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Brian sat in the courtroom wearing his new suit.
It was dark gray and had been fitted to his body by Ron's tailor. Brian had four new suits in gray, blue, brown, and a tan shade that Ron called 'fawn.' And he had new shirts to match them. And ties, too. All selected to compliment Brian's coloring. Altered by the tailor to fit Brian like a glove. All designed to make the perfect impression.
All bullshit, as far as Brian was concerned.
But that was out of his hands now. His entire life was out of his control until the verdict came down.
And after that....
Brian's re-trial lasted two days. The PLD had waived Brian's right to a jury and left it to the judge to make the final decision. Julie said that this judge was a good one. He was an old man, almost ready for retirement, but he was fair. And he was a man of the old school who was angered by many of the abuses in the Prosecutor's Office that had culminated in James Stockwell's downfall.
Judge Morris Feldman listened stonefaced to the case that the prosecution presented, which mainly consisted of information that was over a decade old. Then he listened to Julie's defense, who offered as its centerpiece the testimony of Kirk Bradley, the admitted mastermind of the Penn State Bombings. Bradley was mechanical as he recited his well-rehearsed story, looking directly ahead and never once glancing at the man whose life he had ruined so many years before. But Kirk Bradley said what needed to be said. And he said it convincingly.
To Brian Kirk Bradley's testimony seemed like a tale from a distant time and place. His biggest fear had been that he wouldn't be able to listen to Kirk without breaking down, but that had not been the case. Perhaps sitting with Kirk, face to face, and realizing that Kirk had no real remorse or understanding of what he had done to Brian had bled all of the emotion out of the big moment in court, because Brian felt nothing. Instead, it was like he was disembodied from it all, as if the story Kirk told had happened to another person, in, as Shakespeare had said, another country.
So Brian sat passively over both days of his trial and simply listened. It had already been decided that he would not testify. His version of the story wasn't necessary, Julie assured him. The only thing up in the air was whether the judge would find Brian guilty on all of the remaining charges or only some of them. But no matter what, Brian had already served years beyond the time to which he could possibly be sentenced. It was all a formality. All a show.
And now that the real Penn State Bomber was going to plead guilty and avoid going to trial, this was who the reporters had to work with -- Brian Kinney. But this Brian Kinney also made a perfect picture for their cameras. Tall, handsome, well-mannered, and elegantly turned out in an expensive designer suit (thanks to Ron and his tailor), Kinney appeared more like the film version of a defendant than the real thing. So there he was -- the wronged man. The man with a compelling -- and juicy -- story to tell. And a book to be published in the fall. A celebrity in the making.
Brian tried not to look around at the people who had crowded the courtroom in order to gape at him. He was too afraid of what they might read on his face.
Justin was sitting in the first row, directly behind him, so close that Brian could hear him breathing and smell his herbal shampoo. Justin's mother, Jennifer Taylor, sat next to him, and next to her was her fiancé, Ron Rosenblum. All of the men and women from the Prisoners' Legal Defense were sitting in the next row behind them, from John, who was ready to retire and hand over the reins of the PLD to Ron, to Josh, the paralegal Brian had been training to work at Stanton. This was their showcase trial, their greatest success, and they didn't want to miss it.
Also in the courtroom were Brian's literary agent, James Crossley, and his new editor, Ed McCandless. And Amy Carver and her friend from Carnegie Mellon, Will Foxe. And Debbie Novotny, too, wearing a new red wig and the shocking pink spring coat she had bought for Easter. They were all there to see Justice done. All there to see Brian set free, finally.
And standing at the very back, near the door, was a nondescript man dressed in a plain dark suit. This wasn't the end for the Feds, it was only the beginning. Now they knew the names of all of the Penn State Bombers. Kirk Bradley had sung like a bird. He was wrapped up tightly with a big bow and the other conspirators would soon follow. None of them would get away this time. Brian Kinney could go on his merry way. He was no longer important. His purpose had been served.
At the end of the trial Judge Morris Feldman gave a speech about the wheels of Justice turning slowly, but turning all the same. About all of the years that it had taken to come to this moment. Then he asked Brian to stand. He apologized to Brian. Apologized for his wasted youth. For what he had endured. Then Judge Feldman found him guilty on the charge of being an accessory to vandalism and breaking and entering, but found him not guilty as an accessory to burglary. Then he sentenced him to time already served. And it was over. Court was adjourned.
The bailiffs tried to clear the room, but reporters pressed around, clamoring for a comment from Brian or his attorney. Julie, however, shook her head and put herself between the press and her client. "Don't say anything, Brian," she had told him before. "We'll release a written statement after it's all over."
The press also tried to get something out of Justin or Jennifer or Ron, who they identified as Brian Kinney's "immediate family." But Ron announced grandly that he would be holding a press conference at the offices of the Prisoners' Legal Defense at noon the next day to discuss Brian Kinney, his upcoming book, and the upcoming sentencing of Kirk Bradley. Julie rolled her eyes when she heard this, but there was nothing she could do since Ron would soon be her new boss.
With no new statements from any of the principals, the press grabbed at everyone who looked like they knew Brian Kinney and shoved a microphone in their faces. That's how Debbie Novotny ended up on Channel 6 that evening. She was glad that she had worn her new wig and coat. They looked real good on TV! Nice and colorful. She hoped that Mikey and his friends in Stanton were watching.
"In a week they'll have forgotten who you are, Brian -- for the time being," said Ron as they settled into the limo the PLD had hired to take them away from the courthouse. "That's the way it is. A new story will push this one off the front pages. But we don't want them to completely forget about you, Brian. While you work on your book I plan to feed a few selected journalists enough information to keep them interested. That way when your book comes out in the fall we'll have some sympathetic press ready to play up its release. Some of the other Penn State gang should be coming up for trial by then and that will also stir up interest in what you have to say. But I want to pick and choose the items and where they will appear. The placement of information is key to the success of my new strategy for the PLD."
"Sure, Ron," Brian said. "Whatever you say."
"Is it really over?" asked Justin, putting his arm around Brian's waist. Justin was relieved to be out of the courthouse and away from the reporters, but Brian still seemed tense and edgy.
"Yes, honey!" said Jennifer, happily. "Now we can focus on the wedding! Right, Ronnie?"
"Of course, my dear," Ron said with satisfaction. "The wedding."
"No," Brian said in a low voice. "It's never fucking over, Justin. There's always something else. Something you never thought of ready to hit you on your blind-side."
Justin touched Brian's face gently. "Maybe there's always something else coming, but it'll be nothing but good that's going to come to us." Justin glanced out the window of the moving car. It was a beautiful April day, full of sun. "Next week is your birthday. Remember last year when I gave your party in the Quad? Who would've thought that in a year we'd both be out? That we'd be starting a new life -- together? Nothing but good things from now on, Brian! I promise!"
But Brian couldn't answer. He didn't know what to say. 'Hope' was still a word in a foreign language that Brian was desperately trying to learn.
Every night before they went to bed, Justin locked and bolted the door of the apartment. Then he checked the windows to make certain they were also closed and locked. Then Justin went into the bedroom and shut the door firmly behind him.
Brian was always in bed first. He was never asleep, just already there, smoking one last cigarette, or turning the pages of a book he was pretending to read, or simply staring up at the ceiling, waiting for Justin.
"Everything's locked down nice and tight," Justin would say, shedding his shorts and tee shirt before getting into bed.
"Good," Brian would reply. And then he would switch off the light, turn over, and take Justin's into his arms.
But Justin would wake up in the middle of the night and find Brian gone. At first he simply rolled over and went back to sleep, assuming that Brian was in the bathroom. But then he realized that Brian wasn't in the bathroom. He was roaming around in the dark, checking and double-checking the locks on the door and the windows. Looking out at the street. Wandering through the apartment, room by room, unable to sleep.
"Brian," Justin said finally. "No one is going to break in. This isn't the greatest neighborhood in the world, but we don't have anything worth stealing either. It's all right, Brian. Everything is fine."
"I know," said Brian. "I'm only making sure." And the next night he would be up again, checking the front door, rattling the windows, shutting the door of the bedroom securely. Brian couldn't sleep or rest in a room where the door was ajar even slightly. He had to get up and close it. And then check it again after closing it. Just to make certain.
The night that Brian's trial was concluded they went to bed early. Justin was emotionally drained and Brian seemed only to want to get into their bed and forget about the rest of the world.
Brian buried himself in Justin, closing his eyes, but opening his hands and his mouth. And Justin opened himself, letting his lover lose himself in the one place where it was safe to get lost. The one place where it was still safe to let himself go.
Afterwards Justin smiled as he nestled in the pillows and tumbled blankets. Everything would be right from now on. They would make it right. Together.
Brian and Justin lay quietly for a long time, but then Brian sat up suddenly. He lit a cigarette and got out of bed. He stood at the bedroom window, staring out at the quiet street for a long time.
The ground outside was still cool, but the wind blowing in from the south was warm with the spring. Mist was rising from that ground like a ghost, wrapping around the cars and trees and obscuring the buildings across the narrow street.
"Brian? What's wrong?"
Justin was beside him, touching his arm, his hip. Taking the cigarette out of his hand and putting it into his own mouth.
"I don't want you smoking," said Brian, pulling it from Justin's lips. "You'll smell like smoke."
"I'll smell like you," Justin laughed.
"That's even worse," Brian snorted.
"Tell me," Justin asked. "Tell me what you're thinking."
Brian stood silently, unable to reply. But then he leaned against Justin and opened up the one thing he had left that was still shut up tight -- his heart.
"I thought I knew what my future was. I was resigned to it. I knew that I would live and probably die in prison. That one day I'd run out of what little luck I had -- and that would be the end of it. It wasn't a happy life, but I made the most of it. I knew my place in that little world. And then...."
"Then I showed up in the Quad," Justin added. "And fucked up everything."
"Fucked me up, you mean," said Brian. "You changed the game. It was no longer about me and my own survival. It was about something more. About having a future. About having... hope." Brian could barely say the word.
"Brian, your life belongs to you now," Justin said. "You can do anything you want to do. Go anywhere you want to go. Whatever you decide -- I'll back you up."
Anything Brian wanted. His choice. His decision. That was an alien notion.
"One day I want to... see the ocean." Brian grimaced. It sounded so stupid. But it had been something he'd dreamed about for a long time. "I want to see if the water is really blue -- like in the movies."
"We can do that," Justin said. "You pick the ocean, Brian. Any ocean you want."
Brian put his arm around Justin. "You say that like it's so fucking easy."
"Why not?" Justin leaned into Brian, feeling his body. Feeling his heart beating. "Why is it difficult? You're free, Brian. Believe it."
"It feels like that fog outside," said Brian. "As soon as the sun comes up it'll disappear."
"Nothing is going to disappear," Justin assured him. "I'm not going to disappear. Unless... unless you want me to?"
Brian smiled. "Only if we can disappear together. I still want to find that place, Justin. The valley from my dream. I know it's out there. Maybe it isn't time for me to find it yet. But someday...."
"We'll find it, Brian. Remember the drawing I sent you when you were sick?" Justin closed his eyes. "The two horses running together? That's the way it is. The way it'll always be. Believe me."
"I'm trying," Brian whispered. "Believing is the hardest thing of all."
"I know," said Justin. "But once you believe, then everything else will fall into place. The gates are open, Brian. The walls are down. All we have to do is run."
"And no one will chase us?" Brian pushed his face into Justin's soft hair. "No one will catch us?"
"No one, Brian." Justin opened his eyes. "That's what freedom means."
"This is what it means," said Brian, kissing Justin. "Right here. That's what I believe."
"Then that's enough," said Justin.
And it was.
Posted June 30, 2005.