Nikki smiled, taking another step in front of Max. She would have done it again, if not for a hand tugging her back, "Hey, Max! What gives?"
"Just felt like holding your hand, is all. You're one of my greatest supporters and I appreciate you for that." Max said flatly, moving to open the door of the coffee shop.
It was time to start letting more people in and having some more trying conversations.
Now that he had talked to his parents, Max was ready to talk to Nikki.
Or, at least, he thought he was.
Max could have kicked his own ass for not realizing this was a bad idea earlier. The moment Nikki entered the coffee shop she became a whirlwind of conversation, somehow maintaining two different topics between Ered and Harrison and still finding a breath to order her coffee.
"Are you coming to Open Mic night on Friday?" Ered scribbled Nikki's name on a cup. Apparently, Nikki had forgotten all about it as she was soon grabbing the sharpie from the blonde barista.
"Adding it to my wrist lis- Uh...Can someone write that on my other wrist?" Nikki asked, her rolled up sleeve revealing memos spanning her left arm.
"I'll-..." Max went to step forward, though Nikki stepped away from him, holding her wrist out to Harrison. The Illusionist jotted down the reminder, then glanced up at Max.
"Oh, hey! When did you sneak in?"
"I've been here…" Max mumbled, shoving his hands in his pockets.
"Yeah! Max says he has something to tell me. I think he's pregnant." Nikki snickered, nudging the boy in the ribs.
Ered and Harrison exchanged a glance, then turned back to the two in front of them. Both baristas wore neutral expressions, something Max found unsettling.
"You know, it gets kinda loud in here around lunch." Ered said, leaning over the counter as if she only meant for Max and Nikki to hear her. Nikki instinctively leaned in while Max watched Harrison, who nodded toward the side of the counter.
Max shrugged, moving to join the other boy in the corner, irritation mounting, "What the fuck do you want?"
Harrison dropped his car keys onto the counter, "Confessional is parked out back...Little bit more private, eh?"
As much as Max wanted to throw a snarky comment Harrison's way, he found his thoughts being overtaken by his main objective: Talk to Nikki. No, not talk, talk was something they already did a lot of...This was a confession.
One that was a long time coming.
Swiping the keys from the counter, Max shoved them in his pocket, eyes darting about to make sure Nikki hadn't seen him. The girl was busy writing down some new memo, excitedly chatting about it with Ered.
"Thanks, man...Why are you helping me anyway? Got any weird bets riding on this one?"
Max imagined if Harrison still wore his top hat, he would have taken it off and placed it over his heart at the accusation. Instead, the Illusionist smirked, "Hey, can't a guy help out his best br-"
"Preston ain't here, dude. What's the real reason?" Max crossed his arms.
Harrison rolled his eyes, "No reason, just being a friend is all."
"And the truth?"
"Hey, you two got Nerris and I together, least I can do is return the favor, right?" Harrison's smirk faded as he turned back to Nikki, seamlessly hopping into her and Ered's conversation as if he had never left it.
Despite being within arms reach of his friends, Max felt like he was finally alone enough to collect his thoughts. What was the worst that could possibly happen? He just needed to keep it short, sweet, and to the point; Nikki, I like- No…
Was that the right 'L' word? Love? Did he love her?
He loved her as a friend, that much he was absolutely confident about, but...As a lover?
Now, that was a thought that scared him. He had never really dated anyone before, short of his summer fling with Sasha while in high-school, and even then he wasn't really sure if what he was feeling was love.
Time proved he was wrong that time, so what if it was the same this time around? Sasha wouldn't speak to him for almost two years after that mess, what if Nikki-
No, there was definitely a difference between what Max felt for Nikki than he did Sasha. He didn't care rather or not he lost Sasha and that's why things turned out the way he did.
What he felt for Nikki definitely wasn't lust and, while he still wasn't sure if 'Love' was the right word, he definitely knew he longed to have her in some way. He knew that for years; When summer ended, all the way until she barreled toward him with outstretched arms, he couldn't wait to have her near him again. He always missed the way she never left room for any of his intrusive thoughts, her own rambling taking up all the room in his head. She didn't have a sense of personal space either, always touching, holding, or nudging Max in a way he didn't realize he needed to feel grounded.
As much as Nikki liked to float away to her own little world, she never failed to drag Max back down to earth in a sort of exchange.
Now...how could he sum that all up into just a few words.
"Ready, Max?" Nikki grabbed her drink from Ered, turning her attention back to the man she walked in with.
Right…This wasn't just a late night thought, anymore…
"Yeah...Yeah, let's go." Max mumbled, heading for the door without another word. Nikki turned to wave to Ered and Harrison, then skipped out behind Max.
Sure enough, the "Confessional" was parked beside the back entrance of the Bean. While it wasn't secluded by any means, it was definitely more private than the coffee shop.
"Why do you have Harrison's keys?" Nikki asked, sipping at her drink.
Max froze. Right...He never actually told Nikki why he asked her to the Bean...Fuck.
"Uh...So we can...ya know...talk." Max unlocked the car and reached for the passenger door. While he had intended to be a gentleman and get the door for Nikki, the girl instead bolted to the otherside of the car, hopping into the driver's seat.
"You can have shotgun! Man, I wonder what CDs Harrison has in here? Do you ever think about these things!?" Nikki immediately took to flipping through a small selection of CDs, almost entirely ignoring Max.
For a while, a silence fell between them; Not an uncomfortable silence, but the kind where no words were needed.
Maybe, this is what Max wanted? Just to sit beside Nikki while she ran off to her own little world, leaving him to enjoy his...Alone together or something of the like.
The silence was short lived as Nikki couldn't find a CD she liked and instead, turned to Max to provide her entertainment. Max briefly wished he had taken that time to prepare a speech, but it was too late now.
"What did you want to talk about?" Nikki asked, resting her elbows on the center console. A nervous smile spread across her face, as if she was preparing for the worst.
"Nothing bad…" Max assured her, almost feeling guilty for being so vague...Almost.
"Oh! Well, you made it sound all serious." Nikki's face softed. God, did Max love that face…
"Right, well...Okay, here goes-" Max bit his lip as he made a split second decision between attempting some long, romantic confession or keep it simple.
Apparently, Nikki had already made up his mind for him.
"I love you, too, Max...In the gushy, gross kinda way...not like friends." Nikki set her coffee down, wanting to be fully prepared for whatever the man beside her did next.
Or, didn't do next.
If Nikki stared hard enough, she could probably see the gears turning in Max's head as he processed what she said. Not like friends? Gushy? Love?
For the millionth time that day, words just wouldn't come to Max. Not that he didn't know what to day, just that he was scared of what would happen when he said them. He had spent so long shutting people out that letting them in was no easy task. He managed to hold onto Nikki and her friendship this long by keeping her at a distance...what if trying to move beyond that would be the thing that finally destroyed what they had?
Well, the last time Max decided to trust someone completely, he ended up with a new family...maybe something good could come out of this
"Nikki, I-..." Max started, then stopped. Conversations still weren't one of his strong points, at least, not when he was sober. Maybe actions were better?
He wasn't sure when he began leaning toward her or when he closed his eyes, but Max registered the kiss almost immediately. While it wasn't like in the movies with rain or fireworks and, despite how most fanfiction makes Coffee Shop AU kisses out to be, Nikki didn't taste like coffee or cinnamon or anything like that.
Her lips were sticky from the caramel drizzle on her coffee, though, something that made Max snicker just a bit.
"What's so funny?" Nikki pulled away almost instantly, breaking whatever slow burn moment they were having.
Max's snicker turned to a laugh, the hint of a blush crossing his face, "I'm not sure what I expected...But it was nice…"
"Wanna do it again or…?" Nikki slowly took a sip of her coffee.
"I mean- I do...Maybe a few more times after that, too…" Max rubbed anxiously at the back of his neck, his blush growing.
Now, it was Nikki's turn to laugh, "All you had to do was ask, Stupid. I've always wanted to do that."
"Well, not always...Just a couple of summers." Nikki admitted, taking the lid off her cup to get to the whip cream on top.
"Well...I'm sorry if this wasn't how you hoped things would go...Kinda lame place for a confession…" Max went to fold his arms, but Nikki stopped him, taking his hands into hers.
"Pft, nah. It's better than I imagined, actually."
Max raised an eyebrow, "Oh, yeah? How'd you imagine things going down?"
"Either a friends with benefits deal or just ignoring it until one of us died!" Nikki threw her arms out suddenly, knocking over her cup and sending coffee all over the center console.
The two exchanged glances, before Max spoke up, "Continue this conversation elsewhere?"
"You read my mind."
While Nikko disposed of the cups, Max went to return the keys to Harrison.
"How'd it go?" The Illusionist asked, a smirk playing at his face.
"I'll tell you later." Max mumbled back, then headed outside to meet Nikki.
However, their conversation didn't continue; Not that it needed to. Max's hand found Nikki's and the two walked back toward campus, not a single word spoken between the two.
Not all confessions needed to be a huge display; Sometimes kissing in your friend's car was just enough to get things moving in the right direction.
Their walk back to campus would have been perfect, if not for one thing.
"Jesus Christ, who is calling me!?" Max groaned, letting go of Nikki's hand to grab his phone, "Hello?"
"Which one of you spilled coffee in my car!?"