Chapter 1 : Please Stop Being Such a Chris, Max

13. take a car engine apart and piece it back together

Ruby opened the door to a sheepish Max, her cheery expression hardening as she spied the paper hanging limply in his hand.

"Look, this is the last time," Max placated, flashing his most winning grin. If the porch light hadn't blown last week, his teeth would probably be sparkling.

Ruby looked at him, slouching in her doorway with a hand on the frame, in all his dark haired, strong jawed, dishevelled glory. His beseeching gray eyes were impossibly bright against the dark, like a possum's, and the thought made her grin. Ruby felt a perverse kind of satisfaction in the knowledge that she was, perhaps, the only woman in the world who wouldn't hesitate to deny him, so once she felt he'd suffered her silence for long enough, she opened her mouth to do exactly that.

"… How about no?"

"Oh, that's too bad." Max turned to head for his car, and only now did Ruby see the pack of roasted chestnuts resting in the hand he'd kept hidden behind his back. Damn him! With every step he took, her heart grew heavy with loss.

"Maaax. I loathe you."

He only snickered.

"You can't keep doing this! Doctor Peterson gave you two months to get this done, and you shove it at me the day before it's due? I mean, it's Sunday night and I'm a popular girl!" She ignored his snort – he knew very well that he was the only friend she had, and her dubious 'popularity' was either non-existent or consisted of goons she kept hidden under the bed. "What if I had plans, huh? Then you'd fail this essay, then what, huh? What if you ended up failing this course, huh?" Her voice rose with every 'huh' to match her blazing eyes.

Max made a mental note that a riled up Ruby was also an extremely hot Ruby, and pushed the thought to the back of his mind.

Rolling his eyes at her histrionics, he elbowed past her and made his way to the living room where the latest episode of True Beauty was playing. He looked on in horrified fascination as a beauty expert deduced the contestants' 'beauty score' using their facial measurements. "…Right. If watching the trashiest TV show in existence and gorging on pistachios are your so-called plans, I don't think you'd be sacrificing too much by having a quick read of my paper."

Five minutes later, a perplexed Ruby curled up beside Max on the couch. "So… what's up? I mean, this paper is far better than your usual filth – though I'll be damned if I know how you managed to it churn out with that good-for-nothing brain of yours – no offense, ha ha! – so I'm guessing you had another reason for coming over. Not that I mind, of course… as long as you bring offerings."

She popped a chestnut in her mouth, eyes drifting shut as the powdery flavour spread over her tongue. Ambrosia.

"Um… how about a foot massage?"

"Sure." It was a rather unskilful avoidance of her question, but who was Ruby to deny a foot massage from the king of massages himself? It was common knowledge in their university that many a difficult conquest had been won over by his magical, miraculous fingers.

"No, I meant you give me one," he quoted, dodging the swat at his face. Only when she was melting in his hands did he dare broach the topic he'd been working up to. "You know Rory, yeah?"

Ruby responded with a noncommittal "uhn." His ministrations were wreaking havoc on her senses.

"He kicked me out of our flat. But you and I, we're best friends, right? The bestest, bestest, bestestest best of friends? And best friends help each other out in times of crisis… yeah?" Max paused and looked at Ruby. Her eyes were shut in bliss – she probably hadn't registered a single word, and that suited him just fine. "Look, it wouldn't be too much trouble to scrounge up some accommodation for your homeless buddy for a few days until he gets back on his feet, yeah? Cool, awesomesauce."

Taking advantage of her dazed state, he smacked a noisy kiss on her cheek, left, and promptly returned with his entire luggage. The three suitcases, two duffel bags and mountain of totes in her already miniscule hallway were truly a sight to behold.

Ruby felt a little faint. "You are not staying here. I've seen the way you live, and you… look, no. No! Remember that episode on Skins where Anwar goes "My god, it tastes like you put a sock in the tea", and then Chris cringes and pulls a sock out of his mug? Well, I'm no neat freak, but I cannot live with a Chris, and you, Maxie boy, are the Chrisiest Chris that I ever did seesaw."

But she seemed to have forgotten about Max's grating persistence. So like a parasite he stayed – and truth be told, a bit of company was nice. Besides, her heater had broken down on her, and she supposed Max could be used as a replacement of sorts. The man was a furnace.

Prodding her feet around his lap in search of a toastier spot, she asked, "So what got you evicted? I thought you and Rory were tight."

"About that…" He dipped his chin and looked guiltily away. "Remember number thirteen? 'Take a car engine apart and put it back together'? As if the git actually trusted me with his pride and joy. Totally not my fault that I lost a few parts." He punctuated the statement with an emphatic 'fool'.

Despite herself, Ruby grinned. "Don't hate me, but I told you so. It was number thirteen; alas, it was a doomed mission from the very beginning."

They sat in comfortable silence with the occasional crackle that was Ruby breaking open chestnuts, until Max realised the inevitable. "Crap… we're living together, huh? Angie's going to throw a hissy fit."

"Oh, she'll deal. I don't understand what you see in her, by the way. She's a leech in human form – I thought you hated clingy girls – and seriously, seriously? She near fainted the last time she chipped a nail – a toenail, at that." She lowered her voice at the next revelation. "The other day, your lovely Angie was just sharing her scariest 'evahhh' moment with me. Get this: a fly rammed into her lips one day and got stuck on her lip-gloss. By the time she got the fly off, it had already died – from lip-gloss induced suffocation, I imagine, and she confessed that to this day, she still has nightmares about that incident. Nightmares, Max,nightmares!"

Ruby flung her arms out to illustrate her point, looking rather like a madwoman in the process.

"Hey, she's not that bad." Max frowned. "And her cluelessness is kind of cute," he added as an afterthought.

"It's like I say – a great pair of tits and killer pins will cloud even the smartest man's judgement. Not that you're smart, of course. Imagine that."

Completely unaware of her snide remark (besides, over the years, he'd already mastered the art of selective hearing), Max's eyes had glazed over at the memory of his girlfriend's luscious curves and her legs that were always showcased to perfection in impossible heels. And her hot little cherry of a mouth that knew exactly how to coax –

"Um, ew? Max? Is that an… erection? Is it? Oh, lord." She snatched her foot back and cradled it to her chest, stroking it gently. "My baby little foot, its innocence so brutally torn away… I demand you, Max Pullan, to kiss it better!"

He did so, knowing Ruby did not joke about such things. He had too many childhood memories of untying her shoelaces to annoy her, only to retie them two seconds later under pain of death. He'd discovered long ago that Ruby's threats were always to be taken seriously. Super seriously.

Of course, it was only natural that Angie had to choose this moment to walk in and come to an entirely invalid assumption. Ruby wondered if Max was amused by the irony of the situation as well. But judging from his face – his jaw was disengaged in a frozen expression of utter horror and panic – she guessed 's eyes darted from Max to Ruby and back again, expertly made-up eyes glimmering with unshed tears.

"I knewit, I knew it…" She turned her heel and teetered to the door, extravagant sobs wracking her tiny frame. Pausing at the knob, she pulled out a white hanky from between her impressive breasts and blew her nose delicately.

Ruby rolled her eyes; it couldn't be any more obvious that the woman was waiting for Max to chase after her, like the tragic heroine she was trying to play. "I told you she was a leech. Seriously, what kind of person stalks their boyfriend at his best friend's place?"

But she felt slightly guilty for bitching about Angie earlier – after all, it wasn't her fault that she was born with a figure millions would die for, and her ditziness, while incredibly irritating, was hardly reason enough to judge her so harshly. She turned to Max and shut his mouth with a tap to the chin. "Oh, you moron. Run after her and beg forgiveness. And remember to wrap your jacket around her, she'll like that. And wait! If you want to keep her, don't tell her about the –"

But he was already out the door.

Ruby groaned when Max returned with his tail between his legs, no girlfriend in tow, sporting a hand-shaped welt on his cheek. "You told her about the road trip, didn't you? Why are you so damn tactless? Did it never occur to you that telling your girlfriend you'd rather spend the holiday with your best friend was prooobably not the wisest thing to say under the circumstances? You know, while she was still frothing in a fit of jealousy?"

"Thanks for helping me out in my time of need, babe. You're a truly great friend."

"Oh, Max…" He was right; she could probably afford to let her affectionate side leak out more often. Ruby reached out to hug him, but he swiftly evaded.

"Don't console me! I'm inconsolable, okay?"

Oh, so she was expected to know he wanted to wallow in sorrow despite the fact he'd just complained about her lack of pity, riiight. Good grief, and they complained about women having mood swings?

It finally sunk in that she had to live with this Chris of a man for an indefinite period of time. Then she was to spend her entire vacation with him… Ruby whimpered like the tortured soul she was, but Max was too wrapped in his inconsolability to hear.

He'd get over it, and so would she.

"Holy crap! What is wrong with you?"

Ruby put a hand to her chest to still the rapid beating of her heart – and also to prevent her precariously placed towel from dropping. For the umpteenth day in a row she'd forgotten about her new roommate, finishing her shower to find that in a show of his impatience, Max had taken post in a wicker chair just outside the bathroom – her bathroom – rustling his newspaper and imperiously frowning at her the very second she stepped outside the door – her door.

The man was insane if he didn't have better things to do than to guilt trip her – in her home – at seven thirty in the morning.

"Forty-five minutes. You took forty-five minutes. Forty –"

"Shut up, creep," Ruby muttered distractedly as she scampered to her room.

Right now, her single mission was to find just one top that was clean and decent-looking. Unfortunately, living with a guy like Max tended to bring out the worst in you. She'd been so good with laundry pre-Max-moving-in, and now her laundry basket was overflowing with a fortnight's worth of soiled clothes – half of them Max's; he had no qualms with combining their laundry, but of course, the bastard was probably counting on her to do all the work.

At least she hand-washed her lingerie, Ruby mused. As for him, she'd noticed a distinct lack of male underwear in the basket. He either hand-washed them too (unlikely), had an abundant supply, wore the same dirty jocks over and over again, or…

… He went commando. Highly inappropriate musings to have about a best friend, perhaps, but it made for an interesting topic all the same.

Having found a shirt that was acceptable as long as one overlooked the suspicious stain that may or may not have once been bird shit, Ruby slid into the driver's seat and looked at Max thoughtfully while he struggled with his Converses.

Actually, this entire situation was a learning experience. While she knew Max pretty well, she'd never lived with a man and Ruby was fascinated to by the way he acted in his natural habitat, with his habit of walking around bare-chested and bare-foot, and the way he always switched the channel and refused to relinquish the remote control. He was also a complete ogre if he hadn't had his morning coffee, and had absolutely no misgivings about rudely seizing the paper from her grasp.

They were all very hateful characteristics. She still loved Max, but she'd be lying through her teeth if she denied liking him less by the day.

There was, after all, a world of difference between love and like.

She felt like one of those people on the Discovery Channel, occasionally tempted to whip out a pair of binoculars and gratingly announce 'Oh! What's this Maximillianus thing doing? Let's zoom in closer, shall we? How curious, this particular Homo sapiens does not seem to possess any acknowledgement for the universal concept of personal space! It is… Why, it's inviting itself into Ruby's room, despite her innumerous and vociferous expressions of disapproval regarding this practice! How very, very intriguing!'

Indeed, Max had made a detour to her bedroom after dinner just last night, despite strict instructions not to as she'd actually been planning on doing some homework… and found her playing Fishy on her laptop. Oh, the shame! She'd hotly defended herself from his raised eyebrow, saying "At least I'm not playing Zombies versus Plants!" which was, in hindsight, not the wittiest comeback.

Of course, he had to completely undermine his preachings by manhandling the MacBook away from her and taking over from where she'd left Fishy, murmuring something that sounded suspiciously like 'Fifty?! Amateur.' Then he'd proceeded to beat the game with embarrassing ease, which was unsurprising, considering his name dominated all the high score boards of the games in her mobile phone like a bitch that peed over her territory.

It turned out he'd come with the original intention of leading her to a mouth-watering slice of homemade tiramisu in the kitchen. Just as she'd meant to ask him which amazing bakery he'd gotten it from, Max revealed himself to be the cook. Despite having been his neighbour for however many years, Ruby had no idea of the extent of Max's mastery in cooking. And by George, the tiramisu was good, but then again, Max never half-arsed anything. The zabaglione was so fine it had instantly melted upon contact with the tip of her tongue and she'd had to fight the urge to moan with pleasure and slip into oblivion.

Instead, she'd turned to Max with pure, unguarded wonder on her face, crying, "You should've taken up cookery! Why medicine? Why?" Her voice had even cracked at the last word; such was her dismay at his wasted talent.

His response was wry. "If I took up culinary arts, what do you think my parents would've had to say about that?"

"True that." Max's father was the chief surgeon at St Vincent, and his father was the head of the emergency department… and his great-great-great-whatever grandfather founded the hospital itself. While this had meant an unbelievable sum of pocket money – which Max had used to splurge on Tintin comics – up to the age of fifteen, he had some pretty massive shoes to fill.

See, this was the one good thing about having parents which were more concerned about arguing with each other over caring for their child – they never held you to any expectations; this would simply be sheer hypocrisy. And thus Ruby had always gone with her heart. A writer was what she wanted to be, so she studied English. It was as simple as that, and she couldn't imagine how she'd cope if she ever switched places with Max.

A free spirit, that's what she was.

Max's sharp voice put a quick rein on her running internal monologue. "Stop your free spiriting and keep your eyes on the road, wench."

Oops, had she said that aloud? She smiled to herself. How cute, Max was nervous. He tended to get that way whenever she touched a steering wheel, and with good reason. Forget world peace and gender rights, the world would be such a better place if she were banned from the road.

Letting loose a cackle, Ruby further depressed the accelerator and sped towards the University of Chicago, deliberately taking the speed-camera-free route.

Max swore under his breath and fixed her with a glare that could peel rock.

She only drove faster.

Author's note:

To those who have this on alerts, I'm so sorry to mess with your minds – yes, I've changed this chapter around a bit. I hope you enjoyed it, though. Will you forgive me if I tell you chapter two is half written? To everyone else, thanks for reading, and please leave some feedback (praise is golden but constructive criticism is invaluable) if you have the time and will. May you be blessed with incredibly awesome(sauce) karma if you do, hee. :P

P.S. Did anyone catch the references from The Princess Diariesand Death of a Salesman?

© Copyright 19/09/2009 Sylviana (FictionPress ID: 622101). All rights reserved. Distribution of any kind is prohibited without the written consent of Sylviana.