Maxine tries to deal with her mother’s death in her own way. But when she finds old letters revealing her family’s past she finds herself creating a bond with someone else, not knowing how far their history goes. Taylor is amused and infuriated with Marine, and no matter how hard he tries he can’t stay away from her. Now he finds himself being her main supporter, the only one she can lean on as she travels back to the past. And when the past is resolved they now have to think of their futures, while they concentrate on their present.
Chapter 1 “Yes, Maxine.” Maxine didn’t miss the hint of exasperation in the professor’s voice. When she had raised her hand in class, she had seen the professor roll his eyes before he forced a smile and called on her. “I think we should do African literature,” she began, almost bouncing off her seat. She saw the relieved expression on the professor’s face. It always bothered her when, each time she wanted to make a contribution, there was a look of dread on his face. Maxine looked around the room taking in her classmate’s expressions and, despite the frustration and anger she saw from most of them, she went on. “Especially books by authors who wrote during or about colonization in Africa.” She didn’t care what the professor or the rest of the class thought. She thought it was a brilliant idea. The resistance from the class didn’t take long. “Why?” her classmate Taylor yelled out from the back of the room. Maxine always felt like his voice was constantly at the back of her mind, always disapproving of her ideas or suggestions. There were times she thought Taylor’s voice was part of her subconscious. “What do you mean by why?” Maxine slightly turned her head towards the back. She took in quick, short breaths as she prepared to defend her suggestion. “Why should we?” Taylor went on, addressing the professor. “The books for this unit have already been chosen. I don’t think we should add another book just because she said so.” “She has a name.” Maxine turned her body to face Taylor. Her eyes narrowed as she burned holes in his pale forehead with her acid gaze. “We can find the time,” she said through clenched teeth. Maxine turned back to face her professor. “As a student, I have the right to ask for more knowledge.” There was no way the professor could deny her the opportunity to learn. “Get a private tutor. Some of us don’t have time to squeeze in more reading,” Taylor hissed out. Maxine could see the frustration on his face. He had reached his boiling point, but she kept on pushing. “As an African American–” Taylor cut in. “Oh please,” he scoffed. “No one focuses on that stuff anymore.” “That’s why I suggested it. I think we should all remember that time.” Maxine’s voice was like that of a little girl trying to wheedle her father into a new pony, charming but unwavering because she wanted something and she wanted it badly. “We, as Literature students and as people of this world, should care. It is where our history begins.” “Exactly! History!” Taylor made his way to the front of the class and stood beside the professor. Maxine held on to the edge of her desk, her nails digging into the wood, and called on every single patient cell in her body. She wasn’t going to let Taylor beat her, not a chance. She needed to make an argument and a good one. With a smile on her face, she also made her way to the front of the class. “As Literature students, we also have to learn the African Literature way of writing.” “I think we have learned enough about other types of writing,” Taylor smirked. “I think the fact that you said that proves what an air-head you really are.” Taylor turned to face Maxine. The anger in his glare displaced the warm humor in his usually kind, brown eyes. She could feel his gaze burn into her, but she refused to look away. She wasn’t going to be moved. “I have made my decision.” The professor stepped in between them, blocking any path they would have to each other. “Everyone pair up and find a short story by an African writer during the time period of colonization. Write a five-thousand word essay on the author and his style of writing. It is due after spring break. That way we can all get what we want in the shortest time period.” Maxine cheered, sticking her tongue out at a very irritated Taylor. The professor turned to her and Taylor, a smug smile crossing his lips. “The both of you will partner up.” “No!” they shouted in unison. “I can’t stand her,” Taylor bluntly said. “He’s an idiot,” she spat back. The professor crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t care. You don’t submit the report, you both fail. And let me warn you, I will be able to tell if it’s individual work.” He turned back to the class. “Everyone is dismissed.” Taylor and Maxine got caught up in the rush as everyone made their way out of class. The other students shot murderous glares at them and muttered under their breaths. “If looks could kill,” Taylor laughed, “you would be dead a hundred times by now.” Maxine gathered her books to her chest. She looked at Taylor or, rather, at his shirt. He was a little over 6’3”, which made it feel as if he towered over her. She slowly scanned up the red-checked shirt he wore over a white-t shirt until her eyes met his. “My neck is getting tired. What’s the plan?” “I think it would be better if we both just did our own thing.” He leaned down and whispered in her ear, his warm breath brushing her neck. “I’m too pretty to go to prison.” “So, what you are saying is that I would live longer if we did this assignment separately.” She nodded, acknowledging that he certainly had the strength to follow through on his threat. She wasn’t completely sure he was kidding. Taylor gave her a slow nod. “Fine,” she barked. Maxine let her eyes drop slowly back to the front of his shirt. “I wouldn’t want to work with someone who dresses like a Back Street Boy with Mr. T hair.” “It’s a Mohawk,” he said through clenched teeth. “Then I suggest that you go get your money back.” She tugged at the bottom corner of his shirt, pushed back her shoulders and walked away. “You can’t deny it,” he called after her and she glanced at him. “I look good.” The smug look on his face told her he actually believed that. Maxine stomped her feet hard on the marble floor. A temper tantrum is what her mother used to call it, but, to Maxine, it was her way of letting out the frustration. “I can’t stand that guy!” she muttered to herself as she headed home. Maxine always battled with having to go back home. At the beginning of each morning, she had the energy to stand in front of the mirror and engineer the best cheerful face she could, but at the end of the day, she struggled with leaving school. Maxine arrived at the only unweeded garden and overgrown lawn in the whole neighborhood. Their little house didn’t always look that way, but ever since her mother got sick, there was no one to weed the rose garden and no one to nag her father about painting the white picket fence. Things had changed and they were slowly getting worse. She stood before the front door, knowing very well that the white door held a different significance to her than to other daughters coming home from school. She looked over at the withered garden and decided that the flowers seemed to be adopting the same condition as her mother — death. She wrapped her fingers around the door knob, took a deep breath, and then opened it. Before she stepped in, Maxine whispered a silent prayer for strength to the universe and the big guy above. One step at a time, a smile, a laugh, a prayer, and somehow she would be able to get through this day. Maxine looked down the long hallway. In reality, it was not more than ten meters long, but every time she had to go to the guest room, which had been changed into the hospice, she felt like she was walking the yellow brick road. However, rather than leading to the Land of Oz, this one led her to the only feeling of love she knew. Another step, a deep breath, and she opened the bedroom door. Maxine’s nostrils were attacked by the pungent smell of medication. The rhythmic beeping sound of the heart monitor connected to her mother reminded Maxine that she needed to put on a brave face. “Hey, beautiful.” Maxine forced a smile as she noticed the exhausted expression on her mother’s face. Lynne’s hair was shaggy, her toffee skin pale, and her lips cracked. Maxine saw the exhaustion on her mother’s ravaged face. Maxine’s father, Daniel, was cemented in the same spot he was always in, seated next to her mother’s death bed. Daniel had the same exhausted expression on his face, but on him the expression was permanently engraved in the creases around his eyes and mouth. Maxine always led with the games before she got down to the real issue. Maxine’s eyes quickly looked around her mother’s body and bed. There seemed to be more tubes and machines than there had been when she left in the morning. Her father gave Maxine a quick glance and then his eyes returned to his wife. Daniel’s eyes seemed to hang out of their sockets. His wrinkled hand held onto his wife’s, securely but gently, as if the only way to keep her by his side was to never let go of her hand. Maxine looked at the simplest form of love they had, and her heart broke. What would her father do when Lynne died? Daniel had tied his life to her mother’s in every single way humanly possible, and here was something that he couldn’t protect her from. Maxine’s mother had been diagnosed with cancer two years ago. They thought that they had beaten it, but it had come back just before Christmas with the vengeance of a rabid demon, and it had its claws in her. No matter what they tried or how hard her father fought for every treatment known to man, it wasn’t letting go. Her mother had been discharged from the hospital two weeks prior and had been sent home to die in her own bed surrounded by her family. Now Maxine was standing there witnessing the greatest love ever shared, knowing that it would soon come to a heart-wrenching end. She had prepared herself, she thought, for her mother’s death. She had also come to terms with the fact that her father would die soon after her mother. There was no way one could live without the other. Although her father called her ‘the greatest love of his life’, she knew that her mother was his only reason for living. Once Lynne died, he wouldn’t have any other reason to stick around. Maxine sat at her mother’s feet. Lynne cupped Maxine’s cheek with her hand and smiled as much as her strength allowed. “You are the most beautiful girl ever,” she strained to say, and the words rattled like a stone in a tin can. Hearing her mother sound so weak broke Maxine’s heart, but she hid her pain behind her smile. Maxine thought of asking her mother how she was feeling, but it didn’t seem that important. Asking only frustrated Lynne because she was always economical with the truth for the sake of the withering man at her side. Listening to her mother put up a brave front, and her father whimper every time she did, cut through Maxine. Daniel smoothed his fingers over the thin hand stuck with needles; it was a gesture that had become habitual. Maxine didn’t think her mother felt the discomfort of the IVs anymore, and let her father do it because it was the only way he felt useful. “I have a boatload of assignments to do; I’ll come and sit with you in a couple of hours.” Maxine walked out of the room and a thought crossed her mind. Would this be the last time? She made her way to her room and got on the Internet. She needed to figure out which book she and Taylor had to write their essays about. The sooner she did, the sooner they could split the responsibility and be done with the assignment, and each other, all together.