It had been weeks since Josh had been brought down. Maggie was spending most of her free time with Tucker or one of the band members. All of the bruises had faded, but Maggie still flinched if there was an unexpected loud noise. The mental damage would be harder to heal than the external wounds.
Tucker and Maggie laid in the bed of his truck and looked up at the stars together. It was warm and the sky was clear. They had found a place out of town where the stars could be seen without the light pollution of the city. They talked about nothing like they usually did. Meaningless subjects passed between them in companionable ramblings. But there was one question that was weighing on Tucker's mind and had been for some time.
"Maggie, can I ask you something?" He asked after taking a deep breath.
She laughed. They had just been talking about the difference between raw and cooked celery. It was not particularly a heavy subject. "Sure, Tucker, go ahead."
"Why Josh?" The name made Maggie fall silent, but the question was out now and Tucker wasn't going to take it back. "Why stay with him when he treated you like that?"
Maggie didn't remove her gaze from the stars above, but her entire body tensed. "He wasn't always like that. When we met he was perfect - the ideal boyfriend. Everyone said I was so lucky to have landed him. When I started here I was a dorky little freshman who didn't know anyone. My aunt was great, but I never really made friends in Florida. Then I came here and suddenly the most popular guy on campus was paying attention to me. He made me feel special and cared for."
"But...?" Tucker knew there had to be more to the story.
"But then he would get angry sometimes. It wasn't often at first. I thought he was just stressed with football and classes. He would yell and break things and rage about something or other. He never laid a finger on me though. Then one day I said that I couldn't go to his football game because I had to work and he threw me into a table. I told myself that I would leave him right then and that I wouldn't let him treat me like that, but then he seemed so apologetic. I got flowers and little gifts for weeks after like he really regretted it. Everything went back to being great. I went to his practices and games and we would meet each other after classes and people would say how cute we were.
"Then he got really touchy about his phone. We used to share phones all the time until he got a fancy upgrade then he wouldn't let me touch it. When he hit me he said it was my fault and I should have known not to touch his phone. I believed him. I told myself that if I could just be better he wouldn't have to hurt me. When we were around other people it was like a dream and I convinced myself that those times were worth the bruises. Besides, without him I would go back to being just some dorky girl no one paid attention to. Josh didn't leave me much time for making other friends. I didn't think I could do that."
"Oh, Maggie," Tucker reached over to grab Maggie's hand.
Maggie held his hand tightly as she went on with her story. "Then you came and I was so happy to see you, but Josh immediately hated you. He interrogated me forever after he saw me with you that first time. Then you invited me to meet your friends and it was so much fun and so easy. I didn't have to watch what I said or did. Then I saw you with Carla and it reminded me that I was with Josh and you were with her..."
"Carla and I were never together. I just met her at the party."
"Right. The party." Maggie made a face. "Amber never did finish her story about how amazing you were with Carla upstairs."
Tucker groaned. That day had ended in a train wreck. "It wasn't like that at all. I mean we did make out at the party and there was drinking. We almost...I almost...but we were drunk and I couldn't do that. I called Allie and she found one of Carla's sorority sisters to take her home."
Maggie laughed but the laugh choked and turned into a sob. She buried her face in her hands and turned away. Immediately worried, Tucker sat up and tried to figure out what was wrong. He gently put a hand on Maggie's shoulder and tried to turn her back around to face him. "Maggie?"
"You always have been respectful and nice to everyone, Tucker." Maggie hiccuped and tried to stop her tears. "I forgot that people can be so nice."
Tucker felt a lick of anger at the injustice that Maggie had suffered at the hands of people who didn't care about her, but he pushed it away. "Hey, hey, you don't have to be around people like that any more. If anyone tries to lay a hand on you again I'll kick their ass."
Maggie hiccuped again and gave a weak chuckle. "You mean Allie and Jetta will beat them up. You can barely throw a punch."
"I gave Josh a bloody nose!" Tucker argued indignantly. The change of topic seemed to be cheering Maggie up. "But I think I can let Allie and Jetta handle the fisticuffs from now on."
Now Maggie gave a real laugh. "I'll never forget seeing Josh held down by Allie and Jetta. He was not expecting that."
"No one could expect those two."
They laughed together before falling silent and turning back to the stars above. Maggie had stopped crying but the tears were still on her face. "You know, I always thought that I could be brave like a star."
Tucker turned to face Maggie but didn't say anything.
"They are so far away from anything and surrounded by nothing but darkness, but they still shine. I thought that maybe I could be like that whenever I felt alone – that I could be brave, but I just couldn't there was too much darkness around. I think I felt more alone when I was with Josh and just didn't want to admit it. I guess that I wouldn't make a very good star."
Tucker clenched his jaw and pulled Maggie into a sitting position so he could look her directly in the eyes. "You are never going to be alone again. I swear it."
More tears were gathering in Maggie's eyes, but they sprang from a new emotion: hope. She hugged Tucker tightly and he could feel tears on his shirt.
He hugged her back just as tightly and rested his cheek on the top of her head. "You know, some of those bright stars are double stars. You don't have to be alone to shine."