It had been three weeks since Max had told me she didn't want anything to do with me, and being the stubborn girl that she is, she kept her word.
She hadn't so much as glanced my way in three weeks.
I'm her brother for God's sake, you'd think I'd be harder to avoid.
I tried everything too, but that girl is determined. Stubborn as a mule if you ask me. Every time I got remotely close at school or home, she dodged me or locked herself in her room. She'd even woken up extra early in the mornings, catching a ride with Nudge just to avoid being stuck in a car with me.
And it was killing me.
So I decided to take action, and attempt to make amends. While I still didn't approve of her friendship with Fang (I refuse to say relationship because she's not allowed to date and I'll kill him), it was time for me to acknowledge that she, indeed, was growing up.
But, make no mistake, she was still in deep for lying to me.
I just wanted my little sister back, all this hostility was taking a toll on all of us. Even little Angel was staring to be effected.
So, I decided to swallow my pride and apologize, with food of course.
I'm not stupid enough to go into that war zone without a peace offering, and I knew Maxie well enough to know that the way to her heart was through food.
Remembering about a burger joint Max had wanted us to try, I drove over to Cruisers after school, hoping this small gesture would be enough to help bridge the very large gap we had formed in our relationship.
Taking a calming breath, and saying a little prayer that this would work, I entered the small family owned restaurant and the door dinged, signaling my arrival.
"Well, hello sweetheart. How may I help you?" An older woman asked as she smiled kindly at me and stepped back from behind the counter.
"Hello. Um, my sister mentioned this place to me a while ago and right now she's not too happy with me, so I thought I'd get her dinner from here as a little peace offering to get back in her good graces. What would you suggest?" I asked as she eyed me, as if I'd reminded her of someone.
"Ah," she raised a knowing eyebrow at me, smirking, "In deep huh? Well, knowing most teenagers, and raging women, I'd go with a burger and a shake. And extra fries, " she added almost as an after thought, "That sound alright with you sweet pea?"
I smiled to myself as I nodded, realizing this lady was most likely one of the reasons Max liked it here.
"Yes, that'd be great. I'd like three burgers, well done with fries and um, two chocolate shakes and one vanilla,please," I rattled off as she smiled and took down my order.
"Want extra whip cream?" she asked, smirking knowingly.
"At this point, anything could help me, right? Sure, lay it on there."
She chuckled, giving me a mock salute.
"Coming right up. Go ahead and take a seat," she smiled warmly at me before heading back to the kitchen to place my order.
A few minutes later she returned and offered me a glass of water.
"You know hon, you look awfully familiar. Do I know you?" She asked as she squinted at me to get a better look.
I smiled before shaking my head, "No 'mam, I don't believe so. I've never been here before."
"Hum," she murmured as she scratched her chin, "You just look like someone I know. Something about your eyes and facial structure seemed familiar."
"Well, I honestly didn't even know about this place until my sister, Max, mentioned it," just as the words left my mouth, her eyes lit up with recognition.
"Oh! Max, of course, that's why you looked familiar. So, you're her brother. How nice, how is she? I haven't seen her since she was in here with Fang a few months ago for their date. Guess they're too good for this old bat now," the old lady chirped, her words however, sent my blood boiling.
"They came here on a date?" I hissed, causing her smile to drop into a frown.
"Well, yes, they were. Is something the matter son?" She asked, eyeing me cautiously.
I growled a little, unable to control myself, as I was still not happy with the idea of them dating, and sure as hell not happy about their lying and sneaking around- for months, apparently.
"They are both so dead. I can't believe those two had been sneaking around and lying behind my back for months. He knew she's not allowed to date," I barked, my tone dark.
"Well, if it helps, Fang was a complete and totally gentlemen," she tried to assure me and I could have sworn I heard her mumble under her breath something along the lines of, "Even though I encouraged much, much more. They should have gotten their freak on."
But that was crazy right? I mean she was like seventy for god's sake.
"That's not the point. Look, I don't really care is he was a perfect angel. I'm just protective okay? She's my baby sister and she's been through a lot. She doesn't need to be hurt."
She gave me a pointed, "listen up and respect your elders" look causing me to brace myself for a lecture.
"Have you ever stopped to think maybe Fang's been through just as much?" She asked knowingly as she gave me a sad, almost disappointed smile.
I felt a pang of guilt, but I wasn't willing to give up my fight, "Look, that's fine and all but-" she cut me off, as she turned to look me dead in the eyes, her smile still sad.
"You know, when they came in that night, I almost didn't recognize Fang. I've known him since he was born and I seriously almost didn't recognize my own god grandchild. Do you know why?" She asked me rhetorically as tears began to gather in her eyes.
I started to answer, probably because he thought he was getting lucky that night with my sister, but she cut me off, glaring at me.
"Because he was happy. For the first time in years, I saw him genially happy. Ever since he lost Emily, he hasn't been himself. A ghost of himself really, he's been so depressed."
Of course, being the protective older brother, I had to assume the worst.
"Who's Emily?" I demanded, "Another one of his girlfriends?"
She shot me an annoyed look before her eyes softened, almost like she pitied me.
"No, Emily was not a girlfriend. No, she was much more to him than any girl could ever be," She stated softly, and again, I began to feel angry for Max, that apparently, she would never live up to this Emily girl.
She must have noticed because she began to shake her head again looking a bit frustrated with me.
"You know son, there is a lot, you apparently do not know."
I shot her a confused and rather annoyed look before she continued, "You know it's funny, Fang reminds me an awful lot of you. Same exact thickheaded protectiveness."
I began to object, wanting to set her straight than he would never be as protective as me, simply because he wasn't an older brother. He didn't understand the burning need I felt to protect not only Max, but Angel as well.
She cut me off though before I could give her a piece of my mind, the words she spoke stopping me.
"Emily was his sister. His little angel. She was everything to him and he hasn't been the same since he lost her."
I stopped short, her words stinging as I tried to comprehend, "Fang had a sister? What? But how? What happened?"
She cast her gaze downward before she spoke, her voice broken, "She drowned. He took her out to learn how to swim without her floaties, like she had been begging him to do for months- he always did have a soft spot for her, he could never say no to her- but there was an earthquake, and he couldn't get to her in time. They couldn't resuscitate her. He still blames himself for her death, he thinks he killed her. "
I remained quiet, not sure what to say, but I didn't have to because she continued on.
"You know he blames himself? He thinks it's his fault that she died, that he didn't do his job as a brother and protect her. He kept trying to somehow make it his fault, saying things like he shouldn't have let her take her floaties off or he should have been holding on to her instead of letting her go off by herself. He would have done anything for her, just as you would your sister. So do not even believe for a moment that he doesn't understand where you are coming from, your need to protect your sister, because he does, way more than you think. He believes that he doesn't deserve to be happy, not after losing the person he loved most in the world. He won't allow himself to be happy, to feel again, because he thinks it's like betraying Emily."
"But," She continued as I was stunned into silence, "for the first time since the accident, I saw him smile, not his fake upturn of his lip he does for others, no, a real smile, and I have your sister to thank for that. She did what all of us tried and failed to do; she broke through his wall and let him feel again."
"Now I know it's not my place to be saying this, but I am older and wiser," She began looking me straight in the eyes, her voice determined, " But, who are you to break them up, to deny them of true happiness. Now I understand you are trying to protect them, but it seems like you're doing more bad than good. I hate to say this, but if you really care that much about your sister, you'd let her do what makes her happy, and right now Fang is what makes her happy. By you constantly trying to protect her, you're the one actually hurting her. I know it's hard but you just need to let go. Let her make her own mistakes, not that I'm saying dating Fang is a mistake my any means, but she has to learn for herself. "
You have to let go.
I took Edie's words to heart, as I couldn't stop thinking about the pain Fang must have felt, the pain he still must be feeling.
How could anyone ever replace a sibling?
I felt a shutter go through my body at the thought of losing Max or Angel. I couldn't bare it. I couldn't stand to be on bad terms with Max a second longer. I wanted my sister back.
I quickly turned into the drive and pulled the car into park before gathering the food and heading to the door.
I found Angel engrossed in a cartoon on the couch.
"Hey Ange, hungry?" I asked as she tore her eyes away from the screen long enough to answer me.
I chuckled as I set up a tv tray and laid out her food for her.
"Ange, where's Max?" I asked, my stomach churning at the thought of facing her.
"Upstairs, I think she locked herself in her room—again."
I winced at this. She sure knew how to hold a grudge.
"Yeah, I figured. Well, wish me luck Ange, I'm going to face the beast," I teased, holding up the food as Ange giggled and saluted me.
I chuckled, giving her a quick peck on the head before making my way up the stairs, my stomach doing backflips as I said a quick prayer.
After taking a deep breath, I knocked quickly on the door.
"What," Max snapped over the blasting music.
"It's the watch dog. Let me in please, I come bearing daily provisions, "I joked, hoping it would ease her mood; it didn't.
"Leave it at the door," she snapped, not bothering to come to the door.
Sighing, I tried again, "Max, please. I want to talk to you, preferably not through four inches of wood. Please open the door."
"Oh but conversing with you is so much more tolerable when I don't have to see your face," she bit out.
Sighing, I answered, "I know. Max, please, just five minutes, that's all I'm asking for, please."
I heard her huff and a loud shuffle before the lock clicked and the door opened slightly. I took it as my cue to enter, so I did.
I moved to sit in her desk chair before her voice stopped me, "Don't make yourself comfortable, you won't be here long."
I quickly snapped away from the chair and stood awkwardly by her door.
"Where's the food?" she asked in a no nonsense voice, as she barely spared me a glance.
"Right here," I answered quickly, holding up the bag and shake from Cruiser, which she eyed curiously.
"You went to Cruisers?" she questioned, eyebrows quirked.
"Yeah," I answered with a nervous chuckle, "I remembered you talking about it so I thought I'd stop and get us dinner from there. Hope it's aright."
"Huh," she huffed, eyeing me suspiciously, as she dug into her fries, "Any particular reason you chose to go there?"
"Yeah, actually," I began moving closer to her before I broke, "Max, I'm so sorry. I can't keep going on like this. I can't do it. I love you and I can't bare to be at odds with you."
Her eyebrows flew up in surprise as she nearly choked on a fry.
"I'm sorry, I don't think I head your correctly, say that again."
I gave her a playfully annoyed look, "Don't push it Max."
"But, I'm sorry."
She stilled looked shocked as she sat there, still not saying anything, so I tried a different topic.
"So I met Edie," I started, and she looked up at me, a small smile on her lips.
"Yeah, what'd you think of her?"
"Interesting old woman," I stated, chuckling, and I notice Max joined in.
The ice had been broken… and so had the icey looks.
"You know she told me," Ari stated, voice lower and more serious than his previously joking tone, avoiding my gaze as he stared at the floor.
"That Fang and I went there on a date?" I questioned, not really sure what he was getting at.
"Well, that too, which I'm still angry about by the way, but that's not what I was talking about," he mumbled, eyes finally rising to meet my own.
Noticing my confused expression, he decided to elaborate.
"She let me know that maybe Fang and I have a little more in common than I previously thought."
Furling my eyebrows in confusion, I gave him another look telling him I was completely lost.
He looked down again before slowly meeting my gaze, his eyes sad and almost remorseful.
"I don't think I'd be able to forgive myself if anything ever happen to you and Angel," he whispered, and suddenly everything clicked into place.
I gave a short gasp.
"She told you about Emily."
"Yeah," he whispered, coming to sit beside me, not meeting my eyes, " she did. I can't imagine what that must have been like. How hard it still must be."
"Oh Ari," I whispered, closing the space between us and wrapping my arms around him tightly in a hug which he quickly reciprocated. "I can't imagine it either. No matter how much you irritate me at times, I can't imagine losing you, or Ange. I love you so much. I'm sorry for fighting, I just want to put it all behind us, life too short."
Ari hugged me tighter, and I could have swore I hear him suppressing a sniffle, "So all's forgive then?" he asked as I pulled back a little, eyes full of hope.
I rolled my eyes, before responding to his puppy dog eyes he'd obviously ponded off Angel.
"Forgiven, but not completely forgotten," I warned giving him a stern look, " I love Fang, and I know that's hard for you to accept, but I do and he's been nothing but good to me. You have to accept that I am growing up and you have to start trusting that I can make my own decisions if we can ever move past this Ari."
He gave a helpless sign, as if he knew he was on the losing side before nodding slightly.
"Alright, I can live with that. But I'll always be protective of you Max, always."
I nodded, resting my head against his shoulder, " I guess I can live with that."
We sat there like that for a while, just enjoying the quite before Ari spoke again.
"So," He drawled, rather awkwardly, and I immediately tensed up, not liking where this would be going, "How'd you and Fang meet? Other than the obvious. I mean, I know you have class and basketball together, but that doesn't really constitute a."He hesitated, as if the next words out of his mouth were difficult to get out, " relationship."
I rolled my eyes a little at this, "Oh, you mean you don't just fall for every girl you see in class?"
When he didn't answer I continued.
"We had a project together. We spent some time after school together working on it and we connected, aside from class and basketball. We enjoyed each other's company. He was there for me when I needed someone to talk to and I think I reciprocated." My voice dropped an octave at the last part.
As I looked up to Ari, I was met with sad eyes.
"Someone to talk to." He stated, hurt evident in his voice, "Because you couldn't talk to any one else?"
"Something like that," I whispered, avoiding his eyes, before quickly changing the subject, "We're actually supposed to present our project later this week. Ya, know, if one of us isn't transferred out before that." I added a bit spitefully, and I watched Ari shrink back in response.
"You won't," he mumbled, avoiding eye contact.
Clearing my throat, I continued, "Would you like to hear a bit of it?"
He looked up quickly, surprise and confusion written on his face before slowly nodding.
"Yeah, sure. I'd love to."
I gave a small smile before getting up to retrieve my paper from my backpack and carefully sitting back down again, directly across from him.
"We were each assigned a Shakespearian Play to analyze and report our own thoughts on, "I offered before taking a deep breath and reading my paper.
"Romeo and Juliet, the tragic love story of two star-crossed lovers. To many, Romeo and Juliet are the epitome of true love. Everyone dreams of finding their own Romeo and it has become quite the popular culture reference to have a love as great as Romeo and Juliet's, to have a love worth dying for. Others however, don't see the love of Romeo and Juliet to be a thing to aspire to at all, deeming the romance nothing but puppy love between children who's irrational and immature behavior caused the unnecessary death of six people. Both perspectives are correct in their own retrospect."
"Yes, Romeo and Juliet were young and made choices that weren't exactly responsible and yes, it is reasonable to question why such permanent, drastic measures were taken. Why couldn't the two, if truly in love, speak to their families and make them see their love was true? Maybe the families would have been supportive or maybe they wouldn't have. All of these are valid points to bring up, but I think a more important question then needs to be raised; who are we to judge someone else's love? What divine right do we have to decide if their love was purely puppy love, or true love? Who are we to decide such a thing?"
"You see, the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet isn't their early death or even being star-crossed lovers. The real tragedy in the story is not about a dumb girl, or the boy who kills himself because of her. It's about the all-consuming power of love. And the inevitability of its influence on each of our lives."
"You can't choose who you love and it makes me wonder if we, as humans, can choose to love at all, or if it is an unavoidable, innate property in us all. But it makes you wonder, if Shakespeare, one of the greatest play writes of all time, along with other greats such as Bronte, and Dickenson, took the time to write about love, it must be one of the greatest wonders of the Universe."
" There is no greater aspiration than to love and be loved. Romeo knew it and died for it. Others know it and show it in very odd ways, ways that to many of us seem foolish or unreasonable. It may be in the form of an overprotective relative or in the form of a girl, who against her family's wishes, falls in love with a boy. If there is anything to take away from the story of Romeo and Juliet, it would be the power of love and the sacrifices that come with it. But not just romantic love. The story isn't just about two teens so in love they were willing to die for it, but it's also about the love one has for their family and what happens when there is lack of love."
"Mercutio loved his cousin deeply, so much so he was willing to die and bring dishonor on his family, to save to virtue of his dear cousin. While his intentions were good in his heart, they lead to disastrous ends. Life itself is a lot like this, while good intentions, leads to disastrous ends."
I looked up at Ari as I finished, and realization seemed to dawn on him as he began connecting the similarities between the story of Romeo and Juliet and my own star-crossed love story.
He smiled, almost sadly at me before getting up to hug me.
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves," he quoted, smiling sadly before letting me go.
I nudge him softly before adding with a wink, "Wrong play."
"Still relevant," he challenged, as he chuckled and led my out of my room and down to the living room for some much needed family time.
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