Old Things Die (But Not Us) -- Chapter eighteen: In Need of a Bucket

Fiction By Madalyn Clare // 11/26/2019

Dad had been quick to alert the school of my absence, which saved us fines and jail time.
What it didn’t save were my grades.
It wasn’t too cold outside my bedroom, and the sun was peeking out as if it forgot it was now March. Soon enough, flowers would be blooming out of the rather soaked ground, and the birds would be coming back.
I wondered if Butternut had migrated with her flock.
The stormcrow had healed well enough in the time she was with us, and thankfully had been able to fly off and out of sight months ago. But I liked thinking about her and how she was doing.
In the end, I thought of Josh too.
I left him in a park…
I was a jerk that day.
My nerves had lessened over the weekend I had been home, and I meditated on what had happened. Josh was now living in Irvine, California. I was back in Bentley’s Cape, Maine. He started school there. He had a job, too. He escaped his dad and was living in a safe environment.
It was everything I could’ve asked for, but everything wrong with it at the same time.
Fingering the sticky-note, I stared at the writing. Josh’s handwriting was neat because he put effort into making it neat. He wrote slowly and it was evident.
His phone number and email.
He wrote them down for me before we fought.
There was a sort of phony feeling in my chest, looking at the numbers. The letters. Like… I didn’t deserve to use them after what I did. Josh needed supporters, allies. I sort of turned myself into a burden.
The early sunlight filtered warmly into my room, illuminating my desk. Pointing at my laptop.
Urging me.
I sighed and slapped the sticky note onto my wall.
I’d call him later, if I could bring myself to do it.

Class was boring. Lunch was boring. I realized how few friends I had besides Josh as I sat by myself at the familiar table near the window. I peered outside; it was still snowy, but the sky was clear.
I ate my pizza with a chip in my shoulder.
Did I have any hobbies? I wondered how bored I would be finishing up junior year. I looked over at all the different tables in the cafeteria. The lines between jocks, drama geeks, and nerds weren’t as black-and-white as you see them in the tween movies. Everybody looks like someone you’d meet anywhere, not so flashy and obvious. I mean, there were the kids who wore nicer clothes than others, there were the ones who came in sweats and a giant hoodie, and there were those who just wore athletic brands, but those people exist outside of movies. Not the stereotypes you see on Disney channel or anything.
Everybody was invisible. I wasn’t the only one. Josh wasn’t the only one.
“Hey.”
Wilma-Zoe sat down next to me, a salad in one hand and her phone in the other. Her hair was recently cut to about her chin, and her overalls were paint splattered.
“Hi,” I replied, forcing a slight smile.
Wilma-Zoe cocked her head at me. “Are you usually like this, or is something up?” She stuffed a forkful of salad into her mouth with a sort of cynical look in her eyes.
I had met her only a couple days ago when she was introduced to me as my private chemistry tutor. Well, mainly she was there to help me catch up to the class. She was nice, but not too personal. Kind of blunt but well-meaning.
I shrugged. “I was kind of AWOL for a couple months,” I muttered. “A lot of things are up.”
Wilma-Zoe nodded and continued into her salad. “That’s not good.” She furrowed her brow. “Unless it is.”
I shook my head. “No. Not good.” I swallowed another bite. “In summary, I’m a jerk and I ruined a lifelong friendship.”
My tutor looked me straight in the eye but didn’t react in any way I sort thought she would. In retrospect, that frustrated me. I now understand that, at that time, I wanted to someone to hate me. I wanted someone to look at me with the judgement I looked at myself with.
Wilma-Zoe did nothing. She blinked.
She put down her fork.
“That sucks. I’m sorry.”
Why did she look at me with actual compassion? My gaze flickered downwards; I was taken off guard so bad.
We were quiet for the rest of our lunch.

I fingered the sticky note again. I memorized the numbers, Josh’s precise handwriting. It was completely silent in my room, with the sun going down behind me. Shadows were cast over the bright yellow paper in my hand.
Today at school, the things that tore Josh and I apart ended up in a similar situation. I replayed what Devika said to me after Calculus.
I honest to goodness did not want to confront her in any way. Not because I wanted to be flaky, but because I knew I was a jerk to her too.
But when I saw her walk into class, she caught sight of me. I knew a conversation had to be had and it had to be today if I wasn’t going to be any jerkier.
When her eyes fell on me, it hit differently than earlier in the year. Earlier, she was like the spring come to the cold wintry halls of Powhatan High. Now, I could’ve pinned her as autumn. Cool, sort of sleepy. Almost tired.
Neither of us looked at each other for the rest of the lecture. But I knew neither of us were thinking about equations.
We both dreaded what came next.
After the lecture, we wordlessly agreed to meet at her locker, where she silently put away her binder.
“I hope we can come to an agreement,” she finally said. Her voice was strained. “You’re crazy.”
When she said that, I noticed how little her words affected me. I shrugged. “I might agree to that.”
She closed her locker. Her nails weren’t painted, and her earrings were simple studs.
“Levi,” Devika sighed, looking down at her sneakers, “I really wanted to keep liking you. But I couldn’t handle what you did, without thinking about me. I don’t think it’s selfish to have my feelings acknowledged.”
I nodded quietly.
I sensed her eyes suddenly bore into me.
“What, you’re not going to defend yourself? Not even compromise?”
I lifted my heavy head slightly. I saw her lip quiver.
“I’m sorry I hurt you, Devika,” I said in my quietest voice. “I really am sorry for what you went through because of me.”
She nodded.
“But I don’t think I can compromise.”
“What?”
I leaned against the locker and finally met her eyes.
“I respect your feelings, Devika. But I guess I would like you to respect that this is a really difficult time for not only me, but my family. My friend went missing, and I needed to have closure. Now, I guess you could say I’m grieving. And things will never be normal for me again.”
Devika’s eyes were watering.
“Why are you grieving? He’s not dead.” Her voice was uneven, cracking.
My own throat sort of closed up. “I’ll never see him again, Devika. Please, understand that I’m not the same person I was.”
“You’re making this really hard for me, Levi!” She was actually crying.
“It’s already hard enough for me, Devika!” I sort of yelled that. I didn’t need to. I just couldn’t see why she was crying when I felt like I was the one that deserved to.
Devika briskly rubbed her nose. “Okay,” she said shortly. “Fine. You be a different person. I don’t know if I like this right now.” She sniffled. “I’m not strong enough to carry your problems.”
“I didn’t ask you to.” I look back now and I know how cruel I sounded. But back then I was just wanting to get it over with.
Devika wasn’t ever supposed to identify with my problems. If anything I wanted her to make me hide them. But then, all I needed was to be transparent. I needed to have someone who could simply listen to my deepest pains and be okay with that. My pain had been so violently surfaced that I needed someone to help sort through it without absorbing it all, just someone to hold the pieces I picked up by myself. Devika would have tried to pick them up for me.
Devika scoffed. “Well, I’m sorry for trying to help. All I wanted was to do good for you.”
“By taking personally how I wanted to deal with my own problems?” I shook my head. “I’m sorry, Devika, I don’t think this would have worked out anyway.”
“It wouldn’t have,” she snapped back.
Immediately we were both silent. We both were able to get angry, able to get it out. We stood there, doing nothing, for a solid five minutes maybe. We wanted to walk away, for that conversation to be in the past, but we didn’t.
I sighed and rubbed the back of my head.
“I don’t want to walk away with bad blood,” I muttered. “Maybe we wouldn’t work out. Maybe we would. But I don’t want this to be the end we remember.”
Devika looked back up at me. I didn’t see anger but more of an embarrassment in her eyes. She nodded very subtly, meekly tucking her hair behind her ear.
“Yeah, me too.”
“So…”
“So.”
“Goodbye, Devika.”
I heard her swallow.
“Goodbye, Levi.”

If there was a better way to break up, I would’ve redone that in a heartbeat. But I didn’t have the equation for a reset button quite yet.
There was a slight knock at my door. Then it opened.
Maren stood in the doorway, her arms crossed over her oversized sweater. She had taken a shower, and her hair was still wet. It occurred to Lissa earlier that Maren had never used a blow dryer before, and the ensuing incidents led them to the agreement that she wouldn’t use it by herself. She looked down at me with an expression I couldn’t read. Was she happy?
I wasn’t. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t tell.
“I broke up with my girlfriend officially today,” I said before she could ask. I knew she would.
Maren nodded. “I’m sorry,” she replied, really quietly.
“It was for the best, I’m pretty sure.” I twirled a pen over my fingers. “I don’t think we would’ve survived even if she was okay with me leaving her for however many months on a wild goose chase.”
“Did it end up okay?”
I shook my head. “We were… we were both hurt.” I took in a deep breath, looked up at my ceiling, then let it out as I continued. “But it’s okay because we’ll both find someone who really can understand our personalities, right?”
Maren nodded with satisfaction. “Yes, you will.”
She leaned against the doorway, still hugging her arms. She looked at me with some sort of inner dialogue in her eyes that I couldn’t hear. I stopped looking.
“Who would understand your personality?”
I rested my chin in my hand as I gazed into the wall. “Good question.”
“Hm.”
I mulled over the question for a minute, then paused before opening my mouth.
“Someone who’s like a bucket.”
Maren sat down in the doorway and brought her sweat-pants-clad knees up to her chin. “What do you mean?”
I didn’t know exactly how I meant it, but it made the best sense in my head. “You know, someone who… who isn’t afraid of seeing you at your worst. Someone who doesn’t leave you when you’re in a dark place because they can’t handle it.” I leaned back and allowed the vision to describe itself, my eyes still fixed on that slight dent in the drywall. “Someone who isn’t afraid of your demons, but gives you the strength to face them for yourself. Someone who you can fill up with all your fears and anxieties, and helps you drain them without getting sucked into them. Like you, I guess.”
The last part came out before I could catch up to myself. I looked down at her to see her face.
Maren was gazing up at me, with a look of surprise. And something else.
Relief?
“Well,” she said. “I’ve never been called a bucket before today.” She smiled, though her chin quivered. “I’m proud to be your bucket, Levi.”

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