posted on 16-Jul-2002 10:42:34 PM by Carol000
Note: I have had several requests for the earlier Dreamer Holidays stories. I promised to put them up on Repost this week, but realized many of these are totally new to some newer readers. I'm posting Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas here now. Those three plus Valentine's and 4th of July will go up on Repost tonight or tomorrow also.

Please keep in mind that none of these stories is related to any other.

Thanks for such wonderful feedback and all the e-mails and b'mails! You all are the BEST!

Author: Carol000 (aka spacemom)
Rating: G
Setting: Max and Liz are in 6th grade. They are so very aware of each other, but they have no relationship yet.
Disclaimer: I don’t own them, yada yada yada.

Author’s Note: Hi, everyone! First, I must take one more opportunity to THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for the awesome send-off you gave Epiphanies. It warmed my heart and made me want to keep writing.
Now I’m doing a little fluff. Why? Cause I wanna and I brain needs a break! So I am introducing the DREAMER HOLIDAYS Series. This is the first installment. It will be followed by Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day. Each story will be a snapshot of just one of the many holidays Max and Liz will spend together. They might be in the past, the present, or the future. I hope you enjoy!

Dreamer Holidays: Halloween

Liz trudged through the doorway to her family's home above the Crashdown and flung her backpack to the floor. It landed heavily and her mother looked up from the computer, eyebrows raised.

"Hi, honey. You okay?"

"Yeah," Liz sighed, falling backwards into a chair, her legs sprawled out in front of her. "It's just that I thought 6th grade would be so cool. Ya know, lockers and changing classes and all. I didn't know you'd have to carry around like a million books every day. My arm's practically broken from walking home with all this." She sighed again.

Her mother smiled. "Well, you might find a reward for all that pain and suffering in the kitchen."

Liz perked up. "They came?" She ran into the kitchen and squealed at the open box of Halloween cookies her grandmother sent every year. Pumpkins and ghosts and headstones. But the best part was, they were the most buttery, most flavorful cookies ever! Liz dug in, her cheeks bulging as she poured some milk.

Balancing a plate of cookies and her glass of milk, Liz returned to the living room. "Mom, I think I've decided what to be for Halloween this year. I thought about being Buffy, but she just looks like a normal teenager, so I think I'll be a vampire."

Nancy Parker frowned slightly. "Liz, don't you think you're a little too old to dress up for Halloween now? You're in middle school. Trick or treat is for younger children. How about you give out the candy downstairs at the Crashdown party this year?"

Liz's face fell. "That's not fair! I'm still a kid. What makes me too old? I'm not even an official teenager yet! I know lots of kids who are going out on Halloween."

She watched her mother's face, looking for those signs of hesitation that always meant she would give in in the end, but there weren't any. It was more like sympathy, like her dog had just died or something.

"Sweetheart, it's always hard to give up things we love, but sometimes we just have to face growing up. It's like when you found out about Santa Claus. You were so unhappy at first, but now you get to be in on the surprises for your little cousins, and that's just as much fun, right?"

No, it's not, thought Liz. Not even close. "Yeah, I guess," she pouted.

"You'll have a great time guessing who's behind all the costumes and watching them hesitate at the door when they hear that spooky tape playing. It'll be fun!"

Liz felt tired again. She took her plate back to the kitchen and came out to retrieve her backpack. "I'm gonna do my homework," she mumbled, and dragged the heavy pack down the hall to her room.

Pulling out her books, she reviewed her options: Math–problems 1-15 odds; Social Studies–read the chapter on apartheid; English–write a 300-word persuasive essay on something you feel strongly about.

Liz grabbed her notebook, slid through the window, settled into her chaise lounge, and began to write.

*****

"I'll be returning your essays today," Mrs. Burch told the class. "We have quite a range of interests in here–everything from skateboarding to religion to lowering the driving age. Some of you expressed yourselves very well, and I'd like the authors to share a couple of those essays with everyone."

"Tyler? Would you share your essay on humane treatment of animals?"

Tyler walked to the front of the class, a proud smile on his face, and began to read. Max tuned him out. He found it much more pleasant to watch Liz Parker. His heart skipped a little every time he looked at her. It always had. In a different world, he would have tried to make friends with her, maybe ask her to the fall school dance, although he was a little uncomfortable about dancing in front of anyone. Still, if it meant holding Liz close to him, he would've done it. It's not a different world, though, he thought sadly. His world would always be one of secrets and hiding. And it wouldn't include Liz.

So he settled for watching her. She was so pretty, so smart, so nice to everyone. Sometimes, he wondered if she would even be nice to him . . . if she knew. Now, he watched her profile as she listened to Tyler describe a heartless case of cruelty to a dog; her little face scrunched up in concern, then tightened in outrage. She felt things deeply, just as he did. She was a good person. They could have been friends.

"Thank you, Tyler," Mrs. Burch was saying. "Liz? Would you read your essay?"

Liz looked up, surprised, hesitant. Slowly, she stood and walked up to Mrs. Burch. Her eyes swept the room, pausing briefly on Max. She couldn't help it. He was such a mystery to her–always kind, always good at stuff like school and sports, but always on the outside of the school's social circles. She wished he would speak to her, but he never did. Still, she often caught him looking at her, and it made her stomach feel like there were caterpillars crawling around inside it. She'd also learned long ago that she could always count on him for a little smile, and right now, she needed a little smile.

He didn't disappoint her. He seemed to sense her nervousness, and his smile was accompanied by a slight nod, an encouraging nod. She felt calmer just knowing he was there for her. She took a deep breath and began.

Being 12 means getting a lot of mixed signals from adults. One day, they say you are trying to grow up too fast. The next day, they tell you you're too old for things you still enjoy doing. I wish they would make up their minds.

I spend a lot of time being confused. Sometimes, I like the idea of being older. I like the freedom people seem to have as they grow up. They can go to more movies, drive a car, and decide when to go to bed. But part of me wants to stay young so I can play with my friends and think about all the things I could be when I grow up. And I could still dress up on Halloween.

This week, my mother told me I was too old to go trick-or-treating. I was really mad. The more I thought about it, the more that made no sense. What is Halloween except using your imagination, trying out your creativity, and spending time with friends in good clean fun? Those are all things we're supposed to do! But there's no changing my mom's mind, so I'll spend this Halloween watching others have fun and trying to figure out why growing up means having to leave the fun and the magic behind.

What do I feel strongly about? I feel grownups should let us decide how fast to grow up and what that even means. In fact, I don't think there's anything wrong with being a child sometimes even when you're grown up. My dad seems to have the most fun when we're wrestling or having a squirt-gun fight. How can big smiles and happy laughter be a bad thing?

Grownups are too serious. They've forgotten how having fun can make you forget your troubles and help you remember to enjoy life. Instead of them trying to take childhood away from children, maybe we should try to put more childhood into them. Then we'd all have more fun.

Happy Halloween.

Liz Parker


Max watched Liz return to her seat. After warming to her subject and reading her essay with confidence and conviction, she had suddenly turned vulnerable again. Keeping her eyes lowered, she hurried back to her desk. Someone whispered, "Big baby!" as she took her seat, and Max simmered when he saw her blush of embarrassment. He willed her to look at him, and to his amazement, she did–a brief sidelong glance, a glance that begged for the support she'd come to expect from him for some unknown reason.

He held her eyes for those few seconds, his encouragement and approval written clearly on his face, in his eyes, in his smile. His own smile brightened as she visibly relaxed and looked away. He'd made Liz Parker feel better. She'd looked to him to feel better. It was already a good day.

And that's when his idea was born.

********

Two days later, Liz opened her locker to find an envelope with her name on it taped to the front of the small shelf toward the top. How had someone gotten into her locker? She looked around the hallway, which was alive with voices and locker doors slamming and bodies bumping. No one seemed to be watching her.

She slid the ivory paper from its sheath and read the carefully blocked letters:

If you're still looking for Halloween, let me help you find it. Meet me in front of the UFO Center on Halloween night at 7:00 p.m. I'll be waiting.

There was no signature.

Liz felt a mixture of excitement and fear. Was this for real? Was someone trying to do something nice, or were they planning to hurt or embarrass her? She knew if she showed her mother, she would never be allowed to go, but something in her wanted to solve the mystery. Still uncertain, Liz slid the note into her pocket. She'd have to think about this one.

Down the hall, Max pretended to be busy at his own locker, sneaking peeks at Liz's reaction. Surprise, of course. A little smile. Good! A little frown. Oh, no! What if she didn't come? Then he saw her pocket the note with . . . anticipation? . . . flitting across her face. He hoped so. He wanted to do this for her, to make her smile and feel happy. And this way, he could do it without ever being discovered.

After school, Max and Michael made their way to the Crashdown for Saturn Rings and a shake. Max positioned himself as he always did–facing the back of the restaurant in case Liz came in from the back, which she almost always did. Sometimes, if they got really busy, her dad even let her help serve, and Max would just sit back and watch her flashing that killer smile, laughing that throaty laugh that made him have to smile, too. She was a natural.

Today, though, Liz was quieter than usual. She came in to the restaurant from the kitchen area and gave her dad a peck on the cheek. Then she pulled herself up onto a barstool next to Maria. Max froze, his straw forgotten in his mouth, as Liz pulled his note from her pocket. He watched Maria's eyes get bigger and bigger, and soon they were head to head, whispering, giggling, nodding. He took it as a good sign, and he smiled.

"What?" asked Michael, his mouth stuffed with onion rings.

"What?" responded Max, trying his best to look appropriately innocent and confused.

"What're you smilin' at?"

Max looked down. "My shake is really good today–thick," he finished lamely.

"Oh,” answered Michael, still confused. He shrugged. “So you wanna go play some basketball in the park before we go home?"

"Yeah, sure," Max answered distractedly. His mind was already filling in the details of his master plan. She could never know it was him, but with any luck, he would make her smile like that on Halloween night!

********

Liz emerged from the Crashdown and looked up and down the street. There was no one waiting in front of the UFO Center—just costumed kids of all ages walking inside to see the haunted house that the Rotary had set up.

It was a joke, she thought sadly. No one’s coming to meet me.

Unwilling to give up too soon, she stood uncertainly under the UFO Center sign, checking up and down the sidewalk. She jumped when she felt someone touch her shoulder. Spinning quickly, she gasped as the beast from “Beauty and the Beast” stared down at her. Before she could even ask a question, he held an elegant, long dress toward her on a hanger and nodded toward the doors leading into the UFO Center.

“You want me to put this on?” she asked, curious and wary at the same time.

The beast nodded and opened the door for her. Once inside, he pointed to the restroom doors and then stationed himself against the wall. Debating with herself between pursuing this adventure or playing it safe, Liz caught a look at the eyes behind the mask. They were familiar, reassuring. Suddenly she felt safe.

Liz slipped inside the restroom, changed quickly, and took a quick look in the mirror. How had this person known what size to bring? Who had gone to so much trouble to give her a Halloween wish? She felt beautiful and feminine—a feeling she was growing to enjoy as she got older. She hugged herself and grinned. Go for it! she told herself.

She hung her clothes on the hanger and emerged into the UFO Center lobby. She stood self-consciously as the beast seemed to drink her in, standing immobile at the sight of her wearing the dress he had brought. The short puffed sleeves, the smocked bodice with the empire waist, and the long midnight blue folds showed off her developing petite figure. Her dark hair cascaded down her back, and her wide-eyed look of anticipation brought a glow to her face. Shaking himself, the beast took the hanger and hung it at the back of the coatroom. Then he offered his hand and led Liz toward the haunted house.

The Rotary had been creating this spook house for years, but each year it was different and full of the unexpected. As they rounded each corner, anticipating a new scare, Liz held tightly to the hand that led her. At one point, they had to get down on their knees and crawl blindly through a maze. Liz’s laughter skittered off the dark fabric walls at the glowing faces that would light up suddenly and the fiendish cackle that erupted from somewhere ahead every few seconds. Fighting with the long dress, Liz finally had to let go of the beast’s hand, hiking the skirt above her knees with one hand and feeling ahead into the dark with the other.

Suddenly, the floor dipped down and Liz fell forward into a small space where hands began to grab at her. She screamed in surprise. Immediately, her beast was with her, arms holding her, soothing her until her embarrassment at reacting like that took over, and she gently pushed away. She knew nothing there would hurt her, but still, she’d been startled, and those arms had felt so good around her.

Emerging from the haunted house, Liz looked up at the beast.

“Aren’t you going to tell me who you are?” she asked, feeling at ease with this person now. Again, she caught a glimpse of the eyes behind the large, molded head of the costume and felt a familiar twinge. She knew those eyes. Whose were they? The eyes held hers for a few seconds, and the large head shook from side to side. Whoever it was, he was going to stay hidden a while longer.

“Well, whoever you are,” Liz smiled, “I had so much fun. Thank you.”

The beast pointed down the street toward the park and offered his hand again. Liz hesitated briefly and then, with a glance at the Crashdown, reached to hold that hand. It was a welcoming hand, a friendly hand, a safe hand.

They strolled slowly toward the park, and Liz racked her brain to identify the familiar bits and pieces of the beast’s walk, mannerisms, and . . . those eyes! Directing her to a park bench, the beast brushed off the seat and offered it to her. They sat quietly for a few moments, gazing at the stars. The beast pointed upwards, and Liz followed his finger toward the moon. Drifting across the bright round disk was a cloud, a cloud that looked exactly like a witch on a broom! Liz squealed with delight.

“Oh my gosh!” she exclaimed. “Did you see that? I’ve never seen a cloud look so exactly like a shape before! And on Halloween!” She happily tucked her two arms around the beast’s arm and watched the cloud disappear.

The beast turned to watch her. She knew she was grinning like an idiot and probably looked ridiculous, but that had been so cool!

Suddenly self-conscious again, Liz realized she’d grabbed hold of this person—this anonymous person who had worked and planned to make her happy, but who was completely unknown to her. She began to pull her arms away when his free hand stopped her, holding her close to him. When she stopped to look up at him, he patted her threaded fingers as if to say, “It’s okay. Leave them there.” Again, she saw the caring in his eyes and let herself relax against him.

They sat like that for several more minutes, enjoying the moon, the distant laughter of children as they went from house to house, and their own closeness, cloaked in mystery and magic. Then Liz stiffened in excitement. Her beast was lacing his fingers with hers. Liz had never held hands like that with a boy before. It felt warm and gentle and . . . intimate. It felt good and right with this person. But how? She didn’t even know who he was.

He rose slowly, pulling her to her feet. Then he reached down under the bench and picked up a rose. No, not a real rose, a chocolate rose! And in the light of the moon, she could just read the little tag that was attached: “Do I have a GHOST of a chance?” She looked up at her prince—well, that’s what the beast had been, right? A prince under the spell of an evil sorceress. Well, he had become a prince in her eyes.

She smiled brilliantly at him. “I can’t answer that. I don’t know who you are. Won’t you tell me?”

Liz could see the hesitation behind those eyes. Almost a longing. Then he straightened and the look turned reassuring. It reminded her of . . . no, it couldn’t be. She lost her train of thought as her prince tugged at her hand. Soon they were walking down the streets of Roswell, dodging the little children as they raced from door to door under the watchful eye of their parents. Jack o’lanterns, flashing ghosts, suspended bats, and eerie music lent a festive atmosphere of harmless spookiness to the neighborhood, and Liz cherished every detail.

“This is wonderful,” she sighed. “I love seeing all the decorations and watching the little ones having so much fun.” Then she laughed. “I’d better not say that to my mom. She’s the one who said that at a certain age, it was as much fun to be a part of the behind the scenes stuff as to be one of the kids trick or treating. I don’t know. Maybe she’s right. I just don’t feel ready to give it all up. But seeing it with you like this—I don’t know. It’s like having the best of both worlds.”

To her surprise and pleasure, the beast stopped and turned, pulling her into a gentle hug. Releasing her quickly, they resumed their walk. Liz was struck by how good that had felt. She wished he’d held on to her just a little longer.

They had reached the edge of town where the last of the housing development came face to face with the empty, prairie-like wilderness that lay just beyond its borders. The sky was alight with stars, and Liz felt peaceful and calm. She saw her prince reach toward the sky. She hadn’t noticed at first, but now they seemed to be watching a meteor shower. Glowing orbs streaked across the sky trailing briefly visible tails of sparkling light in their wake.

Liz watched, her eyes wide with wonder at the spectacular display. “It’s so beautiful,” she breathed. “Look, there’s another one!” she pointed. But when she paused to glance at the boy who was watching with her, she found him watching her instead. His hand rose to touch her face, and then immediately fell to his side. That look. And then she knew. It was Max Evans under that costume. It had to be. And now she knew that if it weren’t him, she’d be bitterly disappointed.

The meteors died down, and they turned back toward town. Liz slid her arm through his, and he squeezed it to his side. She sighed contentedly, convinced she had solved the mystery. They only saw one or two children on their way back to the center of town and realized that trick-or-treating hours must be almost done. Liz had promised to be home by then.

“I have to go home now. My parents said to be back by the end of trick-or-treating.”

Her prince nodded and steered them in the direction of the Crashdown. Stopping at the UFO Center to don her own clothes again, Liz hung up the dress she had worn during one of the best nights of her life. She felt a little melancholy, as if taking off the dress would break the magical spell that wearing it had woven. But it wasn’t the dress that was magic. It was the person who had made this night possible for her. He had given her a wonderful gift.

As they drew near her doorway, Liz stopped and pulled her prince into the alley next to the restaurant.

“I had the most wonderful time tonight. I can’t thank you enough for giving me the best Halloween I’ve ever had. Will you take off the beast head now?” she asked hopefully.

The head bowed, a sadness in the gesture that nudged at Liz’s heart.

“Okay,” Liz conceded. “But I hope someday, you’ll tell me.”

She hugged the bulky figure and watched him turn to leave. He’d only taken a few steps when Liz threw caution to the wind.

“Max?”

Habit. Reflex. Wishing. Which one made Max stop and turn when his name was called? Whichever it was, he knew instantly he’d been found out. His heart leapt with joy, even as he berated himself for blowing his cover. She was never to know. He could never have her.

He turned and watched her watching him, her eyes glowing, a satisfied smile on her face. She began to walk toward him, and soon she was trying to lift the beast head from his shoulders. She was too short, though, to get it off, so he resigned himself to helping her. And then they were there, face to face, Beauty and the Beast, Beauty and the Prince, without costumes or magic or anonymity. Liz and Max.

Liz saw so much in his face then. He was embarrassed, fearful, happy. The same reassuring smile found its way to his lips. “Happy Halloween, Liz.”

And then Liz did something she’d only fantasized about. Something Liz Parker would never actually do. She pushed up on her toes, touched her lips to his for an electrifying moment, and sank down to the ground again.

“Happy Halloween to you, too, Max.” And then she gave him that smile he had longed for his whole life. It was spectacular and genuine and all for him.

Then she turned and walked through the doors to the Crashdown.

Max looked after her, his heart pounding. No doubt about it. There was still plenty of magic around on Halloween.

posted on 16-Jul-2002 10:45:20 PM by Carol000
DREAMER HOLIDAYS: Thanksgiving

A little background:

This is, in a very loose way, a look at 6 years after Epiphanies 3, but you don’t have to have read E3 to enjoy this. All you need to know is, Max’s planet is Voya (E3 was started before we knew his planet’s name), and a few characters may be referred to that you don’t know: Zeval is Michael’s sister from Voya, Jasar and Josh are other hybrids. Okay, that should do it. E-mail me if something doesn’t make sense!


Max took his eyes off the road to glance at Liz. She had been so quiet since they left Albuquerque an hour ago, and he knew she was brooding again. She was trying to block him, knowing that he would just make another vain attempt to console her, but it did no good. She was as much a part of him after all these years as the heart that beat within him. Never in their two years of tumultuous courtship or 6 years of marriage had she been more open to him, and he ached to reassure her. But his words had fallen on her wounded heart like salt in an open wound. Every attempt to pull her close had only served to push her away.

“Liz, honey, are you hungry? We won’t be there for another two hours.”

Liz roused herself from her dark thoughts and smiled weakly. “No, not really, but go ahead and stop if you want something. I brought the Tabasco.” She opened the straw basket at her feet and pulled out a bottle of his favorite condiment, working hard at a teasing tone. “Even Pepe’s Mexican pizza will be edible if you use enough of this.”

Max smiled back, recognizing with a pang how hard she was working just to make casual conversation.

“I don’t need anything yet,” he told her, and his heart sank as he watched her drift once again into the depths of her private thoughts. He could only hope that this Thanksgiving vacation would give her the break she needed from her self-imposed pressure. As soon as they had finished college, she had eagerly embraced the idea of a family. She said the greatest thing she could do for Max was give him children, and that their children would be a blessing to them and to the planet. But over two years had gone by, and even the fertility counseling available through the network of hybrids they had discovered had not brought them a child. Nothing Max did or said could convince Liz that she was enough for him, that she was his reason for living, his purpose for being on Earth.

They were headed first for the Mescalero reservation. It had become almost a tradition for them to take Thanksgiving week off and head for home. Their first year back, they had indulged a whim and stopped at the reservation to visit the cave where their first clue as to Max’s identity had been revealed. It had beckoned to Max since the first time he’d seen it, and now he found comfort in its familiar message, long since decoded with the help of Zeval and Jasar. Seeing his family tree and bits of Voyan history carved into stone in an ancient language centered him and filled him with a peace he usually only found in Liz’s arms—a sense of belonging, a sense of balance.

During that first visit, River Dog had surprised them in the cave, and the dialogue that began that day had evolved into a deep and trusting friendship. Now they both saw River Dog as a link between an Anasazi/alien ancestry and their duplicitous lives on Earth, where Max taught political science in his earthly identity and led the Voyan alliance in their evolution toward Democracy in his hidden alien life. Liz’s work toward her doctorate in microbiology had become secondary to her quest to bear a child, and Max had felt their tender, loving moments take on a sense of urgency as the months passed. It was eating away at his beautiful wife, and Max felt every heartbreaking moment of it.

Now, driving toward the solace of three peaceful days with River Dog, Eddie and his wife Carmella, and the isolation of the reservation, Max prayed that Liz could relax and find herself again. Somehow she had taken on all the responsibility for their failure to conceive, and in her effort to spare him, she had become withdrawn and quiet. He missed her desperately.

Reaching out to stroke her cheek, he cringed when she jumped at his touch. Her eyes turned immediately apologetic.

“I’m sorry, Max. I was lost in thought. Do you want me to drive for a while?”

“No, love, I want you to talk to me. Tell me what you’re thinking. The silence is killing me.”

“Sure, we can talk. I was thinking we should take the twins something, don’t you think? What about those wooden toys Eddie’s cousin sells at the reservation? Maria always likes those Native American crafts. Maybe dreamcatchers for over their cribs.”

Babies. Suddenly that’s all there was in her world. The birth of Michael’s and Maria’s twins had only added to Liz’s sense of desperation about having a baby. “Sounds fine, Liz. We’ll see what’s available when we get there.” More silence. “Hey, did you finish that chapter of your dissertation you’ve been working on?”

“No, not yet. I can’t seem to focus on it. Somehow the mutation of that one virus isn’t holding my interest.” Silence. “Mind if I take a nap?”

Max suppressed a sigh. “Of course not. Here, use my lap.” At least he could touch her that way. Maybe he could calm her through sheer force of will. She snuggled down on the seat, resting her head on his powerful thigh. He slid his hand through her hair and moved down her arm in long, slow, soothing strokes. Soon her breathing evened out, and Max bit back tears as he absorbed her pain.

********

The curvy road leading to Eddie’s home woke Liz, and she straightened up to look out the window. Her eyes lit up at the beautiful scenery, and she turned to Max with a genuine smile. That smile drove straight into Max’s heart, and he returned it with one of his own. Liz’s sleepy eyes, mussed hair, and rosy cheeks, combined with the best smile he’d seen in weeks lightened Max’s mood, and he almost laughed out loud. Instead, he pulled off the road, and when Liz turned a questioning look to him, he swept her into a spontaneous hug. Feeding off of his lightheartedness, she returned the hug, and threw in a nibble on his ear for good measure. He countered by sucking gently at her neck and soon they were wrapped up in each other, struggling to maneuver in the confines of the small car.

Laughing, they pulled apart. “We don’t seem to bend quite as easily as we used to,” Max chuckled.

“Speak for yourself,” Liz huffed, a sparkle in her eye. “My body hasn’t changed since I was in high school!” Then the mood disappeared. All the ways she wished her body had changed came barreling back at her, and she shifted into the passenger seat once again. “We’d better get going. Eddie and Carmella are waiting for us.”

The weight settled back on Max’s heart and he put the car in gear. Within minutes, Eddie’s new home was visible on a bluff overlooking a small valley. They could see his old pick-up sitting beside Carmella’s new Saturn and knew their old friends were watching for them. They were never sure how much Eddie knew about Max. River Dog knew, of course. In fact, they had learned over the years that he knew quite a bit more than he had let on at first. But Eddie never asked questions, so either River Dog had never told him or he was willing to let Max decide how much to share. In any case, he had always made them feel more than welcome, and they had learned to value his friendship.

As they pulled into the long dirt driveway, Eddie walked through the front door, waving a welcome. Max and Liz stretched their muscles and headed toward him with a smile.

“It’s about time!” Eddie complained. “Carmella has made lunch. I hope you haven’t eaten.”

“Nope, and I’m starved,” Max grinned and wrapped his friend into a quick hug.

Then Eddie turned his attention to Liz. She looked tired, her eyes dull. With a quick glance at Max, he swept her into a bear hug, lifting her feet off the ground and twirling her in circles. “Carmella can’t wait to see you. She says she needs a woman to talk to sometimes, and I just don’t qualify.”

He was gratified to see a sincere smile grace Liz’s face, and the three chatted easily as they walked into the house.

“Carmella’s in the kitchen, Liz. She’s getting the drinks on the table. I’m supposed to grab a couple extra chairs. Go on in.”

Liz walked to the back of the house where the kitchen overlooked the valley. Sun streamed through the windows and lifted Liz’s spirits once again.

“Carmella?” she called. She saw her friend bending over the dishwasher.

“Liz!” she cried happily, and turned to greet her friend. Her smile turned to laughter, though, when she saw Liz’s face. Liz was staring in shock at Carmella, or rather, at Carmella’s abdomen, which was distended by what looked to be a pregnancy of seven or eight months.

“Surprise!” Carmella beamed. “I wouldn’t let Eddie tell you. I wanted to surprise you! Meet Jeremy. He’s due to arrive in about six weeks! I’ve been dying for you to get here. I want you to see what we have planned for the nursery, and you have to settle a color dispute we’re having. We can’t decide . . .”

Her voice trailed off when she realized Liz’s shock hadn’t transformed into the excited response she’d been expecting.

“Liz? Is everything okay? I didn’t think you’d be this surprised.”

Liz shook herself. “No, no! It’s wonderful, Carmella. You must be so happy.” She offered Carmella a quick hug.

“Could I use your bathroom?” She took off like a shot, leaving a confused Carmella in the middle of the kitchen rubbing her belly.

********
Lunch was awkward and the conversation was strained. Eddie and Carmella couldn’t quite keep the confusion off their faces, and Max was working too hard to keep the light banter going. Liz was smiling in all the right places and offering brief comments when appropriate, but it was obvious something was wrong. As soon as they’d finished eating, she excused herself to lie down.

Eddie, Max, and Carmella went to sit on the back porch with its beautiful view. After a moment of silence, Max sighed heavily.

“I guess you’re wondering what’s wrong.”

“Did I do something, Max?” Carmella asked tentatively.

“No, no!” Max assured her. “It’s just that . . .”

A noise from the side of the house caught their attention, and River Dog came around the corner. Max rose to embrace his old friend.

“It’s good to see you, Max,” River Dog rasped, his aging voice matching his aging body.

“You, too,” Max smiled. “Come sit.”

River Dog lowered himself into a chair, took a long look at Max, and asked, “So, what’s wrong?”

Max’s mouth dropped open and Eddie snickered. “You don’t miss a trick, old man.”

“That’s right,” River Dog affirmed calmly. “Now tell me what’s going on.”

Suddenly Max needed to talk. Here in this quiet, beautiful setting among friends who knew him well, Max unburdened himself. He told them how their desire to have children had turned into a pressure-filled quest that was taking a toll on their mental state, their marriage, and, he feared, Liz’s health.

“I love her so much,” he choked out tearfully, “but I can’t help her.”

Carmella was stunned. “Oh my god, Max. I’m so sorry. The last thing in the world she needed was to see me pregnant and excited and asking for her advice. I’m so sorry!”

“Don’t be silly, Carmella. You should be happy and excited. And you had no way of knowing what Liz was going through. I just wish I knew what to do.”

“Well, there will be no more talk of babies while you’re here, I promise,” Eddie told him. “Although we can’t very well hide Carmella’s condition.”

“Nor should you,” Max countered firmly. “Liz and I are both very happy for you. It’s just the timing . . .”

River Dog had sat very still, listening to Max’s grief pour from him.

“When are you going out to the cave, Max?”

Max turned, surprised. It was a rather abrupt change of subject. “Tomorrow, I guess, if Liz is up to it.”

“Yes, make it tomorrow, Max. I’ll meet you there mid-afternoon, if you don’t mind.”

“No, that’s fine,” Max answered, still perplexed by the impression that River Dog felt this was important. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to go check on Liz.” He rose and disappeared into the house.

Eddie eyed River Dog warily. “What was that about?”

River Dog rose. “I’m sorry Carmella. I’ll have to skip dinner, I’m afraid. I have an important errand to run. Oh, and don’t count on Max and Liz for dinner tomorrow night. They . . . have another engagement.”

With that, he descended the stairs and left. Eddie and Carmella looked at each other. “I’ll never understand that crazy old man,” Carmella said, shaking her head. “But for some reason, I trust him.”

Eddie rose to help her up from her chair. “As well you should,” he mumbled under his breath.

********

“You suck!” Michael yelled at the television set as the Arizona Cardinals fumbled the football.

“Michael!” Maria hissed. “You’ll wake Brittany.”

Michael threw her a glare. “Brittany could play football better than that guy,” he complained. But when Maria grinned at him with raised eyebrows, his face relaxed and he walked across the room to take his daughter from her mother. Who would have thought he’d have girls? He always expected sons because, well . . . just because. When his daughters had been born, though, he lost his heart in an instant, and he doted on them to a ridiculous degree. He knew they would hate him when they were teens, because he knew what teen guys were about, and they weren’t coming near his girls.

“I’ll start dinner,” Maria said, smiling at the sight of Michael worshipping his daughter. “Listen for Laura.”

As soon as she left the room, there was a knock at the front door. With one eye on the game, Michael reached to open it, shocked into full attention by the unexpected visitor.

“River Dog!”

River Dog took in the incongruous sight of Michael cradling his tiny daughter with the football game raging in the background and smiled. He had seen the good heart of this man when he was just a boy. He was probably less surprised than anyone when Michael had married his high school sweetheart and settled into family life like a veteran. In truth, it was what he had always wanted—someone to love and care for, a family of his own.

Michael realized they were just standing there staring at each other. “Uh . . . come in,” he offered.

River Dog stepped through the door just as another demanding voice was heard from down the hall. “Sorry,” Michael smiled. “Looks like the other one is ready to get up. What can I do for you?”

“If you don’t mind, may I come with you to see the other baby?”

“Sure, if you want,” Michael shrugged.

He led River Dog down the hall into the nursery, packed solid with two cribs, two small dressers, a rocking chair, and a changing table. Laying Brittany down, Michael reached for Laura and carried her to the changing table. Immediately, Brittany began to cry. Looking exasperated, Michael crooned, “In a minute, Brittany. Your sister needs changing.”

“May I?” asked River Dog, indicating Brittany.

Again, Michael was surprised, and a little guarded. “Have you ever held a baby, River Dog?”

At this, River Dog laughed out loud. “Michael, have you forgotten? I’m the shaman, and the most medically trained person on the reservation. I’ve cared for hundreds of babies.”

Michael looked chagrined. He had forgotten that about River Dog. “Sure, give it a shot.”

As soon as River Dog lifted Brittany from the crib, she quieted, reaching to pull his long gray hair and babbling. Michael smiled. “I guess you do have a way with kids.”

“And a great deal more. Michael, I need the healing stones.”

Michael froze. “What?”

“I need the healing stones and I know you have them.”

“What do you need them for?”

“It’s a private matter, but I promise you, you would approve.”

Michael’s eyes narrowed. “Is someone hurt?”

“No, not in the usual sense.”

“You can’t even use them alone, River Dog. You need an alien.”

“Please trust me, Michael. I have what I need. I will return them to you in two days. Only good will come of it.”

Michael watched Brittany slapping randomly at River Dog’s face. She never let anyone hold her but Maria and Michael, yet she was perfectly at ease with this man. He had shown them where to start their search for their past, and had never failed to help them when he could.

Laying Laura down in her crib again, he crouched next to the diaper pail. Tipping it slightly, he reached under it and pulled a small pouch out from what must have been a false bottom. At the amused look on River Dog’s face, Michael shrugged. “Can you think of anyone who would try to take a diaper pail?”

River Dog laughed, a sound Michael had never heard in all the years he had known him. He couldn’t help but laugh, too, as they returned to the living room, each carrying a baby. Returning Brittany to her father’s empty arm, River Dog stopped briefly.

“You’re doing a good thing, Michael. I’ll have them back in 48 hours.”

Michael nodded, allowing himself to trust for a change.

********

In spite of what many might have believed, River Dog was among the most progressive people in the community. He believed in many of the old ways and remedies, but he also respected modern medicine, and he had long been aware of the presence of aliens and knew of their powers. He believed that these were all pieces in the great puzzle of life, and he was happy to embrace any and all solutions to problems.

He had grown so fond of Max and Liz over the eight years he’d known them. Suspicious at first, he had been stingy with what he shared with Max. His first strange encounter with aliens had been both good and bad, and he wasn’t sure what to expect from these young aliens. But as he had grown to know Max, he had seen into his heart, had observed the love and devotion he had earned from his young girlfriend, and had come to trust and care for them both. It pained him to see what they were suffering through, and he resolved to do what he could to help them.

As soon as he had returned from Michael’s house, he began his preparations. He brewed an unusual concoction over his campfire, he meditated, and he examined the healing stones. He was pulling out all the stops.

The next afternoon, he arrived at the cave. He’d seen Max’s car down the road and knew that he and Liz were inside.

“Hello?” he shouted into the cave, not wanting to startle them.

“Come in, River Dog,” Max shouted back.

River Dog made his way into the cave to find Max and Liz sitting cross-legged on an open sleeping bag, looking at the symbols on the wall.

“It seems more familiar every time I see it,” Max said out of the blue, “but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to speak or write it as I should. It’s so complicated.”

“Most things worthwhile are,” River Dog told him, and Liz looked up, smiling.

“That’s what my grandmother always said,” she remembered.

“She was wise.” He reached into his pack. “I knew it would be chilly in here,” he continued. “I’ve brought you a hot drink that is a favorite among my people. I don’t think you’ve ever had it before; it takes hours to brew, but I just happened to make some and thought you might enjoy it.”

He offered the large thermos to the couple, and they accepted with warm appreciation.

“Thank you, River Dog,” Liz said gratefully. “I was already feeling the chill. This will help, I know.”

They spent a few minutes talking, and then River Dog made a move to leave. “Do you have to go already?” Max asked, surprised that their usually long visit in the cave was cut short.

“Yes, for now,” River Dog nodded, “but I will see you at dinner tonight.”

“Alright,” Max agreed, disappointed. “See you then.”

Liz reached for the thermos as the late afternoon sun weakened, diminishing the scattered rays that found their way around the curved walls of the cave. Pouring steaming cups for each of them, Liz handed Max a cup, and they sipped in silence.

Outside the cave, River Dog smiled. Reaching into his pack again, he pulled out the pouch of healing stones. One by one, he laid them on the ground, spanning the cave entrance in the “V” formation. Then he knelt, said a blessing over them, and left. His work was done.

TO BE CONTINUED IN NEXT POST

posted on 16-Jul-2002 10:46:18 PM by Carol000
********

“This is delicious,” Liz murmured appreciatively, feeling all the tensions leave her body.

“Mmm-hmmm,” Max agreed, enjoying the soothing heat that trickled down his throat. He, too, felt relaxed for the first time in too long. He whipped his head toward Liz when he felt her hand stroking his thigh. His breath froze in his lungs when he saw the look in her eyes, raw desire that had been missing for too long.

“Liz.” It was a prayer on his lips. He was looking at his Liz, the one who he had loved his whole life, the one who had been with him through the best and worst of times, the one who loved him beyond all reason and let him know it every day of his life. This look—it wasn’t about conceiving, it was about loving and wanting and just plain sex, and it sent his heart racing in his chest.

He melted into her lips and felt her respond immediately. Her hands began to wander over his shoulders, his back, his chest, and in their wake a trail of small explosions shook him. His hands began their own search, seeking out all those places that would make her shudder with pleasure and moan his name. Tonight, though, that seemed to be everywhere he touched. It was as if their need for each other had been building behind this dam, and once the floodgates were opened, they rushed forward in an uncontrollable surge of passion.

Max’s hand found the bottom of Liz’s sweater and inched upwards, rotating in small circles toward Liz’s aching breast. She was concentrating on his every move, waiting breathlessly for that hand, those fingers to reach their goal. Her impatience won out and she moved to push his hand up over her breast, where she thrust into it, desperately needing to feel the sensation of his intimate touch. Max needed no further encouragement. He pushed the sweater up as far as he could, and tugged hard until the bra cup released her hard nipple. He sucked it into his mouth, relishing the feel and flavor of her, basking in the realization that she was pushing deeper, deeper into him. Her want was riding as high as his.

The warmth and erotic sensation of Max’s mouth kept her fully focused on that one peak of her body for what seemed like minutes, but gradually, Liz surfaced enough to know that she wanted to offer more to her lover. With practiced ease, she unbuckled his belt and began to work on the button to his jeans. When her hand grazed the straining heat that lay just beneath the cloth, he released her breast in a startled gasp and lay down, eyes squeezed shut, and let the sensation of her touch flow over him.

Liz made quick work of the zipper, pushed aside the boxers, and firmly took him into her hand, already stroking him with an insistent rhythm. His moan was all the response she needed. Speeding up her rhythm, she leaned forward to lick the small strip of skin that peeked out from under his shirt.

It was too much. They hadn’t felt such abandon in their lovemaking in so long that the sensations were overwhelming them. By unspoken mutual consent, they set about getting each other out of their clothes. Laying down on the sleeping bag, Liz reached for her magnificent husband, spread her legs in invitation, and said, “Make love to me, Max. I need you.”

With a whimper, Max fell to his knees, slid up her body, stopping to suck on each rosy peak, and took her mouth as he slid into her. Subtlety would wait. Their bodies were screaming for each other and the pace they set was furious. Liz met his pounding thrusts with wanton abandon, their hearts and minds merging freely as they always had until recently. When their hearts touched, their bodies followed suit, and their coming together was as spiritual and it was sensual.

As soon as Max could think at all, he raised himself slightly on his arms so that Liz could breathe deeply. When he moved, though, she squeezed her inner walls around him, as if to keep him close.

“I’m sorry, Max,” she whispered, as tears escaped the corners of her eyes.

“Don’t be sorry, Liz. God, I’ve missed you so much! Don’t leave me like that again, Liz. Promise me. Everything that happens, happens to both of us, right?”

“You’re my life, Max. How could I have forgotten that, even for a little while?”

Max gazed at her, love shining from his eyes. “You are absolutely luminescent,” Max breathed in awe. Ever since their wedding, when the passion-induced glow that so often surrounded them withdrew into their bodies and made them glow, they had enjoyed this different, more innately alien side-effect to their lovemaking. Max always thought Liz was at her most beautiful when they were making love.

Liz sighed happily. “I will never understand how I got to be so lucky, but I thank God every day for you, Max.”

He started to speak when he noticed her eyes turn dark again, and an impish smile flickered across her face. She raised her torso just far enough so she could reach out with her tongue and lick at his nipples. “Maybe I should thank you again, too.”

Max felt himself harden inside her again. She looked up at him, a knowing smile on her face.

“Apparently, you’re not opposed to that idea.”

“When have I ever been?” he teased.

Less urgent now, the young lovers began to shower each other with loving attention, reacquainting themselves with the other’s sensitive spots and favorite touches.

“Roll onto your stomach,” Liz instructed Max. His surprised look made her giggle. “Do as I say, Max. I won’t bite.”

At his snicker, she laughed, too. “Well, maybe a little.”

He did as he was told and she straddled him. “Relax, love,” she whispered. Her hands began to rub his broad shoulders, his incredibly defined back muscles, and each indentation in his spine. She could feel him almost purring beneath her and realized she couldn’t afford to have him too relaxed. Scooting down toward his calves, she began to massage his beautifully molded tush, and she grinned broadly when that brought his head straight up.

“Liz?”

“Hmmm?”

“What are you doing?”

“Just making sure all your muscles get fair treatment,” she replied, sliding down still further to rub against his thighs, dipping down to include the tender skin between his legs. His whole body jerked at this last touch, and he attempted to turn over.

“Not yet,” she insisted with a sultry voice.

“Oooohh, god,” Max groaned as her fingers continued their exploration.

After a few minutes, Liz lifted off of him, only to trace her tongue across the back of each knee. She was contemplating what to do next when he suddenly flipped over, grabbed her shoulders, and brought her mouth to his with fierce intensity. His tongue dove into her mouth, exploring and reaching as deeply as he could, a foreshadowing of things to come.

“There are only so many muscles you can tease before you have to attend to this one,” he mumbled against her mouth.” His hand found hers, and he guided it to his throbbing erection, slick with his juices. They both encircled it and shared a moan at the sensation.

Liz pushed Max back against the sleeping bag, but slipped through his hands as he reached to pull her down with him. Intent on attending to his immediate needs, Liz began to stroke him and then heard him gasp as she took him into her mouth, picking up the rhythm her hand had set.

Max felt all the air rush from his lungs. It had been forever since Liz had done this, always afraid to “waste” his precious seed that might otherwise give them the child they wanted. Now she was only intent on giving him pleasure, and his heart burst with the knowledge of her sacrifice. Ironically, it made him want her all the more, but inside.

He felt himself tightening and pulled out. “Liz, I want . . .”

He rolled her beneath him, slid down her body, kissing, nipping, sucking, until he felt the dark, silken curls meet his face. Gently nudging her legs wider, he sank into the hot, moist recesses of her body and began to lave her folds, alternately plunging into that place where her juices and his mingled together, then teasing her taut bundle of nerves that caused ripples of pleasure to shoot through her body.

She grabbed at his hair and pushed against his mouth, gasping, sighing his name, almost a cry in her voice. Feeling the intensity of her arousal was straining Max’s own control to the breaking point. Just as he felt her begin to come against him, he drew himself up to take her mouth and slid into her orgasm as it crashed around him. He burst inside her immediately, thrilled at this new experience. He came and came, astounding himself and Liz with the ferocity and duration of his climax. His whole body was trembling as his sense of reality returned, and Liz pulled him down into her waiting arms, crooning soothing words of love. She was only now beginning to understand the depths of his despair and loneliness over the last few months. What had she done to this gentle soul?

They held each other for a long time, lost in a communal world of gratitude and love. They were finding each other again. They already had more than anyone could ask for. Nothing else could be as important as this.

Max felt Liz suppress a little shiver. “Are you cold?” he asked, concerned that he’d been so lost in his happiness, he’d forgotten how quickly Liz’s small body reacted to the cold.

“A little,” she confessed.

“Here.” He pulled the sleeping bag over her and reached for the thermos. “This should still be hot.”

He poured them both another cup of River Dog’s delicious brew and settled into the sleeping bag.

“I love you, Liz. With all my heart.”

“I know that, Max. I’m sorry I shut you out. We’re one. I can’t believe I forgot that.” She raised herself up on one arm and let her arm slide across his chest. As she leaned forward, her breast grazed his and they both sucked in their breath.

“Max,” she sighed, lowering herself to his mouth.

********

The sun was high in the sky when Liz moved languidly against Max’s warm body and opened her eyes. Reality dawned slowly, but when it came into focus, she sat straight up.

“Max!”

Max bolted upright next to her. “What? What?”

“Max, we were here all night! Eddie and Carmella must be frantic! How did we lose track of time like that?”

Max fell back against the sleeping bad. “Man, I have no idea. We should get back. When they find out we’re okay, they’ll be mad as hell.”

Liz snuggled against him. “I can hardly move,” she giggled. “What got into us?”

“I don’t know,” Max smiled, kissing her head, “but I hope it happens again sometime.”

Liz looked up at her husband, her lover, her best friend, and felt more at peace than she ever had.

“It will,” she promised. “I’ve been an idiot, Max. You are everything to me, and whether we have children or not, my life couldn’t be happier or more complete than to share it with you. I love you so much.” She gazed intently into his eyes, willing him to accept that she meant what she said. With his answering smile, she bent to kiss him. Suddenly, a strong presence imposed itself on their kiss, and they pulled away, staring at each other.

“What was that?” Liz asked.

“I don’t know,” Max puzzled. “I feel you so strongly when we kiss, but this time, it was like there was someone else there, too.”

Liz didn’t do it intentionally; she just reacted. Her hand slid to her abdomen and rubbed gently. Max followed her movement, and placed his hand over hers. There was an immediate jolt, a warmth, and the presence pressed against their connection once again.

Liz’s eyes were huge . . . and hopeful. Max looked again at the faintly glowing hands. Then he closed his eyes, and instead of repelling the presence, he sought it out. Pulling Liz closer to him, he began to grin. Liz followed his lead and searched her mind for it. There he was. Their son. As surely as they knew each other, they knew this new life.

Max opened his eyes to meet Liz’s, tears of joy running down her cheeks.

“Oh, Max!” They threw their arms around each other and held on tight, overwhelmed with love, relief, anticipation. It didn’t matter that they didn’t understand what had happened this night. Whatever power had seen fit to answer their prayers, they would accept its gift with full hearts.

********

Two days later on Thanksgiving morning, they pulled into the Evans’s driveway. They knew everyone would be here: the Parkers, Amy and Jim Valenti, Alex and (a pregnant) Isabel Whitman, Michael and Maria with their twins, Josh and Jasar, and even an engaged (finally!) Tess and Kyle. Liz had been secretly dreading the reunion. Too many happy couples, happy families. Now she knew that even without their wonderful news, she would have been content. Max was her home, her family, come what may. The fact that their son was on the way just deepened the joy she felt. She smiled happily at Max and reached for his hand. He took it and squeezed it gently.

“Are we ready?”

“We are so ready!” she beamed, leaning in for one last private kiss before the onslaught of well-wishers.

They opened the door to the Evans home and entered almost unnoticed. The noise, the smells, the happy chatter filled the house with a sense of family and love. And they belonged to it. So what if it was fraught with secrets and messiness and trials; it was theirs, and they wouldn’t trade it for another family in the world.

“Look who’s here!” cried Maria, hurling herself through the living room toward Liz.

A chorus of greetings and smiles came their way as they merged into the welcoming arms of family and friends. Philip made his way toward Max and Liz, handing each of them a glass of Chablis. Liz began to take a sip, then suddenly changed her mind and set the glass down. “None for me just now,” she said casually.

Philip raised his glass. “Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!”

“Yes, it is,” Liz agreed, a huge smile on her face.

“My, my. There’s a story behind that smile,” Nancy Parker speculated. “What is it?”

Their hands found each other, and they felt their son join their connection. “Oh, we might have a bit of news or two,” Max grinned.

posted on 16-Jul-2002 10:49:42 PM by Carol000
Title: Dreamer Holiday Series: Christmas

Author: Carol (spacemom)

Rating: PG

Setting: It's the Roswell you know EXCEPT Liz left Roswell in sixth grade, leaving a distraught Max behind. Now they're grown and destiny takes a hand.

Disclaimer: They aren't mine. Yadda yadda yadda.

Author's note: The holidays have dug deep into my Roswell time. I'm sorry this is out so late. I will try very hard to catch up on the stories I was following so faithfully until Thanksgiving. I have not abandoned you! In the meantime, I offer this little token of my affection to Dreamers who love the REAL Max and Liz. May they live forever in our hearts.
I am posting this one in two parts to avoid the "over 10-pages" ban, but they'll post one right after the other, so you don't have to wait. It's really meant to be a one-part story.

Part 1

Things would never be the same again.

Halloween night, his mother had passed away, the victim of a drunk driver. Now Max was filled with a deep melancholy that had a hold of his heart and was squeezing the very life out of him. It didn't matter that he hadn't lived home in years, that he had already published a best-selling sci-fi novel, or that representatives of Oprah, The Tonight Show, and Politically Incorrect had been trying to book him for appearances. All that mattered was that for the second time in his life, he'd lost his mother because of senseless violence in a world over which he had no control.

This had been the mother he knew and loved, and although he knew she loved him with all her heart, he also had to live with the fact that he'd never let her know him. He and Michael and Isabel had been so careful to keep their secret, so successful in blending into the society they had no choice but to embrace that no one had ever learned their secret. It had kept them safe . . . but alone. No amount of success, no circle of superficial friends, no family ties could wipe away the loneliness that kept them prisoners in their own secret world. What did it all mean? Why did they keep going through the motions? If he couldn't share himself with the woman who had kissed away the pain of a skinned knee, hugged him when the nightmares came, and cried when he'd left home for college, what was he doing on this planet? Suddenly, he was struck with the absurdity of it all. His life had no meaning.

In a desperate attempt to pull Max back from the dark place he had hidden himself, his father, Michael, and Isabel had chipped in to give him a Christmas cruise. Their love and support hadn't done the trick; Max needed to get outside himself, and a cruise seemed like the way to do it. So here he was, looking in awe at the mammoth ship that was supposed to represent his voyage to healing. The Infinity was perched high in the water, full of laughing people, luxurious appointments, and gleaming promise. Max dragged his unwilling legs forward. At least he could be alone here, away from well-meaning sympathy and empty solace. Here, he could hide.


********

Liz craned her neck to see the top of the enormous cruise ship Infinity. She had to admit, it was impressive. But she also knew this wasn't for her. Her proud parents had presented her with the cruise ticket at the small party they held when she received her doctorate, and she didn't have the heart to tell them it was just about the last thing she wanted to do.

Dr. Elizabeth Parker, at the top of her class in microbiology and headed for a tenure-track position at Cornell, was the product of the lavish but distant attention of her doting parents. When Liz's academic promise had emerged at an early age, they had devoted themselves to ensuring she had the best education money could buy, and they were certain it couldn't be found in little Roswell, New Mexico. So off she'd gone to the posh and pampered atmosphere of New England's Highcross School for Young Women, an academically demanding school where the brightest and richest girls in the country came to fulfill their parents' dreams. On partial scholarship, Liz had distinguished herself and was welcomed as an undergraduate at Boston College and a doctoral candidate at Yale. It had been a focused, if solitary, life, but she had never had room for fun or close friends . . . or love.

Liz had spent her whole life working single-mindedly toward this one goal. Now that she had accomplished it, she felt no satisfaction, no sense of purpose. Too late, she wondered why she had worked so hard to get here, when she wasn’t even sure “here” is where she wanted to be. There were times she had escaped to the ocean to watch the boats in the harbor bouncing and swaying with the waves, only to see herself, lost on a sea of uncertainty, no direction, no purpose, only going wherever she was pushed. She couldn’t put a name to the sense of emptiness she felt in her very soul, nor could she frame words to express it. So she kept it to herself.

Once or twice, in a half-hearted attempt to fill the void, she had pursued a relationship with one of the nondescript students who had crossed her path, but it had never gone anywhere. Her heart wasn't in it. Her thoughts always flashed back to a boy she knew as a child--a dark, mysterious boy who had always looked at her with such intensity, as if he were trying to tell her something desperately important and she was the only one he could tell–it always took her breath away. It did even now. Inexplicably, that boy still haunted her, and over the years, as the many boys and then men would look at her with interest and sometimes longing, she could feel nothing. She could only see that face.

Perhaps sensing this very problem, her parents had suddenly undertaken to thrust their beautiful and brilliant daughter into the world. It was time to come out from behind that tree and grab a slice of life. She had the degree, the secure job–now she needed a man. And what better place to meet one than a Christmas cruise!

Liz wasn't so enthused. Besides, she had no experience with men and no interest in leaving the safe haven of academia. But to refuse their offer would have created more problems than it solved, so she acquiesced, as she always did. She had no intention of meeting a man, though. She only wanted space between her and the anxious, hopeful faces of her parents as they saw her off.

Liz sighed and bent to grab the handle of her luggage. Trudging toward the massive ship, she almost welcomed the sense of disappearing into its great hollow shell. At least she could hide here for a while. She knew no one, and ten days of peace, lost in her own thoughts, would be a welcome refuge.

********

Liz would have opted for dinner in her cabin, had that service been available the first night, but guests were informed as they boarded that dinner was informal and only in the dining room this evening. Slipping quietly into the noisy but elegant room, she spied a table for two against the far wall, and when the maitre d’ had turned away to seat a shaky elderly couple, she seized her chance and headed for what looked like guaranteed privacy.

Moments later, Max appeared in the doorway.

“Monsieur? Are you waiting for your dinner companion?” The maitre d’ looked down the hall behind the striking young man, confident that he awaited an equally striking young woman.

“I’m alone, thank you,” Max answered stiffly. “And I’d prefer to eat alone, if that’s possible.”

The maitre d’ frowned. Alone? That was simply unnatural. He scanned the landscape with a practiced eye and straightened with surprise when he spotted a beautiful young woman alone at a table for two.

“This way, please,” he nodded, smiling smugly to himself.

To Max’s chagrin, the maitre d’ stopped at an out-of-the-way table and held out the chair. Max looked reluctantly at the woman sitting in the opposite seat, already forming his excuses for a quick getaway when his eyes met hers. His breath hitched in his throat as he fell headlong into the largest, most beautiful chocolate eyes he had ever seen. Memories of eyes just like that slammed through him, flooding him with images of a tiny, delicate girl from his childhood—a girl who had spoken volumes to him during the timid, painful years of elementary school. No, they had never had so much as a conversation, but he had always felt her soul deep within him whenever he looked at her, had felt that he had finally found someone to trust, to care for. And then she had left, forever. But that face, that soul had lived in him ever since.

Liz’s reaction was no less dramatic. Behind the handsome, brooding face of the dark stranger loomed traces of the boy who still haunted her dreams. She had been looking for that face again her whole life, all the while knowing she would never find it. Now he stood before her, an inexplicable reminder of what she didn’t have, could never have. She felt powerfully drawn to him and yet terrified by him at the same time. Frozen by images of childhood ghosts, she could only gape.

Max saw her uncertainty. It decided his struggle between his unthinkable impulse to know her—intimately—and the familiar instinct to retreat.

“I . . . I’m not really hungry.”

He turned to leave, and in an instant Liz felt relief turn to panic. He was leaving! Before she could speak, the irrepressible maitre d’ imposed his will.

“Oh, Monsieur, no! We have such delicacies to offer, and surely you would not leave this beautiful young woman to eat here alone. Who knows who might insinuate himself against her wishes. You must stay and see she is treated properly, yes?”

Max fixed his eyes on hers again, the question obvious.

Liz smiled shakily. “Please, join me,” she heard herself say.

Max visibly relaxed and took his seat. The happy maitre d’ snapped his fingers and a waiter appeared.

“These are my special guests, Miguel. Take good care of them.” Smiling broadly at the stunning couple, he gave them a formal nod and hurried away to attend to the next guests.

“I’m sorry,” Max began awkwardly. “I think you wanted to be alone.”

“So did you,” Liz responded, knowing it was true.

Max’s eyes flashed guilt for having been so transparent. “I, uh, I guess I’m more readable than I thought. I’m just here for some peace and quiet.”

At Liz’s raised eyebrows, Max cursed himself for being so rude. “I mean, not that I’m not glad to be here . . . eating with you. I just meant . . .”

A musical sound floated across the table and Max realized Liz was laughing. At him. At what he’d said. What had he said? Suddenly, all he could do was focus on those heavenly lips and wonder at the lyrical sound coming from just behind them. He wanted to touch those lips. He wanted to make her make that sound again.

The lips were forming words.

“What?” He felt stupider by the minute.

“I said, my name is Liz. Liz Parker.”

“Max Evans. As soon as I take my foot out of my mouth, I’m sure I can manage some actual conversation. All evidence to the contrary, I do speak English.”

It worked! There was that sound again! And then he smiled, and it was Liz’s turn to lose focus. She thought she had never seen anything so perfect. Full lips, straight white teeth, a dimple just off to one side. His tongue snaked out to moisten nervous, dry lips, and her mouth when dry at the sight.

What was happening to her? She had never reacted to anyone this way before. Maybe it was the resemblance to that little boy who had become her symbol for the perfect man, the man she knew couldn’t really exist. But here he was, licking his lips and asking a question. A question.

“What?”

Max laughed. He’d never had so much trouble talking to anyone, and yet he felt completely comfortable.

“Maybe we should start over,” he teased. “My name’s Max, I write books, and I’m on this cruise to just get away for a while.”

“Hi, Max. I’m Liz. I’ve just finished a lifetime of schooling, and I’m on this cruise to avoid starting an actual job.”

They laughed together, both at peace with the lack of any concrete information. Neither wanted to share too much right now. They just wanted to enjoy the magic that had sparked between them—a momentary mystery they didn’t want to solve.

They shared inconsequential chatter through their delectable meal, making it last as long as they possibly could. Finally, they couldn’t postpone the inevitable any longer. The dishes had been cleared away and they rose to leave. Liz felt like Cinderella hearing the bells chime midnight. Her handsome prince would soon be a precious memory.

The veil fell over her features, and Max ached to see it. She was closed to him again, and he had learned nothing important about her. Nothing except he wanted to be with her again. He felt his soul and his body stir in a way it had never done before, and the sense of recognition tugged at his mind. There was something about her.

“Liz?” he began.

“Thank you, Max, for a lovely dinner. Good night.”

She turned and walked away, biting her lip as the feeling of emptiness pushed aside the warm, welcome feeling that had filled her for the last two hours. But this was make believe. He was a writer from the western part of the U.S. She was an assistant professor of microbiology in the northeast. They shared a meal on a glamorous ship in a vast ocean under a romantic moon. It was a fairytale. Nothing more.

Under that moon, two lonely souls stared from tiny balconies into the distant stars—one wishing she could escape into them, one cursing that he had ever been there.

********

"Madame Natasha" fought off the malaise that had settled over her during the last few months. Doing "shows" for the carefree patrons of a cruise line was never how she foresaw using her gifts, but there had been bills to pay and it was more money than she had ever earned before, so she determinedly ignored the self-imposed cries of "Fraud!" that tortured her thoughts and gave the people what they wanted. Most of it was mindless showmanship. Only rarely did she actually feel something real and vibrant during these sessions. She lived for those moments.

In her real life as Gloria Matinkas, she had long ago accepted her abilities to sense others’ feelings, to read their auras, and to know before anyone else what was about to happen. Her mother had had that gift, and she saw signs of it in her own young daughter. But in a world fraught with charlatans and free 5-minute readings, her gifts had remained largely unrecognized. She knew she had to either take a regular job in the local grocery store or jump on the psychic bandwagon. Welcome to the Infinity.

She surveyed the passengers as they drifted into the room, most talking animatedly, some eyeing her skeptically. Her eyes fell on a young brunette woman who entered tentatively and hid herself at a rear table. She wore her gray, troubled aura like a shroud, and Gloria could sense how lost she was. An emptiness pervaded her whole being, a hopelessness that no one that young should feel.

Madame Natasha rose to begin her greeting when a latecomer appeared in the doorway. His aura was the most unusual she had ever seen–almost electrical, magnetic–and there was an unrecognizable element to the vibrations he sent out. He was different in a way she couldn't really explain. He wasn't frightening, though. She felt good in him, and great sadness. Her senses were on high alert, her curiosity piqued.

She watched him scan the room as if searching for someone. His eyes lit on the young woman Gloria had been watching, and she gasped at the electricity the sparked between them. They held that gaze for an eternity, and Gloria realized she was holding her breath. This was the strongest connection she had ever felt, including the many couples she had watched come together back in the old neighborhood.

To her surprise, the young man made his way slowly to a separate table and sat down, keeping constant eye contact with the beautiful woman. Mesmerized, Gloria just watched until a restlessness in the crowd drew her attention away. No matter. Audiences expected her to be spacey. It added to her mystique.

With one eye on the highly charged couple in the back of the room, Gloria began to weave her spell over the crowd, setting a mood of romance and intrigue. She told them how she felt two strong and distinct vibrations in the room this night, and that she could feel them trying to find each other. As she adjusted to the startling intensity that had swept through her as soon as they looked at each other, more detail about them filtered into her mind.

"Is there a woman here who comes from quite a distance?–New England, I believe. You are well educated and successful. But . . . you've been separated from your family. Who here recognizes this?"

They waited in silence. No one responded. Madame Natasha smiled.

"Apparently, we can add shy to the list, too." She began to stroll slowly through the maze of tables, following a seemingly random path. As she neared Liz, she stopped and stared at her.

"It is you, isn't it?"

Liz was a deer caught in the headlights. She shook her head unconvincingly.

"What is your name?"

"Liz."

"Where do you live, my dear?"

"Uh, Connecticut."

"And you have a college degree? Perhaps a masters?"

"Doctorate," she whispered.

Madame Natasha beamed. "It is you, just as I said. Now to find him–the heart that beats in time with yours."

She resumed her meandering. "There is a man in this room whose heart belongs with this young woman. I've rarely felt such a strong connection between two people. But something is getting in the way—perhaps they themselves are fighting it. He is a man with secrets, but a good man. He has been searching for his destined mate. He wonders if perhaps he's found her.”

She peered expectantly at another young man, knowing how to keep an audience engaged. She raised her eyebrows at him and he squirmed uncomfortably.

“I’m married,” he choked, taking his wife’s hand. The last thing he needed was for his wife to think he’d been fantasizing about another passenger! "And I don't have secrets!" He glanced at his wife nervously.

“It is not you,” Madame Natasha agreed. “But you are hoping to share some romance with her later, are you not?”

The man blushed and the audience chuckled.

Gloria was struggling to maintain her performance persona; the powerful force between the two people she’d been watching was threatening her equilibrium; it was hard to focus on anything else. As casually as possible, she made her way toward the handsome young man. She could tell he was at war with himself: he didn’t want to be singled out, but he was fascinated by her recognition of the strange magnetism between Liz Parker and himself.

He could feel his heart racing when she stopped in front of him. She gave him a long, lingering look.

“What is your name?”

Hesitation. “Max.”

“Max, do you know Liz?”

“We just met yesterday.”

“But you feel you already know her, don’t you? You feel a kinship, an old recognition, yes?”

Max froze. What should he say? He didn’t want to scare Liz, but maybe if she knew he felt something . . . old . . . between them . . . “Yes, I do.”

An undercurrent of whispering welled up in the room, then ebbed as the onlookers watched for what would happen next. All eyes fell on Liz.

She sat still as stone for several seconds, eyes riveted on Max. Then suddenly, she rose and bolted from the room. Max’s face drained of color.

“Damn it!” he muttered under his breath and ran after her.

Madame Natasha smiled. “The road is often bumpy,” she crooned knowingly. “Now, who here has recently lost a loved one?”

TO BE CONTINUED ON NEXT POST

posted on 16-Jul-2002 10:51:11 PM by Carol000
********

Max found Liz braced against the railing, her hands gripping the cool metal like a lifeline.

“Liz?” Max approached her slowly, cautiously, as he used to do with the rabbits in his yard at home, convinced that at any minute, she would run from him. She looked at him with such sadness, he longed to hold her and tell her that it would be all right.

“Liz, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have put you in that position.” She didn’t run. She just stood there, looking at him with questions in her eyes.

“It’s true, though, what Madame Natasha said. I do feel like I know you. I know it sounds crazy, but you remind me of someone—someone I knew as a child who meant a great deal to me. When I look at you, I see her . . .” He faltered. Her face had turned darker, almost afraid.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, and turned to leave her alone. Why hadn’t that damn maitre d’ just seated him alone as he’d asked?

“Max, wait!” He barely heard her above the whoosh of ocean as the huge ship plowed through its depths. He turned back to see her eyes pleading with him, and took a step back to the railing.

“I’m sorry, too, Max. I’ve been terribly rude. Believe it or not, you remind me of someone from my youth as well.” She smiled wistfully. “When I was very young, a boy at my school used to watch me every day. We never spoke, but he would look at me with these beautiful, intense eyes, as if he had something so important to tell me.” She smiled up at him shyly. “Eyes like yours, actually. And it made me feel special—not loved, exactly, we were only 9, but . . . needed. Somehow in my mind, I came to feel a connection to him, like he was going to be important in my life, and when I look at you, I see his face, and . . .” She shook her head in embarrassment and chuckled nervously. “I must sound like an idiot.”

When Max didn’t answer, Liz wished a hole would open up in the ship’s deck and swallow her. How could she have said those things?! Berating herself, she looked up with another apology on her lips. His expression silenced her. He was staring at her in utter disbelief.

“Liz, where did you grow up?”

“Roswell. That’s in New Mexico.”

His face transformed from shock to excitement. “Liz, I’m from Roswell. How old are you?”

“Twenty-seven.”

“I'm twenty-eight, but I started school a year late,” he whispered.

They looked at each other for an eternity, each wondering if it were possible that the image that they had kept safe from the world since childhood had materialized before their eyes. The intensity they had shared as children sprang to life between them once more, a silent, certain communication that told them all they needed to know—for now. There was no awkwardness or hesitation as Max reached up to cradle Liz’s amazed face in his hands. There was no question in Max’s heart as Liz closed her eyes in silent invitation. He leaned forward and almost reverently touched his lips to hers. He could feel her respond, and they knew. They were home.

Part two posting momentarily!

Part 2

There were no advice columns on a courtship like this. It was just plain strange. On the one hand, they’d known each other their whole lives—in a way. Their souls certainly knew each other, and they finally felt a peace that had escaped them for all these years. On the other hand, they hadn’t seen each other in 16 years, and so knew very little practical detail about the other’s life. And then, of course, there was the matter of Max’s secret. That was an obstacle he didn't dare face yet. As things were, they couldn’t bear to part, and yet they weren’t quite ready to share a cabin either.

So it was that the ship’s Captain, taking his usual late-night stroll around the top deck of the ship, found the two wedged into a deck chair, covered in pool towels, sound asleep. He stopped for a moment and gazed at them, wondering what story had brought them here. If they’d come on board together, they’d be in their cabin. Yet they’d only been at sea for 24 hours—a very short time for a love affair to blossom. He looked at their faces. They were extraordinarily attractive people, but what struck him was the look of supreme contentment on their faces. He smiled happily. He enjoyed seeing the effects of a cruise on his passengers. He would enjoy keeping an eye on this couple.

The chilly breeze brought his mind to more practical matters. He could see the goose bumps on the woman’s arms. He touched her lightly and she started, rousing Max at the same time.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, sir, but it’s getting quite cool out here. I imagine you’d be more comfortable in your cabin . . . er, cabins.”

Liz sat up, embarrassed. “Yes, of course. I’m sorry, Captain.” Max sat up beside her, then stood quickly, helping Liz to her feet. The Captain took note of the protective way he slid his sport coat around her shoulders and then pulled her to him.

“Not at all,” the Captain said reassuringly. “I just don’t want you to get sick and miss out on all the fun we have planned this week. Christmas in just two days, you know!” He gave them a quick wave and hurried off.

“Liz, I’m sorry,” Max apologized. “You must be freezing.” He pulled her closer and rubbed his hand up and down her arm.

“Don’t apologize, Max. I’m a big girl. I could have left anytime. I . . . I just didn’t want to.” She smiled at him, and he took in the vision before him. The bright moon reflected in her eyes, her hair, her skin. She was glowing, and he gave in easily to his impulse. Sliding his fingers through her hair, he drew her to him, indulging in a long, lingering kiss. He was careful not to demand too much too quickly, and he broke it off as soon as he felt himself falling too deeply into her. He could get carried away so easily.

Buoyed by her slight whimper when he released her mouth, he smiled and slipped his arm around her. “Let me walk you home,” he offered. “What’s your cabin number?”

“947.”

“Really? I’m 931. We’re not too far apart.” He grinned at her. “Isn’t that nice?”

“Very,” she smiled back.

It was hard to watch her disappear into her room, but Max felt better than he’d felt in years, and definitely better that he’d felt since his mother’s death. A sense of hope began to sprout in his barren heart, and it put a bounce in his step.

Liz, too, hated to close the door on Max. She had never felt so comfortable with anyone, or so close—especially with a man. She whistled as she got ready for bed, and drifted off happily.

That’s when the dreams started.

********

She was playing on the playground after school and saw the boy watching her from the blacktop near the parking lot. They exchanged a long look, but as usual, made no move toward each other. It comforted her to see him there; she had grown to expect it, and for some reason, it gave her a sense of security.

“Liz!” her friend Maria called. “Come hold one end of the jump rope!”

Liz had looked back briefly at the boy and turned to walk toward her friend. Someone had told her his name was Max, but they never seemed to be in the same class, and she knew very little about him. She wondered why he showed such an interest in her, but never doubted that it was a good thing.

She looked over again and was startled to see he was gone. Her eyes searched the schoolyard but there was no sign of him.

“Jennifer, take over,” she mumbled, handing off the jump rope to a friend. Wandering toward the school, a movement caught her eye. There he was, under a tree on the edge of the school property, squatting over something on the ground. She came up behind him, curious about what was holding his rapt attention. Over his shoulder, she saw him touching a wounded bird. His hand began to glow and, seconds later, the bird took flight. He rose, watching the bird soar with a satisfied smile on his face—until he turned around to find Liz staring at him in something akin to horror.

She opened her mouth to scream but nothing came out.


Liz sat bolt upright in bed, panting heavily. Pushing her hair back from her face, she felt her hand trembling. That was no dream. It was a memory. Or was it? Confused, Liz reached for her robe and stepped onto her small balcony. She had seen that as a child, hadn’t she? It felt like a memory, but it couldn’t be. It was too wild. And she had spent the whole evening with Max and hadn’t felt anything strange or dangerous about him. Even Madame Natasha had said they’d been searching for each other.

Get a grip, Liz! she scolded herself. Since when do you believe in psychics?

Feeling the chill, in spite of her robe, Liz eased back into her stateroom. Eventually, she drifted back into a restless sleep.

********

The next morning, Max awoke in a wonderful mood. Christmas Eve! He dressed carefully and half jogged down to Liz’s stateroom, knocking confidently. No answer. He tried again with the same result. Thinking she was in the shower, he leaned self-consciously against the wall for several minutes, nodding to the couples and families headed out for breakfast. Trying again, he reluctantly concluded she was an early riser and was already out and about on the ship.

He cruised quickly through the two most popular breakfast restaurants with no luck. Soon he was striding purposefully around the pool deck, the top deck with the walking/jogging track, and the main lobby. Nothing.

Growing worried he began to peek in the quieter, more private areas. As he passed the glass-enclosed computer room, he saw the top of a brown-haired head. He knew instantly it was Liz. Coming around the edge of the carrel, he saw her taking a disk from the computer.

“Liz?”

She looked up, startled. “Max! Hi, I was just . . . I . . . You’re up early.”

Max frowned. What had happened between last night and this morning to change everything?

“I hoped we could have breakfast together.”

“Breakfast? Oh, you know, I . . . uh, I guess I’m not used to the sea yet. I’m just not feeling well enough to eat. In fact, I think I’ll lie down for a while. Maybe I’ll see you later.”

With that, she grabbed her belongings and hurried from the room, leaving Max confused and more than a little upset.

Not again, he vowed. I’m not losing her again.

With uncharacteristic boldness, Max went after her, racing the length of the ship to reach her cabin before she did. Waiting in a small recessed doorway, he popped out to meet her as she arrived at her door.

“Liz, we need to talk.”

“Max, really, I’m not feeling well . . .”

“You’re feeling fine, Liz. Something happened since we said goodnight last night that changed how you feel. I’d like to know what that is.” He touched her arm as she turned away. “Please.”

Just his touch did things to Liz. In spite of her resolve, she looked up into his anxious face and dissolved. There it was, the feeling of being home, the sense of rightness about being with him, the certainty about all she had felt last night. She sighed heavily.

“Let’s talk.”

She led him into the small room, and he followed her to the loveseat by the balcony door. She began without preamble.

“Max, last night I had a dream. Only I think it was more of a memory than a dream. We were back on the school playground after school, and I was playing with my friends and you were watching, as you so often did.” She smiled at the memory, in spite of what was coming. Max shifted uncomfortably. “I looked over once and you weren’t there. I was surprised and came looking for you. I think I was ready to actually talk to you. But when I found you, I saw you touch a wounded bird with a glowing hand, and then it flew off.”

She stopped, but he didn’t respond.

“Was that a memory or a dream, Max, because it really feels like a memory. I think I was scared of you after that, and we never talked again before I went away to school. But the memory of you has been with me every day since then, and somehow, the memory of you was good, very good. Help me understand, Max. What happened that day?”

Max sat immobile, searching her eyes as if looking for the answer to her question there. Liz’s heart almost broke when she saw a tear form in the corner of his eye and spill onto his cheek. Without thinking, she reached to wipe it away, only to gasp when he reached up suddenly and grabbed her wrist. Finally he spoke. He said the last thing she expected to hear.

“I think I love you, Liz.”

Speechless at first, Liz could only stare, wondering why it was that his declaration didn’t shock or upset her. Then it filtered through on a practical level, and all she could say was, “What?”

Max heaved a heartrending sigh, and reached for Liz’s other hand. Even in the midst of her confusion, the electricity of his touch caused her to shudder. It felt so right. Liz looked into the eyes of this man who she trusted so easily, cared for after so little time. It wasn’t really a decision. Her heart wanted to know.

“Tell me, Max,” she coaxed. “I’m sorry about before. I was scared, but I’m ready now. Tell me.”

“Liz, your dream was a memory—a memory I thought I had buried long ago. That day at school, I did heal a bird, and you were frightened, and I saw a look on your face I never wanted to see in my life. You weren’t just scared, you were horrified. You looked at me like I was a freak. It was my worst nightmare come true. The next night, I climbed your fire escape and snuck into your room while you were sleeping, and I took that memory away. I knew then that I could never tell you about me, but I could at least keep you from hating me. When you went away to school, I cried myself to sleep for weeks, but I finally realized it was for the best. I guess meeting me again just brought it all back.”

Liz stared, trying to process all that he’d told her. “But how, Max? How did you heal the bird? How did you make a memory go away? I still don't understand.”

Max knew his decision had been made the minute he realized who she was. It was only a matter of time. He couldn’t help but trust the soul he felt when he touched her; he had to believe the caring he found in those eyes.

“I want you to know everything, Liz. I want you to see it. Will you let me show it to you?”

She nodded mutely.

“I have to touch you.”

Another nod.

Gently, Max took her wide-eyed face into his hands, letting his fingers slide through her silken hair as his thumbs traced the delicate cheekbones. “Look into my eyes and just let your mind blank out.”

Instantly, Liz was transported through the unbelievable highlights of Max’s life—pods, Michael, Isabel, discovering powers, the fear, the secrecy, the joy in his heart whenever he was in the vicinity of Liz Parker, the sense of loss when she left, the anguish of his mother’s death, the loneliness.

Max lowered his hands and waited. He could see the whole reel replaying in Liz’s mind, leaving her almost in a trance. Her eyes were huge, her lips were parted, her breathing irregular. Finally, Max stood. “I’ve given you a lot to think about, Liz. Whatever you decide about us, I’ll respect it. But Liz . . .”

Her eyes finally rose to meet his. “There are those who would kill to know about me. My life is in your hands.”

He turned and left, leaving Liz gaping at the closed door.

********

It was the worst day of Max’s life. Worse than the day Liz left Roswell in sixth grade. Worse than the day Max found out the FBI alien-hunting unit was in town. Even worse than the day his mother died. He had no control over those events. This time, he’d brought it on himself, and his future happiness, maybe even his future existence depended on what Liz was thinking.

She was nowhere to be found at lunch, not that he could eat any food. She didn’t come up to take a swim. She wasn’t in the observation lounge when the helicopter came to take a sick passenger off. And she wasn’t walking on the upper deck. Even the Captain noticed; the nervous young man he’d found in the lounge chair late one night was without his companion and obviously in a bad way.

The turbulent aura was a dead giveaway to Madame Natasha, too. On Max's seventh lap around the deck, Gloria couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Max, isn’t it?” she asked, falling into step with him.

“Yes,” Max answered absently. “Do I know you?”

She laughed. “I’m ‘Madame Natasha,’ only without the wild get-up and the two pounds of make-up. Please call me Gloria."

Max made an attempt at a smile.

"Your aura tells me you're in turmoil, Max. I won't pry, but I couldn't stand by and watch you suffer." She stopped and turned toward him, willing him to believe her. "Max, you two have something special. Trust it. It will turn out all right."

"How?"

"I don't know. It's a mystery. I guess that's what faith is all about."

"Mama!" A little dark-haired girl ran toward them, and Max watched as Gloria turned to sweep her into a big hug. Suddenly, Max was picturing Liz sweeping their little dark-haired girl into her arms, smiling that beautiful smile and laughing. A sense of calm came over him.

"Thanks, Gloria. I hope you're right." She winked at him and walked off with her little girl.

Max changed into a swimsuit instead of going down to dinner. He needed to work off some nervous energy. Besides, the jazz band that played softly at one end of the pool deck and the brilliant sunset to the west set a calming mood. Pulling off his t-shirt, he stretched like a cat, anxious to relieve the tension that bunched every muscle in his body. Muscles flexed in his shoulders, stomach, and thighs, each sinewy fiber defined. Every pair of eyes on deck stopped to admire him, but he was oblivious. All he could see was Liz's face looming in front of him, sometimes smiling, sometimes closed and fearful. Which face would she turn to him when he saw her next?

Slicing through the water with barely a ripple, Max dove into the pool and began to swim laps. His rapt audience could only stare appreciatively. Powerful arms pulled him through the water like he was born to it; muscular legs worked fluidly to propel him forward. After several laps, he pulled his dripping body from the pool and reached for a towel, covering his face. The darkness welcomed him, and he stood motionless like that for several moments.

Sighing, he lowered the towel, blinking against the last bright rays of the sunset. As his eyes adjusted, he saw Liz standing in front of him. Almost afraid to believe she was really there, he reached for her tentatively.

"Liz?"

"I should have expected science fiction. Now I want to know if it's autobiographical science fiction."

He looked down to see her holding a copy of his first book, Hiding in the Open.

"Where did you get that?" he stuttered.

"Our ship's library is surprisingly large," she smiled. "I've been reading all day. I decided I would learn a lot about you by reading one of your books. And I think I did. Now answer my question."

Max looked deep into her eyes, still unsure of how this was going. Then he thought back to that first book that all but documented his arrival on the planet with Michael and Isabel, and the dangerous lives they had lived ever since.

"It's almost entirely autobiographical, Liz."

He held his breath, anticipating her next words. He watched every flicker of her eyes, every muscle in her face until she spoke.

"You're amazing," she sighed, tenderly stroking his cheek. He let his breath out with a moan and swept her into his arms, lifting her right out of her sandals. His lips were on hers, burning with a sudden flood of love, desire, passion. The collective sigh from around the pool was lost on both of them; as far as they were concerned, they were alone on this fragile island of happiness.

Max realized he was shaking, and it wasn't just because the sun had disappeared beyond the horizon. It was shock and relief and elation that all his hopes and dreams were coming true right in front of him. But maybe he had presumed too much. Acceptance isn't love, he reminded himself.

Setting Liz down, he examined her flushed face. "You must have questions."

She laughed out loud. "About a million. But they can wait . . . for a while, at least."

This time she launched herself at him, taking him completely by surprise. Losing his balance, they both fell with a giant splash into the pool, emerging amidst sputters and laughter. Groping their way out of the water, the passengers who had been enjoying this wonderful scene broke into enthused applause. The Captain paused on his way to the bridge, looking down toward the pool to see what the laughter and applause was all about. Seeing the happy couple in a soggy embrace, he winked at Gloria Matinkas. He'd heard about the performance she'd given the night before, and he could see that her pleased smile was heartfelt.

"Our first success of the voyage," he chuckled.

"Indeed," she nodded, watching the glorious aura that now surrounded the happy couple. "And it's only the beginning."

********

Later that night, having celebrated with an intimate dinner together in Max's cabin, Max and Liz strolled under a star-studded sky.

"Look, Mommy!" they heard a little boy say. "It's the Christmas star!"

They all looked up at the bright, twinkling star that dominated the sky.

"Actually, that's home," Max whispered into Liz's ear. Just the vibration of his voice and the warmth of his breath on her cool skin filled Liz with erotic ideas.

"No, Max. I'll show you where home really is." She began to tug at his hand, turning them toward the elevators. The surprise on his face made her giggle. She sighed, pulling him toward her. The moment her lips met his, she felt the electricity filling her, making her whole body tremble. She was falling headlong into Max Evans, and there was nothing in the world she wanted more.

"Merry Christmas, Max," Liz panted softly.

"And a lifetime of Happy New Years," he whispered.


THAT'S IT! Look for these and the other two at Repost. Bye!


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 16-Jul-2002 10:54:25 PM ]