The closer he grew, the more my stomach tightened. He stopped midway and stomped out his cigarette, then waved us over. “Hey, sorry about the wait. Long phone call, you know, business and all. How about you two head inside with me and we’ll get all of the paperwork done in my office.”
We started in his direction, catching up with him. He held his hand out to me. “Hey, I’m James. Nice to meet you.”
I shook his hand, and the smell of tobacco danced beneath my nose. An unsettling feeling took over my gut. He led us to his office and closed the door behind him. Wilson was still barking, and James shouted once more. “Shh, Wilson! Shut it!” He massaged his temple and apologized. “After all these years that dog still won’t shut up. Anyway.” He plopped down in his chair and gave Brooks a tight smile. “I wish we were meeting on better terms. I’m sorry about your accident. It’s unfortunate when freak accidents take place like that.”
He rolled up his sleeves, and my eyes fell to his forearm, studying his tattoos.
The air in the room was getting thicker, and I swore the walls were moving in on me. He reached in front of him and grabbed two pieces of black licorice.
My mind started spinning faster and faster. I felt his hold on me. I felt his hands around my neck, his lips against my ears, his body on top of mine.
I pushed my chair back and stumbled to stand. “No,” I murmured, moving away from his desk. “No…”
James stared at me with narrowed eyes. “Uh, are you okay?” His glare shifted to Brooks. “Is she okay?”
Brooks stood up and walked in my direction. “Maggie, what is it?” The closer he came, the more my body shook. I shut my eyes, shaking my head back and forth. No. No.
Not only could I see him, but I felt him. I felt his face against my face, his skin against my skin, his lips against…
“Maggie, it’s okay,” Brooks said, his voice soothing. “You’re just having a panic. It’s okay, everything’s all right.”
“No!” I shouted, my eyes shooting open. “No, it’s not okay. It’s not okay. It’s…” I felt cold. I felt sick. I was going to throw up. I knew I’d throw up.
Within seconds my past and present crashed together, and I blinked.
A man was there with another. A woman. She kept telling him no, saying she couldn’t be with him anymore, and he didn’t like that. “We have a life together, Julia. We have a family.”
I blinked again.
Brooks grew closer to me, his eyes filled with worry. “Maggie, talk to me.” James stood from his chair and raced his fingers through his hair, walking my way.
He screamed at her, his voice cracking. “You fucking whore!” he shouted, slapping her hard across the face. She stumbled backward and whimpered, her hand flying to her cheek. “I gave you everything. We had a life together. I just took over the business. We were getting on our feet. What about our son? What about our family?”
Wilson started howling, and James shouted over and over again, shushing the dog. “Michael! Get that damn dog to be quiet!” His eyes moved over to me. He wouldn’t take his eyes off me.
“Don’t look at me,” I whispered.
My hands clamped up, my mind spun. I stumbled backward, breaking each and every branch my flip-flops hit along the way. My back slammed against the closest tree trunk as the devil’s chocolate brown eyes danced across my body.
Michael came into the room. His eyes narrowed when he looked my way. He seemed confused. Everyone was confused. Everyone yelled. Everyone shouted over one another, trying to figure out what was happening to me. I didn’t know what was happening to me.
“She’s sweating like crazy. She’s going to pass out.”
My throat was tight. He was choking me. The devil was inches away from me, and I could feel his grip around my neck.
He placed a hand around my neck, choking me, making it harder and harder to breathe. He cried. He cried so much. He cried and apologized. He apologized for hurting me, apologized for pushing a few fingers into the side of my neck, making it harder and harder for me to find my next breaths. He told me he loved her, told me love did it to him, to her. He swore he’d never hurt her. He promised he wouldn’t hurt the woman he already killed.
James’ hand lay against my skin, and I shoved him away. “No!” I fall backward, into the corner of the room. “Don’t touch me.” My hands flew to my ears, and I slid down against the wall. “You did this! You did this!” I screamed, my throat burning, my heart pounding against my ribcage. “You did this!”
“You weren’t supposed to be here, but now you are,” he said, lowering his face down to me. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” He smelled like tobacco and licorice, and his forearm had a big tattoo of two praying hands with a person’s name beneath it. “How did you get here?” he asked.
I felt dirty.
I felt used.
I felt trapped.
Did Brooks see it? Did he see the tattoo? Did he smell the tobacco? Did he notice the licorice?
I shut my eyes. I didn’t want to feel. I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want to blink anymore. I kept my eyes closed. I didn’t want to see, but, I still saw. I saw him. I felt him. He was still a part of me.
Everything grew darker.
Everything became shadows.
Everything went black.
Then, I screamed.
“You killed her! You killed her! You killed Julia!”
The space filled with silence. Maggie shook in the corner and wouldn’t stop crying. Michael was staring at his father, and James’ eyes were on Maggie.
“What did you just say?” Michael asked, confused.
Maggie’s hands were pressed to her ears, and I could almost feel her fear. Her lips parted to speak, but no sound came out.
“Listen, I don’t know what’s going on, but it might be best if you both go,” James said with a weighted sigh. He walked over to Maggie and placed his arm on hers to lift her up.
She started shaking more, curling into a ball. “No! Please, don’t,” she cried.
I hurried to her side and slightly shoved him away from her. “Back up please.”