posted on 11-Dec-2002 12:13:34 AM by Deejonaise
Author: Dee aka Deejonaise aka Boy aka Deelicious

Category: M/L

Disclaimer: Me no own...you no sue...

Rating: PG-13-R

Summary: This is based on a challenge by Lillie. It is derived from a movie called Regarding Henry. Though I plan to stick to the basic premise of the movie I'm taking creative license with how the story plays out.

Author's Note: Though I realize that I fail miserably whenever I attempt to write two stories at once I'm going to try this anyway. I'm such a glutton for punishment...

Feedback: Of course.



Regarding Max


Prologue

Damned smug son of a bitch!

This is the thought that permeates my brain as I watch my husband of ten years lift his wine glass to his lips. The dinner table is silent, as usual, save for the gentle click of our silverware against the china. He knows that I’m watching him, but he successfully ignores my iron stare, feigning absorption in the legal briefs spread out before him on the table. Bastard!, I mentally curse again in a flash of angry pain, but this time my indignation isn’t for myself.

I slide my gaze to Katie. Our daughter is slumped down low in her chair, pushing her carrots about her plate with the tip of her fork, her expression sullen. But her eyes, golden and deep, so incredibly intense like her father’s, are begging for recognition, begging for his attention. I glare down the length of the table once more, unable to hold my tongue any longer. “Max!” I say sharply, startling everyone at the table, even myself, “You haven’t spoken two words to Katie or me since you came home.”

He looks at me then and I’m pinned. Suddenly, it all comes flooding back to me in those breathless seconds. The very reason I fell in love with this smug son of a bitch in the first place. These eyes of his are lethal. To look into them is to fall and fall hard. Even cold and annoyed as they are presently their stunning beauty manage to steal my breath. God, I love him still…

“Elizabeth,” Max begins and his tone alerts me to the fact that he is quite infuriated by my interruption, “I am closing tomorrow. My client is facing 20 years to life in prison. I think that takes precedence over small talk at the dinner table.” He lowers his eyes again and at that point we are dismissed. We no longer exist for him.

Katie slumps lower in her seat, only a few more scoots and she will be completely under the table. I have the urge to hide there myself. But I’ve my mind now and there can be no turning back this time. I’m not content to bear his indifference in silence any longer. I want to provoke him, antagonize him, probably because he’s done so to me for so long now and I have finally, finally had my fill. “You spend all day at the office, Max,” I accuse him softly, “When do you plan to make time for your family?”

At this point even Katie knows I’ve pushed him too far. She looks at me with round eyes as if to say, “Now you’ve really put your foot in it, Mom.” It’s that look that makes me want to cower more than anything. I’m actually shaking. I grip my silverware so tightly that my knuckles go white, but I can’t turn back now. I won’t.

This time Max doesn’t even bother to lift his head in response to my comment but I can hear the irritation vibrating in his voice when he grinds out, “If you insist on continuing these interruptions, Liz, I’ll just go back to the office.”

“Wasn’t that your plan all along?” I counter softly.

That’s when he loses his temper completely. Max slams his hand down against the table hard enough to rumble the plates and china. The sound reverberates through the dining room causing both Katie and I to jump. “Damn it, Liz, what the hell do you want from me?” he demands fiercely.

This is the opening I’ve been waiting for all night. I’ve got to seize my chance now before my cowardice overcomes me. I turn to Katie, who is fairly cringing by this point and stammer, “Baby, why don’t you take your dinner to your room, okay?” She’s more than happy to go. I can hear a relieved sigh leak from her chest as she passes me. But when she’s gone I regret her absence and battle the gutless need to call her back. It’s a few seconds before I can work up the courage to look at Max again and when I do it’s to find that he is glaring at me almost hatefully. I swallow several times before I whisper, “I would really appreciate it if you wouldn’t swear in front of Katie, Max--,”

“Liz--,”

“She doesn’t understand when we fight,” I finish stubbornly.

Max kneads his temples in a gesture of weariness. I understand the feeling. It seems I have been carrying that same weariness inside me for the last seven years. I am tired now. Bone tired. And I’ve lost hope, in myself, in us, …and the frightening thing is…so has Max. We have been going through the motions for so long. He isn’t any happier than I am. “God, Liz, what the hell do you want from me?” he mutters again.

I don’t hold anything back at this point. I can’t. Not anymore. “A divorce,” I tell him, shaking a little at the tide of relief that washes through me.

Now it is finally over.




[ edited 22time(s), last at 13-Feb-2003 6:50:44 AM ]
posted on 11-Dec-2002 4:33:50 PM by Deejonaise
Holy Mama! What a response! I didn't expect it at all. Thanks so much...everybody!! I only hope I do the movie justice. Harrison Ford was just awesome in that role. Anyway...on with the story.

Chapter 1

The silence that follows my statement is stomach churning. I think I have actually shocked Max into speechlessness. He only sits there, blinking those expressive eyes at me like a lost little boy. For a moment I am struck by the sooty thickness of his lashes, almost as if seeing them for the first time. And then he frowns slightly, as if he can’t quite believe what I just said to him. Maybe he thought that he’d be the one asking for a divorce when the time came. Hah, hah, I crow mentally. “You’re asking me for a divorce?” he repeats blankly. His eyes are still blinking rapidly.

I take a gulp of my wine then. It’s not to fortify my nerves, though. I want to be numb. It’s the only way I’ll make it through, the only way I’ll stick completely to my convictions. I have to be numb for this, after all, throwing away ten years isn’t easy even if a good portion of it was misery. But that’s not the only reason. His eyes are boring into me, seducing me, weaving their magical spell even at that second. Yes, I need to be numb for this. Otherwise, I’ll fall into his eyes again and it will be all over. “You’re not happy,” I state with quiet force, “neither am I.”

“You want a divorce,” he says again as if I’m speaking a foreign language.

I actually want to laugh. Surely, he’s not surprised! He had to be expecting this day would come. We have been walking about each other like strangers for months now, years really… Why prolong the agony any longer? Did he really want to? I grab the neck of the wine bottle and replenish my glass, hardly looking at him. “Why are you acting so stunned,” I scoff, “I know you want this. I don’t even know you anymore, Max.”

His staggered expression gradually fades from his features and is replaced with a thoughtful frown. God, even when he’s calculating he’s beautiful. He chews pensively at his lower lip, his honey eyes keen and penetrating as he stares at me. “You don’t think you’re being a little extreme?”

I take another gulp of wine. The alcohol has gone straight to my head with no food to slow its absorption into my bloodstream. Finally, I can feel the numbness. It is flooding its way into my chest, seeping through my limbs. I feel quite mellow, more in control as the minutes wear on. “You’re cheating on me, Max,” I declare almost triumphantly. I can’t help but be filled with satisfaction when his face freezes in shock once again. “Did you think I didn’t know?” I demand caustically, “I guess you’re not so good at keeping secrets as you thought you were, Max.” God, what a sick, twisted game I’m playing, but I need this…I need to gut him just as he’s gutted me.

I can see the fear cloud his eyes even from the distance that separates us. I can almost hear him mentally calculating the alimony and child support he will have to shell out, not to mention the very sizable settlement that will likely be decided in my favor. To see him cowering before me was heady and saturated me with an insane sense of glee. But with the glee came shame, shame that I now derive just as much pleasure from hurting the man before me as I once had when making him happy. Look how far we’ve fallen…

“I don’t think you want this, Liz,” he says in an almost velvet tone, seductive even. He smiles slightly while patting his breast pocket for the packet of cigarettes he keeps there. For the last three months he’s been struggling to quit. I know he only smokes now when he’s agitated. He’s been agitated about his latest case and that agitation just increased by half I’m sure. He casually removes one cigarette and brings it to his lips, lighting it in one deft motion. After taking a single, leisurely drag he says to me, “I can end the affair if that’s what you want.”

“I want a divorce,” I state again. I can feel myself grow more powerful with each reiteration of the statement.

He shakes his head and takes another nervous puff off his cigarette. “No,” he denies, “You can’t want this, Liz, if for no other reason than Katie. It would destroy her.”

“You destroy her every day with your indifference, Max,” I reply calmly, “It ends now.”

He’s visibly trembling now and I have to bite my lip to keep from laughing…and crying, too. It’s at that moment that it hits me that we have truly come to the end, that we are finally over. “You won’t get a fucking penny from me!” he swears, stabbing his finger at me furiously, “Not. One. Damned. Dime! Fuck!” I watch him fumble with his cigarette packet. He curses viciously when he finds it empty. I regard him serenely as he loses his composure. My smug silence doesn’t escape his attention. He glowers at me. “I need some more smokes,” he states as he rises from the table, “We’ll talk about this when I get back.”

“My answer won’t change.” I don’t even look at him as he shrugs into his overcoat.

As usual he ignores me. “When I get back, Elizabeth,” he enunciates again and then he’s gone. He doesn’t take his keys. He never does.

For some reason that small detail does me in. I lose it. My chest is heaving so hard with the force of my sobs that I’m on the verge of hyperventilating. I can’t stop the palsied shaking of my body. Did I really just do that? Did I really just trash my marriage? I can’t believe how much this hurts. Pain is the last thing I expected. But then why would I expect it not to hurt…I am severing a portion of my heart.

Even hating him as I do now I can’t separate him from the man I fell in love with, young, ambitious, and ready to set the world on fire. I had loved his devil may care ways, his do or die spirit. He had swept me away… At the time I had believed we would hold on to that feeling forever, that we’d always be swept away, floating... That’s what I mourned for now…that swept away feeling is gone and my heart feels cold and barren without it.

“Mommy?”

I’m not surprised to see Katie standing there. She’s too inquisitive for her own good. Eight years old and completely precocious. Sometimes she’s more young woman than little girl. It hurts to look at her now because it’s her father’s face I see staring back at me. Only the light dusting of freckles across her cheeks lends any facial similarity between us. But then her personality…that’s completely me. My Katherine Elizabeth wears her heart on her sleeve as Grandma Claudia always used to say. Yes, she is most definitely my daughter.

I motion her closer and she creeps from the shadows like a wounded animal. “Is Daddy gone?” she whispers, climbing into my lap. She’s much too big for this now, but I can’t deny her this small pleasure, not when she’s hurting so much.

I stroke the shining length of her long, dark hair, nuzzling against her temple. She smells sweet, like strawberries. “He’ll be back soon,” I tell her and she goes absolutely rigid in my arms, “But you can stay with me until then.”

“I think I hate him,” she murmurs, so low I can barely hear her, but I do and it’s impossible to miss the confusion in her small voice.

Her words break my heart, not because her feelings are so unfair but because they’re so justified. Still I admonish, “Shh, don’t say that.”

She turns her face into my chest and whimpers. “Why doesn’t he love us, Mommy?”

What’s left of my heart crumbles into dust. How many times have I asked myself the very same question? He loved us once. Once we had been the center of his world. I can still remember mornings waking up to his laughter and tender kisses, his electric heat and how he would whirl Katie in circles until she squealed with laughter. And then he had made partner at his firm and it had all changed. His promotion was supposed to be our big break, but it was what eventually broke apart our family. Max worked more and more and we saw him less and less until we didn’t see him at all, until we didn’t know him at all.

But even as I’m immersed in my swamping confusion, my self-doubt, my aching loneliness, I struggle to reassure my daughter. “Daddy loves us, Katie-kins,” I whisper past my tears, “He does…”

I don’t think I convince her. Despite whispered assurances she cries herself to sleep in my arms anyway. I understand her pain perfectly. I’m crying as well even though I’m the one who’s set this whole situation in motion. I carry my sleeping daughter back to her bedroom and lay her beneath her covers. She hardly stirs. I smile to myself as she snuggles deeper into the blankets before falling still once more.

For a moment, I stand there and watch her silently. She’s so achingly beautiful I feel fresh tears begin in my eyes. She is the only real joy I have in my life now. I can finally admit to myself that what I shared with her father is dead. It has been for a long time. I’ve let go enough to grieve now. Finally, I bend to brush a kiss across her cheek and I wipe away the remnants of my tears before trudging off for the dining room.

The debris from our dinner is spread out across the table, cold and forgotten. Knowing the direction my conversation with Max would take I had given Rosa, our housekeeper, the night off. Looking at the uneaten food before me I regret that decision greatly now. But I decide to look at the matter positively. At least if I’m cleaning I won’t have time to think. I roll up my sleeves and dig into the housework with newfound eagerness.

By the time I am finally done putting away all the food, washing and drying the dishes, and straightening the dining room I am thoroughly exhausted. It’s the most housework I’ve done in six years, still I feel oddly refreshed and pleased with myself. Only when I flop down onto the sofa does it strike me to look at the clock. Nearly two hours have gone by. Max still isn’t home. I snort to myself. Big surprise, I think caustically, he’s probably taken up with his whore. So much for talking.

That’s when I realize what I have been subconsciously doing. I’ve been waiting up for him. Despite my conviction that he would not change my mind I’ve been waiting up in the hopes that he would come back and try. I curse myself, realizing how ridiculously weak I am when it comes to him.

Heaving myself from the sofa I lope off for the dining room once more. As I reach out to click off the lights the doorbell suddenly sounds. Immediately, my heart begins a wild tap dance in my chest. I whirl for the door, flooded with relief at the prospect that Max had come home after all. “How many times have I asked you to remember your keys?” I ask in annoyance as I pull open the door.

But it isn’t Max who is waiting for me on the other side.




[ edited 2 time(s), last at 11-Dec-2002 6:15:18 PM ]
posted on 13-Dec-2002 9:14:58 AM by Deejonaise
Chapter 2

Two uniformed officers stand on my porch. Immediately, a curious trill of fear trickles down my spine at the sight of them. My annoyance is quickly replaced by another nameless emotion, one that makes me feel as if my heart has plunged into my stomach.

One look at their faces tells me they didn’t come bearing good news. I can’t help it. In that second I completely zone out, focusing beyond their shoulders to the large tree in the middle of my yard. I am thirteen years old again and standing behind my mother as she is told by uniformed officers that her husband has just been involved in a fatal car crash. So, yes, I know what this means. I’ve seen the expressions before…the night they came and told us that my father was dead.

I can’t hear it now, not about Max. Because, God, he was just here. He was real. Even now I can smell his damned cologne. The unique spicy scent mingled faintly with the smell of tobacco. He couldn’t be dead, not when hours earlier he was so vibrantly alive. He had filled this house with his presence, crackled the atmosphere with it. Surely magnetic personalities like that didn’t just burn out. All this plays out in my mind as they stand there, searching desperately for a way to begin while I pretend they don’t exist at all. I simply can’t accept their presence right now.

It’s begun to snow, I realize, not heavily, but a light drizzle of large, delicate flakes.
I am hardly aware of the bitter cold biting into my cheeks and hands. The fierce winter wind whistles through the eyelets of my thick blue sweater but I am impervious. I can only stand there and grip the doorknob like some pathetic lifeline, waiting for them to say aloud the conclusion I have already formed in my head. And the last thing I said to him was that I wanted a divorce…

Finally, the silence is broken and I actually jump. I’ve been doing a stellar job of make believing that they are invisible. The officers press on bravely despite my blank reaction to their presence. “Are you Mrs. Maxwell Evans?” one of them asks gravely.

For a moment I consider lying. They can’t tell me the truth if they don’t know who I am, can they? Crazy thoughts, I know, but I am feeling quite crazy right now. However, there’s no point in prolonging the inevitable. What isn’t said aloud I still know for certainty in my heart. Something has happened to Max, something bad… And I sent him to it.

The guilt threatens to crush my chest as I nod jerkily, absolutely positive that the next words out of his mouth will confirm that I’m a widow. The officer’s gaze skitters away, probably because my eyes are silently begging him not to tell me what he has come here to say. He clears his throat. “Mrs. Evans, I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. Is there someone at home with you right now?”

“There’s my daughter--,” I manage hoarsely. My mouth has gone completely arid. I can hear my heartbeat thundering in my ears. Weakly, I grip the doorknob, my lifeline, but I can feel the room begin to spin. I don’t know how long I will be able to remain upright.

“Is there an adult here with you?” the officer persists. He peers around me into the house.

“My husband’s dead, isn’t he?” I state almost mechanically. I just want them to say it, just do it already. Rip my heart out with the truth. The agony, the anticipation for the news is gradually driving me to the edge. I know it isn’t like Max to stay out all evening, not even if he’s furious. And these police officers wouldn’t be at my door if he were with his girlfriend, would they? I swallow several times, forcing the words from my throat. “Was it a car accident,” I rasp, “Are the roads icy…is that--,”

“Your husband’s not dead, Mrs. Evans,” the officer informs me with a slight sigh of relief. It coincides with mine. Only then do I realize that I have been holding my breath. I actually wilt against the doorframe. Later, I will probably puzzle over my extreme gratitude that God has spared the man that I, not two hours earlier, claimed to hate. But something else requires my immediate attention at the moment. Surely these officers haven’t decided to pay a social call to my door. My body tenses once again. I know the news is still bad and the officer confirms it with his next words, “There was a robbery at a convenience store a few blocks from here,” he continues gravely, “A scuffle ensued with the gunman and shots were fired. Your husband was shot in the chest and head at point blank range. I’m sorry.”

Gunman. Shot. Chest and head. Point blank range. The words revolve around in my head with ominous implication. My body is numb once more, but my mind is working at a fevered pitch. I can only form one coherent thought in my head, one irrefutable fact. Max is hurt and he needs me. My response is as it has always been when it comes to him. There is no hesitation, no deliberation. My automatic desire is to be near him. “Where is he now,” I whisper, my voice barely audible over the whipping wind.

“He’s been taken to Mt. Moriah Medical Center,” the officer tells me, “We can take you there in the squad car.”

“I can’t,” I protest, feeling dizzy once more, “my daughter…” I sway against the door and the officer who has yet to speak reaches out to steady me.

“Is there someone we can call?” he asks in concern.

I shake my head. I’m in a fog. Nothing seems real. It’s like I’m walking in a dream. I’m still glancing down the snow covered walk expecting Max to come striding in from the darkness. This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening.

I realize then the implication of what the officers have told me. Max has been shot, wounded in the chest and head. Heart and brain. Fatal injuries. Fatal. I wonder if Max will die after all. Die with his last thoughts being that I didn’t want him anymore. Oh god. I lift eyes that reflect the hollowness within my heart to the officer holding me. “Is my husband going to die?”

“I don’t know, maam,” he replies and I have to appreciate his honesty. No guarantees. The thought causes me to choke out a sob. The officer’s eyes darken with concern as he steadies me on my feet and then releases me. “Are you sure there’s no one we can call for you?”

Again I shake my head, this time stepping back from the door and closing it with a soft click. I feel frozen and not from the arctic weather, but from my own guilt. It’s stampeding through my body now, threatening to immobilize me. I am uncertain as to what my next move should be. I stand staring at the door dumbly, as if I expect for it to spout forth some age-old wisdom. How long do I stand there, drowning in fear, in sorrow, in guilt? Finally something jars me, maybe the urgency of the situation, but my faculties suddenly kick back into motion and I rouse from my staggered state.

I need to get to the hospital. Immediately. But I can’t leave Katie alone. I definitely can’t take her to the hospital with me…not when the chance is likely that Max won’t live out the night. God, don’t think like that, I snap to myself, don’t think like that.

I’m on the phone dialing a number even before I’ve fully made up my mind about what I want to do. Maria picks up on the fifth ring. Thank God! “’Lo,” she says with a tinkling giggle. In the background I can hear the unmistakable sound of a baritone voice. Maria has company, but this isn’t new.

I clutch the phone tightly. It’s the only way I can maintain control on my brimming emotions. My world is beginning to spin. I steady myself against the solid oak end table and croak, “Maria?”

“Liz, babe, I thought you would have called way before now,” Maria trills into my ear and then I hear her say to her company, “Paul, baby, be a sweetie and go get me something to drink.” There is a long pause and I imagine she is waiting for him to leave the room. In the commencing seconds I feel as if I might scream. And then Maria says, “So did you tell your lying no good prick of a husband off already?”

“Maria, there’s been an accident,” I whisper hoarsely. My shaking has increased by now, not just my body, but also my entire world. I can barely hold the phone against my ear.

“God, Lizzie, are you alright?”

“I need you to come watch Katie for me,” I continue and I’m beginning to sob now. Yes, it has finally hit me. “Please, come Maria. I need you.”

posted on 16-Dec-2002 3:48:30 PM by Deejonaise
Chapter 3

It doesn’t take Maria long to arrive. She uses the key I’ve given her to let herself inside. I am sitting in the middle of the living room on the floor, numb, blown away. She stoops down before me and brushes my disheveled hair back from my tear stained face. I stare at her blankly. “Lizzie, tell me what’s happened,” she whispers urgently and the naked concern on her face unravels me. I just dissolve into tears against her shoulder.

She’s quiet, only strokes my hair in silence as I cry it out. It’s strange. I’ve never appreciated having Maria as a sister before. She’s always been wild, irresponsible, totally reckless. My polar opposite. I have never leaned on her for anything ever. Until now. I’ve spent my entire life bailing her out of one jam after another. How ironic that she’s the first person I turn to when my life is falling to pieces.

Finally, when my sobs quiet down she pulls back from me slightly. “Did that bastard hit you or something,” she grinds out fiercely, “because I swear to God I’ll--,”

“Max is in the hospital,” I croak, silencing her tirade before it can begin, “He was shot tonight.” I explain to her in dull tones the night’s events and I can tell from the look on her face that she already knows that I blame myself.

“Lizzie, don’t--,”

“If I hadn’t blindsided him tonight he would have never left, ‘Ria,” I sniff as I struggle to my feet. She tries to help me but I shrug her away. “I did this.” She opens her mouth to come to my defense but I can’t hear that right now. I need to get to Max. He is all I can think about. “I called the hospital,” I tell her, grabbing my coat from the hall closet, “He’s in surgery now. I need to go to him. Will you drive me?”

Thankfully, Katie sleeps through the entire drive. I’m not one for conversation and the entire ride to the hospital is made in eerie silence. Knowing Maria she wants to ask me a million questions right now, but knowing me she realizes I won’t answer a single one. It’s not my intention to be taciturn. I can’t possibly form a sentence right now. The furious pounding of my heart drowns out my thoughts.

My palms sweat. I rub them against the thighs of my black slacks. So much for control. I’ve lost it all now. I guess God’s the one who’s laughing now. Though I massage my aching temples nothing eases the headache that is slowly building between my eyes.

The moment the hospital comes into view I sit up straight in my seat. Maria doesn’t even stop the car completely before the entrance before I throw myself from the seat and run straight for the sliding doors. I can hear Maria calling behind me but I don’t stop and I don’t look back.

Inside the hospital I grab for the first hapless nurse that crosses my path. Within minutes I am in the elevator on my way up to the fourth floor. I am led to a small waiting room by one of the staff nurses and told to wait there. There’s a line of chairs against the wall but I don’t sit. I can’t. Instead I prowl the room from end to end like a caged tiger.

Hours, days, months seem to go by before I finally hear, “Mrs. Evans?” I jerk up my head but I don’t say anything. A middle aged man has called my name, a middle aged man dressed in green scrubs. Is this Max’s doctor, I wonder, have I just pulled him out of surgery?

He must recognize the haunted expression in my eyes because he introduces himself. “My name is Dr. Kadaffey. I’m the operating surgeon on your husband’s case.”

That’s it. Max is a case now. Something broken that is in need of fixing. It’s funny and disconcerting the thoughts that ramble through your mind when your world is exploding. “How is he?” I ask. I’m surprised by how unused my voice sounds and feels. My question comes out as more of a croak. I clear my throat.

“We’re doing all that we can to repair the damage done by the bullets,” he begins and quickly launches into a visual and verbal description of what damage has been done. I listen to him dully, my ears ringing while I absorb the implication of what he is saying. Ironically, it’s not the bullet in Max’s brain that has done the most damage. That actually hit in a portion of Max’s brain that he could stand to lose, if you could stand to lose a part of your brain. No, it is the bullet near Max’s heart that is causing the trouble. It has punctured an artery and collapsed his lung. Oxygen is not flowing freely to his brain.

When the doctor finishes I am pale, freezing with shock. He must realize he has overloaded me because he asks, “Is there someone here with you, Mrs. Evans?” I shake my head numbly. “Can I have one of the nurses call someone for you?” Why does everyone keep asking me that? I want to scream at the world that I can stand on my own two feet! Dammit!

“No, I’m fine,” I lie and it’s such an obvious lie as well.

“Well, I’ve got to get back into surgery,” Dr. Kadaffey explains, “I’ll keep you updated as to what’s going on.”

When he is gone I finally sink into a chair. I don’t think my legs can bear me up anymore. So now I have the truth. Not only is Max still in critical condition but he might very well suffer some brain damage as well. God, and look how hatefully I’d reacted to him during our last conversation. Look how hateful he’d been to me. Would he die with that between us? I pull my knees up into the chair and hug them against my chest. And then I just cry. Cry for the love that was lost between us, cry for myself and for my Katie, who might very well never know her father the way I once knew him.

I don’t know how long I sit there crying before I feel a hand touch my shoulder. I look up. “Mom?”

“I brought you some clothes,” she says, hoisting an overnight bag into the empty seat next to me, “I assumed you’d be staying all night.”

She sits down next to me while I stare at her in surprise. “How did you know?”

“Maria called me.”

I have to quirk my lips at that one before pausing to rummage through the bag. Mom’s thought of everything, right down to my toothbrush and a book to read. I offer her a weak smile. “I’m glad you’re here,” I whisper sincerely.

“I might have been here sooner if that girl had--,”

“Mom, don’t start,” I moan before she can launch into her latest “Maria” tirade.

My mother and Maria never speak to each other. Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme but not too far off the mark. There is definitely no love loss between the two. My mother has always been too busy resenting Maria for being the by-product of an affair my father had early in their marriage. And Maria has always resented my mother for being the woman Daddy chose to stay with. Ridiculous, I think, because the only one to have complete control over the situation had been Daddy and neither of them would blame him for anything.

God knew I had loved my father, but he’d been no saint. Maybe that was why I found it so easy to love Max, despite his flawed personality. I could see past all the bullshit, see deep down to the man I knew he wanted to be. I guess that’s why it’s so hard for me to let go of him now. I could still see that man…and I still loved him. “Did Maria tell you everything?” I ask softly, lowering my eyes.

“Only bits and pieces,” my mother answers. She reaches forward and tucks my hair back around my ears like she did when I was a little girl. I can’t help but smile and be comforted by the simple gesture. “I could barely get a straight answer out of that girl,” my mother continues. Her tone is cross now. “She was all over the place. You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was doing drugs just like her mother.”

I have to roll my eyes at this. “Maria isn’t doing drugs, Mom.”

“Well, she’s working down at that dive…” Mom argues, “Heaven knows what happens out there.”

Maria, my little sister, is a stripper. Correction, she’s an exotic dancer. Maria has drilled that into my head enough times to get it right. I’ve been down to her club once or twice, The Gentleman’s Paradise it’s called, to see her dance. She’s actually quite good. Of course, I’ve never told my mother this or Max for that matter. They both would raise holy cane if they knew. “Mom, I really can’t take it if you start badmouthing Maria right now,” I say firmly, but tiredly. I’m not up for being put in the middle of their dysfunctional relationship.

“Fine, fine,” my mother mutters, but I can see from her expression that she wants to say more.

Despite my mother’s outward coldness towards Maria I know that she cares. She doesn’t want to. Maria is like a living, breathing reminder to my mom that her marriage to Dad was far from perfect, no matter how she tries to make it out as such. Still, she likes to pretend. She paints Dad as some tragic hero fallen into the clutches of a villainous woman and taken advantage of. What she can’t admit is that my dad got drunk one night at his best friend’s bachelor party and then proceeded to screw the hired stripper’s brains out.

Amy DeLuca. God, what a bane that woman had been. I know my father was sorry for the transgression. Not because I saw firsthand. I was only a baby when it happened. No, I watched my father spend the rest of his life trying to make it up to my mother. He never touched alcohol after that. I remember asking him one day why he didn’t drink. He had sat me down on his knee and given me the exact truth. By that time Maria wasn’t a secret to me. She practically lived with us with her mother in and out of rehab so much.

And then Dad had been killed suddenly in a traffic accident. A drunk driver had crossed over the freeway median and hit my dad’s car head on. They had both died on impact. The authorities said that my father never felt a thing. Even today the bitter thought, “How the hell would they know?” resides in my heart. They don’t. They don’t know what my father’s last thoughts were at that moment. Was he thinking about Mom and me and Maria in those fleeting seconds or was he regretting a lifetime full of mistakes? I wish I knew.

I don’t want Max to die that way. I don’t want him regretting our life together. I don’t want my last memories of him to be intertwined with bitter feelings. The tears start again in my eyes, but I brush them away mutinously. My mother pulls me awkwardly into her arms and croons into my hair. “Have you called his family yet?” I pull back in stunned surprise. The thought hasn’t even entered my mind. “Here take my calling card,” my mother says, rummaging around in her purse, “and go call them.” She hands me the plastic card. “I’ll come and get you if the doctor comes.”

God, I love my mother. She’s my rock, my anchor. I wouldn’t be able to function without her. I accept her calling card with a weak, grateful smile and shuffle out into the hospital corridor. I walk around blindly until I finally find a payphone. Like earlier that evening I slip into another stuporous state. I stand there staring at it as if I expect for it to begin speaking. It’s a few minutes before I work up the nerve to call Max’s parents.

They aren’t home which I don’t find surprising. I get their machine but I decide not to leave a message. Somehow, it doesn’t seem appropriate to leave such life altering information as a message. I’ll call back later, though I doubt I’ll have much success then either.

Max’s parents have been absentee from his life pretty much all his life. He has always been very bitter about it. I’ve even seen him cry because of it. That is the very reason his indifferent attitude towards Katie infuriates me so. He knew exactly how it felt to be ignored and abandoned by a parent and yet he inflicted that same pain on Katie despite that firsthand knowledge.

Stop it! Stop it, I order myself firmly! This isn’t the time to be angry. Max is who he is. I knew that when I married him. His baggage had been plain to see, but I had accepted him into my life with open arms despite that. It had touched me when he cried, that he shared with me the vulnerable portion of his heart that he had never let anyone else see. Only me. God, there are a million reasons why I still love him. What is sad is that there are just as many reasons why I hate him, too.

Clearing my head of those morose thoughts, I dial up his sister. Isabel is on California time so I know she isn’t in bed yet. She picks up on the second ring.

“Isabel,” I say and my voice is shaky. I hate that. I don’t want to alarm her needlessly.

“Liz?” she squeals and I can hear the excitement in her voice because I have called. It’s been a while since we last spoke with each other, nearly three months. Too long. “How are you? How are my niece and my idiot brother?”

She sounds so happy I almost want to lie to her. “I-I called your parents--,” I stammer. I’m stalling, I know, but I just can’t plunge in. Not with Isabel, his sister, his twin, the one person in the world who means as much to him as Katie and me.

Isabel snorts a laugh. “Daddy’s officially on a business trip in Italy, but everyone really knows he’s dallying with his latest mistress,” she laughs, “and Mother…well, she’s decided to treat herself to a European shopping spree as consolation.” She scoffs bitterly. “You know how they are. Why are you looking for them anyway?”

I grip the phone tighter, closing my eyes against what I have to say. Just do it, quick and painless, like ripping off a band-aid. “Isabel, Max has been hurt,” I rush out, “He’s been shot.”

“Shot?” Isabel repeats blankly, “Liz, you’re not making sense.”

She’s not processing what I’m telling her. It’s obvious in her tone. I try again. “There was a robbery at a convenience store not far from our house,” I explain hoarsely, “Somehow Max got in the middle and he was shot.”

Her next words fire at me, taut with fear. “Is it bad?”

I swallow deeply before I answer. “I think you should come out here.” I rattle off the hospital where we are and the directions.

I hear her sharp intake of breath and I know she’s on the verge of tears. “I’ll catch the next flight out,” she says and then the phone goes dead.

I replace the earpiece back in its cradle and walk away only to dissolve into fresh tears right in the middle of the corridor.

posted on 19-Dec-2002 2:19:38 AM by Deejonaise
Chapter 4

“What will you tell Katie?”

I stare down at my mother from my perch in the windowsill then quickly avert my gaze. She is sitting in a chair just beyond Max’s hospital bed and to look at her is to look at him and I can’t bear to do that right now. If I look at him again I will cry and if I cry again this time I will never, never stop. But despite my determination my eyes are drawn to him regardless, almost compelled and as I look at him the full shock rolls over me once more.

There are endless tubes weaving out of his body, tubes for blood, for medication, for breathing. His vital signs are being monitored closely as well, his heartbeat and brain activity especially. He had arrested twice on the operating table. His doctor had asked me point blank if I wanted him resuscitated in the event it happened again. I had wanted to strangle him in that moment. It was clear that Dr. Kadaffey didn’t expect Max to live out the night.

Looking at him now I can understand the reasoning. Max’s complexion is waxy, almost gray. His body is completely still, his chest rising and falling in a jerky pattern helped along by his respirator. He can’t breath on his own now, with his one collapse lung. But he has brain activity and that’s a good thing, I tell myself firmly. That’s a good thing.

But as my eyes travel up to his face I don’t know if I can fool myself to the reality. It looks as if death has settled over him already, hovering there and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. I know I won’t sleep a moment tonight. I’m too afraid that Max will slip away while I’m not watching.

I am so caught up in my thoughts that I almost miss my mother’s tentative question completely. The instant it registers I am struck with an intense feeling of shame. Katie hasn’t been more than a passing thought for me in hours. I stare down at the toes of my shoes. “I can’t tell her what’s going on,” I whisper hoarsely, “Not yet…” Not ever, my mind silently screams.

“She’s going to wonder where you are, Liz.”

Leave it to my mother to always state the obvious. I sigh and level her with a frosty glare. She can’t possibly be as clueless as she pretends. “I have to stay with Max, Mother,” I intone coldly, “Katie is with Maria…she’ll be fine.”

“I don’t think Maria’s the best influence--,” Mom argues.

“Then you go!” I suddenly snap. I throw myself from the sill and stomp over to Max’s bedside. As I stare down at his pale, bruised face some of my anger fades. I stroke the spiky tendrils of hair that peek out from the bandage swathing his head. God, he always did have the softest hair…

“Liz, I don’t like seeing you this way.” My mother’s voice is closer now. I realize that she’s come to stand behind me. She places her hand against my shoulder but I shrug her off. “This is not your fault, Elizabeth,” she continues stubbornly.

“I’m the reason he’s here,” I state in a voice made tremulous with tears, “I’m not leaving him alone.”

“He has nurses--,”

“I’m not leaving him alone!” I shout and we both jump from the force of my words. I hang my head, my tears flowing freely once more. “Please…please, Mom, don’t give me a hard time…please don’t…”

But my mother is as tenacious as a bulldog. No way she’s letting this go, not when she thinks she’s about to drop some major wisdom down on my head. She grasps my shoulders firmly and leans her chin against the juncture of my neck. “Nothing has changed for you, Liz,” she whispers to me, “You can still have the divorce.”

“I never wanted the divorce, Mom.” My reply is incredibly weary, but I don’t realize it’s the truth until I say the words aloud. No, I don’t want a divorce. Tonight’s performance had been all about the shock value. My goal had been to jar Max, to wake him up. The metaphorical splash of cold water…then he would see that he was destroying our marriage, destroying our daughter. I had expected his cold fury, but I had also expected a fight. God, I was so hoping he would fight for us. But instead he left to buy cigarettes. He left to buy cigarettes and our world is changing again. “I can’t believe you’re talking to me about getting a divorce when Max might not even make it through the night,” I hiss, this time not just shrugging her off, but pushing her away as well.

“Someone needs to keep you grounded,” Mom argues, “I’m not going to stand here while you try and paint that man,” she points to Max’s hapless form lying in bed, “as some plaster saint! Now that you’ve finally worked up the courage to leave him he goes and does something stupid like this!” My mother throws up her hands in disgust at the last of that.

I can’t believe how truly impossible my mother is. I swear if I didn’t love the woman so much I might just seriously consider strangling her. In her own twisted way I know that she’s trying to help still I burst out incredulously, “Are you blaming Max for getting shot, Mother?”

Yup, that is exactly what she is doing. God, she doesn’t even have the grace to deny it. “What idiot goes out at nearly 12 in the morning to buy cigarettes?” my mother reasons, “It was like he was asking to be sh--,”

“Mother, if you finish that sentence I swear I will toss you out of this room with my bare hands,” I warn ominously. I am perfectly serious.

She gradually backs down from her defensive stance but the confrontation has left me feeling weak and dizzy. I fold myself into the chair next to Max’s bed and sweep up his hand, impervious to my mother’s disgruntled glare. I stroke the back of Max’s hand with the tips of my fingers. There is a fine sprinkling of hair across his knuckles. I touch that as well.

I notice other things as well. His perfectly manicured fingernails. The healed cut inside the juncture of his thumb and index finger, trophy from his one and only attempt to cook. I think back to that day with a tearful smile as I stare down at his hand.

We hadn’t been married more than five months then. What was it they said about newlyweds, they were in a state of constant marital bliss? That was Max and me. We were always kissing, always smiling, always touching. Those days I couldn’t get enough of his skin and his warmth. I had to wrap myself in his smell. I willingly drowned in his eyes and what was marvelous was that my feelings had been reciprocated.

That morning he had struggled into our bedroom bearing the breakfast try and wearing a lopsided grin I couldn’t resist. Only when he was closer did I notice all the blood. Instead of bacon and kisses to begin our morning we spent the time in the emergency room where Max had to receive 12 stitches for his trouble. He had laughed the entire time, as if the incident hadn’t meant anything to him at all. “I would gladly bleed one hundred times over, baby,” he had whispered fiercely into my hair, “Just to see you smile.”

I shiver slightly when I think about it now. How long has it been since Max last called me baby? How long since he had buried his face into my hair and kissed my neck in that tender, seductive way of his? How long since I have wanted him to? Am I only living in the past now, I wonder.

I can’t call to mind any recent, happy times with Max. We’ve spent all our couple time locked in bitter fights or strictly avoiding one another. It’s as if the love between us has vanished completely. But has it really? I am still in love with Max, or at least I am with the man he once was. I’m not naïve by any stretch but I firmly believe that man still exists. I have only to find him again. I think of our marriage, I think of Katie and I know I have to make the effort. I have to.

“I hate to see you doing this to yourself, Liz,” Mom says, her voice intruding on my thoughts once again. Why had I thought that she might have gone in the commencing moments? I had most definitely dismissed her from my mind.

I lean my forehead wearily against the back of Max’s hand. His flesh is incredibly warm. I marvel at that. How can he look so lifeless and still be so vibrantly warm? For a moment I bask in his warmth, trying to drown out my mother’s voice. But she refuses to be ignored.

“It’s not your fault,” she persists stubbornly.

I turn my cheek against Max’s hand and stare up into his pale, still face, at least what I can see of it through the head bandage and respirator. It whistles loudly, filling the moments of silence between my mother and me.

“Please, don’t blame yourself, Lizzie.”

I actually snort at that. “Who do I blame then, Mom? God?” I swallow back the fresh tears gathering at the back of my throat. I’ve cried enough. My tears can’t save Max now. Only time, only hope, only prayer. “I wanted him flat on his ass, Mom,” I whisper, my guilt slashing at me like knives, “and now I have my wish.”

“You’re talking nonsense, Liz,” Mom says in exasperation, “You’re hungry. Eat something and you’ll feel better.”

I suppress the very real urge to roll my eyes. Yeah, right, Mom! Eat a sandwich and then everything will be miraculously right with my world again. Where does she come up with this stuff, I wonder snidely. I am suddenly thinking that it might be better if she goes back to the house with Maria, after all. By this point she is providing more aggravation than comfort. “Mom, you don’t have to stick around, you know,” I begin casually, never taking my eyes from Max’s face, “Isabel will be here in a while.” I lift my head to look at her then.

My mother isn’t fooled. She knows exactly what I’m doing and the hurt shows plainly on her face. “Don’t do that, Liz,” she says plaintively, “don’t send me away. I just want to help you.” I sigh deeply and she takes that as an opening to say more. “You’ve been running on empty for the last four hours, Liz, and I don’t mean with just the shooting. You need some down time. Go take a breather…I’ll watch Max.”

She is right. I hate to admit it, but she is. I haven’t had a peaceful moment of thought since Max came home from work that evening. At first I was all worked up over the prospect of asking him for a divorce, now I’m all worked up over the prospect he could die. And yes, my empty stomach isn’t helping matters. Perhaps if I ate something the dizziness that had been plaguing me for the last hour might subside.

My mother knows that she’s won the argument when I untangle my fingers from Max’s and rise to my feet. Thankfully, she’s perceptive enough not to be smug about it. “I can trust you not to pull out any of his tubes while I’m gone?” I ask, half serious.

She is totally appalled by my innuendo and draws herself up in righteous indignation. “Elizabeth Anne-Marie Parker, what a perfectly horrible thing to say to your mother!”

Again she’s right. Damn her! I apologize meekly, but still a part of me wonders. My mother hasn’t always hated Max. No, this was a new development. She has only just recently developed an intense dislike for him…when I suffered a moment of weakness and admitted to her that Max was cheating on me.

It’s not even his indiscretion that she hates Max for. It is the fact that his reactions remind her so much of her late husband though she will never, NEVER admit it. My mother could never hold my father accountable for his actions. She was the epitome of the loving, long-suffering wife. But the hate is there, just simmering right below the surface. She can’t direct it at Daddy so Max is the next best option. I’ve almost called her on this a couple of times, but I don’t want to provoke an argument so, in the end, I usually hold my tongue. One of these days I might just share my theory with her, however. One of these days…

“I’ll only be gone for a little while,” I tell my mother as I head for the door, “If anything changes have--,”

“I’ll have the nurses page you,” she finishes knowingly.

I offer her a small smile, deciding that I’m glad she’s there with me after all.

As I step into the hall a sudden movement catches my attention. There is a blond, young woman milling about in the corridor. She is about my age or perhaps a few years younger and very petite. Whoever she’s there for can’t be in a very good way. She looks as if she might collapse in the floor at any given moment.

The second I clear the door her electric blue eyes meet my gaze in a telling stare. I recognize the sheer devastation on her face, knowing that it mirrors my own. I can see that she’s waiting and hoping and praying the same as I am. Apparently, her world has turned around tonight as well. I offer her a slight, sympathetic nod before heading down the corridor in search of the elevators.

posted on 20-Dec-2002 10:18:36 AM by Deejonaise
quote:
Jbehrbabe originally wrote:
BUMP!!

That's Tess isn't it? How did she find out about Max? Oh and another thing, are you later going to tell us how Liz discovered that Max is cheating on her? Or did she just know because he isn't sleeping with her? I don't think you ever got around to how she found out yet.


Trust me...everything will be revealed...eventually.*wink* I'm gonna to try and post the next part before I leave on vacation in the next hour or so and then no more updates until after January 1st.

Thanks everyone for all the awesome feedback. It means a lot!!!

Dee
posted on 20-Dec-2002 11:05:29 AM by Deejonaise
Here's my last update before I go on vacation. I'll see you next year!


Chapter 5

When I make my way back upstairs to Max’s floor the blond is still there. She is in the lobby now, slumped down in one of the chairs fast asleep. She looks wholly uncomfortable, her neck twisted at an odd angle, leaving her springy blond curls to cascade over the wooden armrest. I wonder vaguely why she doesn’t go and wait with her loved one, but then quickly reach my own conclusion.

It is quite difficult to watch someone you love hover near death. The waiting is excruciating, unbearable. It is as if your body is on constant alert, you can never relax, never breathe deep because any given second your world could be shattered. I know exactly how that feels. It is the exact anxiety coursing through my blood every time I look at Max, every time I see him lying there so still and helpless. Sometimes the need for air, for space is just too much. Sometimes when you stayed it was enough to drive you mad.

So yes, I can identify with this woman. In this hospital, in this moment we are the same. I am she and she is me. Our souls are kindred here. In the last crazy six hours she probably knows my emotional state better than anyone, a complete stranger. It’s rather ironic when you meditate on it. I stare at the sleeping woman for a while longer before continuing on my way down the corridor, heading for the payphone.

I haven’t spoken to Maria since earlier that evening when she dropped me off at the entrance. Now that I am absorbing the shock of what has happened I find myself being bombarded with a new concern. How do I tell my daughter that her father may die? This is a brand new quandary that I feel ill equipped to handle.

My heart aches for my little girl. Poor Katie. I cannot possibly imagine the fear that she must be enduring at that moment. Having been abandoned by both her parents in the same night has had to provoke a myriad of questions from her, questions that have gone unanswered. I have asked Maria not to say anything to her about Max, but I realize I can’t put the discussion off for long. Tomorrow, I tell myself, tomorrow I will go home and explain everything.

Yes, tomorrow. That seems like as good a day as any to break my daughter’s heart. I will alter her life; devastate her completely…oh yes, tomorrow. Because tomorrow I may be better prepared for the task. Because tomorrow Max may be miraculously stronger. Because tomorrow affords me a luxury. If I put off the necessary things for tomorrow then I have no need to worry over them today. Perhaps this sort of logic makes me a coward but at the moment I couldn’t give a damn! I only want the last six hours to be a dream. I only want not to have to explain to my daughter why her father is laying in critical condition with a hole in his chest and head. Right now I can only look on tomorrow with an encompassing sense of dread. Right now I hope tomorrow never comes.

When I finally reach the payphone, I fish around in my pocket for thirty-five cents as I cradle the phone against my ear and shoulder. I slide the change into the phone slot, quickly dialing my home phone. Maria answers on the first ring, bless her. I don’t need the added stress of wondering what she’s doing in my house and who she is entertaining. I don’t hear any background noise when she picks up so I emit a tiny sigh of relief when she answers.

“Is he going to make it?” Maria demands the moment I say her name in greeting. There are no words of greeting. She is just blunt and straight to the point. Gotta love Maria. She is definitely not one to bush beat.

“He’s still in critical condition,” I tell her tiredly, “but he’s out of ICU so that’s a good thing I guess.” I rub the back of my neck wearily. “I’ve called his sister. Her flight should be arriving shortly if it hasn’t already.”

“Will you come home then?” Maria asks.

I don’t respond. It’s never crossed my mind to leave the hospital when Isabel arrives. I have determined that I will stay as long as Max stays. When I tell Maria this she is obviously upset. She doesn’t say anything for nearly a full minute. Finally, she says rather tightly, “You’re going to stay at the hospital…for him?”

“He’s my husband, Maria,” I reply woodenly. I don’t feel like having this argument with her, but unlike my mom Maria does not know when to back down.

“Only on paper, Liz!” she spits and then she adds in a furious hiss, “You found his bitch’s panties in your damned bed for God’s sake! You don’t owe that son of a bitch a thing!”

“That son of a bitch is Katie’s father and my husband,” I argue fiercely, “Right now he has no one, ‘Ria, absolutely no one. I can’t just leave him.”

“You’re letting your fucking past with this guy cloud your judgment, Lizzie.”

“Maria, I won’t fight with you,” I state evenly, “If you start up with me I’ll hang up. I mean it.”

There is a long, thoughtful pause and then she asks, “Can you at least drop by? Katie has been asking about you ever since we got home.”

“She’s not asleep?” I burst out in surprise. I recognize then that Katie must be beside herself. It’s nearly five in the morning now. The fact that she is still wide-awake attests to that fact. “Maria, you haven’t told her anything yet, have you?”

“No, I think that’s your place,” Maria replies, her voice lowered to a whisper, “but I can’t evade her questions forever, Liz. You need to talk to her.” And then she adds pointedly, “You need to come home.”

That last barb upset me greatly and it takes all my willpower not the slam the phone down then and there. I’m not angry at her for reminding me about my daughter, but for reminding me of what a philandering asshole I am married, too. I can admit that in the last six hours I had forgotten. Setting my jaw tight, I bite out tersely, “I’ll be there in a couple of hours. I’ll check with you again before I leave.”

After I end the call I feel ten times worse than before I made it. Maria has managed to make me feel even guiltier than before. I know I shouldn’t leave Katie in limbo like this, but I’m too much of a coward to do anything contrary. It’s almost like I’m choosing between her and Max and I hate that. Not to mention that the prospect of telling Katie the truth, of shattering my little girl’s world…just simply paralyzes me.

My heart heavy I trudge back towards Max’s room. When I enter I find the space strangely silent, but for the whooshing and whistling of Max’s respirator. I don’t see my mother anywhere. My first response is shock that she would actually leave Max alone when I specifically asked her not to do that. And then rage explodes in my brain at my mother for leaving and at myself for trusting her to stay.

I stalk over to Max’s bedside, fuming, but the moment I look down into his pale features my anger become gnawing fear. He looks no better than before I left. Actually, he looks worse. His skin seems grayer now. I look over towards his heart monitor, staring at the indecipherable green zigzag marks which make their way across the screen. Even those seem different. I kneel down beside Max and scoop up his hand, a nameless panic gripping me.

The bathroom door suddenly swings open and I jump in surprise. Isabel emerges, drying her hand against the legs of her ivory colored slacks. She looks tired and worn, her long, blond hair pulled back in a haphazard ponytail. It’s a far cry from the glamorous socialite she usually is. I half rise to my feet. “Isabel,” I gasp, frowning, “when did you get here?”

“Nearly forty-five minutes ago,” she clarifies, offering me a weak smile.

Belatedly, I regain my senses and rise to enfold her in a tender, sincere hug. “It’s good to see you,” I tell her warmly, “I’m just sorry for the circumstances.”

Again Isabel smiles despite the tears glistening brightly in her eyes. “Me, too.”

I turn away from her to survey Max, lifting my hand to cover my mouth. “It doesn’t look like he’s improving any,” I murmur sadly, tiredly.

“Well, the doctor did tell us not to expect much with him slipping into the coma and all.”

I do a double take, certain I couldn’t have heard her correctly. “Wait, what did you say?” I demanded shrilly. I know I’m on the verge of panic, but I feel like I’ve been dropped in the middle of nowhere with no means to find my way back to civilization. “What are you talking about? What coma?”

“You haven’t spoken to your Mom,” Isabel groans, “She went to find you when you didn’t respond to the page.”

“No, of course not! What page?” I snap, becoming more agitated by the second, “What has my mother got to do with this? What are you saying about Max being in a coma?”

Isabel drops her eyes, squeezing the bridge of her nose between her thumb and index finger. “While you were having a bite the doctor came in to evaluate Max. He told us that Max is comatose.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I say, “Max came out of surgery just fine. He…he can’t be in a coma. I would have known it!” I’m babbling I realize but I have this idiotic notion that if I keep talking none of what Isabel is telling me will be true. “He’s not in a coma,” I reason wildly, “He doesn’t look that much different than when I left!”

At this point Isabel grasps me by the shoulder and shakes me gently. “Liz, you have to be strong right now. For Katie. You can’t fall apart,” Isabel orders me sharply.

Despite her words I wilt in her grip. “God, a coma…” I moan. Do people even wake up from those…I don’t know.

“The doctor doesn’t expect for him to come out of it,” Isabel informs me tentatively, “He says that Max will need round the clock care that…that he won’t be anything more than a…a vegetable.”

I sink to the floor then, tears cascading down my cheeks anew. “This can’t be happening,” I mutter to myself plaintively, “This can’t be happening.”

Isabel kneels down beside me, the misery on her face mirroring my own. “The doctor suggested a nursing center here in Roswell that he says comes highly recommended,” Isabel says dully, “He thinks we should send Max there or hire a private nurse to care for him.”

“Doesn’t he hold out any hope for recovery?” I cry out tearily.

Isabel just shakes her head in regret. “The doctor says that even if Max comes out of the coma he’ll never be the man we knew.”

Never be the man we knew. If he comes out the coma. We should send Max there or hire a private nurse. The words just float around in my head, lashing me, beating me further and further down into the darkness that has been fighting to claim me all night. I feel lost, devastated, numb. In some ways it’s a worse feeling than the gripping fear that has been in my heart ever since I learned of the shooting. I have been so afraid of Max dying physically that I have thought of little else. Now I realize that my fear has been a reality all along. The man I knew as my husband died the moment that bullet entered his brain. That cowardly bastard of a doctor just didn’t have the balls to tell me straight out.

And now I can’t run anymore. Now is the time to deal. No more hiding, no more being afraid. The cards are on the table now, the ante upped. I am all Max has now, all Katie has. I must be strong for them both. I can no longer afford to let my grief overtake me.

Swallowing, I struggle to my feet and square my shoulders, brushing the remaining remnants of my tears from my cheeks. “Did Dr. Kadaffey happen to leave any information on this facility he was telling you about?” I ask calmly.

Isabel rises to her feet as well, shaking her head as she does. “No, Liz,” she protests, “this isn’t your concern anymore. I…my parents and I will take see to Max’s care from now on.”

“Are you saying you don’t want me to help?” I rasp, feeling as if I’ve been socked in the chest. I’m sure my eyes transmit how hurt and betrayed I feel at her words.

“I’m just saying it’s not your responsibility anymore,” Isabel explains and she must see that her words are hurting me because she rushes to add, “I know about the divorce, Liz. Your mother told me. I don’t want you to think you’re stuck with Max now because…because of his condition.”

My mother, I think acidly. I should have known from the very start. Of course, she would be burning to fill Isabel’s ear with the news of the divorce after I had shut her down. She had found a way to insure that I wouldn’t be caring for Max, after all. Or so she thought. I make a mental note to have a rather edifying chat with my mother later, but for the moment I focus my attention solely on Isabel. “Isabel,” I begin mildly, “Max and I are just going through a rough spot right now. I only asked him for the divorce to get his attention. It…I wasn’t serious.”

Isabel’s expression remains unconvinced. She folds her arms over her breasts. “Your mother told me you would say that.”

“I’m perfectly serious!” I swear, “I don’t want a divorce. I want my marriage to work. I still love your brother.”

“She said you would say that, too,” Isabel replies dryly. Now I feel the urge to gnash my teeth. Damn you, Mother! “Look, Liz, Nancy explained to me how Max ended up at the convenience store in the first place.” She places a comforting hand against my shoulder. “I know about the fight…you don’t have to feel guilty.”

I shrug her off and turn my back, feeling angry and frustrated. “This isn’t about guilt, Isabel.”

“Is it about money?” I hear Isabel ask at my back, “Because it’s not a problem. I’m a trust fund brat remember? I can easily quit my job so that I can be home with Max full time. I’d do it gladly.”

“I don’t want you to do that,” I whisper hoarsely.

“And I don’t want you to sacrifice your life as penance for something that isn’t your fault,” Isabel counters. Perhaps I should be grateful for her offer. Logically, I know I should grab hold of it with both hands. This is what I’ve been waiting for right? I get my divorce and relinquish any responsibility in caring for Max. I should be happy right? But if that’s the case why does Isabel’s offer infuriate me so? “Liz, look at me,” she implores softly, but still I keep my back turned. “Are you angry?” she asks me after a long, tense pause.

When I finally turn to face her my body is rigid with determination. “I appreciate your offer,” I tell her sincerely, “But I will care for Max’s needs, Isabel. You’re more than welcome to help, but I’m not stepping back. I’m not walking out on Max. Not when he needs me, not ever.”

It may only be a trick of the light, but in that moment I could swear that I glimpse relief and pride in Isabel’s eyes.



posted on 1-Jan-2003 11:45:11 PM by Deejonaise
Chapter 6

When I come home a few hours later Maria is in the kitchen preparing breakfast. I can smell the aroma of frying bacon as I approach. For a minute I stand suspended at the entrance, amazed by what I am seeing. My little sister is much more at home in an apron than I could have ever imagined. I hadn’t even realized that Maria could locate the kitchen much less prepare a meal. To say the least, I am impressed. I watch her prance around in her “Kiss the Cook” apron while bopping happily to the radio, which is playing on the counter.

I can’t help but envy her in those moments. For the life of me I can’t figure out how she manages it, how she maintains her child-woman persona. She can be sexy and innocent all at once. Not like me, so staid, so dependable…so boring.

I must make some sort of small movement because Maria suddenly glances up from her pan of frying bacon, completely startled. She presses one hand against her breast and shakes her spatula at me with the other. “Dammit, Liz! You scared the shit out of me!” she huffs, “I almost peed in my pants!”

I hardly have time to admonish her for her language because Katie is already hurling herself into my arms with an excited exclamation of “Mommy!” As I hug her small, wiggling body against mine I marvel over how nearly ten hours of utter hell can be washed away in a few seconds just by holding her.

“Aunt ‘Ria made me French toast,” Katie chirps as I set her back down on her feet. I find myself smiling at her wistfully. God, she reminds me of Max so much at this moment. The adorable way her bangs flip over her forehead, the intense flash of her golden eyes, her pouting lower lip…it is all her father, right down to the way she is scrutinizing me right now. “Where have you been, Mommy?” she demands.

I look helplessly at Maria who gives me a small nod of encouragement. I see the tension lining her face then and I know she’s spent the better part of the morning dodging Katie’s endless questions. I know that the time for dodging in now at an end. “I’d better go call off for work tonight,” Maria says suddenly, excusing herself from the kitchen after she has drained the bacon from its grease.

When she is gone I guide Katie over to the kitchen table and sit her down, pulling up a chair in front of her. “I imagine you have a lot of questions,” I begin neutrally, pressing her small hands between my own.

Her eyes drop away, but not before I can see the confusion and fear making their usual cheerful depths riotous with emotion. “You and Dad had a fight,” Katie pouts with a whisper, “Is that why you didn’t come home last night?”

Her intuitiveness never fails to surprise me. I think she is too young to be privy to the knowledge she has. It frightens and impresses me all at once. My Katie is no fool. She knows something is wrong even if I have yet to confirm it. I reach forward to stroke her shiny hair. Maria has left if free this morning, using only two small, butterfly clips to hold Katie’s hair back from her face. “Honey,” I tell her gently, “I didn’t come home last night because I had to go to the hospital.”

Her brown eyes widen considerably. “The hospital,” she echoes, “Are you hurt or something?”

“Sweetie, no I’m fine.” I hold up my hands and turn them so she can see that there are no boo boos. And then I pull her into my arms because the look of sheer dismay on her face is unbearable. Katie knows the news isn’t good. She bands her small arms about my neck tightly. “Honey, you need to understand something,” I continue gently, “I wasn’t hurt…but your Daddy was.”

Katie goes completely still, not even breathing. She blinks at me several times, slowly processing what I have just told her. “Daddy’s hurt?”

I nod jerkily, finding it difficult to look at her but making myself do so. “When Daddy went to the store last night,” I explain simply, “a bad man was there and he hurt Daddy really bad.”

Her lower lip trembles, but other than that she reveals no emotion. “He put Daddy in the hospital?” Katie surmises shakily.

“Yes, he did.” I frame her face with my hands, hoping the small, reassuring kisses I press over her cheeks and forehead will help to ease the sting.

Katie is limp in my arms, her eyes darkened with anguish. “Is Daddy gonna die?”

“No, sweetheart.” The lie rolls off my tongue smoothly, but my heart twist easily at her words. No eight year old should have to worry about a father dying. I know that pain firsthand and I want to spare Katie at all costs. I am completely unwilling to shatter my daughter that way, to respond to her fear with uncertainty when I can see she’s on the verge of breakdown.

“I didn’t mean it when I said I hated him, Mommy,” she whispers, dissolving into tearful hiccups, “I don’t want him to die.”

“He won’t,” I promise, “He won’t. I’ll bring him back home to you…”

“Can I see him?” Katie asks me innocently.

It breaks my heart to refuse her, but what else can I say. I’ve told her that her father is in no danger of dying, however, if she sees him in person Katie will know it’s a lie. Though she was a little girl, my Katie was by no means naïve. She had inherited her father’s skepticism and perceptiveness. Even now I can see that my words haven’t fully convinced her, which is the very reason she’s asked to see him. She wants to ascertain for herself if my words are true or not.

I smooth her hair back from her expressive face lovingly. “Honey, Daddy is too sick for you to see him right now,” I tell her honestly, “but when he gets better I promise I will take you to him.”

She studies me a while longer before finally nodding her head in satisfaction. And then she asks in a low whisper, “Will you stay for breakfast? Aunt ‘Ria made enough french toast and bacon for you, too.”

“Of course I will,” I say without hesitation. I tuck her head beneath my chin and that’s when I catch Maria in the doorway, watching us with tears in her eyes.

We actually have a nice, leisurely breakfast together despite the fact that Katie has yet to be dressed for school and is full of questions about her father. The frantic bustling around to pack her lunch and iron her clothes thankfully distracts me from the worry that has been plaguing me for hours. But when she and Maria are gone and the house is left empty of Katie’s constant chattering and Maria’s groaning complaints I can feel that dark cloud of sadness settle over me once more.

I sink down onto the sofa and lift up the phone, punching the number for Max’s hospital room almost mechanically. Isabel answers on the second ring. “Has there been any change,” I ask anxiously, twirling the springy phone cord around my fingers. I know it’s too much to expect, but I find myself asking anyway.

“He still has woken up,” Isabel informs me, “Your mother left half an hour ago to go home and change. She said she’d be back later this afternoon.”

I compress my lips tightly, holding back the impulse to say that it might be better if my mother stays away. It’s not that I don’t appreciate her support, it’s simply that it’s not the kind of support I need right now. “How are you holding up?” I ask Isabel, trying to redirect my thoughts from the gloomy turn they’ve taken.

“I think I’m still in shock,” Isabel whispers, “It hasn’t sunk in completely yet. I still can’t reach my parents.” The dejection in her tone is quite plain but I hold off my sympathy. Isabel has always been the type to reject pity.

She pauses for a moment and I sense that she’s gathering up her will to tell me something important. “Dr. Kadaffey brought in the information on that facility to me this morning.” I say nothing in response, holding my breath while waiting for her to continue. “He thinks we should try and move Max there once he’s stabilized. He brought all the paperwork.”

God knows I don’t want to think about any of this right now, but I realize that I can’t put it off either. After all, I’m the one who pushed for this responsibility, right? And I had promised Katie…I had promised her that I would see her father through his recovery. I can’t go back on my word to her. I won’t. I am determined to stick it out with Max until the very end, no matter what it may be.

I sigh and lean back against the sofa. “Just give me an hour to wash up and change and I’ll be back there,” I assure Isabel tiredly.

“Liz?” Isabel queries when I am about to end the conversation, “Have you called any of Max’s colleagues to let them know what’s happened?”

I slap my palm against my forehead. Hah! I scoff mentally, wanting to kick myself. I haven’t thought to call anyone. How irresponsible of me especially when I realize that his partners will very well be expecting him into the office this very morning. I groan aloud. “God, it completely slipped my mind to do that,” I sigh, “I’ll do it the minute we hang up.”

There’s a curious silence on the other end. Finally, Isabel asks, her tone somewhat tentative, “And you’re sure you haven’t told anyone?”

“I’ve only called you and your parents…no one else,” I tell her, “Why are you asking?”

“No reason,” Isabel replies quickly. Too quickly and too brightly. I know immediately that she’s keeping something from me.

“Isabel, what are you not telling me,” I persist.

Finally, she sighs, probably knowing that I won’t stop badgering her until she tells me exactly what is going on. “After you left Max had a visitor,” Isabel informs me haltingly, “She said her name was Teresa Harding. I found her in here hovering over his bed when I came from the bathroom…she must have thought he was alone.” She pauses again, as if she is trying to gather the strength to continue. “She was stroking his hair when I came in and…and kissing him, Liz. When I asked her who she was she claimed she was his colleague.”

I grip the phone hard, my emotions veering crazily once again. I have gone from anger, to fear, to guilt, to grief to anger and back again all in the space of ten hours. These rapid mood swings are starting to wear me down. My eyes tear up at the implication but I sniff back my feelings of grief and betrayal. “What did she look like?” I whisper softly. But I already have an idea and it starts a churning in my stomach.

“She was blond and petite,” Isabel reveals, “And she had blue eyes…really blue eyes.”

The woman in the corridor, just as I suspected. Apparently, Max hadn’t been alone when he was shot the night before after all. I wonder vaguely why the police officers never mentioned Max having a companion that night but then dismiss the information as inconsequential. It doesn’t really matter, does it? Not when I know. Max had never had any intention of repairing our marriage. He had walked out of this house, out of my life and straight into the arms of his mistress. Though I’ve been quite aware of his unfaithfulness for some time the betrayal still slices away at my heart.

“Is she still there?” I ask Isabel carefully, trying to keep my voice neutral as I spoke.

“I told her to leave and not to come back or I would call security,” Isabel says, “I didn’t trust her at all.” I can hear Isabel shuffling around on the other end and then she asks me, “Have you thought anymore about my offer, Liz?”

“Isabel…”

“I’m not stupid, Liz,” Isabel charges, “I know exactly who that little tramp was! You don’t think I can recognize my brother’s taste in women!” The words batter me and I wince with every utterance. “God, Liz, I love my brother but he’s first class bastard and you deserve better!”

My tears spill over then. I know I am sobbing into the phone now but I am past caring. “Isabel, please…” I beg, but I have no idea what I’m begging for. I just want this intense shattered feeling in my heart to heal.

“He doesn’t deserve your loyalty, Liz,” Isabel whispers gently, “He doesn’t deserve you…maybe he never did.”

“Don’t say that,” I protest tearfully and there’s guilt as well because I know I’ve played my part even if Isabel doesn’t.

“Well, don’t sentence yourself to a life of servitude simply because you feel guilty,” Isabel counters, “Lord knows Max doesn’t deserve it.”

I think to try again, although I don’t know why I bother. I hate Max so much right now that I feel physically ill with it. But then I hate myself so much more. How could I have deluded myself so thoroughly? Was I in such denial that I had actually convinced myself that Max might want to save our marriage? The reality is something harsher, colder and completely absent of idealism.

When I think of how his mistress was there the entire time at the hospital and that I actually felt sorry for her I want to cringe in humiliation. I want to scream, to have a tantrum of epic proportions, but mostly I want to hurt Max, to humiliate him as he’s humiliated me. But then as soon as the thought surfaces I am overcome with shame and guilt. I can’t wish ill on Max if for no reason other than Katie-kins. Her father is her world and the fact that he is hurt now is devastating her.

And so I put forth a valiant effort to be the perfect, long-suffering wife, an exact replica of my own mother. Despite the fact that these are the very qualities about her that disgust me thoroughly I still find myself repeating her mistakes, bending myself the exact same way. “Isabel, I am committed to your brother,” I say, but the words sound dull and unconvincing even to my ears.

“Don’t feed me that line of crap, Liz!” Isabel orders me fiercely, “I’m giving you a way out here…you might want to consider taking it.”


Hopefully, I'll get the other two updated by Friday afternoon...we'll see. I'll still have a ton of unpacking to do.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 2-Jan-2003 1:30:58 AM ]
posted on 2-Jan-2003 8:38:22 AM by Deejonaise
Just drive by posting to answer Araxie and SciFiNut's question. Yes, you will get insight into where Max's character began to turn. In the next chapter, in fact, he's not just evil for evil sake, lol. I think you might even find yourself sympathizing with him a little...or, at least, I hope you do, lol.

Dee
posted on 6-Jan-2003 8:32:09 PM by Deejonaise
Sorry this took so long. I hope it begins to answer some of your questions. Thanks for all the awesome feedback, too. You guys are AWESOME!!!

Chapter 7

I am numb as I watch them load Max’s catatonic body into the hospital van bound for the Danner Ridge Sanitarium. Not much has changed in the last three weeks since the shooting. Max is still in a coma and showing no signs of improvement. The doctors tell us not to set our hopes too high and with each day that passes without any progress I find that my expectations lower a little more. Katie has been asking me to see him every day and I am quickly running out of excuses. In addition to that stress I have just recently discovered that I cannot legally divorce Max at this time. Apparently, the law doesn’t permit for divorce when one mate is incapacitated. That development has me more agitated than anything else, mostly because I’m startled over the true source of my anxiety. I’m actually relieved by the information rather than irked.

It takes nearly a week for my anger over the Teresa Harding matter to cool down. I spend the better part of that time trying to reign in the burning desire to confront my husband’s newest girlfriend or yank one of Max’s feeding tubes. It’s during that time that I seriously entertain the notion of divorce. Mom and Maria don’t even have to do a great amount of browbeating to get me to see a lawyer. I’m eager to go. But after five minutes of sitting in the man’s office, J.W. Hooper, (who the hell has a name like that anyway?), that same familiar leaden weight settles in the pit of my stomach. I still don’t want a divorce, I realize…not really. There’s still this desperate part of me that wants to hold onto my marriage. Maybe it’s pathetic, maybe it’s denial, but it’s true.

There is also the added fact that I find it singularly impossible to hold a grudge against Max at this time, not when he’s so broken, so helpless and nearly alone. His parents have only visited with him briefly since he was admitted to the hospital. Philip and Diane Evans arrived three days after Max fell comatose. They stayed at his bedside less than five hours. It was the first time that I had been thankful that Max was unconscious. Isabel had gone for a walk once her parents were gone, but I knew she went to cry. I cried too.

It was about that time that the little insidious voice inside my head began whispering again, but I had mutinously gone to see Mr. Hooper anyway. But my heart hadn’t been in it, it never had been. I still can’t conceive that my marriage is truly over, just done with no fight, no sparks, nothing.

And of course there’s my own insecurity, my fear. After all, what will a divorce say about me? Maybe it means that I’ve failed as a wife. Maybe that’s why I’m truly afraid, why I’m so damned reluctant to end this relic our relationship has become. The voice is louder now, telling me that perhaps the reason Max has turned to so many women isn’t because there’s something wrong with him at all, but because there’s something wrong with me.

The idea plagues me and I consider it quite seriously. Prior to Katie’s birth I can say that my marriage was near perfect. It’s no exaggeration, no delusion. There was a time when Max and I had been each other’s world. It was like neither of us had lived until we’d met the other. Once there had been a spontaneity between us, an indescribable excitement, as if we needed to be inside each other’s skin. I never had any doubt that I thrilled Max or that I was the only one who ever had. Back then when Max looked at me I felt as if I were the only person in the world that existed for him. But then Katie was born and all that between us gradually changed.

I was wholly unprepared to have a baby. We weren’t trying at all. At the time I had been taking the pill almost religiously. I thought having a child would prove to be a complication in our perfect little arrangement. Max and I had still been young and impetuous, and too drunk with one another to see anything beyond our own little world. Honestly, I had wanted it to remain that way.

But it had been different for Max. When he learned of my pregnancy he was over the moon with joy…I was not. I saw a baby as the ruination of our relationship and we’d actually had a terrible fight over it with his insistence that we continue the pregnancy. God, when I think about those times I’d considered defying him… Those first four months were a marital nightmare. I can honestly admit to what a bitch I’d been for the better part of my pregnancy. My moods swung from high to low seemingly without warning or provocation. I had hoped that things would improve once the baby was born. They didn’t.

Following Katie’s difficult birth, which required a caesarean section and several weeks of painful recovery I battled a severe bout of postpartum depression. I didn’t want to be touched; I didn’t want to be bothered…I didn’t want my baby. I can still remember how I used to lie there in bed, pretending not to hear Max when he pleaded me to hold the baby. “Just look at her, Liz,” he would beg, almost on the verge of tears, “God, baby…can you please just look at her.” I have to close my eyes against the memory now. The recollection is still too raw for me.

It’s hard to believe that I ever felt that callous, that cold inside. It’s hard to believe that I ever turned away from Max when he had been my entire world. It’s hard to believe that there was ever a time when I wanted nothing whatsoever to do with Katie. But I had turned away from him, from them both. I shut Max out for so many months following the delivery. I broke him so badly that there were nights when I would listen to him sob himself to sleep. I felt shattered to know that I was destroying him but I couldn’t bring myself to open up to him. I was just so sick inside and I only wanted for the world to go away and leave me in peace.

To his credit, Max struggled to keep it together. He tried desperately to maintain the balance in our family, stretching himself thin between Katie, me, and work. It was around that time that he hired Rosa, even though we’d barely been able to afford groceries, much less a housekeeper. But the job of being a single parent and a full-time worker just became too much for him to bear alone. Though my mother did what she could she couldn’t be available full time and that’s what Max needed.

Though I don’t remember that time with crystal clarity I don’t need a faultless memory to recognize that it had to be the hardest time of Max’s life. He was a first time father, struggling to raise his daughter and make ends meet and all without the support of his wife. Even with nearly no communication going on between us I could see that he was slowly dying. His gradual exhaustion, both physical and mental, was exactly what prompted me to finally seek out some help.

Even to this day I can still feel his breath on my neck from when he would hover over me at night when he thought I was asleep. And when I was awake he would watch me for hours it seemed, his eyes silently begging for some sort of acknowledgement. He would bring me my meals, bath me, and stroke my hair when I allowed him and all with that same hungry desperation, that same pleading need. I knew what he wanted. He wanted me to see him, to open my eyes and recognize that he loved me, that he was there for me and he always would be. Why, oh why hadn’t I acknowledged him then?

That saying about “too little, too late” is so aptly true. Almost six months went by before I was fully recovered from my depression and by the time it was done my marriage was nearly unrecognizable. Max and I were two completely different people by then. I think perhaps that the stress of dealing with Katie combined with my rejection simply drained him emotionally. By the time I was better Max simply had nothing left to give.

I tried to rekindle what we once had but it seemed an impossible task. By then Max was too engrossed with work to give time to me. At first it had been about keeping us afloat financially, but it had all too quickly become something more. I wasn’t so blind that I didn’t realize he was using his work as a means of escape. Only weeks after Katie’s first birthday Max took his first girlfriend. I can scoff at the irony of that now, but when it happened I had been utterly devastated.

And perversely, I couldn’t really blame him for that first time. Even during my recovery there had been distance between us. We had made love only a handful of times once I was better and never with the same abandoned passion we once had. I was only mildly surprised when I discovered his infidelity. But we agreed to work it out. We went to counseling and it seemed that our marriage was starting to improve, but then the calls started. Strange women, at all times of the night, hang-ups, secret phone calls and I realized that I’d never reclaimed my husband at all.

Our marriage was a downward spiral in the following years. The affairs hurt me and, of course, I lashed out. A lot. The more I did the less Max came home, the less he came home the more I lashed out until Katie and I barely saw him at all. And that was the most hateful part of it. Not only did my relationship with Max suffer, but because it did so did his relationship with our daughter. In avoiding me he avoided her and I regretted that more than anything.

Maybe that’s another reason why I can’t bring myself to push for a divorce. I already feel responsible for depriving Katie of a close relationship with her father. Can I really bear the guilt of being the reason their relationship fizzles completely? I know now that Max no longer loves me. Sometimes I think I don’t love him any more either, but something gnaws at me to stay with him, to grit my teeth and make it work. Katie. I think I have to do this for her. She deserves that much.

Of course, my mother thinks I’m five times a fool and I half suspect she’s right. Only the day before she blasted me for making a “martyr” of myself. Her words continue to explode in my head even at that moment and I struggle to ignore them. I know that she’s right. I know that I’m making a foolish decision, loading myself down with an unneeded burden. I can walk away right now if I choose. No one will hold me accountable and no one will blame me. But as I watch them hook up all his machinery and tubing I can’t bring myself to do it and not because I’m still in love with him and not because of Katie either. I simply can’t admit that I’ve failed. Not the perfect and composed and always demure Liz Parker-Evans. I have never failed at anything in my life and I’m not going to let my marriage be my first failure.

Isabel comes to stand beside me as I watch them load Max up though I barely acknowledge her presence. She is as worn and haggard as I, only a step away from collapsing on the concrete sidewalk. I laugh inwardly at the picture we must make, two women in desperate need of support desperately supporting each other. She sighs a moment later, a heavy sigh filled with resignation and I stiffen my body in preparation for what I know she is about to say. “It’s still not too late,” she murmurs softly, clapping her hand on my shoulder.

I don’t shrug her away though I want to in that second. “How can you be like this when he’s in so much pain?” I ask her brokenly, never once taking my eyes from Max’s still face, “Don’t you have any loyalty?” The moment I ask the question aloud, however, I know that I’m being unfair. Isabel is perhaps the most loyal person Max has in his life. She is here when nobody else would be just like I knew from the beginning. Even as she’s providing my means for escape I know that her loyalties lay completely with her brother.

“Max wouldn’t want your pity, Liz,” Isabel informs me after a long moment of silence.

“It’s not pity,” I argue, but my words have no heat.

“Then what is it?” she demands. I stand mute, but she is undeterred. Isabel snorts at my stoic expression. “You’ve got too much self esteem to be staying with him out of some grand delusion of love, Liz.”

“Do I?” I query sadly.

“Don’t you?” she counters.

She knows me too damned well. Why shouldn’t she? We were friends for years before I fell so completely for her brother. I decide to give up the pretense. “I feel responsible,” I admit quietly, “Not just for the shooting, but for everything that led up to this moment between us.”

Isabel slips her hand from my shoulder and shrugs. “Sometimes love just dies, Liz,” she says gently, “We don’t know why or how…but it just doesn’t last, even if we want it to.”

“I don’t accept that,” I mutter stubbornly, “Max didn’t want a divorce. He nearly went ballistic when I suggested it.”

“He’s staying for the same reason you are,” Isabel tells me sadly. She fixes me with a knowing look, which prompts me to fidget nervously. “He doesn’t want to admit failure anymore than you do.”

It makes me cringe to think I am that transparent. My motives must seem extremely selfish to Isabel at the moment. Maybe because they are. I have to swallow several times before I can respond. “Did Max tell you that?” I ask her tremulously, “Did…does he think our marriage is a failure?”

Isabel sighs heavily. “I know that despite what a complete asshole my brother is that he loved you, probably still does. But he knew he wasn’t making you happy anymore…maybe he felt like he couldn’t and I guess he just…”

“…gave up,” I finish glumly. To my miserable disappointment Isabel nods her head in agreement. But instead of allowing the admission to beat me down I square my shoulders against it. “Don’t you think there’s been too much giving up between us, Isabel?” I counter bitterly, “God, one of us has to try…”

“And if it’s too late?”

I don’t want to hear her words but they still make an impact. Max may never regain consciousness. Can I really spend the remainder of my life pining away for something that might have never been in the first place? Who am I benefiting really if I do? Not Katie, not myself, and definitely not Max.

I have been mentally going round in circles for nearly a month now and I can’t do it any longer. My marriage is over. I know it, I feel it and now I have to accept it. I can wait for Max to get better, but even if he doesn’t it won’t change the truth. It won’t change the past. So I make the decision. I’ll see him through to his admission to the hospital and then I’ll step back. It’s the best thing I can do…it’s really the only choice I have.

When I look at Isabel there is pity swimming in her brown eyes. Isabel knows that I’ve finally given into her, even without my speaking a word. She gives a little nod, looking away quickly so I don’t see the tears sparkling in her eyes. “I’ll follow in my car,” she tells me hoarsely, “Why don’t you ride in the medical van with Max.” I know what she’s doing. She’s giving me my final chance to say good-bye, the private moment I need to make a clean break.

I watch her walk to her car before finally climbing into the van to situate myself next to Max’s hospital cot. He’s lost a great deal of weight in the last few weeks. It’s one of the few changes that have taken place with him. Other than the fact that he is no longer on a respirator Max has not improved markedly. His bandages have been removed; leaving exposed the pink, puckered scars from his surgery. The hair that had been shaved away has begun to grow back now. I run my fingers across the prickly, stiff tendrils.

I lean down close so that my mouth is against his ear and feel my tears run down my cheeks warmly. “I’m sorry it came to this,” I whisper, “I loved you, Max…I really did.” I close my eyes, smelling him one last time, striving to recall the scent of his cologne while being overwhelmed by the medicinal odor of the van and the painkillers and I.v. solutions that are being pumped into Max’s body.

As the van begins to move away from the curb I begin to cry in earnest, impervious to the orderly who pretends not to notice. I don’t know how long I lean over him, weeping out my heart and whispering apologies, but it seems like hours…and it changes nothing. For ten years he’s been a part of my life and today I will walk away forever, as if we had never happened. As if we had never loved. It is almost too much to contemplate.

With one last sniffle I press a trembling kiss to his cheek and lift my head to stare down at his face for the last time. But as I start to pull away my breath hitches in my lungs and my heart begins a frantic thundering, pumping the blood through my veins at an alarming rate. There is a roaring in my ears and all for one, heart-stopping beautiful reason: he is staring up at me.

His beautiful eyes are finally open and looking straight into mine.




[ edited 1 time(s), last at 6-Jan-2003 11:35:46 PM ]
posted on 7-Jan-2003 4:27:12 PM by Deejonaise
I'm drive-by posting here...trying to clean, cook dinner and pacify a fifteen month old all at once. Not easy. But I noticed alot of you are wondering why Max called Tess the night he was shot. I'll just say this one thing: not for the obvious reason. The truth will come out later in the story, trust me, as will the true root to Max's anger the night Liz asks him for a divorce. Hint: It involves Ms. Harding.

Okay, I'm gonna go be a mom now.


posted on 10-Jan-2003 8:41:08 AM by Deejonaise
Chapter 8

In the commencing seconds I can’t breathe, I can’t think. I can’t form a coherent sentence. His eyes are fixed steadily upon me, wide and unblinking. It’s almost startling how intensely he stares at me that it takes a moment for me to grasp that his eyes are utterly blank. Tentatively, I whisper his name, stroking at his prickly hair. He doesn’t even flinch.

My faculties begin functioning once more as my shock wears down. I motion for the orderly frantically. He’s quite slow about moving his ass, which, of course, irritates me greatly. Losing my polite façade, I snap, “He just opened his eyes, dammit! You may want to move a little quicker!”

That gets him in gear and he brusquely shoves me aside and quickly checks Max’s vital signs. “Well, look who’s rejoined the land of the living,” he mumbles to himself, unsmiling as he goes about his task. Max’s eyes don’t acknowledge him either. “They were thinking you’d sleep awhile, bud.”

I watch him work with mechanical precision while suppressing a shudder. I can’t help but be chilled by how vacant Max’s gaze seems. It is as if he doesn’t recognize me…doesn’t recognize anything. I don’t think I can process the full joy of knowing he’s awake because I kept help but wonder what’s wrong with him. His eyes are open, yes, but when I look in them there’s absolutely nothing there and that fact is all I can focus on. God, I’m such a cynic. But I’ve learned the hard way not to hope for the best, especially when I seem to always be presented with the worst.

“Is he okay?” I ask the orderly, but I am not surprised when I am thoroughly ignored. Some people just get off on being rude to others it seems. This orderly is definitely that type.

My palm is literally itching to grab my cell phone from my purse and place a quick call to Isabel with the good news. I slide my excited gaze towards my handbag, darting my eyes surreptitiously between it and the orderly. I only begin to reach for my purse when the orderly swivels around and pins me with his iron stare. “Don’t even think about it,” he warns as if he’d somehow read my min and had discerned my intentions, “It messes with our equipment.” I suppress the urge to roll my eyes in frustrated irritation. There went that brilliant idea.

But as I sit on the edge of the seat in the back of the medical van I’m so antsy I can hardly stand it. Is God trying to tell me something, I wonder? The moment I decide to walk away from Max for good, the very instant I decide our marriage is beyond salvaging he opens his eyes. The irony is not lost on me. Not a single flicker of improvement in weeks and yet in those stunning seconds he opened his eyes. It’s almost like he knew…

By the time we reach Danner Ridge the van is vibrating with excitement and medical terms I don’t understand. I don’t think I even wait for it to roll to a complete stop before I am tumbling from the back and running towards Isabel’s car. She looks shattered as she exits and I can tell from her expression when she sees me that she doesn’t expect the news to be good. “Oh my God, did he die!” she cries, stalking towards me, “Tell me he didn’t die on the way!”

“He’s awake!” I tell her excitedly.

Isabel, dignified, debutante, trust fund brat Isabel, actually screams right there in the middle of the sidewalk. Ridiculously, we are hugging and dancing together in small, happy circles together right there in the middle of everything. And then Isabel breaks away from me, covering over her mouth with her hands. “I’ve got to see him,” she announces, but as she makes her way for the van the orderlies are already quickly removing him. They must take him for more tests. I catch a glimpse of his eyes as they wheel him away and I can almost swear that he’s watching me.

As we have been for the last three weeks Isabel and I are waiting again. In a different hospital, for a different reason, but still waiting. We don’t talk much during that time, but merely cling to one another’s hands as we wait for whatever it is we’re waiting for. We sit there forever it seems, just willing someone to come and tell us the news and the silence is almost unbearable. However, the moment I open my mouth to break it Isabel beats me to it.

“This doesn’t have to change things, Liz,” she tells me quietly, “You can still walk away if you want.”

“Isabel--,”

“No, I know you too well, Elizabeth Parker-Evans,” she argues in tired tones, “You’re already being sucked back into the abyss that is my brother’s life.”

“I only want to make sure he’s alright,” I say and it’s the truth. I’ve been married to the man for nearly ten years now. I couldn’t just walk away regardless of the circumstances. My God, he opened his eyes and looked straight at me! How do you simply walk away after that? I twist one stray tendril of hair about my index finger. “You’re going to need help, you know,” I inform Isabel after a pause of silence.

“I’ll hire a nurse,” she responds quickly, already knowing what I’m driving at. Have I mentioned yet how well she knows me?

“I can help you, Isabel,” I insist, “You don’t have to do it alone. Lord knows your parents won’t be of any assistance. The house has plenty of room if we need to take him home.” There it is. Not you, but we. I try to be blasé about the offer, but it doesn’t escape Isabel’s notice.

She offers me a weak smile. “I can manage.”

“I love him, too, you know,” I press on stubbornly.

“I know…and that’s exactly why I don’t want you to help me.”

“What?”

“You’ll get emotionally attached, Liz. You always do…and then we’ll be right back where we started.”

I know exactly of what she’s speaking. When I first met Max all those years ago he had been in the hospital then, too. I had been fresh out of college and in my first year of teaching pre-school. I had never expected I would form a lasting relationship with my college roommate, especially when I had yet to meet any of her family. But back then Isabel and I were inseparable. She was actually the one to help me deal when Maria was giving me shit and Mom couldn’t be bothered.

It was her unflagging emotional support that prompted me to accompany her to the hospital when she learned of her brother’s admittance. He wasn’t there for noble reasons, of course. Following a drunken binge of celebration Max had foolishly attempted to climb a tree and had fallen out. He had managed to break his leg in three places and crack his tailbone. Isabel had cursed his idiocy the entire ride to the hospital, but I could detect the concern in her tone for her errant brother. I had to swallow back the urge to giggle, after all, her brother had broken his butt.

He had been sleeping when we arrived. Isabel had disappeared for a few moments to put in a call to her parents, which I would learn later was quite the norm. They were absentee for nearly everything in their children’s lives. I know for a fact they hadn’t been present for Isabel’s graduation, although they did send a nice, shiny black BMW as way of apology. At the time I thought, “Hey with presents like that, my parents can ditch me anytime.” But I was so young then and too foolish to understand just what sort of lonely existence that had been for the two of them. All their lives they had only had each other.

While Isabel had been gone I had crept over to Max’s bed to get a closer look. He was absolutely gorgeous and simply lying there like an angel, his thick lashes flickering slightly. I hadn’t been bent over him two seconds before his eyelids fluttered up, revealing the most amazing pair of eyes I’ve ever seen in my life, and a slow lopsided smile quirked at the corners of his mouth. “Where have you been?” he asked me sweetly.

I was somewhat taken aback by his familiar tone and for a second I thought he must have been confused with all the painkillers being pumped into his system. “I’m Liz,” I rambled, flustered, “Isabel’s friend. I came with her--,”

His smile only broadened. “Liz? That’s a beautiful name…but it still doesn’t answer my question,” he told me, “Where have you been?”

At that point I glanced anxiously towards the door, silently begging Isabel to come walking through it. I was absolutely positive her brother was cracking up. He was beautiful…and loopy…just great. “Uh…home?” I ventured.

He made a disappointed clucking sound with his tongue. “Now that’s too bad,” he remarked, “Cause where you should have been all this time was in my arms.”

That’s when it finally penetrated my bewildered senses. Maxwell Christopher Evans, spoiled, rich playboy law-student, was hitting on me. From a hospital bed and still hung over from the previous night of alcoholic binging, no less. I had never in my life met the acquaintance of someone so arrogant and so rude and so completely obnoxious. But I had also never known a man who could be so charming and so funny and so incredibly ardent all while high on painkillers. It hadn’t taken me all that long to fall for him hard.

All this plays through my mind now as I wait with Isabel. It’s as if my life with Max has come full circle. Today in the medical van is eerily reminiscent of the first time we met. I felt that same instant connection with him as I had felt then…almost like starting over…

Of course, I don’t attempt to explain any of this to Isabel. She will just take it as further proof that I’m being sucked back in. She’s wrong, of course. I’m just shaken right now and understandably concerned, but that’s all. Really! That’s all.

I appraise Isabel with a chagrined, sideways glance. “Can I at least stay for his prognosis?” I ask her wryly.

Something in my tone must alert her to how ridiculous our conversation is because she giggles. “I don’t mean to make you feel unwanted, Liz,” she tells me with a small smile, “I just don’t want you to feel obligated.”

“Has it ever occurred to you that I might be staying just as much for your benefit as for Max’s?” I can tell from her startled expression that it hasn’t. “You’re still my friend, Isabel…my best friend.”

Her eyes fall away, but not before I glimpse the hurt swimming in her gaze. “I didn’t know…” she stammers, “There’s been such distance between us…”

I squeeze her hand in reassurance. “That was unfair of me,” I admit shamefully, “I held you responsible for Max’s actions and that wasn’t right.”

“I really didn’t know what to say to you either,” Isabel replies, “I was just so terrified of being put in the middle, Liz. I did my fair share of avoidance, too.”

Her words elicit a thoughtful frown from me. “Weren’t we friends long before your brother ever came into the picture?”

She grins, tapping her chin in mock pensiveness. “I seem to recall that,” she teases, “Weren’t we roommates or something…”

I give her a playful nudge with my shoulder. “That’s exactly my point,” I tell her half seriously, “Don’t let Max come between us. Men come and go, Isabel, but friends…they’re forever.” The embrace I share with her then makes me feel safer and more loved than I have in nearly three years. It’s exhilarating and sad all at once. When we break away, I smile at her. “I’m sorry if I ever put you in the middle,” I tell her, “I never did it deliberately.”

“I know you didn’t. But Max wanted me to hear his side of things and you wanted me to hear yours and I just felt tugged in two different directions,” she explains, “I should have never just stopped calling, Liz.”

“Well, I should have never blamed you,” I insist and then I laugh as it dawns on me what we’re doing. “Are we having a contest as to who’s sorrier here?”

Isabel laughs outright. “Oh, I definitely win that one!” We are still laughing when the doctor comes in to inform us of Max’s prognosis.

This new doctor is not what I expect. He is a tall, rangy fellow with dark hair and an easy smile. His long, white lab coat is long and flowing but not long enough to conceal the fact that he’s wearing blue jeans. Blue jeans? Somehow his choice of clothing doesn’t seem to mesh with the ritzy atmosphere of Danner Ridge. That’s when I notice how young he appears. The man looks fresh out of high school. I’d be willing to bet my savings that he doesn’t even shave. As he approaches to shake our hands, I scrutinize him closely just waiting for a reason to pounce. I’ve already decided that he’s probably another quack like that damned Dr. Kadaffey.

“Mrs. Evans…and Ms. Evans,” he greets us with a jovial smile, “I’m Dr. Alexander Whitman. I’m the attending physician here at Danner Ridge and the evaluating physician for Mr. Evans case.” Head physician? Now I hadn’t expected that one. So maybe he’s not as young as I first supposed, but I definitely still think he’s a quack. “You ladies will be happy to know that Mr. Evans is recovering quite nicely now. His vital signs are excellent. All that I’ve seen indicates he will make a full recovery.”

“What about brain damage?” I burst out; drilling right to the matter I know is on both Isabel and my minds. “Did the bullet do any lasting damage?”

“Ironically, the bullet did very minimal damage, Mrs. Evans,” Dr. Whitman replies, never loosing his trademark grin, “The part of his brain that was affected deals mainly with motor skills and coordination.”

“What does that mean?” Isabel urges.

“Your brother is going to have to relearn how to walk, how to talk, how to feed himself…the whole nine yards,” he tells her, “When it’s all said and done, he might still walk with a very pronounced limp, but I expect that will be the extent of it.”

I take a moment to process what he is telling us and then ask the second most pertinent question on my mind. “Does he remember us?”

It was then that the jovial Dr. Whitman’s grin finally faltered. I snorted mentally. Why didn’t I know it wasn’t going to be all sunshine and roses? Of course, there would be bad news. You could never have good news without it. Dr. Whitman sighs heavily before laying it all on us completely. “Mrs. Evans, your husband has no memory of anything at all. When I said he has to relearn everything I meant it. He’s like a newborn baby. It’s not just a matter of relearning…he has no knowledge of how to do the things he once did. It’s almost as if he were born today.”

I’m at a loss as to how I should respond. On the one hand, the doctor has just assured us that Max will make a complete recovery. On the other hand, he has also just said that my thirty-six year old, powerhouse defense attorney husband has all the skills and capabilities of a newborn infant. At the very least, I’m in total shock. I look at Isabel and see that same uncertainty I feel stamped into her features. And then I look back at the doctor, who seems so bloody optimistic despite the rather depressing circumstances we face now. There’s nothing more I can do other than what I’ve been doing, I realize. Nothing but wait and pray once more. And so I ask the doctor the only thing I can ask, the only thing I really have any power over. “When can we see him?”

I'll update again Tuesday morning. And Jbehrbabe thanks for all the bumps. You know how to make this gal feel so special!
posted on 14-Jan-2003 1:00:08 AM by Deejonaise
Chapter 9

I’m a liar. Not necessarily to other people but most definitely to myself. I don’t know if that makes it any better or makes me less of a liar but there it is. I’ve been lying to myself…for five glorious, exhausting months now. But I can’t bring myself to regret it. Not when I walk into the rehab room of Danner Ridge and see the way Max’s eyes light up the moment he notices my entrance. Not when I see that beatific grin that spreads across his face as I come closer. Not when, because his excitement over my arrival is so great, he actually gets knocked in the head with the ball Michael is tossing to him. And not even that is enough to break his smile. Because all he can see is me. No, I can’t bring myself to regret my liar status at all.

He’s made tremendous progress in the last few months, so much that he’s now attempting the balancing bars now. It won’t be long before he’s standing on his own completely. No more wheelchair. I know it will be a relief for Max more than anyone. He hates the thing, but something in his manner tells me that his determination to walk isn’t due solely to his desire to rid himself of the wheeled conveyance. I get the vague impression he wants me to be proud of him. And I am. In fact, pride is swelling in my heart at this very moment as I watch him take a few valiant steps before collapsing into Michael’s arms.

“You did good today.” I hear Michael tell him encouragingly, “But I don’t want you to push it too hard…you’ll do more damage than good.” However, Max isn’t listening to him. He’s much too preoccupied grinning at me. And I’ll be damned if I’m not grinning right back. I creep up behind Michael silently, careful not to alert him to my presence. “Yo, Max!” Michael laughs, trying unsuccessfully to gain Max’s attention, “What’s got you all smiley this morning.”

Max’s hitches his chin in my direction, his eyes positively dancing. “L-Liz,” he slurs.

I almost drop my bag of Krispey Kremes in surprise at how fluently he manages my name. “Oh my God,” I exclaim, “Pretty soon you’ll be chattering a mile a minute!” Max just grins all the more, proud and innocent, and my heart just aches to see it.

I can still remember clearly the first two months after he’d been admitted. He couldn’t walk, couldn’t feed himself, couldn’t even go to the bathroom himself. There were times when I simply couldn’t take it, when the idea of rolling my full-grown husband over to change his diaper sent me into tremors of grief.

But I had never let myself think about his recovery too deeply or much of anything for that matter. Instead I plunked through one day after another, concerning myself only with the intense need to get by. I went to work and after work I spent my time at the facility. In between those times I managed to squeeze in time to be a mother to Katie, although I can admit I’ve been failing miserably in that department lately.

The only times I really see her now are before school and right before she goes to bed in the evening. Thankfully, she’s not resentful. She seems to realize that all the time I spend away from home is justified. In fact, more often than not she’s the one encouraging me to keep optimistic. She says it’s because the sooner her daddy is better the sooner she can see him, but I think she’s eager for life to get back to normal again. Understandably, she’s grown weary under the stress of the last six months. We all have, me especially. By now I am hopelessly sleep deprived and thoroughly exhausted with the schedule I’ve been keeping, but when I see the rapid progress Max has made in such a short period of time I’m eternally grateful I didn’t give up.

Once he’s alerted to my presence, Michael swivels around in surprise, a displeased frown creasing his forehead. “I should have known you’d show up sooner or later,” he admonishes as he helps Max ease back down into his wheelchair.

“L-Liz here,” Max intones happily. His eyes are glued on me, dancing with a merriment I’ve never seen before. That’s definitely something I can say about Max now; he’s nearly always smiling. Even sitting in that damned chair and knowing how much he detests it he is still smiling.

“Yes, I know you’re happy Liz is here,” Michael placates, “The sappy grin on your face kinda gives it away, bud.” He then directs his attention to another therapist across the room. “Hey Jose! Do you mind taking Max back to his room for his sponge bath? I’ll be there in a sec.”

The moment Jose takes hold of the handlebars of his wheelchair, however, Max goes into a panic. “No, no,” he protests, struggling ineffectually, “L-Liz here…L-Liz here…”

Michael stoops down before him reassuringly. “You’re gonna visit with Liz, bud, I promise,” he tells Max, “I just need a minute to speak with her, ‘kay?” Though Max nods his agreement his expression is quite mutinous. However, he doesn’t argue any further when Jose begins wheeling him away.

Before Michael can begin to scold me I press the bag of Krispey Kremes into his hand. “They’re still warm,” I wheedle.

“Bribery will get you nowhere,” Michael retorts firmly, “You know you’re not supposed to be here.”

Though Michael seems tough as nails on the outside, on the inside I know he’s nothing but a bundle of feelings. He reminds me of Max, at least in the days before the shooting, mostly during the time when we were falling in love. The moment I met him I knew he would be the perfect physical therapist for Max. He’s only an inch or two taller than Max with a shock of spiky brown hair and dark brown eyes full of attitude. He’s definitely not a conventional physical therapist. But then I’m learning that very few things in this hospital are, which is exactly what Max needs right now. Perhaps that Dr. Kadaffey wasn’t such a quack after all…

“I’ll only stay a little while,” I tell him, smiling as I watch him reach into the paper bag and extract a glazed donut. He takes a huge bite. “Good, huh?”

“This doesn’t mean anything,” he says around a mouthful, but his eyes are closed as if he’s just tasted heaven. I have learned that there are two means by way to bribe Michael Guerin. Krispey Kremes and strong black coffee. I brought both. He sips at the hot liquid with a grateful shudder. “You’re an evil woman,” he says, directing an dark look my way, “Isabel’s not going to be happy with this.”

“I’ll smooth it over,” I toss back, already heading off for the direction of Max’s room.

“This isn’t good for him, you know,” Michael calls at my back, effectively halting my steps. I turn slowly, one, single brow arched in incredulity. His statement isn’t at all fair. If anything Max’s recovery has gone by quicker because of me, because of the desire Max seems to have to please me. Michael knows this. Isabel knows this. It’s one of the main reasons she didn’t fight me when I insisted on visiting Max regularly. Only in the last three weeks or so has Isabel begun insisting that I back off.

“He likes it when I visit,” I reply to Michael, lifting my shoulders in a shrug, “I like to visit him…where’s the harm in that?”

“He’s getting attached, Liz,” Michael informs me flatly. I have no defense for that. It’s true. Max is getting attached to me…very attached. But the scary part is…so am I. “It’s not a good thing,” Michael continues, “And in the end it will hurt his recovery.”

My mouth falls open at that. “You think I’m going to hurt his recovery?” I burst out, “I would never do that! I would never--,”

“Before you go all hoity-toity hear me out,” Michael interrupts, rolling his eyes heavenward. He takes another bite of his donut. “I’m not blind, Liz. I see the way Max looks at you, how he smiles whenever you’re in the room. Hell, he started walking weeks earlier than we expected him to and all because I know he had you motivating him. But the problem is that you don’t plan on sticking around.”

“I--,”

“Isabel already told me that you’re thinking about divorce,” Michael plunges on, “If you’re not going to be there for the long haul it’s best if you’re not there at all, Liz.”

“That’s crazy!” I snap, not wanting to admit that his words are hitting their mark.

“Is it?” Michael challenges, “What happens when you go to end the marriage? Do you think Max will understand? It’s true that he’s has no concept of what it means to be husband and wife, but he does understand what it means to care about someone.” He must see that his words are piercing me because, inexplicably, his expression softens. I must admit that I’ve never been very good about masking my emotions. In any case, his words are loose their harsh edge as he continues, “Max needs stability right now, Liz. Constant routine. Just the slightest change to that could cause a setback for him. He’s not ready to have you leave him.”

“I’m not going to leave him,” I state hoarsely.

“Ever?” Michael prods, but I ignore him this time and simply walk off.

As I wander the corridor, heading down the hall for Max’s room I mentally lament how everyone seems to have advice concerning my personal life. Even my own mother couldn’t be on my side. Despite the fact she knows that I’ve had to go back to work in order to handle the bills coming in she continues to pressure me even while she realizes I’m completely stressed. Lately, things have been even worse because Max’s Family Medical Leave is almost completely gone. Once that’s over he’ll no longer receive pay from his firm.

There’s his trust fund if matters come to that, but I don’t really want to touch that money at all. Max and I decided when we first learned of my pregnancy that we’d reserve that money for Katie. We’ve never touched it for anything. It’s my strong conviction to keep that so that provokes an argument with my mother. We actually fought about it in the minutes before I left out the door for work. That and how much time I’m spending at the hospital with Max.

“You don’t eat, you don’t sleep!” she had ranted, “You spend all your time at that damned hospital! When are you going to make time for Katie!”

“I make time for Katie,” I rushed out defensively, “Besides she understands why I spend so much time away from home!”

“Really?” Mom countered, “Because she tells me something completely different!”

“Shut up, dammit!” I had exploded. In that second I couldn’t take another negative word from her. After five months of having her badger me over one issue after another I had finally snapped. “Listen to me. If you can’t be supportive of what I’m doing, if you can’t be here without being negative then you don’t need to come back.”

“Elizabeth, you don’t—,”

“I mean it,” I intoned acidly, “Either shut up or get the hell out of my house.” Suffice it to say my mother chose the latter choice. I don’t expect we’ll be exchanging words again any time soon.

As I approach Max’s door I knock softly before entering. By this time he knows my knock pretty well and I don’t have to wait for his invitation before I enter. His smile is wide and welcoming as I come to stand beside him. He’s painting again. His cheek is streaked with color and there are brilliant flecks of paint dotting his hair. He beams up at me with the pride of Michelangelo. I smile at him gently, my chest swelling with an emotion I don’t want to examine too closely. “What is it this time?” I ask. Lately, Max has become obsessed with painting nature. I suppose it’s a step up from his previous muse. In the past five months he’s developed a real affinity for cheese, particularly cheddar. He loves to paint it, but he loves to eat it even more.

I peer at his newest painting now. He’s painted orchids this time, exactly like the ones that grow outside his room window in the garden below. It is really very good. Max truly has artistic talent. It is strange that I’ve never been aware of that fact before his accident. Max had never been interested in anything other than the law. I had never considered that he may well have other talents. “It’s very good.”

His smile widens even more. “F…For you.”

I laugh softly at this. “Oh Max, you’ve given me so many,” I tell him, “You keep this one for yourself.” He only continues to smile up at me, not arguing but not agreeing to my suggestion either. He does that a lot now. Max doesn’t push for his way anymore like he used to, but only responds with pleading silence and that’s exactly what wins me over whenever we lock in these silent battles of ours.

As the seconds pass I find myself falling into his eyes, much the way I always have, only now what I see swirling within their golden depths is as foreign as it is welcome to me. His face is still the Max I’ve always known, but when I look into his eyes it is quite obvious that he is someone completely different. It’s been a slow realization but now I finally understand. The Max I knew really doesn’t exist anymore.

This Max has no baggage, no issues. He looks at everything and everyone with innocent eyes. There is completely no guile present in him. Deception, manipulation, mendacity…all these are unfamiliar concepts to him. He wouldn’t consider employing them now. He has no idea how and even if he did he wouldn’t want to. And therein lies my fascination with the man. He is nothing like my Max at all, yet he draws me to him in a way my Max never did. Never. And the strangest part of all. They are technically the same man. But they’re not.

“You keep,” he insists again, all smiles and innocence.

I can’t resist. I reach out and ruffle his thick hair. After five months it has grown quite a bit. Max absolutely refuses to allow anyone with clippers within a ten mile radius of his person, not even me. He and Isabel have argued back and forth many weeks on this issue, but Max has come away the victor every single time. I guess some things will never change. Isabel had never been able to win an argument with Max before the shooting either.

I caress his shaggy bangs back from his forehead. “Why don’t you give this one to Isabel?” I suggest softly. I’m just captivated with looking at him. He seems so open, so pure now, like I’ve never known him. A shudder passes through me at the thought because I have the sinking suspicion that I’m falling for this man all over again. I don’t want to analyze that prospect too closely…not yet.

“You stay for dinner?” Max asks me hopefully.

I shake my head sadly in response to his invitation and I am surprised by the amount of regret I feel in doing so. “I’ve got to get back home to my Katie-kins,” I remind him, “I have to make dinner for her, you know.” We’ve had several extensive conversations about Katie but Max still has no concept that she’s his daughter. Presently, the idea is completely beyond his realm of understanding. In his mind he and I are just very close friends, similar to the friendship he shares with Michael and with Isabel. He doesn’t understand the import of the term “wife.” In his world it means nothing. The doctors have advised me not to push the issue and so I don’t. I wasn’t pretending when I told Michael that I would do nothing to jeopardize Max’s recovery.

Max stares up at me in disappointment, however, obviously dissatisfied with my refusal. I try and plead my case once more. “She misses me when I’m gone,” I explain softly.

I miss you,” Max argues, his eyes beseeching me to stay.

I can’t help but laugh at his expression. He’s not playing fair and he knows it. He even throws in a boyish pout for emphasis and, oh God, how beautiful he is to me in that moment. “One more hour,” I concede firmly. But I easily lose track of the time as Max makes an attempt to paint my portrait. His dinner is served, but remains untouched as he focuses his attention toward capturing my likeness on canvas. We are both so swept away by his task that by the time Isabel arrives to bid him goodnight it is fifteen after ten.

“Liz,” Isabel yelps in surprise, “I didn’t expect you to be here.” She pins me with a penetrating stare. “It’s late.”

“I didn’t plan on staying so long,” I tell her, already clicking on my cell phone. Sure enough there are at least four flashing messages waiting for me. I don’t have to check my voice mail to know that they’re from Maria. I imagine she’s positively livid right now. “I’d better be on my way.” I stumble over to Max where he’s practically drooping on his stool, but don’t dare a peek at the portrait. I know how touchy he is about his work being seen before it’s finished. “We’ll take this up another time,” I promise him.

“Tomorrow,” he insists decisively.

“We’ll see,” I say.

“Tomorrow.”

I’m still smiling over his stubbornness when I stop out into the hall but I hardly take two steps before Isabel is running out after me. “I thought we had an agreement, Liz,” she accuses tightly, her expression a mixture of frustration, pity and anger.

“I haven’t broken our agreement, Izzy,” I reply calmly, “I just lost track of the time…”

“He’s getting attached to you,” she says simply, “Is that what you want?”

“And if I’m getting attached to him?” I counter, hardening my jaw stubbornly.

“This is the last thing you need right now, Liz.” Isabel’s tone is infinitely gentler now. She speaks to me as she would a child and not a full-grown woman. “Of course, you’ve grown close in these last few months, but Liz, you’ve got to realize he’s not the same man you married.”

“Exactly.”

“God, Liz, why are you being so bullheaded!”

“He’s not the brother you had before either,” I point out astutely, “But you don’t love him any less, do you, Isabel?”

“You can’t compare the two, Liz.”

I know that we’re on the fast track to an argument and that’s the last thing I want, not after the fantastic visit I’ve had with Max. Besides I know I’ve got one hell of a fight waiting for me when I get home. I’d rather leave on a positive note. That’s when I notice how dressed up Isabel is, like she’s been to dinner or something. “Did you go out?” I ask her, smoothly changing the subject.

My question clearly flusters her because she begins patting at her salon coiffed hair nervously. “I…well…Alex…that is…well,” she stammers, her cheeks blooming to a full rose color.

Noting her blush, I manage to piece together her disjointed babbling. My mouth falls open when I finally figure out the reason for her floundering. “Did you just say Alex? As in Alexander Whitman? Dr. Alexander Whitman?” Isabel nods her head miserably. “You’re dating Max’s doctor!” I exclaim in incredulous shock.

“Shh!” she admonishes me sharply, giving my forearm a wicked pinch, “Why don’t you just get a foghorn, Liz, and announce it to the world?”

I rub at my smarting forearm with a small pout. “I’m just a little shocked is all.”

“So am I,” Isabel admits, her embarrassment finally giving way to a dreamy smile, “I never expected I would feel this way about someone. I think I might be falling in love.”

My responding smile is tinged with envy, but my words are sincere when I say, “I’m happy for you, Isabel.”

Isabel places her hand on my shoulder then, giving it an almost sisterly squeeze. “Don’t you see, Liz,” she implores solemnly, “I want that for you, too. You should be finding love again not spending all your time here playing nursemaid to my brother.”

I can do nothing but smile weakly in reply. After all, I can’t very well tell her that I have found love again…and with the last man I’d ever expected to steal my heart. My husband.

posted on 17-Jan-2003 4:49:03 PM by Deejonaise
Chapter 10

As I turn my key in the front door a feeling of reluctant trepidation settles over my body. I tense my body, preparing myself for the storm I know awaits me inside. I don’t take two steps into the foyer before Maria comes flying in to greet me, her blond hair bristling around her body lending her the look of an enraged virago. “Where the hell have you been?” she roars, looking as if she might belt me one then and there.

“I got caught up at the hospital,” I reply calmly. My hands are shaking badly as I remove my coat and scarf. I hate confrontations with Maria. In the past they have even gotten physical and I’m not up for a grappling match with her tonight. “I’m sorry.”

“You got hung up?” Maria spits out mockingly, “You’re sorry? That’s it? I called your cell phone four friggin times, Liz!”

“You know I have to turn it off in the hospital,” I inform her evenly. The best defense when arguing with Maria is to always keep a level head. I’ve learned over the years that she spends her anger rather quickly if I don’t respond. However, if I allow myself to lose control we’ll go at it for most of the night.

“I had to call off work tonight!” Maria explodes, stabbing her finger inches from my nose, “That’s the fifth time! If I do it again Paul’s gonna fire my ass!”

“I thought Paul was your boyfriend,” I argue logically, “He’s not going to fire you.”

“Paul is just a good lay!” Maria informs me crassly, “There’s a world of difference between that and being a boyfriend. Besides my dancing is business. If I make him lose money he’ll lose me.”

It finally penetrates how selfish I’m being. Maria has graciously offered to keep Katie whenever necessary so that I can visit with Max as often as I can. I know that doing so requires a great deal of effort considering the fact she doesn’t agree with my decision to spend so much time with Max. She could have taken the high road like Mom and refused to baby-sit Katie completely just for that reason. But she doesn’t, though I know her decision is born partly out of the desire to irk my mother I can still appreciate her willingness.

However, lately I haven’t been acting too appreciative. That fact hits me like a four by four between the eyes. Maria has given herself, not without grumbling and mutterings condemning my “foolishness” as she calls it, but still she has extended herself and I haven’t even given her the slightest bit of credit. I’ve taken for granted the help she’s offered me as if it’s my due. I realize suddenly that I’ve been doing to her what she’s been doing to me all our lives.

I can’t fault her for being angry with me now and knowing this, I wilt against the front door in defeat. “How much money did you lose?” I ask her wearily, “I’ll make up the difference.”

Maria rolls her eyes at my offer. “You can barely make ends meet here,” she retorts bluntly, “How are you gonna make up my money, huh?”

I don’t answer because she’s right. I don’t have the means to make up for her night of lost wages. I’m only just managing to scrap money together to pay my car note this month. It has taken Max getting shot for me to realize just how well he cared for us, just how smoothly he ran the household funds. We don’t have an overwhelming amount of debt, but we do have rather large monthly bills. The mortgage on our house alone is nearly $1200. Recently, I’ve begun considering the wisdom of putting it on the market. It has eight bedrooms, after all, only three of which are being used and one of those simply because Maria has moved in. I am definitely not in a financial place to offer money. Still, I promise lamely, “I’ll make it up to you.”

“Whatever,” she returns with a shrug. And then she’s scrutinizing me closely, a pensive frown creasing the smoothness of her forehead. “You look like shit,” she observes.

“Way to lift my spirits, Ria,” I reply acerbically, pushing myself off the door and shuffling for the living room. I suddenly feel tired beyond belief, weary right down to my very bones. I all but collapse onto the chaise lounge and close my eyes. Above my head I hear Maria’s voice a few seconds later. “When was the last time you got a decent night’s rest?”

I pop open one eye and stare up at her. “This coming from Miss “Party All Night” herself? Unbelievable!” I snort.

Maria stoops down beside me. “We’re not talking about me,” she argues, “We’re talking about you. You are the one with the daughter she’s barely seen in six months. You haven’t even asked about her.”

That last accusation stings and I have no defense. I have been absent from Katie’s life more often than not lately. It’s not for lack of desire. I’m almost constantly thinking about her, but it seems like so many other things are pulling at me and she keeps getting pushed aside. I’m beginning to see how Max became so preoccupied to the point that it left little time for us. God knew lately I felt stretched thin.

I massage my aching temples and swing my legs over the edge of the chaise lounge, sighing heavily. “I thought she was asleep,” I say to Maria, pushing to my feet.

“She is,” Maria confirms, “But she expected you home for dinner…we both did.”

Again I’m stabbed with guilt. “Was she very disappointed?”

Maria answers with an indifferent shrug. “I let her help me make a pizza,” she tells me, “She got over it, I think.” That eases my conscience some but not much. “This pace you’re keeping has got to stop, Liz.”

I fist my hands at my sides; mentally preparing myself for the lecture I know is coming. “I’m trying to keep my family together, Maria,” I grind out in frustration, “Why is everyone treating that like it’s a crime?”

“Maybe because instead of keeping them together you’re driving them apart,” Maria says pointedly.

“God, here we go again,” I moan.

“He has a sister, Liz!” Maria all but shouts, “Let Isabel worry about him now. You need to focus on yourself and your daughter. Look at you!” She rakes a scathing glance down my person. “You’ve lost, like, thirty pounds in the last five months! You need to get it together--,” I don’t stick around to hear the rest of what she’s saying, but turn off towards my room while she’s in mid-tirade. I don’t take two steps forward before the world is suddenly blacking out around me.

*~~~*~~~*~~~*

When I open my eyes again I am in the hospital. I know this immediately, not because of my surroundings, which are drowned in eerie dimness, but because of the smell. After spending so much time in the hospital following Max’s accident I can recognize hospital smell immediately. It’s medicinal, like a mixture of antiseptic and sickness. Oh yes, I know the smell extremely well.

The next order of business is to discover the exact reason why I’m in the hospital, but after searching the fuzzy recesses of my brain the last clear memory I can find is of Maria yelling at me. I’m still trying to puzzle it out when my mother suddenly fills my line of vision.

“Thank God, you’re awake!” she exclaims in a sob. She looks horrible, as if she hasn’t slept in a week. Her hair is flattened on one side of her head and her eyes under ringed with awful blue bruises. Her appearance makes me wonder again how I’ve come to be in the hospital as well as several new thoughts. How long have I been here and what the hell’s wrong with me? I decide to address my first concern.

“Mom?” I croak and I’m surprised by how dry my throat is. I try and clear it several times but nothing relieves the irritating scratchiness. My mother turns away for a moment and then is back seconds later pressing a cup full of cool water against my lips. I don’t realize how thirsty I am until I taste the water. I guzzle down three cups before I’m satisfied. Now that my throat is no longer parched as it had been before I try again. “Mom, what am I doing here?” I ask anxiously, “What happened?”

“You passed out two nights ago.”

Two nights ago? For a moment I can’t think beyond that stunning revelation. I’ve been unconscious for two days? This can’t be possible. I can’t have heard her correctly. “I don’t understand…”

My mother is mother than happy to clarify. She goes down the list, marking every thing that is wrong with me on her fingers. “Dehydration, malnutrition, sleep deprivation, anemia…you’ve worn your body into the ground, Liz.”

It’s still not registering to me that I’m sick. I continue to be hung up on the fact that I’ve been unconscious for TWO DAYS! I’m on the verge of panic. I don’t need the lecture, which Mom seems bent on giving me. What I need is to know what the hell’s going on. “Tell me what happened,” I order firmly, “Start from the beginning.”

With an exasperated sigh she spins her tale with her usual dramatic flare. “You were arguing with Maria,” she reveals, “I still think she must have said something to upset you…anyway, she was talking to you when you suddenly just fainted. She called 911 when she couldn’t wake you up.”

“I’m in the hospital because I fainted?” I exclaim dubiously.

“You’re in the hospital for all the reasons I mentioned before,” Mom clarifies sternly, “You’ve been asleep for the last two days, Elizabeth. I was worried about that but your doctor said your body is making up for all the rest you’ve lost in the last few months.” She adds a grunt on the end of that statement as if to say, “I told you so.”

“Why am I still here?” I whisper.

“Dehydration…anemia…these are serious conditions, Elizabeth!”

I close my eyes against her scolding tone as the full weight of what’s happened begins to settle over me. I’ve been running myself ragged for months now and I know it. Everyone has been telling me to slow down, to take it easy, to get some rest, to not push so hard. I haven’t listened to any of it. I thought I knew better. I foolishly believed I had matters under control. But apparently I overestimated my own resilience and my misjudgment has landed me in the hospital…the last place I can afford to be.

Two days of my life simply vanished. Two days and…oh god… “Mom, where’s Katie?” I burst out frantically as the full impact hits me. If I’ve been in the hospital for two days who’s been taking care of Katie? Maria and Mom work full time with conflicting schedules.

My mom presses me back down against the mattress. “Katie is fine,” she tells me soothingly, “Her Aunt Isabel has been sitting with her when Maria has to work.”

“Is she alright?” I ask. God knew what had to be going through her mind. First her father and now her mother. She has to be feeling horribly confused at the moment. And scared…scared out of her head.

“She’s here in the hospital,” Mom tells me, “Maria took her to get a Popsicle.”

Almost on the heels of her reassurance the door to my room swooshes open. I hear Katie’s chirpy chatter before I actually see her. Before I can say a word Mom is already telling her, “Your mommy’s awake.”

“Mommy!” I hear her exclaim and the next few seconds she’s pressed against me, squeezing hard. The tears spring to my eyes then. I can’t help it. Even after the disappearing act I’ve pulled on her for the last five months she can still hold me as if I’m the most precious thing on earth.

Before I know it I’m pressing my face into her hair and just bawling my heart out. And I’m crying for so many things. I’m crying for the time that we’ve lost together; all the missed school day chatter and girl talk times. The homework sessions and the school programs, just simply being there. And I’m crying for myself. For the hurt and anger and betrayal that I’ve suffered. For the fact that I will never have resolution to the pain I’ve endured. For the loss of the man who was once my husband and for the man who has now taken his place.

The entire time Katie just clings to me. She lets me cry it out completely as if she realizes that I need to. When my sobs finally die down to sniffles she lifts her head and smiles down at me tentatively. It’s then that I realize that she’s been crying, too. I caress her bangs back from her face like I always do. “I’m so sorry, baby,” I sniffle in apology, but I know the words don’t even begin to make up for how I’ve neglected her all this time.

“I’m not mad at you, Mommy,” she tells me fervently, “I just want you to get better.”

“I will,” I promise her, “And when I do some things are going to change.”

“Like what?” she asks innocently.

“Like for one we’re going to spend more time together.”

“After you’re better?” Katie prods cautiously.

“After I’m better,” I agree, “And then…then we’re going to go see your dad.”

“We are?” Katie exclaims in an excited rush, “You’re really going to take me? I can really see him?”

“You can really see him,” I tell her, hugging her small body back against me once more.

“When? When can I see him?” she insists against my neck.

“The moment I’m better,” I say, “Just let me work things out with your Aunt Isabel first.”

posted on 20-Jan-2003 4:02:54 PM by Deejonaise
Chapter 11

It’s three weeks before I’m recovered enough to make the trip. From Isabel I’ve learned that Max hasn’t been doing so well in the time I’ve been ill. He’s been moody and uncooperative. Isabel seems to think it’s because I’m not there. She has explained to him that I’ve been sick and because of that I can’t come to visit him. According to Isabel he had taken the news of my illness rather smoothly and had promptly asked for permission to visit me in the hospital. It had been having his request denied that ultimately turned his usually sunny disposition moody.

I hate to think that I’ve impeded his progress in any way, intentionally or not, but I’m also glad for the brief reprieve I’ve had from him. Not because I don’t want to be around him or because I don’t miss him. I’ve thought about him everyday during my recuperation. No, I simply needed time to myself to think and sort out the confusion of my life.

The fact is, whether Max remembers it or not, he cheated on me for most of our marriage. I’ve had to come to terms with the reality that I’m never going to have closure for that. There will be no apologies, no grand statements of heartfelt regret. That Max is dead and gone now and he took all those possibilities with him. In his place now is some wide-eyed innocent with his face, but with the heart of a child, pure, guileless, and completely open.

But even recognizing all this I’ve become attached. How could I not? Max is so sweet and so endearing…so very easy to love. However, my feelings for him have been hopelessly tangled up with the feelings I had for the man he used to be and I finally realized that I could never move on with my life if I didn’t sort out those feelings first. And that’s what I’ve done for the last three weeks. I can’t hold this Max responsible for the deeds the past Max committed. And I can’t expect this Max to fulfill the role the past Max had played in my life. If I plan to pursue whatever it is that’s been happening between the two of us lately I have to go into it fresh and new, just like Max is fresh and new. A clean slate all around, for Max and for me.

My thoughts may seem convoluted but, truth be known, I feel more together now than I have in three years. I know ultimately that I want to be there for Max. I want to see him progress; want to cheer on his daily improvements and accomplishments because, even if nothing comes of our relationship, I definitely want to be his friend. That’s what’s motivating me now. I want to be happy and I want Max to be happy as well, but it’s still uncertain whether we will be happy together. But I’ve got to admit it’s what I’m hoping for…that’s definitely what I’m hoping for.

Even now I’m smiling with repressed excitement. Very soon we will see each other again and I can barely sit still for the anticipation. I’ve spoken to Max only a handful of times in the last few weeks on the telephone and each time he’s sounded quite cheerful. He’s so full of questions and so excited about the prospect of seeing me again that I can’t help but be excited myself. I think of my last conversation with him now, my smile stretching even larger.

“I’ve painted you a hundred pictures,” he informed me happily, “They’re get well pictures.”

“Oh my,” I exclaimed in mock worry, “Wherever will I put them all?”

“Isabel said your house is big,” he commented with offhand innocence, “so you’ll have lots and lots of room.” And then, without missing a beat he asked, “When are you coming to see me again? I miss you lots.”

“I’m coming to see you in a few days, Max,” I revealed laughingly, smiling from ear to ear as I simultaneously cooked breakfast and balanced the phone between my shoulder and ear.

“When?” he asked, all excited, “Tomorrow?” Despite his reluctance to work with his speech therapist his words had lost their halted slur. He was almost fluent.

“I’ll be there on Friday,” I promised, pausing for a moment before adding, “I’m bringing someone with me this time, Max.”

“Who?” he demanded, almost as if I were playing a game with him, “Is it Katie-kins? Are you bringing Katie-kins?”

His excitement was obvious even through the phone, but I knew it sprang from hearing me talk about her incessantly and not because he had any actual memories. The doctors told us that Max will never regain those memories, but the prospect didn’t sadden me like it used to. Instead, I smiled over at Katie, who was seated at the kitchen table watching me expectantly. “How did you know?” I laughed into the phone.

“I’ve only been asking you to bring her forever.”


I was smiling all day following that conversation with him. He made me laugh more in thirty minutes than I had laughed with him in three years. It had taken a long time for my good mood to settle. However, that was three days ago and today I am a bundle of nervous energy. Now I sit in the visiting room with Katie, holding her perspiring hand in my own perspiring hand while my heart is beating like a trip hammer and I wait for Max to show up. In ten minutes Max will meet the daughter he doesn’t know he has and I have no idea how he’s going to react. I try to take some comfort in the knowledge that, upon hearing that I planned to visit, Max resumed his enthusiasm for therapy once more so he must be happy about the impending visit.

Suddenly, the door swooshes open and I hold my breath, trembling anew as Max comes limping through the entrance assisted only by the aid of a walker. A grin splits his handsome face the moment he sees me and my heart actually jumps in reaction to that smile. And then his eyes gradually leave my face and travel downward to Katie. He freezes, his features suspended in an indiscernible expression, a look almost bordering on…surprise? He wheels over to us quickly, so quickly I’m afraid that he might fall, but his eyes are trained on Katie the entire time.

The closer he advances the tighter Katie squeezes my hand. By the time he reaches the table she has fairly cut off the blood circulation to my fingers. A quick glance down reveals that my fingertips are turning blue. Attempting to pry my hand from her grasp is a futile effort as well. My daughter has a grip that can break bone.

Max stands there for a long moment, just staring at her, almost like he’s drinking her in and then finally he cocks his head to one side and smiles. “I’m Max,” he greets her, thrusting out his hand.

Katie offers me an uncertain look before reaching out to shake her father’s hand. “I’m Katie,” she whispers back shakily, “That’s short for Katherine Elizabeth.”

“That’s pretty,” Max says as he folds himself into the chair next to her. My lips twitch at how casually he pays her the compliment. He has no idea that he’s the one who named her in the first place. “My name’s short for something, too,” he whispers to Katie conspiratorially, “It’s Maxwell…but I don’t like it.”

“You don’t like your name?” Katie asks in surprise.

“It’s kinda stuffy,” Max tells her. And then he falls into another round of close scrutiny. He even reaches out to touch her hair before remarking thoughtfully, “You look like me.”

Again Katie gives me a look. I can see that she’s not sure how she should respond and she’s terrified of saying the wrong thing. I give her an encouraging smile and nod my head slightly. With a deep shuddering sigh, Katie turns her attention back to Max and asks him boldly, “You didn’t expect me to look like you?”

“I thought you’d look like Liz,” Max tells her candidly. He spares me an adoring smile. “She’s very pretty,” he murmurs, almost dreamily.

Katie stares up at me, a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. I can see the wheels in her mind already turning with hopeful possibilities. “Yeah, she is,” my daughter agrees mischievously.

“You’re pretty, too,” Max adds quickly, “Even if you do look like me. Do you like to paint?”

He ran those sentences so close together that I almost completely miss his second question. That’s not the case for Katie. It’s as if the two of them are communicating in their own language now. They have fallen into such easy conversation, as if Max’s loss of memory and the fact Katie hasn’t seen him in six months doesn’t even matter. Her grip on my hand has finally loosened, although she still hasn’t released it completely.

“I like to paint,” Katie tells him, “But you say--,” She stopped abruptly to give me a panicked look. I’ve already explained to her that there are certain things her father is not ready to know. She swallows spasmodically before beginning again. “I don’t do it very much. I’m always making a mess.”

“I make a mess, too,” Max says by way of comfort. It’s as if he senses Katie’s sudden sadness and wants to make it better. “Always…but it’s okay cuz no one ever gets mad.”

“But one time I got paint into the carpet,” Katie explains dully, “and now I’m not allowed to do it anymore.” Max had been the one to issue the edict about the paint. We had just replaced the carpet with a newer, plusher, more expensive brand when Katie had her accident. Max had been livid afterwards and Katie hadn’t painted since. From the expression ghosting her face now I know the memory is replaying itself in her mind. This time I squeeze her hand in reassurance.

“Well, you can paint with me today,” Max invites largely, “You can make as big as mess as you want. I always do.” He grins engagingly. “I get paint everywhere.” He makes this last announcement proudly.

Katie stares up at him with eyes rounded in disbelief. “You do?”

“I don’t do it on purpose,” Max tells her with a shrug, “Sometimes I just have accidents.” A sad far-off look comes to his face then and he lowers his head shamefully. “I have a lot of accidents,” he whispers and somehow I know he isn’t just talking about paint. The lost expression on his face makes my heart ache.

But Katie is the one who covers over his hand and says gently, “That’s okay…everybody has accidents. Don’t they, Mommy?” She turns to me for confirmation.

My lips twitching with laughter I say, “I’ve had a few myself.”

Now it’s Max’s turn to look stunned. His mouth actually falls open in surprise. “You have accidents?” he gasps out incredulously.

“Sometimes they happen,” I reply softly, “And it’s okay that you have accidents, Max. You’re just learning about a lot of things and it’s natural.” Why is it that he can bring out this protective mother in me all the while pulling at my heartstrings? God, he makes me so confused… But I can’t think of any place I’d rather be at that moment, because, despite the awkwardness, the general oddness, the three of us are a family right then.

“Isabel tells me that all the time,” Max tells me solemnly, “She says she don’t want me to feel bad about myself.”

“Doesn’t,” Katie corrects softly and again I feel the urge to laugh.

Max just smiles at her. “Doesn’t,” he says, eyes sparkling, “Hey, you want to see my room? I can show you my paintings.”

“You have a room?” Katie utters in surprise.

“Well, it’s not my real room,” Max explains, animated, “My real room is in California. Isabel and me are gonna go there when the doctor says I’m all better. I don’t really wanna, but Isabel says I have to and she’s my sister so I have to listen to her.”

“California?” Katie gulps, “You’re going to California?”

The devastated hurt on her face directly parallels the agonizing turmoil unfolding in my chest. Isabel is taking Max to California? I can hardly think straight I’m so shocked to hear this newest development. She and I had briefly discussed the idea of her taking Max back to California with her, but nothing had been set in stone. At least, not for me. Obviously, the case is different for Isabel and it must be a possibility she’s seriously considering if she’s already talked to Max about it.

That’s when fury begins to boil through my body. It’s been pent up for quite awhile now, but the latest stunt of Isabel’s is just the last straw. Forcing myself to maintain a calm façade, for at least Max and Katie’s sake, I ask Max casually, “Where is your sister right now? Is she in the building?”

Max nods. “She’s talking to Dr. Alex about when I can go home.”

Beside me I hear Katie whimper and my fury increases tenfold. “Max, why don’t you take Katie to see your paintings for awhile,” I suggest brightly, “I need to go and talk with Isabel for a little bit.”

“Okay,” Max agrees, moving to his feet. He takes Katie by the hand without hesitation. “I can’t wait for you to see the picture I painted of Liz,” he tells Katie excitedly as they walk away, “Maybe I can paint a picture of you, too.” I watch them until they disappear into the corridor before I hop to my feet and go off in search of Isabel.

posted on 23-Jan-2003 2:38:03 AM by Deejonaise
Chapter 12

“Where the hell do you get off!” I bellow, but it is wholly unnecessary. The loud crashing of the door as I fling it open has captured their attention quite nicely.

Isabel rips out of Dr. Whitman’s arms and stares at me with guilty eyes. “L-Liz,” she stammers. She’s visibly trembling, but I suspect it has less to do with the fact that I’ve just walked in on her make-out session and more to do with the fact I know her little secret. Her expression tells me she knows that is exactly why I’m upset right now.

“Mrs. Evans!” Dr. Whitman intones, trying to hide his acute embarrassment behind a mask of indignance, “How dare you barge into my office like--,”

“Save it!” I snap out, my angry gaze trained directly on Isabel, “How could you do it?” I advance on her menacingly, feeling like I might actually do her bodily harm. I am that livid right now.

Isabel backs away with each step I take until she’s actually pushed back against the good doctor’s desk. It’s really quite ludicrous that she finds me even the least bit intimidating. Isabel is a good seven inches taller than I am and outweighs me by about 60 pounds. If it came down to a physical fight she could flatten me rather easily. But I suspect her jumpy behavior is born from guilt and the knowledge that she’s done wrong and not from any real fear that I might harm her.

“You talked to Max,” she guesses shakily.

“Yes, I talked to Max,” I spit out, “You’re planning to take him to California? Weren’t you going to even talk to me about it first or were you just going to sneak away when my back was turned?”

She looks over at Dr. Whitman, as if she expects him to back her up or something, but clearly he is as displeased about her plans to return to California as I am. However, I’m sure our mutual anger over her decision stems from two different sources. Finally, Isabel sighs dejectedly and plops back into a nearby chair, her entire body shaking. “I didn’t want you to find out this way,” she moans.

“You didn’t want me?” I burst out in disbelieving anger, “What about your niece? She just found out you plan to move her father to California and she hasn’t even seen him in nearly six months! What about her, Isabel?”

“God, Liz, I never thought--,”

“Shut up!” I roar, definitely not in the mood to hear her apologies. I’m just sick to death with everyone in my life feeling they have the right to make decisions for me. “I don’t want to hear your excuses,” I tell her, “You and I talked, Isabel. You said that you were okay with me assisting in Max’s recovery. We agreed. I trusted you,” I stress.

“Well, now Max is recovered and I’m taking him home,” Isabel replies softly, but in a tone she expects will tolerate no argument. She’s underestimated how incredibly furious I am right now.

“I am still Max’s legal wife, Isabel,” I inform her coldly, “You don’t just get to come in here and make decisions for him without my consent.”

“You’re filing for divorce!” Isabel bursts out.

“I haven’t yet,” I remind her succinctly, “Don’t make me turn this into a legal issue.”

“Now, ladies, don’t take this too far--,” Alex Whitman tries to interject, clearly trying to play the referee. We both summarily ignore him.

Isabel sits straight up in her chair, her brown eyes narrowed into dangerous slits. “You would take me to court over this?” she gasps in mounting fury. I can see that I’ve hit a nerve. “Is that what you’re threatening to do, Liz?”

“I’m not threatening you, Isabel,” I tell her and my tone is much milder than when I began, “but I’m sick to death of being pushed out of Max’s life like I don’t matter.”

“I thought you didn’t want to be in his life,” Isabel mutters tightly.

“Do you think I would have stuck around for the last six months if that were true?”

“You feel guilty,” Isabel assesses, “You’re just here out of some warped sense of loyalty to the man Max used to be, Liz!”

“No, that’s not why I’m here!” In the beginning that might have been the case. I did feel an obligation to stay through Max’s recovery solely out of loyalty to the man he’d once was and the daughter we shared. But then all that had changed the first time he smiled at me, the first time there was recognition in his eyes when I came to visit, the first time he slurred my name in that boyish manner of his. I’ve been lost since then, falling deeper and deeper, becoming more and more enthralled with this man who was both familiar and a stranger to me.

My reasons for staying gradually heightened from simple loyalty to a genuine desire to know the new man he is becoming. This shy, open, wonderful man who adores painting, who insists on having cheese with every dish he eats, who falls asleep in his room watching reruns of the Golden Girls, he’s wormed his way into my heart and I can’t get him out. This man is the polar opposite of the Maxwell Evans I had once knew, the man who used to be my husband. And I like that. I like the changes. They attract me like nothing about him ever has.

Now I am staying for a different reason entirely. Max Evans is my friend. I like and respect him, two emotions he hasn’t evoked within me in years. And I have his best interests at heart. That is exactly why the idea of his moving to California upsets me so terribly. He would be miserable there, surrounded only by strangers and a home care nurse. Max needed to be around the people who loved him, like me and Katie and Isabel, too. He needed to be around them all…together. They were his family…the only one he’d literally ever known. I didn’t want him to lose that now. I didn’t want to lose it either.

By the time I open my mouth to speak again I am considerably calmer. “We can’t keep going round in circles like this, Isabel,” I sigh wearily, my shoulders slumping with deflated anger.

“I’m just trying to take care of my brother,” Isabel utters in a miserable whisper, “I don’t want you to feel responsible for him.”

“I don’t feel responsible for him,” I clarify, “I want to be around him. Can’t you see that, Isabel? I want to be in his life.” At this point Alex Whitman must feel acutely uncomfortable because, after pressing an affectionate kiss to Isabel’s forehead, he tactfully excuses himself. When he is gone I tell Isabel, “I don’t want you going behind my back anymore.”

“I wasn’t going behind your back,” she denies weakly, “I was trying to do what’s best for everyone involved.”

“Don’t make my decisions for me,” I order, stabbing my finger at her in accusation, “I’m so tired of people thinking they know what’s best for me. I’ve been miserable for so long…confused and hurt. And I thought I wanted a divorce…I really did.” I snort a scoffing laugh. “I don’t know what I wanted…maybe for Max to be the man he was when I married him…I don’t know…but let me figure it the hell out!”

“He’s not going to be that man, Liz,” Isabel interjects in a tone made almost inaudible by its gentleness, “That man died long before the shooting.”

“What do you know about it, Isabel?” I snap out in irritation.

“I know after Katie was born you hurt him worse than anyone ever has!” Isabel fires back, “Why do you think he had all those affairs? Max wanted to hate you! After the way our parents shut him out of their lives you should have known he couldn’t take the rejection from you!”

Her words slice at me like knives and I flinch with each utterance. I already know that my depression affected Max in ways that I can never imagine, but the revelation that he wanted to hate me is almost numbing. “Why are you saying these things?” I whimper, “Why would you tell me that?”

Isabel closes her eyes, clearly regretful of her words but now they are out in the open and she can’t take them back. She drops her forehead against her palms and sighs. “He stayed for Katie…always for her and because, as much as he wanted to hate you, I think he loved you, too.”

“I was sick, Isabel,” I say by way of defense.

“I know that!” she exclaims, “Don’t you think I told him the exact same thing? But he felt like you’d abandoned him…like Mom and Dad did. He was just so full of anger. He said he couldn’t trust you not to hurt him anymore. He was just…irrational about it.”

“If he felt that way why didn’t he just divorce me then?” I croak, “Why prolong it? He wasn’t happy…neither was I.”

“I don’t think divorce ever entered his mind,” Isabel scoffs, “Look at our parents. Their relationship is one big sham, but they’ve been married for over forty years. Max and I grew up with the same creed: It might be rotten on the inside but make it look red and shiny on the outside.”

That much was true. Max had been extremely concerned with outward appearances. He hadn’t liked to fight in public at all. Whenever I had attended his business dinners with him he had always been the perfect picture of a husband, hovering near my side, fetching me champagne, giving me kisses. But as soon as we returned home the façade would melt away and we would fall back into our usual cold and distant silences. His desperate need to always appear the perfect couple was exactly why I had been so surprised to find his latest girlfriend’s underwear in our bed.

Despite all his infidelities Max had never, to my knowledge anyway, brought one of his whores home. For the most part he had been discreet about his affairs. Had it not been for the calls I might have never suspected he was cheating in the first place. Yes, the panty incident had completely floored me, but with Isabel’s newest admission I suppose the find made perfect sense. If Max wanted to hate me, leaving his mistress’ panties in our bed was a sure fire way to show that he did.

“Don’t you see?” Isabel cries pitiably, “He didn’t want the marriage any more…not really. It was over between you long before you even knew, Liz.”

I can feel tears forming in my eyes, but I bravely blink them back. “Why are you telling me this now?” I rasp. It seems just when I think I’ve made my peace with the past and put old resentment behind me something occurs to bring it all roaring to the surface once again. It’s almost as if Isabel deliberately wants me to hate Max.

“I feel like you’re trying to prove yourself, Liz,” Isabel confesses quietly, “You want to prove to Max and maybe to yourself that you were a good wife and the fact is, Liz…you were. You were a good wife,” she insists, “My brother is the one who screwed up. He’s the one who held you accountable for our parents’ mistakes. He’s the one who’s fucked up, not you…it was never you. You don’t owe him anything.”

“I know,” I whisper miserably. I’m somewhat dazed at this point and I don’t know how to respond at all. These truths she’s decided to enlighten me with have struck me like a ton of bricks between the eyes. I’m completely shaken. Just when I’m sure that I’ve adjusted to the depths of Max’s heartlessness and let go the resentment something new crops up to make me reassess my decision. Now there’s a whole new truth to beat myself to death over: Max had fallen out of love with me long ago and, apparently, everyone except me was aware of the fact.

I can feel my cheeks burn with humiliation at the realization. Now I understand the motivation behind the pitying glances Isabel has been sending my way lately. Now I understand why she seemed so adamant about taking Max off my hands. She’s known the entire time, since the breakdown of our marriage; she knew that it was over between us. She knew that Max would never give me a second chance. She knew that nothing I said or did would bring him back to me and yet she’d said nothing. I might have been angry if I weren’t so heartbroken. “Why,” I whisper painfully, “Why did you never tell me? Why did you let me go on pining for him like a fool? All that therapy…all the tears, mine and Katie’s, and you knew we were finished.”

“It wasn’t my place to tell you,” she replies stiffly.

“It wasn’t your place?” I choke out ironically, “It wasn’t your place? Damn you, Isabel! Damn you and damn him! Damn him for not loving me! Damn him for being a fucking coward!” The explosion leaves me shaking. I fist my hands at my sides in a desperate grab for control, but now that I’ve released the fury it won’t be contained. “How could you keep that from me all this time?” I demand coldly.

“I…I didn’t want to hurt you,” Isabel stammers, “I couldn’t hurt you that way. I…I was…I thought he might change his mind or something.”

“Eight years, Isabel,” I murmur bitterly, “He hasn’t changed his mind in eight years. Surely, you would have figured out that it was time to tell me the truth.”

“I just couldn’t,” Isabel mutters. I could use a good, stiff drink at the moment, anything to dull out the pain in my chest right now. I glare at Isabel in disgust, wanting to hate her, wanting to blame her. But I can’t. The blame is all on Max. And that Max is dead now. It’s a while before Isabel speaks again and when she does her tone is soft and gentle. “That’s why I’ve been so pushy about you not seeing him as much. I didn’t want you getting attached because I knew how Max really felt about you before he was shot.”

“But I am attached, Isabel,” I explode violently, “I’ve been attached since he opened his eyes and looked right at me! Dammit! I’ve always been attached!” I want to grind my teeth in rage, but I know nothing I do will ease the ache or the anger I feel. Perhaps if Isabel had told me the truth from the beginning I could have avoided this awful scene. Perhaps I would have walked away years ago and then I would have never been standing in this moment, drowning in turmoil. And now it’s too late. Now I love him more than I ever did.

I drift over to the nearest chair and collapse, unable to stand any longer. Isabel’s pleading voice floats over to me. “Don’t you see why I wanted to take him to California with me? I was trying to get him out of your life, Liz.”

“And if I don’t want him out of my life?” I counter sullenly, which earns me a stunned look from Isabel. “I can’t let him go now, Is…I care too much.”

“What about what I just told you,” Isabel protests.

“It’s the past and it’s over,” I declare with more conviction than I feel at the moment, “He needs us and Katie needs him.”

“And what do you need, Liz?”

The question is irrelevant. I’m beginning to believe that I’ll never have what I need. It’s best that I don’t even think about it at all. “I need to do the right thing,” I sigh. Now if I can only figure out what that is.

posted on 26-Jan-2003 11:03:33 PM by Deejonaise
This part is dedicated to the Bucs! World champs, baby! Whoo-hoo!!!!

Chapter 13

“Hellooo, gorgeous!”

I have to roll my eyes at Maria’s flirty tone. For the sixth time in an hour I find myself reconsidering the wisdom of allowing Maria to tag along today. Not only does she seem rather nonchalant about the day’s significance but also she and Isabel have been bickering for the better part of the morning. If I weren’t so excited they would have destroyed my mood entirely. However, at the moment, I’m so ecstatic that nothing can touch me. After all, today is a rather momentous day. Today is the day I finally get to take Max home.

That’s right. He’s coming home with me, not to California with Isabel, not to some group home facility were he can vegetate, but with me. I couldn’t be more pleased with the prospect either.

It’s been nearly a month since Isabel and I had our blowout. Since then things between us have calmed considerably. She’s, thankfully, stopped trying to make all the decisions for Max’s well-being. It took some doing, but once she accepted that I was Max’s primary caregiver and, therefore, the person to make decisions concerning his welfare Isabel and I got along fabulously. By way of compromise she agreed to move to Roswell and live at the house with me, Katie and Maria. It was a doable suggestion, one that enabled Isabel to have a share in her brother’s care without usurping my position in his life. Her decision pleased everyone involved, but especially Isabel I think. She wasn’t anymore anxious to leave her good doctor than he was to have her leave. Isabel thinks I’ve been too involved with Max to realize that fact played a part in her decision to stay. She’s mistaken.

While I’m happy that Isabel’s love life seems to be moving along so smoothly I can’t help but bemoan my own. Or should I say bemoan my lack thereof. I’ve decided to pace myself with Max. He’s trying to relearn so many things and make so many new adjustments that he doesn’t need my expectations piled up on him as well. So for now, I’m contenting myself with his friendship. Actually, I’m grateful for it.

He’s sweet and candid and, ironically, he listens to me. Lately, he’s been the only one who does. Everyone from my mother to Isabel has seen fit to tell me what’s best for me, but Max never says a word. He just sits there and lets me vent and no matter what I say he is always on my side at the end of it. Sometimes hours will go by with me pouring out my heart to him about everything from my job to raising Katie alone and he will just sit there intently, hanging on my every word. And though I realize he doesn’t grasp everything I am telling him he makes a valiant effort to do so and it’s his effort that means so much to me.

So simply saying that I’m happy he’s coming home, well, that’s the understatement of the century. I could literally do a back flip I am so pumped. The call that he was finally being released could not have come at a better time. He had made so much progress that he was beginning to become anxious to leave Danner himself. The prospect of having him home again so that we could live a normal life once more is just intoxicating. I’m drunk with happiness. Which is probably the reason I was distracted enough to agree to Maria’s wheedling to tag along.

It’s so obvious, despite her offer for moral support and help, that unlike Isabel, Katie, and I, she’s not here for Max. At least, not to help him pack his things or for that much moral support either. I think she’s probably curious as to what he’s like now. She knows that he has no memory of his former life and Katie has hinted at his child-like mannerisms during our frequent discussions at dinner. Maria’s probably expecting him to be some sort of freak so I know she’s only here for the thrill factor. And now Michael’s caught her eye, of all people. But I’m too happy to care. Let her spend her time giving Michael lascivious once-overs. That way she’ll be much too preoccupied to say something decidedly stupid to Max.

As Maria is putting the moves on Michael, Isabel and Katie have gone on inside to help pack up Max’s paintings and belongings. I hang back in the corridor with Maria, hoping devoutly she doesn’t say something to offend Michael, who I hope to hire as a physical trainer for Max. I’m also hoping to get his assessment of how Max’s progress but Maria has already zeroed in on him like a lioness on the hunt. And Michael is just as enthralled.

At Maria’s sultry greeting, Michael sets down the box in his arms and appraises her with a flirtatious smirk. He extends his hand towards her, hardly acknowledging me at all. I’m used to the treatment. Whenever I stand next to Maria I always turn invisible, at least, to the male population. How can simple brown compare to sparkly gold anyway? I shrug mentally. I’m used to it by now.

“I don’t believe we met,” Michael says, giving Maria a whistling once-over, “I’m Michael Guerin and you are…?”

Maria grips his hand firmly, her smile provocative when she answers, “Maria DeLuca,” she says breathily and I have to roll my eyes again at her exaggerated tone, “I’m Liz’s baby sister.” I don’t miss how she puts the emphasis on “baby” like I’m the old hag and she’s the pretty, little princess. I send her a sour look, which she blatantly ignores.

Michael continues to pump Maria’s hand, clearly mesmerized by her striking face. “Really?” he queries, “Liz never mentioned that she had a sister.”

Maria cuts a derisive look my way, which I, in turn, ignore. I can give as good as I get. “Why doesn’t that surprise me?” she asserts acidly. And then she dismisses me completely and asks Michael, “So are you here for Max, too?”

“I’m his PT,” Michael answers.

“Physical therapist, huh?” Maria slides a hungry look down his body. “You know I could use a little therapy myself,” she murmurs.

I actually groan at this point. “God, Maria, can you be any more obvious!”

“What?” she cries out in feigned innocence, “I think I might have slipped a disk at work the other night!”

I’m still shaking my head in disgust when Michael asks with interest, “Oh yeah, what do you do?”

“I’m a dancer,” Maria tells him.

“What kind? Ballet?” Michael inquires.

Maria gives him a wink. “Exotic,” she purrs, “Maybe you’d like to check me out sometime. I could show you all the ways the human body can…flex. ”

“Ugh!” I exclaim in disgust, “Are you going to stand out here all afternoon and flirt or are you going to help us get Max’s things together.”

“You go on ahead without me,” Maria replies, waving me away dismissively, “I’ll catch up, Lizzie.”

With a growl of frustration I stalk down the corridor for Max’s room. But by the time I enter, however, I’ve plastered a smile on my face. No way I’m letting Maria ruin Max’s homecoming. No way. I’m expecting his room to be alive with activity, yet, when I enter the room Max is the only one there. He is sitting on the bed, hat in hand and looking abjectly miserable. “Where is everyone?” I ask brightly.

“Isabel took Katie to the bathroom,” he answers forlornly.

“Oh,” I say, drifting over to sit alongside him, “You look a little down. What’s got your lip hanging down to the floor, Max?”

He just sighs, almost like he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders. “I’m kinda scared of leaving,” he finally admits after some silence.

“I thought you were excited about coming home with me,” I prod gently, “You haven’t changed your mind, have you?”

His eyes fly to my face swiftly and he’s quick with his reassurances. “No…no, I want to come live with you, Liz. I really do. That’s not why I’m scared.”

I tentatively cover his hand with my own. It’s just the simple touches like those that send my heart to racing. I don’t understand it really. Maybe it’s a combination of things. The intense way he watches me or the dancing sparkle that comes to his eyes whenever we touch. I captivate him. The realization makes my heart flutter dangerously and try as I might I can’t look away from his hypnotic stare. “Why are you scared, Max?” I ask in a whisper.

“The real world is out there,” Max says, nodding toward his window, “There are real people out there with real jobs and real lives. I don’t know how to be like that. I don’t have a job…I don’t know how to do anything,” he finishes unhappily.

“Max, sweetie,” I croon, caressing his hair back from his temple, “You don’t have to worry about finding a job. Isabel and I are going to take care of you.”

Max shakes his head at the idea. “Michael says that a man has to work,” he informs me, “The man brings home the bacon and the woman fries it up in a pan.”

I try not to laugh at his assessment because he seems so serious about it. “Well, Michael’s something of a Neanderthal,” I mutter.

“He’s wrong?” Max asks hopefully.

Instead of trying to explain to him the whole convoluted dynamic of our society and its gender roles I try a different tact. “Max you’re just recovering from a serious injury. No one expects for you to get a job.”

“But what if I want a job?” he ponders aloud.

“Do you?” He answers with a shy nod. “Well, what kind of job do you want?” I ask once it has sunk in that’s he’s absolutely serious about this. I suppose I’ve fallen into the habit of treating him like a child. It has never occurred to me that he wouldn’t want to be taken care of or that he would try to be the man of the house. And that’s when it finally hits me. Max is maturing. With each passing day he learns a little bit more, pushes ever closer to becoming a man. I can’t treat him as a child at all. He obviously knows what he wants or has some idea. That’s more than I can say for myself.

“What kind of job did I have before my accident?” Max counters.

“You were a defense attorney,” I tell him.

Max just stares at me blankly. “What’s that?”

I think a moment before attempting to explain. “Okay, when people get in trouble with the police they come to you to help get them out.”

A grimace of distaste passes over Max’s expressive face. “I don’t think I’d like to do that anymore,” he replies candidly, “If you get in trouble with the police you should go to jail.” I can’t help but think that his clients would have a heart attack if they heard him speaking that way. I suppose it really didn’t matter in the long run. Valenti, Powers, Stern, and Evans had decided to “retire” Max gracefully. I knew the bottom line was that they were trying to spare themselves any embarrassment, but I couldn’t care less. I was just glad I wouldn’t have to deal with the smarmy bastards any longer.

“I don’t know what I want to do,” Max continues on in conflict, “All I’m good at is painting and I don’t think I’m that good.” He hangs his head in defeat. “I’m not good at anything,” he mutters.

Again his words are like an arrow straight to my heart. I’m bending to him, a little more everyday. I need to touch him in that moment, not just hold his hand, but really touch him. I wind my fingers through his hair, marveling over how the thick locks curl over my fingers. Unconsciously, I massage his scalp. “Max,” I say softly, “don’t be so hard on yourself. You’ll learn, baby…I promise you’ll learn.”

He leans into me as I say the words, his cheek resting against mine. I move my fingers against his scalp in slow, sensuous circles. It takes his shudder of pleasure to alert me to my ministrations. “That’s nice,” he moans softly, his head lolling back as he closes his eyes beneath my tender manipulation.

He says it in a rush of breath and, my God, just the way he does exhales the words arouses me like I’ve never been. That’s not his intention I’m sure, but between my thighs there’s a curious tingling nonetheless. I’m so shocked by the feeling that I snatch back my hand guiltily. Max seems unaware that anything monumental has transpired because he just smiles at me guilelessly. “Thanks for making me feel better,” he says, but I can’t reply. At the moment, my throat is too constricted to form words.

*~~~*~~~*~~~*

“So how do you like having your Daddy home?” I ask Katie later that evening as I tuck her into bed. We’ve had a full day with getting Isabel and Max settled in the house. Max seemed a little overwhelmed by the general largeness of the house. It took some convincing to get him comfortably settled into his bedroom. Isabel and I have both decided that Max isn’t ready to share a bed with me. I’m not sure I’m ready to share a bed with him either, but today proved that I definitely want to.

I’m not going to focus on that now, however. Right now I want to get a feel for what’s going on in Katie’s head. She’s been unusually quiet all evening so I know something is troubling her. She’s still quiet even after I ask my question so I decide to prod a little more. “Don’t you like having your Daddy back?”

Katie traces her finger around her teddy’s button eyeball. “He’s so different,” she finally admits in a whisper.

“Do you like that or not?” I ask her solemnly.

Katie shrugs. “He’s not like he was before,” she reasons, “He plays with me now and he’s really funny.” She smiles a little as she thinks about it, before her smile disappears altogether. “But he’s still not like Dad. It’s like he’s someone else.”

I tuck the covers more securely beneath her chin and decide to be blatantly honest. “Well, that’s because he is, honey,” I tell her, “Your Daddy lost his memory and now he has to start his life all over again.”

I watch as Katie visibly ponders what I’ve told her. Finally she says, “I’m glad…maybe we can be a family now.” Yeah, I think, my heart rising with hope, maybe we can.



posted on 30-Jan-2003 7:09:36 AM by Deejonaise
Chapter 14

It’s movie night.

We’ve settled into a nice, family routine in the past two months. Though we’re far from conventional we’ve found a way to make things work. I work during the day and take Katie to school in the mornings. Isabel stays home with Max and keeps the house. She isn’t at all Suzy Homemaker, but she’ll do. She’s good enough that I’ve let Rosa go and that’s an extra $150 dollars a week so I’m not complaining. Maria usually gives her a break when Isabel needs one, but for the most part she stays absent from the house, either at work or on a date.

So we’ve got this nice little routine going like I mentioned. I like it very much. Even at this very moment, Isabel is in the kitchen popping kettle corn while I watch Katie and Max watch The Count of Monte Cristo. They’re really endearing to observe together actually. Max has watched half the movie with his hands over his eyes while Katie provides commentary for the parts he misses. He’s having a hard time with the action sequences, bursting out every so often when things get too intense, “Are they fighting again? Are Edmond and Fernand fighting?” He always calms down once Katie reassures him, however. I have to appreciate how she manages to do so without giving the plot away.

Max’s emotional reactions to the movie are adorable to see. He’s only seen The Count of Monte Cristo about four times already, but he still can’t watch the entire thing without cringing behind his hand. Katie’s given up long ago on trying to pry his hand away from his face, hence the running commentary throughout the movie.

I will admit that the relationship dynamic between Max and Katie is somewhat strange. They seem more like siblings than father and daughter. Not such a while ago they actually had a spat over crayons. Katie hadn’t wanted Max using her crayons because he had the habit of peeling off the paper. It drove Katie crazy, so much so that she forbade him to touch them completely. Offended by her edict, Max had, in turn, denied her access to his paint. It had taken tremendous willpower for me not to interfere in their argument, but I knew they had to work out their problems on their own. Thankfully, their silent standoff didn’t last more than an hour before Max broke down and apologized.

However, lately, I think Max is beginning to understand his role in Katie’s life. He looks at her differently now, almost protective…proud even. Even recently he accompanied me into Katie’s room when I tucked her in for the night. He listened while I read her a bedtime story and even gave her a goodnight kiss.

But just when I find myself marveling over his burgeoning maturity, his halting steps toward adulthood he turns to me and is transformed into a little boy once more, demanding his own bedtime story and goodnight kiss. And so I escort him to his room, which is down the hall from mine, and I tuck him into bed the same as Katie. But as I look down at him, all wrapped and snug in bed, nothing about him strikes me as childlike and the way he looks at me then is not as a boy, but a man. I can see that he is changing…ever so slowly, I see it everyday and I’m intrigued…more and more.

I’m still grinning over Max and Katie’s movie antics when I hear a stringent curse sound from the kitchen followed by a series of clatters. I’ve already mentioned that Isabel isn’t exactly at home in the kitchen. Only she would find kettle corn a culinary difficulty. Katie and I exchange worried glances when the unmistakable smell of burning popcorn wafts through the family room. Isabel is obviously having a hard time and the last thing I want is for my kitchen to go up in flames. “Why don’t you go and check on your Aunt Isabel,” I suggest to Katie, “see if she needs anything. I’ll pause the movie until you get back.” I should probably go see to Isabel myself and I know that sending Katie in as a second is rather lame, but I’m looking forward to the alone time with Max, something we rarely have together.

As Katie scampers off for the kitchen I grab for the remote and pause the television. The moment I do Max emits a small sigh of relief and crumples back against the sofa, finally dropping his hand away from his face. I laugh a little at his reaction and ease down next to him on the floor. “If this movie gives you fits why do you insist on watching it?” I ask him wryly.

“I like to see Edmond win it all in the end,” Max tells me, “I just hate to see his friendship with Fernand end so badly.”

“Well, you know they weren’t really friends to begin with,” I remark casually, “Fernand always had resentment towards Edmond. He coveted what he couldn’t have, namely what belonged to Edmond, which meant that Edmond never really knew him to begin with. Their friendship was doomed from the start.”

“Because Fernand wanted Mercedes?” Max wonders aloud.

“No,” I say, “because Fernand was looking for Mercedes to save him while he made no attempt to save himself. He couldn’t be a true friend to Edmond because he was too busy feeling like someone owed him something. That’s why he felt free to take Edmond’s life. There was no loyalty in him, no honor.”

“You sound like you know someone like that,” Max remarks innocently.

His statement totally takes me off guard because I realize, in that second, I’ve been thinking about Max. Not the present Max beside me, but the one he used to be. Though I’ve been analyzing a fictional character it’s really Max who is in the back of my mind as I speak. Like Fernand in The Count of Monte Cristo Max battled with some major trust issues. I can see that clearly now. His lack of faith, of loyalty, of general human kindness had sprung from the same source, his inability to trust and without giving trust you couldn’t give love. It might sound trite but it’s unfortunately true.

That fact is startlingly clear to me now. As I’ve mentioned before I have a tendency to lie to myself and it appears that I have been doing it for a lot longer than I imagined. How ironic that it takes watching a fictional movie for me to finally analyze Max for the man he had been. Some people just came with too much baggage and Max had a boatload. Even after Max and I were married and living happy he still didn’t trust me, not really. I suspect he spent most of that time during our marriage just waiting for me to disappoint him. He expected me to disappoint him and when I did he used that as an excuse to treat me with a complete lack of respect. And the most hateful part of Max’s behavior: I allowed him to treat me that way and therefore validated the treatment.

Now I can clearly see how the old Max parallels the fictional Fernand almost frighteningly. Similar to Fernand, Max carried the disappointment and disillusionment ingrained in him by his parents into every relationship he entered. He had never been truly open with me, but had hung back, waiting for me to fall and when, inevitably, I did he was unable to deal with the situation rationally. He had idealized our relationship and he had idealized me just as Fernand idealized Mercedes, only to be disappointed when faced with the reality. I had fallen from that pedestal he had perched me so high upon and I had fallen hard.

And the great irony is, that as much as Max was Fernand-like before the shooting, he is just as much Edmond-like after. The man beside me is unimaginably idealistic. There is no pretense in him, whatsoever. He doesn’t play games, doesn’t mince words, but simply says what he feels and expects the same courtesy in return. He actually believes that if he tells someone the truth they will tell him the truth in return. Because he is free of guile he expects to find none in others. His openhearted view of mankind is both refreshing and dangerous. I can’t help but fear he will be damaged by the world’s cynicism as the first Max was.

But then as I look at him now I know that will never happen. I have watched this man, this marvelous man beside me struggle for five minutes just to tie his shoe in a perfect knot and all without losing his smile. He never needs to be prompted for an apology but seems to know when one is needed and gives it without grudge. He is fresh and new and more intuitive than many people realize. More intuitive than even I had realized.

I swallow, realizing he’s watching me expectantly and waiting patiently for a response to his earlier statement. “Yes, I knew someone like that,” I tell him quietly, “but he’s dead now.”

Max’s eyes darken with sympathy and he lays his hand against my own. “How did he die?” he asks me gently.

Again I’m caught off guard. I find it fundamentally weird that I am talking to Max about himself. It feels strange to refer to him as dead when he’s sitting right next to me but apropos as well. In almost the truest sense that Max is dead. Nothing of him really exists anymore aside from Katie and me and Isabel. Even those old hurts and resentments are beginning to fade away as I’m filled with a new feeling of hope and love. Everyday I am being drawn ever closer to nuMax. I am falling into him and falling fast.

I stare down at our overlapping fingers, a welcome sense of peace falling over me. I’ve grieved over the past, I’ve denied it, but now I’ve finally let it go. It has no further hold on me and, at last, I am ready to move on. “It doesn’t matter,” I finally whisper in answer to Max’s questions, “It turns out that I barely knew him anyway.”

“But he still hurt you,” Max surmises astutely, his gaze both childlike and penetrating all at once. How does he do that? How does he manage to see down beneath the surface into my very soul? For someone so mentally young, so absurdly naïve about the world he possesses a wisdom that is almost frightening. And the way he’s staring at me right now…I can’t possibly lie to him because I suspect he can still see the truth even without my saying a word.

“Yes, he hurt me.” I say this without bitterness or anger.

“How could he hurt you if you didn’t know him?” Max asks candidly.

“Because I thought I did know him,” I stress, “And I thought I loved him.”

“Did he love you?”

“I used to think so.”

“But not anymore?”

“No.”

Max gives my fingers a reassuring squeeze. “He just couldn’t see how beautiful you are, Liz,” Max tells me, “Not just on the outside…inside, too. I see that, Liz. I see that you’re beautiful even if he couldn’t.” Once again I’m struck by the irony. First, that he’s trying to comfort me now, that he’s healing the hurt he didn’t remember inflicting and second, that he’s gained this awesome insight with his near death experience. I almost want to chuckle at the paradox. It took a bullet to the head for Maxwell Evans to finally “see” me.

But now I try to laugh off his comment, maybe because it makes me uncomfortable that he’s so straight forward or maybe because I realize these burgeoning feelings I have for him might very well be reciprocated. I give his shoulder a playful shove. “Max, you barely know me,” I say with a smile.

“I know enough,” he responds seriously.

Still, I try to keep the mood light because I can feel the direction our conversation is turning and I know instinctively that once we start down the road we’ll be unable to turn back. “What do you think you know about me?” I tease him.

“I know you treat me like a person,” he reveals with a shuddering sigh, “I know you never make me feel like I’m stupid or slow. You don’t treat me like a kid even when I act like one. I like that.”

“Max, you don’t act like a kid,” I tell him softly. My heart has begun a slow thumping of anticipation. Our voices have lowered to hush whispers, our faces only within inches of each other’s.

Max shakes his head in denial. “Normal people don’t ask for bedtime stories,” he tells me, “I know that. I just like the sound of your voice when you read to me. And I like having you with me at night…and asking you to read is the only way I can think of to get you to stay with me.”

Is this man for real or will I wake up soon from some bizarre fantasy? I can hardly believe it, even now, as he’s looking at me like I’m something rare and fine and precious. Never, never in our entire marriage, even when it was good, has Max ever looked at me this way. It’s a “weak in the knees” sort of look, a “heart-hammering” sort of look, a “falling in love” sort of look. I touch his cheek gingerly and trace my fingers along the outline of his soft lips. “Max, we’re friends,” I tell him, “all you have to do is ask me to stay with you and I will.”

He smiles at me a little sadly. “You’re my only friend, Liz.”

“That’s not true,” I argue softly, “You’ve got Michael and Isabel and all the people back at the center. They love you, Max.”

Again he shakes his head in adamant disbelief. “They think I’m dumb,” he says.

“No one thinks you’re dumb.”

“I can hear people talking, Liz,” Max replies flatly, “They think I’m a freak.” He hangs his head a little then. “Maybe I am,” he whispers.

At this point I frame his face with my hands and force his gaze to mine. “Max, you’re not a freak,” I admonish sternly, “Why would you say that about yourself?”

“I can’t do anything,” he whispers miserably, “I don’t have a job. I don’t…I can’t understand Katie’s math when she’s um…re…regrouping… I don’t even know how to read,” he finishes thickly, “I am dumb…I am a freak.”

“Oh, sweetie,” I croon, “Lots of people can’t read and don’t have jobs but that doesn’t make them freaks.” But Max doesn’t look at all buoyed by my reassurance. I decide to attack the heart of the matter. “You want a job, is that it?” He nods. “And you want to learn how to read.” Another nod. A smile tugs at my mouth. “And regroup math,” I add teasingly. He’s nodding vigorously now. “So what if I help you with all that?”

His face lights up brighter than on the fourth of July. “You will?” he enthuses.

“Only if you promise not to call yourself dumb or a freak anymore.”

“Oh, I promise, I promise,” he swears solemnly, “What will we do first?”

“How about reading?” I suggest, “Once you’ve mastered that everything else should be a piece of cake.”

“Tonight,” he exclaims with an excited smile, “Can we start then?”

“We’ll see,” I hedge.

“Oh, please, oh please, oh please, oh please, oh please!”

I swear sometimes he’s worse than Katie. But, strangely, he’s just as successful at wheedling as she is. With laughing exasperation I concede defeat. “Okay, tonight then.” I lean forward and press a sound kiss to his forehead, but when I pull back again his smile has changed, gone from charmingly boyish to one of soft pleasure.

“I like when you kiss me there,” he breathes and the way he’s says it just sends shudders of warmth down my spine.

“You do?” I breathe right back. He confirms with a slow, emphatic nod. And so…I do it again, staying a little longer this time and letting my lips linger against his skin. “How’s that?” I ask thickly.

His smile remains sweet, his eyes sparkling with something I’ve not seen there before. “I like it when you kiss me here, too,” he tells me, brushing his fingers across his cheek. I obligingly press a kiss there as well, but even I can admit now that there’s no innocence in it. No, the way I drag my mouth across his cheek is meant to be deliberate, provocative. We lock eyes once again. Our breathing is slightly heavier, more rapid. Max’s eyes dip purposely down to my lips and then up again. “Here, too,” he invites, fingering his mouth.

I don’t think about what I’m doing, I just lean in to give him the kiss he’s asked for. The kiss he wants. The one I want.

“So I was able to salvage the kettle corn after--,” Our lips don’t even touch. I whip away at the sound of Isabel’s voice, but not in time. She’s already seen an eyeful and judging from her gaping expression, she’s not happy.

posted on 30-Jan-2003 1:18:10 PM by Deejonaise
Just popping in to answer a question. Yes, Max will eventually ask about his past...I'm working up to it, trust me.

And Solaris, I'm sorry to hear you're sick. My son's just now getting over an ear infection so you have my sympathy.

That's all for now I think, lol. I'll try to update again on Sunday night. I've got to work over the weekend so I never have time to post until after I come home Sunday night. Until then...


posted on 3-Feb-2003 1:24:49 AM by Deejonaise
Chapter 15

“What the hell were you thinking?”

I’ve been waiting for this all night. Throughout the remainder of the movie I could feel Isabel’s eyes boring into me disapprovingly. She’s been waiting for the opportunity to pounce and now with Max tucking Katie into bed her moment has finally arrived. I continue vigorously scrubbing a pot in a sink of fading dish suds; anything to direct my attention from the fact Isabel is burning mad.

“Don’t ignore me, Elizabeth!” Why do people think calling me by my full name is intimidating? If anything, it irritates the hell out of me.

I finally throw down the scrubber and face her, heaving a disgusted sigh as I do. “I’m really not up for a lecture, Isabel,” I intone flatly, “Max and I are both adults--,”

“Adults?” Isabel exclaims incredulously before I can get my indignation worked up to a righteous pitch, “He has the mind of an eight year old, Liz! Max is far from being an adult!”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” I retort coldly, “Just because you treat Max like a child doesn’t make him one.” I know she’s angry and the last thing I should do is antagonize her. In the back of my mind I know that maybe my actions were rash, but simultaneously I can’t regret them. Not even with Isabel staring at me as if I’m a pedophile. But it’s that look, that shattered, appalled look, which prompts me to make excuses for myself. “We didn’t really kiss, you know,” I say inanely.

If I didn’t make her angry before, she is definitely furious now. Her face is almost purple with the emotion and, for one split second, while I’m looking at her I think: apoplexy. The last thing I want is for Isabel to drop dead of a stroke in the middle of my kitchen. When she finally gathers the wherewithal to speak her words are strangled with suppressed fury. “Max is no where near ready for intimacy, Liz! God, think! He’s like a little kid! What would have happened if you had kissed him? Did you think about how he might have reacted?”

I shrug nonchalantly. “He might have liked it,” I reply simply. Okay, on the outside I might appear calm and resolute but internally I’m quivering like a jellyfish. Isabel’s words are starting to strike close now. The euphoria of nearly tasting Max’s lips is fading and slowly being replaced with the heavy burden of reality. She’s right and I know it. Max doesn’t have any concept of intimacy. Only recently did he discover that he was Katie’s father. The conclusion still has yet to penetrate that if he’s Katie’s father and I’m Katie’s mother we made her together. He’s at the point where he thinks it’s just cool she calls him “Dad.”

And though he’s the one who invited the kiss in the first place I have to consider whether he truly understood the level of intimacy he was stepping into. For the moment, I step outside myself to review the situation with unemotional logic. I have fallen into the habit of giving Max a routine goodnight kiss. It’s a dry, sexless kiss very much like the ones I give Katie at night, reserved only for a child. That’s all it has ever been. A quick smack to his mouth, a firm tug of his blankets so that they’re secure under his chin, and I’m out of there. But that had been far from my intention tonight.

Tonight hadn’t been meant to be dry or sexless at all. I was intent on tasting him again; on reacquainting myself with the interior of his mouth to discover if his flavor was still the same. Though it’s nuMax’s mouth I want to taste it’s my dead husband’s kiss that I remember. Maybe that’s part of the appeal. Not because I want to share a kiss with a dead man, but because sometimes, despite my best intentions, my feelings for the two men still intertwine. There are times I can’t look at this Max without thinking of the other. A kiss would differentiate between the two like nothing else would. A kiss would bring home once and for always that the two men are nothing alike.

There’s my motivation, pure and simple, but as I stare into Isabel’s angry brown eyes I know the explanation won’t fly with her. She’ll still paint me as some foolish, irresponsible idiot because, in seeking to prove something to myself, I compromised Max in the process. I realize there’s nothing I can say to her to make this better so I simply concede defeat. There’s no need to stand and waste my breath trying to convince her anyway. I know what’s truly in my own heart and that’s all that matters.

I dry my hands on the nearest dishtowel. “Okay, maybe you’re right,” I concede, “Maybe I was moving a little fast. But I wasn’t planning anything…it just happened.”

“It just happened?” Isabel balks, “How the hell does it ‘just happen’?”

I force myself to remain calm, despite the fact my hackles are rising. “Isabel, get a grip,” I order her softly, “Max is still my husband, remember? I’m not going to do anything to hurt him.”

“Maybe not intentionally,” Isabel grumbles.

“Not ever.” She makes no response to this. “Isabel, I love your brother…you know that. I would have never stayed through all this mess if I didn’t. But you need to understand that I plan on rebuilding my marriage with him, every part of it…that’s what I want. And what happens from there is our business and no one else’s.”

“Liz, he’s not even the same person,” Isabel whispers, aghast.

I can see that I’ve stunned her yet again. It’s never even crossed her mind that I might want to repair my marriage with Max or that I would want to be intimate with him. I, then, have to wonder what the hell she thinks I’ve been trying to accomplish all this time. Did she think it was all for Katie? It’s true that I want Max to be there and I want them to have a relationship but I’m not a martyr. No way! I want Max for myself as well. And that appalls her. I don’t realize it until that very second. “He’s still a man, Isabel,” I counter gently, “A tender, sweet, wonderful man and I think I’m falling in love with that man.”

“You’re falling in love with him?” She grimaces at the thought. “Liz, you’re confused.”

“No, I’m not,” I return, my conviction hard as marble, “When you look at Max you see a broken man who requires care for the rest of his life, but I see a man full of hopes and dreams and aspirations, Isabel. I see a man, a brand new man…the man Max is trying to become.”

“Liz,” Isabel begins, all but gaping at me, “We live in the real world here and you’ve obviously taken a break from it. Wake up!” She tunnels her fingers through her hair in an agitated gesture before closing her eyes and heaving a heavy sigh. “Don’t you see what you’re doing? You’re idealizing Max. You’re not seeing him for who he really is, Liz.”

“And who is he really?” I retort acerbically. I have only too good an idea just what she’s thinks of Max. The truth is written all over her face. She’s of the majority; the ones that whisper behind Max’s back and make him feel like a freak. Isabel has already made up her mind that Max is a lost cause. She’s already decided that he’s incapable of learning to take care of himself again. Isabel can’t see the milestones he’s reached. All she can see is what he isn’t. He isn’t a high-powered, defense attorney, he isn’t the charming socialite, he isn’t the brother she’s known all her life. She can’t see the person he’s becoming because she’s too preoccupied remembering the man he used to be.

Isabel has no confidence in the new Max. She’s never extended it because she expects him to fall short of the image she held for her brother. She has no faith in this Max, not really. Maybe even part of her resents his presence…because he’s taken her brother’s place. But me…I don’t feel that way. I’m full of faith. Max has shown me everyday that he’s a fighter and that he’ll keep fighting until he has what he wants. The old Max never had that drive. If he had our marriage wouldn’t have ended in such a train wreck.

“Isabel?” I say when she doesn’t respond to my question right away, “He’s your brother…”

“He’s not my brother,” she sobs, “My brother died six months ago…I don’t know who that man is.”

“Do you want to?” I inquire softly. She just hangs her head as if she can’t answer me, or she doesn’t want to. “Isabel, he needs you…”

“See that’s the thing,” Isabel cries, “Max never needed anyone! He hated needing people! He would hate being taken care of like some damned baby!”

“Well, if you pulled your head out of your ass long enough to see you might notice that this Max hates that, too!” I shout angrily. Her face drains of color with my outburst and I instantly regret my harsh tone. I didn’t set out to hurt her feelings. That’s the last thing I want to do. I’ve just realized that all this time when I’ve been sorting out my confusion poor Isabel has been just as confused. She’s so torn between responsibility and resentment that it’s making her sick. She’s shaking so badly now that she has to grip the back of a chair to steady herself and not even that seems to help.

I approach her slowly and cradle her shoulders in my arms. “You’ve never taken the time to get to know him, Isabel,” I tell her in a much gentler tone, “You’re bustling around here, cooking his meals, ironing his clothes, running his baths, but you never take time to just sit down and talk to him.”

She weeps harshly and I can tell she’s been stuffing her feelings for a long time now. “Wh…what am I…I supposed to s…say to him?” she sniffles.

“What do you talk to Katie about?”

Isabel thinks a moment, dabbing at her wet cheeks with the edge of her sweater. “Her schoolwork,” she says, “Teachers…what she likes to do in her spare time…just chit chat.”

“Have you ever considered chit-chatting with Max?” She clearly finds the idea ludicrous. The appalled expression on her face speaks volumes. “I’m serious, Isabel. He’s just like any other person. And you’re the one always telling me that he’s not Max…well, you have to get to know the person he is now.”

“You talk like you do,” Isabel observes.

“I’m learning,” I admit, “I know he likes to paint and that he has a brilliant imagination. He hates sitting in the house day in and day out and he wants to find a job.”

“He wants to what?” I have to snicker at her gaping expression of disbelief.

“He want to find a job,” I emphasize again, “Maybe you can help him with that.”

“B…But what can he do?” Isabel stammers dubiously.

“Anything you teach him,” I insist.

“What if he can’t learn?”

I jerk my arms from her shoulders and scowl at her. “It’s exactly that kind of attitude that has Max thinking he’s stupid!” I snap irately, “He’s a normal person, Isabel! He can learn just like the rest of us.” Again I know my words drive home because she looks positively ashamed when I stop speaking.

“I haven’t been fair to him,” she says, more to herself than to me.

“No, you haven’t,” I agree.

“I’ll make it up to him,” she continues on absently.

“Yeah, do that.”

“I need to go,” Isabel mutters, stumbling form the kitchen, “I need to think.”

I watch her drift from the kitchen; feeling tendrils of remorse prickle my spine. I wasn’t my intention to make her feel bad, but to simply make her think. Isabel has been in denial and she probably would have continued on in denial had I not said anything to her. I realize that Isabel is foundering emotionally. She’s been fighting to find her way for months now, but in her determination to do so she’s unwittingly alienated Max in the process. And what’s worse, Max feels her apathy. He knows she’s indifferent and it breaks his heart. It’s so ironic that all this time Isabel’s been concerned that I might harm Max in some way…

With a sad shake of my head I turn towards the sink once more, but the sound of my name being called softly stops me. I spin around once more to find Max framed in the doorway, clutching a book against his chest. “I’ve been waiting for you,” he whispers. His eyes are shadowed and I know there’s something going on there, but he’s trying to hide it. He holds out his book tentatively. The Cat in the Hat. “You said you’d teach me to read, remember?”

“I’m sorry, Max,” I say regretfully, “I just got caught up talking with Isabel.”

“I know…I heard you.”

And then it finally hits me why he looks so miserable. He heard every single word we said. I groan inwardly. I have no idea how I can salvage this. “How long have you been standing there, Max?” I ask him gently.

“Awhile,” he admits. He averts his head, chewing at his lower lip. “I told you she thought I was stupid.”

“She doesn’t think you’re stupid, Max,” I insist.

He actually smiles at that. “Now you think I’m stupid,” he states, leveling with eyes of liquid gold. “I know how she feels about me and it doesn’t matter,” he tells me, “I’m gonna prove her wrong. I’m gonna prove all of them wrong. I can learn like everyone else…just like you said. I’m not stupid.”

Tears sting my eyes, but I blink them back mutinously. I don’t want Max to feel that I pity him. In reality, I couldn’t be more proud of him. “You’re right,” I say shakily, “You’re not stupid, Max.” I drift closer to him and pluck his book from his fingers, a small smile playing over my mouth. “In fact, stupid isn’t even a word I’d use to describe you, Max.”

He grins down at me, the shadows in his eyes replaced with a teasing sparkle. That’s my Max, never dwell on the negative, never obsess over the things you can’t change. “What words would you use to describe me?” he asks, almost flirtatiously.

His proximity is exhilarating. He’s so close that I can smell the clean scent of soap on his skin, so close that his breath is gently stirring the hair at my temples. I try not to show just how much his presence is flustering me but the truth is I can feel my heart begin to flutter in my chest like a frightened bird. My words are a whisper when I finally manage to reply. “I think you’re sweet and funny and charming…breathtaking…wonderful…I think you’re my friend, Max.”

“I am your friend,” he says seriously, “I’m your best friend and you’re mine.”

“That’s right,” I breathe. I’m not sure where this conversation is going, but there’s no mistaking that the distance between us now is just mere inches. His mouth hovers above mine, so close that when he speaks his breath rushes against my face. “Max?” I query, falling into his stare, drowning in the golden swirls of his eyes.

“You didn’t give me a good-night kiss tonight,” he accuses softly. Why do those seven words seem loaded with meaning? Why do I feel that he’s implying more than a simple peck? Why have butterflies suddenly taken flight in my belly at the mere thought that he might mean something more?

I try to play it cool, but my internal parts are jelly. “Okay,” I murmur, leaning up on my tiptoes to kiss his lips. The contact is fleeting and light but the moment passes between us like an electrical current. When I pull back I find Max watching me with the same intense look only now his eyes are shadowed with something else, something akin to…disappointment? Before I can stop myself I’m leaning in once more. This time I stay longer, feeling his lips soften against mine. His hands flutter up to grasp my shoulders then slide down to cradle my back and bring me closer. He opens his mouth ever slow slightly for the dipping of my tongue. But the moment I taste him intimately he rears back, clearly surprised and undone by my boldness. His eyes glitter in the dim light of the kitchen. “Max?”

He steps away from me completely then, his hands fisted at his sides. Even in the darkness I can distinguish the faint bloom of color across his perfect cheekbones. “I should go to bed,” he murmurs with downcast eyes.

Torn between exhilaration over the brief kiss and anguish that I might have somehow alienated him I force lightness into my tone when I say, “I thought you wanted me to teach you how to read.”

“I’ve learned enough tonight,” he replies. And then he lifts his eyes, the teasing sparkle there once more, a sexy, half-smile ghosting his lips. He turns away to head for his bedroom but at the last moment tosses an appraising glance at me over his shoulder. “Thanks, Liz.” And there’s something blatantly sexual about the way he says it.

I return to the sink to wash up the remaining dishes, a grin on my face the entire time.

posted on 3-Feb-2003 2:18:17 AM by Deejonaise
quote:
Cookie2697 originally wrote:
On a COMPLETELY off topic note...I tried to b-mail you the other day and the board ate it. But I finished reading Contemplating Normal on Friday and I'm working on Chapter 30 of Revising Normal at the moment...I've been a reading-Dee's-fics fiend the past few days. LOL. Anyway, I'm going to leave you some VERY thorough feedback when I finish Revising Normal...hopefully tomorrow, but I just wanted to tell you that I'm addicted and loving them and almost caught up...FINALLY.


Will you hate me if I tell you that there's a sequel to Revising Normal?*wink* I'm already on the 16th part. Uh oh.
posted on 5-Feb-2003 8:40:23 AM by Deejonaise
For you frenchkiss70 and your persistent bumps.*wink*

Chapter 16

“Guess who?”

“Um…the Jolly Green Giant?” I venture with a smile. Although his hands are half covering my face I’m quite aware of who it is. I aware, but surprised nonetheless. I twist around in his arms, pulling his hands from my eyes as I do. “Max, what are you doing here?” I ask in exasperation though there’s no denying that I’m glad to see him.

He smiles at me, all boyish charm and sweetness and his eyes sparkling with mischief. “I missed you,” he explains with a shrug, “I wanted to come see where you work. This school is big,” he continues casually, “It’s easy to get lost.”

He’s so adorable right then that I can’t be annoyed with him even though I know without asking that he’s here alone. And his timing is actually quite impeccable. Had he come fifteen minutes earlier I would have been just finishing up a class, but now he’s caught me during my lunch period, thereby giving me plenty of time to visit with him. I’m so giddy with the prospect that I momentarily forget he’s not supposed to be there in the first place.

We stand alone in the front of an empty classroom, grinning at one another like idiots. My eyes scan over his beautiful face. I let my gaze linger over his sensual mouth and recall our kiss from the other night. When I lift my gaze to meet his again the look in his golden eyes has changed, teasing mischief giving way to something darker. I know that he is thinking of our kiss just as I am. The sudden tenseness that fills the air between us forcefully reminds me that he shouldn’t be here with me in the first place. “Does Isabel know you’re here, Max?” I ask him, turning away to shuffle my students’ papers into my satchel. Anything to avoid looking into those knowing eyes.

“I’m not a kid,” he retorts crossly, “I don’t have to run everything I do past Isabel!”

Okay, tensions have been high since our kiss in the kitchen. I’ve got to give Isabel credit. She has been fighting rather hard, but Max seems reluctant to give her a chance. At first his stubborn refusal had me worried because I thought it might be some residual feelings that surfaced from who he was before. That Max hadn’t found it so easy to forgive either and he had withheld his forgiveness out of malice and spite. He had wanted to hurt because he hurt and I was afraid that such might have been nuMax’s motivation as well. And then I looked into his eyes…

He doesn’t want to hold Isabel off. I can tell he’s merely forcing himself to do it because he’s afraid of being hurt again. However, it’s clear he wants to trust Isabel. He wants to believe in her like he believes in me. His wading back in now, taking his time in learning to trust her again. Isabel is discouraged by the slow progress they seem to be making. Though she’s been handling most of Max’s tutorials while I’m at work she’s complained to me quite often that Max barely says a word to her during that time.

Isabel has this horrible habit of focusing on the negative while completely negating the positive. She fails to realize that, although Max isn’t talkative during her tutorials with him, he is, at least, willing to let her teach him. He’s willing to hear what she has to say. She doesn’t know that Max can’t really hold a grudge, no matter how much he tries. She doesn’t know how it tears him up to keep the pretense.

Presently, I sigh and brush his bangs away from his forehead. “Max,” I say in my sternest mother tone, “you can’t just leave the house without telling Isabel where you’re going. She’ll be worried…have you stopped to think of that?” My answer is plain on his face. Clearly, it has never crossed his mind that Isabel might worry for him. In fact, he appears dumbfounded by the very idea. Does he find it impossible to believe that people would actually care about him? Does he believe himself so insignificant that his absence won’t be noted? I watch as a shadow of shame and sadness fall over Max’s eyes and I know that is exactly what he thinks.

I realize I have only twenty more minutes left on my lunchbreak and I have yet to eat anything. However, I can’t ignore the forlorn expression on Max’s face and I can’t send him home until I fix what’s wrong. He’s walking around with hurt feelings when there is really no need for it.

Grabbing hold of his hand, I lead him over to a pair of empty desks in the far corner of my classroom. Only briefly does it cross my mind to consider how foolish we must appear crowded into the tiny seats. At the moment, it doesn’t seem to matter much at all. I can only focus on Max and healing his bruised feelings.

“Max, I know you heard some of the things Isabel said about you the other night,” I begin tentatively. The miserable way he hangs his head tells me my suspicions are correct. If I was at all uncertain before the shameful glisten in his eyes quells any lingering doubt. “How do you feel about that?”

“She doesn’t like me,” Max whispers despondently, “She doesn’t think I’m her brother.”

“You’re very different from how you were before your accident,” I tell him gently, “It’s hard for Isabel right now. She’s still trying to adjust.”

“But I tried to ask her about what he was like…you know, her brother…and she just completely had a cow,” Max explains in bewilderment.

I have to laugh at his phrasing as well as his aggravated expression. “Had a cow?” I inquire with brows raised in amusement.

Max just shrugs. “That’s what Katie says about you whenever you flip out about her room not being clean,” he says casually, “I’ve seen you, Liz. You do have a cow, not one as big as Isabel’s but it’s definitely a cow.”

Again I find myself laughing. “Okay, but we’re not talking about me right now,” I say, trying to redirect the conversation to a more serious tone. “Isabel doesn’t dislike you, Max, she just needs to get to know you.”

“She’d rather have her brother,” Max returns astutely.

“Probably,” I admit honestly. There’s no point in lying to him. He can see through me quite easily and I will only succeed in damaging his trust in me if I try to mislead him. “It’s nothing personal against you.”

“I must have been some guy before my accident,” Max mutters under his breath. You can say that again, I think when I hear him. I can’t fathom how Isabel puts so much stock in a lying, cheating bastard. But then she has a different view of her brother than I do. “What was I like before, Liz?” Max asks me suddenly, his brow furrowed in a thoughtful frown. “What was so great that Isabel can’t like me the way I am now?”

I’ve been dreading this very question for a long time now. We’ve managed to avoid it up until this point and, thankfully, Max has never pushed the issue. All the old pictures and memorabilia had been packed away. At the time I had believed my actions had been based solely on what was in Max’s best interests. Now, however, I can recognize them as cowardice. I had wanted to put the past away, to hide from it. I had hoped that it would fade from our lives just as easily as it had faded from Max’s memory. And it had…for a while. But I should have known better than to expect it to disappear completely.

I struggle to answer Max’s question, but I can’t find the words, don’t know if I want to. “I…uh…I…I…” All I can do is stammer and Max is watching me oddly, trying to puzzle out in his head what has thrown me into such a quandary.

“You knew me before, didn’t you?” he fires out after a moment, his eyes wide with the knowledge.

“Max, uh…”

“Katie calls me Dad,” he states firmly, leaning back in his chair to appraise me with narrowed eyes, “I’m not stupid, Liz…Michael told me a lot during our sessions. I know where babies come from and I know we made Katie together.”

“Max,” I try again to halt the conversation. A quick glance at the clock beyond his shoulder alerts me that my break period is almost done and soon my second graders will be returning from lunch with my student teacher. I offer him a pleading look. “Can we talk about this later?”

But Max’s mind is already working fast and furious and he’s not going to be put off. “How well did you know me, Liz?” he insists, “If I’m Katie’s dad then you must have known me for us to…to…to have sex! Were we married or something? Tell me!”

I reach across the distance to stroke his hand. He’s getting agitated now and the last thing I want is for him to be upset. He’s lost enough with all his worry about Isabel and what she thinks of him. He doesn’t need the added fear that I’m keeping something terrible from him. “Shh, calm down,” I soothe, “Yes, I knew you. Yes, we were married.”

He finally relaxes back into his seat, his breath uneven. “But we’re not anymore?” he wonders.

I know he wants the answers and I know I need to give them to him, but now is not the time. I’m not frustrating him on purpose, but I can’t have this discussion now. “Max, it’s all too complicated to explain--,”

Max crosses his arms over his chest in a motion that is clearly defensive. “You think I can’t understand?” he demands belligerently, “Why won’t anyone tell me about how I used to be? How can I ever have a normal life if no one will tell me the truth!”

I slam my fist down against the desk. “Because you’re not ready for the truth,” I snap. I regret the words almost the instant they leave my mouth, even before I note how the color blanches from Max’s face. I close my eyes and take a few breaths, hoping to calm myself. In sheer frustration, I press my fingers into my forehead. “I didn’t mean to yell at you, Max.” He doesn’t say anything, but merely continues to stare at me with a betrayed expression. “Please, sweetie, don’t be mad,” I say gently, “I really didn’t mean to. I’m sorry, okay?”

He sniffles a bit, but nods. “Okay.”

Just like that I am forgiven. No long years of drawn out emotional abuse. No taut silences and cold stares. No petty revenge. Just gracious forgiveness and I don’t even deserve it…not when I’ve been deliberately keeping him from his past. “Max, I’ll tell you everything when I get home, alright,” I promise him solemnly, “Whatever questions you have I’ll answer. Is that okay?”

Again he nods, but this time he forces a smile. “I didn’t come down here to make you mad at me.”

This man has me continually on the verge of tears. “Honey, I’m not mad at you,” I whisper hoarsely, “I could never be mad at you.”

“You were upset because I came down here,” he says bluntly.

“Only because you left the house without telling Isabel, Max,” I reply, “That wasn’t very responsible of you.” I barely get the words out before my satchel suddenly starts ringing. I know immediately that it’s Isabel. Quickly, I push myself from the desk and scurry over to my bag, rifling through the contents for my phone.

The second I click it on Isabel blasts into my ear, “Max is missing!” The panic in her tone is palpable and she’s so freaked she barely allows me to get in a word. “I went to take him breakfast in his room this morning and he was gone! His bed was made and everything like he just…just decided to leave! I checked the entire house and he’s not here, Liz!”

“Isabel--,”

“Oh God, Liz, I’m so sorry…I…I should have watched him better! I can’t believe he walked out the house and I didn’t even notice. How stupid am I, huh! God, I knew he was upset with me…I knew and--,”

“Isabel--,”

“I called the police but they said he has to be missing for twenty-four hours before they look for him,” she sobs, “I don’t know where he could have gone…my God, what if he’s hurt?”

“Isabel, he’s here with me,” I finally manage to get out.

She pauses in mid-sob. “He’s what?” I cringe as I wait those several beats for her rant to begin. It’s fiercer than I could have ever imagined. She berates Max from everything spoiled to willful. I imagine she’s worked herself up into a righteous frenzy when she suddenly demands, “Put him on!”

When I look at Max he’s curled up in the desk as if he’s trying to disappear. I hold out the cell phone to him and he turns positively green. “She wants to speak to you,” I tell him, my sympathy for his plight evident in my tone. He shuffles over to take the phone from my fingers with great reluctance. I listen to their one sided conversation.

“Isabel?” Max jumps as Isabel gives him a taste of her ire. “I wasn’t trying to worry you,” he explains lamely, “…no you were asleep…I took the bus…no, no, I know how to get here…yes, I looked both ways…but…but you said I could go outside…no, don’t come and get me! Okay…okay…I’ll give her the phone.”

I pluck the phone from him while he just hangs his head dejectedly. “Isabel?”

“I’m coming to get him,” she states firmly. In front on me Max is shaking his head and arms wildly and mouthing the word “no.”

“Isabel, you don’t have to do that,” I reply, somewhat distracted by Max’s erratic gesticulating.

“Aren’t you in the middle of class?”

I glance at the clock again. “In about five minutes I will be,” I tell her.

“Give me some time to throw something on and I’ll be there,” she says before hanging up.

I click off the cell and drop it back into my bag. “She’ll be here in about ten minutes,” I inform Max, “You can sit in the back of the class until she gets here.”

“She’s really mad,” he remarks sheepishly, “I think I’m in big trouble, Liz.”

I bite back my answering smirk and somehow manage to keep my face scrupulously straight when I say in agreement, “Yes, I think you are, too.”

posted on 6-Feb-2003 4:00:33 PM by Deejonaise
Chapter 17

“I’ve been grounded for the rest of my life,” Max informs me later that evening as I step inside the door from work. He’s waiting for me in the foyer to be precise. Before I can even insert my key in the front door he’s pulling it open and throwing his arms about my neck. “She’s completely flipping out. She made me study Hooked on Phonics all day with no break and no snack!”

“No snack…the nerve!” I repeat in mock affront, “Of course, don’t you think you deserve it considering you left home without telling her where you were going in the first place?”

“I was coming back,” Max grumbles to me as I hang my jacket on the coat rack, “You don’t have to be on her side.”

I ignore his complaining and ask, “Is Maria here with Katie already?”

“They’re in the kitchen making dinner with Isabel,” Max tells me with a pout, “They won’t even let me help.”

Max takes this as a personal affront, I can tell. He loves to cook and Isabel knows it. Her forbidding his assistance in the kitchen is just a means to discipline him. Considering how much Max adores making dinner and the natural affinity he seems to have when preparing a meal I happen to think her punishment is rather harsh. But then I wasn’t the one going frantic earlier this morning when I thought he was missing.

However, looking at him now, I don’t believe Max is too deeply hurt. Despite his grumbling complaints he doesn’t look truly petulant at all. It makes me wonder what he’s been doing all this time. “So you’ve been forbidden entrance to the kitchen,” I note as I stroll into the living room, “Whatever have you been doing to occupy your…” my voice trails away as I notice the white photo album with gold embroidered letters on the sofa, “…time?” I point towards the book. “Where…where did you get that?” I demand, trembling.

“It’s our wedding album,” Max provides, as if I didn’t know already. I’m aware that he is staring at me curiously in response to my odd reaction, but I am plainly thrown. That album was very well hidden, placed out of sight in the far corner of my bedroom closet. It has been quite a long time since I looked at it last, even long before the shooting. During Max’s recovery I had sometimes had the passing urge to look through it, but I never did. And then, following Isabel’s confession to me, I lost the desire altogether.

Seeing it again, after banishing it from my sight for so long, brought back a flood of memories with it, both good and bad. And that was exactly the problem. I didn’t want the memories, not the good ones and not the bad ones either. The good ones had been based on a false preconception so they had no real basis to begin with. And the bad ones…they were all just a nightmare I would soon forget.

But I can’t forget. Here they are once more staring me in the face like a bull squaring off with a matador. In those seconds I am filled with irrational anger. I feel violated that he has rifled through my personal belongings, irate that he would dare step foot into my room without my permission, but when I open my mouth to tell him off…I can’t. I can’t because I realize that these are his memories, too. Just as my bedroom is his bedroom. He’s entitled to know, entitled to look. I just wish he wouldn’t. I wish he could let go of the past as easily as he’s forgotten it.

Though I don’t say a word my emotions must betray themselves on my face. Honestly, I’ve been staring at the album as if it’s a coiled snake for the last five minutes. My reaction is hardly overjoyed, but I’ve managed to make Max tense as well. “Are…Are you mad?” he asks haltingly, his eyes searching my face, “I asked Maria about it and she went to get it for me. She said you wouldn’t mind.”

Maria! There’s no way in hell she didn’t do it on purpose. She and Isabel both know how important it is to me to be the one who reintroduces Max to his past. Maria knows that I would never condone his sitting on the sofa looking through those photos alone without being here to explain them to him. What amazes me even more is that Isabel, knowing my feelings, has obviously allowed this to happen. I’m so livid with rage at the thought that I’ve beginning to seriously rethink our living arrangement. I grind my teeth audibly and Max’s jumps in response.

“You are mad,” Max realizes. He dives for the album and scoops it up from the sofa. “I’ll just have Maria put it back,” he rushes, “I didn’t want you to be mad…I…I was just curious.”

It’s his innocent, flustered reaction that deflates my anger. My God, am I really having a meltdown over pictures? I recognize that I have more issues that I’ve cared to admit to myself. Maybe even some therapy is in order, but I mentally dismiss the idea. I do NOT want to seek out some mental health professional who will, thereby, pick apart my life to the tiniest detail and then proceed to make me feel like a walking, talking basket case when it’s done. No, thank you. I’ve got my family for that already.

I blow out a sigh. “I’m not mad, Max,” I reply flatly, “I’m just tired…I had a long day.”

“Don’t lie, Liz,” Max responds softly, “I can tell when you’re mad. You grit your jaw so tight that it sticks out,” he reaches out to run his fingers along my jaw line, “just like now.” Can this man read me or what? I feel like a guilty child now, unable to hide anything from her all-knowing parent. “You didn’t want me to see the pictures?” Max asks meekly.

“Yes, yes I did,” I assure him fervently, “I just wanted to be the one to do it. There’s a lot to explain to you.”

Max doesn’t look at all daunted by the prospect and in fact, he appears psyched. He grabs my hand and exclaims, “Well, then come on!” Before I know what he’s about he’s already flopped onto the sofa and pulled me down beside him. Our wedding album is suddenly spread open across both out laps. An 8x10 photo of Max and me decked out in our wedding formals smiles back at me. Max traces his fingers along the photo, outlining my cheek. “I think you look so beautiful here,” he murmurs dreamily, “You look happy…were we happy, Liz?”

“Yes…” I croak past the lump in my throat, “…we were happy.” It’s not a lie. When that photo was taken you couldn’t have bulldozed the grin of happiness off my face. There had been a time when I believed that the year we had dated and the year we were married before Katie’s birth were the happiest moments I’d ever experienced in my life. But those memories were quickly being replaced with new ones, ones I share with the man seated beside me.

“Was I a good husband?” he asks sweetly.

I can’t evade this question as easily. “Sometimes you were, Max,” I sigh gruffly, “But a lot of the time you weren’t.”

He looks shocked by the disclosure and a little saddened. He’s obviously trying to figure our what I mean, but he’s hesitant to ask outright. I know he wants to pelt me with questions but I suspect he’s afraid to hear my answers. Max can’t fathom being anyone other than who he is. The possibility that he was different, that he might have possibly hurt people, possibly hurt me is terrifying for him. I know that Max would rather cut off his arm than intentionally hurt anyone. He isn’t ready for the truth. I can see it in his eyes and so I won’t push him. He’ll come to me when he’s ready.

Still, I can see he’s plagued by uncertainty. Finally, after a visible internal struggle, he whispers meekly, “Did you stop loving me because…because I was a bad husband?”

I smile at that, a smile both nostalgic and bittersweet. “No, I never did,” I tell him.

He nods his head, digesting that, but he doesn’t question me further. Maybe he’s learned all he can handle about the nature of our marriage. I decide right then that if he comes to me with later questions I will be completely honest with him. He seems to appreciate my candor and in an odd way it helps me as well.

Max studies me closely now, his gaze luminous and soft. “You look so different now than in the pictures…sadder and…and more serious,” he observes quietly.

“Older, too?” I prompt. I have to bite back an ironic grin when he actually nodded his head in agreement. I’m going to have to explain to him later that there are some matters you really do need to lie about. “Gee thanks, Max.”

He laughs and nudges me with his shoulder. “I still think you’re pretty,” he says, “It’s just…you look…you look almost like a different person here.”

“Well, that photo was taken almost ten years ago,” I tell him pragmatically.

“How old were you?”

“Hmm…23.”

Max tries to do the calculation in his head. I can tell it’s causing him some difficulty and it’s on the tip of my tongue to give him the answer, but I make myself hold back. Instinctively, I know how important it is to him to find the answer on his own. Finally, he wilts back against the sofa with an exhausted sigh. “Whew, that was hard,” he laughs, “Wow, Liz, you’re 33 years old!”

“You say that like it’s really old, Max.”

He pauses a beat. “Well, it is.”

Again with that brutal honesty thing. Oh yeah, we’ve definitely got to talk about that. “You happen to be thirty-five yourself, Max.”

“I’m 35 years old! Wow!” he explodes incredulously, “When will I be thirty-six?”

“Next year on May the 6th,” I tell him.

“Geez, that’s a big number,” he sighs grandly, “I’m sure glad I know how to count all the way to fifty.”

I finally see it then, the teasing glint in his eyes. He’s been ribbing me on purpose. I giggle and give his arm a playful tweak. “That’s enough of you, funny man!” I order playfully, “Do you want to see the rest of the photos or what?” He’s definitely excited about the album and nothing is going to deter him from examining it from cover to cover.

We sit together for the next 20 minutes while I explain each photo to Max in the minutest detail. He asks about a million questions, who is this, why did they do that, is this person my friend, where is your mother? On and on. And I find I don’t really mind all his questions. He even begins to poke fun at some of the candid shots of our guests and I laugh with him, actually laugh! Instead of being inundated with memories of days gone by and a wedding day that brings more bitter memories than sweet I am giggling like a teenager while making fun of my family and friends.

During our perusal Isabel pops her head from the kitchen. I meet her eyes and before she can announce dinner I shake my head and wave her away. She appears uncertain but eventually withdraws back into the kitchen, leaving Max and me alone once more. Max turns to the next photo then, a picture of him nuzzling against my mouth. In the photo my hand is resting against his cheek to hold him close and my eyes are shut in the moment. It was one of the few pictures with Max and I that weren’t posed. In that second we were naked, honest, and lost in each other.

Max pauses over that picture now, the laughter fading from his face. “Do you know why I came to visit you at school today?” he asks me, “Why I really came to visit you?”

“To say hello,” I venture lightly. I can feel the atmosphere between us deepening, becoming serious and I fear we’re treading into dangerous territory once again.

Max shakes his head. “I came because of this,” Max says, tapping his finger against the photo.

“The wedding album?” I ask, genuinely confused.

“No…kissing,” Max whispers finally. His gaze meets mine then, fiery and glittering, deep and intense. He dips his head slightly, nuzzling against my forehead, causing a staccato rush of breath to escape my lips. “You haven’t kissed me in a long time, Liz,” he murmurs.

My throat is suddenly dry and I swallow hard. “I kiss you every night, Max.”

“I’m not talking about good-night kisses,” he clarifies gruffly. His head is lower now, his mouth grazing provocatively across my cheek. “I’m talking about like when…when you kissed me in the kitchen.” I moan his name at this point but he will not be stopped. “I’ve been thinking about it every night since.” He continues to rub sensuously against my jaw and cheek.

My neck goes boneless and I can hardly form a coherent thought under his gentle assault. “I thought I scared you,” I breathe. My voice is so husky that I hardly recognize it. My heart has dipped into my belly with a humming beat of anticipation. He’s nibbling at the corners of my mouth now, feinting a full kiss without ever taking one.

“You didn’t scare me,” Max whispers as he finally brushes across my lips, “I liked it.” I’m aware of his fingers sliding into my hair then, massaging my scalp in slow circles much the way I’ve done to him in the past. Our eyes lock in an intense, silent stare. “Show me what to do,” he implores.

I don’t hesitate any longer, but open my mouth to his descent. The kiss is leisurely, lingering, and full of tentative exploration. Max literally nibbles at my mouth and I’m just as tentative, nibbling right back, letting my tongue dart out quickly for that first salty taste of him. My enthusiasm provokes his and he gently sucks at my lower lip, running his tongue along the delicate inner flesh before sweeping the inside of my mouth. He breaks contact before I can return the favor, his breathing heavy and serrated. I lift my hand to finger his mouth tenderly. “Are you okay?”

“It makes me feel things…” he gasps softly, “I want…I want…I don’t know what I want.”

I press more closely against him, brushing his lips with mine quickly before he can think to pull away. “We won’t do anything you don’t want to, Max,” I reassure him gently.

He places his hands against my shoulders, holding me off a bit. “I think we’ll just stick with kissing,” he suggests with a smile, “But maybe that’s enough for tonight.” He glances up at me through his lashes as if he expects me to be angry about his decision. “Is…Is that okay?”

“Whatever you want, Max,” I tell him, “You need to do what makes you feel comfortable.”

He stares at me for countless, uncertain seconds before he finally nods. “It’s what I want,” he states. And then to take the sting away he leans forward and pecks me gently on the mouth. “More kisses tomorrow?” he asks boyishly.

“Definitely,” I promise him with a feline smile. Definitely more kisses tomorrow. More and more.

Next update Sunday night.
posted on 9-Feb-2003 2:28:28 AM by Deejonaise
quote:
Hybrid-Angel originally wrote:
Dee!

r u goin to put 'growing through it again' at the crashdown.com?


Nope, Growing Through It Again is staying right here. Besides Crashdown is known for being phenomenally slow when it comes to posting fics. I've reposted here on the Repost board just in case someone wants to read it without the feedback.

Dee
posted on 9-Feb-2003 8:58:39 PM by Deejonaise
Hey folks, I just had to get off work first. Here's the next part.

Chapter 18

“I don’t want you to run my baths anymore.”

His unexpected statement startles me so badly that I nearly fall into the tub of running water. Max has a terrible habit of sneaking up on people. Isabel and I have talked to him about it over and over but still he persists. I suspect he gains some sort of perverse amusement from it. I twist to face him on the rim of the bathtub. He is leaned back against the door, his arms folded across his chest petulantly. “What are you talking about, Max?”

“I can run my own baths,” he declares stubbornly, “I don’t happen to like bubbles.” He nods toward the bath water that is, unfortunately, full of bubbles. “You and Isabel always run the water too hot and I don’t like Bath and Body Works soap…and I’m 35 years old and I know how to turn on the tap!”

His vehemence leaves me wordless and I can only stare at him in mute shock over his outburst. It takes me a moment to realize what’s happening because the situation is so unlikely, however it appears that Max, my sweet, even-tempered Max, is in a bad mood. I’m so floored by the development that I almost laugh aloud. I’ve known for some time that eventually the day would come, but now that it has I find that I’m wholly unprepared for it. Max is almost never in a bad mood and the few times he has fallen into a funk he’s usually over it rather quickly. But this time is immensely different from the others.

Number one, Max is picking this fight. His body language says it all. His stubborn stance, his belligerent backtalk, his surly demeanor all are screaming out that Max is spoiling for a fight. However, instead of rising to the bait, I calmly shut off the tap. Then I turn to him and ask coolly, “Is something bothering you, Max?”

“No!” he fires back in irritation, “I just don’t like you running my bath water!”

“Then why not just tell me instead of snapping my head off,” I inquire softly.

That penetrates his crappy mood. He looks immediately contrite, the irritation and frustration fading from his face. “I’m sorry,” he apologizes, clearly ashamed, “I haven’t had a good day.”

I pat the empty spot on the tub edge next to me. “Come tell me about it,” I invite. He all but leaps over to crumple down beside him. It’s obvious to me that he’s been dying to talk to someone all day. I lace my fingers through his and trace the ridge of his knuckles with my free hand. “So what happened to put you in such a bad mood?”

“Isabel took me job hunting today.”

“Yes, I know,” I say, a smile of anticipation tugging at my mouth, “How did that go?”

“It was the most horrible day of my life,” Max sighs expansively.

I immediately take responsibility for his foul day even before I hear the entire story. That morning before I left for work I took with me misgivings about him and Isabel spending the entire day together. I had barely been able to concentrate on my students I was so preoccupied with what was going on with Isabel and Max. My biggest fear was that she would say something to shatter his fragile heart and then, by God, there would be hell to pay. And obviously my fears have been realized since Max experienced the “most horrible day” of his life. I make a mental note to strangle Isabel later.

Giving his hand a reassuring squeeze I say with forced brightness, “You know, Max, Isabel doesn’t always think before she speaks. Please don’t be offended by the things she might have said.”

Max gives me a queer look. “Isabel?” he repeats blankly, “Why do you think I’m mad about Isabel? I’m upset because no one will give me a job.” Well, now I feel like an idiot. I guess Isabel isn’t the only one who doesn’t think before she speaks. I venture a sideways glance at Max. He’s trying hard not to laugh at me. “Don’t feel bad,” he says, “at least I know you care.”

We share a giggle together and I’m glad to see that my foot in mouth disorder has evidently lifted his spirits some. “So what’s all this about no one will give you a job?”

Max sighs in exasperation. “Isabel and me must have looked a hundred different places today,” he moans, “I filled out so many job applications my hand hurts, but no one would hire me.”

“Well, employers don’t usually hire on the spot, Max,” I explain to him.

“Why? I don’t understand!” he cries, “They say they want help but when I come to help they say they have to call me back.”

“That’s just how it works sometimes, Max.”

“But they haven’t even called me!” he complains.

“It’s only been one day,” I stress. This can’t be all that’s troubling him. He seems way too agitated. “What else, Max?” I persist gently.

He hangs his head, knowing he can’t hide anything from me. “There’s one job I really want,” he confides in a whisper.

“And?”

“It’s at the UFO Center in town,” he tells me, “I’d have to do museum tours and…and I think I could only I still don’t read so good.”

“You’ve made a ton of progress, Max.”

“But it’s still not good enough and now I won’t get the job.”

I hate seeing him so dejected like this. He tries so hard, but it always seems as if there’s a glass ceiling above him just holding him down. He can see clearly where he wants to go but he just can’t find the means to get there. This is what fills me with dread…the thought that facing the daily disappointment that is dealt along with his handicap will crush Max’s bursting joy. It would be a shame to see that natural happiness, that has always been so apparent in his eyes and smile, extinguished. All I can do is endeavor to keep it there.

“Hey, you know what you need?” I announce cheerfully.

His response is definitely lackluster. “No, what?”

Still, I forge on brightly. “A nice warm bubble bath,” I say with a smile, “Life seems much less bleak after you’ve relaxed in a bath for an hour or so.”

He appears uncertain and I can tell from the look in his eyes that he’s desperately searching for a way to decline. “Geez, I don’t know, Liz--,”

“Trust me on this,” I insist firmly, “I do it all the time. It works like a charm.”

He takes a moment to consider my suggestion before finally nodding his head in agreement. “On one condition,” he adds as I stand up.

“What is it?”

“You have to stay in here with me.” Okay, I have officially lost control of the situation. I don’t even see it coming. One moment I’m the confidant and then the next, just like that, he’s got me tongue-tied. I would probably think that he’s purposefully trying to fluster me if it weren’t for the innocent expression on his face right now. “I just need someone to talk to,” he adds imploringly and his sweet demeanor about it flusters me even more.

“Max, I…I can’t stay in here with you,” I stammer, my eyes falling away in disconcertion.

“Why?” Max challenges, “Is it because I’ll be naked?” He shrugs as if the idea is no big deal at all. “You’ve seen me naked before, Liz. We’re married so I know you have.”

“But you don’t remember me seeing you naked,” I counter, but I have no idea why I’m making it an issue. The argument makes no sense even to me. But that’s exactly what Max does to me. Whenever he’s near my normal brain capability becomes non-existence. I function on a primate level. It’s really sad that he can turn my mind to mush so easily. I don’t ever remember him being able to do that before even when he was a smooth talking playboy. There’s just something about innocent men that make you want to kiss them and protect them all at once. I’ve definitely been battling with those conflicting emotions lately. Especially now. “Max, it’s not appropriate that I stay in here,” I say reasonably. There, that’s better. At least now I sound half way intelligent.

“Hey, if it makes you feel better…everybody’s seen me naked,” Max offers with candid magnanimousness. He checks off the list on his fingers. “Michael’s seen me naked, Isabel’s seen me naked, nearly all the nurses at Danner have seen me naked…” He thinks a second more. “Even Maria has seen me naked.”

“Maria!” I sputter out in a gasp.

Again he merely shrugs. “She walked in while I was taking a bath,” he explains, off-hand, “So will you stay now?” My hesitation must still be plain on my face because he adds a whining, “Pleeeeease!” Of course, I concede defeat, but that was a given from the beginning. “Awesome!” Max exclaims when I nod. He immediately begins stripping. I turn quickly before I get an eyeful, keeping my back to him until I hear the telltale settling of the bathwater as he climbs inside.

When I turn back to face him again he is submerged modestly beneath the bubbles. I sigh, half in relief, half in disappointment, as I take a seat of the toilet lid. Why didn’t I look when I had the chance? I definitely wanted to. But that’s staid, dependable Liz Evans again, doer of all things good and righteous. Sometimes I suck.

I have to suppress a groan of agony when he reclines back in the water with a satisfied moan. What I wouldn’t give to be one of those filmy bubbles clinging to his skin right now. I watch with a dry mouth as he lathers up his chest, captivated by the rivulets of soap and water that slid down its smooth, tanned expanse. I can see all the weight lifting and exercise he’s been doing lately is starting to pay off. Every time he shifts the washcloth back and forth over his skin the muscles in his forearms and shoulders flex provocatively. I lick my lips. I don’t think I’d mind being the washcloth too much either. Oh yeah, baby.

“So what should I do?”

I jerk my eyes to his face, completely oblivious. Has he been talking to me? “Huh?”

Max pauses in his scrub job to throw a puzzled grimace my way. “About the job?” he emphasizes.

Oh right. The job. Yes, that’s right…he wants a job. That’s where his mind is, on a potential job. As it should be. As mine should be. I need to refocus. I will refocus! But damn his chest for being so mouthwatering! However, I have to make an effort. He’s seriously conflicted here. “Uh…um…well, you could always call,” I suggest lamely.

“Call?” Max parrots. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he thinks this is the most ridiculous idea he’s ever heard. He offers me a pitying look as if to say, “And people think I’m dumb.” The man actually has the nerve to roll his eyes at me. “Yeah, call…oh, right, why didn’t I think of that one, Liz?” he mocks.

I make a face. “It’s actually a good idea,” I retort laughingly, “It puts your name out there and lets the employer know that you’re genuinely interested in the job.”

Max contemplates the bar of soap in his hands, favoring me with a suspicious look through the dark lushness of his lashes. “Really?”

“I’m serious,” I reply sincerely, “You should give it a try.”

“Okay, I will,” he agrees, resuming his bath. I’m afraid of the silence that will follow because it will leave too much time for lurid fantasies to tumble through my mind. As I’m racking my brain for plausible excuses to leave however, Max asks casually, “Hey, do you think you could wash my back?” He blinks up at me guilelessly. “I can’t reach.”

As I shift down onto my knees beside the tub I again almost suspect he’s doing this to me on purpose. I would believe it if not for the innocent stare and sweet smile he’s giving me. Max is absolutely horrible at pretense. There’s no way that all this wide-eyed charm is an act. I all but snatch the clothe from him in irritation and grit my teeth, scrubbing his shoulders and back in brisk circles. “Ow…hey!” Max glares at me over his shoulder. “What are you trying to do?” he gripes, “Remove skin?”

I regard him with raised brows. “Do you want to be clean or not?”

“You don’t have to be so rough about it,” was his answering grumble as he presents me with his back once again. But my scrubbing is halted once more when I hear him mutter, “I guess you don’t do this much.”

In disgust and frustrated desire, I throw the towel into the water and narrow my eyes on his back. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Max answers my question with one of his own. “Why are you being so snappy all of a sudden?”

“Could it be because I feel a little awkward being in here right now?” I retort sarcastically, “I mean why would you want me to be in here in the first place? It’s ridiculous!”

“I was hoping--,”

“—I mean you’re constantly complaining that we don’t treat you like an adult, but—,”

“—that we could--,”

“—then you turn around and ask me to do something like this!”

“—could kiss some more.” My mouth literally falls open when he finishes the rest of his statement. He trails his wet finger over my cheek before sliding them into my hair, his eyes soft and steady as they drink me in. “Can I kiss you, Liz?” That’s all it takes to turn me into a quivering mass. I’m definitely not irritated anymore.

I turn my face into his palm, nipping at the tender flesh. “You never have to ask me, Max,” I whisper to him right before our lips mesh together in a kiss that’s anything but innocent.


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 10-Feb-2003 12:28:31 AM ]
posted on 12-Feb-2003 11:34:44 AM by Deejonaise
Chapter 19

A week of stolen kisses has definitely made Max bold. With no coaxing from me he sweeps his tongue inside my mouth to taste me fully. I feel his fingers tunnel into my hair, pressing into my scalp, holding me captive to his avaricious kiss. My own hands flutter above his slick flesh, yearning to touch while frightened to do so. I don’t want anything to break this moment.

Before long, however, he takes the decision out my hands, twisting in the tub to shift up onto his knees. And then I’m pressed against his naked, wet body or as much as I can be with the rim of the bathtub between us, being kissed absolutely breathless. His hands skim lightly over my back, up and down, pressing me ever closer. However, the moment I do finally touch my fingers to his hot flesh he jerks away and sloshes back into the water. Just a light brush across his tight nipple but he reacts as if he’s been electrocuted.

I stare at him, my eyes round and surprised. “What is it?” I whisper.

He averts his eyes, shy and boyish once more. The seducer has vanished. His transformations from boy to man both amaze and frustrate me. I find the becoming blush tinting his cheeks quite charming but I simultaneously yearn for the sensual man he’d been only seconds earlier. “We shouldn’t,” he tells quietly. His breathing is deep and uneven. A quick peek down into the water testifies to the fact that he’s aroused. He’s not pushing me away because he doesn’t want me.

“Did I do something to offend you?” I ask him softly. I lift my hand to caress his wet hair back from his face but he flinches away. “Max?”

“You can’t touch me,” he says, almost panicked. It’s the cornered look on his face that makes me back off. But I’ll admit I’m still very confused.

“Why not, Max?” I demand quietly, “Why don’t you want me to touch you? Don’t you like it…don’t you like it when I touch you?” Maybe I’m being obtuse, but we are married, for crying out loud!

“I love it when you touch me,” he moans in a whisper.

That’s all the invite I need. I lean forward again, sweeping my mouth against his. “Then let me touch you,” I implore huskily and we’re at it again, kissing hard and hungry. Our tongues duel for dominance, thrusting in and out of each other’s mouths. My body is aflame, wanting him with a fierceness I’ve never experienced. I’m seriously considering climbing into the bathtub with him, clothes and all. He must sense my intent because he pushes me away yet again. “Max, I know you want me,” I insist hotly. For emphasis, I meander my hand down his chest in such of proof. And they say that women aren’t aggressors? I’m doing a damned good job.

He catches my fingers right before they can disappear into the water. “I’m not ready, Liz,” he says emphatically. The words are like a cold dash of water. I wilt backwards, my desire draining away. “I’m sorry…I’m just…not.”

“Okay,” I reply woodenly. Honestly, I don’t know what else to say.

“No, you don’t understand,” he rushes fervently, “I like you, Liz…I more than like you, but I’m still getting to know you…I’m still getting to know me.” He finally blinks up at me, his eyes pleading with me to understand. “I…I just want to go slow.” He regards me sweetly through the curtain of his lashes to garner my reaction.

“Slow?” I repeat blankly, “You want to go slow?” Can you tell that his admission has stunned me? Um…perhaps stunned is a bit of an understatement. I’m…I’m…my goodness, well…I’m stunned. So that’s the best adjective I can retrieve from my muddled brain right now. Perhaps because, despite myself, I am still comparing this Max to the old one. The old Max, my dearly departed husband, never and I mean NEVER turned down sex. Even those desperate times when I’d seduced him while we were on the outs he never turned me away so I’m, well as I mentioned before, stunned that he would do so now, especially when his body is so obviously aroused.

But then I have to remind myself yet again that this Max isn’t the same. Not only mentally but morally as well. Despite Michael’s crass influence Max has developed into quite a gentlemen. Perhaps it’s the effect of living in a house full of women or the limited influence he’s gleaned from Dr. Whitman when he comes calling for Isabel. Whatever it is, this Max carries a certain standard that he absolutely refuses to lower. Right is right and wrong is wrong and there are no gray areas for Max. Not like before, when most of his life was a gray area.

That’s not to say Max is pompous or self-righteous now because he isn’t. However, he sees no reason for lies or manipulation. He doesn’t know how to play coy, doesn’t desire to really. He wants me and he’ll make no excuse. But he also wants to wait and he’s not making any excuse for that either. And I suspect that there is something even deeper motivating him at this moment. Max doesn’t want to hurt me. He has this intense desire to do no harm, physically or emotionally. My beautiful, wonderful, adoring Max is trying to do the right thing.

Max looks at me now, fearful he has made me angry while appearing resolute not to back down from his decision either. “Yeah…yeah, I do,” he stammered firmly, “I want to go slow, Liz, because…because I…I respect you. I can wait until the time is right for both of us. Can you wait for me?”

Now I feel ashamed, like a teenaged boy pressuring his girlfriend for sex. Isn’t it ironic how the tables are turned? “Of course, I can wait for you, Max,” I vow. I want to touch him, just to let him know how truly sincere I am, but I’m afraid of making him any more uncomfortable than I already have. “I just got carried away being in here with you, kissing you and--,”

I break off as he suddenly glances down at the water surrounding him, his eyes widening as it finally dawns on him that my being here with him while he’s naked is inappropriate, especially if he wants to wait. When he looks at me again his cheeks are flaming anew with mortification. “Oh God…Liz, I wasn’t even thinking about that,” he rushes to reassure me, “That’s not what I meant when I asked you to stay--,”

I press my finger against his mouth to silence him. “Shh…” I whisper with a smile, “I know it. You’re not responsible here, I am. I should have known better.” I push myself away from the bathtub and straighten. “I’ll just leave you to your bath now.”

But I’m smiling as I turn away rather than slumping with disappointment. In fact, I’m not disappointed in the slightest, but rather I feel strangely flattered and…revered. Max wants to wait until I know him better, until he knows me better. But most importantly, until he knows himself. That’s something most people don’t consider before escalating to intimacy. But my Max, in all his childlike innocence, had the forethought to consider just that. I can’t help but be struck by the depth of his wisdom, awed beyond words.

I enter my bedroom whistling a jaunty tune to find Katie is curled up Indian style atop my bed, the Monopoly game box in her lap. She perks up as I come inside. “I thought maybe we could play,” she says with a hopeful smile.

I don’t usually like to play Monopoly with Katie. For a mere eight year old she can be quite cut throat when she wins. And if she loses… Oh good gravy, you could serve cheese with the whine that follows. But her smile is so appealing right now, an odd combination of both her father and me, plus I’m in such a good mood I think, “Why the hell not?” So before I’ve completely thought it through I’m already nodding and folding myself onto the bed with her to help her set up the game.

“So you and Dad are really getting along, huh?” Katie observes as she casually straightens the money. Not casually enough. I immediately zero in on the real reason she’s sought out my company today. She’s on a fishing expedition.

“We’re becoming really good friends, I think,” I reply coyly, partly just to aggravate her, “Set me up as the car, please.”

Katie quickly assembles the silver colored pieces, the dog and the car, on the GO space. “Okay, no property buys the first go around,” she states. This is our tradition. We can make up our own rules, but they must be stated prior to the first roll of the dice or they do not count.

I nod my head in agreement. “I also want the paid money to go under Free Parking,” I tell her, sweeping up the dice.

“Aww, Mom! I hate when we do that!” Katie whines. Didn’t I tell you? This child is a master. “You always win the money and I never do!”

“If you challenge my rule I’ll challenge yours,” I warn blithely. Okay, maybe it’s terrible for a thirty-three year old woman to gang up on an eight-year-old girl, but I must admit, Katie is so wonderfully easy to bait. “Take it or leave it.” Katie huffs her reluctant consent and I roll the dice.

I only just hop my piece the rolled eleven spaces when Katie comments brazenly, “So Dad really likes you.”

I cast her a warning look, although inside I’m simpering over the observation. “Katie--,”

My precocious daughter merely shrugs. “I’m just saying that I’ve seen the way he looks at you…and the way you look at him.”

Okay, I’ve swallowed the bait. My grin breaks its way to the surface. “I told you that we’re friends, Katie,” I manage neutrally, but spoil the effect with a giggle, “He looks at me? Really? How does he look at me?” I wonder if she can notice a difference between the way he looked at me before the shooting and the way he looks at me now.

But of course now it’s Katie’s turn to be coy. Is this girl my child or what? “I don’t know,” she replies with feigned indifference. She picks up the dice for her roll. “He just looks at you sometimes…you know, like when you’re fixing dinner or in the mornings when you’re running all over trying to get everything together.”

“Really?” I consider. I haven’t thought about Max watching me before now, but it causes a lovely warmth to feel my belly in knowing that he does. Maybe because lately I’ve been doing my share of staring as well. I actually marvel over how beautiful he is. It is definitely true what they say about beauty radiating from within. Max has always been a handsome man, but since his accident he’s become absolutely breathtaking to me.

Katie bounces her piece along the board, the tapping sound pulling me from my brief reverie. “I’ve seen you kissing him,” she reveals. Her head is bent so I can’t see her face, but I can hear the smile in her tone. I’m not sure if she’s just saying this now for the shock value or to pull information out of me or if she’s truly sincere.

“You have not!” I counter laughingly. I scrape the dice from her hands.

“No, I saw you,” she insists, “The other night I got up to get a glass of water and…and you and Dad were kissing against the kitchen sink.”

Well, now I’m blushing ten shades of red all over because I know for sure she saw us. For the life of me I still can’t understand how something as generic as washing and drying dishes together turned into an all out make-out fest. Our hands met beneath the soap suds of the dishwater and it was all over. I peek a glance at Katie and much to my disconcertion she’s waiting for me to explain myself. I begin with the thing that’s bothering me most. “Are you mad about it?” I ask her shakily.

“No!” And the way she exclaims that denial makes me think that anger is the last thing she feels. She confirms my hopeful suspicions with her next words. “I think it’s awesome that you and Dad are kissing! You even seem to like it more than before…I mean, you both do.” Again I feel my cheeks bloom with color. “So is Dad gonna sleep in here from now on?”

“Sleep…sleep in here?” I sputter. When did my tiny daughter become so direct? I study her now and I recognize that she’s very different from the little girl who had her entire world rocked only nine months earlier. And I don’t mean just the physical changes. She’s more confident, definitely more assertive than she’d been before. Less a little girl and more a young lady. I’m impressed and saddened all at once. I suppose I want her to stay my baby forever.

“Don’t you think he should?” Katie counters with adult-like logic, “I mean…if you’re kissing him…”

“Your dad isn’t ready to share a bedroom with me, Katie,” I tell her firmly, “Right now you’re too young to understand all the details so I don’t plan to discuss this any further with you than telling you that your father needs to take things slowly.”

“You mean like when we tell him about how things were before…you know…before he was shot.”

“Yes,” I say, “exactly like that. Your father can’t jump into being the man he was before. That has to take place gradually.”

“But I don’t want him to be the man he was before!” Katie cries, flinging down the dice, “I like the man he is now!” And then as quickly as that, she’s in tears and flinging herself into my arms. “Mommy, please tell me Daddy won’t be like he was before.”

I cuddle her close, stroking her hair just as I did when she was a baby. “No, sweetie,” I croon soothingly, rocking her back and forth, “That man is gone for good. He’s never coming back.” It’s not until I voice the words aloud that I realize how glad I am for that truth…glad and relieved.

posted on 13-Feb-2003 3:49:41 AM by Deejonaise
Hello All.

Well, let's just say I'm disheartened. Honestly. I haven't felt this disappointed since Roswell went downhill. First of all, Jen007 is leaving the board, which is monumentally sad since she's the one that started all this to begin with. And I'm not just saying that...you see I was actually around when she did. I remember reading her and Cristina and Linda's fics. I remember lurking. I remember posting Growing Up, Growing Apart and Falling in Love over there. Hey, I even met Anne over there. The fact that Jen feels the need to leave the board over this plagiarism issue is saddening to me. But what is equally saddening is how the issue has been so debated in the first place.

I am by no means a saint and I hope when I mess up, which I am bound to do, I will be given a second chance. However, the issue with latahart and Linda shouldn't have been about second chances. Before this whole thing with them came up plagiarism was an offense punishable by banning on this board. There was NO TOLERANCE involved. How do I know? I had been lurking on this board only a few months when the issue arose and the person in question was summarily banned. Now here's my question for you: You don't think that person was sorry? You don't think they wanted a second chance? Did they get one? No. So why should it have been any different for Linda and latahart?

A lot of us here write fics. We know personally what it's like to put our blood, sweat and tears into it. I know I do. There are some days when I don't sleep just so I can write the stories I do. There are like a hundred little notes I've written to myself scattered all over the house for the fics I'm writing and future ideas. Now here's the problem. It comes down to a matter of trust for me and for all the members here. Whether Linda and latahart were sorry or not, the wavering over whether to ban them compromised the integrity of this board...at least for me anyway. Why? Because I can't help but wonder if they were willing to steal ideas from a published writer what would stop them from doing so to me...or any other fanfiction writer here. I'm not saying I'm the next Danielle Steele or anything, but what I write I'm pretty proud of and I'm quite territorial about it.

I don't feel, in good conscience, I can continue posting on this board so I'm leaving. From this point on I'm going to post my fics over at Outer Haven, http://pub13.ezboard.com/bouterhaven45775. For a long time I believed this board was about respect, respect for the mods, respect for the writers and respect for the readers, but for the last few days all I've seen is disrespect and, maybe it makes me ideal or a wuss or sanctimonious or whatever, but I can't stay here. Knitzi_Killer said it best. If you're going, go. If you're staying, stay, so I'll be doing the former.

Like I said, I'll be over at Outer Haven if you wanna read me. I'll be back with the link. Thanks for all the feedback and support, peeps! It's been much appreciated.

Dee

For some reason it's not letting me link the board, but if you type in the address it should take you straight to the site.


[ edited 2 time(s), last at 13-Feb-2003 6:28:04 AM ]