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Friend of the Family

When disaster strikes, people call on family friends for support.

By Eloise Robertson Published 13 days ago 10 min read
Top Story - April 2024
19

When people say that someone is a family friend, it usually extends to an entire family being friends with another. In small towns where the average-tasting barista coffee is served with a side of gossip, and the elderly eye everyone with a certain disdain, the true meaning of this phrase isn’t yet lost.

To be friends of the family is to hold an alliance.

So when Maggie called Justin at three o-clock in the morning crying through the crackly phone line, asking him to help her hide a body, he obliged without a second thought. It wasn’t until he was in his truck heading up the northern highway that he started to piece together her fragmented words. His vehicle wasn’t sliding or hydroplaning, but he could feel the lack of traction as he took a bend faster than he should have. The black ice was already starting to set onto the tarred surface, threatening to swing his truck into a ditch if he wasn’t careful.

The pit in his gut told him this was the cause of the accident. Maggie’s small 15-inch wheels plus black ice equals a dead pedestrian. But at this time of night, on the highway… Why would there be a pedestrian? There was still something not connecting.

Poor Maggie, he thought. She moved an hour away from home just to work the night shift at a truck stop to pay for her college tuition. With a good head on her shoulders, she could have opened up a business back home, or even worked administration for Justin’s family business, but she wanted more. A fresh start, career prospects, better food, better men… Whatever her reasoning, it led her to this disaster.

The highway blew past him while his mind was occupied running through scenarios, and what he could possibly say to his friend when he found her. The trees lit by his high beams were insignificant on the peripherals while he stared at that tiny blot of nothing where his lights couldn’t reach, like the road was heading into a black hole. Where was Maggie in this black hole ahead?

After what felt like no time at all, he found her little 4-cylinder hatchback askew on the side of the road, unmarked, just like the road. Not a skid mark in sight. Parked just ahead of her was another car, a sedan, brown and unassuming, looking like it had been ripped straight from the ‘nineties. It was also undamaged, so far as he could tell.

With his headlights dipped he pulled up behind her, his bonnet looming over her little bug of a car just asking to be squished. The night air was crisp and bit his cheeks above his beard, pinching his skin till it turned red. The growl of his motor idling stirred the silence away, beating it back into the wilderness where it belonged.

“Maggie?” His voice startled even him; it sounded unnaturally loud. “Maggie, where are you? Are you okay?”

As Justin approached the driver’s door he was met with an empty seat. Car keys were still in the ignition, her recognisable yellow fluff-ball hung from the keychain. He gave her that in a kris-kringle in highschool at their family Christmas, and couldn’t believe it was still mostly in one piece. No doubt she had given it hell, loved it too much and wore it into scrap.

Onward he paced, peering into the next vehicle. The shadow of a duffle bag rested on the backseat but the driver was gone. His heart gave a nervous thump and skipped a beat as the worry gripped it with its bony fingers. It had been a long time since he felt like this. Justin longed for the familiar, so small-town life suited him well. Worry spiraled into fear and exploded into full-blown terror pretty quickly for him. The last time he felt like this was the day he said goodbye to Maggie after helping her move away.

He squeezed his hands into tight fists, reining in his feelings while he moved around the cars. When he saw the body on the ground between her car and the tree line, terror hit him like a truck.

“Maggie?!” he shouted. “Maggie!

His legs moved him and forced him to witness what his brain wasn’t prepared for. In the side cut the body of a middle-aged man lay face up, eyes like vacant orbs staring up at the stars yet seeing nothing. The man’s shirt was soaked in blood, the beams from Justin's truck illuminating the scene enough for him to know the man was dead.

“Juss.”

Maggie’s small voice came from the tree line. There she was, sitting in the bracken, holding her knees to her chest with white hands. Her jaw was flexed tight, her lips pulled taut, her eyes riveted to the body by her car.

“Thank God you’re okay,” Justin gushed. “You scared me half to - oh, you just scared me. Tell me what happened.”

Maggie’s small hands were frozen. Once he broke her grip on her knees, she began to shake. She didn’t utter anything that resembled a word, only broken sounds which strung together would have sounded like gibberish. Justin tried to put his wide shoulders to good use and block the body from her sight while he led her to his truck where the heater was waiting for her.

“Okay, here you go. You are freezing!” Justin wrapped his hands around her fingers. “What happened, are you hurt?”

“N-no. I’m f - I’m not hurt,” she whispered. Finally she blinked and turned her eyes to Justin’s. “I killed him. I just didn’t think.”

“The important thing is that you are okay, and I am here to help you, alright? I just need you to explain what happened.”

A darkness crept into Maggie’s hazel eyes, a haunting look he had never seen on her before. She licked her lips and squeezed his hands, though she didn’t seem to be aware she was doing it.

“I was on my way home after work, and I saw him pulled over, waving me down for help. I pulled over, of course I did.”

Of course she did, a small-town soul always does, Justin thought, but he dreaded her next words.

“He said he had a flat tyre but didn’t have a jack so when I offered to get mine from the boot, he - he grabbed me. I panicked. I got away and went for the gun in my glovebox. Why, why did I go to the glovebox? I should have gotten in and driven away but it all happened so fast!”

Maggie’s words seemed distant, like she was speaking from the other end of a tunnel. Justin watched the tears roll down her cheeks, feeling an unmistakable rage surging through him. He had so much energy, and he wanted to bend the world to his will, to have some control… but there was nothing which could wind back time.

“What do I do? I’ll go to prison, won’t I? He didn’t hurt me, so is it even self-defense anymore?!”

“I won’t let you go down for this,” Justin said in a hard voice. “You have done nothing wrong, believe me. I told you when you left that you could reach out to me any time, for any help you need, and I meant it.”

“Ride or die, you said,” Maggie forced a smile. “Thank you. What do we do?”

Justin wasn’t exactly well-practiced at covering up a murder, but he made a mental checklist and proceeded methodically, dispassionately. There was no need to overcomplicate it. The car would be found no matter if it ended up in a ditch or a car yard, and the hunt for a body would begin either way. The man was leaden in Justin’s arms as he hauled him into the backseat of the sedan. Next, he grabbed the emergency jerry can of petrol from the back of his truck and poured it over the hood of the car and splashed the back seats.

“Maggie, where’s the gun?”

“In my car.”

Justin found it on the passenger seat. All he had was an upholstery cleaner in his truck, but it was enough to polish the gun and return it to the compartment, and wipe away the few spots of blood from her car.

“Alright, we are going home,” he announced. “You’re coming to my place. I need you to drive your car. Please, take your time, I will be right behind you the whole way.”

The fear in her eyes was clear, but she was desperate to believe she would come out of this unscathed. Justin’s steely gaze and set jaw was the thread of confidence she held onto like her life depended on it.

Maggie’s nose wrinkled at the vanilla-scented cleaning agent in her car as she pulled around and waited on the opposite side of the road for Justin. All he had to do was ignite the blaze and then his headlights were following her back to their hometown.

With a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, Maggie took each bend with care, comforted by the glow of Justin’s truck behind her. However brief the moment was, she felt like she was young again in a convoy of teenagers taking their shitty cars for a night drive to go stargazing. Justin’s headlights were always in her rearview mirror, and she was always the first person he spoke to when they arrived at their destination.

Tonight’s events brought them even closer together over the coming months. Shared trauma, and all. A burden shared is a burden halved, is what people say to justify bringing others into their personal drama. This normally wouldn’t cut it for Justin, but Maggie was a family friend, and that runs deeper than most city folk could ever know. An alliance was formed between their families generations ago and Justin and Maggie uphold it to this day.

Without that bond, they surely wouldn’t have married twelve months later.

To have friends of the family is to have strength and security, an army at one’s disposal when going to war with the neighbours.

Maggie finally stopped looking over her shoulder, yet her relief was short-lived. She found another reason to draw on her alliances when a woman knocked on her door on an Autumn morning.

“Hi, sorry to bother you,” the visitor said, dipping her head apologetically. “My name is Jane. About eighteen months ago there was a man found murdered on the highway out of town, car burned out. It was in the papers. His name was Graham. You used to work at the truck stop down the road from there, you had a shift that night from what I am told?”

The air caught in Maggie’s throat and her face grew hot. “Hello. Sorry, do I know you?”

“Oh, I am a friend of Graham’s family.”

Justin heard the newcomer from the kitchen and a heavy dread set into his bones. A friend of the family was on their doorstep, a bringer of closure, or justice, or worse… he didn’t intend on finding out.

“Excuse me,” he interrupted, grabbing the door frame while leaning over his wife’s shoulder. “I think I know what you are talking about, a real tragedy. I don’t understand why you are here though, do you need directions?”

Her hard blue eyes blinked at him. “No. I want to know if Maggie saw anything that night. You left the truck stop heading East, did you see the car on the side of the road, or anything out of the ordinary?”

Maggie swallowed the lump in her throat. “No, nothing. I am a little surprised. How do you know my name, and where I worked?”

“I just asked around,” Jane gave a sickly sweet smile. “It’s amazing what you can find out in a small town.”

Justin waved away their visitor with more pleasantries and as soon as the door clicked shut he rushed to his phone to dial a number. It was time to throw a party and get the family friends together.

Short Story
19

About the Creator

Eloise Robertson

I pull my ideas randomly out of thin air and they materialise on a page. Some may call me a magician.

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insight

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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Comments (12)

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  • ROCK 6 days ago

    Intense and exceptional writing; congratulations on Top Story!

  • Babs Iverson11 days ago

    Fabulous storytelling!!! Loved it!!!💕❤️❤️ Congratulations on Top Story too!!!

  • Anna 11 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story!

  • Asad Message11 days ago

    be nice

  • Lamar Wiggins11 days ago

    Pretty intense! Your descriptions were very vivid. I especially liked this line: 'eyes like vacant orbs staring up at the stars yet seeing nothing.' 😮 Although some comments ask if there will be a sequel, sounds like the couple are preparing for the worst. Congrats on your Top Story!

  • Andrea Corwin 11 days ago

    Oops, forgot to say congrats on TS.

  • Andrea Corwin 11 days ago

    Oh no! Surprise ending for sure. Maybe a sequel?

  • Ameer Bibi11 days ago

    Congratulations 🎉🎉🎉 for top story Your resilience is an inspiration to all who know you. Keep inspiring others with your strength

  • Alyssa Nicole12 days ago

    This is a great story! I love how you ended it. Congrats on the Top Story!

  • Well-wrought! I like how you left it open-ended, and wrapped up the theme in a circular way!

  • Mark Graham13 days ago

    Never know when you will need family for anything. Good work.

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