Old Things Die (But Not Us) -- Chapter sixteen: Whatever We Were

Fiction By Madalyn Clare // 9/2/2019

We laughed again.
While we played with the dogs, we talked. We talked about old jokes, about funny stories, about our crazy means to get to Irvine. Josh’s laugh was really loud; the only loud thing about him. When it was time to laugh, Josh seemed like a totally different person. It was so cool when he did just let it out, something really special.
We talked about animals. We talked about school. About work. Josh started working at the veterinarian’s office my aunt volunteered at; he worked with animals with anxiety, gave them comfort and took care of them. I told him it seemed the best job for him.
In that moment, I didn’t think about the serious things we’d have to talk about. The moment I saw him I didn’t want to talk about any of that. I just wanted to laugh again, to feel like I had my best friend again.
I was so desperate to laugh with him again.
We ended up going on a walk.
Aunt Trinh had said that the dogs needed to go out anyways, and that they had warmed up to Josh so well that she supposed they’d enjoy it too. As we led them out of the neighborhood, we reminded each other of old stories. We talked about when we both failed our spelling test because we had stayed up watching tutorials on calligraphy and baking. We discussed Chastity Renaud, Aunt Trinh, and hikes. Butternut soup, leaves, and animals.
We talked for so long about things from the past. Now I wish we didn’t.
The past doesn’t constitute a present, or a future. I wish I knew that.
It turned quiet all of a sudden, like we both ran dry of topics. I kind of was afraid of this happening, but I had trust that Josh wouldn’t let it happen. And yet, it did. Minutes passed before Josh took in a breath.
A long, sort of brave breath.
He was going to say something that hurt him.
“It wasn’t easy leaving,” he admitted, though I hadn’t asked.
We hadn’t ever fallen into the situation where he said something I didn’t ask about. I had to think if I had asked him yet. Something about it was surprising, almost refreshing.
“I wouldn’t think it was.”
He looked up at me as he wrapped Chester’s leash around his hand. “No, in a different way. It was hard because I always knew I was gonna leave Bentley’s Cape. To be honest, my problem was- it was you.”
I turned my head to him.
My brow furrowed.
My heart pounded.
I was a problem.
I swallowed.
“I was?”
Josh gravely nodded and avoided my gaze. “I’m sorry,” he choked on his words.
I guess I knew I was the problem. I knew from the start that all of this was my fault in a way. I was a problem and I understood it fully now that it was said to my face. It was going to be easier to swallow now that it was out and told.
“Don’t be,” I muttered as we sat down on a park bench. “I get it.”
“You do?” Tears in his voice. So many tears.
I nodded. “Yeah, I get it.”
Josh leaned back on the bench. Tears dripped down his cheeks. “I really never wanted to hurt you,” he said, though it came out as a whisper. “I didn’t want you to think you made me do it either. I had been planning to run away since my mom died, and I started having the drive to follow through when we started drifting apart. Levi, I stayed in Bentley’s Cape because you needed me. When I started to think you didn’t need me anymore, I thought this would be a good idea.”
My head whipped back to him. My eyes were open wide. “I needed you?”
Josh’s expression turned worried. “Didn’t you?”
I supposed I did. But the way he said it… I always felt like I was in that situation. Never once did I think he believed I needed him in the same way. All of a sudden a rock formed itself in my stomach, making me feel sick with guilt.
Josh slumped forward and pet Chester on the head, thinking.
“I often wonder… am I selfish for running away?” His brow contorted, his whole face sick with worry and anxiety. “I tried to think about it- I still can’t tell what’s selfish and what’s okay. ‘Cause I was getting beaten up, right? That’s not okay, right?” He looked at me, as if waiting to arrive at a conclusion that he hadn’t quite seen yet. The confusion, the innocent dread, was hard for me to handle. I couldn’t help him, really. I wasn’t capable of convincing him something he couldn’t figure out.
I wasn’t strong enough to alleviate my friend’s mind.
“It’s not okay that you were beat up,” I answered. “There are laws around child abuse.”
Josh again sunk into the bench, now understanding that he wasn’t wrong. “Well, it’s too late to do anything about it, isn’t it?”
I shrugged. “I actually think you can file a report against him.”
He seemed to like the idea, then he hesitated. Finally he shook his head, his face showing compliance. Giving up. “What help would it be?” he asked. “I left him. Hopefully he just leaves me alone.”
I didn’t think of Josh as a defeatist. I knew he was timid and didn’t speak his mind and was content to suffer in silence, but I never once heard him throw his hands up like I did then. I was caught, unable to say or do anything. I just stared at him.
“You’re different.”
He looked up at me again. His eyes were deep, sort of old for him. They reminded me of Devika’s Basset hound, sort of sad, innocent, and vulnerable. But his eyebrows quirked in a way that made him look more cynical, not so trusting. He had reason not to trust. They were shining with tears, and his chin quivered as he swallowed hard.
“You’re not so different yourself,” he said quietly. “I don’t know what I am, or what I was. I can’t tell where I’m really different. I just know that I’m not too attached to either versions of me.” He looked up at the sky. “And we’re different, too. Really different.”
“Why are we?” I implored. “Josh, I want to make it up to you. Tell me what I need to do so we can go back to normal.”
“What’s normal, though?” He said, his voice shaking. “Normal was me running for my life and you protecting me. Normal was me needing you to take care of me and I don’t want that anymore. I don’t want to be scared to be normal.”
I hadn’t thought about that. At all.
“Whatever we were is gone. It can’t be what it was.” Josh scratched Chester behind the ears. “That’s in the past, now.”
Don’t say that. Don’t say that.
He paused. As if he knew he was treading delicate waters. He locked eyes with me, and I saw how serious he was. Intent, but still fragile. He was still crying.
I was angry. I was hurt and angry. I wasn’t thinking clearly anymore as his words whispered through my head, telling me I was done. Nothing I did would count anymore. Josh was telling me to leave. We weren’t ever going to be friends again.
I didn’t like it. I really didn’t like it. But I couldn’t tell myself I was overreacting. I couldn’t tell myself anything as I listened to what I heard coming out of his mouth.
I didn’t know him anymore. It was official. Josh wouldn’t have been saying these things to me. He’d agree and he’d be happy to see me. We wouldn’t be talking about this if I was talking to Joshua Kang, but I couldn’t have been.
“I promise,” he said quietly, “that I don’t hate you. I just… I’m tired of my life not changing. It had to change. So I changed it. I knew that would hurt you, but- ugh, was I selfish?” He leaned forward and held his face in his hands. “I chose something that hurt you and I knew it. I’m sorry.”
Now, I really wish I said that it was okay, that I understood. He had every right to leave his suffering. It was okay that he came to live in Irvine instead of Bentley’s Cape. If I had seen his perspective for a second, I would’ve forgiven him.
“Don’t you understand how hard it was for me to get here?” I muttered. “I came all the way across the country so that we could fix things. You’re telling me they can’t be fixed?” I shook my head, throbbing with anger. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I couldn’t see past my own pain.
Josh took in a balancing breath. “I’m trying not to-” his usual quiet voice returned and I almost heard tears. I knew he leaned back into the bench; his usual disappearing method.
I just wanted things to have not changed. I just wanted to have my friend back. I just thought all the things I wished for were rational, were attainable. In this moment I refused to believe I couldn’t have the things I wanted.
“Maybe… maybe this was a bad idea,” I murmured. I stood up and brushed myself off.
“What was?” Josh asked quickly, the panic apparent in his voice.
I shrugged sullenly. Kiki, seeing that I was ready to go, promptly stood and looked up at me, wagging her tail. “I don’t know, okay?” I sighed. I didn’t even look at him. “I’m really… confused. I need to go.”
And went I did, leaving Josh at the park. I didn’t know if he’d follow me or not.

Comments

Madalyn, the last two

Madalyn, the last two chapters had my heart breaking! I love this story so much - you are bringing it to life <3
I just got through catching up on the last several chapters. I cannot wait to see what happens next. Let me just say, though, that I loved Josh's letter when he left and I feel Levi's pain so much now.
Looking forward to the next chapter! Keep it up, Maddie - it's all so beautiful <3

Libby | Fri, 11/15/2019

“The gospel alone is the power of God unto salvation.
Therefore, suffer, yes. Be misunderstood, yes. Be shamed, yes. But do not be ashamed. For the joy set before you, take up your cross, follow Jesus, be shamed and despise the shame!" -- John Piper

EEEEEEEEP Thank you for such

EEEEEEEEP
Thank you for such a kind comment! I'm so happy you're enjoying!!
Gah, Josh's letter was so emotional to write.... I loved it and hated it... I'm glad that it had an effect on you! Means my work here is almost done ;)

Madalyn Clare | Mon, 11/18/2019

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