Old Things Die (But Not Us) -- Chapter twelve: Tasting Summer

Fiction By Madalyn Clare // 6/10/2019

I didn’t know what she’d do about whatever dead-end jobs she had, but I hoped she’d come up with something. I checked into a hostel and, not caring to change into night clothes, I fell asleep not long after.
At three, I woke up and left the building. We had decided the gas station to be our meeting place, so with a small cup of cheap coffee, I dutifully made my way there. I supposed I had nothing better to do than wait for her, so I opened the truck bed and hopped in.
I never used the truck bed except for when Josh asked me to pick him up in the middle of the night. I’d rescue him and we’d drive either to the park or towards the mountain forests. I always had a stash of granola bars and dried fruit for our expeditions, and the bed was decked out with loads of blankets and a few pillows. We’d go camp out at nights and drive in the morning.
One incident came clear to my mind whenever I remembered those summer trips.
It was one in the morning when the Kang landline blipped on the screen of my phone. Cautiously, I answered.
“Levi?”
His voice was ragged and hopeful. I heard his soft panting- he was hurt.
“Josh, what’s wrong?” My go-to greeting. Our policy was that phone calls were emergencies only. Besides, it was a good day if Josh could get to the phone without his dad noticing. “Did he beat you?”
“He did,” came the dreaded answer. Pain. Pain in his voice. “Please, let’s get out of here.”
Without another word I hung up, texted my dad, and set into action. I had an emergency sack with some clothes for Josh and a First Aid kit, and some water bottles. I changed into warm clothes and exited through the window.
I drove down to his house and pulled in the back. I got out of the car as quietly as possible, and snuck towards Josh’s room’s window. It was a tiny area and the window was too small for me to get through. I knew Josh fit through.
I opened it and whispered, “Josh? You ready? I’m here.”
At first there was no response and I panicked. “Josh!”
A small whimper was my reply as I heard him shuffle around his room. “I’m ready.” He shoved the window open all the way and, gingerly, pulled himself out.
The first thing I saw was his torn shirt. Then the bruises, the wounds, the smeared blood on his arms and on his back. His hair – overgrown and unwashed – was caked with sweat.
He leaned against the wall, facing away from me. His breathing was heavy and he was in so much pain. But he didn’t have the same reaction I supposed I would. He calmly bundled some shirts in his hands and gestured for us to leave.
He didn’t want to be in the presence of this house anymore.
Without trying to look him in the eyes, I helped him to the car and hoisted him into the co-pilot’s seat. He was able to buckle himself, so I returned to my seat in the car and we took off.
We were getting too good at this.
Several minutes passed of silence. I supposed Josh had fallen asleep or something so I didn’t try talking to him. I just drove towards the hills.
Heat wafted off of Josh’s wounded skin as he changed into a new shirt. In my periphery I noticed that the bruises I had seen were the tip of the iceberg.
“Are you hungry?” I asked, pausing at a light.
He shook his head. “Just tired.” He turned his head to me. “Thanks again.”
I wanted to look at his face and smile and tell him it was all good. But something made me hesitate. I knew his face was messed up right now and I knew he was okay with me seeing him like this, but I also knew I wouldn’t be able to handle myself. I nodded and looked ahead. “Always expect me to be there, kay?”
He nodded and leaned back in his seat, his whole body melting into it.
When we got to the base of the hills, the moon was soon to set. The air was chilly and the night was clear. Routinely we both got out of the car and opened the truck bed. I got out the first aid kit and tossed it in, and Josh pulled himself onto the blankets. I hopped in as well and sat opposite of him.
“Which one’s the worst?”
He was lying in a scrunched up ball before exhaustedly offering his arm. A long gash decorated his forearm and the scabbing was messy. I took one of the water bottles and washed off his wound over the side of the truck. He winced several times but otherwise said and did nothing. He had resigned to the fact that he lived mostly in pain.
As I dried the wound and reached for the antimicrobial, Josh whispered, “Thanks.”
I shrugged as I continued the job, setting on cotton bandages and wrapping his arm in gauze. “Don’t thank me,” I muttered. “It’s as if you don’t think I would do it in the first place.”
“No,” he said as he shifted on the truck bed so he could look at the stars. I gave him a wet washcloth and he put it on his face. “No, I mean for being my friend.” With the cloth hiding his features, he turned his head to me. “I wouldn’t think you’d do that in the first place.” I heard him chuckle to himself. “I come with a lot of problems. Thanks for taking the whole package deal. Thanks for not running away when those problems get even more real.”
I nodded and leaned against the side of the truck bed. “Don’t worry about it, okay? Your package deal may not be a rich family or fun vacations, but yours make it easy to see who your friends are.”
He laughed slightly as he gingerly pressed the cloth to his face. “That sounds way more positive than I was thinking,” he said through his amusement. “Good job, Levi.”
I laughed too. Not at the joke but at how only about an hour ago he was in so much pain he couldn’t speak. Admittedly, he wasn’t laughing to his full potential, but I realized how strong Josh was. He tried so hard to not be haunted. He scoured his existence for positivity and he found it. I remembered past times when I complained about small things, and how I dwelled on them. I was ashamed of myself whenever this happened to Josh, because after only a while, he was capable of changing the subject.
Maybe he was desensitized. Maybe he was gifted.

“Levi?”
I had most likely dozed off looking at the sky, because all of a sudden Maren was leaning over the side of the truck bed, hesitantly reaching a finger out at me to poke me if need be.
I rubbed my eyes and sat up. I was so tired…
“What time is it now?” I asked as I hopped off the same side. She was carrying a small backpack, two cups of coffee, and some convenience store snacks and necessities.
“It’s a little past four.” She handed me a coffee and loaded her bags into the truck bed. “Why? Were you hoping for perfect punctuality?”
I snorted and shook my head. “Human, not perfection,” I announced, recalling how often my dad said it.
She nodded slowly. “I like that,” she admitted as she helped me cover the truck bed again. “You know, Levi, you’re really poetic. Kinda romantic in a way, right?” She was quick to add, “But it’s not like I’m attracted to you… almost-stranger… I happen to be crossing the country with.”
I grinned widely. “When you put it like that,” I said, “I wouldn’t trust either of us.”
Maren was already over her embarrassment as we hopped into the car and started on our way.
...
As the sun rose, Maren and I became closer. We talked about our lives. Our friends. Our families. Our dreams. Before hearing her story, I didn’t know much about the field of sewing. But as she told me about her last projects before she ran away and that the majority of what she had brought with her were clothes she made herself, I came to understand that clothes seemed to be as much of an art as anything a painter could paint. She told me about her far-off dream of attending fashion school one day.
I was slow to mention I didn’t know what I would be doing. She complained to me that I was too talented to not have a clue, and I failed to confess that that was the problem. Having too many things that I was passionate about was almost as bad as having nothing. I didn’t know how scared I was until she asked me my plans.
Maren leaned back in her seat and glanced at me. “I guess there’s always a flip-side,” she said. “For the longest time I wasn’t passionate about anything because I was bad at everything.” She paused. “Seems like your problem is that you’re not really bad at anything. There’s nothing to narrow your scopes, is there?”
I groaned and clutched the wheel. “Thanks for making me feel better,” I muttered. “I wish I didn’t feel this way, but one of the most annoying things about being multitalented is that people compliment me all the time.”
“How’s that a problem?”
“Because I guess I’d crack less,” I explained. “I’m always pressured to be everything people think I am: good at science, good at math, good at literature. Everything. Nobody tells me I’d be good at a certain thing. People always tell me, ‘You’ll do well in whatever you choose’.” I tossed my hands up in frustration for a second before I remembered I was driving. “I just wish, just once, someone would give me a clue. I feel like I’d fail if I tried figuring my life out by myself.”
She slowly nodded. “Oh,” she muttered. “I never had that problem. I guess there’s almost no certainty, huh?”
I shrugged. “I guess not.”
We were silent for a few moments as we both thought of our lives.
She took in a deep breath and looked out the window. “Seems that talents aren’t poured out so evenly,” she stated. “It’s kinda… lopsided.”
I scoffed slightly. “If it was, there’d be no free will, I suppose.”
Maren nodded silently, then laughed. “Look at us,” she exclaimed, “traversing the country and having existential conversations. How many other runaway strangers can claim this?”
I had to admit, I laughed as well.
Something about Maren’s presence was bright. She was like a piece of summer, with her bright red hair that matched her bright red personality. I couldn’t help but feel breaths of air emanate from her and purify my surroundings. I felt I could laugh.
Finally.

Comments

Ah, those frightening

Ah, those frightening words--"Do you have any plans?" While I don't have Josh's problem of having too many things I could do, I understand his dilemma of not knowing what to do. Poor guy!

I know I said this before, but I like Maren, and I loved the description of her at the end. I can't wait to read the next chapter!

Grace J. | Wed, 07/31/2019

“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 lovely

Thank you for your lovely comment, Grace!! I'm so happy you're enjoying the story!
Gah, I canNOT wait to finally get to the next chapters... I've had the ideas, but not the motivation nor the time to write them. I think I can finally get back to it!!
Levi is very heavily based on myself, and the avalanche of opportunities is something that I've been struggling with. I may not be insanely talented in every field (I'm looking at you, math...), but I have a great passion for so many different things and I can see myself doing different things for a long time.

Madalyn Clare | Wed, 07/31/2019

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

Yay!!! I want to know more

Yay!!! I want to know more :D
I guess I have a sort of similar problem. I think that there are many areas I could excel in if I put enough time and effort into them, but I know that I would miserable. For example, look at math :) I think I could do well in some area that involved math because I'm not bad at math, but I don't like math so I would be very unhappy--so that job is not an option.
However, even though there are many jobs I know I don't want to do, I don't know what I would want to do.

P.S. I like your signature!

Grace J. | Sun, 08/04/2019

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

Haha I thought I responded but hey here we are

I feel you, girl! Math is one of those things that quite a number of people out there are great at, they just don't like it, and I'm with you on that one! I'm pretty good at it too I just... I could live with the basics, honestly.

P.S. Thank youu! Haha the internet was made for introverts, I'm convinced ;)

Madalyn Clare | Mon, 11/18/2019

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

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