Old Things Die (But Not Us) -- Chapter seventeen: An Open Door

Fiction By Madalyn Clare // 10/25/2019

Maren closed the car door without talking.
But she looked at me. I could tell that she looked at me, even though I leaned against the steering wheel, eyes closed.
I was nauseous. Seething, throbbing, my stomach hurt really bad. I could barely breathe correctly. But I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed where I was, gripping the wheel until my knuckles hurt, trying to wipe my creased brow and sour expression off my face before I tried to drive.
I couldn’t.
Whatever we were is gone. Nothing can be the same.
I was so scared that I couldn’t change. I was upset because I knew I wouldn’t. I was sad because I knew I should have.
If I could turn back time, I would’ve appreciated what I had when it was there. I worried so much. Then I allowed myself to be annoyed. But all along, I forgot how much it mattered to me that at least he was constant. My world would change one way or another but he would still be there and it was going to be okay.
But he wasn’t going to be constant anymore. In fact, it was impossible to believe that I’d see him again. I was too angry to think about visiting him across the country. I wouldn’t make it worth it to myself because I hated what he told me.
Old things die. Everything comes to an end.
I took in a deep, burning breath.
“Let’s go home,” I said quietly. I picked myself up from the wheel and turned the car on.
Grace Jung was the only one left in Aunt Trinh’s party. Josh hadn’t gotten back yet. She stood with my aunt in the driveway as we pulled out. Her eyes bored into me, making her look poisonous in a way. She knew something was up. But Maren waved cordially as we slowly disappeared from the street, and we were sent off with a more friendly smile.
As we headed out, Maren again turned to me.
“You don’t have to tell me what’s wrong,” she said softly, “but I hope you’re doing the right thing.”
I indicated. I turned. But I didn’t look at her.
I took her hand.
She didn’t argue.
“Could you just… stay like this right now?” I asked, my eyes planted on the road. “Would that be okay?”
She didn’t say anything for a moment, then I saw her nod in the corner of my eye. “Sure.”
We turned onto the freeway.
Maren’s hand wasn’t soft. The texture reminded me of a rhino, but that wasn’t bad. I knew she was a traveler. She wasn’t the kind of person who really paid attention to her hands past how well they worked for her. In that way, I liked it. I liked how even her hand was sincere to her personality.
“Is it all my fault?” I wondered out loud.
She squeezed my hand. “I don’t know.”
I sighed. “Funny, ‘cause I don’t want to talk about it, but I still need an answer.” I huffed out a small laugh so I wouldn’t cry again.
Maren shrugged and leaned back in her seat, facing me. “I don’t know, Levi. I’m not smart or wise, really. I don’t know how to help you.”
I nodded.
“But I’ll be here for you if you need me.”
I swallowed hard and avoided her gaze as I checked my mirrors.
These past months had turned me into a bit of a wreck. I realized how vulnerable I really was, when I thought I was always the strong one. I learned that I was desperate for stability. I was not easily changed, even when others changed around me. I only crumbled in change; I hadn’t grown. I was just torn down.
Change hurt. It hadn’t healed me at all.
Come to think of it, did it heal anything?

I pulled into our familiar driveway, recognizing a fine frost over our lawn. The tree in front of our house was bare, save for a string of lights Dad had put through it for the winter months. Miles’ treehouse wasn’t hidden from the street anymore.
Maren was sleeping in the back seat, wrapped up in three blankets and her hoodie. All I could see was a tendril of her red hair dripping over the seat. I couldn’t help but smile a little as I turned off the car.
She whimpered slightly, signaling she woke up. With struggle, she sat up, her face making it obvious she wasn’t ready to be awake.
“What time is it?”
“It’s past midnight,” I replied, reaching for my bag from the co-pilot seat. I had grown accustomed to the absence of Josh, who would often hold my bag and hand it to me. “It looks like everyone’s asleep, so we have to be quiet going in.”
“Where am I going?” she muttered. Her voice was gravelly as she scratched her head tiredly.
“Inside,” I replied. “Here. The guest bedroom’s open, so we’ll put all your stuff in there for now, okay?”
She nodded, not that I think she understood.
I exited the car with my things, and opened her door. She was barely put together. Scoffing out a laugh, I rolled my eyes and offered her my hand.
She grumbled and stumbled out of the car, barely taking my help. Wrapped up in her blankets she shuffled towards the front door.
I couldn’t help but smile and follow.
The house was deafeningly quiet. All the Christmas decorations were still visible, if not in their large cardboard boxes in the living room. Dad had put me in charge of putting the decorations away in the attic on account of his bad back, and I supposed he hadn’t tried this year. The house smelled like rainwater, Dad’s favorite scent for winter. The air was chilly, as Lissa didn’t like how the heaters felt. I saw the hall light was on, just in case Miles got scared of the dark.
Normal.
“It’s kinda creepy being in a quiet house,” Maren whispered. “There was always noise at mine.” She shuddered.
I patted her shoulder and went towards the hallway. “The guestroom is down the hall to the left,” I said quietly. “There’s a shower if you need it, and you can put your stuff in the closet.”
She nodded and waddled down the hallway, towards the guestroom. But then she paused, looked back at me, and smiled. She waved, as if it was a goodbye, and disappeared into the room.
At first I had just waved back. But then I faltered. The way she looked at me- I couldn’t tell what was going to happen next. I was home. I had come to an end.
But she hadn’t. Loose ends still remained, and all of a sudden it bothered me. I wondered if that was what changed the way she looked at me, or if it was anything else. I didn’t know. The shift of the eyes, the twitch of the smile. I was really good at observing people, understanding their innermost emotions. But then, I had no clue and it bothered me.
I didn’t want to not know how things ended for her.
All of a sudden, I didn’t want things to end for me, either.
I wasn’t done until she was. I would be there with her, for her, until she no longer needed me.
I shook it off.
I was tired.
I left all my things by my bedroom door. I stood in front of the closed door for maybe a solid minute, staring at the knob.
I had to open a new door.
But I was scared of closing it behind me.
Maren would be behind me. Josh would be behind me.
I sighed. Then I looked down the hall.
Dad’s office light was still on. I told him to avoid staying up too late when he was reading, but I guessed he never really listened. Softly, I crossed the hallway, past Miles’ bedroom.
I opened the door.
“Miles, I told you to go to bed. Stop playing with the door.” Dad’s soft, authoritative voice.
I swallowed. I hadn’t seen him in two months. Nothing changed- here, I was safe from change.
I didn’t know why I was afraid.
“Miles?”
“It’s me, Dad.”
I opened the door all the way.
Dad was staring at the door. He looked at me a second. His eyes glistened.
He quickly stood, crossed the room, and hugged me tightly.
I didn’t expect being so surprised. I mean, Dad and I were close, but we didn’t really hug that much. I wouldn’t have put it past him, we just didn’t. But now, I was shocked. Dad held me so tightly, like I would’ve run away from him. I wouldn’t have.
I hugged him back.
In the moment, I didn’t need to do anything. All the bad things, all of my worries, they melted away. I didn’t have anything I needed to do.
I felt so… safe. Like I was protected now, and didn’t need to do the protecting. I didn’t need to be the strong one.
“You’ve been through a lot, Levi,” Dad said quietly.
I didn’t say anything back. If anything, I nodded slightly.
He patted my shoulder as he parted from me. He looked me straight in the eye. I noticed he had a few tear tracks on his cheeks, and he laughed slightly, covering his mouth.
“Please don’t do that again.”

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