THE SAVIOR: Chapter 6

I want to spin around, see if it is true, but doubt floods my system, gnaws at the pit of my stomach, warning me of the all the possibilities that this could very well be some cruel mind-trick.
Please, I think. Please, oh please—just let it be him. 
Swallowing my fears, I slowly turn around, my eyes finding his feet first, secured in a pair of dirty worn-down sneakers. Ascending up his calves, my eyes skim along his knees, thighs, waist, chest, and neck—all so wonderfully familiar to me until at last my chin lifts and our eyes meet. “Max!” I scream, springing up from my seat.
I slam into him, wrapping my arms tighter around his body, squeezing every last wisp of air left in his lungs, proving to myself that this is no hallucination. He is here! Max is here with me now!
A sound mixed between a grunt and a laugh comes out his throat.
Sunshine explodes in my chest and I feel like I am going to cry.  
His muscles tense beneath his long-sleeved shirt. Something is different about the feel of his body and then it hits me: He’s freezing.
Absolutely freezing.

My internal radio clicks on. Guess which song is playing?
This is just too weird. Selene randomly adopts a kid—no a teenager—but not just any teenager—Max Riley—or is it Max Delaney now? Juna’s—I hate to say it—boyfriend. I mean what are the chances? This is just too freaking creepy.
Juna sure looks happy to see him, though.
The tendons in my neck lock tight.  
What’s up with Max, though? The dude looks like he hasn’t slept in days.
“So, wait, you two know each other?” Harris asks.
“Yep,” I answer glumly.
“You know him too?” Harris is in shock.
“Uh, sort of,” I say. “Just through her. They’re good friends.” What a freaking understatement.
“Oh,” Harris murmurs.
I look back at Juna and Max hugging each other. A sinking feeling starts in the pit of my stomach.
Juna pulls away from him but grips his hand tightly. Max tells Harris, “If Selene asks, just tell her I’m taking Juna on a quick walk through the orchards, okay?”
Harris nods as the four of us watch as the couple disappears into the trees.
“That’s so strange that they know each other,” Marley notes.
“Yeah,” I grumble, watching as a fleck of ash from the field-burnings lands on our picnic table. “Super strange.”

Taking a firmer grip around Max’s hand as he pulls me further into the orchards, I catch the thin buzz of nearby cicadas. Deeper, deeper, into the trees we go, taking several turns, like a maze, Max finally slows down once we reach our resting spot at a plastic green picnic table.
I take a moment to survey the picturesque rows of moss-covered trees, lifting my chin to watch the sunlight as it filters through the chest-high canopy of branches. Inhaling deeply, I exhale with a giant grin on my face and almost start laughing because I am so happy.
Max releases my hand and turns around methodically. His face tightens. “What are you doing here?”
My grin vanishes and my shoulders suddenly feel as though a sack of flour has been dropped onto them. “Um…I’m here for the barbecue,” I say hesitantly, confused by this foreign attitude of his. “Both Logan and I were invited because you know…these are his friends.” I say this as though it should be obvious.
Max’s eyebrows furrow over exhausted blood-shot eyes, his jaw setting into a tight line.  
“What?” I snap. 
“Sorry,” he says, his voice gentler this time. “I’m just,”—He shakes his head unbelievingly—“shocked to see you.” His lips curve into a smile, forming those parenthetical dimples I’m so addicted to at the sides of his mouth.   
“Yeah, me too,” I admit.
“Come,” he says gesturing to the table.
 We each take a seat, sitting across from one another. Little flakes of ash fall from the sky, descending like ghosts before hitting the ground. The fire’s scent still burns in the air and will probably linger on my clothes by the time I get back home.
I shift my attention from the ash to him. “I can’t believe you’ve been adopted,” I say with enthusiasm. “This is great.”
“Yeah.” He nods, smiling, but this time my beloved parentheses are absent. He leans his arms against the tabletop, brings his hands together, squeezing them tightly. I notice that he won’t meet my eyes for longer than five seconds.
“So…” I begin, sort of feeling like I’m questioning a stranger here. “When did you get here?”
“Two weeks ago,” he answers matter-of-factly.
“And are you liking Oregon?”
“Yeah.” He shrugs. “I mean, it’s nice because it’s less, uh…crowded. The country is nice. I definitely like not hearing sirens every night.”
“True,” I say. “So far, I’ve enjoyed living in the country better too. We’ve got these great woods behind the house where we go four-wheeling.”
“Yeah.” He nods stiffly. “You mentioned that in your emails.”
Speaking of emails, I think. “So, do you have access to a computer around here?” I ask.
“I do, actually,” he says, leaning back and scratching his head. “Selene bought me a brand new laptop.”
“Ah…” I say, peering down at the table for a moment and then back at him. My voice twists into a knotted rope as I ask, “So, why haven’t you emailed me then?”
He sighs and looks me directly in the eyes, but nothing comes out of his mouth.
“I mean, you could have at least told me that you were adopted,” I say smoothly. “Because, I mean, that’s a pretty big deal.”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” he says, looking frustrated. “It’s just.” He lets out a deep sigh. “It’s just that things have been a little crazy lately.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, leaning forward in my seat, my hand unintentionally bumping into his.
“I can’t—”
“Your hands are freezing by the way,” I tell him before realizing I’ve just interrupted what he was about to say. Damn it, I think. It’s okay, though. We will get back to that later because I am honestly curious as to why his hands burn like ice. 
He leans back, his hands lowering into his lap. “Yeah, I know,” he says defensively, looking down again.  
“Why what?” He asks, eyes meeting mine again, and I wonder if he hears that the sounds of his words are as sharp as a razor.
His tone pisses me off. “Why are they so cold?” I ask. “What the hell else would I be referring to?”
“I’ve,”—He inhales sharply, running a hand through his thick, dark hair—“been kind of sick lately,” he admits, his gaze returning to the tabletop.
“Sick?” I repeat.
He nods.
“What do you mean sick?” I ask. “What’s wrong?”
“What else could sick mean? I’ve been feeling like shit lately,” he says through clenched teeth. “Okay?
Thick, hot disgust rises up in my chest. “What the hell is the matter with you?” I yell. “I haven’t seen you in over a month and you’re treating me like shit! You’re acting stupid.”
“Yeah, well, you don’t know what I’m going through,” he mutters.
“Then tell me,” I fume. “And just because I don’t know what you’re going through doesn’t give you the right to treat me like—”
“Then go!” He yells, standing up and then scoots out from the picnic table.
“I don’t want to go,” I say, standing.
He trudges back to the house. “Well, you should,” he mutters under his breath.
I scoot out from the picnic table and jog up to him. “Hey,” I yell, grabbing him by the upper arm.
He shakes it off, refusing to look at me.
“Just go!” He blares again.
I grab him by the wrist, trying to yank him back so I can talk to him. 
He wheels around to face me, both hands pressing down against my shoulders and I fall onto my tailbone. “Leave me alone!” He growls and then sprints into the maze of trees.  

“I wonder what they’re doing?” Harris says and then bites into his hamburger. After swallowing he adds, “I mean there’s not a whole lot to do in there.”
Spencer chuckles under his breath and I almost kick him.   
I’m not so hungry anymore. I lost my appetite a long time ago.
Seriously, I mutter in my head, where are they?  And what are they doing? It’s been fifteen minutes for crying out loud. Juna could be pregnant by now! Ugh, I think, shaking my head, did that seriously just pop into my head?
My foot taps against the ground and I feel like a little impatient girl doing this, but I really can’t help this foot-tapping thing.
 I bend my head to the left and then to the right, cracking my neck.
 “Ewe,” Marley laughs.
“Yeah,” Harris agrees. “Why do you do that?”
I shrug and lift the hamburger to my mouth, sinking my teeth in it. I’ll admit this: Rob definitely has amazing hamburger-making skills.
“Are you ok?” Marley asks.
I look up and see Juna standing next to our table, panting as though she’d been running. Her eyes scan the property for something.
She doesn’t look down at us when she asks, “Did Max come by here?”
“No,” Harris answers, confused. “Why?”
Instead of answering she sprints for the house.
“Uh, I’ll be right back, guys,” I tell them as I get up from the table, jogging after Juna.

 I race up the porch steps, just about to enter the house when Selene opens the screen door, smiling at me. She touches my arm, a friendly gesture, but I don’t like it. “Everything all right sweetie?” She asks, tilting her head.
No, I want to scream at her, but instead ask, “Is Max inside?” anxiously peeking around her as I say this.   
“Yes.” She smiles, flashing her all too white teeth at me. “He went to bed. I’m afraid he’s not feeling too well, ” she informs me.
“What’s wrong with him?”
“I fear he’s coming down with a cold or something,” she professes and then pouts her lips.
“I really need to see him,” I say firmly. “Like right now.”
“Not now, honey, he needs to rest.”—Her hand presses firmly against my shoulder blade, ushering me down the stairs—“But you’re certainly welcome to visit anytime later,” she tells me as cheerfully as ever.
I do realize how corny this sounds, but I have this sudden urge to growl at her. I desperately wish more than anything right now to be a wolf because I’d definitely be growling at her, get my way past her, see Max, and figure out what the hell his problem really is.
Logan stands at the base of the stairs, his expression both puzzled and concerned. I stop next to him as Selene walks over to the barbecue to speak with Robert or Bobby as she likes to call him. “I want to go home now,” I grumble.
Logan’s fingertips brush against my arm. I turn my neck toward him and he whispers, “Is everything ok?”
“I’ll meet you in the truck,” I sigh and then stomp off for the car, still tasting the smoke in my mouth.   

I walk up to the grill before heading home. I want to say goodbye to Rob and thank him for the delicious burgers. Selene leaves him and walks back to the Lautens, sitting at the picnic table.  “You heading out?” She asks, touching my arm.
I nod. “Yeah. Thanks for having us,” I say.
“Anytime sweetheart. So,” she begins, holding up a finger because a thought just popped into her head, “Juna knows Max?”
“Uh, ye-yeah,” I stammer. “They, uh, they used to live in the same area. Uh, they went to school together, I think. I’m not exactly sure what the whole story is because it’s news to me too.” I sigh.
“Wow,” she says, stunned, laughing. “What are the odds?”
“I know,” I say, raising my eyebrows. 
“Well, I won’t hold you any longer,” she tells me. “Drive safely and remind Juna that she is welcome to visit him anytime she likes. Alright?”
“Sure thing.” I force a smile and then walk to the barbecue. 
“Heading home?” Rob asks.
“Yep,” I tell him. “My mom wants us back early.”
“How is she doing these days?”
“Uh…good,” I mutter, trying to speed this conversation up, plus I’m not exactly in the mood to talk about my mom. “She’s afraid we’ll get attacked by whatever killed those animals in Dallas the other night. You hear about that?”
“I did,” he admits, “freaky stuff.”
I nod.
“So,”—his eyes veer in the direction of my truck—“how is Juna doing? I only just heard the basics about her situation, but is she getting along ok with your family?”
“Yeah,” I say, shrugging, “I mean we get along okay, but she and Noah have probably bonded the most.”
“Oh good,” he says, “Noah is such a sweetie.”
I nod and glance in the direction of my truck, suddenly realizing that I am bouncing on my toes as I do this, so I quit.
“It’s weird,” Rob begins, slowly adjusting his glasses, eyes shifting to the ground and then back at me, “because Juna looks an awful lot like…” he pauses to swallow.
I wait for him, trying to be patient, but really I’m just kind of annoyed at him. Spit it out Rob, I want to yell, but, instead, I ask, “Like what?”
He shakes his head as though snapping out of a trance or something and waves his hand like he is pushing the thought away. “Nevermind,” he says, giving a weak chuckle.
“Oh ok,” I mumble. “Well, we better get going now, but thanks for inviting us,” I tell him. “The burgers were great.”
“No problem. We need to run into each other more often,” he says warmly.
I stride back to my truck, open the door, and get in. Fastening my seatbelt I put the keys into the ignition.

I stare out my window, up at Selene’s house, wondering which window belongs to Max.
Logan takes the emergency break off and pulls out of the long driveway.
It’s clear he wants to talk to me, to hear the exact details of what happened between Max and I. He keeps peeking over at me, but I don’t want to talk. I can’t. Not now. Not after my best friend just shoved me to the ground and told me to leave him alone.
Stomach clenches tight and my eyebrows furrow as I replay the events over in my head. Eyes prickling, I feel so stupid at how easily I cry these days. It pisses me off. My life is in sheer chaos right now and the least thing I could have control of is whether or not I cry. Right now, I don’t want to cry.
My head turns toward the window, hot in frustration, as the tears spill down my face.

I glance over at Juna and notice the tears rolling down her cheeks, drying within seconds, and I have to look away. My jaw hardens and my hands clench tighter around the steering wheel. 
I wait a couple more minutes before asking her anything and then, without looking, I venture, “Is it okay to ask what happened now?”
Embarrassed, she wipes the already dried tears away from her face, sighing heavily.
Sometimes I think Juna wants to be seen as this tough unbreakable girl, but what she hasn’t seemed to accept yet, is that she is tough. She is one of the toughest people I know.
“Um…” she says and then sniffs, trying to refrain the mucus from drowning out her voice. “I don’t even know where to begin. He just…it’s like that wasn’t even him today.”
“How?” I urge.
“Well,” she begins, reviewing the event over in her mind. “He was just so rude to me. He wouldn’t answer any of my questions and, actually, he got mad at me for asking anything at all.”
She looks to me like she expects some sort of answer and I’m feeling pretty dang useless right now because I’ve got nothing. So, instead, I keep rolling out the questions, like: “Weird, cuz’ he seemed really happy to see you today. When’d he start getting rude?”
“Kind of from the get-go,” she explains. “He asked me why I was even there and it was the way he asked it too that caught me off guard. Then I went on to ask him some simple questions like when was he adopted and how he liked Oregon—you know, the basic small-talk sort of stuff. But he wasn’t his happy-go-lucky talkative self. He was just being a complete asshole.”
I know I shouldn’t be happy about the fact that she just called her boyfriend an asshole, but I kind of am. “Hmm…” I mumble. “Was there a certain question that made him angry at you, you think?”
“Yeah,” she admits, “there was. See,”—she sighs, pushing her hair behind her ears—“he hasn’t emailed me in a while, but he’s got a laptop, so, yeah, he could’ve emailed me at some point, but he didn’t. And, you know, I was mad at him about that and when I asked him why he hadn’t emailed me then he just said that things had been really crazy lately for him, which got me really upset because things have been extremely crazy for me too—I mean you know—but I still make the time to email him.” She sighs and then mutters under her breath, “It just pisses me off.”
I nod.
“His hands were really cold too,” she tells me. “I asked him about that too, but, again, he got mad at me.”
“How should I know?” she fumes. “He said he was sick, but when I asked him what the matter was he just yelled at me.”
“He did look pale,” I note.
“Yeah,” she agrees, turning to me. “You noticed that too? I don’t know what that was all about, but it really freaked me out.” She runs her hand through her hair, exhaling deeply.
Asshole, I think again and yet, a small voice at the back of my brain, keeps quietly telling me, “Something’s not right,” but in all honesty I’d much rather continue thinking him an asshole.
I pull the minivan onto our driveway and then put it into park. We both hop out of the car and silently head for the house.
Juna trudges down the hallway to her room as I close the front door behind me.  
Mom comes out of the kitchen with a large bowl of cookie dough tucked into the crook of her arm, a wooden spoon grasped in the opposite hand. Raising her chin, she asks, “What’s up with her?”
“She’ll be fine,” I reply, turning for the stairs.
“Logan, wait!” she calls after me.
Rolling my eyes, I turn around. “What?” I ask.
“Tell me what’s going on,” she demands.
“Selene adopted Juna’s best friend and we’re both kind of shocked about it,” I explain. “That’s all.”
“Oh my gosh,” Mom says, eyes widening. “I…I don’t even know what to say to that.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” I say, exhaling. “Can I go down to my room now?”
“Yes, sure honey. I’m going to put these”—She gestures to the bowl of cookie dough, snuggled in the crook of her arm—“into the oven. They’ll be ready soon. Want some?”
“No,” I say. “I’m just gonna go to bed.”
“Oh…okay, sleep well then,” she says softly, giving me a small smile.
I leave for the stairs, but before I make it to the third step she says, “Oh honey! Before I forget. I have to leave early tomorrow morning for a meeting in Portland, can you just—”
“Sure,” I mutter, continuing my path down the stairs, already knowing she wants me to watch the kids.
“Love you,” she says.
Still tromping down the stairs, I pretend I didn’t hear her.

Max’s words and actions keep twirling through my mind, an endless circle of hurt. I keep visioning him shoving me to the ground and yelling at me to leave him alone and the only sensible word I can come up with to explain it all is: wrong.
Something is wrong.
“Juna?” Hannah whispers into the darkness, looking down at me over the wooden bed frame of her bunk.
I crane my neck to look up at her. “Yes?” I ask.
“Are you ok?”
Twisting my body around to face her properly, my legs tangle in the sheets, trapping me. Heart thundering in my chest, blood pulsing behind my ears, I begin squirming, kicking the sheets away from me with great ferocity. I can’t allow anything to entrap me—not even these damn sheets. I just can’t. 
Once I settle down after kicking all sheets and blankets away from me, I lie panting, and the sound is so pathetic that my eyes burn with tears.
“Juna?” Hannah says again, and I feel so stupid. So damn stupid for freaking out over blankets! Blankets! Who on earth is afraid of blankets? Hannah probably thinks I’m a psychopath.
“Yes?” I choke out, not looking at her.
“What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” I tell her, gaining my voice back, “but I’m gonna find out.”

Gray matter is going to streak the walls of my room here pretty soon. Yep, that’s how bad my brain hurts.
Problem is, I can’t get it to shut up. I keep thinking and thinking and not just about one thing but of everything!
I keep waiting for some female electronic voice to say: Self-destruct in ten… nine… eight… seven…
But apparently I’m not that lucky.
Earlier I was listening to Modest Mouse, but now I listen to Pink Floyd, hoping the lyrics and melody will help me to become comfortably numb.
The door wrenches open and the lights blind me.
Like a wave rolling up my back, my muscles tighten and the waterbed sways beneath me. I yank out my headphones and sit up.
Juna stands at my door, hands clench into knuckle-whitening fists at her sides, looking tense—the way she does before she goes out to rescue someone.
“I need to see Max,” she tells me.
“Now?” I ask, stunned, looking at my watch. “But it’s 11:35,” I say. 
“Yeah, I realize that,” she responds, rolling her eyes, “but I need to figure out what the hell his problem is now.”
“Yes,” she hisses and then wheels around for the sliding glass door.
“Wait!” I shout, yanking off my covers, and then stumbling across the floor as I catch her by the arm.
“What?” she spits, jerking her arm out of my grasp.
“What do you mean you’re going to go see him now?” I ask out of breath. “You don’t even have your license.”
“Who said anything about driving,” she tells me like I’m stupid and maybe I am. “I’m going to run. It’ll be faster that way. I’ll be right back.” She sidesteps toward the back door.
“But what about Selene?” I ask, forcing her to rethink this. “I mean, how are you going to get into the house? Just walk right in? You can’t do that. The door might be locked and if you do happen to get in…um…some alarms might go off or something. And then you’ll get into tons of trouble.”
She rolls her eyes. “You’re such a worry-wart. I’ll find a way,” she tells me like it’s no big deal. “Just trust me, okay?”
“Fine,” I say in defeat, raising my hands. “I give up.” 
“Good because you were never gonna win,” she whispers and then turns to unlock the sliding glass door.
I watch her sprint across the grass. A long tremor shimmies down her spine as she dives into the air, so effortlessly I’m almost tempted to give it a try. And with a sharp tearing sound that rips through the air she explodes, dark brown hair blasting from her skin. I see a tail vanishing into the woods and then she is gone.
I’ve got a bad feeling about this, I think.
Liquid fire adrenaline surges through my body, tingles in my veins, it urges my legs to push harder, faster against the pavement ahead of me. I glide in and out between vehicles; their lights streaming past me like shooting stars.   
When I come to an abrupt halt I am at the entrance of Selene’s driveway. Trotting up the road to her house, I lift my nose to the sky, still smelling of fire. Moonlight filters in through the chinks of the trees’ canopy, lighting my way.
When the house finally comes into view, I notice that the bottom half of it is still lit, glowing bright yellow, while the second story remains pitch black.
It’s an odd feeling coming here on purpose this time around.
Hopefully, Max is upstairs right now.  
Suddenly, the lights of a car flash my way. With my heart in my throat, I scramble up the hill to the front lawn, desperately hoping the driver didn’t see me. The car moves past me without hesitation and I exhale.
I stick to the edge of the lawn, keeping to the orchard’s border as I move closer to the house. Two silhouettes stand near the downstairs window and I gather that they belong to Selene and Robert.  
I move to the moss-draped oak tree standing parallel to the house and with a swift, nearly effortless motion I rise back onto two legs, allowing the coarse fur to vanish from my body. Shaking my arms out, I get a feel for my human-self once again. I grab hold of the lowest branch and heave myself up the tree.
As kids, Max and I climbed trees all the time. We’d hide from Leslie and Abbey just about every night at camp, not wanting to go in for curfew, scaling trees much higher and more difficult to climb than this one.  
Getting onto the roof, however, is a much more challenging task than I assumed it would be. Apparently the tree is not as close to the house as I first thought it was. Taking a risky leap, I make it. Thank god, I think. But my landing makes a loud thumping noise that causes me to curse under my breath.
Ignoring this, I force my legs to keep moving across the roof. At the nearest window I press my nose up against the dusty glass, but find it difficult to see anything in the room. Cupping my hands around my eyes, I hope to make a difference in my vision, but it does nothing for me.
Something from inside strikes the windowpane and I gasp, loosing my balance, but before I go tumbling off the roof, the window whips open and something cold grabs hold of my wrist.
Hanging halfway out the window, Max tries to pull me to safety.
“Take my other hand,” he grunts, instructing as he reaches out for me. I grab it and he pulls me in through the window.
Tromping over to the opposite end of the room, Max swaps on the lights and just stands there for a moment afterwards. Out of breath, his hands turn into fists at his sides.
His room is a dull shade of gray. Several posters of snowboarders, surfers, and skateboarders hang from the walls. His bed is a mess, the tangled sheets lined with red, white, and black stripes. Most of his clothes lay scattered across his ridiculously fluffy lime green carpet. Nothing really matches and kind of gives me a headache, or maybe I was doomed for one before coming here.
 Max turns around, his entire frame quivering with rage.
I smile innocently.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he asks, struggling to keep his voice low.
“You ask the dumbest questions,” I answer. “To see you. Duh.”
He stomps forward, almost charging me, but then abruptly comes to a halt, clamping his eyes shut for a moment and then exhales.
“You need to tell me what’s going on,” I tell him sternly, walking across the fluffy green carpet toward him.
“I can’t believe you climbed the roof to see me,” he says stiffly.
“Really?” I ask disbelievingly, stopping three feet away from him.
“Well, okay, I guess not,” he admits. “But it was a stupid thing to do and kind of creepy.”
“No it’s not,” I say defensively, placing my hands firmly onto my hips. “You climbed into my room at Leslie’s cabin.”
“Yeah, but it’s a one story house. Big difference.”
“You’re just jealous of my mad climbing skills aren’t you?” I ask.  
“No,” he answers and there is enough bitterness in his words for me to taste it along with him. “And why are you barefoot?” He gestures with his hand down to my feet.
“Why does that even matter?” I hiss, tilting my chin down to take a look anyways because, in all honesty, I hadn’t even noticed this. He keeps changing the subject and it’s really beginning to irritate me.
With his black hair ruffled, wearing nothing but a pair of boxers and a white long-sleeved t-shirt, I get this sudden ache to touch him, hold him, kiss him. But watching those once loving eyes glare back at me with a hate I do not understand, I also want to slug him across the face.
“What the hell is the matter with you?” he says.
A sharp knock pounds at the door. “Max, honey?” Selene asks. “May I come in?”
Terror sweeps through both of us.  
“Shit,” he mutters and then calls out, “Gimme a second.”
 Max drags me to his bed by my wrist and then points down at it. Crawling underneath, I struggle to wedge myself in because there is barely enough room for anything down here. He pulls the blankets over the edge of the bed, making me undetectable.
Blood throbs angrily behind my ears as I snatch one of the many socks I find down here, shoving it into my mouth. Biting down on it hard, I hope this disgusting act will help me to keep quiet. 
“Okay,” Max says, sitting down on his bed.
The door creaks opens.
“Still up?” Selene asks.
Each nearing footstep strikes pangs of fear into my chest. My hands begin trembling uncontrollably. When she stops beside the bed—right in front of me—my insides burn like someone’s stirring them with a fork.
“I can’t sleep,” Max admits.
“I thought I heard another voice in here,” she tells him.  
Oh shit, I think, biting down harder on the sock. 
“I was talking aloud to myself,” Max answers nonchalantly. His calmness doesn’t surprise me. Max knows that panic is the enemy. You panic you die, he once told me.  “I know, kind of stupid,” he adds.
“Ok,” she accepts this. “How are you feeling? Any better?”
“Fine. I’m going to try to fall asleep again,” he tells her.
“Alright, sweetheart. Robert and I are just finishing up our cappuccinos downstairs if you need me.”—She gets up from the bed—“Get some rest. Night kiddo,” she tells him and then leaves the room, shutting the door behind her. We wait until her footsteps reach the first floor before I get up. 
Squatting down beside me, Max removes the blankets, and I begin wiggling free from underneath the bed, spitting his dirty sock out of my mouth. “Man, that was close,” I whisper, smiling.
“What the hell was my sock doing in your mouth?”
“Seemed like a good idea at the time,” I say, shrugging as I get to my feet. “It was to help keep me quiet.”
“Well, it worked didn’t it?” I ask.
“Listen, Juna…you really shouldn’t be—”
“Then I’ll come back at a better time,” I say, heading for the window.  
“No, damn it!” He spits under his breath. “There is never going to be a better time.”
“You know what?”—I swing around to face him—“You’re really pissing me off,” I tell him, frustration burning in my voice. “I don’t understand why your hiding whatever it is that you’re hiding from me, but this is just stupid. I mean I’m your best friend. You know what I’m going to do?” My butt plops down to the floor. “I’m gonna sit here until you tell me what’s going on?”
“Oh no you’re not,” Max snarls. “Get out of here.” He points to the window with his long callused index finger.
I shake my head, smiling up at him like the little brat that I am. “Nope, my friend, not gonna happen,” I croon.
Groaning, Max hooks his hands underneath my armpits and drags me across the floor. He gets me as far to the window as possible, but he won’t be able to lug me out onto that roof. Max comes around to stand in front of me and I scowl at him, fussing, “If you meant to give me a wedgie you succeeded.”
Not even a courtesy laugh. Nope, instead this seems to have grated harder against his nerves. “Juna leave. Now,” he orders to what sounds like a misbehaving dog.
Ha! That’s funny, I think. A misbehaving dog.
“No,” I say, reverting back to my stubborn two-year-old ways. Closing my eyes, I tap my foot against his fluffy lime green carpet and hum Abbey’s renamed Kiss song “I Was Made For Killing You.”
“God you’re stubborn,” he groans, dropping down to his knees beside me. “Fine. You want to know what’s going on? I’ll tell you.”
   “Okay,” I say, leaning forward. “Tell me.”
“I’ve been feeling shity lately, but you obviously see that already,” he begins. “I don’t feel good or look good. You’ve mentioned I feel cold. Yes. I am cold. I’ve gone to several doctors. They’ve conducted some tests on me, but aren’t sure of what it is yet. That’s all I know. Okay? Happy?” Standing up, he looks out the window and sighs.
I rise from the floor and hug him. “Thank you,” I breathe.
He wraps his arms around me. “Sure,” he murmurs.  
“Now, that wasn’t too hard was it?” I ask, leaning into his chest.
He gives a stiff shrug.
Silence fills the room and we just stand there for a moment, holding onto one another. “I really missed you,” I whisper.
“Yeah,” he whispers into my hair, “me too, Tiger.” He sighs and then tells me, “But you really need to go now. You didn’t drive here all by yourself did you?”
“No,” I lie quickly, “I don’t even have my permit yet.”
“Like that’d stop you,” he remarks.
I chuckle lightly. “Yeah, maybe,” I say. “Well,”—I pull away from him—“Logan is out there waiting for me. He’s parked at the beginning of the lane, so no one can see the headlights. I walked up the path.”
“Yeah. Well,” he grumbles, “he’s probably worried sick about you.”
“Yeah, probably so.” I nod, knowing just how true that statement is.   
I turn away from him and prop the window open wider, but before climbing out of it I turn to Max once more and kiss him lightly on the cheek. He sighs and then tells me to go.

This time I obey.

Click here for Chapter 7


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