Sarah and Max

A short story by Emily Larman

The bell rings and I rush out of math down the hall straight into Max Hannigan’s impenetrable abs.

“Whoah, slow down there,” he cautions. This could not be happening. The rings of my binder pop open individually as my papers scatter the floor in every possible direction. It’s bad enough that I’m a perfectionist, yet alone that it just happens to be Max Hannigan, the object of my affection since the first grade. I bend down to gather my papers, face flushed. I tuck a stray curl behind my ear.

“Here, let me help you.” He bends down, stretching out a long, muscular arm to retrieve a few of the stray sheets. My cheeks burn even harder as his hand brushes against mine. He smells of cinnamon and mint soap. I sneak a glance into his icy blue eyes, my stomach flipping. He hands me a stack of papers as we both stand up, bumping heads.

“Do you have a habit of being clumsy?” He chuckles. I smile shyly.

“Yeah,” is all I can muster. Figures: the girl with the 4.0, is at a loss for words, and in front of a boy nonetheless.

“Hey, don’t be shy, it could’ve been worse. It could’ve been Principal Blaine.” I laugh as he says it.

“Yeah.” I put my head in my hands, laughing as I realize what I’ve done.

“Haha, you’re Sarah right?” I nod, not wanting to say, “yeah,” again. I don’t even bother adding that I know his name, gleaning from his stature that he probably expects I know. We stand there awkwardly as I gaze up at him, his fingers raking through his brown waves. I summon any remaining ounce of courage I have,

“Did you finish the Anna Karenina assignment?”

“Slaved until the early hours of night. Don’t want to be messing with the wrath of Mr. Granger. Plus I finished that book years ago. It’s a classic.” We both laugh as we begin to walk towards class. I admit that I am impressed he had previously read Tolstoy. I had finished all of his novels at 12, gripped with the romances of the 1800’s. In the back corners of my mind, I gather all of my strength not to freak out over the fact that I’m walking to class with Max Hannigan.

“What side did you take?”

“When I first read it, my immediate reaction was that it represented an ideal love story but after re-reading I realized it explores the extremities rather than the virtues extolled by love.” He gestures with his hands as he talks.

“Anna was really better off never falling in love with Vronsky. It ruined her. She died because she essentially gave up her life for a second chance at love and it destroyed her.”

“But then you have Kitty and Levin and the innocence and naivety behind their love. In many ways it is both.” I motion as we walk into the classroom. I am intrigued yet equally astounded at his knowledge. He mutters a formality as I sit in my assigned seat and the class begins.

Max Hannigan is in the 12th grade. He is the captain of the rugby team and son of Connecticut state senator Brad Hannigan. He is that type of guy who has an irresistible personality, impossible not to love. Notorious for putting soap in the atrium fountain back in the 7th grade, he holds an ostentatious reputation. However, his charm often precedes him, forcing people to forget about his more unfortunate instances. Ever since the first grade he had constantly been surrounded by an endless group of people. His seasonal Hampton parties were legendary. Max was the epitome of the ideal east coast high-school jock. I was Sarah. The smart, quiet one. The politically obsessed, captain of the volleyball team, debate champion, mysterious Sarah. The one with few enemies and even fewer friends. Except for one, a boy named Landon.

I had met Landon at a coffee shop downtown. He had been ordering a hot chocolate and I a cappuccino. Adorned in an “I love Bush (It’s George I Hate)” shirt, I had known we would be instant friends. A psychology major, gay, political fanatic, he had quickly become my best friend. We often attended rallies downtown, either supporting or opposing different bills. He and his boyfriend Connor had just broken up and I had been at his house every night with lavender gelato and Scandal re-runs. He would listen to me drone on for hours about my Max problems, telling me I was beautiful and that I deserved so much more.

“Sarah? Sarah? I asked you what opinion you wrote about on the homework please.” Mr. Granger snaps at me. Oh. I explain my answer, detailing the parallels between the two storylines in the novel. He scowls, I know it kills him whenever I am right.

The class drones on and I force myself to listen, not wanting to be caught daydreaming about Max any longer. When the bell finally rings, I bolt out of the class, shaking off my distaste.

“Sarah!” I turn around to see Max sprinting down the hall. My pulse quickens as he catches up, out of breath.

“Why’d you run off?”

“Sorry, Mr. Granger really gets on my nerves. It’s nothing personal.” I smile.

“Haha, I see. He does have a habit of calling you out a lot. But I must say, you always compose yourself gracefully, save for brilliantly.” I swoon. How could this be happening to me? My life dream happening right in front of my eyes.

“Well, besides the point, I wanted to ask you a question.”

“Yes?” I exclaim in anticipation. I cannot wait to text Landon and tell him.

“You’re friends with that guy… Liam, Leo or something? The one that’s always picking you up and going to your games?” What?

“Haha, it’s Landon.”

“Do you think that there’s like any chance, at all, that he would be interested in me?” Wait what? What is happening?

“As in, like what, romantically?” I question, my head spinning in confusion.

“Yes.” What is happening? Is he gay? Bisexual? What? My whole life I’ve been in love with a guy who wasn’t even into girls?

“Um..um..uh,” I stutter, at a loss for words. “He just broke up with his boyfriend actually,” I mumble, not knowing what else to say.

“Let me guess, you didn’t know I was gay?” He smiles, looking down,

“A lot of people don’t, haha, but I don’t try to hide it.” I try to think back to the past 11 years to any girlfriends. There was Shannon in the 4th grade. Wait, but had that been a dare? There was Karen in 7th grade… which had also been a dare. Every single girl he had ever “dated” had all been fake and I hadn’t even realized! It feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Max Hannigan. The Max Hannigan, had been gay this whole time.

“Haha, no, but it’s cool. Landon is one of my best friends.”

“So what do you think? Do you think he’d go for me? I really like him.” I laugh silently, realizing how my life had just completely shifted in the last two minutes.

“Hmm,” I pretend to ponder, tapping my finger to my lip, “I don’t know… you are pretty ugly.” I try to make a straight face but end up laughing hysterically as his face falls in disappointment.

“I’m totally kidding, haha, what’s not to love?” I punch his shoulder jokingly and he smiles. He frowns in mock sadness.

“You almost had me fooled.”

“Why don’t you come hang out with us after school, we were going to go to the library downtown.”

“Really?” His eyes light up. He surprises me by pulling me into a hug and muttering a “bye” as he dashes to his next class. I find myself standing there, smiling. The utter absurdity of it all.

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