The sun was rising over the green hills. Silhouettes of oaks, cypresses, and pines filled the ridges of the small mountain crests in the distance. The black sky had turned gray and was quickly beginning to show its bluish hue. Deer could be seen in the valley below, indulging on tender branches before mankind would invade and the deer would go off to their hidden woods. The warm Carolina morning in the Blue Ridge felt good. Later, after the sun rose, everyone would have to retreat indoors due to the heat and humidity.
John should have been smiling. Here he was in paradise. The quiet morning gave him time to absorb all of creation’s beauty and thank God for the good place he found himself in. Instead, tears dripped down his cheeks. His heart felt heavy inside his chest, and his spirit was forlorn and broken. He could not wrap his mind around what had happened. John just knew Debbie was gone, and she would never be coming back. He looked down the hill at the fresh pile of dirt and regretted every decision he had made in the past twelve hours.
Yesterday morning had started out just like this morning. John was sitting alone when Debbie appeared and made his quiet daybreak perfect. They had spent the day in town shopping, going to lunch at their favorite eatery, and later hiking one of their most favored trails. Thinking back, he could remember how distant Debbie was. Sure, they talked about life, but when John brought up the subject of their upcoming wedding she talked about something else. When he mentioned their honeymoon on the coast she would simply nod and smile.
He should have noticed and said something. Maybe that’s why he was alone now, because he had taken their future together for granted. Still, he never thought her capable of such a heartless act. John frowned when he thought of his name. George. John’s mind raced, who has the audacity to drive into a private neighborhood, show up at a man’s mountain house, and announce he is taking away his future bride? What sort of woman suddenly turns and tells the man she claims to love that it’s over? It was a challenge, a challenge to my very soul.
John’s face snarled again at the thought of Debbie’s secret lover, and his mind became enveloped with rage. George, what sort of coward are you? You pretended to be brave. You acted like a knight saving a damsel in distress. Debbie wasn’t held here. Heck, it was a weekend getaway. You thought you would make yourself look big, but when the challenge came, you hid behind the woman you claimed to love.
Grief replaced his rage. Why did Debbie step in? Was she protecting him, or George? After all, it was the coward who made the challenge. George dared him to try to stop them. John’s mind was stunned and his world was spinning. If Debbie loved this man that much, who was he to stand in her way? Then George told him he better not say or do anything that would stop them.
Tears began to flow down his face. Grief overtook his mind and he spoke to the sky. “Why Debbie, why did you have to step between us? Why would you protect somebody like that?”
Echoing through the hills John could hear the cry of police cars. He knew where they were headed. George’s car had sped out into the night like a scared chicken. It had all gone so horribly wrong. If only he could have stopped himself. If only he hadn’t shoved her out-of-the-way. He wasn’t even mad at Debbie, he just wanted to get to that coward George. Soon the police would arrive and he would face justice. Justice John knew he deserved.
He heard the cruiser come skidding to a stop. From behind, the front door could be heard opening and a familiar voice from the previous night hollered his name. John got up, took one last look at the beautiful mountain view and went inside. He could barely make out the officer and his gun through his blurry eyes, and held his hands up. The officer cuffed his wrists and sat him in the same chair he had collapsed into the night before. Regret washed across his memories. If only I could go back in time.
The familiar voice was cold and hard. “I’m glad to see you hurt as badly as I do.”
John looked up and strained to speak. “I am so sorry I pushed you, Debbie. I have never touched a woman, especially a woman I love. I just had to stop George. Can’t you see? He was a coward. He wasn’t going to love you, only use you. You were going to be a trophy. The beautiful blond he stole away, and later broke her heart. You’d be the butt of his jokes. I was trying to stop you from getting hurt.”
Debbie sat down on the couch across from John. Sadness replaced her hard stare. “But you did hurt me, John. When he challenged you, I knew I had made a mistake. I was going to tell George to leave, but you pushed me out-of-the-way before I had the chance.”
John’s world crashed in on him. All he could see was darkness. Despite the pain to his arms, John forced his head between his knees to avoid passing out, and throwing up. The voice of the policeman spoke behind him. “I assume that dirt pile down there is George?” John nodded his head. “That will probably go against you, but I think you shouldn’t worry about jail time.”
John forced himself up and wiped his face against his shoulders. The officer walked over and sat down next to Debbie and spoke to John. “She told me about his knife. What kind of man pulls out a knife when a woman stands between him and another man. Cowardly move if you ask me. I suppose he was hoping to make you look afraid. From what I hear from Debbie here, you made a pretty nice move when he lunged at you. She said that’s how his head hit the corner of the coffee table and killed him.”
John nodded. The policeman asked, “Where is that table?”
John pointed down with his head. “Right here, I cleaned up everything and put it in the washer. I don’t know why. I just couldn’t stand to see the blood.” Debbie spoke up and pointed. “The laundry room is through the kitchen.”
The policeman walked into the other room. John took a deep breath and asked Debbie, “I hope one day you can forgive me.”
Debbie walked over and hugged John. “I forgive you. I don’t know what will happen next, but I still love you. We both have made a mess of things. Can you forgive me?”
John’s heart felt the light begin to pierce through. Him forgive her? He answered, “Of course I can. You were fooled, it wasn’t your fault.”
The patrolman returned, lifted John off the chair, and spoke to both of them. “Okay, I have to get him processed. This might be considered self-defense, but you need a lawyer since it looks like you tried to cover things up. Considering he pulled a knife, if you get a good lawyer you might be able to get away with involuntary manslaughter, or justifiable homicide. Miss McCoy, do you want to go with us, or wait for the lab?”
Debbie looked around. “I’ll wait for the lab. I want to make sure I get any of our belongings that they don’t take.”
The officer nodded his head and escorted John to the patrol car. The police car silently drove down the mountain road, and John looked out the window. He smiled and thank God for the beautiful morning.