Old Things Die (But Not Us) -- Chapter thirteen: The Strong One

Fiction By Madalyn Clare // 7/19/2019

$200 has been deposited to your account.
New message from Dad: Glad to see you’re in California. I called your Uncle Abe and he would be happy to take you in until you find Josh. Maren is also welcome to stay. Miles and Lissa say hi. Also, this is the last deposit I can make for a while. I suggest you make yourself very useful for Uncle Abe while you’re there, all right? I love you and stay safe.

I put my phone back down and stretched. As groggy as I was, I knew the depths of my gratitude for how far my dad got me already. I smiled to myself as I formulated my reply.
Thank you for all you’ve done already, Dad. You’ve already gone above and beyond duty.
Maren was in the room across from me, probably all ready to go if I knew her at all.
We were in Irvine.
We had crossed into the city somewhere around three in the morning, so we did not really appreciate our progress. But now it was somewhere closer to ten in the morning; if we hadn’t made it I would have been pressed for time now.
But I supposed I’d let her sleep in. Besides, I had to make sure I had the right Grace Jung.
Dad and I had both been scouring the Internet for a Grace Jung. It took the whole trip for us to narrow all the Grace Jungs in the world down to Josh’s aunt. But even now, maybe just a couple miles away from our goal, I was scared to call the number I had waiting in the notes I had on my phone.
After getting ready for the day, I stood outside the motel and stared at the number. My thumb hovered above it.
Josh didn’t want to see me… at least not now. He wanted to leave. So he left everything. He simply cut off the whole limb to get rid of a few fingers. He was in so much pain- a pain I’d never experience. Ever. I couldn’t imagine all the reasons and justifications he had because I’d never understand him perfectly.
But that meant he didn’t understand me either. He never had the life I had. He wouldn’t know how much I needed him in my life. He acted out of self-defense, but he hurt more people than he needed to, including me. I had to see him. I had to make right whatever I could. I had to salvage something.
I tapped ‘call’ and held my breath through the ringing.
Moments.
Long, long, eternal moments.
A click.
“Hello?”
A voice. A deep female voice. Very rich, sort of proper. Regal.
I froze. I said nothing. For some reason, I couldn’t let go of my breath. I tried to form words, but I failed each time.
“Hello? Anyone there?”
Grace Jung. But there wasn’t a full guarantee it was our Grace Jung.
“Hi,” I finally exhaled, though it sounds much more like a death rattle. “Hi. My name is Levi, and I was wondering if this is Grace Jung?”
A pause.
“Levi…”
The gears were turning on that name.
“Levi… Cannon?”
My heart leapt up into my mouth and I could hardly speak again. “Yes, I’m Levi Cannon. Your nephew, Joshua Kang, is my best friend. You see, he left home in Maine and left a note saying he came to California to find you. Is he there?”
There was another pause. “You’re the Levi Cannon he told me about?”
I was about to joyfully say yes, but something in the way she said it didn’t sound like it was a good thing. I caught my words and my smile wiped off of my face. “Yes,” I answered guardedly. “Yes, I am. Can I talk to him?”
“He’s not here right now. Could you leave a message for him? I’ll text him as soon as possible.”
Josh had a phone?
I sat down slowly on the lawn, allowing my heartbeat to return to normal pace. “Um, could I get his phone number? Would that be okay?”
I thought I almost heard an agreement, but then she asked the unaskable: “Wait, how’d you get my number?”
I sort of stalked you on Facebook. Just a little bit.
“I was trying to find out where he was,” I confessed, “and your phone number… was accessible… from your social media. As far as I had known, Josh didn’t have a phone, so I wanted to find you.”
A short, unbelieving scoff was her reply. “Wow. Good to know. I’ll have to get my information encrypted.” She paused. “Levi, I don’t know what happened between you two, but Josh has had a very hard life. I was surprised myself to hear he was still alive. I want to do my best to help my sister’s son, okay? Help me out by not making this so hard for him?”
I frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, Levi, that this was an impossible decision for Joshua. If he stayed, he’d be abused and fall behind in life. If he left, he’d leave you behind. In the end, it was the fact that he didn’t want to die that made him come here.
“In short, Levi, and I mean this not knowing you so please don’t take offense, Josh let you go. Unless you have a plan for visiting him safely, I suggest you keep your distance. He’s been difficult to open up and I’m scared he might crack or worse.”
There was a silence.
I didn’t know how to break it. Nothing was going through my head, except her words. They echoed through empty space. Abandoned areas meant to restore my replies, my questions. Everything left my mind.
“I have to go now. Good-bye, Levi. Stay safe.”
Click.
As I pulled the phone away from my ear, I sat down on the grass. I guess I deserved all that. I wasn’t the best friend I could be to a guy like Josh, and now I just wanted to make it right. I didn’t want Josh’s last impression of me to be what it was. Was that so wrong? Why was the world making it so hard to apologize?
Instead of going up to get Maren, I settled in the grass and watched the first cars begin their commute. Irvine was a big business city, so not a lot of people were on the road this early. It would be easy getting to Uncle Abe’s house from here.
Not that it would matter at this point. Mostly likely I’d just stay the night and start back to Maine. Maybe make sure Maren had a place to stay for a while, then disappear.
I rested my cheek on my hand as I thought about what I was about to do. I could probably tell Uncle Abraham about the situation, ask him to help Maren out, then leave this afternoon to Maine. I could set her up with a place to stay with his family, they could help her get a job, or something.
The last question was whether or not I’d tell her what I was doing.
I didn’t think about how we’d say goodbye to each other at all. To be honest, I hadn’t thought of leaving her until now. Her little patience for planning things must have seeped into me somehow. I chuckled ruefully to myself.
“I was wondering where you went,” came her cheery voice.
Maren plopped down on the grass with me. She handed me a paper bowl of cereal and a spoon.
“I didn’t know if you had any allergies, or anything,” she muttered as she bit into her apple. “I hope it doesn’t offend you.”
I laughed and shook my head. “I’m good, thanks.” I began eating in silence.
“So,” Maren began slowly, still chewing on her apple, “what were you thinking about? Is everything okay?”
I shook my head again. Then I scoffed out a laugh.
“Is looking for forgiveness really worth pushing through all the obstacles?” I asked. “If everything stands in your way, would you still want it? Would your world refuse to go back to normal until you make things right?”
She was quiet a moment, biting her lip in thought. Her curls fell over her face, hiding her freckles.
“I don’t know,” she said softly. I just barely heard her. “I’m not the best person to ask about this. I’m not the best at wanting to forgive people.” She sighed heavily. “Man, I really should, though.” She locked eyes with mine. “I don’t know how yet. Maybe I’d be able to answer one day.”
My heart deflated slightly, but I shrugged. “Okay.”
She touched my arm. “Is that what your world is saying right now?”
I nodded. “Absolutely.”
Before I could think about it or really realize it, I felt a tear trickle down my cheek.
It stung.
Surprised, I flicked it away. But another one fell, and another one. Soon enough I found myself crying.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. I never really liked crying; not that I had a real problem with being vulnerable, I just thought it was uncomfortable. I didn’t like that it took a problem to cry, a problem I couldn’t fix.
Maren placed an arm around me. “There’s no need to feel sorry,” she whispered. “Crying is okay.”
And just like that a heaving sob emanated from me. It surprised me, which made me cry even more. My throat hurt. I couldn’t stop.
Maren hugged me.
I couldn’t tell if I was okay with it, but I had no strength to say no. My head rested on her shoulder as the tears continued to roll out of me in waves of rainstorm proportions. I limply just sort of sat there, allowing her to be the strong one.
Was I always the strong one? No one ever warned me of feeling this helpless, this weak. I had always been the one in Maren’s shoes, the one on the outside, the one doing the comforting, that it hadn’t occurred to me how dangerous this sadness felt.
The feeling… like I couldn’t do anything. Like I had no clue what to do. I was cornered.
I was weak.
But I couldn’t digest that. After all, I was Levi Cannon. The kid with all the A’s in all subjects, the insightful one who carried the classes through, the one to ask for help, the one with all the answers. That’s who I was. But in this moment, it was almost like every identity I had was stripped away from me. I didn’t have the answers. I needed help. I was at a loss for words, for thoughts, for life. I just no longer had it in me to be strong.
I was nothing.
Maren’s hand migrated to the top of my head and patted my hair. She was holding me close to her, her chin nestled on top of my head. I guessed this was how girls comforted each other. It wasn’t that I was uncomfortable with it, but more that I was discomfited by how comfortable it did feel. Like how Mom would hold me.
“You know,” she said quietly, slowly, “I heard somewhere that crying isn’t a sign of weakness.” She shrugged slightly. “It’s not at all. Babies may be frail, but they’re not really weak. They cry all the time.”
“What do you mean?” My voice was dry despite all my tears.
She released me, but still had an arm around my shoulders. As I met eyes with her, I noticed she had tearstains on her own cheeks. But she looked at me with such an intent, such a mother’s look, that I saw now that she was a strong one as well.
“Crying, since birth, has been a sign that you’re alive.”

Comments

OH AND ONE MORE THING

I found one song that fits perfectly for Josh called Fast Car by Tracy Chapman! It just fits his aesthetic beautifully and the lyrics just kinda fit him perfectly (except when she says checkout girl... Maren? Do I see something happening here....?)

Madalyn Clare | Wed, 08/14/2019

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

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