posted on 3-Jul-2002 6:52:15 PM by Carol000
Title: Dreamer Holidays: The Fourth of July
Author: Carol000
Category: M/L (duh)
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Not mine. We've covered that.
Setting: Max and Liz are in college and have no history together--except in their dreams.

A reminder and a note:

Reminder: None of the Dreamer Holiday stories have anything to do with any of the others. Halloween dealt with M/L as 6th graders. Thanksgiving had them married and childless. Christmas was the cruise when they found each other again after being parted in childhood. Valentine's Day was 2 consecutive years that dealt with the first date and Liz's finding out the truth. This one is . . . well, see "Setting" above.

Note: Most of you are familiar with the concept of beta readers. This concept achieved new heights (or lows) on my recent visit to LA with the dearest Rospals on earth: Linda, Sue, Mel, Maggie, PamP, PamM, Sammy, Debbie, and Anne. I read them this story. I won't describe the scene that resulted in security being called because they were laughing so hard and so long (oh god, here we go again), but suffice it to say, their gentle feedback resulted in some revisions. Take my word for it, you owe them.

Now on with the show!

Dreamer Holidays: 4th of July

He sat up in bed, shaking loose the remnants of his dream. Or rather trying to. Each time it became a little more real, and each time the realization that it was only a dream became a little more bitter. Every night, he both dreaded and looked forward to going to bed because she would be there—her inviting smile and wide loving eyes wrapping themselves around his heart, promising him a life that could never be. It didn’t matter anyway; she didn’t really exist. She was the ethereal incarnation of his deepest fantasies—a foolish ideal that served only to tease and frustrate him. Even if she were real, he couldn’t do anything about it. He was Max Evans, resident alien-in-hiding, and his life would be lived alone.

He shook himself resolutely. Time to get back to this world, he scolded himself. He could hear one of his roommates moving around in the living room and figured he’d have to wait for his body to calm down before braving the walk to the bathroom. Michael wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow, but if it were Kelsey out there, she’d give him a hard time—uh, make that a rough time.

He glanced at the clock. 9:12. His final wasn’t until 1, and he was fully prepared. English was his best subject, and this was his last final. This time tomorrow, he’d be a senior. So would Kelsey, if she passed her Greek Civilization final. Michael, of course, had put school behind him after being one of the few fifth-year seniors to ever grace the halls of Jefferson High School. He’d always said he wouldn’t go through life with a GED on his record, so he’d determinedly braved the razzing and taken a final semester of “real” high school. The diploma hung on his bedroom wall—the only space Michael would ever give to academia again.

Max chuckled to himself. No one could believe they were brothers, as different as they were, and they only bothered to tell a select few that they’d been adopted, but growing up in bustling Albuquerque had made it easy to lose themselves in different activities and groups of friends. When Max had decided on an apartment as a junior at the University of New Mexico, Michael had been eager to move in, away from their parents’ well-intentioned eyes, and the addition of Max’s friend Kelsey had sounded especially appealing—that is, until Kelsey let Michael know up front that she wasn’t interested in his suggestive comments, his ”accidental” groping, or his adult film festivals. They’d settled into a tentative friendship after that, and had actually become rather close.

Michael’s work as a fitness instructor in a nearby gym along with a part-time gig in a studio run by local artists had turned Michael into something of a recognizable figure—he’d worked his body into a fit and strong ideal (while grumbling about how easy that seemed to come to Max) and found some success with those first few paintings he’d put up for sale. Isabel, their sister, had taught him early what it took to attract women and he’d taken it to heart. Now, even from her distant job in New York, her laughter about his escapades belied her pride in him. He’d found the niche in life that had been so important to him, and it brought him enough money, attention, and women to make him happy. In fact, one woman in particular had been making him very happy lately. Max had worried about that at first, but Michael was the most adamant of the three about not getting permanently attached; he guarded their secret passionately. Maria was just another in a long line; she’d just lingered a little longer than most.

Max strolled into the living room to find Kelsey frowning at the computer monitor.

“What’s up, Curly?” he asked her, mussing her mass of curly red hair affectionately.

“I can’t get this friggin’ cover letter to read right,” she grumbled. “I need this internship, and suddenly I can’t write worth a damn.” She looked up at him and batted her eyelashes. “Pleeeease, Max? Help me?”

He grinned at her. They always came to him for writing help; it seemed to be his specialty. In fact, he was taking a creative writing class this summer, just for fun. “Do I get a lemon meringue pie out of it?” he teased.

“Only if you promise not to douse it with Tabasco Sauce, like last time,” she grimaced. “That was disgusting.”

Max shrugged and started for the bathroom. “Well, if that’s how you feel . . .”

“Get back here!” she shouted, glaring menacingly. “Fine, one lemon meringue pie—but only if I get the internship.”

“Done,” he agreed. She was a shoe-in—as smart and savvy a budding archeologist as he could imagine. His mouth was watering already.

An hour later, the printer hummed with the best cover letter ever written, and Kelsey ran to dress, anxious to get her package mailed out. Just as she rounded the corner, another figure appeared in the doorway.

“Hey, Max.”

“Hey, Maria. Michael up?”

She grinned at him. “Always.”

Max rolled his eyes and blushed, giving Maria exactly what she wanted. “You’re soooo easy, boy,” she laughed, and sat on his lap, wriggling intentionally. “Wouldn’t hurt you to get up once in a while. We need to find you a woman!”

Max blushed even more. Michael and Maria were so blatantly open about their sex lives, but Max couldn’t be that way. He couldn’t imagine having sex with a woman he didn’t love, and the woman he loved was only a figment of his imagination. Maria had first assumed he was with Kelsey, but as much as Max adored her, it wasn’t love. Not that kind, anyway. She was a dear friend, but no more. Then she assumed he was gay, but Michael had insisted otherwise, although she still wasn’t sure what Michael was basing that on. He was gorgeous and apparently uninterested in women. What other explanation could there be?

“Maybe someday, Maria,” he murmured sadly, setting her on her feet. Maria gazed at him, perplexed by the puzzle that was Max Evans. So unlike his brother, although they had told her they were adopted. So much for the power of environmental influences.

“So, what’re you doin’ this summer?” Maria asked, seeing Max’s discomfort.

His face brightened. “Well, I’m taking a creative writing class, and I’ll be managing the pool complex for the summer students.”

“Ohhh,” Maria crooned, inevitably returning to sexual innuendo. “Guess that’ll make you a tanned, sensitive, available guy. You’ll get laid by the 4th of July!”

Max gaped at her, unable to think of a response.

“Maaarrriiiiiaaaaa,” a male voice whined from down the hall.

“Looks like Michael’s up!” she grinned. “Later, babe.”

Max watched her retreating figure and sighed. Laid? Not likely.

********

Clipboard in hand, Max surveyed the day’s schedule and made some notes about what remained to be done before the pool could open officially for the summer. The week between classes and summer term had flown by, filled with end-of-year parties and plenty of work. The pools themselves were in great shape; the year-round staff had taken care of that. The special summer programs, though, were at various stages of completion: swim classes for the local kids, day camp for the physically challenged, and the 4th of July festivities all needed his attention.

As if on cue, there was a knock at the door. “Max, I wanted to give you a heads up.”

It was his supervisor, Tyler Crawford. “The coordinator for the 4th of July plans is on her way. She’s a student, like you, but really sharp with plenty of ideas. You have the budget there, so work with her closely. I’d like to be able to implement as much of what she has planned as we can afford. The 4th is going to be especially important this year.”

Max nodded in agreement. The events of September 11th had left the nation shaken to its very core. Now, with recovery and healing only just beginning, people would be looking forward to this day with a special need and high expectations.

Footsteps down the hall alerted the two men, and Max could see Tyler smile in greeting. “Here she is! Liz, this is Max. You’ll be coordinating things mostly with him over the next few weeks.”

Every thought fled Max’s brain as he sat frozen, looking—quite literally—at the girl of his dreams. There she was, the long shining hair, the petite body, the large, intelligent eyes. He stared, mouth open, eyes riveted.

Tyler looked quizzically at Max, unable to fathom why he was just sitting there, looking like he’d seen a ghost. Ready to make an awkward apology, he looked at Liz only to find a similar look of astonishment. Her hand had flown to her chest, wide eyes staring right back.

“Do you two know each other?” Tyler asked, eyes darting from one to the other.

“N-no, no, of course not.” Liz’s forced laugh was completely unconvincing.

Max pushed through the fog. “Uh, no.” He stood on shaky legs and took a tentative step forward, extending his hand. He saw it trembling and yanked it back, shoving it into his pocket. “I’m Max,” he finished, wishing he could hit rewind and start over.

“Liz. Liz Parker.” They stood, feeling the heavy silence push at them.

Tyler frowned, tact struggling to mask confusion.

“Max, this is the girl I was talking about—your 4th of July coordinator.” What the hell had gotten into these two? “Maybe we should schedule a meeting for later today.”

“Uh, yeah. Fine. What’s good?” He was mumbling.

“Umm, anytime really. Right after lunch?” She was mumbling.

Oh god, Tyler thought. Maybe we should just cancel the 4th of July this year.

Tyler and Liz retreated down the hall while Max slumped into his chair, holding his head to keep it from spinning right off his shoulders. She was real! Now what?

********

Lunch was out of the question; his stomach was in knots. Instead, Max paced his tiny office like a caged animal as the hands on the clock inched their way around its face. What to say? How to act? Was there any chance of recovering what little dignity might be left to him? How could he convince her to be with him? How could he convince himself not to ask her? Nothing about being with . . . Liz, Liz Parker . . . could be casual for him. And anything beyond casual was impossible. Damn it!

“Excuse me?”

Her small voice pierced his preoccupied mind, and he whipped around to face her.

“What?”

“You seem upset. Should I come back later?”

Max cringed, realizing his second meeting with this Dream of his wasn’t going any better than the first.

“No! No, I’m sorry. I was working through a problem. I didn’t even realize I’d said that out loud. Come in. Have a seat.”

Liz walked quickly to a seat opposite his at the desk, looking worried. She bit her lip, and Max almost smiled, recognizing the small gesture from his visions of her. It was like he’d really been visualizing her, not just thinking of a girl who looked similar. Max took his own seat and smiled, trying to put her at ease after his outburst earlier.

“So, you’re working on plans for the 4th of July. That’s great. This is a special one.”

Liz began to feel more comfortable. This face, this warm, friendly, smiling face was the one she identified with . . . Max. The name suited him—this man from her dreamworld. She had never expected to actually meet him; he was supposed to be a fantasy. The problem was, the existence of this fantasy man had interfered with her real life to an alarming degree. She never wanted to date any of the guys who asked her out because they weren’t . . . well, they weren’t him. And her friends had grown impatient with her, finally giving up their attempts to set her up. Their guy friends just wound up mad at them for setting them up with a girl who was totally not interested. But here he was, and she hardly knew how to act, or even how to feel. But he was asking her about the work. Focus, Liz.

“Yes, I submitted some ideas for the festivities and the committee really liked them, so I got the job!”

Max watched Liz’s face come alive as she talked about the project, her dark eyes bright with enthusiasm, her body language radiating energy.

“Would you like to see?”

“Huh?”

“The plans. Would you like to see the plans for the day?”

“Oh! Of course. That’s why we’re here.” IDIOT! Could you try looking a little stupider? he berated himself.

“Here’s a tentative schedule of events, and here’s a diagram of how the soccer field could be set up for different activities.” She walked around the end of the desk and handed him a sketch, leaning over his shoulder to point out specifics.

“Here’s the kids’ games section, including some face painting and a contest for a patriotic poster. Over here would be food vendors. The bandstand is over here where we can set up seating under the shade trees.”

Max was trying to listen. Honestly, he was. But her hair was draped over his shoulder smelling like strawberries, and her breath flitted over his neck as she talked. Her tiny hand looked so soft and inviting poised in front of him, and he just wanted to enfold it in his own. But he had to concentrate.

“Any ideas for the band?” he asked, turning to face her. There they were—lips inches apart, eyes locked in the moment. What would happen if he kissed her?

“Max!!!!” A rush of air broke the spell, and he felt his chair spin wildly in the opposite direction. “Max, you darling wonderful man! I got the internship! I really got it!”

Kelsey launched herself into Max’s arms, kissing him soundly on the mouth. “I will love you til the day I die!” she declared happily.

Suddenly, she noticed Max was with someone. “Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry. You were busy. I just couldn’t wait to tell you. I’ll fill you in later. What time will you be home?” She was practically bouncing with excitement, and her sentences came out in a short staccato rhythm with her rapid breaths.

Max recovered quickly, happy to celebrate Kelsey’s good news. “Congratulations, Curly. I’ll be home around 6. I’ll take you to dinner!”

“Excellent!” Kelsey flew out the door. “Sorry again for interrupting!” she called behind her.

Max grinned, sincerely happy for his friend. The grin faded quickly when he turned back around to Liz. What was that on her face? Disappointment? Hurt? But why?

Then the scene played out from Liz’s point of view, and Max realized what it had looked like.

“Uh, that’s a friend of mine. I helped her write a job application, and now . . . well, now she’s got the job. She was just, ya know, excited.”

“I can see that,” Liz replied stiffly. What was her problem? She didn’t know this guy. He owed her nothing. Of course he was with someone. For god’s sake, look at him! Her features softened. “Tell her congratulations for me . . . when you get home.” Now why did she emphasize home like that? How obvious was that?

Max watched her react. It was almost as if she were jealous. But that was impossible, right?

“Uh, yeah, I will. I’ll see if our other roommate can come, too. We live together . . . the three of us . . . Michael and Kelsey and me . . . and Michael has a girlfriend . . . but I don’t . . . and Kelsey doesn’t . . . I mean, have a boyfriend . . . it’s not me . . .”

DEAR GOD, SHUT UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Max mentally looked for that rewind button again. Liz was looking at him oddly, one eyebrow arched, like Spock used to do. “That’s really none of my business,” she said coolly. “Shall we continue?”

Max nodded miserably and tried to listen to Liz explain her plan. In the end, he just asked if he could keep the paperwork and get back to her on budgeting. She bit out an “Of course” and left, her feet carrying her determinedly back to her car where she gripped the steering wheel and cried.

********

Max’s somber demeanor over dinner had Kelsey confused. Dinner had been his idea, after all.

“What’s up, sweetie? You look like you’ve just lost your best friend. Which you haven’t, ‘cause here I am!” She smiled at him, hoping he would recognize a good listener when he saw one.

He did.

Sighing heavily, he unburdened himself. “This is going to sound ridiculous, Kelsey, but for months now, I’ve been dreaming about this girl.”

Kelsey’s ears perked up. “Really? Anyone I know?”

“That’s just it. Nobody knows her. I made her up. At least I thought I did. Until today. I met her this morning.”

“Huh?”

“I met her. She just walked into my office. The exact girl. And I proceeded to be the biggest, dumbest ass she’d ever met.” He buried his face in his hands, another sigh escaping from between his fingers.

“Wait. This isn’t the cutie that was in there with you when I came in.”

“The same.”

“Well, did you get along? Was she what you hoped?”

“I don’t know,” he replied grimly. “We never really had a conversation. I was a blithering idiot when Ty introduced us, and then when we met to discuss the 4th of July plans—she’s in charge of it—it was really awkward and then you came and I think she thought we were together . . . I don’t know, but she looked upset. Now why would she be upset? We just met! I told her we weren’t together but that we were roommates . . . Anyway, she just seemed mad when she left, and now I don’t know what to do.”

Kelsey sat back in her seat. That was more words than she’d ever heard Max Evans string together at once in her whole life, and if she was right, he’d strung the whole thing out in one breath. He was in a bad way!

“This is easy, Max! Don’t be an idiot next time you see her. Treat her like she’s special. Be you. You can’t lose. I could even talk to her, if you want.”

“No!” Max almost jumped out of his skin at the thought of Kelsey trying to talk to Liz. He took a deep breath. “No, I should just talk to her.”

“Well, here’s your chance.”

“What?”

“She just walked in.”

Max’s head pivoted abruptly, finding Liz immediately. She looked stunning. Her hair was down, a simple black dress skimmed her curves and that delightful smile lit her face. Max’s heart raced just looking at her.

“Do you think I should?” he asked Kelsey, rising from his seat without waiting for an answer.

He’d only taken three steps, though, when he stopped cold. Greeting Liz was a good-looking guy who took her hands and kissed her cheek. He was short, Max observed with satisfaction, but that didn’t seem to diminish Liz’s happiness at seeing him. They found their way to a corner table and, heads together, began to talk animatedly.

Max backed up, almost sending a waiter’s tray flying. Apologizing profusely, Max threw himself back in his chair and stared at Kelsey in horror. “Did you see that? She met someone. They’re having dinner!”

Kelsey bit her cheek, determined not to laugh at her distraught friend. “Max, it could be anybody. You’re here, with someone, having dinner, right?”

“He kissed her!”

“On the cheek. People do it all the time. This afternoon, she saw me kiss you on the mouth.”

Max nodded. “Yeah, and you said you’d love me til you die. Thanks a lot, Curly.” He sat back, trying to calm down. Being an idiot seemed to be his latest thing. He looked at his friend sheepishly.

“I’m sorry. This dinner is supposed to be about you. We’re celebrating. Forgive me?”

“I have what I want, Max,” his friend assured him. “Now let’s see if we can get you what you want.”


[ edited 5 time(s), last at 8-Jul-2002 1:58:13 PM ]
posted on 5-Jul-2002 10:20:56 AM by Carol000
THANK YOU everyone, for your wonderful feedback. I can tell that absolutely NO ONE thinks these two won't work it out. I wonder why? Could it be the name of this series? Could it be that never in this universe or any other could I bring myself to keep them apart? Could it be that you've read my other stories and just plain KNOW BETTER? LOL! Well, keep pretending there's a possibility it won't work out. It's more fun that way! hehehe

Here's Part 2 of 3--------------

Part 2

Max sat studying Liz’s 4th of July plans in earnest. He was impressed. She had managed to put together a package of economical and fun activities that would appeal to multiple ages and interests. All the usual elements were there, like games and music and food, but there were some interesting twists, too, like an unusual fund-raiser to benefit the families who lost loved ones in the attack. She’d even thought to arrange transportation between the fair and the fireworks site—and all within budget! She’d talked a lot of businesses and personalities into donating goods and time already, and there was little left for Max to do but put her in touch with the appropriate maintenance and transportation staff and write the checks.

A light rap on his door drew him away from the plans in front of him. “Come in.”

Liz appeared in the doorway looking rather tentative about another meeting with Max. They had done a poor job of working together so far. But he was all smiles, and she felt some of her tension subside.

“Got a minute?”

“Absolutely, Liz. I’ve been looking over your ideas. They’re great! And I really think we can pull off the whole package within budget, thanks to your list of donations. You must really have a way with people, judging from all this generosity.”

He seemed completely sincere, and Liz’s pulse quickened just a little. She chided herself, remembering that this had to be a working relationship and nothing more.

“Thanks,” she smiled, stepping into the room with more confidence. “I just wanted to know if I could proceed and to get some contact names from you.”

Her smile broadened his own. “Liz, we got off on the wrong foot the other day, and I’ve been waiting for a chance to apologize. I’m not usually such a dork, really.”

“I behaved rather poorly, too, Max, so we’ll call it even, okay?”

“Agreed,” he beamed. “So, let me ask you about this fundraiser. I don’t quite get how it works.”

Liz giggled, and Max thought he’d never heard a happier sound. “What’s so funny?” he asked, starting to laugh himself.

“You’ll never believe where I got the idea for that,” she grinned. “My mother was a nut for the old musicals. Have you ever seen Oklahoma!?”

Max nodded. “Sure, my mom owns all those old movies. That’s the one with Shirley Jones, right? And . . . uh . . .”

“Gordon McRae.”

“Right!”

“Well, there’s a scene in that movie where they’re trying to raise money for the schoolhouse, and they auction off picnic baskets packed with wonderful meals. The catch is, you get to eat with the girl who packed it, but you bid without knowing which lunch is which.”

“You’re kidding,” Max laughed. “Wouldn’t a guy be mad if somebody else got to eat with his girlfriend?”

“Well, we can’t help it if sometimes little hints get dropped about what a certain basket might look like.” Her face became a mask of exaggerated innocence, and Max laughed even harder.

“If we get enough people to sign up,” Liz continued, “we could raise a couple thousand dollars. And it doesn’t have to be just women, either. Guys can sign up, too!”

“Ingenious,” Max said, impressed yet again. “But I won’t be on your list. I can’t cook at all.”

“Then you’ll just have to bid,” Liz teased, enjoying their banter. This is what it should feel like meeting the man of your dreams.

Their laughter died away and they stood staring at one another, a sharp sense of recognition building between them.

“Will you be contributing a basket?” Max asked.

Liz felt her face heat up, and she dropped her eyes. Before she could answer, Max’s phone rang. He put up one finger, asking her to wait.

“Max Evans.” He listened for a moment. “Milk and bread. Got it. I’ll be home soon.”

Liz’s face fell, and suddenly she needed to be out of there. It had been too easy to forget how things were. She turned quickly and hurried down the hall.

“Oh, and Michael,” Max continued, “don’t forget it’s your turn to clean the bathroom. Yes, today!”

Shaking his head, he turned back to Liz. She was gone! Hurrying out into the hall, Max caught sight of Liz’s small form half-jogging out the door. What the hell had happened?

********

Posters started to appear around campus and throughout the city about the 4th of July festivities at the university. Max had been taking calls from people wanting to sign up for events and some even wanted to help. It was going really well. Well enough, unfortunately, that Liz had hardly needed to see him about anything. She’d even sent a friend to pick up the list of contacts. Max was at a loss as to how to renew contact with her.

Kelsey watched Max’s depression deepen, and she ached to help him, but she hadn’t come up with a workable plan as yet. It was Maria who inadvertently offered the solution.

“Kelsey!”

Kelsey turned to find the face behind the voice and smiled as Maria trotted into view.

“Hey, babe! Michael’s standing me up for lunch—some meeting about buying new equipment at the gym. You free?”

“Yeah, I’m finished until a study group tonight, but I wanted to go by and see Max after lunch. He’s been really down.”

“He needs to get laid,” Maria stated matter-of-factly. “He sweet, but so uptight.”

Kelsey laughed. Maria was unique, all right. But she suited Michael perfectly, and Kelsey secretly wondered if maybe they were falling in love. She’d never say that out loud; they took great pride in how casual their relationship was, although they seemed to take the sex very seriously. Apartment walls were far from soundproof.

“I think he wants to fall in love first, Maria,” Kelsey gently chided. “In fact, I think he’s already there, in a funny sort of way, and just doesn’t know what to do about it.”

“Really? With who?” Maria looked dumbstruck and stopped in her tracks.

“I think that’s privileged information.”

“Give, sister! If we leave this up to Max, it’ll never happen.”

Kelsey stood, wavering, uncertain what was right at this point. She loved Max and wanted to see him happy, but she also wanted to be a trusted friend who kept his secrets. She squinted at Maria, thinking, then made up her mind.

“It’s the girl running the 4th of July events this summer.”

Maria blinked. “You mean her?” Maria pointed across the quad at a table under the huge poster advertising the upcoming celebration. There sat Liz Parker. And she was with that same guy from the restaurant.

Maybe I was a little too optimistic when I told Max it was probably nothing, she frowned to herself. But she had little time to consider that possibility when Maria grabbed her hand and bee-lined for the table.

“We want to sign up,” Maria announced loudly.

Liz smiled. “For which event?”

“Uh, oh . . . uh . . . which event Kelsey?”

Kelsey watched Liz’s eyes flicker with recognition and saw the wall go up between them. Liz was obviously still under the impression that Kelsey was Max’s girlfriend. Not good. She was obviously very bothered by that. Very good.

Kelsey scanned the choices.

“How about the picnic auction?” a friendly male voice offered. Kelsey lifted her eyes and felt her body react. Smiling back was the man from the restaurant. Why hadn’t she noticed how adorable he was before? Oh, yeah. She’d been trying to keep her best friend from having a breakdown right in the restaurant.

“Kyle Valenti,” he said, offering his hand. She took it, smiling broadly.

“From the radio station? The DJ?”

“Guilty. Liz here conned me into doing the auction. It’s for a good cause, though, don’t you think?”

“Absolutely,” she responded, warming to him immediately. “I’m Kelsey Schuster, by the way. I’m not much of a cook, though.”

“Then how about helping with it behind the scenes? We need someone to check the baskets in as they arrive, number them, record the bids, etc. I’ll be the auctioneer.”

“Great! Sign me up.”

“And I’ll contribute a basket,” Maria volunteered.

“Wonderful,” Liz replied, looking less enthused than everyone else.

“I look forward to working with you, Kyle,” Kelsey said, her smile flirting coyly with him.

“Well, actually, you’ll be working with Liz on that one. It’s her baby.”

Kelsey looked quickly over at Liz. “Oh.”

Liz was clearly as thrilled at Kelsey, but there was no backing out now. “Uh, sure. What do you need me to do?”

“Just come to a meeting on Thursday over lunch in the Union. Then we won’t have to get together again until the day before.” Her relief at the lack of contact was almost insulting, but Kelsey knew her own reaction was equally reserved.

“Yeah, okay. See you Thursday.”

Maria signed the form to contribute a basket and then linked arms happily with Kelsey. “Perfect!” she gushed.

“What’s perfect about it?” Kelsey fumed. “And how does it help Max?”

Maria rolled her eyes and adopted her most patronizing tone. “Kelsey, think about it. If you’re working with Liz, you can make it clear you’re not with Max. And you can find out what her basket will look like and tell Max. Then he can buy it and eat dinner with her! Besides, you can bid on Kyle’s.” She winked at Kelsey’s look of surprised indignation.

“Kyle’s name was on the list to bring a basket, too,” Maria grinned. “And I have a feeling I know someone who’ll be hungry for it.”

A biting comeback would have been so much easier if Maria hadn’t been right—about all of it.

********
The 3rd of July dawned amidst rare clouds and a threat of rain. Liz looked worriedly at the sky, biting her lip and cursing her lack of control over the most important factor of all. Knowing Kelsey Schuster was on her way didn’t help her mood, either. She’d managed to avoid her after the brief meeting 2 weeks ago, but today, they really would have to work together.

As if on cue, she saw Kelsey approaching from the parking lot.

“Hi, Liz.”

“Kelsey.”

“I’m ready to work. What’s first?”

“Well, first we’re going to go over the check-in procedure. Every basket has to be logged in and it’ll be important to mark whether it’s from a man or a woman. Then I need you to put together two cash drawers at the credit union, and then Kyle should be here to run through the actual auction and how we’ll flow people through here once they’ve bought a basket.”

“Kyle’s coming?” Kelsey brightened markedly.

Liz frowned. “What was that?”

“What?”

“That flirty tone of voice when I mentioned Kyle. Aren’t you living with your boyfriend? Max?”

Kelsey saw her opportunity and grabbed hold. “Max? Good grief, no. He’s been like my best friend since freshman year. He’s the one who got me through freshman comp in return for some math help. He’s my roommate—or at least one of them—but that’s all. I adore him, but there’s no romantic spark there.” She hesitated, watching this register on Liz’s face. “How about you. You and Kyle . . .?”

“Valenti?” Liz couldn’t suppress a laugh; her whole outlook was improving by the second. “Kyle and I went to high school together. We dated some, but it turned out to be a really good friendship. He’s a great guy, but . . . no romantic spark there.”

The two girls looked at each other, the obvious grins just too persistent to hold inside. Suddenly, they were totally at ease with each other, chattering and giggling and answering questions about the guys. As they finished their work, though, Kelsey’s mood became more serious.

“Liz, I can’t tell you what to feel or how to act, but keep one thing in mind. Max is special. He doesn’t fool around and he doesn’t share himself easily. When he falls, it’ll be the real thing. I couldn’t bear to see him hurt.”

Liz nodded, understanding perfectly. Kelsey might as well have been describing her. “Don’t worry, Kelsey.”

The moment passed, and Kelsey prepared to leave for the credit union. She was running late since so much of their time had been spent talking.

“Hey, good-lookin’.” Kyle kissed Liz lightly on the cheek, and Liz glanced quickly at Kelsey. Knowing how it was with them now, Kelsey could smile at the exchange.

“Kyle, you remember Kelsey, don’t you?” The way his eyes lit up almost made Liz laugh. Amazing how people just connect sometimes, she thought, her mind immediately filling with images of Max.

“I certainly do,” he said, his tone softer now.

“Kelsey has to go over to the credit union. Could you give her a lift?” She turned toward Kelsey, giving her a wink. “Would that help, Kelsey?”

“You bet!”

“My pleasure.” Kyle bowed and held out his arm, making Kelsey laugh. They turned toward the door, but Kelsey turned back for a moment.

“Liz? How are you decorating your basket?”

Liz laughed. “An alien balloon. It’s a long story.” Kyle was laughing, too.

Kelsey quirked an eyebrow. “It’ll be easy to spot then, I guess.”

She and Kyle started for the door, but Kelsey stopped again. “I just have to know—what’s in it?”

“Ah, a feast for the discriminating palate—my famous spicy chicken wings, homemade potato salad, and my particular specialty: lemon meringue pie.”

Kelsey burst out laughing, tugging a very confused Kyle out the door.

********

In true New Mexico style, the clouds had cleared and the morning burst with promise. Max was a bundle of nerves about the day’s events, but couldn’t think of anything he’d forgotten to do. He’d had a hard time sleeping, what with Maria and Michael going at it until the wee hours. It was all he could do not to picture Liz with him like that—touching her, tasting her, filling her in every way. His heart craved that closeness even as his mind reminded him of its folly. She had taken over his dreams, and sleep had become his favorite sanctuary. Sometimes they just talked in the dreams, planning a future that could never be. Other times, her body brought him to an urgent release, which he only discovered to be real when he awoke, the cruel evidence of his fantasy leaving him in despair.

In reality, though, he’d barely seen her in two weeks, and now that the 4th was here, he knew his chances of seeing her after today were slim. Back to real life, man, he warned himself. He threw back the covers and padded into the kitchen. Maria was humming as she packed a picnic basket full of goodies for the auction.

“That for Michael?” Max asked, pouring himself some juice.

“Not necessarily,” she declared. “It’s for the highest bidder. And if that’s not Michael, his ass will be in a sling the size of the Grand Canyon.”

“It’s your ass that needs a sling that size,” Michael countered, wandering toward the cereal cabinet and grabbing Maria’s rear. “Mine’s perfect, remember?”

Maria snorted derisively and Max chuckled. What was it about these two gruff characters that made him think they just might wind up together? He couldn’t live like that—the bickering, insults, dirty looks—but they thrived on it. In some weird way, that’s how they showed their affection for each other. And as his father used to say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The small kitchen got a little smaller as Kelsey made her appearance. “You goin’ to the auction, Max?” She winked at Maria.

“I don’t know,” he mumbled. “I might have to supervise somewhere else. I’m working with the wheelchair-bound kids in the pool this morning.”

“The auction’s not til 4, Max, right before dinner. And a word to the wise—whoever wins the basket with the alien balloon will have a real prize.”

The word “alien” caught Max and Michael off-guard, and they threw each other a pointed look.

“Why an alien balloon?” Max asked cautiously.

Kelsey shrugged. “I don’t know exactly. I hear there’s a story behind it. Maybe you should find out what it is.”

“But . . .”

“Trust me, Max,” Kelsey said softly, and pushed up to kiss his cheek. Max looked into her eyes and knew that he would.


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 5-Jul-2002 10:36:07 AM ]
posted on 7-Jul-2002 1:45:24 AM by Carol000
I'm so excited about the feedback! That is the single biggest motivation in the world, so I really do appreciate it!

Here is the 3rd and final part of our Dreamer Holidays: 4th of July. I hope you find some satisfaction in it! I've already had one complaint that there wasn't an NC-17 scene in it! LOL! But I don't want to be known as the writer who ALWAYS has to get down and dirty! Although, with M/L, it's never either one, is it?

Oh, and by the way--THIS is the part that got somewhat revised as a result of some "creative interpretation" by my closest Dreamer pervs . . . er . . . I mean, friends.

Hope you enjoy.


Part 3

********

Late morning was already broiling hot, and Kelsey was glad to step into the small tent behind the auction platform where large fans were pushing air around as fast as they could. Liz was bent over a table that was listing to one side.

“Need help?” Kelsey offered.

“I need for it to be tomorrow,” she quipped. “I’m hot, tired, nervous, and . . . hot.”

Kelsey smiled. “It’ll be over soon. Already people are saying it’s the best event we’ve ever had!”

The table leg popped into place and Liz straightened. “Really?”

“Yep. Everything’s ready here and I think you deserve a break. Why don’t you go take a dip in the pool before you have to be back here this afternoon?”

“Oh, I don’t have time . . .”

“LIZ! You might want to take . . . a . . . dip . . . in . . . the . . . pool.”

The light bulb went on. “Oh, okay, maybe I will,” she grinned. “I have my suit in the car.”

“Then get over there, girl.”

“Thanks, Kelsey. Oh! And you might be interested in bidding on a bucket . . . that’ s right . . . a bucket with a red bandana on the handle.” She winked at her new friend and headed for the parking lot.

********
Liz emerged from the locker room and scanned the pool. There he was, in the lap pool, cradling a boy in his arms and spinning in the water as the child laughed with abandon. “Faster!” the child cried, holding his small arms up to feel the air rush past, his eyes alight with excitement. Max obliged, turning tight circles and smiling broadly.

“Dizzy yet?” he laughed, and the boy shook his head no, even though his eyes were darting blindly trying to catch up with the spinning sky. “Hold your breath,” Max shouted, ducking beneath the water. Seconds later, they surfaced again, several feet away.

“More!” the little boy shouted.

“But it’s Lucas’s turn now, Ben. He’s been waiting.”

Ben turned to see his friend sitting patiently in his wheelchair, sweating as the sun beat down on the unforgiving concrete. Max climbed the small steps at the shallow end of the pool and set the boy down on a waiting towel. He dried the young child off, chatting easily the whole time, then gently set him down in his own wheelchair, fastening the belts and clamps expertly.

“Lucas! It’s your turn. Spinning or dunking today?”

“Both!” he responded, lifting his arms eagerly to surround Max’s strong neck. And into the water they went, totally enjoying each other. Liz watched, touched beyond words at the joy Max was giving those children. But when she looked at his face, she realized he was glowing with happiness, too. Kelsey was right; he was special. But Kelsey had also said he didn’t share himself easily; she must never have seen this.

After watching for a while, the heat finally got to Liz, so she turned back to the main pool and jumped in, floating under the water for several seconds. The cool water enfolded her, drawing the heat from her body and leaving her gratefully lost in a silent world. Succumbing to the need for air, she surfaced and swam some leisurely laps, enjoying the sensation of the water ebbing and flowing across her body.

Max stood alongside the main pool, searching for Ben’s older sister who would take him home. He saw her pull herself from the water, but her name died on his lips when he was distracted by the gorgeous creature who was skimming gracefully through the water in front of him. Following her with his eyes, he watched her emerge from the water, sheets of glistening drops blazing trails down her body—everywhere. He licked his lips, and his breathing grew shallow. Liz. Liz was here, wearing a bikini from heaven, her perfect body glowing in the sun. His own body leapt to attention, responding to all the dreams where this very scene took place. Panicked, he called to one of the children standing nearby.

“Jenn, go get Brittany and tell her Ben’s ready to go, okay? He’s over at the lap pool with Adam.”

Jenn took off to do his bidding and Max took off for the locker room. He couldn’t let her see him like this! Minutes later, in shorts and t-shirt, he came back out, ready to attempt a real conversation. He sagged with disappointment. She was gone.

********

The auction was going incredibly well. At least 75 people had brought baskets to auction off, and they were selling for between $25 and $75. Liz was ecstatic. Max watched from the back as couple after couple walked off with picnic baskets. He recognized Maria’s as it was brought forward, and searched the crowd for Michael.

“Ten dollars!” a voice yelled.

“Fifteen!”

“Twenty!”

Max began to look around worriedly. Michael had better be here or he didn’t want to think about what he’d hear in the apartment later!

“Twenty-five!”

The first bidder dropped out, evidently, because there was a brief silence. Then Michael’s voice came from off to one side. “Thirty.”

“Thirty-five!”

“Forty” came the annoyed response.

“Forty-five!”

There was a small ripple in the crowd as Michael moved forward to look his competitor in the eye. Glaring down at the smaller man, Michael’s voice was quiet, but intense. Without looking up, he hissed his bid. “Fifty!”

The smaller man swallowed hard and kept his mouth shut.

“I have $50,” Kyle yelled, “Going, Going, GONE! to the intimidating man in the Metallica t-shirt.”

Michael smiled coldly at the cowering bidder and approached the front of the crowd. He grabbed the basket, then grabbed Maria, and headed to the cashier. Maria was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat.

“Two baskets left, ladies and gentleman,” Kyle announced. “I can’t say whose they are, but I happen to know they are real treats. You won’t want to miss out. And remember! This is for a great cause!” The helper set out a bucket with a red bandana on the handle. Chuckles ran through the crowd. “This has been donated by a man, so ladies, let’s get those wallets out! Do I hear a bid?”

“Ten dollars!”

And so it went until the bid had reached $50. “Going! . . .”

“Seventy-five dollars!” Max’s head jerked up. It was Kelsey, breathless from bounding around the tables to the front. Then he saw Kyle smile at her, obviously delighted with her bid. Because of the amount? Kelsey was beaming. What was that all about?

“Going! Going! GONE!” Kyle shouted quickly. “And I’m sorry to inform you, dear lady, you have bid on my bucket, so if you’ll just wait to one side, I’ll be with you shortly.” The crowd clapped and the two just grinned at each other for several seconds until the crowd’s laughter drew Kyle’s attention. Max was speechless. Why hadn’t he heard about this?

Then a flustered Kyle shook himself, blushed slightly, and cleared his throat. “Yes, well, one last basket! And as you can see, it must be out of this world.” A large basket with an alien balloon tied to the handle was set on the table.

“Okay, gentlemen. Let’s go for broke.”

“A hundred dollars,” Max blurted out, amazed to hear his own voice. The crowd cheered wildly and Liz looked up in shock. Max, blushing furiously, was making his way to the front. He was almost afraid to look at Liz, so he grabbed the basket and headed to the cashier. The crowd began to disperse when they were stopped by Kyle’s voice once more.

“Ladies and gentlemen! Thank you for helping us raise $3,425 for the families of the 9-1-1 disaster. Enjoy your dinners and don’t forget the fireworks!”

The crowd cheered again and began to move away. Kelsey joined Max as they waited for Liz and Kyle.

“What was that about, Curly?” Max asked Kelsey, and she grinned sheepishly.

“We’ll talk later,” she winked.

“What’s in the bucket?”

Kelsey frowned. “Well, it’s two bottles of beer on ice.”

“You’re kidding,” Max laughed, peering inside the bucket.

“No, really.”

“Not to worry, dear lady. I didn’t think it was safe to leave the steamed crabs out in this heat. This is just your beverage. Your feast awaits.” Kelsey squealed in delight and took Kyle’s arm. Max smiled after them. They made a cute couple. He hoped it worked out.

“Max?”

Max turned at the sound of her voice, embarrassed again at how he’d won the bid. He really hadn’t expected to do that; it just sort of slipped out. She was smiling up at him, obviously happy that he’d won her basket. His heart melted just a little more.

“Liz.” Just the sound of his voice saying her name like that, so reverently, sent shivers down her spine.

They stood, soaking each other in, until “Bye, Liz!” came from one of the helpers.

“Bye!” Liz called, turning back to Max. “I know a nice shady spot. C’mon.”

Their fingers touched as they shared the burden of the heavy basket, and neither made a move to change position. The electricity flowed between them, open and strong. When they’d settled in a remote grove of trees behind the athletic building, Liz began to unpack their food.

“Mine was last because I was keeping it in a fridge in the office. I waited until the last minute to run and get it.” Max couldn’t stop watching her. Every move was graceful; every smile a prize. He didn’t care what they ate. He wasn’t here for the food.

Until he saw it.

“I hope you like spicy foods, Max. My famous chicken wings will take the paint off your car!”

“I love spicy food,” he admitted. “And sweets, too, I’m afraid.”

“Good!” she laughed as the lemon meringue pie made its appearance. Max was stunned.

“That’s my favorite!”

“It is?” A picture of Kelsey laughing as she left with Kyle yesterday crossed her mind. She had just mentioned the pie. Liz smiled.

“How did this get in here?” she wondered aloud, pulling out a bottle of Tabasco sauce.

It was Max’s turn to laugh. “Did Kelsey know about this, by any chance?” Their eyes met with instant understanding.

“Another favorite?” she asked, amused.

“Let’s eat!” Max grinned.

********

Stars were peeking out from the early dusk. Max and Liz had been talking for hours, finding a multitude of things in common, and just enough differences to keep it interesting. Max looked over at her, totally at ease now, and saw a question in her eyes. It had been there all evening.

“Are you going to ask me about what’s on your mind, Liz?”

She looked up, startled. He smiled. “It’s been there all night. What is it?” He gently stroked her cheek, just like he had in her dreams.

She hesitated. “It’s you, isn’t it?”

Max’s eyes narrowed. The simple question set off alarms in his head. “What do you mean?”

She shook her head. “Never mind. It’s ridiculous. Please, just . . . never mind.”

There was a flicker of pain in her eyes. She hid it instantly, but it had struck him hard. “You mean the dreams?” he asked, risking everything to renew their connection. Her eyes flew open, and she stared at him.

“How long have you been having them?” he asked gently.

“How did you know?” she breathed.

He cupped her face with one hand. “Oh, Liz. It seems like you’ve been in mine forever—like you’ve always been there, but over the last few months, the images have gotten clearer and clearer. I thought you were a dream, a fantasy. Then you walked into my office that day—that’s why I was such a bumbling idiot. I’d come face to face with my Dreamgirl.”

Liz nodded slightly, remembering. “Yeah, me too. I’ve seen you in my dreams at some level for so long, but only in the past year did you have a face and a voice . . . and a touch.” She leaned into his hand and kissed his palm involuntarily. It all seemed perfectly natural.

A question flew out of Max’s mouth before he could stop it. “Liz, why was there an alien balloon on your basket.”

Liz smiled and pulled away shyly. “You’ll think I’m ridiculous.”

“Never,” he assured her. She faced him, a bit of a challenge in her tone.

“The balloons come from my dad’s café in Roswell—you know, where the aliens supposedly crashed in 1947? They’re tourist trinkets.”

“Oh,” Max said, a trace of disappointment in his voice.

“But if you really want to know me, Max, you’d better know this. I’m not majoring in astronomy just to study stars. My fondest wish is to find life out there,” she confessed, gazing into the sky.

Her eyes began to glow with excitement, animating her face and her whole body. “You know Jodie Foster’s character in ‘Contact’? She’s my hero. She flew in the face of all the odds to find intelligent life in the universe. I believe it’s there, Max. I really do.”

She watched his face carefully, dreading the cynicism to come. It didn’t. He was watching her intently, as if every word she spoke was significant.

“And what would you do if you found it?” Now it was his turn to dread an answer.

Liz broke into a brilliant smile. “I would welcome it, Max! I would embrace it, learn from it, teach it. I would change the world!”

“You wouldn’t be afraid of it? You wouldn’t dissect it to learn its secrets?”

Liz looked at him, openly disappointed in his reaction. Her response was quiet, measured. “No, Max. I wouldn’t. We’re talking about life. We’re talking about the gift of new worlds. Any life form smart enough to reach us should also be wise enough to make that new connection beneficial to everyone. I can’t accept that we wouldn’t find a way to bond with this new species, to learn from each other and accept each other.” She contemplated Max’s face, a confusing mix of awe, fear, hope, and disbelief.

“You disapprove,” she concluded, biting her lip.

“God, no,” he sighed, terrified by what he was about to do. “Can I show you something?”

She nodded.

“I have to touch you.”

She nodded again.

Seconds later, she was seeing the fulfillment of every dream played out in Max’s mind—pods, powers, fear, wanting. She saw herself, mirrored in his dreams and in his reality. She saw love more powerful than she could ever have hoped. She saw Max, risking everything to be with her.

He withdrew his hands, watching her every reaction intently. Her eyes shone with the glory of it, the power of it. How could her every fantasy be realized? Maybe this was another dream. Maybe . . .

And then his lips were on hers, and the reality of it was overwhelming. More real than any dream, more true than any theory. He was here, with her, the personification of everything she had lived and breathed and dreamed in her lifetime. And suddenly she felt as if she had been a part of him this whole time, hiding in a part of his heart until he was ready, just as he had done. There was no newness now, only familiarity and understanding and trust. She felt the truth of it in her soul and the passion of it in her heart.

“Max! Oh, Max! It’s true! I know it is. We’ve been following a path to this our whole lives. Everything was leading to our finding each other. Something inside us knew it. Something in our hearts knew each other . . .”

Tears poured down her cheeks and mingled with Max’s as they covered each other with kisses, the unveiling of raw truth almost too much to absorb. Overhead, in a fitting display of explosive joy, fireworks soared through the night sky, blazing new trails of color and energy and fiery power. It was nothing compared to the sensations roaring through their bodies, but they stopped to appreciate the symbolism. The world had changed in the last few hours. Things would never be the same.

Thank God.

********

Max burrowed deeper under the covers and thrilled to the feel of her warm, soft skin against his. It had become harder and harder to shake the dreams each morning, and this one felt so real. His hand slid forward and cupped a pliable mound, relishing the instant peak that pressed against his hand. She made a little sound and turned in his arms.

Eye to eye now, Max absorbed every detail—the smiling eyes, the mussed hair, the hand that slowly slid down . . .

“Liz!” Max bolted upright and looked down on his Dreamgirl with blatant astonishment, only to hear her musical laugh.

“You were expecting someone else?”

Max chuckled, too, realizing how absurd his reaction was.

“It’s okay,” she assured him. “I woke up thinking I was still in the dream, too, until I realized I hadn’t ever seen this room until last night.”

Sunlight played against the wall, and Max glanced at the clock. Almost 11 a.m. He hadn’t slept this late since Christmas, but then, he hadn’t stayed up so late either. He chuckled, knowing what spin Maria would put on that line! Then memories of last night flooded back and he smiled adoringly at the woman sharing his bed and, he hoped, his life. Calling last night their first time wasn’t entirely accurate. It held all the poignancy of a first time, but with the familiar comfort of intimate knowledge. They had been together for so long and yet never before. It was an oxymoron—the beginning, again. With deceptive innocence, her hands slid up his chest and around his neck and slowly pulled him down. With no preamble, he slid into her. It was the place he’d longed for, ached for, dreamt of. It was where he belonged.

The gentle afterglow of their lovemaking settled around them, their souls and bodies at peace. Until Michael started channel surfing in the living room.

“Maria, any leftover pizza in the fridge?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, lover boy. Why don’t you haul your ass on over there and find out?”

“Max?” Liz’s voice was soft and tentative. Max pushed her hair back from her face and ran a finger down her nose to her lips.

“Hmmmm?”

“Who all is out there? And what are they going to think about my being here?”

“Ah, well, the male voice is my brother, Michael. He’s the one I told you about. Maria—you met her, right?—is his girlfriend du jour, although there may be something stronger brewing there. She’s been around a while and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. It’s funny. They bicker and pick at each other all day long, but I think they’d go right for the jugular if anyone messed with the other one.”

“Like the guy who was bidding on Maria’s basket?” Liz laughed.

“Exactly!” he grinned.

“Kelsey might be here; we haven’t seen her since she left with Kyle yesterday, but I doubt she stayed out all night. Kelsey doesn’t jump into things casually.”

“I know Kyle. He’ll take his time with Kelsey. I think this time, it really matters to him.”

Max looked relieved. “Good. As for how they’ll react, I can paint you a picture right now. Michael will raise one eyebrow and then go back to watching TV. Maria will say something sarcastic, but she’ll be happy for me. She’s been trying to get a woman in my bed since she met me. And Kelsey, if she’s here, will give me a hug if her evening went well, and a supportive smile if it didn’t.”

Liz looked askance at this strangely specific response. “Are your friends really that predictable?”

“About this, they are,” Max confirmed. Then he grew serious. “Liz, I’ve been alone all my life, hiding what and who I am, keeping relationships strictly platonic.” He smiled sadly. “People who don’t know me think I’m gay, and people who do know me think I’m a dark-haired mystery man who broods too much. Maria and Kelsey are about the only people who’ve gotten to know me well—outside of my brother and sister—and even they don’t know our secret. Only you, Liz. You’re the first person to ever know the truth. And I only trusted you because I felt like I’ve lived with you in my heart for so long, and then those things you said last night . . .”

Liz reached up and stroked Max’s face, pouring her reassuring love into the gentle touch. His whole body melted within its warmth and he lay down again, drawing her into his arms. “Which is why,” he added, his tone lighthearted now, “I know exactly how they’ll react! They’ve been waiting for this for way too long!”

Max hesitated, and Liz waited, watching him. “I have to warn you, Liz. Michael is very protective of our secret. Once he realizes that I’m serious about you, he may give us something of a hard time. I’ll deal with him, but I know some of his worry will take the form of hostility, and it’s bound to spill over onto you. Do you think you can handle that?”

Liz searched his face, commanding his full attention. “Max, I never thought I’d find you. I couldn’t imagine meeting a man who fulfilled all that my heart needs like the man in my dreams. Now you’re here. Really here, and in my arms. Nothing in this world could keep me from you—least of all a pissed off brother.” She smiled impishly. “Besides, I have a feeling he’ll be facing that same decision soon.”

Max laughed. “You might be right.”

“In that case,” Liz declared, pushing up from Max’s chest, “I’m starved. Can we get something to eat?”

“Excellent suggestion,” Max agreed.

Donning shorts and t-shirts, the couple emerged from Max’s bedroom to face the inevitable. Michael looked up from his couch, arched one eyebrow in Max’s direction, nodded at Liz, and resumed his television watching. Max and Liz exchanged an amused look and headed into the kitchen. Maria, engrossed in something at the computer, didn’t even look up. As Max broke open the eggs, he began to mumble a fractured rendition of an old Mexican love song he’d learned growing up, and Liz busied herself with setting two places at the table, trying valiantly not to laugh.

A blond head poked around the doorway. “Is that you, Max?” Maria asked, incredulous.

“What?”

Then Maria spied Liz and she fairly burst in triumph. “He got LAID!” she yelled into the living room. “And by the 4th of July, too. Did I call that, Michael? Did I? I am the bomb!” Hooting and prancing in a ridiculous Rocky impersonation, Maria carried on until both Max and Liz were blushing furiously.

“What’s all the noise about?” Kelsey groused, emerging from the hallway, tousled and bleary-eyed. She eyed Maria through squinted eyes and frowned.

“Max got laid, Kelsey! And now he’s singing—in Spanish no less!—and strutting like a rooster.”

“I am not strutting,” Max protested from the kitchen.

Liz came through the doorway, catching Kelsey’s eye. Max emerged right behind her, looking ready to defend her against an over-enthused Maria. Kelsey looked from one to the other and squealed with delight. She ran into Max’s arms, hugging him tightly.

“I knew it!” she beamed. “I knew it! I’m so happy for you!”

Remembering Max’s prediction, Liz hazarded a guess. “You had a good time with Kyle, Kelsey?”

Immediately, Kelsey’s whole expression softened, and she became shy. “He’s wonderful, Liz. Thanks for the tip on the bucket.”

“Only doing as I was asked,” she winked.

“Asked? He asked you to tell me which was his?” She was grinning broadly now, pleased beyond words.

“I’m really not at liberty to say,” Liz sighed, feigning innocence.

Kelsey turned and hugged a startled Maria and ran to the phone.

“You don’t think it’s too early to call, do you?” she asked, already punching in the numbers.

Max pulled Liz back against him, taking in the faces of the people he loved. Maria had thrown herself on the couch next to Michael, purposely using the newspaper to obscure his view of the television. “Get that thing out of my face!” he complained. “Turn off that stupid game,” she countered. And so it went.

Kelsey was leaning against the wall, murmuring into the phone, a goofy smile on her face. She caught Max’s eye and winked.

Liz turned in Max’s embrace and slipped her arms around him. Looking down into her loving eyes, Max could barely contain his joy. He didn’t need to be sleeping to live the dream anymore.

posted on 8-Jul-2002 1:56:38 PM by Carol000
Two announcements:

First:
Thanks to everyone for the great feedback and bumps and encouragement. I would like to take this opportunity to accept Breathless’s challenge. I will do ONE MORE Holiday story for Labor Day, and it will involve “labor.” I can’t wait to write M/L having their first child. Thanks, Debbi, for the nudge, and thanks to all who have made this series so much fun!

Second: A few of you have suggested I write something longer. For those who didn’t already know, I am currently writing a longer fic called Chameleon. It’s post-Graduation and it’s safe for Dreamers. For instance, we learn early on that the baby is NOT Max’s (or Tess’s for that matter). Every chapter is a two-parter: Part one shows the parents reading and discussing Liz’s journal; Part two shows what’s happening with the gang and related people/events. Chameleon took a vacation while I did and then while I posted this story, but will reappear very soon, probably tonight.
Also, for those very new to fanfic, I have written a long trilogy that is on the repost board called Epiphanies 1, 2, & 3. That’s old news, I know, but I think some newbies might not know about it. It’s post-Destiny and winds up rather far from where the show went.
Thanks again, everyone!