Last chapter guys! Sorry for the late update, I'm not gonna bore you with excuses. Let's do this!
"Why are we watching this again?" Max asked me, as SportsCenter played on the living room television.
"I don't know.." I had no real interest in professional sports anymore. It was too much to keep track of, and I found it hard to care about something that didn't impact the life of anyone I knew. "Have your way," I told her, passing the remote.
She hit the power button, the television silencing with a final zap. "There's never anything interesting on there." Max closed her eyes and leaned back on the cushions. Unlike yesterday, where frown lines had furrowed her face as she tried to hold herself together, she now looked peaceful.
Max's unsteady breathing and shaky hands, probably against her will, made it clear that she was close to breaking down at times, but at the same time I knew that was when she was strongest. In addition to discovering herself and growing exponentially over the past few months, she'd learned to bend without breaking.
It was amazing to see, and even more magical to be a part of. At this point, I couldn't imagine ever dating anyone but Max—not because of how she looked, because there were plenty of girls that looked similar to her—but because she was my Max. No other girl had grown up alongside me like Max had. When I thought back to our time on the run, all of the memories had Max's name written on them. Sure, I was close friends with Ella and Nudge for over a decade, but they weren't as much a part of me as Max was. I hung out with them several times a week. I spent almost every second of every day with Max.
The only other person I was that close to was Angel. Living with the same parents as me, she was the only person who could truly understand where I was coming from when I made major decisions, like running away. The adults were wise and experienced, but none of them grew up in an abusive household like we had.
As much as I'd seen others grow, the best part of it all was experiencing myself grow. I'd come to trust and appreciate my friends more. I came to terms with the power of my words. Most of all, I learned what it was like to truly love someone as more than a friend, or even a sister.
I shifted on the couch, the box in my pocket pressing uncomfortably against my leg. "I know it's been a while since we talked about this, but do you still want to run away? It's a little late for me to enroll for senior year, so either we'll be on the run or working low-paying jobs here," I said.
"That should be an easy choice…" she mused. "A year of freedom or a year of working our hides off."
"Yeah, I know," I said, frowning. I didn't enjoy work any more than she did. "But there's also Dr. Martinez we have to consider."
"Won't it be the same either way?" she asked.
I shook my head. "Either we live here now, and move out as soon as possible, or we run away while relying on the Martinez's support, come back, live here some more, and still go through the trouble of moving out, just later."
Max picked up a pillow, squeezing it flat with her arms. "I guess you're right," she said. "There's also Angel to think about. I'd much rather live a few minutes from her then be hundreds of miles away with limited communication."
"You know I'd like that too. Well, all the facts are on the table now. I did promise I'd let you decide two weeks ago, and I'm sticking to that promise. What do you say?" I asked.
Several seconds passed. A gentle breeze from the half-opened window coursed through the room. I thought about the time Max was attacked, and how Dr. Martinez dropped everything to drive up and help her. I knew the decision was up to Max, but wasn't it obvious what was right?
She glanced over at me and said, "We're staying."
I smiled, relieved but a little sad that we'd never have our old life back. I'd miss everything about it, even not knowing where we were going to sleep any given night, but I knew moving on was for the best. "I thought you'd say that."
"What will we ever do to support ourselves though? I mean, we're used to freeloading off of the work of others, not actually working ourselves."
I laughed, turning and wrapping my arms around her. "I don't know, Maxie. Maybe we'll have to, you know, actually grow up. We're technically both adults now."
She hugged me back. "Accidentally growing up. I love it."
"That's not what you said two weeks ago," I reminded her, kissing her forehead.
"But I said just now that we're accidentally growing up," she told me. She melted into my embrace, setting her hand against my chest.
A loud bark pierced the air. My eyes flew open, and I saw Max's do the same. I scanned the room until I saw Total, Max's fluffy black dog, perched on the fireplace mantle. Smiling, I rubbed Max's back knowing the cheerful little creature would be living with me for the rest of his life.
"Breakfast time!" Nudge yelled.
Max groaned as she pried herself off of me, but I wasn't concerned—we had many years in front of us. The past two months were only a taste of what was to come for Max and me.
We ate breakfast in relative quietude, without Iggy and Gazzy to spice things up. "Dr. Martinez, do you have a moment for Max and me now? We've made up our minds," I told Dr. Martinez, as we set our plates in the dishwasher after the meal.
She nodded. "Sure, I'll meet you guys in my room in a couple minutes," Dr. Martinez told us, as she pressed a few buttons on her dishwasher. "I just gotta clean up down here first."
"Sounds good," I told her. I looked at Max, who nodded, and we started on our way upstairs. When we sat down on the chairs against the wall, I asked Max, "Are you sure about this? Once your Mom finalizes her work schedule, we can't change our minds."
Max nodded without hesitation. "Yeah, I'm a hundred percent sure."
"I guess that's the end of running away," I said.
"Nice being a runaway with you."
"Ditto." My mind drifted to the plan I had made yesterday, and I took deep breaths to calm myself.
Max sighed. "I don't know how we'll survive as eighteen-year-olds in the work force, though."
"Neither do I. But we'll find a way. We always do."
"You're right," she said, pursing her lips.
A soft but shrill squeak pierced the air, the sound of the room's double doors opening. Dr. Martinez walked over and sat down in the chair across from us.
"We're staying," Max told her. "We decided it'd be less work for you to house us now than to support us on the run, and house us later if we need a place to come back to."
Dr. Martinez nodded. "Okay," she said, her face relaxing. I didn't doubt that she would support us either way, but she appeared relieved about our choice. "I assume you're on board, Fang?"
"Of course," I replied, putting my hands in my pockets. I opened the velvety box I had there, and closed it again.
"I never thought I'd have to face this," Max said. "But now that we're in civilization, will the police be on my case for running away at seventeen?"
Dr. Martinez immediately shook her head. "You'll be fine, I promise. Tucson is over a hundred miles from here, and now that you're eighteen the police won't blink an eye. Even if you were still seventeen, I'd wager you'd be all right. Laws against runaway kids are more geared towards younger children to protect their safety."
Max took a deep breath. "Okay, that sounds good. And as much as I love living here, Mom, for both of our sakes we'll be out of here as soon as we can."
She smiled, her eyes sparkling. I knew it made her happy to be called "Mom". "Of course. Just remember that wherever life takes you, you'll always have a home back here." She glanced knowingly at me.
I had a feeling that the next time I left, I wouldn't be coming back, but that didn't mean I wouldn't see my friends. Max and I would probably stay in an apartment in Phoenix, not far from the Flock. We'd have to come hang out with them at least a few times a week.
My hands twitched as I watched Dr. Martinez leave the room. I'd been planning this since yesterday, and I had no reason to think anything could go wrong, but could I really do this? I felt like I was opening the door to something bigger than I could fathom, and I wasn't sure if I was ready for it.
"Wanna go somewhere?" Max asked suddenly. "Now that I think about it, I haven't really been outside the house much the past few days."
"Sure thing," I replied. I needed some fresh air to clear my head, and I couldn't disagree that being cooped up inside the house was getting monotonous.
"Where to?" she mused, squeezing the chair's fluffy armrest. "You know the area better than I do."
"It's been a while," I admitted. "What do you say we start at the big mall? Just about everything's in there."
Max shrugged. "Sure."
Thankfully, Ella was home and was willing to take us. Fifteen minutes later, Max, Ella, and I stood outside by the mall's doors.
"I'll pick you guys up this evening," Ella told us, handing me her phone. "You can call Iggy or Mom if you need anything. There's a hundred dollars in the back of the case if you wanna buy anything."
"Thanks," I said, knowing we wouldn't spend any of her money. I had a few twenties in my pocket from my own stash.
Once she drove off, we walked inside, hand-in-hand. The feeling I got with Max's warm, soft hand in mine was priceless. Despite the colored lights and background noise from stores and other people, somehow Max held my undivided attention.
The box grew cold against my leg. I imagined a bright future , which could be a reality if I could find the courage in me.
We wandered the expansive mall aimlessly, probably passing by each store five times. If anyone was paying attention, they probably would've thought we were crazy, but why rush to stop when we had forever in front of us?
Per Max's request, we eventually stopped at a Starbucks. I smiled as we walked in, taking in its familiarity. Even though we were hundreds of miles away from the last Starbucks we went to, it looked virtually the same. The cushioned chairs against the wall reminded me of the days we camped out in here solely for the air conditioning. You'd think I'd want to forget times like those, right? It was the complete opposite. I wasn't going to lie to myself, I missed being on the run. But knowing I still had Max, I could let it go.
To Max's dismay, both cushioned chairs were taken so we sat at a booth close to the counter. I ordered two smoothies for us, the same flavor Max had during the time Iggy and Ella visited us.
"This brings back memories," Max mused, as the waiter slid the drinks onto the brown, polished table.
I took a long sip, savoring the sweet, fruity flavor. "Couldn't agree more."
"Like that time when you darn near killed yourself in the bathroom trying to get changed?"
"And how you got us kicked out of the place on our first day in LA?" I raised my eyebrows.
Her mouth dropped open. "Oh, I got us kicked out? That was all you!"
"Maybe it was," I admitted. "Good times."
"Good times, good times," Max agreed, tossing her cup in the trash with a clean swish from halfway across the store. Her trash can basketball skills never failed to amaze me.
I gazed out the store's glass doors, watching people walk by. "We should go back there one day."
"Of course, we have to."
I took a deep breath, shaking my head. I could do this. It was time. "How does going there for our honeymoon sound?"
I stood up, walked to her side, and knelt down in front of Max, taking out a black box. "Max, for the past two months you've been everything to me. I can't imagine a world without you. I've only been truly happy when we're together, so what do you say about making me happy forever? We don't have to get married right away though, I don't mind waiting a few years since we're still young."
Max nodded, her mouth open as if she was in a daze. She took a deep breath, blinking back tears, and replied, "Yes. A million times, yes. I love you forever, Fang."
"I love you too," I told her, standing up. "I'll upgrade in time, but I hope this'll do for now." I slid the plastic wedding ring Angel gave me so long ago onto her finger, my arms sliding around behind her back.
I kissed her, enveloping her familiar figure. This was the girl I'd be spending the rest of my life with, and there was nobody else in the world who I'd rather marry than Max. My mind was torn between peace and excitement. Everything felt so perfect. Max and I were safe and, most importantly, together—forever.
I knew I had a new life to look forward to, a new beginning, but all that mattered was that Max was with me at that moment.
If you asked me, that was our fairytale ending right there.
And that's all she wrote.
Thank you so, so much to everyone who read the story, subscribed, reviewed, or messaged me. It means the world to me that you guys cared enough to dedicate your time to reading/reviewing A New Beginning. It made every 3 AM writer's block episode worth it.
I know many people have spoken to me about this, but if you're even thinking about publishing something you've written on FFN, I think you should go for it. You never know what could come of it. When I first joined the site, I was just a reader and commented on a few stories. I started my first FF a month before ANB, called Wings, since I was inspired by what I read. ANB started as a fun little project I wrote after school one day. I didn't even edit it, I just went on and posted. I was right in my initial prediction that it would take place over the course of a few months. I thought it would be 10 chapters long and include a few month-long timeskips. It turned out drastically differently, 75 chapters and 150k+ words long with no time-skips longer than 12 hours. I never thought it would get 1400 reviews, 200 followers, and be on the front page of MR FFs. More importantly, I never thought I would make as many friends as I have on here through it.
Some of you have asked about a sequel, and I've thought about it but at this point I can say with certainty that there will be no sequel. I'm happy with how ANB ended, and I don't feel like there's a need to add a sequel. Back about a year ago, I was thinking about extending the plot to include how they make their way in the world as young adults but ultimately decided against it. I hope you guys as readers are happy with how it ended as well. My sister was begging me to end the story with Max and Fang as twins, and I thought about it, but that's not what my vision for the story was. ANB was designed to be an inspiring story, not a tragic one. Sure, some parts of it are tragic, but those are the parts where the characters grow most.
People have also asked about whether I plan on staying on FFN after ANB ended, and I've known this for several months now - this will probably be the last fanfiction I write. Not that I don't enjoy writing anymore, or like the community any less, I just feel like I've used my best ideas to craft a story I'm proud of and anything more I write won't stack up. My inspiration to write isn't all that strong right now, I'm just grateful it was strong enough to finish the story and not leave you guys hanging.
I originally had a 1500-word final A/N but it got deleted due to 90-day inactivity by FFN. I don't think it's necessary to re-write all of it to get my points across, so I'll just leave it at this: it'll all be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end.
A few last thank you's: 1) To my beta, Tokoloshe Monster, who's been helping me a ton with all aspects of the story for 40+ chapters now, and my former beta, xX-Twitch-Xx for helping me through the earlier part of the story. 2) To everyone who's PMed me or commented, talking with everyone was my favorite part of being on here. And 3) To everyone reading this, you deserve mad props if you've made it this far reading ANB.
If anyone would like to talk with me, just review or PM - I'll respond to all PMs and reviews for this chapter.
With much gratitude,
heartofglass99 aka. Joey