“Mr. Madain Saleh, do you understand the charges against you?” the judge asked.
“Yes, sir, your honor,” Gus lowered his eyes respectfully in a gesture that was almost a bow, an automatic response from having lived under his father’s and grandfather’s rule. He was flanked by his father and the finest defense attorney in the greater Buffalo area.
Reporters were in the courtroom and camera crews were outside waiting to get a shot of the youngest prince being escorted into a waiting limousine with dark tinted windows. Gus was determined to maintain a stoic face; the same one he’d been trained to use all his life.
“Operating under the influence resulting in injury is a felony punishable by up to five years in jail.” The judge seemed to be waiting for Gus’s response.
“I understand, your honor.” Gus looked him in the eye, his chin held high, trying to keep his lip from quivering.
The judge took a deep breath and glanced at their powerful attorney standing beside him and the Prince Marcos of Madain Saleh, the courtroom full of reporters, and back to Gus, who was holding his breath.
“You’re very lucky your friend didn’t die,” the judge said. “We’d be having a much different conversation.”
Gus couldn’t speak. He knew the judge was right, but not for any legal reasons. Alex was his brother, in every way other than by blood. If Gus’s choice to get behind the wheel of that car after drinking alcohol had resulted in Alex’s death, no jail sentence would be punishment enough.
“Locking you up would benefit nothing,” the judge said. “If I sentence you to community service, do you think you could serve out your sentence with honor, and turn your life around?”
“Yes, sir, your honor.” Gus’s heart felt a prick of hope.
“I’m sentencing you to five years in jail.”
Gus’s stomach dropped through the floor.
“Suspended unless the terms of your probation are violated. Your time served will be doing community service. Your driver’s license is suspended for five years. You are to undergo substance abuse counseling, and you are not to drink any alcohol or use any drugs within that five years. Do you understand this sentencing?”
“Yes?” I think. “Thank you, your honor.”
“This court is dismissed.” The judge rapped his gavel on his desk.
“All rise,” the bailiff called out.
Gus was already standing, and rooted to his spot, shaking. What just happened?
The judge rose from his bench and left the room.
A gasp emitted from his chest and the room erupted in subdued chatter. Gus could hear his mother sobbing quietly from the front row of benches, her arms locked in an embrace with Alex’s mom.
“Come, my son,”
“Yes, Your Highness.” Gus felt his father’s arm around his shoulder, leading him from the courtroom. He was vaguely aware of stumbling down the stairs and out to the waiting car.
When he was inside the protective darkness of the blackened windows, Gus allowed his emotions to swallow him in racking sobs, feeling as if he’d dodged a bullet and might soon get his life back.