Ahh, 'twas the sentence heard 'round the world! I'm glad you're all enjoying the story so far and loving Maxime as much as I do. Thanks for your kind words and support. And lastly—Let's Go Pens!!
The rest of my week doesn't progress any better than my Sunday did. I wake up in the mornings and dread getting out of bed, knowing that the routine of my days will bore me into a stupor by noon.
On Monday, I call and make an appointment at a local optometrist's office, and they have an opening on Wednesday afternoon due to a last-minute cancellation. When I show up to the office for my examination, the doctor tells me that my prescription has worsened, and I need both new glasses and contacts. I sigh, wondering how much this is going to cost me. They ask that I give a down payment of a hundred bucks; I do and wonder if I can pay the balance and my share of the rent with my next paycheck. But that type of security was something I had sacrificed when I left Chicago and moved out on my own.
I'm giving serious consideration to Gina's offer of coming with her on a gig. She charges a couple hundred bucks to play the piano as background music for parties and social gatherings. On top of that, she gets tips. I could go just for one night and have enough to cover the balance for my contacts.
Since my Wednesday is already wasted with my appointment and I don't have time to work out, I also head to the local cosmetology school for a free haircut. I figure, why not? I'm willing to risk a bad haircut as long as I don't have to pay for it. Which turns out to be a decision I immediately regret, since the student thought she was a fucking arteest and butchered my hair. I tuck my new bangs behind my ear, but they're too short and fly into my face again. Ugh.
At least on Thursday, I have something to look forward to when I wake up. Sure, I have to get through a long day of work with spoiled brats, but at least I have plans for once. A reason to get out of my apartment, break routine, and enjoy myself. Max and I are going out to dinner. In fact, I'm practically bouncing out of my skin, I'm that excited. I'm a little worried that I'm looking forward to this as much as I am, but I push that through from my head so I can enjoy it for what it's worth. It's merely dinner with a friend.
After work, I quickly head home, change, and head over to the physio center, speeding through my workout. Hank hands me a bottle of water as I'm heading toward the door. "You seemed kinda quiet today, Charlie."
"Oh, I'm just in a hurry is all. I have plans tonight," I tell him, glancing at my phone for the time, "and I have an hour to run home and get ready."
"Big date?" he chuckles.
"No," I sigh with a smile. "Just dinner with a friend."
He nods and smiles. "Well, have fun."
"See you tomorrow, Hank!" I call over my shoulder, cracking open the cold bottle of water and taking a swig as I head out the door. The endorphins and my heart are pumping, and I'm feeling pretty good. I make it home in record time and jump—almost literally—into the shower, singing and humming as I scrub up and then towel off.
It hits me as I stand in front of my closet that I'm not sure what to wear. I don't know where we're going and if there's a dress code. I figure that I could slip into something that I would wear to work, but then if we go somewhere casual, I'll probably look overdressed and like I'm trying too hard. But I'd rather be overdressed than underdressed. Besides, Max can be a pretty snazzy dresser when he's not in a cardigan.
I pull out my "hippie" skirt. It's probably the most comfortable thing I own, and it's long and flowy and not at all form-fitting, which I think is the reason I like it so much. To dress it up, I pair it with a black button-down blouse and black ballet flats, hoping it will be appropriate regardless of where we go. I dry my hair and then try to straighten my bangs and sweep them off my face. This hairstyle is going to take a lot of getting used to.
At 5:31, there's a knock on my door. Max, I think, smiling to myself. I grab my things and meet him outside my apartment. Thank God, he left the cardigans at home. "Hey, cowboy."
"Cowboy?" he questions and laughs, kissing me on both cheeks.
I shrug. "It sounded good at the time."
"Okay, little missy," he says to tease me back. Max offers me his arm with a big, cheesy grin on his face. Such a goofball. "Shall we?"
"We shall," I return with a smile, weaving my arm through his. We walk down the stairs and to his car, and he holds the passenger door of his BMW open for me. He closes it behind me, after making sure my skirt was tucked up under me and wouldn't get caught in the door. Quickly, he trots around to the driver's side, and then we're off.
"So, where are we going?" I ask.
"This place called Bossa Nova?" he tells me, making it sound like a question as if asking me if I've ever heard of it. I shake my head and he continues, "It's my friend's place, down in the Cultural District. It's a tapas bar."
I nod, and we continue to make small talk as we cross the bridge and drive into the heart of downtown. Immediately, I fall in love with the restaurant. It's not too over the top, but it's not your average, everyday place, either. I feel a little overwhelmed as we walk through the main door, trying to take in everything. Max places his hand between my shoulder blades and guides me toward a table. There's a card on the table, letting us know it's reserved; he must have called ahead.
A server comes over, poised to hand us menus, but Max holds up his hands and places an order—both of our orders, drinks and several items off the menu, including stuffed eggs, roasted asparagus, octopus salad, and lobster and crab cakes.
He smiles at me as the server walks away, and I raise an eyebrow at him. "Wow, look at you. Ordering without even asking me if I have any food allergies or dislikes. That is incredibly cocky of you," I tell him, trying to hide the snicker that wants to erupt.
"Not cocky," he counters. "Just confident. And I am fully confident that you are going to absolutely love everything I've ordered us. Trust me."
"Trust you? I hardly know you," I say. I didn't mean it the way it came out, but Max doesn't care.
Instead, he takes it as a challenge. "Well, I'm an open book. Ask me anything you want to know, and I'll tell you." Max places an arm on the table and leans across it a little as our server brings our vodka tonics from the bar. It's an invitation to ask him anything, and I have no idea where to start.
"Why are you so interested in gaining my trust?"
"Isn't that what friends do? Trust each other?"
I bite my lip, hearing my next question in my head: And why are you so interested in being my friend? But I manage to keep it in my head and not ask it. "I suppose so." I'm back at square one. He's looking at me expectantly, waiting for more questions so I can learn more about him and consequently learn to trust him. "When you put me on the spot like this, I can't think of anything to ask," I laugh while shaking my head.
"Then why don't I ask you some questions, and when you answer me, I'll answer them, too?"
I bite my lip. This game could either end very well or very poorly. "Okay."
"So, do you have any brothers or sisters?"
"One sister, Caroline. She's five years older than I am. You?"
"Two brothers. Francis and William. Frank is five years older than me. Will is two years older. What is your favorite color?"
"Blue. When is your birthday?"
"February eleventh. How old are you?"
I laugh. This felt like a police interrogation. "Twenty-three."
"Twenty-five. What is your middle name?"
"What's your last name?"
"Wait, you didn't tell me your middle name."
"Don't have one. I'm still waiting for your answer," he counters back with a smile, which I mirror.
I take a sip of my drink. "That doesn't seem fair that you're asking me questions that you can't answer or that I already know the answer to."
"How about you get two free questions then? Questions you can ask me that you don't have to answer back?"
"Okay. My last name's Bickley. So, for my first free question," I start, tapping my fingers on the table as I think. "Why did you pick today for dinner?"
"What do you mean?"
"Thursday just feels like a random day. I mean, four days after the last time we hung out, but it's not the weekend yet. It's just... random."
"Oh, well," he mumbles, looking away for the first time since he ordered. "I, uh, well, the team's at the Wachovia Arena on the other side of Pennsylvania. So, I figured today would be a good day."
I bite my lip again. Regardless of his excuse, I know his reason stems from his injured shoulder. He can't play; he can't be there with his teammates. I feel silly for asking him, now. "Okay, second free question." I continue to drum my fingers on the smooth, cool surface of the table. I shouldn't ask it, but I can't stop myself. "What does your girlfriend think about you having dinner with another girl?"
He cocks an eyebrow, and I wish I could rewind the past few moments and take that back. I knew I shouldn't have asked it. "Well, she doesn't care." My heart sinks. "Because she doesn't exist."
I bite my lip to keep from smiling. Honestly, how is a guy this good looking single? There's only one reason why. "No? Because I get the impression that you're quite the ladies' man."
Max swings his arms out at his sides. "Well, you can't be a ladies' man if you're tied down, now can you?" he chuckles.
"So, how does your boyfriend feel about you being here with me?"
"Nope," I tell him, wagging a finger in his direction. "That was my free question. I don't have to answer it."
"Oh, come on."
"Nope. Your rules. Next question, please."
"Okay..." he pauses. "What's your boyfriend's name?" he asks, trying to find a way around the agreement we came to, so he can learn about my relationship status.
I shake my head. I'm not doing this. "Remember when I said that you don't have to talk about your shoulder if you don't want to?" He nods in response. "Well, this is my taboo subject. I don't wanna talk about my love life."
Max rubs his fingers around the rim of his glass. "I think it's at least fair that I know if you're single or if I have to worry about a jealous boyfriend hunting me down in a dark alleyway."
"Why in the world would you be in a dark alley in the first place?" I ask, laughing and trying to steer the conversation away from the current topic.
"I'm just saying. I mean, I think I should be aware if I have to watch my back." His eyes latch onto mine, and I can't look away.
I have to answer. I know that he won't drop it until I do. I sigh loudly, more loudly than I should or than I mean to. "You have nothing to worry about," I tell him. It's the simplest way to explain my current situation without getting into the gory details.
He pulls the corner of his mouth up into a smile that almost resembles a grimace as he raises his glass, quickly downing half of it.