Two Broken People

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13| Cringe

M a x i e

I walked around the aquarium in a daze as Maizie ran to glass enclosure after enclosure of all the sea creatures. I tried to snap back to reality but watching Levi completely zone out like that, and then his reaction to my touch— it unnerved me. I was so consumed with wondering what was going on in his brain, what happened to trigger whatever that was?

Maizie pulled at my hand and when I looked down at her she had a scowl on her face. “You’re ’posed to be excited.”

I don’t know when she turned into a teenager but it was enough to break me out of my thoughts for the time being.

We walked together to the area that housed the jellyfish and I couldn’t help but smile as I became transfixed by their fluid movements through the water, until it dawned on me— I hadn’t seen Levi since earlier. My heart instantly shattered at the realization that I just left him alone after what he went through.

I was so taken aback by his— whatever that was— that I neglected to consider that maybe he needed help, needed someone there to comfort him.

I picked up Maizie. “Let’s go find Levi.”

And after a few minutes, we did. He was leaning over the railing of the stingray pool and had his hands tented in front of him like he was in excruciatingly deep thought.

I walked up behind him and hesitantly smoothed my hand over his back, before squeezing in between him and another family.

He slowly looked over at me and I could instantly tell by his red, blotchy face that he was about to cry, or he already had.

My eyes searched his face and my heart crumpled even more at the pain that I saw there.

I looked down at Maizie, to find her attention on the stingrays circling the pool, before turning my attention to Levi.

“What’s wrong? I’m so sorry for walking away before and leaving you alone. I—”

He cut me off by touching my arm gently and shaking his head slowly. “It’s okay. I just, uh, needed to be alone for a moment. He looked embarrassed and I couldn’t stand it. I should be the one embarrassed for how I acted. I completely left him in the dark in a time of need, yet he had been there to pick me up countless times when I was down.

“I’m so sorry.” Is all I could say, and now I felt like I was going to cry.

His lips tilted up in a pained smile and he came closer, wrapping an arm around me and pulling me into him. “It’s okay. Let’s get ready, the stingray feeding is soon.


A whole week had passed since the aquarium and after that day together, he completely ghosted us.

At first I was worried something had happened to him, he hadn’t been to school and all of my calls and texts went unanswered, soon going straight to voicemail.

But then I saw him in school on the fifth day, just for a brief moment and afterwards, I searched for him all day without a single glimpse of him.

I began to grow frustrated by his disappearing act. I thought everything was okay after I apologized. Why did he come into our lives, only to leave as quickly as he appeared? I couldn’t bring myself to understand why he just chose to vanish like we meant nothing to him.

On the seventh day, I decided to take action. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, but I spent the first half of my day at school trying to devise a plan, until the perfect plan walked straight through the door.


I didn’t know him persay, but I knew of him, and that he was one of Levi’s best friends. He had to know something.

As soon as the bell rang he sprung out of his seat and I was ready to chase after him.

It didn’t take me long to catch up to him as he was walking out the set of metal doors leading to their favorite smoking spot.

“Griffin, wait.” He whipped around at my foreign voice calling for him.

His eyes met mine and for a moment he looked confused, and a bit shocked but quickly gathered his composure as he hiked his backpack further up his shoulder.

“Sup?” He said but continued walking.

I followed him out the doors, matching pace with him.

“Is Levi okay?”

He didn’t answer me until we were across the lot and in the clearing of trees where they went to smoke.

He took a cigarette out of the pack, offering me one, and as much as I wanted to say yes, I shook my head instead.

As soon as the cigarette was lit, he took in a long drag and blew the smoke up towards the sky before answering me. “I don’t really know. Haven’t talked to him much. Why?” He asked nonchalantly, but I could tell he was slightly worried himself.

I didn’t know Griffin and I didn’t know how much to share with him, but I had no better option.

I huffed a sigh before replying. “Because, I haven’t really heard from him or talked to him either. Everything was okay until it wasn’t. We went to the aquarium last week and—” I didn’t know what to say other than, “He was upset. After that, he kind of ghosted.”

Griffin sighed again. “Levi can be like that. He gets into his moods. He’ll come around.”

“But—” I tried but Griffin cut me off.

“Listen, I wish I could help more but Levi and I don’t really talk about stuff like that. Our friendship is different than most.”

“Well can you at least tell me where he lives, or something?” I knew I probably sounded desperate and on the verge of being creepy but I didn’t care.

Griffin sucked in another long drag of smoke before huffing out a breath. He looked conflicted. “If he’s anywhere, he’s probably working at the garage. It’s over on Broad Street, you can’t miss it.”

I practically jumped up and down. “Thank you, thank you.”

He shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes. “You didn’t hear it from me.”

He went back to enjoying his cigarette, not saying much else— man of many words, let me tell you.

I ran off towards the building and without much of a thought, ran straight to my locker and grabbed any books that I’d be needing. It was barely lunch time, but I couldn’t sit through the rest of the day with the questions I had in my mind. I needed to act before I lost the courage.

I shouldered my backpack before looking up how long it would take me to walk to the garage. Broad Street wasn’t far, it was only a twenty minute walk from the school, so I stuffed my earbuds into my ears and started on my way.

The walk wasn’t half bad, there was even a coffee shop on the way. I stopped in and ordered myself a large iced caramel macchiato, needing all of the caffeine courage I could get.

Just as I finished my drink, having to pee worse than I think I’ve ever had to pee before, I arrived at a large mechanics garage on Broad Street.

“This must be it.” I said to no one but myself as I stared nervously at the building in front of me.

With a groan, I threw my empty cup into a nearby garbage can before I stalked my way through the open bay door, trying to muster whatever courage I had buried deep, and scanned the shop for Levi.

I was greeted by about six pairs of eyes, but the only ones I cared about came from the back corner of the shop. He looked nervous.

I sucked in a deep breath before I made my way over to him, being followed by the other five pairs of eyes.

“What the fuck.” Are the first words that flew out of my mouth, and I almost wished I could shove them back in, because that’s not what I rehearsed.

Looks like we’re just winging it now.

“Well, at least you’re not dead.” The words just started rolling and I was quite literally suffering from the worst case of word vomit.

Levi just stared at me, mouth gaped wide in shock.

He tried reaching for me but I yanked my arm away, crossing my arms over my chest.

“Where the hell have you been? I’ve been worrying my ass off, thinking something was seriously wrong—” I tried to keep my voice at a reasonable level but my frustration just caused my voice to grow to near shrieking.

“Listen, I can—” He cut me off, but I returned the favor and spoke up instead.

“No, what you did wasn’t fair. I could care less about myself, but what about Maizie. She was really warming up to you and you just up and disappeared. Did you not really care?” Most of the other guys went back to work, but I noticed a pair of eyes trained on us from the office off to the side.

“If it’s because of what happened at the aquarium, I’m sorry for whatever I did, but Maizie didn’t deserve the repercussions.” I could see him visibly cringe at my statement and I knew that I struck a chord.

“Please.” He pleaded but I just continued.

“I looked for you every single day at school, and you weren’t there—” I was on a roll. I wasn’t sure if my words even made sense, but my feelings had been pent up for a week, they were just kind of tumbling out in a disorganized rant.

Levi’s eyes shot to the office and the man standing there looked less than pleased with my tirade.

“Maxie!” Levi raised his voice just slightly, causing me to shut up.

I rolled my lips into my mouth in embarrassment as he pleaded at me with his eyes before he gently reached for my arm, and I let him.

He led me outside to the backyard of the garage. There was a rusted old car sitting off to the side. It was missing all four doors and wheels but he pulled me towards it, sliding into the shell of what once was a Chevy of some kind, sitting behind the wheel as he motioned me to slide in the opposite side.

He gripped the steering wheel and sucked in a long breath before letting it out slowly. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back before finally angling his body towards me.

“Listen—” He started but seemed to be at a loss for words, or thinking really hard about what to say.

“I just wanna know if you really cared or if it was all in my head.” I sighed before continuing. “I never really let myself open up to someone or become attached, but I became attached to you. So did Maizie. You’re one of the first people I’ve seen her really open up to since—” I paused for a moment. “Everything happened.”

I felt my eyes start to burn but I blinked away the tears just in time.

“Please don’t ever ask me if I really care again.” He said abruptly, his voice sounding strained as if he was about to cry.

“I care more than you guys will ever know.”

There was a moment of silence.

“I’m sorry that I dissapeared.” He swallowed hard and opened his mouth like he was going to continue speaking but closed it, looking like he was lost deep in thought.

I took in my own deep breath as his words took me off guard and punched me straight in the gut.

He looked like he was at war with himself when he focused his gaze back on me.

“At the aquarium— I don’t know how to explain what happened. I don’t know what it was, but it was like I was sucked back into my past.”

“My father wasn’t a very nice man.” He broke eye contact, looking anywhere but at me.

I bit into my bottom lip and held my breath as I continued to listen, afraid of what was to come next.

“When I was eight, my family and I went to that same exact aquarium. I guess I wasn’t really thinking about it when I planned the trip there, but when we stepped inside, the memories came back to me in excruciating detail.” He closed his eyes and sighed.

“It even smelled the same.”

My heart broke as he spoke.

He turned slightly and gripped the steering wheel even harder, staring out through the non-existent windshield, deep in thought before he continued, “My dad beat the shit out of me that day, broke a rib or two. Just for being excited about the damn shark exhibit.” He gritted out a painful laugh before shaking his head.

“It was like I was sucked back into that moment, and I was that eight year old little boy again. Everything went black around me and all I saw were the memories as if I was living it all over again.”

He gulped.

“I’m sorry if that scared you, I really am. And I’m sorry if I scared Maizie. I’d never want to put her in a situation like that and I’m so sorry that I was holding her when it happened.”

He looked consumed by guilt and then the memories from that day flooded back to me, and how I reacted after he snapped back to reality.

I remembered the dazed look in his eyes and how he pulled away at my touch, both shattering my heart and scaring me— but then I remembered my knee jerk reaction after the fact, how I practically ripped Maizie from his arms as if I was afraid of him or didn’t trust him. I didn’t think at that moment how that would have made him feel.

“She had no clue what was going on— Levi, I’m so sorry that I reacted the way I did.” I hesitantly reached out for him, laying my hand on his forearm and watching as his fingers gripped the steering wheel so hard that his knuckles started to turn white .

I scooted in closer to him on the bench seat. All I wanted to do was hold him, make everything better, but I hesitated, wanting to give him his space.

“Please look at me.” I whispered out in the space between us as I watched the muscle in his jaw tick.

When he turned towards me, I could see the tears welling in his eyes. He tried blinking them back but the action just caused them to fall down his cheeks. I could tell that talking about his past was a hard thing for him to do, and judging by his friendship with Griffin, it didn’t seem like he talked about his feelings, let alone his past often.

Without thinking, I leaned forward and wiped away the tears with the pads of my thumbs.

His wet eyes traveled up my face to meet my own.

I held my hands on either side of his face as I kept my gaze locked with his. “I trust you. We both do. I’m so sorry you had to go through that and I’m sorry for how I reacted at the aquarium. I didn’t know what to do or think, but I promise I will try to do better. You just have to let me.” Even though Levi and I hadn’t known each other for very long, the feelings I had for him were deeper than even I could decipher in the moment, but the words flowed freely and I meant every single one.

“Just please never disappear again.” I concluded in a mere whisper.

He nodded his head as a few more tears fell and then before I knew it, his lips were crashing into mine and I melted into the warmth of them, wrapping my arms around his neck as he pulled me in around the waist.

Our kiss was fast, only lasting a few seconds but it was the emotions that were conveyed in the kiss that had me weak in the knees and feeling drunk.

My eyes fluttered open, only to be met by his emerald stare.

“I’m not going anywhere. I promise.” He whispered as he rested his forehead against mine, holding me close

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