Author's Note: Ah, so you finished Act III and are still reading my stories? I love you. Welcome to the first chapter of Take Me or Leave Me, which is, obviously, the sequel to Act III. The short explanation for this 'chapter story': It's not actually a chapter story – there's no one extended plot. It's just a series of one-shots (vignettes, if you want) into Max and Eddie's life together. See my author's profile for the reason why and a better explanation. Some of these shorts will be angsty, some will kill you because they're so fluffy. Sometimes they'll fight, sometimes they'll kiss ;). It just depends what mood I'm in. So, anyway, thanks for coming to take a look at it. I sincerely hope it meets with your expectations.
Warning(s) for this chapter: Might kill you of fluffiness. Heh. Sorry. Also, one mild swear word.
Dedicated to all of you fantastic people who reviewed Act III. Thank you.
Max frowned at the page in front of him. The IS/LM model of Keynesian Economics blurred in and out in time with the rise and fall of his eyelids. Consumer spending planned private investment government purchases net exports total output of economy.
Max shut the book with a snap and leaned his head on the bedpost that he was resting against. The barely carpeted floor was beginning to make his rear ache, and he shifted his weight from side to side to get some feeling back into the region. Economics sucks.
A soft snore startled him out of his thoughts, and Max craned his neck around to find out where it had come from. A small smile tugged at his lips as he found the other occupant of the room fast asleep in Max's bed with his own economics homework sprawled out across his stomach. Max stood painfully and collapsed on top of the other boy. A snort greeted him Max found that he had to fight to keep from laughing as he looked down.
Sleepy blue eyes admonished him as he lost the battle. Max wiped his eyes and sat up again, smiling down at his boyfriend. "I told you that you'd fall asleep if you studied there."
Eddie ignored him, throwing a hand over his eyes in an effort to protect them from the light. Max grinned and reached down slowly. Eddie didn't move, arm still obstructing his own vision.
A low squeal echoed throughout the room as Max's tickling fingers met their target. Eddie doubled up and turned on his side to minimize the available area. Max hunted for an opening, but Eddie's defense was solid. He pulled back and pouted.
After a minute, Eddie poked his head out of his shell and laughed at Max's expression. "You're such a whiner," he laughed, uncurling from his prone position.
Max reached out and brushed his hands through an unruly portion of Eddie's hair. "Bedhead," he teased.
Eddie turned to look at the glowing numbers of the alarm clock on the desk beside him. "You have to go soon," he reminded Max gently. "You don't want to keep that photographer waiting, do you?"
The bed creaked as Max pushed away from it. "Yeah, I guess," he muttered, fluffing his hair up in the mirror. Eddie rolled his eyes at the spectacle and turned toward the wall. Max dropped his keys into his pocket and put his hand on the doorknob before looking back at the bed. The indefinite lump on the bed remained motionless. Max smiled.
"Sleep tight, baby," he murmured. Eddie didn't move, but Max swore he heard an vague mrmph as he closed the door behind him. Smiling, he made his way through the living room and took off down the hallway, ready for his meeting with Corey Caldwell, premier photographer for the Five Hottest Men on Campus edition of the Minnesota Eagle.
The University of Minnesota was famous for its fall colors. Max wasn't usually one for aesthetics, but as he walked through the mall area with its montage of flame-colored oak and maple trees, he had to admit that it was beautiful. It was a perfect day for the photography session. The sky was a perfect azure color, and the leaves were still on the trees, not covering the ground in a mass of wet. Yes, it was a perfect fall day, and Max was determined to enjoy it.
Corey Caldwell was supposed to meet him in front of the Physics building at 3:00 sharp. Max sat down on the concrete stairs in front of the building and checked his watch. 3:01. So much for punctuality. Just as the thought crossed his mind, however, a call came from behind him.
"Max Kennedy? Aha! There you are. I've been looking for you."
Max turned and held out his hand, and Corey Caldwell shook it. The photographer took a seat on the stair beside him and polished his glasses on the front of his shirt as he looked over the grassy mall area in front of them. He paused for a moment, squinting, and then whipped out his camera. The shutter snapped up the scene in front of them three times before Caldwell put it back into its case, smiling apologetically.
"Sorry. I get carried away sometimes," he said. "Anyway! We are here to discuss what you should bring with you to our session in an hour. We want to bring out your personality, so I want you to bring some 'props' with you, okay?"
Max frowned. "What do you mean? What kind of props?"
Caldwell's eyes roved over a passing group of students. "It varies with every person I photograph. Basically, you should just ask yourself what's important to you. Find things that remind you of what you love. You will probably want to bring along your soccer ball or your pads and jersey. Maybe include something that has to do with your major. Anything, as long as it's important to you."
Max's wicked grin surprised the photographer. "Anything?"
Caldwell gave Max a nervous look. "Okay, you can't bring condoms or anything like that, but if it's reasonable and safe to publish, then yes, you can bring anything."
The autumn sunlight lit up Max's smile.
Eddie yelped as the door to the bedroom flew open with a slam. His pile of papers cascaded to the floor, and, grumbling, he bent down to pick the runaway sheets up.
Eric looked up from his position on the futon and shook his head at his roommate. "How's it going, Max?"
Max beamed at them both and threw his keys on the top of the dresser. "Great!"
"Obviously," Eddie muttered before returning to his notebook.
Max stood in the middle of the room and pouted at the lack of attention. Eric stifled a laugh as Max crossed the room and sat down on the bed next to Eddie.
"Eddie…" Max whined, wrapping the other boy up in his arms, "are you ignoring me 'cause I made you spill your papers?"
Eddie threw a disbelieving look over his shoulder and closed the notebook. "No, Max, I'm not ignoring you. It's impossible to ignore you."
Max looked affronted. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing." Eddie smiled and took Max's hand in his. "How was the photographer?"
The irrepressible smile bloomed again on Max's lips. "Oh, yeah! It was fine. He told me that I have to bring things that are important to me to the session today."
He gave Eddie a meaningful look, but the other boy wasn't getting it. "Okay," Eddie nodded. "Take your soccer stuff, then."
Max frowned and nudged Eddie in the side. "Really important stuff."
Eddie looked up in confusion and nodded. "That's great, Max. Bring your really important soccer stuff."
Max growled and thumped Eddie upside the head with a pillow.
"Ow! Max – what!"
The soccer player leaned in and rested his forehead on Eddie's. "No. More important stuff."
Realization dawned in the blue eyes, and Eddie's head became a blur to Max as the other boy shook his head repeatedly. "Oh, no. No, no, no. Uh-uh, Max, are you kidding?"
He wasn't kidding. "No, I'm not! Come with me and let's get our photographs taken together!"
The expression on Eddie's face would have been priceless had Max not been quite so resolved.
Max softened his tone. "Come on, baby, it'll be fun." He paused, and when Eddie's frown showed signs of wavering, he pressed on. "He told me to bring what was most important to me, and I want you to come. Please?"
A chuckle from the other side of the room broke into the privacy of their conversation. Eric's smile glinted against his dark skin.
"Go ahead, Eddie," he said. "It'll be cute, and then all of those other photographers will stop bugging the two of you to get your photos professionally done."
Logic succeeded where Max's whining could not. Eddie heaved a great sigh and relented, tucking his head into Max's shoulder as he did. Max cheered and promised his boyfriend that the photography session would be fun. Eric returned to his homework and hoped sincerely, for Max's sake, that it would be.
"Max, great. You're here," Corey Caldwell adjusted his glasses and turned to Eddie, a slight frown creasing his forehead. "And you are..?"
Eddie held out his hand. "Eddie Calhoun."
The photographer's frown vanished. "Ah, Max Kennedy's boyfriend!"
Max's glance was nervous. Eddie rubbed the bridge of his nose in annoyance but decided to let the title go for the moment.
Caldwell babbled on, oblivious. "Are you going to let me photograph the two of you together?" At Max's nod, the photographer threw his hands into the air.
"Hallelujah!" Caldwell proclaimed. "It's about time we got some pictures of the two of you in circulation."
Eddie rolled his eyes and interrupted the other boy's victory dance. "Can we get on with it, please?"
"Fine, fine. This way."
After fifteen minutes of walking, Corey Caldwell stopped under a patch of trees and grass sandwiched between two very old and disused university buildings. The river flowed in front of and below them, and a quiet off-shoot of East River Parkway sprawled behind them. Caldwell immediately sat down and began to unload all of his camera equipment. Max looked around.
"Huh," he said, "I didn't know this was even here. Did you?"
Eddie nodded. "The Dinkydome is pretty close to this street. This building," he pointed to the building to their right, "is the old Music Education building."
"Huh," Max repeated. "Interesting." Before he could comment further on the spot, however, Caldwell was up again and ushering him in front of a massive camera lens.
"All right, Max," the photographer explained, "we're going to do you by yourself first, since out of your four-page spread, the first page has to be just you. Let's put you at that picnic table there, all right? Sit. Great. Turn your head just a hair to the left, fold your hands. Great. Smile! One, two, three!" There was a series of clicks.
Caldwell's head poked up from behind the camera again. "Great! Now let's have you put on your jersey and the shin guards you brought."
Eddie picked up the shin guards from where they were laying and carried them over to Max, who was putting on his maroon and gold jersey. Max took the shin guard in his hand and pulled on it. His eyebrows lifted in surprise when he found that he couldn't move it. He looked up in astonishment and found Eddie laughing at him, one end of the shin guards in his hands, blue eyes twinkling.
"Hey! Give 'em here!" Max exclaimed, tugging at his end of the guards. Eddie laughed and began to back up, pulling as he did so. Max grinned wolfishly and gave a massive tug. Eddie yelped as he was yanked forward. He found himself stooped over his boyfriend, and Max's eyes were laughing up at him. Eddie snorted and gave in. He leaned forward and sealed his lips softly over Max's.
A swift clicking sound exploded behind them, and Eddie pulled away, embarrassed.
Caldwell smirked at them. "You guys are great subjects."
Eddie glared, but moved out of the way when Caldwell waved his hand. The shutters of the camera snapped sharply as Caldwell directed Max into poses. Finally, the photographer stopped long enough to change his film.
"All right, Max," he said, not looking up from the film canister, "We did the normal picture, and we're all finished with the soccer stuff. What other props did you bring?"
Max grinned and motioned to Eddie. "Just one."
Caldwell beamed. "Awesome. I was hoping you'd say that. All right, guys, let's get you set up here." He took Eddie by the arm, oblivious to the other boy's discomfort, and led him over to a large oak tree. "Max, come here."
For the next half-hour, Corey Caldwell danced around the pair, snapping photographs and coercing them into new poses. Finally, though, he ran out of film.
"Man, damn it," the photographer swore, shaking his backpack in hopes of discovering a new canister. Finding nothing, he was forced to give up.
The sunset glinted on the slowly flowing river as Max and Eddie walked back to the apartment. Max curled an arm around Eddie's waist.
"That wasn't too bad, now, was it?" He smiled into the other boy's deep brown hair as Eddie's smooth laugh cut him off.
"I suppose not."
Max smirked. "Say it."
Eddie covered his eyes with his free hand. "Oh, my God. You're not serious."
"Say it!" Max insisted. "Say it!"
"Okay, okay!" Eddie smiled up into Max's eyes. "You were right."
"Ha!" Max proclaimed. "I'm right!"
"…For once," Eddie amended, smirking. Max gave him a wounded look, and Eddie laughed again, lacing his fingers through his boyfriend's. "I'm just kidding. Come on, let's go home."
"Come and get it! The Minnesota Eagle's latest issue! Take a copy, take a copy! The five hottest men on campus, all in this issue!"
Eric shouldered his way through the crowd at the kiosk and grabbed a copy of the glossy magazine. Slowly, he made his way back in the direction of the apartment, flipping through the magazine.
Aha. 'Number Two: Maxwell Kennedy.' Max smiled up at the reader from a picnic table, teeth glistening a pearly white. Eric snorted and turned the page.
A smile crossed his face as he read the caption of the next picture. Though Kennedy has a notorious reputation as a playboy, it seems that the soccer star is settling down now with boyfriend of eight months Eddie Calhoun.
A brilliantly red sunset illuminated the two figures in the picture. Max was sitting, leaning up against the trunk of a tree and holding onto one end of his shin guards. Eddie held the other end in his hands and was leaning down to give Max a very gentle kiss. Everything in the picture looked calm, from the peaceful expression on the faces of the two boys to the slow Mississippi River flowing serenely in the background.
Eric smiled, folded up the magazine, and turned for home, where he knew his two roommates would be celebrating their success.
Author's Note: Hee, hee. That's it for the first chapter. Did you like it? I didn't kill you with the fluffiness, did I? Please leave me a review, for I love them so!