Also, he had a thing for mismatched socks. If he was ever wearing a pair of socks that matched, it meant he had gotten dressed in the dark.
“You okay today, Magnet?” he asked me. I nodded. He asked me that question each day whenever he came by to visit. After the incident years ago, Brooks had promised to look after me, and he held onto that promise. Lately he had started calling me Magnet, because he said he was drawn to our friendship. “There’s this magnetic pull of friendship between us, Maggie May. You’re my magnet.” Of course, the nickname had come after a night of going to some party and getting wasted with my brother then throwing up on my floor, but still, the name stuck.
“Can I come in?” he asked. He always asked permission, which was weird. The answer was always yes.
He hopped into my room—even at seven in the morning he was an energized bunny. “I got something I want you to hear,” he said, walking over to me and reaching into his back pocket to pull out his iPod. We both lay down on my bed, our legs hanging over the edge, our feet touching the floor. He placed one earbud in his ear, and I took the other, then he hit play.
The music was airy and light, but there was a solid bass sound that slicked throughout the song. It felt romantic and free—wild. “‘All Around And Away We Go’ by Mr. Twin Sister,” he said, tapping his finger on the mattress beside me.
Brooks was my human jukebox. He told me to never turn on the radio to find tunes, because it was a bunch of Hollywood brainwashing bullshit. So, each day, morning and night, he delivered to me what he considered to be music gold.
We’d lie in my bed, staring at the ceiling and listening to music, until Calvin came dashing into my room with wet hair and a muffin stuffed in his mouth.
“Ready!” he shouted, getting crumbs on my carpet.
Brooks and I sat up, and he took his earbuds back, winding them up around his iPod. “All right, I’ll come back with some more stuff for ya after school, Magnet,” he said, smiling my way. “Remember, say no to drugs unless they’re the good ones, and stay in school, unless you don’t want to.”
Off they’d go.
My eyes darted to the ticking clock on my wall.
Only eleven or so more hours until the music came back to me.
Each day at five in the afternoon, I took an hour-long bath. I’d sit in the tub with a novel in my grip and read for forty-five minutes. Then, for ten minutes, I’d put the book aside and wash up. My fingers wrinkled like raisins as I closed my eyes, and ran a bar of lavender soap up and down my arms. I loved the smell of lavender, almost as much as I loved gardenias. Gardenias were my utmost favorites. Each Wednesday, Daddy went to the farmer’s market and bought me a fresh new bouquet of flowers to sit against my bedroom windowsill.
The first time he brought the gardenias, he could tell I loved them most, maybe by the way my lips turned up, maybe by the number of times I nodded my head as I breathed in the scent, or maybe simply because he had learned how to read my silence.
My father knew almost everything about me, based on my small gestures and tiny movements. What he didn’t know was that each day at the end of my bath, when the scalding hot water became chilled, I’d slip my head under the water and hold my breath for the last five minutes.
Within those five minutes, I remembered what had happened to me. It was important for me to do it—to remember the devil, how he looked. How he felt. If I didn’t remember, some days I’d blame myself for what had happened, forgetting that I had been a victim that night. When I remembered, it wasn’t so hard to breathe. I did my best thinking when I was beneath the water. I forgave myself for any guilty feelings when I was submerged.
She couldn’t breathe.
My throat tightened as if the devil’s fingers were wrapped around my neck instead of the woman’s.
He was the devil in my eyes, at least.
Run! Run, Maggie! My mind kept screaming, but I stayed still, unable to look away from the horror before my eyes.
I emerged from the water at the sound of my name and released a deep breath before taking a deeper inhale.
“Maggie, Mrs. Boone is here to see you,” Daddy hollered from downstairs. I stood up in the bathtub and unblocked the drain, allowing the water to swirl clockwise down the pipes. My long, stringy blond hair hung down to my buttocks, and my skin stayed ghostly pale.
My eyes met the clock on the wall.
Mrs. Boone was late. Really late.
Years ago, when she had heard about my trauma, she’d asked if she could meet with me once a day so I could interact with someone. Secretly, I thought she met with me each day to hide her own loneliness, but I didn’t mind. When two lonely souls found one another, they held on tight, no matter what. I wasn’t certain if that was a good or bad thing yet. One would think when two lonely people came together, the two negatives would cancel out and make a positive, but that wasn’t the case. The two seemed to make an even deeper level of loneliness, one they loved to drown in.
Mrs. Boone often brought her cat, Muffins, along with her to entertain me at lunchtime. She always came by at noon, and we’d sit down in the dining room for sandwiches and tea. I hated tea, and Mrs. Boone knew I hated tea, yet each day she found the need to bring it to me from the local bakery, Sweetest Addictions.
“You’re young, which means you’re stupid, so you don’t truly understand how wonderful tea is for you. It will grow on you,” she promised—a promise that was always a lie. It never grew on me. If anything, I hated it more and more each time.
She had lived in Britain when she was young and in her prime, and I had to assume that was where her love for the mucky drink came from. Since the death of her husband years ago, she had always dreamed of moving back to England. He was the reason she had come to America, but after he passed away, I guessed as time went by she’d lost her nerve to go back to England.
“Stanley was home,” she’d always say about her late husband. “It didn’t matter where we lived, because as long as he was there, I was home.” After he passed, it was almost as if Mrs. Boone became homeless. When Stanley packed his bags and went off to the afterlife, he took Mrs. Boone’s safe haven with him—his heartbeats. I often wondered if she ever closed her eyes for a few minutes and remembered those heartbeats.
I knew I would.