Forbidden Memories

By Stephen Littlewood All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure

Blurb

“I missed you too.” Leo admitted, before hanging up the phone, lost in his own sadness. Tears began rolling down his cheeks and sobs began escaping from his throat. Six months and he was still a wreck. His light brown hair was in disarray, he hadn’t exactly been going out enough to care about his appearance anymore. He stepped down the stairs slowly, preparing himself for disappointment. His parents were taking time off work to look after him, in alternating times. His mum had been home last week, his dad was home this week, though his dad would prefer to be at work.

Chapter 1

Max entered the house through the rather plain wooden door, announcing his entry as he did so. He had just gotten back from shopping and his mother came quickly to help with the bags.

They had been living in their current residence for 6 months now, and Max had gradually managed to extend his friendship groups. It was nearing Christmas at this point though, and though he was shopping, he still hadn’t gotten any gifts. One of his new friends, Cassy, had promised to take him shopping the next day.

“Did you get everything on the list?” Max’s mother, Judy, asked she entered the hallway.

“Yeah, just. Everything was disappearing of the shelves really quickly.” Max replied, carrying the remaining bags into the kitchen to be sorted. “I’m gonna make a phone call.” He told his mum, exiting the kitchen with speed. He refused to put the shopping away when he’d just got it.

He entered his bedroom, with barely visible, pastel blue walls, hidden behind masses of band and TV posters. He wasn’t shy about what he liked, despite his rather eclectic taste in everything.

He pulled out his phone and dialled a number, quickly resulting in an answer.

“Max?” Came a voice from the other side. Evidently the caller ID was working.

“Hey Leo.” Max replied, relaxing completely.

“Wow. We haven’t spoken in a while. How’s life over in the desert?” Leo asked.

“Everything’s fine… Well as fine as it can be. I really miss everyone from home.” Max responded, admitting something he could never tell his mother, who appeared to be coping better now they had ran away from their history.

“Is there anything any of us can do?” Leo asked, desperate to make Max feel better.

“Could you come out here?” Max pleaded, wanting nothing more than to see someone who he could speak to about old times, discuss his previous life. Yes, he’d made friends here, but none of them compared to his old group.

“I’ll see what happens. You know what my dad’s like.” Leo promised, unsure of the outcome.

“Okay… Thanks.” Max wasn’t sure where to take the conversation at this point, and waited for Leo to say something.

“Max?” Leo asked.

“Yeah?”

“I missed you too.” Leo admitted, before hanging up the phone, lost in his own sadness. Tears began rolling down his cheeks and sobs began escaping from his throat. Six months and he was still a wreck. His light brown hair was in disarray, he hadn’t exactly been going out enough to care about his appearance anymore. He stepped down the stairs slowly, preparing himself for disappointment. His parents were taking time off work to look after him, in alternating times. His mum had been home last week, his dad was home this week, though his dad would prefer to be at work.

“Dad?” Leo asked, his voice sounding sadder than he wanted it to.

“Yeah, Leo? What is it?” His dad responded, immediately worrying that something was very wrong.

“Could I go and visit Max sometime? He’s having a really hard time out there, and he doesn’t have anyone to talk to, and his mum won’t let him come back here, because of the money and stuff.”

The man looked at his son with sad eyes. He was witnessing the suffering of his child and he knew this was the only way to give him a break from the sadness, but at the same time, his logic was fighting him, telling him it wasn’t important enough to spend so much money. This time, though, he ignored it. His son’s happiness was what was important. They could spare the money for this.

“Sure son, I’ll pay for your flight and give you some spending money.” He promised. “If it helps you, and Max, then I’ll do it.” He told him.

Leo hugged his dad tightly. “Thank you.” He whispered, his voice breaking.

That evening Leo sent a text to Max, telling him the time and date when he’d be arriving, and that his dad was paying and things. He made sure that Max knew the details before he went to sleep, because it would be really annoying if he arrived and Max hadn’t received the text. Max replied and wished Leo a good night, and Leo fell asleep with a smile on his face for the first time in months. He couldn’t wait for the next week to arrive. He couldn’t wait to see the look on Max’s face.

The next morning Max woke up, feeling happier than ever. In a week, Leo would be arriving, and things would be great… for a while. He wouldn’t think of how long Leo would be staying though. He couldn’t think about the fact that Leo would have to go home at some point. He couldn’t deal with that now.

Max met Cassy at the mall and she hooked her arm in his. “So, mister, what is it we’re looking for?” She asked.

“Well, I need something for my mum, and something for my ex.” He answered, unsure of her reaction.

“You mean the famous Leo? You’re buying him a gift?” She asked.

“Well I’d feel awful if he came all the way here and I didn’t get him a Christmas present.” Max responded, looking at Cassy out of the corner of his eye. She stopped and looked at him.

“He’s coming here?” She breathed. She lived for drama like this. “Can I meet him? Please?”

“No way, Cassy. You’re a great friend and everything, but you are the biggest gossip I’ve ever met, and don’t get me wrong, it’s entertaining, but I don’t need you spilling my personal life to every man and his dog.” Max told her, he’d already said too much as it is.

“Awww… The worst thing is I was going to set you up with someone soon as well, but I guess it’s not worth it now…” She told him.

“Don’t be so sure. Leo’s just visiting. It’s not like we’re gonna pick a house and move in together and he’s not gonna go home. He’ll be here for like a week, just to give me someone to chat to about old times.” He shrugged. “It’s not a big deal.”

“Yeah, and I’m sure he’s moved on, just like you have. I’m sure he isn’t crying over you. If he’s anything like you.” Cassy replied, her tone dripping with sarcasm.

“You really think this is gonna be all lovey-dovey fairy tale times don’t you?” Max asked, giving a small, cynical laugh. “We’re not going to back to how things were. No matter how much I’d love to go back to it, it’s just not possible. We live hundreds of miles apart.”

“Well… We’ll see. Now, let’s go shopping.” She told him, smiling.

“Okay… Where shall we start?” Max asked her, completely lost as to where he should begin shopping for gifts. He had no idea how to shop for people.

“Let’s start with your mum, to avoid complicated backstories. What does your mum like?” Cassy asked him, expecting a blank look, which she received almost immediately afterwards. She smiled brightly. “It’s fine. We’ll find some generic mum gifts.” She chuckled before dragging him off to a very feminine looking store with lots of different variations of the same things, which confused Max.

Max began to think about how women confused him. He had no idea what the difference was between half of these products and that was why he couldn’t grasp women and gifts. He never knew what brand of perfume, what type of makeup, what colour bag… He simply had to deal with the knowledge he had, and Cassy.

After an hour of being dragged around all the shops in the mall, Max had a small bag of gifts for his mother, as well as a card. He had settled for a purse and some perfume that was apparently fool-proof, but very expensive for such a small bottle. Of course, the worst was yet to come. What could he buy Leo?

“Okay, now for the lovelorn ex.” Cassy began. “This is more complicated. There are no fool-proof gifts. So we’re gonna need to get in his head if we want to find a decent gift. We both know I’m gonna be the more helpful one here so I need to know his likes, dislikes, favourite colour, anything you can remember.” She told Max, waiting for a reaction.

“I don’t think I need you for the perfect gift.” He told her, stood in front of a store that sold older DVDs and merchandise. He had realised the answer was there all along. He stepped into the store and picked up a load of merchandise, spanning across all their favourite movies, everything he knew that Leo would want, that was within his price range. He walked back out a few hundred dollars lighter and smiled to himself. This was perfect.

“So. Leo’s gift. Obviously you two have a history, and you don’t want to ignore that, so we don’t want anything too generic, but at the same time, we don’t want anything that would suggest you want to get back together with him, do you?” Cassy asked him.

“I guess that’s the right assumption to make. Any ideas?” Max asked her.

“You know him better than I do. You tell me.”

Max smiled, working out in his head what to get him. He remembered seeing something in a clothing store which sold lots of movie related t-shirts. He walked straight towards it, with Cassy following him. He found a t-shirt with a quote from one of their favourite movies, that they had watched on movie night.

“Seriously? Movie merchandise? That’s your big, amazing gift?” Cassie asked.

“Indeed it is. It’s all from one of our favourite movies. Trust me, it’s thoughtful, expensive and heartfelt. He’ll love it.” Max replied, not entirely sure why he was justifying himself. Cassie didn’t know Leo after all. “I know him well enough to know that this will work.”

“Maybe it will, but it might work better if you add some more to it.”

“Cassie, I’m not adding anything. This is enough. Plus I need money for the rest of the gifts I have to buy.” He told her. There were three people who he had developed great friendships with since moving, and he still had to buy gifts for those. He told Cassie to leave him be with the rest of them, as he had his own ideas for those, and, after about an hour of searching, he had everything he needed. He headed home, tired, frustrated and a little proud of himself.

He unlocked the door with the key that was attached to a small Jack Skellington key ring. He opened the door and walked into the living room, flopping on to the sofa.

“Hey honey. Want something to eat?” His mum called out from the kitchen. She had been nothing but nice to him since moving. She knew how difficult it had been for him and was trying to make it up to him however she could, but Max wasn’t really budging with his opinions.

“That would be amazing, thanks.” Max replied. “Oh and Mum, is it okay if Leo stays here for a few days? He’s coming over next week and he could get a hotel if he needed to, but it would be nice if he could stay here.”

“Oh… Well… I guess its fine. How long is he staying?” She answered, walking into the doorway of the living room.

“Well… I don’t know yet. Probably about a week or so. I don’t think it’ll be too long. His parents will want him back.”

“Okay. Well I’m sure we can work something out. You have the spare camp bed don’t you?”

“Yeah it’s under my bed. I’ll set it up for him before he gets here.”

“Okay, I’ll go and make you something to eat now.” She walked back into the kitchen and a tear rolled down her cheek. She suddenly realised just how much she had torn away from her son… Perhaps it hadn’t been the best idea, moving away. Perhaps she had been selfish… But she couldn’t change that now. She couldn’t have coped back there.

“Thanks mum.” Max smiled as his mum entered with a sandwich for him to eat. He was starving after that shopping trip. It took a lot out of him with the crowds and dodging small children. It wasn’t easy to do everything he needed to with a few hundred people wandering around. It wasn’t the easiest of tasks, but he had managed and lived to tell the tale.

“So did you get everything you wanted?” His mum asked him.

“Yeah, just. Took me a while but I eventually found something for everyone.”

“Oh good. I’m glad you managed.”

“Yeah… Speaking of which, what are we doing for Christmas this year? Are we doing the usual or are we changing our tradition?”

“I was thinking we could visit your grandma, with her not being too far away, that is if it’s okay with you.”

“Yeah, I guess. I would imagine she gets lonely around Christmas, what with everyone having moved away.”

“That’s what I was thinking. It would be nice to see her, don’t you think?”

“Sure.” Max replied, it would be nice to see his grandmother again, but he was so used to their family tradition. It wasn’t easy to give that up as well. They could still have a good time though, over the few days beforehand. Decorating the tree, playing board games inside with a roaring fire… Maybe…

“What are you thinking about?” His mum asked him.

“My version of the perfect Christmas…” He replied, not entirely sure if there was such a thing.

“Well, we can try our best.” She replied, unsure of what his version of the perfect Christmas was.

“Yeah, I guess we can. But it’ll still be different here. The temperature’s different, there’s no way we could sit in with a roaring fire or anything. We can’t have a real tree, because they don’t grow for miles, it’s not the same…”

“Well, I’m sorry, but we just have to cope with what we’ve got. I know it’s a lot to deal with, but I can’t go back and change things now. I don’t have a time machine. This is real life, and we have to deal with what we get. I’m sure we can create the closest thing we can though, and maybe Leo could stay a bit longer, I’m sure that would make your Christmas a little better.”

“I don’t know. It’s just a lot to take in I suppose. I know it’s been 6 months, but it’s the first Christmas here, without my friends and things. It’s not easy.” Max replied, running a hand through his thick, dark hair. He had dyed it shortly before hand, now he had electric blue tips, and he thought it looked amazing, almost like anime hair. The idea had struck him when he realised that this move was more than just that, it was a fresh start.

“I know, honey.” His mum replied, walking back into the living room with a bacon sandwich. “How about, next year, when you’re 18, you can move back, as long as you spend one week here every 2 months. How does that sound?” She asked.

“Oh my God, are you serious!?” Max asked, excitement rising in his voice.

“If that’s what will make you happy then yes. I am deadly serious. I can’t relax when my son is so unhappy. And I moved out here so I could escape unhappiness. I’ll miss you, but you’d be leaving home eventually. At least this way I’ll be seeing you regularly.”

“You have no idea how amazing this is. Thank you!” He smiled as he bit into his bacon sandwich, realising that his mother was actually rather awesome.

Shortly after finishing his sandwich, Max decided to go up to his room and spend some time on his computer. He logged on and started chatting to a few friends from home. He decided not to tell them the deal he and his mother made in case it didn’t actually happen, then they would be disappointed as well as him, and he decided against telling anyone out of his new friends as they would all want him to stay. It was an almost impossible situation, if it wasn’t for Leo. Leo was the one who swayed the decision. He was the one who made the equation unequal. He was the factor that had the biggest influence, all in all.

Max knew that he wanted to tell everyone, he was excited after all, but he had to think of how it would affect everyone else. If it didn’t happen, then everyone local would be upset over nothing, and everyone at home would be disappointed. If it did happen and he didn’t tell anyone, then the local people would be upset that he didn’t tell them, but everyone at home would be happy to see him again. It was a situation where he couldn’t guarantee any completely positive outcome.

After a while, Max decided it would be easier if he told certain people, but made sure to tell them it wasn’t set in stone. He told one of his closer female friends, Jasmine, who was genuinely happy for him, and said she hoped that it did happen, because then he and Leo would be able to be happy together again and that she’d be able to see him and everything would feel normal again. That made Max even more excited for his birthday to arrive. He just wanted to see everyone and get back to a normal life with Leo and all his friends.

Max began to wonder what life would be like if he did move back. Would he and Leo get back together? Would any more drama get in the way? Would anyone think of causing any more issues for the both of them? Who knew, but it wasn’t likely that they’d get a completely happy existence with no one interfering. That would be far too much to ask. There weren’t many people who would get involved, but there were enough to keep life interesting.

It was bad enough that they were a same-sex couple in America, but beyond that they were also the targets of exes from bad breakups and destructive people who wanted to use their talents. They were not going to get everything they wanted without a fight. And even then, it wasn’t guaranteed that he and Leo would even get back together. They did have a lot of history, especially with the whole host of psychological issues that arose due to Max’s past. He wasn’t likely to be open to intimacy for a while. He didn’t mind dinner and a movie type things, but anything more and he’d be uncomfortable, for the time being at least. He needed to learn that it isn’t all bad, and that some people, especially Leo, can be trusted.

After spending a couple of hours chatting to people and fantasizing about times that may never really happen, Max began yawning, and his eyelids started drooping. He said goodnight to his friends then climbed into bed, pulling the covers over himself as he slowly fell asleep.

That night Max had a varied selection of dreams. He had everything from perfect scenarios to horrible nightmares. He couldn’t choose which dream he wanted to spend more time in, but they varied massively from issues with finding somewhere to live, to him and Leo having a wonderful life together, and everything in between. He fidgeted all night and awoke with a headache in the middle of the night.

As he walked downstairs, to retrieve some painkillers and a glass of water, Max heard his mother talking to someone, presumably on the phone. But what would she be doing on the phone at this time of night. Then he heard another voice… One that had haunted his dreams for some time. The bedroom door opened and out walked his ex-step-father.

Max shot up out of bed, sweating and breathing heavily. “Just a nightmare.” He breathed. “It was just a nightmare.” He counted to ten and calmed himself down. Checking his clock he realised it was 3am, but there was no way he was going to get back to sleep now. He wondered what he could do. He decided to go online and see who was there.

After the eternity it took Max to load up his computer and make sure everything was up and running, close everything that randomly popped up and get to the site he and his friends mainly used, he realised that one of his friends that lived close by was online.

He sent them a message asking if they could meet him somewhere, explaining that he couldn’t sleep and he didn’t want to sit at home alone.

Around 10 minutes later, Max was waiting on a bench near the local park for his friend, Ryan, to arrive. After a short wait of a few minutes Ryan came around the corner, bundled up in a jacket with the eyes of a sleep-deprived teenager. Max quickly apologised before Ryan waved him off.

“Trust me, I wasn’t going to be getting any sleep tonight anyway. What’s up?” He asked.

“I had a nightmare. It shook me pretty badly…” Max wasn’t sure how to explain, but with a little push from Ryan, he spilled his guts and explained everything. His past, why it affected his present, and all the problems in between.

“Oh…” Was all Ryan could think to say. “That’s horrible. But you’re okay right? You’re not totally messed up or anything…”

“I’m fine… In a way. I’m a bit messed up, like I have problems with intimacy now, but otherwise I’m fine. I’m not psychotic or anything. I just have a bit more fear than necessary.” Max explained.

“Things will be fine… In time. Everyone feels like everything is ending when they reach a bump in the road, but everything always picks up… In the end.” Ryan responded, doing his best to comfort Max.

“Thanks, Ryan. Why don’t we hang out more? You’re really great.” Max laughed, realising suddenly that Max would make an excellent friend.

“I don’t know. Maybe we should hang out more. Spend some more time together, get to know each other a little. I really don’t know you at all, do I?” Ryan responded.

“You know my personality, but you don’t know my history. That’s the difference.” Max shrugged. “And that’s just because my history is so depressing I tend not to share it with many people.”

“Well I’m glad you shared it with me, because now you have someone if you ever need to talk.” Ryan said, smiling warmly at Max.

“Do you mind if I ask you a question?” Max asked, suddenly very curious.

“Go for it.” Ryan responded, slightly more cautiously.

“Why are you awake at 3am, chatting to a guy you barely know, about his problems? Surely, even if you aren’t able to sleep, you have better things to do?”

“Max, it’s 3am. There is nothing better to do. However, even if I did have something else to do, I don’t think I would pass up meeting you. I like helping people.” Ryan shrugged. “And the reason I’m not asleep is because my brother has a girl over and I don’t own earplugs.”

“Ahhhh… Ouch. That can’t be nice to listen to.”

“Especially not for someone like me, single for several years…” Ryan responded, hanging his head.

“How have you managed that? You’re clever, caring and not to bad looking.” For the first time, Max properly looked at Ryan. He was about 6 feet tall, with short black hair and blue eyes. He had the build of a swimmer. Slim but athletic.

“It seems that I am just not invested in relationships enough. I really just haven’t found anyone I’m really interested in. And everyone I have found is either taken, or unavailable in some other way.” Ryan shrugged, he couldn’t help being attracted to people who didn’t like him back. Max wanted to make Ryan feel better, but wasn’t sure how to.

“I’m sure you’ll find someone. You just need to start looking in the right places.” Max replied.

All of a sudden things got very quiet. A strange feeling arose in Max, he wasn’t sure what was happening and before he knew it, Ryan was kissing him. At first he was shocked, then, when he realised what was happening he pushed Ryan off.

“That was NOT what I meant!” Max exclaimed, leaning back away from Ryan, who had suddenly began to tear up.

“Oh God, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I did that. Why did I do that? Oh my God… I’m really sorry…” Tears started to escape and make lines down Ryan’s cheeks.

“It’s okay. I think… It’s my fault, sort of. I guess?” Max wasn’t sure what to say in this situation, but he knew Ryan was a good guy, and didn’t deserve to be crying over one stupid mistake. “Just don’t do it again…”

“I won’t. I hope we can still hang out. I promise I don’t make a habit of kissing people. It’s just you’re a really nice guy and I thought, because you’re single too, we might be able to get together…”

“I’m sorry Ryan, but I’m still hung up on Leo, my ex. We might be getting back together and until I find out whether that’s possible or not, I’m not even thinking about relationships.”

“Oh, that makes sense. I’m sorry. I should have asked. I’m really sorry.” Ryan responded.

“Honestly, it’s not your fault. You didn’t know the situation.” Max told him.

“Well, it’s almost 5am. Maybe we should go home now?” Ryan asked, not really wanting to leave, but feeling like it would be a bit pointless to try and keep Max there.

“Well… I guess that would be a good idea, but I’d probably just get really bored. Unless you want to go? Don’t let me keep you here, I’m okay to go home if you want to leave.” Max said.

“No I’m fine to stay. I don’t care how long I stay here, I just thought you might want to go back.” Ryan shrugged. “I guess you’re not going to run away from me then…”

“Ryan, you’re a good guy. That hasn’t changed. You went with what you thought you knew, and happened to be wrong. Lots of people have made that same mistake, and most of them didn’t handle it as apologetically as you did. You knew you were wrong and you apologised, end of. I still want to be your friend. Nothing has changed there. You’re a good guy and, if things were different, I wouldn’t have minded. But with things as they are, unfortunately, we won’t work.”

“Okay, friends?” Ryan said, with a small smile.

“Friends.” Max answered, beaming at him, causing Ryan’s smile to grow. He just hoped he’d said the right thing, made the right choice, and that he wouldn’t find out he’d gone the wrong way about it. He was realising more and more that most of his life revolved around other people and their decisions. He was beginning to get sick of it. All he wanted was his own life in his own hands, but unfortunately, his life involved far too many people. He really didn’t like that, but there was nothing he could do about it. His love life would always depend on other people, and, until he could live independently, his entire life would be affected by his mother, and even when he did move out, he’d need help, which means she could set any terms she wanted in exchange for helping him, if she wanted to. She must know he’d jump through a million hoops to go home and stay there.

“What are you thinking about?” Ryan asked, looking at Max, who had obviously zoned out.

“Life… And how it’s basically controlled by the people around us. It’s very rare we can do anything that is actually our choice. Everything is peer pressure, rules or other people making decisions for us. It’s so annoying.” He shrugged. “But what can we do? We’re just teenagers.”

“That’s a little negative. I like to think that we’re free from making difficult decisions. We have time to be reckless and not take responsibility, for a little while. When we reach 18 then boom! We have to take responsibility for our actions. We need to take charge and make decisions. We have to be adults. And that’s gonna be the hard part, the scary part, and the part that will take some getting used to.” Ryan responded.

“Wow… That’s really… Weird. But I get it. Positive spin on things. I see what you mean. It just seems to me that we should be able to make decisions if we want to when we’re younger, but instead we’re forced into things, like moving house, and things like that. Why can’t we ever get a say in where we live, what school we go to and things like that? Why is it always the parents who make all the choices? It’s not fair.”

“Just enjoy it. Because when you become an adult, which isn’t far off, you’ll be making difficult decisions, moving out, going to college, life will be much more difficult when you do have to think for yourself, trust me.”

“How would you know?” Max asked, a little confused by how Ryan knew all of this.

“I have older friends. They’ve moved away from home and they keep telling me how difficult it is to be self-sustaining people.”

“Okay, I guess you are right. I should enjoy it while I can, but it’s so difficult when I’m being forced to do things I don’t want to do…”

“I see that, I understand that, but wait until you are free to do what you want, and you mess things up. Then you can’t blame anyone.” Ryan warned.

“Ouch. Harsh words.” Max joked. “We need to lighten the mood a little, we’ve gotten to the depressing part of the serious conversation.”

“Good point. Know any jokes?” Ryan asked with a laugh.

“Not any good ones. Just really awful corny ones. You?”

“Same. And I have an unlimited supply of bad puns.” Ryan replied.

“Ah puns. If you laugh at puns you have to have a certain kind of humour.” Max said with a small chuckle.

“Do you have that kind of humour?”

“I love puns.” Max chuckled. “They are my favourite type of joke. They’re clever and witty and they make me laugh.” He shrugged. “Those and one-liners.”

“I think we’ll get along very well then.” Ryan laughed. “I love puns and one liners too. You can’t beat something witty enough to make you laugh in one phrase.”

“Exactly.” Max agreed, smiling. “Anyway, maybe now we should head back. I need to get things ready, my ex from home is coming over for a week soon, so there are a few things I need to do.”

“Oh, fair enough then. I’ll see you some other time.”

“Yeah. We should definitely hang out more often. I’ll let you know when I’m free and we can think about meeting up again.” Max said, standing up.

“That would be great. I’ll see you soon. Hug?” Ryan asked, hopefully.

Max decided not to protest and wrapped his arms around Ryan, hugging him before pulling away after a short while. “See you soon.” He said as they both walked in opposite directions.

When Max got home he unlocked the door and stepped in. His mum was just getting up so he decided to try and hide in his room and not let her know that he had gone out. He didn’t want her worrying that he was having nightmares again. It really wasn’t fair on her to worry her with all his issues. She was his mother, but she didn’t deserve him dumping all his problems on her. Plus, if she did find out, she might not let him move back, and that would be disastrous.

He slipped into his room unnoticed and slipped under the covers before his alarm went off. He then made a show of getting up and stayed in his room for 10 minutes, feigning the act of getting dressed. He then headed downstairs and made himself some breakfast as his mum got ready for work.

“Have a good day at school. Don’t get into too much trouble.” His mum told him with a small smile.

“I’ll try not to.” Max replied, smiling back. That was a regular morning exchange for them, it was almost like a ritual.

As Max heard the door close he decided to sit and watch TV while he ate his breakfast. School didn’t start for a couple of hours so he should be fine. He wondered whether he should ask one of his friends to pick him up. He hadn’t been able to get his mum to buy him a car yet, but he was sure he could hitch a ride of a friend to give him more time to compose himself after the odd night he had.

He grabbed his phone and sent a text to Cassy, asking if she could pick him up on her way to school. She quickly replied asking what was in it for her. Max new exactly what she wanted and decided to give it to her. She would get it anyway, she always did. He text her back telling her that if she picked him up, she could meet Leo while he was there.

A couple of hours later, a honk from outside told Max that Cassy had arrived. He grabbed his backpack and his jacket, headed outside and went to hop in the passenger side of the car, until he realised there was someone already there. He sighed and got in the back, mentally cursing Cassy for bringing someone else. He wanted to avoid people today, not be forced into a car with more people.

“Max, this is Ash. He’s a friend of mine, we go way back, but he moved away a couple of years back. His parents just moved back and him with them. Try not to be too antisocial with him.” She said, seemingly joking, but there was a hint of seriousness in her voice, and Max knew what she was getting at. She could tell he wasn’t in the best of moods today, and that meant he might accidentally upset her friend in some way.

“Nice to meet you Ash. I’m Max.” He said, trying his best to use a friendly tone and not appear threatening or otherwise unapproachable. It wasn’t Ash’s fault that he hadn’t slept, was cranky, and was feeling very antisocial today.

“Nice to meet you, too. I hear you only moved here recently.” Ash replied.

“Indeed I did. I wonder where you’ve been getting this information from.” Max said, directing his eyes at Cassy through the rear-view mirror as he said this, knowing exactly where Ash was getting his information from, and also knowing that he had much more information than he should have for someone Max had never met.

“Yeah, Cassy can be a bit of a blabbermouth at times.” Ash agreed, which made Max laugh a little, and Cassy gasp in shock.

“Ash! You’re not meant to say things like that about your friends!” Cassy exclaimed, stunned.

“Why not? Honesty is always the best policy right? I mean, you have to admit, Cassy, you are a bit of a gossip, especially when it comes to people and their relationships.” Ash laughed, already realising that Cassy was a little annoyed at this description of her.

Max couldn’t help but smile at the exchange. So much for being antisocial today. When they pulled up to school he got out of the car and smiled at Ash. “Thanks.”

“For what?” Ash asked, curiosity colouring his expression.

“For cheering me up.” Was all Max said before leaving to head to class.

Cassy watched the exchange and smiled to herself. She had always been excellent at setting people up. And Max had told her that he didn’t want her to stop her plan…

In class Max could hardly concentrate. It was only a matter of days before Leo arrived, and he couldn’t wait. He was fidgety and excited. They hadn’t seen each other in 6 months, of course he was going to be excited. A few times he got told by his teachers to calm down or sit still.

At lunch Max sat with Cassy, and Ash joined them, spending time laughing and joking with Max while Cassy smiled to herself. She enjoyed seeing people happy. And she hadn’t seen Max as happy for as long as she knew him. And she knew him pretty well by now, so she knew that she wanted him to be happy.

Max had realised that Ash was very friendly, and wondered what Cassy had told him, but it was difficult not to smile and laugh around him. He really liked Ash, but he liked Leo more, which meant that if Cassy was trying to set Ash and him up, then she was probably going to fail, he just hoped Ash would be fine with a friendship if that was the case. He had no idea if that was the plan, though. So he kept quiet to avoid an awkward situation.

Ash suddenly threw his head back with laughter, shocking Cassy out of her thoughts, and making Max smile. His blonde hair splayed out, and his piercing blue eyes sparkled with laughter as he did so. He was a very positive, happy person, anyone could tell. He was 5’10, average build, but with broad shoulders. He was wearing a flannel shirt, which had the top button undone, revealing a set of dog tags on a chain. It was obvious that they belonged to someone else, the date on them was 1914, meaning they were from World War 1. Max wondered if it was one of Ash’s relatives, but he didn’t voice the matter.

Max’s brown eyes gleamed with joy as he chatted to the fun-loving Ash. He couldn’t help being happy around this guy, but secretly, that’s not what he wanted. Ash made things too easy, Leo promoted feelings of pain and hurt, as well as happiness and joy, and without one, the other was meaningless. In the long term, Ash was too perfect that it would get old far too quickly, at least it would for Max. He didn’t want to be happy all the time. He liked to have some struggles. Perhaps it was just emotional masochism, but it was what he wanted, which is part of why he knew he and Ash would never work.

At the end of lunch, after crying with laughter, Max went back to his classes, his mind clouded with thoughts of Ryan, Ash and Leo, and how they all affected him in different ways. He wasn’t entirely sure which one was the more positive influence. Leo brought balance, Ryan was serious and they had a lot in common and Ash was fun and positive. But he knew who he wanted. He wanted Leo. He always had. Hadn’t he? He knew he liked both Ryan and Ash, but what he felt for Leo was different. Wasn’t it? He wasn’t sure if it was more intense because he hadn’t seen Leo for so long. Surely though, Leo was the one. His first love, his greatest friend, the best part of his history. But they had history. History that couldn’t really be overlooked. But then, would Leo understand as well as Ryan could? Could Leo make him as happy as Ash could? But did any of them offer a future?

Max decided not to think about it for the time being. He needed to clear his head of all of these thoughts. After school, rather than going straight home, he decided to walk to the park, sit around for a while, listen to music, try not to think too hard, get some fresh air. He couldn’t deal with these things without having some alone time, away from his house and his mum.

He took a few deep breaths and sighed. He knew he would have to go home before his mum got back from work, so he started walking. He knew that, at this point, seeing anyone would be a bad idea. He needed to breathe, away from people.

It was the weekend before Leo would be arriving, and Max was hard at work making everything perfect. He had made sure that Leo’s Christmas presents were wrapped, the decorations were perfect and everything was set up. He had the next week off school due to it being the beginning of the Christmas holidays.

Max’s mum had never seen Max so on edge, or so helpful. He was making sure the whole house was clean, tidy and perfectly decorated. She knew he was obsessing, but let him get on with it. He’d had far too much pent up energy over the last week, maybe this would be a good release.

Max was burning himself out by running around, so on Sunday evening he took to his room to calm down and restore his energy. He couldn’t manage running around for 2 days straight, and he wasn’t really sleeping due to excitement. He felt like a little kid, excited for their Christmas presents. The only difference was he knew what he was excited for. He couldn’t wait to see Leo, catch up, and spend some time together. Have fun again. He was unbelievably excited. He didn’t really know why he was so eager to see him. Maybe because he now knew that the last goodbye wasn’t a real goodbye, and that Leo still, obviously, cared about him. He couldn’t admit that to himself just yet, though. He needed to control his emotions more. He could quite easily be mistaken, and Leo might just want to try and be friends again. He wasn’t sure of anything, so he needed to settle down, relax a little, and just take things as they happen. He didn’t want to rush things, or make Leo feel pressured.

After a few hours of chatting to people online, calming himself down and surfing the internet, Max gradually fell asleep. He couldn’t stay awake that long. He had burnt himself out pretty harshly rushing around all weekend. He needed to conserve his energy for the next day when Leo would be arriving. He’d have to set up the camp bed in the morning to be prepared for him, as well. He couldn’t quite get completely sorted over the weekend, and he was too tired by that point. And for now, he had to sleep.

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