Brendan shifted uncomfortably in the backseat of the unmarked cop car. Their plan made sense when he’d heard it yesterday- kinda like hiding in plain sight. Now he wasn’t so sure. True, a historically black university was probably the last place that his brother would go looking for him; but it was still in Toronto. Brendan had felt a lot safer when he was at the safehouse out in Kamloops, BC. Bored out of his mind, but safe.
Not for the first (or the last time), he wondered if he’d done the right thing. The seventeen year old knew that morally he had done the right thing. But it was still hard when it meant the incarceration of his older brother. His mother had disowned him and forbade his younger sister from ever contacting him. Brendan didn’t have much outside his family, and when he’d agreed to testify he lost what little he did have. There was no going back he knew, but sometimes he wished he could.
The events of the past year replayed in his head, like they always did when he was left to his own devices. Had Brendan known what was going to happen that night, he would have stayed home. He’d never really agreed with his brother’s beliefs but since it had always been talk and never any action (except for the odd petty crime), he’d remained silent and played along. But the horrified boy had known when he’d run away that night that he only had two options – go to the police and beg for their protection or face the wrath of his brother. Bren had run away at a very crucial moment, he’d shown weakness and he was a liability. Julian would not be forgiving. He couldn’t afford to. So Brendan had waited while the cops confirmed that he was telling the truth. It didn’t take long as the incident was called in five minutes later. The police tried to take him home after he had identified his brother in the line-up. It took thirty minutes of convincing them that his life was in danger before they would listen. In the end, they helped him catch a bus to his aunt out in Barrie. She had cut ties with his mother, Erika, long ago. Last time he had seen her, she’d told him that it wasn’t too late to leave that life like she had. Eva knew that Julian was heading down the same path as her father and it led nowhere good. Brendan swore to his aunt that Julian was all show and bluster without any real substance. How wrong he’d been.
Eva was happy to see him. Even under the circumstances. The next few weeks were hard. He wasn’t allowed out of the house in case he was seen while the case against his brother was being built. His mother called to harass his aunt every other day. Erika threatened to burn the house down if she found out that Eva was hiding Brendan. She called them both traitors to the family and promised that they’d pay for what they were forcing Julian to go through. One day, Eva found her tires slashed and her car windows smashed in the parking lot at work. It wasn’t safe for either her or Brendan to stay in Barrie anymore. Eva decided to stay with some friends in New York for a few weeks while she decided what to do next. She’d assured Bren that she didn’t blame him for the danger he’d brought to her doorstep and her life. His aunt made him promise to stay the course and finish what he started.
The case had become a major one, with news outlets in the States even reporting on it. Not wanting to take any chances with their star witness, the prosecution moved him to the small mountain town of Kamloops. Brendan was sure that in the winter, the university town was a lot of fun. But it was summer now and most of the students had gone home. All that was left for him to do was sit with the memories of the past few months and make small talk with the cop assigned to him. At least, he was easy going. Let him have a beer once in a while (“You’re doing a brave thing, man. I can imagine the hell you’re going through. Here.”).
Eventually, the trial began. Days of testimony dragged on. The defence asserted that his brother’s actions weren’t the makings of a hate crime as the prosecution was suggesting. They countered that he was just a very inebriated young man who just wasn’t thinking about the consequences.
“How many of you, men of the jury, have found it hard to control yourself around a pretty woman when you were drunk? It’s a biological thing, right?”
But some of the jury members were already nodding, recalling their own misspent youths. The victim had refused to testify, couldn’t deal with the trauma of living through it all over again. Julian would almost certainly get jail time but without the victim’s testimony, his sentence was likely to be shorter. This was all the more possible with the “drunk and incapable of making sound decisions” defence he was using. At least, this is what the journalists were predicting. But they didn’t know one very crucial thing. The prosecution had kept this detail quiet. And when the news broke, there was pandemonium both inside and outside the court.
Brendan took the stand and for the first time in months, laid eyes on his older brother. Prison agreed with Julian, but that didn’t surprise Bren. His sibling was just the type of person who thrived in those situations. Julian’s reputation would have preceded him and prison would just present new networking opportunities. Bren took a deep breath and recounted the events of that night. The prosecution explained what a brave thing he was doing, testifying against his brother; risking his life to do the right thing. But the defence was ready for him. They pointed out that he had been there that night and hadn’t stopped his brother. They asked for proof that validated Brendan’s claims that his brother was a bigoted and hateful person who had known exactly what he was doing that night. And that’s when the shit hit the fan for Julian, who hadn’t shared one very important detail from the incident. Everyone, the defence lawyers included, had assumed that Bren had managed to get witness protection solely by becoming a witness for the prosecution, that his testimony alone was all he had to offer. It wasn’t. The real reason that Brendan had feared for his life that night wasn’t because he’d run out on his brother, it was because he’d run away with incontrovertible evidence. Julian, hoping to relive the night’s events later, had asked his little brother to record the incident on his cell phone. Once the television was wheeled into the room and the play button on the DVD was pushed, it no longer mattered that the victim hadn’t given a testimony during the trial. The pain, violence and humiliation visited on her that night was made plain for all in the courtroom to see. Their view of the victim was interrupted before Julian and his friends had finished with her and all that could be seen was the inside of Bren’s jacket pocket and all that could be heard were his heavy breathing and the shouts of his brother in the background, telling him to come back.
There was no recovering from such damaging evidence. Julian had been charged with sexual assault with a weapon (Canada didn’t use the word ‘rape’ in their criminal code). Taking into consideration the fact that the crime was racially motivated, the jury was expected to give him the maximum sentence of fourteen years. To everyone’s surprise, including the defence’s, he was given six years imprisonment. The court was in an uproar as the victim’s family and friends voiced their displeasure at the sentence. Brendan understood their disappointment. Julian deserved to be locked up for life for the things he’d done that court hadn’t heard about. But it was too late to bring them up and he had no concrete proof anyway. Julian caught his brother’s eye as he was escorted out of the courtroom and gave give an evil grin.
That was a month ago. They’d gotten wind that his brother’s people had found out about Kamloops and he was forced to leave in a hurry. They took a car because a plane or bus ticket would give them away too easily. While on the road, Brendan was told where he was to be relocated. He was uncomfortable with returning to Toronto but he could see the supposed brilliance in the plan. St. Aloysius was the last place he would think to look. They had enrolled him in the summer programme to start. His grades had always been good and he’d earned his high school diploma while in hiding.
As they pulled up to the dormitory he’d be staying in for the summer, Brendan noticed a group of girls hugging goodbye outside the front door. His brother would have killed him if he’d known that Bren was actually checking out a “negress”. But he couldn’t help, he’d always found them attractive. Of course, he’d never told Julian that. Truthfully, he’d felt a little ashamed when he was younger, before he grew up and grew a mind of his own; like it was a betrayal of his race. He’d always dated white girls, usually ones his brother and mother hand-picked. They claimed they were from “good families”. This didn’t mean they were upper class girls with the right connections. It meant they were supremacists like Erika and Julian. These girls almost always reminded him of the white trash, trailer park girls that you saw in movies.
Brendan thought of all the possibilities that were open to him now. He could date who he wanted and say what he really thought. It would be hard and there was always a threat lurking over his shoulder. There was a freedom that was afforded to him now that he couldn’t wait to take advantage of. He was happy for the first time in a year.
As he got out of the car, he happened to see the face of the girl who had just climbed into the backseat. Bren froze in shock and watched as the girl from that life-changing night drove away from him and into the night.
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