Everyone looked pretty rough when we met at the big round table in the back of Tom’s the next morning. Carrie’s eyes were swollen and red, and she’d pulled on jeans and a pullover sweater. She was as relaxed looking as I’d ever seen her, but also exhausted. She sat next to Ray Sherman, something I’d have been incredibly tickled about if it had been any other time. Sherman was the only one at the table looking reasonably normal. Wide awake, stuffing away about a thousand pounds of food. The two of them had arrived together, and I had the funny feeling they’d been together all night.
Kelly and Joel were slumped together, picking at their breakfast. Joel had ended up staying over with us, but out of courtesy to me, and probably exhaustion, they’d done nothing more than sleep. Joel had snored, sounding something like a rhinoceros running away from a freight train, and even if I hadn’t had trouble sleeping anyway, that would have kept me up.
I’d lain in my bed, staring up at the ceiling, listening to his snores, Kelly’s soft breathing, and thinking that if there had been any justice in the world, I’d have been spending the night in Dylan’s bed, definitely not sleeping.
“My brother-in-law is a criminal defense lawyer,” Joel said. “I can’t guarantee he’ll take the case, but it’s worth asking. He’s expensive, though.”
Sherman spoke up. “Dylan’s got cash, or he should. If not, I can spring for it.”
I tilted my head. “You don’t have to do that.”
He leaned forward, and said, “Yes, I do. Dylan’s closer to me than my own brother. I’d pay every last penny. Clear? Don’t argue with me on this.”
I nodded, blinking back my watering eyes. Carrie put her hand on Sherman’s and whispered something to him, I don’t know what. Then she said something that almost made me fall over dead. “I can help with that too. Dad gave me forty-thousand at the beginning of the school year.”
My mouth dropped open. First at the idea that our father had just given her that kind of money, and second that she’d be willing to give it up for this.
“Dad will have a fit,” I said.
“It’ll be good for him,” she responded, her eyes dancing.
“I have to fly back tonight, but I’ll get you as much of the money as I can before I go, okay? If you don’t use it, fine, send it back.”
“And I’ll come to the hearing with you,” Kelly said. Joel nodded. “We’ll all go. You in, Ray?”
I don’t know what I did to deserve friends like this.
Joel stepped outside to make his phone call to his brother-in-law, and Sherman said, “Alex, before we all split up, we need to talk for a few minutes. Alone.”
Carrie and Kelly both raised their eyebrows in curiosity.
“Okay,” I said hesitantly.
“Let’s take a quick walk, this won’t take long.”
I nodded, and found myself standing up, my limbs feeling numb. What did Sherman need to talk about with me alone? Something to do with Dylan, obviously. And it made me afraid. Very afraid. And I didn’t even know why.
Outside, we walked about half a block away, and he turned around and leaned against a wall.
“Listen,” he said. “I told you last night… Dylan…he’s like a little brother to me.”
“Well… I’m a little worried. Honestly I’m a lot worried. About how he’s going to react to all of this. Being thrown in jail, the fight, everything.”
I bit my lip, staring at the ground. “I am too,” I whispered.
“That guy’s got a martyr streak a mile wide. You need to understand… I doubt he ever told you the details, at least in the right time sequence. But after you guys broke up, and he shot up his laptop, our squad got mixed up in the patrol rotation as part of the punishment.”
I nodded. “I know.”
“That was the patrol when they got hit by the roadside bomb, Alex. When Roberts died.”
I shook my head in confusion. “He told me it was several days later.”
Sherman shook his head, sadly. “No. Now listen, Alex… nobody blamed him. Nobody said it was his fault. It could have happened any time. We were getting hit all the time. But Dylan blamed himself. He and I emailed back and forth about it a lot when he was in the hospital. I tried to get him to see it, but … well… guilt is pretty ugly stuff. And he’s convinced that if he’d just kept his shit together, Roberts would be alive.”
“Okay. So… what does this have to do with now?”
He looked at me, closely. “Think about it, Alex. What else happened to someone he loved after that?”
I felt my stomach cramp. “Oh, no.”
He nodded. “Yeah. I’d bet a million dollars he’s got the idea that it’s somehow his fault that asshole tried to rape you.”
I shook my head violently. “No. It was not his fault. It wasn’t my fault. That was all Randy.”
“Yeah, well… just be careful. Be prepared. Because I think Dylan’s going to be blaming himself, and I don’t know what he’s going to do about it.”
“You don’t think he’s going to break up with me, do you?”
A tear rolled down my face. He reached out and touched my chin, and said, “You and me… it’s our job to try to bring him back, okay? I don’t know if we can, but … well… I love that guy. And I’m not going to let him go off the edge if I can help it.”
“I won’t either,” I whispered.