Max was your average teenager. He kept to himself, stayed clear of trouble, and gravitated towards like-minded individuals who elevated his imagination. But what meant most to him, was treating others with respect, integrity, and loyalty.
It was a normal Tuesday morning and Max being a creature of habit took his time, with everything, from clothes, fitting exactly right, picking out the proper shoes to wear, to even eating the same breakfast each morning; a bowl of Honeycomb cereal, a pattern that gained him notoriety for poor punctuality. His other nasty obsession was stopping at a local 7eleven each morning, a routine he called “the daily ritual”. A strange escapade, considering it lured him four blocks from his high school. He simply couldn’t deny his insatiable appetite for the taste of Black Bart chewing gum. A treat so sweetly addicting, that when you masticated a piece for hours, it left your gums and teeth looking rotten or funnier, covering your teeth like a retainer gave the impression you were missing a few chicklets.
Rounding the corner at the intersection of Runnymede and Dundas. Max hesitated momentarily gripping the door handle lightly, then finally swung the glass framed door open. Once inside he headed to that familiar sugar-filled candy aisle. Giving the vast selections a once over, he instinctually grabbed four packs of BB gum, then steadily strolled up front, laying them down on the counter.
Lifting his bag off his shoulders, he unzipped the exterior zipper that held his wallet. The store attendant looked over his purchase, gave a smile, and remarked, “find everything, Max?”, without missing a beat, Max responded, “Yup, thanks, Joe.” This exchange of dialogue started nearly four years ago when Max was a first-year student.
When departing, Max spun his head around like the Terminator in 84’, offering a much kinder approach than his T800 counterpart, “Thanks again Joe”, he gleefully spoke and added, “see you tomorrow”. Once passed the threshold, a ray of sunlight blindsided him when suddenly a vibrating jolt had startled him. Max pulled out a phone from his pant pocket. At which point, saw the time, and immediately cried “Shit” then raced for six blocks as quickly as his untrained legs would take him.
Making up ground with one block remaining, he steadied the pace leaping into a brisk jog. Arriving with five minutes to spare. Max advanced to the main entrance, entering through a large stained-glass door, and proceeded onward to his Modern English class. On approach, the door began to swing shut. Spotting Mrs. Sharp, he yelled, “hold the door, please!” while scooting beyond the gap and shuffled into the classroom. She wasn’t all too impressed with his timing, but happy to see he arrived.
Halfway through the lesson, Max completed his assignment, shifted out of his chair, and quietly walked towards the teachers’ desk. “Mrs...may I use the hall pass?” She responded compliantly by handing it to him. Max conceded...then went on his way.
After taking care of business, he ventured back, when someone called, “Hey,” then again, “Hey Buddy,” the words bounced through the empty hall. Max barely connecting to the voice, until the mysterious person finally yelled, “Stoner!”. Max shattered with marvel, turning to see his long-time friend. “Oh wow...Danny,” Max was taken by surprise, “when did you get back?” he asked excitedly. “Drove in late last night,” Danny responded, “But never mind about that,” he clattered onward, “what’s your plan for lunch?” Danny asked. “I’m heading up to Bloor for a slice”, Max earnestly replied. “Alright great, I’ll meet you there, we’ll catch up then and save me a Hawaiian slice”, he declared running down the empty corridor.
Filled with a medley of emotion at the sight of his friend's return, Max collected himself before rejoining the class, when the bell sounded to signify the end of the period. On re-entry, the other students were anxiously driving for the exit, so instead of filtering through the crowd, he waited a few more seconds until an opportunity emerged and the horde cleared.
He darted inside and noticed his possessions were gone. Not fully convinced, he searched, stepping past the maze of desks. All he found was something that didn’t belong to him. He grabbed the leather-bound book and asked Mrs. Sharp if she saw anyone take his things. Her response gave him the impression that she hadn’t seen anything unusual.
Max bolted for the door hoping to catch a classmate carrying his stuff but was mistaken. His anxiety filling to the brim and although his desire to figure this extra conundrum took precedence. Max’s mind began to race, tracing his every move from the time of arrival to the moment he left his merchandise unattended. With curious vigor, he sought to investigate and resolve his current dilemma, but first, he needed to run up a couple of flights to his next class.
Taking two-step strides up the stairs, he forged ahead towards Room 310 his destination, and to Mr. Tielis’ mathematics session. With the book in hand, Max strolled to his designated spot and sat down. Placing the notebook on the desk, he studied the creases and imprints scathed over the leather, tethered with a long black calfskin strand hugging it twice.
As class wore on, Max became riddled with temptation, hungry for answers which couldn’t wait until lunch, so he tugged at the strap to unravel the mystery. Flipping the overlap and slowly lifted the second piece of leather to reveal the guts within. Max saw a singular page and couldn’t believe his eyes. At the very top of the ringed sheet, his name was written. Max scanned the room then returned to read the note. “Today you will find that one act of kindness can provide another a chance of a lifetime,” And before he could decipher the cipher within the message, the bell rang. Mr. Tieli announced above the hustle that there would be a test tomorrow.
Picking up the little black book, Max exited the classroom, like the others, walking along the corridor, then stopped, remembering that he was meeting Danny for Pizza on Bloor. He changed direction mid-stride and headed towards his locker. As the distance tightened, something caught his attention. There stuck on the metal door was a matching sheet to the book he held in his hands. Gently peeling the page away, he noticed the cursive message on the back that read, “The size of a man’s gratitude will never compare to the measure of his loyalty”, stunned by the discovery Max placed it inside the book. Spinning the dial to unlock the combination, he grabbed his jacket, snapped his lock shut, and hurried down the stairs and out of the building.
Not quite daunted by today’s bizarre events, Max became more determined to get to the bottom of this enigma. He gingerly entered The Big Slice Pizza Parlour and checked if Danny had already arrived. Progressing to the counter, he peered past the glass display, warranting his choices, before gazing up at the menu and placing his order, ”May I have a deluxe slice and a Hawaiian slice...please?”. The female employee asked, “would you like a combo?” Max responded, “sure, thanks!”
As she prepped the orders, Max took a seat adjacent to the entrance, he was still somewhat subdued by the whole experience. Putting the little black book on the table, he quickly untied the bound to read the passages again. He pondered the meaning but failed to understand their connection and why he was at the centre.
The girl broke his train of thought, letting Max know the orders were ready. He stood up to pay for the meal when he realized the commotion of today’s mischief slipped his memory; his wallet was missing. When he advanced towards the register preparing to apologize and explain the situation to the server, in walked Danny and Max felt hopeful. “Hey Bud, did you remember my Hawaiian?” he asked with a loaded smile. “Come on man!” Max griped back, “Just kidding,” Danny interjected while pulling a twenty from his wallet, ”keep the change,” he said kindly.
They took their combos and sat down to enjoy their meal. And for a moment, silence took centre stage until Danny spotted the black leather book on the seat beside his friend. Max noticed his gazing curiosity and began to explain today’s episodes. “it’s like somebody left this for me to find, but why?” Max concluded.
Danny’s reaction was typical, “Maybe it’s an admirer,” he laughed, “okay seriously” scoffing it off, “knowing you Max, you’ll figure it out,” slurping the last bit of Root Beer from his 16oz cup, then stood up “Alright, I’ll be back, gotta drain the main vein,” winked then strolled off.
Max shrugged off that disturbing visual, affixing his attention back on the two phrases. Danny returned from the restroom while Max began clearing the table, collecting the debris, and placing them on the tray. He stood up, twisted to face the counter. The momentum caused one cup to drop to the floor. Putting the tray on the glass surface, Max bent down to retrieve the cup and what he saw wasn’t conceivable, there taped beneath the bottom of the table was another note.
Danny witnessed his buddy staring at the underbelly of a table, “what’s wrong Max?” asking cautiously. Max quickly snapped for it like a chameleon. Brought it to eye level and read “Greatness is a mark most reach with trusted hands,” Max eyed his friend with astonishment. Danny questioned the female behind the register, but she was clueless.
Both gentlemen stepped outside into daylight before bearing down the depths of the valley to school. Danny tried to spare him the burden, promising Max “Look buddy, I’ll help you after school”, before rushing off. In the main hall, Max stood motionless for a moment, under a cloud, he walked through the throng of students to land at his locker.
When he spotted an additional page, taunting his senses. He stripped it from the door, collapsed at the knees, took a breath, and read the latest ensemble, “You’ll never know the magnitude of your greatness. Your kindness is unmatched...so now it’s time I pay it forward, a reward awaits inside.”
Max sprung up from his perch and immediately unlatched his lock, opened his locker, and hanging from the hook was a key tagged with an address. Taking the key into his hands, Max felt dumbfounded and discombobulated. His only desire now was to identify the origin of these gifts by following the lead off the tag.
Leaving the school grounds, Max marched eastward while thoughts funnelled through his head along the trip, until he finally landed facing to breach the threshold to the post office. Filled with so much uncertainty, he wavered to enter, not knowing what awaits him.
Max inserted himself in que with a number and patiently waited. “Ninety-four?” called the clerk, Max stepped up, feeling relieved and excited, before presenting his tag. The postal clerk reappeared with a safety deposit box. Max pulled it aside, slipped the key into the slot, and unlocked the mechanism. He lifted the lid, exposing the contents inside and what he found was another page, “Think of this, as a head start” and taped to the back was a cheque in his name for twenty thousand dollars.
Max smiled euphorically, folding the cheque, and put it in his pocket. He finally uncovered the truth, although the biggest surprise, waited for him outside. “How did you know I’d be here?”, Max asked Danny mystified, ”I knew all along,” Danny began explaining, “remember that software I was constantly working on a year ago?”, “yeah!” Max recalled, “with the money you initially fronted, helped me realize my dream and pushed my project further, capturing plenty of attention, affording me the option to sell. “And what happened?” Max demanded, ”I sold it for two million, last month” Danny sneered, “and sharing it with the loyal”.