The Ones Who Love Us Never Really Leave Us
Grinning at Maya’s reaction to the photos, he was able to tell even by her silence that she liked them. He couldn’t help but think of her over the month. She was always in his thoughts and on the Sundays he’d go to church with Clare’s family he’d make sure he’d give an extra prayer for Maya, just for extra security for his mind. On the days that came before he went for his visit he tried to think of something special to bring along with him for her, and decided that pictures of her dearest friends and sister that he knew she missed would be a great addition to her room. After everything she had done for him over the course of the past year it was the very least he could do. He longed to do more, to somehow take away all the negative feelings she kept inside and carry them for her upon his shoulders so that she could be happy. Now that they were no longer together it wasn’t as easy as before, where he could wrap her up in his arms with a kiss and promise to be with her every step of the way. He had already broken the promise before it was even made; and it already set him back a few steps. But he’d listen to whatever she wanted to say for however long she wanted to say it.
She didn’t deserve this, and he wished whenever she saw in the mirror was instead what he saw when he looked at her. She was absolutely beautiful with a fiery personality to boot, and how she didn’t see the greatness in that he’ll never know.
His thoughts moved back to the photos she rummaged through, and he thought back. Tori and Tristan tried to get him to take a group one with all three of them together, but Zig, so hesitant to chance the possibility of upsetting Maya since their last date, decided against it. He had no place including himself in the stack, and decided to play it safe. But now that things had gone so well between them, he wondered if he should have taken the picture after all, and regretted he had failed to do so.
He shrugged when she thanked him and waved a hand dismissively, still grinning. “No worries. I, uhm, also was going to give you this,” He handed her the folded letter from his pocket. “I actually wrote it, if you can believe that,” He said, slightly beaming with confidence and pride at the now-legible writing. IN the letter, he had written with care that he missed her as did Tristan and Tori, and he had shared a few stories of the three of them since she had gone away for her to keep up with and have a laugh. He wrote about Katie and how he’s not afraid of her anymore, knowing it may get another laugh out of Maya. He wrote of the news about his writing and the new moves on his skateboard he hoped to show her one day if she let him, and so on, and ended with him wishing her well and reminded her for the second time how much he missed having her around. “You can just read it later,” He added, “When I go. It’s no big deal.”
Zig laughed as she jokingly warned him of her cello playing and rolled his eyes, shrugging his shoulders. “Get sick of good music? That’s like saying I’ll get sick of breathing fresh air, I think I’ll live.” He teased as Maya turned her back to him to put the photos away.
Zig went still at Maya’s question and a silence overcame the room as he thought about how to respond. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to open up to her, especially knowing she cared enough to ask, but he wondered if deep down it was truly his place to tell the truth when the visit was supposed to be about Maya rather than his home troubles. Though, as he thought, he wasn’t sure he could bring himself to lie and knew Maya would want that either. He wanted so badly to say something, she was the only one he ever really could. Throughout the month she was gone things only seemed to run more and more downhill, and the few weeks that came before Maya’s admission into the center he kept quiet about as well. He didn’t just lose his girlfriend that day they went their separate ways, but his best friend—His only confidant. Finally it was his chance to open up the bottled feelings he had stored away, but he wasn’t sure, as he remembered his surroundings, if it was really the time and place for the time to be about himself. He gave a sigh, breaking the quiet tension. “Things could be better,” He shrugged, trying to make it remain light. “My mom’s trying to make ends meet every month so I don’t really get to see her often, which is understandable,” And it was, but he couldn’t help but wish she let them stay with the Martins and Edwards just a tad longer to hold onto the feeling of a family rather than an empty apartment for as much as he could, but he attempted to shrug these thoughts away. He found this attempt to have failed as his hands that were clasped together as his elbows rested against his knees began to shake. He felt the waves of emotion hit him like a ton of bricks as he finally came to terms with these locked away feelings, and he kept his head down and his gaze away from Maya’s eyes as he felt his bottom lip quiver slightly. He bit his lip, trying to calm himself, but once again, he failed. “You know what? No. No, it’s not understandable,” He made himself look up, his misty eyes meeting hers. “She promised the two of us would be a family when we got out on our own, but we’re just kidding ourselves. We’re not a family, we’re just two people living in the same rundown apartment with barely any money to our name because she was too proud to stay with Clare’s family any longer. Now /that/ was a family. They ate meals together, watched movies together, talked to each other, actually /saw/ each other. And I get it; I get why I don’t see her, so fine, maybe I’m selfish. She’s trying to do her best to support me but I wish she would have let us save our money a little bit longer before getting out own place so she doesn’t have to work two jobs to just get by.” He finally paused and looked away from Maya as he brushed a tear from his cheek, ashamed. “All I want is a normal family. I know a lot of kids would kill to have their house by themselves and eat whatever they want whenever they want, do whatever it is they wanted to do but it’s really not as great as it sounds, Maya.” He gave a bitter laugh and a shake of his head. “I’d do anything just to have dinner with my mom for one night. Even if we were stuck eating a bowl of cereal.” He paused again, but he wasn’t done. No no, far from done. He couldn’t stop speaking even if he wanted to, and by this point he wished he could shut his mouth for good but he couldn’t. It was as if he could no longer take the weight of it all on his back, and now that it began to crumble he let it release in full force.
He hesitated bringing up his father, knowing enough by now that Maya hated the subject just as much as he did. He had come this far, he might as well keep going. Besides; if she truly did care, which he believed she did, she wouldn’t want to be out of the loop. “I found out she’s been talking to him,” He said suddenly, and put emphasis on ‘him’ to give Maya a nudge in the right direction of who he meant without saying his name, and kept his gaze casted down. He hated bringing it up, it was a subject he never liked to dive in to—Not even with Maya, though she did bring a sense of comfort that no one else could even now that he knew he needed but felt wrong to ask for given their circumstances. She had her own demons to fight and they were the equivalent of polite casual friends given the way their conversation had gone. Perhaps he wasn’t supposed to seek out that familiar comfort anymore, but after he thought about it, he didn’t give a damn. “Maybe I’m making it a bigger deal that it is, maybe I’m just a big baby—But when I saw them outside The Dot talking, it scared me. I haven’t seen him since November, and finally seeing him now after all this time is just…It’s freaky. I thought I was having another nightmare or something,” He said, and finally stood up from his chair only to pace around the room, unable to keep still. He remembered that day clearly, how at the time it seemed so unreal he was certain he was dreaming; how he had been walking down the block on the other side of the street and had seen them speaking, but was unable to hear words or tones but it didn’t look like a violent conversation. Still, he had his share of nightmares at the time they all still lived under the same roof and several weeks that followed when he and his mother had gotten out and his nights were restless, and they’d share a peaceful beginning, the calm before the storm—then came the anger.
At the time, he’d sure it’d play out the same way, but it hadn’t. His mother had gotten a call and she excused herself a moment later, and they went their separate ways. The day still haunted him as the possibilities ran through his mind then just as they did now. “I-I still don’t know what they were talking about; if it was a court thing or—God forbid—She was forgiving him or he was trying to make amends, but it just..It scared me. I was scared just seeing him, just knowing she was just a few feet next to him. I haven’t talked to her about it, it just makes me mad because let’s be real, that’s one stupid move—Whatever the reason.” He said angrily, and gave another shake of his head as another tear rolled down his flushed cheek. This time, he didn’t bother wiping it away. “So my mom’s working day and night trying to just get food on the table and when she’s not, she’s meeting up with Dad for coffee I guess.”
He hated crying. He hated the way his vision got blurry and how his cheeks would flush and how he’d sniffle and couldn’t speak properly without stuttering. Most of all, he hated crying when he was supposed to be the brave one. He was supposed to be Maya’s support today, not break down in her room because he couldn’t get his own life together. It wasn’t her job to pick up his pieces, and he shamefully turned his back on her as he shoved his hands into his pockets. It was the first time since his dysgraphia that he had felt utterly stupid, but he knew he couldn’t dismiss himself and he took a seat back in his original chair, burying his face in his hands. He didn’t know what to say now or how she would react or if she even would. He probably should have stuck with the basic answer and left well-enough alone rather than run his mouth.
“I’m sorry” was all he had left to say, and fell silent in embarrassment.
Maya peered at Zig curiously when he announced that he’d also brought something else for her this visit. More presents? She thought to herself. A slight, sinking feeling of guilt appeared in the pit of her stomach at the thought of him bringing something else for her; she didn’t deserve his gifts. Whatever it was, be it another picture, or some sort of trinket, or the like, she didn’t deserve for him to still care about her and be thinking of ways to cheer her up and make this process easier on her – not after everything she’d brought upon them. Even though a part of her – the vain part of herself, no doubt – was gleeful at the thought that he still cared about her in some way, and even though she longed to have a memento of him of some sort, she knew she didn’t deserve it.
And yet, as she watched Zig remove what appeared to be an envelope from one of his pockets, a somewhat nervous look shadowing his features as he explained that it contained a letter for her, she couldn’t help but be excited, if a little apprehensive. He didn’t say what the letter addressed, but instead, informed her, in what she assumed he was trying to pass off as a nonchalant matter, that she could just read it after he left, which rather gave her the impression that its contents were either maudlin or contained things that had transpired that he wanted to vent about but couldn’t bring himself to talk to her about in person. Neither option particularly appealed to Maya, for different reasons, but she tried to hide any discomfort she was feeling at the thought of reading the letter.
“Oh…” Was all she said as she tucked a hair behind her ear before she got up and crossed the small distance to his chair, gingerly taking the outstretched letter between her fingers. It was strange, the way a piece of paper could feel so light and, yet, heavy at the same time. “Oh, um… Thank you. I’ll, um… I’ll read it a bit later.” She said with a little nod and a small smile before returning to the small side table and uniting the letter with the other mementos he’d given her today. She would refuse to entertain thoughts of what could be in his letter for fear that she’d work her anxiety into overdrive and give herself some sort of anxiety attack.
Once she’d secured the letter, she turned to face Zig once more, leaning against the short side table again as she prepared to listen to his answer. She really was interested in hearing how things were with him. She felt so out of the loop when it came to him, and it was unsettling; to go from more than half a year of dating to zero contact whatsoever was something she had been trying, and failing miserably, to adjust to.
Maya felt a pang of anxiety flare up as the seconds ticked by and Zig remained silent, his eyes averted elsewhere. Uh-oh, she thought to herself as the silence dragged on and he didn’t respond, merely appearing deep in thought. Was that the wrong thing to say? Is it too soon to try being personal with him again? She criticized, panicking at the thought that she might have made him uncomfortable and that might cause him to give her some half-hearted excuse and leave, ruining whatever bridges they’d managed to rebuild in today’s visit. She studied him, looking for signs of irritation or other troubled emotions in his features, but he merely had that serious look he often got when he deep in thought. She wished he would say something – though calm externally, she was pouring buckets of sweat internally and her heart was beating a thousand beats per minute. Finally, he spoke, but his answer did little to ease her feelings of discomfort.
“Things could be better…” He’d started. Oh no, Maya thought to herself, her heart instantly going out to him and her arms desperately wanting to wrap around him and ease whatever was troubling him. She was instantly sorry that she’d opened up this can of worms – no doubt she would worry about him incessantly once he left, especially since she wouldn’t be able to be there for him physically to help with anything - but now, she had no choice but to listen and allow him to continue.
And then that sinking feeling in her stomach grew as he went on to talk about how his Mom was always too busy with work and barely making ends meet. It grew because she was watching his features and his body language, the way his knees were shaking and he clenched his hands into fist, and could hear the tightness in his voice as he tried to reign in his emotions… she knew what all that meant. Years of being Zig’s confidant and his shoulder to cry on had helped her to identify and recognize certain warning signs for when things were getting to be too much for Zig and he was reaching his breaking point. A sort of helpless feeling came over her as she watched Zig pause and seem to struggle with something internally, the skin over his hands growing taught as he seemed to clench them tighter.
“Zig…?” She asked tentatively. Usually this would be the part where she held his hand, or threw her arms around his waist, and maybe gave him a peck on the cheek, in an attempt to keep him calm, which worked sometimes, but she was so conflicted because, as she was no longer his girlfriend, she felt she no longer had any authority to do such a thing. And then it happened, as Maya knew it would, when Zig paused, seeming to gather himself before retracting his statement, looking back at her with misty eyes, and she could sense what was about to happen. The floodgates opened, as she knew they would, and everything that Zig had kept bottled up for the past few weeks – heck, even months, as far as she knew – came spilling over. Maya was so still from shock, and slightly from apprehension, that she seemed almost statuesque, so engrossed was she in listening to Zig as he ranted about how neglected and resentful he was feeling, and how much he longed to have a real family, like he did with the Martins. It pained her as she listened to him vent about these things, because she hated seeing him in so much pain; he was the nicest guy she knew, and after everything he’d been through… it just seemed like too much. Why should he have to endure more suffering? Hadn’t he had more than enough of that for so young a person? It just wasn’t fair that the people who least deserved it always seemed to be the people who repeatedly go the short end of the stick with whatever life had to offer.
Maya watched helplessly as Zig continued, his breathing growing heavier and his tone becoming a bit harsher as he seemed to struggle with getting the rest of it out. She knew that, at this point, it was better to just let him get it all out in the open, but it was still hard to just stand there and listen and watch as he communicated the troubles he was experiencing with, first, his mother, and then, to Maya’s increasing silent horror, his father. Maya was always uneasy when it came to the topic of Zig’s father. He was the cruelest person that she’d ever had the displeasure of meeting, and was the primary source for the overwhelming majority of bad things had happened in Zig’s life. It was needless to say that Maya loathed him, and as Zig griped about the overwhelming evidence suggesting that his parents were back on speaking terms and, more than likely communicating behind his back and, possibly, getting back together, Maya’s hatred for the man, which already seemed to test the limits for how much one human being could possibly hate another, seemed to increase exponentially. Some of that hatred seeped into anger towards Zig’s mother. Perhaps her youth blinded her from being able to fully understand why it was that, after he’d caused her and her son so much pain, she would want to maintain any sort of contact with the man, let alone entertain the notion of getting back together with him and putting Zig in that sort of unstable environment, once again.
Maya fully understood the flood of emotions emanating from Zig, now. She didn’t know how he’d managed to cope with the situation for so long, but clearly he was overwhelmed and, if things continued with this route, he’d possibly need external sources to intervene – in which case, she hoped the Martins would be willing to help. After Zig’s Mom and herself, they were the next group of people who cared most about him, and he’d stated on more than one occasion that they were like his family.
In this moment, though, Zig needed her to help him with the things he was struggling with, and as she watched him finally give in to his emotions and broke down and started crying, Maya felt that she couldn’t just stand there anymore. She didn’t really think about what she was doing, nor did she feel as the tears she’d been fighting to hold at bay, for Zig’s sake, finally break free and glided down her cheeks as she cross the room and took up position on his lap, threw her arms around his neck in a tight embrace and leaned her head on his shoulder, her glasses getting slightly jostled in the process. The behavior was done so many times before that its familiarity made it seem as if nothing were out of place, despite their relationship status.
“I’m so sorry.” She whispered with a slight tremor, not sure what she could say to make things better for him because, when it came down to it, what could she say? There were no words that could assure him that things would get better – everything was completely beyond their control. “I’m so sorry, Zig.” She repeated as she lifted her head, sniffling a bit as she looked up at him, her arms still draped around his neck. “I had no idea…” Maya trailed off, shaking her head slightly and turning her glance downward. “I’m sorry, I should have been there for you.” She said, suddenly thinking of the weeks leading up to their breakup and how she’d noticed a few, minor changes in his mood and behavior here and there, but hadn’t brought it up because she’d been all too eager to brush off everyone else’s problems during that phase in favor of her unhealthy obsession.
Maya realized that she’d subconsciously been with Zig’s hair at the nape of his neck out of habit and glanced up at him in shock, promptly retracted her arms to her lap, as if stunned, and quickly uttered an apology.
“Sorry… habit.” She explained sheepishly, hoping he wasn’t bothered. She decided to quickly press forward to cover the awkward moment. “But, Zig,” she paused for a moment and sighed before boldly taking one of his hands in hers, then continued, “You’re not being a “baby” about all this. It’s natural that you’d want to spend more time with your Mom, and… I think… given past events, it’s perfectly natural that you’d have your reservations about your parents meeting in secret.” She said, hoping to reinforce his concerns. “Your parents are the ones who are at fault here, Zig, not you.” Maya took that moment to squeeze the hand she was holding offer him a small, teary smile. She felt bad for not knowing how to cheer him up and make him feel better about the situation, but she supposed that was a tribute to how hopeless it truly was. Unless…
Maya glanced down as she thought about how she wanted to word her suggestion to Zig, and gave a small sigh before proceeding. “But… if it’s all really getting to you…” she hesitated before looking up again to meet Zig’s eyes, “Do you think you could talk to your Mom about letting you stay with the Martin’s, instead?” She asked, hating the small feeling of betrayal she felt somewhere at the back of her mind that she was betraying Mrs. Novak in some way. “I mean, it doesn’t have to be permanent, of course, it’s just… if you’re by yourself so much, and… she’s talking to your Dad again…” she trailed off, hoping that Zig would deduce what she was getting at and that he would agree.