Excerpt from Taking the Stand

“Diamonds and denim?” Mason grips the steering wheel as fat flakes of snow splat on the windshield of his Subaru. “What kind of a prom dress am I supposed to design around that theme?”

Sketch cracks up in the back seat. “Better take cover, Jonathan. Mason’s about to fire his Tim Gunn at us.”

Nobody loves giving Mason shit more than Sketch. Theirs is a decade long friendship based on varsity level insult volleyball and the bond formed by being the first two students suspected of being queer at our school, East Bay Christian Academy. It’s a title Mason wears with Pride with a capital P while Sketch still refuses to label herself, insisting she is who she is and she’ll date whoever the hell she feels is worth dating, which—so far—is apparently no one. And me? I’m relatively new to this trio, not to mention being out publicly.

Mason taps the brakes and the car slows slightly. “I take it you’d like to walk to work then, Frances?”

“Call me Frances one more time and—“

“You’ll what? Flick your paintbrush at me again?”

I smile and glance out my passenger seat window as Mason navigates his car through Uptown Minneapolis. In an unpredictable world, I can always count on Mason and Sketch to argue.

Sketch takes another jab. “I don’t see what the problem is. You could buy denim material on the cheap and BeDazzle the shit out of it. Jenna’ll still look gorgeous no matter what.”

A few weeks ago, during the Gay-Straight Alliance fundraiser at the homecoming dance, Jenna Stevens won the bid for a one-of-a-kind haute couture prom dress designed by none other than Mason Kellerman, the self-proclaimed future winner of Project Runway, and he’s been obsessing over the dress ever since.

“You try to get a needle through denim!” Mason glances at his thumb like he’s picturing the puncture holes already. He looks over at me as he turns onto Lake Street. “What a joke. Why don’t we just rename our prom the East Bay Hoedown and be done with it?”

I don’t care what they call it. I have no intention of ever attending another school dance, but I don’t tell Mason that. “You’ll design something beautiful. You always do.”

He smiles and pulls into the parking spot nearest Young at Art, the trendy art studio where Sketch works for Simon, my former camp counselor, and his fiancé, Dawn.

“You should come in and say hello.” Sketch taps my shoulder.

This again. Sketch’s campaign to get me over my lingering anger at Simon. “Pass.”

“C’mon, Jonathan! Everything turned out okay in the end. And Mason, it’s full blown wedding central in there. You should see Dawn’s dress. Ivory leather with fringe and hand-beaded symbols on the bodice and sleeves.”

“Did you say hand-beaded?” Mason is already out of the car and sprinting toward the store. Actually, he’s sliding toward it. Sprinting’s not really possible in Minnesota on late November icy sidewalks.

Sketch leans up from the backseat when we are alone in the car. “Dawn’s parents have agreed to come for the wedding and one of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe elders is going to perform the ceremony with Pastor Jane. I’m telling you, Dawn is beyond excited.”

“Good for her,” I say, and I mean it. I know how much Dawn has wanted her parents to accept the fact that she’s a Christian. As much as I’d like my parents to accept the fact that I’m gay. “I’m happy for her.”

“Why don’t you go tell her that yourself? And while you’re at it you can say hello to Simon.” She challenges me. “You know you miss him.”

Sketch is right. I do miss Simon, but it’s hard to get past the fact that he kept an important secret about my boyfriend, Ian, from me and now my relationship status has sunk to phone calls that never get answered and texts that never get returned. Still, I suppose it’s not entirely Simon’s fault. “All right. But just for a little bit.”

“That’s all we’ve got. Toddlers and Pottery Training begins in twenty minutes.”

Sketch and I walk past the storefronts that share the block with Young at Art. Past the coffee shop and the beauty salon and the clothing boutique.

“Hang on,” Sketch says. “I want to buy a pack of gum before my shift. Nothing like it to bribe two year olds to sit still.” Sketch ducks into the convenience store next to Young at Art and I wait at the counter while she debates the merits of sugar-free verses fruit-flavored.

“That’ll be three dollars and forty-four cents,” the clerk says.

Sketch hands him a five-dollar bill and waits for her change while I glance at the magazines and newspapers in the stand.

She jumps when I lunge for the copy of the StarTribune. “What are you doing?”

I slap it on the counter next to her three-pack of Stride and she stares at the picture, obviously a mugshot. “Holy shit!”

“There’s nothing holy about that shit.”

Then Sketch is flinging the change at the clerk and picking up the newspaper and tugging me out of the store. “Don’t worry. Simon will know what to do,” she says.

Simon will know what to do? Hasn’t he already done enough? In fact, if it weren’t for him…I grab the front door of Young at Art and yank it open.

Mason, Dawn, and Simon are sitting around a table in the studio looking at—of all things—dinner plates.

“I like the Portmeirion,” Dawn says. “Simon, what do you think?”

“Bit formal, isn’t it?” He frowns and rests his hands on the arms of his wheelchair.

Next to me the planter by the front door thumps its tail. Or Bear, the huge white dog behind it, does. But I’m in no mood for dishes or dogs.

“Wasn’t your secret to tell?” I shout, taking a step toward Simon, but Sketch blocks me with her arm.

Mason and Dawn startle and look over at us. Simon pushes his wheelchair away from the table. “What’s wrong? What happened?”

Sketch walks forward and hands him the newspaper with Ian’s face on the front page. I’ve taken hundreds of pictures of him, but none like this. None I want to burn.

Simon reads the headline. “Sixteen-year-old charged with Assault and Battery in School Incident.” He shakes his head.

Peering over his shoulder, Dawn continues, “A warrant was issued late Friday afternoon for the arrest of Ian McGuire, the teen accused of attacking two students at East Bay Christian Academy on the night of the homecoming dance. Ian McGuire was arrested Saturday morning at the home of his foster parents, Fred and Matilda Castell in Madison, Wisconsin. He was then returned to Minneapolis and is now in the custody of the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center, awaiting the arraignment.” Dawn looks at me. “I can’t believe it. You didn’t press charges. How could this happen?”

“The state must have decided to prosecute,” Sketch says, but I have a better answer.

“It happened because of him.” Waves of heat ripple through me as I look at Simon. I’m going to be sick. Right here. I know it.

Dawn bristles. “Now, wait a second, Jonathan. That’s not fair.”

“You’re damn right, it’s not fair!” I glare at Dawn. “Simon knew Ian’s parents had severed their parental rights. He knew how much Ian was hurting and he didn’t think I had a right to know. Don’t you get it?” I turn to stare at him. “I never would have brought him to that dance if I’d had any idea how messed up he was! This is your fault. This is all your fault!”

Simon winces with each word.

“I’m so sorry, Jonathan,” he says, but I can’t listen to him talk or breathe or apologize. In fact, I can’t be in the same room with him. Not for one more second.

“Jonathan, wait,” Simon shouts, but I’m stumbling toward the door, leaping over Bear, and then I’m on the street. Sliding past the convenience store and the beauty salon and the clothes boutique.

“Jonathan, stop!” It’s Sketch and Mason.

I double over, panting in front of a small coffee shop. This can’t be real. None of this can be real.

Sketch kneels beside me. “Are you okay?”

I shake my head. There are no words for what I’m feeling.

“C’mon. Let’s go inside.” Mason puts his hand on my back. “It’s freezing out here.”

I follow Mason into the coffee shop and sit next to him in the booth. Sketch sits across from us. I can’t stop shivering. Or imagining Ian sitting in a jail cell. Mason glances at me and orders three espressos, a double shot for mine please. We sit in silence until the waitress brings the sludge and I gulp mine down.

“This is his fault.” I slam the small cup on the table and glare at Sketch, hopefully making it clear that I’m in no mood to hear her mount an argument in Simon’s defense. She’s good at making arguments, but then again, she is the daughter of two of the best attorneys in the state. Mason pushes his untouched espresso toward me and I drink it down too. It scalds, but it jump starts my brain.

“Wait, Sketch, which one of your parents is the criminal attorney?”

“My mom. Why? Oh!” Her face lights up. “Of course. But would she? I’m not sure. She probably shouldn’t since I was at the dance too, but what does that matter?”

The relative value of words like should or shouldn’t means nothing to me as I climb out of the booth, twitching from an overdose of caffeine and fear. “Where is she? Home or her office?”

Sketch doesn’t answer. She sits there instead, sipping her espresso and staring off into the distance. “Earth to Sketch. We have to go find your mom and talk her into taking Ian’s case.”

“What?” she blinks and glances at the clock on the wall, then at me. “Oh, probably office. But trying to talk her into taking the case won’t work. Nobody, and I mean nobody, talks my mother into anything.”

“Least surprising thing on the planet,” Mason says. “A pigheaded Mallory woman.”

Sketch ignores him. “But maybe,” she murmurs, looking off into some imaginary distance. “If she thought it was her idea…yes, that might work…”

I slide back into the booth as Mason raises his hand and waves at the waitress, ordering another round of espressos.

“We’ll need to be subtle. Not overplay our hand. She’d catch onto that,” Sketch says. “Maybe a few pictures of him at camp left in my room.” Sketch blinks and focuses on me. “Jonathan, can you print up some pictures of Ian? Preferably of him smiling?”

“Uh, sure. But why?”

“Because my mother only thinks she’s smarter than me.” Sketch grins and outlines her plan to trick Catherine Mallory into taking Ian’s case.

 

Published by Bold Strokes Books

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