Old Things Die (But Not Us) -- Chapter nineteen: Sundressed Therapist

Fiction By Madalyn Clare // 4/6/2020

Every morning for the next two months, I looked at the sticky note. I memorized the numbers, the letters. His phone number. His email.
I didn’t write, though. I didn’t call. I look back, and… boy, I wish I did.
But back then I felt not good enough to. I felt like I didn’t deserve this, he didn’t deserve it. He shouldn’t have given me a way to talk to him, especially if he could have seen what was coming.
But I couldn’t throw them away. It was as if this sticky note proved that Josh was still alive, still real. That this wasn’t all just a coma, a sick sort of dream that let off when it was all going so well. The sticky note told me that this was reality that I was sitting in.
A knock woke me up.
“Levi?” Lissa’s voice. “Hey, Levi, it’s seven. You okay?”
Her voice was gentle. Careful.
I swallowed and turned over.
“Thanks, Liss,” I called back. “It’s a weekend, though.”
She paused for the longest time.
“Yeah,” she sighed, “I guess.”
I knew I was worrying her. I liked to get up early, run, then be ready for school or whatever came at me by seven. I was a strong kid with a strong mind over my matter.
But that morning, I just wanted to stay in bed. I was tired, done. Defeated.
I was weak.
And it wasn’t okay.
“Maren went to the grocery store.” I thought she had left. “Just in case you wanted to know.”
“Thanks, Liss.”
It took more effort than I thought to sit up. It was as if my muscles were made out of lead, my bones titanium. Everything inside me suddenly turned into the heaviest substances known to man, and I was exhausted already. I leaned my forehead to my knees and let out a breath.
I didn’t want to be this way.
But, now that I think about it, I kind of was okay with being that way. It was way easier to lay my head against my knees in defeat than to think about getting out of bed, getting dressed, and pretending I was okay.
I sputtered out a kind of cynical laugh, still in my semi-fetal position.
I wasn’t okay.
There was another knock on my door.
“Hey.” Maren’s voice called – almost yelled – from the other side. “It’s Maren. Are you decent?”
I raised my head from my knees. “Yeah, why?”
She opened the door and stood in the doorway.
If it weren’t for her tell-tale red hair, and her insanely be-freckled skin, she would’ve stood in for my mom. Her hands on her hips. Her brow digging into her eyes in that ‘You and I need to talk’ look.
And even worse, she was wearing my mom’s favorite sundress.
I get it; she didn’t have a lot of clothes, much less for the gradually warming weather. Dad, knowing we couldn’t just go shopping for clothes all the time after all the money he poured into my getting back home, reluctantly employed my help to take my mom’s trunk out of the attic. Her wardrobe was a little dated, but everything fit Maren. From her espadrilles to the bootcut jeans to the beautiful white-pink-red sundress my mom wore every Fourth of July.
I swallowed.
She looked good.
“Can I come in?” she asked. She crossed her arms.
Yeah, she basically was my mom right now.
I slightly nodded.
Maren strolled into my room right to my closet. She pulled out a denim jacket, my favorite T-shirt, and a pair of jeans. Eyeing each piece with the taste of a French designer, she placed together an outfit. It took several minutes – several minutes longer than I ever would’ve cared – and I watched her the whole time.
“There,” she sighed, brushing off her hands as if she finished gardening, “I’ll let you get dressed.” She grinned shortly at me then started towards my door.
“Wait,” I exclaimed after her. I swung my legs over my bed. “No, I don’t want to-”
“Want to what?” Maren turned around. Her hair – in two loose braids – flew around her like the cords of a carousel. “Get on with life?” She shrugged. “Every morning you had a chance, you’ve just laid in bed like you’re sick. Levi, if anything, you’re a little sick in your head. You need to clear yourself up.”
I frowned. “This isn’t something you just ‘get over’, Maren.”
She shook her head. Her brow raised. “I didn’t say you had to. I said, ‘get on with life’. You said, ‘get over it’.” Her arms knotted over her chest. “You don’t have to ‘get over’ this. But you need to live.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but I didn’t. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. My arms dropped to my sides.
“Maren,” I said softly, “Maren, I don’t want to.”
She didn’t say anything.
I finally met her eyes. Her bright, green, world-weary-but-stubborn eyes. Her freckles shadowed her face almost as much as her hair. She blinked. She blinked a lot, as if she was holding off tears.
“Levi,” she said carefully, “listen to me. Get dressed, and try to just… not expect anything, okay? Don’t expect disappointment, don’t expect excitement, just… please do the next thing.”
She sounded like she knew what she was talking about. The look on her face told me that someone taught her the next words. “Stand up, and do the next thing. It’ll hurt, but don’t think about that. Don’t dwell on that. Just stand up then take a step. Then take another. All you can really do right now is the next thing.”
Even if someone taught her the words, she believed them. I could tell.
I wanted to be angry with her. I wanted to be able to justify why I didn’t want to go out. I wanted to shut her up with one good reason why she was wrong.
But I couldn’t. I just looked at her, feeling a fine mixture of surprise, embarrassment, and legitimate four-year-old fury gobbling up my insides. Every ounce of me wanted to yell, to banish her from my room, tell her she didn’t understand and she never would because she didn’t have friends to lose.
But before those words left my mouth a little ounce of me spoke up.
This little ounce said that I wouldn’t amount to anything unless I listened to her right now. This little ounce said that my only power right now was to prove every other cell, every other fiber of my being, my existence, wrong. This little ounce was a rebel, but the right kind of rebel.
With a great amount of strength and willpower on my part, I pushed myself off my bed. I stood up.
I took a step towards Maren.
Then another.
It shouldn’t have hurt, the way it did. Facing her. Standing.
Needing to tell myself I should be okay.
Maren looked up at me with her ginormous eyes. A soft smile crossed her face. I thought for a moment that she was proud of me. I sort of smiled back.
“If you can get dressed, meet me outside. We’ll be taking your car.”

Well, we all knew Maren couldn’t drive. I had to take the driver’s seat, but the way she seemed so excited as she made it clear I would have no idea where we were going.
Maren took my phone and, exaggeratedly turning it away from me, started looking up our destination. While we had been driving across the country, for safety purposes, I put her fingerprint into my phone. Mainly she just used it to hijack my playlists.
“Acoustic or indie?” she asked after our destination was perfectly memorized.
I just kind of looked at her. I wasn’t smiling, but I wasn’t frowning. I just couldn’t understand her. No matter how hard I tried, Maren didn’t make sense to me. How bubbly, how… I can’t even describe what she is. So I just stared, wondering if her definition would materialize in her hair, on her forehead, maybe in the spattering of freckles across her face. Maybe the word would come tumbling out of her mouth, or shine in her eyes.
In the silence, Maren glanced up at me. Then down at my phone. Then back up at me.
The definition didn’t appear like I hoped it would, but time did stop. I’m sure of it.
She looked at me, too. I didn’t care what for; it felt like she was reading my soul, as if my own definition was on display and she understood me but I still didn’t understand her. It felt like she had an advantage, a better hand in whatever game this moment was. I didn’t know why at the moment. I didn’t know why it felt like she was winning.
And I was okay with losing.
I cleared my throat and leaned back in my seat. We hadn’t left the driveway yet.
“Do you like George Ezra?” I asked, in a small voice.
She nodded. “Yep. How about George Ezra on shuffle the whole way there?” She grinned brightly.
“I still don’t know where we’re going.”
“It’s okay. We’re staying in Bentley’s Cape, so I’m pretty sure you’ll end up recognizing it. First, we’ll get out of the neighborhood.”
I did as I was told. Left, another left, the right that took us onto the major street. Straight through the intersection. Past Lissa’s favorite Italian restaurant, towards the movie theater.
The length of the tree-lined street was painted with vivid green filters of sunlight, and the cherry blossoms were falling softly in the breeze. George Ezra softly played from my phone, and the melody seemed to go to the beat of each tree we passed by. The few clouds in the sky all were the brightest white they could be and the fluffiest I’d ever seen them.
And Maren was singing. Her voice wasn’t the best I’d ever heard, but at the same time, I never wanted her to stop trying to hit high and low notes. I wanted her to keep on messing up the lyrics, to do so with no understanding of tone. I started singing with her. Now, I’m just about tone deaf, so what was going on in the car was less than a symphony. I tried my hand at harmonizing, which made Maren laugh so hard she forgot to tell me where to turn. We ended up back-tracking for a good five minutes because of it.
As Budapest played in the background to Maren’s pretending to be Siri, I felt a smile tug at my chest. Have you ever felt that? A sudden… feeling like if you don’t smile, you might laugh. But tears might come out. The opposite of a stomach drop, like all your insides want to soar out of your mouth in the best way. Uncomfortable when you overthink it, but in the moment, it’s just the feeling of joy.
So I smiled.
It was that kind of smile that reminds people that you haven’t smiled in a while. I felt awkward, lopsided, just a mess. But a great mess.
Maren was right; I ended up recognizing where we were going. And I smiled more.



Two more great chapters! I thought the title of this chapter was cute, too :) . It always makes me happy to come on ApricotPie and see that you’ve published more, and I'm looking forward to the next chapter!

There was one thing I noticed that didn't feel quite right, but I'm not quite sure how to describe it. It was like your tone changed just slightly at a few different points in these two chapters. You had more side notes, I guess I would say, then previously, and they felt different. For example, when you said, “Now, I’m just about tone deaf, so what was going on in the car was less than a symphony.” (I liked that line, by the way; the tone just felt different). Or, “Have you ever felt that?” I guess it felt like you were talking more directly to the audience than most of the rest of the story…that’s the best way I can describe it; I’m sorry if that’s not very helpful! I think just a little tweak to the sentences will fix it, though.

I’m doing well! How are you? Yep, I’ve played a couple rounds of Monopoly this month :) .

Grace J. | Tue, 04/21/2020

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

Hi, Grace! Thank you so much

Hi, Grace!

Thank you so much for the kind words!
Ah, got you. Yes, the tone definitely changes throughout the story. What I had in mind is that since Levi is orally recounting a story, I recently thought of bringing in a little bit more subtly interactive narrative to keep that alive. I can see where it sounds kind of off from the rest of the story. I will definitely take that into account during the next drafts! Thank you!

Madalyn Clare | Thu, 04/23/2020

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