“Brad? Brad, wake up.” I can hear a man, crying. And I hear buzzing. Emily is speaking to me. My head hurts. She’s patting my cheek. She keeps patting my cheek. I want her to stop.
“Stop,” I say.
I open my eyes, pull my head away. Emily Chin is over me, looking down. A man is crying. I can hear a man crying.
“This is about all the excitement I can take for one evening,” Emily says.
“What’s going on?”
“You were out for a while. Here. Can you get up? Stuff is going on, and you’ve got to get into this game.”
She puts her hand under my back, and helps me into a sitting position. My head hurts. The buzzing has stopped. We are in my house, the duplex I share with Emily – me up, her down. The clock says two o’clock. Sunday morning? I think so.
Out on the deck, Bobby Whitehurst is sitting in one of the big lounge chairs, sobbing. My head hurts.
“Why is Bobby crying,” I say. “What happened?”
Emily frowns. “You don’t remember.”
“If I remembered, I wouldn’t be asking.”
“What do you remember?”
I stared at the clock, and tried to conjure it up. I had to work it a little. “You and I went fishing with Bobby. Then we came back here, and I remember coming up here with you two for a beer.”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, after that, it got to be a very long night in a big hurry. You checked your phone messages. You got a call from Maggie.”
“Maggie Whitehurst,” I said. Bobby’s wife. Emily nodded. I started getting a bad feeling. My head hurt.
“Yes. She said she was in trouble, and needed your help. She said she hoped you could go down to the Outer Banks soon, and help her with a problem. And…”
“You don’t remember.”
“I don’t remember.”
“And she said she loved you.”
I let that sink in for a beat or two. My head hurt.
“Bobby was listening.”
“She said she loved you, and wished you were there so she could show you how much. Bobby heard it all.”
I looked out on the deck. Bobby was still bent over, holding his head in his hands. The sobs had subsided, but he was still crying.
“So he hit me?”
“Yeah. But that wasn’t the worst of it.”
“Jesus. It gets worse?”
She went on. “Bobby got a phone call while you were out.” She put her hands on my cheeks, and pointed my face at hers. “Listen to me, sweetie. Maggie is dead. They said it looks like she committed suicide.”
My head hurt.
Emily helped me get to my feet. The pain was a kind of burning sensation on the left side of my head, above my ear. Jaw, too, but more of a throb. I walked shakily out to the deck, Emily trailing, watching, as if there was something she could do. Catch me maybe. Bobby was still in the chair, staring down at the deck. He looked up when he heard me open the door out onto the deck, eyes empty.
I expected anger. Bobby is a big blond fella, from a long line of Virginians. He’s a successful contractor – worked his way up from common labor to own his own firm. If his ancestors were as big and strong as him, they must have looked pretty scary in gray uniforms, carrying rifles. But if I expected anger, I got hurt, instead. I didn’t exactly blame him. We’d been friends; maybe not best friends, but very good friends, for a very long time. I started to speak.
He spoke slowly. “You. Shut. Up. You just shut the fuck up.” There was no emotion behind it. His hands were in his lap, the anger drained.
“Listen, Bobby. I…”
“Maggie and I separated last week. Did you know that? She said she had to go home to take care of some things, to get her head together. I knew she wasn’t coming back. Did you know she left?”
“Well she did. It’s why I came over tonight, to see if you’d seen her…if you’d…been with her.”
“I haven’t seen her in a few weeks. Last time was with you when we went out for dinner.”
“Why did she leave you that message? Why did she say she loved you?”
“What did the recording say?”
“You heard it,” he said, frowning.
“I don’t remember hearing it,” I said. “You hit me, and I don’t remember anything after us coming up the stairs.”
“She said she was in trouble, and needed your help. Said she was in over her head. Said she loved you. Said she wanted to show you how much. Why did she say that?”
“And the police called?”
“It wasn’t the police, it was Maggie’s mother. Right after you went down, the cell phone went off. Why did she say that?”
“Bobby. There wasn’t…”
“I didn’t know,” he said, shoulders slumped, deflated. “I maybe guessed it once or twice, but I figured it wouldn’t be…couldn’t be you. But to hear it from her…and then the rest of this. Why would she do this? I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.”
He stood up. “I’ve got to go down there. I have things to do.” He moved toward the stairs, down to his big pickup truck in the driveway.
I took a step toward him. “Bobby. I’m sorry…it was over.”
“You,” he said. “You say. But I heard her. I heard her say the words. It wasn’t over to her.” He was close to breaking down again. So was I. “And are you really sorry?”
No, I thought.
No, no, no. This isn’t happening.
“Yes,” I said.
He was already down the stairs.
“I’m really sorry,” I said. “For all of it.”