Old Things Die (But Not Us) -- Chapter ten: Empty Tanks

Fiction By Madalyn Clare // 3/28/2019

I was woken up by the sound of semi-trucks passing.
I startled as I snapped up in bed. I never really experienced this obtrusive alarm before, and I was hoping to leave it at just this once.
I decided I wasn’t a fan of motels.
After the initial shock of the noise, I lay back down in the small bed. I rubbed my eyes. It was about five in the morning, and the sky was far from awake. The stars were gone, and the lights on the street would be going out soon.
My phone buzzed on the nightstand as I sat up. I glanced down at it.
$500 have been deposited into your account.
Then a text.
Be safe, Levi. I have full trust in you. Come back safe.
I let out a shaky exhale and thanked heaven for my dad.
I changed quickly and put my sweats into the worn out drawstring bag I had the prudence to pack the morning I left. I just had a few changes of clothes, my tennis shoes, my keys, my phone, and a wallet. I didn’t think through everything I was doing, I just was going off of what I had. Josh was alive. He was going west, most likely. Between driving stops, I kept looking up as many Grace Jung’s I could. The only things I really knew about her were that she was his mom’s younger sister, she was a doctor, and she was married. Last time I had heard I thought she moved to California, but I wasn’t sure where, even if she was there.
At least, I assumed he was talking about Aunt Grace. I showed the picture to Dad, and he said he was certain the other couple was Josh’s aunt and uncle. After that, I wordlessly went to my room and started packing my drawstring.
His mom was gone. Dead and gone. There was absolutely no way he was looking for her. The only ‘her’ left in the picture was Aunt Grace.
Another text blipped on my phone.
Why didn’t you tell me in person? Levi, I really love you, but I don’t understand the way you work. I don’t understand how you can so easily forget to tell me things and just waste yourself away. I’m worried too; not just about Josh but about you.
I’m praying that you’ll get home okay, but don’t expect me to just support you without question or explanation. I can’t do that.

It took me reading my last text to her to remember.
Josh is out there. Going to find him.
Love you.

I waited a few minutes before texting back:
This isn’t something I could’ve negotiated with you. It matters too much to be politicians over. I promise I’m not running away. I just have to follow where the clues lead. I’ll be coming home right after I have this sorted out.
I thought about taking a shower and brushing my teeth. It dawned on me I didn’t pack anything for that sake. Hesitantly, I jotted ‘toothbrush’ down in my list of necessities I’d have to buy.
After checking out of the motel, I was on the road again. Soon the sky showed signs of the sun rising over the hills surrounding me. The air was damp and cool, and the road was freshly salted to keep the ice from attacking commuters. My windshield had frozen over last night, and it took buying a whole bottle of rubbing alcohol to get it off.
My thoughts of the morning went straight to Josh. If I were Josh… where would I go? How would I get there? What would I need?
Honestly, it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Most of my predictions kept falling back to me being there. Since he never asked me once to help him in this endeavor, I was stuck. I didn’t know what his pure instinct was like. I didn’t even know if he knew where his aunt was.
I was on the highway, coming out of Vermont, and crossing into a new state. I had to know something by now.
Hours passed of driving before my phone buzzed for the last time. I waited until I found a shoulder to turn into, then checked the text.
Either you’re not telling me everything, or you’re really going insane! Just follow the police findings, okay? Don’t go vigilante. Come home, please! You’re scaring me!
If you don’t reply to this text, I don’t know what will happen, Levi. I just can’t do this. I’ll keep worrying about you, but I just can’t be as involved as I am in this. I hope he turns up so that things can return to normal. But for now, don’t drag me into this. You handle it the way you think is best. I don’t understand, but you do.

I was going to reply, but the service died after the message came through to me. So I sat in my truck, silent. Staring at the words of warning.
She broke up with me. She didn’t say it but I knew. I took in a slow breath as I placed my phone back on the co-pilot seat, usually where Josh was. I leaned forward and rested my forehead on the steering wheel.
I felt so alone that I couldn’t function. I couldn’t wrap my head around the solitude I felt in that moment that I almost gave up on everything. I was cold, lost, and I didn’t have anyone to tell me I was hot or cold. No one to comfort me. No one to just tell me the answers so we could quit this stupid game.
I wanted to curl up in the pickup, under the tarp, and camp out. Josh would tell me about the deer he saw, or maybe teach me about wild rodents. We’d look at the stars as we’d eat granola bars, as if we were real campers with dreams and ambitions. Perhaps we were dreamers, but we had nowhere to go but wherever the other went. We had no destination aside from ending up in the same place.
We weren’t campers. We weren’t much of dreamers or anything; we were detours on the same road. We wanted the same destination – perhaps we didn’t know where – but our sceneries were wildly different.
I just wanted Josh back.
“Why did you go away…” My voice choked and I noticed the silence that deafened my question. I raised my head from the steering wheel, to find a car trying to turn into the shoulder, waiting rather impatiently for me to move.
I quickly apologized and started the car.
I tried to start the car.
The car coughed at me, and refused to move.
No. No, no, no.
Was I out of gas?

It took some hiking to find service, and when I did, it took several calls to finally get a tow, and get it paid for. Dad insisted on paying for it, but I finally made him concede to letting me have this one. He had been checking in on me several times throughout these several days I had been gone, and I worried just as much about him. He still had Lissa and Miles at home. He was working full time. He was an insomniac. I hated being another problem for him.
I waited by my car, assuring myself that the air was just above freezing and wouldn’t damage me. The tow truck had a long estimated route, so I had ample time to think. Think about what Josh would do in this situation…
He recently came across this picture of his parents. He hadn’t thought of his aunt in years, after she moved away and never called since his mother’s death. He assumed she thinks he died in the crash and would rather die than converse with her sister’s deadbeat husband. But things had gotten so desperate at home that he needed a way out. He went to look for his aunt, his only living relative, who may give him a better chance at life.
That was a start. But how on earth did he get out of Bentley’s Cape?
I wondered what had happened to finally drive Josh out. My blood boiled in thinking about his dad, thinking of the things he could have done. He had the power to injure Josh, to abuse him in any way. I just wondered what it was he did. My mind raced with too many options.
I thought of Josh’s way of thinking. He didn’t tend to plan things out; he did things as they were needed to be done. I thought of the time he rescued a bunny from a bush, but ended up taking it so far away from its burrow that it couldn’t get back. He wasn’t that big on thinking things through, because he feared he would lose the chance at the right thing if he waited too long.
Maybe he saw an open window and ran for it. I struggled to think of what his opportunity could have been. I crouched down in the muddy shoulder of the highway and contemplated.
He could have left late at… no, his dad would have been up. And most likely was at peak condition then. Maybe someone helped him… no, the only person besides me who could have helped him was Chastity, and neither of us knew.
I stuffed my hands in my pockets and thought of coffee. I shook my head. I couldn’t spend money on things I didn’t absolutely need; I had a long journey ahead of me.
I sadly didn’t come to many conclusions by the time the tow truck came down the lazy highway. I waved him down.
The driver was not a very tall man. He wore a red flannel and a wool cap with ear flaps. A large reddish brown beard made a jungle out of the lower half of his face.
“Empty tank, you said?” he said, hiking up to my spot. His voice was gruff but not unkind as he scrutinized my vehicle.
I nodded. “I didn’t even notice any of the warnings. It just died on me as I turned in here.” My hands in my pockets, I shrugged with a lightness I wished I had in reality. “Serendipity, huh?”
He grunted in reply as he turned back to me. “We’ll settle the bill and you can ride with me.”
I thanked him as my insides jumped at the thought of being in a warm car again.

I was dropped off in town several miles away. My car was taken straight to the gas station and I was given a cup of hot chocolate. I appreciated this part of business.
Sipping on my satisfactory drink, I walked the up and down of the convenience store, carefully selecting items for the remainder of my trip. The store was playing a deep, mellow jazz song and there was almost no one there. A feeling of peace, that everything would turn out all right, came over me as I allowed myself to step out of my head and just live in the moment of placing a toothbrush in the crook of my arm. I sighed out deeply as I stood there in the aisle, probably looking awfully strange as I stared into the granola bars.
The year changed too many things, I concluded. Josh and I had the perfect summer; we had nothing but each other and that was how we liked it. But only six months tore us apart. Six months of ignoring, of miscommunication, of pent up honesty. It ruined everything.
I migrated to the check out with all my findings. The cashier was a young girl, probably somewhere in high school or college. She was cute, with a dash of freckles across her nose and two low braids of red hair. She smiled briefly at me and gave me a quick greeting. As she passed my items under the scanner she glanced back up at me.
“You taking a trip?”
It dawned on me that people tend to be insanely curious about strangers. Society didn’t really allow questions to be asked, but curiosity was never keen on being squashed.
I shrugged. “Makes sense to call it one.” I met her embarrassed – but still curious – eyes. “I’m trying to find someone.”
She nodded as she placed my things in a bag. She elegantly tapped in the final product and asked for my card. “Ah.” She slid my card in and waited a moment. “Does this person know you’re coming?”
I shook my head. “Not really. I don’t really know where he is, either.”
She cocked her head at me and grunted. “You’re an interesting person, I can tell.” Her brow furrowed over her bright blue eyes. “The States are big, and you’re looking for one person who hasn’t told you where to find him.” She gave me back my card. “You’re not easily scared, are you?”
I couldn’t resist a small smile as I took my bag. “One of us can’t be,” I replied.
She slowly nodded. “The person, you mean?”
I affirmed.
The cashier again squinted at me, but not in a way that was uncomfortable. It was almost as if she was attempting to understand me, though she did not know me. I paused by the door, allowing her some time to process her thoughts.
“I hope you find your person,” she finally said.
I bowed my head to show my thanks as I opened the door.
“Wait,” she called. I stopped. “What’s your name?”
I paused again, wondering why it mattered. She wasn’t anyone I’d be too concerned about. “Levi,” I answered.
She hesitated. “Levi… Cannon?”
My eyes widened and I returned to the store front. I stopped really close to her. “Yeah,” I said cautiously. “How did you-”
The cashier quickly pulled something out from under the register and handed it to me. It was an envelope, with my name and address on the front. There was no return address.
“A guy name Josh asked me to bring this to the post office when I could. He said that it was about his whereabouts. He told me that no one else was allowed to look at it except a Levi.”
I frowned at her. “How did you know it was me?”
She shook her head. “I didn’t. I just thought what you were saying made sense and I wanted to remember you. But then you said Levi…” She waved it off. “I get really curious about people. Josh really intrigued me too.”
My heart was thudding furiously as I held the envelope in both hands. His handwriting wasn’t good, but it was always deliberate. The lines were a little too straight sometimes and the letters looked like they were written in the dark.
“Thank you,” I made out in a whisper. “This helps a lot.”

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