I knew Dylan was going to look rough when he came in to the hearing room. He’d been in a holding cell all weekend. But it hit me, hard, when I saw just how rough he looked. He was obviously exhausted, dark circles under his eyes, and after three days without a shave, dark black stubble covered his chin. His black t-shirt, which I had loved and drooled over, looked torn, disheveled, and a stain ran down the front.
His hand. The cast was off, and he held his right hand in his left, as if protecting it. It was washed out, pale, and the fingers were curled up and unmoving. His face had a similar pallor. It was obvious he was in a lot of pain.
But the worst part was his eyes. They looked … faded. Dull. Dead. I grabbed Kelly’s hand when he looked over at me, met my eyes for a moment, the looked away, almost as if he didn’t recognize me. I had to stifle tears. Again.
No. I was not going to sit here and cry. I was going to be strong, because right now, he needed me.
Even if he didn’t know it.
The hearing was over quickly. Joel’s brother-in-law was obviously experienced and knew what he was doing, and quickly ran through what had happened the night of the party. He argued persuasively that Dylan was exactly what he was… a wounded soldier who had been protecting someone he loved from a sexual assault. That he should be given a medal, not a trail. The judge told him to get on with it, and the lawyer made a motion that the case be dismissed.
At that point the prosecutor stood up and said, “Your honor, the defendant put a twenty-one year old Columbia student in the hospital with multiple skull fractures and possible permanent brain damage. He’s dangerous, and we request that he be denied bail.”
I held my breath.
The judge set his bail at twenty thousand dollars. When the words came out, Sherman grinned, then turned to me. “We’ve got enough,” he whispered.
“He looks awful,” I said, as I watched the bailiffs lead him away.
Ben, Joel’s brother-in-law and now Dylan’s lawyer, approached us then. He already had the money in his briefcase.
“Okay, I’m gonna go bail him out. You guys can wait in the lobby, it might be an hour or two before we finally get him loose.”
“Thank you,” I said, and impulsively hugged him.
“I got to tell you,” he said, looking mostly at me. “Dylan is … not exactly cooperative. He as much as told me to go to hell.”
“I had a bad feeling,” Sherman said. “We’ll talk him around. He’s pretty screwed up right now.”
Would we be able to talk him around? What was he going to say when he came out of that holding cell. What was he going to say to me? About us?
I was terrified. I walked out of the court room feeling numb, and found myself pacing in the lobby of the court house. I thought all of the things we could have done differently, to arrive at a different place. If we hadn’t gone to the party. If we hadn’t met again in September. If I hadn’t called him, drunk, from my room last February. If he hadn’t freaked out, and been sent out on that patrol. If we hadn’t met and fallen in love in the first place.
It was too much. There were too many paths that could have been taken, and no way to know what would have led here and now. What I knew was, I loved Dylan Paris. And I was going to fight for him.
I sighed. Pacing around wasn’t doing any good. And I was probably driving the others crazy. I walked over to the bench where they sat, in between Sherman and Kelly.
“So, Sherman… what are your plans? I know you came to visit Dylan, and that’s not exactly turned out how you expected.”
He yawned, looked up at the ceiling. “Not sure yet,” he replied. “I spent a couple weeks with my mom and dad when I got home, but we were driving each other crazy. So I floated down here, thinking to hang out with Dylan, check out Columbia. But… I’m going to finish college. Somewhere.”
He gave me a speculative look, then said, “I was thinking about Texas, maybe.”
“Oh really?” I asked.
“Yeah. Rice seems like a good university. And I met a PhD candidate there who worked really hard to sell me on the place.”
I grinned. “You two really hit it off.”
“I wasn’t expecting it,” he said.
I let out a single laugh. “I’m sure she wasn’t either.”
He chuckled. “Carrie says the guys in her graduate program are terrified of her.”
“I’m not surprised,” I answered. “I always have been.”
He gave me a puzzled look, eyebrows kind of scrunched together, than said, “Why?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. She’s always so… together. School, life, clothing. Carrie’s always been a little bigger than life. I’m a little more down to earth.”
“Well, you can’t go through life thinking people are better than you. Look at Dylan—”
He cut himself off.
“What do you mean, look at Dylan?”
He frowned, then said, “Look, I shouldn’t say anything about all of this. He’d kill me. But you’ve got to realize, he’s never felt like he was good enough for you.”
What? No. “That’s not true.”
He nodded. “Yes, it is true. God, you have no idea how much he talked about you over in Afghanistan. Constantly. No offense, but it was pretty god damn tiresome. But he’s always said, since the moment that you met, you were way out of his league. And he’d tick off the reasons. You’re rich, he’s dirt poor. You come from some kind of crazy successful family. Your father’s an ambassador or something, right?”
“That’s the kind of thing he’d talk about. His dad’s a drunk, and he was always half afraid he’d end up just like his Dad. So he puts all this together, and concludes that he’s not good enough for you. He’s always believed that. And Afghanistan only made it worse.”
I shook my head. “It’s not true. I mean… yeah, so our families are different. But that doesn’t mean anything. It’s not about who your parents are, or how much money you have. It’s about what you do with who you are.”
“Well, try convincing him of that. I never could.”
“I will, if he gives me a chance.”
Kelly, in a dry voice, said, “Let him smell your socks. Then he’ll get it.”
Joel suppressed a laugh, and ended up coughing instead. It wasn’t convincing.
“Thank you guys for coming today,” I said, very quietly.
“Don’t start that,” Kelly said. “This is what friends do.”
I smiled at her. She could talk all day about what friends do, but where I grew up, that wasn’t true. I didn’t have friends who would go to court for me. Or jail. Or anything else. I was only then starting to realize just how special the bonds were that I’d formed here.
So, without a word I reached out and took the hands of my friends. There really weren’t any words for what I felt.
This is first draft material from a new story I’m working on. You can find the beginning and contents of the story, here.