Chapter Eighteen

Liz chewed on the end of her pen thoughtfully, trying to concentrate on the paper in front of her. The library was filled with students but silence prevailed all around. It was after lunch now and she had a period free. She thought that she’d use it to go over her choices for electives but they didn’t really appeal to her. Neither did the extra curricular activities.

Cheerleading?

I do not think so.

She crossed it out with her highlighter.

Home Ec?

Definite no. She didn’t have the first clue on how to make anything in the kitchen except a mess. She knew how to make sandwiches, juice and coffee and how to pour cereal in a bowl. It was enough for her. She crossed it out.

Choir.

Had some potential. Liz did like singing. But something that had to be done in the public eye was not for her. It was for this reason that Drama had to go too.

Sighing, she lifted her hair away from her face and looked over what was left.

Art and Track/Athletics/Swimming.

Art. Liz shook her head. Art had been Alison’s favorite thing in the world. And she was good at it. More than good. She was great. In fact, she was supposed to have gone to an art conservatory this year. Liz felt tears rush to her eyes but they disappeared quickly. Once more she was reminded of exactly how much this man had stolen from her family. Thanks to him, Alison would paint again, never draw, never laugh…never fall in love.

Intense amber eyes popped into her mind and Liz sighed, dropping her highlighter.

Her mind had come full circle to the reason she couldn’t concentrate properly.

Max.

While satisfied that she had managed to talk him into the ‘friend’s’ deal, Liz was more than annoyed at herself for allowing HIM to talk HER into the condition that she go to him if she wanted to talk. Because she did. Very badly. She wanted to tell him all of it, wanted to see what it would feel like to have someone of her own choosing know everything about her. To see who she was.

And this scared her.

Because for one thing, even when she had been going out with Justin, she had never felt the urge to reveal all to him. And her life hadn’t even been as complicated as it was now.

And for another, while she and Alison had shared bond that was unbreakable, she and her sister were total opposites. Granted, Allie had known her better than anyone but she didn’t really understand her. She didn’t know what made her do the things she did just as Liz didn’t really know or understand what drove Alison to do the things she did. They were just too different. And while this didn’t make them love the other less, it created some sort black hole, an area where they just did not understand one another.

And…and all this thinking was giving her a headache.

Opening her eyes, she picked up her highlighter and the tip of it hovered over the word, ‘Art’. Liz frowned. Crossing it off would almost be like erasing a part of Alison away. And things that reminded her of Alison were disappearing fast enough without her help. Her fingers actually began trembling.

I need help, she thought desperately.

A soft scuffling sound distracted her. Kyle was sliding into the seat beside her, a smile on his face. She smiled back politely, glad that he had offered some distraction.

“ Hey.” Kyle greeted softly.

“ Hi,”

“ You okay so far? Whatcha doing?” Kyle was removing a thick textbook from his backpack and Liz saw the word ‘BIOLOGY’ on it.

Liz looked around from the librarian and when she didn’t see her, she shrugged. “ It’s going great, thanks. I was just…” She picked up the paper and handed it to Kyle.

He nodded in understanding. “ Picking electives?” He looked over her choices. “ Down to Art and Sports, huh?”

Liz nodded. “ Yeah.”

“ What are you taking?”

“ Good question,” Liz muttered. She shrugged. “ I guess sports wouldn’t be too bad. Track maybe. Or swimming.”

“ Go with swimming,” Kyle advised. “ The track team coach is murder.”

Liz laughed softly. “ I’ll keep that in mind.”

She took the paper back and slipped it in between her books, flipping her chosen library book open. There was silence for a few minutes before Kyle cleared his throat.

“ So… is it true what I’ve heard?”

Liz raised an eyebrow at him. “ Depends. What have you heard?” she answered back in a low voice.

“ You and Max.”

Liz rolled her eyes and grinned. “ There is no ‘me and max’. We’re friends.”

Kyle nodded sagely. “ Ah. I see. Would this be the type of friends who share kisses?”

Liz shook her head. “ Is anyone ever going to forget that?”

“ Wouldn’t bet on it if I were you. So? What’s the deal?”

Liz straightened, giving Kyle a quizzical look. “ Not to be rude, but what’s it to you?”

Kyle gave her an embarrassed smile. “ I’m sorry. I just…well, if I asked you out, would you say yes?”

Liz’s mouth dropped open. “ What?”

“ Would you?”

Liz blinked. “ I…don’t…I don’t know. I barely know you Kyle.”

“ I mean after you got to know me.”

“ I honestly don’t know.”

Kyle looked disappointed for a moment then he winked. “ Hey, if she don’t run away screaming there’s hope, right?”

Liz laughed again, glad he had taken it that way though she couldn’t help but think that there would be no chance.

A throat was cleared behind them and Liz’s smile disappeared. She turned, expecting to see the librarian but she couldn’t stop a radiant smile from spreading on her lips when she saw who it was.

“ Max,” she breathed.

He was frowning but the minute he saw her smile, the lopsided grin that she was beginning to get fond of appeared. Liz blinked.

“ Um, hi! What are you doing here?” Liz lowered her voice when she saw the Librarian casting disapproving looks at them. “ I thought I was the only one with a free period.”

“ Technically, yes, but I finished up early.” Max shifted his gaze and saw Kyle watching the whole exchange with interest. “ Hey Kyle.”

“ Max.”

The two stared at each other for a moment and Liz cleared her throat. “ Um, do you want to sit down?” she whispered, gesturing at the empty chair on her other side. Max bounced nervously on his heels.

“ Actually, I was wondering if you’d like to get started on our assignment. We didn’t really get a chance to get to it yesterday. The bio lab is free right now. We could finish the first half and just leave the notes for tomorrow.”

Liz glanced at her watch. Seeing that she had enough time before Matthews was supposed to pick her up, she nodded.

“ Sounds like a plan,” Standing up she gathered her books and flashed Kyle quick smile. “ Thanks for your help. I’ll see you at the pool,”

Kyle grinned back. “ I look forward to it.”

Liz didn’t notice the way Max’s jaw had clenched.

“ Later Kyle. Remember, we’re supposed to head out today.” Max called back softly.

“ Yeah, I’ll remember.” He waved at Liz. “ Later.”

As soon as they reached the hallway, Max glanced at her.

“ Pool, huh?”

Liz shrugged. “ Yeah. I figure I might as well pick something I enjoy.” She gave Max a sideways glance. “ What do you take?”

“ Swimming,” he answered simply. “ I’m glad you decided to take it too.”

Liz raised her eyebrows. “ Why is that?” She batted her eyelashes teasingly, drawing a chuckle from him. “ Is it because I’m great company?”

Max tilted his head to the side. “ Well, yeah, there’s that and,” He paused to grin at her suggestively. “ I’m looking forward to seeing you in a swimming costume.”

Liz blinked, bemusedly. “ I never thought of that one.” She shifted her books from one hand to another and Max immediately took them from her. “ I guess I’ll have to take track then.”

Max almost dropped the books. “ What?”

Liz grinned. “ Kidding.”

He laughed.

They’d reached the Biology classroom by then.

“ After you,” Max said.

***********************************************************

“ Pam!” Tess hissed, walking through the empty restroom. “ Pam!”

She heard the toilet in the stall ahead of her flush and her best friend emerged, straightening her cheerleading uniform.

“ Oh God, did something ELSE happen??” She asked exasperatedly. “ Have they announced their wedding date?”

She snippiness was rewarded by a fatal glare from Tess and Pam sighed, walking over to her and putting an arm around her shoulder.

“ What’s wrong?”

Tess shrugged her arm off and began to pace the length of the restroom.

“ The Isabel angle is not going to work.”

Pam began to reapply her lipstick. I could have told you that, she shot back silently. But she placed a concerned façade on for her friend. “ So we’ll just have to find some other way to deal with her.” She looked for Tess through the mirror and found her staring into the distance with a malicious smile on her face. “ Unless you already have another plan?”

Tess nodded in the affirmative. “ I do.” If possible, the cold reptilian smile spread even wider. “ I’ve just discovered one of Ms. Parker’s biggest fears.”

Pam turned from the mirror and faced her directly.

“ Really? What is it? And how did you find out?”

Tess flipped her hair over her shoulder nonchalantly. “ Oh, you know me. The Harding business ear is always open and fine tuned to act in my best interests.”

Pam grinned. “ So you eavesdropped.”

Tess laughed. “ Of course. I had hoped for something a bit more damaging but what I found out will do very nicely.”

“ So what did you find out?” Pam asked impatiently. She wasn’t going to give up her spot as captain of the cheerleading squad just to listen to Tess prattle on about how brilliant she was.

“ Oh nothing much. Just that little Lizzie’s scared to death of fires…”


*****************************************************************

The Grandfather clock chimed eight o clock, and Liz stood outside the heavy mahogany doors nervously biting her lip. She raised her hand and knocked.

“ Come in,”

Liz opened the door and stepped into the second floor room that Dave had made into his ‘office’. Truth be told the room looked nothing like an office, save for the big desk, computer and chair at one side. One side of the wall was completely covered by monitors displaying every room of the house and at least five of them were trained on her room. The gate, the driveway, the gardens and the rest of the grounds were shown as well. Liz’s eyes swept over the various blue prints of the house and maps of Roswell that were spread out over the gigantic desk, the assortment of buttons on a ridiculously elaborate looking control panel that controlled the security systems of the house and last but not least, Dave’s favorite hunting knife. But instead of giving her comfort, Liz felt uneasier than ever. Did they really think a few extra men and cameras were enough to keep him out?

“ Liz. Is something wrong?”

Dave was looking at her in concern.

“ No, nothing’s wrong.” She stood still, eyes scanning the room. There was a roaring fire in the fireplace, a steaming coffeepot on the side table and a half eaten sandwich next to it. “ You really should eat more. Why didn’t you come down for dinner?”

He leaned back against his desk. “ I wasn’t that hungry. Besides, I was under the impression that you weren’t speaking to me.” He raised an eyebrow. “ Are you talking to me now?”

Liz shrugged and picked up the hunting knife, throwing it in the air and catching it, a skill she’d learned to perfect during the long, boring hours spent in countless hotel rooms. She stopped and looked him right in the eye, running her finger along the blade and resting it finally on the sharp point.

“ Dave, I just wanted to…I mean, I wanted to apologize for ducking out. I know you mean well and all but sometimes I feel so…”

She trailed off and tossed the knife back into the air, watching in fascination as the light from the fireplace glinted off it’s shiny blade.

“ Trapped?” He provided for her gently.

She caught the knife deftly.

“ Exactly.”

He sighed and rubbed his eyes and Liz was suddenly aware of how many more gray hairs Dave had. She frowned. When had that happened? And why hadn’t she noticed?

“ Liz?”

Liz blinked and looked at him quizzically. “ Sorry. I was just thinking about your hair.”

Dave laughed, in a great booming tone that instantly transported Liz back to countless Christmases and birthdays when she and Allie were younger and indeed, ordinary days when she would get herself into another fine mess and be stuck with the task of explaining. That laugh had always followed. It was warm. Familiar. Safe.

“ My hair? Well what about it?”

Liz let the corner of her mouth lift and she came towards him, still holding the knife.

“ It’s…it’s more silver than usual,” She ventured delicately. Liz rolled her eyes inwardly, knowing she sounded completely lame. He laughed again.

“ So you finally noticed. I hope you know it’s all on account of you,”

She smirked.

“ Well someone has to shake things up around here once in a while,” Seeing the expression on Dave’s face though, she quickly went on, “ but that person won’t be me.”

Liz saw him heave a sigh of relief.

“ That is music to my ears.” Dave shuffled some of the papers on his desk and ran a hand through his hair. He sat down heavily and then regarded her with a serious look. “ Liz, I know that this is very difficult. We bring you all the way out here, after drilling for endless months preparing for it, remodeling a whole mansion, arranging things at the school…all in an effort for a normal life,” He watched carefully as she made her way towards the desk and settled down in the armchair across from him, her expression open and carefully recording his words and yet, there was an underlying wariness about it. He pressed on. “ And yet when we finally do arrive, it’s like a repetition of New York. Everything, everything’s the same except that we’ve changed the scenery.”

Dave flashed back to one of the worst fights that had occurred between Liz and her father. He could still hear the shouts that had echoed between the two of them. Feel the seething anger that had literally poured out of Liz. Feel the roaring frustration from Jeff as he tried to reason with his stubborn daughter and the overwhelming fear that was encompassing them both. He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop but the way they were bellowing at each other, they way they had been doing so for close to fifteen minutes made it really hard to not get the gist of what they were saying…

“ You’re not listening to me dad! You never listen to me! You…you don’t even see me…you don’t even know me!”

“ Liz, how can you say that? Of course I know you! You’re my daughter. And all I’m trying to do is keep you safe! What you did today, what you you’re doing now is completely unacceptable. Can’t you see that? I don’t want you getting hurt!”

“ What I did? What I’m doing now? All I’m trying to do is breathe, daddy. I can’t even breathe anymore.” A choked gasp had followed this and Liz had sobbed out words that she had so recently said to him. “ I can’t breathe.”

A deep sigh and followed this, obviously from Jeff.

“ Honey… I wish… I wish I could make all this go away from you. That I could bring our f-family back,” It had been Jeff’s turn to stifle a sob. “ But I can’t. All the money I possess just won’t get them back. You’re the only one left I have Liz. I am not going to stand by and see you taken away and hurt too. I won’t. Not this time. You are going to stay safe, even if it kills me.”

“Is this what you call keeping me safe? By holding me prisoner? By locking me up? By keeping me from having a life?”

“ Liz-”

“ I don’t even know who I am anymore! Everyday, every hour, every minute it’s ‘Ms. Parker don’t do this, Ms. Parker don’t do that, Ms. Parker it’s for your own safety…’ “ Another sob. “Daddy… all this, it won’t kill you. It will kill me. I’m dying…”

“ Elizabeth Alyssa Parker! Do not talk like that! Anger clearly came through from Jeff’s tone of voice but there was also desperation.

“ Fine! Fine. I’m through talking, dad. I-I’m through. I’m done.”

Liz had run out of the room, slamming the door behind her, heading straight for her own with two men in pursuit. Dave had instantly known that this was what Liz had been talking about. She couldn’t even cry hysterically in her room without an audience. Going into the study, he had seen his life long friend hunkered down in front of the dying fire. Jeff looked tired and defeated but there was also an unmistakable gleam of determination in his eyes.

“ I’m losing her, Dave. I’m losing my baby girl.” He had drawn in a shuddering breath. “ And I can’t allow that to happen. I am not losing anyone else. I can’t.”

Dave had nodded.

“ What do you want to do?”

Jeff had stood, crossed over to the large map of the United States that was tacked to the wall.

“ It’s time. We’re moving her…”

“ Dave?”

Liz’s quiet voice broke through his reminiscing and he glanced up to find her staring at him intently, a wry grin on her face.

“ Welcome back. And thank you for your analysis.”

He nodded. “ Am I right?”

She grew silent. The grin disappeared and a look that looked out of place on such a young face spread over her features. A short nod was his answer.

“ I just don’t get it, Dave. Why would you bring me here if we were just going to do the same things all over again? Wasn’t the whole point of this giving up the cloak and dagger stuff and trying to be normal?”

He sighed. “ You know we can never let our guard down entirely, Liz.”

“ I know, I know that. But even though I hate to point this out to you, I’m sure you’ve noticed that having bodyguards isn’t exactly the order of the day around here.” She tilted her head to side and smirked. “ Neither is cutting off a couple of teenagers back from a drive in the desert,”

“ What did you say to Mr. Evans?” Dave inquired politely, carefully avoiding her eye.

“ Nothing. I simply told him that they were my guardians and asked him not to tell anyone.”

Dave raised a skeptical eyebrow. “ That’s it? You just ‘asked’ him?” He frowned into space, his mind already thinking up ways to guarantee the silence of the Evans boy when Liz interrupted his thoughts.

“ Don’t even think about it, Dave.” She said sharply. “ I don’t want you or any of the guys going near him. He doesn’t need to be involved in this.”

“ Liz, think about it. He saw something that was not meant to be known, much less seen in this town. We’re not even supposed to exist. Does he know how important it is that he keeps quiet? Lives depend on it, kiddo. Your life depends on it.”

“ Dave, please trust me on this. He won’t tell anyone. I promise. Leave him out of this. Please?”

Clearly not happy, he nodded.

“ We’ll be watching him.”

“ Just…just keep your distance, okay? I don’t want him involved in this.”

“ Worry about yourself kiddo.”

“ I don’t need to. You do enough worrying for the both of us,” Liz teased in an effort to steer the subject away from Max. Dave frowned but allowed himself to be led away.

“ You’re right about you not being normal enough, though. What is it that teenagers do nowadays?”

Liz shrugged. “ Stuff like going out to malls, I guess. Staying out late at night. Having sleepovers, going to parties and just generally hanging out. That sort of thing. I think.” She ran a hand through her hair and released a weary sigh. “I’m not even that sure anymore. It’s getting hard for me to remember what being a teen is all about.”

“ Maybe you need to brush up,”

“ And how exactly am I supposed to that? I’m not allowed to leave the house, remember?”

“ I’ve got a proposition for you. You promise to never run off again and check in every hour-”

“ And keep my cell phone on at all times and let you know where I am ever single minute of the day and be a good little girl, yada yada yada and you’ll what?”

“ I’ll make sure its just Matthews who’ll stay with you and he’ll just watch from a distance. You can go wherever you want to go, do whatever you want to do…be normal. Just as long as you don’t try to lose him.”

Liz was staring at him like he had just ordered her to start a conga line.

“ Are you serious?”

“ I’m serious.”

“ But what about daddy, he’s-”

“ The one who suggested it all.”

Liz’s jaw dropped.

“ You’re kidding.”

“ No, I’m not. You’re right, Liz. The whole point of moving here was to give you a shot at just being a kid again. This is not going to be just like New York. It’s time to make new memories.”

There was silence.

“ New memories,” she murmured, repeating Dave’s words. Liz had been staring steadfastedly at the knife she still held in her hand. After a few minutes of contemplation, she looked up.

“ This is for real, isn’t it? I can’t go back. Allie’s…gone and I’m still here…”

“ Yes, you are. You can go on.” He smiled reassuringly, encouragingly. “ So what’s it going to be kiddo? Do you accept?”

Silence.

And then…

“ Yes.”

**************************************************************

The next day brought more rumors into existence, each of them growing more and more outlandish. It was getting really frustrating and Max couldn’t wait until the school got a new piece of gossip to mull over. After spending the better part of the afternoon with Kyle and Michael in the desert, they had driven to the CrashDown to grab some chow before heading home. Actually, Max had been against the idea, opting to go home but he had been out voted by his friends and so he had endured a few hours of endless questioning about he and Liz’s… relationship? Friendship? What exactly was it?

Sighing in frustration, he continued rummaging through his locker, searching for the books he need. Another thing was bothering him too. He could have sworn that Kyle had been moving in on Liz yesterday in the library. And this really got to him. But it wasn’t his place to tell Liz whom she could and could not go out with. It didn’t even make sense for letting something like that get to him. She wasn’t his girlfriend or even remotely anything like that, was she?

“ Frowning increases your chances of getting wrinkles at an early age by 20 per cent, you know. It uses a lot more energy than smiling does too.”

Hearing the soft lilting voice beside him, Max immediately brightened up, found the books he needed and whipped around with a grin on his face, slamming the locker shut.

Liz stood there looking especially… tempting… in her red sweater and black hipsters. Even wearing chunky heels, she was still about a head shorter than him and he had to work very hard to resist the urge to just lower his head a bit more and fuse his lips to hers.

“ Much better,” she nodded, seeing his grin.

“ Hey,” Max greeted softly.

“ Hey yourself.” She bounced back with a smile.

“ So are you here for a specific reason or did you just want to make my day a whole lot better?” Max asked, setting the game in motion.

Liz shouldered her backpack to a more comfortable position and raised her gaze upwards as if thinking hard.

“ That would depend.”

“ On what, Ms. Parker?”

“ On which one you want to believe.” She replied demurely.

“ Oh, I think you know which one I want.” He bantered back easily.

“ Sorry, I have absolutely no idea,” Her tone was all innocence but her eyes held that mischievous light that seemed to come and go.

Max shrugged, treating her to one of his full blown smiles, one that was reputed to bring girls to their knees. Liz simply raised her eyebrow at him and he laughed.

“ I really like option number two myself. And I can think of several ways you can make my day,”

“ Several ways huh? Care to tell me some of them?” An impish smile claimed her face, lighting it up.

Slowly, a wolfish grin appeared. Max leaned downwards.

“ I always say it’s better to show than tell,” he whispered close to her ear.

“ Uh huh. So what exactly are you planning on showing me?” Her voice was full of laughter.

He pulled back a little and beamed at her.

“ This special form of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,”

Liz smirked, lifting her chin in challenge.

“ What’s so special about it?”

Max laughed. “ Well, it’s only applied to incredibly beautiful girls who brighten up an undeserving mortal’s days. Kind of like a thank you present. And you, my ray of sunshine, are definitely worthy of a thank you,”

Liz grinned. “ Does that oh so charming story work on a lot of girls? Just how many kisses have you weaseled using that?”

Max smiled at her. “ I wouldn’t know. You’re the first one I’ve ever tried it on. You tell me. And as for kisses, I’m hoping for number one right now.”

She burst out laughing and stepped away from him. “ God. You never stop do you?”

“ Stop what?” Max asked, feigning innocence.

“ That. Laying on the charm,”

“ So it did work.”

“ I didn’t say that.”

He sighed and pretended to be deeply sorrowful. “ You win some, you lose some.” He looked up at her. “ But why is it that when it comes to you, I always lose?”

Liz wrinkled her forehead, blinking in amusement. “ I don’t recall you ever losing anything, Max.”

He stepped closer. “ You should’ve paid more attention then,” He continued lightheartedly. “ I lose a lot of things around you,” Liz’s eyes danced playfully as he began to count off the list. “ I lose my head,”

“ Like you ever had it,” she teased.

“ Ouch, that hurt. I lose all sense of direction,”

“ What are you talking about?” Liz smirked. “ Your sense of direction works fine around me. You always manage to get us to the eraser room.”

Max mock glared at her but laughed at her unusually carefree behavior. “ Sshh!” He admonished. “I lose all sense of time,”

“ Hmm, can’t argue with you there,” She agreed playfully. “ I guess that explains why you’re always late to class,”

Seeing her so obviously enjoying his company gave him a warm feeling all over, like he was glowing on the inside. And suddenly, his voice had taken on a very serious quality. In fact, his entire mood had become serious.

“ But you know the first thing I lost when I met you?”

Liz had noticed the change in his mood. She stepped closer to him, half afraid and yet yearning to hear what it was. He was giving her time. Time to run off, change her mind, bring back the game. But somehow, she just couldn’t do it. She didn’t want to. She had to know.

“ What?”

A small smile curved his lips upwards and he tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear.

“ I lost my heart,” he whispered to her.

TBC?


Chapter Nineteen

Max hadn’t been able to stop himself. And from what he had seen, Liz hadn’t been able to either. She was staring up at him now, mouth slightly open and a battle raging within the midnight depths of her eyes. He could see it so very clearly.

She wanted to run.

Just turn her back on him with a flimsy excuse and rush to the safety off a class filled with people who didn’t know her. Maybe ‘know’ wasn’t exactly the right word to use. Because he didn’t really knowLiz Parker either. And as much as this bothered him, at least he possessed something unexpected which made his quest to know her a bit easier. An ability to see what she was feeling and thinking by looking into her eyes. So perhaps the right word to use would be ‘see’. She wanted to run to the safety of a class filled with people who didn’t see her… the real her.

At the same time, she wanted to stay and face the music. Answer his truthful admittance with one of her own. Lower her defenses and show him a little bit more of the person she had hidden away. And then the fear that had been so apparent in her voice when she had called out for him in the UFO museum blossomed in her eyes, effectively ending the staring match he’d started when she lifted her gaze from his eyes to concentrate on a point behind him. Max felt his heart sink. She was pulling away. When she spoke, her tone of voice confirmed it.

“ Did you?” Her voice had a cool and distant quality, containing not an ounce of the playful buoyancy or the unstoppable curiosity from her last question.

Launching an attempt to draw her back from the wall which she was so obviously building, Max reached over to carry the books she held in her hands in addition to the backpack. His fingers brushed lightly over her hand and he felt her jump a little. She flicked her gaze back to meet his.

“ I did.”

His gaze was steadfast and unwavering. His tone even. There was no pressure but both held a hint of challenge. To look into his eyes and give her response to his statement. There was no use denying it. She was scared to death. But Liz Parker had never backed down from a challenge and she certainly wasn’t going to back down now. She allowed a grin to appear on her face and she stepped back from Max slightly, still keeping direct eye contact but keeping her wall very firmly in place. She still had no idea what she was going to say so the words that made it out of her mouth were a complete surprise.

“ That’s not a very good thing y’know.” Liz responded lightly.

Max’s eyes narrowed. He couldn’t quite put his finger on whether she was teasing or not. Her grin was genuine but the look in her eyes was guarded, all traces of anything that might betray how she felt carefully hidden away. There was nothing for it. He had to go along.

“ Why not?” He asked, imitating her light tone.

“ Because. You might need your heart.” She swallowed, and the grin disappeared. “ And these days… in this world… something like that could be broken so easily.” Her dark eyes filled with sadness. “ Or lost forever.”

Sensing that her words were coming from past experiences that seemed painful, Max stepped a tiny inch closer to her, responding softly,

“ Not if someone’s there to hold on to it.” Staring intently at her.

Liz looked at him, her eyes roaming his features searchingly.

“ And what if that someone isn’t worthy to hold a heart in their hands? What if they’re the reason it breaks?”

Max narrowed his eyes slightly. It sounded like she was warning him…

“ Are you trying to tell me something?”

She hung her head.

Max felt his heart contract in response though he couldn’t actually understand why. He lifted a hand and grasped her chin gently, tipping it upwards with a finger.

“ Liz…”

**********************************

Michael, Maria and Isabel walked down the corridor together, dodging the other students as they hurried to their classes. Isabel’s nose was buried in her organizer as she made notes and tried to rearrange her many appointments.

“ Maria, are you sure the food and drinks are ready for the party?” She nagged for the hundredth time.

And for the hundredth time, Maria fought the urge to tear her hair out in frustration. She gave Isabel a gargoyle like grin.

“ Yes, I’m sure Isabel. I talked to Milton about the CrashDown catering a private party three weeks ago and he was thrilled. He even said I get a commission for promoting the café. I reminded him about it two weeks ago, a week ago, then on Monday and three times yesterday, like you asked. He says the food will be all ready to be picked up right on time for the party. So, once again, yes, I’m really, really sure Iz.”

Isabel frowned a little at her overly polite response, still not taking her eyes off the page she was scrutinizing.

“ Well,” She began doubtfully, as if Maria had somehow said the food wasn’t guaranteed, “ If you’re sure.”

She didn’t see the muscle going in Maria’s temple as the grin became fixed. Michael saw this and smirked. Ha! And Maria thought he’d been overreacting about Isabel’s behavior about this whole party thing. He saw Maria ball up her fists and ram them onto her hips. Recognizing the warning signs, he thought fast, sliding his hands around her waist and pressing a soft kiss to the side of her head, effectively stopping their progress through the hall and letting Isabel go ahead.

“ Calm down, Maria. Izzy’s just in one of her moods.” He whispered lightly.

She huffed.

“ Yeah? Well this particular mood of hers is REALLY pissing me off, here Michael. This is like, the, I don’t know, hundredth time she’s asked about this? It’s getting on my nerves!”

“ She gets on my nerves too, Maria. But you know how important this is to Isabel. It’s the single most important social event of the beginning of senior year,”

Maria blinked up at him. “ Now you sound like her.”

Michael grimaced. “ I do? Damn. She’s been blathering about it in my ear every time we go out there, it must’ve rubbed off on me.”

“ Michael! Maria! We haven’t finished!” Came a highly affronted yell.

They jumped and broke apart when they saw Isabel scowling at them, a hand on her hip. They trotted obediently towards her but Michael couldn’t help muttering,

“ God, I’d love to tear that organizer to pieces,”

Maria nodded in agreement.

“ I wish Alex were here. You do know that’s why she’s so freaked out right? She misses him.”

“ Yeah, I know. He’d get Princess Isabel off her high horse fast. ” Michael whispered back as they hurried towards the impatient looking Isabel. “ But I really wish she wouldn’t take it out on us. Max was a smart guy to get to school early, foisting her off on us like that. Let’s just hope Whitman gets back here before the party or we’re all doomed.” He cleared his throat when they reached her and smiled.

“ Yeah?”

Isabel was scribbling away busily. “ I just wanted to know, Michael, when you and Max and Kyle were going into the desert again.”

Michael puckered his brow as they resumed walking.

“ I don’t know, Iz. We pretty much did everything there was left to do last night.”

“ Everything?” Isabel repeated suspiciously, flipping a couple of pages to a list she’d made. “ The stage?”

“ All done.”

Isabel crossed something out.

“ Lights?”

“ Done.”

“ Cables?”

“ All hooked up.”

“ Amplifiers?”

Michael raised his eyebrows at her.

“ We kinda thought we’d do those when the band was ready to play.” He said slowly, as if she was a bit dim.

Isabel bristled at his tone.

“ Can’t you do it before hand?” She asked pretentiously.

Michael shook his head.

“ Well why not?” She snapped.

“ Um, Isabel,” Maria injected, a grin threatening to break out over her face, “ that’s kinda not possible.”

“ What are you talking about Maria?” She barked.

“ Geez, Iz.” Michael said in frustration, running his hands through his hair. “ We connect them to the band’s instruments! And since the instruments aren’t going to be there till the night of the party, we have nothing to connect them to, okay?”

“ Oh. Well, I guess that’s okay,” Isabel finally replied, turning back to her organizer. “ You could have told me sooner though. That means we’ll have to allow extra time…”

Letting her mutter herself to oblivion, Michael rolled his eyes and it was Maria’s turn to give him a quick peck, this time on the lips, to smooth away his frown.

“ Calm down, Michael,” she cooed. “ She just in one of her moods, remember?”

“ Yeah well now she’s pissing me off. I’m going to get Maxwell for this, he knows Isabel is most cranky in the morning. What did he have to do that was so important anyway?”

Maria’s eyes had lit upon something a rather large number of people were watching surreptitiously. She grinned.

“ That would be a one word answer, Mr. Guerin,” She said in her best game show host impression.

Michael followed her gaze and sighed.

“ I should have known,” He reached out to stop Isabel from barreling straight into someone and she stared up at him in annoyance.

“ What?”

“ Look.”

Isabel looked. And groaned.

“ Oh, not again!”

Max and Liz were standing close to each other, locked in a staring match, quiet words being exchanged between them. The trio stood still, along with everyone else. It seemed wrong to interrupt somehow, like all of them were intruding on something private, personal…intimate. The air around them practically crackled with intensity and when Max lifted Liz’s chin, as one, they all looked away uncomfortably. Maria began bustling around, shooing people away, while Isabel and Michael tried to decide HOW exactly they should break it up. At least they weren’t kissing or anything yet but by the looks of things, it didn’t look like they were going to have to wait long for it to reach that point. Max was now running his fingers through Liz’s hair, his actions bringing them another inch closer.

Isabel looked at Michael and Maria, who had returned from dispersing the crowd, desperately.

“ Um, what should we do? Class is going to start any minute and those two can’t start the day off by having a little tête-à-tête in the eraser room.”

Michael frowned, still a little irked by Isabel’s high handed behavior regarding the party. He knew that if Maria wasn’t around and he was missing her terribly, he probably wouldn’t have acted as well as Isabel had been doing but still. He couldn’t resist one little jab.

“ I don’t know, Izzy. What does your organizer say?”

Isabel pursed her lips at him.

“ Funny, Michael.”

“ Rein it in, babe,” Maria warned casually, placing a placating hand on Michael’s forearm. “ Izzy’s right. The whole school will probably melt if they kiss. I’m feeling shockwaves even from here.” She glanced at Michael and Isabel’s transfixed forms. “ So who gets to do the honors?”

Isabel turned away.

“ I can’t do it. It’s too embarrassing.” She declared, cringing.

Maria rolled her eyes.

“ Michael? What do you say? Care to save our friends from themselves?”

Michael took one look at Max and Liz’s rapidly nearing figures and turned away too.

“ I think I’ll pass.”

This time, she shook her head.

“ Wimps.”

**********************************

Liz was trapped. The feel of Max’s fingertips lightly grazing her face was sending her into sensory overload. What was he doing to her? She swallowed, trying to gather her wits together. What had he been saying? Oh yeah. He had been asking her if she was trying to tell him something.

Wasn’t she supposed to be staying away from him?

“Max,” She began, unconsciously licking her lips.

His hand was wandering into her hair now and he was watching her, mesmerized by her tongue shooting out of her mouth and wetting her lips. Liz was just looking at his eyes, marveling at how quickly they changed colors. From warm, sparkling amber to this dark, midnight hue that looked just a tad away from black. Beautiful.

It was the exact same word that was reverberating in Max’s mind as he continued running his hand through the silken mass that made up her hair, lifting it away from her face and tucking it behind her ear. He hadn’t meant to get so side tracked. He just hadn’t been able to help himself…

Swallowing, he managed to rasp out, “ Yeah?”

She drew in a deep breath as her eyes fluttered closed, reveling in the feelings his touch invoked. “ What are you doing?”

Max continued skimming his fingers over her features reverently, his thumb making a fleeting pass over her lips. Liz’s pulse spiked a little as she fell deeper into the spell. Surely this wasn’t normal. How was he doing this to her?

“ I don’t know,” He answered truthfully, stepping a tiny bit closer again. His head began to duck downwards slightly, his entire concentration focused on her mouth. His heart thumped madly when she closed the remaining gap between them.

Liz automatically lifted her chin upwards, reaching out and placing a hand on his chest, right over his heart, the subject of their current discussion. Feeling it’s steady best through the thin material of his shirt, Liz’s mind suddenly cleared itself of the haze it had been wrapped in. She was supposed to be telling him something… but she couldn’t do it while he was driving her crazy with these feather light caresses of his. Things she had NO right to enjoy. They’d both get hurt.

Liz dropped her hand and backed away as if she had been burned, eyes free of the dreamy look they had been occupied with earlier, smug grin lifting the corner of her lips, hiding the disquiet she felt at being so supremely affected by him.

“ Then maybe you should stop,”

Max stood rooted to his spot, still frozen in the action of leaning his head towards hers. He blinked at how fast she had changed gears. One minute, she had been in his arms, face tilted upwards towards his and the next she had herself completely under control, smirking at him. She had left him totally high and dry and literally panting for breath. He allowed the same wolfish grin from earlier to slide back onto his face, his heart quickening when he saw her gaze latch onto his lips.

“ I can’t believe I fell for that one,” He remarked, leaning against his locker, grabbing the focus of her eyes from his lips to his eyes.

“ What one would that be?” Liz asked quizzically.

“ You know,” Max fudged, waving a hand in the air, “ your use of ‘feminine wiles’.”

“ You’re not the only one who can lay on the charm, Max.” Liz looked away, an endearing blush claiming her cheeks, “Although, I will admit, you weren’t the only one who was falling there.”

Ah. He had been getting to her after all. He smiled in satisfaction but remembered that they had unfinished business.

“ Liz? Were you… trying to clue me in on something earlier?”

The guarded look flared up instantly, chasing away the cloud of want in her eyes. She tilted her head to side and crossed her arms over chest almost protectively.

“ What do you think?”

It was his turn to study her intently. “ I think whoever it was you were talking about is scared about handling someone else’s heart and all the feelings that go with it.”

“ And don’t you think whoever it is has a right to be?” Liz asked.

“ Actually, I’d like to hear what you think this time.” He countered smoothly.

A smile tugged a corner of lips upward. “ I think you just changed the subject.”

Max shrugged. “ I know that’s what you just did.”

“ Then why don’t we call it off for now?” She asked casually, like it didn’t really matter one way or another. But somehow, he knew it did matter. And this was her way of asking for a reprieve. Smiling knowingly, he pushed off from the lockers and scanned the now emptying hall around them.

“ Sure.” He brought his gaze back to hers. “ But I just want you to know, we will be coming back to this discussion soon.”

Her brow lifted in mock surprise. “ You make it sound like I’m trying to run away or something,”

“ Probably cause that’s the vibe I keep getting from you.”

Liz gave a short laugh to mask the sense of panic she felt at the knowledge that he had somehow seen her silent struggle. She cut her gaze to the side coyly and looked up at him from under her lashes, bringing them back to a level of easy banter.

“ Vibes? You get vibes from me?”

Sensing the return of their game, Max nodded in assent.

“ Sure do. In fact, you’re one of those young ladies my grandma always warned me about,”

Eyes sparkling with laughter, she flicked a strand of hair away from her face.

“ She did, did she? What did she say?”

“ Well, she always called them ‘vibrators’ y’know,” He began indifferently, ignoring her explosion of laughter at the title. “ They send out these vibes to enchant innocent young men into their arms,”

“ Innocent? That wouldn’t exactly be my one word of choice to describe you Max.”

“ Really. What word would you use then? Charming? Suave? Devastatingly handsome?” He suggested with a teasing grin.

Liz rolled her eyes. “ What about, Ego maniac?”

“ That wasn’t one word.” He chided her.

“ Neither was your last description.” She retorted easily. “ And anyway, I don’t need vibes to get guys.”

Max narrowed his eyes. “ Oh yeah? Pray tell, Ms. Parker, I’m curious. If you don’t send out vibes, what do you do?”

She shook her head at him. “ Now that would be telling. It’s a secret.”

“ I love secrets,” Max replied immediately. “ You can tell me.”

“ Nope, sorry, no can do. Just know that whatever it is, I’ve got it. And you remember that old cliché right? ‘If you got it…”

“ Flaunt it,” Max finished for her. “ Course I know it. I live by it. It’s practically my motto. But what exactly is ‘it’?”

Liz shrugged. “ You tell me, Max. You’re the one who’s watching. How would you describe me?”

“ For real?”

“ For real.”

“ In one word?”

“ In one word.”

His eyes shone down on her with quiet intensity. Truth wrapped itself in his response, mingling with awe and admiration plus one other thing she couldn’t quite name. Wouldn’t name, in fact.

“ Absolutely magnificent.”

Her breath left in one slow exhale. No one had ever said that about her. Like she was something very special, a treasure, something to be protected. She swallowed, realizing they were too easily slipping back into the earlier world that had existed for just the two of them. And that, that wasn’t good.

“ That wasn’t one word,” She managed through a suddenly tight throat.

“ I know. But it’s the truth.”

And they were back in a staring match. Only a loud clearing of a throat jerked them from it a few minutes later. Maria, Michael and Isabel stood there, watching in amusement as Max and Liz’s faces turned varying shades of red.

“ Ahem. I’d say good morning but from the looks of you two, I think you’ve already gone past that and into super morning territory. Am I right?” Maria asked.

Max and Liz exchanged a glance, breaking into a shared laugh at having being caught out again.

“ I’d say you were,” Liz said with a grin.

“ Most definitely,” Max agreed.

TBC…




Edited by - Comet on 09/25/2001 10:31:58