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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Turning Point

I tighten my fist, feeling the pain stab my knuckles. Crouching, one knee on the ground and my hair in my face. Eric’s jeans clad legs lie stretched out in front of me, dampened curses are heard through the hand covering his nose and mouth. There’s blood seeping through his fingers and his blue eyes stare at me in shock. 
“Where the fuck did you learn to fight?” The words sound muffled, like they’re painful to form. 
I stare into his eyes, the adrenaline coursing through my veins lend my voice strength. “Anyone can fight, if forced. I never want to see you again. Keep away from me!” 

A hand on my shoulder has me tensing further, I make myself ready to take another swing, but the scent of Marc Jacobs’ Daisy has me taking a deep breath and getting up. Alice takes my closed fist in her soft hands and sighs quietly. 
“Sophie, violence is never the answer.” My body turns to her and I throw one last look down towards the ground, where Eric sits wiping his bloody nose with the sleeve of his hoodie. 
“I want to go back inside.” The pounding sound of loud music echoes in the alley behind The Club. When Alice shakes her head I pull my hand free and start walking past her. 
“Sophie! You can’t just leave him here!” Yes, I can. Her footsteps hurry after me. 

Outside the entrance, Eric’s friends are gathered, waiting for him to come back after our little ‘talk’. They let me pass and turn to watch the alley. Alice stops and talks in a quiet voice to Gustav, who throws me a surprised look and then drags the others in the direction of Eric and his bleeding face. 

As the bouncer checks our hands for the marking to let us in again, I impatiently drum my fingers against my thigh. There’s twice as many people in the semi-darkness as when Eric found me and wanted to have a chat. I push myself to the bar and order myself a cider. I down half before I push myself in the other direction and to an empty table in one of the darker corners and chill my now aching hand on the cold glass. 

Alice joins me, a glass of cider in her hand and worry in her eyes. “Why did you hit him?” She has to lean into me, half-shouting her question in my ear. I move my glass, cooling another part of my hand. It’s a little swollen, it’s beginning to hurt like a mother and the knuckles are looking a little purplish and red. Alice is waiting for an answer. 

“Eric and I were together a couple of weeks at the beginning of summer.” Her eyes go wide and she opens her mouth, but I raise my hand to stop her from speaking. I empty my glass and sigh. “You were in France and it was all over before you got back home. The other day I found out he has a girlfriend, they’ve been together for nearly two years.” Alice shakes her head and takes a big gulp of cider. I nod and glance over at the bar, not too many people, I should be able to get another one quick enough. 

A cider and a couple of tequilas later I’ve forgotten about the pain and I’m anger dancing on the dance floor. Everyone around me is a blurry caricature of a human, I don’t care who’s next to me. I’m dancing by myself. Avoiding anyone who tries to encircle my waist with their arms or to catch my eye. I’ve somehow lost Alice, or maybe she lost herself on purpose. I’ve not been the most pleasant company tonight. 

The DJ spins the last upbeat song of the night, before the slow songs that’ll close the place down, and I let the music carry me away. One last rush before having to deal with reality and the walk home. “Is it too late now, to say sorry?“ Laughter bubbles up inside of me and the memory of my fist connecting with his face and the shock in his eyes pastes a huge smile on my face. 

The late summer night is dark blue. The air cools my hot skin and caresses my aching hand. I close my fist again, feel the swelling tightening the skin and shooting pain down my fingers. When was the last time I felt this alive? The answer hurts more than my hand. 

The memory of his naked skin against mine, the scent of unknown fabric softener and the feeling of lying in someone else’s bed burns my eyes and places a lump in my throat. 
“Fuck!” I bite down hard on my lip to stop the tears from falling. Someone throws up behind me and I hurry my steps as to not be corralled into some form of rescue mission. Alice has sent me four text the last half hour. 

where are you?
have you gone home?
why don’t you answer?
I’m going home now, it’s 1.43

My phone bleeps me at that it’s low on battery and I contemplate not answering her, but my conscience has me sending a short text. 
going home now, didn’t see your texts <3 

It takes me fifteen minutes to walk home. Somewhere along the way I realise the idiocy of walking through town alone, but if I punched one asshole today I would totally be able to punch another if need be. My alcohol infused brain adds logic where there is none. 

Someone’s at my building. Someone tugs angrily at the door. I slow my steps to see who it is. A guy my age swears loudly and runs the tag over the keypad before yanking at the locked door again. 
“Fucking hell!” He aims a kick at the wall and I decide to help him before something breaks. 
“Problems?” The guy swings round, looking surprised. His eyes take in my blonde hair and short skirt, and I can see his shoulders relaxing. 
“What?” 
I smile at him and hold my tag against the lock long enough for it to register it with a buzz and a click, and then I open the door. “Violence is never the answer.” 


A Sunny Day in May

I can’t see them anywhere, we were supposed to meet at the fountain at 3 o’clock and now it’s almost 3.30. The water splashes my face as the wind changes direction and I move to the other side, even though this means I have to squint in the bright sunshine. Note to self: don’t forget to bring sunglasses. 

There’s a whiff of summer in the air, dusty warm asphalt and the scent of freshly made ice cream cones coming from the ice cream shop further down the road. The wind is lovely against my skin and like a flower I turn my face towards the sun to soak up some energy. The sounds of the city surround me; a bus wheezing as it pulls up next to the cathedral, a bicycle rattling past and someone is calling a name. It takes a while before I register the name being called. 

“Leah!” The sun is in my eyes and I raise my hand to shield my face to have a chance at seeing who it is. My lungs lose the ability to take up oxygen. Even though the sunlight obscures my view and only gives me the outlines of a person, a name flits through my brain: Jonah
Everything he is is forever imprinted in my mind: how he moves, speaks, the gestures he uses, his scent, how the wind ruffles his raven black hair and how his eyes alter colour according to his moods. 

At the same time I’m very aware of how impossible my crush is, how my bleeding heart is forever lost and that I ought to move on. I should meet the other guys out in the world, who are just waiting to be the ones to break my heart. Forget all about him and find someone who cares for me. 

His wave is cheerful as he crosses the street and my brain is yelling: No no no! The butterflies in my stomach start their routine of delirious acrobatics and since it’s my heart that’s taken charge of everything, all sane thoughts go flying and I tell myself he is crossing the street for me. Because he obviously spends his days daydreaming about me… sigh

He has to be aware of my feelings for him, it’s impossible that he’s missed how I stare and how quickly my face catches fire when he enters the same room. Nothing shows me he knows, he lets it be and that’s another reason why I like him so much (love him?).

Today I’m glad the sun’s in my face, maybe he’ll think I’ve spent too much time in the sun. Yeah, that’s likely. Hair is dancing in front of my face and I hurriedly swipe at it, hoping it’s not a complete mess. Thank God, I took the time to put some makeup on today. 

He’s ridiculously cool and good looking. So hot it ought to be illegal, everything and everyone pales in comparison. My friends amuse themselves by telling me he’s right behind me, only to watch me jump and spin around and bump into the poor soul walking behind. Ha-hardy-ha. 

My smile, which threatens to split my face in two, spreads before I have a chance to stop it. His eyes sparkle with amusement and my face takes on a darker shade of red. Can I be more obvious?

Three, two, one steps before I’m in his arms and the smell of him has me falling deeper into the abyss I so desperately want to crawl out of… shit! One hundred of a second, eternal and sweeter than all the days of summer, he holds me. When he lets me go I’m cold, even though it’s a warm early summer’s day and the sun’s rays warm my skin. I don’t want to let go and my brain has to persuade my body that clinging to him isn’t okay. You don’t do that! 
Arms crossed over my chest I take a step back and we can continue pretending I don’t have any feelings for him. My heart pounds in my chest just like I’ve run a marathon, but I force myself to pretend everything’s okay. 

This can’t go on, I can’t keep falling apart every time we meet, he won’t be able to keep ignoring it and I just know my life would be over if that were to happen. A dismissal would be disastrous, the shame of it… I don’t want to think about the shame. A mental talking to later my armour is again covering my heart and I can meet his gaze without bleeding all over the place. This really can’t get more pathetic, can it? Why does he have to smell so nice? I’m sure more than half of the guys I know use the same product, but they don’t do it for me. Why?

He’s looking at me. Was I staring again? I don’t know, wasn’t really present. Something in his gaze has me feeling antsy and my mouth sets off on its own. 
“I’m waiting for the others, they’re not here yet. We were supposed to meet at 3. I was rather early, I usually am, but today that’s okay, it’s so nice out.” Anything to fill the silence. He nods and looks up at the clocks on the cathedral. 
“They’re late.” I roll my eyes at the obvious and look over towards the park, but no sign of them. 
“They’re never on time, I’m always waiting for them.” Trying to act nonchalant, but failing to hide my irritation. “It sucks being the one who always has to wait, once I’d like to be the late one. But that won’t happen, I’m too much of a time pessimist to be cool with that.” SHUT UP! No, impossible. Him standing here and smelling so good and looking so hot isn’t doing anything to relieve me of stress. Shit Focus Leah, focus! “Anyhow…” With a shrug of my shoulder I glance off in the direction of the ice cream shop. 

The wind kicks it up a notch and brings the smell of freshly baked cinnamon rolls, my mouth waters and I lick my lips. I’d like some cinnamon rolls right now. Something else I want is to kiss Jonah. No Leah! Focus! Thank God he can’t read my mind. 
“Lovely day, isn’t it. Almost summer.” I straighten my skirt and am surprised I’m not leaving big blotches of palm sweat on the fabric. “I was going to go for jeans, but then I realised it’d be like really warm so I chose a skirt instead.” He’s watching me. Is that a smile hiding in the corner of his mouth? Realising I’m talking too much does nothing, I’m too nervous and can’t seem calm and aloof if my life depended on it. “Yeah, you wouldn’t know much about the difference between wearing jeans or a skirt.” He’s still not saying anything, but I die a little anyway, fall deeper into the abyss. My geekiest nervous laughter bubbles out and I need to look away to not cry of shame. 

How does everyone else stand next to someone and not say anything? I bite my cheek to keep quiet. Shut the fuck up! But the silence between us feels too revealing and I’m afraid I’ll throw myself around his neck, declare him my love and then be sick in the fountain. I’m so pathetic. 
“So what are your plans? Meeting Martin and the others? I thought I saw Simon on the bus, but I could have been wrong.” 

Why can’t he be like everyone else and interrupt me and start talking about himself and stop me from babbling on about nothing? The sun glitters in the droplets splashing from the fountain and sparrows chirp as the look for crumbs beneath the benches. In a few weeks, when ice cream season starts for real, they’ll have more luck. Crumbs… cinnamon rolls… tea… aren’t they here yet? 

“We’re going to the café, to celebrate that school’s almost out and life’s about to start. Though I suspect life doesn’t wait for anyone, but steams on ahead and that we’re only fooling ourselves when we postpone things for tomorrow.” Geez, I’m such a dweeb! Shut up, shut up shut up! “We ought to be more brave, because who knows when it’s too late. I mean, what if you really wanted to do something, but chickened out and when you do have the guts you can’t do it, it’s passed and you have to live with not being brave enough.” 

More geek laughter, but this time because there’s no smile in his face but a hard look I can’t read. I can’t believe me of all people talked about taking chances when I’m such a chicken. My cheeks start burning again and I wish I had it in me to just walk away. Why aren’t they here yet? 

A bus stops by the cathedral and I watch an old woman with a walker get off with some difficulty. The smell of exhaust mixes with the sweet promise of summer and there’s a tightening in my chest as I feel a longing for school to end an summer to begin. 

No more high school, just one summer before having to get out into “the real world”. I’ll be cleaning offices again this year, it would have been fun to try something else, but then you have to apply to summer jobs on time. Foresight and me don’t quite mix, even though I’m a time pessimist I’m crap at planning my life for more than a day. How the hell am I to survive university? Fail, fail, fail flashes before my eyes. I’m so screwed. 

My hair’s in my face again and I’m regretting cutting it short. Sure it’s less maintenance, but it’s become more of a hassle to keep out of my face. Stupid Alice talking me into trying something new. Yeah it looks good, but I’m not giving her any cred right now. Before my hand reaches my face I feel his fingers against my cheek and very slowly he tucks the wayward strands behind my ear. My skin burns where he touches me and I don’t think I can handle any more, I don’t even know if I want more. Or yes, who am I kidding, I want to much more. I want it all! 

My eyes seek his, looking for answers, why is he touching me? His hand is on my cheek and his eyes are a shade I’ve never seen before. It seems he’s battling himself, looking from my eyes to my mouth and back again. He mumbles something, it sounds like a curse, but I have no time deciphering it before my world is turned upside down. Lips against lips, hard at first, merciless, the next moment he’s nibbling my lower lip softly and everything in the world loses meaning. 

My body is no longer my own, my hands grab a hold of his jersey and my head falls back, my mouth opens and I let him has way with it. His one hand is in my hair and the other strokes my back, pulling me against him and holding me tight. I wake from my trance and respond with everything I’m feeling in a kiss. Pressing up against him, if I only could free my hands and have my fingers in his hair. 

Time stops, the world is holding its breath as the thing that never could happen actually happens. My nerves are live wires, my skin is on fire and I’m filled to the brim with lightning and suns and all the stars in the universe. The heat of this day in May is nothing to the heat we’re creating. He tastes sweet and somewhere behind it all my brain tries to figure out what it can be. 7Up? 
And then his lips leave me and he’s leaning his forehead against mine, confused I open my eyes and gaze into his forest green ones. His hands cup my face and his thumbs caress my cheekbones. I don’t dare speak, terrified to break the spell that has to be the reason for his behavior. Was there a full moon last night? 

Again the sounds of the city are registered; kids laughing behind us, bikes going past in high speed and another bus stopping in front of the cathedral. It can’t have been more than a minute, but I’m changed. The impossible has happened. This wasn’t some pathetic daydream in math class, nor a dream from which I wake with tears in my eyes. This was in the middle of the afternoon an unusually warm day in May. 

I think he wants to say something, but instead he gives me a soft kiss before stepping back and dragging his hand through his hair, in what I know means he’s unsure. Since I don’t know what to say I give him my kindest smile, as if to show him this was okay. The corner of his mouth twitches and he shoves his hands into the pockets of his shorts, leaning back a little. The suns inside of me are still burning, warming me from within, shining through my eyes and tingling my swollen lips.

A car door slams shut and someone calls my name, we turn towards the sound and I give Evelyne a wave. She’s waving car keys high in the air as the other three get out from the old blue Volvo.
“Looks like she passed the test, the rest of us need to watch out.” His comment is unexpected and I forget about the others as I turn towards him again. His eyes are a shade I recognise and somehow this makes my internal heat cool a little. 

They attack us with laughter and hugs and we end up on opposite sides of the group. Another sun winks out and I feel the wind cooling my skin, goosebumps covering my legs. He’s back being the guy I can never have, superior to me on every level. The Jonah I know too well is back. The feeling of change which was palatable only moments ago fades, leaving me empty except that one last sun shining in the abyss. 

We’re listening to another funny anecdote from Evelyne’s driver’s test when his phone rings. A quick glance at the display has him answering in clipped sentences. “I’m on my way. Stay where you are. No, it’s cool.” The winning smile is back and his phone is back in his pocket. “See you later. No reckless driving now…” They laugh at his joke, I’m not sure I’m even smiling. 

If he won’t look at me before he goes, won’t acknowledge me, I’m sure I’ll die. If he leaves here without showing me he’s at least thinking about what happened, if he just leaves, then he’ll kill that last sun burning inside of me. You can’t survive in the abyss, there’s only one way to go and that won’t lead towards the light. Is he really that cruel, that clueless, so insensitive that he can’t see that? 

I get mad. I don’t know where the anger comes from, but it fills me and the abyss with boiling hot lava. How dare he ignore me and what just happened? You don’t do that! Unless you’re an insensitive asshole. And I can’t have wasted three years on an insensitive asshole! A deep breath later both the lava and I are cool. It’s filled the void and made me realise that real life isn’t anything like the romantic daydreams I’ve let myself live in. 

One, two, three steps away is the guy of my dreams, it feels more like a thousand. The others giggle and flirt, he gives it right back to them. In another reality I would have done the same, but we’re on the other side of the impossible and I don’t have the energy to pretend things are like before. I meet his gaze. One, two, three, four heartbeats. His tongue licks his lips at the same time as mine and I know what he’s thinking.

 





Monday, April 30, 2018

Night Rain

I’m going to dad’s. Mom and I fought about everything again and I can’t stay under this roof one more night. I know his new wife doesn’t like me coming over, but I can’t care about that right now. It’s not like I want to live with them, it’s just that I can’t live with mom right now.

Mom keeps shouting at me as I storm into my room and shove a couple of days worth of clothes and things into my backpack. “Where the hell do you think you’re going? Who’s gonna let you stay at their house, just like that?”
“I’ll go to dad.” She’s lost for words. Then she gets really mean.
“Like they’re gonna let you stay. She hates you. He doesn’t care. You’ll be back here tomorrow! And that is if I let you in!”
“No. I won’t be back tomorrow.” I pull my boots on and grab my phone and charger.
“Oh, please. You don’t know anything about anything. But fine. We’ll see for how long you manage out there…” She leaves my room and goes into the kitchen. Probably to drink herself into a stupor.
I grab the small stash of money I have hidden in an old book that I’ve turned into a box. Mom would never think to look there, god knows she snoops around my room well enough. It’s raining slightly as I head for the bus stop, but I’m not turning back for an umbrella. I’ll be at dad’s soon enough.

The old city bus is right on time and I take a seat up front, close to the driver. It’s nearly 11PM and who knows what kind of weirdos are out. It’s a 45 minute ride to dad’s, but about halfway the bus stops. I look out the window and see blinking lights and people gathering to take a look at an accident. Sighing I lean back and wait for everything to get moving again.
An hour and a half later I’m finally getting off at the stop down the street from dad’s. The rain has gone from a slight drizzle to big fat drops pounding the pavement and I pull the hood of my jacket as far over my head as possible. Most apartments have dark windows, people have long since gone to sleep. A few lamps shine through curtains and show figures moving inside. As I get to dad’s building I see that the light are off in his apartment. Cloë is going to be a bitch about me arriving this late.

The rain becomes a torrential downpour and I run for the entrance. It’s locked. Of course it’s locked, it’s almost 1AM. I turn to the buzzer, squinting in the dark, looking for dad’s name. I press the tiny button, listening to the buzz go off. Nothing. I press it again. Nothing happens. Standing as close to the door as possible I get my phone out and call him. 
I’m sent to voicemail. “Hi dad. It’s me. I’m outside and it’s raining real bad. Please let me in.” I press the buzzer again. The rain has soaked through my jacket and cold droplets of water are beginning to run down my arms and neck. I take a step back to see if there’s any sign of life in the windows, but they’re as dark as when I got here. Like there’s no one at home. 
Pressing the buzzer I try his phone again, fighting back the tears threatening to fall when all I get is his voicemail again. “Please dad. Please. I’m right outside.” I bite my trembling lip. Crying will solve nothing. My damp clothes are making me start to shiver and I need to figure something out. Find a place to stay for what’s left of the night and come back here tomorrow. 

The sound of heels on pavement has me turning around. A large black umbrella is walking towards me, legs and high heels eating up the sidewalk. They stop right next to me, angling the umbrella up and I see a woman looking at me. 
She steps closer and tilts her head. “Oh dear. You’re all drenched. This is not a night to be out and about." A pause. " I’ve seen you before… long time ago now. 3B, right?”
“Yeah. That’s my dad. He’s not answering though.” I wipe rain from my face. 
The lady shakes her head. She looks at me, shakes her head again and speaks. “That’s because they moved last month.” I feel like someone punched me in the gut. I register her words, but I can’t believe what she told me.
“But he’d… he’d tell me. He wouldn’t…” But he would. And Cloë most definitely would.

She moves closer to the door and I move out of her way, out into the rain. I have nowhere to go. I’m homeless. Abandoned. Soaked to the skin. I can’t stop the tears from falling. The woman is still looking at me and I know I should be leaving, but I don’t know which way to go.
“I know you don’t know me and you shouldn’t follow strangers home, but you can stay with me tonight. Dry your clothes and assess your options.” I begin to shake my head. But what choice do I have. Really?
“Thank you. I don’t know what to do.” She gets her keys out of her purse and holds the door for me. The hallway is dark, but lights sputter to life as we move towards the stairs. I glance at my saviour. She looks to be in her late 20’s and she’s really pretty. Her brown hair up in a fancy bun, but her makeup is slightly messy, like she’s worn it all day. 
She stops outside of 2C and puts her key in the door. Her eyes are a soft brown and she smiles a little when the door opens. “My kid might still be up, but if he’s not… well, let’s try to not make too much of a racket.”
We step right into her living room, there's just a small shelf with hooks for clothes right by the door. Her apartment smells of cinnamon. There are small table lamps here and there, casting a golden glow in the small space. Dad had a small three room apartment, this looks about the same size and with a similar layout. My saviour kicks her heels off, coming down to a little shorter than my height.

“Mom?” A much deeper voice than I figured any kid of hers would have, calls out from another room.
“No, it’s Batman.” She winks and gestures at me to take my backpack and jacket off. My fingers are numb as I fumble with the zipper.
“Mom. We’re out of contact fluid, there was just enough for me to…” My body freezes as Maxwell Greaves walks in. I almost don't recognise him. First of all he's wearing glasses and second of all, he's in far less clothes than I've seen him in before. Low slung pyjama pants are hugging his hips and he’s not wearing a shirt. Dear god help me!

Maxwell stops dead when he sees me. He looks at his mom, his face unreadable. His voice cracks slightly when he speaks. “Mom. Why is Kathy Paulsen in our apartment? And in the middle of the night?” Oh my god, he knows my name. How does he know my name? 
His mom, who's name I now somehow remember is Jessica, takes her black coat off and gestures for me to give mine to her. “I found her, drenched, outside. She was trying to get a hold of her father. You know the guy, he used to live in 3B. And since it's pouring outside and she obviously has nowhere to go tonight, I offered her a bed.” 
I'm soaked to the skin, my clothes sticking to my body and I can't stop from shivering. I eye my backpack on the floor and from the look of it, I'd be lucky if there is anything that's still dry in there. I wish I could hate my dad. I wish I could hate my mom. Instead I hate myself for getting into this awkward situation. 

“Don't look at me like that. Take these wet things and hang them in the bathroom. ”
I must have missed something. I look at Jessica, she's frowning. I don't dare look at Maxwell. Stepping out of my damp boots, I register that my socks a darker red than they were this morning. 
“Oh dear, you're shivering! Maxwell, give me that and go get some dry clothes instead. Follow me Kathy, you'll never warm up on your own.” She grabs my backpack and ushers me into the bathroom. I try to protest as she starts going through my bag, but she shushes me and pulls out all my now very damp clothes. “You have a nice warm shower and I'll make sure these are hung to dry. Put your wet clothes over there and I'll come in with dry ones. When your done, come into the kitchen and I'll get you something to eat.” 
I just stand there, looking at her. “I don't mean to be rude. But why are you being so nice?” 
Jessica stops what she’s doing and looks me in the eye. “When I was 15 I got pregnant. My parents kicked me out and I had nowhere to go. I wish someone had gotten me out of the rain back then.”
“I'm not pregnant…”
“No dear, but you were stuck out in the rain.” With that she disappears with my stuff. I just stand there and look at the now closed bathroom door. Then I shiver and I hurry to peel my clothes off to take a hot shower. Counting the dancing starfish on the shower curtain keeps me from having to think about dad.
I hear the bathroom door open and close once, and when I get out there's a fluffy pink towel and dry clothes waiting for me. In what must be Maxwell’s old sweats and black t-shirt I silently make my way to the kitchen. 

“For god’s sake Max! She's obviously in need of some help, even if that's just dry clothes and a bed for the night. I'm not proposing she move in with us!”
“Mom, I’m not saying taking her in was a mistake, but… of all the abandoned girls in this town, you had to go and bring home the most gorgeous girl at school? Do you realise I was near naked and wearing glasses? Do you know how embarrassing that was?”
“Oh, Max. You're ridiculous.”

I die. I can't feel my heart anymore, so I must be dead. Oh no, there it is, trying to hammer its way out of my chest. I tiptoe back and forcibly close the bathroom door. After taking a deep breath to try to slow my heart down, I turn towards the kitchen. When I enter I see a t-shirt wearing Maxwell sitting by the table with a mug of something and his mom stirring a pot over by the stove. The room smells of chocolate. 
She turns to me. “Nice and toasty now?”
“Yeah. Thanks. For the clothes.” I aim that last bit to Maxwell and he glances my way with a slight nod. I'm sure my face is bright red with embarrassment, but maybe they'll think I just had a really, really, hot shower.
“Would you like some cocoa? Maybe some toast?”
“Yes, please. Thanks.” I sit down across from the boy who apparently finds me gorgeous, but I'm unable to look at anything but the table.

Jessica makes her cocoa from scratch and it’s the best thing I have tasted in a long time. I can’t even remember my own mom ever making me cocoa. Jessica places two slices of toast and a pot of strawberry jam on the table, Maxwell goes to grab one and she slaps his hand away. “Manners!”
“No. It’s okay. I’m not very hungry. One is enough.” Maxwell gives his mom a satisfied grin and adds a healthy amount of jam on his toast. I copy him and can’t stop a satisfied moan slip when I bite into the bread and jam. Maxwell turns his wide grin in my direction and my heart stutters in my chest. I smile around my mouthful. 

To tell you about Maxwell Greaves, I need to tell you about school. My dad has money. And even though he and mom separated when I was five, he’s paying for my school. He didn’t meet Cloë until five years ago, and things were never great, but they were alright. I could always call him and he’d have time for me. After Cloë he’d start avoiding calls and only doing the bare minimum. Like paying for school. Anyway.
School is Whitewater Academy, a fancy high school with only 400 students. And just so you know, I’m by no means an outcast at school, I have plenty of friends and do well enough to have a shot of getting into a decent local college. Maxwell Greaves though. He’s in my year and he’s one of those kids that do everything well; straight A student, could be student president if he wanted to, general nice guy and someone I didn’t even dare to crush on since he’s so obviously Going Places and I’m really not.

Jessica leaves the kitchen to make up the couch. And suddenly chewing my toast or taking a sip of hot chocolate becomes a struggle. Who knew toast crunches this loudly? And I'm absolutely certain I'll dribble cocoa down my chin and onto my borrowed clothes. Taking dainty bites and small sips I manage to not make too big of a fool out of myself. 
Maxwell doesn't seem to have any trouble with his food. He shoves what's left of his toast into his mouth and guzzles everything that's left in his mug. He goes to put the mug in the sink and turns towards me. “Good night.”
“Good night.” 
He's almost out of the kitchen. “We have P.E. tomorrow. Do you have your PE kit with you?” Oh no. I had completely forgotten about school.
“No. I didn't think… I didn't think about that.”
“I'll see if there's anything you can borrow. I don't think you'll want to borrow from school.” It sounds like he's smiling, but I'm mortified that I forgot about real life when I stormed out from home and can't look at him right now.
“No. I'd rather just skip class.” He leaves me to finish my late night snack.

“Do you need an extra blanket?” Jessica is fussing with the couch and patting the sheets and fluffing the pillow.
“No. This is great. Thanks.” Suddenly I'm exhausted. I hide a yawn behind my hand.
“Oh dear. Let me get you a toothbrush and leave you to go to bed.” She returns with an unopened packet with a red toothbrush and tells me to use the toothpaste in the bathroom.
Wearing the black t-shirt to bed I crawl under the covers and pull the sheets up to my chin. Curling up into a ball I fight the tears. I've really messed up this time. My phone tells me it's 2:30AM and a Friday has never looked worse.

“Kathy?” I don't recognise the voice. Then the memories of last night slam into my brain. I open my eyes and see a freshly made up Jessica stand beside the couch where I spent the night. “It's 6:30 and I need to get to work. Max usually leaves at 7:30 on Fridays. You're in the same year, aren't you?” 
I sit up and clear my throat. “Yes. Thanks. Uh, have my clothes dried?” I can't come to school wearing Maxwell’s clothes!
“Well… a few things are dry, but some need more time. Don't worry, you can leave them here over the day.” I begin to shake my head, but Jessica holds up her hand.
“No. Let your things dry, come get them after school. That'll give you time to figure things out too.” I could cry. I won't. But I could. I nod. She disappears into what must be Maxwell’s room. I hear them talking, although I can’t make out what they’re saying. She comes back out and slips into a pair of heels that shoot her up to my height again.
“I’ll try to be back from work before 5PM today.”
“Oh no, you don’t need to leave work earlier on my account.” I stand up. Jessica waves my words away.
“As if I’d let you go without knowing you’ll have a safe place tonight. See you later Kathy.” As the door closes behind her, I bite the inside of my cheek to not start sobbing. I hug myself and let the tangled mess that is my hair fall in front of my face. Everything’s a big fat mess.
“So. Uhm. Breakfast?” My head snaps up and I see Maxwell leaning against the door post. How long has he been standing there? I clear my throat.
“Yeah. That would be good. I’ll just get dressed.”

They’ve talked about getting us school uniforms, but apparently enough rich kids feel that wearing Gucci or whatever to school is a life or death situation and the uniforms never happen. On an armchair next to where I spent the night I find a t-shirt dress and a pair of leggings, tucked in next to it I find one of my bras and underwear.
In the bathroom I avoid looking into the mirror for as long as possible. I know I look a mess. The only clothes in here are the ones I wore last night and they’re still very damp. Then I can’t ignore the mirror any longer. My eyes are puffy and my hair looks like I haven’t brushed it in a week. The emergency makeup kit I keep in my school bag lies next to the sink, where Jessica put it last night when she got my damp clothes out of my backpack. I dab concealer on my face and fill my eyebrows in, not daring to wear eye makeup, in case I break down at school. Not that I plan to, but you never know. I finger brush my hair and arrange it into a messy bun. Done and dusted.

When I open the bathroom door I smell coffee brewing. In the kitchen Maxwell has his back to me, putting more bread into the toaster. I take a seat at the table, wanting to be as little trouble as possible. 
“You’re alright with coffee, right? If not, I think mom has tea or something somewhere. Or we have juice. Though that’s carrot juice, mom loves that stuff. I don't know, maybe you don't eat breakfast? I have to eat or I’ll die before the first period is over. Some girls I know don’t eat much, but I don’t know if you do. Eat breakfast that is.” I’m a little stunned by Maxwell’s verbal onslaught. 
“No. Coffee is good. Great.” He nods and turns to get us the coffee. I see him shaking his head at something. He must hate having me here. A freeloading loser who’s dad won’t even tell her he’s moved. God. I hate my life.
“Milk? Or cream? Looks like we only have milk...” Maxwell’s hidden from view behind the fridge door. 
I arrange my features into a bland smile. “Milk is fine.” Everything is fine. No one need to worry. I’ll manage. I pull my phone out of the pocket of my dress and send a text to my friend Ericha. We usually take the bus together to school. 
@dad’s cu @school 
Hopefully she won’t ask too much about it.

We munch our toast and sip our coffee in silence. I for one am glad he doesn’t feel the need to force conversation, both of us are too busy catching up on social media anyway. I answer most of my snaps with a closeup of my toast or coffee cup. I don’t dare sneak selfies while Maxwell sits across from me. 
Suddenly he clears his throat and I almost drop my phone onto the table. “So yeah, mom and I managed to find some things that will work for PE. It’s close to what you usually wear. Usually. And she has a pair of sneakers you can borrow too.”
I’m a little too grateful to appreciate the creepiness factor of him knowing what I wear to PE. I’d like to thank him, but it’s a whole other level of embarrassment, having to borrow clothes from a guy I don’t really know. I focus my gaze somewhere in the vicinity of his jaw and nod. I can’t handle it anymore and plunk my coffee cup into the dishwasher and flee to the bathroom to brush my teeth.

Folding the linen into a small tight square I place it snugly in one corner of the couch. I try to arrange the throw pillows as I remember them being last night. The less you can tell I’ve spent the night there, the better. Realising I need socks I brave the small hallway leading to their bedrooms and knock on Maxwell’s slightly ajar door.
“Yeah?” Pushing it open I see a room filled with stuff. Big bookshelves line one wall, overflowing with books and random nick nacks. A desk sits by the window and there isn’t room to even place a phone there without it touching or lying on top of something. His bed is hastily made, I can tell he’s just pulled the covers over it and called it a day. Maxwell is standing in the middle of the room, backpack in hand, looking slightly worried.
“Did your mom hang my clothes in her room or something, because I can’t find any socks.”
“Uhm. Yeah. Probably.” He gestures for me to go have a look. Like he’s scared of coming with me. I shake my head. Alright then. 

His mom’s room is the opposite to his. Everything is in its right place and it has an airy feel to his cluttered. Although, right now it is cluttered. With my stuff. Jessica has hung my clothes to dry all over the place. And now I think I know why Maxwell didn’t want to come. The bra and panties I brought with me are scattered all over the room. Great. Just great. I see a pair of my socks and grab them before hurrying out of there. They’re dry. Mostly. 
My boots on the other hand are mostly not dry. Grimacing I check my jacket, it’s still very damp too. Tears are welling up in my eyes. “Damn it!” Maxwell arrives just in time to see me nearly breaking down. Over a damp jacket. My life is so great. 
He holds something out to me. “I figured yours might still be wet. I have an old jacket I haven’t used in years. Don’t know why I had saved it. But yeah. If you want. You know, to borrow it.” I hate that this has me even more weepy. Do not cry! He looks very worried. I would be too, if some random girl was on the verge of a breakdown because I offered her a jacket. 
Clearing my throat I reach for it. “Thanks.” It fits quite well. I decide to shove all bad things deep down inside of me. All the sadness and hurt and weepiness. Deep deep down inside of me. After all, I have a full day of school to make it through. I smile at him. The worry line between his eyebrows vanishes and tentatively he smiles back. He has a nice smile.

The bus to school is like any other morning. Although I’m on the other side of town. And not riding with my best friend. And sitting next to Maxwell Greaves. And pretending we just happened to get on the bus at the same time, and just happened to sit next to each other. We get off and walk the last block to school. Not together, but not separately either. He catches my eye just as we walk through the school gates. His smile is almost not there, a secret smile and somehow my anxiety about having to lie to all of my friends lessens. He won’t say a thing to anyone, I won’t be busted.

“Kathy! Like, oh my god, you won't believe what happened to me!” Ericha tackle hugs me at my locker, making me drop my bag and do everything in my power to not topple over. 
I laugh at the normality of it all. “What? Cute Bus Guy asked you to marry him?” 
Ericha shrieks and jumps up and down, jostling me and threatening to undo my messy bun.“He asked if the seat next to me was taken and I said no and he said cool and then he sat next to me and ohmygod he smells so good and then he kinda smiled at me when he got off and ohmygod!”

Cute Bus Guy is this slightly older guy who takes the same bus as we do. We think he works somewhere a couple of blocks from school, but is not as if we’re allowed to leave school during the day, so we’re just guessing. The only clue we have is him getting off at the stop before school and then walking back towards where we came from, but the bus turns a corner and we never see where he stops. Cute Bus Guy has me thinking about my normal morning routine and that has me thinking about mom. 
I don't want to think about mom. Instead I shriek along with my best friend and pretend everything is normal. Then I redo my hair and punch her arm. “Told you he’s into you.” Ericha pretends to swoon and then goes about to get her books for our first class. We have homeroom together and then English. After that we’re separate until lunch, fortunately I don’t have any classes with Maxwell on Fridays, until PE that is. I can just go on my day and pretend I really don’t know that much about him.

Friday usually means tasty food for lunch, although every day is tasty food day at Whitewater, but Fridays mean Italian style pizza. Ericha and I draw deep breaths as we enter the cafeteria.
“I love pizza so much!” I can’t speak, my mouth is watering and opening it would mean I’d drool all over myself, but I nod and hurry her over to the line waiting for the food of gods. Thin crusted and mozzarella heavy slices of pizza fill our plates as we go sit at our usual table.
“Hey Kathy! Did you get 435,5 on question 5?” Alvin has his calculator out and is going through his notes on the pop quiz we had in our last class before lunch.
“Dude. I don’t know! How can you even remember these things?” He ignores me and punches the numbers again, taking notes and managing to eat at the same time. I look at Ericha and she shakes her head. Alvin is Alvin.
After lunch, Mary, Sid and I leave Ericha with Alvin and go to collect our stuff for French. We’re discussing French films right now, so this is easily my favorite class. Our teacher isn’t allowed to show all of the films we’re talking about, apparently French films have a lot of nudity in them. So she shows us snippets and we talk about what happened, as best we can. Somewhere across the Atlantic a croissant is weeping.

It’s not until our last class that Ericha says something about my clothes. I’ve kind of forgotten about it all. Pretending that everything is as usual has me forgetting the crap from last night, apparently. We’re in the locker room, tying our sneakers, when she brings it up. 
“By the way, is that a new jacket?”
“Uhm, yeah. Well, I found it over at dad’s.”
“It looks cute on you.” What she really means is that she’d never wear it, but I manage to pull it off.
“I know it’s like a men’s jacket, but mine was all drenched from last night.” Ericha shrugs her shoulders. She doesn’t care, she’s moved on to other things.

Entering the gym my eyes scan the guys standing over by the door to the boy’s locker room. They’re huddling together, laughing about something Dean West is saying. It’s probably something rude about someone. I spot Maxwell, he has his back to me. 
Ericha fluffs her hair and meanders towards some girls standing over at the side. “God! I hope we’re done with basketball already!”
“Yeah.” Coach blows the whistle, calling everyone to him and by the big orange ball under his arm I’m guessing our prayers were ignored.

Ericha and I end up in different teams. Coach doesn't believe in students picking teams and I suspect he spends an unhealthy amount of time trying to find the best teams in each sport he forces upon us. Ericha is tall and ends up in a team with the rest of the tallest students. I'm in with the fairly average height kids, but I'm also really bad at basketball and end up trying to avoid getting anywhere near the thing. Mostly I'm very successful. 
I only really touch it once, and that's to very poorly pass it to the person in the team who’s actually decent at this game. Abby catches my fumbled toss and scores us a point. Coach blows his whistle. School is over, for this week at least. 

I forgot to pack a towel. I'm in my underwear and there's no towel in my bag. The feelings I've been repressing all day are threatening to bubble up to the surface. Tears burn my eyes and close up my throat.
“Are you okay?” Ericha is right beside me, freshly showered, her towel wrapped around her.
“I forgot to bring a towel. I forgot the fucking towel.”
“But you never forget anything, ever!” Ericha’s voice rises an octave. I shake my head.
“I was at… dad’s and things are a little… weird there. You know Cloë doesn't like me.” At least I told the truth in that last sentence.
“Aw, honey. You can borrow mine, it's damp and all, but at least you've showered.” Her kindness has me almost in tears again. Silently I undress and she hands me her towel. I take comfort in the fact that the soap dispensers in the shower will have soap in them. It’s fancy smelling soap even, there are fancy soap company heirs attending this school.

Ericha is waiting for me, texting away on her phone and only nods as I hand her the towel back. She shoves it into her bag and shakes her head at something someone is texting her. Even though it took longer than usual for me to take a shower, or actually getting into the shower, we’re not the last ones in the locker room. It’s Friday and a lot of the girls have plans for the afternoon. Plans that require a lot of makeup and styling of hair. 
I don’t bother with makeup and just toss my hair up in a damp ponytail. “You think I could stay the night at your place? Cloë was kinda telling me to not come back tonight. I think she can stand me like one night, and then she’d grow a second head or something…” I fake a laugh about my half-lie. 
Ericha looks at me with sympathy in her eyes. I feel horrible lying to her. “You know I’d love to have you stay, but mom just told me we’re driving to Newport today. Apparently I have 30 minutes to pack my things after I get home. Ugh!” 
She shakes her head at her impossible mother. And me? I fake another laugh and try to channel the panic settling in my stomach into pity for Ericha who’ll be stuck in a small town all weekend. At least I’m staying in the city. There are endless possibilities in the city. And endlessly long nights for someone without a place to sleep.

“What about your mom?” Ericha has stopped texting as we walk towards our bus stops.
“Yeah. We’re not really talking right now. I mean, she just doesn’t get me. At all. And I think she’s broken up with Finn, again. That always has her in the worst mood.”
“Well, it’s not like she kicked you out, right? You could always go back home if Cloë is being a bitch. Oh. That’s my bus. Love you Kathy!” With a hug she’s gone. I smell her perfume after she’s hurried off to catch her bus. Marc Jacob’s Daisy is clinging to my borrowed jacket like a promise that everything will be alright. Which it won’t, because my asshole step-mother convinced my spineless father to ditch me and my bitter mom just wants me to fail, so she can tell me she told me so.
“So. Looks like we’re going in the same direction again.” Maxwell doesn’t really startle me, there are so many people moving about anyway, but I didn’t expect him to actually talk to me in public like this.
“Looks like.” It’s not like I want to be rude or anything, it’s just that this is so embarrassing. Before last night he thought I was this, apparently pretty, face at school. Someone he would never really talk to. Now he knows more about me than my best friend and I’m about to go home with him. Fucking fantastic. There’s a chill to the air and I zip the jacket up, burying my hands deep within its pockets. The clouds haven’t let the sun out all day, but they have at least had the decency to not rain on us. It seems as if they are done with playing nice. 

There’s no place to sit. The bus is so full there isn’t even anything for me to hold on to. Men, women and teenagers both more forward and taller than me have all grabbed the straps, leaving me to simply hold my balance and try not falling over anyone. I’m so focused on my own problems, that I don’t register that the bus is moving and turning a corner.
An arm ropes around my waist only moments before I fall head first into the lap of the woman sitting to my right. I turn around to Maxwell’s crooked smile and I don’t know why, but I lean into him. I let my arms circle his waist and I press my forehead into his shoulder, fighting the tears burning my eyes. Maxwell doesn’t say a word. I don’t want him to. I comfort myself by thinking it probably looks like we’re best friends or dating or something and that no one who cares or knows about me takes this bus home from school.

“It's our stop next.” His breath caresses my cheek and his voice is quiet and close to my ear. I detangle myself and turn away. Reality pops the bubble I created around us and all those issues I forced myself to forget during the bus ride come tumbling back.
If I didn’t need for Maxwell to unlock the door, I would have hurried my steps. I can feel cold rain drops hitting my face, mixing with the hot tears I can no longer stop. Closing my eyes briefly I collect myself. I need to stop with the crying! Impatiently I wait for him to unlock the door. He holds it open for me to go in, but once I’m inside the apartment I just stop. Because now I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Pack my things and leave? Wait for Jessica to return home and ask her? Turn around and never come back?

“Aren’t you going to take your jacket off?” I guess I could start with that. Then I untie my boots and place them next to my bag. They’ve dried enough, but they feel all damp anyway. I wish I had brought other shoes with me. “I usually eat something and then do my homework...” Maxwell makes it sound like a question, like he’s unsure of what he actually does after school.
“Yeah. Sure. That’s fine by me.” He disappears into his room with his backpack, leaving me to decide if I should go into the kitchen or wait for him to take the lead. My phone vibrates with a notification and I decide that casually leaning on a kitchen counter, checking social media is the best option. Rubbing my eyes I hope they’re not too swollen and red and if they are, that he doesn’t notice.

Mary has snapped me her cat doing cute things, I answer her with a shot of my feet. Alvin has snapped math questions and wants others to tell him what they got. I ignore him. Random people have liked my latest Instagram picture; a flat lay of a Starbucks caramel frappuccino, a dog eared Jane Austen paperback and a pretty leaf I found. Hipster af. 
Maxwell joins me in the small kitchen and I slide my phone onto the counter before gathering some courage and looking in his general direction. “How do you feel about Nutella?”
“How I feel about Nutella? I love Nutella. Who doesn’t? Why?”
“Well, I saw the jar and thought maybe we could bake some cookies. To help us study. Obviously.” Maxwell’s face lights up in a huge smile and I die a little inside, because he’s just that adorable.
“But don’t cookies take like forever?”
I laugh. “Not the ones I’m making. Do you have eggs and flour?”
“Uh, yeah, sure.” We get everything we need and I teach him how to make my foolproof Nutella cookies.

The smell of baking cookies wafts through the apartment. Maxwell tries to steal one straight out from the oven. He lets out a yelp and stick his finger into his mouth. Laughing I grab his hand and turn the tap to cold and keep his hand there when he tries to pull away. “No. You need to keep it there for a few minutes.”
“But the cold hurts.”
“Yeah, well the burn will hurt more if you don’t.” Maxwell stops struggling and leans closer to me. Our bodies are touching from my hip to my shoulder and I’m holding his right hand with both of mine. I wish I had my hair down, that way I could let it fall in front on my face and hide the heat I feel building up on my cheeks. Instead I try focusing on keeping his burnt fingers under the running water. The timer on my phone goes off. I don’t want to move. On the other hand I don’t want to burn our cookies either. “Keep your hand there a little while longer.” I dry my hands and get the cookies out.

Soon 24 delicious Nutella cookies are cooling on the counter. I glance at Maxwell, his hand is still under the running water. “I think you can stop now.”
“Yeah?”
“Yeah. The first batch has cooled some. Want a taste?” I nab one for myself and take a bite. 
Maxwell dries his hand on the kitchen towel, not quite looking at me. He shifts from foot to foot. He turns around and his eyes find mine. I smile and take another bite of my cookie. Carefully he folds the towel and places it on the kitchen counter. Then he shakes his head. Before I know it he’s right in front of me, I almost choke on my cookie. I swallow slowly. His shoulders slump. He leans around me and grabs a cookie and shoves the whole thing into his mouth. 
“They’re really good.” He smiles around a mouth full. And my heart goes all squishy and my smile widens. And I need to get a grip! 
I clear my throat. “Told you. Yeah. Anyway. I have French that I need to do before I forget everything…”
“I know what you mean, I have AP Calc homework that needs my full attention.” None of us move. I feel a tightening around my chest area and I’m sure my cheeks are flushed. I think I’ve forgotten how to human. Maxwell breaks eye contact first, he rubs the back of his neck and shakes his head again. 
I force myself to say something. “So, you get the milk and I’ll put some of these on a plate?”

Conjugating French verbs has my brain nearly forgetting the boy sitting opposite me. It’s only when he sighs or taps his pen that I lose focus and shift my eyes from my homework to him. He’s getting more and more distracting as my brain tires of French. I decide to leave it for another day and try mind mapping this essay on recycling that Mr Buchanan gave us. It bores me to tears. I can’t focus. Maxwell is still engrossed in whatever homework he’s moved onto now.
“Ugh.” I lie down over my notes.
“Need more cookies?” Maxwell has a faraway tone to his voice, like he’s not really focused on the now. I glance on the empty plate on the table and then on the empty baking trays over by the oven.
“We ate them all.” 
Maxwell snaps out of from wherever he’s been. “No way!” 
His shocked face has me snorting with laughter. “Yeah way.” I close my notebook and take the plate and our glasses to the sink. “Told you they were good.” 
When I turn around I catch him checking me out. His eyes are just that one hundredth second too late in meeting mine. When I smile and tilt my head, his cheeks turn a flushed pink and he looks down at his books instead. There’s this awkward thing hovering between us. 
I lose my nerve and look down at my feet. “Yeah. I’m gonna go check if my stuff has dried.” I leave the kitchen without looking at him.
“Uh, yeah. I have to finish this…” I don’t quite hear what it is he needs to finish. I’m sure it’s one of his one million AP classes. I can’t for the life of me figure out how he finds the energy to take them all. I’m swamped with homework and bored out of my mind with my regular high school stuff.

In Jessica’s room I close the door behind me and lean against it. Closing my eyes I picture what would have happened if dad hadn’t moved, if he had let me in last night. I wouldn’t know that Maxwell loves Nutella, or that he thinks I’m gorgeous. And I wouldn’t be stuck between accepting the goodness of strangers or crawling back to mom. I try calling dad again. His voicemail kicks in and I know he’s blocked my number. Sliding down the door I let the tears fall. 

Through my pathetic quiet sobbing I hear a phone ringing. Then Maxwell’s muted voice as he answers. When I hear a chair scraping against the floor and him moving my way I hurriedly wipe my face and clear my throat. 
“...still here. We made cookies. No. Of course not. You’re not being funny.” It sounds like he’s stopped. “She knows how to bake without setting the alarm off. Come on! It was that one time. I was ten! Do you want me to ask her or not?” Even though I’ve been eavesdropping I still jump when he knocks on the door. 
I clear my throat again. “Yeah?”
“Mom wants to know if you like Chinese.” He speaks through the closed door and I’m glad he thinks my underwear is too embarrassing to look at.
“I do. Yes.”
“Cool.” His voice fades as he walks towards the kitchen again. “She said yes.” I hear his heavy sigh all the way from the kitchen and through the closed door. “Mom. I’m hanging up now.”
I rub my eyes, get up off of the floor, take a deep shuddering breath and slowly exhale. “Enough.”

To allow for my surely blotchy crybaby face to return to some sort of normality I fold my clothes into neat squares. It’s so totally out of character that I can’t help laughing a little at myself. A quick look into the mirror over Jessica’s vanity shows me looking pale and pathetic, but I’m sure that’s how I’ve looked since I accepted her offer to stay the night.

When my stuff is in my bag again I feel better. It’s like I’m just passing by, instead of taking advantage of their kindness. I heard Maxwell go into his room when I was packing, so I sneak into the kitchen and grab my books. The mess we made when making cookies still covers the space between the oven and the sink and I can’t bring myself to leave the kitchen like that. I drop my books back onto the kitchen table and start filling the sink with soapy water. I’ve washed most of it when Maxwell shows up. He hesitates in the doorway, then he grabs the towel and starts drying the things I placed on the counter. 
I smile. “We should have saved a few for your mom.” He shakes his head.
“She’s done nothing to deserve Nutella cookies.” My surprised laugh has him flashing a grin.
“Why would you say that?” His ears turn a light shade of pink and suddenly he’s very focused on drying that spatula. My stomach drops. She’s told him she wants me out of here. 
My eyes start burning and I pull at the plug to drain the water in the sink. “Yeah. My stuff’s dry. I should go.” 

Maxwell drops the spatula and towel to the floor. “What? No!” His hands grab my shoulders and he spins me towards him. “No, you can’t leave now! Mom’s getting us Chinese and we’ll watch a film and you’ll stay the night again and then we...” He stops talking. The flush on his face deepening as I continue to stare at him. I’m confused. His obvious distress has me at a loss for words. He lets me go. Clearing his throat he bends to pick the spatula and towel off of the floor. 
“Yeah, well. Mom thinks you’re staying. Tonight. She kinda asked me to tell you that you could. You know. Stay the night.” I have to say something.
“Oh.” I’m reevaluating everything I thought true. “Yeah. I’ll stay. I… I don’t know what to do otherwise. Actually.” Those damn tears burn my eyes again. These two have not done anything to deserve to have to deal with my shitty life. God. I need to get out of here.
“Hey, no. Don’t cry, Kathy. Please, don’t cry.” Maxwell wraps his arms around me like he did on the bus, and I wish I had the strength to detangle myself and go hide in the bathroom. He pulls me closer and my arms circle his waist. He buries his face in my hair and makes these soothing noises. His breath fans out over my scalp and I haven’t felt this safe in… in I don’t know how long.
The floodgates open and I’m full on sobbing into his t-shirt. “I… I’m sorry. I… I don’t… I don’t know… I… I’m sorry.”
“Shhh… it’s okay. I’m here.” I take deep breaths to calm myself and to stop the crying. Shuddering breaths, pathetic breaths, that refuse to stop the tears. I’m sure all the gorgeous is running off of me right this minute. It was all an illusion anyway.
“Hey kids! I’m home! And I have a huge bag full of Chinese food!” Jessica’s voice has us freezing. I pull away and Maxwell lets me take a step back.
“I need a minute.” I whisper. He nods and hurries out to greet his mom. As fast as humanly possible I duck into the bathroom to wash my face.

I stare at myself in the mirror. My eyes are puffy and red, my cheeks are pale and I haven’t seen this much pathetic in a person, like ever. I really, really need to stop with the crying. And I have to go home tomorrow, I’ll be out of clean clothes and all my other things are at mom’s. She’s all I have now.

Maxwell’s alone in the kitchen, unpacking a large paper bag filled with boxes of takeaway. He stops, like he’s about to say something, but I hurry up to him and start moving boxes from the counter to the table.
I clear my throat. “This smells nice. What did she get?”
Maxwell snorts. “It’s more like, what didn’t she get.” The takeaway boxes keep stacking on the counter. “We’ll be eating Chinese every meal this weekend and if it hasn’t gone bad, I’m guessing we’ll be eating Chinese Monday and Tuesday as well.”
I smile and shake my head. “I feel so sorry for you.”
With mock hurt displayed on his face, Maxwell turns to me. “Have you ever had eggrolls four days in a row? Do you know how not-delicious they are by day four?”

It’s not very funny, actually it’s not funny at all, but I crack up. Maybe it’s his face, or the way he tilts his head, or that I’ve finally gone full crazy? Anyway, I hold my stomach and laugh until there are tears running down my face. Maxwell is laughing too, but it’s more checked. I think he might be worried about me. 
Jessica steps into the kitchen, hair in a loose ponytail and her eyebrow raised at the scene greeting her. “What I miss?” Maxwell only shakes his head as I’m wiping my eyes and trying to collect myself.
“Egg rolls.” Is the only thing I get out before falling into a fit of laughter again. This time Maxwell’s laughing as hard as me. Jessica shakes her head and takes over the unloading of food.
“You guys are weird.” There’s a smile on her face as she says it. “Well, I’m starving. Do you guys want to eat or not?”
“Yes. Oh god. I can’t breathe.” I do my best to collect myself, but just looking at Maxwell has me losing it again. With a grin and a shake of his head, he throws his hands up and leaves the kitchen. Jessica has finished moving the boxes to the table and is searching the bag for chopsticks and bags of soy sauce.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know why I found it so funny. I just…” She smiles at me and hands me the chopsticks and nods towards the table.
“Oh, I don’t mind. Actually, I don’t think I’ve seen Max laugh that hard in ages.” She shakes her head. “He’s always so focused, on school and everything. This is good.” This isn’t helping. My face must be beet red.
“Mom!” Maxwell returns from whatever he did. “Geez!” His face is flushed too. 
Jessica laughs at him. “Guess we’d better eat then. I can’t embarrass you if I’m stuffing my face with fried rice.” The look on Maxwell’s face says otherwise, but he sits down and opens the box closest to him. A strong smell of garlic takes over the kitchen.
“Really mom? You had to have the garlic chicken?”

“Oh my god!” Jessica leans back, her hand rubbing her stomach. “This food baby is ginormous!”
I’m so full, but that deep fried prawn is calling me. I pop it into my mouth and immediately regret my decision. Chewing slowly I try to not throw up.
“Why do we do this?” Maxwell moans as he pokes around his plate, a half eaten spring roll being shoved around in a sea of rice and pork.
His mom shakes her head. “Whenever you can move, why don’t you guys go chose a movie.” She looks at all the takeaway boxes littering the table. “I’ll clean this mess up.”
“Oh, I can help.”
Jessica waves my words away. “No Kathy, you and Max go chose a movie. It’s mostly throwing empty boxes away anyway.” Maxwell gets up and I do the same. It has me feeling queasy; that was way too much Chinese takeaway for three people! 
He opens his mouth, but I raise my hand to stop him. “Not a word.” His eyebrows climb towards his hairline, but he complies. I’m terrified he’ll say something about egg rolls and have me laughing and that would have me throwing up. It’s enough that I’m freeloading another night. I’m not in any way adding to their burden by making them clean up my sick. 

“So, what do you like?” Maxwell is flipping through Netflix. They only have the one account, which is so weird. Mom and I can’t even decide on what to have for breakfast without fighting, and having her shitty films recommended to me would have me throw the tv out. It’s like they don’t care that their recommended films are a mix of everything and then some.
“Eh, what do you like?” Please, don’t make me chose. We’re sitting at either end of the couch; my legs are curled up under me and I’m trying not to take up too much space.
“Well, I like most… most movies. Like… like comedies and… and like sci-fi, and stuff.” He’s flipping past movies so fast that I don’t have time to read what they’re about. “And mom, she likes anything with strong women. Or… or like, romance.” He’s currently stopped at The Fifth Element.
“Oh yeah, I like that one!” My excitement has Maxwell nearly dropping the remote. He’s looking at me like I’ve grown another head. The Chinese food in my stomach threatens to come back up again. “Or… or, you know, we could... you know, watch something else.” 

Maxwell blinks and shakes his head. “No! This is great!!!” He winces at his enthusiasm. “It’s just that it’s one of my favorites. I didn’t know, didn’t think, that you’d know… that you’d like it.” The grin splitting his face tugs at my heartstrings. It’s almost like there’s a goofball hidden beneath that surface of hard working straight A student. It would have been nice to get to know him, without my shitty life getting mixed up in it.
I smile. “Cool.”
“Cool.” He turns away, but I see him rolling his eyes at something. I forget to fixate on it as the movie starts. Milla Jovovich is my favorite actress.

Jessica turns up as Korben Dallas, the character played by Bruce Willis, is introduced to us. She gestures to Maxwell so scoot over. He looks at her and shakes his head.
“Move.” She shoves him and with a set jaw he moves closer to me. I pretend to be emerged in the movie. “Come on Max, I might be a tiny woman, but come on! Move.”
He scoots closer still. Our bodies are touching, and I don’t know how to feel about that. There’s too much going on in my head. I wish I could crawl further into the corner of the couch.
“This okay?” He tries to look me in the eye but fails. I’m relieved.
“Yeah.” I kind of need to change position, my legs are cramping from sitting here all worried about everything and everyone. Gently I untangle myself. Jessica has spread out like it’s nobody’s business, shoving a flushing Maxwell flush against me.

“Mmm, Bruce Willis is so hot.”
“Mom!” Jessica laughs. This is what moms should be like, not bitchy like mine.
I turn to her. “I like the young priest, he’s cute.”
Jessica smiles at me. “Yes! He’s adorable!” Maxwell cringes. “Oh, shut up Max. You think the heroine is hot.” I laugh, I can’t help it.
“Mom! Stop talking, you’re ruining the movie. No one likes movie talkers!” I disagree, but I don’t say anything.
“Fine. I’ll just sit here and sigh happily.” Are they going to argue?
“Did I pick a bad movie?” Both turn to me, surprise on their faces.
Jessica snaps out of it first and pauses the movie. “Oh no, Kathy. This is how it always is, we’re not fighting.” I don’t know what look Maxwell gives his mom and I can’t interpret the look she gives him. She starts the movie again. “I would offer you popcorn, but just thinking about it makes me sick.” Jessica moans and rubs her stomach. My queasiness has settled, I’m just not hungry, at all. Maxwell shrugs his shoulders and turns to me.
“Maybe later?” I give him the same shrug.

Leeloo saves the universe and I’m getting sleepy. It’s not late, at all, and I can’t fall asleep now. I’d only wake up super early and lie here not knowing what to do, not wanting to make a sound and wake them.
“I’m going to get something to drink.” Maxwell gets up.
“Make some popcorn too.”
He turns to Jessica. “I thought you said you never wanted to eat ever again?”
She waves her hand at him. “Shhh! Go be a good host.” Shaking his head and muttering under his breath Maxwell heads for the kitchen. Jessica turns to follow him with her eyes and when he’s gone from view she scoots closer to me. I’m slightly worried about what she’s going to say.
“Kathy, I know things are bad with you mom. And your dad did a runner.” I bite my lip and nod, I can’t speak or I’ll start crying again. “I’d like for you to have my number. If things ever are as shit as they were last night, text me or call and I’ll help in any way I can.” 

I want to shake my head. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone, but I also want to accept her offer, because having someone to turn to would make my life so much easier. In the end I hand her my phone and she adds herself. Over in the kitchen a phone rings. 
“Mom! Someone’s calling!” Jessica chuckles. “Never mind, they hung up.” When she winks at me I crack a smile and then we start laughing. 
Maxwell sticks his head out of the kitchen. “What I miss?” In that instance he looks so much like his mom.
Jessica shrugs at him. “Just some girl talk, honey. What happened to the popcorn?”
“I couldn’t find them.” 
Jessica gives a deep sigh, hands me my phone back and gets up from the couch. “Did you try actually opening the cupboards?” I don’t know what Maxwell answers, I’m too busy staring at Jessica’s phone number. I don’t think I’ll ever contact her, but it feels good to have someone who says she’s on my side.

Maxwell and Jessica are back from the kitchen, three water bottles and a big bowl of popcorn are taking up all the space on the tiny coffee table. The buttery popcorn smell is tempting, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea. Maxwell doesn’t seem to have any second thoughts, he crams a fistful of popcorn into his mouth and then mimes something at me.
“Huh?”
His cheek color and he quickly swallows the popcorn. “What do you want to watch now? We’re not just limited to Netflix, there’s Amazon Prime and I guess we have some like blu rays somewhere and I could always hook my laptop up and stream something.”
“Uhm… I don’t know. I mean… I mean anything is fine. I guess.” I look at Jessica.
She smiles and shakes her head. “Don’t mind me, I’ll be falling asleep soon and have no say in the choice of movies.”
I sort of don’t look at Maxwell. “Why don’t you chose something then, Maxwell?” He freezes, it’s almost like he’s holding his breath. What’s wrong? 
Then he blinks and jumps into action. “Eh, yeah. Have you seen Blade Runner? Like the old Blade Runner? The one from the 80s. I know it’s like super old, but it’s really good and I mean, you like The Fifth Element, so I thought we could watch the old one and then maybe the new one? If you’re not like too tired.” Wow, that’s a lot of words from him.
“Yeah, sure. I haven’t seen them.”
“Great! I’ll get my laptop.” He disappears into his room. I need to move, stretch my legs.

When I come back from the bathroom, Maxwell is busy with plugging his computer into the tv. Jessica is reading a book, her outstretched legs taking up half of the couch. There’s just enough room for me to sit in the same spot. A yawn sends shivers down my spine.
“Are you cold Kathy?” I mean to shake my head, but it’s a little chilly, so I end up nodding. “Max, could you go get the big blanket?” Before I know it, Maxwell covers me with a thick and fluffy blanket. Then he starts the movie, pushes Jessica’s feet off the couch and sits next to me.
“I want some of that blanket!” Jessica reaches for at corner and drags it over Maxwell and onto herself. Maxwell sighs, but doesn’t move. 
Instead he turns to me. “This is like one of the best movies ever made.” I smile at him and then I snuggle into the blanket to see if he’s right. 

We’re maybe halfway through the film when Jessica yawns for like the hundredth time. “Bedtime for old ladies.” She looks at me. “Will you be alright making up the couch by yourself?”
“Yeah, it’ll be fine.” She tells us goodnight and then it’s just Maxwell and me underneath the blanket. It’s toasty warm and I’m sleepy. Maxwell hasn’t moved, we’re almost shoulder to shoulder and my exhausted brain registers that he’s sitting very still. I shift and sneak a peek. His eyes are on the tv, but he turns to me as soon as I look at him.
“Don’t you like it?” The words tumble out of his mouth.
“Oh. Ehm. No. I mean, yes. It’s good. I like it.” He visibly relaxes and turns his attention to Harrison Ford again. I feel my eyelids growing heavy and try to blink myself awake, but instead I feel myself drifting off.

It’s nice and warm and someone’s heartbeat is keeping me company. With a contented sigh I snuggle into them. They shift in their sleep. 

I’m alone when I wake up. The blanket is draped over me and there’s a throw pillow tucked under my head. I wonder what time it is. My phone is all the way over on the other side of the coffee table. Where it ended up last night, pushed to the side by the popcorn bowl and water bottles. It’s morning, pale light filters in through the curtains and I can hear the traffic from down on the street.

The sound of a door opening makes me freeze. Quiet footsteps are moving my way. “Kathy? You awake?” Maxwell’s voice has me sitting up. He’s wearing the same t-shirt as yesterday, but has changed into pyjama bottoms. “Ehm, oh… sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
I shake my head. “No, it’s okay. I was awake.” I pull my knees up under my chin as he settles on the armrest down by my feet. His hair is tousled and he messes it up more when he runs his fingers through. He opens his mouth as if to say something, but closes it again. His eyes catch mine and then he’s looking something over by the tv. I watch him shake his head and turn to me again.

“I’m just gonna say it.” I can tell he’s struggling to keep eye contact and his ears are turning pink. Should I say something? He takes a deep breath.
“I like you. Like, really like you.” His ears are bright red now, and his cheeks are flushed. “And, like if you want, I’d like to hang out. Or something. With you. I’m sure you have other people to hang out with.... who aren’t total dweebs.” His eyes flicker away as he seems to say that last bit to himself.
“And yeah, I know this might not be the best time to like admit I like you, because reasons, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance, you know? And I just really…” He loses his nerve and drops his gaze down to his lap and runs both hands through his hair again. I’m a little stunned. I mean, I heard him say I’m gorgeous, but I never really believed him. I know I have to say something. Like, anything. I can only imagine how nerve wracking this must be for him. 

“I had no idea… my life is kinda messed up right now... and I don’t know.“ His shoulders slump. “Oh no, I didn’t mean it like that.” I move to place a hand on his knee, his head snaps up and we’re eye to eye. “I meant to say: I’d love to hang out with you. But I might not be the best company.” I scoot back again. “But if you’re sure, maybe we could start with watching the end of Blade Runner? I think I fell asleep.” 
I try smiling at him. There’s a hint of a smile on his face. He gets up to start his laptop and the tv, and when the film’s running again he settles not quite next to me on the couch.
“Yeah, you fell asleep. On me. Missed all the really good stuff.” Maxwell’s chuckles bring him a little closer and we end up watching Blade Runner with our shoulders touching. 
I nudge him with mine. “Shut up. No one likes movie talkers…” 



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