AUTHOR'S NOTE

Hello there! Alice the author here. Please leave a comment or follow me if you enjoy this story. It would make so happy. I'm also on Instagram and Wattpad under the same username, uxecila, so feel free to look me up. I'll be posting more writing and updates there! :)


CHAPTER 14

Max ended up spending almost four hours in Nina's apartment that day.

It took a while to finish assembling her new bed frame. They plopped her mattress on top. Then, Max helped her dispose of the old metal frame.

"You owe me big time," Max grunted as he hoisted the heavy metal frame, section by section, into the dumpster downstairs.

Nina merely arched an eyebrow at him. "You're the one who volunteered to do this!"

He made a face at her. "And I regret that decision very much. I want beer with my pizza. Make it happen, woman!"

Nina rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "Fine, you big baby."

Afterwards, they stuffed their faces with beer and pizza, chatting about this and that and everything in between as they ate and drank. Max opened up to Nina about the shit he used to get into as a kid. The stupid, ridiculous stuff. He left out all the sad, chaotic parts. Nina shared a few funny stories of her own about her childhood in Flushing, New York. She had been helping out in her grandparents' restaurant by the time she was tall enough to reach the kitchen sink and old enough to hold a butcher knife. She had done it all, from chopping up green onions to overseeing business accounts…

Max was pleased to find that he had been kind of right about her. Nina didn't come from money. She came from a family of first gen immigrants—like his mom's side of the family tree. The girl had brains and grit, and she wasn't afraid to roll up her sleeves and get her hands dirty. Max respected the hell out of her for it.

"Sounds like your grandparents had their hands full with you," Max teased. "Like that time you subbed bell peppers with serrano chilis for those asshole customers. I can't believe they put up with your shenanigans for as long as they did."

Nina grinned. "My grandparents didn't have a choice. It's the price they had to pay for free labor."

"It seems like you guys were really close," Max commented. Almost dejectedly. "Must be nice to have a family like that."

"Yeah, it's really nice," she agreed softly. "My grandma is still the baddest bitch I know, and my grandpa… he was my safe place. I miss him every day."

An introspective look passed across her pretty features. Nina gazed deeply into Max's eyes. He almost forgot to breathe.

Nina's next statement caught him completely off guard. "I really admire your mom for raising you on her own. I know how much my grandparents struggled with me. That shit must have been tough. For both of you."

Max grew silent for a minute. He knew Nina meant well, but her words made him feel guilty. He rarely spoke to his mom nowadays. They had never been on good terms, but their relationship deteriorated even more after he ran away from home all those years ago. His mom called every week, but he would only pick up once in a while. Max sent her a check every month to help out with bills, and that pretty much summed up the highlight of their relationship.

"Yeah, my mom had it rough, especially after my dad ditched us," Max mumbled. Shame crept up his face as he confessed his shortcomings, "I admit, I haven't been the best son that I could be. I'm a shitty one, actually. My mom and I have never gotten along."

Nina studied him with a gentleness that made him a little naked. She asked, "Do you think your mom might feel the same way about you?"

Max frowned. "Doubt it. She thinks I'm a dumbass."

Nina laughed. "She may be onto something."

Max passed her a withering glare. "Be nice. Or no more free manual labor for you."

Nina snapped her mouth shut, but her eyes still sparkled with mischief. "Okay, okay! I'll play nice."

She paused. Then, she asked, "What if your mom also feels like a failure? Maybe she just wants to do better by you, too."

"Maybe, I don't know," Max muttered with a faraway look on his face.

He had never thought about his mom that way before. His chest tightened. He didn't want to dwell on his relationship with his mom at the moment, so he flipped the question around on Nina.

"What ever happened to your mom and dad?" Max asked.

Nina's expression turned pensive. "Do you really wanna know? It's kind of a shitshow."

"Shitshows are my favorite kind of shows."

Nina grimaced. "Well, my dad has been in and out of rehab since the 90's. He does his own thing, mostly, but we meet up once in a while for lunch. As for my mom… I don't know much about her. My grandma claims she got deported back to Columbia when I was two, but I dunno if I believe it."

"Damn, you weren't kidding. About it being a shitshow."

Nina wrapped her arms around her knees. She curled herself up into a little ball. "Yeah, I know, right?"

Max wanted to reach over and hug her, but he stopped himself. Instead, he said, "I guess we are a pretty effed up pair, after all, huh?"

"Super effed," Nina echoed in agreement.

Max scooted closer to Nina. He moved to nudge her with his shoulder. "Good thing we found each other, hmm?"

Nina chuckled and nudged him back. "Speak for yourself. I need to find some normal friends."

"Rude!"

She leaned towards him, stopping an inch away from his face and grinned. "I'm kidding, Max. You're fucking awesome. I'm glad we became neighbors. I'm even happier that we're gonna be friends."

Max felt his face grow hot. Even his ears tingled. He hoped to God she wouldn't notice.

They exchanged digits and parted ways close to ten 'o clock at night. Max had been reluctant to head back to his place. Nina was truly something else. He couldn't quite place her in any category that he usually reserved for girls or guys. She wasn't a fuck buddy. She wasn't a regular friend either. She wasn't looking to network or collab with him. Nina was simply someone he enjoyed talking to, someone he wanted to be around—but she was also someone that he totally wouldn't mind seeing naked.

Ironically, though, the fact that she had removed the possibility of sex from the table also allowed Max to be more at ease around her. He still caught himself staring at her tits and ass throughout the evening, but he was discrete about it. It was okay to be physically attracted to a friend, right? As long as he kept his hands to himself, Max figured Nina wouldn't mind too much.

Max liked to think that she was getting her money's worth as well. According to his female fans from all over the globe, Max knew he was a good-looking guy, and he would be more than happy to let Nina look her fill if she ever wanted to ogle at his naked body.

He wondered if he should mention something to her about what he did for a living. Maybe Nina didn't realize how famous he was? Maybe she would be impressed once she found out…

That was when Lexi suddenly flashed across his mind.

Max groaned. Fuck. For the first time in months, he had actually forgotten about the shithole that bitch had pushed him into. There was no way in hell Max wanted Nina anywhere near Lexi's incriminating video about him.

Fuck, fuck, fuck! What if Nina already saw it? How could she not? That shit went viral for weeks. If she did, then she was certainly doing a masterful job at hiding it. What did that say about her for wanting to be friends with a perceived fuckboy like him, the enemy of good girls everywhere?

Suspicion surged through him. Could he trust her?