Author's Note: Guys, I am so, so, soooooo sorry for the long wait! I know it's been months, and I feel so bad that I haven't updated this! I just haven't had time to write, what with SATs, ACTs, APs, PSSAs, college visits, and all that…junior year sucks, by the way. But here's the next chapter, and it's on the longer side! I hadn't planned on ending it at the point that I did, but it just felt right, so here you go! :)
Also, I keep begging you guys for reviews (and I still am begging), but it occurred to me that I am being a totally rude, mean, jerkface by asking for them and then not responding to them. So, from now on, every review I get will get responded to at the bottom of the next update. Basically, if you reviewed the last chapter, you'll find a response at the bottom of this chapter, and the same for next chapter if you review this one, and so on and so forth. So, if you have any questions for me or any comments regarding the story, review, and I will most definitely respond! :) :) :)
Thank you to those who are still sticking with me even though it's been four months (GAH!), I love you and you are the best readers ever!
Oh, and please don't mind the page breakers; FP formatting is being stupid!
Without further ado, here is my quite possibly most favorite chapter yet…
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Saturday, July 16th
I'm sitting on my couch, watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and chowing down on my little baggie of mini chocolate chips. It's 2:00 in the afternoon, but Dad is fast asleep upstairs and Maddy and Zoe are out walking around town before they stop by Liz's house to get her. Then the three of them are coming home for a movie night. So I'm just chillin', eating chocolate and laughing my way through "The Gang Exploits a Miracle." Ah, poor Rickety Cricket…
Suddenly the front door bursts open, and Max comes rushing in. He stopped knocking about a week and a half ago, and it honestly doesn't bother any member of my family. It just lets us know that he's comfortable around us, and what can be better than that?
He shuts the door behind him and comes running into the living room, wearing a grease-stained tank top and ripped jeans. This tells me that he's been working in the garage. But why is he so excited?
"I did it!" he shouts.
"What?" I ask, my mouth full of chocolate chips.
He doesn't answer me, though, because his eyes have seen the delicious semi-sweet morsels residing in my lap.
"Are those mini chocolate chips?" he asks in awe.
I nod, frowning at him because he didn't answer my question.
"Yeah, they're way better than normal chocolate chips…but what did you do?" I ask again.
He ignores me, plopping down onto the couch and grabbing a handful of chocolate chips. His gaze is glued to the TV screen, and he's mouthing the words to the episode:
"I've got a confession: I'm in love with a man. 'What?' I'm in love with a man. A man called God. Does that make me gay? Am I 'gay for God'? You betcha."
He stops moving his lips and turns to look at me, beaming, only to find I'm glaring at him. Looking at him now, I realize that he somehow got grease in his hair, and there's a smudge of it across the bridge of his nose. He looks like some kind of blond, chocolate-crazed Ron Weasley.
"What?" he asks innocently, still munching on the chocolate.
Aw, he's so freaking adorable!
I roll my eyes as I try to suppress the smile that he inevitably always puts on my face.
"Okay, Max, you can't just come running into my house with huge news and get me all excited, then not tell me! So, let's try this again: what did you do?"
Max suddenly becomes excited again and he finishes off the chocolate chips he's holding before jumping off the couch and announcing, "I have finally finished the work on my motorcycle!"
"Oh Max, congratulations!" I say, throwing the bag of chocolate chips onto the table and jumping up to give him a hug.
No, I don't really care that he's dirty and has the slightly musky scent of sweat lingering around him.
I pull out of the embrace and tell him, "This is cause for celebration!"
I lead the way to the kitchen, with Max following behind me. He leans against the island as I grab two Cokes from the fridge. I hand him one and lean against the counter, facing him. I'm concentrating on opening my soda when out of nowhere he deliberately lets go of his Coke, sending the soda can crashing against the tiled floor with a loud clang.
I look up at him, startled, only to see him studying me intently.
"What was that?" I ask.
"I was testing your reflexes," Max says, matter of fact.
I stare at him in disbelief.
"I'm not a super spy!"
Max shrugs and gives me a smirk, saying, "Well, now I know that for sure."
Oh, I'm about to wipe that smirk right off his face. I keep my face unreadable as I set my drink on the counter behind me and bend to pick up his dropped Coke.
I straighten and hold it out to him; as he reaches out to take it, I pop the tab, sending a powerful jet of Coca-Cola goodness right into his face.
"What was that?" he splutters, attempting to wipe the soda off his face, but the damage is done; his white tank top is now drenched with the sticky Coke, and I even managed to get some in his hair.
"I was testing your reflexes," I say teasingly. "I'm sorry to say that you failed."
I take a triumphant sip of my soda, satisfied that I bested him.
"Oh, you're so sweet," Max says with a big smile, taking a step closer to me.
I see the mischievous glint in his eyes, and I immediately become suspicious.
"What are you doing?" I ask.
He takes another step closer and opens his arms wide.
"Can't a guy give a hug to his best friend?"
Suddenly I realize what he's planning on doing, and I scream, "No! Nononononono!"
I back up away from him, but I run into the counter; there's nowhere for me to go.
Max takes the final step forward and envelops me in his arms, giving me a tight hug.
"Ugh, Max! You're all sticky and gross!"
I try to squirm away, but to no avail; he's holding me tightly against his body, and I can feel the gross soda seeping through my t-shirt. I struggle to keep my face away from his sticky shoulder, but he gives me one last tight squeeze, causing me to face plant right into his chest.
He finally lets go, and I look down at my blue "The Angels Have the Phone Box" t-shirt, now covered with soda.
"Great, you got me all messy!"
Max smirks down at me.
"And what did we learn?" he asks.
I glare at him, then look away and mumble, "I shouldn't spray soda all over people."
"That's right!" Max coos, tweaking my nose. "You're such a smart cookie."
He gives me one last smile, then turns around to begin walking to the front door. I guess he's going home, which means that he's leaving me to clean up the mess in the kitchen. That's not fair!
I feel the need to show my anger at the unfairness of the situation, so I glare at his back. Then I decide that no way am I letting him have the last word, and I do the first thing that comes to mind:
I let out a war cry, and run and jump onto his back, wrapping my arms around his chest and my legs around his waist as he staggers under the unexpected weight.
I expect him to fall, but he doesn't. Instead he lets out a grunt and straightens, adjusting to my presence on his back. He chuckles and turns his head to try to see me.
"So, what exactly was your plan?" he asks. "Because now you're kind of stuck up there."
"Um…I don't know. It was kind of one of those spur of the moment things…but you're kind of wet and slippery."
Actually, he's really slippery.
Like, really, really slippery. In fact…
My hands start to lose their grip, and so do my legs. I start slip-sliding down the back of him, and I desperately try to clutch onto him (hey, I don't want to fall on my butt!). Max leans away from me, trying to keep us upright. He may have succeeded if one of my flailing bare feet hadn't suddenly made hard contact with his groin.
Max yelps with pain and loses his balance, falling forward onto the carpet of the living room and sending me sprawling a foot away. I get onto my knees and scramble over to him.
"Oh my god, Max, are you okay?"
He doesn't answer, just rolls over to face me, trying to take deep breaths as he holds himself.
"You're right, that was a stupid question, Max, of course you're not okay, I'm really, really, really sorry!"
I hear footsteps coming from above, and I look up to see Dad standing at the top of the stairs, peering down at me and Max and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
"What's all the ruckus?" he asks.
Max manages to sit up and say in a strained voice, "Sorry, Mr. Reed, we'll be more quiet."
"Yeah, kids, why don't you go outside for a while?"
"Um, okay, Dad, we'll leave. Sorry for waking you up," I say.
Dad just grumbles and heads back to his room. Max picks himself up off the floor, having fully recovered.
"I'm really sorry, Max," I say again. "Are you sure you're okay?"
He gives me an easy smile.
"Yes, Devon, I'm fine. It was an accident; don't beat yourself up about it. It's not like it hasn't happened before."
I raise an eyebrow at him and ask doubtfully, "There have been other girls who have jumped on your back and then proceeded to unintentionally kick you in the groin due to their own stupid clumsiness?"
"Well, no, it hasn't happened exactly like that, but hey, it woke me up," he answers. "Come on, let's head out and go over to my house."
I nod my agreement, still feeling guilty for hurting him.
Max and I walk over to his house, with Finn following at our heels. Max opens his front door and we step into the foyer, only to have Mrs. Anderson enter the hallway and stop dead, staring at us with her mouth agape.
"You two are a mess! Out, out!"
She hurries toward us, flapping her hands until Max and I are shooed out onto the porch.
"Sorry, kids, but you're going to have to clean up before you come inside the house."
Max stares at his grandmother and says, "But how are we supposed to…"
Mrs. Anderson looks at him with her eyebrows raised.
"Maximus Anderson, you're a smart boy, so use your head!" she says. "Use the hose, and take the dog out while you're at it."
Max hangs his head and looks dejected, giving her the puppy dog eyes that he uses on me whenever he wants chocolate chip cookies and I tell him no.
Mrs. Anderson claps a hand over her eyes and says, "No, it won't work. Now, go!"
Max sighs and whistles for Cassie, who comes trotting out of the house. She catches sight of Finn and goes running over to him, and they play while Max leads me around the side of his house. We stop by the garden hose.
"Now what?" I ask.
"Well," Max says, pulling his shirt off over his head and dropping it in the grass. "We get a nice, cold, outdoorsy shower."
He turns the hose on and begins uncoiling it.
"But that's not fair!"
My, I am being whiney today, aren't I? Hmm…
Max stops what he's doing and looks at me, perplexed at my outburst.
"What's not fair?"
I cross my arms over my sticky shirt.
"You're a guy!"
Max raises his eyebrows and asks, "So?"
"So you can take your shirt off! And that makes it a heck of a lot easier to get cleaned up!"
He just chuckles and finishes uncoiling the hose, then begins to spray himself off.
"Nothing's stopping you from taking your shirt off, too, you know."
The only response I have is to stick my tongue out at him. Mature, I know.
He douses his hair and torso, taking his time. As I watch him, I remember something Liz said during the water gun wars: that she'd love to see him dripping wet. My face begins to heat up at the thought, because it is indeed not a terrible sight. Trying to distract myself, I cross my arms and begin tapping my foot with fake impatience, hoping he'll get the message that I'm trying to send out: my skin is feeling extremely sticky and gross, and I want a turn with the hose.
Max stops what he's doing and looks at me, an amused glint in his eyes.
"What? You want this?" he asks, wagging the hose teasingly in front of me.
I clear my throat, nod, and reach out for it, but he yanks it away.
"Ugh, Max, you're being a jerk!"
"Oh, I'm sorry, Devon, you're right. Here you go!" he grins and aims the hose right at me.
The water is freezing! I cower away from it but Max doesn't let up, soaking me to my skin. Finally he stops, turns the hose off, and grins at me.
"There you go, nice and clean."
"Gee, thanks," I say dryly. I can't be completely sarcastic with him though, because I really do feel better and soda-free.
I put my wet hair up in a bun so that it's off my neck, then I rush at Max and tackle him to the ground for the second time today. He lands on his back with an "oomph!" and I laugh, rolling off of him so that I'm laying on my back beside him.
"What was that for?" he asks, regaining his breath.
I laugh again, feeling giddy for some reason. I sigh with contentment, feeling happy and free with the grass underneath my body, the blue sky above me, and the sun on my face. Not to mention I have my best friend beside me.
Wow, I couldn't be happier right now.
"Sometimes you need to view the world from a different angle," I say, finally answering Max's question. "Well, that, and we kind of need to dry off."
He turns his head and smiles at me through the blades of grass separating us.
"And you're tired."
"That too," I admit, with a wry smile.
We lay in silence for a moment as we both get comfortable. Max rests his head on his hands while I spread out like a starfish.
"Would it be too cliché for us to find pictures in the clouds?" I ask.
Max chuckles and answers, "Maybe just a little."
"Okay, fine, then…would you rather?"
"Sure, go for it."
I'm quiet for a moment as I think of something I could ask him.
"Would you rather live in a mansion alone or live in a shack with all the friends and family you could ever need?"
"That's easy! I'd live in the shack. A mansion isn't worth anything if you can't share it with someone. Look at Entourage. Where would Vince be if it weren't for Turtle and E? He would be depressed. Besides, you can always fix up a shack."
"Okay, see if you can come up with a better question."
"I accept that challenge!"
After what seems like forever, he says, "Okay, would you rather swim in the sea with a hungry shark or walk in the jungle with a hungry lion?"
"The lion, of course."
"Why, Devon, do explain yourself."
"First of all, I'm not a strong swimmer. At all. So I wouldn't be out in the middle of the ocean to begin with. Even if I was a strong swimmer, I would still pick the jungle and the lion, because at least a lion knows how to kill. It would go straight for the throat, no pain, no mess. But a shark? All it does is eat fish! A fish is not anatomically like a human in any way. The shark would probably be stupid and eat your legs first or something. The lion would just be like, 'No, I got this, I know how to kill this thing and be clean about it.' And that is why lions are superior to sharks."
"Wow, morbid," Max says slowly.
"Hey, you asked the question."
Max and I both sit up, startled by the sound of Maddy's voice. She's standing in Max's yard, holding Zoe's hand. Liz is here too…she's just openly staring at Max.
"What are you guys doing?" Maddy asks curiously, as Max leaps to his feet and helps me up.
"Devon decided to spray soda at me and accidentally got covered in it too."
"I can see that," Liz says, though she isn't even looking at me. Her eyes are trained on Max, traveling down the lines of his chest and abdominal muscles to the point where his jeans are sitting low on his slim hips.
Come on, Liz! At least Maddy is trying to make it look like she's not checking him out. Granted, Maddy's method is just to look at him, blush, look away, then look at him again.
Zoe is the only female in the general vicinity who is not aware of the fact that Max is shirtless.
"Max!" she screams in happiness, bounding over to him and jumping up so that he catches her. She wraps her skinny arms around his neck in a tight hug.
"Hey, Sunny," Max says affectionately.
"Do you wanna watch movies with us?" she asks.
"Movies?" he says, raising his eyebrows at me and then looking back at Sunny. "I can never pass up a chance to watch movies!"
He sets Zoe back on her feet and frowns as if he's forgetting something. He pats his bare chest and realization dawns on him.
"Ah, right!" he says, snapping his fingers. "I just need to find a clean shirt."
"No, you don't," I hear Liz pipe up, but Max is already turning to go back into his house, and he doesn't hear her…thank goodness for that.
I walk over to her and elbow her none too gently in the ribs.
"Could you be any more obvious?"
"No! So why isn't he noticing?"
Liz sighs in frustration as Max emerges from his house again, a brown shirt in his hands.
"He's completely oblivious, the ignorant, gorgeous bastard," she says appreciatively as she watches him stretch to pull the shirt over his head.
"Yeah, well, I prefer him that way," I tell her, averting my eyes from Max's bare torso, which is quickly covered by his shirt advertising "The Doors."
"Why?" asks Liz, sounding shocked as she spares a glance my way, raising her eyebrows.
"Because at least then he's still sweet and kind, with none of the arrogance that comes with people knowing they're attractive."
"Ahugh, ahugh, Ethan, ahugh, ahugh," Liz coughs.
I pretend that I don't hear her and I stalk past her into my house. I can hear the others coming in after me as Zoe chatters to Max about her day.
We all plop down on the couch, with Max on the end, then Maddy (who is so tense and on edge because she's that close to him that I don't believe she's even breathing regularly), then Liz (who I purposely sat far away from Max, for his sake), and me on the other end. Zoe settles into Max's lap, leaning back comfortably against his chest.
We all enjoy each others' company for the next few hours, watching "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," and "Princess and the Frog" (yes, I love animated kids' movies; anybody who doesn't doesn't have a soul!) as we munch on grilled cheese sandwiches and drink fresh lemonade. Eventually it's Zoe's bedtime and Max passes her off to Dad, who takes her upstairs.
"Okay, guys, it's time to PG-ify this party," I declare, standing up from the couch.
"With what movie?" Liz asks, narrowing her eyes at me in suspicion.
I understand why; she's already guessed what movie I'm planning on and, if I'm correct, she's going to be out of here like a shot within the next two minutes. I whip the DVD out from behind my back.
"Jaws!" I announce.
"Nuh-uh, no way, I'm out. See you later, guys!" And with those words, Liz is out of the house for the rest of the night.
I sigh and walk over to close the front door.
"Is she okay?" Max asks, looking over the back of the couch at me and sounding concerned.
I nod and fill him in on one of Liz's lesser-known traits: "She's scared of sharks. Well, in her words, she 'respects' sharks and the power that they have to kill her in one chomp. She's never actually seen 'Jaws,' but with us living so close to the beach and all, she really would rather not think about the possibility of us all becoming shark chow."
I smile to myself as I leave out the fact that Liz is obviously really scared if she would pass up a chance to spend time with Max. "Mr. Fine Ass" doesn't need to know about her little (okay, not so little) crush on him.
"I'll be back," I tell Max and Maddy before walking into the kitchen.
I'm still hunting around for popcorn when I hear footsteps behind me. I turn around to see Maddy standing there, looking nervous as all get-out.
"Are you okay?" I ask.
"I can't believe you left me alone with him!" she complains, her cheeks flushing pink.
I raise an eyebrow at her.
"I thought that's what you wanted."
"No! Yes! No! I just, I don't know…" she finishes miserably.
I sigh and am about to tell her to suck it up when Max enters the kitchen. I give him a curious look (I mean, geez, I was just getting us popcorn) and he shrugs his shoulders.
"I was lonely," he explains, hoisting himself up to sit on the island.
"You're like a puppy sometimes, you know that?" I say.
"Cute and cuddly, adventurous and playful? I take that as a compliment," he replies with his trademark grin.
I roll my eyes but smile back at him, then turn back to the pantry. I'd better get a move on finding the popcorn, if we want to finish the movie within a decent amount of time.
Aha, bingo! I spot the popcorn sitting on the top shelf. Who put it there? A giant? Because I can so not reach that.
I try anyway, standing up on the tips of my toes and reaching upward. There are still two or three inches between the popcorn box and my fingertips. I sigh and try to stretch more, but to no avail. Suddenly I feel somebody directly behind me and see a hand reaching up to pluck the box off the shelf easily.
I come down off my tippy toes and turn my head to look at Max, taking the box from his hands and opening my mouth to thank him.
My words die in my throat as I look into his oddly serious blue eyes. I'm suddenly all too aware of how much heat he's giving off and how good he smells. And of how close he is.
Close enough to kiss, actually.
Maddy sneezes behind me, snapping me back to reality. I blink, effectively breaking eye contact with Max.
"Thanks," I choke out.
He smiles and takes a step back, away from me.
"Not a problem, shorty," he says, ruffling my hair.
"Hey!" I protest, smacking his hand away. "It's not my fault I'm not six feet tall!"
"Come on, we all know you could have tried harder growing up."
I give him a "Really?" look and brush past him to get to the microwave. I open up the box and pull out a package of microwavable popcorn. I busy myself tearing the plastic off and throwing the popcorn into the microwave, trying to forget about the thoughts I just had about my best friend.
I turn back around to see that Max and Maddy are both sitting on the island, Maddy staring into space and Max staring at me. I refuse to meet his gaze and instead address Maddy.
"Hey, Mad, want to join in on a little lines-remembering from 'Jaws' while we're waiting for the popcorn?"
This is one of the few good movies that she has actually seen, and so I feel like she'd appreciate the chance to show off her movie skills in front of Max. I also always like to test Max on how much he actually remembers from the countless movies he's seen.
Maddy's eyes brighten and Max looks at her curiously.
"Okay!" Maddy thinks for a moment, then starts off her favorite scene of 'Jaws': "You were on the Indianapolis?"
"What happened?" I ask, then settle back against the counter to watch the show.
Max doesn't even hesitate before starting, "Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin' back from the island of Tinian to Leyte... just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. 13-footer. You know how you know that when you're in the water, Chief? You tell by looking from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn't know, was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn't even list us overdue for a week."
He sounds mournful and so unlike his normal self that I believe I could close my eyes and forget that it's him.
" Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin', so we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know, it was kinda like old squares in the battle like you see in the calendar named 'The Battle of Waterloo' and the idea was: shark comes to the nearest man, that man he starts poundin' and hollerin' and screamin' and sometimes the shark go away... but sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that shark he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. And, you know, the thing about a shark... he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be living... until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then... ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin'."
"I'm glad Liz isn't here," Maddy mutters, her eyes glued to Max as he recites the quote correctly word for word.
"The ocean turns red," Max continues, "And despite all the poundin' and the hollerin', they all come in and they... rip you to pieces. You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don't know how many sharks, maybe a thousand. I know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday morning, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boatswain's mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up, down in the water just like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he'd been bitten in half below the waist. Noon, the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us. He swung in low and he saw us... he was a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway, he saw us and he come in low and three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and starts to pick us up.
"You know that was the time I was most frightened... waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water; 316 men come out and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb," Max finishes, sounding matter of fact.
The microwave beeps to signal the end of the popcorn's popping. I wordlessly turn around and retrieve the popcorn from the microwave, dishing it out into three bowls.
"That was even more bone-chilling than in the movie," Maddy tells Max as she suppresses a shudder.
He just gives her a lopsided smile.
"Come on guys, the popcorn's ready," I say, passing out bowls.
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We've reached the point of the movie when Quint makes his first appearance. And I'm all out of popcorn.
This is a major dilemma.
I need popcorn when I'm watching a movie. When I don't have it, it's like Abbott without Costello: it's just a bad situation, and nobody wants to see it.
So I look around for a solution to my problem. I look to my left, where Maddy is sitting, purposely holding her popcorn bowl away from me. I won't get anywhere with her, because she knows all about how I devour any food within sight within the first fifteen minutes of a movie, and she's learned to hide her stash.
I suppose I could always go into the kitchen and make more, but that would involve me somehow ninja-jumping over the back of the couch so I don't disrupt anybody's movie-watching experience, and I just don't think that I'm athletically capable of doing anything remotely like that. Not to mention that I'm pretty lazy by nature.
I let out an inaudible sigh and swing my head to the right. That's when I catch sight of the still mostly-full bowl of popcorn on Max's lap.
I nonchalantly reach over to grab a handful, but Max's hand shoots out and grabs a gentle but firm hold on my wrist. I try to look into his eyes, but he's still watching the movie.
How the heck did he know…?
I go to pull my wrist from his grasp, and he lets go. I resist the urge to fidget for the next two minutes while I try to plan my strategy to get a hold of some of his popcorn. But unfortunately he's smart enough to know what I want, and so he has moved the bowl to the arm of the couch, even further away from me.
I make up my mind and just lunge for it, but he's too fast for me; he lifts the bowl up with his right hand and holds it over the arm of the couch. I refuse to give up, and I stretch even further for it. I soon realize that there is absolutely no way that popcorn will ever be within my reach, so I have to resort to some less-than-honorable tactics.
His nose is close enough to my face; I guess I could just bite it. But that seems like it would be unpleasant for the both of us. So I go for the less harmful option: I poke him in the belly button. He's not expecting that and he flinches just enough that I'm able to dip my hand into the bowl to retrieve a handful of popcorn.
I then retreat back to my part of the couch, guarding my small handful in case Max makes a counter attack. He doesn't, though; he just looks at me with an "are you really being this childish?" expression. And I nod and give him my best "why, yes, yes I am" face.
Somehow I manage to make my handful of popcorn last me through the rest of the movie. As the credits roll, I jump off the couch. Maddy's half asleep, but Max is still watching the TV screen.
"What are you doing?" I ask him.
"I like to watch the credits roll. Sometimes there are interesting names, and you can also see all of the tiny, seemingly insignificant jobs that needed to be done to finish the movie."
"I've never thought about that before," I say.
I see Maddy dozing off in the corner of the couch, and I gently shake her shoulder, hoping to wake her up. She just grumbles and turns over. I sigh and turn to Max just as the credits finish.
"Well, goodnight," I tell him.
He stands up and stretches, scratching the back of his head before asking, "Do you want help with her?"
"What do you mean?"
Max doesn't answer. He walks over to Maddy and gently picks her up bridal-style, barely jostling her as he holds her close to his chest.
"Which way to her room?" he whispers.
I mouth "this way" and lead the way up the stairs until we get to her room. He sets her on her bed and I pull the comforter up to cover her. Max and I leave the room without a sound, and I shut the door quietly behind us.
We make our way back down the stairs and I inform him, "That's the second time you've carried a sister of mine to bed. It's becoming a bit of a habit."
Max shrugs. "I don't mind."
We walk to the front door, and I open it. I grab Max's shirt sleeve as he's about to step onto the porch.
"You're coming over tomorrow, right?" I ask.
Max pauses and looks at me.
"There are supposed to be thunderstorms all day."
I don't say anything in response. I suddenly develop an interest in a thread unraveling in my shorts, and I pick at it as I feel Max's gaze attempt to meet mine.
"Of course I'm coming over," he says.
I look up at him and meet his eyes. He steps forward and closes the space between us, pressing a quick, soft kiss to my forehead.
I smile at him.
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After I shut and lock the door behind Max, I head up to my room, dragging my feet. It's only 11:00, but suddenly I'm extremely tired, and my back hurts a little bit. But that's probably only because of the fall I took today when I climbed onto Max's back.
I do my nightly routine then finally fall into my bed. Finn jumps up to lay next to me, while Rue makes herself comfortable on my body pillow, next to my stomach. It's probably the warmest spot for her, so I understand.
Just as I'm about to drift off to a blissful land of nothingness, my phone vibrates from its place on my nightstand. I reach out and grab it, only to find that I have four text messages from Ethan:
(At 6:47 PM) how r u?
(At 9:01 PM) u havnt called in a while
(At 10:32PM) hey babe we need 2 meet up tonite
(At 10:58PM) what r u doing that ur so busy? pls get back 2 me
I sigh and type out a quick Sorry, I'm really tired before turning my phone off and throwing it back onto the nightstand. I curl up tighter around Rue and shut my eyes.
It's only as I'm on the brink of sleep that I realize it didn't even cross my mind once to invite Ethan over for our movie night.
Sunday, July 17th
I wake up to the pattering of rain against the windows. It's still dark in my room, but my clock says that it's already 9:26 in the morning. I reluctantly roll out of bed and walk over to the French doors, throwing them open.
Big, black clouds are rolling in across the sky, though there isn't any lightning or thunder yet. I don't know when that's going to change, but I'm not looking forward to it. I just want Max to come over before storm starts.
Attempting to keep my nerves at bay, I cross my arms across my chest and peer through the tree branches to Max's balcony. His doors are open, and I can see him sitting on the floor of his room, strumming his guitar. His hair is damp; he must have just gotten out of the shower.
Before I call attention to myself, I decide to change out of my pajamas and into denim shorts and a t-shirt. Then I put my hair into a high ponytail and step out onto my balcony, rather enjoying the cool rain hitting my skin.
"Max!" I call.
Somehow he manages to hear me over the rustling of the tree's leaves. He stops playing and looks up at me, a smile breaking across his face.
"Are you coming over, or what?" I ask.
He nods and stands up, hurriedly putting his guitar in its case. He slings the case over his back and walks onto his balcony, shutting the doors behind him. Next thing I know he's swinging himself up and into the tree, then dropping feet first next to me.
"Good morning," he says with a smile.
He's pretty wet, having clambered through the wet leaves, but as I take in his lime green Converse high tops, beige cargo shorts, white V-neck, and twinkling blue eyes, my nerves about the coming storm fade away.
"You brought your guitar," I notice as we go into my room.
"Yeah, I wanted to have something to cheer you up."
"That's really sweet of you," I tell him, touched.
Max flashes me a smile and says, "I know."
We go downstairs, where Maddy and Zoe are sitting at the kitchen table, chatting as Dad makes pancakes. He looks up when Max and I enter the kitchen.
"Oh, hello, Max, I didn't realize you were here. Would you and Devon like some pancakes?" Dad asks.
"Yes please!" we say in unison.
I'm sure Max has already had one breakfast this morning, but that's teenage boys for you. And if Dad realizes that Max didn't exactly come in the front door, he doesn't say anything about it. So Max and I join Maddy and Zoe at the table, where Zoe gives Max a kiss on the cheek and Maddy begins hastily untangling her bed hair with her fingers.
She probably has no idea that he's the one who put her in her bed last night. Hehe, maybe I'll keep that a secret, so she doesn't swoon.
"Cool pajamas," Max tells Maddy.
She blushes and I can tell she's just dying to, well, die.
"No, really," he says, giving her an encouraging smile. "I loved Hello Kitty when I was younger."
That's not weird…
And now Maddy looks dismayed, rather than embarrassed. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that it's because Max just implied that she's younger than us. Which, surprise, surprise: she is.
"Here you go!" Dad says, setting a plate of towering pancakes in front of us.
A chorus of "Thanks, Dad!" and "Thanks, Mr. Reed!" rises from the table.
"So, what are we going to do today?" Max asks.
"Monopoly!" Zoe shouts. "I want the horsey!"
"I call the shoe!" Maddy says.
"The dog!" I add in.
"The hat!" says Max. I raise my eyebrows at him.
"What?" he asks. "Top hats are cool. If they weren't, Lincoln never would have worn one."
I just smile at him.
"Okay," Dad says. "I guess that I'll take the car, then."
And so, after breakfast, the five of us sit around the table and play Monopoly. It's a tough, competitive game, complete with lots of smack talk (G-rated for Zoe's impressionable ears). Somehow, two hours after we start the game, we're all in the poor house and mortgaging properties as fast as the game will let us, while Zoe racks up the money.
She plays by herself, mind you, and she's only five. Something's wrong with this picture.
In the end, Zoe does win.
"Again?" she asks hopefully, looking at Dad.
"Why not?" he sighs.
We take a brief break for lunch, and it's just as we're returning to our game that there is a loud crack of thunder outside. The sudden noise causes me to jump, and I can feel the familiar loss of breath and shaking coming on.
That's when I feel Max take my hand in his underneath the table and squeeze it gently. I look up into his face and he gives me a small, reassuring smile. I take a deep breath and manage to once again concentrate on the game, instead of the increased tempo of rain.
But fifteen minutes later, there's a bright flash of lightening and all of the lights in the house go off. I squeeze Max's hand so tightly that I'm surprised he doesn't cry out.
"I'm sure the lights will come back on soon," he whispers in my ear.
We're all still and quiet as we wait for the electricity to come back. There's a slight jostling from beside me as Zoe climbs into Max's lap. Despite Max holding my hand, I grow more and more tense as each second slowly passes.
After what seems like an eternity, Dad stands up from the table.
"I'm going to drive into town and see if I can't get an electrician out here. I'll be back soon," he says.
I can see by the dim light from outside as he gets his car keys and makes his way to the door.
"Stay inside the house, and look after Zoe. There's a flashlight in the drawer by the fridge."
Then he's gone.
"Okay," Max says, pushing his chair out and away from the table. "I'm going to get up and find that flashlight."
He sets Zoe on my lap and I reluctantly let go of his hand, wrapping my arms around my youngest sister and hugging her instead.
"Devy, are you okay?" Zoe whispers.
"Yeah, I'm fine, Zo," I say, smiling weakly at her, even though she can't see my facial expression through the darkness.
"Found it!" I hear Max exclaim, then a beam of light comes from the direction of the refrigerator.
"Here, follow me," he says.
I take a deep breath and stand up from the table, clutching Zoe to my chest. I try to regulate my breathing as Maddy and I follow Max into the living room.
"What are we doing?" Maddy asks in confusion.
I'm glad that she asks, because I don't think I would be able to get the words out right now. There's another brilliant flash of lightning outside the windows, followed by the low, warning growl of thunder barely two seconds later. I suppress a gasp and instead try to focus on Max, who's now standing in front of us.
"Sit on the couch," he tells us, and so my sisters and I take a seat.
"Devon, remember that movie that we watched last week?" he asks me.
Even through my panicked haze, I can see where this is going.
"'Blue Velvet?'" I ask to clarify that he is indeed about to do what I think he's about to do.
"Yep," he says with a smile.
Right now, I'm not exactly in my right mind. But, if I were, I would probably most likely make a comment like:
This oughta be good.
Max pulls out his phone and sets it up so that "In Dreams" begins playing loudly from the speakers. Before the words start, Max sets his phone on the coffee table and aims the flashlight beam at his own face, making it completely visible to the rest of us.
"A candy-colored clown they call the sandman tiptoes to my room every night, just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper: 'Go to sleep, everything is alright.'"
The words of the song begin playing, and Max lip syncs the lyrics, complete with dance moves.
"I close my eyes, then I drift away, into the magic night; I softly sway, oh smile and pray like dreamers do, then I fall asleep to dream my dreams of you."
It's a really comforting song, and seeing my best friend going to such pains to make me feel better actually makes me begin to forget the thunder and lightning that are still warring outside the house. I get lost in his performance, even if he isn't actually the one singing. He's acting, quite literally, like a singer on stage in the 60's.
"In dreams…I walk with you. In dreams…I talk to you. In dreams…you're mine. All of the time, we're together in dreams…in dreams.
"But just before the dawn, I awake and find you gone. I can't help it…I can't help it if I cry. I remember that you said goodbye to end all these things, and I'll be happy in my dreams."
The song winds down with the last words, during which Max's eyes meet mine:
"Only in dreams, in beautiful dreams."
His phone stops playing, and Zoe and Maddy clap, despite the fact that the song has a bit of a melancholy tune. I gently move Zoe off my lap and stand up to give Max a hug.
I stand up on my tiptoes to whisper "Thank you" into his ear.
For whatever reason, Max's diversion works, and the threat of a panic attack goes away. The four of us make shadow puppets on the wall with the flashlight as we wait out the rest of the storm, with Max's phone playing the best of the Beatles in the background.
It's only an hour and a half after the lights go out that they suddenly come back on again. We all stop what we're doing and blink at the sudden brightness.
Zoe is the first one to move; she jumps up off the floor and starts cheering. She goes running over to the front door and throws it open, peering outside.
"Guys, guys! Come outside, quick!" she shouts, then runs out onto the porch.
Maddy, Max, and I stare at each other for a moment, then scramble to our feet and follow Zoe outside. The black clouds are dispersing, and the sun is shining through, its rays causing the water on the trees and blades of grass to glisten and sparkle (like Edward! Yeah, I went there).
"No, guys, look!" Zoe says impatiently, grabbing my hand and pointing upwards, towards town.
That's when I see the clearest rainbow I've ever seen. It's so bright and vibrant that it looks as if it might actually be a solid thing that we could reach out and touch, if only we were tall enough.
I'm still staring at the rainbow in awe when I hear Max whisper earnestly in my ear, "Double rainbow all the way across the sky!"
I look at him and we both break out in grins.
"You know what?" Max asks, speaking to all of us. "This rainbow calls for some celebration."
He turns around and goes running back into the house. He reappears mere seconds later, carrying his guitar case.
"You're going to play?" I ask, trying to keep the excitement out of my voice.
I've never heard him play his guitar, because he's always just blown it off when I ask him to. So I have good reason to be excited.
"Why not?" Max asks, smiling.
He takes the guitar from its case and, slinging the strap over his neck and one arm, takes a seat on the front stoop. He motions for us to all sit around him, which the three of us do eagerly. Maddy looks so intrigued that I don't think she even realizes she's out, in public, in her pajamas. Any other day, she'd be freaking out.
But I suppose today is special.
Max takes a deep breath, smiles at me, then begins to play.
I immediately recognize the tune he's playing, and my heart just about melts. I've always been a sucker for "The Wizard of Oz," and "Over the Rainbow" is my favorite song in that movie. But this tune sounds more like the version they did in Glee, with Mr. Schuester.
Then Max opens his mouth and begins to sing.
"Ooooo oooooo oooooo…Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high, there's a land that I dreamed of, once in a lullaby…"
This is the first time I have ever heard him really, truly sing. And his voice is one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard.
"Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue. And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true…"
It's soft, smooth, and soothing; his voice could lure me to sleep, if he wanted it to. As it is, it just settles a blanket of peace and warmth over our little porch stoop.
"Oh, someday I'll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me…where troubles melt like lemon drops, high above the chimney tops; that's where you'll find me…"
I almost close my eyes so as to revel in the music, but then I catch sight of him. The sun is hitting his golden hair, illuminating it and seeming to make him glow. The slight breeze catches a hold of the thin fabric of his V-neck and gently ruffles it. His eyes are as blue as the sky above us, and he has a look of utter contentment on his face.
"Oh, somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly. Birds fly over the rainbow, why then, oh why can't I?"
He plays the finishing chords and slowly the notes fade. We sit in awed silence for a moment, then Zoe jumps to her feet and throws her arms around Max. When she pulls away from him, I notice tears in her eyes. So does Max.
He brushes them off her cheeks and looks at her concernedly. Zoe shakes her head at him and smiles.
"No, Max, they're happy tears, because you made the sky sing. And the rainbow loves you. See?" Zoe says, pointing up at the sky. "She's smiling."
We all look up once more, to see that the rainbow seems to be stretching even farther into the distance, and the colors seem to be even brighter.
I'm shaken out of my reverie by the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. It's my dad, back from town.
"Sorry it took longer than I expected, guys," he apologizes, getting out of his car and slamming the door. "I got hungry and stopped at The Diner. On the bright side, apparently the electrician isn't needed after all. And I brought pizza back for lunch!" He pulls out a large pizza box and shows it to us.
We all stare at him.
"Come on, kids, head on inside and let's eat!"
The four of us slowly stand up, and we are just stepping onto the porch when Dad stops us with his words:
"Wow, that is some rainbow."
Author's Note: Hope you guys liked it! Please review and tell me your thoughts!
And now it's time for the responses….
Kristen196: Thank you! I'm glad you got the references! I try, but I'm not sure that they all make sense or that people actually catch them. I hope that you'll get the ones that are in the future, because there are a lot…some obscure, some not so obscure…we'll just have to see :) Thank you so much for reviewing!
Freakleash: Thank you for understanding! I have all of the next fourteen chapters mapped out, but I'm really hoping I can update at least a little more frequently now that my schedule isn't quite as hectic. Thank you for reviewing and for reading! :)
Mason Title: Thanks for understanding :) That's an interesting thought for Ethan. Believe it or not, I hadn't actually thought about making him a cheater. My whole goal for him at the beginning of the story was to make him a normal guy was just a little lazy and self-centered. But I think that my love of Max is shining through (as this chapter clearly proves) and my hatred of Ethan is starting to show in his character development. So, with the way he's going, him cheating on Devon with Caroline may actually be a strong possibility! It's kind of crazy how these characters just start to write themselves…anyway, thank you for reviewing!
ranika: Thank you for reviewing! Don't worry, I will always be working on the next update, until the twentieth chapter is posted :) I'm not giving up on this thing, no way. I love Max too much! And I'm glad you love him too! I find it kind of hard not to like him…
Luvfanfics: I understand why you like TTOSB better. I do think this is written in a slightly different, slightly less spazzy style. My plan had been for Devon to be a little more down to earth than Sadie, but because my personality is geared more towards Sadie's than it is towards Devon's, I'm finding that difficult. So Devon may start to have some random thoughts popping into her head that are more Sadie-esque. Thank you for reviewing!