Forbidden Memories

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Chapter 5

January was upon the boys before they knew it, and soon it was time for Leo to go home. They were at the airport, and Max was to say goodbye again, which he had been trying to avoid for the entire time.

“It’s only a few months. You’ll be coming back with me before you know it.” Leo promised Max, smiling sadly as he said it, not being totally convincing.

“I’m fine. We can video chat and everything. We can talk all the time. Everything will be fine.” Max said, trying to convince himself more than Leo.

“Max, look at me.” Leo told him, due to Max’s fixed stare at his feet. “It will be okay. Nothing is going to change. We’ll be fine. Its 5 months until you’re 18 and you finish school a month later. We’ll be fine. Half a year is no problem. We can manage it.” He smiled as he picked up his case, as the call came that his flight was boarding. “I’ll talk to you tonight.” He promised. “And I’ll see you in 6 months.” He said, smiling as he walked away, and Max stared after him.

A single tear escaped from Max’s left eye as he walked out of the airport and into the parking lot. He got into Cassy’s car, which she had lent to him again, and started it, wiping his eyes before beginning to drive. He drove home, pulling over when things got a little bleary, and stopped the car. He walked inside the house, letting Cassy know her car was outside, and dropped onto the sofa. He put the TV on as Cassy said goodbye and walked out, and then he let the tears escape. He pulled a pillow close to his chest and sobbed into it, trying to muffle the sounds. The salty water streamed down his face, leaving streaks in its wake.

After a few hours of on and off crying, and snippets of TV shows, Max realised that he had no tears left. So he decided to have a shower and sort himself out. He needed to be stronger than that. He needed to keep himself in check. Crying all the time would solve nothing.

He had a shower, washing the salt-water streaks from his face, but he couldn’t do anything about his red, puffy eyes. He washed away his sadness, his pain, and decided to be a bit more positive. Like Leo said, it was only 6 months until they could be together, and they would be able to video chat and things in the meantime, which meant that it shouldn’t be anywhere near as difficult as Max was making it seem.

Max got out of the shower, dried himself and got dressed again, ready to chat to Leo, who had told him previously that they would chat that evening. He started up his computer, and while he was waiting for it to load, he began tidying his room, something he only ever did when he was worried or nervous, or just really sick of his room being messy.

Once the computer had loaded, Max went about checking his emails and various websites he was subscribed to, checking on his friends, and then, finally, checking to see if Leo was online.

He wasn’t… Yet.

Max sighed, realising that Leo probably hadn’t managed to get online as he wouldn’t have gotten off the plane until around an hour before hand.

Max decided he would get something to eat before speaking to Leo, as it wouldn’t help him relax if he was hungry, so he went downstairs, into the kitchen, and began making himself a ham and tomato sandwich. Once he had made it he headed back to his room and ate it at his computer, as he wanted to be able to respond to Leo as soon as possible, and if he ate the sandwich downstairs, he risked Leo sending him a message while he was eating.

It would have been impossible for Max to bear the lack of Leo’s presence if he hadn’t started playing music, softly, to stop the silence. He hated the idea of being in a room with silence all around. He needed, at the very least, some sort of background noise. He couldn’t deal with quiet. His version of peace and quiet involved sirens and car horns. Background noise kept him calm, and allowed him to think and breathe. Silence had always been suffocating to him.

After a short while, and half way through Max’s sandwich, the familiar ping of Max’s message box alerted him to a new message. It was Leo. Max quickly replied, telling Leo he was there and available for a video chat, and within seconds of it sending, Max’s screen lit up with a live stream of Leo’s face. Max knew that Leo could see him as well.

“Hello stranger.” Max said, smiling at his own joke.

“Hey.” Leo said, chuckling a little. “I know, right? I haven’t seen you in forever.” He joked.

“6 months is going to be a challenge.” Max said, saying what was on both of their minds.

“It is…” Leo agreed. “But we’ll manage. We always do.” He promised. “Between your stubbornness and my patience, we’ll get through it.” He said, smiling a little.

“Maybe. It just seems like it’s going to be difficult.” Max replied, sighing.

“It will be. These long distance things always are, but we have each other, and your friends will do their best to help, and I’ll have Jasmine on this end. We’ll make a little team to keep us together if we have to.” Leo said, laughing a little. “Trust me, between your friends, Jasmine, and the pair of us, we’ll never be apart. I promise you.”

“Remember that. Remember that promise, because if you break it-” Max started, before Leo interrupted.

“I don’t make promises lightly, Max. I’m not going to break it. I know that if I did, you’d never trust me again, and I value your trust, more than you might think.” Leo finished, sighing. “You need to believe in us, because we can do this. You just don’t think we can.”

“I think we can, I just think it’s going to be hard, on both of us, and if one of us lets it break us, just for a moment, it could ruin everything, so we both need to be at our best.” Max replied. “I think it would be best to make sure Jasmine knows what’s going on, because she’ll keep you on your best behaviour, and my friends will keep me on mine.”

“Are you saying that we might not have enough self-control to stay true to each other?” Leo asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I’m saying there are a lot of temptations out there, of different kinds, and one slip could cause huge issues, and a rift in our relationship, and I can’t let that happen, not when we’ve worked so hard, not when I’ve already said goodbye twice.” Max said, sighing. “I’m not suggesting that one of us will cheat on the other. I’m just saying its better that other people know, and that they can talk to us when it becomes too much to do on our own, which it undoubtedly will at some point. It’s 6 months after all.” He explained.

“I guess you’re right. I’ll talk to Jasmine tomorrow. Tonight I just want to relax. After the hectic time I’ve had with you and your friends I need some time to just relax and chill out. I can’t really get into everything now.” Leo replied.

“I guess you’re right. Want me to leave you to it?” Max asked.

“No, not at all! I didn’t mean that. I just meant I don’t really want to get really social and everything. I’ll spend time talking to other people tomorrow. You I can handle, but everyone’s going to be asking what happened and what we did and who we did it with and if you’ve met anyone and how you are and how I am and it’s just a lot of interrogation to get through when I’ve been on a plane for a couple of hours and still have to unpack, you know?” Leo explained.

“Yeah, I guess I know what you mean.” Max replied. “I just thought you might want some time to yourself to chill out a bit, but if you’re fine talking to me then that’s good.” He said, smiling.

“Yeah. I’m always happy talking to you.” Leo said, smiling back at Max. “You’re one of the few people who never gets on my nerves. So many other people can annoy me so much at times. Like, they can be lovely people in general, but sometimes they can be so annoying it’s awful.”

“I know what you mean.” Max said, chuckling. “I mean, Cassy, she can be really lovely and she’s lent me her car twice and things, but at the same time, she can annoy me to the ends of the Earth and back. It’s really awful that it happens, but it just does. At times, she can really get on my nerves. And the worst part is, I think she knows, but it’s just part of who she is.” He explained.

“I knew she’d be the example you chose. In the few weeks I was there, I definitely noticed that you can get a little impatient with Cassy, and to be honest, I can’t blame you. I feel the same way about her sometimes.” Leo agreed.

“So what are you planning on doing now that you’re back?” Max asked, curious about Leo’s general social life back home.

“Well I’ll probably be hanging out with Jasmine a lot, she’ll probably have a million and one questions about my time here, you and us. I joined a photography club before I came to see you, but I hardly turned up, so as long as they’ll still have me, I might go to that a few more times. It’s a pretty good way to spend some time. I enjoy it and it’s a good skill to have. I could get a job doing wedding photos or something.” Leo told him.

“Sounds like a plan.” Max responded, smiling, glad that Leo had things to do that didn’t involve him.

“What about you? You can’t spend all your time with the group.” Leo asked.

“I don’t. Normally I rehearse with a band. I’m not part of it, but they let me join in their rehearsals to practice playing my guitar.” Max explained.

“Sounds like a pretty sweet deal. You get to practice with them, without having to face the crowds.” Leo said, chuckling.

“Yeah, I guess so. They’ve said that if I feel up to it I could join them at one of their gigs but I haven’t really wanted to. I could probably try it at some point, but I chicken out before I ask which kinda kills my resolve.” Max explained, laughing a little. “I guess that’s just me though. I’ll do it, at some point.”

“Good. It would be good for you to get out there, put yourself in an uncomfortable position, because I think you’d enjoy being on stage and stuff. I think once you get a feel for it, you’d really like it.” Leo said, smiling.

“It’s being brave enough to get up there though.” Max said, sighing.

“What’s stopping you? You’re obviously good enough, otherwise they wouldn’t have invited you. You very rarely make mistakes with most things you do, and from what I heard when I was there with you, playing the guitar is no exception. You didn’t even have the sheet music when you played that song to me.” Leo said, shrugging. “I don’t see what the issue is.”

“I don’t know. I just need to be brave I guess…” Max said, shrugging. “You know me. I just get awkward and things.”

“You should stop worrying so much.” Leo said. “I know it’s not easy, but if you manage to relax a little, everything will go so much smoother.”

“Unfortunately I don’t have an off switch.” Max chuckled. “But I do need to work on that a little bit.” He agreed.

“Indeed you do.” Leo nodded, smiling. “Anyway, it’s getting late. We should probably get some sleep. I’ll call you in the morning, before school.” He promised.

“Okay, goodnight, sleep well.” Max said, hovering over the end call button.

“You too.” Leo added as the video closed and Max sighed. He shut down his computer, got changed, and climbed into bed, emotions rushing around. Mainly, he felt lonely. He hadn’t slept without Leo in a while. He also felt scared, worried that the nightmares would come back, but in another way, he knew if they didn’t he could cope on his own, and that would be a big confidence boost. He had no idea if they would or not though, and that scared him. He didn’t want to be dependent on Leo, but he felt like he was at this point, to keep him from going insane. Would another 6 months be within his capabilities?

He slowly, gradually, fell asleep. That night he moved around a lot in his sleep. His dreams were noisy, they were loud and garish, but they weren’t nightmares, they were just overbearing. Bright colours and loud noises, at one point the noise in his dream shocked him into waking up. At that point it was 4am, and he knew he’d be up not long after, so he went to get a glass of water, thinking of just staying awake, almost certain it would be easier. He felt refreshed enough to manage it, so he turned his alarm off and walked into the living room, turning on the TV but turning the volume down.

After a couple of hours of watching TV, Max’s mum came down the stairs, already dressed for work and she noticed him on the sofa. “How long have you been up?” She asked, looking like she was slightly disappointed.

“Only a couple of hours. I was woken up by a loud noise.” It wasn’t technically untrue, just because the noise was in his head.

“I’m surprised I didn’t hear it… Oh well. I don’t really have time to stop. Have a good day at school. I love you, bye!” She walked towards the door, barely hearing Max’s reply as she did so.

“I love you, too.” He said, barely audible as his phone began ringing.

“Max?” Came the familiar voice on the other end of the phone.

“Cassy? Why are you calling me?” Max asked, confused.

“I just wanted to know if you wanted a ride to school. I’m picking Ash up I figured I may as well get you on the way as well.” Cassy replied.

“Oh, yeah sure. That’d be awesome, thanks.” Max said, smiling a little.

“Okay. Why the confusion? Expecting someone else?” Cassy asked, suggestively.

“Actually I am.” Max responded. “Leo said he’d call me this morning.”

“Oh, I’ll let you go then. See you soon!” Click. Cassy hung up the phone.

Max got dressed and ready for school before his phone rang again. This time it was Leo.

“Max?” Leo asked, from the other end of the phone.

“Leo.” Max breathed, smiling.

“How did you sleep?” Leo asked, remembering how the nightmares had plagued Max before he arrived.

“No nightmares, but really vivid dreams. I woke up early but felt well-rested. How about you?” Max told him, returning the question.

“Oh, I had an okay night.” He lied. The truth was that Leo had barely slept at all, he was too worried about Max, but he knew he could sleep a little easier that night, knowing that Max hadn’t had any nightmares.

“You’re a terrible liar, Leo. You need to sleep just as much as I do. Stop worrying about me so much. I’m a big boy. I can handle my nightmares. They’re just my imagination, after all.” Max told him. “I can face them alone for a while.”

“I guess you’re right. Anyway, I need to get ready for school. Call me after?” Leo asked, hopefully.

“Do you even have to ask?” Max asked, laughing. “I’ll let you go.”

“Max?”

“Yeah Leo?” Max responded.

“I love you.” Leo told him, holding his breath, feeling nervous.

“I love you, too.” Max replied, smiling, despite a stomach full of butterflies. Click. Leo had hung up on that note. He couldn’t say anything else anyway, he was speechless.

A honk from outside told Max that Cassy was there, and he managed to get outside and into the car without being too giddy, but once he got in the car he burst into a fit of schoolgirl-style giggling.

“What’s up with you?” Ash asked.

“Leo told me he loved me.” Max replied, giggling even more.

“Wow! Big step alert!” Cassy exclaimed. “We need to talk all about this, but I need to be able to look at you when we talk about it. Let’s have a big chat about it when we get to school!” She said, smiling.

“Why is it such a big deal? I mean, it was kinda obvious, what makes saying it so special?” Ash asked.

“Because. It takes a lot of courage to put your heart on your sleeve like that. You need to either be brave, or trust someone completely, to be able to give them control of your heart, and that’s what you do when you say those words. You give them complete control, they can either keep it safe, or smash it into tiny pieces. You have to know who you’re giving yourself to.” Max explained, feeling less giddy.

“Yeah. And it’s possibly the most important step in any relationship. The magic 3 words are the milestones for a long and happy relationship, if used in the right way. Most people fling them around like they mean nothing now…” Cassy said, sighing.

“Oh… I guess I see what you mean.” Ash said, shrugging. “I suppose it is kinda a big deal.”

“Anyway, you wanted to discuss this when we got to school. What else shall we talk about in the meantime?” Max asked.

“Okay. Another topic… How about the weather? Or how it felt last night without Leo there? Or what you have been talking about since he left?” Cassy suggested.

“Well, since he left we were discussing our relationship, and how we’re going to go for it, and how we need to get everyone to keep us on track, because if it gets too much for us, we need people to talk to, and that means you and the guys. As for what it felt like last night, it was weird. I felt really lonely, but then I woke up feeling relieved, because I managed to sleep for a full night without him… Kind of.” Max explained.

“What do you mean kind of?” Ash asked, suddenly curious.

“Well I woke up a couple of hours earlier than usual, but it’s no big deal. Just had some really vivid dreams that woke me up.” Max said, shrugging.

“Oh. Weird. Do you have vivid dreams often?” Ash prompted.

“Not really. Just last night, why?” Max asked, curious about why Ash was asking him these questions.

“Just curious I guess. I can’t work out why you’d be having vivid dreams. Normally really vivid dreams manifest when we have some sort of major experience, or when we have some powerful emotions.” Ash said, shrugging.

“He does. He’s in love.” Cassy said, squealing a little as she said it, before driving into the school parking lot, and finding her usual parking space, pulling up and parking the car.

Everyone got out and Cassy locked the car, before the headed over to one of the picnic tables that were dotted around the outside of the school grounds.

“So, about the use of the L word. Tell me everything!” Cassy squealed, sitting opposite Max with her head resting on her hands, propped up by her elbows. Her blonde hair fell around her face and her blue eyes sparkled with excitement and curiosity.

“What do you want to know?” Max asked, shrugging.

“How did he say it? Was it really romantic? Did you say it back? What did you say after wards?” Cassy gushed.

“Well, he just kind of added it onto the end of a phone call. There was a short silence beforehand, which means I think he was working up the brave to tell me. It wasn’t massively romantic. I did say it back, and we didn’t say anything after wards, we ended the call.” Max answered the questions, ticking them off on his fingers as he did so.

“Okay… Well what do you think will be said about it tonight? I mean, you are going to talk about it, right?” Cassy asked.

“I don’t see why.” Max said. “It’s been floating around unsaid for a while. We both knew it was true, but neither of us said it. Now we have. End of. It’s not like it’s worth asking about, because we don’t need to question it, or make it seem less real.”

“I’ve gotta agree with Max here.” Ash said as Cassy looked at him for back up. “We all knew that they loved each other. What’s the point in discussing it further? Love just is. It’s not a big long discussion, it just is there.”

“Exactly.” Max agreed.

“So that’s it? No discussion? Just acceptance?” Cassy asked.

“Yeah. That’s all we need.” Max told her.

“Well… I guess that’s okay.” Cassy said, shrugging.

“People deal with things in different ways.” Max sighed.

“Hi guys!” Came the call of a familiar voice, followed by Ryan sitting next to Max. “What are we talking about?”

“Max’s relationship. They said the L word this morning.” Cassy explained.

“Wow! Big step. Do we know any details?” Ryan asked, smiling.

“It was all very dull. On the phone this morning, added to the end of a conversation, no massive romantic speeches or anything.” Cassy said, shrugging.

“Still. It’s awesome. Good for you guys.” Ryan told Max, patting him on the back. “Anyway, it’s almost time to head in. Want to walk in? It’ll be easier to get to our lockers before the stampede.”

“Sure.” Max agreed, standing up. Ash and Cassy followed suit, standing up with them and heading inside the school to get to their lockers before the flood of students would bar their path.

They each got out everything they needed for their morning lessons before heading to their first class of the day. Cassy and Ryan had math, Max had English and Ash had biology.

During English, Max’s mind wandered, when he wasn’t working, he began thinking about Leo, wondering what he was doing at that point, whether he was thinking about Max as well, and what he was going to say to Jasmine.

The bell rang, and Max hurried to his next lesson, chemistry, knowing that the teacher hated people being late. He rushed in the classroom and sat down at his usual desk, next to Cassy. This was one of four classes they had together. He wondered if she would risk talking to him, or wait until later. Of course, it wasn’t like Cassy to wait for anything.

“So, have you spoke to him today? Other than this morning before school, I mean.” Cassy asked.

“No, I haven’t. Contrary to popular belief, we can function without contacting each other for more than 5 minutes.” Max said, sighing as he copied the notes that the teacher was writing as he spoke. Max knew a lot of this was necessary, as the teacher of this class, Mr Hart, meant business. He wouldn’t teach anything if it wasn’t part of what they needed to learn. He wasn’t one to go on tangents, because he knew how much they needed to learn in one year, and it wasn’t easy to get all of them to understand everything before the end of the year, which meant it wasn’t worth telling anecdotes or teaching unnecessary things. He was still a great teacher, he interacted well, but he just was a bit more business than fun and games.

Cassy kept firing snippets of conversation when she thought Mr Hart either couldn’t hear or wasn’t listening, and Max would reply with small phrases, as he didn’t want to get caught talking. He respected Mr Hart, and he didn’t want the teacher to think otherwise.

“So, do you have any plans for tonight?” Cassy asked.

“Not really. I think I’ll just watch some TV and get an early night tonight. I don’t really feel like doing much. It is Monday, after all.” Max said, shrugging.

“Okay. Maybe we should make plans for this weekend.” Cassy suggested, smiling. “Get together and do something. It’ll be fun.”

“Okay, sure. But I’m going to see if I can get together with the band on Friday evening, so maybe it would be worth making plans for Saturday instead.” Max said, heading off in the direction of math, which he had with Cassy, meaning she was following him as he sped off towards the lesson.

“Are you sure there’s nothing wrong? You seem really distracted.” Cassy commented.

“I’m fine. I just have a lot going on. I’m trying to actually learn something, hopefully, because eventually I will need to find myself a job, so good grades might help with that, hopefully.” Max explained.

“I guess that’s fair enough. We’ll just have to spend some time together after school and on weekends then. I don’t like it when we don’t get to talk during lessons.” Cassy said, sighing.

“We will. Just not when I’m focusing on something. You know what I’m like, I pick things up quickly, so some lessons will be a bit pointless for me to keep listening. When that happens, we can talk more. But until then, I need to pay attention.” Max explained, stepping in the classroom and going to take his seat.

During the lesson, Max jotted down notes, completed equations, answered questions, found different variables and measured distances, areas and lengths. By the end he was thoroughly bored out of his mind. Luckily, it was lunch time, meaning he could have a break from the intense boredom to eat and gain enough sustenance to keep himself going through another 3 hours of it.

During lunch he chatted with Cassy, Ash and Ryan. They talked about what plans they could make that weekend, realising that the main idea for them was to head to the teen bar and spend some time there. The teen bar had basically become their most frequented place, meaning it was becoming their main hangout spot. Luckily, it was a pretty safe place to be. It was in-doors, there was no alcohol or drugs, it was full of people their own age, and they basically had a pretty good knowledge of the place and the people who were usually there. It was a fun place to be for them, which basically meant that they would be there quite a bit.

Max was still thinking about Leo, wondering if he missed the times they had at the teen bar with the group. He wondered if Leo was thinking about the same things he was, and if the two of them thought of it all in the same way. Of course, there was no way of knowing.

As the bell rang, Max headed to his next lesson. This one he had with Ryan. It was physics. After math, physics made more sense, as it was a lot of applied mathematics. Unfortunately, it didn’t make it any less complicated, which meant it was still difficult to get his head around. There were a lot of similar equations to memorise, and that scared him a little. He made a lot of notes, and he and Ryan helped each other out by explaining things. Max could help Ryan with the space stuff, as he knew more about it, whereas Ryan could help him with the forces and motion. When it came to electric circuits, they were both fine in their knowledge of resistance, voltage and current and how they affected each other. Within the one lesson, Max had managed to make 3 pages of notes, which he would later condense into flash cards for quicker revision.

After the lesson Max wandered towards biology, another lesson he had with Cassy. That and gym were the two lessons left that he had with her, and gym was sometimes separate, depending on what they were doing. It was mostly mixed genders, though.

During biology he discussed the work with Cassy, and they worked together and managed to get a load of notes done and were also able to get a decent look at the different cells under the microscope and the different parts of them. They were discussing how the shape of cell components were adapted for their function, or if they could be better. They managed, between them, to make some pretty good observations.

After biology, they made their way to the gym. Ryan and Ash were there, too. They got changed in the gender specific changing rooms before heading out. Of course, none of them actually did anything. For the most part they simply sat on the bleachers. They didn’t care about playing sports. Their teacher, Mrs Shay, didn’t really care if they didn’t participate, as long as they weren’t doing anything troublesome. She didn’t mind if they sat on the bleachers every lesson, as long as they looked like they were participating if another teacher came in, which they understood and did. They didn’t want to get her into trouble for letting them sit and chat.

They chatted about their plans a little more, and whether or not they should go to get something to eat before going to the bar, before moving on to Max’s relationship again. Of course, Max tried to avoid the topic, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to. Everyone was asking if he missed Leo, and why he hadn’t been texting him during the day, considering that they were so far apart and everything. Max explained to them that he didn’t feel that insecure. He didn’t feel the need to text Leo every moment.

The final bell rang, signalling the end of the school day, while they were getting changed from the gym clothes back into their normal clothes, and they all wandered back towards the parking lot. Max went with them as Cassy had offered to drop him off at home on her way to drop Ash off, which led Max to believe that Ash lived near him. He wasn’t sure where Ash lived, but it can’t have been too far away, or it must have been between his and Cassy’s houses.

As Cassy pulled up outside Max’s house, he thanked her before getting out of the car and waving as he walked towards the house. He unlocked the door and stepped inside. Evidently his mum wasn’t back from work just yet. He decided to watch a little TV before calling Leo, as he didn’t want to seem too eager. He watched an episode of one of his favourite shows before pulling out his phone and finding Leo in his contacts, and hitting the button that would lead to the phone call.

“Hey Leo.” Max said, smiling as Leo picked up the phone.

“Oh, hey Max. You stuck to your promise then.” Leo said, chuckling a little.

“Yeah. I always do, don’t I?” Max asked, smiling. “Anyway, how has your day been?”

“As I predicted. Pretty tedious. A lot of questions about you and me and us and my time there and your new friends and what I thought of them and things like that. How about yours?” Leo explained, redirecting the question back to Max.

“My friends obsessing over me, making plans with me this weekend so I’m not alone, trying to make me feel better when I’m already fine.” Max said, sighing.

“I guess we have friends who want to look out for us, even if they don’t need to. It’s sweet in a way, but it can be a bit annoying.” Leo said, laughing a little.

“Yeah. I know what you mean. Like it’s nice of them to think of me, and to want to make me feel better, but they really don’t need to and it gets on my nerves a little.” Max sighed. “I guess they’re just trying to help though, so I can’t really blame them. They’re doing their best to keep me happy, which is nice of them I guess.”

“Yeah. They’re putting us first, which is great of them, because they know about our history, and that we can get pretty touchy when it comes to us and things. I have to admit, though, I managed to forget about a lot of that when I was there with you. It was as if we’d managed to start fresh for a while, and that was amazing.” Leo said.

“Yeah it was. I guess there’s something to be said for a fresh start. If we take away the complexity, leave the past where it belongs, we’ll be able to get much further than if we fixate on the past and keep bringing it up, and we need to make sure our friends know that. Though my friends aren’t really focusing on that. They’re more obsessed with the idea that I can’t function without texting you every 10 seconds, which I find a bit annoying. They must think I’m dependent on you or something.” Max said, laughing a little.

“Maybe they do, but all you can do is correct them, and if you don’t then that’s your own fault.” Leo said, chuckling.

“I did correct them, but they kept insisting that they were surprised that I wasn’t texting you all the time, just because we were inseparable when you were here, but what was I supposed to do? Leave you in the house on your own?” Max asked, laughing. “They don’t think logically sometimes.” He sighed.

“Yeah well, logic doesn’t apply to some things. Emotions don’t always follow logic. Then again, some people just don’t follow logic at all to be fair.” Leo explained.

“I think Cassy is one of those people.” Max laughed.

“I have to agree with you there. Cassy definitely is not a logical person. She’s a little insane if anything.” Leo said, laughing. “But then again, insane can be good sometimes. I think it’s refreshing at times.”

“I guess it is. You never know what to expect with her, which I guess is a good thing, it shakes things up a bit. Some people are really predictable at times, which makes life really boring, I think.” Max thought aloud.

“Yeah. Anyway, I have homework to do. You remember how harsh the teachers are here. I’m going to get on with it. I’ll chat to you later, or in the morning before school.” Leo said.

“Yeah, sure. Talk later.” Max agreed, smiling.

“I love you.” Leo told him, for the second time that day.

“I love you, too.” Max replied, his smile nearly splitting his face in half. He was smiling so wide it was hurting his cheeks.

The phone line went dead and Max put the TV back on, watching a few different things that caught his attention. After a couple of hours he decided to start making something to eat, suddenly realising how hungry he was. He looked in the fridge and the freezer and wondered about what he could make himself. He decided to make himself some pasta, they had some ready-made sauces so it was really easy to prepare. He cooked the pasta, stirred in the sauce, put it on a plate and began eating. He would sort out the pan and things after wards.

Just after he had made himself the pasta, his mum walked through the door, evidently tired from work. “Max? You home?”

“Yeah, mum. I’m just in the kitchen.” He said picking up some more pasta on his fork.

“Oh, you made yourself some pasta. Glad to see you’re eating.” His mum said, smiling.

“Yeah. I haven’t washed the pan yet, but I’ll do that once I’ve eaten. I didn’t want the food to go cold while I was washing up.” Max explained.

“Yeah, that’s fine. I’m just going to make myself a sandwich and sit in the living room. Today was hell at work. Honestly, you wouldn’t believe how much cleaning can be needed in one building. My hands and feet are killing me.” His mum said, walking towards the fridge.

“You should find yourself an office job. Much less labour involved.” Max said, chuckling a little.

“Well, unfortunately, until the day when I, the IT illiterate woman of the year, can get an office job, I need to keep this cleaning job.” His mum retorted, chuckling a little.

“Well… You know what I mean. You need to find a job where you’re not doing as much. If it’s becoming a hassle then start looking for something else.” Max said.

“Max. I work 2 jobs. How am I supposed to have the time to look for another one? I have my nanny duties during the morning and afternoon, then I go cleaning straight after wards, I do want some time to myself as well. 12 hours a day I spend working, you can’t expect me to spend another hour a day looking for jobs, can you?” His mum asked.

“I guess not… I just thought you might be better off with something a little more low-maintenance is all.” Max said, shrugging. “I was just trying to offer an alternative.”

“I know, you’re just trying to help. But honestly. I’ll be fine. I always am.” His mum said, smiling.

“I don’t even see why you work 2 jobs. One is enough to pay the bills.” Max said, sighing.

“I have my reasons.” His mum replied, thinking about him. She knew if she could keep both jobs going for long enough, she could end up with a rather large pension, as well as a large amount in a savings account she had set up to transfer to Max when she passed away. She didn’t want to leave him with nothing. She had life insurance, health insurance and every other type of insurance you could think of. She was paid well for her jobs, because she had a lot of experience and she worked efficiently and did her job to the best of her ability, and her employers respected that. And neither one of them knew about the other job.

During their discussion, Max’s mum had made her sandwich and so she headed into the living room, switching on the TV once she was inside. Max sighed. He knew his mum was burning herself out, and he had an inkling she was doing it for him. He didn’t want her to cause herself injury with the way she was working, and it was obviously becoming too much for her. She wasn’t getting any younger, and 12 hours of work was enough to make anyone tired, but doing that every day, in her mid-40’s, was a bit of a harsh routine. Of course, it was her choice. She didn’t have to work 12 hours a day. Max knew that. She had a hefty pension already, and the bills could be paid with her nanny job alone, she didn’t need to work the extra 3 hours as a cleaner. She really did her best for him, and he appreciated it, but he also thought she was stupid for doing it. She was going to make herself unable to work if she kept going at the same pace. He didn’t want to see that happen.

After eating, Max headed upstairs to his room. He got into bed but decided to watch a movie before going to sleep. He decided to watch something he rarely watched, something he didn’t really associate with Leo, just to make things a little bit easier. If everything kept reminding him of Leo’s absence it would make things slightly more difficult. He needed to be reminded of his independence, and that he didn’t need Leo to be happy. At least, he didn’t need Leo to be physically there. He just wanted to last the next 6 months without breaking down, or crying, or getting depressed. He knew it was probably impossible, but he needed to try. He needed to do his best. He needed to be able to last on his own for 6 months. But he wasn’t on his own, not really. He would have Cassy, Ryan, Jack and Ash.

During the movie, Max got a text, it was from Jack, asking if he wanted to come over one evening during the week. Max decided to call back, as he wanted to ask why the offer was there in the first place, but beyond that, he wanted to discuss it in depth.

“Max? Why the call back?” Jack asked.

“Why did you ask if I wanted to come over your place?” Max asked.

“I just thought you might want to hang out, that’s all. I heard that you told everyone you don’t plan on going out anywhere until the weekend, and I thought if you’re not busy one night, and get a bit bored, you could come over. We could have pizza or something.” Jack explained. “I just thought you might want to talk to someone who isn’t going to bug you about recent events. I heard Cassy has been a little insistent.”

“Oh… Thanks… I’ll think about it.” Max said, smiling. Jack understood things a little better than some of the others, evidently.

“You’re welcome. Well, let me know at least an hour in advance, will you? Give me time to get things sorted and then I’ll come and pick you up.” Jack said. “I’d rather pick you up than make you walk all the way here, with it being on the outskirts and everything.”

“Yeah, okay. I’ll let you know early on.” Max promised. “Anyway, I’m in the middle of watching a movie. I’ll chat to you another time, probably when I’m at yours.” He laughed a little.

“Yeah, okay. Night.” Jack said.

“Good night.” Max replied, hanging up the phone and hitting play on the remote, causing the movie to continue again.

After to movie, Max turned off the TV, leaving his room in darkness as he rolled over to face the wall, closing his eyes in order to allow himself to drift to sleep. Unfortunately, his mind was still hyped up from the day’s events. Thoughts whirled around in his head over and over until, eventually, the grogginess of fatigue caused them to stop making sense, and Max fell asleep.

He dreamed that night. He didn’t have any nightmares, and his dreams weren’t as vivid as the previous night, but he did dream. He had awkwardly realistic dreams about his friends. There was laughter and joking, and Max on the side-lines, watching them have fun while he was sat, just out of earshot all the time. All he could hear was them laughing, and he kept seeing them glance his way, but not bother to say anything to him. He wasn’t sure what to think of this set of dreams. Where they just a production of his imagination? Was he paranoid? Or was it more to do with what things could be like when he moved away? Would he lose contact with them all? Would they stop talking to him?

Of course, he only thought these things during the awkward and fearful time of night. Once the sun rose and his eyes opened, Max realised that it was all stupid. His friends would never do that to him. He trusted them. And they were all still making an effort, despite knowing he was leaving in 6 months. Of course they wouldn’t abandon him when he moved away. And of course they wouldn’t exclude him from their fun. At least not purposefully.

He received a text from Cassy that morning, asking if he wanted her to pick him up again, to which he gratefully replied with a yes.

Leo called him again, and they chatted for a while, before Leo had to get ready for school and Cassy arrived to pick Max up.

He happily hopped in the back seat and started chatting to Cassy and Ash. At one point he asked where Ash lived, to wish Ash answered that he lived a few streets away from Max, which is why Cassy always offered to pick Max up when she was picking Ash up. It made sense to car pool. Less fuel was a big plus, as they were both complaining about the prices of fuel going up, so they were sharing the price and just using the one car. They explained that, once they had finished one tank of fuel in Cassy’s car, they would swap to Ash’s car. It was a rather elegant and equal system.

Once they arrived at school, they all got out of the car and headed towards their usual bench. They sat and talked for a while about school, about Ash’s place, about the car pool system they had in place, and about the group dynamic now that Jack and Ryan were involved, even though Jack didn’t go to school with them. Everything was a little messy, but it was all worked out. They would spend time with Jack on weekends, as the whole group. Max didn’t tell them about Jack inviting him over for an evening during the week. He wanted to keep that to himself. He didn’t really want them all tagging along, as he wanted to spend time with Jack alone, or possibly with Ryan, but not with Cassy and Ash. He knew that Cassy would want to talk about Leo, and bring Jack up to date on the whole situation, and, for the time being, Max didn’t want to talk about Leo. He liked talking to Leo, but he was sick of talking about him.

Max dragged himself through the school day. Expanding his notes slightly, but not by much, as most of the teachers were still covering what they had taught the previous day, as some people didn’t understand it, or needed more information. By the end of the school day, Max had been thoroughly bored for hours. He decided to walk home, as he wanted the fresh air, and wanted to listen to music. He sent Jack a text, asking if he could go over that evening, suggesting a time of around 5pm. Jack replied telling him that was fine, and so Max hurried home to get changed. He knew he didn’t need to put anything special on, but he didn’t want to be chatting and things dressed in the clothes he wore for school, especially when they were really basic. He liked to separate his social clothes from his school clothes. He was a little OCD like that.

He had a shower, blow-dried his hair, and got ready all before 4:30. He wrote a quick note for his mum, telling her where he was and that he’d be back in a few hours as far as he knew, and that he would text her if anything changed.

He sat down for a while, keeping an eye on his phone, and after a while he heard a honk outside. Jack was there. He walked out of the door, locking it behind him, and got in the front seat of Jack’s car. “No Ryan?” Max asked. It was the first time he’d rode shotgun for a while.

“Nah. He’s busy tonight. Apparently he’s joined some sort of club. I think its astronomy or something.” Jack said, shrugging. “I guess I can’t take all his time away from him.” He sighed.

“Sounds like you wish you could.” Max said, chuckling as they began moving.

“Well, you guys get to see him in school, that’s 6 hours every day. I get a couple of hours, and it’s not even every day, or at least I do now. During Christmas vacation I got to see him nearly every day, for hours and hours. And now 2 hours every few days? That’s a big change.” Jack explained.

“Yeah, I guess I know what you mean. But you have to understand he has prior commitments. He has forever to be with you, he only has the next year to be in high school.” Max replied.

“Yeah… I guess you’re right. Anyway, this isn’t meant to be about us two. And it’s certainly not meant to be a downer. We’re supposed to be having fun, and talking about things other than relationships. I can’t keep up the positivity if you keep the Ryan conversation going. Let’s talk about something else.” Jack suggested.

“Like what?” Max asked.

“Well… What do you want to do tonight? Do you want to just chat? We could watch a movie, or play some video games, are you wanting to stay over or just for a couple of hours?” Jack prompted.

“I guess we could watch a movie, and that’s up to you, but I have school in the morning, so unless you can take me back home first thing to get my stuff, or tonight to get my stuff, then I’ll have to be back home tonight.” Max replied.

“Well, if you don’t stay, I’ll be dropping you off at home tonight anyway, so if you want to stay over I can take you back home and you can pick up your stuff, I’ll bring you back and drive you to school in the morning.” Jack said, planning every possible course of action. “I just thought you might want a fun night. We won’t stay up too late, I promise.” He added, winking.

“Okay, I guess I could stay over…” Max said, smiling.

“Awesome. We’ll order pizza and watch movies.” Jack said, chuckling.

“You have everything planned already don’t you?” Max asked, laughing.

“Not really. I’ve yet to choose the movies. I kinda need your help with that, though.” Jack replied, laughing as well.

They pulled up outside of Jack’s place and got out of the car. They headed inside and into the living room. Max sat down while Jack grabbed the phone, ready to phone the pizza place.

“What topping do you want?” He asked Max.

“Pepperoni would be awesome.” Max replied, smiling.

“Pepperoni it is.” Jack said, dialling the number.

After a few minutes, Jack sat down next to Max. “Pizza’s ordered. Now we need to pick a movie. I have hundreds to choose from.” He said, smiling. “My collection is over in that cupboard. Go and have a look through while I sort out some drinks.”

“Okay, fair enough.” Max agreed, walking over to the cupboard. He opened the door and his eyes widened. Jack wasn’t lying. There were movies on shelves from floor to ceiling. Hundreds of DVDs on three walls. It was a walk-in movie collection. The only collection he’d seen bigger than this one was Leo’s collection, and that was just because of the immense movie nights they had.

Max walked inside and began searching. He looked around and managed, after much deliberating, to pick out two movies. He didn’t want to pick too many, as he didn’t want to be getting to sleep too late, and he didn’t know if Jack had any specific movies he wanted to watch. He place the two movies near the TV, not wanting to touch the DVD player as he was unfamiliar with it, and he didn’t have a good track record with unfamiliar technology. He found it very easy to press the wrong button in any given situation.

He sat back down as Jack walked in with the drinks, setting them down on the table he went and looked at the movies Max had picked out. “Wow… Good taste.” Jack said, smiling. “We’ll wait until the Pizza gets here before starting the first one. It shouldn’t be too long. It just saves interrupting it to answer the door and everything.” He explained.

“Yeah that’s fair enough.” Max agreed, nodding. He felt a little awkward, being alone with Jack, despite having known him for a while, he’d never really been alone with him, and he was only just realising that at that moment. He wondered what that night would be like.

“I’ve just realised. We’ve never really been alone together, have we?” Jack asked, laughing a little. “There’s always been someone with us, mainly Ryan…” He pointed out. “Well, this should be interesting then.” He chuckled. “Get to know each other a little better, huh?”

“Yeah… I guess so.” Max agreed.

“I’m assuming you’re feeling a bit awkward…” Jack noted. “Well that’s fine. I’m sure once we get chatting, or when we get the movies going, we’ll both feel a bit more relaxed.” He said, smiling. Max simply smiled back, or tried to. “God, Max. Relax a little. I’m not holding you here against your will. You can go home if you want to. I just figured you might want to spend some time with me, chatting and having a laugh. I don’t want you to feel all awkward just because it’s only us two. I promise I won’t try anything.” He laughed.

Max sighed. “I know. It’s just… Believe it or not, I can be a bit awkward… socially. I mean, not all the time, mainly just one-on-one situations. I really don’t feel comfortable when I’m one-on-one with people for the first time is all… I guess it’s just a part of being me. I’ll be fine after half an hour or so, probably.” He explained.

“Oh. Okay… Well I’ll look out for you loosening up then.” Jack said, laughing a little. His eyes sparkled with laughter as he relaxed, realising that Max was that awkward around most people, and that it wasn’t just him. For a little while he was worried that Max didn’t trust him or something.

After a short time of Max and Jack chatting to each other, the pizza arrived, Jack went to the door and paid for it, refusing to receive any payment from Max, explaining that he offered, which meant he was willing to pay, and then, after the brief discussion, the first movie began.

It wasn’t long into the movie when Max began to relax, the movie was a comedy, which caused the boys to laugh and point things out to each other, repeating lines and laughing even further. Max laughed so much that his sides were beginning to hurt. He had never laughed so much with anyone other than Leo. Of course, it was a movie, whereas Leo could make him laugh on his own.

At the end of the first movie, Jack went to swap the discs over, while telling Max that he would sort out a bed for him after the second movie. The sofa was actually a sofa bed, and Jack had some spare sheets and things to put on it for guests, which he could sort out for Max after the movie.

The second movie was a little more serious, as Max knew that laughing so much before he tried to sleep would keep him awake for longer than he would like. He needed to make sure that he was tired enough to sleep before he actually attempted to go to sleep, otherwise he would just be awake and bored, and that wasn’t a good mix for him.

After watching the movie, Jack pulled out the sofa, to create the sofa bed, and went to get the sheets. He then made the bed and remembered that Max wanted to go home for some stuff. By that point it was 10pm, and Jack wasn’t sure if Max still wanted to go that night, he mentioned it and Max figured it would be better to go then. He’d only be in the house for a few minutes and he could go back after wards and go straight to bed.

Jack agreed and headed downstairs, grabbing his keys on the way. “Come on then.”

“Okay.” Max nodded, following him out of the door and into the car. They drove quickly, and were at Max’s house much quicker than they should have been. Max was almost certain that Jack had broken a few speed limits. He shrugged it off. He was probably ready to go to bed, and Max needing to go home was probably an inconvenience for him, Max could understand that. He went inside, being careful to be quiet. He had sent his mum a text earlier, letting her know what was happening, and she was in bed at that point, she needed to get some sleep for her jobs in the morning. She needed a good amount of sleep otherwise she wouldn’t be able to manage without collapsing.

Max went up to his room, grabbed a set of school clothes and stuffed them in his bag with the few books that weren’t already in his locker, before going downstairs and back out the door, and getting back in the car with Jack. He put his seatbelt on and nodded at Jack when he asked if Max had everything.

Jack pulled away from Max’s house and drove back to his own, this time sticking to the speed limits, meaning it took them a little longer than on the way there. They didn’t say much though, they were both pretty tired. Max especially. Of course, it was his own fault for waking up at the same time as his mum every morning. He only did it to make sure she was okay every morning. He worried about her. Of course, he couldn’t always be there to look out for her, so staying out tonight was good practice for when he moved out. He didn’t really want to spend that much time thinking about that, though. He just wanted to be able to stay out for one night at a friend’s house. He rarely ever did, but he felt that he would be able to manage that now, especially with the way his mum was coming in from work some days, all tired out, looking like she could collapse from exhaustion at any moment, especially when she was supposed to be getting enough sleep as well. He couldn’t understand it. He had no idea why it would be that bad.

They got back to Jack’s, and Max put his bag in a corner while he got ready to go to bed. Jack retreated to his room, obviously tired himself. Max had no idea what Jack’s timetable looked like, but he figured he must have been up early that morning, or had a really rough night the previous night.

Max climbed into the makeshift bed, sent a good night text to Leo and, slowly, fell asleep. He didn’t dream at all that night, or at least not that he could remember, but he woke up early, around 5am, as he usually did when he slept at people’s houses for the first time. It was worse when he was young. When he was a kid and he slept somewhere for the first time, whether it was a friend’s house or that he had moved house, he always ended up with a nose bleed for some unknown reason. People pinned it down to stress, but Max could never pinpoint the reason behind them.

After waking up he wasn’t sure what to do. Jack was still asleep, and he didn’t really want to do anything that might make things awkward. He decided to get changed into his school clothes, packing his social clothes into his bag, and then get a drink of water. He always needed a drink when he woke up. He decided against making breakfast, unsure if that might be a little awkward, especially considering he didn’t know his way around Jack’s kitchen. It took his 5 minutes to find a glass for his water.

“You’re up early.” Jack commented, stood in the doorway of the kitchen. He was wearing a bath robe, evidently he had assumed that Max would still be asleep.

Max nodded. “I tend to wake up early the first time I stay overnight at someone’s house. I think it’s kinda like a nervous thing. Some people have nervous bladders or nervous ticks, I have a nervous sleep cycle.” He laughed a little.

“Well, that’s fair enough. What time do you want dropping at school?” Jack asked.

“Oh… Umm… About 7 would be perfect.” Max said.

“Fair enough. What do you want for breakfast?” Jack asked, looking through the fridge.

“Ummm… Toast.” Max said, though he made it sound more like a question.

“Fair enough. Toast I can do.” Jack said, grabbing the bread and pulling out a few slices, putting them in the toaster and pushing the button down. “Sit down, I’ll sort everything out.” Jack offered.

“Aren’t you going to get dressed?” Max asked.

“Why? Am I making you uncomfortable?” Jack asked, winking at Max, a devilish grin on his face.

Max chuckled a little. “Nah. You don’t do anything for me in that respect, sorry. But I just thought you might be a bit cold.”

“I’m used to it.” Jack answered simply, not caring to elaborate. Max left it, thinking that if Jack wanted to discuss it, he would, and Max would have to press him for answers to his questions. He didn’t want to pry, mainly because Jack didn’t force information out of him the night before. He wanted to return the favour, if it was possible. He didn’t want Jack to think that Max wouldn’t extend the same courtesy to him.

After a few moments of silence the toast popped up, making them both jump, and then laugh a little awkwardly. Jack asked Max if he wanted butter on his toast, to which Max told him he did, causing Jack to butter the two slices that had come from the toaster, cutting them in half before putting to more in the toaster. He put the two buttered slices on a plate and slid it across to Max, before focusing on his own food. He waited for the toaster to pop up before he buttered those two slices and put them on a plate, moving towards the kitchen table to eat them with Max.

Once they had finished breakfast, Max decided to text Leo, wishing him a good morning, while Jack went to get dressed. Max wasn’t sure Leo would be awake, but he received a reply shortly after wards, replying with a good morning greeting. Max smiled a little, deciding not to call Leo, as the time he spent with Jack was meant to be a time for them to get to know each other, not for him to talk to Leo and ignore Jack.

When Jack came out of the bedroom he was dressed in a pair of dark blue jeans and a grey flannel shirt. He was barefoot at that point, and he walked into the bathroom, which was in one of the passageways in the small apartment. He brushed his teeth and shaved before heading back into his room to get some socks and shoes on.

Max was wearing an old t-shirt and a grey hoodie which he only wore for school, simply because school wasn’t a time to be wearing his best clothes, in his opinion. He wasn’t trying to attract people in school, not that he was on an evening anymore, but the aim on the evenings and weekends were to let people know that he had confidence. He liked to congregate in his group, but still stand out a little by looking his best. For some reason, he just liked getting dressed up to go out and socialise, but staying really casual in school when he didn’t feel like he needed to look his best, he just wanted to blend in. Hide in the crowd. He didn’t want to stand out in school, because standing out resulted in getting noticed, and getting noticed in school often led to being noticed by the wrong people. He had learned that rather quickly. He knew he didn’t want to be noticed, because he really didn’t want to be bullied again.

He was sat on the sofa bed that still hadn’t been put away, Max had offered to do it but Jack ha told him not to, and that he would sort it out after he had taken Max to school. He really didn’t want Max doing anything. Jack liked to be the perfect host, and that meant not letting the guest do anything that the host could do. Which basically made Max feel a little useless.

They spent about an hour just chatting about things, before Jack noted the time and put a pair of canvas shoes on to take Max to school. He grabbed his keys and headed out the door, Max following behind.

They got in the car and Jack drove to the school, dropping Max off at the gates, waving him off before driving back home. Max wondered if Jack had any plans for the day as he walked into the school. He wasn’t even sure if Jack had a job or anything. Max figure that he must do, otherwise how could he afford his apartment? Anyway, it wasn’t really any of Max’s business, so he dropped it as he approached the table that Cassy and Ash were sat at.

“So, who was that?” Cassy asked.

“It was Jack.” Max said. “He invited me to stay at his, to get to know each other a little better, so I did. It was refreshing.” He explained.

“Oh… Fair enough.” Cassy conceded.

“Why? Who did you think it was?” Max asked.

“Cassy has a very vivid imagination.” Ash explained. “She had a million and one theories as to who it could be in the few minutes it took you to walk over here.” He said, shrugging.

“Oh… Well, she needs to stop looking too much into things.” Max said, sitting down. “Am I not allowed to stay at friends’ houses?”

“Yeah but I just know that generally you don’t stay out. You can’t blame for assuming something was different somehow.” Cassy defended.

“I guess you’re right… I just wanted an evening to socialise without talking about Leo all the time. You guys all just assume something is wrong all the time. I wanted some time to just relax.” Max explained.

“Oh… I guess we are a little fixated… I’ll try and relax a bit more, ease off with the Leo talk all the time.” Cassy said, smiling a little.

“I appreciate that.” Max replied, smiling back at her.

“So what did you do at Jack’s?” Ash asked, curious.

“We watched a couple of movies. Ordered a pizza. Had a bit of a laugh. It was fun. Ryan was busy with an astronomy group, so I think Jack felt a little lonely. I don’t think he has many friends.” Max explained.

“Oh… I guess that must be difficult for him. I wonder what he does during the day when we’re at school.” Cassy mused.

“I assume he has a job. I mean, he’s got to afford his apartment somehow.” Max said, shrugging.

“I guess so. I’ve just never heard him talk about it. It seems a little odd that he’d have a day job but never mention it. And if he did, how did he get all the time off to hang out with us during the day when we were on Christmas vacation?” Cassy asked.

“Well he might not want to talk about his work. And he might get Christmas vacation as well. You never know.” Max replied. “He has to be self-sustaining otherwise he wouldn’t have the problem of not being able to afford going to see his family over Christmas.”

“I guess you have a point. Anyway, where’s Ryan? He’s normally here by now.” Cassy said, changing the subject.

“I don’t know. Maybe he’s held up in traffic or something.” Max suggested.

“He walks to school. He only lives a few minutes away.” Ash replied, shrugging. “Chances are he woke up late or something.”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like him…” Cassy said, wondering what could be the problem.

None of them saw Ryan all day, but Max received a text from Jack at lunch time, letting him know that Ryan had fallen ill the night before, and he wasn’t at school because of it. He had food poisoning and didn’t feel well enough to go in. Max managed to relax a little when he heard that. He felt bad for Ryan, but at least he knew what was wrong, and that he wasn’t in trouble or anything. Max had been formulating unlikely scenarios involving Ryan’s kidnapping during the morning, and only now managed to relax a little and get on with his school work, which seemed much easier when he wasn’t preoccupied with his friend’s disappearance.

During gym class, Max explained the situation to Ash and Cassy, telling them that Jack sent him a text and the end of lunch time, which he didn’t receive until he was in his next lesson, and at that point he was too busy working on things to tell them. Cassy and Ash berated him for not telling them sooner, before they got to chatting about things normally. Without Ryan there, though, it felt a little weird. He was very rarely absent from school, so they were just used to him being there.

As they left, Ash offered to drop Max at home, considering he didn’t live that far away. He explained that Cassy’s tank of gas had finished when they went to the movies the previous night. That meant they were using his car for now. Max agreed and climbed into the back of Ash’s car. He smiled as he did so, as he was much more impressed by Ash’s car than he was Cassy’s. Ash’s car was a black convertible with a red leather interior. This led Max to fall in love with the car.

Ash dropped Cassy at home first, as she lived the furthest away from his house. He then dropped Max off, wishing him a good evening as Max got out of the car. Max unlocked the door and headed inside. He found a note from his mum, telling him there was food in the fridge for him for the evening, and that she would be home around 8. Max sighed and walked into the living room, dropping onto the sofa and putting the TV on. He mindlessly flicked through the channels for a while until he found a channel playing a comedy movie that grabbed his attention. He watched it for a while before going into the kitchen to get some food.

Max managed to prepare the food without any hassle. It was meal his mum had prepared the night before, he just put it in the microwave for a couple of minutes to heat it up before eating it. He wondered what his mum would be like when she got home that night. Hopefully she would be better than the previous night. He didn’t want to see her as bad as that again. He wanted her to relax a little more, but he knew she never would. He wasn’t an idiot. He knew exactly why his mum was doing it, and he knew that he wouldn’t be able to stop her, no matter what he said or did. She would constantly be sacrificing herself to look out for him, especially considering the fact that it was her that wanted to move away from their home. She felt guilty, Max could see it in her eyes every time she looked at him. It was obvious. She would never be able to shake the guilt that came with dragging him away from everyone he knew and loved. But Max didn’t want her to feel like that. He had forgiven her, but she needed to forgive herself, and he knew that, but he also knew he wouldn’t be able to convince her that it was fine. He had no idea how to help her, and that scared him.

Around 8 o’clock, as she predicted, Max’s mum came through the front door. Max was watching TV when he heard the door go. He heard her walk in, she seemed in slightly better spirits than the previous night. She must have had a better day.

“How was work?” Max asked.

“Better than usual. They didn’t ask me to do too much today. How was school?” His mum responded, returning a similar question.

“Same as usual. Except Ryan wasn’t there. Apparently he got food poisoning last night so he’s been really ill.” Max said, shrugging.

“Oh. I hope he’s okay. Food poisoning is horrible.” His mum replied, a worried look crossing her face.

“I don’t know the details. Jack sent me a text during lunch just telling me that he had food poisoning. I didn’t ask any more. I just hope he gets better soon.” Max explained.

“Fair enough.” His mum replied, heading into the kitchen to make herself something to eat before she relaxed for the evening.

Max headed upstairs once the short conversation had ended. He called Leo and spoke to him for a little while, discussing school, and Ryan’s absence, as well as what happened the night before, discussing how he wasn’t sure that Jack had any friends other than the group, and then discussing the possibility of Jack having a day job and whether or not it was the prevailing opinion.

After he had chatted to Leo for a while he decided to watch an episode of one of his box sets of TV shows before going to sleep. He needed to be well rested for the morning, he had a feeling he would be working hard in school the next day.

He awoke with the sun on his face. He had forgotten to close his curtains the night before. He had a shower and got dressed before heading downstairs. He received a text from Ash, asking if he wanted picking up, which he gratefully accepted, as usual. He had breakfast, brushed his teeth, styled his hair a little, not as much as he did when going out, but enough that he looked okay and didn’t have bed hair. He then watched a little TV, sent Leo a good morning text and received a reply, before hearing the familiar honk outside the door. Evidently, his mum had gone to work early that morning for some reason.

Max went outside, locked the door behind him, and got in the back seat of the car, leaving the front for Cassy, who would be picked up after wards, and before they went to school. Ash was confused by this, as he figured that when it came to riding shotgun everyone was selfish, but evidently Max didn’t mind being in the back. Ash drove to Cassy’s and honked the horn, waiting for her to come out and get in the car before driving to school. The trio chatted a little before they arrived at the school parking lot and Ash parked the car. They all got out and walked towards their usual bench. They sat down and talked some more, wondering if Ryan would be in school that day or if he would be taking another day off. After a short while their questions were answered when Ryan walked towards them, looking a little pale but not too bad. He was obviously over the worst of it.

The trio greeted Ryan, smiling at him as he smiled back. He didn’t look massively well, but he definitely looked better than he would have done the day before. Max smiled, glad to see that he was okay. He received a text from Jack shortly after Ryan arrived, though, asking him to keep an eye on the ill boy. Max couldn’t keep an eye on him all day, as he wasn’t in all his classes, but agreed to watch out for him when he could, and to subtly ask Cassy and Ash to do the same. Jack was evidently worried that Ryan hadn’t given himself enough time to recover.

Max wondered whether Ryan was in school by choice, or whether his parents had made him come back, despite his illness. It didn’t seem like Ryan to be in school if he was ill, as Ryan wasn’t stupid, he would know if he needed a bit more recovery time, but Max had never met his parents, and wondered if they were a little forceful. He knew they were scientists, from the way Ryan spoke about them, chances are they valued his education very highly, possibly too highly. Max couldn’t make any of these assumptions, though, as he’d never met them. But from the way Ryan spoke about them sometimes, he wasn’t really sure he wanted to.

The trio went inside to their lockers before the rest of the school did, in order to get their stuff before the stampede wreaked havoc. As the bell went they all went to their classes, and began the day. Max subtly texted Ash and Cassy, asking them to look out for Ryan throughout the day, as he wasn’t sure if he’d given himself enough recovery time, to which the couple agreed. They couldn’t let their friend make himself worse by coming into school.

At lunch time, Ryan looked a little worse, queasier. He didn’t eat, and that worried Max a little. If he had recovered enough, he wouldn’t be avoiding food. Ryan lasted the entire day with a bottle of water. Max admired his perseverance, but couldn’t get past the fact that Ryan still needed time to heal. It was a little reckless of either him or his parents, depending on whose idea it was that he come into school that day.

During the afternoon lessons, Max was very worried. He couldn’t get past the problem of Ryan’s health. He wanted to send him home, but he knew only teachers could do that. He arrived at gym and noticed Ryan was an off grey colour, and Max’s worry shot through the roof. He couldn’t keep it back any longer. He walked over to him, asked if he was okay, and told him he should take the next day off, explaining that he obviously hadn’t given himself enough time to recover. Ryan finally told Max that it was his parents who told him to go back to school. He hadn’t felt too bad that morning, and they wanted him to at least attempt it. He didn’t want to let them down, which was the issue. Max couldn’t help but sigh at this. Ryan wanted his parents to be proud of him, obviously, even at the risk of his own health. That wasn’t a very good attitude to have. He had a feeling that if Ryan spoke to his parents, they might be a little more understanding. He wouldn’t be surprised if Ryan wasn’t at school the next day. He hoped that he wasn’t, as he wanted Ryan to recover, and he could only do that if he stayed at home and got some bed rest.

During gym the group sat on the bleachers, Ryan looking like a zombie, the rest of them fretting over him like parents over a small child. They all agreed that he should stay off the next day, as he was obviously still rather ill. They all said that, if they had to, they would talk to his parents and try and convince them to give Ryan the day off, in order to recover, as it was important that he did before coming back to school. They couldn’t just let him suffer.

Ash gave Ryan a ride home that day, not allowing him to walk as it seemed a bit harsh considering how ill he was. He wasn’t bothered about the possibility of Ryan throwing up in his car, which was a risk he was willing to take.

After dropping Ryan off, luckily without Ryan throwing up, Ash drove to Cassy’s to take her home. They were all worried about Ryan, but there wasn’t much they could do. After dropping Cassy off, Ash drove to Max’s leaving him at home. Max unlocked the door and stepped in, noticing that Ash didn’t bother to wait and had already pulled away by the time he got the door open. Evidently he was in a rush as normally he waited to see that his friends got in the door okay.

Max walked inside and headed into the living room, sitting down and watching TV. He flicked through the channels as usual, nothing really jumping out, so he settled on a generic comedy show. He wasn’t really paying much attention as he was too busy texting his friends, discussing Ryan’s predicament and how, or if, they could help at all. Max couldn’t think of any way to help short of going to his house and telling his parents all about how Ryan had been throughout the day. Perhaps it would give them a bit of a shock and would lead to them letting him stay home the next day to recover. However it seemed a bit much, 3 teenagers telling off their friends parents seemed like it wouldn’t work very well. Chances are they wouldn’t pay much attention to them.

Unfortunately that meant there wasn’t much any of them could do for Ryan. They just had to hope that his parents noticed what he was like when they dropped him off at home. Their cars were in the driveway, which meant they were probably at home, unless they had walked somewhere.

Max decided to get something to eat around 6 o’clock, going into the kitchen and preparing himself a bowl of soup and some bread. He was in the middle of eating when his mum walked through the door. She was back earlier than usual, and Max noted that. Evidently her second job had given her an early finish that day. Chances are her boss could see that she was tired and wanted to give her a bit of a break.

She walked in the kitchen and smiled at Max. “How was school?” She asked.

“School was the same as usual. Ryan was back today though, but he was still really ill. Ash gave him a ride home. Apparently he was feeling better that morning so his parents wanted him to go into school, and he didn’t want to let them down so he stayed for the full day, even though he looked and felt terrible.” Max explained. “I was thinking of talking to them, but I don’t think they’d take much notice of me, to be honest.” He sighed.

“Well, we just have to hope that they see how he feels this evening, and give him an extra day off tomorrow to recover, if he needs it. Sometimes these things seem a lot worse before a miraculous recovery. Illness can be weird like that.” His mum replied, shrugging. “Anyway, we just have to hope that he feels better soon. I’m sure he’ll be fine. It was only food poisoning, after all. It’s not like he’s dying.” She added.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. We’ll have to see what happens tomorrow I guess.” Max said, shrugging as he finished his soup while his mum prepared something for her to eat.

“Anyway, I’m gonna watch some TV in the living room and relax for the evening. I got an early finish today so I’m going to make use of it. I’ll probably have an early night tonight so try and keep the noise down, won’t you?” Max’s mum told him.

“Yeah, sure. I’m gonna head upstairs and watch a movie or something before going to bed. Also, tomorrow I’m going to be spending some time with the band on the evening. I hope you don’t mind. I just feel like I could do with some more practice, and I feel like I’ve been ignoring them all Christmas.” Max explained.

“Yeah, that’s fine. Any plans for the rest of the weekend?” His mum asked.

“Yeah. On Saturday me and the group are going to the teen bar again, we’ll be getting something to eat beforehand. I’ll probably be back a little late, so I’ll try and be quiet.” Max told her.

“That’s fair enough.” His mum replied, shrugging. “See you in the morning.”

“Yeah…” Max responded as he walked up the stairs, ready to watch his movie.

He climbed into bed and watched the movie, falling asleep not long after it finished. He dreamed again, but again it was dull and he barely remembered it when he woke up. He had remembered to close his curtains that night, though, so he woke up and it was a little darker than the previous morning, which disoriented him for a second.

He got up and went to have a shower and get dressed before heading downstairs for breakfast. His mum did her usual routine, rushing out the door while Max leisurely ate. He wished her a good day before heading upstairs to brush his teeth and style his hair a little. He replied to Ash’s text, gratefully accepting the offer of a ride to school as usual, and watched a little TV before hearing the familiar honk from outside.

Max grabbed his guitar and walked outside, locking the door behind him. He got in the back seat of the car again, despite Cassy not being there, to give himself room to put his guitar down, and Ash drove to Cassy’s house. They chatted a little on the way, and then Cassy got in the car and the conversation turned to Ryan again. They agreed that they all hoped that he wouldn’t be in school that day, but they wouldn’t know until later on.

They arrived at school and got out of the car, walking towards their usual bench. They chatted a little, normally, but the air was rife with unspoken worry about Ryan and what was going to happen that day. He didn’t turn up that morning though, so they figured he had managed to get the day off to recover, which was good.

Max managed to get through the day while only half paying attention, as the teachers were again covering the topics of the day before, meaning he didn’t really have to pay much attention as he already knew what they were talking about. He couldn’t help but let his mind wander to Ryan, and whether or not he was okay. Normally he would be thinking about Leo, but today his worry clouded his mind.

During lunch, the trio chatted again, but again they were all worried, despite knowing that Ryan had took the day off to recover, they were still worried about him. They couldn’t help caring for him, they all cared for each other, they were like a family, and that made their friendships special.

A couple of hours later and they were in gym. They decided to get involved to keep themselves occupied and stop themselves from thinking too much about Ryan and his illness. They wanted to stop worrying for a while, and focusing on something else helped with that a little bit.

After gym, Max turned down a ride home, as he was meeting with the band in one of the classrooms. They practiced at school during term time, but they met up elsewhere in their time off, and often the meeting place changed from the houses of the band members to spaces that were lent out by other bands or people who knew them or both.

Max walked through the empty school, which creeped him out a little, to one of the music rooms. He opened the door and stepped inside, seeing the four band members sat around with their instruments. He took his guitar out of its case and sat down with them. He definitely need some practice. He made sure it was tuned before they began and grabbed a copy of the sheet music from a nearby table, placing it so he could see it and turn it over when needed.

He sat with his guitar rested on one leg, and strummed a chord. He noted that the sound was fine, and waited for the rest of the band to decide when they wanted to start. They were all prepared and they began the first song on the band’s set. They played, with Max going along, despite not being part of the band. The lead singer, Jacob, thought that Max’s acoustic guitar helped their sound, which was why he kept offering Max a place on their gigs, as it would help them a little to have his guitar there with them. He hoped that one day, Max would accept, as it might lead to him becoming part of the band. The acoustic mixed with their own instruments in a way that made no sense, but created an interesting sound that intrigued and enticed him.

Max was playing like his life depended on it, he was focusing incredibly hard, trying to keep himself busy, so he couldn’t focus on Ryan or Leo, and he could lose himself in the music. He closed his eyes, playing by ear rather than focusing on the sheet music, and it worked. He didn’t need to read the music to know what it said, however, as he had played the same song lots of times previously during the rehearsals with the band, and he had an excellent memory when it came to music.

They finished the song and Max opened his eyes to see the members of the band looking at him in awe. They all found that song very complicated, and half the time they took the sheet music on stage so they couldn’t get caught up in the problematic situation of not being able to remember the music. Of course, Jacob only had to remember the lyrics, and that he could do quite easily, but the other three had a difficult time remembering everything.

Max just looked back at them and shrugged. He couldn’t explain why his memory for sheet music was so good, he just knew that it was, and it helped him out when practicing or playing his guitar for enjoyment, it meant he didn’t have to sit with a piece of paper in front of him all the time. After playing things through a few times, they tended to stick in his head and he was fine. He just needed to get some practice in beforehand.

They moved on to the next few songs, the band becoming less surprised at Max’s focus, aware that something was different but not bothering to mention it. They weren’t his friend group, they weren’t there to talk to him, they were there to make music, nothing else.

Max sat and played like he had never played before, he was making sure that there was no room in his mind for thoughts of Leo or Ryan, he was enjoying the music, while focusing on chords and notes, while listening to the rest of the band to make sure he was playing the right section, and that he was in time with them. There was a lot of focus involved, and he didn’t want to slip up, even though he didn’t really need to, as he wasn’t part of the band.

After a couple of hours of practicing, Jacob walked up to Max as he was packing away his guitar. “Are you sure I can’t tempt you to come to our next gig?” Jacob asked.

“Actually, this once, I think I might actually come with you.” Max said, smiling.

“Really? What changed your mind?” Jacob asked him, suddenly curious.

“I got some really good advice from an old friend.” Max said, not wanting to get into Leo talk with Jacob as well. He kept his music and his personal life separate where possible.

“Well, I guess that must be a good friend then. Here’s the details.” Jacob said, handing Max a small stack of papers detailing a venue, times and a set list, as well as other bands playing and other things like that. It was a local gig, nothing major, but Max knew it would still be a challenge for him. He made sure to ask Jacob not to draw attention to him if possible, as he wanted to remain low profile, he didn’t want to give himself any excuses to chicken out or get stage fright, he just wanted to relax and make music, even if it was in front of a crowd. He couldn’t afford to let himself panic. Jacob agreed and they all left, Max walked home, with his earphones in, trying his best to focus on the music, but it didn’t work and he began thinking about Ryan again. Hoping that he was feeling better and that he wasn’t getting any worse. Max couldn’t help but wonder how bad it had been the first day, when it was supposedly the worst. He then started thinking about Leo, and how much he missed him. He couldn’t help but be tortured by his absence, but figured it would get better over time.

He unlocked the front door and walked in, going into the living room, after putting his guitar away, and turning on the TV. He flicked through the channels as usual and found something to settle on for a while.

Six months… Six months is a lifetime…

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