that would take them from childhood to adulthood. Some of you probably remember your senior prom, and even if it wasn't perfect, in your mind it probably remains one of the milestones of your life.

"For Justin Taylor, the only thing that could have made his prom better would have been if he could have gone with the person he loved, Brian Kinney. Because Justin was gay. And even though he and Daphne had been friends since childhood and he loved her like a sister, he wished he could have shared that magical night with Brian. He'd even asked Brian but Brian had refused. So when Brian later showed up at the prom, Justin thought all of his dreams had come true.

"Standing in the parking lot afterwards, the two men shared a tender kiss. Then, having made plans to meet at Brian's place later, Justin started back inside to escort Daphne home. Unbeknownst to him, the defendant, Christian Hobbs, was creeping up behind him carrying a baseball bat. Brian, seeing the defendant in the side mirror of his car, got out and called to Justin to warn him. Justin turned but it was too late. He was dealt a violent blow to the temple by the defendant. Brian rushed at the defendant, pushed him down, and grabbed the bat as the defendant tried to escape. Mr. Kinney then struck Christian Hobbs once in the knee to keep him from fleeing and returned to Justin.

"A night which had begun in laughter and joy, that had seen Justin Taylor realizing his dreams, had come to a screeching halt, with the teen lying unconscious in Brian's arms, bleeding from a horrible head wound.

"What had brought these three people to this violent moment? How had they gotten there? For the answer to that question, you'd have to return to the previous year.

"Justin Taylor was a student at St. James Academy, a private school in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. He was a senior looking forward to graduating. He was an artist who dreamt of attending art school after graduation. He was also gay. A young man experiencing a sexual awakening, a life change. In September of last year, Justin Taylor met Brian Kinney, an advertising executive with a local firm. At the time they met, Justin was seventeen, Brian was twenty-nine. Twelve years separated the two men but there was a mutual attraction that neither of them could deny. I say men because Justin Taylor was of consenting age; the age of consent in Pennsylvania is sixteen and Justin was seventeen. That night was the beginning of a relationship that grew from a series of sexual encounters and blossomed into love.

"But let's go back to that first night. Justin Taylor was a virgin, inexperienced in sexual matters and naive regarding relationships. More importantly, he was a young man who'd never, prior to that night, had the courage to interact with another man sexually. Unfortunately, Justin felt something for Brian that the older man did not reciprocate. At that time. So Justin Taylor, having had his first sexual experience, full of feelings he couldn't control, and caught in the throes of unrequited love, approached, for the first time, another young man sexually. That young man was a student at St. James Academy, another senior. The defendant, Christian Hobbs.

"Now, ladies and gentlemen, you're going to hear words in this trial that maybe you aren't accustomed to hearing, words describing deeds that you would prefer be left in the bedroom where you believe they belong, but a crime was committed and we have to uncover the truth about what happened and to do that, we'll have to talk about some things that wouldn't be acceptable in polite society.

"The encounter that took place between Justin Taylor and Christian Hobbs occurred in the equipment shed of the St. James Academy and you'll hear details about that encounter from both the prosecution and the defense. The important thing to remember is that it was not repeated. It's true that Justin initiated contact with the defendant but after that one time, he never did so again. Never. In all of the ensuing months between that encounter and the attack at the prom, Justin Taylor did not once approach Christian Hobbs sexually. Why? Because he loved Brian Kinney. But being a teenager, a young man who had finally found himself sexually, he had explored his sexuality, had had sex with the defendant. Only, he realized that he still loved Brian. So, he focused his attention on him.

"Christian Hobbs, however, was not able to forget that incident so easily. I'm not a psychiatrist, I can't tell you how the encounter affected Mr. Hobbs. I can only describe his behavior towards Justin afterwards in a series of encounters that took place between October and April.

"Incident number one. Justin had gotten a nipple ring. It's the kind of thing young people do. Christian Hobbs saw Justin's nipple ring as Justin got dressed in the men's locker room after gym class. Did he compliment Justin on the nipple ring? No. He, instead, accused Justin of being queer. When Justin denied it, the defendant asked him why he'd gotten the ring then. The defendant then proceeded to tell Justin that he believed Justin had gotten the ring so that his sexual partners could pull on it while they engaged in anal intercourse. Justin, as teenagers do, asked the defendant how he knew so much about gay sex unless he himself was gay. At that point Christian Hobbs pushed Justin against a bank of lockers and the two young men fought until they were separated. Then, in front of witnesses, Christian Hobbs told Justin Taylor, 'I'll kill you, you fucking faggot.'"

Keisha waited while the audience and jury responded to her words. She couldn't wait until Justin took the stand and told them in his own words and in Chris Hobbs' words what happened. Explosive.

"Incident number two. Justin and his friend, Daphne Chanders, arrived in their homeroom to find the defendant, Christian Hobbs, tormenting another student, Max Freiberg. Christian Hobbs accused Max Freiberg of being a faggot. When Justin heard Hobbs taunting Max, he told Hobbs to stop it, to leave Max alone. In the argument that followed, Justin alluded to their encounter in the equipment shed and Christian Hobbs shoved him. They began to push one another until their homeroom teacher, Mr. Dixon, appeared and told them to take their seats. When the roll was called and Mr. Dixon got to Justin's name, Christian Hobbs answered, 'Queer.' When Justin complained to Mr. Dixon, the teacher told him he hadn't heard anything. Justin challenged the teacher and, subsequently, was suspended from school.

"Incident number three. Justin and Daphne decided in light of his suspension, to start a Gay Straight Student Alliance at their high school. Having gotten some help from Brian Kinney regarding advertising their club and attracting members, Justin and Daphne passed out condoms at school along with a flyer about the Gay Straight Student Alliance's first meeting. The defendant, Christian Hobbs, saw them and approached Justin. He asked Justin if anal sex was an extra curricular activity and Justin answered, 'No. Just hand jobs.' Again alluding to their sexual encounter in the equipment shed. The defendant then grabbed Justin and pushed him against the wall and said to him, within Ms. Chanders' hearing, 'Don't you ever mention that again, you little cocksucker.'

"Incident number four. Justin and Brian and some of their friends were going into a gay bar on Liberty Avenue when Justin spotted Christian Hobbs coming down the sidewalk. Justin confronted Hobbs and asked him why he'd come down to Liberty Avenue which is known for its gay bars and clubs. Christian Hobbs told him he'd come down to see the freaks. Justin, challenging him, told Hobbs that on Liberty Avenue, he was the freak and then Justin proceeded to reveal to the crowd of people who'd gathered around them that he had given Christian Hobbs a hand job and that the defendant had enjoyed it. The defendant, in front of witnesses, told Justin that he was 'fucked,' and left.

"Incident number five. Justin was walking down the hallway of the St. James Academy, on break between classes, when the defendant walked up behind him and pushed him down upon a set of nearby stairs. This incident was again witnessed by Ms. Chanders, who heard Christian Hobbs call Justin, 'Faggot.'

"Incident number six. Justin Taylor and Brian Kinney had just come from the prom after having danced in front of all the attendees. Justin was walking on air. He couldn't believe Brian had come, especially since he'd refused Justin when the teenager had asked him to come. But Brian had come to the prom and they'd danced together in front of everyone. They laughed as they walked to Brian's Jeep and then stood talking for a moment. Brian kissed Justin and told he'd see him later at his loft. Justin, wearing a white scarf Brian had worn to the prom, walked away, heading back inside to escort his date, Ms. Chanders, home. As he walked through the parking garage, the defendant, Christian Hobbs, came up behind him carrying a baseball bat. Brian Kinney, who had seen Christian Hobbs in the side mirror of his Jeep, got out of the car and called to Justin. Justin turned and Christian Hobbs struck him in the temple with the baseball bat. Now, the defendant, as you'll hear, was a football player, a star on the St. James Academy team, with an athletic scholarship to U Penn. This young man, who'd lifted weights daily and engaged in strenuous physical activity on a regular basis, swung and struck Justin in the temple with a baseball bat.

"In the hospital, where Justin Taylor lay struggling for his life, Christian Hobbs encountered Brian Kinney and his friends. The defendant was in the hospital to have his leg treated, as his knee had been injured by Mr. Kinney, who had struck him to prevent him from fleeing the crime scene. When the defendant saw Mr. Kinney, he shouted, in front of witnesses, 'I hope he fuckin' dies.'

"Six incidents, ladies and gentlemen, six instances of violence perpetrated by the defendant, Christian Hobbs, against his victim, Justin Taylor. Six witnessed incidents in which Christian Hobbs physically assaulted Justin Taylor culminating in a vicious attack which nearly killed Justin. That he did not die was a miracle. You'll hear testimony from his doctors in which they'll tell you that his survival was nothing short of miraculous and due, in part to their skill, and to the fact that he was not alone when he was attacked, that Brian Kinney was there to get help for him, that Brian Kinney was there with him, protecting him from further harm.

"Ladies and gentlemen, if that final attack had been the only one, an isolated occurrence, perhaps you could say that it was done in the heat of the moment, the result of a sudden, overpowering rage. But, ladies and gentlemen, this was only incident number six," she held up her hands, six fingers up in the air, "the final and most severe in a series of attacks taking place over a seven-month period. Faggot, queer, cocksucker, these are the words that Christian Hobbs used to describe Justin Taylor in each of his attacks save the last one, when hurtful words were no longer needed because he had something even more powerful: a baseball bat.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it is the Commonwealth's assertion that the defendant, Christian Hobbs, intended to cause serious bodily injury and manifested extreme indifference to the value of Justin Taylor's life when he maliciously struck him in the head with that baseball bat. And it is the Commonwealth's assertion that this was not the product of one night's rage but the culmination of months of hostilities between the two young men. Hostilities that ended with one young man, one young gay man, brutally attacked and left for dead. Thank you. Thank you, Your Honor."

As she returned to her seat, she heard whispering from the audience. Of course, most of them had read or heard about the case but many of the details she'd just related hadn't been made public knowledge and they were hearing them for the first time. She imagined, in some eyes, Christian Hobbs had taken on a more sinister aspect.

"Ms. Thomas," said Judge Kramer, acknowledging her before addressing the jury once more. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as I've already explained, an opening statement is not evidence in a case. Ms. Thomas has outlined what the Commonwealth intends to prove. I would remind you that it is not up to the defendant to offer any evidence or to prove his innocence. You've heard from the prosecution, now you'll hear from the defense. Mr. Mason."

Mason stood. "Thank you, Your Honor." He walked around the defense table at which Christian Hobbs sat still as a stone. Keisha wondered what he made of her opening statement, if it was the first time he'd confronted his deeds outside of his own head. If so, she hoped her words had made an impression, hoped he realized before it was too late that he needed help. But the time for reflection was over for the moment. Mason was about to begin.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Raymond Mason and I'm counsel for the defendant, Christian Hobbs. Although the judge has done so, I'd like to remind you of a few things. First, the defense does not have to produce evidence, either physical or oral. Second, the defendant does not have to testify. And third, if you find the defendant guilty, you must do so beyond reasonable doubt. Why do I go over these points again? Simply to tell you that the defense will produce evidence, the defendant will testify in his behalf, and we will do so because we believe there is reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt. I also want to remind you that evidence is subject to interpretation. The prosecution has their interpretation of what the evidence means and the defense has its interpretation.

"On April 20 of this year, the defendant, Christian Hobbs, attended the prom with his date, Lisa Monroe. They'd been planning for the prom for weeks, having gone together to pick out his tuxedo, to make sure it matched hers, the kind of thing teenage girls spend hours thinking about. It was to be one of the last such events they would attend at seniors at the St. James Academy. It was, as the Assistant District Attorney said, a rite of passage. Not only that, it was a chance to have fun one last time before the real world beckoned.

"It had been a tough year at St. James Academy, full of upheaval and change. As adults, we know that change is unavoidable, but to a teenager change can be frightening. So they look to traditions for a sense of stability, a sense of identity, a sense of belonging. Christian Hobbs was a football player on the St. James Academy team. He was proud to be a student at the St. James Academy. His father went to St. James Academy. To their family, St. James meant tradition, it meant an excellent education, an excellent preparation for life.

"However, that school year had been particularly upsetting. It began with screeching wheels. The screeching wheels on a black Jeep. A black Jeep on which the word 'faggot' had been spray-painted in pink. Why bring up the Jeep? Because it was the first time the St. James Academy had an opportunity to meet Brian Kinney, Justin Taylor's lover, as he brought the teenager to school having spent the night together. Not only did the appearance of the Jeep cause a stir at the school but upon arriving, Mr. Kinney got into a spat with one of the students. One of the male students, as teenagers will do, commented upon the significance of the painted word on the Jeep and Mr. Kinney threatened him. It is not the defense's assertion that Mr. Kinney meant what he said, but it set the tone for what the school would come to expect from his teenaged lover, Justin Taylor, the kind of atmosphere that his presence generated: upheaval, upset, and uproar.

"Having been introduced to sexual intercourse by Mr. Kinney, Justin Taylor proceeded to test his new-found confidence by pursuing my client, Christian Hobbs. Christian had been given detention for goofing off in class, not paying attention. His task: to clean the school's equipment shed. As he began straightening up the shed, who should arrive but one of his classmates, Justin Taylor, who offered to help him so that he could get to football practice. Christian, taking the offer at face value attempted to interact with Justin the same way he would have any of his other male friends. He talked about football, about girls in the school. He talked about a sexual encounter that had taken place with a female student at the school. At which point, Justin Taylor, forced his attentions upon my client. Could Christian Hobbs have refused? Probably. In hindsight, most definitely. But he didn't. He endured Justin's attentions and went about trying to forget that the incident had ever happened. And as the Assistant District Attorney has stated, the incident was never repeated. Never. And why not? Because Christian Hobbs did not want Justin Taylor sexually. But that incident was not about what Christian Hobbs wanted, it was about what Justin Taylor wanted.

"Indeed, most of the school year at St. James Academy that year was about what Justin Taylor wanted, pushing his agenda. It's true Christian Hobbs teased him about being gay but considering Justin's actions in the equipment shed, it was not an unreasonable assumption. It's true Christian Hobbs baited a fellow student in class. However, Justin Taylor turned it into his own personal crusade against what he believed was unfair treatment by his homeroom teacher. He even went so far as to organize a Gay Straight Student Alliance and to hold an unauthorized meeting of an unauthorized club on school property.

"And there were other incidents that did not involve my client such as the day Justin Taylor arrived at school to find his locker set on fire. Right or wrong, incidents like this show that there were other students at the school as well as faculty who were not comfortable with Justin's agenda. Mr. Taylor even went so far as to involve a state senator in his attempts to organize the Gay Straight Student Alliance, using political power to force an unpopular decision upon the school and its faculty and students.

"The incident on Liberty Avenue occurred because Justin Taylor challenged Christian Hobbs' right to be on that particular street. It's a free country and Christian Hobbs had as much right to be there as anyone. But, again, Justin Taylor turned it into a public event, humiliating my client in front of his friends, and intimidating Christian Hobbs with the presence of his lover, Brian Kinney.

"And finally the prom. Yes, my client Christian Hobbs was angry that Justin had again managed to focus attention on himself, to turn an event that was about all of the graduating students at St. James into an event that was about himself. Him and his lover, his thirty-year-old lover, Brian Kinney. To Christian Hobbs and to other students, Justin and his lover had made a mockery of the prom, had ruined what was a joyous event for many by turning it into a political statement for two.

"I am not excusing what Christian Hobbs did. I'm not saying that it was right or even justified. I'm just trying to explain the circumstances under which it occurred. And despite the history of confrontations between my client and Justin Taylor, Christian Hobbs did not enter that parking garage having planned to do serious bodily harm to Mr. Taylor. His actions were not the result of planning, but a hot-blooded response to the latest in a series of altercations, confrontations, and problems that seemed to accompany Mr. Taylor as he attempted to push his own agenda onto the students and faculty of the St. James Academy. That my client's actions were wrong, yes, I'll admit that, but that they were murderous, no. Thank you." To Judge Kramer, "Thank you, Your Honor."

"Mr. Mason." Kramer glanced at the clock at the back of the courtroom. "Ms. Thomas, you may call your first witness."

"Thank you, Your Honor, the People call Justin Taylor to the stand."

He followed the broad back of the bailiff as the man escorted him to the courtroom. The last time he'd been inside, it had been empty, except for him and Keisha. Now it'd be filled with people, probably standing room only if the Judge would have permitted it. As it was, not a seat was empty except for a few in the front row behind Keisha's table, for the witnesses after they'd testified. Today they'd only need one as Keisha had explained to Justin that it would take today and most of the next day for him to give his testimony. There hadn't been any need to call any of the other witnesses.

There was his mom and dad. Justin was surprised to see Craig there. Ever since the graduation party at the house and his subsequent conversation with his dad, relations had been strained between them. They'd talked, briefly, one or two times on the telephone but had only met once, outside of the pool conversation, when Justin had come back from the Bahamas and gave Craig the leather address book he'd bought for him. Although Craig had given the impression that he wanted to try and work things out with his son, business and the divorce seemed to occupy most of his time. And, of course, to be fair, Justin had spent a lot of time with Brian and been in the midst of getting ready to start school and then going to school once it had started, so he really hadn't made much of an attempt to see his father. He was glad to see him now. Glad that his dad hadn't shown up on a witness list for the prosecution. Justin had dreaded that happening. He had no illusions about the way Craig felt about Brian. And vice versa. They would never be close, never be friends, never even be jovial enemies. The best Justin could hope for was that they would be civil to one another and not get into a fist fight whenever they met. Any more was living in a fantasy world. He wished he were in one now.

There was Christian Hobbs. He'd looked around to see his victim enter the courtroom. Justin had avoided looking directly at him but at the last moment, before he passed through the gate separating the gallery from the well of the court, their eyes met. And even though Hobbs' expression never changed, Justin saw hatred in his eyes. A chill went through him and he reached automatically for the chain around his neck but it was beneath his shirt, out of reach. Still, he could feel it, feel the pendant against his chest, and it seemed as if he could feel Brian's hands brush the back of his neck they way they had when he'd fastened the chain for Justin. He thought of Brian and gathered his courage and walked through the gate to the witness stand. The Clerk of Courts swore him in and he took his seat. As she had said, Keisha moved to a position near the jury box to make it easier for him to address his answers to them and not her. She had hammered that into his head. "Keep your eyes on the jury," she'd said a hundred times if she'd said it once.

"Please state your full name for the record."

"Justin Matthew Taylor."

Again the Matthew Shepard connection. "And how old are you?"


Just as they had before, she went through a few preliminary questions to get him over his nervousness because no matter how much practice they'd gotten in, the real thing was bound to be nerve-wrecking. Still, Justin was a good witness. He was sweet-natured (unless you got him riled), bright, and cute as a button, innocent-looking. Which was a plus and a minus. Because of the things he'd done, because of the fact that he was currently involved in a gay relationship with a man twelve years his senior, and no matter how she tried to put a positive spin on it, there was bound to be people who disapproved. She'd done her best to ferret them out of the jury and she just had to trust her instincts, that she'd succeeded.

As she had in the practice session, she intended to ask about the night they first met. She wanted the court to hear his take on that before Mason came up and tried to turn it into something tawdry and unsavory. Still, she had to address why he'd gone down to that part of town in the first place.

"Why did you go to Liberty Avenue that night?"

"To meet someone."

"Someone in particular?"

"No. Just someone. Anyone."

"At the time, you were seventeen, correct?"


"So you were probably too young to get into most of the bars and clubs."


"Why not go someplace for gay and lesbian teenagers?"

"I didn't know of any places."

"Why not ask someone at your school?"

"I thought I was the only gay student at my school. St. James isn't known for its diversity. I didn't know where else to go."

"Did you have a Pittsburgh phone book at your house?"

Justin looked confused. "Yes."

Addressing the judge, Keisha asked, "Your Honor, may I approach the witness stand?"

"You may."

Keisha took the phone book from the Clerk of Court's desk and handed it to Justin. "If you were looking for gay and lesbian organizations, what would you look under?"

"Gay and lesbian organizations."

"Do it." She gave him the book and stepped away, hoping he'd remember to look at the jury when he answered. Justin flipped through the phone book. Paused. "What does it say?"

"Gay and Lesbian Service Organizations."

Good boy, he looked them and not her. "And how many are listed?"

"A few."

"Read some of the names."

Justin read three then stopped. He was angry with her because he had thought of that. He'd even looked in the phone book and decided that wasn't what he wanted. She knew what he'd wanted and she was going to make him say it in court.

Keisha took the book and returned it to the Clerk, then resumed her previous position near the jury. "You're a bright young man, you're telling me you didn't think of that?"

"I did think of it."

Aware that it was a tricky maneuver, making her own client fess up, she continued. "So why didn't you call one of those organizations? I'm sure they'd have information on gay and lesbian youth groups."

"Because I didn't want to join some group."

"What did you want?"

He paused again because his parents were looking at him, he knew it, could feel their eyes on him. "I wanted to find someone to have sex with."

"So you weren't looking for companionship or friends or someone to talk to, were you?"

"No. I wanted to have sex."

So far so good. Several of the jury members smiled, probably remembering how they felt at that age, like they would explode if they couldn't be with someone. "All right, you're on Liberty Avenue and you see Brian. Did he approach you or did you approach him?"

"He approached me."

"And what did you think when you saw him coming towards you?"

As he had when they'd practiced, Justin replied, "I thought he was the most beautiful man I'd ever seen," and it sounded just as true this time as before and Keisha realized he still believed that. That's why his words rang so true, even now. "I couldn't believe he was interested in me."

"Why not?"

"Because he was a grown man and I was just a kid. And he was so. . ." Justin searched for the right words. "Perfect, I guess. It was like he was what I had wanted all along when I went out looking, I just didn't know it."

"What did Brian say to you?"

"He asked me if I'd had a busy night and- -" Justin stopped abruptly, remembering her instructions not to volunteer information.

"And what did you tell him?" She wanted to smile.

"I told him I'd gone to a couple of bars. But I hadn't. A man had told me the names." He watched for a visual cue from her and when it seemed as if she wanted him to continue, he did. "Then he asked me where I was headed and I told him no place special. He said he could change that."

"So you went home with a man you'd known for what? A minute?"

"Yes." Justin was aware in retrospect of how dangerous his actions had been.


"Because I wanted him." On that point he was completely clear.

Keisha did smile then. She could only imagine what it'd been like for the teen. Seeing Brian's long, lean figure before him, that whipcord-thin body, the sensuous lips, smoldering eyes. Justin probably hadn't been able to remember his own name. Add to that the fact that it was his first time, it was a wonder he hadn't attacked Brian in the car on the way to the loft. "You went home with Brian and then you had sex, is that right?"

"No. Not right away."

"Why not?"

"He got a phone call from the hospital. His son had been born."

Keisha could see confusion on the jurors' faces. Brian had a son? "Then what happened?"

"Brian went to the hospital."

"Did he send you home?"

"No. He took me with him."

"Why would he take a teenager he'd just met with him to see his son for the first time?"

"I told him I didn't have anyplace else to go. I'd told my mom and dad that I was at my friend Daphne's house. So I couldn't go home."

"When you went to the hospital, did Brian make you wait outside in the car?"

"No. He let me come in and see Gus."

"Gus, that's the baby's name?"


"After you left the hospital, what did you do?"

"We went back to Brian's loft."

"Did you have sex then?"

"Yes." God, he hoped she left it at that, hoped she didn't ask for details cause his mom and dad were sitting there listening to this and the expressions on their faces. They'd known but they hadn't really known, hadn't really wanted to think about it.

"Did you have oral intercourse with him?" As she asked the question she could see Mason wanting to object but if he did, she'd just say it was relevant, to form a contrast between Justin's experience with Brian and his experience with Christian Hobbs and she was sure Mason intended to go into great detail with Justin as to what happened between him and Hobbs. Only she didn't intend to leave any stone unturned.


"Did you have anal intercourse with Brian?"

"Yes." Justin wanted to squirm but didn't. Keisha had warned him about fidgeting. He could see his parents' faces beyond Keisha. They looked mortified, especially his dad.

"Were you a virgin?"

"Yes." He hadn't even known what rimming was. It still embarrassed him when he thought about how innocent and ignorant he had been.

"And you'd never had sexual relations of any kind with any man prior to this?"


"You'd never kissed another boy?"


"Touched another boy in a sexual fashion?"


"Yet you engaged in oral and anal intercourse with a perfect stranger. Why?"

"I trusted him."

"You didn't know him. Why did you trust him?"

"Because I'd seen him with his son." It never failed to touch him whenever he saw Brian with Gus. Gus was like the best part of Brian, the part that the world hadn't managed to hurt, his innocence, his trust. Gus was his chance to start again, to begin anew. "He had held Gus in his hands and kissed him. Brian has these really strong hands and yet he held Gus so gently. I wasn't afraid of being with him after that." Justin's expression softened, remembering how careful Brian had been with him. "I told him to go slow and he did. He never did anything I didn't want."

"Did you spend the night?"


"Did you go to school the next day?"

"Yes. Brian drove me to school."

"Were the other students around when you arrived at school?"

"Yes." He'd never been so embarrassed in his life. Okay, he had, but up until then, maybe not.

"What was their reaction?"

"People were looking at us."

"Because you were with Brian?"

"Because someone had spray-painted the word 'faggot' on the side of his Jeep. And Kevin Richards asked me," he paused.

"Asked you what?"

"He asked me if I wanted to suck him off."

"Could you explain what you interpreted that to mean?"

"That he wanted to know if I wanted to suck his penis."

The court rustled a little and more than a few people looked shocked.

"And what did you say?"

"I didn't say anything."

"Did Brian say anything?"

"He said he'd kick Kevin's tight little virgin ass so hard he wouldn't be able to sit down for a week." That had been the best. He remembered looking at Brian like he was some kind of a hero.

"Then what happened?"

"Some of the kids laughed and Kevin went away."

"Did you and Brian make plans to see each other again?"


"Why not?"

"I wanted to but he didn't."

"How did you feel when Brian turned you down?"

"It hurt. Because I was in love with him."

"But you had just met. How could you love someone you'd just met?"

"I don't know. I only know that I loved him from that day on. And I've never stopped. Never changed my mind about that."

"And now you and Brian are together, as a couple?"

"Yes." He smiled softly but the joy inside him, you could see it bubbling over, wanting to escape and his smile widened as he thought about their home, their life together.

Then, as with the intense practice sessions, she asked him how he knew Christian Hobbs and made her way to the day of the equipment shed incident. "Why did you volunteer to help the defendant?"

Having learned from the practice session that his original answer was worse than a lie, it was a lame lie, he decided to come clean up front. "I wanted to have sex with him." He wondered what the jury, what his parents, what the spectators thought about his admission.

"Did you find him attractive?"


"What about Brian? I thought you said you were in love with Brian?"

"I was. Chris Hobbs was just sex. That's all. It didn't mean anything else."

"What did you like about the defendant?"

Shuddering, not wanting to believe himself that he had ever found anything attractive about Chris Hobbs, Justin replied, "He had a good body. And he was kind of funny, the way he cut up in class."

"Was your decision to have sex with Chris Hobbs influenced by Brian's rejection of you?"


"If you and Brian had been seeing one another, would you have gone after Chris Hobbs?"

"I didn't go after him."

"Would you have wanted to have sex with him?"


"Would you have followed through with it?"

And he had to tell the truth, that if he and Brian had been together, he wouldn't have gone after Chris Hobbs. He wouldn't have looked twice at Chris Hobbs or anyone else for that matter. "No."

"When did you decide to go and help the defendant clean the equipment shed?"

"I don't know."

"When you were in class and Chris Hobbs first got detention, did you decide then to help him?"


"By the time school had ended, had you decided to help him?"


"Did you decide all at once or did you think about it for a while?"

"I didn't really think about it."

So you were about to go home and you decided to go have sex with Chris Hobbs?"


"Then what happened?"

These were some of those new questions. "I called Brian and he wouldn't talk to me." Justin was glad Brian wasn't here to hear him say that. The man blamed himself for enough things, he didn't need anything else. "I really wanted to be with him and he didn't want me. At least that's what he said before he hung up."

"What did Chris Hobbs say when you showed up at the equipment shed?"

"He asked me what I was doing there."

"What did you tell him?"

"That I came to help him. That I figured he would get through faster if I helped him and he could go to football practice."

"Did he appear to accept your explanation?" She waited for the objection.

"Objection, Your Honor."


"Did Chris Hobbs comment on your explanation?"

"He said he didn't think I liked football."

"How long did you help him?"

"For about a half hour."

"Did you finish the shed?"

"No. We took a break and had a soda." Pause. "And he talked."

"What did he talk about?"

"People at school. Mostly girls."

"Did you talk about any girls in particular?"

"Suzanne Shebly and Mary Frances Cudawindo."

"What did he say about them?"

"He said that Suzanne was a whore and I told him I thought she was a dyke. A lesbian. And he told me how she only liked to have sex with guys from other schools, preferably Catholic. And then he started telling me how Mary Frances came over to his house to interview him for the school paper and she came onto him and started," his voice lowered, "touching him."

"Could you speak up please?" She hoped her instructions would also remind him to look at the jury as his eyes had dropped as well.

Justin looked up. "How she started touching him."

"And then what happened?"

"He started touching himself."

"Touching himself where?"

Justin's cheeks burned. "His penis."

"Did he put his hand inside his pants?"

"No. Over."

"And what did he do?"

"He rubbed his penis as he talked."

"And what did you do?"

"I watched him for a while."

"Were you excited by what he was doing?"

Softly, "Yes."

"Could you speak up?"

"Yes, I was excited."

"Did you touch yourself?"


"Did you touch him?"



"I put my hand over his crotch and felt him and I unzipped his pants." He paused and swallowed. "And then I stroked him."

"Stroked his penis?"


"Did the defendant tell you to stop?"


"Did he try to push away your hand?"


"Did he do or say anything that you could have interpreted to mean that he didn't want you to touch him?"


"What did he do?"

"He moaned. And then he came."

"He ejaculated?"


"Did you?"


"And then what happened?"

"Mr. Horner came in and Chris zipped his pants up."

"Did Mr. Horner see you?"



What did Mr. Horner say?"

"He said, 'Shouldn't you be working.' "

"And what did Chris Hobbs do?"

"He said he was working."

"And what did you do?"

"I got my stuff and left."

"While you were stroking Chris Hobbs, did you say anything to him?"


"Did you kiss him?"


"So you stroked Chris Hobbs, he ejaculated, and you went home?"


"Did this satisfy you sexually?"

"Not really."

"Did you want more out of the encounter?"


"Why not?"

And this was the truth, naked and probably a little unflattering. "It wasn't about me getting off, it was about me getting him off, proving that I could."

"Why was that important to you?"

"Because Brian didn't want me. It was like I couldn't please him. So I wanted to see if I could please someone else."

"After you left Chris Hobbs, did you go home?"


"Did you masturbate then?"


"Did you think of Chris Hobbs?"


"Who did you think of?"

Who he always thought of. "Brian."

"Did you tell anyone about your encounter with Christian?"

"My friend Daphne."

"What did you tell her?"

"That it was just sex."

Before Keisha could begin another line of questions, Judge Kramer said, "I think this is a good place to take a short recess. In light of the long lunch break, let's take a ten-minute recess and reconvene at three thirty-five. Please, remember, Mr. Taylor and jury members, that you are still under oath."

With court dismissed, Justin left the witness stand and slowly approached the prosecution's table, his eyes on his parents' faces just beyond it. Keisha intercepted him and said quietly, "It's okay. They'll understand." Then sat down and began to go through her notebook.

Heart doing a thirty-yard dash in his chest, he slipped through the gate and went over to his parents. "Hey."

Jennifer stood and embraced him and he wrapped his arms around her and held her gratefully. When they parted, she wiped her eyes. "How are you?"

He shrugged. "Okay." Glanced down, then up again. "I hate this."

"I know, honey." She touched his face. "I know." Turned expectantly to Craig, who had been silent so far.

Justin's dad stood and gave Justin a rough hug. Indicated Keisha with his head. "She's tough."

"Yeah. Brian calls her- -" He cut off his sentence, not wanting to get into it with his dad, not today.

Craig, with effort, asked, "Brian calls her what?"

"Mace." He didn't bother to explain the movie reference but he figured the name alone said it all. They both smiled.

Pleased that Justin and Craig were getting along, she asked, "How is he?"

"He's. . ." Justin shook his head. How were any of them? And the entire time he spoke with his parents, he was aware of Christian Hobbs' malevolence emanating from the table not four yards away. He had felt Hobbs looking at him during his testimony but hadn't looked at him. Hadn't wanted to see the hatred in his eyes. Hadn't wanted to look at him and feel anything but revulsion. That's what he was most afraid of, that he would look at Chris Hobbs and still find him attractive in the least bit. But now, risking a glance, he couldn't believe that he had ever thought the sullen youth, glowering while his attorney spoke, was hot. God, he needed Brian. If he hadn't wanted to talk to his parents, he would have run upstairs to him the moment the recess had begun. He could see him in his mind, see him sitting with his legs crossed, flipping through a magazine or making notes on the work he'd brought with him, eyebrow raised at Bob and Brad's latest advertising mistake. Justin smiled, thinking about the time Brian had come home, a look of wonder on his face, and announced that Brad and Bob had actually managed to come up with a good idea. He sometimes thought that maybe Bob and Brad weren't as bad as Brian made them out to be. The problem was, who could measure up to Brian's standards except Brian? He was the best and being patient with lesser mortals wasn't one of his strong suits.

Leaving her table, Keisha came over and spoke to the Taylors. "Court's about to begin again. You okay?" she asked Justin and he nodded.

Just thinking about Brian had helped.

Having consulted her notes, Keisha stood and took up her customary position by the jury box. "I want to turn your attention to an incident in the locker room at St. James. You had just gotten a nipple ring. Do you remember that incident?"

"Yes." Without summoning them, images of him and Brian making love rose to the forefront of his memories. It had been the first time he'd really been aware of the power he had over Brian, the power to arouse his interest, his desire, his lust. The time he'd come into Babylon and taken those two guys from Brian whereupon the ad exec had brought him home and fucked him, he hadn't really thought about it, that maybe Brian might have felt an uncontrollable desire to have him. Neither had the episode in Mikey's bedroom. But the nipple ring incident had proved to him that the man wanted him, even if he wouldn't admit it. And maybe he'd been fooling himself, thinking that Brian needed him in any capacity, but it had comforted him through the months ahead, believing that Brian was fighting his attraction to the teenager.

"What were you doing in the locker room?"

"We'd just gotten done with gym class and I was getting dressed."

"Did Chris Hobbs speak to you?"

"Yes. He asked me why I wasn't taking a shower. He said, 'Don't you want to check out all the guys' dicks, we know how much you like that.' "

"And those were his exact words?"

"Pretty close, I think."

"Why do you think you remember them?"

"Because I couldn't believe he'd rag on me after what had happened between us."

"So what did he say when he saw the nipple ring?"

"He asked me what it was and I told him and then he said that I really was a queer."

"What did you say?"

"I told him I wasn't."

"Why did you deny it?"

"We were in the middle of the locker room and I didn't want to get into it with him."

"But you'd arrived at school one morning in a black Jeep with the word 'faggot' written on the side. How did you explain that?"

"I didn't. It wasn't anybody's business."

"So you denied being gay."


"Then what happened?"

"He asked me why I had the nipple ring then and I told him I wanted it. And then he said. . ." Justin paused. He didn't want to say it.

"Do you remember what he said?"


"What did he say?"

"He said, 'So your fudgebacking friends can pull on it while they're buttfucking you.' " And that was the worst, that Chris Hobbs had turned something that had been so hot, so intimate, into something ugly.

"Did you respond to that?"

"I asked him how he knew so much about what faggots did unless he was one."

"Did you use the word faggots?"



"I thought if I said it that way, maybe the other guys would think I was straight cause that's what the straight guys in school called gay people."

"So you didn't want anyone to think you were gay?"


"Why not?"

"Because I didn't want to get picked on all the time and have people rag on me every day. Being gay at St. James. . .it wasn't easy."

And he was living proof of that. She thought no more eloquent statement could have been made and she noticed that several of the jurors looked down at their hands, probably thinking about the subsequent events that had occurred. Would they have done otherwise? Probably not. "So, after you asked Christian Hobbs how did he know so much about what faggots did unless he was one, what happened?"

"He pushed me into the lockers. And I punched him. He pushed me again and punched me. And then the other guys in the locker room came and broke up the fight. Chris started calling me names."

"What did he call you, Justin?"

The ugliness of the words still pained him. "He called me a bitch and a fucking cunt bitch."

Several people in the gallery looked as if they wanted to protest the usage of such words, especially Chris Hobbs' mother, who seemed to go inside herself and remain there, peeking out at the world.

"What did you do?"

"I spit on him."


"Because I couldn't believe he was saying those things. Like he hadn't been in that equipment shed with me. Like I hadn't jerked him off." Justin glanced at Chris Hobbs and for a moment it looked as if he might speak to Hobbs but then he wrenched his head around and looked at the jury again.

"After you spit on him, what did the defendant do?"

"He said," and Justin closed his eyes, "he said, 'I'll kill you, you fucking faggot.' "

"Were those his exact words, Justin?"

"Yes." He looked down and blinked rapidly.

The judge spoke. "Would you like some water?"

"No, thank you," he said softly. All he wanted was Brian. To hold him and clear those memories from his mind.

"Did you tell any of the school officials or teachers about the incident?"

"Yes. Our gym teacher, Coach Smithers, came in after the guys had separated us and he made us go to the principal's office."

"What did you tell the principal?"

"I told him what Chris Hobbs had said."

"And what did the principal tell you?"

"That fighting wasn't the way civilized people resolved disputes."

"And that was all?"

"He said that if it happened again, he would suspend me."

"What did he say about Chris Hobb's threats?"

"That people say things in the heat of anger that they don't mean."

"Did you believe Chris Hobbs when he said that he'd kill you?"

Justin thought about that day, about the look in Hobbs' eyes, and he knew. "Yes."


"Because they could barely hold him back. I thought he'd get away from them and do it right there."

"Did you tell the principal about the incident in the equipment shed?"


"Why not?"

"Because then they'd know."

"Know what?"

"That I was gay. And they'd know that he'd let me do it. And I didn't know what he'd do if someone found out."

"Justin, did you think Christian Hobbs was gay?"

"Objection," said Mason, rising.

"Your Honor, I'm not asking the witness to make a pronouncement about the defendant's sexuality, I'm asking about his perceptions of the defendant as they influenced his actions."

"Overruled. The witness may answer the question."

Mason sat down and tried to look indifferent to the ruling.

He thought about it, thought about the way Chris had responded when he'd first taken hold of his cock, the look of lust on his face, and he wanted to say yes, but the truth was, Hobbs had been so horny, so hard, it could have been anyone pulling on his dick, he wouldn't have cared. And he really didn't want Hobbs to be gay, cause how could he be gay and do the things he'd done to him? "No."

"So when you went to him in the equipment shed, you thought he was straight."


" And yet you initiated a sexual encounter with him. Why?"

"I told you. I thought he was hot and I wanted, I wanted to do him."

"Even if he was straight?"


"Did you look on it as a challenge to get him to respond to you?"

"I- -I don't know."

"At that time, had you had sex with anyone else besides Brian?"

"There was a guy at the museum."

"Did you initiate the encounter?"

"I saw him in the museum. He was looking at me and then he motioned with his head and I followed him into the bathroom." Justin remembered how hot the guy had looked. Dark blond hair, obviously a bleach job cause his roots were dark, with a half-inch fringe of beard following the line of his jaw and chin, and earrings and tattoos. Just like Xavier. He shook his head a little because he'd never thought of that. The earrings and the tattoos.

"What did you do?"

"You mean sexually?"


"We kissed and we stroked each other until we came."

"Was there any penetration?"

"No. There wasn't any time. My mom was waiting for me."

Jennifer remembered that day. She'd seen him following the boy and had known what was going to happen. Had stared at her favorite painting until she had lost herself in it.

"Did you believe that this young man was gay?"

"Yes. He wanted to see me again."

"What did you tell him?"

"That I was seeing someone."



"But you weren't."

"We'd had sex but we weren't involved, no." They'd had incredible sex, sex so good his other encounters had paled beside it.

"Now, was it before or after the locker room incident that you moved in with Brian the first time?"


"Why did you move in with Brian?"

"My dad found out I was gay. And he found out I was seeing Brian. He wanted me to stop seeing him and I wouldn't. He followed me one night to Woody's and when I came out with Brian, my dad attacked him and I told him I wasn't coming home ever again."

"And Brian let you stay at his place?"

"Yes." He was glad he didn't have to go into all of the circumstances surrounding that decision. The painful conversation- -one-sided- -with his parents before Brian had rescued him and taken him home.

"How long did you live with Brian?"

"About a month."

"And then what happened?"

"I forgot to set the alarm and Brian's loft was robbed. And he blamed me and told me to get out."

"What did you do?"

"I ran away to New York."

"Where did you get the money to go to New York?"

"I took one of Brian's credit cards."

"How did you get his credit card?"

"He used to leave his wallet on the counter or on his desk, so I just took one of his cards and bought a ticket to New York."

"Did you realize that you could have gotten in a lot of trouble?"

"Yes. But I thought maybe he would come after me."

"Did he?"


Keisha marveled at the way Justin had apparently handled His Big and Badness and she wondered if Brian had ever realized how well he'd been played by the teenager. "What did he do?"

"He drove to New York and got me and brought me back to Pittsburgh. And he found me someplace to live." And in between we had hot sex in the hotel room, so hot that I think I was out of it for a while. I can still feel him pounding me. . . fucking me.


Her question jerked him back to the present. "With Debbie Novotny."

"During the time you lived with Brian, did you have any further run-ins with Chris Hobbs?"


"Okay- -"

Kramer interrupted her. "Counselor, is this a good place for us to adjourn for today?"

"Yes, Your Honor."

"As it's about twenty 'til five, I think we'll stop here for today and resume Mr. Taylor's testimony tomorrow. Please, again, I must remind the jury and Mr. Taylor that they are still under oath and as such are asked not to discuss the case with anyone, not even other jurors or witnesses. I would also ask that you not read any newspaper articles or watch any news stories about the trial. Court will reconvene tomorrow at nine a.m."

It reminded him of the times he'd sat up in his room refusing to speak to anyone. Brooding. God, he must have spent his entire childhood brooding. Childhood and teenage years and adulthood. Brooding. Scowling at the world or grimly having fun. Unless he was on something, and then he didn't give a damn.

He wondered how Justin was doing. They must have taken a break around three, three thirty but he hadn't expected him to come up then. But now it was nearing five and he figured soon they'd recess for the day. He could almost hear Justin's footsteps outside the door.

For the first time since he'd come to the office that morning, he got up and looked out of the window at the crowd below. Still shouting slogans for one another and the cameras. And there was the bridge Justin said had been inspired by the Bridge of Sighs in Venice.

Four whole weeks in Europe. Four whole weeks off period. He'd never taken a month long vacation before. Never had anything better to do than to party, go out drinking with the guys and, hell, he could do that and still work so what was the point in taking a month off? A week or two would do. But next year he'd take the entire four weeks and travel Europe with his baby. He and Justin had already begun going online and picking out the places they wanted to go and the sights they wanted to see. They'd found this cool site where real people gave advice about things to do all over the world. As soon as the trial was over, they were going to sit down and firm up their itinerary so they could get the plane tickets and make hotel reservations. Brian didn't intend to go any way but first class. If it were up to Justin, they'd be staying in youth hostels. Of course, he was young enough to do that, Brian was not. They really had to decide what they were going to do. He'd used Keisha's computer this morning to look at some hotels. Found one he thought Justin would like. Christ, he wondered how many museums they'd probably have to visit in Europe. Still, it would be worth it just to see that beautiful smile light up Paris or Milan.

Just then the door opened and, although he wasn't smiling, Brian was glad to see him. Justin flew to him and they held one another closely, silently for a few moments. "You okay?"

The teen shook his head and buried his face in Brian's jacket and the man tightened his hold. Finally, Justin sniffled and released him.

Brian thumbed a tear from the boy's eye. "Okay now?"

Justin nodded. "I wanna go home."

"Me too." Brian kissed him on the forehead. "Guess what?"


"I found the perfect hotel in Paris."

"What? The Ritz?" What else but a four-star hotel for Brian?

"No. It's called the Hotel de la Place du Louvre. It's right next door to the Louvre, right across the street. And guess what else?"


"All the rooms are decorated in themes based on the painters in the Louvre. So you can stay in the Matisse or the Monet or the Picasso- -"

"Yes!" Immediately the trial was forgotten. "That's where we're staying, right?"

"If you want," Brian said noncommittally.

Justin snuggled up to him. "I love you."

"You'd better."

"I do."

Giving up the pretense that he didn't care, Brian elaborated. "We can walk along the Seine in the morning after breakfast. Or before. Or both. And at night, we can stroll down to one of the Arcs du Triomphe." He took Justin's face in his hands. "But we have to get through this first. Both of us. Or it's no good. Can't go without you."


"That's my baby." They kissed. Brian could tell Justin was still shaken. "Rough?"

"I'll be all right."

"You didn't answer my question."

Justin's eyes shifted. "It's gonna get worse, Keisha says," he began, then paused and Brian wanted to lock the door and keep the world away from his little boy. "When you testify," he finished.

Justin's face was white when he left the courthouse and, although he held up outside, not wanting to give the anti-gay groups any satisfaction, in Willie's taxi he rested his head against Brian's shoulder and closed his eyes, utterly exhausted. Brian called their friends and left messages telling them not to come to the loft tonight as they needed a little 'us time' and he grimaced at the fact that he'd actually used the phrase 'us time'.

Alone in the loft, they made their way to the bed and sat, just enjoying the peace, the solitude. Finally, Brian got up and held out his hand. "You need a massage."

Stripping, they quickly showered first and then hurriedly dried themselves off.

They had purchased a portable table that could be folded and put away when it wasn't in use. Now Brian set it up at the foot of the bed while Justin grabbed some towels.

The teenager got on the table and lay on his belly waiting, with his head on his folded arms, his porcelain skin stark against the black surface. Pouring a little oil in his hand, Brian rubbed his palms together, heating it. Then, starting at the nape, he made his way down the teen's body.

Fingers brushed by fine, golden hairs, Brian lightly rubbed his thumbs over the back of Justin's neck. Hearing him murmur, he asked, "Hmm?"

"Feels good."

"I'm just getting started."

From his neck, Brian moved down to and out over his shoulders, working the tired yet tense muscles, coaxing them to relax, using the same techniques on the shoulders as he used when he wanted to get inside Justin's ass: light feathery touches combined with bold thrusts, begging alternating with commanding. Rolling Justin's skin between his fingers, Brian continued to apply varying degrees of pressure until the teen's shoulders slumped and he knew he'd succeeded.

Down the spine his hands traveled, thumbs moving over the vertebrae, palms over the ridge of muscle that ran along either side. Down from the shoulder blades to the hips and back again. Justin was so slender, Brian's hands engulfed his waist, fingers curving around him, reaching for his belly. The man drew his hands up over the teen's ribs, along his side, up to his armpits.

"Sleep yet?"

"No. Feels too good to go to sleep."

Although he had intended to go around to the other end of the table and start from Justin's feet and move upwards, Brian found that he could not keep his hands off Justin's ass any longer. The beautifully shaped mounds of pale flesh beckoned him. Applying more oil, he smoothed his palms over the teenager's buttocks. Then curved his fingers just a bit and raked them from base to apex. Over and over he squeezed and stroked Justin's cheeks, hands full of his silky smooth skin. The boy began to move around on the table, the feel of Brian's hands on his ass sending signals to his cock. His thighs opened slightly and he pressed his behind up into Brian's palms. "Mmmm," he moaned as Brian's grip tightened on his flesh.

For his part, Brian's penis had already begun to stiffen. As he stretched over Justin's body to extend his reach, the tip brushed the boy's arm. Brian paused and went down to the other end, wanting to see Justin's ass from a different angle. Since the table was long enough for him, it was too long for Justin and the man told the teen to slide down a little. Justin did, so that his feet were at the very end. With ease Brian began kneading his buttocks once more, this time from the bottom up, parting the cheeks so that Justin's puckered anus stretched open a little. At that Brian's cock throbbed. Oiling his fingers even more, he pulled aside one cheek to expose the boy's hole. Then he pressed the tip of his finger right against the center of the knotted cinnamon flesh. Justin hissed through his teeth. Brian moved his finger in a circle, tracing the boundaries of Justin's hole, watching the edges tense and relax.

"Oh. . ." Justin whispered and Brian smiled, the tip of his tongue peeking from between his lips. He enjoyed his work.

Reaching for the oil, he squeezed some directly between Justin's cheeks. The viscous liquid flowed slowly down the crevice of his ass. Then over and around his hole. Brian rubbed his fingers in the oil, massaging Justin's anus until the muscles relaxed and he could ease a finger inside. Yet he didn't. He wanted to take it slow. The teen gasped and gripped the front edge of the table, the muscles in his body tense with anticipation but Brian stroked his legs and the backs of his thighs. "Relax," he said. "We've got all evening."

Leaving Justin's buttocks for a while, he concentrated on his thighs and legs, loving the feel of the strong muscles beneath his hands. Muscles that had become stronger over the months due to Justin's legs being pressed back over his chest or extended over Brian's shoulders.

Brian focused on his feet, raising one after the other and massaging the sole, paying close attention to each toe, running his finger over the arch. Justin giggled as it tickled a little. Brian leaned over and blew on his sole and Justin giggled again. Finally Brian popped him lightly on the butt. "Turn over."

He parted Justin's legs and began working on one thigh, pressing his fingers into Justin's firm flesh, sliding his hands almost all the way to the teen's groin, stopping just short of the goal. Retreating and then pressing forward again; working the long muscle in Justin's inner thigh, the boy gasping as Brian's fingers brushed his scrotum finally. Justin's cock twitched and he held his breath. Brian switched legs and treated this one just the same until both thighs glistened with oil and Justin's cock arched over his belly. "Tell me what you want."

Justin turned his head away so that Brian couldn't see the naked need in his eyes. "You know."

But they still had the evening to go so the man changed positions once more and stood at the head of the table. Pulled Justin up until his head was at the end. Then he poured oil over the teenager's chest and began massaging the mounds of flesh, carefully avoiding his nipples. Yet, even neglected, they stood out on his chest, begging for attention. Brian stretched over Justin and rubbed his belly, his palm flat against the teen's skin. He could feel the fine line of hair running down from his navel to his groin. Blond like the rest of him. Justin's penis hovered over his hand. Precum dripped on his knuckles. Bringing his hands back up, Brian covered Justin's nipples, palms rotating over the hard nubs. Justin sighed and his hand strayed to his groin. "Wait," Brian instructed him.

"Not much longer," Justin warned. Even under ordinary circumstances he could barely stand it when Brian touched him for a prolonged period of time. It was as if each nerve ending was firing off simultaneously and his skin felt like it was on fire, while his brain struggled with the sensory overload. It was times like those that he moaned the most, the shouts and groans the only way he knew how to release the tension.

Grabbing the oil again, Brian moved to the side of the table. Grasped Justin's cock by the root and held it in his fist. Then, he squeezed the bottle.

Justin moaned as the oil dribbled over the head of his cock and then trickled down the shaft. He could feel his balls tighten and draw up as Brian's fist moved slowly from the base to the tip spreading oil all over him. Brian repeated the motion several times until the boy's dick was shiny and slick. It slipped through his fist with ease. He cupped his balls and oiled them as well, loving how Justin's body glistened.

He released Justin and said, "Get up." When Justin had, Brian stepped behind him and ran his hands up and down his torso, over his buttocks. "You feel so good." So smooth. He rubbed his dick between Justin's cheeks, up against his spine. Hand around his cock again, Brian stroked him until the teen started to whimper. "Tell me what you want," he said once more.

Justin's head lolled back against his shoulder. He could hardly stand it. His heart was beating in triple time and it felt like a thousand tiny bolts of electricity were racing through his body even though he moved as if through honey. "Make love to me," he whispered although he wanted to say more, wanted to tell his lover to make it last all night, fuck him slow and easy, as if they would never join again, as if this one time had to last forever. But he didn't need to because Brian knew. He knew his little boy, his baby, knew what Justin needed better than he did his own needs. That's why they were together: because for each of them, the other was the one person in the world who knew them better than they knew themselves, the one person who wouldn't use that knowledge to hurt them, or would, at least, try not to.

Brian spread the two towels over the comforter and laid Justin down upon them. Raised his legs to his shoulders and leaned forward. Waited. Felt Justin's hand on him, guiding him between his thighs. He pushed just a little. The oil eased the way and he was inside, sliding through the slick ring of muscle to the warmth beyond.

Hours later they got up and rummaged through the fridge for something to eat. The phone had rung a couple times but they'd let the machine pick it up. Nothing and no one was going to intrude on their time alone. Having rustled up two passable salads from the ingredients in the refrigerator, they sat on the floor in the living room and Brian popped in a DVD of the movie Diva. "I need to brush up on my francais," he said.

Justin watched for a while and then frowned. "You really like this?"

"It's French," Brian explained. "You haven't acquired the necessary sophistication to appreciate it."

His back up a little, Justin said, "I'm the one who went to private school."

"And look where it got you," Brian replied before he'd given it any thought. Instantly regretted it. "Baby- -"

Justin got up and carried their empty plates to the kitchen. Rinsed them off and put them in the dishwasher with the others. When there was a full load, they'd run it. He looked in the refrigerator for something sweet but there was nothing. Checked the freezer. There. Ice cream. A whole pint, unopened.

When he saw that Justin was going to eat his dessert at the counter, Brian went over there. Stood beside him, not touching the teenager. "I'm sorry."

"That's a first. Brian Kinney saying he's sorry."

"You know that's not- -"

"Go back to your film."

"Don't tell me what to do."

"Cause nobody does that," Justin said angrily.

Taking hold of Justin's arm, Brian pulled him around. "What the fuck is wrong with you?"

"Nothing." But before Brian could respond, he continued. "My parents were there. Listening to me. To the things I've done. The stupid. . ." He began again. "The stupid things I've done." Shook his head. "They must think. . ."

Brian wrapped his arms around him. "Stop being such a drama princess," he said, but he said affectionately and Justin smiled through his tears. "You were just a kid. You're still a kid. Everybody makes mistakes."

Justin chuckled a little. "Especially you."

"You'll want me to give it up again tonight and I won't," Brian threatened.

Cupping his lover's crotch through his black silk robe, Justin smirked. "Sure you will."

Eyelids lazing, Brian smiled. Fuck yeah.

Wednesday, November 14th

They had made it through the gauntlet of reporters and demonstrators for the third day in a row. Today was, by far, the worse. The second day of the evidence phase of the trial, the 'real' trial as some people thought of it. And if only a fraction of a group's membership had turned out on the previous two days, they put in an appearance today. The police barricades kept the courthouse entrance clear but traffic had been rerouted to other streets, there were so many people carrying signs and making a general nuisance of themselves, even the people who had turned out in support of Justin.

Arms around one another, they hurried past the shouting people and made their way upstairs to Keisha's office where Brian would wait while Justin gave his testimony. Their friends were already inside the courtroom, having gotten here early since they weren't all assured a seat. Keisha had arranged for Justin to have five seats in the courtroom for those of his family and friends who weren't testifying. His mom, his dad (if he came again), and then three other seats. Which meant Rennie, Xavier, Lindz, Mel, Vic, Ted, Mikey, and Emmett had to decide between themselves who would get the assigned seats and who would stand in line with the general public. They finally agreed that Lindz, Mel, and Vic would sit with Jenn and Craig and the rest would fend for themselves.

Deb, of course, should have been in the witness waiting room with the other witnesses Keisha had lined up for the prosecution. Although Justin would probably be on the stand most of the day, some of the other witnesses might be called. Deb wouldn't be called until after Brian but she'd come anyway. However, they all thought it was best that she wait with Brian in Keisha's office. She had a way of keeping him calm when all else had failed.

Seeing Debbie for the first time in her new clothes and new hairdo, Justin was impressed. "Deb, is that you?"

She touched her silvery blonde hair self-consciously. "It's me." Smiled brightly to cover her nervousness. "What do you think?"

"I think you look wonderful." Then, aware of the subtext, he quickly added. "I always think you look wonderful."

Laughing, she kissed him on the cheek. "That's my Sunshine." She turned to Brian. "Well?"

He studied her, cocked his head slightly. "I'd fuck you," he said and then he bussed her cheek.

Deb waved him away. "Go on. You're just trying to give me hot flashes."

The time came for Justin to accompany Keisha to the courtroom. He and Brian kissed briefly and then the teen left without looking back. They'd decided it would be better that way, no time to get maudlin or overly emotional. Only, after Justin had gone, Brian sat and stared at the floor for a full minute before looking up to find Deb studying him.

"He'll be fine."

"I know." But what else could he have said?

Justin settled into his chair on the witness stand and waited for Keisha to begin with today's questions. Before turning his attention to the jury, he looked out over the gallery and saw his mom and dad, Mel, Lindsay, and Vic; and then not far from them Michael, Em, Ted, Xavier, and Rennie. He wondered who was taking care of Gus, but then Keisha walked over to the jury box and it was time to focus on the events at hand.

"Let's move forward in time to the day you were suspended. You and Daphne Chanders had just arrived in your homeroom class, when you saw the defendant, Christian Hobbs, accosting another student."

Mason stood. "Objection, Your Honor. Leading."


She almost wanted to laugh. "Okay, when you and Daphne Chanders arrived in your homeroom class on the day of your suspension, what did you see?"

"I saw Chris Hobbs picking on Max Freiberg."

"Objection, Your Honor."

"Sustained. Counselor, please advise the witness not to editorialize."

"Justin, what exactly did you see Chris Hobbs do or hear him say to Max Freiberg?"

"I heard him say, 'You look like one. You want to suck my cock.' "

"Then what happened?"

"Daphne asked him if he couldn't come up with something more original and then I told him to leave Max alone."

"What did Chris Hobbs say?"

"He said it must have been a faggot convention. I told him not to take it out on Max and he asked me what and I said his dick."

There was laughter in the courtroom which was silenced as Kramer frowned.

"What did you mean by asking him not to take his dick out on Max?"

Justin looked at her in disbelief. Obviously people had gotten it because they'd laughed. "I was talking about what had happened between us. That's when he pushed me and we started pushing one another."

"Did your teacher come in then?"

"Yes. He told us to sit down and then he told me the next time I caused trouble, I'd have to talk to the principal. Daphne defended me and said that Chris had started it, that he'd called me a faggot but Mr. Dixon told us to sit down."

"Then what happened?"

"Then Mr. Dixon called the roll and when he got to my name, Chris said, 'Queer,' and everyone laughed."

"Did Mr. Dixon say anything to him?"

"No. And when I complained about Chris, Mr. Dixon told me he hadn't heard anything." Even now it made him angry, how Dixon had blatantly ignored him. "But everyone had heard it. I said I wanted Chris to apologize and he told me to sit down. And then he told me if I said anything else, he'd send me to the principal's office."

"What did you do then?"

"I told him not to bother. I grabbed my stuff and I said, 'The queer is going. The queer is out the door. The queer is gone.' "

"Did Mr. Dixon say anything in response?"

"He said that was enough."

"What did you do?"

"I told him now that his hearing had returned 'this queer says, Fuck you.' And I gave him the finger. Well, two fingers." More laughter. And someone yelled, "Yes!"

This time Kramer spoke. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is a court of law and as such we will conduct ourselves appropriately. Despite the sometimes humorous comments of witnesses, you will remember that these are serious matters we are discussing. If necessary, I will clear the court of spectators. I hope I've made myself clear. Continue, Ms. Thomas."

"Did you leave class?"

"Yes. Mr. Dixon came after me and we went to the principal's office and I got suspended for two days."

"Did you explain the circumstances to the principal?"

"I told him what happened in class."

"And he still suspended you?"

"Yes. He said I should have brought Chris' behavior to his attention and that I was being suspended for what I said to Mr. Dixon."

Next to Jennifer, Craig listened to Justin and felt ashamed that he'd never talked to him about what had happened, that he'd just let it all go once Justin had moved out of the house. Of course, if it had happened while Justin was still at home, all he would have done was yell at him, the same way he'd yelled at him for fighting in the locker room. He'd failed Justin, he was sure of that much. He and the school both had failed him. And Brian hadn't. The man who'd supposedly corrupted him.

"When you came into homeroom class and Christian was speaking to Max, why did you say anything to Chris?"

"Because Max looked scared and I know how Chris is."

"How is he?"

"He won't let up."

Keisha waited for an objection, but none came.

"And," Justin continued, "Max isn't very big. I didn't want Chris bothering him."

"Did Max ask you to help him?"


"Maybe he could have taken care of it himself."

"I didn't think so." Justin didn't think anyone outside of Brian could have taken on Chris Hobbs and won. Look at him. He'd tried and lost, almost lost his life.

"Has Max ever mentioned that episode to you?"

" He came to the first meeting of the Gay Straight Student Alliance and afterwards he thanked me for trying to help him."

"Let's talk about the Gay Straight Student Alliance. What gave you the idea to start an alliance?"

"Debbie. She told me that the reason people sometimes act like Chris and Mr. Dixon was that they didn't understand about gay people."

"Had you told her what'd happened between you and Chris in the equipment shed?"


"Had you told anyone other than Daphne?"


"Did you think the Alliance would help your situation with Chris?"

"No. But I thought it might help other students learn to be more tolerant. I thought maybe if they understood, they wouldn't just stand by and let people like Chris torment other students."


"What do you call it then?" Justin asked, angry, furious that Mason was trying to protect that piece of shit, Chris Hobbs.

"Justin," warned Keisha.

"All he did was walk around torturing people and no one at that school did a thing!"


Kramer banged his gavel. "Ms. Thomas, please control your witness."

"May I approach the stand, Your Honor?"


Keisha neared Justin and spoke to him in a low voice, "Justin, do you need a break?"

"I just- -"

"Do you need a break?" she repeated. All eyes were upon them. He shook his head. "All right, then." She stepped back. "May I continue, Your Honor?"

"You may."

She took up her position by the jury box again. "All right. Did you tell Brian about being suspended?"

"Yes. I asked him to help me advertise the Gay Straight Student Alliance."

"Did he?"

"He told me to hand out condoms. He said that would get them in the door."

"Did you?"

"Yes. Daphne and I handed out condoms and invitations to the meeting."

"Where did you hand out the invitations?"

"At school. In the hallway."

"Did you give away a lot?"

"Almost all."

"Did Chris Hobbs come by while you were handing out condoms and invitations?"


"What did he do?"

"He asked me if I was starting a faggot club and then he spilled the condoms on the floor."

"What did you do?"

"I told him it was a club for gay students and straight students. And Daphne said it was to promote tolerance and understanding."

"What did Chris do then?"

"He asked me if, if. . ." Justin fell silent.

"Please answer the question, Justin."

Chris Hobbs' parents tensed as if waiting for a blow.

"He asked me if buttfucking was an extra-curricular activity."

"Did you respond?"

" I told him no, just handjobs."

"Again referring to the episode in detention?"


"What happened then?"

"He grabbed me and pushed me up against the wall and he said," and Justin remembered every word, " 'Don't you ever mention that again, you little cocksucker.' "

Keisha paused while the court took in Justin's words. Chris' words. His hateful words. The list had gotten pretty long. Almost all of the jurors looked at Hobbs, frozen next to his attorney. Look at him, she wanted to say, look at that piece of shit that society protected and pampered, because it was crystal clear that the school had been at fault as well for not responding to Justin's complaints about Hobbs. And why? Because he came from a good family? Because he was a star athlete? It didn't make any sense. The real reason they hadn't done anything was that homosexuality wasn't in the curriculum. "How did you feel?"

"I thought he was going to hurt me."


"His eyes. . ." Justin closed his but he couldn't block the image of Chris Hobbs' face.

"Did you have a meeting of the Gay Straight Student Alliance?"

"Yes." Justin was subdued, the spark had gone.

"Did anyone come?"

"Yes. Max Freiberg came and a few other people."

"What happened?"

"Daphne and I had just started talking about the club when Mr. Dixon came in and asked us if we had an advisor. All clubs have to have an advisor."

"And did you?"

"Debbie was there."

"Did he accept that?"

"He asked if we had permission to use the classroom."

"Did you?"


"Then what happened?"

"He told all the students to leave."

"Did they?"


"How did that make you feel?"

"Disappointed. Because Daphne and I had worked really hard to start the club and Brian had even helped and Debbie too." A hint of futility colored his voice, "And in the end, it didn't matter because Mr. Dixon came along and it was over before it even started."

Kramer caught Keisha's eye. "I'd like to call a short recess, Ms. Thomas, if this is a good place for you."

"It is, Your Honor." She didn't think Justin could last much longer without an emergency infusion of Brian. The moment the break began, she rushed him out of the courtroom, past his friends and family, and upstairs where Brian waited. As she motioned for Deb to leave, Keisha said sotto voice to Brian, "Talk to him, kiss him, make out, do whatever you have to but do something because if you don't, he's gonna lose it out there."

The moment the door shut, Brian tugged on Justin's tie and pulled him to his chest. "Hey, you."


He kissed the teen and when Justin didn't respond, Brian frowned. "First time that's ever happened."


"I guess it gets old, huh?"

At that Justin smiled and looked up. "Never."

"You sure? That was a pretty piss-poor response to a fairly good kiss."

"Maybe you'd better do it again." Brian kissed him once more, this time pressing harder against Justin's lips, his tongue lingering inside the teen's mouth. They parted. He lifted an eyebrow. Justin crooked his finger and Brian kissed him a third time. This time when they parted, Justin's eyes shone and his mouth was slightly opened.

Brian ran his finger over Justin's lips. "I think that's enough."

The teen whispered, "I want you."

"You have me," Brian replied.

Justin squeezed Brian's forearm. "Say it again."

"You have me." He held Justin's eyes with his own. "Always. No matter what." Smiled. "I've been looking at hotels in Athens."

Laying his head against Brian's chest, Justin said, "I love you."

Brian stroked his hair. "That's my baby."

When Keisha came to get him again, Justin seemed to be his old self again. Flashing a mid-wattage smile at Deb and accepting a peck on the cheek from her, he waved at Brian and returned to court.

Deb took her seat. "I saw Michael and the guys." He nodded, glad they'd come. "Lotta people in that courtroom love and care about him."

"I know."

"But it's not the same, is it?"

"No." Looked away.


"Don't what?" he asked her.

"Blame yourself." She knew him, knew he was thinking about the prom the way he had the entire time Justin had been inside the hospital, blaming himself for Justin's attack because he hadn't gone with him. Because if he had, maybe they wouldn't be here now.

Looking over the chronology of events she'd wanted to cover during Justin's testimony, Keisha saw that there were only four other episodes to discuss before they got to the prom. She hoped they'd be able to cover them before lunch and then deal with the prom in the afternoon.

Once Justin had gotten settled she began. "Let's talk about the incident on Liberty Avenue. Why were you on Liberty Avenue on the evening of your argument with Chris Hobbs?"

"I was going to Woody's with Brian."

"What's Woody's?"

"It's a bar."

"Were you and Brian seeing one another pretty steadily during that time?"

"I guess. I was the only person he was having sex with on a regular basis."

"Could you explain that?"

"He was still having sex with other people."

"Didn't you mind that?"

"Yes, but we weren't dating or anything."

"But you were sleeping with him on a regular basis and you and he apparently went out."


"And you didn't consider that dating?"

"I did. He didn't."

"And that was okay with you?"

How could he explain it to them, how he would have done anything to keep seeing Brian? To not have him drop out of his life? "I wanted to see him, no matter what. So I accepted things the way they were. I tried not to put any demands on him. Because he would have stopped seeing me at all."

"Did you ever think about having a relationship with anyone else?"

He thought of the episode with Kyle, the way the teenager had looked at him with longing in his eyes, wanting him, and it would have been so easy to have encouraged him. Only, the hard part would have been letting go of Brian. "Yes, but I couldn't."

"Why not?"

"Because I loved Brian. That meant something to me."

"Even if it didn't mean anything to him?"

"It did mean something. He just wasn't ready to admit it. He wasn't ready to be in a relationship."

"So you were in a relationship, you just couldn't call it that."

"I guess." And he remembered reading the Michelangelo poem to Kyle, to try and explain his feelings for Brian.

My wishes are within your will alone,
Within your heart are my ideas shaped,
When you have taken breath, then I can speak.

"All right, you were going to Woody's. When did you see Chris Hobbs?"

"We were on the steps, about to go in, and I saw him."

"Did Brian see him?"

"I told him it was Chris Hobbs and he asked me who that was."

"Had you told him about Chris Hobbs before?"


"Had you told Brian about what had happened during detention?"


"Why not?"

"I didn't think he'd like it."

"But you weren't in a relationship and you weren't dating. Why would he care?"

"He would have."

"So it was okay for him to play around but not you?"

"Something like that."

As the jurors stared in disbelief at Justin, Keisha realized, more than ever, she had to find some way to show them how things had changed between the two men. "What did you do after you saw Chris Hobbs and told Brian it was him?"

"I went down to the sidewalk where he was."

"Did the defendant see you?"

"Yes. He said, 'Hey, Taylor.' "

"What did you say?"

"I asked him what he was doing there."

"Did he explain why?"

"He said he came to see the freaks like me."

"Did you respond to that?"

"I told him that down there he was the freak."

"Then what happened?"

"He pushed me and said, 'Get out of the way, you faggot.' And Brian stepped in front of me, like he was going to protect me from Hobbs, but I pushed him back and then I told everybody around us how I had given Chris a handjob in the equipment shed and that he'd loved it."

"What did the defendant do?"

"He told me to shut up and then he told me I was fucked. And he left."

"Did Brian say anything to you?"

"He said I'd made a real enemy."

"Did he explain what he meant by that?"

"Not right then."



"What did he say?"

"That Hobbs was a psychopath and homophobic and that I should be careful." And although he'd listened to Brian, he couldn't have known how prophetic Brian's words would be in the end.

Then Keisha went on to ask him about two other episodes, one the fire in his locker which had destroyed his books and some drawings he had done, one of Brian which he'd been very proud of, gone, the other episode, the rally outside of school where Senator Baxter spoke.

"Did the school ever indicate that they had discovered who set fire to your locker?"


And about the rally. "Did the school allow you to form the Gay Straight Student Alliance after the rally?"


"Did you ever meet?"

"Once. It was more about just having a club and hoping that the kids in the grades below us would keep it going once we'd graduated."

She turned to the last episode she wanted to cover before she got to the prom. It was getting close to twelve, nearly eleven forty-five. "The week of the prom, did you have a run-in with Chris Hobbs?"


"What happened?"

"I was walking in the hallway in school, during a break between classes, and Chris pushed me down."

"Did he say anything to you?"

"He called me a faggot."

"Had you said anything to Chris Hobbs prior to him pushing you down?"

"No. I didn't even know he was there until he came up next to me and pushed me."

"Had you had any other encounters with him between the confrontation outside of Woody's and the episode in the hallway?"

"Just the usual."

"Which was?"

"Him and his friends calling me faggot or queer under their breath when I walked by them or when we were in gym class. Hobbs used to act like I was looking at him and he'd call me names."

"Did you look at him in gym class or in the locker room?"

"No more than I looked at anyone else."

"Did you look at him as if you were sexually interested in him?"

"No." The thought made him feel ill.

"Did you still find him attractive?"

"No." Firmly. "No."

"Did you report any of these incidents to the school authorities?"

"What for? They wouldn't do anything. When I did tell them, all they did was blame me, accuse me of starting trouble." He shook his head. "I was tired of Hobbs and the school and all of it. All I wanted was to graduate and never have to see him or that school ever again."

But that hadn't happened. Before it could happen, Chris Hobbs had taken matters into his own hands and decided that St. James and the world in general would be better off without Justin.

Interpreting Keisha's lull in questioning as an indication of a change of subject, Kramer recessed the court for lunch. This time, after coming down from the witness stand, Justin spoke to his parents and Vic while the rest of the gang gathered around. Chris Hobbs, his parents, and Mason left the courtroom, the defendant casting angry looks in Justin's direction.

The only person to notice was Xavier who had always wondered what Hobbs must have been like to snare Justin's attention. Totally not worth it. He wouldn't have given him a second glance. Damn, he thought, Justin's head must have been messed up bad by Brian for him to have gone after that guy.

Rennie noticed the object of his scrutiny. "Well?"

Xavier shook his head. "Not even on a dare." They both knew who Xavier wanted.

At that moment a stir brewed up outside the courtroom in the hallway. Instantly, Justin knew it had to be Brian. Then he heard his voice. "Fuck you."

"Shit," he said, moving towards the door.

"Justin. Wait," said Keisha and Emmett caught hold of his sleeve. Brian entered the courtroom with Deb behind him and Emmett let Justin go.

"What was it?" Justin asked.

"Some asshole," grumbled Brian.

"Chris Hobbs?" Keisha asked knowingly.

"Biggest one there is."

"Brian- -"

"I know. I should have stayed upstairs."

Deb said, "I tried to tell him but he wanted to see Justin."

"What's done is done but," she told him, "if you pull a stunt like that again, I'm gonna kick your narrow behind. Got it?"

Everyone waited to see what Brian would say. He cut his eyes. "Whatever."

"No, not whatever, Your Big and Badness." Ted, Emmett, and Michael smirked at the nickname. "I mean it. I want your word. No more foolishness." The two looked at one another and the spectators wouldn't have been surprised to see flames shoot from their eyes.

"Fine." Brian turned his attention back to Justin.

Mel looked at Keisha with newfound respect. Anyone who could get Brian to back down had some mighty big cajones.

"Now," Keisha began, "I'd suggest someone go out and get lunch and that you have it in the witness room. There are too many of you for my office and I have things to do."

Lindsay asked, "Do you want us to get you something?"

"I've got a sandwich in the fridge. I'll see you in an hour." She gathered her papers and led them past the reporters who waited in the hallway, kept away from the door by Sheriff deputies.

As for Michael, he'd seen Jeff but hadn't even made eye contact with him. There was no point now in looking back. It was over. He'd served his purpose and Jeff had tossed him aside. Even though he knew that wasn't exactly how it'd happened, that version made it easier for him to sleep alone at night.

While he and Ted went to get the food, the rest of the gang waited with Brian and Justin. The teen noticed that neither Brian nor his father had spoken to one another. Probably best. Although Craig had seemed to soften towards Justin, he didn't think that change of heart included Brian. And Brian, Justin didn't think, would ever forgive Craig for the things he'd said at his graduation party. They'd hurt too much. After all of the days and nights he'd spent at Justin's side in the hospital, for Craig to say that he was to blame for his son's injuries in the first place was the final straw for Brian.

"Who's baby-sitting Sonny Boy?" Brian asked Lindsay.

"Your mother," she replied after a moment.

He said nothing, just waited until attention had wandered away from him to get up and stand alone staring at nothing. Justin sidled up next to him. Waited. Finally Brian's arm slipped around his shoulders.

1:40 p.m.

He knew that the time had come for them to talk about the prom and he dreaded it. Of course, it'd be worse for Brian. Hell, he didn't remember anything about that night past hearing Brian's voice and turning around. Brian had seen everything. But worse, after Keisha finished questioning him about the prom, it'd be the defense's turn to cross-examine him and he dreaded that most of all. Even though Keisha had promised that she'd ask everything she could think of, thus leaving Mason very few avenues of attack, she couldn't anticipate everything. He was afraid of what she'd forgotten or overlooked.

Picking up right where she'd left off, Keisha began again. "All right, the last time you had an altercation with Chris Hobbs was the week of the prom. Considering the fact that you were gay and that you'd had enough of St. James, why'd you decide to go to the prom?"

"I wasn't going to go but Deb and my mom told me that I should, that I would regret it if I didn't. They said it was a rite of passage, like getting your driver's license, and that it wasn't fair to deny myself something just because other people didn't want me there."

"Who did you ask to go to the prom with you?"

"I asked Brian."

"What did he say?"

"He said he wouldn't be caught dead 'in a room full of fuckin' eighteen-year-olds.' "

"He turned you down?"


"Why did you want Brian to go to the prom with you?"

"Because I always thought you were supposed to go to the prom with someone you cared about, someone you loved. And I loved him. I wanted him to go with me. It was an important night and I wanted to share it with him." He didn't dare tell her the other reason, which was that it was a big 'Fuck you' to St. James.

"It must have also been tempting to show up with a male date and disrupt things?"

She'd never asked him that before and it caught him off-guard. "A little."

"What better way to force St. James to pay more than lip service to the idea of tolerance and understanding than to go to the prom with Brian?"

That made him angry, that she'd reduced it to a political statement. "It was more than that. Sure, I liked the idea of shocking everyone but I wanted Brian to come because I loved him, because it was my prom. You only have one senior prom. I wanted him to come and I wanted everyone to see how beautiful he was."

"You wanted to show him off?" She didn't blame him, Brian dressed up real well. Not that the just-tumbled-out-of-bed-and-threw-on-some-clothes-look didn't work for him too.


"But he told you no."


"So who did you go to the prom with?"

"My friend Daphne."

"Did you see Christian Hobbs at the prom?"

"I saw him there, with Lisa Monroe."

"Did he say anything to you?"


"Did you say anything to him?"


"When did Brian show up?"

"About an hour into the prom."

"What did you do?"

"I didn't see him first. Daphne did. And she pointed to him coming through the door. I looked around and saw him coming. When he got to where we were, I said, 'I thought you said you wouldn't be caught dead in a room full of eighteen-year-olds.' And he said he'd come to recapture his lost youth. Then he told Daphne she looked hot and he kissed her and then he asked her if he could borrow her date."

"What did you think he meant?"

"He'd taken my hand and I thought maybe he meant to dance with me but I couldn't believe it. I didn't really believe it until we got on the dance floor."

"What did the people around you do?"

"They just all stood back. We were the only people dancing."

"Do you remember what song they were playing?"

He smiled softly, he'd never forget for as long as he lived. " 'Save the Last Dance for Me.' "

"And you danced in front of everyone?"


"How did it make you feel?"

"Like I was the luckiest person in the world." His eyes sparkled. "I never thought in a million years that he'd come after he said no. And he looked gorgeous. He was like a model out of a GQ magazine."

"After you finished dancing, then what happened?"

"He kissed me right on the dance floor with everyone looking. And then he took my hand and we headed for the door. Daphne caught up with us and gave him his coat."

"How did she get his coat?"

"I'd taken it off him while we were dancing and thrown it to her."

"After Daphne gave Brian his coat, what did you do?"

"We went to the parking garage. Brian was going to go home and I was going to make sure Daphne got home all right and then meet him at the loft." He could see them together. "We were singing 'Save the Last Dance for Me.' And then we got to the Jeep and stood next to it talking for a while."

"About what?"

"About the prom. I told him that it was the best night of my life."

"And what did Brian say to that?"

"He said, 'Even if it was ridiculously romantic.' " Justin's throat tightened. It always did when he remembered Brian saying that to him, the small smile curled around his lips, as if he couldn't admit that he'd had a good time too but couldn't deny it either.

"Then what happened?"

"He kissed me and then he said, 'Later.' And I said, 'Later,' too and started to walk back inside."

"Could you see anyone else in the parking garage with you?"

"I'd seen a couple just as we were getting close to the Jeep. I think they were leaving too."

"Was it dark in the garage?"

"It was a little dark, you know how parking garages are. It was lit so you could see where you were going and you could see people pretty clearly. But it was at night."

"Did you see the defendant, Chris Hobbs?"

"No. I wish I had."

"What happened next?"

"I was walking back inside and I heard Brian call out to me. His voice sounded so strange. He was shouting and he hardly ever shouted unless he was angry."

"Did he sound angry?"

"No. He sounded scared."

"Then what happened?"

"I turned around and I saw, I saw. . ." He tried to visualize it in his head. It was so confusing because it all happened so fast and he was never sure if he'd actually seen Brian or just imagined it or if he'd seen the bat or Chris Hobbs but everything and everyone just kind of blurred together and he wasn't sure. "I don't know. I thought I saw Brian and then something blocked my view, but I can't be sure. Everything happened so fast."

"What's the next thing you remember?"

"Waking up in the hospital. My mom was sitting next to me."

"Did you know what had happened to you?"


"Did your mother tell you?"


"What did she say?"

"That I'd been hit in the head with a baseball bat. That Chris Hobbs had done it."

"Did Brian come to see you?"

"In the morning. He'd gone home because he was exhausted. He came in the morning and saw me. I'd started asking for him as soon as I regained consciousness. I was afraid he'd been hurt too. I didn't believe that he was all right until I saw him." He'd been terrified that Chris Hobbs had hurt him as well. Turns out he had. Only no one could see it, except for Justin.

"How did you feel, physically?"

"Like I'd been hit in the head with a baseball bat." Several people in the audience laughed. The judge let it go. "I felt horrible. My head hurt like crazy and I couldn't really move my arms or legs or anything. I wasn't paralyzed, just really weak."

"How long were you in the hospital?"

"A week and a half. Then they let me go home but I had to go to the doctor's like every two days, it seemed."

"Does your head still bother you?"



"Sometimes so bad that I can hardly see. But it doesn't happen often." The last time it'd happened, Brian had held him and put cold compresses on his head until he'd fallen asleep.

"Are you still taking medication?"

"Only if I need it."

"Do you think about what happened to you?"

"I have nightmares about it sometimes."

"Do you remember the nightmares?"

"Some of them."

"Could you describe one?"

"Objection, Your Honor. Relevance."

"I'll allow it. Overruled."

"I dreamt once that Chris Hobbs had hit me in the back of the head with that bat and I fell and he called me a faggot and hit me again and killed me." The dream he'd had just this Sunday.

"Are you afraid of Chris Hobbs, Justin?"

"No." The teen's eyes were clear and his voice was steady as he spoke.

"Why not?"

"Because he didn't kill me. Because Brian protected me."

"Objection, Your Honor!"

"Sustained. Jury, please disregard the witness' last statement. It will be stricken from the record."

"Justin, how has your life changed as a result of the attack?"

He thought about it. "I'm with Brian." That was the most important change in his life and the only one he really cared about.

Keisha could have kissed him. Although almost everyone in that courtroom would have understood if he'd answered with something negative, he'd impressed them, instead, with the fact that what he valued was the love he'd found with Brian, that love was more important than revenge or hatred. He didn't have an axe to grind, he just wanted justice, because he didn't need revenge, he had love. "No further questions, Your Honor."

Kramer finished making some notes. "We'll have a short, ten minute recess, and reconvene at two fifty-five at which time the defense will cross-examine the witness."

Justin stepped down and went over to where Keisha stood next to the prosecution's table. "Did I do okay?"

"You did okay. Brian would be proud of you."

Jennifer came up and touched his arm. "Honey, I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?"

"That your father and I didn't listen to you. I can't imagine what it must have been like. I'm sorry. The only excuse I have is. . . I didn't know what to do."

"It's okay."

"No, it's not." She turned slightly, Craig had joined her. "We should have done more."

"Your mother's right." The words seemed to weigh heavily on him. "We- - I failed you, Justin, and I'm sorry. I didn't know. You tried to tell me but I didn't want to hear it." He looked down momentarily. "I suppose I owe Brian more than an apology."

"He'd settle for that." Justin saw Michael approaching, wondered what he wanted.

"Hey, Boy Wonder."


Michael seemed to shuffle his feet even though he didn't move. He had that ability. "Look, he's lucky to have you. I know I give you a hard time sometimes but I mean it. I'm glad Brian's with you."

Amazed, Justin asked, "You mean it?"


A devilish twinkle in his blue eyes, Justin said, "Can I have that in writing? Maybe permanent ink?"

"You little asshole."

Justin laughed then caught sight of Chris Hobbs out of the corner of his eye. Mason was making some notes on a pad. He wasn't looking forward to the attorney's questions. Keisha saw the direction of his gaze.

"Don't worry. Remember what I said about snakes?" He nodded. "Don't forget it. Plus, any damage he thinks he might do on cross, I can undo on redirect. I promise you."

Brian opened his cellphone and closed it again. Held it in his hand. Opened it again then shut it and put it away.

"You should call her."

"You should mind your own business."

"I am."

He glanced at her and he had to admit that she'd been more of a mother to him than Joanie Kinney. But he would have endured hot burning coals beneath his feet than admit that to her. Still, he knew that she knew and that was good enough. "She doesn't want to talk to me."

"Then talk to Gus. I bet he misses his Da da."

"Misses pulling my hair, and ruining my fucking DVD player, and driving me crazy."

She laughed. "Who would have ever thought? Brian Kinney, a daddy. Just wait until he turns sixteen."

"Hopefully, I'll be senile by then and I won't care."

"At the ripe old age of forty-five."

"Do you have to say that out loud?"

Deb hit him on the arm. "Stop being such a drama queen."

He chuckled. He'd said pretty much the same thing to Justin last night. Thinking about Gus at sixteen, he mused, "I wonder if he'll be straight?"

"Let's see, his father's gay, and he's got two lesbian mommies. Stranger things have happened."

"Christ." He raked his hand through his hair. "I don't care. As long as he's not as screwed up as I was."

"You weren't screwed up. You were just a little rough around the edges."

Brian thought about himself in high school, a tall, lanky bundle of anger. "A little? I'm surprised I lived through it." But he knew why he had. Michael and Deb. Softly, he said, "Thanks."

Saying nothing, she patted him on the arm.

2:55 p.m.

Taking the stand once more, Justin this time looked down at a different face. Raymond Mason. The man was in his late forties, not as thin as his dad but not fat, just healthy Deb would call him. Dye job on his hair. A good dye job but Justin had learned from the master how to spot them. Despite being healthy, he had a lean and hungry look. Justin remembered the description from Julius Caesar, of Cassius. He supposed Brian had a lean and lazy look. He never looked hungry, just mildly interested. Even back when he used to go prowling, he'd looked more like a lazy leopard than a wolf on the hunt. He supposed it was because Brian had never really had to work to get guys into his bed. He had beckoned and they had come. In droves. Just as his attention returned to the proceedings, he realized that Mason had said something to him and he hadn't heard him.

"Excuse me?" he said.

"I asked you if Christian Hobbs solicited you to give him a handjob in the equipment shed?"

Keisha bounded from her seat. "Objection, Your Honor, counsel is attempting to vilify Mr. Taylor with his use of the word 'solicited'."


"Did Christian Hobbs ask you to give him a handjob in the equipment shed?"


"When Christian Hobbs related the story of his sexual experience with Mary Frances Cudawindo, did you tell him you were gay?"


"Did you consider yourself to be gay?"


"Did you indicate at all to Mr. Hobbs that you were interested in him sexually?"


"Did you say anything to Mr. Hobbs before you gave him the handjob?"


"What did you say?"

"I told him he was hard."

"Did Mr. Hobbs respond to your statement?"


"What was he doing?"

"He had his eyes closed and he was rubbing himself."

"And he had an erection?"


"Why didn't you touch him when he first started telling his story?"

Justin was silent.

"Your Honor, could you please instruct the witness to answer the question?"

"Mr. Taylor, answer the question."

"I didn't think he'd let me."

"So you waited until he had an erection, is that right?"



"I figured he wouldn't care."

"He wouldn't care about what?"

"That it was me jerking him off."

"Was Mr. Hobbs excited?"


"How long did you stroke him before he ejaculated?"

"Maybe a minute."

"Did you get an erection while touching Mr. Hobbs?"

That he had ever found Hobbs desirable continued to haunt him long after such feelings had died. "Yes," he said, the word barely audible.

"Could you speak up, please?"

"I said yes."

"Were you pleased at the way the encounter went?"


"Did Mr. Hobbs indicate to you that he'd be open to another such encounter?"

"No." And even if he had, I wouldn't have wanted to. It had been a one-time only thing.

"You've said that you made sketches of the football team; did you sketch Christian Hobbs?"


"Did you draw more than one picture of him?"


"Did you draw any nude pictures of Christian Hobbs?"

Justin hesitated. "Yes."

"Were these drawn from observations?"



"In the locker room at school."

"Were these pictures drawn prior to the incident in detention?"


"Let's talk about your relationship with Mr. Kinney. You've testified that he didn't want anything to do with you after you spent the night with him. Is this correct?"


"Could you describe the occasion of your second sexual encounter with Mr. Kinney?"

"I went to Babylon and we danced together and he took me home with him."

"What's Babylon?"

"A club."

"Did Mr. Kinney seek you out?"


"So you went looking for him."


"Had you had any contact with him between your first and second sexual encounters?"


"Would you describe them?"

"I talked to him at Woody's and then at his apartment."

"Did he invite you to Woody's?"


"Did he come looking for you at Woody's?"


"Did you go looking for him?"


"Did he invite you back to his apartment?"


"Did you just show up?"


"You're pretty persistent, Mr. Taylor."

"Objection, Your Honor."


"What about your third sexual encounter with him? Do you remember it?"


"Did Mr. Kinney initiate the encounter?"

"No." It looked just as it had happened: that he had pursued Brian. Relentlessly.

"Mr. Taylor, has Mr. Kinney used recreational drugs?"

Keisha again objected. "What does Mr. Kinney's hypothetical drug use have to do with the facts of this case?"

"Your Honor, I'm trying to establish the kind of environment in which Mr. Taylor frequented. I believe it's important in order to determine the motives for his actions."

"I'll allow it."

Smugly, Mason asked, "Has Mr. Kinney used recreational drugs during the time you've known him?"


"Has he ever given you any drugs?"

Justin glanced at his parents. "Yes."

"What specifically?"

"Poppers, Ecstasy, and he blew smoke from a marijuana cigarette into my mouth once." Brian hadn't offered him drugs very often, knowing how allergic Justin was to so many things and because the teen hadn't expressed a keen interest in consuming them.

"Could you explain what poppers are?"

"Amyl nitrate."

"And what does it do?"

"It's a stimulant."

"And the Ecstasy?"

"Pretty much the same."

"Did Mr. Kinney take any drugs the night you first met?"



"E. Ecstasy."

"Did you take any?"


"You've said that you went to bars and clubs with Mr. Kinney, how did you get in since you were underage?"

"I had a fake I.D."

"And did you consume alcohol while you were in these clubs and bars?"


"Using your fake I.D.?"


"Did Mr. Kinney buy drinks for you?"


"Did he give you alcohol in his home?"


"You've testified that Mr. Kinney had sex with a number of men other than yourself. Prior to the prom, had you ever witnessed Mr. Kinney having sex with another man?"

Unfortunately, he had. "Yes."

"What were the circumstances?"

"I was living with him. He brought this guy home and the guy started to give him a blow job while I was watching." But there had been so much more going on than just some guy going down on Brian. That episode had been about Brian, in his usually unsubtle way, explaining to Justin exactly how things stood between them. It had been about him defending his territory.

"Could you explain what a blow job is?"

Oh come on. . . "The guy got down on his knees and sucked Brian's dick."

"The witness will please observe proprieties when answering," Kramer instructed.

"He's asking me what blow jobs are and you want me to observe proprieties?"

Kramer addressed Justin again. "Young man, unless you're reporting someone's words exactly as they were spoken, you will refrain from using coarse language in this courtroom. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir."

Mason continued. "Excluding Mr. Kinney and Christian Hobbs, prior to the prom, how many men or teenagers had you had sex with, Mr. Taylor?"

"Not many."

"Don't you know how many? Less than ten, more than twenty?"

"Objection. Counsel is badgering the witness," said Keisha.


"I apologize, Your Honor. Approximately, how many men had you had sex with other than Mr. Kinney and Mr. Hobbs prior to the prom?"


"Was this during the time that you said you were in love with Mr. Kinney?"


"How often did you go out to bars or clubs?"

"Maybe two or three times a week."

"Is it true you won the King of Babylon contest?"

Justin's eyes widened involuntarily and Keisha almost audibly sighed. There was no point in objecting. If Kramer allowed the question about the drugs, he'd allow this. "Yes."

"What did you have to do to win this contest?"

"Dance in front of the guys in the club."

"Just dance?"

"I stripped too."

Craig turned to Jennifer. Obviously she had never told him the truth about the Bahamas trip.

"Completely naked?"


"Was Mr. Kinney there when you did your striptease act?"


"Your Honor, the witness has just admitted that he stripped in front of a club full of gay men."


"Was Mr. Kinney there?"


"Did you win a prize?"


"What was it?"

"A trip to the Bahamas."

"Did you and Mr. Kinney go back to his apartment to celebrate?"


"Did you go home alone?"


"Who did you go home with?"

"A guy I met at Babylon." And that little incident had almost caused an irreparable rift between him and Brian. Even now it frightened him to think how much he'd hurt Brian by taking Sean away from him, and more so by having sex with him period.

"Let's go back to a couple of your altercations with Christian Hobbs. When Mr. Hobbs punched you in the locker room, where did he hit you?"

"In the mouth."

"Did your lip or mouth begin to bleed?"


"You testified that you spat on him. Did you spit blood on him?"


Keisha knew what Mason was getting at, but how many people really still believed that spitting on someone, even spitting blood on them, on their shirt, would infect them with the HIV virus? She jotted down a possible question to ask on redirect.

"On the day of your suspension, when you arrived in the classroom, had Christian Hobbs addressed you in any way?"


"Did Max Freiberg ask for your help?"


"Did Max Freiberg explain to Mr. Dixon what had happened in class before he arrived?"


Switching gears, Mason asked, "That night on Liberty Avenue, when you saw Christian Hobbs coming down the sidewalk, where were you in relation to him?"

"I was above him on the steps of Woody's."

"How far away do you think you were from him?"

"Maybe thirty feet or so."

"Were you almost in the bar or on the bottom step?"

"I was almost in the bar."

"Did Christian Hobbs call out to you?"


"Did you call out to him?"


"Did you go down the steps and address him?"


"Why didn't you go inside the bar?"

"I wanted to know why he was on Liberty Avenue."

"Didn't he have as much right to be there as you?"

"I thought he didn't like faggots."

"You didn't answer my question. He had as much right to be there as you did, correct?"


"How tall is Mr. Kinney?"

"Six three and a half."

"So he's taller than you or Christian Hobbs?"


"You testified that Mr. Kinney stepped in front of you after Christian Hobbs pushed you. Did Mr. Kinney touch Christian Hobbs?"


"But he stood between the two of you?"


"Did he tell you to drop it and come inside the bar?"


"Did he try to break up the confrontation?"


"Did Mr. Kinney seem pleased that you had confronted Christian Hobbs?"

"No." And he hadn't been pleased at all. In fact, his had been the only negative reaction among his friends. But events had proven him right.

"Let's talk about the night of the prom. You said that the other students cleared the floor when you and Mr. Kinney danced. Did you see Christian Hobbs among the students?"


"But you could see other students?"


"Did they look shocked?"


"Did they look happy?"

"Not really."

"Did they look angry?"


"How did that make you feel?"

"I didn't care."

Mason returned to the table for the defense. "No more questions, Your Honor."

"Redirect?" he asked Keisha.

Despite Mason's attempts to cast aspersions on Justin's character, Keisha didn't believe that he'd done a very good job at all. Especially since most of his questions concerned Brian. It'd pissed her off that Kramer had allowed the line of questioning at all but she didn't think it'd done much damage to Justin's testimony as the sheer number of altercations between him and Hobbs tended to overshadow anything else. What the jury would remember more than anything were the number of times Chris Hobbs had called Justin a faggot, a queer, a bitch, a cocksucker, the number of times Chris Hobbs had pushed or hit him. So what if he took a toke with Brian or had sex with a grand total of six guys by the time he'd graduated high school? No, she wouldn't even bother to address Mason's insinuations. Let the jury think that they weren't important. "No, Your Honor."

"The witness is dismissed." To Keisha as Justin left the stand. "Call your next witness."

"The People call Lane Jenkins, Your Honor."

Justin took a seat next to his mom. He was trembling. Felt her touch his arm. More than anything, he wanted to leave the courtroom and go upstairs where Brian was. He hoped they ended soon.

Lane, the African-American student who'd pulled Justin back from Chris Hobbs when they fought in the locker room, came into the courtroom and was sworn in. He took the stand. Keisha asked him a few preliminary questions about what he was doing now (going to University of Pennsylvania) and then questioned him as to what he'd seen and heard that day. He basically corroborated what Justin had testified to, namely that Chris Hobbs had instigated the altercation.

"After Justin spat on Chris Hobbs, did Chris Hobbs say or do anything?"



"He told Justin he would kill him."

"Were those his exact words?"

"No." The young man paused. "He said, 'I'll kill you, you fucking faggot.' "

After Keisha had finished with him, Mason got up and asked him a couple questions about his relationship to Justin. Basically, there hadn't been any. Lane had been in a couple of Justin's classes but they hadn't been friends. He had known Justin but they hadn't hung out together. Same thing with Christian Hobbs. Lane had known him but they hadn't traveled in the same social circles. Keisha wondered what social circles the black youth had traveled in, if any.

Lane was dismissed and they called Max Freiberg to the stand. Justin hadn't kept up with Max since graduation but he knew Max had been headed to MIT. It looked as if the three months in Cambridge had done him a world of good. He even looked taller to Justin. Maybe it was because he'd gotten out from under the thumb of St. James and its resident goons. If there had been anyone Justin had felt even more sorry for than himself, it'd been Max. He had always gotten picked on because he had been a smart kid among smart kids.

Listening to Max answer Keisha's questions, Justin learned that he was studying molecular physics. And that he'd joined a gay and lesbian student organization. Good for him.

Keisha asked, "The day Justin was suspended, you had a run-in with Chris Hobbs, is that correct?"


"What happened?"

"Chris came in and bumped into me as he was going to his seat."

"Did he bump you hard?"


"Did you think it was an accident?"



"Did Hobbs say anything to you after he bumped you?"

"He said, 'Excuse me, faggot.' "

"Then what happened?"

"I said that I wasn't a faggot and he said I looked like one and asked me if I wanted to suck his cock."

"Were those his words?"


"How did you respond?"

"I didn't. That's when Daphne and Justin came in. Daphne asked Hobbs if he couldn't come up with something more original than that."

"What did Justin say?"

"He told Hobbs to leave me alone."

"Did you say anything else to Hobbs that morning?"


"Did you tell Mr. Dixon what had happened when he came in?"


"Why not?"

"I didn't want to get in trouble."

"What kind of trouble?"

"The kind Justin got in."

"Could you explain that?"

"He and Chris Hobbs got in a fight and Mr. Dixon blamed Justin. Justin got suspended. That kind of trouble."

"Was that the first time you'd had problems with Chris Hobbs?"

"Objection, your honor."

"Your Honor, Mr. Mason has questioned Mr. Taylor about his sexual relations with Mr. Kinney and other persons, about his drug use, about a contest he won, I believe this is just as relevant."


Keisha breathed easier. "Was the episode in your homeroom the first time you'd had problems with Chris Hobbs?"

"No. He used to call me faggot or queer all the time and shove me around. Him and his friends. Justin and I weren't the only ones. Justin was just the only person to ever fight back."

"Did you attend the meeting of the Gay Straight Student Alliance?"


"You didn't think you'd get in trouble?"

"I thought, at least, there'd be other people. I wouldn't be alone anymore."

"How was the meeting?"

"There was no meeting. Just as Daphne and Justin started talking, Mr. Dixon came in and told us to leave."

"Did you attend the rally Senator Baxter and PFLAG had to force the school to allow the GSSA?"


"Why not?"

"I didn't want my parents to see me on television protesting for a gay club."

"It was for straight students too."

"None of the straight kids protested. If I had, they'd have known I was gay then."

"Do your parents know you're gay now?"

"Yes. I told them after Justin got attacked."

"Were you at the prom?"


"Why not?"

"I didn't want to go. What was the point? It was for straight kids. Not for gay kids."

"Did you know who Brian Kinney was?"



"I'd seen him drop Justin off at school in the morning sometimes. And after the GSSA fiasco, I asked Justin if he was his boyfriend."

"What did you think about that?"

"I thought it was kind of cool. To have a boyfriend at all, much less one that was twenty-nine. He showed me this picture of them. Together."

"How did you feel after Justin got attacked?"

Max's confidence seemed to wan. "I thought that's what happens to gay kids. And nobody cares. And if you do care, if you try to do something about it, like Justin had, that's what happens to you."

"No further questions, Your Honor."

Mason stood and asked Max if he'd had any feelings for Justin. "Were you attracted to him?"


"You didn't think he was attractive?"

"He's attractive. He's just not my type."

The guys sniggered. Why was it people thought gay men automatically wanted to make it with every other gay man?

"Did you think Brian Kinney is attractive?"


"I'm just trying to determine if Mr. Freiberg had any other ulterior motives for supporting Mr. Taylor."

"If he wanted Brian, he would have been less supportive of Justin, don't you think?"

"Counselors. Objection sustained. Move on, Mr. Mason."

"Thank you, Your Honor. No more questions."

"Call your next witness, Ms. Thomas."

"The People calls Jordan McLachlan."

Justin knew that the guy was one of the witnesses from Liberty Avenue. Keisha had said that it was better to find an objective witness rather than Emmett or Ted. Considering the number of guys Brian had slept with, Justin wondered how objective the guy really was. He hoped Keisha had asked McLachlan if he'd ever had sex with Brian. That'd be something they wouldn't want to find out on cross.

After the preliminary questions, she got to the heart of the matter. "Mr. McLachlan, did you witness the argument between Justin Taylor and Christian Hobbs on Liberty Avenue?"


"Did you know either of the participants?"

"Not personally. I'd seen the Taylor kid around, with Brian."

"Did you know Brian Kinney?"

"I knew who he was."

"Had you ever had sex with Mr. Kinney?"

"No, I'm not his type." Again, laughter from the audience remembering Max's responses to Mason's questions about Justin.

"Did you see the entire altercation?"

"I didn't pay any attention to them until Brian went over and stood in front of Justin."

"Did you pay attention after that?"

"Yes. Because Justin started talking loudly."

"What did he say?"

"He said that the kid's name was Christian Hobbs and that he went to his school. Then Justin said that he'd given the Hobbs kid a handjob and that Hobbs had loved it."

"What happened then?"

"Christian Hobbs told Justin to shut up and then he said Justin was fucked and he left."

"Did you hear anything else?"

"No, we left after that."

"Was there a big crowd around listening to Justin?"

"About thirty people maybe."

"Were there any people with Christian Hobbs?"

" A girl and another couple. I remember because they followed him when he left."

"Did anyone in the crowd make threatening motions against Hobbs or the other kids?"

"No. We just laughed when Justin told about Hobbs loving the handjob."


"Because there's lots of straight guys who hate gay guys but they'll let one suck them off or jack them off, no problem. The problems come in afterwards."

"What do you mean?"

"A baseball bat to the head."


"Sustained. Jury please disregard the witness' last statement. It will be stricken from the record."

"No further questions, Your Honor." Keisha sat down, immensely satisfied. Both Max and McLachlan had been the perfect witnesses.

"Mr. Mason?"

"Mr. McLachlan, you made a statement about straight guys and gay guys having sex. Are you speaking from experience?"

"I've had sex with a few supposedly straight guys."

Keisha's ears perked up. Supposedly. She glanced at Chris Hobbs who looked decidedly uncomfortable.

"And you've never had sex with either Brian Kinney or Justin Taylor?"

Keisha didn't bother to object on the grounds that McLachlan had already answered that question. Let Mason flounder.

"No, I'd remember."


"Do you find either of them attractive?"

"They're walking wet dreams."

The gallery erupted in laughter.

Kramer scowled. "If I have to warn the spectators again regarding their behavior I will clear this courtroom."

"No further questions, Your Honor."


Standing at her table, Keisha asked, "You said that you'd had sex with a few supposedly straight guys. What did you mean by that?"

"Just that. They claim that they're straight but they're out there having sex with other men. So much for being straight."

"No further questions." She sat, pleased that Mason had opened that door.

Kramer dismissed the witness and then announced that court would adjourn for the day and reconvene at nine a.m. on Thursday.

As soon as court was done, the guys made their way over to Justin and everyone hugged him, even Rennie. But Justin wanted to get to Brian. Keisha had made him swear not to move until she got back to her office. So they all trekked upstairs where the ad exec waited impatiently.

He was standing by the window, his profile outlined against the setting sun. As the door opened, he turned, his face cast in shadow and for a moment he was a stranger to Justin, but then he stepped away from the window, his features becoming clearer, and Justin wondered how he could ever have not known him. He embraced him, arms around his slender frame, and took comfort from his presence. He'd wanted to be with Brian all afternoon.

"You okay?" the man asked, his voice like satin brushing over Justin's skin.

"Yeah," he replied looking up at him and smiling.

"That's my baby." Kissed him on the lips and murmured, "Mmm. . . Can we get rid of these loafers and go home?" They all stood looking in at them through the open doorway.

"They want to come."


"They're bringing food."

"I'm not hungry."

For food, Justin thought. "They can't stay forever," he promised.

"It'll just feel like it."

Keisha came in, cleared her throat, and put down her trial notebook and papers. "Could I talk to Brian alone for a minute?"

Justin parted from him and exited out into the outer office to wait with the rest of their friends.

Keisha closed the door behind him. "Have a seat." He did. "You're testifying tomorrow. So I want to get some things straight right up front." She'd expected him to say something smartassed but he actually looked serious, as if he were really listening to her. Even better, he looked a little scared. "It's going be rough out there. I'm going to ask you questions that you may not want to answer. Just like we did in the intense sessions. Only, it'll be worse, because there'll be a judge and a jury and a court full of spectators. And Christian Hobbs. It'll be worse because Mason is going to cross-examine you; and I don't want you arguing with him and I don't want you getting into a screaming match with him. Understand?"


"The Judge is going to give him a lot of leeway because you're older, because you're the one who corrupted Justin."

"Despite the fact that Justin came after me?"

"It doesn't matter." She watched as he processed that information and came to terms with it. She saw him question himself and then a mask slid down over his features as he told himself he didn't care. That worried her. She didn't want him on the stand freaking out but she didn't want him to come across as aloof and uncaring. Fortunately, or unfortunately, she knew what it was going to be like and she didn't think that calm facade would last past the first tough question. "Look, I'll lay it out for you. Even though they all know what Hobbs did to Justin, even though he had a history of violence towards Justin, they're all looking at him and seeing another kid, a kid just like Justin, and they're looking for someone else to blame: the school, the parents. . .you. And it's easier to blame you than to deal with the fact that the society they value helped create that little asshole." The front he had put on began to dissolve and she wished she hadn't had to spell it out like that, but it was better to be forewarned and forearmed than to be caught unawares. Moving away from the desk and standing in front of him, she looked down into hazel eyes that had gone cloudy. "Go home, have dinner with your friends, spend some time with Justin- -"

"Is that a euphemism for sex?" he asked smirking.

"And get a good night's sleep." She shook her head. "You're incorrigible." Keisha opened the door for him.

As he passed by her, he brushed his lips over her cheek. "See ya."

Shocked beyond words, she could only stand and watch him join his friends and family. Was there no one that man wouldn't flirt with? Maybe he'd flirt with Mason and disconcert him enough to get him off-balance. She wouldn't be surprised.

Lindz and Mel were out picking up Gus while Deb and Vic had gone to get the food. The rest of the gang (minus Craig and Jenn and Molly) sprawled around the loft trying not to talk about the trial. Xavier and Rennie caught Justin up with the class stuff he'd missed on Monday and Tuesday.

"You guys don't have to come anymore."

"Oh," said Rennie, "you've done your star turn so there's no point in seeing the rest of the play, huh?"

"It's not a play," he said a little more harshly than he'd intended.

Aware that she'd put her foot in her mouth once again, she apologized. "Sorry."

"No," he replied, "I'm sorry. He's still got to testify." Justin put down his can of soda. "I don't know what's gonna happen."

"They oughta let him kick Christian Hobbs' ass," Xavier said. "Ten minutes alone in that witness waiting room and there wouldn't be any need for a fuckin' trial."

Justin looked at Xavier, at the anger in his eyes, anger at Hobbs on his behalf.

"Is that how they do it in the hood?" Rennie asked.

"Rennie!" Justin said, amazed that she continued to say the wrong thing. "Shut up."

She zipped her lip.

"Now, if that were only permanent," said Xavier.

"I have to eat."


She rezipped.

Justin took advantage of the brief moment of silence to ask Xavier if he were going home for Thanksgiving. "Lindsay's having a big dinner at her house and Brian promised we would go."

"Yeah, my grandma always has Thanksgiving at her place. All my aunts and uncles and cousins come home and help out. It's pretty cool. The one good time out of the entire year."

"What about Christmas?"

"It's okay."

Wanting to ask Xavier why he'd said it like that, Justin was painfully aware of Rennie's rapt attention. He wondered if Xavier had told her about them and decided he hadn't because no way could she have kept that to herself and not said something tactless. Which meant their secret was safe. For now.

Brian went into the bathroom and closed the door. Took out his cellphone. Dialed a number and waited for an answer. "Doc."

On the other end, Drew put down the file he'd been making notations in. "I've been wondering when you'd call."

"Well, today's your lucky day."

"What do you need?"

Hating to admit that he needed anything, Brian said, "For you to come tomorrow. To court." A muscle in his cheek flexed.


"The fuckin' worst."

"You doing the exercises I gave you?"

"If I visualize me and Justin on the beach in the Bahamas one more time, I'm gonna go out of my fuckin' mind."

Drew heard the note of desperation in his voice. "You should have called me."

"I wanted. . ." Brian began, then paused, "I wanted to do this on my own."

"There's no shame in needing help."

Wanting to resolve this before Justin came looking for him, Brian asked, "So you'll come?"

"I'll be there."

"Thanks." He closed the cellphone and bowed his head. Checked his appearance in the mirror. What was the point? Justin would know if he were pretending and he was too tired to pretend anyway. Only, it wasn't fair to Justin, for the teenager to have to take care of him after the hell he'd gone through the past two days. Brian turned from his image. "Get it together," he whispered to himself. Closed his eyes and did the deep breathing exercises Drew had taught him. Feeling calmer, he went out to rejoin the throng.

Forty-five minutes later he was chasing Gus through his bedroom, the baby having decided that his daddy's closet was vastly more interesting than any of the toys Lindz had brought for him. Joanie hadn't come with Mel and Lindsay but Brian hadn't been surprised. He'd been shocked that she'd even agreed to baby-sit Gus. He didn't ask either of the Munchers if she'd said anything about him. He was trying not to care. Gus was making that easier. Finally, he 'caught' the baby and tossed him lightly upon the bed. Joined the giggling toddler and stretched out while Gus crawled around him. After a while Justin appeared in the doorway.

"You all right?"

"Gus was about to drool all over my white Yves Saint Laurent."

"I love that suit," he said, crossing to the bed and dropping down next to Brian to sit on the edge. He'd worn it in the Bahamas to the Sun And. . . Restaurant. Gus crawled over to Justin and sat in his lap. "You sure you're okay?"

"Yeah." Brian smiled. "See? I'm smiling."

"They'll be gone soon."

"And. . .?" Justin did a dance with his tongue. "Nasty, little boy."

"Just the way you like me."

". . . love you," Brian corrected.

Emmett peeked in, holding a Cosmopolitan in his hand, and called over his shoulder. "Hey! The party's in here."

Groaning, Brian prepared for the horde to invade.

With a gentle kiss to the back of Justin's neck, Brian withdrew and lay next to him. After a moment he reached for the washcloth and cleaned them both. Then Justin rolled over and curled against his side and they kissed drowsily, lips barely pressing together, just a wisp of a touch. "I love you," Justin whispered in between kisses.

Brian brushed Justin's bangs back from his forehead. Saw the scar there, pale against the teen's pale skin, faintly visible. He started to touch it but hesitated.

"It doesn't hurt," Justin assured him.

He didn't reply; instead he kissed Justin's forehead and closed his eyes, settling down to sleep. But he didn't sleep, he just lay there with his eyes closed pretending to do so until Justin began to snore softly. Then, carefully, he disengaged his lover's arms from around him and left the bed, checking with every other step to make sure the teen remained asleep. Grabbing his black robe from the foot of the bed, he went into the living room, finding Justin's Wraeththu book first, and sat on the couch reading. Only, after he'd turned the page, he'd forget what it was he had just read. Finally, he gave up and put the book down, saving it for another time.

He could see the bottle of bourbon from where he was. One or two shots and maybe he'd be able to drop off, clear his head, or cloudy it so he couldn't concentrate, couldn't keep returning to a moment that had never occurred: him on the witness stand with Mason grilling him. All it would take was one shot, maybe two and he would sink into sweet oblivion, at least for a couple hours.

Then he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up into a pair of blue eyes dark with worry. "Restless," he explained.

"I must be doing something wrong. I usually tire you out a little."

But Brian didn't smile at Justin's joke. "I'll be in soon."

Justin waited.

Sighing, Brian got up and returned to bed. It didn't pay to do otherwise.

Thursday, November 15th

8:45 a.m.

It must have been like this during the French Revolution he told himself, feeling like one of the aristocracy on his way to the guillotine. There was Madame LeFarge shouting for his head. Only, instead of knitting, she had a sign, which she raised so that he'd be sure to see what it said, "Stop Preying on Our Children." Another kick, another stone thrown before he ascended the steps to the scaffold. But she wasn't the only one. He'd noticed the way some of the eyes of the gay rights people seemed to slide away from him. Justin was an easy cause, he was something else again. Having paused for a second, he let Justin lead him inside and to the witness waiting room. Keisha was there as well in the empty room. Deb hadn't come in since Keisha had told her that Brian's testimony would probably take all of today and most of tomorrow. Daphne was due to arrive tonight from Princeton, in anticipation of taking the stand late tomorrow afternoon or Monday.

The Assistant District Attorney looked him over, approved of his attire and hair, Brian having tamed it a little this morning. He looked like a respectable junior executive. With exquisite taste.

The inspection over, Brian took a seat. Crossed his legs.

"The bailiff'll come and get you when it's time for you to testify."

" 'kay."

"Well," she said, "I'm going inside. Justin?"

"In a minute."

Waiting until she'd left, Justin went to Brian, leaned over, and kissed him. "Later."

Brian blinked. "Later." Watched Justin walk away. His fingers gripped the arms of his chair, the tips white where they pressed against the wood. Gradually, he released his hold, folded his hands in his lap.

His dad hadn't come today, he hadn't expected him to, but his mom was there. Lindsay sat next to her. Michael was there too, with Vic and Emmett. He didn't see Mel or Ted, which meant they couldn't get away from the office today. Justin had found out last night that Emmett was working the evening shift to make up for the time he was spending in court. So was Michael. He and Brian were lucky to have friends like that. He didn't think Brian would have wanted to be in court today without Michael. Even if they didn't talk about things the way they used to, Brian still loved Michael, still needed him, and Justin was okay with that. They were best friends, would always be best friends. Brian needed that and, truthfully, Justin did too. Brian was definitely high maintenance and it was nice to have a support system of friends who could help out.

Taking his seat next to Lindsay, Justin said hi to her and his mom and the guys and settled down to wait for court to begin. Understanding that he wasn't in the mood to talk, no one said much to him or to one another. Although he didn't want to, he looked over at Chris Hobbs. He sat, as he had the other days of the trial, with a grim look on his face. Justin supposed he'd look just as grim if he were facing prison time. Maybe Hobbs should have thought of that before he took a baseball bat to my head. It still amazed him, even after all this time, that Hobbs had hated him enough to try to kill him. He just didn't understand how a person made the leap from pushing and shoving to swinging a bat at someone's head. Even now, even after all Hobbs had done to him, Justin, if given the opportunity, wouldn't have done that to him. Brian was another matter. He'd probably happily bash Chris' head in if he could. But he hadn't. When he'd held that bat in his hands, he hadn't done anything more than stop Chris from fleeing. He'd hit him in the knee and dropped the bat and gone back to check on Justin. Because he loved Justin more than he hated Chris.

His thoughts were interrupted by the start of today's session.

He could hear the reporters out in the hallway as he made his way to the courtroom, following the bailiff. They were all hoping to get a quote from the infamous Brian Kinney on his way to testify. He was quite sure that yesterday's 'Fuck you,' had made pretty good copy and was determined not to give them another sound bite today.

His eyes couldn't focus on anything but the witness stand as he walked through the courtroom, yet he was aware of the fact that everyone was looking at him. He could hear people whispering. After he was sworn in and he'd taken his seat, he saw Justin. Keisha had warned him not to look overly much at Justin during his testimony, to keep his eyes on the jury, so he looked away from the teenager towards the jury box where she stood.

"Please state your full name."

"Brian Andrew Kinney."

"How old are you, Mr. Kinney?"

"Thirty." He could only hope he didn't look it today.

"And what do you do?"

"I'm an account executive in the advertising division of a public relations firm."

"Could you explain to the court what your job consists of?"

"The division I work in handles mostly corporate accounts, either advertising for the company in general or marketing specific products. I supervise a team of advertisers, graphic artists, and designers. We come up with marketing strategies, advertising campaigns. . . sometimes we start from the bottom up, creating an entire corporate identity for a company: logos, letterhead, annual report formats, business cards, everything."

"How long have you been in advertising?"

"Seven years. Eight if you count an internship I had in college."

"Would you consider yourself to be successful in your field?"



"I'm in management, I make a pretty good living at what I do, and I've won awards for my work."

"Are you married, Mr. Kinney?"

He smiled despite himself. Some days it felt like it. "No."

"Have you ever been married?"

"No, I'm gay. Always have been."

"Are you currently involved with anyone romantically?"


"Could you tell the court who you're involved with?"

"Justin Taylor."

"Does he live with you?"


"Is Mr. Taylor another advertiser?"

"No, he's a student at the Pittsburgh Institute of Fine Arts."

"How old is Mr. Taylor?"


"And how long have you been involved with Mr. Taylor?"

"Since May." Revised that. "April really. That's when the prom was. April."

"When did you meet?"

"September of last year."

"And how old was Justin when you met him?"


"Did you know how old he was when you first met?"


"Where did you meet?"

"On Liberty Avenue."

"Could you describe the circumstances of that meeting?"

"I was leaving Babylon and I was just about to get in my car, when I saw him." He remembered Mikey's words at dinner on Saturday at the loft: "You stopped right in the middle of getting into the Jeep and just stared at Justin, like you had never seen anyone like him before."

"Where was Justin?"

"He was standing against a street light." He laughed a little. "Like in Casablanca or some other movie."

"Did you approach him?"



"I was interested in him."

" What was it about Justin that interested you?"

Brian paused. "I thought he was. . ." Brian's eyes shifted to where Justin sat.

"Mr. Kinney?"

He looked back at the jury the way she'd intended. "I thought he was beautiful."

"Was that all?"

"He looked so beautiful, so pure and innocent." Brian added, "I've never looked like that."

"You don't think you're beautiful?" There are a lot of people in this courtroom that would disagree.

"Pure and innocent." But how could he have ever been? That choice had been taken away from him at an early age and he'd had to live the best way he could.

"So it was Justin's innocence that attracted you?"

"He was different from the other guys I used to pick up."

"How so?"

"I can't describe it. He seemed. . ." Brian thought, came up with a word. "Authentic. Like what you saw was what you got. So many guys, they put on a disguise when they go out. Pretend to be something they're not so they can get la- - so they can have sex with someone. He just seemed. . . real."

Now that he'd brought it up, she might as well deal with it now. "How many men do you think you used to have sex with in a month, Mr. Kinney?"

"Twenty-five or thirty."

There was a rustle in the courtroom of people trying to get their heads around that figure, which was more than they'd been with in a year, maybe a lifetime.


"Sometimes more. Sometimes less."

"Weren't you afraid of contracting AIDS?"

"I was always careful." Why did people always confuse promiscuity with carelessness?

"Where did you meet these men?"

"In clubs, bars. . . on the street. . . online. . . in restaurants, at parties. . . wherever."

"And they would come to your place for sex?"

"Not all of them."

"Where did you have sex with these men?"

"In clubs, bars, alleys, my Jeep. Bathrooms, hotel rooms, elevators. . ."

There were a few not-so-discreet giggles from the courtroom. Lindsay tried not to shake her head.

"And these encounters, they were purely sexual in nature?"


"You weren't looking to start a relationship with any of the men you had sex with?"

"I didn't believe in relationships."

"Had you ever been in a relationship prior to meeting Justin?"


"Could you describe that relationship?"

It was a fucking disaster, was what he wanted to say. "It was with another student in college. We met our senior year."

And Michael thought it was amazing that Brian could sit there and calmly talk about Cam as if it happened to someone else. That's how far he'd come.

"Where did you go to college?"

"Penn State."

"How long were you and this other student together?"

"A year and a half."

"Why did it end?"

"I found out he was cheating on me." Brian looked away from the jury. Even now it still hurt and he didn't know why, just that it did.

"So you were monogamous during this period?"

"I was. Obviously, he wasn't."

"Do you believe this experience influenced your feelings about relationships?"

He snickered. "I'd be pretty stupid if I didn't."

"How did you feel about relationships after you broke up with this man?"

"That there was no such thing as love. It was all a lie." He pressed his lips together tightly, then added. "And to believe anything else. . . you'd just be fooling yourself."

"And that was the only relationship you'd had with someone other than with Justin?"


"These other twenty-five, thirty men a month, you never saw any of them again?"

"A few. But it was just- - sex." He'd almost said fucking.

"So, the night you met Justin Taylor on Liberty Avenue, you weren't looking to start a relationship?"


"Did you communicate this to Justin?"

"I thought he understood. I mean, most people aren't out there looking for a mate. They're looking for fifteen minutes, a half hour, a couple hours of fun and nothing more."

"That's what you were looking for?"


"Did you know that Justin was seventeen?"


"Did you ask him how old he was?"

"Not at first."

"When did you ask him?"

"After we got to my place."

"How old did you think he was?"

"Maybe eighteen, nineteen." A really young-looking nineteen.

"If you had known how old he was, would you have taken him home?"


Keisha applauded him on his honesty but it hadn't won him any fans. She'd have to do damage control. "Were you aware of the fact that sixteen is the age of majority in Pennsylvania?"


"Did Justin show any hesitation in accompanying you home?"


"Did he suggest staying in a public place?"


"So, you took Justin back to your apartment and you had sex?"

"Not right away."

"What happened?"

"We started to have sex and then the phone rang."

"And you stopped?"

"I answered the phone."

Keisha picked up on the subtle distinction and wondered if Mason had. She decided to let it go. "Who was it?"

"It was Melanie."

"Who's Melanie?"

"Lindsay's lover."

"And who's Lindsay?"

"A friend of mine from college."

"And why was Melanie calling you?"

"To tell me Lindsay had had the baby."

"Why would you care?"

"I was the father."

"You fathered a baby with a lesbian?"

"Artificial insemination."

"After finding out about the baby's birth, what did you do?"

"I told Justin to get dressed, that he had to leave because I had to go to the hospital."

"Did Justin leave?"


"Did you take him with you?"


"Why did you take him with you?"

"He told me he didn't have anywhere to go. That he couldn't go home because he'd told his parents he was staying at a friend's house."

"Why did you care what happened to someone you'd picked up for sex?"

"Because he was just a kid."

"Did you know how old he was by then?"

"I asked him and he told me."

"If Justin had been older, had been your age, would you have taken him with you to the hospital?"


And maybe, she thought, if it had been any other seventeen-year-old other than Justin, you wouldn't have taken him either. "Did you take Justin in with you to see the baby?"


"Why did you take him inside the hospital to see the baby?"

"It seemed kind of silly to make him wait in the car."

"Mr. Kinney, you've admitted to sleeping with nearly thirty men a month and yet you seemed awfully attached to Justin from the beginning. Why?"

"I don't know why." He was aware that he'd raised his voice and he took a breath. "He seemed harmless. He was just a kid."

"Did you intend to take him back home with you and have sex with him?"


"So you kept him around to ensure that you'd have a sexual partner?"

"I could have picked up someone at the hospital." That guy he'd bumped into in the corridor had seemed mighty interested in him.

Keisha didn't know what to think about his answer. "All right, when you left the hospital and went back home, did Justin go with you?"


"And you had sex?"


"Did Justin tell you he was a virgin?"

"He didn't have to, I could tell."

Out in the gallery, Justin's ears started to burn. Brian was never going to let him forget how ignorant he'd been. As if he, Brian, had been born knowing everything.

"And it didn't bother you that he was twelve years younger than you?"

"It didn't bother him, why should it bother me?"

"Had you ever been with someone who was that much younger than you before you met Justin?"

"I don't think so."

"Don't you know?"

"I didn't make a habit of asking guys how old they were before I f- - had sex with them." He glanced around to see if anyone had noticed his slip. Justin's eyes were fixed on him. Shit.

"Did you make a habit of picking up young men?"

"I was young."

"Did you make a habit of picking up men who were significantly younger than you?"

"What do you mean by significantly?"

Keisha swallowed a retort and raised an eyebrow at him. She knew he was touchy about his age. "Teenagers."

"I didn't go cruising the video arcades if that's what you mean." Truthfully, he couldn't stand most teenagers.

"Okay, the next morning, did you take Justin to school?"


"Justin has testified that someone had spray-painted your Jeep; is that correct?"


"What did they spray-paint on it?"

" 'Faggot.' "

"And yet you drove Justin to school in the Jeep?"

"He didn't care."

"How do you know?"

"I asked him and he said he didn't."

"Were there any students around when you arrived at Justin's school?"


"What was their reaction?"

"They looked like they'd just seen Brittany Spears spontaneously combust."

Some people in the gallery laughed as did several of the jurors.

"Could you explain that?"

"Kind of shocked and some of them laughed."

"Did anyone say anything?"

"Yes. Some little a- - some kid asked Justin if he wanted to suck him off."

"What did Justin say?"

"He didn't say anything."

"Did you say anything?"

"I told him I'd kick his tight little virgin ass so hard he wouldn't be able to sit down for a week."

"Did you mean it?"

Brian rolled his eyes. "I wasn't going to get out and fight a teenager."

"It was just a threat then?"


"Then what happened?"

"The kid went away and Justin got out of the car."

"Did you and he make plans to meet again?"


"Did he want to make plans?"


"Did you?"


"Why not?"

"Because I'd had sex with him. That's what I'd wanted."

"Did you tell him that?"

"I told him he could see me in his dreams." Words that had come back to bite him on the ass. It still smarted, that entire episode with Sean. He supposed it was because it was forever coupled in his mind with his failure to secure that job in New York.

"So you never said to him that it was just sex?"

"Not at that moment."

"But you did tell him that at a later time?"


"And what was his reaction?"

"He started to cry."

"And what did you do?"

He still remembered Justin saying, 'I want you,' and him telling the teen, 'You can't have me. I'm too old- - you're too young for me.' Standing there watching Justin struggling to deal with rejection, with his first broken heart. God, he'd been such a shit but it wouldn't have been fair for him to lead Justin on. And yet, he'd done just that. Given him mixed signals. But that night, he'd been adamant about his decision. "I told him," he looked down briefly, "I told him to go do his homework."

Signaling to Keisha, the judge called a fifteen minute recess.

Wearily, Brian climbed down from the witness stand. He could barely meet Justin's eyes. The teen touched his arm, made him look down at him. "What?"

Brian shook his head. "Nothing."

"It's in the past."

"No," Brian disagreed. "It's right here in front of me. Why did you keep coming back?"

"Because I didn't believe you."


"Because you kept letting me come back."

Brian smiled and muttered, ". . . too fucking smart for me." He noticed Lindsay and looked for Mel. "Melanie with Gus?"

"Nope. Your mom's got him again. He likes her. And she loves him."

"Yeah, the baby she never had." He turned away. Saw Jen. "Hey."

"Hello, Brian."

Em smirked. "I never thought I would see the day when Brian Kinney told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

"I'm always honest."

Vic grinned. "Uh-huh."

Michael said, "How many times did you say you didn't love Justin? Or that you didn't care about him, or that he didn't mean anything to you?"

Brian didn't answer. Well. . .

The place was packed. Standing room only to see the freak. He looked around and spotted him. Dr. Drew. The therapist motioned with his head and Brian dipped his a little in answer.

Keisha leaned over the rail. "You doing okay?"


"A moment," she said, indicating that he should accompany her to the witness stand. With her back to the stand and his to the gallery, she said pleasantly, "Remember me telling you not to be a smartass?"

He'd thought a couple of his answers had bordered on smartassness. "Vaguely."

"Well, think about it before you open your mouth when you go back on that stand."


"And don't answer my question with a question."

"Even if you ask me a stupid question?"

She paused before answering. "I box for a hobby. Okay? You want to take me on, we'll put on the gloves and get in the ring." Smiled.

He smiled broadly, "Oo, Girl Fight," and she had to admire his balls.

"You're not that cute," she told him aware that he was flirting with her.

"Yes, I am."

Pushing past him, aware that this one had ended in a draw, she returned to the defense table and prepared for round two with His Big and Badness.

10:35 a.m.

"How long had you known Justin before he moved in with you the first time?"

"About a month."

"And on how many different occasions had you and Justin had sex prior to his moving in with you?"

"I don't know. Maybe eight times."

From the gallery Michael's eyes widened. Justin hadn't lied then that time at Debbie's when he'd said that Brian and he had been together more than once. Brian was the one who'd lied. By omission.

"Other than the man you'd been involved with, had you ever been with any one person that many times?"


"Did you consider yourself to be in a relationship with Justin?"

"No. We were just- -" He cut that off as she'd probably kill him if he said it.

"What, Mr. Kinney?"

Well, she asked. "Fuck buddies."

That didn't go over well with the jury members who looked as if they'd eaten something that didn't agree with them.


"We had sex, we hung out, but it wasn't anything more than that."

"Did Justin feel the same way as you?"

"No. He thought it meant something more."

"Did you tell him that it was just sex?"

"Every opportunity I could."

"And then you let him move in with you?"

"He didn't have anyplace else to go."

"Could you describe the circumstances surrounding his moving in with you?"

"His dad had found out about us and one night we were leaving Woody's and he sucker punched me and started kicking the s-he attacked me and Justin told him he wasn't coming home again. So I let Justin stay at my place."

"Did you ever attempt to get Justin to go home?"


"What happened?"

"I took him to his parents' house and his dad started laying down the law and I could tell Justin was going be miserable there, so I told him he could come back to my place."

"Why did you care what happened to him?"

"He didn't deserve to be treated like that."

"Like what?"

"His dad told him that he didn't want him going to gay bars or seeing me or even talking about being gay."

"Weren't you glad that Justin wasn't going to be pestering you any longer?"

"He didn't pester me."

"But he thought you were in a relationship and you didn't, isn't that correct?"


"I would think you'd be glad to get rid of him, then."

"He wasn't so bad."

"And he stayed at your place approximately a month?"


"Did he sleep on the couch?"

"Only if I was pissed with him." Laughing from the gallery. Brian hadn't tried to make him sleep on the sofa since that first night when Justin had slipped into bed next to him.

"Did you have sex with Justin during this time?"

Brian snickered and there was even more laughter from the gallery despite the judge's previous warnings. "Yes."

"Did you have sex with other men during this time?"

He sobered. "Yes."

"Did you ever have sex in the apartment with another man while Justin was there?"


"While Justin was in the apartment?"


"While he watched?"


"Couldn't you have done it someplace else?"


"Why didn't you?"

"It was my apartment," he said in a huff, aware that his stock on the Asshole Exchange had risen about thirty points.

"Did you ask Justin to leave first?"


"Why not?"

"I was trying to make a point. That we weren't a couple. That his living with me was just temporary and it didn't mean anything." And yet it had meant something, even if he hadn't been willing to admit it.

"What occurred between you and this other man while Justin watched?"

"He started to blow me."

"Did Justin stay and watch you have sex?"

"He left."

"Where did he go?"

"He went to Lindsay's house."

"Your son's mother?"

"One of them."

Lindsay smiled. Mel would have been ecstatic to hear him say that.

"Did you go after him?"


"Was that the only time you had sex with someone else in your apartment, in front of Justin while he lived with you?"


"Why did Justin move out of your place?"

" He forgot to set the code on the alarm and I was robbed. So I kicked him out."

"And you blamed Justin?"

"Hell yes." He glanced at the judge. "Sorry." It was still a sore spot with him. Having to explain to the insurance company that he had, indeed, owned twelve Armani suits and six pairs of Prada shoes among other expensive items.

"Where did Justin go?"

"He ran away to New York City."

"How did he manage to get to New York?"

"He took one of my credit cards and bought a plane ticket."

"You must have been angry."

"I was furious."

"Why didn't you call the police and report it stolen?"

"Because I knew him. I knew he wouldn't go out and spend $300 on a box seat for The Producers. He was just desperate."

"Did you cancel your credit card?"


"Why not?"

"I wanted to find out where he was." Added, "And I didn't want him out there alone with no money."

Michael and Em exchanged glances. That was the first time Brian had ever said that and yet they believed him. It was the kind of thing he'd think about and act on and never mention, not caring if anyone knew or not.

"Did you track him down?"

"Yes. He got a hotel room on the card and they notified me."

"How did he get back to Pittsburgh?"

"I went and got him."

"Did Justin come back to live with you in Pittsburgh?"

"No. I found him someplace else to live."


"With someone I knew, Debbie Novotny."

"Why didn't you take him back to his parents' house?"

"He didn't want to go back there."

"Why did you care?"

"It didn't matter to me where he went but if he had a choice and he chose Debbie, what did I care?"

"After Justin moved out, how often did you see him?"

"Four or five times a week." So much for not caring.

"Did you have sex on these occasions?"

"Not all of them." Most of them.

"What did you do on the occasions you didn't have sex?"

"Went dancing, or to Woody's, or had dinner. Just hung out."

"Did you consider Justin to be a friend of yours?"

Brian thought about it, thought about how he'd felt about Justin back then. "Yes."

"So you cared what happened to him?"


"But you still wouldn't consider having a romantic relationship with him?"


"Did you enjoy being with Justin?"

"Most of the time."

People who had regular dealings with teenagers seemed to agree with him, nodding to themselves.

"Did you have satisfactory sexual relations with Justin?"

"Outstanding actually."

Some of the jurors laughed. God love him.

"Did Justin interact with your other friends?"


"Did he interact with your son?"

"He would baby-sit sometimes or go over with me to see Gus."

Which all sounded well and good but there had been less savory aspects to their relationship. One Mason was going to bring up sure as the sun rose in the east. So she might as well beat him to the punch. Besides, Justin had already prepared them with his testimony.

"Mr. Kinney, were you a recreational drug user?"

"Yes." 'Just Say No' had never seemed to be an option for him.

"What drugs did you take?"

"Ecstasy, Special K, cocaine, poppers, marijuana, uppers, downers. . . Tried heroin once, crystal meth once. LSD."

Ignoring the shocked looks on the jurors' faces, Keisha continued. "Did you ever give any drugs to Justin?"

"Some E once, one sniff of a popper. And one time I shotgunned him."


"I lit a joint and blew the smoke into his mouth."

"That it?"

"He's really allergic to a lot of drugs, prescription drugs and over the counter stuff, so it didn't make sense to give him anything else."

"How often do you take drugs?"

"I might smoke a joint every now and then."

"Out of that long list?"

"I don't do the hard stuff anymore."

"Did you overdose or develop a health problem?"


"Then why'd you stop?"

"I realized I couldn't remember the things that were happening to me."

"What kinds of things?"

His voice softened. "I used to wake up next to some guy and not remember anything about the night before."

"Why'd it start to matter to you?"

"Because I was with Justin." He lowered his eyelids. "And I wanted to remember being with him."

"Has your relationship with Justin caused any problems at your job?"

"Yes." Want to see the list?

"What kinds of problems?"

"Mostly comments from coworkers. Due to the negative publicity from the attack."

"What do people mostly comment on?"

"The fact that I'm gay. The fact that my lover is twelve years younger than me. That he was in high school when we met. And I wasn't."

"Do you care?"

"I try not to."

"So you do?"

"It's hard being called a child molester." He looked down, then back up again. "I have a child."

Keisha could tell that a number of the jurors hadn't thought of that, that he might be upset by the implications. "Mr. Kinney, do you love Justin Taylor?"

"Yes. I do."

"After everything that you've told the court this morning, why would anyone believe you?"

Brian looked directly at the jurors as if daring them to doubt his word. "No one has to, except for him. And he believes me."

Keisha paused and Kramer consulted the time. "I think we should break for lunch. The same injunctions apply. Reconvene at one twenty-five."

As Brian passed through the gate, Justin met him and slid his arm around his waist, hugged him. They kissed, irregardless of their surroundings and the continued interest of the spectators in what they were doing.

"I love you," Justin whispered and Brian squeezed him even tighter.

As they had the day before, the gang had lunch in the witness waiting room. Brian had looked around for Drew, to invite the therapist to join them, but the man had disappeared. He hoped Drew would be back when court reconvened. They still hadn't gotten to the prom and he could already feel his self-control slipping. Jesus, listening to all of the shit he'd done to Justin. . . He couldn't imagine what the jury thought of him. Probably that he was the world's biggest asshole. And he had been.

Justin sat next to him. "You're not eating."

"I'm not hungry."

"I don't want you to pass out up there. Someone might try to take advantage of your virtue."

"What virtue?" Brian asked bitterly, knowing Justin meant it as a joke but not feeling much like joking right then.

"Bri- -"

Brian went over and held up in the corner by himself. Covered the lower half of his face. Not going after him, Justin just sat and waited for Brian to return to the table.

He uncovered his face and wrapped his arms around his waist, stayed like that for a while. Then released himself, the moment over, and sat next to Justin again.

The teen ran his fingers through Brian's hair. "Eat something. Please."

So he picked at his food and tried to forget that he still had the prom to cover in the afternoon session of court.

"You okay?" Michael asked and Brian chuckled.

"I know how Sydney Carton felt." At Michael's confused looks, "The guy from A Tale of Two Cities. The one who got his head chopped off." He laughed. "And she's on our side." Meaning Keisha. "Fuck."

"No apologies, remember? No regrets."

"Yeah." A tear ran down his face and he just let it, just let it fall, didn't even try to wipe it away before anyone could see. But it was the only one. He couldn't break down, not now, not today, not when it was so important to keep it together. So he shed one tear and then he ate his sandwich and prepared to go back inside and get back on the witness stand.

1:25 p.m.

Quickly establishing why they'd been on Liberty Avenue in the first place that night, Keisha got into the details of Justin's confrontation with Chris Hobbs. "When did you see the defendant?"

"Justin pointed him out to me."

"How far away was Chris Hobbs when Justin pointed him out?"

"Maybe twenty feet or so. It's hard to say. We were standing on the steps and he was down on the sidewalk."

"What did Justin do after he pointed him out to you?"

"He went down to the sidewalk and stood in front of him."

"Did Justin say anything to him?"

"Not at first."

"Did the defendant speak to Justin?"

"He said hey."

"Then what happened?"

"Justin asked him what he was doing on Liberty Avenue and the Hobbs kid said he was checking out the freaks like him. Then Justin told him that on Liberty Avenue, he was the freak." Brian's brow furrowed. "Then the Hobbs kid pushed Justin and said, 'Get out of the way, you faggot.' I got in between them and Hobbs stepped back a little."

"Why did you step between them?"

"I was about to kick his a- -"

"You were going to physically assault the defendant?"

"I thought he was going to hit Justin. I wasn't going to let him."

"Why didn't you?"

"Justin pushed me back and then he took care of it."

"What did Justin do?"

"A crowd of people had gathered around us. Justin told them how he'd given Chris Hobbs a handjob at school and that the Hobbs kid had loved it."

"Did you know about the incident?"


"How did it make you feel?" she asked.

Brian hesitated before answering. "It made me angry."

"Why?" Keisha could believe he was jealous. He seemed extremely possessive of Justin.

"Because the fastest way to getting your head bashed in is to mess with a homophobic straight guy."

Mason was livid. "Objection, Your Honor."

"Sustained. Please disregard the witness' statement."

Angry, Brian pressed his lips closed. What the fuck were they talking about? That Hobbs kid had tried to kill Justin and here they were in court trying to pretend that it hadn't happened. Wanting to explode, he took a deep breath instead and glanced around the courtroom until he found Drew sitting in the back, in the corner. Legs crossed, hands folded over his knees. Radiating serenity. And it seemed as if just his presence was enough to calm Brian.

"What did the defendant do after Justin's revelation?"

"He told Justin that he was fucked and then he left."

"How did you feel about the way Justin handled things?"

"I thought it was a mistake."


"What's the point in me saying it, he'll just object," Brian said indicating Mason.

Judge Kramer got Brian's attention. "Mr. Kinney, answer the question and I'll decide what's objectionable and what's not."

"Fine. I thought it was a mistake because I got a bad feeling about that Hobbs kid. I knew Justin had had some trouble with him and now this. If he was homophobic- -"

"Your Honor, it has not been proven that my client was homophobic."

Keisha stepped in. "Your Honor, the witness did preface his remarks with 'If.' "

"Mr. Kinney, you will refrain from making judgements regarding the defendant's feelings about homosexuals."

"What else does he have to do before someone will admit that he hates faggots?"

"Mr. Kinney- -"

"Well, he hated Justin, that much I do know."

Keisha gave Brian the eye. He was going to get it and get it good.

"Mr. Kinney, this is not a discussion. Do not volunteer information unless you're asked a question. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Your Honor."

"Objection sustained. Ms. Thomas, continue."

"Again, without passing judgement on the defendant or disparaging his fine, upstanding reputation- -"

Mason was on his feet again. "Your Honor- -"

"I apologize, Your Honor."

"Ms. Thomas, do I need to reprimand both you and your witness?"

"No, Your Honor." She was getting as bad as Brian. What a pair they made.

"If you have further questions, ask them."

Feeling she'd probably covered the Liberty Avenue incident as well as she could from Brian's point of view, she moved on to a different topic. To the reason why they were there in the first place: the prom and everything after. "Let's talk about the prom. Did Justin ask you to go to the prom with him?"


"And what did you tell him?"

"That I wouldn't be caught dead in a room full of fuckin' eighteen-year-olds."

"Mr. Kinney," said Kramer, "do I have to warn you about your language again?"

"It's what I said, Your Honor."

"Proceed, Ms. Thomas."

"Why was the prom different from any other time you'd gone out together?"

"Because the prom's for high school students. Most of the people in the clubs we went to or the bars were in their twenties and thirties." He shrugged. "I'd just turned thirty and the last thing I wanted was to go to a high school prom."

"Did you go to your senior prom?"


"Why not?"

"Because proms are for straight kids," he said, echoing Max's sentiments.

"You could have gone with a girl, couldn't you?"

"I didn't want to."

"If you could have taken a guy, would you have gone?"

"Maybe. I don't know. I hated school and all I wanted was to get away from there."

"So you'd told Justin you weren't coming to the prom. Why'd you change your mind?"

He thought about the scarfing episode and Michael's speech about being beautiful forever and he guessed, in retrospect, that it'd helped to convince him to go to the prom. But that wasn't all of it. Not the biggest part of it. "I wanted to go for Justin. I knew it'd make him happy."

"Why'd it matter to you if Justin was happy or not?"

He swallowed. "I- -" He stopped and started over. "I guess. . . I loved him."

"Had you admitted to yourself that you loved him?"


"When did you realize it?"

"In the parking garage. After the prom."

Good. That was something for the jury to keep in the back of its mind when it heard testimony about the attack: that not only had Brian been scared because of the severity of the attack but because he was afraid of losing the person he'd just realized that he loved. "Okay, so you got dressed and went to the prom?"


"And what did you do once you got there?"

"I looked for Justin. I spotted him with Daphne."

"Did they look surprised to see you?"


"How did you explain your appearance?"

"I told him I was trying to recapture my lost youth."

"What did that mean?"

"It meant going to the prom and being young again and being with him, my lost youth." He smiled.

"Then what did you do?"

"We danced together."

"Do you remember what song was playing?"

" 'Save the Last Dance for Me.' " He'd never forget it.

"Did you see the defendant at the prom?"

"Not inside the hotel, no."

And out at the defense table, Christian Hobbs seethed. He'd seen Brian enter the ballroom. Had watched his progress with interest.

"Could you see the faces of the students around you while you danced?"


"Did they look shocked or angry?"

"Some looked shocked, some looked angry. A few were actually smiling." Like that girl who was standing behind Daphne.

"After you finished dancing, what did you do?"

"I kissed Justin."

"Right in front of everyone?"

"Yes. And then Justin walked me to the Jeep."

"Were you leaving together?"

"No." As always the thought of their parting at that moment caused him to pause. No matter how many times he ran the scene through in his head, Justin was never going to get into the Jeep with him and drive away. "Justin was going to see Daphne home first and then meet me at the loft later."

"As you walked to the Jeep together, did you talk about what had just happened?"


"What did you say to one another?"

"Justin said that it had been the best night of his life. And I said, 'Even if it was ridiculously romantic.' "

"What did you mean by that?"

"That it was like something out of a movie. Where the hero comes in and sweeps the heroine off her feet and dances with her while everyone looks at them. It was a f- - an MGM musical."

"Then what happened?"

"We kissed and I told him, 'Later.' And he said, 'Later,' and he started to walk away." Brian fell silent. Closed his eyes. He didn't want to talk about it anymore, didn't want to go forward with this. Already he could feel his heart pounding, feel the tears burning in the corners of his eyes.

"What did you do after he started walking away?"

"I got in the Jeep. And I watched him in the side mirror." Brian smiled. "He looked so happy. So. . ." It was difficult speaking. "So bright and beautiful."

"How long was it before you saw the defendant?"

"A few seconds. He came up behind Justin carrying a baseball bat."

Keisha paused and reached beneath her table and removed a wooden baseball from a plastic mail container. She carried the bat to the defense table and showed it to Mason. Then she addressed the court. "Your Honor, I have a baseball bat marked Plaintiff's "1", which I have shown to the counsel for the defense. May I approach the witness?"

"You may."

Keisha waited until the Clerk had moved towards the witness stand as well, since the spoke in low tones, to keep their proceedings confidential. She had to establish the identity of the item before it could be received into evidence. In theory, the jury wasn't supposed to see the object until foundation had been established but with something like a baseball bat, it seemed a little silly to even pretend that they couldn't see it. Keisha held the bat towards Brian. He made no move to take it. "Mr. Kinney, I'm handing you plaintiff's "1" and ask if you recognize it?"


"Is this the kind of baseball bat the defendant used?"

Brian looked at it closely. He could see a smear on the end. His stomach rolled. "Yes."

"Would you speak up, please, so that the Clerk can hear you?" Kramer asked.


Keisha said, "May plaintiff's 1 be received in evidence?"

Kramer gave his consent and Keisha handed the bat briefly to the Clerk, who recorded the number and information about the exhibit in the court records, then took it back and carried it to Brian. "Mr. Kinney, if you please, could you show the court how the defendant was holding the bat as he approached Justin?" She paused, waiting for Mason to object or for Kramer to call a halt to the proceedings. When neither happened, she said to Brian, "Mr. Kinney, if you please?"

Brian walked down to where she stood in front of the jury box. Took the bat from her. Held it in his left hand, down by his leg, the tip slightly raised, about a foot off the ground. "He was holding it like this."

Aware that they needed a description in the transcript, Keisha asked, "In his left hand?"


"Down by his leg?"


"And the end was about a foot off the ground?"


"And you saw this in your side mirror?"


"What did you do then?"

I paused, he said to himself, and he had. For a second, frozen by the implications of what he was seeing. And that second, that pause would haunt him for the rest of his life. "I got out of the Jeep and called to Justin. He turned and the defendant hit him." His fingers tightened on the bat.

"How far away were you from the defendant and Mr. Taylor?"

"I don't know. Forty, fifty feet."

"And did you see the defendant swing the bat?"


"Could you demonstrate what the defendant did?"

Brian raised the bat in his left hand and then positioned it over his right shoulder the way a left-handed batter would do, and he slowly mimed striking Justin. He could feel his pulse racing.

"So the defendant raised the bat in his left hand and then held it over his right shoulder and swung?"

"Yes." She held out her hand for the bat and he gave it to her. "You can return to the stand."

He did so gratefully while she gave the bat to the Clerk. Putting himself in Chris Hobbs' shoes, even for a moment, made him feel sick and his throat was tight and he just wanted to lay his head down and wait for Justin to come and stroke his hair, the way he did when Brian wasn't feeling well. But Keisha continued to question him and he had to go on. He couldn't give up, not yet.

"How many times did the defendant hit Justin?"

"Just once."

"Did he swing the bat hard?"



"Did he swing the bat fast or slowly?"

"Objection, Your Honor."


"Did you hear the bat strike Justin?"

"Yes. I heard it." He faltered. "I heard the bat," shallow breath, "hit Justin in the head." He closed his eyes. "It was so loud."

Kramer leaned towards him. "Mr. Kinney, would you like some water?"

Brian opened his eyes and shook his head. "No, Your Honor."

"You may continue, Ms. Thomas."

"After the defendant struck Justin, what happened?"

"Justin fell and Chris Hobbs stood over him with the bat in his hand."

"Was it raised?"

"No. He was holding it like before. In his left hand, with the end hanging down towards the ground."

"After Justin fell, what did you do?"

"I ran towards them and I pushed Chris Hobbs down." It had seemed to take forever for him to reach them and the entire time he'd been terrified that Hobbs would hit Justin again while he lay helpless on the ground.


"To keep that little asshole from finishing Justin off."


"How the fuck can you defend that fucking psychopath! He tried to kill Justin!"

The judge banged his gavel. "Ms. Thomas, please instruct your witness to watch his language and remind him that this is a court of law. Jury, please disregard Mr. Kinney's last statement. Objection sustained."

Keisha neared Brian. "Brian- -"

He looked at her with anguish in his eyes. The tears had already welled up and were spilling over his cheeks. He sniffled.

In the gallery, Justin had tensed up, moved forward. Lindsay laid her hand on his arm and he sat back in his seat.

"You okay?"

He nodded once and thumbed at the tears.

Stepping back from the witness stand, she resumed her position near the jury. "May I continue, Your Honor?"

"You may."

"You testified that you pushed Chris Hobbs down; did he drop the bat he was holding?"


"Did he get up again?"

"He got up and ran. I picked up the bat and followed him."


"I thought he might be trying to get away. I wanted to stop him."

"Did you stop him from running?"

"I hit him in the leg, in the knee, I think."

"How many times did you hit him?"

"Once. I just wanted to stop him."

"And then what did you do?"

"I dropped the bat and I went back to check on Justin." And he closed his eyes again and sniffled but the tears flowed down his cheeks and he couldn't stop them.

Again Kramer leaned towards him. "Mr. Kinney, do you need to take a break?"

"No, Your Honor." He just wanted to get this over with.

Keisha continued. "What did you see when you returned to Justin?"

Brian's eyes dropped. As much as he tried, he couldn't look at their faces as he spoke. The faces of strangers who didn't have any idea what it was like to watch your whole life bleed away in front of your eyes, to feel like you'd lost everything. "He was lying on the ground. He wasn't moving. I thought- - there was so much blood. I. . . I was afraid he was dead." He looked down and swallowed a sob. "There was so much blood. I took the scarf and I, I pressed it over his head. To try to stop the bleeding."

Keisha removed another item from the plastic mail container. It was in a ziploc bag. She carried it to Mason and then asked if she could approach the witness. "Mr. Kinney, I'm handing you plaintiff's 2 and ask if you recognize it?"

"Yes." He didn't take it, couldn't take it. The silk cloth was covered in Justin's blood and just seeing it made him feel like he was going blind.

"Could you tell me what it is?"

"The scarf I bought for my birthday."

"Your Honor, may plaintiff's 2 be received into evidence?"


"Thank you, Your Honor." Again she gave it briefly to the Clerk and then took it back. "Mr. Kinney, could you tell the court what this item is?"

He was barely keeping it together. The bat had been bad but this was worse. "It's the scarf I bought for my birthday. The one I gave to Justin at the prom."

Keisha passed the scarf to the jury and each person took it and looked at it for a moment before handing it to the next person. When the last person had finished with it, she took the ziploc bag back and addressed Brian once more.

"And this was the scarf you used to press over Justin's forehead?


She could see that he was close to the breaking point. "Could you show us what you did with the scarf?" she asked and she approached him and held the scarf towards him.

He shook his head. "No." He moved away from her and lost it. "No." The guilt and fear he'd felt when he'd knelt next to Justin washed over him and he couldn't get his head above it, felt like he was drowning. "I shouldn't have gone after him."

"After who, Brian?"

"Chris Hobbs. I should have let him go." He sobbed. "I should have stayed with Justin. I should have stayed with him." Took a deep breath to try and clamp down on the surging grief and couldn't. "I should have gone in the first place. When he asked me. I should have gone."

Seated next to Lindsay, Jennifer remembered how she'd screamed at him in the hospital, "You left him alone! Why did you leave him? Why weren't you with him! If you had been with him, this wouldn't have happened! Why did you leave him? Why?"

"He wouldn't have been alone. He wouldn't have gotten hurt," he said and he began to cry heedless of the people watching.

The judge said, "Mr. Kinney- -" but his next words were cut off by Justin shouting.

"Brian!" The teenager stood and pushed past the people in his row, trying to get to his lover. Despite the attempts of Michael and the others to keep him back, he managed to break free of them and head for the well of the court.

Keisha turned just as he passed through the gate. Oh hell.

"Mr. Taylor, take your seat!" thundered Kramer but Justin ignored him.

"Justin, go back to your seat," Keisha warned.

"You leave him alone," he told her tightly and he went to Brian and the man laid his head against the teen's abdomen and wept. "It's okay," he said as he stroked Brian's hair.

"I'm sorry," Brian murmured through the tears.

"You don't have anything to be sorry for."

By then pandemonium had broken out in the courtroom. The press was busy falling all over one another trying to figure out exactly what had happened even though they'd all watched it unfold. Members of the jury looked stricken, unwilling witnesses as the teen comforted the older man who continued to weep against his lover's jacket. The spectators in the gallery too looked on in amazement as the lovers ignored the chaos around them.

"Order," Kramer commanded, striking his gavel several times. "Mr. Taylor- -"

"No," Justin said before the judge could even finish. "I'm not leaving him."

Brian raised his head. "Baby. . ." and Justin's eyes lost their fierce look, anger replaced with concern. He stroked Brian's face, oblivious to anyone else.

"We'll take a short fifteen minute recess and, Ms. Thomas, when we return I want you to have complete control over your witnesses, understand?"

"Yes, Your Honor."

As soon as the recess was called, Drew left his seat and made his way towards the witness stand. Brian saw him and swallowed. Christ, he'd made a fuckin' mess of things.

Sensing movement behind her, Keisha turned, ready to ream out whoever it was. Drew, anticipating her response said, "I'm Dr. Drew Becker. Brian's therapist."

"Do something with him and do it now. With both of them." She turned away and tried to head off Lindsay and Michael and Emmett and Vic and Jen before they rushed the well of the court too.

Drew approached the witness stand where Justin clutched Brian protectively, unwilling to relinquish his hold. "Justin," the therapist said gently. "No one's going to hurt him."

And Justin looked at the psychiatrist and gradually calmed down, relaxed his hold on Brian.

"Can I?" Drew began, indicating the stairs. Justin nodded. Climbing the steps to the stand, Drew leaned against the railing and said nothing.

Finally Brian spoke. "I tried."

"I know. I know it was hard."

Brian could see in his mind Justin running towards him, saying something to the Assistant District Attorney first. "Keisha must be pissed."

Glancing around at the woman who was radiating a white hot corona of anger with about a ten-foot radius, Drew nodded. "Pissed doesn't begin to cover it."

"I just- - it was like being there again." He wiped his eyes. "I should have gone."

"Shh," said Justin. "It's not your fault." He looked over at the defense table where Hobbs and Mason sat. "It's that asshole's fault. I hate him."

Drew said, "I know that you have every reason to hate him, but do you think that's what you should be concentrating your energies on right now?"

Justin glared at Drew, then said of Hobbs, "Fuck him. He's not important."

"What is important?"

"Me and Brian," he replied, and the anger left him, evaporated like morning dew, leaving just the love, solid, like the earth beneath his feet.

Taking a seat and waiting until Drew talked Justin into leaving Brian, Keisha smiled inside. On the outside, she continued to rage. But on the inside, she was pleased. The jury had seen, first-hand, how their relationship worked. How Brian had kept it together until he talked about the bashing, the fear and anguish in his voice, in his face; how Justin had gone to him, heedless of everything, and comforted him, protected him, the same way Brian had protected him in that parking garage. She couldn't have planned it better. Even she been surprised by the depth of Brian's pain and the ferocity of Justin's defense. No one watching them could continue to believe that Brian was just using Justin and that Justin had been corrupted by him. She had seen that on the jurors' faces, the change in attitude that had come over them in just a few moments.

3:40 p.m.

Everyone had returned to their seats and Brian had taken the stand once more.

Judge Kramer asked, "Are you ready to begin again, Mr. Kinney?"

"Yes, Your Honor."

"Ms. Thomas."

"Thank you, Your Honor." She took up her customary position. "After you had pressed your scarf to Justin's forehead to stop the bleeding, what did you do?"

"I called 911 on my cellphone and told them where we were and what had happened."

"Did they give you any instructions?"

"They told me to keep him still, not to move him. And to keep pressure on the wound."

"Did you follow their instructions?"

"Yes. I knelt over him and I didn't move him. And I kept the scarf pressed against his forehead."

"Were you and Justin and the defendant the only people in the parking garage at that time?"

"No. People had begun to come out of the hotel. They were standing around looking at us."

"Did you see Ms. Chanders?"


"Did she come near you or Justin?"


"Why not?"

"I told everyone to stay back. I didn't want anyone near him. Not until the paramedics came."

"Why not?"

"I was afraid."

"Of what?"

"Everything. Everyone. It didn't make any sense but I. . . I couldn't risk losing him."

"Did you see the defendant?"

"Yes. He was still lying on the ground. Holding his knee. There were some people standing around him too."

"How long was it before the police and the paramedics arrived?"

"A few minutes. Less than ten minutes."

Again, Keisha removed three items from her container and showed them to Mason before carrying the items to Brian and asking him to identify them for foundation. Then, after he'd done so, she had the Clerk enter them into evidence as plaintiff 3, 4, and 5. "Please tell the court what these are, Mr. Kinney."

"Pictures of Justin in the parking garage."

"When were they taken?"

"Just before the paramedics arrived."

Carrying the pictures to the jury, she passed them around. Several people quickly glanced at them, not wanting to linger on the images of Justin lying in a pool of his own blood.

"After the paramedics arrived, what happened?"

"They wrapped," and he mimed this, "bandages around his head and put him in the ambulance to take him to the hospital."

"Did you go with them?"

"I rode in the back with Justin."

"What did you do while you were in the back with Justin?"

"I talked to him."

"Was he conscious?"

"No. But I talked to him anyway."

"What did you tell him, Mr. Kinney?"

"Objection, Your Honor."


"I told him not to be afraid." A tear slid down his cheek. "I told him I was there with him and that he didn't have to be afraid. That I would protect him." He sniffled. "Better than I had."

"What else did you do?"

"I called my friend Mikey on the cellphone. I didn't have Jennifer's number."

"Who's Jennifer?"

"Justin's mom. I didn't have her number but I knew Deb would have it."

"Debbie Novotny."

"She's Michael's mom."

"What happened when you arrived at the hospital?"

"They took Justin in the back and they told me to wait in the waiting room but it was noisy in there so they let me wait down the hall. Michael came and found me when he got there and then we went into the waiting room in case Justin's mom came."

"Did she come soon?"

"Yes. She and Debbie. They'd been together."

"Did you see the defendant at the hospital?"


"Could you describe the encounter?"

"He was with his parents and the cops. I saw him and I started towards him and my friends held me back."

"What would you have done to him?"

"I don't know. I just moved, I wasn't thinking."

"Then what happened?"

"Then he started yelling."

"What did he yell?"

"He said, 'I hope he fuckin' dies. Fuckin' faggot.' "

"And what did you say to him?"

"I told him that he better pray that Justin lived," said Brian in a flat, emotionless voice, "because if he didn't, I would find him and kill him."

"Did you mean what you said?"

"Yes." His eyes were hard as agates and Justin shuddered. Brian had come so close to being lost for good.

"How long were you at the hospital?"

"Maybe four and a half hours. I stayed until Justin's mom came out and said that he had a skull fracture and that there was some swelling of the brain. She said he was in intensive care but that they weren't going to do surgery yet. That they were going to watch him."

"Were you able to see Justin that night?"

"Yes. Jennifer let me go in and sit with him for a while."

"Why did she do that?"

"Because I told her that I loved him." He remembered her yelling at him, at first. "You stay away from me. And you stay away from my son. He's no good to you, now. You can't fuck him! Why are you even here?" And then she'd come and found him and asked him if he loved her son and he'd told her that he did, that he loved Justin.

"How long did you sit with him?"

"Not long. A couple minutes. I had to go downtown to make a statement about the attack."

"Did you talk to Justin while you sat with him?"


"What did you say to him?"

Mason knew better than to object this time but he glowered, as did his client.

Brian wiped his eyes. "I told him that I was sorry. And that I didn't want him to leave me because I didn't think I could go on without him. And then I kissed him and I asked him to wake up. But he didn't. So I left."

Aware of the danger in asking him, she did so anyway. "What were you sorry about, Brian?"

"That he'd gotten hurt. That I hadn't protected him. That I had let this happen to him."

"But how could you have prevented it?"

"I don't know. I just should have."

"Where did you go after you left the hospital?"

"I went downtown and gave my statement to the police and then I went home. I could hardly keep my eyes open. I slept for a couple of hours and the next morning Michael called and said Justin had woken up and was asking for me. So I went back to the hospital."

"How did Justin look?"

"Like shit. Sorry," he added. "But I thought he'd never looked more beautiful."

"Why, Mr. Kinney?"

"Because he was alive."

As she had Justin, Keisha asked, "How did the attack change your life, Mr. Kinney?"

Brian said nothing for a while and just as Kramer was about to instruct him to answer the question, he spoke. "It made me realize that I didn't want to go on without Justin. I know I don't deserve him. Someone as good and kind as he is. I don't. But he loves me. I'll never really understand why. I just know that he does." Tears rolled down his cheeks but he let them fall, didn't attempt to wipe them away. "And I never want to be without him."

Keisha walked towards the prosecution's table. "No more questions, Your Honor."

"I think," Kramer began, "in light of the lengthiness of the witness' testimony, we'll wait until tomorrow to begin cross-examination. Court will reconvene at nine a.m. sharp."

It had taken all of Justin's persuasive powers to convince everyone not to come back to the loft with them and he understood why they'd wanted to, he just didn't think Brian was up to it, to an apartment full of people, no matter how concerned and well-meaning. Ever since arriving back home, Brian had said very little. He changed his clothes and went into the bathroom for a few minutes. Afterwards, he curled up on the bed and just lay there quietly.

Justin let him be, busied himself with dinner. They'd gotten Deb to pick up a few things from the supermarket. Just the bare essentials: coffee, bottled water, pasta, juice, bagels. . . Although he feared Brian wouldn't eat, he hoped he'd be able to convince him to have a little something, just to keep up his strength. Every now and then he peeped in on his lover, half-hoping to see him reading or smoking, something, anything other than what he was doing, which was nothing. But maybe that's what he needed.

Finally the pasta was done and Justin called Brian to dinner. Got no answer. He went to the doorway of their bedroom. "Brian?"

Without turning over to face Justin, Brian said, "I'm not hungry."

"I want you to eat." At the risk of bringing up painful memories and aware that Brian was probably thinking about what had happened in court anyway, Justin said, "You didn't eat much breakfast and you only picked at the sandwich Michael brought you. You have to eat. Please." He came forward and sat at the foot of the bed. He didn't touch Brian. "For me."

"I'm not a fucking child," Brian said angrily, sitting up in bed suddenly.

"Then stop acting like one," replied Justin. "Fine. Don't eat. Sit in here and pout for all I care," he said before stomping off.

Brian heard him rattling around in the kitchen, getting out plates and utensils. He imagined him serving himself a portion of pasta and pouring a glass of white wine, then sitting at the table alone. And as much as he wanted to join Justin, he couldn't. He felt like someone had split him open and taken out all of his insides. Hollow, empty. Drawing his knees up, he wrapped his arms about them, and laid his head against them. Where was he going to find the strength to go back to that courtroom? He was so tired. All of his life he'd had to do what needed to be done, no matter what. Some kid picked on Mikey at school? He took care of it. His old man kicked the shit out of him right before a big test? He popped a few pills and stayed up late studying and then went in and aced the exam. Teacher raped him? He cleaned himself up and put it out of his mind and went on. That was what he was all about: surviving. And more than that: triumphing. Only now he was so fucking tired, stretched so thin, so. . . He closed his eyes. Felt tears slip from beneath his lids. Felt the bed shift ever so slightly as Justin sat next to him.

"Tell me."

He lifted his head and whispered, "I'm so tired."

And Justin drew his head upon his chest and ran his fingers through his hair. "Then you rest," he said, tears blurring his sight. "You rest and I'll take care of you. I promise."

Brian awoke and the first thing he saw, or things, were Justin's blue eyes watching him. The teen sat cross-legged drawing in his sketch pad. "How long have I been asleep?"

"An hour. Maybe a little more." He put aside his work. "Dinner?"

"I'm starving."

So, as they usually did when Justin cooked, Brian set the table while Justin dished up the pasta (popping it in the microwave to heat it first) and stirred the sauce over a low flame. Then they sat next to one another and ate, finishing off half a bottle of wine between them. Talked about their trip and, after they cleaned up, went online and tried to decide where they would go first and where they would go last and in what order they would see all the other cities in between. Finally, after much discussion and debate, they decided to add a city, Vienna, because Justin said it was very romantic and Brian said he'd always wanted to go there after seeing The Third Man. So now they were going to London, Vienna, Barcelona, Athens, Rome, Florence, Venice, and Paris. They decided to start in London; go down to Barcelona; up to Vienna; over to Athens; then back to Italy for a nine-day, three-city tour; and finally wind up in Paris for a week before heading back.

"We won't want to come back," Justin said and Brian agreed. Right now he'd rather be anyplace else other than Pittsburgh. And no matter how much he hoped, it was where he was and nothing could change that.

Around nine thirty Daphne called to let Justin know she'd gotten in okay and would be in court tomorrow. Justin didn't know whether to be happy or sad. He hated to see Daphne hurt almost as much as he hated to see Brian hurt. If he was more concerned about the ad exec than the coed, it was only because Daphne was by nature cheerful whereas life had taught Brian how not to be. Silently, as he watched Brian turn out the bedside lamp, Justin resolved to do his best to make him happy and to keep him that way for as long as they were together.

Friday, November 16th

8:50 a.m.

While Justin held a brief reunion with Daphne before court began, Brian had an impromptu session with Drew, who'd shown up again for his second day of testimony. "Thanks," he said, aware of the patients Drew wasn't seeing while he was in court.

"No problem. After yesterday I figured I'd better come in case you needed an emergency foot from mouth removal."

Glancing at Keisha, Brian said, "Maybe a foot from ass removal." She'd taken him aside this morning and read him the riot act. Of course, after some of the things she'd done yesterday, she couldn't chastise him too much but she did get in a few choice invectives that Brian was sure she'd been saving up just for him.

"She's something else."

Distractedly, Brian said, "Yeah."

"Something on your mind?"

"I just," he began, "I just want this to be over." Before I lose my fucking mind.

Having taken his seat, Brian studied the defense attorney while the man made a show of consulting his notes. He'd dealt with people like that before. Fuck, he was like that. Had to be in control of everything, had to make a big production out of the merest task. Guess that's why he was in advertising. Looking at Mason shuffle his papers, Brian thought, I know you.

Aware that the witness was checking him out, Mason smiled to himself. Cocksure bastard, that one. Used to the whole world kowtowing to him because he was good-looking, charming, smart. . . Mason intended to show him that not everyone had been taken in by his charm, his good looks, his smartass attitude masquerading as intelligence. They'd all seen him crumble yesterday and Raymond intended that today they'd see him completely fall apart and this time there'd be no sympathy for him because Mason resolved to show him for what he was: a player, a consummate actor, a phony.

Straightening up, Mason stood in the area in front of the two tables, as he'd done to cross-examine all of the prosecution's witnesses. "Twenty-five to thirty sexual partners a month. That's what? Three hundred, three hundred and sixty different men in a year's time?"

"I'm impressed. I have to use my fingers and toes."

The gallery erupted in laughter. Mason's eyes narrowed to slits.

From the prosecution's table Keisha smiled tightly. She had a bad feeling about Mason's intentions.

"How do you keep track of them? To make sure you don't do the same guy twice?"

"I have a good memory for faces. Among other things." His eyes drifted down towards Mason's crotch. This time there were a few snickers from the gallery.

"So," Mason began, "I'm sure you remember your first time. Don't you, Mr. Kinney?"

"Objection, Your Honor, I fail to see how Mr. Kinney's first sexual experience has any bearing on this case." But she knew she'd be overruled and she didn't particularly care. How much damage could one more encounter cause?

"Overruled. I'll allow the question."

Looking at Brian she was shocked to see an undecipherable look on Brian's face. She glanced around at Justin and he had a similar look on his face. Jesus.

"Mr. Kinney, do you remember your first sexual experience?"

In a low voice, "Yes."

"How old were you?"

Although he was looking down at the railing in front of him, he wasn't seeing it. He was seeing

Light blinding him.

Drew sat forward in his seat, afraid of what might happen.

"Mr. Kinney, you will answer the question," instructed the judge.

"Fourteen," he said and a murmur went through the courtroom.

"Fourteen," repeated Mason. "And how old was your partner?"

Partner, that was one way to describe him. Not the way he'd describe him. "I'm not sure. His late twenties."

The murmur increased in volume. The judge rapped his gavel. "Order or I'll clear this courtroom."

"Where did you meet this man?"

Brian swallowed. "My school. He was a teacher at my school."

Paydirt. "What happened between you and this teacher?"

And Keisha wondered that Mason didn't realize he was treading on dangerous ground. Just from observing Brian, she knew this had been no ordinary encounter.

"He raped me." Brian raised his head and his eyes fixed on Mason's face. "Is that what you wanted to hear? He raped me. A fourteen year-old-student at the school where he taught, where he was supposed to be. . ." He smiled. "Molding young minds."

Silence had descended upon the courtroom. No one said anything. Mason looked stunned. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that Brian was telling the truth. He was as pale as a ghost. And yet his eyes were crystal clear, unwavering in their focus.

Attempting to regain control of the cross, Mason said, "You've testified that you've taken recreational drugs. When did you begin to take drugs?"

"Does alcohol count?"

"Yes," replied Mason and Keisha felt that he'd made another mistake.

"When I was fourteen."

Despite the possibility that Brian would garner more sympathy from the rape, Mason asked, "Why did you begin drinking?"

Brian glanced at Mikey. "My father was a drunk. And sometimes when he got drunk, he'd come home and hit my mom. Sometimes he'd come home and kick the sh- - and. . . " he paused, "and beat up on me. I started drinking the day after he came home and hit me so hard I blacked out." Shit, Joanie was going to have a fit. Now, he'd finally done it, all their dirty laundry out in the open. She'd never forgive him. Not as long as she lived.

"Fourteen wasn't a particularly good age for you, was it, Mr. Kinney?"

"Or fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen." He added, "But I'm still alive. No one hit me in the head with a baseball bat."

"Your Honor," Mason said, "could you please ask the witness to answer the question without editorializing?"

"Mr. Kinney, please restrict yourself to answering the question, nothing more."

Waiting for the judge to further admonish him, Keisha was surprised to see Kramer looking at Mason with something akin to disgust in his eyes. And she wondered if maybe he weren't coming around a little. She'd see.

"After your first sexual experience, did you begin having sex on a regular basis?"

"As regular as you can get it at fourteen."

"And how often would that have been?"

"Two or three times a month. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. It just depended."

"Did you have sex with boys your own age?"

"Not really."

"How old were your partners, in general?"

"Their early twenties."

"How did you meet these men at age fourteen?"

"There were places you could go."

"What kind of places?"

"Certain bars, clubs, alleys, parks."

"And you would go to these places and have sex with strangers?"


"How many partners would you say you'd had before you turned eighteen?"

Brian shook his head. "I don't know. A couple hundred, I guess."

"Have you ever been paid for sex, Mr. Kinney?"

Keisha stood, angry almost beyond words. "Your Honor, I have to object to this entire line of questions. Mr. Kinney is not on trial here."

"Your Honor, it is the defense's assertion that Mr. Kinney has exerted an undue influence upon Mr. Taylor and that Mr. Taylor, under his influence, has continually engaged in confrontations with my client to the point where my client was pushed to the brink by Mr. Taylor's behavior. It's important to know what kind of man Mr. Kinney is, morally speaking, in order to understand the kind of influence he had over Mr. Taylor."

"Objection overruled." Keisha sat. "I'll allow the questions but, Mr. Mason, let me assure you that I won't tolerate any questioning purely for shock value. Mr. Kinney, please answer the question."

Brian tried not to look at Justin but he couldn't help it, he caught the teen's eye and he wanted to hide from that clear gaze, from those beautiful blue eyes that wanted nothing more than to believe in him. "Yes." Justin's eyes never wavered but they looked. . . so sad.

"How old were you the first time?"


"Why did you take the money?"

"I had just started college and I needed the money to buy some new clothes."

"Didn't your parents buy you clothes?"

"I wanted a really expensive leather jacket and I knew they wouldn't buy it for me."

"Why didn't you work for it?" Mason added quickly, "I'm sorry, I guess you did."

"Objection, Your Honor." Keisha wanted to go up and kick Mason's ass.

"I apologize, Your Honor, I guess unless you pay taxes on your earnings, it's not considered a job."

"Mr. Mason, I am not amused. Get on with your questioning and get to the point quickly."

"And when was the last time you took money for sex?"

"Right after my junior year in college."

"Why did you take the money?"

"I wanted to go to New York for the weekend." Back then it had seemed like a harmless thing but now, now he could see Justin's face and it looked like he'd been slapped about half a dozen times.

Buoyed by the judge's ruling and Brian's revelations, Mason confidently went on to the next set of questions.

"You've testified that you'd had a relationship with another student your senior year in college. How did you and this student meet?"

"We had a class together."

"And he was your age?"


"After college, did you move in together?"


"Why not?"

"We thought it'd be better if we didn't."

"Better how?"

"My parents had lived together for over twenty-five years by that point and it hadn't seemed to do them any good. We figured we'd drive each other crazy if we lived together."

"You didn't do it in order to more easily sleep with other men?"

"Objection, Your Honor. The witness has already testified that he was monogamous during this period."


"When you found out that your lover had been cheating on you, did you go out and have sex with other men?"


"Why not?"

Mistake, thought Keisha. You haven't paid any attention to him, have you?

"Because I loved him."

"You've said you loved Mr. Taylor and yet you had sex with a man right in front of him."

"We weren't involved then."

"What about now?"

"Objection, Your Honor, the witness' relationship with Mr. Taylor after the prom has absolutely no bearing on this case."

"Sustained. And I think this is a good place for us to take a short fifteen minute break."

Even after the judge recessed the court, Brian remained seated. Keisha approached him. "I'm sorry."

He grimaced. " 'sokay."

"No, it isn't." She turned just as Justin came up behind her. "How you doing?"

Justin looked at Brian. "It depends."

"I'm fine."

Smiling, Justin said, "Just imagine the two of us strolling along the Champs Elysses."

Brian returned his smile, albeit a bit grimly. "Yeah. It'll be fabulous." Despite himself, he sniffled. Then laughed bitterly. "I won't have any secrets left, will I?"

"Brian- -"

"I didn't have anyone. Except Mikey. Two fuckin' kids, neither one of us knew what we were doing. There weren't any sitcoms or TV dramas telling us how to live. We just lived. The best way we knew how." He shook his head. "They pretend like you don't exist, and then they punish you for trying to make it on your own."

Out in the gallery, the guys were trying to make sense of what had been revealed. Vic hadn't come today but Michael, Em, and Ted had, along with Lindz and Mel. Jennifer had stayed home as well. Lindsay questioned Michael. "Did you know about the rape?"

"I found out this year. So did he."

Em looked confused. "I don't understand."

"He didn't remember what had happened. He had this version of the truth in his head, and it wasn't. He'd blocked it out."

Ted asked the other question they'd been dying to ask. "Did you know about him taking money for sex?"

"No." Michael frowned. "I can't believe it. I just- - For a leather jacket and a weekend trip to New York."

"And who knows what else," Mel added.

But Em said, "What's the difference between what he did and having some guy you're seeing give you presents?"

"The difference," said Michael who was still driving the Miata David had leased for him, "is that you're in a relationship. You're not fucking for money."

"And that makes it better? Because you're supposedly exchanging love for stuff?"

"It isn't an exchange."

"Matter of interpretation," Em said.

Standing in front of the witness stand, Keisha said to Brian, "Anymore potentially explosive little secrets you want to tell me about?"

Brian and Justin didn't dare look at one another. But they both were thinking the same thing: Kip. But Kip wasn't on the prosecution's list of witnesses. And Mason hadn't brought him up during Justin's cross, so their secret was safe. There was no way anyone was going to bring up Kip. So Brian said, "No."

Keisha breathed easier. "Then, this shouldn't take long. There's no place for him to go."

And Brian glared at her. "His arm has been up my ass further than my proctologist's. How much further does he have to go?"

"Mr. Kinney, the morning you arrived at the St. James' Academy, and Kevin Richards asked Justin if he wanted to 'suck him off,' " here Mason frowned as if the words were distasteful to him, "did you get out of the car as you responded to him?"

"Yes." But he hadn't approached the kid. He'd stood in the doorway of the Jeep and talked to Justin.

"Did you attend the protest rally Justin organized in support of the Gay Straight Student Alliance?"

"No." Justin hadn't asked him to.

"Did you attend any school functions with Justin outside of the prom?"


"During the month that he lived with you prior to the prom, were you in communication with his school?"

"No. He just lived with me, he still had parents."

"Just answer the question, Mr. Kinney. Yes or no."

Brian sat back in his chair and gave Mason a steely look. Waited for the man's next question.

"When did you first meet my client?"

"We've never been formally introduced."

Titters from the gallery and the jury box.

"Was the incident on Liberty Avenue the first time you'd seen Christian Hobbs or interacted with him?"


"And you'd never witnessed any other altercations between Mr. Hobbs and Mr. Taylor?"


"You'd never been contacted by the school regarding any problems your lover might have had with Mr. Hobbs?"


"Had Mr. Taylor's parents informed you of any problems he might have had with my client?"


"So, the only way you knew anything about Christian Hobbs was through your lover?"


"Did it ever occur to you that Justin might be lying?"


"Because you were having sex with him?"

"Because he's never lied to me."

"About anything?"

"That I know of."

"Not even a tiny lie? Like telling you your outfit is fine when it's not?"

"But it always is." Brian held out his hands slightly, as if modeling his outfit from his chair. Again a few people giggled.

"And other than the prom, that was the only occasion in which you observed my client with your lover?"


"Other than Kevin Richards, did you witness any run-ins Justin had with any other students at St. James?"


"Could you describe them?"

"There was only one. I was coming to pick him up and a group of guys were standing around him and they were pushing him. They'd knocked his books out of his hands and he was picking them up."

"Did you see them knock his books out of his hands."


"What did you do?"

"I told Justin to come on, that we were going home."

"You didn't threaten them the way you did Kevin Richards?"


"You didn't go up to them and stand in between Justin and them the way you did with Christian Hobbs?"


"Mr. Kinney, have you ever told someone they were fucked?"


"And what did you mean when you said it?"

"That they'd better watch their backs," he said and people began to murmur.

Keisha wondered if Mason was purposely trying to lose this case. If there was anything she'd learned about Brian it was that he was brutally honest, even when it came to exposing himself and his own shortcomings.

"Let's talk about the prom. Where there any other adults at the prom?"


"Who were they?"

"I didn't know them personally."

"Were they dancing with any of the teenagers present?"


"Then they were chaperones?"

"If you want to call them that, fine."

"So you were the only adult dancing with a teenager?"


"The kiss that you gave your lover inside the prom, was it a peck on the cheek?"


"A kiss on the lips?"


"Was it a passionate kiss?"


"Had you kissed him like that before?"

"Yes," he replied, chuckling a little, and members of the jury and people out in the gallery did as well.

"In public?" Mason clarified.



"On the lips." This was too easy. Again there was scattered laughter.

"Have you ever had sex with Mr. Taylor in public?"


"I'll rephrase. Prior to the prom, had you ever had sex with Mr. Taylor in public?"


"Did any of the chaperones at the prom speak to you or Mr. Taylor after you danced and kissed?"


"Did they try to stop you from dancing with Mr. Taylor?"


"Did anyone other than Daphne Chanders speak to you at the prom?"




Keisha nearly laughed herself. Mason couldn't give Brian an inch. If he did, watch out.

Observing Brian from his seat near the back, Drew could see the signs of an impending episode. His nostrils were flaring and his brows were drawn; his hands gripped the arms of his chair tightly; and his eyes shone, visible even from the back of the room.

"Mr. Kinney, how did you feel, being at a high school prom?"

"What do you think? I felt completely stupid at first."

"Now, the entire time you were dancing, no one approached you?"


"None of the chaperones approached you?"

"I said no one approached us."

"Did you or Mr. Taylor speak to anyone other than Ms. Chanders?"


"What were you feeling as you ran after my client with that baseball bat in your hand?"

"I was angry. And scared."

"Scared of what, Mr. Kinney?"

"That Justin would die."

When Mason didn't object, Keisha wondered what he was up to.

"Then why didn't you stay with him?"

"I didn't want Chris Hobbs to get away."

"Why, Mr. Kinney?"

"Because he'd attacked Justin."

"Hadn't he dropped the bat?"


"Hadn't you seen him?"


"So the police would have had the weapon and an eyewitness, more than enough to arrest him, as they subsequently did."

And Keisha saw the realization dawn on Brian at last, the one thing he'd been avoiding thinking about, that his actions had not only been risky in terms of Justin's survival, they'd been pointless too. And it was a major score for Mason.

Mason returned to his table. "No more questions, Your Honor."

Keisha watched Brian. He looked as if he was about to collapse.

"Redirect?" Kramer asked her.

"No, Your Honor."

"The witness is excused. Please, call your next witness, Ms. Thomas."

As Brian left the stand, he paused by the defense table. Keisha prayed that he wouldn't cause another scene. She was aware of Justin moving in his seat behind her and she half-turned to try and prevent him from adding to the fray. But Brian looked away from Mason and went through the gate and slumped into the seat next to his lover. She released the breath she'd been holding. Stood. "Your Honor, the People call Daphne Chanders to the stand."

Brian didn't look up as Daphne entered the courtroom and was sworn in. He didn't listen as she stated her name and answered Keisha's preliminary questions. Instead he crouched deep inside of himself and tried to forget where he was. But he couldn't.

Keisha became aware of the jury's split focus about ten minutes into questioning Daphne. Glancing over at the gallery, she saw what had distracted them. Brian was crying. Although he didn't make a sound, everyone in the courtroom was aware of his weeping as they could see Justin wiping away his tears. She wished he could have held on a little longer, just until the lunch break, as Daphne's testimony was quite important: she had witnessed three of Justin's run-ins with Chris Hobbs and could corroborate Justin's testimony but few people were listening to her.

Finally, aware that most people were staring at him, Brian stood and exited the courtroom. As he moved, at least four reporters got up and both preceded and followed him out. Justin, torn between remaining in court where Keisha expected him to be and going with Brian where he wanted to be, was at an impasse until he heard Brian say, "Get the fuck out of my way." He dashed from the courtroom to find Brian with his fist twisted in the front of some guy's shirt and the guy up against the wall.

"Brian," Justin called. He came up next to his lover. "Let him go."

The man released the reporter and stormed away, Justin hurrying in his wake to catch up with him before some other journalist made the mistake of trying to talk to him. Brian headed for Keisha's office, waiting until Justin had entered to slam the door. Then he fell into Justin's arms, trembling. The teen held him until the quivering abated a little.

Brian could feel himself falling apart. He had really believed that he could make it, that he could hold it together until the trial was over, but he hadn't. He'd barely made it through his testimony and, now, he'd caused another scene. . . Keisha was going to kill him and the way he felt, he'd welcome death. It'd be better than trying to face everyone after today's revelations. Why hadn't he lied? He could have lied and no one would have been the wiser. He could have made up some story, used the story he'd told himself for fifteen years. He could have breezed through it like a pro and been okay. Justin and Mikey would have kept his secret. He would have denied ever taking money for sex and who would have known? No one.

Except him. He would have known.

Wiping his face with his hand, Brian laughed bitterly. "So," he asked, "what do you think I'll get? Life?"

"Brian. . ."

"It's gonna be on the fucking news tonight. Front page tomorrow morning. 'Ad Exec Admits to Selling Sex.' " He raked his hair back and laughed again. Sat and covered his face briefly.

"Nobody'll care."

"You don't believe that."

"I don't care."

"I don't believe you."

"What's done is done."

"Then you do care."

"I care about you. About what it's doing to you. But it doesn't change who you are. It's part of you. And I love you. All of you. The good and the bad. You don't think you've done worse things to me?" He laughed. "And I still love you. I came back. Every time. Because I wanted you. That hasn't changed."

Brian stood and took Justin into his arms.

They stayed in Keisha's office until the noon break when the Assistant District Attorney came in and ordered them to go down to the witness waiting room and have lunch with their friends. She had work to do. "And I want you back in that courtroom," she told them. "Both of you."

The afternoon passed relatively quickly, with Daphne's testimony concluding and then Deb taking the stand. Despite the clothes and the new haircut, Deb remained Deb and continually had to cover her mouth and said, "Sorry, Your Honor," as she fought to keep it clean. But, as they had Daphne, the spectators and the jury loved her. She was real. Yet her love for both Brian and Justin was apparent in her testimony as she told of the change Justin had wrought in Brian and the way Brian had protected Justin, watched over the boy when his own family had washed their hands of him. And the tears she shed when she described Brian at the hospital were real. "He just looked so sad, like he'd just lost everything in the world," she told them and they believed her. They also believed her when she related how hard Justin had worked to try and get the school to pay attention to his complaints about Hobbs and to establish a Gay Straight Student Alliance. That she was proud of him was evident. By the time Mason got up to cross-examine her, she could have run for Witness of the Year.

Of course, Mason tried to dig into her personal life the way he had Brian's but Kramer was having none of it. Keisha figured he'd had enough of the man's underhanded tactics. Too bad he hadn't come to that decision prior to Brian's public humiliation. That he had been humiliated, she had no doubts. He sat next to Justin with his eyes lowered, there but not alert, not involved in the proceedings. And there was nothing she could do. She would have preferred it if he could have risen above the day's events but she didn't blame him for feeling the way he did. He'd been kicked in the nuts about a dozen times and that he hadn't bailed entirely was a testament to his love for Justin and vice versa.

When Mason finished his feeble attempt at a cross, Keisha passed on redirect and called her next two witnesses, the kids who'd been in the parking garage when Justin had been attacked. They hadn't seen Chris Hobbs hit Justin but they had witnessed Brian striking Hobbs and everything that had happened afterwards until the paramedics took Justin and Brian away. They hadn't added anything new to the information the jury had, just a different perspective. And it helped that they were All-American, good-looking, heterosexual, white kids with no alliance to or affiliation with Justin. They'd just had the misfortune to have been there when the attack occurred.

After their testimony concluded Kramer recessed court until Monday. Keisha, for one, was glad to have two days off. The past five had been exhausting and she looked forward to an entire weekend away from the trial. Not that she wouldn't think about the trial, just that she didn't have any witnesses to prepare or testimony to go over or anything pressing to attend to in the next forty-eight hours. Maybe she'd actually get to see Cecil this weekend. The man had been complaining that they hadn't spent any time together for the past month and a half and he was probably right. At least not any quality time. Well, she'd change that. Smiling, she resolved to call him as soon as she got up to her office. But first she needed to speak to Brian and Justin.

The two men were still seated behind her, waiting until the courtroom had cleared before facing the mob outside. Their friends were hovering around as well, to provide a buffer as they left. Keisha walked around to their side of the railing and leaned against it. "Ready to call it quits?"

Justin shook his head and looked over at Brian who looked less certain but he too shook his head. They'd come too far to give up now.

"You did good today."

And Brian snickered.

"You did. I know it was rough." She caught Brian's gaze and held it. "Get some rest this weekend. It'll be over soon. All of it. Promise."

The hard part was over, they'd all testified, now all they had to do was sit through the testimony of assorted policemen, doctors, EMS workers, etc. before the defense' witnesses took the stand. Before Chris Hobbs took the stand. That would be hard. To listen to him defend his actions, to try and insinuate that Justin had caused the attack, had pushed him into almost killing him. That would be hard. Which was why he needed tonight, needed to be surrounded by family and friends, to laugh with Daph and Xavier and Rennie, to be teased by Emmett and Vic, have Deb pinch his cheeks, and tell Gus another Pooh story. . . he needed those things to help him feel alive. And he needed Brian. But Brian was with Drew at the moment talking quietly about the day's events. He saw Brian incline his head, listening to something the therapist was telling him, and then he smiled softly and nodded. Drew clapped him on the shoulder and exited. As soon as the shrink was gone, Justin went to Brian and kissed him gently. "Everyone's going to Deb's for dinner."

"Justin," Brian began, "I'm really not up for that."

"Please. Daph's gonna come and it'll be fun. It'll be good for you."

"Justin- -"

"Please. Just for a couple hours."

Brian gave in and agreed to go for a while, only he didn't feel like it, not at all. What he really wanted to do was to go home and curl up in bed with a stiff drink and Justin's arm around his waist, his blond head on his chest, and forget the day. But Justin wanted to go to Deb's and hang out.

Taking a cab home, they changed clothes, then hopped into the Jeep and headed for the Institute to pick up Xavier and Rennie. It was then that Justin began to worry. Usually Rennie's not-so-subtle lust for Brian put a smile on the ad exec's face, but this time Brian barely said hello and if he noticed Rennie drooling over him, he didn't show it. All during the trip to Deb's Brian was quiet, resisting any attempt to draw him out.

As they were the first to arrive, Deb set them to rearranging the furniture, and getting out the wine glasses, and emptying and refilling the ice trays, and chopping the vegetables for the pizzas she was making. When Brian offered to pay for take-out pizzas, she shushed him and said she'd rather do it herself, work out some of her anger towards that little asshole Chris Hobbs and Justin wished she hadn't mentioned him because Brian withdrew into himself again and seemed only half-there until the Munchers arrived with Gus at which point the baby demanded all of his daddy's attention.

Finally everyone arrived and the house resounded with laughter and good cheer. Wine flowed and toast after toast was offered in congratulations to all of their number who had survived testifying in the case and to all of those who'd come and given their support. Although Craig hadn't come- -it was too soon- -Jen had, with Molly, and the little girl, after watching the baby for while, approached Brian and asked if she could hold him. Wanting to get away from the noise, Brian surrendered Gus and made his way upstairs.

He could still hear them, the sound seeping through the floor beneath his feet. It'd only be a matter of time, he supposed, before Justin came up to find him. He looked around the room, bare again after Justin had moved out. Emptier even than before because Mikey had finally taken most of his things as well. Sitting upon the bed, he closed his eyes and wished for the thousandth time that he could forget. Everything. The sight of Chris Hobbs striking Justin. The days of uncertainty in the hospital. The trial. Himself. He had felt so naked, so exposed in court. Nothing remained to shelter him, no illusion, no lie, no hidden truth.

The sound of Justin's footsteps on the stairs alerted him to the teen's imminent arrival. He'd only been gone for a few minutes but he'd known that even those few would have been marked by Justin and that eventually he'd come looking for him.

Brian was sitting in the dark. Instead of turning on the overhead light, Justin switched on the lamp. Stood studying his lover in the half-light the lamp cast. It was as if Brian hadn't heard him come in: he didn't move, didn't even turn his head, gave no indication that he was aware of Justin's presence. Finally, Justin sat next to him and reached for his hand. Brian glanced at him, then looked away. "The pizza's almost done."

"I need to go home," Brian said.

"But everyone's here to celebrate."

"I told you I wasn't up for this and I'm not. I need to go," he said again.

But Justin didn't want to go. "They're here for us."

"I'm sorry."

"You always do this," Justin complained, rising from the bed. "It's always a drama with you. You're done testifying," Justin reminded him. "You made it."

Brian laughed bitterly. "You call this making it? I've lost about half my fucking skin. I feel. . . raw, Justin. Like I've been dragged over the pavement for half a mile."

"Then this is exactly what you need. To be with the people who care about you. To forget about Chris Hobbs and the trial and everything else."

"I can't."

"You won't," accused Justin. "Because it always has to be about you."

"Baby- -"

"I want to stay."

"Then stay. Get someone to drive you home," Brian said and he stood and walked past Justin without another word. Avoiding the questioning looks, he zipped through the livingroom and out the front door, ignoring Gus and everyone else who tried to call to him as he left.

Justin came slowly down the stairs. Found his glass of wine where he'd left it next to Daphne.

"What's wrong with Brian?" she asked.

"He's an asshole," he replied angrily.

Lindz took Gus from Molly. He'd started to get fussy now that his Da da had gone. "What happened?"

"He didn't want to come and instead of doing it for me, he bailed."

"It's been a rough week for him," said Michael in his defense.

And that did it. "It's been rough for me too!" Justin yelled.

Deb hurried over. "Sunshine, no one's saying it hasn't."

"Why can't he even try?"

"He has. Honey, he's tried harder for you than for anyone else in his life. Even for himself."

The tears that had been threatening to fall did then and he wiped them quickly away.

Jen went to him. "You want a ride home?"

He looked around for the Jeep but it wasn't parked anywhere near the building and its newly assigned spot was empty. "He's not here," Justin told his mom before getting out his cell to call Brian. But Brian didn't answer. So he called Deb. When she answered he said, "He's not home." He heard her tell the guys and then he heard her say, 'Okay.' "What? What's going on?" he asked.

"Don't worry. Michael will find him and send him home."

"Where is he?"

"I don't know. But Michael does. Don't worry. You stay there and wait for him. He'll be home soon."

When he'd hung up, Jen asked, "What did she say?"

"That Michael would find him and send him home and that I should wait."

She could tell he was furious. "What do you want to do?"

He tightened his grip on the cellphone. "I want to see my friends. Michael and Brian can go to hell."

So he called Deb's again and invited Daphne and Rennie and Xavier back to the loft. Daphne drove them over with half a pizza in their possession. By the time they arrived, Justin had the plates ready and the beer poured in glasses. Tried to put Brian out of his mind. They sat around the dining table, too afraid to have pizza and beer in the living room where the least spill would show up like the Tell-Tale Heart. And, of course, Rennie asked the wrong thing, the one thing all of them were thinking but that only she would voice.

"So, it doesn't bother you that Michael and Brian have these secrets?"

Both Xavier and Daphne shot her dirty looks.

Justin didn't answer. How could he? Hell yeah, it bothered him. It pissed him off. But what could he do? Bitch about it and then be accused of being a child? He wouldn't do it. "They're best friends. They've been through everything together. They can't help it if they know things about one another that I don't."

"But shouldn't Brian tell you? I mean, if you're lovers and all."

Xavier caught her eye. "Shut up," he mouthed and she shrugged.

Only, it was too late. Daphne had caught the truth fever from her. "She's right, you know? I mean, you two are a couple now. He shouldn't have secrets from you."

"Oh, great," moaned Xavier. "Women."

The two young women looked at him. "What do you mean by that?" Daphne asked.

"Just that sometimes people have secrets and it's no big deal."

"You shouldn't keep secrets from the people you love."

Aware that all eyes were upon him, including Justin's, Xavier explained. "Sometimes it's better not knowing."

Justin shook his head. "It's never better not knowing. At least, if you know, you can decide what you want to do."

"And what if you can't do anything? What if the secret's something so tight that you can't deal with it? Then what? You would have been better off not knowing."

The feeling that Xavier was talking about himself crept over Justin and he longed to shake the feeling off. But he couldn't. And yet, he didn't have the time or the mental energy to deal with any more secrets. He could barely keep up with Brian. And he and Xavier. . . it wasn't as important. Yet, it was important. Shit, why was it important to him to know?

Michael knew the Jeep would be there. Parked down by the river. He knew Brian would be seated on a bench with his hands clasped between his open knees, eyes on the water.

Brian didn't even look around as Michael came up. He knew who it was. No one else knew about this place.

Taking a seat next to him, Michael opened and handed him one of the two beers he'd brought with him. Popped the top on the other one for himself. Brian took a long swig. "Guess he's mad as hell," he said.


Brian held his beer in his hands, the cool bottle soothing despite the chill in the air. "Do you remember the time I wanted to blow up the school?"

Michael laughed. "Yeah. Where the fuck did you get the explosives for that anyway?"

"Fucking this guy who worked construction."


"Do you know why I wanted to blow it up?"

"Something to do?"

Brian cut his eyes at Michael, then relaxed, took another drink of beer. "Because I fuckin' hated that school. I was sick of it and I wanted to do something else, to start over."

"Like going to New York."

"Yeah," he said softly. "Like going to New York. You stopped me from blowing up the school and I didn't get the job in New York. But I thought. . . I thought this thing with Justin was my chance to start all over, to be someone different, better than I used to be."

"There was nothing wrong with the way you used to be."

And again Brian shot a glance at Michael. "You've got to be fucking kidding me."

"So you fucked around and you could be an asshole but you did what you wanted and you were happy."

"No." Brian looked back out over the Susquehanna. "I wasn't."

"Brian. . ."

"This week, in court, I came face-to-face with the person I used to be and I realized that I didn't like him too much. But it was who I was. Who I still am sometimes. Maybe I'm just fooling myself and I haven't changed at all. Maybe I'm still that same asshole who didn't give a shit about anybody or anything. Not even himself. That's the worst, you know? That I think I hated myself. I think that's why I did it. Why I needed all of them to want me. Because I didn't want myself."

"They wanted you because you were the best thing to come along."

"They wanted me because I'm a good advertiser. I'm the best. I can sell anything. Including me. But they weren't getting the real me. Or maybe they were. Maybe that's all I was. All I am." He lowered his head and sniffled. "I thought, if Justin wanted me, if he needed me, maybe I really was worth something. Maybe I could change. Maybe I could keep the good parts and get rid of the bad parts and maybe I'd be good enough for him. Only. . ." He studied the bottle in his hands before speaking again. "Only I don't know if there were any good parts." Turning away from Michael, he took another mouthful of beer. "The things I've done, Mikey. . . Why?"

"Everybody's done stuff they've regretted. That's life."

"How can he still love me?"

"Because he does. Because you're the best thing that ever happened to him." Michael eased Brian's head around. "Because you're a good man."

Softly Brian said, "I don't think I am. I think maybe I'm the worst thing that could have ever happened to him."

"He's alive because of you."

"Maybe he wouldn't have gotten hurt in the first place- -"

"No." Michael shook his head. "You can't blame yourself for that." He wrapped an arm around his best friend and embraced him. After a moment, Brian hugged him as well. When they parted, Michael said, "You're good together. Don't let this trial destroy what you have. You're lucky to have each other. You can't let anyone or anything change that. Okay?"


"Now, go home before you give the Boy Wonder a heart attack. And you better be ready to keep it up all night long because he is pissed with you."

"He always is," grinned Brian. "And I always am."

The teenagers left as soon as Brian got home, hastily making excuses and scramming, the two girls giving Brian mixed signals, impressed by him as usual but mad with him too for Justin's sake. They all made plans to meet at the Institute the next day and figure out something to do- - if they could ditch the press.

Justin closed the door behind them and stood with his back to Brian, trying to keep the anger under wraps. But he couldn't prevent a hint of resentment from creeping into his voice. "So I guess Michael found you."


"Where did you go? Or is it a secret?"

Brian leaned against the couch. "Down by the river. I used to go there when I wanted to get away from everything." He took off his jacket and dropped it over the back. "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"For not talking to you. For not trying harder." He didn't wait for Justin to respond. "But you wouldn't listen."

"That's not- -"

"I tried to tell you, Justin. And you wouldn't listen." And Justin couldn't say anything because it was true. "I know that I haven't always done the right things by you. But I'm trying, Justin. But I need you to try too. I need you. . . to be there for me. Not just when it's convenient or when you have time or when you feel like it."

Justin knew that what he was saying was true. He had ignored Brian, put the man's mood down to being self-involved when he'd known that Brian had needed him. But sometimes it was tiring. Sometimes he needed a break. "I get tired too, Brian."

"I know. But you're standing there and you're madder than hell that Michael found me and talked to me. Baby, you can't have it both ways."

The truth stung. Head lowered, he said softly, "I'm sorry."

Then Brian smiled. Waited for Justin to look up again. "Can we stop being sorry and maybe make love before my dick atrophies?"

Slipping into Brian's arms, Justin drew his head down for a deep kiss. As they parted, he said, "As if."

Standing behind him, Brian worked the teen's clothes off, dropping them in a heap upon the floor, then stripped and took the boy in his arms again. Pressed against his back and buttocks. Hands roaming Justin's torso and thighs as he kissed his neck and shoulders.

Justin reached back and gripped Brian's hip, pulling him in closer, the man's cock nestled between his cheeks. He rubbed his behind against Brian and sighed. He could feel his lover hardening. Feel himself stiffening as well.

Suddenly Brian released him and went around to the other side of the couch. Sat down and reached up. Pulled Justin over the top and onto his lap and continued to kiss him voraciously. Hungrily, he plied Justin's lips with wet, deep kisses, probing the boy's mouth with his tongue. Removing a hand from Justin's torso, Brian pushed open the teen's legs, spat upon his palm, and encircled his cock. It fairly leapt in his grip. He eased Justin onto his back and continued to kiss him as he jerked him off.

Brian could be rough and had been rough with him on many occasions and it never failed to excite him. Not quite sure what the man would do next, just letting go and putting himself in his capable hands. One of which was even now forcing the cum from his balls by the sheer intensity of his strokes.

Palm lubed by the teenager's precum, Brian continued to tug on his dick, thrusting his tongue into his mouth in sync with the movement of his hand. Justin was moaning and it was making his cock hard as well. But he wanted to make this evening last a good long time and in order to do that, he needed to get Justin to come now. Breaking off their kiss, he moved down the boy's torso, licking his skin as he did so, leaving a wet trail behind him leading from his chest to his groin. Justin's cock arched over his belly and Brian brushed the underside with his lips, withholding his tongue until he'd reached the head.

Justin arched his back as Brian closed his lips around the head of his dick and swiped his tongue across the tip. "Ahh!" he moaned and then gave a series of small cries while the man continued to paint the corona with his tongue, saliva applied in wide strokes. Then the head slipped further into his lover's mouth as Brian went down on him, lips tightening around the base of his cock before making their way back up the shaft.

He bobbed over the teen's groin for some minutes, sucking him furiously, twisting his head, twirling his tongue, hand closed over the boy's scrotum and squeezing lightly to churn the jizz in his balls.

Holding onto the chair arm, Justin raised up off the sofa and shouted. His cock slipped free of Brian's mouth and a string of cum landed on the man's cheek. Wrapping his hand around the root, Brian licked the head and another spurt struck his face. And another. Justin's spunk dripped from his skin. Hungrily, he lapped up the last bit that ran over the edge of his cock and onto his knuckles.

He trembled as Brian cleaned his cock and then watched as the man wiped his face clean and even licked that from his fingers. It was incredibly erotic and he felt his cock twitch. Even better, Brian hadn't gotten it all and when he leaned over to kiss Justin, the teen was able to kiss the rest from his face. He reached between Brian's legs as they kissed, filled his hand with his lover's hard, throbbing meat.

Brian moaned. "Hungry?" he asked breathlessly.

And Justin replied, "Starving." He raised a leg over Brian's shoulder and waited.

Reaching into the pocket of his jacket, which he had thrown over the back of the sofa, Brian removed a slender tube of lube. It never paid to be without it. He squirted the liquid in Justin's hand and inhaled as the teen spread it over the shaft and head of his cock. Then he looked down and watched while Justin pushed two fingers inside his ass. The sight made him even harder. He sat back on one knee, the other leg braced on the floor and urged the teen on. "Oh, baby. . . Deeper."

Justin pushed his fingers in as far as he could. Curled the tips and hissed. Fingered his hole until he was so ready for Brian, it was about to drive him crazy. He let his fingers slide free and then felt the wet tip of Brian's cock brush against his leg as he moved into position. His own dick had gotten hard again. Reaching down between his thighs, he guided Brian to his moist, hot center. "Ohhh," he uttered as his lover entered him, the wide head of his cock stretching him open.

Burying his dick inside Justin, Brian paused to catch his breath. He could feel his balls pressing against the teen's smooth behind. Feel Justin's hole tighten and relax around him. Withdrawing a little, he pushed back in and began rocking against him, loosening him up.

Although he loved it when they had sex in their bed (Their bed; how long and hard had he fought to make it so?), he loved it when they fucked on the couch second only to fucking in the shower. He loved being bent in two beneath the man, unable to move, having to take it any way Brian gave it to him. Being so close that every movement was amplified a hundred times. The soft cushions beneath his back and the hard body of his lover above him. And him, hard and soft. He loved throwing one leg over Brian's shoulder and gripping his waist with the other, his foot resting on the cavity just above Brian's buttocks, urging him to fuck him harder, faster, deeper. . .

Having fallen asleep on the rug next to the couch, the throw from the sofa pulled over them, they awoke just as hungry as before. Brian sat on the floor, legs spread open as Justin sucked him to hardness, then held on as the teenager squatted and impaled himself on his cock. He rested his head against the edge of the sofa and tried to keep from shouting as Justin rode his cock and nibbled and gnawed on his throat, leaving raspberry-colored marks on his skin. Guys who thought bottoms were passive had yet to fuck anyone like Justin. Squeezing his eyes shut, he tightened his grip on the teen's slender waist. He knew men who claimed they couldn't get off if they were underneath but with Justin clenching him, he could get off on his back, his side, his knees, it didn't matter. And by the time the teen's ass had gotten through with him, he felt battered, bruised, and grateful. That he'd found someone equal to the task.

Justin sank down upon him and clamped his cock in between his swollen lips. He cried out and felt the first spurts of cum erupted inside Justin just as the teen's cock shot its load against his belly. It was one of the few times they'd come together. Not that it mattered. But it did feel good to come with Justin's hole going into spasms around him. It was as if the teen were sucking the cum from his dick and spitting it from his own, and the image never failed to take hold of him and shake him.

Muscles stretched and sore, they showered and fooled around in the steam and hot water, laughing and playing in close quarters. Brian removed the shower head and set it to pulse and massaged his little boy, then surrendered the attachment and enjoyed the same treatment from Justin until good sense prevailed and they called it a night.

Glass of bourbon on the bedside table, Justin's arm around him, his blond head resting on his chest, Brian closed his eyes and felt at peace for the first time in over a week.

Saturday, November 17th

Leaving Brian to finish loading the dishwasher, Justin answered the buzzer thinking it was one of the guys. "Yeah?"

"Is Brian there?" Even before the man identified himself, Justin knew who it was. "It's Cam."

For a split-second he was tempted to hang up and tell Brian it was for the wrong apartment but he knew Cam would only continue to buzz until he spoke to Brian either in person or via the intercom. "Yeah. Come on up." Releasing the door, he returned to the kitchen.

"Who was it?"

"Cam," he said, as if it didn't matter at all.

Brian turned on the appliance and stood with his hands gripping its chrome handle. Why?

"Do you want me to go?" asked Justin.

"No." He paused. "Not unless you want to." When Justin shook his head, Brian asked softly, speaking more to himself than his lover, "What does he want?"

"What does he always want?" Justin replied angrily, tired of Cam's meddling, his attempts to win Brian back.

"He knows it's over. I've told him- -"

"Then maybe you should tell him again!"

"Justin- -"

A knock at the door interrupted both of them. Cam. Changing his mind about staying- - at least in the same room- - Justin stormed off into the bedroom.

Wishing he could pretend that Justin hadn't answered the buzzer, Brian opened the door. It had apparently been raining because Cam's clothes were wet. As was his hair. He never remembered to carry an umbrella. Water dripped from his face, along his scalp, down his neck into his collar and Brian found himself wanting to wipe it away. And that made him angry, that he still had these impulses when it came to Cam. When was he ever going to be free of him, free of these feelings? "What?" he asked harshly, aware of the gruffness of his voice.

"Can I come in?" Brian stepped aside and waited while Cam came in and stood with a look of uncertainty on his face, at a loss it seemed now that he'd gained entrance.

"What do you want?" Brian asked again.

Cautiously, Cam removed his coat.

From the bedroom, Justin listened, with is back to them, refusing to look around and see even the faintest glimmer of love in Brian's eyes.

Having removed his wet jacket, Cam said, "I was worried about you."

"You don't have to be."

"But I was. I am. I know how hard this- -"

"No," Brian said, cutting him off, "you don't. You have no fucking idea. And why should you? It's not your concern."

"I'll always care about you, no matter what, Bri. I'll always- -"

"No." Brian walked away from him. Turned back around. "Why can't you stay away?"

"Because I love you."

Justin lowered his head. He should have gone. Anything, even being run out of his home, would have been better than this.

"Don't you fucking say that to me! We've been over this and you promised. I was there. I heard the words come from your mouth. You promised, Cam," said Brian foolishly. When had Cam ever kept his promises? Why had he believed that this time would be any different?

The temptation to look, to turn around and see them together was so great that his head had begun to swivel before he realized that that was the last thing he wanted, to have that image in his mind. Brian had no photos of him and Cam, or if he did, he kept them hidden away so Justin hadn't been subjected to seeing them together: two beautiful men who must have turned every head in a room when they were a couple.

Cam neared Brian. "Bri- - Baby- -"

"He's in there. Listening to us. Listening to you say that you love me. In our home. His and mine." He closed his eyes. "I want you to go. If this is what you wanted, just go."

To Justin, Brian's voice sounded weary, as if this confrontation had finally exhausted him.

"Is this what you want? Your entire life on the front page of some fucking newspaper?"

"I didn't ask for that."

"But it happened. Because of him. Is he worth it?"

"Fuck you." Brian stalked towards the door. "Get out."

"No." Brian turned around. "Answer me. Is he worth it?" Brian turned away. "Everyone's talking about it. Wherever I go. They're talking about you. It's the scandal of the year. I bet your mother's having a fuckin' heart attack. Probably hasn't spoken to you since the whole thing started." He moved closer to Brian. "You're lucky Jack Kinney's dead or else he'd be here right now telling you what a miserable- -"

"Shut up!"

"How does it feel? To finally have what you've always wanted: to be the talk of the town." He grabbed Brian's arm. "Playing with fucking children!" Brian pulled away and stood breathing heavily, unable to say anything.

Justin rushed from the bedroom, hackles up, and put himself directly between Brian and Cam. "Stay away from him," he warned the man. "He doesn't want you here. He doesn't want you."

Cam started towards Brian but Justin refused to budge. "So you'll fight for him this time, huh?"

Terified that another secret would be revealed, Justin said, "You can go now."

But Cam remained where he was, speaking to Brian's lowered head. "Did he tell you? How he came to me and asked me to leave you alone?"

Brian slowly raised his head and met Justin's eyes. The teen held his breath, not certain at all what Brian's reaction would be. Then Brian looked over his head at Cam. "You heard him. You can go now."

"Bri. . ."

"If you ever loved me, then just go. And don't come back, Cam. Don't call me, don't send me flowers, don't contact me at all." He swallowed. "Please."

"You belong with me."

"Not anymore." Brian climbed the steps to the bedroom and moved out of sight, leaving his lovers past and present alone together.

Calmly, Justin went to the door and opened it. Waited. After a moment, Cam left. Joining Brian in the bedroom, Justin found the man sitting on the bed, face pale.


As much as he wanted to go to Brian and hold him and comfort him, he couldn't. "You still have feelings for him."


"Don't lie to me!" Brian's shoulders twitched. "You still love him."

He shook his head. "No, baby, I don't."

"Then why are you in here crying over him?"

"I'm not."

"Look at me." The teen watched as the man turned and it was true, he hadn't been crying but there was a sadness in his eyes and a great weariness that couldn't be denied. "Brian. . ."

"I remember." He stood and went to the closet, removed a box, and opened it. Took out an award and showed it to Justin. Just a small bronze medallion. "For the AIDS awareness ad I did. He was there. When I got it. With my parents." He shivered. "I knew it was a mistake, to ask them to come but it was the first time I'd gotten recognition for doing my job and and I wanted them to be there." He grimaced. "I should have known better. My dad went into overdrive when he saw that ad. It was 'fuckin' fairies' this and 'fuckin' fairies' that. He was on my back about it the rest of the evening and when I got home, I just- - I wanted to throw that award away. But Cam said, 'No, you keep it because you did good. You keep it and fuck your old man. Fuck him. What does he know?' " Brian sniffled. "And now he's gone. That person's gone and I don't know who he is anymore. And, Justin, he was a good person. And now he's just- -" He couldn't say it, the words were too hurtful: He's just like me. "He didn't even ask about the rape. It was like he didn't care. Did I do that to him? Did I change him? Because I don't want that to happen to you. I don't want you. . . I don't want you to change."

Justin sat next to him and slipped his arm around him. "You didn't do anything to him. He did it to himself. We make our own pain, remember?" he asked, reminding Brian of the words he'd spoken to Justin about his parents and their impending divorce. "It's not your fault he's changed. It's not your fault." He waited to see if Brian believed him and realized that the man needed more convincing. "And if I change, I'm only going to get better." Brian laughed as Justin had intended. The teen kissed him softly. "You know, if he comes around here again, I'm gonna kick his ass," Justin said and then realized it would probably remind Brian of what Cam had said about their previous encounter. He really hoped Brian had forgotten.

"So what was that about you going to see him?" Brian asked, not having forgotten at all. But a smile curled around his lips and Justin knew things were all right between them.

"I just told him to leave you alone. That's all." He rubbed his face against Brian's shoulder. "I don't like people messing with you."

"I see that." Brian smiled again, thinking about how Justin had protected him in the courtroom this week too. "My ferocious baby cat." Kissed his fingers. "Look at those sharp claws."

Justin toppled Brian onto his back and straddled him. Lowered his head and nipped his neck as he raised Brian's shirt and lightly scratched his belly. "Mmmmm. . ." he breathed and Brian sighed in contentment. He loved to hear his baby cat purr.

In Shadow or In Light, Part Three

Heels Over Head | Stories