There it was: Mama’s deepest secrets and fears.

Everyone had a part of themselves they chose to keep mute.

Mama’s was her guilt.

Taking the marker, I began to write the most important words I’d ever written before.

It wasn’t your fault.

Mama swallowed hard before she started sobbing into her hands. Her body balled up, and I wrapped my arms around her, holding her tight. She cried as long as she could before wiping the back of her hand at her nose and sitting up a bit straighter. “Look at me, I’m such a mess. I’m sorry, Maggie May. For everything I’ve put you through…I just worry, that’s all.” She sniffled, and I laid my head on her shoulder. She wrapped her hands in mine. “You’re really gonna do this, aren’t you?”

I squeezed her hands twice.

She sighed and sat up straight. “Okay. So here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna walk downstairs and head for the front door. When those thoughts start coming in your mind, you gotta keep walking, okay?”

I nodded. Okay, Mama.

“Even when you’re scared, you keep walking. And when the voices grow louder, you run. You run, Maggie May Riley. You run and run until you’re out.”

I took a deep breath.

“You’re scared?”

Two squeezes.

You’re scared?

Two squeezes from her.

“Okay. So let’s go.”

“Close your eyes and breathe,” Mama whispered, holding my hand. “Your father and I will get you to the car.”

When I took the first few steps, I felt my throat tightening. I wanted to wrap my hands around my neck and try to breathe, but I couldn’t, because Daddy and Mama were holding them tight. Was I okay? Could I breathe?

Daddy squeezed my hands twice. Yes. How could he hear the words I hadn’t said?

The next steps I took were even more painful. I needed to grab my neck. I needed to get his hands from around me. I needed to breathe. I can’t breathe.

Mama squeezed my hands twice. Yes, you can.

“Almost there,” Daddy said, taking more steps.

The more we walked, the looser his hands became around my neck. I envisioned Brooks. His smile. His laugh. His love. The further we walked, the easier the breaths became.

I paused my steps and opened my eyes. Daddy and Mama were staring at me, nervous.

“You okay, Maggie?” Daddy asked.

I took my hands from their grips, and raised them up to my chest, resting them against my heart. With one deep inhale, I took in the world, tasting the air, feeling the wind, allowing myself to slowly start unlocking the chains from my ankles.

With one long exhale, I took Daddy’s and Mama’s hands back and squeezed them twice.


I’m okay.

Now it was time to make sure he was okay.

As we drove, I noticed it all. I noticed how the fabric of the car felt, and how the engine hiccupped every few minutes. I felt every bump we hit, and I stared at every light that flashed. It was surreal, being out of the house and seeing things I’d never seen. Buildings, trees, animals. It was all so overwhelming, almost like a dream. Yet, it was real. My chest was tight the drive. I stayed curled in a tight ball in the backseat, but I couldn’t for a second stop staring out of the window. There was so much to the world that I didn’t even know existed. There was so much that I’d been missing.

We arrived at the hospital hours later, and Brooks was still in surgery. The outside of the hospital was surrounded with fans of The Crooks—it seemed word traveled fast. Brooks’ parents and his brother, Jamie, were there, too, trying their best to not fall apart.

The lights of the hospital were bright. They hurt my eyes. I hadn’t remembered ever being around lights that were so bright. It smelled weird, too. Like cleaning products on top of cleaning products. There was so much commotion everywhere—nurses bumping into one another, items being dropped, families walking the hallways.

I closed my eyes and tried to focus. It was too much, too fast. I needed to slow my thoughts down. What if the devil was there? What if he could see me? What if he could touch me again? No. I needed to focus on something good, something that could keep me grounded. I needed to find peace. My fingers wrapped around my necklace.

Brooks. My anchor. My strength.

“Maggie,” Calvin choked out, standing from the private waiting room. “You—you’re here,” he stuttered, walking over to me. His arms wrapped tightly around my body. “You’re here.”

Within seconds the twins joined the hug, and we stood there for some time.

“He’s in pretty bad shape,” Calvin said, standing around Mama, Daddy, and me, filling us in on all the information. “The propeller sliced him pretty bad up his side. The doctors said he might lose two of his fingers. It also slightly hit his throat, but…I don’t know. Everything happened so fast. In a blink of an eye, everything changed. We were just out on the water having a good time. Everything was fine. But now…” He pinched the bridge of his nose, like Daddy always did. “Now everything’s changed, and all we can do is wait to see by how much.”

Mama and Daddy wandered off to get coffee for everyone, since we had a long night ahead of us. After coffee, they drove Mrs. Boone to the closest motel for the night to rest. In the corner, Rudolph was having a fit, blaming himself for the accident. Oliver stayed by his side, telling him otherwise. I nudged Calvin with questioning eyes.

“Brooks saved Rudolph from going overboard. The storm rocked the boat, and Rudolph almost fell overboard, but Brooks managed to pull him back. After he yanked him away from the edge, the boat rocked again, sending Brooks over.”


“Rudolph is having a hard time with it—blaming himself. It was a freak accident, though. There was no one and nothing to blame except timing.”

After a while, I found a chair in the corner and curled up in a ball, waiting.

As I waited, I saw and heard everything. Every person’s movement, every person’s voice, every object in the room. Everything felt so close, so real since I’d left home. If a nurse dropped a pen, my head would shoot up to where the sound came from.

It was harder than I’d imagined, leaving home, but it was even harder not knowing if Brooks was all right.

So whenever the devil tried to take over my mind, I closed myself and took a few breaths, remembering that our love was louder than my past moments.