The next morning, Max wakes up early and gets ready for the day. He eats a very light breakfast and heads out to the school. But this time he had to be very careful of being noticed on school grounds. He still had two more days of being suspended off of the property and he doesn't want to sabotage his chances of coming back. He brought along himself an unrecognized baseball cap and some sunglasses.
He was ten minutes early when he arrived at school. He was flying on a carpet again so he had to land a few blocks back in some isolated alley. When he first went through the gate of his school he felt that being suspended made the school look grim and so weird. As usual classmates were in their own clique chatting and talking about certain stuff, eating breakfast and carrying on about their day. There were still people taking about Max's crime but luckily the wind of it has died down constantly. Max wanted to find Ruben before school started but so far he has not seen him. However, he then suddenly bumped into Collin and Kevin with his posse. Kevin gave him a little smirk as he stepped in front of him.
"My dude," said Kevin, shaking hands with Max. "How've you been man, we missed you."
"I've been alright," said Max, looking at Collin, who was quietly walking away. "Can't complain."
"Yo man, I heard about the shooting on the news," Kevin whispered. "You must be the second generation of Clark Kent. I wish I was that bold."
"Man, you just got to," said Max. "The man held up the entire store just so he can steal money that he didn't deserve!"
"I know," said Kevin. "At least you admit that trashing that auditorium was wrong. But, dude it was messed up so bad that we had to stay in our classrooms and watch news updates on the T.V."
Max's stomach felt that it was once again tied in knots. Who knows what they wanted him to do when he came back.
"Yeah, man," said Mike. "It's going to be one big cleanup I'll tell you that."
"That's what you are here for right?" asked Kevin confused.
"I don't know," Max admitted. "But I'm supposed to return on Friday. So technically I can't be on the grounds."
"I see," said Kevin. "And I see that you're sobering up for that return.
"What do you mean?" asked Max.
"Yeah that's right," Kevin went on, as he puts his arms around Max shoulders. "Man, that night as my party, you were totally wasted. In fact you chugged down the whole six pack of beer."
"I did?" said Max in disbelief.
"Yeah," said Kevin laughing out loud. "You were one big 'walk around drunkard' talking crazy stuff like you hated your life and the school, and you were going to do something about it. And the next thing we know you was gone. Then the next day, we heard that you were arrested by trashing this lovely school. Man, I just feel so sorry for you dude. I mean didn't you think you hit the bottle too hard?"
Max couldn't believe what he had heard; he has been under the influence the entire time, which went against his own judgment.
"But on the other hand," Kevin went on. "At least you admit that you are wrong. Even Collin was stating that you are finally coming to your senses. Right Collin?"
Collin looked up at Kevin nervously, then at Max.
"Huh?" said Collin.
"You know what I mean dude," said Kevin. "You saw the whole thing went down at the party remember."
"Oh, right," said Collin with a fake smile. "I really did."
Kevin then shook his head then went back to his crew.
"But you know what, that's just water under the bridge," said Kevin eyeballing Max. "If you plan on putting this all behind you, we will definitely do the same. Well, for at least twenty years until we attend our high school reunion."
"That's fine with us," said Mike, from the back of the crew.
"Well," said Max, with a nervous chuckle. "That was some interesting news that you basically shared."
"Oh, don't have to just thank me," said Kevin. "You can thank everyone for that."
"Yeah," said Max, sounding sad. "Of course."
Finally the bell ranged breaking the awkward silence.
"Well, would you look at the time," said Kevin. "School finally started on time. Better not miss our classes."
Max nodded as he watched them walk toward the building.
"Don't do anything we wouldn't do," Kevin called out to Max. "You need all the luck you manage."
"Don't we all," said Max, trying to cover his emotions from the gang.
He turns and walks away from school wrapping his arms around himself because of the wind howling. In the corner of his eyes, he saw Ruben rushing up to the school in another direction as fast as he can not to be late for the first period. He considered stopping him there to tell him that they need to talk, but he didn't want to get him in trouble.
"I guess I'll have to wait afterschool then," Max said to himself.
* * * * * *
Max spent the whole morning doing his unusual errands. First he stopped by the Boost Mobile store to upgrade to a brand new cellphone. He then brought his laptop over to best buy to his drive checked out, and he ate lunch at a nearby local burger joint. He was glad that no one noticed him under his very little disguise, and things are starting to go smoothly. But he still has those fearing thoughts that won't go away which is emotionally keeping him in bondage.
Not long after lunch, Max reluctantly decided to go back to the Substation to see what's going on. He felt that he heart is going to puff out of his chest the closer he has gotten to the building. He thought it would be best if he didn't go inside and to watch outside for a couple of minutes. The substation looked like it was moving plainly moving forward without him. People with different lunch hours filled it to capacity enjoying the delicious food that's prepared right before them. Watching from the window made Max wonder if being the owner of the substation was the best idea for him. He already started off with a bad impression from everyone, and now he had to go into the business that hanging over his head?
He then sees Jerry emerge from the kitchen about to take people orders. Max then felt bad because he could see the tired look on his father's face like he was up all night. It was the first time in his life that Max could actually read his emotions. He was overwhelmed. Max wanted so bad to help him the best way he can, but in the situation that he is in now, he felt helpless. After a minute Jerry turns to look at Max and then he hesitates. Max knew that he notices him through the disguise. Then just as Jerry turns to responds to the customer, Max unusually goes out of sight. Jerry turns to see that he's gone and he briefly goes out front to see if he was around. When he goes back inside, Max emerges from a nearby bush. He figured that this was a busy time for the substation so he moves on to finds something else to do.
Max then decides to hang out in central park where it was filled with other tourists from different cities and countries. He then goes down to the pond to see the ducks, which it's one of his favorite places to be when he's having troubles or problems. Surprising this is the only place that he can let go of his problems temporarily and just dissolve himself into the nature. He would spend hours feeding the geese and ducks, and listening to meditating music, and reading his favorite books and magazines. But this time for the first time he decides to look on the bright side of things and to have positive thoughts.
"I can get through this," said Max. "I know I can! I know I can!"
And then he thought about Ruben's passage again and how he went through all of those hardships. For that moment Max's felt grateful for Ruben's courage and how an outstanding person he has become. He then remembered as he brought his cell phone number with him to call him anytime he want. He still remembered the words that he said. 'If you need anything or you need someone to talk to anytime anywhere, you give me holler. I'm a phone call away. That's what family does, they look after each other.'
After a while of doing his repetitive nature routine, Max found himself dialing Ruben's cellphone number with every précised step. He felt like he stopped breathing, every time the phone rings on his end.
Max felt that his words were caught in his throat.
"Look, I know that y'all are not this crazy to be playing prank phone calls on me, because I'm not the one to be messed around with."
"No, no it's me, Max!" Max blurted out.
"Hey, wassup bro? Ruben then sounds cheery. "How's it going?"
"That depends," said Max. "But I got to talk to you right away?"
"Did something happen today?" asked Ruben anxiously.
"No, but it's really important!" said Max, boldly. "Do you mind if we meet in person?
There was brief silence on the end of the line.
"Where you at?" asked Ruben.
"You know where that big pond is with the geese and ducks?" asked Max. "That's in central park on the upper east side? That's where I'm chilling at."
"Yeah, I know that pond," said Ruben. "Alright, I'll be there. Give me about a half an hour. I got to talk with one of my teacher's about something. Is that okay?"
"That's cool," said Max. "Well, I'll see you when you get here."
"Alright man," said Ruben, "Peace."
* * * * * * *
Ruben arrived an half an hour later like he planned. Max was waiting for him by the benches where he was finishing feeding the rest of the geese crumbs of his bread. Ruben was carrying a bag full of CD's along with his backpack. They gave each other handshakes and he sat right next to him and looked out at the peaceful pond.
"Isn't this so incredible?" asked Max.
"It's like we just took a step into another universe, you know," said Ruben, closing his eyes. "The only thing is that you want to stay here forever."
"I can imagine," said Max, with a big smile on his face.
They sat in silence for a couple of minutes watching the bird chirp, and the geese and ducks frolic in the water.
"Man, you must be stuck between a rock and a hard place to be at a place like this," said Ruben, now staring at Max.
"I am," said Max. "Ever since all that stuff happened, I haven't been able to shake it off. I've been thinking about it ever since."
Max then talked into more detail about his experiences for the past couple of days as Ruben listened closely. He even talked about his brief encounter with Kevin and the gang a few hours prior.
"Man, no wonder you been so depressed at times," said Ruben. "Everyone must be eating you alive at this point."
"Well," Max went on. "Not everyone."
"What do you mean?" Ruben asked bewilderingly.
"At least there's you I could count on," said Max. "Your mom seems pretty cool too. Your whole family does."
"Thanks man," said Ruben. "I appreciate it."
"You know the most bad thing about this is?" asked Max rhetorically. "That I went against my judgment."
"I see," said Ruben.
"People were always offering me alcohol at the party," said Max. "And I would always tell them no."
"How did you even get a hold of alcohol," said Ruben curiously.
"I don't know," Max admitted. "All I had was a coke, and some nasty tasting water that this dude name Mike gave me."
"Mike!" Ruben said, sitting up right.
"Yeah," said Max, staring curiously at Ruben's reaction.
"Man, that dude is just nothing but trouble," Ruben exclaimed.
"Trouble?" asked Max. "What do you mean trouble?"
"He's been in a lot of stuff," said Ruben. "The list goes on and on, shoplifting, marijuana and other drug possessions, suspensions from school as well as poor grades you name it. How did you run into him anyway?"
"Well, I was looking for my friend Collin," Max said clearly. "And I happened to bump into him when I was about to go up the stairs. He was saying that I looked all flushed and I needed some water, so he gave me a cup."
"And didn't you say that the water tasted sort of funny?" asked Ruben curiously.
"It sure did," said Max. "It tasted horrible, and it burned a little bit going down my throat."
"It burned a little bit going down your throat?" asked Ruben, in disbelief.
"Yes," Max admitted. "I didn't know that fresh water can taste bad like that. And the funny thing is that he told me to chug it down. And it left this strong unusual stench on my breath like most adults occasionally have."
Ruben stared out into the pond in silence as if he was searching for something in the conversation. Max was now curious to see what he was thinking about.
"And how did you feel after you gulped down that water?" Ruben asked, still looking out at the pond.
"That's the thing," said Max, his eyes widening. "I started to feel funny and a bit dizzy. I had a hard time going to those stairs from the basement. And then...I think when I reached the kitchen I started to black out."
Ruben then turned at Max with a very concerned look on his face, which made Max feel very nervous.
"And then what happened?" asked Ruben.
"I-I don't know after that," Max admitted nervous. I think I passed out after that. When I regained consciousness I was in the trashed auditorium."
Ruben shakes his head and looks back out into the pond. Max soon after follows his gaze.
"And that's when it all started to go downhill," said Max, with a sigh.
A wave of concern came over Ruben's face as he looks out on the water and then he looks back at Max.
"I don't know dude," said Ruben, as Max stares at him again. "It's just that what you just said doesn't add up."
"What do you mean?" asked Max, bewilderingly.
"I'm sorry, but I never heard for fresh water having a funny taste like that," said Ruben, with honesty in his voice. Let alone make you black out."
"But Mike clearly said that it was water," said Max. "He said Kevin might have a funny working faucet."
"Max," said Ruben forcefully. "I just told you that this person is a trouble maker. I mean think about it, would you listen to someone like him?"
Max thought about for a second and realized that Ruben was right. If he would've figured out if a person was a trouble maker he wouldn't listen to them either. Ruben then suddenly got closer to him as if he doesn't want anyone else to listen to their conversation.
"I'm sorry to say this to you, but I think you've been framed, man," Ruben admitted.
"Framed?" Max abruptly asked, voice shaking. "You really think so?"
"Look, I gut this gut wrenching feeling, you know what I'm saying?" asked Ruben. "I think instead of water, this Mike dude gave you not only alcohol but slipped you a drug in the drink so you could loose consciousness. Then dragged you all the way up to the school, vandalizes the place and leaves you there to get caught. Not only had that but to probably made sure you done it for evidence. You never know what people do to you when you're unconscious."
"Yeah," said Max, agreeing with Ruben. "That does sound suspicious!"
Max realized that he was so wrapped up in what was happening with him in the past few days that he hadn't think about the details on what went on the night of the party.
"But let's be realistic," Ruben said clearly. "There has to be more than one person who could have done this. Didn't you say you had a friend that you were really close with?"
"Collin?" Max looked at Ruben with disbelief.
"Yes, Collin," said Ruben, firmly with sarcasm. "Since he saw that you were blacked out or perhaps intoxicated and all, why wasn't he that concerned about you? Couldn't he just call a family member to have picked you up or at least taken you home himself. That what friends do in a situation like that. Not to sit around and just say 'Oh he'll come to his senses.'
This made Max have a very different perspective about Collin. A few days ago Max and Collin were like two peas in a pod. It was like they were made to be best friends forever. Now, with the tension of the crime still lingering in the air, Max and Collin were like strangers. But Max notices something else about his former friend. It seems like every time he saw Collin he looked to be quietly frazzled and nervous when he crosses paths with him. Then all of a sudden Max remembered the brief conversation they had a few days back in the school cafeteria before he got suspended.
"Wait a minute," said Max almost jumping out of his seat. "I remember now! We talked in the school cafeteria before I got suspended. He said that he went home early because he wasn't feeling well. But when he was with Kevin this morning he said that he was still at the party during the whole thing. That really sounds strange."
"Yeah it does," said Ruben. "Either that or he decides to change his story at the last minute to impress his gang of friends."
"But why would he do something like that?" said Max, feeling like he was taking advantage of.
"Like I said before you never know what people can do to you," said Ruben. "In the end it turns out that you can trust anybody. That why I don't go to parties that much."
"Maybe, if I would've stayed home and not went at all," Max admitted.
"Well it's too late to think about that as you can see," said Ruben, with a chuckle. "All we can do is to think of what we are going to do next. I don't know about you, but the only way we should go about this is to take some action on it."
"But how?" asked Max. "How will we have proof to show that who done it? I mean, the only way I can think of is to go back to school auditorium and-."
"Search for specific clues and evidence," Ruben finished his sentence. "And maybe that would bring us closer into making you a free man."
"So, you don't think I've done the crime," asked Max, in a verifying way.
"Look, bro," Ruben admitted. "I know people have talked down or turn their backs on you. But from my perspective, I just can't leave you hanging like that. Besides, there's too much innocence in you to be doing that stuff anyway."
A big grin crept on Max's face as well as Ruben's.
"Thanks man," Max beamed. "I couldn't have thought all of this without you."
"Anytime, man," said Ruben. "Anytime."
Max felt a big weight has been lift off of his shoulders. It was like he can breathe more easily this time. For the first time since the serious crime Max could finally find hope in his situation. However he still couldn't shake off the new leads and details about what happened at the party. With the possibility that Mike drugged him, or the fact that Collin had lied to him made his head spin. He then became paranoid to the fact that for some particular reason the people he trusted the most are out there to take him down.