All right, so here it is: the long-promised excerpt from St. Jude. To set up, this is a conversation between a lawyer, Justin Tower, and his wife over morning breakfast. I’ll let it roll from there…
“You care more about your paper than you do me.”
He feigned hurt. “That’s not true! How could you think such a thing?”
“It is true.” She ran a finger by her nose, as if wiping a tear.
And so it began. The best advice he gave his clients was this: you’re innocent. Don’t let them make you feel guilty. He practiced it diligently.
“No, Muffin. You know I could never love anything the way I love you.” He held onto the paper.
“That’s not saying much.”
A touch! A palpable touch, he thought. But it was humor. And it was best he quit while he still had the chance. “Well, there you may have a point.” He folded the paper and set it down.
She smiled slightly, obviously not too proud of her victory. “I was saying the Ferguson’s have invited us to dinner on the fifteenth.”
“Oh, Mary. Not the Ferguson’s!”
“Well why not? We hardly see them anymore.”
“Well that’s because John Ferguson always hits me up for advice about his ongoing lawsuit. I told him months ago he should’ve settled out of court.”
“They’ve had a rough time of it.”
“I know. Everyone knows. They’ve made sure of that.”
She took a sip of her coffee. “I’m sure it’s just his way of making conversation.”
“I’m sure it’s just his way of hitting me up for free legal advice. Perhaps I should take up tort. Then we can go to their house for dinner and bill him for it all at once.”
She threw a napkin at him. “You’re incorrigible!”
He didn’t answer. Marilyn watched him pick up the folded newspaper slowly, frowning. He stared down at the article. It was just a small item, barely an announcement.
CONVICTED SEX OFFENDER RELEASED. Wellsleyville, NY. Convicted Sex Offender Jude Potter has been released, according to a statement issued by the New York State Department of Correctional Services. Mr. Potter completed an eight year prison sentence on Thursday. When asked about Mr. Potter’s whereabouts a spokesman for the Department of Corrections declined comment, saying only, “Mr. Potter has been informed of his responsibility to register as a Level II sex offender.”
“What is it, dear?” Marilyn asked.
He said nothing, but tipped up the headline so she could read it. Her eyes flared. She twisted the napkin she held into her fist and glared at him. He shook his head. “It’s not him.”
She released the napkin and fumbled with her coffee before spilling a few drops onto the linen table cloth. The liquid soaked into the white and stained it dark. He set the paper down and came over behind her.
“It never ends.” She glanced up at him and patted his hand. He bent down and kissed her forehead.
“I know.” He sat down next to her. “I’d take it all back if I could.” She said nothing. Both glanced up as their son entered the room.
“Hey Sport,” Justin said. “Good morning.” He quickly folded the newspaper article and set it face down on the table. Marilyn glanced warily at her husband, then met her son’s eyes.
“Mornin’.” Sean Tower leaned over and kissed his mom, and snuck a slice of bacon from her plate.
“I saw that.”
Sean slipped the bacon into his mouth and took a seat between his parents. He helped himself to some of the eggs and pancakes in the center of the table.
“So,” said Justin, “what’s on the docket for today?”
Sean dropped a pat of butter on his pancake and smeared it in. “Don’t know. Thought I’d wing it.”
“Don’t you have practice today?”
“Yeah. I wanted to talk to you ‘bout that.” He dabbed his pancake in the syrup. “I’m—I’m thinking about dropping out.”
Both parents exchanged glances. Justin said, “Why would you want to do that? You love football.”
“I dunno. I’m just not into it.”
“Well, what about going for scholarships? We talked about this. Football can open a lot of doors for you, Sport.”
“I don’t know if I want to go through those doors, though.”
“Well—I still think you should keep your options open. You’re still seventeen, Sean. You’ll think differently when you’re twenty.”
“Keep the football. Finish out the season. And then we can talk about it over the summer.”
“What’s to talk about? You’re gonna force me to do it.”
“Sean—” Marilyn chided.
“I don’t want to! Why can’t I do what I want to do? It’s my own life!”
A muffled rendition of George Michael’s I Want Your Sex rang from his coat pocket. He reached in and muted the cell phone. “I gotta go.”
“Who was that?”
“Nobody.” He pushed away from the table.
“Was that that Thomas character?”
“What if it was?”
“I don’t like the look of him.”
“You don’t know him. You don’t even know him, and already you judge him. Why? ‘Cause I like to hang out with him? You already control what I do. You gonna control who I hang out with now?”
“Just sit down.” Justin’s voice was firm. Sean shoved another piece of bacon in his mouth and pushed past his father.
Sean shrugged him off.
“Sean!” He called after him. “You’d better be at practice today!”
There was no answer but the slamming of the front door. Deflated, Justin sank back into his chair. He ran a hand over his mouth. “We’re losing him, Mary. We’re losing him and it’s all my fault.”
“It’s not your fault. He doesn’t blame you, and I don’t either.”
“I blame me. I should never have taken that case.”
“You couldn’t have known. Justin Tower, you are the best defense attorney in the county. Warren Meeks asked you for a favor.”
“I should have turned him down.”
“You were doing your job.”
“My job was to be Sean’s father. And I failed to protect him.”
She was silent for a moment.
“I’m sure this will all work out. He’s just confused right now.”
He stared after his son, his heart aching to chase him down and make it right, but knowing it would only make things worse. “I know,” he said.
Sean flung himself out of the house, feeling the eyes of his parents bore a hole in his back. Why did he have to say anything? Why not just keep his trap shut and head down? Why? Three steps off the porch he turned and pushed his way up the sidewalk. He doubted he could move much faster without breaking into a run.
A familiar face peered back at him from a lithe figure leaning against a tree. A grin spread over his face, and he did break into a run.
“Thomas,” he said. He chugged up next to him.
Tom peered at him from half-lidded eyes. “Hey,” he said. He wore a light shirt under the dark leather jacket Sean had picked out for him last Christmas. It still fit him like a glove. Sean traced the curve of his torso with his eyes, following it down to the blue jeans and worn loafers. He felt overdressed in his varsity jacket, khakis and blue oxford.
“You look good.”
Tom answered by flicking his tongue over his upper teeth and winking. Sean’s pulse quickened. “Come on.”
Tom tossed his head, throwing his reddish bangs out of his eyes. “What? No kiss?”
Sean glanced back nervously. “Not here. ‘Rents.”
Tom snorted. “’kay. I’ll try not to take that personally.” He pushed away from the tree and joined Sean on the sidewalk, letting his left hand fall to where Sean could take it when he felt safe.
Not that he ever would.