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Up close she could see he’d been drinking for a while. He wasn’t tanked, but he was getting there. She wondered when he’d started or if this was just a continuation from partying the night before.

He wasn’t much for proper greetings. He took a drink of his beer, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and said, "My mother snaps her fingers and you come running."

Allison wasn’t offended, and she wasn’t going to let him bait her into an argument. "No, Will. She calls and calls and calls until I give in and do what she wants." 

"She makes you feel guilty." He laughed after stating the obvious.

"Yes, she does," she admitted. "Why are you here?"

"I want a new lawyer."

"Then get a new one."

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"My lazy-ass lawyer says it won’t matter how many lawyers I hire. None of them can get the charges reduced. You know what happened, don’t you?"

She shook her head. She knew what he was going to tell her, though. None of what happened was his fault.

"I really got screwed," he said. "I’m the one who was attacked at the bar. I didn’t start the fight. I just protected myself. I mean, I should, right? I should be able to protect myself."

He looked at her expectantly, waiting for sympathy. She wouldn’t give him any. "Were there witnesses?"

"Yes, but they aren’t on my side. If it goes to trial, they’ll lie under oath. Just you watch and see."

While Allison didn’t know any of the particulars, she guessed this time Will wasn’t going to be able to find a way out. "Do you want it to go to trial?"

"My lawyer says it would be a mistake to take it to trial. He wants me to take the deal they’re offering."

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His face was turning red, and she could see the anger washing over him. She wasn’t sure if she should continue asking him questions for fear of adding fuel to the fire.

"Don’t you want to know what was offered?" he asked. Antagonistic now, he glared at her.

"Yes, I do."

"Five to seven years, Allison. I’d get seven years, but with good behavior, I could get out as early as five years."

Good behavior? Then it was going to be seven long years, she thought, because there was no way Will could keep his temper controlled that long. He didn’t know how.

"What happens if you decide to go to trial?"

"According to my useless lawyer, I could get twice as long. Now do you understand why I need a new lawyer? One of those high-priced big shots who knows how to manipulate the law. That’s what I need."

"Do you think a new lawyer could keep you out of prison?"

"Yes, of course I do, if he knows what he’s doing. Don’t you agree?"

She nodded. She was determined to placate him, no matter what. Debating him would only incite his anger.

"Are you on my side or not?" he asked.

"I don’t want you to go to prison," she said, giving him an evasive answer.

Allison wondered if he would ever face reality. She knew there had to be more to the story than he was telling. A bar fight didn’t usually bring such harsh charges, did it? Unless someone was seriously injured, or unless the prosecutor could prove that there was an established pattern of behavior. How many fights had Will started? Probably more than he could remember.

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"I guess I’d better go inside and find out why I was summoned," she said as she climbed the steps.

She already knew the reason her aunt had called her, of course. If Will wanted a new, more expensive lawyer, then, by God, he was getting one, which meant his parents needed help coming up with the money.

On the drive to Emerson, Allison had played out the impending scene with her aunt and uncle in her head. She had witnessed it so many times in the past she could practically recite the dialogue by heart. In the end, her aunt would play the gratitude card and expect her to cave. Something was different this time, though. Maybe it was seeing Will at the end of his rope. Maybe Allison had reached the end of hers. Regardless of the reason, she knew what she had to do.

Her hand on the doorknob, she paused, then turned back to Will. "This is the last time I’ll be coming back here."

He acted as though he hadn’t heard her. "I’m scared," he blurted. "This could be bad. I swear, if I get out of this, I’m going to change. I know I’ve said that before, but I mean it this time. I want to go back to college and finish. I can’t go to prison." A look of panic crossed his face, and there was a pathetic whine in his voice when he said, "I just can’t. I wouldn’t last a week."

Will looked so tormented, she almost felt pity for him. Was this finally the wake-up call he needed? Or was she being naive once more? Charlotte had told her again and again not to believe anything Will said. He was a habitual liar and would do or say anything to get what he wanted. Allison had fought against becoming that cynical. She wanted to believe that people were basically good even though life’s lessons wore them down. She also wanted to believe in second chances, but how many chances had Will already had to turn his life around?

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