posted on 10-Sep-2001 3:15:54 AM by Clay
Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.



THE MIDDLE WAY





They’re leaving today.

Kyle takes Valenti’s old blue truck and the three of us head off into the desert on 285 North.

Kyle drives and Maria sits in the passenger seat. I sit in the middle, curling my arms around my knees and trying to stay clear of the stick.

By the time we get where we are going, the eeriness is numbness and the symphony of crickets is better than the silence.

Everybody is glad the sun is gone.

Maria says, “Where are we.”

Kyle says, “Here.”

I say, “Here is nice.”

And it is.

Kyle opens his door and starts fidgeting with the radio, and Maria opens her door and sits there. I climb over her and slide down into the tumbleweeds and dry brush below.

I let Maria climb onto my back, and then I walk us both around to the bed of the truck. Maria really hates snakes.

The three of us sit in a row, backs resting against the back window of the cab, legs stretched out. My shoes, then Maria’s shoes, then Kyle’s.

I giggle when Kyle starts softly mimicking the twanging country voices coming from the cracked window of the cab. Maria even smiles.

None of us mean for it to happen, but we are lulled by the darkness and fall onto our backs to stare up at the night sky.

Stars.

My heart should hurt, but I don’t have one anymore.

Maria does. I hear her start to cry next to me after a while. I sit up and ease her head into my lap, running my fingers through her hair.

Kyle is watching us. I glance up and see a blanket in the far corner of the bed.

“Would you –“ I whisper, and he reaches over and hands it to me. I shake it open and tuck it around Maria’s quivering figure.

When she falls still, I sigh and lean back into the hard truck window again. Kyle is watching me still. I think he’s waiting for me to cry or something.

There’s nothing to say, so I just close my eyes. I’m thinking of nothing and of everything, and I have no idea if it takes me moments or hours to reach semi-consciousness.

Warmth is laid on top of me, and I realize that Kyle’s jacket is covering me. I can feel him hovering somewhere above me trying to adjust it carefully, but I don’t open my eyes.

We drive back to Roswell when our limbs are too sore to sleep any longer.


*****


In physics on Monday, I don’t have a partner. Mr. Seligman seems to think this is going to be a big problem for this experiment. I want to tell him I haven’t really had a partner in months, but I don’t. That will for sure set me up for questioning just as soon as Roswell finds out that said partner is missing.

Who am I kidding. I’ll be the first to be questioned anyway.

Maria isn’t here today. Alex is dead. Sean’s a juvenile delinquent. So at lunch, I wander over to the letterman jacket contingent.

“Liz.”

“Hey Liz.”

“Parker. You never call, you never write.”

“How’s it going, Liz.”

They’re being nice. Like, genuinely nice. I can’t even remember the last time I interacted with any of them outside of class. Freshman year, I guess.

Oh yeah, Alex hasn’t even been dead for two weeks. That explains a lot. Most of them were never bad guys anyway, but now I know I have a free pass card.

“I’m looking for Kyle.”

“Yeah, he just asked about you, he went that way.”

I’m not surprised. We are, after all, the only two people at this school that spent the weekend sending a group of aliens off into outer space.

I walk in the pointed direction. Somewhere in the back of my head I register whispers and snippets of conversation as I walk away, and it occurs to me that the whole school thinks I slept with Kyle for revenge.

I don’t care one way or another. I mean, I really don’t.

I run into Kyle by my locker, and we sit with our backs against the 400 wing wall. We’re silent. It feels wonderful. I just sit and stare at my food for a couple minutes.

“Will you eat ice cream?”

I stare at him.

“It’s really easy. You just open your mouth, it melts, and there is minimal effort involved.”

We go to Baskin Robbins for lunch.


*****


Maria insists on coming with me to the Evans for dinner. They’ve invited the two of us, but I told Maria she really didn’t need to do this.

“Liz. I’m coming with you.”

Sure.

I know what the whole evening will consist of anyway.

Mrs. Evans will cry and apologize for crying and serve us chicken and potatoes and want to spend the whole night reminiscing about Max and Isabel and how much they meant to all of us. And Maria will sit there and try not to cry and try not to explode.

Maria hates Max. She won’t admit it, but I know she does. She hates him for taking Michael from her. She hates him for coming back from the future and laying the world on me, she hates him for how he treated us after Alex’s death. All of these lead back to the same thing, ultimately, that he took Michael from her. He did, too.

But she wants to come for me. I don’t need her, but she needs me to need her, so I say nothing and pull some sweaters out my closet for her to try on with the pants she’s already wearing.

We show up at the Evans doorstep 20 minutes later. Both Mr. and Mrs. Evans greet us as the door swings open.

Please don’t try to touch me.

Mrs. Evans steps forward to hug me, and I grit my teeth and put my arms around her. Mr. Evans pats my shoulder. I move into the entryway.

The moment I touch the chair I’ve been waved to, I am assaulted with an image of myself.

Just always be my friend, will you do that Max?

You know I will.


And his accompanying feeling. That goes into storage immediately. I don’t want to think about that now. Or ever, really.

That whole thing was unexpected. Flashes. Check. I add that to my mental list of aftermath issues to stay on guard for, right after Skins, teachers, and parents. It’s all about preparation.

Homemade applesauce with brown sugar. That looks pretty good.

“I just thought you should know, Liz, that Max thought so much of you. He was always so quiet, but I would hear him talk with Isabel about you sometimes.”

Let’s see. Which is the lesser of two evils here. I could try to force myself to eat this bite of chicken, or I could meet Mrs. Evans’ gaze. I also need to not burst into laughter.

“Thank you,” I say finally.

Maria’s looking at me. I ignore her, but it’s all the motivation I need.

“Max meant a lot to me too.”

Part of me wants to gag.

And part of me wants to tell her that’s not even a fraction of it, that he saved my life and I fell in love with his gentle soul and we saw into each other’s souls and when he touched me I glowed and we eloped and got married, except then we didn’t and I wanted to be in love with him forever, not just love him forever, and then I couldn’t and I don’t and I won’t.

And then I just stop all of that, because I want to.

On the way home, Maria surprises me.

“Are you still in love with him?”

“No.”

It’s the truth. Later I might feel relieved about that, or I might feel a deep ache, or some combination, but right now I feel nothing because I’ve decided to feel nothing.

Or maybe I’m not really in charge here, but I think I’ll dismiss that thought.

“You could have eaten something.”

“Sure, if I was hungry.”

“I’m flunking chemistry and I have a test on Thursday. Can you help?”

“Yeah. You wanna come by the Crashdown tomorrow? I’m on swing, so we can start then and I’ll get off early.”

“Okay. Thanks.”



*****



“Liz, will you go to church with us on Sunday?”

Easter was last month and it’s not Christmas. Where did that come from.

I go upstairs to change into my uniform. I place the antenna carefully over my ponytail, and suddenly I’m picking up the phone.

“It’s me. Do you believe in God?”

Silence.

“What has been created is impermanent. And what is impermanent is inherently ill. No permanent bliss or happiness is to be found in what is impermanent, only pain and peril.”

“New reading habit?”

“I wasn’t sure about this stuff, and then the last two weeks happened, and nothing has ever made so much sense.”

What has been created is impermanent . . .

“I have to work. Talk to you later.”



*****



The Crashdown is half full and I’m the only one on right now. If Maria weren’t here with her books all spread out in the corner booth, I’d be thrilled. Good juggling of more tables than anyone should ever have is strangely satisfying. Plus, it keeps me busy, and the tips are really good right now. Better than the tourist season in the summer even.

Yeah, it’s sympathy money, but what do I care, Harvard isn’t going to pay for itself.

Everything is humming and hopping, and I realize I’m almost off when I notice Kyle has joined Maria at her table.

I approach with a couple of vanilla cokes.

“So the compound that burns out first and ends the reaction is the limiting reagent. You’re supposed to figure out which one that is.”

“Limiting reagent. Deadbeat. Got it.”

“No, no. The limiting reagent is the victim here. It’s the other chemical that just uses it and loses it, burns it out til it has nothing left of itself to give.”

“Liz is the scientist here. What’s your call?”

“Deadbeat.”

“Tough crowd.”

I’m amused, but I just shrug and Delilah walks in, so I take off to make my last rounds.

Upstairs, I peel off my uniform and opt to take a quick shower.

The mist is filling up the bathroom, and I’m looking at my naked self in the mirror. It must be the first time I’ve done this in a long time, I don’t know how long, obviously. I should try and remember to do it again sometime soon. I’m looking a little on the faded side.

I climb out as soon as I’m in, Maria’s been waiting long enough.

I bypass the folded, clean clothes sitting on my bed, and sift through the worn pile to throw on my soft, pink sweater.

I pull my wet hair into a high ponytail and head downstairs with calculator and pencil in hand.

“Right, so they’re giving you the molar mass of acetate.”

“Right.”

“And you can figure out the ratio of acetate to sodium hydroxide by just balancing the equation.”

Maria looks at me and waves in Kyle’s general direction.

“When did he learn chemistry?”

“When did you learn chemistry?”

“Knowledge is power.”

He is totally serious.

“So much for remedial classes with me, pal.”

“Enlightenment is the path to Nirvana.”

Maria is unconvinced. “Liz, could you check this problem? I’m wondering if I should be checking up on Buddha here’s credibility.”

Kyle smiles serenely and I slide into the booth next to Maria.



TO BE CONTINUED





Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.



THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 2



*****

Maria’s yelling for me and knocking at my door. She’s crying. Loudly.

I open the door.

“What’s going on?”

“What kind of question is that?!”

I’m frozen in place.

“I am a fucking wreck! And you! What the fuck is wrong with you, there’s nothing wrong with you!”

I feel my heart respond a little, and it’s the strangest sensation, but I really want to sit her down and cry with her. If I could just remember how.

“God!”

She throws her hands in the air, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“You know what? Screw this!”

She turns on her heel and retreats.

“I’ll be back to apologize later!” she yells.

And with that she is gone.

I should go after her.

I want to go after her.

But we both know that I have no idea how to help her.


*****


“Liz?”

I feel my shoulders being shaken slightly.

“Alex?”

I open my eyes and become conscious of how wet my side is. Kyle is crouching next to me.

“Oh.”

I shake myself awake and discover that I’m still lying in the grass next to Alex’s tombstone.

“I wondered if you might be here.”

“Yeah.”

I look away.

“Have you seen Maria today?”

“Yeah, she came by hysterical.”

I can feel the imprints of many little blades of grass embedded into my right cheek. Thanks for nothing, Alex.

Whoa. That sharp stab of guilt? I’m ignoring it.

“Where is she now?”

“Asleep in my bed.”

“Is she mad at me?”

“Uh, couldn’t say. I said your name and she got more hysterical.”

I can see him appraising me. Trying to figure out how to ask me if I’m okay without asking me if I’m okay.

Finally he moves to help me up.

“Come on, it’s getting cold out here.”

I follow him to his red Mustang and climb in, sinking low into the tan bucket seat.

“Arby’s, KFC, Denny’s, Chez Pierre . . . Baskin Robbins . . . choose.”

“I think we should get back to Maria.”

“She’s asleep.”

Fine.

I’m trying really hard not to resent this intrusion into my personal habits. Eating is a personal habit, you know.

So I laugh a little at his choices.

“Chez Pierre?”

I must have come across a little snarky, because he’s gunning the engine in reverse and peeling out.

“Fine, Grand Slam at Denny’s it is.”

I feel bad immediately.

“I’m sorry.”

For being out here and making you deal with me, for sending Maria to your house in hysterics, for pulling sarcasm when you’re trying to help.

He’s still looking at the road.

“And thank you.”

Finally he glances at me.

“You know, for caring.”

“Yeah. Just eat something here, would you.”

Okay then.

“Okay.”


*****


We’re at Kyle’s, and Maria is tangled up in blankets sleeping deeply. On the pull-out couch in the family room.

“I thought you said she was in your room,” I whisper.

“This is it.”

And then I realize.

I’m guessing no one has been in his old room since its last occupant left.

I want to tell him that I’m sorry, or do something, but he’s already moved to the fridge to put the leftovers away.

I climb onto the makeshift bed and curl myself around Maria, putting my arms around her and playing with her hair.

She opens her eyes, groggy.

“Liz?”

“Hey sleepyhead.”

“What’s going on?”

“Kyle and I came over to play Nintendo and you’re taking up all the room.”

I smile at her.

“I’m sorry about –“

I cut her off.

“I am too.”

We reach a silent understanding, for now. I know that she doesn’t really understand, and she knows that I don’t either. For now, that’s okay again.

I busy myself untangling controllers and plugging them into Kyle’s most recent system. I suck at video games because I’ve never owned any.

“Choose three players.”

Kyle has joined us, and I look at him helplessly.

“Here, I’ll do it.”

He takes the main controller away from me and starts clicking a bunch of options rapid fire.

After an hour of immersion in jumping over little men and blasting them with fireballs and running at warp speed, or something, I’m starting to have fun as I get the hang of it all.

Kyle and Maria tease me mercilessly for moving my whole body along with the controller as I try to make my character move right or left.

I can’t seem to pass any level successfully, but I’m starting to get really close when Maria announces she’s starving and shuts off the game.

“What have you got to eat around this place?”

“Leftovers?”

Maria is rummaging through the fridge.

“Mmm, are these hash browns? Can I eat these?”

“Yeah, why not, it’s all Liz’s anyway.”

Maria warms the styrofoam container in the microwave, then plops down on the couch. We sit there in comfortable silence for several minutes.

And suddenly Maria is pushing the food away, and her chin is quivering, and tears are forming in her eyes.

Oh god.

“He just left,” she chokes out. “I mean, he always said he was going to. But he didn’t even tell me the night before they left until after he took my virginity.”

Oh my god.

“Oh my god.”

“What kind of love is that?” she whispers.

I’m obviously the last person here with any idea of what true love reciprocated is, and I exchange glances with Kyle hoping that he can think of one damn thing to say because I can’t.

Finally I just go with my gut feeling.

“Michael loves you. He does.”

How helpful.

“Obviously not enough.”

I can relate.

“I can relate.”

Her eyes widen with hurt for herself, for me, for all of us.

I must have said that out loud. Oh, I didn’t.

But I did.

Now she’s crying harder.

I’ve made her feel guilty, I realize. For feeling this way when at least her extraterrestrial boyfriend appeared to care about her in the days following Alex’s death. And everything else rosy in comparison to my dismal excuse for a life in the last year. Actually, that’s probably why she’s been little miss soldier in the last couple of weeks since they left.

“Maria, it’s okay to feel this way,” I say soothingly.

She sniffles for several more minutes while I put my arm around her and lean our backs up against the couch frame.

“Liz?”

“Hmm . . .”

“Is it okay if I just cry for you too?”

I smile a little bit and answer as softly as she has asked.

“I would appreciate that.”

Maria turns and kisses the side of my head.

“Maria,” I whisper after a few moments. “I have this feeling.”

“What’s that?”

“I wasn’t going to say anything, but let me just say this. If I loved someone as much as I believe Michael has grown to love you, the universe wouldn’t be big enough to keep me away forever.”

Kyle’s head jerks up a bit from where he has been lying next to us.

“You think they’ll be back?”

I shrug slightly.

“It’s just a feeling.”

The hours slip away.


*****


The next day is Sunday.

My parents want to go to church.

I guess they want to save my soul, just in case I die next. After Alex, and the presumed deaths of Max, Michael, Isabel, and Tess, I guess I would probably get weird about my kid too if I were in their position.

This isn’t like school, and I want to say no. School I can handle, it’s a predictable element. If you put out a certain vibe, you will get exactly the reactions you want.

Church, on the other hand, is full of adults. Adults who don’t have a common behavior code. They will violate your space and everything else in rarely subtle pursuit of information from you.

When did I adopt this kind of attitude, anyway?

Maybe when my life became a tangled web of lies and secrets. I can hardly remember when it wasn’t.

In any case, I would really rather not go this alone.

Maria isn’t an option though, since she’s got to be exhausted from yesterday. I pick up the phone and dial Kyle.

“Hello.”

“Hi, Sheriff, is Kyle around?”

“Hey Liz. Kyle’s out right now. Dunno when he’ll be back, but I can let him know you called.”

“Uh, that’s okay. Bye.”

Click.

Two of two options exhausted.

Well, there is Sean.

Frankly though, I am still feeling bad about using him, much as I was attracted to something about him, and Maria’s said that he’s been irritable lately about being left out of the loop with us three. Even though he knows we’re hardly barrels of sunshine what with all the ‘death’ lately. It’s tough having a tag along these days that doesn’t know about the Czech drama. Plus, Kyle doesn’t really like Sean much. Maria acts like she knows why, but I’ve haven’t gotten around to asking her about it yet.

I think Sean is also freaked by all the death lately. Who wouldn’t be.

I pick up the phone and nearly dial the DeLuca’s, and then it occurs to me that the entire point of this outing is to placate my parents, and bringing Sean along with probably undermine it all.

I dial anyway.



TO BE CONTINUED

Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.




THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 3





*****


Turns out, pain and suffering is for our salvation.

Okay then.

I wonder if this applies to Martians too.

“Do you think that applies to Martians?” I ask Sean.

He squints a little.

“I don’t know. I don’t even know if that applies to me.”

“Good point.”

“What, you don’t think I can be saved?”

“Nope.”

“Why, because I have a rap sheet?”

I give him a look.

“Can we stick to the topic please?”

“I thought that was the topic.”

“I just want to know if all of this is supposed to hold true for like, aliens.”

“So you want ET to be saved, but you don’t care about me.”

Here comes the pastor, time to split.

“This is all irrelevant anyway. Come on, let’s hide.”

I grab Sean’s sleeve and pull him around the corner and into a spare room.

“What are you doing, Parker.”

“I’m not talking to a perfect stranger about ali . . . about anything.”

Sean raises his hands halfway.

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

“Except someone’s coming this way.”

He grabs me by the arm and we hide behind the door. It cracks open while someone pokes their head inside. And then it swings closed again.

I walk across the room, open the window, and climb out.

Salvation.

“Liz, you’re nuts.”

I know, Sean. I know.

“Breaking out of a church is something I would do.”

Yeah, well.

I’ll explain to my dad later.


*****


This is the slowest summer ever.

The Crash Festival has been over for two weeks, so most of the kooks have gone home already. The place is now dead on hot weekday afternoons. I used to hate this time in years gone by, because I would always worry that I wasn’t going to make my yearly savings quota.

This is not really an issue anymore, but I’m repressing that right now.

The one table we had just left, and it’s too hot to clear it, so I just hop onto the counter and sit there instead.

Maria saunters out of the backroom and climbs up next to me.

“Liz, what am I going to do next year.”

Good question.

“Is this a trick question?”

“College just seems like a . . . blah.”

“Yes it does.”

She scrunches up her face like she isn’t hearing me.

I go on anyway.

“Would you believe me if I said I had no ambition anymore?”

“No.”

No hesitation on her part. Hmmm.

Do I have any ambition left?

I can’t seem to assign a face to it right this moment.

Let’s think about Maria instead.

“Well, do you still want to get out of here?”

I realize the implication of that as soon as it’s out of my mouth.

“I don’t know.”

Thankfully Kyle is now appearing through the double doors.

“Hey. You look . . . busy.”

He makes his way over to the soda fountain and helps himself to a huge glass of ice and Mr. Pib.

“So I was thinking,” he says, making his way back over to our post. “Wouldn’t I be a good server?”

Maria laughs.

“What.”

He looks pretty serious to me.

“I’m serious.”

Maria’s still grinning.

“I know what it is. You want to wear a little green dress.”

I start laughing too.

He stares at us for a moment.

“With silver panties,” he deadpans.

Maria and I are on the floor.

Kyle waits until we have calmed down a little, and then he proceeds to recite the menu, in order, impressively.

“You really are serious?” I finally manage.

“Yep. I spend enough time here anyway, I might as well make myself useful.”

“Okay. Actually we just lost Delilah, so we could use someone us with us on nights. I’ll let my dad know.”

I sip my glass of water, and wonder what I’m missing here.

“Wait. Does this have to do with your dad?”

“Something like that.”

Oh, now I’m understanding.

“I want to keep my car, and the savings are starting to go.”

“Okay. No problem.”

I smile at him.

Maria smiles at me.

And then I’m fighting to keep it under control. If I look at her, it will all be over.

She loses it, and I burst into laughter right after her.

Kyle just looks at us.

“Liz. I’m not wearing a dress, Liz.”

I want to reply, but I’m too hysterical.


*****


The moon is nearly full tonight. It’s shining right through my window, lighting up much of my room.

I’m restless anyway, so I get up and slip through the window to sit on the balcony for a little while.

I haven’t written in my journal for months again, but it still doesn’t appeal to me. I should just burn it, maybe.

My telescope is also sitting next to me, neglected for nearly as long. Like I really want to check out what’s in the cosmos.

I hear footsteps on the pavement outside. They’re coming this direction. Maybe Kyle? I move quietly to the edge of the balcony and peer over.

It’s Sean.

I’m strangely disappointed.

“Parker, is that you?”

“Hey Sean.”

“I couldn’t sleep, I was just taking a walk. Wanna come?”

“Um, that’s okay.”

Now he looks disappointed.

“All right. See ya.”

“Bye.”

I head back to my lounge chair and curl up in blankets until I fall asleep.


*****


Sean comes into the Crashdown the next day. Maria, Kyle, and I are just hanging out, all off-duty for the time being.

Sean slides into the empty booth space next to me.

“You wouldn’t want to go for a walk now would you?”

“Actually, I’m in the middle of a conversation. Maybe later, okay Sean?”

“Sure, if later means you’re in your pajamas again.”

He’s looking at me suggestively.

Oh god. When Sean feels rejected, he somehow transforms from a decent human being back into a prepubescent child again.

I’m trying to figure out how I can make him go away for now, when I realize how pissed Kyle looks.

“Get lost, DeLuca.”

“What’s it to you, Valenti?”

“What part of go away punk ass don’t you understand?”

I’m a little stunned.

Maria intervenes.

“Sean, we need to finish this conversation. I’ll see you later tonight.”

He stands, then turns around abruptly.

“You’re a real piece of work, you know that Parker? I think someone forgot to tell you that friendship is a two-way street.”

And with that, he stalks out of the diner.

I feel like a heel.

But besides that . . .

Kyle is still glowering.

What was that all about?




TO BE CONTINUED








Edited by - Clay on 09/16/2001 02:11:34

Edited by - Clay on 09/20/2001 03:28:21

Edited by - Clay on 09/23/2001 17:44:56

Edited by - Clay on 09/27/2001 00:36:57

Edited by - Clay on 10/06/2001 03:07:51

[ edited 8 time(s), last at 29-Nov-2001 7:31:22 AM ]
posted on 10-Sep-2001 3:17:34 AM by Clay
Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.




THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 4





*****


My mom made Kyle a shirt out of green uniform material, some silver disco looking pants, and a silver tie.

He gets a lot of a lot of flack for those pants, especially when anyone from school comes in, but he’s taken this really amusing pride in them.

I see him approaching a table through the swing door window, and I sneak out and slip into the chair next to Maria in the corner. I nod my head toward Kyle.

“Watch this. He is totally making bank.”

“It’s the pants.”

“It’s more than the pants. Watch.”

Kyle has this whole self-deprecating, shy thing going on when he’s waiting tables. This is partially because he’s a terrible waiter. In one week, he’s dropped seven plates of hot food.

But it’s also that he’s just Kyle.

“Welcome to the Crashdown,” he drawls, finally looking up at his customers from his pad with a small smile and this look that says he’s not taking any of these required formalities too seriously. He then physically walks around to every member of the family, attentively taking orders and clarifying requests.

This is a five-member family, and when Kyle gets to the little toddler boy, he crouches down so that he is eye to eye with him.

“Hey, I’m Kyle. You sure look like a hungry man to me.”

“I’mBrentcanIhaveacorndog?!” the boy beams.

This is clearly an important moment that little Brent has been rehearsing.

Kyle nods gravely and jots this down without breaking eye contact with him.

“Brent’s Cosmo Corndog, coming up.”

Brent is ecstatic.

Maria nudges me.

“You’re right, who’s not going to tip big for that?”

Pause.

“And the pants don’t hurt.”

"I don't know, maybe it's the tie."

“I need to pee,” Brent announces.

Kyle waves off the parents and takes the little boy’s hand, two small fingers wrapped around one of his. Brent toddles after Kyle, beaming all the way as they move half-speed toward the back.

I’ve never really seen Kyle in quite this way before.

Or maybe I just wasn’t looking?

Kyle spots me watching him on the way, and I realize I have a huge smile on my face. He smiles back in greeting, then disappears beyond the backroom door.

“Well,” says Maria.

“Well, what?”

She doesn’t have time to answer.

“Liz!”

No way. Is that Jennifer?

“Jennifer, wow, how are you?”

Choke.

Now that’s an enthusiastic hug.

“Great! And you look great! It’s good to see you.”

“You too. Where’s Larry?”

Her smile falters.

That doesn’t look good.

“He left.”

I’m having that momentary sinking feeling.

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m not.”

“Well sit down, do you want anything to drink? Coffee?”

“Oh no thanks, I de-toxed from that last year. Some ice water sounds great though, it’s been so hot.”

Maria stands up to go get it.

“So what brings you back to Roswell?”

“Ah, well. Last week, Larry left a note saying he was being abducted. You know,” she lowers her voice and rolls her eyes, “by aliens.”

For a person with actual and unfortunately, extended, contact with aliens, I suddenly feel really out of my element.

“Oh don’t worry Liz, it’s not like I believe that. I think it was just time for both of us to go our separate ways. I mean, he kept promising that we would finally move somewhere, but the longest we ever stayed anywhere was that month we stayed here after he proposed. And I was getting tired of waiting, and he knew it. It was just time.”

Jennifer does look different. Matured. No paranormal t-shirts, no green lipstick.

“So anyway, I’m back for myself. I just want some closure. Not just Larry closure, but closure on this whole part of my life. Well, I mean, I’ve been wanting it to be over for a while. And this town is just kind of symbolic of all that for me.”

She leans in, raising her eyebrows a little wickedly.

“Let me tell you what I’m going to do . . .”


*****


Jennifer’s flashlight is shining straight into my face.

“Oops, sorry.”

“That’s okay. Here, we can get in through this gate, it should be open.”

The chain link fence swings open as predicted, and Jennifer is squinting with concentration as she shines her beam around the junkyard.

“Here, I think this is it!”

She yanks a tarp away to reveal an ancient Volkswagen Beetle. Two huge almond shaped eyes stare back at us. The entire hood of the car has been painted into an oversize green alien head, with two little fingers making the peace sign on the side. The rest of the car is bright purple, and there are some kind of beanie aliens hanging from the rearview mirror.

“Yep, this is it. On our way out of town, the car finally died. Replacing the transmission would have cost more than the car, so we just left it and hitchhiked all the way to Albuquerque.”

Jennifer starts arranging the wood, so I go in search of what I have come here for. Alex’s car sits untouched a few yards to the left, and across from it, I see for the first time the burned out shell of the Jeep.

“Hey, can we make it over here?”

I gesture to where I’m standing – a clearing in the middle of all three.

“Sure.”

Within minutes, Jennifer pulls a cigarette lighter out of her pocket, and lights the newspaper lying on top of the thin little logs we have brought.

I stuff my hands into my pockets and stare into the flames as they grow.

I’m thinking about everything and nothing, until I’m staring through the flames at the dark and twisted remains behind them.

Wan light flickers onto them, but never stays, as if it’s being absorbed into the darkness. Like a black hole.

“Hey. Everything okay?”

“Yep.”

“Good, because I’m ready if you are.”

Jennifer throws a tape into her portable boombox, and suddenly Madonna is blaring into the night.

I laugh a little, but she doesn’t even notice me. This song is obviously of some kind of significance to her.

When it gets to the chorus, Jennifer starts singing at the top of her lungs, and it’s contagious. I start singing too.

“Liz!” she yells, grinning to the heavens. “Come dance with me!”

She takes my hand and pulls me to my feet.

I am caught up in the moment.

I dance like nobody’s watching.

And somewhere in the back of my mind, I laughingly hope that Alex isn’t making fun of me.




TO BE CONTINUED

Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.





THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 5





*****


“Liz honey, school is starting in two weeks. Have you narrowed down which colleges you’re going to apply to yet?”

Let’s keep this light.

“I still have some time.”

“Early decision is the best chance to get into Harvard you know.”

“Mom, can we please get realistic.”

It’s a plea, not a dig.

“Last semester’s grades were not Ivy League grades.”

“Well I know, but your dad and I would be happy to talk to some of your teachers. We all know how hard Alex’s passing was, and I’m sure that they would be willing to let you retake some finals.”

“Mom – ”

“Everybody there wants you to succeed, Liz. You could be West Roswell’s first graduate admitted to Harvard, everybody wants to see that happen.”

I don’t know if I’m really ready for this conversation, but I suppose it might as well be now.

“Mom, my first semester grades weren’t really Ivy League grades either.”

Her whole demeanor changes from friendly to sad. She looks torn, as if she’s trying to decide which issue to pursue – the safer issue of the application, or the issue of why I’m no longer a person she knows.

I guess motherly instinct kicks in.

“I know that you don’t want to talk about . . . anything . . . with me, or your dad, but . . .”

There’s nothing to be said, really, so she just stops.

“Look, I just – this application isn’t about something that we want. This was your dream, Liz, for so long. I don’t know why it’s not anymore, it scares me, but just know that I will do whatever I can to help you if you decide you want that help.”

She means it, too. She sincerely means it all.

My mother puts on a small smile and moves the slightest bit toward me, then stops abruptly, and finally turns around.

I can only watch her retreat.


*****


“Hey, it’s me.”

“Hi.”

“I was wondering what the Buddha has to say about negligent children.”

“Neglecting children?”

I twirl the phone cord aimlessly.

“No, negligent. You know, like, just for example, me.”

“Probably the same thing he would say about negligent parents. Like, you know, just for example, mine.”

“Bad week at the Valenti residence?”

“Something like that.”

“More furniture construction at two in the morning?”

“Nope, now it’s a band.”

“Uh oh.”

“It’s called the Kit Shickers.”

I snort.

“What kind of music do the Kit Shickers play?”

“Nothing intelligible.”

“Is it loud?”

“Very.”

“Wanna come over?”

“Definitely.”

I hang up the phone, and go look for actual clothes.


*****


We’re just lounging around, trying to decide between movies and abducting the Nintendo system from Kyle’s house.

“I really, really, really want to play Nintendo,” I say, putting on my best puppy dog eyes.

“I’ll beat you silly.”

“Hey, I almost didn’t die in that underwater world last time.”

“What kind of kid grows up without Nintendo?”

“Don’t make me beg.”

“I like having you at my mercy.”

So I just stare at him, trying to look as forlorn as possible.

“Fine,” he gives in. “But only if we can bring some of that Pluto pecan pie up here with it.”

“Sorry, it’s all out right now.”

“Impermanence,” he mutters.

“Impermanence?”

“Anything created is temporary.”

“You realize that most things have been created.”

“Not the important ones.”

I find myself insatiably curious to know what Kyle thinks is important.

“Such as?”

“Well, like . . . people for one.”

Except -

“Isabel, Michael, and Max were created.”

Silence.

Very long silence.

“Maybe that’s why they were temporary.”

We sit for another long moment.

Finally I grab my shoes and start lacing them up. Kyle starts rummaging around for his keys.

The phone rings.

“Liz, Liz, Liz, I need a huge favor.”

“What’s that?”

“My mom all wants to bond again, and she got us Pearl Jam tickets for tonight in Santa Fe. Can you pleeease cover my shift?”

I cover the mouthpiece with one hand and shrug apologetically to Kyle.

“Maria needs me to work for her.”

“I’ll do it if you want.”

He really doesn’t want to go home today.

“You wanna take it together, it’ll be easy going that way.”

“Sure.”

“Have fun, Maria.”


*****


The night picks up to a pretty good pace, and we’re busy but not slammed.

The only incident comes when Kyle mixes up two checks at a fifty dollar difference and gives them to the wrong parties. The table that should have paid the bigger bill pays and leaves before the old man with the first party’s check comes up to the register to pay.

“This here bill ain’t mine,” the old man proclaims.

I inspect what’s on the tab and tell him I’ll re-do his bill if he’ll give me a minute since his tab has already been paid by the wrong people.

“No, I’ve decided I want to pay this bill,” he says.

“That’s really not necessary . . .”

“It’ll be less work for you, dear.”

He leans in and winks.

“I’ve got money to burn. And I think those damn kids of mine drifted off into outer space, ‘cause I ain’t heard from ‘em in ages.”

He fishes out his wallet.

“The missus would’ve set that straight, but then, there weren’t much she didn’t set straight, and sometimes I wonder if that’s how come those kids wouldn’t come back after they left the house.”

The man hands me a hundred dollar bill.

“Sometimes a good friend is worth more’n all the first ardor in the world, y’know?”

“I do know,” I smile, handing him his change.

He waves me off.

“Keep it, dear. G’night.”

Things go smoothly, and I forget about the tip until Kyle and I are stacking chairs after close.

“This is yours,” I say, dropping the money into his apron.

Kyle pulls it out and inspects it.

“Forty bucks?”

“Yeah, it was from that old guy you served.”

“Oh, the one whose ticket I messed up?”

“That would be him.”

“I’m not taking this.”

He drops it back into my apron before I can react.

“It was your table.”

I pull the money out and move toward him. He’s eyeing me suspiciously.

“Well he obviously meant to give it to you, for sitting there and listening to his life story or whatever.”

“You did the actual work.”

I pounce, trapping him in the corner and slipping the money into his pocket even as he tries to get away.

“Liz!”

I laugh and run around to the other side of the eating bar, Kyle at my heels.

He catches me by the arm and in one fluid motion deposits the money in my pocket and tries to retreat.

He makes one step before I tackle him by the waist and send us both flying to ground.

“Gotcha,” I grin, recognizing my advantage on top of him, and lunge for the open pocket.

Kyle anticipates the move though. He grabs my wrist and flips me onto my back, holding both my arms hostage above my head.

“Hmm. Now what are you going to do.”

He looks at me reproachfully and removes the bills I’m still clutching in my hand, then sticks them carefully down deep into my apron pocket where it will be harder for me to reach them again.

I’m wondering how this situation happened.

Kyle lightly pats my thigh outside the apron in the spot where the money is inside it.

“Don’t even think about it.”

I widen my eyes innocently, all the while calculating my next move. My legs are pinned under him, but he’s only using one arm to hold both of mine.

“Think about what?”

I wrench one hand free and go for his ribs.

Bingo. So ticklish.

“Hey!” he yells as I roll out from under him, burying my fingers in his side all the while.

I jump up and back away.

Kyle stands and unties his apron, letting it drop to the floor.

“There’s going to be payback,” he threatens.

He moves forward slowly, backing me into a corner. Finally, I climb up onto a table as he advances, hoping that the extra height will give me some leverage.

He stops at the edge of the table and appraises the situation.

“If you come down now, I’ll have mercy on you.”

“No chance.”

Kyle shrugs, then grabs my ankle, holding it still and knocking me off balance. The next thing I know, I am hanging over his shoulder.

I start giggling as I realize how perfect this is. I’ve got the money in my hand, and right in front of my face are some silver disco pants with butt pockets.

“Victory!” I yell, sticking the money into his pants.

And then the world is right side up again, and hands are all over my stomach tickling me within an inch of my life.

“Stop! Stop!” I scream.

The torture subsides and his smirking face comes into view.

“I’m prepared to call a truce if you take twenty,” he says, holding one of the bills into the air.

“I’ll take twenty.”

It takes us nearly an hour to close the restaurant.





TO BE CONTINUED







posted on 10-Sep-2001 3:19:10 AM by Clay
Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.




THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 6




*****


School begins tomorrow, and I’m ready for it. The sooner it comes, the sooner it will all be over.

Of course, I will have a new set of teachers, one that has heard how Liz Parker honors student fell from grace after a neurotic year of cheating on her boyfriend, inexplicably skipping class for days at a time, losing her childhood friend in a car crash, and then losing four other friends including said ex in another freak car crash.

Needless to say, in Roswell, this is all very big news. It’s not unlikely that I’ve been the subject of much discussion in the teacher’s lounge at lunch on and off for a while now. Somehow I suspect my new batch will have more trouble trying to adjust themselves to a class with the curiosity that is me than I will to their classes.

Bring on the fun.

I carefully fold my schedule into quarters and stick it into the front pocket of my book bag along with my pens, pencils, and calculator. Summer assignments for the few AP classes I am taking are complete, if uninspired, and sitting in folders along with a couple books in the main part of the bag.

Some things never change I guess.

I’m a little comforted by this.

I rummage through a pile of clean clothes for a pair of jeans that probably doesn’t fit anymore and a red tank, and set them on top of my dresser.

All finished.

Naturally, Maria and Kyle burst into my room.

“Come on, this is too good to miss.”

Maria grabs my hand and starts pulling me toward the door.

“What, what, what.”

“We want to spy, you have to come.”

Maria is positively energetic.

“The parents,” she says slyly.

“Ours,” they say at the same time.

Kyle puts on this face like he’s swallowed something that went down the wrong tube, while Maria looks as pleased as she always does when she’s in the loop about something she’s not supposed to know.

“Go on, go on,” she says, shooing me out of my room.

We pile into the Jetta, and Maria turns the radio up to full volume. The dashboard is nearly popping out of its old and well-worn screws. She throws the car into first and even though I’m frozen stiff and gripping the side of the door tightly as we whip around corners, I admit that this little whole thing has taken on a bit of an exhilarating edge. Sure, this is because we want it to be exhilarating, but, pseudo-freedom – don’t underestimate the power of it.

Maria switches the headlights off as she approaches our destination.

No way.

“No way.”

And then she’s jerking the key out of the ignition and climbing out of her door.

I turn around to face Kyle in the back seat.

He just shrugs at me, a mischievous smile crossing his face, and gets out of his door.

“I’ve been in here before,” he says simply.

I sit there momentarily weighing my options, until my door opens from the other side and Kyle’s hand is extended, offering to help me up.

“Fine,” I say, taking his hand. “But we’re not going in with those IDs.”

Maria is crossing her arms impatiently.

“How else are we supposed to get in?”

She has to be joking.

“Margarita Salt?”

“Liz,” she whines, “this is our last day of freedom. We have to do this.”

“Those IDs aren’t going to work.”

She grins at me. “But you’re in.”

Sigh.

“I’m in.”

“Well you could just flash the bouncer,” she suggests wickedly.

Kyle glares at her.

“Or you could,” Maria shrugs.

The glare stays.

“How were you planning on doing this anyway,” I say, looking accusingly at Kyle.

He puts his hands in the air innocently.

“I didn’t know they came here, Maria just dragged me out of my room.”

“Oh come on, we all want to know what’s going on with Valenti and my mom, don’t act like this is all my project,” she waves dismissively.

Kyle and I exchange glances.

Finally, I assess the front of Calvin’s Pub and spot the alleyway behind it.

“I don’t know, do you think . . . ”

“ . . . we could get in through the back,” Kyle finishes, following my gaze.

Within moments, we are speeding across the entrance of the building and headed for far side. It’s a two-story building.

“The top is our best shot,” I decide. “It’s probably the least secured.”

“Too much time with the juvenile delinquent?” Kyle mutters.

I ignore him and climb onto the corner where the fence meets the wall so that I can reach the bottom of the fire escape. Kyle helps push me up, then Maria.

“This is totally crazy,” someone mutters as we begin our way up the fire escape.

Could have been me, I’m not sure.

When I get to the top, I turn and grab Maria’s wrist to help her onto the little platform, then we turn and help Kyle.

He eyes the window suspiciously.

“It’s going to be locked,” he says wryly.

Yep.

“Wait a minute, I felt it budge. Here, keep the handle from twisting while I pull.”

I dutifully grab onto the thin gray scrap and concentrate as Kyle places his hand over the lock and prepares to pull.

Suddenly the lock and all the area under both of our hands are glowing. We simultaneously yank our arms away.

“Holy shit,” Maria says.

“What did you do,” Kyle and I say at the same time, staring at each other.

That is so unnatural.

I feel a tinge panicky. I don’t like not knowing what’s going on with my body. If it was even me.

I can tell that Kyle feels the same way.

Finally, Maria reaches out and tries the window again. It’s loose but still locked. I feel strangely relieved.

“Here,” I say, reaching out and jiggling the window again. “It’s bolt-like. Give me your ID, Maria.”

She looks pained, but hands it over. Within a few moments, the window swings open.

“Okay, where did you learn that.”

“Sean.”

I crawl through the window before I have to see either reaction.

We’re in some kind of pitch black back room, but the music is blaring through the walls. Kyle shuffles ahead of me, then grabs my hand and we walk toward the sound.

The door of the room opens up to the upper balcony of the big bar area. It’s hardly lit up here and we’re in perfect position. The three of us stick to the shadows along the walls until we’re confident we can slip casually into a table overlooking the bottom floor.

“Where are they?”

“Maria, I see your mom.”

I point to a table diagonally across the room next to the main bar.

“So where’s – ”

“Oh my god. It’s the Kit Shickers.”

And Valenti is there, guitar in hand, rocking out, eyes closed, preparing to sing into the microphone.

Maria claps her hand over her mouth to stifle a giggle.

Kyle, Maria, and I finally sit and fall silent as the band begins the song. We watch Amy DeLuca sip a daiquiri and listen to the music, swaying slightly with a half-smile on her face.

Time slips away as the band plays through their set, and the high from our illicit behavior gives way to contentment and even drowsiness.

I shift my chair a little so that I can slide one arm behind Kyle and rest my head against his forearm. I close my eyes, content to just listen and spend the last of my dwindling minutes of summer here with the two of them, relaxed.

When the songs end some indefinite amount of time later, we slip down the stairs and out the front door.


*****


“I have senioritis already.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Wanna go somewhere at lunch today? I really want to get off this campus.”

“Please.”

“See you then.”

“Good luck.”

Maria takes off toward the 300 wing, and I plow ahead toward the 500.

Kyle at twelve o’clock, I’m in luck. There’s still ten minutes of brunch break left.

“Hey. What’s next?”

“English Lit. You?”

“Physics.”

I look up sharply.

“Seriously? You’re taking more science this year?”

He squints as if he’s thinking really hard.

“Yeah. Seriously.”

“Okay, so seriously then, explain this whole thing,” I gesture widely, “the chemistry and all that, to me.”

“I had a change of focus.”

Like that really covers it.

He must know that’s what I’m thinking.

“So I just started paying attention in class.”

“That’s it?”

Kyle smiles.

“Yep. Homework is still optional in Buddha-world.”

I smirk.

“That’s what the Buddha says, huh.”

“The Buddha says we must find our own path. On my path, inner peace is all about minimal homework.”

“Right.”

We start making our way through the halls toward our next classes.

Our comfortable silence is interrupted by a conversation around the corner.

“They totally never found the bodies. They found the Evans’ Jeep, but not one body, so they just had the funeral without them. And the funeral, I mean could Liz have been any weirder? She was giving me the creeps.”

“Yeah, well after Max and Tess hooked up . . .”

“That’s what I’m saying. She was a complete psycho anyway when Alex died, and then Max and Tess got together. And Tess was like living at Kyle Valenti’s house. Think about it. Liz and Kyle have totally been sleeping together all summer, they’re always together. And Liz cheated on Max with Kyle in the first place, but then it was so obvious that she wanted Max back all year but he obviously wouldn’t take her back. And then Kyle took Tess to the prom. But that’s about when Max and Tess got together. And they never found the bodies. How can you not find four bodies?”

“Oh my god. What if Liz just went crazy when Alex died and then killed Max and Tess, and then she had to kill Isabel Evans and Michael Guerin too because they knew or something. Maybe Kyle helped since he was pissed at Max for the Tess thing, or maybe he doesn’t know and he’s just banging Liz. He’s wanted her since the eighth grade anyway you know.”

“That what I’m saying.”

“Oh my god.”

“It’s just so weird. And Liz is just so weird. For like, the last year.”

“Oh my god.”

“Oh my god,” I whisper.

I finally glance up at Kyle, and the next thing I know, he’s striding purposefully toward the cinder block corner.

“Kyle, don’t.” I grab his arm, but he shakes me off. “It’s not worth it.”

“It is to me.”

Kyle Valenti, football star, turns the corner with a serene smile plastered on his face.

“Ladies, how were your summers?” He doesn’t wait for response. “Good, great. Now, just between us, if you could do me a favor, I would really appreciate it. If you could just keep your crazy stories in private rather than public, those of us who’ve lost several close friends in a short period of time would really appreciate it. Thanks.”

He flashes another pasted smile, and turns, calling to me loudly.

We walk to class in silence.




TO BE CONTINUED





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:11:15 AM by Clay
Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.



THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 7





*****



Maria and I are laying around on her bed, staring up at the Chinese tissue paper lanterns and other strings of funky lights she’s collected over years. Her mother used to drag her around to all the trinket shops, flea markets, and artisan festivals in the state, looking for unusual things to buy for her business. Maria really does have an interesting room.

“Are you ever going to be straight with Sean?”

I’m instantly wary.

“I have been straight with Sean.”

Maria raises her eyebrows.

“I apologized to him as soon as it started, and have been straight with him since then. I don’t even know where this is coming from, Maria.”

“Well, the situation being what it is, he’s still like, moping around waiting for you.”

“Why would he do that, I haven’t done anything to – ”

“Because, Liz, he still thinks he has a chance since you haven’t told him otherwise.”

We fall silent for a moment. She’s right, but I’m trying to come up with a rebuttal. I want to make her talk me into this so that whatever happens doesn’t have to be all my fault.

If only.

Amy DeLuca bursts into the front door and we can hear her treading all the way down the hall towards us.

“Come have coffee with me, girls,” she sniffs.

Maria and I trade glances and follow her.

I move around the kitchen getting out mugs and spoons, while Maria grabs sugar and cream, and Amy tests what’s already in the maker. She nods absently and brings it over to the table.

“That bitch is back,” she announces.

I’m drawing a total blank on potential ‘bitch’ options in Amy’s world. So is Maria I can see.

Amy hiccups.

“Kathleen Valenti.”

Oh.

Oh.

We rush to console her all at once.

“The Sher – Jim – is totally in love with you, Mom.”

“I’m sure she’s just visiting.”

“Yeah, and she’s got to be old too.”

“And she’s the one that left in the first place, no one’s forgotten that.”

“She’s going to have huge bags under her eyes.”

“You have nothing to worry about.”

“And wrinkles.”

The corner of Amy’s eyes crinkle.

“She’s beautiful,” she wails. “And she’s an investment banker in Seattle, and she wears form fitting suits, and she looks all professional and perfect and I don’t know what she’s here for.”

Maria and I proceed to enumerate everything that is wrong with investment bankers in Seattle, and by the time Maria desperately states that anyone associated with a Space Needle has to be out there anyway, Amy looks almost amused.

“I know I’m overreacting, but I just want her to go away. It can’t be good that she’s here after all this time, can it?”

That’s a good question.



*****



The Sheriff’s car is gone from the driveway, and the front door is open a crack. I approach it cautiously.

“Kyle?”

I push open the door.

He’s sitting there on the couch, staring off into space.

“Hi,” I say softly.

He looks up at me briefly, then returns his gaze to whatever he was looking at before.

“I heard about your mom.”

“She’s gone.”

Oh my god.

“She . . . left?”

He nods almost imperceptibly.

I walk around to the couch and sit down gingerly next to him.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Nothing to talk about. She was on her way out when I came in. Said she left a note.” Kyle almost smirks a bit when he says the last word, but it leaves his face immediately as he nods toward his old bedroom.

“Any idea what . . . she wanted to tell you?”

He shrugs.

We sit mutely.

Finally, I come to a decision and eye the door. The thought of going in there fills me with dread. But this is bigger than that. And maybe it’s time to face both of these things. Together.

I stand.

“Come on,” I say, taking both of his hands in mine. He allows me to pull him up, then reaches for his jacket.

I wordlessly take it out of his hands and set it back on the couch. I grab his hand again and start toward the bedroom.

Kyle stops cold.

“Come on,” I repeat quietly.

“No.”

“No what?”

“No.”

“No you’re never going to deal with the fact that the mother who abandoned you wants to tell you something? Or no you’re never going to sleep on a real bed again because Tess made you an accessory to murder after you gave it to her?”

He looks like he’s been slapped.

And I want to cry because I’ve never seen him so vulnerable. Of course I don’t remember how to, but I feel it. And so does he.

After a moment, I turn around again and head for the bedroom door, heart pounding, hoping he is behind me as I turn the knob.

I step inside, feeling slightly sick as I survey all of the belongings left untouched in the room. The white envelope sitting neatly on the bedspread is the final hellish touch.

I feel Kyle move up behind me.

“What if we just get some boxes and get it all out fast?” I say.

“Okay.”

When he comes back, I am still standing just inside the door.

“Here.”

He opens a couple large cardboard boxes up, and we just start throwing things in. Kyle goes for the dresser surface, tossing in lotions, jewelry, a couple trinkets. There aren’t many. I go for the closet, and gather as many hangers of slut shirts into my arms as I can, dropping them unceremoniously into a box by the armful and looking at them as little as possible. Surprisingly, there isn’t actually much in there either.

I set aside the letter, and together we rip the comforter off the bed, as well as the sheets. We throw some school books and notebooks off the shelves. In less than 10 minutes of frenetic work, the place is cleared of everything that was hers.

Kyle kicks the boxes out into the hallway, and then we are standing in the mostly empty space together, breathing heavily for some indefinite number of moments. I can even feel a little bead of sweat just forming on my nose.

And suddenly glass shatters into pieces against the wall as Kyle hurls a drinking glass from the dresser across the room.

In two big steps I gather him into my arms.

I hold him for a long minute.

He allows me to move him over to the now-bare mattress, but continues to grip my waist even as I encourage him to lay back and take it easy. So finally I lay down next to him. He wraps his arms around me and buries his forehead in my shoulder. I run my fingers through his hair, and draw soothing circles on his back.

“I didn’t know . . . what I was doing. With Alex,” he finally says, choked.

“Of course you didn’t. You aren’t responsible for anything that happened.”

“We gave her everything. I gave her everything, and she . . .”

I rub his arm soothingly.

“You couldn’t have known. You were just being kind, looking out for someone that you thought needed your help. I know you would do it again without question, that’s what makes you you.”

I can feel a little bit of tension easing out of his body.

“Protecting your family, loyalty to your friends, that’s all you. And I’m so sorry you were so used because of it.”

I snuggle closer to him.

“But I trust you. I trust you because of that, Kyle. And I hardly trust anybody in this world.”

I can almost feel him smiling through the exhaustion.

“I don’t think you trusted me very much when I was stalking you.”

It makes me smile too.

“Maybe not, but it makes me trust you even more now. I know you did it because you cared.”

There is a long silence.

“I did care.” And then, “I still care.”

I disentangle myself from him a little and pull away until I’m looking him in the eye, seriously.

“Did I ever say thank you? You know, for everything. For pretending to sleep with me,” I say wryly, then seriously again,” for believing me about Alex, for everything.”

Kyle looks at me equally seriously.

“Yeah.”

And then I’m pulled up close to him again, and I revel in the comfort of his arms. We stay that way for a long time.

“Liz, would you read the letter for me?” he whispers.

“Yeah.”

I reach for the envelope behind my head, and scan it quickly.

“It says she loves you and she’ll see you at Christmas.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Really?”

“That’s what she’s said any of the few times she’s called or written since I was eight.”

“I guess it never happens then.”

“No.”

And then there’s nothing to say, so I kiss the top of his forehead.

We stay that way for hours.




TBC




posted on 19-Sep-2001 3:27:51 AM by Clay
Thanks everyone for your feedback, nice to know you're enjoying. Sue and Katie, thanks for the enthusiasm! *big*



Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.




THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 8




*****


“Turns out, she came back because she needed the Sheriff’s signature to buy out some piece of property they bought ages ago for a summer cabin.”

If I hadn’t lost the energy for it in a similar effort months ago, I would hate her. I really would.

“Hasn’t she heard of a fax machine?”

Maria grunts.

“I guess she didn’t know whether or not he would agree, so coming out here was insurance.”

I am loathing this perfect stranger, I really am.

“Good riddance.”

“She left?”

“Yeah.”

“Wait,” she pauses, squinting, “she came all the way out here and didn’t even spend a couple days with Kyle?”

I sigh.

“You got it.”

Maria looks appropriately indignant.

“When was the last time he even saw her?”

“I don’t know, a couple years ago I think.”

Her indignation turns to disdain.

“That’s . . . dysfunctional of her.”

No doubt. Dysfunctional is one thing I know.

“Was Kyle upset?”

How to answer . . . I don’t want Maria to make a big deal of it to Kyle. I know he won’t want to share with her, exactly.

“Uh . . . yeah.”

She eyes me suspiciously.

“But I know he wouldn’t have wanted her to stay either. I think he would have resented her trying to pretend to be his mother after all this time.”

It’s only a half lie.

An image of the night before pops into my head, and my heart hurts for what is truth.

I swear, if that woman ever comes back . . .

Maria is staring at me intently.

Why do I have the sudden feeling that she knows something she isn’t telling?

“What are you not saying, Maria.”

She straightens almost immediately, and I can see she’s debating with herself.

“So Kyle . . . confided in you.”

I know she's concerned, but I’m not going to tell her. It’s not my place.

“Kind of.”

Maria nods.

“You’re really close.”

She says it like she’s stating the obvious.

Well of course it’s obvious.

“We’re all really close.”

I say it like I’m stating the obvious.

Now she’s nodding like she’s humoring me.

“Kyle has turned out to be a great guy.” She slouches back a bit and crosses her arms. “I’d really hate to see his heart broken again.”

“Too late, Kathleen’s already gone.”

“Right. I just, you know, I’d hate to see it happen again.”

She’s trying to say something, and I’m not bothering with this.

She doesn’t even know Kyle like I do anyway.

“Well I don’t think she’ll be coming back for a while.”

Maria just half smiles, looking at me like she’s looking through me.

“Right.”


*****


I’m walking home from school, when Sean DeLuca steps into my path.

“Parker.”

“Hey Sean.”

He appraises me critically.

“I’d invite you to go bowling, but you look like you shouldn’t even be walking.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’ll probably tip over if you pick the ball up.”

“Excuse me?”

“Come on, we’re going to go get onion rings.”

Excuse me?

But I recognize that this is a situation still awaiting some kind of more comfortable closure, so I follow with consent when he cocks his head and starts ambling down the sidewalk.

“Jack in the Box?”

“They’re free at the Crashdown,” I point out.

Sean looks like he’s going to object, then just shrugs.

Once inside, I grab one side of the booth. Sean moves toward the other, then shakes his head and slides in next to me.

“We can’t play that way.”

I watch as he pulls some quarters out of his pocket, eyeing each one carefully.

“Watch and learn,” he instructs.

Sean throws a quarter down at the table, and it bounces up into the air narrowly missing the opening of a water glass.

He throws the second and it lands right inside. He shoots me a grin.

“Your turn, Parker.”

I grab a quarter and throw it at the table, aiming it somewhere in the vicinity of the surface in front of the glass. The coin lands on its face feet from the glass and dully bounces toward the other side of the table.

“Well, we can’t all be alcoholics.”

Drinking game technique. I should have guessed.

“Here,” he says, handing me another quarter, and then carefully arranging my thumb and forefinger around it. He grabs my right hand with his right hand, and then leans back into the seat, closing one eye and judging our aim. His left hand snakes around to press me back by my forehead so that I am leaning back into him, diagonally into the booth for an eye level view as far away as possible.

“Close one eye. See that dark half circle spot in the table?”

“Yeah.”

“Aim for that. On three.”

Sean counts off each number, taking practice swings with my hand on each count.

“Three.”

The edge of the coin hits cleanly and it bounces squarely into the glass.

Sean smiles victoriously, and suddenly I see silver pants out of the corner of my eye. I snatch back the wrist that Sean’s still holding, and sit up.

“Hi,” Kyle says shortly.

He turns on his heel before I can respond, and disappears into the kitchen.

Sean waves him off.

“That guy has an attitude problem.”

“Don’t start, Sean,” I warn.

He looks at me dubiously.

There’s a long pause.

“He’s no good for you.”

Oh brother. He would assume.

I speak very evenly.

“You know what, just stop it. You don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

“No Liz, maybe you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I really hate this.

“Look Sean, I’m sorry.”

I sigh.

“I don’t know what else to tell you, except thank you.”

I look straight at him.

“For your friendship,” I say pointedly.

Sean smiles wryly, and it doesn’t reach his eyes.

“Got it, Parker.”

He grabs his coat and stands.

“Look, could you just do one thing?”

I nod.

“Quit lying to yourself.”

And with that, he’s gone.




TBC







Edited by - Clay on 09/21/2001 22:38:04
posted on 22-Sep-2001 5:44:50 PM by Clay
Another short-ish part, I'm just lacking long blocks of time to sit down and write these days. I also changed the title to reflect the ship, due to inadvertently traumatizing a puritan dreamer. (Sorry!) I say that of course with utmost respect, because hey, I used to be there. *wink*



Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.



THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 9


*****



Each evening, the desert cools off earlier, and the days slip into October.

School absolutely drags.

Everything is back to normal. Mostly. Maria still cries every couple of weeks or so.

Kyle is weirdly cautious in little ways after the Sean incident. He knows Sean’s nothing, but I think his self-appointed role as Liz’s caretaker gets him on edge sometimes. And he just really doesn’t like Sean. At least, that’s the most I can make of it.

He’s slightly more distant afterward. Nothing really noticeable. Sometimes I wonder if I’m imagining it, and then I’ll touch his elbow while walking and he’ll widen the distance between us. Subtly, but I can tell.

One of these days maybe I’ll say something about it, but not today.

Today I am subdued.

It’s the anniversary of the day I learned the truth. The truth about Max.

Of course I didn’t recognize it for that at the time, but it set off the chain of events that led to the revelation of the undeniable truth about him.

I should have seen it, even that night. He stood there and severed everything that was and everything that was to be, on the most illogical premise ever. He gave me up because he was scared. Not because he had any real information on the devastation in his lifetime.

Maybe I couldn’t have known that until now. But I missed the most telling sign of all.

He was callous. He was desperate, and so he was cold.

I was the problem. I had to change. I had to fix it. I was kissing him?

Sometimes cruel.

I had to get Tess to hang her breasts in his face.

God, how telling.

Lesson learned. And learned. And learned again in the time between this day last year and May.

When things don’t go Max’s way, he crumbles inside, and that fact is masked by an angry viciousness.

One year ago, the truth was forced on me.

Today I see the whole picture.

It doesn’t hurt. Nothing hurts anymore.

I just feel a rigidity, a stiffness.

I don’t know when or if that will ever go away, I’ve lived with it for so long now. I don’t know if I want it to go away. I don’t know what will replace it. I think it’s probably better this way. I function fine.

I’m just a little glum today. It will pass.

I want to get out of the house.

I want to feel wanted and safe.

I want to go to Kyle.

I can’t really explain it.

Hold up. Maybe I should figure that out first.

I go anyway.



*****



“Hey,” he says opening the door.

“Hi.”

I smile a little, suddenly feeling a little tentative.

“Want to go rent a movie?”

“I picked up The Usual Suspects yesterday. Wanna watch that?”

“Okay.”

He holds the door open and I walk toward the family room.

Kyle grabs a tape from the coffee table and hands it to me while he busies himself with some plates sitting out in the kitchen.

“Amy DeLuca was over here yesterday,” he explains. “Have you had dinner yet?”

“I’m not really hungry.”

He smiles his patented serene smile.

“Too bad.”

I ignore him and go put the tape in the VCR. It needs to be rewound, and when it’s finished, Kyle is sitting on the couch handing me a plate as I approach.

“Thanks,” I say automatically, and spend the next ten minutes reminding myself to eat Amy’s chicken casserole and scalloped potatoes in order to avoid harassment.

Finally I get up and take both of our plates to the sink and rinse them quickly. I return and sit down next to Kyle, taking the opportunity to lean against him ever so slightly to get comfortable.

He stiffens immediately. It takes him all of fifteen seconds to find an excuse to get up.

When he returns, he deliberately chooses the armchair next to the couch.

I don’t know what I got infected with, but it was a mistake to come here. I obviously did something, but I have no idea what, and I don’t want to deal with figuring it out right now.

“I’m going to go.”

Kyle looks up fast, and something registers in his face. Probably that I’m not immune to whatever his issue is.

“Don’t . . . don’t go.”

He sounds sincere.

I’m thoroughly confused.

He hurries to make amends.

“Do you, ah, well, you seemed kind of quiet today at school. Everything okay?”

I feel kind of wary. I still have no idea what’s going on here. So I just nod.

“Stay there,” he commands.

Kyle retreats to the back of the house and reappears a minute later with a worn old stuffed monkey. He hands it to me as he sits back down on the couch next to me.

“This is yours?” I ask doubtfully, and a bit amused.

“Sam. Just hang on to him, he makes things better. Or so I was told, at age five.”

“I can’t believe you still have this.”

“Well, he lives in a box in the garage,” Kyle confesses, “but he’s still live and kickin’.”

“I can see that.”

He looks a tad embarrassed.

“I remember I used to try and change that pink bowtie to a less girly color, like green or blue or something, by concentrating really hard.”

After imagining little Kyle already brainwashed by too much Monday Night Football and other manly signifiers at the tender age of five, I consider that comment for a moment and grow serious.

“That’s probably within the realm of possibility, you know.”

We lock eyes, thinking the same thing, but not wanting to verbalize it.

Finally I speak.

“I don’t even want to, do you?”

“No.”

“I just – I don’t have a good feeling about it.”

He nods.

“It’s weird, but it even overrules my curiosity.”

“The Middle Way,” he says finally.

I look at him expectantly.

“Moderation in all things.”

I nod my understanding.

I debate whether or not I should say anything more.

“I just have this strong feeling that the whole alien powers thing is dangerous,” I confess.

“Because we’re not supposed to be alien freaks?”

“Basically.”

We fall into silence, contemplating this.

Eventually we are lulled back into the movie for a few minutes, but my mind is wandering, trying to make sense of everything.

Kyle shifts around after a bit.

“Bad day,” he notes, looking at me.

He waits patiently.

I can’t decide whether or not to say anything. I’m uneasy about his on and off behavior.

“Go on and talk to the monkey,” he says, grabbing it from my hands and setting it on my shoulder.

It makes me smile a little.

But I stay silent, because I realize just how much the ex topic is not something I want to discuss with Kyle of all people.

“Geez, Liz.”

He wraps his arms around me and pulls me into his lap, resting his chin in my hair.

This is mystifying.

But in spite of that, maybe in spite of myself, I forget all about all of it for a minute.

Sitting here in his arms, I feel overwhelmingly safe.

I admit. I’m human, I’m a little addicted to it.

I guess I’m a little addicted to Kyle. He makes me feel wanted and protected.

But most importantly, he makes me believe in people again. I do trust him. He could never take Alex’s place, or anything. But he has come to mean a lot to me.

I guess having him pull away a little has made me realize all of this.

“This doesn’t have to do with saving the world, does it?”

I wince at the term. Thank you, Maria, storyteller extraordinaire.

“I guess it’s been about a year, hasn’t it.”

I just nod.

“I had that date engraved in my brain you know, because I figured it would be the last day of my life on this earth,” he says wryly.

“Yeah because it turned out that he cared so much.”

That might have come out a little more bitter than I intended.

And then there’s nothing to say, so we just sit.

“Well you did, you know,” he says at last. “Save the world.”

“Not really. I just made a different timeline. It was all a big gamble.”

“Well, I’d trust you in a gamble with my life.”

For the first time, the stabbing guilt I feel with every reminder of Alex’s death is tempered, ever so slightly, by the honesty of his words and his gentle hands wrapped around my middle.

“Hey, come here.”

So I turn and throw my arms around his neck, hoping it might somehow take away more of the ache.

It does.




TBC


posted on 26-Sep-2001 12:36:51 AM by Clay
Hope the board stays up long enough for you all to read. Thanks for your comments, like everyone else, I love hearing from you. One of these days, The Middle Way might even get a plot too. *wink* Clay



Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.



THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 10



*****



In the beginning of November, the desert takes on a slightly gray tinge. That is all the physical indication of a new season that we ever get, and the temperature has dropped almost as much as it will for the year.

That’s about how much variation my life has too lately. I have a whole new appreciation for that fact. I’d forgotten what was so great about normal.

Work, school, countless hours doing nothing and everything with Maria and Kyle, who resumes things as they were without reservation.

The stability is comforting.

I’m repressing the part where I’m supposed to be deciding what to do with the rest of my life right now.

I still have some time.



*****



It’s that song. I’m pretty sure it is.

“Go back, go back.”

Kyle takes his hand from the tuner and I flip it back until I hear what I’m listening for.

Yeah, it’s that song from the night the three of us took off into the desert, the night they left.

Weird how I recognize it. I’d never heard it before that night. We were listening to the only station we could pick up with the flimsy old antenna on Valenti’s truck clear out in the desert. I don’t know the title, I don’t know the artist, I don’t even listen to country much.

“I’m not even going to ask.”

Kyle doesn’t remember. Well, of course not. There were a few other things going on that night.

It’s a big haze. I can’t actually remember much of it except for Maria sleeping on my lap, and me sleeping in Kyle’s jacket. And this song.

My gut twists a little bit for just a moment. Song associations do that.

“This is me,” he says, putting the car into park. “Thank God.”

I just laugh.

He climbs out of his door and I climb into the driver’s seat.

Kyle hands me the keys.

I smile up at him.

“Thank you.”

He ducks down to eye level and rests his elbows through the window.

“Could you hand me my bag?”

I turn and reach behind me to grab a faded old West Roswell Wrestling duffel bag.

Kyle took football season off this year, but I’ve convinced him to at least go to pre-season basketball training now and then decide about that later. I know he was going to skip it entirely, but I think it would be good for him to do something that isn’t centered around Maria and me.

“Thanks. And remember to let the clutch out slower.”

“Okay.”

He looks at me critically.

“You can’t even see over the steering wheel.”

He sticks his head all the way in the window so he can reach his arm down to the bottom of the seat. Next thing I know, I’m closer to the wheel and a few inches higher. He retrieves his arm.

“Thanks,” I say sarcastically to his nose which is still a few inches from mine.

“Bye,” he says innocently. “Drive good.”

Bye.

He glares at me, and I take the opportunity to kiss him goodbye. We peck lightly for our customary millisecond, and then he glares at me again.

“I mean it.”

“I’ll pick you at up 7.”

Kyle slings his bag over his shoulder and turns toward the school.

The Mustang and I peel out, not entirely on purpose, and I check the rearview mirror to see Kyle shaking his head and laughing at me.



*****



I park at Maria’s and go in without knocking.

“You ready?” I call.

She comes barreling out of Amy’s room.

“Liz, Liz, Liz. Look what I found.”

Maria grabs my arm and we half run back into the room.

Spread out on the queen bed are about a dozen wedding books.

“Look at this. I’ve been looking through them for the last half hour.”

She is positively giddy, and her mood is a little contagious.

We just grin at each other and lunge for the books.

“Did he ask her?”

“Doubt it, she would have told me.”

“So she’s anticipating it.”

“Yes!”

Maria fully yells this, and it makes me laugh. We abandon ourselves to it and fall on the bed together.

“Check out this bridesmaid dress,” she says flipping quickly to a page in one of the smaller catalogs.

“That’s gorgeous. I would love that in mint.”

“Oooh,” she agrees.

I spy a catalog across the way.

“Hand me the Alfred Angelo.”

“Yours.”

We comb through the pages for a good ten minutes before I realize the time.

“If you still want to make it to the mall, we have to go now. I have to pick Kyle up at 7.”

She looks at me contemplatively.

“Nah,” we say at the same time.

Within an hour, we have compromised on a proposed color scheme, chosen potential dresses, and brainstormed flower choices and the setting of the wedding. We change our minds a dozen times, secure in the knowledge that this will happen hundreds more by the time any actual wedding may or may not happen.

We have pored through most of the catalogs and magazines, when Maria reaches for another and falls silent.

“What have you got?” I ask.

She moves the book toward me. The entire thing is white bridal dresses. Or rather, models and their model groomsmen displaying white bridal attire.

The picture in the middle shows a guy all dressed in white tux and bowtie, gallantly kissing the hand of a woman in the dress for sale. His brown hair is spiked.

I’m trying to think of something to say.

“The saddest thing is, I’m still sitting here actually wishing for that,” she says, nodding toward the page.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” I say carefully.

“No, I’m still sitting here wishing for that with him.”

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”

Maria averts her gaze to the ceiling.

“There are so many things wrong with that,” she sighs. Then, “do you really mean it, though?”

I do, I realize. I think Maria has always known something that I’ve just learned.

Ideal does not exist. Maybe ideal can be reached, I don’t know. But there’s no such thing as an ideal road anywhere.

That song from that night in the desert pops into my head again. I suddenly have this strong desire to have the feeling that accompanies it changed. Whenever, however.

“Yeah.”

I smile at her.

She smiles back. Almost.



*****



“I know,” Kyle says simply, wiping sweat off his forehead with a T-shirt.

“You knew?!”

I look at him incredulously.

“Yeah, he showed me the ring.”

“How could you not say anything?”

“Yeah right. And have Maria tell her mom before he could even ask.”

I wipe some sweat off his nose and look at him reproachfully.

“You could have told me.”

He shrugs.

“I guess I just thought a guy should be able to ask someone to marry him without everyone she knows knowing it first.”

“Well for that, you’re going to have to let me borrow the car again.”

I smile innocently.

“We spent all afternoon looking through wedding books instead of getting Maria’s shoes, we were so excited. And the Jetta is in the shop through the weekend.”

Kyle breathes out dramatically.

“If you wear out the transmission you’re going to have to find another alien to fix it,” he warns.

“I’ll just take out a classified.”

He hands me the keys.

“You want to practice more?”

It’s really an invitation just to prolong our time together. We both hate going home.

“Yes.”

Kyle starts to open the door to let me into his seat, but I stop him.

“But I have too much homework,” I say regretfully.

“You need to look into Buddhism.”

“Right.”

I grab my stuff and open the door on my side.

“Goodnight.”

“That’s it?” he protests.

“You’re sweaty.”

“I’m what?” he feigns ignorance, grabbing me and pulling me into a hug, deliberately to rub me into his shirt.

He stops short of actually making me come into contact with him, and lets me go, smirking.

“Goodnight,” I smirk back, refusing to be baited into anything.

I kiss him on the cheek, and he follows with the shortest of kisses on the corner of my mouth.

It’s a comfort thing. It’s nice to have a friendship with as much intimacy as we have.

I climb out of the car and trudge toward the Crashdown.

It’s our way of telling each other that we know and remember everything the other has been through; it’s a commitment to going through it together.

I stick my key into the front door, and slip inside, listening to the car pull away.

Only this time, the damp hair on his forehead, and the feel of his skin is emblazoned in my mind.

It stays even as I change into cotton pajamas and open my books.



*****




TBC




Edited by - Clay on 09/27/2001 05:36:42
posted on 5-Oct-2001 3:07:39 AM by Clay
This is for Sue, who effectively guilted this out of me. ;)

Clay


Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.



THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 11

*****



“Liz, I put some clean clothes on your bed this afternoon.”

Oh.

“Thanks, Mom.”

I smile tentatively.

She smiles back, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. I watch her turn around and move toward the door.

“I was thinking of going to a movie tonight.”

She pauses.

“Okay.”

She’s definitely wondering why I’m bothering to tell her.

“You wouldn’t . . . do you want to go? With me?”

This time her smile is not quite as big, but a little more real.

“Yeah, sure.”

We stop by the grocery store on our way there and stuff our clandestine junk food into our purses. I don’t remember ever doing that kind of thing before with her before.

The theater is not very crowded when we get there, and we snag prime spots with just a few minutes until it starts.

“So I was thinking about next year.”

“Oh?”

My mother tries not to seem too interested.

“Well I was just thinking about it, I don’t really have any conclusions. About that. I just . . . what would you think if I were to stay?”

I don’t think she was quite expecting that.

“You want to stay?”

“I don’t know,” I say honestly.

“I just thought you wanted to experience someplace . . . that’s not here, is all.”

“I do.”

“Because I just, of course I would love to have you here, but I wouldn’t want you to ever regret missed opportunity or anything.”

I wonder if there’s back story here.

“Why, do you?”

She looks slightly taken aback but it passes.

“Oh, no. Not really.”

Off my look, she continues.

“I’ve had opportunities to do things and see things, Liz. And I’m happy with where I’ve ended up. I’ll admit that sometimes I wish things were a little less . . . routine, in this town, but I’m content.”

I play with the straw sticking out of my soda.

“Don’t you think it might be good to get away from some of the . . . memories? Get some space?”

I wince.

That is pretty much my main drive to get out of here now.

I just wonder if I can give up what’s been anchoring me.

“I can’t believe you’ve seen so much tragedy at this age, Liz, but maybe the best thing to do would be to get some distance and time.”

She really is being sincere and I appreciate it. And maybe she’s right.

“Yeah,” I say noncommittally, but so that she knows I’m thinking about it.

I am thinking about it.

Maybe.

Okay, so I can’t really think about it, but not from lack of effort.

Time for a change of subject.

“So,” I say slyly. “Guess who’s proposing to who?”

My mom’s eyes widen and she gets this girlish little expression of anticipation on her face. It’s kind of cute.

Lord knows the last time I really thought that in conjunction with my mother.

I lean forward to impart my gossip, feeling slightly guilty. But since I know that the Sheriff’s doing it tonight, probably at this very moment, I’ve decided it’s okay. There really is nothing better to bond over than juicy news.

“Amy DeLuca and – ”

“Sheriff Valenti?!”

“The former Sheriff Valenti,” I affirm, unable to suppress a smile, and I put my finger to my lips.

She runs her fingers across her own lips from one side to the other, and mimes tossing out the key.

“I’m so happy for Amy,” she says finally.

“Me too.”

“Do you know when they’re going to get married?”

“I think he’s thinking about a week before Christmas if possible.”

“Well I guess you girls will more than happy to help get everything moving I suspect.”

She winks at me, and we both laugh.

It feels really good.

The movie is a nice extension of that feeling.



*****



Outside, the night is clear and cool and beautiful.

I almost feel the same way underneath it.

We head toward the car, and run smack into Kyle on the sidewalk.

“Liz. Hey Mrs. Parker.”

“Kyle,” she gushes, clearly about to offer congratulations or some other thing that will get me in trouble.

I throw her a warning look, but Kyle intercepts it.

“You snitch,” he deadpans, looking at me accusingly.

My mom claps her hand over her mouth and smothers a laugh.

“Sorry Liz,” she whispers conspiratorially.

I just stand there trying to look innocent.

“What are you doing out here?”

“Movie.”

He nods in the direction behind us.

“By yourself?”

“I got kicked out of the house for a while,” he tells me deliberately, not really mad, but pulling his usual act.

I can see my mother sizing this situation up. I’m sure she knows I’d like to hang out with Kyle for a while.

“Liz, I need to go pick up some groceries anyway, why don’t you stay?”

Good one, Mom. Since we were there two hours ago.

“Yeah Liz, we need to look up some words in the dictionary together, like ‘confidential,’ why don’t you stay?” Kyle says mock patronizingly but smiling covertly at my mom as if she’s helping him out with what I have coming to me.

She laughs and says goodnight then heads off to the car.

“I don’t really feel like seeing a movie, do you really want to see another one?”

“Not really.”

Wordlessly, we agree to walk instead and head off in the other direction, hand in hand.

“I guess it’s your luck I came along then.”

“Why’s that?”

“Then you would have had to see a movie.”

“Maybe I was just going to see the popcorn girl.”

I can’t decide how to react. I must start to retract from him unconsciously because I feel more pressure around my fingers and he reaches for my hair.

“That’s you,” he says, running his fingers down a strand and producing a small piece of popcorn.

Good.

Right. Right.

We continue as the final rays of sun bleed into twilight, and the first little stars appear on the horizon.

I welcome them, and that realization is a little bit elating.

“This is a great night to ask someone to marry you,” I comment.

“Yeah it is.”

“Oh my god, you’re going to have to live with Maria,” I realize. I might be a little slow on the uptake with the flurry of it all.

“Don’t remind me.”

“Well it’ll only be for a few months, and then . . .”

And then what?

“I don’t know, you might be the only one gone, Liz.”

His tone isn’t lost on me, and he doesn’t look me in the eye.

I can feel my heart speed up a little bit, like this is some kind of moment of truth or something.

“You . . . you’re not going to take any of your sports scholarships?”

Kyle shrugs.

“Depends.”

I will my blood to just slow down some there.

“On what?”

We walk, and I quit counting the steps in between when I decide that he isn’t going to answer.

“You.”

Ten steps.

Me.

I want to say something, but I can’t. I’m held back by uncertainty. I don’t have a plan. I don’t know what I’m doing. How can I not have a plan?

Ten more steps.

And ten.

And then I realize how hungry I am. Movie junk notwithstanding.

I need to say something. But I can’t lie. He knows that.

“God I’m starved.”

I can’t figure anything out until I’m fed, I rationalize.

Kyle makes a jerky move of some kind and halts in mid-step.

“You are?”

Yum.

“Craving chicken and mashed potatoes, actually.”

A huge grin crosses his face.

Kyle turns ninety degrees and sets out across the street with me in tow.

“Great, I can always eat,” he says nonchalantly.

I have to move double time to keep up with his stride.




TBC






posted on 12-Oct-2001 8:36:40 PM by Clay

Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.




THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 12




*****



“Liz! LIZ!”

Maria is practically shrieking.

I take one look at Kyle and we both book it up the stairs to my room.

Kyle tears open the door.

“What’s wrong?”

Yellow does not go with mint green.”

Maria has fabric samples, flower samples, napkin samples, invitation samples, decoration samples, strewn all across my bed and floor.

She’s holding scissors and is furiously cutting bits of fabric and displaying them together in long rows on top of books and magazines.

“I thought we decided against pastels in December anyway,” I point out.

“We did, but my mom really wants the green and we had the yellow with it before, but it just isn’t right.”

“Okay, well what about cream and green, that would be pretty?”

She cocks her head to the side thinking, then pulls a couple of strips up from where they’ve been resting and eyes them together.

“Hmm. Let me see what she thinks about that.”

I notice Kyle is still standing stock still inside the door and the look on his face makes me want to burst out laughing. But I’m wise enough to not do so in Maria’s presence right now and he’s wise enough to just be nonexistent until the crisis has passed.

“Wait. If the color scheme is cream and light green, what kind of flower options does that give us?”

Maria looks up sharply and catches us exchanging glances.

“You know what, you try planning a wedding with not a whole month to do it in,” she snaps.

“Maria,” I say soothingly, “we are here to help, but Kyle and I have to go back to our tables for another hour. You will be here all night, and we’ll work on this as long as it takes, okay?”

When we return, she is dead asleep on my bed, a book propped open next to her. No way are we going to wake her. There’s still time, and she really needs the sleep.

Kyle grabs his bag and goes to the bathroom to change, and I peel off my uniform and dress in warm sweats. He emerges in the same, and we slip through the window out onto my balcony to grab some air and leave Maria in peace.

The first few breaths of the crisp air make my lungs tingle and I love it.

Kyle reclines in my big lounge chair. He holds out his arms, and I climb onto his lap, shivering. I throw the green fuzzy blanket I keep at the foot of the chair over the both of us, and then lay my head on top of his heart so that I can listen to it.

We are supposed to be discussing wedding plans, or rather, Maria has assigned me the duty of prying out of him some answers about his dad’s preferences and that kind of thing. As if Kyle will know or Valenti will care.

But the quiet and coolness of the night have numbed us both into comfortable silence, and Kyle’s heartbeat nearly lulls me to sleep.

I slip in and out of consciousness as Kyle runs his fingers methodically through my hair.

“Liz?”

“Yeah.”

“I should go. I have practice tomorrow morning.”

I’m warm and comfortable and happy. I will protest.

“It’s Saturday.”

“The season starts soon, we have extra times scheduled.”

Without opening my eyes, I squeeze my arms around him tighter in rebellion and bury my head further in his shirt.

“So that’s how it is, is it.”

His taut muscles roll slightly underneath me, and something in his voice makes my breath catch in my throat.

I just nod into his chest.

“My hands are really cold, you know. I could really use something to warm them up,” he says suggestively.

I’m wide awake now. I hide my smile and tense a bit for war. But I don’t release my grip on him a fraction.

Then his icy cold fingers slip under my sweatshirt and press against my stomach, shocking my warm, sensitive skin. I repress a screech for Maria’s sake and put my own cold hands on the sensitive skin on the back of his neck. He immediately pries them off with his own hands, and extends both of our arms to each side in neutral territory. I’m left splayed out on top of him on my stomach, sucking cold air into my lungs to catch my breath.

I can feel him doing the same underneath me, and I can feel a slight rumbling in his chest as he draws in a breath and starts to say something but stops. I look up to meet his gaze and his eyes are dark. My stomach tightens.

We stay that way, breathing, for moments.

And then we are headed down through the dark house to the front door.

I pull out the key and twist it into the lock until I hear the spring release. I step out of the way, but he moves into my path to say goodnight.

Except that he doesn’t.

He just stands there, eyes trained on me.

“I’m going to kiss you now.”

“Okay.”

And then I’m pressing my lips back into his.

He’s familiar to me, and I’m not sure if it’s because we spent a summer doing this once, or if it’s just because I know him, down to his heartbeat.

I kiss him until I’m breathless, which doesn’t take long, all things considered, and then he’s kissing the top of my head and slinging his bag over his shoulder.

“Goodnight.”

“Night.”

He pauses halfway through the door, and I’m already there. Our lips linger a moment, and then he’s retreating to the car and I’m turning the key in the door back around the other way.


*****

TBC
posted on 12-Oct-2001 8:42:29 PM by Clay
Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.




THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 13




*****



I zip the back up as far as I can by myself, run my fingers quickly through my hair, and emerge through the door of the dressing room before our little entourage.

Maria whistles and catcalls.

“Definitely.”

“There officially are no other options Liz,” Amy agrees.

Valenti just winks at me.

“Do you like it? Oh I don’t care if you like it, that’s what you’re getting,” Maria asserts.

“I’m in love with it.”

I take in what she’s wearing, and turn her around by the shoulders to button the very top where she missed.

“What do you think?” I ask.

“I love this one. I think I love the other one more though.”

“That’s what I was thinking.”

“The cut of the waist is more flattering, although the embroidery on this one is gorgeous.”

“Yeah,” she says wistfully.

“So let the bride decide,” I advise, taking Maria by the hand and twirling her in the direction of her mother.

Amy retrieves herself from under Valenti’s arm and shoos him toward the opposite end of the store.

“Why don’t you go check on your son,” she says, tugging on the material around Maria’s waist.

I wander over to a nearby display and eye some rhinestones while they fiddle with the dress and debate whether it could be successfully taken in or not. Amy decides we’ll have time in tomorrow’s schedule to look a little more.

It’s late and after traveling five hours to get here, we’ve spent all day traversing half the bridal stores in Albuquerque. We found Amy’s beautiful dress in the last one, and Jim’s tux earlier this morning. I’m glad it’s near closing time.

“Liz,” Maria hisses, “get back into the dressing room.”

“Why?”

“Just go!” she whispers, opening the door and waving me into it. “Change.”

“Amy, how’s this?” I hear Jim voice.

“Kyle, you’re dashing,” Amy effuses. “Come let me look at you.”

Oh yeah, I have to see this. I’m smiling just thinking about it. I start to unzip my dress, and realize that my clothes aren’t even in here.

“Maria?”

She’s still standing outside the room.

“Don’t even think about it, Liz.”

“I’m not even in the right one. My stuff is – ”

“Stay there.”

A moment later her arm reaches over the top, clutching my jeans and shirt.

“I’m still missing something, Maria,” I say pointedly, flushing as I realize that the Valentis can hear every word of this.

My bra drops over the top a moment later.

“Hey, why don’t I get to see the bridesmaids?” Kyle protests suspiciously.

“What do you think I am?”

Maria is so smug about this.

I pull off the gown and dress as fast I can. If he’s gone when I get out, she’s going to pay.

I burst out of the room barefoot, still pulling my hair out of the neck of my sweater.

“Liz!”

I ignore her.

He is devastating in that thing.

“Hey, look at you,” I smile at him.

I saunter over and tug gently downward on the sides of the jacket.

“It fits?” he asks nonchalantly.

“It fits.”

I drop my hands to my sides and casually take a step back. Whether that’s for the audience or for me I’m not sure. We haven’t been alone since two nights ago.

Amy takes the opportunity to inspect and fuss a little bit more, and then Kyle’s headed back to the other side of the store to change.

I watch his retreating figure until it’s almost gone before I realize Maria is sitting there smirking at me.

I point.

“You. Go change.”

She shrugs and disappears behind her own door.

I grab my shoes, and look up to scan for Amy. Instead, I see Kyle’s head poking around the corner of the men’s side. I steal across the floor as covertly as possible. He grabs my hand, and we duck into his dressing room.

“Hey.”

“Hi.”

“Finally,” I say, at the same time that he says, “This has been the longest day . . .”

I nod.

He looks around.

“So we’re okay, right,” he fidgets.

“I’m not,” I say gravely.

The smile tugging at the corner of his mouth dies.

“This thing,” I say, brushing invisible specks off the shoulders of his new tux, “is just . . . distracting.”

Kyle’s eyes brighten, and his little half-smile returns.

“Now you know how I feel all the time.”

“Distracted?”

Strangely, I’m still standing even though I feel more like a puddle on the floor.

I grab the lapels of his jacket and draw him down to me. Kyle enfolds my face with his hands, and his light breath is making me weak.

“Wait.”

“What.”

“I was going to talk to you.”

He really means it.

I’m glad, I realize. Timing aside.

“Okay,” I exhale.

I kiss his nose instead and go sit dutifully in the chair in the corner.

“I, ah,” he fidgets again, turning away from me.

His shoulders are tensed, and his hands won’t stay still. He falls silent again for a couple moments.

“You are the closest friend I’ve ever really had. And you know what, this isn’t really the place for this conversation,” he stalls, “but I’m just going to say it anyway. I . . . I want you to be happy. I want you to do everything you want to do, and go everywhere you want to go. With your life.”

He stares at his hands, not even chancing a glance in my direction. I realize that I’m holding my breath. Disclosure is not a Kyle thing. I feel as tense as he looks.

“I just want . . . I need to know if I can come with you. If I was ever going to be, or could be, part of that equation.”

My heart is pulsing hard and deliberately.

“And I need to know before we . . . now, because I don’t know if I can give it up after I feel a part of it.”

Somewhere in there I must have started remembering things that I thought I’d forgotten, because my eyes sting a little bit.

“Don’t – don’t answer now,” he says quickly.

My brain is still stuck on the being happy part.

I’m happy.

I am happy.

How many people in this world are happy?

And it’s all him.

“I – ”

“You don’t have to say anything now,” he repeats.

I want to.

He’s just making me think about these things that I’ve been avoiding.

My future seems a scary place.

There’s so much loneliness in not being able to tell people the huge things in your life. And so much levity in not having to.

Of course it’s more than that. A lot more. I just wonder if I could ever be this happy again without him.

And I realize truly for the first time how much I don’t want to see a day without him.

“Kyle.”

He finally drags his gaze from the floor.

“I have no idea where my life is going, but will you please come with me.”

Relief flits across his face.

I put my chin in my hands on my knees.

“And what about you? Will you take me with you, too?”

“If I have to carry you on my back.”

We look at each other for a moment, taking in what has just happened.

I slip out of the dressing room into the shop, positively buoyant.



*****



“Why do I not think this was the original sleeping arrangement,” Maria mutters.

“It’s much improved.”

“Yeah, if you try and block out the fact that there’s a paper thin wall between them and us.”

I just laugh.

“They’re not your parents,” they say at the same time.

So I laugh at them more, toss my duffel bag on the floor, and slide onto one of the double beds.

Hotel smell. Staleness and cleaning solvent, mixed together. I’ve always liked it.

“We have to check out the hot tub downstairs.”

Maria has mentioned this like three times on the way up here.

“None of us have anything to wear,” I point out.

“So wear your pajamas.”

Five minutes later we troops downstairs in t-shirts and shorts, armed with towels.

Maria and I charge Kyle with finding someplace dry for them, and jump in. The water feels wonderful. I find a hot jet and let it pound into my back.

Maria whistles at Kyle as he strips his shirt and climbs in.

“Hey Liz, check out that hottie over there. He is so built,” she says, raising her eyebrows suggestively. “Someone better snag him while we have the place to ourselves.”

Maria’s performances are just so subtle lately. I trade amused glances with Kyle, and he nods his head almost imperceptibly. I bite my lip to keep from laughing and meet him halfway there. Time to turn the tables.

“Great idea, Maria,” I murmur, standing on tiptoe, putting my hands on his shoulders, and kissing him soundly.

He wraps his arms around my waist, and I wrap mine around his neck, and he tastes so good I lose interest in checking to see her reaction.

“You sneaks,” she says finally, incredulous. I retrieve my tongue, he retrieves a palm just threatening to stray, and we shamelessly turn to face her.

“You sneaks!” She is amazed and annoyed and pleased.

Kyle leaves an arm around my waist and reaches for the side of tub, pulling us both over to a submerged seat by Maria. He sits me on top of his lap, kisses my shoulder, and then firmly puts both arms around my middle again when my feet start to float away with the current.

“So, we got a couple offers for the house,” he tells her casually.

“Oh no you don’t. How long have you been together behind my back?”

“I don’t know, when haven’t we been, really,” I say with realization, to myself and to Kyle as much as to her.

“Well exactly,” she says sanctimoniously. “Nice you could finally see that fact.”

Under the bubbling water, I cover his arms with mine, loving the feel of his skin on mine. Somewhere in the back of my head, I wish I were in something I could feel the skin of his hard chest behind me too, but no luck.

“So you sold the house?” I ask.

“It’ll probably be done within the next week,” he affirms. “My dad wants to pay for the wedding out of that money, and then the rest is plenty for all of us for a while, so he’ll have time to figure out something permanent without mooching off his woman.”

“I don’t care who’s paying for what, I’m not sharing my bathroom with you,” Maria warns.

“What’s the status of the appeal to the state board?”

“Don’t know. If it doesn’t happen, he’s serious about starting up a woodshop. Even talked to a couple investors from Phoenix.”

We talk an hour away over business, and the wedding, and the basketball team, and Pam Troy’s latest flings, and then we are shriveled prunes.

We return to our room and Kyle gives me a big shirt to sleep in, and Maria another after solemnly swearing that even though they are extra practice shirts, they are washed.

I’m the last out of the shower, and I hesitate when I come out. Maria and Kyle are each sprawled on a bed.

“I better not hear anything,” and with that, she turns over.

Kyle looks at me helplessly.

“You’re in my shirt.”

“So?” I say.

“So you can’t just,” he gestures around him, “in my shirt.”

I slide under the covers and curl myself up into him.

"God," he mutters.

I kiss him lightly.

“Night.”

He exhales, and relaxes slightly, draping an arm across me.

“Night.”

When I wake briefly around five in the morning, I can’t tell where my limbs end and his begin. I go back to sleep, content.



*****



We pull back into Roswell just after sundown the following night, loaded with yet more supplies and things for the reception. Valenti drops me off in front of the Crashdown. I wave and trudge into the restaurant, tired but elated.

My parents are like waiting for me or something. They jump up when I enter.

“Liz, hi sweetie, how was your trip.”

“Hey Dad. Fine.”

I can tell they aren’t even listening.

“What’s going on?”

My mom blinks hard a couple of times.

“We got some news while you were gone. It’s not bad,” she rushes at the look on my face, “it’s just a little shocking.”

The jangling bell on the glass door interrupts us.

I look past my dad and my heart falls out of my chest.

It’s Max.




*****


TBC


Please no shooting. I'm going out of town for the weekend, but I'll hopefully be back with more on Monday.




[ edited 2 time(s), last at 13-Oct-2001 9:02:45 PM ]
posted on 16-Oct-2001 1:22:28 AM by Clay
I'm here, I'm here! I had a lovely weekend, thank you, and in spite of my final midterm scheduled this week, I knew I better not come back empty-handed. ;)

Welcome new readers, etoile1, DMartinez, Alieboba, glad you're enjoying the story.

OMG, the PAIN epilogue. I'm salivating. Must roll now.



Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.





THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 14



*****



He looks haggard and drawn. He hardly takes his eyes off me even as my parents fuss around bringing juices and coffee to the table.

My parents hardly do either. The hurried effort finally stops, and my mother sits gingerly down next to me while my dad remains standing a few feet off.

I feel oppressed.

I know they can tell my reaction to this news and its sudden manifestation is unnatural, but I’m too overwhelmed to care.

My mom looks to Max to explain, but he’s hardly said two words, and so she starts.

“Liz – Max and Isabel were kidnapped by their biological mother, and Michael was with them at the time. They’re all back and safe now. The police are on the case, and everything is going to be okay.”

God. I don’t even want to know what absurdity has been concocted regarding Tess.

I don’t have to pretend to look upset at least.

“What a terrible ordeal,” she says, laying a hand on Max’s shoulder. “If there’s anything we can do for you, please just ask.”

She and my father quietly get up and leave.

The entire room is deserted, but it feels like it has been diminished to half its normal size. I think it’s Max’s hazel eyes that are doing that, so I don’t shy away from them. I’m afraid of what else he might take from me while I’m not looking.

It makes me feel caged and territorial and overwhelmed.

At the same time, I feel stirrings of anticipation for relief – reprieve from the gnawing of irresolution that can be driven from the consciousness but never really purged.

It is a strange dichotomy.

“I had to see you.”

And then there’s an extra lead weight in my stomach.

I have nothing to say.

“And I’m sorry.” His voice cracks on the last word.

He studies the table pattern.

I think it’s the not knowing that makes me stay.

“What happened,” I say finally.

My voice startles him.

“Most of the time the three of us were in a prison, waiting to be executed.”

Oh god.

I’m not ready to hear this. The lines in his face and the dead in his eyes and now the story behind that are all going to ask for my sympathy, I can tell, and I don’t want to be asked for it. Not now.

But the not knowing still keeps me rooted and silent.

“They didn’t do it right away because people knew we had arrived and they were afraid of widespread rebellion. Eventually some of those people freed us. And sent us back.”

“For safety?”

Max shrugs.

“For good.” He pauses, then continues off my look. “I think we all found out that . . . we’re just kids. We’re another species, another lifetime. No one, least of all us, knew how little we would understand about the culture, the conflict, how to stand in line for food much less fight such a foreign kind of war.

“It was the most acutely alien any of us have ever felt,” he whispers.

I can only watch him.

He realizes I'm not going to talk, and so he just keeps going.

“Our royal seal helped them open some caches that had been sealed up for our return all those year ago. They said they finally had the tools to finish it. And our presence was causing huge rifts in the factions that had been united for so long against Kivar – between traditionalist and libertarian type groups or some equivalent. So they eliminated the problem and sent us back.”

Max is really back. Permanently.

I feel like crying now, for ten different reasons, but it seems I’ve forgotten how again.

And the tension is building as we sit here. Not that I had expected any of it to dissipate.

I’m not going to be the one to address the rotting issue. It isn’t even mine anymore.

“I know this is probably wrong, but you have to know that you are what kept me alive all that time, Liz.”

I can’t even look at him.

“You have my heart.”

“You have a family.”

Or maybe I will address it.

Max is back to staring at the table.

“Tess was working with Kivar the entire time. She realized after she got there that she would be expendable to him after the baby was born so she killed it afterward and said it miscarried. She thought she could buy time by getting pregnant again, but then Kivar found out what she had done and the three of us had already escaped. She’s dead now.”

I feel utterly nauseated.

And somehow, his eyes are still pleading with me for something I can’t give him.

I stand and move toward the swinging door in the back, then pause.

“She killed Alex too, you know.”

Max closes his eyes.

“My life is very different now. It’s full and I’m happy. Please don’t ask for me for anything.”

I slip through the door and start up the stairs, my mind tired and whirling.

“Wait. Please wait.”

He is in the doorway, whispering.

“I just need to ask you for one thing. Your forgiveness. I know you can’t give that now, or even soon, but I’m willing . . . I want to wait.”

“I might be able to forgive you, Max. But I could never trust you.”

I escape up the staircase.




*****



Maria sits in a chair across the room, staring out the window.

“What are you going to do?” I ask softly.

I am sitting on the floor in my room, ensconced in Kyle’s arms.

“I’m not going to do anything.”

I just nod.

“I can’t believe this,” she mutters for the fourth time.

“Me neither.”

Long pause.

“And that’s the stupidest story ever.”

“Roswell will just believe that they ran away.”

“Which they did,” she states.

That sounds more like a gut Maria reaction. Explosive and over is the best I can hope for.

And then Michael is tapping on my window.

I may get my wish after all.

No one moves. Finally it slides open, and his feet drop through.

He scans briefly and then locks on Maria.

His voice is gravelly, but there is less edge to it than I have ever heard before.

“I’m home.”

“I heard.”

“I just wanted to see you.”

“Here I am.”

He looks over and Kyle and me. “Can I – ”

She waves him off.

“Whatever you have to say to me, you can say in front of them.”

Michael doesn’t move a muscle.

“I’ll never be leaving again.”

“Well isn’t that nice.”

She pushes air shortly out of her nose.

“I guess even warriors need ass, huh? Must have been a tall order on a planet of short glowy people, I mean you probably had a hard time even finding one with a hole. So great, back to Planet Earth, get some, you can always just take off when you want, because you have an alien mission . . .”

Maria’s voice is rising, and Kyle and I quietly retreat from the room.

She will work herself up, scream at him, kiss him, cry, and then they’ll talk. It might even repeat.

I pull the door shut behind us.

And then I don’t even look, I walk straight into his chest and attach myself to him.

“Take me home with you.”

He does.

Amid boxes of unpacked things from Albuquerque, I fall asleep listening to his heartbeat. On the couch.



*****

TBC



[ edited 1 time(s), last at 16-Oct-2001 1:30:03 AM ]
posted on 16-Oct-2001 2:54:46 AM by Clay
quote:
And Maria is right, that has got to be the stupidest story they could have concocted.


LOL! I know! Those stupid aliens. *wink*

Clay thought through many things when starting this story, but a good explanation for the parents wasn't one of them. And then even though I sat there for 20 minutes before posting this trying to think of something better, my mush brain gave up and hit 'send.'

Good thing I can blame my own brain farts on the state of cognitive function that those freaks perpetually exhibit. LOL

Clay

posted on 22-Oct-2001 3:55:06 AM by Clay
Hey all. Here's a bit of a transition part. We haven't quite hit the home stretch yet, but it is in sight, nearly. As excited as I am to finally be approaching the point of the story, events are conspiring to keep me from working on it (though I'm thinking about it constantly) and will be through the next week. :( Thanks for your patience, and I will try to have some myself. Clay



Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.



THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 15



*****


I trip and break the mustard bottle that I’m carrying at 1:30 in the afternoon.

Around three, I slice my thumb open with a dessert knife.

By four, my shaking muscles are well on the way to dropping a full tray of hot food.

One waiter in silver disco pants makes an abrupt U-turn and lends an extra pair of hands to rescue the wayward tray and help set it down in its intended destination.

I leave him to serve up the individual plates, and disappear into the back to pop some pills and pour myself a glass of orange juice.

A minute later, he barges through the swing door, shoots the now empty tray through the kitchen window, and slips arms under my knees and my back.

Dangling in the air, my feet tingle with the sudden absence of pressure.

Most of me is exhausted, but not the part that adores him. Something shoots up my spine, electrified in spite of my tired body.

I end up carefully placed on my bed with blankets up to my chin, blinds closed, and then a hand reaching tentatively into my apron pocket.

Kyle pulls out my order book, and tears off the tabs of my current tables, slipping them in with his own.

“I’ll be needing these,” he says matter-of-factly.

My eyes fill to the brim with tears.

His face drops.

“No, no, it’s okay. There’s hardly anyone out there, I can take care of it. Please just get some sleep, you haven’t had any in like three days. The kitchen will thank you.”

A lone tear slides down my cheek before I can stop it.

“Dammit Maria,” he curses under his breath, knowing that last night I was up until dawn with her, until my shift started this morning.

“Thank you,” I finally sniff.

I don’t know what I did to deserve any of this, but I feel half delirious and the sleep deprivation is only part of it.

Kyle is getting upset, I can tell.

“Did something happen? Did Max come see you again?”

I shake my head.

“I’m not upset.”

He is trying to appraise what is going on.

I think he knows. I hope he knows.

“I just . . . love you.”

Now he does.

He just stares at me, eyes widened slightly.

“I’ve never seen you cry before. Not even Al . . Before.”

I feel thrown off. Maybe this was all wrong. Maybe it’s too soon since they came back, maybe I still owe him some kind of explanation. Maybe –

My vision is consumed by his big shoulder, and he draws my head into it, tousling my hair line unconsciously with his fingers.

“So I just didn’t know. God, I love you too.”

In that moment, it feels like some kind of drawn out bliss, and I’m almost afraid to breathe for fear of ending it.



*****



“Liz?”

I hear it, vaguely, but I’m not persuaded to open my eyes.

“Shhh, she’s asleep.”

I feel rather than hear someone cross the room, and the door swings a bit.

They whisper from outside the room.

“I’m going to let Michael escort me down the aisle in the run-through on Friday.”

“Oh.”

“So you’ll take Liz.”

“Okay. So everything’s okay then with that . . you?”

“Not really.”

“Oh. Well if there’s any – ”

“There’s not. But it will be fine.”

“Good.”

“Don’t hurt Max.”

Beat.

“Is there a reason I should?”

“No, it’s taken care of.”

“So that’s why you’re letting Michael escort you in the wedding.”

“Maybe.”

Beat.

“Liz needs to be happy now. And you.”

Beat.

Mutter.

“I’m still going to hurt him.”

“I already know you won’t. I was just reminding you.”

Beat.

“Thanks. For talking to Michael. Not for me, for Liz.”

“He owes me. The pressure is good for him.”

Beat.

“He won’t stay away forever you know.”

“I know.”

But that doesn’t matter, Maria.

“It doesn’t matter.”

I smile to myself in the dark.



*****



The week passes in frenzy. A good frenzy, really.

The morning of the big day, a slight layer of frost covers the ground and a light fog drifts through the air. The Christmas lights lining the streets shine dully through it, bleeding hazily into the cold mist.

We drive through the quiet streets together, wide awake in spite of how early it is, and go for donuts on Citrus. Sipping hot chocolate and coffee, we take in the moments of stillness before it is time to start preparing ourselves for half of the Roswell population and what will be a very long day.

When we get back to the house, Maria and I are secretly anticipating this part of the day so much we climb out of the car in a hurry.

“Hey,” Kyle complains, catching up to me. “Who knows how long before I get to do this again, humor me.”

Maria disappears into the house, and I reach up to kiss him, but he’s already there, mouth on top of mine, kissing me warmly.

I kiss him back vigorously and by the time it reoccurs to me where I am, I’m firmly pressed against the door. I keep my arms around his neck in order to resist any temptations, concentrating instead on the feel of his mouth.

“I need to go,” I mumble eventually.

He ignores me.

It isn’t quite as easy to ignore Maria.

She knocks on the window, with a huge grimace plastered on her face, but she can’t keep up the act for long, and cracks up, motioning for us to come inside.

“I’ll see you – ”

“When she sees you,” Maria finishes. She looks pointedly at Kyle. “No cheating.”

We take off down the hall.


*****


TBC

posted on 22-Oct-2001 4:18:37 AM by Clay
quote:
So Michael has been enlisted to hurt Max? Am I reading this right?


Hmm, that's what I get for writing and posting in the wee hours of the morn. Maria is just pressuring Michael to pressure Max to stay away from Liz. Kyle is just expressing his extreme dislike of, well, Max's existence. Let me see if I can make that clearer, thanks for asking.

And don't worry, PansyAss will get his. ;)

Clay


[ edited 2 time(s), last at 22-Oct-2001 4:22:28 AM ]
posted on 12-Nov-2001 1:13:17 AM by Clay
Uh, yeah. I suck. Let me just say that it's become really hard for me to write for anything remotely connected with Roswell anymore. Sorry. :( Clay



Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.



THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 16




*****



I have butterflies. I don’t even know why.

I feel a hand lightly take hold of the exposed skin on my forearm between my dress and the long gloves I’m wearing.

“Hey,” reverberates into my ear.

I start to turn, but am stopped by two hands placed squarely on my shoulders.

“Don’t turn around.”

“Wh – ”

“I promised.”

“You’re still cheating.”

I feel him kiss the top of my hair, in a sensitive spot stretched taut between two sets of pins.

“Everybody in Roswell has been able to see from the time that you were a little kid in overalls that you have one of the most beautiful hearts in town.”

Said heart is working overtime right now.

“Good for me that they only know the half of it.”

I reach down and lace one set of fingers through his, squeezing.

“So if I trip on the way down the aisle, it’s probably because you out here,” he runs his fingers lightly over my cheek bones and nose, “and you in here,” he says lightly tapping above my heart, “are too much for me all at once.”

I exhale slowly.

“That was really sappy.”

I can’t suppress a small laugh.

“I didn’t mind,” I promise.

“Okay so really, I just want you to be prepared to cover for me as best you can, because it is inevitable that I’m going to trip, especially in these weird shoes.”

He plunks one shiny foot forward so that it’s within my line of sight.

I pretend to inspect it as best I can, dropping part way to rub my finger over an invisible mark.

“Very slick.”

“Yes, that’s the problem.”

I stand up straight again, reaching behind me to feel for him.

Pause.

“Kyle.”

“Hmm.”

“I love you too.”

And then the music is playing, and Maria is nudging me, and he’s on the other side of the chapel staring me down, with a hint of a smile written on his face.

I meet him halfway and take his extended arm. I am only half-conscious of the sea of faces turned toward us. My nerve endings are successfully occupying the rest of my attention. I register every brush of his wool-clad arm against my bare one, every step in synch with mine, every movement of his eyelids that is in any direction close to mine.

We reach our destination, and he lowers his head to my ear before I can begin to retrieve my arm from his.

“Dharma agrees with me today.”

I smile back and allow him to extricate himself from me and go find his place on the other side of the altar.

I look back toward the aisle to watch Maria and Michael follow us. Maria is completely radiant. She catches my eye and I smile at her, trying to tell her so.

Her attention is captured, ever so briefly, by something in the audience and I unconsciously follow her gaze to far left of the rows. I am met by a pair of hazel eyes, following me.

I tamp down on the gut feelings and associations that surface anytime I see him now, and instead reach out to clasp Maria’s hand as she steps behind me and we turn our attention to the back once more as the music changes chords.

The ceremony is beautiful, although Kyle’s blue eyes keep compelling me to look at them rather than at the altar, and I tell him so as we dance the evening away in the reception ballroom later on that night.

“Is that so.”

“It is.”

He just smiles a little bit and I take a step forward and relax in his arms, staying there for a time that is entirely too short.

“Liz?”

I open my eyes to find my parents standing there in freshly donned plain clothes. My mother is speaking and my dad is handing me keys.

“We’re leaving now sweetie, so have a nice time and be safe. Remember to lock the doors please.”

I nod. It’s the annual Christmas shopping trip to Albuquerque. I hug my mom and kiss my dad on the cheek.

“You look like an angel,” my dad whispers.

“We’ll be back by Monday afternoon. Was there anything you wanted us to pick up for you?”

I shake my head.

“Bye. Good luck.”

“Bye Liz.”

They walk off toward the parking lot, and I reach for Kyle, but he pauses.

“Maybe we should go find Maria and make sure everything is going okay,” he suggests.

“Good idea.”

We find her sitting at a table sipping punch.

“We didn’t even have a toast,” she greets us.

Kyle checks his watch.

“That’s not for another half an hour.”

“It’s not going to happen. They’re gone.”

“Are you sure?”

Kyle pulls out a chair and tells me to sit while he goes to look for their car.

“How are you?” I ask her.

“I’m glad it’s almost over.”

“Me too.”

I reach over and brush a stray piece of hair from her eyes.

“Where’s Michael?”

She cocks her head to the side, and I look up to see Michael and Max on the upper floor, arms crossed, facing one another as if facing off, but both silently staring out over the crowd.

“How long have they been up there?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“Michael is . . .” I ask questioningly.

Maria nods.

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

Her eyes flicker with a hint of amusement.

“You could get out of here.”

“I’m not just going to leave you.”

“Everything is taken care of, the hotel is doing clean-up and all. Now that the bride and groom have predictably skipped out, there’s nothing to stay for.”

“And if I leave – ”

“Then Max will leave and Michael’s sentence will be over for today,” she says wryly.

“God,” I sigh.

I down some of Maria’s punch and wait for Kyle to come back with the verdict, trying to ignore the fact that I am probably under scrutiny right now and have been all night.

“Maybe that dress wasn’t such a great idea,” she mutters, obviously thinking the same thing. I just laugh.

“Yours was,” I wink.

“It would be easier if you would just tell him you know,” she says.

“Max?”

“Yeah.”

“Tell him what?”

She just looks at me.

“Liz.”

“Oh. What, Michael hasn’t told him?”

“Michael doesn’t know.”

“Why not.”

“When he asks I tell him it’s none of his business.”

“Oh.”

“Although I’m guessing that it couldn’t be terribly hard for him to guess after tonight.”

“All we did was dance.”

“The point is, it won’t change the problem here. Max will always be waiting to hear it from you.”

“I guess I don’t really see that as my problem.”

“Liz – ”

“The idea of going to him and telling him that I’m with someone else, as if I owed him that right, as if I owed him anything, really bothers me, Maria. Because I don’t. Owe him anything.”

“Of course not.”

“Please don’t think I don’t appreciate what you’re doing for me with this whole situation, because I do. So much. Thanks to you I had a really nice evening tonight, and I doubt it could have been this way without your help.”

I sneak a glance back up at Michael and Max again.

“And now I’m going to get out of here so that you can enjoy the rest of your own evening, okay?”

She bites her lip.

“Okay.”

“All of it was perfect today. It’s over, go relax now.”

I reach for her and hug her quickly as Kyle comes back into sight.

“Yep, they’re gone,” he confirms, eyeing us suspiciously. “Tried to warn you they wouldn’t be much for the whole tradition thing.”

“I love you, go have some fun,” I tell her, letting go.

“Me too. Night Liz. Bye Kyle.”

I stand and take his arm, pulling him in the direction of the door.

“Let’s bail.”

“Uh. Okay.”



*****



The sound of the heater whirring dimly is the only sound in the room, but the warmth rises from the bottom level to the top and envelops us. The room is pitch dark except for the lights we have plugged in, which are wound around the Christmas tree.

We are lying on the floor almost under it, the ceiling awash in muted, multicolored lights and shadows.

It is serene. It is peaceful. It is warm. It is comfortable. It is Kyle. It is perfect.

He is running me ragged, and I have never felt such peace.

I stroke his tongue with mine, kneading the back of his shoulder muscle with my fingers.

He grips my lower hip tightly, now clad in jeans.

I run my hand down his back, kissing him fiercely all the while, until my fingers slip into the waistband of his pants, resting lightly on his lower back.

Kyle pulls me closer, bringing his hands up to massage my ribs. He kisses me hard, and then slows, sucking my lip with his, deliberately and more leisurely.

It’s a pattern and I want to break it. I know he can sense it, too.

I break away from him and sit up. I cross my arms and slowly lift my sweater up and over my head.

Staring at me intently, he pulls his own off from the hem with equal care and deliberateness, hardly breaking eye contact.

And then we tenderly finish for one another, watching the lights flicker over one another’s bodies.

His mass finds its way on top of mine, his hands working their way over and across my body. I can feel him pressing into me, throbbing, and there is an emptiness in the pit of my stomach.

“Kyle,” and his blue eyes loom over me. I nod.

He doesn’t even blink.

I nod again.

His weight disappears, and I watch as he crosses the room and puts a condom on.

Then the comfort of his bulk is settled over me again, and he kisses me gently, murmuring things into my ear even as I grow tense.

Kyle’s blue eyes probe mine once again, there to stay, and I finally nod again.

The pain is strong, more than I expected, and he moves to leave but I stop him. He kisses away tiny unbidden tears in the corner of my eyes, and when it dissipates a little I beg him to distract me, reaching up to feel his lips on mine once again.

He works unhurriedly and thoroughly, and by the time I ask him to move again, the pain is sweet and is rapidly overtaken by something far stronger.

When it is over, Kyle again moves to leave, but I hold him still. It is partly out of fear of hurting, but more because I suddenly feel whole and am loathe to give it up so soon. Finally, he turns over onto his back, settling me onto his chest.

We have been this way a hundred times, yet this is the first, and I am acutely content.



TBC

[ edited 2 time(s), last at 12-Nov-2001 11:45:38 PM ]
posted on 13-Nov-2001 4:07:08 AM by Clay
Hey Eva, I'll just say that our favorite King Wanker is about to get his turn in the spotlight at long last. ;) Thanks for your feedback. Clay



Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.




*****



He’s bent to near parallel with the ground, and his shorts are riding up to expose taut muscles that are working overtime to keep his feet step for quickstep in front of the guy with the ball.

“Here we go Comets, here we go!”

Kyle’s eyes are trained on his man, and he has one arm in front of him threatening the possession of the ball, and the other jutting his elbow out to give him some space to maneuver around the guy trying to pick him off from the side.

When his man makes his move, Kyle fights through the pick and cuts the guy off before he can get to the basket. As a result, they both end up on the floor, and Kyle dives for the ball, passing it off to a teammate just before his upper body is smashed into the ground by a big guy from the other team who had been going for the loose ball.

Kyle’s efforts result in two fast break points. The roar and the stomping in the bleachers are pounding through my senses. The place is completely frantic.

I’m completely turned on.

Kyle accepts the help up from a couple of his teammates, to thunderous crowd approval, and hunches down and sets up again as the ball comes down from the other side of the court.

His upper arms flex in anticipation, and I bite my inner lip.

Maria elbows me in the side.

“Check out the big hero.”

“Oh I have been.”

Maria rolls her eyes.

People are on their feet as one of the other guys picks off a steal. Kyle hustles down court with him, and lays the ball up after it’s passed off to him.

“See now he’s just showing off,” she yells over the noise.

Some middle-aged guy sitting next to us throws us a look.

“These kids might have a shot at the state championship in a few months if they keep playing this way,” he admonishes her self-righteously.

I stifle a laugh at the look on her face, and stand up to cheer myself.

“Sit down Liz!”

“What?”

“Don’t you remember what happened last time you did that?”

“Oh, stop it.”

“I will when you can wipe that stupid smile off your face.”

I elbow her, trying to put on a straight face.

“All of West Roswell is counting on their boys to get to the state championship and win the town honor, Liz,” she mocks. “And it’s going to be all your fault if one of their starters is out with a broken ankle because his girlfriend was distracting him during the game.”

“Maria.”

I pretend to ignore her and turn my attention back out to the hardwood. When the clock is down to under a minute, the teams are still trading baskets and alternating the lead by one or two points at a time. I cover my face with my hands.

“I can’t look,” I say, peeking through my fingers.

The whistle blows, and it’s chaos.

Maria grabs me by the wrist and we stand so we can see the action. Kyle is at the free throw line. He was fouled at the three-point line, so three shots, the guy next to us explains jubilantly.

Two out of three and the game is a wrap.

Roswell can sleep peacefully in their beds tonight, and Liz wants to sneak into the locker room.

Instead, we wait outside in the big hallway with the rest of the receiving attendees, mostly cheerleaders, family, girlfriends, other jocks. It should probably be a lot more painful, but seeing as how our athlete just won the game, apparently we are old friends of all the usual groupies.

Twenty minutes later, a lot of baying and whooping occurs as the team throws open the double doors and piles out. It’s hard not to get caught up in the energy.

Kyle fights his way through the crowd and wraps us both up into a celebratory hug.

I run my fingers through his freshly showered hair, which makes him grimace as predicted. He hates it when I do that when it’s wet, but I love it and so he lets me.

“So. You’re the big hero.”

He grins slyly.

“What do I win?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know.”

“Actually I would.”

Kyle’s eyes catch something behind me, and his smile drops a little. I start to turn my head to see what he’s looking at, but he catches my face with both hands and kisses me soundly instead.

“Sorry,” he says, hands dropping to the back of my neck.

“Why?”

He nods behind me and I turn to see the back of Max’s head retreating through the crowds.

“Why?” I repeat.

“Because I know that you wouldn’t be vindictive enough to do that on purpose.”

I shake my head.

“It was time.”

“Is now still a good time?”

“Definitely.”

I pull him down to me and bring his mouth to mine. I run my hand through his wet hair again and he growls, kissing me harder and gripping me tighter as if it were a punishment.

A hard body plows into us nearly making me lose my footing.

“Barnaby!” Kyle curses after him.

The huge guy turns around, grinning, with an open beer in his hand and flanked on both sides by an entourage toting six-packs.

“Valenti, my man! You are the man! Come on over and par-tay with us tonight! My house!”

Barnaby turns around and by the time he makes it out the door whatever is left in the can is downed, and the can is discarded and crushed under his feet as he leaves.

“Yeah right,” Kyle mutters. “Let’s get out of here.”

He grabs my hand and I grab Maria’s and the three of us make our way outside to the parking lot.

“Oh hang on a second,” I realize. “I left my jacket in the bleachers. I’ll meet you at the car.”

I run back inside to the gym and climb back up to where Maria and I were sitting. I throw my jacket over my shoulders and hurry outside.

As I step out into the street I hear the sound of a car engine being heavily gunned. I jump back onto the safety of the sidewalk, but the bright lights stay in my eyes and I can see Barnaby in the window of the oncoming vehicle.

It’s coming too fast and I am trapped now in a contour of the outside of the brick school building. The car is swerving, but it’s too late.

“LIZ! LIZ!”

After that, things fade from black to bubbled bright to red and back again over and over in no particular order. Somewhere in the back of my mind I can hear.

“Liz!”

“LIZ! God!”

“Is she dead?”

“Nooo! NO!”

“Max’s car is still here!”

“Shit, get Max! Get Max!”

This body isn’t mine. It’s not, because it doesn’t feel like mine. It’s not even there. I’m not even here. Except I am, and it is, because from this far away place somehow I still know that I am moving. I am being moved.

“Goddammit Liz. Wake up, Liz. Please wake up. Shit. Liz, wake up.”

I want to. I want to do it for him. But I can’t.

“Don’t do this.”

I can barely hear him.

“I love you.”

I love you too.

“Just stop it.”

It’s black and red and purple and blotchy all at once and everywhere.

“WHERE IS SHE?”

“They’re in the back.”

“Liz. Oh god.”

“What the fuck are you waiting for?!”

“Let go of her.”

“Fuck you, heal her!”

“You have to let go, I need to connect to her – ”

“Kyle, let go. Come on.”

Some sense I didn’t even know I was feeling retreats from me, and then I can feel my body again because heat is pouring into it.

My eyes open slightly.

“Liz, look at me Liz.”

Max’s hazel eyes are half closed in concentration, but are still fixed on mine.

I can feel my cells spasming back to life.

And then the flashes start, every cell in my body singing against my will.

Kyle is kissing me in the school hall. He kisses me again, the same kiss. And again. And again. And again.

And finally the repeating scene is overtaken abruptly, and my stomach clenches.

It’s Michael and Isabel. They’re in prison. They’re all in prison.

They’re out and they’re lost. They’re aliens, all of them. The whole world is alien.

I am there. I’m human and the alien world isn’t alien anymore. My presence is making it human. Max belongs there now, he can fit in. I’m not really there, and then I’m gone, and he is still alien.

My stomach spasms again. Something is wrong. But the flashes don’t stop.

The desert.

He is seeing me again, in the Crashdown, my mom and dad are there. I am reminding him, but he doesn’t want to remember. I am going up the steps.

Kyle is kissing me, in the school hall, again. It flashes once, twice, three times. Kyle and I are dancing. Max and I are dancing, for a split second, Senor Chow’s. Kyle and I are dancing, and then Kyle is kissing me again.

The flash explodes.

This isn’t right.

It is growing inside of me, inside of my stomach. I can feel it.

My cells are singing because of his nearness.

I’m scared.

The flash is starting to end.

But not before violence rips through me, and I can hear myself cry out as my body submits completely to the transformation and his flash bleeds into mine.

It is Kyle, inside of me, kissing the wet corners of my eyes.

And then he has to remember, and the anguish in the flashes is so heavy I wonder if they can make me suffocate.

Alex.

I am avenging Alex.

I saved myself for him.

News of the baby, dead by its mother.

Kyle kissing me.

The flash brightens and ends, fading to the darkness of the night.

My cells are humming. They are alive. But they are submissive.

They are serving something else.

It’s deep down in the recesses of my body, in the pit of my stomach.

Max is breathing heavily, and my eyes meet his at the same time that his do mine.

He looks at me in utter anguish, knowing everything.

He takes his hands from me, scanning quickly to make sure the job is finished. He can’t even look at me.

“I still . . . I still love you,” he chokes on the words, and then leaves what I realize is the back seat of Kyle’s Mustang.

“Liz,” Maria has tears in her eyes and she touches my forehead, surveying the rest of my body while Kyle slides under my head and upper back.

“You’re going to be okay. You’re going to be okay.”

I’m not.





TBC

posted on 13-Nov-2001 8:44:31 PM by Clay
Title: The Middle Way
Author: Clay
Email: clay9093⊕yahoo.com
Category: Liz POV
Rating: R
Disclaimer: If they had been mine, this story would have been a lot different.
Note: The podsters take off in Departure, but everything up until then is show canon.



THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 18




*****




I’m completely out of control.

It’s strong and it’s base and it’s more powerful than me.

I feel like I’m shrinking up into myself.

Maybe I am. I haven’t checked in a mirror, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

I’m curled up into a fetal position on my bed because it’s the only way to avoid being sick.

I squeeze my eyes shut tightly as dizziness descends and consumes me. It is a cycle.

I want to call for help, but I already know that no one can help me.

No one, maybe, but . . .

The idea is terrifying and somewhere in the back of my head I almost want to will the next bout of nausea on now to make the thought go away. It is worse. It is worse than this.

But it is gone, for now, so I stand gingerly, testing, and then make my way to bathroom.

Shivering, I turn the water on. I want to allow the mists to fill up the bathroom first as I always do, but I know that I don’t have the time, so I strip methodically and climb into the spray.

I don’t really have the energy to wash myself, so I just stand there, letting the water pound into my back. I turn the knob higher, wanting it to pound harder, but I have to concede defeat when the pressure makes me a little wobbly on my feet.

My hands find their way to my stomach, and I hold it, trying not to panic.

When I can feel that my time is almost up, I turn the water off, grab a towel, and walk quickly back to my room to put on some clean clothes.

I’m exhausted. I lie down on my bed again, wondering if I might be able to avoid this round if I could fall asleep.

Instead there is knocking at the door.

I silently beg for it not to be Kyle or Maria.

It’s Max.

He steps into the room, donning a small, forced smile, and takes a couple tentative steps toward me.

It’s that easy.

It’s that easy.

It’s not normal, but I’m not dying anymore.

“Hey. I just wanted to see how you were.”

My entire body is answering. It is whirring back to life.

It is because of him.

I feel small tears prick my eyes.

“No, look. Please. I’m sorry. I’ll leave you alone, for good if you want. I just wanted you to know how sorry I am, and I can . . . I accept . . . everything the way it is.”

He inches forward, and the deep aching in my bones dissipates a little more.

“I know it’s all my fault, and I’m . . . truly sorry. You deserve everything that you have now.”

The nausea and fuzziness in my head is clearing. I almost feel okay.

It is an illusion. This is only recompense, a rebalance. It is dependency.

I slip a hand under the hem of my shirt, and rub my fingers along my skin. The edge of the rough, ugly scab is smoothing out, disappearing. That fast. It is probably glowing. I am too afraid to look. And I don’t want Max to see.

“Anyway, I just wanted to stop and see how you were feeling. See if everything got healed, I probably missed some bruises or something . . .”

“No!”

A shadow of that look that he wore last night crosses his face again.

“No, I mean I feel fine. Everything’s okay . . .”

He turns with another small, forced smile and moves to leave.

“Max.”

He pauses, but doesn’t turn around.

“Thanks.”

He nods and leaves the room, and two very different sick feelings wash over me.



*****



Critical mass.

It’s time to decide.

I’m tired of deciding. I’m tired of holding peoples’ fates in my hands. This is my fate now. I don’t have to choose. I won’t choose.

There is no decision. If there is no decision, there is no choice. I won’t choose. I don’t have to choose anymore.

I feel half delirious.

I don’t want to have to choose anymore.

But I’ve already chosen.

I once chose for Maria.

I chose for Alex.

Then I chose for Alex again.

I have chosen for Kyle now, I realize.

This is better for both of us.

I pick up the phone with hands shaking, but only one kind of sick feeling is left, because the other is at peace.

I will never taint what we have.

“It’s over.”

“Liz? Where ar – ”

Click.

I carefully stand and smooth the covers on my bed. I go over to my dresser, and run a brush through my hair. I have some powder that would probably help my face but it’s in the bathroom, too far. The last thing I want to be is sick when he gets here.

It’s so hot in here.

I open the window. December air has never felt so warm, I’m sure of it.

My door bursts open and he’s just staring at me.

“Are you okay?”

“Fine.”

He approaches me, and I step away from him. The silence lasts an eternity.

“What’s over, Liz.”

“Us.”

“Why.”

The tone in his voice is a myriad of things, and if I wasn’t concentrating so hard on standing I might not have the nerve to go through with it.

I take a deep breath.

This is the part where I tell him that I love him but I will always love Max more. I just have to say it. I just have to say enough so that even if he thinks something is wrong with me, he won’t call Max to come fix it.

“Why.”

I can’t do it. I could never do it. I couldn’t go with that being his last memory of me. With him believing that.

So I just stand there, not looking at him, until he finally turns around and leaves, shutting the door loudly behind him.

It’s not a moment too soon. I run to the bathroom and vomit repeatedly, hovering over the toilet, waiting for it to pass.

And then his hands are in my hair, pulling it back from my face.

“Liz. Baby, what is wrong with you,” he sighs.

I can only look at him, trying not to cry.

“Oh my god,” he says, some kind of realization dawning on his face. “Were you even going to tell me?”

I turn my attention to my hands instead.

“What, you thought I wouldn’t want it? How could you even think that?”

He is angry and relieved at the same time. I am dizzy and shaky and he pulls me into his lap there on the floor of the bathroom, smoothing my hair back with one hand, and the other one lifting my shirt and slipping his hand onto my stomach.

“Wait, no. No,” I say, hearing his words.

But he is already jerking his hand off my stomach, staring at it. There is a handprint there. He probably doesn’t recognize it as being in the exact same place and position as the one he saw peeking under my shirt more than two years ago.

It is the same print, but it isn’t glowing. It is a red rash, raised and scabbed over.

“No, I’m not p . . .”

It hits me how much I will never have, and when I look at him I can see how scared he is. I start to cry.

“I’m dying.”




TBC



[ edited 1 time(s), last at 13-Nov-2001 8:48:29 PM ]
posted on 29-Nov-2001 7:28:50 AM by Clay
THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 19




*****



“What is this?”

I close my eyes and will myself to stop so that my head will quit spinning. It works a little.

“Please just tell me what is going on.”

His voice is heartbreaking. I wonder if he can somehow sense the unearthly powers at work inside me right now because he is changed too, or if he is just scared because of how I’m acting.

And I know that it’s over. My resolve is broken that quickly.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper, for so many things.

“Me too.” I know he is talking about what I tried to do. He touches the scab cautiously, rubbing the top of it very gently with his forefinger.

“I know this is weird, but are you sure you aren’t just . . .”

He doesn’t understand.

“This happened before.”

“When you were shot?” he asks, still fingering and inspecting the huge print.

“Here,” I say absently, touching my neck. “It was during a time of really intense . . . a really intense time.”

He probably wants to start shaking me, but instead he caresses my arms ever so slightly with his thumbs, waiting for me to go on.

I exhale slowly. This is a conversation I never wanted to have.

“Visions? Were you having those visions?”

“Yeah.”

I clutch onto him as a little tremor runs through me from my toes. I know he can feel it but he says nothing.

“I once was connecting to Max as intensely as that first time that he healed me.” He starts to look at me questioningly and I rush on. “And it was changing me, more than I already was, more than either of us ever were from the healing. It felt chemical. It was chemical,” I amend.

“How did you know?” he whispers.

“I just knew. And I had this,” I glance at my stomach, “here,” I say touching my neck again, almost wanting to make sure it hasn’t reappeared.

He softly kisses where my fingers point, as if trying to ward away whatever is happening. Then he stiffens under me for a moment, and I know he has realized the implication. He understands how I connected to Max so strongly that my human body rebelled at being away from him, and his own body stays rigid as these thoughts go through his head.

I want to reassure him, to tell him that I love him, but the words get caught in my throat. I am paralyzed. I have made the wrong choice. I knew this would happen and I planned for it, but I succumbed to my weakness and my fear and now it is too late. He will force me to go and I will do it because I love him.

I’m so tired. My heart is so tired.

“This isn’t even where he healed you,” he says finally. “It was your head, your ribs, and your hip.”

“Because it’s permanent now,” I whisper. “It’s everywhere. I can feel it.”

He closes his eyes, his hand still lingering on my marred skin.

“Then why this?”

“The cells there were already changed once. I guess this is what happens when they are changed again.”

I can hear his breathing. It’s irregular and unsteady.

“We’re going to find a way – ”

I realize I can’t stand to hear it, and so I risk pulling away from him to stand. I grip the counter and find my toothbrush and some toothpaste. When I’m finished I run some tap water into a glass and alternate between it and some Scope until I feel clean and then there is no avoiding it anymore.

“Are you finished?”

I nod.

“We’re going to the hospital.”

I don’t move and there is silence for an eternity.

“I’m dependent on Max.”

“What?”

“It’s being away from Max that makes me sick.”

He looks as stunned as I feel, even now.

“Part of me is alien, and it’s like it’s rejecting the rest of me, the human cells. It only stops when it’s close to where it came from, maybe it can’t tell the difference then.”

I can see his mind working, reviewing the healing, his own healing, my behavior, my handprint, my too-warm skin, my despondency, my certainty. I feel the panic in him start to rise, and I know that he has accepted in his head the truth of what I know in spite of his desperate disbelief.

“You knew that?”

I just nod again, very slightly, wondering if I can somehow avoid answering this way.

“That’s why you wanted me to stay away,” he says, realizing.

I can’t even recognize his voice when he speaks next.

“You were going to just . . . die here?”

I don’t know.

My eyes fill with tears again, and I too feel panicky and that sick feeling, the nonphysical one, comes back full force.

“You can’t ask me to do this.”

His voice raises.

“I can’t ask you to live?!”

My tears blur everything.

“I love you,” he says accusingly.

“I’m so tired,” I plead with him. I mean life. I mean everything. I mean my heart.

If it breaks again there will be nothing left.

“I thought you loved me too.”

“I do,” I whisper desperately. “You really want me to spend the rest of my life with him?”

“I want you to live.”

I swallow the lump in my throat.

“Do you know what happens when he kisses me? I see stars. I glow when he so much as touches my hand, and the way it feels – ”

“Stop it.”

There are tears in his eyes now.

“Please live. Please live for me.”

I pause, closing my eyes against a wave of dizziness.

“I would do anything for you,” I say at last. “I just can’t understand why you would want this.”

“Why do you want to leave me again?”

“I’m leaving you anyway,” I sob.

“Liz, he said he loves you. If he loves you half as much as I do, and I think he does, then he will save you and allow you to be happy at the same time.”

My stomach clenches and I feel nauseous.

“That’s the part you don’t understand. He doesn’t love me. Max doesn’t love me.”

“He’s so in – ”

“Obsessed. That isn’t love.”

He still doesn’t understand.

“When he healed me last night, that’s what I saw in his head. You kissing me ten minutes before in the school hallway, playing over and over again in his mind. But all I felt from him was desperation and sadness and loneliness. Loss, not love.”

I don’t know if he’s following, but I’m too afraid to look because if I do, I might want to go to him.

“Before, I’ve seen that I’m beautiful to him, and I make him feel loved. What I mostly see is how desperate he is to belong, and how in love he is with the idea of me. I made him human. I made him believe he could belong here, even before the day I was shot, even in grade school. When – she came, he started to believe that he could be someone else, that he was needed somewhere, that if he couldn’t be human he could be better than it.”

Finally I decide to quit tempting fate and slide down the wall so I am sitting down again.

“But even after everything, Kyle, everything, when he was on his planet and feeling truly alien for the first time, he was still dreaming that I was there, that I came and he could belong again. That’s all it was, that’s all it ever was. I see that now. He’s lonely and hurting and he believes that he needs me now, but he believed that before, too. If I still have you, how long do you think it will take him to . . . ”

“You can’t really think he would just leave you when you might d – ”

“He already did once,” I say helplessly.

There’s nothing to say, and so we sit, lost in thought, until I’m in his arms and being laid down gently on my bed. He lies down next to me and holds me close.

“Go to him, Liz. I won’t stop looking until we find a way.”

“Just seeing him makes me hurt, Kyle.”

He touches his lips to mine almost imperceptibly and then pleads softly into my ear.

“Please go. Please.”

I don’t think I can do it without him.

“You have to come with me. We’ll explain it.”

He balks.

“You just convinced me that wasn’t a good idea.”

“I said I don’t trust him. And that what isn’t love won’t last.”

He kisses my forehead.

“It will give us time. Who knows how much we need, I won’t jeopardize that.”

“Kyle – ”

“I won’t jeopardize you.”

My body is aching, and I wonder if I can avoid the next sickness by falling asleep. I close my eyes.

“I’m going to tell him everything.”

“Just go.”

When I wake up, there is only a note.

please live



*****



“I need you.”

He stares at me for a moment, until he is suddenly blinking back tears. And then I am enveloped in his arms, his face buried in my neck, tears running into my shirt.

“I never thought I would get you back.”

I am numb.

And then the lies begin, the same lies I have heard many times already, and then his arms are boas trapping me and his intimacy burns, and the full hopelessness of the situation brings me to my knees. He follows me, overcome, and our tears fuse together on our cheeks as he touches his face to mine.

I feel my every cell singing back to life, and I feel violated, betrayed by my own body.

When I am strong enough again, I stop him and start to tell him the truth of the situation.

I can only cry.


TBC



posted on 29-Nov-2001 7:29:26 AM by Clay
THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 20



*****



“What are you going to do?”

I am sitting in the corner with my arms around my knees.

I barely hear the question and I am barely conscious of my answer.

“I don’t know.”

I don’t know.

There are the practical matters to be considered first.

If I were to take the second semester of senior English by correspondence, that’s all I would need to graduate.

Then there’s the matter of living arrangements. I think Max was talking about it, but I can no longer remember what he said if I ever even heard him.

And oh god, my parents.

There are other matters to think about too. But I am finished thinking about them.

“Liz.”

My name is jarring.

“What.”

She speaks more gently.

“What are you going to do?”

There is sadness in her voice, and she’s making me think about those things that I am finished thinking about.

I jump up and cross to her window, then start climbing out of it.

I’m done with this line of thinking and I can escape it if I need to.

“Liz, come on. He . . .”

Out of the corner of my eye I see her motion to the closed door and the room beyond it. I don’t change my course.

“ . . . someone needs to know where you are.”

As soon as I hit the ground I start running.

I run and run until my lungs feel like they’re going to explode. I run until my body is screaming at me, but that just makes me keep running because the burn has never felt so good. It’s so normal. I understand this kind of dull ache, the one I am perpetuating in my muscles.

This is my body and I understand it right now.

I run to forget. I run to feel. I am running to the only place that can divert my attention, maybe because it feels even worse, and I am running as if I am whole and healthy, as if I will still be able to run in a few short hours.

I am so focused on my destination that I have forgotten the course and I pull up short when I see it.

The circle of dirt, still black, draws me to the fence. My fingers grab the chain links and I peer through it, dazed, gasping for breath.

The setting sun glints harshly off the twisted metal, but my eyes only glance over the charred remains of the burned out one because I’m finished thinking about that now. They settle instead on the mangled pile across from it, the tarp now haphazardly covering only half of it.

I slip through the gate before I know it, and there I am again, touching the seat. I’m doing it on purpose. It is as deliberate as when I went to Max’s house to have dinner with his grieving parents. It is numbing.

I see the place where I found the picture, and I run my fingers over it, unthinking.

Somebody killed Alex and covered up his death. Why don't you see that?

I snatch my fingers away from the seat and take off without a second look.

That isn’t the part I want to deal with.

When I get to the grave the sun is nearly down and I collapse onto the grass. It already has a thin film of dew on it.

I squeeze my eyes shut and silently plead with Alex to remind me. In my head I re-imagine his grinning face, his skinny arms twisting themselves behind his head, his fingers strumming his guitar with all The Whits in the garage, his defiant confidence in jail, and it is all just a little bit more blurry than last time. With that realization I feel like I have been punched in the gut, and I grab fistfuls of grass and breathe in very slowly.

“I’m sorry,” I say for the thousandth time.

The hurt is welcome, and everything else just melts away into insignificance. Somewhere in the back of my mind I realize how perverse it is that I am still running to Alex and leaning on him even in his death.

I am exhausted, and I give in to the temptation to just lay my head on my arms and rest for a little while.

The sound of footsteps rustles toward me. It’s Kyle. He’s the only one that ever figured out to find me here.

“Hey.”

It’s Max’s voice.

My head jerks up.

“I uh, I followed you.”

I’m touching the upholstery again, reaching for that picture.

Wake up, Max.

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly, staring at the lettering on the stone, and suddenly I am enraged, the fury threatening to bubble over.

How dare he come here to Alex’s place, as if he cared, as if he couldn’t even let Alex rest here in the only place he has left, the cold wet ground, without coming to contaminate it with himself who never loved him. He who didn’t think enough of Alex to know that Alex loved life, that his death was even worth inquiry, that it was even worth one week of respect.

“I never asked you to believe me,” I say with clenched teeth.

He just stares at me.

“Was it too much to ask that you accept the possibility without turning your back on me! On Alex!” I scream at him.

He averts his eyes to the ground, holding stock still.

We sit.

I stare.

I clench and unclench my fists.

I dig my fingernails into the dirt.

I wait.

I hold my breath, wanting to scream some more.

The echo drifts off and the silence is poised to last.

I swallow.

I try not to think in case I quit feeling.

The silence goes on and I deflate.

He says nothing, asks for nothing, not even my forgiveness, and then I know that he really is sorry.

I don't want him to be, but he asks for nothing. Something is different.

I swallow past my scratchy throat. The anger drops unceremoniously and without my consent. It is replaced by sadness again as I let the rest of it go too. He is here, reality is back. A shroud of guilt could only ever be temporary. And it doesn’t really feel better. It is a false, fleeting power.

“Let’s go,” I whisper finally.

I start back and then shorten my strides to allow him to catch up to me. We walk quietly in lock step for a long while.

Max’s voice is melancholy.

“I put a down payment on an apartment today.”

I nod slightly.

“Okay.”

We walk on, lost again in silence.

We get to the Crashdown and enter, Max up the fire escape and me through the front door so I can say goodnight to my parents.

I change in the bathroom and then slip into my room, crawling under the covers in my bed. Max is already stretched out with pillow and blankets in his spot on the floor, behind the bed and hidden from the line of sight from the door.

I listen to his breathing, and then turn over, hugging the comforter tightly around me.

I fall asleep, longing for someone else’s soft touch. A sighting. Anything.


*****



TBC



posted on 29-Nov-2001 7:30:03 AM by Clay
THE MIDDLE WAY
Part 21


*****



“I can’t believe this.”

“Me neither,” I mutter, throwing essentials haphazardly into a box.

“This goes beyond erratic behavior, Liz. This is,” she is so mad she can’t figure out how to end her sentence. “This is just absurd.”

I move to the next shelf without missing a beat, and scan quickly for anything important.

“I know it seems crazy, but this is what I have to do.”

“You don’t have to throw your entire life away over this boy! When you said you might stay close, I never thought you meant something like this! God, Liz, what is going on in your head?”

I look her in the eyes briefly and then go back to my work.

“Your father is so disappointed. So am I.”

I pull the four flaps of the box shut and set it on my bed, reaching for another.

“Look, it’s not like I’m not going to graduate. And I’ll still be here, you’ll know where I am.”

She is so outraged.

“What about Kyle?!”

I measure my steps back to the shelf carefully.

I shouldn’t say it but I do it anyway.

“He’s the one that wanted it this way.”

“That’s ridiculous. Whatever fight you had, it’s ridiculous that your answer is to move in with Max. Are you trying to get back at him for something? That’s not you, Liz. This is not you.”

The subject matter here is way too close, and so I clam up in spite of myself.

I reach for the dresser knob and start throwing socks in the box.

“Are you pregnant? Is it Max’s?”

My hand stalls and I inadvertently flinch.

I hate that she has considered that of me. I hate the connection my mind automatically draws. I hate that her conclusion is natural, and I hate that she’ll be the first of many to conclude it. I hate lying. I hate this.

“No. No, I’m not.”

“Because you know that – ”

“I promise you that I’m not.”

She accepts my words at first, then persists.

“Kyle is crazy in love with you, Liz. Anyone can see it. If it hurts that you’re doing this to your father and me, what you’re doing to him is just . . . I can’t believe you would do this to him.”

She’s into the desperate, guilt tactics now. I wish I could tell her it was working before she ever said a word.

“Mom, I love you. I’m sorry if I’m hurting you. But I have to make my own decisions now, and I’ve made mine.”

I stack the boxes on top of one another and load them into my arms. I trudge downstairs, and stop short behind the window in the swing door when I see Max there, waiting, and my dad.

I set it all down for a moment, listening.

“I don’t know what you kids think you’re doing.”

“I realize – ”

“No, you don’t realize at all. You don’t realize that you’re just a couple of kids that think you’re in love. You don’t realize the first thing about real life. You don’t realize that you’re robbing Liz of a quality college education, of her future.”

Max stares him in the eye, resolutely.

He is already different than the day of the graveyard, than every day before it since he got back. I can see it.

It is because I am different. Necessity has made me come to terms with this situation. I am accepting it. And he knows. He’s like a person with a second chance.

“Do you believe in fate, Mr. Parker?”

Max squares his shoulders.

“I do.”

My dad curses under his breath.

“If you really loved my daughter, you wouldn’t be robbing her of her future, Max.”

“I love her, and I will take care of her.”

He doesn’t even blink.

“No one else can, that’s the beauty of fate,” he says calmly.

My dad is too busy pacing and fuming to hear all of his words.

“Do you intend to marry her?”

Max doesn’t hesitate a moment.

“Yes.”

I don’t have time to process.

“Oh no . . .”

I jerk around to see my mom standing behind me, obviously listening in too. Her eyes are fixed on them through the window. I turn back to see what’s going on.

It’s Kyle, livid, stepping toward Max.

He’s obviously been here for a while.

He grabs Max’s left shoulder from behind and connects his fist to Max’s jaw as he spins him around.

My mother rushes us both through the door out into the kitchen, but I am hardly aware as Kyle stalks forward toward a stunned Max and grabs his shirt.

“Kyle,” I breathe, almost unconsciously.

His head whips around, and when he sees me, I am stopped short by the look in his eyes. His rage is joined by a dozen other things that play across his features. The one that finally stays at last is regret and worry, for the consequences this might have. I can see his mind whirring, even as he fights his fury.

Finally, he loosens his grip, his jaw clenching.

“If you hurt her again, ever, I’ll kill you.”

He takes off toward the glass double doors without another look at any of us.

Out of the corner of my eye I see Max tentatively raise his hand to his jaw.

Without giving myself time to think about it, I run out after Kyle. I am undermining this whole thing probably, but I don’t care, and not even his wrath can dissuade me.

“What are you doing,” he says, defeat in his voice, as my soles slap against the pavement behind him.

He keeps walking, so I step out in front of him and grab his shoulders to make him stop.

“I told you I wasn’t doing this without you.”

“What do you think I’ve spent every waking minute doing?”

“No. Ten days is not okay. I’m not doing this without you. I mean it,” I whisper fiercely.

“Okay. Okay. Just go back now. I screwed up enough as it is.”

“Promise me.”

“I can’t do that.”

Kyle, I’m telling you that I – ”

“What you’re asking, I can’t promise. Especially not now, after this.”

And with that, he is gone.



TBC