posted on 23-Jul-2002 8:33:34 PM by ShayParkerEvans
Title: These Perfect Stars
Author: Me! Shay!
Rating: Anywhere from G to R
Category: AU M/L (K/T also, may have M/M and A/I)
Disclaimer: My idea, my story. Characters and such ain't mine. I'm just a 16-year old girl! Wahh!
Summary: Our gang grows up together, and this is their story along the way. Aliens still aliens except for Tess.

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Part 1

2011

It's interesting…how much a life can change in just 28 years. Twenty-eight…seems like such a long time and goes by with the snap of a finger. Or the spin of a tire swing. That's something I'd be much more familiar with.

1988

"Elizabeth Renee Parker! You get in here this instant!"

Maria looked at me and we stood up at the same time. I was in big trouble for something. But Maria was here…my best friend, she'd stick by me while I got yelled at.

I turned around to smile a thanks at her, but she was running home. She stuck around, all right.

My mom came outside through the door and I really hoped she'd wait until we both got inside to yell at me. Public humiliation wasn't my favorite thing.

"Look at you! You're five years old and you're playing in the mud. I swear, I thought I gave birth to a little girl. Looks like I was mistaken."

I cringed. I was actually very dirty, but it was an accident! Who would have known that making mud pies would get you so dirty?

Apparently she realized that I was sorry, because her eyes get a little softer and she took my hand to lead me inside. Public humiliation slightly avoided.

I cast a glance around my enormous backyard. Everyone else was gone or eating dinner. I'm pretty sure that nobody heard anything. Except maybe Maria. Traitor.

I live in Roswell New Mexico, the same house my entire life. It was almost scary, how much my life when I was a little kid resembled a movie. We all lived in the same subdivision, actually all lived right next door to each other. Well, all of us except Kyle. He and his dad lived closer to the Sheriff's station for convenience. Since we were all the same age, our parents never bothered in putting up fences. They figured we'd have a lot more fun if we could all just play together in a huge backyard we could share. Like a park, I guess.

The Evans' had a pool, Maria's house had kind of playhouse monkey bar type thing, Alex's house had the video games, Michael's house had the sports stuff for the boys, Tess' house had the dolls and makeup for the girls, and my house had the tire swing and the food. I'm almost sure that our parents worked it out that way, but they deny it to this day. Oh well, no important thing.

Like I said, it was just like a movie. Seven kids with this perfect life and perfect houses with a big green grass backyard. Now, it's hysterical to me.

I keep mentioning this group of 'us.' You have no idea who I'm talking about.

Maria Deluca. She was my absolute best friend in every way. I'd been friends with her since I was crawling around in diapers. She was a wild one though, kind of panicky. Michael loved to call her spaz. She hated it of course. She had blond hair that had a little curl to it, but you never really saw it because she kept it a little above her shoulders. Her green eyes always reminded me of our back yard, so I guess that's one of the reasons he just always felt like home to me.

Alex Whitman. My other best friend, totally goofy and awkward. He wasn't all that great in the sports, dodgeball seemed to be his favorite, but he was so smart that nobody ever made fun of him. I guess they figured he'd be famous someday or something.

Michael Guerin. His spiky hair used to drive me absolutely insane. His mom was constantly trying to get him to fix it, his dad said it made him look tough and like a man. Being a boy, which parent do you think he listened to?

Tess Harding. Her blond hair, curly or straight, always reminded me why I liked my dark hair. I don't know what it was, it's not that it was ugly… it was just… I'm still not very sure what it was. That girl has so many personalities I still haven't got them all down pat. She's like ten different people rolled into one. It can be frustrating, but it makes her more interesting.

Max and Isabel Evans. They were the only ones of us that had siblings, but since it was each other it was okay. It's odd how none of us ever had any other brothers or sisters. Maybe our parents figured out movie life was too perfect to mess up. If they did we'll never know. They keep everything among themselves.

Anyway, Isabel. Her blond hair always made me want it. The perfect way she walked, talked, even drank her milk reminded me of the Barbies we played with.

Max. I'm not sure how to describe Max. He was always so quiet when we were that age that I was never sure what to think of him. That boy had layers. Layers upon layer upon layers that you had to break through. But it was worth it. Definitely worth it.

The different thing about Max, Michael, and Isabel though, is that their parents aren't their real parents. All three of them were adopted at the same time, three years old. So, that would make it two years ago when our parents massed together to plan our entire lives with each other.

My parents owned the Crashdown, a restaurant in town that they always told me I would work at someday. When I was little I couldn't wait for the day. The aqua uniforms and silver antennae looked so awesome. I figured if I got to wear an outfit like that, then I wouldn't mind the work.

Little kids are such dorks.

Anyway, my mom cleaned me up and sent me to bed. I had a telescope in my room, but I wasn't old enough to make it work right. My dad had tried to explain it to me but I just couldn't understand it at that age. So until I got a little older, they stuck a million glow in the dark stars on my ceiling. The next best thing, I suppose.

Stars were always fascinating to me. Science was another thing that I couldn't seem to get enough of, but the stars and the sky…just capture me in a way I could never explain. Even the little plastic cheap ones on my white ceiling. The ones that are green, when everyone knows stars aren't green.

Maria didn't like them as much as I did. She said they kept her awake at night when she slept over. How the tiny things that gave off no light whatsoever kept her awake, I'll never know. And judging by the way she snored, I'm positive she was lying.

So this one night, after making mud pies, and lying in bed staring at my stars, and still not falling asleep, I decided that I was five years old. I was big and brave and what the heck…I was gonna go for it.
My bedroom window led out to the ledge over our porch, and I'd always wondered what it would be like to sit out there and look at the real stars. The ones that twinkled, not glowed. The roof didn't slope or anything, it was perfect to sit on.

So I grabbed my blanket, my flashlight, and my book on constellations, and out the window I went. If I hadn't been so scared for my life my ego probably would have jumped by leaps and bounds. I had just done what no five-year old had done before.

It was kind of cold…I lived in the desert after all…nothing that a blanket couldn't fix. But looking up at the sky, the constellation book didn't seem very exciting any longer. So I threw it down and laid down on my back, wrapping the blanket around me, a perfect view of this perfect sky on the perfect night.

A lot of things were perfect when I was little.

The moon was missing that night, which made the stars more important in my opinion. I didn't like the moon too much, it always tried to take all of the attention of the sky. Everyone knows stars are more important, prettier. And don't even get me started on the sun. Nighttime was definitely the best.

I laid for a few minutes until whispers from the ground brought me into a sitting position. Looking directly across my big green yard I saw Max and Isabel camped out on a couple blankets of their own, looking up at the stars. They didn't notice me, they were so intrigued by the sky. More so than I was, which I had thought until that point was impossible. They weren't loud enough for me to hear, but they just kept pointing up and whispering. Maybe they knew a few constellations of their own. That'd be awesome.

A few minutes later Michael joined them. He brought his own blanket and the three of them just sat and stared. They talked a little bit, nothing I could hear. It was their faces though that intrigued my small self.
It wasn't just a beautiful sky to them with twinkling stars that they loved, like it was with me. It was some kind of possibility, like looking at a cookie jar.

And just as quick as they had come, all three of them left. And a few minutes later, I went inside too.

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Part 2

Second grade. The year I became part of a conspiracy. Kind of weird to say something like that…a seven-year old part of a conspiracy? Oh well. There have been younger…

Isabel, Maria, Tess and I all had our first dance ever. The guys might have except that it was a father-daughter dance. For some reason they don't do mother-son dances. Like it's too embarrassing for the male population or something?

Damn egos.

1990

"Liz, honey? Is Maria here yet?"

"Not yet, Dad! She'll only be a sec."

Maria was coming with us to the dance because she doesn't have a dad. I always wondered if that was weird for her since she was the only one who was fatherless. She said we were all going to be jealous when we were teenagers and our own dads locked us in our bedrooms, refusing to let any member of the other sex pass through the doors.

I always thought she had no idea what she was saying. Especially since her mother was protective enough for two parents. Her dad leaves so her mom's going to let her have extensive relations with boys?

Doubtful.

We were going to meet Isabel and Tess there. We all wanted to surprise each other with our dresses, our hair, the slight tad of makeup our moms decided we were allowed to wear for such a special occasion.

Maria finally got there and with a few pictures, we were out the door. The whole time in the car Maria kept fussing with her dress. It was green, she said it would show her eyes off. And it did, so I spent a few years of my life actually believing Maria had good fashion sense.

We finally got there and my dad gave us each a little flower to wear on our wrist. My purple dress didn't go so well with my yellow flower, and Maria's white one matched perfectly with hers. That annoyed me most of the night.

I wasn't a vain child. I didn't spend time in the corner with my other little friends and laugh at everyone. But I at least wanted to look pretty. It was my first big pretty thing, and my dad screwed it up with a yellow flower.

I've never told him that. I think it would make him feel bad, and I'm over it now.

Mostly.

We finally found the table where Tess and Isabel were with their dads, and we sat down with them. They both looked beautiful, of course. It gave me slight relief to see that Tess' flower didn't match her dress either.

She glanced at mine and smiled at me.

"They should find out what color our dresses our before buying these things."

Ah, such words of wisdom to dads everywhere from a seven-year old.

The four of us told our dads we were going to get some punch and started across the room. Isabel walked in front, and we all held our heads high. After all, we were the prettiest girls in the room.

At least that's what Isabel had us convinced was the truth.

So we were standing around the punch table talking about our dads and how many pictures got taken and something happened.

It was like slow motion, like when your life supposedly flashes before your eyes before you die.

A little girl in our class, I can't remember her name for the life of me, tripped on the tablecloth. I saw her flying backwards, cup in hand, and she slammed right into Maria.

The red punch flew all over Maria's shiny dress, making a huge spot right on the front of it.

Tess immediately started yelling at the little girl. She had always been our defender. Her attitude was a kind of take-no-crap thing. And spilling punch all over her best friend's dress was definitely crap.

Isabel and I turned towards Maria as her bottom lip started to quiver and her green eyes started to water up. We looked at each other, then both took her hands and led her off to the bathroom. We could still hear Tess yelling.

Maria just stood by the counter crying quietly as Isabel and I scrubbed at her dress with paper towels and water. But it wasn't helping at all. The spot only got wetter and darker and the paper towels were leaving remains all over the front.

Eventually Maria crying and her dress being ruined and her being so sad just got to me and I started crying too. Our first pretty night and Maria's had been ruined. It was a horrible and traumatic experience, the kind that second grade girls have to cry about.

Isabel just kind of stood there watching us cry until her own eyes watered. But she never cried. She pulled me away from Maria slightly, and looked towards the door. Then she turned back around and kind of waved her hand over the front of the sparkly green dress. I didn't realize anything had happened until
Isabel sniffed and said, "There. It's okay now."

I looked down at Maria's dress and she was right. The big wet stain was now gone, the green sparkly dress was in perfect condition. Like nothing had ever happened to it at all.

Maria squealed and pulled me and Isabel into a hug, and we all jumped up and down because we were so excited. But then reality took hold of our child minds and we stopped bouncing.

Maria and I looked at Isabel, our eyes wide.

"How'd you do that?" Maria asked.

Isabel just looked at us, scared. I took her hand and smiled at her.

"It's okay Izzy. We won't say anything."

Isabel looked at both of us as Maria took her other hand, and smiled. "And you'll still be my best friends?"
Maria and I nodded.

"I…I'm an alien."

That kind of statement just doesn't affect second graders the way it would adults. It was like saying, "I live in a cloud during the day and fly around on my fairy wings at night."

Maria and I just grinned at her. "Wow! That is so awesome!" Maria started bouncing again, her hair flying.

Isabel got serious again, though she was obviously relieved. "You guys… you can't tell anyone. You promise?"

Maria and I both nodded with smiles, and the three of us pulled into a big hug. Tess wasn't there to be part of this revelation, but I suppose that it was all for the best.

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After we all got home from the dance, we had a pool party. Kyle's mom brought him over to have some fun with us. He lived far away because his dad was the Sheriff and they had to be closer to his work. Kyle always said he wished that he lived around us. It's too bad he never did.

The boys must have been awful bored from being home with their moms because they had extra energy that night. They were doing all sorts of tricks off the diving board, and actually wanted to play Marco Polo with us. Usually they called it a sissy game and walked off to the deep end of the pool to wrestle.

It almost made me think they actually missed us.

I was sitting on the stairs, watching Max try to get Isabel on the other end of the pool and it struck me that if Max was Isabel's brother, was he an alien too? And if they were adopted, and Michael was too, was he also an alien?

I didn't say anything at the time because I wasn't sure, and I couldn't spill Isabel's secret if she was the only one. So I pushed the curiosity to the back of my mind and joined the game again.

Right as Max tagged me.

He opened his eyes to see who he'd nailed and I just smiled at him. "You got me!"

Max grinned, his dark hair plastered to his forehead and swam off. "You're too slow for me, Liz!"

I was too slow? I don't think so.

The rest of the game was basically me and Max trying to prove who was slower while the rest of them cheered us on. Michael, Kyle, and Alex were convinced that Max would win since he was constantly beating them in everything, but us girls had other plans. After all, we couldn't let the 'I'm woman, hear me roar' go to waste.

And we didn't. Max eventually got tired and I won. The boys picked up their battered egos and went inside.

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Maria decided to spend the night that night and I told her my plan. We were going to sneak out that night and ask Michael and Max if they were aliens too.

So we sat out on the roof outside my window until we saw them come out, then we jumped to the ground. And might I remind you that we were seven. Jumping from that high was quite an amazing feat. We grabbed our blankets and ran across the yard to sit with them. They must not have heard us come up because when we announced our presence all three of them jumped. We sat down with them and Isabel smiled at us.

"I told them."

Max and Michael looked at her in shock, but then kind of shrugged. Second graders didn't give too much thought to things like secrets being revealed.

"So are you guys aliens too?" I asked.

"Is who aliens?"

All five of us jumped this time and turned around to see Alex.

"Alex?" Maria asked. "What are you doing out here?"

Alex shrugged and plopped down on my blanket. "Saw you guys and came out here. Who's aliens?"

I turned towards Isabel and she sighed. "Me, Max, and Michael."

"I knew it!" I bounced up and down in my seat.

"Woah! That is so cool!" Alex leaned forward onto his knees and Maria did the same, giggling.

Michael spoke for the first time. "Maria, stop making that weird noise. You guys can't tell anyone. Not even Tess and Kyle."

We all nodded. It's not that we didn't love our best friends, it was just different. For some reason we just knew we couldn't tell them. My own personal reason was the feeling I got when I thought about it. Like doing that would change everything a way it shouldn't be changed.

So it was still the eight of us, only six of us were bound by this secret.

Max explained why we should really not say anything. People might come and take them away to do experiments, or try to send them back to where they came from.

None of us wanted them to leave, they were our best friends. So the secret was kept.

It was amazing how fast we adjusted. Learning three of your best friends are another life form is scary enough. But it didn't make us scared. It just seemed…natural. It was like we'd known it all along or something.

Maybe somehow we had.

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Part 3

Sixth grade was an interesting year for all of us. I suppose that for every kid it is. But when you've been in the same class with your seven best friends for six years (which I'm sure our parents planned, by the way) and you're suddenly all dismembered, it's difficult.

And not only that, but you discover your unnatural attraction to the opposite sex. And for some reason you have crushes on people that weren't even your favorites before. It's like your hormones mislead you at first. It's disturbing to think about now.

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1994

Middle school is when they separate the smart ones from the not so smart ones. When your brains actually decide which friends you get to see most of the day.

So I spent most of my day with Max, Tess, and Alex. And Maria, Michael, Isabel, and Kyle spent their long school days together. As if that weren't bad enough, we didn't even have lunch together! They split the lunches up alphabetically. So it was Maria, Max, Isabel, Tess, and Michael. Then me, Alex, and Kyle. I only had one class with Maria all day and it was PE! That's the only class that all of us had together. So naturally, it was our favorite.

Even Isabel, who hated the outdoors sometimes, loved PE. We always picked each other for teams, even when the boys knew that we weren't the best players in the world. It was natural. One of us was always a captain and we automatically picked the other seven. Even if we lost all the good players. And it was okay that we did, because Max and Kyle were amazing players, Michael scared people away with that hair - er, I mean, attitude - and Alex tried his hardest.

That's not to say that we girls weren't any good. We spent many afternoons out in the back yard practicing and getting lessons from our male counterparts so we could always win. Winning is so important to that male ego it's ridiculous.

Sixth grade is the year you start getting new friends too. And we all did. We got new friends that we spent time and had some fun with, but we never introduced them to our group. It was an unspoken thing, like a sacred pact that our group was only our group. No questions asked.

Everybody started to care what they looked like. The girls started wearing cuter stuff, the guys made sure they didn't look like they came from the mud hole.

We all had our crushes. There was one afternoon, a Saturday, when all the boys were gone fishing with the dads and the four of us girls were sitting in the grass watching the clouds. And it all just came spilling out. It was like a volcanic eruption that couldn't be stopped. It was really hilarious the way things turned out. We all had crushes on one of our counterpart lovelies. And when I think about it now, those crushes were so…wrong. It was just this big puzzle with pieces that did not fit together at all.

Isabel had a thing for Kyle. Tess was mad for Alex. Maria was googly over Max, and I was going to die for Michael.

I can't even remember why I liked Michael. I mean, I couldn't stand his hair. And he was such a jerk most of the time!

Screwed up hormones, that's what I'm blaming it on.

And that was when it started. We tormented each other to no end over our silly little crushes.

There was a period of time, about a month, when Tess just couldn't understand our math. But she didn't ask me, her friend, for help. And she didn't ask Max, who was probably smarter than me.

She asked Alex.

And every other day she would go over to his house or they would go out in the back yard and do this math homework. Well, Alex would do math homework. Tess would just stare at him and put a flower in her hair in an effort to look beautiful.

Alex never seemed to notice and Isabel, Maria, and I would walk by and make kissy noises until Alex would get so confused he'd just go play with the other guys.

Kyle started playing peewee football at a recreation center a few minutes away from our houses. So Isabel would make the four of us ride our bikes the whole way there and sit and watch him. He was actually really good, not that we'd ever admit that to him, and every time he did something good Isabel would stand up and cheer and act like she knew what was happening. And we'd tease her.

"Why you cheering so loud, Izzy?" Tess would ask.

"I don't see anyone special," I would say.

And Maria would just giggle.

It was hard for me to really do anything with Michael. He was always doing things with Max, or gone who knows where, or playing video games with Alex. I guess that's why I liked him for that long. I never saw him.

I know, I'm horrible.

Max loved to swim. It was one of his favorite things to do in sixth grade. He'd hop in his swim trunks and go out to the pool and swim for a while, occasionally begging me or Tess to come swim with him because Michael and Alex were playing video games.

And it was easy for him to beg us too. Especially since Maria would jump from whatever she was doing every time she saw him head outside. She'd drag the three of us over in our own swim suits to sit in the lounge chairs and work on our little sixth grade tans. Well, that's what she said anyway. We know what she was really doing. She was giving her eyes a workout.

She was the smoothest of us all. She wore sunglasses and turned her head to the side, made it look like she was sleeping or relaxing while she was staring at Max. And he'd swim up to the edge and give me or Tess his puppy dog eyes and say, "Liz, the water's nice and warm."

Or he'd say, "Tess, the water sure is nice today."

Or he'd sink the lowest his masculinity would allow and just say, "Liz…Tess…please?"

That was begging, you see.

And sometimes we would, when we didn't mind the jealousy coming off of Maria in waves. But most of the time we stuck to our best friend guidelines and stayed where we were, despite his splashing.

And very rarely he'd ask Maria to join him. But she never jumped at the chance. She tried to play the sixth grade version of hard to get. She just tossed off some rehearsed line about working on her tan.

And I must give her credit, if I hadn't been her best friend on the face of the planet I never would have known it was rehearsed. Max fell for it every time.

He never asked Isabel. Maybe he figured asking his own sister was lame.

And at the end of the week we would dish about each of them over ice cream. Isabel was always shrugging and acting like Kyle was nothing special at all. I never usually had anything to report. Tess would just get this far off look in her eyes that you see in the movie. That should have been my first sign that crush wouldn't last long. And Maria would bounce around and have conversations with herself, pretending she was Max and he was confessing his life long crush to her.

I never really liked to listen to her blather about Max. I don't know what it was. I would listen to Isabel, listen to Tess, but when Maria started saying something about Max I tuned her out.

Maybe I just knew it would never be. Listening seemed like waste of time.

Maybe I was just weird.

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[ edited 4 time(s), last at 24-Jul-2002 3:40:09 PM ]
posted on 23-Jul-2002 8:43:45 PM by ShayParkerEvans
Part 4

1995

My birthday. Correction - Maria's and my birthday. Our birthdays were only a few weeks apart so we always ended up having a joint party. Not that it mattered anyway. It was always just the eight of us in elementary school. And that continued in middle school. We were turning twelve this year. Everyone turned twelve in sixth grade, and since we were in sixth grade it was our turn. I think our parents were panicking slightly. We were all almost teenagers.

Our parents brought out all the tents and let us all sleep outside. Four tents. No girls and guys in tents together. I think they trusted us enough, but were taking precautions. We roasted marshmallows over a tiny fire that my dad made and Kyle tried his hardest to tell some really lame ghost story and make it sound scary. I don't know…maybe it was because we were in our back yard, but it never worked. We just started laughing and the stories very rarely got finished.

"We need to have a little excitement," Michael said. He spoke, I was swooning. It was so very, very sad.
He got a mischievous grin on his face and I glanced towards the other three girls. We weren't liking that grin very much.

"What kind of excitement?" Alex asked him. Michael looked at him and Alex started grinning too. Did boys have telepathy? I was almost sure in that moment they did. Michael grinned at each boy and they all started grinning too.

It was Kyle who said it. "Truth or dare."

Us four girls got panicked. Truth or dare? Bad, bad, bad idea. Truth or dare was when crushes became revealed. Very bad idea.

But we were brave. I mean, it could back fire. We could discover who they liked. Oh yes, it was getting better by the second.

"I'm first," I said. I would show those boys who was scared. Everyone nodded so I guess they wanted someone else to go first anyway.

I looked around our circle, faces I knew so well. I wasn't good at dare so I was praying the person I picked would choose truth. The question was, who would pick truth, and out of them, who did I wanna know about?

My gaze landed on Max. Quiet Max who was becoming more my friend every day.

That was another thing that changed in middle school. You grew closer to the friends in your group that you hadn't been especially close to before.

Before, it was Maria that knew everything about me. Isabel was a close second, Alex was right there with her. I even knew Kyle pretty well.

But that changed that year. Maria was still my best friend, why wouldn't she be? But Isabel sort of faded into the background with Kyle. And Max and Tess popped up.

Tess still had that take-no-crap attitude that I sometimes envied. Nobody messed with her because of her firecracker type of personality. Maria had that spark too.

And Max. Max was always Isabel's brother to me. Well, most of the time. But now…now he was Max. Max, who paid attention to only me when I was talking and actually heard what I was saying.

"Max, truth or dare?"

He looked at me, eyes wide, then determined. "Truth."

Someone in heaven loved me. Now, what to ask him?

Oh, screw whoever in heaven loved me. They couldn't even give me a good question to ask. I looked towards Maria, who was looking at me with shining eyes. She didn't really expect me to ask him that, did she?

Oh Lord, she did.

That's so embarrassing! I would have hated it if anyone asked who I liked. Yet my best friend demanded with her eyes that I do the deed.

That sounded wrong.

She demanded I perform the task.

That sounded wrong too. Screw it.

"Do you like anybody?"

He didn't even act shocked. It was like sixth grade boys just know you're going to ask them that question. Maybe because they're planning on asking it themselves. Devious minds.

He shook his head a little bit, then kind of made a face like he wasn't sure of what to say. I swear Maria's face was turning purple. I think she was holding her breath. And she kept flipping her hair. Trying to look appealing, I guess.

"I dunno."

He doesn't know?! What kind of an answer was that? I wasn't even the one who liked him and I was outraged with suck an indirect answer. I risked a glance in Maria's direction.

Her face was doing some strange thing. She'd obviously started breathing again because she wasn't blue, but it was red. Not because she was blushing, because she was mad. Her hands were clenched into fists and her hair was like…frying. I'm almost sure I saw smoke come out of her ears.

"What do you mean you DON'T KNOW?" She exploded on Max. I felt bad for him, I've never been on the receiving end of Maria's wrath. But I've seen it. Quite a few times.

He looked at her, eyes wide, and shrugged. "I…I just don't know. I might."

She seemed to calm down a bit. Maybe because she hoped that it was her he was thinking about in that statement. The thought of that made me a little…a little…I don't know. It made me something.

Everyone was quiet now, no doubt getting over the shock of Maria reacting so violently.

It's interesting. Once you hit middle school truth or dare is suddenly more daring. It's like you have to prove you're growing up somehow. We moved the game into one of the tents, all squashed against each other.

Just my luck, I ended up between Max and Maria. I couldn't exactly move without drawing attention to myself and probably hurting Max's feelings, so I had to stay where I was. I kept my eyes extra alert in case Maria decided to bite me or something. It would have been easy with her mushed up all against me.

All in all the game proved to be quite revealing. In more ways than one.

Isabel had never stuffed her bra, thought Alex was kind of cute, and didn't really have a best friend out of the seven of us. Alex wanted to be in a band some day, would pick me to be his sister, and had never said a cuss word before. Maria thought Michael's hair was kinda cute (and let me tell you, she's the only one) and kissed Alex's toe. I thought that was just dirty. Kyle's so odd.

Kyle really did think football was a little tough and had kissed some girl at school named Tanya. I'd never met her before, but Tess looked absolutely disgusted, and most of the time I trusted her judgment. Tess still played with Barbies sometimes and flashed everyone. Kyle is such a pervert. But anyway, they were pretty red the rest of the night and couldn't find the courage to look Tess in the eye. Whimps.

Michael ate some grass, his biggest pet peeve about the four of us girls was that we took too long to brush our hair (Excuse me? At least we took time at [I/]all), and he kissed me on the cheek. But it kind of grossed me out, so I figured I pretty much didn't like him anymore.

You can tell I spent a good part of my childhood obsessed with his hair.

Max thought it was cool having a sister, had never kissed a girl before, and the game ended before Kyle could give him his dare. Which would have most likely resulted in him kissing someone.

I never had a crush on Kyle (don't even ask me why Alex thought I did) and everyone got to see a glimpse of my new and stylish pink silk underwear. Boys are so odd, I swear. It's just underwear!

Our parents came out and broke up the game, said it was time for us to get to sleep. And they stayed outside to make sure no girls and boys went in tents together. Like we couldn't have snuck out once they were gone.

But we didn't.

The most interesting part of the night was that every crush us girls had was revealed. And nothing ever came of them. So that pretty much answered our questions of if any of those feelings were mutual. And the thing about middle school crushes is that once they're out in the open, they're over. It's like it's some big secret you have to keep quiet about, and that's what makes the crush so important. Once everyone knows, it just goes away.

Thank God that they did. Could you imagine if any of those people had gotten together?

I'm feeling a World War III.

+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+

Part 5

Seventh grade was the year two rituals started. I'm not sure how, or even really why. I just know that they did. It's strange how you never question the small things.

We choose to wonder more about things that don't directly affect us. Like, "Why is there so much conflict in the middle east countries?"

Maybe we ask the big questions because they're easier to answer.

+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+

1995
The tire swing had never really been truly embraced by us, the back yard crew. A tire hanging by three strands of rope just didn't seem all that appealing when surrounded by pools, colorful playhouses, and video games. It was like a stick in the mud. You can't really ignore it, but you don't mess with it either.
It's just kind of…there.

But we were quickly using Maria's playhouse less and less and video games were staying enticing only to the male members of our group. What can I say? We were growing up. On past days, us girls had run to the playhouse, pretending we were somewhere else that wasn't New Mexico, and living these happy little lives with our three sisters. Because that's what we pretended to be, of course. Sisters. It was easy to pretend that, it wasn't very far off from the truth.

But we weren't pretending anymore. So I turned to my beloved tire swing. It was the kind that never actually spun, since it was made out of rope, it just swung back and forth and sometimes in a circular type motion. I always thought our tire swing was one that was more appropriately named. It actually swung. Tire swing…it should swing. They should have called the ones that spun tire spinners instead. Or something.

Whatever.

So anyway, one afternoon everyone was gone. Well, mostly everyone.

Maria and Isabel were gone with their moms, who were convinced that their baby girls were growing up more and more every time they blinked their eyes. Kyle had football practice, and I didn't feel like going to cheer him on. It was too far to ride my bike all alone. Tess had dance class.

Michael decided to go with Kyle to watch practice and see if football was as hard as he claimed it was, and Alex was working on a science project. We didn't even have to do them that year, but he was doing it anyway. Extra credit.

Max was around, but I had no idea where he'd wandered off to. Not that he could wander very far. He was probably eating a snack or something. Maybe he decided to go with Michael. So, in short, I was all alone and quite bored. I didn't want to go swimming. It seemed pointless and miserable to go in the water by myself. I only ever swam when everyone else was because there were games to play.
Sometimes I'd swim with Max, just because he asked me to, but he wasn't around.

This was one of those times when I wished that at least one of us had a pet. None of us had any, we always relied on each other. Max had a hamster when he was little, but he lost it. I'd hate to know where it was, probably living in a cabinet or something. The thought made me go 'ick.'

So I was looking out my back door, debating on whether or not to hunt Max down and demand that he entertain me somehow when it caught my eye.

It looked lonely all by itself, swaying in the breeze. Wind is somewhat of a luxury in the fall, especially when you live in the steaming desert. So I left my afternoon snack and headed outside.

It'd been so weird since I'd played on it that it felt a little weird to get on. It's the prickly feeling you get every time you do something that you haven't done in what seems like a lifetime. The kind of thing that you never forget. Like riding a bike again after months of staying off of it with a broken leg. It's just…natural.

But I didn't want to just sit there in the breeze. What fun is that when there's no one sitting across from you to talk to? So I got it swinging pretty high - not spinning, keep in mind - jumped on, and laid down. My legs were propped up on the ropes, my back and head on the tire's surface, almost like I was sitting Indian style, only laying down. It's a wonder that I never got sick. I just kept swaying back and forth, watching the leaves above me rustle against each other in the breeze. My hair flew too while it hung, thankfully not long enough to drag in the dirt.

Tire swaying is actually quite therapeutic.

You don't really have to worry about anything. You just sway and feel everything until you close your eyes like you're taking a nap. Except you never fall asleep.

"Liz?"

I heard him before I saw him. And I'm almost sure I felt him before that…but that's stupid. It figures that after I actually found something to do he'd show up.

"Yeah Max?"

I didn't bother opening my eyes. What was the point? It was obviously him.

"What are you doing?"

The confusion in his voice was evident. And rightfully placed. We'd barely touched the tire swing since we were four.

"Tire swaying."

My eternal role of Captain Obvious took hold when I answered him.

I didn't hear anything for a few seconds, then the rustle of branches and leaves. I heard a few twigs snapping, a few whispered 'ow's' and then it was quiet again.

"Liz?"

I opened my eyes this time, my curiosity getting the better of me.

He was on the branch that the tire swing hung from, just watching me. The limb was pretty big, it had to be wide and strong enough to support the tire with kids on it, so there was plenty of room for him. He was laying on his stomach, his head off to the side so he could talk to me.

The best part was that neither of us had to move to talk to the other. It was unavoidable to not see the other, so we'd know if one disappeared.

"What are you doing, Max?" I asked with a smile.

He grinned back at me, his dark eyes sparkling. "Sitting in the tree."

He took the Captain Obvious job right from under me. I laughed at him, and he just grinned at me.
"Where were you before?"

He shrugged. "Sitting inside. I was bored. Figured I'd see what you were doing first."

I nodded, not sure what else to say.

"I should make my dad get a tractor wheel or something. So we could both lay down on this thing."

Max nodded in agreement. "Yeah, that'd be cool." He paused, licked his lips. "Liz?"

"Yeah?"

He looked around, then looked down at me again, his bangs falling on his forehead. I loved it when they did that, like I could reach up and move them away. They never fell far enough to cover his eyes though. Which is a good thing, I couldn't imagine what Max's face would be like without those eyes.

"You know…you know how you had that crush on Michael?"

I was fully alert by now. Why did he have to bring up such an embarrassing period of my adolescence?
Because he's Max.

I nodded, my cheeks flaming. "Yeah."

His forehead wrinkled, like he was thinking. "Well, I was just wondering, you know…why you liked him."

I cocked my head to the side, narrowed my own eyes in thought. "I'm not sure."

He nodded, looked away, then looked back at me. "Did you ever…did you ever like, um, like anybody else?"

I wanted to laugh at him. He looked so adorable, so eager to know the answer. I had never really noticed how cute Max was until that moment.

His eyes were twinkling with curiosity, his bangs were on his forehead, his soft hair wasn't flying everywhere, his legs were dangling like a little boy's. And I guess he still was kind of a little boy. But Max was growing up. And that was what I noticed that day.

I shook my head slightly. "Not then, no."

He nodded, then smiled at me. "I kind of like sitting up here talking to you."

I smiled back at him. "I kind of like laying here talking to you too."

And we must have really liked it, because it became a sort of everyday thing. Well…it didn't happen every day. But whenever I just wanted to relax, or Max wanted to relax, or we just wanted to talk about something and we didn't think anyone else would wanna listen, we were just drawn to that tree.

I'd sway on that tire, and Max would lay on that branch.

But I was positive that he wasn't too comfortable on that branch.

So I started trying to convince my dad to get a bigger tire. Maybe a tractor wheel.

+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+

Part 6

1996

Maria and I had a lot more sleepovers in seventh grade. The fact that we lived across the yard kind of made it much easier, but we just joined at the hip that year. I guess sixth grade took a toll on us, getting adjusted. And even though we still didn't have any classes together, we tried to get back to that place where we'd been before.

So on one of those sleepover nights, we were lying in my room looking at my cheap plastic stars and I guess we both realized what we could really be doing.

"You know, I bet Max, Michael, and Isabel are out there." Maria said.

"Yeah, I bet they are," I replied.

We just kind of looked at each other for second, then turned back to my stupid green stars.

"When are you getting your telescope?" Maria asked.

"I'm not sure. My dad said he's going to order it from some magazine."

Then we both just jumped out of bed and grabbed the blankets, heading towards the window. We climbed out and hopped down, the distance from the roof and the ground considerably smaller now.

Three heads turned in our direction, startled, then relaxing. We saw Alex jumping down no the other side too. So the six of us laid out our blankets. Michael, Isabel, and Max seemed to be much more comfortable with us there, and instead of sitting and giving themselves a neck cramp while they looked up, we all laid down. A tangle of arms and legs, yet none of us seemed to mind too much.

What surprised me the most was Michael. Girls had cooties. That was the motto he practically lived by. But Maria's leg was on top of his and he wasn't commenting about it. Was just smiling and joining in the conversation. It made me very suspicious.

"Aren't you worried that Tess is gonna wake up?" Alex's voice carried from the other side of the blanket chaos.

Isabel giggled. "Not really. That girl snores loud enough to wake the dead but she keeps on sleeping, so I don't think we're in any danger."

Max, who was on my right side, turned toward me. "Hey Liz."

I smiled at him, laughing at how cute his hair was all ruffled and messy. "Hey Max!" We just smiled at each other until I remembered I wanted to tell him something. "Oh, guess what?"

"What?" I'd obviously grabbed hold of his curiosity.

I tried to lengthen his time of suspense, wanted to draw it out as much as I could. "I'm not sure if I should tell you…"

He wrinkled his forehead, his eyes more curious now that I was being the young version of mysterious. "Why not?"

I listened for a moment to make sure the other four were still involved in their own conversation.

"Maria, Batman is like, way cooler than Superman. Superman has restrictions with his kryptonite and stuff. Batman has all these interesting gadgets and nothing can stop him," Alex was explaining.

"I see your point," Maria nodded her agreement.

"Whatever, you're both wrong," Michael broke in, shaking his head. "Spiderman is the ultimate. He has that web thing, and he also has no restrictions."

"Did any of you notice that they all work for newspapers? I find that a bit freaky." Isabel shoved in her opinion.

And Maria, Michael, and Alex went on to berate her for her error, Batman AKA Bruce Wayne had his own company.

I laughed at them, and turned back to Max who was now looking a bit impatient. My earlier idea at torturing him slipped from my mind, as I decided he just looked too adorable to keep him for much longer.

"I told my dad about the tire swing being uncomfortable and not big enough and stuff, so he's going to get us a hammock."

Max's eyes widened. "A hammock? Awesome!" Then he wrinkled his forehead again, and I fought every urge not to reach out and brush some of his messy hair out of his eyes. "But I'm still gonna be stuck up on the branch."

"No you won't! You'll lay down in the hammock with me."

After I said it I felt retarded. What if he didn't want to be in the hammock with me?! What if he thought I smelled bad or something? Or being that close to me would be seriously gross?

But when I risked a glance over at him, I realized I was stupid for even thinking those things. Max was smiling at me, his eyes sparkling, apparently liking the new idea. And while I was laying there, watching him smile, and his beautiful eyes, and just smiling back at him, time stopped. Everyone else's voices faded into the background. And it was just me, thirteen year old Liz Parker with thirteen year old Max Evans, with all these weird mushy feelings running through my body and thoughts I couldn't grasp flying through my mind. And while I felt myself moving closer and closer to something, the moment ended.

"NO WAY!" Michael's voice cut through my haze. "There is no way I will ever get up and sing for you people, I don't care how much you threaten me."

"Whatever you say," Isabel said, shrugging.

"Yeah," Maria agreed nonchalantly. "If you don't care that we tell the entire school about how you spend thirty minutes getting that hairdo done, we don't mind either."

There was silence, and I stifled my giggles. And then Michael's face appeared above us and his mouth opened and he started singing Seal's 'Kiss From A Rose' so off tune that I, well not only I, everyone, lost all control and laughed until we were red in the face, our stomachs hurt, and we couldn't breathe.

And after a short break, we laughed all over again.

And it became our second ritual. I'm pretty sure our parents knew about it, but didn't bother because we weren't doing anything wrong. One or two nights a week we all camped out under the stars for a few hours, our conversations ranging through every topic imaginable. And every night I wanted to freeze frame every moment. I had these amazing friends, and we had this amazing secret and we were still just normal kids.

But things were changing through those nights we spent out.

Did you ever notice that everything happens at night? Pimples sprout up, your hair grows, you get taller, your inner feelings are revealed in dreams, the really scary MTV shows come on, and the talk shows you don't; understand until you're older. It all happens at night.

But the main thing is, you grow. And the six of us grew together quite a bit under those stars, on those blankets. And Kyle and Tess weren't there. Don't mistake my words, Kyle and Tess were still in our group, still our best friends, still knew almost everything about us. But there was an 'almost.'

You wouldn't have noticed if you were just a spectator. If you had been watching us our entire lives, memorized everything, nothing would have changed. We would appear to be the same close knit group of eight. It's being on the inside of that group where you see the changes. A couple times where six were laughing and two didn't understand.

When eighth grade came around, we were top dogs. The oldest kids in school, and for some reason we were never quite sure of we became popular. Not in the way that some kid you don't know can point you out and say your name. In the way that everyone wanted to know every single detail of your life. In the way that every detail of gossip some way related to someone in our little group. And that continued into high school.

The scariest part is that we never even cared. Didn't listen to the rumors unless they were so horrible that we put an end to them together.

And there were some bad ones.

Let's see if I can remember any…

There was that Kyle was involved with a drug dealer in a warehouse a little ways out of town.

Isabel's parents allowed her to get her breasts enlarged at such a young age.

Maria and Kyle had sex. (Oh, GROSS!)

That Michael was seen jacking off outside the girls locker room. (Can we say 'yuck?')

That Max went down on Tess.

That I got a little lesbian action with Isabel.

I mean, who comes up with this stuff? Did people actually sit around and start these rumors? It seemed like such a waste of time.

But they never lasted long. They were put to an end by the eight of us within ten minutes from when they reached our ears.

Other things changed in high school. It seemed like every female in the entire population of West Roswell High was noticing our own Maxwell Evans. And it made me…oooh, I don't know, but it made me something. Every girl aside from my three best friends became my immediate enemy because every time I was with Max they were staring at him! Like blatantly and openly just staring. And the worst part was that Max never noticed. Boys are so dense.

One afternoon when I was suffering from some serious PMS, Max practically dragged me into the pool with him. And I have to admit, I was sweating and I was dying to get in the water but I wasn't going to let him win. Geesh.

He was swimming laps around the pool, something he loved to do that he didn't seem to notice helped immensely on keeping his body the way that it was. I was just kind of floating around in the middle and the sliding glass door to the Evans' house opened up.

Max's mom came out, three girls I'd seen around at school following her.

"Max, honey?"

Max stopped swimming and stood in the pool, water pouring down his body and just kind of looked curiously at the three girls. There was a blond, brunette, and a redhead, and I was beginning to have flashbacks of watching Josie and the Pussycats when I was little. I watched the scene with a great amount of denied interest.

"These girls said they wanted to come and say hi, so…I'll just go inside. And Liz honey, you look amazing in that bathing suit. Isabel almost got one just like it."

I smiled at Diane for the compliment but couldn't help but be embarrassed. She was treating me like a daughter! Agh! (Don't forget my horrible case of PMS)

So she left, and the girls just stood there and giggled and Max was just standing there confused.

The blond girl stepped forward and smiled. "So, Max, do you swim everyday?"

Max just shrugged, smiling slightly. "Basically."

Brunette came up with blondie. "Do you always swim by yourself?"

Uh…hello?! Did they not notice I was RIGHT in front of them?!

Max kind of looked confused, then motioned towards me. "Usually with Liz."

They spared me one hateful glance before carrot top came strolling up. "Mind if we join you?"

Max smiled, then ran a wet hand through his wet hair, shrugging. "Not really."

My mouth dropped open before I quickly snapped it shut. Didn't he realize how adorable he looked when he did that?! And what had I become, chopped liver?!

I watched the three musketeers strip down to their suits and felt rage bubbling inside of me. I shoved past Max and headed for the edge of the pool, jumping out.

He apparently seemed to notice me then, and grabbed my arm. "Liz, where are you going?"

I looked down on him, with his confused eyes, and his adorable little frown and his empty head and lost it.
"Home, you jerk! Wouldn't want to interfere with your time with your damn fan club!"

Max recoiled, probably both from surprise and the fact that I had cussed, which I rarely ever did, and I ran home. I didn't look back, didn't care about what he thought and certainly did not care about what those damn little cat things were doing. So I reached home, and sufficiently submersed myself in my own little bubble of denial.

Ninth grade sucked.

+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+
posted on 23-Jul-2002 8:50:22 PM by ShayParkerEvans
Part 7

Max never asked me about the pool incident again. I guess he just figured it was some girl thing. I was relieved and angry at the same time. Why didn't he care what was wrong? But how would I explain it anyway? So it was better left unsaid.

Tenth grade was another big adjustment period. We weren't the youngest anymore, so our popularity with people really went up a notch. We knew lots of upperclassmen, and everyone younger wanted to know us. But it was something that we didn't really mind. We didn't care if we were popular or not, but we were, and it was okay.

Isabel and Tess convinced Maria and me to try out for cheerleading. Talk about a scary experience. But
we finally got into it, and Izzy and Tess were determined. Practice every day in the backyard, make sure you eat healthy, and before the final tryout the guys were going to watch to make sure we were good enough.

Nothing less than perfection, Isabel had told us with a smile. An amazing cheerleader smile. Of course she was gonna make it. Maria and I had serious doubts about ourselves, but whatever. Gotta try everything once.

Kyle still played football, and somehow convinced Max to play with him. How, I will never understand. Max was a swimmer! But, being in the desert, our school didn't have a swim team. And with his muscles, the boy could run. Michael and Alex went unconvinced, however, just as I knew they would. Michael was starting to get into art, and he was really good. Not that he'd ever give you a chance to tell him that. And Alex…Alex was everything else. He liked to play the guitar, our resident computer-smart person, and he was smart.

Ninth grade, you're just adjusting to high school, only going to parties. Once you reach tenth grade, I guess the responsibility to throw parties is thrust into the people that everyone knows. And guess who that was? Thank god we had big houses. Tess had the largest however, and her parents understood the party life the most, having been wild college kids themselves. They were so cool, that every party night our parents usually went away. Out to late dinners, on a group trip, something. They really trusted us, and I think we'd earned it.

So we finally came down to cheerleading tryouts. The boys were sitting in lawn chairs, watching us. I felt grungy, sweaty, not at all in a condition to be stared at, but Isabel did not allow a reprieve. She said this was it, so we were all gonna stick it out.

The music started up and we went at it, only daring looks at the boys to give them our happy little cheerleader smiles, because they actually look at things like that at school. Finally it was over, and we waited for what they had to say.

First there was silence and dazed stares, then came our round of applause, led by Alex.

"Two amazing thumbs up, ladies," he said with a grin.

"You'll do great," Michael said nonchalantly.

"Blow em away," Max said with a smile.

"I'm sure you guys'll make it. As long as you keep on smiling!" Kyle said with a wink. He knew that was the most annoying part and just had to tease us about it.

And he was right. After Maria's freak out in the bathroom about how she wasn't made to be a cheerleader, this wasn't her thing, what was she thinking? We all went out and strutted our stuff. We were friends with the judges, but even the teachers said we deserved it.

I think the worst part about being a cheerleader were the outfits. A tank top type thing and a skirt, it left little to the imagination. The first few times I had to wear it I practically begged every person I saw to use their sweater. But we didn't only wear it at games; every Friday it was like, cheerleading politics to wear it to school.

But after a few conversations with Isabel, Maria, and Tess, they managed to semi-convince me that I looked great in it, so I got over it.

Football season started, and the first actual game, the after-party was ours. I was surprised it didn't go to some senior, but they were all psyched about coming to ours. I never could understand that. I got a little nervous seeing the fliers everywhere. They were bright, with giant graffiti type writing. 'POST GAME PARTY!' 'Free Beer!' 'AWESOME music!'

But I got over it. Besides, I'd been to a million parties just like it the year before and they were a blast. Well, they were until someone puked in the pool. That was just gross. And the drama was always fun, with couples yelling and people cheating on other people.

Kyle was our quarterback guy; Max was the running and catching guy. I wasn't really too much into football, I just knew what people did. I was too busy yelling anyway, waving my blue and yellow pom poms all over the place.

Michael and Alex were in the crowd, they got front row seats so they could make fun of us and watch the game. A bunch of mutual friends surrounded them, but they weren't really paying attention to them for a moment. They got smirks on their faces and crushed their empty soda cups into little balls, then started waving them everywhere. They stood up and started dancing around yelling 'Go Comets!' in these really girly voices. They moved perfectly in sync, making it seem as though they'd planned the entire thing. Butts bumping together, pelvic thrusts, the whole ridiculous guy dance works.

We cracked up, as did half the crowd that was in that section of the bleachers. They gave the crowd a bow, then turned and gave us one as well. We hooped and hollered for them, they had earned it.
We had a break in bouncing around and flipping our hair, so I turned with my three best friends to watch the game.

"Kyle always could throw that damn ball," Maria commented. The ball went flying through the air, an amazing pass that Max promptly caught, and was immediately nailed. I winced as he went down, right into the end zone. The siren went off and the crowd went wild. Our Max had scored the winning point.

The game ended, and we won 20-15.

The players filed off the field, through the hyped cheerleaders, of course. Max and Kyle paused for just a second before they had to go with the rest of the team.

"Amazing game, you guys," Maria said happily, then walked off with Isabel.

"That was an amazing point, Max! You didn't get hurt though, right?" Tess asked concerned.

Max shook his head with a grin and Kyle shook his head with a chuckle. "You worry too much, Harding. Max is a man!"

Max just rolled his eyes and they both seemed to realize they needed to get in the locker room. Kyle walked off first with a quick mocking 'rah rah.' Max quickly followed, after sending a wink to me. Or maybe it had been Tess. I really didn't know who it had been to. And I didn't care.

Really.

Until Tess dragged me a little bit away from everyone else and squealed with a grin. I shook my head confusedly, and Tess realized I didn't understand her excitement.

"Liz, we're still best friends, right?"

I laughed, not getting her at all, but knowing something I didn't like was coming.

"Of course we are!" I had to shout slightly because of the noise of the crowd.

"Liz, you have got to help me with him."

I had an inkling of a panic, but shook my head. "With who?"

Tess looked around nervously, then turned back to me with a giggle. "Max!"

The rest of the squad showed up around then, and we ran off to carpool to the party at Tess.' But once I was able to think again, I was wondering if this would be the worst party of my life.

And I didn't even want to start to think about what Tess wanted help with Max for.

+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+

Part 8

The party was a hit. Hosting it really only meant providing a place to have it at, everyone else took care of drinks, music, all the details. By the time our little car of squad members arrived, it was blasting. Tess and I ran upstairs and met Isabel and Maria in her room to change. We certainly hadn't planned on wearing our uniforms the entire party. We were a bumbling group of stooges, slipping arms and legs through the wrong holes, rushing to get ready so no one straggling party goer came barging in on us.
After much confusion, we finally prepared to make our entrance.

When Tess opened her door the music came pulsing up to meet us, and I immediately got into the party atmosphere. The music was the best part of anything, I always thought. It got you in certain moods, made you want to jump up and down, or dance with the sexy guy in the corner, or lay down and take a nap.

We came down the stairs in a perfect line, this thread of female bodies that turned more than a few heads. But there were really only four heads I was looking for. Where were our lovely backyard companions?

I watched my three best friends in front of me drop off the stairs. Isabel first, her long blonde hair down to her waist, her red dress fitting her snugly. Then Maria, her short blond hair curled adorably, comfortable in a funky pair of jeans and a yellow halter-top. Maria was all about creating her own sense of fashion. Tess went off next, her blond hair straight tonight, a light blue tank top and black mini skirt.
And then I fell off the last stair, following my companions. My black pants shined a little when the light hit them, my purple tank top shimmered. I shook my head a bit, my dark hair falling around my shoulder blades.

A dance mix of the song 'Silence' by Sarah Mclachlan and Delerium beat into the background and I found my hips moving while we walked. The room that had been dubbed the dance room was the living room, but we were heading away from that. The four of us came to an abrupt halt.

"Where are they?" Isabel said, annoyed.

Maria shrugged. "Who cares? Where's the studs?"

Tess and I laughed, and my mind flashed back to the football field. Help with Max. Help teaching Max something? Help getting Max to do something?

Helping her to get Max?

I heard the opening notes to one of my favorite songs and grabbed Tess, who dragged the other two behind her.

"We're dancing!" I had to yell, the music was louder now that we'd reached the dance room. It was always the loudest due to the music, the most crowded. Everyone was always in it, aside from the druggies on the patio, the people getting drinks in the kitchen, and those taking a break that were in lighted areas.

The main room in Tess' house was the living room, it was like the center point. Funky colored lights were on, bathing everyone in dark tones of orange and green and purple.

Gazing around the room, my gaze finally landed on who we'd been looking for. They were in a corner, looking around, drinking and laughing and steering clear of the dance floor. They never had been very big on getting in the crowd. Unless, of course, they had proper motivation. Which was exactly what we were going to give them. I turned around.

"Four musketeers at ten o'clock." I watched my three companions' gazes find them, then come back to me. "Like usual, they're comfortable on the wall, so like usual…"

"We will be changing that!" Maria completed. I gave a short nod of agreement, then set across the room, dancing my way through the throngs of couples and single people alike.

We finally came to a stop in front of them, each holding a hand out with a playful, yet challenging look in our eye. The four males looked at each other, then shrugged and set down their drinks, taking the challenge that we had so generously offered them.

I watched Max grin at me, then grab my hand and turn to head to the center of the crowd. I had to nod in appreciation, he was being more daring than usual. Being the center of attention really wasn't his thing at all, so I was left to wonder what was going on in that dark head of his.

He looked amazing as usual, a black button up shirt with short sleeves, a pair of khaki pants. His dark hair falling over his forehead the same way it had since he'd been three years old. His amber eyes holding a teasing glint, telling me he was proving his point.

A challenge from me was something he would always take.

Here she comes with the master plan
And I'm starting to lose control
Here she comes to this trash of man
And I'm ready to taste it all when
She's bringing me in
Checking me out
Making me glorious


He brought me up close beside him, which was necessary given the lack of space. But looking at him, I knew the lack of space had absolutely nothing to do with why he was holding me so close to him.

His dark eyes swept over me and I felt myself blush a little. He leaned forward, his breath on my ear, his lips brushing my hair.

"You look amazing."

I grinned, drew back slightly and settled myself in his arms, my entire body moving to the music with no effort. Like liquid, I took form to the song, took form against his body. I was touching him everywhere, my legs, my hands clasped around his neck, his firm grasp on my hips. The way every part fit against the other was enough to send me spinning with wonder, but I shut off my mind. I only felt.

Here she comes like a brand new day
Belly dancing across the room
In the moonlight I watch her sway
To her rhythm I'll go as groom with grace tonight
She's bringing me in
Checking me out
Making me glorious


I'd never watched Max dance before, most of the time I was the one dancing with him, or I was busy dancing with someone else.

His body moved with perfection, looking natural, without thought. I looked up at his smiling face and my eyes were locked on his. A permanent grin had attached itself to my face and it seemed one had to him as well. He winked at me, since conversation was impossible, and I laughed.

And as I, Liz Parker, danced with my best friend in the entire world, my mind began the spiral upward it had taken a couple of years ago, when I had just been looking at him out on that blanket. Knowing I was about to reach some amazing conclusion that was just out of my grasp, something I was missing, something I couldn't recognize.

And the song drew to a close, and Tess and Kyle approached as a new song started up, and it was gone.
It was there, lingering in the back of my mind, but the moment ended. Max hadn't let go of one of my hands yet, and he squeezed it ever so slightly while Tess yelled something in his ear.

Then he laughed and turned to me, leaning in to say something. And I closed my eyes when his lips brushed my hair again, his breath tickled my ear, his deep voice touching a spot deep inside me.
Something else just out of my grasp.

"Tess says it's her house so she gets a dance. She's so strange…Is that okay?"

He pulled back and I opened my eyes and nodded with a smile. Well, at least what I could manage of a smile. My mind was cluttered and all I could register was that Tess wanted to dance with Max. Which made me think that maybe the help she needed with Max, was indeed getting Max. The thought made me ill and I steered towards the edge of the crowd. Walking away I registered the song as that hilariously stupid Mammal Song. How perfect. Maria, Michael, and Isabel were standing there, talking with smiles about something, then quickly shutting up when I approached. Very suspicious.

"Hey guys! Where's Alex and Kyle?"

They each shrugged, then Isabel answered. "Alex went to get a drink, and the last time I saw Kyle he was still out there with Tess."

I positioned myself next to Maria, barely controlling the urge to frown. "Well Tess is out there with Max now."

Maria nodded. "So we see."

I heard the faint sound of thunder over the music and turned a questioning gaze towards Maria.

"It's raining outside. Everyone except the pot heads in the backyard came in…I don't think they even realize it's raining."

I nodded, then turned my gaze back to the dance floor, where my only two dancing friends were currently positioned. I watched the way Tess was smiling at him, the way his hand was casually placed on her waist, the way her hand was clasping his shoulder. Max narrowed his eyes at her teasingly, then playfully shoved her off into a spin, bringing her back to him. They both laughed hard and while I watched them, some of those things I wasn't recognizing before were a hell of a lot clearer.

Jealousy. The gross feeling I started getting in the pit of my stomach when we hit puberty and every girl around Max was swarming, and he paid attention to them. The burning hot rage that hit me when Max was talking to me and some other flirty little thing came up and completely cut me off, refusing to acknowledge my presence. How much I wanted to kill those girls that had been out at the pool that one time. The way I wanted to vomit now, watching Max and Tess laughing and realizing that Tess may not need so much help after all.

"I've got to get out of here," I said to no one particular as I shoved my way out of the room, leaving behind Max and Tess and everything else.

And in the process, not hearing a word of anything when Isabel turned to Maria and said, "Looks like our plans might have backfired."

+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+

Part 9

In my haste to exit that disgusting scene, I had forgotten that it was pouring outside. Certainly no condition to go and 'get some air.' I turned right and headed for the kitchen, knowing Tess kept these weird granola bar things in the cabinet that I liked. I pushed my way past a few people that looked just a little too wasted, and reached around in the cabinet, stretching my arms to the very back.

"Hey, Liz."

I grabbed the box and turned around, seeing the owner of the voice. Adam Miley stood there, giving me the million dollar smile most girls drooled over. I gave him a smile of my own as I reached down in the box to get a granola bar.

"Hey Adam. Enjoying the party?"

He shrugged, looking around the room, scrunching his nose at the two kids barfing in the corner. "It's alright, I guess. Better now."

I put the box back in the cabinet, not catching his drift. "Why's that?"

He laughed slightly as I turned back to him. "Because you're here."

I took a moment in my shock to look at him. He was the epitome of the all-American kid. Blond hair, longer than Max's but not too long. Blue eyes, tall, good build, on the soccer team. There was no denying that he was cute.

I took a bite of my raisin granola and gave him a shy smile. What was the harm in flirting a little bit? I was single, after all. A fact Max had drilled in my head not five minutes earlier.

The picture of Max and Tess flashed through my mind and the decision was made. I set down the half eaten granola and looped my arm through his, flashing him a smile. His eyes were twinkling, and I led him out of the kitchen.

I wasn't really sure where I wanted to head, so I let him lead the way. His hand dropped down and grasped my own, and I found myself not minding the feeling. He turned away from the dance room and I let out a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. We reached a small group of kids in the dining room and Adam made the introductions. A couple of the girls were on my squad, a couple of the guys were from the soccer team, and there were a few kids I had seen but hadn't met. But I guessed by the way their eyes went wide when we strolled over and started talking to them, they weren't part of the 'in' crowd. Like I cared.

I realized the popularity bit made others who didn't have as many friends think that maybe they weren't worthy of the attention. It was ridiculous. I talked to anyone who would listen and listened to almost anyone who would talk. With a few exceptions. One exception was heading my way that instant. Pam Troy, embodiment of all high school temptations and sins.

She whispered a hello in Adam's ear, then shoved a sneer my way.

"If it isn't Liz Parker. I saw your boy in there dancing with your best friend."

I plastered a smile on my face and decided that killing her with a little kindness might be better than getting nasty.

"Pam, always a pleasure. How exactly would my boy…I assume you mean Max…be dancing with himself?"
That'll teach her, little tramp. How dare she insinuate that Max of all people was anything more than my best friend?

"Liz, if he had been dancing by himself then I wouldn't be here right now." She gave me a smile and cast a glance in the direction of the dance room. "But this song's almost coming to an end. Maybe I'll give him an introduction into the world he's been missing hanging with the Holy Parker."

Oh, screw the kindness.

I let go of Adam's hand, oblivious to the crowd starting to form a tight circle around us and turned to face her head on. Her eyes shined with shock, then a bored glare.

"Oh? A little defensive aren't we?" She rolled her eyes and gave me a grin. "I wonder what goes on in that head of his. The boy certainly is hot as hell. He could have any girl he wants but he spends his time with you." She gave a snort of disgust. "Of all people." She shrugged. "But since you've just confirmed that he is indeed single, I guess I shouldn't waste any time getting in there."

She turned to go and I grabbed her arm, swinging her back to face me. One thing that was important to Pam was rising on the social ladder. For once my popularity would come in a bit handy.

"Pam Troy, listen to me for five seconds and I swear I'll never speak to you again. Go ahead and try your luck with Max. But I assure you that he is a hell of a lot smarter than the other boneheads whose bones you jump and he will see exactly what it is you hide under all that makeup. Nothing. You're just a body to him, I'm positive of. Max Evans is more honorable a guy than anyone else, and you will be rejected." I watched her reel in shock that I had spoken so horribly to anyone. I watched the offense in her eyes and the disbelief that Liz Parker could be so sure of any male's hormonal drive. I smile smugly and leaned close to speak quietly to her.

"One last thing. If you somehow manipulate him or drug him, which I'm sure is not below you, I will put you so far down in the ground you won't be able to dig your way back up."

Feeling relieved and dangerous and proud all at once, I grabbed Adam and started to drag him to the dance floor, leaving behind the applause of the kids in the room. He stopped me half way there with a confused look.

"Liz?"

I started to laugh then. At the look on her face, at the way I'd reacted when it was possible Max might do something with her, at the feelings churning through me, at my entire situation. At poor Adam who had no idea I was using him to run away from everything inside of me.

I turned and gave him a grin, pulling him in the crowd.

"I just wanna dance!"

He shrugged, accepting my reason, and we meshed together in the crowd. Me, dancing away from everyone and everything, pulling Adam along for the ride.

+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+
posted on 23-Jul-2002 8:57:48 PM by ShayParkerEvans
Part 10

After a few songs, I was in dire need of water, air, and wanted to get away from Adam for a few seconds to clear my head. I turned and saw Maria and Isabel looking at me confused in the corner, turned again and saw Tess and Kyle laughing against the far wall, turned again and saw Michael and Alex talking like normal, but couldn't find Max anywhere. Worried that threats toward Pam may not have served their purpose, I started to leave the floor, determined to find Max.

But Adam followed me. I immediately regretted having ever danced with him in the first place, as it would be a hassle to get rid of him if he had other ideas in his head. I felt like scum for thinking about just dropping him and running to find Max. An idea popped into my head and I quickly altered my course. Maria and Isabel just looked at me confused when I walked up, but not mad.

"Hey! Have you guys seen Max?"

They exchanged a look that I couldn't quite read, then nodded. "Yeah actually. He came in for a second, looked around and then left again. Seemed kind of mad about something."

My forehead wrinkled in confusion and I forgot about everyone for a second. Max never really got mad. Had Pam made a play for him after all?

Adam grabbed my hand and it brought me out of my stupor. I shook my head and looked to Maria and Isabel, who were both giving me the 'what the heck?' looks. I turned to Adam with a smile.

"Guys, this is Adam Miley. I'm sure you already know him. I need you to keep him company for a few seconds while I go…uhm…"

"Feed your cat!" Maria broke in. I shot her a confused look. I didn't even have a cat! Meeting her gaze, I saw the mischief in her eye and knew she was covering for me. I nodded toward Adam.

"That's right! My poor kitty! Okay, so I'll be right back."

I left with a smile before Adam could ask to come with me. I realized that he would probably figure out we were lying, but I didn't have time to mess with him right now. I inched my way through the throngs of kids who were getting more and more drunk, including Tess and Kyle, and finally found some fresh air in the hallway.

I looked to the right and who should be standing there but Max.

With Pam.

She was smiling and whispering something in his ear, and Max looked kind of confused. I just stood there, not really sure what I should be doing.

1. Attacking Pam and ripping out every last hair on her head.

2. Run away from the entire thing and dance with Adam again.

3. Get their attention and see how Max's attitude changes, then decide a course of action.

Option 1 sounded more than a tad bit appealing. Option 2 sounded like the easiest, but I knew I'd live to regret it, I'd wonder all night what Max was doing, I'd live a life of misery and self destruction.

Well, maybe not that severe, but I didn't want to run away again. Well I did, especially since I recognized that yucky feeling as jealousy, but I couldn't. Things had to be dealt with.

Finally deciding on option 3, I walked up with a sugary sweet smile on my face, hoping to scare the crap out of Pam.

"Hey guys!"

My voice sounded way too high, way too cheery, altogether fake, but Pam didn't seem to notice. Not that I was paying much attention to Pam.

I watched Max. I watched the surprise that someone had spoken, then the relief that someone had gotten Pam off of his ear. I watched the joy that it was me, then a dark cloud settling over his eyes, his entire mood.

"Liz! I was just talking to Max about…um, about some things."

Geesh, that was worse than what I'd come up with for Adam. At least he didn't know that I didn't have a hungry kitten.

I didn't cast a glance on her though, too busy watching Max's eyes darken and dart everywhere but at me. Pam was still babbling, but it didn't faze me. Finally Max's amber eyes met mine, in a look that was a mixture of sadness, maybe a bit of jealousy…and something else. Something that had always been there behind the surface, something I'd never quiet recognized.

But then he was walking. Walking out the front door into the rain, and I followed him, leaving behind a still babbling and no doubt very nervous Pam Troy.

Max was a bit ahead of me, his legs longer. Outside the rain beat down on the pavement, the roads were deserted. Cars were parked in strange directions on Tess' lawn, and the music beat outside, into the background of the rain.

The rain beat down, soaking both of us to the bone.

"Max! Where are you going?"

His tall frame kept walking, not turning around to look at me. "Home!"

His deep voice passed through the rain with ease, and it wasn't difficult to hear his reply. The rainwater was warm, flowing down my body, soaking my hair, my clothes. My brain registered that this was insane, but I kept running after him.

"Why not go through the back yard?"

His head was bent and I watched it shake from behind. "Because the pot heads are sprawled out and I didn't want to step on them."

I walked a little faster as he turned the corner and yelled through the rain. "Why are you leaving?"
He stopped then, about ten feet ahead of me, and I stopped as well. He turned, his dark hair plastered to his head, his short bangs falling in his forehead adorably. His clothes clung to him, outlining his amazing body. His amber eyes shone frustration.

"Can I ask you a question?"

I nodded, my wet hair brushing my back. "Anything."

He looked around, then down to the ground in front of him. "What were you planning on doing with Adam?"

I shook my head, bewildered, not understanding at all. "Adam?"

"I saw you dancing with him."

I nodded. "Yeah, I was dancing with him. But that was all."

He nodded his head, his eyes clouded with thoughts, taking a step forward. "Why did you threaten Pam?"

My eyes went wide that he had that piece if information. To be honest I hadn't expected him to find out. Certainly not this early, when I didn't know how to explain to him why I had done it.

I still hadn't said anything and he shook his head with a wry smile. "Amazing."

I narrowed my eyes at him. "What is?"

He turned, looking up at the sky, the rain running down his face, his neck, then back to me, taking another step forward. I heard thunder in my ears, loud, but it wasn't threatening to me. The rain beat down harder and he had to speak louder for me to hear him.

"Every time girls came over and wanted to do something with me, you ran away. Why?"

I didn't answer him, not sure what to say, and not sure where he was going with this. He continued.
"You didn't like me up above you on that tree branch, you wanted me down beside you. Why?"

I swallowed, watching his eyes flare up and listened to his voice grow louder.

"When Maria had a crush on me in sixth grade you wouldn't listen to her when she talked about me constantly. Why!?"

My mouth dropped open. How did he know that? Maria must have said something to him. But why would she do that? I felt a stinging behind my eyelids.

I watched Max shake his head, water flying different directions. When he spoke again, his voice got louder until he was yelling over the rain.

"You threatened Pam if she tried anything with me, something you've never done before. You got mad when I danced with Tess and ran off to have a great time with Adam Miley! You used to tell me everything and now there's always something you're never saying! You think I can't tell when something's wrong with you, like maybe thirteen years of remembered friendship haven't come up with a thing!"

I tasted something salty and vaguely realized that I was crying. Max shook his head again, his eyes shining with hurt and confusion.

"I…I can't even think straight because I'm wondering about you, or worried about you, or frustrated with you, or scared for you! Liz…" He reached up and ran a hand through his wet hair, smoothing it out of his forehead. "Just tell me why."

Something inside of me snapped and I realized that I was yelling back at him. That something inside of me was coming loose and I was going up that spiral again.

"Why are you asking me this?! What answers are you looking for, Max?! You dance with me and I feel like the most important person in the world and when I turn around you're dancing with one of my best friends the same way! There are girls everywhere that would give their right leg just to have one smile from you and it makes me feel insignificant!"

Max shook his head, still confused. "What are you talking about? Dancing with Tess?! You're worried about Tess?!"

"I don't know!" I yelled back at him, the tears mixing with the rain that was still pouring. "What am I supposed to do!? How am I supposed to know where I stand and what I'm going to do when I lose you?! I yelled at Pam because I was terrified that she'd get you, that she'd find out things about you that I don't know! That maybe I didn't mean as much to you as I thought I did!"

Max's face softened and he took another step forward. "You're my best friend! Nothing is ever going to change that!"

I took a step toward him, the water sloshing at my feet. "Maybe I don't want to just be your best friend anymore!"

I looked up and his eyes were shining with hope. He stepped forward, stopping right in front of me, his eyes looking down into mine.

"Why not?" he asked softly, gently.

"Because…" I swallowed, finally reaching the top that I had been spiraling upward towards for years. "Because I love you."

Max's face started coming down toward mine, and his arms wrapped gently around my waist. My hands went up his arms and around his neck, bringing his face even closer. And with a gentle push, his mouth came down on mine. He kissed me softly, his lips gently brushing over mine, then drawing back long enough to whisper. "I love you too."

He drew me up then, one hand traveling up to my neck, the other hand in the small of my back, pushing me into him. His mouth landed on mine desperately, like he couldn't wait another second. My arms tightened around his neck, craving his taste. His tongue brushed against my lips, and I opened my mouth, granting him entrance.

The first touch of our tongues sent shivers down my spine, and our heads switched sides when our noses bumped. His tongue brushed against mine, and I felt warm tingles flow through my body. His hand traveled up into my hair, running it through his fingers. I kept one of my hands on his neck, the other running up a little bit into his wet, soft hair.

The taste of him was intoxicating. It made me giddy, and I smiled against his mouth. Our tongues tangled, played, twirled.

Eventually need for air broke us apart, and after a deep breath and big smiles went back at it. The rain beat down around us, but not a drop fell between our bodies. It fell around us, a haven to the two of us from everyone and everything else.

And everything that I'd been running from fell between us, and the need to run left, leaving me a warm feeling inside that I was most certain was not the gross feeling of jealousy. And the thing in Max's eyes that I could never quite recognize?

It was love.

+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+

Part 11

The rain eventually stopped, leaving us two giant soaking blobs. But neither of us seemed to really notice it. It was warm out, so being wet didn't arise any sort of cold problems or need to change clothes. But that's one of the things that I'll always remember most. We never got cold.

He looked at me with those deep dark eyes full of things I could never understand. It all seemed so clear to me now, and it made me confused as to how I ever didn't comprehend them. He reached up, tucking some of my wet hair behind my ear, leaning forward to whisper in my ear.

"Liz?"

I closed my eyes, setting my hands on his arms as his whole body stood against mine. Never cold.

"Yeah, Max?" We were the only ones out there, but talking any louder than a whisper just seemed the wrong thing to do. Too precious of a moment.

I felt him smile next to my ear and I smiled as well. I felt rather than saw his left foot move just slightly closer and his smile grow larger.

"My shoe lace is untied."

And I laughed. I laughed hard and Max laughed too. And I didn't even know what we were laughing about, but it seemed like the most ridiculous thing for Max to say. Pam Troy would have slapped him, told him he should have been saying something else, would have not let him talk at all and just mauled him.

But when Max pulled back and kept laughing, looking straight at me, any thought of Pam Troy left my mind. Because I knew somehow that this was exactly where Max wanted to be.

We turned, and started heading back to the party. His fingers played along my arm until he settled his hand over mine, our fingers entwining. I remember thinking how perfect they fit together, I remember smiling up at Max and seeing a reflection of all my thoughts in his eyes. Never cold.

We stood in front of Tess' house, hearing the yelling and the music pounding. I looked up at the sky, watching the starts twinkle and the clouds move off into the distance, and like two peas in a pod, Max and I both turned toward the backyard.

Max flopped onto the hammock first, pulling me down next to him. It was funny, but we didn't lay in any different sort of position. We didn't have to. When we were little, the hammock had been monstrous for our two tiny bodies. In high school we got bigger, and rather than putting our heads and opposite ends where we couldn't hear each other, I'd just laid up with him. And so we weren't so mushed, Max's arm just came around my shoulders. I suppose even though we weren't conscious of anything, our bodies were.

I remember not talking much at all that night. I guess because we both weren't sure what to say. It's not that I was afraid, not at all. I could always tell Max everything. Usually I didn't even have to, he already knew what I was thinking. And maybe that's why we didn't talk much. We both knew what the other was thinking, talk was unnecessary.

I remember getting tired, and turning on my side, wrapping my arm around Max's waist. And I remember his hand finding mine, fingers grasping one another. I remember listening to him breathe, his other hand running through my hair. I remember not getting cold at all.

I fell asleep eventually, and I think Max did too. But even asleep I was somehow aware of what was happening around me. I snuggled my head into Max's neck right before I dozed off. And Max kissed my head ever so softly, and laid his own on top of mine before he finally fell asleep. Always watching out for me, my Max.

I was aware of the parents coming home, looking at us, a tangle of legs and arms. I was aware of them smiling and whispering, then heading over to the Evans' for coffee, since the party wasn't over yet.

I knew when the party was over, and our best friends, making their way across our lawn, stopped short when they saw us. I knew Maria, Isabel, and Tess were whispering and making 'aww' noises and grinning like fools. I knew Michael, Alex, and Kyle were trying to be emotionally detached but ended up smiling a bit anyway, hoping the other two didn't notice.

And I remember, even though I was sleeping, knowing that we had this mountain of support behind us, and that we didn't need to be worried. And I remember knowing we'd make it through every obstacle, that anything thrown our way would be overcome. I remember being so sure of everything.
And I remember not being cold at all.

+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+

I woke up the next morning with a calm all around me. My entire body was warm, not a spot of me was insecure or troubled. I watched the branches above me, swaying with the breeze, the sunlight streaming through onto our faces.

I looked up at Max, and with a sleepy face, he smiled down at me. That moment was like a picture had been taken. At any given second in my life, I could and still can remember him smiling down at me, his eyes sparkling, the sunlight on his face.

I stretched up slightly, just enough to give him the smallest kiss, and it struck me that I could do that whenever I wanted. But before I had a chance to do it again, our silent bubble was broken.

All six of our fiends came bursting out of the Deluca house, presumably after the traditional post-party breakfast over there. After every party one of the sets of parents cooked this huge breakfast for us, to get our systems running right. Eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, toast…everything.

They came bouncing across, fresh faces, clean clothes, huge smiles. Before I could make sense of any of it, they had pulled us both out of the hammock and were dragging us off to our separate houses.

I turned back to look at Max, and saw him getting dragged across the yard with a helpless look. I turned back to look at the faces of my friends and let myself get pulled into the house. We headed up the stairs and into my room.

"Um…" I gave a confused look to each friend and ran a hand through my sleep-mussed hair. "What are we doing?"

"Going shopping, of course," Tess said as she pulled out some clothes from my closet. She tossed them on my bed and Maria and Isabel nodded.

"Put these on and we'll meet you downstairs," Isabel ordered. And in a whirl wind of blond hair, all three of them were gone. I was alone.

I fell down onto my bed, my mind a jumble of thoughts. Finally getting my bearings, I proceeded to get dressed. I didn't get a shower; the feel of rain on my body was something I enjoyed. It made your skin soft, and I smelled like Max. Not something I wanted to wash off just yet.

I put on dry underwear, much more comfortable. Pulled on the blue jeans, the pink T-shirt, some flowered socks, my white shoes, and headed into the bathroom. I brushed through my hair, pulling the sides back with two tiny pink barrettes. I brushed my teeth, fingered on some lip gloss and brushed on a bit of mascara, aware in the back of my mind that nothing was different from usual.

Finally ready, I walked down the stairs and into the pit of normality. Isabel, Maria, and Tess gave me grins of satisfaction and jumped up from their spots on my couch.

"Alright!" Maria clapped her hands together. "Let's get a move on. We're taking my car."

I realized that they hadn't asked a single question, but accepted it. They'd come eventually, so I enjoyed the peace while it was around.

We stepped back out through the sliding glass door, heading across the lawn to Maria's. I felt a jump in my chest, and let my gaze wander over to the door of the Evans'. Coming out at the same time, I matched Max's gaze almost immediately. The walk across the lawn went in slow motion.

I didn't take notice that both the boys and girls went silent and were watching us, my every sense was focused on Max. His hair felt gently on his forehead like always, his blue jeans fit nicely, his green button up shirt had the top button undone and the sleeves rolled up. I somehow knew that he had his clothes picked out for him, which said something about his ability to think if Kyle, Alex, and people of all people Michael helped him get dressed.

A smile broke out on my face the same time that one fell across his, and I felt better than I had getting dressed. They were heading toward Michael's house, the opposite direction. We brushed past each other, his hand running all the way down my arm, sending tingles shooting through my entire body. I'm not sure how I kept my body moving forward, but I did, and with one final glance back at Max, I disappeared into the Delucas' house.

The back door slamming snapped me back into the present, and I shot my gaze up to my three best friends. They weren't talking anymore, the three of them just looked at me.

"We are so talking in the car," Maria grinned.

I smiled while I rolled my eyes, knowing my peace wouldn't last very long. We got into the car, and before the interrogation started as we rolled down the driveway, I recognized that I missed him already.

+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+



[ edited 1 time(s), last at 23-Jul-2002 9:08:20 PM ]
posted on 23-Jul-2002 9:05:02 PM by ShayParkerEvans
New Part! Yay! I have other stories to update, but I will be updating more often, I swear!

+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+

Part 12

The car was silent for a few minutes, but I could feel their gazes on me. Maria and Isabel studied me through their mirrors in the front and Tess openly stared at me by my side. I pretended not to notice and looked out my window, my thoughts on Max. How I felt when we woke up. How I felt when he smiled at me. How I felt when his arms came around me.

An unconscious smile lit up my face and that seemed to be the breaking point for my three friends. They all sighed and Tess shoved me lightly, scooting closer.

"Come on, Liz," she whined, putting her head on my shoulder. "You have to share for the rest of us."

Suddenly yesterday's events at the football game came flashing back to me. Tess' giant grin as she asked me to help her 'get' Max. The way she smiled up at him. The way she danced with him.

And now, looking at me and waiting for answers like a puppy waiting for a bone. The way I wait for my test scores…

Realization zipped through me and a grin broke out on my face. "You planned it!"

Tess gave me a confused look and shook her head slightly. "Planned? Planned what?"

"Getting Max. Dancing with him like a mad woman. You were trying to make me jealous!"

Tess looked away, a blush tinting her cheeks. "It was Maria's idea! I wasn't sure how it was going to play out, but I figured we had to try something."

I looked at Maria, glancing at me through the mirror. "Well, what happened?"

I looked down, avoiding their stares. I could play with them a bit too. I forced myself to look sad, added a few tears in my eyes before looking up and out the window. "We had a fight."

The three of them got confused faces and looked to each other. They shook their head slightly.
Isabel spoke up. "Well you guys looked pretty cozy this morning."

I couldn't help it. The grin spread across my face and I looked back to them.

"Gosh, Liz! Come on! We've been waiting years for this. Don't get stingy on us!" Maria jerked the car around a corner and I figured if I didn't explain she might kill us.

"Alright," I brought my legs up in my seat and crossed my legs, Indian style. "I wasn't lying about the fight. That happened."

Isabel turned in her seat to listen better and Maria kept looking through the mirror. I worried that it was a bit dangerous to do this while she was driving. She gets so excited…

"Was it a big passionate fight?" Tess asked with a giggle.

"Well, first I found him with Pam Troy…"

"Oh! Great bitch-out Liz. I was impressed."

I turned to Isabel. "Did you also tell Max about it?"

She nodded with a little blush. I shook my head with a laugh.

"So, she basically ran away, but so did Max. Out in the rain, no less. We had a fight…that I guess yeah, was passionate. The rain makes stuff so much more dramatic, you know?" They all nodded. "So we're standing there, soaked to the bone, and he's asking me why I do this and why I did that - which, by the way Maria, thanks for giving him the information about your crush and my avoidance of the topic."

She grinned at me and jerked the car around another corner. "True love needs guidance," she sighed dramatically.

I shook my head and laughed softly. "Anyway, it kind of set me off and I ended up confessing everything."
Maria pulled the car into the parking lot, and Tess and Isabel kept looking at me. "And?"

Maria parked and turned around, "Be specific here, Lizzie. We want exact words."

The entire experience firmly etched in my memory, I continued, staring unseeing at the floor. "After my outburst, he said that I was his best friend. Nothing would ever change that." I said it the way he did, accenting the words. "And I said, maybe I didn't want to just be his best friend anymore, and he asked me why." I paused. I couldn't hear any breathing in the car and wanted to make sure they were alive.
Maria shook her hand in a 'continue on' gesture. "And I said, because I love you. And then he kissed me-"

"What!?" Tess burst out. "He didn't say he loved you!?"

Maria smacked her. "She's not done!"

I laughed and finished. "And he said he loved me too."

They all sighed with dreamy smiles, and I wanted to get shopping before the questions started, so I jumped out of the car. "Let's go, guys!"

+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+

Three hours and five shopping bags each later, we stopped for refreshment in the food court. We shared some nachos and the questions still came sporadically, but for the most part they were finally finished.

"You guys have to give me the party dirt, since I missed out."

"Oh, it was great!" Isabel started talking about it. "Your Pam bitch-out was major news, but after you and Max took off Pam told everyone that Max said he'd already laid you and that you weren't Holy Parker after all."

I felt anger creeping through my veins and shook my head. "What's great about that?"

"Tess here bitched her out again, and who's going to believe Pam over Tess anyway? Pam dragged her sorry ass out while everyone laughed at her. When she got to the door she called for Tanya and Rachel and they told her to shutup and leave. Pam lost her followers. Boohoo." Isabel gave a fake pout and laughed.

"Then," Maria continued, "Tess and Kyle had a bit too much to drink and got out on the dance floor."
Maria shook her head with a sigh. "It was not a pretty sight."

Tess shook her head and blushed. "Ria! It was not that bad, Liz-"

"Not that bad?!" Isabel interrupted. "I swear to God, Liz, there was not a millimeter of space between their bodies. And Kyle's hands were places that they shouldn't be in public."

My jaw dropped and I laughed a bit as I gaped at Tess, who was hiding her face behind her hands. "Tess Harding! Maybe we should be giving you an interrogation!"

"No!" She dropped her hands from her face and shook her head, her hands held out in surrender. "Liz, they are so exaggerating-"

"Tess, why don't you tell Liz exactly where Kyle's hands were." Tess blushed and Maria continued. "Better yet, why don't you tell her where we caught you guys later, and what you were doing then!"

Tess' jaw dropped in shock and her blue eyes lit up. "Maria Deluca! Why don't we talk about your table dance last year!?"

Isabel and I were laughing hysterically by this point, remembering very clearly Maria's table dance. Maria turned to Isabel with narrowed eyes and I tried to control myself so I wouldn't be the next victim.

"Oh yeah, Miss Evans? What are you laughing so hard about?" Isabel shook her head and quieted slightly, but I knew it was too late. Maria was on a warpath. "What about eighth grade when you spilled that fruit punch on your white pants!? How about that!"

"That was a great day," someone sighed beside us and we looked up at the Kyle and Michael. "What are you four talking about?" Kyle asked, as him and Michael pulled up chairs and sat down.

Maria, Isabel, and I looked up at Kyle, then back at Tess, and broke into hysterics again. Tess smacked us each and tried to compose herself. "Nothing important, just stupid stuff."

Maria calmed down a bit and asked, "Where are Alex and Max?"

At the mention of Max's name I lost my giggles and looked up as Alex pointed to the left. Everything started going in slow motion as I watched them walk toward us. Alex was laughing about something, clapping Max on the back and Max grinned and laughed a bit. God, the way he smiled…

Ashley Tanner appeared at their side, and the slow motion screeched to a halt. I noticed the other five occupants of the table were looking back and forth between me and the event. Ashley Tanner, taller than me and shorter than Max, striking green eyes. Someone who had never posed a threat and I was now glaring at like the devil.

Ashley brushed her auburn hair out of her face as she talked to Max and Alex, her smile and eyes solely focused on Max. My Max. She leaned closer to hear something Alex said, and her hand casually rested on Max's arm to steady herself. Max let her, the gentleman he was. But she didn't pull away. She had the gall to move a bit closer. Alex came walking over, and Max stayed to talk to Ashley.

She stood on her tiptoe to whisper something in Max's ear, and he nodded with a smile. I narrowed my eyes before looking away and down into the nachos. I never have really been able to describe what I was feeling in that exact moment. Our relationship was so fragile; it was still stuck in limbo between friendship and more. We weren't officially 'together' to everyone else in the world. Life outside our group of eight continued, despite that we always forgot that.

I realized that Max and I getting together was going to be a big thing at school. Rumors would be never-ending, untrue things would be said and would fly like wildfire. Pam's talk last night was enough to confirm that.

In the ten seconds it took for Max to walk over to our table, reality came crashing down around me. I felt suffocated, our relationship felt futile to me. I didn't see how we could overcome the odds that would be against us. Girls were crazy about Max, and girls were some of the nastiest people on the face of the planet. How could I possibly compare to people like Ashley Tanner? I was just brown haired, brown eyed Liz Parker.

Insecurities can make you imagine all sorts of things.

I felt Max sit down next to me, but didn't look up at him. I could feel Maria's gaze on me, and she turned to greet Max.

"Ashley whispering sweet nothings in your ear?"

I looked up at Maria, then risked a glance at Max, who was staring at Maria with a calm look on his face.
"Something like that," his deep voice replied. I felt him shift around a bit in his chair next to me, then look around the table, which all of its occupants were waiting for him to continue.

His hand came down and he waved it around in front of him before clearing his throat. "Okay, you guys have got to promise you won't say a word." He paused. "Ashley's got a rough home situation. Her father's an alcoholic and her mom just doesn't really care too much about her. I asked her about a bruise on her arm a while back and she ended up spilling the whole thing to me. I helped her out, got some information on family counseling and such."

I finally looked up at him. He glanced at me, a bit confused at the look on my face, then continued on.
"She was just thanking me. Said that her dad's going to meetings and her mom is trying to be a more active part of her life. You know, the whole couldn't-have-done-it-without-you sort of thing." I watched him blush a little, and a smile broke out on my face. I felt everyone looking at me like I was a psychopath, but I couldn't help it.

I admit now, it was a bit strange hearing about a girl having an awful home life and there I was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

"So you weren't flirting with her?" My voice came out quietly.

Max looked at me. Full on looked at me, his eyes searching mine. The love and adoration, mixed with a bit of confusion, shone out from his amber eyes, straight into my own brown ones.

And all my insecurities disappeared.

He shook his head slightly, a half smile lighting his face. "Why would I be doing that?"

I felt stupid. All of my carrying on inside my head, not bothering to just look at him and see for myself what was happening. I blushed and looked away from him.

Michael said something that made everyone laugh and Maria turned to swat him. I felt a hand on my arm, and turned to look at Max and his half smile.

"Hey," he pulled my chair a little close to his, "Don't doubt us yet. Give us a chance." He whispered, planting a kiss on my forehead.

I grinned up at him, my previous thoughts blowing away with every breath I took. "I will, I promise."

We tuned back into the crazy conversation around us and I felt Max's hand reach over to my own, and interlace our fingers. The warmth spread through my whole body and I listened to Tess deny the accusation thrown at her.

"I did not let you touch my boobs while we were dancing, Kyle! I think that I would remember that!"

"I distinctly remember the event! Your shirt was all…weird." Kyle argued.

"Wait, wait…her shirt was weird?" Michael asked, his laughter subsiding.

"Yeah!" Kyle nodded his head, using his hand to demonstrate. "It was blue…and the outside was really weird feeling, like a snake or something. But the inside," he looked at us all with a smirk, "the inside was smooth. Like spandex."

We watched Tess blush and her mouth hung open, trying to word a comeback. But we all burst into laughter, knowing she was completely caught.

"Besides Tess," Michael gasped out. "You guys were completely wasted. The fact that you might not remember doesn't mean anything at all. We were in the audience."

"Front row seats, baby," Alex put in.

"Wait," I interrupted, "I still didn't hear what you guys were caught doing later."

Everyone looked at the two of them as they blushed to the roots of their brown and blonde heads.

"They were in the hall closet," Isabel supplied. "But they certainly weren't letting the dust bunnies loose."

"No, they were letting their hormones loose," Maria giggled.

"Shutup, Maria!" Tess squealed. "We're teenagers! We're allowed to make out!"

After a good laugh, we all quieted down. Isabel grinned and announced what had been on all our minds for the past few days. "Homecoming's in two weeks."

"Ah, yet another occasion for Maria to find a reason to go shopping," Michael commented dryly.

"Shutup, Guerin! I don't need an occasion. Or a reason, for that matter," she ended with a poke to his shoulder.

"We've been meaning to ask you fine ladies," Alex continued in a southern accent, ignoring the Maria/Michael banter. "To accompany us to this miraculous event."

Kyle nodded. "Yeah, we already decided who gets to take who."

Us girls huffed indignantly. "And what if we don't approve your decisions?" Isabel asked, hiding a smile.

"I'm taking Liz," Max said, squeezing my hand.

"I agree with their decisions," I nodded with a smile.

We all started to get up from the table and head out, throwing away our garbage.

Tess shook her head with a grin. "Of course you do. But who did we get stuck with?"

Alex scooped up Isabel's bags in one hand and offered her his other arm. "You're with me, little lady."
Isabel laughed and looped her arm through Alex's. "Why thank you, kind sir."

Kyle grabbed Tess' bags and threw an arm over her shoulders. "You're with me, babe."

"Yeah, like we couldn't have guessed that one," Michael said.

Maria paused in her walk. "Does that mean I'm stuck with Guerin?"

"Looks like it, motor mouth," Michael replied with a sarcastic grin.

"Actually, he picked first," Alex called out over his shoulder. "It was a great moment."

Maria smiled at Michael, then continued walking. "Are you going to carry my bags?"

Michael laughed, then threw an arm across her shoulders as well. "Yes, only because I'd never hear the end of it otherwise."

"Wise decision, Guerin," Kyle called out. "Remember when we forgot to pick up her Kit Kat bars at the store?"

All four boys shuddered. "I've never again seen such wrath," Max confessed.

"Max?" Maria asked. "If you don't shutup you'll be seein it again."

And we all laughed, exiting the mall into the sunshine, a big group of smiles. Another picture moment taken by my internal camera.

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TBC... Feedback is lovely!

[ edited 2 time(s), last at 23-Jul-2002 10:47:03 PM ]