posted on 8-Feb-2002 2:54:13 PM by Comet
Title: Playing Cupid
Author: It's me!
Summary: I suck so bad at doing these, maybe you should just read and see what's it's about! *happy*
Author's Note: Like I said a Loooooonggg time ago, this was my first fic, never posted anywhere before. I wasn't sure if I should post it here or on the main board but I figure if this is wrong, a mod would point me in the right direction, right? I should finish posting the story soon. Enjoy. Tell me what you think and if you don't think it's worth finishing posting, tell me that too!

The story begins:

“ Liz, how about this one? What d’you think?”

I glance over at the horrendous monstrosity of a sticker Max is holding up. It’s disgusting, a flaming skull, snake, and rose combo. I roll my eyes and turn away, looking longingly outside the sticker shop straight towards the pizza parlor I should be in right now.

“ I think it’s even worse than the last two hundred you’ve shown me,” I reply over my shoulder, making it clear that I am dying of boredom by my tone of voice.

Max picks this up and rolls his eyes too.

“ Come on, be serious for once, tell me what you think.”

“ I’m always serious. Ask my teachers they’ll vouch for me,” I reply flippantly. Seeing the pleading look on his face, I shake my head and trudge over to where he’s standing, “ It’s better than that,” I point to a sticker of a busty woman in a playboy pose.

Max narrows in eyes in concentration.

“ You’re right.” He finally says.

He adds the flaming skull to the other nine stickers he’s collected. He frowns at me.

“ You could try to act more interested. It’s your investment too,”

I don’t answer this. I simply scowl as he wanders over to another rack. Before he can look up any more monstrosities, I grab his arm and shove him in the direction of the counter.

“ Please, Max, for the love of god, that’s enough stickers. I’m tired, we’ve got an assignment to do, which means I have an assignment to do, my shift starts in two hours and if I don’t get a slice, no, make that several slices of the pizza you promised me for coming along with you, I’m going to get very violent.”

Max laughs, totally unconcerned which in turn just irritates me more. I glower at him and he steps back in surrender.

“ Okay, okay, I’ll pay for them now. And what do you mean, YOU’VE got an assignment to do? I always help,” He protests.

“ Yeah, you help by taking credit for half of it when you didn’t even do a quarter,” I say, smirking.

“ You’re funny, you know that? Besides, the reality is just the exact opposite.” He retorts loftily.

Not having the energy to think up a witty rejoinder, I simply stick my tongue out at him and he does the same thing to me too before sauntering over to the check out counter with a smile.

Copycat!

Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you the wonderful world of Max Evans and Liz Parker.

Best buds since the age of thirteen, since he and his twin sister Isabel moved to Roswell.

Classmates.

Lab partners.

Co-workers.

Partners in crime.

My stomach growls, letting me know just how much it hates me right now and I groan. Max is talking to the sticker shop owner. Apparently, he’s trying to talk Max into buying MORE stickers. Why does he want stickers?

Let me explain.

Summer vacation has just ended. We’re juniors now. Max and I worked together all summer at the CrashDown Café, owned by my aunt and uncle. He used all the money he earned and borrowed the rest from me in order to buy a motorcycle, promising me that I would get joint ownership of the thing. Which is stupid because one, I don’t know how to ride a motorcycle, two, I really have no desire to learn and three, I don’t even like them very much. Okay, let me just clarify a little on that point. I DON’T like the motorcycle Max bought. I do, however, adore one other bike and if any piece of machinery is going to make me want to learn how to ride, it’s gonna be that one. Anyway we’re in here because now that he’s fixed up the old clunker, he wants to decorate it. I could care less as I’ve already made clear but the combination of begging, pleading and puppy dog eyes from Max plus the bribe of free pizza was too much to resist. Max glances over his shoulder, obviously hoping I’m not watching and I shake my head at him firmly. He sighs in surrender and hands the guy some bills. Satisfied that he’s not buying anything else, I head out of the shop and make a beeline for the pizza parlor. Smell that pepperoni… heaven! I’m almost inside, I can see a waitress delivering a platter of hot, delicious pizza to the table directly in front of me, when someone grabs my arm. I frown and rip my arm away from whoever has it. Then I turn and glare, fully prepared to lash out and the person standing between me and my pizza.

Oh.

It’s Max.

He’s staring at me with a perplexed look on his face but he’s smiling slightly at the same time.

“ Would it have been so hard to wait for me? I am paying for this little snack after all,”

My furious look disappears and I smile weakly.

“ Damn straight you are. I just… I just thought I’d go ahead and grab a table.” There’s an empty one right inside. I flash him a grin. “ There’s one. You coming or not?” Without waiting for an answer, I amble over to the table and plop down, opening my backpack and pulling out the notebook where I record all the research we’re doing for the assignment. Max slides in opposite me and heaves a huge sigh. I look up at him and raise an eyebrow.

He says, “ Talk to me.”

I blink. “ About what?” I return my gaze to the notebook and try to concentrate. He sighs again and reaches over, closing the book. I roll my eyes and fix a glare onto his face. “ You know, you’re really starting to annoy me, Max. Could you at least wait until after I’ve eaten? I argue much better on a full stomach,”

“ Liz, what’s up with you? You’ve been weird all week.”

“ What’s up with YOU?” I fire back. “I have not been weird all week.”

This is a lie. I have been weird. Why? Well, look at it this way.

When all of a sudden, you start developing ‘more than friends’ feelings for a guy who’s been your buddy for FOUR years and he one day asks you to help him land a girl, and not just any girl, no, a girl you happen to despise and who despises you right back, you’d act weird too.

“ This is about what I asked you to do for me, isn’t it? About Jessica?”

He’s talking about Jessica Thorne. You know, the type of girl every school has. The totally perfect, preened b*tch who has the majority of the male population wrapped around her little finger. Said girl has been after Max for years. And now… Max is after her…I suppress a groan. He’s looking at me with that penetrating stare of his. I have one too, and it’s WAY better than HIS but unfortunately, his works just as well sometimes.

“ NO, Max, it is not about your… request.” I answer primly. I turn away from him and wave my hand energetically at a waitress. “What’s a girl have to do for food around here?” I mutter. I chance a glance at Max. He’s still staring.

“ You think it’s a bad idea,” He ventured.

Actually, I think it’s the WORST idea ever but I don’t say that. I say,

“ Max, I don’t know what to think, alright? I mean, this is just so… out of character for you. I mean, YOU of all people asking someone to help him out in the romance department? It’s… it’s,” I wave a hand in the air as I search of the appropriate word. “ Surreal.”

“ But you think it’s a bad idea don’t you?”

I turn away, resuming my waving. I feel like on of those extras in Titanic, the big ‘bon voyage’ scene. Didn’t that big love boat sink? Yeah it did. Like my heart is sinking right now.

“ God, the service here is terrible,” I mutter again. The waitress, who seems more interested in flirting with her customers finally sees me and frowns a little. I subject her to my death glare and shift it sideways to Mr. Rosetti, the owner of the pizzeria and one of my Uncle’s closest friends. She gets the message and begins to flutter over to our table, whipping out her order pad.

“ You are so bad.”

I grin at Max, nodding my head in agreement, glad of the reprieve. “ I know.”

He looks like he’s trying not to laugh and I try to tear my eyes away from his eyes, and try not think about how amazing they look when they’re sparkling with laughter. Oh God. This is so way over my head. Thankfully, the waitress comes, still wearing her little frown but trying valiantly to cover it up with a perky smile. I smirk. It takes years to perfect the ‘I’m-a-happy-waitress’ look and this girl so obviously has not perfected it. She takes a deep breath, preparing to launch into her speech.

“ You order,” I say to Max quietly.

“ I live to serve,” He throws back, grinning. I crack a smile. Normally, since I worship pizza so, I wouldn’t trust anybody else to order it for me. They might bungle up and order anchovies and I HATE anchovies. But I trust Max. He knows exactly what I want. I feel my cheeks burn. In terms of pizza, I mean. If he had any inkling of what I really wanted, he’d be up and running like a shot in the opposite direction, screaming. I lower my head and flip the notebook open.

“ Hi, welcome to Rosetti’s pizzeria. May I take your…”

The waitress sputters off and I smirk again, knowing what’s happened. It’s what always happens when some girl who hasn’t seen Max before sees him for the first time. They kinda stop functioning. True, till a few weeks ago, I never knew what it was they saw but boy do I see now. Smirk still firmly in place, I glance up at the waitress. She’s staring at Max, completely shell shocked and her feeble attempt at that ‘I’m-a-happy-waitress’ smile frozen in place. It was changing though. The little frown under it disappeared and it widened, morphing from the fake smile to a wide, flirtatious grin. I take a sideways peek at Max, wondering if he’s going to pull his usual ‘I-don’t-notice-anything-strange’ act or smile back and keep those flirting skills sharp. Weird. He’s not even looking at the waitress. He’s looking at…me? I feel my cheeks begin to burn AGAIN but I shove the feeling away. Like he would be staring at you.

Yeah right, Liz.

Keep dreaming.

I clear my throat. She’s still staring at Max. I clear my throat again. She manages to tear her gaze from him and turns to me, a slight scowl marring her features, a calculating look in her eyes. She’s obviously trying to figure out if I’m his GIRLFRIEND or something. Well, I know I’m definitely NOT his girlfriend so that puts me in the ‘or something’ category. Still, I’m not going to take being scowled at lying down. I throw her my patented cocky smile, guaranteed to infuriate even the most serene of people.

“ You were saying?”

Her eyes flash in annoyance and I wipe away the smile and give her a bored stare. She glances at Max once more, sees something she doesn’t like, pouts and begins to finish her sentence, rattling off their specials. I’m not even going to risk finding out what Max did to displease her. Probably looking outside or something. Anyway, she finishes her speech and I say,

“ Ice cream soda. Chocolate and Vanilla. Extra ice. He’ll have a Cherry Cola with whipped cream,”

It’s automatic. It’s what I always order, it’s what Max always orders. Whipped cream with Cherry cola. His favorite. The guy has one hell of a sweet tooth. I return my gaze to the notebook. Max clears his throat.

“ One large pizza, half pepperoni, extra cheese and the other half, pineapple pizza, extra spicy tomato sauce.”

“ Got it. Be right back with your drinks.”

She leaves and we’re alone. I finally glance up at Max and he’s still watching me, the most peculiar look on his face. I stare back. Normally, if you’d put me in a staring match with anyone, even a complete stranger, I’d win, hands down. But I don’t normally have a staring session with Max and it’s creepy. I find myself growing annoyed.

“ Max, what is it? Is there something on my face?”

He shakes his head.

“ No, of course not. You just…I just…” He pauses and rubs a hand over his face. “ You never answered my question.”

Crap. Are we back here again?

“ What question would that be?” I ask, playing dumb in an effort to buy myself more time. I’m not usually this chicken.

I am not.

“ Do you think it’s a good idea for me to ask Jessica out?” He says patiently, clearly not wanting to play games.

I sigh. “ Do you really want the truth?”

“ I do.”

I can’t do it. So I go about it in a more roundabout way.

“ Well, have you talked to Iz and Michael about this? What do they say?”

Max pins me with a knowing look but answers all the same. “ Izzy’s horrified at the idea and Michael thinks I’m crazy.” He gives me a wry grin and tilts his head to the side. “So what do you think?”

“ I think… I think that Jessica isn’t really a nice person, Max.”

He doesn’t look devastated. He doesn’t look surprised. He doesn’t even look mad. Shouldn’t he at least be mad that I’ve practically insulted his love interest? He looks like…he’s waiting for something else. I press on.

“ But that’s just my opinion of her, and an opinion which I have made not based on any real facts at all, you know? Cause, I don’t really know Jessica. Underneath that I’m-above-you-attitude of hers, she might be a really cool person.” I’m babbling. Max is staring at me again. I take a deep breath. “ Look, Max, I know you want advice on what to do here but I really am not the right person to give it to you. I mean, I’ve never even had a serious thing with anyone before. All I can say is… do what you think is right for YOU. Not for anybody else okay? If Izzy can’t stand her, if Michael thinks you’re a lunatic it won’t matter if she makes you happy.”

I could have told him that he shouldn’t do it. That I agree wholeheartedly with Michael and Isabel. But that would be like, I don’t know, giving out biased advice or something. And it wouldn’t be because I don’t like Jessica. It would be because of all these feelings I have for Max. And if she does make him happy, well, that’s good. Max deserves to be happy. His face has fallen. I frown at this. Did I say something wrong? Probably. But that’s as close as I’m getting to the topic with completely breaking down.

“ Max?”

He looks up, kinda sad. I frown in concern. He looks lost.

“ What’s wrong?”

He opens his mouth, looking like he’s on the verge of revealing forbidden information or a really big secret but then he shuts his mouth, clearly deciding against it. He looks away, obviously taking a minute to compose himself. When he finally faces me again, he’s smiling.

“ Nothing. Nothing’s wrong. Okay. So… will you help me?”

I really don’t want to. But maybe this is for the best. Maybe in doing this, I’ll be able to get rid of all these feelings I’m having. So I nod, smirking to cover my grimace.

“ You got yourself a cupid, Maxwell.”

He smiles slowly in that heart breakingly gorgeous way of his. I want to hurl myself on the floor and pound my fists on the ground, cursing the unfairness of it all. I swallow.

“ Now where’s that pizza?”

I’m so lame.

[center]*************************************[/center]

So today, I’m here. Today is the day after our pizza eating whatever. Here is inside the fourth floor bathroom, the most isolated and secluded one, the one that the rest of the school knows is practically Jessica’s private boudoir. Would you believe she actually gets some students who have free periods to guard her bathroom? Even I could never sink as low as guarding a BATHROOM for someone. Not just anybody is allowed in here. How I managed to get in is a wonder in itself as it’s a known fact that Jessica and I can barely stand each other.

But of course, I’m not just chopped liver in this school.

One, I’m pretty likeable. Hey, that’s the only reason I can come up with for why I was voted homecoming queen in junior high, so don’t knock it. I think this is about the time Jessica started displaying animosity towards me. I beat her out for the so-called privilege. I really don’t even know what she was so pissed about. I mean all I got was a fake crown and scepter and had to endure several hours of torture while everyone stared at me. True, Max was there as King to help me through but… I’m getting distracted. Where was I? Oh right…

Two, I’m a member of a band that was formed by my other best bud, Alex Whitman, and is pretty popular in school. I play the drums and I’m pretty damn good if I do say so myself. Yes, I know it may sound conceited but it’s the truth. The other members are Alex himself, he plays the bass guitars and co-writes the songs with Maria DeLuca, my best friend, who’s our lead singer. Then there’s Michael Guerin, he plays the acoustic guitars.

Three, I hang out with what people term the ‘elite’ group, mainly:

Isabel, certifiable hottie by male standards, Alex’s girlfriend, a volunteer at the Roswell homeless shelter, prominent member of the student’s council and organizer of the annual Roswell Christmas pageant. She may have that Ice Queen thing down pat but beneath all that beats a heart of gold. And before I forget, I might add that the girl is one bad ass woman in the kitchen! Her chocolate cream pies are heavenly! And then there are her low fat smoothies…

There’s Michael, school rebel, eye candy to the masses, Max’s best friend, Maria’s boyfriend, plays the part of the eccentric artist and part time worker in the UFO museum. He has this totally raging motorcycle (the one I adore) that he keeps promising to let me ride so I can learn but I know hell would freeze over first. He might come off as all badass, but inside, Michael’s a big softie.

Alex, class clown, computer junkie, extremely talented bassist, dodge ball champion and a gym coach’s worst nightmare. Best guy friend a girl could ever have. And one day, he’ll be the King of the Computer Software industry. I swear on this. No, really, I do. The programs he designs? Phenomenal. No other word to describe them. And when he does conquer the software world, you can kiss Bill Gates goodbye.


Maria, free spirit, waitress, gifted singer, avid ‘save the earth’ campaigner and president of the junior class. Bestest girlfriend in the world. Everyone’s favorite sweetheart. A couple of years from now, the name ‘Maria DeLuca’ will be a household name. The girl has the most amazing voice I’ve ever heard.

Then there’s Max. Certifiable hottie by female standards, captain of the basketball team, co-captain of the track team, works the grill at the CrashDown and owner of the meanest lay up I have ever seen. I could go on and on about how he’s the greatest guy ever. He’s the guy who’ll add an extra burger to an order if I’m late delivering it so the customer won’t give me grief. He’s the guy who’ll give anyone a nice smile even though he’s had a shitty day. He’s the guy who’ll spend the whole day looking for just the gift his mother/father/sister/friend has been longing for. He’s the one who doesn’t mind you coming to his window in the middle of the night cause you needed a friend. He’s the type of guy to tell the senior guys to leave the freshmen alone. He…well, you get my drift, right?

And then there’s me. I’m no one special. I’m just plain old Liz Parker, honor student, drummer, waitress, track team member and… orphan. Yeah. My parents died in a car crash when I was six. I cried for days, weeks, I don’t even remember. And then I went numb. I just kinda began to forget what they looked like and that made me infinitely sad. Alex and Maria slept over at my Aunt and Uncle’s for however long I cried so I wouldn’t be alone. I owe them. I… I don’t think we should get into this right now.

So that’s it. That’s the group. No, we are not snobby, no we do not think we’re better than everyone else. We’re just… looked up to for some reason.

Four, and this is what got me in here today, (well, this and my disarming charms) everyone knows I’m the girl who’s not his sister and who doesn’t have a boyfriend that Max Evans hangs out with the most.

It was laughably easy. First off, it was only frosh on duty and they scampered once Liz Parker told them she needed to get in. I simply told them I needed to talk to Jessica about Max and they bolted, clearly off to report to her and spread the rumor that Liz Parker was going to fight Jessica Thorne over Max. I smirk. More power to them. I glance at my watch. I hear footsteps outside the door.

Three.

Two.

One.

Jessica Thorne waltzes in.

Let Cupid duty begin!

Blond hair perfectly smoothed in place, makeup blended perfectly across her skin, Jessica’s dressed in a black tube top and baby blue flared pants that match her eye color. She’s wearing a pair of ridiculously high heels that add to her already considerable height and standing there with her arms crossed looking ready for war. I hop off the counter and walk until I’m face to face with her. Okay, so the girl is a little taller than me but thanks to my own very chunky wedge mules, I manage to meet her eye to eye. I glance at our reflections out of the corner of my eye and come up with this not so startling revelation: We couldn’t look more opposite if we tried.

Jessica’s hair is swept up faultlessly while my mane of unruly hair is streaming down my shoulders. I gave up trying to tame it into a ponytail an hour ago. While Jessica is immaculately dressed and looks like she just walked off the cover of Seventeen, I look like the poster girl for the alternative rock festival. White, mid riff bearing tank top, beige cargoes which fit me to a T and thick soled wedge mules. Her makeup is artistically applied while I have yet to move past the ‘lip-gloss-and-tiniest-bit-of-blush’ stage and rid myself of the notion that mascara brushes are evil. Her accessories include a silver necklace and matching bracelet, while what I have is a leather choker that looks like it’s made out of bones and a fake tattoo of a rose on my arm, one that Max insisted on sticking on me.

Yep.

Polar opposites.

Her mightiness lifts a sculptured blonde eyebrow and gazes at me with the look that makes her subjects tremble. Unfortunately for her, I am not a subject and trembling is the LAST thing I shall ever do. I smirk. This infuriates her. She opens her mouth.

“ What is it that you want?”

I roll my eyes. Of course. Jessica must employ perfect grammar with a hint of an accent at all times. Another one of her ‘intimidation’ tactics. Yeah right.

“ Jessie, could you not sound like a candidate for an English teacher for a while?”

The blue eyes flash. I throw her a cocky grin.

“ And just so you know, the accent thing? Way off.”

“ What d’you want Parker?” She snaps, all pretense of being proper forgotten. “ And haven’t I told you enough times to stop calling me JESSIE?” I smile. I have a talent for getting under Jessica’s skin. I could shoot barbs at her all day… but right now I’m on cupid duty so…okay. Maybe one last comment, I am only human after all…

“ ‘Parker’? What, you’re calling me by my last name now? We used to be so CLOSE! I’m hurt. And as for the Jessie thing, I like it. So I’m not going to stop.”

She glares at me. “ Is this about Max or not?”

Ah. Knew we were getting there sooner or later. I eye her carefully. She’s practically bouncing on her heels.

“ Yep.”

A huge smile breaks out over her face, and she actually begins hopping up and down. I stare incredulously.

Oh boy.

“ Well?” she asks impatiently, though her tone is a lot better. “ What does he want?”

I’m tempted to make something up but I just cannot deal. I simply reach into my pocket and pull out an envelope and present it to her with a flourish plus my usual sarcastic smile.

“ He wanted me to give you something.”

Trust Max to think of this. Asking a girl out through a letter? I don’t know if he’s just old fashioned, or trying to be original or…romantic.

I don’t have time to dwell on this last word because she snatches it from me and tears it open and pulls the letter out in a matter of seconds. She begins to read and then glances up at me.

“ This is sort of private.”

Hmm. Snotty voice is back.

I smile blandly, refusing to look at the letter.

“ I know. Which is why I chose to give it to you in here. I’m supposed to stay and monitor your reaction and ferry your reply back to him.”

She narrows her eyes.

“ What if you don’t tell him my real reaction or what I really said?”

“ You mean lie?” I raise a hand to my chest. “ Now you’re really hurting me.”

“ Why did he send you in the first place?” She asks imperiously.

“ Well, we’ve only been close friends for four years so gee, I’m as lost as you are.”

She doesn’t look convinced but instead looks mad. Deep breath. I can do this.

“ Look, I know you don’t trust me but Max does, with his life just like I trust him with my life. I would never lie about something this I-important to him.”

Okay so I stuttered a little. And I’m not sure just how important this is to Max… And she’s still not convinced. I’m getting angry. I poured out info about my and Max’s friendship in front of HER of all people and,,, and.. this is so not fun. What on earth possessed me to tell him he had a cupid? I frown.

“ Fine. I’m leaving.”

I’ve taken two steps before she calls out.

“ Wait!”

I turn around. She doesn’t look too happy, obviously still mad that Max sent me. But she schools her face into a semi-smile anyway.

“ Okay.” She sits down on the counter and begins to read. I see this and feel like… hell.

“ Yeah, make it quick, alright? I’ve got a class.”

This, of course, is bogus. I have a free period but I need some time to recover before I go to Max and report everything. I try very hard to not look at Jessica but this isn’t possible with her going, ‘aww’ ‘how sweet’ and ‘gasp’ every few minutes. I don’t blame her. That letter is a work of art. I would know. I helped write it.

I’m starting to feel a little sick. Everything I contributed to that letter is what I would like to say to Max but am too chicken shit to. I put part of ME into that letter. And everything he wrote was so…beautiful. It’s not hard to see why Jessica is so blown away by it.

I was.

Does he really feel that way about her? Did he mean everything he wrote? Cause if he did…

Sick feeling is intensifying now. Why did I agree to do this? Something about friendship, loyalty, doing a friend a favor… and the whole situation of watching him go after someone else helping to cure myself of these ridiculous feelings. Yeah. That about did it. Okay. Now I am going to just sit here and stare into space.

And I do. The next thing I know, Jessica is poking me in the arm. I blink and scowl at her.

“ Back off your majesty or you’ll be missing a finger,” I growl. She takes a step back, looking a little scared. I push off the counter against which I was leaning against and say, “ Why didn’t you just call me instead of doing the poking?”

“ You looked zoned out. I doubted it would do much good.”

I shake my head. She’s doing the English teacher impression again. I clear my throat.

“ All done?”

She looks over the back of the letter, where, I guess, she’s put her reply. She beams at the paper and then at me.

“ Yes.” Looking hesitant, perhaps under the influence of my finger removal threat, she says, with a light trace of a frown, “ You won’t read it will you?”

My turn to raise a brow.

“ No, I won’t. It’s for old Maxwell to read, not me.” I say, using Michael’s nickname for him in a desperate attempt to remind myself that we’re just buds.

She relaxes and flips over the paper, looking over Max’s side of it.

“ It’s a bit old fashioned,” She says, frowning a little.

Rolling my eyes here. Trust Miss. Trendy to look on the negative side.

“ But it’s really original too.”

Or not. I blink at her. She doesn’t notice but continues perusing the letter.

“ But you want to know what’s weird?”

That Max is even asking you in the first place? But of course, I don’t say this. What’s the point?

“ What?” I ask dully, sitting at the counter.

“ It’s almost like it was written by two different people,” She says, looking up at me. I choke but she’s already looking at the letter again. Does she know?

“ Um, w-what do you mean?”

“ Well, it’s as if they were having a conversation of some sort without even realizing it. You know, two parts of a puzzle they don’t even know they were putting together.”

My mouth drops open in shock. Partly because, I find it hard to believe that we had a conversation without insulting each other for a few minutes and because I can’t believe Jessica Thorne really was saying all that. She looks up at me and sees my shocked look. She realizes she’s said too much. She clams up immediately and glares at me, lips pursed as if saying I better not tell anyone about her dishing out pearls of wisdom or this newfound perceptivity. She doesn’t have to worry. I can’t believe it myself and even if I did blab, I don’t think they’d believe me either. She begins folding up the letter and hands it to me.

“ You better not open that.” Back to her dismissive tone of voice, like I’m wasting her time.

I have recovered enough to reply.

“ No worries, Jessie. I have no intention of doing that.” Cocky grin back in place, weird moment over. I salute her and walk out. “You have a nice day.”

I hear her infuriated little gasp and I smile to myself. Even being nice, I manage to annoy people. Hey, when you got it, flaunt it, baby.

And I have a hell of a talent of annoying people.

But we’re not going into that.

Oh no. Right now, I want to find a nice deserted classroom and remind myself of all the reasons I’m doing this. Cause if I don’t, I may just scream. And it certainly won’t be pretty.


***************************************************

There he is.

Correction, there they are.

My best friends. It’s lunchtime now and they’re sitting at our usual table.

Maria, Alex, Isabel, Michael and of course, HIM.

See, during my long talk with myself, I’ve decided that saying his name only reinforces this hold he has over me. So now, he’s just…HIM.

I arrange a nice, bright smile onto my face before I march over there, but rather unfortunately, this is the precise moment that he catches sight of me. He frowns the minute he sees my smile. Hmmph. Should’ve known that wouldn’t fool him. Maria looks over her shoulder at me and ends up frowning too. Alex follows suite. Then Isabel. Then Michael. And there I am, bright, happy smile over my face while my whole group of friends are frowning at me. Some of them look worried, others puzzled, others disapproving. And…I’m still smiling.

Oh well.

I put on my usual indifferent face and trudge over there, and as soon as I reach the table, Maria and Alex clear a space for me in between them, directly opposite him. I smile.

“ Thanks.”

I slide into the seat and remove my lunch, painfully aware but pretending that I’m not of the strained silence. I open my pack of spicy cheese chilli nachos and begin munching, looking around at my friends. They’re all looking back at me.

“ What?”

Isabel is frowning heavily. Michael looks confused. Maria looks like she’s going to blow a gasket and Alex looks worried. HE looks… apprehensive?

Oh. I get it. He’s worried about Jessica’s reaction. I chew some more, waiting for the impending explosion. And it comes.

“ WELL?” Maria demands, staring hard at me.

I blink at her.

“ Well what?”

“ Liz, what happened in there?” Isabel asks, leaning forward.

“ Yeah, we heard you and Jessica had a smack down in the bathroom,” Alex adds.

“ Did you use that right hook I showed you, Liz?” Michael says eagerly. Everyone looks at him, me included. “What?”

“ What happened Liz? What did she say?”

This is HIM talking. I swivel around from Michael to face him. I frown. We agreed yesterday that my role as Cupid would stay between the two of us for now. He shrugs sheepishly, reading my frown correctly.

“ Izzy and Maria beat it out of me right after they saw Jessica go into the bathroom.” He explains.

Smile.

“ Ah.”

Maria huffs. “ ‘Ah’? That’s it? ‘Ah’? Liz, babe, we want details!”

“ Yes Liz,” It’s Isabel talking now, she does not look pleased. “ We want to know. We HAVE to know.”

I shrug nonchalantly. Like it’s no big deal. “ What can I say? Mission accomplished. The objective was achieved.” I grin. “I come bearing gifts.”

I offer out the folded letter to Max. Everyone just stares at me, then at it. Not him. His head whipped up to meet my gaze at the words, ‘Mission accomplished’ and for a second there, I could have sworn I saw a glimmer of horror in his eyes. He stares at me, and keeps on staring at me. Soon, our friends notice but don’t say a word. I raise an eyebrow at him. He blinks and reaches out and takes the letter, unfolding it and taking a long time in reading it. We’re all quiet.

And then, without looking up from the letter…

“ She says yes.”

Yep.

That’s HIM.

And this is us…excluding me. I resume munching as everyone around us explodes.

“ WHAT?” Isabel shrieks.

“ Max! She’s a witch!” Maria hollers.

“ She’ll make you her slave, dude, you are so dead!” That’s Alex.

“ You seriously ASKED her?” and that’s Michael, looking incredulous.

Me: Munching, munching, munching.

Um, did I mention that we aren’t really Jessie’s biggest fans? It’s the way she treats people you see. She’s a cheerleader and she and most of the squad, along with the most of the jocks treat the kids who actually dare to be super intelligent or quiet or just be themselves, like dirt. And that is just not cool.

Maria turns to me now, her blue-green eyes flashing. I shift my gaze from her and over to Alex. He’s gaping at me too. Isabel’s STILL frowning and Michael looks totally exasperated but thank goodness, he’s staring at HIM and not me.

Good.

Wait.

Now he’s turned to me and staring in the exact same way he was staring at HIM.

Oh hell.

I sense another explosion.

And, as always, they don’t disappoint.

“ Lizzie, how could you even consider DOING this?” Maria yells.

“ I know you can’t stand her Liz, why DID you do it?” Isabel looks very confused now.

“ Are you sure you’re okay, Liz?” Alex asks. I blink at him, nodding and still munching. Of course I’m OK. Why wouldn’t I be?

“ This is so whacked.” Michael proclaims. He glances at HIM, who’s still engrossed in the letter. Michael frowns and then looks at me. “ Liz,”

I glance at Michael.

“ the only reason Max is doing this is because-”

Did I miss something? Why is Michael explaining Max’s actions to ME of all people? Unfortunately or fortunately, if you look at it from another perspective, someone goes,

“ Michael!”

That was him. I stare. He never yells. He’s scowling at Michael right now and then he scowls at everyone else. When his eyes meet mine, the scowl fades and his face becomes contrite and he begins to speak, still maintaining eye contact. It’s like he’s trying to tell me something with his eyes. I just can’t figure out what. Maybe that he doesn’t REALLY want to go through with this?

“ Guys, I appreciate that you’re voicing your opinions and everything but I don’t want to hear it. I…” He pauses, swallows and looks away from me. “ I really want to be with Jessica.”

Hmm.

So much for that theory.

Now I REALLY want to hurl myself to the floor and pound my fists, cursing the colossal unfairness of it all. I don’t, of course, do this but you already knew that, right? Instead, I crumple up my now empty nacho packet, lob it over the top of Alex’s head into the trash can, wipe my hands and mouth on a napkin and take a swig of my mineral water. It is at this point that I see everyone apart from HIM is staring at me. I rest my chin in my hand and grin at him.

“ Good for you, Max.”

There is a shocked silence. HE and everyone else stare at me disbelievingly and I look around at them.

“ What?”

I mean, what else did they expect? I am not going to start sobbing here, no, uh uh, I refuse to do it. So I’m doing this instead. Being the supportive friend AND cupid I am.

Isabel drops her head into her hands and groans. Maria has crossed her arms over her chest and is looking away from Max, staring almost accusingly at me. Alex looks bummed out and Michael looks mutinous.

“ Bullsh*t, Maxwell.” Michael lashes out. “ What about all that stuff you told me about-”

“ Michael!” HE interrupts again. He looks frustrated.

“ Maxwell,” Michael begins again, looking at me again first and looking as frustrated as HE does. HE… oh who am I kidding? This HE and HIM stuff is doing nothing but confusing me. MAX jumps up and shoves the letter into his pocket.

“ I’m leaving.”

And he does too. He takes two steps away from the table… and then he turns back.

“ Liz is leaving too.” He announces.

“ I am?” I blurt out.

“ You are.”

He runs around the table, grabbing my hand and all but yanking me up from the table too, snatching my backpack. He begins pulling me away from the stunned group.

I’m very confused. What the hell is he doing?

“ Max!” I yell, but we’re already about halfway out of the quad going God knows where. “ Max, where are we going? Max!”

People are gaping at us, including a very not pleased looking Jessica.

I could care less.

He drags me all the way down to the football field, and right up to the very top of the bleachers. I’m breathing hard by the time we eventually stop. You’d think that being on the track team I wouldn’t be so out of breath but when you’re being dragged along, you don’t really have much of a chance to work on your form, you know. I plop down and glare up at him.

“ Now that you’re through dragging me around like a lifeless bundle,”

He looks sheepish and sits down next to me. I blow a strand of hair out of my face and continue.

“ Would you mind telling me what exactly it is we’re doing here?”

“ I need to know what happened in there.” He says seriously.

Oh yeah. Go ahead. Torture me some more, why don’t ya? I put on my happy smile and don the cupid cloak.

“ Um, let’s see. There was no carnage, no verbal battles, I was VERY nice to her and for a bonus, she’s still alive! How nice of me was that?”

I glance at him. Max looks tense, he’s grinding his jaw slightly like he does when he’s thinking hard.

“ Liz,” He begins.

I sigh.

“ Okay, I’ll be serious. She was over the moon. She loved the letter. Adored it. Was blown away by it.”

My throat kinda wants to stop working now, so I shut up. I try desperately to think of another topic but wouldn’t you know it, guess what I say:

“ So what did she write?”

GAH. And what’s worse, it comes out all eager and happy like.

He doesn’t respond. He simply hands the letter to me and I unfold it quickly, ignoring Max’s side. My eyes widen when I look at Jessica’s reply.

It’s really simple. Just one humungous YES!!!! Surrounded by hearts. I frown at him.

“ It took you ten minutes to read that?”

Max sighs and leans back, staring at the sky.

“ Guess everyone’s really… not happy about this, huh?”

I lean back too, and nod ruefully.

“ That would be an understatement, Max. They’re more…how do I put it. Oh yes. Shocked, horrified, appalled, sickened, dis-“

“ Okay! I get the point!”

I cringe. Did he pick up how I really feel about this? I look at him, prepared to take the glare he so obviously MUST be sending my way but lo and behold, he’s not. He doesn’t even look mad.

Instead, he sighs again. After a lengthy pause, he says,

“ What about you?”

I press my lips together, determined not to answer. People get away with not answering questions by simply keeping quiet, right? So I won’t do it. I won’t. As I war with myself, Max begins to move and before I know it, he’s kneeling on the bleacher below me, gazing up at me with those expressive eyes of his.

“ Liz?” He whispers softly.

I have died and gone to heaven.

The way he said my name…

I close my eyes, memorizing sound. When I open them again, he’s still there, and he’s… holding my hands in his?

I stare at our entwined hands were they’re lying on my lap. God, what is he doing to me?

“ What about you?” He asks again.

“ I…”

I have no idea what I want to say. None at all. So I just open my mouth and let the words spill forth, hoping against hope, that somehow, I’ll find a way to prevent sticking my foot in it.

“ I want you to be happy, Max.”

Okay. This is true. What now?

“ And if you really want to be with Jessica,” I swallow. This is so hard. “ Then… I’m happy for you.” I look him straight in the eye and smile although I really just want to cry at this moment. “ So what’s the plan?”

“ Liz…”

He just stares at me for the longest time and I can’t take it. I look down at our hands again and I realize how utterly wrong it is. Here I am, telling him I’m happy he’s going after someone else while enjoying the fact that he’s holding my hands. Not that it hasn’t happened before but that was different. That was before I started having these ‘feelings’. So I do the right thing. I pull my hands away.

Nothing happens for a while. I continue to stare at his hands and then I hear him exhale slowly and he stands up. When I look up, he’s smiling. I crack a grin. He offers me his hand and hauls me up so that we’re standing eye to eye.

“ I think,” He says, “ It’s time for the wine and dine stage.”

Grin some more, Liz.

Bring on hell.

[center]***************************************[/center]

“ Yo! Jose! Where’s that Will Smith?”

Damn. I just had to come in when Maria’s on her shift. I try to inconspicuously back out of the Café without attracting her attention but luck really hasn’t been on my side these days. She zeroes in on me and marches right over, Will Smith burger forgotten.

“ Dina!” She yells, calling for Dina Adams, our fellow waitress and a frosh from school, one who worships the ground Max walks on and since Maria and I are in his presence so much, she worships us too.

“ Yeah?”

She sticks her head out of the kitchens, sees me and waves enthusiastically.

“ Hi Liz! Heard about-“

“ Dina could you do me a favour and cover my tables for me?” Maria interrupts, still advancing on me.

“ Oh, sure!”

Maria’s reached me by now. She stands there, hands on her hips, foot tapping impatiently.

“ Well?”

“ Well what?”

I blink, feeling a sense of déjà vu.

“ Haven’t we already had this conversation?” I ask frowning slightly.

Maria rolls her eyes and grabs my hand, dragging me to the back room and towards the stairs to the apartment. I sigh, and let myself get dragged for the second time in a day.

She pauses at the door and waits for me to unlock the door it, which I do, though reluctantly. She opens it and marches right in, sitting me down on the couch. I gaze up at her. She has her no bullsh*t expression on her face, the one she wears when she’s making the speech that could tip the votes in her favour. I’m in for one hell of talking to.

I can tell.

“ Maria? What’s up?” I ask innocently.

The blue-green eyes flash and she crosses her arms over her chest.

“ Alright, Lizzie, spill!”

“ Spill what?”

Maria groans and flops onto the couch next to me, pursing her lips.

“ Chica, you know I can tell when something’s up with you. I mean, we’ve been best friends since we were five! What’s wrong?”

“ Nothing’s wrong.” I hope I’m just imagining that hurt look on Maria’s face. In case it is really there, though, I say, “ Well, ‘wrong’ isn’t really the word I’d use.”

“ Then what word would you use, Liz?”

I don’t say a thing. I’m thinking that now would be a good time to mention that no one knows about my little, um, situation, with Max. Yes, not even Maria and Alex know. And I know that they’ve been feeling kind of upset that I haven’t told them what’s been bothering me. How could I have explained something that I really didn’t even understand myself? Something that I hadn’t even truly acknowledged until a week ago at most? I look at Maria to see her watching me carefully. I grin apologetically.

“ Look, don’t worry about me, Maria, It’s nothing, really.”

She frowns. “ If it’s nothing, then why won’t you tell me about it?”

This time I’m NOT imagining things.

She IS hurt.

I bite my lip. If I’m honest with myself, I know that if any of my friends, especially Maria and Alex, were keeping something from me, I would be hurt too. I’m feeling guilty already.

“ Because… because, it’s really no big deal. It’s actually kind of stupid, even.” I fudge, hoping to get her off my back.

It doesn’t work.

A stubborn look comes onto Maria’s face, one I recognize well. Sometimes, she can be like a dog with a bone. When she latches onto something, she’ll hold on for dear life.

“ Let’s hear it, then. I could use a good laugh, especially after the whole Max and Jessica thing.” She declares while shuddering slightly.

In spite of myself, I start feeling a little sick once more. But I do have a damn good reason and it comes from the fact that I just came off from Cupid duty. Right after school, Max and I headed over to Senor Chows, to brainstorm. He hasn’t even asked Jessica out on a date officially yet and we’re already setting the scene. Talk about planning.

Anyway, some of my thoughts must’ve been reflected on my face because Maria narrows her eyes.

“ That’s it, isn’t it? It’s the whole Max and Jessica thing. It bothers you too.”

I shake my head quickly.

“ Course it doesn’t. Why would I have agreed to playing matchmaker if it bothered me?”

“ Yes, exactly!” Maria bursts out in exasperation. “ Why would you? Are you going to tell me or am I going to have badger it out of you?”

I flinch. My choices suck. On one hand, telling Maria would be a relief cause I’d finally rid myself of this guilty feeling and maybe she could help me find another way to get through this. But if I DO tell her, she’ll freak.

Maria, for your 411, has been trying to get Max and me together for years. She’s constantly sighing about what a wonderful couple we make. And if she knows about this, she’ll drop all sorts of suggestive hints all over the place. Wear her eye out by winking at me. Bruise my ribs by nudging them. Probably ship Jessie off to Siberia so she won’t be in the way. I can just imagine the torture.

Well, the last one does have it’s attractions…

But it’s not like I’m not being tortured now, right? And if Maria starts ‘badgering’ me as she so nicely put it, that torture will increase ten fold. I wonder if I can handle that. Who am I kidding, I can barely handle all the pressures that come with this job I’ve agreed to.

But, I’m sucker for punishment. I try for one last-ditch attempt.

“ There’s nothing to badger out me of me. I’m telling you, Maria, it’s no biggie. Now can you please drop it?” I snap.

Ouch. I did not mean to be so… frigid. I swear, I didn’t. This thing with Max is screwing me up, it really is.

She just stares at me for the longest time that hurt look back on her face. I look away uncomfortably. I hate being the cause of my friend’s pain. I’m just about to apologize when she says,

“ O-okay then.”

Was that a wobble I heard in Maria’s voice? But…but she never gets those, unless…I glance up at her and my heart sinks.

Oh no.

Maria’s lip is trembling.

“ Don’t cry,” I beg.

Her large eyes fill with tears.

No, no, no, no! If there’s one weakness I have, it’s my huge guilt complex. And Maria knows just how exactly to bring it on. See, I’m generally a very unflappable person but tears, I just cannot cope with. I have absolutely no idea how to comfort someone who’s crying, I never have. The sight of them is enough to make me become unhinged. Maria knows this too. And she uses it to devastating effect.

It’s official.

I’m sunk.

“ I just… I just thought that y-you could tell me anything cause I’m your b-best friend. Cause you t-trust me,” Maria hiccups, looking completely destroyed. The thought crosses my mind that those might be crocodile tears but as a fresh wave makes an appearance, this thought is quickly overshadowed as I try to prepare myself for a tsunami.

Here it comes. Buckets and buckets of guilt, as if I wasn’t already feeling guilty.

I hate feeling guilty as much as I hate causing my friends pain.

“ Maria, I trust you, you know I do!” I say desperately. I look on in horror as one tear drops onto her face. She swipes it away. Another one follows.

“ Maria, please! Don’t.” I plead.

Tears are streaming faster down her face now.

Damn it to hell!

I look frantically around for the tissue box that usually sits on the coffee table. I see it on the easy chair and realize Aunt Nancy’s been watching soaps again. I grab the tissues and hold a wad out to Maria. She grabs one and blows her nose loudly.

“ I’m s-sorry I bothered you. I’ll just go…”

I sit in helplessness as she stands up and heads for the door. Ohh, guilt, guilt, go AWAY.

She’s almost at the door.

“ Maria!” I call after her, my voice sounding strangled. “ Wait!”

She stops but doesn’t turn around.

“ I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately, I’m just… come back, please? I’ll tell you everything.”

She turns around.

“ E-everything?” she repeats, her voice still wobbling slightly. She’s twisting the tissue around in her hands.

“ Well,” I begin.

The idea of me admitting that I’m crazy, head over heels for Max is embarrassing, even if it is to Maria. I could barely admit it to myself without blushing till a few days ago. What’s worse is that I’m always proclaiming that I don’t need anyone in the romance department, that I’ll be single and happy till I die. HOW,how am I supposed to do this?

“ Um, maybe just the major stuff-”

This is not the right thing to say. Maria’s bottom lip begins to tremble once more and her eyes fill up again. I hold my hands out as if this will stop her tears.

“ Okay, okay! Everything! I’ll tell you everything, alright?”

“ You promise?” She sniffs.

I bite my lip. She draws in a deep breath and looks prepared to start BAWLING. I step forward.

“Yes! Yes, I promise! Can you… can you… stop crying now? Please?”

This seems to satisfy her. The tears magically disappear, a bright smile appears on her face and she runs over and hugs me, squealing. I hug her back, sighing in part relief and part resignation.

How does she DO this to me? How does EVERYONE manage to do this to me? They all have their little guilt inducing tricks to use on me. How did they all find out about my issues with my tremendous guilt complex anyway? I’m sure I never told them.

She pulls back.

“ So. What’s up?”

Was this the girl who could barely talk straight a few seconds ago? My, that was fast.

“ What about your shift?” I say, trying to buy just a smidge more time.

Maria waves a hand carelessly through the air. “Dina and Sharon will handle it. We don’t have much of a crowd anyway.” She heads to the fridge, looking for the ice cream. “ Now tell me.”

I sigh. There’s just no avoiding this. “ I have to call Alex first, and tell him to come over. ”

If I’m going to spill, I should at least do it when he’s present so I don’t have to tell the whole thing twice.

“ No need,” Maria says, bringing the ice cream and three bowls and spoons over to the kitchen table. “I told him to be here by five. I said I’d have beaten it out of you then.”

I groan.

“ You were planning this all along?”

Maria grins mischievously.

“ Uh huh.”

Why am I not surprised?

“ You’re evil. You know that? Pure evil. How can you even call yourself my best friend?”

Maria shakes her head at me as she scoops liberal portions of the Vanilla flavored ice cream into the bowls.

“ Not working, hon. Lizzie, I’m sorry to say, your skills in the guilt department need serious working on. Besides, it’s BECAUSE I’m your best friend that I did it.”

“ And you figured this out how?”

“ You’ve got a secret, Chica. And it’s eating you alive. We’ve all seen it.”

This grabs my attention. What does she mean ‘we’ve all seen it’? Surely, surely, I haven’t been that obvious? Hell, I wasn’t even obvious to myself!

“ What do you mean ‘we’ve all seen it’? We who?”

I try very hard to keep my tone of voice as politely inquiring as possible. Maria continues measuring out ice cream. I eye the growing mound apprehensively. I like ice cream, but two feasts of the stuff in a row isn’t going to do much for my figure.

“ We, as in, me, Alex, Izzy and Michael.”

She finally stops scooping and begins flitting around, grabbing whipped cream from the fridge, a jar of walnuts and a nut cracker from a shelf, chocolate sauce and a pack of wafers, setting them down on the table.

Why do I get the feeling this is going to be a LONG talk?

“ And what have you guys supposedly seen?”

Maria looks up at me and I look back, keeping my expression as innocently curious as I can. She opens the jar and scoops out several walnuts, beginning to crack them quickly and efficiently, sprinkling the finished nuts onto the ice cream and throwing the shells into the bin. I’m beginning to get dizzy watching her. She’s definitely on a roll.

“ There’s nothing supposed about it, Lizzie. You and Max have been acting weird for weeks.”

I open my mouth to deny this when the doorbell rings. I glance at the kitchen clock.

Five o clock exactly.

“ That’s Alex.” Maria says, now dousing the ice cream with chocolate sauce.

“ Hold the whipped cream on mine!” I call back as I run to open the door.

Yep.

It’s Alex.

“ Hey Liz,” He greets, looking slightly uncomfortable, craning his head around me, obviously looking for Maria. “How’s it going?”

I cross my arms over my chest, scowling slightly. Alex steps back. See? I’m scary when I want to be.

“ Alex.” I nod curtly. “ If you were going to ambush me, you could have at least started out with a better line than that.”

His eyes widen and then he grins.

“ Did it work?”

I sigh.

“ Yes, unfortunately.”

Relief spreads over his face. “ You mean she’s done it? You’re going to talk?”

“ In a manner of speaking.” I say, dropping the scowl and smiling, waving him in. He makes himself comfortable on the couch.

“ You don’t know how relieved I am to hear you say that,” He declares, propping his feet up on the coffee table.

I sit down next to him and prop my feet up too. Maria’s still rattling away in the kitchen.

“ How come?”

“ Because,” Alex begins, grimacing, “ She told me that if she hadn’t broken you down by the time I got here, I would have to cry too.”

I shake my head and shoot a maddened look in Maria’s general direction.

“ God, how long did she spend planning this?” I fume.

Alex shrugs and flips on the TV, grinning at me.

“ Oh, since Max dragged you off at lunch. Hey DeLuca!” He calls. “ Where’s my ice cream?”

“ Hold your horses, Sir runs-at-the-mouth!” Maria calls back. “ It’s coming!”

“ Alex, be serious. Would you have cried?” I tease.

Alex begins stroking his chin pensively.

“ Y’know, I once told Izzy that she was the only girl that I would ever cry for, but for you, Parker, I’ll make an exception. I’ll just have to tell Izzy that she’s the only girl I’ll ever BLEED for, then I’ll be free to cry for you all you want,”

In spite of myself, I laugh. Trust Alex to come up with something like that. It’s just a measure of how totally he cares for Izzy, cause the sight of his blood makes him pass out, no lie. He is definitely the sweetest guy on the planet and I just hope Isabel knows how lucky she is.

“ You are the greatest, Alex.”

He preens a little, giving me his patented double thumbs up sign.

“ I know.”

“ Hey!” Maria yells. “ Aren’t you forgetting someone, Alex?”

Alex shifts in his seat and turns his face to the kitchen, smiling.

“ Don’t worry Ria. I’d cry you a river too. Just give the word.”

Maria chuckles and turns back to the desserts she’s assembling.

“ But you know, Alex, great or not, I’m still disappointed in you.”

He looks bewildered.

“ Why?”

“ Cause this is exactly the type of loony plan I’d expect from Maria, not you.”

“ I heard that!” Comes the resounding yell from the kitchen. “ You better watch it, Lizzie, this is your food I’m handling you know.”

“ The truth hurts Maria.”

Alex sighs besides me and shrugs.

“ What can I say Liz? She roped me into it.”

Maria now comes bustling in from the kitchen, three bowls and a pitcher of sparkling water on the tray. She sets it down on the table and hands me and Alex our bowls, knocking the remote out of Alex’s hand and switching the TV off. Alex frowns in protest.

“ I was watching that!” He tells her.

“ You can watch it later.” Maria sits down next to me, effectively cutting off any escape. “ Okay. Let’s hear it.” She commands.

Alex and I sigh in unison. I glance at him sorrowfully.

“ I don’t blame you,” I say to Alex. “ You realize we never had a chance right?”

I am, of course, referring to Hurricane DeLuca.

Alex nods, patting my hand comfortingly. “ I know. But that’s just the way it is.”

“ Guys!” Maria whines. “ You’re forgetting why we’re here. Liz. Chica. Start talking.”

I take a deep breath and dig into my ice cream. Oh well. At least the food’ll be good.


[center]********************************[/center]

After a good hour or so later, I have discovered that I was completely right about Maria freaking. I seriously think she shattered Aunt Nancy’s best crystal with that shriek. I’ve been fighting the urge to jump up and check ever since I started. My bowl is sitting on the table in front of me. It’s been reduced from a masterpiece to a bowl of ice cream soup with walnuts. soggy wafers and chocolate swirls in it.

Why, you ask?

Well, honestly, once I started and with Maria and Alex interrupting every two sentences, did you really think I’d have time to eat?

I sigh and look sadly at the ice cream, refusing to look at my two best friends.

“ Lizzie,” Maria says, causing me to jump. She’s been silent for almost ten whole minutes, a new record. I cannot wait to tell Michael but I won’t be mentioning the cause. I don’t look at her. I can hear the grin in her voice and it sounds like it’s a mile wide. This is the same grin that has been on her face for the past ten minutes and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

I take a swig of water, my fourth or fifth. I have to keep drinking to bring the temperature of my cheeks down. I think I’ll have that ice cream soup now. I grab my bowl and begin eating, well okay, SIPPING the cool liquid. I know I’m probably as red as a stoplight and I certainly feel that way too. I don’t think I’ve stopped blushing since my admittance of being totally insane for Max…

I feel my cheeks grow even MORE hot and I duck my head. This is the end. Alex hasn’t spoken for even longer than Maria. I think he’s gone into shock, he’s just sitting there looking stunned and a grin starting to break out over his face. I look away. I cannot take more grinning.

“ All I have to say is,” Maria continues, “ it’s about damn time you noticed!”

And I go,

“ HUH?”

Maria gives me a half exasperated half affectionate look.

“ Liz, you must’ve been the only single girl in school who didn’t drool over Max or think he was hot. I have NO idea how you managed to stick your head under the sand for so long and keep seeing him through best bud vision. I mean, Liz, the guy’s a stud! A total hottie! A babe! A-“

“ Maria!” Alex interrupts. “ I think she gets it.”

Oh I get it alright. Complete with accompanying images.

The guy’s a stud: Max in his regular school clothes, a V-neck sweater and jeans looking too damn good to be allowed.

A total hottie: Max in his ‘mechanic’ clothes, a t-shit with cut off sleeves, torn faded jeans, a general coating of grease and a bandana. He’s got the ‘rebel’ look down pat.

A babe: Max in swimming trunks…

My mouth goes dry.

Whoa! Stop right there!

If possible, I go even more red.

Maria giggles. “ I think you’re right. So, the first thing we’re going to do is tell thorn girl to back off-“

“ Wait just one second! ‘We’ are not going to do anything. I need you two to PROMISE me that you will not under any circumstances tell Michael or Isabel about this.”

Maria’s face crumples and Alex scratches his head.

“ What?” I ask.

This does not look good.

“ Well, I kinda told Izzy we’d be getting the truth out of you today and she wants a full report…”

“ And I tell my Michael everything.” Maria announces.

I stare incredulously at her.

“ Since when?”

Maria turns crimson.

“ Since he said that the only way in the universe he would tell me what Max said when he and Izzy interrogate him is going to be under the condition that I tell him what you said when Alex and I interrogate you.”

My eyes actually cross for an instant and Alex covers his face with his hands.

“ God… Maria!” He admonishes. “ She wasn’t supposed to know that!” He frowns. “ Whatever that was,” Alex adds in a mutter.

“ What you made the same deal with Isabel too?” I demand.

Alex turns crimson too.

What is this? The blushers club?

“ Kinda.”

“ Were ALL of you planning this attack on me and Max?”

“ Sorta.” Maria answers.

I groan.

“ Okay, you know what? You’ll probably do it even if I make you promise you won’t so you might as well do it while I’m aware. I just want you to promise me these things: One, Max never knows of this, ever.”

Maria opens her mouth to protest and Alex shakes his head.

“ I mean it,” I say. “ He does not know about this.”

“ But Liz!”

“ Maria, please. And don’t cry, even tears won’t make me budge on this one. Promise!”

“ I don’t think it’s such a good idea,” Alex says.

“Alex, I’m begging.”

I wanted the earth to swallow me whole when I was admitting it to my friends. I’ll probably combust if Max ever knows.

Maria frowns but nods and Alex does the same.

“ Okay. Two, you do nothing to Jessica.”

Maria sits straight. “ Okay, now that is going too far.”

Alex sighs. “ Izzy’s on the verge of tearing her hair out. She doesn’t WANT Jessica as a sister in law.”

“ Guys, Max isn’t going to marry her, okay? For gods sake, we’re only JUNIORS in high school.”

“ But she’s going to be insufferable!” Maria wails. “ Her ego is already too big. It’ll probably increase ten times if she gets Max.”

“ Just don’t do anything okay? Max… really likes her.”

Okay where did THAT come from?

Alex and Maria stare at me in disbelief.

Alex shakes his head. “ Liz, even you don’t believe that.”

“ Well he does, okay?” I insist. He does. I think. “ Anyway she’s done nothing wrong.”

“ Lizzie, everything about her IS wrong! She uses way too much hair dye, that accent thing is terrible, she wears too much make up, she treats people like crap…need I go on?” Maria bursts out, frowning at me. “I don’t understand why you just can’t ditch this match-maker deal and get him for yourself.”

“ Because there is no way Max will ever feel the same way about me!” I retort, voicing my biggest fear. “ He sees me as his best buddy. A pal. Almost like a kid sister. And if he finds out that I like him in a more than friends kind of way, it’ll get all weird. I’m not going to lose a great friendship over some stupid feelings.” I cross my arms over my chest. “ I’m not doing it. The best thing for everyone is for me to get rid of them as quickly as possible and then everything can go back to normal.”

Alex and Maria are both staring at me again. I can practically hear the wheels in their brains turning. I know what they’re thinking.

“ Thirdly, you will not under circumstances try to push me and Max together.”

Maria’s mouth drops open. Alex looks away guiltily.

Ha. I swear, sometimes, I think I’m physic.

“ We weren’t thinking of doing that,” Maria says, trying to look innocent. “ Were we, Alex?”

“ Course not.”

“ Good. Promise?”

I lean over and grab my glass. Out of the corner of my eye, I see both of them tuck a hand behind their backs, obviously crossing their fingers.

“ We promise.” They answer in unison.

Right. And I don’t like Max Evans.

I groan again.

“ Okay, do me a favour, alright? Don’t ever talk to me about this again. Whatever you hear, whatever you’re planning to do, I don’t want to know. I’ll stay sane longer.”

“ But-”

“ Liz-”

“ Guys! I don’t want to know. And no winking, or nudging ribs or hinting.”

I stand.

“ Is this interrogation over?”

Maria and Alex glance at each other.

“ Yes.”

“ Thank god.”

The phone rings. I look at it, knowing who it is and pick it up.

“What’s up Maxwell?”

“ Hey Liz. Did they get you too?”

I glance over my shoulder at Maria and Alex who have somehow managed to creep up behind me, obviously trying to listen in. I shoo them away with my hands and walk to the other side of the room, glaring at them intimidatingly, warning them to stay away.

“ Yep. Maria opened the floodgates from heaven. And I cracked.”

“ You okay?”

He sounds concerned. He knows what tears do to me.

“ I’m okay. How ‘bout you? You okay?”

A sigh of frustration from his end.

“ I’m just…” He trails off. “ I’m fine.” He answers a moment later.

I frown. He does not sound fine.

“ Max? You sure you’re okay? What happened?”

“ Probably the same thing that happened to you. I got roasted. I now have a list of no less than twenty three reasons why I shouldn’t be with Jessica, courtesy of Isabel, a list twenty five from Maria and a life time of scowls from Michael. What’d you get?”

I bite my lip, searching my mind for something that can match the level of torture he seems to have gone through without revealing what had really gone down.

“ A lecture of how I’m leading you straight to the gallows,” I improvise quickly, causing Maria and Alex to exchange matching looks of surprise. “ And promises of dire retribution if I continue. You know, working double shifts every day for a month, courtesy of Maria, doing all Alex’s algebra homework for the rest of the year… they said they’d spill all my deep dark secrets and publish then in the school paper if I didn’t comply.”

“ That does sound bad.” He sighs.

Maria and Alex are flabbergasted, I’m sure I gave them ideas but who cares? No way am I going to embarrass myself MORE than I already have.

“ I’m sorry Liz.”

And he DOES sound sorry. I’m confused.

“ For what Max? You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“ I know… but everyone’s giving you a hard time about…being there for me… and I’m sorry you have to go through that.”

I smile as a rush of affection overwhelms me.

“ Max… it’s okay, really. It’s not your fault.” I reassure him.

I glance up and see Maria and Alex staring right at me. I’m shocked that Maria’s face hasn’t cracked cause that grin…is that even humanly possible? And Alex, dear old Alex is making… are those KISSY faces?

I stare at them in incredulity. Maria starts winking at me (did I not tell her NOT to do that?) and Alex continues his facial contortions.

I glare at them and turn away.

“ I’m apologizing anyway.” He says stubbornly. “ Oh, and I have to warn you. Any time you see Izzy tomorrow, run. Hide. Do anything. Just make sure she doesn’t get her hands on you.”

I smirk. Isabel’s ice princess deal doesn’t bother me but she CAN be a pain in the butt when she wants to be. She’s as bad as Maria sometimes.

“ I could say the same thing to you. Maria’s out for blood.”

Maria rolls her eyes and sticks her tongue out and me. Alex’s face muscles apparently couldn’t keep up with the strain as he’s now massaging his cheek.

“ I’m not looking forward to that,” Max says ruefully. “ How about you and me hide out tomorrow?”

I move a little further away from them, a conspiratorial grin beginning to break out over my face.

“ What? You mean cut class? I would never-“

He laughs disbelievingly and that puts an instant smile on my face. Did I mention I love his laugh?

“ Yeah right Liz. This is Max you’re talking to remember? You can’t fool me.”

I grin too, twirling the cord around my finger. Okay, so maybe I HAVE skipped a few school functions before but I swear, it was never anything important. Just a few seminars about ‘Career Choices’ and speeches on topics like ‘ Time is running out. Are YOU planning your FUTURE?’. Deadly boring.

“ Okay, okay. So I am capable of it. But as appealing as it sounds, we can’t. We have a History test tomorrow, remember?”

“ Oh yeah. I forgot. Is Mrs. Grant still on your case?”

“ That would be a great big yes. I just don’t get the woman. YOU of all people are her favorite student. What does that say about her?”

“ That she has excellent taste?”

“ Try again.”

“ Okay, uncle. What does it say about her?”

“ That she favors you unfairly! You’re a teacher’s pet.”

“ Way mature, Liz. We’re not in third grade anymore you know.”

“ Max, we were never in third grade together,” I remind him.

“ We weren’t? Funny. I’ve got this image of you stuck in my mind…” He clears his throat and after a lengthy silence, says, “ So… are you still going to help me?”

One-track mind.

I let a big smile break out over my face, for Alex and Maria’s benefit though inside, I’m screaming.

“ Course I am,” I reply flippantly. “ What are friends for?”

Ales shakes his head at me and Maria scowls.

Guess she’s getting started on giving me a lifetime of those too.

Oh well.

Life just sucks sometimes.


[center]************************************************[/center]

“ Do you see them?”

“ Max, I can barely breathe with you standing there, let alone see. Move it and I’ll tell you!” I hiss back. This is true. He’s practically draped over my back, fighting to see through the keyhole and it’s driving me crazy. Not to mention the fact that I really can’t breathe too well at the moment anyway cause of the chalk swirling around in the air.

It’s fifth period, and we’re supposed to be in the assembly hall attending yet another ‘productive’ future seminar. We decided to cut and are now being hunted by our friends. So we’ve taken refuge in the one place that is sacred to all students.

“ Achoo!”

“ Liz! Keep it down.”

“ I can’t help it,” I whisper. “ You know I’m allergic to chalk dust. I don’t even know why I agreed to go in here with you in the first place. I hate it here.”

“ That’s exactly why I chose it. They’ll never think of looking for us in here. Now are they there or not? Let me see!”

“ Give me a second. And stop shoving!”

“ Quit being such a baby!”

“ Oh grow up!” I snap.

“ You first.” He retorts, grinning that little grin which says he’s happy he’s annoying me.

I open my mouth to retort but have to turn away at the last moment, not wanting to sneeze right in his face.

Umm… we both drank coffee this morning. Caffeine has this weird effect on Max and I, it reverts our psyches to fifth graders.

I’m guessing you already know where are right?

That’s right.

The eraser room.

And I’m here.

With Max.

Alone.

Half the girls in school would give their eye teeth to be here right now.

“ Are they there?” He whines again.

Although at this moment, as my irritation rises, I wonder why. He shifts closer and I snap. Enough with the front part of his body pressing against my back, already! I can’t take it anymore. I move away abruptly, causing him to stumble but I grab his arm and steady him.

“ Gee thanks,” He says sarcastically.

“ You’re welcome,” I reply in the same tone. “ Since you’re so eager, you check it out.”

He stares at me for a moment and then nods.

“ Better hold your nose.”

I frown at his back but do so anyway, not wanting to give our position away. The Principal promised any students found in here doing more than cleaning erasers two weeks of detention. Not exactly my idea of fun.

“ They’re not there…” He trails off. “ Wait! I see Isabel. And Maria. Oh no…” He backs away and grabs my hand, pulling me to the floor and in a flurry of arms and legs he somehow winds up on top of me.

“ What are you doing?” I ask in shock, my voice coming out all squeaky. Max simply puts his hand over my mouth and as I won’t be able to breath if I keep holding my nose, I release it, hoping I won’t sneeze. I prop myself up on my elbows and as Max half lays over me, I barely even have time to properly freak over THAT when I hear Maria and Izzy arguing.

“ Iz, they’re not going to be in there!” Maria’s protesting. “ Liz hates that place and you know she’s allergic to chalk dust. She kicked Max’s ⊕ss so thoroughly the last time he dragged her in there, I don’t think he wants to risk it again.”

We’re both looking up at their silhouettes against the stained glass pane on the door. Isabel flips her hair over her shoulder.

“ We have to check.”

“ Well I’m not doing it.” The Maria shaped figure crosses her arms over her chest. “ Someone in there might be performing mating rituals.”

“ Fine.” Comes the irritated reply. “ I’ll do it.”

The Isabel size shadow bends over and I suppose she’s looking through the key hole. I wonder what’ll happen if they find us in here, like this. Figures on the one day I actually wear a skirt it rides up to mid thigh when I’m thrown to a floor. Maria’ll probably shriek the school down. Isabel will probably claim she’s gone blind. And I’ll… die of mortification. I feel Max tense in anticipation on top of me.

On…top… of… me.

Um… let’s not go there.

The Isabel shadow straightens up.

“ I don’t see anything.”

“ I don’t hear anything either,” Maria adds. “ Where do you think they could be? The parking lot?”

Isabel sighs. “ We might as well go check. I’m going to kill Max for this, leaving me high and dry without a ride to school, I swear, it’s treason!”

“ Lizzie isn’t going to be let off that easy either,” Maria grumbles. “ I was going to try to talk her into forgetting about this whole absurd notion of hers. How can she possibly consider going through with this, especially after what she told me and Alex yesterday?”

My heart begins to pound erratically. Oh no. Any moment now, Maria’s going to spill about what I said and then, and then… I close my eyes. This is it. Goodbye self respect. Goodbye dignity. Goodbye Max.

I think he feels my heart practically jumping out of my chest because he looks down at me in concern. His eyebrows lift in silent question, worry filling his eyes and I can still hear Izzy and Maria outside the door. I shake my head at him, signaling that I’m just darn peachy. He frowns slightly but nods anyway.

“ Damn, it’s Mrs. Grant,” I hear Isabel whisper to Maria. “ We gotta move!”

Then all we hear hurried footsteps streaking quickly down the hall and then there’s silence. So I’m lying there, just reveling in the fact that my secret is still safe, enjoying the feel of my heart going back to it’s normal pace. And then I realize Max is still lying on top of me. And it feels… nice… All sorts of images rush through my head, all kinds of thoughts are whirling around in there too. No, it’s nothing you’d need to be 18 and above to witness.

Do you wanna know about it? You sure? I’m warning you, it’s enough to make you over dose with sap.

It’s simply me and Max, together, and doing normal couple stuff. The works. Picnics in the park. Dinner in a classy restaurant. Going to the movies. Fooling around on a breach. Feeding each other pizza on a couch while watching TV. A brief image of him giving me white roses, my favorite, complete with one of those heartbreaking shy smiles crosses my mind’s eye and I sigh unconsciously. Wishing for things that haven’t got a million in one chance of happening.

I glance up at Max and find him staring down at me. All too aware that my eyes were clouded and hazy with all the things that could never be and that my sigh wasn’t entirely quiet, I bite my lip uncertainly.

He’s breathing kind of funny and there’s this weird light in his eyes, something I can’t quite describe. He reaches up and slowly tucks one of my wayward strands of hair behind my ear.

“ What were you thinking about?” He whispers.

You, of course, would be the automatic answer if all humans had failsafes to keep them telling lies. But we’re not made that way. And so, it’s up to my sharp mind to get me out of another mess my heart had landed me in. I blink.

“ Nothing.” It comes out a little too quickly and fiercely and he frowns a little, knowing that I’m lying. He tilts his head to the side so that his bangs fall into his eyes a little. My fingers are itching to return the favour he did for me, but this thought is obliterated when he shifts slightly, bringing more of himself into contact with me.

This is impossible. I cannot think, lie and speak at the same time if I’m in this position, with Max practically smothering me. For God’s sake, he’s my best friend, what am I DOING? I tense up and he notices this, immediately shifting his weight off me. I just lie there for a while, half up on floor, propped up on my elbows, looking up at him while he looks down at me. Blinking, and opening and shutting his mouth, he shakes his head a little and offers me his hand.

I accept it and he hauls me up and lo, we’re back to full body contact again. I frown as I realize every muscle in his body is coiled and wound up. It sets off a chain reaction and I go tense and we simultaneously back off from each other.

“ You look stressed.”

The smile he levels at me looks as forced as my voice sounds.

“ Things have just been a little edgy lately.” He replies.

“ Yeah, I can imagine.”

Silence. It’s weird. We’re standing the entire length of the room apart. As if in a final show down.

“ Liz, I really need you to tell me something.” He blurts out suddenly.

“ What?”

“ This thing with Jessica… I… I need to know that it won’t bother you.” He stammers.

“ Would it…” I swallow, finding it suddenly hard to wrap my tongue around the words. “ Would it matter if it did?”

“ Of course it would.” He immediately replies.

I don’t believe this. Is he actually saying I have a say in the way things go down between them?

“ Why?”

“ Because…because…” He falters and looks away. “ Because I know you don’t exactly like her. And because…” He trails off and rubs his face frantically, his hand falling away and pinning me with that serious stare of his. “ I don’t want to lose you…” He says softly. My heart leaps. “ As my friend, I mean.” He adds quickly a moment later.

Why couldn’t he have stopped at the ‘lose you’ part, I wonder despairingly. He’s just reinforced the fact friends is all we’re ever going to be. Okay. I can take this. This WAS the plan after all. I toss my head, sending my hair flying over shoulder and I grin brightly at him.

“ Maxwell, no worries, there, ‘kay? You would never lose me as your friend… just like I’d never lose you, right?”

Please give me this one thing, I plead silently, willing him to hear me. I swear, I’ll find the strength to go through with this if he would just tell me that he will always be my friend. If I can’t have him, at least I’ll have PART of him. Does that make sense?

His eyes are shrouded and unreadable as he continues to stare at me. I’m getting nervous but I put on a little smile.

“ Maxwell. You in there?”

Max jumps a little and grins that half-grin of his. “ Yeah. I’m here. And yeah, Liz. You’ll never lose me as your friend.” He looks a little sad. I wonder why.

“ Good.” I answer.

“ Yeah.”

We’re quiet again. Then he says,

“ Liz?”

“ Yeah?”

“ What’s with the ‘Maxwell’ thing?” He asks, puzzled look on his face. “ You’ve been calling me that a lot lately.”

I shrug, moving away from the rack of erasers that is making my nose tingle.

“ Michael calls you that all the time.”

“ Yeah, but he’s Michael. And you’re…Liz.”

Oh God. He’s lumped me in right next to his almost brother. He really does think of me as his sister!

“ I guess it just kinda grew on me.” I smooth my knee length white skirt down nervously. This is another sign that I’m not myself, at least it is to me. Today, I picked out this dark green shirt with cap sleeves to wear with the skirt and though they fit snugly and I like the overall look, it’s not exactly my normal attire. I’m not even wearing my customary boots but instead have on these thong sandals. This thing with Max is really, REALLY screwing me up. I mentioned this, right? I’m feeling this burning in my eyes, it’s not a familiar sensation and it’s irritating the hell out me.

“ Um, okay. I just kinda like it when you called me Max better.” He says, tugging on his earlobe.

“ Okay then. Max it is. But don’t mind me when I go lapsing into Maxwell land okay?” … Maxwell Land? Oh Jesus. I flinch as I realize how that sounds. “ Um, you know what I mean,” I fudge, waving a hand in the air. Get it together, Liz! “So can we get out of here now? My eyes are beginning to water.”

This is true. The burning feeling is intensifying with every passing moment.

But it’s not because of the chalk dust.

Nope, it’s because right now, for the first time in years, I really want to cry.

Moisture begins to seep out from my eyes and I sneeze three times. My lungs are beginning to seize up. Max hurries over and hands me a handkerchief, cursing himself under his breath as he gently leads me out of the room, to the nurse’s office.

I sneeze again. I’m gasping for breath. Tears are blurring my vision.

I’m not sure this ache in my chest has to do with my lungs or this Max thing but I suspect it’s the latter.

God help me.

[center]***************************************[/center]

I walk into the band room at lunch hour, sighing deeply. Max has been driving me crazy, asking me if I want to go home every few minutes cause he feels guilty about my allergy attack. And of course, Maria and Alex picked up on this too, their worry overshadowing the fact that we were hiding out in the Eraser room of all places.

I’m finally alone. I managed to shake them off just as the last period bell rang, by running off into the crowd and I fully intend to make good use of this small reprieve from all their stares and questions. Seating my self behind the drums, I pick up the sticks and twirl them around quickly, loving the smooth feel between my fingers. It never ceases to amaze me how much energy and music two small instruments can produce when hit on the tight surface of a drum in just the right way. I close my eyes and give them one final twirl, glad that the band managed to get the principal’s permission to use the room to practice.

And soon I’m so absorbed in the music that I’m creating that I don’t see a person slip into the room and quietly hook up his guitar. So I almost drop my sticks in shock when I hear the familiar lilting sounds Michael’s guitar produces mix with my solo. My eyes open and he’s there, nodding at me.

“ Parker.”

“ Michael!” I frown at him. “ Knock much?”

“ Quit yapping and let’s play,” He says with a smirk.

Scowling slightly, I comply but before long, this disappears and about ten minutes later we’re rounding off with a spectacular finale. As Michael strums his last notes, I begin twirling the sticks again, feeling exhilarated and yet still kinda wired. I glance at Michael casually as I stand and start walking around the room.

“ What’s up?”

“ Nothing much. Just participating in a man hunt for you.” He wipes distractedly at a spot on his guitar. “ Thought you might be in here, so I came over.”

“ Right.” I cross my arms over my chest. “ Don’t you know it’s not NICE to sneak up on people like that?”

“ Yep.” He replies, carefully putting his guitar down. “I also know it’s not nice to push your friends into something that isn’t right for them.”

I freeze up.

“ Michael, if this is about the Jessica thing-”

“ Of course it’s about the Jessica thing,” Michael interrupts. “ What else COULD it be about?”

“ It’s what Max wants,” I insist. Am I going to have to keep on explaining this to everyone?

“ That’s just it, Liz. I’m not all that sure that it is what he wants.”

“ What’re you talking about?”

“ I’m talking about-” He cuts himself off abruptly. “ Liz, you obviously feel something more than friendship for Maxwell so-”

“ Wait just one damn minute! What I may or MAY NOT feel for Max is completely none of everyone’s business! Would you all just stop trying to control me?”

Michael’s brow furrows. He and I have always had a bond as the only ones in our little group who don’t have siblings. Maria and Alex both have an elder brother and sister respectively and Max and Isabel have each other so we kinda play at being each other’s sibling.

“ We’re not trying to control you, Liz. We just want what’s good for you.”

I roll my eyes. “ Do you realize how much like a parent you sound?” As the word ‘parent’ crosses my lips and as a sympathetic light flares up in Michael’s eyes, I run a frustrated hand through my hair knowing full well this is territory best not explored. “ God, what is wrong with everyone? I’m just helping Max out. What is so wrong about that?”

Why can’t they just leave me be? I have enough to deal with without having my actions being cross-examined every few seconds.

“ Nothing’s wrong with that. But what you’re trying to help him do isn’t good for him.” Michael says again.

Michael Guerin. Mr. in-touch-with-his-feminine side. I could laugh at how reversed our roles have become. Usually I’m the one who has to traverse between Michael and Maria after one of their famous spats, practically cajoling Michael to just smash that wall down and let Maria in more often. Now Mr. Emotionally Unavailable is dishing out romance advice to ME of all people? Like I said, I could laugh…if I didn’t feel so pissed at the moment.

I stare back at Michael coolly. “ Don’t you think he should decide that?” Michael looks away and I sigh in exasperation. “ Look, Michael. We all have to do things that we just HAVE to do. And right now… I need you all to just… please let me do what I have to do.”

“ Liz, there is another way to do this, you know.”

I know what he’s talking about. It’s what Maria and Alex WANT me to do too. But you and I both know that once I go down that path, there’s just no turning back.

“ I don’t want to do it another way, Michael,” I maintain. “ Can we just drop this? Please?”

He’s staring at me searchingly and then finally sighs. “ Okay.”

“ Okay?”

“ Yeah.” He shoves his hands in his pockets and begins to walk towards me. “ Now how about we go grab some chow?”

“ Seems like a good idea to me,” I smile at him. We set off but when we’re halfway down the hall, he says,

“ Liz, I just want you to promise… the moment what you’re doing starts… hurting… you stop, you hear?”

I refuse to look at him, staring stonily ahead of me.

“ It wont hurt me, Michael.”

He glances at me doubtfully.

“ Humor me.” He deadpans. “Promise?”

I look over at him and sigh.

What can I say? The guilt complex thing is a curse.

“ I promise.”

[center]***********************************[/center]

“ Order up!”

I swivel around and narrowly avoid smashing into Dina who manages to swerve around me just in time, keep her tray of food from wobbling and proceed with a smile on her face. We waitresses could be gymnasts you know, with all the body contortions we do. I march over to the pick up window and Max is there, the bandana decorated with an alien motif covering his hair, worried look still on his face. It’s been there all day and it’s really making me mad.

“ Christ Max!” I snap. “ Would you quit staring at me like I’m going to break or something? I’m fine!”

“ Well you sound more like your normal self, that has to be a good thing,” He mutters more to himself than to me. “ You sure you’re okay?”

“ ARGH!” I quickly pick up the burgers and fries and stalk off before I’m tempted to throw them in his face. ‘You sure you’re okay?’ ‘ Are you okay?’ ‘ Do you feel okay?’ If I hear these words one more time…

“ Hey Parker! We want to order!”

Ah yes. Of course my hellish day wouldn’t be complete without my daily dose of the thorny Ms. Thorne. I’m-a-happy-waitress smile firmly in place, I march over there.

“What’ll you have?”

Jessie rolls her eyes and her cronies snicker. My smile doesn’t waver. I simply brighten it more and say again,

“ What’ll you have…Jessie?”

The cold blue eyes flash and her cohorts go quiet. She glares up at me and I simply turn up the wattage of my smile, adding just a hint of a smirk to it as well. I’m practically daring her to bring it on. Our game of chicken ends soon after and I win, of course. Did you expect anything less? Jessica’s dropped her gaze to the menu and is now speaking. “ I will have a Neptune Salad with low fat dressing and a diet coke.” She says.

I jot it down and get everyone’s orders.

“ Be right back with your drinks.” I announce chirpily. Max is busy flipping burgers when I go over to bring the order in.

“ Hey Romeo!” I call. “ Your Juliet is here!”

Max suddenly smiles at me, the worried look vanishing. So he’s that happy to see her, huh?

“ Liz, I thought we agreed: No more role playing! How long have you been Juliet anyway? Isn’t it my turn yet?”

Huh? What is he…oh. See, Max and I used to play this game where he would pretend to be a character in a book or story or soap opera and I would be his love interest and vice versa. Over the years, we’ve put on countless spoofs of them and they never fail to reduce the others, especially Maria, to hysterical laughter. It’s been a real long time since we did one. As I recall, Romeo and Juliet always was our favorite. Except most of the time, I played Romeo. And in our version, there’s a ‘night from the living dead’ twist at the end when both Romeo and Juliet wake up.

I smirk at him.

“ You sound seriously demented, you know that? I wasn’t playing Max. Your Juliet has arrived.” I announce with a flourish, trying and failing to curtsy.

Okay. Why are his eyes brightening like that? Oh man. I think he’s developed a sixth sense when it comes to Jessica, so he can feel her wherever she is and that’s what’s causing his eyes to go all misty. I might as well confirm it for him. I am still officially on Cupid Duty after all.

“ Yes, that’s right Maxwell Evans!” I announce in my best game show host voice. “ Your dream girl, Jessica Thorne is in the building!”

We’ll talk about how much it stabbed to say those words later, okay? I wait for the appreciative laugh and smile but it doesn’t come. Instead, I watch in shock as that same horrified look from lunch a while ago breaks out (at least I think it did) over his face and the burger that he was expertly flipping flops onto his wrist causing him to yelp with pain.

“ OUCH!”

“ Max!”

I hop onto the counter of the window and swing my legs over it, landing on the other side without breaking a sweat. It’s a well practiced move. I’ve been doing it for years. I all but run to him and I gently take the hand he’s cradling into mine, examining it worriedly.

“ You’ve burned it…” I look up into his eyes, ignoring the look there. “ Does it hurt?” I immediately reach on top of the shelf for the first aid kit and begin tending the wound. Max winces a little.

“ Not much.”

“ Hold still for a second.” I bite my lip in concentration and smile happily when I’m done. “ There!”

“ Thank you.” Max says softly when I’m through. I suddenly find myself falling headlong into his eyes and I swallow.

Uh oh.

I’m in trouble.

Clearing my throat a couple of times I manage to drag my gaze away from his eyes and I shrug, smoothly saying,

“ No prob,”

And then I look at him again.

Which is, a BIG mistake.

We stay quiet, me looking up into his eyes, he looking down into mine. Know that feeling you get when the air just seems to wrap around you and another person, like a cocoon? Like in that space, that place, there’s no one else but you two and nothing can reach you? But you know the truth though. Something can always reach you.

“ Max! Liz! Get it together guys! We got a room full of hungry people out here!”

I jerk away from him immediately, cursing under my breath as I hop up and over the counter in the window and land behind the serving counter gracefully.

“ Got it Uncle Jeff!” I yell in response to my uncle’s light scolding. I turn and smirk at Max. “ Juliet got you that on edge huh?”

Max is still standing exactly where I left him, staring after me with an unreadable expression on his face. He looks… Nah. Couldn’t be. Why should he? I frown slightly.

“ Maxwell? Max!”

“ Yeah?”

“ Did you hear me? She’s out there.”

“ Who is?” He sounds kind of dazed. And he’s still staring at me. I dismiss this with a shrug of my shoulders.

“ Jessie.” I state. He remains quiet. Oh I get it. He doesn’t want me calling her Jessie. “ I mean, Jessica.”

His eyes immediately snap back into focus and he turns away towards the grill again.

“ She is?” His voice sounds funny. Strained even.

“ Yep.” I turn and head back to the main area. “ Better have her salad ready or else she’ll keel over right there,” I say.

Max doesn’t reply. A huge crowd of kids from school suddenly burst in through the door and I groan, whipping out my order pad and running to get their orders. The next time I actually have time to take a break, Max’s shift is over. And… he’s sitting with Jessica and her friends. Who are all giggling and touching Max’s arm every few minutes. Jessica looks so smug, it should be against the law. My grip around the glass I’m drinking from tightens reflexively, so much so that if I don’t let go, it’s liable to break.

After that one, accidental glance in their direction, I avoid that place at ALL costs. I’ve temporarily removed it as my section and asked Dina to cover that area while I cover hers. I am not going over there even if my life depended on it. Soon, I sink into this place where I’m just indifferent to it all. One by one, Jessica’s friends take their leave and eventually it’s just her and Max in the booth and I’m absolutely okay with it. Being indifferent is bliss.

When Maria, Alex and Isabel walk in about an hour or so later, Isabel turns a nasty shade of green causing Alex to seat her in a booth triple over time and Maria to scowl darkly. Her shift starts in a few minutes to relieve me and when she catches sight of me she comes right over.

“ Okay, please tell me you didn’t serve them!”

“ I didn’t serve them,” I reply, rubbing down the counter.

“ Good! Cause I’m not going to either.” She sends a glare in their general direction and eyes me worriedly. I’m humming along with the radio, occasionally glancing up to the clock to check if my shift is over. The moment it is, I drop the rag, wash my hands and step into the back room to change, Maria hot on my heels.

“ You okay, Lizzie?”

“ I’m fine,” I reply, my voice coming out muffled cause I’m pulling on my shirt. As I slip on my skirt and sandals I frown at her. “ What?”

“ You just…” Maria trails off. “ Max and thorn girl are sitting outside.”

“ I know.” I say calmly, sweeping a brush through my hair.

“ As in sitting TOGETHER. Did you not see that?”

“ Of course I did.” Right now, I’m not sure what to do. This is the way things are supposed to go, right? And even though I’m screaming somewhere inside, this indifference that has taken hold of me refuses to let me show any emotion other than ‘normal’.

“ And…that doesn’t bother you?” She says hesitatingly, choosing her words carefully. I smile.

“ No, it doesn’t. This is all in the plan remember?”

Maria groans and starts changing into her uniform.

“ Liz, babe, you’re honestly not going to go through with this are you? I mean, come on-“

“ Maria.” I interrupt. “ You know where I stand.”

Maria huffs. “ Liz, I’m not, like, trying to tell you what to do here or anything but-”

“ Funny,” I interrupt again with a small smile to show that I’m not mad. “ It sounds like that’s exactly what you’re doing.”

My best friend just looks at me and sighs. She carefully arranges her alien antennae on her head before speaking again.

“ Okay. So maybe that is what I’m doing to some extent but it’s only because… I don’t understand why you feel you have to go about it in this way.”

I sigh as well. Maybe I was a bit too hasty in explaining stuff to her and Alex yesterday. So I try again.

“ Because Maria, it’s like I said yesterday. He’ll never feel about me the way I feel about him. Do you know what he did today? He practically told me to my face that he considers me as a sister. He’ll never-”

It is at this point that Maria snorts in disbelief. “ Chica, you really have had your head buried in the sand haven’t you? How could you not have seen it?”

“ Seen what?”

Maria purses her lips. “ Liz, Max has-”

“ Ahem.”

We both whirl around. Max’s head is sticking around the door and he says,

“ Maria, Mr. Parker wants you outside five minutes ago.”

Maria grimaces. “ I’m coming, I’m coming,” She grumbles. “ Liz, I hope you know your uncle has the makings of a true tyrant.”

I smile. But as she passes by Max, Maria’s lips curl up into a wicked grin. “ Oops, my mistake. The true tyrant is sitting outside right now.” She smiles sweetly at Max. “ How is Jessica by the way?” And with that she flits out of the door, leaving Max rolling his eyes at her and me trying to stifle my laughter.

I give my hair one last final brush and turn to go out into the diner when I see that Max is still hovering in the doorway.

“ Hey. Did you want something?”

He shakes his head quickly.

“ No! I, uh… I just wanted to ask you something.”

In spite of myself I freeze up. Okay, the last time he said that it didn’t exactly bear pretty results. But I relax my stance and give him a small encouraging smile.

“ Sure. What?”

He hesitates. Takes a deep breath.

“ I’m not going to be able to meet up with you tonight to work on our assignment.”

My smile never wavers. I’m really good at that.

“ Let me guess. You going out?”

I already know the answer to that. I already even know who he’s going out with. But you know me, I’m a sucker for torture so I add,

“ With Jessica?”

He nods, eyes unreadable.

“ Yeah.”

Yep. There it is. That flash of pain thing.

“ So… you need me for what?” I ask, hoping my voice sounds normal. The indifferent feeling seems to be wearing off as I begin to realize how serious this really is.

“ My part of the assignment.”

At this, I laugh.

“ Geez, Maxwell. You and I both know that even if you WERE there, I’d be the one doing your part anyway. It’s nothing new.” I smirk at him, ignoring the leaden feeling in my stomach. “ Go on. Get out of here. The more time you spend here, the greater the chance of Isabel or Maria losing control and doing something awful to Jessica.”

Max smiles.

“ Yeah.” But still he stands in the doorway, seemingly unable to move. After a few minutes of feeling like bug under a microscope, I take a hesitant step forward.

“ Maxwell. Jessie and the door are that way.” I say pointing him in the right direction.

He starts. “ Right. Right. Okay, I… I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“ Yep.”

“ So…bye.”

“ Bye. Have fun.”

“ Thanks.” He looks like he’s going to say something but after battling with himself, he seems to veto the idea and stuffs his hands in his pockets. “ Call you later?”

“ Sure.”

“ ‘Kay. Later.”

“ Yeah. Bye.”

And this time, he does go.


[ edited 14time(s), last at 28-Jan-2003 1:23:35 PM ]
posted on 8-Feb-2002 5:04:32 PM by Comet
Nah, no Max POV. This is the first. I've yet to finish posting this one too. So you like? Should I continue posting it or just go back to my others? FB please.
posted on 9-Feb-2002 3:42:34 PM by Comet
Hey guys!

Thanks for all the FB. oh and thank you, FehrBehr for letting me know. I'm just a little hesitant to post this on the main board though cause if I do, people may think I've started ANOTHER new story and lynch me cause I haven't even finished the others. *tongue* But...which board would be better? I'll give you something to read while you ponder over the life changing decision for me...lol.*big*

The story continues

By the time I’ve composed myself enough to leave the break room and go outside, the place is hopping. I see Maria breezing back and forth, weaving among tables and the pick up window, Sharon scrawling down the orders of a large group of football players and my Uncle stopping by tables, making small talk with the customers. I head over to Izzy and Alex’s table where Isabel looks to be talking a mile a minute and Alex is rhythmically patting her hand and soothing his unsettled girlfriend.

“ Izzy, honey. We’re only juniors in high school. I don’t think Max has marriage on his mind, okay?”

I smirk, realizing that those words are almost the exact same ones I had uttered yesterday. Was that ONLY yesterday? It feels like ages ago.

“ He definitely doesn’t have marriage on his mind,” I say as I slip into the booth opposite them.

Isabel turns her gaze on me.

“ There you are! I’ve looking for you all day!”

“ So I hear.”

“ Are you okay?” She asks, I suppose, in reference to my attack in the morning. I wave a hand in the air dismissively.

“ Yep. I’m just peachy.”

“ Good! Now that that’s out of the way, do you mind telling me exactly why you’re pushing my dear misguided brother into the jaws of that… that monster man eater?”

Alex rolls his eyes and I stifle a giggle.

“ Cause he asked me to.” I answer.

Isabel sighs.

“ Look, Liz. Alex told me about your conversation yesterday,” I shoot a pointed look in Alex’s direction and dear Alex is suddenly very interested in the menu and mutters something about going to help Maria before he bolts. Izzy’s still staring at me and I feel myself beginning to blush. Oh well. I knew he was going to do it anyway.

“ Yeah, I gathered he would.” I shift uncomfortably in my seat. “ Um, listen, Iz, I’d really appreciate it if-”

“ If Max didn’t know?” She finishes for me knowingly.

“ Yeah.”

“ Why?”

I suppress a groan. I wonder if I can stand to explain all this again.

“ Because… because of all the reasons I said yesterday. Okay?” I rub my eyes frantically. “ I’m sorry, Izzy, but I don’t think I can go into details right now. It’s been a really long day…” My voice trails off pathetically but I don’t care. I’m exhausted right now, truth be told. And it must have shown on my face because Isabel reaches across the table and squeezes my hand.

“ It’s okay. I don’t really approve of this thing Max and Jessica have going on but…” She trails off and looks at me, her expression saddened. “ You really didn’t know did you?”

Hmm. This could be interesting. Or destructive if you look at it another way.

“ Know what?”

Isabel sighs and runs a hand through her hair.

“ I’ll tell you another day Liz. You should rest. You look exhausted. Do your Aunt and Uncle know about your allergy attack?”

I frown at her abrupt change of topic but I let it go. Resting doesn’t sound like such a bad idea anyway so I smile at her.

“ Nope. And I don’t plan on telling them either. For thing they’ll want to know where I was when it happened and I don’t think it’d look good if I told them I was in the eraser room.”

Isabel laughs.

“ Yeah that would sound bad.”

My Aunt and Uncle went to WRH too, and know all about the infamous little room. Heaven help me if they knew I went in there. Then again I was with Max so they probably wouldn’t mind. I stand up.

“ I’m just gonna head upstairs. You wanna come with?”

“ No, it’s alright. Alex and I are going to a movie right about now. I just wanted to talk to you.”

As I stare at her, the burning need to find out what she wanted to say. I shift from one foot to the other uncertainly. “ Isabel… what were you going to tell me?” Somehow I know whatever it is, it’s of utmost importance. She gazes steadily at me for a while before saying,

“ I can’t tell you right now. But I will. After I do a few things.”

Things,huh? Why do I not like the sound of that?

“ Do I even want to know?”

She grins mischievously, the same scheming light that was in Maria’s eyes yesterday now occupying hers.

“ I don’t think it’d be a very good idea.”

“ Right. I didn’t think so.” I laugh. “ See you tomorrow. Tell Alex to call me later on so we can set a date to practice.”

“ Sure thing. Good night Liz.”

“ Yeah. You too, Izzy. Enjoy your date.”

On the way I wave at Alex and Maria and encounter my Aunt sprawled on the couch watching TV, steaming tea on the table next to her upon reaching the apartment.

“ Hey Aunt Nancy.”

“ Hi sweetheart. Have a good day?”

“ Not exactly the words I’d use to describe it… but yeah, it was okay.”

“ Good. Any plans this evening?”

I wonder if torturing myself with images of what Max and Jessica might be doing right now qualifies as plans. On second thoughts... I don’t think my stomach is quite up to it yet.

“ No. I’m just going to get started on an assignment for school.”

“ Wasn’t Max supposed to help you with that, sweetie?”

I grin. “ You know Maxwell, Aunty N. Busy social life. No, I’ll be handling this one alone.” Alone. Which is exactly what I’ll be for the rest of my life. All alone. “ Call me for dinner?” I garble, my throat tight all of a sudden.

“ Sure Liz.” Aunt Nancy looks concerned. “ Is everything alright?”

“ Yep. Everything’s just fine.”

I turn and quickly run for the sanctuary of my room, wishing that that particular lie was true.

***********************************

“ Ah, Liz Parker, just who I wanted to see. How goes the morning, my lady?”

I smile and swat at Alex playfully. He frequently dons the English accent and gallant attitude to breathe life into his childhood dream of being a Knight. And he comes pretty damn close to being one too.

“ It goes just fine Sir Whitman,” I tease back, rummaging around in my locker. I feel much better today. No really, I do. I had a very long talk with myself last night and now, I’m ready to take on the world. I’ve even reverted back to my normal style of clothing, which includes a black mid riff baring sleeveless top and low slung jeans. I saw no point in bothering to tie up my hair today as it always gets so messed up so I’ve left it loose. I’m ready for anything! Except it seems, the sight of Max and Jessica walking hand in hand down the halls causing everybody to gawk and murmur. I balk.

Isn’t it too early for this?

Gathering up every determined molecule in my body, I regroup. I can take this. This is part of the plan, after all. I take a deep breath and continue my conversation with Alex as if nothing of importance just took place.

“ We all set for practice tonight?” I ask as I shoulder my backpack and books.

Alex is still gawping at Max and thorn girl as they come towards us down through the hall, being greeted left and right like celebs or something.

“ Alex. Alex!”

“ What?”

“ Are we set to practice tonight?” I repeat.

“ Um, yeah we are. But… oh man. Liz, you okay?”

I stare incredulously up at him.

“ Of course I’m okay. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“ Um…” His gaze strays back to the approaching couple. I shake my head at him.

“ Okay, don’t go there Alex.” I say, feeling the beginnings of a headache coming on. “ Do not go there! I know this situation will take a little getting used to but-”

“ A little?” He says, dragging his attention from the couple to look at me. “ That is a gross understatement.”

“ Whatever.” I huff, rubbing my forehead.

Alex’s eyes bug out.

“ They’re coming this way! What do I say?”

The exact same thought is running through my mind and I’m at a complete loss. Simultaneously, we both whirl away from them and try to compose ourselves.

“ Liz! Isabel’s gonna freak if she sees them! And she’ll demand to know why I didn’t break them up! What am I going to tell her, huh?” Alex murmurs to me.

“ Alex, just calm down, okay?” I pat his arm jerkily, more to soothe myself than him. “ What were you supposed to do? Tackle them? Izzy knows you’re not football player material-”

“ Gee thanks.”

“ Let me do the talking-”

“ Oh, right, so I’ll just be standing there looking like an idiot! Isabel will love that, ”

“ No you won’t, she loves you anyway and just… just be Alex!”

“ What? What kind of advice is that?“

“ Hey, I’m running a little dry in the advice department these days, okay?” I hiss. “ Give me a break!”

“ Hey guys.”

Immediately, our hushed conversation stops. Once more, we swivel around as one, identical smiles fixed on our faces.

“ Max! Jessica! Hi,” Both of say in unison in response to Max’s greeting. We glance at each other and I fight my insane urge to laugh. Alex looks lost. He doesn’t know WHAT to do. So I take over.

“ Yeah…um… how’s it going?” I start lazily, still smiling, totally in contrast to what I feel inside.

“ Good, good. It’s going great.” Max says automatically. I don’t look at his eyes. I look at his forehead, fixing my gaze there. No looking into his eyes, Liz! Be strong!

“ Yes.” Jessica says, looking up at Max. “ It’s going absolutely fantastic.”

The accent thing rears it ugly head and Alex elbows me slightly and out of the corner of my eye, I see him valiantly fighting back a chuckle.

“ Jessi-Jessica, you know Alex right?” I say, knowing full well she doesn’t have an iota about who he is other than him being a member of the most popular band in school.

“ Yes, yes, of course,” she says anyway. “ Alex Whitless, right?”

I blink and Max winces. True to form, Alex takes it all in stride, his grin breaking through.

“ It’s Whitman actually.”

“ Oh. Right.”

We stand in silence for a while. Jessica waves at her fellow cheerleaders as they pass by, tightening her hold on Max’s arm possessively. My gaze latches on to that, and now I’m fighting another insane urge. This time, the urge wants me to slap away that hand and, and…Alex starts to fidget beside me, looking at his watch. Izzy’s due to arrive any moment. Max is… I don’t actually know what he’s doing cause I’m not looking at him. After I dismiss the crazy inclination, I wrack my brain for ideas and coming up with nothing, I decide it’s time to ditch this little shindig. I go,

“ Well, it’s been nice chatting with you two. We’d stay longer but we have a killer Chem. Quiz in first period so we have to bounce, don’t we, Alex?”

“ Chem. Quiz?” I glare and he cottons on quickly and nods his head. “ Yeah that’s right. Chem. Quiz. We gotta jet.”

“ Don’t let us keep you then,” Jessica says graciously but with a glint in her cold blue eyes. “ Goodbye.”

“ Um…yeah.” Alex says. “ Goodby- I mean, later.”

Biting my lip at the look on Alex’s face I manage to say,

“ Later!” And I run after Alex barely hearing Max’s goodbye.

The moment we turn the corner we burst out laughing. I don’t even know what’s so funny, it’s like all of a sudden, I can’t stop. I’m leaning against the wall, tears streaming down my face and Alex is doubled up next to me.

“ We survived!” Alex hollers.

“ Yeah! Go us!”

I’m serious, I don’t know what’s come over us. It’s so stupid that I guess it’s funny. Like the time Maria, Alex and me laughed that the wig this lady was wearing. To this day, we all still have different opinions on what it was made out of. Maria swears that she used the hair of a…hmm. Maybe it’d be better if we didn’t go into this today.

“ What’s going on?” We hear Maria’s voice ask. I look up and see her standing there with Michael and Isabel.

“ Max…Jessica…walking…hand…in…hand,” I manage to choke out in between my uncontrollable giggles. Alex is still chortling and clutching at his stomach. I see Isabel’s mouth drop open.

“ WHAT?”

“ And this is FUNNY?” Maria demands.

“ It’s true,” Alex gasps out. “ She…she…called me……Whitless!”

I erupt into another bout of laughter.

“ Oh my God. You… You should’ve seen his face!”

“ The accent thing…” Alex rasps. “ Terrible!”

“ Wait a minute! She called MY Alex ‘WhitLESS’?” Isabel yells, looking absolutely furious.

“ Yep!” I say.

I see Michael shaking his head.

“ They’ve gone completely bonkers.”

Maria frowns at the tears running down our cheeks.

“ Maybe you had to be there for it to make sense.” She mutters back to him.

“ Alex! Stop laughing!” Isabel is all but shrieking now. “ Alex!”

After one or two more minutes, we finally begin to wind down. Isabel looks very annoyed.

“ It’s about time! They didn’t kiss did they?”

I shrug, feeling as if a metal ball has taken residence in my stomach. Alex and I exchange uneasy looks and our laughter stops completely. We’re not smiling anymore either. “ Maybe. We didn’t hang around long enough to find out.”

“ You didn’t…” Isabel trails off. “ How can you be so calm?”

“ Max could be kissing the wicked witch of the West right now!’ Maria chips in. “ I’m going over there!” And she would’ve too, except that Michael has snaked his arms about her waist holding her firm.

“ Maria, Iz, it’s Max’s business and besides, we talked about this, remember? It’s not in the plan to do anything as of now.”

“ Oh.” Isabel says, calming down a great deal and smiling brightly. “ I forgot.”

“ Oh yeahhh…” Maria drawls happily. “ I remember.”

The hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

“ Plan?” I say apprehensively. “ What plan?”

“ You don’t want to know, Liz,” Alex says with a suggestive wiggle of his eyebrows. “ Trust me.”

I swallow. That’s just it. I DO trust Alex. So whatever ‘plan’ this is, I’m sure he’s right. I REALLY don’t want to know.

“ Uh huh. Okay. I’m just gonna go now,” I fairly run away from the four and don’t stop till I’m in my real first period class, which happens to be study hall. As I saunter down the aisle to my usual seat someone makes me stop dead.

Can you say, ‘Idiot’?

Say it with me: IDIOT!

I am, without a doubt, the biggest one on the planet.

In the stress of everything I’ve been going through lately, plus the totally hysterical laughing session from a few minutes ago, I conveniently forgot that I have this class with Max. He’s right there, sitting next to the empty desk that is reserved for me, talking to Cameron Spade from Math Class.

And so while I’m frozen in place and debating on whether I can discreetly back out of the class without alerting him to my presence or just take it like a woman, I don’t notice Mr. Brice, the oldest teacher in school, come in.

“ Miss Parker.”

The class quiets down and I whirl around to face him.

“ Yes sir?”

“ Please take your seat,” He says in his thin, reedy voice.

I nod and turn back to face the rest of the class, my eyes frantically searching for another empty seat, one preferably as far away from Max as possible. No such luck. The only thing I get is another request to sit down and a questioning gaze from Max.

Trudging over to the desk, I weigh my options and realize that my best bet is to go the extremely busy route. So as soon as I slide into my seat, I remove the notebook where I’ve been writing stuff for the assignment in and remove the thick volume I’ve been using as a guide and promptly begin scribbling. A piece of paper thrown onto my desk grabs my attention and without lifting my head up to look around, I reach for it and open it up. Two words are written on it.

Chem. Quiz?

I wince. Okay, so that wasn’t one of my best lies ever but give me a break. I was under pressure! I roll my eyes and jot down words that better damn well change the subject…or else!

How’d it go?

‘It’ of course, is referring to his little unscheduled date with Jessie. I toss the note back over to his desk and resume scribbling. He takes a long time to answer. When the paper finally does come back, this is what’s written on it:

I need to talk to you. Can you ask for a bathroom pass? I’ll meet you at the bleachers.

Umm…I really don’t want to talk to him right now, truth be told. I need… I need a little TIME to compose myself, god damn it! He can’t just go around dragging me off places to talk, I’m not… I’m not prepared!

So I write this back to him:

Really busy with the assignment right now.

As soon as I deliver the note, I dive back into my work. A couple of minutes later the paper is back on my desk, the ball back in my court. I reach for it and open it up.

Please?

Okay. There are two ways to handle this. One, I remain strong and avoid looking at him at ALL costs and write my simple reply of ‘No.’ or two, I cave, look at him, be powerless to resist those wretchedly mesmerizing eyes and even though the thing to do is say no, I’ll write ‘Yes.’

So I’m not going to look at him.

I am not.

He’s not there.

I’m not here either.

So there’s really no one to look at.

Nope.

Not gonna…

My head begins turning to side. Wait! What am I doing? My eyes are following suite. STOP! And now, they’re meeting his eyes.

He’s pleading.

I feel myself begin to melt and desperately try to stop it but it’s too late. I’m scrawling an, ‘ Okay. on the paper and tossing it back to him before I know what’s happening. The next minute I’m shaking Mr. Brice awake and asking for a bathroom pass. Five minutes after that I’m on my way to the bleachers. And after another five minutes, Max joins me there.

“ Hey.”

“ Hi.” I reply. Words end there. I cross my arms over my chest resolutely, determined to not say anything.

“ It was okay.” Max says suddenly.

My head snaps up. He’s staring right at me. I’m at a loss for words so I nod mutely, trying to bide myself more time. The beginning of a grin starts to play at the corners of his mouth.

“ Actually, it was more than okay. It was great.”

My vocal cords become accessible to me once more. I smile brightly, my face muscles screaming in protest.

“ That’s great!” I enthuse. “ Did you have fun?”

“ Yeah. Yeah, we did.”

We.

Twist the knife in a little deeper why don’t ya? I square my shoulders, remembering the talk I had with myself and the ultimate goal to be reached. Bring it on. Liz Parker ain’t no quitter.

“ So what did you do?”

He sits down.

“ We went to that little bistro on the corner of Main Street. You know the place, right?”

“ That French joint? I thought we vetoed that place as a potential date spot.” I wrinkle my nose, glancing down at him quizzically. “ And…you hate French food.”

Max shrugs. “ Yeah, well, Jess convinced me to give it a try. It’s actually not bad. You should try it sometime,” He says with a smile.

Jess, huh?

I stare.

“ Um, no thanks.” I manage, unsticking my throat. “ Frog’s legs don’t really appeal to me.”

“ We’ve got to get you out more.”

“ Just to eat frog legs?” I gag. “ I think I’ll pass. So what’s up?” I ask briskly.

“ Do you get the feeling you’re being conspired against?” Max says, getting right to the point.

I raise an eyebrow. He can’t possibly have noticed our friends’ mission against us, stuck in Jessie Land as he is. I shrug, answering in all seriousness.

“ Every single day. I swear, the lunch lady has a personal vendetta against me.”

He cracks a grin, standing up and punching me on the shoulder lightly.

Could we get any more buddy-buddy?

No, that is not a shriek of misery I’m keeping in. Thankfully, he distracts me from my undoubtedly non-existent struggle.

“ That’s not exactly what I meant.”

“ Oh?” I frown, feigning confusion. “ What exactly did you mean?”

“ That our best friends seem to be launching a vendetta of their own.”

Hmm. Maybe he isn’t as lost in Jessie Land as I thought. That isn’t relief I’m feeling. It’s not. And if it is… it’s not my business to feel it.

“ So what do you think? Seen anything weird lately?” Max presses on, all business.

You and Thorn girl walking down the hall hand in hand? I bite back my not-so-subtle response and narrow my eyes, seemingly in thought.

“ Nothing particularly weird.” I begin. “But… Izzy did mention something about a plan. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out what it was. I figured it could be detrimental to my health, y’ know?”

Max stares off into the distance.

“ Michael mentioned something about that too.” He turns to me, amber eyes full of puzzlement. “ But he wouldn’t tell me what.”

I lift my hair away from my face in frustration, glaring at a practice dummy that happens to be the only thing available to glare at.

“ I don’t think I want to know what it’s all about anyway. We’ll know soon enough. Besides, whatever it is CAN’T be that bad. They are our best friends, right?”

He gazes at me penetratingly.

“ Right.”

He doesn’t sound convinced. To tell the truth, I’m not either but I just don’t have energy to spare with worrying about this little ‘plan’. I expel my breath in a noisy huff.

“But just in case…I don’t know, keep an eye on Jess okay?”

I finally give the dummy a break and glance at Max, startled when I find that he’s looking at me in that certain way that completely unnerves me. He’s been using it a lot lately. And it really, really like, spazzes me out. It’s like he’s seeing me for the first time and now that he finally lays his eyes on me, it’s as if he’s never seen anything quite like me before. I don’t know if this is good or bad but I know one thing.

It’s freaky.

I avert my eyes, horror spreading through me as fast as my blush does.

“ Maxwell,” I mumble.

“ Yeah?” The tone of his answer is breathy and I’m suddenly aware that we’re really close to each other.

“ Was that all? I kinda want to head back to class now.”

“ Liz.”

Once more he’s using that tone of voice, the one that sounds like the voice he used in the CrashDown the other day, when he was telling me he had a date with Jessica. Like he wants to say something. Something Big. And I… I just cannot deal with any more Big revelations, especially if it’s one about Jessica as I suspect.

“ Max, really. I have to go. Anything else?” I still don’t look at him but I’m using my ultra serious voice now. I feel him tense beside me.

Mustering my courage I glance up at him, flipping my hair over my shoulder. As I bring my gaze to meet his he quickly swings his gaze away.

“ Yeah. I…no, I think that’s all.” He seems to be regaining control of his facilities now and I am thoroughly relieved. It’s not the usual order of the day for me to be embroiled in a staring match with Max, something I’m sure I mentioned before. It totally unnerves me. “ Thanks for the warning about Jess.” He says, his voice taking on a distant quality.

“ No prob. So. I’ll see you back in class.”

I don’t wait for a reply. I simply turn around and head back to class, settling into my seat five minutes later.

Max never comes back.

**************************************

I’m first to arrive at the school that night for band practice. Mr. Carter, the night guard, let’s me in with a warm smile and greeting.

“ Hello Liz.”

“ Hey Mr. Carter. Tell the others I’m already setting up?”

“ Sure thing.”

I leave him standing at the door and walk down the dimly lit corridors by myself, twirling my sticks casually with my fingers, my footsteps echoing loudly around the walls. I know lots of kids would loathe coming back here after the last bell rings but not me. You just learn to appreciate things more when it’s all quiet and you’re alone, even if it is school. I stop by the trophy case and look at the various trophies WRH was managed to accumulate over the years, ceasing my habit of twirling my sticks. The name ‘Max Evans’ makes numerous appearances and as I begin to walk again, I halt. I have not spoken to Max since this morning. That doesn’t mean I haven’t seen him though. Because, today, I’ve seen more of him than I ever would have liked. Him…firmly ensconced by Jessica Thorne’s side…in her arms…

I shudder. Those images were SO not welcome!

Lunch was extremely tense. Max sat with the cheerleaders and his fellow jocks today and looked pretty comfortable while doing it too. Once Alex had managed to calm Isabel down, she spent the remainder of her time divided between eating, glaring icily at Max and shooting me disappointed looks, which I pretended not to see. Michael had his hands full as Maria went into overdrive and when Maria goes into overdrive, there’s only one way to get her to stop and that is Michael’s kiss. Between Alex and Izzy constantly going back and forth over things and Michael and Maria looking more and more like contestants for the ‘World’s Longest Kiss’ contest, was it any wonder I chose to ignore everything happening around me and retreated into my head? Not that that helped very much. The only thing that went on in there was a continuous replay of the Max and Jessie show.

Yep, I think now would be a good time to say that I have had a very NOT GOOD day.

But it has nothing to do with Max.

Nope.

It doesn’t.

Releasing a sigh of frustrated impatience, I begin to move again only to be stopped once again, not by the thought of Max this time, but by my own reflection. I look…upset, for lack of a better word.

Which is of course, utterly INSANE!!!

I have absolutely no right to be upset!!! I should be happy! Happy for MAX at least.

And damn it, I’m gonna be, if it’s the last thing I EVER do!

“ Liz?”

I spin around and upon doing so, see myself reflected on the glass of the case once more. An angry scowl decorates my face, one I wear only when I’m REALLY pissed. I grimace, considering for a moment just turning back and arranging my features before I face whoever it is who called my name. It’s too late though.

Maria’s standing there, staring at me.

I stare back.

“ Hey ‘Ria.”

Okay. Could I sound more lifeless? Well, it’s much better then snapping at my best friend. Then she would know for sure that something was up.

“ Um, chica, you want to loosen your grip a little there. That is, if you want your drumsticks to still be drumsticks.”

Maria’s eyes settle on my hands as she walks towards me and I glance downwards, wondering what’s she’s talking about.

Oh.

I’m gripping my sticks so hard, my knuckles have gone white. They’re going to break in another moment if I don’t let up!

I relax my grip and loose a sheepish grin upon her.

“ Yeah, um, I really have to work on that.”

“ Uh huh.” Maria does not sound convinced. She gently pries them from my hands with a wink. “ Let me hold onto them for you just in case, ‘kay?”

“ Okay.”

We begin to walk towards the band room.

“ So what was up with the glaring at the trophies and all?” Maria inquires innocently.

“ I was not glaring at the trophies.”

“ Right. My mistake. I meant to say ‘scowling’.”

I can’t deny this. So I shrug.

“ Just expressing my disbelief and displeasure that we don’t have a track trophy in there yet.”

Maria smirks at me.

“ Babe, we do have a track trophy in there. You know, the one that has your name on it? The one you won in the all city relay?”

“ Oh. I meant to say I was expressing my disbelief that there’s only ONE of those in there.”

“ Uh huh.” She says again, this time her tone full of skepticism.

I am fast losing control of this conversation. So I change the subject. Fast.

“ Where are the guys?”

“ They’re swinging over to Max and Izzy’s first. Alex left the new song we’re supposed to be doing tonight there when he was comforting Isabel.”

She raises her eyebrows meaningfully and I laugh.

“ Damn, Maria,” I shake my head in disbelief. “ If someone told me a couple of years ago that you and Michael and Alex and Izzy were going to end up as power couples on campus I would never have believed it. You and Michael totally hated each other! And Alex used to drive Isabel insane, teasing her all the time.”

“ Hey!” Maria protests, shoving me playfully. “ Michael and I did not hate each other!” Then she crinkles her nose. “Hate is too soft a word.”

I laugh again.

“ We actually loathed each other. I mean, the first time I set eyes on him, you know, the first day of junior high, when we stepped into the building? I knew he was going to be trouble. Wasn’t the first sentence I uttered in that building, ‘ He’s going to be trouble?’ ”

Maria’s rambling. I like it when she rambles. Though it gets very frustrating at times, especially when you want to get straight to the point, I’m used to it by now. And as you can see, it’s a very good, distracting, time consuming habit.

“ Actually,” I say, rejoining the conversation, “ your first sentence was, ‘ Liz, do you think I should have worn a bra?’ to which dear Alex quickly said, and I quote, ‘ YES, Maria, yes, trust me, you should have worn one!’” I collapse into laughter again while Maria’s face reddens as she remembers.

“ Oh god! I forgot all about that. He made me wear his sweater over my shirt all day and it was like, a hundred degrees INSIDE. Then he went off spouting about how he couldn’t let the entire male population in school ogle at me. I was never so embarrassed in my life.” I snort, not at all sure Maria had ever allowed herself to be embarrassed. Maria swats at me again when I tell her this then shakes her head as an affectionate smile spreads over her face. “ You just gotta love Alex.”

“ Yup. You just gotta.” I agree. “ Which is why I’m so glad he and Izzy finally got together. I don’t think I’ve ever seen both of them so…happy. He deserves that.”

“ You deserve it too you know,” Maria says softly.

I frown in confusion.

“ Deserve what exactly?”

“ To be happy with someone. God, Lizzie, I know Michael and I spend more time arguing than talking but… it just feels right when we’re together. Like even if the world is against us, as long as we have each other, it’s all going to be okay, you know?”

I gaze straight ahead. Maria’s words are hitting me hard. I realize just how…lonely I am. And I realize something else. I don’t know how being loved like that feels.

“ Well, actually, I don’t.” I say quietly.

Maria looks at me sadly.

“ You deserve to.”

I look away. I force myself to grin.

“Doesn’t everyone?”

But even as I say this, I want to make one thing crystal clear.

Everyone does deserve that and everyone probably WILL get that.

Everyone but me.

***********************

Okay, here’s an update. It has now been two weeks since the first official Max and Jessica sighting in school. In these two weeks, Max and I have gone all over town checking out one dining spot to the next for the purpose of fleshing out Jessie’s dream dates in rapid succession. In these two weeks, we as a group have been seeing less and less of Max, so much that Alex has begun to call Max ‘The Stranger’. In these two weeks, the group (minus Max) have begun to scare me by allowing me to glimpse them going over blue prints and several sheets of paper with the heading of ‘Operation Heartbreak’ and then denying the existence of any such things. I haven’t seen Max other than in school for the last week. He called me three days ago for the sole purpose of telling me he was spending all weekend with Jessica.

Like I wanted to know?!

So now, it’s Saturday. I’ve been sitting at the counter of the CrashDown for over two hours now. What am I doing here you ask?

Staring at my distorted reflection in the napkin dispenser and wondering what it would be like to live the rest of my life as a Tahitian pearl farmer. Wicked cool, right?

Right.

I’m having a great time.

My Uncle has already cast me several questioning looks, looks that I’ve decided to ignore and my Aunt has just asked me a third time if something’s wrong.

Of course nothing’s wrong.

I have the perfect life!

It’s so perfect in fact, that I lied and told my best friends I was going to be really busy the entire day and so I couldn’t POSSIBLY join them at the carnival in Artesia just so I could have a few perfect hours to myself. I’m not good with sharing perfection. I drop my head into my waiting hand and come upon a startling revelation. My distorted reflection looks even more distorted from this position!

Cool!

The door opens and the bells chime.

“ Uncle J, we have a customer,” I call out automatically. I’ve been announcing the arrival of people for the past two hours. I even got to announce the arrival of these biker type dudes who rode in on Harley’s. Oh yeah. I live on the EDGE!

“ Liz? There you are! I’ve been looking all over town for you!”

Someone grabs my stool and spins it around to face them so fast, I shriek, almost tumbling off.

Did I mention that the stool I chose to sit on is really not all that balanced?

Whoever it is immediately reaches out to steady me. In the effort to catch me before I fall, the person braced both his hands on the edges of the stool, effectively stopping the spinning and leaned forward so that in case I lurched forward from the momentum, he would be there to catch me. All in all, it worked pretty well, I didn’t fall off and end up on the floor but I’m currently very, very close to the person’s face.

Can you say five inches away? Now think HALF of that.

I’m fully prepared to push him away and gladly yell all sorts of inappropriate language when I realize who it is. The reason for my lying to my friends. The cause of all those inane thoughts from earlier. Both efforts borne out of the desperation to avoid and stop thinking about this person.

Max.

I glare witheringly, trying to ignore the disturbing fact that his lips are way too close to mine.

“ A little warning before you do that next time would be good.” I snap irritably. All that work for nothing. I bored myself out of my mind for two hours and did numerous other things too just for him to find me … it’s not fair! Didn’t he tell me was spending the whole day, sorry, WEEKEND with Jessica? Not that I cared of course.

“ Sorry.” He responds breathily. He doesn’t look sorry. In fact he looks kinda distracted, he’s staring at… something on my chin maybe? Unconsciously, never breaking my gaze on his eyes, though he has yet to meet mine, I bite my lip. Unless my hearing deceives me, did he just groan? Is he sick?

“ Maxwell. You okay?”

He blinks. As if realizing he’s too close, he backs up a bit. “ I’m fine.” He answers. Then he looks at me searchingly. “ What are you DOING here?” He asks incredulously. “ You’re not even working today!”

“ I have a perfectly good explanation for being here. I live here.” I answer sharply. “ The better question would be: what are YOU doing here? Where’s Jessica?” I ask, referring to his recently acquired other half. It’s almost weird to see him without her attached to his side. And damn it, NO, that is not relief I’m feeling!

He stares at me intently. I stare back.

“ She’s not here,” He finally answers. I roll my eyes.

“ I can see that.”

“ You can? Good. Listen, can I talk to you for a second?”

I frown at him.

“ We are talking.”

“ I meant talk somewhere where we aren’t the center of attention.” Max says this without a trace of embarrassment; something I experience in great dollops when I realize what he’s saying is true. The Saturday morning brunch crowd is staring at us and it occurs to me for the first time that my shriek wasn’t quite as soft as I hoped it would be. I blush and Max smirks, making no move to change his position. This probably looks really bad. Well so what? I can deal. I glance at him and shrug. Hey, he ruined my attempts to forget about this whole insane situation for a few precious hours, futile as they were, by coming in here so making him sweat it out by announcing his plans for another romantic blah with Jessica in front of half the town should be a good start to making him pay.

“ I like it fine right here.” I tilt my head to the side and grin at him. “ Feeling a little flustered are we?”

He responds with a wicked grin of his own.

“ Nope. I was just thinking of you. You did shriek rather wimpishly you know.”

Oh, low blow!

“ Thanks for telling me. So what’s up?”

Max raises his eyebrow at me, considering his options. Then he shrugs, and I sigh in relief, thinking he’s going to back off but instead he leans even closer, causing me to go rigid with shock, and whispers in my ear.

“ Come to Artesia with me.”

“ What? Why?” I demand, not bothering to keep my voice low.

He pulls away and stares me straight in the eye.

“ It’s a surprise.”

“ A surprise, huh? Well believe me when I say that after that last surprise birthday party you threw for me, I’m not eager to go into a repeat performance of what you term a surprise.” I inform him curtly, wishing he would move back further and remove his hands already. “Besides, I don’t feel like going out today.”

“ You don’t? That’s too bad then.”

He’s up to something. He’s got that look in his eyes, the one he always gets when he’s up to something. I narrow my eyes suspiciously.

“ Why?”

“ Cause whether you feel like it or not, you’re coming with me.”

And then he lets go of the stool so fast that it wobbles like limp spaghetti. I shriek once more and then miracle of miracles, Max manages to grab one of my wildly flailing hands and yank me to my feet. Alright. Now I’m really mad.

“Max! You idiot!” I yell. He flinches but manages to keep that smile in place. “What the h-”

“ Mr. Parker!” He calls out, interrupting me and taking a precautionary step backward, still holding my hand. “Okay if Liz and I go to the carnival in Artesia?”

What is he doing? Max may have that confident thing down pat but he hates to cause scenes in rooms with loads of people! Now here he is doing very un-Max like stuff, in PUBLIC no less! What’s WRONG with him? I whip around to stare at my Uncle, who’s just come out of the back room, completely oblivious to everything that’s been going on.

“ Sure, Max.” He says, looking around at the suddenly excitedly murmuring room in bewilderment. “ Drive safely all right? And be home by ten.”

“ Uncle Jeff! I-” I start to protest, trying to tug my hand out of his, but his grip is too firm.

“ Thanks Mr. Parker.”

And with that, he drags me towards the door, completely ignoring the gaping patrons while I TRY to ignore the knowing wink and grin my Aunt gives me.

“ Here, Liz!” She says, throwing my jacket at me. “ Have fun honey.”

I catch it and continue my protests as we cross the threshold.

“ Max! Max! Stop it! I have to change, I’m not even dressed!”

Um, I don’t mean it like that! I mean that my outfit of a three-quarter length sleeve red sweater and my oldest, worn and faded low slung black jeans, which have rips and tears all over I might add, don’t exactly scream ‘VOGUE’. But then again, I don’t really care about that. I’m simply trying to find a way out this. I don’t WANT to go anywhere with him. Not until I get a hold of myself. And hey that excuse works for a lot of other girls doesn’t it?

He stops pulling me so abruptly, letting go of my hand and I stumble into him. Is he intentionally trying to piss me off? Because right now, Maxie boy is THISclose to getting his head knocked off. He spares me a glance before grabbing my hand and ushering me to the jeep again.

“ You look incredible. There’s no need for you to change.”

I’m going to ignore that first comment. You should too. He doesn’t mean anything by it, trust me… but…does he? In spite of myself, my heart skips a beat but I roll my eyes instead forcing my mind back on track.

Oh I forgot. A lot of the other girls don’t know Max Evans. No wonder my excuse didn’t work.

“ Hop in.”

I glare.

“ No.”

“ Liz, I really-”

“ Need my help.” I finish for him. “ Well tough. It’s my day off from work AND Cupid Duty, so you’ll just have to be the lone ranger for today.” I rub my forehead tersely. “ God, Max I don’t think your relationship with Jessica will die out just because I took a day off, okay?”

He sighs.

“ I wasn’t going to ask for your help, Liz. I just really wanted to hang with you.”

Yep. There are stars filling my eyes right now. But I quickly shake them away and eye him warily.

“ Oh. But…why aren’t you with her? I thought you had a date today,”

“ Change of plans,” He shrugs.

I raise an eyebrow at him. If I find out he just came over because Jessie stood him up, God help me, I’ll…

“ Whose plans?” I inquire rather calmly for a person who’s considering several painful ways to torture a person to death.

“ Mine.” Max answers swiftly.

“ Yours?” I’m skeptical, can you blame me? “ Why?”

He stares at me seriously.

“ We haven’t had much of a chance to hang out lately.” Max answers. He tilts his head to the side quizzically. “Have you been avoiding me?”

Um, I forgot to mention the little itty bitty fact that apart from Cupid Duty with him, the reason I haven’t seen him outside school for the past week is because…he’s right. I have been avoiding him. But I have a damn good reason and before I can stop it, my anger takes a hold of my tongue and I say,

“ I’m not the one who’s been blowing off all his friends for the past two weeks,”

Max winces and I immediately want to kick myself. I back away from him, eyes wide.

“ I’m sorry. I know you haven’t been blowing us off, I’m just…that was uncalled for.”

“ Is that what you guys think?” Max’s voice sounds…hurt. Ugh! I don’t need this…

“ No, Max, it’s not what I, not what WE think. I… I just kinda blurted it out okay? It’s nothing.”

His eyes narrow.

“ You mean you think I’ve been blowing YOU off?” His tone of voice is incredulous, as if he would never in a million years even consider doing such a thing. I blink and then scowl in annoyance.

“ Damn it, NO, Max! You’re not listening to me. I know you haven’t been blowing me or anyone else off. And if you have, it’s completely not your fault. You have a girlfriend now, we all get that. And so obviously everything else takes a backseat to her especially since you two are just starting out and all. I, WE, completely understand if you don’t show up for stuff okay? So um, if you ever think you’re blowing me, I mean, US, off just because you’re spending time with Jessie, I mean, JESSICA, you need to stop and slap yourself upside on the head because you’re not. Understand?”

Um…did anyone get what I just said?

I don’t think Max got it either. He’s just staring me and then he bursts out into laughter. I think the stress of trying to decipher what I said got to him. He’s cracked.

“ What?” I ask cautiously.

“ Do you realize how much like Maria you sounded?” Max asks, grinning widely. I roll my eyes.

“ No.” I say weakly. “ But on the DeLuca scale, that would definitely just be a one and a half. She’d be disappointed if I were taking lessons from her.”

He grins and I tentatively smile back.

“ Look, Maxwell, I really didn’t mean what I said okay? You know we’re all happy about you and thor-Jessica.”

Max snorts and it’s his turn to roll his eyes at me.

“ Okay, so maybe happy is an exaggeration.” I amend. “ We’re all going to grin and bear you being with Jessica, is that better?”

“ Much.”

“ And I’m sorry if it seemed like I was avoiding you.” I continue, ignoring his interjection. As I screw my courage up for another lie, I wonder, when did they suddenly become an everyday thing? It used to be I could tell Max everything, blunt and honest. Now I’m lying to him virtually every minute we’re together. “ I was just… really busy this week.”

Max suddenly looks guilty.

“ Um, yeah, I wanted to apologize about that. I know I haven’t been much help with our assignment and-”

“ Please,” I wave off his apology with a grin. “ This is me you’re talking to. I finished a couple of days ago. All you have to do is copy down my findings so that it looks like you did some work.”

Max is just standing there, staring at me, still looking a bit guilty. I reach out and punch his shoulder lightly.

“ Hey, no need to look like the world ended there, Maxwell. If copying down the notes is too much for ya, I can always do that too,” I joke. This seems to snap him out of it. He smiles at me.

“ Don’t. I’ll do it.”

“ Okay then.” I nod.

Before I know it, he’s hugging me.

“ You’re the best. You do know that I’d be lost without you, right?”

I stand stiff in his embrace, trying so hard to not release that groan of despair that’s just itching to come out. Yep, that’s me. Max Evans best girl buddy, his own personal Cupid, assignment completer and compass. A few people are gawking at us but most of them don’t seem that surprised. I mean why would they be? We’re best buds, the whole town knows that. And best buds hug all the time, right? I refuse to relax in his embrace, I know it’ll just be like tasting forbidden fruit if I allow myself to feel his body against mine. I know it will only make me want to hug him more often. I know it will haunt my dreams at night and I NEED my sleep. How else am I going to get the strength I need to follow through on my plan?

I take a deep breath and do the only thing I can think of: I pat him on the head gingerly, still standing frozen.

“ Gee, thanks, Maxwell.” I say, hoping my voice sounds normal, full of amusement and just a slightest bit of sarcasm. “ I can die happy now, after hearing those words from you,”

His breath hitches a little when the word ‘die’ crosses my lips and he hugs me tighter, the sudden action catches me totally unaware, and since I haven’t had time to gather my strength and hold myself slightly away from him, I find myself one hundred percent molded along his body.

Gah…

Struggling to find a coherent thought in my suddenly wildly out of focused mind, I realize Max is talking. With effort, I manage to tune in.

“ Don’t talk about things like that Liz,” He’s whispering fervently. “ If anything ever happened to you…” He trails off.

Think, girl, think! But how can I think when my mind is stuck on the words he’s saying? I’ll never manage it! But wait. He’s delirious! That’s it! He’s delirious and he’s saying things that he doesn’t mean!

But it wouldn’t hurt to just hug him back a little would it? I mean, he sounds so…scared. So I do. Big mistake. My brain is immediately filing away how this feels, how certain parts of our bodies fit and lock together, dimensions, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. This is it. Even my dreams won’t be safe from him now!

Oh hell!

I force a laugh and relax my grip. He doesn’t. I ignore this and I try to ignore what he said earlier and my insane urge to make him complete that last sentence. Instead of that, I say,

“ Maxwell, calm down, okay? I’m not going anywhere. Especially in this death grip of yours!”

Ahem. That was good, wasn’t it? Delivered in a nice, normal Liz tone? So how come he isn’t letting me go yet? Enough’s enough, my over active imagination does not need more ammunition against me! Time for drastic measures.

“ Max, come on, you’re strangling me!” I yelp.

He tenses and immediately lets me go.

“ Sorry. You okay?”

I fake a wince. “ Now that I’m not being squeezed like an empty shampoo bottle?” I grin and wink at him. “ I’m just peachy.”

Max smiles back nervously and then as he glances around us self consciously, his eyes latch onto something that make them grow wide with disbelief and then he goes a deep crimson.

I don’t think I want to know.

But you know me, right? Curious as a cat. I look over to where he’s staring and I have no other choice but to laugh at both what I’m looking at and the embarrassed look on Max’s face.

The CrashDown patrons, clearly not satisfied with the scene Max and I created inside, are all pressed up against the windows of the diner, watching us with great interest. I see my Aunt and Uncle there too, both grinning crazily. Jose is giving Max a thumbs up and…hey, wait a minute, isn’t that Maria? I see my best friend virtually hopping up and down jabbering into Michael’s ear as he watches with a smirk. I glance over at Max.

“ Hey Max.”

“ Yeah?” He answers back distractedly.

“ Did you by any chance happen to get an anonymous tip telling you where I was?”

Clearly trying to shake off the feelings of embarrassment, Max rips his gaze away from our audience and scrunches up his forehead as he thinks.

“ Maria called and told me.”

“ Why am I not surprised?” I look back at where Maria was and see her giving a high five to Isabel. Alex is grinning as crazily as my Uncle and Aunt. I narrow my eyes. So. They think they’ve accomplished their mission do they?

How wrong they are. I can’t believe I just hugged Max in the middle of Roswell’s main drag. And I can’t believe I allowed myself to enjoy it. He belongs to someone else for God’s sake. Isn’t this the equivalent of cheating? I may not like Jessie but I won’t do that to another girl. Okay, so I’m maybe I’m over reacting but forgive me, please. I’m scared. In those few moments when I hugged Max back, everything just felt right, exactly like what Maria was describing to me a while back. I didn’t ever want to let go. Which is a very bad thing. If I’m ever going to kick this thing, I had better get a hold of myself, starting right now!

That means I can’t be around my friends for a little while. I give it five minutes before Maria comes charging out here spouting off congratulations. I need to move, and fast.

Glancing up at Max, I’m disturbed to say the least to find him staring down at me.

“ Why do I feel like this is it?” He says.

“ What is ‘it’?”

“ The big conspiracy thing.”

Oh no, we are not talking about this!

“ Do you? You’ve been watching too much X-files Maxwell. You’re beginning to get paranoid.”

Four minutes.

“ Am I? I just realized something. Izzy told me that she, Alex, Michael and Maria were going to the mall today.”

“ The mall?” I repeat. “ They told me they were going to-” I manage to stop myself as everything clicks into place. Of course. This was a set up. I bet you the moment they knew, probably through Isabel’s eavesdropping on her twin, that Max’s plans had changed they came up with this plan. Oh, they’re good. And they’re gonna pay! “ the mall too.” I finish lamely. “ What a coincidence.”

Three minutes.

Max is frowning as he stares back at the watching crowd.

“ I don’t think so.”

“ I don’t want to think. I don’t even want to know if this is it.” I say. Although if it is, I’ve got it made. If this was their best shot, and granted, it was good but I can take it, I’m home free.

Two minutes.

“ You want to get out of here?” we both ask at the same time. I laugh nervously.

“ Yeah. I just realized I haven’t eaten cotton candy in a while.”

Max’s grin is wicked and totally heart stopping.

And I did not notice it. Nope. No siree… I didn’t! I swear!

“ And I just realized that I made a vow to beat you at the ring toss this year.” He says, bringing me back.

I shake my head at him and begin to walk to the jeep.

“ Ha! In your dreams Maxwell!”

One minute.

He goes round the other side and hops in as I get in from the other side.

“ Get ready, Parker. Those dreams are gonna become reality today.”

He guns the engine and we take off just as Maria shoots out the doors. I turn back and grin at her, mouthing the words ‘Nice try’. She gets the picture, actually stamping her foot on the pavement in frustration. Max sees this as he glances in the rearview mirror and when I turn to the front and settle in, he asks

“ What was that about?”

I smile.

“ Oh nothing. Just Maria letting out a little of her frustrations.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 9-Feb-2002 3:47:12 PM ]
posted on 10-Feb-2002 7:14:29 AM by Comet
quote:
FehrBehr originally wrote:
That was a great part. I get the feeling their plan didn't completely fail. And if it did I'm sure Michael, Maria, Izzy and Alex have more plans up their sleeve.

As for the life altering "Where should the story go" question. Most people go to the main board so the story will definately get seen more there. But I can totally understand your hesitancy of putting it there.

IMO, I think it should go on the main board so more people read it. If it makes you feel any better, "Journey of Discovery" and "Beginnings" are 2 of my most favorite fics and I haven't lynched you yet*big*

Thanks for posting more of this wonderful story
*happy*

~Jen~


More plans? That's a great big yes. I'm just glad y'all like it. And should I be scared about that 'yet'? Cause that means it could happen in the near or distant future you know.....*big*

Well....okay. Can you please move the thread onto the main board for me, FehrBehr? I'd really appreciate it! But the first sign I see of lynching, I'm moving back here! LOL!

Thank you all for the feedback. I'll try to post the rest tonight or tomorrow.

Comet
posted on 14-Feb-2002 12:02:26 PM by Comet
Hey guys! Oh my God, geez, thank you so much for the feedback. And whoa, Carey you actually read my fics??? You're like, one of my fave authors! I'm honoured. And Gaby thank you so much for you enthusiasm about this story. I wish I had more time to post a reply to each one of you, but I'm just sneaking onto my mom's comp. so thank you and I hope you like!

Disclaimer: Song bit by the BackStreet Boys. Don't really like them but this song just kinda fitted...

Dun...dun..dun....hang on..it gets bumpy..

When we finally make it back to the CrashDown, at around nine thirty at night, I’m exhausted. I’m loaded down with every kind of stuffed toy imaginable, proof of the furious battle fought between two almost evenly matched opponents.

Now, I’m not gonna lie to you. It was close.

But I… STILL… WON!!!!!!

Ha!

I struggle over to the nearest booth and dump all my prizes on the table, slumping into the seat tiredly. Max walks up a moment later, dumps HIS prizes into the bench and slides in next to them, groaning in pain.

“ How did I ever let you talk me into this?” He moans, rubbing his shoulder and closing his eyes.

I lean my head back.

“ You didn’t. This was all your idea, remember?” I eye the mound of stuffed toys and novelty items. “ Maxwell? What are we gonna do with all this stuff?”

Max opens his eyes long enough to stare at his prizes and then mine before shutting them again with another loud groan.

“ I don’t know. Maybe open a toy shop?”

“ What? Get real. I’m already stuck behind a counter for more hours than I can count, no way am I going into business just to do that too.”

“ Maybe we can-”

Max is cut off by an arm sweeping my prizes off the table and onto the bench next to me and hands plopping down two ice-cold sodas in their place. We both come out of our tired stupors and grab the drinks eagerly, taking long swigs, shooting grateful looks at whoever put them there.

Uh oh.

It’s Maria.

And she looks PISSED!

I groan. I just spent the last eleven and a half hours in a war situation, I am so not up to dealing with Hurricane DeLuca right now.

“ Liz. Max. Glad to see that you two are alive.” She nods curtly before crossing her arms over her chest.

Ooh, someone’s been taking Isabel lessons.

“ Hey Maria.” That’s Max talking. He’s drained his soda and is once more leaning back in his seat and shutting his eyes. “ Do you think you could get me a cheese burger? I’m starving.” Maria’s eyes flash. I smother a snicker. Either he hasn’t noticed or doesn’t care that Maria is apparently on the warpath. Aw, hell, I’m too tired to care too. Besides, Maria has nothing to be mad about. So we skipped on her before she could start jumping around us and proclaiming victory. A mistaken victory I might add. And by all accounts, it should be me who’s pissed, with the way my so called friends are trying to negate all my carefully made plans. But right now, I just don’t have the energy. I close my eyes too, settling on saying,

“ Yeah, me too. I’ll have the same. ‘cept could you make mine a double? Oh and another round of sodas would be good too.”

From somewhere above us, Maria utters a frustrated huff and stomps off. I smirk, opening my eyes to just the narrowest of slits. Max is smirking as well. He sees me looking at him and says,

“ You know, I think she’s miffed.”

I wink at him. “ Ya think?”

He winks back. “ I know.”

I chuckle.

“ She’s Maria. She’ll get over it.”

“ I really hope so. Isabel on my case is bad enough, add Maria to the mix and you might as well start digging my grave.”

“ Hogwash! Ria loves you.” I protest. It’s so nice to be able to banter back and forth like this again. It’s what we used to do BEFORE these feelings began ruining everything. “ She’d never do anything to hurt you…maybe just embarrass you badly in front of lots of people but never anything physical… at least not anything long term.”

Max laughs and begins to rotate his neck.

“ Gee, thanks Liz. I feel SO much better now.”

I feel a little thrill go through me at the sound. Okay, that is definitely not usual. At least, until a couple of weeks ago it wasn’t. God, why did I never notice what an amazing laugh he has? Why did I never notice how incredible his eyes are? Why did I ever agree to play Cupid for him? Max must’ve seen some of my thoughts reflected on my face cause his eyes narrow in concern and he reaches across the table to give my hand a shake, covering it with his.

“ Hey. You okay?”

I blink, staring down at our hands. Lamenting choices I made and things I never noticed does no good to me at this point. What’s done is done, there’s no turning back. And though I loathe to admit it, Max isn’t just Max, my buddy, my pal anymore. He’s Max, my buddy, my pal, my secret SERIOUS, SERIOUS crush (which I’ll have you know seems totally inadequate to describe how I feel) and Jessica’s boyfriend of two weeks now.

I grin at him before gently removing my hand from under his. A weird light flashes through them and he gives me a tight smile.

“ I’m fine. I was just thinking… maybe you could give it to Jessie.”

He gives me a puzzled look.

“ Give what to Jessie?”

I smirk. Well look at that. Apparently, my little disrespect of using Jessica’s name has rubbed off on Max.

“ It. All of it, in fact,” I say, waving my hand at the prizes we managed to accumulate. “ So she knows that even when you two weren’t together… you were thinking about her.”

Yeah, nice sentiment, ain’t it? I honestly don’t know where I’m coming up with all this mushy gushy stuff. I guess uncovering feelings for Max also unlocked those uncharted romantic and thoughtful depths in my heart. Figures. The one time I think I’m finally ready to explore them, the one I want to explore WITH is with someone else.

“ Liz…” Max starts and I wince.

I know that sooner or later he’s gonna call me on why I’m always pulling away from contact with him. Now don’t get me wrong, Max and I were never overly touchy feely or anything like that but we were comfortable enough with each other to spend a whole movie session with his arm over my shoulder, or walk down the hallways of school or on streets with my arm linked through his. Now, I shy away from him like he’s got leprosy and he’s bound to notice sooner or later.

A loud clatter of food filled plates interrupts whatever he’s got to say and Maria is once more towering above us, glaring at me.

“ Liz, babe, are you doing this on PURPOSE?! How do you expect us to compete with that incredibly sweet statement, huh? Where are you coming up with this stuff? You’re using your genius IQ level to plan and that’s not fair! I-”

My mouth, I’ll have you know, is now permanently attached to the table in front of me. I am not going to look at Max, the whole thing might be over if I do that. Before Maria can get out another word though, Michael rushes up and clamps a hand over her mouth, grinning at us.

“ Max, Liz,” He says, attempting to drag a furiously struggling Maria with him. “ Did you guys have a good time?”

We must’ve been looking at him funny because he shrugs and begins backing away.

“ Yeah, okay. Ignore whatever Maria’s been saying. She left her oils at home today,” Michael says, totally oblivious to the way Maria’s legs are kicking wildly. Once they enter the break room, my head automatically turns towards Max. He stares just as blankly back at me.

“ Uh, you wouldn’t by any chance happen to know what she was talking about, would you?”

Think fast girl!

“ I barely know what Maria’s talking about half the time she’s not freaking but when she is, I’m as lost as you are.”

“ That was extremely weird. Even for Maria.” He says. He’s quiet for a moment as he stares off into the distance. He’s thinking. He always stares off into the distance when he’s thinking. “ You sure you don’t-”

“ I’m sure Max.”

“ Ah… okay.”

Oh screw it. I have no intention of convincing you of something that you refused to be convinced of, Max Evans!

A boom box begins blaring out, and suddenly Alex and Isabel are in front of us, huge smiles on their faces.

“ Good, you two made it,” Isabel is saying. “ We invited a few people to meet us here.”

Max’s eyebrow raises skyward.

“ A ‘few’ people?” He shakes his head and glances at me. “ Isabel never invites just a ‘few’ people. They’re holding a surprise party.” He says decisively.

“ Gee, Max, paranoid much?” Alex says, after a not too subtle elbow in the ribs from Isabel. “ When my Izzy says she’s invited a few people, she means a few.”

I frown at him, not buying it for an instant. “ No!” I immediately protest, crossing my arms over my chest. “You can’t, Isabel! It took me ages to get the burgers scraped off the ceiling the last time you did this!”

Isabel rolls her eyes at me, grinning.

“ Liz, I helped remember?”

“ What? You did no such thing! You were too grossed out by them. Something about your nails being just manicured? Besides, Uncle Jeff said no more parties.”

“ Oh we already asked him,” Alex pipes up. “ And he said yes. We’ll be responsible for any cleaning that needs to be done afterward.”

“ I hope I’m not included in that ‘we’.” Max says, rubbing his shoulder again. “ I still can’t get rid of the ketchup smell from my blue shirt.”

“ No, I’m happy to say that you TWO are excluded.” Isabel announces, ignoring his later remark.

My eyes narrow suspiciously. “ Uh huh. What’s going on?”

Both of them paint matching innocent looks on their faces.

“ What?” They say in unison.

“ What’s the catch?” Max asks, staring at them questioningly.

“ Catch? What catch? You really are getting paranoid, brother dear.” Isabel remarks with wide eyes.

“ Riiight.” Max drawls, meeting my less than trusting gaze. “ They’re up to something.”

“ Geez, you two! Can’t we have a nice little get together without you guys getting all suspicious on us?” Alex asks indignantly.

Max and I exchange looks.

“ No.” We answer in unison.

A song with a particularly catchy beat comes on and Alex and Isabel immediately begin to sway.

“ Okay, fine!” Isabel says in exasperation. “ Be like that. But at least come and dance with us,” She pleads.

“ Yeah!” Alex exclaims. “ Let’s boogie!”

“ Right! Let’s boogie!” Isabel repeats. A second later, she turns towards Alex quizzically. “ Boogie?”

He rolls his eyes and grabs her hand, twirling her around to the music. Almost immediately, Max is in front of me, helping me out of the booth as I protest.

“ Whoa, hold on a second there!” I yell as he continues to drag me over to where Isabel and Alex dancing their hearts out. “ I don’t dance!”

“ Oh yes you do!”

Okay fine, so I do. And I do it well. Ten minutes later, Michael and Maria come out of the break room and Maria’s in her regular clothes now, so I guess her shift’s over. They join us and pretty soon, people begin to trickle in. I get a little shock when after about half an hour of dancing hard, there are more than twenty people milling around us, some dancing, some just hanging out, some stuffing their faces in and generally just having a good time. The music’s getting louder and faster by the minute and so does the crowd. Max and I manage to maneuver our way over to where Alex and Iz are and I mock glare at Isabel.

“ A few people, huh?”

Isabel rolls her eyes at me, grinning.

“ Oh, quit complaining, Liz, it’s not like you’ll be cleaning afterwards.”

“ I still think it’s a trap though,” Max comments, spinning me around as I laugh.

“ And that just goes to show how little you know,” Alex quips, turning back to us and handing Isabel a soda. Isabel kisses him on the cheek in thanks and the two stare at each other for several minutes with goofy ‘I’m-so-in-love’ looks on their faces. It’s hard to gag at this because it’s so unbelievably cute. And plus, I kind of understand it now. So I settle for rolling my eyes and turn back to Max, hoping I don’t look like that every time I look at him.

Max is staring at them wistfully and my heart plummets. I bet he’s wishing Jessica were here so he and her can have a staring match of their own. I sigh and he looks down at me.

“ What?”

“ Nothing.” I answer.

He looks at me for a little while longer before pulling me away from the two lovebirds and back into the gyrating crowd. The techno beat fades out just as we reach a prime spot, way in the center and away from the prying eyes of our friends.

“ Okay, what’s wrong?” He presses, looking at me concernedly. I sigh again.

“ Max-”

“ Come on, Liz. It’s me. We said we wouldn’t play the ‘nothing’ game remember?”

I wrinkle my nose. “ What? When?”

“ Back in eighth grade.” He answers immediately. Smiling down at me, he tucks a strand of hair behind my ear and I’m trying real hard not to shiver at his touch. See what I mean? A few years ago, I would have laughed if someone had told me I would be shivering at contact with Max Evans. And now… I am so…I’m just…I don’t even know the word! “So talk to me,” Max commands gently.

Some guy at my back jostles into me and I stumble a little. Max immediately pulls me closer to shield me from anymore clumsy people.

“ Watch it pal.” He cautions sharply. Whoever it is mumbles a ‘sorry’ and I smile. Max is so thoughtful that way but I can’t really pay attention to how having his arms around me feels right now because we’re going into best bud ancient history, which is good. It’ll remind me of all the things that I’m trying to save from my icky feelings. I promise you, though, that I will revisit how this feels later, and it will probably be against my will. The sappy tunes of what obviously is going to be a slow song begins to pipe out from the speakers and I try hard not to groan. Great. Just what I need.

Remember when we never needed each other?
The best of friends like sister and brother
We understood we’d never be alone


Okaaaay, what song is this again? It sounds so…boy band-ish. But at this moment, it also sounds perfect. I’m remembering the first time I saw Max Evans, and even then, he had all the girls in class all in a flutter, me excluded. He was just so nice and not stuck up at all, seemingly a complete opposite of the high strung Isabel. Our teacher picked me to show him around, basically because I was the only girl who didn’t raise her hand when she asked for volunteers. Remember when I said he was so nice? He was. To everyone but me. It’s a wonder we didn’t kill each other that first day, with the way we argued about everything. It was all out war for the first week. But… somehow, something shifted and after that hellish week, we went from mortal enemies to best friends. We never needed each other then. I don’t even know if he needs me now, but I know that I need HIM. I need him to be part of my life, because if he’s not, then I’m not sure I can be the real Liz Parker anymore. I won’t be… complete. I look up at him, finally replying.

“ Max… I…I’m okay, really. Nothing’s wrong.”

All around us, people are slow dancing and I wonder if that’s my cue to get off the dance floor. Max and I haven’t slow danced since that long forgotten junior high prom thing. He doesn’t look convinced but instead lowers his head a little so he can look into my eyes. I am not chickening out this time. I look back at him. I can feel people’s gazes on us, and some of them are murmuring among themselves. I don’t blame them. I guess we look a little strange, standing stationary in the middle of a room full of dancing people. Not to mention that is prime gossip material. Oh well. Whatever.

“ You would tell me if something was wrong, right?” He asks me, ignoring the eyes of our audience.

I bite my lower lip uncertainly. Here’s the question of the hour, folks. Would I? In light of everything that’s happened, would I really? I don’t know if I can answer that truthfully and I don’t want to lie to him anymore tonight. I don’t. So instead I let up on my lip and smile as charmingly as I can, batting my eyelashes up at him.

“ What is this?” I ask teasingly. “ We’re on a dance floor, Max and this is the time you choose to go all insightful on me? Shouldn’t we be dancing?”

For a second, he looks stunned, dazed even and he’s looking at something on my chin again. Weird. Then he raises his eyes to meet mine and it’s my turn to be stunned. Whoa. I didn’t know Max’s eyes could go all dark like that. And…I kinda like it. Reminds me of the sky of the desert at night. So wild. Dangerous. Completely captivating.

“ You want to dance with me?”

The question is softly uttered, like the way he said my name on the bleachers that day. And okay, I’m making this official. If this is a dream, I will KILL the person who wakes me up. I swear I…Wait. What am I doing? I’m not supposed to notice stuff like his eyes or the tone of voice he uses OR the way I seem to turn into jelly every time he’s near me. I’m not. I am not and I won’t! I glance away at the crowd, trying to compose myself and think of a suitable, buddy-buddy reply to that question. A big, hysterical NO would be too suspicious. A deliriously happy YES is out of the question. A ‘Maybe’ would sound like I’m flirting with him. But maybe with a little creativity on my side, and a whole heap of sarcasm and a LOT of luck, I could make it work. What do you think guys? Like my chances? I’m about to go for it when he tightens his grip on me and coaxes me into moving with him, pulling me into full contact.

Shocked, I raise my eyes to him.

You already know what happens right? Getting lost in his eyes, I follow his lead and we begin to slow dance.

Damn him!

Those days are gone now I want you so much
The night is long and I need your touch
I don’t know what to say, I never meant to feel this way
Don’t wanna be alone tonight


We continue to sway to this ridiculously apt song and I fight to keep from shuddering, my earlier thoughts about not letting him get to me, being strong, yada, yada, yada… all completely forgotten. Now I’m thinking about the song. I realize that what is says is true. Those days are long gone. I kind of miss being able to look at Max without the rush of emotions I’ve been experiencing lately. And I really, really don’t know what to say. ‘ Hey, Max, I think I like you in a more than friends kind of way, so break up with Jessica so we can figure out what to do?’ Ha. Yeah right. You have got to believe me when I say that never in a million years did I ever expect to feel things other than best bud friendship for Max. I thought we had the perfect relationship. It was so easy for me to act like I had prior claim on him whenever he wanted to get out of a date with someone and it was vice versa too. I could always count on Max to be there for me. And as for being alone tonight…we better not go there.

What can I do to make you mine?
I’ve fallen so hard, so fast this time
What did I say, what did you do?
How did I fall in love with you?


Yeah, what can I do? What do I want to do? To make him mine? He already is in a way. He’s my friend. And my mission is to keep it that way. So I guess that first line is taboo. As for the second…let me make one thing clear. I have never fallen for anyone before. Sure, I’ve had crushes. Infatuations. But the real type of falling, the Alex/Izzy, Michael/Maria type falling? Nope. Not even close. So as I’m sure I mentioned before, I’m scared out of my mind that this may be it. The big fall. And if it is, will I be able to get up when I finally hit the ground? Or will I be rescued before I ever have to feel that hard crash? Maybe Max will be the one to… Hey, there I go, wishing for things that can never be again. Can you say delusional? I’m going to go ahead and ignore the last words of the song and if you want to stick with me tonight, you should too.

I hear your voice and I start to tremble
Brings back the child that I resemble
I cannot pretend that we can still be friends
Don’t wanna be alone tonight


I so don’t buy this. Me and him can still be friends, it’s not like it’s this impossible thing to accomplish, even though my so-called friends are trying to make it so, right? But then maybe I will be just pretending. I’ve said it before. I’m practically lying to him at every opportunity and real friends, the type that Max and I were, the type we ARE, I mean, don’t lie to each other. The song lapses into the chorus again and I sigh tiredly. I’m so exhausted. I’m so confused. Without thinking, I plop my head forward and it lands on his chest and suddenly, all I can hear is the rapid beating of his heart. I press my ear into deeper into the cozy nook that I find and frown. It’s going fast. Too fast. Way too fast. Is…is this normal? Oh my god, what if I’m giving him a heart attack because the shock of me putting my head on his chest was too much for him? Panicked, I jerk my head away and I stare up at him. His eyes pop open. Oh-kay… Why was he closing his eyes?

“ Sorry! I wasn’t-” I begin.

“ No, don’t.” He protests immediately. I stare. Um…what is he saying no to? A dark flush rises on his cheeks but he continues looking at me, “ It’s okay. Are you tired?”

“ A little.”

“ Go ahead.”

“ Max…”

“ Come on Liz. This’ll probably the only time our friends will leave us alone to rest so you better take advantage of it.” His tone is teasing but the look in his eyes is anything but. Uh oh. Why, WHY does he keeping looking at me like that? I duck my head and let it fall against his chest once more, more to escape his gaze than anything else. What, you think I’m doing this because I like it? As if! I don’t want to have another staring match with him, that’s all! You believe me right?

Oh I want to say these words
And it has to be tonight
Just need you to know
I don’t want to live this lie
I don’t want to say goodbye
With you I want to spend the rest of my life


With my face hidden, I do this cross between a grimace and a smile. Where in the world did whoever is acting as DJ dig up this song? It so describes what I’m feeling right now, suddenly it’s not funny anymore. Heart attacks aside, I really am considering just telling him. What could be so bad? What’s the worst that could happen? The image of Max running away screaming flashes in my mind and I flinch. Okay. So that’s one scenario. And oh god, if that happens, I don’t even know what I’m going to do. It doesn’t necessarily have to be tonight does it? I roll my eyes. Great. I’ve resorted to following the outline of a song. I really am desperate. I’m not living a lie, am I? I mean, it’s not like I’m doing this for myself, right? I don’t want to tell Max just so this burden on me can be lifted. That would be wrong in so many ways. For one thing, it would force him to deal with the fact that someone who’s been his buddy for years is a psycho. For another, his relationship with Jessica could be wrecked beyond repair. And then there’s the fact that I would be completely selfish for doing such a thing. I don’t want to say goodbye and I certainly don’t even want to acknowledge the last stanza that was sung but I’m thinking that if I don’t get myself under control soon, I may not have a choice anymore. About saying goodbye I mean. I lift my head from it’s resting place and look up at Max, not surprised to find him looking down at me this time.

“ I think I’ve rested up enough.”

He nods and then seemingly fighting a silent war inside him, he finally speaks.

“ Liz. We have to talk.”

“ About what, Max?” My voice manages to keep itself calm and normal which is good cause I think I just about wanted to scream with fright when he spoke. He sounds so serious. I quickly run over the past couple of weeks in my head, trying to figure out if I gave myself away. But everything checks out okay. I think. Okay, I’m freaking now. I step slightly away from him but that how far I’m managing to get. He’s tightened his grip around my waist and I know I’m not going away till he wants me to. I swallow and untangle my hands from behind his neck, brushing the hair at his nape accidentally. Another shiver. Wait. Did he just shiver too? Nah. He couldn’t have. As casually as I can, I place my hands on his shoulders instead, trying to drag the unwilling parts of myself back to the mission at hand. Let me tell you, they’re not happy. They’re practically kicking and screaming at this point.

Max stares at me, my actions making him raise his eyebrows questioningly. I begin to shift uncomfortably as the damned chorus begins playing again.

Why won’t this stupid song end?!

“ Max?” I prompt. He snaps himself out of whatever place he’s gone into and stares at me.

“ Liz, why-”

“ Max?!”

We both turn our heads to the side. Jessica Thorne is standing there, looking surprised and not very pleased at the scene before her. Her eyes linger on where my hands are and when she latches onto where Max’s arms are, she frowns a little. He doesn’t let go. Oh boy. See, this is why it’s dangerous for me to get into such close contact with Max. I lose my head. I totally forgot that Jessie even EXISTED and now, I’m gonna have to pay for it. In the most relaxed and indifferent way I can muster, I drop my hands from where they are. Max still hasn’t let me go yet. I never look away from Jessica’s face. She looks beyond confused and more than a little pissed.

“ Jessica. Hey.” Max greets easily, no trace of embarrassment in his voice.

“ Hey.” I say.

“ Hi Liz.” Jessica says. Then her attention is back on Max. “ I thought you were going to be busy?”

I feel Max stiffen and I leap up to cover for him.

“ That was my fault. I needed him to come over and do his part of our assignment. The lazy lout forgot the last five times I told him so I kept on bugging him till he got his act together.” All this is delivered in the long suffering tone friends who have been through everything together and know each others faults have perfected. Jessica relaxes and not wanting to jinx it, I don’t risk looking up at Max.

“ Well, in that case, can I cut in?” She asks coolly. “ I love this song.”

I smile dazzlingly at her. Oh I’m good. No trace of a frown or grimace in there whatsoever. High five, Parker!

“Hey, no prob. I hate this song anyway.” Oh yeah. From now on, I really hate it. I wink up at Max as I back out of his grasp. I am fully in control now. Thank you, Jessie. “ You owe me for slowing dancing Maxwell. Later.” His eyes are unreadable, and as soon as I’m out of the way, Jessie steps right into his arms.

I make my way to counter on auto pilot and as soon as I get there, I plop down on a stool. Dina hands me a soda. I smile my thanks and go back to scanning the crowd. Michael and Maria, Alex and Isabel are all dancing in a little corner of their own, completely lost in each other. And I’m happy for them. Inadvertently, my gaze drops onto Max and Jessica. She’s standing in the exact same position I was in except that being so tall, she’s resting her head on his shoulder and has her arms around his neck possessively. Is it just me or do they not… look right? Oh hell. Why can’t I remove my eyes from them?

Max is saying something to her with a smile on his face. She’s laughing softly and she lifts her head to beam up at him. I see that twinkle in her eyes and I just know that she planning something and whatever it is can’t be good. Wouldn’t you know it, I’m right.

In the next instant, she attacks him with her lips. My mouth drops open. Jesus, she looks like she’s trying to inhale him! My gaze immediately shifts to Max’s eyes instead of their joined lips and what I see makes me feel sympathetic towards Max and angry at Jessica at the same time. The guy is shell shocked, pure and simple. His eyes are practically bugging out! I’ve just about made up my mind to go over there and break it up, all in the interest of friendship of course, when his eyes close and… lookit that, Grandma!

He starts kissing her back.

All around them people start murmuring. I want to scream. I want to yell. I want to cry. I want to stop feeling all this. I want this annoying voice that’s urging me to yank Jessica out of his arms to shut up. It’s her right to be there! But most of all, I want whoever is doing this to me to drop dead. And then somewhere inside me, I feel something freeze. When the inhalation, er, kissing ends, Jessica puts her head back in it’s original position with a smug grin. I glance upwards and to the side to find Max staring at me, looking like the world just ended. Shouldn’t I have that look? Oh. I think maybe I do have it. And would you blame me? But I shouldn’t have it! I shouldn’t!

I think some greater power must’ve taken pity on me because I have no control over my next actions. They’re just… perfect. My lips tip upward in a happy smile. I give him two thumbs up. He doesn’t respond in any way but to stare at me. The last line of the song floats out over the crowd and despite the blood rushing in my ears, I hear it quite clearly.

Everything’s changed…we never will...

How did I fall in love with you?


With those last words, my heart unfreezes. Not this is the real the question of the hour isn’t it? How this came to be. How I came to this particular point in my life. I see something flicker in Max’s eyes and he lets go off Jessica abruptly, and takes a step in my direction. Hope flares. But then Jessica’s hand shoots out and she whispers something to him. Max listens but continues staring at me. He’s shaking his head. Jessica pouts and tugs on his hand. He sighs and says something to her, only receiving a shake of the head and a frown as an answer. Then he nods and she grins and begins leading him away. He glances back at me one more time and walks off. He doesn’t look back and I don’t react. Max disappears into the crowd. Um…yeah. Hope? What hope?

Oh and my heart? I mentioned that it’s not frozen anymore right? And it’s not. What it is, is cracked. And bleeding.

And suddenly saying goodbye doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all.


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 14-Feb-2002 12:43:45 PM ]
posted on 18-Feb-2002 1:11:06 PM by Comet
Um...wow? Geez, that seems like a totally inappropriate response to all the tremendously great feedback I've received.

Okay, first off, thank you for reading. If nobody was reading this, I would defnitely stop posting. Secondly, I'm sorry for posting that particular part on Valentines day. I meant to cut out that part and include it in the next post, but I was in a hurry so...sorry. Perhaps now would be a good time to say that this does have a happy ending? Thirdly, I'm really sorry if you're disappointed with Liz's and Max's actions and thoughts. Like I said, this was my first fic and I really wasn't all that happy with it, which I why I decided to not use POV's for my other stories. I have some editing to do here and there but it probably won't change much.

Thank you all once more for the great feedback. I love the stuff. You guys are the best! PS: To the person who said this was being dicussed on FF...are you serious?*big* On which thread???? LOL!

Short, light part....well....mostly light...

The time is now thirty minutes after twelve. Ten minutes ago, I finally convinced the group to go home, saying that I would finish cleaning up and that I was fine. I mean, honestly, did they really expect me to break just cause I saw Max and Jessica kissing? Oh, I forgot to mention this but it turns out that Max and I were being watched the whole time we were together. The dancing bit, when I saw them all tucked away in their corner? It was a cover. And the song? Maria picked it. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure you figured this out before me. It was yet another set up. I’m torn between being as pissed off as hell and laughing at how utterly wrong their plan went.

Not that it would be good laughter. Nope, it would be more of the hysterical, hollow kind.

You can feel the joy radiating from me, right?

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. Due to the voyeuristic tendencies Michael, Maria, Alex and Isabel seemed to have developed over the last weeks, they got a front row seats to the kiss of death. I know that the only thing that saved Max from the wrath of Isabel and Maria was that they couldn’t find him and so I got the full treatment of sympathetic looks, hugs and 3 offers to have Max get beaten up, courtesy of Michael, Maria and even Alex. Go me, right? So now I’m sitting here at the counter of the Crash, in the dark, all by myself, with my thoughts as my only companions. The strength that kept me going throughout the whole horrible episode and my friends’ well-meaning support talk is gone. All I want to do is curl up and escape into my perfect dream world where everything is okay and I’m actually happy. It’s funny you know. All my life, I’ve always known what I wanted and gone for them, no holding back. No matter what anyone said or did, if I wanted it bad enough, I would keep on going till I had it. Like the time I sprained my ankle three weeks before the big all city relay. Everyone told me I couldn’t run. But I couldn’t NOT run either. It’s the only thing, apart from drumming, where I feel totally comfortable with myself and who I am. The result of that little escapade is the trophy that sits in the West Roswell High trophy case. Sure, my aunt and uncle were mad at me and Max and Maria were furious but they understood what drove me to it. I was completely focused and knew where I was headed.

But right now, I feel the exact opposite of that. I feel like I’ve been turning in circles for ages and then someone suddenly stops me, causing the whole world to go topsy turvy. I feel more lost than I have ever felt. I felt this same way when my parents died. Mom and dad were the most constant beings in my life, my anchors, apart from Maria and Alex. And when they were gone, little as I was, I felt like I had been set adrift in this violent ocean that was waiting to swallow me whole. Like I was drowning in my tears. I will never forget the night Maria and Alex climbed into my room through my window, hugged me and didn’t try to tell me that they knew how I felt or that it would all be okay. They just let me cry and held me. I didn’t need words. I just needed… well, up to now, I’m not even sure what is was I needed but I do know this. Whatever it was, that night and the nights that followed that, Maria and Alex gave it to me in spades. So like I said I owe them.

But this…this thing with Max. Compared to then, what I feel now is somehow even more…more everything. It’s more confusing. More depressing. More heartbreaking. More…painful. The worst thing is that I don’t even think I have a right to feel this way. Because, okay, when I started this, I had a specific goal in mind. To completely obliterate all of these feelings I have for him and remain good friends. I KNEW what I wanted. It’s what I want even now. I want Max to be happy. Happy like our other friends are. I want this, because over the years, I’ve seen him be glad about the bliss they’ve found in each other’s arms but watch them with that hint of envy in his eyes. The hint of loneliness. And Max Evans is just too good of a person to feel like this. These are things that I vowed to never let myself feel. I believe that my parents wouldn’t have wanted me to spend time dwelling on what was lacking in my life while there was so much else going on around me. But, okay, I’ll admit it. Despite my resolution to NOT let myself be mired in it, I know how he feels. I think that the first time I saw him, standing in front of the class, I recognized the look in his eyes when he locked stares with me. It was what I saw in the mirror every time I was alone but hid when I was with my friends. I don’t want him to have to perfect hiding his loneliness like I had to do when I was six. Like I still do now. So if being with Jessica makes him happy… then I want that for him. And yet… I want him too. There. I thought it. Are you happy? I’m in no way ready to say the ‘L’ word when in comes to Max but I can admit this. Can you see my problem? I have two conflicting desires. I want Max to be totally, insanely madly in love and happy like he’s wanted to be for as long as I’ve known him and now he’s finally picked someone to test the waters with. At the same time, I want to be with him. The thing is, if I confess to him, I foresee disaster. He could tell me he doesn’t feel the same way and our friendship would be caput. Secondly, I may ruin whatever he finds with Jessica. And after all that…I’ll still be alone.

I groan and drop my head onto the now clean countertop with a loud thump.

Oh god, this is so pathetic. I refuse to fall victim to that ‘I-don’t-want-him-but-no-one-else-can-have-him’ syndrome. I refuse to risk my heart on something that may be just a passing thing. But why do I feel like this goes deeper than that? Like it’s been happening for a long time now? What if… what if it has?

My head comes off from the counter and I almost yell in elation and anger. Elation because…well, I’ve figured out why what I’m feeling is so strong. And anger because…why the hell didn’t I stop it? If I had only stopped it THEN, I wouldn’t be here NOW. But what good would figuring it out then had done? I would probably have come to the same terrible decision I face now and maybe back then, I would have actually been crazy enough to go after Max myself. Why do I feel like I’m in a lose, lose situation? Why do I feel like whatever it is that I decide to do will end up hurting someone? Hurting Max?

Why do I feel like I…I…I don’t know what to do!!!!!

You should see me now. My head is back on the countertop and my arms are sprawled over it. I guarantee that you’ve never seen such a dismal sight. But… the view of the floor is stunning from this position and- STOP IT! Okay. I’ll try one last attempt to be logical. The way I see it is that I have to figure out which of the two things (Max happy with Jessica or Max with me) I want more badly. I could weight pros and cons, like, okay, for example, he didn’t exactly look right or all that happy with Jessie. But then again, he DID start kissing her back and he DID go off with her, and is probably doing God knows what else right now. Ouch. The funny ache in my chest just grew more painful. Why can’t this be easy? Why can’t I stop playing it safe and just tell him? Maybe I do know the answer to this one. Maybe it’s because as much I want to tell him, as much as I want HIM, I want him to be a part of my life even more. And if I tell him, I run the risk of losing him. I couldn’t bear that. But will I ever be satisfied with what he and I have now? I shudder and wrap my arms around my middle in an effort to not acknowledge the resounding NO running through my mind right now. See what I mean? It’s so hard. Did I really just tell Michael a few weeks ago that this wouldn’t hurt me?

How wrong I was.

I feel tears start to brim in my eyes and I close them, hoping this will stop it. It doesn’t. If anything, the burning intensifies. Damn it, I don’t want to cry over this. Strong, strong, I HAVE to be strong. Always strong. Uhh…why isn’t this working? Just as I’m about to start sobbing, a sharp rap on the door registers in my over tired brain. I jerk upright and grab the napkin dispenser, gearing up to hurl it at the intruder. All this dries up my tears faster than you could say…Michael? What is he doing here? He’s peering in at me and I wonder how he can see me. Last time I checked, I was brooding in the dark. Oops. It’s not dark now. Nope. Did I mention that there’s a skylight over the counter, more specifically, over the place I’m sitting? Unbeknownst to me, the moon has risen and I’m now sitting on a stool, holding a napkin dispenser and being completely illuminated by moonlight. Great. Even the moon refuses to give me a break. He knocks again and this time, he’s scowling as he does it. I frown right back as I set down the dispenser and trudge over to the door.

“ In the neighborhood?” I ask listlessly as I open the door and he comes in.

He stares hard at me. I stare back.

“ What are you doing here, Michael?”

“ Have you been crying?”

I roll my eyes.

“ Great opening line there, bro. For your information, I have not,” Why are YOU looking at me like that? I haven’t been crying. I was ABOUT to but I wasn’t. There’s a difference. “ What are you doing here Michael?” I ask again.

“ Maria sent me.”

I smirk and walk over to the mop to put it away in the break room, Michael right behind me.

“ Why? Was she afraid I’d hurl myself off my balcony?”

“ She’s just worried about you Liz.” Michael says.

“ I know that bro. I know ALL of you have been worried. With the way you guys have been hovering over me these last two weeks, how could I possibly miss it?” I open the door to the cleaning supply closet and wrinkle my nose at the mess inside. Eeeww. I really need to tell Uncle J to clean this place out.

“ Liz, are you okay? And don’t give me any crap about being fine this time, okay? We can tell you know.”

“ Remind me again when all of you became mind readers?” I ask absently as I push the mop in.

“ Liz. Stop fooling around.”

I bristle and slam the door to the supply closet shut. I whip around to face Michael and he meets my gaze defiantly.

“ What do you want from me Michael? Do you want to know how hard it was seeing him kiss her? Do you want to know how hard seeing them together is? Is that what you want? Well fine. It was hard. It IS hard. But I’m still here. I’m still standing. Contrary to what you and the others think, I’m not going to break down just because Max is going out with someone else, okay? Give me a little more credit than that at least.”

“ How long do you think you can keep doing this Liz?” He demands. “ You promised me, remember? And can you stand there right now and honestly tell me that it doesn’t hurt?”

I flinch. He’s right. But I can’t just stop what I’m doing right out of the blue can I? I purse my lips and stare him straight in the eye.

“ It hurts, Michael.” I admit softly. “ But not much. And definitely not enough to make me want to stop.” I don’t know how true this statement is. But the way things are going, we may not have long to wait to find out. Nice, huh? “ Look. I thought we agreed that you would let me do what I had to do?”

“ And I thought we agreed that you would stop the moment it started to hurt.” Michael says stubbornly, crossing his arms over his chest.

“ How about a compromise then? When I’m satisfied that Max is as happy as he can possibly be with Jessica, I’ll stop.”

Michael snorts. “ Demolishing your own heart in the process.” Perhaps seeing me start on an acid retort, he changes his tone and begins to speak. “ Okay Liz. Answer me this. How will you know when Maxwell is happy?”

“ When his eyes tell me so,” I answer immediately, a dreamy smile claiming my lips. “ When they shine…” You should see it. They look so incredible when he’s happy; it’s enough to make you want to drown in them so you can live in the midst of all that unbelievable beauty forever. Out of the corner of my eye I see Michael grin knowingly and my smile slips away. What did I just say? Something about Max’s eyes? Oh please, tell me I did not say that in front of Michael of all people! He’ll never let me live it down! Damn it! This is just more proof that Max Evans has put a force on me. Great. I’m blushing furiously but I meet his eyes anyway. “ Your point?”

“ My point is…how do know that his eyes, uh, shine when he’s happy, as you so nicely put it?”

I glare witheringly at him and he raises his hands in surrender getting the message that is he ever mentions that to anyone, he’s a dead man. Maria would be crushed, but he’s still a dead man. I furrow my brow as I think about his question, leading the way back to the eating area. Michael follows me obediently and settles down on a stool, watching as I pace.

“ I know because…because…well…they always do that when he does the things he loves. Like playing basketball. Or hanging with his family and friends. Or when he and I take off on one of our crazy escapades. Especially then.” I laugh at my last statement. There have been many memorable escapades, that’s for sure. I glance over at Michael just to see him sporting a triumphant smirk. “ What?” I demand.

“ What was that last one?”

I frown, thinking back on what I said. “ They shine the most when we’re off doing stuff together.” I repeat. Wait. That didn’t…what does THAT mean? That Max is most happy with…me? Before I even have time to process this (it’s hard because my heart is leaping all over the place and my poor brain is trying to catch it so I can breathe again) Michael speaks.

“ Uh huh. Are you figuring it out, now Liz?” He asks excitedly, slipping off the stool and walking to me, frozen statue that I am.

I narrow my eyes suspiciously at him. Why do I get the feeling…

“ Michael, is there something you’re not telling me?”

For a minute, he looks taken aback, but it disappears. He locks a challenging gaze with me.

“ Is there something you’re not telling me?” He retorts.

No way are we changing the subject now, Guerin! I stare at him.

“ Michael, what is it?”

“ What is what?”

“ What are you not telling me?”

“ I’m not not telling you anything, Liz.” He protests. He wipes his hands over his jeans. Uh huh. Sweaty hands. Someone in this room is lying. And it’s not me. Well okay, maybe I am lying but I’m not lying right this minute, like Mickey G over here is.

I scowl at him. “ Michael. Tell me what’s going on. Does…does Isabel know this too?” I wave a hand in the air. “Whatever it is?”

“ Isabel told you?” Michael gasps, his jaw dropping open. “ No way! Max is going to-!” He stops abruptly, seeing my face light up in understanding.

Ding, ding, ding! Aha! So. Isabel does know and it has something to do with Max. I… maybe I don’t want to know about this.

“ You want to get out of here?” I ask.

Michael’s eyes widen in surprise. What, you thought I was going to grill him? You’re right. I will. But not tonight.

“ Where do you want to go?”

I smile. Michael actually backs up. He swears that when Maria, Alex or I get that look, it’s a signal to start running. Max always tries to run too, but I always manage to convince him in the end. What can I say? I’m very persuasive. And I’m tired of moping around. I need distraction.

“ Don’t worry, Michael. It’s practically my second home. And you know what? I don’t think they’ll even mind…”

**********************************************************************************

“ Liz!”

“ Keep it down Michael!”

“ I did not agree to this!” He hisses to me indignantly.

“ You did too!” I hiss back.

“ I did not agree to breaking and entering!” He half yells.

I clamp my hand over his mouth, which is hard since I’m so much shorter, and glare at him.

“ Would you keep it DOWN?” I whisper fiercely. “ Do you WANT the whole neighborhood to hear us?” He calms down and I remove my hand.

“ What are we doing here?”

“ Don’t you recognize the place?”

“ Of course I do! What are we doing at Maxwell’s place?” He glares at me. “ If you brought me here so you could spy on his room and see if his eyes are doing the lightbulb thing with thorn girl, then you’ve got another thing coming-”

“ Michael!” I hiss in exasperation. “ I don’t need that image, okay? And we’re not going into the house, we’re going into the garage.”

We creep along the wall, careful to stay in the shadows.

“ Oh.” Is Michael’s brilliant reply. “ Why?”

“ I want to see the motorcycle he’s building up. He’s being totally unreasonable about not letting me see it.”

“ You dragged me all the way out here in the middle of the to see the freakin’ motorcycle when you could just bat your eyelashes up at him in the day time and see it anyway? That’s it. You are insane.”

I blink up at him. “ You mean the batting of eyelashes stuff still works?” I ask incredulously. “ On Max? Yeah right! Michael, look. There’s the window. Give me a leg up.”

“ This is against the law, Liz. It’s breaking and entering. It’s a felony!”

“ It is NOT breaking and entering! I won’t be breaking anything. It’ll just be… entering.”

Michael snorts and I hit him on the arm.

“ I think it’s called unlawful trespassing Liz.”

“ Like you’ve never done it,” I retort softly. “ Michael, come on. Please?”

He just stares at me for a few minutes before sighing.

“ Whatever then. But if we get caught, you’re taking the heat for this.”

I hop up and down and hug him.

“ Thank you, thank you!”

“ Yeah, yeah.” He studies the window and raises an eyebrow at me. “ Looks pretty high. Think you’ll be able to go down, short stuff?”

“ Don’t start the short stuff thing again, Michael.” I say in irritation. “ Just give me a leg up already! There’s always a crate under this window.”

“ Right, right.” He makes a stepping place for my foot out of his hands and I step on. He gives me a boost. I reach up for the window sill and…

“ Michael, quit moving!”

“ Jesus, Liz, you have got to lay off the alien blasts, you weigh a ton!” A pause as I gracefully reach down and smack his head. “ OUCH!”

“ Michael Guerin, you DO NOT tell a girl she’s grown heavier, okay? That’s just wrong! Besides, what do you expect? You last carried me about three years ago!”

“ Liz, quit yapping and climb or I’m going to drop you,” He growls.

It’s a messy operation. I guess I’m not as nimble as I used to be. And ick, window sill is really dusty. I manage to get on to it, at the cost of my jeans and probably my lungs…uh oh. Dust? Not on good terms with dust. I think I’m going to sneeze…

“ Liz! Are you okay?” Michael whispers/yells to me, seeing what I’m sure is my ashen face.

“ Uh…Michael…I think…I think…”

I think you know what happened. I sneeze and my already less than sturdy hold on the sill slips tremendously. You know that feeling you get when you’re between falling and standing? Where you feel like your stomach contents hurtle towards your mouth? Yep. That’s where I am.

“ Liz!” Michael hisses at me.

For an instant, as I teeter between safety and injury, I almost manage to grab the edge. Almost. But I don’t and I drop like a rock towards the cement floor. I hear Michael’s yell from the other side and I squeeze my eyes shut, praying for the fall to at least knock me out so I won’t suffer. I’m not into pain. So you can guess how surprised I am when instead of me greeting cold, hard floor, I feel the strangest sensation of being enveloped in warmth and arms and being lowered gently to earth…

I don’t open my eyes. Someone’s murmuring my name. I feel…nice. And then a pesky little thought occurs to me. What if I’m dead? What if I twisted my neck or busted my skull or something and now I’m in heaven? Whoa. I’m in heaven. And…the angels sound like Max and even smell like him too!

“ Liz, oh my God. Liz, are you okay? Liz?”

Someone is banging on metal and hollering my name. It sounds a lot like…Michael. What is HE doing in here?

Slowly, opening one eye first then the other, I’m greeted by the sight of Max staring worriedly at me, his face pale.

“ Oh thank God.” He whispers, running his hands through my hair and over my face. Oh boy. I feel like I could light up ten city blocks with all the electricity coursing through me right now. Oh yeah. I’m definitely in heaven. But as reason slowly returns, I begin to stiffen.

“ Max?” I whisper.

“ Liz, are you okay? Are you hurt?”

“ Max,” I begin, sitting up. I have to get away from him. I’m in enough trouble with my imagination as it is, it doesn’t need any MORE ammunition against me. He doesn’t let me get far though and before I can help it, I think about…stop it, Liz! “ Max…what are you doing here?”

“ Me? What are you doing here?”

Michael’s still pounding on the garage door. It stops abruptly and I’m grateful for the silence. It’ll help my brain think of some way to get me out of here!

“ Um… would you believe I wanted to leave you a surprise?”

“ What, you unconscious on my garage floor?”

I eye him. Uh oh. He looks pissed. I quickly look around. Nope. No half dressed thorn girls around anywhere. I look back at him.

“ Are you…mad at me?”

“ That would be a yes. You could have broken your neck!” He says sharply. He pulls me closer and begins running his hands over my arms and back, clearly checking for injuries. I’m trying real hard not to shiver but I’m only human! I don’t know how much longer I can take of this. His hands feather through my hair and the action automatically brings our faces closer together.

“ But I didn’t.”

“ You could have.” He responds, looking deep into my eyes. “ What were you thinking?”

“ I…I don’t think I was.”

He smiles at gorgeous little half smile of his, and even thought we’re sitting on a less than squeaky clean garage floor, I wouldn’t trade this for the world.

“ I think that’s obvious.” Max turns serious and inches a tiny bit closer. “ When I saw you fall…”

"But I'm ok."

"You could've been hurt."

No. No. Noooooo……… he’s using his eyes! I’m powerless against the eyes. I know there are ten thousand reasons to not do this but oh God…

“ Liz.” He whispers reverently.

I can’t help it.

“ Max…” I reach up and touch his face and his eyes drift shut as I run my fingers over his cheek. Uh huh. Sparks. Fireworks. He opens his eyes and they’re that dark, midnight color again. He shifts another inch closer, and the hands in my hair urge me forward just a bit too. Oh I’m in trouble. My eyes are just about to drift shut when they fly open again. What am I doing? This is Max! I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!!!! I’m saved from having to push him away or say no when there’s an almighty crash of boots hitting the floor.

Michael.

My salvation!

We scramble up and I rush over to Michael.

“ Are you okay?”

He grabs me and hugs me.

“ Me? Are YOU okay? God, Liz, this was your stupidest idea ever. If Max hadn’t been there to-” He stops and looks over at Max. “ Maxwell. You…weren’t supposed to be here. How long have you been here?”

“ Neither were you.” Max comments dryly, his eyes locked on me. “ And I’ve been here long enough to know that you two are the world’s loudest illegal trespassers.” He says, glancing at Michael briefly before staring me again. I need to get out of here. I turn to Michael pleadingly, begging him to take me away. He gets the picture and very reluctantly, he nods.

“ Maxwell, I need to get Liz home. Besides, I don’t want your parents to find out I was the one waking the whole neighborhood up. My parents will skin me alive.”

“ Liz-”

“ Maxwell, Michael’s right, for once. I’ll call you tomorrow okay? Can you open the garage door?” I ask, hoping my voice sounds panicky though it takes very little effort to get it to sound that way.

He doesn’t say anything, he simply stares at me. Then he says,

“ Tomorrow.”

I swallow. “ Tomorrow.”

“ Max?” Comes a sleepy voice. Michael and I glance at him in panic and he presses the button that opens the door. Michael and I scoot out under it and hop onto his motorcycle, putting on our helmets. As we roar away, I close my eyes in resignation.

I almost kissed Max.

Oh hell.

What have I done?




posted on 25-Feb-2002 1:10:08 PM by Comet
Whoa, call off the search parties, I'm okay! I'm coming back, and yes, I'm working on the stories. Specifically, JOD.

Okay, here's the stat on Cupid. I just re-read the part I was supposed to post tonight and I realized it was one of the parts I hated most about the story. So I've decided to make major changes here and there, and cut out and put in a few things too. Unfortunately, the hard thing is doing that while still sticking to the direction the chapter was headed in and I'm a having a few problems. Namely, there's a big blank spot right in the middle of the chapter.

So this is where you help me out. What do YOU guys want to see in this chapter? Before you go all happy and say Liz should tell him, nope, that isn't one of the choices. It shouldn't be anything that seriously affects the whole plot but maybe something a little light but with undertones to it.

I'll be on for about twenty minutes or so and then I'll be back tomorrow. I may most likely have the re-revised part by the weekend. So sorry for the delay. THanks for the wonderful feedback and thank you as well to the bumping crew!
posted on 27-Feb-2002 3:07:49 PM by Comet
Thank you all for all the great ideas.

And for that, you get a reward.

You get...SPOILERS!!!!

Speaking of guys....a certain hottie will be asking Liz out soon. They will go out but not go out.

Okay correction you get a spoiler.

And you also get the reassurance that the part will be posted tomorrow, Friday at the very latest. So yay.

Thanks for reading.

posted on 28-Feb-2002 9:36:09 AM by Comet
It's Thursday so as promised, here you go. Again I'd like to thank everyone for their ideas, and thank you to the person who said something about Maria interruptus. A special thank you to SciFi Nut. Thanks for all your help!

You guys rock, I'm glad you like the story, so leave me lots of feedback kay? *big*

Hi ho, hi ho, to angst land we go.....

I drag myself into the kitchen and slump into my seat, yawning hugely. I think I must have gotten a maximum of four hours of sleep last night and, yes, you guessed it, it’s all because of Max.

He has taken over my life.

What’s worse is that the dreams that plagued me the whole night weren’t even good. I mean, what’s the point of dreaming about your, um, well, whatever Max is to me, if it’s not good? No, all I saw were images of him running away screaming (yep, this image is REALLY stuck in my mind), him with Jessie, the kiss of death and with a soundtrack of that voice Michael and I heard in the garage.

No, we will not discuss my suspicions on whom it belonged to.

Through heavy lidded eyes I scan the contents of the table. The only thing on it is a pot of steaming…coffee. Yes! My hand immediately goes for it but just as I reach it, a hand comes out of nowhere and snatches it out of my grasp. I glance up, glaring blearily at whoever has deprived me of my coffee.

My Aunt Nancy simply smiles down at me, freshly showered and dressed.

“ Not today, honey. Caffeine is very bad for you.”

I groan.

“ Aunt Nancy, this is child abuse! I need coffee. It’s a vital part of my diet.” I mumble more than speak the words, my eyes are half closed and if I don’t get caffeine in about two minutes, I WILL fall asleep, bad dreams or not.

“ Oh hush, Liz. I’ve been letting you get away with murder lately in the food department. I declare today as…Health Food Day.” She announces grandly.

Okay, now I’m awake.

I jerk upright and stare at her.

“ What?” I blurt out.

“ You heard me, hon. Today, the Parker family is going all natural.”

Oblivious to my less than happy expression, she places a tall glass filled with reddish liquid before me. I stare at it and then her.

“ It’s a mix.” She says.

“ A mix of what? Science experiments gone wrong?” The latter part is uttered under my breath as I look balefully at the glass.

“ Try it, Liz, I guarantee that you’ll love it.” Aunt Nancy chirps.

I highly doubt this. But, to please her, I take a tentative sip. It’s all I can do to not spit it out and hurl the glass away from me.

“ So what do you think?” She asks eagerly. “ Oranges, apples, mangoes and granadilla’s went into that. I got the recipe from those Cooking magazines Maria gave me for my birthday.”

Maria! Wait till I get my hands on that girl! I erase my grimace and smile slightly at my Aunt. Screwing up my courage I take another small sip and swallow with difficulty.

“ D-delicious, Aunty N.”

She’s practically glowing and staring at me, obviously waiting for me to take another sip. To distract her, I say,

“ Uh so. Where’s Uncle Jeff?”

“ Oh he mentioned something about cleaning the supply closet downstairs. It’s funny, he hates that job but for some reason, today he wanted to get right on it.”

Who could blame him? My Uncle Jeff is one smart guy. He’s probably getting some good, fattening, non-healthy breakfast right now, while I’m stuck with gag worthy stuff. It’s not fair. As my aunt talks, she’s moving toward the sink and once she’s there, she pours my precious, beautiful coffee down the drain.

You know it’s going to be a very bad day when your coffee is poured down a drain.

“ Aunty N, what was the point of making coffee if you were just going to throw it away?”

“ I didn’t make it, your Uncle did.” She says primly, sounding like it was high treason. “ He forgot, although I mentioned it to him twenty times last night, that today was health food day.” She walks over to the microwave and opens it, pulling out a stack of steaming…pancakes! She puts a plate in front of me and puts two on my plate. I’m happily digging in and chewing when she says, “ I hope you like it. There’s tofu and Soya milk in it.”

My eyes, I’m sure, have widened with shock. And I thought the juice was bad?!

The horror. The horror!

Once more, I swallow with difficultly and push my plate slightly away from me.

“ Um…is there any chance of getting Maple syrup on this?” I ask with a smile.

Something tells me I’ll need the whole bottle if I want my taste buds to survive. But on the up side, there is the chance that while I’m preoccupied with trying to survive breakfast, I won’t have much time to dwell on Max. And the fact that we’re supposed to talk today. I feel panicky waves start radiating through me and I feel really, really, hungry all of a sudden. It works like this you see. I get hungry when I get nervous. The more nervous I am, the more food I shovel in. No matter how icky it is, it will still manage to find a way down. Trust me on this.

I attack the tofu-Soya milk pancakes with a vengeance, not caring that my taste buds are screaming for mercy. See? Max Evans has taken complete and utter control over me.

Damn it to hell.

*************************

It’s a bright, breezy day as I walk up the driveway leading to the door of the house. I try to quell this bizarre urge I suddenly have to run for the nearest hole and bury myself until winter, but it’s hard. What’s even harder is to walk normally and not look over my shoulder every few seconds. Am I giving the impression that I’m hiding from anyone? If so, I’ll set it straight right now.

I am not hiding from anyone.

I hear laughter from behind me and I glance over my shoulder (again) to see two kids, a boy and a girl, racing each other down the street on their roller blades. Though my mood is anything but happy, it’s more paranoid and freaked out, I can’t help but grin at their infectious laughter. Y’know, they kinda remind me of Max and I when…my grin disappears and I shake my head. They remind me of a time when everything was less complicated. More clear. Now, it’s anything but. Heaving a huge sigh, I rap on the door and stick my hands in the back pockets of my cargoes, waiting for an acknowledgement. Nothing happens. I knock again. Wait some more. Still, nothing happens. I knock on the door for the third time and wait patiently, trying to ignore my rumbling tummy and aching head. What time do people get up these days anyway? At last, I see him shuffling to the door, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and he opens it with a huge yawn.

“ Yes?”

“ Hi!” I chirp brightly, waving and willing my gloom and doom expression to fade away.

“ Liz? What are you doing here at this ungodly hour?” He asks incredulously.

“ It’s already ten thirty.”

He gives me a ‘so what’ look and says, “ I repeat, what are you doing here at this ungodly hour?”

“ Okay, do you want the white lie or the truth?”

“ Truth.” He says, stretching his arms and yawning again.

“ I was hungry.”

“ You were hungry. There are such things as restaurants, Liz,” He says, waving me in. “ Don’t you live on top of one?”

“ Aunt Nancy has put a ‘don’t-give-Liz-food’ law into effect, starting today. She’s on a health food kick.” I explain, seeing his confused look.

“ Ah. So. Care to tell me the truth now?”

We’ve reached the kitchen and I’ve seated myself at a stool at the counter. I raise my eyebrow up at him.

“ That was the truth, Alex.”

He snorts and runs a hand through his mussed up hair, opening the fridge and bringing out a carton of orange juice. Then he picks up a glass and sets it down in front of me.

“ Right, Liz. You say you’re hungry and you come here of all places? You know better than anyone that I’m a disaster in the kitchen.”

“ Well so am I.” I announce. “ I figured we could tackle the hunger problem head on and create a disaster together. See? I even dressed for it.” I smile brightly at him and gesture at my attire. My gray, mid riff bearing baby T-shirt and black cargoes don’t exactly scream ‘Martha Stewart’ but it’s as close as I get to kitchen attire. The last time I tried to put on an apron, the stupid thing’s strings were tied up with three different kinds of knots, and I had to cut it off so I could get loose. “ So where do we start?” I ask eagerly.

Alex gives me a pained smile.

“ You know, as nice as that sounds, I don’t really feel like coming up with a suitable explanation to give to my parents when they come back from their trip and find the kitchen in a shambles.”

I smirk, knowing that his last foray in the kitchen ended in catastrophe. You see, Izzy wanted to surprise her parents with a cake for their anniversary and she was baking it at Alex’s house so they wouldn’t stumble on it by accident. Halfway through, Isabel decided she needed more whatsists and charged Alex with the task of making sure the temperature her cake was baking at stayed at precisely a certain level and when it started to fluctuate a little, dear Alex began to twist the little dial thingy on an oven that controls the temperature. The result? A flood in the Whitman’s kitchen when their smoke detector triggered the sprinklers in the ceiling. Smoke blackened walls. And last, but definitely not least, a charred lump of coal that was once shaping up to be a masterpiece of a cake. I know all these details because I happened to be present in the Whitman household when it all went down. I had first hand observation at all the mayhem and destruction. It was hilarious. It was side splitting. And when Isabel showed up, boy, was it scary! Michael and Max still break out in laughter every time that incident is brought up, especially the part when Isabel refused to talk to Alex for a week. Alex shudders suddenly, as if remembering the whole ordeal as well, and he continues, saying,

“ Why don’t we do this the old fashioned way?”

“ I thought the old fashioned way was cooking.”

“ True. But my old fashioned way isn’t that old fashioned.”

As Alex talks, he pours some juice into the glass and slides it to me and I drink gratefully. He ambles over to the cordless phone and presses the number 9 on speed dial.

“ Hello? Yeah, Kel, it’s me. No, I’ll need another special for today. Yep, got company. Ten minutes? Great. I’m timing ya!”

I watch on with amusement as Alex talks and he hangs up with a smile.

“ McDonalds. I’m a regular.” He says with a proud grin. “ I ordered two breakfast specials.”

“ With coffee?” I ask hopefully.

“ With coffee.” He nods.

“ Alex, you’re the greatest.”

He laughs and preens a little.

“ I never get tired of hearing that.” The smile disappears and he leans on the counter next to me, this time in all seriousness. “ So. You gonna tell me the real reason you’re here?”

I shake my head in frustration. “ Why is that lately, everyone seems to think I have an ulterior motive?”

“ Probably because lately, you have.” Alex quips. “ So spill, Lizzie. What’s up?”

“ Nothing.” I fiddle with my hair nervously and Alex picks up on this immediately, raising his eyebrows at me. I sigh. I really need to kick that habit. It’s like, such a dead giveaway. Another thing to add to my list of stuff to do list.

“ Liiizzz…” Alex begins, giving me the who-are-you-kidding look. I sigh again, dropping my hair.

“ Okay, okay, I needed a place to…hang out…for a while.”

This is true. And my picking today of all days to go visiting has nothing to do to with the fact that Max is looking for me. It doesn’t.

“ Um, don’t take this the wrong way and all, you know you’re welcome here but is there a particular reason you couldn’t hang in your own room?”

“ I felt like a change of scenery.” I saying nonchalantly, wishing he would just quit on the questions already.

“ Uh huh.”

“ What?”

“ Liz.” He eyes me speculatively. “ This has something to do with Max, right?”

I roll my eyes. I’m not that obvious, am I? I hope to God I’m not.

“ No, Alex. Contrary to the popular belief, not everything I do is centered around Max!” I declare vehemently.

He’s about to say something I just know is going to irritate me, but the phone rings and he’s momentarily distracted. He picks it up.

“ Alex here. Oh hey, Max,” He says in greeting, wiggling his eyebrows at me. I release a tortured groan. How did he find me so fast? Does he have radar or something? “ Yeah, it’s going good. You? That’s great. I’m a little surprised to see you’re alive though, you should have seen Izzy last night.” A laugh. “ I know, I know. What? Liz?”

Here it comes. I tense up and continue to stare at Alex. He glances up at me.

“ Nope, she’s not here.”

I relax. Good old Alex. I knew he wouldn’t give me away. That’s just one of the reasons I say he’s the greatest.

“ But she did call and tell me she was coming over in ten minutes or so. In fact, I think she’s on her way here already.”

I stare numbly at him, my jaw dropping open. That did NOT just happen. Alex Whitman did not just sell me out! Forcing myself to listen, I hear him say,

“ Keep her here? Sure.”

KEEP HER HERE?

And he said SURE?

“ Is everything okay, Max? What’s this about?” He listens for a minute and then a grin breaks out over his face. “Stuff, huh? Care to share?” He laughs again. “ Didn’t think so. Right, right, I’ll see you in a few. Just come right in, the door will be open. But don’t think I’m going to feed you okay? Yeah, yeah. Later man.” He hangs up with a smile and stares innocently at me.

“ I’ve changed my mind. You are NOT the greatest.” I say scathingly.

“ What did I do?”

“ You gave away my position to the…the…you gave away my position!” I snap, not able to find a way to describe Max.

“ Liz, I didn’t know you were hiding from Max. You should have told me. Then I wouldn’t have told him.” He says in mock concern, blue eyes twinkling with amusement.

Oh hardy har har! It’s so funny when it’s not happening to you. Groaning, I slump against the counter and bury my face in my hands.

“ Why are you doing this to me?” I demand of no one in particular.

“ You want my advice?”

“ No.” I reply shortly.

“ Well, I’m giving it to ya anyways.” Comes the flippant reply. “ Just tell him how you feel.”

“ That is so much easier said than done, Alex.” I moan, massaging my temples.

“ What are you scared of Lizzie?” Alex asks gently and I raise my face up towards him.

As if I haven’t asked myself that question then thousand times already. And as if the answer those ten thousand times wasn’t a big fat…

“ I don’t know!” I say in frustration. “ I just…he just…and then…I would…he couldn’t…God, Alex, WHY is this so hard? Of all the people in the world, I had to lo-to crush on my best buddy! Is there justice in that? Is there? And of all the times this had to happen, it had to happen NOW, when there’s Jessie, and it had to happen this way and it had to be ME…and…it’d be better if… he didn’t know. Then I wouldn’t hurt anyone. Hurt him. Or me.” I laugh a little. It’s sad. It’s sardonic. “ No, wait. I know what I’m scared of. I’m scared of hurting him. Of losing him. And if I tell him… what we have now will be gone forever. I know it.”

Alex’s been quiet throughout my, I’m ashamed to say, somewhat frenzied speech but he’s looking at me searchingly, understandingly.

“ You know what, Liz? You’re right. You could lose Max. Your friendship? It could go caput. He could run away screaming, or yell that he doesn’t feel the same way, or marry thorn girl in retaliation or-”

“ Is this going to get any better soon?” I ask, interrupting him with a glare. I can conjure up worst nightmares on my own without you adding to them, Alex, thank you very much.

He grins.

“ But of course it does. Like I said, all those things could happen. But something else could happen too.”

I swallow. I’m almost afraid to hear what Alex has to say. I don’t know WHY exactly but just like with Michael, I get the oddest feeling that Alex knows something I don’t. The question is…what? I eye him warily and then shrug, feigning indifference.

“ What else could happen?” I ask casually, like it isn’t really that important. Alex sees right through my façade and he grins once more.

“ Well, haven’t you figured it out by now, Lizzie?” He asks softly. I lean forward in anticipation, wriggling with impatience. I don’t know how everyone expects me to be figuring things out left and right with the way my head is spinning around in all directions. It’s like they think the answer is right there staring me in the face but no matter how I try, I just cannot see it. It’s incredibly frustrating.

“ What, Alex?” I ask just as softly.

A long, dramatic pause. Just when I’ve decided I can’t take it anymore and that I’m going to have to torture whatever he wants to say out of him, Alex says, “ He could tell you he feels the same way.”

And just like that, I’m completely speechless.

“ Hey guys.”

We both jump and whip our heads towards the kitchen doors. Max is standing there, holding a large McDonalds bag in his hand. My eyes widen in shock and he brings his gaze to meet mine. Oh my god. What if…Alex sees my panic stricken look and he moves into action, fully understanding that Max finding out how I feel by overhearing is NOT the way I wanted to go. He bops toward him, obscuring me in the process and clapping him on the shoulder with a wide smile.

“ Max! I didn’t know you were a delivery boy!” He says as he takes the plastic from him. Max smiles slightly.

“ I met him as he was walking up. I paid up and decided to make your day a whole lot brighter.”

I’m still locked in panic mode and I swallow convulsively several times to unstick my throat. My first words are:

“ Max, you’re a godsend.”

Alex has his back to Max as he’s walking back to me but I catch that sly smirk and I swear, I will get him back for that. Max immediately brings his stare to mine as I speak and I smile at him, hoping to ease the tension. He smiles back and sits next to me. Where did my tongue come up with that? I’m blushing now and I quickly grab the coffee Alex has removed from the bag, taking a long, calming gulp. Next, I grab the Styrofoam box that’s filled with…pancakes, oh yeah, and dig in without mercy. Busily chewing, I look up to find Max and Alex staring at me in amusement.

“ I take it you were hungry.” Max says.

Actually, it’s a ‘when-I’m-nervous-I-get-hungry-and-when-I-get-hungry-I-eat’ type of reaction more than anything else, but there’s no need for that to become public knowledge.

Grinning through my mouthful of food, I swallow and wash it down with coffee, opening another box, this one containing bacon and eggs.

“ You have no idea. Aunt Nancy is on this weird health food thing and she fed me these totally heinous tofu-tofu pancakes. Can you believe she forbade the CrashDown cooking staff to give me any decent food?” I quickly pop in two bacon pieces followed by another swig of coffee. Swallowing it down, I continue, adding more information in the hope that he won’t ask for an explanation as to why I’m not at home when we were supposed to talk today. “Then I remembered that Alex’s folks weren’t home and I figured he could use company, plus, there was the ulterior motive of possibly cooking something in the kitchen,” Both Max and Alex snort in disbelief, but I ignore them, “ and so, never shall it be said that I neglected my stomach. I came here and here I am.” I turn back to the pancakes. “ So how are you, Max?”

Alex rolls his eyes and begins to amble out of the kitchen.

“ Yeah. I’m going upstairs to shower. Will you two promise to not blow up the kitchen while I’m gone?”

“ Scout’s honor, Alex.” Max answers.

“ Liz, save me some food. And I didn’t hear you promise.”

I glare at him in response. This doesn’t faze him so I give him my sweetest smile and a sincere,

“ Yes, Alex, I promise.”

You can practically smell the fear coming off him.

“ Maybe I better stay here,” He says uncertainly. I shrug, going back to my breakfast and Max laughs long and loud, sending pleasant tingles through me.

“ She’s pulling your chain Alex.”

Alex relaxes visibly.

“ I knew that. Just in case, though, make sure she doesn’t go anywhere near the kitchen appliances, okay Max?”

“ Just go, already,” I say, rolling my eyes at him. Alex isn’t on my favorite person list right this minute. He’s abandoning me. I can find no feasible way of making him stay without giving myself away and I bet he knows that too, evil genius that he is. Now it’s just Max and I in the kitchen and already I’m being invaded by the scent of his cologne. I drive a fork through a pancake, wishing it were some vital part of my brain so I wouldn’t think anymore and hold it up to him. “ Pancake?”

“ No thanks.” He throws me a crooked grin. “ I already had my breakfast.”

“ More for me then.”

A silence descends over us and I almost jump when he speaks.

“ Are you okay? No pulled muscles or anything?”

I grin at him, at the adorable worried look on his face. Then I realize he’s completely serious and my grin fades.

“ I’m fine. No pulled muscles or anything at all.” I glance at him quickly before looking away again. This is necessary because lately, if I look at him too long, I find it very difficult to look away. But you knew this already, right? “ Thanks for catching me. And sorry for…” I wave my fork in the air, “ You know.”

Max just nods, knowing that’s as close to a real thank you and apology anyone ever gets from me. I don’t know what it is with me; I just find it hard to express myself in words. But with Max, it doesn’t seem like enough to be general and vague like I usually am. Something about him makes me want to reveal more about myself and even though he’s known me for years, I know there are several parts of me he doesn’t know. This is yet another thing that scares me. I didn’t even realize that at some point in my life, the mask I occasionally used to hide my loneliness and pain stayed on permanently. That some parts of me were covered underneath that cloak of indifference. And he makes me want to break that down and just let them find a place in me, in who I am. But what will I do if the feelings that I’ve repressed over the years make up a large part of all those hidden parts? Will I be willing to forever accept that I feel for Max Evans in a more than friends kind of way? And what happens if they take over? I shiver slightly. No prospect has ever felt so scary. And no prospect has ever felt so tempting at the same time.

“ Hey.”

Max touches my arm and I immediately look at him, my eyes wide. He’s frowning at me.

“ Liz, what’s wrong?”

“ What?”

“ You spaced out there for a minute. Are you sick?”

Yeah I am.

I’m heartsick.

Barely managing to keep that from being blurted out, I shake my head and flash him a quick smile.

“ I’m okay.” The urge to reveal all takes over again and against my better judgment I give in. “ Max, really. I’m okay. And…and I really am grateful you were there last night. You saved me from a pretty bad fall.”

This is true.

But he made me fall for him, he’s making me fall for him in another completely different way. With each second I spend with him, I fall further. And I can’t help but think that there will be no one to save me from this one but myself. Max is smiling that little half smile at me and I feel my knees weaken immediately. Why am I so helpless around him? At this point in time, at this stage of my not-so-grand plan, you’d think I’d have a handle on at least the way my knees seem to shake every time he smiles at me. But do I? No. That is a big, definitive NO. I turn back to my food and chew pensively, waiting for him to talk. He does.

“ What are you trying to do anyway?” He asks, cautiously, almost hopefully. Knitting my brows together at his tone, I slant him a sideways look. The expression on his face matches his tone of voice perfectly. All of a sudden, I know my answer is going to be monumentally important to him. That it could help him do…something. But I cannot offer any other answer than the truth.

“ I wanted to look at the bike.” I say slowly.

The strange look on his face vanishes immediately. Obviously, this was not the answer he wanted to hear.

“ You wanted to look at the bike.” Max parrots, his features wooden, his voice is laced with incredulity. “ Liz.” I glance up at him. “ You risked breaking your neck just to see the bike?”

“ Um…yes?” As I answer I skittishly move my gaze away and begin to fiddle with my fork. Why does that sound so unbelievable? I needed distraction and the bike was a worthy attention distractor! Simple as that.

“ You could have just asked me, you know.” Max says in exasperation. I roll my eyes at him and grin, glad the opening he’s provided me is suitable for me to tease him.

“ Max you refused to let me see the first million times I asked you and so I thought, gee, I kinda already know what Maxwell’s gonna say if I ask him again already. And this way, I won’t bother him about it anymore. Then there was the fact that I wasn’t counting on you being there, so either way you weren’t supposed to find out.” Hmm. I don’t think that came out right. Seeing the displeasure on his face, I decide to go for evasive maneuvers. As I’m sure you know, a worried Max totally bugs me and I so do not want to scream at him in irritation today. I take another bite and swallow. “ Why don’t you want me to see it anyway?”

Max stares at me for a while and I stare back, raising my eyebrows at him.

“ Maxwell. You in there?”

Shaking himself slightly, he nods.

“ Yeah. Yeah I am. And in answer to your question,” He smiles, “ You can’t see it because it’s a surprise.” He reveals mysteriously.

“ Max,” I begin warningly. “ What did I tell you about surprises?”

“ That you absolutely adore them?” He supplies with a teasing smile.

“ No. I. Don’t. Like. Them. As in, not one bit.”

“ You’ll like this one.” He says reassuringly.

I huff in exasperation.

“ Max, I already KNOW it’s a motorcycle. Where’s the surprise in that?” Max says nothing, simply giving me an enigmatic smile. I roll my eyes. “ That’s why I risk my neck to see things. It’s because you drive me crazy!”

“ I do?” He says with a wide grin.

I blink. What did I say?

“With suspense, I mean,” I add hastily, hoping the heat I’m feeling in my cheeks doesn’t mean I’ve turned red. How did I lose control of this so fast? In desperation, I ask the question that’s landed me in trouble more times than I can count but there’s no other way to get us to leave this place we’ve wandered into. This place where we’re almost…flirting with each other.

My fingers immediately fly to my hair and I tuck it in behind my ears, mustering up my courage.

“ How’d it go, anyway?” I ask casually, taking a bite of bacon and sipping my coffee.

“ What?”

I glance at Max. He’s using that dazed, woozy voice again. I lick my upper lip to get rid of the foam and he blinks rapidly, and I grin, hoping to ease the discomfort he must be going through.

“ Oh I get it. Not up for talking about it?”

“ What?” This time, he looks at me in complete bewilderment.

“ Jessica? Last night? You DO remember, don’t you?”

You know, it won’t even matter if Max doesn’t remember. Because I remember enough for the both of us. I can tell you what happened on that dance floor in excruciatingly clear detail, from where their hands were to how long that kiss lasted to how he followed her off somewhere after it. It’s one of those things that is immediately etched into your memory forever. And yes, okay, I’ll admit it. I want to know what happened afterwards. It will sting. It will hurt. Hell, it will probably feel like ten thousand white-hot knifes piercing my body but let’s keep in mind that I do have a plan to follow.

Max turns crimson and the pancakes don’t taste so good no more. He looks away before answering. I brace myself for the worst and being the type of person he is, Max delivers.

“ Uh… I took her home with me.”

My throat is rapidly closing up and I stare at him for a few minutes before a weak smile claims my lips.

“ You did. How…wow. How did you sneak her past your parents?” As I speak, the smile gets stronger and goes wider. More sincere. For the entire world to hear, I sound like a friend eager to hear details of another friend’s latest adventure. I sound curious. I sound interested. I sound normal. What I don’t sound like is a person who has a war going on inside of them. Who’s literally being torn apart.

“ I didn’t have to. They’re in Albuquerque. They’re coming back today.” He sounds…I don’t know. He sounds like he’s reciting a piece of poetry that doesn’t really get to him. Something he doesn’t really understand. But when he finally faces me again, he’s smiling. It’s completely contradictory to the look in his eyes and the sound of his voice but maybe I’m slipping. Because when I look in his eyes, they’re not shining. He doesn’t sound like he does when he’s happy. But that smile… I take another sip and after clearing my throat, I say

“ I hope we didn’t…uh, interrupt anything. You know. With the whole falling thing. I mean…was she waiting for you when you had to save me? Cause if she was I’m sorry we…it was completely my fault if we did cause Michael, he didn’t even want to come but…” Help me. Help me. I’ve lost control over my tongue. Max looks like he’s in hell right now. His eyes have widened in what I’m sure is horror that…that I’ve dared to ask or insinuate such a thing but I can’t stop. I HAVE to know. Did they…because if they did…I’m just…I can’t…oh God, help me. “ You uh…that is…if you…God, I hope you guys used protection!”

It would be okay if the earth would swallow me whole now.

I blush to the roots of my hair and Max’s eyes immediately fly open.

“ WHAT?” He yells.

“ I’m sorry!” I immediately say, slipping off my stool and moving away. “ It’s none of my business, I know, I can’t BELIEVE I said that, Max…”

“ Liz, you think I…” Max gets up too and takes a step toward me. He passes a hand over his face and when he meets my gaze it’s with an intensity I’ve never seen before. “ I wouldn’t… I never…God, Liz, I would never…”

As he speaks, my form has grown tense and I’m fully prepared to make a run for it if he comes closer. The look in his eyes is making feel…want things… I know I shouldn’t. If I don’t get a grip, if he comes a step closer, if he keeps looking at me like that I WILL launch myself at him and, and…effectively kill our friendship while doing so. Because right now, I believe Max isn’t thinking clearly. Anything we do now would be like… the same thing as doing things while being under the influence of alcohol for example. It’s one of the things I’m very sure I DON’T want. I don’t want Max to do something he may regret now that would screw things up between him and Jessica. Not when he’s barely begun to find out if the relationship is the one he’s looking for. The one he’s been looking for his whole life. If Jessica is the one for him, and I do something that could destroy their relationship and make him lose the love of his life, I would never forgive myself. And with the way Max was been waiting for that special someone the way he has, I don’t think he would ever forgive me either.

Good, sensible thoughts despite the waves of panic streaking through me, right? So why is that when he DOES take a step closer, I don’t move? Why is it that I can’t take my eyes off his? His voice softens, lowers and he takes yet another step forward and still I don’t move. He’s within touching distance now. I swallow. If I touch him, it’s all over. I listen as he continues to speak, the burning desire to reach out and touch his face gradually increasing. My hands are balled into fists at my sides and I’m barely hanging on.

He ducks his head slightly so he can look into my eyes.

“ Jessica…she’s not…Liz, she’s not y-”

Before I can find out what Jessica’s not, fate, destiny, luck, whatever you want to call it intervenes.

My cell phone rings. Max and I both jump and then it’s back to staring at each other. What I want to know right now is…what was he going to say? What is Jessica not? I’ve just made up my mind to ask him when my phone rings again.

The shrill sound provides me with the will to back up all my thoughts. I immediately grab for it and accept the call breathlessly.

“ Hello? Maria.” I glance up at Max. He’s still staring at me. “ Listen, this isn’t-Wait, wait, wait! Slow down. What? No, I don’t think that- Maria, no, of course not, she’s-just, well if they weren’t doing any-…calm down for a second okay?”

I hold the phone away from my ear with a wince as Maria’s voice blares out from it, screeching that she CAN’T calm down. I see Max flinch at the sound of her yell as well.

“ Okay, okay. We’ll be right there. Try to keep it together till we get there. Yes, Maria. Now. Yes, as in right this minute. Yes, Maria! We’re on our way! Five minutes. YES, okay!”

I hang up and look up at Max uncomfortably.

“ That was…”

“ Maria.” He finishes for me. “ Is she okay?”

I give him a wry grin. “ She found her mother and Sheriff Valenti, as in the Sheriff, Kyle’s dad, in bed together. They were just sleeping,” I add quickly. “ But Maria’s… she asked for Alex and I.”

Max says nothing.

I don’t say anything either.

“ Liz,” He says, and then Alex, freshly showered, walks into the kitchen. He looks between us and obviously notices that he’s interrupted something major. He starts to turn around.

“ Okay, I’m sorry, I‘ll just come back later,” Alex says, backing away.

“ Alex. Emergency. Maria’s having a melt down. We need to get over there.” I say, relieved to have someone else to focus on.

A worried frown creases Alex’s forehead.

“ What? Is she okay?”

“ I’ll explain on the way.”

“ I’ll get my keys.”

Alex walks out and I look up at Max.

“ Max, I-” I falter. “ I don’t know what to say, Max. I’m…sorry. I’m just…”

“ It’s okay.” He says quickly. “ Just… go to Maria. But…can you come over tonight? The assignment… I need… I need to talk to you about it.”

I nod. “ Absolutely. I’ll be there.”

Alex walks back into the kitchen, keys in hand.

“ Let’s go.”

“ I’ll lock up,” Max offers.

I nod again.

“ Thanks man,” Alex says.

“ Bye Max. See you later. “ I say and we head out to Alex’s Rabbit. I can feel Max’s eyes on me the whole way.

“ What was that all about?” Alex asks curiously as we get into the car.

I don’t answer right away. When I do I say,

“ That was me about to give in.”

“ Did you?”

I can hear the hopeful tone in his voice.

“ No.”

Alex sighs.

This is a good thing right? But if it is, why do I feel so bad?

posted on 6-Mar-2002 3:31:56 PM by Comet
ANAL PROBING??!!

I leave for a couple days and people are ready to write me off as a victim to anal probing?????

LOL!!!

Too funny!

Okay, okay, I KNOW I'm torturing you all, but you guys already have happy ending insurance so bear with me?

*Comet bats her eyelashes and smiles sweetly*

Besides, I don't see that you have much of a choice {insert evil grin here}. I'm alive, I'm healthy, I have not been abducted and yes, the new part is coming. This weekend. Hopefully. So thank you to the bumping crew. You guys are the best.

Comet.
posted on 9-Mar-2002 5:50:49 PM by Comet
Author's Note: New part. yay. I'm exhausted, it's like one in the morning where I'm at but if I didn't post this 2 night/morning, I wouldn't be posting it till tuesday. forgive typhos or errors please and if it seems to stick in a few places....I'm virtually in a comatose right now. so bye. later.

The torture, uh, STORY, goes on...

I don’t intend to ever get up again. I’m just going to lie here on my bed and stare at my ceiling. This is partly because, I think dinner permanently destroyed my stomach lining, and because I just cannot face Max. Come on, give me a break already, I’ve been not chicken for so long, I think I’m entitled to be chicken for at least a little while. At least until I can get his eyes out my mind. Or till I can get over imagining what it would’ve felt like if I had kissed him…

A shiver runs through me and I groan, burying my head in my pillow. This is madness. The way I’ve totally absorbed him into my every thought is unnatural. It’s abnormal. Hell, since we’re in Roswell, you might even say it’s due to alien powers.

Hmm.

Now there’s a thought. It would be bliss to blame this all on some outside force. Because then I would stop at nothing to find the low lives and beat them silly and I know that this at least, would be sufficient enough to get my mind off Max. But I know that won’t be happening any time soon. And I know that what this is isn’t really madness or unnatural or abnormal and it sure isn’t alien related.

It’s… magic, pure and simple.

I’ve fallen under the magic spell that is Max.

There’s just no other way to describe it. I watch him all the time. I mean, of course, I do it covertly, and I do it in such a way that I can’t be accused of stalking but I still watch him. I could tell you the number of times I see him smile and laugh each day at school. I could tell you the number of times he tosses his head to the side to get his hair out of his eyes. The number of times he’s frowning in thought and chews his pencil, the number of times he rolls his eyes and grins at me. Or the times he just stares out of the window, lost in thought and with such a sad look on his face, all I want to do is hug him and make whatever’s bothering him go away. And everything, everything about him, everything he does it’s… magic.

It’s like, the first time I ever saw him, Max Evans started weaving this spell over me and I was completely ensnared by it over the years, and it all happened without me knowing it. So how do I undo four years of enchantment? How I do begin? How will I end it? And how will I decide which is more important… following my heart or keeping his safe? No, wait. The last question, I already know the answer to. I’ve already decided about it. Muddled, confused person that I am, I know one thing that my mind and heart agree on. It’s that Max comes first. Before me. Before what I feel. Before my heart. Because I know that even if I have to suffer, knowing Max is happy will make whatever I have to bear much easier. And yet it’s getting harder and harder to not be selfish and not do what my heart wants. Sometimes I just want to tell him so badly, I can’t breathe and… I digress. It’s like I said before, there’s no going back. Maybe, just maybe I might’ve had a chance with him a long time ago…but… It’s gone and all I can do now is make sure he finds what he’s looking for.

What, you want to know about me? You want to know if I’m looking?

Okay then. Years ago, before Maria and Alex got involved with Michael and Isabel, in fact, the summer before the other three crashed into our lives, the three of us made a pact. That we would all help each other find ‘the one’. Let me explain. We were all about to turn thirteen, in fact, it was the night of Maria’s birthday. After the party was over, she took us out into her backyard and we spent the whole night there, looking up at the stars. That’s when she started talking about ‘the one’. The one who’s the other half of you. The one who completes you. The one you’re meant for, the one who’s your destiny. The one you’re put on this earth to love, the one who’ll you’ll forever be bound to even if you never meet. She gave both of us a list, with all of the above written on it, as a guideline to help us find this ‘one’. She said it was her gift to us. That helping to find these people was going to be the greatest gift we’d ever give each other. She also said that the ‘one’ didn’t necessarily have to fit all the criteria but in some very, very, very special cases, they did. And if they did… well then, we were going to be one of the very lucky few. One of those pairs that had been destined to be together since time began. I remember looking at my list and then making a wish on the stars. I made a wish that the ‘one’ for me would fulfill them all and more. Make me feel so whole that I would wonder how I ever got along without him. I did this, because it would be an impossible wish to fulfill if it was as special as Maria claimed. I didn’t want to find the ‘one’. I didn’t want to have to be so dependant on some person who I wasn’t even sure existed to be happy. I didn’t want to leave my heart in someone else’s hands. I didn’t want to feel bound to someone for life. I didn’t want anyone to ever have that kind of control over me. While Maria and Alex actively searched for their elusive others, I was content to simply watch them and sympathize with failed quests and encourage new missions.

I didn’t ever want to feel the way I do now.

But I can’t imagine not ever feeling this way again either.

Isn’t it funny? Maria and Alex found what they were looking for right under their noses after many years of searching. I wasn’t even looking, I did everything possible to ensure that I wouldn’t be caught and still, I find myself… trapped under a mountain of feelings and emotions that I feel absolutely inadequate to deal with.

Sometimes, I think I’m being punished for not looking. I didn’t look so instead, he was brought to me. The one person who can make my heart hammer with just a look or bring a smile to my lips by just the mere thought of him. The one who fulfills all the criteria and more. So I found the ‘one’, quite alright, or rather, the one found me, but here comes the kicker: He’ll never be mine in that way.

If this is so, then I say: You need to get what you can in this world of ours. It’s not perfect, it’s not ideal but, hey, what is? I firmly believe that Max as my friend is better than Max not being in my life at all. So while I curse whatever fate was cruel enough to dangle the attainable right in my face, I bless it too.

Yes, I know I’m messed up.

Oh god, where are my manners? I guess y’all want to know about Maria now right? A word of advice: don’t go near her house anytime soon if you value your hearing. I love my best friend, you know that, I know that, the whole universe knows that but when Maria goes into what Alex and I call the advanced freak out stage, then there are only two things to do.

1. Run for your life

or

2. Distract her with the most outrageous news you can come up with.

So, obviously, Alex and I chose option number 2. The best friends oath dictates that you should never abandon your friends in their greatest times of need, or freak outs, in Maria’s case. And can you guess what kind of outrageous news Alex made up?

That’s right.

Some ridiculously untrue story of how Max and I kissed. This is what lead to my fantasizing about it, but you knew that already.

Now I understand it was for a good cause. And it did get Maria to stop wailing about being scarred for life because she saw her mother and the Sheriff making out. Only she began screaming deliriously instead. I think I screamed my throat raw from protesting about it. And you know what? It still didn’t help. Satisfied that Maria was okay for the moment, I pulled Alex into a corner of her room and told him in NO uncertain terms that he should set Maria straight as soon as she stopped screaming for joy or else I would cook dinner for him. The way his face froze was beautiful to watch. Of course, my temporary smugness vanished the minute I ran out of Maria’s room and crashed straight into Amy. She winked at me and then proceeded to ask me how Max was. My first thought was…how Max was what? And then it hit me.

She heard Maria screaming.

The whole neighborhood probably heard her screaming.

So I blushed red, stammered out yet another protest and then rushed out the door. Call me a pessimist or rather a realist because I don’t think she believed me.

The phone rings and without looking at it, I reach out and bring the cordless phone to my ear.

“ Parker.” I announce.

“ Evans,” Comes the reply.

I sit up and lean against the headboard of my bed.

“ Izzy. Hey. What’s up?”

“ My brother’s temper.” Isabel answers with a trace of a grin in her voice. I frown.

“ Oh.” I chew my lip nervously. “ Um, is there any particular reason why that’s so?”

“ Michael’s been ‘talking’ to him.”

I sigh, my nervousness disappearing. This means that the group has once again gotten Michael to lecture Max about his coupling up with Jessica.

“ I really wish you guys would give him a break.” I say wearily. “ And I really wish you would all give me a break too.” They’ve hardly let up on Max or me in weeks and we’re both getting more than a little tired. I can tell Max is almost to the point where he just doesn’t listen to them protesting about Jessie anymore. And frankly, to tell the truth, I’m tired of listening. Is it right for them to constantly lecture when none of them wants to tell me what this secret that everyone but me seems to be in on is?

Isabel snorts. “ Trust me, Liz, we’re doing both of you a favour. By the time we’re through with you two, you’ll be thanking us on bended knee.”

I roll my eyes.

“ Highly unlikely. And could you all quit staring at us every time we talk?” You should see them when they do. I swear, you can feel their eyes boring into Max and I. “ You’re all starting to seriously turn mental.” I warn.

“ It’s for a good cause.” Isabel says flippantly. “ Although I do have to say things could be a whole lot easier if you and Max would just-”

“ Isabel.” I interrupt tiredly. “ Please. I cannot talk about this right now.”

“ Sure, okay. Don’t talk. But at least listen,” She coaxes.

I roll my eyes again. There is it is again. Listen. Fine, I’ll listen. But I am going to get my answers. And soon.

“ It’s not like I have much of choice right?” I sigh.

“ Right. Liz, why can’t you just do us all a favor and tell-”

I know this conversation by heart now. You know, I’m starting to suspect that they all rehearsed it and are trying to tell it to me whenever they can so it will eventually seep into my subconscious and take root. At the appropriate time, the lecture ends and I say,

“ That’s not going to happen, Isabel. I’m their cupid, remember?” I remind her.

“ I generally try to forget you were capable of such a bad idea.” She replies with a groan.

“ Gee, you’re so kind, Iz.” I say, pointedly.

“ I try.” Isabel sighs as well. “ So. When are you coming over?”

I wrinkle my nose.

“ How do you…I mean, am I supposed to?” I catch myself before I can make too big of a slip because I’m still not ready to face Max but as you well know, my tongue seems to have a mind of it’s own these days. Unfortunately, I’m not fast enough and Isabel laughs.

“ Liz, you’re slipping. Sure, the innocent tone? It’s still perfect. But the slight hesitation at the start kinda gave you away. Besides, even if you hadn’t slipped up, I would know by the way Max keeps looking out the window and at the clock.”

I shake my head. I cannot believe this. “ Is Michael being that bad?”

“ Oh hush, Liz, Michael’s NOT being bad, he’s just giving my brother a little dose of reality.” She laughs again. “And even without the whole window and clock watching ritual he’s going through, I know you’re coming cause he’s asked me if you’re here about five times already. Like I wouldn’t tell him?”

I groan. My guilt complex? It’s kicking in. On top of giving Max the notes he has to copy, I now feel that I have to rescue him from Michael because one, I’m partly responsible and two, even though I am in no way ready to face him (I mentioned this already right?) I desperately want to see him and find out if we’re okay. If that other near miss inflicted permanent damage in my plan.

I swing my legs over the side of the bed and slip my feet into my sandals

“ I guess I better come over then.” A new, appealing thought occurs to me. “ Hey, Izzy, I don’t suppose you could possibly consider just giving Max the notes for me, could you?”

“ You supposed right.”

I shrug in defeat.

“ Yeah, well, I had to try. I’ll see you in a few,”

“ Right. Later.”

As I pull on my jacket, I heave another huge sigh.

When the fates choose to mess with my life, they certainly don’t do it halfway.

Wanna trade lives?

************************************************************

Right, so I’ve been standing on Max’s porch for ten minutes, notebook in hand. I’m just staring at the door, trying to control the fight-or-flee reaction I’m going through. You guess it… I’m not ready.

But I knock anyway.

Isabel opens the door and smiles sweetly at me.

“ You do realize you’ve been standing out here for eleven minutes and seven seconds, don’t you?”

“ Gee, that short?”

She waves me in and I shrug off my jacket, hanging it on the coat rack. I hear the sounds of slightly raised voices as I follow Isabel up the stairs.

“ How long have they been talking?” I ask curiously.

Isabel smiles over her shoulder at me.

“ About half an hour. They should be done soon. But I think we’d better hang at my room first. We don’t want to be in the way of any flying books.”

I force a laugh but the thought of Max throwing books at Michael because of Jessie doesn’t sit well with me. I shake my head and roll my eyes at myself. Am I ever going to get the fact that it doesn’t matter if it sits well with me or not? She’s his girlfriend! When is that going to penetrate into my thick skull? We’ve reached Izzy room and I sprawl on the bed as she shows me the new dress she ordered from catalogue. It’s very pretty and she confides that she plans on wearing it on her and Alex’s big date. I grin, telling her Alex will love it. Isabel positively glows at the mention of his name and as she squeals about how excited she is, I laugh again. Seeing Isabel this excited is rare, since the ice princess doesn’t let herself melt too often but right now, she’s just a puddle of glow in the dark, Izzy goo on the floor. I feel a little pang of…envy go through me. Will I ever be like that? All excited and flushed days before a big date? And will I ever stop imagining Max as the person I’m going to go with?

“ Liz?” Isabel calls softly.

I start, not noticing that I had drifted off. She has this understanding look on her face.

“ I think they’ve stopped talking now.”

I nod. “ Right. I’m just gonna…”

Isabel smiles and waves me off.

“ Go.”

I approach Max’s bedroom and mentally rehearse what I’m going to say. It’s very short.

‘ Max, here are the notes. About this afternoon, it will never happen again, I’m sorry. Okay, I’ve got to go, so see ya.’

So…what’s the betting I’ll actually go through with it? I’m so preoccupied by this that I’ve almost knocked and pushed open Max’s door before I realize he and Michael are still talking. I hold my breath and turn to go when I stop. Okay, I just want to clarify this point. What I’m doing is not, I repeat, not eavesdropping. It’s what I call…information gathering. Tiptoeing back to the door, I quiet my breathing and begin to listen.

“…see that I really like Jessica?”

Yep. That was Max talking. He sounds really… frustrated. And hello, I’m in control of myself now, so no, that did not hurt. I hear him breathe out noisily.

“ Look Michael,” He says in an exaggeratedly calm tone. “ She and I have fun. We get along. I. Like. Her. Very much.”

I knew that. So… why does it still feel like I got kicked in the stomach? Aw, screw it, I may be in control but fine, you in, it still hurts. Very clearly, I hear Michael snort in disbelief.

“ Right. Okay, fine. For the sake of argument, if you like her so much, then why can’t I see a single picture of her in here, huh?”

I hear footsteps and I’m about to hightail it out of there when they stop abruptly.

“ Look at this Max. What is this?”

“ Michael,”

“ Just go along with me okay? I’ll stop if you just go along with me,”

“ Fine.” Max grumbles. “ It’s picture of the group.”

“ And this one?”

“ Another picture of us all. I think we were at the reservoir.”

I smile faintly. The reservoir. It’s been ages since I last went there. I think I’ll pencil in a visit when I get home.

“ What about this?”

“ My family.” Max answers.

“ And this?”

There’s a pause before Max answers and I shift closer. I almost don’t hear his answer cause it’s so softly said, like the way you’d speak in a church.

“ Liz.”

I blink. Me?

“ How about this one?”

“ Liz.”

“ This?”

“ Still Liz.”

“ And remind me again whose photo it is under your pillow, in your wallet and under your bed?”

Michael’s smirking now. I can hear it.

“ You know who it is.”

“ Yes I do,” Michael answers smugly.

“ So I have a lot of photos of her. What’s the point of all this Michael?” Max snaps, clearly at his breaking point. I’m disappointed. I would’ve dearly loved to know for sure who…never mind.

“ The point is, Max,” Michael begins, “ that if you really liked Jessica, she would be all around you. For god’s sake you would at least have a picture of her.”

“ I have a picture of her,” Max says rebelliously.

Oh you do, do you? My eyes narrow. This I’ve got to hear. Michael chuckles.

“ Year book photos do not count, Maxwell.”

I almost laugh myself. A year book photo? We’re gonna have to work on that.

“ All that proves is that I haven’t had time to get one from her, that’s all.”

“ Max, you two have been dating for almost three weeks and the girl’s locker is already like a shrine devoted to you. You’re everywhere. Maria saw it. ”

My eyes widen. Oh wow. Either she really loves him or she’s really obsessed.

“ You have a lot of photos of your friends, on in particular, but of your girlfriend the count is…zero. Doesn’t that say something to you?”

Max releases a long suffering, tired, sigh.

“ I don’t feel that way anymore Michael. I don’t. Things change.”

Michael snorts again.

“ Maxwell, with a pitch like that you couldn’t sell water to a man dying in the desert.”

“ It’s true, okay? It’s been years. I can’t go back to pining over her…to just watching and waiting…I’m not…I’m not doing that anymore Michael. I don’t feel that way about her anymore.”

“ Are you trying to convince me or yourself?” Comes Michael’s reply.

My heart is pounding. My hands are shaking. Who…who is this she? Was I really not paying that much attention to Max that I didn’t see whoever it was that’s making him speak right now with more…more… emotion then I’ve ever heard from him?

“ Michael… she doesn’t want what I want.”

“ You’ve never asked-”

“ Liz? What are you doing out here?”

Isabel’s voice sounds suddenly at my elbow and I jump. Michael hears this and falters. I glance at Isabel, mouthing soundlessly and then the door opens. Max is standing there, going the peculiar color of ash when he sees me. Behind him, Michael looks shocked to see me.

“ Liz.”

“ Hey Max.” I shift the notebook from one hand to another. “ I just came to… you know.” I brandish the book at him and he takes it dumbly. By some silent agreement between them, Isabel and Michael both move into action. Isabel backs away, claiming she has to do her nails and Michael says he’s late for a date with Maria and with a wave, he climbs out the window. Now it’s just Max and I. He’s looking anywhere but me. When he finally makes eye contact, he looks away almost immediately.

“ Did you…how much did you…”

“ No,” I answer immediately. “ I didn’t…I just arrived at your door.”

“ Oh. Okay.”

Might as well get this over with. The sooner I do this, the sooner I can go home and obsess about this ‘she’.

“ Max…this afternoon, I just want you to know I was completely out of line. It won’t happen again.’”

His eyes bore holes into mine and I try to communicate to him that I’m apologizing for more than my outlandish question.

“ Why?” He whispers to me. “ Would it be so bad?”

My brows furrow.

“ Would it be so bad if I asked you if you used protection?” I stare at him in puzzlement. “ Um, well, I guess not. But…but, it would be embarrassing.”
His eyes go from gentle and softly shining to hidden and hard to read.

“ Yeah. It would be that.”

Damage control. We need it now.

I smile at him slowly.

“ Maxwell, what say you and I take a little road trip? Say tomorrow?”

“ Road trip?”

“ I mean, if you’re bus-”

“ No. I’m not.” He answers promptly.

I grin.

“ Good. Pick me up at eleven, okay? We have work to do tomorrow.”

I turn and walk off.

“ Liz?”

“ Yeah?” I call back without turning around.

It takes a while for Max to continue.

“ Where are we going?”

Why do I get the feeling that’s not what he wanted to say? Filing that bit of info away, I send him a wicked grin over my shoulder. He smiles back in kind, amber eyes blazing with amusement, with…that dark fire thing.

“ It’s a surprise.”

I go.

And you know what? It really is a surprise.

Especially since I don’t know where we’re going yet myself.

posted on 11-Mar-2002 5:13:56 PM by Comet
Hey guys. Jus checkin' in. New part will probably come sometime this week.

And yes, to the person who observed it, the first part was inspired by practical magic. I loved that movie and I just threw it in there when I wrote this.

Thanks for the bumps and FB guys. I'll see you later.
posted on 16-Mar-2002 3:50:35 PM by Comet
hey guys.

quick, quick note. Note: have not been abducted. have been infected by alien virus.

I'm sick. I feel icky. my temp's way above normal, my mom's been hovering over me the whole day and she's not allowing me to on my computer.

which I'm doing right now.

with luck, the part MAY be up tomorrow. I'm sorry if it doesn't come though.

thanks for the bumps but I gotta go now, my head is killing me....
posted on 23-Mar-2002 4:47:11 PM by Comet
hey guys.

1. Thanks for the bumps
2. If anyone's interested, I'm feeling much better though I still get dizzy*sad*
3. NO Rae, you cannot share my bed! First off, I don't want to catch what I've got. Second, I'm not good with sharing. So find your own bed hon!*big*
4. I've updated Journey...or I will as soon as I've found the thread!
5. I have not updated Cupid. (this is obvious right?)
6. Have I mentioned how extremely grateful I am that instead of abandoning this story you guys keep bumping it?
7. ....has number six saved me from flying pots and pans?
8. Hello to all the new readers....if I have any apart from Soypet.
9. Ummmmmm......
10. I'm going now.

Comet.
posted on 24-Mar-2002 2:46:04 PM by Comet
Dreamy Princess (sorry if I got your name wrong!).....Your wish is my command.....

The road trip…

NOT…


So…. I suppose everyone’s just dying to hear about how it went, huh?

And here I was just dying to tell y’all about it too.

But unfortunately, and insert relieved grin here, we didn’t go.

Reason?

At precisely six o clock this morning, I was woken up from a very vague, confusing dream by a loud yell of

“ AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Naturally I jerked awake and proceeded to scramble down the stairs to the restaurant, my bed lamp in hand, not even bothering to throw a robe over the cropped black tank top and teeny red shorts that make up my sleep attire. Uncle Jeff and I collided on the stairs and I almost got beaned by the baseball bat he was carrying. We didn’t exchange any words, just a quick glance over each other to check if all body parts were accounted for. And then we dashed off to the rescue.

Are we bad ass or what?

“ Nancy!?” Uncle J was yelling while he ran.

I chimed in with an appropriately worried,

“ Auntie N? What’s wrong?”

What was wrong became abundantly clear the moment we stepped into the restaurant. I felt like I had stepped off into a pond. The was water everywhere and only through a series of very complicated body contortions was I able to stop my slide and grab onto a table. Uncle Jeff wasn’t so lucky though. He skidded right through the water and straight towards Aunt Nancy. The both toppled to the ground, landing with a wet splash.

The first of several incoherent, panicky sentences I would utter today was,

“ Omigod, Uncle J, you killed her!”

Obviously, he didn’t really kill her, but with the way the two of them are yelling at each other right now, I’m giving them ten minutes before they lunge.

“ I told you to have those pipes checked months ago!” Aunty N yells.

“ I did! I told you to order new ones!”

“ You did no such thing!”

“ Nancy-”

It is at this point that Maria slogs through to me, leaning on her mop for support.

“ Are they still at it?”

“ Yep.”

I stop for a minute and rotate my neck, glancing at the clock. It’s ten fifty. This means that I’ve been mopping for… far longer than a human being should have to mop. I groan. If I weren’t so relieved that I have a valid excuse to skip out on the worst idea I’ve ever had, I would be complaining bitterly by now. As it is, I left Max a quick, quick message saying there was a crisis at the Crash. Then I hung up. If I hadn’t, I would’ve asked the question that’s been haunting me all night.

Who was she?

I begin mopping again. Staying still is not an option. I have to do something or else I’ll go crazy. I may pounce on Maria and demand to know if she knows who this mysterious she is. I may decide to run over to Max’s in nothing more than what I’m wearing now or… I may not. I could just come to my senses and continue planning the next step of my grand plan. Yeah, that sounds good doesn’t it? Okay. I’m coming to my senses now. I’m planning my next step in my grand plan.

My planning is interrupted when Maria touches my arm. “ You okay?” She asks, peering at me worriedly.

“ Yeah. I’m fine.” I answer automatically, with a smile to match.

“ Sure?”

“ Yeah.”

She doesn’t look convinced but she nods anyway, taking a delicate sniff of her rose oils and then eying me with a wicked sparkle in her eyes.

“ You know, Lizzie, you should consider having your Uncle change our uniforms to match your outfit.”

I glance up at her in puzzlement and continue mopping. She’s trying to distract me. I can tell. I sigh inwardly. When did I become so transparent when it comes to what I’m feeling or thinking? Flashing Maria another small smile, I go with it. Heaven knows I’m doing a rotten job of distraction by myself and if she wants a crack, I won’t stop her.

“ Why?”

“ Cause we’d definitely get more customers with the amount of attention you’re drawing.”

I look over my shoulder and I laugh more at the expression on Maria’s face than at the sight that greets me. My teammates on the track team, Garrett and Chris are staring in at us, fingers in their mouths and letting out shrill wolf whistles. I was wondering where all the noise was coming from. Maria laughs as well and smoothes down her own teeny pair of cut off shorts and black halter top, blowing the guys a kiss. Garret pretends to have been knocked over by it and fans himself with his hand while Chris wiggles his eyebrows suggestively at my attire. I roll my eyes and shake my head, going back to mopping up.

“ Oh, and you’re just a wall flower are you?” I ask her teasingly.

Maria grins and begins her task again as well.

“ Of course not. But I’m taken.” She stops mopping and allows a dreamy smile to appear on her lips. “ Scratch that. I’m more than taken.”

As if on cue, two arms slide about her waist and a deep voice growls,

“ That’s right.”

Michael’s standing there, not looking too happy. Maria winks at me and I fight the urge to laugh. She knew he was there all along! The sly devil!

“ Hey babe.” She greets him, planting a kiss on his cheek. “ Some flood, huh?”

“ Yeah.” He’s glaring at something outside and I’ll bet every penny I’ve saved that Garret and Chris have beaten a quick retreat. This is confirmed when the scowl on his features disappears and he smiles adoringly at Maria. “ Need some help?”

“ Do I! I’ve been mopping for hours. My back is killing me,” She moans, handing the mop to him and stretching. Before he can do anything though, she’s grabbed his face and is kissing him passionately. Between the heat they’re generating and the heat simmering between my Aunt and Uncle, it’s a wonder I haven’t melted yet. I sigh. This is normal for Michael and Maria but that doesn’t mean I’ve perfected the art of ignoring them completely.

“ People, people! Mop now, make out later!” I intone grandly, going on with my job as if nothing of the sort is taking place. Having my head in the clouds is one of the surest ways to ensure survival around here, in case you didn’t know. Maria finally detaches herself from Michael and smiles in satisfaction at the totally dazed, goofy look on his face. I smirk.

“ You do good work.”

“ I try.” She says to me. “ Turning to Michael, she smiles sweetly and says, “ Thanks hon. I’ll be in the break room.” Then she’s off, sauntering barefoot through the water and to the back.

“ You do know that you’re beyond whipped, right?” I ask Michael, who’s staring after his girlfriend with a smile so big, it shouldn’t be allowed.

He merely grins at me.

“ I know. It’s great, isn’t it?”

I’ll just bet it is. His eyes come back into focus and he scowls at my clothes.

“ What are you wearing?”

“ What does it look like?”

“ It looks like very little. Don’t you sleep in that?”

“ Yes.” I raise an eyebrow at him. “ So?”

“ So will you please change into something that covers a little more of you before I make you wear your apron?”

“ I didn’t hear you complaining about Maria’s clothes.”

“ That’s different.”

I glare at him and he glares right back. I love Michael, you know I do, but sometimes he acts way too brotherly for his own good.

“ Get a grip, bro.” I say with a quick roll of my eyes. “ It’s not like anyone’s going to pay any attention to me.”

Michael snorts.

“ Oh yeah?” He nods towards the doors. “ Look at that.”

I look and this time, I’m not amused any more. Garrett and Chris have been joined by Carter and Ben, two more teammates of mine. All of them are peering in at us, and unless they’ve all suddenly developed an interest in Michael, they’re looking at me. Drooling over me is more like it. I frown. Don’t get me wrong, they’re pretty nice guys and I like them well enough, but the moment you show off a little skin, they start seeing you as a piece of meat. Like property to be owned. And I just think that even though I may not deserve or find the kind of love my friends have, I do deserve to be looked upon as something more than a possession. Besides, I don’t even know what they see. I’m certainly not beautiful like Ria and Izzy are and my figure is almost non-existent so I just don’t get it.

I let out an exact copy of Michael’s snort and wiggle my eyebrows at him.

“ Look at them? Why, Mickey G, you didn’t tell me you had fans.”

Michael scowls and lifts his wet mop threateningly.

“ Watch it, little sister, I’m armed.”

I lift my own mop challengingly as well, sending him a cocky smile.

“ So am I. What about it Michael? You willing to tempt getting your butt kicked?”

“ Hah! That will be the day.” He lets down his mop and appears to give up on the idea of battling with me but then being Michael, he spins around and grabs the nearest bucket full of floor water he can find, flinging it’s contents at me. I duck, and lo and behold, half the water lands on Maria.

Maria shrieks.

Michael’s face turns ashen.

Maria’s face turns red.

And I promptly collapse into laughter as Michael starts to stammer out an apology and simultaneously back away from Maria at the same time.

“ Maria…I’m sorry… I didn’t see you…it was an accident…I didn’t mean…did I mention you look beautiful when your clothes are wet?” It’s not working. My best friend still looks like she’s about to rip Michael’s head off and is advancing on him menacingly. Michael keeps backing up until he bumps into a table. I’m watching the whole thing avidly. Michael finally turns on the puppy dog eyes and says in a voice barely above a squeak, “ Uh, I love you?”

Maria’s face softens.

I snicker.

Michael throws me a death glare, as if to say ‘this is all your fault’!

I muffle another laugh. This, in no way, shape or form was my fault. I didn’t tell him to throw water at me, did I? I’m kind of glad he did though. This is exactly what I needed and as I bonus, it’s so much fun to watch! Unfortunately, my laughter has attracted Maria’s attention and she glances over at me coolly, eyebrow raised.

“ Think this is funny, do you Lizzie?”

“ Damn right I do.”

“ Well maybe you’ll find this funny as well!”

She grabs the bucket from Michael and throws it’s contents at me. I duck again and this time it’s a male voice that yells in surprise. Shooting Maria a triumphant look and grin, I turn to see who her hapless victim was.

“ Sorry about that,” I begin, hoping my tone sounds apologetic. “ Maria was just….”

The words die on my lips. I automatically freeze.

Aw, hell.

Even as I think this, my stupid, stubborn heart is about to burst out of my chest with the way it’s beating.

“ … being Maria.” I finish lamely. Twisting my lips into a smile, I wink at him. “ Nice look for you Max.”

The strong jaw immediately unclenches. The annoyed light in the amber eyes disappear. Max shakes the water out of his hair and rakes his soaked bangs from his forehead. He looks over at Maria, who’s trying to contain her giggles.

“ I assume that wasn’t meant for me.”

“ Nope. I thought I’d give Lizzie a shower.”

“ Right. Flinging water at her isn’t really going to work, you know. Especially if you miss.”

“ I suppose you can do better?” Maria challenges.

“ Sure I can,” Max answers casually, sticking his hands in his pockets.

I frown at them both.

“ Hey now! I’m still here remember?”

“ Sshh, Liz, this could get interesting,” Michael says. I frown at him too.

“ Oh yeah? Then by all means. Show us.” Maria says, completely ignoring me.

Did she just say ‘show us’?

“ Okay.”

Did he just say ‘okay’?

“ Watch this.”

He grabs the nearest bucket to him and I begin to wade backwards through the water, grinning nervously.

“ Ha, ha, very funny, Maxwell. Just put the bucket down. You so do not want to do this.”

“ Oh don’t I?” He asks wickedly.

I nod my head furiously. “ You don’t. Trust me. I don’t want to have to mess up those nice clothes you got there, Maxwell, but I will if I have to.” I say mockingly.

You should see him. He’s got this button down shirt on, un-tucked of course, and what I’m sure are very nice khakis when they’re not wet. He looks like a poster boy for a Gap commercial. Where did he get these things?

“ Oh I’m scared.”

“ This is getting better and better,” I hear Michael mutter to Maria.

“ Mmmhhhm.” She answers in reply.

I narrow my eyes at Max and then relax. He wouldn’t dare. He wouldn’t dare because he knows I can beat him up. What? I can too do it! I cross my arms over my chest and smirk at him.

“ Max, you wouldn’t dare-”

I don’t have time to finish my sentence because I have to dodge yet another jet of water. This is really getting old!

I stare at him in shock. “ I can’t believe you did that!” I yell indignantly at him.

It’s only now that I realize that Max is staring at something beyond my shoulder, grinning broadly. From Maria’s gales of laughter, I have a pretty good idea of what happened.

“ Maxwell!” Michael bellows.

“ Sorry Michael. But I gathered that you’re the one who started all this so…”

Yep. Michael has joined the wet people club. I join in the laughter and stop abruptly when they all look at me.

“ What?” I say warily.

“ So, Mr. High and mighty. You missed, unless I’m mistaken.” Maria says, eyeing me beadily.
“ I’m eternally grateful Max.”

Max glances at me and then turns his attention to Maria again. “ Not so.” Max replies nonchalantly, as if I haven’t spoken. “ I was aiming for Michael all along.”

“ Yeah right.” Maria replies disbelievingly.

“ I was.” Max insists.

“ Fine.” Michael snaps. “ But I don’t think it’s fair that we’re all soaking wet and Liz is still dry. How many times have we missed her already?”

“ Two.” I supply helpfully.

They all ignore me apart from Michael and Maria sending irritated looks my way and Max grinning at me.

“ Maybe this requires a team effort,” Maria quips, already picking up a bucket and handing it to Michael, and then picking one up for herself. She glances over at Max. “ Max? You in?”

“ No he’s not!” I chirp. Guess what? They ignore me again. I huff. Why are they mad at me because they’re wet? I didn’t start this!

Max glances at me. I drop the scowl and try my best puppy dog eyes on him. For a moment, he wavers, and I can almost see myself getting out of this dry but then he smirks and says, “ Hell yes.”

Yep. Hell is definitely the word. I think I should have tried the batting of the eyelashes thing instead.

“ Am I totally invisible?” I ask the air around me.

“ No,” Maria says calmly. “ What you are is wet.” She wrinkles her nose. “ Well, as least you will be.”

She throws yet another bucket of water at me. I shriek and jump to the side. It misses me. Michael’s waiting and he too tosses water at me. This time I duck behind a booth and am completely shielded. I pop out to see Michael and Maria wearing matching annoyed expressions and I grin at them.

“ You were saying?”

“ I believe she was saying you’d be wet.”

Michael and Maria? They’re not annoyed any more. Nope, now they’re happy. I turn and see Max holding a bucket above my head.

“ Uh, is there anything I can say to make you reconsider?”

“ Nah.”

“ Nothing?”

“ Tell him you’ll strip for him!” Michael yells out with a laugh, his reward being Max going red as a beet, Maria elbowing him and my best evil eyeball being directed at him with vicious pleasure. He cringes and I turn back to Max, who’s gotten himself more or less under control.

“ Apart from what Michael said,” I begin, “ Is there anything at all… like… ‘nice clothes Max!’ or ‘you’re the man, Max!’?”

“ Actually, Michael’s idea was…tempting.” He replies, stepping closer, that dark fire thing blazing brightly. I step backwards. When did it get so hot in here? “ But I don’t think so.” He finished.

The bucket tips dangerously closer to my head and I realize I’ve lost this. I narrow my eyes at him.

“ I hate you.”

He leans forward and smiles down wickedly at me.

“ I know.”

Splash.

Maria and Michael start to laugh.

“ Whoooohoooooo!” Maria yells in delight.

“ Classic Maxwell!”

Spluttering, I shove the wet strands of hair away from my eyes and frown over at them and then at Max, who still manages to look good soaking wet, while I probably look like a drowned rat.

“ Nice look for you Liz,” He chimes in a sing song voice. I smile back sweetly, hoping he doesn’t correctly read the annoyance that I’m sure is flashing in my eyes.

“ Thanks. But you’d look even better like this!”

I shove him backwards with all my might and he tumbles to the floor, but as he starts to fall backwards, he grabs my hand and brings me down with him. I shriek again. Max lands spread eagled on his back while I slam down on top of him. Both of us breathing hard, we just stare at each other for several moments while Michael and Maria’s laughter surround us.

I’m trying to hang onto my sanity here, trying not to fall under the spell that his eyes are starting to weave over me and they’re laughing?

I so have to get some new friends.

Clearing my throat, I drag up the irritation that was filling me a couple of seconds ago, hoping it will be enough to… well, you know.

“ I mean it Maxwell. I really hate you.”

In response to my scowl, the jerk just grins. My heart stops beating for a moment. That grin seems to have that particular effect on me as well as making my knees quake and I’m thankful I’m not standing.

“ Aww… you don’t mean that, Liz.” He teases. “ You know you love me.”





WHAT?

I barely manage to restrain myself from saying the above with a loud screeching sound accompanying it. Instead, my eyes widen. And this time, my heart stops for far longer than a moment. I think this is what it must be like to die. Nervously, I lick my lips and he thankfully breaks eye contact with me to stare at my chin. Have I mentioned how relieved I am that Max seems to have a weird fascination with it these days? It gives me time to think back over the last few minutes because when my heart jammed, my brain seemed to have done the same thing. Then finally it clicks and I’m so relieved, I laugh.

Max looks up at me.

“ What’s so funny?”

“ I thought…” I break off and chuckle some more. “ You know what? I didn’t think. Let’s leave it at that.”

I am so off my game. The old Liz Parker would’ve never jumped to conclusions like that. Never. And damn it, I’m not supposed to even consider jumping to…

“ And don’t kid yourself, Maxwell.” I say, cutting off my train of thought. “ Make no mistake. I hate you.”

Max laughs as well and I shiver. I’m working on it, okay, stop looking at me like that!

“ Really. Then why are on top of me?”

“ Because you dragged me down with you, jerk.”

Max shakes his head at me and then suddenly, he tilts his head to the side.

“ Listen.”

I stop. I listen.

“ What am I listening for?”

“ Michael and Maria.”

“ I don’t hear them.”

“ That’s cause we’re not laughing anymore kiddies.” Comes a voice from above us. We both glance up and to the side. Michael and Maria are towering above us, their buckets poised to pour. Max and I both groan and I drop my head on his chest.

“ Tell me when it’s over!” I beg.

I feel the rumble of his chuckle vibrating against my cheek and find myself burrowing deeper into the space my head has found. I amazed at how comfortable this place feels to me. How much like home it is. Almost like it was made for me…

Wow.

I am losing it much faster than I thought. Struggling to keep in the wail of frustration welling up inside me, I barely catch Max’s contented answer of:

“ I’ll do that.” before, yes, you guessed it, another splash.

I raise my head and grin at Max. Michael and Maria are laughing again.

“ What’d you say we pay them back?”

“ Best idea I’ve heard all day.”

I scramble off of him and try not to notice how those clothes cling to him. Shouldn’t it be against the law to look that good? Shaking my head at myself, I grab the nearest full bucket I can find and look over at Max. He’s got a bucket too and he nods at me. Slowly, we creep up on the hysterically laughing pair. One last nod.

Yes folks.

Another splash.

And yes, Michael and Maria are not laughing anymore.

Needless to say, a water war soon broke out and it was this that Izzy and Alex walked in on. They took one look at our dripping clothes and bodies, glanced at each other, and started to beat a hasty retreat.

Again, needless to say, they never stood a chance.

They were wet before you could count to three.

And the water war endures, with two more players added to the battle. I’m laughing so hard while watching Alex running away from Isabel, whom he mistakenly hit instead of me that I don’t notice Max sneaking up behind me. He tackles me to the ground and we join Michael and Maria, who are already rolling around on the floor, playing ‘catch the dishrag’ (you don’t want to know).

“ Max, stop it!” I yell while laughing. He’s tickling me mercilessly and shows no sign of stopping. I just knew I shouldn’t have zapped him with the whipped cream from the counter, I just knew it! From somewhere to the left, I hear Izzy shrieking that whipped cream would clash terribly with her outfit. A loud fizzing sound erupts and the next thing I hear is Alex laughing crazily as he slips and slides away from Izzy, who’s face is covered in whipped cream and screeching that she’ll get Alex if it’s the last thing she’ll do. From the right I hear Michael begging for mercy while Maria yells all sorts of things at him and in the middle of it all, Max and I are laughing madly. He’s stopped tickling me now and we’re just laying very still, watching the other four. The sheer bedlam is just so… refreshing!

“ This is better than the movies,” He murmurs to me.

I grin. “ Ain’t it, though?” Then I mock frown at him. “ Hey! I want to be on top.”

“ You were on top last time,” He reminds me with a smirk.

“ For good reason. I get to see better.”

“ Right, but I hear being on top gives you more leverage.”

I smirk in kind at that pitiful line, and no, it did not affect me in any way. It didn’t. I can have a semi flirtatious conversation with him without complications you know. They’re basically the kind we usually had before all this started. Hold on. Did I just say that I used to have flirty conversations with Max? Um…maybe we should get back to that later, when I’m alone and I can yell in peace. Max is staring down at me and I stare back before I suddenly realize that’s it’s very quiet.

“ What’s wrong?” He asks.

“ Do you hear something?”

“ No.”

“ That’s what’s wrong.”

We both look around to see Michael, Maria, Izzy and Alex all staring at us, all smiling broadly.

I don’t even have time to get properly annoyed or embarrassed at this, when the smiles slip off their faces and now I’m wondering why.

Uh oh.

My Aunt and Uncle have just walked in.

Max practically leaps off of me, Michael clambers off Maria and Alex releases Izzy from the corner he has her backed up into. Michael and Max then help Maria and I up and Alex takes Izzy’s hand and leads her over to where we’re standing in front of the adults.

Wrong way buddy.

The door’s that way.

Right. So, my aunt and uncle. Their expressions are priceless. Can’t say I blame them, because if possible, the CrashDown looks even worse then it did earlier and all they can do was stare at our guilty-but-trying-not-to-look-guilty faces. And if the mess the restaurants in doesn’t get us into trouble, the compromising positions they found us in could do the trick.

Aw hell.

“ Aunty N! Uncle J! We were just-”

“ Cleaning up-” Maria continues.

“ But we sorta got sidetracked-” Michael picks up the ball.

They look at us, then around them and then back to us, still not saying anything.

“ Okay, so more than a little side tracked-” Max adds.

“ And we didn’t even provoke them! They just attacked-” Alex chips in with his two cents.

Isabel wipes the whipped cream from her eyes.

“ So we had no choice but to retaliate.”

My Aunt is the first to speak. “ Jeff?”

“ Yes Nancy?”

“ What do you think we should do to them?”

The six of us exchange nervous looks. They sound really, really calm. Like the calm before the storm.

They’ve both stopped near buckets of water. I really don’t like the look in their eyes. They’re going to make us mop till eternity! I glance up at Max to see if he’s as scared as the others look but I when I do, I see him smiling at me. I smile back and somehow, I’m not worried anymore.

Uncle Jeff picks up the bucket. He exchanges a solemn look with my Aunt.

“ I think we’re going to have to show them how it’s done. What do you think?”

Huh? I look at the others. They look as confused as I do. It’s only when my aunt picks up another bucket that it clicks.

Oh no.

“ I think you’re right.”

“ Back away slowly,” I whisper to everyone.

We all barely manage to take one step backwards when we’re all soaked a new. At first, we stand stock still, but the surprise wears off and with resounding war cries, courtesy of Alex and Michael and Max, we pick up our weapons again.

Let the battle begin!!!!

TBC…

Authors Note: Right. This is the last light part for a while. We’re heading back to angst central okay, so just remember that this has happy ending insurance. Take care guys!

Comet.

posted on 25-Mar-2002 9:05:49 AM by Comet
LOL!

How did I know you all would be fixated on Max's missing reaction??? How did I know?

See, the thing I don't like about POV fics is that you never get to see what the other person is thinking and stuff like that. The POV thing works in this fic (I hope!) cause it's supposed to be angsty but back when I was writing this, I kept picturing Max's thoughts and reactions in my head and I just really wanted to write them all. But believe me on this one, okay, our boy DID notice Liz. He did.

So... I've got a question. I know I'm leaping WAY ahead of myself here and maybe it'd be better if I asked this question when I've finished posting the story, but.... would guys like it if I wrote a companion to this? Like....Max's take on things?

Let me know.

The new part will come soon.

Luv,
Comet.
posted on 2-Apr-2002 2:47:55 PM by Comet
Author's Note: Hey guys. Rae you are very *odd*. And I mean that in a good way. Perhaps your hypnosis worked after all. Or maybe your torturing of the voodoo doll you may have in my image did the trick, but here's an update. Okay, I didn't like this chapter when I wrote it, still don't like it now but I don't have time to re-write it for you guys cause we're starting finals next week and I have to study. So....sorry if it isn't good and sorry for the short length. Also, I may not post again till the 20th or later due to the exams. I love the feedback, keep it coming, thank you all for reading this.

Welcome… to the zone where happy things don’t happen very often…

“ You’re kidding!”

I sit up from my sprawled position next to Max and stare down incredulously at him. The wind whips my hair around my face and I brush it away impatiently, my eyes leaving Max’s face and darting everywhere as I process this new bit for information and try to decide if it will drastically affect my plans. I bite my lip, making a decision.

It probably won’t.

In fact, it might even prove…beneficial.

Struggling to ascertain whether my sense of dread has been increased or decreased by this particular piece of news, I sigh in frustration.

When did everything become a struggle?

“ Hey.”

Startled, I glance back down at Max. He’s looking up at me in concern, his brow furrowed.

“ You okay?”

“ Yes.” Is my immediate reply. Flashing him a quick smile, I gather my legs closer to my chest and slant him a sideways look. “ So. You gonna give me details on how exactly you ended up having breakfast with Jessica and her parents?”

Max doesn’t look very convinced but he smiles back at me anyway.

“ Only if you let me have the last strawberry.”

I shake my head with quick refusal.

“ No way. That strawberry is mine and if you touch it, you die.”

“ Alright, alright already.” He shakes his head at me. “ You really are too possessive for your own good you know.”

I smirk at how untrue his accusation is. If I was possessive, the last I would be doing is playing Cupid for you Max. The last thing I’d be doing is pushing you towards another girl. The last thing I would be doing is letting you go… the smirk fades. Why is it that all of a sudden, being possessive sounds like a very good thing?

What am I saying? Of course it’s not a good thing! Forcing my attention back to the matter at hand, I hitch up my smirk once more, choosing to ignore the lingering worry in his eyes.

“ Whatever. So. Spill Maxwell. Let’s hear all the gory details.”

“ There’s nothing much to tell,” He shrugs, fixing his stare on the pieces of sky above him, the parts he can see through the branches of the tree we’re under. “ She called, telling me to…”

I tune him out, instead focusing on his expression. As he goes on, his face becomes more animated, his tone more happy. I can’t see his eyes though. He’s not looking at me and I frown a little at this. I’d know for sure if I at least saw his eyes. But, going by his tone of voice he sounds…okay. Soon, he and I are both laughing, him at the morning he had and me more with him than at the story he’s telling. It’s nice to see him having a good time. It makes my choice easier to live with. And yet, even as I rejoice that at least he’s not being tortured, I wonder if this is the happiest he’ll ever be. Cause if it is… then he deserves more. He deserves all the world has to give.

I realize his story is over and I quickly pull myself together, flashing him a grin.

“ No wonder you wore such preppy clothes,” I taunt him.

Rolling his eyes, he shoves me playfully and I shove him back.

“ Shut up, Liz. My clothes were fine.”

I snort.

“ Yeah. You looked like a hopeful for the ‘young americans’. All you need was a sweater vest set with matching cardigan.”

He groans.

“ Why do I even bother with you?”

I ignore his comment and continue in the teasing vein I’ve started, hoping to ease us a conversation I loathe to have with him but is a necessicity.

“ What’s it been Max? Two weeks-”

“ Almost three,” He interjects quickly.

I raise my eyebrow at him. He sounds…like…like how one of those little kids sound when they’re announcing to grownup that they’ve finished all their veggies. You know…proud that they’ve managed to complete an unpleasant task and eager to remind you of it. I’m puzzled. Shouldn’t he sound a little bit happier and not like he’s won a difficult battle? Shaking myself out of my confusing thoughts, I accept his correction with a nod.

“ Almost three,” I smile. “ and she’s already got you meeting the parents?” I wink at him. “ I am invited to the wedding right?”

“ Don’t let Isabel hear you saying that,” He cautions, only half joking. “ As for wedding bells, it’s too early to tell but it looks like a definite possibility.”

Huh? I was only joking. You do know I was only…Did he just say… he did, didn’t he? I can’t help but stare at him in horror as he stares seriously back. And then he smirks at me.

“ Kidding.”

“ Jerk!” I say savagely, punching him in the arm, relief coursing through me. He yelps but laughs anyway, helping himself to another nacho and looking thoroughly pleased with himself. He once more gazes up at the sky and sighs deeply.

“ Isn’t this place amazing?” I ask as I stare off into the distance. Somewhere in between the water follies of the morning, Max walking in on me while I was in my underwear to remind me of our road trip and my throwing a hair brush at him, I remembered a place my parents had taken me to when I was a little girl. This place. The place where my father proposed to my mother. The place where two lives became intertwined as one. Isn’t it ironic how this place would suddenly occur to me as a suitable location for a purpose as different from that of my father’s as night is from day? Think about it. A place where my parents’ life together began is the same place I pick to further obliterate any chance of Max and I ever being together.

Go me.

“ Yeah.” Comes the breathy response. I look down at him only to find him already watching me. “ Amazing.”

I avert my gaze quickly. This is so not the time to start drowning in his eyes. I cannot let myself drown in his eyes. Each time I do, another part of myself becomes captive. Another piece of my heart is lost to him. And I just can’t afford to have him own more of it than he already does. Because when I do start claiming my heart as my own once more, I know I’ll never be able to claim the parts he has firmly in his hands as mine. And if I let him take more, in the end, I just might find that I’ll have no heart to call my own anymore.

It will all belong to Max.

Just as his will belong to someone else too.

Someone who’s not me.

In fact, maybe it already does…

I clear my throat, ignoring the pang that goes through me at the thought. Wallowing in misery was not on the agenda for today. I better do what I brought him out here to do now before I lose my nerve…

“ Hey, listen. I have to talk to you about something.”

This is about the time I manage to look at him again. He’s staring at me curiously this time, not like the other time and has narrowed his eyes.

“ Sounds serious. Do I have to sit up for this?”

He’s already starting to get up.

“ No, no,” I quickly reach out to push him back down, but the moment my hand comes into contact with his bare shoulder, my eyes widen and I jerk away like I’ve been burned. Which, I’m not even going to bother denying it, I have… just not in the literal sense. I think we all know what touching Max does to me by now, so we won’t go there. In an attempt to ignore the way sparks are running up and down my arm from just that slight contact, I turn my attention to cursing the fact that he decided to change into a sleeveless shirt for this trip. Why did he have to make this harder than it already is? When I bring my agitated gaze back to his eyes, it’s to see him staring at me in bewilderment. He obviously thinks I’m losing my mind. Sometimes, I think so too. I swallow, and feed him the quickest explanation I can come up with.

“ Static.”

“ Oh.”

“ Um…actually I think it’d be better if you were lying down for this because…because you might faint with shock anyway,” I babble, nervously smoothing my hair behind my ears.

“ Faint…with shock?” Max repeats.

I swallow again and nod, refusing to meet his eyes. Uh uh. No way. No staring matches for me today! Hey…that rhymed…seizing the first distraction idea I can find, I begin tidying up the blanket we’ve spread out.

I can feel Max watching me carefully as if trying to figure out what I’m up to. I wish he would look away. In the meantime, I’m putting stuff back into the basket, stuffing all our trash back into a plastic bag and generally trying not to remain still for more than a few seconds, all in an effort to avoid the gaze he’s pinned on me.

“ Liz.” He touches my arm and I reluctantly look up at him. He stares right into my eyes. I want to look away. You know I do. But…it’s Max. And you also know that I’m helpless around him.

Yes, I’m working on that too.

After a minute or so of being locked in this staring match I didn’t want to happen in the first place, it seems that Max has found whatever it was he was searching for. His lips tighten into a grim line and I think this would be a pretty good time to venture a guess that he knows whatever it is I’m about to tell him isn’t good.

“ You know you can tell me anything right?” He questions softly.

I look away, focusing on a tiny speck below us. See, the thing is, I know can. I know I can tell Max anything. And I do. I mean… I used to. Before this all started. I feel the first tendrils of indecision, of doubt at the course of action I’ve chosen for today but I promptly brush them off. There are just some things that are better left unsaid, even between the closest of friends. That you’re crazy, head over heels for said close friend is one of them. So I give him my best smile, hoping it’s enough to cover the long moments of silence that have stretched between us but still not meeting his eyes.

“ Yeah. I know.” I say simply.

“ Then why are you so scared?"

The question surprises me. I whip my head up to stare at him fully, eyes narrowed in askance.

“ What?”

“ You heard me.” He answers, staring at me watchfully. “ Why?”

“ I am not scared!” I declare vehemently, trying to ignore how’s staring at me. “ I just… I just don’t know how to say this, okay?” Frustrated I glare at him, hoping he’ll stop. He’s not stopping. Why isn’t he stopping? “ And you’re not making this any easier! You…” It is at this point that I finally meet his eyes and I really wish I hadn’t. Because the moment I do, my sentence trails off, my brain ceases to function and all I want to do is melt. Smoldering. Hot. Intense. All words that could describe the way he’s looking at me. And I want to lose myself inside those incredible eyes… The part of me that’s managed to remain sensible and in control gathers every determined molecule in my body and rallies for one, last assault. It culminates in a single, breathless and almost despairing sentence.

“ Stop that.”

“ What?” Comes the reply, uttered just as breathlessly. He sits up and shifts closer.

“ Stop looking at me like that.”

“ Like what?”

Oh we are so not going down that road. I wrench my stare away from his and the spell is effectively broken. Releasing a sigh, I glance at him before looking away again.

“ You’re not making this easy, Max.”

“ Not making what easy?” Out of the corner of my eye, I seem him rake a hand through his hair in whether it’s in frustration or impatience, I can’t tell. “ Liz just tell me. And what does my looking at you have to do with making things difficult?”

You know, if I didn’t know better, I could swear he knows his effect on me. An unwelcome thought forces it’s way into my mind. Could one of the others… No. Of course not. They gave their word and plus, I trust them. But still…curious, I look over at him again and… is that a smile on his lips?

It is!

Frowning, half in confusion and half in annoyance, I cross my arms over my chest. I cannot begin to analyze this right now. We have gotten so far off track already and if I stop to consider the possibility that he might actually… what am I thinking? The idea of him actually feeling the same way I do… it’s laughable. So, taking a deep breath, I face him, steadily ignoring the low simmer of midnight I can still see.

“ I’m trying to tell you, alright? And when you look at me, it’s like…like....” Like he’s speaking to my soul. Like he’s inviting me to enter heaven. Experience sensations beyond my wildest dreams. Feel a completeness I’ve never found. Like I’ll stop breathing if he doesn’t stop staring at me. Like I’ll stop breathing anyway if he does. Blinking rapidly to clear these thoughts away, I tell him yet another lie, but one that’s necessary to set up what I’m about to say. “ …Like you’re passing judgement on me already.”

His eyes narrow.

“ Judgement?” Max looks utterly confused. “ What’s this about, Liz? Are you in some kind of trouble?” Panic is beginning to bloom in his eyes now, along with worry.

I think I will be. But out loud, while I shake my head, I say,

“ No, Maxwell. Just chill okay?” I take a deep breath. “ I lied.”

He looks more confused than ever.

“ You lied.” He parrots back at me. Tilting his head to the side, his eyes narrow in scrutiny. “ About what?”

Twisting my hands in my lap nervously, I bite my lip and release it as I begin.

“ Yesterday… you asked me… if I heard.” I look him right in the eyes. “ I did.”

“ You…” He swallows and I feel immediately sorry. Max has gone pale and his eyes are impossibly wide, with shock and a kind of surprised horror, I suspect. “ You did?” My suspicion is confirmed when he passes a visibly shaking hand in front of his face and asks me, still ashen faced, “ How much did you hear?”

My heart plummets even more He’s torturing himself. I know it. No, no, no! I did not want him to feel anything but anger at me for eavesdropping when I told him about this, he wasn’t supposed to feel pain. It takes me a little while to get my throat working again.

“ Everything.” I swallow.

He closes his eyes.

I feel like such a heel. It was an accident, yes, but once I started I couldn’t stop listening. And I should’ve. In a voice barely more than a whisper and laced with all the remorse and regret I’ve been feeling about, well, about everything, I say, “ I’m sorry Max.”

But the moment I say this is also when he chooses to say,

“ So you know.” In the most relieved voice I’ve ever heard.

I blink.

His eyes to open.

For a second, as we stare at each other, I’m surprised by what I see dancing inside them. Relief. Sweet, wonderful, joy. Happiness. These are quickly replaced by mounting confusion. Once more, we speak in unison.

“ Know what?”

“ Sorry for what?”

More silence as we continue to stare. Max’s jaw is grinding slightly and my eyes are narrowed in thought. He obviously works out the puzzle of what I said faster than I do his, because the confusion in his eyes is now replaced with something I hate to see there.

Disappointment.

“ You don’t know, do you.” He says softly. This at least, I can answer truthfully.

“ I don’t.” He drops his head, defeat winding about him. This is exactly what I did NOT want to happen. Hurriedly pulling myself back together, I begin my apology anew. “ Max. I am sorry. I shouldn’t have… I should have-”

He cuts off my apology with a wave of his hand as he looks up at me once more. His eyes are shrouded. Unreadable.

“ It’s okay Liz.”

I shake my head stubbornly, frowning at him.

“ No, it’s not.” Taking a deep breath, I plunge on. “ I’m apologizing for more than listening in on you.”

The look he levels at me clearly announces his confusion.

“ What else then?”

“ I’m sorry for… I’m sorry that…” Suddenly, even though I practiced it a dozens times in my head, it’s hard to get the words out. Seeing Max here, looking so weary and sad makes me wish more than ever that he had his soul mate. That he’d already found his ‘one’. And as much as I wish that it was me, I know it will never be. From last night, from the way he’s acting now, I know that there’s no ‘maybe’ anymore. Max Evans heart isn’t his own anymore. It’s belonged to someone else for a really long time now. Maybe even years. Tears begin to well in my eyes. For him. For going through pain of unrequited love all alone. And for me too. For never getting to find out what it would’ve been like to be loved like that by him. “ I’m sorry you lost her.”

Again, this is clearly not what’s he expecting. His eyes widen and they sparkly with curiousity.

“ What? Who…who are you talking about?”

I pull myself together. Plenty of time for tears later. I have to do what I have to do.

“ Her, Max. The girl you and Michael were talking about.” I smile sadly at him.

If it’s possible, he goes even paler than he did last time. His mouth drops open.

” Who?” He says, feigning innocence.

I roll my eyes at him. “ Don’t play innocent, Max. I may have only heard you two talking for a few minutes but it was enough. I know there was a girl. And I know…” I hesitate, glancing back at him. He’s staring intently, almost hungrily, as if wanting to know exactly what I thought and felt when I heard it all. “ I know.” I finish haltingly.

“ Know what?”

“ I know you loved her.”

He blinks.

“ You…I…love?”

I tilt my head to the side, eyeing him carefully. “ Yeah. That’s right. Love. You loved her.” Suddenly all my curiosity comes rushing back, pushing away my own dismal feelings. The question that’s been haunting me ever since yesterday begins haunting me all over again . It’s developed into this powerful ache inside of me by now, a burning desire to know the identity of this girl. This mysterious ‘she’ that captured Max’s heart. The one who holds it even now. “ So who was she Max?” I ask softly. “ And God, why didn’t you tell me?”

He’s looking away from me, his form tense. It’s a long time before he answers.

“ If I had told you… what good would it have done?” He faces me. “ And why are you apologizing for it?”

“ I’m apologizing because I should’ve been there. I should have known.” I release a short, dry laugh. “ I mean, you’re one of my best friends, Max. What kind of a best friend am I, what kind of a friend doesn’t even notice that her best friend has fallen in love?” I shake my head in disgust at myself. “ I should have known.” This is the main reason I’ve lying awake all night. Where was I, what was I doing, that I didn’t notice? Maybe if I had, he and her, whoever she is, would be together now and he would be happy and this wouldn’t have happened. A gentle hand takes hold of my chin and suddenly, I’m looking into Max’s eyes.

“ You have nothing to be sorry for.”

I shake my head and he drops his hand.

“ I have everything to be sorry for. God, Max, I could’ve done something, said something… I promised you. I promised all of you I would help find the ones you were looking for and… and you fell in love and I didn’t even notice! What if it was her, Max? What if she was your ‘one’? “ I swallow back my tears. “ You would be happy right now if you were with her.”

Max says nothing and simply stares at me. The silence becomes longer, more tense. Finally, he speaks.

“ I didn’t lose her.”

I look up at him, frowning in bewilderement.

“ I didn’t lose her, because,” He pauses and looks away. “ I never had her.”

The meaning of his words slide through my mind slowly. I stare at him incredulously.

“ She never knew.” My heart is pounding. This is even worse. I have amazing skill at persuading Max to do things he wouldn’t do other wise. If I had known, I’d bet everything I own I could convinced him to talk to her.

He looks me right in the eye and nods.

“ But… why didn’t you tell her?”

“ I couldn’t.” Max closes his eyes once more but not before I see the wells of pain and heartache in them. When he opens them, they’re gone but his eyes aren’t really alive either. It’s like… they’re shielded. He smiles at me a little. “ It’s okay, Liz. I’m…I’m over her.”

Michael’s words from yesterday wash over me.

Are you trying to convince me or yourself?

I stare at him doubtfully. I know Max Evans. When he feels for something, he feels deeply. He feels deeply enough that he wouldn’t manage to just get over it in a few days. And with the way he talks, or rather, doesn’t talk about this girl, I know he isn’t. Another pang slices through me. Look at that, you all. I never really stood a chance, did I?
Swallowing, I try again,

“ Max,”

“ I am.” He says firmly.

I chew my bottom lip and then take another deep breath.

“ Are you sure?”

He doesn’t look at me. He nods. And with that, I put the next step into operation.

“ Fine. Look at me, Max.” He does, though it’s very reluctantly. “ I didn’t notice anything while all this was happening and because of that, I’ll never know if this girl was right for you. You remember what I told you a while back? When you were asking me about Jessica?”

“ That it didn’t matter what others thought as long as she made me happy?”

“ Exactly. Does she make you happy?”

“ I don’t know, Liz. She and I… we have…”

“ Fun.” I finish for him. I’m a wall. No emotions. No nothing. It’s the only way. The only way to survive. “ So. Here’s what we’ll do.” I stand and begin to pace around him. “ We’re going to find out if Jessica can ever be the ‘one’ for you.”

“ And how are we going to do that?”

I grin at him, though I feel like my face might crack.

“ The way everyone does it Max. Get to know the real person. Their likes and dislikes. Dreams, hopes, that kind of stuff.” I’m spouting off the ino I memorized from a magazine. I was desperate okay, do not look at me like that! “All ending with a romantic dinner for two in a secluded location.” I gesture around me. “ This location.”

Max raises his eyebrow at me.

“ How does this qualify as romantic?”

“ This place has history Max. Look at the tree behind you. Tell me what you see.”

He stands and after a while I see him tracing his fingers over the roughly hewn heart I know is there. For a moment, I wonder what my parents must’ve felt then. How they both felt during the proposal. Were they happy? Excited? Did they feel whole because they’d found the love of their lives? I look over at Max. What if… no. No more what if’s. It’s done. He will never be that for me. Ever.

“ A heart. D. P and L. C. carved inside it.” Silence. And then, “ Derek Parker and Lana Callahan.” Max says. “ Your parents.”

“ Very good. “ I nod. “ My father proposed to my mother here.”

“ Are you serious?”

“ As a heart attack. This is one of my favorite places.”

“ And here I thought I knew them all.”

“ Not all.” I smirk.

“ So why bring me here now?”

” Because it’s for a worthy cause.” I advance on him. “ We’ll fix it up. The works. It’ll take a while, yeah, but I figure that’s good. You’ll know each other better. By the time you’ll bring Jessie here, you’ll know if she’s the one you’re looking for. And hey, breakfast with the parents is always a good start.”

“ As much as I appreciate that, I can’t, Liz. Not here. This is your place.”

I shrug. “ Yeah well, I doubt I’ll ever use it for a purpose like yours,” I say, voicing a truth I fear.

A flicker passes through Max’s eyes.

“ That’s not true. You-”

I hold up a hand.

“ This isn’t about me, Max. This is about you.”

“ Why are you doing this?” He finally asks.

I swallow. “ Because I wasn’t there for you when…you know.” I can’t talk about that again. Once was enough. “ And I don’t want that to happen again. I want you to be sure and not be afraid to find out if Jessica can really make you happy. And besides,” I flash him a grin. “ I’m your cupid remember?”


Yep.

That’s right.

I’m Max’s cupid.

His best girl buddy.

His lab partner.

His co-worker.

Partner in crime.

But you know one thing I’ll never be?

I’ll never be the keeper of his heart.

posted on 6-Apr-2002 3:11:18 PM by Comet
quote:
Rae originally wrote:
Ometca pdateua ourya icfa oonsa leasepa, oda otna orgetfa heta ealousja weatysa axMa kayoa. I'll understand if your stumped. Just give it your best shot & be happy. More of my moms free advice. Ya I know, there's a reason it's free.


Let's see now. Would that be something along the lines of:

"Comet, update your fic please, do not forget the jealous, sweaty Max, okay."

Am I right? Right, I should be studying right now but I need a break! I need my daily dose of fics to read and of course, to read the feedback. Aw, you guys! Have faith a little faith in me. It'll be okay in the end, trust me. Though I may decide to re-write the dreamer friendly ending....[insert evil laugh here].....

Oh and Rae thanks for the pig latin lesson. At least now I can tell my mother I went online to twist my brain around a brain teaser. Thank you all SO MUCH for the feedback, I'll be back soon.

PS: Isn't it a crime to write exams on your birthday?

Luv,
Comet.
posted on 1-May-2002 8:54:42 AM by Comet
(Comet sneaks in through the back door and sits in front of the computer, thinking: Maybe they didn't notice I was gone.....)

But the answer to that would be a great big no, right?

Very important announcement here.

I'm not going to continue.

.......

......

......

I'm kidding! LOL!

Oh my god, I cannot even begin.....um.....where do I start????? I'm so, so sorry! First things first.

1. This WILL be having an update TODAY.

2. I'm healthy, with my ass intact and yes, I have all my limbs. ( we're coming back to this later)

3. I was sadly not in the company of Keanu or Jason..where did you guys get this stuff?

And uh...my absence will be explained later on when I post. But, damnit, you guys rock. Seriously. All of you rock so hard, even the uh, slightly, isane ones. Hi Kit. Hi Rae. I'll be back.

Comet.
posted on 1-May-2002 4:20:25 PM by Comet
Author's Note: Hey guys. Okay, I believe I mentioned earlier that I think the world of all of you, especially those who bumped continously. Reading all your posts was very, uh, eye opening. I hope I can coax all those who've shipped themselves off to mental institutions to come back? I bring cookies, milk, foam bricks to throw at yours truly and an update to Cupid as a peace offering. What do you say? *big* Thank you all for keeping the thread on the board. I know I'm ten, eleven days late but better that than never right? The reason I'm late is cause after I finished my exams my parents kinda sprung a surprise trip on us, you know, to revive your dying brains. It worked but then I came back to a load of boy problems which aren't over by a long shot, but I'm hopeful it will be soon. And then I figured it wasn't fair that I promised to post and then didn't so I got my lazy self out of my cocoon and came onto the board. I WAS going to change this part a little since I didn't like it, but one look at all the, uh, more entertaining posts convinced me that some of you wouldn't last for much longer. So here it is. Chock full of angst and craziness. My apologies once more for the long wait.

Edited to add: Sorry, this isn't a happy part.....but at least it's a part...and um, I wanted to ask if I could have a picture of the Mrs. Potato Head Search Squad....it'd really help motivate me.....if I could stop laughing that is....oh and does anyone know anyone who could do a banner for me? that's all......

______________________________

Ever have one of those days, where from the minute you wake up something tells you:

Today is going to suck.

If you have, then you know the only sure fire way to avoid the disasters that are waiting for you is to disconnect your phone, turn off your radio, lock your door and then crawl back into bed. A sensible, logical solution, right? And in teenagers lives these days, sensible, logical solutions such as this are very hard to come by. But you see, the bad thing about it is that solutions such as these are either against the law or against house rules. In other words, if I want to avoid disaster today, I’m going to have to skip school. Or I could stop being a coward and face whatever it is head on. And since we’ve already established that a coward is exactly what I’m not, guess where I am?

Yep.

I’m in school. And I really wish I had stayed in bed.

“ –so depressed! Liz, you have to tell us what went down yesterday!” Maria half yells.

I wince and burst out of the doors of the cafeteria and into the quad, trying to simultaneously cover my ears with my hands and hold onto my lunch tray at the same time. This, of course, is impossible, so I have to settle for balancing my tray in one hand while covering one ear with the other and trying my best to prevent my other ear from listening to the hellions that are my best friends. We’re attracting quite a few stares from the people who’re already eating and while it’s a bit disconcerting, it’s really not that out of the norm. Remember the whole popular thing? Being part of the so-called ‘in’ crowd means no matter what you do, you get stared at. And while I usually don’t mind this, today, with Maria jabbering in my ear and Alex throwing in less than helpful comments here and there, I’m not in the mood to be stared at. Being stared at makes me think of Max. And I think we all know that thinking of Max is right on top of my things to NOT do list. And as for him being depressed… it’s not possible. You want to know why? I’m warning you now, the reason is pathetic and totally self-absorbed. Still wanna hear it? Okay: Yesterday, I was not only depressed, I was depression PERSONIFIED. All the depressed feelings in the world centered on me. There just wasn’t enough left in the world for anyone else to be depressed. And okay, yeah, now that that’s out of the way, my self-absorbed and pitying thoughts for the day are over…hopefully. I cast an imploring look at Maria and Alex.

“ Guys, can we please not talk about this?” I beg.

“ No.” Maria says stubbornly, following my every move. “We want details!”

Alex gives me a sympathetic look.

“ Actually, she’s the only one who wants the details. I’m just here as an advisor. And as your advisor, I’ll say this: Just give in, Lizzie. It’ll all be over soon.”

And that is a prime example of the less than helpful comments I told you about earlier. I throw a scowl his way.

“ You’re not exactly encouraging me here, Alex.”

Maria’s still talking but Alex ignores her as he shrugs. “ I know a lost battle when I see one, Liz. And trust me, this battle was lost at the first word that came from Maria’s mouth. The best course of action would be a quick surrender.”

“ Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I retort sarcastically. I quicken my stride, making a beeline for our spot, Maria bobbing around me and Alex following behind us.

“ You can’t avoid this forever, Liz!” She crows, making her voice heard over the conversation Alex and I have managed to make. “ I know you got all the messages I left you last night. And I know that something happened between you Max yesterday!”

“ Well if you know then you certainly don’t need me to tell you, do you?” I reply dryly, wishing I could make her forget. We have been going over and over the same thing ever since I arrived this morning and after yet another sleepless night this wasn’t exactly welcome.

I slide into a seat at our usual table and pick up my fork, preparing to eat my rapidly cooling spaghetti. Maria takes a seat opposite me and Alex sits beside me. She stares me with the most baleful eyes she can make and I try to ignore this as I eat my first forkful of pasta. Know that feeling you get when your dog wanders over to you while you’re eating and just stares at you? That’s the type of stare Maria’s leveled at me. She goes even further by letting her head drop onto the table with a thump, thereby making her look even more sad and pathetic looking. My endurance has been pushed to the limit. I roll my eyes and glare at her.

“ God, Maria could you stop it with the eyes? I’m trying to eat here and I can’t do that if you stare at me like a hungry puppy!”

“ Liz…please?” She begs.

“ No!” I retort in irritation. How many more times am I going to say this until she gives up? How many?

“ Liz, she’s going to win. You know she is,” Alex says, taking a sip of his soda. I look on with jealousy as he and the students around us eat in peace. Why couldn’t I have been one of them? All I want to is to eat lunch and make it out of this whole thing alive. That’s not asking for too much is it?

“ No she’s not,” I snap at Alex.

“ Liiiiizz….” Maria whines.

I groan.

“ Maria, in case you didn’t get this the first fifty or so times I said it, I’ll say it again: WE ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT THIS. Comprende?”

Maria rolls her eyes and lifts her head off the table, shifting around agitatedly. Alex sighs and starts to dig into his food once more. Gone is the sad, puppy dog look. She’s now in stubborn bulldog mode. I take advantage of the momentary silence that signifies that she’s gathering steam once more by shoveling in as much spaghetti as I can. Manners, you say? I can’t be bothered by manners at this point. The fate of my stomach rests in the balance here, so I think I deserve a little slack.

“ Why not go easy on yourself and tell her? You know she won’t stop. And I’d really like to eat my lunch in relative peace,” This is the newest piece of advice that comes from my oh so helpful friend, Alex.

I glance at him incredulously.

“ What makes you think I don’t?”

“ The fact that you haven’t given into her yet.”

I open my mouth to answer, when Maria, who’s been silent for a few blissful minutes decides to try again.

“ Chica, I’m not asking for the world here! A few details here and there is all I want! Like, what did you two talk about? Why wasn’t there any kissing involved and-”

“ How do you know there wasn’t any kissing involved?” I demand, blurting out the first thing that pops into my mind. And oh joy, it just had to be about that. I’m whipped, I know it. I see Alex grin out of the corner of my eye and I choose to ignore him. Blushing is so not on the agenda for today. Maria snorts and rests her chin in her hand.

“ Oh please, Liz! Trust me, if there was kissing involved, I would know. Besides, Max looked too depressed yesterday for there to have been any lip-locking.”

I shake my head in exasperation.

” Maria, could you please quit this Max depression angle? I know what you’re trying to do, all right, you’re trying to make me feel guilty so I’ll spill but that’s not going to happen. So just…quit it. Please.”

“ Do you really think I’d go that low?” She exclaims, feigning hurt.

“ Yes.” Alex and I answer in unison. Maria glares at him.

“ Alex, you’re not helping.”

“ What?” He says. “ It’s true.” He’s treated to one of Maria’s evil eyeballs and he sighs again, muttering about, “ Girls.”

“ Okay, so maybe I would,” She admits, shooting him an annoyed look and then shifting back to me. “ But not this time. Liz, I’m telling you, it was like he was dragging around this huge gray cloud, like that little gray donkey on the pooh bear show, what’s his name-”

“ Eeyore.” Dear Alex supplies helpfully, not looking up from his food.

“ Thank you. He was like Eeyore! Totally down and everything!”

“ Oh for goodness sake…” The image of Max’s face on Eeyore’s body pops into my mind and before I know it, I’m chuckling. This is purely a stress reliever. Arguing with Maria is beyond exhausting and doing so on an empty stomach is murder. And the worst thing is, I know I won’t be able to eat with the way I have to talk every few seconds. Getting myself under control, I raise an eyebrow at her. “ Alright, alright fine. I’ll bite. Apart from seeing this cloud Max was pulling around with him, did he actually say anything to make you believe he was depressed?”

It is at this point that she loses all her tenacity and becomes serious and solemn.

“ He said…he said he was giving up. That he was giving up on…her.”

I stare blankly at Maria for several moments after she says this, wondering why she looks so sad. I glance over at Alex and see him looking pensive as well, and then finally it all clicks. It’s as if someone has switched on a light bulb in my brain and everything, EVERYTHING is clear to me now.

“ Oh. My. God.”

That’s me. Translated, that means: Ladies and gentlemen, congratulate me.

Maria and Alex look at me in surprise, but I ignore this for the time being, because…

I’ve figured out the secret.

It’s so simple, it’s ridiculous that I didn’t figure it out sooner, especially since, apparently, I have a genius IQ level. Oh, we’ll get back to that and the pandemonium that little announcement caused later. Right now, I’m taking a few minutes to bask in my own brilliance. I allow a huge grin to creep over my lips.

“ What?” Maria demands, eyeing me with suspicion.

“ Liz?” Alex calls.

“ Just…give me minute, guys. I think… I know I’ve figured it out.”

Maria’s whole aspect changes at once. She brightens and grabs my hands from across the table, squealing.

“ Really?!”

Alex, too, is no longer all glum and mopey. He’s got that infectious Whitman smile back in place.

“ Awesome!”

I look around wildly for Michael and Isabel, grinning even more widely when I see them approaching us, both looking grim. It would be better if they were here when I finally announce that I’ve cracked it. The more people there are to witness my triumph, the better. I shake my head, still amazed at the absurd simplicity of it all. Isabel sits down next to Alex, looking around us curiously.

“ Hi guys.”

“ Hey Izzy.” I greet back, smiling, slipping my hands out from under Maria’s. Alex grabs Isabel’s hand and squeezes it. She glances at him, looking more curious than ever, a tentative smile breaking out on her lips.

“ What?”

Michael has on his trademark scowl as he slips in beside Maria. He sees the smiles on all our faces.

“ What’s goin’ on?” He demands, cutting straight to the point.

“ She figured it out!” Maria crows, practically bouncing in excitement. “ Michael…Izzy, she’s finally figured it out!!”

The transformation is instantaneous. Isabel joins Maria in happy squealing and Michael and Alex give each other high fives. In the midst of all this jubilation, I’m still smiling, but it’s turning into a rather puzzled smile. If my knowing makes them this happy, why couldn’t they just have told me earlier? It would’ve really saved me and them a whole lot of trouble. And come to think of it, why would they be this happy that I know? As far as I can tell, it doesn’t have massive importance to their on-going mission…or does it? By the time their celebration is over my smile is gone and has been replaced by a frown. And the table undergoes yet another transformation. All of my friends’ attention has been shifted onto me and once they see my expression, it wipes the smiles off their faces faster than you can blink.

“ So.” Isabel begins in an oddly bright voice, seemingly trying to bring back the earlier giddiness. We all look at her. She’s smiling again, although this time it looks kinda…forced. “ This is good news! …Right?”

I’m back in the spotlight. And the tension is mounting. I huff in frustration and disbelief at myself. What am I doing? This is the perfect opportunity to do the one thing I’ve been planning to do for weeks and I sure as hell ain’t going to waste it by making myself crazy over endless questions. Especially since the answers are right in front of me. I push my lunch aside, bracing my elbows on the table in front of me and linking my fingers together. I eye each of my friends in turn.

“ Why don’t you guys tell me?”

“ Liz, what are you talking about?” I look over at Michael. He’s gone back to scowling. “ Have you or haven’t you figured it-” A pause as he winces. I’m pretty sure Isabel or Maria or Alex or maybe all three have kicked his shin. “…whatever ‘it’ is, out?” He continues.

“ I have.” I say, staring hard at him. “ But something tells me you,” I look at all my friends, “ all of you, don’t need me to say it.”

They all look at each other and swift glances ranging from panicky to excited to impatient are exchanged. Silent messages are sent and received. An agreement is reached and an invisible signal triggers action. Uh oh. I’m sensing a team effort here. Not good. Even I can’t stand alone against the combined might of four of my closest friends. Now if Max was here, I could stand a chance. We could’ve…hold on. What am I saying? Whatever it was we could’ve done, it obviously won’t happen now or any time soon. Because Max isn’t here, is he? And thanks to me, his presence that this table is going to be a very rare thing. And I’m just going to ignore that flash of pain that ripped through my heart just now. There will be plenty of time to heal wounds later. Right now, I’ve got answers to get.

“ Uh, why is that Liz?” Alex asks in a careful, even tone. I take a deep breath, allowing my features to sink back into their usual indifferent expression.

“ Because you all know.” They stare back at me, their faces mask like. I smile slightly. “ You’ve known for years, haven’t you.” To this question at least, I’ll already have an answer, even if they don’t tell me. They’ve ALL known and they didn’t tell me. Again…why? As I’m puzzling over this, I catch sight of Maria’s happily sparkling eyes. I look at Alex. There’s a barely controlled grin fighting to be shown on his lips. Isabel looks like she’s ready to start squealing again and Michael is actually… smiling. Obviously, ANOTHER change took place, but this time I missed it. What is up with that? What is up with this? Oh, screw being clueless, this is a fact finding mission. Max or no Max, I’m going to do what I set out to do.

“ So why-”

This is as far as I get because the next minute, Maria and Izzy have enveloped me in a bear hug. They’re both laughing like crazy and I’m flailing my hands helplessly, gasping for breath.

What’s happening?

Maria’s saying, “ Lizzie!! I’m so glad you know! Finally! We’ve got to tell Max!”

Tell Max… Tell Max what?

“ It took you long enough!” Isabel chips in, still giggling.

What took me long enough?

Okay, I’ll ask again:

WHAT’S HAPPENING? Do any of you know? Because I got lost a very long time ago.

Over the heads of the two people who are squeezing me like an empty bottle, I meet Alex’s eyes. They’re bright with excitement and I hear Michael, saying, in a voice filled with relief,

“ Thank god she figured it out. I really hated phase two of our plan.”

That’s it!

I squirm free of Maria and Isabel and scramble off the bench, finishing my rather frenzied movements by taking a step backward from the table. They’re all staring at me, taken aback at what I’m sure is my very frustrated and confused expression. I rake a hand through my hair, pushing it away from my face, my frustration mounting until finally, I explode.

“ Would someone please explain to me, why, WHY on god’s green earth, you’re all so happy that I know that Max fell in love with someone years ago?! Someone who’s not-” Barely managing to shut my mouth in time, I shake my head and look away from them. That was way too close. And the whole world does need to know what keeps me awake at night. The words hang in the air and suddenly the situation becomes even more real. I squeeze my eyes shut as the words reverberate inside my head.

Max fell in love…

Oh God. He really…he did, didn’t he? Suddenly, my knees feel weak and I really need to sit. I shuffle back to the bench and slump down in between Maria and Isabel. I don’t understand why I feel this way. So Max fell in love. I knew that. And it wasn’t with me, as I almost wailed earlier. I knew that too, I lose sleep over it since the day I heard it. But that doesn’t explain why… rubbing my forehead tersely, I lift my head to find them all staring at me in concern. It’s only now that I realize that I must’ve seemed a more than a little psycho. I smile weakly at my friends.

“ I’m sorry…let’s start over. I’ll be calmer this time, I promise.” No answer. I take a deep breath once again. “ Why are you all so happy that I know? And why didn’t you guys ever tell me? I mean, it’s obvious you knew that he fell for someone. And…” I swallow. “ Why is so bad that he’s giving up on her… whoever she is?” A new thought strikes me. This is my chance! I can find out who she is. Whether I’ll be able to keep from turning green or not when I know remains to be seen but at least now I’ll have a face to picture Max with. It was getting kind of creepy you know, because in my head, Max was always with this girl who didn’t have a face…okay, I think I revealed way too much information there. Back to business… “ Who is she anyway?”

I hope to God that my voice did not sound as desperate as I think it did. But apparently, how my voice sounds is the least of everyone’s concerns right now.

“ What do mean, who is she? And what do you mean with, with all your other questions?” Maria demands, eyes narrowed. “ I thought you said you had it figured out!”

“ Liz, I think it would be better if you told us exactly what it is that you’ve figured out.” Isabel’s tone is as serious as, well, as serious as her expression. I nod obligingly, feeling more and more control of myself, thank god, with every minute.

“ Sure. I’ve figured out what it is that you all know and refused to tell me. Granted, I still don’t know why you didn’t tell me or why you’re so happy that I know or why it’s such a bad thing that he’s moving on,” I shrug as I repeat my questions for, what is it, now, the second, the third time? “… but I’m hoping to get an answer to those as well so… I know that Max fell for someone, really fell head over heels for this girl.” I swallow hard. “ He…loved her.”

Silence. And then,

“ That’s it?” Michael asks in shock. “ That’s all?

“ Uh…yeah. Pretty much.” I grin at them, choosing to ignore their stupefied expressions. “ So. Anyone going to tell me who she is?”

This probably wasn’t the right thing to say. Because the first sentence that breaks the silence that’s enveloped us is Alex’s

“ Aw crap. She still doesn’t know!”

Followed my Michael’s emphatic

“ Hell.”

And then Maria and Isabel explode, pouncing first on each other and then on their respective others.

They’re speaking too fast for me to decipher anything concrete but from what I gather, they’re not pleased. And all my earlier smugness and confidence in my brilliance has all but evaporated. Maria, Michael, Isabel and Alex are all on their feet, arguing and I sigh as the pandemonium around me rages. The occupants at the other tables are now looking at us with more than a little curiosity and it is now that I realize that we all look a little crazy what with the two odd couples bickering above me and me just sitting here, absorbing it all. They’re going to be calling the faculty or the nuthouse soon if the noise doesn’t die down. Rolling my eyes, I stick my fingers in my mouth and let out a shrill, piercing, whistle. What? You learn a lot of cool things if guys are some of your closest friends. They fall silent. They look at me. I smile.

“ Hi. Yeah, remember me? Liz? I AM still here. So. Can we all just…calm down, sit, maybe eat a little? And then after we’re finished with that, you all could maybe answer my questions.”

Another round of swift glances are exchanged, and then the four battling contestants do as I suggest, all taking their seats. Maria opens her mouth to speak but then catching sight of Michael doing the same thing, she abandons that idea and instead settles for glaring at him. Michael shuts his mouth and backs down, muttering sullenly.

“ Liz.” Isabel, who’s back to her usual, in control and ice princess self, has taken the floor. “ You’re right. We did know. We have known for years…but we didn’t tell you because…because, Max made us promise not to.”

Before I can ask WHY, Alex speaks.

“ And the reason we were so happy was because…” He trails off, frowning as he chooses his words. “ We thought you’d figured out something else…”

I raise an eyebrow, this revelation chasing away my earlier thoughts. It must’ve been something pretty monumental to have gotten such a reaction from them. And so one riddle has been replaced by another. Why do I get the feeling that finding out what this one is about is going to be hard work? And it’s not like the other one was a picnic either. Barely resisting the urge to screech with frustration, I simply shake my head. I know I’ve asked this before, but I’ll ask it again. Why can’t things ever be easy? Squaring my shoulders, I decide to try anyway. “ What something?”

As expected, he shrugs uncomfortably and avoids meeting my eyes. A quick glance at the others shows me that they too aren’t going to talk about this. I sigh and wait for the inevitable excuse to come.

“ Y’know… like…like the riddle of sphinx.”

Yep.

That was it.

“ Oh brilliant answer there, Whitman.” Michael says, arms crossed over his chest. “ Really it was such a stroke of genius.”

Alex looks daggers at him and in response, says, “ Hey, I’m not the genius around here Guerin. Besides I don’t hear you saying anything.”

Just as I’m about to step in and diffuse the rapidly approaching storm, Maria beats me to it.

“ Boys, boys, chill.” Penetrating, laser blue-green eyes are fixed on me as Maria finally speaks. I swallow hard. Because right now, the girl staring at me, isn’t Maria DeLuca, my oldest friend but a Maria DeLuca with a mission. And trust me, you do not want to get in her way when she gets like this. “ What was that other question you had Lizzie?”

“ Why it’s so bad that he’s giving up on her?”

She nods. “ It’s bad, Liz, because this girl? She’s made for him. And he’s made for her. They match each other in every way. When they’re together, they light up the whole room. And when they look at each other, it’s like everyone else ceases to exist. It’s beautiful to watch. If you could only see them…”

I keep my face neutral and my eyes fixed on her face, not giving away anything. The last thing I want to do now is to reveal how with each word she’s saying, Maria is cutting my heart into even smaller pieces. How much it hurts to listen to how perfect Max and her would be together. How guilty I feel for not having noticed or done anything about it. How jealous of ‘her’ I am right now. And most of all, how desperately sad I am that I will never get to see how it feels like. But enough of this. I believe we covered all of this yesterday and I’m not eager to go into a repeat performance of that particular day’s emotional roller coaster. When she’s done, Maria just stares at me meaningfully as if trying to send a telepathic message to my brain. The others are doing it too. It’s like they’re all waiting for me to pick something up. But what? Tired from trying to figure yet another puzzle out, I say,

“ Wow. She sounds like… someone really special.”

“ She is.” Michael acknowledges with a slight nod of his head.

“ So who is she then? Maybe I can talk to her… ” Ha! The only thing I might do when I meet this girl is shake her shoulders and demand her secret. Demand how she so expertly captured Max’s heart and still keeps it after all this time.

“ No.” Isabel’s shaking her head earnestly. “ No, Liz. Max…Max wants her to realize that he loves her and that she loves him back on her own. Not because her friends pushed her into it or pointed it out to her.”

“ And he’s been waiting for her to realize it for years.” Alex chips in, looking sad. “ Just… waiting.”

I’m more confused than ever. From the way they’re talking, it’s pretty obvious that they know who this girl is and are very close to her. And from all Maria’s said, I’ve gathered that there have been occasions when all were present to witness them together. The question is… where was I when all this happened? And even more importantly, who is she?

“ Guys, I just really need to know…who is she? Do I know her? Because you all seem to and we all know the same people. I’m just… lost.”

“ We can’t tell you that Liz.” Michael says, looking sympathetic. “ We swore.”

“ And it’s a promise I’ve regretted ever since I made it,” Maria growls, her hands balled up into fists.

I stare incredulously at them. “ Not even me?” When my answer is more silence and I cast my eyes heavenward. Some help would be appreciated right about now. Coming back down to earth, I pick up my fork once more. “ Maybe it’s not such a bad thing you know.”

Four pairs of eyes swing to me.

“ And why’s that?” Alex asks.

“ Because if this girl really was perfect for Max, she would’ve noticed it long ago. She would’ve known.”

“ You’d think she would.” Michael mutters under his breath and promptly winces again. He glares at Isabel. “ Would you cut that out?”

Isabel ignores him and instead focuses on me. “ Maria never said she was perfect Liz. She just said she was made for him.”

“ Look. If she’s really as good for him as you say she is, wouldn’t she at least have seen something? Because even though I seemed to have dropped off the face of the planet when all this was happening, I can see it in his eyes now. I’ve been seeing it for a while. He’s hurting. And if giving up on her and trying to see if someone else will make him happy stops him from feeling pain then I’m going to do everything I can to help him. Even if it is with Jessica.”

“ You don’t understand, Liz.” Maria cuts in.

“ Then help me understand Maria! How am I supposed to do that when I don’t have all the facts?” I put my fork down again. My food’s already stone cold anyway and I’ve lost my appetite. “ You know what? I don’t even know why we’re discussing this. Yesterday Max told me he was over her and-”

“ And you believed him?” Alex asks, aghast. Truthfully, I don’t. But I’m too fed up and tired to even consider going through this particular topic. I can’t do it. Not now. “ Liz-”

“ Alex, please. It doesn’t matter if I believe him or not. What matters is he said he’s ready to move on. And it’s not my place or anyone else’s to tell Max what he should or should not do, what to feel and what not to feel.” I am fast losing control of this. The prickles I’m feeling at the back of my eyes are proof enough. I have to get out of here. “Max is my friend. And as a friend, I’m going to respect his wishes and do what I said I would. That’s what friends do. And friends… friends is all Max and I are ever going to be.”

With that last proclamation, I jump up and run off into the school, oblivious to the shouts of my name, to the calls for me to come back. I can’t face anyone right now. I just want to be alone and make sense of everything even though at this point it seems like impossibility. I feel more lost than ever. At this rate, am I ever going to be found?

As I swipe away my unwanted tears, one thing becomes clear:

I should’ve stayed in bed this morning.

TBC…


PS: I couldn't decide what to put in as a title.......any suggestions? thankx.

Comet.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 1-May-2002 4:31:54 PM ]
posted on 9-May-2002 3:58:18 PM by Comet
Hey guys.

Special shout out to Kit and the mermaid girls (ok if I call you guys that?)

Thanks for all the wonderful feedback and bumps, although I think I've driven Rae insane once more...sigh. Anyway, just wanted to let y'all know I'm updating this either on Friday or Saturday....oh and, that guy who was promised so long ago???? well......

you know, don't you?

right. thanks again. you guys are really, really, beyond awesome.

Comet.

edited cause 'mermad' girls really aren't mermaid girls......see ya!

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 9-May-2002 4:15:46 PM ]
posted on 10-May-2002 5:14:06 PM by Comet
Author’s note: hey guys. Right, now I know this part is something y’all have been waiting for for a while now and I’m also pretty sure it won’t satisfy the more, uh, colorful expectations some of you MAY have had. I’ve re-read it a dozens times and tried to make it better than the less than good piece it was… I dunno if I’ve succeeded though. It still seems a little off to me. I would’ve posted it tomorrow, after more edits, but I’m heading out to meet ‘himself’ and I don’t think I’ll have time or be in the mood to do this when I get home. So… here ya go. Let me know what y’all think cause I love feedback. Later.

...I'm all out of titles....

One thing that really bugs me is, why is it that when you’re in desperate need of being alone, the whole world is suddenly right there, in your face and by your side absolutely refusing to let go? It seems like I can’t find peace anywhere. Not in my room with the phone disconnected or the blinds drawn. Not on my balcony, the place I can usually count on to give me a sense of serenity. Not even where I am right now, in the kitchen with Jose, watching him move around as he cooks. He’s cast more concerned looks at me than I can count but he doesn’t say anything. This is one of the things I like most about him, one of the reasons why the kitchen is one of my most favorite retreats: He hardly ever says two words to me, letting his eyes, his expressions, his actions do the talking for him. But today, even this kind of silent therapy isn’t enough. I feel like my skin is the only thing that’s keeping me from acting like my thoughts and leaping everywhere from one minute to the other. I have never felt so tired and drained as I feel now, and yet I’m filled with a restless sort of energy, y’know, the type that makes you think you can do anything and everything. I have so many questions that I know I won’t get a straight answer to. So many conflicting feelings and emotions running through me. So much frustration at everything and so much anger at myself. And so much…pain. Because now that I’ve thought about it, now that everything that was said at lunch has had time to sink in, I realize one thing:

Max didn’t trust me enough to tell me.

And I can’t breathe any more. It’s late in the afternoon now, and a quick glance at the clock tells me that he and Maria are going to start their shift in exactly fifteen minutes. Now, normally, I would just stay where I was and spend the next two or three hours hanging with both them. But we all know that these aren’t normal times and I don’t really feel like seeing either of them until I’m slightly more in control. So I stand, giving the impression that I’m calm and cool and collected as I say goodbye to Jose and track down my aunt and tell her I’m going for a run down to the reservoir. I ignore the worried look she’s leveling at me as she says okay and I flash her a grateful smile when she doesn’t ask questions.

I’m really beginning to hate questions.

Changing my clothes takes less than five minutes and in another five, I’m running down the street, away from the CrashDown, away from my friends, away from Max and away from Roswell.

I reach the reservoir a good thirty or so minutes later, panting hard and looking, I’m sure, like I’ve spent an hour in a steamer. But my initial objective has been achieved. All that restless energy I was telling you about? It’s almost all gone. I’ll worry about how I’m going to get home later. Right now, I just want to sit and rest and think of… nothing.

And, miracle of miracles, I succeed. Sitting on the edge, right above the water, with my legs dangling over and my hands braced firmly on the gravel behind me, my face tilted up to the sun, I don’t register anything else other than the breeze blowing around me and the warm rays soaking into my skin. I open my eyes to find the late afternoon sunlight dancing over the smooth surface of the reservoir, savoring the light wind that’s blowing. It’s a perfect day for a swim and I regret not bringing my costume along. It’s just as well though. I hate to swim alone; it’s never any fun if there’s no one around to dunk. I shake my head and smile wryly. Max was always my hapless victim. He never could tell when I was going to attack. But he always gave as good as he got and I guess that’s mainly the reason why out of the group, we were always the last ones to get out of pool, and… wait a minute. How did that happen? Last time I checked, I was actually NOT thinking of Max and now… this is a lost battle isn’t it? Not thinking about Max, even if I didn’t have all these feelings for him, would be impossibility. Because over the past four years, he has been part of every worthwhile memory I can remember. Memories that have helped make me who I am today. He’s a vital part of my life, a part of me. Which means, that if, by some colossal stroke of luck, I do manage to get rid of all the ‘more-than-friends’ feelings I have for him or god forbid, we should stop talking to each other, we would still be irreversibly linked. Bound together by shared memories that made us who we are. And I know that even if something happened that would make me hate him, which, I’ll have you know, seems as unlikely as me getting any taller, a part of me would still care about him and wonder if he was happy. And… oh god.

I’ll never, ever be free of him, will I?

The thought fills me with a panic and fear I can’t quite describe. And this isn’t abated when all of a sudden, a voice by my side says,

“ A penny for your thoughts.”

Voices coming out of nowhere are bad enough, but a voice coming from a person who somehow managed to creep up and position themselves next to you are much, much worse. Because with the latter, there’s always a chance that the person may be a psycho who’ll push you off a cliff. Or that you’ll fall off said cliff with shock. And this is exactly what would’ve happened to me, if a hand hadn’t quickly shot out and steadied me. Scrambling to my feet, I scoot away from the edge and to safer ground, glaring at the person who almost killed me.

And Jordan Connor, a classmate of mine at school just stares right back.

Instead of yelling at him, which he would so totally deserve by the way, I merely cross my arms over my chest and continue to glare, waiting for my heart to descend back into my chest before I speak.

“ My thoughts are worth more than a penny, thank you very much.” The frost in my voice would be enough to turn anyone into an iceberg. Hmm. I guess all those times I’ve watched Isabel at this have paid off. Finally.

A causal grin spreads over his lips.

“ I don’t doubt that."

Seeing that my now perfected frosty stare hasn’t thawed, his features immediately go contrite. He looks almost uncertain of himself and for the cool, confident, popular Jordan, this is definitely not the norm. I just seem to have a knack for making people act in ways that are not usual to them. Maria says it’s because they get intimidated by my ‘forceful’ personality. To that, I say, ‘ha!’

“ I’m sorry if I startled you.” Jordan apologizes quietly. Raising an eyebrow, I decide that he doesn’t really look sorry. In fact, he looks more relieved and pleased with himself than anything else. As he tilts his head to the side, allowing renegade locks of his dark hair to fall over one of his clear gray eyes, he gives me another smile, a step up from the grin her gave me earlier. This is the smile that, reputedly, brings many girls to their knees. Not me though. But in spite of myself, in spite of the rotten mood that’s mine to call this afternoon, I can’t help but agree with the general consensus at school: Jordan Connor, is a first class hottie. But hottie or not, he’s still not excused for scaring me half to death. A few tense minutes pass and seeing that smiling at me isn’t helping, he erases it from his features, going back to being serious. Beginning again, looking me dead in the eye, he’s saying his words haltingly, like he’s having a hard time choosing them. “ You just… you just looked like you needed…rescuing. From what ever it was you were thinking about.” He adds hastily. I was just about to start yelling you know. Just about to tell him that you don’t go around surprising people like that, because it’s just wrong to do so. And then he had to go and add that last bit. Feeling suddenly lightheaded, I blink bemusedly at him.

“ …Did I?” It comes out in a very small voice, one completely unlike my own. I wait for bated breath for his answer, to see if it backs up or totally goes against my suspicions: I’m drowning. I am so way in over my head on this one that… I’m drowning. Bringing my gaze upwards to meet Jordan’s eyes, I find my answer within the stormy depths. It’s one he confirms a moment later.

“ Yeah. You did.”

I slump to the loose, sandy gravel and pull my knees to my chest, staring out over the water and yet not seeing anything at all. I barely notice Jordan walking towards me slowly or sitting beside me. All I can think about is how completely out of control everything is. How much I just want to scream and rant and rave because I know what would make everything go away and yet I can’t find it inside myself to do it. And how everything is basically all my fault.

“ Liz?”

“ Yeah.” I answer distractedly.

“ Do you want to talk about it?”

“ About what?”

“ About whatever it was that sent you storming out of the quad. Or what you were thinking about a few minutes ago.” I stiffen at the mention of my rather hasty retreat at lunch. He just had to bring that up, didn’t he? And as for what I was thinking about a little while ago…that’s territory best not visited. What I need now is time alone. And space. And right now, Jordan isn’t giving me any of that.

“ No, I’d really rather not, Jordan.” I say stonily. I fight the urge to wince even as I say it. Even I can feel the frostbite from that. I look away from him dismissively, knowing that if he ever decides to talk to me again after this little b*tchy performance, it will be a miracle. “ So if you would just-“

My closing sentence is interrupted when he laughs and this is enough to make me drop the ice b*tch act as I look at him in confusion. He’s actually smiling at me.

“ Liz. Drop the ice armor, alright? It really doesn’t suit you.” Grinning widely at my flabbergasted expression, he cocks his head and studies me intently. “ Look. I’ve got the time. And apart from looking like you need a rescue, you look like you need a friend too. So. Hit me.”

I continue to stare at him, my mind rapidly coming up with every possible Jordan Connor memory it’s stored up over the years. A friend. Were he and I friends, at any point? He waves a hand in front of my eyes, still smiling.

“ Hello? Come on out. I know you’re in there.”

Is this guy for real? He should be off and running away from me after my, er, oh so welcoming attitude towards him. I follow the motion of his hand as he continues to wave it at me and shifting my gaze from it to his face, I decide that he is for real. And that he’s right. The ice queen act is so not me. And the idea of talking to someone who doesn’t have an ulterior motive, or is going to lecture me or keep something for me or remind me just what I’m giving up is becoming more and more appealing every passing second.

So finally gaining control over myself, I smirk at him.

“ I may just take you up on that offer you know.”

His smile broadens and a relieved light flickers in his eyes. “ And which one would that be?”

“ Hitting you.” I answer with mock seriousness.

Jordan laughs and all of a sudden, I’m flooded with all those memories I was looking for, reminded of why he has so many girl head over heels for him. When he first transferred to Roswell in ninth grade, it was like the coming of Max Evans all over again. True, he kicked up a little less dust and fired up fewer hearts than a thirteen year old Max did, but still, it was a rather impressive debut. With his good looks, athletic prowess, demonstrated by him becoming co-captain of the track team along with Max, and friendly attitude, Jordan instantly became part of the popular clique. Part of Jessica’s popular people group. I could never figure that particular coalition out, especially since Jordan is a pretty nice guy and Jessica is the Wicked Witch of West Roswell High but hey, he obviously had his reasons.

And now that I think about it, I remember that I actually got to know Jordan pretty well at the end of ninth grade. I think he and I were paired up to do an English project or something together. For a while, I was the most envied girl in school. And okay, fine, so I did have a little crush on him at the time. A little one. I mean honestly, after hour upon hour of being exposed to that endearing grin and all that charm, what else was a girl to do? Come to think of it, it was around that time that Max and I had the biggest fight ever, I don’t remember exactly what we were fighting about but I do remember that we ended up not talking to each other for a couple of weeks. That was pretty much one of the most horrible things that happened to me during the time I was fifteen. I felt terrible about it, so terrible that my crush on Jordan wilted away without me even realizing it. I think he may have been gearing up to ask me out, or so Maria always told me but I don’t think I was much fun to be around when Max and I weren’t talking. Scratch that, I know I wasn’t fun to be round then. And so, when the project was turned in and our partnership ended, so did my closeness with Jordan. Max and I had resurrected our talking habits about a week before that. And my contact with Jordan for the past two years has mainly been on the tracks, at parties and a friendly hello when we pass each other in the hallways.

“ Right.” He saying now, shaking his head at me. Then he turns serious, with just the slightest hint of a smile on his lips. “ So… what’s going on, Liz? What’re you up to these days?”

“ I wish I knew.” I murmur ruefully in response to both questions. A truer sentence has never been said. I think it’s beyond obvious that I have absolutely no idea of what I’m doing. Maybe I did when it was all beginning but from there, it all went downhill. Shaking myself, I realize I have yet to reply coherently to his questions. And since I’m so sick of lies and half-truths that have become the order of business for me lately, I grin at him, knowing exactly what I want to say, for once. “ You mean when I’m not playing match-maker or planning romantic getaways or being a coward?” I wink, satisfied at the confused expression that’s spread over his face. “I’m just up to my ears in the usual stuff. School. Work. Friends. How ‘bout you? How did you get here anyway?”

He shrugs, confusion still evident in his eyes as he looks at me. “ Same way you did, I guess,” He answers, gesturing at his sweat pants and barely there wife beater. “ I ran. And as for what I’ve been doing… well, nothing half as interesting as that stuff you do. In fact, you could say I’m downright boring.”

“And I suppose I’m interesting?” Rolling my eyes at my own statement, I chuckle dryly. “ Right.”

“ But you are,” The softly uttered words bring my full attention back to Jordan. The way he’s looking at me… it reminds me so much of…before I can finish this thought, he’s looked away and unless I’m very much mistaken, that is a blush spreading over those sculpted features of his. One that gives him the appearance of a sweet little boy instead of the very handsome guy he is. Smirking widely, I duck my head to look up into his face.

“ Do my eyes deceive me…or is Jordan Connor actually blushing?” Seeing the faint flush darken as he mutters,

“ No I am not.” ,

I begin to giggle in amusement. And then I think about what he said. And more importantly how he said it. And then my giggles stop. I touch his shoulder and he looks at me, still a little red.

“ Thank you.”

“ For what?” He says, shrugging casually. “ It’s only true.” He says seriously, shooting me a wry grin.

Oh-kay. Why is it that all of a sudden, I feel like I’ve been transported back to ninth grade, to being 15 year-old Liz Parker, who’s defenseless against an onslaught of Jordan’s immense charm? A moment is all it takes for that feeling to disappear, and while I look on that particular piece of nostalgia with fondness, it’s not a position I want to be in again any time soon. Besides, I am not that girl anymore. I have walls and layers and barriers that can’t be passed all that easily by anyone. In fact, I know of only person who manages it…ugh… no, not again! Fighting the urge to groan, I catapult myself back to the conversation at hand. “ Yeah, well, ‘interesting’ isn’t exactly the way I’d describe myself. ‘Insane’ would be more precise.”

“ Nah. I think complicated would be the word of choice.” Jordan chips in, apparently in control of himself once more. “ And speaking of complicated… what has happening at lunch? Were you guys fighting or something?”

I wince. This isn’t really something I want to discuss…but Jordan’s been incredibly sweet, even after I treated him horribly. I decide to tackle it a roundabout way that won’t require me to lie and at the same time, will help me rediscover the way he thinks. The way I remember it, Jordan was always pretty observant. He could just mention something out of the blue that you could swear wasn’t true, only to find, after watching and waiting, that it was. The boy’s a deep thinker and yet, he’s a real party animal too. A bad boy. He’s such a contradiction. And I like that. It reminds me of, well…me. I tilt my head to the side as I recall the occasion.

“ You were there. Did it look like we were fighting to you?”

“ To tell the truth, it looked more like world war 3 to me.” Jordan quips with a grin, his gray eyes alight with amusement. “ And it sounded like it too. I mean, who knew Isabel Evans could shriek like that?”

This comment causes instant laughter to fall from my lips and he joins in a second later. Letting my hair loose, I shake my head, sending it bouncing over my shoulders as I smile in recollection.

“ If they didn’t know before, they sure know it now.”

Companionable silence reigns for a while but he speaks once more.

“ I don’t mean to sound nosy or anything but… how do you all survive around each other? I mean, you’re all so different… and complicated.”

Aha. I recognize that look on his face. It’s the one he always used to get when trying to get a read on people. He hasn’t changed at all!

“ Different?” I scrunch up my nose as I repeat the word. “ Well, yeah. I guess you could describe us using that. And complicated…yeah, I guess we’re that too…” I shrug. “ But then again, who isn’t? I mean, everyone’s different from each other and everyone’s complicated as well.”

I really hope he’s not going to try and understand the bond that holds the six of us together. Because that, that is a complete and total lost cause. Over the years, I’ve tried, believe me, but in the end, I decided it was better left alone. It’s there. It’s good. It’s unbreakable. And that’s all that matters. But who knows? Maybe Jordan will succeed where I failed. And it will be kinda fun to hear what he thinks. I’ve…missed him. Sorta. His voice calls me out of the recesses I’ve sunk into and I give him my full attention.

“ Yeah but,” Jordan’s frowning a little. “ People usually gravitate towards people they have stuff in common with, y’know? People they’re alike to.”

Pursing my lips, my eyes narrow in careful thought. “ So… you’re saying we have nothing in common?”

“ No, I’m pretty sure you do. It’s just…you’re all complete opposites of each other.”

I smile.

“ Maybe that’s your answer then. Maybe that’s why we work so well together. Ever heard of opposites being attracted to each other?”

“ Yeah. I have. But not all of you are. There are always exceptions.”

“ Sure there are. If we were all just opposites and no one was a mediator or something, I don’t think we could’ve escaped the act of murder all these years. I mean, Alex is the balancing force between me and Maria. Max balances Michael and Isabel. I balance Maria and Michael and so on and so forth…get it?”

He scratches his head in puzzlement. “ Uh…no.”

I smirk. I don’t blame him. Because he’s right you know. Our group dynamics really are complicated…and yet they’re not. I don’t know how to explain the phenomenon that happens when three best friends meet three best friends and suddenly become six best friends. Who knows? Maybe we were all just fated to meet. I can’t say I have any complaints.

“ But I’m pretty sure we’re talking about different things.” Jordan continues. Now it’s my turn to be confused.

“ Oh. Well… what were you talking about then?”

“ I was talking, or was about to anyway, about you and… Max Evans.”

He did not just say ‘you’ and ‘Max Evans’. He did not.

“ Um… ah, what about…us?”

Did I just answer? I did. Which means he did say ‘you’ and ‘Max Evans’. Aw hell. Oh, Jordan, Jordan, Jordan. I had such high hopes that you would be untouched by the…the…the whatever that is me and Max.

“ You two…you’re the exceptions. You’re not opposites. You and Evans are so alike, you know? Almost exactly the same as each other.” He pauses and then delivers the kicker. “ Almost like two halves of one whole.”

And all of a sudden, I’m very aware of those gray eyes being focused on me, as if trying to see what my reactions to his words is. Truthfully, I couldn’t react even if I wanted to. I mentioned Jordan as being pretty observant right? And that he’s more often right than wrong? Well when he describes Max and I like that, it almost sounds like… we’re a couple or something.

And we’re not.

Lifting my head, I look over at his expectant face, allowing a small smile to settle on my lips. “ Really? I guess that’s why we’re such good friends then.”

Silence for a while. And then,

“ So you two are really just friends?” Jordan bursts out, almost painfully eager.

I’m startled and for a second, I want to say no. I want to say that whatever Max and I are, friends just doesn’t cover it. Best friends doesn’t either. We’re…we’re…crap. I don’t know what we are. So, still smiling, I say, “ Of course we are. I mean, what else would we be?”

What else indeed? Shaking away the now familiar melancholy feelings that are staring to creep over me once more, I stare curiously at him. He has the biggest grin on his face, like he’s been told he’s won the lottery or something. It’s kinda sweet. I’m thinking I should add that word to my mental file of Jordan. I glance away, looking up at the sky. This isn’t actually all that bad. I still feel like hell, but better, somehow. Maybe all I needed was to talk to someone who wasn’t a best friend of mine or knew me inside out.

“ Liz?”

I look back at him.

“ Yeah?”

Uh… what’s going on? Jordan looks like he’s gone to another realm but he’s still staring at me. I smirk, raising an eyebrow at him.

“ Something you like?” I joke.

“ More like someone.” Comes the barely breathed reply. One I hear all too clearly. One that freezes me. One I‘m going to pretend I didn’t just hear. Jordan looks like he’s on the verge of saying something major, something I’m not sure I even want to here, much less answer.

“Liz,” He begins, “ I was wondering…”

What he was wondering, I never found out. Because it was then that I looked away from him in nervousness and then that I see someone I instantly recognize not four feet away from us.

“ Max!”

He’s standing stock still, hands stuffed in his pockets and dark eyes shielded and unreadable. Cold. Distant. I try to tear my eyes away. I really do give it my best shot. But with the wind blowing around him and playing with his hair, and the last rays of the sun falling upon him, as if paying homage and giving his bronzed skin an even more sun kissed look, he looks like some god plunked down to earth… and, well what do you think happened?

I’m lost. Completely unable to do anything but stare at him. Glory in his presence. Get lost in those bottomless eyes of his. Slowly, they soften. They begin to shine. They never falter from their target:

Me.

I shiver unexpectedly and reason comes rushing back. Beside me, Jordan shifts, and I remember that he was about to ask me something. Breaking away from Max’s hypnotic stare, I glance back at him, my cheeks flaming with embarrassment. I can’t believe I just tuned him out like that but thankfully, it appears that he trailed off the minute he saw Max. He’s not even looking at me anymore. He’s looking at Max, his eyes narrowed in thought.

At least I hope it’s thought.

I look back at Max, and see that he hasn’t moved from his spot. His eyes have gone back to being cold and distant. I take a quick peek at Jordan out of the corner of my eye. He has almost the exact same look on his face. Max looks at me, a small smile curling his lips upward in greeting. I don’t even have time to say anything before the smile fades as he nods briskly at Jordan.

“ Jordan.”

Jordan returns the nod. Silence envelopes us all. Um… am I missing something here? The last time I checked, Max and Jordan got along. Eager to break the sudden tension, I grin at Max.

“ So. You just gonna stand there all day or are you going to join us?”

Max walks closer to us slowly and then remains standing. He looks at me then and Jordan, his gaze lingering on him a little longer than necessary. Apparently, some silent signal was sent and received between the two, ‘cause the next moment, Jordan is getting up to his feet.

“ Actually, Liz, I think I better get going.”

“ What? No, stay, we’ll all hang together.” I begin to get up too, and Max and Jordan simultaneously offer their hands to help me up. I look at the two hands and then up at their owners. Max and Jordan are staring at each other and then after several heavy moments, they both look down at me. I stare up at them and then at their hands once more.

They’re waiting for me to pick one, aren’t they?

And while they wait, they’ve gone back to glaring at each other. I shake my head and roll my eyes, deciding there’s only one course of action to be taken here.

I get up on my own and stand between them, wobbling a little unsteadily. Quick as lightning, both guys reach out and grab my hands to steady me. Jordan squeezes the one he’s holding captive lightly, gray eyes twinkling.

“ No, but thanks for the offer though. This was fun, Liz.”

I grin.

“ After I almost gave you frost bite? Sure it was.” I say, rolling my eyes.

Jordan laughs and then brings my hand to his lips, brushing it with a soft kiss. “ Trust me, it was.” He says, staring deep into my eyes. The 15 year old inside me is swooning. The 17 year old on the other hand is more than a little overwhelmed. And while all of this is going down, my other hand is currently in a death grip, courtesy of Max Evans. Not that I mind though. I’m pretty sure I’m squeezing his hand just as tightly. I’ve never been too comfortable when guys so blatantly show interest in me. Did I not mention that living with your heads in the clouds is the main way of surviving around here? Well there’s my reason why. As if sensing my increasing distress, Jordan lets go of my hand and gives me a little smile, one that’s almost apologetic.

“ Bye, Liz.”

To Max, he sends a slightly cocky grin.

“ See ya, Evans.”

And then he’s off, running back towards Roswell, towards reality. Max and I stand motionless, looking after him for a while and then I turn towards him, my face lighting up in the first full blown smile I’ve had all day. Figures it just had to be for him. But give me a break, it’s the first I’ve seen him all day. And I do feel more in control.

“ Hey stranger. How’s it going?”

Max smirks as he looks down at me.

“ I should be asking you the same thing.” The smirk fades and suddenly his eyes fill with concern. “ Are you okay? I heard about what happened during lunch.”

I roll my eyes. “ You and the whole world apparently.” Seeing that my flip comment hasn’t distracted him from his question, I roll my eyes again. “ Yes, Max, I’m okay.”

He watches me for a while and then as if satisfied that I’m not lying, as if I have any reason to, he nods.

“ What happened?”

“ I don’t want to talk about it.” I announce stubbornly.

Max gazes contemplatively at me before saying, “ So what do you want to talk about then?”

I want to talk about why everyone but me knew about this girl of his. And why is it that they’re not allowed to tell me. And why he didn’t. But I don’t say any of this. I say,

“ Let’s talk about your suddenly short shifts.” I say, latching onto the first thing that appears in my mind. I glance at my watch then back at him. “ Or have you always had one hour sessions in front of the grill?”

“ Not always. Just now and then. What can I say? As the employee of the month, I get special perks.” Seeing my disbelieving stare, Max shrugs boyishly, and begins to sit down, tugging on my hand as an invitation to join him, which I do. He sighs. “ Okay, okay. So I was sent to find you. Everyone’s really worried.”

“ Why? I mean…” I trail off, my earlier frustration beginning to mount once more. “ I’d really rather not talk about this.” I repeat, a little more forcefully this time. I tug my hand loose from his and begin pacing agitatedly, words pouring forth. “ I just… I just want to forget for a while, Max. To get away. That’s why I came out here. I just want to… forget.”

Losing myself in oblivion was always so easy to accomplish before. Why is it so hard now? Jordan’s presence kept it at bay for a while but now that he’s gone and Max is right here, it’s all coming back. And I don’t want it to. Max is quiet and standing still, just staring at me. His jaw is grinding slightly, which indicates that serious thinking going on.

And then he smiles.

My knees go weak.

“ Liz… let’s play a game.”

I blink. “ A game? What kind of game?”

“ A very simple one. Truth or dare. I believe you’ve heard of it.”

What is he doing? I’m having a meltdown here, and he wants to play truth or dare?!

“ What? Max, I’m in no-“

“ You said you wanted to forget. Trust me, this will help.”

“ And if it doesn’t?”

“ Then at least you get to make me do ridiculous things and discover all my secrets.”

That wicked sparkle in his eyes is almost my undoing. I almost say yes without thinking about the consequences: truth or dare goes both ways. I shake my head.

“ I can’t.”

“ Why not?”

Because I’m afraid of what he’ll find out. And even more than that, I’m afraid of what I’ll find out. Not trusting myself to speak, I simply shake my head. Max walks until he’s standing right in front of me and he peers down at me in calculated disbelief.

“ Liz Parker… too chicken to play a game? I’d have never have believed it possible.”

Did he just call me chicken?

“ I am NOT!” I burst out savagely, my patience, never one of my strong points anyway, reaching it’s limit.

“ Then play with me, Liz. Take a chance. Take the risks. Take my dare.” Max challenges.

It takes a split second for me to make my decision. And in that space of time, it occurs to me that I could just be making the hugest mistake ever. But one look into those eyes is enough to banish that thought. It’s been said that great rewards come with great risks, something or other. All I have to say to that is… with the risks I’m taking, the rewards had better be good.

I cross my arms over my chest stare Max right in the eye.

“ Fine. What is it?”

A slow, utterly sexy smile begins to spread over his lips. He leans forwards and whispers the dare in my ear, his breath fanning softly over my hair.

And no, my knees are NOT quaking.

When he pulls away, I shake my head immediately.

“ No way Max! No. Anything but that. Anything!”

I won’t survive his dare. I just know it.

Max shrugs nonchalantly, already unlacing his shoes.

“ Suit yourself. I always did think you were a lightweight in this game anyway.”

Oh if you only knew how much I want to punch you right now.

“ Max, I’m going to pretend you didn’t just say that. And because I’m such a good friend, I’ll even throw in a bit of friendly advice: This is insane!”

“ ‘This’ will help you forget. Come on Liz. Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“ On vacation in Tahoe.” I retort sarcastically, torn between turning away and giving my eyes a workout. I decide to try to save him and myself one more time. “Max. Belly dancing? Yes. Shouting crazy declarations of love right here? I’m there. But this? You have got to be kidding me!”

“ I’m deadly serious Liz.” And he looks it too.

He’s removing his shirt. He’s removed his shirt. And…and… if I don’t melt right here and now…tearing my gaze away from his well built torso, in a last ditch effort to save what’s left of my sanity, I focus on his face. His hair is a little mussed up but a wicked grin, matching the sparkle in his eyes in currently adorning his lips.

“ So how about it Parker? Are you going to join me or not?”

Now, I could tell you what I said. But you know it already, don’t you? And maybe you also know the answer to this question:

Why did he have to be so irresistible?

TBC…


[ edited 2 time(s), last at 10-May-2002 5:40:47 PM ]
posted on 23-May-2002 2:25:49 PM by Comet
Hey guys!

Thank you all so much for the kind words and advice, I really, really appreciate it. I'm still kinda bummed but I'm getting over it. I just finished assembling 'the box' and what a hell of an experience that was.

I'm holding a bonfire celebration later on this week. Who wants to come? I thinking dousing everything in petrol oughta be a good start to my feeling better.

I'm bitter. I know it.

Guess I'm not as okay as I thought. Ah well.

Um, wow. I'm blushing like crazy here. Kit, you're absolutely right, compliments are the way to go. lol! Thanks guys. You all are really, truly the best. I think I should so start a thread on the nomination board. Think best feedbackers would be allowed? Cause I definitely have them. To everyone who took the time to leave fb on PC, even if it was just a one word bump, you have my utmost gratitude, no lie. I know that you're all anxiously waiting an update but I can't seem to find the energy to start editing. I still haven't gotten the nerve to start deleting all of emails from whats-his-name. Ah well. One day at a time. Thanks again. I WILL update soon.

Luv,
Comet.
posted on 15-Jun-2002 11:11:02 AM by Comet
hey.

I have just one thing to say....

TO HELL WITH WINDOWS!!!!!!!

TO HELL WITH COMPUTERS!!!!!

and TO HELL with whoever created COMPUTER VIRUSES!!!!!!!!!

that wasn't one thing. I know. but I have really jsut one more thing to say. it's not pretty. but it HAS to be said.

I lost cupid.

and now, I would dearly love to say something else but I'm too upset and angry right now.

I'll be back. and I haven't forgotten any of you. promise.
posted on 21-Jul-2002 4:58:37 AM by Comet
hey guys...

okay. just an update to let y'all know how things are going....not very good.

I've re-written at least half of the next chapter and am trying to redraw my outline for the rest of the story...bad news is....finals at my school start on the 6th of August and so I may be going AWOL for a loooooong time again. I am going to try to post a part before they start but if I do, it's gonna be short, like maybe the half of the chapter I've completed....I know, not the best news. but I am still here, I'm okay and I'm really, really grateful for all the support and interest you guys have shown in all my stories. special shout out to the bumping crew and the mermad girls. I haven't forgotten you guys.


posted on 10-Aug-2002 5:19:36 PM by Comet
Author’s Note: Hey guys. Okay I know I promised half a part before my exams began but I didn’t deliver, so how about a full part in the middle of my exams? Before y’all go worrying that I’m neglecting my academics, relax, I’ve got only three more papers to go and then I’m through. Okay, okay, so I am going to study later, but I’ve left you guys hanging long enough. The part isn’t too good though, forgive me, but my brain is still a little spazzed out from all the studying. And hey, please cross your fingers for me. I need grades which are the equivalent of straight A’s in these damn tests or else I’m totally banned from the net. And I REALLY do not want that to happen. Thank you so much for the amazing feedback and bumps, oh my god, we passed the 1000 post mark!!!! Okay, seriously, there is a part for Playing Cupid after my mad ramblings so yeah. Here ya go. Luv ya guys!



Playing Cupid

“ What? An eight? You give me an eight for that spectacular dive?”

Adorably indignant. That was the look on his face. Why did all of his expressions always have to be, in one way or the other, adorable? Is it any wonder I’m so…alright. Let’s just forget that particular train of thought, shall we? I smirk. “ I call them as I see them Evans.”

He laughs and splashes at me. You guessed it. He looks adorable while doing that too. I slip through the water to the side to avoid it.

“ Then you, Ms. Parker, definitely need some glasses. “ Max shakes his head in mock disgust. “ An EIGHT! That was an *eleven* at the very least.”

“ Oh please! It’s not my fault you can’t dive, Max.” I remind him teasingly. He rolls his eyes and grins.

“ Yeah. Keep telling yourself that Liz.”

“ Thanks. I will.” I wink saucily at him. “ It’s your turn. What pitiful dare are you going to have me do now?”

“ Pitiful, huh?” Amber eyes sparkling with playfulness, he raises an eyebrow at me, bobbing up and down slightly as he floats. “ You think my dares are pitiful?”

“ Did you not hear me say I call them as I see them?” I ask, mimicking his raised eyebrow. His grin widens. Involuntarily, my gaze travels over what I can see of his torso. Moonlight glints off the moisture clinging to his shoulders and chest and I lick my lips in sudden nervousness, the gravity of the situation slamming into me once more.

I’m skinny-dipping!

With Max!

I glance back into his eyes. The playful sparkle is gone. All that’s left is this… glint. His grin fades. And…and that glint is looking more and dangerous. I know I should run while I still have the chance. Change the subject, distract him, do *anything* to stop him from saying his next words.

But I don’t.

Instead, I just float, helplessly staring into his eyes, analyzing that glint, knowing what it means and yet not doing anything about it. It’s the ultimate game of chicken. He thinks I’m going to buckle. That I’ll change the subject. Drag us back from the brink of this dangerous territory.

But I don’t.

And in a few seconds, it’s too late. The words come tumbling from his mouth in the barest of whispers. His eyes bore into mine unflinchingly.

“How about the truth?”

And in spite of everything, in spite of knowing that somehow, we were going to end up there, my thoughts still center on two sentences.

Uh oh.

This was a big mistake.


I’ve heard it said that the truth can be both a wonderful and terrible thing. And going by last night’s events, I’m definitely going to have to agree. No, I don’t want to talk about it. I have thought about it, dreamt about it the whole night, so, I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t want to talk about it too. All around me, my peers rush by, full of life, full of vibrant energy, knowing where they’re going, while I plod along, lost and confused and looking, I’m sure, like a wreck.

“ Hey Liz!”

I mean, what was I thinking? Or maybe the question would be, when will I start thinking? Again. When will I start thinking again. Because I know I used to do it.

“ Liz! Hey, Liz! Wait up!”

I know I did. In fact, if you wanted a thinker, you called Liz Parker. Hell, I’d even think about the purple dinosaur on TV on one of my more obliging days. I stop my depressed plodding and press a hand to my forehead, not caring that I’m attracting some very weird looks. Ugh. I seriously need to get a grip here. I’m cool. I’m logical. I can do this.

“ Liz?”

Who am I kidding? I can’t do this.

The closeness of whoever said my name startles me and I drop my hand, staring up into their eyes. The intense amber gaze so prominent in my mind begins to lighten. To change. They become gray, although the intensity doesn’t diminish.

Jordan.

He’s staring at me with furrowed brows, a faint, faint flush on his cheeks. Concern practically radiates from him. That and…

“ You okay?”

Breaking eye contact with him, I run a hand through my hair and shrug before looking back and him, a small, polite smile on my lips.

“ I’m…” I pause. “ I’m… breathing. Yeah. I’m breathing.”

“ Breathing.” He repeats, confusion spreading over his features. My smile grows a little wider. It’s a little strange to see confusion on Jordan’s face. The boy is really sharp, and very few things, people included actually confuse him. I’ve accomplished the task twice in two days alone. Huh. Must be a record. “ Okay.” He continues. He gazes questioningly at me. “ Um, didn’t you hear me? I hollered. Several times.”

I frown slightly. “ You did? I’m sorry. I must be more out of it than I thought,” I mutter, more to myself than him.

“ You do look kind of tired.” He tilts his head to the side, scrutinizing me. I stare back. What is he doing? “ Late night?”

My gaze turns penetrating as well and I raise an eyebrow at him. I’m not at my usual best. I don’t deny it. But even in my less than fully-alert condition, there is more than just curiousness under that polite inquiry. Something that would displease Jordan enough to put that light in his eyes. One that tells me he knows exactly what I was doing last night and who I was with. Okay maybe not exactly, I would really be mortified if anyone knew the real deal, but he definitely knows who I was doing it with. My steady gaze at Jordan falters.

Wait.

That sounded like Max and I were…and we WEREN’T! I mean… it’s not like the idea is… but…

And you know it, just like that, because of a handful of unfinished thoughts, which WILL remain unfinished, I blush.

Glancing back up at Jordan, I see, instead of the faint flush, a scowl is now decorating his face. Oh yeah. Definitely more than just curiosity there. Although what it is, is something I don’t think I want to read into just now.

“ Actually, it wasn’t that late.” I answer, distracting myself from the intensity of his gaze. “ It’s just… I’ve been all over the place lately. It’s a little… tiring.”

“ I’ll bet.” Jordan answers. The scowl is gone and he looks sympathetic. “ Here.” Reaching over, he takes my books. I hear a few murmurs and realize that we’re in the center of attention. That’s okay. I can handle that. I look back up at him, just in time to see him send a wink my way. “ This way, you don’t get even more tired.”

“ Um, thanks. But I’m headed to English. And you are…” I trail off, realizing that I don’t even know his next class. Max, on the other hand, would be heading off to history right about now. “Where are you going?”

“ English.” He places his hand on the small of my back and gives me a gentle push in the general direction of class. “And we have about,” A pause as he glances at his watch, “ eight minutes to get there.”

“ I didn’t know we had English together.” I say, frowning slightly, letting myself be herded along. “ In fact, I’m sure we don’t have English together.” Suddenly aware of the presence of his hand on my back, I can’t help but remember that this is a very Max-like move. It’s… well, it reminds me of him. I roll my eyes. Like every other thing doesn’t? Clearing my throat, I focus my attention back on Jordan. He’s grinning slyly, eyes dancing with mischief. I purse my lips. Enough of surprises. I’ve had enough to last me two lifetimes.

“ Alright. What did you do, Jordan?”

“Nothing. Well, if you don’t count the fact that I wheedled my way into your English class, then I have done absolutely nothing.”

“ You did?” The surprise of getting a straight forward answer throws me. I blink. “ W-why… why would you do that?”

The grin morphs into a shy smile. The look in his eyes changes to… well, it’s not playful anymore. In fact, he doesn’t look like he’s playing at all.
“ Isn’t it obvious?”

Our stares lock. The air grows heavy and my heart starts to pound irregularly. I look away.

Isn’t it obvious?

That’s the problem. It is. It’s very obvious.

He likes me.

And I couldn’t be more confused.

******************************

“ The truth?” I echo, uncertainty ruling my expression.

He nods. “ The truth.”

This is bad. This is very, VERY bad. And going by his whole demeanor, his behavior, his *eyes*, I have no doubt that I will not escape this without answering a few questions. Which totally sucks, because I’m not prepared to answer any of them. And yes, OKAY, I am more than a little scared. As if sensing my panic, a dark eyebrow raises. A statement provides me with a way out.

“Unless of course, you don’t want to.” Max says.

Stunned and immediately suspicious, I narrow my eyes at him. The glint becomes more pronounced than ever. And more than ever, I want to play his little game and come out without a scratch. “ And why wouldn’t I want to?” I challenge.

“ Maybe because of a little something called fear?”

Damn it. He knows! He knows!

“ And you would know all about that, wouldn’t you Max? I mean, it is *you* who never quite managed to talk to *someone* wasn’t it?”

Even as the words leave my mouth, I regret it. I regret it even more when I see him imperceptibly stiffen. Ohh, that was such a low blow! When did I become such a mean person? He recovers quickly, sending me a grin that looks more plastic than my credit card.

“ And aren’t you the one who hasn’t been able to tell me the truth for the last couple of weeks?”

Ignoring the truth of his words, my eyes flash.

“ Are you saying I’ve been lying?”

“ I didn’t say that Liz. Look. I ask you if you’re okay, if nothing’s wrong and you say-”

“ I say that I am! That nothing’s wrong! Because I *am* Max. I am. And *nothing* is wrong.”

“ Then why do your eyes tell me different, Liz?” He swims closer to me. “ Why do they tell me one thing when your lips say another? Why don’t your eyes dance anymore? Why don’t you laugh like you used to?”

So close. So achingly close. I can feel his breath on my forehead. Cold, wet, fingers grasp my chin and tilt it upwards.

“ Why aren’t you living, Liz? Why is it that you act like… you’ve lost yourself? Like you’re not complete?”

I’m hoping he’ll buy that the moisture shimmering on my eyelashes is from the water and not from my tear ducts. I swallow. And I answer his question with one of my own.

“ Why do you?”


“ So how about it Liz? You get extra credit, not that you need any, but it’s always a good thing to have a safety net. And as a bonus, you even get the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from helping out a person in need.”

I stare blankly at my English teacher, struggling to piece together what she said. Unfortunately, several large parts of my mind are still reviewing everything that went down last night, and are very reluctant to come back to earth. I have no choice but to wing it.

“ Absolutely.”

“ So you’ll do it?”

“ Uh…” I don’t know what to say. What if I agree to something totally dorky like, like… walking her dog or something! But seeing her expectant look, I crumble. It’ s all my fault if I do agree to something like that anyway. And hey, maybe I’ll gain new perspective while doing…whatever it is. “ Yeah. Sure. Why not?”

“ Excellent!” Mrs. Thomas says, beaming at me. “ I’m sure you’ll have him up to standards in no time!”

Him? Oh, man, it is her dog! I knew it! I knew it! I…

Jordan steps out from behind her, smiling at me.

“ Hey partner.”

Partner?

Uh oh.

***********************************

“ Liz. My mom said you were here.”

I nod and smile.

“ She said I could wait here. Do you mind?”

Here, is a spacious studio Michael’s parents built for him two years ago. It doubles as a guest bedroom when it’s cleaned up but usually, it’s our secondary practice room.

“ No.” He answers. “ Have I ever?”

He drops his books on the floor by the door and walks towards me, nodding at the canvas in front of me.

“ It isn’t finished yet.”

I return my gaze to the portrait that’s taking shape in front of me. Michael’s blended together the four elements, fire, ice, earth, water, things that make up the world, the day, the night into one very familiar looking face. It’s amazing. “ It looks good Michael. What’re you calling it?”

His eyes soften, a sparkle begins to dance in their dark depths. I know the answer before he speaks.

“ Maria.” He says softly, whispering it like a secret. I get the symbolism of the painting very well. Michael isn’t what you’d call very good in expressing his feelings with words but he often manages to find ways to make up for it. And with this painting, he’s essentially saying Maria makes up his entire world. With sentiment, not to mention talent like this, who needs words? Maria will definitely be over the moon about it. She’s forever asking him to paint something for her.

“ I would never have guessed.” I tease lightly, getting a kick out of watching red stain his cheeks. He ignores it though, and I do too, choosing to ask, “ Is this what you’re giving her for her birthday?”

“ Yeah. If I can get it done by then.” He says, donning his apron and starting to mix his paints. He casts a quizzical look at me, and I get the picture that he’s dying to ask me questions loud and clear, but he doesn’t push. I’m thankful. There is one way, just one way in which Michael and I are very much alike. It’s how we deal with emotions. I’m not talking about those every day types of emotion that make you laugh at sitcoms or cry at sad endings. I’m talking about those major ones. The ones that make you feel as if you’re not quite sure if you’re standing or sitting, moving or still. The ones that have the power to change your life. Michael and I, we’re wall builders. Sure, I concede the title of master builder to him, but mine are still pretty impressive. And only a fellow wall builder is going to be able to help me out with this one. Because when my wall breaks… it’s not going to be pretty. And I have the feeling it’s going to reach the breaking point any minute now.

“ Hey. I asked if you wanted to paint?”

I blink. Michael’s holding out a spare apron towards me. An empty canvas is sitting on an easel next to his. I wonder how long I’ve been zoned out.

“ Um, yeah. Sure.” I grab the apron and follow him and after a minute, Michael positions the palette on a stool between us. I choose a brush with nice, thick bristles. I’ve heard painting is good for the soul. Time to test that theory. So while I’m busy making a mess, not really caring what I’m doing, I see Michael watching me out of the corner of my eye. The damned worried look that irritates me so much is claiming his features and I sigh.

“ Michael, if you continue to watch me instead of that beautiful painting of yours, you are going to ruin it, okay?”

He starts and then frowns.” You’re right. This is supposed to be a happy painting anyway. You’re killing the mood.”

“ Oh ouch. That hurt bro.”

He carefully removes the half finished painting and places it on a shelf far away from where I’m vigorously attacking my canvas. All I see is color. Vibrant splashes of blue. Greens. A more ominous black laced in between. They all swirl together, creating something that looks suspiciously like water draining down a hole. And right in the center of it all is a figure of a girl. With long dark hair. Hands pressed over her face in an effort to shield herself from the glaring colors. From life. From pain. I lay my paintbrush down and stare.

“ Liz?”

“ What do you think, Michael?” I ask monotonously, still staring at the too bright monstrosity. The wall is cracking. The wall is breaking. “ Think it portrays insanity enough? Being torn?”

“ Liz, are you okay?”

Four words. Well meaning, concerned words. That’s all it takes to finally send the last of the bricks toppling over. My bottom lip begins to tremble. Damn it, I don’t want to cry. I capture it between my teeth but it still continues. And then all of a sudden, tears start streaming down my face. My shoulders begin to heave. I begin to wail. And all of a sudden, I’m feeling warmth. Michael’s enveloped me in a hug and I clutch his shirt desperately, burying my face in his shoulder, letting the tears flow. There’s despair. Anger. Confusion. I don’t know anymore.

“ Um…it’s okay, Liz. Just, uh…let it…let it out?”

I would laugh at Michael’s attempt at comforting me right now, it’s clear that my tears and hysteria are freaking him out. But I feel too bad to do it. All I really want to do right now is cry. So I do.

“ It…it…h-hurts, Michael.” I whimper, hating myself for sounding so pathetic and yet feeling relief that I’m finally, finally diffusing some of my pent up emotion. “ It hurts so bad…”

“ Sshh. It’s okay. It’s okay.”

He leads me to the couch and gently sits me down, wrapping a comforting arm around my shoulder as I continue to cry into his chest. When I finally stop and look up at him, he was the most pained look on his face.

“ Uh… should I call Maria? Alex? Isabel?” He wisely decides to leave out a certain individual’s name. Go Michael.

I shake my head and grab a throw pillow, drawing my knees to my chest and hugging it to me like my life depends on it.

“ Okay. Guess it’s just you and me then short stuff.”

I sniff.

“ I’m sorry about your shirt.”

“ Don’t be. Maria cried on it the first six times we watched Titanic on video. It’s used to it, trust me.”

I sniff again.

“ So. Let’s talk. Cuz last time I checked, Liz Parker didn’t cry.”

I rub away the traces of my tears, lifting my chin. “ That…that wasn’t crying. That was… hysteria.”

“ Right. So what brought it on?”

I groan and flop back onto his chest, hiding my face.

He reads the groan and the way my face crumples up correctly.

“ Max?”

I nod miserably.

“ What happened?”

The question transports me back to last night. To the moments after my question was asked…

Max closes his eyes in surrender. My heart constricts.

“ Max? Why do you?”

I have to know this. I have to know if my suspicions that he’s not happy are based on something real and not just a figment of my imagination. I need to know that I’m not unconsciously giving myself reasons to try to break Max and Jessica up. Because if I am, then I’m going to have to stop. I’m going to have to do whatever it takes to distance myself from them and get myself under control.

But what if I’m not?

Max opens his eyes and what I see knocks the breath out of me. And I thought his eyes were dark on the night we slow danced? Tonight, they don’t even compare…

“ Max?” I squeak.

“ You want to know why? I’ll tell you why. It’s because even when I’m with Jessica, even when we’re having the best time… I still think about you, Liz. I worry about you. I worry because you’re not acting like yourself. I worry because you don’t act silly with Maria and Alex anymore. I worry because you don’t fight with Michael anymore, or shop with Isabel or just smile. I worry because every time I see you, it’s like it’s not YOU, Liz. It’s like some other person is in you.” He takes a deep breath. “ I want the old Liz back.” He confesses.

I swallow.

“ And what if she’s gone? What then Max? What if she’s gone forever?”

It is at this point that it occurs to me that there is now less than two inches separating us. But suddenly, this isn’t important anymore. I realize that all the distance in the world isn’t going to help now, what with the way I’m burning inside to just touch my lips to his. This is the ultimate test. Where I choose to stand. Or where I choose to fall.

“ The I’m just going to have to find her,” He whispers fervently. I can feel his breath against my lips. “ Because without her,” I gaze up into his eyes. “ I’m not sure I *can* be complete.”

Well that’s that.

Guess what I choose?

That’s right.

I choose to fall.

….and it all starts with a kiss…


“ So you kissed him.” Michael says, offering me some more nachos. During the course of my very long, halting explanation, I somehow managed to stop breaking into tears every few seconds and now we’re pigging out on junk food and soda. There’s a faintly pleased note in Michael’s voice which I file away for future reference. “ What’s so bad about that?”

I flinch.

“ You want to know?”

“ I may as well. I know everything else.”

I glare. He puts up his hands in surrender.

“ Okay. Seriously. I want to know.”

I swallow. I look down. Here’s where tears come into my eyes again, but they don’t fall. I refuse to let them fall.

“ I said… I said it was a mistake.” I glance up at Michael. He looks shocked. “ And then I ran away.”

TBC…

PS: Don’t hate Liz too much! The girl's got reasons. Ones I'll hopefully remember to reconstruct! *happy*

Double PS: Beth, one other story of mine, Journey of Discovery can be found on the repost board. hope that helps!
posted on 26-Aug-2002 9:56:29 AM by Comet
Hey guys!

As always,LOVE the feedback. Thank you all very much! Hey, LittleMrmaid, glad to see you're still with me! Btw, I love your stories....well, the two I've managed to read so far...

ok. so I'm working on the next part. I never knew how hard it could be to remember stuff I've ALREADY written, but apparently, it's harder than writing exams. *sigh* and oh, I received a lovely lil treat from [bforeverdreamer that's just SO cool!! check it out, and I hope I'll do this right.....

cupidbanner

My own banner!!!! Thanks again foreverdreamer! And to the rest of you guys too, for bumping the story. Luv you guys!!!


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 26-Aug-2002 9:58:25 AM ]
posted on 13-Sep-2002 4:46:29 PM by Comet
cupidbanner

It’s funny. Sometimes, I just sit and wonder… what do they really mean when they say, ‘ the pen is mightier than the sword’? …I know it goes something like that, but really, what’s the meaning behind it all? When I was younger, I used to puzzle over this hours for at a time. How could one flimsy, little pen possibly stand up against the much bigger, badass sword? Physically impossible, unless it was some sort of new unbreakable pen. At least, that was my conclusion when I was younger. And now, just like a lot of things…it’s different. Now I know, it’s not what the pen and the sword look like that make up the meaning behind that phrase. It’s what they do. Consider this. A sword can kill, say, a dozen or so people when used right. A pen can kill millions. Just by the simple act of being used to sign a signature on a piece of paper, the pen can condemn a whole city to death. It’s as easy as that. Consider this too. While a sword can be used to threaten, oh say, a village or two, a pen, on the other hand, can decide the futures of a country and generations to come.

And then I realize something else. It’s not the pen that’s mightier than the sword. It’s the words that the pen writes that hold all the power. It’s all about the words. The words that are written on that piece of paper the pen is going to sign. It’s the words that decide the future. That can lift you up and make you feel invincible. That can crush you and all your hopes and dreams in one fell swoop. And now that I’ve established that words hold so much power… who was it again who came up with that phrase, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words never can’? Because I may just have to intervene here. Words may not break your bones but they can do something worse. They can break your soul.

Panic starts to rise within me.

Oh. My. God.

I can’t…I’m not ready for this.

“ Are you ready for this?”

The speaker is Michael, and he’s staring at me from his spot on the pavement where he’s just dismounted his motorcycle. I’m still frozen on the seat and slowly, I turn my head to face him.

“ I’m ready. ”

And yes, the owner of that calm, steady voice is me.

Michael nods and walks away, obviously buying that very bald faced lie. Sigh. When I become such a good liar, I’d like to know? He turns back when he doesn’t here me following and frowns.

“ Parker. What the hell are you still doing there?”

Banishing the thoughts that are turning my legs into jelly, I remove my helmet and shoot him an irritated look.

“ Chill out, Michael. It’s not like the Crash is going to run away or something.”

“ Yeah, yeah. Whatever. C’mon let’s go. We’re going to be late.”

“ Since when did that ever bother you?” I grumble under my breath, following him at a snail’s pace. Y’know, for someone who just said she was ready a minute ago, I don’t seem very ready. Wonder what that means? I glance up when I don’t hear Michael’s footsteps ahead of me to find him watching me intently, his trademark scowl on his face.

“ What?”

The scowl fades and is replaced by a feeling of uncertainty. Uh oh. He’s going to talk about…that.

“ Liz…he’s going to want to talk about it, you know.”

I swallow. “ I know.”

“ Right. And last I heard you hadn’t exactly figured out what you were going to say to him.”

I glare at him, an action that deflects my attention from my trembling heart.

“ I’m aware of that, Michael.” I snap. I swallow, and my gaze softens. I have no right to be angry at Michael. After all he’s done for me…” I’m sorry,” I whisper, looking down at the ground and wondering, when exactly did everything start going down the tubes? “ I’m just…it’s just…”

“ Don’t sweat it short stuff.” He nods in understanding. No one in our group knows better than Michael about the pressures of not being able to express yourself emotionally. It’s an after effect of the wall, you see, it can be a curse and a blessing at the same time. Because of it, nothing can hurt you emotionally. You’re safe guarded from the world. But then again, you can’t feel much of anything either. Ah well. Nothing is perfect. And I would’ve happily gone on in this depressing train of thought had I not suddenly yelped, because apparently, Michael has decided that now is as good a time as any to grab my head in a headlock and drag me to the back room of the CrashDown. “ It’ll come to you.” He says reassuringly.

And I would be reassured, if I wasn’t trying to fight my way out of something I thought Michael had left behind in seventh grade.

“ Michael! Stop it! Ow!”

“ Aw, c’mon Liz, don’t be such a lightweight.”

“ When I get loose I am seriously going to hurt you!” I holler.

“ Oh, I’m scared,” He snorts.

“ Fine! I’m going to tell Maria about the portrait then!”

I’m released immediately and stumble from Michael and turn to face him. Ah. Sweet, wonderful air. I massage my neck and stare balefully at Michael, who’s glaring at me.

“ Lighten up, wouldya Liz?”

I take a deep breath, swallowing the scathing response that’s all ready and fired up to go. I know that in his own warped way, that headlock is Michael’s way of trying to get me to relax, to calm down. Did I mention that underneath that gruff and badass exterior, Mikey G’s a big, teddy bear? I did? Well, he is!

“ Michael, I am beyond grateful for everything you’ve done for me today. You know that right?”

He nods. “ Sure.”

“ And uh…thanks for not…telling anyone. I’ll do it…later.”

“ Right.”

“ Okay.” Another deep breath. We both look at the door that will take us into the back room of the CrashDown.

Silence reigns.

“ If you’re not ready…”

“ Oh, just open the damn door already, Michael.” I say crossly. “ I have to face him sometime.” Faking irritation is better than shaking in real fear any day. “ And if you ever do a headlock on me again,” Here it comes folks. The threat to end a life just so I can add a little more bravado into my fear ridden armor, “ I’m gonna kill you.”

The door leading out into the alley suddenly opens.

“ Get in line, chica.”

At the sound of Maria’s voice, we both freeze. Michael has this ‘oh-crap’ expression on his face and the one on mine is just…well, considering she just took away half my life span, it’s not pretty.

Does she even notice?

Uh, this is Maria we’re talking about. In true DeLuca fashion, she immediately launches into a tirade. You gotta love her.

“ Where have you guys been?” Before I know it, Hurricane DeLuca is on the warpath, marching towards us and dragging us inside, to our lockers. “ It’s a complete nut house out there, complete with the customers from the seventh level of hell and Dina is just about to go totally postal, not to mention that Ben is threatening to start burning the orders if Michael doesn’t get in there, and Agnes is no freakin’ help at all!!”

One day, I am going to have to task Maria how she manages to say ten thousand words in just one breath. Because, when you ignore the mind boggling confusion it invokes, you gotta admit, it’s just too cool.

“ Then why aren’t you out there helping?” Michael says with a scowl, removing his jacket and tossing it into his now open locker, grabbing his apron and donning it with quick, irritated jerks.

“ I’m on a break, space boy.”

“ Huh. And I’m betting that that’s exactly what Agnes would say too.” He says. I grin. He’s baiting her. And by the way her eyes are darkening, she’s taking it, hook line and meltdown.

“ You know what? NEVER MIND, Michael! I have precisely 4 minutes and counting BEFORE I have to go back into purgatory and back to serving the minions of satan and I’m not gonna waste them by arguing with you!”

Michael by this time, has finished tying a bandana around his head. He smirks at Maria.

“ Actually, you just did. And guess what? You only have…two minutes and counting left.”

He saunters off, leaving Maria incredibly incensed and me recovering enough from my giggles to vacate the room and change into my own uniform. As I change, I wait for the impending shriek.

“ MICHAEL GUERIN, YOU ARE A COMPLETE AND TOTAL ⊕SS!”

Grin. Actually, Maria’s edited the content of that shriek quite a bit. Usually, it’s much more colorful. Fastening the last of the snaps, I re-enter the break room from the changing room to find Maria sniffing her oils like it’s going out of style.

“ All better?” I ask innocently.

Maria waves a hand in the air. “ I wonder… why do I put up with him?”

“ Cuz you’re madly, insanely, totally head over heels in love with him.” I answer calmly, arranging the antennae I’m hoping to get my uncle to drop the next time he decides to remodel the uniforms on my head. “ And because you know he feels the same way about you.”

This settles her, and a smile overpowers the frown on her face.

“ Oh yeah.” Then she shakes her head, in the process, shaking away the dreamy look on her face. “ Chica. You alright? We missed you at lunch today.”

That would probably be because I spent lunch hour in the library. Oh well. I nod and smile sheepishly at her.

“ Sorry. I was in the library.”

“ Ah.” Blue green eyes twinkle at me. “ Last minute research, huh?”

Uh huh. She’s being waaaayyy too understanding about this. Immediately on alert, I give her a cautious smile. “ You could say that.”

“ Right. So listen. You and me. A bowl of ice cream. Tonight. What do you say?”

I want to say no. I REALLY want to say no. The results of our LAST ice cream talk weren’t exactly…uh…well, at least it was everything I had expected. I nod and smile again.

“ Sure. I’ll grab the ice cream. You get the toppings okay?”

“ Excellent.” Maria agrees, flashing that dimpled smile.

The break room door opens just then, revealing an exhausted and very disheveled Dina, who’s mumbling something about ‘demons from the underworld’. I glance at Maria’s sympathy filled face as Dina stumbles over to the couch and plops wearily down on it. The sympathy immediately turns into a grimace as she looks out into the eating area of the café. I’m sensing hesitation here. Exactly which or maybe, WHAT customers do we have?

“ Maria. Is there something I’m missing here? I mean, The Crash isn’t usually that busy on a week day.”

Maria sighs and takes my arm.

“ Yeah, well, we usually don’t have to deal with,” She pauses as she throws the door open with a flourish, giving me my first good look at the chaos lucky Dina has just escaped from. “ A field trip from the retirement center and an orthodontist’s convention at the same time. And that’s not even counting the fact that apparently, THIS is the night, out of all nights, that every family with at least five kids decided to pick THIS café to eat at.”

Yep.

It’s a mad house, alright.

I groan as I grab an order pad and march to the nearest table that’s hollering for attention.

It’s going to be a long night.

“ Hi, welcome to the CrashDown, my name is Liz, I’ll be your waitress for today. What drinks can I get you, or would you like to order now?”

“ It’s about time!” The red haired lady in front of me snaps. She’s cradling a squalling infant in her arms while the man across from her, undoubtedly her husband, is beseeching a fidgeting toddler to sit still. Okay. I can handle this. I beam at her with my patented, I’m-a-happy-waitress smile and diligently take their orders while she and her hubby make waspish remarks about the ‘service’ here. But that’s okay. I can handle that too. It’s only when I feel a wet, squishy substance being emptied into my shoe, and look down to see ANOTHER toddler, identical to the first, pouring mustard all over my feet, that I think about amending that statement.

“ Well? Are you going to go or not?” The man scowls.

Oh yeah.

It’s going to be a very long night.

*******************************

“ Miss, we’d like to order now!”

“ Waitress, this isn’t what I ordered!”

“ Can we get some service here!”

“ Miss? Miss!”

There’s just nothing like dealing with the CrashDown gone mad WITH a perpetual smile in place to take your mind off certain… things. I shake my head. The clamor of obnoxious voices has permanently damaged my hearing, I swear! I cannot believe this hasn’t died down yet! I mean, seriously, the people with kids are STILL here, haven’t they ever heard of something called bedtime? My uncle and aunt on the other hand, are over the moon about the number of people who are terrorizing their staff. I wonder if I should ask for a raise?

“ I’ll be right there, sir,“ I hear Maria say in a strained voice. I’ll bet you anything that a gargoyle grin has replaced her usually bright smile. And then all I hear are heavy stomps, going to the pickup window. “ Michael,WHERE is that galaxy sub?!” Maria half-yells, on the verge of shrieking. She is definitely NOT a happy waitress. Hell, she’s not even a happy Maria. Not that I would be happy if a juvenile infant spilled soda all over me as I was serving the ungrateful little squirt, resulting in an unsightly stain on my uniform, but I can’t worry about Maria right now. I have my own sanity to think about.

“…twenty six, twenty seven, twenty eight…”

I fight the urge to glare at the woman in front of me, a woman who is dead resolved on testing the limits of my patience and goodwill by INSISTING she pay exactly the amount she was charged, which means she has to count out PENNIES to make an exact fee of ten dollars and fifty-two cents. Meanwhile, other customers are shooting me dirty looks, no doubt thinking that I am the worst waitress ever, depriving them of their daily fix of CrashDown fare by just standing still and smiling inanely at this lady in front of me.

Whatever.

Obviously, they can’t see the muscle twitching in my right temple, proof of my furious headache and my urge to just chuck this lady out of the café.

I take a deep breath and hitch up the compulsory smile that’s threatening to crack my face off.

“ Ma’am, we DO have change here. It’s not necessary to-”

“ …thirty, thirty one, thirty two…”

…did she just ignore me completely? She did! She ignored me completely! Aw, to hell with the customer always being right, I’m gonna-

Two dimes fall on the pile of pennies in front of me, and a male voice says,

“ And here’s two dimes to bring the total to ten dollars and fifty two cents. Thank you for visiting the CrashDown, please come again.”

And then she’s gone, being ushered away by the angel of mercy who provided the blessed two dimes. I think I’m gaining a whole new appreciation of dimes. Who’d have thunk it? I look up, relief drawing out my first genuine smile since…whenever, ready to say a heartfelt thank you to whoever rescued me when I freeze.

I’m…I’m not…I’m not ready for this.

“Max.”

He doesn’t say anything and after that embarrassing little squeak that came out of my mouth just a second ago, I choose to remain silent too. So now, here I am staring at a person yet again, but this time, I’m not fighting the urge to glare. I’m not quite sure what I’m fighting, but I’m pretty sure I’m losing the battle. In a desperate attempt to find something to say, I cast about and my mind lands on the fact that the last time I saw him was when he was in his underwear. And let’s not even go to the fact that it was vice versa.

Oh god.

He saw me in my underwear!!!!

And yes, folks, I’m blushing.

“ Um…hey. Thanks for…you know. H-How’s it going?”

Why is he just standing there? Didn’t he hear me?

“ Max?”

Max stares at me intently for a while longer before nodding his head. And shooting me a fleeting half smile. I mean, I think he did. It barely touched his lips so I can’t be sure…his lips? I’m thinking about his lips? Those incredibly soft and…STOP IT! Stop it, stop it, stop it!

“ It’s good.” He answers quietly.

“ Oh okay. Good. That’s…good.”

And we’re in awkward silence land. I’ve never actually managed to figure out what’s worse. Is it the staring or the awkward silence? Maybe it’s a combination of the two. Maybe it’s a combination of the two while you’re standing in a busy as all get out café… or maybe…

“ Liz. About last night.”

Or maybe it’s when the person you’re trying to not fall for brings up a moment of weakness when you kissed said person that’s the worst thing of all.

Forcing my gaze to meet his, I notice something strange. Max’s eyes…they’re not…normal. I mean, they’re normal but…they’re not as they usually are.

“ About that,” I start, nervously fiddling with my order pad and steadfastly ignoring at least two tables that are clamoring for attention. “ I-“

“ Max, Liz! Come on you two!” The sudden yell startles us both and we turn to see my aunt gesturing to all the tables that need serving. “ You can chat later! We’ve got work.”

“ Sorry Mrs. Parker,” Max calls out. He glances at me and then seems to come to a decision. He grabs my hand and pulls me after him into the break room. He’s not paying attention to the tables either.

“ Miss!”

“ Waitress, over here!”

“ Max,” I call weakly, hoping to stall. I’m not ready for this. What am I supposed to say? “ The customers?”

Max turns abruptly directs a one thousand dollar smile to the tables. “ She’ll be right back.” And then we’re off again. We pass by a frazzled Maria, who simply stares as I shoot her a helpless look. And then we’re in the back room.

Alone.

And he’s still holding my hand.

As if realizing this just NOW, he drops it and paces forward a few steps and then turns back to me.

“ You have plans tonight?”

“ I do. I mean…Maria has plans. She and I. We both do. We have plans.” Great, Liz, great. Sound like an idiot much? I take a deep breath and ignore the slight amusement coloring Max’s face at my expense. “ Maria and I are going to eat ice cream after closing. That is, if we ever do close.”

Oh good! My brain hasn’t been permanently disconnected from my mouth. Always a good thing to know.

“ Yeah. Your uncle called and said he needed all hands on deck. I think even Alex and Isabel are coming to help out.”

“ They are? That’s great then. I think Maria’s an inch away from committing murder. Not that I’m that far behind.”

He does that half-smile thingy again but it doesn’t have it’s usual knee-weakening, heart pounding effect on me. It’s the lack of sparkle in his eyes that’s doing it. It just doesn’t seem complete.

“ So can I come over after you two finish then? I’ll meet you on your balcony. We…we need to talk Liz.”

“ I know. I know we do. It’s just-”

“ Please.”

Aw, hell. I never could say no to the eyes.

“ Sure.”

Lord give me strength. Something tells me I’ll need it.
TBC…

Author’s Note: Hey guys. Yeah, I know that part was mostly transitional and nothing much happened but the next part will have more Max and Liz in it, plus Jordan of course. I hope it wasn’t too boring though, lol. *big* And I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who nominated me and got me into that final list on the announcement board. Kitcat congrats girl! I saw you up there too! Seriously, THANK YOU everyone. I was literally bouncing around the house when I saw that list. I’m so honored. You guys are truly the best.

And a shout out to LttleMrmade and Mermaidgirl! As always, it's a pleasure! Thanks so MUCH for all the bumps you guys! In case I haven't said it enough, YOU ALL ROCK!


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 13-Sep-2002 4:54:11 PM ]
posted on 24-Nov-2002 3:11:31 PM by Comet
pssst!

I'm alive.

and..... I've got finals starting from the 2nd of Dec to the 1tth.

life is not fair.

but thank you all for the bumps. Cupid will be coming soon. count on that.

luv,
comet
posted on 28-Jan-2003 1:13:53 PM by Comet
hello everyone!

THANK YOU ALL FOR THE BUMPS!

this is just to assure everyone that I am not stopping this story or ANY of my others. And also to say that all three of my stories have new chapters in progress. I promise you all, there are new chapters for Playing Cupid, JOD and Beginnings.

I'm currently in 12th grade, my final year, which means at the end, I'm going to be taking a govt. exam. my teachers are fanatical about making sure the intake I'm in passes WELL. apparently, we're the best (academically) and worst (behaviour wise) class they've seen in a few years, and so, we're being driven like slaves to quell the 'monsters within' and that was a direct quote. to add to that, I'm a prefect as well, and I have to oversee a class of screaming hooligans known as ninth graders. sheer hell.

I don't like it, but there you go. I'm so sorry I didn't update during the holidays but real life just wouldn't permit it. and I really, truly appreciate all the bumps you guys keep giving this story. trust me on this, I WILL be coming back. I've said it before, and I've always come back, right?

I will this time too.

thank you all once again. in case I haven't said it enough, YOU ALL ROCK.