Max's Redemption(7)

By: L. Wilder

“Don’t be long. Dinner will be ready soon,” Mom called as I started down the driveway. I waved, letting her know I’d heard her, and then continued out onto the main road.

Max smiled as he asked, “What do you think?”

“It’s awesome! I can’t believe they actually did this.”

His voice was filled with sincerity as he said, “You deserve it, kid.”

I looked over to him, seeing that smile on his handsome face, and my heart leapt in my chest. I’d always loved him. From the first time he’d showed up at our house, he’d treated me like I was family. Sure, he picked on me and gave me a hard time about everything, but he was also there whenever I needed him. I’d turn around and he’d be there fixing the flat tire on my bike or getting my cat out of a tree. There were even a few occasions when he’d had my back when Brody was acting like a complete jerk. My family knew I was crazy about him, but they thought it was just a crush, something that would fade over time. I knew that wasn’t the case. Even though I knew I was setting myself up for a heartbreak, the feelings I had for him were only growing stronger.

He leaned forward and music filled the car as he turned on the radio. “Awesome sound system, too.”

“Natalie is going to freak out.”

“No doubt, but then, it doesn’t take much for her,” he ridiculed.

“I’m actually looking forward to going to school now.”

“You weren’t before?”

“No.” I shrugged my shoulders. “Not exactly.”

“Why not? I figured a bookworm like you would be all amped up about getting back to class.” He smirked.

“Going back to class is fine.” I left out the part about the volcano on my chin and said, “It’s all the other stuff I’m not looking forward to.”

“Like what?”

“All the stuff you don’t have to worry about,” I told him, sounding more sarcastic than I intended.

“I have no clue what you’re talking about, Freckles.”

“That’s because you’re popular and everybody loves you. Add in the fact that you’re a senior, and you have nothing to worry about.”

“You’re kidding me, right?” he snapped.

It took a lot to get Max riled, so I was surprised by the aggravation in his voice. The last thing I wanted to do was make him angry, but that didn’t stop me from saying, “You know you’ve got it easy, Max. You’re a star football player, you’ve got good grades, and you’re good looking. You’ve got the most popular girls like Alexa Davenport and Lisa Carlton practically throwing themselves at you. It’s like you can do no wrong.”

“Why don’t you tell my father that?” he chided. “And just so you know, nothing in my life is easy … nothing .”

I looked over at him, and seeing the pain in his eyes made my heart ache for him. I was an idiot—a complete and total idiot. His sister, Anna Kate, was a year younger than me, and I’d heard some of the horror stories she’d told. While Max had never really talked about it, I knew things were hard for him at home, especially with his father. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking, Max.”

“Things aren’t always what they appear to be, Harper. And that goes for everybody. Nobody’s life is perfect. Even the most popular kids have their own shit they’re dealing with.”

“I know. It’s just …”

“You know …” He paused, then looked at me with his eyebrow cocked. “There’s plenty of people who’d say you’ve got it easy. You’re smart, you’ve got an incredible family, and you’re beautiful. Don’t take that for granted.”

The wind rushed from my lungs as I looked back to the road and thought about what he said. And while I should’ve been focusing on the parts about the blessings in my life, my mind couldn’t get past the fact that he just called me beautiful. I had to bite my bottom lip to keep myself from smiling as I drove back to the house. Once we’d both gotten out of the car, I turned to him and said, “Thanks for going with me.”

“Anytime, Half-pint. Don’t tell him I said it, but you’re already a better driver than your brother.”

“My ninety-year-old great-grandmother is a better driver than Brody.” I mocked. “And she’s practically blind.”

“I figure anybody could drive better.” He snickered.

“Yeah, like a preschooler.”

“Or Anna Kate, blindfolded.”

“Or Mom when she’s talking on the phone and painting her nails.”