Chapter 1

Potter County District Courthouse

Amarillo, Texas

April 4, 2016

 

Five-year-old Logan Sherrill couldn’t get the pictures out of his head. Daddy ignoring him, the mean-looking judge, Mommy staring at Daddy’s back, Nana dabbing at her eyes, Mommy turning off the TV fast when Daddy came on the screen.

He snuggled under Mommy’s arm. She didn’t respond.

His world no longer made sense. His head screamed with pain. The mush rumbling in his

tummy threatened to soil his clothes. Fear had invaded his peaceful world and refused to leave.

***

Struggling to get her breath, Debra Sherrill squeezed her eyes shut, blacking out the courtroom. The love in her heart struggled to beat down the dread that threatened to overwhelm it, tried to assure her this whole proceeding was nothing but a nightmare. She bit her lower lip hard, hoping the physical hurt might dull the emotional pain. It didn’t.

“Nana?”

She looked toward the voice and reached for Logan’s hand, but he clung to his mother, so she patted his knee. “You okay?”

He nodded, mute.

“I love you.” Debra stared at the little boy—Nick’s brown hair and eyes, Amber’s pale skin. Once again, she bristled at the thought of Amber bringing him with her.

“Love you too, Nana.”

Debra stared at the back of the bench in front of her. She hadn’t been able to sit on the front row. She needed a buffer, something to soften the blow, although she knew that was ridiculous. Someone had scratched the dark varnish. Just a single line, but the scar looked deliberate. It cut too deep to be an accident.

***

Amber Newberry, or Sherrill, depending on whether she was on stage or off—or maybe just on her mood—felt Logan’s nervous little body and Debra’s disapproval. She’d counted on Nick, given him this son, planned to ride, with him in tow, to the pinnacle of stardom. Stardom in a career she’d put every ounce of her energy into without even so much as a pat on the back from the breeders that must have missed a pill nine months before her birth. Well, she wouldn’t let whatever happened today stop her. She should have known that she would never be part of a happy, stable family. She should have known Nick would let her down. Men did that. And now she had to contend with the little warm presence under her arm. She was tough. He would be too. She’d show her fans that she wasn’t only a fabulous singer/songwriter, but a devoted mother as well. The band sat with the reporters and cameramen in the seats behind her. They’d step up to be her family now. They needed her.

***

Nick Sherrill had never been more scared in his life. The attorney standing next to him, waiting for the bailiff to remove the cuffs, attempted to exude confidence. Nick knew the attitude was all for show. Hell, the man didn’t even convince me I didn’t kill Preston Archer. And I didn’t—I don’t think. How in God’s name has my life gotten so screwed up?  He rubbed his wrists. I’ll likely have a long time to think about it. The door opened, he was escorted to the defendant’s table and sat, not looking once in the direction of his family. He couldn’t.

***

 

The jury entered. Only a couple glanced toward the defendant. Debra had heard somewhere that if the verdict was guilty, the jurors wouldn’t face the prisoner. Her breathing got quicker, shallower.

“All rise.”

Her moist hands grabbed the back of the bench in front of her, and she pulled herself to a standing position. The judge seated himself while she stared at Nick’s back. Her little boy—a future ballplayer, or professor, or businessman, or scientist. His rounded shoulders gave him the look of a defeated old man, not the robust look of a confident first baseman intent on a major league career. They sat.

The judge’s voice was far away. The foreman’s distinct.

“Murder?”

“Not guilty.”

 “Manslaughter?”

“Guilty.”

Then more talk and the judge retired to his chambers. Nick was ushered out a side door. They waited—a long, numbing wake for the life stunted in its twenties and the other three pulled along for the grim ride. Then once again they all rose and sat.

Debra held tight to her hope for leniency, trying to sort through the monologue on irresponsible musicians and drugs and role models and wasted lives, until two words smacked her in the gut: “twenty years.”

All the color drained from Nick’s face. He was escorted from the room.

 “Daddy!”

Debra pulled the little boy to her. “He has to go.”

“Why? When will he come home?”

Debra sat and looked Logan in the eyes. “Not for a very long time.”

Logan burst out sobbing. Amber stared straight ahead, her face a blank mask.

How could any of this possibly be happening? Debra rubbed the scar on the bench in front of her claiming its misery for herself.

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