VI. The Way You Love Me

I'd wish you could see the way you kiss
Ooh, I love watching you
When you're driving me crazy

Ooh, I love the way you
Love the way you love me
There's nowhere else I'd rather be
Ooh, to feel the way I feel with your arms around me
I only wish that you could see the way you love me
The way you love

It's not right
It's not fair
What you're missing over there
Someday I'll find a way to show you
Just how lucky I am to know you

Ooh, I love the way you
Love the way you love me
There's nowhere else I'd rather be
Ooh, to feel the way I feel with your arms around me
I only wish that you could see the way you love me
The way you love me

You're the million reasons why
There's love reflecting in my eyes

Ooh, I love the way you
Love the way you love me
There's nowhere else I'd rather be
Ooh, to feel the way I feel with your arms around me
I only wish that you could see the way you love me
The way you love me
The way you love me

Ooh, the way you love me
The way you love me

The Way You Love Me is the property of Faith Hill.

Stuck is the property of Stacie Orrico.

Right or left, left or right. There has to be a right right or a right left or some position that makes her look as if she's slept soundly, instead of gazing at the ceiling like it was going to cave in and ruin her Narciso Rodriguez-scented sheets. Naomi finally lays her head down, thrusts an arm towards the headboard, and crosses her legs at an uncomplicated angle as Max stirs in the space beside her. She's surprised he doesn't stir more when her alarm starts to play a bouncy song as soon as the time shifts to nine o' clock.

So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?

Sending a pillow flying at the off switch, Naomi kills the opportunity for They Might Be Giants to further explain geography.

"Stupid Biff and Buffy's Sunshine Hour radio show," mutters Naomi, though Naomi couldn't deny a soft spot for their TMZ-worthy Hollywood gossip.

"That's nobody's business but the Turks," mumbles Max while rolling over and going right back to sleep.

Well, if that didn't wake him up, nothing else would. Naomi climbs out of bed to throw a pearl-colored robe around her body. This is definitely one of those days when she appreciated the skills of her live-in chef. Francois cooked the best food Naomi's ever had no matter the time or dish. Even Annie and Silver, the more independent-minded ladies of their crew, were suckers for his first-class oatmeal. Raj and Ivy usually went out due to his specialized diet but the rest of them took full advantage of his services until two o'clock. Luckily for Max, he was working this morning.

Naomi starts towards the kitchen, pauses when she hears a round of squeals. That pig. She walks into the dining room. Faulkner has his snout in scrambled eggs, grits, and various mashed vegetables. Naomi is close to gagging.

"Hey," says Annie, then taking a sip of coffee.

"Please tell me that a barn animal is not eating at the dining table!" cries Naomi.

"I...can't," admits Annie. "Where else is he going to eat?"

"I don't know!" says Naomi. "Put him...put him in the breakfast nook!"

"We have a breakfast nook?" says Silver, peeling an orange.

"We have a breakfast nook," confirms Naomi. "And we have to write some rules or he'll have free reign of the house."

Austin, shirtless, enters with a cowboy hat atop his head. Why isn't he gone?

"Did you sleep here?" asks Naomi.

"On the couch," answers Austin. "Midwestern hospitality after I lost the keys to my apartment."

Annie grins and hunches her shoulders. Naomi would rather have the pig crash honestly.

"Animals should have free reign everywhere," says Austin. "That's what's natural to them."

"Like it's natural for you to be shirtless, apparently," says Silver, smiling behind her orange.

"Okay, I'm not sure what they do in Kansas, Annie, but here, he's not to bother any of my stuff, my food, my staff, or my furniture," says Naomi. "This mansion will not literally be a pigsty."

Faulkner belches and sends a celery stick flying to Naomi's nose.

"Ugh!" cries Naomi.

"He doesn't like boundaries," notes Austin.

"I guess...that explains this," says Annie, lifting a mangled strip of white clothing.

Wait a minute. No, it can't be, because it just cannot be. Naomi's jaw nearly hits the ground.

"That was Max's favorite bra!" exclaims Naomi. "Did Wilbur's bad seed cousin come into my room last night?"

Annie, Austin, and Silver remain silent. Faulkner nods, whether he understands the question or not. This boar is a total bane, for sure. Naomi saunters right to Faulkner.

"You know, when I saw Charlotte's Web, I felt bad for your peeps," says Naomi, mouth next to his snout. "But that's no longer the case, bucko. So shape up or ship out."

With the speed of lightning, Faulkner grabs the belt of Naomi's robe and pulls it open. Annie instinctively covers Austin's eyes. Silver begins to chuckle.

"Horny nuisance of a hog!" remarks Naomi, fixing her robe. "Francois!"

The kitchen smells appealing despite Naomi's appetite being low. Wearing a white chef's hat, Francois dices carrots. Fresh fruit is stacked in large white bowls. A stack of pancakes piled high sits next to the sink. The reliable "grab and go" plates were located in the little-used breakfast nook.

"I have a guest," explains Naomi. "We'll be eating in my bedroom."

"Owl Boy?" asks Francois.

"Don't call him owl boy," says Naomi, grinning a bit. "I mean, that's not a terrible nickname..."

"Yes, Ms. Clark," interjects Francois. "I just thought the owl story was very sweet. But I'll make an omelet for Owl Boy...I mean, your guest."

"Max," provides Naomi.

"Mr. Max," corrects Francois. "Oh, and you have a message."

Handing Naomi a small slip of white paper, Francois returns to mixing ingredients in his scrambled eggs. Naomi reads the name, bringing it closer and closer until she can't deny that the name is undoubtedly clear.

"Are you sure this isn't for Max?" asks Naomi.

"No, they asked for you," replies Francois over his shoulder.

Strange. What should she make of this? What kind of conversation could they have if left alone together? Because the dialogue was so sparkling before, kids Naomi inwardly. Maybe she should run this by Max. Or it might squash his appetite, and then neither of them would have the most important meal of the day. Faulkner would probably eat both of their breakfasts anyway.

"I want Orson of Garfield and Friends gone by the time I get back!" announces Naomi, walking past the breakfast posse.

Faulkner lets out an aggravated oink.

"He ain't going anywhere," mutters Austin.

"Charlotte's Web kinda scarred me for life," admits Silver. "I never stepped on a spider again."

Naomi returns to her room to find Max buttoning a flannel shirt over his lithe frame. He appears well-rested, leaning on the bed to put on his socks.

"When did you wake up?" asks Naomi.

"Istanbullll!" sings Max playfully.

"Awww, I should've turned my alarm off," groans Naomi. "I was hoping you'd have a nice deep sleep."

"I did," reassures Max. "Only that put a much-needed pep in my step at the end of it. I can't sleep forever, Naomi."

"What if I nestled right next to you?" says Naomi, sitting next to him.

Sighing, Max lies down on the bed, drawing Naomi down with him. Naomi yelps in mock protest. Now they're both looking at the ceiling.

"This could totally be a forever thing," says Max.

"Reminds me of the planetarium," says Naomi. "Before all this junk happened."

"Yeah, that's what my dad coughs out," moans Max. "Junk."

Naomi glances at Max's profile. Worry lines near the edges of his eyes, pursed lips, firm expression. She glances at the slip of paper, quietly tucked between her fingers.

"We could come to a stalemate," says Naomi. "If two parties are willing."

"He's not willing, m' lady," says Max good-naturedly, then sad. "He's arrogant. I'm not going to let him talk to you like that. About us like that."

"Don't they say things look brighter in the morning, though?" offers Naomi.

"Micah Miller doesn't change overnight," replies Max. "He bought this Erector set when I was little. I was so excited to have it but he wouldn't let me play with it because one piece was missing. Never mind childhood joy for the toy itself or making the most of the situation. No, if all the pieces weren't in place, don't put in the effort. To this day, I've never finished an Erector set. Too many bad memories attached."

"I feel bad you didn't get to finish," whispers Naomi.

"Let's not make him let us feel bad anymore," sighs Max. "Let's get up and eat."

They stand, Naomi hiding the paper in a robe pocket. That shot her theory that a phone call might help. Unless...

"I have somewhere to go," says Naomi. "Afterwards, we can have breakfast. Francois is already cooking up a storm."

"How about I cook you breakfast?" suggests Max. "Then I won't be classified as a mooch."

"Max, you're no mooch," argues Naomi.

"Chalk it up to a favor," says Max with a shrug. "Here. Fill this out and I'll get started."

While Max fetches a nearby notebook of hers, Naomi considers her options concerning the torn away sheet Francois gave her. If she does what she's thinking of doing, Max might be hurt, but he also might get more hurt if things stayed the way they were and failed to improve by the time he held that CalTech diploma in his hands.

Breaking out of her thoughts, Naomi reads the words Max wrote in the notebook.

"Max's menu," says Naomi. "Mmmm. I'll take brown eyes for an appetizer, brunette hair on the side, and everything in front of me for the main course."

"Flattered, but how about something edible?" mentions Max.

She finally writes a special that includes pancakes with maple syrup, a small fruit salad, bacon, and a hard-boiled egg. Perhaps if Faulkner saw the bacon, he'd know not to mess with her in the future.

"Wish me luck," says Max. "You'll be back when?"

"Soon," replies Naomi. "You should survive, unless all the appliances come to life ala Beauty in the Beast and you get choked by a blender chord."

"What a way to go," says Max. "Well, at least I'll go down doing something for someone I love."

Me too, adds Naomi inwardly, kissing Max until he leaves and is removed from her sight.


She made the softest mountain imaginable, the top white and peaked, the structure eye-catching, the height impressive considering the materials. Marooned. The only person near her mountain in the storeroom closet. Adrianna felt alone, which she thought she'd gotten used to over the summer. It's not like texts would magically appear on her cell or invites would suddenly appear in her inbox.

But she thought things were different, first with Liam and then with Naomi. They at least didn't run for the door when she said more than three words. Now Liam's sent her running in another direction. He can't possibly think anything can happen. Alright, something did happen thanks to a stupid bubble of jealousy that momentarily floated to her angry brain. Although, really? Brianna wasn't half as interesting as she is...

"Hey, Ade!" calls Liam, swinging the storeroom door open.

Adrianna, startled, sends an accidental fist through her mountain of napkins.

"Yo," greets Adrianna with a salute.

No she did not just salute him. What the? Liam beams. She'd label him a freakin' cad if she knew for sure what cad meant.

"What are you doing in here?" asks Liam.

"Counting napkins," replies Adrianna as she picks up a few from the floor.

"Looks more like you were punching them," says Liam.

"Cause I'm blinkin' mad," proclaims Adrianna. "My pedicure's wearing off, I'm missing Once Upon A Time, and Justin and Selena broke up...again."

"But you're not upset you tongued me two hours ago?" teases Liam, crossing his arms.

"Shut your fine face up!" throws back Adrianna.

"And you were worried I'd be all over you," continues Liam smugly. "Turns out it was the other way around. I do believe we have what the experts call 'sexual tension'."

"It was one kiss," says Adrianna, holding a finger in front of his nose. "One mistake."

"Okay, while you try to convince yourself that that's true, I have customers to serve," waves off Liam. "And you have ten minutes left on your break."

Liam goes through the door, leaving Adrianna in a lonely forest of bar supplies. What is this guy's problem? If she went on a single date with Liam, Annie would hate her for infinity. Dixon would be insulted. She'd have to prepare for a hate-from-Silver sequel. Nope. Nobody would like her, not even Navid, and he's the last person she wants to disappoint.

Besides being handsome, what was there to Liam? Well, he was kind, and a bit non-judgemental, and a bit mysterious, and a bit supportive. She's not sure any other boss would welcome her with open arms. Plus he basically let her do whatever around the bar, including misuing his napkins.

The door parts again. Adrianna stares at Liam in the doorway.

"Yo," says Liam with a salute.

"Stop making fun of me and wasting my minutes!" says Adrianna.

"Ha!" laughs Liam, stumbling out.

Adrianna grins, putting both hands over her mouth. She won't flirt or almost flirt. Unlike Brianna, she won't give into Liam's advances and will strive to be professional. And hello, if she doesn't leave this closet, she can't watch Charming and Snow's reunion make out On Demand. Now that's a kiss that should've happened.

Coming into the bar, Adrianna retrieves her notepad, tray, and apron. Liam is pouring beer for two surfers. He's a good distance away which works for her. Adrianna sticks a pencil into her high pony. She learned that move from the movies and she thought it made her head look less pointy as a bonus. Two beach-ready couples sit at the first of her tables.

"Good evening!" greets Adrianna. "My name is..."

"Adrianna!" yells a familiar voice, a voice she's entirely not anticipating at this moment or any other.

She nearly drops her notepad.

"Um...hi...hi, Navid," stammers Adrianna.

Navid stands tall in front of her, edging towards the bar where Liam's filling a glass under the tap. Adrianna, confused, goes to block him.

"What's this about you and Liam going out?" exclaims Navid.

"Huh?" blanks Adrianna.

"Dixon told me you went on a date with him last night," says Navid. "For real, Ade? With that guy? Honestly?"

"I hung out with both of them," answers Adrianna, shrugging.

"Player, player," compliments a man at Adrianna's table, tipping his hat towards her.

"I did leave with Liam, Navid," offers Adrianna. "That's it."

"Was it all platonic?" says Navid, narrowing his eyes at Liam.

"What does that mean?" questions Adrianna.

"Hey!" calls Navid, going past her. "Liam!"

Liam stops filling mugs and waves hello. Please don't let this get any worse. Adrianna tosses her notepad onto the table. The two boys' shouting match held the customers' attention more than their menus.

"A party ain't a party without my man Navid Shirazi!" says Liam, going up for a high-five.

"Can the lame sayings and look me in the eye!" exclaims Navid. "Are you trying to hook up with my ex?"

Eyebrows shooting to his forehead, Liam pulls at his shirt. Adrianna slaps her own forehead. Dixon was obviously mad that she ditched him and told Navid. She didn't mean to hurt anybody, least of all a sweet guy like Dixon, or Navid who did so much for her, or Liam who she kinda might be feeling. Ugh. Boys suck.

"None of your business," says Liam, glaring at Navid.

"Excuse you?" says Navid.

"Excuse you right back," says Liam. "I do what I want."

"You selfish, condescending, less-muscles-than-Popeye sailor scumbag!" says Navid, then taking a deep breath.

"You can't even benchpress, man!" snaps Liam.

"Your bar sucks!" retorts Navid.

"Your iguana," says Liam calmly.

"Leave Bernstein out of this!" yells Navid. "Have you ever heard of the bro code?"

"We aren't brothers," says Liam. "Unless my dad knocked somebody else up. Did he?"

"The bro code means that you don't date your friend's ex," says Navid. "And I only have one hardcore ex so it shouldn't be that hard, himbo."

"You're pathetic," says a surfer, toasting to Navid.

"And you're with Silver," points out Liam. "So back off. Right, Adrianna?"

Adrianna could swear there's more sand in her mouth than on the beach. She can barely breathe, let alone talk. Why on earth is Navid so invested in her next relationship? Does he still care about her? She's the reason he's here, after all. Why is Liam being this aggressive? Does he just not care about how their friends feel?

"Ahh!" cries Adrianna, tossing her pony pencil, which winds up in a surfer's empty mug.

"Cool!" says the surfer. "Free pencil!"

"I'm sick of causing all this controversy!" cries Adrianna. "I just want to chillax, sing, and avoid bunions on my waitress adventures!"

She storms out of the Offshore, glad the ocean breeze is hitting her reddened face. Any quiet scene is paradise after that confrontation. It's not as comforting as the night when she and Liam were cleaning up under the stars but at least she can breathe. Adrianna puts her hands on her hips, almost jumps out of her skin when a finger touches her elbow. Is Liam hoping for a replay of that night too?

"Ade," says Navid, leaning towards her. "I'm sorry. When Dixon told me you were moving on, I...went mental."

His touch still sends chills everywhere, electric pulses faster than her own pulse.

"I can't see you with anybody else," continues Navid. "Especially not him."

"Why not?" asks Adrianna softly. "You're with Silver so why not?"

"For the same reason you couldn't see me with Silver," replies Navid.

"We're different people than we were then, Navid," says Adrianna.

"Are we?" whispers Navid, slinking out her hairtie and letting her hair hang free.

"Navid," sighs Adrianna. "I kept wishing that you'd say that for months..."

"Liam doesn't deserve you," interrupts Navid. "He's the kind of guy Walt Disney based the Tramp dog after. He thinks a political party is when Obama has a birthday. He threw an acorn at a squirrel that tried to sniff Annie. Guy's a grade-A manslut."

Adrianna shakes her head. This isn't about them. This is about a competition. That's why he is slamming Liam so intensely. Rather than waste her months, like she wasted those napkins, she should've apologized to Navid and focused on herself. Well, this job was the first choice and she's making many more. But as much as she hates Navid's competitive nature, she was jealous herself earlier today and she can't throw stones.

"Look, Navid, this isn't you," says Adrianna. "You're the sweetest guy I've ever dated and despite what you say, you care about Liam...and Silver."

She says the last name secretly as if she can will the reality away. He hasn't split with Silver and that's a fact.

"Whatever," says Navid, eyes to the sand. "I don't like this. Please don't date him, Ade. Please."

Adrianna pats his chest fondly. "No promises."

Navid stays frozen on the beach. She wagers it's somebody else's turn to be lonely. The customers have already found new sources of entertainment by the time she reaches the bar. Their lives must be as enthralling as hers on a dramatic day. Liam's seated at the bar, revolving the mug...with a free pencil.

"I shouldn't have insulted his iguana," sighs Liam.

"Bernstein will forgive you," consoles Adrianna. "So will Navid. They're smart like that."

"Did he really compare me to Popeye?" says Liam.

"Yep, he did," says Adrianna. "What are you going to do about it? Eat spinach?"

They trade glances, and begin to laugh.

"I've totally embarrassed myself twice in front of my customers," says Liam, sliding away the mug.

"Me too," says Adrianna.

"That's why he said this bar sucks," kids Liam.

"Of course," says Adrianna. "And because...I sucked your face."

Liam smiles, which Adrianna will take any day over a smirk.

"We don't suck, though," affirms Liam.

Adrianna hops on the stool nearest his, and places a kiss firmly on his cheek. Liam's skin is as crimson as hers.

"Nope," agrees Adrianna. "Never."


Brunch is full on. Chatty diners enter the too familiar restaurant as Naomi finds a parking space in the front. Toddlers hold their mother's hands. Nobody's here to hold her hand, including Max. Retirees, young families of four, genial businessmen, and rush-and-go singles rush into the establishment for a total meal or a quick cup of coffee. There's so many people milling around that Naomi tries to recall if it's a holiday weekend or not.

Nope. The air's simply new today, fresh. But the pressure is on for her, not them. She was taking a leap of faith meeting a man that detested her. Only encountering Guru Sona and Cannon were worse. Cannon was definitely the most horrifying. You'd figure Micah Miller would be a piece of cake after that. However, a lot of Micah's accusations contained pieces of what Naomi considered to be the truth. Try as she might, she's been unable to reach above a 3.0 on a report card. She has vague ideas about what she'd like to do after CU though nothing finite. Homecoming isn't too scholarly and is based on popularity. And yes, her relationship with Max altered a couple of his son's life decisions.

But Naomi would defend herself by saying that she was doing her best to show that those decisions weren't in vain. Max's GPA hadn't suffered. He got to be close to his family by sticking around. She tried to make the stressful patches of Max's life more light-hearted. Doesn't that count, because it's the truth too?

While the Country English restaurant remains large in her eyes, Naomi almost feels as if the walls are close to boxing her in when she's greeted by the waiter.

"Naomi Clark," says Naomi. "I'm here to meet Mr. Micah Miller."

"This way, please," says an auburn waitress who had to be around Naomi's age.

She escorts Naomi past the same slew of tables. Naomi's not taken to a private room this time, though. They halt at a table near a window. Micah sits there, wearing a tweed suit and black tie, leisurely perusing a newspaper. Naomi wore a gold, chiffon top and a black pencil skirt. It was sort of dressy but not so dressy that it would arouse any suspicion from Max.

"Naomi," regards Micah, closing the newspaper.

Naomi guesses she doesn't warrant a scenario where he stands up for her or delivers a courteous handshake.

"Good morning, Mr. Miller," says Naomi.

"Please be seated," says Micah.

Naomi sits across from him. He stares at her briefly, clears his throat.

"I was shocked that you called...," begins Naomi.

The waitress interrupts, pouring two glasses of pink lemonade from a pitcher.

"Ordered for you," says Micah. "I hope you don't mind."

"Lemonade's...lemonade's fine," replies Naomi nervously.

"Max likes it too," says Micah in a gentler tone that settles Naomi's stomach.

"Mmmm," says Naomi after tasting it. "No pulp and extra delicious."

"So in our last conversation...," starts Micah.

Here it comes. She was anticipating an apology, maybe only because Max walked out, but it would mean the world all the same. What comes post-apology is what she was anxious about.

"You asked me to give you a chance," continues Micah. "This is your chance. Let's talk, shall we?"

"About?" blanks Naomi.

"About how you're going to stop standing in my son's way," says Micah.

Okay, the worst apology ever? Naomi takes a longer sip. Suddenly, the liquid tastes tart, thick, and terrible. Naomi dots her lips with a napkin. Her eyes fall to her lap.

"I'm...I'm not breaking up with him," says Naomi, glancing at him occasionally.

"I wasn't going to ask that," insists Micah. "Cause he obviously won't. But you can be helpful for once and convince him to go to the golf invitational."

"Well, I don't know if...," says Naomi.

"You have some mystifying power over him," interjects Micah. "To the point where he would switch his future for you. That is not healthy. What's healthy is having options. Wouldn't you agree?"

"I mean, yeah, maybe," answers Naomi.

"You killed the dream my wife and I had for him," says Micah, folding his fingers together. "You owe us and you definitely owe him."

Naomi rocks in her seat, heat rising to every pore that covers her skin. Killed? She didn't hold a gun to Max's head or a knife to his heart. But from a parent's point of view, was that how it felt? She's not a parent so she can't say.

"What about Max's dream?" whispers Naomi, barely audible.

"That dream being you?" says Micah with a frown.

"No, Max's individual dream," says Naomi. "I'd...I'd be like an accessory to his dream. Supporting him. I don't care where he goes as long as he's happy."

"Precisely the problem," says Micah. "You don't care where he goes. Some of us do. If he never met you, where would he be?"

She lets her head fall again. Tears fall to her chiffon top, trickle along the folds.

"M.I.T.," admits Naomi softly.

"Not Berkeley, not Stanford, not UCLA," says Micah. "M.I.T. And where are we, Naomi? Hmmm. My son is in California and has disowned his family. We would've been closer if he'd gone to M.I.T. It doesn't take a knowledge of physics to know you set the CalTech ball in motion."

"I wasn't aware he disowned you guys," insists Naomi. "I thought you had a fight with him and..."

"He doesn't want to know me, Naomi," says Micah. "Now you know and can fix it. The invitational's at nine, lunch at one. I expect to see a caddy we both know on the green."

Slamming his newspaper on the white tablecloth, Micah walks away and out of the restaurant. He couldn't have slammed that thing any harder, thinks Naomi. Did she really separate Max from the rest of the Millers? Hurricane Naomi, destroying everything, picking Max out of the rubble and carrying him to her bedroom. She truly thought Micah was the culprit. Even Max seemed to think so. Then, why does she entertain another thought, burying her head into the sand whenever Max mentions his family?

Naomi glances at the many brunch diners eating and laughing together. Two twin boys play tug-of-war with a plate of blueberry mini-muffins. A man feeds his girlfriend strudel. One father aids his daughter in making the letter S out of her hash browns. Naomi didn't have a single family moment similar to those before or after her parents divorced. There was always silent anger or sadness permeating their moments. That can't happen, not to Max.

"Max!" cries Naomi suddenly. "Breakfast!"

She tosses a few dollars on the table, praying Micah paid for his own bill. The waitress appears pleased with the tip which indicates that all is well. Naomi jumps into her car and floors it out of there. When she's at the mansion, Max is alone in the kitchen. Francois has lent him a chef hat. He's carefully turning over pancakes.

"Francois has the fire department on speed dial," jokes Max.

"Look at my sexy cook," compliments Naomi, walking in to plant a small kiss. "Your apron's on wrong."

"Dang it," says Max, glancing at his waist. "I knew something was off. Where'd you go?"

The invitational's tomorrow. She has to tell him before tomorrow. Naomi runs her hands through her hair.

"Tell you later," says Naomi. "Let's eat."

"Okay," says Max, sending a pancake into the air. "If it's nothing to get flipped out about."


"Summer lovin' had me a blast, " sings Adrianna, refilling a salt shaker. "Summer lovin' happened so fast..."

Liam smiles at Adrianna's back as he tallies the total for the day. Ignoring the fact that they'd had a couple blow-ups in the past several hours, they did well when it came right down to it. Cash is spilling out.

"The register's burping money," says Liam proudly to himself.

Actually, he has a couple other reasons to be proud. The Brianna plan went off without a hitch and he believes he came out the winner in the Liam vs. Navid tussle. He is disappointed that Dixon squealed and Navid reeled, but he's not disappointed that Adrianna yielded to whatever is going on with them. That kiss? Worth the aggravation of wondering if she felt the same way. When he called Brianna in for the bogus interview, he wasn't a hundred percent certain Ade would react. She did run out of the room the previous night when he said he liked her and he anticipated "the Navid factor." Judging by the wilting glances she gave Navid, she isn't over him and that's basically what he was afraid of. He hasn't completely scrubbed out Annie from his system either. But that's not to say they should stay home Saturday nights.

Walking to change the Open sign to Closed, Liam almost runs into Adrianna. Their chests are inches from each other, as close as they were in the supplies closet.

"Ummm," says Liam.

Adrianna grips the pouch of salt, stares at his eyes.

"Can you...get the pepper from the closet?" asks Adrianna.

"Got ya," says Liam, moving without another word.

He hears Adrianna sigh behind him, and then the door open and shut. Liam turns around.

"Serve me," says the new customer.

Whoa, it's the boy they saw twice, the boy who seemed like he'd rather have his tooth pulled than visit the Offshore.

"Closing time," says Liam, folding his arms.

"Liam!" says Adrianna. "We have to serve a kid. We have to teach him good manners."

The kid sniffles and hocks a loogie on the bar floor. Liam clicks his tongue. Why does he have to be a good example this late? To a kid that bugs him?

"Thanks, lady," says the boy. "Didn't you show your boobs to America once? My brother has a stack of magazines."

"Shut up!" says Liam, advancing to the boy.

Adrianna manages to hook Liam's arm and lead him to the bar. The boy claims a center table. He wears an ill-fitting lime-green shirt and jean shorts. He probably stole that shirt, wagers Liam.

"He's a baby," says Adrianna. "Plus he comes off as lonely. Don't you want people to hear how friendly we are to kids?"

"Let's put some sugar in his hand and send him off," suggests Liam.

"Liam!" chastises Adrianna. "Go take his order."

Shrugging, Liam rolls his eyes and goes to the boy's table. He starts kicking the main leg of the table, whistling until Liam's at his side.

"For kids, we've got root beer floats, sundaes, and fruit drinks," lists Liam unenthusiastically.

"I'll take a float, freak," says the boy. "There better be a good ice cream to root beer ratio. And a cherry on top. Or else I'll kick you in the shins."

"I can take you," says Liam.

"Liam!" whispers Adrianna fiercely, gesturing for him to meet her.

"After Navid, that kid is really bugging me," admits Liam when he reaches Adrianna. "Can you take him off my hands?"

"We'll have a thumb war to decide," says Adrianna.

They link hands, fingers interlocked, thumbs moving and moving while gazing at each other. Liam loses focus while looking into her mysterious emerald eyes. Adrianna wins.

"Sorry," says Adrianna, then disappearing into the supply closet.

Liam returns. The boy is chuckling, tearing a straw wrapper. He shoots a wrapper piece at Liam with his straw.

"If you're going to terrorize me, at least tell me your name," says Liam.

"Byron," shares the boy.

"Okay, Byron," says Liam, faking a smile. "Why are you pestering me every chance you get?"

"Why are you so moody and gruff all the time?" asks Byron. "No wonder you haven't asked her out yet."

"Asked who?" says Liam.

"Her," says Byron. "The brunette with the photographable boobs."

"Stop talking about her like that!" cries Liam. " can I be sure she wants me to ask her out?"

"I saw you two through the door, genius," says Byron. "So many sparks I was close to releasing barf. You two act like you're ashamed to tongue."

"'s complicated," says Liam.

"I'll ask her out then," affirms Byron.

"To do what?" counters Liam. "Double dutch? Ride a pony? Color?"

"I haven't colored in years," says Byron. "When did you color last?"

Liam presses his lips firmly together. He colored in a banner for Marla's party, but that was like a year ago.

"That's what I thought," says Byron.

"Where would you take Adrianna?" throws back Liam.

"I'd take that girl out to a dinner and a movie," continues Byron. "Classic. Now go ask her out, chump, and bring me my float."

He can't believe this kid...has so much courage. At first, he was annoying. He's still annoying, but he is making sense. Besides a teasing barb, he hasn't officially asked Adrianna out yet. She provided the first kiss so the least he can do is ask for the first date. A dutiful Adrianna meets Liam near the closet.

"How's it going?" asks Adrianna.

"Speaking of going...," begins Liam.

Adrianna tightens her face in confusion, when her phone starts to buzz. Dumb technology ruining his confidence. Adrianna answers.

"Navid?" she says after a weighty silence.

Scooting past her, Liam shakes his head and shuts on the stereo system. Is Navid spying on them? Cause he couldn't have planned that any more perfectly.

I can't get out of bed today
Or get you off my mind
I just can't seem to find a way
To leave the love behind

Adrianna indicates that she'd like the volume turned down. Nope. Liam's sure he is being immature but the other dude's not noble either.

Every now and then
When I'm all alone
I be wishing you would call me on the telephone
Say you want me back
But you never do
I feel like such a fool
There's nothing I can do.
I'm such a fool
For you

A pen hits Liam's knee. Liam picks up her pen and pretends to ignore Adrianna's very annoyed glare. Navid probably waited until closing time to call her, when he could have first crack at her.

I can't take it
What am I waiting for?
My heart's still breaking
I miss you even more
And I can't fake it
The way I could before
I hate you but I love you
I can't stop thinking of you

It's true
I'm stuck on you

Adrianna shoots a cold look at Liam before hurriedly leaving the bar. Liam lets his body sink against the bar. After that, his chance for a date has sunk too. He busies himself, washing out a mug, filling it with root beer and ice cream, wiping the excess off the glass. When he returns to Byron, the kid's gone. Why'd he disappear? Is he a ghost? No, realizes Liam. Ghosts don't leave cash. He sees a twenty-dollar bill under torn straw bits. A note accompanies the money.

Take her out and treat her right, Grumpy. Best, Byron. P.S. If you need errands done, I've got nothing better to do after school.

Liam smiles in spite of himself. He better order more straw wrappers.



He won't let his finger touch the 3. Max deletes all of the digits within the Miller residence's home phone number. Over the course of his life, he must've dialed it a thousand times with no problem. That was, of course, when they had no problems. Madison would answer with a distracted "hi." Her mind was already on the next thing. Max's mom would extend her greetings, ask callers how the children are if they had children. Micah answered with a quick and gruff "hello", and would droop his shoulders depending on if he liked the person or not. Max couldn't tell whether his father's shoulders would droop or not if he called these days.

Especially not tonight, thinks Max. Is this his best answer? Is it right that he's cutting his family off? Madison and his mother didn't do anything. Sure, they let Micah rant for an uncomfortable length of minutes last night but it must be tough to stand up against your husband and father. They were also pretty nice to Naomi during the calmer parts of the evening. Why punish three when one is the cause of the drama?

Max relaxes further into the couch. He was separated from Naomi, in a good way. She banned him from the backyard for an unknown activity Annie was helping with. He saw a large white box this afternoon but just as suddenly it went missing. Maybe it was a new bed, for him specifically. Although, he thought Naomi enjoyed his "under the sheets" company and whatever item they had was being talked about in the backyard. Max suspects the reveal is seconds away.

He's right on the mark. Annie and Naomi walk through the glass doors leading to the dipping pool. They're accompanied by Austin, and loud shouts echoing through the living room.

"Why are you so upset about Liam being into Adrianna?" exclaims Silver. "Calling five times on your cell!"

"He's going to pump her and dump her!" shouts Navid. "And wind up back with Annie. Look what happened with that jerk Ty."

Annie stiffens at the mention of Ty's name.

"Old wound," mentions Annie to Austin, her ever shirtless companion.

"What's that screaming in the backyard?" asks Max.

"Nothing," says Naomi. "Navid just found out Adrianna's libido is no longer out of order."

"Navid's...Navid's overreacting," waves off Annie. "Adrianna and Liam are only buds. I mean, Liam might still be carrying a torch for me but..."

Austin glances at her sharply but Annie's off in space somewhere. Max is so glad he doesn't keep up with the majority of these people's romances. The group's intersecting love lives are like one big confusing math problem. Max + Naomi = Satisfaction. That's all he cares about.

"If I called Dixon five times, would you be mad?" yells Silver who's out of view.

"No," replies Navid, finally sounding rational.

"Are you kidding me right now?" yells Silver.

Clearly tired of the argument, Naomi goes to close the patio door. She stops when Faulkner trots into the room and delivers a wallet to Naomi.

"Awww, Faulker's giving you a peace offering," says Annie sweetly. "He found Max's wallet."

"Uh, that isn't mine," notes Max, opening the compartments.

"Huh, isn't that yours, Austin?" asks Annie.

Annie walks over to examine the wallet. A condom drops to the floor.

"How'd that get in there?" asks Austin with non Oscar-worthy shock.

Gasping, Annie thrusts the wallet into Austin's gut and storms into the backyard. Max can only assume there's another fight to be had back there. Faulkner follows them. Max reclines on the couch, Naomi draping her body into his arms.

"If I called my third grade boyfriend, wouldn't you just die?" kids Naomi.

"Yes, yes," plays along Max, running his thumb along her arm. "Who would I share Hostess cupcakes with?"

"Max," says Naomi. "I have to share something with you."

She rises a bit, and Max thinks it may be serious if he's reading her face correctly. Don't let this be a break-up, moans Max inwardly. He can't lose anybody else. He wouldn't be able to function if that occured, never mind the third grade boyfriend.

"Go ahead," says Max carefully.

"I met your dad for coffee," says Naomi. "Well, we had lemonade, but we met. And maybe it wasn't the best idea but...oh, screw it. I didn't say I'd help him."

Naomi stands but Max leads her to the couch again.

"Naomi, what did he ask you to do?" questions Max.

Sighing, Naomi throws up her hands.

"Convince you to do the golf invitational thingie," replies Naomi. "And I only mention it because you deserve to be on good terms with your family and what if this one event convinces him that we're soulmates..."

"You think we're soulmates?" asks Max, grinning.

"You don't?" poses Naomi.

"I made pancakes for you," says Max. "That says it all."

Naomi chuckles, and then silent for a moment. She traces Max's chin.

"There's been a bunch of fighting, but at least your father's fighting to be with you," says Naomi. "Mine isn't. You don't have to go to M.I.T. You can just go golf to get on good terms with him."

"I was struggling not to call them today," confesses Max.

She cocks her head a little. "Come on."

"Where?" says Max, gladly situated on the couch.

"Come on!" insists Naomi, drawing him to the door.

Rather than a full-scale raucous, the backyard is empty. The four feuding parties had retired for the night or they'd gone somewhere else. Max is fine with the first or second option. But he's truly amazed as he takes in what stands near the dipping pool. The white box is open and dozens of colorful pieces fill a nearby patio table. A large image of an amusement park rests on an easel.

"Boys and their toys," says Naomi with a modest shrug.

"You didn't!" cries Max, walking to inspect what's on display. "You did!"

"I did," explains Naomi. "I went on eBay, found the '53 model of the amusement park Erector set, checked for quantity in the nearest California vintage toy store, and roped in Austin and Annie to deliver said merchandise. Meanwhile, you were watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I'd say I was the more productive partner today."

"Naomi, this is amazing!" praises Max, rushing to hug her tightly.

"You're welcome," sighs Naomi. "Can I help?"

Max releases her, squeezes her elbows. "You better."

They sit opposite each other. Max sifts through the pieces, wondering what his father should say about this scene. That he and Naomi make an excellent team. That she cares about the dreams he's drawn up for himself even if they seem fainter or more fun than Micah would like. That he's not going to stop and will finish his own dreams no matter what someone else thinks.

"I'm going to go tomorrow," announces Max.

"Oh," says Naomi, sounding somewhat relieved. "You ready?"

"Before today, I wasn't," says Max. "Tonight? I am."