"Hello?"

I swallowed. "Hey, Mona, it's me."

It was lunchtime, and Dad would be out of surgery in less than two hours. Mona would already be back at our apartment. I was at a cafe in town for lunch.

"Max, what's going on?" Mona asked.

I sighed. "We had a fire."

"What? Where? When? Are you okay?" She asked worriedly.

"This morning after we left, my dad's house caught fire." I explained. "My dad's in surgery."

I could almost imagine Mona's expression. "Oh my God. Are you okay?"

"I don't know..." My stomach turned over and my eyes stung. "It's all my fault."

"Your fault?" She asked in disbelief.

"When I grabbed the car keys, I knocked over a candle. It might've still had a little spark left." I said.

"Max, it wasn't your fault." Mona said reassuringly. "It was an accident, that's all."

"I don't exactly have the best track record with my parents." I responded. My voice was shaking.

"You said your mom died during childbirth." Mona replied.

"Bringing me into this world."

"Max, you can't keep blaming yourself for things you had no control over." Mona said seriously. "Things just happen."

I closed my eyes and nodded, and realized she couldn't see me. "Yeah."

She was quiet for a moment. "I should be there with you."

I smiled. "You're where you need to be. I'll be fine."

"Okay. If you're sure." Mona said. "I'll call you later."

"Thanks. I love you." I said.

"I love you, too." She replied. "Bye."

"Bye." I hung up and sighed. Mona was right: I can't keep blaming myself for things out of my control. But if I can't blame myself or my dad for those things, who do I blame? I looked around the cafe as I waited for my food. It was mildly busy. The cafe smelled of coffee, hot chocolate, cinnamon, various buns, and soup. It was slightly dim, but the sun shone through the windows making it brighter.

"Here you go, sir." My waiter put my soup and sandwich down.

"Thanks."

XX

It was now a quarter after one. The sun shone brightly as I headed to my dad's car. The ice was already melted which made it easier for me (ice hates me. I swear...). I pulled out the car keys when someone slammed into me.

"Whoa!" I cried out. My "attacker" gasped loudly.

"Crap. I'm sorry!" My attacker apologized.

...Wait a minute...

"Roxanne?" I ask, recognizing the woman.

"Max?" Her face broke into a wide grin. She hugged me. "Oh my God!"

I hugged her back and laughed. "It's great to see you! What are you doing here?"

"What am I doing here? What are you doing here?" She asked. "I thought you lived in Brookville?"

"I'm visiting my dad for Christmas." I explained. The reality of the situation sunk in.

"How is your dad?" Asked Roxanne.

I sighed. "He's in surgery. His house burned down, and..."

"Oh my God!" Roxanne echoed Mona's exclaimation. "Is he going to be okay?"

"Yeah. He's been in worse scrapes than this." I said, shrugging and smiling. "I can't think of any right now, but..."

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah...I think so." I said rubbing the back of my head. "So, enough about me. What brings you here?"

"I had a family reunion over Christmas." She explained.

"Oh, that sounds like fun." I smiled.

She nodded. "It was."

I wonder if she's seeing someone. Oh, God, I'm seeing someone! I shouldn't be wondering that!

"So, are you seeing someone?" Roxanne asked with a slight hesitation.

"Yeah, actually." I replied. She looked crestfallen. "I'm...I'm gonna ask her to marry me."

She managed a weak smile. "That's great. Congratulations."

"Well, she hasn't said 'yes', yet." I chuckled.

She laughed. "True."

"So, what about you? Are you seeing someone?" I asked.

Roxanne's face fell again. She closed her eyes for a moment and opened them. "No. I was married, but...my husband died a few months ago."

"Oh. I'm so sorry." I said. I put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Do you wanna talk about it?"

She sighed and looked straight ahead. "It's just so sad. He had a rough life. I tried making him happy... it worked for a while. I became pregnant with his baby. But I had a miscarriage..." she hugged her stomach. "He finally couldn't take it any more and shot himself." She sniffed and wiped away her tears.

I pulled her into a hug. "I'm so sorry."

Roxanne collected herself. "It's okay." She sighed. "Your girlfriend's lucky to have you."

"I'm not so sure." I sighed and looked ahead. "I think I annoyed her with all those negative anecdotes about my dad."

"Oh, don't tell me you're still embarrassed by him!" Roxanne exclaimed.

"I'm not!" I blurted out without realizing. "I'm not. I..." How can I put this?

"You finally came to your senses?" Roxanne guessed. She smiled. I nodded. "Well, it took you long enough!"

I sighed again. "Not you, too..."

Roxanne laughed. "Sorry. I'm sure he'd be glad to hear that."

"Thanks." I stood up. "I'll see you around."

"Sure." Roxanne smiled. I nodded and waved to her before walking off. "Max!" I stopped to listen. "If you ever need to talk, I'm here."

"Thanks." I said again.

XXX

I made it to the hospital by 2:15. Pete was waiting in the waiting room. He looked surprised to see me.

"Why the surprised look?" I asked, smiling and raising an eyebrow. "You know I'd never turn my back on people who need me." (A/N...Crap. Another Avatar: The Last Airbender quote. Sorry!)

"Oh, well, it's just that you looked upset last time I saw you." Pete shrugged.

I sat next to him. "I was. But then I realized there are some things I just can't control."

"How very Dr. Phil of you." Pete said.

Dr. Linzer walked towards us. I stood up in anticipation. He smiled when he saw me. "Well, your dad's out of surgery."

"Really? How'd it go?" I asked.

"Extremely well." Dr. Linzer nodded once. "His lungs are a bit damaged by the smoke, so I'll have to put him on antibiotics, plus I'd like to keep him here til tomorrow for observation."

I chuckled with relief and hugged the doctor. "That's great news!" I let go.

"Yes it is." The doctor replied. "He's sleeping now, but he's in Room four-west-fifteen."

"Thanks." I said. He walked off. I collapsed into a chair closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead. Man, that was a nightmare! I'm just glad it's over! I have to call Mickey and Donald to tell them the news! And PJ and Bobby and Mona and Roxanne...

I opened my eyes to tell Pete, but he was gone. Hmm. He must have already gone to Dad's room.

XX

Room four-west-fifteen took two hallways, an elevator, and three more hallways to get to. I looked in the window to see my dad sleeping on his bed and Pete standing by his equipment. I opened the door and walked in.

"Hey." I whispered.

Pete jumped slightly and addressed me. "Oh, hi." He sighed. "Well, I'll leave you two Goofs at it."

"Uh...thanks." I stared after him. That was weird... I pulled a chair up close to Dad's bed. He looked much better than he did this morning. I took his hand in mine and gave it a gentle squeeze. He squeezed back. I smiled at him lovingly. My dad stirred. I set his hand back on the bed and pulled back as he woke up.

"Maxie?" He looked at me with a pleasantly surprised expression.

"Hi, Dad." I greeted. "How are you doing?"

His face fell into a guilty expression. "I had hoped you'd never see me like this."

"Hey, come on. It's not that bad." I smiled reassuringly. "At least you're not in a coffin."

He smiled and chuckled at that. "That's true."

I chuckled slightly. After a minute, I sobered up. "How did it start? The fire?"

"I don't know." He shook his head slowly. "I came downstairs because I smelled something burning, and I saw fire spread along the front entryway. I tried putting it out, but it was too strong...the front door was blocked, so I couldn't get out."

"So, then you went for the back door?" I asked.

Dad nodded. "And the next thing I knew, I'm waking up in a hospital bed."

"Oh." Guilt bubbled up inside me. "Dad, I think I might've accidentally started the fire."

Dad looked surprised. "What?"

"Your car keys were on a table in the entryway. I knocked over a candle...and I think it was still burning." I explained. I was starting to get choked up. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" Dad asked, still surprised.

"Oh, God. Everything." I looked up. "I was so bad to you- and so mean. I was selfish and judgemental, and you-you were so...patient and kind and loving. I couldn't see past all of your...goofiness." Dad sat up and pulled me into a hug. "How can you forgive me so easily?"

"Max, there is nothing to forgive." Dad pulled away. "I take responsibility for some things, too. I was too clingy and selfish. I'm sorry."

"You're forgiven." I smiled. Hey, he did apologize.

Dad smiled with relief. He then changed the subject. "How bad is it? The house?"

"Pretty bad." I admitted. "I took out the deed in your name. The firemen said only forty percent of everything in there is salvageable."

"Oh..." Dad's face fell. He brightened up. "Well, at least some of it is salvageable. I'll have to find a place to stay."

"I'm staying at PJ's house." I said. "You can stay with us."

Dad smiled. "If PJ doesn't mind."

"He won't." I assured him. "And I'll be there. I'll help you look for a house, and I'll help you buy new stuff..."

"But what about Mona?" Asked Dad.

"She'll understand."

"I don't want you to put your life on hold for me..." Dad said, his voice cracking up. "You have school, and Mona."

"I can take my classes online." I explained. "And I'll mail a check to Mona for our rent. Plus, she can come visit."

"You really thought this through." Dad said, smiling.

"Sure did. Ah-yuck, ho-ho-ho-ho-ho!" I laughed and smiled.

Dad was again, pleasantly surprise to see me not react negatively to my laugh. I squeezed his shoulder gently. He put his hand on mine. Finally, we can have a normal father/son relationship.

Don't worry- it's not over yet!