The next morning, Max woke up to his cellphone. The text tone on it and not the alarm clock app, to be specific. He lazily grabbed his phone from the nightstand and squinted as he read the words on the screen.
Max! What does he look like?
He wasn't sure what else he was expecting, but it wasn't that. In fact, he had forgotten the deal they had made along with the conversation that led up to it until he read the message. He easily recalled what the first two hints he had given were, and despite being groggy, his thumbs moved quickly and accurately across the on-screen keyboard.
He has bright blue eyes the same shade as the sky on a clear summer day, and it might be good that I've never seen any kind of genuine light in his eyes, because I'm sure I'd have a heart attack if I did. His hair is gold, much like yours, but the hue is lighter. It always appears to be somewhat messy and unkempt, but he couldn't make it appear any more beautiful.
Reading his reply after he sent it, he could feel his body temperature rise a few degrees. He hadn't even realized how incredibly poetic he had been while he was typing it. While not many things were able to embarrass him, his own message did.
Within a few minutes, he received another text.
You said you weren't in love but I think you were lying! Its not like you would have worded it like that if you weren't! And don't even try to pass it off as just being a poet because you might be good with words but you're more blunt than that!
It looked as if he really had screwed himself over. Max was usually smarter than that—he would know exactly what his words were going to be and calculate how the other person would most likely perceive them before he said anything. He had always, always, always, always done that, and he was successful at it about—and he had calculated this—ninety-seven point three percent of the time. There hadn't been a fluke like that since he was eleven, and that was nearly four years prior. What had happened all of a sudden?
While he was pondering, he heard a banging on his door. "Hey, Shakespeare, breakfast is ready!"
Oh, God, why?
He immediately began typing up another message to Demitri. To think that she probably didn't even think twice before forwarding the message to his sister—it was embarrassing and irritating in a way he couldn't quite understand.
You sent it to Syria? Why would you do something like that?
"I'll be right there," Max called. "Give me a few minutes."
"Getting yourself worked up so early isn't anyone's fault but your own, so don't go back to sleep after you're done!"
As if it was anything like that. It wasn't as if he was one to allow his thoughts to spiral out of control and go wherever they pleased. Quite contrary, actually—he always managed to keep a tight reign on his train of thought regardless of the situation.
He yawned and stretched as he sat up, accidentally knocking his phone on the floor. He leaned forward and picked it up just in time to receive another text.
It was funny at the time and she said she's going to help me~
Instead of replying with a message, he decided to call her. It was easier to communicate vocally, anyway, so it made more sense to him to do that.
"Max is in love!" she chirped as soon as she picked up. "Max is in love! Come on, don't make me keep guessing!"
"You agreed to the deal," Max responded nonchalantly, unbuttoning his nightshirt and slipping it off. "And besides, if you're going to have my sister helping you, I don't think it's fair for you to ask me to give you a straight answer now."
"Okay, okay! I'll take that as a challenge, and I'm going to win!"
"Take it as whatever you'd like." He pulled on his school uniform awkwardly, making sure not to drop his phone in the process. "Either way, I'm not giving you the answer."
"Just give me one more day and I'll have it, and if I don't, it means you cheated."
"Where exactly does that logic come from?"
"Because two more good hints is all I need! Me and Syria already think we're pretty close to figuring it out. I can't wait to see you smile again."
"I guess I should thank you. You're going through a lot of trouble for me, though it's completely pointless."
"What do you mean, pointless?!" Max knew she was directing a glare at him despite the fact that he couldn't see her. "I'm tired of you being so reserved all the time, and you've been way more reserved than usual recently. I understand that it might be hard for you to be honest and talk about your feelings, so I think if someone started a relationship with you, you could learn how to be more open."
"Then I guess I should thank you even more, since this seems like a lot of trouble. Anyway, I need to get going. Syria called me downstairs for breakfast."
"I'll see you at school, then! Bye!"
He pulled the phone away from his ear, hit the End Call button, and dropped the device into his pocket. The morning had begun with an unusually exciting kick-start, and Max wasn't sure he would want to deal with that kind of wake-up call again anytime soon.
"Looks good," Max commented as he sat down at the dining table. He immediately began mutilating his fried egg with his toast.
"Thanks, it took me a whole five minutes to make." Syria plugged the sink and started filling it with hot water. She scraped the dirty dishes off into the trash bin and dropped them into the water. "I have to stop at the store to pick up a few things my Art teacher said she needed, so I'll be leaving early. Don't be late to the bus stop or Mom will kill me. Do the dishes, too, if you don't want me telling that Russian dork that you want to be his boyfriend."
He waved to Syria as she left the kitchen to get her keys and leave. "Drive safe and don't get another speeding ticket."
"Don't trust me not to. See ya later, Bro!"
Typical. It wasn't as if she got into a lot of trouble—no, that wasn't it all. She just wasn't someone to be expected to stay out of trouble. She had only—and the word only is used because neither their parents nor Max could have ever imagined she would receive so few—two tickets in the four months she had had her driver's license.
He choked on a bite of his toast as he brain suddenly processed the threat Syria made. Do the dishes, too, if you don't want me telling that Russian dork that you want to be his boyfriend. By "Russian dork," she couldn't have meant anyone aside from a boy named Katin. That same boy was the one—for whatever nonsensical reason he couldn't quite pinpoint yet—Max had his eye on. Somehow, he didn't doubt she already knew that and just hadn't told anyone.
Suddenly feeling sick for some inexplicable reason unknown to him, he stood up and scraped the rest of his food into the trash.
"As if it matters to me what she tells anyone, especially if they don't matter to me anyway..." he muttered. He grabbed a rag from beside the sink, soaked it, and poured a generous amount of dish soap onto it. As hard as he tried to focus more on doing the dishes rather than his own thoughts and the way his stomach was churning, he wasn't successful in doing so, which confused him to point of being intrigued rather than anything else.
Once he was finished, he drained the water from the sink and dried his hands off. With the nausea having disappeared just as quickly as it had began, he had ten minutes to run to the bus stop and he would no longer have an excuse if he was late.
Fortunately, he made it—barely. Out of breath and panting, he tossed himself down in one of the seats near the back of the bus.
He pulled out one of his textbooks from his backpack and flipped through it until he reached one of the sections that was going to be brought up on the Friday test. He had always been thankful he never suffered from carsickness, since a lot of his reading was done in vehicles.
A stop later, he felt someone sit down next to him. He looked up to see Katin sitting beside him. The nausea from before came back, now a bit worse. He closed his textbook and dropped it back in his bag.
"I'm just about as happy with this as you are," Katin hissed. "Don't even think about complaining. This is the only seat open."
With a quiet groan, Max rested his head against the window. He might have been more okay with the situation if he had a bag or something of the sort in case he couldn't keep his breakfast down. "I figured."
"Carsickness? You better not puke on me, Arrogant Fool."
"You might hurl in this situation, but I contrarily can control my body sufficiently well, Four-Eyed Dunce."
"Call me a dunce all you'd like, but you're just a genius."
"Call me arrogant all you'd like, but I think your standards are just so low that practically no one can be considered humble or pathetic compared to you."
Katin clicked his tongue and huffed. "Whatever you say, Your Highness."
"I'm only a king compared to a dog like you."
"Oh, of course, because I have so little pride that I'd eat your table scraps."
"You most certainly would, but you're not worthy enough for me to give them to you."
"Whatever you eat would probably poison me anyway."
"No, I doubt it would poison you, but your stomach might have some problems processing it since it would be a drastic change from your usual garbage diet."
"What do you even think I am? Your pet?"
"Your stupidity is starting to make me a little dizzy. I've gladly let mangy strays eat from my hand, but I'd never let lowly scum like you eat from even a paper bowl I've touched."
The two bantered back and forth the rest of the way to school, stopping only when the bus pulled into the parking lot. Unfortunately, that meant standing up, which would have been fine if Max hadn't been feeling like he was.
"How fortunate." Katin stood up, dusting himself off dramatically. "I won't have to deal with any more of your crap."
Max shrugged and stood up, slinging one of the straps of his backpack over his shoulder. "As if anything that comes out of my mouth could be considered crap compared even to something like the overall value of yourself as a living thing."
"You think I'm going to take that from you?!"
"Not at all. You're not smart enough to tell when you should take what someone says or not."
Next thing he knew, there was a throbbing pain in the left side of his jaw and there was the faint metallic flavor of blood. Hardly paying the pain from the sudden blow any mind, Max shoved Katin into the the crowd of students getting off the bus.
And suddenly, the sick feeling in his his stomach began to disappear once again. He put a hand over his abdomen, letting out curious hum. Whatever was going on was a mystery to him, and he was determined to figure out what it was.