Old Things Die (But Not Us) BONUS -- The Intersection

Fiction By Madalyn Clare // 3/16/2020

The car is silent, save for the motor.
Aunt Grace asked how my day was- I said it was fine. Now, I realize I don’t have much else to say.
My shoulder is scrawny against the seatbelt. I observe just how small I am. It’s almost like I’m a mouse in my aunt’s luxurious car. I wonder if I really belong here, or anywhere. It’s silly… silly to think that I have this. It’s really weird, unusual, how strange everything is to me: a car that doesn’t smell and isn’t dirty, clean shoes, and clothes that fit me.
My shirt is really soft against me. I rub my stomach, just to feel the nice fabric.
“Are you hungry, Joshua?” Aunt Grace asks gently, eyeing me slightly. “Let’s stop by for burgers if you are.”
I am taken aback by the fact that she had noticed that. My brow furrows then I shake my head. “Thanks, but no.”
Aunt Grace hums her understanding. We turn left.
The palm trees kind of sway, as if it’s cold outside. But it’s not. I’m really surprised at the weather here.
“Do you want to listen to music?”
“I’m okay, actually. I forgot to tell you I kinda have tinnitus.”
“Oh. Does music bother you?”
I shrug. “It sure makes it hard to enjoy it.” I smile slightly at her. “But thanks.”
Aunt Grace looks at me, and I get a little scared. Am I annoying her? Her face kind of is confused, flustered. I can’t tell.
“Okay.” She sighs through her nose. I know people do that when they’re annoyed.
I shift in my seat, attempting to be as small as I can be.
I don’t like annoying people. But I feel like I do it for no reason. I cross my arms over my chest and peek out of my window, observing the world outside.
The ice cream place we went to when I first showed up at her house whizzes by. So does her favorite gas station, then the park where I like to walk her dog. We’re almost home.
Home. I actually can see someplace as home. I guess Levi’s house was pretty close to that, but-
No. I’m not gonna make myself think about that. About him.
My face gets hot and I lean my forehead against the window, so Aunt Grace can’t really see that I’m sort of starting to cry. If she sees me like this I won’t hear the end of it until I tell her.
I’ve ruined the only friendship I can say I felt. Ever.
I look back at my life in a blur. I don’t think I ever had other friends, now that I think of it. Everyone else passed by in the halls, never noticing my existence. I didn’t want them to. I don't like people noticing me, because then they think about me. I hate the idea of people having me in their minds, seeing me in the only way they know how- by the way I looked, the way I dressed, the way I smelled.
I’ve been a delinquent. They wished I would die. I wasn’t worth anything.
But I’m worth something… I’ve got to be.
I’m breathing.
I’m feeling.
I’m… I’m living.
That has to be worth something.
“Do you want to stop by Paws and People?” Aunt Grace slows at the light that would be the deciding factor. Left is home. Right is the animal hospital. “If Jewels is still there, I’m sure that’ll cheer you up.” She smiles brightly at me.
Jewels. Miss Patosa’s speckled bunny. She had some heart murmurs recently and had become my favorite pet to check up on.
“Um…” I look outside at the bright daylight, secretly wanting to get some ice cream. Or a granola bar. “I think I’m okay. Jewels basically has a clean bill now.”
Aunt Grace’s smile flickers a little, but then she nods, again her mouth stretched to look welcoming. “Okay.”
We turn left.
Am I worrying her?
Annoying her?
My heart flutters under my shirt, but it’s not a good kind. Not a pounding of dread, but like an uncertainty, an anxious anticipation. The fluttering swims down to my stomach.
That’s the kind of smile and tone Levi would use on me when he was worried about me.
“Aunt Grace?”
“Yes?” The words are kind of like a trapping- she had been waiting for something, hunting for me. She pounces on an opportunity.
I’m not comfortable with that.
I can’t exactly get my words out, to get out what I mean. How can you say, “I just really need to be reassured that this is real, that I’m really as okay as I’m hoping I feel, but for some reason I’m still restless and uncomfortable, as if this won’t last” out loud? But that’s exactly my feeling right now: like this is all about to go away, like I’m not meant to be as okay as I’m supposed to feel. But I don’t feel okay. I feel as though I’m about to wake up, my father about to rampage again. As though he’s tapping the foot of my bed with his belt again.
“Are you okay, Joshua?” her voice is quiet, urging.
I swallow down my butterflies again. “I need to write some things down when we get home.”
Aunt Grace nods.
Doctor Fairchild says that writing has been helping. I can’t tell. But I’ve noticed it’s way easier to say things when I write them than to actually say them. I had built that as a habit whenever I couldn’t get the words out to Levi.
I keep thinking about him, I keep going back to him…
I touch my phone in my pocket, wondering. Wondering what he’s doing right now. Wondering if he has friends, wondering how he and Devika are doing. He had come to Irvine with another girl. I wonder about her, too. If she’s nice. If she’s okay.
I pull out my phone.
I have Levi Cannon’s number memorized, engraved into every part of my brain. I have called the same number countless times throughout my life.
I want to call him. I want to call him.
But he hates me.
I let out a heavy, shaky sigh and put my phone back.
I’ll write. I’ll have the answers when I write.

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