When I was called to testify against James, I quickly agreed. I knew how important my side of the story would be. I knew how important it was to finally speak not only for myself, but for Julia. For Michael.

I was ready. I was ready to go to the courthouse. There was only one small problem: my feet wouldn’t move.

Brooks showed up and stood in my doorway. He wore a navy blue suit with a checkered light blue tie. His small smile made me grin. He didn’t say anything, but I knew what he was thinking.

“I’m okay,” I whispered, going back to smoothing out my dress.

“Liar,” he said, walking over to me. He stood behind me and wrapped me in his arms. We stared at one another in the mirror. Brooks rested his chin on my shoulder. “Tell me what it is. What’s going on in that head of yours?”

“It’s just…I have to sit across from him today. I have to sit knowing what that man did and try my best not to react. When I saw him before, everything happened so fast. It was all a flash, but now I really have to face him. He was the one who dealt me my hand; he was the one who stole my voice from me. How do I deal with that? How do I stand in front of the man who stole my voice all those years ago, and how do I ask for him to give it back?”

“You don’t ask,” Brooks said. “You take it. You take back what he stole from you without permission. Without guilt. It’s yours. The only way you take it back is by telling your story. You have a voice, Maggie May. You always have. Now it’s just time for the rest of the world to hear it.”

“Can we listen to a song maybe?” I asked, still nervous.

“Always.” He took out his phone and grabbed a pair of earbuds, handing me one. “What do you want to hear?”

“Play something that will drown me,” I whispered.

So he played me our song.

I told my story. Every piece, every inch, every scar. My family sat in court listening. Mama cried, and Daddy wiped her tears. Cheryl and Calvin didn’t look away from me for a second’s time. I wasn’t certain I would’ve been able to speak so loud without their quiet support coming my way.

When I finished, I met my family in the hallway, and they told me how strong I’d been, going through everything I experienced. The doors to the courtroom opened minutes later, and Michael walked out. His eyes were heavy, and I could see it—the weight of the world on his shoulders. He walked in my direction and gave me a smile that transformed to a frown within seconds. His hands were stuffed in his slacks.

“Hey, sorry. I know I’m probably not supposed to talk to you, but I just wanted to say what you just did was brave. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what you went through your whole life. I’m so sorry for what happened to you.”

“You have no reason to be sorry. You’re not your father’s mistakes,” I told him.

He nodded understandingly. “I know, I know. But still. Your life was stolen from you. And my mom…” He snickered nervously. “I thought she walked out on us. I spent all my life confused and hating her, because every memory I had of her was filled with love. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why she’d leave.”

“If she had a choice, she would’ve never left your side,” Mama chimed in. “Trust me, I know.”

Michael thanked my mom and started to walk off until he heard me calling after him.

“She didn’t suffer,” I lied. “It was fast, painless. It was over in seconds. Your mom didn’t suffer.”

His shoulders appeared less heavy as I spoke to him. “Thank you, Maggie. Thank you for that.”

After years of not speaking, I understood the importance of words. How they had the power to hurt individuals, yet they also had the power to heal if used correctly. For the rest of my life I’d try my best to use my words carefully.

They had the power to change lives.

The next day I headed over to Mrs. Boone’s house with tea and turkey sandwiches. She rolled her eyes when she made her way to the door and then invited me inside to eat.

“I saw you on the news yesterday,” Mrs. Boone said. “You could’ve used a bit more makeup. You were on television, not at some pajama party, Maggie.”

I smirked. “Next time.”

“Next time…” Mrs. Boone huffed, shaking her head. “I’d think you were kidding, but you and your boyfriend might be the most dramatic people I’ve ever met, so I wouldn’t put it past you for there to be a next time,” she said, drinking her tea. “And you are awful at picking out tea. This is disgusting.”

I laughed. “Now you know how I’ve felt all these years.”

She looked up from her cup, and her hands began to shake. “Your voice isn’t as ugly as I thought it’d be.” She smiled and nodded her head, pleased. A semi-compliment from my favorite frenemy was the best. She picked up her sandwich and took a bite. “I knew you would talk someday. I knew you’d be able to do it.”

The two of us talked for hours about anything and everything that came to mind. We laughed together, which was the best feeling ever. When it began to get late, Mrs. Boone used her walker to get to the front foyer. Whenever her nurse tried to help her, she told her to piss off. Which in Mrs. Boone’s world meant, ‘thank you.’

“Well, you take care, Maggie May, and take a break from tragedy, all right? It’s time for you to go and live the life you deserve with that boy who looks at you all googly-eyed. But don’t be afraid to stop by any time you need a break from your adventures for some tea.” Her eyes met mine, and she gave me the sweetest grin I’d ever seen. “Or you know, just to talk to an old friend.”

“I will do.” I smiled. “I love you, Mrs. Boone.”

She rolled her eyes, wiped away a falling tear, and replied, “Yeah. Whatever.”

Which in Mrs. Boone’s world meant, ‘I love you, too.’

As I crossed the street, I noticed all of my family members sitting on the front lawn, staring up at the house. “What’s going on?” I asked, walking over to them. Cheryl was resting her head on Calvin’s shoulder, and Daddy’s arms were wrapped around Mama. I sat down beside my siblings and stared up.

“We’re saying goodbye,” Daddy said.

“What?” I shook my head. “You’re selling it?”