Hal St. Clair swallowed hard. His mouth was dry, his breathing shallow. His heart hammered
so loud in his chest he could hear it. He thrust his hands into his pockets to hide their trembling.
"We find the defendant, Halford St. Clair guilty as charged".
"Guilty as charged, guilty as charged, guilty as charged..."
The words echoed through his brain. His ears started to ring, and he felt himself sway
backwards. Ted Hilliard's firm hand on his shoulder steadied him. He blinked, shook his head and tried to breathe. He saw
pity in Ted's cool green eyes.
"I'm sorry Hal. We tried. I don't know what to say. We can appeal, you know that."
"It's okay, Ted," he heard himself from far away, as if in a dream. "It'll work out. You
did your best, and I'm thankful for that. I don't think anything's gonna change if I appeal."
I'm not a criminal. This can't be happening. His face burned. He didn't want to look at Mrs. McNaughton but he
couldn't help himself. Her red-lipsticked mouth curled up in a hint of a smile, her cold eyes glowed with triumph.
It wasn't wrong. I love her. He wanted to shout the words.
Hal's thoughts flashed back uncontrollably to the prison guard's counsel the previous
"You fucked up big, Man," the guard had said. "You fucked da wrong girl. You know why?
I'm gonna tell you why. Word is that your girl's mama got a brother who a Congressman. He gonna make sure you put away for
a long time. Hear what I'm saying? You'll remember Tyrone's word when da sentencing come down."
Sentencing was imposed a week later. Hal heard the sentence as if from a great distance.
Only two words registered in his mind; "...fifteen years."
"No," he shouted. "No, you can't do this to me. I'm not a criminal!"
Ted pulled him down into his chair. Behind him, the courtroom erupted and voices rose
as the spectators and the press reacted to his sentence. The judge banged his gavel and glared menacingly.
The bailiff led him firmly towards the rear exit of the courthouse, where guards were
waiting. "Come on boy, give me your hands." The voice was gruff.
The cold steel of the handcuffs gripped his wrists behind his back. One guard pointed
a rifle at him while another wrapped manacles around his ankles. Together they shoved him roughly into a truck.
Hal studied the other five passengers from under lowered eyelids. They were all older,
except perhaps one. His head was bowed so Hal couldn't see his face, but the pale, freckled skin, scrawny body and red hair
projected an air of vulnerability that reminded Hal painfully of Jonny. He sure doesn't
look like a criminal to me. Glad Jon's not here to see this.
He swallowed hard. Perspiration ran in small rivulets down his back and he wanted to scratch
where it itched. He pressed against the bars behind him while sweeping a glance quickly across the other faces.
A trickle of fear slid through his body like oil on a hot surface. The icy stare from
the man directly across from him held a malevolent challenge and his mouth twisted into an evil smile.
Hal closed his eyes. He shuddered, suddenly cold. The eyes said it all. Not skin color.
That ranged from pale white through coffee to dark black. Nor body size, or the dark stubble on their chins.
It was their eyes.
No one spoke during the interminable journey. Hal was afraid to look up again, so he turned
inward to the thoughts that tumbled incessantly around in his head. He still couldn't believe that life had handed him such
a dirty deal.
It seemed like just yesterday, although it was actually seven months ago, that he had
last seen Trent. He wondered if she still thought about him. Will I ever see her again?
She was in his thoughts all the time.
He recalled the guard's advice. "You just remember, no matter how many years they give
you, you gotta keep your mind focused. They can control your body but they don' know what's going on in your mind. You have
ta have a dream, somethin' to live for, and whenever things get bad, and you know dat gonna be happenin' a lot, you just think
about what you gonna do when you get out. Never give up dat dream, Man. Don't forget Tyrone Thomas' words. No matter what,
your mind is free."
As if he would ever forget her. As if he could. That day, a lifetime ago, when he had
first met her, would be imprinted on his brain forever...
It had been one of those beautiful balmy days in early summer, and he had been out in
the rowboat, fishing. The fish weren't biting. He had allowed the boat to drift with the wind and take its own course on the
smooth water of the lake.
He lay back, enjoying the warmth, and watched the cumulus clouds form, giant snowballs
amassing in the sky, an early warning of a late afternoon storm. He dozed for a while in the warm sun, and woke with a start
when the boat bumped gently against the bank.
He found himself looking into the warmest eyes he had ever seen. They were the color of
"What are you doing here?" She sounded perfectly calm, as if strangers in boats drifted
up to her every day.
"I don't really know. I guess I fell asleep and fate brought us together." He stared at
her with unabashed admiration. Her bikini barely covered her breasts. Her skin was golden tanned, her body lean. Her abundant
hair, almost red, and lit with soft sun-bleached highlights, framed a heart-shaped face.
"Well, you'd best be going. This is private property. My parents don't take kindly to
trespassers, and they'll be home any minute now."
"Hal's the name." He smiled into the sunny eyes, vaguely aware of the manicured lawns
graced by cool trees, and the stately white-painted mansion in the background. Nothing as good to look at as she was. "What's
"That's your name?"
"Yes, anything wrong with it?"
"No, it's just--I never met a girl named Trent before."
"Well, I didn't choose it. My parents wanted me to be a boy. Now please, you must go.
"Okay, but first promise I can see you again."
"I'll be here every day this summer,"
"Yes, but when will your mother not be here?" Hal raised his eyebrows.
"She's here most days. Except Tuesdays. Tuesdays she usually goes to the city. Now will
you go, please."
"Okay. See you Tuesday." A light-hearted feeling embraced him as he rowed slowly away
Looks like this summer is going to be a good one.