The next morning, Max and Leo woke up in each other’s arms, big smiles upon their faces, and happiness deep in their hearts. They decided to have a day with just the two of them that day, playing video games and watching movies all day, not bothering to get dressed to go out, snacking all day, and basically having a lazy day. They couldn’t really be bothered with getting ready and going out again. They also enjoyed each other’s company, so spending some time together was a good thing. Together they could laugh and joke, as well as have some serious conversations, and they made an incredible gaming duo. Max was excellent at racing games, while Leo excelled at games with more of a fighting element, which meant that between them, they had quite a lot of games to choose from. They helped each other, and tried to play to each other’s strengths, listening to the advice they gave each other, and they won a hell of a lot of games that day.
By the end of the day, Max’s thumb had cramped up, so they decided to finish by watching movies in the evening. They watched a whole host of Christmas movies, as it was only a few days away, and discussed how long Leo was staying.
“My parents agreed to let me stay for Christmas, as long as I’m back before New Year’s, if that’s okay with your mum, of course. We might have to chat with her when she gets back from work, it can’t be easy for her having me here all the time.” Leo explained.
“I guess so. Actually, that sounds like her now, let’s go speak to her.”
After much begging, pleading, and looking like a sad puppy, Max managed to convince his mum to let Leo stay for Christmas, on the condition that he go home on the 28th at the latest.
After that agreement, they all ate a proper meal, due to Max’s mother’s insistence that they can’t live off of junk food alone, and that they needed to eat proper food, and her threat that if they didn’t she’d kick Leo out that evening. Not that she would, but they’d prefer to be on her good side for the time being.
After they had eaten, Max and Leo went back up to the bedroom and watched a few more movies before falling asleep. They had a pretty good day all in all, but it was a few days until Christmas, which was what Max was beginning to get excited for. He was going to get to spend Christmas with Leo after all. That was what he had been wanting for the past few months, after realising he wasn’t going to see Leo beforehand.
“I love you.” Max muttered before falling asleep, leaving Leo a little shell-shocked. Max was breathing evenly, evidently asleep, while Leo lay awake for a little longer, before tiredness overtook him and he fell asleep as well, but the words swirled around his head like an odd cloud that refused to dissipate.
“What you said last night…” Leo began in the morning, while Max made himself a cup of coffee. “Did you mean it?”
“Did I mean what?” Max asked. “What are you talking about?” He said, turning around.
“You told me you loved me before you fell asleep, remember?” Leo prompted.
“Did I? Oh… Ummm… Well, I guess I’m sorry for saying it? Technically I didn’t mean to say it at the time, but I do.” Max said, blushing as he tangled his words up.
“Oh… Well good. Because I love you too.” Leo said, smiling. “I’ve been thinking about it all night, and then I realised. There’s nothing to think about.”
“Oh…” max went a deeper shade of red.
“Wow. I feel like at this rate your skin will always have a tinge of pink.” Leo chuckled. “Because that shade of red is too deep to ever completely disappear.” He laughed as Max attempted to hide his face while making his coffee.
“Oh come on. Don’t be embarrassed!” Leo said, smiling. “Honestly, it’s a good thing, no reason to get all red over.”
“Shut up.” Max said, softly. Joking around to try and distract himself from the embarrassment. He didn’t want to go through any more shades of red, and he wasn’t sure he could get much further than the crimson he had already achieved.
“And if I refuse?” Leo asked, smirking as if it was some sort of dare.
“Then I’ll walk out of that door and won’t come back.” Max set, pointing to the door that led into the street.
“Oh come on, you know I was only kidding.” Leo said, pouting.
“So was I.” Max chuckled as he turned around. His redness had lessened in the time they had been talking, and he’d finished making his coffee. He began drinking it as he spoke to Leo. “So. What shall we do today?” He mused.
“I don’t know. How about ice skating? We’ve been bowling and to the fair, that’s one thing we haven’t done yet.” Leo suggested.
“Sounds like a plan. Any specific people you want me to invite?” Max asked.
“Not really. They’re your friends, invite who you like.” Leo answered.
“Okay, well we have 3 options. Invite everybody and see who turns up. Invite Jack and Ryan like the night before last, or we could invite Ash and Cassy because they weren’t with us then, and it would balance out the time spent with each person… Roughly.” Max shrugged.
“Whatever you want. I’m going to get changed and everything. I’ll leave the invites to you.” Leo said before he began to ascend the stairs.
Max decided he would invite Cassy and Ash to balance things out. It sounded to him like it was the fairest way of planning things. He couldn’t think of another way to keep it fair, and he was worried that if Ryan or Jack mentioned the fair, Cassy would get jealous and cause some sort of issue. He didn’t want her to cause a scene, which was definitely her style, from what Max knew about her.
“Hey Cassy, any chance you and Ash want to join Leo and I? We’re going ice skating, it should be fun.” Max asked when Cassy answered the phone.
“Is anyone else going to be there?” Cassy asked.
“No, just the four of us.” Max answered.
“I guess I could. I don’t have any other plans today. Okay, I’ll see you soon. What time?”
“In about an hour?” Max suggested.
“Okay, see you then.” Click. Cassy had hung up the phone.
Max and Leo managed to get ready using the rotation they had used before, meaning they could get ready in roughly half the time it would take them if they were rushing around. They realised though, that they had been dawdling, and the next thing they knew they had 10 minutes left. They were mostly ready, and luckily for Max, a spray of deodorant and he was good to go, but Leo wanted to sort out his hair, so Max left the room, telling him to be ready in 5 minutes.
4 minutes later, Leo walked down the stairs and winked. “With time to spare.” He chuckled.
“That may be, but Cassy’s early. She’s outside now. Let’s go.” Max said, grabbing Leo’s hand and pulling him out of the door.
“Wow. Never heard of a girl being early before. She must be a little different.” Leo joked, chuckling a little. It was kind of sexist, but he didn’t mean it in a derogatory way, so Max let it go.
Max was a little bit of an activist. He was someone who believed in equality for all. Unfortunately not many people agreed with him, and he could get a little testy when he heard people make remarks that were racist, sexist, homophobic, biphobic or other-wise derogatory to one group of people. He didn’t like it when people thought it was right to judge people based on their outward appearance or things they couldn’t control. He felt that people had no right to judge other people in general, least of all for things that they couldn’t change.
“Okay I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” Leo said, holding his hands up.
“I didn’t say anything…” Max said, not denying that he had thought it.
“Yeah but I can tell when you go on one of your internal rants because you don’t want to say anything. I agree, it was sexist. I slipped up. I apologise.” Leo smiled a little.
“Thank you.” Max chuckled. “Now get in the car.” He laughed before running around to the other side and getting in.
A short car ride later they were in the town centre, near the ice rink, which was where they were to go skating. They had all took their own skates with them, which meant they could just pay and go straight in, essentially. Within a short while they were on the ice, and getting ready to skate, when Ash slipped over almost immediately.
The group all began to laugh, causing each of them to fall over themselves, and they chuckled as they all ended up a group of laughing idiots sat down in an ice rink. Max tried to stand up and managed, and then tried to help the others in turn.
It took a few minutes but, eventually, the group managed to remain stood on the ice. They all managed to take off, moving slowly around, getting their balance right, before slowly working their way around to getting faster and more daring.
By the end of their hour on the ice, the group were whizzing around like it was something they spent half their time doing, when in fact they very rarely went ice skating. Max wanted to go more often, but he could never really convince everyone to go. He wondered if Cassy only agreed this time because she wanted to see Leo again.
Cassy came off the ice with the help of Ash, as she nearly tripped as she walked off. He grabbed her arm and kept her balanced as she sat down to take off her skates. They managed to change into their normal shoes before going to get something to eat.
“So, what have you guys been up to then? Anything fun?” Cassy asked, smiling.
“Well… We went to the fair last night.” Leo said, looking at Max.
“Yeah. We went with Ryan and Jack. We didn’t really plan it or anything.” Max shrugged.
“Oh. Cool. Anything interesting happen?”
“Kind of. Depends on what you consider to be interesting.” Leo said, chuckling.
“We got back together.” Max told Cassy, smiling at Leo.
“Indeed we did.” Leo said, beaming back at Max.
“Aw, cute.” Cassy said, smiling at them. She was a little jealous, but not of Max, of the pair of them. She wanted to be in a relationship that made her as happy as they looked together. She couldn’t help but want that.
“Yeah it is.” Ash chuckled. “But if you keep giving each other the googly yes, I’m going to barf.” He laughed. They looked at him with raised eyebrows and he held his hands up. “I’m not a homophobe or anything. I’m a cynic. I make gagging noises at straight couples, too.” He said, defending himself.
“How can you be homophobic? Aren’t you the guy Cassy was going to attempt to set me up with?” Max asked.
“I shouldn’t be. I’m straight.” Ash shrugged. “Sorry. I know you must be very disappointed.” He said, winking with a mischievous grin on his face.
“Watch it. That’s my boyfriend you’re flirting with.” Leo said, chuckling.
“Sorry dude. I’ll take my flirting elsewhere.” Ash chuckled.
“Okay, so if you’re straight. Is there anyone you’re particularly interested in?” Max asked.
“There might be. But it’s not something to be discussed today. I’ll tell you another time.” Ash responded, chuckling.
Max could already guess who Ash was interested in. It wasn’t difficult to work out. He wondered if Ash would ever make a move, though. He could definitely see them as a couple, of course, it was dependent on Cassy feeling the same way about Ash, and that wasn’t guaranteed, but it was definitely possible.
After eating, Cassy dropped Max and Leo off at home and left. Max decided that he and Leo should talk to Ash that evening, and further discuss the previous conversation. They figured it would be a good idea to try and do some good and get Ash and Cassy together, if they were both willing of course. It would be no good if Cassy never felt the same way about Ash, or if Max was completely wrong and Ash liked someone else. It wasn’t exactly an exact science, after all. Max wasn’t always spot on when it came to matters of the heart. He couldn’t always know how people felt, and if he was wrong, it quite often led to disaster. However, that was a rarity, and generally he was pretty accurate.
“Okay guys, I know what you’re going to ask.” Ash said on a video message that night. “You’re going to ask who it is that I like, aren’t you?”
“Actually I think I already have an idea.” Max said, chuckling. “I think you like Cassy.”
“How did you know?” Ash asked, shocked.
“You must think we’re blind.” Leo laughed. “You’re not exactly good at hiding it. I mean, it wasn’t obvious at first, but when you think about it, it’s staring you in the face.”
“Oh… So you’re saying I’m not very subtle…”
“That’s exactly what we’re saying.” Max agreed. “Now, what are you going to do about it?” He asked Ash.
“I have no idea. How am I supposed to know if she likes me back?” Ash said, sounding a little defeated.
“That’s what we’re for. We can do some reconnaissance for you. Work out if she likes you or not, and then let you know if it would be worth asking her out or not. Sound like a plan?” Max asked, smiling.
“Fair enough. Need anything from me?”
“What we need is for you to disappear at some point at the next meet up make it something simple, like going to the bathroom or something, unless you have a better idea.” Leo responded, already formulating a plan.
“Okay, sounds like a plan. How long will you need me to be?” Ash asked.
“Not too long. Maybe a few minutes? We can get all the information we need in a couple of minutes, trust me.” Max said, smiling.
“Okay. When will this be, do you think?”
“Probably tomorrow, if we can think of somewhere to go.” Leo answered, shrugging.
“Well we could always go to that teen bar that just opened up in the town. It’s open from 7 until 11 and is open to 16 to 18 year olds. Of course that means that Jack couldn’t come, but maybe we could get him in.” Ash responded.
“How so?” Max asked.
“The owner is my uncle. I’m sure he’d make an exception if I vouched for him.” Ash explained.
“Oh, that’s pretty cool. Sounds like a good idea. I’ll let everyone know.” Max said. “See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah see you.” Ash replied, ending the video call.
That night Max made the round of calls, letting everyone know that he and Leo would like to meet everyone at the teen bar the next evening. He explained to Jack that Ash could get him in if he wanted to come, to which Jack agreed.
The next morning, Max and Leo woke up, had breakfast as usual, and then got dressed and decided to go into town, which was something they hadn’t really done, other than to eat. Max wanted to look in the library briefly, which was an interesting building. It was once part of a school which had been demolished, apart from the building which had become the town’s library. It was seriously old, but the inside was modernised massively, which led to an interesting time for Leo. From the outside it looked dull and lifeless, but when he walked inside and saw the vast amount of technology in it, he was surprised.
Max wandered around, not looking for anything in particular. He didn’t really know if he wanted to read anything, but he noticed a note on the floor by the young adult book section. He looked at it, and felt compelled to pick it up. The note read ’Look up.” He looked up and noticed a teenage boy, on the beams of the ceiling rather high up, he was about 15 from what Max could tell, and he was laid across the beams, seemingly not breathing. Max panicked and pointed up at the body with one shaking hand. Leo looked up and his eyes widened.
He ran to the main desk and frantically told one of the staff members, who immediately rang the emergency services. Max was shaking, he was incredibly creeped out, and wondered what had happened, what kind of sicko had left that note, and how no one had noticed it. The person who had done it would have had to come back and plant the note. Otherwise the people who opened the library would have noticed it, or someone would have noticed it earlier, surely?
Max was in shock, and so the librarians closed the library and gave Max and Leo each a cup of hot, sweet tea, which they explained was good for shock. Leo sat with his arm around Max, trying to comfort him somehow. He had no idea why he was so calm, but he knew he had to be strong to keep Max from falling apart. He was no good to anyone if he broke down as well as Max. He had always been good at hiding his emotions.
“This is sick. It’s sick and wrong.” Max said. “That boy. He was too young to die. Why him? Why did I have to pick up that note? Why do things like this happen? I mean, it’s not exactly like either of us deserved it… Why do people do things like this?” He cried.
“Because some people are messed up. They are insane, or they can’t control themselves, or they get some sick thrill from it. People like that are the people in this world who are wrong.” Leo said, trying to answer a question that he wanted to ask himself.
“But who could have done it? Some random person? Someone who regularly uses the library? Either way, anyone could be their next target…” Max said, a tear running down his cheek.
“That may be, but hopefully whoever it is will be behind bars before they can get to anyone else. The police are here now, they might be able to find some clues.” Leo explained, just as a police car pulled up nearby, with another one following.
There were several officers there, and a few crime scene investigators. Max and Leo were both asked a lot of questions, separately. The librarians were also spoken to.
“How did you know the body was there?” An officer asked Max.
“I found a note, on the floor. It said ‘look up’ so I did… And there he was.” He replied, sniffing a little.
“Okay. And do you have the note now or did you leave it where it was?” The officer asked.
Max held out the note. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know when I picked it up.”
“That’s okay. It does mean we’ll have to take your prints. Hopefully we’ll find some different evidence to make a more substantial connection to the perpetrator.” The officer said.
“Okay. I understand.” Max replied.
“Okay. And when you found the body, what happened then?”
“I pointed to it, and Leo went and spoke to a librarian, and they phoned you guys, and then we were escorted outside, and given tea.” Max answered, trying to remember as many details as possible.
“Okay. Do you have anyone you can call? A parent? A sibling? Someone to keep an eye on you? It’s just better to have someone with you in case the shock affects you.” The officer explained.
“I guess I could call my mum, but she’s at work, and I don’t know the number.” Max said, sighing.
“Okay, do you know where she works?”
“She works for Wendell and Horner, the law firm.”
“Okay.” The officer turned to another and told them to get the number. They nodded and walked towards one of the cars, using the car radio to ask for the details. “Right, well that’s all the questions I have for you. If you come with me we can take your fingerprints so we can separate them from any others that might be on the note.” The officer explained, leading Max to one of the crime scene investigators who was stood by a van. They took his prints using a computer.
“Poor kids in shock. I’ve never seen anyone react so badly to finding a body. He barely knows where he is.” Max overheard one of the officers talking. “It obviously wasn’t him. It could be anyone, but even if it is one of this lot, he definitely doesn’t fit the profile. He’s too emotional.”
Max tried his hardest not to look at the officer. He couldn’t face the phrase ‘he barely knows where he is.’ The memories of his past came flooding back. The shock, the emotions all boiling up into numbness. The feeling of dread, guild and then the question. The ever burning question that still didn’t have an answer. ‘Why me?’
Max suddenly broke down. Tears spilled over and he fell to the ground. Leo ran over to him, ignoring the officer asking him to remain where he was. Leo was there before any of the officers could get anywhere near.
Max found himself being hoisted to his feet. He found the familiar warmth of Leo picking him up, drying his tears and telling him it was alright, that they would catch the guy, that there was nothing to be scared of, but he didn’t understand. Max wasn’t bothered about him being caught. It wouldn’t bring back the life of the boy in the library, and it wouldn’t bring back his innocence.
“Why me?” Were the only words Max could utter through the crying.
“Oh…” Leo suddenly realised where Max’s thoughts had taken him. Leo couldn’t work out the connection, but now he knew that’s what Max was thinking about he sighed. This was going to take more healing than just a few words.
“What’s wrong?” One of the officers asked.
“He’s remembering his past.” Leo explained, sitting Max down on the sidewalk. “He was raped by his step-dad. It only ended earlier this year. This has brought back a lot of the pain he had managed to run from. A young boy, a horrible crime. The only difference is what they lost. Max lost his innocence, the guy today lost his life. Which one is worse?” Leo asked. “Would you rather live with the knowledge that you have been ritualistically raped for 5 years, or die?”
“I can’t answer that…” The officer replied.
“Why not?” Max asked, suddenly. “Why can’t you answer it? It’s not because you have to be professional is it? It’s because you can’t decide. You don’t know. Live feeling like dirt, or die at the hands of a stranger, or worse, someone you trust. Either way, your life has basically ended.” Max shrugged. His voice was calm now. He wasn’t looking at anyone. “You know, I trusted him. And even when it started, I never said anything because he made my mum happy. 5 years I lived with it. And you know what he did when I said no? He tried to kill me. He pushed me down the stairs. I ended up in a coma. I woke up with Amnesia. And when I recovered, everything came flooding back and I felt like… I…” He couldn’t continue. “And now, 6 months later, nothing has changed. Yeah I’ve been happy. But happiness is just a temporary distraction from the unlimited pain that exists in this world. For every person who has a happy life, at least 3 have a really awful one.”
“Max, calm down. I know it’s difficult, but you have to pull yourself out of this. I know it’s hard, but things will pick up, you just have to give it time.” Leo explained. “You will get through this and come out of it a better person.”
“And what then? Huh? Is everything going to be all perfect? Or is there going to be something else? Another little blip to knock me to the ground? Another event where no one explains why?” Max sighed. “No one ever told me why…” His tears brimmed over and he relapsed into one of his memories. “Why me? Why does it have to be me?” He cried, looking up at a leering man who wasn’t there. “Why is it me all the time?” He asked. He put his head in his hands, and then a few moments later stood up, seemingly acting out particular events in his past, to do with the horrible crimes that victimised him.
“Get your hands off of me!” He turned and punched the air, and anger turned to fear. Then… Nothing. He seemed fine for a while, then suddenly, he passed out, falling into the arms of Leo, who was there to catch him. He knew what that last scene was.
“What was that about?” The officer asked.
“He was re-enacting his past. In the beginning he was acting out his memories of when he was younger, and didn’t understand… I guess he still doesn’t, but then at the end was when he finally fought off his step-dad, and thought it was fine, until he was pushed down the stairs, that is. He’s passed out now because he passed out then. Of course back then he was in a coma for a week. I’m hoping he wakes up much quicker this time.” Leo explained.
“He’s been seriously traumatised. Has he had any counselling at all?” The officer asked.
“Not as far as I know.” Leo replied, trying to remember if it had been mentioned.
“I suggest you look into it. He needs someone to help him through this. Someone professional, who can stop him from feeling so awful. Obviously he doesn’t understand why it had to happen to him, he thinks he was being punished but can’t work out what for.” The officer said. He shrugged at Leo’s stunned face. “I have a degree in psychology. It helps my work.”
“Well you’re much better than the average cop, I can tell you that much.” Leo said, shrugging. “It seems there are a few of you about, and we, or at least Max, keeps running into you. Back home, when he got his memories back and remembered the… events, he dealt with an officer called Lorna, we didn’t actually get her last name, she was trying to keep things informal with the family to make things a little easier.” He explained.
“Oh, that sounds quite familiar. It sounds like you’re talking about Lorna Starling. I only know her because before she moved away, we were good friends. We keep in touch every now and then, I found out she’d became a cop, but never found out where, ironically. Sounds like she might be your mystery cop.”
“Maybe. Lorna isn’t the most common name in the world, but I’m sure there are a fair few. Is she a red-head? Pretty fiery when she’s mad? Protective of people?” Leo asked, checking to see if it was the same woman he had heard Max describe many times.
“Yeah, sounds like her. She recently got promoted, if I remember correctly.”
“Yeah, that she did. It was in the local news.” Leo said, shrugging. “I can’t really get anywhere with Max like this, he seems fine, just fainted. Is there any chance you could help me with him?” He asked.
“I could probably take you home if you need me to. We’ll have to get him in the back seat and I can drop you guys off and help you get him inside if he hasn’t woken up by then.”
“That would be great, thanks.” Leo said, smiling at the officer. They managed to get Max in the back seat, with a seatbelt around him, and just as they pulled up outside the house, he began to stir.
“What happened? Why am I in a car? What?” He looked around, noting the concerned face of Leo, and another man, wearing a police uniform. “Have I been arrested or something?”
“No, you had some kind of a breakdown and then passed out, so we brought you home.” Leo explained. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah I’m fine. What kind of breakdown? All I remember is seeing that… body, and then being asked questions and that was it. What happened after that?” Max asked.
“Well you kinda made these big speeches and then acted some things out and then passed out.” Leo said, sighing. “You were having a really difficult time dealing with the body and everything.” He looked at Max. “I think it might be an idea to see a counsellor. They might be able to help with everything.”
“We can discuss this later.” Max told Leo. “Thank you for bringing us home.” He said to the officer, getting out of the car. Leo followed, thanking the officer before he got out and walked in the house with Max.
“I just think it’s a good idea. I’m not saying you have to do it, only if you want to. It’s just a suggestion to help with the nightmares and today’s blackout. I’m worried about you. You obviously need some sort of outlet for your pain, and it’s coming to the surface and taking over at times, and if you can’t handle it alone, then you need someone to help.” Leo tried to explain, while Max simply sighed.
“Look, Leo. I know. I know that I’m not dealing with things very well. I have issues, so sue me. I haven’t exactly had it easy. And yeah, maybe a counsellor could help, but what would it cost? And how am I supposed to provide the money? I’m in school, my mum is working, yeah, and we have some savings, but there’s no way she could pay for counselling and keep us going. Especially considering her offer-” Max suddenly stopped speaking, realising what he had said.
“What offer?” Leo asked. “Max, what are you not telling me?”
“Okay, my mum offered to help me get a place back home next year after I turn 18, as long as I do my best to try and become self-sufficient afterwards, and come back here once every 2 months. The problem is if I do ask for counselling, there’s no way she could afford to send me home and help me get on my feet, and I’d have to wait even longer.” Max told Leo, sighing. “I didn’t tell you because I was afraid that if it didn’t end up happening you’d get upset or something.”
“Max you should have told me. I could speak to my dad, see if he’s willing to help. I’m sure he will.” Leo told him. “I’m sure he’ll agree to help you out if I ask him. He might be a little unwilling to spend money frivolously, but he’ll be happy to help you out.”
“But I don’t want help. I don’t like asking people to help, especially when it comes to money. It becomes awkward, and I feel like every time I see someone, if they have given or lent me money, that they’re going to interrogate me, or ask me for it back, or something.” Max sighed. “I know it’s illogical, but that’s just how I feel.”
“Max, everyone needs help at some point. And if you don’t want to take the money, then I’m sure my dad can make you earn it. He can sort a job out for you. I’m sure he can. If you won’t take any money, then earn it.” Leo said, smiling.
“You’re not going to take no for an answer are you?” Max asked.
“Nope.” Leo said, chuckling.
“Okay then here’s the plan. You talk to your dad about sorting me out a job, and I’ll get my mum to get me over there. She can help me pay the regular bills, and I’ll try and find a counsellor who isn’t going to rip me off, and use the money I get from the job to pay for that.” Max explained.
“That sounds like an excellent plan.” Leo commended.
“Well I am known to have an intelligent plan every now and then.” Max said, chuckling a little.
“I guess that’s fair to say. Though you have had some idiotic plans as well.” Leo said, laughing at Max’s shocked face.
“How dare you? My plans are genius!” Max said, pretending to be hurt and shocked by the remark.
“Oh yeah? What about that time you planned to make brownies using play-dough?” Leo asked, laughing.
“I was 4!” Max retorted. “You can’t count that!”
“Okay then, the time you planned an amazing prank that was going to go flawlessly?” Leo asked again, looking at Max as he worked out what Leo was getting out. Max’s face at that point was priceless.
“You can’t blame me for getting caught with that. I couldn’t possibly know that there was a staff meeting then!” Max exclaimed, laughing himself. “Do you remember how much trouble I nearly got into just for walking into the staff room? I’m glad you and Jasmine just went along with it, otherwise I would have been in a hell of a lot of trouble.” He laughed.
“Yeah. It’s a good job you had us as friends. We totally saved your bacon that day. If you hadn’t of had the brains to tell them Jasmine felt ill, though, you would have never gotten out of it, so you have to give yourself some credit.” Leo said, laughing again.
“Yeah but if Jasmine didn’t react enough, or if you hadn’t worked out what was going on and added to it, then I would have been totally screwed.” Max chuckled.
“Of course, then the nurse couldn’t find anything wrong.” Leo said, remembering.
“But she passed it off as a 24 hour bug, and asked Jasmine if she felt well enough to stay or if she wanted to go home.” Max added, chuckling at the memories.
“And she actually chose to stay. She was new at the art of scamming teachers back then.” Leo chuckled.
“Yeah. Weird that, isn’t it? Who chooses to stay in school when they have the option to leave?” Max asked.
“I guess it depends on what you’d have to go home to…” Leo responded, remembering that, at that point in time, Jasmine’s parents were in the process of getting a divorce and separating.
“Oh yeah… The arguments. Can’t have been a good time for her. No wonder she wanted to stay… That was probably why we didn’t question it back then…” Max added.
“Yeah. Well, it’s still a good memory anyway. Fun times all in all. We were like the three musketeers back in the day… Except one of us was female.” Leo said, chuckling.
“Yeah, and it was the other 2 that got together.” Max added, joking around again.
“Good point.” Leo said, laughing.
“So, we had better get ready for tonight, it’s already 5 o’clock.” Max said, suddenly remembering that they had agreed to go to the club with the others. He had completely forgotten, it seemed like a lifetime ago when they made those plans.
“Oh right, yeah. What time is Cassy picking us up again?”
“20 to 6. She wants to make sure we get in the queue before it opens. She panics that we won’t get in if we don’t.” Max shrugged. “It’s not like the place gets packed out very often though, so I don’t know what she’s worried about.”
“Oh. Maybe she just wants to get there early so we have more time to hang out.” Leo suggested.
“I doubt it. Generally if she does anything out of the ordinary, she’s either needlessly panicking or she’s up to something, and I don’t think she’s up to anything diabolical at the moment, so all I can think is that she’s being paranoid.” Max shrugged. “It’s not a big deal though. I’m sure we can occupy ourselves while we’re waiting for 15 minutes. Anyway, let’s get ready shall we. You wanna shower first, or shall I?” He asked.
“I’ll jump in first. I’m generally quicker.” Leo laughed as he walked up the stairs. “I shouldn’t be too long. You can jump in afterwards.”
“That’s the plan.” Max nodded, walking into his room while Leo walked into the bathroom and got ready to jump in the shower. Max decided he would check his emails and everything while Leo was in the shower, so he was up to date with everything before they left. He wouldn’t have time after he got ready, as it wouldn’t surprise him if Cassy turned up early. She was definitely a little on edge that day.
By the time Max had gotten through checking everywhere, Leo had gotten out of the shower and was getting dry. After closing the computer down, Max prepared everything for when he got out of the shower, then headed to wait outside the bathroom, just as Leo walked out. Max walked straight in and got ready to get in the shower himself.
Leo began getting ready, going for his trademark look of a flannel shirt and jeans, but this time he wore slim jeans, not quite skinny, but slim-fit. He never felt comfortable in skinny jeans, unlike Max who wore them much more frequently. He sprayed some deodorant and tried styling his hair, though with it being slightly damp that proved rather difficult.
When Max got out of the shower he whistled at Leo. “Now who’s trying to impress someone?” He asked, chuckling. He began to get ready himself. This time he wore a black superman t-shirt and skinny jeans with canvas shoes. He sprayed some cologne on himself before looking in the mirror. His hair was still rather long, so styling it was pretty much out of the question. The most he could do would be to use hair spray to keep it still, but that seemed a bit pointless.
After they were both ready, they had a short while to wait. They chatted for a little bit before Max heard a honk outside. It didn’t sound like Cassy’s car, though, and when he looked out of the window he noticed Ash waving at him from a convertible car with the top down.
“Why have you got the top down? It’s December.” Max asked as he approached the car shortly after.
“Because it’s not particularly cold, and it’s has a pretty awesome look, don’t you think?” Ash asked.
“I guess so, but if we end up freezing to death, I’m blaming you.” He pointed a finger at Ash, who just laughed and waved them both in.
Cassy was sat in the front, she had been silent during the exchange but perked up when she realised Max wasn’t going to bite her head off. “So, the plan for tonight is to get there early, meet Ryan and Jack, and hopefully get into the club. The idea is that once we get in, we stay in, okay? If we leave, we might not get back in.”
“Cassy, you’re acting like this is some sort of exclusive, VIP-Guest list club. We’re only going to the teen bar.” Max shrugged. “Barely anyone goes there anyway. The only people that do are either people who don’t have fake IDs or people who don’t want them.” Max said, shrugging. “And to be honest, there are only a few of them that don’t want them, because most people who don’t want fake IDs, don’t frequent any bars.”
“Okay, I guess you’re right. But of that’s the case, why do you go?” Cassy asked.
“I rarely ever go, and when I do it’s to try and socialise with someone my age. And, to be honest, it rarely works. I get girls winking at me from across the room, but no one to actually speak to.” Max shrugged. “I haven’t gone back in weeks.”
“Well that may be, but tonight we’re going to have fun. No matter what happens. Nothing is bringing us down tonight, got it?” Ash asked, and the whole car voiced their agreement. That night was for fun and fun alone. Nothing was to get in the way.
“So. What time are we meeting Jack and Ryan?” Leo asked.
“They should be there shortly after us. They won’t be too late.” Max told him.
Ash nodded. “They seem like pretty cool guys.” He commented. “They should add to the fun times we’re going to have tonight.”
“I’m sure they will.” Leo agreed, nodding.
“So, up for some dancing tonight you two?” Cassy asked, directing the question to Max and Leo.
“Sure, we’ll dance. There’s not much point going to a club and not dancing, especially if there isn’t alcohol on the table.” Max said, laughing a little. Leo replied with a look that questioned his sanity. “Don’t look at me like that Leo. We’re going to be dancing tonight, even if it kills us, because its fun and we both need more of that in our lives, so deal with it.”
“Wow, okay. Who died and made you emperor of dancing?” Leo asked, chuckling.
“I’ll tell you who when you tell me who died and made you lord of sarcasm.” Max retorted, causing them both to laugh even more.
“Have they gone insane?” Ash asked Cassy.
“Sorry guys, this is kind of our thing.” Max explained. “We insult each other, it’s our way of joking with each other. We don’t mean it or anything, it’s just funny.” He shrugged. “I guess it seems weird to you, huh?” He asked.
“Just a little.” Ash responded.
“It seems weirder to me.” Cassy commented. “But to be honest, I don’t spend that much time with couples, so I don’t really know how couples generally act around each other.” She shrugged. “I guess its fine. It just seems a bit weird.”
“Well we do mean it as a joke. We don’t actually mean the insults we hurl at each other. We just use them for comedic effect.” Max explained. “It’s harmless fun.”
“We’re here.” Ash announced, parking the car.
“Come on then everybody.” Cassy announced, smiling.
Everybody clambered out of the car and walked towards the bar, waiting outside for it to open. There were a couple of people already there, but definitely not the queues that Cassy had foretold.
“Hey guys!” Came the words that announced Jack and Ryan’s arrival. Jack was waving as he approached, smiling at the group. “Glad to see you got here fine. Hope we’re not too late, Ryan here decided to take forever in getting ready.” Jack laughed. Ryan blushed.
“It’s fine. It’s not open yet anyway.” Max said, shrugging. “Oh that’s right, did you speak to your uncle, Ash?”
“Yeah I did, just come in with me and you should be fine. Try not to head out too often though, as they might have an issue letting you back in.” Ash explained to Jack.
“Okay. Luckily I don’t smoke.” Jack responded, chuckling. “I don’t think I’ll be heading out very often as long as you guys are inside.” He added.
“Good. We only have a couple of minutes before it opens, any last minute things we need to talk about? It’s gonna be much more difficult to have a conversation in there due to the fact that there will be music, dancing and probably a good number of people.” Ryan said, suddenly taking charge. He did that sometimes, but not very often.
“I don’t have anything particularly urgent, anyone else?” Max commented, looking around at everyone.
The group just shook their heads, not really having anything to add at this point. Cassy then suddenly perked up. “How long is everyone staying tonight? The club closes at 11, which I think is ridiculous because it only opens at 7, but how long are we planning on staying for? The full four hours? Or does anyone have a time in mind to leave?”
“I think we should leave at 10, grab something to eat at that 24 hour fast food place and then, if we’re still having a good time, think of something else to do.” Max suggested.
“Sounds like a plan.” Ash agreed, and the rest of the group nodded their agreement.
“Okay 10 o’clock it is. If we get separated before then, we meet out here, yeah?” Cassy asked everyone.
“Yep.” Max nodded.
At that point, the doors opened, and the group entered with the other people who were waiting outside. Within the first 20 minutes the bar itself was almost full. A load of people had arrived unexpectedly, but a lot of them left after an hour.
Max and Leo kept their promise, dancing quite a bit. They danced with each other, and with Jack and Ryan, as well as with Cassy and Ash, but Leo tried his best to avoid Cassy, in case Max got jealous. They danced as a group, as well as in pairs, and at one point in 2 separate groups of three.
After a while Max decided to vacate the dance floor and get a drink. He had been dancing on and off for an hour at the least by that point, and he was tired, so decided to have a sit down. He and Leo found a table and sat down. The table was big enough for the group of 6 that they had come in with, which was good.
“So, enjoying tonight?” Leo asked.
“Yeah, it’s great! You?” Max returned the question.
“Well you know me, normally I’m no dancer, but I’m enjoying myself. Your friends here are pretty great.” Leo nodded. “We should do stuff like this more often.”
“Yeah, we should.” Max agreed.
At that point Cassy returned, as Ash headed towards the toilets. “I hope I’m not interrupting, I just felt that Jack and Ryan were having fun without me, and Ash just went to the toilet so I’m on my own without you two.”
“No, it’s fine, sit down.” Leo said, winking at Max subtly.
“Speaking of Ash, he’s a pretty cool guy, don’t you think?” Max asked Cassy.
“Yeah I guess so.” Cassy agreed nodding. “I’m glad you like him.” She added.
“Yeah we like him. We think he’s pretty awesome.” Leo nodded.
“Yeah, so what’s his story anyway?” Max asked.
“Well, as far as I know he’s into guys, which is a total shame, but he’s pretty awesome, so I hang out with him anyway.” Cassy explained.
“Cassy, he is NOT gay.” Max said, laughing. “He’s 100% straight.”
“How do you know?” She asked.
“Because he told us.” Leo said, laughing. “We were talking to him the other day, and Max mentioned that he thought Ash was the one you were going to try and set him up with, and Ash told us he was straight.”
“So, speaking of straight people, any chance you like him?” Max asked, smirking.
“Wow… He’s definitely straight?” Cassy asked.
“Yeah. And you said yourself, if he was gay, it would be a total shame.” Leo said, nodding.
“And you guys aren’t joking?” She asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Nope.” Max said, popping the p.
“Well then, I have a conversation to have. Excuse me boys.” She told them as she walked towards the newly emerged Ash. She strode directly over to him and kissed him.
“Wow… She’s really full on isn’t she?” Leo asked, watching as Ash stumbled and then grinned, and they kissed again.
“Yep. That’s our Cassy. She’s reckless and hot-headed when it comes to romance, but you’ve got to take risks, haven’t you?” Max said, smiling. “Otherwise what’s the point?”
“I guess you’re right.” Leo agreed.
“You can only be saved if you need rescuing in the first place. There’s no use for a knight if there’s nothing to fight.” Max said, shrugging.
“When did you get all philosophical?” Leo asked, chuckling.
“When I realised that, no matter what, life goes on, and so will I.”
“Well, what a brilliant outlook to have. Want to go dance again?” Leo asked, and, when Max nodded, stood up, taking Max’s hand as they walked to the dance floor. Just as they got there, a slow song came on, and Cassy winked at them from across the floor, near where the DJ was. Max and Leo began dancing, Cassy and Ash weren’t too far away, most of the strangers on the floor had cleared but, oddly, Jack and Ryan were dancing as well. Max smiled to himself as he saw them. They made a good couple.
An hour later, Max decided to go outside and get some fresh air. It was really warm in the bar, and it stifled him a little, so he stood outside for a while, and Jack followed him.
“Nice night.” Jack said, looking up at the clear night sky.
“Yeah…” Max agreed, then there was a short silence before he added “so you and Ryan, huh?”
“I thought you’d ask about that.” He shrugged. “Me and Ryan… I don’t know. It’s complicated I guess. There’s the age difference, his parents would never approve, they like me, but not enough to excuse the fact that I’m 4 years older than him. Then there’s the fact that he’s in high school, and I’ve just left college. I mean, what about next year? Will he move away? Will he find someone else at college?”
“Jack, can I give you some advice?” Max asked.
“Go for it.” Jack told him, nodding.
“Take a risk. Take a leap of faith. Allow yourself to try. Stop dwelling on what ifs and start thinking about right now. You. And him. And tonight. Think of the future as something to experience, rather than prepare for. Take each day as it comes and see where it leads you. Love isn’t something you have to plan, it’s not something you can prepare for, it’s fleeting and forever, it’s dangerous and amazing, it hurts and it heals. But it’s worth it. Every moment that you can honestly say that you are in love, and that you are loved, is worth a lifetime of pain. So take that walk off the edge, fly for a brief moment, and see how long it lasts, because even a night is worth it.”
“Wow. How old are you again?” Jack asked, chuckling. He shrugged and then pulled Max in for a hug. “Thank you.” He whispered, before heading back inside.
Max smiled to himself. He was match-making tonight. He was giving Cassy a run for her money, he knew that much. He was definitely being a cupid among his friends for that night, and he was giving sound advice, and being pretty philosophical. He wondered where it all came from, because he had always had a pensive side, but he never knew why.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Ash asked as he stepped outside.
“What is it with everyone?” Max asked. “You all want to talk to me.”
“I came outside to thank you, but I can leave you alone if you want.” Ash offered.
“Nah. I’m joking. It’s just weird. I spoke to Cassy, then I was all philosophical with Leo, then I gave some really deep advice to Jack just now, and now you want to speak to me. I warn you now, I may say something really pretentious.” Max laughed.
“Oh, well as long as you don’t get too bad, it should be fine. I can’t see why deep and philosophical advice is such a bad thing.” Ash said, shrugging. “Of course, it’s generally given by wise old men, but hey, if teenagers can manage it too then that’s great, we can become a self-dependent society.”
“That may be possible yet with a wise elder such as myself giving out sage words of wisdom.” Max chuckled.
“Maybe. Anyway, back to what I was saying. Thank you for speaking to Cassy for me. I don’t know what you said, but whatever it was, it definitely worked. We’ve been having such a great night, and it’s all thanks to you. You are an amazing friend. I just hope you and Leo will still be okay when he goes home.” Ash said.
“I’m trying not to think about that for the moment. Especially not tonight. Tonight is for fun, and celebration. Not for goodbyes.” Max said, shrugging. “I’ll only say goodbye when there’s no other choice. I would fight the world for him. If I had to.”
“Well then, I’m sure you’ll be fine. You deserve to be happy, Max.” Ash said, smiling. “I’m going to head back inside now. See you in there?”
“Yeah, I’ll be back in shortly, I just need some fresh air first.” Max explained, smiling as Ash walked back into the loud bar.
Max looked up at the moon, it wasn’t quite full but it was shining brightly, stars twinkled above and he smiled. He had always preferred the dark, clear nights when he could see the stars. He enjoyed looking at constellations, especially Orion. He loved being able to see where people had made shapes from the stars, where people had looked up, and seen people or creatures.
After a few minutes he headed back inside, he hadn’t wanted to spend enough time to reflect too much, in fear that it would bring his mood down. He got a drink and sat down next to Leo, who was waiting for him dutifully. They danced a little longer before noticing it was 10pm, and they headed outside to meet everyone to go and get something to eat.
“Thanks for suggesting this guys!” Ryan exclaimed. “I’ve had a great night.” He announced.
“Glad to hear it. That’s what we were aiming for after all.” Max said, laughing. “Come on, we need to go get food.” He added, walking in the general direction of the restaurant.
“I’m glad I met you all.” Leo said as the group walked to the restaurant. “I was worried, before I came here, that Max hadn’t made any decent friends, but now, I see you guys, and the way you speak to him, and the way you respond when he has ideas, and I realise that he has made awesome friends, and you guys are amazing.” He said, smiling at the group.
“Thanks, Leo. That means a lot.” Cassy said, smiling. “I’m glad we have impressed you. We do try and look out for Max when we can, even though it can be difficult at times.” She said, chuckling as she looked at Max. “He can be a little reckless at times.” She shrugged. “But he’s okay. He’s like the brother I never had.” She admitted.
“That went from being nice to harsh and back to nice again.” Max said, chuckling. “Thanks Cassy. But I still think you’re insane.” He told her, laughing.
“It’s all part of my charm.” She said, winking and cackling.
“Well, we have to admit, you managed to get someone’s attention, so you must have some way of snaring the guys.” Leo said, laughing as he looked at Ash, who looked like he wanted to run away.
“I promise you, Ash, she’s not as bad as we make her out to be. She can actually be very sweet. She might be insane, but not in a totally bad way.” Max said, laughing.
“So she’s insane in a good way?” Ash asked, chuckling.
“Kind of. Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad. But you’ve gotta accept people, flaws and all, right?” Max replied, smiling.
“Ahem! Still here!” Cassy shouted, looking between the two males discussing her insanity. “I swear you guys do this on purpose!” She complained, stomping her feet before storming off in the direction of the restaurant.
“See you soon!” Max called out. He refused to run after her. He wanted to walk leisurely, with Leo and Jack and Ryan, while Ash decided to run after the girl who had stormed away.
“Casssyyyyy! I didn’t mean it!” He called after her, catching up to her. She gave him a death-glare before smiling and kissing his cheek.
Max sighed. “He’s screwed.”
“Totally.” Ryan agreed.
“Definitely.” Jack added.
Once they got to the restaurant, laughing and joking, they ordered their food and sat down, chuckling and making jokes, smiles all round. They were having fun, as teenagers do, and getting looks from the other three people who were in there that late.
One lady was looking at them and smiling, evidently remembering the freedom of youth, while the teenage couple were scowling at the group, for spoiling their date by being so loud.
By the time the food had arrived, the group were alone in the restaurant, and they were still having fun. They tried not to be too loud, as they were respectful of the staff, but they couldn’t help it if a loud laugh escaped, or if they accidentally got louder as they tried to speak over each other. 6 teenagers all wanting to share a conversation was guaranteed to get loud, after all.
Max had never had so much fun since he moved to Nevada. That night he had also realised something important. He had never wanted Ash or Ryan for himself, he had simply wanted them to be happy, and he thought that he may need to be the catalyst, but evidently he wasn’t, and that made him happier. Because they found happiness, and he didn’t have to sacrifice his own in order for that to happen. He simply needed to give a little bit of advice, and do a little reconnaissance on the emotional state of a certain friend.
The group finished eating, thanked the staff who served them, and then left, heading out to see if they could find somewhere else to spend time together. Eventually, though, they all went their separate ways. Ash and Cassy were the first two to leave, disappearing in the night to head home. Jack and Ryan left shortly afterwards, and Leo and Max spent the short walk home holding hands, enjoying each other’s company.
“I had a great time tonight.” Leo commented. “You have pretty amazing friends.”
“They were replacements for the best. They’re not quite as good, but they’re the closest I could find.” Max responded, smiling. “They are pretty great, aren’t they?” He said shrugging.
“Yeah they are.” Leo agreed. “I’m glad you have them to talk to and spend time with. I was afraid you’d be holed up alone in your room all the time.” He said, chuckling. “I definitely underestimated your social skills.” He smiled.
“Part of why I’m willing to come back once every two months is to see them. They are really great people and I want to keep in touch with them, and that’s much easier if I visit every so often.” Max explained.
“So anyway, it’s Christmas eve tomorrow. So what are we planning to do?” Leo asked.
“Yeah… Ummm… I don’t know. Everywhere will be closed, I think. Maybe we could hang out somewhere, but I don’t think anyone is going to particularly want to spend time outside in the cold…” Max explained.
“Well maybe we could all congregate in someone’s house. I wouldn’t ask your mum, as it’s enough that I’m getting to stay, but surely we could ask Jack or someone else’s parents? Or we could just spend the day together?” Leo suggested.
“I guess we could ask Jack. He has his own place, so he might let us go over for a couple of hours. Then again, he wasn’t a fan of Cassy’s previously, so unless something has changed, he might not want to invite her over to his place.” Max said, shrugging.
“I think his problem with her was that she was a bit full on. I think tonight he got to know her a little better, so we can always ask, I guess. It’s worth asking, anyway.” Leo added, as they arrived at the house. They headed inside and knew, immediately, that Max’s mum had gone to bed. They sneaked up the stairs, trying to be quiet, and headed into Max’s room. They changed and climbed into bed, falling asleep quickly, that night had been very tiring on both of them.