Christmas in July
A/N: I can't apologize enough for how late this is. I feel like the aunt who gives the birthday present two months late. I can only hope everyone won't ban me from future challenges based on my poor showing!
Thanks so much to Lisa who not only gave me feedback and proofread, but also informed me that a July Christmas present for Shywriter should contain a Logan with green eyes :-)
Shywriter's wish list:
1)A "five things" format; 2) Max's second try at making dinner for Logan; 3) A new rider shows up at Jam Pony who exhibits a strange, obsessive fascination with Eyes Only; 4) Max & Logan return to the cabin, this time without Zack or a bounty on Max's head 5) Max & Original Cindy are evicted. Cindy has an invite to move in with 'Chrisette.' Now what?
These prompts weren't just good, they were entire stories wrapped up into one perfect prompt. I fell in love with #5, but I'm not ruling out the possibility of writing a separate fic on #3. Other wish list items will appear in later chapters. Which brings me to the reassurance part, most of this fiction is completed – either in beta or being finished off – and will be along shortly.
And last point, this story doesn't have a particularly strong storyline; it is basically fluffy M/L.
Sitting on top of Space Needle, Max pondered the day's events, trying to come to terms with what had been a life altering event.
It should have been easy for her by now, she reasoned, but it wasn't, and somehow she knew it never would be.
Max on many occasions had speculated on the ways she was different from others. She knew that her responses to things often differed from those that 'normal' individuals had. She saw it every day, in the little things.
For example, regular people seemed to hate monotony, the constant, well-worn flow of life. Max saw it in their faces as she delivered packages. She saw it in the old woman who tried to keep her porch as long as possible, asking Max questions ranging from the mundane to the impertinent, from the weather to her love life. She saw it in the middle-aged man who looked at her pretty face as a welcome relief to the constant pressure of day, hoping to elicit a small smile from her by repeating joke after corny joke. She even saw it on the boys on the street corners; the ones who tossed her cheesy or lewd pick up lines, not because they thought she'd give them the time of day, but in order to break up the boring hours of sitting on their stoop with nothing to pass the time.
It was something she had never really understood.
Routine delighted Max. Every time she used the light-blue coffee mug with the daisies, she reveled in the comfortable and familiar feel of it in her hand. Each time the chains on her building's door rattled and clattered, Max enjoyed the sound as she would a welcoming doorbell that signaled her returned to a place she had labeled home. Max even found the annoying sound of Normal's 'bip bip' strangely reassuring, as if each condescending syllable reminded her she could pass as regular, at least for a little while.
Max didn't want to lose it, any of it, even the routine of dropping by the penthouse apartment of Seattle's own, clandestine cyberjournalist savior. But, she was afraid she didn't have a choice.
Max and Original Cindy's apartment, early that day…
Max's fingers graze the top of her kitchen counter, lightly stroking the various odds and ends that met with her finger tips.
A knife, a kettle, a jar of peanut butter.
Moving along to the living room, Max's hand continued to trail over the surfaces it connected with, memorizing each item as if she were caressing it in good-bye.
It's been a good apartment, Max thought, sighing to herself. Her favorite. Max could still hear the sounds of Original Cindy's voice as it floated down the hallway.
"No good. Home-wrecking, High n' Mighty, blood-sucking sons of …"
Let her expend her energy like that, Max thought. Either way there was no denying the inevitable…
It was time to move on.
A slight upturn in Seattle's repressed economy meant many good things for its residents. It meant fewer brownouts, more maintenance workers, and access to long-forgotten supplies.
For Max, it had meant shorter gas lines and greater variety at the farmer markets; or, to be more specific, it meant longer rides on her motorcycle and several new, exotic meals prepared for her by Logan. For a moment, life had seemed good, very good.
However, the rise in Seattle's financial prospects had brought a dark and unexpected rain cloud to Max and Original Cindy's horizon. Construction was a rare thing in the post-pulse world – and construction in Sector 5 was nearly non-existent. But the real estate company which had owned Max's building back in the day, and still managed some of the nicer property in the high-rise district, decided to take a chance on the sector, thinking that if they remodeled some of their former condos they could, perhaps, attract the type of rent-paying individuals who had once populated America's middle-class.
Unfortunately for the two women, Max and Cindy's building happened to be in the best shape of all the company's former properties, rat infestations and all. Or so the man from C&E Realtors had said.
It made Max wonder what type of squalor the rest of Seattle was living in if her building had been deemed, as the sweating, red faced man said: "structurally sound." Even now, after Max had seen the floor plans, it was difficult to picture her dirty little apartment, with it unfinished walls and exposed wiring as the promising location for this new, radical experiment.
In fairness to the man, he had tried to be considerate to the current "residents." He had addressed them like human beings, apologized for the inconvenience, and given the squatters two days to remove the remnants of their life from the building. In an apologetic voice, he told them C&E would be happy to give them first dibs on securing a unit once things were renovated, even having the courtesy to blush at what he knew was a ridiculous offer, little more than lip service. Both he and the residents knew the truth: No one had enough scratch to actually buy an apartment.
Like most communities, Seattle was divided by class. And anyone taking up space in this sector was here because they couldn't afford to be in any of the ritzier ones. It wasn't that they were lazy, most of the people in sector five had low paying jobs and could manage to dredge up enough cash to bribe the utility men and the occasional sector police to avoid the rougher sections, but they would never be able to have enough money to afford the luxuries of uniform paint and tiled floors.
They were, Max sarcastically thought, the true middle-class of the post-pulse age.
The loud sound of Original Cindy's voice threatening a smack down drew Max away from her reflections and back into her present problem. The reality of their situation was that nobody would recognize the apartment as theirs; they had no legal rights to it, and even in this era, legality could make a difference. It had been fine to occupy the space when no one wanted it, but now that it was claimed they needed to get out before C&E decided they owned the residents' stuff too.
What really bummed her ass, thought Max, was this was coming right after they'd gotten the water-heater going. Hot showers and clean undies were all she'd asked for, but it seemed that at least one of those things would remain stubbornly out of reach. Unfortunately, there was no denying the inevitable. It was time to move, again.
Max was completely snapped from her thoughts as Original Cindy came charging back into their apartment and wasted no time informing Max of her opinion, as if Max didn't already know it.
"I just got back from talking to Jacinda. Woman is too saintly for her own good. Says she'll make the best out of it, move in with her sister. Well Original Cindy ain't going to let this go down without a fight. They're gonna have to drag my fine ass outta here."
Without pausing for breath, she continued: "I can't believe these wet-dreamers… what world are they living in? They want utility-paying, down-payment giving, credit optional tenants; well show me the job that can afford all that and I'll be happy to lay down my cheddar for nice flashy living quarters." OC sassed, unaware of what a comical scene she presented.
The men from the real estate company had come after business hours, hoping to catch as many residents in as possible. For Original Cindy, that had meant catching her part way into her beautifying routine.
Half of her hair had been gelled and styled into a natural, poofy wave. The other half, obviously interrupted mid-primp, stood more limply, with a few fuzzy patches sticking out at odd angles.
OC's face was almost as startling as her hair. Heavy foundation had been applied, not just to her face, but also to her lips and eyelids – the perfect canvass Cindy would have said, but it gave her a monochromatic appearance that reminded Max of someone who had been shocked to death, all the blood having drained from the face. She was certainly an apparition to be scared of, especially if you were the suit-wearing middle-age man with the side part. He had been fortunate enough to slip away from the scene before OC had gotten her voice back.
Max didn't respond to her roommate, knowing the tirade was far from finished.
"In today's streets it's all about laying down your mark. I ain't seen these guys here when rats chewed through the floor boards, or when the window was sticking, or when we jimmied the power. Far as I can see we was here first and that means it's ours!"
Original Cindy emphasized her point by putting her foot down, literally and hard. Unfortunately, she was close to unfinished wall and the force of her exclamation made it shake, which it turn caused bits of plaster to rain down on Original Cindy's already disheveled do, giving her the appearance of having just walked through a snow storm.
Max stifled her laugh, but not before Cindy saw the smirk of amusement and used it as catalyst for a new tirade.
"And what's up with you, miss thing? You standing about acting like none of this effects you. What? You got better places to be that Original Cindy don't know nothing about? Or you just glad to be rid of me and this dump? "
Max held up her hands in the universal sign of surrender, hoping her friend would calm down. She laughing replied. "Hey don't get so bent out of shape just cause I'm not letting the man get me down."
"What you been reading up on Herbal's logic or something? Seriously Max, you can't be letting all this flow off you like water." Original Cindy replied, a suspicion gathering in the back of her mind.
Recognizing the insecurity lingering behind's Cindy's statement, Max decided to give her friend an honest answer. "Hardly the first time I've picked up and moved, OC. Sort of been doing it non-stop since I was nine." There was a slightly wistful note to Max's voice as she remembered this was the longest she had ever been able to stay in one place.
Gentling her voice, her friend replied: "Original Cindy hears that sugar, but you're not looking to leave Seattle just because we gotta kick it somewhere else, are you?"
"Nah," Max replied, eager to put her friend's fears to rest. "Figure I'd stick around a bit longer. Unless you're sick of me."
"Original Cindy isn't even hearing that. We'll figure a way to get through this."
Max smiled, recognizing that Cindy was finally coming to terms with the situation. Unable to resist teasing her a bit, Max stated, "This from the girl who was all ready to stage a sit-in until those investors were forced to kick her out?"
OC smiled back, more than willing to banter now that she knew Max wasn't going anywhere. "Well seeing as how this ain't 1965, and the cops they call in will be ready to sell our stuff off the back of a truck, I guess it's time to hit the road."
"I definitely hear that wisdom; unless you want a bunch of people pawing through your shoe collection."
"Don't go there. That's enough to give Original Cindy that creepy crawlies."
"Okay," Max said, finally figuring they were getting somewhere. "So what do you say we try to figure this bitch out?"
"I'm with you boo, but let's do it over a beer."
"Sounds good to me, lead the way."
"You got it just give Original Cindy a minute. I'm afraid today's events might have left me a little less fine than usual. I don't want my new lickity-chick seeing me like this."
For at least one more night, Max and Cindy got ready to go to Crash together, laughing and sharing stories and enjoying the feeling of having a friend close at hand.
Crash, that same night.
The scene at Crash was loud and raucous as usual.
The regulars crowded around the bar, making bets on the various bike races. Players racked and struck billiard balls in a familiar rhythm. Smoke, perfume, and dust flavored the air.
It was Friday night and the bar was crowded with people attempting to enjoy life. Everyone was dressed colorfully and crazily – befitting the look of the new, poor millennium.
As she examined the various inhabitants, Max let a sense of comfort wash over her. Much like her apartment, Max knew, this dive bar had started to feel like home.
To emphasize the feeling of familiarity were Max's friends, gathered around the usual table, sharing Cindy and Max's tale of woe. Herbal, Sketchy, Sky, Original Cindy, and Chrisette – OC's new girlfriend
and former crush - all offered words of consolation, relating their own war stories and promising help. It was… nice, and the beer didn't hurt either.
As Max often thought, life went on, bumbling and laughing in the concrete jungle. She just needed to appreciate it while it did, and not look for anything permanent. Life was fleeting, ephemeral, and eternal: the great oxymoron.
As if responding to Max's thought, Original Cindy chuckled, a low, secretive laugh, and turned to Chrisette who had whispered something in her ear. The petite woman was sitting slightly behind Cindy with her arms wrapped around her, head leaning on shoulder in a gesture meant to soothe. Their body language bespoke a burgeoning connection and OC responded by giving her girlfriend a light peck on the lips – a promise of more to come.
It did Max's heart good to see her friend so happy, especially given everything that had gone down with Diamond, OC's recently deceased ex-flame. Chrisette, a bottle red head, seemed well able to be there for OC during her time of need, and the fact she had gotten over her celibacy issue was a big bonus in OC's book. And apparently in Sketchy's who was having a hard time not staring, his mind already in places that Original Cindy would smack him for, once she noticed.
Herbal Thought continued the conversation, doing his best to spread his religious over-standpoint: "Look at the bright side, my sisters, you're fulfilling your destiny here, and this set back in your home life will only lead to greater fulfillment. The most high has sent you on an odyssey, a quest for self-fulfillment, and you will come to rest at the place you were meant to be."
"Herbal, how many of those beers you been sipping?" Original Cindy interjected. "The only place Max and I are going to is on the street corner with the rest of the homeless."
"Now that's a bit drama heavy, OC." Sketchy counter. "You both got friends who ain't gonna let that happen. You're always welcome in my castle, humble though it might be."
Sometimes Sketchy could really surprised you, Max thought. Just when you had him pegged as a bumbling, selfish idiot – he did something that reminded you why you watched his back.
"He's right." Herbal added, "My woman and I would be happy to have you, if need comes."
"And there is no way I'm gonna let my baby have a concrete pillow," Chrisette playfully added, caressing the side of OC's face as she said so.
"Well in that case," OC seductively added to her girlfriend, "I know what place I want to be at," raising her eyebrows in a suggestive fashion.
Apparently, OC hadn't been kidding when she said lesbians moved quickly; the women had only been dating for two short weeks. It was difficult for Max to believe Chrisette had insisted on a platonic relationship only a few months ago. Apparently, she'd had her fill and was making up for lost time, much to Cindy's satisfaction and Sketchy's unsavory delight.
Max declared, "Thanks guys, it's nice to know someone's got our backs."
"Yeah. It's good to you know we've got peeps watching out for us." Cindy stated, barely removing her eyes from Chrisette as she laced her fingers with hers.
"Whenever they need watching," murmured a distracted Sketchy, who a few seconds later let out a startled "Ow!" Original Cindy had finally noticed his stare and slapped him upside the head.
The beeping from Max's pager signaled the end of their conversation as she got up to leave.
"Gotta blaze." Max stated, making a show of checking the number so Cindy wouldn't provoke her later.
She needn't have bothered. Original Cindy didn't even turn her eyes from the female beside her.
"Later." Sketchy commented, "And remember Max, my offer stands solid. If you need some place to crash, you got options."
"Yes, I meant it as well." Herbal stated. "But remember what I said about life's journey. We must be open to ways of universe."
Max gave them both a grateful smile. She was almost beyond 'regular' ear shot, when Cindy finally noticed her departure and called out a parting shot.
"Hey Max!" Cindy's taunted. "You can always ask rich boy if you can loft it at his lush pad."
Max didn't bother to reply, only rolled her eyes before making her way to the exit.
Just outside Logan Cale's apartment, same day…
Although Max and Logan's activities could never be described as ordinary, their interactions had come to have a familiar cadence to them, a safe pattern of give and take based on a series of established tableaux.
Calling, paging, dropping by – each had a special meaning, a particular set of rules, which Max found strangely reassuring. This carefully constructed and unarticulated pattern comprised their comfort zone, their boundaries. It allowed them to move closer and further from one another as the situation demanded, and allowed each to maintain the heavily guarded defense perimeters that both so desperately needed.
It kept things from getting out of hand…
As Max picked the lock, hoping to catch Logan by surprise, she briefly considered about telling him about her apartment.
Sharing information like this was allowed under their tacit agreement. It usually went like this: when Logan introduced a scenario of city-wide importance she would respond by telling him about her latest
personal dilemma, each playing their role of obsessed crusader and indifferent bystander with practiced ease. He would pretend annoyance and she nonchalance.
Their conversation might seem confusing to an outsider, but they both knew they were following, really hearing the other. She would inevitably agree to help his cause, and he would continue to ask for updates on whatever Crash or Jam pony event was the subject of her casual banter until it had been resolved.
Thinking about it sparked a burning sensation inside Max. She liked it. Logan was the only man who had ever done that to her – made her feel cared for, listened to.
But then again, Max reminded herself, that's who he was. It wasn't a unique response she inspired in him. Logan Cale always stepped up and did what is right when people needed it, providing a patient shoulder or a couple of thousand bucks.
Calm and cool to his own pain, his empathy could always been engaged when someone else called for help. It's what motivated him to begin Eyes Only; it's what drove his obsession now.
And in this situation that would mean finding her a new apartment, and offering her the use of a safe house in the meantime. That was him, Logan Cale, protector of the downtrodden.
Well there was no way Max was going to let him see her as one of the downtrodden. She didn't need his help or his resources. She was neither helpless nor one of the opportunistic asses who clung to Logan as a money-giving foundation.
She had seen them before – the gambling cousin who'd showed up a few weeks back begging for Logan's help lest the mafia men break his knees; the recently sober ex-wife with a new husband who'd attempted to manipulate him; even the occasional Eyes Only informant who would ask Logan for a small handout in exchange for doing what their conscience should motivated them to do anyway.
And he always gave in, always gave up the cream. He figured he didn't know what it was like to need money, and it meant nothing to him, so why not. But Max knew, deep down, there was a small part of him that looked at those people with disdain – and an even deeper, smaller part that felt used. And that was the last thing Max wanted him to see when he looked at her.
So instead, Max decided it would be best to employ another one of their favorite patterns – avoidance.
"Hey, Max." Logan stated, looking up and smiling slightly. His green eyes twinkled from behind his wire-rimmed glasses. He knew he'd won this round of their game, catching Max before she'd gotten a chance to sneak up on him.
"What's up?" Max asked, nodding toward the computer.
"Little situation over in South Street's market. Suppliers are using the upturn in the economy to bring in materials grown in unsanitary environments – land with high levels of radiation, near abandoned factories."
"Doesn't exactly seem like the kind of thing Eyes Only would usually bother about." Max ventured, registering his easy tone and the less than dire circumstances.
His smiled grew a little, obviously pleased that she picked up on that fact. "You're right. It's not. But Logan Cale, black-sheep of the Seattle Cales, hasn't published anything in a while, and this seemed like a good piece to change that."
"So where do I come in?" Max asked, knowing from long practice that he always presented the situation before asking for her help.
"Well, the business owners who are receiving the goods have claimed that they don't know anything about the origins of the products and have agreed with me that they shouldn't continue to sell the stuff."
"Ahh… but now that they know the face of an interested journalist, you're not going to be able to tell whether or not they have the stuff stashed below the counter."
"So what am I shopping for?" Max asked, ready for the next phase of this mission.
"Carrots, potatoes – any root vegetable." Logan offered.
"Good. Because if they'd tainted the berry supply I'd have to kick someone's ass."
Conscious of the fact she'd provided an opening for dinner, Logan willingly asked: "Why? In the mood for some?"
"Always!" Max enthusiastically stated, already anticipating a pleasant evening.
"Hmmm… just so happens I have some blueberries all ready for a dessert. Interested in sharing?"
"Logan Cale, do you even have to ask?" Max asked, turning to sashay her way to the kitchen.
He watched her retreating form, knowing the answer to her rhetorical question. Yes, he did need to ask; she wouldn't stay if he didn't, no matter how much they both wanted her to. Sighing slightly at the thought, Logan wheeled to the kitchen, ready for their next act; he already knew the lines by heart.
Logan's apartment, three hours later…
A delicious dinner, engaging conversation, and a bottle of pre-pulse wine later, Max was feeling much better about her apartment situation, and willing to look at it a little like Herbal had suggested. It was
an adventure, and thankfully, not a Manticore induced one. This time around, if she planned accordingly, Max might be able to keep some of her stuff. Not to mention she'd still be near her friends, her job, Crash, and Logan.
If that was all, perhaps it would lead to a better place – albeit it needed to be one with a working elevator. She just needed some help with the logistics, and for that, she decided to turn to the master.
At a lull in the conversation, Max casually mentioned: " I'm looking to store some stuff temporarily, know any reliable places around the area?"
Logan paused for a moment before answering. "Maybe."
It was their usual pattern again. Someone would ask a vague question, and rather than asking for more information, the other would find a way to force the first to elaborate.
"Just some personal stuff, and not for long."
"Going somewhere?" His tone was deceptively indifferent, but they both knew what he was really fishing for.
"Not really. Just have a few issues with the apartment, need to keep the stuff safe and dry."
Max felt guilty about misleading him, but figured she hadn't lied. So what if he assumed something was wrong with the water heater again. By the time he was the wiser, she'd already be setup somewhere else.
The suspicion hadn't totally left his voice, but he volunteered, "I have some storage space in the basement of Fogle if you want to borrow it. I think it's nearly empty, only a few odds and ends."
"Thanks, Logan." Max replied, genuinely grateful for his help.
"Sure, just let me know when."
Max playfully leaned forward, invading Logan's personal space, as she whispered into his ear: "When."
Just barely, Logan managed to contain his shudder of awareness.
It was to be the first of many times in the following weeks that he would need to mediate his reactions to Max's invasion of his personal space.