He arrived at therapy a few minutes late and made his apologies and understood if they didn't see him that day. But another patient had cancelled so they could see him anyway. A few minutes later he was ushered into a weight room to begin his therapy.

His therapist was a middle aged man who was rather pleasant and friendly towards Trent. He started him out on five pound weights to see how he would do. Trent was quickly bored and wanted the ten pound weights to see how he make out. But his therapist kept him at five for the first day, telling him that when he started walking he would see the pounds would be too much.

"I can handle the ten pounds. I'm telling you sir, I can handle it." The therapist let Trent have his way only to show Trent who knew best from the very beginning. Trent set out a too fast a pace and was showing off.

"See, I told you I could do this, no problem."

"Yes, you did, but later on it's going to catch up with you and you'll be sorry that you did this, Trent. Don't forget: you've been quiet for weeks sitting still."

"I can handle this and I won't regret it."

"Okay, Trent, if you say so."

They therapy proceeded and the hour neared its end. Trent began to feel the effects of the extra weight he had pulled in the beginning. He tried not to show it but by now his feet were starting to feel like they had been filled with thousands of needles. Every time he stepped down they felt as though they were being pushed back in. He was in agony and needed his pain pills desperately. He was taking less and less, and some days was even taking none. But today he was going to need two at this rate. Walking ten feet now produced tears and by twelve feet he was openly crying.

The head nurse was feeling bad for him and quietly asked the therapist if he could stop his therapy for the day. He however explained how Trent had been with the weights and how he had insisted on the extra weights, so he had to teach Trent a lesson about listening to him today, since it was his first day. She agreed.

Trent practically cried all the way home, complaining and swearing that he was sure that his therapist personally had been trained by the Marquis de Sade at one time or another in his career. One couldn't like that without being taught by someone. He couldn't wait to tell Michael how cruel the therapist had been. But first he had to apologize to Michael. He had been such a shit yesterday. He didn't know what he was going to say to make up for his behavior.. Michael was just trying to help yesterday and he had pretty much just shut him and Tiny out. Both of them had just been trying to be nice. He didn't even know if Michael and Tiny had gone out or not, he hadn't cared yesterday. That was the kind of mood he was in. There was no excuse for it really when he stopped and thought about it. He had to think of something nice to say to Michael.

Michael finally got home from school and Trent told him that he needed to talk to him when he had five minutes. Michael agreed and said that right after dinner would be the best time because"Michael, I'm sorry about last night. I was acting and being a shit and I shouldn't have been. You were trying to be nice and were just trying to get me to go out. I was stuck in my shell last night and couldn't see it. For that I'm sorry. Enough of that. I just wanted to tell you how my physical therapy went. It was a nightmare and I swear that I had someone that had instructions from the Marquis de Sade." Michael began to laugh at Trent's description

"I am totally serious dude, This guy was totally pushing me to the max and then was laughing at me, telling me that it was my fault for insisting on more weights in the beginning of the class."

"Well, did you?"

"Well did I what?"

"If I know you at all Trent you did, you insisted on more weights in the beginning of class? Because I get the feeling that someone wanted to show off."

"I might have mentioned that thought. I could have mentioned it because it felt light, like really light, like a feather, but then as the hour went on it began to feel like a cinder block. And then I might have regretted it towards the end of class." Trent hung his head knowing that Michael had known exactly what he had done.

"Okay, so you know what I did. I was being a jock and I won't do it again. I promise to do what the therapist says from here on out and not be a jock, okay?"

"You don't have to tell me, Trent. You just have to tell yourself that, okay?"

"I get your point. Is my apology accepted or not?"

"Of course it is, stud, of course it is. I know this whole ordeal has been hard on you. I know it would be on me, that's for sure. And it's not over, because you still have all this physical therapy to go through and more surgeries and more physical therapy after those. I'm glad you're as strong as you are, Trent, you're a better man than me."

"It hasn't been any fun, I'll admit that, but it's not the end of the world either, Mikey, you know that, don't you? I have my good days and I have my bad days, right? You let me worry about those days and which one is which, okay?"

"Well, I try to but sometimes I see those bad days, and I can't help but worry about what you're going through, Trent. You know how I worry about you too."

"Try not to worry about me so much, Mikey. I'm going to be just fine in the end when this is all done, you'll see. I'll have my bad days, but I'll be okay when this is all over. I promise."

"All right. if you so say."

"Good then this conversation is over, Mikey, agreed?" Michael shook his head in agreement.

Having had their little talk, Michael made his own apologies and said he had to go and get his homework going or he wouldn't get anything done that night. He also informed him that Tiny would be coming over to see Trent since he hadn't visited him in the hospital. He knew he had to come visit him. Now he felt bad that he hadn't come seen him sooner, but he had spent most of his winter break at some girl's house away from here. He had told Michael he was in love for the first time in his life and that this was the one. She was from Colorado. He was even thinking of going there after school was done. It would depend on how things went in the next few years. Michael told Trent that Tiny was gushing every time he talked about the girl. Trent told him that Tiny gushed any time he talked about any girl. Michael said that it was different this time.

School and therapy passed for both boys and by the end of May Trent was enrolled for summer sessions and was ready to go back to school. He had lined up three classes and was looking forward to going and getting back into the swing of the academic world again. It's not that he had hated school before. He just didn't care for it. But this was different, like college. It gave him so many opportunities and endless possibilities. That was the biggest thing he found entertaining: the endless realm of possibilities. He was beginning to see where he and Michael could go in business and building houses together and that excited him.

As Michael had promised, he helped him with his homework and helped him with his physical therapy. He saw firsthand the pain he went through every day as they asked him to push his limits further and further. There were a few days that Michael put his foot down and told the therapist that enough was enough and he took Trent home in tears. Even Michael had gotten to believe that indeed the man had a close relationship with the Marquis. He seemed to smile all the time when patients cried, even more so when they all showed signs of weakness. Michael told Clay and Sarah that the man had a mean streak in him at the least. Trent had another six weeks to go and they considered finding him another therapist for the treatment that was left. Sarah told Clay that she would look into it and if she could find someone reputable, she would have him changed over.

In the meantime Michael took Trent to school and then to his therapy appointments. He left early again today, in pain and in tears, ashamed of himself for not being able to finish his full hour. He was feeling like a little baby, not being able to finish his routine with the therapist, but the weights were just too much for him. As they left, Michael cancelled their appointment for the following day, mentioning that they might be changing services due to the fact that Michael felt that the therapist was too rough on some of the patients. One thing was certain: Michael didn't like the guy.

Trent's mother found another therapist for him to try and he was glad she did. Anyone was better than the guy he was presently going to. She had made an appointment for him the next day, which Michael was glad for, because he wouldn't miss any of his therapy appointments. However, he knew that his first appointment would be an evaluation and a plan for him as to what they would be doing for the next five to six weeks. Michael was hoping they would at least decrease the weight amounts and decrease the amount of times he was spending with the weights.

Michael went up to his room and there was a letter on his bed. He was a little shocked to see that it was from the Clerk of Courts, Commonwealth of Massachusetts. His hands shook as he opened it. It was naming him as a witness and his presence was required on September 23, 2013. He felt like throwing up. He ran downstairs, looking for Clay, at this point in time he needed a father.

"Where's Dad?" It was Sarah who looked at him and saw the look on his face.

"What's the matter, Michael?" Michael handed her the letter, standing like a statue while she digested its contents.

"Calm down, Michael. It's going to be all right. Clay will either go with you or have you talk to a lawyer or both, if you want that. But whatever, he'll be here before too long, okay?"

"Okay, just call me the minute he comes in, promise me, please."

"I promise to send him straight up to your room, Michael. No pit stops, and no detours. Now go and try to relax until he gets home, okay."

Michael went up to his bedroom and waited. Then he laid down and fell asleep. The next thing he knew Clay was waking him up.

"Oh, Dad, I'm glad you're here, look at this for me." Michael handed him the letter. Clay read it and handed it back to him.

"This is upsetting you, isn't it, Michael?"

"Yes sir."

"Why?"

"I'm not sure exactly, I guess I'm going to be in the same room as my father and I'm not comfortable with that anymore. I just don't want to face him."

"Do you want me to go with you?" Michael hung his head, almost in despair over the whole situation, knowing that Mandy would be sitting with the Major in court. He wouldn't be able to sit by himself. Tears welled up in his eyes but he was damned if he was going to cry in front of Clay.

"Yes, sir, I wish you would come with me, but as my father." Clay's chest swelled with pride over Michael's comment. "I know my real one will be there, but I just don't trust him. Whether he did it or not, I don't trust him. I don't know why, but I just don't. I haven't for the past three to four years. He hasn't even tried to talk to me since my mother was killed."

"Don't worry, Michael. I'll go with you and I'll have one of the family lawyers talk to you before then. One will be there just in case you need one. Does that make you feel any better about going?"

"Dad, just knowing that you're going with me is enough for me. I really appreciate it." Michael did feel better, he felt like a hundred pounds had been lifted from his shoulders just because one of his problems had been eliminated from his life.

"If you need me before then or just want to talk about something, you know I'm always here for you Michael. I don't care what time of the day or night. All you have to say is: I need to talk to you, Dad. Got it?"

"Loud and clear, Dad, thanks again for your support, as always. I know I could count on you. It's the one thing I've come to learn here: I can count on you, without even thinking twice. It's a feeling I never had before coming here. I was never sure with my own father. It was like a game with him and I often wondered, when I wanted something or needed his support, how he was going to twist it into some kind of lesson that he thought I needed to be taught. It was never just a question of plain and simple support, or of just being there for me when I needed someone in my corner. He insisted I play sports, but he would only drop me off and never came to see me play. I often wondered what the point of having me play was. If he didn't want to see me succeed, why did he have me play? What difference did it make? I don't have those mental struggles anymore, living here. But I don't mean to be all depressing about things that aren't important anymore."

"If they weren't important, you wouldn't be talking about them right now, Michael. Apparently they are still bothering you. Don't let them. You'll never have that problem again. This house will always be your home. Whether it's you and Trent or someone else, you will always call this place your home. As far as I'm concerned, you're a Sanders. You just happen to have a different last name and I would change that if you let me."

Michael just looked at Clay, completely lost is his last statement. He couldn't change his name to Sanders. Michael reminded himself that the Major wasn't in jail yet. But he was convinced it was just a matter of time and the prosecution coming up with the right evidence to put him behind bars. The only thing that Michael didn't tell Clay was that he was dreaming again. The past couple of nights he had small glimpses of the nightmares he had had after Kevin had attacked him. He hadn't told Trent either. He didn't want Trent to worry, not with him in physical therapy and school right now. Trent had enough on his plate. If the dreams would get worse, he would say something. Right now he was just catching a small look at the dark figure, but not much else.

"Don't look so glum, Michael. You don't have to do any such thing. I merely mentioned my desire, and that's all it is: my desire. If they put your father in jail and you want to wash your hands of him, I can make that happen but that's up to you. I realize you still have a sister to be part of your family and that's important. So, you might not desire such a thing right now, but if you do ever want that, the offer is always on the table for you to accept. All you have to do is tell me it's what you want. Nothing would make Sarah and me happier than to give you our last name, Michael. There isn't one family member that speaks ill of you or who doesn't like this idea. It's been discussed with each and every one of them, including their spouses for those of them who have one."

Michael knew that he was liked by the family, but not to that extent. To be taken in as a family member was something he never expected. He was the first one that had been given that honor amongst the people that had come and gone in the Sanders family. Michael had made his mark on their hearts. He had left his heart heavily branded upon theirs and they just couldn't walk away from this one. He cleared the lump in his throat and the tears that were welling in his eyes. He stood up to avoid looking at Clay much longer.

"Listen, Dad, thanks so much for everything. Really, I mean that, but I have a hundred things I have to get done, so, if you don't mind, I'm going to get busy." Michael began picking up some books he had and sorting through papers. Clay left the room, feeling as though Michael was hiding behind a mask again. He wished so much that Michael would just give in and not be afraid to be who wanted to be. Clay felt that Michael felt that he was duty bound by birth to stand by his father, but he didn't want to. A tough place to be considering that the man might have killed his mother. The poor kid doesn't know what to think, Clay thought. He didn't know where to put his loyalties and leave them right now. He might once the trial was over.

Trent's new therapy went well on the first visit, but of course they didn't do much. Most of it was just to test Trent on where he was at physically. The therapist who tested him and was going to set up his treatment plan was surprised that he was as far along as he was. Either he was healing at a good pace or he was being pushed too hard and that was not good for the type of injuries that he had sustained in his accident and the surgeries he had been through. He was going to slow things down and stretch things out for Trent. Trent liked the sound of that. It was the first time that he actually looked forward to therapy and what it could do it for him.

It had been a good day for the boys: therapy went well and classes were going easy for Trent. It seemed that summer classes were agreeing with him and he was looking forward to going to school in the fall, hoping to return to a full schedule. He only hoped the doctors would agree to it. He knew he had some more surgeries to go through, so he wasn't counting on it just yet. But he kept his fingers crossed. If he missed this semester there would be no way that he and Michael could graduate at the same time, and Trent wanted that more than anything. He wanted to be with Michael on everything along the way. He looked forward to spending the rest of his life with him.

Michael fell asleep, exhausted from his run and just the day in general. The emotional toll had done him in the most. It had been a roller coaster day: the letter, watching Trent with a new therapist, unsure of what it was going to be like, worse or better than the last one. In the end it seemed to be a better deal than the last one.

Sleep came and the dream came back quickly, right after closing his eyes. The figure stood at the edge of his dream looking in. He seemed to wait and then moved slowly inward, growing larger in his mind's eye. Michael was certain his airflow was being constricted. A pastel transparent fluid moved and seemed to shift shape within the sockets. The hood and cloak seemed to hang heavily on a pearl gray skeleton and skull, but not in whole, only in parts. Some were covered in rotting flesh, barely hanging on, shifting easily as it moved. Darkness seemed to follow it or represent it.

Tendrils of smoke wrapped around its fingers and it pointed at Michael who started to run but could not escape. For each step he took, the black being seemed to move that much closer. The rags move faster than he could and were soon around his legs again. Chocking the life from him, being unable to breath.

The scream came from within the bowels of his very soul, feeling as though that's what had been touched. The figure ignited and burst into flames as Michael screamed again and again.

Trent, Clay and Sarah ran to Michael's room when they heard him scream, Trent got on the bed and shook Michael, trying to wake him. Michael was shaking and in a sweat. As soon as he woke, he said he felt better. But he asked Trent to stay with him until morning, Sarah nodded her approval.

"What were you dreaming about buddy? Maybe it'll help if you talk about it?"

"It was the same dream I had when Kevin attacked me, Trent. Only this time the figure exploded. He reached out to touch me and when he did his whole body just burst into flames. Everything just was consumed in flames. Like that was it. I feel like it's over with him and I don't know why I can't explain it Trent.

It was dark on Huntington Avenue at this hour of the night. However, it was still busy. The bustle of the city was still humming. After all, it was a Friday night and one o'clock in the morning was barely the same as five o'clock in the morning. He looked haggard and worn, almost unrecognizable. The last four months had been rough, and the alcohol and drugs had only made things worse. Not finding work had driven him over the edge of despair. People avoided him as much as they could if they saw him coming down the street. Part of the unnamed, the homeless, the unwanted, on the outskirts of society's acceptance. Tolerant only to those that had enough heart to look them in the face and feed them a free meal. But those people could go home to the warmth of a safe haven and a comfortable bed, forgetting the nameless face they fed earlier. Free from having to sleep on the hard mattress of cement that was his last night. Perhaps the world was catching up to him and dealing him his due. Call it karma, call it what you want but his deeds in life were catching up on him. Those that he had hurt had forgotten him mostly. Here he was now, being avoided, unwanted and untouched by human compassion. The loneliness was often deafening to him. He supposed some times that he was getting what he deserved. That fueled his drinking and drug use even more.

He stepped off the curb without looking and the bus couldn't stop in time. A move he would not have made a few years ago but his judgment and common sense were past their peak. He was thrown onto the road and before he could get himself up or move, he was run over by a taxi that attempted to make the light before it changed to red. The passenger in the back seat was thrown to one side as the cab rolled over his body. The sensations made the cab rider immediately throw up, knowing that they had just run over a human being. Kevin Cranston was dead.

Michael's dream was significant only to him but he didn't realize how much, until Detective's Charlie Ryan and Brandon McQuire showed up to the Sanders residence the following afternoon. They relayed the news to Michael that Kevin Cranston had been killed the night before and the approximate time of death. Michael looked at Trent and realized that the time of death and the time of the dream were the same.

Was his gut right about his father and who killed his mother? How could he be wrong? It simply had to be his father, there just wasn't any one else that had the time and motive as far as he was concerned.

The only thing that remained a question was: could there be someone at work that had it out for his father and perhaps that for some reason they wanted his mother out of the way. Perhaps a jealous husband? Could the Major have been involved with another woman at work? That was just out of line for the Major, it was out of character for him. Even considering to have an affair would have been unthinkable. Even to Michael the idea was just absurd. He would never jeopardize his career that way. He had worked too hard and too long to throw it all away on an affair. Michael had heard his father more than once talk about other men who had been passed up for promotion due to the fact that they had had affairs in their careers and had been careless in people finding out. It was another reason he didn't want to do an in depth interview with a reporter. He didn't want a reporter digging into his family, his god given family anyway. If it was about the Sanders it might become another. Michael knew it was possible.

The trial was approaching faster than he wanted it to, as was school. The doctors weren't giving any word to Trent yet as to whether or not he would be given the green light to go to school or not. He wasn't happy about it at all and wondered if he should lighten the school load, considering the trial.

He talked to his school advisor and then talked to Clay. His advisor suggested dropping a few classes between the trial and trying to graduate with Trent. He insinuated that it sounded as though the doctors were going to postpone Trent's return to school another semester, especially with the surgeries and the physical therapy he would have to go through. Michael agreed. He just hoped that Clay would agree with him and his decision. He'd bring it up after dinner tonight with Clay and inform Trent at the same time. He just hoped that he could last that long without telling Trent before then.

He knew Trent would be insanely happy when he would tell him that he was postponing his graduation one year for him. Michael struggled through dinner. He had told Joshua what he had in mind because he had to tell someone his plan. He couldn't go all afternoon without telling someone.

"Dad, I went to see my advisor to talk about some things. With the trial coming up and Trent having more surgeries I've lightened my load. I won't graduate until the spring of 2016, along with Trent since they won't let him go back to school again in the fall like he wants to. If we both want to graduate at the same time, I've got to lighten my work load. There's no way I'll be able to concentrate on school while this trial starts, Dad. I know you want me to finish school and not put it off but I think you'll agree that this year has been hard and just too much..."

"All right, Michael, you've made your point and you win your argument. You two can graduate in 2016 instead of 2015. After our last conversation about the trial, I think you're right. There's no way you're going to be able to handle both and carry any decent grades. I would dump as much as you can this semester. You should be all set by spring semester to be able to do things again and handle your regular workload, both you and Trent."

Michael had convinced himself that Clay wouldn't go for the idea but apparently he was okay with it. Michael was delighted that it had been this easy talking to Clay. He figured he would have to argue with the man he had come to respect. Having dodged the bullet on an argument with Clay made Michael feel one hundred times better than he did when he sat down to dinner. Trent was on top of the world.

"Oh Mikey, this is awesome. You can lighten your load some and stretch it out. I know it's not ideal and you'd rather take four years to get your degree and not five. And part of this is for me. Sometimes I forget how much you love me. This is one of those times that reminds me how much you sacrifice yourself to make me happy and you do it in so many ways without expecting anything in return from me. How about if I take you out tonight and we go to the movies? It will be a nice diversion from the regular routine we've been having lately."

"Sounds good to me, I'll let you treat tonight too, just to make you feel better! How's that sound?"

"Oh, that's cute, really cute, sweet cheeks."

"Yea, I'll give you sweet cheeks, smart ass, you think you're so damn cute sometimes."

"Excuse me boys, there are people at the table still. Must we have this tit for tat go round?"

"No mam, sorry Mom. See, you get me in trouble all the time."

"You're the one that gets me in trouble, so don't even go there with me, Michael Evans. By the way, once we get married, are you gonna change your last name to Sanders? Or are you keeping your last name?" The room was silent and seven pair of eyes fell on Michael. He looked up and glanced from one pair to the next.

"I... I... can I have time to think about that one, Trent. You haven't asked me that one yet and to be honest with you, we haven't discussed it either. And why is it that I have to change my name, what's wrong with you changing your name?"

"Well, I asked you to marry me, that means I'm asking you to take my name."

"Oh really, it does, does it? The last few words out of Michael's mouth were frosted with ice. Several of the remaining family members looked at each other and decided that here was not the place to be at the moment. Perhaps another room in the house would be a safer and much quieter atmosphere in the next hour or so. Yvonne decided she'd check in on them in about twenty minutes and make sure they were still standing and talking to each other. As she left the room she hugged Michael.

"I love you, but take a deep breath before you kill him. Sometimes, you know, he doesn't put his brain in gear before he talks." Michael couldn't help but laugh with Yvonne over her candor about her older brother. As much as she picked on him, she idolized Trent and hoped that one day she was as strong willed as he was and just as compassionate in her beliefs.

"I'll be gentle on him now since he still mending and still has surgeries to go through, so I'll be extra nice and take care of him and when he closes his eyes, I'll beat him within an inch of his ever loving life!"

"Hey, now wait a minute, Michael Wayne Evans, I'm a nice guy, I'm always a nice guy."

"Excuse me while I fall off the chair from laughing my ass off, Trent. Nice guy, all the time... I seem to remember a time when Mr. Grumpy Pants lived amongst us. Can you remember that particular period of time Trent?" A sheepish look crossed over Trent's face and he smiled devilishly at Michael knowing that he was referring to the orderly in the hospital and his striptease act, and how much fun that had been for the both of them.

------------------

The balance of the summer passed by without incident and school started. They both were enrolled to start classes. The twenty third was looming closer and Michael was sleeping less. Four days before the trial began Sarah could see the change in Michael and the way his face was looking a little gaunt, she wondered just how much weight he had lost

.

"Michael, how much weight have you lost in the past couple of weeks?" At first he didn't answer her. He wasn't sure. He hadn't gotten on the scales lately, but he knew he had. He didn't want to lie to her but he didn't want to tell her the truth either, because he knew she'd start to worry about him.

"Not enough to worry about, Mom. Honestly, as soon as this is over I'll be fine. I'll put the weight right back on again. I promise to work on trying not to lose anymore."

"I want a hug Michael Wayne, right now." Michael knew he was going to get caught. He had lost more than he was letting on, almost fifteen pounds, and had sworn Trent not to say anything until he had time to gain some weight after the trial. Sarah wrapped her arms around Michael and knew instantly he wasn't telling the truth.

"Michael Evans! Off with the shirts! I just want to see how skinny you are. Right now, no ifs, ands or butt's, buster, right now." Michael slowly took off his shirt and heard Sarah gasp in disbelief of his weight loss.

"Claymore Jackson, get in here this minute. I have something I want you to see." Without saying anything further, she took both of Michael's shirts from him and let him stand there and watched Clay's reactions as he turned the corner. Clay stopped dead in his tracks.

"Trent Nicholas, downstairs, NOW." Michael cringed, knowing that he had pleaded with Trent not to say anything about his weight loss.

"It's not his fault. I made him swear not to tell you."

"Silence, Michael." Michael crossed his arms in front of him, unsure of what to do. Clay was mad and it was the first time he had seen him this way. Trent came down the stairs slowly and noticed Michael had no shirt on. Suddenly he realized how gaunt Michael really looked. He knew by the look on his father's face that he was in trouble.

"Dad, Michael made me ....."

"I ought to smack the both of you, but you're too old for that. Michael, didn't I tell you that, if it started to get to you, to come and talk to me and I'd do whatever to make sure you were okay? Did I not say that?" Clay looked at Michael and began walking towards him. Michael stepped back, not being used to Clay's anger. What he was used to was his father's anger and wrath. Michael withdrew against the wall, scared and trembling.

Sarah witnessed the interaction between her husband and Michael and didn't understand Michael's reaction to his movement; it was something her children hadn't done because they knew their father wouldn't hurt them in any way. It took her a few seconds to realize that Michael was recoiling in fear of being beaten.

"Clay, stop." Clay looked at Sarah, not understanding her motive for interrupting. Michael was afraid that he had royally screwed up. He didn't know whether to run or stay and get yelled at. He had been eating, but he just seemed to keep losing weight the past two weeks. He knew he was just worrying about the trial and, once it was over, it would go away but in the meantime that's how things were. It was that simple. Didn't they understand that? Clay seemed to catch the look on Michael's face and realized the problem. He immediately toned it down for Michael's sake.

"Trent, why didn't you tell me about this? Look at him. He's lost at least fifteen to twenty pounds and that's a lot on Michael. Michael you can't afford to lose that much. You might think so, but you can't. That's why you're wearing two shirts lately; you're trying to hide it. I love the both of you, but you're not thinking. Michael, you need your strength for the trial. It's going to be hard enough on you as it is. If you're underweight that's not going to help you either."

Sarah walked up to Michael and put her arms around him. He didn't need yelling or screaming, he needed reassurance more than anything.

"It's going to be all right. You're under way too much stress. There's school, the trial is coming up, there's Trent, you're worried about and more surgeries and more physical therapy. You're not just worried about the trial coming up, you're worried about the outcome and what it could possibly mean to your life as you know it. Whether your father is innocent or guilty, it's going to have an impact and you know that, Michael. You can't tell me that it isn't eating away at you right now. The trial and your father and the outcome are in your brain twenty four seven, right, Michael?" Michael just looked at Sarah and she knew she was right.

"I want you to drop everything you have at school, Michael, I'll go with you and if we need a medical note I'll get Dr. Davis to write one. As a matter of fact I'll just have one with us so we don't waste time." Michael didn't even want to argue. "One less worry would be good right now. The same goes for you, Trent. I want you here with Michael twenty four seven. He's your new job: get him to eating before this trial starts. I'll talk to Josh about making some things that might help you gain some weight. And Trent, call your doctors and tell them you need letters excusing you from your classes so we don't lose anything."

Clay went to Michael and handed him his shirts.

"I wish you had come to me, Michael. I would have listened and given you options. I'll never tell you what to do, just what your options are. That's my job. Just, sometimes I yell. But one thing is certain: don't ever think I would hit you."

It was the loose bolt in Michael's armor. He burst into tears again and he hated himself instantly. He always hated himself when the tears just started. His father had been relentless in telling Michael that real men don't cry. The Major would belittle Michael because he would be ashamed of himself for letting his father down, but the Major wasn't aware of that. He just saw the tears and refused to let Michael be such a, what The Major considered a pansy. Clay took him in his arms and tried to tell Michael that everything would be okay. They would eliminate as much of the stress as possible.

By the time September twenty-third rolled around Michael had lost even more weight. If he had gotten on the scale that morning he would have seen that he had lost twenty one and a half pounds. It was a good thing that Sarah and Clay hadn't made Michael get on that scale. Trent knew that Michael had lost more weight, but was feeding him as much as he could and Joshua was helping him without much success. It wasn't doing any good. Michael was under too much self-stress to gain any weight at the moment.

--------------------

Believing that his father was guilty of killing his mother, Michael couldn't bring himself to look at the man. How could he be so cold? The few moments that Michael looked in his direction, Michael saw his father and could tell that he had aged considerably in a year's time. His face looked a little more ragged and his hair a little thinner. His anger at his father boiled steadily and Michael wondered how long he could sit there, remaining quiet. He was grateful that he was flanked by Clay and Trent. He was positive either one would prevent him from moving in any direction.

The opening argument was basically aimed at Michael's father. He was after all the only suspect the state of Massachusetts had. It may have been mostly circumstantial evidence but there were some very compelling issues that had come to light during the investigation that had certainly made one wonder about his secondary motives behind killing his wife if indeed he was found guilty. Kevin Cranston was dead but evidence still fell upon him just as it did on Frank Evans. For both it was all circumstantial but it was there, and the suspicion still fell upon Kevin, leaving room for reasonable doubt where Frank Evans was concerned. He could still be found guilty just as Frank could be found guilty.

The trial began in earnest the second day and Michael was called to the stand late that afternoon. He was grilled as to his location, what had happened leading up to the party, why he hadn't he talked to his parents in those months, what caused the fight that drove him out with his father.

His sister was called to the stand on Wednesday morning and her short appearance at the party was analyzed by both lawyers.

"Why, Miss Evans, did you leave the party almost upon arriving, knowing your mother was coming?"

"I was going to Hampton Beach for the weekend for the parties that were going to be up there."

"So after a year's time of your brother not seeing your mother, you decided to leave early? I would have thought you would have wanted to see what happened between the two of them after not talking for a year. Weren't you the least bit interested?"

"I was but I wanted them to have..."

"A simple yes or no Miss Evans will do ...."

"Yes"

"But you left early, Miss Evans?"

"I .."

"That will be all, Miss Evans.

"The State would like to call Dillon Masters to the stand."

Michael wondered who this was. He had never heard the name before. He looked at his father and the man seemed to turn an ashen white all of a sudden. What would he have to do with any of this? Michael knew he was about to find out.

"Mr. Masters, what is your job in the Army?"

"I'm the private driver for Major Evans, sir."

"Just a driver, son?" The young army private was obviously nervous, sitting in the witness box and being questioned as he was. He eyes were steel blue with a touch of grey. In the brightness of the courtroom they still sparkled. His complexion was spotless and he was dressed in regular street clothes, not in military attire.

"Yes sir, just a driver for the major, sir."

"Do you run any errands for the Major at any time?"

"I have on occasion run a few errands for him, sir."

"Is that part of your normal job description, Private Masters?"

"Well, sir, my job is to keep the Major happy and do whatever he needs done or take him where ever he needs to go. I spend the day sitting around while he works, basically on standby, just in case he needs me for whatever. The first hour I spend at the garage, making sure the car is running well, so that it doesn't have any problems should I have to take him someplace during the day. I rarely spend an hour at the garage. That only happens about once a month and then it's only to exchange one jeep for another."

"That's all you do?"

"That's about it: I take him wherever he wants to go and wait for him and bring him back."

"You two must spend a lot of time together?"

"You might say that, I guess?"

"Share a lot of stuff with each other?"

"Yes."

"Well like what exactly, Mr. Masters, personal stuff? I'm sure two men like you and the Major must talk about things that are bothering you, right? Major Evans must have said something about his son and the problems he was having with him? Or the problems he was having with his wife after his son left home."

"Well, he did mention some things about that, but I didn't press the issue when he discussed it. It was whenever he brought it up. I just listened."

"You just listened and said nothing. I find that hard to believe, Mr. Masters. I would think that Major Evans would have asked you for some kind of input, knowing that you are closer to his son's age. Perhaps you could shed some light on what his son was thinking. After all, kids today aren't thinking the same way kids thought back when the Major was a kid. Is that a safe way to put it, Mr. Masters?"

Private Masters was certainly beginning to see where this conversation was headed and understood what the District Attorney wanted him to talk about.

"The Major did ask me what kids my age thought about kids that are gay today compared to kids twenty and thirty years ago. I told him it's a lot different. It's a lot more accepting. Kids today are a lot more open about it. They even go to the prom together and date openly, both guys and girls while in high school. The Major had a hard time understanding the issue. I tried several times to make him see it differently, for the sake of his son.

"Just for the sake of his son Mr. Masters? Is that the only reason?"

"I don't know what you mean, sir."

"Let me be very direct Mr. Masters. What is your sexual orientation?"

"I don't feel that has any bearing on this ..."

"Just answer the question, Mr. Masters. What is your sexual orientation?"

"Your Honor, I don't think I need to answer that question."

"Your Honor, I wish to show that his answer has direct bearing in this matter."

"Young man, you will answer the question or you will be held in contempt of court." Dillon Masters sat in the witness box, fuming at being forced to answer a question that at any other time he would have been more than happy to let people know what the answer was.

"I'm gay." It was a whisper. Michael could barely hear it, but he was pretty sure of the answer before he said it.

"Could you speak up for the court please, Mr. Masters."

"I'm GAY."

"Was the Major aware of your orientation, Mr. Masters?"

Dillon Masters began to squirm in the seat and began to sweat as well. This line of questioning was going in a direction he didn't like all of a sudden. He realized that things could blow up in his face and alter his career in the military. This was not what he had planned. He had just wanted to help his boss understand. This was not the outcome he wanted.

"Ah, he is now, only because of our conversations."

"Are you sure about that, Mr. Masters? You sure he wasn't fully aware of how you felt exactly?"

"Yes sir, positive."

"I want to remind you that perjury is a very serious crime, Mr. Masters and carries a sentence of time in jail. Are you ready to go to jail, Private Masters?"

"No, sir, I'm not"

"Does the Linda Hotel mean anything to you?" Dillon Masters' face went sheet white. And he was completely silent.

"I'll ask again, Mr. Masters. Does the Linda Hotel mean anything to you?"

A very meek response was barely heard from the witness box.

"Yes"

"Would you care to explain its significance?"

"The Major and I would meet there."

"Why would you meet the Major there?"

"For sex."

Michael stood and screamed at his father in horror and in disbelief. He struggled to get at him, wanting to beat him, Clay grappled with Michael, trying to keep him in the bench and away from his father. Clay was convinced that Michael would have killed him if he got a hold of him. He could feel Michael's fury and rage. And Clay couldn't blame him. He was feeling the same rage and anger as Michael. For treating Michael the way he had and then to have had sex with a kid the same age as Michael and Trent was absolutely despicable and immoral. Clay would now protect Michael with every fiber in his body.

"All this time you let this go on, and you've been having sex with someone old enough to be your son. You sick mother fucking scum sucking fucking asshole. And she's dead because you were out having a sexual affair. I hope they kill you. I hope you fry!"

"Michael! Sit down!" Clay was trying to get Michael to sit down as was Trent.

"ORDER, ORDER IN THE COURT!!" The Judge slammed his gavel on the bench, trying to restore order, as people yelled and looked in disbelief at the Major and the Private who wept openly in the witness box. Policemen were desperately trying to get everyone to sit down. The secret was out: Frank Evens had been having sex with another man, a very young man, while driving a family apart and allowing a woman to be killed. Whether he actually pulled the trigger or not, his actions may just as well have caused it. Trent finally got through and Michael broke down. He sat down in the bench and started to cry.

"This court will be in recess until one o'clock this afternoon. The number of officers in this court will be doubled at that time. I do not want a disruption like that again in my court room. Is that understood?"

Clay and Trent remained seated in the courtroom with Michael in between them, both holding onto him tightly. They waited until the courtroom was almost empty, making sure that Frank Evans was gone as well as one Dillon Masters. Michael's face was completely red with rage. He was literally biting his tongue and almost drawing blood in order to keep his mouth shut and stay quiet. Neither Clay nor Trent said anything, both knowing that nothing needed to be said. Michael did however hold onto Trent's hand and stayed with him. Trent was grateful for that one concession on Michael's part.

They left the courtroom and went outside to a band of reporters. Clay had been prepared for that and body guards from the company immediately threw a shield around the family and brought them to an SUV with tinted windows. This was a time that Michael appreciated the comforts of money and what it meant. He wasn't sure if he'd ever get used to having the kind of money that Trent grew up in but he could see it's privilege more and more the longer he stayed with the Sanders. He guessed that he was just getting used to it with Trent and him being around each other all the time. The SUV pulled away from the court house and merged into traffic. Michael leaned against Trent and closed his eyes as Trent put his arm around Michael and tried to comfort his best friend. Trent had never seen Michael stand up and become so vocally abusive towards anyone before. He was both proud and shocked at the same time.

They went out to eat and for once Trent was glad to see that Michael made an actual attempt at eating something. And he ate everything that was served to him. That was one thing that truly amazed Trent the most: that nothing was left on Michael's plate. That was a first time in weeks. They returned at one o'clock.

You could feel the electricity in the courtroom and the extra presence of the police was undeniable. The judge had not been kidding and the entire force had doubled in number since they had left earlier that morning. All had night sticks and all of them were carrying them. They were in their hands, out and ready for use if need be. You could feel the tension in the air between the cops and the people in the courtroom. It was almost as to see who was going to snap first.

It seemed to pick up where it left off, and Dillon Masters was called back into the witness box.

"Mr. Masters, so we now know that you and the Major were meeting at the hotel to have an ongoing affair?"

"Yes sir"

"How did you feel about that, knowing how he felt about his son?"

"Our relationship had nothing to do with his relationship with his son.

"He supposedly hated his son for being gay, and yet here he was, having a gay relationship with you. How does that make you feel?"

"What has that got to do with this at all?"

"Perhaps you felt enough love for the man that you wanted his wife out of the way and that's why you killed her, son."

"I didn't kill her. I don't want that old man for the rest of my life. I don't love him. He's the one that was chasing me."

Michael had jumped over Clay and was three quarters away his father before the cops could stop him. There was pure rage in his heart. Trent was three feet behind him, trying to reach him, but the cops had already stopped him.

"Order in the court," the judge screamed again, just as he had earlier in the morning.

"You hated gays. That is what you always said and you're one yourself. All those years I beat myself up because of the things you said about ... what is wrong with you?" Frank Evans stood still, saying nothing, just looking at Michael. Mandy sat next to their father, looking at him, wondering why he had lied like he had.

"Come on, Michael, you're more of a man than he'll ever be. Don't waste your time or breath." Trent was the one that got through to him. He left the court room. He hadn't been called and they could come and find him if they needed him. He wasn't going anywhere, but he was definitely not going to sit in the same room as that man that had fathered him. Because that was all he had done as far as Michael was concerned. His whole life had been a lie, all those years beating himself up mentally. All those years lost in solitude, feeling at a loss for being less of a man according to his father's words. And they were one and the same, they were kindred spirits. All this time, a lifetime wasted on feeling guilty and for what? Because he felt less of a man himself. Michael had lived his father's guilt all those years, why?

Michael sat in the lobby but was never called as a witness. Clay came out, got the boys and headed for home as soon as the court was over for the day. Trent took Michael upstairs as soon as they got home. As best as he could Clay relayed the story and shock to Sarah. She decided to call Dr. Davis to the house. By the time Dr. Davis had arrived Michael had taken a Xanax to get himself calmed down. He hadn't taken any in a long time but this was a time he knew he needed one. He had to stop the emotional turmoil in his heart. Michael felt like he was going to explode. Sarah sat with Michael and Trent while Dr. Davis was there. Clay sat in the study, trying himself to calm down. He clutched once at his heart as he slumped silently sideways in his leather chair.

The Xanax finally began to work on Michael and he was able to calm down and actually asked for something to eat. Trent was the one that went with him to the kitchen. On the way down he just wanted to check and see if his Dad wanted anything to eat. He entered Clays study and froze on the spot. Trent screamed for help immediately.

"Call 911, call 911, Dad's down in his study." Sarah came running through the door. Trent was trying to get Clay to lie on the floor in order to give him CPR. He remembered it from a class they had taken on it, it was best to get the person lying down on a hard surface.

"Michael, help me get him on the floor. I need to give him CPR. Come on, Michael".

Michael didn't move at first until Trent looked him in the eyes and then he seemed to connect and Michael moved across the room. Trent checked for a pulse and found none. He began compressions immediately.

"Michael, when I tell you breathe into his lungs; give him a good breath." Trent counted, one two three. "Breath, Michael." Michael gave Clay a deep breath and Trent resumed giving compressions, he was getting tired but knew he had to continue until the paramedics came and relieved him. That was the most important thing he learned about CPR: never give up until someone comes to relieve you. The clock was ticking and Trent knew he couldn't stop, but he was getting tired and the clock kept ticking. This was his Dad. There was no way he was going to stop.

"Trade places with me, Trent." Michael moved up and took Trent's place and started the compressions that Trent had just finished. And Trent resumed the breathing that Michael was doing.

Trent and Michael were both relieved to hear the ambulance pull into the driveway with the siren blaring. The paramedics entered the house. Michael didn't know how much longer he would be able to keep up the required rhythm. As young as Michael and Trent were, CPR turned out to be physically demanding. By the time the paramedics arrived and took over, they were both exhausted.

Within minutes the paramedics had a heartbeat and Clay was talking. Sarah was by his side as were the boys.

"Why didn't you yell for us or at least throw something?"

"I didn't have time. The pain came and I was out. It was just unbearable. I couldn't move or say anything when it hit. I held my chest for a second thinking it would pass and that's the last thing I remember."

"Please, everyone, we have to get him to the hospital. He's had a major heart attack and time is of the essence. Do you have a preference as to what hospital he goes to or just the nearest one?

Dr. Davis spoke up.

"I know time is important, but he's on the board at City Hospital. He'll get the best care and treatment there, even if he needs surgery today. And if you take the Mass Pike you'll be there in a few minutes, gentleman. It's on the outskirts of Boston and at least not right downtown like so many are."

They wheeled him out of the house and into the ambulance. Within seconds the ambulance was gone and out of sight and sound.

"This can't be happening, Trent. Not now, not when I need him the most."

"Michael, I'm here for you and the lawyer will go with us for however long the trial takes. Nothing is going to happen. We will stay away from your father. You will take your pills in the morning before we go to the court. Dr. Davis has already said that he will go with us if need be and talk to the judge. You might not get called at all for anything. You didn't see anything; you were only at the party. The only thing they might have called you for was to talk about the fight you and your father had when you left the house and came to live with me and my parents. And I don't know if that it's going to matter, after what has happened."

"I can't believe after all these years, Trent, that he's been gay. What the fuck has he been thinking and not coming to me and at least saying that he understood. He might not have had to tell me he was gay, but if he had just said I understand, I would have felt so differently about him. Now, now all I can do is hate him. I'll never have him in my life, Trent, or our lives I should say. He's written himself out of it. The best thing that I can do for myself is to turn the page on him and forget him. He made me suffer all those years, thinking I was such a disappointment to him because I was gay, because of the ways he said he felt about gays. Repeatedly Trent, not once, not twice, but over and over again he said it, throughout my life he said it. He made me feel like there was something wrong with me as a child. And if he had any idea that I might be gay, even just kept it up and for what? And that brings up the question: did my mother know? She couldn't have. She couldn't have known that he was having an affair with that kid. For Christ sake's, Trent, what in the hell was he thinking doing that? Do you think that kid might have killed my mother?"

"I don't think so, Mikey. I think that kid got used by your father. I think your father uses people when it's convenient for him to do so and he gets what he wants out of it. I think that kid got hit blindsided, Mikey. I don't think he ever saw the fact that he would be accused of murder. I thought he would shit his pants when the prosecutor accused him of that. He turned completely white, Michael. I watched him, he didn't do it."

"Everything was such a blur. I don't what to think I remember anyone being called up except him. I barely remember Mandy being up there."

"Well, I do, Michael, and honestly, I didn't like what she said and how she acted."

"She was nervous."

"Mikey, think about this: did you really see Mandy here at the party for any length of time?"

"We were all busy greeting people, and just having fun, Trent. I couldn't tell you how long anyone was here, never mind my sister or your sister. The only person I'm only half sure of is you and me and that's it. Everyone else, your parents, your brothers and sisters and the rest of the family, I couldn't even begin to tell you where in the hell they were."

Michael was getting defensive now. This was his sister they were talking about. Mandy was just not capable of murder and he knew it. She was the other half of him and this he knew for sure: She was not capable of murder any more than he was capable of it, and especially murdering their mother. Perhaps killing someone in self-defense would be one thing for them, but to kill their mother, that was unthinkable. Mandy just wasn't capable. Well, she was capable when he thought about it, but she just wasn't the one that had done it was all he knew. That left the Major and Kevin Cranston. Which one was the killer? That was all that Michael wanted to know.

Michael and Trent left for the hospital to see Clay and find out what was going on and how serious the heart attack was. Upon their arrival Clay was going through tests and Sarah wasn't sure as to what was going on. They were checking to see what kind of blockages Clay had, and to see if bypass surgery was necessary. Sarah had been crying as had the rest of the family that had been there. Most of the kids had been in and out of the chapel in the hospital, praying for Clay's safe and quick recovery. Michael and Trent made their way to the chapel at Michael's request.

"Come on, Trent, you and I haven't been to church lately, with school and everything. It's the one place we've been avoiding for whatever reason I'm not sure. We need to get there and do some soul searching and say a few things on Dad's behalf. Ask the man upstairs for a huge favor right now. We need him, I know I do right now. I know you don't know this, but I asked him to give me away at the wedding since I didn't have anyone to do that. He said he'd do it for me."

Trent looked at Michael as they entered the chapel and kissed him.

"I think it's wonderful that he's doing that for you, Michael. I can't think of anyone better to do that than him. He thinks the world of you since you moved in. You moved into the house and then into his heart, I know that much, Little Buddy." Trent used the name he had given Michael but hadn't used in a long time and this time Michael had taken it without fuss. There were times that he actually liked it, Trent just had to figure out the right times.

They sat in the chapel and prayed not just for Clay, but for the outcome of the trial, although neither stated the obvious of that fact. It was weighing heavily on Michael's mind as well as Trent's but Trent didn't want to bring it up, especially now that his father was in the hospital. Their silence was interrupted by Stephen and Peter.

"The doctors are in the waiting room and they have news. Come on you two." Michael and Trent left the chapel and followed Stephen and Peter closely, not wanting to miss anything that the doctor's had to say to them. Only a few of the children weren't there and those that weren't were on the way from where ever they lived.

"He's stable right now, but he's going to need surgery. He's going to need a triple bypass surgery. I'd rather not risk just putting stints in and find out they aren't enough. Stints are fifty-fifty at best. I'd rather do surgery, but if you tell me as a family you want me to use the stints, I will. But if this was my father, I'd be asking for surgery and that's my professional opinion. I'll give you ten minutes to discuss it and I'll be back for an answer after that. Please discuss it; this is important. Yes, stints are the easy way out, but not always the best answer. I'm telling you as a friend, Sarah, I recommend the bypass. I'll be back." With that Dr. Elwood left the room for the Sanders to discuss what course of action they were going to decide on. It was Sarah who spoke first.

"I know this is going to sound a little crazy, but hear me out, all of you. Listen carefully. All of us are very emotional right now. We need a clear head. I think the clearest head we have right now is Michael. What do you think, Michael? What should we do? I'm asking you for a decision."

"Mom, you can't put this on me. That's not fair."

"I'm not putting anything on you. One way or another, a decision has to be made. We as a family still have to decide on it after you decide. But give us your reasons, as to why or why not. You have a good mind, Michael, and I trust it. Just think about it for a minute. And then we'll talk about it. Will you do that for me?"

"I suppose, if you put it that way, as long as I'm not the one making the final decision."

"You're not."

"Judging from what Dr. Elwood said I think the bypass should be what we talk about. The stints are fifty-fifty. I don't like the odds. If the bypass are better odds for him and a healthier outlook, and longer life, than what's there to think about, guys? This is a no brainer! I think we should let Dr. Elwood perform the bypass he recommended. And being selfish, I just asked Dad to give me away at the wedding, so I want him standing there. So you better all agree." Michael turned away and the tears flowed too easily for him. He couldn't bear the thought of losing the man he had come to love and respect, more so than his own father. Stephen spoke up first.

"Michael's right, this is a no brainer, Mom. Dad needs that bypass. I don't want a fifty-fifty chance; I want something more than that. Dad would want more than that and you all know that. So there's nothing to discuss as far as I'm concerned. Let's vote, all those who say bypass, raise your hand. Every one raised their hand. Michael didn't see the vote, he was still crying in Trent's shoulder. But he raised his hand and he knew Trent had raised his. He just assumed that everyone raised theirs.

"That settles it then. When Dr. Elwood comes back in we'll tell him that Dad needs a bypass as soon as possible, I'm sure it will either be today or first thing tomorrow morning. They know he's on the top floor and that might make a difference, but getting a staff together at this hour to perform surgery might be questionable at best. However, the man has friends in many places and once most of them know who is in need of surgery, most will want to assist in surgery."

At seven o'clock that evening Clay's surgery began. Now they needed prayers to get him through the surgery. Modern science was one thing but the Sanders believed in pray just as much right now and that's what Clay needed, just as much as a good surgeon. The surgery seemed to go on forever, but finally the doctor came out and assured them that Clay was out of the woods and would be placed in ICU as soon as he woke up from the anesthesia and could count from ten backwards. Sarah was allowed to go in and see him while the anesthesia wore off, so she could be there when he woke up the first time.

"Hey there, tall dark and handsome. If you're trying to scare me, you just succeeded. Don't do that again ever, that's an order from the kids. They are on baited breath, waiting to see you. And if you're trying to get out of giving Michael away at the wedding, this is very lame and it's even worse getting out of all that fun and excitement of the trial. I think Michael feels partly responsible for this Clay. After all, you were at the trial today and you yourself said there was a lot of excitement. And don't bother trying to say much of anything, buster. You need your rest. The kids want to see you and I hate to tell them no, but they won't be seeing you for a day or two. Can you deal with that, not seeing your kids for a few days?"

Clay just shook his head to the question. Right now he was having trouble just nodding his head to his wife. The women he loved with every fiber of his being. He had done so ever since they had met as teenagers so many years ago. To him she was the same girl now as she was the first day he met her. Gone were the lines she carried so well, the subtle weight that she carried from having all the children but she had worked that off every time. He didn't know how she had done it. And always with a smile on her face. Never once complaining. He knew the early years had been tough and lean. Stephen was almost fifteen when it got easier, and Susan was nineteen when life got good. He had made her trust fund the largest. It was the last four that time was on their side, who got trust funds when they were first born. Clay began to think it was time to retire. Regardless of what the doctors had to say, he could arrange things so that he could work one or two days a week until one of the younger ones might take over or he just sold everything. He had considered selling a few months ago and knew the business could be sold for over two billion, leaving the entire family never having to work again if they decided they didn't want to.

Clay knew that most of the boys wanted to work as did the girls, if not with the company then in their own enterprise. He was so happy that Michael had gotten to Trent about designing and building homes. It was something that Clay saw great potential in his son and with Michael by his side as his partner in business and in life they'd make a winning combination. He only had four more kids to worry about and he wasn't that worried about Randy and Yvonne for some reason. He had this wonderful nagging feeling that both of them wanted to take the reins of the company when the time was right. Clay couldn't put his finger on it, but he was almost positive that Randy wanted to step into his father's footsteps and Yvonne wanted to do something with the company too, just not the same as Randy. But Clay didn't know that yet and the kids weren't sure of their futures in their father's company either. And they wouldn't until he mentioned retirement. He would definitely be delighted when they would step forward and announce their combined effort to run the family business as the next generation of Sanders takes the helm of a vast enterprise, hopefully assuring them a step into the future of business. Unbeknownst to his father Randy's young mind was indeed fertile with ideas and desires to see his father's company expand and see growth in the years to come. With growth being given to the newest technologies the places his father had the insight to invest in heavily and now it was time another Sander's had the same insight and visions as Clay. Only Randy had visions of things yet to be and the ways to get there and the understanding of making them happen.

News spread quickly that Clay woke up and was speaking to Sarah. The kids were ecstatic and some decided to go home since they couldn't see him today. Just knowing that he had survived his heart attack thanks to Trent and Michael was enough for most of them. Some stayed, hoping to see him before the end of the night. They were sent home by their mother who, at midnight, said enough was enough and that they shouldn't wait any longer. They would see their father the following day.

The day came early, and Michael and Trent snuck in early to see Clay, even earlier than Sarah had gotten up that morning. It was the boy's intention to get in to see him before they went to court. They were hoping that today would be the last day and that the jury would leave by the end of the day to make a decision.

"I hear I owe my life to my favorite sons" Clay looked at the two of them with great pride. He meant what he had said. They were his favorite sons.

"But don't tell anyone or I'll have to kill the both you and then there goes that wedding! You two need to get to the court room, I can see the time. My lawyer will be having a fit, wondering why you're not there already. But I'm sure they aren't going to call you, Michael. I don't know what light you could possibly shed on the whole thing. You weren't living at home at the time, you weren't speaking to your parents. You just found out yesterday about that kid and your father. And I want to tell you: the trial has nothing to do with this heart attack, Michael. What happened, happened. It's that simple. So don't go reading anything into this. Do you understand me, Michael Wayne? Don't you dare think this into something that it's not?"

"Dad I can't help but think that the things that went on in that courtroom had a little something to do with your heart attack. Don't try and tell me any different. Heart attacks are brought on by major stress, and I would count yesterday as major stress. Don't even think otherwise. Close your mouth or I'll ask Stephen and the Doctor to come in here."

"Stephen wouldn't be here this early"

"I'm sorry, but Stephen wouldn't do what exactly?" Clay was surprised to see his eldest son at the hospital at this hour. "I'm here to make sure someone follows the doctor's orders. I know someone who has a tendency to not do so when the spirit so moves him."

"I don't know what you're talking about, Stephen Thomas Sanders. I follow the doctor's orders every time he tells me to do something."

"And the last time you saw a doctor he said he wanted to see you in six months for another checkup. Three years have passed since then, Dad. So much to listening to what the doctor's telling you to do."

Clay couldn't argue with Stephen. He knew he was right. Even at his growing age of fifty-four, Clay Sanders suffered from the same as most men his age suffered. They had basically experienced a healthy life, they had a tendency to think of themselves as indestructible until something like this rocked them to their very foundation. Clay had been rocked this time. But the doctors were optimistic on his outcome from the surgery and his chances for recovery. They didn't need to tell him that he was going to have to take it easy. He had already decided that he was going to do just that. He'd decided he would punch the clock once a week just to keep his fingers in the business. But what else he was going to do with the business, he wasn't sure yet.

"I have to ask you something, Stephen. Do you think there's any chance of one of the boys walking in my shoes or should I just sell the business and make sure the entire family retires comfortably?"

"I think you need to talk to Peter, Randy and Danny, Dad. Those are the last three and Danny and Randy are still young. I'm not sure if they've even considered it, but I haven't lived at home for a few years, so how would I know for sure about that?"

"You might not have lived at home, but you still talk to your brothers and they might say things to you that they don't necessarily say to me. I'm sure you know how that goes, Stephen."

"I do Dad, and I'll say this. You haven't considered Randy or Yvonne for taking over, but I think the pair of them will do well if given half the chance. Randy has some ideas now that sound almost impossible to me, but with technology the way it's going I can't believe he's that off from being right."

"Do you know enough to give me a sketch idea of what he is thinking or am I not allowed to ask?"

"I think you should ask Randy and Yvonne together Dad. One goes with the other if you ask me."

"Well, I'll be honest. I thought about them as a team before, but then Danny made some comments and I wasn't so sure. But I thought I saw some sparks between the two of them some time ago, when it came to business agenda's, as young as they were at the time. I think of all my children those two are the most predisposed to be in business and be in business together."

"I think you're right, Dad, but I want you to talk to them together with Mom around when you talk to them."

"Make it happen for me, Stephen, and soon. Not that I'm thinking I'm going anywhere soon, I don't. But I have some ideas and some things I want put in motion before the board meets in two months. I'm going to need all the family to vote with me on a few things, so just know the next board meeting I want everyone there. Please pass the word to your brothers and sisters. This is a command performance, due to their shares in the company. They'll basically be paving the way for Randy and Yvonne to step at a very young age, but I think it's what the company needs right now, Stephen, in order to keep moving forward with technology. We need to tap into what's still in high school and younger. Not what's coming out of college now. They are all ready to old for what I'm thinking."

"Okay, Dad, I think you've had enough business for today. I want you to relax and just take it easy. How about we take a walk down the hall and back?"

"Sounds good, it will get my mind off the trial and wondering how it's going.'

"The boys promised to call me the minute they were out of court for any breaks today. I'll keep you posted with any updates, Dad, promise."

Stephen assisted his Dad getting out of the hospital bed and they made their way for the hallway. Clay wasn't sure if he could actually make the entire walk today. He was already feeling tired and they had just gotten into the hallway. Stephen's cell phone rang halfway down the hallway.

"Are you going to answer that or help an old man to an early grave? I want to make sure that Michael is okay, Stephen." Stephen looked at his father and for the first time realized just how great the love he had for children went.

"I'm answering right now, grumpy pants, hold on to your IV pole a minute." Stephen stopped and let Clay take a hold of the IV pole as he answered the phone.

"So what was the outcome today, Michael? Did you have to get on the stand? If I don't tell Dad something in about one more minute, on top of a heart attack he'll be having a stroke on me." Stephen listened as Michael explained that only a few more things had come to light and that it looked as though tomorrow would be the end of the trial part and that it would be handed over to the jury for deliberation at some point in the afternoon, unless something that was earth shattering happened in the morning. Stephen was relaying as fast as Michael was telling him. Clay was relieved at the news from Michael. Michael told Stephen that they would be back at the hospital as soon as the trial was over for the day.

Michael and Trent went to lunch during the two hour recess that the judge had declared.

"I wish this was over with, Trent. I just want it over with. I want to see him fry."

"Michael, he may be the one, he may not, we don't know yet. What if he isn't, Mike? What are you going to do?" It was a name that was foreign to Michael. It was one that Trent never called Michael. It was either Michael or Mikey but never just Mike. It caught him by surprise and off guard.

"In all the names you call me, Trent, you never call me Mike. How come now Trent?"

"I don't know Mikey. It just seemed to fit this time. But seriously, if your father is found innocent and someone else is guilty, what are you going to do?"

"I told you once already, Trent, my father and I are done. We have nothing else to discuss in life. If what that kid said is true, then that must mean that he has been hiding being gay all his life which I can understand. What I can't understand is treating me the way he did all my life. Why wasn't he more understanding about the whole issue? I mean, he didn't have to shout it out to the world, but he could have taken me aside at a younger age and explained things to me that might have made me feel differently about myself all this time. I wouldn't have hated being who I was. Being afraid to make a mistake for fear of him finding out. I spent so many years paranoid that he would find out and throw me out long before I actually left. And now I realize that none of it was necessary to begin with. I lived my life in a shell, in fear, afraid of everything. I walked on egg shells for so long, I still do. Not nearly as much as I used to but I did for years. And for what? For his self-imposed exile into hell? Why did he have to take me with him? I was born this way, same as he was. And he knows what he did, just like I know what I'm doing. He'll never be part of my life or ours I should say, Trent. And if we are lucky enough to have children, then they won't know who he was either. He'll be a grandparent that died before they were born, end of conversation, Trent."

"You can't lie to them if we have kids Mikey, you can't."

"Trent, if you love me you won't fight with me over this. This is not up for discussion or debate. When this is over he no longer exists in my book. He's dead, buried and gone."

"What if one day he just shows up and we have kids that are say in their twenties or a little younger, then what will you do?" Trent looked at Michael not wanting to fight with him but hoping Michael would have a bigger heart than his father had had in life, and let his children see it."

Michael stood from the table they were at and stepped a few steps away, turned and looked at Trent.

"I'm done with him, Trent. Nothing you can say to me will ever change that. Don't try and use children. I don't have to change my mind, it will never happen. Drop the subject, seal it, forget it. Bring it up again and we will have a problem, Trent."

He had never seen Michael like this, had never seen that rage come up or be at the end of it. Trent decided that today was a good day to forget it all and just go on with life as they knew it. Perhaps there would be another day to cross that bridge, today was not that day and he knew it. Trent paid their lunch bill and caught up with Michael.

"I'm sorry, buddy. I went too far and you've said it before where you stood with your father. Sometimes I don't know when to quit. I just want our kids to see what kind of heart their father really has as opposed to the one their grandfather had. There's a world of difference and about three million apart from one another." Michael looked up at Trent and realized again why he had fallen in love with this man.

"Maybe someday, big boy, but today is not that day, I'll give you that much." Trent felt perhaps a small victory had been reached between the two of them. Michael realized Trent was right and Trent began to understand that Michael still wasn't going to be pushed into anything. But for now they had court to attend. Trent was hoping it would be over soon and they would be able to move on with their lives. Not only had it taken its toll on his lover physically, but emotionally Trent had never seen Michael so torn. He couldn't understand what was bothering him. He just knew that something Michael was thinking about he wasn't sharing with Trent, in any way, shape or form. Trent wanted to hold him as tight as he could and vanquish all of Michael's problems. Little was Trent aware how torn Michael was between his family members at this very moment. But he had to make sure before he just blurted it out. He just wasn't sure how to find out what he wanted to know. He didn't know if he could find proof fast enough, but that was what he really wanted to do. He considered the lesser of the two evils that flanked him on either side. But Michael knew who did it. And it made him sick to his stomach.

 

Mikey

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