“What’s happening?” Michael asked, his brow bent. “What’s wrong with her? Should I call for help?”
“No,” James said. “I think it’s best if they just leave. It’s obvious she’s having some kind of mental breakdown.”
“It’s not a mental breakdown,” I snapped. “She’s just…” My words faltered and I shifted my attention to Maggie. “Maggie. What’s happening?”
“He killed her,” she said. “He’s the one from the woods.”
I turned to James and in a split second I saw the fear in his eyes.
“She drowned in Harper Creek. I saw her. I saw you drown her,” Maggie cried.
“You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, little girl, so you best stop talking.”
“You killed your wife,” Maggie said as she began to stand up. “I saw you. I was there.”
“Dad?” Michael whispered, his voice shaking. “What is she talking about?”
“Hell if I know. She’s obviously delusional. She needs to be evaluated. I’m sorry, Brooks, but I need you to go. I don’t know what sparked her panics, but you need to get that girl help. I’ll even cancel out your charges for the boat. Just get that girl some help.”
“Tell the truth,” Maggie said, standing taller each second. “You tell the truth. Tell him what you did.”
James walked over to his desk and sat in his chair. He lifted his telephone and waved it in the air. “That’s it. I’m calling the cops. This is getting out of hand.”
Maggie didn’t say a word. Her arms crossed, and even though she shook, she didn’t fall. “Fine. Call them. If you didn’t do what I know you did, dial nine-one-one.”
James’ hand began to shake, and Michael’s eyes widened with horror.
“Dad. Call them. Dial the number.”
James slowly placed the phone down on the desk. Michael almost collapsed to the ground. “No. No…”
James looked at Maggie, defeated, stunned. “How? How did you know?”
“I was the little girl who saw the whole thing.”
“Oh my God,” James began sobbing, covering his eyes with the palms of his hands. “It was an accident. It was all an accident. I didn’t mean to…”
“No.” Michael kept shaking his head. “No, Mom left us. Remember? She ran off with someone else. That’s what you told me! That’s what you swore happened.”
“She did. Well, she was. She was going to leave us, Michael. I knew she was going to leave. I found phone calls from some guy in her phone, and she shrugged it off. We got into a fight, and she stormed off into the woods. Oh my God, I didn’t mean to do it. You gotta believe me.” He stood and rushed to his son’s side. “Michael, you gotta believe me. I loved her. I loved her so fucking much.”
I stepped in front of Maggie, uncertain of what James might do. He seemed deranged, the way he paced back and forth running his hands through his hair. He hurried over to his desk, unlocking drawers and pulling out paperwork.
“Dad, what are you doing?” Michael asked, flabbergasted.
“We gotta go, Michael. We gotta get lost for a while. You and me, okay? It’s always been you and me. We can start over. I made a mistake, but I’ve dealt with the guilt. I’ve lived each day with the guilt of what I’ve done. We gotta go now.”
“Dad, calm down.”
“No!” James’ face was red. He kept rolling his shoulders and blowing out short breaths of air. “We need to leave, Michael. We have to…” His words faltered as he started to sob uncontrollably. “I held her, Michael. I held her in my arms. I didn’t mean to…”
Michael approached his father with his hands raised. “It’s okay, Dad. Come here, come here. We’ll go. We’ll go.” He wrapped his arms around his father and pulled him in close. “You’re okay, Dad. You’re fine.”
James continued to cry into his son’s t-shirt, saying words that were unrecognizable.
When Michael looked over at me, he nodded toward the desk telephone, and mouthed, “Call the police.”
By the time James realized what was happening, it was too late. His son held him in a bear hug and wasn’t going to let him budge. The cops arrived, and after some explanation of the situation, James was taken into custody. The whole time Maggie stood tall. She spoke to the police officers with poise and strength. Her words never tumbled, and her voice hardly shook.
When the police car with James inside drove off, a heavy breath left her body. “He’s gone?” she asked me.
“Yeah. He’s gone.”
Her body almost collapsed to the ground, but I caught her. I held her up as she cried and cried, but I knew her tears weren’t from fear anymore.
They were the tears of her freedom.
After the events unfolded, the police sent out a search team to search Harper Creek. It took five days before they discovered Julia’s body. The discovery weighed heavy on many people—all of Harper County. Maggie’s family dealt with the revelation of what had happened the best they could, which meant standing by one another through all of it. I wasn’t too worried about them—they’d come out on the other side stronger for their dark days.
Yet the person I felt the most for was the son who believed his mother walked out on him. The son who lived a life with a father who in a blink of an eye became a monster. Michael had a long road ahead of him, and I wasn’t sure how he’d deal with the truths that unfolded in front of his eyes.
I’d prayed he’d find peace as he stood in the eye of the storm.
I was due in court, but my feet wouldn’t budge.
I wore a black laced dress, yellow flats, and my hair was curled, along with my eyelashes, thanks to Cheryl.
“You have to look presentable in court, Maggie. There are always cameras around, especially when you leave the building. With a story as big as this one, there’s going to be reporters,” she explained as she curled my hair.
Since she’d finished making me camera appropriate, I’d moved to my floor-length mirror, and I hadn’t stopped staring. Everyone was worried about me after what had happened at James’ Boat Shop. They’d thought I’d fall back into my fear, back into my silence—which was somewhat true. I hadn’t spoken much since James was taken into custody. I hadn’t said a word at all about what I witnessed in those woods, even though they knew it had to be awful watching a woman die and believing you were next.