Old Things Die (But Not Us) -- Chapter eleven: Runaways

Fiction By Madalyn Clare // 6/9/2019

Maren sipped her coffee as I opened the envelope. She sat opposite of me, and was intently awaiting any reaction from me.
I looked down at the letter and read as slowly as I could.

Dear Levi,
I decided to grow up. I decided to stop letting things happen to me and I decided to make things happen. I ran away so that I could have a chance. That I’d one day be able to really get out of town and not fall into the same mess my dad made. I’m sick of the drugs, the women, the alcohol. That’s not what I want. That’s not what I need.
But it would have been all I’d get if I stayed any longer in Bentley’s Cape. I would never be able to get adopted by your family. I’d never graduate. I’d never become a doctor. I’d never make the differences I always dreamed of.
He beat me up the night before. I hardly felt it (I have some bruises but they’ve been healing), but most of all, as he kept hurting me, all the things he said… all the things he made me say… I realized something I had never realized before. He doesn’t hate me, Levi. He really doesn’t hate me. He hates himself. He hates himself for what happened to Mom. He hates himself for his downward spiral into his life. He hates himself for not seeing the consequences. He just wants someone else to hate him too. He thinks it’ll make him feel better.
I don’t hate him, Levi. He’s a horrible father and was a worse husband, and he’s a menace to society, but I don’t hate him. He doesn’t need the last person he loves to hate him.
But I can’t be with him anymore. That night he passed out after beating me up in his room. I was laying right by his bed, scared to move. I saw some photos under his bed and I saw they were of my mom. I was so angry, so scared. I saw her and knew I had to leave.
I found the picture of my aunt and that’s how the plan came. I remembered that she lives in Irvine California. That’s where I’m going.
Levi, I’m only sending you this because, if you cared, I want you to know that I’m going to be okay. I’m leaving because nothing’s keeping me here anymore.
I don’t want to sound hateful or anything. I promise I don’t hate you. I just kind of figured that you wanted your space now. I felt like a burden every time I looked at you. You’re so happy and I’m scared that my whole life is a depression on you. I’m sorry for all the times I was on the receiving end. I’m sorry I could never repay you for all the great things you did for me. I’m sorry that you sacrificed so much for me.
To be honest, I’m really grateful for our lives as friends. But every now and again lives change and friends don’t stay friends. Old things die. It’s what makes the world what it is. We’re not in heaven yet. So things aren’t always going to be happy. But then again, things aren’t always going to be sad, either. I was sad when I first started saying no to you. But in the end, I could honestly say I was happy seeing you happy. So sad things become happy things in the long run, I guess. Good things will come out of this. I’ll be able to live without getting beat up. You’ll be able to go to that college you’ve been looking at without me pulling you behind. There are some pet hospitals by my aunt’s house, as far as I saw- I can work there and I can get good grades and I’ll become a veterinarian.
So good luck, Levi. I wish you have the best life you could ever have, and I hope one day I’ll see you again and we can have a coffee or something.
Your friend,
Joshua Kang

The fact that he signed with his full name made me understand that he meant every finality. It was no longer a quick sign-off; it was a thought-out, formal signature. This in itself hurt my chest as I slowly folded the paper up again.
Maren leaned forward. “Well?” she whispered with anticipation. “What does it say? Does he want you to find him? Where is he?”
My mind was racing furiously, but everything was so mottled, so indistinguishable, that it felt like nothing. It was like trying to hear traffic from under the water.
“He’s going to Irvine,” I replied. “He’s got family there.”
Maren cocked her head to the side and grinned slightly. “Wow,” she whispered. “I sixteen year-old crossing the country alone… this feels like a movie!”
I wished it was a movie.
Was our friendship in tatters like that? It was so easy for him to leave… and it was my fault for it. And the signature… he was gone.
Really gone.
But I couldn’t let him go without saying it to my face. Maybe if he saw me, maybe if I apologized and said I could make it better, he’d reconsider leaving everything behind. Maybe we’d still be friends.
His dad… was a struggle. I tried to apply myself to his situation, to see from his perspective. Grudgingly I admitted to myself that, if I lived with a dad like that, I wouldn’t stay in the state either.
But I couldn’t get over my own hurt about it. Josh was leaving behind too many good things. We needed him back in Bentley’s Cape.
I needed him. I guess I never realized just how much I did until he was gone.
I stuffed the envelope in my bag and stood up to leave the small café. Maren stood up with me and followed me out.
“Why are you still coming?” I half yelled as she attempted to keep up with me.
“Because,” she yelled back, “I know what’s it’s like in a runaway’s head. I ran away from home just a few months ago.”
I stopped in my tracks and faced her. “Why?” I interrogated. “Do you think it’s a game? Were your parents abusive? Did you have friends who tried to make it better?” My blood was boiling as I approached her. She stumbled back. I didn’t stop.
“Aren’t there people who love you? What did you tell them before you left? That you couldn’t care less what they thought about you? Did you let them say they’d miss you?” I couldn’t contain a roaring scream as I threw my bag to the wet ground and lowered myself into the grass. I sat with my knees pulled up to my forehead, and I hid my face from the grim outside world.
I couldn’t believe what Josh had written. About me. About his view on things. I was already sorry enough for the first incident; I was sorry for every time I was absent from him. Up until this point, I thought it was him who was being distant. I tried with all my might to order my old self to see Josh… to see what he was going through. To see his pain and how it was my fault.
It was all my fault. I ruined everything. I was a friendship ruiner.
Maren had been completely quiet up until that point. I felt her hand on my back.
“I ran away because my dad isolated me,” she whispered. “I had friends. But he made sure I had none anymore.”
How come everyone I knew had dad problems? I listened.
“He was always the controlling type,” she explained. “But over time it became almost obsessive. He got paranoid about my mom. Every day he asked her where she was going. Even if she showed him her routine, he wouldn’t believe her. He kept accusing her of going out and seeing other guys. My mom ended up leaving me with him and never came back.”
She took in a shuddering breath. She sat right next to me.
“When he pointed his attacks on me, I just left too. There’s no changing that guy. One day he’ll understand that it’s his fault nobody loves him.”
Her tone was bitter, but I heard a layer of pity underneath. I didn’t think she really thought that way about her own father. No one could. Not even Josh.
Everybody wants a father. It’s a necessity to life to have that role model. I then and there thanked heaven for the fact that my dad cared deeply for me.
“I’m just saying I want a shot at life,” she finally said. “Running away was the only option I saw. Might not have been the right thing, but sometimes the right thing doesn’t show itself in the moment, you know?”
I guess I knew. I nodded slightly and looked at her. “I’m sorry.” My apology meant nothing to her but at least it was something. I couldn’t apologize. My life was perfect. I didn’t get it. I’d never get it. But it seemed like I lived in a bubble until now. Josh was an anomaly in my perfect life. His situation a controlled one.
She bumped my shoulder with hers. “All good.” I could basically hear her grin. “So, what’s your story, Levi Cannon?”
I met eyes with hers. The way she expected things - her eyes were bright with anticipation and her nose was slightly scrunched up – I had to admit was a level of irresistible that amused me.
I took in a sigh that felt like a breath from an air purifier. Pent up anger and fear and sadness melted away like chocolate as we both sat outside the café, not caring that the half frozen grass was getting our legs wet. Taking in the woodsy scenery. Hearing the cars drive past, the blue collar workers greet each other civilly.
“Compared to you and Josh?” I shrugged. “I might as well have the perfect family. My dad died when I was really young, and my mom remarried a really great guy. He adopted me and my sister. Then they had another kid, a perfect little brother. My mom died a few years ago from cancer. A lot of people came to her funeral. Currently I live with my stepdad and my two siblings, and we’re as close as can be.”
“I’m sorry about your mom,” Maren said in a hushed voice. “That must’ve been hard.”
I looked out ahead of us. My car was all ready to get on the road again, parked in the lot across the street from us. A large hill shadowed the gas station and rolling mists tumbled down its slopes like waterfalls.
“It was hard at first,” I admitted. “But after a while, it didn’t hurt so much. More like we held onto the good memories than the bad ones. I can’t really complain, either. My family is really close and supportive. It’s already more than a lot of people have.”
Maren nodded. She was quiet.
“I’d love that.”
Finally, I uncurled myself and looked at her. She was obviously thinking.
“Where’d you come from?” I asked.
She looked at me, then back at my car. “Vermont. Burlington.”
We were in the middle of Missouri at this point, and I was surprised at how far she went. I figured she had family or friends this way.
“Where are you going?”
She thought about it a moment, raising her eyes to the sky. “Well, I’m just going where life takes me. Life is taking me to Irvine right now.” She met eyes with me again. “I can get my own things, so don’t worry about me being a burden. Just let me come with you.”
I had a hard time not having plans for things. It was almost a physical pain when I was met with life choosing a different situation. In that moment, it was hard to agree, but I worried about her. She was around my age and living alone, no adult supervision, no permission for anything she did. I had difficulty seeing her as fully competent in taking complete care of herself.
Maybe I wasn’t all that competent either. Perhaps we’d be one adult if we stuck together.
“All right,” I conceded, though a lot of mutiny was made in my mind. I slung my bag over my shoulder. “If you have anything to pack, I’ll give you until tonight.” I looked up at the sky. Then my phone. 5:30. The sun would be setting soon, and I wasn’t ready to be driving all night. “I’ll expect you to find me at four in the morning.”
Her eyes shot wide at me, as if she was going to protest, but then she thought better of it and hesitantly nodded. “I can do that,” she said quietly. “If it means getting out of here.”

Comments

Poor Josh. Poor Levi. And

Poor Josh. Poor Levi.

And poor Maren. I like her, though, and I'm interested to learn more about her! I was slightly confused, however--is she the cashier from chapter 10?

I liked the line, "Perhaps we’d be one adult if we stuck together." :)

Keep up the good work! :D

Grace J. | Fri, 07/05/2019

“You are doing something great with your life—when you are doing all the small things with His great love.” - Ann Voskamp

Thank you for your

Thank you for your reply!
Yes, Maren is the cashier ;)
Haha, yes I love those types of lines...

Madalyn Clare | Fri, 07/05/2019

Introverts unite!
Separately!
From the comfort of your own homes!

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