Two Broken People

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7| Lucky

L E V I

On the drive home I'm a hazy mess- almost drunk off of happiness yet there's a relentless onset of memories from the past trying to break through the walls I've built around them.

Maizie reminded me so much of Sophia that it tore my heart to shreds. The way she reached up to me, and hugged me- it hurt yet felt so good. It was like being able to get one last hug from my sister.


I started my day off as a complete emotional wreck and by the end of the day I found myself smiling more than I have in years. Being around Maxie and Maizie was just- easy. As cliché as it may sound, it feels like I've known them forever. We fell into an easy rhythm of co-inhabitation. Talking to Maxie was easy. I felt myself wanting to open up to her in ways that I haven't opened up to anyone other than my therapist.

I couldn't keep my nurturing tendencies at bay. While sitting on the porch, I could see the bruising getting darker by the minute; I had to act.

She seemed shy at first about accepting my help, but I didn't give her much of a choice- I wouldn't take no for an answer. Only knowing her for the few hours that I had at that point, I could already tell how much she had suffered in life, how much she's sacrificed to be where she is now. She is a strong woman and her strength just drew me in further. I couldn't live with myself if I didn't offer some kind of help

I was eventually able to force Maxie inside and onto the couch as I busied myself in the kitchen. I could feel her watching me as I rummaged around in the cabinets for something to make them. I made a note at how bare her pantry and fridge were but I didn't bring it up, in fear of embarrassing her- it was nothing to be embarrassed about in the first place, I know how damn expensive groceries are, and she has a whole other mouth to feed besides herself.

I found a jar of alfredo sauce and a box of fettuccini noodles, so I boiled a pot of water and threw the noodles in to cook; then I pulled a smaller pot out, setting it on the back burner and warmed up the sauce. I was able to find a bag of frozen broccoli for added protein and iron, dumping the florets in the sauce to cook.

Once dinner was served the two of them ate in silence until their bowls were practically licked clean. I sat back with my own bowl and watched them with a hidden grin. I've never seen someone enjoy my cooking so much, it just makes me wonder what they've been eating up until this point.

"Good?" I asked after Maxie placed her empty bowl on the coffee table. Maizie was still munching away as she watched Frozen 2.

Maxie nodded and a warm smiled tilted up the corners of her lips. "Thank you so much, really."

I set my bowl down on the kitchen island and made my way over to her, sitting next to her on the couch. I subconsciously picked up her feet and placed them in my lap. Nerves ratcheted up in my gut as I realized how awkward I probably made the situation, but she was unfazed. She cuddled back against the pillow that I propped behind her and held the icepack that I made her a few moments before, up to her face. I noticed her wince at the contact and it made my heart drop.

"How are you feeling?" I asked, resting my hand on her ankles which were crossed in my lap and covered with a gray fuzzy blanket. I looked over at her and she took the icepack away from her face for a moment to look at me.

She shrugged her shoulders. "Eh, I've been better." She said but there was a hint of a grin gracing her full lips.

I couldn't help but return her smile. It suddenly struck me that she was handling this all with no pain meds- taking it a hell of a lot better than I ever would.

"Do you have ibuprofen? You should probably take some for the pain and swelling." I hoped to God I wasn't being overbearing.

She smiled up at me with tired eyes and nodded. "Bathroom medicine cabinet."

She pointed towards a door to the left, down the hall.

I nodded my head and stood up, gently laying her legs back onto the couch. She pulled her feet in and wrapped the blanket tighter around herself.

I couldn't help but smile down at her before walking off towards the bathroom. Before I stepped into the bathroom, I snuck a peek into her bedroom- and it was sweet, littered with pictures of Maizie and herself with happy, smiling faces.

I found the Ibuprofen almost immediately and shook three out of the bottle before passing them to her as well as a refill on her drink.

"Thank you." She said before gulping down the pills with a hefty swig of ice water.

I nodded my head and checked the time on my phone. It was a little past eight-thirty and I could tell the both of them were getting sleepy, and I had a shit load of homework to do.

"Why don't you ladies head to bed soon. I have to get going, but I'll check in with you guys tomorrow." I smiled at the both of them.

I gave Maizie a fist bump- something that I just couldn't help teaching her- before Maxie walked me to the door. We stood there silent for a moment, not knowing what to say or do. I had my hands shoved into my pockets and she stood there with her arms wrapped around herself.

Before I knew what was happening, she launched herself and threw her arms around me in a hug. I couldn't help the deep chuckle that erupted from my throat as I steadied myself on my feet, sliding my hands out of my pockets and around her small frame. I buried my face slightly into the heaps of hair over her shoulder and inhaled her intoxicating jasmine scent before she whispered into my ear.

She thanked me over and over again throughout the night and it made my heart swell with happiness, knowing how grateful she was- and how much she probably needed a night off. This time was no different- her little thank you stirred a fire deep within me that had me pulling her in even tighter.

"Anytime." I muttered back, breathlessly before pulling back slightly and giving her a warm smile.

My grin just stretched wider as she stood there speechless- her mouth slightly agape as she stared at me. Another soft chuckle escaped before I leaned in and tucked a stray curl behind her ear. "I'll see you tomorrow?" I asked and I really fucking hoped I would.

After another quick hug and exchanging numbers, I walked out to my car and slid in- knowing damn straight that I was hooked on her.

~

When I finally got home, I sat in the driveway for a little over an hour just staring at my phone, hoping that she'd text. I knew that her and Maizie had probably went to bed, but I still hoped.

Now it's almost eleven and I'm dreading the hours of homework that I have ahead of me. I look to my right and notice the pack of cigarettes sitting in the cup holder. It still has a few cigarettes left inside. Usually by this time of the day there wouldn't be any, and I'd be a few into my second pack. I count in my head how many cigarettes I’ve had today; realizing that I only had the few at school, then the two that me and Maxie smoked together before picking up Maizie. I silently congratulate myself before realizing that I didn't even think about having one the entire time I was with Maxie.

I finally haul myself out of my car after sucking down half of a cigarette; tossing it out the window- not feeling it.

I slide my key into the lock and turn it, walking into the dark, empty apartment. There's no one to greet me except my cat Louie who meows at my feet, most likely wanting to be fed.

"What's up buddy?" I smile and lean down, petting the old calico boy between his ears.

I found him a few years back outside of the garage that I work at. After taking him to the vet and spending a few hundred dollars, turns out Louie here is ten years old and fit as a fiddle.

I make my way into the kitchen, dropping my bag on the kitchen island before pulling a can of cat food out of the kitchen cabinet. Louie goes crazy at my feet; pacing figure eights between my legs as he meows at me incessantly.

"Calm down, I'm going as fast as I can." I grumble before dishing out his dinner.

I place it down in front of him before pouring a water bottle into his water dish.

"Bon Appetit" I say before walking towards my bedroom, slinging my backpack over my shoulder.

I lay the contents of my book bag neatly around me in order of what subject I'm going to focus on first and heave in a deep breath before slowly letting it out between my teeth. I shove my earbuds in my ears and turn up the volume as I press play on a playlist of my favorite music.

The time goes by fast, but when I look at the clock next- it's three a.m. "Fuck." I mumble and rake a hand through my messy locks.

I peel myself out of bed and force myself to walk towards the bathroom and take a shower. The cascade of water around me soothes my aching muscles and sets my nerves at ease. I hope to God that it relaxes me enough that I can get a few hours of sleep.

I'm dressed and in bed within twenty minutes and as soon as my head hits the pillow my eyes instantly flutter shut.

Except not everything is as good as it seems.

The entire night my dreams are plagued with memories- rolling through like a building storm. I toss and turn, trying to force myself awake but it's no use. When I get pulled into my nightmares it was almost impossible to drag me back out of them.

I'm finally able to thrash myself awake. It takes me ten minutes or so to get my breathing under control and even when I do, it doesn't last long because then the tears come.

I always wake up after the worst part.

The car we were driving is laying crumpled in the street, and I'm suspended in air- held into place by the seatbelt that's digging painfully into my waist and neck. The only part of my body that I can move is my head, but even that is hard. The pain shoots through me, causing me to let out a loud scream. I almost don't recognize the sound as one of my own. My ears are now ringing and I know I need to move, get the hell out; but when I look up again- I see the broken bodies of my family members. Another scream erupts from my lungs and then everything goes black.

I dig the heels of my hands into my eye sockets trying to rub away the incessant reel of snapshots that my brain has stored away to torture me.

The sobs start to wrack my body, causing me to shake violently. My body goes rigid and the tremors start to become painful. I try to focus on my therapist's words- try to envision her sitting in front of me, reciting her stupid mantra about breathing. But it does little to settle me.

"Fuck." I yell out and grip my bed sheets with tingling fingers, swinging my legs over the side of my bed and planting my feet on the cold hardwood floor- hoping for the action to cause some sort of grounding for me.

The cold sends a slight wave of shock through my system but the sobs are still unrelenting.

I force myself to stand up and walk over to the bathroom where I turn the cold water on in the shower. Clothes and all, I climb in and sink down to the floor, letting the cold stream of water pound over me.

Within a few moments the cold sobers me up, leaving me trembling both from the cold and the aftershock of my panic attack.

I give myself a few more minutes to calm down after turning off the water before peeling off my clothes and leaving them to dry in the tub.

Slowly, I make my way to my bedroom, pulling on a hoodie and a pair of shorts before crawling back into bed. I shove my earbuds into my ears, turning up the volume to near deafening levels before pulling the blankets around me and cocooning myself in.

I close my eyes and say a silent prayer to whoever is listening- to hopefully let me get a few hours of restful sleep. My mind drifts momentarily back to Maxie and I'm blessed with a slew of mental snapshots of her floating behind my eyes, beckoning me to sleep.

I finally drift off to sleep and my dreams- instead of being filled with awful memories- are filled with her.

~

My eyes flutter open and I feel more rested than I’ve ever been. I pluck the earbuds from my ears and stretch my arms over my head before turning over. My eyes focus in on the clock and I nearly throw up. It's two in the afternoon. No wonder I feel so rested, I slept the entire fucking day away.

I instantly start to panic. I told Maxie that I'd see her at school today and I didn't even show the fuck up. My heart starts pounding beneath my ribcage. I know Maxie is a strong girl and can handle herself, but after last night I inherited some innate sense of responsibility over her. I just need to make sure she's okay.

I frantically search through my blankets for my phone and when my fingers finally curl around the device, I breathe a sigh of relief.

I wake the screen only to find three text messages waiting for me. My stomach drops when I see that all three of them are from Maxie.

Good morning :)

Hey, are you okay? I haven't seen you at all today.

And then the last one sends an overwhelming wave of guilt crashing over me.

Are you avoiding me?

I instantly click on her contact and before thinking I press call.

"Levi? What's up? I'm walking to last period..." Her sweet voice rings out over the other end of the line and just hearing her voice has me smiling like an idiot. I can hear a slur of other loud voices behind her as she shuffles her way to class.

"Maxie, I'm so sorry. I'm not avoiding you at all. I promise." I rush out, trying to think of how to word my excuse- not that it was. I wasn't going to hold back the truth, I just wasn't going to go into all of the details.

I heave a sigh. "I just had a really rough night after I left your house."

She's quiet for a moment but the lull of voices behind her has now stopped and there's a slight echo around her when she talks again.

"It's okay." Her voice is sweet and understanding. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

And there it is. The side of her that cares more about others around her than herself.

"You can let me pick you and Maizie up... To make up for me not showing up and seeming like I was blowing you off." I let out a tense chuckle and am relieved when I hear her giggle on the other end.

"Well, I know Maizie would love that." She pauses.

"And so would I."

I let out a breath that I didn't know I was holding, and I'm instantly transported back to being a little kid and having a crush for the first time.

"Awesome. I'll see you in an hour or so." I finally answer and I can't contain the smile that's spread so wide across my lips that my cheeks hurt.

I have an hour to wait and my body is thrumming with anxiety, but this time it's a good anxiety- and I have no idea what the hell to do with it.

I get out of bed and head to my closet, pulling out a pair of black jeans and a white t-shirt. I throw the clothes on, slipping my feet into a pair of Vans before walking out into the living room. Looking around; there's pizza boxes and empty beer bottles littering the living room and kitchen. I sigh and rake a hand through my hair. I guess this is one way to keep myself occupied before I have to leave, to pick up the girls.

I grab a trash bag and start by clearing all of the trash, leaving the bottles for the recycling bin. Once I'm finished and have everything cleaned up, I can't help but glance at the overflowing can of glass bottles. I knew my drinking was getting problematic, but I didn't think it had gotten this bad. Seeing the bottles piled high in front of me though was enough to show me how out of hand it really has gotten.

I suck in a steadying breath before taking the trash to the dumpster and dumping the beer bottles into the recycling.

With one last check of the time, I decide to head out a few minutes early to beat the after school traffic.

I slide into my car and stare down at the pack of cigarettes that I had left in the car overnight. Picking it up, I toss the pack around in my hand before pulling one out and placing it to my lips. As I'm about to light it, I see Maizie's sweet face flash behind my eyes and instantly second guess my choice, shoving the cigarette back into the pack before reversing out of the driveway, heading towards the school.





I pull into the parking lot ten minutes early and I get a front row spot with the perfect view of the front doors so I can spot Maxie as soon as she comes out.

After about five minutes I start to get antsy, staring down at the pack of cigarettes that are taunting me from the cup holder. I sigh and grab the pack and my lighter and slide out of my car, taking a seat on the hood as I hold a cigarette between my lips, lighting it up. I know I'll probably get into trouble for smoking on school grounds, but who's to say I really give a fuck?

I'm sucking in my first drag when my eyes meet hers. Her ocean eyes doesn't leave mine as a wide smile spreads across her lips. She hikes her backpack further up her shoulder and jogs over to me. Today she's wearing a pair of light washed jeans that are ripped at the knees with a vintage Fleetwood Mac tee. My kind of girl. Her outfit is paired with a worn pair of classic Vans and my smile only gets bigger.

My eyes travel her body before they meet her sparkling blue gaze. "I love the shirt." I grin at her before I hand her the remainder of my cigarette for her to take a drag.

She takes the cigarette between her fingers and holds it to her lips as she takes a long inhale of the intoxicating smoke, slowly letting out out between pursed lips as her eyes flutter closed.

She passes it back to me with a smile. "Thank you. I needed that."

I look up at her from my spot against the bumper of my car. "Penny for your thoughts." I can't help but to chuckle.

She comes over and sits beside me and grabs the pack of cigarettes resting between us, helping herself to one. She looks up at me as if asking for permission and I give her a nod of my head, a small smile quirking up the corners of my lips before she picks up my lighter and lights her cigarette, taking a long drag.

"I just hate this." She waves her arms around. "This whole starting over thing." She sighs and takes another drag from the cigarette.

"I know that I'm doing the best I can for Maizie and I, but will it ever be enough?" I can see her internal turmoil and it kills me to see her so upset.

Without thinking, I wrap my arm around her trembling shoulders and pull her in.

"I think you have a serious set of balls." I say bluntly.

She looks up at me, an eyebrow quirked in confusion.

"You're strong Maxie. Stronger than you give yourself credit for. I may not know anything about your situation- but from what I’ve gathered so far, you are an amazing sister and you take great care of Maizie. I've never seen a happier three year old in my life." I let out a small chuckle and lean my chin against the top of her head. I can feel tears threatening to spill and I would rather not have her witness me sobbing like a baby. I choke them back, coughing to mask it.

"She looks at you like you're the best person in the whole wide world and I have to admit, it's the cutest thing I've ever seen." I pull back just slightly and smile down at her.

She's looking up at me with tears glistening her eyes. She wraps her arms tightly around me and pulls me in so close that I swear she might break a rib, but I just hold her back and bury my face in her hair, inhaling the intoxicating scent of Maxie.
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