The next morning, Max called Jack, to ask permission to head over to his, making it clear he wanted Cassy and Ash to be able to go as well. Jack agreed, a little reluctantly, but less than Max thought. He made the rounds of calls, and everyone was free, as they were all prepared for the next day, there was no last minute shopping, or decorating or anything, so they all headed to Jack’s. Neither Cassy nor Ash wanted to drive, particularly, as they weren’t familiar with the part of town that Jack lived in, as he lived just outside the boundaries, where the roads became a little less defined. Ash agreed to drive, though, eventually, as he knew one of them had to, and Cassy was stubborn when she was set on something.
Ash pulled up and Max and Leo got in the car, jumping in before Ash drove away in the direction that Jack had told them. He had given them an address to tap into the GPS system on their phone, as they didn’t see the point in getting a sat-nav when they had a maps app. Between them they managed to work out the general area, and walked out where to go. They pulled up outside the building and Jack came outside, ushering them in. It wasn’t as warm as it usually was, which meant that it was better if they got inside quicker.
They all sat inside and started chatting. Jack offered everyone drinks, and they all sat around the fire, drinking coffee and tea, chatting and laughing and joking. They had a lot of fun as a group, and that was when Max told them.
“Guys. I have to tell you all something.” He began. “So, over the last 6 months, or in the case of Ash, the last week, I have grown to know you all really well, and we make a pretty amazing group. But next year, after I turn 18, I’m going to be moving back home.” He told them. “Before any of you say anything, I just want to point out that I will be coming back, regularly, about 6 times a year.” He smiled. “I’ll make sure to keep chatting to you all on line, and by phone. You guys have been like a family to me since I moved here, and I love you all.” He told them.
“Guys. A toast.” Jack said, after the speech, when everyone was silent. “To Max.” He added, a little louder.
“Why?” Max asked.
“Because, you are our friend, and you are doing what makes you happy.” Jack explained.
“To Max!” The group chorused, clinking their mugs together. “Our resident brother.” Ryan added, smiling at him. “You say we are like your family, you are like family to each of us, too. I’m almost sure that you’ve given each of us advice, or help with something. You’ve been amazing to all of us, and we love you too.” He said, to a chorus of “hear, hear” and “couldn’t have said it better myself.”
Max blushed and hid his face, Leo hugged him and felt tears dampen his shirt, but they were tears of happiness, and Max had a huge smile on his face.
“I don’t know any of you as well as Max does. But I’d like to.” Leo said. “You seem like amazing people. And if Max thinks you’re worth the L word, then there must be something special in this group.” He added, smiling.
“Well then, we’ll have to exchange information.” Ash said, smiling.
Over the course of the next few minutes, Leo acquired four sets of information, phone number, email address, user names on several different sites. He promised everyone he would get around to sending them messages when he got home, and gave everyone his information while he was there. He really did want to keep in touch with everyone and he couldn’t help but love how everyone had responded to his little speech.
Max had managed to compose himself enough to face the group again, he was a little less emotional now, but he was still really happy. They went back to laughing and joking, discussing the next day and how Christmas generally went at their respective houses. Cassy had a family lunch then had the rest of the day to spend how she wanted, Ash didn’t eat until later in the day with his family, and so invited Cassy over, promising to tell his parents that she would have eaten earlier, to which she agreed. Ryan explained that his family didn’t actually celebrate Christmas as they were powerful atheists and Jack told everyone that he would be on his own, as his family were too far away for him to go and visit. At that point everyone’s cheery attitude dropped a little bit, and there seemed to be a silent agreement going on between the group, other than Jack.
Everyone silently agreed to go to Jack’s at some point in the day, to wish him a merry Christmas, with a small present and a card, something to show that they weren’t going to leave him alone on Christmas. Ryan asked if he could stay, as he didn’t want to spend time with his family telling everyone that Christmas wasn’t even a Christian holiday, and discussing the social implications of gift-giving.
Jack ushered everyone back out when they decided it was time to leave, apart from Ryan, who had arranged to stay the night. While in the car, Max, Leo, Ash and Cassy discussed the bit about Jack being alone for Christmas. They all knew that he wasn’t going to be now, but Christmas was no time to be alone, even if you were with one other person it wasn’t good enough for them. They all agreed that later in the day, once everyone had eaten and had time to themselves, they would guilt trip their respective families into letting them see Jack, and then would turn up.
Max and Leo arrived home earlier than they had in days. They decided to chill out and watch TV with the fire on. Max’s mum was busy preparing things for lunch the next day, as she knew that some things needed to be prepared the night before.
When Max and Leo went to bed, they were awake for hours, talking, sharing Christmas memories, discussing what they were looking forward to the next day, and Max felt excited about giving Leo his gifts.
The next morning, Max and Leo were out of bed at 5am, like children who were excited. They rushed down stairs and had breakfast, part of Max’s traditional Christmas was that he had to have breakfast before opening gifts. They ate hurriedly, and had finished by the time Max’s mum was out of bed.
She came down the stairs and saw the dishes in the sink. She chuckled to herself as she heard the boys laughing as they sat in the living room waiting for her.
She walked in the living room and sighed. “Go on then. But don’t open anything I got you. I want to see your faces.” She laughed as she walked back in the kitchen, making herself a cup of coffee before she stood in the doorway, watching the two boys with a smile on her face.
Max pulled a rather large package out from under the tree and handed it to Leo first. “I want you to open my gift first.” Max told him, smiling.
“Please tell me you haven’t spent a fortune.” Leo said as he ripped the wrapping paper open. He noted Max’s lack of response, and his guilty smile, as he opened the box and gasped. “I… I can’t believe you did this.” The box was filled with merchandise of his favourite movies. When he looked, though, there was also something else. A photo album. He opened it and a lump rose in his throat. There were photos of the two of them, throughout the time they had known each other. Smiles all around. He turned the pages to see that it was in chronological order, from the youngsters they were in the playground, to before Max left. He couldn’t speak, he just pulled Max in for a hug, a tear running down his cheek.
“You’re welcome.” Max whispered.
They spent the next few minutes ripping open other presents, a few of which had been delivered to the house by Leo’s mum, so he had them to open on Christmas day. Then, finally, they turned to Max’s mum. She gestured to the last two gifts and watched, with kind eyes, as they opened them.
The gifts were small, flimsy even, and the wrapping paper disappeared to reveal envelopes. When they opened them, each had all the details to a week stay in Orlando, Florida, with access to Universal Studios.
They both broke out into huge grins and said in unison “Thank you!”
After opening their gifts, the boys went upstairs to get dressed before their Christmas lunch, and then sat at the table when they were called. They both helped out with laying the table, and bringing the food through, as Max’s mum had made enough to feed a lot more than just the three of them. They ate as much as they could before stopping.
“I’m sorry mum, but there is far too much here for the three of us. I can’t eat any more.” Max announced.
“Me neither.” Leo added, slumping in his seat. “Excellent food though.” He said, smiling.
“Okay boys, that’s fine. I knew there was too much. Max and I will just be eating what’s left for the next few days.” Max’s mum laughed.
“Yeah. Anyway mum, we have a small request.” Max said, beginning his guilt trip.
“What is it?” She asked, looking at them.
“Well, in a few hours, our friend group want to go visit one of our friends, because we found out yesterday he’s going to be all alone for Christmas, because he couldn’t afford to go and see his family, so we want to go and cheer him up by surprising him. Not yet, though, more like about 6 o’clock.” Max explained, giving his most pleading face, with his saddest eyes.
“Yeah that’s fine. As long as I get a good few hours with you. I’ll probably end up cleaning most of this evening anyway, don’t let me keep you here. I’d rather you have a good time than get bored and feel bad for your friend.”
“You don’t mind being alone?” Leo asked.
“No. I’m okay when I’m alone, but I know some people aren’t, and I’d rather you be there for your friend to stop him feeling bad at Christmas. I know that you would both be here if the situation was different.” She told them smiling. “So go, have fun. I’ll be fine.”
“Okay, thanks mum, you’re the best.” Max said, smiling. “TV?” He asked, looking between Leo and his mum, who both agreed. His mum explained that she could put off the washing up for a short while, to spend some time with them.
They watched TV, and chatted, spent some time, as a family. Max’s mum explained that, although Leo wasn’t a blood relative, he had always been extended family in a way. She had always thought of him as family, because she had known him since he was a toddler, so to her, this was still a family Christmas, even with Leo there.
“So are you still going home before New Year’s then?” Max’s mum asked of Leo.
“Yeah. That was the agreement, wasn’t it?” Leo asked.
“Well, after having you here for a while, I’ve kind of grown used to you being here. If you wanted to stay a bit longer, as long as you go back before school starts again, I wouldn’t complain. You would have to clear it with your parents first though.” She replied, smiling a little.
“I’ll speak to them tomorrow. To be fair, they’re normally too busy working to notice when I am there anyway. I’m almost certain my dad’s at work now anyway. They’re both very dedicated. I mean, they’re great parents, they’re always there when I need them, and they do their best, but they do have very demanding jobs, which limits the amount of time I can spend with them, so it’s became kind of a necessity for me to have really close friends instead, which is fine.” Leo explained, shrugging. “They are always available at the important times.” He smiled.
“Oh, well at least they’re there when you need them.” Max’s mum said. “Some parents aren’t even there then. Some parents can be pretty useless. I had a blessed childhood. My mother was always at home, and she brought me up to be the woman I am. My father worked to provide us with everything we wanted.” She said, smiling.
“Yeah, and I’ve had a pretty great time as well. My mum is pretty awesome. Of course, my father figures are a bit useless in general, without dampening the mood too much, but my mum has always been there, and has always put me first, when she knew that she needed to.” Max said, smiling at his mum.
“Well anyway, aren’t you guys going to your friends? Don’t you need to set off?” Max’s mum asked of them.
“Cassy and Ash are going to pick us up on the way. They’ll honk when they get here. They always do.” Max said, laughing.
“Yeah, it doesn’t take too long to get there anyway.” Leo added, shrugging. He checked the time and his eyes widened. “Then again, Cassy and Ash are probably on their way now. It’s quarter to six.” He shrugged.
“So it is. Oh well. We don’t really need to prepare anything, we just need to pick up the little gifts and the card before we head off.” Max said, smiling.
“Yeah, true.” Leo smiled.
Just as they agreed that, a honk came from outside.
“Damn it, why is Cassy always so early?” Max chuckled. “Come on Leo. We’ll be a few hours, mum!” Max called as he was half way out of the door, Leo following behind closely, picking up the gifts as he followed.
“You guys are early! Again!” Max complained as he got in Cassy’s car. “What is it with you, Cassy?”
“I just like being early. I can’t stand being late all the time.” She shrugged. “Sue me.”
“I can’t afford the court costs, otherwise I would.” Max grumbled, earning a chuckle from Ash.
“Off we go!” Cassy announced as she pulled out of the parking space and began driving towards Jack’s home. The group wondered if Jack would be okay with them dropping by unannounced, or whether he would be a little annoyed. They didn’t think of that beforehand, but hopefully he would be fine.
A few minutes later they were knocking on Jack’s door, smiles on their faces, huddled to try and keep warm, considering Nevada was mostly desert, it did get cold in the winter. After a few moments, the door opened.
Jack stood there, shocked as he heard his friends shout a chorus of “Merry Christmas” and a large smile broke out on his face.
“What are you doing here?” He asked the group smiling as he invited them all in.
“We couldn’t leave you alone on Christmas day!” Max explained. “We decided to come and spend a few hours with you, because no one should have a Christmas without people to spend it with, and considering that we’ve virtually become a little family over the past few days, we figured we should come see you.”
“That’s really sweet of you.” Jack said, smiling as he led them into the living room, where Ryan was by the fire, drinking cocoa. Christmas songs were playing in the background, and the group said hi to Ryan as they entered.
“You guys!” Ryan exclaimed. “You really are amazing!” He said, smiling.
“And don’t you forget it!” Cassy joked, smiling as she took a seat by the fire. “I just want to say that if anyone does so much as come near me with food, I am going to explode.” She warned.
“Oh, well that’s okay because me and Leo both had a huge lunch as well, so we’re stuffed too.” Max said, laughing.
“Anyone for cocoa?” Jack asked, heading over to the kitchen. He heard a chorus of yeses and headed into the kitchen to prepare it, grinning like a Cheshire cat as he did so. He couldn’t help a feeling of gratitude that his friends took time out of their Christmases to spend time with him, because they didn’t want him to be alone. He felt like he mattered for the first time in a long time, and that made him happier than a real family Christmas ever could.
He headed out with a tray of mugs of cocoa. He smiled as he set the tray down and everyone grabbed a mug each. He sat down, putting and arm around Ryan as he did so. “So, how has everyone’s Christmas been so far?” He asked the group, looking around.
“Well I had a pretty decent time with Leo and my mum. We did have a bit of an emotional exchange earlier. I made Leo cry with my gift to him.” Max said, sounding almost triumphant, and everyone chuckled a little.
“I got to hear what Max really thinks of his mum, despite his complaints that she makes the decisions.” Leo added, smiling at Max.
“I got to actually have a Christmas.” Ryan commented, smiling. “And it was the best I could have hoped for.”
“I had the generic family arguments, flying food, screaming kids.” Cassy said, shrugging. “You think I’m insane, you should come to my house today.”
“No thanks.” Ash said laughing. “I have enough of that at my house. My family are only ever well-behaved when we have guests, which is the only reason you didn’t see the insanity that ensued today.” He told Cassy. “They are mad, honestly.” He laughed.
“Well, it looks like we all had a pretty decent time then. Whether it be emotional, generic, first time, or private. We all had a pretty great Christmas.” Max concluded, smiling at the rest of the group.
“Yep, and now we’re all here. As it should be.” Ryan added.
“I wish Jasmine and James were here.” Max said to Leo, smiling sadly. “They would have completed this little gathering.” He added.
“Maybe next year we can all meet up and have a Christmas together.” Jack suggested.
“Unfortunately not. James is my ex step-brother. I don’t actually know where he is anymore. He stopped answering the emails I was sending him a few months ago…” Max explained, sighing. “But anyway, today isn’t about who isn’t here. It’s about who is. And I am glad we are all here.”
“Here, here.” Ash agreed, smiling as the group all nodded.
“So what’s the verdict on your disappearance, Leo?” Ash asked. “I hope you’re not going to leave us too soon.”
“Actually I discussed that with Max and his mum earlier. She’s happy for me to stay until after New Year’s, as long as my parents have no objections.” Leo told the group, smiling. “So you may not be able to get rid of me yet.” He laughed.
Ryan smiled. “Glad to hear it. Hopefully we’ll get to see you some time after you leave as well, even if it is after Max moves back, I’m sure you can join him when he comes to visit.” He said, looking at the pair.
“I’m sure that can be arranged.” Max agreed, smiling back at the group as they all expressed their happiness with that plan. They had all gotten to know Leo a little over the time he had been there, and they all liked him, which meant that they wanted to see him more often. They knew he made Max happy as well, which meant that, if it was in their power, they’d have them together permanently.
“Anyway, we’d better head back.” Max said, standing up as the clock ticked over to 9pm. “I don’t want my mum freaking out that we aren’t home yet.”
“Okay, we’ll go with you. I can drop you both off.” Cassy said, standing up with Ash. “We’ll see you guys soon, but probably not for a few days.” She told Jack and Ryan.
“Yeah, same here.” Max said. “I think it would be best if Leo and I had a couple of days to ourselves. But if we get bored, we’ll send you a text.” He laughed.
“Okay. See you guys soon. Don’t forget about us, will you?” Jack asked, laughing a little as the group of 4 walked out the door and into the night.
Cassy, Ash, Max and Leo all climbed into the car. The ride home was silent, as no one had any particular topic of conversation that hadn’t already been discussed. Over the past few days the group had exhausted their ideas on what to talk about, and small-talk just seemed a little redundant, considering how well they all knew each other. That was part of why they had all agreed to spend a few days without each other, because they were running out of things to do and say to each other. There wasn’t much else they could do together as they had basically been to most enjoyable places in the town, and there definitely wasn’t much they could say because they had basically spent the last week talking to each other.
Max and Leo were dropped off shortly after they left Jack’s, but it felt like hours in the silent car. They headed in the door and announced their entrance to Max’s mum, who smiled and asked what they were going to do for the rest of the night. That’s when they realised they had no idea.
“Ummm… Games? Movies? TV?” Max asked.
“We’ll have to have a look at your collection.” Leo said, chuckling as they walked upstairs.
After looking through Max’s extensive collection of games, movies and TV show box-sets, they decided they would start watching a comedy series. They watched around 4 episodes that night before going to sleep, both of them unsure on what to do the next day.
Boxing Day came and went in a flurry of tidying, laughing and small-talk. There was nothing they could really do. But that was a weird day. Boxing Day, in Nevada, and it started snowing. Max had never thought of it snowing. He figured that they wouldn’t get snow, but evidently it was cold enough.
The next day, Max woke up to find that the snow from the day before had formed a decent layer of the cold, white ice-particles on the ground, and decided it might be an idea to invite the rest of the guys out and have some fun. He and Leo made the phone calls, now that Leo had everyone’s phone numbers, and everyone agreed to congregate at Max’s.
Once everyone had arrived, the war began. Balls of cold, wet snow were flying across the street, hitting cars, lamp posts, coats, faces. The smiles hurt against the red-raw skin that froze in the winter cold. Scarves arrived, and within a few minutes, bits of snow were attached to them. Snow angels, snow men, snow dogs. Sculptures and indents and snowball fights. Fun. Teenagers acting like children. They were having fun without talking, they were simply running around throwing things at each other, ducking and diving and then, when they had enough of that, working together to build something from the glorified ice.
Within a few hours, everyone was tired, no one could really do much more as they were too busy trying to get their breath back. The decided to sit around Max’s front lawn, which Max’s mum had cleared of snow before putting a blanket down for them to sit on. They didn’t speak. They just sat there, the six of them, trying to get their breath back, smiling at each other. There was nothing anyone needed, or wanted, to say.
Once they were all able to breathe, they began again, the same things, still just as fun, and they went in a cycle like this for several hours, until everyone decided they had enough, they were cold, tired and just wanted to relax in front of a fire, which was when Max’s mum came out of the door.
“Max, can I have a word?” She asked, smiling.
“Sure, what is it?” He replied, walking towards her, out of the earshot of his friends.
“Do you want your friends to stay over? I can get some make-shift beds set up in the basement and you can all get warm and everything if you want.” His mum offered, smiling at him.
“Are you sure?” Max asked, shocked at the offer.
“Of course I am. You just seem happy.” She responded, shrugging.
“Guys?” He called over to his friends. “How would you like to stay over tonight? We can watch some movies or something?” He suggested.
“Yeah, sure.” Jack called, Ryan nodded, and Ash and Cassy added their agreement as well.
The group headed inside, ushered in by Max’s mum, and then took a seat by the fire, warming up. Max felt like he was beginning to melt himself, he was so cold. They were all handed a mug of hot cocoa by Max’s mum before she went to the basement to set up the make shift beds for everyone that evening.
Max got up himself, because he was going to need to set up a TV and things, as he didn’t have the same setup that Leo was lucky enough to have. Once he told Leo of his plan, Leo decided to help him, and they left the other four by the fire to take a TV and a DVD player, as well as a lot of DVDs down into the basement.
Once everything was set up, the other four were invited down into the basement, and asked what they wanted to watch. Max decided to let them all have a look at the DVDs while he chatted with Leo for a little bit. In the end, everyone decided on a total of 3 movies, and Max and Leo added their favourite to the list, as it was a ritual of theirs to watch the same movie every movie night, no matter what genre they were aiming for.
After the first movie, Ryan was already asleep, Cassy was half way there, but Ash, Jack, Leo and Max were all wide awake. Then, half way through the second movie, Cassy fell asleep as well, so there were only 4 of them awake for the last 2 movies.
By the end of the third movie, Ash had fell asleep as well, leaving Jack, Max and Leo to watch the final movie before going to sleep. Max and Leo were used to late night movie marathons, whereas Jack was simply used to late nights, considering he had recently finished college. He was used to functioning off a couple of hours sleep after spending all night on a project before handing it in the next day.
They all managed to make it to the end of the last movie before settling down to go to sleep. It was 1am by the time they had finished the movies, so Max and Leo knew they were going to be like zombies in the morning when they woke up. They normally had a good amount of sleep after movie nights, but with everyone falling asleep at different times, chances are everyone would wake up at different times as well, meaning that Max would want to be awake early as he liked to make sure he was awake before any guests in his house. He had always been like that.
Max knew, though, that even if he wasn’t, his mum would be awake, as she was used to waking up at 6am every morning for work, and Max doubted any of his friends would be waking up that early. He knew his mum would be more than happy to show them where everything was, and his friends would be okay making their own breakfast and things, but he didn’t really want to pin everything on them, so he still decided that he would wake up early the next morning, if he could.
7am arrived, and Max’s eyes opened, slowly. He stretched a little, careful not to make any noise, because he knew people were still sleeping, and he stood up. He crept up the stairs and into the kitchen, pouring himself a glass of fresh orange juice, and preparing a bowl of cereal for himself. He sat drinking his juice and eating when his mum came down the stairs, evidently she’d managed to get a little more sleep that morning. She smiled at him as she made herself a coffee.
“Everyone still asleep?” She asked, pouring the coffee into her mug.
“Seems that way. They should come up when they wake up. I wanted to be awake first.” Max told her.
“That’s fair enough. But you know I’d make sure they were fine.” She replied, chuckling.
“Yeah but I can’t expect you to do everything, can I?” He asked, laughing. “They’re my friends, after all.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right, but most teenagers would just leave it to their parents to make sure their friends were okay.” She added, smiling.
“I’m not most teenagers.” Max replied, shrugging.
At that point, they heard footsteps on the stairs from the basement, meaning someone was awake. When the door opened, Max walked out of the kitchen to see who it was. Ryan was stood in front of the basement door, stretching. Max smiled as he led Ryan into the kitchen, and asked what he wanted for breakfast, giving him a list of options to choose from.
Ryan decided to opt for cereal, he didn’t want to be a nuisance. He found it interesting that he was the first to fall asleep, but Max was the first to wake up. He wondered what time Max had fallen asleep the previous night.
“Did you have fun last night?” Max’s mum asked, smiling at the two boys.
“Yeah, we watched some movies, well technically I only watched one of them, I fell asleep at the end of the first one, but it was good.” Ryan explained, laughing a little.
“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.” Max said, smiling. “It’s not often I have friends over.” He explained, shrugging.
Just as they were saying that, Cassy walked through the door. “What’s for breakfast?” She asked, looking directly at Max.
Max laughed a little. “Glad to see someone feel at home here.” He joked, before giving her a list of options. Of course, Cassy chose to have a bacon sandwich, which meant that Max had to cook. She didn’t mind being a bit of a nuisance. She knew Max was fine with the request, otherwise he wouldn’t have offered it.
While Max was cooking the bacon, Jack and Ash arrived in the kitchen, both asking if bacon was available to them as well, so Max added some more to the frying pan, smiling as Leo entered, and poured himself a bowl of cereal.
“So, what’s happening now?” Jack asked. “We have breakfast then what? Are we all going home or do we have any ideas on what we can do today?”
“I’m fresh out of ideas.” Max said, shrugging. “If anyone does have any ideas though, feel free to suggest them. I wouldn’t mind spending a little more time with you guys.”
“I know this is going to sound really childish, but considering we were having snowball fights yesterday I figured it might be worth suggesting, what about hide and seek? We could play in the park, set a limit on where we can go and have a bit of fun. We could play with 5 of us hiding and one seeking, or we could play teams of three.” Ash suggested, smiling a little.
Max smiled and nodded. “I like that idea. I’m always up for a few games of childish fun. Anyone else?”
“I’m up for it.” Leo added.
Jack, Ryan and Cassy all agreed and so, after breakfast, they all set out to the park, wrapped up in coats and scarves as it was still really cold.
Once they got there they made a limit on where people could hide that encompassed at least two lines of trees, the car park, and the play area. They decided on teams of two, going by couples. Max and Leo, Ash and Cassy, Jack and Ryan. Max and Leo agreed to be the first people seeking, and they agreed that the first couple to be found would be the next people seeking. They also agreed that they could hide individually, rather than together.
Max and Leo counted to 20 before beginning their search. They wandered around the park before finding Ryan first, hidden in the first line of trees. Once they had found him, Ryan went and sat on a bench, and Max and Leo began searching for the other three. After a short while they found Cassy in the play area, Ash in the car park, and Jack was hidden behind a bench just outside the play area, that they didn’t find until after they returned with Ash.
Ash and Cassy were seeking next, as they were the first couple to be found, due to Jack being found last. This led to a whole host of hiding and searching, running between hiding spots when the seekers weren’t looking, and ducking and diving out of sight.
After a few hours, they all congregated, laughing and smiling. They started chatting, instead of playing hide and seek any longer, and decided to go and get something to eat together. They headed off in the general direction of the closest fast food restaurant, talking about the game they just played together as they went, as it was one of very few topics they hadn’t already covered.
Once they arrived at the restaurant, they ordered their food and discussed recent events, the past couple of days, snowball fights and movies, breakfast and hide and seek. They made sure not to rush through the topics, as they knew that they were running out of things to talk about between them, but as each of them spoke, they began to think of tangents, other things to talk about. They managed to work in some more topics, but only briefly, so they had something to talk about later.
They all ate before heading back out, and just walking. They didn’t have a specific destination in mind, but they all just walked, chatting. Making jokes, and laughing. They were back to having fun and spending time together, rather than thinking of specific things to do and trying to work out what to say. The conversation developed naturally, and didn’t fall short, which most of them found surprising, as it was only a few hours before that they had no idea what to say to each other.
After walking for a while, they realised they were outside of the main mall, and it was open, so they decided to go inside and have a look around. It was better than walking around outside in the cold.
They made a few purchases, small things, considering a lot of things were on sale due to Christmas being the day previously. They bought things like merchandise of TV shows and movies, band t-shirts and things. They didn’t spend too much, thanks to the sales.
They wandered for a while before deciding to head back out again and think of somewhere else to go, then they passed the teen bar and noticed it was open that evening, later than usual, and so they decided to go there later on. They all agreed that they would meet there, but instead of Cassy picking up Max and Leo as usual, Jack would, with Ryan. Between them, they managed to formulate a plan for meeting, and a decent time, as well as how long they would stay for, as it was unlikely that they would stay until closing.
Once that was decided, everyone went their separate ways, to give themselves time to sort out things, convince their parents to let them go, and to get ready before setting off.
Max and Leo got home, and things were basically as they left them, except Max’s mum was getting ready to go out. “Where are you off to?” Max asked of her.
“Oh. I’m going to meet a friend from work. We’re going for a girls’ night out. You’ll be fine on your own for tonight won’t you? I’m probably going to stay out tonight.” She explained.
“Oh yeah, totally. We’ll be fine.” Max said, smiling.
After Max’s mum disappeared, she explained that she had to check into a B&B because it was pretty far away and she would be drinking, so driving was out of the question, and Max waved her off, Max and Leo got ready to go out themselves.
Once they were both ready, they heard a honk from outside. Jack and Ryan were outside in the car. Max and Leo headed out and hopped in the back of the car, smiling. “Let’s go then.” Max said as Jack started the car. For some reason, he was quite excited about tonight, even though he didn’t know why. He couldn’t think why that night would be any better than any other night, but he still had a feeling that he would really enjoy himself…
Max, Leo, Jack and Ryan all got out of the car, after Jack had pulled into the parking lot. They headed towards the bar and noticed Cassy and Ash waiting for them, with big smiles on their face. “Come on guys. Let’s get inside. It’s freezing out here.” Cassy complained, despite her grin.
The group of six headed inside, Ash mentioning to the guy outside that Jack was with the group. They all got drinks and sat down for a while before deciding to get up and start dancing. They left the table in couples, Max and Leo being the last to get up, and when they got on the dance floor the danced in several different ways, similar to last time. They danced in couples, groups of three, one group of four and one couple, one large group of six, and sometimes six people on their own. They each had a lot of fun while dancing in each group, and Max found it rather liberating to not care what anyone thought of him. He knew he wasn’t the best dancer in the world, but on that night he really didn’t care.
After a while, Max went back and got another drink. He was really thirsty, and couldn’t justify dehydration from dancing. He was a little short of breath, and his eyes sparkled with joy. A few beads of sweat ran down his face due to the bar being full of people coupled with the exertion of dancing.
A girl sat down next to him at the bar, and smiled at him, a little too flirtatiously for his liking. He nodded his head back, coolly. She took a sip of her drink and turned to talk to him.
“I’m Crystal.” She said to him, stroking her hair.
“Max.” He replied, barely looking at her.
“Wanna get out of here, Max?” She asked, smirking at him.
“Nah. I’m with friends, and my boyfriend.” He replied, taking his drink and going to sit at the table, where Leo and Ash had suddenly appeared while he had been at the bar, ignoring the dumb-struck face of Crystal.
“Who’s that?” Leo asked as Max sat down.
“She says her name’s Crystal. Wanted to know if wanted to get out of here.” Max laughed. “I basically told her that I was with you and she seemed a little shocked.” He shrugged. “Oh well.”
Max watched as Crystal disappeared into the crowd, probably trying to find another guy to hit on. Max didn’t really care, if he was honest, he just felt bad for her. She was far too desperately lonely for someone under 21.
He pushed down the thoughts of Crystal and drank his drink, chatting with Leo and Ash. He looked over to the dance floor and noticed Jack, Ryan and Cassy dancing together, having fun. It was strange considering only a few days ago Jack wasn’t a fan of Cassy, and now he was dancing with her and Ryan like they had been friends for years.
Max pulled Leo up and headed towards the dance floor, and Ash decided to join them, they began dancing next to the other group. The three of them started awkwardly dancing, but then, when the song changed, the loosened up a little, and had a lot more fun. Cassy, Jack and Ryan loosened up a little more when the song changed as well, not that they really needed to, they were having a lot of fun dancing as it was. The six of them were oddly serious while dancing until the song ended, when they all began laughing and headed towards the table they normally sat at.
All of them, with the exception of Max, ordered another drink each and sat down, they were all a little tired from dancing and needed a little break. They were all very warm as well, meaning they needed a drink to cool down a little. The bar was heating up the more people that arrived, but all of a sudden there was a small whirring sound mingled in with the music that signalled the turning on of the air conditioning.
Due to the heat of the bar, the air conditioning was a welcome change. It was better that it was on now, as it meant they didn’t need to go outside in the freezing night air to cool down a little. Of course, for Max there was still the problem of the bar being a little claustrophobic for him, due to there being so many people. There was no way he could manage to stay in there all night with so many people crowding the place.
After a couple of hours of dancing and drinking, Max headed outside, it was cold, but he wasn’t too bothered by it. He had expected it anyway so he couldn’t complain. It was almost a refreshing change from the heat of the bar, even with the air conditioning… Almost.
Only one person followed Max outside that evening, and that was Leo. No one else wanted to go outside in the freezing cold to talk to him, but Leo would follow Max into an icy wasteland if he had to.
“Being pensive again, are we?” Leo asked, chuckling.
“Just thinking about the old days…” Max responded, smiling. “It’s weird. There are only certain times when my memories are so clear. Sometimes I have flashbacks, and that feels like they are actually happening, but other times they can be so dull, as if they belong to someone else, then other times, like tonight, I can remember everything, clear as day, but not as clear as flashbacks.” He shrugged. “I remember how I felt… Back home. Before I had my memories back. I remember everything. You were the sun, and I was the Earth. You lit up my world, and warmed my heart. You made me feel real, when everything else told me I wasn’t. I felt so awful, and I didn’t know why, but you took that away, replaced it with a warmth… I realise, now that I remember everything, that there’s a word for it. A powerful word, four letters that can change a life. A tiny word, but full of meaning. How is it that one tiny word can mean so much, when long, complicated words can mean so little? How is it that kill is so harsh, and triskaidekaphobia is nothing to most people? How does that work?”
“Because people make words. Long words like triskaidekaphobia are made of smaller words. Tri being three, deka being 10 and phobia being fear. It’s the same with everything. But you can’t couple anything powerful with any more words, so things like kill, death, love, they can’t be longer, because there’s nothing to connect them with.” Leo replied, shrugging. “Those short, powerful words are enough on their own.”
“Then maybe schools have it the wrong way around. Rather than trying to teach us to use more complicated vocabulary, they should teach us more about the power of shorter words, stronger words.” Max said, thinking for a moment.
“They’re difficult to explain. Love, for example, is an experience. It’s like explaining colours to someone who is blind, or why you like food to someone who can’t taste anything, your favourite music to someone who is deaf.” Leo said, shrugging. “There’s not really a way to explain it without experiencing it.”
“Luckily for me, I don’t need an explanation anymore. I know what it’s like. I know what it’s like to love, and to have your heart broken… I know what it’s like to love someone so much it hurts. I know what it’s like to feel like you’ll never recover when they say goodbye, close the door, and walk away. I know all of that, and yet… Here I am. Why is that? Why do I fight so hard, even after the loss of such a powerful emotion?” Max explained.
“Because you knew you could get it back.” Leo told him.
“We’re both old wise men tonight.” Max said, laughing a little. “I wonder where we get that from…”
“Movies, probably.” Leo said, shrugging.
“There we go. There’s the Leo I know and love. Clueless and cute.” Max said, chuckling.
“Hey! I’m not cute!” Leo joked.
“You’re like a kitten who thinks he’s a lion.” Max responded, smiling.
“Yeah… Well… You’re a puppy who thinks he’s a wolf.” Leo retorted.
“You do realise that’s essentially the same analogy?” Max asked, laughing.
“Yeah, I just hoped you wouldn’t notice.” Leo said, chuckling.
“Anyway, let’s head back inside, we have a lot of fun to have.” Max said, smiling as he walked back in the bar, Leo following dutifully.
There were a lot of things that were unsaid between them, but they could wait for another night, that night was for fun, and for them to spend time with friends. They would need to discuss some more of their history, but it could be put off for one more night.
Instead, that night, they drank and danced, chatted and laughed, and had fun in general. There was nothing to stop them from having the time of their lives…