"Your boyfriend? Sweet Pea, your boyfriend is admitted to this hospital, and he needs you to be serious and be there for him, instead of playing these games. Whatever fight you think you and John are having, you need to just forget about it because he needs you right now."
My mother continues to stare down Max even though she's supposed to be addressing me. She, of course, is siding with John in this matter instead of with her own daughter because she thinks she knows what's best for me. While she scolds me for my perceived pettiness, she's picking out all Max's visible flaws so she can later tell me why Max is no good for me anyway, and why I need to get back with John pronto.
His shirt's wrinkled and he looks unkempt, even though it's because he slept here in the lounge with me all night. He has a day's worth of hair growth on his face, which I happen to love, but he looks unshaven and derelict. And his eyes are red from sleeping in his contacts, yet again, so he looks like he's recovering from partying all night long. In my mother's opinion, if he doesn't care about his outward appearance, then how can he care about her daughter?
"Wow! Quelle garce!" Max interjects, under his breath. I'm curious about what he said, but I know it couldn't have been positive. Justified, yes; helping our situation, no. He should have learned his lesson and kept his mouth shut, because he had misspoken every time he's said something to her. He's clueless.
"What did you say?" she asks, confused and annoyed. I know exactly how she feels, because I'm always baffled when he speaks in French.
"Wait, you didn't know they weren't broken up either?" Libby asks, making her presence known. Honestly, I thought she had gone into John's room and left us to deal with this matter.
"Mom," I quickly say, trying to get the upper hand and stop her analysis of Max so we can focus on the real issue at hand: my ever-elusive happiness. "I know that you're clinging desperately onto the idea that John and I will get back together, but that's just not going to happen. I'm with Max now. I know that these are bad circumstances for you to meet him, but you were going to have to meet him sooner or later. Please just be nice and give him a chance." I'm not sure why I'm pleading with her like this, because she's already made up her mind regarding him.
"Now, Charlotte, that's no way to talk to your mother," Max comments, placing his hands on my shoulders and stepping behind me. At first, I think he's scared of her and is trying to use me as a shield. Also, I can't believe he just said that. I look up at him, and the corner of his mouth is pulled up slightly. Suddenly, I get it. He's trying to play right into her hands. Look like he's on her side. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Livingston. But Charlotte's been here at the hospital ever since we heard the news, and she's hardly slept because she's been so worried. I think she just needs a shower and a nap to feel brand new."
My mother barely returns his smile. Her eyes are trained on his hands on me, disapproving. "Charlotte does get cranky when she doesn't get enough sleep. She's always been that way."
I jut out my lower lip and try to think of something say. I'm feeling ganged up on, even if Max is trying to play my mother to get on her good side. They've made me a pawn in their little chess game. I'm used to it from her, but not from him.
"If it's all right with you, Mrs. Livingston, I'd like your permission to take her home so she can rest and go back to being her old self. Go back to being the wonderful young woman you've raised."
I bite my lip and force myself to not roll my eyes. He's laying it on thick. Almost too thick, in fact. He's dangerously close to crossing the line and going too far by trying to stroke her ego. This is a treacherous game, because if she sees through it, his chances of making a good impression will disintegrate—if they haven't already. Not to mention that I'd prefer if he'd stop trying to pander to her and instead take my hand, tell her fuck off, and drag me out of here.
She lets out a low pitched hum as she contemplates him and his suggestion. Before she can give him her answer, Max continues, "Of course, I'd also love to get to know you better. Beyond all of the wonderful things Charlotte's told me about you. Would you let me take you out to lunch? The three of us?" he asks, flashing that smile that always makes me melt.
My mother continues to watch him, and I'm worried that he's overdone it. She jokingly counters, "You must know a different Charlotte, because my daughter would never say wonderful things about me."
"Au contraire," he replies. "She's said nothing but good things. I'd love the chance to see if it's all true or if she's been exaggerating."
"I suppose I could use the time to catch up with my daughter," she agrees, and I don't know if I should release a sigh of relief or continue to hold my breath. "I'd hate to think of Libby on her own, though."
"It's okay, Virginia," Libby says to my mother. "I need to spend some time with John. I'd really like to see him now."
I wave over the Dr. Ryan and introduce her to John's sister, and my responsibility here is finally waived. I feel as if handcuffs have been removed from my wrists and the fetters around my ankles are gone. I'm ready to leave now. Max tells my mother that we will come back and pick her up at twelve thirty, and I quickly and superficially hug both Libby and my mother and make a bee line for the elevator with Max on my heels.
When the door closes and we're alone, I grab his face in my hands and look him square in the eye. "What in the world has gotten into your head?" I ask him, searching his face for signs of insanity.
"I couldn't blame you before for thinking you could handle my mother. But you've just witnessed firsthand her in full-on bitch mode. And you still want to take her out to lunch? Are you crazy?"
"I told you, your mother will love me. She just needs to get to know me. Then she'll see how much you love me and that I am so much better than he was and better for you than him," he gladly informs me.
I open my mouth to say something, but I don't know what to say so I clamp it shut again. This is a mistake. But he's so determined, and I guess it's kind of cute that he wants to earn her favor. "Max-A-Million. If you're sure...."
"Yeah. You know me, baby. I never give up on what I want," he says with a smile. It makes me blush, because I know how true that statement is. Max is going to try to win her over, but I can't guarantee it's going to work. "And I want her to like me and stop hassling you about that stupid douche bag. I just need you to help me."
I laugh. "I can't even believe you got her to agree to lunch, so you're off to a good start. How do you want me to help?"
"Tell me all the wonderful things about her that I lied about you telling me," he chuckles. "Tell me what I need to do to impress her. She's... a real piece of work. How is it that you two are related?"
I groan and lean against the wall of the moving elevator. "I think I'm the way I am because of her. Like, I had to adapt into someone who always needed to see the good in people, because I needed to see the good in her. She's not all bad. She's just pushy and demanding and imposing and she thinks she's always right. And this is gonna sound ridiculous, but she does it because she loves me and wants what's best for me."
"Well, I'm going to show her that I'm what's best for you," he counters huskily, and I grab his ears and pull his mouth down on mine.
While Max showers, I raid his closet for something for him to wear. I pick out a dark, navy blue button down dress shirt and khaki pants. It's casual looking but kind of business casual. He walks out of the shower with a towel wrapped around his waist, water dripping down his chest and stomach, and I can't help but stare. Damn, he's one gorgeous man.
"Baby? You're ogling me," he laughs.
"I'm sorry," I apologize, snapping out of my daze and looking away. I'm supposed to be concentrating on how to let him make up for his bad first impression and not on how much I just want to pounce on him and forget about lunch. Who needs to eat anyway, with a man like that naked and inches away from a bed?
"Do you think I should shave?" he asks seriously, running his hand across his cheek and looking in the mirror.
"No," I say, stepping behind him and wrapping my arms around his middle. I rest my cheek against his back. "I like it."
"But what will your mother think about it?"
"I don't care," I sigh. "I don't want you to change everything just to get her to like you. I want her to like you because of who you are and because of what you mean to me. Not because you shaved or because of whatever you said to boost her already-huge ego."
"I told you that I'm going to do what it takes, but I won't change who I am. I'm a likable guy, Charlotte. I don't know why you doubt me like this," he says with a sly grin, teasing me.
"I don't doubt your likability. I doubt her ability to look past her prejudices." I begin to tell him anything and everything about her that I think he needs to know or will need to know. I explain that she was trained in voice and dance, and it was her lifelong dream to perform on Broadway. Until she got pregnant at eighteen with my sister Caroline, so she married my father and had a family instead. So he should bring up that she's talented, but not talk about why she never got to be a performer. I further tell him that even though she loves her daughters, she's still a little bitter that she never got her chance to make it big, and she always kind of blamed it on my father.
"That's why we need to think about a job for you. You can't be a hockey player."
"Yeah, you said that last night, that we couldn't tell her. But, um, why?"
"My dad played hockey all through college, and then when he started teaching high school, he took over as the coach of the high school boys' team. He loved it, and it kinda drove my mom batty how he would yell at the television during games." I pause as Max laughs. "I used to watch the Blackhawks games with my dad, because it was the one way I really got to spend quality time with him. My mom didn't like that I was into a manly, brutish sport like hockey instead of something girlie. Needless to say, she's kind of biased against hockey players."
"Wow. So I have all these odds against me? First she won't like me because I'm not John, and now she won't like me because I play hockey."
I shake my head, but I'm smiling nevertheless. "I told you this wasn't going to be easy."
"John didn't like hockey?" he asks while buttoning up that blue shirt.
Rolling my eyes, I clarify, "John wouldn't know backchecking from forechecking from poke checking." Then I laugh. "I just like saying poke checking."
Max doesn't find the same humor in that as I do. "Will you be serious? I'm trying to take this all in."
"Oh my goodness," I continue to tease, moving to help him with some of the buttons. I wish I were undressing him instead of dressing him. "For once monsieur Maxime Talbot is more serious about something than I am."
"What is this world coming to?" he laughs.
Once Max is finished dressing, he drives me over to my place so I can go through a similar routine. I shower, shave, wash, condition, scrub, pluck, moisturize, and examine myself in the mirror when I'm finished with all of that. I think I'm spending more time getting ready for lunch with Mommie Dearest than I ever did for a date with Max.
As I walk into my room in a towel, I go through my own closet to pick out something appropriate. Max interrupts my thoughts. "Merde, did you have this much trouble watching me get ready? Because I do not want to leave this apartment. I'd rather spend the day here with you." He groans. "After yesterday, I just want to relax with you."
"You should have thought about that before you asked us out to lunch." My stomach growls. I start to giggle. "I'm starting to look forward to eating, apparently."
I pull my comfortable hippie skirt out of my closet. It's a little cold for it, but I want to dress up and also be comfortable. "No, don't wear that," he says, taking it from my hand and hanging it back up.
"Why not? I like that skirt."
"Just as much as I need to prove to your mother that I'm better for you than John, you need to prove to her that you're doing fine without John. Better than fine. Show yourself off." He scans my closet for something. "Where's your little black dress?"
"That's Gina's," I explain. "And I'm not wearing that."
"Why not?" he asks, repeating my previous question. "I like you in that dress."
It makes me laugh how we're kind of mirroring each other. "It's too sexy for lunch on Sunday with my mom." I pull out the outfit that Gina made me buy when I was trying to dress nice for Max. Paired with a cardigan, I look halfway decent. I quickly do my make-up and hair, and it's just about noon and almost time to go pick my mother back up and head out for lunch.
"Where are we going by the way?"
"I figured your mother would pick the restaurant. You know, butter her up by letting her decide."
I smile. "That's a good idea. You just may be able to charm her yet."
"I told you, no one can resist the Talbot charm."
I mockingly roll my eyes. "You know, you and my mother will get along just fine, because you both have such big egos. If you remember, Max-A-Million, I resisted your charm for quite some time."
"But you eventually caved," he says smoothly, pulling the collar of my cardigan to the side and planting lingering kisses in a line from right below my ear to where my neck and shoulder meet. I instinctively moan; I can't suppress it. "You may have said no at first, but you never say no to me anymore."
"I changed my mind," I pant. "Let's cancel lunch."
Max smiles and gives me one quick peck on the lips before he takes my hand in his. "No, we're going to do this. Let's go make your mother love me. Are you ready?"
"No," I sigh. "But let's go."