Epilogue

Chad Stiles, seventeen years old, sat in a Seattle courtroom, leaning sideways in his chair at the defendant table, his lawyer sitting to his left as he held his chin in his hand. It hadn't taken the jury very long to deliberate. He wasn't sure if that was good or bad, but at this point, he couldn't help but worry. He chanced to look over his shoulder at the spectators in the courtroom and caught Nicky's eye as she and Brandon sat in the front row behind him. She gave a small, nervous smile that made him smile in return and he gave her a wink before turning around quickly when his lawyer tapped his arm.

"All rise," the bailiff announced as the judge entered and took his seat at the bench. Chad shot to his feet, straightening out his suit jacket, then adjusting his tie which was suddenly stifling. The judge told the audience to sit, but Chad, his lawyer and the prosecution remained standing.

"Mister foreman, you've made your decision?" he addressed the jury and the foreman announced that they had. "What say you?"

Chad clapped his dry mouth before taking in a deep breath as he watched the foreman stand and look at a paper in his hands. His own hands started sweating as his heart thumped in his ears. Throughout the whole case he'd felt like this, and it had been worse when he'd taken the stand.

He couldn't help but wonder what would happen. Would they deem him responsible for Dax's murder or would they not? If they did, what would the judge have as sentencing for him? He hoped he wouldn't go to jail, having been tried as an adult. His mind was reeling so fast, he almost didn't hear the foreman read their decision.

"We the jury find the defendant, Chad Stiles, not responsible for the death of Dax Harland, having been provoked to defend himself."

Nicky nearly screamed before slapping her hands over her mouth to quiet herself, as Brandon ground out a yes while jerking his fist backward and Chad stared into space in shock as he struggled to remain standing, supporting himself on the desk in front of him, his lawyer next to him for support as well. Had he heard right? Did they just let him off the hook…for everything?

"This court is so adjourned," the judge announced, slamming his gavel onto its wooden setting before standing and heading back to his chambers.

Chad managed to stand again just in time to turn and catch Nicky when she threw herself into his arms. His lawyer slapped him on the back in congratulations and Brandon shook the man's hand, thanking him before joining the hug with Nicky and Chad.

"Oh, Chad!" Nicky nearly sobbed as she and Brandon stood away and she stared up at him. "Now we can go home! Jared will be so happy when we tell him!"

"Yeah…" Chad breathed, staring through her and making her frown in wonder, but Brandon only chuckled, patting his back.

"He's in shock," his uncle noticed then tugged him toward the courtroom exit. "Come on, kid. Let's go have dinner to celebrate. I'm buying. My last painting sold for a fortune."

"Great…" Chad murmured, making Brandon chuckle again as the three headed out of the courtroom and through the halls to the entrance where reporters were waiting for him. His story had gone national and though he wasn't sure how he felt about it, he never really wanted to talk to reporters.

They shoved microphones with symbols from their stations – TV and radio – into his face as photographers snapped pictures of him when the three reached the middle step of the courthouse, all chanting his name for attention.

"Chad! How does it feel to be let off the hook for this?!"

"What's going through your mind right now?!"

"What do you plan to do now that you've been cleared?!"

That was the question that caught his attention and he looked that reporter in the eye, glancing only once at the logo on his mic before leaning into it with a smirk.

"I'll tell you what I plan to do," he began. "As soon as my plane lands in LA, I'm driving straight to Disneyland."