Sunlight poured into the room through a skylight in the roof. Max rolled over onto his side and glanced at his watch. 7:58 a.m. He was two minutes early to his alarm clock. Closing his eyes for a second, he yawned into his pillow. Darn his meticulously accurate body clock. He could’ve used those two extra minutes of sleep. After stalling for 30 seconds, he finally rolled out of bed, grabbed a pair of striped pajama pants from the floor and pulled them up over his legs. Reaching for first his laptop and then his door handle, he walked into the hallway.
Already a mess from weeks of little to no cleaning, the creaky, warped floors were not the most welcoming sight. The melody of snoring followed Max down the stairwell.
The warm scent of cinnamon coffee greeted Max as he hit the bottom step.
To his left, Cole was sitting in the living room, watching Tuesday morning cartoons – a bad habit he had picked up the day after quarantine. Next to Cole, Brandy sat timidly. Not that Brandy cared for cartoons all that much. It was rather the person next to her that kept her eyes fixated on the screen. It didn’t take a genius to see that Brandy was hopelessly in love. That Cole hadn’t figured this out yet was one of life’s greatest mysteries. Max was always hit by a painful sense of awkwardness whenever he saw the two together. He ignored them and headed for the kitchen.
Alyssa was making breakfast. As a local chef recently put out of business, Alyssa was in charge of all three meals for the house. To this great service, she was rewarded in free groceries and generous tips.
Max poured himself a cup of coffee, set his laptop down, and rubbed the sleepiness from his eyes.
“Morning, Maxwell!” Alyssa sang.
Max had always hated Alyssa’s annoying habit of talking to people at the crack of dawn. He needed at least a full hour to wake up. But as he turned to her with a sarcastic comment, she looked so cute with her smiling brown eyes, yellow apron, and messy bun, that he just smiled and nodded. Taking a long drink from his cup, Max leaned against the counter. He calculated in his head all the things he was going to do that day.
“What’s on the agenda for today?” Alyssa asked.
Max paused mid-thought and lowered his mug from his lips. If only she could read his thoughts and know that he was busy. Perpetually, actually. Then maybe she wouldn’t feel the need to constantly talk to him.
“Do you want the long or condensed version?” he asked.
She laughed. A shimmering tinkle of light. Max took another drink of his coffee. Even though he hadn’t considered what he had said to be funny, he was slowly warming up. Alyssa flipped some eggs on the stove.
“The condensed, please,” she said.
“Good choice. There’s not much that is interesting about a math professor’s life. I’ve got about six hours of work that I can do online today. A couple of videos to upload, assignments to grade, feedback to respond to, and stuff like that. Then I’ll probably jump out my bedroom window and see if my boredom goes away before I hit the pavement.”
Alyssa cocked an eyebrow at him. Max set his coffee on the table and folded his arms.
“What can I say? It’s for an assignment.”
Alyssa rolled her eyes. Max refilled his mug and grinned to himself. He looked up to add something more, but the sunlight was reflecting off her golden-brown hair and he was fascinated for a moment. She turned back to him, spatula in hand. Catching his eye, she frowned.
“What’s the matter?”
“Huh? Nothing…nothing, why?”
“You’re looking at me funny.”
“Oh, that. Uh, you see that window over there?”
“Well, the sun was coming in and the angles were just right so that…”
“Never mind. Here, breakfast burrito with sour cream and salsa on the side.”
Max picked up the plate that was shoved his way, snatched up his laptop, and stumbled out to the kitchen table. Setting his coffee, meal, and computer down, he sat for the next four hours. Somewhere in-between those hours, Donny came down from upstairs and left for his job at the bank; Alyssa cleared his dishes and refilled his coffee; Brandy left for her job at Starbucks; and Devin finally woke up.
Alyssa placed a cold glass of strawberry shake into Devin’s hand before swishing back into the kitchen. Max looked up at Devin and sighed.
“Man, it’s noon already?”
“I dunno; whatever. Alyssa! Why are you feeding me a strawberry shake? The other boys say that you feed them burritos and bacon and stuff…”
Max closed his screen and rubbed his eyes. Behind him he heard Devin and Alyssa arguing.
“I don’t have time to make breakfast at six different times of the day, Devin. I’m working on lunch right now and you’ve only just woken up. Why you insist on sleeping in until noon every day is beyond me.”
“I was up late last night!”
“Doing what? Gaming? You should be thankful that I made you anything. Next time I’m letting you have soggy cereal.”
“Maybe I like soggy-”
Max left a twenty-dollar tip underneath his empty mug of coffee and left to take a shower.
He always hated going upstairs after noon. The light of day always cast an unforgiving eye on their messy apartment. He made a mental note to clean up later.
After showering and picking up all the dirty laundry and trash from one rectangular space in his room, he began to record his lectures. Two lectures and a sudoku puzzle later, his door flew open. Alyssa looked at him with a shocked expression. Max stared back at her. He made a list of all the reasons she would be shocked.
“Is it because I’m not wearing pants? Because -”
“It’s disgusting up here!” Alyssa yelled.
Max let out an audible sigh of relief. That meant she wasn’t upset he forgot about lunch. He looked past her upset expression to the delicious plate of food in her hands.
“You brought me lunch? That’s very considerate of you. I can’t believe I forgot. I’ve been so busy and -”
“It’s atrocious up here! You boys have left moldy bananas, pizza crusts, specks of potato chips, coffee spills -”
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but that’s a pretty extensive list. I wouldn’t want you to lose your breath.”
“See! That’s what I’m talking about right there! How do you live like this?”
Max tapped his fingers on the table. He considered her question for a moment.
“How much would you…?”
“Oh no, you’re not paying me off to clean this up. I don’t know how long this whole quarantine thing is going to last, but if it is even a day longer, then that’s a day longer you’re stuck breathing clean air through a straw.”
“Don’t try to make sense of it, Professor Maxwell! Just make sense of the fact that it smells terrible up here and you’re stuck in the middle of it.”
“Did you not see my…rectangle?”
Devin, who had walked upstairs to head to his room, saw the situation and slowly inched away. Max shot him daggers with his eyes. Devin shrugged and motioned towards Alyssa. Fear was in his eyes. Max narrowed his eyes at Devin and started to open his mouth. Devin inched away from the situation. Alyssa spun around.
“Devin! You get back here this instant!”
3/12 hours later
Devin, Cole, and Max were perfecting the last of their insults for Donny, who wasn’t there to defend himself, or, even worse, help clean. Alyssa checked the last item off the list and smiled brightly.
“I now pronounce this house clean. Let’s go eat.”
Max, sprawled out on his bedroom floor, groaned as Alyssa took off downstairs. Dinner sounded like heaven, but there were forty-two stairs to get downstairs and then twenty more steps to the kitchen, and…Max stopped thinking about it.
In the room adjacent to Max’s, Devin sighed loudly.
“How can someone hate a person so much yet love them so much at the same time…?”
Max’s thoughts exactly.
Cole burst from his room and took a few steps forward. Max and Devin watched as he walked past their rooms.
“Should we move, Maxy?”
“Please don’t ever call me Maxy.”
“Although that’s better, it’s still not great.”
“Why are you such a grouch, Professor? Are you having an early quarter life crisis?”
“Yes. That’s exactly why I’m so grouchy. At twenty-four I decided to have an early life crisis while quarantined with five strangers in an apartment that I didn’t plan on staying at in the first place. And so I lay on my polished floor, pondering my existence and what I have done with it.”
“Hmm. Makes sense.”
Silence fell between the two.
“What’s the probability that we’re just stalling?” Devin asked.
A soft, familiar footstep was heard coming up the stairs. Max reached for a book from his bookshelf.
“Devin? Max?” a voice called out.
Max waited until the voice showed its face. A couple seconds later, Donny peered out from the doorframe. Max extended his hand and threw the book as hard as he could at Donny. The book landed squarely in Donny’s gut.
“Ow! What was that…?”
Devin tackled Donny from behind. Max reluctantly got up from the floor and watched as the twins wrestled back and forth.
“Don’t shoot the messenger!” Donny managed to say. “I’m only here to tell you guys that it’s time to eat!”
That little comment earned Donny a noogie from Devin. Max had gotten his revenge on Donny, so he patted Donny’s shoulder.
“You weren’t here to help clean, if you hadn’t noticed already. But that’s okay. We’ll factor that into Alyssa’s chore chart.”
He walked past the twins and headed downstairs for supper. Alyssa had cooked up babyback ribs, steamed asparagus, mashed red potatoes, and chocolate raspberry soufflés for dessert. Max sat at the head of the table, with Brandy on his right, Cole next to her, the twins to his left, and Alyssa at the foot. After diving into their meals and giving Alyssa a break on the dishes, everyone voted on a movie night. Last night’s game night still hung painfully in the air. (It had involved an overly aggressive version of Monopoly and a bloody nose.)
After spending twenty minutes arguing about what movie to watch, with no results, Brandy came up with the suggestion to have everyone write a movie down on a slip of paper and then draw for it. Then they could keep all the movies in a hat until the next movie night. To everyone’s chagrin, tonight the movie turned out to be Donny’s choice: Waterworld. Everyone was going to fight it, but Brandy’s gentle smile won them over. Max figured that after spending twenty minutes arguing about what to watch, everyone stopped caring.
“Oh goodness, I almost forgot the chocolate soufflés!” Alyssa said, as soon as the movie started.
“I’ll help!” Devin, Max, Cole and then Brandy offered.
Donny looked at them with a hurt expression.
“What, you chose the most boring movie of all time!” Devin said.
“It’s not the most boring movie -”
“Boys, boys…it’s fine,” Alyssa interrupted. “Max, you come with me. Donny, you don’t have to pause it for us.”
Max mentally high-fived himself for his good luck. Once in the kitchen he looked sideways at Alyssa.
“You never forget anything,” he said with a grin.
She looked back and winked. “You’re welcome.”
“Well, I’ll never forget this. I owe you one.”
“I figured I was pretty hard on you boys this afternoon. Guess I might as well make up for some of it.”
“I’m actually glad it’s done. It was pretty bad,” Max shrugged.
“Pretty bad is an understatement,” Alyssa answered, reaching for a few plates.
“So, uh, how long do you think we’re good for?” Max asked, looking at his watch.
“Depends on how intricate you want to get with the chocolate icing,” Alyssa replied.
Max mirrored Alyssa’s mischievous smile and grabbed two bags of chocolate icing.
Twenty minutes later, Cole walked in on Max and Alyssa. They were both laughing and chocolate icing dripped from their fingers onto the floor. Icing dotted Alyssa’s face and shirt and Max’s arms were spotted brown. On the counter, six chocolate souffles sat, waiting to be eaten. Fresh whipped cream, raspberries and hot fudge sat next to them on the oven. Cole frowned at the two and made his way to the souffles. In silence, he dolloped his souffle with cream, sprinkled raspberries on, and drizzled it with hot fudge. Walking past Alyssa slowly, he reached out and flicked a piece of chocolate off her shirt. Giving Max a long blink, he left.
Alyssa wiped a tear of laughter from her eye and shrugged.
“Guess it’s time to go watch Waterworld,” she said.
This was so funny to them that they started laughing again. Devin and Brandy both walked in.
“What! You guys are in here having fun and getting messy and I’m out there watching stinkin’ Waterworld?!” Devin yelled, “that’s the ultimate worst!”
Brandy wiped a piece of chocolate from Alyssa’s face and giggled. Alyssa giggled back. Unfortunately, Donny found them all out. So they were all forced to eat their chocolate desserts in the living room, with no more breaks.
After suffering through the rest of the movie, Max and Alyssa were free to wash up and jump into their pajamas. Max threw on a pair of striped-red pajamas, read for two hours in the living room, and, at 12PM, went to bed.
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