I spent another ten minutes at the gym, shooting hoops after Iggy had left. I just needed some time alone. I couldn't stop thinking about Em. She was so young, too young. She didn't deserve to die. Not one bit.
God, I miss her.
Before I could start getting really pissed off - because being angry and fired up is better than being sad and weak, right? - I decided to shower and haul ass to English. After ducking into the shower quickly, I shook my hair dry - yes, like a dog - and grabbed my stuff from my locker before heading to class. I jogged in with two minutes to spare.
Iggy was leaning on a desk talking to Connor and some other guys from the team when I walked in. He caught my eye as I sauntered to my desk, giving me yet another sympathetic look; they were getting pretty old. I shook my head at him as I found my seat, and, out the corner of my eye, I caught sight of Max. Crap. As if I didn't already have enough shit on my mind - now I had to worry about Max thought about our kiss.
If I was expecting her to shoot me a disgusted look, I was wrong. Rather, she smiled and gave me a small wave. Not exactly giving me any insight into her feelings about our situation, but at least she didn't totally regret it enough to be all oh-shit-there's-Fang-how-am-I-gonna-let-him-down? or anything of the sort.
I nodded at her, winking, before sitting down.
The bell rang and the class settled down, taking their seats. Iggy plopped into his seat next to me just as Coach sauntered in, briefcase in hand, replacing the usual gym bag I was used to.
"OK, class, settle down," he said, waving his hands. His voice silenced the whispers and he folded his arms - I grimaced; this was what he looked like before announcing something he knew wouldn't go down well with the class. Like a major assessment task. Joy. "Shut up, you lot. OK, we're starting group projects today. Before you start moaning and groaning, let me go over it." Complaints were cut off immediately, just from the look he gave us. "You'll be placed in groups of three, and given a play. Don't start freaking out on me, you won't have to perform it. You'll just have to read it, take notes, and tell me how it can be compared to real life - to your own life. In two weeks, your group will present your findings to the class."
Iggy raised his hand, but Coach shook his head. "I know some of you are part of the basketball team, and that'll interfere with your group work, but no one will get an extension. We clear? Good. When I call your names, come up and get your assigned play."
I felt the beginning flutterings of anxiety. I had a bad feeling about this. As the room filled with chatter, and Coach slowly made his way down the list of plays, I couldn't help but notice a pretty noticeable - and famous - play was yet to be called out.
"Griffiths, Venom, Ride, you'll be reading the infamous Romeo and Juliet."
And that was what I was afraid of. Oh, the irony. Someone up there sure has a funny sense of humor. I can just imagine Morgan Freeman, from when he was in that movie, Evan Almighty, laughing his ass off at his wit, or something.
Max and I glanced at each other as we went to retrieve our copies.
"Alright! Project buddies, FOR THE WIN!" Um, Iggy, what kind of loser says that anymore? (Me...) "Maybe now I won't totally flunk this project, because I have you two! Especially you, Max. I know you'll pull through for me. Instead of being all uh-I-say-nothing-cos-I'm-a-caveman like someone who somehow manages to only communicate through grunts and yet still manages to have the whole school panting after him." Including you, Iggy? "I mean, really, all this Shakespeare crap? I understand, like, el grande nada." Why did he say that with a Russian accent? "Seriously, what's wrong with normal English? Like, 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?' I mean, bullshit! Why can't that tool just be like, 'Babe, I think you're the shit and you have nice boobs, have sex with me now?' What is so hard about that?" Um, getting slapped?
Max rolled her eyes. "Iggy, that was normal English to them." Max shook her head sadly, smirking at me. "We've got a lot of work to do, I think."
"When'll we start? We have practice 'til four-thirty," I said.
"We can meet at my house after practice. I'll order takeout to spare you my cooking." Iggy and I exchanged glances, and I couldn't help but think - Ari, Ari, Ari. Shit, I'ma die without kissing Max again. Or getting past first base with her. Damn. Iggy seemed to be thinking something along those lines, although without the, you know, I-want-Max bit.
As if reading my mind, she added, "Don't worry about Ari, we're good now. We talked it out, and he's improving."
Iggy nodded enthusiastically - by that I mean psychotically - and I did a macho head bob. "OK, sounds good."
Max's eyes met mine again, giving me a sly, secret look, before returning her attention to our play.
I wasn't quite sure what the look meant, but it made my stomach do backflips.
Sad thing is, when I tried - in third grade - to do backflips, I fell. And got a concussion.
I hoped that wasn't forewarning.
I knew it. Call it a gut feeling, superfreaky psychicness, whatever the hell you want, I just knew I'd be paired with Fang - and that our play would be Romeo and Juliet. Oh, the irony.
I hadn't even had a chance to sort out the kiss with Fang! Sure, we kept sharing secret looks full of promises, but promises of what, I didn't know. All I knew was that there was one clear message - we need to talk. I couldn't agree more.
English passed in a blur of Iggy being an idiot and making fun of the Shakespearean language. Soon enough, I was walking through the hallways during lunch. Somewhere along the way, I spotted Ari, talking to some girl. She looked familiar; tanned skin, dark, medium length hair. As I took in the way they were leaning towards each other, Ari leaning against the lockers, the girl playing with her hair, I couldn't help but think, Holy-freaking-fudge is Ari flirting? Oh my God, no way! Holy crap! Ari. Flirting. With a girl. And not just his hand! Not that I know anything about that, but he could at least be subtle about it, and - oh, this is gross to think about.
As I watched, I saw Ari smiling. The girl giggled; Ari had probably cracked a joke, but who knows, she might've just been Malibu Barbie.
Malibu Barbie. This was the girl I'd walked in on with Ari!
I continued to watch, hidden behind a post as they continued to flirt. Suddenly, I felt a wave of guilt. Ari looked really happy. I'd never really considered the fact that he was a teenage guy, and that he liked girls, too. Never had be brought home a girl, or even gone on dates. He was always spending weekends with Angel and I, making sure we were happy and safe.
I'd been so hard on him lately - I hadn't even considered how much he'd given up for us.
After standing there for a while, I decided to butt in. Who knew what I'd say, but -
"So," the girl was saying shyly, and I halted. I knew it was eavesdropping, but... I wanted to hear if she was good enough for my big brother.
And I might possibly have been sort of curious about what they were talking about.
"So..." Ari said, smiling at her. She grinned back.
"So, I was wondering if, um, maybe you... wanted to go out and catch a movie tonight? Get some dinner? It'd be fun..." she trailed off, looking hopefully at Ari.
Ari's expression fell slightly as he answered, "I'd love to. But I have to pick up my little sister, then pick up Max from practice and make dinner. Some other time, definitely."
Her hopeful smile fell as well as she looked down at the ever-interesting backup plan, her shoes. "Oh, OK. Some other time, then..."
I winced, unable to feel anything but guilt. Damn. How selfish had I been? Not to mention such a cliche - the bratty little sister that steals away the guy's social life!
"Hey, Ari," I said, unable to help myself. "Can I steal you away for a sec?"
"Yeah, sure, Max. Everything OK?" Ari asked, after jumping slightly in shock at my sudden appearance.
"Yeah, just wanted to have a quick chat," I said before turning and saying to the girl, "He'll be back soon, promise." I tried to look reassuring, but... she looked kinda scared of me. Psh. Afraid?
Maybe she does have some smarts.
She nodded and walked off to a group of girls nearby, who I assumed to be her friends. I tried not to smirk when she glanced at me nervously over her shoulder a few times. Tried.
"What's up, Max? Are you Ok?" he asked, looking worried. Typical Ari, always thinking something is wrong. But then his features darkened as he said, "I hope no guy has tried anything on you. Was it the annoying blonde one? Piggy or something? I never did like him..."
"Ari, no!" I protested, rolling my eyes. "Me and Iggy? Uh, no way. But what I wanted was to talk about you." Ari looked a bit confused, as well as glad that Iggy hadn't hit on me or whatever he was thinking, but I didn't give him a chance to speak as I continued, "I heard what you guys - that girl and you - were talking about. Ari, go on the date. You've thought of everyone but yourself the past years."
"Buh-buh-buh!" I said, holding a finger to his lips. "Shush. I know I was hard on you when I walked in on that... uh, display of... um, affection and horniness... but I am sorry about that. You don't have to ditch your social life for us. I'm a big girl now, and I can stay home for one night. Angel can, too. Go have fun."
"Max, I want to, but I can't. I can't leave you and Angel home - that isn't fair."
"Yeah, well, you putting your life on hold for us isn't fair. Plus, I have things to do! I have to meet with my group for a project for English tonight. They're coming over after practice and I was going to order takeout. I'll watch Angel, don't worry. It'll be fine. Just as long as you pick her school and bring her home. I'll be back from practice at four thirty. That gives you plenty of time to get ready for your date."
Ari still looked unconvinced as he said unsurely, "I don't know, Max. It just doesn't seem like a good idea. I told her maybe some other time we can go out. Just not now. Maybe when Mom and Dad come back or something."
"Ari! You are an eighteen year old boy," I said sternly, fighting the urge to waggle my finger in his face like an old grandma. "Live a little. I don't want you to become the forty-year-old virgin bumming around in my castle's basement when I rule the world!" Ari quirked an eyebrow at that, but I kept on going, "Who knows when Mom and Dad'll be back - I sure as hell don't. Now, you are going to go out and have fun tonight. No if's, and's, or but's-" I paused slightly, willing myself not to give an immature little snort at that "-about it. Now get over there and find out what time you'll be picking that girl up."
My pep talk finished, I smiled in satisfaction, and - resisting the urge to stroke my imaginary mustache - spun Ari around so he was facing the girl. I gave him a hard shove in the girl's directions, my actions turning heads - after all, their star athlete was getting pushed around by his (badass) little sister.
Ari stopped a few strides away, turned, and gave me a quick hug and a whispered thanks before walking back over to his soon-to-be date.
When he was a few steps from me, I decided to make one last quick comment, just to give him a tad more confidence.
And, well, I'm Maximum freaking Ride. I couldn't let this opportunity go.
"Get some!" I shouted, grinning cheekily at Ari's retreating figure, my voice making heads turn.
Upon hearing my voice, Ari spun around to shoot me a stern look. After a while, though, I could tell he was fighting a grin. Finally, he smiled and even winked at me as he turned back towards the girl.
A genuinely happy smile lit my face as I watched Ari chat to the girl. Her arms looped around his neck and she kissed his cheek as he rested his hands on her hips. They both looked really happy.
I was, too.