A/N So I was trying to find something in the mess that is my computer hard disk, and found this instead. I started it over the summer but then life got in the way and I didn't finish it. Re-reading it, I actually really liked it, so I thought I'd clean it up a bit and share it with you. It's not finished, but it's a short story, probably maximum seven parts. Half of its done, so I think I should be able to finish it these holidays. It's just a bit of fun, and I hope you like it.
The Danger of Sincerity
A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.
first impressions: before and after a funeral.
At her fourth funeral this month, Max is fighting against laughter. Max, both irrational and certain, knows her mother is to blame for this lack of sensibility. Victim of an unconventional childhood, Max remembers observing a minute's silence before every meal- not for grace, but to reflect on the intense suffering of children all across the world, who would never be able to eat the type of food Max supposedly took for granted. Max remembers sitting at a table laden with prawn dumplings, lamb chops and steamed broccoli, and she remembers wanting to laugh then too.
"Jeanette was a kind soul, always bending over backwards to help others, bending so far, sometimes that she forgot to look after herself."
As the unknown speaker stifles a sob, a snort escapes Max and thanks to the acoustics of the church, hundreds of beady eyes flick towards her. Max stares at the notebook in her lap- a notebook that is enduring the worst fate possible to its kind- emptiness. Despite hopping between four funerals this month, Max's investigative notebook remains woefully empty. She doesn't have much time to lament over the fate of her notebook, however, for at that moment, loud rock music beats through the air. At the front of the church photos of Jeanette Gifford's life are projected onto a screen. Tapping her foot to the beat, Max wonders whether this is the first time Another One Bites the Dust has been heard within the hallowed precincts of a church. Then it comes, another giggle, and to avoid the condemnation of a thousand beady eyes, Max sneezes loudly, and then once more for good measure.
"I heard you the first time." The boy next to her is speaking. At first glance, Max approves of him- he's a natty dresser and manages to look good in skinny black pants. He blinks at her behind thick black frames. "Laughing." Max freezes. This is the first time an actual mourner has attempted contact. "It's all right you know. I mean, Another One Bites the Dust? They're asking for a riot." He speaks in an inimitable accent, a mix of British and Indian, and Max, who thinks that excessive girliness should be punishable by law, actually melts a little inside. The boy smiles, his teeth pearly white against his skin.
Max regains controls of her voice. "I suppose it's original."
The boy tilts his head to the side, acknowledging the point. "How do you know Jeanette?"
Max regrets encouraging conversation, and because it's hard to lie on demand, she settles on the truth. "Well, I don't know her, exactly," she begins, feeling she is treading dangerous waters.
"Neither do I," the boy returns, and Max breathes a little easier. "My Godfather's sister, I met her once. When I was four and apparently I chose to dignify the occasion by not wearing trousers, or underwear." Max stares. "My parents they live in London, but they'd have my hide if I didn't come. Network of Indian spies," he adds, and for the third time, Max has to hide her laughter. "Krish." The boy extends his hand, just as the last beats of the song fade away and before Max can deal with the dilemma of whether to give him her real name, her phone answers for her.
It is at this point that Max realises that things which are hilarious in Eurotrip aren't when you are within the bowels of a church.
"I have to go," Max whispers. Best to make an escape before angry relatives descend on her. "Great meeting you Krish."
Max has had the foresight to sit on the end of the last pew, and she nips out of the church, unobserved by all the funeral-goers, save for one.
Once safe under the sunshine, Max pulls her offensive phone out of her handbag. The message comes from Phoebe, and it makes Max, who is never very perceptive of others' feelings, break into a run. Even she realises that the use of capitals and her full name means that she has seriously disturbed Phoebe's sunny temper. She speeds up, her black thongs clacking loudly as she races along the footpath. If she's fast, she can make it to Phoebe's apartment in fifteen minutes and, if she's lucky, she will live to crash another funeral.
Phoebe's Text Message
MAXINE WELDER I KNOW YOU HAVE MY SKETCHBOOK! GIVE IT BACK BETCH!
Thinking about it later, Jai knows he shouldn't have run after her. In fact, if he wasn't being dumped by the fourth girl this month, he wouldn't so much have moved his foot. But he is being dumped, brutally.
"Jai, I thought I really liked you. But you're constantly texting other people when we're out, when I come over you pay more attention to your fucking Wii than to fucking me and yesterday you called me Sophia!My name's Ashleigh, damn it! It's over! I deserve better! In fact, I've found better and he's a real man!"
Not only does Jai have to listen to this earsplitting and embarrassing list of his failings, but so does everybody else in the quadrangle of his university. Maybe it's to reclaim his real manhood that Jai runs after Sophia, or whatever the hell she's called. Unfortunately for his ailing manhood, he trips on his shoelace, and the last words on his lips before he hits the ground are "WAIT FOR MERUMPH!"
His chin takes the fall and his chin splinters into a thousand pieces, just like his broken heart.
When he remains lying on the grass, the crowd loses interest and disperses, but Jai hears one guy say to another, 'what a wanker.' Jai knows this is the worst moment out of the twenty years of his existence, and during his twenty years, Jai has become a connoisseur of embarrassing moments. He musters the energy to roll onto his side and yank his mobile from his pocket. He messages a desperate plea to his best and only true friend. If there is anyone who will commiserate with him, it will be Sam, Sam who is there for every one of Jai's horrific and frequent break ups. Reading Sam's response a minute later, Jai comes to the sorry realisation that he has no true friends. He rolls over, his nose full of grass. What a day for revelations.
Sam's Text Message
Told u not to date her, u fuckin wanker.
Max lets herself into Phoebe's apartment riding on a wave of grievances that she's spent the last quarter of an hour gathering.
"Phoebe you in? I swear to God if I sprinted the last two blocks for nothing I'm going to blow an artery or commit a-"
"Max!" Her friend bursts into the living room, an array of loose paper fluttering behind her. Phoebe wears tights and an oversized tee-shirt that has scraps of material of all different textures and colours pinned onto it. This is a bewildering fashion choice, but Max knows Phoebe of old, and knows that Phoebe likes keeping material she likes on her while designing. Something about inspired imagining. Phoebe's appearance is as unsettled as the apartment around her. Her wild auburn hair flies in all directions, and Max notes that the sofa is cluttered with books, the carpet has disappeared beneath a forest of paper and a large empty chip packet sits on Phoebe's favourite lampshade.
"Your place been broken into Phoebs?"
"I've been looking everywhere for my sketchbook-"
"Keep your hair on, I just wanted to look-"
"You know I'm in the middle of designing a dress right now-"
"Because I can help you get noticed, since you don't make an effort to-"
"I mean God Max, this is my first free afternoon this week and I haven't been able to do anything!"
"But if you're screeching at me I won't help you-"
"I've been going out of my mind, tearing this place upside down-"
"Which would be a damn shame-"
"Then I remembered you flipping through it-"
"Because you're a bloody genius, Phoebe."
Phoebe's next words wither on her lips and throws her arms around her friend's neck. "Oh Max, do you think so?"
"I said it, didn't I?" Max hesitates, and then pats Phoebe on the shoulder.
"Max you're the- Christ, you stink."
Phoebe lets go of her friend and takes a moment to appraise her appearance. Max's fringe is pasted with sweat onto her forehead, her long black hair swept into a low pony tail. She's dressed in tight-fighting black pants and a black scoop-neck, her favourite silver locket sits between her collarbones. Even sweaty, stinky and flushed, Max looks like a model, which is why Phoebe always forces her to model her designs. With the combined looks of her Chinese mother and Irish father, Max always seems exotic. Her clear grey eyes have the habit of staring compellingly at those before her, and Phoebe sometimes wishes her own eyes had some of Max's intensity. But Phoebe is too kind-hearted to dwell on this for long and she knows Max doesn't care much for her doll-like appearance. So Phoebe knows it is foolish to compare herself, and she doesn't. This is a noble resolve that she doesn't break, very often.
Pinching the sleeve of Max's black top, Phoebe sighs. "Oh Max. Not again. Not another funeral."
"Don't give me that. You know I need first hand experience if my writing is to have a ring of authenticity."
"You can't keep gate-crashing!" Phoebe says adamantly.
"I prefer the term funeral hopping," Max corrects her.
"Well, whatever you're doing, stop it. It's not right." Phoebe has a very clear idea of right and wrong, an idea that Max doesn't often share. "And gee, you're stinking up this room. I'll get you some fresh clothes."
Phoebe leaves her friend to her own devices, and disappears into her bedroom, chattering all the while. Max listens with a half ear. The run has made her hungry, and she directs her attention to the difficult task of finding food in Phoebe's apartment. In a small, battered fridge, Max finds a stack of blank paper and half a take-away container of noodles.
Interrupting Phoebe's babble, Max yells, "Why's there paper in your fridge?"
"I like writing on cold paper!"
Max shrugs, accepting this, and after sniffing the noodles, decides it is not crawling with disease. Once she's tracked down a clean fork in a drawer full of pencils and scissors, Max starts to eat, and tunes into Phoebe, who is still talking in her impressively loud voice.
"And then I remembered I've got my potential roommate coming to give the place a look-over, only of course thanks to you, the place is a mess-"
Max takes offence to this. "Hey, you ransacked this place all on your own!" She walks back into the living room and after clearing some space on the sofa, she squeezes in between a pile of old Vogues and a stack of accounting textbooks.
"The place is a mess," Phoebe repeats. "Only of course I can't find her phone number anywhere, and she'll be here in a minute-"
At this point, there is a sharp rap on the front door, followed by a squeal and a series of thumps, and Max deduces that Phoebe has fallen victim to something in her messy room. The question "Can you get that?" floats into Max's ears- well, she assumes this is what she hears, because in reality it sounds more like 'cnyougetfat?' Rolling her eyes, Max unfolds her legs, walks languidly through the warzone and opens the front door.
"Hi." The boy standing before her has a shock of messy brown hair, an abundance of freckles, and a pair of dark blue eyes that are in the habit of laughing, even if the mouth remains motionless. At present, the eyes are laughing- but then all expression snaps out of them, and the boy stands gaping at Max. Perhaps this is because Max hasn't shaken the extended hand, or perhaps (and Max decides this is more likely), he has fallen prey to the pong of her sweat. "Hi," the boy repeats, "you must be Phoebe."
The real Phoebe stumbles up behind Max, swearing loudly as she stubs her toe on something invisible along the way. Max turns to her friend. "This belong to you?"
"Hi," the boy says, feeling a little invisible. "I'm Sam."
Phoebe gawks at Sam. "You're not a girl." Until this moment, Phoebe has been certain the Sam who has been texting her about the apartment is female. While Phoebe loves boys, she doesn't want to live with one before she has to- she's heard too many horror stories about toilet seats left up, and being stuck doing all the cooking and cleaning. Most importantly, if she's living with a boy, she can't walk around in her underwear searching for something to wear.
Sam smiles. "No. I'm here to take a look at the flat?"
When Phoebe doesn't move, Max decides to step in. "He's here to look at the flat Phoebs. Maybe we should let him in."
Max winks at Sam as Phoebe stutters an apology and ushers Sam in. Partly to give Phoebe a chance to regain a sense of professionalism, and partly because she wants to eat her noodles in peace, Max wanders into the kitchen. She listens with amusement as Phoebe apologises for the state of the apartment, the state of her hair, the state of her clothes, and explains that she's not usually like this, but it's all because she lost her sketchpad. Sam makes the appropriate polite responses, even going so far as to say that he thinks Phoebe's top is 'definitely cool'. When Max hears this, she smiles, and decides that even though Phoebe is in the market for a female roommate, she could do a lot worse than Sam. The kitchen is the last stop on Phoebe's whirlwind tour, and seeing Max there, still slowly munching on her noodles, Phoebe remembers that she is holding a baggy old band-shirt for a reason.
"Here, that's for you," Phoebe says, throwing the shirt at Max. Max deftly catches it with her free hand.
Meanwhile, Sam senses that he's reaching his last chance to make up for his gender in the eyes of his potential roommate. With the lease on his old musty flat expired, and the second semester of classes begun, Sam is desperate for somewhere to stay. He knows that another offer that to find a place cheap, ten-minutes' bus ride from his university, and currently available, will be impossible.
He looks directly at Phoebe, pulling out his most serious expression. "Look, I get that I'm not exactly what you're looking for, but I'm pretty self-maintaining. I cook, I clean, I don't snore and I'm very easy going."
Unfortunately for Sam, the better half of this carefully conned speech falls on deaf ears. Phoebe launches herself onto Max, wrenching the noodles from her hands.
"Max, what are you eating! Those noodles are just about two months old!"
The colour drains from Max's face, and she feels each strand of dry, potentially poisonous noodle slide down her esophagus. Her stomach crawls, and she throws the noodles onto the dining table beside her. "Oh my God," Max says, slapping Phoebe's shirt across her stomach, as if to protect it from the toxic noodles within. "Oh my God," she repeats, getting onto a roll. "I'm going to blow! I need to throw up, right now!"
Sam has been watching these events unfold with concern not unmixed with amusement, and deftly comes to Max's rescue. He passes her an empty saucepan from the kitchen counter and says, "Run- you might make it to the bathroom."
Max gratefully takes the proffered saucepan, and darts into the bathroom. Once inside, she leans over the basin, but she knows very well that her body has no desire to purge itself. She has inherited her father's constitution of iron. She gives Sam a few minutes to leave, splashes her face, and changes into Phoebe's shirt. Stuffing her own top into her handbag, Max then follows the crashing sounds to find Phoebe in the kitchen.
"Are you ok?" Phoebe asks, without turning around or stopping her raid of the cupboards. "I'm sure I used to have some kind of medicine in here before, something that could help you but it's just disappeared, so do you want to-"
"Phoebs, I'm fine."
Phoebe stops her expansive search, a paintbrush in one hand, and a jar of honey in the other. Max doesn't appear to be struggling against internal illness- her skin has regained its customary colour and her eyes are as clear and bright as ever. Phoebe narrows her own eyes suspiciously. "You seemed pretty sick two minutes ago."
Max picks up the noodles and continues eating them, with an unconcerned air that frustrates Phoebe to no end. "Anybody who wants to live you needs to be able to keep his head cool in a crisis. Sam does. He's a keeper."
"Max, sometimes I want to-"
"You love me." She walks up to Phoebe and pecks her on the cheek. "I'm running late for class. I'll see you tonight? Movie marathon, yes?"
"Ok," Phoebe says. "Stop eating that."
But in a few long strides, Max is almost out of the apartment, and beyond Phoebe's reach or reproof. "Call Sam and tell him the place is his!" Max yells before shutting the door behind her.
Phoebe rolls her eyes, and sets the paintbrush and the honey on the table.
The Reason Behind Phoebe's Eye-rolling
Max never gave her the sketchbook.