Danny looked at Austin with complete surprise.
"How could you possibly know about her?" he asked, stunned.
Both of them returned their gazes to the two Hilltop Girls seated at the picnic table.
"I was walking Rufus on The Turnpike one morning and came across Mimi hiding out there," Austin revealed. "I told her about The Legacy of Bucky Mason but she wasn't sure if she believed me so I did some research and we came up with a theory," he explained.
"What kind of theory?" Danny asked quietly.
"That you killed Bucky Mason to protect Maggie Hebert's honor," Austin said.
There was silence in the truck for a long time.
"I knew her routine by heart," Danny finally said, not taking his eyes off of Maggie who sat totally unaware at the table with Mimi. "I knew whenever she was going downtown to Step UP! I'd sit on the porch of that old tenement apartment building at the corner of Hillside and Hill and wait for her to pass by." He sucked in a deep breath. "On that particular day she didn't walk past like she was supposed to. I sensed something was wrong. So I walked up The Boardwalk and saw a shoe lying there half way down. I heard some muffled noise coming from the woods so I followed The Turnpike and came across Bucky Mason assaulting her."
"So it was you," Austin said with amazement.
"He had ripped most of her clothes off. He was on top of her. I felt rage." Danny spoke as if he was in a daze, slowly and distantly. "I don't even remember picking up the tree branch. The next thing I knew Bucky was lying in the dirt with his head bashed in. His eyes were open, staring vacantly at the sky."
Austin felt a chill run down his spine. "What did you do then?" he asked.
"Covered up all evidence of Maggie being there," Danny revealed. "She was in shock of course. She got dressed as best she could. Her ripped blouse was covered in blood. I walked her home. She took a shower. I buried her blouse."
"But you missed the button back at the scene," Austin realized.
"Didn't matter," Danny revealed. "Maggie's old man was connected. By the time the cops showed up to interview Maggie, the old man had lawyered her up and they denied any involvement."
"Did they know about you?"
"They knew I liked her from talking to my friends and other kids at school," Danny acknowledged. "But the Heberts' never gave me up."
"Did you ever see her again?" Austin asked. "Talk to her?"
Danny shook his head no. "Not after I left her house that day," he said. "I told her to deny everything. To forget everything."
"I don't think that's something you can ever forget," Austin said.
"Of course not," Danny agreed, still staring at Maggie. "But we shared the same secret all these years."
"Why'd you leave?" Austin asked. "If they didn't have anything on you?"
"My mother was afraid for me," Danny revealed.
"She had a pretty good idea," Danny said. "She sent me to live with my Aunt and Uncle in Michigan."
"You were okay with that?"
"Maggie moved away," Danny said. "Mason had friends. I needed a new start far away from here."
"So the cops went with the drug deal gone bad story?"
"Technically, the case is still open," Danny revealed. "But they let that narrative stand. There wasn't a lot of sympathy for Bucky. Maggie's old man obviously pulled strings and had influence. I wasn't going to argue."
Austin gave Danny a glance. "How'd you deal with it?" He asked. "Knowing?"
"What choice did I have?" Danny sighed. "I killed a guy."
"But you saved her," Austin said, gesturing toward Maggie.
"That's how I deal with it," Danny replied. "Knowing she's okay."
They both stared at the Girls of Hilltop for a long moment.
"What do we do now?" Austin wondered.
"Do you really like her?" Danny wanted to know.
Austin let out a sigh. "Yeah, I really like her."
Danny nodded with understanding. "Don't make the same mistake I made," he said after a pause.
"What mistake was that?"
"Waiting until it was too late to talk to her," Danny said, opening the door to the truck.
"Where are you going?" Austin asked with surprise.
"To talk to her," Danny grinned, stepping out of the truck and starting to limp toward the picnic table.
Austin jumped from the truck and caught up with him. They must have looked like two G-men in their suitcoats as they approached their Girls From Hilltop.
Mimi glanced up first and noticed the two approaching. Her eyes went wide because when she saw the guy limping she immediately knew it was Danny Grazzo home for his mother's funeral, remembering how Austin told her about the guy's bike accident years ago.
Maggie must have seen the look on Mimi's face because she slowly turned and saw the two men walking toward her. She had no idea who the younger man was, of course, but she recognized Her Hero Savior Danny Grazzo right away even though she hadn't seen him in twenty years. Her eyes went wide and her heart leaped in her chest but she sat motionless.
"His mother died this week," Mimi whispered to Maggie. "That's why he's here."
Maggie looked at Mimi with confusion. "You know?"
"Hello, Ladies," Danny said when he and Austin reached the table where the two Girls of Hilltop were just finishing their cones. He turned to Mimi. "So, do you like the kid here or not?"
Mimi's face turned red.
"That's the boy?" Maggie asked Mimi.
"I like the kid," Mimi admitted sheepishly. "But I don't think my parents will."
"Maggie will talk to them about that," Danny predicted. "In the meantime, why don't you tell him?"
Mimi stood from the table and slowly walked toward Austin. "I like you," she said nervously. "And I don't want to be anonymous anymore."
"Good," Austin said with a relieved smile, taking her hand and pulling her close to him.
The two teens looked at Bucky's victims. Maggie was still staring at Danny who stood motionless. But then she slowly stood from the table.
"How would you two like to go to a wedding tomorrow?" She asked.
"What time?" Austin asked. "Danny has to bury his mother in the morning."
"Why don't you guys come to that first?" Danny suggested.
Maggie nodded with understanding. "We'd be honored," she said.