“Hey.” he greeted her as she got in.
“How’d today go?”
Ok, AJ thought to himself as he pulled out of the parking lot. He had to find some other way to get her to open up a little.
“I know you’re not thrilled with this arrangement but I’m just trying to help.”
AJ sighed and hit the seek button on the radio. “Do you want to listen to a certain station?”
She shook her head and went back to staring out the window. The song eventually ended and The Eagles “Hotel California” came on. He could see her whole body immediately tense up and he quickly changed the station; she seemed relieved when he didn’t ask about her reaction.
They pulled in and AJ walked Max up to her apartment. She had resigned herself to the fact that he was going to insist so she didn’t bother to argue.
“So do you need a ride in the morning?”
“Look,” she said and turned to face him, “I appreciate all the offers and rides but I’m sure you have better things to do with your time. Consider your good deeds for the year accomplished.”
She started to shut the door but he stuck his foot in the frame before she could get it closed.
“I’m not trying to do any good deeds. You needed help and I’m just trying to be there.”
“Why?” she asked as her eyes filled with tears. “Why do you want to help me?”
“Because you need a friend.”
“I don’t need any friends; I’m not sticking around long enough to make any.”
AJ moved his foot when she started to push the door closed. He leaned his head over and gently tapped it against the wall; after a few seconds, he spoke again.
“I’ll be here at nine.” he called through the closed door.
He got no reply which wasn’t a surprise. All he could do was show up and hope for the best.
Surprisingly, Max was waiting on the front steps when he pulled in.
“Hi.” was all she said as she climbed in.
They rode in silence and the only time she talked was to say thank you when he dropped her off. He told her that he’d be back at closing to pick her up and she nodded. An idea hit him as soon as she entered the diner and he dialed his mother’s phone.
“Hey Ma. Can I come over for a few minutes?”
Max was surprised when AJ showed up at the diner again a few hours later. He walked over to Marjorie and struck up a conversation. The older woman nodded to head in her direction after a few minutes and he made his way over to here.
“Open your hand.”
“Can you open your hand for a minute?”
Max thought he was nuts but finally decided to open it. As soon as she did, he dropped a set of keys in her palm and smiled.
“What’s this?” she asked hesitantly.
“Your new truck.”
“What are you talking about?” she shouted causing some of the diners to look in her direction.
“I got you a truck.”
Max yanked on AJ’s arm and dragged him out to the parking lot.
“What’s wrong with you? I said I don’t need, or want, your charity and I sure as hell don’t need you to buy me a truck! You can’t buy my attention!”
AJ was taken aback by her anger and could feel her stare burning a hole in him.
“Would it help if I said I didn’t buy it?”
“How’d you get it then?” she demanded.
AJ figured a little white lie as this point wouldn’t do any more damage; he didn’t want to tell her that he’d basically gotten it from his mother. He had purchased two new cars for his mother and stepfather last year but Tony had insisted on hanging on to his old beat up truck. His mother hated the truck and was always trying to get rid of it; she was more than happy to hand it over to him when he said he needed it for a friend.
“I don’t need your friend’s charity either.” Max answered breaking him out of his thoughts.
“Can you at least look at it first? You might not consider it charity once you see it.”
AJ spun her around and her eyes opened wide. The truck was two shades of green with a black hood and it was missing two hubcaps. The bed of the truck had rusted holes dotting the base and the tailgate apparently ran away from embarrassment.
“It runs.” AJ said as though he was reading her mind. “He took really good care of the inside and the engine. It has a hundred thousand miles on it but he thinks you can get another fifty thousand out of it.”
“I can’t afford this.” she said after a few seconds.
“I didn’t buy it so there’s no need to pay for it.”
“I can’t just take it.”
“Yes you can.”
She shook her head. “It’s too much, and I don’t want to owe anyone. I’ll find some other way.”
“Wait a minute, you complained earlier about me giving you rides and me having better things to do with my time. With this, you can come and go whenever you want. You don’t owe me anything.”
“I should at least give you something.”
“Let’s make a deal then. Whenever I come to the diner and you wait on me, I won’t leave you a tip. Does that sound ok?”
She thought about it for a moment and then nodded. AJ stuck out his hand and smiled; he was shocked when she reached out hers and shook it.