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Authors: EJ McCay

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BOOK: Charitable Hearts
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Twenty Eight

A week later,
Maggie sat outside Phil Greenbriar's office, staring at her phone, debating whether or not she should call Levi. She hadn't spoken to him since their date, and she couldn't count the number of times she'd dialed his number and hung up.

Maggie looked at Mr. Greenbriar’s closed door and back at the phone. When she spoke to him on the phone, he’d asked her to meet him at his office. Now that she was here, he’d kept her waiting. His secretary periodically smiled at Maggie and then went back to reading her magazine.

Maggie had a weird feeling about the interview, but it was a follow-up for the Geeks event. If it helped Levi, she was willing to do it. She’d asked the reporter if he wanted Levi present for the interview since it was his foundation, but the reporter had balked when she mentioned it.

She looked down at her watch and looked around. “Um, if it’s not a good day, I’m more than willing to come back another day.”

“Oh, no. He’s just finishing something up. He’ll be out in just a minute.”

“Okay.”

“Hey Maggie,” Ellis said.

“Ellis? What are you doing here?”

“Laura said I should come.”

Maggie looked past her and Gary was getting off the elevator. Laura was playing matchmaker. She smiled and waved. Ellis turned to see who she was waving at. Gary looked great. He had put a styling product in his hair, and was wearing what looked like brand new jeans and a nice polo.

He smiled as he walked up. “Hey, Maggie.”

“Ellis, I’d like you to meet my friend Gary.” She motioned to Gary. Ellis smiled and held out her hand to Gary.

He took her hand and shook it. Maggie could tell he was nervous. “Gary, I’d like you to meet my assistant Ellis.”

They each said hi to each other, but if they were ever going to have a chance though they needed to be away from Maggie.

“You know what guys? I’ve got this interview.”

Ellis looked panicked. “I have to be here. Laura insisted. She said we don’t know this reporter so I have to be here. I’ll be in trouble if I leave, and Laura scares me.”

“I know. Laura threatened you with bodily harm, but I’ve got it. Why don’t you two go to the little diner on the corner down the street? I’ll finish this interview and I’ll meet you there. I’ll tell Laura you stayed the entire time, okay?”

“Are you sure, Maggie? I don’t think Laura would like that.” Ellis looked distressed.

“I’m positive. What could possibly happen? Go ahead and go.”

Gary and Ellis began walking towards the elevator. Gary turned around and smiled at Maggie, flashing her two thumbs up. Maggie reciprocated and gave him two thumbs up.

As Gary and Ellis got on the elevator, the door opened and the reporter poked his head out. “Miss Lawrence, are you ready?”

Maggie smiled, stood, and walked into the reporter’s office. “Sure.”

“I’m going to be filming this if you don’t mind.”

“No, that’s fine. I’m used to it.”

Maggie sat as the reporter stepped behind his desk and sat down across from her. “So, how long have you been in LA?”

“About five years.” She smiled into the camera.

“You’re really passionate about your Middle Man Foundation. How did that come to be?”

“Well, I wanted to help people, and at some of my speaking engagements I ran into people who were tired of donating money only to find out that their money wasn’t really helping anyone. So I started it to be the middle man, really. I research a foundation thoroughly, find out how they spend their money, and if they meet certain criteria, I donate. At the end of the year our donors, which are made up primarily of middle-class America, get a statement telling them exactly where their money went and who it helped. The money they donate does not go to operation costs or CEO salaries. It all goes to actually helping people.”

“But how did you get to be the face of this foundation?”

“It just sorta happened.”

He leaned back in his chair, and a thin smile spread on his face. “So you aren’t the author of the Famished book series?”

Maggie blanched and she stammered. “Um.”

“M. G. Law. That’s you, right?”

“I…”

“And, what about your family?”

Stunned, Maggie struggled to catch her breath. Her heart raced and she felt like she was drowning.

“Didn’t your family die in a collision with a drunk driver? You never talk about them. Why is that?” The man pulled out a newspaper clipping with pictures of a smashed car and pieces of wreckage all over the road.

Maggie’s mouth went dry and her ears rang. She felt like she was in a wind tunnel. “I have to go,” she whispered and bolted out of the office. Her head spun and she couldn’t think.
Escape.
It was her only thought at that moment. She needed to get back home and hide. Her world was crashing down around her and she felt sick.

Maggie quickly got into the elevator and dialed for a cab. Ellis and Gary would be on their own. The tears she’d been holding back spilled freely once she was behind the elevator doors. Her only thoughts were of getting away.

The phone began to ring and she pulled it out of her pocket. Laura was calling. Maggie turned it off and stuck it back in her pocket. Downstairs, she paced as she waited for the cab. When it arrived, she jumped in and gave the driver directions. One stop and then home. Maggie was going into hiding for a while.

Twenty Nine

Levi smiled as he trotted down to the basement
and sat down next to Gary. “Watching Princess Bride?” He’d spent the entire day working out in preparation for a part he’d landed in a new movie. He still wasn’t the lead actor, but it was going to be a good film for him. If it did well, the next time he auditioned, maybe it would be for the starring role.

“Yeah, I had an itch to watch it.”

“It is the greatest movie ever.”

“It tis.”

“So, you’ve been talking to Ellis every day since you met her. Any plans to go on a date with her?”

“Yep, tomorrow night.”

“Awesome.”

“She’s adorable. I love her laugh. It’s squeaky like a toy, but it’s so stinking cute.”

“I’m glad you’ve met someone.”

“Are you smiling because you finally heard from Maggie?”

“No, haven’t talked to her since our date over a week ago. I told her I wouldn’t push and I’d wait for her to call me.”

“Wow, you are showing some serious restraint.”

Levi’s phone rang. He looked at it puzzled. “It’s Laura.”

“Hey, Levi.”

“Hey.”

“Have you heard from Maggie?”

“No, not since our date. I told her I wouldn’t push her so I’ve been waiting for her to call me. You haven’t heard from her?”

“No, not since the interview with Phil Greenbriar.”

The color drained from Levi’s face and he sat up. “Phil Greenbriar?”

Gary sat up. “Oh, man,” he whispered.

“Yeah, why?”

“He’s not a reporter. He’s a digger.”

“What’s that?”

Levi put his head in his hand. “If you want dirt found, you go to Phil. He doesn’t stop digging until he finds something and he always finds something.”

Laura exhaled sharply. “Oh! Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no.” The level of fear in Laura’s voice put Levi on edge.

“What happened, Laura?”

She took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “I can’t tell you. She has to be the one to tell you.”

“Why can’t you just tell me?”

“Levi, I want to tell you. I really do, but I am the only family she has and if I did it would destroy our friendship. You need to go check on her right now, though. Like, now.”

“Okay. I’ll go check on her.”

“Hold on, before you go, I need to you to do something for me.”

“I’m listening.”

“I don’t know what you will find out there, and there is a chance she will say some horrible things to you. Just do me a favor. Let it roll off your back, and give her time to process it. If she doesn’t come around after a few weeks, I will personally come to LA and let you yell at me for as long as you like. Okay?”

“Okay, Laura. I’m going now.”

“Okay, just text me when you get there and let me know she’s okay.”

“I’ll text you.”

The phone went silent and Levi stood. “I have to go check on Maggie.”

“Man, I hope she’s okay.”

“Did you recognize the place? You met Ellis there.”

Gary shook his head. “No, it looked completely legit.”

“This has Sonja written all over it.”

Gary snarled. “I hate that girl.”

“Should I take the car or the bike?”

“Take the car, just in case, ya know?” Gary didn’t quite meet Levi’s eyes and let the implication hang in the air.

The realization that something could be wrong hit him hard. “Right.” He looked down at his phone and dialed Maggie. “I’m gonna see if she’ll pick up.” He shook his head and took off for the stairs. “Don’t wait up!”

Thirty

The tires skidded to a stop on the gravel road
as Levi hit the brakes in front of Maggie’s house. The entire way, he had tried repeatedly to get Maggie on the phone and it had gone directly to voice mail. The door was wide open and he could hear music filtering out.

It was December, drizzling rain, and even with a coat on he shivered.

He walked to the door and paused in the doorframe. “Maggie?” Boxes were turned over, pictures were spread out everywhere, along with books, and photo albums. Liquor bottles of varying levels were sitting all over the place too. The place looked like the FBI had been there looking for a terrorist. “Maggie?”

The bathroom door opened, and Maggie came walking out in a black tank top and boy-leg underwear, carrying a glass. His mouth dropped open. Her hair was sticking to her head like she’d been outside in the rain, and from where he stood her lips look as though they were tinged blue.

Maggie stopped when she saw him. “Levi?”

He stepped inside the door. “Yeah, were you robbed?”

“Yeah, of my privacy. Thanks for that.”

“Maggie, I swear. Whatever kind of promise I have to make, it was not me. I had no idea you were meeting him and if I had known I’d have never let you go. I swear it.”

“Sure, he just happened to get Laura’s number and ask for an interview with me.”

“I’m positive it was Sonja. I should have known, but I thought she’d come after me. I’m sorry you got caught in the middle.”

“Right. Caught in the middle,” she said and slurred the last word.

“I thought you didn’t drink.”

She leveled her eyes at Levi. “Things change.”

“Who are the people in the photos?”

“You mean you haven’t seen the video?” She pointed to her computer. “Because I’ve been watching it over and over all week. It’s everywhere.” She wobbled before plopping down in her chair.

“I swear I haven’t.”

She made a sweeping motion with her hands. “You are looking at the author of Famished.”

Levi’s mouth dropped open again. “You?”

“Yep, that’s me. I wrote them and now everyone on the planet knows it. Even though I worked hard to keep myself anonymous. I liked my privacy, but just like that,” she said, and downed the rest of the liquid in her glass, “poof, it’s gone.” She picked up a bottle sitting next to the chair, filled up her glass, and took another long drink. “Isn’t that swell?”

“So, that copy of Grey City?”

“It’s part of my contract. I get an advanced copy of the games." Maggie said, staring at the glass she was holding. Her eyelids looked heavy as if someone was trying to close them and she was fighting against it. "They even take the time to make the game they send to me, a little different from the edition that's released to the public.” She pointed to a turned over box. “See, I have the others too.”

Levi looked where she was pointing. Several shrink wrapped video games were piled together. “Gary may die when he finds that out.”

Maggie's whole body trembled as she laughed. “I love that guy. I liked him the minute he answered the door at the party. I even kinda liked his beard. I don’t know why anyone dislikes him. He’s just so…likeable.”

“He loves you too and please don’t tell him you like the beard.”

Maggie threw her head back and cackled. “Deal.”

Levi paused and studied Maggie's face. She was sixteen sheets to the wind. He looked around the house at the bottles that were sitting everywhere. “Can you tell me about the people now?”

She leaned forward and picked up a photo that was lying on the coffee table. “See?” Levi watched the floor where he stepped as he crossed the living room and sat on the coffee table in front of her chair. Maggie handed him the photo.

“Who are they?”

Maggie studied him a moment.

“I promise I will never tell another soul. Pinkies or whatever it is you and Laura say.”

Maggie frowned and bit her lower lip. Levi could see by the look on her face that a debate was raging. For a moment he thought she wasn't going to say anything.

“That’s my family,” she said, a tear ran down her cheek.

“Your family?” He looked at the photo then to Maggie and back.

She scooted to the edge of the chair and pointed to the man in the photo, then to the little girl. “That’s my husband, my five-year-old daughter, Lorelei, and me. What you can’t see in the photo is that I’m sixteen weeks pregnant.” Maggie pulled the photo out of his hands and pressed it against her chest.

Levi looked at her blank-faced. “What happened?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

Maggie’s eyes were already red from crying and drinking; she didn't even try to stop the tears rolling down her face now.

“It’s okay. Don’t.”

She shook her head. “I’ve never told anyone. Not even Laura. You know, she’s the one that stayed at the hospital with me. After…” Her words caught in her throat.

“Really, it’s okay.”

Maggie looked at Levi like she’d just remembered he was sitting in front of her. “Maybe if I tell someone these demons will leave me alone and I can finally live in peace.”

“Maggie…” Levi shook his head. “No, really.”

She put the glass to her lips and emptied it, filled it back up, and emptied it again. “We were coming back from a two-week vacation. It was the first vacation we’d taken since Lorelei was born.” Maggie squeezed her eyes shut and pursed her lips.

“I wanted to take a vacation before the baby came and we were coming back late because, at that point, I just wanted a vacation from the vacation. Ya know?” She swiped at the tears running down her face with the back of her hand. “Mark wanted to stop in a town about an hour from home, but Lorelei was fussing and I wanted to sleep in my own bed. I threw up the whole time we were on vacation because of morning sickness. I just wanted to go home. So, we were arguing and bickering and Lorelei was crying. And my head hurt.”

Maggie stopped and put a hand over her mouth. Her entire body rocked as she tried to control the sobs. She dropped her hand, took a couple of deep breaths, and continued. “We…we were a mile from home, stopped at a stop light. When it turned green, Mark hit the gas and next thing I knew there were headlights coming.” Her voice cracked. “Oh!” She paused, put the glass down, covered her mouth with both hands and rocked in the chair. Maggie was breathing hard when she became still. “Mark was mad and I said things I can’t ever take back,” she said, swallowing hard. The tears poured down her cheeks and she leaned her forehead against the side of the chair. Her whole body trembled as she wept.

Levi desperately wanted to comfort her, but he was afraid to do anything. So he sat quietly.

When she stopped, she continued again. “I woke up three weeks later to find out Lorelei had died on the scene. Mark had died en route to the hospital and I’d lost the baby.”

Maggie closed her eyes and sat with both her hands covering her mouth again, rocking back and forth. When she stopped rocking, she put her hands against the sides her forehead. “Oh,” she cried. “I’ve never told anyone. I’ve never said it out loud and now it’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt.”

“I’m so sorry.”

She instantly stopped and looked Levi in the eyes. “No, no you can’t feel sorry for me. It was my fault. I hounded Mark to keep driving. If I’d just stopped. If I’d have just been agreeable for once, they’d still be with me.” Maggie pushed herself out of the chair and walked into the kitchen.

Levi followed her. “You couldn't have known. It wasn’t your fault.”

Maggie picked up another bottle, this time, vodka, poured a glass, put it to her lips and drained the glass.

Levi could see goosebumps covering her bare skin. “You have to be freezing. I’ve got clothes on and I’m freezing in this house.”

She shook her head and sniffed. “I really don’t feel much right now.”

Levi pulled her into a hug. “Your lips are blue and you feel like ice.”

“I’m fine.”

“Based on the alcohol consumption I’m seeing, I guess you are. Laura is worried about you.”

Maggie pushed away from him. “You can leave and tell her I’m fine.”

“I’m not leaving.”

“Go home, Levi. Go home and find someone who you can love. Someone who doesn’t come with enough baggage to fill a fleet of planes.” She turned, walked out onto the patio and sat down.

“I don’t want someone else. I love you,” Levi said as he followed Maggie outside. The drizzle of rain hitting him in the face felt like ice. He could see his breath in little puffs. “Oh! Wow." He shivered. "You need to come back into the house before you freeze to death.”

In quiet defiance, Maggie hooked her leg on the arm of the chair.

“Come on, Maggie. Let’s go back in.”

“I told you to go home. Go home, Levi.”

“I’ll go home if you come in and shut the doors.”

“I don’t want to come inside.”

“Well, if you want me to go home, then you’ll come inside.”

“Fine.” Maggie pushed herself out of the chair and staggered. Levi caught her. “I can walk.”

“Doubtful.” He scooped her up and took her to the couch, returned to the back door and shut it. Then he walked to the front door and shut it too. The thermostat was off, and Levi flipped the switch to heat and set it to a livable temperature.

Maggie didn’t seem to be fighting him so he crawled up the stairs to her loft, yanked the comforter off her bed, and walked over to the couch, covering her with it. He squatted next to her and pushed her hair out of her face.

Through chattering teeth, she said, “You said you’d go home.”

“I’m working on it. I said I’d go home if you came inside, and you shut the doors.”

“Are the doors shut?”

“Yes.”

“Then go home and don’t ever come back.”

“You don’t mean that.”

She balled the collar of his jacket in her fist and pulled him down to her. “Yes, I do. You deserve better. So go home, and forget you ever met me. Find someone who will love you the way you deserve to be loved. Not some broken, useless, emotional bottomless pit.”

Levi locked eyes with her.

Maggie let go with a push and Levi rocked back on his heels. “Go. Now. And don't come back. I mean it.”

He stood, gave her one last look, crossed the living room, and he was out the door. Maggie curled into a ball facing the couch and bawled until she fell asleep.

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