Chapter 3: March
Charlie walked into Max’s office wearing a navy blue T-shirt, a white pair of shorts, and a sweatband over his right wrist. He twirled his squash racquet in his hand and looked at Max expectantly. They had developed an effective gym routine since the implementation of the late New Year’s resolution. They did cardio on Monday, weights on Tuesday, squash on Wednesday, weights again on Thursday, and tai-bo on Friday. Although they felt a little out of place in a class full of forty-something women learning how to do a roundhouse kick, their commitment had not faltered.
“You ready?” Charlie asked.
“Give me a minute,” Max replied, his eyes not leaving the computer screen.
After a minute, Max still had not moved and Charlie decided to take a seat.
“Are you done yet?” Charlie asked when they passed the two-minute mark.
“Almost.” Max sighed heavily. “That woman is gonna get me fired.”
“Sofia! We’ve had seven meetings to discuss this design and so far we’ve still got nothing. Terrence Truman wants to see more or less what the site is going to look like on Monday and when he sees the magical array of nothing that we have, I’m dead.”
Charlie smiled. “So if I’m interpreting this correctly, you’ve had seven dates with the lovely Miss Panadero in the last three weeks and she was so smitten by you that the thought of business didn’t even cross her mind.”
Max finally looked up from the computer screen and smiled modestly. “Well, I wouldn’t exactly say that.”
Dorothy knocked on the door, walked in and stopped a few feet away from the desk. “I managed to move your meeting with Bit-by-Bit to eleven o’ clock on Monday,” she said.
Max noticed Charlie’s eyes move up Dorothy’s legs to rest on her ass but he chose not to say anything about it. “Thanks. I’m gonna need all the time I can get.”
Charlie quickly reverted his eyes back to Max as she turned around. He flashed a smile as she was about to pass him. “Hey, Dorothy, why don’t you come sit on my lap and we can talk about the first thing that pops up?”
“Why don’t you think about rephrasing that question before I get my stun gun,” she retorted with disgust.
“I like toys,” Charlie said with a naughty grin.
“And I did like older men until you started looking like one.”
Normally Charlie would be furious at a statement like that, but instead he seemed intrigued by the challenge. He watched Dorothy storm off and turned back to Max.
“She so wants my beef.”
“And she makes it so obvious,” Max added sarcastically.
Charlie pulled an unimpressed face. “Would you get your ass in gear? It’s already four o’ clock.”
“Stop nagging.” Max shut down his computer and stood up. “I’m coming.”
They walked out of his office to the elevators.
“So things are going good between you and Sofia?” Charlie asked.
“Yeah. Pretty good. She’s funny and she’s smart and—”
“Have you made it with her yet?”
“Fuck, Charlie!” Max decided not to tell him that he hadn’t even tried to kiss her yet.
“Just asking. So when are you going to see her again?”
They stepped into the elevator and Max hit the button for the basement parking. “Saturday. We really have to finish this design before Monday and I’m swamped for the rest of the week.”
Charlie nodded. “I guess that means no gaming this Saturday.”
“I’m afraid not. Sofia booked me for the entire weekend.”
Charlie’s eyebrows crinkled together. “And what does hazel eyes have to say about this?”
Max rubbed a hard hand over his jaw as he thought about Danny. Their friendship had taken strain since Sofia came into the picture, but he needed to live his own life, find his own happiness, and even though he knew that he could never feel the same about Sofia as he did about Danny, he was willing to give it a try. “She doesn’t say much, but it doesn’t matter.” He had to pause for a bit in order to make what he said next sound believable. “I’m moving on with my life.”
* * * * *
Max’s eyes lifted from his laptop when he heard footsteps. Danny stepped into the open-plan living room on Saturday morning, looking breathtakingly beautiful in a pale yellow, knee length summer dress. With her dark brown hair caressing her caramel skin and accentuating her hazel eyes, she looked like all kinds of chocolate, tempting in every way.
“Have you seen my white cardigan?” she asked softly. “It’s a little nippy this morning.”
Max took a second and tried to stop gawking. It was moments like this that made him forget that he was technically dating another woman.
Just looking at her made him feel as if his heart was being torn in two directions. One part of him wanted his relationship with Sofia to work and yet the other part blatantly refused to let go of Danny.
The two women were worlds apart. Danny was a bit of a tomboy while Sofia was a lady in all respects. She presented herself well and her make-up was always expertly applied whereas Danny only wore make-up on special occasions. Both attributes were appealing in their own way. Sofia showed that she took care of herself and Danny showed that she was happy with her natural beauty.
But the list did not end there. Danny was assertive. She knew what she wanted and would not back down until she got it. Sofia, on the other hand, was also assertive but more subtle and tactful in her approach. Danny was adventurous and spontaneous whereas Sofia had to be conned into trying something new. Danny was mischievous and playful. Sofia was light hearted but serious. Where Sofia was warm and compassionate, Danny could be selfish and inconsiderate at times. Danny loved wholeheartedly whereas Max could feel that Sofia was holding back. But the defining difference between the two women was that Danny would never see him as anything more than a friend. There was no choice between Danny and Sofia because the option of having Danny had never existed.
“Let’s try that again,” Danny said when the response she was waiting for had not come. “Have you seen my white cardigan?”
“Oh…sorry. Um…it’s in the dryer.”
She squished her lips together. “Great. That’s the only cardigan that goes with this dress.”
“You could use my baseball jacket,” he suggested playfully.
She giggled. “Did anyone ever tell you that you have great fashion sense?” Her smile slowly disappeared and she looked away. “So Sofia is coming over today?”
He nodded and turned his attention back to his laptop. There was something about the way she was looking at him that made him feel guilty and guilt was the last thing he wanted to be feeling.
She smiled in a bittersweet way. “You like her a lot, huh?”
“Yeah,” Max replied. “I like her a lot.”
“Well, I hope you two have a great day,” she said, grabbing her purse from the dining table.
“Where are you going?”
“To the spa with Lauren, Jen, and Amber. We were supposed to go at the end of the month, but Richard is coming home that weekend so we moved it to today.”
Max gritted his teeth. Jealousy was a funny emotion and it always had an unexpected way of creeping up on a person. After seven dates with Sofia, jealousy should no longer be his initial reaction to Richard but it was there, grinding on his nerves again.
The worst part of this whole situation was the fact that she was living with him, which made it more difficult to focus his emotions in one direction. The closer he got to Sofia, the greater the distance grew between him and Danny. His big mistake, however, was that he kept trying to build a bridge over the gap. His friendship with Danny was something he did not want to sacrifice but at some point, for the sake of his own sanity, he knew it was something he was going to have to do.
He watched her leave without saying another word.
* * * * *
“So how’s that hot roommate of yours?” Jennifer asked, leaning back on the pool lounger to allow the sun to beat down on her face.
“He’s off limits,” Amber replied before Danny even opened her mouth. “Besides, he’s dating someone now.”
“What?” Jennifer snapped up, looking at Danny like she was about to slap her. “I asked you six times to set me up on a date with him and you kept making excuses…and now his dating someone else!”
Danny laughed. Jennifer could be so melodramatic, going on as if Max would have actually been interested in her. Although looking at it now, Danny would prefer him dating Jennifer as opposed to Sofia because at least she would not have felt so threatened. “It’s not like the sky is falling,” Danny said. “Calm down.”
“It is,” Jennifer countered almost childishly. “Max is a real catch. He’s smart. He’s funny. He’s sensitive. He’s hot.”
Danny faked a cough. “I can’t believe you think he’s hot.”
“I can’t believe that you’ve been living with him for two months and you haven’t jumped him yet.”
“That’s gross!” Danny spurted out.
“She’s right,” Amber said. “Max is pretty cute.”
“What has gotten into you people? Max is a dork, a geek to the core. He’s a video game junkie. There is nothing hot about that. Now, Richard is hot.”
“Richard is a dickhead,” Amber said flatly.
“There is no need for such vulgarity, Ambrosia,” Lauren interjected.
Amber put on her sunglasses and adjusted herself in her seat to get more comfortable. “I’m just being honest, Lauren. Richard is an asshole with a one-track mind and, if you ask me, Danny, you would be much better off with a guy like Max.”
Danny rolled her eyes. “Well then, I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t ask you.”
These kinds of conversations were happening far too often lately. It seemed like she was the only person that saw any good in Richard. Normally she would fight in his defense, but today she did not feel the need to. She didn’t know if it was because she was not in the mood to argue or if maybe - just maybe - this distance thing with Richard was finally taking its toll and she was slowly beginning to stop caring.
These days Max seemed to take up more of her thoughts than Richard. Strange but true. He was all she could think about. This relationship with Sofia was affecting her more than she had anticipated, but she would get over it eventually. When Richard came home in a few weeks all this madness would come to an end. The comment Amber just made would be ancient history. In a few weeks she would remember how much she loved Richard and stop thinking about how much better off she would be with a guy like Max.
* * * * * *
“Sofia,” Max muttered impatiently, “it’s too bright.”
“Max, that’s our brand color. You canno’ just change it.”
Max slowly exhaled an aggravated breath. After an hour of debating over the bright yellow Sofia wanted as the background for the homepage, he was ready to start pulling his hair out. They finally managed to set up a decent website for Bit-by-Bit, with hyperlinks added for buyers to scan through the product range as well as the necessary payment options should they wish to make a purchase. Sofia also suggested that he set up a page for DIY tips and Max had done so but then it was time for them to add the finishing touches before the presentation on Monday and that’s where the trouble started.
“Just think about it,” he said. “A man comes home and his wife says; the kitchen cupboard fell off its hinges. You need to fix it. The man eats his dinner, has his beer and just before he goes to bed, he remembers that he doesn’t have the right tools. A vague memory comes to mind about an ad he saw and a website that can solve all his problems. He goes to his computer, types in the address, and suddenly a shrill scream breaks the silence. His innocent children wake up crying. His wife rushes in, and finds her husband, blinded by the bright yellow light on the computer screen. He is inconsolable. He never wants to visit that site again.”
“Wow!” Sofia pulled an unimpressed face. “That was so dramatic.”
“It’s the truth. It’s like walking into the frickin sun! No one will want to visit this site. It’s too hard on the eyes. I’m not saying change the color, I’m just saying tone it down a bit.”
“It’s no’ that bad, Max.”
He threw his hands up. “Fine. How about we settle this in a democratic way.”
She smiled and he couldn’t help but notice how pretty she looked in a pair of jeans, a simple gray T-shirt, and her thick hair neatly tied up in a ponytail.
“Rock, paper, scissors,” he said when he managed to stop staring. “I win, we change it. You win, we keep it.”
“On three. One…Two…Three.” Max threw out a flat hand, but when he noticed that Sofia had her fingers out in the shape of a scissor, he quickly drew in his fingers and clenched them into a fist.
“¿Qué haces?” Sofia asked.
She had asked him that enough times for him to know that it meant “what are you doing?”
He smiled. He liked it when she spoke in Spanish. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he replied innocently. “I didn’t do anything.”
“What was tha’?”
“Tha’? What you just did? You cheated.”
Max bit his lower lip. “No, I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did. You had paper and you changed it to rock. Mos’ people would ask for best outto three when they lose, but you cheated.”
“I think you’re hallucinating. The bright yellow must be affecting your brain.”
“I canno’ believe it. Who cheats at rock, paper, scissors?”
“I didn’t cheat.” Max sat back in his chair, looking offended that she would dare accuse him of such a thing. “But if you’re so adamant about it, let’s do it again.”
Sofia threw out a fist but Max threw a fist with his index finger pointed out.
Confusion crinkled her pretty face. “What’s tha’?”
“This is a stick of dynamite and it can blow up rock, paper, or scissors.”
“You can’t do tha’!”
“I just did. So I guess that means I win.”
She leaned back in her chair and sighed her defeat. “If you can stoop to such levels, you must really wan’ to change it, so go for it.”
Max was disappointed that she had not given him more of a fight. Danny would have never given in so easily. Danny! How did she always manage to pop into his head? He squashed the thought and got to work changing the background. He felt Sofia leaning closer and he suddenly found it difficult to breathe. His throat clenched and his palms became sweaty.
“Max,” she said seductively, “can I ask you something?”
He nodded without looking at her.
“Have you ever thought abou’…abou’ kissing me?”
Max choked and disguised it by clearing his throat. Every woman he had ever dated had felt it necessary to make the first move. Even a timid woman like Sofia felt compelled to take matters into her own hands. There must be something that he was missing. He knew he was a bit slow on the uptake but he was shy, insecure when it came to the opposite sex. He was a little low in the experience department and no one knew this pathetic little secret except Danny.
Again, he pushed Danny out of his mind and focused on the very interesting topic at hand. “Oh…wow!” The nervousness came out of him as a stuttered laugh. “Uh…kissing you?” He nipped his lower lip when his eyes met hers. “It…uh…it never crossed my mind.”
Sofia smiled at him as if she knew he was lying and moved closer to him. “So you haven’ thought abou’ it? No’ even once?”
“Maybe…maybe once or…twice…and if right now is included…then…um…maybe three times…but that’s it. Sorry, I just…I just don’t find you…all that…attractive.”
She moved her lips closer to his ear. “You don’t find me even a little pretty?”
He shut his eyes, trying not to think about the way the R rolled off her tongue and the half-pronounced T when she said the word pretty. “No…uh…not even…a little.”
She gently nipped his ear with her teeth and his breathing quickened. “How about the accent?” she asked. “I’ve heard men can’t resist a Spanish accent.”
“Accent?” He swallowed hard. “What…accent? I didn’t even notice…an accent?”
She slowly climbed over him, straddling her legs over his hips. She lowered her head and began whispering sweet Spanish nothings into his ear. This was his breaking point. This woman was a temptress of note. His hands moved up to rest on her hips while her hands slowly began undoing the buttons of his shirt.
She lifted her head and looked down at him. “You still don’t find me attractive?”
“I…uh…” Air was now being pushed out of his lungs in short gasps. “I…uh…I think I need a better look…just to make sure.”
She smiled almost triumphantly and leaned closer. “Like this?”
“Um…a little closer.”
She nodded and leaned closer. “Like this?”
“That…that yellow must be affecting my eyes. Maybe just…a little closer.”
She closed the remaining gap, leaving mere millimeters between her lips and his. She moistened her mouth with the tip of her tongue and Max had to remind himself to keep breathing. “Like this?” she whispered.
He gently ran his hand over her cheek, stalling to find enough courage to close the gap. “Like this,” he said before his lips touched hers.
Her mouth moved sensually over his. He was tentative at first, but the more she massaged his mouth, the more he began to lose himself in her spell. He felt her hands undoing the rest of his buttons and then the buckle of his belt. His hands, however, were firmly pinned at her waist, afraid to do anything more. She broke the kiss, whipped off her gray T-shirt, and tossed it on the floor. “You can touch me, Max.”
He looked at the gorgeous breasts trapped beneath the thin cotton bra, just waiting to be released for his exploration. He could feel his nervousness returning. One part of him was tempted to go forth and explore whereas the other part was so afraid that this would end in disaster. Either she would end up feeling rejected, or he would end up feeling like an incompetent fool. Tough choice. A choice that was taken out of his hands the second he heard the door open.
“Danny!” Max shrieked, almost falling off the chair.
Sofia quickly stood up and attempted to cover her chest with her T-shirt. Max stumbled to get to his feet. His mouth opened to say something but no words came to mind.
He watched as Danny took in the entire scene. Topless Sofia. His unbuttoned shirt. His unbuckled belt. She smiled and he could tell that there was something else behind that smile; the slightest hint of anger, but mostly just hurt.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
She slowly walked away and moments later he heard her bedroom door slam shut.
“Well, tha’ was awkward,” Sofia said as she pulled on her T-shirt. “I think I’d better go. You can finish the homepage by yourself, can’t you?”
He nodded. “Yeah.” He walked to the door and kissed her on the cheek. “I’ll call you later.” He watched her leave and shut the door.
This relationship with Sofia was becoming emotionally draining. The look he saw on Danny’s face when she entered was still playing on his mind. He wanted to know what it meant because somehow he felt guilty again, like he had betrayed her in some obscure way. He needed to do some serious thinking. A friendship with Danny and a relationship with any other woman were mutually exclusive concepts and he needed to decide which one to exclude. He sat down on the sofa, deep in thought, wondering how his life had become so complicated.
This damn post box! It always jammed her key. Danny twisted and turned the key, becoming more irritated when it still felt impossible to open. She continued to fiddle, pushing against the blue metal until she eventually heard the faint click inside. She exhaled a breath of relief but her mood changed almost instantly when she saw the brown paper package underneath all the white envelopes.
“It came! It finally came!”
Closing the box was not as cumbersome. She quickly shoved the key into her pocket as she raced up the outdoor stairwell to the fourth floor. She walked into the apartment and heard Max in the kitchen. She silently crept by and slipped into her bedroom to retrieve the other part of his gift. His birthday was coming up and even though she had always considered giving a gift before the time bad luck, she had no choice this year. Besides, it was just a few days early and he was going to love it. She could already picture the look on his face. A smile would stretch across his face, his left dimple curving in the most adorable way.
Thinking about his reaction made her excited. Her relationship with Max had changed over the last few weeks. It was her fault, she knew. She was being childish and selfish. Last Saturday was a perfect example. She had stayed in her room long after Sofia had left, not really wanting to speak to him or anyone else. Seeing Max and Sofia in that state of undress, with her lipstick smeared on his face was more than she could take. It reinforced every ugly feeling that had been building inside her since they started dating. But her insecurities were making her push him away and Max did not deserve that.
Her fears of being replaced could end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. She needed to change her behavior or risk losing her best friend forever. Losing Max was not an option. He was too important, too special and even though it grated her every time she saw them together, she was going to have to learn to play it cool. Sofia made him happy and she needed to give them the space to allow their relationship to flourish. Danny was hoping that maybe the gifts would be a step to getting their relationship back to what it used to be.
Max was almost finished with dinner when she met him in the kitchen. She walked in, holding the gifts behind her back.
“So…your birthday is coming up,” she said to get his attention.
He turned to face her and a grin had already formed on his face. “Are you going to do the same thing you did last year? Because I would love that.”
Danny giggled. “No. It’s not that awesome, but I think you’re still gonna love it.”
She handed Max the package wrapped in brown paper.
He took it and did not waste time ripping off the paper to get to the gift. “Galactic Battlefront?” His excitement showed in his every movement. “You got me Galactic Battlefront. This game is impossible to get hold of.”
“I know.” Danny smiled, feeling quite proud of herself. “I had to pull a few strings.”
“Danny, this is amazing. Thank you so much.”
“That’s not all,” she said, handing him two tickets. “Its tickets for that geek fest you’ve been dying to go to.”
Max took the tickets to the Electronic Expo that was going to be held on Thursday night. “These are VIP tickets.”
“Yeah. This gives you access to all the weird stuff. They’re gonna have those virtual fighting thingamabobbies and one of those spaceship flight simulators and with these tickets you get to do everything. It even allows you to get one free game so make your decision wisely.”
He was stumped for a moment or two. “Danny, I…I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything, Max. I just want you to have a good time. Maybe…maybe you can take Sofia with you. I don’t know if she’s in to that sort of stuff, but I’m sure it will be fun.”
Max smiled, pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head. “Thank you, Danny. This is amazing.”
She held him tight, not wanting him to move away. For the first time in a long while, she actually felt like she had her friend back.