Blizzard Ch. 04

It might have been the middle of winter, but it was way too warm in my apartment for pajamas. Max seemed comfortable in hers, and good for her, but I wanted to strip down to boxers. I wasn’t getting sleep tonight. It was probably three in the morning. Max was asleep, her back laid against my back. I had rolled over, and rolled her over, a half dozen times before she gave up, wiggled her butt into my butt, and wished me good night.

In her sleep, she had stolen the covers, and that still wasn’t enough to cool me down. Had she turned up my thermostat? I was wearing a t-shirt and flannel pants. My feet felt fine wiggling off the end of the bed. If she hadn’t been keeping me awake, I would’ve slept through the vibrations of my phone.

I rolled over, reached across Max’s shoulder, and picked my phone off the desk. If I hadn’t been exhausted, I’d have overthought it longer. I lay down on my back and saw the message from Sam.

“Hey babe, had a lousy night… How was yours?” Her text was accompanied with a sexy picture of her in a low-cut red top and half-smirk. I sighed. Maxine rolled. It was a struggle as she stretched out across my shoulder and lay against my side. Her breath was still raspy and loud. Wake her up? Throw her off? I sunk into my pillow, snaking my left arm out over her head and hooking it back to my face.

Sam messaged again.

“Thinking of you.” The image that followed woke up every part of me. She had taken off her red top. I could see her light tan disappeared to bright flesh capped with light pink nipples. My eyes were drawn from her crooked grin to those large bare breasts. Her brown hair framed her chest, falling in streams off both of her shoulders. Her eyes were wide, bright, nervous. She was the most beautiful woman who’d ever shown me her body like this.

I took a deep breath. I dropped my phone on my desk. It buzzed again and again. Max snuggled across my body. She stabbed her fingers right in my throat. She snorted between her breaths. I looked down at her sleeping smile. I inched her hand onto my chest by her thumb. She drooled on my shoulder. She was way too hot. I wanted to be cool.

I closed my eyes. I’d talk to Max over breakfast. Get coffee with Sam. I’d put off Alex until dinner. Yeah, that was the plan.

I wasn’t certain if I had slept at all. My arm had stuck out over Max’s head all night. I was going to be sore when I moved it out of its stiff position. Her breathing slowed. Her eyes weren’t flickering about under their lids. I could tell she was suppressing a smile.

I was stiff. I was too hot. I was cranky. I needed to pee. She was an oven. She was rubbing her fingers in small circles over my belly. She was making a not-at-all subtle move down and down. I took a deep breath. I reached for her face and pinched her nose.

The sputter and flapping slaps of her fingers against my hand warmed the cockles of my heart.

“You’re awake?” I grinned.

“Yes! Fine, good morning!” she laughed as I released her nose.

“Good,” and I picked her up by the hip and shoulder. “Whatever you need to do in the morning, do it. Then we’re going for breakfast.”

“Really? OK!” she said just before I levered her and my comforter out of my bed. She had a lovely shriek. I swung my legs out over her. She was a small pile on the floor to jump. She was on her feet as I shut the bathroom door behind me.

That was as rough-edged as I got. I wanted this day done with. I breathed deep as I ran out of piss. I dried off my hands as I stepped out. The sun was cutting across my apartment. Max tugged the hem of her top up past her navel. She dropped it, blushing nervously. I realized this wasn’t her first attempt to strip. I smiled.

“Hey, sorry about the,” and I tilted my head towards the washroom. “Where do you want to go for breakfast?”

“I dunno, where do you want to–“

“We’ll go to Tara’s.” It was nicer, warmer, and the booths were more private than any of the dives I’d meet up with my brother at. She smiled but looked down. God, lose a little sleep and I’m an impatient prick… “Hey, so–“

“Do I have enough time to grab a shower first?” she erupted before zipping to the washroom. She closed the door behind her. I almost had a moment of peace, then realized she had reopened the door so it was noticeably ajar.

“You have as much time as you need,” I gruffed, and pulled the door all the way closed.

I grabbed my phone and collapsed into my armchair. Three more texts from Sam. No more pictures. I hadn’t deleted those first ones yet. I took a deep breath. These girls were too young, and I couldn’t involve myself without hurting at least two. I doubted all three wouldn’t end up hurt. I doubted I wouldn’t end up hurt.

“Sorry about your blah night. Coffee at 3. Play Grounds.” I texted and sank back into my chair. My phone immediately started buzzing.

I ignored the “Oh my god! Hey!!!” and every text that came after her second text: “I don’t drink coffee *sad face*.” Why would she type “sad face” when there were perfectly good smileys, I wondered.

“They have iced tea, milkshakes, baked goods. Don’t focus on the coffee.” I redistributed the best advice my brother ever gave me. My phone buzzed in staccato on the coffee table as I dozed.

Several minutes later, Max woke me up by squeezing my hand. Her fingers were cool despite the warmth in her eyes. “Wa-aff-fles…” she chanted in hypnotic compulsion.

“Good.” I stood up. She was bundled up in her earmuffs and winter coat. She was pulling on a second glove. I saw the snow starting outside my window. It was a short walk.

“You got everything?” Maybe I should’ve gone with the gloves and boots, but I slung into a leather jacket and stepped into my sneakers.

“Ready to go!” she cheered. I frowned.

“Grab your bag,” I told her. “And don’t leave your textbooks.”

“I can come back later. No sense lugging around… OK.” She must’ve seen my need for sleep. That’s the only way I was stern enough to get her to pack up. I offered to carry her bag. Goddammit, I forgot how heavy science textbooks were! I tried to be pleasant as I led her out.

It wasn’t all the way cloudy that morning, and the snow was light. It was about six streets and a sketchy alleyway to Tara’s. Sunday mornings were hell on any pancake place. Quarter after eight was early enough that we didn’t have to wait to sit down. I dropped her bag under the table.

“Max, hey.”

“Hey,” she grinned.

“Look, it’s not just…” I shut up as the waitress came by. She was gorgeous. A tall curly-haired redheaded woman. More slender, and a little older, than the three nineteen-year-old girls who were the current bane of my existence. Her nametag read ‘Gretchen’. I frowned. Last night it had been ‘Faye’.

“Welcome to Tara’s, special today is the blueberry stack.” She handed out the menus with an Irish brogue I remembered. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“Uh…” I blanked.

“Early morning, huh?” she asked with a big smile. Max was eyeing her with skepticism and hostility.

“Can’t be as early as yours, though.” I forced a smile. “After last night?”

“Oh, yes, of course!” She lit up like a switch had been flipped. “It’s good to see you! It’s not the same kinda place, is it? I can’t say they have the right wine to pair with your flapjacks in the back.”

“You know each other?” Max asked.

“Not for long,” I admitted. “Are you ordering anything to drink?”

I let the lady go first. I mirrored her decision of orange juice. Nothing like a high-caloric sugar bomb to start a morning. Oh, and coffee. Does it come intravenously?

“I’ll give you two a few minutes,” Gretchen, today, said. I cocked a grin and looked back to Max. She was attempting to appear serene.

“She’s a pretty one.” Max baited my Spider-Sense.

“She’s got a couple of jobs,” I explained. “She was serving at the restaurant with Alex last night.”

There, I thought to myself. See the jealousy. Kill the monster. Save the girl. Save her for someone her own age.

“Oh, yeah?” Max lit up. “I couldn’t imagine. I used to candy-stripe and go to school. That was way too much to handle.”

“Look.” I put down the menu. I was just going to have scrambled eggs and bacon anyways. “The attention I’m getting from you is flattering.”

“Really?” Max sunk back. She had the menu in her hand. She didn’t want to break the conversation, but she was committed to reading the words in her hands. It was a comedic dilemma to watch her suffer through. “I got the feeling you’ve been frazzled and confused.”

“I still am,” I laughed. Gretchen leaned across and flipped my cup. She poured from the pot as Max wore her most tolerant face. She grabbed three milks from the bowl by the dessert menu. She fingered through the sweetener packets looking for something. I settled on a little shot of real sugar.

“I’ll be back with the juice,” Gretchen said. I smiled. Max didn’t. I picked up my coffee cup.

“So, confused and frazzled?” I returned to track. Max nodded.

“And flattered,” she added.

“Very,” I agreed. “You, and your friends, have been wonderful. I’m glad I was able to help Sam when she needed it. I’m surprised Alex introduced me to her dad. I’m proud you felt safe enough to come by my apartment to study. I’m worried you’re all going to end up fighting. I’m certain you’re expecting more than I’m giving. I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Oh, that’s sweet.”

“That means, I’m not going to be playing this game of ‘pick me, pick Alex, pick Sam.'”

“We know.” Max sipped her coffee. I didn’t process that. I was trying to do everything I could to dump her.

“I had a good conversation with Alex’s dad last night. I’m too old for you girls. You’ve got to live your lives, and experience whatever you’re going to experience. That’s not going to happen if you just keep showing up at my place and avoiding your life.”

“What are you trying to say?” She set her jaw. Good, I didn’t want her brushing it off.

“I’m too old for you. Live your life.”

“Oh, is that all?” She laughed. Gretchen returned with our juices. Max seemed unshaken as she said, “Hi, that blueberry stack sounded lovely. And the gentleman could use a good smack to the head.”

“I don’t think I’m allowed to serve that,” my many-named waitress smirked. “I’m sure he’ll come around in time.”

“Yeah,” I murmured. “Um, two eggs, scrambled, with bacon.”

“Of course.” She pulled out a tablet and tapped in our orders. “And did you want white or whole wheat toast?”

The food was terrific. I tried a few times to get the message through to her over breakfast. It didn’t seem to stick. I did ask about her classes. Biomedical engineering lit up her eyes like nothing else. I really liked this girl. I ate faster. I walked her home, tired in mind and body now. I squeezed back her hug. “You sure you understand?”

A couple of times she had braced herself, but every time the tension had dropped from her shoulders and she had laughed it off.

“Yeah, I get it.” She bit her lower lip and smiled. “I’m not going to screw up my friends or your life on some teenage crush. I promise.”

“Oh my god!” Our hug had been ending but I squeezed her tightly again. “Thank you!”

“Go on, you made a date with Sam, for coffee.” She chuckled at the idea of Sam drinking coffee. She pushed me off. “I’m fine.”

“I’m so glad this went as well as it did,” I smiled. I realized she had once again looked at my phone. It had to have been while I was semi-sleeping in my chair.

“I can still invite you for a bite to eat when I need a moment from all this, yeah?” She waved at the dorm and thus the entire school.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you’d be dying for something other than prison food.” I recalled the comment Alex had made the night before.

“Good.” She waved. “Have fun with Sam later!”

Fun? One dodged bullet didn’t make the next look friendlier. I forced a smile and tramped home for a long and hard nap. The flurries burned away.

When my phone alarm chimed and woke me up at one, I was again certain I hadn’t slept. It certainly hadn’t felt like four hours of existential fear. I breathed deep. The rickety water pressure made me want to put my fist through the tiled walls of the shower. I did my best to unstink, demuck, and refresh.

I didn’t see upbeat me in the mirror after I wiped the fog away. I picked the sleep out of my eyes. I scratched my stubble. I often took weekends off from shaving. I forced the effort.

The sun was out as I walked to Play Grounds. It was an off-campus coffee shop about as far from my home as Alex’s dorms. This meant it was an extra ten minutes walk for Sam. It was bustling, but there was a nice window bar in the far corner. I was about ten minutes early. I ordered as tall and grande as they brewed. I hadn’t finished one cup with Max. I had avoided the early morning wake-up but I wasn’t even certain I got a nap out of the caffeine avoidance.

“Hey Gene!” Sam collapsed over my arm as she tackle-hugged me. I smiled my trepidation and pulled out a stool. She hopped up with a vigor that said her ankle was doing much better.

“Hey Sam, did you order?”

“It’s like that here?” She looked over her shoulder to the lineup at the counter. “I mean, I just saw you and came over.”

“No worries,” I shook my head. “See the chick in the green polo? Walk up to the counter and she’ll get you whatever. On me.”

“Aww! My hero!”

“Hero’s a strong word for buying you a cof-uh–a tea,” I said to her blossoming smile and eyeroll.

“No, for everything. And I literally mean everything. I always wanted someone to rescue me. My heart was racing!”

“I didn’t do anything that special,” I said.

“Tell that to my ankle. You actually picked me up and carried me in your arms.” Sam frowned. “Ew. That sounds like such a cliche, doesn’t it? Straight out of Harlequin. I should’ve said it better, for all you’ve done for me and Max. And Alex.”

“It wasn’t a big deal. You’re not that heavy. Just don’t order too many pastries,” I smiled.

“It was a big deal to me.” She tilted over and popped her head on my shoulder. Light snow tumbled out of her brown hair. I picked off a little snowball and flicked it into the window as she laughed. She grabbed a few napkins and tried to dry the snow melt from her hair.

“Yeah, sweet…” I worried. “I was thinking–“

“Hey, great!” Sam caught a barista as she passed. “Do you have fresh cinnamon buns?”

“They’re coming out of the oven now. Be ready in a couple of minutes, okay?”

“I love you and everyone you’ve ever loved!” Sam beamed. “Oh, and uh… Green tea to go with it?”

I smiled. I broke eye contact with Sam, I would’ve been staring into her grey eyes forever. The barista moved into my line of sight. There she was again, fluffy red hair, pretty face, slender figure. She waved her fingers, winked at me, tilted her head in Sam’s direction, and gave me two thumbs up. My mouth ran off before my brain could process:

“Oh fuck this…”

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