posted on 21-Sep-2002 1:17:27 PM by mockingbird39
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Banner by LongTimeFan--Thanks, Liz!

Title: Faith, Hope, Love

Author: mockingbird39

Rating: PG-13

Category: M/L, CC, AU

Summary: This is in response to a challenge by Carolina_Moon. After being healed by Max Evans, Liz Parker left town. Now she’s coming back, but Max has other commitments. . .

Author’s Note: No disrespect intended to the Catholic Church or any other religion. If you’re sensitive about that kind of thing, you may want to avoid this fic. If you’re really disturbed and want to flame me, feel free. But be aware that I will defend my position. Also, please do it via b-mail and leave others out of it. I have no desire to start a board argument.


Part One

Max Evans looked at his watch. Fifteen more minutes, he thought with a sigh, stretching his legs in the cramped space of the booth. Fifteen more minutes and he’d be free to stand up, go find a drink, maybe get in a run before dinner. Unless, of course, some poor soul wandered in here needing someone to talk to.

Ten minutes, eight, five. . .at three minutes he figured he was in the clear, but then he heard footsteps on the marble floor outside the booth and the swish of fabric as someone parted the curtain in the next booth. Max stifled another sigh and opened the window that separated the two.

“Yes, my child?” he asked.

“Maxwell.”

Max gave an irritated groan. “Michael, how many times do I have to tell you? You can’t just come in here to talk when I’m hearing confession. This time is for—”

“—for the faithful,” Michael finished. “Right, right. Well, how do you know I’m not here to confess my sins?”

“Are you?”

“Of course not,” Michael admitted. “Neither one of us has that kind of time. Anyway, if God’s everywhere, he already knows what I did.” He paused, squinting at Max through the grating that separated them. “Besides, I thought you weren’t supposed to hear confession until you take your vows. You’ve still got another two months before you’re Father Max, don’t you?” he asked, snorting with laughter. “I’m still not gonna call you that, by the way.”

Max ignored his amusement. “Father Anthony had to go to Albuquerque this afternoon for an inter-faith meeting. He knows we don’t get many people on Wednesdays, and the ones that come just want someone to talk to.” He leaned back and pinched the bridge of his nose. It had been a long afternoon. “Anyway, there wasn’t anyone else to do it.”

“So did you get anyone today?”

“That’s none of your business, Michael.”

“Come on—did you hear anything good?” Michael paused, frowning. “Annie Carter didn’t come in here, did she?”

Annie Carter was the new receptionist at the auto body shop where Michael worked, as well as Michael’s newest conquest. She was also nineteen and one of the most naïve girls Max had ever met. He leveled a glare at Michael. “Why would Annie Carter come here?” he demanded.

“No reason,” Michael said airily.

“Look, if you’re not here to receive the sacrament, go wait for me outside,” Max told him wearily.

“But I have to tell you something,” Michael protested.

“Then wait in the vestry and I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

“Trust me, Maxwell,” Michael smirked. “You want to know this now.

“This is not appropriate—”

“Okay, okay—if I confess a sin, do I get to tell you my news?”

“Get out, Michael.”

“I slept with Annie Carter’s mother.”

“You did what?”

“Yup. Right after I brought her daughter home from dinner.” Michael looked spectacularly unrepentant. “We were a few minute late—did you know the girl’s curfew is eleven-thirty? Jesus, she’s nineteen.”

“Watch your language,” Max said automatically.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry.” Michael crossed himself and went on. “So she took me out on the back porch to give me hell. I’m telling you, she is one hot woman. Lonely, too. Her husband took off when Annie was a little kid, and she’s been all alone ever since. So anyway, there she was yellin’ at me about how I wasn’t going to defile her little girl, and the next thing I knew, she was all over me.”

“And you didn’t think this might be a bad idea?” Max demanded, rubbing his forehead.

“Think?” Michael shook his head. “Maxwell, I know you’re going to have to take my word on this one, but when a beautiful woman sticks her tongue down your throat and her hand in your shorts, there aren’t a whole lot of thoughts going through your mind.” He shrugged. “So we fu—I mean, we ‘knew each other in the Biblical’ sense right there on the porch. Crazy, I tell you. She’s got that outdoor carpet on the porch, and now I’ve got rug burns all over my ass—”

“Are you finished, Michael?”

Michael thought for a second and nodded. “Yeah. That’s it. How many Hail Mary’s do I get?”

“You don’t do them anyway,” Max reminded him.

“Okay, so do I get to tell you my news?”

Max leaned his head back against the wall of the confessional. “Go ahead.”

“Jeff Parker was in the shop today, all excited. He’s getting a car fixed up—a real sweet one, too. 1967 Mustang fastback convertible—cherry red, tan interior. . .”

“That’s your news?” Max asked in disbelief. “Jeff Parker has a new car? Good for him. Now get out of my confessional.”

“Yeah, well, wait until you hear why he wants it done in such a hurry,” Michael went on. He looked straight at Max through the grating and grinned slyly. “His daughter’s coming in to town tomorrow and he wants to surprise her.”

His daughter? Max straightened and looked at Michael. “You mean—”

“That’s right, Maxwell,” Michael confirmed, still looking like the cat who ate the canary. “Liz Parker is coming back to Roswell.”

* * * * *

When he left Our Lady of Refuge that afternoon, Max went to his room in the rectory and changed into shorts, a tee shirt, and running shoes, all the while thinking about what Michael had told him. Liz Parker was coming back to Roswell. Michael had been right—that was news.

He thought back to the last time he’d seen Liz, the day after the shooting that had almost left her dead on the floor of her father’s restaurant. She interrogated him that day, watching him cautiously as she read from her list of questions. And he’d told her the truth about himself and Isabel and Michael, though he’d never told those things to another living soul. He’d thought she’d come back with more questions—or maybe a list of reasons why it couldn’t be true, but she never had. She hadn’t been in school the next day, or the day after that, and eventually he learned that she had transferred to a private boarding school somewhere on the East Coast. He’d continued to frequent the Crashdown, hoping to see her when she came home on vacations and holidays, but she never had. She’d stayed away, and the only glimpses he’d caught of her were the photographs her parents hung all over the restaurant—Liz in her school uniform, laughing with a group of other girls. Working on a house with Habitat for Humanity. Liz on a school trip in Belize, being hugged by a grinning child. Liz at her graduation, then on her college campus—she’d gone to Oxford, her father had told him proudly. Through those photographs, Max had watched Liz Parker grow up and change. In the two years since she’d graduated from college, she’d been working with the Peace Corps. Liz’s father was rightly proud of his only daughter—Max figured Liz was doing a lot of good. But sometimes he wondered what had happened to the future scientist who had been his lab partner all those years ago.

Max ran through the streets of Roswell, finding an easy pace as he ran past his old high school, past the garage where Michael worked, past Izzie’s new apartment. Finally, out of long habit, he ended up at the Crashdown, lingering outside to do some stretches before he went inside and dropped onto a stool at the counter. He always sat at the counter—except for the rare occasions when Isabel joined him and insisted on a booth. At the counter, he could look at the many photographs of Liz that hung on the back wall and occasionally talk to Jeff Parker.

“Hey, Max, what’ll you have?” Jeff asked, smiling as he sat down.

Max took a cursory glance at the menu. “Um. . .cherry cola, tuna melt, and fries,” he answered.

“Gonna put back all those calories you just ran off?”

He chuckled. “Yeah, I guess. I missed lunch today.”

“I’ll put it in as a rush, then,” Jeff assured him. “Don’t want you passing out on the way home.” He turned to place the order on the carousel and then leaned against the counter near Max. “So did you hear the news?” he asked. “Lizzie’s coming home tomorrow. It’s been forever—her mother and I can hardly believe it. She’s going to be here most of the summer.”

Max smiled, his eyes straying to a picture on the back wall. Liz in a pair of cut-off shorts and a red tank top, her arms around a young African woman. “That’s great,” he said. “Is she just coming for a visit, or. . .?”

“No, she’s working with some inter-faith children’s charity,” Jeff told him. “They’re building a community center downtown.”

Max vaguely remembered hearing something about such a project. “That’s good,” he said, raking over his memories of what Father Anthony had said. There weren’t many; he must have been zoned out about something. He smiled at Jeff Parker. “That sounds great. I bet you’ll be glad to have her around.”

Jeff nodded. “Yeah, it’ll be nice. I’ve already got that old car I’ve been fixing up over at the garage. Your friend Michael’s working on it—it should be ready early next week. I didn’t tell Lizzie. It’s a surprise.”

“That old Mustang?” Max asked, smiling. “If that doesn’t make her stay, I don’t know what will.”

Jeff laughed. “Well, it’s worth a shot.” He filled a glass with ice and soda and slid it down the counter to Max. “Hey, make sure you stop by when she’s here. She asked about you.”

Max narrowly avoided choking on his soda. “She—she did?”

“Yeah, she said you two were lab partners in high school. She asked if you were still around.” Jeff grabbed Max’s order from the kitchen counter before the cook even had a chance to ring the bell. “I told her you were here—told her you’re going to be joining Father Anthony at Our Lady of Refuge.”

“You did,” Max said slowly, reaching for a bottle of Tabasco sauce on the counter. “What. . .what did she say?”

Jeff shrugged. “I think she was surprised. But she said it was great. She said it was really great.”

[ edited 15time(s), last at 11-Feb-2003 2:46:39 PM ]
posted on 1-Nov-2002 5:59:51 PM by mockingbird39
Part 2

“Liz! Liz, I can’t believe it! It’s about freaking time!”

Maria DeLuca burst into the Crashdown and threw her arms around the slender, dark-haired woman who stood beside the counter.

“Maria, I’m so glad to see you! You look great!” Liz Parker pushed her friend back to look at her, grinning from ear to ear. “I missed you so much!”

“Well, I guess you did, Miss Two-Years-in-India!” Maria retorted. She hugged Liz again, then leaned back and whacked her on the shoulder. “Don’t you ever leave like that again, do you hear me?”

“Ow! Ow, sorry!” Liz exclaimed, laughing.

“Promise?” Maria persisted, threatening another blow.

“I don’t know,” Liz retorted, rubbing her shoulder. “No one’s waiting to bruise me in India.”

“That’s no excuse,” came another voice, and Liz shrieked as strong arms grabbed her from behind, swinging her around.

“Alex,” she cried as he set her down. She spun and threw her arms around him excitedly. “Alex, I missed you!”

“Ditto,” he agreed, staggering slightly as she slammed into him. He laughed. “God, I thought you were never coming back!”

She laughed. “I never said that,” she scolded. “Besides, if you’d have come to Bengali last year like I wanted you to—”

“Ah, right,” he said with a laugh. “Me in India. I can’t quite see that one.”

“It’s not the wilderness,” she protested indignantly. “It’s really beautiful. You could have come for the festival of Ganesh. He’s the elephant god,” she added.

“Was that supposed to make me going to India more plausible?” Alex asked, scratching his head thoughtfully.

Liz wrinkled her nose. “It would do you good to experience something new. Don’t you ever want to see something you’ve never seen before?”

Alex thought for a second. “Barbados, maybe” he admitted, at the same time that Maria said, “Paris.”

Liz shook her head. “Barbados is hot,” she informed them, “and Paris is rainy and expensive. It’s not that great.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Maria protested. “You’ve been there.”

“Yes, so you should take my word for it,” Liz said airily. “Now, India, on the other hand. . .”

“Okay, so if we had come to India, you would have come back here sooner?” Alex demanded.

Liz nodded. “Yes,” she said, her eyes wide with mock sincerity.

“Liar,” Maria snorted. “You still haven’t told us why you’re back now—what did you do, get deported?”

Liz laughed. “What? Is it too incredible to think I might just want to spend some time at home after all this time?

Maria and Alex fixed her with identical glares. “Yes,” they said in unison.

Liz’s eyes widened, but she was saved from replying when the bell over the door jangled. Stalling for time, she turned to see who it was. When she saw who it was, her heart dropped into her stomach. “Oh, boy,” she murmured under her breath.

It was Max Evans.

* * * * *

Max had barely finished replacing the candles in the chapel when Father Anthony walked through the doors behind him.

“Hello, Max,” he said, smiling. “Are you going jogging today?”

Max nodded, noticing that the older man was wearing a sweat suit. “Yes, I’m about to go now.” He paused. He’d intended to stop by the Crashdown at the end of his run to see if Liz Parker had actually made it back to Roswell. With Father Anthony around, that might be awkward. But Max knew that Father Anthony enjoyed these afternoon runs, and he tried to include him whenever they were both free—even if he did have to slow down his pace to allow Father Anthony to keep up. In the end, Max smiled. “Are you going to join me?”

“I thought I would,” Father Anthony nodded, “if you don’t mind.”

“Of course not. Just let me change my clothes.” Max wiped his hands on the cloth he’d brought with him, picked up the box of candles, and paused to genuflect at the base of the crucifix before heading down the aisle toward the door.

“Oh, Max,” Father Anthony called after him, and Max turned to face the other man. “I thought we might stop for supper at that diner you like so much—the Crashdown? There’s someone there I’d like to introduce you to. She just got into town today.”

Max froze. “What?”

“Well,” Father Anthony said casually, somehow failing to notice that Max’s life was flashing before his eyes, “you remember that project I told you about a few weeks ago? The community center downtown? We spoke about it yesterday at my meeting. They’ve decided to bring in a new person to oversee the last few months of the project. She’s worked on similar things with the Peace Corps—apparently she’s very highly reccommended. I knew you’d want to help you.” He smiled, still blissfully ignorant of the effect he was having on the younger man before him. “This is right up your alley, isn’t it? I thought I’d introduce you to the new director today. Maybe you can help her get acquainted with the project.” He frowned a little. “I volunteered you for the project. . .did I forget to tell you that?”

The community center. . .She’s working with some inter-faith children’s charity—they’re building a community center downtown. Max swallowed hard. “Um. . .why are we going to the Crashdown, exactly?” he managed to ask.

“Her family owns it,” Father Anthony answered. “Her name is Parker—Elizabeth Parker. She’s a local girl, but she’s been gone for a while.” He thought for a second. “I think she’s about your age—you might even know her. Do you remember an Elizabeth Parker from school?”

“Liz,” Max corrected faintly. “She went by Liz.”

“So you do know her?” Father Anthony asked, seeming pleased.

Know her? That was a funny way to put it. “You could say that,” he answered. He took a deep breath, making an effort to pull it together. “We. . .we were lab partners in high school.” Until she up and moved to the other side of the country.

Father Anthony smiled. “Well, that’s nice, isn’t it? You two should already know how to work together, then. This should be a good summer.” He headed out of the sanctuary, calling back over his shoulder, “I’m going to do a few stretches before we leave. Let me know when you’re ready.”

* * * * *

Max stopped just inside the door and stared. Sure enough, Liz Parker stood a few feet away. In the flesh, Max thought idly, looking her over from head to toe. She’d been pretty as a teenager, but as a woman, she was. . .well, words seemed to fail him. Her hair was long and loose, spilling over her shoulders and reaching to the center of her back. Her brown eyes were enormous—the color of black coffee and full of laughter and secrets and mystery. Her tanned skin glowed in the late afternoon sunlight that streamed through the windows and Max wondered if it could possibly be as smooth as he imagined. She wore loose linen pants and a red shirt that fastened over one shoulder, leaving the other bare. Silver bracelets jangled on her arms, and on her fingers several rings caught the light. High on one arm, circling her bicep, was a tattoo—some strange, exotic-looking design he didn’t recognize. He recognized the tattoo, though. He’d first seen it two years ago in a picture on the wall of this very diner. He’d studied it as best he could ever since, trying to figure out what it was, but he’d never come up with a guess. As she stood there looking at him, he noticed a flash of silver on one side of her nose and realized it was from a small stud there. Liz Parker had pierced her nose? But on her it was quietly exotic, and somehow he wasn’t altogether surprised.

She stood there smiling quietly at him, and finally she cocked her head to one side. “Hi, Max,” she said simply.

He couldn’t stop staring. “I. . .um. . .hi,” he said finally. “I heard you were coming back.”

She nodded. “I heard you. . .” She stopped and shook her head. “I heard some interesting things about you,” she said with a laugh. She started to say more, but then her eyes went to rest on something behind him.

“You must be Elizabeth Parker,” Father Anthony said, approaching her with his hand outstretched. “I recognize you from your picture. Bishop Farrell was showing off the photos of his trip to Bengali yesterday at our luncheon.”

Liz took his hand, clearly trying to guess his identity. “Liz,” she said, smiling.

“Ah, yes. Max mentioned you prefer that,” he nodded. “Oh, we haven’t actually met, have we? I’m Father Anthony Cipullo. I’m the rector at Our Lady of Refuge.”

“Oh. . .oh.” Liz grinned. “Yeah, my father mentioned you. It’s nice to meet you.”

“My pleasure,” he returned, shaking her hand. He glanced back at Max. “And of course, you already know Max, yes?”

She nodded. “From a long time ago,” she agreed, her eyes turning to Max again.

“Well, that’s nice. I’m sure you’ll find him a great help to you this summer.”

“Oh?” Liz questioned, her eyes swinging back to the older priest.

Father Anthony looked from one of them to the other. “No one mentioned it to you, either?” he asked, looking perplexed. “I was sure Bishop Farrell was going to tell you. . .”

“Tell me,” Liz repeated blankly. “Tell me what?”

“That Max will be working with you on the community center project this summer.” He smiled. “Plenty of time to get to know each other again.”

Liz stared at Max and a slow smile curved her lips. He shrugged and smiled back, hoping she didn’t think he had finagled this somehow. “Yeah,” she agreed, raising her eyebrows. “Plenty of time.”


posted on 7-Nov-2002 3:46:05 PM by mockingbird39
Part 3

“So. . .are you here for dinner?” Liz asked.

“Hm? Oh, yeah,” Max answered, still trying not to stare at her. It was a losing battle. He’d watched her grow up in the pictures her father hung on the walls of the diner, but being this close to this new version of Liz Parker was a little hard to get used to. “I. . .I come here after my run. To eat.”

“Oh.” Liz smiled. “That’s nice. I’m glad you still like the food.”

“Oh, yeah—best burgers in town,” he said, then inwardly winced when he realized how lame it sounded.

Liz didn’t seem to notice. “We like to think so,” she said.

“Liz, I know you must be tired,” Father Anthony said, “but would you care to join us? We could talk about the project. Have you seen the site yet?”

She hesitated. “Um, well—”

“Sprry, Father,” Maria interrupted. She’d been standing slightly apart with Alex, but now she stepped up and grabbed Liz’s arm. “Alex and I are taking Liz for the evening,” she informed him brightly, “but we’ll have her back in time for Mass on Sunday.”

“And we’ll make sure she confesses anything interesting that might happen tonight,” Alex added with a grin. “You know—drunken debauchery, that sort of thing.”

Liz rolled her eyes apologetically as Maria pulled her toward the door. “Sorry,” she said. “It appears I’m being kidnapped. I do want to see the building site, though. Could I come by tomorrow?”

“Of course,” Father Anthony answered as Alex joined the fray and grabbed Liz’s other arm. She put up a half-hearted struggle, giggling. “Stop by any time. Max can take you over and let you see what you’ve gotten into. Right, Max?”

“Wha—? Oh, sure,” Max agreed. “Any time.”

Liz was losing her fight with Alex and Maria. “Okay. . .um, I’ve gotta go,” she said quickly. “Enjoy your dinner.” They had her to the door, and she grabbed the frame, hanging on as they tried to pull her outside. “It was nice meeting you. And you, too, Max—I mean, it was nice seeing you again. I’ll stop by tomorrow, and—” Alex reached back inside and pried her fingers from the doorframe. “Um, bye,” she managed to get out before he wrapped an arm around her waist and dragged her outside.

When she was gone, Father Anthony turned to Max. “They’re very lively,” he observed.

“Um. . .yeah,” Max agreed, watching as the three of them piled into a blue car parked just outside. He wondered where they were taking Liz. They looked dressed to go out, so it probably wasn’t to someone’s house for dinner. He didn’t know too much about Alex Whitman, but Maria Deluca liked to party. Max knew that Michael had run into her more than once in her efforts to. . .befriend. . .as much of Roswell’s female population as possible. But for some reason, Michael had never added Maria to his list of conquests. “That chick has an attitude,” he groused once, when Maria had delivered their food to the table with a smile for Max and a thinly veiled insult for Michael. Privately Max wondered if Michael had tried with Maria and gotten shot down, but he’d never asked.

“Is she the same as you remember her?” Father Anthony wanted to know as they sat down together at the counter. Max knew that was the other man’s favorite place to sit as well—he, too enjoyed talking to Jeff Parker while they ate.

“Liz?” Max asked, and Father Anthony nodded. “She’s. . .she’s different,” he admitted. “I mean, it’s been a long time. She’s not sixteen anymore.”

“She certainly isn’t,” Father Anthony agreed, his eyes twinkling. “India agrees with her, I’d say.” Max stared at him, and Father Anthony grinned as he opened his menu. “I’m a man of the cloth, Max. That doesn’t render me blind. She’s a very beautiful woman. Or didn’t you notice?”

“I—well, I mean. . .I saw—” Max stammered, but was rescued when Jeff Parker walked out of the kitchen.

“Father Anthony,” he said with a smile. “Good to see you. Hi, Max,” he added, then glanced around the diner. “Have you seen Liz yet? She got in this morning. She was here a minute ago.”

“Ah, yes, we met,” Father Anthony grinned. “She’s already gone—kidnapped by some ruffians. I believe they mentioned drunken debauchery.”

Jeff laughed. “That would be Alex and Maria. I expect we’ll see them sometime around dawn. Or at least hear them.”

“Well, when she stumbles in, tell her she’s welcome to come over any time tomorrow,” Father Anthony said. “We’ll take her over to the building site and show her around.”

“I’ll tell her,” Jeff said. “I know she’s anxious to get started.”

Max kept his eyes on his menu, but his thoughts were not on the words. Instead, he was thinking of Liz Parker, with her tattoo and her jangling silver bracelets and her mysterious smile, and of a whole summer spent working next to her. With her, he amended quickly. With Liz Parker.

* * * * *

“So, even the priesthood can’t rid Max Evans of his secret love for our best friend,” Maria crowed as they pulled away from the diner. “Figures—the only voluntarily monogamous guy on the planet, and he decides to marry God.”

“That’s nuns,” Liz corrected. “Nuns are the ones who marry God—not priests.” She paused. “Wait, what are we talking about?”

“The way Max Evans is still obviously smitten with you,” Maria answered. “I don’t know how you do it, Liz, but you’re going to have to give me pointers. You haven’t seen the guy in eight years, and he still can’t take his eyes off you. Maybe it’s the tattoo.” She turned to Alex. “Do you think I should get a tattoo?”

“Those are kind of permanent for someone who changes their outfit three times a day,” he said seriously.

“Hmm. Maybe a temporary, then? But it won’t help with Max Evans—he was hers long before the tattoo.”

“What are you guys talking about?” Liz asked incredulously. “We ran into each other for, like, five minutes.”

“Five minutes in which he barely blinked,” Maria retorted.

“You’re certifiable,” Liz snorted. “He’s a—”

“Priest?” Maria interrupted. “Yeah, I hear that’s what all the pining young poets with soulful eyes do when their one true love runs out on them—join the priesthood. It’s less taxing than joining the French Foreign Legion.”

“Plus, you don’t have to hang out with sweaty French guys,” Alex added.

“That’s a plus,” Maria agreed.

“He wasn’t staring at me,” Liz protested. “What did you want him to do—look at the ceiling while he was talking to me?”

“Honey, he wouldn’t have noticed the ceiling if it fell on his head,” Maria told her. “He’s always had a thing for you. I don’t know why you don’t just admit it.”

“Max Evans is about to be a priest,” Liz informed them. “I don’t think high school crushes—not that there was any high school crushing going on—are first on his agenda. He’s probably thinking about. . .oh, I don’t know. . .God?”

“Well, the way I look at it, this is good news for the Catholic Church,” Alex said. “’Cause now we know for sure he’s not gay.”

“Max Evans is not gay,” Liz huffed, shaking her head.

“As evidenced by the way he stared at your breasts,” Alex agreed.

“He wasn’t staring at my—” She stopped, heaving a sigh. “You know, you don’t stare at my breasts. How do I know you’re not gay?”

“I’d give you the names of some very satisfied females,” Alex retorted smugly, “but you might just die of jealousy—especially since you won’t be getting any satisfaction from Max Evans. You actually might have better luck if he was gay.”

“Shut up, Alex—do you want her to run back to India?” Maria put in. “She just got here.”

“What are you talking about?” Liz demanded, looking from one to the other. Her eyes narrowed. “My coming back here—or my leaving, when I go—has nothing to do with Max Evans.”

Maria and Alex exchanged a glance. “Uh-huh,” Maria said, patting Liz’s knee. “You keep telling yourself that.”

Liz stared. “Wait—you think I came back here because of him? Are you both high? He’s going to be a priest! I knew that before I even got here.”

“Liz, I know you watched The Thornbirds,” Maria said, “and don’t tell me it’s not kind of intriguing. You know, the lure of the forbidden and all that stuff. Plus, he’s cute.”

“And celibate,” Alex added. “He never had a girlfriend. God, he’s probably a virgin.”

“Just because he never had a girlfriend doesn’t mean he’s a virgin,” Liz protested. “And why are we discussing the sexual past of a man who may some day say the Mass at one of our weddings? That’s creepy.”

“You’re right. Maybe we should go confess it. To him. You know, give him some ideas. . .nudge him along. Make sure your summer isn’t a total waste.” Alex shot her a sly grin.

“You’re disgusting. And also blasphemous.” Liz pointed turned her head away from him, folding her arms.

“Hey, don’t take it out on me just because you’re having improper thoughts about a man of the cloth,” Alex protested. When she made no move to acknowledge him, he tried again. “You know you want him,” he said mockingly, but she still didn’t look. “I bet he looks hot in that green dress for Mass.” She continued to ignore him, and he poked her shoulder. “Liz? I’m sorry. Don’t be mad, okay? Liz?”

When she didn’t answer, he reached over, grabbed her face and kissed her mouth. Liz shrieked and tried to pull away, but he held her fast until he finished and by then Liz was laughing. “There,” he said, satisfied. “Now you can forget all about Father Max.”

But she didn’t. As they drove to the Las Cruces, where the restaurant and club Maria had insisted they go were located, Liz’s thoughts kept turning back to Max Evans and what he might be thinking at that moment. Just before they reached Las Cruces, she admitted to herself that she hoped he was thinking about her.



[ edited 1 time(s), last at 7-Nov-2002 3:46:51 PM ]
posted on 19-Nov-2002 2:05:14 PM by mockingbird39
Author's Note: I'm posting this in all my fics out of curiosity--is anyone planning on attending the Dreamer party in February? I've never attended a Rosgathering before and I'm considering it, but I'd like to know if anyone I'm friendly with is going. If you're thinking about it or planning on going, b-mail me.

Thanks,
Mel


Part 4


Max was up early the next morning. He hadn’t slept much the night before, but once he woke to the bright sunshine of the early summer morning, he knew he wouldn’t sleep again. He rose, showered, and dressed, then went to the small kitchenette of his apartment in the rectory to make himself some breakfast. He found the bag of fresh bagels he’d picked up the day before and put one in the toaster, then turned to the fridge to find cream cheese and a bottle of Tabasco sauce.

He had plenty of time, so he read the newspaper over breakfast, watched the morning news, then said morning prayers and read from his missal before leaving his apartment to go help Father Anthony serve Friday morning Mass.

He barely had to think about the Mass anymore. He’d been helping out since his senior year in high school, when he’d begun to attend church in earnest. Our Lady of Refuge was a small church in a small parish, and they were always short on altar servers. Now, six years later, he could perform his duties almost without thought.

So when the door of the sanctuary opened during the first reading, he could spare attention to look up as a lone figure slipped through. It was a woman—Max started as he recognized her willowy form and long, flowing hair before she even turned around. It was Liz Parker.

She quietly closed the door behind her, then turned to face the altar and walked up the aisle. Her sandals made no sound on the stone floor and she moved with quiet grace. . .almost like she was floating instead of walking—

Max shook his head, trying to reel his mind in. He was staring so hard he’d nearly forgotten to pick up the censer. Quickly, he waved the brass cylinder over the Bible, glancing down the aisle just in time to see Liz pause and genuflect toward the crucifix over the altar. She crossed herself, then stepped into a pew midway down the aisle, knelt briefly, then sat back quietly.

Of all the people in Roswell, Max had not expected Liz Parker to come to Friday morning Mass. He may have been less surprised to see Michael sitting in a pew beneath one of the colorful stained glass windows of the sanctuary. Well, he amended, probably not. But Liz? She’d just flown in from India, and then spent last night. . .doing heaven knew what. . .with Maria and Alex. If anyone should be sleeping in, it was Liz.

Mass usually went by quickly for Max—he was kept busy with his duties, and he liked the routine. At the beginning, the quiet and the timeless ceremony had been what attracted him to the Church. Each time he went through the doors, he knew what to expect. The Church did not change.

But today, the service seemed to last forever. He kept glancing at Liz as she knelt, stood, and sat along with the rest of the congregation. She stood out in the scattered group of elderly parishioners and housewives, and not only because of her youth and the tattoo on her arm. There was something different about her, and Max couldn’t stop wondering what it was.

When it came time for Communion, Max picked up the brass chalice of wafers and went to stand at the head of one aisle as Father Anthony went to the other. A small line of people formed in front of each of them, and Max noticed immediately that Liz Parker had come to stand in front of him. When her turn at the head of line came, she demurely stepped forward, her head bowed a little in respect for the sacrament. She looked up at him through the dark fan of her lashes, flashing a quiet smile as she held out her hands to receive the wafer.

“Hi,” she mouthed, her grin widening for an instant.

It took him off guard and he held the wafer suspended over her hands for a moment, unable to take his eyes off her. When the pause stretched uncomfortably, her eyes turned questioning and he was startled out of his reverie.

“Uh. . .Body of Christ,” he said finally, carefully putting the wafer in her hands. She smiled again and turned to go, putting the wafer on her tongue.

Resolutely, Max turned his mind back to the ceremony and did his best not to look at Liz until the end. He almost succeeded. Finally, as Father Anthony pronounced the blessing, he felt eyes on him and looked up find her watching him. When their eyes met, she smiled at him. As the Mass ended, he had a moment of panic when he thought she might leave before he could catch her—there were things he had to take care of before he was free. But then he remembered that she’d planned to come over today anyway. That was probably why she’d come to Mass in the first place.

Sure enough, when he finished cleaning up and changed out of his vestments, Max hurried through the vestry doors and found Liz kneeling before a bank of candles. He watched silently as she lit one and crossed herself. She closed her eyes for a second, murmuring something he couldn’t hear. When she opened her eyes, she turned her head and looked straight at him, as thought she’d known all along that he was there.

“Hi, Max,” she said, rising to her feet.

“Hi,” he answered. “You. . .you’re up early.”

She shrugged. “Jet lag,” she said. “It’s late in Bengali.”

“Oh.” He didn’t know what to say to that. “Did you have a good time last night?”

She laughed, a slow blush creeping over her cheeks. “Um, yeah. It was nice.” She paused and shook her head. “Well, maybe that’s not the right word. . .”

“What is the right word?”

She looked surprised at the question. “I. . .don’t know,” she said finally. They were quiet for a second, then she cleared her throat. “So, feel like showing me the building site?” she asked cheerfully.

“Sure,” he said, nodding. “I’d love to. But. . .aren’t you tired?”

She shook her head. “I’ve got a few good hours before I crash,” she told him. “That’s how jet lag usually works. Twelve hours of wide awake, followed by twelve hours of dead to the world.”

“Okay,” he said with a laugh. “Um, I guess we should go before your twelve hours is up, right?”

“Right,” she agreed, glancing at her watch. “I figure I’ve got three or four hours before total unconsciousness sets in.” She grinned at him. “You want to drive, or. . .would you like a ride in my newly restored 1967 cherry red Mustang fastback convertible?” She dangled a set of keys in front of him, laughing. “Welcome home present from my father. Also probably a ‘please don’t go back out there present.’ He handed me the keys this morning at breakfast. What do you say?”

Max laughed, too. “I say I want a ride in your Mustang,” he said gamely.

“I was hoping you’d pick that one,” she grinned.

* * * * *

And that was how, fifteen minutes later, he found himself sitting next to Liz in the front seat of her Mustang with the top down, watching the wind blow through her hair. He thought she looked pretty incredible for someone counting down until a total jet lag meltdown. She wore an ankle-length skirt patterned in blue and white, and a white cotton tank top with ruffles down the front. The top left her shoulders bare, and as they’d gone down the stairs from the church, he’d glimpsed another tattoo—this one was some sort of medallion, set just between her shoulder blades in the middle of her back. Her hair had swished back down to cover it a fraction of a second later, so he hadn’t had time to see exactly what it was, but he couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“So this is pretty weird, isn’t it?”

“What?” He reeled his mind in as she spoke. “Oh, um. . .well, yeah.”

“Yeah.” She wrinkled her nose and glanced at him. “For me, too. You know, I was going to look you up. Even if we hadn’t ended up working together. I had already planned on seeing you while I was here.”

He looked over at her. “Well. . .it’s a small town.”

She shook her head. “No. I mean, I was going to come looking for you. I wanted to talk to you. I’ve wanted to talk to you for a while.” She stopped the car at a red light and looked at him. “I wanted to say thank you. For saving my life, I mean.”

Max smiled. “You already said that,” he reminded her.

She glanced at him as she pulled away from the stop light. “I know,” she said. “But I’d barely had time to think about what you did when I said it before. I mean it this time—you risked everything to save me.” She paused for a second, shaking her head. “All this time. . .whenever something good happened—big stuff like getting into Oxford, or just one of those days where you’re driving along and your favorite song comes on the radio and life just feels really good—you know those days?”

He nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I know what you mean.” Do I ever, he added silently. He had the sudden certainty that if he reached out and turned on the radio, whatever song he heard would be his new favorite.

“Well, every time I had one of those days, somewhere in the back of my mind, I felt like I should call you up and thank you.” She shrugged a little. “But I never did. I don’t know why, but I’m sorry.” She looked over at him with a smile. “So thank you. Thank you for saving my life.”

Max could feel his face getting hot. “Um. . .you’re welcome.”

“I never told anyone,” she went on. “What happened that day, and what you told me at school the day after. . .I never said a word to anyone.”

It had never once occurred to him that she might. It wasn’t in Liz Parker to tell a secret like that—somehow he’d known that all along. He turned to look at her. “I never thought you would,” he said honestly.

She seemed surprised by that, surprised by the absolute trust he’d placed in her so many years ago. She stared at the road for a while, a thoughtful look on her face, then she slowly turned to face him. “Thank you,” she said finally.

They were quiet for a moment, then she laughed. “Whew,” she said. “That’s over. We’ve acknowledged what happened between us in the past, and now we can move beyond it.”

He grinned at her. “Sounds like you took some psych classes.”

“A few,” she admitted archly. “Come on, aren’t you glad to have that out of the way?”

“I’ll never tell,” he laughed. They were approaching the site that would eventually be the community center, and he pointed out the way. “Turn right up there.”

She made the turn and found a parking spot near the entrance. The building was in the midst of a row of apartment buildings that had recently become rent-subsidized. It was still early, but already children played in the streets, shouting and running with the abandon of early summer. Max figured they probably were still in awe that school was out for the summer. He remembered that feeling well enough. Liz paused to look around outside.

“Location, location, location,” she murmured. “Looks like a good place to attract a lot of kids.”

“That’s what the council figured,” Max agreed. He’d taken Father Anthony’s notes on the project with him to his apartment the night before, trying to get a better idea what they were in for. Apparently the project had stalled three months earlier, due more to a lack of administration than funds, as he’d expected. Around that time, Bishop Abraham Farrell of the Zion African Methodist Episcopal Fellowship had visited Bengali, India, on a humanitarian mission. While there, he’d met one Elizabeth Parker, who was finishing up a two-year stint in the Peace Corps and looking for a new project. Just before he’d put the file away for the night, he’d come across a note that Liz’s involvement with the community center was not open-ended. She’d be leaving in nine weeks, regardless of where the project stood. As they climbed the stairs to the building, he wondered where she was going at the end of nine weeks.

Liz was quiet as she pushed open the door to what would be the main room of the center. It was large, encompassing several rooms from the old structure, and in one corner, a space had been marked out for a kitchen. About half the drywall had been put up, and framing for a drop ceiling was in place. But the floor was still bare cement, cracked in places, and electricity had yet to be wired. Boxes and building materials stood abandoned; Max made a note to check the locks and ensure that none of it turned up missing. They had enough money to finish the center—barely. There was little to be spared.

Max watched as Liz made a complete circle around the room. She peered into boxes, counted off panels of drywall, and stood on a step ladder to inspect wiring in the ceiling. Finally, she climbed down from the ladder, dusted off her hands, and turned to him with a wry grin.

“How are you at carpentry?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I helped my father finish our basement when I was in high school, but that was a long time ago.” He stepped to her side and looked around. “How about you?”

“I’ve done some building,” she said, and he remembered a photograph of her wearing a tool belt and hard hat. He couldn’t quite remember what her father had said about that one, but he’d liked looking at it just the same. The hard hat had been far too big, sliding down over her ears and forehead—she’d looked like a little girl dressing up in her daddy’s work gear.

“I have a list of volunteers,” Max informed her. “Some of them have experience.”

“I got that list, too,” she said. “They’ll be a help, but. . .”

“But we’d better learn to use power tools,” he finished with a grin.

She nodded. “Yup,” she agreed, looking around again. She stretched out her arms and turned a circle in the middle of the floor. “Well, Max Evans, where do you think we should start?”



[ edited 2 time(s), last at 19-Nov-2002 3:16:25 PM ]
posted on 1-Dec-2002 9:27:05 AM by mockingbird39
Part 5

“You have dust in your hair.” Liz pointed, wrinkling her nose. “Well, unless you’re going prematurely gray. Really, really quick,” she added with a grin.

Max leaned over and dusted his hands over his dark hair. “Did I get it?” he asked.

“Most of it.” Liz stood on tiptoe and got rid of the rest. Max did his best not to tense when she stepped so close to him, and he very nearly succeeded. “There,” she said. “Better.”

“Thanks.”

“Welcome.” She stepped back and put her hands on her hips, surveying their work. In three hours, they’d managed to sort through the building supplies left from the earlier effort, clean up loose debris and at least one layer of dust on the floor, and twist up loose wiring so that it posed no hazard to any of the volunteers that would—hopefully—be coming to work on the center in the coming days. Liz had done most of the directing; her experience with construction was apparently far more extensive than she’d indicated. Max was more than impressed—even before she’d climbed up the step ladder to cap off the wires. “What do you think?” she asked, glancing at him.

He put his hands on his hips and sighed. “Good start,” he said, then grinned ruefully. “We’ve almost managed to scratch the surface.”

She grimaced. “Way to motivate, Evans.”

“Sorry.”

“Tomorrow’s Saturday. Think we can recruit people if we just show up and start working?” she wondered. “I’m not above begging, if it gets people in here.”

Max thought of the notes Father Anthony had made on the community involvement. The idea itself had come from a group of parents and teachers who wanted the area children to have a place to go after school and during vacations. The Interfaith Board had only become involved after a specific request for help. “I think we’d get some help,” he said finally.

“Good.” She flashed a grin. “I’m not above begging, but I don’t actually like it, either.”

He looked at her in the afternoon sunlight that filtered through the windows, and he couldn’t help but remember that day in the band room when he’d told her the truth about himself. That day, she’d looked a little afraid, and that had been all the incentive he needed to tell her the truth about himself. He couldn’t stand the thought that Liz Parker might be afraid of him. He remembered his lame joke, how his attempt to put her at ease had made her look at him like he was truly insane. And that was before he’d told her the whole story.

She didn’t look afraid today. In fact, he thought he might be more nervous than she was. She’d seemed at ease from the very beginning—from those first moments in the Crashdown when he’d been tongue-tied and stuttering. Today she’d seemed completely in her element. Planning, giving instructions, working with her hands. . .she was extremely capable, he realized. He had no doubt the project would quickly take shape in her hands.

But at the moment, he could tell that exhaustion was starting to creep up on her. She was dusty and sticky, and she had a smudge of dirt on the bridge of her nose. Returning the favor she’d done him a moment ago, he reached out and waved a hand over the offending spot, using his powers to clean it off. She looked surprised.

“You. . .you had a little dirt. . .” he explained, gesturing.

“Oh.” She smiled. “Thanks.”

“Welcome.” He paused for a second. “You’re probably getting ready to drop,” he observed finally.

“Do I look that bad?” she asked with a laugh.

He shook his head quickly. “No—no, you look. . .you look fine,” he assured her. “Really.”

She shook her finger at him mockingly. “Liar, liar,” she scolded. “You’re going to have to go confess that now.”

He chuckled. “Scout’s honor.”

“You were a Boy Scout?”

“Um. . .not exactly.”

“Somehow I didn’t think so,” she informed him. She stretched her arms over her head, rolling her shoulders to relieve the soreness. “Are you hungry?” she asked suddenly.

As soon as she said it, he realized he was starving. “Yeah,” he said, nodding. “Um, a lot, actually.”

“Me, too.” She thought for a second, then glanced at him. “I don’t suppose I could tempt you away from the Crashdown for a day, could I?”

He pretended to be shocked. “Are you really going to rob your father of his best customer—now that he’s got that Mustang to pay for?”

“Just for the day—he’ll get over it.” She grinned. “I’ve been dying for some Mexican food ever since I got back—no, before I got back. About six months now, actually. Do you know what it’s like to crave something for six months?”


Well, that was a loaded question if he’d ever heard one. “Let’s. . .let’s get you some enchiladas,” he said hastily.

She grinned. “Sounds good to me,” she said, then paused. “Oh, do you have something you need to be doing? You’re probably busy with the church and all—god, I’ve taken up your whole day—”

He shook his head. “No, this is good. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. Father Anthony freed up my schedule to work on this full time.”

“Oh.” She looked pleased. “Cool. Let’s lock up then, okay?”

They carefully checked the doors and windows to be sure they were locked, then went out to Liz’s car. “Is Pablo’s Cantina still good?” she asked as she buckled her seat belt, then she smiled ruefully. “Is it sill open? I’ve been gone for a while.”

He nodded. “Yeah, it’s open. Still good, too. Is that where you want to go?”

She shrugged. “It’s close. Do you have a better place in mind?”

“No, Pablo’s is good.”

“Good.” She licked her lips. “Mmm, tacos and enchiladas and salsa that doesn’t come out of a can.”

“A can?” He grimaced.

“Tell me about it.” She rolled her eyes and glanced at him with a smile. “You’d be surprised what you’ll eat when you’re really hungry.”

“Canned salsa,” he said, shaking his head. “You must have been really hungry.”

“Yeah, I guess I was,” she admitted with a laugh.

As they pulled onto the road, he turned to look at her. Her hair was bound up in a ponytail now, and he’d gotten a closer glimpse of her other tattoo, but he still didn’t know quite what it was. She was a little dusty, and a he could tell she was tired from the day’s work, but she still looked. . .he stopped when he realized that he was staring. Eyes front, Evans, he reminded himself.

“So tell me what you’ve been up to,” she said as she drove.

He shrugged. “Not much,” he told her.

She frowned at him. “Not much?” she repeated. “Max, we haven’t seen each other in six years—and you’re about to become a priest. You’ve been up to something.”

He laughed. “Well, it’s not as exotic as India,” he said.

“Uh-huh. We’ll talk exotic some other time. Tell me how you decided on the Church. I never knew you were religious.” She gave him a questioning look.

Max sat back in his seat. He’d spent years fending off questions—and disbelief—about his vocation. He’d long ago worked out a set of pat responses that most people accepted, but somehow he didn’t think Liz was going to settle for that. “Well,” he said finally, “I guess at first it was where I felt most comfortable.”

She glanced at him again. “That was honest,” she said.

“What?”

“Well, a lot of people would have started talking about a ‘calling’ or something like that. But it’s not like that for everyone. Some people go where they feel most secure. Comfortable.” She paused, waiting for me to continue. “Then what happened?”

He shrugged. “I thought it must be where I belonged.”

Now she looked surprised. “That’s it? You just decided like that?”

“Well. . .yeah.” He looked at her closely. “Why do you say it like that? I thought you just said you don’t believe in ‘callings’ or whatever.”

“I never said I didn’t believe in callings,” she corrected. “I just said I don’t think everyone has to have some kind of inner call to their chosen vocation.” She shrugged. “Obviously, some people do, but there’s nothing to be worried about if you don’t. You can find what you’re supposed to do anyway.”

“So you think you were called to be in India?” he asked, wondering what exactly she was trying to say. Maybe it’s the jet lag. . .

“Absolutely. There was no where else for me to go.” Liz glanced at him. “You don’t feel that way about the Church?”

She sounded sad when she said it, like she felt sorry for him. And even though it was Liz Parker, that rankled him. “I think it’s where I’m supposed to be, if that’s what you mean,” he said finally.

“That’s good,” she told him, flashing a smile. But something was wrong with that smile—she wasn’t convinced.

They rode in silence for a while as he tried to pinpoint what about her reaction bothered him so much. Finally he glanced at her. “So if you’re called to India, how come you aren’t there now?” he wanted to know.

She shrugged. “I’ve been missing home for a while now, and I knew that my term in the Peace Corps was almost up. When Bishop Farrell came to Bengali and offered me this, I figured that was my sign. It was almost too perfect.”

“Almost,” he agreed absently. “And you’re going back in nine weeks?”

She waited until they had stopped at a red light, then she turned to him. “You know about that, huh?”

The look on her face told him that he had made a misstep. “Oh,” he stammered. “Was that—is that a secret?”

She considered. “Not. . .not exactly. Bishop Farrell and the council know, of course. I had to tell them when they hired me. Is that how you know?”

He nodded. “Yeah, it was in the notes I looked over last night. Look, I’m sorry—”

“No, it’s okay,” she said. “You’re part of the project, too. You should know what you’re dealing with.” She paused for a second. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention it to anyone else, though. My parents and Maria and Alex—none of them know. I wasn’t keeping it from them exactly. They were all just so happy when I said I was coming home that I couldn’t quite get the rest of it out.”

“Don’t worry,” Max assured her. “I won’t say anything—I promise.” He smiled suddenly. “You kept my secret, right?”

She smiled, too. “Right. I guess I did,” she agreed.

When they were almost to the restaurant, he looked at her again. “So are you going to tell me where you’re going in nine weeks?”

A smile played along the corners of her mouth. “Maybe.”

“Maybe?” he repeated. “No. No, you can’t do that. You can’t make me wonder about it for nine weeks. It’s not fair.”

She laughed. “So that would really bother you, huh?”

“Yes. Yes, it would,” he said honestly.

“So not knowing would keep you up at night? Make it impossible to concentrate on the smallest of tasks?” she teased.

If you only knew. . . He looked down, hoping his ears weren’t turning red. “Absolutely,” he said in a teasing tone.

“Hmm, I don’t know if I want to end that power yet,” she mused.

“What? You’re going to let me lose sleep over this?” he demanded playfully.

“I haven’t decided yet,” she told him airily. “Let’s see how generous I’m feeling once I’ve had some enchiladas. . .”

posted on 6-Dec-2002 5:32:31 PM by mockingbird39
Author’s Note: Quotations are from the Prayer of St. Francis.


Part 6

“So tell me about seminary,” Liz said, licking a spot of hot sauce off her finger. “What was it like? Did you all sit around and discuss theology and philosophy?”

Max grinned. “Actually, we read Playboy and told dirty stories,” he retorted, “but then we took an oath not to tell. . .oops.” He sighed, shaking his head. “Now I have to kill you.”

Her eyes widened in surprise, then she laughed. “Funny,” she said, taking a sip of her margarita. “Very, very funny.” She took another sip. “Mm, these are good. Are you sure you don’t want one? My treat?”

“No—no thanks,” he said quickly. He’d never tried alcohol; after Michael’s first, disastrous drunken bender, none of them had dared.

“Did you take a vow about that, too?” she wanted to know.

He shook his head. “Actually I haven’t taken any vows yet,” he admitted. “I’ve got another two months before I’m ordained.”

“Oh, right,” she nodded. “I keep forgetting.”

“I’m just a private citizen until then,” he said with a grin.

She arched an eyebrow at him over the salt-covered rim of her glass. “Planning to make good use of your time before that, I hope,” she suggested.

Max felt his ears go hot. “Well, I. . .yeah, um—”

Liz looked chagrined. “Oh, Max, I’m sorry. I was just teasing. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“It’s okay,” he said, not quite able to meet her eyes. He scrubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “It’s fine.”

“No, it’s not,” she insisted. “I don’t want to ruin dinner. How can I make it up to you? There’s got to be some—”

“Tell me where you’re going in nine weeks,” he interrupted, wondering where that burst of courage had come from.

She sat back, a crooked grin lighting her eyes. “Hm, very slick, Max Evans.”

“Well?” he persisted. “You said you didn’t want to ruin our dinner. . .”

“You’re really very curious,” she observed. “Do you interrogate people like this during confession? Because that would be very off-putting, I’d imagine.”

“Only the ones who won’t ‘fess up,” he told her. “Come on—just tell me. Otherwise we could have awkward silences, long stretches during which neither of us knows what to say.”

She toyed with her glass and sighed. “Okay, okay,” she said finally. “Kazakhstan.”

He gaped. He hadn’t thought she’d actually tell him, and he certainly hadn’t thought her answer would be anything like that. “Uh, that’s one of those that used to be Russia, right?” he asked finally.

Liz smiled. “Yeah. I’m going to work with kids there,” she said. “There’s still a lot of social fall out from the unrest that’s been happening ever since the Soviet Union fell. A lot of kids with no place to go. Street children, orphans. . .god, special needs kids are locked away in these places. . .” A pained look crossed her face. “No child should ever get locked away like that.”

“Wow,” was all he could think to say. Then, “What about India?”

She shrugged. “I’ll miss it. But I think I’m needed more in Kazakhstan right now.” She grinned at him. “Who knows? Maybe I’ll be back in India some day.”

He smiled slightly. “Or maybe you’ll be in Cambodia,” he suggested.

She shook her head. “I’ve already been there.”

“You have?”

“Long story.” She waved a hand and took a bite of her chicken enchilada. “Now we’re even, and you’re about to spill about you joining the Church. Please continue.”

“I’m about to spill?” he asked, and she nodded.

“Uh-huh,” she assured him around a mouthful of chicken. “Don’t let me interrupt.”

“Okay,” he said with a laugh. He took a sip of his cherry coke and thought for a second. “What do you want to know?”

“Anything,” she answered, loading a tortilla chip with salsa. “Tell me why you want to be a priest.”

He sat back in the booth, considering. “You remember how it felt after September 11?” he asked finally. “Remember how everybody was wandering around scared of something so big and so real that they couldn’t quite conceive of it?”

She nodded, swallowing. “Yeah, I remember. It was like. . .being in a nightmare and not being able to wake up. Every morning I woke up and thought that it must have been a dream.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Well, I kept watching people trying to find something solid—something to hold on to.”

“Something constant,” Liz put it, understanding.

He smiled. “Yeah. A lot of people turned to the Church—my mom was the first one I noticed. Then I saw other people going back, too. Or some going for the first time.”

“Is that when you started going?” she asked. “I always went when I lived here. I never saw you there.”

He nodded. “Yeah, that was when I first started going to church. It was the only place I felt—”

“Safe?” Her eyes bored into his, and he could only nod.

“Yeah.” They stared at each other for a long time, and Max wondered idly why her searching gaze did not unnerve him, especially since it seemed she could see right through him. “So I kept going back,” he said finally. “I kept going back and I watched people come and go. People return to the Church for all kinds of reasons. I watched how they found what they needed in the Church and could go on with their lives.” He shrugged. “I guess I wanted to be part of that.”

She was smiling now, her eyes bright. “So you’re still a healer,” she said quietly. “I’m not surprised.”

He ducked his head. “Some people are harder to heal than others,” he admitted.

“I bet you still try,” she said.

He shrugged, embarassed. “It seems wrong to stop.”

They were quiet for a moment, then Liz took a deep breath. “When my father told me you were going to be a priest, I was kind of surprised,” she said, then she shook her head. “No, I was really surprised.” He met her gaze and smiled back, waiting for her to continue. “I’m not anymore,” she told him. “Max, you’ll make a good priest.”

“Thanks,” he answered. “I. . .I appreciate that.”

“You’re welcome.” She took another bite of her enchilada. “So what do your parents think?”

He grinned. “They were surprised at first,” he said with a laugh. “They’ve adjusted, I think.”

“What about Isabel and Michael?” she wanted to know.

Now he laughed for real. “Isabel. . .well, she’s still Isabel. For the first year, she swore it was a phase. But then she started reading about Rome and the political structure there and now she’s fascinated.”

“Fascinated enough to become a nun?” Liz asked mischievously.

The thought of Isabel in the Vatican made him choke on his drink. “No,” he managed to say when he could speak again. “Not that fascinated.”

“What about Michael?”

Max shook his head wearily, remembering—among other things—Michael’s last “confession.” “Michael is pretty wrapped up in. . .um, other things.”

“Mostly strange women, from what I hear,” Liz said bluntly.

“He’ll be pleased to know his reputation extends to Bengali,” Max said, wondering where she’d heard that.

Liz giggled. “Actually, a little birdie filled me in,” she said, picking up another chip. “A venomous little birdie named Maria.”

“Ah.” He grabbed a chip, too, crunching it thoughtfully. “You don’t think. . .”

“That something went on there?” Liz finished. “Oh, yeah. I just can’t figure out what.”

Max’s eyes widened. “Really?”

“Trust me—Maria’s not mean unless she’s got a reason. Or thinks she has one.”

He wasn’t very surprised. Michael had left a trail of angry women over the years, but he’d never mentioned Maria. “Michael’s not usually close-mouthed unless something really gets to him,” he mused.

“Secret romance?” Liz wondered.

“Or uncontrollable attraction?”

“Leading to seething hatred,” Liz nodded. “Yeah, we’re going to have to look into this.”

“It’s my duty as a man of the cloth to spread peace and harmony where ever I go,” Max agreed solemnly.

“‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,’” Liz quoted with a smile.

“‘Where there is hatred, let me bring love,’” Max continued, grinning.

“Father Evans, are you suggesting we try matchmaking?” Liz asked, feigning shock.

“Um, actually. . .yes. Are you in?”

Her eyes sparkled. “Of course.”

As he raised his glass to toast her, Max shook his head. The summer was looking better every minute.


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 6-Dec-2002 5:32:43 PM ]
posted on 15-Dec-2002 12:48:42 PM by mockingbird39
Part 7

“Come on, Michael—it’s a good cause, and all you have to do is show up and hammer nails for a few hours.”

Max put a cup of coffee in front of his friend and sat down across the table from him. “What do you say?”

“I say it’s eight o’clock on a Saturday morning and you’ve already dragged me out of bed,” Michael groused, rubbing a hand over his eyes. “You’re damn lucky I haven’t thrown you out of my apartment.”

“The hung over act isn’t going to work with me,” Max reminded him. “I know you can’t drink.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve still only had four hours of sleep and I’ve got a headache the size of Liz Parker’s Mustang,” he retorted. “So why don’t you go pick up your girlfriend and go work on your clubhouse together, okay?”

Max shook his head, ignoring the jibe at his relationship with Liz. “Michael, we need all the help we can get. We’ve only got nine weeks to get this place together.”

Michael’s eyes narrowed. “I didn’t know you had a deadline,” he said.

Max winced inwardly. Liz had asked him not to tell anyone she was leaving. “Well, we want to get it done before summer’s over, don’t we?” he said finally.

“I don’t know what you want,” Michael grumbled. “I never know what you want, remember? You’re the one with these great plans to sacrifice yourself for the sake of humanity. I’m your clueless, morally bankrupt friend.”

“Yeah, I keep forgetting that,” Max mumbled, sipping his own coffee.

“Well, I’d appreciate it if you’d remember,” Michael said. “If there’s a heaven, I’m counting on your prayers to help me slip in.”

“Fine, I’ll light a candle for you,” Max told him. “Of course, it wouldn’t hurt for you to help yourself out once in a while.”

“I’ll remember that,” Michael said.

Max waited, watching his friend. He’d promised Liz he’d get Michael to help out at the center this morning, and she’d planned to drag Maria along as well. “C’mon, Michael. You’re always saying I never hang out with you anymore.”

“I meant at sports bars and strip clubs, Maxwell,” Michael retorted. He glared at Max for a second, then he sighed. “I guess Liz is gonna be there?”

Max nodded. “Yeah. She’s the project coordinator.”

“Well. . .” Michael glanced at the clock. “I did wanna get a look at the one girl you’ve ever been on a date with.”

“We never dated,” Max reminded him.

“Really? What about last night? Isabel told me you two had dinner together.”

“That wasn’t a date,” Max scoffed. “We were catching up—talking about the center.” He frowned a little—he wasn’t actually sure the center had come up much once they were at the restaurant.

“Did you pay?” Michael demanded.

“Well. . .yeah,” Max admitted.

“Date,” Michael confirmed with a smirk. “Just tell me you weren’t wearing your collar when she kissed you goodnight.”

“I wasn’t wearing a collar,” Max sputtered.

“So you did get a kiss?”

“Michael!” Max pushed back his chair and grabbed his jacket. “You know what? Never mind. We’ll be fine without you.”

“Hey, wait,” Michael protested. “I’m coming. Give me five minutes, okay?”

Max paused, hand on the doorknob. “Fine,” he said, turning around. “But don’t go saying stuff like that to Liz. I don’t want her to get embarrassed.”

Michael nodded, getting out of his chair to get dressed. “Okay, okay,” he muttered. “Because Liz would be the one getting all bent out of shape over it.”

“What was that?” Max demanded.

“Nothing,” Michael called over his shoulder as he headed to his bedroom. “Nothing at all.”

* * * * *

“Maria, please?” Liz persisted, leaning her head back against the wall behind Maria’s sofa. “I’ll come with you to karaoke night at the Pizza Pan.”

“Sure you will,” Maria retorted from her bedroom, where she was rooting through her closet. “Just like you called me for dinner last night.”

“I was exhausted,” Liz protested. “I’m all jet-lagged. I didn’t have the energy to go clubbing two nights in a row.”

“You had enough energy to go to dinner with Max Evans,” Maria retorted, coming back into the living room in her bathrobe with a towel wrapped around her head.

Liz sat up in a hurry, her feet slipping off the coffee table to hit the floor with a thud. “How did you know about that?”

Maria’s eyes narrowed. “Mm-hm,” she said airily, crossing to the kitchen. “I have my sources.”

Liz got up and followed her. “You called my mother, didn’t you?” she demanded.

“Maybe,” Maria said, pouring two glasses of orange juice. She handed one to Liz. “How did it go with Father Max, anyway?”

Liz shrugged, studying her juice. “We were just catching up,” she muttered. “I haven’t talked to him in years.” She glanced up to see Maria smirking at her, and she flushed. “It’s not like it was a date or something,” she protested.

Maria sipped her orange juice smugly. “Interesting you should mention that word.”

Liz’s ears flamed. “You are. . .reading so much into this,” she managed to spit out.

“Right, it’s all in my head,” Maria agreed mockingly.

“Yes, and it’s the only thing in there,” Liz snapped. “Don’t go saying stuff like that around Max, understand? He gets all embarrassed. . .his ears go all red.”

“Like yours are doing right now?” Maria wanted to know.

Liz clapped a hand over one ear. “They are not,” she muttered darkly, hoping the burning sensation was her imagination.

“Of course not.”

“Look, just be nice today, okay?” Liz pleaded. “Don’t tease him too much—I don’t think he’s used to it. And do go calling dinner last night a date!”

Maria snorted. “Who said I was going today?” she wanted to know.

“You’re going,” Liz insisted. “You’re going or. . .or I won’t tell you a single thing we talked about last night.”

Maria gave an offended look. “You can’t do that,” she protested. “You can’t just. . .go out on a date with your secret admirer and not tell your best friend about it!”

“Not a word,” Liz enunciated clearly. She drained her orange juice and set the glass on the counter, meeting Maria’s scandalized gaze firmly.

“What about confiding in each other?” Maria demanded. “What about—sisterhood?!”

“It’s one Saturday out of your life,” Liz bargained. “C’mon. For me?”

Maria rolled her eyes. “You probably didn’t talk about anything good anyway,” she said.

“You’ll never know unless you come with me,” Liz said, folding her arms.

Maria stared at her for a long moment, clearly considering this. Finally, she sighed. “Fine, I’ll go,” she groaned. “I’ll go. . .get sweaty and dirty and probably electrocute myself. Happy?”

Liz grinned. “Thanks, Maria!” she exclaimed, leaning over to kiss her friend’s cheek. “Hurry up, okay? We need to be there in twenty minutes.”

“Twenty minutes?” Maria shook her head darkly. “There better have been at least one blatant flirtation last night, or I’m going to wring your neck,” she muttered, heading to the bedroom.

* * * * *

“If I break a nail, you’re taking me for a manicure as soon as this is over.” Maria gave Liz a sour look from behind her dark sunglasses.

Liz sighed and reached into Maria’s purse, pulling out the other woman’s cell phone as she drove through the center of town. “Here,” she said. “Make an appointment—because I guarantee you’ll break at least one nail.”

“I’ll make us both appointments,” Maria said, starting to dial.

“Maria, last week I was laying a foundation for a clinic in Bengali,” Liz said with a laugh. “I don’t have any nails.”

Maria wrinkled her nose and grabbed one of Liz’s hands off the steering wheel, ignoring her friend’s protest. “Jesus, don’t they have manicurists in India?” she demanded in disgust. “Well, it doesn’t matter. We’ll get you some acrylics.”

“They’ll just break off again,” Liz warned.

“We’ll get them fixed,” Maria retorted. “You’re not in the Peace Corps anymore, sweetie. You can’t go around looking like a refugee.”

“I do not look like a refugee,” Liz huffed.

“Sweetie, hush,” Maria said pleasantly. “I’m on the phone.”

She had just finished making their appointments—over Liz’s continued protests—when Liz parked the car in front of the center. Max’s Jeep was just in front of them, and when Liz honked the horn, Max turned around and waved. A second later, she saw that he had indeed managed to convince Michael to come, too.

“What is he doing here?” Maria squawked, closing her phone with a snap.

Liz gave what she hoped was an innocent shrug. “I don’t know. He’s Max’s best friend, right? I guess he wanted to help.”

Maria snorted. “Michael Guerin? Do something for someone else? He doesn’t know the meaning of the word altruism.”

Liz raised an eyebrow as she opened her door. “I didn’t know you knew the meaning of that word,” she muttered under her breath.

Maria heard anyway. “Keep it up, Parker,” she retorted. “I’m sure I can get an earlier nail appointment. Say in fifteen minutes or so.”

“You think you’re getting there in my car?” Liz demanded, but before Maria could form an answer, Max had gotten out of the car and was walking toward them.

“Hey,” he said, raising his hand in greeting. “Did you get some sleep last night?”

Liz grinned. “Are you kidding? I crashed the minute I walked in the door. I’m surprised I lasted that long.”

“You look a lot more awake,” Max told her.

“I feel a lot more awake,” she agreed. She tilted her head to the side. “How are your shoulders? Still sore?”

He shook his head. “No, I took a nice long shower last night. I’m ready to work.” He nodded at Michael, who had gotten out of the car to stand beside Max. “I even brought help,” he added with a grin.

Liz looked over. “Hey, Michael,” she said brightly, as though she hadn’t spent the night before scheming to get him here. “Good to see you,” she said, holding out her hand.

“Welcome back, Liz,” Michael answered. He took her hand, squeezing it rather than shaking it. “You look good,” he said with a significant glance at Max. “Really good.”

“Thanks, Michael,” she answered, ignoring the undertone in his voice. “So do you. Are you ready to work?”

He grimaced. “As ready as I’m gonna get on a Saturday morning,” he said.

“Well, we’ve got lots for you to do,” she said cheerfully. “Max probably told you we’ve got our work cut out for us. Hope you’re handy with a tool belt.” As she spoke, Maria had—reluctantly—gotten out of the car and come to stand beside her. “I brought some help, too,” she added with a sly wink in Max’s direction. “You guys all know each other.”

“Hey, Maria. Thanks for coming,” Max said. “We appreciate it.”

Maria gave a tiny smile. “So I get some kind of dispensation for this, right? Time off purgatory or something?”

Max laughed. “How about a couple free skips for Sunday Mass?”

She shrugged. “I’ll take what I can get.”

“What do I get?” Michael demanded crossly.

Max shook his head. “I don’t think I’ve got the authority to absolve you.”

Maria smirked and Liz scratched her upper lip to hide a smile. “Well,” she said quickly, “let’s go inside and get started. Hopefully we’ll get some more volunteers soon.” She walked up the stairs, fishing in her bag for the keys.

“See?” Max murmured as they went inside. “I told you. Uncontrollable attraction.”

“It actually looks more like seething hatred at the moment,” she answered with a giggle. Michael and Maria had immediately gone to opposite corners, ostensibly inspecting the work to be done, but casting each other wary glances when they thought no one was looking.

“Patience is a virtue,” Max reminded her.

“Yeah, but we’ve only got nine weeks,” she pointed out.

Max frowned. “Good point. Where do you think we should start?”

Liz shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess we can hope she trips and falls on top of him.”

“That might work.”

She sighed. “Well, you’re the one with the red phone to God. Start praying, Father. I think we’re going to need it.”

posted on 4-Jan-2003 8:17:30 PM by mockingbird39
Part 8

“Well, then go over there and paint!”

Max glanced over his shoulder when he heard Liz’s irritated voice. She was talking to Maria, who was supposed to be priming one of the finished walls. Apparently, however, that wall was too close to the place where Michael was putting up drywall.

“The dust makes me sneeze,” Maria protested.

“The drywall is already cut,” Liz pointed out. “There shouldn’t be any dust.”

“Well, he’s doing it wrong, then,” Maria insisted, “because I’m sneezing.”

“I didn’t hear you sneeze.”

She bristled. “Well, my nose itches,” she retorted.

Liz sighed. “Maria, why don’t you go work on that other wall?” she asked, her tone pacifying. “I’ll do the other one after I finish marking the studs on this wall.”

Maria looked in the direction her friend had pointed, probably judging the distance it would put between herself and Michael. After a second or two, she shrugged. “Whatever.”

Liz watched her go with a faintly disbelieving expression, the paintbrush she’d been using dangling limply in her fingers. Max stepped up behind her and caught it just before it fell to the ground. “Thanks,” she said, still watching Maria.

Max grinned. “Whatever,” he teased.

A thin line had appeared at the center of her forehead. “Yeah, whatever,” she snorted. “I don’t think you’re praying hard enough.”

“Maybe I’ll start fasting,” he suggested.

“Aren’t we already doing that?” she wondered. “I’m starving.”

“Yeah, Michael was moaning about that a little while ago.” He looked around at the volunteers that had started joining them that morning. “Is there anyone you think we can leave in charge while we get some food?”

“You want to put Michael and Maria in the same car?”

He shrugged. “It would increase the chances of her falling on him.” At her doubtful look, he frowned. “Well, I could try to stop really suddenly.”

She giggled at that. “Good idea.” Liz looked around the room. “That guy with the stud finder—the good stud finder,” she added with a sigh. “He looks like he knows what he’s doing. We could leave him in charge for a while.” The words were barely out of her mouth when the man dropped the stud finder to the concrete sub-floor. Liz sighed as he bent to pick it up, shaking it to see if it still worked. “Or we could just keep fasting.”

Max looked at his watch. “You know, it’s almost four. We’ve been working all day. What do you say we send everyone home at four, take a few minutes to clean up and lock up, then go grab some dinner?”

She hesitated, looking around. “I had hoped we’d get some more drywalling done,” she said.

“Come on—we’ll finish tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow’s Sunday,” she reminded. “Aren’t you busy?”

He shrugged. “Only until the Spanish Mass is over at two,” he answered. “I know you’re hungry,” he added with a grin. “Come on—we’ll drag the lovebirds with us, too.”

“Lovebirds?” she repeated. “Oh, you mean the jackdaws.” She nodded toward the corner, where Maria was glaring warily at Michael.

“Could you make a little more dust, please?” she was asking. “I can almost breathe through my nose.”

“Dust?” Michael asked blankly. “With my hammer and nails?”

Maria snorted. “Well, apparently,” she huffed.

Michael opened his mouth to retort, but Max quickly walked over and put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Hey, Michael, we’d better start getting everyone packed up for the day, right?”

Michael stared at Maria for a second, and Max held his breath, waiting for a retort, but Michael only shook his head darkly and took a step back. “Yeah,” he said to Max. “Okay. What do you want me to do?”

* * * * *

“I was thinking pizza,” Liz said, leaning over the outside faucet to wash the paint off her hands. The water was icy, and she shivered as goosebumps broke out on her arms.

“That sounds good,” Maria agreed, “just as long as you don’t mind eating it again on Thursday.”

“Thursday?”

“Karaoke night,” Maria reminded. “You promised.”

“Of course I did,” Liz confirmed. “Looking forward to it.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Yes, I am,” she protested. “I’m just going to need a few beers before I’m. . .really looking forward to it.”

“You’re going to sing with me.”

Liz sighed. “Maybe some cocktails.”

“Ready to go?” Max stepped up beside her reaching for the bottle of paint thinner she’d left on the ground to clean his hands.

“Soon as I’m clean,” she answered, holding out her paint-splattered hands. “Well. . .my hands, anyway.”

He laughed as he rubbed some turpentine on the paint stains that marked his own hands. “Yeah, better make that clear.” He held his hands next to hers, waiting for a turn under the faucet, and Liz had a distant memory of him waiting at the biology lab sink next to her. She knew her hands were rougher now—two years in the Peace Corps had taken care of that—but his looked just the same. She remembered how strong and warm they’d felt when he’d healed her, and again when he’d touched her face that day in the band room. . .

“Ouch—this stuff stings, doesn’t it?”

She jerked her eyes back to his face when he spoke. “Uh. . .yeah. It works, though.”

“Yeah,” he agreed, running his hands beneath the cold water. “Got almost everything.”

“It’ll dry your hands out,” she told him. “You’d better put some lotion on later.”

“Lotion?”

“Uh-huh. I’ve got some in my bag, I think.” She turned and grabbed her colorful sling bag, rummaging around for a few seconds before she came up with a small bottle. “Here. Try this.”

He looked at it doubtfully. “It doesn’t smell like peaches or something, does it?” he asked. Isabel’s lotions and handcreams always had.

She shook her head. “No, it’s patchouli.”

He uncapped it and took a whiff. He recognized it instantly—he’d caught a scent of it earlier when he reached over her head to help her mark a place for an outlet. “Oh. It’s. . .nice,” he said, dabbing a bit onto his hands. She tried not to watch too hard. “Thanks,” he said after a moment, handing the bottle back to her.

“Yeah. You’re welcome.”

“Well, now I really need a manicure,” Maria announced. “Look at this, will you?” She held out her hands with a pained look.

“Yes, that’s awful,” Liz agreed mechanically, drawing a murderous look from her friend. “What?” she asked, shrugging. “Maria, they’re fingernails. They grow back.”

“You really have gone native, haven’t you?” Maria demanded. She glared for a second longer, then shook her head with a grin. “Have I told you how proud I am of you?” She glanced at Max. “Is my best friend amazing or what?”

Max quickly looked down at his hands. “She’s pretty amazing,” he said in a low voice, a light blush creeping over his ears.

Maria’s eyes narrowed a bit and she looked to Liz for a reaction, but Liz was staring off at something down the street aways and wouldn’t meet her gaze.

“Maxwell!”

Michael’s voice broke the brief silence as he joined the three of them. Max looked up quickly. “All finished?” he asked.

Michael nodded. “Yeah. The tools are all locked up in the shed out back there and here’s the keys.” He held out a set, dangling them in front of Max.

Max shook his head. “Uh, those are Liz’s,” he said.

Michael turned to Liz with a winning smile. “I wondered when Max put this elephant on his keychain,” he said, putting them into her hand carefully.

Liz smiled sweetly. “That’s Ganesh,” she said. “The Hindu god of lost causes. Are you sure you don’t want to hang onto him?”

Michael frowned for a second, but recovered quickly, ignoring Maria’s snicker. “I don’t believe in lost causes,” he said firmly.

Liz shot Max a sly grin. “Good to know,” she said. “Neither do I.”

“Hey, do we have a saint for that?” Michael asked Max.

“St. Jude,” Max and Liz said in unison. Max looked at her in surprise. “That’s right,” he said.

She grinned, raising her eyebrows. “Don’t look so surprised,” she admonished. “I’ve always been a good Catholic.”

Maria snorted. “Wow, now you really need to go to confession,” she said.

Liz put her hands on her hips. “It’s true,” she defended.

“Uh-huh,” Maria nodded. “And you’re also a good Buddhist, a good Hindu, and. . .I don’t know. Have you turned Presbyterian yet?”

“I just think that all religion has a measure of truth,” Liz protested.

“Right. And what does the one, holy Catholic Church have to say about that?” Maria asked Max.

Max shrugged mildly. “That there are many paths to God,” he said simply.

Maria stared at him. “Man, that’s not what I remember from Sunday school,” she muttered. “Are you sure they’re going to let you be a priest? A Catholic priest?”

Max laughed. “That’s what they tell me,” he said. “C’mon, I’m starving. Is everyone okay with pizza?”

They’re coming?” Maria hissed to Liz.

“Since when is she coming?” Michael demanded of Max.

“Michael, we worked together all day—it’s the polite thing to do,” Max answered. He glanced over at Liz, who was attempting to calm Maria. “Come on, be civil for once.”

“Maria, he asked and I didn’t want to say no. It was a good day, right? We’ll just talk about all the work we did today.”

“I don’t have anything to say to him,” Maria said, eyeing Michael suspiciously.

“Think of something,” Liz said firmly.

“But we were supposed to get a manicure—”

“I don’t want a manicure,” Liz interrupted. “I’m having pizza with Max and Michael. And if you don’t care to know what we talk about, feel free to go have your nails buffed.” She lifted her chin. “Your choice.”

Maria considered for a few seconds, glancing at the two guys. “I don’t know where you learned these bartering skills,” she told Liz, “but that’s not really the custom here.”

“Take it or leave it,” Liz said. “Which is it going to be?”

Maria sighed. “Okay, okay. I’ll go. But if he’s rude, I’m leaving.”

“He won’t be,” Liz said with certainty. She had every confidence that Max could keep Michael under control. Hadn’t he gotten the other man here early on a Saturday morning?

“Fine,” Maria said. “But we’d better call Alex. He’ll be mad if we don’t invite him, too.”

“Okay,” Liz agreed. She looked at Max. “Ready to go?”

Max looked up from his conversation with Michael. “Uh, yeah,” he said brightly, ignoring Michael’s snort of protest. “Just deciding who gets to drive.” They smiled at each other and then the two pairs headed toward the cars they’d come in.

“We’d better call Isabel,” Max said as they got into his Jeep. “She’ll be insulted if we don’t.”

“She won’t come,” Michael predicted darkly.

Max shrugged. “Sometimes people surprise you.” He started the car, waited for Liz to pull out ahead of him, then followed her out onto the highway.

posted on 22-Jan-2003 5:07:12 PM by mockingbird39
Part 9

“Isabel! Over here!” Max stood up and waved Isabel over to the table where he sat with Liz, Maria, Michael, and Alex. Isabel had indeed surprised everyone and agreed to come to Pat’s Pizzeria with them for dinner. Alex had shown up a few minutes before, and when Isabel walked through the door his eyes widened a bit.

“Max!” Isabel walked quickly to their table and pecked Max’s cheek. “Here you are—where have you been all day?”

Max stood up and kissed her back. “At the community center,” he answered. “Remember I told you about it?”

Isabel’s gaze landed on Liz. “Right. I remember,” she said. She smiled at Liz and held out her hand. “Hi, Liz. I heard you were back in town. I hope my brother is pulling his weight on your project. Don’t let him make you do all the work.”

Liz grinned as she shook Isabel’s hand. “Oh, he’s been making himself useful,” she said. “I’m glad you could come join us.”

“Are you kidding? My brother is out with friends on a Saturday night. This I had to see.” She sat down next to Michael, hanging her purse on the back of her chair.

Liz looked over at Max. “What do you usually do on Saturday nights?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

He shrugged. “Noth—”

“Pray,” Michael said, at the same time Isabel answered, “Meditate.”

Liz’s eyes widened. “You do?” she asked Max. “I’m so sorry—I didn’t mean to make you—”

“They’re kidding,” Max interrupted quickly, shaking his head.

“Actually, we’re guessing,” Michael informed them. “We wouldn’t know—he never goes anywhere with us.”

“Yes, I do,” Max protested. “We had dinner last weekend.”

“At Mom and Dad’s,” Isabel put in pointedly. She picked up a menu. “I don’t know how you convinced him, Liz, but keep doing it.”

Liz shrugged, glancing at Max. “I asked,” she said, smiling at him. He couldn’t help but smile back.

Michael shook his head. “No, that never works for me.”

“The last place you asked about was Hooters,” Max retorted.

“And did you go?” Michael asked, managing to sound wounded.

Liz bit her lip to hold back a giggle, and Max, who sat across from her at the table, shook his head. “Don’t laugh,” he said. “He really did ask.” She started to answer, but he sighed. “Please don’t ask if I actually went, okay?”

“Well, now I’m going to be up all night wondering,” she teased.

Michael and Isabel exchanged a glance. What in the world. . .?

“So what kind of pizza do we want?” Alex asked. “I’m starving.”

“You?” Maria demanded. “We worked all day.”

Alex shot her a disbelieving glance, but before he could speak, Liz interrupted. “I’m partial to pepperoni and mushroom. How about everyone else?”

“I don’t eat mushrooms,” Maria announced. “They’re a fungus.”

“Me neither,” Michael said quickly. “I like sausage and peppers, though.”

Maria eyed him suspiciously. “Me, too.”

Michael shrugged. “Good. One sausage and peppers for the non-fungus-eaters.”

“I’m not picky,” Alex said. “It’s all pizza.”

“Max?” Liz questioned.

“Pepperoni and mushroom sounds good to me,” he said.

She smiled. “Good. Now, where’s the waiter?”

* * * * *

Max hadn’t known that the restaurant had a DJ on Saturday nights, but then, he wasn’t sure he’d ever been here on Saturday night. At about seven, however, while they were finishing the last of the pizza, the lights in the back of the restaurant were dimmed and the music changed.

“Hey, there’s a dance floor,” Liz pointed out. She had perked up considerably since her first piece of pizza. . .or maybe her first beer. Max wasn’t sure which.

“Yeah, that’s been here,” Alex observed, sipping from his own bottle. “Couple of years, maybe.”

“Well, it’s new to me,” Liz said, leaning back in her seat. She shot Max a grin as she tipped her bottle to her lips, and he shrugged.

“Yeah, I haven’t seen it, either,” he said.

“Big surprise,” Michael snorted.

“Alex, how—”

“I love this song!” Maria interrupted, sitting straight up. Max listened and recognized the song from high school. Isabel had liked it once upon a time, he thought. “Liz, remember this?” Maria asked, and Liz grinned.

“Yeah. Hole, right?”

“Yeah,” Maria agreed. She tapped her fingers against the table top for a moment, then she shook her head. “I can’t just sit here—Liz, c’mon. Let’s go dance.”

“Now?” Liz protested. “I’m tired.”

“That’s what you get for dragging me out of bed at eight o’clock on a Saturday,” Maria retorted, grabbing her friend’s wrist. She pulled Liz out of the booth over her continued protests. “Anyone else coming? Alex?”

Alex shook his head. “Nope, I’m busy. With my beer.”

Maria rolled her eyes. “One more and you’ll be out there anyway, tripping over your own feet” she said.

“Hey,” Alex protested mildly. “I resent that.”

“I’ll come,” Isabel said, and Max’s gaze jerked to her.

Maria and Liz looked surprised. “You like Hole?” Liz asked.

Isabel shrugged. “Sure. Who doesn’t have a little Courtney in her?”

“I don’t,” Michael snorted.

Isabel smirked. “That’s what you think,” she said sweetly, then surprised everyone by putting her arm around Liz’s waist and heading to the dance floor.

When they had gone, Michael turned to Max. “What just happened here?”

Max shrugged, but he was puzzled, too. Isabel had never shown much interest in having girlfriends. Max knew she wasn’t really the ice queen she had always pretended to be; he had always guessed she’d been afraid to let friends get too close. Maybe she figured Liz was safe, since the other woman already knew their secret. But if Isabel and Maria started hanging out, Max planned to start checking the papers for sightings of the Four Horsemen.

“Well,” Alex began, gesturing with his beer bottle, “first they insulted us, then they left. Story of my life, guys.”

“Tell me about it,” Michael muttered. He and Alex commiserated for a while, leaving Max free to watch the three girls. They were having a good time, moving with the music and laughing. After a moment or two, Max realized he wasn’t the only man in the place watching them and he frowned. The girls didn’t seem to notice, however, and after a while Max turned his attention back to the conversation.

“Yeah, I majored in music,” Alex was saying, “so naturally I’m not doing anything remotely related to that.”

“So where do you work?” Michael wanted to know.

“I sell ad time for local television affiliates,” Alex answered. He rolled his eyes. “Riveting, right?”

“Not as exciting as fixing cars,” Michael said wryly. “Day after day of break jobs and dented bumpers.” He shrugged. “Of course, Max has to hear old ladies confess to impure thoughts about the mailman all day,” he added. “It’s all relative.”

“What?” Max asked, reeling his mind back to the conversation.

“Something interesting over there, Maxwell?” Michael asked gravely.

Max’s ears burned. “Oh, I was just. . .well—I thought I saw someone I knew over there.”

Michael nodded. “Uh-huh. Right,” he said, raising an eyebrow. He let it go, though, and turned back to Alex. “So who do you sell ad time to?” he asked.

Max managed to hang onto the thread of the conversation until a new song started. He thought the girls might come back then, but as the opening notes of “Mysterious Ways” started, Liz grinned excitedly. “I love this song,” she told Maria—he was too far away to hear the words, but he could read her lips.

Johnny take a walk with your sister the moon
Let her pale light in to fill up your room
You’ve been living underground
Eating from a can
You’ve been running away
From what you don’t understand
Love


Liz tossed her hair, hips swaying to the music, and Max reached for his Coke, taking a long drink. Oh, boy. He didn’t notice that Michael and Alex had stopped talking to watch, too.

She’s slippy
You’re sliding down
She’ll be there when you hit the ground.
It’s all right, it’s all right, it’s all right
She moves in mysterious ways. . .


“So you hang out with them a lot?” Michael asked Alex, his eyes still on the three girls.

Alex nodded, taking a sip of his beer. “Every chance I get.”

“Smart man,” Michael muttered.

Liz spun around, her dark hair swinging free around her shoulders, her eyes sparkling with laughter, and caught sight of Max watching her. She waved, still moving with the music, and crooked her finger at him in an invitation. He knew his ears were red when he shook his head quickly. She pouted playfully, motioning to him again. Please? she mouthed. He almost managed a smile when he shook his head this time, and was relieved when she shrugged and turned back to Isabel and Maria. But she wasn’t quite done yet. As the song went on, she kept glancing over her shoulder at him, her smile inviting.

Johnny, take a dive with your sister in the rain
Let her talk about the things you can’t explain
To touch is to heal. . .


Was it his imagination, or did her eyes hold a special significance right there? He reached for his Coke again, swallowing hard as she turned back around to face him.

To hurt is to steal. . .

She held out her hand to him again, her eyes bright, her smile mischeivous.

If you want to kiss the sky
Better learn how to kneel.


He shook his head again, trying not to notice how his pulse sped up in response to her gaze. She pointed straight at him, the grin widening.

On your knees boy.

Max gulped his drink as she turned her back again, shooting him another grin over her shoulder.

“So do you think they’ll be doing this again soon?” Michael wanted to know, still watching the three girls.

“I’ll call you,” Alex answered.

“I’d appreciate it.”

She’s the wave
She turns the tide
She sees the man inside the child


“Think they’d come back next week?”

“Maybe. I’ll work on it.” Alex signaled the waiter for another beer. “You sure you don’t want one of these?”

“Don’t I wish,” Michael muttered under his breath.

“Huh?”

“Uh, no, thanks.”

One day you will look back
And you’ll see. . .where
You were held. . .how
By this love. . .while
You could stand. . .there
You could move on this moment
Follow this feeling


“Let’s get them another round, too,” Michael suggested, catching Max’s attention.

“Are you trying to get them drunk?” he demanded.

Michael shrugged. “They’re already drunk,” he said. “I’m just being friendly.”

“I’ll go catch the waiter,” Alex said, standing up. On his way back, he paused to talk to someone else, leaving Max and Michael alone at the table. Michael was fairly certain Max hadn’t noticed—his eyes were still locked on Liz Parker.

We move through miracle days
Spirit moves in mysterious ways
She moves with it
She moves with it
Lift my days, light up my nights. . .
*

When the song ended, Liz tapped Maria on the shoulder and pointed to the table. Maria nodded, but Isabel had found another partner and stayed on the dance floor. Liz and Maria came back to the table breathless and flushed, falling into their seats with a laugh.

“That was fun,” Maria said happily.

“Looked like it might have been,” Michael answered under his breath. She shot him a puzzled look, but shrugged as the waiter delivered three more bottles of beer.

“Thanks,” she said brightly.

Liz turned to Max, fanning herself with a paper napkin. “Not a dancer?” she asked archly.

Max smiled, hoping he wasn’t as red as he thought he might be. “Ah. . .not really.”

“Shame,” she said with a grin. “I love that song.”

“I could tell,” he said.

She raised an eyebrow as she reached for her beer. “Was I that transparent?”

“You were obviously enjoying yourself,” he told her, not quite able to meet her gaze.

“Oh, that,” she returned, and he could hear the grin in her voice. “Yeah, I was.”

She was quiet for a moment after that, and when he looked up, it was to see her watching him thoughtfully. When their eyes met, she smiled and took a sip of her beer.

“Are you having a good time?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said without hesitation.

Her grin widened and she caught a corner of her bottom lip between her teeth. “Good,” she said.

They were still staring at each other when the music changed again.

Blue jean baby, L.A. lady, seamstress for the band
Pretty eyed, pirate smile, you’ll marry a music man. . .
**

Liz’s eyes lit. “Oh, I love this song,” she said. “C’mon—you have to dance with me this time.”

“I do?”

“Uh-huh. Consider it a really late prom dance.” She stood up and held out her hand. “C’mon, Max. Please?”

That wistful grin was just too much. Reluctantly, but with a sudden rush of exhilaration, he got to his feet. “Okay,” he said. “Since I didn’t get my prom dance, either.”

She smiled at him and he couldn’t help but smile back. “Thanks,” she said, pulling him onto the dance floor.

Michael and Maria watched as their friends moved onto the dance floor and settled into a slow rhythm, Liz’s arms around Max’s neck. She smiled up at him as he gingerly put his hands on her waist and he gave a shy grin in return.

“Those two are in such trouble,” Maria said flatly, shaking her head as she sipped her beer.

Michael sighed. “Tell me about it,” he agreed. “This is gonna be interesting.”



*--“Mysterious Ways” Words and Music by Bono, The Edge
**--“Tiny Dancer” Words by Bernie Taupin, Music by Elton John


posted on 28-Jan-2003 3:16:36 PM by mockingbird39
Author's Note--Check out the new banner on Page 1! Thanks, Liz! You're the best!

Part 10

“So. . .is this your favorite song?”

Liz smiled up at Max, shrugging a little. “It’s one of them. Don’t you like it?”

He shook his head quickly. “Oh, no, I—I like it.” He’d never be able to hear it again without thinking about this second, but that wasn’t a bad thing, right?

“Good.”

And now she’s in me, always with me, tiny dancer in my hand. . .

They danced in silence for a few seconds, then he cleared his throat. “Do you miss India?” he asked.

Her smile grew a little wistful. “Yeah,” she said. “I knew I would. I just didn’t think it would be quite so soon, you know?”

He nodded. “I guess.”

“I miss the people,” she went on. “I miss the sounds. I even miss the food.”

“Pizza doesn’t compare?” he asked with a smile.

She laughed. “Not exactly. I think I’m just still experiencing a little culture shock. I woke up this morning not really sure where I was.” She wrinkled her nose. “Well, that’s not really a first for me, though. . .”

“That happens to you a lot?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Uh, well. . .” She blushed. “Not exactly in the way it—”

“Kidding,” he assured her with a laugh. “I know what you mean.”

She laughed, shaking her head. “Good, because I just realized how bad that sounded.” After a second she shrugged. “When I was in India, I missed Roswell,” she said. “That’s the problem with learning to love different places—there’s always somewhere you miss.”

He thought about that for a few seconds, guessing she must be right. “So does Roswell still feel like home?” he asked finally.

She smiled. “Not yet, but I’m hoping. That the other problem—when you’re comfortable in a lot of different places, it’s hard to figure out which one is home.”

“That sounds lonely,” he said seriously.

Her smile faded just a bit. “It can be,” she agreed. “But I guess you know about that, don’t you?”

He was surprised—he hadn’t thought of it in reference to himself, but Liz obviously had. He took a moment to process it. “Well, I don’t remember any other place being home,” he said finally. “But. . .yeah, I guess there’s always been part of me that doesn’t feel like this is home, either.”

She nodded. “I figured.”

For a few seconds neither of them spoke, then Max smiled hesitantly. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

He took a deep breath. “If you missed Roswell all these years, why didn’t you ever come back?”

She looked away, her eyes going to focus on something he couldn’t see. Max had the sudden feeling that she had slipped beyond his grasp, gone somewhere far away where he couldn’t follow. She didn’t speak for a long moment, and he was about to apologize for the question when she looked at him again. “Ask me again later, okay?”

He shook his head. “You don’t have to answer—”

“No, I want to,” she interrupted. “But. . .not right now. Let’s just dance, okay?”

“Yeah, okay,” he agreed. She stepped a little closer to him, tilting her head back to look at him, and he tried not to tense at the closeness of her body.

“This is fun,” she said. Was it his imagination, or had had her fingers just lightly brushed the hair at the back of his neck?

“Uh-huh,” was all he could manage to say.

But oh how it feels so real
Lying here with no one near
Only you and you can hear me
When I say softly, slowly


* * * * *

“So all these years. . .he never made a move on anyone?” Maria raised her eyebrows skeptically.

But Michael shook his head. “Not even a flirtation.”

“And you think this is because of Liz,” Maria went on. “I don’t see how that can be—I mean, they barely knew each other.”

“Trust me—Liz was the one girl he ever tried getting close to. She left, he joined the priesthood.” Michael shrugged. “You fill in the blanks.”

“He joined the priesthood like, a million years later,” Maria protested.

“A million years of no dates,” Michael reminded.

“Huh.” Maria picked up her beer and thought about that. “You really think she broke his heart, then?”

“I think she took it with her to Timbuktu,” Michael corrected. He pointed to Max and Liz, who were still on the dance floor, swaying together to the music, their eyes locked on each other. “Look at them—it’s like they’re looking into each other’s souls or something.”

Maria turned to look. “Oh,” she said faintly. She’s been teasing earlier—mostly—when she’d mentioned Max’s high school crush and Liz’s apparent willingness to spend time with him. But now it seemed that she’d been right all along. “Wow.”

“You think we should do something about it?” Michael wanted to know.

Maria turned back to him. “Like what? Max is about to swear off women—forever. At best they’ve got two months.”

“So we make it a good two months,” Michael suggested.

She considered. “And then what? What happens when Max takes his vows and Liz leaves for the end of the world again?”

“Liz is leaving?”

Maria shrugged. “She always leaves,” she said, unable to keep a note of sadness from her voice.

“So maybe we should do something to make her stay,” Michael said. He glanced at Max and Liz again, found them still oblivious to the rest of the world, and smiled. “I’ve got a pretty good idea what might help.”

Maria turned to watch them, too. “You think?” she asked thoughtfully. “I don’t want her to get her heart broken—and I don’t want Max to get hurt, either. Maybe we shouldn’t let them get too attached to each other.”

“I think it’s too late for that,” Michael said seriously, watching the smile that lit Max’s face in response to something Liz said. “I think it’s way too late for that.”

* * * * *

“Alex, dance with me.”

Alex raised his head and completely lost the thread of conversation he’d been having with a friend from a local radio station. He turned and found Isabel standing there, smiling shyly at him.

“What?” he asked. “Me?” Was Isabel Evans actually standing here asking him to dance? Alex glanced down at the beer in his hand. How many of these did I drink. . .?

“Yeah, that guy I was dancing with—” Isabel nodded in the man’s direction, wrinkling her nose. “He got a little touchy-feely.”

“Oh, right.” Now that he could understand. She needed a rescue. He shrugged. “Yeah, okay,” he agreed easily. He didn’t like the look of that guy, anyway, though he supposed both Michael and Max could take care of him more easily than he could.

They moved onto the dance floor and Isabel hooked her arms around his neck. Alex noticed that Liz and Max were still out there, too, and he grinned. “Your brother’s still dancing with Liz,” he said, nodding at them.

Isabel craned her neck to look. “Max? You’re kidding. He never dances.” She caught sight of her brother and Liz a few feet away and was shocked. “Oh.”

“Yeah, cute, aren’t they?” Alex asked.

“Bizarre,” Isabel said. “They’re grinning at each other like idiots.”

“That’s very unromantic of you,” Alex pointed out.

“Well, don’t you think they look like idiots?” Isabel asked, laughing.

He glanced at them again. “Well. . .maybe. But romantic idiots.”

Isabel looked at the other couple thoughtfully. “Alex, why did Liz pick now to come back?” she asked. “Has she told you?”

Alex shrugged. “I don’t know. She didn’t call to tell us until a week ago. Shocked the hell out of me—the last time I talked to her, she was looking for another job in India.”

“And you don’t know what changed her mind?”

He shook his head. “Not a clue.”

“Does she have a boyfriend in India?” Isabel wanted to know.

“I don’t think so,” Alex said. He looked thoughtful. “You know, she hasn’t really gotten serious about anyone in a long time. There was one guy at Oxford, but he stayed in England after they graduated, and I think they’re just good friends now.”

“My brother has been head over heels for her since the second grade,” Isabel said suddenly.

“Yeah, I know,” Alex agreed.

“You do?”

Alex raised an eyebrow. “What am I, blind?”

“What about her?” she asked. “Does she like him?”

Alex smiled. “You know I go on spring break with Liz and Maria every year?” he asked. “It’s like a tradition. Spring break and West Roswell Reunion all at once.”

“And?”

“And every year, Maria and I catch Liz up on what’s going on here—who’s doing what.”

“So?”

“So every year, the first name out of Liz’s mouth is Max Evans.”

* * * * *

Alex and Isabel danced until the end of the song, then headed back to join Michael and Maria at the table. Alex was surprised to find the two of them deep in conversation, but he figured he’d grill Maria about it later. Or she would just spill, anyway.

“Hey, are you guys having fun?” he asked as he sat down.

Maria glanced at him. “Yeah, we’re fine,” she said. She opened her mouth to say more, but just then Max and Liz walked up to the table.

“Hey, guys,” Liz said. “Max is going to drive me home—too much to drink. Maria, do you want to go now?”

Maria’s eyes widened. “Oh, he’s driving you. . .um, no. I think I’ll stay for a while.” She glanced significantly at Michael. “I can find a ride.”

“Right, I’ll drive you,” Michael said immediately. “Max, I’ll take the Jeep and drop it off back at your place, okay?”

“That’d be great,” Max answered. “I’m just gonna drive Liz home, then I’ll walk back to the rectory. It’s not far.”

Liz wrinkled her nose. “Sounds like a lot of walking for you guys—are you sure it’s okay?”

“It’s fine,” Michael said, before Max could answer. “You guys should go. Liz, you look tired.”

“I do?”

“Well, not that tired,” he amended quickly. “Take your time getting home.”

Liz’s brow furrowed. “Okay,” she said cautiously. “Max, are you ready?”

He nodded, also puzzled. “Yeah, let’s go. I should be getting back anyway.”

They said goodbye and left the restaurant, going to Liz’s car. “That was weird,” she commented as she handed Max the keys.

He unlocked the door for her. “That was Michael.”

She giggled as she slid into the seat, and he smiled as he shut the door behind her. “Hey, Max?” she asked as he got into the car.

“Yeah?”

“Do you really need to get home—I mean, are you busy?”

He couldn’t explain exactly why his pulse sped up. “Uh. . .not really.”

“Well, if you don’t mind. . .” She looked down at her hands, then glanced up at him shyly. “I’d like to show you something.”

Mind? That hadn’t even entered his head. “Where do you want to go?”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 28-Jan-2003 3:20:05 PM ]
posted on 11-Feb-2003 2:45:29 PM by mockingbird39
Part 11

“Which way?”

“Take 285,” Liz answered, leaning back in the seat. “South.”

Max turned the car in that direction and glanced over at her. “Are you gonna tell me where we’re going?” he asked.

“There’s something I want you to see,” she said with a smile. “Be patient. I’ll tell you when we’re there.”

“Is it something in the middle of the desert?” he wanted to know. “Because there’s not much out this way—not for miles.”

“As a matter of fact, it is,” she informed him. “Now relax and enjoy the drive. It’s a beautiful night.”

He had to agree with that. It was clear, and the air had cooled as darkness came. Above their heads, the night sky stretched out as far as he could see, not a single cloud to be seen. Liz had left the top down on the car, and now she sat back in her seat watching the stars. “They’re so beautiful out here,” she murmured.

“What?” he asked.

“The stars,” she answered, pointing. “They’re so bright. So close.”

“Yeah, I guess they are,” he agreed, glancing up.

She looked over at him. “Have you ever left the desert, Max?” she wanted to know.

He shrugged. “On vacation a few times.”

“Didn’t you notice how different the night is in other places?”

He thought about it for a moment. “It’s more quiet here,” he said finally. “And yeah, I guess the stars are brighter.”

“Yeah.” She sighed happily. “God, I missed this place.”

He looked over at her, toying with the idea of asking her again why she’d never come back. He wasn’t completely sure he would like the answer. The timing of her departure. . .he’d always wondered if his revelation had anything to do with that. In the end, he let it go.

“It’s right up here,” she said eventually. They’d gone about ten miles into the desert, then veered onto an access road for another two or three and were nearing a massive rock foundation.

“Is that it?” he asked, pointing.

She nodded. “Yeah.”

He pulled the car to a stop a short distance away and turned off the motor. “It’s. . .it’s beautiful.”

She looked over at him, raising her eyebrows. “You don’t recognize it, do you?”

“Am I supposed to?”

“It was in your memories,” she said, her eyes searching his face. “That day in the band room. . .when we connected. . .I saw it in your memories.”

“You did?” He looked at the rocks again, trying to picture how they would look in the daytime. It took a moment or two, but eventually something stirred deep in his memory. He frowned a little. “Oh. . .okay, yeah. I don’t remember why I remember them, though.”

She curled up in her seat, drawing one of her knees up to her chest. “Maybe this is where you were born,” she mused softly, looking at the rocks.

He looked over at her in surprise. Born? He’d never thought of coming out of the pods as being “born.” “Maybe,” he said slowly. “I don’t remember very much about it.”

“That’s what I thought when I first found this place,” she said.

“When. . .when did you find it?” he asked.

She smiled. “That night—after you told me about you and Michael and Isabel—I couldn’t sleep. So I took my dad’s car and just started driving, and I found this. I recognized it right away.”

He had to give her credit. He had little memory of this place—she couldn’t have seen more than a glimpse of it when they’d connected. “I can’t believe you found it like that.”

“I’m not sure I did,” she admitted quietly. “It was like I was drawn to it—like it called me here.” She knelt in her seat, peering over the windshield, and pointed. “Look what else,” she said. “See those stars? The rocks point right at them. Isn’t it incredible?”

He craned his neck to see where she was pointing. “Um, Liz,” he ventured.

“Yeah?”

“I think that’s Jupiter.”

“What?” She frowned, trying to follow his gaze. “No, it’s not.”

“I think it is,” he told her gravely.

She stared at him. “Why would it point to Jupiter?”

“I don’t know,” he said slowly.

She shook her head. “No, it’s not Jupiter. Where are you looking?” She leaned close to him, looking in the direction he was.

“See?” he pointed. “It’s brighter than the others, and bigger. It’s—”

“Not there, Max!” she exclaimed, laughing. “I know that’s a planet. I’m talking about those stars over there. See?” She pointed again, and he tried to follow the line of her finger.

“Which ones?”

“Those five—the ‘V’ right over there. Do you see it?” She glanced at him and shook her head. “C’mon,” she said, reaching for the door handle. She got out of the car and went to stand in front of it. “Come look,” she prompted, motioning to him.

He got out, too, and came to stand beside her. “Do you see it now?” she asked, pointing again. He leaned down to follow her line of sight. Sure enough, by tracing the line of the rock formation, he could see a cluster of five stars in a ‘V’ formation. And it did seem that the rocks pointed directly at them.

“Oh,” he said. “Yeah, I see it now.”

She was watching him closely, though he tried not to notice. “Do you recognize them?” she asked.

He slowly shook his head, though he couldn’t shake the feeling that they were, indeed, familiar. “No. Did you see them in my memories, too?”

“No,” she admitted. “But I thought it was kind of a coincidence. I mean, it points right at those stars, don’t you think?”

He shrugged. “Yeah, I guess it does.”

“Do you think it’s where you come from?” she asked in a hushed voice.

For what felt like the hundredth time that night, he looked at her in surprise. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know where we came from.”

Her face fell a bit, and he wondered why it mattered so much to her. “Oh,” she said. “I just thought. . .since the rocks were in your memories and all. . .”

He couldn’t stand the disappointed look in her eyes. “It might be,” he said. “It is kind of a big coincidence, isn’t it?”

She smiled tentatively. “That’s what I thought.”

For some reason her smile made his head feel kind of. . .light. “Thank you for showing it to me.” The smile got bigger, and so did the bubble surrounding his head. Quickly, he looked away. “We should. . .I guess we should get you home, right?”

She didn’t answer. Instead she turned to face him and stood there looking up at him until he was forced to meet her gaze. “I didn’t leave because of you, Max,” she said simply. “You didn’t think that, did you?”

Was she a mind reader now? He swallowed hard as she searched his face. “I. . .well, I wondered. I mean, it probably wasn’t the easiest thing to hear—”

“Max, I’m so sorry,” she interrupted quietly. “I didn’t want you to think that. I was always a little afraid that you might, but. . .I’m sorry. Just know that I didn’t leave because of you. I swear it.”

Her eyes were dark and earnest, glittering in the starlight. “Okay,” he said. “I believe you.” They stared at each other for a few seconds, then he was seized by the same boldness that had overtaken him at the Mexican restaurant, and then tonight as they danced. “Why did you leave, then?”

She searched his face again, considering. “I’m going to tell you,” she said finally. “But not right now.”

“What are you waiting for?” he asked softly.

“You.”

* * * * *

“Look—Liz’s lights aren’t on.” Maria pointed as they drove past the Crashdown in Max’s Jeep. “She’s not home yet.”

Michael looked up, too. “What do you think that means?”

Maria smiled and leaned back in her seat. “I don’t know. They couldn’t have gotten lost, could they?”

Michael snorted. “Not likely.”

“So they went somewhere else,” Maria mused.

“Looks that way.” Michael glanced over at her. “Do you think she likes him?”

Maria thought for a moment. “I think that Liz has been away from Roswell for eight years, and now she’s spent two of her first three days back with him.”

“Yeah, but they’re working together,” Michael pointed out.

“Did that dance look like work to you?” she demanded.

“Good point.”

“So is he a virgin or not?” Maria asked suddenly.

Michael looked at her. “What do you think?”

“Sheesh.” Maria shook her head. “An attractive, twenty-four-year-old male virgin who’s not a Trekkie. Maybe we can sell him to Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” She paused. “He’s not a Trekkie, right? Because I don’t think I can do that to Liz.”

“Nah,” Michael shrugged. “I think he was into Counselor Troi, though.”

“Well, she was hot,” Maria pointed out. Michael’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline, and Maria gave him a disgusted look. “What? I’m not allowed to point out that another woman is attractive?” she asked.

Michael smirked. “No, that’s fine. In fact, keep it up. What exactly did you find most attractive about her?”

Maria’s lip curled. “You’re disgusting.”

“You were the one who brought it up.”

She stared at him, sputtering, until he pointed at the building where he’d just stopped the car. “This is you, right?”

Maria looked up and realized that they were indeed at her apartment building. “Yes,” she muttered, grabbing her purse and getting out of the Jeep as quickly as possible. “Finally.”

“You’re welcome,” Michael called after her as she entered the building.

He couldn’t quite hear her reply, but from the look on her face as she turned to glare at him, he thought he could guess.