match-making: expected and unexpected
"He showers three times a day?" Max glances over her shoulder, eyeing the door to the bathroom in Phoebe's apartment, as if she expects to catch the strangeness of the boy showering inside it. "What the hell is he doing that gets him that dirty?"
Phoebe glances at the bathroom door in a completely different manner to Max. "Ssh! He'll hear you!"
"Whatever." Max shrugs. "He obviously has issues. Maybe you shouldn't have moved in with him."
Phoebe is not one to argue with her friends, but this suggestion annoys her. It is just like Max to say this in her haughty voice, because she doesn't know what it's like to have to count every cent you spend. Worse, Max has conveniently forgotten that Phoebe chose Sam at Max's suggestion in the first place. "I needed the money for rent," she says coldly.
Max is already bored by the conversation, and she looks at her watch. "Crap, sorry Phoebs, I've got to leave in five." She digs into her large handbag and pulls out another black blouse and a pair of black ballet flats.
"Max! Not another one! This clearly isn't helping you and it's wrong!" Max pulls off her vintage t-shirt, as indifferent to the fact that she's revealing a lot of flesh as she is to Phoebe's objections. Phoebe averts her eyes until Max is wearing a top again.
"Which do you think is worse? The fact that it's against your arbitrary morals, or because you think it's not helping me?"
"Oh shut up Max," Phoebe says, with pardonable irritation.
Max pulls her pony tail out of the inside of her blouse and does up the buttons. "I don't think I'd mind having someone study my funeral. At least I won't have died in vain."
Since Max says this with the intention of antagonising Phoebe further, perhaps it is fortunate that Sam walks out of the bathroom, creating a slight diversion by wearing a hot pink bathrobe. Phoebe instantly recognises it as the one her mother gave her some birthdays ago, but she is more concerned by the fact that he is holding her purple razor. If he's used it, Phoebe thinks warily, that is definitely crossing the unwritten line between roommates.
"Yo, do you have spare one of these?" Sam drawls. Noticing Max he waves and smiles and then turns back to Phoebe. "Can't find my razor and my stubble's getting to the too-long stage."
"Sure," Phoebe says, sighing deeply. She stomps into the bathroom, leaving Sam and Max alone. They look at each other.
"You know, I thought you lived here," Sam says conversationally and since Max doesn't deign to reply, he watches her pull on shoes instead. Then it occurs to him that it is a little strange that the last two times he has seen her, she has been dressed completely in black. "Where are you going?"
"Funeral," states Max. She gets up to leave, swinging her bag over her shoulder.
"Oh." Sam suddenly feels like his arms are too long for him, and he hasn't felt that way since his first ever date, when he made out with a girl with popcorn stuck in his braces. "I'm sorry?"
"Don't be," Max says and suddenly she's laughing. "I don't even know the person who's died. You can come if you want."
Max has made the offer expecting him to refuse, but she has underrated the extent of Sam's friendliness. "Ok, why not?" he says lazily. He doesn't feel like tackling the short essays he has due, and finding out why Max is attending a stranger's funeral is more interesting. He might even put in a good word for Jai so that Jai can actually man up and talk to English Girl, instead of acting like a twitchy rabbit whenever he thinks about her. Really, by going with Max, he is doing his part for mankind. Jai 'Twitchy Rabbit' Adams is one fucked up sight the world could do without. "Give me two seconds to change."
"Two seconds," Max says, tapping her foot.
It doesn't take Sam two seconds to change, but he is back in the living room in under a minute. It looks like a battle of the seasons over his body- he's wearing black board shorts and a black turtle neck. Max smirks when she sees him.
"I don't have a lot of black," Sam says defensively.
They are about to leave when Phoebe crashes back into the living room with a bag of plastic razors in hand. She has just conquered the depths of her bathroom, and is breathless with triumph. "Where are you going?" she says, looking accusingly at Max.
"Funeral," they answer in unison.
Phoebe sighs with the loneliness of someone who has realised that they are the only person in the room with a slither of sense.
What Max and Sam do not realise:
This is their first date.
By the time Sam is being driven by Max in her car, he has had ample opportunity to regret his impulsive decision. In fact, when Max winds down her window and throws half her body out of the car in order to yell at a group of teenagers who have crossed the intersection on their skateboards when the lights turn green, Sam comes to the blinding realisation that no act for humanity is worth this trauma. Max has braked so hard that he thinks he has whiplash and the traffic piles up behind them, evoking a symphony of horns and yells. Max does not even notice.
"Are you actually that stupid? What kind of idiots are you? Do you not care that you could have died, you selfish little twats? What your parents think I don't even-"
At this point, one of them interrupts her. "My mum's dead," he says in a dead pan voice.
Sam freezes in shock and turns to Max, wondering how she is going to extract herself from this situation. She has not even flinched, in fact Sam thinks she looks rather contemptuous.
"The guilt of producing you get to her?" she throws back, and then the cars behind her fall under her fury. "Oh shut up! Leave earlier if you're running late!"
Still breathing heavily, she hits the accelerator so hard that Sam thinks he's going to be lucky if he finishes this ride with his head attached to his neck. Max continues to mutter angrily as they move down the street, and Sam says in an effort to divert her attention, "So why do you gatecrash funerals?"
A smile breaks onto Max's face, and Sam can hardly believe this is the same girl of fifty seconds ago. "You been talking to Phoebe?"
"No," Sam replies, relaxing a little. "I mean I've been talking to her, just not about you know, you." He remembers Jai and the numerous conversations (or non-reciprocated monologues, depending how you look at it) they've had about English Girl, and his insides squirm guiltily. "I mean, why would we talk about you? That would be weird and um, unnecessary." Oh God, and he thought he left this bumbling version of himself behind at age thirteen. He risks a look at Max. She's still smiling. He takes comfort in this and ventures, "No, really, why do you do it?"
"No reason too exciting," she says. "I'm doing a creative writing class, outside uni, and the woman who runs it is all about turning everything around. And so she says to us, don't write what you know, write what you don't. She wants us to move outside our comfort zone, push ourselves you know."
"So you decided to push yourself towards a funeral?"
Max laughs to herself because Sam says this completely without judgment, and yet he still manages to make her feel a little ridiculous. "Well, before this month I hadn't been to any. I don't even know what I want to write about, I just thought…"
"Fuck, I have no idea. Now I find myself checking the paper everyday for the next one because I'm too stubborn to maybe think funerals aren't exactly the most amazing sources of inspiration. Phoebe thinks I'm mental. Maybe I am." By this time, she has pulled into the parking lot of the cemetery. "So, you still in?"
Sam opens his door, and feels like he has jumped off a building that stands on no ground. "Definitely."
It is only when they walk into the room where the service will be held that Sam has an inkling that something is going wrong. Max is clutching his elbow so hard that it may break off, and though Sam has not known Max long, he knows this is a highly unusual thing for her to do.
"Fuck," she says in an undertone, "Fuck, fuck, fuck, I know this guy."
Trying to look considerate while restoring circulation to his elbow, Sam pries her fingers off him and follows her gaze to the front of the room where an old man's smiling photograph is displayed. The name William Ford runs in fancy script above his date of birth and death. Nothing about the dead man rings any bells for Sam.
"Shall we leave then?" Sam asks, rather gallantly, Max thinks.
"No," she hisses, " I can't leave now, not when I know him. Fuck. William Ford. Why didn't I realise? Stupid, stupid."
Her hissed profanities are starting to attract attention, and Sam guides her to some seats, patting her arm and all the while saying, "It's all right, let's sit down, it's all right." In spite of her shock, Max is impressed that he is quick enough to pass her behaviour off as hysterics. To an elderly lady who is looking in concern at Max, he says with a big smile, "Sorry about this, she's just upset, poor thing."
There is no time for more, because string music begins to play and a silence washes over the room. The reverend taking the service moves to the front, and something like a sob shakes through Max.
While a poem is read by William Ford's Brother
A solitary tear runs down Max's cheek, and she is the only person in the room who knows how momentous that is.
When the service comes to a close, Max wants to run out of the room. Unfortunately, this is not possible, because the mourners are meant to move into another room for refreshments, and Sam is motioning at her to follow everybody else through the open door.
"Let's just leave," Max whispers. "We can't stay."
"Why not?" Sam asks bluntly because he did not just sit through some random old dude's funeral in order to miss out on food afterwards.
"I know him!"
"Yeah, we've established that."
Max huffs loudly. They are now the only people left and Max wants to leave because she can hardly believe she has scraped through the service without further debacles, like running into someone she knows. Sam thinks that for someone who routinely barges into stranger's funerals, Max is making a big deal out of nothing, and he can also smell sausage rolls begging to be eaten, but he magnanimously lets that slide. He follows Max into the parking lot, and once they are back inside the car where it won't matter if she starts yelling again, he says, "So how'd you know the old man?"
"He wasn't an old-"
"Uh, did you see when he was born? He has to be over seventy. I call that old."
Max narrows her eyes at him but she decides that if she is to escape looking like a complete basket case, she needs to give him an explanation. "Ok, fine he was old. He was my English professor last year."
Pieces fall into place before Sam's eyes and before the heavy weight of all this knowledge, he freaks out. What is Jai going to say when he hears this? Probably some crap about his life ending again because that's what Jai does when the going gets tough, he talks about his impending death. Fat lot of help that is.
"Was that safe?" Sam enquires. "I mean, banging the dude when he's like seventy?"
Max stares at him and then before he knows it, Sam is getting hit, over and over again, in sharp, stinging slaps. "Oh-my-God-I-wasn't-screwing-him-you-idiot!"
Sam starts blocking the slaps and Max stops, giving him time to digest her words. Obediently, his stomach rumbles. "Oh," Sam says, grinning sheepishly and on Jai's behalf, he is immeasurably relieved. "Wanna get something to eat?"
Max can't help it. She laughs. And because she is laughing, she decides to drive them both to Hungry Jacks, where, under the power of fries and an oily burger, she lets out some of what is racing around her head.
"It's not that I knew him well," she says, slurping on her Coke, and waving a chip around to the imminent danger of Sam's left eye. "I talked to him a few times, cos I had questions about the essay, and he ran my tute once cos my tutor was sick. I just didn't expect to see him like that, that's all. I've never known anyone to actually die before." Sam doesn't even look up. Max supposes that when you've got three burgers to eat your way through, eye contact is a distant luxury. "You know you're eating your way to death," she adds, eyeing him like he is an oddity in a zoo.
Sam swallows hastily, then his face scrunches up in pain, and he has to gulp down some of his drink before he can speak. "It's like a novelty for you isn't it?"
"All the funerals, all the death," Sam says, waving his burger around so that bits of lettuce fly everywhere.
"What?" she repeats. It isn't often that she feels like this, not that she can identify the feeling.
(The feeling is shame.)
"What? It's not a novelty, ok? I was genuinely upset that Ford died." She is going to add that this is the first time she has actually cried at a funeral, that when she saw his picture she felt something cold descend on her chest and seep into her blood, but she holds her silence. She is over-dramatising this.
"Ok," Sam shrugs. She reads it as indifference, but he is merely accepting what she has said. "So is this going to help you or not?"
"Help me what?"
"Write your story."
Max leans back on her chair and considers him. He looks like an average guy, but Max is starting to suspect that beneath that mass of hair and friendly smile, lurks a force to be reckoned with. "I have no idea," she says finally.
Sam's attention returns to his multiple hamburgers, and they sit in silence again. This time Sam doesn't mind because with so much food in front of him, he is more concerned with issues like downing the burgers before they get cold and soggy. Max on the other hand, with half her food left on her tray, is regretting the decision to plug fast food into her system. She can practically feel the oil gathering in her stomach.
"You know, I could give you a recipe for a vegetable hamburger that will change your life."
"Sure," Sam says politely, thinking he will pass the recipe on to Krish.
"No really," Max says. She locks him in a determined gaze that Phoebe has grown very wary of. "Even Phoebe loves it and I swear I have never seen that girl eat anything green."
Sam decides to make a clean breast of it. "I don't actually cook but my friend-"
"Oh, no problem. I'll cook it for you. At yours and Phoebe's. I'll have to bring everything of course, I don't think Phoebs has a saucepan, but it'll be fun, and your heart will thank me for it, really!"
And that is how Sam finds himself going to a barbeque organised by Max. He hasn't managed to put in a good word for Jai yet, but Sam tells himself that this will be a perfect opportunity to invite Jai so that he can finally meet the real English Girl. Honestly, he's a bloody saint.
A/N And so ends the pre-written sections. I half-wrote the next chapter but I think I need to re-write it, as it doesn't make much sense. But I think it'll be a fun one. Thanks for your reviews guys- glad to hear you're enjoying it as much as I have fun writing it!