Thanks for the feedback, and hope everyone likes the next installment.
Chapter 4: Drinks & Boys on the side
"Parker?" Liz looked up from the latest fifty shades of grey novel that she was so enthralled with, and noticed a face that she hasn't seen since her high school graduation.
"De Luca?" the two women beamed as Liz practically jumped from her seat and they hugged, it's had been almost 5 yrs since they had last seen one another.
"Hey how are you Maria?" Liz couldn't help but notice how mature and grown up she looked, her hair was longer than she remembered and definitely more blonde. But she also remembered that this woman was fearless and loved to take chances.
"I'm good, I'm visiting for a few months. I'm sort of in between career fields at the moment, so I decided to visit the family. It will give me time to think about where I want my next path to take me." She beamed as the two women sat down finally.
"I'm surprised Alex didn't tell me you were in town, usually he can't keep a secret from anyone." Liz giggled and Maria followed suit.
"He actually doesn't know. It was a spare of the moment thing."
"I'm sorry I never really kept in touch Maria, I tried calling a few times...left messages, but I could have reached out more." Liz felt bad, because they had once been best friends and she'd let that slip through her fingers.
"It's okay, I could have done more to keep in touch with you...but I didn't. I was too busy trying to become the next great actress that I forgot about this little town. We are both to blame, but we can start over can't we?" Liz beamed, grateful that she was so understanding. It was true, they were both at fault for not keeping up with one another. She was happy to fix this broken relationship.
"You know I'm actually suppose to go get drinks with him and the boys tonight. If you can make it I'm sure Alex and the guys would love to catch up with you. If you're up for it, that is...it's okay if you can't." Maria smiled.
"That's right...the guys...how are they?" Maria questioned, not all that shocked that they still were thicker than glue...from the stories that Kyle has somewhat told her over the years.
"They are closer than I would like them to be, they are so protective of me. You'd swear that they were my brothers or something." Liz was frustrated beyond belief, and Maria could tell without Liz even mentioning anything more.
"Did you leave a boyfriend back home, Maria?" She rolled her eyes at that question. It was the same question her Mom had asked her when she picked her up from the airport earlier than morning.
"No. I haven't had one in a few months. In L.A. you never know if the guy likes you for you, or for who you know. Plus, he was a model...which didn't help that he was skinnier than me." The ladies laughed at that, Liz could understand that--even though she'd never dated a model, she could imagine what it would be like to do so.
"I could just imagine, if I ever went out with a model...what would Michael say?" Liz laughed at the thought, while Maria blushed when I mentioned his name.
"How is Michael?" Maria seemed a little cautious to ask, but followed through anyway.
Liz smiled. "He's good. He's finishing up school right now, to be a mechanic. He loves fixing up retro cars, right now he's helping out my dad with the restaurant until he saves up enough money to buy his own shop. He's in a good place." Maria smiled, she was proud of what he had become. She also knew that it was because he was surrounded by good people, like the Parkers. He would have never strived to be anything special if he would have stayed in foster care, or with his dead beat father.
"I have to admit, in my early awkward years, I had a slight crush on Max." When those words came out of Maria's mouth, Liz had an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. She didn't know why exactly, but she waved it off. She just didn't see that pairing together--she could feel a 'but' about to come out of her mouth, and she was correct.
"But...is Michael...?" Before she could get the words out of her mouth, Liz was already answering.
"Taken. No." Maria turned a bright shade of pink and nodded with a goofy smile on her face, while Liz beamed. She had found her first victim, her own cousin...pretty much the leader of the pack of the guys. He didn't stand a chance.
"You should come with me tonight, and let him know what he could have...now that you're back in town. It will also give you a chance to catch up with Alex, and I'm sure Kyle would like to see you as well."
Maria looked hesitate, she didn't want to overstep her boundaries. But she also knew how much she wanted to spend a little alone time with Michael.
"C'mon Maria, it'll be fun." Liz beamed, because she knew she was so close to making a love match.
"What if he doesn't recognize me?" Maria asked as she started to fidget with her phone.
"We'll make him recognize you...wear something sexy, but pretty...something that would catch his eye. He's a guy Maria--one look at you and he's not going to know what hit him." Liz pleaded with her new reclaimed friend.
"I'll even let you dress me, I know how much you've been wanting to do that--ever since junior high. Trying to get me out of my tomboy clothes, and into an actual dress. Here's your chance...will you go?" Liz was losing her hope, maybe she wanted to get settled first before being set up on a somewhat blind date.
Maria beamed at Liz's last request to get her to go out with her, "You got yourself a deal." They hugged quickly and continued to make plans to meet at Marias place before heading over to the local bar together.
"Hey was that Liz? What did she say?" Kyle curiously asked as he pulled another beer out of the fridge.
"Something about bringing a friend to our usual spot, and that we'd better be on our best behaviors." Kyle smirked at Liz's concerns, while Alex answered another text on his blackberry phone.
"What sort of friend?" Michael asked, curious to find out who it was. He hated surprises, he half knew Liz did these things on purpose because she knew they irritated him so much.
"You don't think it could be a potential 'New' boyfriend?" Alex asked the group of guys in his living room watching ESPN.
"Nah, Liz normally isn't that bold." Michael thought out loud, he was never too shy or restrained to give his opinion.
"Or is she?" Alex put his two cents into the conversation, just as Max came strolling into the apartment. Dumping his backpack on the kitchen table and collapsing into the cushioned armchair.
"Who are you guys talking about?" Max asked, curious after just hearing the last of their previous conversation. Trying to rest his eyes after a very long day at school.
"Liz." Alex was the only one to speak up, and Max's eyes shot open. When he was with the guys, he really wished he didn't wear his emotions on his sleeve.
"Calm down Romeo, she's fine. We're just wondering who's she's bringing to the pub tonight." Michael told Max hoping that it would be enough to calm him.
"She's not bringing a guy." Max spit out, with his head back to rest comfortably against the cushion of the chair.
"What makes you so sure?" Alex asked out of curiosity.
"Well, because she told me." Max smirked, he loved that Liz always told him stuff that she always held from the other guys.
"She's bringing a girl." Max went on to say.
"Liz is a Lesbian? When did this happen?" Kyle burst out laughing in disbelief.
"No stupid! She is not a lesbian. She's bringing Maria De Luca, she also said to be at the pub a quarter to six." Alex was happy that his friend was back in town, Kyle nodded in approval, and Michael stopped everything that he was currently doing.
"Why does that name sound familiar?" Michael bit out, trying to concentrate on putting the name to the face.
"Because we grew up with her, you know her older brother really well." Max smirked trying with all of his might not to laugh, knowing it would only piss Michael off even more.
"Troy?" Michael muttered almost to himself, but Max heard him.
"Bingo!" Max replied not even bothering to look at him.
"Troy De Luca?" Michael repeated again, wanting to be certain that this was the piece of scum they were talking at the moment.
"His sister was a little scrawny nerd, that wanted to be popular...from what I can recall." But then again that was nearly five years ago...you never know what time can do to a person, and thinking back she was Liz's best friend back then. He was dreading going out tonight, but if he didn't go--he'd never hear the end of it from Liz. Just thinking about what tonight might hold, his palms started to sweat. He'd never felt this way before, which had him intrigued in what just might be in store for him.
"My god--I think Mikey just might be interested in this one." Kyle teased as he reached for the remote control.
"Shut up." Michael groaned.
"Wait, I think Kyle might be on to something." Alex joined in.
" I bet you, one hundred dollars that when you see this somewhat mystery girl, that you're going to fall for her-- and fall for her hard." Kyle stood up smugly to prove his point.
"I second that!" both Alex and Max ringed in at the same time.
"You know what...Fine! It's like making an easy three hundred bucks in one night, I'm all in." Michael agreed, but he also had no idea what he was getting himself into.
"Well, C'mon why are we sitting around talking about girls for...isn't there a game on?" Michael cleared his throat, as Max flipped through the channels and settled on a football game already underway. As the boys put what was to happen tonight in the back of their minds, at least for the time being.
( Later that evening)
"Stop fussing Liz, you look great." Maria demanded again for the tenth time, in the past twenty minutes.
"Maria, I don't think this was a good idea. This seems to sexy for just a casual night out at a local pub, these are just the guys I grew up with...I'm not trying to impress them. They already know I'm a girl." Maria rolled her eyes, she knew that she was going to try to find a way out of it.
"You promised Liz." Maria stood her ground, and crossed her arms with a grunt.
Still trying to get past the way the dress clung to every curve of her body, the yellow dress was very complementary to her tanned skin. That should could admit, she should wear this shade more often.
Liz started to grumble, "But why do you get to wear jeans? And I have to wear this?" Liz huffed, slightly annoyed.
"I'm just trying to help" Maria slightly pouted, it was strange how their relationship after all these years apart just fell right back into place, with such ease.
"Help me with what?" Liz looked confused.
"You getting laid." Maria said that fact so bluntly, that it didn't faze her...while it took Liz several attempts to get a simple word out.
"W-What?" Liz choked out in shock.
"Well, you've been telling me about your love life this afternoon, and I'd thought I'd help out. Give you a boost in the right direction, you need to get out of your comfort zone." Maria was putting the last minute touch ups on her makeup.
"What's wrong with my comfort zone? And there's nothing wrong with the way I dress." Liz was a little offended, she knew that Maria meant no real harm to hurting her feelings..but she needed to hear what no one had bothered to tell her before and that was the truth.
"There's nothing wrong with the way you dress, but when you go out...regardless if it's with the guys or not, not wearing jeans is the first step. Guys like it when girls go out of their way to get all dolled up, even if it's only to go to the market. Every time you step out of the house it's a way to impress someone , even if that's yourself. And getting out of your comfort zone every once in a while is good, makes you aware of something new every time you do it." Liz took in all the things she'd told her, and could admit that they were true.
Maria spent the next ten minutes doing her makeup, with a bold smoky eye shadow and a nude lip gloss. Careful not to take her too much out of her zone, too much too soon would be overwhelming to her. She knew that much about her, she was certain...but also know that Liz was stronger than she knew.
Glancing at the clock, Liz cursed, "Damn, is that really the time?" it read five minutes after six. They were late.
"Yeah, I guess." Maria looked at the clock then back to Liz.
"We need to leave before they start looking for me." Liz grabbed her purse and then Maria's arm, as they ran out the door and onto the elevator.
Liz was glad that the bar was only down the street from her apartment, and with every step closer to opening that door--the harder it was to walk.
Finally reaching their destination, Liz braced herself as she opened the heavy wooden door and held it open for Maria, walked two steps and stopped. She felt that every eye in the room was souly on her. She felt naked.
"What do you think is keeping her?" Alex breathed out as he took another drink of his beer, as he asked Max.
"Don't worry...She'll be here." Max knew how the other guys tended to worry, and the last thing he wanted to do is find her--like he had last week.
The guys along with Max, breaking him out of his daydream about last week with Liz, had noticed that everything went quiet and every guy in the bar and stopped in their tracks and looked towards the door.
Max's eyes followed theirs and his eyes widened and he tried to the sudden hard bulge that had form in his pants in a matter of seconds. That had to be a new world record. His eyes locked with Liz's and she smiled.
"Hey guys, this is Maria." Liz said casually, knowing that every man in this room was gawking at her.
"Maria, you remember Kyle, Alex, Max and Michael?" Liz put a little extra emphasize on Michaels' name, and by the looks of it they really seemed to click.
Liz beamed, as Michael was still holding Maria's hand, glaring in that 'Loving' look at each other.
"I'll get a round of drinks." Liz announced as she started to head to the bar.
Once she was out of ear shot, Kyle couldn't help himself by saying something about Liz's new look.
"Man, holy shit what happened to Liz? She's actually hot!" Max shot a tense glare to his buddy Kyle as he started to look at Liz like she was a piece of meat.
Max got a sudden urge to deck him, he didn't care if he caused a scene or the fact that he was one of his best friends.
"Kyle, I think you should lay off." Alex warned him as Max clenched his fists and clenched his jaw shut trying to regain his composure.
"Sorry Max, she's all yours." Kyle patted Max on the back.
With that Max made his attempt as he headed towards Liz, she was leaning on the counter talking to the bartender.
The game was on, but hardly any of the guys were actually watching the televisions, they were focused on the brunette in yellow. It's like she was glowing...Max could swear on this, maybe he was the only one who could sense it.
"How are those drinks coming along?" Max asked as he approached Liz, she turned and smiled.
"Hey Max." Liz smiled and hugged her friend. Max couldn't help but smile, and reply.
"You look beautiful." Liz blushed, she wasn't used to getting such complements.
"You don't have to be nice to me Max, it was Maria's idea--something about breaking me out of my comfort zone." Max looked at Maria, who was enthralled in a conversation with Alex and Michael.
Max made a mental note, to thank Maria...when he got a chance.
"No, really Liz...I'm not being nice, you really look stunning." Liz looked deep in his eyes, and knew that he was indeed telling the truth, she couldn't help the smile that stretched across her face.
"Thanks." Liz hated to be the center of attention, and was desperate to get him off the topic of her. Liz's eyes shifted to the table, and smiled.
"Maria and Mike seem to be hitting it off." Max looked back at the couple, and knew he was a goner.
"Looks like he's out three hundred bucks." Max laughed as Liz looked confused. But knowing these guys all her life pretty much, she wasn't that shocked to hear this from him.
"You guys made a bet?" Max grinned as approval, while Liz rolled her eyes.
"Hey, where are those drinks? Are you guys going to brew it yourself?" Kyle called out, clearly irritated. Now it was Max's turn to roll his eyes, his friend could be a annoying at times, when he didn't get what he wanted in what he thought was an appropriate amount of time.
"We'd better get back" Liz said as she glanced back at Max, grabbing the first tray of drinks--while Max grabbed the second, both heading to the back corner of the room.
As the night went on...more guys started talking to Liz, and the more annoyed Max was getting.
Everyone could see that, everyone but Liz of course. But Max kept a safe distance away, didn't want to crowd her, or confuse any guy into thinking they were a couple.
Soon enough the crowd that was once inside the bar, was now almost empty--it was nearly closing time and everyone to heading home.
Maria slightly yawned, giving Michael the hint that she was ready to go home.
"Liz, it's late. Maybe we should go." Maria spoke up and started to get up from Michael's side.
"No!" Michael half shouted, startling Maria as he grasped her arm lightly. Stopping her in her tracks, as she sank back into her chair.
"Let me walk you home?" Michael half whispered, and pleaded...you could hear the ache in his voice.
Alex and Kyle snickered as they looked at Mike, who was a puddle of goo in Maria's hands.
"Okay, sure." Maria looked over her shoulder, right at Liz and winked. Knowing that she had him right where she wanted him.
"But I promised to walk Liz home, I can't just ditch her." Maria looked back at Michael, who was glanced at the other guys. Pleading for one of them to volunteer, he couldn't make a move on Maria if he had to walk his cousin home too.
Max perked up, like everyone knew he was going to...well, at least they hoped he would.
"No worries, I'll walk her home. You guys go ahead." Maria looked from Liz to Max and smiled.
"Thanks for inviting me Liz, I'll call you...maybe we can have lunch tomorrow?" Liz nodded, and smiled. She hugged her, grateful that they came back in contact.
With a wink and a slight wave Michael and Maria were outside the door. Leaving everything else to the imagination to everyone else left sitting at the table, of what possibly be blossoming before their eyes.
Liz caught Max's glance and smiled, "So, you're going to take me home? No funny business okay!" Liz busted out laughing.
"I think you're a little tipsy." Max looked at her, he was amused...he'd only seen her like this once in a blue moon.
"Can you carry me?" Liz giggled, as Max rolled his eyes and started to laugh to himself. Shaking his head, and helping her up from the heaving wood chairs.
"C'mon we'd better go." Liz took his hand and wrapped her arm through his, used his balance to steady her--too much alcohol on a slightly empty stomach wasn't good.
Alex patted Kyle on the back, "It's getting late, I'll give you a ride home." Kyle pretended to be flattered as he giggled in his own rendition of girl giggling, as they all walked out the bar.
"Okay, but no funny business!!" Kyle retorted, which caused Alex to slap him in the back of the head.
"Do you want a ride or not? Stop acting gay!" Liz laughed at this, she shivered as she was hit with a cool blast of air.
They said their goodbyes, and walked opposite ways.
"It's chilly tonight, I thought it was suppose to be warmer? That damn forecast is never right." You could see the Goosebumps that were forming all over her exposed body.
"Here:" Max replied, as she looked up into his eyes, somewhat transfixed. Until she realized what he was holding out for her. His Jacket.
Liz smiled, "Such a gentleman."
They walked in silence for a few minutes, Liz was in a slight fog because of the alcohol.
"You know you didn't have to walk me home. I'm a big girl. Plus, I only live ten minutes away." Liz looked at him, but this time he didn't look up. Instead, he kept his gaze on the sidewalk.
"I don't mind. Besides, I want to make sure you get home safe." Like he always did when he was feeling anxious, he shoved his hands into his pockets.
Liz smiled, but they walked in perfect silence until they came to the entrance of Liz's apartment building.
"Do you want to come up? I have X Factor on the DVR." Liz playfully nudged him in the ribs. He half smiled...not knowing if he had the courage to tell her that he can't get the image of her out of his mind.
He wanted nothing more to kiss her until they both needed air--but he couldn't decide.
Standing there a little too long in awkward silence, he simply said "Can't, I have an early class in the morning." He shrugged and started to walk away towards his own apartment that he shared with Alex.
He was a few paces down the street already, when he heard someone call his name...
"Hey wait, Max!" he stopped and turned just as Liz came running into his own, and hugged him.
"Thank you." She spoke quietly, but still heard her.
"For what?" he looked questionable.
"For being you, being a gentleman. I don't know what I'd do without you." Before she let go of his embrace, she kissed him on the cheek.
"You're a good friend." Max half smiled, knowing he wanted to be so much more than just a friend to this amazing woman that stood before him.
With a wink and half wave, he walked away...leaving Liz to wonder why he hadn't come upstairs with her. It was unlike him to turn down the show, it was his favorite--but she shrugged it off. Maybe he was just more tired today than most days. The last thing she wanted to do, was make him do something he didn't want to.
With a heavy sigh, she headed up to her apartment. She was very eager to take off this dress that Maria was so certain was going to end her dry spell. Instead, she was going to bed alone--AGAIN!