II. It's My Life

Funny how I find myself in love with you
If I could buy my reasoning I'd would pay to lose
One half won't do
I've asked myself
How much do you commit yourself?

It's my life
Don't you forget
It's my life
It never ends

Funny how I blind myself
I never knew if I was sometimes played upon
Afraid to lose
I'd tell myself what good you do
Convince myself

It's my life
Don't you forget
It's my life
It never ends

I've asked myself
How much do you commit yourself?

It's my life
Don't you forget
Caught in the crowd
It never ends.

It's My Life is the property of No Doubt.

Rhythm of the Night is the property of DeBarge.

The Spock hood ornament signals to the Mercedes in front of Max's car to live long, and prosper. Parking in Pasadena was no picnic so Max is relieved to reach the familiar streets of his hometown of Los Angeles. Here, he knew intersections, trouble spots, shortcuts. He wishes he knew another shortcut, however- how to tell his parents that Naomi is coming to the celebration dinner tomorrow. It's definitely not something to leave on an answering machine or worse a text. Max always prefers face-to-face communication and this is no exception. But Naomi is exceptional enough for him to be straight with Micah and Miriam Miller even if it meant going head-on into the stalled opinions of her in the otherwise busy traffic of their minds.

Max drives towards the modest Miller home, a two-story residence without a pool, party room, or chandeliers. His place is nothing like Naomi's mansion. You could fit a fourth of Comic-Con's attendees into her digs. Of course those types of things were second nature to Naomi but she never put on any airs when she came over to the Millers'. In fact, she was excited every time she visited him. Surely she wouldn't be as excited this time if his parents were home and put on airs. His father definitely had no trouble doing so if he was in one of his moods. He still e-mailed Max about the MIT courses he was missing out on or the latest lecturers he let slip past him because he was too invested in being "here." What he really meant to say is that Max was and is too invested in his relationship with Naomi.

They'd had several arguments about his choice before he left for the summer program, often ending with Max staring open-mouthed as his father stormed out of the room. Micah Miller hates when things don't go his way, when order escapes him. An instructor at the local planetarium, he liked to study the stars, stratosphere, and anything that stayed fixed for a period of time. He was blown away if something new popped up in the solar system but he always had an explanation ready for the discovery. His love of planning is probably why he married another teacher. Miriam taught at Elite Petite Preschool, a prestigious primary school where toddlers had to take tests in order to get into and where parents had to pay thousands once the test scores were approved. Both Max and Melanie spent an unhappy year there and begged to leave after the first day. It just wasn't for them. Micah insisted they stay. Miriam put her foot down for once and took them to public school herself. It is still a sore topic and Max continues to wonder if his mother's only going along with his father's wishes for M.I.T. because she already stood up for him once. She did give him a huge care package before CalTech orientation - crackers, cookies, a couple Gamestop gift cards.

He approaches the driveway, making note of the new strawberry poison dart frog sitting on the Miller mailbox. His mother has recently become obsessed with rainforest creatures and now she was getting her kids obsessed with them too. Max guesses there will be a different animal when he comes home for Thanksgiving...if they want him around. Max pulls in front of the house, locks his car, and locates his house key. He unlocks the door and steps inside.

Nothing. Strange. He could've sworn he saw all three family cars. Melanie's ladybug-spotted red VW bug is, without a doubt, hard to miss. Max trudges upstairs to see if there's any noise there. Lots as it turns out. He can hear Miriam listening to tapes of tropical sounds and Melanie yelling at her TV. Also, Max could swear his mom's talking to someone in all the madness. Maybe she's on the phone? He doesn't want to upset his mother so he'll go say hi to Melanie. She's every inch his sister with the same eye and hair color yet she managed to get perfect vision like their father. Max wouldn't be surprised if she talked her genes into giving her that trait. She was that outspoken. Max slowly opens her door.

"Don't put the pockets on the bubble skirt!" cries Melanie, hitting her bed comforter with the remote. "You'll age your model twenty years!"

Max watches Tim Gunn turn quickly away from a very bad outfit to critique another evening gown.

"These boneheads can't design diddly squat," moans Melanie.

She then notices Max and jumps up speedily to hug him.

"Hey, stranger!" greets Melanie. "You smell like Sunny D."

Max chuckles. "I just came from the laundromat. Every article of clothing I own smells like citrus."

"Ugh, please do not tell Mom," says Melanie. "Knowing her, she'd start a discussion about which fruits are native to Papau New Guinea."

"Is Dad home?" asks Max.

"He's in his study," answers Melanie.

"Good, cause there's something I need to tell him," says Max.

"What's wrong?" says a nervous Melanie. "Did you get a B?"

"Of course not," says Max defensively. "Though there was that one time..."

"He made you read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica that month," recalls Melanie.

"I liked it," says Max.

"You would," brushes off Melanie. "So what is it?"

"I still haven't...told them Naomi's coming to dinner...," begins Max.

"Did you oodle your noodle?" says Melanie, rising to knock her brother on the head. "They're going to flip...freak..."

"Or fall in love with Naomi like I did," interjects Max.

"Hopefully," says Melanie sweetly. "You better tell them tonight. Their standards are higher than a tightrope, and I don't mean the cute dance Janelle Monae does."

"Who?" says Max.

"Get outta here, nerd," says Melanie. "I'm halfway through a Project Runway marathon and Heidi Klum hasn't butchered the English language yet."

"Heidi Klum," says Max dreamily.

"Telling Naomi," sing-songs Melanie as Max starts to leave.

"No, you're not," returns Max.

As soon as Max reaches the hall, he hears wings fluttering but this isn't a recorded sound. It's the action of his father's prize cockatoo, Copernicus, who'd be out of his cage for a dose of exercise. That must mean his father is in the study like Melanie said. Max breathes in and out, his shoulders going up and down. He's a young adult now, grown to the point where he can speak to his father like he would an equal, at least for five minutes.

Max strolls into the study. Copernicus spies him.

"Too legit! Too legit to quit!" says Copernicus, bobbing his white and gold head. "Heeeeey! Heeeey heey! Squawk!"

"Melanie must be messing around with him again," mumbles Max to himself.

"You better erase that from your memory bank fast, Copi!" bellows a voice from the right.

Micah has his head buried in a tall cabinet where he keeps his astronomy instruments. They're quite lovely to look at, and Max was more than happy to hear his father teach him about them when he was little. But that was ages ago and Max is hoping that Micah can learn a thing or two about forgiveness and acceptance from him. Naomi shouldn't be excluded or judged. She should be included and Max is determined for that to be the victory in a boxing match that's unfortunately lasted for months.

"Maxwell!" greets Micah as he closes the cabinet, then more genuinely. "Max."

He goes to hug his son, Max returning the hug weakly. Max is too distracted to give him a full embrace. He parts his mouth to start.

"I've got a book on Galileo I want to give you," says Micah.

"Thanks," says Max.

Chicken, he condemns himself. Just do it. It's not like he hasn't known the man for eighteen years. Max watches wordlessly as his father locates the book. He presents the book to Max, the old-time mathematician and astronomer Galileo glaring at him. Galileo is judging him. He's judging him so hard right now.

"Listen, Dad," says Max. "So the dinner..."

"Not just any dinner," says Micah. "Your honorary dinner! Do you know how rare it is to get into Alpha Lambda Delta this soon? Any grad school is going to eat that up."

"I suppose so," offers Max calmly.

"Especially M.I.T.," continues Micah.

And there's the bomb, the subject that manages to creep into every conversation they have, the place that his father believes will right every wrong. Max lays the book on the desk so he's able to cross his arms.

"Dad, could we not?" says Max.

Micah snorts his nose, walks back towards the closet. He removes a lunar cycle graph, moon chart, hand held brass telescope, and a magnifying glass. He was purposely working to avoid Max's protest. That much is clear. Well, he hopes he doesn't cause his father to break his magnifying glass when he delivers this next piece of news. Those things were pretty thick anyway.

"I...invited somebody...," begins Max.

"So did I," interrupts Micah, then yelling. "Miriam?"

The loud rainforest chorus stops, and Max hears a set of approaching feet. No, two sets of feet if he's not mistaken. Max turns to the door. His mother, frowning and casting glances at Micah, stands in the doorway with a white-haired man with a pocket watch over his stomach.

"What's this?" says Max.

"Max, I'd like you to meet Ezra Samuelson," says Micah, walking to Max. "Ezra, this is my son Maxwell."

"Nice to meet you?" says Max, unsure yet shaking Mr. Samuelson's hand.

"The pleasure is mine," assures Mr. Samuelson.

"You'll be joining us for dinner?" says Max with a creased brow.

"No, we'd like you to join us at M.I.T.," says Mr. Samuelson. "I'm the head of the Mathematics department and Micah was just telling me..."

This is not happening, not actually happening. Max stares at his father, who wears a wide grin on his amused face. Micah really would go to any means to get him across the country at a school he didn't want to go to anymore. They could've talked privately. They could've discussed this if CalTech didn't work out. Heck, he could've gone to M.I.T. for grad school if his father was so insistent. But to go behind his back like this?

"Undergraduates publishing work, top faculty members in their field, world-renowned cultural events in the heart of Boston you can go to on the weekends," says Mr. Samuelson, obviously in the middle of a speech Max missed because he was too blind-sided to pay attention.

"Did you hear that CalTech surpassed M.I.T. in this year's college rankings?" says Max.

"I beg your pardon?" cries a rattled Mr. Samuelson with continual head shakes.

"I'm just telling you," continues Max. "In case your son would like to go there."

"He most certainly wouldn't...," insists Mr. Samuelson.

"Ezra, could you give us a minute?" says Micah.

He quickly ushers Mr. Samuelson, sputtering about the disadvantages of a CalTech degree, out of the room. Miriam puts an arm around Max as he sighs deeply. Micah shuts the door once Mr. Samuelson is gone. He also whispers just in case Mr. Samuelson isn't out of earshot.

"Of all the cockamamie...," whispers Micah heatedly.

"Cockatoo!" bellows Copernicus. "Eggs equal M.C. Hammer! Squawk!"

"Shut up, you flying handtowel!" shouts Micah.

Copernicus imitates a human laugh and then hides under his wings.

"Why is he here?" questions Max as calmly as possible.

"Ezra?" says Miriam, her voice wavering. "He...he simply stopped by."

"You don't simply stop by from M.I.T.," says Max. "The truth?"

"Fine," says Micah. "I contacted him...weeks ago. He signed up for a golf invitational in L.A., and came by as a favor to me."

"Do me a favor," says Max. "Stop trying to foist M.I.T. on me."

"It's not foisting," insists Micah. "It's fulfilling a legacy. Your grandfather went, two of your uncles went, and most importantly, I went there. Do you know how wonderfully they treat legacy students? Or what kind of jobs you could get with that degree? You wanted to go. For years."

"It was a bit rash when you changed your mind," brings up Miriam hesistantly.

They're telling him more than one truth. He did have dreams about M.I.T. but dreams aren't permanent sometimes. Or better yet, new and more enticing dreams pop up at surprising moments. Naomi is a new dream and CalTech is quickly becoming another. His professors are jaw-droppingly intelligent, and he's thoroughly enjoying his courses, including computer science which he hadn't flirted with until he got there. He had his taste of Cambridge, of M.I.T. this summer. That was plenty for him. Couldn't his father be proud that he sailed through that program with flying colors? Apparently not. Well, he won't let this trap keep him grounded.

"There's only one reason why you stayed and we both know what that is," says Micah, straightening his jacket.

"Well, I've invited that one reason to the Delta dinner," shares Max. "I was going to ask but you clearly don't value my feelings..."

"What about my feelings?" says Micah. "I mean, I'll be polite to the girl, even if she is making you lack any common sense, but she should support any decision that sends you where you deserve to go."

"You don't understand, Dad," says Max.

"I understand that you're willing to let some five month fling tie you down," says Micah.

"You're trying to tie me down, to a place I don't want to be," counters Max. "And she's not a fling! And it's going on nine months! She supports me as much as you guys. I don't get why we all can't celebrate that I'm busting my butt off at CalTech and being rewarded for it. Aren't you proud of me?"

"We are proud of you," says Miriam, tenderly touching his shoulder.

His father looks at him sympathetically for a moment. Maybe it's sinking in...finally. Maybe he's willing to compromise. They did spend the summer apart and perhaps his father did get the hint after this last episode. Max hated to be cross with Mr. Samuelson but he had to stand up for himself or else the strain in their relationship would've gotten much worse in the future. Micah clears his throat, brushes past Max and whispers four words into his ear. They cut Max to the core. He lowers his head and no witty bon mot from Copernicus could make him smile, laugh, or slow the beating of his heart.

"What did he say?" asks Miriam.

"We could be prouder," repeats Max with quivering lips.

Miriam holds him against her, Max's tears sliding off the lowered lenses of his glasses.


"Hey girl, whatcha doing? Hey, girl, where ya going?"

Liam burps into his pillow and then spreads his entire body across his bed. He left his computer on, for the entire night, again. He didn't know how to pause the episode of New Girl without the computer going dark so he gave up and now he can't look at the lovely face of Zooey Deschanel first thing in the morning like he wanted to. Life is not fair. At least it's seven a.m. and he has no place to be. Liam shuts his eyes once more.

"Who's that girl?" sings the TV screen. "Who's that girl? It's Jess!"

"Shut up, Jess," groans Liam, putting a pillow over his head. "Aaaah."

Any other guy wouldn't be wasting his nights watching TV shows online. Any other guy would have a TV. Ugh, he's been in a funk since he came to shore. Nobody except his friends knew he proposed twice, but perfect strangers knew he proposed at least once and got shot down both times. The rose petals...the beautiful music...the fireworks. Proposal failure. Liam never thought he'd have anything in common with the men on the Bachelor. What a bunch of wusses. They don't even pay for their dates. Or do they? Man, if the Internet wasn't so wonky at the beach, he could've kept up with the cool dudes on Sons of Anarchy instead of thinking about reality TV or proposals and Annie...and Zooey...and any other hot brunette actress.

His cellphone rings, Liam managing to pick up on the third ring.

"Hi, Liam!" says the voice on the other end. "It's Adrianna. Remember me?"

"What the?" says Liam.

He checks the clock again. 7:02. Either he totally spaced out during Daylight Savings Time or...no, he didn't understand the rules for that.

"What time is it?" asks Liam.

"Seven!" shares Adrianna. "You told me to be at the bar at seven."

"I meant 7 p.m. ," says Liam. "Nobody opens a bar this early."

"Oh...well, I'm here!" says Adrianna. "The door's locked."

"Of course it's locked," moans Liam. "Ugggggh. Did you even sleep last night?"

"Yeah, and I woke up at like...six," informs Adrianna.

"Good for you," sighs Liam.

This girl cannot possibly be this peppy in the morning. He thought he hired a waitress, not a cheerful little alarm clock. Liam hits his head against his pillow repeatedly. Let me sleep, thinks Liam. Let me sleep. Useless.

"I ate breakfast and everything," says Adrianna. "I had oatmeal."

"Look, I can't get back to sleep," says Liam. "Let me just get up, get dressed, and let you in."

"Where are you?" questions Adrianna. "I didn't see your car."

"I live at the bar," says Liam.

"Liam, why are you living at a bar?" says Adrianna. "Are you homeless?"

"I just bought the bar for twenty-five thousand bucks...what do you think?" asks Liam.

"Well, what are you going to do with the rest of it?" poses Adrianna. "Buy an apartment?"

"There is no rest of it," replies Liam. "That was it."

"Why are you living at a bar, though?" says Adrianna.

"Ade, just...just hold on," says Liam, then hanging up.

Liam rolls to the edge of his bed, wipes his eyes, and fetches some clean clothes before heading to the shower. While showering, he wonders why he's living there too and why he bought the bar at all. He did want a new start like everyone around him. Navid had his own business, and Teddy and Silver had their own careers. Naomi and Annie were at CU and would get fresh opportunities there. Ivy is starting life as a married woman. Dixon is probably working on some tight/fresh/cool/whatever doesn't suck lyrics. Liam craves some tight things in his life too, besides his swimming trunks.

He flips on the small radio in the shower and backs up a bit. When he was with Annie in Mexico, she pointed out to him that you could be electrocuted if anything electric touched the water while he was in it. She taught him that and other life lessons. Would that be the last? He thought they would last or else he wouldn't have spent so much dough on that engagement ring. The rings were all nice and shiny. What's with the Wilsons? Annie didn't go for the engagement ring and Dixon dissed the shiny surf waves to go DJ. They are totally missing out on opportunities to be around him. Shoot. They'd come back around when he's making bank at the bar.

"Lifestyles of the rich and famous," sings along Liam, then changing the lyrics. "I won't be complainin'...I won't be complainin'."

Oh no, the bar. Adrianna's waiting for him to open up shop. That's one hot brunette actress. Liam smiles briefly and then checks himself. She's also kind of problematic. Hotness can't outdo drama. But she does seem energetic so that's something.

Fully clothed, Liam jogs to the bar area and catches sight of Adrianna swinging her hips from side to side. She wears a cute summer dress that's gold with a pattern of white roses. So girls can look this good at seven in the morning without sleeping with him. Liam makes sure her head is turned before fixing his hair in the glass door. A few moments later, he hears a loud shout.

"Hi, boss!" greets Adrianna, smiling through the glass.

"Ah!" cries Liam, then composing himself. "Oh."

He unlocks the door and holds it open for her.

"I've never been in the inside!" says Adrianna.

The inside area of the bar is certainly more glamorous than the tiki hut station on the beach outside. He still has work to do, but the solid oak tables, clean walkways to the balcony and beach, and gleaming bottles of liquor improve the atmosphere considerably.

"Mi casa es su casa," says Liam, impressed he remembered the words from a Simpsons episode.

"No habla ingles," says Adrianna. "Look at the cute little tables. And the picture of the pirate!"

A long poster of Jack Sparrow hangs above one walkway. Old Salty's daughter had insisted on the placement.

"We should get a parrot!" says Adrianna, giving him a thumbs up.

"No," says Liam, giving the idea a thumbs down.

"I'm scared of Captain Hook," says Adrianna in a low whisper to him. "I have nightmares about him sometimes. See, I was Tinkerbell and he was trying to eat me and..."

"Okay," says Liam, steering her to the bar counter. "You've never been a waitress before so I think you should practice on the only man in the room."

"Liam, you're so silly," laughs Adrianna. "A poster can't order."

"Not the poster," sighs Liam. "You'll practice on me."

Liam finds a clipboard, pencil, and serving tray behind the counter. He was going to have her practice with real drinks, but since she came several...many hours earlier than she was supposed to, she'd just serve pretend drinks.

"This is going to be so much fun!" says Adrianna as she takes them.

Liam shrugs and takes a seat at an oak table. Adrianna goes off into a corner and makes weird noises with her mouth, almost as if she's warming up her voice. Right. She's a former actress, though it's still very weird.

"Hello," says Adrianna, advancing to the table. "What drink would you like?"

"You can do better than that, Ade," says Liam. "Like in movies, they call the customer sir."

"Liam, I'm not calling you sir," says Adrianna. "You're not British."

"Yes I am, on my father's side," says Liam.

"My mind is blown," breathes Adrianna. "Hey, didn't you have a brother whose name started with a C?"

"Oh yeah," recalls Liam. "The dude was my half-brother. He was French or went to France or something."

"Was it Chris?" asks Adrianna.

"No," replies Liam.

"Charlie?" guesses Adrianna.

"Nope," answers Liam.

"Crispin?" says Adrianna.

"Negatorio," replies Liam.

"Charlie?" says Adrianna.

"No," says Liam. "Hey, where's your apron?"

"Right!" cries Adrianna, smacking her forehead. "I left it in under my new Abercrombie and Fitch catalog. Um, do you mind if I Bedazzle that sucker?"

"Is it going to cost me money?" asks Liam.

"No, sir," says Adrianna.

"Awesome," says Liam, grinning. "Have a ball with it."

"Heee!" cries Adrianna, jumping up and down, wandering out of the bar in excitement.

"Hey, what about my drink?" yells Liam after her.

Throwing up his hands, he retreats to the counter where he starts measuring what's in the taps. He spends the next two hours moving beer to the lock-up, shifting furniture, and cleaning the counters. He doesn't stop until the door opens. It's about time, Adrianna. Instead, he views Old Salty, the original owner, in one of his trademark Hawaiian shirts and baggy shorts. He looks like the dad on Boy Meets World, only slightly hairier.

"Word on the street is that you had no customers yesterday," says Old Salty as he walks to the bar.

"It was...a Friday," says Liam softly.

"And nobody comes to bars on Friday," says Old Salty. "Mhmmm. Look, Liam, you've been a moody beach bum ever since I met you..."

"Thanks," says Liam.

"That wasn't a compliment," says Old Salty, shaking his head. "You sulking around isn't going to bring in the surfers and the happy families and the teenagers."

"What will if that won't?" says Liam, with a furrowed brow.

"Enthusiasm!" replies Old Salty. "These kids want somewhere that's a hip place to be."

"I've got hips," says Liam as he pats them.

"Did you actually finish high school?" says Old Salty.

"Barely," replies Liam.

"That explains it," says Old Salty. "I don't want this place to die, period. So drum up some new business. Be more creative. Talk to people. Smile for once."

Liam, about to respond, goes silent when the bar door opens, this time with Adrianna coming right on through. She's in the same dress with an additional accessory. Her apron is covered with sparkly rhinestones and pink ribbon on the sides. Smiling, Adrianna approaches the bar and sets a bottle of soda right in front of Liam.

"I don't like Diet Sprite," says Liam, frowning.

"I do!" says Old Salty, taking it from him. "Who's this?"

"Adrianna, my new waitress," replies Liam. "And...our enthusiasm."

"I don't know what that means, but I'm excited!" says Adrianna.

Old Salty laughs. "I like her. She's funny."

Liam and Adrianna exchange short smiles, Liam eventually lowering his eyes and focusing on the trash bag he meant to take out several minutes ago. He throws the bag over his shoulder, hearing the others talk as he leaves.

"Did you know that Liam's British?" says Adrianna. "He must be hiding his accent."

"I had a hunch," kids Old Salty.

Adrianna shrugs. "You're smarter than I am."


Naomi pours sugar into her iced mocha, steam flowing past her shoulders. The weather left her parched and particular about what to wear, though the latter is a struggle she has to encounter everyday, especially with Homecoming nominations on the horizon. She couldn't pinpoint where to begin in securing a nomination however. If she got nominated, she'd already drawn up a route to royalty. Silver could help her win votes from the film and English departments, Annie the theatre department, so the humanities would be a lock. She'd throw a party to get some undecided voters and with Max in tow, she's sure to woo the math and science crowd before the ballots are due. But the nomination is mostly out of her hands. They were done by secret ballot and it all came down to popularity, and she's aware that there's dozens of campus women ahead of her in that category.

"Who do I have to make out with to get some rolls on the table?" exclaims Tracy Clark, returning from the restroom.

"Mom!" cries Naomi.

Enter: Tracy Clark. Her mother is visiting from Tahoe, her treat to herself after the long pain-staking divorce. Once Naomi got used to the idea of her parents being divorced, communication between Naomi and her mother became easier. They could both make stinging remarks against her unfaithful father and Tracy was back in the dating scene with Naomi's encouragement. Naomi could see that the time Tracy took for herself really worked in her favor. Jen and Naomi were used to being independent whereas this is something novel for their mother. So any advice the newly confident Tracy has to provide in terms of charming the masses will be welcomed whole-heartedly by Naomi.

A waiter rushes to their table and deposits a bowl of gold bread rolls.

"Break me off a piece of that," says Tracy, winking at the waiter's lower assets.

"God, stop quoting Clueless," says Naomi. "You're still old enough to be Alicia Silverstone's mother."

"I'm a single gal and I'm your mother," says Tracy.

Naomi chuckles. "Yes. But who can tell under all that Botox?"

"Just wait until you hit thirty-nine," says Tracy, tossing her silk napkin at Naomi's chest.

They love teasing each other. Naomi's sure she gets her humor from her mother because her dad practically has zilch.

"Mom, do you think I can win? Honestly?" says Naomi.

"I was a Homecoming Queen, Jen was a princess, and you're bound to be either," says Tracy. "It's in our blood. Like perfect teeth."

Naomi flashes her pearly whites and then hears her phone buzz. She reads a text from Max on the small screen. He promised to give her the time of his dinner and plus, she suspects, he might miss talking to her. He's minutes away from the cafe? She told him where she was but she wasn't anticipating him showing up. Is something the matter? It looks like there will be an impromptu meeting between him and her mother.

"Is that Maximus?" asks Tracy.

"No, he's not some bulky guy from a period movie," replies Naomi. "Besides, would I date someone with the temper of Russell Crowe? Uh, no. Max...well, he's...well, wait a sec."

Shouldering her Missoni clutch, Naomi peers through the cafe window until she makes out Max's reliable car crawling to a tree and stopping. She wonders if she should warn him. They already have a lot of parental pressure on them, probably. What if Tracy wasn't fond of him like she was? There's no reason for her not to be, but Max is unlike any guy she's dated before. Tracy practically hand-picked Ethan out for her and loved when Naomi started falling for him herself. If Max were in a line-up, would Tracy pick him out for her? Naomi has no idea. Without a word to her mother, Naomi slips out of the cafe.

She sees Max briefly climb into the back of his car, and emerge with a bouquet of flowers. A bouquet? She recognizes her favorite flowers among them - white roses, pink tulips, and purple lilies of the valley. Were those for her? It's not her birthday or an anniversary? Did she forget an anniversary? Naomi fumbles for something on her person. Heh. She could give him a Starbucks gift card. She removes the card and walks to him with a grin.

"Happy anniversary!" shouts Naomi, presenting the card.

"Huh?" says Max, locking his car.

"That's not it, is it?" groans Naomi. "I knew I should've checked my Blackberry."

"I have our anniversary written on my dorm calendar," assures Max.

"Adorable," says Naomi as he hands her the flowers. "Well, what are these for?"

"They're actually an apology bouquet," clarifies Max. "Because after you come to dinner, I'm going to want to apologize for how belligerent my father is going to be to you."

"Noooo," groans Naomi. "Max..."

This has been her worry since Max mentioned the future meal with his father and mother. They aren't interested in her. They're solely interested in why Max is blowing off a college career in Massachusetts, gauging whether she's worth the trouble. Breaking up with him isn't an option for her. She would rather go through the trials of a long-distance relationship if that's what it took. Nevertheless, she's certain that after awhile, the rift between Max and his parents would eat away at him and a break-up would occur if they did go long distance. The best choice for them is for her to go and talk to them herself.

"He sprung an M.I.T. professor on me," shares Max. "I swear, Cambridge might as well be the pearly gates as far as he's concerned. Then to drag you into it..."

"Max, I don't mind ironing the issue out tomorrow if that's what it takes," insists Naomi.

"You should mind," sighs Max. "I mind."

"Are you completely sure M.I.T. is out?" questions Naomi quietly.

"Yes," says Max, bringing her closer and rubbing her arms. "Yes. It's been ironed out. CalTech has everything I could ever want and it's so close to everything...and everyone I want."

Naomi's face grows flustered, and she grins as she meets Max's eyes. Wait, there was a reason she came out here.

"My mom!" cries Naomi suddenly.

"Your mom?" says Max.

"She's kinda inside," shares Naomi. "Listen, you don't have to meet her. I grew up with Ethan so she knew him pretty well. She never met Liam...thank goodness. Sooooo yeah, you'd be a totally different kind of dish."

"Am I a hot dish?" teases Max.

"Simmering," replies Naomi, reaching to squeeze his butt.

Max does a small yelp and removes Naomi's wandering hand.

"I was checking the temperature," says Naomi with a wink.

"We'll have to have a cooking lesson later," muses Max. "But seriously? I'd love to meet the female that's responsible for your conception."

"Fair warning...she doesn't speak bio," says Naomi, taking his hand. "Follow me, hot stuff."

They enter the cafe where Naomi spies Tracy reapplying lip gloss with the help of the back of a spoon. She lowers the spoon when Max and Naomi reach the table. Here goes nothing, thinks Naomi, standing right beside her boyfriend. Max smiles fully.

"Is this Maximus?" guesses Tracy, her eyes bugging out slightly.

Man, would she drop the made up nickname already? Naomi buries her face into Max's shoulder.

"I wish I were that heroic," says Max, extending his hand. "Hi. I'm Max Miller. Nice to finally meet you."

"Oh, I don't want a handshake," waves off Tracy.

Naomi lifts her head to glare at her mother.

"I wanna give ya a hug!" says Tracy, rising and fulfilling her wish.

Max returns the hug warmly. Naomi smiles, letting her jaw drop. Tracy nods energetically over Max's shoulder. She likes him. Awesome. Naomi folds her hands together and sits at the table.

"Look at these cute cheekbones!" says Tracy, releasing Max to squeeze his cheeks. "It's like they were carved by Michaelangelo."

"She doesn't mean the Ninja Turtle, Max," moans Naomi. "Mom, please...sit...down."

Tracy takes a seat while Max retrieves a chair from an empty table.

"So what's up, home skillet?" asks Tracy.

She playfully punches Max on the shoulder.

"Your mom's really cool," says Max to a mortified Naomi.

"Don't encourage her," says Naomi. "She never met a piece of nineties slang she didn't like. Never mind that it's 2011."

"You don't say," kids Tracy.

"We're not related," claims Naomi, leaning against Max. "At all."


"And then I tried to sing to a quail and he hopped away," narrates Adrianna. "I didn't think I was that out of tune."

Liam snickers as they stroll along the boardwalk. Light breezes skip across his chin, temporarily lift Adrianna's skirt, clutch at Liam's terrycloth T-shirt. Street vendors selling snacks shout the specials of the day. Street musicians play their saxophones, keyboards, and drums. A kid chases his runaway kite while a trio of young girls are chattering and carrying fishing poles. Liam secretly scans their faces. Nah, he didn't want a girl that could fish better than him. He turns his attention back to Adrianna.

"You have a lot of stories for one summer," says Liam.

Surprisingly, he's enjoying about ninety-eight percent of them, except for the two about her dog Beyonce giving birth and the inflamed butt of the baboon she saw at a zoo.

"I was in Africa for awhile," shares Adrianna.

"What'd you do?" asks Liam.

"Hand out water, help build a shelter, taught orphans how to act extra innocent in case Angelina comes to their country to adopt," answers Adrianna.

"Huh," says Liam, stroking his chin.

"That last one was a joke," says Adrianna, elbowing him.

"I knew that," says Liam.

He didn't. Never mind. He has to focus on the task at hand. Between the two of them, they'd created a flier for Offshore Bar. It felt strange to have a girl in his bedroom. Chances are Annie would've been living with him there if she accepted his proposal so it wasn't totally unthinkable, but that didn't make it less unusual for Adrianna to be in there. He was chivalrous and let her sit in his chair, he offered her some mini-burgers, the typical stuff. Luckily she didn't need to use the bathroom. He hasn't cleaned it since...he hasn't cleaned it.

The fliers were in equal stacks, with Liam and Adrianna carrying a stack each. They'd taken Old Salty's wisdom and now they'd see how far it would get them.

"Does it matter if we misspelled Offshore?" asks Adrianna, staring at the yellow flier with a boat and a smiling surfboard with "Offsure" drawn on the paper.

"Nah," says Liam.

He wouldn't be surprised if there were more misspellings. They completed the flier in ten minutes max. Those red lines under the words tried to slow them down but they went right on trucking.

"We should've used a dictionary," says Adrianna.

"I don't have a dictionary," says Liam. "That's what the Internet's for. To look up stuff."

"They can make their own corrections," figures Adrianna.

"They sure can," says Liam.

"I looked up atonement last night," shares Adrianna. "Cause that's what my shrink says I'm in the process of doing. Then I accidentally ordered the film with the same name."

"Was it a pop-up?" says Liam.

"Yeah," says Adrianna, pouting.

"I hate that garbage," mutters Liam. "They're always trying to convince you to do something. Especially EHarmony with their happy couples."

"Oh my gosh, you're into musical duets?" says Adrianna.

"No, it's a stupid dating site or whatever," says Liam, then rushing quickly ahead.

Adrianna keeps up with him. "What happened to you and Annie?"

Rather than respond, Liam presents a flier, to a ten-year old boy who gives him the stink-eye.

"Come to Offshore Bar, further down the boardwalk," says Liam.

"I can't drink beer, you dumbo!" cries the boy. "Are you on crack?"

"The first step is admitting you have a problem," says Adrianna, clutching Liam's shoulder.

"You two are whackadoo!" exclaims the boy.

"Liam, don't give any kids bar fliers," whispers Adrianna.

"They can tell their parents," says Liam. "Or older brothers and sisters...or anybody that can read."

"Good plan," says Adrianna, clapping him on the back.

"I'm not telling anyone," says the boy. "Got me?"

"Tell your parents about Offshore!" yells Liam after him as the boy races off.

Unfortunately, he also leaves Liam to his thoughts. What went on with him and Annie? He could write a book, but the last good thing he's written was in Matthews' class. Long story short: He sailed away from commitment, offering Annie no answers about what he wanted to do with his life. He returned because he finally had clarity. Annie refused to marry him. Is it partly his fault? Maybe. He could've called her, at least once, but the ocean swallowed his original cellphone. No lie. Would she buy that excuse? It's hard to find a Sprint store in Alaska.

"When I wasn't acting cray cray around Silver and Navid, I saw you guys acting all honeymoonish in Mexico," poses Adrianna.

"Mexico was a lifetime ago," says Liam, hanging his shoulders.

"Sorry," says Adrianna. "What about...Miami? It has just as many vowels...and less monkeys."

Liam resists the urge to smile. The memories of Mexico were bittersweet for him and to make light of them did slightly ease the pain. He did sail off to Alaska to find out what life was like far from home, and Adrianna has apparently done the same and has come back as a better person. Maybe he can do that too. Now they're on a journey to make Offshore the coolest business on the beach.

They pass out half of their fliers until Adrianna halts at a rocking Carribean band. A man energetically plays his drum kit as another band member shakes his maracas to the beat. A third moves his fingers fast across a keyboard.

"Isn't this a great song?" asks Adrianna.

"It doesn't suck," offers Liam.

"Idea!" says Adrianna. "Musical advertisement! Kettledrums, maracas, energy. Who can say no to that?"

"Um, those drums don't look anything like kettles," says Liam, confused. "Wait, you're going to sing?"

Adrianna gestures to the microphone in front of the drums.

"You're going to sing," sighs Liam. "Alright...I'll let you try anything."

Tucking the rest of the fliers under her arms, Adrianna walks to the lead singer with the maracas, whispers a few words into his ear, and he surrenders the microphone. Liam glances at all the interested people stopping to see what's happening. The band restarts the song. Their lead singer hands Liam the maracas.

"I don't think...," begins Liam.

Adrianna cuts off his protests by singing:

When it feels like the world is on your shoulders,
And all of the madness has got you going crazy.
It's time to get out, step out into the street,
Where all of the action is right there at your feet,
Well, I know a place where we can dance all night away
Underneath electric stars.

Closing her mouth, she points to Liam. She catches him offguard and he yells the only word running through his brain.

"Offshore!" yells Liam.

Adrianna continues, simulatenously handing out fliers to amused, prospective patrons as she keeps in time with the kettledrums and poppy melody.

Just come with me and we can shake your blues right away,
You'll be doing fine when the music starts, oh

To the beat of the rhythm of the night, dance until the morning light.
Forget about the worries on your mind, you can leave them all behind.
To the beat of the rhythm of the night,
Oh, the rhythm of the night, oh yeah.

"Offshore!" yells Liam again.

The lead singer starts to dance with Adrianna, twirling her and spinning her around with his arms. The apron twirls with her. The residents of the boardwalk bob their heads and weave their bodies, swept away by the fun party anthem. Liam beams. It's like a block party without the block. This is drumming up business and there's even drums.

"Look out on the street now, the party's just beginning," sings Adrianna, drawing Liam to the center of the band. "The music's playing, a celebration's starting...maracas, Liam, maracas!"

Liam nervously shakes one maraca and then the other. A couple teenage girls stretch their hands out for fliers. Adrianna delivers them speedily.

"Under the street lights the scene is being set," continues Adrianna. "A night for romance, a night you won't forget..."

The girls squeals as Liam shakes his maracas once more.

"So join the fun, this ain't no time to being staying home," says Adrianna, motioning for other people to come forward for fliers. "Oooh, there's too much going on."

In a flash, the rest of the fliers are claimed. Liam raises his hands, forgetting they're full. He barely catches the maraca before it almost bounces on his skull.

"Everybody!" cheers Adrianna.

They catch on, singing along:

To the beat of the rhythm of the night, dance until the morning light.
Forget about the worries on your mind, you can leave them all behind.
To the beat of the rhythm of the night, dance until the morning light.
Forget about the worries on your mind.

Pretty soon, the whole crowd is clapping to the music. Liam claps too, still offbeat, but he's trying. He finally gets it right...as the song ends. The beachgoers applaud Adrianna's rendition as she raises the microphone to her mouth.

"Who's coming to to Offshore tonight?" asks Adrianna.

A chorus of shouts and woots echo back to her and echo in Liam's ears. Yes. He can practically hear the coins clinking in the cash register, which he has less time to figure out how to use after this. Business is booming. The crowd departs and to Liam's relief, nobody's throwing them in the trash. Adrianna shuffles over to him.

"Music brings everybody together," proclaims Adrianna. "Except if you're Danity Kane. That? Was a heartbreaker."

"I have no idea who that is, but thanks to you, we're getting customers tonight," says Liam. "Thank you."

"No thanks necessary," says Adrianna. "Just practice your maracas next time."

"What's in them? Beans?" says Liam, evaluating the round objects.

"Let's go ask," suggests Adrianna.

They approach the lead singer, who gives Adrianna a complimentary smile.

"Can you take apart your maracas so we can see what's inside?" questions Adrianna innocently.

"No, I won't take apart my maracas!" cries the lead singer. "Just...wow...you know, just...wow."

"We'll go," says Liam.

Liam and Adrianna move down the pier, Adrianna staring ahead dumbfounded.

"Why was he so mad?" says Adrianna.

"Well, you forgot to say please," replies Liam, patting her shoulder.

"Oh," says Adrianna. "I did forget."


The key was in his pocket before he knew it. He merely walked into the study, tip-toed past a slumbering Copernicus, and slipped out into the night. He's eighteen yet there is that nagging feeling that he's out of bounds, breaking the rules. Well, he's done it before for Naomi and he's not afraid to do it again. This time, however, Naomi would love his actions. Rewriting her paper vs. a romantic surprise. You do the math, thinks Max, pulling up to Naomi's mansion.

Naomi's two unmarried housemates, Silver and Annie Wilson, are in the yard with a tripod camera focused on Annie. Silver has on a faded red beret while Annie swings her arms absent-mindedly.

"Aaaaaaaand action!" says Silver, her eye against the lens.

"Hi, my name is Annie," says Annie with a bright smile. "I like off-Broadway productions, movie-theater style buttered popcorn, True Blood, Chow Chows, guys that don't snore or slurp spaghetti or sail off to discover themselves without telling their girlfriends why they..."

"Hey hey hey!" interrupts Silver. "I thought this was an escort tape, not a personal journal."

"I can't use my journal!" cries Annie.

"Why not?" says Silver.

"I'm out of paper," admits Annie shyly. "Oh, cool it. We've got company!"

Max gets out of his car reluctantly, waving to them and trying not to appear too puzzled. Awkward.

"An escort business?" says Max.

"Yeaaaaaah, Silver," says Annie, throwing haphazard peeks at Max. "I thought you were in a committed relationship! Why are you trying to be an escort?"

"Ummm, beats me?" says a flummoxed Silver.

"Well, I won't be your guinea pig anymore!" exclaims Annie. "Peace out, S-dawg."

Her head held high, Annie scurries inside the mansion before Silver can reply.

"That girl's been listening to Dixon's music for too long," mumbles Silver, then to Max. "Naomi will be down in a second."

"Or less," provides Naomi, coming out of the front door.

Dressed in a dark gold wrap dress, Naomi's skin tone and honeyed, natural highlights are radiant in the draped outfit. Her hair is down and designer sandals complete the ensemble. Max didn't spend much time going through his wardrobe for tonight. He chose a long-sleeved blue shirt and black jeans, since they would be mostly on the floor tonight, in G-rated positions, presumably. He hopes Naomi isn't disappointed. It's the most creative date he could think of with his limited funds.

"You look amazing," compliments Max.

She moves her purse so they can kiss, the strap poking Max's side.

"I had a banana facial," informs Naomi after their lip lock.

"Which is just bananas," adds Silver, smirking.

"Um, who's making the escort video to flirt with old men?" throws back Naomi.

"What did Annie tell you?" groans Silver. "Annie!"

Silver leaves them, clutching her camera tripod under her arm. Max ushers Naomi into his car and they speed away towards the surprise location. Max has gone to the place for years, sometimes willingly and sometimes not. His enjoyment depended on what kind of mood his family members were in, including his father. His father had the most to say about the subject anyhow.

Naomi leans forward in anticipation. She's so beautiful under the random bouts of light that come from traffic lights and street lamps as they cruise ahead. Everyone knew that but he was part of a privileged few who cracked away at the exterior and saw the shiny interior glow up close repeatedly. Maybe he's thinking too much about light though it makes sense on this night in particular.

"I went online to check on the competition...the yearbook photos of Homecoming?" says Naomi. "I swear the freshmen that got on the Court were clones. Blonde, five-foot seven at the very least, good bodies..."

"And that's a problem for you because?" says Max, surveying her up and down.

"They're in all these clubs," says Naomi weakly. "Academic honor societies with pins, social awareness, and one girl was even on the chess team."

"CU has a chess team?" says an impressed Max.

"Max, focus!" sighs Naomi.

"I'm listening," assures Max.

"What do I have to show when it comes to that?" says Naomi.

"Show them yourself," replies Max. "They saw your application and loved who you were enough to accept you. Just be Naomi Clark and they'll vote you for by the thousands. I mean, if you were running for the court of the like the universe's homecoming, I'm sure you'd get an infinite amount. We're talking pi terrority."

"I can't bake," says Naomi.

"No, I mean, pi as in the mathematical constant," explains Max. "No finite sequence of algebraic operations on integers can render its value. You are invaluable, Naomi. Beyond estimation."

"Hmmm," says Naomi, bunching up her shoulders. "I'm like a permanent Gold Card."

They laugh, Max making the last light. He pulls into a space in the shadowy parking lot. There are no other cars, except the security guard's, around like he expected. Turner is nice, reliable, much like himself. Max guesses that he'll instantly warm to Naomi. Naomi stares out of the windshield.

"Trippy building," says Naomi.

"Wait 'til you see the inside," says Max. "Come on."

Max recovers a checkered blanket and a basket from the backseat as Naomi considers the building on her own. She spots the items.

"Awww, are we having a picnic?" says Naomi. "For the record, I don't do ants so I might be kind of jumpy."

"There won't be any ants," says Max. "I know you don't like them."

Walking arm in arm, they reach the entrance of the round building, resembling a crystal ball from the outside, and visible from the highway Micah Miller travels on every weekday. They will have at most an hour. Saturdays are slow but Turner ran on schedule. Max recognizes him, eating a packet of Lemonheads two at a time. He was like Kareem Abdul Jabbar with a candy addiction.

"Hey, Turner!" greets Max.

"Hi Max," says Turner. "I'd offer you some candy, though it looks like you've already got something sweet on your hands."

"I like him," asserts Naomi.

"We're going in," says Max. "A favor from my dad."

"Don't be too long now," says Turner. "Closing time is closing time."

"You have my word," says Max.

Turner leads them into the main room, parting the double doors with flourish. Max expertly leads her past the rows of soft chairs to the large circular space in the middle. He seperates from Naomi to spread out the blanket, setting the basket on the cloth once it's in place.

"Stand here," says Max, guiding her to the right.

Max leaves her to fire up the projector, the celing above mirroring the sky at the touch of a button. Comets shoot across the heavens, full of stars whose reflections float on the floor. Planets revolve prettily, Saturn and Mars the most vibrant in their strong orange and red shades. Naomi's eyes scan the galaxy and she puts her hands to her chest. Max grins. That was his initial impression of the Planetarium as well. It literally left you breathless for those first few moments.

"Max," breathes Naomi finally.

"I came here for field trips, family outings, casual Fridays," shares Max, using the controller to shift to a showing of the moons. "I have my dad's show down pat."

"These stars are almost better than Neil Lane diamonds," praises Naomi.

"I thought we could have one dinner that's free of stress," says Max, nodding to the basket.

"You're the best," sighs Naomi. "Come sit with me."

"Don't have to ask twice," says Max.

He goes to the blanket, Naomi setting her head near the top. Max joins her at ground level. A supernova pulses above them.

"Talk brainy sexy to me," says Naomi, rolling over to hug him from the side.

"Those three stars there?" says Max. "Orion's belt. One of the stars, Alnilam, is brighter than the sun. And that constellation? Andromeda. It's named after a princess who was almost eaten by a sea monster."

"I bet if Andromeda takes off Orion's belt, she'll see another monster," teases Naomi.

"Making the beautiful things of the night naughty," assesses Max. "That is definitely something that wouldn't make my dad's show."

"Neither is this," says Naomi.

She situates herself on top of him, Max running his hands through her hair. Max can barely breathe as their mouths fuse together. They roll on the blanket, toppling the basket, which is only filled with Welch's sparkling cider, club sandwiches, and grapes anyway. He could care less. Naomi's legs tangle with his as she runs her fingers under his shirt. He does his best not to pull at her designer dress, instead sighing her name as she brushes her lips on his neck.

"Nobody's coming in, right?" says Naomi, pausing to gasp.

"I seriously doubt it," replies Max, gently pulling her to him again.

They kiss fervently, the edges of Max's eyes taking in the gold of her dress, until it burns so bright that he has to blink. Is that her dress? Max manages to lift his head, spying a pair of legs and a fist, a fist with a watch he's seen countless times. He stops what will be the last kiss from Naomi. They sluggishly turn their heads.

"Everything alright, sir?" says Turner, frowning, his hat in his hands.

"Just fine," says Micah Miller, checking his watch.

Naomi's body stiffens. She wipes her mouth as if to cleanse herself, as if she's wiping off her embarrassment. Max sighs. He shouldn't have done this. He shouldn't have done this deceitful thing, involving her, despite good intentions. He was just so mad at his father and so anxious to pull something wonderful off for her without a hitch. Here's a hitch.

"You're lucky I'm not taking you in for trespassing," says Micah. "I assume you were the thief of my key. Well, that's now besides the point. We're closing early."

"I'm...I'm really sorry, Mr. Miller," says Naomi, standing and arranging her clothes.

"Dad, she had no idea," says Max quickly.

"I believe she had no idea," says Micah. "And you had every idea. We'll talk when you come home...soon."

Micah fails to register them anymore, turning his heel to exit the Planetarium. Naomi puts a firm hand on Max's back, stroking it. He raises his eyes. The heavens keep going, in perfectly synchronized motion. The moon grows more luminiscent, and then a spacecraft breaks through the heavens and lands on the rocky lunar surface decidely without so much as shaking.