As expected, Max was surprised to see the two additional guests.
“Hey, so I figured all of us could hang out…” I trailed off lamely as the expression on Max’s face visibly darkened. Uh-oh.
He didn’t say anything, however, and simply stepped aside to allow us entrance. I led the way to his room, trying to ignore that Max hadn’t moved from his place, and that both Rodney and Ryan had shared a look. The kind of look that told me that they’d felt the temperature drop, too.
“So, Max,” Ryan said with a feigned brightness, “how have you been?”
I shot a glance towards Max, who had decided to remain standing near the door as the rest of us took a seat either on one of the chairs or on the floor. That wasn’t a good sign – had I made a mistake bringing them over?
He grunted in response.
Rodney raised his eyebrows, but refrained from saying a word.
The silence prevailed.
This is messed up.
I cleared my throat. “So. What’s up people?”
I felt the three pairs of eyes on me immediately.
I shifted uncomfortably.
“Nothing much.” Ryan responded, an awkward five seconds later.
Rodney tried to be helpful. “Yeah.”
We turned to Max.
Seriously messed up.
I tried again. “Do you guys want anything to eat?” By then, I’d become more than familiar with the Grey kitchen, and refrigerator, and it had become normal for me to get something to eat every time I dropped by. Heck, sometimes I made a sandwich for Max, too.
Nobody responded to that, so I stood up purposefully and as I left the room, grabbed Max by the hand and dragged him into the kitchen.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him, once we were out of earshot of the others. I’d been tempted to go with ‘What is wrong with you?’, but sense kicked in at the right time and told me that that wouldn’t be the best approach.
Max looked down.
I stopped walking. “Max, come on, what’s wrong?”
“It’s my fault.”
Huh? “Excuse me?”
“Yesterday, I-I made you feel like you-” he inhaled, “you’re wasting your time but you couldn’t stop coming because of Mum and Dad so you brought them.”
“You don’t have to keep coming over to visit, Nick.” He looked up and straight in my eyes.
“But why? I like…wait, what do you mean by have to?” I may not have understood what he’d said earlier on, but I’d definitely picked up on the Mum-and-Dad thing.
“You’re a good guy, but really, you don’t need to keep visiting. I mean, I know that you promised Mum and Dad which is why you came, and now you’re sick of me but you don’t want to break the promise.”
“Where is all of this coming from?” I have no words to describe the confusion I felt. What was he on about? And why did he feel that way?
“Or you’ve realized that I’m messed up anyway, and you don’t like that you’ve been wasting your time so-”
Max found himself being pinned against the wall and a very furious me glaring at him. “Shut up. Don’t you dare say you’re messed up.”
“It’s true though.” His voice got softer.
“No, it’s not.” I snapped back.
“Yes, it is. We both know it, so I just wanted to let you know that you don’t need to waste your time on a charity case, just in case that’s how you feel.”
I was hurt and confused in equal parts. The confusion arose from questions as to what Max was on about, as to where he’d come up with the I’m-sick-of-him theory, and the hurt was from his thinking that I thought of him as a charity case.
“Max, stop being an idiot. You are not some charity case, and you’re going to be alright.”
He opened his mouth to say something, but he didn’t, so I continued. “And would you please explain to me what you’re on about?”
He took a second to collect his thoughts, then gently broke out of the hold I had on him. He indicated that we walk towards the kitchen.
“Look, I know that you promised Mum and Dad that you’d come visit me. And you probably thought that you could do some good, I know you.”
“Go on,” I nodded to acknowledge that that part was true.