I followed Grace into the dimly lit basement. It was a room I had been in a hundred times. The floor was barely visible through the musical mess. Drumsticks littered the floor, some whole while others were broken, along with lone guitar picks, an old microphone, a broken snare drum, and a beautiful bass guitar. I picked up one of the drumsticks, spinning it in my hand as I threw myself into one of three beanbag chairs.

"Hayley, I wouldn't play with that if I were you," Grace warned, though I always messed with the sticks. I loved to pretend that I knew how to play the drums, ever since I had 'discovered' Lars Ulrich, one of the greatest drummers of all time, at least in my opinion.

"Why not Grace?" though I had heard the warning a thousand times.

"Max is going to freak if he catches you with it, and you know it."

Max was Grace's seventeen-year-old brother. The mess on the floor was all his. He was in the local band, Automatic Reaction, which was metal, something I rarely listened to, though something I listened to all the same.

"Grace, you've told me that a thousand times, and never once has he caught me." The drumstick spun out of my hand, landing with a dull thud on the carpet. "And I highly doubt he'd freak out," I added, picking it up and beating it against my leg.

"Hayley, if the President of the United States came over and touched one of his drumsticks, he would freak out."

She sighed, but dropped the subject, instead turning on the small television, and flipping through the channels. I shrugged, beating a random rhythm on my leg and gazing around the room. What I wouldn't give to be this musical. All I had at home was the keyboard that my grandfather had left behind for me when he had died from cancer six years earlier. I had taught myself how to play, even writing my own songs, all of which had been dedicated to my grandpa.

The basement door slammed open suddenly, bringing me back to reality. I glanced up quickly and saw Max racing into the room. Looking over at Grace, I caught her quick glance to me before her gaze settled in annoyance on her brother.

"Could you please not slam the door, Max?" Grace asked him, exasperated. With both of them having such strong personalities, it was rare when they actually got along.

He did not answer, instead picking through the drumsticks on the floor until he found the one he wanted. Noticing me for the first time then, his eyes went to the stick in my hand. My heart jumped.

"Is that the other 5B Hickory, Hayley?" he asked me, strangely calm, at least from what Grace had said.

"Yeah, it is," I said, checking the label on the end of the stick. He held out his hand and I tossed it to him. Catching it, he shoved the pair into the back pocket of his jeans.

"Thanks," he said, a smirk tugging on the corner of his lips before he turned to Grace. "Where's Mom?"

"Kickboxing," she replied absentmindedly, glancing between Max and me.

"Alright, well I have a show in Marlin, so I won't be back until eleven or so."

Turning, he left the room, leaving the door wide open, allowing me to look after him as he loped easily away, drumsticks in his pocket. I heard Grace let out a slow breath but still watched through the doorway though he was long gone.

"Wonder why he didn't freak…" she said quietly and I could feel her eyes on me, not accusingly just curious.

I finally turned and look at her, shrugging as I settled deeper into the bean bag chair. "Maybe he was having a good day," I suggested, shrugging again as the beans squeaked beneath me, forming to my shape.

"Nah, even if he had a good day, he would freak."

She continued to watch me but I at last turned my attention to the TV. As I watched the baseball game, I allowed my mind to wander. After a few minutes it settled on Max's unexpected reaction to his music and that is where it stayed.

My phone rang again, what seemed like the one-hundredth time that it had done so in the last ten minutes. I grabbed it quickly out of my pocket, whipping it open as I pulled into the driveway.

"I'm coming!" I shouted, shutting the phone and shoving it back into my jeans.

Hurriedly, I jumped out of my van, barely taking time to press the brake as I left the door hanging open. I raced into the house and down the steps to the basement, pushing the door open as fast as I could. I vaguely heard Grace, my kid sister, telling me to 'please not slam the door, Max'. But I barely registered her voice as I looked through the mess of drumsticks on the floor, looking for the right ones. I really should organize these, I thought, before quickly extinguishing the thought- too much work.

Yes! I shouted in my head as I found one of the sticks I needed. But where was the other? Then I saw Hayley sitting in the beanbag chair, Hayley holding the other one. She looked slightly freaked out and I wondered what Grace had told her. When I asked her for the stick she tossed it a little nervously and I had to work hard not to smile but could still feel a smirk tugging at my lips. I told Grace where I was going and then I was racing up the steps again, flinging myself into the van and speeding out of the driveway, narrowly missing the mailbox.

As I hit the main road, my phone rang again and this time it pissed me off.

"What!" I shouted into the mouthpiece, hearing my own voice bounce back at me.

"Bad time?" I heard the sweet yet sarcastic voice of my girlfriend, Riley. I immediately relaxed, enough so that my shoulders were not touching my ears.

"Riley, sorry, I'm late for a gig. What's going on?"

I glanced at the dashboard. Five o'clock on the dot. A forty-minute drive that I now had to make in twenty-five. I sighed, frustrated, before tuning back into Riley's voice.

"...and I was hoping you'd maybe want to go?" She was saying as I sped past a soccer mom's minivan, ignoring the horns that blared. I shook my head, sighed again, my fingers drumming faster on the steering wheel.

"Oh, Riley I'm sorry, go where?" I crossed my fingers, cringing when she did not reply immediately. "Riley? Riley, baby really, I'm so sorry, I'd love to go anywhere with you." My voice was as soft as I could make it but frustration was creeping into the last words.

I could hear her sigh. "I wanted to know if you would go with me to a barbecue in Troy at my sister's boyfriend's house." Though I knew she was trying to hide it, I could hear the hope in her voice. "It's tomorrow night at seven thirty," she added before I could ask.

My eyes squeezed shut reflexively.

"Riley…" I paused, unsure how to break the news. "We have a gig tomorrow, I wouldn't be able to get there in time."

"Never mind Max, I'll talk to you later." She hung up before I could say anything.

Fantastic, I thought, slamming my hand against the steering wheel. Just as I turned my radio up full blast, my phone vibrated in my hand. It flew to my ear.

"Riley?" I asked anxiously.

"Oh, problems with the girlfriend?" The deep voice of my band mate, Charlie, met my ears and I clenched my fist around the phone. A car honked as I pulled in front of them, speeding away before they could complain any longer.

"Shut your mouth, Baker. I'll be there in fifteen minutes." I could feel my face heat up with anger as I spoke and added, "Hey is the gig tomorrow really that important?"

My desperation was pathetic, as I knew the gig tomorrow was more important than the president's barbecue.

"Max Spickler, tell me that I did not just hear you say that..." I could hear disbelief in Charlie's voice.

"I said nothing, see you soon."

I slammed my phone shut and threw it into the back of the van, cranking the radio enough that the possibility of blowing my speakers was very high. But honestly, I didn't give a shit anymore.


It was Tom, calling to yell at me for being late to the second gig in twenty-four hours. Here we go, I thought, putting on my blinker and pulling around the car in front of me.

"Max, it's Tom, obviously. Anyway, they canceled the show; it's rescheduled for next weekend, so you're off the hook for whatever was so much more important today. Later."

He hung up before I could even breathe. And then it all clicked together. Yes! I thought. Hurriedly, I turned the van around and sped towards Riley's house, hoping to catch her before she left. When I pulled into her driveway it was empty, making me smile; her parents were gone. I got out, slamming the door behind me and jogging to the side door, carefully letting myself in. Hearing a noise up in her bedroom, I decided to sneak up and give her a surprise. She loved surprises.

As silent as was physically possible, I climbed her stairs. I could see her bedroom door open just a crack at the end of the hall, her computer monitor blank. As I reached her doorway I heard an odd noise, one I knew I should recognize, but it did not immediately click. And then I looked through the crack. My jaw dropped, surely hitting the thick carpet of the hallway. I felt my face heat up, the anger and betrayal growing inside of me until I thought I would burst.

Riley was there in her room all right. But so was her ex-boyfriend, Paul something. The Paul something that she was now laying on top of, shirtless. My thoughts scattered angrily as something occurred to me. What if this wasn't the first time?

Suddenly the bundle of emotion overtook me and I slammed Riley's door open, scaring both her and Paul. Riley quickly slid off of him, before seeing that it was me. Her eyes widened immensely and she shook her head again and again as if saying I was not seeing anything, that she was not cheating on me. I narrowed my eyes and spoke quietly, tensely, the words carrying across the shocked-silent room, reaching both her and Paul's ears loud and clear.

"You little whore."

Turning, I sped down the stairs, out her front door, letting it slam. I jumped into the van, speeding so fast out of the driveway I was sure I left skid marks. As I raced in the opposite direction of home, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw Riley standing at the end of her driveway, arms crossed over her chest, her mouth open as if she was shouting to me.

Without realizing where I was headed, my conscience steered me toward the old hangout. It was a beach on a remote lake where we always went to have bonfires during the summer, somewhere none of us ever went anymore unless we just needed to get away. This was my first time to use the abandoned beach as an escape.

As soon as I reached the familiar dirt road, I swerved to the side, hiding the van in some brush before jumping out and running towards the dock, my anger the only thing pushing me forward.

What the hell was she doing? She had said she loved me. What was love anyway? Except an excuse to put your heart out there only to let it get ripped out of your chest and thrown across the room. Love was nothing, nothing at all. It did not matter, and neither did Riley. I don't think she likes surprises any more.

"Okay, we have to be quick!" Grace said, as Mrs. Spickler whipped the suburban into the driveway. Before she was even stopped, Grace and I were throwing the doors open and jumping out.

"Where would it be?" I asked as we plowed through the front door, not even bothering to take off our shoes.

We had to find Halloween, the movie, to take to Carly's house. But in the Spicklers' house, it could be anywhere. Grace did not answer me for a moment, instead running over to the flat screen and looking underneath it, digging through the numerous movie cases that lay there.

"I don't know," she said at last, standing up and heading towards the basement. "Go check in my room and if it isn't in there, check Max's." And then she was gone.

Following her orders, I bolted up the stairs, taking them two at a time, silent and stealthy, and raced into her room. I dug through the clothes on the floor and the few drawers it could be in with no luck. Slowing down ever so slightly, I headed into Max's room but stopped suddenly, standing as still as a statue.

Max was lying on his bed and I was about to say something when I saw his chest rising and falling evenly and realized he was sleeping. He was shirtless, which in and of itself was enough to stop me, lying spread-eagle across his comforter. One arm was thrown over his face, the other dangling off the bed. I felt my heartbeat pick up ever so slightly, not having known he was home.

Taking a shaky breath and trying to ignore his shirtless state, I glanced to my left and spotted the movie on his nightstand. Just as I was about to lunge for it, I heard movement and my gaze flew back to him. He was looking, sleepily with his eyes half closed, right at me.

"Uh, Hayley?" Max said, sitting up and rubbing his hand over his face, his voice slightly scratchy from sleep.

"Hey Max…" I said slowly, standing up straight. I glanced at the movie as Max looked on curiously, an eyebrow raised.

"What are you doing?" he asked after a moment, as if he was speaking to a child he knew was up to no good. The heat rose to me cheeks as a smirk tugged at his lips. "I mean I know I'm good-looking and all, but it's kind of creepy when you spy on someone while they sleep…" he added, allowing the smirk to spread across his face. I rolled my eyes, but my heart was going crazy underneath my t-shirt.

"I just needed Halloween, goofball. Go back to sleep," I told him, looking again towards his nightstand.

He made an 'ah' face and picked it up, tossing it to me. It bounced off my hand and fell at my feet. Max applauded me, letting his head drop back onto his bed.

"Thanks," I said laughing, before turning and racing back out of his room and down the stairs, almost slipping and falling on the landing.

"Found it!" I shouted down the basement steps. Two seconds later I could hear footsteps pounding up the stairs. Grace burst through the door, her face flushed.

"Yes!" she exclaimed, when she saw the movie in my hand.

She grabbed it and I sprinted back out to the van with her, taking a last glance at the second story window on the left.

I had the sudden urge to sneeze, and pulled my pencil out of my mouth to do so. My teacher paused from his lecture and glanced over at me at the outburst. When I shrugged he went back to his droning. And I went back to chewing on my eraser, trying to figure out a word that rhymed with 'wrong' for the new free verse I was working on out of boredom. I repeated the lines in my head, trying to get the word I was searching for to come to me.

The birds were chirping outside, and the sun was shining so brightly I wanted to scream. Yet, here I was, stuck in this classroom, expected to pay attention as Mr. Connor went on about the importance of the microscope, something he could lecture about for more than thirty minutes. Doodling the rhyming words on my paper, I sighed, thinking about practice that afternoon, until the bell rang.

As soon as it did I was up and racing out of the room. I beat both Carly and Grace back to our lockers, which is where they found me two minutes later, lounging against the cool metal staring at nothing in particular.

As Carly exchanged some of her books for her lunch, Max came walking around the corner, startling me as I felt my heart zing in my chest.

"Grace, you need a ride home after practice?" Max asked, pausing in the middle of the now empty hallway as I gave myself a mental shake.

His eyes flicked to me for a split second before back to his sister, as he waited for her answer. He never looked at Carly. It was common knowledge that, even though the two were like family, they did not like each other, though they showed it differently. Carly preferred to grimace and look away from Max while he, in turn, annoyed her to no end. At times, the encounters were better than watching a movie.

"Are you leaving right away?" Grace asked, already inching towards the cafeteria. Her eyes were off behind Max's head, her body angled in the opposite direction.

He nodded. "You need one Hayley?" he asked, turning his gaze on me.

Even though Grace and I played different sports, our practices ended at the same time and I would take rides from him whenever Grace did. He always offered. Max started to walk away in the opposite direction, backwards, still facing me. A few lone freshmen stepped out of his way as he passed, looking at him as though he would beat them for one misstep.

"Yeah, I do."

A laugh broke through my lips and I quickly pressed them together, shrugging as Max raised an eyebrow mockingly. He shook his head before turning around and disappearing down the hall. I watched him go for a fraction of a second before joining Carly and Grace as they walked away from me.

"…This Saturday, okay?" Carly said as I walked up, catching the tail end of their conversation.

"Where are we going this Saturday?" I asked, readjusting my backpack.

Our entire generation was doomed for the hunchbacked life with all the books we had to carry around on a daily basis. Eight hundred page book for biology, six hundred fifty page book for math, seven hundred page book for Latin, the list when on and on. I realized now the advantage of a locker near your classes, one of the small and pathetic high school luxuries that I did not have.

"We're going to see the scariest movie ever," Grace replied, laughing. She loved scary movies, making it no secret that she found great joy in the fact that I could not sit through an entire one.

"And what exactly is the scariest movie ever?" I asked them, steering us to our usual table in the cafeteria - back corner, third round table on the left.

"Lock Your Doors," Carly and Grace replied, in unison, the scariest movie of the decade. I looked at them incredulously.

The final bell rang and I climbed out of my seat quickly again, anxious to get to practice. Reaching the field in record time, I walked out to the mound and inhaled deeply. The smell of the dirt and mitt leather filled my nostrils, letting me truly breathe. I was in my home, my haven: the softball diamond. Gripping the laces of the softball that I held securely in my mitt, I slowly pulled it out for my windup and released at the hip. The ball made a perfect beeline for the backstop, clinking as it hit the rusting metal. I felt a grin flash across my face.

Slowly, the rest of the team gathered, along with Coach Emi, and practice began as usual.

"Ladies, ladies, gather around, let's go!" Coach Emi called out to us from home plate. We had been in the outfield stretching and joking around with each other. Melanie ran by me, whipping my butt with her mitt. My reflexive smack missed her by inches.

"Big game coming up, eh? I don't know about you but I would love to just crush Dover High next week." Coach paused as we cheered and whooped.

Dover High was our rival school, making this the biggest game of our season. For the past four years we had mercied them every game. But that had been with Andrea Deer, the pitcher whom I had replaced and who now played for the best college team in the nation. The outcome of the game rested on my shoulders, literally.

"Now, in order to do this, we have got to get our hits and throws under control, so Hayley?" I raised my eyebrows when she looked at me. "I want you on the mound. Hold back though, I only want seventy percent. We don't want to wear you out before next week."

She returned her stare to the rest of the team. "Okay, give me my starting lineup on the field, the rest of you will bat. Then we switch. Batters, I want big hits but keep them low and no pop-ups. Fielders, good clean throws to the appropriate base. Know what you're doing when you step onto the diamond! Go!"

We jogged into position and I threw a few warm-up pitches to my catcher, Melanie. She was a freshman like me, though she went to a different school because she was, in a word, a genius. She was also Grace's twin.

"Batter up!" Mel called, smacking her mitt with her fist and squatting down, shifting back and forth on the balls of her feet as she waited. She stuck her tongue out at me and I winked at her.

When Kristy stepped up to the plate, Mel gave me a twirl of her pinky finger and wiggled her index finger. I nodded and lined my fingers up with the laces. Taking a quick breath, I wound up and threw a curveball, my favorite. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Kristy tense up and then power forward for the swing. There was a whooshing sound and then the ball was in the catcher's mitt.

"Come on Kristy, eye on the ball!" Coach Emi called from her spot in the dugout.

Meanwhile, Melanie cheered and rocketed the ball back to me. She squatted once more, this time wiggling her pinky and her thumb in a "hang loose" gesture. Nodding again, I wound up for a fastball.

This time around, Kristy connected, and a loud smack shot the ball out into center field. It bounced once before Becca was on top of it, scooping it up and throwing it hard into second. It soared through the air, straight into the shortstop's mitt. Carly dropped her mitt immediately and tagged out Kristy who had gone in for the slide at second.

I heard applause from the dugout and turned around to face Coach Emi as she jogged out toward second, where everyone could hear her.

"All right ladies, great play. Hayley, you want to keep those balls away from the batter, but if they do connect, just know your team is behind you to help get the out.

"Kristy, that was a good hit but you want to make sure you can make it to second. I know we don't have anyone at first base coaching right now, but make the judgement on your own. However, you were close, and that was a decent slide.

"Becca, good fielding! And nice strong throw. Do it every time!" Emi called into center before turning back to Carly.

"Nice catch, and excellent tag. Do it in the game!"

That last part shouted out to everyone as she ran back to the dugout. I suddenly felt a sharp pang in the side of my head but there was no time to do anything about it as Coach was shouting again.

"Next batter!"

"Max, turn the music down!" Grace yelled from her spot next to me in the back of Max's van. He had the stereo playing so loud we could not even hear ourselves think. Reluctantly, he reached forward and turned the knob and an immediate silence filled the car.

"Better?" he asked, before turning the music back on, though not as loud.

Grace shook her head and nudged some CDs out of the way with the toe of her soccer cleat. Melanie, from the passenger seat, turned around to look at us, raising her eyebrows in Max's direction. Grace shrugged. I studied Max's face in the rearview mirror. His voice had sounded funny, off somehow, un-Maxlike. I could see his eyes were slightly red and distant, not really seeing as he pulled out of the parking lot.

"I'm starving," I announced as he swung recklessly, as always, onto the main road.

A few boxes slid around in the back of the van, crashing into the side. There was a loud jangle of something and a sound of crushing plastic. The amount of stuff in Max's van had never ceased to amaze me.

"Me too," Grace agreed, stopping my softball bag from sliding into her. "Max, can we stop at Subway?"

She leaned forward, propping her elbows up on the back of the driver's seat. She was using her sweet voice now, trying to convince him to let us go. I could see Melanie looking at him eagerly from where she had her head resting against the window.

"Only if you get me a pizza," he replied flatly, turning into the Subway parking lot and nearly taking out a Do Not Enter sign. An empty fast food bag hit my foot.

"It's Subway, why would you get a pizza?" I asked.

Max turned around to look at me for a second before glancing back out the windshield. "Have you ever had a Subway pizza?" he asked incredulously, sounding like his normal self for a second, sarcastic and rude.

"No…If I wanted pizza, I'd go to Domino's. Duh." I rolled my eyes and winced when I felt the headache resurface.

"Duh to you, Subway's pizzas are better. Grace, get Hayley one please, she's torturing herself." He shook his head and pulled into a parking spot, killing the engine but leaving the radio blaring, earning a look from a passing elderly couple.

"Let's go," Grace said to me, rolling her eyes in Max's direction as she stepped over a snare drum to get out of the van.

Five minutes later we climbed back into our seats, carrying four steaming Subway pizzas. "These are the best," Melanie commented, buckling her seatbelt and licking her lips.

The three Spicklers watched me take my first bite, and I felt my face turn red, embarrassingly enough. They stared at me until I swallowed and grinned, said it was fantastic. Then Max put the car in gear, and drove us home, seemingly in a better mood.

"I'm telling you guys, Guns n' Roses is clearly better than Poison and Foreigner combined. They obviously had the better music," I argued, shutting the door behind me and dropping my bat bag on top of Grace's soccer junk.

She was pulling off her cleats and I followed suit, setting them on the mat by the front door and following her and Max into the kitchen. Melanie came up behind me, still eating her pizza as she walked. She nodded in agreement to my statement, taking my side as a catcher and pitcher should do in any situation. I grinned and stole a piece of her crust.

The argument had started in the car after we had gone to Subway, when a Guns n' Roses song had come on the radio and I had made the comment that they were the best band ever. Grace had immediately jumped in saying Poison was better and Max had argued that Foreigner was obviously the best.

"No Hayley," Max replied, shaking his head and talking as if to someone really slow or young. "Foreigner is better, had better lyrics. They had a deeper voice, a stronger voice. Just not one that was heard by as many."

"But Poison, guys, come on," Grace interjected as we popped open some soda cans and her and I plopped onto the couch. Mel sat down at the kitchen table, starting on her last piece of pizza. There was a smear of sauce on her face but none of us bothered to point it out to her. "Still around and touring, Bret Michaels has his own show, seriously. Who's the best? Poison." She answered herself at the exact time Max said Foreigner and Mel and I shouted Guns n' Roses. All four of us shook our heads.

"Whatever, wienies, I'm out," Max said, turning around and heading up the stairs. Again, I watched him go, wondering why even as I did so, before turning my attention back to the flat screen.

"Guns n' Roses is still the best," I mumbled quietly as Grace turned the volume up for Lost.

Unfortunately, she heard me and turned the television off, before turning to glare at me.

"Hayley, Hayley, Hayley. You are all wrong. Come with me."

Grace stood up, tossing the remote back onto the couch and going down the stairs into their basement. I reluctantly got up off the couch and followed her, throwing Melanie a tortured look as she stayed at the table, smirking. Once in the basement, Grace walked towards the stereo, grabbing a CD on the way. She popped it in, turning the volume up on the stereo and tossing the CD case to me. I caught it just before it hit the floor and looked at the title. Greatest Hits: Poison. I shook my head, tossing it back to her.

"You really want to keep this up? I'm going to win," I said as the first song came on, playing so loud that I broke off my sentence in surprise.

I was about to speak again, but Grace held up her finger, before plopping down on a beanbag chair. Just as the song was reaching its crescendo, there was a high-pitched beeping that I could hear even over the drum solo that was now blaring from the speakers. Grace pulled out her phone and read the text message before turning off the stereo.

"Hayley, toss me the Greatest Hits: Foreigner CD please, it's on top of the first stack." As I reached behind the couch to the music stand, Grace popped out the Poison CD but kept it in her lap, replacing it with the Foreigner disc that I now tossed her. She turned the volume back up and when I gave her a quizzical look she said, in a perfect imitation of Max,

"'If you're going to blare your music at least listen to something worth listening to, like Foreigner'."

When the beep went off again, Grace nodded and said, "I thought so," before promptly turning off Foreigner and popping the Poison CD back in. "Too bad," she added, and typed one last time.

As we sat there listening to the album, I heard heavy footsteps coming down the stairs and suddenly Max was standing in the doorway. Again, my heart did a zing in my chest, and again I told myself it was because he had startled me. He barely glanced at me, instead holding his glare on Grace.

"Honestly, Grace, Foreigner is better. They are better than Poison, and," he paused, turning his attention to me for a brief second, "they are better than Guns n' Roses. Are we clear?"

I just shook my head and sighed as Grace rolled her eyes before drowning Max out in Nothing But a Good Time. He threw up his hands and stormed out of the room, and before long I heard Jukebox Hero blaring from his room, even over the stereo that Grace and I were listening to. She heard it too, and unwillingly reached over and turned the stereo off.

"Ass," she muttered. I hid my laugh in a cough.

I drummed my fingers absentmindedly on the armrest of the couch. Besides the light from the television that occasionally flickered across me, the room was dark. I realized that at any moment, Mom could come home and find me lying around instead of studying for finals week. She would probably ground me for next weekend, or take away my phone or something drastic.

It had been a few days, almost a week, since I had found Riley in her bedroom and I was still pissed and upset. It had helped going to school, and having finals coming up, giving my mind something else to concentrate on for a little bit, but even that, eventually, went away.

I could see my sisters scrutinizing me closely, as I was not bullying them, as a big brother should, like usual. Once even, I caught Hayley looking at me, trying to read my expressions, but I knew they could not really guess what was going on unless they had heard something at school. Come to think of it, they probably had heard already, or realized that Riley never came over, or called. They were not that blind, even though they were merely freshmen.

Whoa, I thought, sitting up suddenly. I shook my head, attempting to clear it. I had to get out of this hole. I had to do something. Reaching behind my head, I shoved my hand into the crack between the couch cushion and the armrest, coming out successfully with my phone clutched in my fist. I flipped it open quickly, dialing the number of the one person I could count on.

"Kevin?" I said, adrenaline now pulsing through my veins.

He would find something exciting for us to do, to get my mind off the sorry piece of scum that was my ex-girlfriend.

"Max, buddy, what's up?" It sounded like I had woken him up although it was seven o'clock

"I need a distraction," I said quickly, "anything."

"A distraction, eh?" Kevin sounded more awake now and I heard rustling, meaning he was getting up and moving. "I have just the thing. Get dark clothes on and meet me in your driveway in eight minutes." He hung up before I could ask or even begin to wonder.

Racing up into my room, I plunged my hands into a pile of clothes on the floor, coming out with a pair of Grace's black basketball sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt. Just then, my phone rang.

"Kevin?" I asked, slipping the clothes on. I headed into Melanie's room and found a pair of black gloves she had just gotten.

"Hayley," the voice said, and laughed.

"Uh hey, what's up?"

"Okay, chocolate, vanilla, or twist?" Hayley asked me. I smirked. Hayley had been calling me randomly for the past month and a half, asking a question and then hanging up. So far I had decided the cereal she should eat for a midnight snack, that she should go lazer-tagging with her friends, what movie to watch one night, what flavor slurpee to get, and now this. Why it was me she called, I had no idea.

"Uhhh, definitely the twist," I said now.

"Of course!" she said, and I could picture her slapping her palm to her forehead. "Thanks!" And then there was a click. Laughing, I shoved the phone into my pocket.

When I got outside, Kevin was already waiting, the windows to his old black Camry rolled down and the engine off.

"Ready Freddie?" he joked as I climbed in. I shot him a look, snickering, as he turned on the engine and pulled out.

"So where exactly are we going?" I asked as we swung out onto the main road.

When he did not answer, I looked over at him, and he pointed out the window. All I saw was the Taco Bell we were pulling into. Giving him a questioning look, I slipped off the gloves and rolled up my sleeves.

"We have to wait until it's darker," Kevin explained, smiling like he knew he was up to no good. "But for now, we eat."

After spending almost a full hour in Taco Bell, earning some weird looks from the staff, Kevin at last decided it was dark enough for what he had planned. As we pulled out of the parking lot I slipped the gloves back on, putting on my hood.

"Are you going to tell me what we're doing yet?" I asked him, glancing out the windows to try and get a hint.

"Have you ever wanted to own a One Way sign?" Kevin asked me suddenly, turning to look at me with a glint in his eye.

The moon was visible in the sky now as we turned onto a secluded street a good ten miles from home. There were many signs on this street, though they seemed pointless as the area was deserted. At the very end, where there was another street running perpendicular to the one we were on, I saw the one way sign.

"Shit, man," I said, grinning.

Kevin pulled to a stop in front of a small section of trees, killing the engine as he pushed his car into the brush. We climbed out, easing our doors closed and meeting at the trunk which held the tools we would need.

"What the-" I started but was interrupted.

"I've been wanting to do this ever since I got my own car," Kevin said excitedly, weighing a wrench in his hand. "I don't know how the hell we are gong to do it, but we are going to."

Picking up some random tools, we headed stealthily towards the sign, passing by the two houses that sat on the street with ease. Even with the absence of human life, my heart was pumping adrenaline through my body and I was unable to keep the grin off of my face. Kevin, too, was having difficulty in hiding his excitement.

Reaching the sign, we examined the black and white metal for a quick second before trying different tools on different parts of it. The wrench worked if we hit it against the nuts holding the sign to the post, but it was making too much noise. Switching to another strange shaped piece of metal, we tried again with the bolts without luck.

After twenty minutes of trying to loosen the sign, Kevin and I stepped back, panting, the adrenaline dying out. Just as we were about to give up and head home, however, there was a creak, and the sign slid off, save for one bolt at the top right corner which loosened when Kevin gave it a good whack with the wrench.

"Victory!" he shouted, quickly picking up the sign as I gathered the tools.

We sprinted back towards the car, somewhat awkwardly with our baggage. Throwing it into the open trunk, we jumped in and sped away, tires squealing.

"That was freaking awesome!" Kevin shouted out his open window as we took the back streets home. Stripping off my gloves, I grinned and whooped with him, letting the wind blow the adrenaline back through the open window.

"MAXWELL STANLEY SPICKLER, where the hell have you been?" was the greeting I received when I walked in the door two and a half hours after leaving. Shit, I thought, as I realized I had not told Mom where I was going.

"Mom, oh God, sorry, I forgot, I went out with Kevin." I took a deep breath, preparing for whatever was next. I saw my mother do the same.

"Please, please, please tell me you were just studying and nothing else."

She closed her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose and resting her free hand on the counter. When I did not say anything she opened her eyes and looked at me.

"Max…" she said, sighing, her hands dropping to her sides.

"Mom, I'm sorry alright, I needed to get my mind off of…" I waved my hand in the air. "Things."

"Okay," Mom said, defeated, "then just please go study now before dinner."

I was quiet again and this time her gaze went to the bag in my hand. She sighed and turned away, waving her hand at me to get out of the room. I glanced down at the Taco Bell bag, before doing exactly what she wanted.

As I was walking down the hallway towards my room, I passed Melanie's room and saw Hayley sitting on the bed by herself, her feet propped up on the headboard and her hair spread out across the comforter. I paused, debating on whether to make a sarcastic comment or not.

"You're looking especially disgusting today," I said, just loudly enough for Hayley to hear.

Of course this was completely sarcastic, as she actually looked kind of cute. Whoa, I thought, banishing that thought. No way, buddy, do not even go there.

"Stop looking in the mirror, Max," she retorted, hiding her smirk well but not before I caught it.

"Touché," I replied, heading into my room.

Tossing the fast-food bag onto my bed, I plopped myself down at my desk and pulled out my anatomy binder. I bent my head, intending to at least attempt the review packet, when I heard a rustle. Turning around I saw Hayley standing in my doorway, looking slightly awkward.

"Can I help you?" I asked, arching an eyebrow. She shrugged, turning so her back was against the doorframe. She then proceeded to slide down it so she was sitting on the floor, facing the other side of the doorframe.

"I'm just bored," she replied, examining her outstretched feet.

She was wearing bright purple socks with frogs on them. Shaking my head, I tried hard to force the smile off of my face before she saw it.

"Uh, where's Melanie? Or Grace?" I questioned, rifling through some of the CDs that littered my floor. Maybe Melanie would want to organize these for me…if I paid her?

"They had to go down to your neighbors' house for something or other." She now turned to look at me, pushing her red hair out of her face. Her eyes were big and blue, softened around the edges as she relaxed.

"And they left you behind?"

Hayley nodded, once, before slouching some more and closing her eyes.

"Well then here, listen to this, I found it in my dad's stuff in the basement."

I had found the CD I had been looking for, an ancient Foreigner disc that was hard to find in even the most vintage of stores. Popping it into my stereo, I turned the volume up to a decent level so I could still hear Hayley if she spoke.

"Who is this? They're amazing…" she said in wonder, returning her gaze to me.

I could see one purple-toed foot tapping, and her fingers drummed on her knee, seemingly without her notice.

Smirking, I nodded. "Of course they're amazing. It's Foreigner." She gasped and her eyes narrowed to slits, her mouth turning up in a sly smile.

"Max, Max, Max, Max, Max," she scolded, the repetition of my name flowing with the beat of the song. "I cannot believe you are still arguing me on this topic. You know I'm going to win." She smirked, standing up and taking a couple steps into my room.

"May I?" she asked, gesturing towards the CDs on the floor. I nodded and she knelt down to rifle through them.

"You really think you'd win, huh?" I asked. Hayley stopped in mid-rifle and stood up again.

"Yeah," she challenged, her eyes sparkling, "I do."

I arched an eyebrow and rose from my chair, taking a step towards her. Her eyes widened slightly and there was a quick play of emotions across her face before she managed to control her expression.

"Really…" I wasn't asking, just feigning thoughtfulness.

And then, before she could take two steps, I closed the gap between us and wrapped my arms around her waist from behind, lifting her up. She laughed out loud, halfheartedly slapping my arms.

"Max," she paused to giggle, "put me down! Put me down, Max!" She laughed some more as I spun her around.

"Only when you admit that Foreigner is best!" I exclaimed, holding her up with my arm and tickling her stomach with the other. She squealed but somehow managed to speak.

"Never!" I tickled her some more. "No! Guns n' Roses is better!" she said in between breaths so it came out more like 'Guns...n' Roses...is...better!'

"What are you guys doing?" a familiar yet unwanted voice said from the doorway. I immediately set Hayley down, taking a step back.

"Nothing," I croaked, trying to keep my voice innocent as Melanie gave us both the evil eye. I looked at Hayley and saw her eyes wide and her mouth slightly open. "I was uh…we were just…"

"I was waiting for you guys to get back and I just bet Max that he wasn't strong enough to lift me up…Sorry Mel, I was just bored. Did you guys have fun?"

She walked towards the door, grabbing Melanie's arm, who gave me one last suspicious glance before following Hayley. As they went inside Melanie's bedroom, Hayley turned around and mouthed 'that was close'. I nodded and stuck out my tongue before she could disappear completely behind the door.

Yes, yes, it's finally back. Welcome to the Official of the Official Rewrites of Something About Max. You may not notice that many changes right away. In the beginning it is more just additions of little things here and there, like the phone calls from Hayley to Max. Also, I've tried to clean up my writing a bit, so there's not as many pointless sentences and bits of information. Also, chapters are now longer, giving you more to read at one time, though less actual chapters.

I've read over this story so many times now I could probably tell it by heart. So, needless to say, I am finally happy with the way it turned out. It is finally what it was meant to be....so I hope that's good, eh? My heart was actually beating furiously when I realized it was ready to be posted.

Let me know what you think! And welcome to new readers! Review. xD