kept his eyes on it, the gun, on the small dent it made on the white skin at her temple. Her hands were shaking as badly as his, and he kept thinking, It's going to go off. And on the heels of that, But it's what she wants.
Her eyes were squeezed shut; her teeth bit into her lower lip. She was holding her breath. She was expecting, he realized, great pain.
He had seen her like this before.
He remembered with great clarity a memory he had forgotten to tell Dr. Feinstein, surely his earliest one, since he was barely walking. He'd been running on the sidewalk and had fallen down. Bawling, he'd been lifted into his mother's arms, and had sat on the porch while she kissed his seemingly unscraped left knee and spread a Band-Aid across it for good measure. It was after he'd been soothed that he realized Emily was screaming, too, and getting the same treatment from her own mother. She'd been right next to him on the sidewalk, although she hadn't fallen. But on her left knee was a brand-new mottled bruise. "He cuts himself," his mother had laughed. "And she bleeds."
It had happened other times when they were children-Chris would get hurt and find Emily wincing, or vice versa-she'd tumble off her bike and he'd cry out. The pediatrician called it sympathy pain, said it was something they'd outgrow.
The gun slipped on Emily's temple, and he suddenly knew that if she killed herself, he would die. Maybe not immediately, maybe not with the
same blinding rush of pain, but it would happen. You couldn't live for very long without a heart.
He reached up with his hand and grabbed Emily's right wrist firmly. He was bigger than she was; he could draw the gun away from her head. With his free hand he pried Emily's fingers from the butt of the Colt and carefully uncocked the hammer. "I'm sorry," he said. "But you can't."
It took a moment for Emily's eyes to focus on his, and when they did they darkened with confusion, shock, and then rage. "Yes I can," Emily said, grabbing for the gun, which Chris held out of her reach.
"Chris," she said, after a minute. "If you love me, give it back."
"I do love you!" Chris shouted, his face contorted.
"If you can't stay with me, I understand," she said, looking down at the pistol. "Go, then. But let me do it."
Chris's mouth tightened, and he waited, but she would not meet his eye. Look at me, he silently begged. Neither of us is going to win. And although he was not feeling the lead of a bullet, now that he'd opened himself up to it, he could clearly feel Emily's sorrow, which made it hard to breathe and impossible to think. He had to get out of there. He had to get far away from Emily, so that he would not feel anything at all.
He STUMBLED TO HIS FEET and crashed through the shrubbery that circled the carousel, his tears making the night curve crazy. Swiping the backs of his hands across his eyes, he started to run, until he reached the Jeep.
He didn't get into the car, and realized he was waiting to hear the shot.
A half hour passed, slow and viscous, and before Chris realized what he was doing he'd walked halfway back to the carousel. He saw Emily just where he'd left her, cross-legged on the floorboards with the gun cradled between her palms. She was stroking the length of it as she might have caressed a kitten, and she was crying so hard she could not catch her breath.
Emily glanced up when she noticed his feet at the edge of the carousel. Her eyes were red; her nose was streaming. "I can't do it," she said, choking on her own words. "I can tell you to get the hell out of here, and I can yell and scream and say I want to, but I can't."
Heart pounding, Chris pulled Emily to her feet. This is a sign, he thought. Tell her what it means. But as soon as she was standing, she pressed the gun into his palm. The pistol was slick with Emily's sweat, and as warm as her own skin. "I'm too much of a coward to kill myself," she whispered. "And too much of a coward to live." She lifted her eyes. "Where do I go from here?"
Anything Chris was going to say dried in his throat. He knew that if he wanted to, he could wrench the gun away from Emily and throw it so far that she'd never be able to find it. He was stronger than she was ... and that was the problem. He could suffer; he always had been able to. It was why he could swim such a brutal butterfly; why he could wait in a duck blind in zero degree weather for hours; why he could talk himself into letting Emily kill herself. But even when they were tiny, when he saw the sympathy bruises rise beneath Emily's skin, it had hurt Chris more than when he'd actually fallen. He could stand pain, himself. He just couldn't stand hers.
Chris was transfixed by the agony he saw on Emily's face. Whatever this thing was that she could not tell him, it was killing her. Slowly, and far more painfully than the Colt would.
Chris's mind cleared with a great buzz and burst of light, the way it sometimes did when he broke the surface of the water on a winning final stroke. Just like that, it made sense. Emily was not afraid of dying. She was afraid of not dying.
In that moment, with the night shrinking around them, Chris didn't think to run, to get help, to buy time. It was just the two of them, and there was no alternative-for the first time Chris understood what Emily had been feeling. "Please," she whispered, and he realized that pleasing Emily was all he'd every really wanted to do.
He picked up the gun in his left hand, and embraced her. "This is what you want?" he whispered, and Emily, realizing, nodded. She relaxed in his arms, and that small degree of trust unraveled him. "I can't do this to you," he said, drawing back.
Emily put her hand on his and pulled the gun to her temple. "Then do it for me," she said.
She could not see his face in that position, but she pictured it. She imagined Chris the way he had been during a moment the summer before, on the tennis courts at the school. It had been a brutal ninety-five degrees, and God only knew why they'd decided to play tennis, but there they were, Emily with her wild serves going clear over to the adjoining court, and Chris running after the balls, his laughter bouncing as high.
She remembered him standing with the sun behind his back. His racquet was in his left hand, in his right he tossed a Wilson ball. He paused to wipe it across his forehead, mopping up his sweat, and then smiled wide at Emily. His voice was husky and deep, beloved. "Ready?" he asked.
Emily felt the gun touch her skin, and drew in a breath. "Now," she said.
Now, Chris, now.
He heard the words, heard Emily's voice vibrating against his chest, but his hands were shaking again and if he pulled the trigger he'd probably shoot himself and was that really so bad?
He was crying so hard at this point that when he looked at Emily from the corner of his eye, her face wavered, and he believed that he'd already begun to forget her. But then he blinked and she was beautiful and calm and waiting, her mouth parted like it sometimes did when she fell asleep. She opened her eyes and all he could see was her conviction.
"Oh, I love you," he said, at least he thought he did, but Emily heard him either way. She brought up her right hand and settled it over his, her fingers curving over his own to urge him on.
She pressed his hand, and it squeezed on the trigger, and then he was deaf and dizzy and falling, with Emily still in his arms.
Chris fell silent, and shock settled over the courtroom like a fisherman's net, drawing close all the questions that had been raised during the trial. Jordan moved, the first one to break the spell. Chris was bent over on the witness stand, arms crossed over his stomach, his breathing uneven.
There was just one way to save this case. He knew exactly what the State was going to say-he'd done it for years, himself. And the only chance he had to come out on top was to take the wind out of Barrie Delaney's sails: to prosecute Chris before she got the chance.
Jordan approached the stand, grimly preparing to rip into his own client.
"WHY WERE YOU THERE?" Jordan asked cynically. "Were you planning to commit suicide, or what?"
Bewildered, Chris looked up at the attorney. In spite of what had happened in the past hour, Jordan was still supposed to be on Chris's side. "I thought I could stop her."
"Really." Jordan snorted. "You thought you could stop her and you wound up shooting her instead. How come you brought two bullets?"
"I... don't really know," Chris said. "I just did."
"In case you missed?"
"In case ... I wasn't thinking very clearly," Chris admitted. "I just took two, is all."
"You fainted," Jordan said, changing the subject. "Do you know that for a fact?"
"I woke up on the ground, bleeding from my head," he said, "that's all I remember." And out of the blue he recalled something Jordan had said to him months before: The witness stand can be a very lonely place.
"Were you unconscious when the police arrived?"
"No," Chris said. "I was sitting up, holding Emily."
"But you don't remember actually fainting. Do you remember what happened just before you supposedly fainted?"
Chris's mouth opened and closed around empty words. "We were both holding the gun," he managed.
"Where were Emily's hands?"
"On top of my hand."
"On the gun?"
"I don't know. I guess so."
"Can't you remember exactly where?"
"No," Chris said tightly, growing more agitated.
"Then how do you know for sure that her hands were on top of yours?"
"Because I can still feel her touching me, now, when I think about it."
Jordan rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on, Chris. Cut the Hallmark Card garbage. How do you know Emily's hands were on yours?"
Chris glared at his attorney, his face reddening. "Because she was trying to make me pull the trigger!" he shouted.
Jordan turned on him. "And how do you know that?" he needled.
"Because I do!" Chris's hands clenched on the railing of the witness box.
"Because that's what happened!" He took a shaky breath for control. "Because," he said, "it's the truth."
"Oh," Jordan said, falling back. "The truth. And why should we believe this truth? There have been so many."
Chris began to rock slowly on the seat of his chair. Jordan had told Chris he'd fucked up his own defense, and Chris realized that now the lawyer was making him pay. If anyone was going to leave this courthouse looking like a fool, it was going to be Chris himself.
Suddenly, Jordan was beside him again. "Your hand was on that gun?"
"On the trigger."
"And where was Emily's hand?" he asked.
"On mine. On the gun."
"Well, which is it? On your hand or on the gun?"
Chris bowed his head. "Both. I don't know."
"So you don't remember fainting, but you do remember that Emily's hand was on yours and the gun. How could that be?"
"I don't know."
"Why was Emily's hand on your hand?"
"Because she was trying to get me to kill her."
"How do you know?" Jordan taunted.
"She was saying 'Now, Chris, now.' But I couldn't do it. She kept saying it and saying it and then she put her hand on mine and jerked on it."
"She was jerking your hand? Did she jerk your finger on the trigger?"
"I don't know."
The attorney leaned closer. "Did she jerk your wrist to make your whole hand move?"
"I don't know."
"Did her finger ever brush that trigger, Chris?"
"I'm not sure." He shook his head hard, trying to clear it.
"Did her hand knock into your finger on the trigger?"
"I don't know," Chris sobbed. "I don't know."
"Are you the one who made that trigger go off, Chris?" Jordan said, inches from Chris's face. Chris nodded, his nose running, his eyes raw and red. "Chris," Jordan said, "how do you know?"
"I don't know," Chris cried, covering his ears. "I don't, God, I don't know."
Jordan reached over the railing of the witness stand and gently pulled Chris's hands down to rest beneath his own on the wooden divider. "You don't know for sure, Chris, that you killed Emily, do you?"
Chris's breath caught in his throat. He stared wide-eyed at his attorney. You don't have to figure it out, Jordan silently implored. You just have to admit that you can't.
He was battered from the inside out, and his heart felt as if it had been trampled ... but he was at peace for the first time in months. "No," Chris whispered, accepting this gift. "I don't."
In HER LIFE, Barrie Delaney had never prosecuted a trial quite like this. Jordan had quite effectively done her job for her, up until the end when the defendant was an emotional wreck and basically recanted his confession. But he had given a confession. And Barrie was not one to quit that easily.
"A lot happened on the night of November seventh, didn't it?"
Chris looked up at the prosecutor and warily nodded. "Yes."
"At the very end of it all," Barrie said, "was your hand holding the gun?"
"Was that gun pressed against Emily's head?"
"Was your finger on the trigger?"
Chris took a deep breath. "Yes," he said.
"Was a shot fired?"
"Mr. Harte," Barrie said, "was your hand still on that gun, and on that trigger when the shot was fired?"
"Yes," Chris whispered.
"Do you think you shot Emily Gold?"
Chris bit his lip. "I don't know," he said.
"Redirect, Your Honor." Jordan walked toward the witness stand again. "Chris, did you go to the carousel thinking that you were going to kill Emily?"
"Did you go there that night planning to kill her?"
"No." He shook his head vigorously. "No."
"Even at the moment that you held the gun to Emily's head, Chris-did you want to kill her?"
"No," Chris said thickly. "I didn't."
Jordan turned, so that he was not facing Chris any longer, but staring at Barrie Delaney as he parroted her cross-examination questions. "At the end of the night on November seventh, Chris, was your hand on the gun?"
"Was that gun held up to Emily's head?"
"Was your finger on the trigger?"
"Was a shot fired?"
"Was Emily's hand on the gun, with yours?"
"Uh-huh," Chris said.
"Was she saying, 'Now, Chris, now'?"
Jordan crossed the courtroom, coming to rest in front of the jury. "Can you say, Chris-without a doubt-that your actions, your motions, your muscles, were the only things that caused that shot to be fired?"
"No," Chris said, his eyes shining. "I guess not."
To EVERYONE'S SURPRISE, Judge Puckett insisted on having summations after lunch. As the bailiffs moved forward to take Chris to the sheriff's lockup downstairs, he reached out to touch Jordan's sleeve. "Jordan," he began.
The lawyer was collecting notes and pencils and documents that had been scattered around the table. He did not bother to lift his head. "Don't talk to me," he said, and left without a backward glance.
Barrie Delaney TREATED HERSELF to a Haagen-Dazs ice cream bar. Chocolate inside, and chocolate outside. A clear celebration.
As an assistant attorney general, the only way to make a name for oneself was to have the good fortune to be next on the roster when a high-profile case happened to come up. In that, Barrie had been fortunate. Murders were rare in Grafton County; dramatic courthouse confessions were unheard of.
The whole state would be talking about this case for days. Barrie might even be interviewed for the network news.
She carefully licked around the edge of her ice cream, aware that a spot on her suit wouldn't be a good idea when she still had a closing argument to give. But as far as she figured, she could stand up after Jordan's summation and recite the alphabet, and Chris Harte would still be convicted of murder. In spite of Jordan's last ditch efforts, a jury knew when it had been taken for a ride. All that crap about the double suicide attempt which the defense had tried as a strategy, and which was just that-crap-was going to weigh heavily on those twelve minds when they retired to deliberate.
The jury had the memory of Chris saying he'd shot the girl. The whole debacle with his mother on the stand. And the knowledge that for the first three days of this trial, the defense had deliberately been lying.
Nobody liked finding out they'd been duped.
Barrie Delaney smiled and licked her fingers. Least of all, she imagined, Jordan McAfee.
"Get away," Jordan yelled over his shoulder.
"Tough," Selena shot back.
"Just leave me alone, all right?" He stalked away from her, but she was damn tall and those long legs ate up his stride. Seizing the opportunity, he ducked into the men's room only to have Selena throw the door back on its hinges and step inside. She glared at an elderly man using the urinal, who quickly zipped up his fly, flushed, and left. Then she leaned back against the door, to prevent anyone else from entering. "Now," she ordered. "Talk."
Jordan leaned against the sink and closed his eyes. "Do you have any idea," he said, "what this is going to do to my credibility?"
"Absolutely nothing," Selena said. "You got Chris to sign a waiver."
"Which is exactly what no one's going to hear on the news. They're going to assume I'm as competent in a courtroom as one of the Seven Dwarfs."
"Which one?" Selena asked, smiling slightly.
"Dopey," Jordan sighed. "God. Am I an idiot? How could I have put him on the stand without grilling him first about what he was going to say?"
"You were angry," Selena said.
"So. You don't know what you're like when you're angry." She touched his arm. "You did the best you could for Chris," she gently reminded him. "You can't win all of the time."
Jordan glanced at her. "Why the hell not?" he said.
"YOU KNOW WHAT?" Jordan began, facing the jury. "Three hours ago, I didn't have the slightest idea what I was going to say to you all right now. And then it dawned on me-I wanted to congratulate you. Because you've seen something very unusual today. Something surprising that never, ever makes its way into a courtroom. You, ladies and gentlemen, have seen the truth."
He smiled, leaning against the defense table. "It's a tricky word, isn't it? Sounds larger than life." He straightened his face in a good impression of Judge Puckett. "Very serious. I looked it up in the dictionary," he admitted. "Webster's says it's the real state of things, the body of real events or facts." Jordan shrugged. "Then again, Oscar Wilde said that the pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple. Truth, you see, is in the eye of the beholder.
"Did you know I used to be a prosecutor? I was. Worked in the same office where Ms. Delaney works now, for ten years. You know why I left? Because I didn't like the idea of truth. When you're a prosecutor, the world's black or white, and things either happened or they didn't. I always believed there was more than one way to tell a story, to see things. I didn't think truth even belonged in a trial. As a prosecutor you present your evidence and your witnesses, and then the defense gets a chance to put a different spin on the same stuff. But you'll notice I didn't say anything about presenting the truth."
He laughed. "Funny, don't you think, that I should have to take the truth and run with it to the end zone, now? Because that's all I have left, in defense of Chris Harte. This trial... unbelievably . .. has been about the truth."
Jordan walked toward the jury and spread his hands on the railing of the box. "We started this trial with two truths. Mine," he speared his chest, "and hers." He jerked a thumb at Barrie Delaney. "And then we saw a lot of variations. The truth, to Emily's mother, is that there's no way her daughter could have been anything less than perfect. But, then, we all see people the way we want to. The truth, to the detective and the medical examiner, comes from an arrangement of hard evidence. That isn't to say that the evidence might not lead them to their theory. The truth, to Michael Gold, means taking responsibility for something too horrible to imagine, even though it's easier to point the blame at someone else. And the truth, to Chris's mother, has nothing to do with this case. Her truth is believing in her son ... no matter what that entails.
"But the most important truth you've heard comes from Chris Harte. There are only two people who know what really happened the night of November seventh. One of them is dead. And one of them just told you everything."
Jordan skimmed his hand along the rail of the box as he surveyed the jury. "That, ladies and gentlemen, is where you come in. Ms. Delaney has given you a set of facts. And Chris Harte has given you the truth. Do you just blindly agree with Ms. Delaney-see things the way she wants you to see them, through her black-and-white glasses? Do you say: There was a gun, there was a shot, a girl died; therefore it must be murder? Or do you look at the truth?
"You have a choice. You can do what I used to do-what I like to do as a lawyer-just go on the facts and form your own opinions. Or you can hold the truth in your hands, and see it for the gift it is." He leaned toward the jury, his voice softening. "There once was a boy and a girl. They grew up together. They loved each other like a brother and a sister. They spent every moment together, and when they got older they became lovers. Their feelings and their hearts became so intertwined that they could no longer distinguish their individual needs.
"Then, for a reason we may never know, one of these young people began to hurt. She hurt so badly that she didn't want to live. And she turned to the only person she trusted." Jordan walked toward Chris, stopping just inches from his client. "He tried to help. He tried to stop her. But at the same time, he could feel her pain as if it were his own. And in the end, he couldn't stop her. He was a failure. He even went so far as to walk away."
Jordan looked at the jury. "The problem was, Emily couldn't kill herself. She begged him, she pleaded, she cried, she put her hand over his on the gun. She was such a part of him and he was such a part of her, that she couldn't even complete this final act by herself. Now, here's the question you face, as a jury: Did Chris do it by himself?
"Who knows, ladies and gentlemen, what made that trigger kick? There is physical power, and then there's the power of the mind. Maybe it was Emily jerking against Chris's hand. And maybe it was Emily telling him that she wanted to die, more than anything. Telling him that she trusted him and loved him enough to help her to do it. As I said, Chris Harte is the only person in this courtroom who was there. And by his own testimony, even Chris does not know for sure what happened.
"Ms. Delaney wants you to convict Chris on a charge of first-degree murder. However, to do that, she has to prove that he had the time and opportunity for reflection. That he thought about what he was going to do, that he settled on his purpose, and that his mind was made up to take Emily's life."
Jordan shook his head. "But you know what? Chris didn't want to kill Emily that night-or any other night. It was the last thing he wanted to do. And Chris didn't have time to think about what happened. He never made up his mind to do anything. Emily made up his mind for him.
"This trial is not about Ms. Delaney's set of facts, or about anything I said in my opening statement, or even about the witnesses I presented. It is about Chris Harte, and what he chose to reveal to you." Jordan slowly moved his eyes over the jury, catching each of the twelve gazes. "He was there, and he has some doubts about what actually happened. How couldn't you?"
Jordan started toward the defense table, pausing midway. "Chris told you something most juries never hear-the truth. Now it's up to you to tell him you were listening."
"Mr. McAfee certainly has a future as a novelist," Barrie said. "I was getting caught up in the drama, myself. But what Mr. McAfee was trying to do was draw you away from the clear-cut facts of this case, which he says are not the same thing as 'the truth.' "
"Now, we don't actually know if Chris Harte is telling the truth," she said. "We know he's lied before-to the police, to his parents. In fact, we've heard three different stories during this trial. The first story was that Emily was going to kill himself, and so was Chris. The second story was that Emily was still suicidal. . . but Chris was going to try to stop her." Barrie paused. "You know, that works a little better for me, because Chris doesn't seem very suicidal.
"Oh, but then Chris changed his story again: Emily couldn't manage to pull the trigger by herself, so he had to physically pull it for her." Barrie sighed dramatically. "Mr. McAfee wants you to look at the truth." She raised her brows. "Which one?"
"For the sake of argument, let's stick to Chris's last story. Let's assume that's the truth. Yet even if it is, you have no choice but to convict him. You've seen the physical evidence-which is the one thing that hasn't changed during the course of this trial. You've heard Detective Marrone say that Chris's fingerprints were on the gun; you've heard the medical examiner say that the trajectory of the bullet through Emily's head indicates that someone shot her; you've heard him give evidence of Chris's skin beneath Emily's fingernails and bruises on Emily's wrist incurred during a struggle. But perhaps more importantly, you've heard Chris Harte say that he shot Emily Gold. By his own admission, he killed her.
"A person is guilty of murder in the first degree if they intend to cause the death of someone else. If their actions are premeditated, deliberate, and willful.
"Let's think about this: Chris Harte weighed the pros and cons and then decided to bring a gun to the scene of the crime. That's premeditated. He loaded the gun. That's deliberate. He took the gun from Emily's hand of his own free will, held it up to her head, and was still holding it when the shot was fired. That, ladies and gentlemen, is murder in the first degree. It doesn't matter if he felt sorry for Emily. It doesn't matter if Emily asked him to do it. It doesn't matter if it hurt him to kill her. In this country, you can't just take a gun and shoot someone. Even if they ask you to."
Barrie walked toward the jury. "If we believe Chris now, where do we draw the line? Especially when the victim is no longer alive to testify. We'd have criminals roaming the streets, assuring us that their victims begged them to kill them, honest to God." She pointed toward the witness stand. "Chris Harte sat there and told you that he took the gun, held it to Emily's head, and shot her. No matter what else was going on around that-the emotions, the psychological mumbo-jumbo, the confusion-that is what happened. There is your truth.
"You have to find Christopher Harte guilty if the death of Emily Gold was a direct result of his actions. If those actions were premeditated, deliberate, and willful. So... how do you know without a doubt that Chris Harte's actions qualify?" Barrie crossed the courtroom, ticking off her points. "Because he could have put down that pistol. Because he could have walked away at any time. Because he was not forced to shoot Emily Gold." She stopped at the exhibit table and picked up the murder weapon. "After all, ladies and gentlemen, no one was holding a gun to Chris's head."
By six P.M., the jury had not returned a verdict. Chris was brought back to the jail to sleep. He sloughed off his clothes and crawled under the covers, refusing dinner, refusing to speak to anyone who banged on the bars of his cell.
A backbeat pounded at the base of his skull-the one thing that neither Jordan McAfee nor Barrie Delaney had mentioned. Maybe it wasn't important to them; Chris himself certainly hadn't thought about it until Jordan had jogged his memory of that night for what it really was. And it had to do with Emily.
She had loved him. He knew this; he had never doubted it. But she had also asked him to kill her.
If you loved someone that much, you did not lay that sort of burden on him for the rest of his life.
Chris had struggled with it, had decided that loving Emily meant letting her go, if that was really what she wanted. But Emily had been so selfish, she'd never even given Chris the choice. She had bound him to her irrevocably, with shame, with pain, and with guilt.
The sounds of an inmate fight breaking out one floor below and the jangle of an officer's keys were swallowed by a rage that swelled and roared in Chris's ears. In that moment, he was furious at Emily for doing this to him. For putting her own wishes before his, when he'd done the exact opposite.
For landing him in this stinking hole for seven months, seven months that he was never going to get back. For not telling him about the baby. For leaving him behind. For ruining his life.
And in that moment Chris realized that, had Emily Gold been present, he would have willfully killed her.
SELENA PUSHED AWAY her empty wine glass. "It's over," she said. "You can't change anything, now."
"I could have-"
"No," she told Jordan. "You couldn't."
He closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair, the nearly untouched steak stretched on a platter in front of him. "I hate this part," he said. "Waiting. It would have been cheaper for the taxpayers if they'd just handed me a hara-kiri sword and told me to do the honors."
Selena burst out laughing. "Jordan, you're such an optimist," she said. "One little glitch isn't going to ruin your career."
"I don't care about my career."
"What is it, then?" She studied him, her mouth rounding. "Oh... Chris."
He scrubbed the heels of his hands over his face. "You know what I can't get out of my head?" he said. "That part when Chris was on the stand, and said he could still feel Emily touch him sometimes. And I told him to cut the crap."
"You had to, Jordan."
He waved her words off, dismissive. "It's not that. It's that I'm more than twice as old as Chris Harte, and I've been married, and I've still never felt that way. Gut feeling-do I think he killed that girl? Yeah, I do. Technically, anyway. But Jesus, Selena. I'm jealous of him. I can't imagine loving someone so much you'd do anything they asked. Even if that happened to be murder."
"You'd do anything for Thomas," Selena said.
"It's not the same, and you know it."
For a moment, Selena was silent. "Don't be jealous of Chris Harte. Feel sorry for him. Because the chances of him getting that close to someone again are very slim. You, on the other hand, still have everything to look forward to."
Jordan shrugged, steepling his fingers. "Whatever," he said.
Selena sighed and drew him to his feet. "Time to get home," she said. "You have an early day tomorrow." And then, in the middle of the restaurant, she grabbed his ears in her hands and gently tugged his head forward so that she could kiss him.
Her mouth was hard on his, and her tongue slid easily between his lips. By the time Selena drew away, Jordan was fighting for breath. "What," he said, "made you do that?"
She patted his cheek. "Just wanted to give you something else to obsess about," she said, and turned on her heel, leaving him to follow.
By NINE O'CLOCK, the Hartes were ready for bed. There was no other way Gus could think of to make the morning come more quickly. She shut the light off and waited for James to come out of the bathroom.
The mattress creaked and dipped as James got under the covers. Gus turned her head away, staring out the window, where the moon was fingernail-thin. By the time it was full again, her firstborn would be serving a life sentence at the State Penitentiary.
She knew why Chris had interrupted her testimony, just as well as she knew that she'd been doing a miserable job. He couldn't watch her on the stand, each lie splitting her heart into a set of Russian nesting dolls, growing smaller and smaller until there was nothing left inside. Chris had never been able to bear seeing someone he loved in great pain.
It was why he had shot Emily.
She must have made a sound, an involuntary sob, because all of a sudden James drew her against his chest. Gus turned into the solid heat of him, wrapping her arms around him.
She wanted to get closer, under James's skin; to become a part of him so that she wouldn't have her own thoughts, her own worries. She wanted his strength. But instead of speaking she turned her face up and kissed him, her mouth raining over his neck and her hips pressing into his.
The bed, the room, was burning up around them. They scratched at each other in an effort to come together. James entered Gus within seconds, her body convulsing around his, her mind blessedly, blissfully empty.
When it was over, James stroked her damp back. "Do you remember," she whispered, "the night we made him?"
He nodded into Gus's hair. "I knew it then," she murmured. "I could feel it was different from other times. Like you'd given yourself to me, to hold."
James tightened his arms. "I had," he said. He felt Gus's shoulders quiver, and the slick of her tears against his chest. "I know," he soothed. "I know."
As THE JURY FILED INTO THE COURTROOM, Chris realized he could not swallow. His Adam's apple had lodged in his throat, and he could feel himself wheezing and his eyes watering. Not a single member of the jury looked his way, and he tried to remember what other inmates at the jail had said about that, from their own experiences-was it a good thing, or not?
Judge Puckett turned to one of the jurors, an elderly man wearing a stained broadcloth button-down. "Mr. Foreman, have you reached a verdict?"
"We have, Your Honor."
"And is this verdict unanimous?"
"It is." At the judge's nod, the clerk of the court approached the jury box and took a folded piece of paper from the foreman. He walked slowly- snail's pace, Chris thought-back to the judge and handed it to him. The judge nodded, and then sent the note back to the foreman.
Leslie Puckett glanced up, face blank. "Will the defendant please rise?"
Chris felt Jordan come to his feet beside him. He had every intention of standing up, too, but his legs wouldn't work. They lay puddled beneath the bench, his feet block-heavy and immobile. Jordan looked down and raised his eyebrows. Get up,
"I can't," Chris whispered, and felt his attorney grab him beneath the armpit and haul him upright.
His heart was pounding wildly, and his hands felt so leaden he could not even clasp them, no matter how hard he tried. It was as if all of a sudden this body did not belong to him anymore.
He could sense everything in that instant: the smell of soap that had been used to clean the woodwork in the courtroom the night before; the drop of sweat that streaked between his shoulderblades; the tap of the court reporter's shoe on the edge of her work station. "In the matter of The State of New Hampshire versus Christopher Harte, on the count of murder in the first degree, how do you find?"
The foreman looked at the slip of paper he held. "Not guilty," he read.
Chris felt Jordan turn to him, a wide, astonished smile splitting his face. He heard his mother's soft cry a few feet behind him. He listened to the roar of the courtroom, exploding in the wake of the unexpected. And for the third time in his life, Christopher Harte fainted.