posted on 3-Feb-2002 12:32:38 PM by Carol000
Author: Carol (spacemom)

Category: M/L because there's not really another one worth writing

Rating: PG

Setting: Liz was never shot, so in their junior year, Max is still hiding his feelings for Liz, until she decides to force the issue.

Disclaimer: They're not mine--blah, blah, blah

Author's note: Season One Lives!!!! This story is a return to the innocence of a Max and Liz who love simply, whose lives are not complicated by Khivar, Skins, or The-Blond-Witch-Who-Shall-Remain-Nameless. Depending on how things go, I hope to write another part of this for "Valentine's Day 2002." Feedback may well determine that!


Valentine's Day 2001, Part 1 of 2

Max Evans had been staring at her for years. Maria had mentioned it during a shift at the Crashdown one day last year, but the truth was, Liz had been aware of it long before that. At first, it had freaked her out just a little. The news was full of stalker stories, and for a brief time, she was afraid he might hurt her. It wasn’t long, though, before she noticed little things that put her mind at ease—his caring toward his high-strung sister, the way he was the first to help if somebody spilled their notebook papers all over the hall or stumbled coming down the stairs, the way his eyes softened as he watched a mother help her child settle into the booth next to him. It was a lot of things, but eventually she had come to count on his quiet attention. Now, she admitted to herself, she wanted more.

One of Max’s most appealing traits was his total oblivion to the bevy of girls who worked hard to get his attention. Tall, dark, and brooding, with deep amber pools where his eyes should be, Max was the epitome of the unattainable perfect man. Being the first to attract and tame this desirable specimen had become an obsession for some of Roswell High’s most confident females. The unsubtle ones rubbed their bodies against his at every opportunity while they laughed shrilly and batted mascara-laden eyelashes. Liz often had to suppress a giggle as she watched him extract himself uncomfortably from their radar, sometimes catching her eye and shrugging helplessly, confused about how he always seemed to be standing in the most crowded places. Others did their homework; they arranged to share classes or joined the gym where he played raquetball with his dad just so they could forge that bond that grows from common ground. Meticulously polite but always remote, he remained alone.

And that was just one thing that confused Liz. Why was Max always looking at her? If he were interested in her, wouldn’t he have approached her by now? He couldn’t be so out of it that he didn’t realize he could have any girl in school he wanted. But if he didn’t want Liz, then what was all the time at the Crashdown about? And why did he look away every time she caught his eye?

“Just go over there and talk to him!” urged Maria. “You know he wants you to.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Maria,” Liz countered. “If he’d wanted to talk, he could have picked any of the 101 visits to the Crashdown.”

“Aha! You’ve been counting all those times he comes in!”

Liz rolled her eyes. “That’s absurd, Maria. That was just an expression. I just mean he’s had plenty of opportunity to talk to me, but he never has. I think that says it all.”

“It may just say he’s shy,” suggested Maria. “Cute guys can still be shy, you know.”

Liz shrugged and turned away to refill the napkin dispensers, but she couldn’t quite shake Maria’s words. In spite of her best intentions, a seed of an idea grew in her mind, and she bit her lip, wondering if she had the nerve to go through with it. The fates answered her question clearly when Max’s sister Isabel approached the counter, her usual aloof demeanor compromised by a trace of uncertainty.

“Liz?”

“Hi, Isabel, what’s up?”

“Uh, you know that physics project we have to do?”

“You mean the toothpick bridges due after spring break?”

“Yeah, well, Ms. Fletcher said we should choose a partner, and I thought, maybe . . .”

Liz tried hard not to smile. She knew Isabel was having trouble in that class and wanted to pair up with somebody smart so she’d get a better grade. It was a heady feeling to be in the driver’s seat with the school ice princess.

“You thought what?” Liz asked, pretending not to know where this was going.

Isabel sighed and took the plunge. “I thought maybe we could be partners. We have a basement with a big worktable where we could build it, and my mom keeps the fridge well stocked.”

Liz stifled amusement at Isabel’s attempt at a friendly smile. She looked like that awful Chucky doll from the old horror movie.

Enjoying the upper hand, Liz continued to bait her. “Oh, well, I was talking to Jerry Bowen and he said his dad’s an engineer. I was thinking he might be a good partner because his dad knows all about this stuff.”

The clown smile faltered. “Really?”

“Your dad’s a lawyer, right?”

The smile crumbled. Isabel heaved a great sigh and collapsed on the barstool. “My dad sucks at this stuff,” she huffed. “And I don’t have a clue. Please, Liz? You’re the smartest one in class.”

Liz savored the image of Isabel playing right into her hands.

“Okay,” Liz agreed. “Saturday at your house?”

“Yes!” Isabel jumped up, excited, until she realized how she looked to the largely teen crowd in the café. Instantly, she assumed her aloof air. “That would be fine, Liz. Shall we say 1 o’clock?”

Liz swallowed a yelp of victory. “See you then, Isabel.”

Operation Max Evans was underway.

********

Saturday dawned hot and dry, unusual for early February. Customers at the Crashdown were already complaining about the heat. Full of nervous anticipation, Liz darted impatiently through the kitchen’s humidity, the grouchy customers, and the spilled milkshake at table 6, distracted by the clock’s slow ticking toward noon. When the big hand at last clicked into place over the 12, she dropped her dishcloth, shed her apron, and sprinted up the stairs to shower and change. She was already sweaty, and that wasn’t the impression she was going for today.

Wearing her low-slung jeans and a coral tank top, she hoisted her backpack over her shoulder and stepped out into the hot sun. Turning in the direction of Max’s house, she suddenly began to doubt herself. What was she doing? She was going to his house? He would see right through her! She’d never ever been there alone before. The only reason she even knew where it was was because they’d built the freshman float in the Evans’s driveway two years ago. Get a grip, Liz, she told herself. Isabel asked you to be her partner. Not the other way around.

She was still psyching herself up when she arrived at the front door. Knocking tentatively, she took in the details of the yard. The garage door was open and a wheelbarrow with a young tree standing in it was poised at the gate to the backyard. Liz could see a hose snaking around toward the back of the house, and a bag of fertilizer stood open just inside the fence. Liz thought she could here a scraping noise coming from just beyond her line of vision.

When no one came to answer the door, Liz walked slowly toward the back of the house. The sight that met her eyes brought her up short. There in the hot sun, with his back to her, Max was digging a hole. She bit back a gasp, her eyes drinking in the powerful shoulders and bulging biceps that flexed and strained as he wielded the shovel. Then her eyes fell lower. He was wearing cut-offs that should probably have been retired last year, and the seams were taut to the point of bursting as his thighs raised and lowered his body in an even rhythm. The sheen of sweat made her think of those body-builder photos in the magazines. She was speechless. How had he managed to hide this body?

Breathing heavily, Max leaned against the shovel handle and reached for a glass that had been perched on the fence. Eyes closed, he slid the glass across his forehead, letting the beads of condensation cool him. Then he downed its contents in a series of gulps and sighed heavily. Setting the glass back down, Max turned to reach for the fertilizer. Their eyes met.

“Liz.” It was almost a whisper.

Liz dropped her gaze, embarrassed that she’d been caught staring. “I . . . I’m supposed to meet Isabel for our physics project but . . . uh . . . nobody answered the door. I . . . uh . . . heard noises back here. . .”

Max continued to stare at her.

“I’ll get Isabel,” he mumbled, and bolted for the back door.

Liz wanted to cry. Obviously, her appearance had been completely unwelcome. Obviously, project Max Evans was dead before it even began.

********
Max stood staring at Liz, wondering for a brief moment if she was really there or if his imagination had finally pushed him over some mental cliff. Here this angel had appeared in his backyard, wearing form-fitting jeans that left a strip of smooth, forbidden abdomen peeking out at him. That coral tank top only accentuated her deep tan, and her dark hair, fanned across her shoulders, shone in the sun. But whereas she was a vision, he was a mess—filthy, wearing these throw-away shorts, and dripping with sweat. She must be totally disgusted by his appearance. Damn Isabel! Why didn’t she tell him Liz was coming over!

“I’ll get Isabel,” he mumbled, and ran for the safety of the house. Bounding up the stairs, he pushed open the door to his sister’s room without knocking.

“Why didn’t you tell me Liz Parker was coming over here? And why didn’t you answer the door when she knocked?”

His face was pure outrage, and Isabel laughed out loud. “What’s the matter, Max? Don’t tell me that her just showing up here got your hormones in a twist! For your information, I was doing my nails and couldn’t get the door. Why don’t you ask her to come up? I’m almost dry.”

You ask her!” he fumed. “I’m taking a shower!” He slammed the door to her room. Seconds later, she heard the door to the bathroom slam as well.

Still chuckling, Isabel ran down the stairs and opened the front door. Where had Liz gone? Confused, she turned back into the house, only to hear a tentative rapping at the back door.

“Isabel?”

“Liz! Sorry, Max kinda freaked when you showed up. I can’t believe he left you standing out there. I didn’t hear the door. I’m just finishing my nails. Come on up.”

Liz followed Isabel into the house and up the stairs. “Why would he freak? Doesn’t he like visitors?”

Isabel laughed again. “Don’t tell me, Liz, that my brother’s total infatuation with you has escaped your attention!”

Liz gaped at her. “Infatuation?”

“Excuse me,” Isabel drawled. “Are you the same Liz Parker who works at the Crashdown where Max lives every day after school? Where Max tries to stare at you without being noticed day after day?”

Liz could feel herself blushing to her very roots. It’s what she’d hoped, even suspected, but he’d never approached her in all that time, and he’d bolted like a rabbit when she’d shown up here. It was all very confusing.

“Do us both a favor, Liz. Put him out of his misery or we’ll never get anything done on this physics project.”

Physics was the last thing on Liz’s mind now. Suddenly, the sound of the shower running was all she could hear. She kept getting images of him in there, naked, soapy, thinking of her. Her body heated up without warning, and she was helpless to control the reaction.

“Good god,” Isabel sighed, rolling her eyes. “You’re as bad off as he is, aren’t you?”

Liz could only swallow and stare. This was not going at all the way she’d expected.

“Liz, can you help me gather up these papers and stuff? My nails are a bit tacky still. We can take them down to the basement. . . . Liz!”

Liz shook herself. “Huh?”

“Papers? Basement? Physics?”

“Uh, yeah. Sure.” Liz began to stack the papers strewn across Isabel’s desk, and walked into the hall, plowing smack into Max, who was scurrying down the hall with only a towel around his waist. Papers flew everywhere. Their eyes locked in a moment of sheer agony. They were both as embarrassed as two people could get.

“Sorry,” breathed Liz, unable to keep her eyes from wandering down the chest, the towel . . . oh, god.

“No, it’s my fault. I . . . uh . . . forgot to take clean clothes in . . . Here, let me help.”

He bent to pick up some papers when he realized the towel was loosening around his waist. Dropping the few papers he’d picked up, he grabbed frantically for the towel before it slipped around his hips. “I . . .”

Giving up on rescuing any dignity, he almost ran into his room further down the hall, leaving Liz open-mouthed behind him. Between her reaction to him and her supreme embarrassment, she felt her body temperature spike. Looking back toward Isabel’s room, she found Isabel leaning against her doorjamb, shaking her head.

“I’m beginning to think you two deserve each other.”

Together they picked up the papers and made their way to the basement.

********

Max was miserable. He had managed to create two ridiculous scenes in which he made himself look stupid, incompetent, and klutzy, all at the same time. Even his fantasies about Liz Parker would have to stop after today. Even his imagination wouldn’t be able to dismiss this debacle. He had to get out of here. Now.

Entering the kitchen to grab his keys, he saw his mother struggling with the door, her arms full of groceries.

“Hi, Max. Is Liz Parker here yet?”

“You knew she was coming? Did everyone know but me?” His anger was obvious.

His mother stopped and looked at him through narrowed eyes. That one little retort was more reaction to a girl than she’d ever heard from her handsome son before.

“Why, Max? Is that a problem?”

Way to go, Max, he scolded himself. Let’s just see how really bad you can make this?

“No, Mom, of course not. I have to go.”

His mother frowned. “You do? Because I need some help with these groceries.”

Max sighed. “Sure, Mom.”

Eager to have something specific to do, Max walked out to the car, taking more bags of groceries from the open trunk. When he returned to the kitchen, his mother had already prepared a tray with two glasses of lemonade and a plate of cookies.

“Would you take these downstairs to Isabel and our guest, please, Max?” she asked.

“Mom, I was just leaving. Could you do it?”

Diane Evans hid a smile. “I’d appreciate your doing it, Max. I have these frozen foods to put away and some meat to take care of.”

Sighing with resignation, Max picked up the tray and headed for the basement stairs. As he descended, he caught sight of Liz, hidden behind a curtain of hair as she glued a toothpick into place. “See, Isabel, you have to create a series of triangles for strength. It’s the most stable geometric form . . .”

The sound of Max setting down the tray brought her head up, and when they locked eyes, they both began to blush again. Isabel could hardly stand it. They didn’t have time for this dance.

“So, Liz,” Isabel asked in a pseudo-casual voice. “Do you have a date for the Valentine’s Day dance?”

Liz dropped the toothpick triangle. It glanced off the edge of the worktable, breaking on one side.

“Uh, no . . . uh . . . Kyle and I sort of . . . well, we don’t really go out . . . it’s just this casual . . . uh. No.”

“That’s too bad, Liz. Who are you taking, Max?”

Max glared at her with such venom, it would have scared Liz had she been able to lift her eyes from their single-minded study of the floor. He was choosing from a number of inadequate answers when his mother intervened. Her words were both a relief and a nightmare.

“Liz, Isabel tells me this is a big project. I hope you’ll stay for dinner. That way, you can work some this evening, too.”

Liz froze. What should she do? She ventured a glimpse at Max, who seemed equally frozen in the moment. Was that hope or panic on his face?

“Thanks, mom!” Isabel shouted up the stairs. “Great, Liz,” she beamed. “Now we can knock off a bunch of this tonight!”

She threw a victorious glance at her brother. “So, triangles, huh? I didn’t realize they were so strong.”

Max trudged up the stairs. His day couldn’t get much worse.

********
“This is delicious, Mrs. Evans. Thank you.” Liz was trying to force down some dinner, which really would have been delicious if her stomach hadn’t been in knots. When Liz had returned from the bathroom before dinner, the whole family had been seated, and the only empty chair was next to Max. Every time they both reached for the salt or their legs brushed against each other, a shot of adrenalin zapped her system and her stomach did flipflops. She noticed with some satisfaction that Max wasn’t eating much either.

Thankfully, Isabel had deflected attention away from Liz with her whining. She was trying to convince her parents that she needed a new dress for the Valentine’s dance, even though she had half a dozen gowns already. Liz was sure her presence was all that kept a family argument from erupting.

“Liz, tell them,” Isabel insisted. “Tell them you can’t wear a gown that people have already seen to one of these dances.”

Liz was trapped. Her family couldn’t afford a new gown for every dance, and Liz often settled for different accessories or one of Maria’s magic makeovers. Her discomfort was obvious, and Max hurried to her rescue.

“Some people don’t need a new dress to make an impression,” he goaded her. Liz gave him a wide-eyed look, and saw him wink at her. She suppressed a giggle. She wasn’t sure if that was a slam on his sister or a compliment to her, but either way, she appreciated it. Isabel, however, did not. Rising from her chair, her eyes shooting daggers at her brother, she flounced from the room.

“Come on, Liz. We have work to do.”

Diane Evans watched Max’s face. His eyes never left Liz as she walked from the room.

“Liz, let us know when you two have finished for the night and Max will drive you home.”

Liz and Max both looked at her with surprise. “I can walk, Mrs. Evans. That’s okay.”

“Nonsense. We won’t have you walking home alone after dark. You just give a holler when you’re ready.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Liz tried very hard not to skip from the room.

********

Liz was motivated—motivated to get finished for the night so that she could go home. Or more to the point, so Max could take her home. Besides, she was tired of Isabel watching her work on the project instead of helping. Comments like “Oh, you’re so much better at that; you’d better do that part” or “I don’t understand what you mean. You do that and I’ll watch how you do it” made her realize why no one wanted to be partners with Isabel Evans. She promised herself that when it was time to write up the report to go with this bridge, Isabel would do it.”

Straightening up, she stretched. “I think that’s far enough for tonight, Isabel. I need to get home.”

“Huh? Oh yeah, fine, Liz. Thanks for helping me.”

Yeah, right. Who was helping who? Liz thought. But she smiled and headed up the steps. Walking through the deserted kitchen, Liz looked for Max. No one seemed to be around at all, and she sighed with disappointment. She wasn’t about to go looking through the house. Max probably hadn’t really wanted to take her home anyway; his mother was just pushing him.

Liz stepped out onto the front porch, shutting the door quietly behind her. As she moved toward the steps, though, a voice startled her.

“You weren’t going to walk home, were you? You want to get me in trouble with my mother?”

Liz spun around to see Max in the shadows, his long legs moving the glider gently back and forth. Slowly, he rose.

“Your chariot awaits.” He bowed formally and held out one arm. Liz grinned at him and wrapped her small hand around the crook of his arm. The act of touching seemed to have an impact on both of them because they spent several seconds just standing there, conscious of the contact and getting lost in each other’s eyes. Finally, Max broke the look with a little shiver, walked her down the steps, and helped her into his Jeep. They rode in awkward silence for several blocks. Suddenly, Max pulled the car over.

“Max? We’re still two blocks from my house,” Liz reminded him, confused by the sudden stop. She turned questioning eyes to him.

“I know, but I wanted to talk to you—without anyone else around.”

Liz’s heart sped up. This was the beginning of one of her favorite fantasies. She wondered if by some miracle, he knew the rest of it. She was almost afraid for him to speak again and spoil it.

“I . . . uh, well, I almost never agree with anything my sister says, but she actually did say one sensible thing tonight.”

“Yes, Max?” Liz was holding her breath.

“Well, if it’s true that you don’t have a date for the Valentine’s dance, and I know I don’t have a date for it either, well, wouldn’t it make sense to go together?”

He did know the rest of fantasy—or at least the next part of it! Liz realized she wasn’t breathing and when she went to take a breath, it sounded like a gasp. Max panicked.

“I mean, we don’t have to stay together the whole night. Like, you could dance with anyone you wanted, and . . . I mean . . . you probably don’t want to. Never mind.”

Max started the car and put it in gear, wishing he could somehow get Liz home without actually have to take her there himself.

“Max.”

He looked over his shoulder, waiting for traffic to clear.

“Max!”

Waiting . . . waiting . . .

“MAX!”

Spinning his head around, he looked at Liz. “What did you say?”

“I said ‘yes.’ I’d like to go to the dance with you.”

“Really? You don’t have to. I only asked because . . .”

“Max, I would like to go to the dance with you.” The relief on his face made Liz’s heart sing. He really did want to take her. “But I’ll warn you, I don’t have a new dress,” she teased.

“You’ll still make an impression,” he teased back, his eyes softening. Liz couldn’t take her eyes off of them. Smiling broadly now, he started toward the Crashdown again. The silence between them was still awkward, but lighter somehow. The air was charged with anticipation.

“Thanks for the ride home, Max,” Liz smiled, stepping out of the car.

“Thanks for agreeing to come to the dance with me. Next Saturday night? 7:30?”

“It’s a date,” she assured him. He stared after her as she walked through her door.

A date. He had a date with Liz Parker. What had he done?



[ edited 4 time(s), last at 3-Mar-2002 12:50:26 PM ]
posted on 4-Feb-2002 10:10:35 PM by Carol000
THANK YOU so much for the wonderful feedback! I've confused several of you, I'm afraid. What you read this weekend was part 1 of a 2-parter about 2001. The rest is posted below. When I said I was still deciding about another part, that referred to a continuation so we could see where they are one year later (2002). Anybody interested?

ALSO, a couple folks asked if they missed a New Year's Eve fic. Sorry, but no. I was gone for two solid weeks at Christmas with no computer (family Christmas in Delaware and then a *sad* trip to the Sugar Bowl where my Illini got soundly defeated). There wasn't a spare moment for a NYE fic, but I'm sorry. That had possibilities, didn't it!

Okay, here's Valentine's Day, 2001, part 2

The rest of the weekend was torture. Max was beating himself up with worries of one kind or another. He didn’t tell Isabel that he’d asked Liz to the dance because he wouldn’t give her the satisfaction. She was insufferable enough half the time. He was afraid to tell his mother because she would go on and on about “cute couples” and “come here for pictures” and “it’s so nice to see you with a lovely girl like that.”

Then there was the fact that he couldn’t afford to risk his secret by letting anyone get too close. And if he went out with Liz Parker, there would be nothing he wanted more than to be close to her. He wasn’t like Isabel; she was able to flirt and date and participate without risking anything of herself. Max knew he’d been only too ready to give his heart to Liz Parker for most of his life. How would he keep any distance between them once they’d crossed this line?

For that matter, he wasn’t entirely sure how Liz felt about the invitation. Was he just convenient because she didn’t already have a date? Did she even want to spend more time with him before the dance? Maybe she would think he was stalking her if he started talking to her between classes or at the Crashdown. This was too complicated. He started to wish he’d never asked her.

Meanwhile, Liz was on cloud nine. Maria had squealed uncontrollably when Liz told her the news, and they had already started working on transforming Liz’s dress. Every moment of Sunday was like living in an alternate universe, Liz’s mind hardly her own as flights of fancy took her to the dance again and again. The dialogue changed from daydream to daydream, but the outcome was always the same, and Liz’s lips burned with expectation.

Monday morning brought cooler temperatures and a few clouds, but nothing could mar Liz’s good mood. She almost danced to her locker, quickly pulling out the books she needed for her first three periods, and then scanned the hall for Max. His locker was down the hall, but he usually passed by hers.

Spying him walking through the doors, Liz beamed. “Here he comes, Maria!”

“Here who comes?” Kyle sidled up to Liz and threw an arm around her shoulders. “Me? I’m flattered.”

“Kyle, no! Not you. What are you doing here? I thought you had the flu.”

“Ah, yes, well, you could call it the flu, I guess. Or you could call it ‘I had an English paper due that wasn’t finished yet.’ Glad you missed me.” He planted a quick kiss on her cheek. “Later!” And he disappeared into the crowd.

Mildly annoyed, Liz turned back around to Maria, and her mouth fell open. Standing behind Maria was Max, looking hurt and trying hard not to show it.

“Max, I . . .”

“Hi, Liz,” he answered stiffly and hurried down the hall toward his locker. Liz turned to go after him, but Maria stopped her.

“Liz! Honey, don’t go running after him. This is perfect! He’ll realize that you have plenty of options and it’ll make him want you all the more!”

“But you didn’t see that look on his face, Maria. I think he was hurt.”

“It’ll just give him something to think about. Now come on. We’ll be late for Psych.”

Liz let Maria lead her toward their first class, the image of Max’s hurt expression looming in her mind. Whether by chance or design, she didn’t see him the rest of the day. He didn’t even come into the Crashdown after school or phone her that evening. Her euphoric mood evaporated into thin air.

Tuesday, Max must have entered school through a different door because she waited for him by her locker until the last possible minute, but didn’t see him. She even ran out to his car after school, but when she saw him come out of the building with Isabel and his friend Michael in tow, she lost her nerve and ducked out of sight. Another evening went by without a phone call, and she started to consider that he was regretting his decision to ask her.

Wednesday, Liz chose to eat alone out behind the school. She didn’t want to make conversation or explain herself to anyone. She just wanted to wallow in misery by herself. She ducked inside the half-wall that bordered one side of the football field and welcomed the soothing sensation of the sun-warmed concrete against her tense muscles. Seated with eyes closed, face to the sun, she sighed heavily and tried to let her mind blank out.

A loud thud next to her forced a startled cry from her lips. Her eyes flew open to see a backpack sitting right next to her. She looked around in confusion, wondering where in the world that had come from.

“Oh my gosh, I’m sorry.” Liz looked directly over her head to see Max staring down at her from the other side of the wall. “I had no idea anyone was there; I just tossed my bag over so I could hop over instead of walking around. I’m so sorry. I’ll grab it and go somewhere else.”

Liz’s patience gave out. “Max, I don’t understand. First you ask me to this dance, and then you avoid me like the plague. Did I do something? Are you sorry you asked me because if so, you’re more than welcome to change your mind. At this point, I just don’t care.”

Liz crossed her arms in front of her and stared straight ahead, oblivious to the half-smile that erupted on Max’s face. Soon she heard him land softly next to his backpack and slide down to a sitting position.

“What we have here is a failure to communicate,” he said seriously, using one of his father’s favorite expressions. “I thought you were the one regretting the decision to go with me. I mean, you know I saw you with Kyle Monday morning. It looked like maybe you were getting a better offer.”

“From Kyle?” she said with disdain. “I told you—he and I are nothing now. Just barely friends. Besides, you sure backed off in a hurry if that’s all this is about.”

Max crossed his legs and leaned toward Liz earnestly. She turned to look at him and caught her breath. All teasing was gone; all that remained were those tender eyes she’d almost drowned in on Saturday and that beautiful mouth she couldn’t stop thinking about. What would those lips feel like touching hers?

“Liz.” She forced her brain back into gear. “I’m sorry. I got the feeling that I’d pushed you into something you didn’t want, and I was trying to give you an out.” He reached for her hand and she thought she might not be able to breath at all. “I do want to take you, if you still want to go.”

The long silence was torture for Max. Liz was busy pushing through the wonderful images of what an evening spent with Max Evans might be like. Those eyes looking right through her, those hands holding her close, that mouth maybe . . . possibly . . . hopefully touching hers for the first time.

“Liz?”

“I’m sorry,” Liz let out in a rush. “Yes, I would rather go with you than anyone in this world!”

No. She did not just say that. Where on God’s green earth had that come from? Liz wanted to die of embarrassment. Was a cornier line ever delivered in the history of dating? Had she managed to ruin everything that had just happened? She couldn’t even look at him, which is why she didn’t notice the bemused expression on Max’s face. He recovered first. “Just this world?” he smiled.

Liz let out a giggle of relief, able to concentrate once more on the electric sensation of their hands touching. Neither Liz Parker nor Max Evans had lunch on Wednesday.

********

The rest of the week passed in a haze for both Max and Liz. Although still a little tentative, they began to plan little bits of time together. Lunch . . . a Crashdown conversation after school . . . a quick evening phone call. By Saturday, Liz was a bundle of nervous anticipation. Maria had worked wonders on her burgundy dress from Homecoming of sophomore year, removing the sleeves and replacing them with little spaghetti straps, cutting a daring slit up one side, and adding a beaded appliqué across the bodice. Liz went back and forth about what to do with her hair; she finally decided to go sophisticated, piling her hair high and applying her make-up with agonizing care. Even with all that, she was ready 20 minutes early. She paced in her room for a while, and then her imagination took flight.

Suddenly, she was dancing in his arms, breathing him in, reveling in the feel of his strong arms wrapped around her as they danced, looking into those miraculous eyes that made her want to fall in and never come out. In her fantasy, he bent his head to kiss her cheek, her neck, his hot breath tickling her ear.

“Liz! Max is here!” called her mother unceremoniously.

Jolted back to reality, Liz reached for the door. Stopping, she grinned sheepishly and reached for her perfume. Just a drop behind the ears, she thought.

********

Liz’s stomach was in knots. More than anything, she wanted Max Evans to be glad he had asked her to this dance. She wanted to be beautiful for him, elegant and graceful. Her dry mouth and sweaty palms did little to enhance her self-image, though, as she walked down the hall toward the living room. She rounded the corner into the room and saw Max sitting on the sofa, smiling nervously at her father. When Jeff Parker stopped mid-sentence to take in the vision that was his little girl, Max turned, too.

Liz’s heart swelled as Max rose slowly, open-mouthed and wide-eyed. The speechless gape was quickly replaced with a smile—the smile that Liz dreamed of night and day. It was only part of the package, though. He looked gorgeous—tanned, toned, and timid. She could have died happy right then.

“You look . . . incredible,” he stammered.

“So do you,” she whispered, beginning to feel like Cinderella. How had she managed to find herself on the receiving end of that smile? Why was this charming prince standing in her living room?

She watched, mesmerized, as he approached her. She couldn’t take her eyes off his, that is, until she felt him take her hand, and the shiver that went through her was delicious. Looking down, she saw him slip a wrist corsage of three white sweetheart roses over her hand.

“You look beautiful, Liz,” he murmured. “I don’t know if that’s a new dress or not, but you’ve definitely made a impression.”

Her head whipped up to see him grinning at her, a teasing twinkle in his eye. As happened so often lately, her fantasy life took over, and she pictured that grin dissolving into a slightly open, expectant mouth. It would descend slowly to hers and she would feel his breath kissing her before those lips did the same, and it would be soft and tender and . . .

“Liz?” Her mother was handing her the small florist’s box that contained Max’s boutonniere of one deep red rose. She pulled herself back to reality with a private grimace and lifted the boutonniere and it’s long pin from the box. Slipping the stem through his button hole, she struggled to pierce the tough florist’s tape with the pin. Just as Max reached to help her, she yelped as the pin slipped, pricking her finger and drawing a drop of blood.

Disgusted at how she’d ruined the moment, she instinctively pulled her hand back to suck on her finger when Max stopped her. Holding her gaze, he slowly lifted her finger to his mouth and kissed it, a soft, gentle, lingering touch that set her finger, then her hand, and then her whole body tingling. He smiled as he released it, and after a breathless moment of losing herself in those eyes again, she looked at her finger. No one would have guessed that she’d cut herself. Amazing.

Max finished securing the boutonniere, and offered his arm, just like he had when he took her home a week ago. “I have a classier chariot tonight,” he said, a mock-serious tone in his voice. “Dad loaned me the Miata.”

“I guess that will have to do, then” she countered, taking him by surprise. She saw him lift one eyebrow, amused by her playful sarcasm. They walked out into a perfect night.

********
To the neutral eye, the school gym looked exactly like a school gym, only decorated with shiny red and silver hearts; red, pink, and white streamers; a mirror ball; and 8-foot tall speakers blaring loud music. But to Liz, it was heaven. Just walking in with Max was a heady experience. Eyes followed them wherever they went, followed by heads bent together in gossip. She could have predicted their reaction: someone had finally gotten Max Evans to a school dance! What she would have been surprised to hear was the follow-up: he was with Liz Parker—that cute brainiac girl who Kyle Valenti dated until he found out she didn’t put out. How did she wind up with Max Evans?

Max was conscious of the stir as well. He knew his presence was probably a surprise to people, but he couldn’t imagine why anybody cared. He felt proud to be making his way through the crowd with Liz. He had always thought she was beautiful . . . wonderful, in fact. But suddenly he felt incredibly inadequate. He should have told Liz that he wasn’t a very good dancer—not much practice. Isabel had tried to teach him, but she was always so impatient and critical that he’d avoided pursuing that idea. He prayed he wouldn’t embarrass himself—or Liz.

Isabel and her date had saved Max and Liz a seat. At the same table were Liz’s friend Maria and Alex Whitman. They often went to dances together because Alex would have been too embarrassed to ask anyone else, and Maria seemed just a little “out there” for most of Roswell High’s mainstream guys. Liz adored her, but she had to admit, you had to chip through several layers of attitude to find the Maria that was Liz’s best friend. Liz, Alex, and Maria had bonded early in life, and, inexplicably, their differences had not broken that bond in all these years.

It was clear that Isabel was not happy that she had to sit with two geeks, but Maria had promised to sit with Liz, and Isabel had promised to sit with Max, so they were stuck with each other.

“You’re here!” Isabel fairly shouted when the newest arrivals finally found them. “Good. Everything okay? Great! Bye.” She grabbed her date’s hand and rose to find her “real” friends.

“Come on, Whitman. Time to show me those sexy moves of yours,” Maria announced, tugging at Alex.

“She wants me,” Alex winked at Max. “They all do.” Max and Liz laughed at her friends as they entered the fray on the dance floor.

“Can I get you something to drink?” Max asked.

Liz nodded, feeling the heat of young dancing bodies raising the room temperature already. Max moved away, quickly disappearing into the crowd. Liz just leaned back in her chair, taking it all in, still afraid she might wake up and find it had only been another fantasy. Max was a dream, that’s for sure. But she hoped he was a dream that would last a while.

“Lizzie!” Kyle stood swaying in front of her, grinning drunkenly. “How’s my girl?”

“I’m not your girl, Kyle,” Liz sighed and shook her head. “Go find your date.”

He groaned, as he tried confusedly to see just one Liz Parker. “My date? She had other plans,” he gestured vaguely across the room. “See ‘er over there, plastered to Steve Layman? Caught ‘em out in the parking lot swapping spit. Dance with me, Lizzie.” He reached out his hand.

“Go away, Kyle. You’re drunk. I have a date,” she tried to make it clear but he was wasted. As he reached for her arm, he tripped over the chair and landed in her lap, a drunk deadweight, his face delightedly coming to rest between her soft breasts.

“Get off me, Kyle,” Liz snorted, her patience running out. “Max won’t like . . .”

Suddenly, Kyle’s weight was lifted off of her and she watched in awe as he sailed several feet through the air, landing hard against the raised stage wall. Liz had hardly registered what happened when Maria and Alex hurried to her side.

“Are you okay, chica? What in the world got into Kyle?”

“Did you see Max toss him like he was nothin’?” Alex gaped, clearly impressed.

“I’m fine, you guys. Kyle’s just drunk. His date dumped him.” She looked between her two concerned friends to see Max standing over Kyle, jaw clenched. His lips were moving, but she had no chance of hearing what he was saying over the music. A crowd was starting to gather.

Liz rose, straightened her dress, and walked with as much dignity as possible toward Max and Kyle.

“. . . and if you ever so much as touch her again . . .”

“Max.” She laid her hand softly on his arm. He whipped around, eyes blazing, face flushed. Seeing her changed his demeanor completely, though.

“Liz, are you okay?” He pulled her into his arms for a thrilling moment, then drew back only far enough to see her eyes.

She smiled reassuringly. “Yes, Max. I’m not completely helpless. I think I can handle a drunk Kyle. I’ve done it before.”

Max frowned, as if he didn’t like to think she’d even had to deal with this before.

“That was a hella throw, Max,” Alex gaped. “You lift weights or somethin’?” He bent to help Maria pull Kyle to his feet.

“Uh, yeah, I work out sometimes.”

“Remind me not to piss you off, man,” Alex joked as they each supported Kyle on one side.

“Okay, stud,” Maria drawled patronizingly to Kyle. “I know a great trashcan outside where you can throw up.”

“Aww, thanks, Maria,” Kyle mumbled appreciatively.

Max turned back to Liz, searching her face again, not completely convinced she was all right. Liz’s heart almost stopped at what she saw there. If she hadn’t known better, she would have sworn it was love—shining, almost radiating from his face. She couldn’t take her eyes off of him. Her fantasies were out of control. She was reading too much into this. She had to keep control or they’d give her away for sure.

“Liz . . .”

“I guess you’re my hero, now, Max. Saving a damsel in distress and all?”

“He was hurting you . . . his face was practically . . .”

She could see how upset he was, and she struggled against her natural reaction. Those lips were so close . . . Down, girl, she thought. Don’t scare him.

“Dance with me, Max.”

It took a few seconds before Max drew some of his emotion back into himself, struggling to readjust his mindset. He had brought Liz to a dance—to her, it was their first date, even though he felt she’d been a part of him forever. Down, boy, he thought. Don’t scare her.

And then—oh yeah, a dance.

“Liz,” he began, embarrassed about throwing Kyle, embarrassed about what he’d revealed to Liz in that look, embarrassed about his dancing. “Liz, I should have warned you. I’m not a very good dancer. Maybe we should just sit and enjoy the music . . .”

“Not a chance, Max. I want to feel your arms around me.”

Max registered what she’d said ever so slowly. She wasn’t afraid of him or turned off or even embarrassed! She wanted him to hold her! That was the easiest request anyone had ever made of him.

Liz closed her eyes involuntarily when Max slowly slid his arms around her. She seemed to disappear into his broad chest, her head nestling perfectly into the crook of his neck. She didn’t even think twice when her body pressed itself against the length of him, eager to maximize the contact. She heard the hitch in his breath when their hips slid across each other as they adjusted their “fit,” and she smiled to herself. It wasn’t all her imagination. He was reacting to her just as she was to him.

In a spontaneous bit of womanly mischief, she adjusted her hips again, wriggling against him for several seconds. She almost laughed with joy when she felt the reaction she’d been seeking.

“God, Liz,” he hissed. She leaned back to grin her impish grin, but it faded on her lips when she saw the look in his eyes—desire, need, and . . . yes, there it was again . . . love. Then the fantasy kicked in. His head lowered slowly. She could feel his breath on her face, her lips. The air fairly sparked between them as inches became centimeters. And then his lips were on hers, and her mouth opened to him instantly. Their tongues slid together, searching for more . . . for deeper . . . for a promise of more kisses to come.

Liz could hardly let herself believe this was really happening, but this was much more real and beautiful and Max than any of her fantasies had ever been. And suddenly, without being able to explain it, Liz could feel what Max felt for her. And to her astonishment, she knew right then and there that it was love. It didn’t make sense, but there it was. First date or not, she felt to her very soul that he loved her. And equally strange, she knew she loved him. It was magic beyond any fantasy.

When at last they pulled back to look into each other’s eyes, everything had changed. Gone was tentative or embarrassed or afraid. Only they were left, together. It was the best feeling in the world.

“This dancing thing isn’t so bad,” Max breathed.

“Almost like a fantasy,” Liz sighed. They melded into each other once more and let the music wrap itself around them.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Liz,” Max whispered in her ear.

Liz smiled dreamily. There would never be a better one.

posted on 15-Feb-2002 10:22:58 PM by Carol000
Hi, everybody!!! Thanks SOOO much for the wonderful feedback. I knew I wasn't the only one living in S1 denial land, but I have a lot more company than I thought!

Okay, this is PART ONE of the 2002 Valentine's Day installment, and it's not all roses BUT you know me and, I hope, trust me. The next part should be very interesting and restore any silly doubts you may have.

Many of you asked me questions I meant to take note of, but I realize now I forgot to look for them before I began to post. I'll find them and post answers when the next part goes up in a few days. There may only be one more, or there may be two. The muse is still deciding!




Dreamer Holidays: Valentine’s Day 2002

When he kissed her like this, all of the doubts and all of the questions evaporated. It started with his eyes, as they darkened, concentrating fully on hers . . . until they dropped inevitably to her lips and she didn’t care if she ever breathed again. It’s like he could stop time, and in those eyes that seemed to see into her soul, she found all she could ever desire, the perfect moment. She never wanted to be anywhere else or feel anything but this for the rest of her life. Then the lips would brush lightly against hers, making her tingle to the far reaches of her body, and when the pressure increased, all she could think of was how she could get closer, closer, always closer.

Then a torrent of emotion would wash over her, waves of intense love and longing, a thrilling clue to his feelings for her—or was it her feelings for him.? And this is where she always got stuck. The place where the doubts erupted deep inside. She and Max had been together for almost a year. The memory of their first date, the school Valentine’s dance, would be forever etched in her memory. It was there that they shared their first kiss—the most beautiful moment in Liz Parker’s young life. From that day on, they had been bound together, a couple in every sense. For a while, it had been the talk of the school: the elusive Max Evans, the most desirable but seemingly unattainable male in the school, had suddenly fallen for unobtrusive Liz Parker. Little could they know that it had been anything but sudden; Max had been in love with Liz since he’d first seen her in the third grade, but guarding his alien secret had been his painful burden, and he knew he could never let her in. It would put her in danger, and he wasn’t willing to risk that.

Succumbing to that first date, though, had been his undoing, for once he’d held her in his arms, kissed those lips, and seen those dark chocolate eyes radiating happiness—happiness because of him—he’d known he was lost. He’d boxed himself into an impossible situation now. He had let her fully into his heart, but not into his life.

This unspoken void between them was pushing at Liz, feeding her doubts and tearing at her heart. Pondering where this feeling was coming from, she gradually become aware of a pattern between her and Max. Their contented hours together were often spent in conversation—long talks about how they felt about things, what they wanted from the future. But whenever Liz turned the topic of conversation to Max, his past or his future, he carefully and skillfully circled around the question and brought it back to Liz. It took her a while to realize that he knew so many minute details of her life, but she really only knew an outline of his. She knew that he was adopted, as was Isabel, but the rest was shrouded in mystery, and he gingerly avoided opening himself up. The same was true of their physical relationship. As intense as their loving was, it was incredibly chaste for two healthy 18 year olds. Max had shown his love in so many other ways—he was attentive and caring, a sympathetic listener, and an ardent kisser. But that was always where it stopped; he somehow managed to ease out of situations that bordered on passionate or intimate. At first, Liz felt special because Max cared for her beyond her body. As time went on, though, she began to doubt herself.

She had decided before Christmas that she was ready to give herself to Max when he was ready to ask. She had always been a “good girl,” and she appreciated Max’s respect for her, but she wanted more. Maybe it wasn’t about respect; maybe she just didn’t have what it took to unleash his physical desire. She knew she was small—in every sense—and she was sure that many guys would find her wanting. It made her insecure, even though all other signs pointed to Max’s devotion. When she looked into his eyes, she swore she saw the desire there, but then . . . nothing. So tonight, she was going to push a little. Maybe he just needed to know she was okay with it.

The flip side was playing a few blocks away. Max was wondering how much longer he could hold out against Liz’s onslaught of hints that she was ready for more intimacy. How could she know that this had been at the center of his fantasies since he was young? He’d felt the stirrings well before he understood what they meant. Her body and her soul had called to him, but he had been too young and too afraid to answer. Now she was in his heart and in his arms, but his secret still stood like a sentry between them. He feared that his self-control might turn Liz away, but his lack of control could endanger her life. Besides, Isabel and Michael would never stand for it. It was a lose-lose situation, and he didn’t have a clue how to resolve it. Now Liz had invited him to her house, and he knew her parents weren’t home. How the hell was he going to survive this?
********

Liz had gone all out. Knowing her parents had plans with friends, she had invited Max over for a movie night. She had strewn her room with candles, refreshed the potpourri, and changed her sheets. Clearly, her previous little hints had been too subtle. Tonight, she would offer him more. So, hours later, the movie over and the pop cans empty, she turned in his arms and kissed him lightly on the neck. He responded immediately, pulling her up to meet his mouth.

This kiss was like the others—intense and passionate. Liz moaned slightly and felt Max pull her tightly to him, his own breath hot and rapid. His hand was rubbing circles at her waist. At first, Liz was transported to the perfect place he always took her, where her whole body warmed in the blanket of his love, but as she craved more closeness, more intimacy, and Max made no move to take them further, she called on her shaky resolve and reached for his hand. With the gentlest of pressure, Liz pushed their linked hands upwards, urging him to slide up and over her aching breast. When his hand cupped her eagerly, she thought she would burst from the sensations that roiled through her body, and she heard a primal sound erupt from Max as his hips pressed harder against hers.

Liz’s joy was short-lived. Suddenly the lips and warmth and pressure disappeared. Max threw himself back against the pillows, an anguished “Liz! We can’t!” rushing past clenched teeth. He was breathing hard and the hands that had been so gently caressing her a moment before were clenched in white-knuckled fists. His eyes were squeezed shut and his chest was heaving. Liz stared in hurt bewilderment, embarrassed that her tentative offer had been so harshly refused. She lay there, frozen, watching his face, unable to think. He didn’t want her!

His eyes snapped open, and for one honest moment, it was all laid bare—her hurt and confusion, his . . . what was it? Fear?

“Liz . . .”

Her eyes clouded over, struggling to hide from his scrutiny. She twisted so that she was sitting on the edge of the bed, hiding her face, ashamed that she had invited him to love her more intimately, humiliated that he had refused. In one swift move, he was on his knees in front of her, holding her hands, dying a little at her liquid eyes.

“Liz, please! This has nothing to do with you. Of course I want you, I love you, but . . .”

She waited, but he didn’t say anything else. Just looked at her, pleading for understanding. But how could she? How could she understand what he wouldn’t say? Tears spilled down her cheeks.

“Maybe you should go,” she said dully.

“Liz, no! I wish . . .” His face was twisted, as if he were engaged in a raging battle, emotion against emotion.

“What do you wish, Max?” Liz exploded. “You say you want me but you cringe at the idea of touching me. What am I supposed to make of that?”

Max raised his hand to wipe away a tear from her cheek, but she pushed him away. “I love you, Max, but I don’t know what you want. All I know is, it’s not me. Please go.”

Max stood slowly, his face a mask of desperation. His worst nightmare was being played out, but he couldn’t turn from her. He stood rooted to one spot, hating himself more thoroughly, more viciously than he had ever hated himself before. What he was had finally come between them. He knew it would happen. He’d been a fool to think otherwise. How could he expect her to settle for what he could give? It wasn’t fair. But he’d loved her so deeply for so long, he hadn’t been able to help himself when fate had put her in his car that night. And now look what he’d done—all that shame and pain and hurt on Liz’s face, the tears streaming down . . . all because of him.

She thought he didn’t want her! How could she know about the nights he lay awake, desperate to touch her, hungering to taste her, frantic not to lose her. Nights when his body raced out of his control, knowing instinctively what it needed. Nights when her subtle invitations to explore her body had driven him wild, while the effort to resist her had caused him both physical and emotional pain. And with all that, she stood here, embarrassed and hurt, thinking he didn’t want her. And now she wanted him to leave.

“I’ll go, Liz, because you asked me to. But don’t ever ever believe that I don’t want you. I love you. I have always loved you. That’s never going to change.”

With that, he walked quietly from her room, down the stairs, and out the back of the Crashdown. He slid into the Jeep, but was afraid to drive. He was shaking, and the world was swimming before his eyes. The pain tore at him like a wild animal trying to claw its way free from the inside. He gripped the steering wheel and bent his head, letting the tears fall because they would not be denied. Above him, Liz rested her head against the windowpane and cried with him.

********

After a sleepless night, a hollow-eyed Liz dragged herself through a shift at the Crashdown. Operating on autopilot, she fought off the sense of emptiness that engulfed her, barely noticing her customers’ irritated glances when she mixed up their order or forgot to refill the coffee.

“Welcome to the Crashdown. What can I get you today?” Liz mumbled, not even looking at the customer in booth 6.”

“What the hell did you do to my brother?”

Liz looked up sharply, right into the eyes of a furious Isabel. “What?”

Isabel took in Liz’s appearance and softened. “Maybe I should be asking who did what to whom? You look as bad as he does. What happened last night?”

Liz stiffened. She wasn’t about to air the details of their problem to anyone, least of all Max’s holier-than-thou sister.

“Maybe you should talk to Max about that,” Liz replied tersely.

“I did, once I finally banged on his door long enough to make him open it. He looks like you do—as if he hasn’t slept and feels miserable. Did you have a fight? No, don’t tell me. Just . . . . whatever it is, you two have to make up. I can’t stand Max going back to that quiet introverted stick-in-the-mud he was before you two started dating.”

“What did he say?” Liz asked, unable to suppress her curiosity. How did he see what happened?

“All he said was that he wasn’t good enough for you, and you were better off without him. I swear, Liz, if that’s what you told him, I’ll . . . How could you tell him that? All he’s ever done is love you.” Her voice faltered on those last few words, and her lip trembled. It was the most sincere thing Liz thought she’d ever heard Isabel say.

“I know he loves me, Isabel. And I love him. I just don’t think . . . I just don’t think I’m enough for him. It was his call, Isabel, not mine.” She paused, more confused than ever. “I can’t talk about this now. Did you want to order something?”

“I do!” smiled Michael enthusiastically, sliding into the booth across from Isabel. “The works! I’m starved. Ham and eggs, couple o’ pancakes, and a big glass of milk!”

Isabel and Liz just stared at him, and his eyes shifted from one to the other as his smile turned into a frown. “What’s goin’ on? Did I miss somethin’?”

Liz shifted restlessly. “No, Michael. I’ll get your order in. It’ll just be a few minutes.”

As Liz tended to her other customers, she saw Isabel and Michael talking seriously, voices low, heads leaning in towards one another. There were frequent glances in her direction, and she squirmed under their obvious surveillance. When she appeared with Michael’s order, they stopped talking abruptly, but not before she heard Isabel say, “Maybe we should let him tell her.”

They both looked at her nervously, and said nothing more until she’d left the table. Tell her what? Liz wondered. Was Max keeping a secret? Had her suspicions about his reluctance to share personal details with her been more than modesty or shyness? Liz was sure he wasn’t gay; in spite of their conservative physical relationship, she’d had plenty of indications that he was definitely responding to her. Did he have a physical abnormality that made him embarrassed or unable to carry their relationship further? Didn’t he know he could talk to her about something like that? Maybe he’d been in trouble before—drugs? Crime?

She watched Isabel and Michael leave together, both hopping in the Jeep parked out front. They took off in the direction of the Evans home, and Liz wondered if they were going to see Max. Her sense of hurt was morphing into worry. What was going on?


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 15-Feb-2002 10:28:39 PM ]
posted on 23-Feb-2002 2:25:14 PM by Carol000
Hi, everyone! So sorry this took so long to get out. *sad*I've had a lot of competition for the computer at home lately, and I can't seem to keep up, so I started staying late at work to write! LOL!

Here is part 2 (of 3) of the Valentine 2002 fic. Please remember that this is slightly AU, so they've never talked to holo-mom, Michael is still S1 Michael (hard to like) and Isabel is still S1 Isabel (we were able to tolerate her, remember?). I hope you enjoy it!


From 2002: Part 1

As Liz tended to her other customers, she saw Isabel and Michael talking seriously, voices low, heads leaning in towards one another. There were frequent glances in her direction, and she squirmed under their obvious surveillance. When she appeared with Michael’s order, they stopped talking abruptly, but not before she heard Isabel say, “Maybe we should let him tell her.”

They both looked at her nervously, and said nothing more until she’d left the table. Tell her what? Liz wondered. Was Max keeping a secret? Had her suspicions about his reluctance to share personal details with her been more than modesty or shyness? Liz was sure he wasn’t gay; in spite of their conservative physical relationship, she’d had plenty of indications that he was definitely responding to her. Did he have a physical abnormality that made him embarrassed or unable to carry their relationship further? Didn’t he know he could talk to her about something like that? Maybe he’d been in trouble before—drugs? Crime?

She watched Isabel and Michael leave together, both hopping in the Jeep parked out front. They took off in the direction of the Evans home, and Liz wondered if they were going to see Max. Her sense of hurt was morphing into worry. What was going on?

********

Valentine's Day 2002: Part 2

A half-hour later, Liz’s shift ended, and she walked slowly up the stairs to her room. Climbing out her window and onto the rooftop, she settled into her lounge chair and closed her eyes against the sun. Her mind was spinning with possibilities. What was it he’d said? This has nothing to do with you. Of course I want you, I love you. Then Isabel had said Maybe we should let him tell her. What on earth was “it,” and how was it possible that it could keep them apart? She remembered Max’s face, twisted in conflict. He’d wanted to tell her something then. She was sure of it now.

Liz let her anger flare. She had grown to trust Max completely over the last year. There was nothing she would keep from him, unless it was a surprise of some kind. But he was willing to sacrifice their relationship to a secret he was keeping from her. Isabel knew. Michael knew. Who else knew what he couldn’t tell her? She pushed aside the worry behind that question and let her anger work for her. It was more comfortable, more controllable.

Jumping up from her chair, mouth set resolutely, Liz raced down the stairs. “I’m going to Max’s!” she yelled at her father as she hurried out the door. He just waved at the familiar goodbye and continued stocking the supply shelves. Had he seen her face, he might have thought twice.

Liz strode purposefully down the sidewalk, rehearsing her speech to Max. “If this is about not wanting me, fine. Just say so. But if you’ve been hiding some secret from me that’s more important than our relationship, then maybe I’m the one who wants out. Where do you get off . . .?” Liz faltered. She’d never spoken to Max like that. She’d never needed or wanted to. Everything about this was so out of character for their relationship. Maybe she should comfort him, coax him to confide in her. Be sympathetic. “Max, I know something’s bothering you, something you think you can’t tell me, but that’s not true. There shouldn’t be any secrets between us. Whatever it is, we can work it out.”

Lost in thought, Liz had lost track of her progress along the well-worn path to Max's home. Looking up, she was surprised to find herself right out front, as if her internal odometer had recognized where to stop. Walking toward the front door, though, she stopped. What if Isabel refused to let her see him? She had been so angry earlier. Maybe Max wouldn't see her. She knew she'd hurt him. What if Michael was standing guard? Standing guard? Where had that come from? She had often noticed how Max seemed to be the quietly acknowledged leader of the small group, and how Michael always seemed at his right hand, ready to protect, defend, implement. She’d always dismissed the thought, though. After all, what was there to protect and defend? Then an old Star Trek episode popped into her mind–the one where Kirk and Spock had found themselves on Earth in the 1940s. Forced to act like two homeless civilians, they were confronted one day by their compassionate hostess. She had commented on the relationship between the two men, something like “He’s always one step behind you, always awaiting your instructions. After every ‘yes,’ there’s a ‘sir’ that’s said without ever being spoken.” In a way, Liz realized, that’s how it seemed with Max and Michael, although the thought of Michael ever saying “Yes, sir” to Max was laughable.

Shaking herself, Liz chose to walk around the back of the house toward Max’s window. If he was as bad off as Isabel said, he’d be brooding in there, and she’d be able to get unimpeded access. As she neared the window, though, she heard voices. It looked like Michael and Isabel had, indeed, bee-lined straight for Max. Liz stopped short, unsure whether to make her presence known.

“Maxwell, you know you can’t say anything. It’s too dangerous.”

“Michael, I know that’s what we’ve always said, but look at him. He can’t function like this! She loves him, I’m sure of it. It’ll be okay.”

“He’ll get over it, over her, Isabel. But we might not survive this, did you ever think of that? We let one person in and the whole house of cards could collapse.”

“Do you honestly think we can live our whole lives and never let anyone know? Does that mean none of us will ever marry? Ever have families? Ever lead a normal life?”

“Damn it, Isabel! Can’t you ever get it through that head of yours that we will never ever be normal? We’re aliens, for god’s sake! Extraterrestrials! How can you even pretend to think that our lives will ever be normal? You want a husband and babies and the house with the picket fence? Better get that dream machine goin’, Iz, because that’s the only place it’s gonna happen!”

Liz had gone pale, grasping the trunk of a small tree outside Max’s window. Aliens? This was a joke. They were trying to joke Max out of his bad mood. But no one was laughing. Those voices were desperate, afraid. And why wasn’t Max saying anything?

“Stop it, Michael!” Isabel was crying now. “All you want is to find others like us and get home. But that’s not necessarily what I want. I want to make a life here. This is my home now. And it’s yours whether you like it or not.”

Sniffling.

“Max, say something. What do you want to do?”

Silence.

“Maxwell, you should never have started dating her. I told you that a year ago and I was right. What happened last night, anyway?”

More silence. Then Liz could hear slight rustling. She pressed herself against the side of the house. She saw Max’s fingers on the windowsill and held her breath.

“I’m not sorry about dating Liz, Michael, so you can shut up about that part. I’ve loved her for as long as I’ve known her.”

Liz’s heart was pounding—shock at what she was hearing, fear of being discovered, elation at the words that confirmed his love for her.

“But I knew this was coming. How could it not? When two people love each other, you inevitably get to the point . . . She wanted . . . I almost . . .”

“Sex?!” Michael had shot the word out like a bullet from a gun. “You were thinking of having sex with her? Are you crazy?”

“No, Michael!” Fingers left the windowsill and the voice dropped. Liz strained to hear, inching closer to the window. “First of all, it would have been ‘making love,’ Michael. I’m in love with her.” Max’s voice was low, agitated, intense; she could tell he had started to pace. “Second, no, I was not thinking of it. Oh, hell, of course I was thinking of it, but I wasn't going to do it! I don’t know what might happen to her. I don’t know if it’s safe, and I’m not going to endanger her.”

There was a long pause, and Liz knew Max was hating having this discussion. This should have been a private matter.

“But she wanted to, didn’t she?” Isabel asked softly.

Max must have nodded.

“Shit, Maxwell. I didn’t think Liz was the hot to trot type.”

There was ugly sound, the sound of fist meeting jaw–then a loud grunt, a crash, glass breaking, more grunts.

“Max, what have you done? Michael, are you alright?”

“Don’t you ever speak about Liz that way, Michael. Next time, it won’t be just a punch.” Max was almost hissing his words.

“What? You gonna zap me with your death ray? You’re lucky I don’t send you flying out that window. I’m not your punching bag, man.”

More rustling. Someone sighed and Liz could almost hear the tension in the air.

"Ow, Isabel! Don't press on it."

"Michael, it's swelling and your chin is bleeding. Max, fix this. You caused it, now fix it."

Liz leaned forward a few more inches. Max's dresser mirror came into view and she caught the reflection of the three teens on the opposite side. She watched, spellbound, as Max, reluctantly at first, held his hand to Michael's injured face. Seconds later, he removed his hand, revealing the unblemished skin beneath. Michael rubbed his jaw. Liz pulled back again, suppressing a gasp, afraid of being seen in that same mirror.

“Thanks. Look, Max, I’m sorry. I wasn’t dissin’ her. I know you love her. But this can’t work and you know it. No one knows what might happen during sex between a human and an alien.”

“Max, has anything weird happened so far?” Isabel asked, probably curious for her own reasons as well as his.

“No, not really. I have to keep her blocked some. I’m afraid for her to see anything too specific in my mind, so I try to control the images. That’s not easy. But everything else seems to be . . . ya know . . . normal . . . for a human.”

Michael was chuckling now. “So the equipment’s workin’?”

Max sighed heavily. “Maybe too well. Keeping from . . . I mean . . . when we have to . . . damn it! Holding on to my control is just about killing me!”

“Okay, I think I’ve heard enough!” Isabel was clearly not ready to hear details of her brother’s love life. “Can we get back to the main point here? Max, do you want to tell Liz?”

“Of course I want to tell her! At least that way, if she washes her hands of me, it’ll be for an honest reason. But the three of us made a pact a long time ago not to tell anyone. I mean, I realize we’re all affected by this, not just me. Besides, I’m afraid. If she can’t handle it, not only are we through, but who knows who else will find out? On the other hand, if she sticks it out, then what does that mean for us? She can’t commit to someone who can’t . . . love her . . . the way she deserves to be loved.” There was a long pause. "I can't lose her." The words were almost choked out; he was crying–or trying very hard not to.

"Hi, Liz! What are you doing back here?" Philip Evans smiled at Liz as he strolled around the corner with his bucket of gardening tools. Immediately, three faces gaped at her from the window. "I guess we didn't hear you knock. Just go around front and walk right in. Door's open," he invited casually.

"I . . . I have to . . . my dad needs me . . ." She looked at Max's stricken face and her heart lurched. She needed time . . . time to figure this out . . . nothing made sense. Isabel looked white as a sheet, but Michael's face was turning an angry red. Liz turned on her heel and bolted for the street.

"Liz! LIZ!" Max's cries were drowned out by the rush of blood in her ears. This was a dream, it had to be! More like a nightmare, actually. One of those dreams where you can't scream and you run and run but get nowhere. But she was getting somewhere, she was down the block and careening around a corner when two large hands grabbed her from behind.

Liz struggled against the arms that had clamped around her. She was losing control. She didn't know who people were, what was real, whether she was even here.

Spinning her around in his arms, Max looked into Liz's terrified eyes. His stomach turned inside out and his heart squeezed painfully in his chest; this was the look–the look in his nightmares. She saw a freak.

"Liz, please. It's okay. It's okay," he soothed, willing her to stop her struggle, to take that look of disbelief and horror off her face.

"Liz, I never meant . . . what did you hear?"

Liz was shaking uncontrollably, even more than that time she'd been in the car accident and couldn't even sign the form the police officer had handed her on a clipboard. Yet looking at Max, feeling his hands on her . . . well, it didn't feel alien or scary or even strange. It felt right, just like it always had. She concentrated on pulling air into her lungs and let it out slowly. Then she risked another look at Max. If nothing else, she couldn't deny the love there. That, at least, was real.

"I . . . was upset . . . about last night. I came to talk . . . but . . ." That's all she could say.

Max turned her back toward his house and then thought better of it. He had no wish to include Isabel or Michael in this conversation, not to mention his father, who must have taken the afternoon off to take advantage of the good gardening weather.

"Can we talk in the park, Liz? I'll answer all your questions, I promise."

She stood awkwardly, not knowing how to answer his simple question. She searched her mind–confused and afraid. She searched her heart, and felt what she'd always felt. She couldn't be afraid of him. This was Max. He had never been anything except gentle, sweet, funny, and loving with her since their first kiss. She'd spent a year trusting him, loving him. How could she not listen? She nodded.

He reached for her hand and breathed a sigh of relief when she didn't pull away. Then he offered her a shaky smile, and they began to walk in silence toward the park. He guided her to sit on a bench under the big tree near the center. He didn't want to be near the sidewalk or the playground or anywhere else where they could be overheard.

"Liz, how long were standing outside my window?" He'd already decided to tell her everything, but he wanted to know how much damage there was to undo. He could feel her trembling through the fingers he held loosely in his hand, but he resisted the urge to pull her tightly against him. He couldn't protect her from the truth, and to be honest, he didn't want to anymore. If they were going to be together, she needed to know. Everything.

Liz looked away, replaying the bizarre conversation in her mind. "You, Michael, and Isabel seem to think you're . . . aliens. And you're afraid to make love to me because you don't know what will happen." A nervous laugh erupted from deep within her. Out loud, it was even more ridiculous than when it was running around in her head. She glanced at Max, half expecting him to be looking at her incredulously, even mockingly.

He wasn’t.

Instead, there was resignation and more than a little fear. He was watching her closely.

"I can only imagine how preposterous this sounds," he began. "But it's true." He watched her face absorb the secondary shock. She was coming to terms with the fact that she hadn't just heard wrong, she wasn’t crazy, and she wasn't dreaming.

"How . . . ?" She didn't even know where to begin. "Max, I don't understand this at all. We've been together for a year. I thought we were close; I thought we told each other everything. Now you come up with this? I'd never believe it, never, except . . . " She bit her lip, embarrassed to lay herself so open, but there was no choice. "Except when I look at you or you hold me or kiss me . . . I can feel how you love me, Max. That's why I've been confused about you always pushing me away when we . . . get . . . you know, involved. I even thought there might be something wrong physically . . . that you didn't want me to know. Now you tell me this . . . impossible story.” The tears started to fall. “I knew it must be something really big keeping you from me . . ." A quick chuckle escaped amidst the tears. "This . . . this is really big, I'll give you that."

She looked up at him when he didn't respond. He was still watching her carefully, not sure which way this was going yet.

"Tell me, Max. Tell me everything. Please."

Max took a deep breath and enfolded both of her tiny hands in his much larger ones. "Okay, Liz, I'll tell you, but keep one thing at the front of your mind while I'm talking. Of everything you'll hear, the most important part–the one sure thing–is that I do love you. I have to live with the rest, but you are the part I choose, the part that counts."

Liz could feel herself tearing up again. His face was so open, so full of sincerity, fear, and love. She nodded her encouragement, and he began.

"I know everyone thinks the ’47 Crash was nothing more than a weather balloon, but the fact is, it really was an alien ship. We don't have many details, but we know that someone or something moved these . . . pods, where Isabel and Michael and I were growing, to a safe place. It was 40 years before we came out of those pods and ventured outside looking like 6-year-olds. We had no speech, but we understood each other. Michael was afraid, though, and kept himself apart from Isabel and me, so when we were found, he wasn't with us. We got adopted and he was pushed into the foster system. I've always felt guilty that we got the loving family and he got nothing."

Liz sat immobile, stunned at what she was hearing. Max was sitting there talking about this science fiction plot in such detail, so matter-of-factly that it was all making some kind of sense. She could almost believe this was true. She saw his sadness as he thought about Michael's life, and she was reminded for the millionth time what a good heart Max had. She stroked his arm lightly.

"Go on."

Max felt somewhat bolstered by her gentle encouragement, so he pushed on.

"We learned quickly, and soon we were able to go to school and interact with our parents pretty normally, but we also knew we could do things no one else could, and somehow, we just knew it was dangerous to let anyone else know. We made a pact, even at that young age, that we would keep our secret just among the three of us. We’ve always been convinced our lives depended on it."

"Your parents agreed? What about your doctors and all?"

Max smiled. "You don't understand, Liz. No one else knows. No one. You're the first."

Liz let it sink in. "Your own parents don't know?"

Max shook his head.

"And there's nothing different about your body? Nothing the doctors have noticed?"

"Have you ever known me to be sick, Liz?"

Liz thought hard. "No, I guess not."

"We don't get sick. No doctors. No medical tests."

"But what about the routine stuff? Inoculations, broken bones, gashes?"

Max froze momentarily. Dare he show her some of his powers firsthand? Slowly, Max, he reminded himself.

“Liz, do you remember our first date?”

Liz smiled in spite of herself. It would always be one of her most cherished memories.

“Of course, I do. I was the best night of my life,” she smiled, and was rewarded with a brilliant smile in return. Then Max turned serious again.

“You stabbed your finger with the pin from my boutonniere, remember? It was bleeding.”

“Yes,” she said slowly, remembering how he had kissed her finger and the warm sensation that had gone with it. Her finger had been fine after that. More than fine—it had been perfect. Slowly the truth dawned.

“Max?” She searched his face, feeling almost silly to admit what she was thinking. “Did you . . . do something to my finger? Did you . . . heal it?”

He nodded. “It’s my gift. We all have certain special abilities in common, and others that are ours alone. My gift is healing.”

Liz let that sink in. “What are Isabel’s and Michael’s?”

“Well, Isabel can dreamwalk.”

At Liz’s confused frown, Max hurried to explain. “She can go into someone’s dream and see what they’re thinking or what’s bothering them. It’s not dangerous, and she doesn’t do it unless there’s a good reason,” he assured her. He knew full well that Isabel had done her share of snooping that way, but he didn’t want to scare Liz any more than he already had. “And Michael, well . . . Michael is learning to control his ability to . . . let’s just say he’s very powerful. He’s been known to blow up a thing or two when his adrenalin starts pumping, but he’s getting better,” Max chuckled. "A word to the wise: don't piss him off."

Liz's expression grew wary, and Max realized he was making jokes about something that was still very scary to Liz. And he was supposed to be reassuring her! He took her face in his hands and poured his heart into his words.

"Look, Liz, I'll answer all your questions as you think of them, but what's important is that you understand that I do love you. I've loved you since the day I first saw you, but I was always too afraid to get close to you, afraid that letting you know me too well would somehow hurt me. Later, I quit caring that it might hurt me, but by that time I was afraid it could hurt you, and I would die before I let that happen."

He ran his thumbs slowly over her cheekbones and willed her to understand. “I know this is a lot to take in, but please, Liz, I need you to see that . . . I’m still me.”

Liz fell into his familiar, eyes, and saw the same boy she had grown to love. He made her feel as if everything he had told her was apart from them, as if it couldn't possibly affect what they had. The world that they had built for themselves over the last few months was stronger than this new and confusing one that was trying to intrude on them. Then something else she'd heard him say popped into her mind, and she pulled away from him. He dropped his hands dejectedly.

"What did you mean when you said, 'I have to keep her blocked '?"

Max lowered his eyes guiltily. "That first time we kissed, Liz, do you remember how incredible that was? Like we could see right inside each other."

Liz nodded dreamily, sighing as the wonderful memory flooded her senses.

"That kiss took me by surprise. Not just that it happened, but the way we reacted to it. I realized that those kisses could reveal more than I thought either of us was ready for just yet. Ever since then, I've had to be careful not to let myself go . . . in any sense. I couldn't let you see my past, and . . ." Max winced, and Liz knew what was coming. "And I couldn't give myself to you physically because . . . god, Liz, I wanted to! . . . but I wasn't sure what it might reveal . . . or how it might affect you."

To Liz's amazement, Max's eyes filled with tears. "When I realized how much I was hurting you . . . how you thought I didn't love you enough or . . ." His throat tightened and he couldn't speak. His eyes squeezed shut and a tear began a slow path down his cheek. Without thinking, Liz leaned in and kissed it tenderly. Then she kissed his nose, his other cheek, his jaw, and soon his arms were holding her so tightly, she couldn't breathe. His lips found hers and a kiss exploded between them in a flood of sensation, memories, fantasies, and emotion. It was overwhelming, and Liz reeled under the torrent, whimpering beneath the pressure of his lips.

He broke it off roughly, gasping for breath, barely handling the images hurtling through their shared awareness. He felt Liz's hands hanging on to his shirt while she pressed her forehead into his chest. She was trembling again, and he cursed himself for losing control for even that short moment. He was relieved and warmed by what he had felt from her–the love was still strong in spite of everything, but there was confusion and wariness, too.

"Liz?" he whispered gently.

“I’m okay, Max,” she mumbled against his chest. “Just give me a little time.”

They stayed like that for several minutes, holding each other, one searching her heart for perspective, seeking out what was real to her, what was important; the other desperately praying to a God he’d never been sure existed that the best part of his life wasn’t evaporating within his arms.



[ edited 2 time(s), last at 23-Feb-2002 2:34:22 PM ]
posted on 3-Mar-2002 12:47:30 PM by Carol000
Hi, guys! I'm sooo embarrassed at how long this last part took me. I wish I could write full-time--so many ideas, but things like work, family, chorale, and other obligations keep soaking up the time!

rattlebox: I couldn't agree with you more that the lesson here is NOT that sexual intimacy is the only symptom of a loving relationship or that it's the only way to hold a couple together--esp. in high school. I hope this part actually reinforces your point. I have 3 kids--25, 23 & 17. Believe me, you won't find a proponent of teen sex here (all evidence to the contrary!). I do get a little carried away with M/L because I think of them as so special and "beyond their years" in so many ways, but you are right on in your opinion.

zannyb: Thank you for your patience and your persistence with the bumps! I hope it was worth the wait.

Here, at last, is the conclusion of Dreamer Holidays: Valentine's Day!

FROM THE LAST PART---

"That kiss took me by surprise. Not just that it happened, but the way we reacted to it. I realized that those kisses could reveal more than I thought either of us was ready for just yet. Ever since then, I've had to be careful not to let myself go . . . in any sense. I couldn't let you see my past, and . . ." Max winced, and Liz knew what was coming. "And I couldn't give myself to you physically because . . . god, Liz, I wanted to! . . . but I wasn't sure what it might reveal . . . or how it might affect you."

To Liz's amazement, Max's eyes filled with tears. "When I realized how much I was hurting you . . . how you thought I didn't love you enough or . . ." His throat tightened and he couldn't speak. His eyes squeezed shut and a tear began a slow path down his cheek. Without thinking, Liz leaned in and kissed it tenderly. Then she kissed his nose, his other cheek, his jaw, and soon his arms were holding her so tightly, she couldn't breathe. His lips found hers and a kiss exploded between them in a flood of sensation, memories, fantasies, and emotion. It was overwhelming, and Liz reeled under the torrent, whimpering beneath the pressure of his lips.

He broke it off roughly, gasping for breath, barely handling the images hurtling through their shared awareness. He felt Liz's hands hanging on to his shirt while she pressed her forehead into his chest. She was trembling again, and he cursed himself for losing control for even that short moment. He was relieved and warmed by what he had felt from her–the love was still strong in spite of everything, but there was confusion and wariness, too.

"Liz?" he whispered gently.

“I’m okay, Max,” she mumbled against his chest. “Just give me a little time.”

They stayed like that for several minutes, holding each other, one searching her heart for perspective, seeking out what was real to her, what was important; the other desperately praying to a God he’d never been sure existed that the best part of his life wasn’t evaporating within his arms.

********

CONCLUSION

They sat there for hours. Or was it just a few minutes? Max wasn't sure. He was afraid to move or even swallow for fear Liz would come out of her reverie and leave him forever. As long as nothing changed, she was there, in his arms, where she belonged. What he hadn't counted on was his stomach rumbling with hunger. He'd had nothing to each in almost 24 hours. He hadn't even wanted anything to eat, but now his stomach betrayed him and he tensed as Liz moved . . . away.

Liz pulled back from Max and looked at him closely, almost like she was seeing him for the first time. He let her look, still afraid to do anything that would make her skittish, make her put even more distance between them.

“Who are you, Max?” she asked softly. She didn’t seem afraid at all, just unnervingly quiet and a bit curious.

“What?” He had no idea what she wanted to hear.

“I want to know how you see yourself. Who is Max Evans inside his own head?”

Max thought for a moment. Did she have any idea how hard a question that was? He asked himself that every day until sometimes he was so tired of thinking about it, he just locked the question out of his mind so he could breathe. But he’d never really come up with an answer.

That is, until Liz Parker.

“I’ve never been entirely sure, Liz. Sometimes I think we have more questions about ourselves than you could possible have. But I can tell you the one thing I’m sure of. I’m the guy who loves you more than anything or anyone else, so much that I think it would scare you if you knew. And I’m the guy who wasn’t sure what it felt like to be human . . . until you.”

Liz’s eyes teared up at his words; she ached to believe them. She looked deeply into his wide amber eyes, clouded by uncertainty and desperation but alive with love, searching for some truth that she could cling to. She did believe him. She’d known it in her heart before she’d even asked the question. But his feelings for her were just one of the puzzle pieces that ricocheted chaotically in her head. If Max Evans truly was an alien being, with powers that could awe the human race and a mysterious past that could take him away from here, why . . . why would he want her—a simple, plain, boring girl from Roswell, New Mexico?

"Kiss me, Max."

Max's heart leapt in his chest, but he wasn't sure what Liz was thinking. This was not a passion-filled demand, but rather a thoughtful request. Eyes lowered, he asked, "Are you sure?"

"Max, you've been 'blocking' me for a year. A few minutes ago, you didn't block me, but I could barely cope with all the images and feelings that flowed between us. Now I need something in between. I want to see the real you, I want to understand who you are. I need what's between us to be honest, but still on a level I can deal with. Can you unblock me but . . . I don't know . . . control it somehow?"

Max hesitated, knowing he could do what she asked, but afraid that it would be the last wedge, driving her away from him. He drew a deep breath. "Liz, I can tell you whatever you want to know. I don't want to scare you."

Liz raised her hands to his jaw line and gently pulled his face up, forcing him to look at her. Her eyes were filled with questions, but her gentleness, her willingness to know this Max was so honest, so vulnerable that he knew he would do whatever she asked of him. She was still the girl he loved to the depths of his being, and if he wanted her trust, it had to begin with his trusting her.

His heart was racing as he reached for her, soared as she willingly came to him and raised her sweet mouth to his. Only as their lips met and the rush of images began to tumble forth did he remember to pull back a bit, just enough to keep from overwhelming her.

Liz leaned into his familiar warmth gratefully. Even with the shock of the afternoon, it was where she wanted to be. She was at home in his arms, and nothing she had heard today seemed to touch that singular truth. Gradually, images from those first frightening hours after the young aliens had emerged from the pods played like a movie in fast forward through her mind–people with kind eyes whose language he couldn't understand. A house with toys and love and tear-filled nights. School. Liz. Playgrounds. Liz. Michael. Liz. The Crashdown. Liz. Liz! LIZ! And suddenly she was filled with the ache of loneliness, the fear of discovery, and the hopelessness of his love for her–until last year. After that, she seemed to fill his life and his heart. She had brought him joy and a sense of fulfillment that changed everything, even though the tinge of fear never left him.

The kiss ended, but only a breath separated them as they stared into each other's eyes. Questions answered and more questions asked sparked between them, but all Max could focus on was the full force of Liz's love once again shining in her eyes. The moment was magic as her quiet acceptance sank in and unspoken joy burst from his eyes and spilled onto his face, settling finally into an awkward smile.

"Now I truly know who you are, Max," she whispered so quietly, he could barely hear her. "And you know what?"

He shook his head imperceptibly.

"You are just the same person I always knew you to be," she beamed, more confident now. "A different history, perhaps, but . . . as you said before, you're still you."

Max could feel the weight rising off his shoulders. Suddenly he was lighter than air and twice as unfocused. She still loved him! She wasn't afraid or freaked or disgusted! She accepted him . . . as he truly was! Before he knew what he was doing, he had thrown his arms around her, lifted her off her feet, and was spinning them both around in the middle of the park until they were laughing with dizziness and relief. Finally, he was forced to set her down for fear of falling on her–not altogether a terrible thought, he mused happily.

She looked up at him, her bright eyes struggling to focus again, and a smile lighting up her face. Once they were stable, though, the mood shifted abruptly. Max released her body just long enough to recapture her head in his hands, combing his fingers through her silky hair and planting delicate kisses over her cheeks, eyelids, and, finally, her mouth. There was no tentativeness now, only the confident, joyous union of two souls lost in each other's love.

"So we're still on for the Valentine's dance tonight?" he gasped, his breath coming in short bursts now.

Liz thought silently for a moment, just long enough to put a frown back on Max's face. "Oh, we're on," she crooned, "but I'm not sure how long we'll stay at that dance. I think we have some important research to take care of."

Max looked at her in confusion for several seconds until he felt her hand pressing small, slow circles against his chest. Understanding dawned with a hitch in his throat, and he pulled her to him fiercely.

"Yes, we do," he mumbled against her ear, sending a thrill shooting through her whole body. Then Max pulled away slightly and looked directly into her eyes. "But I won't take any chances with you, Liz. I won't be responsible for hurting you, so we'll go slowly, okay?"

Liz, giddy with forbidden knowledge and the promise of discovering even more about Max, felt reckless and excited. "As slowly as I can manage, Max." She pushed up to her tiptoes, dragging her body against his, and nibbled at his earlobe. She smiled in satisfaction when she heard the little guttural noise that he couldn't suppress.

“Walk me home?” she mumbled against his neck.

Max barely heard her. The relief he was feeling had released him from a tension that he carried constantly without even being aware of it. Now his muscles were trembling, his blood rushing, and he felt unsteady. Almost drunk. Just imagining how things would change between them now left his head spinning, and he was losing the fight to listen to the voice of reason and control that hammered away at him night and day. If she only knew of his fantasies about her, she might not be teasing him so brazenly with her body. He could feel his own body reacting already.

“Liz!” He set her firmly away from him. Her sly smile faded to concern when she saw his face.

“Max, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.” She felt embarrassed and her face flamed a deep red.

“Liz, I’m not upset! Don’t think that! It’s just that . . .” It was Max’s turn to blush. “Liz, the idea that we can . . . you know, see what happens if we . . . get . . . closer . . .” Suddenly he was pulling her to him again. “Liz, I’ve wanted you for so long, longer than you can imagine. Now that there’s a real chance for us to explore the more . . . physical side of our love, I’m more afraid than ever of losing control. You don’t know what you do to me! All you have to do is be with me and I’m turned on. When you start teasing me like this . . . I can’t stand it! You have to help me, Liz. I can’t be the only one trying to be responsible here!”

Liz peered up at him, trying hard to look contrite but, in reality, looking somewhat triumphant. “Okay, Max. I’ll try to be good. For now.”

“I’ll pick you up for the dance at 7:30, okay?”

“I’ll be ready. And Max?”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s not share a ride with anyone, okay? I want to be able to leave when we want.”

Max winced at the image he was already struggling to put out of his mind. “You’re doing this to me on purpose, aren’t you?”

Liz laughed lightly and leaned up to kiss him on the cheek.

“Whatever do you mean?” she teased.

Fingers entwined, they began the slow stroll back to the Crashdown.

********

The hours passed painfully slowly for Max that afternoon. When he wasn’t fending off Isabel’s nosy questions about what happened in the park, he was countering Michael’s accusations and worst-case scenario predictions. Then, when he finally closed himself off in his room, he agonized over what the time apart might do to change Liz’s feelings. What if she took a step back from their closeness and started to question her decision to stay with him? What if it looked a lot more scary in the cold, harsh reality outside his presence?

He stepped gratefully into his shower, anxious to escape his own thoughts and groom himself perfectly for his night with Liz. Just thinking about her and their newfound possibilities brought his body to painful readiness for her. The temptation to bring himself to another lonely release was overwhelming, but somehow now it was different—now it felt like cheating. He washed himself with as little contact as possible and clenched his teeth against the ache that dominated his thoughts. He forced his mind in new directions, desperately concentrating on trivia—studying for a Calculus quiz on Tuesday, helping his dad fix the car stereo tomorrow, listening to Isabel whining about not having the right color nail polish—yeah, that was better.

Dressing carefully, he took a look in the mirror. Not too casual, not too dressy, he thought, satisfied at last. His black pleated pants draped easily over his lean form, and the sheen of his crimson shirt glowed softly in the incandescent light. At his neck, a black t-shirt peeked out from behind the open collar, adorned with a plain silver chain.

He grabbed the gel from the dresser and then stopped. Liz loved to run her fingers through the fringe of bangs that hung carelessly over his forehead, and he wanted nothing to discourage her from touching him tonight. Just thinking about her tiny fingers caressing him caused his breathing to speed up, and he closed his eyes to picture her. She was beautiful, as always, and she was smiling up at him, reaching for his bangs in that affectionate gesture he had grown to love. Oh god, here we go again! He set the gel back down and took a deep breath. It was time.

Arriving at Liz’s door, Max smiled nervously at Jeff and Nancy Parker. He’d spent his fair share of time here over the last year, and they liked him, but his nervousness had more to do with Liz than with her parents. Forcing the usual small talk, Max waited for Liz to come out to the living room. Everything hinged on what he would see in her face in that first moment.

“Hi, Max.”

Max turned slowly and his mouth dropped open. He was used to his girlfriend looking beautiful; he always saw her that way. But this . . . she was a vision. This year she obviously wore one of her rare new dresses, and he was speechless. Hugging her small, shapely figure was an iridescent midnight blue dress that gave off pale pink and lavender highlights as she moved. It ran, unspoiled by ornamentation, from the floor to high on her neck, with armholes that slashed sharply in from under her arm to the high collar, leaving her creamy shoulders bare. Her hair was pulled back from her face and hung luxuriously down her back.

“Max?”

Max shook himself. “You look . . . stunning,” he breathed appreciatively.

She bowed her head slightly. “Thank you. You look great, too. Out of this world, actually.”

He raised his eyebrows at her and she returned his look with an impish grin. Max relaxed immediately. She hadn’t changed toward him. In fact, she was even teasing him! Suddenly, Max Evans’s world was perfect.

He retrieved the corsage box from the sofa and she opened it to find three white sweetheart roses against dark green leaves.

“I know it’s the same as last year,” he said as he slipped the corsage over her wrist, “but you said they were your favorite, and besides, you wouldn’t tell me what your dress looked like.”

Liz giggled. “I wanted it to be a surprise.” She raked her eyes up and down him, clearly pleased with what she saw. He was more casual than usual for a dance, but somehow it took away that fake formality teens often had when they begrudgingly donned a tie and jacket; instead, he oozed sexiness, and Liz felt her body tighten. Forcing back the tide of erotic feelings, she fought to lighten her own tone. “Now I see why you said you didn’t want a boutonniere.”

“Call me a rebel,” he laughed. “No sport coat this year. We only take them off as soon as we get there, anyway.”

“Then all I need is my purse.”

Liz turned toward the antique sideboard to retrieve her evening purse, and Max did a double-take. The back of the dress—what there was of it—simply laced all the say down to the small of her back. Laced! Suddenly, all he could think of was untying one little knot and watching the dress slip down and off her body. He stared openly, unaware of the amused look on Nancy’s face and the growing frown on Jeff’s.

“Max? Is something wrong?” Liz was elated at Max’s reaction. She enjoyed keeping him off-balance sometimes. She knew he’d been brooding all afternoon. She knew him so well. But she had every intention of erasing all of his worries tonight, and she was obviously off to a good start!

Minutes later, they were entering the dance. Last year, when they had arrived together, it had caused quite a stir. The mysterious and elusive Max Evans had never been to a school dance before, and to see him walk in with little Liz Parker, science geek and waitress, on his arm had thrown the rumor mill into high gear. The altercation with her ex-boyfriend Kyle had only fueled the fire. This year, though, they were an expected couple, and except for the admiring looks, they raised no eyebrows.

Isabel and her date waved them over to a table where Alex and Maria were also seated, only this year, they weren’t together. Alex had finally asked out the girl he’d been eyeing all year, Valerie van Doren, the exchange student from Belgium. She was tall and quiet, like Alex, but shared his wicked wit and love of alternative music. Maria had surprised everyone by coming with Kyle Valenti. They had become good friends last year after he broke up with Liz in a rather dramatic fashion, and they’d grown quite fond of each other. Maria had okayed it with Liz, in case she felt awkward, but Liz had been happy for them. She harbored no ill will toward Kyle, and she knew Maria would be good for him.

There was little time for conversation as they danced to every possible style of music and shouted quick comments over the blare from the speakers. Max and Liz didn’t miss a single opportunity to hold each other, though, taking advantage of every slow dance. Just the feel of their arms around each other, their bodies swaying in time to the music, the subtle brush of lips was heaven.

The music changed abruptly, and Liz and Max were both startled when Maria and Kyle pulled them apart to begin a fast dance. “You need to dance with a real woman, Max!” Maria yelled to them as she drew him away and picked up the fast beat that vibrated the very walls. Liz laughed at her zany friend and turned to Kyle, who was showing off some serious dance steps of his own. Feeling deliriously happy, Liz waved at a befuddled Max and began to mimic Kyle’s moves. She had forgotten what fun he could be, and she was happy that they could be friends again. That’s what they had always been best at.

The dance had left them flushed and breathless. They were all thirsty and Alex and Valerie offered to get everyone drinks. Max and Liz were about to sink gratefully into their chairs when the DJ put on a dreamy oldie, “Unchained Melody”; Max swept Liz onto the dance floor and into his arms.

Sliding his hands around Liz, he quietly half-sang, half-whispered the first few words: “Oh, my love, my darling, I’ve hungered for your touch a long lonely time.” Liz nestled into his chest, breathing in the warm scent that she associated with him. It filled her dreams at night and distracted her whenever she had class with him. She could never get enough. Then she felt his fingers touch the moist skin of her back, and they almost jumped at the electricity that sparked between them. Slowly, Liz raised her head and looked at this boy, this alien, this being who she loved so much, and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him down to a gentle lingering kiss.

The images started again, too chaotic at first, but Max reined them in and let Liz see some of his more tame fantasies, ones where he was loving her so gently and thoroughly. She responded instantly, pressing him closer, stroking his neck and shoulders. He gasped against her mouth when he saw one of her fantasies, not nearly so tame. She pulled away, embarrassed.

“Max, I’m sorry. I don’t know how to control that like you do. I’m . . . sorry.”

He lifted her chin gently, his eyes bright with barely contained passion. “Hey, if you’d seen the ones I didn’t let through, I’d be the one blushing. I’m glad you see us like that.”

Her eyes shot to his. “You are? I thought we couldn’t . . .”

“I don’t know yet, but we’ll figure it out. We just have to go slowly and be careful. You’re too important to me to take any risks. Meanwhile, maybe we can get started on that research you mentioned.”

She nodded, then looked around guiltily, as if someone might know what they were thinking. Max laughed and tugged her toward their table.

“We’re gonna take off, everyone. Great party!” And before anyone could respond, they were headed out the door and to the car.

“Where should we go?” asked Liz. “My parents will wonder why we left so early.”

“Mine aren’t home, and besides, they told me they’d leave snacks and stuff in the kitchen for when we got home, so it’s okay.”

Liz fidgeted nervously on the ride home. Now that the time had come, she felt very insecure. She knew she was being foolish; she believed Max loved her absolutely. But she had no idea what she was doing, and Max’s body was so strong and toned and perfect, whereas hers was so small . . . everywhere.

Sensing Liz’s concern, Max reached for her hand. “Nothing will happen that you don’t want, Liz. You’re in control here. I love you. What does or doesn’t happen between us tonight is not going to change that.”

Liz smiled up at him. He always said the perfect thing. Just that one reassurance swept her self-doubts away, and suddenly she couldn’t wait to get him alone.

They came through the kitchen door and Max saw the note on the fridge. His mother had actually posted an inventory of what was in the house to eat! Max grinned. “We won’t starve,” he assured her. “You hungry?”

When he heard no response, he turned to find Liz looking at him, hungrily, but he could tell it had nothing to do with food.

“Liz . . .”

Then she was in his arms, lifting her mouth toward his, molding herself to his body, all pretense of caution dispelled. He slid his hands over the slick dress and around to her back where his fingers wove themselves under the thin lacings. He took her mouth fiercely, savoring the freedom he felt with her for the first time. She loved him. She knew, but she still loved him. And she wanted him to love her, in every way. The heady feeling spun around them as they kissed feverishly, needing so much after rationing their feelings so carefully.

Max reached low and swept Liz into his arms, carrying her swiftly into his room. He laid her gently on the bed and eased himself down next to her. Lying face to face, he stroked her cheek. “I can’t believe the difference between tonight and last night,” he murmured. “Last night, I was afraid to touch you. Tonight, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

“I was so afraid, too, Max. Afraid that there was something wrong with me . . . or you. I’ve wanted you to touch me for so long. So much. Please, Max. Touch me.”

Max traced his thumb around her mouth, not wanting to rush anymore. They had time now. It would all happen for them. “I love you,” he whispered, as he descended slowly to take her mouth. She opened to him instantly, and he savored her sweet taste. He felt her arm snake upwards and her fingers thread through his hair. He could tell she was pleased that he’d left it natural for her. Then she pressed closer, her breasts grazing his chest, and his heart began to race.

His hand forged a trail of heat down her neck and shoulder, following the edge of the dress around to under her arm. Then, with a single finger, he drew a line from her arm to her breast. She thrust herself toward him with a whimper and his hand instantly cupped her, kneading the warm, soft mound. He felt her nipple harden, reaching for him, and he caressed it softly with his thumb.

He could feel the sensations coursing through his body now. Every nerve was alive with her, alive for her. In his mind’s eye, he removed her clothes with a wave of his hand and worshipped her body. He clamped down on the image, disgusted with himself, afraid Liz would think this was his ultimate motive for being here with her. He withdrew his hand, desperately trying to regain control of his body, a body that seemed to recognize its mate too soon.

“No, Max,” she pleaded against his mouth. “I want that, too. Don’t pull away.”

“Liz, we have to be careful. We have to . . .”

Liz was pushing herself up to her knees. Max watched helplessly as she reached behind her, tugging quickly at a single strand of lacing. Instantly, the front of her dress draped downward, and Max knew one flick of his finger would bring it down around her waist. His heart was hammering in his chest, and he looked at Liz in a kind of desperation.

“Liz, if we start this . . . I don’t know where it will end.”

She smiled at him, calm, confident, ready.

He reached a trembling hand toward the edge of the dress and slid it inside. The shimmering fabric slid silently over her milky breasts and settled around her waist. Max was mesmerized. How could he ever have imagined anyone so lovely? His hand moved gradually forward, and he watched Liz’s eyes drift close even as her rosy nipples strained toward him. The second he touched one, she whimpered. The pleasure on her face sent Max spiraling, and all of his instincts kicked in.

Seconds later, his mouth was suckling at one incredibly soft mound while his hand stroked the other. Liz was moaning openly now and her hands urged him closer and closer. Releasing her breast, Max’s moist lips and eager tongue left a heated trail up toward her neck, stopping briefly to suck at the pounding pulse that beat there for him.

Liz was soaring, her hands operating with a will of their own. Fumbling with the buttons on Max’s shirt, she opened it wide, eagerly searching for the hem of the t-shirt. Soon her hands were working up under his shirt, tracing—in glorious detail—the rock-hard definition she had always admired. As her hands strained against the fabric, Max stilled them; he stood slowly and then tugged her to her feet. He pulled his shirt up over his head and they drank each other in.

“You’re so beautiful, Liz. More beautiful than even my imagination could have dreamed of.” Her eyes shone into his and he cupped her face, leaning forward to steal another searing kiss. His heated skin pressed into her aching breasts and a euphoric sensation rocketed through them. Gasping in surprise, they became aware of a strange current humming between them, and when they looked down, there was the barest light casting a glow where their skin touched. Liz was floating on a warm blanket of erotic pleasure, totally giving herself up to it.

“Max, what’s happening?” she sighed. “What is this? It’s . . . wonderful.”

Then she whimpered in protest as Max broke their contact.

“I don’t know, Liz, but it’s where we stop . . . for tonight.” He set Liz reluctantly away from him. “We said we’d see if things got weird. That definitely qualifies. Now we have to take some time—see if there are any side effects later. I told you, Liz—I won’t take any chances with you.”

Liz pouted petulantly, descending unwillingly back to reality, but she couldn’t ignore how seriously he was taking this. He was determined to protect her, and she no longer feared it was her own inadequacy. It would have been impossible to miss the very obvious effects their loving had had on his anatomy. Her eyes slid over him, and she chuckled at his blush.

“Liz!” he choked, reaching for his shirt.

Then she, too, became serious. Pulling her dress back up and securing it loosely at the nape of her neck, she moved toward him once more. “Max, I love you for taking such good care of me. I won’t give you any more grief about this tonight, but do you think you could hold me?”

He relaxed again, flashing his best killer smile. “Always and forever,” he promised. “It’s letting go that I can’t imagine.”

He settled back on the bed, drawing her down to his side. He kissed the top of her head as she nestled it into the crook of his neck.

“We have a lifetime to explore this, Liz. Believe me,” he chuckled, “as soon as I know you’re safe, you will never be safe from me!” He pulled her tightly against him, stroking her back and pressing small, slow kisses against her head.

“Maybe it’s your safety you should be worrying about, Max.” He groaned as she lightly drew a finger across his chest, pushing the open shirt aside. Then he felt her smile against his shoulder. “Oh dear, I said I’d be good, didn’t I? Okay, for now. I make no promises beyond that.”

Max sighed happily. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Liz Parker. You’ve made this the best day of my life.”

“Same to you, Max. I’d have to say this has been the most unusual—and best—day of my life, too. Promise me there’ll be many more.”

He lifted his head and looked at her intently. “As many as you’ll allow, Liz. I love you. I always have. The rest is your call.”

“Then settle in for a long ride, Max,” she sighed. “Because I love you, too.”