|posted on 2-Nov-2002 8:27:15 PM by Tasyfa|
Banner by the wonderful Blanca. Thank you, dear!
Part 7: Commencement-page 29-----Feb 9/03
Part 6B: Reassertion----page 25-----Feb. 1/03
Part 6: Denial----------page 20------Jan. 11/03
Part 5: Fragility--------page 17-----Jan. 5/03
Part 4: Unveiled--------page 11-----Dec. 1/02
Part 3: Permutation-----page 8-----Nov. 17/02
Part 2: Opacity---------page 6-----Nov. 12/02
In two posts for length.
Title: The Bitter Dregs
Disclaimer: The characters of Roswell are the property of Twentieth Century Fox Television and Regency Productions. All original characters and concepts are the property of the author. No profit has been made from the distribution of this work of fiction.
Category: Max/Liz; rotating POVs
Dedication: For RosDeidre. You know why.;)
Summary: This is based on the false spoilers for the end of Season 3. The beginning bears a vague resemblance to part of Cookie2697's lovely fic, Hope Alone, for which I have obtained her permission to post this. I highly recommend HA as a wonderful read.
When the spoilers first came out, I was devastated. I could appreciate the elegant irony of returning to the beginning, but without a Season 4 to explore the possibilities raised by this clean slate option, I could not accept that that would be the ending given to my beloved show. And I was grateful beyond words that when the episode order was cut, TPTB chose to end the series with Graduation. Yet the images that I first conceived out of the bleak possibility of that finale never faded, and eventually I chose to put them to paper. The Bitter Dregs is the result. I hope you enjoy it.
"Wanna go get something to eat? My treat."
Michael looks at me suspiciously and I try to look innocent. Not surprisingly, he isn't biting. "Crashdown, right? So you can moon over Parker some more?"
I sigh but can't deny it. "Where else? Besides, you won't have to get dragged over there any more after tonight, so just come with me." So I don't look like a complete loser.
"Why, you planning on getting your head out of the clouds?"
It would be unethical to hurt him, right? He's my best friend, still thinks he's really my brother. He's always been like this and I can usually deal, even in the bizarre reality that is now my life. But today is different.
"She's leaving for Harvard tomorrow, Michael. She's taking the summer semester. Let it go."
His face softens from its typical scowl and that hurts. I've never breathed a word of how I changed it all, how that fragment of the granolith that Michael took from the military lab allowed me to travel back in time and prevent Liz from getting shot. Since the alteration of that day, my life has gone on as it started: hiding in the shadows, wishing I didn't have to be so invisible. The last three years have been a bittersweet kind of torture. Every time I see Liz laughing with her two best friends, Maria and Alex, I can't help but think that it was all worth it. But every time I see her kiss Kyle Valenti, I die a little more inside.
Michael doesn't speak again until we're almost to the café, and his voice startles me out of my self-pitying reverie.
"You know she broke up with Kyle, right?"
"Couple weeks before exams. You really didn't know?" he sounds shocked, and I suppose that's warranted. Even more than Isabel, Michael knows how obsessed I truly am with Liz, without knowing the deeper reasons of course. He ribs me about it but only to a point, because I think he understands. That without this lifeline, I would be so lost.
"No. She never spends time with him around exams, she's too busy studying for any kind of social life." One of the good things—the best, actually, aside from Alex's continued existence. Liz would have the future she'd always dreamed of, Harvard and molecular biology. Not running from the law for consorting with aliens.
"Well, they've been real casual the last year or so. Kissing friends, basically," he shrugs.
"Right," I mutter. It's the kissing part that bothers me. I pull the door open and we enter the Crashdown, sitting in our regular booth near the back. Agnes rolls her eyes over by the counter. I guess this is her section tonight. We're the only people in it—it's after the dinner rush and too early for the post-movie crowd. Good thing I'm not really that hungry.
Long before Agnes makes her way over, I hear bursts of laughter coming from the break room and recognize Liz's happy sounds within the chorus. It makes me smile. It always makes me smile.
Michael reads over the menu like we haven't been here nearly every day for years.
"Anything new miraculously appear?" I joke.
"Funny man," he scowls. "I don't know what I'm in the mood for."
"Me neither." I give the laminated paper a once-over. Maybe just a milkshake? I did actually eat dinner at home.
"Hey Max, Michael," a cheerful voice speaks at my elbow.
"Liz! Hi," I stutter. Michael stretches his lips in a split-second imitation of a smile and goes back to the menu. "Uh, big day tomorrow, huh?"
"Oh, you heard? Yeah. I'm all packed and everything. My room looks so weird," she widens her eyes for emphasis. "Anyway, can I get you guys something?"
Michael and I exchange a puzzled look; she's wearing jeans and a cropped red sweater, not the aqua waitress uniform. "You're not working tonight, are you?"
"Oh, no," she laughs. "But as Agnes's only customers, you could perish from hunger by the time she gets around to taking your order. My dad's too sentimental to fire her—she's been here since the restaurant opened."
Michael shrugs and glances at me expectantly. "Okay, why don't we get the Blue Moon Burger special and a cherry cola? I want the milkshake; Michael, you can have the rest."
"Works for me," he agrees.
"I'll be right back," Liz smiles.
"Uh, Liz?" My voice squeaks a little in the knowledge that I'm about to declare myself the biggest geek ever. "I didn't catch you in class. Would you sign my yearbook?"
Her eyebrows shoot up to her hairline and Michael hides a snicker. Believe me, I know how bad it looks. Normal people don't carry around their yearbooks just for the hell of it. At least Michael didn't see it in my jacket or I wouldn't have had the courage to say anything.
"Sure, Max. Here, let me get Maria and Alex to sign it while I think about what I want to say," her face relaxes back into its smile and I breathe again as she departs, yearbook in hand.
Michael unobtrusively makes an 'L' symbol with his thumb and forefinger. "Man, you got it bad."
"Hardly a newsflash," I grimace.
He lowers his voice. "You gonna make it once she's gone?"
I don't know, I want to tell him, because that's the truth, but I shrug. "I'll manage."
His expression is doubtful but he doesn't call me on it. Just then, Maria comes over with our order. She's not on tonight either; Liz must have asked her to bring it.
"Here you are. Max, I hope you appreciate the novel you're apparently getting," she quips dryly. "All I put was, 'Have a nice summer.'" I turn to see Liz at the counter, yearbook open in front of her and pen in her mouth. She only chews on her pen when she needs to think about something. A wisp of hope uncurls in my stomach.
"Thanks, Maria." Michael grunts in acknowledgement, and she and I share a smile over his lack of verbalization.
"No problem. Hey, I heard you're going to Las Cruces. That true?"
"Yeah. Michael and I are going to get a place together near the campus." Seeing the way she lifts one eyebrow, I add hastily, "Isabel was going to move in with us too, but she decided that she'd be better off in the dorm once it occurred to her that she'd be the one doing all the cleaning."
Maria laughs, the speculative gleam gone. "I'm in the dorm, too. Maybe I'll see you around campus."
"Yeah, that'd be cool." My attention veers towards Liz, who is headed over with my yearbook. She hands it back with a smile and then stands there. None of us know what to say.
"Well, thanks," I tell her and she nods. She and Maria say farewell and head for the swinging door, where Alex is waiting.
I open the yearbook and flip to the page where she wrote. Maria wasn't kidding—it's pretty long. Directly above her neat printing is Alex's scrawl: 'Live long and prosper.' My eyelids prickle at the irony then I begin to read Liz's message.
It's been a long four years of high school, but in some ways I wish it weren't over yet. It's too bad that you're not coming to Harvard. I'm going to miss having you in my science labs. You were one of the few people I could always count on to do your half of the work when we partnered up, and you took great notes when I was sick! I doubt I'll get that lucky in two schools.
On a more personal note, I will miss you for yourself, too. I've always thought you were a really nice guy and I wish we could have known each other better. You make me laugh and I never feel like I have to hide my brain around you—I can be myself.
All my best, Liz Parker
I don't know how long I stare at it. Michael finally takes the book out of my hands and reads it.
"You gonna sit there or go after her?"
"What?" I'm having trouble focusing. He heaves a sigh and glances around, making sure we're truly alone, before leaning forward and speaking very quietly.
"Maxwell, I know what you did."
"What?" I'm repeating myself, but at least I'm reacting stupidly to a new concept.
"The day the gun went off, nearly three years ago. I saw the green shimmer over Liz's stomach and how the bullet bounced off it and went into the wall. She didn't feel a thing and no one else noticed, but I saw it."
"Why didn't you say anything before now?"
"Because you never made a move towards her, Maxwell. Liz always had a boyfriend."
"Well, yeah, but what's that got to do with you endorsing fraternization?" Michael's pet word for relationships with humans.
He shifts uncomfortably. "Look, it's been more than ten years. If there were anyone left to come after us, they would have by now. Whoever sent the ship obviously thinks that we died along with the other occupants. You and Iz are right; we can't live our lives in a vacuum. I've watched you pine for Liz for as long as I've known you, Max. She's showing some interest, and this is your last possible chance, so go."
It's the longest speech I've heard out of him in years. "Michael."
He half smiles, a touch of vulnerability in his eyes now. "Can I still crash in your room?"
"Hank on a bender again?"
Michael nods and my heart aches. This is my one overwhelming regret about changing everything. It's not that I don't regret the loss of my relationship with Liz because I do, absolutely. But I chose this course of action knowing that it would be a casualty, and I'm the only one who suffers because of it. What I didn't expect was that Isabel and I would not be enough to persuade Michael to become emancipated. He's eighteen now and when we move in together in a couple of months, he'll be officially out of the foster system. But that's more than two extra years living with a man who is abusive.
Even though the Michael of my first life agreed with my decision to act, I still feel responsible. And I guess I didn't know, or maybe just didn't want to see, how much of how he had changed had been because of Maria. Now, they are waitress and customer, occasional classmates. Vague acquaintances who know each other's names. Liz and I are little more, for all the years of being lab partners.
"You know how to let yourself in. I'll take the floor when I get home."
He smirks. "Why, you planning on being real late?"
"Ha ha," I glare at him. He puts the yearbook on the seat beside him, silently indicating that he'll take it home for me, and I drop enough cash to cover the meal and then some on the table. Then I head for that swinging door.
"Liz?" I call out once I'm through. I take a quick peek around me. The break room looks pretty much the same as I remember it.
She's almost at the top of the stairs, with Maria and Alex, and she leans down to see who's calling her name.
"Oh, Max. Um, customers aren't really supposed to be back here," she says, coming down a couple of steps.
"Yeah, I know. Can I talk to you for a sec, please?"
I see the way Maria and Alex look at each other behind Liz, and I know they've long since realized I'm interested in her. It helps that Maria had told me, that long summer we spent crying together after the message about my alien destiny, that she'd been telling Liz for ages that I kept staring at her, including on the day Liz got shot. Now, in the current timeline, I'm sure she's noticed the same over the years.
They hold a whispered conference then Liz comes down the stairs while the other two disappear.
"What is it, Max?" She tucks her hair behind her ear as she speaks and I smile.
"I was wondering, if—if maybe we could go get a cup of coffee. Not for too long; I don't want to keep you from your friends, but, um, I'd like to just…spend a little time with you, before you leave."
Large dark eyes meet mine in a steady gaze. "Okay."
'Okay?' That's it, just, 'Okay?' No questions or anything? "Okay. Ah, do you need to tell them you're going?"
"No, they guessed why you came back here," she tosses me a mischievous look.
"Oh." I can feel the tips of my ears getting red. It's not enough that they're already my most noticeable feature, but they turn colors too.
"Let me grab a jacket," Liz says as she rummages in the closet. I stand there silently and wait for her. Once she's slipped into the black leather, we go out the back door.
[ edited 17time(s), last at 9-Feb-2003 9:28:52 PM ]
|posted on 2-Nov-2002 8:29:36 PM by Tasyfa|
|"Do you have anywhere particular you like to go?" I already know the answer, of course, but I still ask the question.|
"Um, why don't we go to La Tazza? I don't really drink much coffee at night; makes it too hard to sleep. But they have great hot chocolate," Liz tells me. I nod and we start walking. It's only a few blocks from the Crashdown.
"Chocolate is way better than coffee anyway," I admit.
She glances at me sideways from underneath her eyelashes. I recognize it as a flirtatious look and my insides tighten painfully. "Hmm, really? So, Max Evans, which side of the sex versus chocolate debate do you favor?"
What actually comes out of my mouth is, "Depends on the quality."
I'm talking about chocolate. My mother buys this expensive European stuff when she has guests she wants to impress, and I steal pieces. It tastes incredible, completely blowing Hershey's away.
Liz clearly takes my statement the other way, because her eyes get huge and there's a hint of pink in her cheeks that wasn't there a minute ago. She laughs, a little nervously, and tucks her hair behind her ear again. "I always knew you had hidden depths. I wasn't expecting that to be part of them, but it's definitely an interesting answer."
Hidden depths, I snort to myself. You have no idea. "Ah, that didn't come out quite like I meant it to," I attempt to rescue myself.
She smiles at me. "It never does. Not just for you, I mean generally."
"Yeah, I guess." Liz must be losing the nervousness now because she links her arm through mine for the last block, and we walk in silence. She's undoubtedly thinking about something profound. I'm trying to breathe. This is the closest we've been in three years, since I altered time, but my body hasn't forgotten her. Even though she doesn't smell the same, quite. More precisely, Liz smells the same, but her perfume has changed. It's lighter, more citrusy. Happier.
When we go into La Tazza, the silence becomes awkward. No parameters were set for this outing, so she's not sure what to do. I make it easy for her.
"My idea, so my treat. Large hot chocolate, skim, with whip?"
"How did you know?" she asks, amazed.
I know she takes her coffee with one and a half sugars and milk instead of cream too, but I don't freak her out by saying so. "That's what my sister gets. She says the skim milk offsets the whipped cream."
Liz laughs. "I guess we all suffer that delusion. Chocolate sprinkles too, please. If I'm going to splurge, I might as well go all the way!"
She sits at a corner table while I get our drinks. My brain isn't listening to the part of me that wants to stay a gentleman. It's trying to figure out how I can convince her to splurge on me, given that credo. Not gonna happen, Evans. Even if I wanted to—okay, even though I do want to—I wouldn't.
I bring her the hot chocolate and she dives in, licking the whipped cream off the top. I can practically feel my pupils dilating at the sight.
A moment later she stops and tilts her head, looking at me with a curious smile. "Max?"
"You're staring at me."
"Sorry." There go the ears again. I hold out the plastic spoon I picked up. "Maybe you should use this."
That smile grows utterly luminous as she takes the spoon and scoops out bits of whipped cream. Didn't Kyle make her feel desirable? That's the only explanation I can think of for how she's flirting with me. Wait, that's all backwards. If Kyle had made her feel undesirable, she wouldn't be self-confident enough to flirt. If Liz is comfortable enough with herself to be coming on this strong, that means that they had a good relationship.
I wish I knew how to feel about that.
We spend over an hour in the coffee shop, talking and laughing and flirting like crazy. Once I remember how, it's easy. It always was with her, and it's nice to know that not everything has to change. Finally Liz looks at her watch and frowns.
"I said I'd be back around eleven." It's nearly that now.
"All right. We should go then." I don't sound as reluctant as I feel, but she shows it openly. We go back out onto the street and start walking towards the Crashdown, so slowly that we're barely moving.
"So, you must have had some really awful sex," Liz prods out of the blue.
"Pardon me?" It's a good thing I don't have a drink anymore or I'd be spitting it all over the place.
"Sex and chocolate. You were very adamant about the quality issue." There's an intense curiosity in her eyes and I realize that my 'open mouth, insert foot' remark has probably given her the idea that I've slept with half the school. Which bothers me, enough to set her straight. Mostly. I don't have the slightest idea how to explain that I've had sex once and it did have major quality control issues, but it wasn't exactly me that did it, either. Just thinking about the timeline stuff makes my head spin most days.
"Yeah, I…my mom buys European chocolate."
Liz's hand flies to her mouth in what I think of as a classic Maria gesture. "Oh my God, you weren't talking about—I'm so sorry, Max. I totally jumped to conclusions."
"That's okay. Like I said, it really didn't come out the right way," I have to smile. "I'm a little curious as to why you jumped to that particular conclusion, though."
She stops walking and faces me, her cheeks becoming rosy. There's sheer mischief in her eyes as she asks, "How honest an answer do you want?"
"One hundred percent," I reply automatically. I want to know what's making her sparkle like that.
The rosiness deepens and Liz tells me, "You seem like you'd be good in bed."
"What?" Popular question tonight. Maybe it wouldn't fly out of my mouth so often if people quit dropping bombshells on me.
"You do. We've talked about it. You just seem like you would be very caring," she shrugs and looks away.
"I would try," I say sincerely. Then it occurs to me that I shouldn't have said 'would' because it's a dead giveaway that I haven't tried yet. The surprise that passes over her face and disappears shows me that Liz didn't miss that implication.
"Is that not something you were used to?" I can't help asking. I don't know if I want her to answer me or not.
"Well, yeah, I guess. I mean things with Kyle were nice. We…didn't make love very often but it was always…nice," she repeats.
The pain hits me in waves and I struggle to breathe. Nope, didn't want to know.
"Max, are you all right?" Liz is concerned. I attempt a smile as I fish for a plausible explanation.
"I have a touch of asthma, that's all. Nothing serious."
"Maybe you should sit for a minute." She pulls me over to a bench on the sidewalk and pushes me onto it. We're only a few doors down from the Crashdown.
I take some deep breaths and it clears my head. Seeing how comfortable they are with each other and how easily they interact, I'd suspected for a long time. But God, it hurts to know for sure. "What's 'nice'? What's wrong with 'nice'?"
"Nothing's wrong with it exactly, it's just—there was something missing. Kyle and I haven't been a real couple for oh, over a year now. We still care about each other but there's no passion," Liz reflects.
I could show you passion, I think to myself, and I know it's true. I'd come so close to making love to Liz so many times. I know what she likes, what turns her on. Before I used the granolith fragment, we very nearly had made love but somehow I found the strength to stop. Because if I hadn't, then I wouldn't have had the strength to leave afterwards, and Liz might have died. The changes in her had made her so sick.
Those are dangerous thoughts and I stand up, moving to escape them. I reassure Liz that I'm fine and we continue walking. Silence reigns for only a few moments.
"Max, why did you ask me out tonight?" Suddenly we have parameters. It's not an outing anymore; it's a date, however brief.
"For the reasons I said, to spend some time together before you go away," I tell her gently.
She smiles a little. "I suppose what I'm really asking is, why didn't you ask before now?"
"You were with Kyle."
"Yes, but we broke up over a month ago."
"I didn't know until today."
"Really? Huh." I wonder if she's thinking the same things I am, about lost chances.
We're standing in front of her door now and I don't think either of us is ready for me to go. I lean towards her, purely on instinct, and words I've spoken in another life rise up between us.
'I'm afraid of feeling everything I know I would feel, because I know it's not meant to be. And somewhere down the line, we're going to get hurt. I can live with that. I just couldn't bear to hurt you.'
'But that's not your decision, is it?'
Except this time, it has to be. The first time, Liz chose to be with me and it cost her everything. I can't allow that to happen again, not when I can prevent it. She doesn't know I'm an alien, or anything else about me, and it penetrates right now that she can't ever know.
Liz is leaning towards me too and something inside me twists in agony as I step away. She straightens with a hurt look. "Max?"
"Liz, we can't do this. We can't get involved."
She gets angry. "So was this some kind of sick joke then? See how far you could string me along, now that I finally show that I'm interested?"
Ouch. Especially with the implication that she's been interested all along. That's never occurred to me. "No, it was exactly like I said before. I didn't expect—this—to be this strong." It's beginning to dawn on me that the shading of hope in her pen-and-ink utterances fostered more than one motive behind my impulsively asking her to coffee.
"This?" Her voice rises sharply and I wince.
"Liz, please. Please calm down, and just listen for a sec, all right? Please." She makes a visible effort and eventually nods her head, indicating that I should speak.
Where to start? I have to be as honest as I can be, without telling her anything of the altered timeline or my genetic status. I can't say that she propositioned me in another life, or that any flashes in this one wouldn't lead us to the orb because I dug it up and destroyed it, along with the metal book from the public library. I can't tell her about the flashes at all, in fact, and that saddens me more than I thought it would.
I sigh and rub my upper lip then I start to talk. "I think you've guessed, from the last couple of hours if nothing else, that I have feelings for you."
Liz nods. "Maria's been telling me for years that you watch me."
I smile a little. "Yeah, I do. I have for a long time."
"Then the hot chocolate wasn't a lucky guess. You already knew." I can almost hear the click in her wonderful brain as pieces fall into place.
"I know how you take your coffee, too, and what kind of herbal teas Maria makes you drink." I feel shy admitting that, particularly since I'd decided not to mention it.
A laugh escapes her. "I suppose I should feel stalked, but I don't. I feel—safe." She tilts her head, regarding me, as if she wants to know what I think of that statement.
Safe is the last thing she is with me. My Liz used to say that too though, even after everything, and my chest feels tight. I can't drag this out any longer because if I do, I'm going to break down right in front of her.
"Liz, I…what it comes down to is really pretty basic. You should be following your dreams, making something of your life. Using that amazing mind to make this world a better place. And you can't do that if you're with me."
"Because something about you would make that impossible." She catches on fast. Like there was ever any doubt. I nod, incapable of verbal confirmation, and Liz sighs. She doesn't ask for specifics, trusting that I'm telling her the truth. I half expect her to protest about the long-term nature of my objections, based on the fact that these stolen hours are the only ones we've shared as more than friends, but I know she won't. She feels the tug in her soul, too.
"I don't want to give up my dreams, Max. I'm all packed and I am leaving for Harvard tomorrow. Isn't there some way—" She falls silent, my fingers against her lips, trembling.
"Don't say it," I implore. I can't bear it if she expresses hope. I know now that's the other reason behind this date: to stamp out any thought of what might have been. She can't live her life wondering, and it's killing me to keep on this way.
Her eyes soften in compassion and I think she understands. That I am holding on by such a thin thread. Gossamer; nearly invisible, and oh so fragile. But I test it by stepping close and looking down at her sweet face, trying to engrave this moment in my mind. Not that there's a need. Liz's image is limned on the inside of my eyelids already; has been forever.
I raise a hand to cup her cheek, slowly tracing the prominent cheekbone with my thumb. It's the last time and I just need to touch her like this. "Be happy."
She nods, those gorgeous dark eyes filling with tears, and I console myself that it's also the last time I will hurt her. Despite my resolve, I find that we're moving closer, too close. I can't kiss her, I know it, but I lean in anyway.
The door opens behind her, spilling out Alex and Maria. Maria's hand flies to her mouth as Liz and I move apart and I drop my hand. It's for the best but I ache all over.
"I'm sorry, we didn't mean to interrupt. Liz, your mom ordered us pizza and Alex was just going to throw the box in the recycling," Maria apologizes as Alex flourishes the box. Liz smiles and reassures them. I see the way they look at me, though, Maria and Alex. In the Crashdown earlier, Maria seemed friendly and open. She might have sought me out at college, spent some time getting to know me. I know that's not going to happen anymore. Not once Liz explains what I've said to her tonight.
"Max—" Liz begins.
I shake my head. "It's okay. I need to get going, anyway." I see from her expression that she knows what that really means, and she's generous enough to leave me my dignity.
"Okay," she sighs. "Be happy, Max."
I nod, not trusting myself to speak. Anything emerging from my throat would sound unforgivably bitter at this moment. Liz offers me a sad smile and turns away.
I watch her go inside with her friends, and I'm alone. Everything grows dark. The streetlamps are still lit and the Crashdown sign strobes eternally neon, but there's no longer any light in my world.
Every step I take towards my parents' house, hands stuffed into my pockets in a futile protective gesture, costs me a lifetime of pain. I turn back once, to see that the street truly is as black and empty as it feels without her. Needing to hear them, I whisper the words one final time into the uncaring stillness of the night.
"I love you, Liz Parker."
And then I add another word, the one that is bringing me to my knees.
[ edited 1 time(s), last at 3-Nov-2002 1:38:20 PM ]
|posted on 3-Nov-2002 1:27:07 PM by Tasyfa|
|Mareli I think I said that Hope Alone is a positive spin? I forget exactly LOL but yes, it has complete happy ending insurance. It just has some similarities in that Max and Liz go for coffee after Max was eating at the Crashdown with Michael!|
Believe me guys, I know how sad this is. But when I heard the false spoilers, the end part is the image that stayed with me: Max, outside the Crashdown, utterly alone. I ran up my long distance phone bill and went through more than a few Kleenex about the possibility that the show would end like that! SO it's been haunting me since last spring. When Cookie was staying with me over Thanksgiving we talked about it, and I decided to purge.
As for Liz and Kyle, that's painful realism. Liz is established as someone who's not against pre-marital sex, and if you're in a loving relationship with someone for more than three years, it's highly unlikely that it wouldn't become a sexual relationship at some point.
I may do a sequel. I have some ideas, but I'm a little reluctant to disturb the perfect sorrow. I know, that's what you guys want LOL, but I'm quite proud of how this turned out and it feels like an ending. But we'll see.
|posted on 8-Nov-2002 9:01:40 PM by Tasyfa|
I thank you all for following me to a pretty dismal place, and for supporting me in my choice to write something this incredibly sad. It's funny, b/c in some ways this piece was easy to write; bits of it had been haunting me for so long that it flowed naturally when I finally began typing. But it makes my heart ache too.
I've decided, or more precisely the story has decided for me, that we're not quite done yet. There will be a total of seven vignettes, glimpses into Max and Liz's lives, taking place over time. I'll mention now that updates on this series won't be quick, b/c I have other things that I'm working on, as I think many of you know. Also b/c the remaining six vignettes will remain true to the feeling of this one (minus the brutal "Good-bye"!), and it will take time to craft each, and I will need time in between each.
Some of you may choose not to continue this journey, and that's up to you. It won't suddenly become an easy read, I can tell you that. I think it may best be exemplified by words from one of my favourite movies, The Last Unicorn: "There are no happy endings, because nothing ever ends." This goodbye of Max's--it is not the end.
|posted on 8-Nov-2002 9:30:54 PM by Tasyfa|
|Alien614 Yes, I'll post them all on this thread. I've changed the title line to say 1/7 now.|
|posted on 9-Nov-2002 12:28:39 PM by Tasyfa|
|LTFan I think that's a pretty common reaction to this, the love/hate thing. I get those shake Max urges too, as you well know!!|
Thanks, everyone, for being excited to see more even though it will continue to have that edge of sorrow woven throughout. Smooches to all!
|posted on 9-Nov-2002 3:58:54 PM by Tasyfa|
SciFiNut111 originally wrote:
Another question. You seem to indicate that this is Future Max, the one that came back to stop the shooting. Shouldn’t he have disappeared after the shooting and the future was changed?? What happened to present Max?
I knew I forgot to address something--sorry, SciFiNut111! This isn't Future Max. It's Present Max, who has basically reset time--turned the clock back to pre-shooting on the world, himself included, without losing his memories of what had occurred the first time those years played out. I don't know if you watch Buffy or Angel, but it's a similar idea to the first crossover ep, where Angel becomes human and they have a perfect day, which he petitions TPTB to take back b/c he can't fight evil as a human. In that ep, once the clock turned 9:00 a.m. (I think!) it became 9:00 a.m., 24 hours earlier, and Angel--now knowing how to kill the demon that made him human--kills it the moment it appears, before it has a chance to bleed on him. Here, the clock was set back nearly three years, not just one day. The time was erased as far as the world was concerned; only Max's memories say anything different.
|posted on 12-Nov-2002 7:21:23 AM by Tasyfa|
|AJK001 A little hope is a good thing.|
Title: Opacity (Part 2 in the series The Bitter Dregs)
Disclaimer: The characters of Roswell are the property of Twentieth Century Fox Television and Regency Productions. All original characters and concepts are the property of the author. No profit has been made from the distribution of this work of fiction.
Category: Liz POV
Dedication: For RosDeidre. You know why.;)
Summary: This is the second installment of The Bitter Dregs, a series of vignettes following Max and Liz through the years after Max enacts the false spoilers about the series finale. Each will be its own self-contained little world as well as part of a larger picture.
I can't stop shivering as I trudge across the quad and down the street to the coffee shop. It's my second Massachusetts winter, but this icy wind and snow seems to have leached all the desert heat out of my body. Plus there's the fact that I lost my damn scarf again. It must have fallen out of my coat in one of my classes.
Noise and light spill onto the sidewalk from the shop windows, and then warm air does too as I pull open the door, wrestling to close it behind me. I stand there in the doorway for a moment with my eyes closed, savoring the warmth, before I scan the crowd for my friends.
I spot Jeremy's fair hair and make my way over to his table. I'm almost there when I realize he's alone.
"Where's everyone else? I can't be that late." I start peeling off layers of winter protection while I speak, gloves and hat and extra sweater joining my coat in a pile on the chair.
He laughs. "No, you just missed them, actually. Sue came by; she found out that Roland's giving us a pop quiz tomorrow."
"Nothing like being cozy with the TA," I smile. "So, how come you're still here?"
"Well, someone had to wait and tell you! I volunteered. Do you want to rush right back out and study now?" he teases me.
I think about it for a minute, but I'm beginning to warm up now and truthfully, I'm comfortable that I can ace the quiz without even looking at my notes tonight, so I shake my head. "Nope. I don't want to leave until I'm not in danger of becoming a Popsicle anymore."
Jeremy laughs again and stands. "I'll get the first round. It's kind of late for heavy doses of caffeine, do you want hot chocolate instead?"
He's smiling as he poses the question. Sunny smile; sunny hair. Summer sky eyes, looking at me with more than friendly interest. My vision blurs and his features sharpen, his coloration darkening and warming.
"Large hot chocolate, skim, with whip?'
"No!" I blurt out, startling him. He blinks in surprise and offers, "Okay, how about herbal tea?"
'I know how you take your coffee too, and what kind of herbal teas Maria makes you drink.'
"No." My denial sounds less panicked this time. "Decaf, please, Jeremy. With one and a half sugars and double milk."
"Milk?" His lip curls in distaste. "You're missing out, Liz, if you don't experience cream in your coffee. Milk is so…thin. It's almost not worth using anything at all, rather than adding milk."
"Milk, please," I say firmly. He shrugs and goes to get our drinks. I place my head in my hands, leaning on the table.
Is Max Evans ever going to stop haunting me? I go along with my life like a normal, whole person until something small stomps on me hard and it all goes spinning out into memory and unending questions. Heartache. Rationality insists that we had one date, so how could I feel as though part of my soul were missing? But I do. I do.
I've talked to my Grandma Claudia many times about Max since that night, and her wisdom is always the same: to follow my heart. She says that soul mates have complicated relationships, so if it had been easy then I should be worried. She also says that Max will eventually learn to follow his heart too, because it clearly leads to me. All of which is comforting, but how long am I supposed to wait?
How long can I wait?
Whimsically I think that Max is like the milk I put in my coffee. Almost not there, but impossible to do without. And I really don't want cream—like Jeremy. I know he'd like to move things forward, but I am not ready to do that, with anyone. I spent three years in a serious relationship in high school with a wonderful guy, and then I was hit by a bolt of lightning in Max. I'm not sure what the hell I want anymore, and that's frightening for someone who's always lived her life according to the grand plan.
"Here you go." Jeremy comes back with my properly doctored decaf and sits. We make small talk but my mind is already drifting back to the enigmatic dark-haired man with the amazingly warm eyes who inhabits my dreams.
What is it that's so terrible he couldn't just tell me? In the year and a half that I've been analyzing his words and actions, I've come to realize that Max's ultimate concern is for my safety. More than me achieving my dreams, his utter refusal to acknowledge the possibility of a relationship between us is about keeping me safe, somehow. I don't know why I'm so positive about that, but I am. And I still don't understand. I know—I know he would never hurt me. That's not who he is. I know that in my bones.
I saw him last Christmas, at the kids' holiday pageant with Michael and his sister. Isabel looked annoyed at how the new pageant director did things. When the kids came out, Max smiled. Maria says it's something he doesn't do very often. She watches him at school for me. Discreetly, or so I hope. I finally made her and Alex promise that they would not confront Max. I love them dearly for trying to look out for me, but they don't get it. Max has to come to me, if anything's ever going to happen between us. I can't force him to accept my feelings, or his. He needs to fight his own demons first.
What kills me is that I don't know if he will, or that he'll win even if he does. And I don't know how long I can stay in limbo, waiting for my life to begin, either. While I'm still at school I can put it all off, but what happens once I graduate? That's two years plus away yet, but time slips past so fast these days it may as well be tomorrow. What do I do then?
"You're somewhere else tonight, Liz." Jeremy's voice breaks into my thoughts. I smile self-consciously.
"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry. I guess I can't keep my mind off the pop quiz after all." When did I get to be such a good liar? I used to suck at it.
He laughs, oblivious to my inner turmoil. "Why don't you head back and crack the books open, then? I could use the refresher time, too."
I nod. "Yeah. Thanks for the coffee, Jer. I'll catch you next time."
"Whatever. I'm not such a starving student that I can't afford a cup of coffee for a friend." He's so warm, the way he's speaking and looking at me, and suddenly I am so cold. The heat is blasting in the café and I've already got my sweater back on and hot liquid inside me, but none of that matters.
Not when the ice is on the inside.
|posted on 12-Nov-2002 7:29:44 PM by Tasyfa|
|Carol I'm severly flattered that you picked up on one of the very things I'm trying to do here, with the spareness and just the emotion. Thank you so much!|
And smooches to everyone else too.
|posted on 17-Nov-2002 1:38:15 PM by Tasyfa|
|Title: Permutation (Part 3 in the series The Bitter Dregs)|
Disclaimer: The characters of Roswell are the property of Twentieth Century Fox Television and Regency Productions. All original characters and concepts are the property of the author. No profit has been made from the distribution of this work of fiction.
Category: Max POV
Dedication: For RosDeidre. You know why.;)
Summary: This is the third installment of The Bitter Dregs, a series of vignettes following Max and Liz through the years after Max enacts the false spoilers about the series finale. Each will be its own self-contained little world as well as part of a larger picture.
It's heading for six o'clock and soon one of the Crashdown waitresses will arrive with whatever the daily special is. It's become a standing order in the last month, since I took over the management of the UFO Center from Milton. Not exactly what I'd pictured doing with my life, but it pays pretty well and it actually gives me a fair amount of information control. Over the years—and with considerable persuasion on my part—Milton has gradually upgraded the computer and other systems, and it's reasonably current now. Nothing like the state of the art facilities that Brody built in my first life, but then again, there wasn't any signal on May 14, 2000 for him to get all curious about.
A soft knock echoes hollowly on the metal door and I call out, "Come in." I just need to put this file away and I can stop ignoring the rumbles in my stomach.
I know that voice. Surprised, I let go of the filing cabinet drawer and it slams shut on my finger.
"Ow." The expression of pain is involuntary as I straighten and turn to face her. Her hair's swept back into a high ponytail and she's wearing jeans and a Harvard T-shirt. "Liz, hi. What are you doing here?"
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. Is your hand okay?"
"Yeah, it's fine. Stings a little but it'll go away. How are you? When did you get into town? Your dad didn't say anything." Words flow out of my mouth automatically while I stand here, drinking her in. She doesn't look any older than when we graduated high school, and she's still partial to super-shiny lipgloss and not much else for make-up.
"You keeping tabs on me, Evans?" Liz teases, her face lighting with a grin.
I am, naturally, but she doesn't need to know that. "Your father practically makes public announcements whenever he expects you home. He and your mom are really proud of you." So am I.
"Yeah, they can get pretty embarrassing." Her cheeks flush some but her eyes sparkle and I know that she enjoys her parents' pride. I even know the feeling firsthand, since mine are reasonably pleased with me, too.
"So, um, I heard you graduated with honors, Max. In English?"
"Uh-huh. What am I doing here, then, right?" I smile at her to take the sting out of the words, because I know she wants to ask me that. Everyone else does.
"It did cross my mind," Liz admits.
"Milton decided to retire and asked if I wanted to take over." I shrug. "Pay's all right and the hours aren't too heavy so I have lots of time to work on some side projects, indulge my passion." Now I'm the one flushing. I look into those dark eyes and suddenly I'm sixteen again—the first time, when the world was full of possibility because she was willing to take the chance. Then it crashes in that I lost all control of my alien side and said and did things out of both our worst nightmares, hurting her in ways I hadn't imagined could exist. I had to die to regain myself, and the circumstances of my resurrection were sufficiently outlandish in even my experience to make me keenly aware that I'd been given my one chance. Too late for my Liz, and so we begin again. Without all her pain, or so I hope.
I do see some shadows now, although her voice is light and playful when she tilts her head and inquires, "What's your passion, Max?"
Besides you? "Uh, writing, actually." I can feel my cheeks burn when I admit it, but she doesn't scoff at me like most would.
"Really? Are you looking to get published?" Genuine interest prompts her questions and it warms me.
"Yeah, I…I've already got some work published. You wouldn't know it." I head off any hint of a suggestion that she read my stuff. That would be far too embarrassing.
"Oh. Obscure academia probably, given your major," she smiles.
I kind of laugh and don't correct her. Liz Parker is a classics kind of girl—The Grapes of Wrath, Catcher in the Rye and whatnot. Not a genre reader. So I'm not about to tell her that my second trade paperback comes out in a couple more months.
"What's it like to see your name in print? I bet it feels good."
"Sure." I agree with her even though the thrill is a little different for me. The whole point in having a nom de plume is keeping your anonymity. Except for my family—including Michael—the only people who know I'm me and not my pen name are the ones who have to know. My publisher, editor, agent. You know, the ones that work with me and make sure I get paid and not someone who might conveniently share the alias I've chosen, if such a person exists.
"What about you? You've got your bio degree; what are you looking to do now?" I really do want to know. Okay, and I want to know if she's going to be in Roswell for a while or not. Because if she is, my avoidance act is going to need some polishing. Up till now, her father's advance warnings have served ample notice for me to make myself scarce around the Crashdown.
And they are warnings. I don't know if Liz said something about what happened between us the night before she left for school, or if he's drawn his own conclusions based solely on observation and instinct. That parental instinct that just knows when someone is a potential threat to your child.
'Tell me you're not dangerous, Max. Tell me that being with you doesn't put my little girl's life in jeopardy.'
There haven't been any verbal exchanges this time around, but my answer is still the same: I can't give those assurances. Being with me would put Liz at risk. So her father and I dance around each other, maintaining a wary friendship. He appreciates my loyalty as a customer but when Liz is expected home, we both know it's better if I'm somewhere else.
"Well, I'm going to stay home for a couple of weeks, and then I'm off to Florida." There's this weird expectancy in her eyes and I don't quite get it.
"You have an aunt there, right? Going to visit her?" Like I'd forget she has an aunt in Florida after spending an entire summer hanging on the slightest word from the Sunshine State that Maria was allowed to tell me.
"Um, yeah, my Aunt Emma. But I'm not going for a visit—I'm moving in with her. At least for a little while, until I can save some money from my job in the marine biology department at the University of Florida. Then I'll find an apartment or something."
She's leaving. Liz is leaving Roswell, for good, and I think I understand the vibes she's sending me now. It's getting harder to breathe.
"Wait, marine biology? I thought you took molecular bio." I latch onto the part of her announcement that I can manage to talk about.
A bashful smile appears. "I'd planned to, yeah. But you know how once you get past the generic courses in first year, you get a better feel for what kind of specialization is out there. I discovered that I really like the water aspect of the marine side of things."
"Cool." I will not say anything about being a Pisces. Instead, I need to address the lingering hope in her gaze. The faint thread I unintentionally fostered when I meant to destroy it.
Managed to screw that up too.
"So how was the whole Harvard experience, anyway? Meet anyone special? I hear they appreciate intelligent women there." I try to sound flippant, like I'm not dangling waiting for an answer. Not sure I make it because she colors a little.
"I guess so. No one in particular stands out. What about you, are you seeing anyone?" Liz isn't much better at hiding it than I am. Damn.
I shrug. "I'm still living with Michael." Maybe she'll draw the same conclusion the rest of the world seems to; Lord knows it's easier than explaining why I don't date. At least it gives Michael an easy in and an easy out with women. He tells them he's wavering, they're only too happy to help him explore the possibilities, and they're not overly upset when he tells them he's staying with me. But Liz knows better, although her eyebrows do raise at the implication.
"How's Isabel? I heard she got married." Smart; she sidesteps the whole thing.
"Yeah, her first anniversary is next month. She emails Michael and I nearly daily with ideas for possible gifts, all of which are painfully elegant and stylish. Michael counters with some truly rude suggestions and links to Web sites I really didn't want to know were out there," I laugh. Their ongoing battles are one of the highlights of my days right now.
Liz laughs with me. "It sounds hilarious. So, you plan on bunking with Michael forever?" Letting me know that she knows I'm not and never will be involved with him.
Also asking if there's a chance, a place for her somewhere in my life.
There can't be. I allow myself to be trapped in her gaze, projecting as much sincerity and regret as I can without letting her see how this is breaking me. "Until and unless Michael finds someone special he wants to settle down with, yes, I do."
Tears gather in those earthy depths and I want to close my eyes but I can't. I can't because I need to bear witness to her pain, and to try to find some way to atone for being its cause. It seems that nothing I do leads anywhere else.
"Liz," I start hesitantly. I'm not quite sure of what to say but the choice is taken from me when she shakes her head vigorously.
"No. It's okay, Max. You told me before, I have to live my life. I just…have to go live it." She nods sharply with each word and I can almost see her mind turning forward, looking ahead to the future and whatever awaits her there. Without me.
Liz sniffles once then passes me a crumpled brown paper bag. With some surprise, I realize it's my dinner. "Good thing the special's cold today," I say as I put the bag on my desk. I reach for my wallet and she shakes her head again.
"It's on the house, Max. It wasn't all supposed to be cold." One corner of her mouth lifts in a self-deprecating smile as she passes me the Styrofoam coffee cup that goes with the bag.
"You're sure? Okay, thanks." I take my hand out of my pocket, and we stand there for a few minutes. There doesn't seem to be anything left to say. I don't know if I could talk much through the pain in my chest anyway. Saying goodbye to her four years ago nearly killed me. I have no idea how I'm making it through this time. At least then she was still officially a Roswell resident. Now Liz will move on with her life, the way I thought she would after high school—all the ways I thought she would.
"Well, I'll see you," she says finally, clearly as baffled about words as I am for this moment.
"Right. Good luck in Florida."
"Yeah. You too, with the publishing." She blinks slowly, as if to release me from the spell of her eyes, and turns to go.
I'm silently screaming in pain as she walks away, and I can't handle it. I did it once and I am just not strong enough to do it again. The words tumble out of my mouth before I'm aware that my lips are moving.
She comes around, looking intently at me as I approach. The expectancy is gone, replaced by wariness. "What, Max?"
"Do you have an email address? Maybe we could keep in touch, toss each other a few lines every now and again."
She smiles and takes the pen and paper from my outstretched hand. I don't even know when I picked them up but now she's scribbling and then it's my turn and we both have little slips of paper with contact information. Lifelines.
I see the way she looks at me and I know that she understands all the motives behind the request. That my feelings haven't faded, nor my unwillingness to act on them, nor my honest wish for her happiness. When she leaves, paper in hand, I sit down heavily in the nearest chair, the wood creaking in protest at the abrupt weight, and I breathe a sigh of relief because somehow, this time I did the right thing. Our relationship isn't going to be the intense love affair it was the first time, but maybe this can be even better: we can be friends. Separated by several thousand miles of geography and light years' worth of other obstacles, Liz Parker and I can still be just friends.
Because in her eyes at the last rested awareness of the truth: for us, there is no other possible path.
[ edited 1 time(s), last at 6-Feb-2003 2:41:30 PM ]
|posted on 17-Nov-2002 5:11:59 PM by Tasyfa|
Realistic Dreamer originally wrote:
There is an old saying ... "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." I think if Max has learned the lessons, he won't repeat them, and he is free to explore a relationship with Liz.
That's exactly it: he's too afraid that he will repeat his mistakes, and it's strangling him. And at the same time, he can't quite let go, even though he's trying because he honestly believes that Liz is better off without him, no matter what.
Old Enough I'm guessing the above behaviour is why you think Max is still a jerk, b/c he's trying to control it all still? I can see that. He IS missing the big picture here, but don't we all sometimes?
|posted on 18-Nov-2002 11:59:19 AM by Tasyfa|
|Tess, Nasedo, Nicholas, Khivar, Pierce and the FBI--all these threats still exist. There wasn't a shooting to set in motion Max's discovery, but none of them have simply disappeared. Just because they haven't found Max yet doesn't mean they never will, at least in his mind. The first time around, Max, Michael and Isabel had a pact not to tell anyone and that's still in force. When Max healed Liz's gunshot wound in the first life, he eventually stopped fighting his feelings, as we know. Given that he knows how well that turned out, his only option is to never stop fighting, or so he believes.|
|posted on 19-Nov-2002 10:58:14 PM by Tasyfa|
Old Enough originally wrote:
Precisely. It seems he is making much the same mistakes this time as he did last time -- just turned 180 degrees around. We all miss the big picture sometimes -- but he is managing to do it through two life times. That is a bit much.
Max is a slow learner LOL. You're right, he's completely overcompensating for his mistakes the first time around--bending so far the other direction that he's doing more harm than good, at least so far.
One reason I enjoy your "Forging" story or Emily's "Homes" series (which both tend to be sacharin, I know) is that Max actually allows Liz to work with him to solve their shared problems. Seems to me that is what you do with a "soul mate". The adventure is in the shared solving of the problems. Ahh, just thought of one that isn't sacharin and that I enjoy since people work reasonably well together -- DMartinez's "Fate of Destiny". They all have delightfully clay feet (ankles, shins and knees) in that story and yet they do work together in a delightfully normal way.
Which is what I love about those fics too, and also about cookieman1234's Finding Yourself. Max and Liz are equals in all of those, as opposed to Max trying to run the show by himself. But like you said, that equality is missing here, b/c Max isn't allowing it to happen. And whether we think they're good or not, Max does have his reasons for that. We'll learn more about those as we go along.
For everyone who's asked if there's light at the end of the tunnel LOL! I'm not giving you a straight answer. I will say a) if it were completely hopeless, I would not have continued it beyond the first vignette; b) we're not even halfway yet, given that there are seven vignettes in total; and c) it's always darkest before the dawn. But I did say right at the beginning that that edge of melancholy would be a constant companion, and I meant it. Hope y'all stick it out with me!
|posted on 1-Dec-2002 3:44:05 PM by Tasyfa|
|See my little note a couple posts above, about lights and tunnels and all that.|
Title: Unveiled (Part 4 in the series The Bitter Dregs)
Disclaimer: The characters of Roswell are the property of Twentieth Century Fox Television and Regency Productions. All original characters and concepts are the property of the author. No profit has been made from the distribution of this work of fiction.
Category: Liz POV
Dedication: For RosDeidre. You know why.;)
Summary: This is the fourth installment of The Bitter Dregs, a series of vignettes following Max and Liz through the years after Max enacts the false spoilers about the series finale. Each will be its own self-contained little world as well as part of a larger picture.
~~ Winter 2011 ~~
The line hasn't budged, although this thing was supposed to start like twenty minutes ago. I crane my neck, trying to see what the holdup might be. One of those numerous occasions when I wish I were just a little taller. I give up peering through the crowd as being a lost cause and focus instead on the paperback in my hands. There's something infinitely exciting and soothing both about holding a brand new book. The smooth lines that I'm about to distort because even better than a shiny cover is one worn from the pleasure of reading.
Interesting theme, Unveiled. How much do you want to bet at least one of these stories has something saccharinely bridal involved? I flip to the last of the four novellas in the collection. If I'm going to be stuck in line, I may as well enjoy it!
His mouth followed the trail laid out by his fingers, painting her skin with fire. Silk all around her. The cool silken slide of the netting supporting her, holding her open for the silk of his touch and his tongue. Surrounded; stripped bare and undone. Surrendered.
"Dear, the line is moving."
"Huh?" The kind voice of the middle-aged woman standing behind me rouses me back into the real world. "Oh, sorry. I wasn't paying attention."
She laughs as I move up. "I'm not surprised. From the looks of it, you're into the Winters novella and it's even steamier than her usual stuff."
I raise my eyebrows. "Really? I'm not sure that's possible!"
"I didn't think so either, dear, but it certainly is!" She smacks her lips and we both giggle like schoolgirls. "It's too bad she's not here."
"What? I thought all four authors were advertised as attending. I really wanted to meet her." Disappointing news.
"Family crisis, I think they said. And the mysterious Ms. Winters is a mystery still. You know, I've wondered before if they don't plan it this way, to keep that edge of the unknown. I can't recall any scheduled appearance where she's actually attended, and I've never seen a photograph either."
"Maybe she's shy. Or hideously unattractive." I shrug. "Hey, there's Karen!" Karen Marie Moning's vivid red curls are visible now as we get closer to the front. I can see the empty fourth chair, but the way things are arranged, there's no way a fourth person could have comfortably sat at the table without looking undignified and squished. Apparently my friendly queue companion is correct—the absence was planned. Oh, well, I still get to meet my second favorite romance author.
"Her hair is distinctive, isn't it? Although you have some lovely auburn streaks of your own," the lady smiles.
"Thanks." I pat the neat chin-length bob. It still feels odd but I do like the look. It seems more professional somehow.
"Oh, my. Look at the gorgeous specimen she's brought with her," she gasps. I peer closer at the dark-haired man laughing beside the redhead and my eyes pop open wide when I recognize him.
"I'm going to kill him. He didn't tell me he was coming to Florida! He's supposed to be baking in the desert." I am fuming now.
"You know him?"
I blush a bit. "Yeah, we've been friends since—college. His name is Max." I always want to say high school, but Max and I didn't really start to be friends until I moved here after graduating from Harvard, nearly five years ago. It's hard to remember what it was like not to have him be such a part of my life.
"Just friends?" She slants this sideways glance at me and I laugh.
"Yeah. Good friends. Max is—well." I don't finish the sentence and my companion makes the same erroneous leap about his sexuality as everyone else.
"Aren't the beautiful ones always?" she sighs.
I just smile, and our conversation grinds to a halt as we approach the front of the line. Max is smiling and greeting people, naming off the three authors since none of them looks exactly like their inside cover photos. I only recognized Karen because of her hair—the other two are brunettes. And then I'm next.
"Evans, what're you doing in my corner of the world?"
He hides it fast but I see the complete shock that flits over his face. It almost makes up for not knowing ahead of time that I'd be seeing him.
"Parker!" Max enfolds me in a quick hug. "What are you doing in Orlando? Last I checked, Tampa was home. And you cut your hair!"
"We women like to do that sometimes."
"It looks great. It's just that you've had long hair ever since I've known you." Nice recovery on his part. Max's eyes flicker to the crowd of people standing single file behind me. "Are you here long? Can you stick around until I'm done, and we can catch up?" He gives me that half smile while he scratches behind his ear, and it makes him look like a little kid. I have to smile back.
"Of course. I'll be somewhere in the store." I squeeze his hand and move past him, grinning when he gets another surprise as the lady behind me greets him by name. Max gives me this look as if to ask what I said, and I assume an angelic expression. He rolls his eyes and then I'm standing in front of Karen and handing her my book to sign.
"What's your name?" she asks with a polite smile, her pen poised.
"Liz," I tell her and there's a hint of recognition in her face as she autographs the title page.
"How do you know Max, Liz?"
"From school." There's a generic answer that works. I have known him peripherally since the third grade, after all. "How about you?"
"We share an agent." Her smile is warmer and more personal now.
"Um, that's good. Thanks." I take the book back. That an agent would represent both paranormal romance and science fiction doesn't really surprise me; they're not that far apart in genre. But I'm dying to ask her why Max is here—if it's because of her. I don't. I'll make him tell me later.
I start to move to the next author and Karen grabs my hand. Concern shadows her voice. "Does he know?"
"Not yet. I haven't known very long myself."
She nods slowly, clearly choosing her words with great care. "Be gentle, but hold firm to your decisions, okay? You deserve this." Left unspoken is, 'And you won't get it from Max,' but I understand its inclusion. Exactly how well does she know him?
Karen cuts me off before I can say anything about her startling pronouncement, smiling again. "We're holding up the line, Liz. It was nice to meet you."
"You, too," I say automatically and shift on down the table. In a daze, I hand the book to each of the other authors, repeating my name and watching the page fill with different scrawls. Finally I'm out of the book signing and I find an armchair in the bookstore, sinking into it to wait for Max. My mind is whirling with far too many questions and in an effort to calm the mad storm, I crack the book open to where I left off and curl one foot under me while I read.
I have no idea how much time has passed when Max crouches beside my chair, lightly shaking me. I made it through a novella and a half before dozing off, but I'm a fast reader so that's not much of a reference.
"Hey there. Sorry I took so long, but it doesn't seem to have bothered you any," he teases.
Surreptitiously I wipe my mouth, relieved to find nothing embarrassing, then yawn and stretch my legs. "What time is it?"
"Past two, believe it or not. I'm starving. Wanna go get a late lunch? The hotel I'm at has a good restaurant," he cajoles.
"Sure. Is it far?"
"Ten minute cab ride maybe, why?"
"Never mind, I'm going to use the bathroom before we go. Here, hold my things." I thrust my jacket, purse and book at him and Max laughs but takes them. Along with my seat when I get up.
"I'll wait here."
An hour later we're sitting in the hotel restaurant, having just ordered coffee from the seriously perky waitress after eating. It's a nice place, very open with armless upholstered chairs and round tables. Cozy. Max has been sidestepping my questions throughout, instead giving me all the details about Christmas at the beach with his family, the kind you somehow never get around to filling in with an e-mail. He lights up, telling me that his mother has finally figured out the digital camera he and Isabel gave her for Christmas, and describing one of her photos that's currently sitting in my inbox, of Max and Michael tossing Isabel into the water. He's so animated and it's wonderful to watch, even if it is marked with a certain bittersweetness because I know it won't last past what I need to tell him. Finally, however, my patience runs thin.
"Okay, Max, time's up. What are you doing in Orlando?"
"May I see your book for a second?"
"Sure." I dig it out and hand it over. Why he wants to look at it now, I have no idea. My mouth hangs open as Max pulls a pen from his pocket and scribbles something below the authors' autographs. He's defacing my property! I'm too shocked to even protest, not that it would do any good since he's finished writing and gives it back with a wary smile.
I look at what he's written. For Liz Parker, Love from Lizzie Winters.
"It might even be worth something someday. To the best of my recollection it's the only one I've ever signed." Max breaks the silence with an attempt at a joke.
I remember the photoless caption at the back of her last book. 'Of herself, the author says only that she's a brunette with hazel eyes. Everything else is subject to change.' And Max is, indeed, a brunette with hazel eyes, although definitely not a she. I lean forward and speak in a furious whisper. "You're Lizzie Winters? You?"
"Yeah. Are you mad?"
I'm not sure. I think I'm more hurt than angry. I managed to get him to admit a couple of years ago that he wrote popular fiction under a pen name, but he let me go on assuming it was science fiction until I caught him today. Would he ever have said anything otherwise? Doesn't he realize by now that he can trust me?
I speak slowly so that I can consider my words before they cross my lips. "I'm a little upset that you didn't seem to feel that I would be able to keep your secret. I wouldn't tell anyone, Max."
He's distressed. "I know you wouldn't say anything, Liz. It wasn't that at all. I just…it's kind of embarrassing is all."
He looks away, flushing, but it suddenly makes sense that he would be embarrassed. Lizzie is my favorite romance author because her books get me totally hot, and now I know why they resonate that little bit more than anyone else's work. The dark-haired heroine that I always assumed represented the author is, in fact, me.
My own face grows warmer when I recall some of the more—interesting—situations said heroines found themselves in. Apparently Max has quite an imagination in certain areas. Too bad I'll never get to find out firsthand.
"It's okay, Max, really. I understand," I reassure him. Max glances at me and I can see that he's aware that I know the underlying reasons. Neither of us mention it—neither of us ever do—but he gives me a brief, strained smile. I move the conversation along.
"So how come you're here with the book signing tour if you're still anonymous? Isn't that a ridiculous expense for the publisher?"
He sighs. "This is my last stop, although the others have a bunch more engagements. My publisher was toying with outing me, for the marketing possibilities around a guy writing romance novels. My agent finally convinced them to stick to the spirit as well as the letter of my contract, which stipulates no release of any personal information unless I give written permission for it, but of course there's some loophole and they wanted to take advantage of it. It was a stinker to push through with my first book, but Daphne sold them on the whole mysterious act and made it happen. Anyway, I came along on the tour until things were settled and now that they are, I can go back home."
"Daphne, she's the agent you share with Karen?" I hazard a guess.
"Right. Did she say something to you?" Max looks kind of curious and kind of apprehensive. I'm tempted to let him stew but I can't do it.
"I asked how she knew you, and that's what she said."
He nods. "We met at an industry party a couple of years ago. Daphne'd already told Karen who I was, so we sort of spent the night very discreetly trashing the rest of the guest list. It was fun." He smiles at the memory.
"So are you—friends?" I make it clear that's not what I'm really asking.
"We haven't dated, if that's what you want to know, Liz. She's a good friend and sometime sounding board. It's nice to have someone to talk to who does the same thing as you do for a living."
"That's a good thing to have, yeah." I'm genuinely sorry that they're not a couple, because she seems to know him well and care about him, but I'm studiously ignoring the little part of me that's jumping in glee. I can't have it both ways, and neither can Max.
"How is Isabel? It sounds like you all had fun at Christmas, but I know you were worried." I'm stalling and I know it, but I really do want to know.
Max's mouth twists a little. "She's probably finished moving into the apartment as we speak, and putting all of my stuff into neatly labeled boxes. I'll be on the couch for a while."
"I'm so sorry. She left James?"
He nods. "You and I have discussed it before; I knew it was coming. I knew it wouldn't last before they got married, but there's no telling Isabel anything. They didn't even share a bedroom. What kind of marriage is that?"
No kind, at least according to both of our belief systems. I'm not ready to follow that thought yet, though. "If you're going to be on the couch, how come she's boxing all your things? Won't that make it unnecessarily difficult for you?"
"That's the exciting part." He sparkles and I can't help smiling. "I'm buying a house!"
"Wow, that is exciting! It's going to be just you then, no Michael anymore? Or Michael and Isabel, I guess now."
"Just me. It'll be weird at first, I know. But it's only a two bedroom, and I want to turn the second bedroom into my office. Seeing as I work at home and all, full time now that Michael's taken over the UFO Center. Even though I am still his boss, since Milton left it to me." He winks and I realize that while it may lean towards embarrassing, he's glad that I know his secret identity. That sounds so juvenile, secret identity! Max's nom de plume, then. That's more elegant-sounding.
But the idea of Max all alone in his house worries me, especially with him working there too. It would be far too easy for him to simply cocoon in there. Then inspiration strikes and I grin at him. "Do you know what my aunt does for a living?"
Max looks at me like I'm crazy, tossing that into the conversation all willy-nilly. "She's a breeder of some kind, isn't she?"
I'm impressed he remembers that much. "Yeah, she raises purebred Scottish Fold cats."
He sees where I'm going with this. "Liz…"
"Max, you're going to be alone for the first time in your life, when you've practically been joined at the hip with Michael and your sister for twenty-seven years. It's going to get lonely. I got lonely, and I was used to spending all kinds of time by myself. A cat isn't that much trouble to take care of, and you have plenty of people who can cat-sit should your publisher drag you on another book tour."
Halfway through my spiel his head tilts to one side and a teeny smile appears. "Okay."
"Just like that, okay? You're not going to argue with me?" To say that I'm surprised would be an understatement.
Max grins. "I know that tone of voice. All those years with my sister have taught me that when a woman speaks to you like that, it's best to nod and go along with it unless you want to get hurt."
I'm laughing now. "Well, good! I'll have to congratulate Isabel on her training program. Anyway, you let me know when you're moving in, and I'll bring you a kitten from Aunt Emma's next litter."
"Will do. So how are things with you? How's Dan?" He turns the tables.
"Good, he's good. He—I actually have some news on that front." God, this is going to be the hardest thing I've ever done, I just know it.
Max looks at me in alarm. "You didn't break up, did you? I like Dan!"
"No, no. He's why I'm in Orlando right now, in fact." I should just spit it out, but I can't; I know it's going to emerge all piecemeal. I'm such a coward.
He makes a face then smiles, shaking his head. "You went to Disney World for Valentine's, didn't you?"
"Good guess," I smile back. Takes a romantic to know one. "Max, have you ever—not a princess obviously, but has anyone ever made you feel like a king?"
It surprises me when his expression darkens in what looks like anger for a moment before he answers, rather cryptically, "Not the way you mean, no." As is often the case when Max says something on the weird side, I hear the implied, 'Not in this life.' Which I've learned means that there's more than what he's saying, but I've also learned it means not to push.
So I nod, and try to complete my thought. "Well, we went through Cinderella's castle. Have you ever been in there? It's neat. Anyway, Dan waited until we had a modicum of privacy, and, uh—"
I don't get to finish, which is somewhat of a blessing because I didn't know how I was going to say the words. Max reaches for my hand in a burst of intuition and moves the sleeve of my cardigan out of the way, and I tense in unhappy anticipation.
When the diamante sparkle hits his eyes, there is a flash of pain like I have never seen. I'm selfishly glad he's staring at my ring, not at me, because I don't think I could survive that head-on collision. It only lasts a second then it's gone, rigidly controlled and locked away like everything else. Except it's not as complete an exorcism as usual. There are still demons visible when he looks up.
"And you said yes? This is what you want, what makes you happy?"
I search his gaze and he's open enough to show me what I need to see. We both know he's in love with me, and we both know that if I ever allowed myself to jump off that particular bridge, I would be head over heels just like that. But Max doesn't want me in the turbulent water with him—he wants me safe on the bridge, and that hasn't changed. If I say no, he'll comfort me, but he won't claim me. There are secrets still holding him back. I waited all through university then began to move forward with my life, and if he wants to stay in place yet, that's his right. But it's not a course of action I can take, and when I answer, in spite of all that's left unspoken between Max and I, I am telling the truth.
"I love him, Max. He makes me happy."
It's not the shattering experience that I instinctively know loving Max would be. Nor is it the eager puppy love Kyle and I shared in high school. It's mature and caring and real, and it's what I need. I can see myself making a good life with Dan, growing old, having children. All those things that have puttered in the back of my mind since my own childhood—I want them. I want them and just like Karen didn't say, I will not find them with Max Evans.
Max nods, so very slowly, and I watch those painstakingly built walls go back up. I hate hurting him like this. Maria is going to ream me out when I say that, telling me that Max had his chance and didn't take it, but I know better. Those cold years in Boston, I wondered why he couldn't just tell me whatever it was and get it over with. Now I know him better. I know it wasn't a decision he made lightly, and that he never intended to hurt me. I know that sometimes it's a tremendous struggle for him to not reach out to me for more. And because I do know Max so well, and trust him so much, I've come to accept that regardless of what I think, his reasons for keeping apart are valid, at least in his own mind—which is the only place that matters. I treasure his friendship too much to tread where I'm not wanted.
Our bubbly young waitress chooses that moment to ask if we want refills, when we're staring intently at each other, my beringed hand clasped in his. Of course she jumps to the wrong conclusion. How could she not?
"Oh my God, congratulations! Wow, an engagement here, on my shift!" she enthuses.
"It's not—we're not—" Max stammers, dropping my hand immediately.
"We're just friends," I blurt out. His forehead creases and I suddenly realize that he's perilously close to losing it. "Max…"
"Listen, Liz, I've gotta go." He stands, so fast he nearly knocks over the chair, and drops some cash on the table. I rise in some confusion as he comes over to me, thinking maybe I can help somehow.
Then Max does something he's never done before. He cups my face with both hands, his thumbs caressing my cheekbones, and for an endless moment I think he's going to break the barrier and really kiss me. But his lips brush tenderly over my forehead, and then he leans our heads together. Tears wait there to be shed, swimming in his eyes and it's choking me, knowing he's going to go up to his hotel room and let them fall.
"You let me know when and where and what I can do to help, and I'll be there, Parker." His voice is hoarse then he's gone.
I sink back into my chair, aching. It went better than I had expected, but it hurt more, too. I wave dispiritedly at the girl to pour me another cup of coffee and pick up the money. Max will have left more than enough to cover the whole lunch, even though he's only supposed to pay for his half.
"You sure he's not the one, honey?" She raises one eyebrow.
I laugh a little at her forthrightness. I remember being that young and naïve. It wasn't even that long ago, but it feels like forever.
For the first time, the lie ripples from my tongue, too easily. Sometimes I wonder if I'm starting to believe it myself, because it seems so much more likely than his utter faithfulness to a dream. "It's not possible. He's gay."
"Ah," she clucks sympathetically and pats my shortened hair. "And you wish he weren't, eh?"
I smile wanly at her and pick up my coffee, cradling the warm cup with both hands while I sit lost in thought.
I wish I knew the answer to either question.
|posted on 2-Dec-2002 5:51:37 PM by Tasyfa|
|LTFan Aw, I love all the little depressed smilies! They're too cute. Rant away, my dear.|
Thanks for hanging in there, everyone. Remember, there are three more installments.
|posted on 3-Dec-2002 7:30:45 PM by Tasyfa|
|Scottie LOL I forgot to mention that! KMM is my favourite romance author, and she really does have gorgeous red, curly hair, so I plunked her in the story. She has a novella in a quad-book called Tapestry, which idea of a themed collection inspired the Unveiled scheme in vignette 4.|
|posted on 3-Jan-2003 12:01:17 AM by Tasyfa|
|Oh, my dear, 2crzy4roswell! Ouch, you picked a hard one for your New Year's fic. I really should amend that little note at the beginning of the fic--that's for when it was going to be just the one part. Not that the frustration and sorrow has lessened, exactly, now that it's a seven-parter but we are going somewhere! I can't really say anything about where that is except that it's not completely hopeless. If it were, I never would have continued past the first vignette. But if it affects you that strongly, perhaps you should wait and read it all at once when it's finished? Thank you for leaving such a lovely long note, though.|
I'm hoping to finish off the new chapter for this weekend. The holidays kind of got in the way of everything.
|posted on 5-Jan-2003 2:27:35 AM by Tasyfa|
|Sorry for the hiatus, guys. Y'all know how the holidays can get! Plus, this one was...difficult. Hold onto your tissues, please. In 2 posts for length.|
*****NEW VIGNETTE FIVE*****
Title: Fragility (Part 5 in the series The Bitter Dregs)
Disclaimer: The characters of Roswell are the property of Twentieth Century Fox Television and Regency Productions. All original characters and concepts are the property of the author. No profit has been made from the distribution of this work of fiction.
Category: Max POV
Dedication: For RosDeidre. You know why.;)
Summary: This is the fifth installment of The Bitter Dregs, a series of vignettes following Max and Liz through the years after Max enacts the false spoilers about the series finale. Each will be its own self-contained little world as well as part of a larger picture.
~~ Summer 2012 ~~
"Where's Michael? I thought he was coming with you." I turn in surprise at the unusually friendly sound of Jeff Parker's voice. He's a little flushed and a lot happy. Must be indulging in the open bar. Which is undoubtedly the most expensive 'free' booze he's ever had, since it's his daughter that just got married.
"Stomach flu," I lie quickly. "Isabel's looking after him."
"They spend a lot of time together, don't they? Does that bother you?"
I smile. "Not particularly. I live alone now, remember?"
"Yeah." Jeff nods, and it's like the action of a spring-loaded toy. His head bobs in increasingly smaller motions until it finally stills. I feel the urge to laugh at how ridiculous it looks.
He claps me on the shoulder and I hold the cup of coffee I just poured away from my body so it doesn't spill on my tuxedo. "It's okay, Max. Lizzie will find you a nice guy. She fixed up Alex and Sarah, did you know? Now Charlie's big enough to be in the wedding!"
"Right." Jeff takes my noncommittal answer as meaning whatever he needs it to, and beams at me before wandering away. I wipe the sides of the coffee cup and refill it, returning to my seat.
There's one young couple still at my table, and we make polite conversation until some currently popular song comes on and the girl drags her reluctant boyfriend onto the dance floor. Everyone else has long since absconded to dance or visit with other tables, so it's just me sitting here, nursing hot liquid. The lone sober guy, I think. The group of twenty-somethings assigned to my table are definitely having a good time. It makes me feel ancient. I'm only twenty-eight myself, but tonight I feel a thousand years old after the longest day in history.
A soft voice interrupts my brooding. I'm about equally annoyed and relieved that it dispels the gathering melancholy. "You didn't say anything."
I turn to face the speaker and Maria's green eyes bore into mine. "No, I didn't. I know Kyle opened up the floor to anyone who wanted to say a few words about Liz and Dan, but I'm not much for public speaking, Maria. He was a great emcee, though."
She smiles faintly. "Yes, he was, but that's not what I was talking about. I meant during the ceremony."
"During the ceremony?" I shake my head in confusion. "Liz knows I hate giving speeches. She didn't ask me to stand up and say anything at the ceremony." Other people spoke, reciting passages and poems. Liz had known better than to ask me to do any kind of standing up at her wedding, regardless of the usual involvement of a friend as close as I am to her.
"I'm referring to the part where the minister said, 'Speak now or forever hold your peace.'"
Now I understand. No wonder Maria turned to stare at me in the church; she'd expected me to object to the marriage.
I considered it. I sat in the second last row, close to the exit, just in case. My fingers clutching a fistful of tissues. The second fistful, because I couldn't prevent myself from shredding the first batch into what looked like a pretty good approximation of the state of my nerves. I fidgeted endlessly, shifting on the hard wooden pew. A church wasn't somewhere I was all that comfortable to begin with, never mind what I was waiting there for.
Ever practical, Liz had decided that since she had to do a dry run of her hair, make-up, etc. anyway, she might as well get her formal portraits done at the same time so that she had more free time on the big day. She had sent me the photos, so I had some idea of what to expect. Isabel had thought that was unnecessarily cruel, but Michael had understood. If I was going to go, I had to go armored to the teeth, and being prepared for how gorgeous Liz would look was part of that.
Except I wasn't prepared. I watched as the bridesmaids walked down the aisle, escorted by the groomsmen. Maria, beside Dan's brother Mark. Charles Whitman the Third, otherwise known as Charlie, his young face serious with the responsibility of bearing the rings. Dan's niece scattered flower petals halfway down the white runner then panicked and ran up to her father on the dais at the front, to laughter. The small girl poked her head out from behind Mark's legs and gave a big grin, her burst of shyness gone.
And then there was Liz, on her father's arm. Floating in white satin. She didn't even seem to see me as she drifted towards Dan, so ethereally. I half expected her to grow fairy wings at any moment; she looked too incredibly beautiful for this world.
I was okay until Jeff lifted her veil and kissed her cheek, and I could see how his eyes shone all the way at the back of the church. I remembered that memory flash I'd had a lifetime ago in Las Vegas. No parents had attended the wedding of that Max and Liz, and their blissful marriage had ended in war and death. The King of Antar's near-marriage with his human soul mate had ended in death. Both those futures had been destroyed when the prospect of Liz dying had driven me to alter time itself.
In this life, plain old Max Evans would make sure that Liz Parker lived.
I tuned out the sound of their vows, focusing instead on my body. The tremors that shook my sweaty hands. The heat twisting sharply in my gut. The pounding that quickly developed to a blinding ache behind my eyes. The weight that pressed my chest against my spine until I could no longer draw air, and wasn't sure I cared about continuing to breathe anyway.
One by one I forcibly calmed the physical manifestations of emotional pain. Only then did I realize that tears dripped down my chin and hastily I scrubbed at my face with the tissues. I supposed it didn't much matter if I was seen crying, considering the entire guest list would already believe I was gay. Ten years living under the purview of a stereotype had taught me several things. One was that there were people who would sooner accept me as an alien than as a gay man. Another was that there was a fair amount of odd behavior I could get away with, without raising suspicion. No one seemed to expect a homosexual to be a normal human being.
I smile a bit forlornly, shaking off thoughts of the ceremony. "Why would I have, Maria? Liz is practically emitting light. All I ever wanted was for her to be happy, and she is—visibly so. I wouldn't mess with that for the world."
She sits beside me, her head tilted in a curious pose that reminds me poignantly of Liz. Over the years, many of their individual mannerisms have blended and shifted until it's impossible to see the two women together and not know that they have been best friends forever. Maria's eyes dart back and forth, checking for other people before she voices quietly, "You really love her, don't you?"
I simply stare at her, unable to formulate a response. Maria smiles and lays a hand on my arm. "No, don't answer that. I didn't mean to say it. Would you like to dance? Or, do you dance?"
Her sudden confusion after the generous offer elicits a real laugh from me, however short. "With women, you mean? Yes, I do, and I'd like that."
She beams. "You know you've brought all this on yourself, don't you? The categorization, that is."
I fold my hand around hers and draw her close, lightly holding her waist. "Yeah. It's easier than explaining the truth."
Maria contemplates that for a while and we dance in silence. "I guess it would be. People don't like things they can't understand, and a gay man choosing to live alone is something they can comprehend far more easily. I would advise you to steer clear of my mother, though. She won't care if you're hetero, homo, trans or something entirely new—she'd try to fix you up anyway."
I have to chuckle at her cheek. Sassy and forthright, that's Maria DeLuca in any incarnation. Even as we talk, laughing together, I feel a tinge of sadness that this is the first real conversation we've ever had. She's been angry with me since the night Liz signed my yearbook. Maria must feel that it's all right to let go of the anger now that Liz is safely married.
"May I cut in?" An all too familiar voice interrupts and Maria nods, her smile becoming slightly fake. She departs and I step up to Liz, careful to leave considerable distance between us. Actually, it's well-nigh impossible to get all that close with her full skirt.
"You look like an angel." The compliment slips out, but it's an allowable one.
"Thank you. You don't look half bad yourself. I don't think I've ever seen you in a tux before." Liz scrunches her nose, trying to remember.
"No, you haven't. I think this is the third wedding I've ever been to, and that's the only time I wear it. Although it is mine—Isabel insisted when she got married."
She giggles at the exasperation that seeps through. "Aw, poor baby. How's your table? I tried to sit you with people you'd at least heard of."
"Fine. Pretty drunk by now. The girl in the dark pink dress—Becky?—anyway, she's never been drunk before and the others were egging her on, bringing her shots. It kept things interesting." I give her a vague answer. It's better that I sat with people I don't know, because none of them would be able to see through the façade like Maria, Alex or Kyle might have. Not that I've spent a great deal of time with any of those three, but enough for them to know me a little. "Your dad is lit up, too."
"Oh, I know." Liz rolls her eyes but her smile doesn't falter. "He said that he's earned it, and he has. Mom's having a good time, too. It's nice."
"Yeah." There are no more words coming to mind. Liz seems to be at a loss as well.
I don't recognize the song that's playing, and I'm trying not to listen to the lyrics. I don't want to know what it is. I don't want to find myself hearing it on the radio when I go home, and remembering this moment. When I'm in formal wear and Liz is dressed in white, in my arms. Twin bands of white gold encircling her finger.
When my hand is bare.
I realized something sitting in that church this afternoon. I have known Liz longer, and far better, in this life than I did in the last one. And somewhere in those years the lines blurred. There isn't 'my Liz' and 'this Liz' anymore. There is only Liz Parker, my best friend, and as much as my heart cries otherwise I have no other claim on her. She is who she was always meant to be—and that includes her new role as someone's wife.
That's the thought that got me through the rest of the wedding ceremony, and the long hours afterwards. It's the thought that is keeping me upright now, when my physical self is completely disregarding my brain and urging me to carry her off somewhere and make her mine.
Liz is not mine.
The silence is beginning to get awkward when it's finally broken, by Dan tapping my shoulder. "Hey there, Max. Hi, sweetheart." I move back, my arms dropping while he leans in and kisses Liz. I can do this, I've seen them kiss dozens of times today. I will hate the sound of clinking glasses for the rest of my life. "Ben has to leave, he couldn't get a later flight. But you go on dancing. I'll see him out."
"Are you sure?" she murmurs, her hand resting on his neck.
"Positive. I'll come back and cut in." Dan winks at me. "Take care of my girl, Max."
He kisses Liz again and then shocks the hell out of me by kissing my cheek. I stand there staring after him while Liz starts to giggle. "Did he convince your dad, or the other way around?"
"He's trying to be extremely open-minded and supportive," she grins.
"Uh-huh. You do know that the cat may be out of the bag soon that I'm not in the closet." I shake my head as we resume dancing.
"Hmm, why's that? Because you and Michael aren't an item anymore?" Liz bats her eyelashes at me and I laugh.
"Sort of. More because Michael's finally fallen for someone. I think. He's not talking about it yet, but I can tell."
"Really? Who? Why wouldn't he say something to you?" She's genuinely excited, although she and Michael have exchanged maybe a dozen words in as many years—Crashdown orders during high school not included.
I sigh. "The answer to both questions is that it's Isabel."
"Wow! What makes you think they're together?"
"Little things. Stuff out of place when I go over there. A certain softening in the way they act towards each other. I'm reasonably sure that there's been at least one time that I actually interrupted something—physical—when I rang the buzzer. I've taken to calling first."
The signs have been staring me in the face for months, but I just didn't see them until recently. I suppose that it never occurred to me that Michael and Isabel might end up as a couple, because neither of them knows anything about our 'alien destiny.' They don't know that they're reincarnated human-alien hybrids, and they definitely don't know that their predecessors were betrothed. What they do know is that they're not really siblings. The seed must have been planted when we analyzed our blood using the UFO Center equipment and discovered the facts I already knew: that Iz and I are related, but Michael is on his own.
"Their relationship would make a deranged kind of sense. It's a classic opposites attract pairing, really," Liz muses. "Do they still fight like crazy?"
"Oh, yeah. I'm getting signals that the end of their fights is a little different when I'm not around, though."
"As in, they'd jump each other if they were alone."
She smiles. "I think it's wonderful! They both deserve to be happy. How do you feel about it?"
"Still a bit weirded out, but I'm getting used to the idea. It's not like either of them need my permission to get involved or anything."
"True." Liz giggles again. "This isn't going to let the cat out of the bag, Max, it's going to paint you as a tragic hero."
"What? Why would it do that?" She's lost me somewhere.
"Well, Michael's so-called waffling is fairly common knowledge, did you know that? So it's going to look like he's finally made up his mind about which side of the fence he's on, and he was just dating the wrong Evans all those years. But that leaves you squarely on the other side, all pining." She sounds much too amused by her probably all too accurate scenario.
"Just kill me now," I groan and Liz laughs. "While we're on the subject of my sister, she said to tell you that she loves your dress. I showed her the photos."
"Wow, the Elle MacPherson of West Roswell appreciating Liz Parker's taste in clothes! Will wonders never cease?" she winks. "Tell her thank you for me, please."
"I will." We keep dancing, the verbal exchange fizzling out. Finally Liz sighs and looks at me earnestly.
"Max, I want to thank you for coming today. It really means a lot to me, that you're here. I know that it must be—"
"You're welcome," I interrupt her. We are not going to have a conversation about how this day makes me feel. I think I'd rather be back in the White Room, frankly. At least Pierce was uncomplicated pure evil, and he never touched my soul.
"Liz. Leave it alone, please." My voice has a hard edge and she backs down.
"Okay. Just, thank you."
"Yes, thank you, Max," Dan's cheerful voice slices between us and once again, I let her go. He puts an arm around Liz's shoulder and smiles at me. "I don't know how many crises you talked Liz through, planning this thing, but we really appreciate it."
"No problem," I mumble.
"Don't sell yourself short, man! You're a good friend to Lizzie and I hope we can get to know each other better, too." He's completely sincere, and I wish I could hate him. I wish I could look at Dan and feel total contempt or anything truly negative, but I can't. He's a genuinely nice guy, and the way he lights up when he sees Liz says it all.
I really, really wish he wouldn't call her Lizzie in front of me, though.
I dredge up a smile. "Well, keep in mind that it's a one-time deal, the planning help."
He laughs at that and claps my shoulder but Liz blinks slowly, obviously understanding the second layer. If her marriage to Dan doesn't work out, I can't help her with another wedding when she falls in love again. I just don't have that kind of strength.
"So, Max, we're going to do the bouquet and garter toss now. I know you're single so I expect to see you on the floor." He winks at me and leads Liz away. She glances back once, her face scrunched in apology, but I shake my head and give her a smile, and she relaxes.
Becky catches the bouquet, which is mildly surprising since she's having a lot of trouble staying on her feet. But she's smiling, happy about it, and the guy with her is blushing the color of her dress, so that seems good. Then it's our turn and I shuffle out onto the dance floor with the other single men.
It's been a few years since I felt like I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me whole, but life seems to hold that particular torture in abeyance against a time of need. Like when the husband of the woman you love has his lips pressed against her stocking-clad thigh in public. I want to look away but it's like I'm frozen.
The elastic snaps loudly enough to be heard even over the David Rose classic, The Stripper. That song that's come to epitomize the removal of clothing, although most people probably couldn't tell you its name or the artist's. Most people haven't had to share a computer with Michael, though.
The man standing next to me pokes me and laughs, making some comment, and that's when I notice that piece of blue lace is heading straight for me. I don't want it anywhere near me, but that's where it's going to land. How rude would it seem if I ducked, I wonder?
My breath whooshes out as a small form stumbles and his upstretched hands hit my stomach. I look down and Charlie smiles. Oh, my God, he looks just like Alex with that face-splitting grin. I can't help but smile back, and then I bend and lift him up. Just in time for him to catch the garter he so clearly coveted.
There are a number of ribald jokes about cradle robbing and the like, but a few men ruffle the kid's hair and he's beyond thrilled, feeling really grown-up when someone hoists him on his shoulders and parades him around. I can see Liz and Dan laughing out of the corner of my eye at the spectacle. Guess it was a good thing that the floor stayed solid after all.
|posted on 5-Jan-2003 2:28:52 AM by Tasyfa|
|A couple more cups of coffee and who knows how many excruciatingly polite conversations with people I don't know later, Alex drops into the seat beside me. My table, and the others circling it, are finally empty of all but me. I must look pretty pathetic.|
"Thanks, Max. You made his day."
"Sure thing, Alex. I certainly don't have any use for a garter." That emerges a little more bitter than I'd intended and he looks at me closely.
"How you holding up?"
My gaze jerks to meet his, and I see something I never would have expected: compassion. I choose to be more or less honest. "I've had better days."
Alex nods, one side of his mouth quirking up. "That I don't doubt. Maria told me about your chat, by the way. She's decided that you aren't the devil after all."
That startles a laugh out of me. "What makes her so sure?"
"Max, why didn't you object?"
The change of subject is so abrupt that I blurt out the truth. "I couldn't bear to hurt Liz the way I'm terrified I would if we were more than friends."
"So you decided that she should spend her life without you." It hovers on being a question, and I feel compelled to explain.
"Alex, look at her. She is radiant today. She's so happy." A wistful sadness enters my voice despite myself. "I can't give her that."
He snorts. "Oh, Liz is happy, I'll grant you that. But she's not radiant."
"What are you talking about?"
Alex leans forward, looking earnest. "Do you remember sending Liz an advance copy of your latest book?"
"Did she get that already? I didn't realize; my agent actually sent it for me. She's a sweetheart that way."
"Yeah, she got it about two weeks ago. Do you remember the dedication?"
It's only limned on my soul. For my inspiration. I can see from Alex's expression that he knows it's a reference to Liz. "Of course."
"She didn't know about it beforehand, did she?"
"No." I shake my head. I debated with myself for a long time about what to put—far longer than I ever take about a word choice within my work. "I only told her to make sure she read the dedication, not what it was about."
Alex looks at me intently and I can't look away. I never noticed before that his eyes are green too, although a much darker green than Maria's, almost hazel. "I was at Liz's the day the book arrived. I watched her tear into the box—she obviously recognized the sender's address. I watched her open the book, being ultra careful not to crack the spine or bend the cover as she flipped to the page she wanted. And when she'd read it, Max…that's when Liz was radiant. She looks beautiful today, but receiving that gift from you made her glow like you wouldn't believe."
"Oh, God." My voice is barely a whisper. "You're serious."
"Very." He pauses for a moment; I must look ill or something. "Max, I know how you feel about Liz. Maria…she's intensely loyal and sometimes blindly so; she could never see past Liz's protests to how she feels about you. I do see that. I know how much she cares about you, and I know…well, I'm sure I don't need to tell you, do I? So knowing all of that, what I still am incapable of comprehending is why you're so frightened of getting involved with her. You realize that by insisting on only friendship, you have hurt her before."
"I know that, but…" I cannot even think past what he's saying to me. Past what it means. I've been fooling myself for so long. For too long, because now it's too late. I don't have any avenues open to me anymore except the one I took so many years ago.
"But what?" he coaxes.
"Alex, I—" I hesitate; how much do I say? Because I have to give him some explanation, and I'm not going to lie to him. This man died because of me, too. I try to get some kind of grasp on my thoughts. Any way you look at it, this is going to require some faith on his part that I haven't gone off the deep end.
"I'm listening, Max." The creases developing around his eyes deepen as he smiles. "I'm sure the people here who don't know me think I'm hitting on you, but I am going to get all girly and tell you that I'm listening."
That earns a small laugh from me and I nod. "Then just listen, okay? Don't judge, just listen." Alex murmurs agreement and I breathe in deeply.
"What if you had a way—a reliable way—to know some of the paths that the future might follow? And what if every path where you…where you and the love of your life forged a bond between you, they all ended in death? But the paths where you stayed apart, they held the possibility of life? Even if it isn't quite what you thought it would be, isn't it better to choose the path that holds life?" I am almost begging him for reassurance.
His eyes widen and narrow repeatedly during my little speech and now Alex pinches the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, leaning closer to me. "I'm guessing that I'm not supposed to ask about this reliable method of prediction, so I won't. I see that as far as you're concerned, everything you said is true, so I'll just go from there." He heaves a sigh. "Jeez, Max, pick the hard ones, why don't ya?"
"It was never a choice, Alex. A romantic relationship with me would endanger Liz's life. You're right, I can't give you any details, but please trust me."
"I'm not questioning your honesty, Max. Your sanity, maybe," he cracks. I shrug wryly and he smiles slightly. "I think…if that is true, then I think you are probably doing the right thing in staying away from Liz. Or uninvolved with Liz, whatever. I also think it's not exactly fair to make that decision without her input, but I can see where you're coming from on that one. She would in all likelihood toss the safety issue aside in order to be with you, which would defeat the whole purpose of this foreknowledge that you have."
I close my eyes, my throat clenching in relief. He gets it. Even with the impossibilities and the seeming ridiculousness, Alex Whitman understands what I'm doing. But my relief is short-lived as he continues.
"Now I need you to listen to me, Max. Liz has been one of my best friends in the world since grade school. I am heavily invested in her happiness. So in return for accepting your explanation as is, I want a promise out of you."
"Anything," I say rashly.
He raises an eyebrow. "If something happens and Liz ends up getting divorced, I want you to tell her the truth. All of it, not just the snippets you gave me. Will you do that?"
"Alex, they just got married! Why are you even mentioning divorce?" I'm stalling and we both know it, but it's a valid question all the same.
"I love my wife, Max. Sarah and I have a great life. Charlie is a blessing that I give thanks for every day, and so is the fact that Sarah's pregnant again." He casts an affectionate look over to where Sarah Whitman stands, chatting with Liz's mother. She gives him a little wave and he waves back then turns to me. "Like I said, I love her, and I am happy, but… Isn't there always a 'but'?"
"Congratulations," I offer when he falls silent for a moment, and Alex smiles.
"Thank you. The thing is, Max, as much as I love her and as much as I love the life that we've created together—in all senses, there is still a missing piece in our relationship. We're husband and wife, Max, but she's not the love of my life. Not the way Liz is yours. And not the way you're hers. So while I am content with my life, I don't know if Liz will be. She loves so strongly. Almost too strongly. You know what I mean."
I nod slowly; I do know. Liz loves with an all-encompassing fierceness. I feel it even as her friend, in a different vein than as her—what? Boyfriend? Such an inconsequential word to describe how we felt in another life.
"Will you do it?" Alex asks me again. That earnest look is back and I know he's looking out for his best friend. But I can't agree to that. I can't.
"Yes." This time my heart speaks for me. I didn't mean to say it, but I won't take it back, either.
"Thank you," he says simply. He offers me his hand and I shake it, sealing the promise. Then Alex rises from the table and goes over to his pregnant wife, placing his arm around her shoulder. I can hear them both laughing at something that Nancy Parker says.
Which leaves me, sitting here alone, with coffee that's gone cold and hands that won't stop shaking, thinking about consequences.
Wondering if I ever made any kind of choice at all.
|posted on 10-Jan-2003 11:52:40 PM by Tasyfa|
|Ah, guys, you know I empathise with how difficult this is! Love you all for sticking it out. In two posts for length.|
Title: Denial (Part 6 in the series The Bitter Dregs)
Disclaimer: The characters of Roswell are the property of Twentieth Century Fox Television and Regency Productions. All original characters and concepts are the property of the author. No profit has been made from the distribution of this work of fiction.
Category: Liz POV
Dedication: For RosDeidre. You know why.;)
Summary: This is the sixth (and second-last) installment of The Bitter Dregs, a series of vignettes following Max and Liz through the years after Max enacts the false spoilers about the series finale. Each will be its own self-contained little world as well as part of a larger picture.
~~ Winter 2016 ~~
I fumble through my purse for change as I make my way to the bank of telephones. My handful of quarters and dimes is useless, I discover; these are all new models. Cards only. Where's my calling card? I can't find it!
"There's a phone card dispenser over there, hon. You can use your bank or credit card to put money on it." The woman speaking to me has kind blue eyes.
I have those. Both of them. Only—I need numbers to make them work. PINs. What are my PINs? Her mouth softens as she smiles. "Do you have twenty dollars?"
That I can do. I hand her the crumpled bills and she goes over to the machine, coming back a moment later with a phone card for me. "Here you are, dear. Go make your calls."
I catch her hand as she starts to walk away. "Thank you." She squeezes my fingers and smiles, and then my brand new card goes into the brand new phone and I start to dial.
I have to start over; I've dialed the wrong number. All my grace is gone. Not that I'm usually a prima ballerina or anything, but normally my muscles do obey neural commands. Today is anything but normal, though.
The phone connects and rings twice, and I hang up. Laboriously I redial the same number, and this time it's snatched up.
A little of the tension flows out of me at the warm voice but I can't speak. There's a little hitch in my throat as tears leak out. He must hear it because he starts asking questions.
"Liz? What happened, where are you?"
"How did you know it was me?" I force out.
"You're the only person who knows the emergency signal who's long distance. What's going on, Parker?"
"I'm—Max, I'm at Tampa General. Dan…" I can't say it. I can't say anything; that tiny release has unleashed a flood and there are too many tears for speech.
"I'm on my way, Liz. I'll be there as soon as I can, okay? Stay at the hospital if you can. If you do go home, let the nurse at the head desk know, all right? I'll just keep going in the cab, then. Liz, is he—is he alive?" There's a tremor of fear in his voice and I have no idea what that means.
"Yes, he's in surgery. Please hurry." I need you, I admit to myself.
"I will. Hang in there."
The line clicks. It takes me a minute to put the receiver down and remove my phone card. Slowly I wander to the padded benches and curl up in a corner to honor the title of the waiting area, the thin plastic clutched in nerveless fingers.
Strong arms around me. I hold on to the warmth as I pry my eyes open. "Dan?" But it's not him, or anyone else for that matter. Just his leather jacket. I inhale deeply, the scent both reassuring and tension-inducing.
I must have fallen asleep. I don't know how long I've been out. The hospital staff would have woken me if something happened, right? Right?
There's a man in scrubs walking in my direction and a million butterflies fill my stomach. I jump to my feet.
"Ms. Parker?" the man inquires. I nod shakily and he takes a deep breath.
He doesn't even need to say the words; I know. "He didn't make it, did he?"
"I'm sorry, no. There was too much blood loss. We thought we might have a chance since it wasn't a heart shot, but the bullet punctured his lung. We did everything we could."
"Thank you," I manage. "What—what time is it?"
Gently he tells me, "Almost four o'clock." There's no mention of the fact that a watch encases my wrist. Numb, I nod and he leaves me alone to follow Max's instructions and tell the nurse's station that I've gone home. I would have done it anyway, so that the police would know where to find me if they need another statement.
Four o'clock. Four hours since my husband was shot while we had lunch in a café, the victim of an attempted robbery. Gunned down when I sneezed, drawing nervous fire, and he pushed me under the table to safety without ducking in time himself. A few hours at least before Max will get here, all the way from New Mexico. I'm not even sure why I called him instead of my parents. Or my Aunt Emma, who's maybe a fifteen minute drive from this very hospital. Even Dan's parents, who at least live in the same state as me. But I guess that when your brain is paralyzed, your instincts take over, and mine said Max.
Transition from sleep to waking again. This time I'm not alone. Max kneels beside the couch where I collapsed as soon as I walked in, his hand lightly shaking my shoulder. A shaft of light from the hallway illuminates his dark hair, and eyes like no one else on earth.
"The nurse told me. Not the details, just…Liz, I'm so sorry," he whispers.
I turn over to face him head-on, instead of twisting to look at him, and the movement dislodges me. I go sliding onto the floor and into his arms. Now that I'm fully awake, the tears begin again.
He rocks me and the subtle motion soothes. My stomach stops churning with fear. Maybe here, like this, I can learn to feel safe again.
"Something smells good." Good enough for an embarrassing rumble.
Max chuckles. "Why, thank you."
"Mmm, not you. You smell like airplane. Did you bring food?"
"Pizza, from down the street. One thing all cab drivers know is where the decent food is, at no matter how ungodly an hour."
"This is true." We dig in, sitting at the counter with the napkin holder perched between us. "That's clearly your half, with the like quadruple hot peppers."
"Yeah. I told the young guy there to go nuts. I think he decided to make it a macho contest or something." Except it wouldn't have been much of a contest, since Max isn't even sweating or gasping while he eats. Yuck. It's the one thing he does that truly grosses me out but I've gotten used to it over the years.
"Thanks for bringing something. I haven't eaten since—" Since lunch. The three slices I devoured suddenly feel like lead weights in my belly.
"I've got you." He catches me when I crumple and carries me easily to the rear of the bungalow, settling on the edge of my bed. I cling to him, needing the support, and that gentle sway returns. One hand strokes the length of my tangled hair and I swear it unknots ridiculously easily under his fingers. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not without serious amounts of liquor." I try to sound flippant.
"But you can't—I thought you weren't supposed to…" Max trails off, uncomfortable as usual with telling me what to do.
"No, it's okay. That's why we met up for lunch; I had a doctor's appointment this morning. I'm not pregnant." His grasp on my hair firms until he's pulling. "Ow."
"Sorry." The gentle stroking resumes. My mother used to do this with me. She swears that the number of lullabies she had to sing to put me to sleep decreased exponentially if she also played with my hair while she sang. I am drowsy but I want to explain before I sleep. "So you went to lunch together."
"Yes. To the café where I tried to take you last time you were here, when they were closed for renovations."
"Right, the one that reminds you of the Crashdown except the uniforms are pink and lack headbands." He's amused by that. I complained up one side and down the other about having to wear that aqua uniform as a teenager and now I'm all nostalgic about it. Life is strange.
"That's the one. So we ate, and ordered coffee, and we were sitting there arguing. The waitress came by to ask about refills and Dan told her to get lost, and I yelled at him while waving her back to us." It's amazing how differently you look at service industry personnel when you used to be one. "Well, not yelled exactly. That loud whispering that says that you would be yelling if you weren't in a public place."
"I know it."
"And that's when they came in." The sequence replays in my head. Two men with guns. One emptying the cash register while the other holds the room hostage. The coffeepot dropping from the waitress's nerveless fingers, smashing on the floor. Joined by the salt and pepper shakers the table behind us had requested. The sharp scent of crushed pepper rising to my nostrils, mingling with the coppery tang of blood as the gun crashes and the waitress falls. It's impossible to control the urge to sneeze but I try, even as Dan reaches across the small table to push me down.
The gun crashes again.
"Liz. Liz, it's over. Whatever happened, you're safe now. It's over."
"God, it was an armed robbery. The waitress standing beside me, she dropped stuff and got shot. And Dan, Dan was already moving even though they said not to, he was pushing me down, and I sneezed. I sneezed and the guy shot again, and I was too far down, too far, and instead of the back of my head he got Dan in the stomach." I can hardly choke out the words, I'm crying so hard. "Oh, God, Max, he's gone. Dan's gone! I didn't even—I couldn't see anything, they were behind me."
He doesn't mouth platitudes at me, just murmurs a litany of nonsensical syllables, almost crooning. As far as I know, Max has never lost anyone close to him so I don't know how he knows that telling me, 'It'll be okay,' is the last thing I need to hear. I'm just glad that he doesn't say it. But his arms are tightening around me, too tight. I can feel the hard curve of muscle digging into my back. "You're squishing me."
"Sorry." His grip loosens enough for me to breathe freely. "I should have been here. Instead, I was on the other side of the country."
"What difference would that have made? You could have been on the other side of the city, Max, and it wouldn't have changed anything. Did you know that in just over four minutes without oxygen, the human brain becomes so much worthless tissue? You can't change that. What would you have done if I had actually been shot, that day the gun went off in the Crashdown?"
Warmth spreading across my stomach as I freeze, staring at the men arguing. My uniform seems to shimmer when I look down, but my vision is blurry with sudden tears and then there's a sharp retort. I suck in air, positive that the shining barrel pointed at me is the agent of my death, when it moves a little more and I hear a whistling noise as the bullet zooms right by me, embedding itself high in the wall.
Max utters a strange little laugh. "I would have found a way to save your life."
"Yeah, probably the same way my husband did. I wouldn't want you to die either, Max." The ebbing flow of tears picks up again, and he rocks me ceaselessly, muttering something under his breath.
I must be imagining what I think he said: 'I almost lost you.'
The next time I open my eyes, I'm alone again, mired in blankets. From the tight dryness on my face I can only assume that I cried myself to sleep and Max tucked me in. Thank God he removed my belt first or I would have a huge imprint on me from the oversized buckle. Nothing else gone, though, so I dig out some pajamas and change into their comfort then go wandering. Escaping, really.
I find him curled up in the guest room, lightly snoring. I didn't know he snored. On the floor beside the bed are a small suitcase, unzipped, and a computer case. My knees get wobbly with relief; he's brought his laptop. He's not going to leave me alone.
"Huh? Liz? What are you doing up? You should get some sleep." His voice is slurred with fatigue.
Tears threaten. "I can't. Not in there."
Max sits up, rubbing his eyes and I can see that he understands what I mean. "Right. Uh, you can sleep here. I'll find some blankets and go sleep on the couch. I don't mind," he cuts through my protests.
I don't know how to say what else I meant. I know it's a lot to ask, more than I've ever asked of him, but surely there are allowances. I blurt it out. "Would you stay? I—I don't want to be alone."
Fear shows in his eyes for a moment and he swallows hard. That doesn't make sense. Why would he be scared of me? "Yeah. Yeah, okay. Come here, Parker." He folds back the opposite corner of the duvet and grateful beyond words, I slip under the covers. I settle back towards the middle of the bed automatically and Max flinches in surprise when I bump into him. "Sorry. I'm not used to sharing."
"I didn't mean to startle you. I can—"
"No, it's fine." I relax and lean on him. His spine gradually softens from a rigid line against my back and I notice that even through his T-shirt, he radiates a lot of body heat. It comforts me and I hear his breathing even out and grow raspy as I find rest.
The next few days pass in a wild blur. I spend a lot of time with my mother-in-law, making the various arrangements. I feel closer than usual to Jennifer. We learn to recognize the signs of impending tears in each other and make a sad joke out of handing tissues back and forth. Lots of little things bind us together in our grief. I guess that's how it's supposed to go. Grandma Claudia is the only person I've lost before now, and that was different. My fellow mourners were people I already knew inside and out.
The day of the funeral is sunny and warm. While the sunshine seems incongruous with my emotional state, I'm nevertheless more than willing to take the excuse to wear sunglasses.
By the end of the day I just want to drop where I'm standing. Or possibly deck the next person who tells me they're 'sorry for my loss.' Of course you are. What else are you going to say? But I summon a real smile when Alex makes his way over to me, by the refreshments.
"I think you've had enough coffee, Lizzie. Your kidneys are going to shrivel up without some water." He hands me a glass, complete with a ton of ice. I gulp some down, enjoying the pleasantly cold sensation numbing my throat.
"Mmm, thank you. And thank you for coming. I know it was hard to get away."
He leads me to an empty table and raises his eyebrows until I sit. I've been avoiding sitting, unsure that I'll be able to get up again afterwards.
"I hope you were drinking decaf," Alex admonishes.
My lips stretch in a semblance of a smile. "Not necessary, so no."
"Oh, Liz." Alex puts an arm around me and I lay my head on his shoulder. It's kind of awkward in separate chairs but it's nice. "How do you feel about that?"
"Conflicted," I tell him honestly. "And guilty, because the ambivalence factor is a little different than it was when we were fighting about it, right before he was killed."
"I guess it doesn't much matter how I feel about it, since there's no possible way to change it." I sound detached even to my own ears.
"I wouldn't say it doesn't matter, though it's true enough that you won't have children with Dan. It is a facet of your mourning, Liz—everything that will never be now," he says gently. I murmur agreement and Alex squeezes me. "Speaking of conflicted, how's Max?"
That gets him a laugh. "Beyond belief. He's bullying me into taking care of myself. Around meal times, there's something ready for me and he doesn't let me alone until I eat. Although I suspect that it's largely take-out because there doesn't seem to be much dish washing happening, but there is an unusually high number of trips to the trash can. And that first morning, once I woke up I just wanted to pull the covers over my head and forget the world existed. Max shoved me out of the bed and told me to go shower." I was not impressed at the time about landing on the floor unexpectedly but I've since gained perspective. Max isn't coddling me. He's forcing me to deal with life to the limit of my current ability and helping with the parts that I simply can't handle.
In short, he's acting like a partner and it scares the bejesus out of me.
"You're sharing bed space?" Alex asks in an undertone.
"Not the way you think," I refute. "I could not stay in my bedroom that night, and I was afraid to be alone. I still am." I sigh heavily. "Alex, this makes three times that a bullet has passed less than a foot from my body. That kind of thing makes a person a tad paranoid."
He chuckles. "I guess it would. What did Max say about the sleeping arrangements?"
"Well, he hesitated at first. God only knows why, but he looked almost as scared to have me there as I was scared to not be. But he seems okay with it. It's not like we spoon or anything…intimate like that. Back to back, or sometimes just my foot on his leg. You and I have shared bed space the same way, Alex."
He's wise enough not to point out that we've never had any unresolved romantic issues between us. Instead Alex kisses my forehead and murmurs, "Be careful, okay Liz? Max is breakable too."
"I will, Alex. I will."
|posted on 10-Jan-2003 11:54:43 PM by Tasyfa|
One day bleeds seamlessly into another when you're not working. Only daylight and darkness have any meaning, and that distinction all but disappeared with the advent of electricity. Someone else will cover my classes for the rest of the semester; my assistants will do my research. I feel better about it since Max reminded me how ecstatic I was, when I was still a research assistant and my project head went on maternity leave. I don't feel so bad about leaving my students in the lurch. I know I'm better at the research half of my job. I like to teach, but nothing beats the thrill of getting my hands dirty.
Going through Dan's belongings is hard. Jennifer and Steve help for a few days after the funeral, but they can't be away from work too long, like everyone else. Maria wasn't able to come at all—she can't fly when she's seven months pregnant, and neither she nor Billy wanted to risk the long drive from New York City. Well, and I told her I'd kill her if she did risk it so that may have factored in somewhere. You never know with Maria.
Max finally admits that he's been feeding me take-out forever and one night, I feel up to making dinner myself. He's in his bedroom but I can see as I move down the hallway that the door is ajar, so I figure I'll knock and ask him if he's hungry yet. Maybe what he feels like eating too, because I'm not sure what I'm in the mood for. I just want to feel like I'm doing something useful again.
As I get closer I can hear him, and for a moment I think he's talking to himself. Max has been known to do that; he's nearly as bad as Maria. But it's not the soft muttering he usually does. There is definitely someone else involved in this conversation.
"It's not the same thing at all. Different 'D' words altogether. … Yeah, you could say they might as well be on different planets." His voice is rife with biting sarcasm.
I shouldn't be listening like this but I've always been too curious for my own good. Maybe that's the karmic source of my brushes with death.
"You can't see the way she looks or hear her voice when she talks about it. If you could, you would understand what I mean."
She who? Me? Talking about what?
"No. … Yeah, I know what I said, but… You just don't know the situation like I do, okay? He saved her life. There is no competing with a dead hero."
The 'she' is me, and the 'he' is Dan. Who is Max talking to about Dan? Competing for what? If I had the ability to record this phone call, I would, I swear it.
"Right. Try to see it from my side, all right? … Yeah. Give my love to Sarah and the boys."
I hear Max put down the receiver with more force than is strictly necessary, and then he swears and hits something. It makes me flinch and my elbow smacks into the wall.
"Liz?" He pokes his head out as I resume walking towards his room, rubbing my stinging arm.
"Did you knock something over, Max? I heard a crash." He doesn't seem to realize that I'm lying through my teeth, thank God.
"It's nothing. So, what's up?"
I explain my original errand and he grins. We decide on spaghetti. But even as we chat and laugh in the kitchen while I get dinner ready, my mind is back on the bits and pieces I overheard. Why on earth would Alex be trying to talk Max into something he so clearly doesn’t want to do, and what does that have to do with me?
"Hmm?" I laugh at his noncommittal grunt. He's so not paying attention while he taps away at his laptop at the dining table. I'm sitting on the couch with a book, but I can't quite get into reading tonight. I'm having better luck concentrating on the cup of coffee in my hands.
"How long have you been here?"
The tapping stops momentarily. "Uh, around a month. Why?"
Mentally I add up the days. Dan died February 20th. That means… "Max, we missed your birthday!"
He laughs. "You might have missed it. I happily ignored it."
"Why? You're already past thirty, it can't be that traumatic," I tease.
"It's not traumatic, just not particularly meaningful. That date was chosen arbitrarily by someone in Child Services. Doesn't really have anything to do with me, other than being a reminder to renew my driver's license and all that." He smiles warmly to offset any sting his comment might cause.
"Oh." There isn't much I can say to that. Max goes back to his typing.
A few minutes pass with me reading the same page over and over. I use the remote to change the CD that's playing to something a bit mellower and smile somewhat wistfully when I recognize the mix. "Max…"
"What?" He sighs at my half amused, half offended look when he snaps at me. "Liz, I don't want to sound like a jerk but please, can we either have a conversation, in which case I'll stop writing, or would you please stay quiet? I'm in the middle of a rather delicate scene and I need to concentrate."
"What kind of delicate scene?" I crane my neck to see the computer screen, as if that's going to tell me anything from a few feet away. He looks heavenward.
"I'm a romance novelist, Parker. What kind of scene do you think?" Max glances at me, and I see fire there. Searing warmth from his greening eyes and my breath catches a little.
I remember passion, although not with this man. I remember bodies coming together, slick with sweat in the darkness. I remember grunts and moans and the whispered sound of my name.
The memories are imprinted in my skin.
Uncomfortable with the sudden heat rising between us, I look away and choose to respond to Max's remark instead. "How did you end up as a romance novelist anyway? You never did give me that explanation. I would have pegged you for a science fiction writer—well, I did!"
Max fiddles with his mouse for a moment, undoubtedly saving his work, and leans back with a smile. "Mostly by accident, believe it or not. My original intention was to write sci-fi. I still have a lot of stories and stuff from when I was a teenager, and I pull them out and work on them sometimes. But some of my better ones started off science fiction and took a right turn into relationship-based plots and character interactions. So I decided to try to write something that started there for a change, and Isabel found the resulting story. She thought I printed it off the Web somewhere. I shared my sci-fi with her but never the ones that crossed over, so it took me a while to convince her it was really mine." His face softens with affection. "After that, Iz kept at me to keep her supplied with reading material. She's the one who came up with my pen name, actually. Said it helped distance her from the fact that certain things existed in her brother's brain."
He laughs and so do I. I feel strangely warmed by the knowledge that Isabel invented Max's secret identity. As close as Max and I have become over the years, I've not spent a lot of time with his sister that wasn't in a large group situation, where you can't really get to know a person. "So was it her idea for you to write an actual novel and submit it to a publisher?"
"To an agent," he corrects, nodding. "The agent shops it to the publisher."
"How did you find Daphne?"
"On the Internet. Isabel did a lot of research for me, and Daphne's agency is interested in paranormal romances. I sent her a query, we talked and it kind of went from there." Max shrugs. "I won't bore you with the details."
I sip my coffee and put the cup down; it's cooled off. "How are she and Michael coping with Parker?"
"Well, Michael says that just because they're married doesn't mean they should have kids or pets, but Isabel says that Parker has him whipped. I'm inclined to believe her. You know I've been second-best in Parker's affections ever since Isabel bought her a cashmere pillow the exact same shade of green as her eyes. Never mind that cats are color-blind," he snorts. "Two of a kind, my sister and my cat. If Parker could read I'd get her a subscription to Vogue."
I watch him surreptitiously as he talks, trying to see if he's noticed what song is playing. "Max, don't you know this song?"
He tilts his head and listens to some of it with a smile.
I wanna drive
Until we get lost
Lie in a field staring up at the sky
While you point out the Southern Cross
Somehow I know
Without asking why
That you love me more in a minute
Than anyone could in a lifetime
Dancing in the parking lot
While the band plays inside
Sweep me off my feet
Baby, marry me
"I'm sorry, I don't know it. Should I?"
I can't believe it. Max remembers that Maria, Alex and I humiliated ourselves doing "The Love Shack" for the charity cabaret in junior year, and probably every song ever played on his favorite TV show, but doesn't know this one?
"No, not really. It's…it's the one we danced to." He should know that reference at least, since we've only danced once.
I'm not sure what I expected when I realized that this song was on the CD that started playing, but it wasn't the absolute horror that crosses his face now.
"Good Lord, that was only slightly inappropriate!" he gasps.
"It's not like it was planned, Max. It's a good slow song for a wedding reception." Now I'm the one snapping.
Immediately he looks contrite. "I'm sorry. I honestly didn't know that's what song it was, Liz. It's very pretty."
But the damage is done. I excuse myself and go into the bathroom, splashing water on my face. I sit on the closed toilet lid, wanting to cry.
Maria was right. All this time I've clung to Alex's view, but Maria is the one who's right. It wasn't just because Max thought I was happy, or that I had already made my choice. He didn't speak up that day because he doesn't want to share his life. And so five years ago, when I got engaged, and the year after that, when I got married, Max stayed silent because he wanted to. Because in spite of the camaraderie we've shared this past month, he doesn't want me.
The guilt crushes me that I should even be thinking about this while I'm still mourning my husband. Dan was a beautiful presence in my life and I miss him dearly. But it hurts to have the dream die, too.
A few more days pass and Max stands at my front door all packed. After I clued in that I've been deluding myself in the worst way, things didn't quite get back to comfortable. Just over a month he's been here and it's hard to know that he's leaving for good.
"You're sure you don't want me to come with you as far as New York? I can get a connecting flight at JFK or LaGuardia."
I shake my head. "I'm just going to sleep on the plane anyway. I can never stay awake when flying, you know that."
He nods. "Okay. I gave you the baby presents for Maria and Billy, right?"
"I've got them."
"Liz…" Max trails off when I place my fingers over his lips.
"Don't." It seems a hundred years ago that he told me the same thing, and for much the same reason. It hurts too much to hope.
We're not the same people anymore.
"You know you're welcome anytime, Parker. My door's always open. I even have a proper guest room now, since I started renting office space downtown so I don't hole up in the house for weeks on end." He offers me a weak smile.
"Good idea. Thanks, Evans." I haven't called him that since he got here. I need the distance, because he's not going to stay. As wonderful as it's been, both of us know now that he doesn't belong in Florida.
It's not even that this house says, 'Liz and Dan' all over it. That we bought it together; decorated it together; lived in it together.
Made love in it together.
Ultimately, what it comes down to is that while Max's career may be portable, he is not. His roots are in Roswell, and he is going home.
My life is here, and it's waiting for me.
|posted on 10-Jan-2003 11:58:58 PM by Tasyfa|
|Oops! Author's Note: the song is "Marry Me" by Amanda Marshall. I'm actually compiling a soundtrack to go with this fic, and once it's finalised I'll post the song list for y'all.|
|posted on 11-Jan-2003 12:42:05 AM by Tasyfa|
|Actually, in part 5 Max specifically tuned out the song so that he wouldn't be reminded of dancing with Liz if he heard it again. ;)|
|posted on 11-Jan-2003 2:47:22 PM by Tasyfa|
|De The POV was supposed to be a little indistinct in the beginning--a function of Liz's fractured mental state. Thanks for the wonderful, wonderful comments! Big smooches!|
|posted on 11-Jan-2003 9:19:20 PM by Tasyfa|
|Well, I can see that I don't need to be here to answer questions LOLOL! Y'all are correct as to why Liz kept her own name.|
|posted on 12-Jan-2003 2:40:43 PM by Tasyfa|
|Araxie Well, 16 selections of some pretty depressing songs, yes LOL! Here's the soundtrack that I've compiled. Many many thanks to my friends for their wonderfully weepy suggestions! And in case anyone's wondering, yes I do listen to this over and over while writing.|
The Bitter Dregs Soundtrack
1. Angels or Devils (Dishwalla)
2. Marry Me (Amanda Marshall)
3. Bulletproof (Blue Rodeo)
4. The Scientist (Coldplay)
5. Do What You Have To Do (Sarah McLachlan)
6. Could I Be You (Matchbox 20)
7. Could It Be Any Harder (The Calling)
8. Waltz # 2 (XO) (Elliot Smith)
9. Not Pretty Enough (Kasey Chambers)
10. One Last Breath (Creed)
11. Safe And Sound (Sheryl Crow)
12. Every Little Thing (Dishwalla)
13. This Is Not A Love Song (Matchbox 20)
14. Forgive Me Love (Alanis Morrisette)
15. Always (Saliva)
16. Break Me (Jewel)
|posted on 24-Jan-2003 11:14:34 PM by Tasyfa|
|Sky All my fanfic is posted at RosDeidre's Fanfiction, in the various Roswell forums (not crossovers lol).|
I'm hoping for this weekend, guys, but I can't promise. I had to do some restructuring so there'll actually be 2 more chapters.
|posted on 1-Feb-2003 9:50:00 PM by Tasyfa|
|Thanks for all the lovely fb, folks. One reason it's been a bit between updates is that I had to do some restructuring. Hence, this is NOT the last part--this is 6B, and vignette 7 is still to follow. Posted in 3 parts for length. I hope you enjoy |
Title: Reassertion (Part 6b in the series The Bitter Dregs)
Disclaimer: The characters of Roswell are the property of Twentieth Century Fox Television and Regency Productions. All original characters and concepts are the property of the author. No profit has been made from the distribution of this work of fiction.
Category: Liz POV
Dedication: For RosDeidre. You know why.;)
Summary: This is the second-last installment of The Bitter Dregs, a series of vignettes following Max and Liz through the years after Max enacts the false spoilers about the series finale. Each will be its own self-contained little world as well as part of a larger picture.
~~ Winter 2017 ~~
My second Christmas without Dan. This year it doesn't ache so much, his absence. My memories are changing, muting with time. Thoughts that brought tears once begin to elicit wistful smiles, and I know that my heart is healing.
It helps that I'm at home again. Home in Roswell, that is, where I've been for every Christmas Day since I was born. Neither the beginning nor the premature end of a marriage has changed that. But I'll be staying right through until the beginning of classes instead of flying back to spend a few days with the Greenwoods. In spite of our resolve to maintain our ties, Dan's family and I have drifted gradually apart. I don't fight it too hard. It feels like a natural process—like the final stage of letting him go.
The big day itself passes in a swirl of gilded velvet and gluttony. The quiet after hours with my parents are what I cherish most. The annual tradition of relearning each other when long months are spent apart. But a few days later, I'm knocking on Max Evans's door.
It isn't just about coming home for the holidays. This year, there's also a mission.
"Liz? It's seven o'clock in the morning. This had better be good."
Smiling, I hold out an extra large paper cup of coffee from the Crashdown. He blinks at it and shakes his head then reaches for the cup. "Come in."
There's something different in his living room; it takes me a minute to identify what. "New curtains?"
Max laughs. "Yeah. Isabel finally noticed the claw tracks in the old ones from when Parker climbed them as a kitten. She insisted that I change them. I said fine, here are the window measurements and my credit card. Go shopping."
"I like them. They make it warmer in here." The sunrise streams through the dark peach sheers and it gives the room a glow, which it desperately needed with all the natural canvas slipcovered furniture.
He notices me glance at the slipcovers and laughs again. "If you'd wanted a different color, Liz, you shouldn't have given me a mostly white cat. I don't like to vacuum any more than I absolutely have to and her shedding doesn't show up so much on the canvas." He yawns and I grin.
"I just wanted to get out of the house, Max. My parents are doing that hovering thing and it's driving me nuts. You can go back to bed if you want; I brought my book." I yawn too. Maybe I'll chance the abundant cat hair and sleep on his couch for a while. I really didn't mean to be up this early, but when your parents run a restaurant, they tend not to be people that sleep in, and they're not used to keeping it quiet anymore.
He ponders that, something flickering in his eyes. As if he's made some internal decision, he goes into the adjoining kitchen and rummages in a drawer. "Next time, don't bother waking me up."
It's a key. For his house. I can't conceal my surprise. "Max, you don't have to—"
"I've been meaning to give you one for a while. I have keys to your place, remember? Besides, this way you can escape whenever you want to." He shrugs it off but I want to acknowledge the gesture in some fashion. I smile and lay a hand on his arm.
"Thank you. I appreciate it."
"It's no big deal." His answering smile is warm, though.
"You know, you really should get a new robe, too. That has seen better days, my friend." In fact, it's pretty disgraceful looking.
Max shakes his head and laughs. "Yeah, I actually got one for Christmas. Slippers too, which I assume is where the cat is because she's claimed them. I just happened to grab this first when I heard you knocking. Listen, do you want a real pillow or whatever? I don't think you're going to stay awake too long either. I know I'm not. I was up late working on something."
"Don't you know you're supposed to take a break during the holidays?" I tease.
"The muse waits for no man. You take it when you can get it, and you don't quibble. Here, you look cold. It might be ratty but it's still warm. Between this and the afghan you should stay toasty." He folds the robe around my shoulders with an inscrutable expression, lifting my hair out from underneath it. His hand lingers, fingering a lock of hair near my jaw. "You're letting it grow again."
"Yeah. It's easier to take care of when it's long, believe it or not." Do I sound breathless? I can't tell. Something about the moment feels incredibly intimate, though. Maybe because I'm wearing his robe, even if I am fully dressed underneath it.
Maybe because he's not. The T-shirt and jam pants must be traveling nightclothes because at home, Max apparently wears just boxers to bed. While I've seen him similarly attired at the beach, it reminds me forcefully that this is his domain. And that I don't know what he's thinking at all.
"It's good to have you home, Liz." Automatically I return his hug, feeling soft skin instead of fabric. He's as warm as ever. "You know where everything is, if you want to make yourself some real coffee. Uh, I don't know about the fridge but there are Pop-Tarts in the cupboard if you get hungry."
That makes me laugh. "Honestly, Max, I don't understand how you're not as big as your house with the stuff you put in your stomach."
He grins. "Not to mention a job that entails long hours just sitting on my ass. I work at it. You know that, since you never stop teasing me about it." I smile back and he brushes my cheek. "Wake me around noon if I'm not up, okay?"
"Yeah." I clutch the robe around me, pressing my face to the collar and inhaling as I watch him climb the stairs with a hint of self-consciousness evident in his stride. He knows I'm watching. Does he also know I think he's beautiful?
More importantly, does he have any idea that I know he's not human?
It started because he forgot his toothbrush. I'd made Max promise to call me when he got into Roswell, so I would know he was safe. I was slightly overzealous on the safety issue; that's faded for the most part, but I still get twinges. Anyway, when he phoned, I offered to mail the toothbrush. He laughed and made the strangest comment: "Never mind, just throw it out. It's not like it's my electric razor full of hair or anything."
It wasn't the mention of his razor that bugged me. Of course he would want that back if he'd left it, those are expensive. It was the part about the hair. Why would it matter whether he'd cleaned his razor or not?
I had two days yet before my departure for Maria's and I spent the time thinking about Max. Not the dreamy kind I'd been prone to in college, but more in scientist mode. Connecting some of the dots. He'd been making bizarre remarks for years but there was never any means to look deeper. However, what I now had was something Max obviously took care not to leave anywhere: hair samples, from his pillow. And a used toothbrush.
Well, I was unlikely to get any information from the toothbrush. The whole point of toothpaste is to kill everything. But I put it in a Ziploc bag anyway, and placed the strands of hair in plastic wrap, then stuffed them both into an empty ice cream tub and shoved it into the back of my freezer. I don't know why I automatically went to such lengths to conceal those items but I did, and once I returned from New York and tested them, I knew my instinct had been right. The cells that composed Max's hair looked anything but normal. I extracted a DNA strand and examined it. The amino acid sequences were largely human, but some of the building blocks weren't found in any species on Earth.
I destroyed it all. I'd taken care not to use any equipment that made automatic use logs, nor did I take any notes, relying on my excellent memory. Then I went home to think.
That was a year and a half ago. I've said nothing to Max; I wasn't ready. The painstaking process of fitting together the little pieces of evidence, the vague clues that he's given me over the years…it got me through the grief over Dan. It kept my mind occupied with a fascinating puzzle until my emotions settled. A puzzle with very personal ramifications. This is what Max hides. More, this is why he's never let me all the way in. I've known for a long time that his ultimate goal is to keep me safe. Now I know that he believes I can't be, if I'm with an alien. It's such a ridiculously simple supposition once you know the truth. But that's all it is: a hypothesis, and I am not about to blindly accept it as valid. I want proof.
Of course, in order to get some I need to present Max with my proof, or at least my deductions. That my uniform shimmered the day the gun went off in the Crashdown because of some kind of force field, not my teary eyes. That he's an offworld lab-created hybrid of a human being and an alien one. Genetic tampering that sophisticated is beyond the human race's capabilities. I can look at his DNA and see how it's been spliced together, but I haven't got a prayer of reproducing the process.
That sometimes, he pulled me into his dreams, and it wasn't even always when we were asleep. For years I thought it was just me daydreaming in odd perspectives but I saw it differently after I knew. I suddenly understood why the emotions often felt kind of skewed, like they were coming to me underwater. They weren't mine.
I understand how Max feels about me now. What I don't understand yet, is what to do about it.
My stomach is rumbling like crazy. Except, it's not stopping. The sensation continues long past the standard phenomenon. I crack my eyes open to find Parker curled up on my middle, purring contentedly.
"Sleeping on the couch under her blanket makes you a pillow," comes Max's cheerful voice. Wasn't I supposed to wake him up? How does he always do that to me? Don't aliens need sleep? "I made coffee. I can move her if you want."
"No, that's fine." I turn my head carefully to see his smile. He's sprawled in the armchair with his laptop in front of him on a drafting table. "I'm surprised is all. She doesn't usually cozy up to me like this."
"You're not usually wearing her blanket."
Or your robe. I probably smell like Max to a cat's nose. To mine too, come to think of it. It's a comfortingly familiar scent. It took me a long time to wash the pillowcase he'd used when he stayed with me. Inhaling the clinging remnants made me feel less alone.
But those thoughts are going to stay in my head, so I merely murmur agreement. Max picks something up and takes a bite and I start to laugh. "You weren't kidding about the Pop-Tarts."
"Nope." He has another bite and I notice the small bottle of Tabasco sitting beside his coffee cup.
"Oh, please tell me you didn't douse them with that crap."
"Crap? Crap? I am deeply offended." He sniffs injuredly, eyes sparkling, and deliberately shakes an excessive amount of the hot sauce onto the toaster pastry, smacking his lips exaggeratedly after he tastes it. "Divine."
I giggle through the performance. I guess Parker prefers her pillows to be stationary because she gives me an affronted look and sniffs in disdain. I only laugh harder; it's becoming clear where Max got his inspiration for the insulted act. She stretches languorously before ditching me in favor of Max's chair, where she places most of her body along the upholstered back, her front paws on Max's shoulder. I sit up and see him holding out a fingerful of Tabasco-laced frosting, which Parker eagerly licks off.
"You've corrupted the cat, too?"
"It's not corruption, is it, sweetheart? The nice lady should know that after six years, you'd like whatever I was eating," he coos at her. Parker rubs her cheek along his jaw, purring loudly enough that I can hear her, and Max scratches under her chin for a moment. "You want to watch CNN?" He fiddles with the laptop.
"She likes the news?"
"Nah, she likes the way the headlines flicker across the bottom of the screen. You should see her watch hockey. Parker's better at following the puck than Fox ever was." He looks gleefully malicious at his last remark and I vaguely recall something about the Fox television station using a blue lightning streak special effect—badly. I'm not sure if it's just the long association with Michael, who is a hockey freak, but Max is pretty avid himself these days. I got read the riot act for calling during the Stanley Cup finals last year.
"Do you have any milk in here?" No carton or jug in the refrigerator.
"Yeah, it's in the glass juice bottle at the back. I don't like using the bags."
"Aren't we picky?"
"You know it."
I laugh and doctor my coffee. That first too-hot sip is going down easy when I see Max kiss Parker's head and murmur to her, "I love you too, babycakes." I can't help the splutter of amusement.
He looks at me and blushes. Not the usual mini flush he does, where the tips of his ears go red and there's a hint of embarrassment in his face, but a full-on, collar to hairline blush. Like he's going to be seventeen in a couple of months, not thirty-four. I can't resist it. "I wouldn't have pegged you for the nickname type, Max."
The blush deepens and he retorts, "Oh no, dear heart?"
My email nickname. It just kind of appeared eons ago; I don't even remember when or why. Now it's so typical that it surprises me when he types in, 'Liz.' But I've never heard him say it out loud, and it sounds a lot more intimate than it looks, even when Max is being sarcastic. I'm not sure I want to think about that now. "Touché."
He chuckles and his color gradually recedes while he extricates himself from feline, chair and computer cords to refill his own cup. Strong and black, preferably some dark roast that tastes bittersweet. I tried interesting him in espresso-based drinks a few times but it's not his thing. He's amused that I like cappuccino; says it's a more elegant way to get my usual diluted crap. Silly man.
Although he doesn't look particularly silly, his eyes closed in pleasure at the caffeine rush. He opens them and smiles at me. "I see that one problem with longer hair is how easily it tangles." One hand wanders down my hair fleetingly.
I must look a fright if Max is mentioning it. Normally he's almost too tactful. "Yeah, it's an issue."
"So, got any plans for tomorrow night?"
"The eve of New Year's Eve? Not as far as I know. Why?"
"I was thinking that I've never thanked you properly for Parker. There's a restaurant that I've been wanting to try; it opened a couple of months ago. I'd like to take you for dinner." He seems coiled with energy, waiting for my answer.
"You haven't gone with Michael and Isabel?" That's what generally happens. Sometimes the elder Evanses, too.
Max laughs. "I know better than to ask Michael to go somewhere that requires a jacket and tie."
"Ah, it's a fancy place! It sounds nice. I'd love to." God, I can already feel the butterflies.
"Then I'll pick you up at seven-thirty."
[ edited 1 time(s), last at 2-Feb-2003 11:29:04 AM ]
|posted on 1-Feb-2003 9:51:56 PM by Tasyfa|
"Oh, Maria, you haven’t lost your psychicness yet. Can you put this back up so that the pin doesn't show? I pulled too much out." The second she walks into my bedroom I hand her the recalcitrant bobby pin. She laughs and obediently pins the stray lock of hair into place.
"Going for the artfully disheveled look, I see."
"Pretty much, yeah. Spray me?" I cover my face while she applies a light mist of hairspray. On with the earrings and necklace, and I'm ready to go.
"Very nice." Maria looks me up and down. "God, you're so lucky you're still thin."
"You're hardly fat, Maria. I think you look better than you did as a teenager." I do, too. She's gained very little, and it's in all the right places. I'm as flat as ever.
"Yeah, I'll give motherhood that. Of all the changes it inflicted on my body, at least I finally have boobs."
"Right." I wish my hair wasn't mostly up, so it could hide my face. She can't miss the flash of melancholy.
"Oh, Lizzie, I'm sorry."
"No, Maria. Don't you feel guilty because you have kids and I don't. You're almost as bad as Alex."
She sighs and lays her head on my shoulder for a long moment. "Maybe you could ask Max for stud service."
"Maria!" We're both laughing and the tension breaks.
"So, second date, huh?"
"What? It's not a date, Maria. It's just dinner with a friend." I check my lipstick one last time. It's almost seven-thirty.
"Sure." She's so not convinced.
"Liz, you haven't done this in years. I feel like we're back in high school, with me helping you get ready and everything."
"Is that why you came over? To get all nostalgic on me?" I tease. She merely smiles, raising an eyebrow and I throw up my hands. "Okay. Officially, it's not a date, but that is not what my stomach thinks. I don't know if I can do this."
"Aw, sugar, of course you can. It's not like you're meeting him for the first time or anything. Just relax," she coaxes.
"What if I'm reading him all wrong, Maria? What if relaxing is all that he's doing, becoming even more comfortable around me? What if he thinks I'm untouchable because I was married? Good God, what if everyone else has been right all this time and Max really is gay?"
The last concern has her laughing again and I glare at her. This is not funny.
"Liz, calm down." Maria grabs my arms, halting the pacing I didn't even notice I started. She stares right at me. "What does your heart tell you?"
I stare back, trembling inside. I'm terrified and exhilarated, all at once. "That Max is open to me where he never was before. And I would be a fool not to take the chance."
"So the pasta's good?" Max smiles broadly at me. It must be written all over my face.
"It's wonderful. I don't usually order anything with seafood in Roswell because I get much better quality at home. But this is so good." The cozy French restaurant has an air of quiet competence, and I'm glad I let it seduce me. "I can't believe you ordered steak and frites."
"What? It's a time-honored traditional dish. Besides, I happen to be fond of both components." He laughs when I snag a French fry off his plate.
"I know. How many pounds of French fries did you eat at the Crashdown during high school?"
His smile wavers then firms. "The equivalent of a few elephants, I'd imagine."
I smile back and we continue to eat and talk. This is so easy. What was I freaking about?
"Do you still eat out most of the time?"
"Not as much since I got the room at the B & B," Max chuckles.
"Right! You promised you'd tell me that story the next time we were together." I'm so curious about how he found his 'office.' It's not actually office space, but an old-fashioned bed and breakfast inn with a gorgeous antique-filled study run by a wonderful older couple. The house might be old but it's wired and Max hooks up his laptop in the study on weekdays and writes.
"My parents' fortieth anniversary was the year before last, and they wanted to do something special but Dad was in the middle of an important case and couldn't leave Roswell for more than the weekend. The Hendersons had opened the Rosemount a few months earlier, and I'd heard some good things, so I booked them in for the weekend closest to their anniversary."
"Wow. What did they think?" I twirl the last mouthful of pasta.
"My mom loved it. She got to talking with Mrs. Henderson about some recipe and somehow my search for somewhere to hang my hat got brought up, and the next thing I knew I had an office. The best part is that most of the time, I eat there. Almost always at lunch but occasionally dinner, too, although I make sure I pay for that. Lunch is part of my rental fee." He winks.
Interesting. With Max, if there's a 'best part,' there is also a 'worst part.' He's incapable of not making sweeping distinctions. "Sounds awesome. What's the worst part?"
His ears turn red and he coughs. "Well, that was short-lived, thank God. Mrs. Henderson tried to fix me up." I shake my head quizzically and he clarifies. "With her nephew."
"What did you do?" I actually hear myself gasp.
Max scratches behind his ear. "I didn't see any way out of it without insulting Mrs. Henderson, so I met him. He waited until we were alone and told me it was nice to meet me, but clearly I was straight so why was I there?" He shrugs. "We had a laugh about it. Nice guy. I don't know what he said to his aunt, but she hasn't tried again so I'm happy."
I've never had a better opening to ask him something I've been dying to know forever. "It really doesn't bother you that like ninety-nine percent of Roswell thinks you're gay?"
"No, it really doesn't." He smiles. "Everyone who really matters to me knows, so who cares what the rest of the world thinks? I will confess that it bugged me some in college, but that was a long time ago. I'm not so wet behind the ears anymore." He spears the last piece of steak with his fork.
I comment without thinking how it's going to sound—atypical for me, but Max has that effect sometimes. "You must be unbelievably secure about your sexuality."
He pauses all motion and his eyes snap up to mine, radiating green heat. I can hardly breathe for the weight of it, pressing me into the chair. "I am. Very sure."
"Oh. That's good," I murmur blindly. One corner of his mouth lifts in a near smirk then he takes that last bite. I grope for my purse. "I'll be back in a minute."
The armchairs in the ladies' room are those dainty ones you're afraid will break when you sit down, but it holds up to me collapsing on it. I tap my foot impatiently while my cell phone rings.
"He is so not gay!"
Maria splutters for a second. "Please tell me that you didn't find that out by having sex in the bathroom."
"What? No! Maria!"
I explain my and Max's conversation to her. "Then he looked at me like he wanted to eat me alive."
"That's good, right?"
"Yes. No. I don't know." I don't.
"Okay." Maria draws out the second syllable. "Lizzie, what is it? I should think you'd be happy that he's so obviously attracted to you. Isn't that part of the whole point of tonight?"
"Yeah, but…Maria, I don't know what to do with those feelings anymore. I haven't been with anyone since Dan died. And we dated for ages before we even got engaged. I don't know how to be with someone else." I whisper the confession, feeling tears stand out in my eyes.
She sighs sympathetically. "Oh, sugar. Has Max said or done anything to make you feel pressured into something?" There's an edge to the question that tells me she'll kick his ass if I say yes, and it elicits a wobbly laugh from me.
"No. He's kind of just putting his feelings out there. Making sure I know where I stand with him, I guess would be a good description." It's not as scary once I put it into words.
"Fabulous. So you're not ready to jump him in the restaurant bathroom. That's fine, Liz. Well, actually, that's probably good because somehow I don't think Max is the public type, any more than you are." Her dry humor has me giggling now. "Lizzie, you're moving forward with your life. It can be frightening, yeah. But moving forward doesn't mean you have to take a flying leap into the future. This is one date. It's not like you have to go home with him and sleep with him. You don't even have to kiss him goodnight. All you need to do is relax and be yourself." She pauses, and adds quietly, "He already loves you exactly the way you are."
"I think that's what scares me the most, Maria. What if it doesn't work out? I'll lose him. I can't even contemplate my life without Max being part of it in some way. Is the possibility of more worth risking our friendship?"
Long silence. So long that I begin to worry, until she says, "All I can tell you is what you told me years ago: that when Max looks at you, you can feel the universe, and it all makes sense."
I'd forgotten those words, but not the truth behind them. Clearly they made quite an impression on Maria, and her remarks stay with me as I return to the table.
"I took the liberty of ordering us coffee." Max's eyes twinkle.
"And dessert, I see. I'm not sure I have room for it!"
"Hence the single slice of cake with two forks. Just try it." He wheedles and I give in, closing my eyes to better enjoy the sweet treat. As it melts on my tongue, there's an unexpected kick that boosts the flavor.
"What kind of cake is it?" I take another bite, anticipating the kick. Max has a funny little smile on his face. "What?"
"It's Chipotle Chocolate Cake."
"You're not serious. There are hot peppers in this?" I have to taste it again. "No way!" There's a smoky heat that enhances the chocolate and also cuts through the excess richness that such dense cake often has. It's amazing.
"Sweet and spicy. Not such a horrible combo, huh?" He leans back, nursing his coffee, and his meaning sinks in. This is the combination that Max eats all the time; that I tease him endlessly about. Apparently in some forms, it's delicious.
"I still don't want Tabasco with the strawberries on my pancakes." One last dig, and it makes him laugh.
Later, Max drops me off at my parents' place and insists on walking me in. That's no different than any other time; safety is always a priority, even in sleepy Roswell. What about his expectations, though? Are they different?
What about mine?
"Um, what are you doing tomorrow night?" I hadn't planned to ask that, exactly, but I feel the need to break the keen silence.
"For New Year's? I don't really know yet. Why?"
I turn to him at the door. "Why don't you come to the Crashdown? Isabel and Michael, too. I talked my dad into letting me screen the deejays this year so I'd be able to listen to some decent music."
Max chuckles. "I don't think I want to know what verbal gymnastics you had to do to talk him into that."
"No, I don't think you do," I agree. "It was like taking my doctorate orals again. So, any time after seven, okay?"
His hand wanders the length of my tendrils of loose hair and I stare up at him. The streetlamp's thrown his face into shadow and I can't make out his expression. "I'll be here."
"Good. Max, thank you for dinner. It was wonderful." I tense. This is the point in a date when all the platitudes are exchanged—and the kisses.
"Tonight was about me thanking you, remember?" I see his teeth flash in a smile before he pulls me into a hug. My eyes drift shut in the darkness of his shoulder. Even Maria agrees that Max gives the best hugs, but this is new. There's no holding back, no careful propriety: I melt right into his body. I'd be content to stand here like this forever, in his arms.
His lips brush my cheek a scant inch from the corner of my mouth. If I turn my head right now…but I don't. It's already perfect.
"See you tomorrow, Liz. Night."
|posted on 1-Feb-2003 9:53:57 PM by Tasyfa|
"Mouth!" Alex bellows from across the café and I see Max's ears turn red.
"Wait a minute, you're Mouth?" I can't believe it when he nods, rolling his eyes, and then moves forward to greet Alex with laughter and back-slapping.
'Auntie Liz, can't you read like Mouth does, with all the different voices?'
'Auntie Liz, can we play Incredible Hulk? Why not? Mouth plays it with us!'
I didn't bother explaining that Charlie is almost my size and he's not even a teenager yet. I'm too small to carry four energetic boys. But now I understand where the photo of Max disappearing under the Whitman clan on his mantel comes from.
"So who mangled your name? Evan?"
"No, Evan's vocabulary still consisted of 'cookie' and 'mama' at that point. I'm afraid I did it to myself." Max grins, looking embarrassed when Alex howls.
"Yeah, he thought he'd be cool and give them all wrestling names, except that the first one that popped into his head was Jimmy 'Mouth of the South' Hart, who hasn't even been around since we were kids. Mark and Steven latched onto it immediately and 'Max' ceased to exist."
"Rub it in, why don't you, Whitman?"
"Is that why they call Evan, Termite?"
Max laughs. "Sort of. We christened him the Terminator. Obviously it morphed over time. Where's Sarah, didn't she come?"
"Oh, yeah, she and Maria are around somewhere. And—oh. Hi, Isabel. Michael." Alex holds himself stiffly while he smiles at the new arrivals. Nuts. I'd forgotten about that awkwardness when I told Max to invite them.
"Hi, Alex," Max's sister says softly. Michael nods and shakes hands.
"Can I get you guys anything? There's champagne, of course, and also some non-alcoholic punch and a few other things." We discuss their selections and I go off to be a good hostess.
"They look ridiculous."
"Yes, they do." I can't disagree with Maria. Max hates to dance but there he is, keeping Alex occupied and out of trouble in the cleared dance space in front of the DJ's equipment. Not the easiest task with the amount of alcohol Alex has consumed.
Sarah sips her champagne. "Maybe this will finally get her out of his system."
We're both surprised but Maria asks first. "You know about Isabel?"
She smiles a little, putting the flute down on the table. "The unattainable dream. I've known since college, before we even got engaged."
"It doesn't make you feel threatened?" I want to know.
"Not particularly. Isabel is just that: a dream. A remnant of a boy's hurting. I'm Alex's reality, and he doesn't do things by halves. I know how much he loves me, and the boys." Sarah shakes her head. "Isabel's ice isn't for him, and he knows it."
Wise words that set me to thinking. Isabel's iciness is because she's an alien. Ditto for Michael's gruff manner. But what about Max? Would he be just a remnant of my hurting if he hadn't reached out to me that day in the UFO Center, and again a few months later with the first of thousands of emails between us? What's different about him, that made it possible for him to stay as open as he has? And how much has it cost him?
Maria reappears with a satisfied smile; I didn't notice her leave. "Okay. The DJ will play one more fast song and then a slow number. Sarah, do you want to take Alex or shall I? Obviously Liz will take Max." She winks.
"Hey now, Max and I don't dance," I protest. Not since my wedding.
"Well, Max doesn't usually dance at all, but he seems to be breaking all his own rules tonight." Sarah smirks.
"What happened to feeling like you wanted to stay in his arms forever?" Maria flutters her eyelashes when I scowl. "You can tell him that I put you up to it, if you like."
"They're very good friends, aren't they? Max and Alex, I mean." I change the subject.
"Yeah. Actually, I think they're good for each other, period. Like the rest of us, Max finds it impossible to brood around Alex." Sarah grins. "And of course, it isn't only because Max is my favorite babysitter."
"He looks after the boys a lot?" Maria inquires.
"Often enough. He's one of the few who can tell the twins apart just by looking at them. It doesn't hurt that he won't take money in payment, either." She rolls her eyes.
"You don't pay him?"
"Yes, she does, Maria. In food, right?" Sarah and I laugh as she nods. "Max makes Alex's high school kitchen adventures look like the work of a great chef. If he can't just heat it up, he's completely useless."
Maria giggles, too, then perks up. "Song's almost over, girls. Go claim your partners. I see my husband has returned from his trip to princess-land. Laura insisted that he come to Gamma's and read her a bedtime story."
I find myself standing in front of Max as the music changes. One side of his mouth quirks up.
"Looking for something, Liz?"
I glare at him. "Maria sent me." I hadn't meant to admit that.
He chuckles. "In that case, would you like to dance?"
I nod and he draws me into his arms. It feels as good as it did last night. It wasn't some fluke; this feels right. Like nothing else in my life has, not even lovemaking with Dan. The unsought comparison scares me. As unprotected as Max has seemed over the last few days, and as right as this feels, I'm nowhere near ready for that kind of intimacy.
I opt to dispel those kinds of thoughts by teasing Max. "So I hear you tell fairy tales for leftovers."
"That's one way to look at it." The tips of his ears turn red. "I enjoy spending time with them. I like kids." I nod, my mind spinning in another direction entirely. He hasn't lost his touch in reading me, though. "Liz, it'll happen for you. You're thirty-three. With today's technology, you're practically still a baby yourself."
I rest my head on his shoulder. "Did I ever tell you what Dan and I were fighting about, the day he died?"
"Not in so many words. You mentioned that it had something to do with your negative pregnancy test." His hand tightens briefly on my waist and there are worlds of new meaning in the gesture. I deliberately blinded myself for so long to the price he pays for my friendship. Because I couldn't do without him, and I couldn't deal with knowing how hard it was for him to have me needing him.
Is it truly possible to move past all that?
"There were some other tests whose results came back at the same time. All of mine indicated that I should follow in the footsteps of the women in my family: look at me too closely and I'd get pregnant. But Dan's…he was effectively sterile."
"I thought that was overcomable with in vitro or whatever."
"It can be, especially if it's directly extracted from the male instead of waiting for, well, you know." My face is red but I laugh when Max makes a noise of discomfort at that idea. If we were sitting, I bet he'd cross his legs. "I wouldn't have been able to do the lab work myself; I'm not qualified to work with humans. But I've done it many times in my research. And my work with Sea World—I was part of the team that helped Shamu's descendant give birth in captivity. The third generation live birth! And Shamia is totally healthy. I even got to swim with her once."
"I remember. I don't think there was a single sentence in your email that didn't end with an exclamation point." I can hear his smile. "I gather that while you were comfortable with the idea, Dan wasn't."
"No, he wasn't. I guess it's one of those situations where you never know how you'll react until you're in it. I was so angry." I can feel tears gathering behind my closed eyelids. I haven't spoken of this to anyone. But with everyone around me tonight, talking about their children, it's suddenly hit me really hard.
"Oh, Liz." He brushes a lock of hair off my forehead with his cheek and kisses the exposed skin. "I don't know what to say, except that it was only the very beginning of your discussions on the topic. He may have come around; he may not have." Max releases my hand to tip my chin up so that I meet his eyes. "What I do know is that Dan would not want you to keep holding on so tightly to the timing of your anger. He loved you, dear heart. All relationships have their problems and it doesn't matter that you were arguing when he died. It only matters that you loved each other, enough to choose to spend your lives together."
I'm vaguely surprised that there's no trace of bitterness in his voice or his eyes, only genuine concern. With all the realizations that have been crashing in on me about Max in the last two years, since I began to unravel his puzzle, I think the most humbling is that he's not bitter. That he didn't hate Dan, although he may have wanted to. That he's never harbored any resentment against me for living my life, even when he wasn't a part of it, and most especially once he was. I have the barest inkling of how difficult it's been, from keeping my new understandings to myself.
Not for much longer.
"Do you need some help with those?"
I glance up at Isabel in surprise and wave at a tray of food on the prep table. "Yes, thanks."
We work together in silence for a bit, arranging the crackers and cheese on one tray, veggies and dip on another. At last she speaks again, her eyes trained on her hands. "Don't hurt him, please." It's a soft plea.
"Isabel," I have no idea what to say to that. I stare at her and she eventually looks at me.
"I saw you and Max dancing. He's wearing his heart on his sleeve tonight; I can see it, when he looks at you. I'm just afraid…" she swallows. "I don't know you very well, Liz, though I think you're a nice person, and I know you care about my brother. But if you're not ready to let Max all the way in, then please don't let him in at all. He's not as strong as he appears to be."
Is anyone? "Isabel, I don't want to hurt Max. What—what brought this on?"
She searches my eyes, her mouth twisting a little to mar the perfect beauty of her face. "You really don't know, do you?"
"Where did you go after your wedding?"
I blink; where did that come from? "Uh, on our honeymoon. Hawaii for two weeks. Why?"
"I had a house guest who I had to bully to take any kind of care of himself. Michael finally carried him into the bathroom and turned the water on him fully clothed, because Max wouldn't even leave his bedroom long enough to shower," she says flatly. "I have never been so scared in my life. I thought we might lose him. I know enough to realize that we almost did, and that he won't be able to go through that kind of pain again."
"Isabel." My hand is at my mouth, vainly trying to hold back tears. How could I not have known?
Her dark eyes soften. "I'm not trying to guilt-trip you, Liz. Max mainly brought that upon himself for not letting you in, and trying to be the best friend he could be at the same time. He was a fool to attend the wedding, even if he insisted that he had to bear witness in order to truly believe it happened. But it's different now. If you aren't willing to give him everything you are then please let him go. He loves you too much for these half-measures."
I can't say anything in response. I'm crying too hard. Isabel wipes her hands on a towel and enfolds me in a hug, soothing me. I breathe in her Chanel No. 5 and breathe out raggedly with my tears.
Moments of clarity hit you like lightning out of a clear sky. Seemingly forgotten song lyrics dance through my mind. Music and memories, inevitably intertwined in Max's heart, intentionally leaving himself in ignorance of a question that he believed he didn't have the right to ask. Marry me.
"Have you seen Max?"
Maria shakes her head. Sarah offers, "I think he went somewhere with Alex."
"Thanks." Given Alex's condition, that somewhere is likely to be in the near vicinity of a toilet. I haven't seen him this loaded since our college days.
Approaching the staff bathroom in the break room, I hear muffled retching sounds and grimace. Sometimes being right sucks.
"Remind me why I thought this was a good idea," Alex whines.
"Because you're an idiot," Max tells him.
"No, because you had to bring your sister here." More retching.
Max sighs. "Listen up, Alex, and listen good. If you forget any of what I'm about to say to you, I will be more than happy to repeat it to you when you're not worshipping the porcelain god, all right?"
Mumbled agreement and Max begins, his voice growing passionate. "You've been saying, 'What if?' to yourself about Isabel since you won that date with her for the charity auction in sophomore year. I'm sure she was gracious and charming that night, and I know she's beautiful. But she's not for you.
"You want to know what would have happened if you'd gotten involved? She would have ripped your heart out and fed it to you in pieces, Whitman, and you would both have been miserable. And it's not because of you. That's just Isabel. The only reason that she has found some happiness with Michael is because he was already inside the castle when the walls went up. I love my sister dearly but she is a damned difficult person to love and even harder to live with. There are wounds inside her that you just could not heal, no matter how much you might have loved her. Michael is the only one who even has the chance, in this life.
"No, you forget about Isabel, Alex. Accept that any possibility of anything with her is dead and buried, and focus on your wife. They don't make many like Sarah. You got bloody lucky the day she agreed to marry you and you've been blessed ever since."
"I am a lucky man. And if I ever sober up, I may even get lucky tonight!"
"I wouldn't count on it," Max laughs. "Here, stand up."
"Max, buddy, it's mighty useful sometimes to have a friend who knows all about alternate realities." Alternate realities? Could there be more to it than his non-human origins? Or is that the booze talking? Has Alex known all this time without telling me?
"Alex, man, that's our little secret, remember?"
"Right. Shhh. Okay, I'm ready to party some more!"
Hastily I move back in front of the swinging door, giving it a little push to look like I've just walked through it as the two men emerge from the bathroom. "Hey, guys. We were wondering where you disappeared to."
"Max was holding my hair. Or, well, he would've if I had any." Alex points to his growing bald spot and we all laugh. "Sarah in the café?"
I nod and he takes off, leaving Max and I standing there, staring at each other.
"I wasn't seducing him, in case you were worried." His mouth quirks.
"What?" I blush. I guess he's aware of all the stereotypes by this time. "No, I didn't think you would be. He might be drunk enough, but you're not gay."
"You noticed." Green heat in his gaze. It doesn't spook me so badly now.
I nod, glancing at the clock. A little past ten. With everything I've learned tonight, on top of everything I'd already known, I think we need to be alone for a while. "How about we skip the whole 'midnight at ten-thirty' and wait for the real thing up on my balcony?"
Quicksilver pain shadows his face until he smiles. "Yeah, that sounds good."
Blanket around his shoulders, Max pats the lounge chair, inviting me to sit down. His feet on the ground on either side. I swallow and accept, settling against his chest. He wraps the ends of the blanket around me with his arms and the hard muscles of his thighs cradle mine.
I feel as though my whole life, I have been poised for this very moment. For the perfect time and place, and now it's here. It's like my skin can't quite contain my emotion. I might burst with the sheer force of it.
"Hmm?" His warm breath gusting past my ear makes me shiver.
"Do you know which star is yours?"
"I was never one for wishing on stars, Liz. Do you have a favorite?" He sounds a little wistful.
"No, I didn't mean for wishing on. I meant which one was your home."
Max stiffens immediately. "How long have you known?"
"I started to suspect something when you stayed with me, after Dan died. There were little things that I hadn't noticed before—probably wouldn't have, except that we spent so much time together. They made me curious, so I checked out your toothbrush and some of your hair in my lab. Don't worry, I destroyed everything once I had some answers. No one will find out from me."
I'm in sole possession of the blanket as Max rises to pace. "You investigated me." He's angry.
"Yes, I did." I stand too, ready to defend my position. "And you saved my life."
"What?" He stares wildly at me.
"That first night after Dan was shot, I asked you what you would have done if I'd been shot in the Crashdown. You said that you would have found a way to save my life. And you did, didn't you? You have a—a shield of some kind. I had dreams about how my uniform shimmered for a long time. It wasn't until after I saw your DNA strands that I figured out it wasn't my uniform but a force field. I would have been shot, wouldn't I have?"
His face is devoid of all color now, the anger drained away. "You were shot. I deflected the bullet off the shield."
"Oh." My legs feel wobbly all of a sudden. It's extremely disconcerting when your speculations of your probable moment of death are confirmed.
Max pushes his hand through his hair and rubs the back of his neck. He exhales slowly, coming to some internal decision. "You know, I never doubted that I could trust you."
You didn't? That confuses me. "Then why didn't you say anything to me? Did you tell Alex?"
"Alex? No, he doesn't know. He thinks I'm slightly psychic or something; I'm not quite sure how he's worked it out in his own head. I told him that I get dreams of other lifetimes."
"And you don't, I take it?"
He chuckles self-deprecatingly. "Why don't we get comfortable?" We reseat ourselves in the same chair, his body folding around mine. I'm even more aware of him now, if that's possible.
Max explains his powers and his origins. At first I push a little, knowing that he's holding on to some parts too tightly. He's afraid and I understand that, but I need to know. When I make it clear that I don't expect some kind of fairy tale, he gives me full disclosure on his use of the granolith fragment to come back in time.
He tells me that it was to save my life; he tells me about Future Max and the sacrifices that another version of myself made for him. Even when I squirm, not altogether comfortable with the revelations in spite of my request, he tells me how we were involved for a time. The dream bits he's inadvertently sent me over the years aren't dreams at all but flashes, pieces of memories just like I'd surmised. It does help, though, to have a name to put to the phenomenon, and an understanding of how this sharing had shaped his relationship with his Liz.
And then hesitantly, Max tells me the entire story of Tess, all the way to giving up his son.
"He ceased to exist too, didn't he? Baby Zan," I muse. "That must've been really hard for you." It strikes a painful chord in me, another reminder of my own childless state. I can't imagine how it would have broken Max.
"I think it was the most difficult part, yeah. But the situation was critical, and we all agreed." His grip tightens around me and I get a flash so strong it's almost in words.
Liz hadn't agreed, actually. She protested that her life wasn't worth all that. I wanted to cry when Isabel and Michael backed me up. Maria and Kyle didn't need any convincing, of course. Only Liz herself, still not quite able to believe in her own worth, even at the end. It was only when her breath rattled in her lungs like she was a hundred years old and she hadn't enough strength to lift her own hands that I took that irrevocably final step.
The tears come at the last image, but I cry for the whole long, sad tale. For a boy forced into the role of a man too early; for the family and friends sent with him. For the love that shone in his voice when he spoke of his young Liz, a girl I've never known although she was once me.
For the courage it's taken to stand by his convictions all these years, and let me fly.
"Sh. I know it's not the happiest story, Liz, but they're just memories now. This is my life. Here, with you. I love you."
My heart nearly stops and I twist to look at him. "Me? Not her, but me?"
Max chuckles at that and raises a hand to stroke my jaw. "You. That Liz was a beautiful, brave young woman, and I treasure her memory. But that's what she is now: a memory. You are everything she never had the chance to be. I don't model my heroines after you because I love you, Liz. I do it because you're the strongest person I've ever known. It's my way of paying homage to that strength."
I hiccup. "I can think of a better way."
There is glory in his greening eyes as he cradles my face in both hands and leans in, soft lips covering my own. Somehow he tastes familiar and I open to him in rapture, emotion thrumming right inside of me. Dimly I'm aware of the sound of church bells ringing.
|posted on 2-Feb-2003 12:17:54 PM by Tasyfa|
|Chipsflickan I had no trouble following your post at all, dear. Thank you for not being intimidated by not having English be your first language!|
A few people have mentioned that Max's words about Isabel were on the harsh side. True. And in a different time and place, he might have said something else altogether. But Isabel and Alex are both happily married to other people in this timeline, so Max's goal was to get Alex to let go.
|posted on 9-Feb-2003 9:22:52 PM by Tasyfa|
Banner by the wonderful Blanca. Thank you, dear!
Title: Commencement (Part 7 in the series The Bitter Dregs)
Disclaimer: The characters of Roswell are the property of Twentieth Century Fox Television and Regency Productions. All original characters and concepts are the property of the author. No profit has been made from the distribution of this work of fiction.
Category: Max POV
Dedication: For RosDeidre. You know why.;)
Summary: This is the final installment of The Bitter Dregs, a series of vignettes following Max and Liz through the years after Max enacts the false spoilers about the series finale. Each will be its own self-contained little world as well as part of a larger picture.
I can see the pain in you
And I can see the love in you
But fighting all the demons will take time
It will take time
The above is a verse from Dishwalla's song, Angels or Devils. While the entire songlist that I posted earlier has been a tremendous mood-setter for me, this is kind of the theme song for this fic for me, if you will. Big hugs to mockingbird39 for getting me into their album, Opaline.:D
So, is everyone ready? LOL! Here is the end of an intense journey. I thank you for sticking it out with me, and for each comment that you've made—and for the tears that we've all shed! I appreciate it so very much. What a long, strange trip it's been!;)
Special thanks to RosDeidre for your assistance with, well, everything! I could not have done it without you, my dear.
Posted in two parts for length.
~~ Summer 2020 ~~
I walk home slowly, lost in thought. As usual. Unless the weather is awful, I walk back and forth from my office most days and use the time to plan plot twists and run through dialogue. There's something freeing about allowing the people living in my head to say whatever they want before I capture it in fixed form on the written page.
Although calling my non-residential workspace an office is a bit of a stretch. I read a magazine article several years ago about writers renting out an office so that they would have a separate, defined place in which to work. It's supposed to help circumvent the various problems that can crop up when you work at home, like not getting anything done because the television's right there or not socializing enough. But the article, of course, was about writers living in New York City. Roswell isn't exactly brimming over with big office buildings. What Roswell does have, thankfully, is the Rosemount Bed & Breakfast Inn. Personally, I think I'm a lot happier working in a sun-filled study overlooking a garden than I would be in some skyscraper.
The flower border around my neighbor's front lawn is in full bloom and I inhale appreciatively. It isn't as fragrant as their backyard lilacs in the spring, but it's a nice pick-me-up.
I'm halfway up the path to my door when I feel it: a presence in the house. Outwardly nothing changes in my walk but my awareness grows keen in a way it hasn't for twenty years. I take the porch steps silently and use my powers to open the lock, shielding my actions with my body.
Only when I step inside do I relax. Familiar perfume permeates the air. "Liz?"
There's no answer, and I quickly discover it's because she's asleep, curled up on the couch, cat on the corner of the blanket beside her. Parker's soft meow must register, though, since Liz blinks and murmurs, "Max?"
"Yeah, it's me. Why didn't you call, dear heart? I would have come home earlier."
"I meant to." She yawns hugely as she sits up. "I didn't make it to the phone."
"I see that. You hungry? I ate, but I'm sure I can find you something."
"No, I had a sandwich at the airport. I'm just so tired." She yawns again.
Flying has this amazingly soporific effect on Liz. I've been on planes with her and she rarely makes it to take-off awake. Gently I peel back the blanket, ignoring Parker's sniff at being dislodged, and gather Liz into my arms. She snuggles close while I carry her up the stairs, ignoring the twinges in my back. She's not any heavier; I'm just older.
One eyebrow arches in amusement when I lay her in the middle of the bed. "This is your room."
"Yeah, I don't have the guest room made up. You can stay here tonight, and I'll—"
Liz shakes her head, smiling. "I think I can trust you not to take advantage of me while I'm unconscious, Max. Come here."
I lean down to kiss her, savoring her taste. I can never get enough of her when we're together, and I know it isn't because I haven't had all of her yet. We've taken things very slowly since those midnight revelations two and a half years ago. Our relationship is still a long-distance one, geographically speaking. But while we may not live together, nor are we physically intimate, there's no longer any distance left between us.
"Mmm," she sighs. "Stay with me a while? I missed you."
"Right back at you." I climb under the covers, despite the fact that I'm not remotely tired. Liz smiles and curls up, fitting her back to my stomach as my arm goes around her. "God, you feel good."
"You're like having an extra blanket on the bed. You're so hot."
"Why, thank you." I pepper her neck with kisses, making her squirm and giggle.
"Yeah, you could take it that way too. Stop it and let me sleep, Max."
I press one last kiss to the tender spot behind her ear. "I love you."
She rubs my forearm, a smile audible in her voice. "Me, too."
Her breathing evens out but I don't move, content to let my mind wander while I hold her. Back to the day when everything changed.
It wasn't our first kiss, out on her childhood balcony at New Year's. It wasn't even the time I spent taking care of her in Florida after Dan died, although that was a tremendous spur. It began much earlier, during a conversation with a man who would become a dear friend, with the shocking revelation of radiance.
'I was at Liz's the day the book arrived. I watched her tear into the box—she obviously recognized the sender's address. I watched her open the book, being ultra careful not to crack the spine or bend the cover as she flipped to the page she wanted. And when she'd read it, Max…that's when Liz was radiant. She looks beautiful today, but receiving that gift from you made her glow like you wouldn't believe.'
My illusions dissolved with Alex's words, and it paralyzed me. For a long time I was frozen, wondering if I had condemned Liz to some kind of half life with my stubbornness. Wondering if I would ever have been capable of seeing the truth of her feelings without that assistance—without someone forcing it past my fear.
Oddly enough, it was Liz's total collapse after Dan's death that finally quieted all my doubts about their marriage. It was the same kind of emotional breakdown the Liz of my first life endured when Alex died, and it told me more clearly than anything else could, how much she had loved Dan. How ironic that this time, the investigation that got her through the grief was of me.
And then, after returning to Roswell, I waited. For Liz to heal. For me to be able to control my desperate fear of destroying her. For some sign that Liz might be ready to hear the whole truth. I found it, when she knocked on my door far too early one winter morning.
Sunlight on my face. I grimace at the brightness and turn my head to escape it. My nose gets buried in sweet-scented silk and my eyes pop open in surprise. I'm still wrapped around Liz.
"Are you awake?" The clarity of her voice indicates that she's been awake for a while.
"I am now. You could have gotten up." That's what I say, but my arm tightens around her and she giggles.
"I am much too comfortable to move."
"Good." I nuzzle her and then start laughing because there's a rumble at my back. Apparently my cat isn't going to make an issue of the fact that I'm not alone in my bed. "I'm sandwiched between Parker women."
Liz laughs at me. "Poor baby."
"Not at all. I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be." She turns to face me and pulls me down into a searing kiss that leaves me a little breathless. "I like the way you say, 'Good morning'."
She smiles, letting her fingertips trace my cheek. "I need to ask you to do something for me, Max."
"What's that, Liz?"
"No questions for the moment, okay? I know I'm early and you're probably dying to ask me a ton of things, but please hold off. I need to kind of go over some things in my own head before I'm ready to tell you anything. Or anyone else—I'd like to not let the rest of Roswell know I'm here quite yet." Her questing fingers outline my mouth. "Plus I needed to see you."
I kiss her hand then take her lips again in a promise. "I trust you, dear heart, and I'm a very patient man." That makes her smile and I kiss the upturned corners of her mouth. "I'll be here when you're ready to talk."
Not posing the questions aloud doesn't stop them spinning in my own mind, though. Liz isn't just a week early, but she doesn't usually stay with me either, at least not yet. Nor does she typically over-pack like Isabel, but there is a complete set of luggage downstairs that looks full, supposedly for a month-long stay. It all makes me somewhat uneasy. But after all we've come through to get to this point, I'm content to take Liz at her word, and to keep silent watch a little longer.
Living alone for a long time tends to make a person pretty set in their habits. Or it has me, at least, and Saturday evenings I usually read and do a crossword puzzle unless I'm going to Mom and Dad's or somewhere for dinner. Except I don't have a puzzle to do today because I forgot to pick up a new puzzle book. My routines are thrown off by someone else being around. But I do have my novel so I sprawl in my armchair and get to it, holding the pages open with one hand while I absently sip my coffee.
Liz is curled into a corner of the couch with her own book, the afghan tucked around her legs. I've turned down the air conditioning a fair amount in the two days she's been here, but she still gets cold easily. The radio plays softly in the background, setting a quiet mood. It feels surprisingly comfortable to have her here. Admittedly, we did share living space for a few weeks once, but that was at her place. It's different now that she's at mine. There are brightly colored cosmetic bags in my bathroom and feminine clothing and other belongings scattered through the house. It might have scared me, once. Now, while the speed with which the takeover is happening bewilders me, I feel more anticipatory. Like it's a process I want to see continued to its logical end.
After a while I notice that Liz has stopped reading and is staring into space, just holding her coffee in both hands. I mark and close my book. "Earth to Liz."
"That's cute, coming from you," she teases, her smile not quite firm enough to qualify as one.
"What can I say? My life is a study in irony." I keep the tone light but still no real smile. Abruptly even the facsimile fades.
"Max, I'm guessing you've figured out that I plan to be here for a while." She's not really looking at me, but her expression is one of quiet determination and I think maybe she's ready to talk about—whatever.
"Yes. May I ask, how long a while?" I almost hold my breath, waiting to see if she'll answer.
Her mouth twists. "Three to six months."
Three to six—oh, God. That sounds like a phrase given to a terminal patient. "You're ill." The words are flat and tasteless in my mouth.
Liz nods, her hair slipping around her face. "Yeah. Bone marrow cancer. Inoperable, or so I'm told, and chemo or radiation would only prolong things a little. In any case, other than what I've brought with me, I have a few boxes of things I want to keep in my aunt's basement, and she's acting as my agent to sell the house. I didn't tell her why, just that I wanted to come home."
Bone marrow cancer. Sydney Davis was dying of that very disease, before Michael drove me to the children's hospital in Phoenix one Christmas. I remember how lost her small form looked in that white bed, and the thinness of her ribs under my hand. The warm flannel pajamas she had on as a buffer against the persistent cold experienced by her tiny body.
The warm cup cradled now in Liz's delicate, cold hands.
"Liz, you know I can heal you, but..." In the many times I've gone over those memories, I've decided that young Liz's emotional agitation over Tess accelerated her condition considerably. I don't know what that means in practical terms, though. It could be an extra two weeks; it could be another ten years. Either way it's too soon.
"But there's a price. I know; I've seen it." She nods again, placing the coffee cup on the side table and folding her hands in her lap. "I needed to come to terms with what it all might mean, before—before I asked you to do it."
"I want my three years, Max. At least three healthy years until…" Liz shrugs, tilting her head to meet my eyes when I kneel in front of her. I don't know what she sees in my face but I feel as though I've been kicked in the stomach, and I guess it shows because she makes this small sound and opens her arms. We cling to each other for an endless moment then I help her lie flat, adjusting the afghan on top of her. Liz offers me a tremulous smile and I lay one hand on her chest, curling the other behind her neck, and close my eyes.
The images whirl through my mind immediately. I ignore them at first, focusing instead on finding the places in her body that feel wrong. For all that she's a petite woman, she's still a lot bigger than a five-year-old and I can feel the sweat dripping between my shoulder blades while I search and destroy. The mental phrase gives me pause and fleetingly I think that I should put away the X-box and get out more.
Eventually I'm sure that I've burned away all the cancerous cells. I want to go over her system again to be absolutely certain, but I don't have the energy left to do it now. It's been a long time since I exercised my powers this extensively. Tomorrow will be soon enough for a once-over—I'm confident that I won't find anything. My task thus completed, I allow myself to sink into her soul for a moment, wondering what kind of movies mine is playing for her.
Clips and stills of Liz's life rush me, tumbling me headlong. I shiver sympathetically at her winters in Boston. Hundreds of portraits of Alex and Maria, stretching all across the possible range of experience. Alex after his first date with Sarah; helping him pick out an engagement ring. That famous grin lighting his face when Sarah says yes, at a Halloween party Liz and Maria threw just so he could be suitably attired in rented steel armor. His obvious happiness heals me a little of the way his words have haunted me sometimes since Liz's wedding.
There are flashes of Dan…a lot of them. Surprisingly, it doesn't hurt to see them. I've felt a strange kinship with Dan Greenwood since he died. His sacrifice was greater than mine, but for the very same reason: so that Liz Parker could live. In some way I think he knew of my feelings for Liz, and I don't think it would bother his spirit that something is happening between us. Like me, I think he would want Liz to be happy.
And there are images of me, too many to categorize properly though they don't go as far back as those of her childhood friends. Even the pixelated flash of a computer screen, blinking while her fingers fly over the keyboard in response to my email.
Gradually I swim back to consciousness of self and open my eyes. Liz's remain closed, her breathing steady and even. A rueful smile crosses my lips as I realize that she probably fell asleep as soon as I started.
I cover her more securely with an extra blanket and turn the lights out. Twilight has fallen outside. While the cancer is gone from her body, she's going to be recovering from its intrusion and she will tire easily for a while. I've done everything I can, and I want to scream in frustration that it's not enough. Everything that's happened since that shot first rang out in the Crashdown, everything I've put Liz and myself through, and fate is stepping in to take her from me anyway. In the semi-darkness I locate my book and make my way upstairs to bed, knowing that there will be little rest for me tonight.
|posted on 9-Feb-2003 9:24:52 PM by Tasyfa|
Apparently the all-out mental exertion tired me more than I thought, because it's well after midnight when my eyes open to find Liz crawling into the bed. "Hey, how are you feeling?"
She eases close enough for me to reach an arm around her, and see her small smile in the moonlight streaming in the window. "Good. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you. Although I was kind of surprised you weren't still beating yourself up."
Ouch. I laugh a little. "Yeah, that's probably what finally put me to sleep."
Liz doesn't think that's funny. Her mouth tightens in disapproval then she sighs. "Max, have I ever told you what my Grandma Claudia said to me?"
I shouldn't be so flippant, but now that I'm awake it's all beginning to crowd in again and I can't help it. "Follow your heart and soul mates are complicated."
Now she laughs. "Yes to both. What about shooting stars?"
"Doesn't ring a bell, no. What about them?"
Delicately she curves her hand around the back my neck, her fingers lightly stroking my hair while she speaks. It's a calming gesture and briefly I close my eyes, just feeling her touch. "When I was five, my father bought me a poster of Cambridge. And he told me all about Harvard, and that I would be able to go there someday and do wonderful things. I wasn't even out of kindergarten yet. I didn't really understand what he said, but I thought the poster was pretty, and I could tell that the idea made him happy.
"The next time Grandma Claudia came to visit, she didn't look nearly as happy as my dad when she saw the poster, or how excitedly I showed it to her. But she wouldn't say anything right then. One night during her stay, she took me out onto my balcony to watch a meteor shower."
"Only five and you were already stargazing," I smile. "Is she the reason you had a telescope?"
"Yes. I think I was seven or eight when she gave me the first one, and then I got a better model when I started high school." She sounds wistful.
"I wish I could have met her, Liz." Brushing against her spirit was an incredible experience but I've always wished I could have talked to her. She played such a huge role in shaping who Liz is.
"I do too, Max." She falls silent for a while and I pull her closer.
"I didn't mean to make you sad."
"It's not you. Everything is just under the surface tonight, that's all." Liz shrugs, frustrated with her own explanation, but I understand perfectly. So much emotion, waiting to break free… I lean down to kiss her forehead and she smiles, knowing I get it.
"You were watching the meteor shower," I prompt her gently.
"Yeah. Grandma Claudia explained all about meteors, and what they were, and then she pointed to one especially brilliant one and asked me to describe it. I said that it was bright, and pretty, and fast because it went across the sky and burned up, like a shooting star."
"I don't understand." I speak when she takes a lengthy pause, and Liz sighs. It's a sound full of sorrow and too many other things to name.
"She told me I was a shooting star, Max. That I was beautiful and smart but I wouldn't get to be as old as she was. That I was meant to be like a meteor and burn bright and fast. And because of that, I should be doing whatever made me happiest—following my heart—and if it didn't lead me to the schools that my father wanted me to go to, that was okay. It only mattered that I would be doing what I wanted."
"She told all that to a five-year-old?" I spluttered. I hadn't even emerged from my pod yet, and Liz's grandmother was telling her she was going to die?
"It's not as nuts as it sounds, Max. I was always a precocious child, so far ahead of everyone else. My mother said once that if not for Maria, I would have been a complete loner because I was so quiet and serious. But Maria brought out the fun in me, right from the moment we became friends in the first grade, and she hasn't stopped yet." She smiles briefly. "Anyway, my point is that Grandma Claudia wouldn't have said anything if she wasn't sure I would be able to understand and handle it."
"At five." I can't seem to move past that part and Liz laughs.
"Yes, at five. Max, don't you get it?"
I guess not. "Get what?"
"It's not your fault."
"My cancer. The fact that I only have a few more years. It is not your fault. I believe the reason my grandmother told me that so early is because I was supposed to die on the Crashdown floor that day, at sixteen. The only reason I didn't is because you saved my life, twice. And now a third time." Her voice is soft; persuasive. I don't mention that it's actually the fourth, if you count me saving young Liz's life by ending her reality with the granolith fragment. I don't say anything at first, in fact—I can't. There are too many tears in my throat and my eyes at the thought of how little time she will have, compared to what she should have. Except Liz is saying that she's not supposed to have had any of this time at all—that she should have died twenty years ago. It doesn't compute.
"Liz, I—I can't believe that. It was so random. If you'd just have ducked like Maria did…" Or if someone had pushed her down, like Dan had, and in so doing had died himself. Was that any less random? Or like the father who had shoved his little girl out of the way of a skidding vehicle, right in front of the Christmas tree lot, and sent me on a quest of expiation.
'I know it seems like there's no reason for those kids to have cancer or for a father to get killed saving his child or for any of it...but maybe there is. Maybe there is someone or something out there that's planning all of this, and maybe you have to respect it. You're not God, Max. You're the one that told me that.'
Liz's words from another lifetime. Bone marrow cancer and Grandma Claudia. It seems everything comes around in some form if you wait long enough, and it's also the truth.
I realize that Liz is tracking my thoughts somehow because she smiles radiantly. In that moment she is so beautiful, it takes away my ability to think and breathe. "You're not God, Max. You're not God, or one of the Powers That Be, or any kind of higher being, no matter your origins. You're a human being like the rest of us, you're just a little more complicated, and you have some gifts that the rest of us don't. I am grateful for those gifts, because I wasn't ready to die at sixteen. I'm not ready now, either, but I can accept it. Because I've done all those things that I wanted to, Max, like my grandmother told me I should. I've lived my life exactly as I've chosen to, and that includes my relationship with you."
"What do you mean?" I whisper the question through the beginning of tears and she hugs me close.
"I don't think I was ready before to take things further. That day in the hotel, when you found out I was engaged…I thought about coming after you, and forcing the issue. I thought I wanted you to speak up at the wedding. But the truth is that I loved Dan, Max, and I don't regret marrying him. I don't regret the time I spent with Kyle in high school, either, or the men I dated before I met Dan. I've seen your memories of your time with young Liz and it was all so very intense. I know I wasn't ready to handle that as a teenager, and I don't think you were, either. It's one reason why you both made so many mistakes. You were just too young, Max, all of you. Far too young for what you were being asked to do."
Nothing emerges but the sound of sobs as Liz envelops me in her arms, murmuring soothingly, pressing kisses to my wet face. I'm too old to be crying like this but I don't have any control left in the face of her absolute forgiveness and so I let it go. All of it. Let the flood soak into the sheets and carry away all the guilt and the responsibilities that should never have been mine.
At long last I find my voice, and then her mouth. "I love you." She kisses me back, wild emotion thrumming between us, and I know in that instant the rest of what Liz didn't say: that she is ready now, for everything. "Dear heart…"
Her eyes are huge pools of warm darkness. "Max, I don't have any regrets. There is only one thing that I've wanted to do, wanted to be, that I never achieved. I'm not—I'm not asking you for that, but I do want you, Max. So very much."
"Liz." I groan as she kisses me again. She's here, in my arms, in my bed, where I've dreamed of her forever. Yet I can't quite escape the sense of complete inadequacy that descends on me right this minute. "Can you be patient with me, dear heart? I'm afraid that I—well, that I don't really know what I'm doing." It's damned difficult to admit.
She draws back enough to look at me questioningly. "What do you mean? I know that none of the night you spent with Tess is clear, but I thought you and young Liz—"
"No. We didn't go that far. I wouldn't have been able to leave." I sound hoarse. At least she knows that my leaving isn't an option this time around. Once Liz went off to Harvard, I destroyed the granolith fragment, and the granolith itself, bringing the whole cave down on it. I knew I wouldn't be able to do it again, no matter what happened. This is the first time I've almost wished I hadn't done that. Almost. As embarrassing as this particular moment is, the reason behind it is such an overwhelming cause for joy I can hardly stand it, even in the face of the new knowledge about her life span.
"You know I didn't date, Liz."
"So when we kissed on my balcony that time, that wasn't," she trails off. I can feel my face heating and it must be visible because one side of her mouth quirks up. "I honestly didn't realize. Hmm." The other side lifts into a mischievous smile. "I rather like the idea of you not needing to unlearn any bad habits."
I laugh but sober quickly at the hint of shame that stains her cheeks. "Liz, just because I'm a freak and waited this long doesn't mean that I expected you to do the same. You've nothing to be ashamed of."
"You're not a freak," she protests, but the shadow is gone.
I kiss her thoroughly and run my thumb along her swollen bottom lip afterwards. "Besides, one of us should know what we're doing." Liz laughs at that, a husky sound that thrills me. "Just keep telling me what you like, dear heart."
She does, her voice rising in passion until we both reach a place where there are no more words, simply the sensation of each other's bodies and souls, all-encompassing.
It takes me a long time to travel back towards speech. Longer than it does Liz. I hold her as close as possible, feeling instinctively that there are no barriers between us anymore. Not emotionally, and definitely not physically. I don't know if it was a conscious choice on either of our parts, but I do know what Liz has longed for: a child.
Sensing that I can listen and respond now, Liz stirs against me. "Max, we didn't—"
"Sh, I know. Liz, I don't know if it's even possible, if I'm compatible, but it's your last dream." I stroke her hair, those beautiful chestnut strands that have inhabited my own dreams for so long.
She gazes at me, staring right into my soul. "What about after I'm gone? You'll be a single parent, Max." I know. I also know that if there's nothing else keeping me here once she's gone, I'll follow. Not on purpose, no deliberate endings, but it will happen, and her face softens in understanding. "I love you."
"I love you too, Liz Parker." I can't resist kissing her, even with the speculative expression that's crossing her face.
"Max, do you remember the song we first danced to?"
Marry Me by Amanda Marshall. Song number eleven on the album Everybody's Got A Story, released in 2002. The singer/songwriter is a Canadian woman, who at that time had long, blonde hair and an alarmingly energetic stage presence.
Yeah, I know it now.
I nod in answer and Liz smiles, continuing the mysterious act. "Do you have any plans for Monday?"
"Besides working? Not really, why?"
She traces lines on my chest. "I thought maybe we could go on a cruise, one of those last-minute deals. You're supposed to start vacation soon anyway, right?"
What is she up to? "Sure, we could do that, although we'd probably have to leave Tuesday since I won't be able to call my travel agent tomorrow."
"Oh, I know. But I thought we could head to Vegas on Monday, before the cruise." A secret smile lights up her face when I exhale forcefully.
"Marry me, Max." Her voice is husky, and so sure. How could I say no? Why would I want to?
"Gladly, dear heart. Only, no Elvis. Please?" I sound plaintive on purpose and she laughs at me.
"Agreed." Liz looks incredibly vulnerable, her eyes searching mine. "If it does work, Max—if we are compatible, and we have a girl, could we name her Claudia? Claudia Evans."
I close my eyes against the rush of emotion. Claudia Evans. Daughter of Max and Liz Evans. Liz is telling me that she plans to take my name. I can feel tears threatening again. I'm thirty-six for pete's sake; I shouldn't be crying like this, but I'm completely undone tonight. "That sounds wonderful, Liz. If it's a boy, what do you think about Daniel?"
"Oh, Max." She's choked up, too, and then she reaches to kiss me. Emotion flows over and between us, binding us even closer, and as our passion climbs again it finally hits me. The incontrovertible truth of what she's been saying.
All these years I've believed that for Liz to become involved with me was tantamount to a death sentence. That there was no way for us to be together that wouldn't mean destroying her life. Because the first time around, that's what happened. All those dreams, gone. Trust and relationship with her parents, gone. The possibility of a normal life, gone. One of her best friends, gone. And then her life itself.
In this lifetime, I've tried so hard to let her go and in the end, it was impossible. Some things are meant to be. Liz and I, our love is one of those things. And hard as it is to accept, so is her too-early death.
It's taken me a long time to understand, but I get it now. I'm not the jinx on Liz Parker's life. I'm the miracle.
~~ Summer 2039 ~~
"It's just stone, dear heart, and we've been busy." She tosses me a dirty look for that remark and I laugh. Until she stretches out a hand, concentrating, and the grime melts away. "You didn't even check first!"
"How many times am I going to have to tell you that I can feel every living animal within a five hundred foot radius before you get it through your thick skull that I am being careful?" Her indulgent smile belies the seemingly harsh words as she stands, brushing off the knees of her pants.
I open my arms and she steps into them, laying her head on my shoulder the way she used to as a little girl. "Humor your old dad, Claudia."
"You're not old. You don't even qualify for Social Security yet."
"But I do qualify for the fifty-five plus discounts."
Claudia snorts. "Yeah, for all of three months now." She's quiet for a long moment. "Did you feel her today?"
"I feel her every day. You know that, Clo."
"Yeah." She moves away, nodding. "I felt her today. In the auditorium."
"She would be so proud of you, Claudia. At least as proud as I am."
A sidelong glance from under her eyelashes. "Would she be less embarrassing about it, do you think?"
I laugh. "Probably. Your mom was a classy woman." Except I don't think Liz would have been able to hold back tears any better than I was today.
Claudia stares into the distance, quoting softly, "'Thirty-seven years ago, Liz Parker stood at this very podium and gave a speech about reaching for the stars. Many of you here know that Liz was my mother, and that she was taken from us too soon. What you may not know is that she was also a visionary, and the words she spoke then are no less true today.'"
"Where did you find her speech, dear heart?" I can hardly force the question out through the lump in my throat. She wouldn't tell me anything about her valedictorian speech beforehand, just said that it was finished and she was happy with it. But I watched another girl with gorgeous dark eyes say those same words so long ago, and I would be hard-pressed to say which one I am prouder of: my wife or my daughter.
"Do you remember the box Mom left me for my sixteenth birthday?"
"The one you've kept all to yourself since you opened it? Yes, I remember," I tease her gently and she smiles.
"It was in there. Along with the journal she started when she was pregnant, and some stuff from when she was young, that her grandmother gave her. Her Grandma Claudia, that is, you know, the one I was named after." She scuffs her toe along the gravel path in the cemetery. "There were a lot of print-outs, too."
"Print-outs? Of what, her research?"
"Emails from you."
Claudia grins. "Way, Dad. Don't tell me you haven't kept a ton of hers."
A few disks' worth, that I transferred to CD-ROM ages ago. Nothing much. I shrug and she laughs. "Guilty as charged. Surely she didn't print all of them? It wasn't that large a box!"
"No, just a careful selection. Like, there's one from July 4, 2009." She looks at me expectantly.
"Clo, that was thirty years ago. I certainly don't remember what I might have written to Liz."
"I didn't honestly think you would. Even if that was the first time you called her 'dear heart'."
"Really. That long ago? How do you know it was the first time?" We've stopped walking now and she's sparkling at me.
"Well, most of them Mom printed out specifically to put in the box, but some of them she'd obviously printed after she got them. That one, she's got the new nickname highlighted and she scribbled in the margin, 'WHAT DOES IT MEAN???' All in capitals, with multiple question marks and everything."
I chuckle. "She always did need her answers."
"Good thing too, or I might not be here." She winks. "We'd better hurry up or Aunt Izzy's going to send Uncle Mike looking for us. Or make you help in the kitchen."
"Hey now, I can do kitchen duty! Your mother spent long hours teaching me to cook. Very patiently, I might add." And I hated it. I still don't like to cook. But I can and will do it now. I may not have come up with the most imaginative meals over the years but Claudia's eaten healthily.
"I know. She let me help and showed me how to bake cookies, remember?"
"I eat too many every Christmas, Clo. How could I forget?" We share a smile and she walks on ahead, leaving me to my thoughts.
Liz died when Claudia was six, a few weeks into the summer after kindergarten. It wasn't the violent spasms that had overtaken the Liz of my first life, but a gradual fading away, as if truly the work of the cancer I had burned from her body. It meant that we could tell our friends and family that it was cancer, and it allowed them to say goodbye. It gave Liz time to say goodbye, although with me, she never did.
That last week, when we knew the end was near, Claudia and I pretty much camped out in the bedroom. The three of us piled onto the bed, some part of us touching each of the other two constantly. There were a lot of tears, and a lot of words. A lot of silences, too, and memories. And one afternoon Michael and Isabel kept our beloved daughter away while Liz and I made love one final time, sealing ourselves together for eternity.
She's been with me ever since. Everything I see, hear, taste, touch; it's all filtered through her soul. It's been hard without her, yes, but it hasn't been as lonely as I thought it would be. Especially not with Claudia. My daughter has been the guiding force in my life since the day she was born, and she knows it. She knows how much I treasure her, and she's never forgotten how much Liz loved her.
As if she has some kind of radar for when my musing slips towards the melancholy, an ability I've accused her of having many times, Claudia walks back towards me, gravel crunching under her feet. Without a word she flings her arms around me and holds on tight.
"Thank you, Daddy."
"For what, dear heart?" I stroke her hair soothingly. It's long like Liz's was as a teenager, but the same near-black as my own used to be, with the same insistent tendency to curl. I keep mine much too short to even wave now and there's little black left among the silver.
"For making sure I didn't grow up without a mother." She squeezes me again and kisses my cheek, and then she's gone, striding to her graduation dinner at her aunt and uncle's.
I can feel Liz with me now, watching our daughter as she walks out of the cemetery and into her own life. Her own new beginnings.
Harvard-bound, just like her mother.
[ edited 1 time(s), last at 9-Feb-2003 10:10:12 PM ]
|posted on 9-Feb-2003 10:34:57 PM by Tasyfa|
|rar1942 You're so sweet. I wanted to mention that I appreciated all the comments you kept adding for the previous vignette, too.|
I appreciate everyone's comments soooooo much! Wow, it seems so odd that this is finished. It's going to take a while to get my mind out of these characters.
|posted on 10-Feb-2003 12:30:35 AM by Tasyfa|
Eccentric One originally wrote:
One thing I don't understand though was Liz's focus on wanting her three years when she asked Max to heal her. Where did the specific time frame come from? Is it because the other Liz only made it three years (approximately) after being healed?
Yes, b/c the first Liz--our Liz from the show--had approx. 3 years after Max healed her. So this Liz knew she'd have at least that long before the negative effects of the healing showed up.
|posted on 10-Feb-2003 6:52:41 AM by Tasyfa|
Araxie HRH originally wrote:
Eccentric One asked why three years? Your reply was that it was the time before the negative effects showed up. Maybe this is just authors license but why would her "change" be thought to bring back the illness? And why couldn't Max heal her of the cancer again? Yes Max couldn't fix her having a hard time with the change, but that wasn't life threatening.
I went and looked and it appears that I never delineated exactly what the false spoilers were! The whole reason that Max reset time using the granolith was that the changes we saw in Liz in the show were life-threatening. To the point that he waited until the very last moment, while she was on her deathbed, to do it. In this timeline, when the symptoms of this change appeared in Liz Evans, they were different symptoms but the end result was the same. The cancer didn't come back, it's just that Liz's symptoms were quiet enough (I.e., no green crackling on her hands!) that they were able to make their friends and family believe that she had cancer.
The original false spoilers as I heard them: Liz's newfound powers endanger her life. Max uses the granolith to reset time. He finds some other way to avert the shooting, thereby avoiding the healing that caused her powers the first time. He watches while she dates Kyle throughout high school. The last night before Liz leaves for Harvard, they go for coffee. All of which is essentially the outline for the first vignette.
Liz and Max may not have been a couple starting from high school, but I would argue that neither of them felt that the twelve years of being best friends and building their lives before they came together were wasted. In that time, they each realised different goals that were also important to them. Yes, Liz died too soon. But she did more with the time that she had than many people will do with a normal length lifetime. And while only the last seven were spent as Max's wife, they made every second count.
I'm sure it's clear now why I sidestepped the issue of dreamer insurance each time it was brought up. Because while Max and Liz did end up together, it's not a Happily Ever After ending, and I didn't want anyone to believe that it would be. On a personal note, I think the only thing I've ever written that was more emotionally demanding of me was my part of the eulogy for my grandfather a few years ago. I know this is hard; it was meant to be. And so I thank you all for travelling to a place where Dreamers don't often go, simply because I led you there. I can't tell you what that means to me.
|posted on 10-Feb-2003 7:02:53 AM by Tasyfa|
|Liz, I'm borrowing your hug to offer to all my readers.|
I forgot to mention that I do intend to return to writing The Forging of a Lifebond next.
|posted on 10-Feb-2003 7:06:44 AM by Tasyfa|
ps_dreamer originally wrote:
Must say, I truly enjoy reading this fic. Tas, would it be too much if I ask you when (in the story) each songs (from your OST) are being played? I'd like to re-read this again but with music too, ya know... for effect.
It wouldn't be too much at all, but the songs aren't associated with any specific parts, unfortunately (except for Marry Me, obviously!). I just turn on the CD and leave it on repeat. Although Dishwalla's Every Little Thing is what got me through this final vignette.
|posted on 10-Feb-2003 10:34:34 PM by Tasyfa|
|Mel...love you, sweetie.|