Warren stumbles under the weight of the boxes he's carrying, the beakers clinking as they rattle inside. His heel reaches for the door to the science classroom, kicking it open so he can exit the room.
"What are you doing?"
He nearly drops the box on his foot at the sudden voice and turns to see Brooke's face glaring at him.
"Jesus, Brooke," he mutters and tries to maneuver past her. She doesn't budge. "Oh, no, don't move," he adds as he finally gets past and tries to close the door behind him.
"She's fucked up. You know that, right? You think you can win her over?"
He sets the box down with a sigh. He was hoping to get the box to Ms. Grant before the next class period, but now it doesn't seem likely. "I'm trying," he says, clenching his jaw, "to be a good friend."
"Hmm." She whirls away before he can further argue his point. He watches her walk away, flabbergasted and thinking, certainly not for the first time, that he will never understand girls.
It's also not the first time someone has asked him that. There is a rage that boils in his veins when he thinks of how many people have given up on Max already. She is not a lost cause. She is not helpless. She is grieving. Every day he sees her, there's a little more color to her cheeks, though it isn't much. He admits that most of the time, she's not there, lost in the maze in her mind. But sometimes she will ask him about something he'd told her weeks ago. He tries so desperately to fill the silence between them that he will ramble until he's blue in the face. And sometimes, only sometimes, she will whack him on the arm to shut him up. It isn't much, but it's enough.
She leaves her room more and more as the days tick by. Twelve billion seconds have passed since he lost her and he can see pieces of her old self buried deep in her gaze when it flickers to meet him. She spends a lot of time in his dorm, sleeping on his couch or on the floor next to him while he's playing video games. Sometimes, he'll turn the captions on and read them aloud for her, just to keep silence from filling the room. Sometimes, she will lay her head in his lap and point out what he's missed when he gets stuck. Once, she reached up to stroke his face, her eyes glazed over as her thumb pressed against his cheekbone. He nearly jumped out of his skin. Her touch is fire against him and he has to distance himself from the flames. He feels that if he doesn't, he will burn to ash long before the flames die out.
And still, there are times where she will stay in her room for days. The day she touched his face was one of them.
Even still, he feels the ice around her thaw, piece by piece.
He is tired of winter, tired of the cold biting into his eyes every time he walks outside. So when March hits and the first warm spell comes, he nearly rips his coat off to run outside and bask in it. Max follows like she is stumbling out of hibernation. She's grumpier than normal, scowling at the birds, pulling the hood on her jacket over her face to block the sunlight.
She paces around him, her eyes on the ground and he blabbers about this new time travel movie he'd heard about. The reviews had been amazing and he'd spent most of the night reading whatever he could find about it. He talks as he usually does, to fill the space between them, but then she's still and he nearly trips over her as she grabs a hold of him.
"Yes," she exclaims when he hasn't asked a question. He studies her face, her wild eyes and fingernails digging into his hand, and then it hits him that she's talking about the movie. She wants to go.
"Oh." The wind is nearly knocked out of him. He doesn't realize he's squeezing her hands until his own hands grow numb. Then he lets go of her and apologizes over and over again. He is a broken record, always stuttering apologies, falling over himself, and apologizing once again.
She punches him in the arm, her eyes twinkling with mischief. It reminds him so much of the old Max that he nearly kisses her. Instead, he shoves his hands into his pockets of his jeans and shrugs. He's going for nonchalant, but his voice shakes when he says, "all right, Maximus, can't deny a woman who knows what she wants."
It's almost as if she's completely lost her mind and when she collapses onto the ground, he panics and thinks she has just passed out. But then she's twirling the grass between her fingers, biting her lip in concentration. So he falls down next to her, the air leaving him a little too harshly and he swears she's laughing at him.
He doesn't know what to do with this girl who is steel in a glass cage. She drops a piece of grass onto his face and as he swipes it away, she's laughing for real.