Author's Note: Hey guys. I decided to repost 12A here. I tried to repost the whole ting yesterday but I kept getting an error message so I'm hoping this will do to refresh some memories of what happened before. Chapter 19 of Beginnings is almost done, should be up soon. I'll try reposting them again today. Glad you guys like it!

Chapter 12 A

A long drawn out groan issued from underneath a thick, heavy duvet and a head crowned with tousled dark hair popped out a moment later, hands pressed to the eyes, mumbling incoherently. Liz removed her hands from where they were strategically positioned and peered at the world through slitted eyelids, and closed them immediately when they were assaulted by the way too bright sunshine.

Where on earth was she?

Why did her head hurt so much?

And why the hell was she still dressed in her swimming costume?

Opening her eyes more slowly this time, she took in her surroundings with apprehension. Apprehension that quickly made way for relief. She was in her room.

That was her dresser.

That was her closet.

That was her mirror, her stereo, her desk, her computer, her Max, her books, sketch pads…

Wait. Something about that last thought hadn’t sounded right. Liz frowned and began to reel her mind backwards. Her gaze moved from each article in question as she thought about it.

My stereo.

There it was. Surrounded by a stack of cd’s. Check.

Her desk, it’s surface completely covered with scattered papers and files looking chaotic as usual. Check.

Her computer, still switched on, it’s screen saver of a red giant exploding and coming back together again flashing at her. Check.

Her divan, covered with a pale blue duvet, with Max lying asleep under it. Check.

Her books…

Wait.

There it was again.

What was it?

She scrutinized her divan and almost fell out of bed.

Was that…MAX in there?

Oh God.

Oh God.

OH GOD.

Liz blinked and rubbed her eyes fiercely, moving her gaze away from the divan and staring around the room testing her eyesight to make sure she wasn’t going blind. It wouldn’t be the first time she thought something like that. And wouldn’t you know that time it had been Evans induced too. Slowly, she dragged her gaze back to the small couch and yep, there you have it.

That was Max Evans sleeping like a baby on HER divan, under HER duvet in HER god damn room.

And, and…she was still in her bathing suit!!!!

Liz threw the covers to one side and shook her hair out of her face, glaring at the divan. She took one small step towards it.

Was he breathing?

What if he wasn’t breathing?

What if he was dead?

A small squeak emanated from her lips and she rushed forward a couple of steps before stopping.

She didn’t WANT to see a dead body.

She didn’t WANT a dead body in her room.

A dead body had NO business being in her room.

Against her better judgment, Liz forced her gaze back to the figure on her divan and squinted, trying to determine if he was still breathing. She couldn’t tell. Why couldn’t she tell? Maybe it was because her vision was really hazy and because her head was hurting and her tongue felt like a sand box. A sand box filled with really, really big and rough grains of sand. Anyway…she went a step closer, swaying slightly on her feet. Still couldn’t see. Another step. Nope, can’t see from here either. It continued like that until she was about one foot away from the divan and going closer all the while. Finally, when she was about two inches away she knelt down and peered at his face, tilting her head to the side. She should be able to see if he was breathing now. But did she see that? No. What she was seeing was that his skin, his face, was flawless. Absolutely, undeniably flawless. And his eyelashes…they were so LONG. Resting against his cheeks gently like the hair on his forehead was. And he looked…angelic. Like the boy she’d woken up to see next to her in the morning so many times so long ago. Even the haze in her mind couldn’t block this out. She reached out slowly and brushed the hair off his forehead and to one side, so it wouldn’t disturb his eyes. Her hand began to move downward about an inch on above his face and stopped right above his nose and mouth. She could feel his warm breath on her hand and she withdrew it and stood up.

He was alive.

Yay.

What had she been THINKING?

She took one tiny step back and looked down at his sleeping figure, trying to decide how best to wake him. She tried to swallow but remembering that grains of sand were masquerading as her tongue at the moment, she decided against it. She had used the word ‘angelic’ in a thought about Max. Committed treason against herself. She groaned, she closed her eyes. Oh God, what was happening to her? What was Max doing in her room? Why was she still in her bathing suit? And WHY did her HEAD HURT SO MUCH???

“ Liz?”

Her eyes popped open and she stared down at him. He was staring back at her, eyes clouded in sleepy confusion, hair disheveled and falling all over the place. And Liz was trying vainly to come up with something to combat the thought bubbling in her hazy, out of focus and hurting like hell mind. The thought that went something along the lines of: adorable, cute, endearing, charming and all that other stuff her mind had no business thinking along lines of. Just like dead bodies had no business being in her room. Of course, now we’ve established that said body isn’t dead we could just…she shook her head in confusion. Bad idea. The action made the room spin like top. Really, really fast and served the purpose of making her want to hurl really bad.

“ Liz?”

She focused her gaze on him. Swallowed the grains of sand and croaked,

“ Yeah?”

“ Are you alright?”

“ I…don’t know.” Apparently, throbbing heads and dizzy spells didn’t bode well for her sarcasm. She could barely keep it together. She frowned at him, biting her lip.

“ Evans?”

“ Yeah?”

“ What happened?”

Max looked confused. He sat up slowly and the duvet fell away from his body revealing that he was, in fact, shirtless. Liz’s eyes widened in shock before she glanced away.

GAH.

The guy had muscles. No really, he did. His muscles had muscles. And oh boy, she was in trouble. God, help her how was one SUPPOSED to function, to talk, to BREATHE after seeing something like that? Ugh. Such an attack on her eyesight couldn’t be a good thing, especially since her mind was already hazy, dizzy, hurting like hell…

“ You don’t know?”

Max’s voice came through loud and clear, streaking through the haze. Liz blinked and pushed her hair away from her face, no longer conscious of the fact that she was still in her bathing suit. “ I don’t remember.”

And then came his brilliant reply, ladies and gents. Listen for it, it’s really good.

“ Oh.”

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

Max stared at Liz in confusion and she stared back, just as confused. He frowned.

“Um, we were at a party.” He began to explain, wondering if he should go through all the details. “And…the punch was spiked.”

A dark brow rose. He got its meaning immediately. It was a gesture that said, ‘ What does that have to do with me?’

“ You…well, you drank a lot of punch.” He replied slowly, gauging her reaction. Her brow furrowed and then cleared, her eyes going wide in its stead.

“ I-I did? Oh God.” She lifted a hand and rubbed her forehead tersely. “ H-How much?”

“ A lot.”

She blinked at him and ran a hand through the mass of curls that cascaded over her shoulders, frowning at nothing in particular. Max began to frown too, as memories of the night before began playing in his mind.

He’d been in the middle of a large crowd, trying vainly to keep up with the conversation and keep an eye on Liz at the same time. Maria and Isabel had dragged her from his side and the three of them were sitting on the couch, talking and completely oblivious to the large crowd of admiring males who had gathered around them. Only Max wasn’t as oblivious. He saw all too clearly the way his friends were drooling over the three girls, one who happened to be his sister, another who happened to be his close friend and almost sister and… what exactly was Liz to him? He wasn’t exactly sure but he did know that seeing someone ogle at her was pissing him off. Big time. He suddenly felt protective and anxious. He had tried numerous times to break free of the vast chattering crowd and spent most of his attention on Liz as she chatted. She was actually smiling at the two girls. Not one of the fake smiles she always gave him but a rare, genuine smile. It changed her whole appearance from brooding and slightly scary to almost lighthearted and cheerful. And when the clear throaty sound of her laughter reached his ears, Max had trailed off in mid sentence and simply stared at her, completely flabbergasted. It had been so long, too long since he had heard her laugh. He remembered it as being almost like a burbling spring or like tinkling bells. Completely unrestrained. And lovely. When he finally managed to get loose from the crowd, the three girls were gone. He had suffered a few moments of panic that Liz had somehow skipped out on him but he saw them sitting outside by the pool in some lounge chairs.

“Geez, Maxwell, nervous much?”

He had glanced up to see Michael next to him, carrying two cans of Pepsi. He handed one to Max and opened his can, taking a sip and watching Maria through the sliding glass doors.

“I’m not nervous.”

“ Right. So you keeping your date under constant surveillance is how you usually operate.” Michael retorted with a smirk.

“ She’s not my date.”

His best friend had raised his eyebrows in question and Max had sighed. “ She laid down some rules before we came in. I am not in any way allowed to call this a date. Ever. So she’s not my date.”

“ Right. So what is this exactly?”

“ She called it a business deal.” Max had replied, making his way outside with Michael next to him, still watching Liz. She was listening raptly to Maria and Isabel’s banter, an amused expression on her face. Michael chuckled.

“ So what did you have to blackmail her with to get her to agree to come?”

“ What makes you think I had to blackmail her?”. Michael hadn’t replied but simply looked at Max with a look that said who-do-you-think-you’re-kidding-I-know-you-better-than-that. He grinned sheepishly. “Childhood photos. Her mother had stacks of albums on the topic.” He had continued to stare at Liz, his eyes lighting up when he saw that she was laughing again. He made a mental note to tell her she should do it more often. When she was in one of her less bitchy moods.

Michael shook his head, staring at the completely besotted look on Max’s face. “ This isn’t a bet anymore, is it,” He had intended for it to be a question, but it had come out sounding more like a statement. Max had frowned and turned to face him with a confused expression on his face.

“ I…don’t know, Michael. Sometimes I forget I ever even made the bet. I just…want to know who she is behind that entire attitude. And to really apologize for stuff I did years ago.”

“Max, exactly what did you do?” Michael had asked in puzzlement.

“The worst thing I could to a friend.” He sighed. “ I was a complete ⊕sshole.”

A few minutes of silence elapsed and Michael stared at Max in wonder. Never before in his life had he seen Max so…befuddled by a girl. Usually Max was the ultimate player. He knew the exact thing to say to the girls, could say goodbye without a single tear being shed over him and smooth talk his way out of anything. This was precisely why Michael had thought that although Liz Parker would be a challenge, Max would do it and this insane situation would be over. But it had also made him wary. He had seen Max purposely turn away from a hallway each and every time he sighted Liz. He seemed to do it unconsciously, instinctively. Like she had some power over him. And the more Michael watched, the more this theory looked plausible. Liz Parker was one girl against whom Max’s charms did absolutely nothing. Nothing she showed publicly anyway. Except for irritation, exasperation…the list goes on.

“It’s funny, I made myself forget everything that happened but now that I‘m finally facing up to the past, I’m realizing just how much I’ve missed her.” A pause. “ Guess I have something to thank Kyle for after all.” Max voice came, bringing Michael out of his thoughts.

“ Thank me for what, Evans?

They turned around to see Kyle and his usual jock friends surrounding him, a cocky grin in place. Max fired one right back at him.

“ Making me realize I can never be the biggest jerk in the world while you’re around.”

Kyle grinned. “ Touché. So how are we getting on with our little wager? If you concede defeat now, Evans, I may just go easy on you.”

“ Now why would I want to do a silly thing like that?” Max asked, arrogant grin still in place. “ Especially since…well, just take a look.”

Kyle turned around and Max had felt an irrepressible rush of satisfaction when his eyes had bulged at the sight of Liz Parker engaged in lively conversation with Maria Deluca and Isabel Evans.

“ No. I don’t believe it.

”Believe it,” Max replied flippantly…

“Evans?”

Max snapped himself back to the present and glanced up at Liz. She looked exactly like how he’d felt when he was suffering his first hangover. Dizzy, pale, looking like she was gonna throw up…

“ Here,” Max jumped up and took her arm, gently forcing her to sit on the divan he’d just vacated. She sat without protest.

“ Thanks,” Liz replied weakly. Max shook his head. She really must be feeling like hell. She hadn’t even insulted him. He sat next to her and propped his elbows on his knees waiting for her to say something.

“ So.” At the sound of her voice, he gave her his full attention. “ What happened?”

He hesitated. For one thing, he wasn’t particularly happy with himself for not checking out the punch before giving it to her. For another, he was sure SHE wouldn’t be happy with HIM for giving it to her in the first place. And while he was considering giving her the sugar coated version of events, he knew the way school gossip mills worked. It was only fair that he give her warning of the things she was going to hear about come Monday, especially since he was responsible for her being there in the first place. So he took a deep breath and dived in.

“ What happened was that one of Kyle’s bone headed friends poured an entire bottle of whiskey into the punch bowl and then loaded it up with enough sugar so no one would notice.”

“ Let me guess.” Liz locked eyes with him. “ No one noticed.”

“ Well-”

“ But if no one noticed then I couldn’t have been the one who was drunk, right?”

Max hesitated. “ Uh…well, someone did notice after a while and threw the punch out. But not before you, Maria and my sister had…”

He trailed off.

She got his meaning. Closed her eyes and buried her face in her hands.

“ What did I do?” She half whispered when she finally resurfaced.

Max couldn’t help smiling at the adorably shy look on her face.

“ The better question would be… ‘what did WE do?’.”

At this, her head snapped up fully.

“ We? We who?” Her eyes widened in alarm and she took in his half dressed appearance, horror spreading rapidly across her face. “We didn’t…I mean…we couldn’t…we who exactly?” she asked again.

Max frowned, confused. “ What are you talking about?”

Liz closed her eyes again.

“ We didn’t do ANYTHING…did we?” The question was asked softly, in a voice full of apprehension while she gestured at the two of them.

Understanding swept through him. And an opportunity to get past her shell a little and get a real reaction from her was one too tempting to ignore.

“ Would you like it if I said yes?” He asked in a flirtatious voice. This earned him a fiery glare and Max grinned though a quick swallow had preceded this. Well. At least he knew she was recovering from her night’s adventure and getting some of her trademark attitude back.

“ No,” she replied coldly. “ I wouldn’t.” This was swiftly followed by a groan as she clutched her head. “ I don’t believe this.” She pulled her feet up and rested her head on her knees. “ I don’t believe it’s possible for a head to hurt this much,”

“ It gets better,” Max said, standing up. “ I better go make you something…how do you like your coffee? Black?”

“ Very black,”

“ Got it,” He turned and was halfway to the door before Liz uttered a strangled gasp from behind him. In a few seconds, she had jumped up and passed him in a blur and was now blocking the door.

“ Are you crazy?” she hissed.

He gave her a questioning stare. “ Um, no, not the last time I checked,”

“ Check again. Do you realize what my mom would do if she saw you dressed like, like THAT and coming from my room? She’d go mega atomic. Hiroshima would look like a small puddle compared to her.”

It was at that moment that a knock at the door sounded.

“ Liz? Are you up sweetie?”

Max saw Liz’s dark eyes register panic and he felt the first tendrils of the same emotion sweep through him too. She was right. What was he going to say to her mother? He barely had time to formulate a plan before Liz was directly in front of him, pushing him towards the windows.

“ Go, go!” She hissed desperately.

Max’s eyes grew wide as he was shoved backwards. “ Liz, Liz, that’s a window. We’re on the first floor,” He whispered.

Apparently the threat of her mother just seconds away from opening the door and seeing them both in their less than decent states couldn’t quell the irritation so clear in her eyes.

“ Shut up! Believe me if I wanted to kill you this is not how I plan on doing it,” In an even lower tone, she added, “ It would be extremely slow…and painful.” Scanning the room for any evidence that he had been there, she saw his sandals lying at the foot of the divan. Snatching them up, she then she cleared her throat and resumed pushing him towards the window. “ Yeah mom. Just give me a second. I’m…I’m getting dressed,”

They had reached the window. He felt the edge of the sill digging into his back. Liz reached out behind him for the latch, this action bringing her barely clothed body into full contact with his. Max froze. This action brought memories of the night before crashing down onto him. They had been this close. Granted, she had been ‘under the influence’ at the time but it brought the same reaction anyway.

Honest-to-God-heart-stopping-breathing-stealing-overpowering fireworks.

Max’s mind was currently numbed. His body however, was a different story altogether. Suddenly, every part of him that was in contact with Liz was hyper sensitive. Humming. Making the parts of his body that weren’t in contact with her (especially his lips) very jealous. He couldn’t understand it. No one, repeat, NO ONE had ever done this to him before. And now, here was Liz, practically bringing him down to his knees without even trying. Hell, she wasn’t even looking at him. She was looking at the door over her shoulder as she fumbled with the latch, covering the loud ‘click’ that signaled that the window wasn’t locked anymore with yet another excuse. Then she faced forward and looked up at him and he managed to bring his dazed gaze to her eyes. They stared at each other. She seemed to finally register that she was practically attached to his body and her eyes widened but didn’t waver from his gaze. Vaguely, he noticed her breathing slow and come in shallow, uneven rasps. His eyes dropped down to her strawberry colored lips and the realization that they were only inches away from his own electrified him. He dipped his head downward as she released a small sigh. Their foreheads touched. Closer, moving closer and then…he stopped.

Warning bells rang out in his mind. The bet. If he kissed her, she would think he did it just to win the bet. And he didn’t want that. Liz was too…too what? Important to him? Confusion assailed him. He had been on speaking, well, close to it, terms with her for less than a week and she was already important to him? She always has been, a tiny voice whispered. He chose to ignore it. But what about the deal with Kyle? He wanted to win that bet. But…he glanced at Liz’s eyes and saw that they were beginning to focus. And fill with annoyance, frustration and hysteria. She pulled away from him, the same time shoving him out the window. Max just managed to bite back a gasp as he grabbed the window on either side of him but now he was half hanging out of a 1st story window. He could feel the draft.

“ Liz!” He hissed.

“ Liz?” Nancy Parker called again. “ Are you alright in there?”

“ Yeah mom! Just give me a couple more minutes.” She turned her attention to him. “ Get out.”

“ What? Are you crazy? I’ll break my neck!”

“ That wouldn’t be a bad idea.” She bit back softly. Then she rolled her eyes. “ Damn it, Evans, I have a balcony okay? It’s right there.”

He glanced over his shoulder and saw…solid concrete less than a feet away from where his butt was hanging.

“ Lizzie? Can I come in?” Another knock. Both Max and Liz saw the knob beginning to turn slowly. Liz whirled around and shoved him fully out the window before he could react. He landed hard on his behind and Liz leaned out, tossing the sandals next to him and whispering menacingly,

“ Any noise whatsoever…”

Max grinned up at her, despite the pain his posterior was currently undergoing.

“ Understood. But y’know all this would be wasted…” He trailed off, enjoying the show of emotions on her face. “ Cause my shirt’s still in there.”

Liz uttered a garbled squeak. Then she withdrew her head and ran wildly to the spot where Max’s shirt had been discarded, grabbing her robe on the way. The door was now a few inches open. A few more and it would be big enough for her mother to stick her head in and promptly shriek at her daughter who was running around in a bathing suit, handing a guy’s shirt out the window. Yeah. Like that’s really a scene she’d like to see. Quickly, she tossed his shirt out the window and he caught it with one hand. She leaned out again as she shrugged her robe on.

“ One peep…” She trailed off. “ There’s a ladder at one end. Go down that way and Evans, I swear if anyone sees you,”

“ Liz?”

Liz spun away from the window and tied the sash around her waist, arranging a good-morning-it’s-a-lovely-day-isn’t-it smile on her face. She realized her mom wouldn’t buy that so she let her features show how she really felt.

Like hell.

The door swung open and Nancy at her daughter in puzzlement.

“ I thought you were getting dressed,”

From the other side of the wall, where he was putting on his shirt, Max grinned wondering what kind of excuse Liz would cook up.

Liz cast her mind about frantically. Think, girl, think!

“ Um, I was mom. I mean, I am.”

Nancy raised an eyebrow. “ Honey, you’re in a robe.”

“ Right. Yes. Well, I am dressed. I mean, I’m more dressed than I was a minute ago.” Seeing the bewilderment spreading over her mother’s face, Liz huffed inwardly and bit the bullet. Great. I just had to do this when Evans is outside my window.

“ I was sleeping nude, mom.”

Outside, Max muffled a snort of incredulous laughter. Oh man. What he’d give to see Nancy’s face right now.

Oh boy. This was classic. Liz wished she had a camera.

“ You...you’re WHAT?”

Liz forced a small smile onto her face and she shrugged.

“ Sleeping nude, mom. You should try it. It’s very freeing.”

Max smirked. Damn, she was good.

Her mother blinked several times, opened and closed her mouth, finally shaking her head.

“ I’m…I’m sure it is, sweetie. But…your room is really a bit exposed and…and with Alex coming to stay-”

“ Oh, thanks for reminding me, mom,” Liz interrupted. She refused to get lectured for something she didn’t do, especially with Max Evans in attendance. “ How long is he staying for?”

“ Um, well, it’s not exactly set in stone yet. But it’s looking more and more like an indefinite stay. Now, darling about your new…thing, I-”

Liz held up a hand.

“ Mom, I was just trying it out. It’s not going to be a regular thing or anything like that.”

“ Oh. Okay. That’s good.”

“ Okay.”

Liz cleared her throat. “ Um, was there something you wanted mom?”

“ Oh, yes. I just wanted to know if you wanted to come along to the airport with me?”

Liz could feel her stomach turn slightly at the thought of a long trip to Albuquerque. Normally, she would have jumped at the idea but not now, not today. Not when she felt like she would throw up at any moment.

“ No, thanks. I thought I would stay and get Alex’s room ready.”

Nancy looked at her daughter carefully. “ You sure? You don’t look so good Liz. How are you feeling?”

Great, Liz. She forced what she hoped was a perky look onto her face.

“ Yeah, I’m sure. And I feel fine. The party just ran on a little late last night.”

At the mention of the party, the worried look on her mother’s face disappeared and was replaced by a wide smile.

“ Oh yes! The party! Tell me all about it.”

Nice subject change, Liz. God. What was wrong with her?

“ You know what mom? I’d love to. But right now I really want to shower. How about I tell you over breakfast?”

Nancy’s face took on a guilty quality. “ I don’t think I can, Liz. I only have time for a really, really, quick breakfast and then I have to go to the office. I’ve been putting off some really important stuff lately because of D-some stuff and I really need to get it done. I was hoping that we’d be able to talk during the drive to the airport.”

Liz shrugged. She didn’t want her mother to feel guilty over having a life. Although she couldn’t help but think that her mother had never put off any important things because of her. She shook away the thought immediately.

Stop it. You’re acting like a child.

She smiled.

“ No problem, mom. We’ll just talk when you and Alex get home. I’ll tell both of you all about it.”

“ Sounds great hon. Breakfast’s ready. I’ll see you in the evening! Love you!”

Liz breathed a sigh of relief once her mother had exited. Hurrying to the door, she locked it then rushed back to the window.

Max was gone.

Liz braced both her palms on the windowsill and inhaled a lungful of fresh air. So lady luck finally decided to step in. Alleluia. A small flash of white caught her eye. What was that? Leaning out, she reached for it and realized it was a scrap of paper on which a note had been hastily scrawled.

Liz,

Nice save. Loved the excuse, by the way.


She closed her eyes. Ugh. What a perfect way to start the day. Max Evans hearing you claim that you sleep nude. All you need now is a bowl of whole bran flakes and you can take on the world. Opened her eyes. Saw more words.

A question of out of curiosity though. How do you plan on giving out details of a party you don’t even remember? Just a thought. Have a nice day.

Max.


Liz crumpled up the note. Okay, so she was wrong. Lady Luck hadn’t landed after all. Groaning, she withdrew her head and collapsed back onto her bed.

So what else was new?

TBC…


Chapter 12 B

“ Max. Max! Max! Max, wake up! WAKE…UP!”

The last two words were punctuated with the loud sounds of someone being whacked by a pillow…hard.

Groaning, Max emerged from under his blankets.

“ What? What IS it?”

Opening rather bleary eyes, he glared up at whoever had disturbed his slumber. And promptly fell out of bed with a yell.

“ Jesus Christ!”

Standing above him, hands on her hips, green avocado mask in place, hair set in giant rollers and glaring threateningly was the once again pajama clad Isabel.

Or at least he thought it was her. Could be an oversized goblin, he thought fuzzily. Or a really bad dream.

As he continued to stare up at her from his place on the floor, her scowling image faded and he was instantly transported back a few hours and a night. Liquid chocolate eyes beckoned to him as a figure too beautiful to be real danced gracefully under the moonlight with the background of a shimmering pool behind her. His eyes went all unfocused and Isabel frowned, leaning downwards.

“ MAX!” she shrieked. Max cringed and the image disappeared like fog when the sun rises. He stared up at the green-faced Isabel.

“ God, Isabel, what is it?”

“ What is it? That’s all you have to say? What is it? After I spend the better part of the morning diverging mom from your EMPTY bedroom when I could have been in bed, you should be on your hands and knees thank me right now,”

Max grumbled and sat up on the floor.

“ Will this do?”

Isabel crossed her arms over her chest and peered down at him disapprovingly.

“ Speaking of which, where did you go? ”

“ You noticed?” Max yawned, struggling to get onto his bed. “ The way you were beyond smashed last night, I’m impressed you noticed anything,” He reminded her.

From what little he could see of Isabel’s real skin, she turned red and seemed to lose some of her earlier huffiness.

“ Hmpf.” She settled down on his bed. “ I hope you know that I had no idea that the punch was spiked. Otherwise-”

“ Are you explaining yourself to me, Izzy?” Max asked, eyebrows raised in surprise. “ Wow. That must have been strong stuff.”

Pursing her lips, Isabel punched him on the arm.

“ Not funny.”

Max rolled his eyes. He sought out his clock and it told him that the time was now eleven forty five in the morning. He groaned and flopped backwards onto his bed, closing his eyes and wishing Isabel would just leave and let him go to sleep till one at the very least. After leaving Liz a note on her balcony, he had managed to climb down her ladder and make his way to the front of the house without detection. And with an exceptionally welcome stroke of luck, halfway down Liz’s block, a cab passed by thereby guaranteeing him a quick way home. He instructed the cab driver to let him out two houses before his so his parents wouldn’t hear and quickly gotten into his room by way of window. After that, he had immediately collapsed into bed and slept.

“ Spare me the lecture. You know it doesn’t work on me,” Max flipped over onto his side, facing away from Isabel. “I need more sleep. Go away,”

“ You’ve had enough sleep. Besides, mom wants you to get your lazy ⊕ss out of bed AND I want to talk to you.”

He covered his head with a pillow and burrowed deeper into his blankets.

“ Go away, Iz.” He repeated. “ You’re really starting to annoy me,”

“ Like you’re such a great big bundle of joy, Max.” Isabel snapped back.

Max groaned again and removed the pillow covering his face, glaring at his sister.

“ What do you WANT?”

“ To talk.” She smiled sweetly and Max immediately narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “I mean, it’s been so long since we had a heart to heart with each other-”

“ Aw, man…Isabel, I’m not going to tell mom and dad about the ticket all right? Not now anyway. So can you drop it?”

Isabel waved a well-manicured hand in the air impatiently. “ I wasn’t talking about that!” She narrowed her eyes at her brother. “And you do you mean ‘not now anyway’?”

Max shook his head.“ If you’re not talking about your little mistake, what are you talking about then?”

“ The party, Max. I wanted to talk to you about the party.”

An immediate change came over her brother. The half irritated, half exasperated look disappeared and was replaced by the completely distant, absentminded look from earlier and a nostalgic smile.

“ The party?”

“ Yes, the party. You know…people getting drunk… Michael and Maria making out…”

“ You and Maria and Liz putting on a show for everyone else,” Max chipped in, snapping out of his reminiscing with a slight frown.

Isabel flushed. “ Give me a break, Max.” She examined her nail polish. “ Besides, all that cheering must’ve meant that people enjoyed it so it must’ve been good.”

Max’s frown deepened.

“ I don’t know if this has occurred to you yet, Izzy, but older brothers aren’t usually happy when their younger sisters put on a show for a large crowd of people dressed only in a swimming costume. Just so you know.”

“ Max, I don’t know if this has occurred to you but does the word ‘twin’ ring a bell? Yes, that’s right. I’m your TWIN. As in, we’re the same age. I really do not see where all this older brother stuff is coming from.”

“ It comes from the fact that I’ve been on this earth for three minutes longer than you. So technically, I am your older brother.”

“ Three minutes, Max. Three MINUTES, not three YEARS.”

Max groaned and covered his face with his hands.

“ When do we get to the ‘heart to heart’ part? This isn’t it, is it?”

“ Of course it’s not!” Isabel retorted. “ We’re getting there, you just distracted me. And in any case, you’re forgetting something. Don’t you remember? I seem to recall SOME people re-defining the term ‘dancing’…”

At this, she cast a meaningful look at her brother and Max grinned, that glazed look claiming his face once again.

“ Oh yeah…” Max breathed. He was so obviously not there.

Isabel shook her head remembering the sight of Max and Liz center stage, totally oblivious to the gaping people around them, dancing (if you could call it that) like there was no tomorrow. Every move perfectly in sync with each other though how they even managed to move was a mystery to her because they were so very close to each other.

She shuddered slightly. “ And just for the record, sisters don’t usually like it when they see their brothers’ trying to imitate dirty dancing and succeeding.”

“ Uh huh.”

Still not there. Isabel rolled her eyes and continued recapping the night’s events, as well as she could remember them.

“ Where was I? Oh yeah. Someone setting the curtains on fire- I think it was one of Kyle’s friends- Brenda having a nervous breakdown because of it… And of course, the highlight of the evening, Tess being shoved into the pool!” Isabel smiled broadly. She hadn’t been so out of it that she couldn’t appreciate the sight of Tess sputtering in the pool, outraged beyond belief and looking like the frog she was.

Max laughed. “ Now I remember that,”

“ Who wouldn’t?” Isabel closed her eyes, happily immersed in the less than perfect picture Tess made and feeling extreme gratitude to the person who had brought it about. She opened her eyes to find Max back to being in La-La land. He seemed receptive and Isabel figured that this was as good a time as any to talk to him about something that was still completely alien to her. Find out of her ‘big’ brother could tell her about how it felt to be falling for someone.

Yes, that’s right.

Max Evans was falling.

And not just any regular kind of falling. It was different, different from how he usually allowed a girl to catch his attention. Maria had noticed. Michael had noticed. Tess had definitely noticed. And within the space of three days and a night Isabel had noticed it too. Of course with the way he acted around Liz it was pretty hard to believe the whole world didn’t notice it.

So unless Max was changing his hard worked on public image and MO to join a monastery, she stood by her claim.

He was falling.

Now just how hard and fast remains to be seen.

And she, Isabel Evans, glamour girl, newly appointed as one of WRH’s most eligible hotties wanted to know what it felt like. She knew all the details about what being totally, wholly, passionately in love from Maria who always, ALWAYS got that same dreamy look that was occupying Max’s eyes at the moment when talking about Michael. During the summer holidays over the years, Maria had spilled every glorious, fun, sweet, annoying, frustrating and even heartbreaking feeling that she had felt over the three years of being with Michael. And Michael, well, she didn’t need to have in depth talks and to hold slumber parties with him to see just how much he loved Maria. It was in the eyes. You could see it in his eyes, every time he looked at her, every time he saw her. So she had that part covered. But the falling part, the falling part was something that she had never really gotten around to asking. Maybe it was because she wasn’t around to see Michael and Maria fall for each other. Maybe it was because she didn’t want to seem obsessed with them. Or maybe she didn’t want to sound too pathetic. Cause she had never been in love, never even come close to falling for anyone. It was for this reason that she wanted details from Maria, this reason was why she was going to ask Max in a few seconds time what it felt like to be falling. So that if and when it finally happened to her, she wouldn’t miss a single second of it.

“ Max?”

“ Hmm?”

“ What does it feel like?”

No answer. Infuriated, Isabel tore her gaze from Max’s carpet long enough to smack him lightly on the arm, bringing his attention, or at least half of it, to her.

“ What does what feel like?” He asked.

“ Falling for someone.”

The slightly clouded look in his eyes disappeared and he sat bolt upright, jostling the bed violently. He stared hard at her, his mouth agape.

“ What?”

Isabel raised an eyebrow.

“ Falling for someone. What does it feel like?”

“ I-I… I wouldn’t know. I’m…I’m not falling for anyone. I’m not falling for her.”

Isabel’s frowned lightly. Had she mentioned a specific ‘her’? No, she hadn’t. Yet it seemed like Max had immediately latched onto whomever it was that was responsible for making him absentminded all morning. And it wasn’t a hard job to guess who that person was.

Max shook his head vehemently and looked away. “ I am not falling for her.” He repeated.

The last sentence seemed more like it was directed at himself than her at that moment. Isabel stared with wide eyes at her twin. Ten thousand emotions were flashing across his face, more than she had ever seen displayed. Denial, uncertainty, confusion, panic…

“ Max,” She began.

“ I’m not,”

Isabel’s eyes widened even more when her gaze settled on her very agitated brother’s hands. He was…strangling his sheets, for lack of a better word. Just when Isabel was considering snatching away the poor blanket, Max moved his gaze away from the wall in front of him and onto his bedside table. The expression on his face cleared up instantly and was replaced by a soft smile and that same ‘look’. Isabel followed his gaze and saw what had made him divert from an obvious melt down. It was yet another old photograph of him and Liz, though not as old as the previous one. This time, they both looked to be thirteen or so and were standing back-to-back, leaning against each other. Both of them had their heads slightly turned away from the camera and were grinning at each other over their shoulders. Max was zoning out again. She blinked and then allowed her jaw to drop too.

“ Oh. My. God.”

Max’s gaze snapped up to meet her shocked one.

“ What?”

“ I missed it, didn’t I? I missed the falling part!” She crossed her arms over her chest and stared reproachfully at Max. “ When? When did it happen? And why didn’t you tell me? I don’t believe this! My two best friends here are totally crazy head over heels for each other, and my brother, the player, the one who I always thought would be the last person in the world to fall in love has jumped onto that bandwagon too!”

Max was shaking his head, and scooting further and further away from Isabel with every word that spilled out of her mouth. When he could back away no longer (as he was already pressed up against the wall), he stood and began to pace.

“ What are you talking about?” He ran a slightly shaking hand through his hair. “ I am not falling for anyone. I have never fallen for anyone and I’m not about to start now. And…and falling in love is the last thing I want to do. It’s the LAST thing I’m gonna do!” He paced up and down and then stopped in front of Isabel. “ Come on, Isabel, do you actually think I’d fall for Liz? Liz is so…she’s too…I can’t…I mean, she’s…Liz, for crying out loud. And she…she hates me…and I don’t care that she hates me…okay, I do but she’d never…she’s too…She’s…” He continued to sputter and finally lapsed into silence. After several minutes, he made eye contact with his sister to see her wearing the same stunned expression. He groaned and flopped backwards onto his bed yet again, covering his face his pillow.

“ She’s so totally out of my league,” He admitted, is voice coming out muffled.

Isabel stared at him, at a loss for words. She cleared her throat, an amused expression breaking out over her face.

“ Um, Max, I didn’t mention Liz’s name.”

Silence.

“ You did,” Max said.

Isabel shook her head, a smirk playing around her mouth.

“ I didn’t,”

He pulled the pillow off his head and looked up at her, a puzzled frown creasing his forehead.

“ You did,” he insisted. “ You were talking about Tess being pushed into the pool and then you started going on about how I was falling for Liz, and I’m NOT…” He trailed off and Isabel smirked even more widely. Max felt his cheeks begin to burn. She was right. She hadn’t even mentioned Liz; HE had been the one to bring her up…

Another groan.

“ What’s happening to me?” He asked directing the question at no one in particular.

Isabel’s amusement completely overshadowed her little flash of irritation at herself at not noticing Max’s fall. She laughed and crossed her arms over her chest.

“ You’re in love,”

Max glared at her.

“ I am not.”

Isabel snorted.

“ Right. Whatever you say Max. By the way, how is Liz?”

“ She’s fine,” Max said shortly. “ Why?”

“ Just wondering. I mean, if I was smashed then Liz was super smashed. Besides, I got the feeling that that was the first time she got drunk. She held it very well for a newbie.”

Max stared at her. “ You sound like you’ve done this kind of thing a lot,”

Isabel smiled mischievously. “ Being away from mom and dad does have a few advantages you know,” she confided. “ But don’t worry, brother dear, I promise that this only my,” Isabel paused and thought hard for a minute, “ third time. And it was completely accidental so it doesn’t even count. I’m not about to turn alcoholic on you. It’s really crass and doesn’t do much for your place in society at large. Really bad for your organs too and don’t even get me started on what it does to your skin.”

Max was still staring at his twin incredulously, as if she had just admitted to him that she watched the teletubbies religiously and knew the theme song by heart.

“ Isabel,” He began sternly but Isabel waved him off.

“ Max, relax. God, you sound just like dad. It’s not a habit of mine, okay? And those other times I drank were at debut parties. Strictly champagne,”

“ Oh, that’s comforting.” Max said sarcastically. “ Iz, I want you to swear-”

“ Max, chill. You’re over reacting!”

“ This is really nothing compared to what mom and dad will be like if you decide to drink any more, Iz, champagne or not. I mean it. Trust me on this, I’m talking from experience here.”

“ What? You? You didn’t tell me…what did they do?” Isabel asked eagerly.

“ You don’t want to know,” Max replied in all seriousness. “ I’m not particularly proud of it so I don’t go around talking about it. Swear, Iz.”

“ Honestly, I-”

“ Swear.”

“ Okay, okay. Fine. I swear. I will not touch any alcoholic substances while I am under this roof.” Seeing that Max looked satisfied Isabel rolled her eyes. “ But I wasn’t going to anyway. Like I said, that stuff murders your skin, totally dehydrates it. Keep it up and you’ll end up with” She shuddered. “ Wrinkles by the time you’re twenty five.”

“ And we can’t have that, now can we?” Max teased lightly. He rubbed his hand over his face and then, feeling that he had guaranteed Isabel’s word, as casually as possible, he changed topics. “ Um, so… from a female perspective…how bad was your first hangover?”

“ Pretty bad.” Isabel answered flippantly, pretending she hadn’t noticed his abrupt change of topic. “ Champagne isn’t as strong as the stuff from last night, so it ought to be hell. Michael gave Maria and me something last night, said not to ask what was in it… It helped a lot. Do you know what it was?”

Max nodded. “ Yeah. Something Hank taught him how to make to snap him to soberness in a hurry. And you really shouldn’t ask what was inside it. You don’t want to know. Did you check in with mom and dad?”

Isabel wrinkled her nose. “ I think so.” Seeing Max’s questioning stare, she began to elaborate. “ Well, Michael spoke to them and he made me say something, I think I said goodnight and then he made up some story for you. Then he cooked up his miracle cure and after he made sure I was in bed, he took Maria home.”

“ Great.” A deep breath. “ I think I need to check on Liz.”

Isabel looked at him, eyebrows once again raised. “ You just left her a few hours ago. You said she was fine.”

“ I know. She was. But,” He avoided Isabel’s knowing grin by pretending to be thoroughly absorbed in smoothing out his wrinkled sheets. “ She always says she’s fine, even if she feels like crap.”

“ Uh huh. Sounds like you’re turning into a resident Liz expert.”

“ I ought to know. She’s always been that way.” Frowning, Max cleared his throat. “ I mean she always WAS that way.”

“ Maybe you SHOULD check on her. First time hangovers can be hell and with the amount of punch she drank…” Isabel trailed off, enjoying the extremely worried look spreading over her brother’s face. He shrugged and tried to don a cloak of nonchalance.

“ You think so?”

“ Yeah. She could be violently sick now as we speak.”

Max’s eyes widened.

“ She could?”

Isabel nodded sagely. “ She could. I told you first time hangovers are doozies. How was yours?”

He simply stared at her. Isabel sounded like she was talking about the weather and he was slowly going out of his mind with anxiety. He ignored her question.

“ When you say sick, you mean-”

“ Headaches, dizzy spells, a whole lot of throwing up…” Isabel let the sentence dangle, deliberately exaggerating the effects. Her words hit the mark.

Max closed his eyes. And in the next moment he had jumped up and began rooting through piles of laundry on the floor. Isabel stifled yet another laugh and stared at him.

“ Um, Max, what are you doing?”

“ Looking for a clean pair of jeans,” Max answered promptly from under a mound of clothes.

“ Why?”

“ I’m going out.”

He emerged from the floor with a semi-clean pair clutched in his hand and he hopped around the room, trying to pull them on while looking for a clean shirt or at least one that wasn’t so wrinkled to wear over his T-shirt. He grabbed a black V-neck sweater from the foot of his bed and held it up to Isabel.

“ Think this will do?” And not waiting for her to answer, he began to pull it on. And again, Isabel stared.

“ Max, are you telling me you want to go to Liz’s house looking like that?

Max stopped in mid-stride as he was already going to the window.

“ I’m-I’m not…” He began weakly.

Isabel rolled her eyes. “Just who do you think you’re kidding? Max, no. No. I won’t let you. You’ve just rolled out of bed and you want to go hurrying over to her house? You haven’t even showered for God’s sake! Look at your hair! No. You’ll give the whole family a bad name,”

Max shook his head in annoyance, gesturing at Isabel’s giant rollers and green face.

“ You’re doing a pretty good job of it yourself.”

Isabel stood and placed a hand on her hip. “ I’m not going out of the house am I?” She demanded, exasperation coloring her voice. Seeing the stubborn look on her twin’s face, Isabel sighed. “ Why don’t you at least call her before you go running off? I mean, what if she’s not even home?”

“ You’re right,” Max said. He leapt toward the cordless phone and picked up from it’s cradle, dropping it back down a moment later. He looked up at Isabel. “ I just remembered. I don’t know her number.”

Isabel groaned. “ You’re hopeless.”

Max frowned, thinking hard. Then he smiled and snapped his fingers. “ Wait! I just remembered…”

“ You have her number after all?” Isabel supplied with a smirk.

“ I think I do.”

“ You think you do?” She sat back down and watched as Max snatched up and began searching a pair of discarded surfing shorts, mumbling to himself. He let out a loud, victorious whoop a few minutes later and held up a scrap of paper in triumph.

“ YES! I have it!”

Isabel chuckled, not used to seeing her usually stoic brother so excited.

“ Well alleluia! What’re you waiting for? Call her,”

“ I will.” Two strides and he was by the phone once again, handset to his ear and punching in the number. It began to ring. He grinned and then his eyes fell on Isabel and he once again dropped the phone back onto it’s cradle.

Isabel gaped at him.

“ What’s wrong?”

“ I can’t.”

“ Why not?”

“ What am I going to say?”

Staring at the totally lost look on his face, Isabel began to laugh.

“ Max Evans not knowing what to say to a girl. I wouldn’t have believed it possible.” She fixed him a challenging sta