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It's been seven years since I've driven the road to the farming community of Breton. The fields lie fallow after the harvest. A dusting of snow rests on the big round hay bales. Familiar way points unfold: a country store offering homemade pie; the red barn with its broken back; a string of broken wagon wheels lining a fence.
With me are my wife, daughter and daughter's boyfriend. We arrive early, stop for coffee at Breton's tiny cafe, are greeted by a cloud of cigarette smoke and all eyes turned towards us. Likely, they know why we're here.
After coffee, we cross to a featureless square structure used for the purpose of bimonthly court proceedings. The waiting room has but six rows of chairs.
I look out the window, anticipating the arrival of Paul, once my best friend. I had frequently traveled out with both of my daughters to stay the weekend at his farm. We had helped to plant and harvest the garden, skied in the treed ravine, played lawn bowls on the grass. Barbecue steak, wine and music filled the endless evenings of our Northern summer.
I catch a glimpse of Paul's profile through the window of his truck. Moments later he enters the small waiting room. Without having planned it, we—my family as a single entity—turn our backs to him.
I hug my daughter, we enter the courtroom, stand to the familiar call: "All rise!"
The judge sits, shuffles papers, peers up through spectacled eyes: "Mr. Paul James, you are charged with sexual assault. How do you plead?"
my family's shadow falls
on the courthouse steps