Page 18 of Mr. Fixit Next Door

But the flame of curiosity burned bright, eating away at the back of my brain. I desperately wanted to know what the hell happened. If I wasn’t going to get any answers from this Cato, there was always another I could pester for more information. The moment I stepped into my apartment, door secured shut behind me, I called Max’s number.

He answered on the second dial tone.

“What?” he grumbled.

“What’s going on? What happened to Terri?” I tossed my jacket over the wooden chair in the dining area. It wasn’t really a dining area, per se. It was just a cheap pressboard table I’d purchased from Ikea that sat in the middle of the kitchen. Nothing glamorous, nothing eccentric. I lived alone, so there really wasn’t any point in going overboard when it came to furnishing my apartment.

“This doesn’t concern you, Joe. Let it be.”

“I ran into her on my way home. She looked really upset.”

“Drop it, Mantaglio. I won’t say it again.”

“I’m concerned, Max.”

“And I don’t see why.”

“I like her, you idiot.”

A tense beat passed between us. I could hardly believe what I just said. The words dripped heavily from my tongue, but it was nothing less than the truth. Max’s silence was unnerving. He was the kind of guy who got deathly quiet when he was pissed. In my opinion, that was always more dangerous than a man who spoke his mind and removed all doubt. There was just no telling what he was thinking, and since we weren’t having this conversation in person, I couldn’t even read his expression or body language for the slightest hint.

“You what?” mumbled Max.

“You heard me. I said I like her. I need you to calm the fuck down, dude.”

“Calm down? Are you serious? Oh my God, what have you done?”

“We’ve a date set up for this Saturday.”

“You son of a bitch. I thought I told you to back off. Did you think I was kidding? The next time I see, I swear to God I’m going to–”

“I’m not just fooling around here,” I interrupted.

“She’s my sister,” he argued. “And you’re my best friend. Do you have any idea how shitty that was to go behind my back? Do you even care?”

“Of course, I do,” I roared into the receiver.

“What kind of shit are you trying to pull, cabrón? I know you. You’ll sleep with her and move on the next day. That’s how you’ve always been!”

“I care for Terri. There’s something here between us that I can’t describe. She’s not just a fling to me, okay? I would never do anything to hurt her. I can’t explain why I feel this way, but I do. I know there’s supposed to be some sort of bro code that says your friend’s little sister is off limits, but I think that’s stupid. She’s… She matters a lot to me. And quite frankly, who Terri decides she wants to date isn’t up to you, Max. This isn’t the fifteenth century.”

For a second, I thought the call had dropped. There was nothing but silence on the other end. As I waited for Max to gather himself, I nervously clenched and unclenched my free hand, digging my nails into the flesh of my palms. My mind was spinning, and the air around me felt unbearably thin. Max let out an arduous sigh.

“For fuck’s sake,” he grumbled. “Fine.”

“Wait, what?”

“You’re right. She’s an adult. She can make her own choices. I have no say in who she decides to see.”

Relief flooded my veins. “Thank you, Max.”

He simply grunted in response. “It’s just as well, I guess. If anyone can take care of her, it’s probably you. But listen to me very closely, Joe. I’m telling this to you because I respect you.”

“What is it?”

“If you hurt my little sister, I will kill you.”

I scoffed. “Really? You’re going to give me the protective big brother spiel?”

“I’m not joking,” he said, deadpan. “If you hurt her in any way, I will murder you in your sleep and make it look like an accident. She’s my little sister, understand? She means more to me than you can ever imagine.”

I sighed. “I understand, Max. She means more to me than you can ever imagine, too.”

“Good. Looks like we’ve reached an agreement.”

“Great. Now will you tell me what happened?”

Max grumbled under his breath. “We met up with our parents.”

“Oh,” was all I said. I could already tell where this was going. “They gave her a hard time, huh?”

“Understatement of the year.”

“Maybe I should check up on her.”

“Don’t, Joe. If she wanted to talk about it with you, she would have. Just give her some space.”

It always sucked when Max made sense. I didn’t like to think he was smarter than me, but even I had to give in when he was right.

“Okay,” I agreed. “I’ll let her be for now.”