“So what’s the deal with Maggie?” Axel asked around a new cigarette.
Wyatt brought his head in from the passenger side window, where he’d been checking to see if they were as high as he felt.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“You think she just missed the window for getting out of town, or what?”
“I don’t know. That doesn’t sit right,” Wyatt answered. “She was ready to hit the road at like six yesterday.”
“Trouble with the Jeep, maybe?”
It could be trouble with the Jeep, combined with a hurricane, and added to a lack of cell service. That was all just a little too coincidental for Wyatt, though he really didn’t have any concrete ideas otherwise.
He looked out the windshield and got the sensation that he was coming in for a landing. It made him a little queasy, so he looked back out the window.
“How’s she been doing? You know, since David.”
“She’s doing okay,” Wyatt said after a moment. “They’re doing okay.”
“I haven’t seen her since the funeral, but I really don’t know what to say, man,” Axel said. “I’m not that great at meaningful conversation.”
Wyatt turned and looked at Axel. “You guys were really close, right?”
Axel glanced over at him. “Me and David? Yeah, best friends since junior high.”
“Is that why you and Maggie never dated?”
“Me? And Maggie? No, man,” Axel said. “She was beautiful—still is, but I try to go for the least compatible match I can find. Besides, she and David were together forever.”
“Since her christening. Yeah, I know.”
Axel looked over at him and grinned. “Kind of intimidating, isn’t it?”
Wyatt frowned at him. “How do you mean?”
“Geez, Wyatt. You guys don’t really think it’s that much of a secret, do you?” He smiled as Wyatt tried to look confused. “I mean, it’s not in your face obvious, but it’s not all that hard to see, either.”
“We’re not dating, if that’s what you’re implying.”
“I’m not implying crap, I’m saying you guys have something going on.”
“We work together,” Wyatt said, and looked back out the window. “I’m her boss.”
“I’m Petey’s boss, too, but we don’t actually try real hard to look like we’re not seeing each other, you know what I mean?” Axel tossed his cigarette out the window. “Besides, David told me.”
Wyatt sighed and looked over at Axel.
“Hey, he was okay with it,” Axel said. “As okay as you could expect, anyway. He liked you.”
“I liked him, too. I really did,” Wyatt said. “But, it’s against Sheriff’s Office policy.”
Axel shrugged. “Well, I’m against policies.”
“Then you’ll understand if I ask you not to tell anybody about it, right?”
“Don’t sweat it,” Axel answered, lighting another cigarette. “I don’t actually like to talk to people.”
Boudreaux sort of crouched in the water, leaning his head against the trunk of a very young oak. He’d told Maggie he needed to stop and rest a moment, but he suspected that she did, as well.
He turned his head and looked at her. She had an arm wrapped around the tree, and had laid her forehead against the trunk and closed her eyes.
He was struck, as he often had been over the years, by how much she favored her mother. He couldn’t see anything physical of himself in her, but over the last couple of months, he had come to see that, as far as her personality, she did resemble him somewhat.
She was strong and she was direct, she had a very dry sense of humor, and she was fiercely protective of those she loved. He knew that she could push herself past the point at which she became afraid, and that she didn’t become close to people easily.
He supposed that some of these things could be attributed to some of her experiences, as both a teenager and a cop. But he liked to think that at least some of it was genetic.
She opened her eyes and looked right at him, not even a foot away, and he almost felt as though she’d heard him thinking.
“How old is Miss Evangeline?” she asked him.
It took him a moment to understand what she’d asked him. “I have no idea,” he said. “Almost a hundred. Why?”
“She’s really important to you, isn’t she?”
Boudreaux stared at her a moment. He felt a shaking in his chest, a fluttering like a small bird in a very large, otherwise empty space, and he noticed that the tingling sensation that had been in his feet had also now started in his hands. It felt a lot like fainting without falling down.
“It occurred to me not too long ago that she’s the only woman I’ve ever loved,” he said finally.
Maggie blinked at him a few times. “You’ve never been in love?”
“No.” No, I apologize. Not even with your mother. I didn’t even know your mother.
“I suppose it is,” he admitted. “But it’s also probably just as well.”
He turned around, put his forehead against the tree and grabbed it with both hands.
“Miss Evangeline is going to be quite put out with me,” he said, though he wanted to say something important, something he would want her to remember.
“Why? Because you ruined your shirt?”
He tried to smile at her, but he was losing his peripheral vision. “Something of that nature.”
“Come on, we need to get moving again,” she said.
He turned back around to face the direction they’d been heading, but he found it too tiresome to actually push away from the tree. “How much further to your house?” he asked her.
“Not far, maybe a hundred yards or so, to those evergreens, then once we get around those, we’ll be behind my chicken house.”
“Okay. Lead the way,” he said in a near whisper, though he couldn’t see the evergreens, or her for that matter.
Maggie turned and waded a few steps, then looked over her shoulder as Boudreaux slipped sideways into the water.
She turned around and sloshed her way back to him, reached down and grabbed his shirt collar with both hands and pulled his head back out of the water.
“Stop it!” she yelled stupidly. She got one arm under one of his and tried to pull him upright. “Boudreaux!”
His eyelids didn’t even flutter, and she couldn’t tell for certain if he was even breathing. She put two fingers of her free hand to his neck, and thought she might feel something, but it was hard to hold him still, and her hand was shaking.
She looked back over her shoulder toward the house. She’d been cursing the flood water, but now she wished there were just a little bit more of it. It wasn’t deep enough to swim, and swimming him back would be so much easier.
She looked around hurriedly for something she might be able to float him on, but there was nothing. Just water and bushes and trees. She put her fingers on his lower lip and pulled his mouth open, put her ear next to it. She was pretty sure she couldn’t feel or hear any breath, but she was also pretty sure she wasn’t sure. At least, not sure enough to leave him there. There was also no way to do CPR in the damn water, at least not that she knew.
She stared at him a second, then reached underwater with her free hand and grabbed at his belt. It took her a minute to get it undone and then pull it out of the belt loops, but she finally yanked it up out of the water.
She pulled it across his chest and pulled each end under his arms, then held on as she moved behind him. She buckled it as close as she could to his upper back, then she grabbed onto the buckle, turned around, and started wading.