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The Best Is Yet to Come
Author: Debbie Macomber




   “All rise,” the bailiff announced, as the judge stepped into the courtroom. “Judge Walters presiding.”

   John Cade Lincoln Jr. rose to his feet next to his court-appointed attorney. He’d met the woman only once and had agreed to plead guilty. He faltered as he stood. His balance was off, as his leg had never properly healed from the shrapnel wound he’d suffered in Afghanistan. He caught himself by grabbing hold of the edge of the table where he sat as a defendant.

   His attorney, Ms. Newman, a young woman who appeared to be fresh out of law school, leaned close to whisper, “The judge altered the agenda from the clerk’s office so you would be the last case of the afternoon,” she whispered.

   “What does that mean?”

   “I…don’t know.”

   It didn’t sound like it was good news. With the way his life was spiraling downward, he didn’t expect anything less.

   The silver-haired judge with piercing blue eyes took her seat, and everyone in the courtroom followed. Cade watched as she picked up his case file, and silently observed as the prosecutor read through the list of charges against him. Judge Walters slowly raised her head and looked directly at him. Her eyes narrowed at the long list, as she closely studied him. Cade met her gaze and squared his shoulders, as if standing before his commanding officer.

   Disorderly conduct.

   Assault and battery.

   Destruction of private property.

   Resisting arrest.

   What captured his attention was a gasp that came from the back of the courtroom. He knew that voice. Knew the woman who’d made it. His mother. Groaning inwardly, he dropped his head, humiliated and humbled that she would turn up on the second-worst day of his life. He sank, grateful to take the weight off his leg, back into his chair as shock waves rolled over his shoulders because his mother sat in this very courtroom.

   Sara Lincoln, his mother, was the last person he expected or wanted to see. The last communication, if it could even be defined as communication, had been nearly six years ago. The conversation consisted of his infuriated father yelling, his face red with anger, as he lambasted Cade. After calling him spoiled and ungrateful, he made sure Cade knew he was a major disappointment, a disgrace to the family name. And that had only been what Cade heard before he slammed out of the house. He had never gone back.

   Maybe enlisting in the army had been a mistake, but it was his to make. As far as he was concerned, the choice between serving his country and attending law school following graduation had been a no-brainer. From the time he could remember, his father, John Senior, had expected his son to follow in his footsteps and join the family law firm.

   From the moment he was born, it was assumed Cade would become an attorney. No one had bothered to ask him what he wanted. His job was to fall blindly into his family’s expectations. He’d been given no choice in the matter. It had all been arranged. Set in place as soon as he’d drawn in his first breath.

   Unable to resist, he looked over his shoulder. It was indeed his mother, and she was alone, which relieved him but at the same time hurt. He knew better than to hope his father cared enough to support him when he’d hit rock bottom. What he did notice was the love emanating from his mother’s gaze. He quickly returned his attention to the front of the courtroom. If she was sorry for that final scene, it was too late now to make amends. If she’d said one word, one single word, in his defense, he could forgive her. Instead, she’d remained silent, and her silence had said everything.

   He could only guess how his mother had learned he’d been arrested. He hadn’t spoken to anyone in his family since the day he left for basic training in California. He hadn’t even listed their names as next of kin on his enlistment papers, and he’d never looked back.

   Six long years.

   It went without saying: His parents would have nothing to do with him until he was willing to admit how terribly wrong he’d been. Once he realized his mistake, his parents would then be willing to welcome him back into the family fold.

   Judge Walters looked up from the papers and again met his gaze, holding it for a long moment, as if gauging his character.

   “Mr. Lincoln, have you been informed of your rights?” she asked.

   Cade rose to his feet with the same awkwardness as earlier, gripping the table to maintain his balance. “Yes, Your Honor,” he said, keeping his voice flat. His attorney had given him a rundown on what to expect. He had no defense. He’d been drunk and stupid. He deserved whatever punishment he had coming to him. He’d take it like a man without offering excuses or justifications.

   “The court hereby accepts your guilty plea.”

   Cade assumed that was all that would be required of him. His attorney said the judge would accept his plea and then read his sentence. When silence followed, his gaze returned to Judge Walters, unsure and wary of what would happen next.

   The judge glanced up from her file. “It says here you served in the military.”

   “Yes, Your Honor.”

   “And were awarded a Purple Heart.”

   He nodded and looked away. Like he cared. He survived, while Jeremy and Luke, his two best friends, had died. It would have been easier if he’d died that night, too. With every fiber of his being, he wished he had.

   “What were the extent of your injuries?”

   The last thing he wanted to do was provide a detailed list of the physical and emotional scars he carried. “I’m alive.”

   “Are you sure about that?” the judge asked, with arched brows.

   The question shook him, and he raised his gaze to meet hers, offended by what she implied.

   “Are you continuing with your schedule of physical therapy, Soldier?”

   If she asked the question, she clearly knew he hadn’t.

   “No, Your Honor.”

   “Can you tell me why not?” she demanded.

   “No, Your Honor.” What was the use? His leg would never be the same. He would walk with a limp for the rest of his life. A limp that was a constant reminder that he had survived, while two of the best friends a man could ever want rotted in graves at Arlington Cemetery.

   “I see,” Judge Walters said slowly. “The same holds true for the mental counseling as well, it seems.”

   “I don’t have PTSD,” Cade insisted. What good would it do to sit and cry about what had happened? Grief was grief. You learned to live with it and move on. No way was he going to spill his guts to some VA counselor who likely didn’t have a clue of what it was like to engage the enemy in a firefight and watch your friends be blown to bits. It wasn’t no, it was hell no!

   “According to the list of charges, it appears to me you are dealing with a lot of anger issues.”

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