by brenda gans
They had been friends for five years. Would one night change that for better or worse?
| Chapter One
She’d met him during the darkest night of her life five years ago. She was sitting on a park bench, her three-month-old bundled against the cold. She had nowhere to go, and no one to see.
He sat beside her, quietly taking in her bedraggled appearance.
“Hi, I’m Max.” He said. Keeping his tone low so he didn’t wake the sleeping infant.
“I’m Sherrie. This is Celine.”
“Nice to meet you both. What are you doing out here on such an awful night?”
A single tear slipped from her eye. “We have nowhere else to go.”
“Will you let me get you a motel room for a couple nights? Just until you figure it out?”
She looked up, her blue-black eyes shimmering in the moonlight. “Why?”
He shrugged. “I don’t want to see anything happen to you. This isn’t the best place to be after dark.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.” He grabbed her hand to help her up. “Have you eaten?”
“I had a sandwich for lunch.” She answered him.
“Come along then. We’ll get you something to eat and then check you into the hotel.”
“Nothing too expensive. McDonalds if fine.”
He looked at her, aghast. “No, it’s not. I’m assuming you are nursing, so you need a proper dinner.”
She shrugged and followed him to his car. Moonlight danced on the hood of the silver Camry as he led her to the car. Fear creeped in, making her wonder if he would harm her or Celine. Why would someone who had it easy financially help someone like her?
Max opened the door for her, his dark curly hair starting to curl in the misty rain falling. She had only two choices. Run or get in. She said a prayer and got in.
He fed her dinner that night and checked her into a nice motel for three months. He checked on her daily and soon they were the best of friends. He helped her when no one else could and she thanked God for him daily.
Three months passed quickly, Sherrie getting into a routine with little Celine and working for the first time. Finding a job while having no experience and only a GED had been difficult. She’d finally managed to snag a job at the motel as a maid. She hoped to be promoted to office at some point.
She was at the end of her stay and needed to decide what she was going to do. She had no idea what to do. Her phone rang, and she answered to hear Max’s pleasant voice on the other end of the line.
“Hello, beautiful! What are my two favorite girls doing tonight?”
She smiled. It made her feel good when Max called her beautiful. “Nothing but TV and food. Wanna come over and hang out with us?”
“Actually, that’s why I’m calling. I wanted to see if you two wanted to go out tonight.”
“I guess that would be ok.”
“Great! I’ll pick you up at six then.” He told her, the smile on his face reflected in his voice.
“See you then!” she said with a smile and hung up. Two more hours to go until she was off and then she could spend a relaxing evening with max.
Promptly at six Max knocked on her door.
“Come on in” she hollered from where she was putting Celine in her car sea Using his key, max stepped inside the dimly lit room.
“You know, electricity is paid for in your rent, right?”
Sherrie laughed. “Yeah, but if I don’t need it on why use it?”
“Point taken.” He nodded. “You look cute tonight.”
She looked down at her jeans and Seahawks jersey. Nothing outstanding there. She had her hair pulled into braids down her back and just a light coating of make-up. “Really? I don’t see it.”
He looked at her, “Don’t you know how beautiful you are Sher?”
She shrugged. “Not really. I haven’t been told that by anyone but you.”
“It’s ok. Can’t miss something you’ve never had.”
He grabbed her hand and changed the subject. “Let’s eat, I’m starved. I guess you want to hit Tuffy’s?”
“Well, I do think with my choice of clothes that Sweet Gardens is out of the question.”
“Yeah,” he shook his head. “I don’t think Tessa would approve.”
“She never does anyway.”
She grabbed her coat and he grabbed the baby as they headed off to Tuffy’s
Tuffy’s was quiet for a Wednesday night. Only three of the bright aqua booths were occupied. They chose their seats and sat waiting for their waitress.
“I don’t normally see you two on a Wednesday night.” Alera said as she sat a coffee in front of Max and a sprite in front of Sherrie.
“I felt the girls needed a night out.” Max told her.
“Do you want the usual, or something different?”
“I want a steak tonight, Al. “Max said, all smiles.
“I want the usual.” Sherrie replied.
“I’ll get them out to you in a jif.”
Max watched her walk away then turned to look at Sherrie. She really was a beautiful woman. Her blonde hair fell in soft curls to the middle of her back and her eyes were dark as midnight. She was only 22 but had been through so much in her life that she seemed older. He had something to ask her, but was unsure of how to proceed.
“Have you made any decisions about your living arrangements?”
She took a sip of her drink and looked at him. “Not really. The motel said I could continue to stay there, with a discount, as long as I want. But Celine will be mobile soon and I want a bigger place for us.”
“I have a question for you.” He said as he took her hand. He touched her rarely since she didn’t seem to like being touched but he felt the moment lent itself to at least holding her hand. “I just bought a new house and I would like you and Celine to move in with me.”
“Live with you?” she squeaked out. “Like live, live with you?”
“No. Just as friends. There are five bedrooms. You’d have your own space.”
She nodded. “Okay, I’ll think about it.”
Max smiled at her. “That’s all I’m asking. Do you want to see the place?”
Her smile lit up the room. “I would love to. I love looking at houses.”
“Ok, as soon as we’re done, we’ll run over there.”
“Food’s hot and good.” Alera said as she set their meals in front of them.
“Thanks, Al.” They said in unison causing all three of them to giggle
Sherrie chatted about her day while they ate. Little things like finding a $20 in one room and turning it in. And how much she hated mopping the bathroom floors. “I wish they would put carpet in there. Mopping sucks.”
Max smiled at her through it all. He knew he was in deep and probably would never be more than just her friend. But he could live with that if she was always a part of his life.
Five years later
Celine, Nolee, and Hayleigh! Hurry up or you’ll miss the bus!” Why was this an every morning thing when all three girls were here? Or more precise, when Hayleigh was here. What was it about the three of them together that made them all get into trouble? “I’m not driving anyone! If your late your walking!” She Hollard up the massive staircase that led to the second-floor landing.
Foot steps thundered down the hallway. “We’re coming, Mom.” Celine pipped up.
She wandered back into the state-of-the-art kitchen and pulled three bowls down from the cabinet. Pulling cereal out of the pantry, she poured one for each girl and waited for them to arrive.
“Sorry, Momma, Hayleigh was showing us how to braid Barbie’s hair.” Celine explained to her mom.
“It’s so cool Aunt Sher. I’m going to work on it when I get home.”
Sherrie looked at Hayleigh. She was seven to the girls five and they looked up to her.
“Thanks, Hayleigh. Next time please wait til after school.”
“No problem.” She replied.
Come on girls. Eat fast.” She told them a she set their cereal on the oak table
Black hair tousled from sleep, his bright blue eyes sleepy, Max stumbled into the kitchen. “Coffee ready?” He mumbled.
“Yep. Just give me a minute.”
“Sher, I can get my own coffee.” He scolded her just as he did every morning.
“I know. But I like to get it for you in the morning.” She glanced over at him as she spoke. She paused to take in a good look at him. His chest was bare, and he was wearing the blue silk pajama bottoms she bought for him last year. She felt as if she’d been kicked in the stomach. She’d seen him like this every day for five years. Why was it suddenly like she was seeing him for the first time? And deeply attracted to him at that.
“Ok,” he replied as he sat beside the girls. “What’s on the agenda today?”
She set down his coffee and replied, “You have a couple meetings this morning. I’m going to lunch with Luciah. Martah has dinner tonight and Hayleigh has to be home by eight.”
“Busy day.” He sipped his coffee, quietly looking out the window.
“Ok, girls. Out the door.” She dropped a kiss on each little head as they headed out the door.
“You know what, Shar? You’re an awesome mom and Aunt.”
She blushed. Even after five years she still blushed when he complimented her. She bowed in his direction. “Thank you, sir. I try my best.”
“Seriously, I couldn’t do all this without you.”
“I know. “she beamed at him. “You’d have to remember all Hayleighs stuff and Martah would have to look after Nolee. I like it this way, since I get to sleep in Saturdays.” She giggled.
“Well, you deserve it.” Max looked at the time. “fifteen minutes til your ride leaves.”
“I’ll be back before you!”
She raced upstairs to dress. She chose a blue dress with a beaded collar, simple cross earrings and no necklace. What had that punch to her stomach been about earlier? Was she developing a crush on her best friend? Was it something she wanted to pursue? Did he even feel the slightest bit of it for her? She needed to talk to Luciah, who was so wise in the way of love. She’d only ever had one date and she ended up married to him for four hellish years. Was a relationship even worth it?
She was waiting by the door looking at her watch when Max came in.
“Told ya!” She laughed.
“How do you always managed to get ready first? Your female, it should take you longer to get ready.”
She laughed. “It’s cuz I’m halfway done before I ever leave my room.”
“That does explain it. Do you need more than an hour lunch today?”
“I’m not sure. I hve a lot to talk to Luciah about and some is work related.”
“Take two hours then, and if you don’t need all of it, just come back early.”
“I have the best boss ever.” She smiled up at him. How had she never noticed how tall he was? Next to her 5’4” frame his 6’3” made her feel tiny.
“Yes, you do, now let’s go.”
They arrived at work and he immediately closed himself in his office for meetings. She sat outside his office at her desk catching up on what didn’t get dome yesterday. As a real estate broker, Max was seldom in the office unless he made plans to be.
She picked up the phone and punched ij the extension for Stephani, who covered the front desk when she was gone. “Stephani, I’ll need you up here for two hours today at lunch.”
“Sure, Sher. I’ll bring my work up there.”
“Ok. See you at noon.”
“Sherrie, can you bring me the Dawson file?”
She got up to take the file to him. “You know, she said as she set it down on his desk. “There is an intercom. You don’t need to yell.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s just quicker.”
She smiled and headed back to her desk to get something done before lunch time.
They were seated in a quiet back booth at The Orange Blossom before Sher started talking. The Orange Blossom was Longdale’s best chines restaurant.
“Do you know what your getting?” Sher asked her friend, having already decided what she was going to have.
“Not sure. It all looks so good today.” Luciah replied.
Sher’s lips turned up at the corner. “You always say that.”
“It’s always true” she chuckled.
The waitress came to take their order ad after some deliberating, Luciah decided on General Tso Chicken. Sher had her usual Sweet and Sour chicken.
Ming took their menus and left to get them tea.
“Work or pleasure talk first?” Sher asked as they settled in.
“Work. Let’s get that out of the way so we can enjoy our talk.”
Ming poured their tea then set the pot on the table. “Lunch up soon.”
“Ok. You have five properties currently listed under value and Max wants to know why. He also wants to know why the Shefford property hasn’t closed yet. Also, he said he wanted to see your new listings before they are listed on MLS. “
“That’s it? You said we’d need two hours for lunch. “
“Yeah, cuz I need to talk. I know I could’ve just given you this info over the phone but it was the best excuse I could think of.”
“Uh-oh. What happened?”
She put her head down, not sure how to bring up the subject.
“It can’t be that bad, Sher. Spit it out.”
“I don’t know how.”
“Take a deep breath and just say it” Luciah coxed her friend.
Sher did as she was told. “Ok, I think Im attracted to Max.”
“About time you were. I don’t know how you’ve lived with him for five years without it.”
“hush. You know men scare me.”
“But he’s Max. He’s not your typical male.”
“I know. He has proven he’s nothing like my dad or ex.”
“Speaking of your dad, have you heard anything lately?”
“He called last week. He still wants to see me and Celi. I just don’t know though.”
“Why don’t you take Max with you. And you only have to stay a little bit. I know your day was a horrible parent. But you should at lleast let Celi meet him one time.”
“That’s what Max said too. I told hm I’d have to think about it. He lives in Harleysville still. That’s like a four-hour drive with two girls in the car.”
“Can’t Martah watch Hayleigh overnight? Or let her stay an extra night with her mom.”
“I don’t know if Max would let Martah watch her. And he definitely won’t allow her extra time with her mom. She’s lucky she even gets her for a weekend a month.”
“True. We can figure something out for the girls for the ride. Please don’t let that stop you.”
“I’m not, really.” Sher sighed. “I know he is dying, Lu, And it would be my last chance to see him, but I don’t wanna go.”
“Yes, you do or you wouldn’t be struggling so badly with the decision. What’s stopping you?”
“I don’t want Max to see where I spent my teen years. It was a hell hole. I doubt my dad ever got off his butt and did anything to clean up.”
“Ah, sweetie, Max isn’t going to care.”
He might change his mind about me if he meets my dad.” She whispered her secret fear.
“Naw, not Max. He won’t change his mind about you just because of where you grew up. You had no control over it.”
“Maybe.” She drew a pattern on her water glass as she tried to tell her friend what else was bothering her. “I think I really like him. I don’t want to risk alienating him.”
“Hey, the only way you could alienate him is by not including him in this.”
“Lu, what do I do if he isn’t attracted to me?”
Luciah laughed. “Honey, have you ever looked at your self in the mirror? You”re blonde, beautiful blue eyes and perfect features. You’re also a size 6 with a great rack. If you even gave Max a hint that you liked him I’m sure he would return it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am. SO the four of you go out to his place. Spend the night at a hotel and see what happens on the trip.”
“I don’t know, Lu. It’s so scary. I’ve never liked anyone like this before.”
“Not even your ex?”
“No. Never. Brad was just an escape from the streets and he knew it. Things might have been different if I’d really liked him or even cared about him.”
“Nu-uh. You do not get to go there. He was a man who took advantage of you and hurt you badly. Do not make it about anything but him.”
She smiled a tired smile. She loved Luciah. She was straight forward and to the point. Something she wanted to be but was to scared to let it out.
Max sat in his office looking out the window, studying the trees while deep in thought. He knew Sherrie had a problem she wasn’t discussing with him. It was the first time in five years she had something she didn’t discuss with him. He also hadn’t missed the moment when she was aware of him as a man for the first time.
He prayed, not for the first time, that she would turn to him and really see him. He’d loved her for five years, but out of respect for her feelings, he’d said nothing. No matter what, his friendship with her came first. On that thought he turned to the file on his desk and set out to get some work done.