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Chapter 4

Judge Kristin Dahlen settled into a cushioned chair on her back deck, admiring the first hot colors marking the morning sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico. This could be a perfect weekend. A gentle breeze, a cup of hot, rich coffee, her copy of Saturday’s Tampa Bay Times and the distant pulse of ocean waves.

She skimmed over the national news and adult crimes, looking for stories of juvenile arrests. Last night was payday and street smart kids knew how to get their hands on some of that money before it was spent in the bars and flop houses of south St. Pete. Selling crack cocaine on a street corner meant a quick twenty dollars; if sold to an undercover cop it meant a trip to the detention center and a Monday morning hearing in her court. These were the easy cases. She worried more over the burglaries and the family violence. Everyone got hurt.

She poured another cup of coffee and flung the paper aside. By the looks of it she would have a full docket Monday morning. Weekend judges wouldn’t touch these cases. Most of the kids would remain in custody.

Maybe this afternoon, if she caught up on paperwork, there would be time for the beach with Anders. Thank goodness he didn’t have homework yet. School had just started a week ago. She gathered up a stack of old newspapers and magazines and carried them to the recycle bin in the garage.

She nearly tripped over Anders’ skateboard but forgave him as she saw that his tennis racquet, balls and visor were properly shelved. She thought of the kids in court and of Anders again. They were locked up while he was off to a sailing lesson. He would be picnicking on the beach while they were looking out from behind the razor wire of the juvenile detention center.

Grief.

Juvenile court is about grief, she thought. Grief for the victims whose cars were stolen or who came home to a ransacked house. Grief for the parents of the kids who committed the crimes, if they were involved in their lives. Grief for the kids themselves.

Despite the pain she saw everyday in the faces before the court, Kristin knew she could make a difference in the life of these kids. She was beginning to love her job as a juvenile judge. She was learning to find something positive in each case, in each child. And, of course, she came home to Anders each night.

At ten years old, Anders was the man in her life. That hadn’t always been the case. But she’d severed the past from the present. Chad was miles away in a Federal prison. No one connected her with his scam. She’d paid off her student loans, got lucky with a big fee in a personal injury case she’d handled and used the money for her campaign to get elected Circuit Judge. The Norse gods had been good to her, she thought as she emptied the dishwasher. But she longed for a life free of “secrets”. It wasn’t too much to ask for, was it?

She focused on the weekend ahead, when her most difficult decisions would be whether to grill steaks at home on the deck with Anders or bike down to the Hurricane Restaurant for their fresh grouper sandwiches. She wouldn’t give Monday another thought.

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