There are some love stories that will take you on such intensely emotional journeys, shake you to the very core of your being, make you scream, cry, curse, throw things against walls, but also fill you with more hope than you ever thought possible – THIS is one of those books. William and Maggie are going to become two names you might forget one day but you will never forget their story. You will never forget how much it hurt to ‘live’ their life with them, how much emotion you invested in their happiness and how cruel you learned life could be to those who least deserve it.
William has been raised in a loving and supportive household, his family ties being the pillar or everything he is, everything he knows and everything he holds dear. One night while sitting around a bonfire with some friends, he sees Maggie and he is inexplicably drawn to her. Everything about her mesmerizes him – her every shy movement, her every reluctant word, her every timid glance directed his way – their connection is irreversibly forged that night. But Maggie is a troubled young woman. Her fragility comes from never having known what being loved felt like. Her history of domestic abuse has marked her deeply, scarred her self-confidence and made her see herself as unworthy of love. Damaged. Tainted. When she meets William she has already allowed the next abusive man into her life. William is like a bright light at the end of a dark and scary tunnel but Maggie is uncertain of whether she can take the necessary steps to reach that light. What first begins as a friendship, gently develops into an over-consuming bond.
“William had been the only one who had ever cared enough to really see me.”
For the first time, Maggie learns what it feels like to be loved, cherished, protected. William’s love is the first beacon in her young life and it fills her with something she’s never dared to feel – hope. But for Maggie it is easier to accept and expect the cruelty coming from a man’s violent hand than the devotion and kindness that Williams offers her. Eventually some demons are hard to fight and the young lovers are torn apart, taken from each other by such unspeakable evil, breaking their hearts and forcing them to spend the next six years living far from each other. Their lives resume like nothing ever happened between them but neither of them are able to forget what they had.
“I’d buried it all in a place just under the surface where the memories of her touch ran rampant in my fantasies, freed only in the lonely moments of the night.”
Six years later, Williams returns to his home town, disillusioned with life, relationships, himself, but desperate to see again the girl that forever stole his heart. Unfortunately, life for Maggie has only become worse, making William realize that some decisions made in the heat of the moment can carry cruel repercussions. The more he learns about her current life, the more he hates himself for leaving her, making this a story of not just second chances but also about seizing life when it matters the most so that every waking moment is not spent in regret and what-ifs.
“I knew she was broken, knew no matter where she ended up in life, her past would always be there to haunt her, knew she had so much to overcome. But I also knew, underneath it all, she was strong. I saw it in her eyes and felt it in her spirit. I knew she was kind and good, knew she was beautiful. And I knew I was never going to stop loving her.”
William’s feelings of guilt are palpable, their taste bitter in our mouths, their heaviness hard to absorb. His love for Maggie is noble and pure but it takes the entire book to redeem him in our eyes for the decisions he made as a young man. His journey of redemption is one that he travels bravely and with strength of character. Maggie, on the other hand, is the ultimate victim in this story as life has rarely shown her any kindness. Her sadness and pain are so deeply ingrained into her, compartmentalizing her mind, making it capable of shutting down when pain, sadness, humiliation, helplessness become unbearable. She drifts through life like a ghost, constantly overwhelmed by the demons that are gently crushing her beautiful spirit into oblivion. It is difficult to imagine going through what she lived through every single day of her life and not shattering like a glass. But not Maggie. She might appear fragile and weak but her strength and resilience shine through her. We can’t judge any of the decisions that she makes at any point in her life because when one is dealt such a bad hand, one is allowed to deal with it all the best they know how and even make mistakes in the process. Every decision she has ever made has been motivated only by selflessness and total regard for the wellbeing of the ones she loved. She is a heroine you will welcome into your heart, never resent for her actions and only respect her even more for them.
“I’d been building up to this, searching for the courage to find my voice, for the place inside me that knew it was okay to ask for what I wanted.”
I guarantee you will find this book to be tempestuous, brutal, grueling, impossible to take at times, but it will also warm your heart, leave you happy in the end and hopefully just a little bit more grateful for the positives in your own life. This is the second novel by A.L. Jackson that I have read and I am ready to build this woman a shrine. Right after she pays for my therapy sessions.