*The usual disclaimers apply—story came to me while I was walking on Buckroe Beach early this morning. This is a filler for my story Aftermath. I took some liberties with the spelling of snow cones –usually spelled 'sno-cones' but I don't think it's too bad Hope you enjoy*

Cloud-Watching

Sunday, July 8, 2001

Buckroe Beach, Hampton, VA

8:30 AM

A long shadow fell over her beach towel, temporarily blocking out the sun. For a minute Jenna tensed, her fists clenched, ready to run if she had to--

"Relax, munchkin," the shadow said. "It's only me." Dad sat down beside her on the sand. "Your Mom said you were out here."

Jenna nodded, her heart rate slowly falling back under control. "I woke up early and I didn't feel like staying in the hotel room. Besides, it's kind of peaceful."

"Well that was one reason that we came here instead of Virginia Beach—too many crowds."

"Makes sense," Jenna said. "There aren't many waves, though."

"Well that's because we're on the Chesapeake Bay instead of the ocean." Jenna felt Dad's eyes on her as he spoke. "Hey, do you want a snow cone? I think the guy who sells them is setting up his cart on the boardwalk."

"A snow cone for breakfast?"

"Listen, we're on vacation—there are no breakfast rules here. We won't be busted by the breakfast police if we eat the wrong thing."

In spite of herself Jenna grinned. "Now you're just being silly."

"Could be," Dad said. "So—is there anything on your mind?"

"Yes—I don't want to do it," the words, held back for so long. burst out of Jenna's mouth. "I can't. I can't be in that courtroom and tell everyone what he did to me and all the while he'll be there—just sitting there and looking at me with those eyes of his." She shivered. "Maybe I'm a coward but I can't testify, and I won't."

"I see," Dad was silent for a moment. "Well you were ordered to testify, Jenna. If you don't, you're breaking the law. Is that what you want to do?"

"No." Jenna's voice was small.

"Do you want Gary Johnston to go free? If you don't testify that's always a possibility."

"I think he should go to jail." Jenna's vision blurred and she wiped at her eyes fiercely with the back of her hand. "I just don't see why I have to get up there for him to do it."

"The prosecution thinks that the jury needs to hear from you."

"What if they cross-examine me? Like that movie I saw where the lawyer was yelling at the woman—that was horrible."

"Come on—that was just a movie."

"It won an award."

"Well that doesn't make it real life. No one's going to yell at a twelve-year-old."

"They could."

"You're just making it worse by imagining these things." Dad told her. "If someone does cross-examine you just stick to the truth—that's what you have on your side. The jury will believe you."

Jenna dug her toes down into the warm sand, breathing in the salty tang in the air. Seagulls circled noisily overhead. "I hope so."

"I know so," Dad said. "And don't worry about Gary Johnston being in the courtroom—he doesn't have the power this time. You do.'

"That's true," Jenna said. "I guess I didn't really think of it that way." She was silent for a moment, looking out over the water. Everything looked so perfect, this morning, she thought. Undisturbed and serene—like a photograph—and part of her almost wished that life could stay that way.

"That's a horse." Her dad's voice broke into her reverie. Jenna looked at him with surprise.

"Where?" she asked.

He pointed. "Up there—you see it? That cloud there looks just like a horse."

Jenna looked. "Oh yeah," she said. "And that cloud there could be the horse's castle or something."

"The horse's castle? When does a horse have a castle? "

Jenna shrugged. "Well a very smart horse could have a castle. Or maybe someone who's riding the horse."

"That horse doesn't have a rider."

"Well—the rider's probably inside the castle. Right now the horse is just walking around by itself."

Dad ruffled her hair. "And you told me that I was being silly."

"Thought I'd find you both here," Mom said. "I found a café just around the corner—I thought maybe we could have some breakfast and relax a little before we have to start back. What do you think?"

"Sounds like a great idea, Amanda." Dad looked at Jenna. "What do you think , munchkin?"

"It sounds fine," Jenna stood, shaking out her beach towel and brushing the sand off her legs and feet. She wasn't sure what it was, but suddenly the prospect of the trial on Monday didn't seem so terrifying.

"What were you two talking about by the way?" Mom asked. "The only thing I heard was something about horses and castles."

Jenna and Dad looked at each other.

"Just cloud-watching," they said in unison.

The End