Read Leave it to Max (Lori's Classic Love Stories Volume 1) Online

Authors: Lori Handeland

Tags: #love, #children, #humor, #savannah, #contemporary, #contemporary romance, #secret baby

Leave it to Max (Lori's Classic Love Stories Volume 1) (3 page)

BOOK: Leave it to Max (Lori's Classic Love Stories Volume 1)
13.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Max always listened when his mom got to
explainin’ because it made her feel better—and she worried a lot.
But there was more to this world than what you could see.
Especially in a place like Savannah, where the trees whispered, the
river laughed and ghosts walked.

He made up for the loss of Santa by believing
in darker things than that merry old elf. In Max’s world bad stuff
happened a lot—usually when he was trying like mad to keep it from
sliding downhill and falling on top of him.

So after his mom brought him home and tucked
him in, Max snuck from his room and went directly to his expert on
all things weird.

“Rosie? Can a vampire really live
forever?”

She flicked her long tail of black hair past
her shoulder, then peered at him over the rim of her reading
glasses. Rosie’s hair was pretty, even with the strip of white at
her temple that looked just like Lily Munster’s.

Mom always said any woman over forty should
cut her hair. To which Rosie would reply, “You can cut my hair off
my cold, dead carcass.”

Sometimes Rosie was pretty funny.

She set down
Heaven Is For
Real, then
patted the bed, inviting Max to join her. Rosie was like that. When
Max had a question, she put everything aside to hear it.

“What brought up vampires?”

He shrugged, not wanting to admit that he
thought they had one in Savannah. Until he was sure, he wasn’t
tellin’ any grown-ups, not even Rosie.

Max took his time joining her on the quilt
she’d sewn from Mom’s old dresses and Max’s baby clothes. Some days
they took the quilt outside, and while they sat in the sun, Rosie
would tell him stories about the places his mom had visited while
wearing each dress, or the cute things Max had done when wearing
every little outfit.

Rosie pulled Max close to her side. She
patted his cast, murmured, “Nice,” and that was all she said about
that. With his mom, he’d probably never hear the end of it.

Max snuggled up to Rosie and took a great big
sniff. She always smelled like cookies, even when she hadn’t made
any. And her arms were strong, even though the side he rested
against was softer than soft. But best of all, her lap was always
empty and her ears were always open to a little boy who needed
someone to talk to. Max figured Rosie was the best gramma in the
entire universe, even if she didn’t let him call her that.

“Max?” she prompted.

He tried to think of the best way to lie
without really lyin’. His mom, being a lawyer and all, was big on
the truth.

“I was just reading.” True enough, he was
always reading. “And the books said vampires live forever, and they
can heal anything—cuts and bullet holes and all sorts of gory
stuff.”

“I think they have a hard time healing a
stake through the heart, or decapitation, or a silver bullet.”

“That’s a werewolf.”

“Really?”

Max nodded.

“All right. Forget that last one. But
basically, yes, I think vampires are on the indestructible list.
Know any?”

“Nope.” He spoke too fast, ’cause Rosie’s
eyes narrowed. She might be an easygoing fruitcake, but she wasn’t
dumb either.

“Your mother might worry too much, but that’s
because she sees a lot of bad things happen. There’s a whole lot of
crazy goin’ on out there, and it could splash over onto us. If
somebody’s bothering you, sugar, you should tell me.”

“Nobody’s bothering me.” Since that was true,
he had no trouble making Rosie believe him.

“And this vampire thing?”

“I thought I’d write a story.”

“That’s wonderful!” Her face became one big
smile. She loved his stories, always praising his imagination and
creativity long and loud. “And you’ll draw pictures, too? You
always do them so well.”

He shrugged, at once embarrassed and
thrilled. “I better get back to bed. You know—”

“—how Mom is,” she finished.

A quick kiss, a loving pat, and Max left
Rosie with her book. He had a hard time falling asleep because his
arm ached, so it seemed as if he’d only been out a second when his
mom crept into his room.

Usually Max slept hard and didn’t wake up for
much. But with his arm feelin’ funny, sleep wasn’t staying with him
tonight. Even though he was awake, he kept his eyes closed and
stayed real still, because if his mom was creepin’, she didn’t want
him to wake up.

She’d told him once that she came into his
room and watched him sleep whenever she was sad or scared. That
must be after he did somethin’ bad. Max figured breakin’ a bone was
the baddest thing of all.

She stood next to his bed and stared at him,
which was kind of creepy, except this was his mom. Moms always did
weird things and called them love.

“Ah, baby,” she whispered, and Max heard the
tears in her voice. She touched his cheek, and he liked that. Moms
also touched you just right when you needed it the most.

Max drifted in a hazy place between asleep
and awake. His mom was near and the dark was nearly gone. Lying
here like this was almost as good as when she let him sleep in her
bed, which didn’t happen much anymore ’cause he kicked like a mean
old mule.

“I keep seeing you hitting your head in that
graveyard and not your arm. Max, you break my heart.”

Max never tried to get hurt. Bad stuff just
happened to him. The worst stuff of all was the sad in Mom’s eyes
when she mopped up the blood, or bandaged the cut, or put ice on
the bruises and bumps. And when she drove him home from the
E.R.?

Tears pressed behind Max’s closed eyelids.
The sad in Mom’s eyes spread all over the place.

“I keep seeing my dad, then yours. Silly.
They’re both gone. Maybe it’s just the season.” She took a deep
breath, then let all the air rush back out. “Maybe.”

For a few minutes she stayed quiet, and Max
considered holding her hand, letting her know he was awake, until
she spoke again.

“This was close tonight. God, I’m scared.
Please don’t take Max from me. Not another one. Not again. Please.
Please!”

The wobble in his mom’s voice convinced Max
that what he’d been thinkin’ about he needed to do. He’d been
playin’ around too long.

When she went back to her room, he lay there
remembering all he’d seen in the cemetery. The dark man with the
pale face had glided through the mist with such ease that his body
seemed to disappear from here and appear over there with immortal
speed. He stopped at certain headstones, peered at the names, but
he never, ever touched the garlic or the crucifix-laden
rosaries.

Max might be scared, but his mom was
scareder, and he knew just how to make her happy again—how to make
her happy forever.

Max got out of bed, dressed and slipped from
the house.

He had a date with a vampire.

* * *

Garrett slept for a few hours after his walk
in the graveyard. He’d hoped his subconscious would grow the seed
of the idea he’d first heard in the cemetery. But when he awoke
there was nothing left of it.

He gave in to the urge he’d had since coming
back to Savannah and walked to the streets where he’d lived all
those years ago. He even wandered by the house that held the room
he’d rented way back then.

Nothing brought inspiration, so he returned
home, ran through his wake-up routine and started pounding coffee.
Then he stared at his solitary page from yesterday and decided it
was crap, too.

A surreptitious scrape echoed from the rear
of the house. That had sounded like the back door closing, very
quietly.

Just as quietly, Garrett put down his coffee
mug and crept toward the kitchen. A shuffle, reminiscent of last
night’s follower, drifted from the dining room, where he’d stored
the latest gag gift from his laugh-riot agent.

Garrett and Andrew had a running competition
for who could give the most ridiculous and annoying present.
Andrew’s latest looked to be a hands-down winner because of its
size and unwillingness to be offloaded on any local chapter of
Goodwill.

A horrendous
creak
erupted, and
Garrett took the last few feet to the entryway in a fancy two-step.
He was just in time to see his towheaded little buddy peering into
the wooden coffin—Andrew’s gift—that Garrett had been using as a
dining room accent.

“I’m not in there.”

The kid jumped a foot, and barely missed
losing a finger as the coffin lid slammed shut. He spun about, huge
dark eyes wide in a tiny, pale face. The cast on his arm brought a
shadow memory to the forefront of Garrett’s mind.

A thump. A cry. Then nothing. Damn. He’d been
off in his own little world last night.

“Did you fall in the cemetery?” he asked.

If possible, the kid’s face went a lighter
shade of gray. Garrett, unused to childlike histrionics and how to
avert them, kept right on asking questions in the hope that sooner
or later an answer would tumble out. “Why are you in my house?”

“Back door was open.”

“Which is an invitation to come right on
in?”

The child shrugged. What was it about the boy
that was so familiar? Garrett had only seen him from a distance
yesterday.

“What’s your name?”

“Max.”

“Well, Max, what do you want?”

The child gulped, straightened his spine and
approached Garrett. The expression on his face was that of a man
fated to die but unable to stop it. Why would a kid look like
that?

“I want to be like you.”

“You know who I am?”

Garrett took great pains to keep his face out
of the media. He refused to have his picture on the jacket of a
book. He did not do interviews or signings. His need for isolation
in order to write made such measures necessary.

“I won’t tell anyone. Not if you make me like
you.”

Where
were
this kid’s parents? Why was
he out chasing Garrett through a cemetery after dark, breaking his
arm, sneaking into Garrett’s house before dawn and reading
Garrett’s books? They were not for children.

“It takes years and years of practice to be
like me.”

Max’s shoulders slumped. “Really? I thought
you could just, you know, do it now, and I’d be like you right
away.”

“Do what?”

“Whatever it is vampires do.”

Garrett was left gaping like the suicidal
goldfish he’d owned once that had flipped out of its bowl and onto
the carpet. “You think I’m a vampire?”

“I’ve been watchin’ you. I know how it works.
I wanna be undead. That way, whenever I get hurt, I’ll heal. And no
matter what trouble I get into, I’ll never die.”

Garrett was too intrigued to set the kid
straight right away. He’d always been fascinated with people and
motivations. Call it his job.

“Why do you want those things?”

“So my mom won’t cry anymore.”

The answer, delivered with such innocence,
gave Garrett a lump in his throat. He coughed to clear the lump,
but it didn’t want to go. “Your mom cries a lot?”

“Not when I’m lookin’. On account of she
doesn’t want me to feel bad. I can’t help it if I fall down a lot.”
He held up his cast for emphasis. “She’s real scared that I’m gonna
fall too hard and die. My grampa fell and died. And my dad—well, he
just died—I’m not sure how.”

Garrett couldn’t keep his eyes off Max. He
was starting to hear that idea again—coming out of this kid’s
mouth. He’d never written a book that had a child in it. Kids
believed all sorts of crazy things. When you were young, the line
between reality and fantasy was thin to nonexistent, and for
Garrett that line had never thickened much at all.

“So can you make me undead?” Max pressed. “I
kind of need to know right now. My mom’s gonna find out I’m not in
bed, and then she just might kill me.”

“I think I’d better meet your mom.”

“But—but—” Max glanced toward the window,
where the steamy light of dawn spread. “The sun’s comin’ up. You
can’t go outside.”

“Wanna bet?” Garrett walked through the
kitchen and stepped into the morning light.

Max flinched, as if he expected Garrett to
self-combust.

Garrett laughed. “I can go out.” He stepped
inside. “I can go in.” He jumped back out. “I can go out.”

The boy’s eyes widened. “You must be a
master.”

“That’s what some of my reviews say.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind. Where did you get the idea that
I was a vampire?”

“You only go out at night.”

“Because I work all day. Sometimes at night,
too.” Garrett made a face. “Though not lately.”

“When you were walkin’ in the cemetery, you
looked real close but you never touched the rosaries or the garlic
on the gravestones.”

“And I never will. Those things are special
and private.”

Max still didn’t look convinced.

“I swear I’m not a vampire. I’m a horror
writer.”

“You mean you have to go to summer school and
practice?”

For a minute Garrett stared at Max, confused.
Then the light dawned. “Not a
horrible
writer, a
horror
writer. I write books about vampires. I’m not one of
them.”

Max glanced at the coffin. “Then what’s that
for?”

“The fireplace, it looks like. Let me take
you home before your mom calls the cops.”

“I know all the cops. Nearly as good as I
know the nurses and the doctors at the E.R.”

The kid was so perfect it was almost as if
Garrett had invented him.

“You really thought I was a vampire?”

“Well...” Max appeared sheepish. “I kind of
know there’s no such thing, but then again...I was hopin’ there
was.”

“I understand how that is. Lead on, Max.”

“’Kay.” Max slipped his hand into Garrett’s,
as trusting as—well—a child.

A funny tumble started in the pit of
Garrett’s stomach, which he attributed to too little sleep and too
much coffee. All the way back to his house, Max chattered—about
vampires and someone named Rosie, cemeteries and Sammy, zombies,
voodoo and lawyers. As Max chattered, Garrett’s idea rumbled.

BOOK: Leave it to Max (Lori's Classic Love Stories Volume 1)
13.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Amo del espacio by Fredric Brown
San Francisco Noir by Peter Maravelis
A Winter Wedding by Amanda Forester
Honest Doubt by Amanda Cross
Night Visitor by Melanie Jackson
A Sad Soul Can Kill You by Catherine Flowers
Rocket from Infinity by Lester Del Rey