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“It’s a personal thing, Aria. I can’t talk about it.”

“But…” My feet shuffled. I tugged on the hem of my shirt. “Is he okay? Is there something wrong with him?”

Mom gave me her tight smile that told me she wasn’t going to give any more details on the subject. I debated heading over to ask him what was going on, but I knew Dad would freak out if he knew I was leaving to meet up with Levi.

* * *

My alarm clock went off at 5:50 A.M. the next morning. Tossing on a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie, I stepped into my shoes and climbed out of my window.

The morning air was crisp and chilled. I wandered down the sidewalk to the edge of the forest. I was hoping Levi would be out there, wandering around trying to feed the deer. My stomach flipped when I actually did see him. A part of me was surprised that he standing a few feet away from me, but then again he had said he tried to feed the deer each morning.

He had a handful of berries and was leaned against a tree trunk, but there didn’t seem to be a deer anywhere nearby.

“Hi,” I said, walking over to him. I crossed my arms, trying to stay warm. His head rose and a small smile hit his lips. Clearing my throat, I leaned against a tree. “Are you sick or something?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Just wondering.”

“Would it make you sad if I were?” he asked.


“Even though we just met?”

“Yes.” Yes. And yes again.

“I’m not sick,” he said. “My dad has cancer.”

I released a breath. “I’m sorry.”

“Me too.”

I didn’t know much about cancer. Simon’s aunt had had it a long time ago, but she had been better for years. All I remembered Simon’s mom saying about it was that cancer sucked the life out of someone and everyone around them. That idea alone was terrifying and sad, and somewhat familiar to me.

“He can fight it,” I said, hoping to give comfort.

“If he wants to,” he replied, dryly. “I don’t think he wants me here,” Levi said, more raw than ever before. He always was so upbeat and happy, so seeing him like this was disheartening. “Not because of the cancer or anything. He just doesn’t want me here.”

We stood quiet, staring as the sun began to rise before us. Slowly and cautiously a deer peeked out from behind a large tree. He looked a bit alarmed, his eyes wide as he stared out. Levi whispered for me to remain still as he tossed a few berries onto the ground. I pretended that I was a part of the tree and hugged my body to the wood as the deer eased closer and began to eat the berries.

“He comes out each time,” Levi explained. “He gets braver each time, too.”

“Does he have a name?”

He shook his head. The deer continued eating the berries until he ran off deeper into the forest. Levi smiled. Somehow watching the deer eat the berries brought him a level of comfort.

He was so different.

He was so refreshing.

“What’s your favorite word?” he asked.

“Favorite word?”

He nodded. “Mine is nonsensical. My mom always had me learn ten new words a day by flipping through the dictionary, and when I landed on nonsensical I knew it was something special because the meaning of the word is meaningless. It actually means nothing, which in the end has to count for something, right?”

“Maybe. I guess.”

He smiled. “Maybe.”

“Oxymoron,” I said. “It’s my favorite word. And I guess, in the end, it kind of means nothing because both parts of an oxymoron kind of cancel each other out.”

“Ugh. How nonsensical!” he whined, slapping the palm of his hand to his face.

“So nonsensical!” I laughed. “The word oxymoron is actually made up of two Greek words that mean sharp and dull. So oxymoron is its own oxymoron.”

“It’s funny you should mention such a word while we’re alone together,” he said with a smirk, hoping I would pick up on his oxymoron.

I did. Obviously.

“Yup. It’s pretty bittersweet.”

“But it’s kind of a comfortable misery.”

“Oh yes. It’s awfully good.” I laughed. He laughed with me. Our laughter kind of blended into one sound instead of two.

Then we were quiet.

So very quiet.

We stayed quiet for a long time. He was someone who was very easy to be quiet with. It was as if we were still having a conversation with no words whatsoever.

Silently loud.

But as time passed, I knew I would have to get home to get ready for school.

“Aria?” Levi pushed himself away from his tree. “Can I walk you home?”

I ran my fingers through my hair and nodded. The leaves crunched under our steps. Levi walked beside me and even though we weren’t touching, I could almost feel my heart skipping at the idea of such a thing happening. He had a warming characteristic about him that brought me a level of comfort.

Was Levi Myers real? Did he really exist? Or did my sad, black heart create him because it longed for a little bit of color?

Either way, I was happy he walked beside me.

11 Levi

When I was eleven years old, I came to visit Dad during the summer. One of the first days there, he took me out to Fisherman’s Creek. We rented a wooden boat from the dock and sat in the middle of the creek all day long, baking in the sun. Our fishing hooks sat at the bottom of the water, no fish seeming interested at all in being caught. Dad bought himself a six-pack of cold beer and me a six-pack of iced root beer.