Chapter Six; introductions

"Wow, that was a close one," said Max, as he walked me home. He was so stubborn. "You okay?"

"Mhm."

It was silent the whole way. Thank goodness. I was really too exhausted to talk anymore.

Oh no. Please tell me it's an illusion.

The landlady stood by my apartment, arms folded across her chest. She looked… angry.

"Um, we're here." I said to Max.

"Alright. See you."

"Bye."

I tried my best to avoid eye contact with the landlady as I went up the stairs to my apartment.

"Where the HELL have you bee?" said the landlady.

I turned around. Ugh… I was tired and on the verge of collapsing. Couldn't she just let it go? "What do you want?"

"Do you know how worried I was? I was about to call the cops to make up a search party for you."

My eyes widened and I stared at her. "Okay, you're – CRAZY. And what are you? My mom?" these words stung my heart as I said them. "Just stop. I can take care of myself, okay? Drop the investigation." I turned to continue going up the stairs.

"Who was that boy?" she asked as I pulled out my keys.

"My friend." I swung the door open and when I turned around to close it, I saw relief on her face.

Trusting one person with everything that I had was enough. As much as it hurts, I didn't want to have to trust the landlady as well. But I realized that I did trust her. From the very moment I got here. I trusted her and lived her. And that was already at its limit.

I didn't realize that my alarm was ringing until now. I slammed my palm on the snooze button and got up, exhaustedly.

Today was Saturday and I had to go to work. I had to make up for the time I missed out on. "Stupid… Mr…. Garandy…" I cursed as I got up to go shower.

I was shampooing when the water suddenly turned off. "What the…? UGH!" I grabbed my towel. Flakes of shampoo flew out of my hair as I stomped fervently to the door. I clutched my towel that was neatly wrapped around me and hesitated, as I was about to open the door. Reputation… like I care? I shook off the thought and swung the door open.

The landlady stood by the edge of the stairway, arms folded, looking amused.

I growled. "Hey! Turn the water back on!"

"Not until you tell me what your relationship with that boy is. Is he your boyfriend?"

"Oh, cut the shit! Just turn the water back on or I won't pay the rent."

"Tsk, tsk, manners, young lady."

I groaned. Like I HAVE anyone to teach me manners and discipline. "I'm sorry. Can you please turn the water back on?"

She raised her eyebrow. "Are you trying to flatter me?"

"Look, lady. Do you want the apology or not?"

"I want information."

The shampoo was about to harden. Ew. "His name is Max… don't know his last name. He's just a friend. There. Happy? Turn the water back on."

She stared at me.

"Please," I added.

"Sure, sure."

I closed the door and went back to shower. The water wasn't turning on. I waited. I got a little impatient. And then… finally.

The landlady was getting on my last nerves. But I knew I had to bear with it. I didn't know where else to go besides this apartment. Max? No way. Friends don't live together. At least… not regular friends anyways.

When I got to Diner Dan's, Austin was mopping the floor. He looked up and saw me. He didn't' say anything and went back to mopping.

This place felt too empty. Where was everyone? Where were the workers? I walked in, careful enough not to slip.

"They're running a little late," said Austin.

I nodded.

The phone rang. "I got it," I said. I was closer to the phone anyways.

"Hello?"

"J-Jeanette?"

"Alex?"

"Y-yeah." He sneezed.

"Sick?"

"Yeah. Can you guys manage?"

I sighed. "We'll try."

"O-okay. B-bye." He sneezed again.

I hung up and turned around to tell Austin the news. "Alex's sick."

"Ugh. I can't cook and you know that."

Rats. This is what happens when the head chef gets knocked out sick.

"Well-."

The bells of the door rung and Austin and I looked over. Customers.

"Hi. A table for three?" said a lady.

I grabbed three menus from the counter. "Right this way." I led the family to a table and they settled down. I walked over to Austin. "Are you sure you don't know how to cook?"

"Uh… I can… try? But there's a risk I'll get them sick."

"I'll try and help. When are the others coming?"

"Kristiane's stuck in traffic and I'm not sure where Michael is. He won't pick up. Eric needs to drop his brother off at a friend's house."

"When did you call?"

"Fifteen minutes ago."

"W-."

"Um, excuse me. We're ready to order."

I grabbed a notepad and pencil and walked over to the waiting family.

"A kid's meal. Number four. A plate of rice with pork ribs on the side, a ham and cheese sandwich, and two cokes."

"Okay. We'll be with you in a moment."

I handed Austin the order. He stared at it, dumbfounded. "Tell me you know how to make at least one-fourth of this stuff."

"No."
The bells of the door rung and Austin and I turned, hoping that it was Kristiane or Eric, or maybe even Emily. It wasn't. Just more customers. Great, great. It was good that Diner Dan's was popular, but not when there was only me and Austin – inexperienced cooks.

"Whoa! Hella crowded!" a familiar voice complained.

I turned my head to get a better look. "Max!"

Austin stared at me, bewildered, as I skidded to Max's side.

"Hey, Jeanette," Max grinned.

Austin's jaw dropped. Yes, yes. It was unbelievable that a girl like me could make friends.

"Do you know how to cook?" I asked quickly.

"Cook? Yeah. I'm okay at it."

"Yes!" I grabbed Max's arm. "Come on!"

"W-."
I dragged Austin towards the kitchen. "Austin. Max. Max. Austin. Austin, Max knows how to cook. Try to work it out, okay? I'll go take orders."

"Okay." They stared at each other in awkwardness as I ran to take orders. I nearly slipped over the slippery surface. Stupid Austin.

"Are you okay, miss?" asked a man.

"Y-yeah. Sure. How much?"

"Four."

I grabbed four menus and gestured them to a table. The routine went on for about ten minutes. The food that Max made looked appetizing. And he said he was okay at it? He was a natural.

Damn it, Kristiane where are you? I thought as I served food. Serving food was originally Kristiane's job, but thank goodness there were no phone calls demanding for delivery. I couldn't juggle with triple-tasking. There was still a pretty long line of customers, waiting to be seated.

"I'm here!"

I looked over. Emily, panting for breath, was at the door. "'Xcuse me. 'Xcuse me." She struggled to get through. "J-Jeannette. I'm h-here." She had her had on her knees. "Sorry. I had to help m-." She looked up, but she wasn't looking at me.

"Emily?" I moved my hand to move them across her eyes. Her jaw dropped and then she closed them, blushing madly. I tried to see who she was looking at.

"Who's that hottie?"

I realized that she was looking at Max. "Oh."

Emily was the same age as me. She didn't go to my school and eve if she did, we probably wouldn't be friends anyways. Emily and I aren't friends. We're simply just co-workers here. And besides, Emily was different from me. She was more… lively.

"That's Max."

"Is he new?" she seemed excited.

"No. He's just helping out for today."

"Oh… how do you know him anyways?" she asked, competitive.

"He's my-."

"Jeanette! Come serve the food!" said Max.

I walked over to get the tray of food. When I walked pass Emily, her face seemed the least unexpected. I finished serving and went back to Emily to finish my sentence. She better not get confused. "We're just friends."

"Oh…."
She seemed relieved. More cheerful as we both got to work.

The thought of Emily and Max dating didn't scare me. Or did it…? I felt stupid and psychodramatic. I shouldn't be afraid of losing my best friend to his girlfriend. And… what girlfriend? Max and Emily weren't even dating! Yet….

"UGH!" I blew up while taking orders. The couple stared at me, awkwardly.

I looked away and saw Max, leaning against the wall, chuckling.

"We're ready for check!"

I snapped out of my worries and went to get the check. I saw Max grin out of the corner of my eye.

"Thanks," I muttered as I cashed in the money and gave them back their receipt and change. They started getting up and leaving. I was exhausted. It was starting to get dark…. I started to clean the table.

"I'll do it, Jeanette."

I turned around, holding a dish in my hand. Emily was running towards me.

"I'll hel-." She slipped. My eyes widened in horror as she yelped. I grabbed her arm and I slipped, too. She pulled me down with her and the plate flew out of my hand, crashing to the floor.

The restaurant went quiet. Eric and Kristiane were at our side in an instant. Max and Austin stormed out of the kitchen.

Max suddenly turned everyone out. "Jeanette! Are you okay!?" He helped me up.

I saw Emily's pained face as I got up. Oh! I… I didn't think. I finally realized that Emily slipped on purpose. How… idiotic. She could've seriously hurt herself…. But seeing Max help me instead of her probably hurt even more. It must've… to her, anyways. Emily was very pretty. Her smile was sweet and her hair was gorgeous, flowing down her back. I was nothing compared to her. This was probably the first time a guy hadn't noticed her. I thought about what Max said. About no one ever rejecting him before. Huh…. They made a good couple.

"Jeanette, are you okay!?" I had forgotten about how frantic Max was. I took my gaze off of Emily and looked at Max. He was very exuberant about this. He checked my arms. My legs. And even my head… "Did you hit your head? Do you have a concussion? Do you still remember me!?"

I smacked him.

"Jeanette…?"

"Cut it out, Max. I'm fine. Everyone falls. Jeez…"

The restaurant went back to normal. Everyone took their places… except for Emily. Kristiane took orders and seated customers. Eric served the food. Max and Austin cooked. I cleared off the tables. Emily didn't really help out. There were a lot of other tables that needed to be cleared but she just stood there, arms folded across her chest. I bet she was staring at me. I felt uncomfortable. I didn't like to be stared at while I was doing something. Technically… I didn't like to be stared at, at all.

Eric passed me to serve plates. Eric didn't talk to me. Nor did I talk to him. I still remembered how Eric and I had met.

* * *

That year, I begged for this job. At the time, the head chef wasn't' Alex, but Chris. Eric worked here at Diner Dan's the longest. There were many other workers, but I didn't know any of them because they resigned shortly after I worked here.

Business was getting out of hand. Customers stopped coming. I remembered that day very clearly. I thought all hope was lost.

"How do you expect us to live with such low pay!?" a man threw his apron on the floor. Chris was speechless.

"We're out of here."

Everyone left. But Eric stayed. I stayed, too. Where else was I supposed to go? No one wanted to hire a seven-year-old girl.

Weeks passed. I managed to pay my rent. But that meant starving and not buying anything. Diner Dan's was about to close down. But a group of people came to the restaurant that day.

At first, I thought it was a mob. "Chris! Eric!" I called.

They came out from the kitchen. They saw the group of people and thought they were a mob, too.

"I got this," said Eric, walking forward.

Chris held out an arm to slap him. "No. I'll handle this."

Eric and I watched in silence as Chris walked over to the 'mob.' We realized that they weren't when the guy – probably a little older than Eric – smiled.

"Hi, I'm Austin. This is Kristiane." He gestured a girl who was very pretty. She had long, brown, straight hair. Her eyes were a warm brown. And she, too, smiled. I thought she was Austin's girlfriend, but that wasn't right.

"This is Michael, and this is Emily, Michael's little sister." Michael was fifteen, his hair was spiked and he didn't smile at all. Emily, her hair, in ponytails and bows. She was seven, like me. But unlike me, she was happy, and very girly. No. I didn't envy her. As a matter of fact, I didn't like her at all. And maybe that was the reason why Eric didn't like me either.

Eric adored Emily. Well, not in that way. Eric was seventeen, too old for Emily. Ten years older. But anyway, Emily saw me working here. She didn't like that. She didn't like that at all.

She would walk pass Diner Dan's and she'd see me clearing off the tables, or mopping, and sometimes… she'd even catch me doing delivery.

One thing straight. Emily and I went to the same elementary. She moved when we reached middle school.

At school, Emily was extremely popular with her pink mini skirt and white t-shirt, and her hair simply cute, she was a gossiper. For a second-grader, she had a big mouth.

"Ew. Why is Jeanette so poor?"

I remember her saying this to her girlfriends while I sat on the bench, alone.

"She's so ugly, and she looks like a boy."

The girls giggled. Like I care. And then one day… things twisted. I heard one of the girls talking.

"Hey. You know Jeanette?" She works at Diner Dan's."

"Really? That's so cool! I love eating there!"

"Yeah. I know, right?"

"What are you talking about?" Emily walked to them.

"Jeanette works at Diner Dan's!"

"Ew," said Emily.

"Ew? I think it's really cool! I love eating at Diner Dan's!"

Emily began losing her popularity. I wasn't happy. And I didn't feel sorry for her either. I just knew that she deserved it.

Emily was staring at me. "Hi, Jeanette!"

I felt disgusted. "Cut the act, will you?"

"What act? I've brought my BIG brother and his friends here to help. I LOVE Diner Dan's."

"Really!?" Eric sounded thankful.

"Shut up, Emily. You said 'ew.'"

Emily frowned. Oh no, she was going to cry.

"Hey, hey." Eric said to me. "What's your problem?"

* * *

Eric didn't like me. To this day, he still believed that Emily saved Diner Dan's. But that didn't matter, I didn't like Eric either.

"Hey, I said, as Eric finished serving the plates and walked pass me. He stopped and we turned around to face each other. I glanced at Emily, who was still looking at me, and back at Eric. "Can you tell your little heroine to help out? She's not the queen of Cuba," I sneered.

He looked around at the tables. There were so many that were unclean. He noticed Kristiane, eyebrows furrowed, having trouble with the impatient customers that needed to be seated. He sighed in defeat. "Emily!" he called.

"WHAT," she snapped, taking her eyes off me.

"Clear off the tables," Eric grabbed a small towel from the rack and threw it at her.

She caught it in disbelief. "B-."

Kristiane cleared her throat loudly.

Emily obeyed. She cleaned the table that was farthest from me as possible. Good. She got tired of looking at my face. I was even more tired of looking at hers. She could've broken a mirror.

Well, enough for working. It was a quarter to eight when Austin decided to call it a day. Everyone said their daily byes to each other – except me. I headed home… accompanied by Max.

"Hey, Jeanette, wait up!"

I groaned to myself as I slowened my pace and he was at my side.

"Do you want to meet my family?"

I stopped walking and stared at him, horrorstruck. I remembered his mom. I was sure she did, too. But his mom wasn't the problem. His family? I looked at myself as he watched me curiously, waiting for an answer.

Me. A poor, really poor… lonely girl. Friends with a rich, really rich… popular guy. Honestly… what would his parents think about having a friend like me?

"Jeanette?"

I looked up. I had taken too long to reply. "Um, no thanks."

He rolled his eyes. "There you go again."

"What?"

"Little miss independent."

"I'm tired," I said, walking.

"Can you please stop thinking about the negatives?"

Yeah… I definitely took too long to reply.

"It doesn't matter if you don't fit. So what? You're poor. But that doesn't stop me from being your friend, anyway."

Ugh…. I didn't bother to talk back and kept on walking home.

"Are you really that worried?"

Oh jeez. Just as annoying as the landlady. I turned around. "I'm – tired." I turned back and continued walking.

Okay, I really did it this time…. Max grabbed my wrist and started dragging me.

"What part of 'I'm tired' don't you understand?" I snarled.

"None of it."

I was easier to drag now. We both could tell.

"'Cause it's not true." He smiled.

I cursed under my breath. "You can let go…."

"Yeah, so you can run off?"

"No. Now let go," I said through gritted teeth.

"Not gonna happen."

"Where are we going, anyways?"

He smiled and we were at the bus stop. "Shopping."

Sh-shopping? I hated shopping. I only shopped when my clothes don't fit anymore. The bus came and Max dragged me on.

"B-but…"

"Come on, Jeanette. SO you don't want to meet my family because you think you're not good enough."

"I never said-."

"Well, we'll go buy you new clothes, okay? So chill."

Max was more of an idiot then I thought. But I couldn't blame him. I didn't tell him the actual truth about not wanting to go. Even though Max was my best friend, I wouldn't and couldn't tell him about my… life. I just couldn't bring myself to say it. I didn't' want… the warmth of a family, when I didn't have one of my own.

Max grabbed my hand and we got off. The mall was just across the street from us. Max glanced at his watch and groaned.

"If it's too late, I'll just go," I said, trying to loosen my hand.

He tugged it with force. "It's fine. They'll understand." By 'they' I assumed his parents. Before I even had a chance to retort, Max had already walked in to the streets.

"Max. Forget it."

There was nothing that I liked in this fancy store; glittered leggings, silk shirts. Neat jewelry. Makeup. Oh, jeez…

"Okay, we'll go somewhere else."

We walked around for a bit. "OH!" he said. I groaned and he dragged me into a…

I was horrorstruck. All these… dresses. I felt my heart beat painfully as I stared at each one of them. But I couldn't bring myself to look away. This sight brought back so much memories. Memories that were painful and were only supposed to be shadows. Stupid Max… he's really leading me to my childhood grave.

* * *

"Mommy! Mommy!" I was holding Mom's hand as we went shopping.

She laughed. "Yes, sweetheart?"

"Look over there!" I pointed to a store, there were many dresses in there. Unique in its own way.

My mom laughed. "Sweetie, you won't be able to fit in that."

I dropped my head and frowned. Right. They were for teenagers. And I was only six. I smiled. "But mommy, when I grow up, I want to wear pretty dresses all the time!"

She laughed. "Okay, but you have to go to school and work hard! That way you can make a lot of money and have a better life than mommy, okay? Mommy's poor… so you have to be RICH! That way, you'll be able to wear all the dresses you want!"

I smiled. "Yay!"

* * *

"Jeanette? Jeanette, what's wrong?"

"Nothing." I kept focus and followed Max inside.

"Hm. You seem interested. Tell me when you like something."

I looked at him. He was smiling, showing teeth. I didn't realize how perfectly straight they were. Braces. Highly expensive.

"Uh-huh," I agreed and started looking around. Max accompanied me.

I kept staring at this one dress. It was similar to the dress I saw nine years ago with Mom.

This dress was a silky red. It was spaghetti-strapped, and the ruffles of the dress were puffy and black. Although the dress wasn't as attractive as the other ones, it made me….

"Jeanette?" I felt Max's palm against my cheek as I came back to life. He was wiping something wet from my face. "Is there something you want to tell me?"

I backed away and his hand slid to his side. He put his hands in his pocket. "Well, I'm ready when you are, so…" he reached out to take the dress I was unwarily shedding tears for. "Let's get it." He grinned.

I didn't object but stayed there and waited for him to pay.

He was about to pay, but then, "Hey! What size are you?"

I stared at him. Okay, first of all, shopping was not my favorite thing to do. "How am I supposed to know!?"

His jaw dropped and he turned back to the cashier lady. "Sorry."

She nodded and threw a meaningful glance at me.

Great… more enemies, I thought. I went to Max and snatched the dress out of his hand. I cursed quietly as I marched off to the fitting stalls to try it on.

As I slipped it on and examined myself in the mirror, I almost had a heart attack. So this was what I looked like. I never took time to look at myself, but now that I did, it sadden me. I looked… like my mom. Just younger. But I had my dad's eyes. A cool brown. I looked away from my reflection and changed back into my jeans and a long-sleeve shirt.

"Did it fit?" asked Max, when I headed back to the cashier.

"Mhm." I threw it at him and waited for him to pay. I looked back and saw the other people waiting in line, impatiently. A man was probably guying that beautiful green strapless and floral dress for his girlfriend or wife. A lady probably wanted that black dress for a very special occasion. SO many other people were in line. I didn't turn around to face the cashier until…

"For your girlfriend?"

Max and I exchanged bewildered glances and then back at the lady. "NO!"

"Oh," she frowned, seeming a little disappointed. "Well, that's too bad. You two look very good together."

Max could tell that my bad temper was about to blow. He quickly paid, "Keep the change," and grabbed the bag, my hand, and pulled me out of the dress store so I could calm myself down.

"Better?"

"Yeah…."

He looked at his watch and then noticed that I was still wearing Nikes. "Your SHOES!"

"What about my-."

The announcements interrupted my speech.

"Attention to all shoppers. The mall will close in fifteen minutes. Do your last minute shopping!"
"Crap! Wait here!" said Max. He was about to take off but I grabbed his shirt.

"Fifteen more minutes! Do you WANT to get trapped in here? Remember what happened last time!?" The library incident was still fresh in my mind, haunting me.

"Trust me." He took my hand off his shirt and ran off. Trust. That word still scared me.

Five minutes passed and I began to worry. Worry. This was the feeling that had followed me for so long.

"Attention to all shoppers. The shopping mall will close in ten minutes. Do your last minute shopping!"

"Damn it, Max…" I muttered.

"Jeanette!" Max grabbed my hand and we ran.

Okay, I thought we were going to go home now but we just passed the nearest exit.

"W-."

"Come on, you need to change!"

My face flushed red. I wanted so badly to yell at him but he had already shoved the bag in my arms and pushed me in the rest room. I noticed that he was holding another bag but I couldn't ask because there was no time to lose.

I racked on all the stalls. Perfect. No one was here. Wow, that was stupid, I thought. Who would be here at this time?

I threw my gray sweatshirt and black tank in my bag. I hurriedly grabbed the dress and put it on. I stripped off my jeans, last. I looked down at my Nikes. Shoes, shoes…. I rummaged around in the bag and found a shoebox. When I opened it, I found black flats. How on earth was I supposed to run out of the mall in flats!?

"Attention to all shoppers. The shopping mall will close in five minutes. Do your last minute shopping!"
Oh, screw! I threw the box back in the bag, grabbed it and ran out of the rest room.

"Your s-."

I grabbed max and we ran to the nearest exit. Oh, darn, people were shoving their way out.

I groaned and dragged Max. "'Scuse me. 'Scuse me," I kept on saying as we scrambled in between.

I gasped for breath when we made it out, but I didn't even have time to rest! "OH! The bus!" The doors were closing.

"Quick!" Max grabbed my hand and we ran after it. It was cold and I was shivering in this dress.

"Wait! WAIT!" yelled Max as we chased after the bus.

The bus halted to an abrupt stop and Max and I slowed down and walked to the doors, panting.

The bus driver opened the door for us. When I got on, he stared at my ridiculous and non-matching shoes. I ignored this and Max and I went to take our seat.

"Remind me why we're going to meet your parents again?"

He sighed. "I have a party at my house. And I'd like you to come."

Party? Who has a party at a time like this! "It's nine," I said through gritted teeth.

"I'm very well aware of the time, Jeanette."

I stared at him, still not understanding.

"We throw late parties."

"Oh." Of course. Not that I'd know.

Max's eyes widened when he saw my shoes.

"What." No, seriously. What was wrong with Nikes?

"You-never-wear-sneakers-with-dresses," he hissed as he yanked my shoes and socks off. He replaced my outer feet-wear with the black flats he just bought.

I was staring at the bag he was holding earlier. "What's that?" I asked, not looking away.

"Oh! Thanks for reminding me," said Max. He turned on the lights.

Darn it. I wasn't intending to remind him anything.

He pulled out… I didn't even know what that was. It was a case. It looked like paint. He pulled out something that I first thought was a pencil. Technically, it has a very thin brush.

"It's eye shadow."

"What?" Eyes had shadow, too? And I thought only my heart did.

"Honestly… have you ever been to a party?"

My teeth were clenched together. "Does it look like I'm a party person?"

He chuckled lightly. "No. So become one."

He pulled out a whole bunch of things I didn't know.

"Lip gloss, eyeliner, mascara, blush."

"Do you plan to decorate me?"

He laughed. "Sure. Now turn your head to face me and close your eyes."

"Why?"

"Just do it."

I wasn't in the mood for surprises. I felt something on my eyelashes.

"Ugh. Your eyelashes are too short," he complained.

"What are you putting on me?"

"Mascara. You really suck at makeup materials."

"Look who's talking. And you're a boy."

He chuckled. "Pro with the ladies."

"Whatever." I felt something on my eyelid. I opened my mouth to speak but Max was quicker.

"Eye shadow."

I stayed silent throughout the process.

Max described what makeup he was putting on every time it transitioned. "Eyeliner…. blush…. Lip gloss…."

"Done…?" I asked.

"Yea, open your eyes."

I opened my eyes and saw my reflection in the mirror that Max was holding. I looked like… Mom. It stung.

"Really pretty." He must've known the effect of reflection because he snapped the hand-mirror shut and stuffed it in the bag.

We were getting closer. The visual of the last time I came to the house was clear.

The bus stopped by its bus stop and Max and I got off. Now that that transportation was 'walking,' I felt that we weren't getting closer at all.

I groaned in complaint at the distance we had to walk.

Max laughed. "It's worth it."

To him it was. Me? Definitely not. I imagined where I'd be right now if I didn't come here with Max; at home. In bed. Not caring.

It was cold. Really cold. I tried not to shiver or give myself away. But it was so dark, Max wouldn't see. I shivered a little and not good. I couldn't stop shivering now. I was shaking uncontrollably.

"Get a grip!" I said. Oops…

Max laughed. He took off his jacket and handed it to me. "Here."

"No. We're almost there, anyways." I didn't want to imagine the look on his parents' face when they saw that I was wearing Max's jacket.

"Eh, if you say so." He put it back on.

I made it. I could see Max's house now. It was big, obviously, just like I remembered it. Streamers and party balloons decorated the house. And I could hear loud music playing in the back. There were loud voices, too. I gulped. How many people were here, exactly?

We got to the front step and Max's cell rung.

"Hello?"
The background was so loud that even I could hear it. A lady's voice was even louder. "Max! Are you home, yet!? Where the HELL are you?!" This was probably his mom.

Max laughed. "Well, open the door and find out."

His mom growled. She was angry. "This is NO joke, mister! Your relatives have been-." The door swung open.

My jaw dropped. I remembered how pretty Max's mom was. Pretty? That wasn't the right word anymore. She looked very sophisticated, now. Fragile and gorgeous. Her dress was a shiny silver in glitter. Her diamond pendant was so huge, it was the only thing noticeable on her besides her very attractive face. Her hair was in curls and she was just too young to b said as Max's mom. It looked more like she was his older sister!

"Oh…" she pressed the end button on her ipod touch. Her eyes suddenly fluttered to me.

Please don't recognize me, please don't recognize me, I prayed.

She didn't. Of course not. I was covered in makeup and a fancy dress.

"Well… who's this?" she asked Max.

I felt relieved. She looked at me, curiously.

"A friend," said Max.

"Aah, Girlfriend?" she pushed it.

I winced.

"No, just friend," said Max.

"Okay, okay." She smiled. "Come on in," she said, looking at me.

Max and I walked in and I could feel his mom's eyes slide down to take a look at my dress.

The house was just the same as the last time I've seen it. The crystal chandelier was glistening and made the room very bright. The gold-like staircase was decorated in green and purple streamers. I wondered how much streamers they had to use. I remembered this staircase as never-ending.

"Well, how do you like it?" asked Max.

"Umm…" I didn't know what to say. I didn't like it. But I didn't hate it either. It seemed too out of the ordinary. It was nothing I'd ever imagined of being at. All those birthday parties in elementary. I shuddered at the flashback.

* * *

"2+2=4. 7+3=10. 9+8=17. 1-1=0…"

Emily's hand suddenly shot in the air.

"Yes… Emily?" My second grade teacher, Ms. Taiyens, said. I was pleased to hear that she sounded annoyed and couldn't help but smile.

"I'm having a birthday party this Saturday and I'd like to invite everyone to come over!"

"Yay!!" all the kids cheered, obviously, except for me. Have in mind that when Emily says 'everyone,' I wasn't in on it.

Ms. Taiyens sighed as Emily got up to pass out the invitation cards. I ignored it like always and stood up to turn in my papers to Ms. Taiyens. I was going back to my seat when Emily snapped at me. "Hey, Jeanette! When's your birthday?"

Everyone turned to look at me. Even Ms. Taiyens was curious. I ignored her and went to my seat. She didn't stop.

"Oh, don't tell me you don't even know!" she giggled. "You don't know anything! You're just a stupid, little girl." She stuck her tongue out at me.

It angered me when Ms. Taiyens didn't do anything. Well, Emily asked for it. Everyone in this asked for it. 'Stupid, little girl.'

"I'LL SHOW YOU STUPID, LITTLE GIRL." I tackled Emily before I even thought of it.

She screamed.

I started hitting her. I pulled her hair. She started crying and yelping.

"I'm bleeding! I'm bleeding!"

"You wanna know my birthday? I'll SHOW you my birthday!" I was having fun. I didn't know that beating someone up would actually result this way.

"TODAY'S MY BIRTHDAY, STUPID-LITTLE-GIRL!"

I didn't even get expelled. No suspension. No referrals. I loved that day. And it wasn't even my birthday.

* * *

I snickered. "Stupid…"

"What? You think it's stupid?" asked Max, frowning.

"H-huh? Oh. No. I think it's really… nice." I had a hard time forcing out the last word. But Max didn't notice.

He smiled. "Cool."

We walked to the table. It was all scrunched up with food and drinks. As I got closer, I recognized the table. This was the glass or diamond table that I had placed Diner Dan's delivery on.

"Want some punch?" Max asked, getting cups at the corner of the table.

I shook my head. "Not thirsty."

"Y'sure you don't want anything?" he asked, getting food.

"Mhm…." I began to look around. To be real, I wanted to go home. I was beginning to hate Max's house. Because I was wearing a dress. Because I was in a big and gorgeous house. Because I was around fancy people. This… was the dream my parents had encouraged me to grasp. Because we werent' even average in money – slightly poor. But my parents weren't even dang alive! So why the HELL…. Why the hell was I wearing a dress. Why the hell was I here? I feared…. I feared of the reliving. It was no longer worth it. Grasping this dream, when the people I've gone to this for… were dead.

I understood. My only reason for coming here… I looked like mom. I was living her dream. I was here, taking her place, to enjoy every damn millisecond of it.

Well, then… I would. Here. Finally. The shadow has revealed itself. This was my pain. And I would cover it up. But… I didn't know that covering a shadow only meant making it bigger.

I already decided. Stupid but whatever.

"Max, hand me a plate and cup." I sounded stupid saying that now.

He looked at me, not surprised, but pleased. He smiled. "Okay!" he grabbed a plate and cup and walked over to me. "Here."

I took a deep breath. "Thanks."

He raised his eyebrow. "Are you okay?"

Be like mom, be like mom, I told myself. I smiled and it stung. Oh, jeez. I saw Max flinch at the weirdness.

"'Course I'm okay." My words came out hard. As much as it stung to smile, it was harder to talk.

Max grinned. "Don't force yourself Jeanette. I know what you're trying to do."

"You-have-no-idea…" I muttered.

I ate and I still felt like myself. I didn't… say anything. Max was eating like a slob. He was probably really hungry since he worked at Diner Dan's all day. I ate quietly and I didn't even finish half of it yet when Max began to talk.

"Do you want to meet my family?"

I didn't know what to say. But then again… be like mom. "Sure." I smiled. I had to be up for it. But I was being a downright fake.

We got up and he led me to a group of ladies. There were three. The first one – on the left – was a plump woman in a puffy, blue gown. She smiled at me and I smiled back. The middle one, was a very skinny and tall person. She didn't smile at me at all. Her expression was mean and that went very well with the color of her dress; red. I liked this one. At least, I didn't have to smile at her. Smiling was NOT going to be a habit for me. The third one wore a green strapless dress that was too short. Her shape was perfect. I couldn't help but think, 'SLUT,' as I watched her.

She smiled at me. Oh boy, I forced a smile.

"Hi, I'm Max's cousin, Teresa," said the perfect figure in green. She held out her hand and I shook it, wincing at the warmness.

"I'm Max's aunt, Dorothy," said the plump woman in the blue gown. She didn't hold out her hand for me to shake but looked at the person right next to her – the middle and mean one.

Dorothy looked back at me. Apparently, she was going to provide the introduction.

"And this is my sister, Max's aunt as well, Dailynne."

"And youare?" Dailynne spoke for the very first time.

I took that back. I didn't like this 'aunt' of Max's anymore. What was WITH her? She must have issues with meeting teenaged girls. Well her damn NIECE of a SLUT was standing right NEXT to her.

I must've shown some kind of frustrated thought because I saw Max go pale out of the corner of my eye. I regained my content mood and Max's cousin and two aunts stared at me with peculiarity. Especially… the middle one.

"Jeanette," I said through gritted teeth.

"Nice name," said Teresa, smiling.

I didn't even smile back. I wanted to get out of here. So far, I hated Max's relatives. Even though the slut and fatso didn't do anything, the middle one already got on my nerves. And that was how I am. I hate everyone because they were all the same. Sometimes, I don't know why Max and I are even best friends, anyways.

My 'supposedly' be-like-mom was now be-more-like-Jeanette. My attitude came back.

I walked away from Dorothy, Dailynne, and Teresa. I could hear them muttering about how rude I am and obviously, I couldn't care less.

I got more punch and started chugging it down.

I heard Max's voice right next to me. "Hey, what was all that about?"

I gulped down the last bit of punch and crushed the paper cup in my hand. I threw it at the trash bin a few feet away from me. It hit the wall and went it. I stared at it as Max watched me.

"Jeanette."

I ignored him.

"If you're going to be rude to my relatives… then I think you should leave."

I looked at him. "Well… then you should have said that BEFORE." I walked away from him and headed towards the door. The beautiful and classy door – I knew I was never going to walk through it again. And this dress… I knew I was never going to put it on again. Maybe I could sell it for money.

"Max! Come play the piano!" yelled Max's mom.

Max's relatives applauded and cheered him on.

I turned around. Max was still looking at me.

"Come on…" he begged.

I turned around and my hand was on the handle.

"You're applaud matters most!" he yelled.

I froze. The whole room did. This is what I get for not spoiling a rich boy – forced to spoil a rich boy.

I slowly turned around. Every pair of eyes were on me. DAMN YOU, MAX… I kept on cursing at him in my head and I didn't stop until I was right in front of him. "YOU'RE DEAD," I growled, too low for anyone to hear expect Max.

He grinned, ready to torture me more.

I didn't take my eyes off of him. I was furious. I was going to slit his THROAT once we get back to school. I raised my hands and slowly clapped three times. Each one made an echo.

"Thanks." He grabbed my hands and lead me to the piano room. Everyone else followed, I could feel their eyes transitioning from me to our hands. I felt uncomfortable and not for the first time.

I was apparently just VIP.

"Stay here," he whispered.

I folded my arms across my chest and watched him walk to the piano a few feet away from me.

I watched his fingers dance along the keys and focused on the song. It was soothing. A melody of no other.

I looked around. Couples were in each other's arms. Everyone watched in deep thought and peacefulness. I caught Dailynne staring at me. That had completely turned my mood off. I decided I needed another drink. I had to calm myself down before I attacked Dailynne during Max's performance. That would've been highly humiliating.

I walked to the next room and towards the table for punch. I didn't realize how far away it was from the piano. I chugged down the punch and again, I threw the paper cup in the trash bin. I missed. I growled at myself and walked over to pick it up and throw it away. I couldn't help but look at the dark hallway as I did so. I wondered why it was dark. I looked around. This hallway was the only place in this whole entire house that was dark. Huh. I took a step forward.

Suddenly, I heard men laughing. The lights flicked on and I jumped at the sight of a man. A stench of beer filled the air and I pinched the cartilage of my nose. Ew. I hated drunk people. The man stared at me with appealing eyes. I could hear Max still playing his piece and I turned to go to the piano room.

I felt a hand cover my mouth and I screamed. No sound came out.

The man chuckled. "Looks like you'll be spending the night with me."

My eyes widened. I struggled to kick him, punch him to let me go. It was all so easy. He dragged me into the hallway and I screamed for Max. But I could still hear the piano….

I saw another guy, shirtless, with a bottle of Heineken. I screamed at the top of my lungs. Max, Max, Max!!

"Ooh, pretty lady." The shirtless guy lifted up my legs and dragged me into the room.

When the first guy uncovered my mouth, I screamed immediately. "MAX!" The door was closed and the lights were off.

They were laughing, enjoying themselves as they pulled off my flats and struggled to rip up my dress. I shoved them as far back as I could but I could feel the strap snap. "Max! HELP!" They ripped off the bottom of my dress and…

Something crashed and I could see the light. I heard myself whimper. My face was filled with tears. So this is what it's like… to cry again.