Moment before Tobias Beecher heard the verdict that would change his life forever, he sat at the defense table with his own lawyer by his side who gave him a reassuring smile. He tried to return the smile, but he couldn't. He was troubled. The way some of the people in the jury had looked at him, with unconcealed disgust, frightened him. He tried not to let on how scared he was, especially not in front of Genevieve. She'd been sitting right behind him and he turned around and looked at her. She gave him a smile mirroring that of his lawyers and this time he forced himself to return it. He reached out to her. She reached out to him. Their hands touched briefly as he felt the warmth of her skin in his. It gave him hope. Hope that he would be with her again, holding her in his arms, and that this whole sordid affair would be over. She mouthed, "I love you," and it made him feel better than he had all day. With Genevieve by his side, he felt that maybe he could get through this okay. He was sorry about Cathy Rockwell, he really was, but he didn't want to spend the rest of his life paying for a mistake. A mistake! He hadn't meant to hit her, god no. She just came from out of nowhere. What the hell was she doing, riding out in the middle of traffic anyway? She-
His thoughts were cut off as the jury re-entered the courtroom. Tobias faced them, silently praying that they would see things his way. He hadn't meant to kill her! He hadn't!
The bailiff took a folded piece of paper from the jury foreman and handed it to the judge. The judge took it wordlessly and read what was written there, then handed it back to the foreman.
"The jury has reached its verdict?" she asked.
"Yes, your honor."
"How say you?"
"We find the defendant, Tobias Beecher, guilty of Vehicular Manslaughter."
Tobias felt his world crumble at his feet. Guilty. Oh god. The judge polled the jury one by one. All of them said the same thing. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Tobias thought the words would never stop ringing in his ears. It was all he could do to keep collapsing back in his chair. His lawyer saw his distress and whispered into his ear.
"Don't worry, Tobias. I'm filing an appeal as soon as the proceedings are over."
Tobias nodded numbly. An appeal, of course. Hope wasn't dead yet. There was still a chance he could get out of this mess.
The judge thanked the jury for their good work. Tobias looked up at her and saw a smirk of satisfaction crossing her face. It shocked him. He wasn't used to being on the receiving end of such unbridled contempt. He couldn't fathom someone being happy that his life was going to be destroyed. He could hear Genevieve sobbing quietly in back of him.
On the last night he was to spend with his family, he and his wife had both been tense and anxious all day.
After dinner, they'd played with the kids and Tobias helped her tuck them into bed. He stroked his baby's silken hair and kissed him gently on one of his fat, rosy cheeks. The baby moaned a little in his sleep. Tobias felt a lump collect in his throat, full of his unshed tears. He wouldn't get to see his littlest, his baby, taking his first steps, wouldn't get to hear his first words (he'd had an ongoing bet with Gen on what the baby would say first, "Mama" or "Dada" and he felt sure that he would win.
He stroked the baby's cheek one last time. It was so soft, his skin so fresh and sweet. He looked like an tiny, perfect little angel. How could Tobias tell his son that the world could be a very ugly place? It could strip away your innocence and leave you a cold, bitter shell of your former self. It could take the light out of your eyes and leave them dull and blank and dead. It could end your life before its time-
"Stop it Toby," he admonished himself, "This wasn't your fault. It was an accident, goddammit!"
An accident, yes, that had been helped along by his drunk driving. Deep down he, of course, knew that. He just wasn't ready to face it yet, couldn't face it yet. Tomorrow, yes, maybe tomorrow, but tonight was for him and his family.
He went to the room he and his wife shared. She was already in bed but not asleep. She watched him as he came in. He thanked God that he hadn't been taken into custody immediately. The judge wanted to, he could see it in her cold glare, but his lawyer convinced her that Tobias wasn't a flight risk. Tobias figured that maybe his stunned expression had been enough to show her that he had enough trouble trying to wrap his mind around his sentence with out trying to make a quick escape. Truthfully, the thought never crossed his mind. He'd still believed in the justice system for which he worked. He wouldn't be convicted. But, if he was convicted, he could still appeal. But, by some slim stretch of the imagination, his appeal was rejected, he couldn't see doing much time. Two years max, time served, good behavior… He'd be back at home with his family before he knew it, his lawyer would see to that. He was as well rehearsed at bending the law to his will as his client was.
But he had been convicted. And his appeal had been summarily rejected. And he had gotten real time, eight years. Not a lifetime, but no walk in the park either. Eight years. His kids would be in their teens. They wouldn't know him anymore, nor he them. The law that he'd worked so long and so hard failed to work for him.
He climbed into bed next to Genevieve.
"Is the baby asleep," she asked.
"Um hmm, he's such a little sweet pea. I wish I'd spent more time with him, with all of them."
"Yeah," Genevieve replied, "You know, I could have used your help with a diaper or two." She laughed trying to brighten the mood. The tension was thicker than cordwood and she knew if it didn't ease up soon, she would start to scream. *Then*, she thought wryly, *they'd have to spend their last night together putting the kids back to sleep.* Toby smiled slightly, then took her tentatively into his arms. She pulled away.
"What is it," he asked, frowning.
*Jeez, do you really have to ask?* she thought. What she said was, "Nothing."
Tobias sighed heavily. "Sweetheart, listen to me. This is going to be the last night we spend together for …a long time. Can't we just try to make things okay between us?"
"Okay, between us? Aren't you really trying to say, 'Gen, I'm not going to get any for awhile so could you be a dear a please put out before I'm carted off to prison?'"
"Gen!" Tobias was nonplussed. He'd never heard her so angry, so bitter. Even when she was her most pissed at him, it was softened by her unwavering love for him. He didn't feel that softening now, and the fact that he'd put that hard edge in her voice made him feel sad and guilty…and himself bitter. God, he wanted a drink.
"Gen, please. I- "he began but before he could finish she was throwing herself in his arms, sobbing and talking all at once. Saying she didn't mean it, saying she loved him. Saying she was sorry.
"Gen, I need you right now. I need you."
"I know, but I…I just…I can't touch you know it's going to be the last time. I don't want to be reminded of how much I'm going to miss you."
"Oh sweetheart, it won't be the last time. I'll come home…soon. We'll be together again. Gen, don't let me go to that place without a beautiful memory to hold onto, without feeling your heart beat next to mine, without feeling your kiss on my lips."
"Toby…" she was still reluctant, but he could see her resistance was weakening. He knew that, she wanted him as much as he wanted her.
"Please Gen. Please…I need you. I love you so much. Please." His voice was plaintive and small and desperate and she couldn't deny him any longer. She gave in, pressing her lips to his in a kiss that promised escape from his inevitable fate, at least for a few hours. Afterward, they had cried in each other's arms.
"I love you Toby," she sighed, holding tightly to him, as if afraid he would suddenly disappear if she let go. "I love you so much. Please don't leave me. Don't leave us."
"Honey, I wish I didn't have to. I wish that more than anything in the world. God, I'm so sorry that this happened." Genevieve said nothing, just held him tighter. They tried to just enjoy being together. With tremendous effort, Tobias attempted, for the twentieth time that night, to push the thought of what would happen the next day from his mind. Thankfully, it had retreated for awhile when he and Genevieve made love, but it was back again. The next day, he would be carted off to prison with no fuss and no fanfare. In less than half a day, he wouldn't be him anymore, Tobias Beecher, lawyer and family man. He would be a number. As he finally managed to drift off to sleep, his last thought was, *God help me*.