posted on 10-Mar-2002 11:24:38 PM by mockingbird39
Innocent05
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Title: Innocent

Author: Mockingbird39

Rating: PG-13

Category: Max/Liz Future Fic

Timeline: Post-Chant Down Babylon

Summary: It’s been ten years since Liz Parker brought Max Evans back from the dead, evening the score between them. But now Max needs one more favor.


Prologue—St. Petersburg, Russia, November 2012

~Liz~

I’ve always loved St. Petersburg. From the first time I walked down Nevskii Prospekt, I felt like I could be a new person here. A person who wasn’t bogged down by guilt and regret and memories. Someone who didn’t cry at night and dream about things that would never be. I came here two years ago, fresh from eighteen months in Christian Dior’s New York offices, clutching my passport, my Russian phrasebook, and my Harvard law degree—so new it hadn’t even had time to get dusty on Fifth Avenue. My boss in New York had apologized profusely when she asked me to take the placement in Russia. The company had authorized her to offer all sorts of bonuses in addition to the relocation bonus, the one year of free housing, the personal expense account, and the hardship pay in case I resisted, but she barely had to start in on them. I was more than ready to go somewhere new. I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d be doing in St. Petersburg, only that the contracts department there was a mess and desperately needed some new blood. Three months after the first meeting with my boss, I left the United States. I haven’t been back since.

St. Petersburg is an relatively young city that was once the most Western in Russia. Now it is old, gracious, and considered quaint in comparison to the glittering new regime in Moscow. I’ve visited Moscow several times, and it is an amazing place. I always feel energized there. But I am always glad to return to Petersburg, with its gentle colors and faded elegance. I live in the Fontanka district, in an apartment that is actually part of an eighteenth century palace. It has parquet floors and a marble fireplace and is reached by a wide, curving staircase that I never descend without feeling like a princess. My office is close by on Nevskii Prospekt, not far from the magnificent Church of the Spilled Blood, within walking distance of the Winter Palace complex. My favorite French restaurant is close enough to visit during my lunch hour, as is the famed Pushkin Café, from which the poet left on his way to his last, fateful duel. Once a month, a group of expatriate (“expat”) women meet there for breakfast. We’ve formed close friendships there, and together with out male counterparts, we form a tight group.

I have a good life here. I’m successful, challenged, and happy. It’s not what I imagined for myself back in high school, but it’s still good. My past in Roswell, New Mexico, is not something I care to think about very often. So when I walked home one evening in late November and found Michael Guerin sitting outside my front door, I was shaken. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t give Michael a very nice welcome, considering that he had come halfway around the world to talk to me.

I remember he was sitting in the front lobby, talking to the doorman when I stepped into my building that evening. It was already dark out—Petersburg nights come early in winter—and a light snow was falling. The lobby was warm, and I quickly pulled off my hat before the snow on it had a chance to melt and soak my hair. I called a greeting to the doorman and was almost to the staircase before I heard him.

“Liz.”

Liz. No one in Petersburg calls me Liz. I turned slowly and found Michael there, holding a backpack and a parka. His hair was long and messy, his jeans and sweater rumpled. I found myself thinking how very American he looked.

“Michael,” I said, dumbfounded. “What are you doing here?”

He shrugged. “I came to see you.”

I was at a loss. The only person apart from my parent that I’d kept in touch with from Roswell was Maria. “Uh. . .it’s great to see you,” I told him, then I had a terrible thought. “Is something—has something happened to—?” I couldn’t finish.

Michael shook his head. “No, nothing like that.” He gave me a brief, awkward hug. “You look good, Liz.”

“Thanks,” I said, searching his face. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what Michael was doing in Petersburg—unless it had to do with Max. And if there was anything I’d worked hard to avoid, it was the thought, mention, and memory of Max Evans.

Maybe I’d better explain.


Part OneVermont, March 2002

“I can’t believe I’ve got to stay here.”

Max and I were standing near the gates of the school. It was three days after I’d woken up with the conviction that my soul mate was dead, one day after Clayton Taggart had come to Vermont to kill me and rid himself of Max’s presence, twelve hours after we’d taken a swan dive out a fifth story window into the gardener’s shed, and about nine hours after I’d finally become secure enough in the knowledge that Max was alive to let myself sleep. We’d slept in each other’s arms that night, neither of us willing to be apart. The next morning I’d gone to the dean’s office to withdraw from school, intending to go home to Roswell that day. But it wasn’t that easy. I’d need a parent’s permission to leave Vermont, and neither of my parents were inclined to give it. I begged and pleaded and cajoled my father for almost an hour (without telling him the actual truth, of course), and he finally agreed to let me come home, but only after I’d thought about it for two weeks. I guess he thought I was just homesick and would get over it. I couldn’t blame him; in his place I probably would have thought the same thing. But now I was about to be forced into saying goodbye to Max, less than a day after I’d finally gotten him back.

“It’s only for a little while,” Max soothed, placing his hands on my shoulders. He looked as loathe to do this as I felt, but he was resigned to it. I was not.

“It’s too long,” I protested. “I just got you back, Max. I can’t lose you yet.”

“Lose me?” he repeated, frowning. “Who said anything about losing me?” He kissed me gently, and I could feel the energy surge between us. “Let me tell you how this is going to go.” He took my hand and we began walking across the grounds. “We’re going to be apart for two weeks. I’ll call you every day—I promise. Then you’re going to get on a plane and come back to Roswell and I’m going to be waiting for you at the airport. We’re going to finish high school and then we’re going to go to college somewhere together.”

“Harvard?” I asked, though after that disastrous interview I wasn’t sure they’d even consider me.

“Where ever you want to go,” Max said, kissing my hand. “I’d follow you to Cambridge—I’d follow you to Calcutta, if that’s what you want.”

“What about Roswell?” I asked, looking down. “Don’t you have to stay there?”

“Liz, after what’s happened the past few days I’m wondering if it’s safe for any of us to stay in Roswell.” He squeezed my fingers. “Maybe trying to stay there was the wrong way to go to begin with.”

I could agree with that. Roswell may have been home, but at that moment I wasn’t sure I wanted Max or anyone I loved to stay in that town. It had been too dangerous for all of us. “So we’re leaving Roswell?” I asked.

“Only if it’s together.” He leaned down and kissed me again. “The next time either of us gets the urge to move across the country, we’re going to be sitting side by side on that plane.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

You should never make promises that depend on things you can’t control. I learned that from Max Evans, years ago. But I didn’t know that then, and I held that promise tight for weeks and months afterward. It comforted me in the night, and made me think everything would be okay again one day. I remember the girl who believed that promise, and sometimes I feel sorry for her. I wonder what she would have done on that late winter day in Vermont all those years ago if she could have known what was to come. I think maybe it was better that she didn’t know.


St. Petersburg, 2012

~Michael~

Maxwell would kill me if he knew I was here. I don’t know everything that happened between him and Liz all those years ago, but I understand why he did it. He wanted her to have a life that didn’t involve waiting for him and planning her dreams around something that might never have happened. If it had been me, I might have done the same thing. I like to think so, anyway. I’m not entirely sure I would have had the strength. But I’m not as noble as Maxwell is, and I think that ten years is enough penance for anyone to pay. So three weeks ago I decided to ask Liz for help, and I wasn’t going to ask Max’s permission. I would have come to St. Petersburg earlier, but it took me that long to find Liz. Everyone who might have been able to tell me where she lived had moved away long ago. Finally, I tracked down Maria. . .through a fan site on the Internet. Oh, yeah—Maria’s a singer now, in case you didn’t know. Big time record deal, huge place in L.A., and a tour schedule that makes her hell to track down. She was in Canyon City, Arizona when I found her. She pretended to be glad to see me, but there was no way she was giving up Liz’s address without a good reason. Finally I had to break down and tell her the truth. She waited two days, then called me with an address I couldn’t spell, much less pronounce. But I booked a flight anyway, and roamed St. Petersburg until I found someone who could tell me what the address meant.

From the looks of Liz’s building, she’s done all right for herself. It’s huge, old, and ornate, and it reeks of money. So does Liz, come to think of it. She walks like she’s used to people paying attention to her—like she expects the world to make way for her. And it apparently has.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, her eyes narrowing.

I glanced at the doorman, who spoke almost no English but was looking vastly interested in this, and decided I wasn’t going to lay out my problems before an entire building full of rich people. So I shrugged. “I came to see you.”

“Uh, it’s great to see you,” she stammered, and I could sense her thoughts whirling until they hit on something that made all the color drain from her face. “Is something—has something happened to—?”

She couldn’t finish, and suddenly the successful grown woman before me looked like the teenage girl who had come out of a fun house twelve years ago to tell us that Max had vanished into a government van. I couldn’t stand that look in her eyes, and I ended up hugging her. “No, nothing like that,” I assured her, then leaned back to study her as her heartbeat returned to a normal speed. It had been eleven years since I’d seen Liz Parker, but I’d have recognized her anywhere. Her hair was shorter—serious hair, I could imagine Maria saying—but it was just as dark and shiny as ever. Her eyes seemed larger than I remembered, but it might have been the fact that she’d lost weight over the past decade and her features were sharper, more defined. She was wearing a finely tailored coat made of black wool and trimmed in rich black fur, and a brown leather briefcase dangled from her black-gloved hand. She was still beautiful—astonishingly beautiful, and now she carried with her a bit of mystery. The kind of mystery that accompanies a broken heart.

“Liz, do you mind if we go upstairs?” I asked. “I’ve got some things I need to talk to you about.”

Something flickered across her face as I asked it, and it was only later that I realized it was fear. She swallowed hard. “Wouldn’t. . .wouldn’t you rather go to a restaurant or something?” she wanted to know.

I shook my head. “No. No, I’m really not hungry. I’ve been all over the city today looking for you. I just need to talk to you.”

“Right.” All the breath seemed taken out of her. “You. . .you must be tired. Upstairs, then.” She turned and led the way up a massive marble staircase.

Liz’s apartment was on the second floor, down a long hall lined with lush carpet and expensive wall paper. “It’s right down here,” she said, walking quickly in her heeled boots. She paused at the door, her hand on the knob. “Are you sure you don’t want to. . .um, go to a café or something?”

“No, this is fine,” I assured her. She seemed awfully nervous, considering I hadn’t told her anything yet.

“Okay.” She seemed to brace herself as she turned her key in the lock and opened the door. “Come in, then.”

The apartment was as fancy as the rest of the building. The floors were inlaid, the foyer paneled in dark wood. Liz called out to someone named Gruya, but the person who came into the foyer to greet her didn’t look like a Gruya. It was a tall man with dark hair and strong features, dressed in a business suit and expensive tie. Liz looked alarmed when she saw him.

“Thierry,” she said, quickly crossing to him. She stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. “I didn’t expect you tonight.”

“I thought I would surprise you,” he answered in a slight French accent. “I didn’t know you would have company.” I didn’t like the way he looked me over—like if I was competition, he wasn’t overly worried.

“It’s a night for surprises,” Liz said hurriedly. “Thierry, this is an old friend of mine, Michael Guerin. Michael, this is Thierry duPontiers. Michael is in Petersburg. . .on business.”

DuPontiers nodded and held out his hand. “My pleasure,” he said. “Elizabeth rarely talks about her home. Perhaps you can fill me in.”

“I don’t know how long I’m going to be here,” I said, shaking his hand briefly. He had a firm grip, but that didn’t make him any more likable.

He looked from me to Liz, then nodded almost imperceptibly. “Of course. Then perhaps I should be on my way.” He kissed Liz’s hand, then her cheek, and took an overcoat from a closet near the door.

“You don’t have to leave,” Liz murmured.

“Tomorrow, Elizabeth. I will return tomorrow. Tomorrow is the opera, yes?”

Liz nodded. “Yes, Yevgeny Onegin at the Mossugorskii.”

“Until tomorrow evening, then,” he said. “Let me just say good night to Sophie.” He turned to the living room and called out, “Sophie, come say good night, cherie!”

Sophie? I couldn’t imagine who Sophie could be until I heard clattering footsteps from the living room and a shrill voice calling in return. “Thierry, where are you going? I thought you were going to stay and finish the movie!”

I looked over at Liz, whose face was white, and then to the door. A child stood there, a little girl. My first thought was that she seemed a miniature of Liz—dark hair, high cheekbones, slender frame that would one day be just voluptuous enough to haunt a man’s dreams. Then I noticed her eyes. They were a deep amber, flecked with gold that glimmered in the flickering light from the foyer chandelier. I knew those eyes. I had known them in two lifetimes. They were Max’s eyes.

The little girl looked at the three of us standing in the foyer with unabashed childish curiosity, then walked straight to Liz. “Mommy!” she exclaimed happily, wrapping her arms around Liz’s waist. “You’re home.”


[ edited 73time(s), last at 18-Feb-2003 4:33:43 PM ]
posted on 11-Mar-2002 10:50:07 AM by mockingbird39
Part Two

~Liz~

Michael knew. The minute he looked at Sophie, I knew he would see what I see every day of my life. Sophie is nothing if not her father’s daughter. And her father, of course, is the only man I’ve ever loved. Max Evans.

Michael and I stood silently as Thierry and Sophie said their goodbyes. She kissed his cheek and he twirled her around, promising to bring her another book the next time he came. Sophie thrives in Thierry’s attention, and he gives it freely. He should have a house full of children to shower attention on, but this world is not always fair in what it bestows. Sophie should have a father who loves her without the hesitation that always comes in relationships that might end at any time. Even Thierry, who loves her dearly, has to keep a certain distance in their relationship because at any moment one of us could decide this is going nowhere and leave the other forever. No use getting attached to someone who might not always be there.

“Tomorrow evening, near the cloakroom?” Thierry asked me, and I was jolted out of my thoughts.

“Yes—better be early. Marcus likes to get settled before the orchestra warms up.” The next night we were taking a colleague of mine to the opera.

“Of course, ma cherie,” Thierry said. He gave me a brief kiss, nodded at Michael, and left the apartment. The moment the door shut, I wished he had stayed.

“Mommy, who’s that?”

I looked down to see Sophie’s eyes on Michael. He was still staring at her, dumbstruck. I smoothed my daughter’s hair with one hand, then shrugged out of my coat. “This is my friend Mr. Guerin,” I told her. I don’t know why I called him that. Maybe I was trying to distance myself and my daughter from him and what he represented.

But Michael wasn’t about to stand for that. He knelt in front of Sophie and held out his hand. “I’m Michael,” he said. “I knew your mommy a long time ago. What’s your name?”

“Sophie,” she answered solemnly, shaking his hand. “Are you from New Mexico?”

“Yes, I am. Where are you from?”

She shrugged, and it broke my heart. Sophie and I have moved around a lot in the past few years. For the first seven years of her life we lived in Boston while I attended college and law school, but then we moved to New York City when I got the job at Christian Dior. We were there less than two years before I packed her up and moved her to a country where we didn’t know a single person or even the language. She seems happy here, but I can’t help thinking what she’s missing. When I was her age, I was Liz Parker from Roswell, New Mexico. My daughter is Sophie Parker from. . .from where? God, she deserves better than that, I thought. I took a deep breath and cleared my throat. “Sophie, baby, is Gruya here? Thierry didn’t send her home, did he?”

She shook her head. “No. She’s in the kitchen making plushki.”

“I need to talk to Mr.—I mean Michael. Do you think you could go help Gruya? Ask her to make us some tea and bring it to the library.”

Sophie nodded again. “Will you read to me before bed?”

I smiled. Bedtime stories had been a ritual for the two of us since the day Sophie was born. “I promise.” I touched her cheek, praying her life and mine weren’t about to spin out of control.

“Fairy tales?” she persisted. “In Russian?”

“Your Russian is better than mine,” I said with a smile. “Why don’t you read them to me?”

“It’s better when you read,” she told me.

I bent and kissed the top of her head. “Okay, then. Run and help Gruya.” She ran for the kitchen, and I waited until she was out of earshot before I turned to Michael again.

His eyes were accusing. “Does Max know?” he demanded.

I shook my head, my throat tight. “No, Max doesn’t know. Are you going to tell him?”

Michael didn’t answer. “This is why you never came back to Roswell,” he said.

“This is one reason,” I answered honestly.

“I can’t believe this,” Michael said, shaking his head.

“I know it must be a shock,” I said, hanging up my coat. I reached for Michael’s bulky parka and hung it up, too. “I’m sorry you had to find out like that.”

“How could you do it, Liz?”

It wasn’t anger in his voice—that I was prepared for. I wasn’t braced for the sadness in Michael’s tone, or the disappointment in his eyes. In an instant I was taken back ten years and I was once again the frightened teenage girl I’d been the summer after I graduated from high school. I felt tears sting my eyes. “It wasn’t my choice, Michael,” I whispered. “It wasn’t my choice at all.”


Roswell, New Mexico, March 2002

~Michael~


Everything hit the fan about a week after Max came back from Vermont. Between Max coming back from the dead and Isabel recovering from that gunshot wound, we were all so relieved that we weren’t prepared for another crisis. Maybe that was our mistake—not paying enough attention. Or maybe it was something else, something that we should have fixed earlier. Or maybe it wasn’t our mistake at all. I’ve never quite been able to believe that last one.

Max was sitting on my front steps talking to Liz on a cell phone when we heard the news. He and Liz had talked several times a day ever since he’d come back from Vermont, and he was so happy that I couldn’t begrudge him the goofy smiles and murmured conversations that seemed to take up half his time. I remember it was a beautiful day and I was outside working on my bike when Maria drove up, tires screeching on the pavement. She jumped out of the car yelling.

“Aren’t you guys watching the news?” she demanded, heading up the walkway.

“Does it look like we’re watching the news?” I asked, shaking my head. I wiped my hands on a rag and tossed my ratchet back into my tool box. Max barely looked up from his phone call. That was no surprise; when he was talking to Liz, Max was in another world.

“Well, you should be,” Maria retorted, walking into my house and turning on the television. She found CNN quickly and pointed at the screen.

“—body of Hollywood producer Cal Langley has been found in his Hollywood mansion. Investigators estimate that Langley has been dead several days. The cause of death has not been determined.”

Oh, man. I went to the screen door and pushed it open. “Maxwell, you better get in here.” He looked up, clearly not happy that I’d interrupted his phone call.

“Michael, what’s the problem? I’m on the phone here.”

“I can see that, but this is important.” I held the door open and he reluctantly came inside, but did not get off the phone.

“Nothing, Liz,” I heard him say. “Just something on T.V.” He stood beside the sofa, watching half-heartedly, until a picture of Langley flashed on the screen. Then he straightened, his eyes glued to the television.

“Langley was best known for his highly successful action films,” the announcer continued. “There is no word on what will be the fate of his current film, a high-budget military thriller that is less than half complete.”

Max’s face had gone pale beneath his tan. “Liz, Langley’s dead,” he said in a stunned voice. He paused, then repeated, “Langley—the other protector. The one in L.A.”

“This is impossible,” Maria said, her voice shrill. “Langley shouldn’t have a dead body. He should be dust—just like Nacedo.”

Just like Max, I couldn’t help thinking, but I didn’t voice it. Instead I turned to Max. “What do we do now?” I asked.

Max was clutching the phone like some sort of lifeline. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know.”


~Liz~

I knew something was wrong that first day. It had been three days since Cal Langley’s body—or at least the body everyone assumed belonged to Cal Langley—was found, and the press was all over the story. They had canonized Langley in the time since his death, calling him a “visionary” who was “years ahead of his time.” Funny how they’d never realized that before he died.

Max had called me every day since we parted in Vermont. We talked for hours in those few days, telling each other anything that popped into our heads. Most days we talked more than once, calling back when we remembered something we couldn’t wait until the next day to share. But on that day he hadn’t called once. Finally, at seven that night, someone knocked on my door to tell me I had a phone call. Relieved, I went down the hall and picked up the receiver.

“Hello?”

“Liz? It’s Maria.”

My heart sank. “Oh, hi, Maria.”

“Liz,” she said slowly, “I’ve got some bad news.”

I gripped the phone so tightly my hand ached. “Tell me.”

“Max has been arrested for Cal Langley’s murder.”

The world started to spin, but I wasn’t going to faint. “That’s impossible. Max would never do anything like that.”

“I know—and we know it wasn’t even Langley they found. But the police have witnesses saying he and Max had big argument when Max was in L.A., and Isabel said Jesse told her they found Max’s fingerprints in the house.”

“Well, of course they did—he was in the house last fall,” I protested.

“No, recent ones. And they were all around the body.” Maria sounded on the verge of hysterics, but I felt strangely light, like I was watching someone else’s drama.

“That’s impossible. Max was here in Vermont with me, and then back in Roswell with all of you. He’s got an alibi.”

“Max can’t tell anyone he was in Vermont, Liz,” Maria said. “No one will believe him anyway—he’s got no plane ticket, nothing.”

“I’ll tell them,” I said. “And you will, too, right?”

“Of course I will, Liz, but that’s only our word against fingerprints and witnesses in L.A.” Maria sighed. “And I don’t know how much your word will be worth, considering the two of you held up a convenience store last summer.”

“We did not hold up—” I stopped, refusing to get into that argument again. “I’m coming home,” I told Maria. “I’m going to go pack and come home.”

“They’re taking Max to L.A.,” Maria said.

“When?” My hands had started to shake. Max was going to be in jail in L.A. My Max, in prison for something he didn’t do.

“I don’t know. Soon.”

“Okay. Then I’m coming home tomorrow. Will you pick me up at the airport?” My mind was already cataloging the things I’d have to do in order to get home as quickly as possible. Call the airline first, then a cab. . .

“Liz, what about your parents?”

Damn. There was no way they’d let me come home for this. In fact, they’d probably want the dean to set guards outside my door to make sure I didn’t come home. But I wasn’t going to let Max face this by himself. “I’ll tell them after I’ve seen Max,” I said. “Don’t tell anyone I’m coming—not even Michael and Isabel, okay?”

“Okay, but are you sure this is the best thing to do?” She sounded doubtful.

“Maria, I have to see him,” I said simply. It was all I could think of—that tug on my heart that wouldn’t be satisfied until I was in Max’s arms again.

“I understand.” Maria took a deep breath. “Call me with your flight information, okay?”

“I will. Thanks, Maria.” I hung up the phone and stood there leaning against the wall. My world had fallen apart again.

posted on 12-Mar-2002 9:49:23 AM by mockingbird39
b]Part 3—St. Petersburg, 2012

~Michael~


Liz’s library was full of pictures of her daughter. Max’s daughter. Every time I thought about it, I felt a little sick. Max had a child, a beautiful daughter who was a perfect mixture of him and Liz, and he didn’t even know it. Liz, the person he’d trusted above all others, had kept it from him for all these years.

Not even Tess had done that.

“Michael, I know how this must look,” Liz said, closing the door behind us. She crossed to a large desk and leaned on it, looking down at her expensive shoes.

I looked around at the room we were in. It was pretty big, and looked bigger because of the high ceilings. There were books everywhere, a central fireplace, and wide leather furniture. Pictures of Sophie were everywhere—on the mantel, on Liz’s desk, on the bookshelves. Sophie as an infant, dressed in pink ruffles. A few years later sitting on a pony. Sophie and Liz wearing balloon hats at some kind of street fair. Maria and Sophie hugging each other tightly in front of a Christmas tree, grins stretching across both their faces. That last one came as a surprise.

“Maria knows?” I asked, aware my voice sounded harsh.

Liz nodded. “Maria is Sophie’s godmother.”

Stupid question. Of course Maria knew. That was why she’d been so reluctant to give me Liz’s address. They were quite a pair, both of them protecting Sophie from Max and me. “Isabel?” I asked, thinking that it wasn’t completely impossible.

“No,” Liz said quietly.

“Kyle?”

“No.”

Without realizing it, I’d begun to pace the room, going from the fireplace to the desk and back again, over and over. “This would kill Max,” I muttered, and Liz flinched.

“Can you think of a way it wouldn’t have?” she snapped.

I stopped pacing. “This isn’t fair, Liz,” I said. “You can’t keep this from him. You have no right—”

“I am her mother,” Liz interrupted. “I have every right to protect my daughter.”

“From her own father?” I demanded.

“From her father, from the FBI and alien hit men that are always after him, from her half brother and his homicidal bitch of a mother—and from whatever else might hurt her,” Liz spat furiously. I had never seen her so angry. “If you’re going to stand here and question the way I parent my child, you can go right back to Roswell.”

“Max would never do anything to put her in danger,” I ground out, refusing to admit that much of what she said made a lot of sense.

“Being his daughter puts her in danger,” she corrected.

“Hiding her from him doesn’t make that threat go away,” I told her. “It might even make it worse. How are we supposed to protect her if—”

“Protect her?” Liz repeated. She slammed a fist down on the desk. “How the hell is Max supposed to protect her from prison?”



Roswell, 2002

~Liz~


I was at the jail by noon the day after Max’s arrest. I’d left school practically in the middle of the night, taken a plane to Dallas, slept in the airport while I waited for my connecting flight, and landed in Roswell at eleven the next morning. Maria picked me up, mercifully didn’t ask too many questions, and drove me straight to the county lock-up, where Max was being held awaiting an extradition hearing. There were reporters everywhere, and I wished I knew how to make my powers act on command. I’d have blasted the lot of them back to L.A. without a second thought. But as it was, I had to elbow my way through the crowd. I probably caused a few injuries, but I didn’t give a damn. I just wanted to get through.

Hanson noticed the commotion and was waiting for me at the door. “I can guess why you’re here,” he said grimly.

There was no use denying it. “I need to see Max.”

His eyes were sympathetic, but he didn’t move to let me in. “What do your parents say?” he wanted to know.

“Nothing yet,” I said honestly.

He thought for a second, then sighed. “Well, at least I’m not breaking any direct orders,” he murmured, then moved aside to let me pass.

Max was in a holding cell much like the one Alex and I had spent the night in after getting caught at the warehouse party. . .god, that was a lifetime ago. He was sitting on the cot, his head in his hands, when I ran down the corridor. Hanson trailed me by a few steps.

“Max!” I cried, still out of breath from my fight with the crowd of reporters. He was on his feet in an instant, reaching for me through the bars.

“Liz, how did you get here so fast?” he asked. “Are you okay?”

“I flew all night,” I babbled. “I had to get here before they moved you to L.A.” I was touching him—his face, his hands, his hair—trying to reassure myself that he was, for the time being, okay.

“Step back a little, Liz,” Hanson said, and I turned to protest, but he had his keys in his hand. He unlocked the cells and started to slide the bars back. “I’m gonna have to call your parents,” he said regretfully, “but you’ll have a little while before they can get here.”

“Please don’t call them,” I begged. “Not yet.”

He shook his head. “Liz, you know I have to.” But then he pushed the door open and I found myself in Max’s arms. He held me tightly, cradling me against his chest. I could hear his heart beating fast and I thought I’d never heard anything more beautiful.

“Are you okay?” I asked, my voice muffled against his chest.

“I’m fine,” he said, stroking my hair. “Liz, I had nothing to do with Langley’s death. That can’t be Langley anyway—”

“I know, Max,” I interrupted. “I know you’d never do anything like that.” I leaned back to look at him. “I know you’re innocent.”

He looked relieved. “They have fingerprints,” he said, shaking his head. “They even have witnesses saying that I’ve been to his house three times since last fall.”

“Max, they’re lying. Someone will have to come forward and tell the truth.” I don’t think he believed me, even then. But he wasn’t about to tell me that.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” he said, running his fingers through my hair. His eyes roamed over my face hungrily. “I thought you’d have to stay at school.”

I tried to smile. “Well, I didn’t actually ask permission,” I said. “I just got on a plane last night.”

His eyes got a little worried. “Liz, your parents are going to be furious.”

“I know.” I looked down. “But they wouldn’t have understood, and I couldn’t stand being so far away from you.”

“They’re going to take me to L.A.,” he said, troubled. “You can’t come there.”

“I will,” I insisted. “You need me. . .don’t you?”

“Of course I do,” he said quickly. “I need you so much. But I don’t want you to get in trouble—or put you in danger. If Langley set this up to frame me, he’s probably watching. And he isn’t shy about killing anyone who gets in his way.”

“Max, I’m not going to sit back and let you face this alone!” I protested. This wasn’t the first time he’d tried to shut me out when things got bad. But this time I wasn’t going to take it. “I’m going to be there for you—I’m not leaving.”

“Liz, I’m not alone,” he said. “I’ve got you, even if you’re here in Roswell, or in Vermont, or where ever you are.”

“But I need to be with you,” I said tearfully.

“We’ll be together, Liz,” he told me firmly. “The truth will come out and we’ll be together. I promise.” He bent his head and placed gentle kisses on my upper lip. “Just try and get rid of me then.”

“I love you,” I said desperately, closing my eyes.

“I know,” he whispered. “I love you, too.” He kissed me gently, and I felt the rest of the world slip away. For that moment, at least, it was enough.


St. Petersburg, 2012

I stared at Michael, anger making my heart pound. “Well?” I demanded. “Got any ideas?”

“Max isn’t the only one who would protect her,” Michael said, his voice low. “Do you think any one of us wouldn’t give our lives to save her if it came to that?”

“It isn’t going to come to that,” I told him. “Sophie is fine here—she’s safe.”

“What if one day she isn’t?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but at that moment there was a light tap on the door and my housekeeper, Gruya, entered. She carried a tray loaded with tea things and a plate of fresh-baked plushki. Sophie was behind her, carrying a plate of bread and cheese. She cast a sheepish glance in my direction and I knew she had talked Gruya into letting her help so that she could get another look at Michael. I couldn’t blame her for her curiosity; to Sophie, it must have sometimes seemed like I had no past.

“Put it there, Gruya,” I said in Russian, and the older woman looked at me in surprise. She speaks some English, and usually when we have foreign guests I make an effort not to speak Russian and leave them feeling isolated. “You, too, Sophie.”

Sophie seemed intrigued. “Where, Mama?” she asked in Russian, dragging it out. “Here on the table?”

I sighed. “That’s fine,” I told her. She walked the long way around the couches, eyeing Michael the whole time, and set the plate down on the coffee table with great care. My daughter, the drama queen. She learned that from Maria, I’m sure.

“Aren’t you hungry?” Michael asked her, and she hesitated a moment before switching to English.

“I already had my dinner,” she said shyly.

“Are you sure you don’t want. . .one of those?” Michael asked, pointing to the steaming plate of plushki. “I bet they’re good—what are they? Some kind of donut?”

Sophie laughed. “No, they’re plushki. They have meat and cabbage inside.”

“Meat and cabbage?” Michael repeated, frowning. “Yeah, that doesn’t sound like it would make a good donut.”

“They’re really good,” Sophie assured him. “Try one.”

“I think I will,” he said with a smile.

Watching the two of them together took a lot of the wind out of my sails. Michael looked positively enthralled with her, and I reminded myself that he probably thought of her as something like his niece. He and Max had been like brothers—probably still were. By keeping Sophie from Max, I’d also kept her from Michael, and he was clearly feeling that betrayal acutely. My guilt flared even higher when I realized that, aside from Max and Isabel, Sophie was probably the only person in the world he would consider to be family. I let them talk for a few minutes while Gruya bustled about, setting up the tea things, then I put my hand on Sophie’s hair.

“Is your homework finished, Sophie?” I asked her.

She wrinkled her nose. “Almost. I only have to finish my spelling words.”

“I think you better go finish, then,” I told her gently. “Then pack your bag and make sure everything is ready for school in the morning.”

Reluctantly, she headed for the door. “Okay,” she said, then turned to Michael. “G’night.”

“Good night, Sophie,” Michael called after her. “It was nice to meet you.”

When she was gone, Michael and I stared at each other for a long time.

“She’s beautiful,” he said finally.

I smiled. “Yes, she is.”

He shook his head, his eyes sad. “I would have helped you, Liz.”

I nodded. “I know, Michael.”

“I’d still help you. . .if you want me to.”

I was at a loss. In the space of twenty minutes Michael had dragged me back into a past I’d tried hard to forget. “Thanks,” I said finally. “It’s nice to know there’s someone I can call.”

But I won’t.

The unspoken words hung thickly in the air between us as I walked over to the windows and parted the curtains. Outside the darkness hung like a purple velvet shroud over the city. I stood there for a long moment, taking in the silence, staring out over the old canal that ran down the center of the street. I heard Michael behind me, pouring tea into the china cups. After a moment, he stepped close to me and placed a cup of tea in my hand.

“Here,” he said simply.

“Thank you.” I sipped my tea, still looking out at the night.

“I’m sorry, Liz,” he told me softly. “I didn’t mean to. . .I’m just in shock, you know?”

“I know.” I relaxed a little. “I’m sorry you had to find out like that.”

“It’s okay.”

We stood there in silence for a moment, then I slowly turned to face him. “Michael,” I began, “why did you come to Petersburg?”

He took a small sip of his tea. “I came to ask for your help.”

That warmed me to the core. Michael and I had been out of touch for over a decade, but he still felt secure enough in our bond to ask for my help. I had too few relationships like that. I smiled slightly. “Michael, all you have to do is ask. I’ll help you however I can.”

He looked gratified. “Thanks, Liz,” he said, “but I’m not the one who needs your help right now.”

I suddenly became very aware of the silence in the room, broken only by the steady tick of the clock. I licked my lips. “Who, then?” I asked.

Michael took a deep breath. “Max,” he said. “Max needs your help.”

posted on 13-Mar-2002 9:31:16 AM by mockingbird39
Part Four


Los Angeles, 2002

~Michael~


The summer of Max’s trial was a nightmare. He was moved to Los Angeles in the end of March, and charged with murder in the death of Cal Langley. By the time he was arraigned, indicted, and assigned a trial date, it was early April. Liz was back in Vermont—under extreme protest. She was no longer speaking to either of her parents. They’d sent her back the week after she arrived unannounced, and hadn’t listened to her begging, pleading, or threats. It was only when her father suggested that there were boarding schools farther from Roswell than Vermont that Liz finally went back to finish out the school year. Mr. Parker had promised that she could come back home for the summer, and had agreed to consider letting her visit Max in Los Angeles if she didn’t give them any more problems before graduation.

But Max and Liz were both feeling the separation, and the first time I got to visit Max in Los Angeles I could see it. Max was thinner, and pale, and the first thing he asked was about Liz.

“Is she back home yet?” he demanded.

His parents had come through for their delinquent son and hired him a good criminal defense attorney, and then bailed him out of jail. He had to stay in L.A., though, so I’d driven out to meet him in the residential hotel where they were staying.

I shook my head. “No, she’s got three more weeks.”

“Damn.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “Have you talked to her?”

“No, but Maria has. She says she’s holding on.” I looked at him curiously. “Why haven’t you called her?”

“The school won’t take my calls. Orders from Liz’s dad, I guess.” He looked miserable. “I thought maybe if she was home I could get through to her cell phone. She’s out of range in Vermont.”

“She writes to you, doesn’t she?”

Max nodded, a faint smile crossing his face. “Every day.”

“Then you know she’s still in Vermont,” I reminded.

“Yeah.” He scowled. “I was just hoping. . .”

He didn’t have to explain. I sat back in the plush hotel chair and looked at him. “Did you figure anything out about Langley?”

Max shook his head. “From the documents they’ve turned over to my defense team, it looks like the body they found was strangled in Langley’s house around the time I got back from Vermont. Who ever did it used a telephone cord.”

“But it’s not Langley,” I said.

“No, it can’t be.” He looked thoughtful. “He’s a shape shifter—I don’t think a telephone cord could do it. You remember what it took to kill Nacedo.”

“The Skins.”

“Right. So what we’ve got to do is find Langley. One of the things the prosecution has going for it is that I had a pretty public argument with Langley last fall. If the body they found isn’t his, that takes away their motive.”

“Who identified the body?” I asked, realizing that this was a little much for Langley to have pulled off by himself. He had to have involved someone else.

“His doctor,” Max answered. “Some guy named Allward.”

“Have you checked him out?”

Max snorted. “Are you kidding? I’ve got people following me everywhere I go. There’s no way I could go check him out now.”

“I’ll do it, then.” I grabbed a pen and paper from the coffee table. “His name’s Allward? Do you have an address?”

Max got up and went to a file box full of papers and notebooks. He rummaged in it for a moment, then came up with a thick report. “Here,” he said. “It’s the autopsy report. Everything’s in there.”

“I’ll check him out,” I told Max. “I’ll go by his office on my way back to Roswell.”

“Be careful. He’s got to be connected to Cal in some way. That makes him dangerous.”

“Then I’d better get a good look at him, just in case,” I said. I’ve always preferred to put a face on my enemies.

Max nodded. “Right. Then go back to Roswell and stay there. I can handle things here.”

“You know Liz will be out here as soon as she gets out of school,” I told him.

“No. She’s safer in Roswell.”

“Do you think that will matter to her?” I asked, shaking my head.

Max closed his eyes. “God, I need her,” he murmured, more to himself than to me.

“Don’t worry. I’m sure she’ll be here soon.”

If there was one thing I was sure of back then, it was that nothing would ever be able to keep Max and Liz apart.


St. Petersburg, 2012

“Max doesn’t want my help,” Liz said. “He’s never wanted my help.”

“I said he needs it,” I corrected. “Believe me, Liz. I know Maxwell, and he needs this.”

“And you think he’ll accept it?” Liz asked acidly. “He can do it himself, Michael, remember? Max can do everything all by himself.”

That spoke volumes. Max had thought he’d been pushing Liz away so that she’d have a better life, but that hadn’t been what she’d seen. All she’d seen was him pushing her away. “He can’t do this,” I said.

Her eyes were hard as she stared out the window. “What exactly is it you think he needs?” she asked flatly.

I wrapped my hands around the delicate china cup. “Max has exhausted his appeals. The last one was denied a month ago. Unless someone finds something completely new—new evidence, a witness no one interviewed before—he’s going to spend the rest of his life in prison.”

Liz flinched, closing her eyes briefly. “What do you think I can do about that?” she asked in a choked voice.

“You’re a lawyer,” I said with a shrug. “You could look over the trial transcripts and see if there’s something that everyone missed.”

“I’m a contracts attorney, Michael,” she protested, opening her eyes. “I’ve never even been on a criminal defense team.”

“Yeah, but you must look at legal stuff all the time,” I insisted. “Contracts—you must go through them looking for all kinds of little tiny things most people would miss. I need you to do that with Max’s case.”

“Any attorney could do that,” she told me.

“You’re the only one who believes he’s innocent.” There. That was the crux of my argument. “When you look, you’ll be looking for proof that he didn’t do this—not some kind of loophole or bad process. Because you believe he’s innocent.” I paused, glancing at her. “You do believe it, right?”

She turned anguished eyes to me. “How can you ask me that?”

“Sorry.” I shook my head. “The thing is, Liz, Max has given up. All this time, he’s been able to tell himself he’ll be exonerated—that he’ll be free. But now there’s nothing. He’s spent nine and a half years in prison for a crime that he didn’t commit. He’s never gotten to have a real life. College, career, family—all that stuff the rest of us got to have? He’s missed out on all of that. And now he’s convinced he’ll never have any of it.” I thought of Sophie doing her homework somewhere in the apartment and I wanted to weep. Max would never know his daughter unless Liz agreed to help me with this. That was too much for any man to miss out on.

“Are you going to tell me I owe him this?” Liz demanded, her eyes damp.

“No. You don’t owe him anything. But he needs this.” I looked down. If Maxwell would kill me for coming here, he’d bring me back and kill me again for telling her this. “He’s always needed you, Liz. That’s never changed.”

She drew in a shaky breath. “He has a funny way of showing it.”

“Do you think he wanted this?” I asked her. “Come on, Liz. You know what he felt for you, and I think you know what he’d feel for Sophie.”

Liz turned away from me, her eyes overflowing. “Michael, I can’t go back there. It’s too much.”


Los Angeles, 2002

~Liz~


I had never been so glad to see anyone in my entire life.

Max and I had been apart for over two months by the time I finally got to L.A. I’d had to stand on my head and promise to qualify for sainthood in order to convince my parents to let me come. In the end I think they only agreed because they knew I would go anyway and they wanted to maintain their illusion of control over me.

But as Max and I stood in his hotel room, holding each other so tightly neither of us could breathe, I knew I would have sold my soul to get to him.

“I love you so much,” I whispered. “I wanted to tell you that so many times. I love you.”

He held me close against him, and I could feel his relief as intensely as my own. “I know, Liz. I love you, too.”

“I was so worried about you,” I murmured. “I couldn’t sleep. . .I kept having dreams about you.”

He pushed me back and stroked my cheek. “Good ones?”

“Sometimes. But they only made me miss you more.” I could feel tears pooling in my eyes again.

“I dreamed about you, too,” he said. “Every night. God, I missed you so much.” He pulled me close again, and I closed my eyes tightly against the tears. “How are you?” he asked hungrily. He released me and led me over to one of the beds in the room. “Tell me everything. How was school—how was graduation?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. I couldn’t think of anything but you.” I reached for his hand, folding it into both of my own. “Why is this happening, Max? Why now?”

“I’m almost positive it was Langley, Liz,” he told me. “He must hate me for what I made him do. . .I can’t blame him.”

“He knows why you did it,” I protested. “He knows you were only trying to save your son.”

“But I ruined the life he’d built for himself.” Max sighed heavily. “If someone had done that to me. . .if they had taken you away from me, I don’t know what I’d do.”

“You wouldn’t do this,” I said firmly. “Langley’s as bad as Nacedo was.”

“If he’s the one doing this.”

I was incredulous. “Who else could do this?”

“I don’t know,” Max admitted. “It could be Khivar—”

“It’s Langley, Max,” I told him. “He’s doing this to hurt you, and if I ever get my hands on him—”

“No!” Max almost shouted at me. “Don’t even think about going near Langley or anyone connected with him.”

Stung, I looked away. “Max, I know Michael’s already gone to hunt down this doctor. I only want to help.”

“You can help by staying safe,” he told me. “I need you to be safe, Liz. Michael and I will take care of this.”

“I’m not a little kid you have to protect.” I squared my shoulders. “I want to help you.”

“Liz, don’t you get it?” He lifted my hand and pressed it to his heart. “If I lose you, nothing matters. I might as well spend my whole life in jail—worse. Without you, it’s just not worth it.”

“Don’t say that,” I whispered.

“It’s true.” He smiled sadly. “You’re everything to me, Liz. Everything.”

I was crying again as he pulled me close. “Max, you have to get out of this,” I said. “I don’t think I can live without you.”

“Shh,” he murmured soothingly. “It’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 13-Mar-2002 9:35:31 AM ]
posted on 14-Mar-2002 7:36:57 AM by mockingbird39
Part 5—St. Petersburg, 2012

~Liz~


Michael stayed for dinner. It was the least I could do, since he’d come all that way to ask for help I couldn’t give. We ate in the dining room, with Michael sitting across from me and Sophie beside me, staring at Michael. She was dressed in her pajamas and sipped a cup of cacoa while Michael and I ate. We didn’t talk much. After the conversation we’d had in the library, we were both exhausted. Sophie chattered happily, and Michael listened intently as he cleaned his plate of baked salmon and roasted potatoes. He hadn’t seemed all that thrilled with the soup we’d had as the first course, but he appeared to enjoy everything else. Funny—the soup was about all I could manage. Every other bite I attempted threatened to choke me. Watching Michael with Sophie was bittersweet. On one hand, it was beautiful to watch the two of them get to know each other—Michael was wonderful with her. On the other, I had never felt so guilty about robbing Sophie of that side of her heritage. I had plenty of reasons—good ones—for what I’d done, but that didn’t necessarily make it right.

After we’d eaten and Sophie had talked Michael’s ear off for nearly an hour, Michael mentioned that he really ought to get back to his hotel. I wasn’t entirely sorry to see him go, but nonetheless I felt a little pang when he started to put on his coat. He kissed me goodbye, and I apologized again that I couldn’t help him. He told me that he understood, ruffled Sophie’s hair, and said he was glad we were okay. Then he left.

I stood there staring at the closed door for a long time, wondering if that had been a dream. Everything felt utterly unreal until I felt Sophie slip her hand into mine.

“I liked him,” she announced. “I wish he coulda stayed more.”

“He had to get back home,” I said absently.

“Is he comin’ back?” she wanted to know.

“I don’t know, baby.” I thought of Michael, returning to Roswell empty-handed, and I wondered if I had made the right choice. I’d probably never know. Then I had a thought. “Sophie, wait here,” I said, and ran into the library. I grabbed a framed picture from my desk—one of Sophie watching the boats from a bridge near the Winter Palace—and hurried back to the foyer. Sophie watched me wide-eyed as I opened the door. “Stay here,” I ordered again, then ran down the hall.

Michael was at the bottom of the stairs when I caught up to him. “Michael!” I called out. “Michael, wait.”

He turned, surprised to see me there, and waited while I ran down the stairs. I nearly slipped on the last one, but he caught me before I fell. “Liz, what’s wrong?”

I stood there for a second, catching my breath, then I handed him the picture. “I thought. . .I thought you might want to have this.”

He took it from me, studied it for a minute. “Thank you. I—thanks.”

I took a deep breath. “And I wanted you to know something,” I continued. I swallowed hard. “I tried to tell Max about Sophie. I tried twice. But. . .he sent back my letters.” I could feel the tears starting, but I refused to cry. “He never opened them.”

Michael’s face fell. “He never. . .I didn’t know that, Liz.”

“I know. No one did.” I shrugged. “I just wanted you to know.”

“Thank you,” he said again. He didn’t seem to know what to do next, and neither did I. We stood there looking at each other, then I sighed.

“Michael, I wish I could help you. . .and Max. But I can’t go back there. It’s selfish, but I can’t handle the rejection again. I hope you can understand that.”

He nodded. “I do. I really do.” He seemed about to say more, but stopped. “I should go.”

“Okay.”

He had taken two steps when he turned back to me. “Liz, I don’t have anyone else to go to,” he blurted, his eyes growing desperate. “I know how hard this is for you, but. . .could you just look at the papers? For me?”

He looked so incredibly vulnerable as he stood there in the lobby, so out of place with everything that had come to mean my life. Then all at once I thought of Max, pictured him as I’d last seen him—standing behind a fence in prison blues—and I knew I’d never be free of my past. I bowed my head. “Okay, Michael,” I said, forcing the words past the lump in my throat. “I’ll look at them.”

*****

After Michael had gone, I lugged his knapsack full of painful memories back up the stairs and deposited it in the foyer closet, dreading the moment I’d have to open it.

“What’s that, Mommy?” Sophie asked curiously. She was standing almost exactly where I’d left her in the foyer, looking at me like I’d grown another head.

“Nothing.” I tried to smile. “Just some papers Michael wanted me to look at.”

“A case?” she asked knowledgeably, and I hid a smile. Sophie was definitely the child of an attorney.

“Yes—a very old case.” I took a deep breath. “I think it’s time for bed, don’t you?”

“You promised we could read,” she reminded me.

I nodded. “Yes, I did. Go brush your teeth and get in bed. I’ll be in to read in a few minutes.”

We read three fairy tales that night, all from a thick blue book of Alexander Afanasiev’s collection of folk tales. It was richly illustrated in the style of the painted lacquer boxes that are hawked to tourists in every Russian city. I remember hearing once that this art form has its roots in the years that followed the Communist Revolution. The new government’s policies closed churches and shrines, and put Russia’s thousands of icon painters out of business. No longer allowed to make their religious art, they began painting wooden boxes with scenes from folk tales and rural life. The paintings recall the old religious styles—bright colors, narrative style, two-dimensional figures. Sophie loves them, and at eight years old she already has an eye for the truly extraordinary pieces that are sometimes to be found among the thousands of mass-produced ones foreigners take home every year. She keeps her collection on a shelf over her bed, and some nights, instead of reading, we take down the boxes and tell each other the stories they represent. Tonight I saw her eyeing the shelf and wondered if she was going to try to get another story out of me. But she had something different on her mind.

“Mommy?” she asked, studying my face with the simple, direct gaze that bores straight to my heart.

“Yes?”

“Does Michael know my father?”

I swallowed hard. I had known for years that Max Evans would always have a hold on me, even if I never saw him again. But on this night it seemed stronger than ever. If I closed my eyes, I knew I would see him staring at me with those eyes I loved more than life. His daughter’s eyes.

I kept my eyes resolutely open.

I knew I couldn’t lie to my daughter about this. I may have secrets, but not from her. Whenever she’s asked about her father, I’ve told her as much of the truth as I thought she could handle. I wasn’t about to start lying now. I smoothed her dark hair back from her face and nodded. “Yes.”

She took a moment to process this. “But he’s not my father, right? Michael isn’t?”

“No, Michael’s not your father.”

She thought for another moment. “Did my father love you?” she asked finally.

It was a long time before I could answer. “Yes,” I said when I could speak again. “Yes, he did.”

“And did you love him?”

With an effort, I met my daughter’s gaze. “Yes, I did. I loved him more than anything in the world. . .except one thing.” I managed to smile at her, touching the tip of her nose with my finger. “Do you know what that was?”

We had played this game before, and Sophie grinned, her pensive moment gone. “Chocolate milk shakes?” she asked playfully.

“No.”

She pretended to think. “Um. . .red shoes?”

“Nope. Guess again.”

“Dasha bars?”

“Wrong.” I leaned over and kissed her forehead, pulling the covers up to tuck her in. “You. I love you more than the whole world.”

“And the moon,” she prompted as I slid from the bed.

“And all the stars,” I finished. I gave her one more kiss, breathing in the soft scent of her hair. “Good night, Sophie.”

“Good night, Mommy.”

I was at the door, my hand on the light switch, when her voice stopped me. “Mommy, what’s his name?”

I turned back to face her, my heart in my throat. “Whose name, baby?” I asked, though I already knew the answer.

“My father’s,” she answered, fingering the fringes on her bedspread.

I took a deep breath. “Max,” I answered after a moment. “His name is Max Evans.”


~Michael~

I left Liz’s apartment in a state of shock. Nothing about that meeting had gone the way I’d planned. For starters, I hadn’t been able to push Liz like I’d planned to. Once I’d found out about Sophie, I just couldn’t. And even though Liz had finally agreed to look over Max’s case, I’d failed in a big way. I hadn’t planned on bringing Liz back just to help get Maxwell out of prison. My biggest hope had been that seeing Liz would make Max want to live again.

I’d watched over the years as Max withdrew from everyone and everything around him. Every time a new appeal came up, he’d get a little better, taking an interest in the outside world he desperately hoped he was about to rejoin. But every time the appeal was denied, he’d retreat even farther into himself, sinking into a depression he never quite recovered from. I’d thought perhaps Liz could pull him out of that, and for a brief moment, I’d been sure Sophie could. But as I lay on the bed in my hotel room in St. Petersburg, I wondered if it wasn’t a blessing that Max didn’t know about Sophie. It would surely have killed him to know the full extent of what Langley had taken from him.

But, god, Max would have loved to be a father.

I turned over and reached for the photograph Liz had given me. I wasn’t sure why she had done it—maybe guilt, maybe because she knew I’d loved Max’s child on sight. Sophie was beautiful—a tiny, perfect angel with her mother’s shiny dark hair and her father’s eyes. But Sophie’s eyes held an innocence Max’s had never had—had never been allowed to have. She was frank and open and happy. . .Liz must have worked hard to keep her that way. And as much as I felt that it was Max’s right to know about his daughter’s existence, I’d have done anything to keep Sophie as she was.

Studying the picture, I thought about what Liz had said on the stairs. I knew Max had sent back her letters. I just hadn’t known what was in them. It changed the situation completely, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Liz. She’d been nineteen, pregnant, and away from home—I couldn’t imagine what getting those returned letters must have done to her. But she hadn’t let that ruin her. Instead, Liz had done an amazing thing—raising Sophie by herself, going to college, law school, building a career. It occurred to me that Max had gotten exactly what he wanted. Liz had a good life—good job, nice home, beautiful daughter. . .that French guy. If I’d had to list the things I thought Max would have wanted her to have, those would have been right at the top. But watching Liz, even in the short time I’d spent with her, it was clear that something was missing.

If I was a gambler, I’d put my money on that something being Max Evans.


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 14-Mar-2002 7:40:21 AM ]
posted on 15-Mar-2002 7:37:49 AM by mockingbird39
Part 6


Los Angeles, 2002

~Liz~


Max’s trial began in mid-July the summer after high school graduation. From the start, it didn’t go well. They had fingerprints, witnesses to Max’s fight with Langley, and others who said a dark-haired man meeting Max’s description had been seen around Langley’s house on the day of the murder. We had Max’s sworn statement that he hadn’t been near Langley since October, the fact that “tall with dark hair” applied to millions of people on the planet, and the widely-held opinion that Langley had been a nasty bastard with lots of enemies. Of course, we also had the fact that if Langley had, in fact, been dead, he would have been a giant dust bunny and not a well-dressed human body, but since we couldn’t tell anyone, that didn’t do us a hell of a lot of good.

I became obsessed with the trial, reading the transcripts, the police reports, the witness statements. When I ran out of paraphernalia relating to Max’s trial, I started reading things connected with other murder cases—particularly those in which the defendant was acquitted. By the end of the first week, I had moved to L.A. to be with Max. My parents said if I went I shouldn’t plan on coming back, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t think past the next day, past the end of the trial when we would know if Max would ever come home to Roswell again. Even the day I received a letter from Harvard increasing my financial aid package to a full scholarship barely registered. I would have forgotten to send in my acceptance if Max hadn’t walked me to the mailbox and made sure I put it in. He insisted that I was going, whether or not the trial was over, and promised he would join me in Boston as soon as he could. We didn’t talk about what would happen if the trial ended and he was convicted.

The trial lasted almost exactly three weeks. The day that both sides gave their closing arguments was hot and hazy, and a smog warning had gone out for the entire county. The air felt thick and dirty, and I found myself wishing for the dry desert air and cool desert nights. We rode back to the hotel in silence, all of us exhausted. Even Maria was too tired to speak. She had come to be with Michael shortly after the start of trial, and had stayed on through everything. Maria and I had been best friends for years, but I had never appreciated her so much as I did during that awful summer. I remember that Max and I sat in the back seat as Michael drove. The air conditioner was on full blast, and it still felt muggy inside the car. Outside, heavy gray clouds hung in the air, promising a thunderstorm later that evening.

“Should I stop and get some dinner?” Michael wondered aloud. Maria and I shook our heads.

“Let’s just go back to the hotel,” Max said, so Michael drove on. I looked over at Max, and thought I’d never seen him so tired. His eyes were blank as he stared out the window, and he was slumped in his seat. I reached out and put my hand over his where it rested on the seat between us, and he turned his hand over to lace his fingers through mine. When he glanced at me and tried to smile I thought my heart would break. Silently, I slid over next to him and pulled him close, cradling his head on my shoulder. He wrapped his arms around me, and I stroked his hair back from his forehead. We rode the rest of the way with our arms around each other, and I wondered how we were going to make it through jury deliberations. Recently, Maria, Michael, Max, and I had sort of mutually shuffled the sleeping arrangements without ever talking about it. I’d spent the last three nights in Max’s arms, lying awake for most of the time, listening to him breathe. He hadn’t slept much, either, and every night I worried about him just a little more. We hadn’t made love yet. That first night I’d thought we might. . .hoped we might. . .but Max said he didn’t want it to be that way. He wanted our first time to be perfect, romantic, magic. Not with us both exhausted from a day in court and dreading the next one. I think he was really afraid that I’d be doing it because I thought it was what he wanted, but that wasn’t it at all. I’d been waiting almost three years for Max Evans to make love to me. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could wait.

Maybe tonight, I thought as I rested my cheek on his hair. I think I had already begun to sense time closing in on us, because all I could think was that if tonight was our last night together I wanted all of him.

When we got to the hotel, we found Jesse and Isabel waiting for us. Jesse looked anxious; Isabel had been crying.

“Max, how are you doing?” Jesse asked. He shook Max’s hand warmly. Jesse had been great throughout this whole mess. He had spent most of his time in L.A., helping Max’s defense team however he could, and he had taken a lot of time to explain things to us when we didn’t understand.

“I’ve been better,” Max answered honestly. He was still holding tight to my hand.

“I need to talk to you,” Jesse said. “Is it okay if we go upstairs?”

Max nodded. “Sure.” We all got into the elevator together and rode to the fifth floor, then walked down the hallway to Max’s and my room. None of us spoke.

When we were gathered in the room—sitting on the chairs and the bed, with Jesse standing in the middle of the room, his hands in his pockets—Jesse looked at Max. “I’ve been talking to Isabel,” he began, “and she thinks I should tell you something.”

“What’s that?” Max asked calmly, but his grip on my hand had grown painfully tight.

“The only way you’re going to get out of this is if they find out Cal Langley isn’t dead and set this all up,” Jesse said bluntly. “The trial was a disaster—we all know that.”

Silence stretched in the room as we all stared at him. No one contradicted. We all knew it was true.

“What do you think we should do?” Max asked after a moment.

“I think we should find Langley,” Jesse told him. “But I think you’re the only one that can do that. You’re the king, right?”

“I’m not a king,” Max murmured, but Jesse went on.

“To Langley you are. The rest of us have no power over him—in fact, he’d probably kill us if we did manage to find him. He’s only loyal to you because you’re the heir to the throne, and that’s encoded in his genes.” Jesse shrugged. “If someone’s going to find him and clear you, it’s going to have to be you.” He paused for a long moment. “And you can’t do that if you’re in prison.”

Max’s eyes swung up to meet Jesse’s. It felt as though a charge of electricity had just gone through the room. “What are you saying?” Max demanded.

“That if it was me,” Jesse said quietly, “and I was facing what you’re facing, I’d run.”

I thought my heart had stopped beating, and I had completely forgotten to breathe. “What. . .you think he should jump bail?” I whispered. “Be a fugitive?”

“Only until he finds Langley,” Jesse clarified. “They’ll charge him with escape, sure, but if they find out this is a hoax, they’ll go easy. He probably won’t even have to do any time.”

“Wait.” Michael held up a hand. “As a lawyer, you’re telling him to run?”

“As a lawyer, I’m telling him what the outcome of the trial will probably be. As his brother-in-law and his friend, I’m telling him what I’d do,” Jesse said firmly.

“Yeah, that sounds like lawyer talk,” Michael muttered, but everyone ignored him.

I grabbed Max’s arm. “Max, no,” I said urgently. How could Jesse suggest this? Max could be hurt, or killed. . .no. No, I wasn’t going to let him do this. “Max, we’ll find Langley for you. We’ll get you out.” He wasn’t looking at me, just staring thoughtfully at something on the floor. “The jury hasn’t even come back yet—you might get off. You can’t do this. You could be hurt, or—”

“Liz, I don’t think there’s any other way.” It was Isabel, speaking for the first time. She looked as utterly devastated as I felt. “Max has to find Langley. It’s the only thing that will prove he’s innocent.” I could only stare at her, wondering if she had gone mad.

“Max, I hate to say it,” Michael began, rubbing the back of his neck, “but that makes a lot of sense. The cops aren’t going to find Langley.”

“You’d be a fugitive,” Jesse told Max seriously. “Probably considered a dangerous one—if they find you, they’ll use force to bring you in. I want to make sure you know that.”

Max nodded. “I know.”

“Max, you can’t be thinking about this,” I whispered, turning him to face me. “This is crazy. You can’t do this.”

Max pulled me into a corner of the room. “Liz, I think I have to.” He started to say more, but Jesse interrupted.

“If you’re going to go, you’d better do it as soon as possible. As long as the jury’s deliberating, they might not notice you’re gone.” Jesse looked sad and haggard. “Once you don’t show up in court, they’ll know you’ve left.”

“I can be gone tonight,” Max murmured.

“What? No!” I felt dizzy. “Max, this is too fast.”

Jesse looked at the two of us, then glanced at the rest of the group. “We should let you guys talk this over,” he said.

Maria nodded. “Yeah—let’s go to our room. We’ll be down the hall if you need us.” She cast me one last glance and then led the others from the room.

As soon as the door slammed shut behind them I felt my legs give way. I landed on my knees on the carpet, and when Max realized what had happened he was beside me in an instant.

“Liz, what happened? Are you okay?” he asked, reaching for me.

“No,” I said shakily, rising to my feet. I pushed him away. “No, I’m not okay.” I walked over to the bed, feeling like someone had punched me in the stomach. “No, I am definitely not okay.”

Max followed me. “Liz, I’m sorry. If there was any other way—”

“There has to be another way, Max!” I interrupted. “Something—some way that doesn’t involve you running off by yourself and me never seeing you again.”

He pulled me close and I tried to fight him off, but he was stronger than me and he simply held me until I stopped struggling. “Liz, shh,” he murmured. “It’s going to be okay.”

“How?” I demanded, unable to hold back the tears any longer. “Tell me how it will be okay!”

“I’ll find him, Liz—I promise I’ll find him and then we’ll be together.” He was kissing my cheeks, my forehead. “Jesse’s right. I have to find Langley, or I’ll spend the rest of my life in jail. I can’t be apart from you that long, Liz.”

“Take me with you,” I begged. “I’ll go with you and help you find him.”

“No. No—what I said before. . .it’s still true.” He held me close. “You’re the most important thing to me. I need to know you’re safe. I’ll come to you as soon as this is all cleared away—I promise.”

“What if that’s not enough?” I asked, burying my head against his shoulder as I sobbed. “Please, Max, don’t do this.”

“Listen to me.” He pushed me back to look into my eyes. “Langley is still out there somewhere, and if he hates me enough to set this whole thing up, then he might try something else. He might try to get to you or Isabel, or someone else I care about. I can’t let that happen.” There were tears in his eyes, too. “I don’t want to leave, Liz, but I have to do this.”

I don’t remember what he said next. All I remember about the rest of that night is lying curled up on the bed as he packed a bag, and then, later, him lying beside me, waiting for the dark. There was so much I ached to tell him, but I couldn’t find the words. At eight o’clock, Michael, Maria, Jesse, and Isabel knocked on our door to say goodbye. They hugged Max, and I saw Jesse press a wad of money into his hand. Michael offered to drive him to the airport or bus station—where ever he wanted to go—but Max said it was better if none of us knew where he was going. Isabel sobbed openly, and Maria’s eyes were damp and red. I hadn’t thought I could cry anymore, but when Max took me in his arms and held me close one last time I couldn’t breathe between sobs.

“Please don’t go,” I choked, hanging onto him with all my strength.

“I have to,” he said, and I realized he was crying, too. “Liz, I have to.” He held me a moment longer, then he put me away from him and picked up his bag. “I love you,” he said, pressing a final kiss on my forehead.

Michael and Maria caught me as I slumped to the floor. At the door, Max paused for an instant, and I had a wild hope that he’d changed his mind. But he only looked at us sadly. “Take care of each other,” he said, and then he was gone.

The jury came back three days later. Guilty. He was sentenced in absentia to life in prison without the possibility of parole. By the time we heard, we had no idea where he was.


St. Petersburg, 2012

It’s funny how memories can suddenly overtake you, leaving you to feel like they happened yesterday and not a decade ago. After Sophie had gone to bed that night, I took a glass of wine into my library and sat before the empty fireplace, trying to regain my composure. But the longer I sat there, the more I felt caught up in the past. I couldn’t get Michael’s words out of my head. . .Max had run out of chances. There was nothing left to appeal. Unless something drastic happened, Max would spend the rest of his life behind bars.

I realized now that I had always been waiting. Waiting to turn a corner one day and see Max there. Waiting to pick up the phone and hear his voice on the other end, telling me it was over, that Langley had been caught and Max was on his way to me and Sophie. Waiting to introduce my daughter to her father and watch the two of them fall in love with each other.

But that would never happen now. Max would never leave the California prison where he’d already spent almost a decade, and if Sophie ever wanted to meet her father she would have to do it in a visiting room filled with other prisoners and their families. My beautiful, gentle Max would grow old and alone in a tiny cell, never having known what it was like to travel freely, or hold his daughter as she went to sleep. I would never know his touch again. . .but I would never forget it, either.

“There has to be something,” I murmured, staring into my wineglass. “Something we missed.”

In law school, they’d taught us that there is no such thing as the perfect crime. Something will always turn up—some piece of evidence or witness statement that sets the whole house of cards tumbling down. I had to believe that was true about Max’s case, too. Sifting back through my memories of the trial, I tried to approach it from the standpoint of a disinterested observer. But my recollection of what had happened in court was too closely intertwined with memories of our lives outside the courtroom that summer and I found myself lost in thoughts of days spent at Max’s side and nights in his arms.

Finally, I rose and went to the foyer closet and took Michael’s knapsack from it. I took it back into the library, stopping in the kitchen to retrieve the bottle of wine I’d opened earlier. Once there, I poured another glass of wine, resisted the urge to drain it at once, and began laying the contents of the bag on my desk.

It would be a long time before I went to bed that night.

posted on 16-Mar-2002 9:33:08 AM by mockingbird39
Part 7


St. Petersburg, 2012

~Liz~


The night after Michael’s visit, Thierry and I went to the opera with Marcus Brady, a colleague of mine from our Toronto offices. Marcus was a short, round man with an impressive beard and a passionate love for opera. The last time he’d been in Petersburg, I’d mentioned that I preferred Russian opera to Italian, and he’d nearly had a coronary attack right on the couch in my office. He’d promised to give it a try some time, though, so when he emailed that he’d be in Petersburg again I bought tickets to my favorite of all Russian operas, Yevgeny Onegin. It’s actually an adaptation of the epic poem by Aleksander Pushkin that has brought generations of Russians to tears. In my opinion, it’s not nearly as well-known as it should be in the rest of the world. It is the beautiful, achingly sad story of Tatiana, a simple country girl who falls in love with aristocratic rogue and playboy Yevgeny. When she confesses her love for him in a poignant letter that schoolgirls have memorized and wept over for centuries, Yevgeny takes what he believes to be the high road and tells her that she will be better off without him. That same night, Yevgeny alienates his only friend and ends up killing him in a duel that eerily foreshadows Pushkin’s own death. Distraut, Yevgeny becomes a virtual recluse, all the while wondering if Tatiana’s love could have made him a better man. Several years later, at a ball in Moscow, Yevgeny sees a familiar face—Tatiana’s. He is stunned to learn that she is now married to a much older man. He begins to follow her, seeking to get close to her and tell her what a mistake he made. But Tatiana will have none of it. The story ends when Yevgeny, having visited Tatiana at her home, confesses his love for her. Tatiana is not swayed. She tells him that he could have had her years ago, but he made his choice. She will not leave her husband. In the operatic version, Tatiana sings her refusal to a devastated Yevgeny, and steps over his prone body on her way out of the room. The music swells to a crescendo that nearly stops the heart, and the curtain falls. The first time I saw it, it was several minutes before I recovered enough to applaud.

I had booked my favorite seats at the Mossugorskii Theater—a box on the left side, about a third of the way back from the stage. I’ve found it’s best not to sit too close, since Yevgeny tends to be a little paunchy, and Tatiana a little. . .old. When I arrived at the theater that night with Marcus, Thierry was already waiting for us. He greeted me with a kiss and a bunch of flowers from one of the many, many vendors on the street, then took my coat to the coat check while Marcus and I bought programs. We found our seats quickly and settled in to relax before the show started.

Except I couldn’t relax. Ever since the night before, when I’d begun looking at the trial transcripts, my mind had been going in a million different directions. All day at work I’d been irritable and distracted, going over what I’d read in my mind. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something. . .something right in front of me that I should have caught before and just couldn’t see. I wished I had other cases to compare it with, to see if I could come up with the discrepancy that way, but our files at Dior were more geared to contract negotiation than homicide. I raked over memories of law school, the criminal law classes I’d taken, but I came up with nothing. Everything that should have been there, was. Police reports, coroner’s report, witness statements. . .nothing appeard coerced or misrepresented. The only new thing I’d realized was that the prosecutor hadn’t had much to do; on the surface it seemed like an open and shut case.

There must be something, I told myself, shifting in my seat. Thierry shot me a surprised glance. Usually I get so engrossed in the opera I barely notice anything around me. He slid his arm around my chair, and I forced myself to lean into him for a moment or two. But all the while I was trying to figure out what I’d missed.

When Yevgeny burst into Tatiana’s house in the last act, I realized I’d missed most of the opera. Frustrated with myself, I picked up my opera glasses and focused on the stage. A moment later, I put them down again and reached into my purse for a tissue to clean off a smear on the front lens. Someone had touched the glass, leaving a fingerprint. . .

A fingerprint.

Max’s fingerprints had been found all around Langley’s body. The comparison was in the case file. But had anyone ever fingerprinted Langley?

Usually, when making an identification, the confirmation of a family member or close acquaintance is sufficient for police. But insurance companies are rarely satisfied with that, particularly when large sums of money are involved. From what Max had described, Langley would have left a substantial estate—and probably a big insurance policy. There was no doubt in my mind that any insurance company would have demanded fingerprints or other proof of identity before turning over a check that large. But I couldn’t remember seeing any record of fingerprinting in the autopsy report. So how had Langley’s heirs obtained proof of death? More importantly, who were Langley’s heirs?

Damn it—why hadn’t I thought of that before? Langley wasn’t the kind of guy who would have faked his own death and run off to live like a pauper. No, he’d have figured out a way to get his money back before he’d ever framed Max for his death. So if we found the person who’d claimed Langley’s estate, we’d have a link to Langley. . .we might even have Langley himself. Knowing what I did about his lack of trust, I was inclined to think the shape-shifter had kept a tight hold on his millions. He might even have set up a false identity and claimed them himself.

Money trails can be a beautiful thing. And with the increasing security kept on large estates, they’re tough to hide. I needed to call Michael—he could check out who had claimed the estate. He might even be able to talk to the insurance company and find out how they had verified Langley’s identity. I remembered Michael telling us about how Nacedo had shown him how to change his own fingerprints to match those of an FBI agent’s years ago when they’d rescued Max from the government facility. But I knew that had been only a temporary change. Would it have held long enough for the body assumed to be Langley’s to be found, photographed, identified, and autopsied? Only Michael might know that.

I heard the orchestra play the final, heart-rending notes of Tatiana’s aria, and looked up in time to see the curtain fall. For the first time, Pushkin had failed to move me. All I could think was that I had to get home and go through the rest of the papers Michael had given me.

As I rose from my seat with the rest of the audience for a standing ovation, I closed my eyes and breathed a silent prayer. Please let this be something. Please.



Los Angeles, 2012

~Michael~


“So I heard Maria did a concert in Canyon City. Did you go?”

I looked blankly at Max as he sat on the bed in his cell. I’d been so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I had barely heard what he was saying. That’s not usual. Normally when I stop by to see Maxwell, I spend half my time getting him to talk—or at least to listen to what I’m saying.

“What?” I asked. “Uh, no. I didn’t go to the concert.” That was true enough. I’d seen Maria directly before she’d done her concert, but hadn’t stayed to use the tickets she’d given me. In all the years Maria’s been a big star, I’d never gone to see her perform. She’d left me for her music career. . .yeah, that still stung.

“Some of the guys in here are pretty infatuated with her,” Max said, shaking his head. “It’s weird—you know, thinking of her that way.”

“No kidding.” I fiddled with the billy club strapped to my uniform belt. I’d heard the catcalls and murmured fantasies about her as I did my daily rounds, and I’d never had a harder time controlling my temper.

“So where did you go?” Max asked.

“Huh?” Did he know? He couldn’t know. How could he know?

“On vacation,” Max prompted. “You were gone all last week. Where did you go?”

“Oh, right.” It was the first day I’d been back to work since I’d been in St. Petersburg, and the first time I’d had a chance to come see Max. I work as a guard at the prison where he’s incarcerated, so I usually see him every day. I’d known he’d notice that I hadn’t been around the week before, but I’d been so worked up over what I’d found in St. Petersburg that I hadn’t come up with a reasonable cover story. I’d put Sophie’s picture in my living room, beside the television, and every time I looked at it I’d start wrestling with myself all over again. Should I tell Max? Liz hadn’t told me not to—hadn’t even asked me not to, when it got right down to it. But she’d gone to a hell of a lot of trouble to keep her secret over the years. Did I have the right to let it out? But did I have the right to keep his daughter’s existence a secret from Max?

“So?” Max asked again. “I thought maybe you went to see Maria.”

“I just. . .uh, I had some stuff to take care of,” I said finally. “Nothing that exciting.” Okay, that was a lie. But a necessary one, so it doesn’t count.

“Oh.” Max’s brief moment of interest was gone and he leaned back against the wall and picked up a book. He was reading The Count of Monte Cristo again, and I wondered if there was some significance to it. He always picked that book up after one of his appeals was denied. I’d never read it myself, but I thought it was an odd choice. Unless Max had some escape fantasy he’d never shared, which I doubted. A guy who could melt stone with his hand wouldn’t need to plan an elaborate escape. Max could have walked out of prison any time he chose to, but he stayed. And now it looked like he’d be staying forever.

“Hey, Max, is there anything you want me to bring you?” I asked, trying to draw him out again. “Some new books or something?” A picture of your daughter?

He looked at me briefly and shook his head. “No, thanks. I’m okay.”

I nodded. “Okay. Uh. . .Isabel said you haven’t written to her lately. She’s getting a little worried.” So worried, in fact, that she’d called me from Chicago four times in the past week. I’d called her as soon as I got in from Russia, but I hadn’t been able to allay her fears about her brother. I was pretty worried about him, too.

“Yeah. I’ve been busy,” Max said, already back to his book. “I’ll do it this week. See you later.”

That was my cue to leave. Max was obviously done talking for the day, so I left, continuing past the other cells on his block. He was doing it again, retreating into himself. It frightened me, this depression that overtook him each time his appeal was denied. Before I’d been able to hope that the next appeal would be granted and end the whole cycle, but now I didn’t even have that. I thought about Liz back in St. Petersburg, and hoped she’d gotten up the nerve to look over the trial transcripts. I knew it would hard on her, but the more I thought about it, the more certain I was that this could be Liz’s salvation, too. She’d been living with the guilt of her secret for years, living with the grief of losing her soul mate, living with the loneliness I’d seen in her eyes that night in Petersburg. I was convinced that only Max could heal her now, just like I’d always known he needed her to be whole.

I just had to hope they’d both see it as clearly as I did.


Atlanta, 2002

~Max~


I hadn’t been on the run for more than a week when I realized that being without Liz was hell. It wasn’t like before, when I’d been able to see her every day, even if we hadn’t been speaking, or like the time she’d run off to Florida after hearing about my supposed “destiny.” It wasn’t even like the months we’d been apart while she finished school in Vermont, because then I’d known we’d be together when she got back. Now I faced unbounded days without her, never knowing when it would be over. Or if it ever would.

As summer faded into fall, I spent my nights imagining Liz in Massachusetts, where she would be starting her freshman year at Harvard. I was so proud of her—she’d worked incredibly hard to get where she was. She deserved to have a great time at college. But some nights as I lay awake in strange motel rooms I thought of her and could almost feel her heart aching, just as mine was.

By October, I found myself in Atlanta, chasing a slim lead on Langley. It didn’t pan out, and afterward I had nothing else to go on. It was still warm in Georgia, but the nights were increasingly chilly and the leaves were beginning to change. I wondered what it must be like in Cambridge—what Liz must see as she looked out her dorm window or walked to class every day. I missed her so much it was like a physical pain in my chest every time I thought of her. I remembered waking up next to her and I wished we had made love, so that we would at least have those memories.

It was right around then that I decided I couldn’t go weeks or even months without hearing from her. So one day in late October, I found an internet café and paid for an hour of service. I logged onto Harvard’s website first, and found the directory of student email addresses. I couldn’t believe how easy it was—fifteen minutes and I had an email address for Liz. Next I went and created an email address I knew Liz would recognize—AlienBlast1311⊕freemail.com. I spent nearly half an hour composing a letter to her. . .there was so much I wanted to tell her, so much I needed to say. But I didn’t want to tell her anything that would give away where I was, in case the police were watching her. And I didn’t want to worry her more than she already was.

Dear Liz, I wrote, It’s been nearly three months since I left you in Los Angeles, and never has time passed so slowly. I know I said that I wouldn’t be able to write, but I find that I can’t cut myself off from you so completely. Not anymore. My heart aches for you every second, and I would do anything to be with you again. A thousand times every day I have to stop myself from coming to you in Boston, just to hear your voice and touch your face. But then I remind myself that our being apart now is the only way to make sure we are together for the rest of our lives, and I manage to hold off, if only for another day. I dream about the simplest things—feeling your hand brush mine in the darkness, the scent of your shampoo. I want to be with you so much, Liz. Please don’t ever doubt that.

I haven’t made much progress concerning Langley. I am sure he is still alive—I have found enough to convince me of that. But he is hiding himself well, and I guess I have to wait for him to make a mistake. I pray that will be soon. Please don’t worry about me. I am safe and well, and I know this is the right decision. Some day soon, you will open your door and find me there, and then we’ll never have to be apart again.

I know that you’re doing well in college. I’m so proud of you, Liz. I just hope you’re letting yourself have a good time, too. I’m sure Boston is a beautiful city, and I want you to enjoy it. Make a list of all the wonderful things you find there, so that when this is over and I come to you we can see them all together. Be happy, Liz, and be safe.

I love you.

Yours Always,
Max

P.S.—You can reply to this email address once. After that, I’ll be in touch.


When I hit the “send” button, I felt an enormous sense of relief. Just knowing that she would read the words I’d written made me feel connected to her in a way I couldn’t explain, but needed desperately. For the first time in weeks, I could breathe again. What I’d told her was true—every day I had to fight with myself not to go to her. But until Langley was caught, it wasn’t safe for me to go near her. I left Atlanta later that week, more determined than ever to find him and end this once and for all.

posted on 18-Mar-2002 1:45:25 PM by mockingbird39
Author's Note: Sorry about the missed update yesterday and the late one today. I'd planned to continue my daily posts, but. . .well, blame it on St. Patrick. As one of the few Irish girls in this city, I felt it was my responsibility to celebrate, and celebrate a lot. ;)

Part 8

Los Angeles, 2012

~Michael~


Liz’s phone call came as a complete surprise. I’d been hoping she’d look over the trial documents soon, but I’d never expected her to get to them so quickly. I was alone in my apartment, watching a hockey game when she called. I was tempted to ignore it, but it rang steadily until I finally picked it up.

“Hello?”

The connection was static-ridden, but I heard Liz’s voice clearly.

“Michael, it’s me—Liz,” she said. “Can you talk?”

I stood there stunned for a second, then found my voice. “Yeah. Yeah, I can talk.” I reached for the remote and muted the television. “Uh. . .how are you? How’s Sophie?”

“We’re fine,” Liz responded. “Sophie’s in bed. . .it’s late here.” She paused. “How was your flight?”

“Fine,” I answered, then didn’t know what else to say.

“Michael, I don’t want you to get too excited,” she said after a moment, “but there’s something I think you should check out.”

I almost dropped the phone. “Are you serious? Already?”

“It’s not definite,” she hastened to tell me. “It’s just something I’d like more information on.”

I grabbed for a pen and some paper. “What is it? Hang on, let me write it down.”

“Do we know who claimed Langley’s estate? Or who the executor was? Or what insurance company he used?”

I scribbled frantically. “I don’t know. . .I don’t think I ever really thought about it,” I said, tucking the phone beneath my chin. “Why?”

She hesitated. “I just think. . .if Langley’s alive, he didn’t give up all that money.”

Instantly, I knew where she was going. “You think he paid someone else to claim it. . .or even claimed it himself?”

“I don’t know,” she said carefully. “I’m just curious.”

I knew she was more than curious, but I didn’t press her. “So how do I go about finding this stuff out?”

“Well, the best thing would be a copy of the will,” she told me. “That would give us the name of the attorney and the beneficiary. And see if you can’t find out the name of the insurance company. I want to know how they verified that the body was Langley.”

“It wasn’t,” I said, not thinking.

“I know that, Michael. But someone else doesn’t.” She sounded tired. “If you can get a copy of the will, fax it to me. Do you have that number?”

“No, but I’ve got a pen,” I said. “What is it?”

She recited a number, which I scrawled down quickly, making sure I could still read it. “I really don’t know if this is anything,” she warned. “I just want to check.”

“No, no—I think you may have something. I bet Max never checked on the will.”

She didn’t sound surprised. “Probably not. It might not have been administered yet when he. . .before. Estates that size can take years to get settled.”

“Langley wouldn’t have wanted to wait years,” I told her.

“No, probably not. I’m sure he set it up so he’d have plenty of ready cash. And no contestors.” I heard her rustling papers. “While you’re at it, can you see if anyone has Langley’s fingerprints on file? And check on the doctor who ID’ed him. I can’t remember if you found him before or not.”

“I found him—he seemed pretty normal to me.” I thought for a moment. “But I didn’t actually talk to him.”

“Maybe you should.” She sighed. “That’s all I’ve got.”

“Liz, that’s more than I’ve had in years,” I told her. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before.”

“Maybe because you were focusing on the trial,” she said. “It’s okay—this probably won’t pan out anyway.”

“It might,” I insisted. “And if it does—”

“Michael, I have to go,” she interrupted quickly. “It’s late—I need to get some sleep.”

I had pushed too far. Liz couldn’t let herself hope yet—and I couldn’t blame her for it. “Okay. Good night, then.”

“I’ll. . .I’ll call if I find anything else.”

“Good.” I paused. “Liz?”

“Thank you. For everything.”

She was quiet for a moment, then she cleared her throat. “You’re welcome, Michael. Good night.”


Cambridge, 2003

~Liz~


Max’s emails were like a lifeline. Each time I logged on, I prayed one would be waiting for me. After that initial contact, we didn’t dare use my school account anymore, so I created other addresses, just like Max had done. We used them each twice—once to write from, once to respond to, and then closed them. Sometimes it was hard to keep them all straight, but we never forgot. We both knew it was our only chance to keep in contact.

Max was always interested in what I was doing—he asked about classes, my dorm, new friends. I tried to stay upbeat, and I usually managed it. I really liked Harvard. I liked my classes and the city and being in a place so different from where I’d grown up. But what I mostly remember about that first year is being without Max. It was so hard to wake up each morning wondering where he was and if he was okay, and it was harder to go to bed at night still not knowing.

Then one day in March, I got a call from Maria. She was frantic.

“Liz, I don’t know what to do!” she cried as soon as I answered the phone.

My heart leapt into my throat. “Is it Max?” I managed to choke.

“No, it’s Michael—Michael and Isabel. The FBI has been here all week. They’re looking for Max, and they’ve been asking all kinds of questions. Liz, they’re going to find out—I know they’re going to find out!” Maria’s voice was panicked. “What are we going to do?”

“The FBI?” I closed my eyes. It was like one of my nightmares come to life. “What does Michael say?”

“Nothing. He won’t talk to me. You know how he gets.”

“What about Isabel?”

“She and Jesse are talking about leaving town,” Maria answered. “They don’t think it’s safe for us here anymore. But, Liz, I don’t think Michael would agree to leave. He thinks he has to stay here and be Max—protect the granilith and—and. . .all the other stuff.”

“But they can’t use the granilith anymore,” I pointed out. “And the pod chamber is almost completely caved in since Tess left. There’s nothing to find.”

“I’ve told him all of that,” Maria cried. She sniffed, and I could picture her wiping her eyes on the back of her hand. “Liz, is there any way you can get in touch with Max?”

I hesitated. I had never told anyone about my email correspondence with Max. The two of us were afraid to let anyone in on the secret. . .I had never dared to mention it out loud. “Do you think. . .do you think that Max could help?” I asked finally.

“I don’t know. Maybe he could do something to get them to back off,” she said tearfully, and I felt a pang of guilt. If Michael and Isabel were in danger, I knew Max would want to know. And, apparently, I was the only one with the means to tell him. But what if he went back to Roswell and lost his chance to find Cal? Max and I would never be together then.

But if something happens to Michael or Isabel, Max will never forgive himself, I reminded myself. And whatever they find out about them will affect Max, too. I took a deep breath. “I might be able to contact him,” I said carefully.

“What?!” Maria sounded shocked. “Have you heard from him?”

“Maria. . .I can’t,” I said. “Just—look, I’ll do what I can, okay?” I spent another twenty minutes trying to calm her down, but at the end of the conversation, she suddenly realized that while I was talking to her, I wasn’t getting the message to Max. She then practically hung up on me, all the while begging me to get in touch with him as soon as possible. Sometimes being Maria’s friend is almost as stressful as being the soul mate of an alien king.

That night I wrote my last email to Max.


St. Louis, 2003

~Max~


Liz’s email came on a Thursday in May. It was late spring in St. Louis, and I three days earlier I’d stumbled onto a picture in the New York Post that had given me new hope. It was of a group of people at a party celebrating the premiere of some Broadway revival. One of the men pictured had instantly looked familiar to me, though it took me almost a day to place him. Finally, as I was walking in the financial district after dark, I realized that he looked like Stuart Allward, the doctor who had identified the body in Langley’s mansion as Langley himself. I hadn’t gotten much of a feel for the guy—I’d never met him, and he hadn’t testified at the trial. But it stood to reason that something had to be fishy in that relationship. Why would a shape shifter need a doctor? As I stared at the picture, I realized the man there wasn’t Allward. He just resembled him around the eyes and mouth. But he was bald, and something about the shape of his head was also familiar. He looked. . .he looked a little like Langley.

Luckily for me, the caption gave the man’s name and said that he was a theater insider. I planned to leave St. Louis for New York the next day, but before I did I had to find an internet café and see if anything had come from Liz. I lived for her emails, and the best hours of my life back then were spent composing letters to her. I found a café not far from the river and sat down to enjoy an hour or so of connection with her. I found myself acutely aware that my trip to New York would take me closer to her than I’d been since leaving her in Los Angeles, and I wondered how I would manage not to just get on a train and roam Boston until I found her. Maybe we could arrange to meet somewhere between the two cities, in a town where no one would look for us. . .even if it was for only a few hours, it would mean everything to both of us.

Liz’s email changed everything.

Twenty minutes later, I was re-reading it, cursing myself for my thoughtlessness. Had I actually assumed no one would go poking around in Roswell once I’d drawn attention to myself and my family by jumping bail? Brilliant. Just brilliant. But now what was I supposed to do? If I went back to Roswell to help Michael and Isabel, I’d be running right into the FBI’s path. Even if I did somehow manage to get back there and not get caught, they would certainly intensify their investigation once they learned I’d been back to Roswell. But how could I not go, when my sister and best friend were in danger?

I don’t know how long I sat in the café that day, but I never got around to typing out the email I’d scribbled to Liz on the backs of envelopes and on hotel stationary while riding the bus to St. Louis. Later, I regretted that I hadn’t taken the time to write out what I was feeling that night. At least then she might have understood. But I couldn’t seem to get my thoughts together that night. The café was getting ready to close when I finally realized that there was only one way to stop the investigation in Roswell.

I had to turn myself in.

posted on 19-Mar-2002 6:34:55 PM by mockingbird39
Part 9

St. Petersburg, 2012

~Liz~


I spent the next week or so going over the rest of the trial materials Michael had left with me. Every night, after I’d put Sophie to bed, I retreated to my library to read, re-read, underline, and notate the original trial transcript and all the other materials Michael had put together over the years. I read each of the requests for appeal, and all the subsequent denials. I logged on to Westlaw and read all the cases referenced by Max’s lawyers and the judges. It was slow, tedious work, but I continued on, reading and researching like my life depended on it. Only it wasn’t my life, it was Max’s, and that only made me work harder.

On Wednesday night, I was sitting at my desk when the phone rang. I hesitated, not really wanting to talk to anyone, but finally I reached for it on the off chance that it could be Michael with news about Langley’s will.

“Hello?”

“Liz, I’ve been trying to call you for a week!”

It was Maria, and she sounded harried, as per usual. Apparently there’s a lot to think about when you’re a big pop star.

“I’ve been here, Maria,” I said calmly, closing the manilla folder on in front of me. “What’s going on?”

“I should have called you sooner,” she worried. “I just got so busy, and I—”

“Maria, what is it?”

I heard her take a deep breath. “I gave your address to Michael. I think he’s going to call you.”

“Actually, he came to see me,” I told her. “He was here a few days ago.”

“I know you’re probably mad, but he started talking about Max and how there aren’t any more options for appeal, and he needed your help, and. . .wait. He came to see you?”

“Yes.” I tucked the phone under my chin and leaned back in my chair. “He was waiting in my building when I got home from work last week.”

“Oh, my god.” Maria sounded like she had just been slapped in the face. “Did he—does he know about. . .?”

“He saw Sophie,” I confirmed. I’d had time to get used to it, but Maria was obviously in shock.

“What did he say?” she breathed. “Did he know that she’s. . .that she’s Max’s?”

I nodded, though she couldn’t see that from across an ocean and a continent. “He knew as soon as he saw her.”

“Of course he did,” Maria murmured. “How could he not?” She paused for a moment. “What did he say?”

I took a sip of the tea Gruya had made for me before she left for the evening. It was lukewarm now. “He was shocked at first. . .I think he’s still shocked. Then he was angry. Then he was. . .well, sad.”

“Is he going to tell Max?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.” I toyed with the handle of my teacup. “I think he’s afraid of what it will do to Max.”

Maria was quiet, and I knew she understood. “So Michael’s just going to go along with it and keep this from Max, too?” she asked. I could tell she was thinking of the pact that we’d made years ago, when Sophie was born. Maria had sacrificed a lot to keep my secret, and I hoped to God I’d be able to pay her back someday.

“I don’t know for sure,” I told her, “but I trust him. I think. . .I think he wants what’s best for her.” I sighed. “Maria, I felt so awful. Michael loved her the minute he saw her—he was great with her.”

“Liz, don’t do that to yourself,” she said immediately. “We made the best decision we could, given the circumstances. I don’t regret it. Not any of it.”

I suddenly missed my best friend so much I felt tears sting my eyes. “Thanks, Maria.”

“I mean it.” She sounded weepy, too. “I don’t regret it for a minute. Sophie is perfect and healthy and safe and happy. I think that means we did the right thing.” She sniffed, and I could imagine her wiping the corners of her eyes with her hand, being careful not to smudge her eyeliner. “So how is my goddaughter?” she wanted to know.

I reached for a tissue and swiped at my eyes. “She’s fine—she’s good.” I smiled. “She told me yesterday she either wants to be a lawyer like me, or a sculptor.”

“A sculptor?” Maria repeated, laughing. “Where did she come up with that?”

“They’re doing sculpture in school,” I answered, “and last weekend I took her to the Kazanskaya Cathedral to look at the sculptures of saints. She loved them.”

“What happened to being in the music business?” Maria demanded.

“That was last summer,” I said with a laugh.

“Oh, that reminds me,” she began. “I was in a music shop in Texas a couple of weeks ago and I found this guitar that’s just like a regular acoustic guitar—it’s got a great sound to it, too. But it’s made for a child. It’s like half the size of a regular guitar. It was so cute—I had to buy it for Sophie. Remember how she wanted me to teach her how to play?”

“I remember.” I also remembered thinking, long ago, that Alex would be the one to teach our kids to love music, but I had no energy for such memories that night. “So when are you bringing it over?”

She sighed. “Oh, Liz, I don’t know. I’ve got some two more concerts here in California, and then I have to go back into the studio to work on the new album—”

“And you hate cold weather,” I added with a grin.

“And St. Petersburg in November is just about colder than I can stand,” she agreed shamelessly. “I wish you’d come to L.A. some time.”

I winced. I’d left Los Angeles the day after Max’s sentencing hearing, and I’d never been back. I hoped I never had to visit that city again. But I didn’t tell Maria that. “You don’t have to pack up an eight-year-old,” I told her instead.

“She’d love to come,” Maria protested.

“Of course she would,” I agreed. “She’d love to miss school and hang out on the beach with you—and go shopping and eat all the candy she wants. . .yeah, she’d love that, all right.” It wasn’t entirely true. Maria liked to spoil Sophie, certainly, but she knew when to stop. I never worried about my daughter when she was with Maria.

Maria pretended to be insulted. “Tell her I’ll be there before Christmas,” she said in a mock grumble. “And I’ll be bringing her a nice big package of clothes from the Gap.”

“You’ll enjoy that as much as she will,” I laughed.

“Well, the clothes are just so cute,” she said. “Oh, look—it’s almost two here. I’m meeting some reporter for a late lunch. Can I call you back?”

“If you want,” I told her. “Everything’s okay, really.”

“Are you sure? Because I’m sorry if I let the cat out of the bag with Michael.”

“No,” I assured her. “I’m glad he came, Maria. It was good to see him.”

“I wish I could say the same,” she sighed.

“Not good?”

“More of what it always was,” was all she would say.

We hung up soon after that, promising to talk soon. I sat back in my chair and stretched, yawning. Two o’clock in L.A. meant midnight in Petersburg, and I’d been up since six that morning. But my empty bed seemed even less appealing than usual that night. I was used to sleeping alone. That didn’t mean I liked it.


Cambridge, 2003

By late May, most people had cleared out of my dorm and I had much of the campus to myself. I’d managed to make peace with my parents and planned to go home for the summer, but first I had to complete a research project I’d been chosen to do with my organic chemistry professor. I enjoyed the work—it was challenging and interesting. Plus, it kept my mind off what was happening at home. It had been two weeks since I’d sent that email to Max, and I’d heard nothing from him. According to Maria, the FBI was still hunting for something in Roswell. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go home to that.

I was in my dorm room one evening, eating Indian take-out from Bombay Club in Harvard Square and watching a marathon of Road Rules on MTV. I planned to go out with friends later, but I was getting tired and wasn’t sure I would actually go. I was standing in front of my closet, idly wondering what to wear if I decided to go, when I heard a knock at the door. My roommate was gone for the summer, and I wasn’t supposed to meet my friends for another hour or so. I put down my tandoori chicken and went to the door.

It was Max.

I stood there frozen for an instant, wondering if I was dreaming. “Max?” I finally managed to choke.

“I had to see you,” he said, his eyes roaming over my face like he was afraid it wasn’t really me.

It was all I needed to hear. I flung myself at him, and his arms went around me like iron bars. “Oh, Max,” I whispered, tears streaming down my face, “I missed you so much. I was so afraid I’d never see you again.”

“I’m here,” he said over and over, stroking my hair. “I’m here, Liz.”

“Is it over?” I demanded. “Did you find him? Did you turn him over to the police?”

Max was quiet for a long time, and I think I knew then why he had come. But I had to hear it from him. He gently pushed me back, his hands lingering on my face. “I haven’t found him,” he said seriously.

My heart felt like a dead weight in my chest. “Then why are you here?” I asked in a whisper.

“I have to turn myself in, Liz.”

I stepped away from him. “No. No, Max. How are you going to find Langley from jail? You were the one who said you had to do it!”

“I—I know. But with the FBI in Roswell. . .I can’t let them find out about us.” He reached for me, but I avoided his grasp. How could he stand there and say he was going to give up on us—on all the plans we’d made for our future?

“No. Max, you’re not thinking clearly. The best thing for all of you is to find Langley,” I told him angrily. “You can’t just. . .go to jail! You’re innocent!”

“I can’t keep running,” he said. “Not if it means putting Isabel and Michael in danger.”

I was sobbing by that time. “But I need you,” I cried, putting my hands over my face. “I need you, Max.”

He came forward and wrapped his arms around me, holding me as I sobbed brokenly. “I’m sorry, Liz. I’m so sorry.”

We held each other for a long time, standing in the middle of my dorm room with early summer twilight deepening outside. Max wasn’t bothering to tell me it was okay anymore—we both knew it wasn’t, and might not ever be again.

“I shouldn’t be here,” Max murmured at some point. “I should have gone right to California. But I couldn’t go without seeing you first.”

“Max,” I whispered, “please. Please don’t do it.”

“Liz, don’t,” he said, his voice shaky with emotion. “Just let me hold you right now. Please.” His heart was pounding, and he was trembling in my arms. I knew he was afraid, and that scared me more than anything. I wanted so badly to take it all away—the fear, the crushing responsibility I knew he always felt. I wanted, in that moment, to be everything to him. I wanted to be his soul and his air and his strength and his solace. And if tonight was all we had, I wanted to be his lover, too.

Slowly, hesitantly, I slipped my hand beneath the edge of his shirt and rested my hand against the hot, smooth skin just above his waist. After a moment, I put my other hand there, too. I could feel the play of his muscles beneath his skin, and I traced their movement, my hands trailing upward. I heard his quick intake of breath, and I thought he might pull away, but he didn’t. I ran the tips of my fingers lightly over his shoulder blades, then traced the path of his spine downward, pausing only when I touched the waistband of his jeans. I hesitated for a moment, then slipped my fingers just inside, slowly working my way around to his stomach. I stopped when I felt the button of his jeans beneath my hand.

He raised his head. “Liz, what are you doing?” he murmured.

I didn’t answer. Instead I looked up at him, into those amber eyes I’d never stopped dreaming of, and opened the button. “Please,” I said in a soft voice.

His breath was coming fast. “I have to leave tomorrow,” he told me. “I have to—”

“That’s tomorrow,” I interrupted. “Tonight. . .tonight you’re here.” I reached for his hand and brought it to my mouth, kissing each of his fingers in turn. “Please, Max? I want you so much.”

He wanted me, too—I could feel how much he wanted me, how much he’d ached for me the past months, just as I’d ached for him. He stood perfectly still, his body taut as he fought with himself. “I still have to go,” he said desperately, closing his eyes.

I stood on tiptoe and began planting gentle kisses all over his face. “I know,” I whispered. I continued to kiss him, pressing my lips to his cheeks, his eyes, his jaw. “Please, Max.”

I felt the moment when he stopped fighting. Fire coursed through his body, leaving his skin hot to the touch, and he put both his hands on my waist, his fingers slipping beneath my shirt. I shivered as he touched the sensitive area just below my ribs, and he pulled me close against him. “Are you sure?” he asked, his mouth hovering over mine.

“Yes.” I reached up and pulled his head down. “Yes, I’m sure.”


St. Petersburg, 2012

It’s been almost ten years since that night, but there is not a day I don’t remember it. If I let myself, I can close my eyes and feel his hands on my body, touching every part of me with a mingled reverence and desire that still leaves me breathless. His touch was slow, languid, agonizingly delicate, and for a while I thought I would die from wanting more. I felt like I was falling, losing myself in him, no longer a separate person. I memorized every inch of his body that night, every curve and muscle and sinew. He was the most perfect thing I’d ever touched, and when I finally peeled away the last of his clothes, I could only stare at the beautiful man before me. Then he took me in his arms and the last barrier between us was gone. The moment we were finally joined I realized what I’d wanted all this time—to be one with him. To be tangled together, two halves that had finally found one another. Wave after wave of warmth crested inside me, and at one point I opened my eyes to find that both of us were covered with a fine sheen of silver, glowing faintly in the darkness of my room. He saw it too, and I heard him give a murmured cry. Then his mouth found mine as the world slipped away and every thought I’d ever had flew from my mind. I wanted nothing but more of this moment, more of Max moving deep inside me and I cried out as I felt his body begin to strain. My breath caught in my throat and he wrenched his mouth from mine to stare into my eyes as the most powerful pleasure I’d ever felt built to a blinding fervor. I felt him shudder once, and then all I new was golden light overtaking both of us, binding us together forever as one. I heard myself call his name, and his answering cry, then he collapsed in my arms, his head on my breast. For one moment, the world was right.

The next morning I woke up to a note that I’ve kept ever since, folded into my old copy of Romeo and Juliet.

Dear Liz,

Tomorrow it would only have been harder.

I’m sorry.


Max


posted on 20-Mar-2002 2:29:11 PM by mockingbird39
Part 10

Los Angeles, 2012

~Max~


Michael had been preoccupied ever since he came back from vacation. Usually he comes by my cell a couple of times each shift to talk and bring me newspapers, or ask me questions. I know what he’s trying to do, and it’s not that I don’t appreciate it. But Michael gets to walk out of here every night. He doesn’t realize how destructive it is to get interested in a world you’ll never see again.

But lately he’s been a little distant—maybe absent is a better word. He still comes by, but sometimes I know his mind is just somewhere else.

“Did you watch the game last night?” I asked him when he came by one morning. “I heard New York got killed.”

“Yeah, they sucked,” he agreed, then frowned. “What? No—the refs were idiots.”

I smiled. That was more like Michael. “I’ll have to take your word for it.”

“You didn’t watch?” he asked. “I know they played it on the TV downstairs.”

“Yeah, I was reading,” I told him. “I thought about it, but. . .I just didn’t feel like it.”

Michael pointed to the book on my bed. “How many times have you read that thing?” he asked.

I shrugged. I’d been reading The Count of Monte Cristo on and off for years. Sometimes I read it straight through, and other times I just went back to the most interesting parts. Over and over I returned to the chapters about Edmond’s years in prison. The way he changed during those years haunted me. I knew that I’d changed since the day I walked through the gates of this place. Sometimes I wondered how much. “I’m not sure,” I answered finally. “Probably a lot.”

“Yeah, probably,” Michael agreed, the far away look on his face again. He stared at nothing for a minute, then shook his head. “Hey, I brought you the paper again today. There’s a good article about the election. I’ll bring it by after lunch.”

“If you want,” I said noncommittally. I hadn’t followed the election much. I couldn’t vote, anyway.

“I will.” Michael nodded. “I’ll be back.” He straightened and walked down the cell block, nodding to the other prisoners as he passed.

When he was gone, I picked up my book, but I didn’t start reading. I’d had a dream last night. . .one of the oddly real dreams I’d been having almost ever since I came to this place. The dreams had changed over the years, going from strange impressions and bright lights to more definite images—sometimes buildings and streets, sometimes trees, sometimes houses and the rooms inside. At first I thought they were just random dreams, and I hadn’t paid much attention. Then one night a few years ago, I saw a dark-haired woman standing on a bridge. The sun was shining on her hair, and though I couldn’t hear her voice, I knew she was laughing. Then she turned her head.

It was Liz.

I’d woken up at that moment, gasping and sweating and wondering what I’d just seen. Since that night, I’d never known for sure if the dreams were memories, or flashes like the ones Liz and I had gotten years ago, or dreams, or something else entirely. Sometimes I wondered if Liz and I had somehow connected across whatever distance separated. Maybe that night in Cambridge when we’d made love had left us with something more than we’d thought. Over the years I’d had many of the strange dreams, but only a few were of Liz. Most were like the one I’d had last night, of a an enormous stone statue set into an archway. I couldn’t be sure how large it was, but in my dream I had felt dwarfed by it.

As I sat on my bed that day, I closed my eyes and tried to picture what I’d seen. I was seldom able to make much sense of the dreams, but that never stopped me from trying. After I had one, I’d spend days trying to recall every detail, hoping it would provide me with a clue to what it was. I think I did it because if the dreams were some kind of connection with Liz, they were just about the only one I’d had since our emails almost a decade ago.


Los Angeles, 2003

“Max, it’s good to see you.”

Michael sat across from me, separated from me by a sheet of scratched and smeared safety glass. It was the first time I’d had a visit from anyone except my parents and my lawyer in the three weeks since I’d been transferred to the maximum-security prison where the state of California planned to keep me for the rest of my life. Michael looked distinctly uncomfortable, and I couldn’t blame him. Visitors were tightly monitored, and were stopped and searched at several checkpoints. “Hi, Michael. Thanks for coming.”

“No problem,” he nodded. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m okay,” I told him. Prison still seemed like a dream to me then. I’d been in a daze ever since leaving Liz in Cambridge, and I think part of me still hoped I’d wake up one morning in her arms. Leaving her had been the hardest thing I’d ever done, and sometimes I wondered if she’d ever forgive me. I cleared my throat and shook my head, trying to push those thoughts from my mind. “Are they gone?” I asked Michael, and he knew that I meant the FBI and police that had swarmed over Roswell looking for me.

“Most of ‘em left right away,” he confirmed. “A couple wanted to stay around, but I don’t the FBI is interested in throwing resources at a closed case.” He paused. “Isabel and Jesse are still moving, though.”

My sister and her husband had been planning to move to Chicago before I’d turned myself in to the cops in L.A. Jesse was worried that too many people connected Isabel with strange goings on, and he wanted her to escape the whispers and stares. He thought it would be good for her to start over in a new place. I agreed with him. “That’s good,” I said to Michael. “Maybe you should think about leaving, too.”

Michael shrugged. “Where would I go?” he asked.

“Anywhere. Haven’t you ever wanted to live anywhere but Roswell?”

Michael thought for a moment. “I’ve always kind of wanted to go somewhere where the seasons change—you know, where you actually have a difference between summer and fall,” he said finally, his voice thoughtful, then he shook his head. “Whatever. Anyway, have you been getting your mail?”

I shook my head. “Not yet. They told me it could take up to a month.”

“Liz has been writing you almost every day. She told Maria.” Michael smiled. “You’ll be getting a big package of letters.” He leaned forward. “She said to tell you she’s already looking at schools in California.”

I frowned. “Why is she doing that?”

Michael shrugged. “I guess she’s going to transfer out here.” He looked surprised. “You didn’t think she was going to stay in Massachusetts with you out here, did you?”

“That’s exactly what she’s going to do!” I told Michael. “Harvard is Liz’s dream—she can’t just give up on that.”

“Maxwell,” Michael said seriously, “I may not know Liz as well as you do, but I do know one thing. Her dream right now is you. I don’t think she gives a damn about Harvard if it keeps her from being near you.”

“You think she’d rather move out here just so she can come by for an hour every other weekened?” I demanded. It was unthinkable—Liz deserved so much more than that. I’d always known Liz might be better off with someone else, but this was the first time her being with me would be such an obvious hinderance. I couldn’t let that happen.

“I’m just telling you what I think she’s going to do,” Michael told me. “She loves you, Max. Do you understand that?”

“Of course I understand that.” How could I not, after that night we’d spent together? I’d seen her soul that night, seen everything she ever was and would be, and I knew that she loved me.

“If it were different,” Michael said quietly, “wouldn’t you do it for her?”

“This is different,” I insisted.

“How?” Michael asked simply.

I was getting angry. “It just is.”

“Is that how you’re going to explain it to her?” he wanted to know. “Because I don’t think she’s going to take that well.”

“If it was Maria, what would you say?” I asked him.

Michael sighed. “If it was Maria, I’d know that trying to change her mind is like arguing with the IRS. Only sometimes the IRS gives in.”

He wasn’t being particularly helpful, and I didn’t have any patience left. “She can’t transfer and that’s all there is to it. She’s better off where she is.”

“Liz is a smart girl,” Michael said. “Maybe you should let her decide where she’s better off.”

“Michael, we both know what she’d choose,” I answered, shaking my head.

“Yeah, but it would be her choice,” he reminded me.

I closed my eyes and all I could see was Liz coming here week after week, tied to me even though I’d never be able to give her a home, a family. . .all the things I so desperately wanted her to have. Liz had given up so much for me already, but there was a limit. I opened my eyes. “I’m not going to let her do it, Michael. I’m not worth it.”

He shook his head. “She’s going to feel differently.”

“Then I have to change her mind.”


Roswell, 2003

~Liz~


Max didn’t answer any of the letters I sent him after he left Cambridge. I started writing the very next morning, even though I had no idea when I would be able to send my letters to him. As it was, I didn’t get the correct address until he’d been gone for over two weeks. I sent the letters immediately, but I never found out when he received them—or even if he got all of them. But I kept writing anyway.

By the end of June, when my research project was finished and I was ready to head home to Roswell, I was frantic. Michael assured me through Maria that Max was okay, but I wasn’t content with that. I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t written to me, or at least passed a message to me through Michael and Maria. After the night we’d shared together, I could hardly take being apart at all, let alone being so completely isolated from him. When I landed in Roswell, I was relieved beyond belief. Perhaps he had sent his letters to my parents’ house, not knowing exactly when I’d be home.

But there were no letters from Max waiting for me there. Only credit card offers, some catalogs, and transfer applications from the schools I’d contacted in California. More worried than ever, I went straight to the Crashdown once I’d put my bags down and seen my parents. Luckily for me, Michael was working the grill.

“Michael!” I called, glad to find him as I walked into the kitchen.

He looked up, and something I didn’t recognize crossed his face. “Uh. . .hi, Liz,” he said awkwardly, then seemed to realize my being home required more than that. He wiped his hands on his apron and left the grill to give me a hug. “Welcome back,” he said, holding me a little more tightly than I’d expected. “I heard you’d be back today,” he added as he released me and returned to the grill to keep an eye on his burgers.

I nodded. “Yeah, I finished my research project yesterday,” I told him, but I wasn’t going to stand there and make small talk. “Michael, have you talked to Max recently?”

He stared at the grill for a second too long. “I. . .I saw him a couple of weeks ago,” he said finally. “They only let him have visitors every other week.”

“He can have visitors now?” I asked. No one had told me that.

“Uh, yeah, but it’s kind of a pain in the ass. You have to get your name on the list, and then you have to get searched and stuff—”

“Michael, what’s going on?” I interrupted. “Max hasn’t answered any of my letters and now you’re trying to convince me I can’t visit him?”

“I didn’t say that,” he said quickly.

“Then what exactly are you saying?” I was furious—why in the world would Michael be trying to keep me away from Max? Didn’t he know that Max and I needed each other?

“I just. . .Liz, I don’t know what Max is doing, okay?” he said. He touched my arm. “I’m sorry.”

I felt tears sting my eyes. “Is he angry with me?” I asked softly.

Michael looked miserable. “No. No, I don’t think that’s it.”

“Then what?” I couldn’t stop the tears. “Michael, I miss him so much.”

“I know you do,” he answered. He hugged me again, and the lump in my throat got even bigger. “Max is just. . .he’s going through a lot, you know?”

“I know,” I told him, “and I just want to be there for him. Please, Michael, can you tell him that for me?”

Michael squeezed me briefly, then stepped back. “I’ll tell him, Liz. I promise. Just—please don’t worry. You didn’t do anything wrong. He loves you—I know he loves you.”

I nodded firmly. “I know he does,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady. “I know that.”

posted on 21-Mar-2002 7:54:10 AM by mockingbird39
Part 11


St. Petersburg, 2012

~Liz~


By the end of the second week after Michael’s visit, I was getting really tired of waiting for the information I’d told him to get for me. I had no idea what could be causing the hold-up—the will should have been on file with the county, and Michael should have been able to get it easily.

“How long does it take to fax a stupid will?” I grumbled on Friday afternoon, jabbing a pen into my desk blotter. I’d been trying to proofread a contract since lunch, but I couldn’t keep my mind on it. Over and over I found myself staring out the windows at the traffic and pedestrians on Nevskii Prospekt, pondering the questions I had about Max’s case. Michael had done a good job putting together the material, but he wasn’t a lawyer and some things were missing. If it was taking him this long to get me a copy of Langley’s will, I dreaded asking for things like a missing page from the exhibit list and a copy of the prosecution’s witness list.

At three o’clock, after finding myself staring out the window for the hundredth time, I decided to leave early and pick Sophie up from school myself. Maybe we could get last-minute tickets for a concert or play that night. Sophie loved going to the theater—though I wasn’t quite sure if it was really the performance she loved, or the fact that she got to get dressed up and sit in the faded opulence of the theater. I called Gruya to tell her I would pick Sophie up, put a few weekend projects into my briefcase, then put on my coat and hat.

It was cold outside, but not snowing, so I decided to walk to Sophie’s school. On the way there, I walked by the Maryinskii Theater—Sophie’s favorite—and found that Giselle was being performed there. We hadn’t seen that yet, but I decided not to buy the tickets until I asked Sophie if she wanted to go. I had no plans for the evening, and it had been too long since we’d spent a day together. Just outside the gates of her school, I bought a bunch of flowers—pink and yellow, since those were Sophie’s favorite colors—then showed my identification to the security guards and waited in the lobby for her to get out of class.

She came out of her classroom a few minutes later, holding hands with another little girl I recognized as the daughter of a French diplomat. Sophie’s French is improving by leaps and bounds as she and Anne-Marie play together. Sophie was dressed in her uniform—navy and gold kilt, white blouse, and navy blazer bearing the crest of the American School—and her coat hung open. She carried her scarf, hat, and book bag. When she saw me, her eyes lit up.

“Mommy!” she cried, running over to me. “How come you came?”

I knelt down to hug her. “Aren’t you glad to see me?” I asked, handing her the flowers I’d bought.

She grinned, showing a gap where one of her front teeth was missing. “Yeah, but how come you’re not at work?”

Hmm. Had I been that preoccupied lately? “Well,” I said, “I thought we’d walk home today and see if the river’s frozen yet. How about that?” In winter, once the Neva freezes over completely, a river market is held on the surface of the ice. November is a little early, but it had been quite cold this year.

“I bet it’s not,” Sophie said as I buttoned her coat.

“Then we’ll just have to get some ice cream and watch the boats,” I told her. I put on her gloves and hat, then wrapped her scarf around her neck. “How does that sound?”

“Good,” she said happily. She waved to Anne-Marie and then put her hand in mine as we walked out the door.

As we walked toward the river, Sophie chattered happily about school and her classmates. Sometimes I think I should get down on my knees and thank God that my daughter is so happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. Sometimes I actually do it, too. That afternoon, I was struck again by how lucky Sophie and I are. It hasn’t always been easy for us, but we’ve always had each other. My daughter is the most precious thing in the world to me—every day with her is a gift. But today that thought made me a little sad. Max had missed many, many days of his daughter’s life, all because of me.

“Ha! I told you!”

Sophie pulled her hand from mine and darted to the bridge. I followed, picking through the snow on the ground.

“Not frozen yet,” she crowed happily.

I stood beside her at the guardrail and looked out. Sure enough, the river flowed freely down the middle of the city. Sophie and I stood on the side of the Winter Palace Complex, which housed the Hermitage, just across the river from a row of yellow buildings that comprised part of St. Petersburg’s prestigious university system. Over our heads, the sky reflected the same icy blue as the river, but as the sun began to sink, streaks of pink and purple marked the cloudless expanse. I have seen the sun set over the desert in a breathtaking burst of orange and purple, and I have watched twilight wrap itself over the glittering expanses of Boston and New York. But here in Petersburg sunset is a thing of gentle beauty that never fails to quiet my soul. I looked down and watched Sophie extract a daisy from her bouquet. She lifted her hand and stuck it over her ear, tucking the stem beneath her beret. She looked up at me for approval, and I smiled.

“Want to wear one?” she asked me.

“Yes,” I answered. She pulled a pink flower from the bouquet and handed it to me. I placed it over my ear, just as she had done, and fluttered my eyelashes at her. “How do I look?”

“Bee-yoo-ti-ful!” she proclaimed, giggling.

“Why, thank you, dahling,” I told her in an affected accent. She laughed again and I reached for her hand. “Do you want some ice cream?”

“Yes, please,” she answered politely, and we turned and walked toward the Palace, where there are always vendors waiting, no matter how cold the weather. We both chose Dasha bars, an ice cream bar we’d both fallen in love with by the end of our first week in St. Petersburg. They’re made of rich vanilla ice cream and a layer of smooth, creamy caramel covered in chocolate. If I let her, Sophie would live on them, and I can’t actually blame her. I’ve considered it myself. Sophie unwrapped her ice cream and bit into it, oblivious to the cold weather. The first winter I lived here, I thought it was strange that Russians eat ice cream outside in the cold all winter long. Now I find myself doing it, too.

“Mmm,” Sophie murmured. “So good.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. We walked about a block in silence, enjoying our ice cream. “So what do you want to do tonight?” I asked her after a while. “There’s a ballet at the Maryinskii.”

She thought for a moment. “If we do somethin’ tonight, can we do somethin’ else tomorrow?” she wanted to know.

I thought of the work in my briefcase and the possibility that Michael would have faxed me Langley’s will while I’d been at work today. But then I looked down at her hopeful face and nodded. “I think we can stretch girls’ night into two days.”

“Then I wanna watch Anastasia tonight and go to Tsarskoe Selo tomorrow so we can dance in the ballroom,” she said in one breath.

Tsarskoe Selo is a town a few miles outside of St. Petersburg where the Catherine Palace is located. It was the home favored by the last royal family of Russia, and Sophie loves it. She particularly loves the grand ballroom, where guests are free to waltz around beneath enormous crystal chandeliers. We visited the palace twice last summer, and both times Sophie talked about it for days. I squeezed her hand. “That sounds like a great idea,” I told her.

She gave an excited little skip as we walked. “Really?”

“Yup.” I found myself looking forward to a day away from all the things that had kept me so busy lately. “Want to go get a pizza from Pizza Hut to eat while we’re watching the movie?” It would be cold by the time we got it home, but we could heat it in the oven. Not quite Dominoes, but it’s a little bit of home.

She beamed. “Yeah!” She finished the last of her Dasha bar and dropped the wrapper into a trashcan near the curb. “Brr,” she said, shivering. “Now I’m cold.”

I chuckled. “That’s what happens when you. . .” I glanced down at her and my voice trailed off suddenly. My daughter was cupping her gloved hands together in front of her face, blowing on them as if to warm them.

Beneath her gloves, I could see a faint red glow emanating from her palms.


Los Angeles, 2003

~Michael~


I saw Max again the weekend after Liz got home from Cambridge. The minute he sat down behind the glass and picked up the phone, I let him have it.

“What the hell are you doing, Max?” I demanded.

He blinked. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about Liz,” I told him angrily. “She’s writing to you every day and you haven’t bothered to answer. Not even once. You haven’t called her, and when I checked today her name wasn’t on the visitor’s list. Just what are you trying to do?

“I told you before,” Max said, glaring back at me. “I can’t let Liz transfer out of Harvard just so she can stay here.”

“So you’re going to break her heart and make her hate you?” I asked. “Good plan. Incredibly cruel, but I think it should work.”

“Michael, if there was any other way—”

“Cut the crap, Max,” I interrupted. I was done coddling him on this. I knew he thought he was being unselfish, but how could he think this was good for Liz? “You can’t do this to her. It isn’t fair.”

“It’s for her own good,” he said stubbornly.

“You don’t see what it’s doing to her,” I told him. In the past week, Liz had gotten paler and more withdrawn each day as she heard nothing from Max. It made my heart ache to look at her, and I wanted to kick Maxwell’s ass for what he was doing. “Shutting her out doesn’t make her quit loving you,” I said angrily. “Think about it—when she ran away to Florida for the summer and didn’t call you, did you ever stop loving her? Even for a minute?”

He flinched. “Once she goes back to Harvard it’ll be easier,” he muttered. “She’ll understand then.”

“No, she won’t. She won’t understand.” I shook my head. “If this is what you’re going to do, you’ve got to tell her to her face. You can’t just keep up this silence.”

He shook his head vigorously. “No, I can’t see her. If I see her, I won’t be able to do it. I—I’ll write her a letter after she leaves.” He looked at me pleadingly. “Michael, just tell her I’m still settling in—that I’m having trouble adjusting or something. Please.”

For the first time in my life, I wasn’t going to help him. “No.” I shook my head. “I can’t, Maxwell. I can’t help you on this. What you’re doing is wrong, and I won’t be a part of it.” I sat back in my chair. “I’m going to bring Liz with me the next time I come, and you’re going to have talk to her yourself.”

His eyes were desperate. “Michael, I can’t. This is better for her—you know it is.”

“No, it’s not. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.” I looked at him seriously. “If you do this, you’re making a mistake. I can’t stop you, but I won’t be your messenger boy and I won’t lie for you. You’re going to have to do it yourself.”

“You know you’d do it for Maria,” he lashed out.

I thought about it for a moment, then I shook my head. “You know, a year ago I might have. But then I lost Maria. . .I’m still not sure if I have her back.” I took a deep breath. “I would give anything to be as sure about me and Maria as I am about you and Liz.”

He didn’t seem to know what to say to that. “It’s different, Michael,” he finally muttered, looking away.

“I’m sorry, Max,” I said. “I really am. But I can’t help you with this.”

posted on 22-Mar-2002 8:00:42 AM by mockingbird39
Author's Note: I think this is the most difficult chapter of fanfic I've ever written, and I apologize in advance for what jerks some characters are going to be. Just be assured that it will--at some point--get better, and keep in mind the characters' motivations.

Part 12


St. Petersburg, 2012

~Liz~


I watched Sophie that whole night, waiting for a repeat of what had happened on Nevskii Prospekt, but nothing happened. Her hands didn’t glow, she didn’t heat her pizza by waving her fingers over it, and she didn’t set anything on fire, much to my relief. She also didn’t mention what had happened, which made me think it must not have been the first time. Had it happened so often that she didn’t consider it worth mentioning? And if so, how had I not noticed it before?

Sophie didn’t notice me watching her. Thankfully, she was too wrapped up in the movie and too busy eating her pizza. I let her stay up a little later than usual, since it wasn’t a school night, and then we read together before she went to sleep. When I kissed her good night, I lingered for a moment.

“Sophie, you know how much I love you, don’t you?” I asked her.

She smiled. “More than anything in the world, more than the moon, and all the stars,” she answered immediately.

“That’s right,” I told her, smoothing her hair back. “And you know I’ll always love you like that, no matter what, right?”

“I know,” she said.

I nodded. “There is nothing that would make me stop loving you—ever,” I continued. “So. . .if you ever want to tell me something, you don’t have to be afraid, okay?”

“Okay.” She snuggled deeper into her covers. “Can I wear my new boots tomorrow when we go to Tsarskoe Selo?” she wanted to know.

“We’ll see.” I bent and kissed her forehead. “Good night, sweetie.”

“Night, Mommy.”

I turned out the light and left her room, wandering aimlessly through the apartment with my mind spinning. What was I going to do? I’d never felt inadequate to raise my own daughter before, but that night I didn’t know how to cope. There were so many things I couldn’t tell her—things I simply didn’t know. Thinking about it, I realized what an idiot I’d been to assume Sophie would be just a normal child—how could she be, when neither of her parents were? It was tempting to blame this on Max, but the truth was that Sophie had inherited alien powers from both of us.

I thought back to that summer in Los Angeles with Max. He had spent some of the long hours in our hotel room teaching me to control my powers, and eventually I managed to keep them under control. But I’d been mostly interested in making them go away, not in using them. I had no idea if Sophie would be content with that.

Eventually, I ended up in the library. It’s my favorite room in the apartment, and the reason I chose this place when I moved here. Tonight I threw myself into the soft leather club chair near the fireplace and curled up there with an afghan draped over my shoulders. I thought about calling Michael, but it was still early in L.A. I doubted he’d be home from work yet. I frowned, realizing I had no idea what he did for a living. Maria had never mentioned it, either, and I wondered if she knew.

“Some friend I am,” I muttered to myself, staring at my hands, which were clasped on my knee. Slowly, I raised one and stared at it, remembering the green energy that had shot through my fingers each time my powers flared. I’d been so scared, yet that summer while Max was on trial I’d even been thankful for that part of our connection. If it was true that he’d changed me when he healed me, wasn’t it because he’d made me a little like him? I’d hung onto that for a long time, even after the rest of our relationship had shattered into a million tiny pieces in my hands.


Los Angeles, 2003

Michael was very quiet on the way to L.A. I didn’t feel much like talking, either. We stopped in Phoenix overnight, but I don’t think either of us slept very much. Early the next morning, Michael knocked on my door and we started driving again. That part of the drive was even quieter than the day before, because all morning I had to concentrate on not being sick.

About two weeks earlier, I’d begun to suspect something was going on. I think I would have noticed earlier, if not for how worried I was about Max and his ongoing silence. I’d been sick in the mornings, and I spent more and more time sleeping. Five days ago, I’d woken up in the morning with the familiar nausea and fatigue that had been plaguing me for weeks and I just knew I was pregnant. I drove to a drug store two towns away to buy a pregnancy and stopped on the way back at a McDonald’s, where I hid in the bathroom and took the test. Positive. Max and I had been together in late May; it was now the beginning of July. That meant I was about six weeks along with his baby. Counting ahead, I guessed the baby would be born sometime in February—if everything went according to human standards, not alien. So far, that seemed to be the case. I reasoned that if my pregnancy had progressed like Alex’s book translation had told us Tess’s would, I would have already been changing diapers. But I hadn’t even started to show, though sometimes I noticed that my stomach seemed to get kind of hard.

I should have been terrified, and part of me was. Max was in jail, I was nineteen years old and pregnant with his child, I hadn’t heard from him since the night we’d made love, and I had no idea what I was going to do. But another part of me was more excited than I’d ever been. A baby. . .Max’s baby. . .was growing inside me. I’d dreamed about having his children, and when he’d told me Tess was pregnant I’d been devastated, thinking that it should have been me and not her. I wanted this baby—if something didn’t happen to prove Max hadn’t murdered Langley, it would be the only child we’d ever have. I knew from the beginning that I would keep my child.

I fell asleep in the car somewhere between San Diego and Los Angeles. When I woke up, I reached for a can of soda from the cooler I’d packed before we left and sipped it slowly. Michael had turned off the radio while I slept, and the only sounds in the car were the hum of the motor and the air conditioner. It wasn’t long before we took an off ramp and headed away from the city.

“It’s not far,” Michael told me.

“Good,” I said. I hesitated a moment, then blurted, “He knows I’m coming, right?”

Michael nodded, keeping his eyes on the road. “He knows.”

“Do you think he’ll be happy to see me?” I asked in a small voice.

Michael was quiet for a minute, then he glanced at me with serious eyes. “I think it’ll mean a lot to him that you came,” he said finally.

I hoped so. I hoped when I got there I’d find out that Max hadn’t mean to shut me out all these weeks—that it was all some kind of mistake. I wanted to tell him about the baby, and I knew he’d be worried, but I was sure he’d be happy, too. I knew that Max wanted to be a father someday. . .this was a little unexpected, but I hoped he’d come around once he got over the shock. I hugged myself, thinking of the way his eyes would light up when I told him how much I wanted our baby. I promised myself I would come to see him as often as they’d let me, right up until the baby was born. Looking out the window, I day dreamed about Max touching my stomach, feeling the baby kick beneath his hand. Maybe the thought of being a father would give him the incentive he needed to keep looking for Langley. I couldn’t imagine our baby growing up without Max there every day.

When we got to the prison, Michael parked the car and we got out to walk. I felt better now that we weren’t moving, but my nerves were picking up. Michael had told me that Max was now allowed to have face to face visitors, so instead of speaking from opposite sides of safety glass we’d be in a large room with a lot of other prisoners and their visitors. I was glad I’d be allowed to touch Max, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about talking to him with a bunch of other people in the room. Hopefully, they’d be too busy with each other to notice us. It seemed like forever before we finally got through all the security checks and were ushered into an open outdoor pavilion filled with people. We sat down at a metal picnic table and waited for Max to be brought from his cell. My hands were shaking.

I saw him come in, walking between two guards, and I was amazed at how different he looked. He was pale and thin, and his eyes looked so tired. He was handcuffed, too, which unsettled me even more. The guards led him over to where we were sitting and I jumped up as he approached.

“Max!” I exclaimed, near tears just at the sight of him. I tried to hug him, but it was awkward, with his hands cuffed in front of him.

“Hi, Liz,” he said quietly.

The guards took off the handcuffs when I stepped away from him. One of them gave me a sympathetic look as he left us alone. When they were gone, I hugged him again, pressing my face against his chest. It felt so good to hold him that I barely noticed how stiff his arms felt as he put them around me. I stood there for a long time, relieved to know that he was actually okay. Finally, he released me and stepped back.

“It’s so good to see you,” I said.

He didn’t meet my gaze. “Yeah,” he answered. He turned to Michael and nodded briefly. “Hi, Michael.”

Michael seemed uncomfortable. “Hey, Maxwell.”

I touched Max’s arm. “How are you?” I asked anxiously, searching his face. “I’ve been so worried about you.”

“I’m okay,” he said hoarsely, looking down. He sat down at the table and glanced at me for a second. “How have you been?”

His lack of emotion was baffling—he was even more withdrawn than he’d been those few weeks when he and Tess had been together. “I’m okay,” I said, sitting down beside him. “I have so much to tell you. . .have you been getting my letters?”

At this Michael stood up. “I’m gonna. . .leave you two alone for a while,’ he said quickly. “I’ll be right over there if you need me.” He headed for a row of vending machines against one wall and stood there, digging in his pockets for change.

When he was gone, Max remained quiet. “Max,” I asked finally, “did you get the letters I wrote to you? I try to write every day.”

“I got them,” he said shortly. He didn’t say why he had never answered. Instead, he cleared his throat. “I guess you’re going back to Harvard soon, right?”

I stared at him. “I. . .I’m not going back to Harvard. I told you that in the letters. Didn’t—didn’t you read them?”

“Oh, right.” He nodded. “I didn’t think you were serious, though.”

“Of course I’m serious,” I told him, more confused than ever. “I’ve already gotten accepted to UCLA and I’m waiting to hear from San Diego and Pepperdine.” I forced a smile. “Can you imagine that? Going to college in Malibu—I don’t know why I didn’t think of that before.”

“But what about Harvard?” he asked, looking at the table.

“Harvard is in Massachusetts,” I said, “and you’re in California.”

He was quiet for a while. “Liz, it’s not like we’d be able to see each other that much,” he murmured after a moment.

“What?” I touched his hand where it rested on the table and he shut his eyes for a second, breathing deeply. “Max, what are you saying? I’m not going to go to Cambridge and leave you here all alone.”

“I’m not really alone, Liz,” he protested. “Michael comes whenever he can. . .anyway, they only let visitors in twice a month. What difference does it make where you are if we never get to see each other?”

If he had slapped me, I couldn’t have been more shocked. “But. . .if I’m in Massachusetts, I’d only get to see you a couple of times a year,” I managed to choke.

“We could. . .we could write letters,” he said.

“I’ve been writing letters,” I told him. “You haven’t answered.” I felt sick, and it had nothing to do with the baby—oh, god. The baby. If he didn’t even want me around in California, what was he going to say when I told him I was pregnant?

“I’ve been busy, Liz,” he told me.

“Too busy to write a paragraph telling me you were okay?” I demanded. He didn’t answer. I removed my hand from his arm and stared down at the table. “Max, are you angry with me?” I asked finally. “Is it because of. . .because of that night in Cambridge?” I swallowed hard. “Was it not—not what you thought it would be?” I was on the verge of tears.

He still wasn’t looking at me. “No, it’s not that. That was. . .it was fine. It wasn’t—” He paused. “It was good.”

Fine? Good? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’d never been so hurt, not even when I’d found out he’d slept with Tess. Unconsciously, I put my hand over my abdomen, as if to shield my baby from the impact of his words. “I thought it was perfect,” I whispered, more to myself than to him.

“Liz, look, I’ll write to you, okay? I’m just saying I think it’s better if you go back to Cambridge.” He glanced at me again, quickly dropping his eyes before I could see what was in them.

“Better for who?” I asked, dazed.

“Better for everyone,” he answered.

I took a deep breath to calm my screaming nerves. This was just another ploy to push me away for my own good—Max had tried that one before. But it wasn’t going to work this time. “It’s not better for me,” I said distinctly. “And it’s not better for—”

“Maybe it’s better for me,” he interrupted quietly.

All the air went out of my lungs in one painful rush. “What did you say?” I asked.

“I can’t do this, Liz,” he said. “I’m going to be here for the rest of my life. Do you understand that? Until the day I die, I’m going to wake up here every morning with nothing to do but think about all the things I’m never going to get to have. I don’t have a choice.” He looked at me—really looked at me for the first time—and continued, “I can deal with that. I have to deal with it. But I can’t deal with it when you’re around, reminding me what I want and can’t have.”

I didn’t understand. He couldn’t be serious. . .was he?

“I get all your letters, and you talk about college and friends and all the things I wish I could be doing, too,” he was saying, his words coming in a rush. “I wanted to go to college, Liz. But now I never will. There were a lot of things I wanted to do. But I’m not going to get to do any of them.”

“I’m sorry,” I murmured. “I didn’t know you felt like that.”

“Well, I do,” he said, his voice growing harsh. “You come here today, and you’re so glad to see me, and I—I have to stay here when you leave. You get to walk out of here, and I don’t.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I can’t live like that, Liz. I can’t.”

I felt cold all over, despite the heat of the day. “What. . .what are you saying?”

He stared at me with determined eyes. “Go to Cambridge, Liz. Don’t come here anymore. Just let it go.”

I thought I might faint. “But Jesse said you’re going to appeal. You might not have to stay here,” I protested in a small voice.

“I can’t count on that,” he said, “and neither should you. I’m sorry, Liz, but. . .this isn’t going to work. We have to face that.”

“You can’t mean this, Max,” I whispered. “What about all the things we said to each other? You love me—I know you do.”

He looked away. “I did,” he said. “But everything is different now.”

I stood up, a sob escaping from my throat, and looked at him through tear-filled eyes. “Are you saying. . .are you saying you don’t love me anymore?” I cried.

He didn’t answer me directly. “Don’t make this any harder than it is,” he told me.

“Max, I don’t understand,” I said, my whole body trembling.

“It’s over, Liz,” he said in a flat voice. “Dreams end, right?”

I stared at him for another minute, unable to believe what I was hearing. Then I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. “I love you,” I told him in a shaking voice. “I would have loved you my whole life.” Then I turned and ran from the pavillion. Outside, I turned to look at him and found him standing there alone, staring after me. I didn’t look back again.


~Michael~

When I saw Liz run away from the table, I hurried back over to where Max still sat. By the time I got there, he was already sitting with his head in his hands.

“What happened?” I asked, then I shook my head. “You did it, didn’t you? You’re a real shit, Max.”

“Shut up, Michael,” he said in a shaking voice. “Just. . .just go after her okay? Go to her.”

I realized he was right—Liz needed me more. Without another word, I ran after Liz. I found her in the parking lot, leaning against the car, sobbing brokenly. I put my arm around her and she clung to me, soaking my shirt with her tears.

“He said it’s over, Michael,” she cried. “He said he doesn’t want to see me again. What am I going to do?”

“I’m sorry, Liz,” I said, holding her close against me as she sobbed. It was a long time before she calmed down. Finally, I managed to get her in the car. We’d planned to stop in Phoenix again on the way back, but Liz hadn’t spoken in hours and I was terrified by the time we got there. I drove straight through, and took her home early the next afternoon. I had to carry her up the stairs to her room, telling her parents she’d gotten sick on the way back. I called Maria from Liz’s room to tell her to get right over there, and I waited until she showed up. I told her what Liz had told me, and I left the two of them on Liz’s bed, holding each other and crying.

If I had known then that it would be the last time I’d see Liz again for almost ten years, I would have stopped to say goodbye.

posted on 24-Mar-2002 10:49:06 AM by mockingbird39
Part 13


St. Petersburg, 2012

~Liz~


Sophie and I went to Tsarskoe Selo the next day, and despite my fears about her powers, we had a great time. We road the train there, then walked through the town, stopping for lunch at a small restaurant we’d visited several times before. After we’d eaten, we walked to the palace and paid the small entrance fee at the front gate. The Catherine Palace is the centerpiece of the complex. It is an enormous masterpiece, painted turquoise blue with white trim. It is not the original palace—that was destroyed by the Nazis in their two-year seige of St. Petersburg. I once heard that the Germans stabled their horses in the Grand Ballroom. But after the war, the Soviets spent millions of dollars on painstaking reconstruction, doing their best to make it as authentic as possible. Some things—like the magnificent Amber Room, which was sometimes called the Eighth Wonder of the World—are lost forever. But the palace is still like something out of a dream.

Sophie and I left our coats at the coat check, and went first to the gift stands that take up much of the first floor. We looked at dolls, lacquer boxes, and tiny models of the palaces, but spent the bulk of our time perusing the amber jewelry at one of the tables. Amber is sold most everywhere you look in Russia—most of it is made into rings, bracelets, earrings, and pendants. When Maria was here last summer, she’d fallen in love with the stuff and bought more than she could possibly ever wear. I’d never bought any myself. The color. . .well, it was just the shade of Sophie’s eyes. And just the shade of her father’s, too.

“Mommy, look—this one fits.” She held up her hand to show me a silver ring on her middle finger. A round, polished disk of amber sat in the center of a simple setting that reminded me of twisted rope. I touched the ring on her finger, and it did seem to fit very well.

“It’s pretty,” I told her. “And you’re right—it does fit.”

“Can I buy it?” she asked hopefully, reaching into her pocket and extracting a wad of crumpled rubles.

I glanced at the woman behind the counter and smiled. “It’s your money,” I told my daughter. “You can buy it if you want.”

She grinned and asked the price in Russian, surprising the woman. A moment later, Sophie handed over the correct amount of rubles and refused the woman’s offer of a box, saying she wanted to wear it. Then she put her hand in mine. “Wanna go see the marble room?” she asked.

We made our way into the rest of the palace, pausing to put on the protective “booties” that all guests are required to wear for the sake of the floors. Then we wandered the palace for most of the afternoon, winding up in the ballroom where we danced across the highly polished floors to the accompaniment of a Tchaikovsky waltz. By the end of the day, Sophie was exhausted. She fell asleep on the train ride home to Petersburg.

She was still sleepy when we came back to our apartment, which explained why she didn’t dash for the phone when it rang as we walked through the door. I picked it up as she hung up her coat. It was Maria.

“Wow, two calls in one week,” I teased. “I’m feeling pretty special.”

“You should be,” she retorted. “But I can only talk for a minute. I just needed to know when Sophie’s winter break is. I didn’t want to book my trip until I knew when she was out of school.”

“Wait a minute,” I told her. “I’ll have to check my calendar. It’s in the library.” I put the phone on the table. “Sophie!” I called. “Come talk to Aunt Maria!”

“Aunt Maria?” she repeated, and I heard her footsteps in the living room. “I’m coming!”

I waited to give her the phone, then went into the library and checked the dates. I decided to let them talk a little longer while I checked the fax machine. There was a note from Thierry, who often faxed messages when he was at work, and a copy of my schedule for the next week at work. At the very bottom of the pile, there was a small sheaf of paper whose cover sheet bore the Kinko’s logo.

“Please be it,” I muttered, and sure enough, the “sender” line read “Michael Guerin.” I picked it up excitedly and started to thumb through it, but Sophie’s voice interrupted me.

“Mommy!” she called. “Aunt Maria wants you!”

Sighing, I picked walked over to the desk and picked up the phone. “Hey, Maria,” I said.

“Did you get lost in that big apartment?” she demanded.

“No. No, I just got a fax I’ve been waiting for.”

“You work too hard,” she told me. “It’s Saturday.”

“I’ve been out all day,” I protested. “Besides, it isn’t from work. It’s about Max’s case.”

“What?” she asked, surprised. “You mean you’re doing it? You’re helping Michael?”

“Well. . .yeah.” I tucked the phone under my ear. “I’m just looking over the case, though. I never said I’d do anything but that.”

“Liz. . .” She sighed. “Are you sure you’re okay to do this?”

“I couldn’t say no, Maria,” I answered honestly. “I tried to, but. . .god, when I think of Max in prison for the rest of his life. . .”

“You can still feel sorry for him, after what he did to you?” she demanded.

“I’m not doing it for him,” I said firmly, but I wasn’t sure that was the whole truth. “I’m doing it for Michael—he was really desperate. And for Sophie, too.” I took a deep breath. “Anyway, there’s no guarantee I’ll find anything. Let me give you the dates for Sophie’s vacation.”

We hung up a few minutes later, and I sat down at my desk to flip through the documents Michael had faxed over. It didn’t take me long to realize there was a problem. The will kept referring to a codicil that had apparently been added sometime later, and from what I could see would completely change the way Langley’s assets were distributed after his death. Plus, there was a brief reference to an insurance policy, but no mention of a company. Michael hadn’t jotted down a name anywhere, either.

“Damn,” I muttered. “Damn, damn, damn.”

“Mommy?” Sophie stood in the doorway, looking at me curiously. “Can I have some pizza from last night?”

I nodded. “Um, sure. I’ll warm it up for you.” I got up from the desk and we went to the kitchen together. I got out the leftover pizza from the night before and put it on a tray, then slid it into the oven. Sophie watched me from where she was perched on a kitchen chair. “Did you have a good time?” I asked, glancing at her.

“Yup.” She swung her legs back and forth, studying me thoughtfully. “Are you workin’ on Michael’s case?” she asked after a moment.

I shut the oven and straightened up. “Yes, I am.”

She nodded. “I thought so.”

“How did you know that?” I asked her.

“I just did,” she shrugged. “If you fix it for him, will he come back?”

I sat down across from her. “I don’t know. Do you want him to come back?”

“Yeah. I liked him.” She played with the ring she had bought that afternoon, twisting it thoughtfully around her finger. “Does he know Nana and Poppy?”

Nana and Poppy were Sophie’s names for my parents. I smiled and nodded. “Yes. He used to work at the Crashdown with them.”

“Really?” Sophie only knows the Crashdown from pictures, but she is fascinated by it. Her favorite picture of Maria and me is one where we’re both wearing our waitress uniforms and antennae. She keeps it in a frame on her desk. She wrinkled her nose. “Did he wear antennae?” she asked suddenly, and I burst out laughing at the thought of Michael in a sparkly headband.

“No, he just wore an apron,” I assured her. “He was one of the cooks.”

She thought about that for a minute, then cocked her head to one side. “Did my father work there, too?”

“No,” I said. “No, he didn’t.”

“Oh.” She nodded vaguely. “I just wondered.”

I reached across the table and touched her hand. “It’s okay to wonder,” I told her softly. “You’re allowed to ask me questions.”

“I know.” She looked at the oven. “Is the pizza done yet?”

I rose from the table. “Let me check,” I said. “Can you set the table?”

“Okay.” She got up and found plates and glasses for us, setting them on the kitchen table. When we’re alone, Sophie and I usually eat in the kitchen instead of in the dining room. “Can I have some Fanta?” she asked, crossing to the refrigerator.

“You already had a lot of soda today,” I reminded her. “How about some juice?”

She opened her mouth to protest, but then I heard the doorbell ring. “Who’s that?”

I took the pizza from the oven and shut the door. “I don’t know,” I said, setting the pan on the table. I wiped my hands on a towel and went to check. “No soda,” I reminded, “and wait for the pizza to cool off a little.”

“Okay,” she said, climbing onto her chair. As I left, I heard her blowing on the pizza to cool it down.

I opened the front door a crack to find Thierry standing there, carrying a large paper bag that smelled heavenly. “Thierry!” I exclaimed, opening the door the rest of the way. “What are you doing here?”

He kissed my cheeks, then my lips, grinning. “Didn’t you get my fax?” he asked.

“Fax?” I repeated, then remembered the note I’d seen earlier. “Oh, right.”

“I brought dinner,” he continued, setting down the bag and shrugging out of his coat.

“What is it?” I asked, sniffing appreciatively.

He hung up his coat and smiled at me. “Your favorite,” he said. “Clams casino.”

“Mmm,” I breathed, inhaling the scent of clams with herb and shallot butter, topped with Romano cheese and breadcrumbs. That deserved a more serious kiss. “You,” I said, standing on tiptoe to give him his due, “are a wonderful man.”

“I’m thrilled you noticed,” he murmured, his lips closing on mine. He kissed me briefly, then bent to pick up the bag. “Where have you been all day? I tried to call earlier.”

“I took Sophie to Tsarskoe Selo,” I answered. “We just got back a little while ago.”

“You should have told me,” he said. “It sounds like fun.”

“It was,” I assured him. “Next time.” In truth, it hadn’t occurred to me to invite Thierry.

“Well, are you hungry?” he asked.

I nodded. “Starving. I was actually just warming up some pizza—but this is much, much better.” I put my arm around his waist and together we walked into the kitchen.

“Hi, Thierry,” Sophie said cheerfully as we reached it. She had poured herself a glass of juice and was working on a slice of pizza.

“Hi, Sophie,” he answered, smiling at her. “I brought dinner.”

“I’m having dinner already,” she informed him, “but what did you bring?”

“Clams,” he told her.

“Yuck.” She grimaced. “I’m not eating that.”

“More for me,” he teased, setting the bag on the table. I got him a plate and silverware while he opened the containers he’d brought from a restaurant near his office. The three of us ate together, and Sophie monopolized the conversation with her account of our day at Tsarskoe Selo. Thierry listened attentively, smiling at me every once in a while. I have to admit I was rather distracted, thinking about the papers Michael had faxed me. I was anxious to really sort through them, but I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get the chance tonight, not with Thierry here. But maybe he wouldn’t stay late. . .

After dinner, we went into the living room and watched television for a while. Sophie went to bed just after nine, leaving Thierry and I alone. I was already beginning to sense he wanted to talk to me about something.

“How about a glass of wine in front of the fire?” he suggested.

With a pang, I thought of the papers waiting for me in my study and the others I wanted to get from Michael, but I hadn’t seen Thierry all week and he seemed to have something on his mind. “That sounds nice,” I said finally. “I’ll go open the wine, if you’ll light the fireplace.”

“Of course,” he agreed.

When I brought the wine into the library, Thierry was kneeling before the grate, touching a match to some kindling. He stood as the fire flared to life and turned to accept a glass of wine from me. “Thank you,” he said. We settled ourselves into the leather sofa before the fire, and I savored the warmth from the fire as it crept through the room. It would soon be December, and the weather was beginning to show it. When we were comfortably curled up together, Thierry pressed his lips against my temple.

“I missed you this week,” he said softly.

“I missed you, too,” I said. “I’m sorry I was so busy.”

“You don’t have to apologize. I know how hard you work.” Thierry reached for my hand and laced his fingers through mine. “You’re a very impressive woman,” he said in a teasing tone.

I could feel myself blushing. “Thank you,” I murmured.

We were silent for a few moments, then Thierry touched my hair, sliding his fingers through it in a gentle massage. It felt wonderful, and I closed my eyes, breathing deeply. I was about to tell him how nice it was, when he whispered, “Have you ever thought of going to Paris?”

I opened my eyes in a hurry. “I. . .I’ve been to Paris,” I said.

He chuckled. “I mean on a more permanent basis,” he said.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, feeling my pulse pound.

“My company,” he said. “They want me back in Paris.”

“You—you’re leaving St. Petersburg?” I asked. “Now?”

“They’ve asked me to go back,” he corrected. “I told them I would have to think about it.”

“Oh.” My voice sounded small in my own ears. Thierry’s company was headquartered in Paris—this must be a promotion for him. I remembered that his family was in Paris, too. There were a lot of reasons for him to go. “This is. . .it’s great news. What is there to think about?” I asked, forcing a laugh.

His voice was soft, intimate. “Well, there’s you,” he said. “You and Sophie.”

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I remained quiet and waited for him to continue.

“I know we haven’t talked about what we’re doing,” he told me, “but when they asked me to go, the first thing I thought of was you and Sophie.” He paused for a second, caressing my fingers. “I think I may be falling in love with you, Elizabeth. If you think you might feel the same way, then. . .perhaps you’d think of joining me. Or perhaps Paris can wait.”


Los Angeles, 2012


~Max~


Liz. I turned over on my narrow bed and sighed. I’d dreamed about her again—not that this was anything new. Dreams of her had haunted my sleep for years. Sometimes I dreamed about her as she’d been before we were together, back in the days when I’d sat in the Crashdown for hours just to be close to her. Sometimes I dreamed about the day I’d healed her, or our first kiss. Other times I dreamed about less pleasant memories—Liz running from the pod chamber in tears, or the night I’d had to tell her Tess was pregnant. But by far the worst dreams were the ones about the day she’d come to visit me in prison and I’d sent her away. There was no sleep for me after those dreams.

When Liz walked out of the visitor’s pavilion that hot July afternoon, I felt like my last tie to the life I’d had before was severed. I knew she wouldn’t be back—I’d known exactly what to say to ensure that. I’d stayed up all night, planning what I’d say to her, but until the words left my mouth I hadn’t known if I had the strength to do it. Even as I’d done it—as I’d done everything I could to make sure she’d never love me again—part of me had hoped she would see through my lies. When I’d seen her sitting with Michael at the picnic table, looking small and lost, all I’d wanted to do was go to her and hold her. I thought holding myself back was the hardest thing I’d ever have to do. But it got worse.

I knew I’d done it when I told her the night we made love was “good.” I wanted to tell her it was a miracle, that if I died today or fifty years from now it would be the last thing I’d remember this side of death. But I knew what I had to do. I wanted Liz to have a good life—I wanted her to be safe and happy and successful. I knew she couldn’t do that if she was hanging around California, waiting for me to get out of prison. And Liz would wait—I knew she would. She loved me that much.

When the guards came to take me back to my cell, I felt broken into a million pieces. What I’d done to Liz weighed so heavily on my soul I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Later, when it started to sink in that it had worked, and I would spend my whole life without her, nothing mattered. I hardly cared whether I lived or died. Slowly, gradually, I began to realize that it was possible to live with the emptiness, but a part of me had died. I would never be the boy that had held Liz all night in the desert, the one who had believed that we could make our own destiny. I would never be the boy she had loved.

How is it possible that I still miss her? I asked myself. Ten years ought to be enough for wounds to heal. But when I remembered her tears, it may as well have been yesterday. I’d never stopped thinking about her, wondering where she was. As predawn light crept through the bars of my cell, I wondered what she was seeing—if she was awake already, preparing for another day in what I hoped was a good, happy life. Or if she was asleep, warm and peaceful. . .in another man’s arms.

I sighed again and closed my eyes. It was too early to get up yet. If I got out of bed now, the day would never end. So I turned on my side, blocked out the sounds of other men around me as best I could and concentrated on memories of making love to Liz. It never ceased to amaze me how vivid those memories were—after ten years I could still remember every moment. If I concentrated enough, I could smell her hair—almost feel her body moving beneath mine. In those moments I almost felt alive.

That morning as I lay there with my eyes closed, I remembered her hands slipping beneath my shirt, leaving a trail of fire unlike anything I’d ever felt. I remembered her voice, whispering that she loved me and only me. Memories washed over me like waves, and all the years in between faded away.

And then I was somewhere else, in an enormous room lit by massive chandeliers overhead. The floor gleamed golden beneath my feet, and I sensed music swelling all around me. Other things flashed before my eyes, too. . .a room full of people and tables laden with a myriad of items. . .a huge blue and white building at the end of a white gravel path. . .and last, a ring—silver, with a round, golden stone at the center. . .

posted on 25-Mar-2002 1:20:20 PM by mockingbird39
This part is giving me a little trouble, but I am determined to get it up sometime today, so please bear with me. I'm about to go home and work on it some more, so I will almost certainly have it up by midnight my time, which is approximately five o'clock board time.

Also, in answer to some of the questions people have asked, yes, I have been to St. Petersburg. It is one of my favorite places and certainly one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. I chose to use it for the setting of Liz's life in 2012 for several reasons--first, because I simply love it there; second, because I wanted to highlight the fact that Liz had changed drastically since she last saw Max; and third, to emphasize the differences in their respective positions in life.

Now, back to the fic!

Melanie
posted on 26-Mar-2002 11:24:44 AM by mockingbird39
Author's Note: Obviously, I didn't get this finished last night. Motivations are key in this fic, and because I am obsessive, they have to be clear. Sorry it took so long, and thanks for reading. --Melanie

Part 14

Roswell, 2003


~Maria~


I had never heard Michael sound so scared as the day he called me from Liz’s room to tell me he needed me to get there immediately. I had been playing my guitar all day, and I was on the verge of a new song. But I dropped everything when I got his phone call. I’d been worried about Liz, anyway, and his call completely pushed me over the edge. I drove like a maniac the whole way over, burst into her house and ran up the stairs. I found Liz lying curled up on her bed, staring at the wall, and Michael sitting beside her, smoothing her hair with a worried look on his face.

“What happened?” I demanded, crossing to the bed. I dropped to my knees beside Liz and took her hand. “Liz, sweetie, what’s wrong?”

“She’s been like that since we left the prison,” Michael answered.

“Did you drive straight through?” I asked in disbelief. Last time we’d driven to L.A., it had taken over eighteen hours.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” he said.

“Liz, tell me what happened,” I begged, squeezing her hand. “Is it something with Max? Is he hurt? Did he say something to you?”

Slowly, her eyes refocused on me. “Max doesn’t love me anymore,” she whispered in a monotone.

“What?” I asked, looking at Michael. “Liz, no. That’s—he loves you. I know he does.”

Michael winced and caught my eye, motioning me over to a corner of the room. “What is it?” I asked in a whisper when we stood there close together.

“Max told her he doesn’t want to see her anymore,” he said. “He told her. . .I guess he told her it was too hard for him.”

“Too hard for him?” I repeated incredulously. I looked over at Liz lying in a broken heap on the bed and was suddenly furious. “He said that?”

Michael nodded, and I saw there was anger in his eyes, too. “He. . .he just sent her away,” he spat. He shook his head. “I knew he could be a stubborn bastard, but this is beyond that.” Michael slammed a hand against the wall hard enough to make me jump back. “Sorry,” he muttered, glancing over his shoulder at Liz. She hadn’t even reacted. “She’s been like that since San Diego,” he told me worriedly. “She hasn’t even cried.”

I looked over at her again, torn between anger and sympathy. “Maybe he didn’t mean it,” I said. “Maybe she just misunderstood. Max would never hurt her like that—he couldn’t, Michael.”

Michael’s jaw clenched. “I’m pretty sure he meant it,” he said shortly.

I stared at Michael in disbelief. “After all that she did for him?” I demanded. “He just told her to go away?”

“I know.” Michael looked infinitely sad. “I don’t understand it, either.” Then, to my surprise, he folded me in his arms and held me close for a long moment. “Just help her, okay?” he asked softly.

I nodded against his shoulder. “I’ll try.”

“Do you want me to stay?” he wanted to know.

I shook my head as he released me. “You’re exhausted. I’ll call you later.”

“If you need anything let me know,” he told me. “I’ll be home.” He picked up his keys from the dresser as I went to lay down beside Liz on her bed, then gave us one last look before he left. “Call me,” he said, and then he was gone.

“Liz,” I said softly, as the door closed behind Michael, “you have to tell me what’s wrong. Please.”

She didn’t answer. Instead, she buried her face in the pillow and started to sob. “What am I going to do, Maria?” she asked. “What am I going to do?”

I was at a loss. Max and Liz had broken up before—and those times, it had seemed much more permanent. I was still pretty sure that Max would come around in a day or two, or that Liz would wear him down. As long as Max and Liz were on the same planet, I was pretty sure nothing would keep them apart for very long. So why was Liz so upset this time?

“It’ll get better, Liz,” I soothed, smoothing her hair.

“No, it won’t,” she sobbed into her pillow. “Not this time.”

“It always does,” I told her. “You know how they are—all crisis and trouble, and then it all blows over.”

“It’s different this time,” she said. “If it was just about me—” She broke off suddenly, sniffling.

If it was just about her? What was she talking about? I opened my mouth to ask what she meant, but suddenly I remembered Liz showing up at her shift pale and shaky every day for the past two weeks. Twice I had found her napping in the locker room during her break. And now she was hysterical over a break-up. . .I looked down at her with sudden realization. “Liz. . .are you pregnant?” I asked in a stunned whisper.

She lay perfectly still for a long time, then slowly turned onto her back and looked up at me. She nodded silently, her eyes filled with tears.

“Oh, boy,” I whispered, then I thought of something. “Does Max know?”

She shook her head. “I tried to tell him today, but he. . .he wasn’t listening to me. And then he told me to go, and I just did. I don’t know what to do, Maria. What am I going to do?”

I took a deep breath. “Are you. . .I mean, do you want this baby?”

Liz put a protective hand over her stomach. “More than anything,” she said.

“Then. . .then you’ll have it,” I told her, putting my hand over hers. “And I’ll be right here with you. I don’t know what’s going to happen, Liz, but I promise you this will be the most loved baby ever born. I promise.”

Liz looked at me sadly. “Thank you, Maria. Thank you so much.” She reached for me and I hugged her, and the two of us lay on the bed in silence for a long time. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that Liz was going to be a mother—she was going to have a baby. And Max was going to be a father. . .again. I wondered how he was going to take the news. Probably not well. Max would worry about Liz, worry about the baby, worry about everyone else who would be effected. His being stuck in prison wasn’t going to help, either—it would drive him crazy not being able to run everything himself, and it would kill him if he couldn’t get to Liz if she was hurt or in trouble. At least it would have before. I supposed I couldn’t be sure of that now.

I was so lost in my thoughts that I barely noticed when Liz sat up and slid to the edge of the bed. “I’m going back to Cambridge,” she announced. That got my attention in a hurry.

“What?” I asked, sitting up.

She went to the closet and began pulling down her suitcase. “I’m going back early,” she said.

“Liz, wait.” I got off the bed and went to her. “Honey, what are you talking about?”

She threw her suitcase on the bed and opened a dresser drawer. “I don’t know how long this pregnancy is going to be normal, Maria,” she told me. “I have to go somewhere I can hide if I need to.”

I could see her point. In Roswell, too many people knew her and her connection to Max. In Cambridge, she was just another student. But there was no way I was sending my best friend to a city on the other side of the continent to give birth to an alien baby. “Well, you’re not going alone,” I informed her. “How soon do you want to go?”

“Maria, you don’t have to do this,” she said.

But I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. “I’m going, and that’s all there is to it. Now when are we leaving?”

She thought about it for a moment. “Can you be ready by Wednesday?”

That was three days away. I nodded. “I’ll be ready.”


~Michael~

I was asleep on the couch when Maria knocked at my door. I got up, pulling on a shirt, and went to see who was there. When I saw her, I immediately thought something was wrong with Liz.

“What is it?” I asked, trying to wake myself up. “What’s wrong?”

She stood there looking at me for a second. “Can I come in?” she asked.

Confused, I nodded. “So nothing’s wrong?” I wanted to know, following her as she brushed past me into my house.

She sat down on the couch, rubbing a hand over her bare calf. “That’s not what I came to talk about,” she said. I stood there looking at her for a minute, and she finally patted the cushion beside her. “Come here, Michael,” she told me.

I went and sat down beside her. “What’s going on?” I asked her.

She folded her hands in her lap, not looking at me. “Liz. . .Liz wants to go away,” she said haltingly. “She really thinks she has to.”

“I can understand that,” I said, nodding. If it was me, I’d be looking to go away for a while, too.

“No, I mean. . .she wants to go away for good,” Maria clarified.

That was a little more surprising. “You mean she’s going to run away?”

“It’s not running away,” Maria answered. “She just needs to get out of here. There’s a lot of reasons.” She took a deep breath. “I’m going with her, Michael.”

“What?” I couldn’t have heard that right.

“I’m going with her.” She glanced up at me. “I can’t let her go by herself. We’re going to move, and I don’t think we’re going to be back. Please don’t tell anyone—we’re not telling people that it’s permanent. We don’t want to make a fuss.”

I stared at her. “But you. . .you’re coming back, right?”

She shook her head. “I don’t think so, Michael. I’m. . .I’m going to get a job. Maybe I’ll be able to do something with my music.” She attempted a smile, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Maybe you’ll see me on a billboard someday.”

This wasn’t just about her music—I knew it wasn’t. “But why?” I asked her. “I can understand Liz, but you don’t have to leave forever,” I protested.

“Yeah, I do,” she told me. “Liz needs me—and she’s going to need me even more soon. She needs somebody who isn’t going to leave her.” Maria smiled a little. “I’ve been her best friend forever, Michael. I have to do this for her.”

I ran a hand through my hair. I wanted her to be there for Liz, but. . .why the hell did she have to pack up and leave for good? “Maria. . .how can you just go? This is your home—what about your mother and everything else?” What about me?

She put her hand on my arm. “You could come with us,” she said in a soft voice, looking into my eyes.

My mind reeled. She was inviting me to come with her? It took me no longer than the space of a heartbeat to know I wanted to go—I wanted it more than I’d wanted anything in a long, long time. But how could I leave Roswell? With Maxwell in prison and Jesse and Isabel already in Chicago, I was the only one here to keep an eye on things. And what about Max? I knew Liz was leaving because of him—it stood to reason she wasn’t going to want to be reminded of him. Max had been like a brother to me all these years. Leaving with Maria and Liz would be like taking Liz’s side in this whole thing. Even if I did think Max was in the wrong here, I couldn’t leave him alone.

“Maria,” I began haltingly, but she cut me off.

“Don’t say it,” she said, standing up. “I just had to ask. I mean, you did change your mind about going back before. . .” She stopped, turning away from me. “Goodbye, Michael. Tell Isabel and Jesse goodbye for me, too.”

I jumped to my feel to follow her. “Maria, wait,” I called.

She stopped with her hand on the doorknob. “Michael,” she said without turning around, “I have to go with Liz. Please don’t make this any harder.”

I stood there watching her, wondering if this was some kind of bizarre dream. “Don’t I even get to say goodbye?” I asked.

She glanced at me over her shoulder, and there were tears in her eyes. “Goodbye, Michael,” she said in a choked voice. Then she opened the door and ran out. I ran after her, calling her name, but she never stopped. She got in her car and drove away, leaving me alone on the porch watching her. She didn’t come back, either.

posted on 27-Mar-2002 1:14:17 PM by mockingbird39
Part 15

St. Petersburg, 2012


~Liz~


I sat perfectly still, acutely aware that Thierry was watching me with gentle, tender eyes. I couldn’t look at him, couldn’t stand to see the hopeful light in his eyes. What had I been doing all this time? I should have been upfront with him from the start, I should never have allowed him to become attached to me and Sophie. . .How could I have done this?

And then I wondered why I was saying no. Thierry was a kind, thoughtful, hardworking man with a good sense of humor and a good heart. He really seemed to care for Sophie and me, too. He’d never hurt me—not once. He would be a good father to Sophie, and a good husband to me.

Except that in my heart, those roles were no longer empty.

Ever since Michael’s visit, the past I’d tried so hard to forget was catching up with me full force. The uncertanties in Max’s case. . .Sophie’s questions about Max. . .Sophie’s powers, if that was what they were. Even my dreams had been of people and places I’d thought behind me. And in those dreams, I remembered what I’d felt for Max Evans, the passion he had awakened in me. I didn’t feel that for Thierry. I was fond of him, might even have loved him. But with the memory of that long-ago passion burned into my soul, could I be content in a relationship where it was missing?

I looked over at the papers on my desk. Even now, I wanted to be over there sifting through them, coming up with a way to undo the terrible mistake that had put Max in prison. I almost smiled at the irony. Thierry had just asked me to move to Paris with him, and all I could think of was a man who didn’t want me anymore.

“Elizabeth?” Thierry’s voice, gentle and intimate, jolted me out of my thoughts. “What are you thinking?”

I took a deep, painful breath and removed my hand from his. “I think,” I began, sliding away from him a little on the couch, “that you should go to Paris.”

His face fell, breaking my heart just a little more. “I see,” he said. “I’ll be. . .traveling alone, then?”

I looked down at my hands. “Thierry, I can’t give this to you right now,” I said haltingly. “I wish I could, but I just can’t.”

“Then I’ll stay here,” he said. “I can wait—I will wait. I’m a patient man, Elizabeth.”

“I don’t think that it’s a question of time, Thierry,” I murmured. I stood up and walked over to the fireplace, staring at the flames. “There’s something I have to do—I’ve waited too long as it is. And once I’ve done it, my life is going to change.” I glanced back at him sadly. “I can’t ask you to wait for me when I don’t know what I’ll be when this is over.”

“I don’t understand,” he said, standing up. “Has something happened at work, or. . .” His voice trailed off in sudden understanding. “This is about the man who was here—your friend from home.”

I nodded slowly. “It concerns him,” I agreed, “but it’s not just him. It’s so many things.” I felt so helpless, caught up once more in things I couldn’t control. “There were a lot of things I thought I had finished with,” I told him. “But I haven’t. I just ignored them.” I put my hand over my eyes and sighed heavily. “And now they’ve all caught up with me at once.”

Thierry stood there looking at the floor beneath his feet for a long moment. “I. . .I understand,” he said, though I didn’t see how he could understand when I didn’t. “Could I. . .is there some way I can help?” he wanted to know.

I shook my head. “I don’t think so.” I was miserable, thinking how I’d taken for granted that Thierry hadn’t expected any more out of our relationship than I had.

He took a deep breath and nodded. “I see.” We stood there in awkward silence for a moment, and part of me wished I could take it all back, or at least give him the hope he wanted. But that wouldn’t have been fair. “I think I should go,” he said, and I couldn’t protest.

“I’m sorry, Thierry,” I said.

He nodded again, and walked to the door. “As am I, Elizabeth.” He started to go, then remembered something. “May I come by tomorrow to say goodbye to Sophie?” he asked.

“Of course,” I assured him. “You’re welcome any time.”

“Thank you,” he said, bowing his head. He stood there for a moment, then he looked up at me sadly. “Elizabeth. . .if ever things change. . .know that there is always a place for you in Paris. And for Sophie, too.” He seemed about to say more, but changed his mind and walked out of the library. A moment later I heard the door to the apartment open and shut, and I knew he was gone.

Without Thierry, the cozy room seemed terribly empty. I knew I would miss him—probably a lot—but I had done the only thing I could under the circumstances.

*****

I waited until the next morning to start working on Max’s case again. I’d wanted to do it right after Thierry left, but it felt disloyal. So I went to bed and lay there raking over my memories of the trial. When I finally went to sleep, I dreamed about Max—which didn’t make for a particularly restful night. I got up early and made myself a pot of coffee, then went back to the library to start work.

I sat there for a while, making notes and underlining, but before long I realized I really needed more than I had in front of me—the codicil in particular. Michael must not have read the will, or he would have realized that something important was missing. Or maybe he had tried to read it and gotten bogged down in all the technical language. It did seem that whoever had prepared the will was showing off his command of legal jargon. I hate lawyers like that. I turned over the fax cover sheet and began making a list of the items I’d like to have, starting with the codicil. By the time I’d finished, I had quite a list. I looked at the clock, calculating the time difference between Petersburg and L.A., and realized that Michael would be asleep right then, so I got out the rest of the case materials and spread them out on the floor—I’d already run out of room on my desk. I went through them methodically, labeling the piles as I went.

Sophie woke up a little after nine and joined me in the library to work on her homework. After that I was a little distracted, and eventually we decided to take a walk and get some pastries for breakfast. When we came back, I made cacoa for both of us and we watched television in my bedroom—Rocky and Bullwinkle dubbed in Russian. This is one of Sophie’s favorites. I don’t think she realizes that Boris and Natasha are Russian spies.

It seemed like forever as I waited until it was late enough to call Michael. Finally, at eight o’clock that night, I went back to the library and dialed the his telephone number.

He picked up on the third ring.

“Hello?”

“Michael, it’s Liz. Are you busy?” I asked.

It sounded like he was in the middle of eating. “No,” he said. “No, what’s up? Did you get the fax I sent you?”

“Yeah, I did,” I answered. “That’s why I’m calling, actually. I was just looking through it.”

He sounded excited. “Did you find something?”

“Michael, there’s some things missing from it—actually just one big thing,” I told him.

“What do you mean?”

I explained about the codicil, telling him how much it appeared to change the original will. He seemed perplexed. “I faxed you everything they gave me,” he said. “I don’t know about the codicil thing—I didn’t see anything that looked like it was added later. I’ll try to get it for you.”

“You might have to call the law office that filed it,” I told him. “But, Michael, there’s some other things I need, too. I’d like to look at a copy of any photographs of the body’s face. I want to know if someone could really think it was Langley. I don’t remember enough of what they looked like at the trial.”

He grunted in assent, and I could hear him rustling papers. “. . .autopsy photographs,” he murmured, as though he was writing it down. “Okay, is that it?”

“No, there’s more. See if there are any crime scene photos of his face—I think he was found face down, so there might not be any.” I looked over my list. “I still need to know the name of the insurance company, and what they used to verify his identity.”

“How do I get that?” he asked.

“I’m kind of surprised it’s not in the will,” I said, flipping through the pages one more time to see if I had missed it somehow. “You’ll probably have to contact the attorney who handled the estate.”

“How do I know who that is?”

“It’s in the will,” I said. “Did you read it?”

He sighed. “I tried to, but I didn’t get through very much.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “Would you mind giving it another try? I’ll help you with anything you’re not sure about.”

“I’ll try,” he said doubtfully, “but I don’t understand all that lawyer-speak.”

“Well, just get a dictionary and go slowly,” I told him. “Write down any questions and call me with them.” I scanned the list I’d made. “Michael, there’s actually a lot of stuff I’m going to need if I want to do this right,” I said with a sigh.

“I’ll get whatever I can, Liz, but I gotta tell you—these people don’t want to talk to me.” He sounded frustrated.

I rubbed my forehead. He was probably right—lawyers and insurance companies aren’t all that open to casual inquiries about the way they handle their business. “Yeah, I know,” I agreed. “But unless you can get someone else to talk to them—”

“No,” Michael said quickly. “No one else knows you’re doing this.”

“Except Maria,” I put in.

“You told her?”

“Yeah, of course.” I sat back in my chair. “She called to tell me she’d seen you, so I had to tell her you’d been here.”

“Oh. Right.”

I sat there thinking for a minute. Michael was evidently trying to keep this as secret as possible, which meant he wouldn’t want to involve Jesse or Max’s dad—the two attorneys who would be most inclined to help. And Michael himself was going to keep running into problems with the law firms and insurance companies, simply because he wasn’t a lawyer. He’d probably get the papers I needed eventually, but if I had to wait another two weeks for something as crucial as the codicil, I thought I might go insane.

I could only think of one solution.

“Michael,” I said slowly, “I might have to come to L.A. myself.”

His silence made me wonder if he was going to shoot my idea down, and part of me hoped he would. “Can you do that?” he asked finally, his voice neutral.

“I’ve got some vacation time coming,” I said. “I can have Sophie’s teachers give her school work to take with us. That shouldn’t be a problem—most of the kids do a lot of traveling with their parents, anyway.”

“What about Max?” he asked bluntly.

I took a deep breath. “What about him?”

“Are you. . .will you want to see him? Should I tell him you’re coming?”

I closed my eyes. This was the reason I’d never gone to L.A. Being that close to Max and not seeing him. . .but trying to see him only to have him refuse—I didn’t know which would be worse. “Do whatever you think is best,” I finally said. “He probably won’t see me, anyway.”


Los Angeles, 2012


~Michael~


After Liz’s second phone call, I wasn’t sure whether to be excited or apprehensive. Eventually, I was both. I was pretty sure she was wrong—Max would see her, if she asked him to. But it didn’t look like she was inclined to ask.

This was just. . .wrong. Liz was coming to L.A. after ten years to work on the only new lead we’d had on Max’s case in, well, ten years, and she was bringing Max’s daughter, whom he didn’t even know about, and she still appeared to have no intention of even telling Max he was a father. Oh, wait—and she was leaving it up to me to decide if I should tell Max the love of his life was working on his case again. Great.

I didn’t sleep much that night, and I went to work in a bad mood. I avoided stopping by Maxwell’s cell until after lunch. I knew he’d be asking about me if I waited any longer than that, so I finally went over to talk to him.

“Hey,” I said. He was on his bed, staring up at the ceiling with his eyes half-closed. When I leaned against the bars, he sat up.

“Hey,” he answered. “Thought maybe you took the day off.”

I shook my head. “No, I was just busy,” I said quickly, anxious to change the subject. “What are you doing?”

His eyes were distant. “Just thinking.” He paused and leaned closer to the bars, lowering his voice. “Michael, do you ever see things in your dreams? You know, stuff from. . .before?”

“Not really,” I told him, looking at him curiously. “Do you?”

“I don’t know.” He stared at nothing for a moment. “The past two nights I’ve had this dream, and I see this great big building—like a mansion. Maybe even bigger. And it’s painted blue—not dark, more like turquoise, maybe—and there are white columns and big windows. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve seen it twice now.”

Turquoise blue? White columns and big windows? Why did that sound familiar? Then I realized with a jolt where I’d seen something just like that. In St. Petersburg, when I’d looked for Liz’s apartment. I’d gone too far down one street and seen what somebody told me was the Hermitage. It was painted a light aquamarine color, with enormous white columns, and when I’d seen it light had been pouring through dozens of huge windows. But why had Max seen it in his dreams? Were he and Liz still somehow connected? Was he reaching out to her in his sleep, or was she transmitting images from her life to him?

And then it struck me. It wasn’t Liz. Max had gotten visions like this once before—that summer after Tess left. But they weren’t from Liz then, or from Tess. They were from his son.

Max was connecting with Sophie. Only he had no idea she even existed, so he’d never guess his dreams weren’t dreams at all—they were images from the mind of his own daughter. But Max wasn’t stupid, and he certainly had plenty of time to ponder the meaning of his dreams. It would be only a matter of time before he realized that something was different about them. And with Liz and Sophie on their way to Los Angeles, far closer to Max than ever, I could only think the dreams would intensify. After that, I had no idea what would happen.

But somewhere in the back of my mind, I had a feeling Liz’s secret wasn’t going to stay hidden much longer.


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 27-Mar-2002 3:23:25 PM ]
posted on 28-Mar-2002 1:42:24 PM by mockingbird39
Part 16

Los Angeles, 2012


~Maria


“You’re coming to L.A.?” I cried into the phone. “I don’t have to come freeze in Siberia? Liz, I’m so excited!” I put down the carton of orange juice I’d just taken out of the fridge and hopped up on one of the barstools beside the kitchen counter. “When are you getting here? How long can you stay?”

“I was thinking of leaving here on Wednesday morning,” Liz told me. “That would get us to L.A. sometime Wednesday evening—your time, anyway. It’ll be Thursday morning for us.”

I was so excited that I wouldn’t have to brave the frozen tundra that I barely thought about the enormous jet lag Liz and Sophie would have. “That’s great! I’ll pick you up at the airport—you’re going to stay here with me, right?”

“Yeah, if that’s okay,” she answered. She paused, then added, “Next week is Thanksgiving. I was thinking if my parents don’t have any plans, we might go to Roswell for the holiday.”

L.A. and Roswell? Liz was really on a colision course with memory lane this week. “They’ll be thrilled,” I said.

“Yeah, I think so, too,” she agreed. “Do you want to call your mom and invite her for dinner, too? We can both be with our parents.”

“Mom would love to see Sophie,” I told her honestly. My mom’s never met her, though I keep her supplied with pictures. Sometimes I think she’s afraid Sophie is the closest she’ll ever get to a grandchild of her own. “Let me know what works out and I’ll call her.” Something occurred to me just then, and I frowned. “Liz, what if we run into Kyle or Valenti in Roswell? Or. . .or Max’s parents?”

Liz was quiet for a minute. “You know,” she said finally, “I think I’d like to see Kyle. It’s been forever. Valenti, too.”

“What about the Evans’?” I prompted.

“Maria, you and Michael are the only ones who know I saw Max before he turned himself in. Hopefully no one else will ask questions.”

Okay, that was possible, largely because once they took a look at Sophie, they’d have no need to ask questions. Did Liz not see how much Sophie looked like Max? His parents would recognize her in an instant. “And if they do?” I asked her.

She sighed. “I don’t know. But I think I need to do this. Sophie needs to know where she comes from—I can’t hide this from her forever.”

“Are you going to see Max?” I asked softly.

“I’m not sure.” Her voice sounded strained. “I may not have to—it depends on what I find out once I get there. . .I don’t think he wants to see me, anyway.”

I couldn’t believe the sadness in her voice. “Liz,” I said quietly, “why are you really doing this?”

She didn’t answer for so long I thought the connection had gone dead. But just before I called her name, I heard her voice, soft and shaky. “I don’t know, Maria. I really don’t know.”

“Liz, please don’t tell me you’re still in love with Max Evans,” I said, feeling tears of anger and sadness fill my eyes. After all he had done to her. . .

“Do you still love Michael?” she demanded.

Ouch. “That’s different,” I muttered, trying not to think about it too hard. The truth was—and Liz knew it—that there had never been anyone for me like Michael. But we had each made choices, and those choices didn’t include each other. I think we both knew we’d only done what we had to, but it didn’t stop us from feeling slighted by each other.

“Is it?” Liz asked, then she gave a short laugh. “We’re really a pair, aren’t we?”

“I guess,” I agreed. “So, you’ll call me when you get your flight information, right?”

“Right.” She sniffed a little. “I can’t wait to see you.”

“Me, neither.”


Cambridge, 2004

Liz and I moved into an apartment near Kendall Square in January, when Liz was almost eight months pregnant. So far, the pregnancy seemed completely normal—no glowing, no psychic connections, no fast-forwarded gestation clock. But by January, she was enormous and uncomfortable, so I did most of the move myself. She had decided to take the spring semester off, and spent her time getting ready for the birth of her baby. Her baby. It still baffled me that, at nineteen, Liz was going to be a mother. The two of us spent hours with our hands splayed over her stomach, feeling the baby move. I’d never been so fascinated in my life.

One late January day I came home from work (I’d gotten a job at an exclusive clothing store on Newbury Street when I first moved to Boston, and by that time I was an assistant manager) to find Liz sitting on the sofa, thoughtfully rubbing her belly. A notebook lay beside her.

“Hi, honeys—I’m home,” I teased, taking off my coat. The winter was brutal that year—I remember more snowfall in that season than in all the rest of my years in Massachusetts combined. I crossed to Liz and sat down beside her, bending my head to talk to the baby. “Did you miss me?” I asked.

“Hm, maybe that’s why she’s been complaining all day,” Liz answered with a smile. “I don’t think she’s taken a nap all day long.”

“She?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. “So, you’re a girl today?” Liz hadn’t wanted to find out what she was having, but it hadn’t been an issue. When we finally felt confident enough to go for an ultrasound, the doctor hadn’t been able to get a good enough look to tell.

“I think it’s going to be a girl,” Liz told me. “I just have this feeling.”

“Well, I would love to buy you pink everything,” I told the baby, rubbing Liz’s belly. I was rewarded with a firm kick, and Liz winced a little.

“Maybe pink soccer cleats,” she suggested.

I gave her a sympathetic look. “Sore?” I asked.

She nodded wearily. “Everywhere.”

“Want me to rub your back?” I asked her. She’d been increasingly uncomfortable in the past few weeks, and I hated that I couldn’t do much to help.

“No, it’s okay.” She shook her head, smiling a little. “It just means she’s coming soon, right?”

“Three more weeks,” I said encouragingly. God. Three more weeks and we were going to be taking care of a baby. What in the world did I know about taking care of a baby?

“Right.” Her smile faded. “I’m kind of scared,” she admitted.

“Of course you are,” I said, putting my arm around her shoulders. “I’m scared, too, and I’m not the one who actually has to have the baby.”

She looked a little green. “Do you think it’s as bad as that tape they showed us in Lamaze?” she asked.

Ugh. That tape had given me nightmares. “Well. . .I’m not really planning on watching from that angle, so. . .hopefully not.” I squeezed her in a sideways hug. “Hey, I know you can do this. And I know you’re going to be a great mother. And I’m going to be a great aunt. So there you go—everything’s going to be fine.”

She nodded uncertainly. “This isn’t how I pictured having my first baby,” she said with a sigh, “but I love her so much already. It’s amazing—I have this other little person sharing my body. And she’s totally dependent on me for everything.” Liz’s hands crept to her stomach again, caressing it lovingly. “It’s like the most wonderful gift anyone could ever give me.”

I felt tears in my eyes. Some women would have been angry to find themselves alone and pregnant at nineteen—some would have given up altogether. But Liz saw this—saw her baby—as a precious gift. That said so much about her. “Liz, have I told you how much I admire you?” I sniffed.

“Stop it,” she cried, her eyes filling with tears. “You know how easy I cry now.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, but I couldn’t stop either. We sat there wiping our eyes and laughing for a while, then Liz sobered.

“I have to tell Max about her, Maria,” she said seriously.

My good mood evaporated in a hurry. “Liz, you don’t have to do anything—you don’t owe a thing to Max Evans.”

She shook her head sadly. “Maria, this is his baby, too,” she said. “That would mean something to him—I know it would. If he wants to be a part of her life, then he should be able to.”

“From prison?” I asked flatly. From the start, Liz had been far more forgiving of Max than I would ever be. The minute he sent Liz away I lost all respect for Max Evans. As far as I was concerned, Liz and her baby were better off without him. After all, wasn’t that the reason we’d left Roswell and cut almost all our ties there? I hadn’t talked to Michael since that day at his house, and we’d kept Liz’s pregnancy a secret from both of our parents. We’d decided that until we knew for sure that this baby was normal—I.e., human—we were going to keep it between the two of us. I wasn’t looking forward to the explaning we were going to have to do in a few weeks, but it was the only solution we had been able to think of.

“It’s not his fault he’s in prison,” Liz said, struggling to her feet. She walked over to the window and parted the curtains to look out. “I’m going to write him a letter,” she told me. “He can decide whether or not he wants to write back. Anything else would be unfair.”

I looked over at the coffee table and noticed a sealed envelope lying there. “Did you already write this letter?” I demanded.

She glanced at me sheepishly. “Yes,” she admitted. “It took me all day to decide what to say.”

I looked at her helplessly. “Liz. . .what if he doesn’t write back?”

Her jaw tightened. “That’s his choice,” she said. “I’m still going to have this baby and love it and raise it. But I think he should have the choice.” She let the curtain fall, sighing. “I’m tired,” she said. “I’m going to bed.”

I watched as she walked into her bedroom and closed the door. I knew she was right—Max had a right to know about his child. But that didn’t mean I had to like it.


St. Petersburg, 2012


~Liz~


“Mommy, should I take both of my sneakers?”

I looked up from the suitcase I was packing to see Sophie poking her head in my door. She carried two pairs of sneakers—one white with pink trim, the other blue and yellow.

I shook my head. “We’re only going to be there for two and a half weeks,” I reminded her. “You’ll only need one pair.” And Maria will probably buy you three more while we’re there, I thought to myself.

She held them both up. “Which ones?”

“You decide,” I told her. “Which ones do you like better?”

She pondered for a moment. “I like the pink ones,” she said finally. “I want to wear them with my jean skirt.”

“Okay. Don’t forget to pack it, then.” I laid another pair of pants carefully across my suitcase and stood there for a moment, wondering if I’d forgotten anything. “Go put those in your suitcase,” I told Sophie. “I’ll be in in a minute to make sure you’ve got everything.”

“Okay.” She left, and I heard her go back to her bedroom. We were leaving for L.A. early the next morning—very early, as a matter of fact. It was going to be a long trip, but I hoped we could both sleep on the planes. I’d spent the past two days clearing up projects at work so that I could take this time off, and had been so busy I’d barely had time to pack. So now I had only a few hours to make sure both Sophie and I were packed and ready to go, and get enough sleep to last me for the trip. Sighing, I closed my suitcase and put it beside my door, then went down the hall to Sophie’s room.

She was on her bed, carefully folding her denim skirt. When I walked into the room, she looked up and smiled. “Aunt Maria says it’s warm in California,” she told me. “Do I have to bring my coat?”

“You’ll need it tomorrow morning on the way to the airport,” I said, “and you’ll need it on the way back here in a couple of weeks.”

“Oh, yeah.” She nodded. “Is it really warm there?”

I smiled at her. Sophie’s memories of winter were all of snow and ice—first in Boston, then New York, and now St. Petersburg. She didn’t know what it was like to walk around in shorts and a tank top in November. “Pretty warm,” I told her. “Kind of like September here. Let’s pack your light jacket, okay?”

She went to the closet and searched through it, coming up with the tan corduroy one she’d worn in the fall. “I like this one,” she told me.

“That one looks good.” I checked quickly through her suitcase, making sure she’d packed the things I’d laid out on her bed earlier. She’d added some items of her own, but it didn’t look like she’d forgotten anything. “Do you have your school books?” I asked her.

She pointed to her book bag in the corner. “In there,” she assured me.

“Good.” I looked around the room, wondering if I was forgetting anything. Well, I supposed I could buy anything we needed in L.A., anyway. “I think you’d better get some sleep. We’ve got a long day tomorrow.”

“Okay.” She closed her suitcase and hefted it off her bed. “Can we still read?”

“Maybe just one story tonight,” I told her. “Go on and get ready for bed, and I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

When I left her room, I went to the library to make sure I had packed the papers Michael had given me about Max’s case. Everything seemed to be there, packed carefully into the labeled folders I had made on Sunday. Even as I checked through them once more to be certain, I practically itched to be working on the case again.

As I went back to Sophie’s room to read her a bedtime story, I couldn’t help but be amazed how quickly Max Evans had regained his hold on my life.

posted on 29-Mar-2002 5:15:44 PM by mockingbird39
Part 17

Los Angeles, 2004


~Max~


I got a letter from Liz in late January. It came on a day when it was too cold to go out in the exercise yard, but too bright and sunny to be content staying inside. Everyone and everything around me seemed restless, but when the guard handed me the letter, everything else faded away. I sat on my bed for a long time, staring at the envelope. I had recognized Liz’s handwriting instantly, but even without it, I think I would have known it was from her. When I touched it, it seemed I could feel her, like I was touching her hand instead of just the paper she had written on.

My first impulse was to tear open the letter and read it—read it over and over until I memorized it. I had heard nothing from Liz since that awful day in July, and all Michael knew was that she and Maria had packed up and headed to Cambridge four days later. Neither of them had come back—not for Thanksgiving, not for Christmas, not for anything. Michael didn’t like talking about it, and I couldn’t blame him. I’d never imagined that my pushing Liz away would cost him Maria. If the situation were reversed, I don’t know that I would have forgiven him so easily.

I wanted so badly to know that Liz was okay. I wanted to know anything—her absence in my life was a gaping, aching wound that never healed. I had thought it would get easier to be without her; it hadn’t yet. I still dreamed about her at night, and in my dreams she was mine. Night after night I held her in my arms and told her I hadn’t mean any of the things I’d said to her all those months ago—that I could never stop loving her, that I did want her with me, that without her I barely knew I was alive. In my dreams I made love to her without having to leave her in the morning. I knocked on her door in Cambridge and told her I was a free man. I asked her to marry me, told her I’d never leave her again. In my dreams we were together like I knew we were destined to be.

I sat on my bed for a long time, wondering what Liz had written to me—why she had chosen to do it now, after all these months. In the days after I’d sent her away, I’d hoped—even expected—her to write and tell me she had seen through my lies. But I’d gotten no letters, and every day that hope faded a little. Now my heart pounded painfully as I thought about what might be in her letter. Maybe she was writing to say she was coming home—maybe she was even planning to come to California. How many times had she done so in my dreams, showing up once again in the visitor’s pavilion with her hands on her hips, her jaw clenched.

“What were you trying to do, Max?” she’d ask angrily. “Don’t you know how much I love you?”

But as much as I wanted that to happen, I knew I couldn’t let it. I missed Liz every minute—ached for her whether I was awake or asleep. But I hadn’t changed my mind about wanting her to go on without me. She was better off that way. She would be halfway through her second year at Harvard—almost halfway through college. I knew the last few months would have been hard on her, but she should be moving on with her life by now, shouldn’t she? I tapped the letter against my palm, wanting to open it, but beginning to wonder if I should. What if she was beginning to move on, and this was her last effort to maintain contact? The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. And if I opened it, and answered her, would it just give her false hope?

I sat there staring at her handwriting on the outside of the envelope, wanting so badly to open it, but knowing I shouldn’t. If I gave Liz the slightest hope that we might still be together, I knew in my heart she would be on the next plane out here. And if she came to me again, I knew I wouldn’t be able to send her away. It had been almost more than I could do the first time—I didn’t have enough left to do it again.

Quickly, before I could change my mind, I got up and took a pen from the shelf over my bed. I stared at the envelope for one last minute, then wrote “Return to Sender” across it in big black letters.


Los Angeles, 2012


~Liz~


Maria was waiting for us when Sophie and I stepped into the airport terminal. She was wearing a hat and sunglasses, and her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, but I could still see people watching her. I don’t think it’s her face they recognize—Maria has a certain air about her now that makes people look at her. She is definitely a star.

“Liz! Sophie!” she cried, running toward us. “You’re here—you’re finally here!”

Sophie pulled her hand from mine and went flying toward Maria. “Aunt Maria!” she answered happily. The two of them barreled into each other at full speed, almost knocking themselves off their feet. Maria laughed and hugged Sophie tightly, groaning as she picked her up.

“Augh! You’ve gotten so big!” Maria told her, giving her a kiss on the forehead.

“I grew almost a whole inch since last summer,” Sophie told her proudly. “I had to get a new uniform for school and everything.”

“I bet you did,” Maria said with a grin. She hugged Sophie again. “Oh, I missed you so much!”

“I missed you, too!” Sophie exclaimed, giving Maria a noisy kiss on the cheek. She leaned back a little and frowned. “Why are you wearin’ a hat?” she demanded.

I joined them more slowly, weighed down by both of our carry-on bags and the coat Sophie had discarded when we reached the airport in Dallas. “Liz! Finally!” Maria called, setting Sophie down and opening her arms again. I joined them in a three-way hug and felt a little of my weariness drained away. It was good to see Maria again, and her energy was catching. A moment ago, all I’d wanted to do was find a hot bath and a warm bed, but now I found myself hoping we’d have a chance to catch up before Sophie and I both dropped from exhaustion. I was anxious to contact Michael, too.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Maria was saying.

I smiled. “Me, too.” I touched the brim of her hat. “Is this your incognito gear?” I asked in a stage whisper.

She glared at me—even with the sunglasses, I knew she was glaring—and raised an eyebrow. “Did you want to wait while I spend an hour signing autographs?” she retorted.

“No.” No, I definitely did not want to stand in an airport. I wanted to find some food and a comfortable couch to curl up on. “My mistake—it’s a great look.” I tilted my head to one side with a teasing smile. “Although I’m not thrilled with the Yankees hat. I thought we discussed this in Boston—we root for the Sox, or the Mets. No Yankees.”

She grinned at that. “It was a gift,” she told me.

“Sure it was.” I handed Sophie her carry on bag. “You want to carry that now?” I asked her. “We’ve got to go down to the baggage claim.”

It took us about half an hour to find our bags and get to the curb, where we waited for the driver Maria had hired. She hates driving to the airport, and I can’t say I blame her. Sophie wanted to sit in the front, and I gladly let her. Maria and I climbed into the backseat, and she gave me another little hug as we settled ourselves there. “It’s so good to have you here,” she said.

“It’s good to see you,” I told her.

She nodded at Sophie, who was charming the driver with questions about L.A. “Does she know what you’re doing here?” Maria asked softly.

I shook my head. “Not really. She knows I’m working on a case for Michael, though.”

“But she doesn’t know about Ma-”

“She knows his name,” I said quickly, silencing her. “She asked me a few nights ago.”

“Did you tell her anything else?” she asked in a low voice.

I took a deep breath. “Not yet. Sooner or later she’s going to ask, though.”

“Are you going to see him while you’re here?”

I looked out the window, wishing I had sunglasses to shield my eyes like Maria’s. “I don’t know. I may not need to.”

“But will you?” she persisted.

“I don’t think he would see me anyway,” I said flatly, still staring out the window.

“Michael would probably take you,” she ventured.

“Are you pushing this?” I demanded more harshly than I’d meant.

Maria didn’t back down. “You know how I feel about it,” she said calmly. “If he fell off the face of the earth, I wouldn’t count it much of a loss. But you don’t feel that way.”

I stared hard at the road. “No, I don’t,” I finally admitted. I didn’t feel that way at all. All day as we’d traveled, I’d been very aware that we were moving ever closer to Max. This is the closest I’ve been Max since I moved to Petersburg, I’d thought when we landed in Frankfurt. Then, This is the closest we’ve been since we left New York. . .since college. . .since Sophie was born. When we’d landed in L.A. I’d been thinking that this was the first time we’d been in the same state in almost a decade.

It had been incredibly foolish of me to assume I could swoop into L.A., get the information I needed, and leave again without anyone being any wiser. People were going to have questions—my parents, Maria, Sophie. . .maybe even Max. If this worked and I was able to find something that would help his case, he was going to know I’d helped. He might even want to know why. I looked at Sophie, who was looking out the window with fascinated eyes. Maria had been right. The minute I took her to Roswell, people were going to know she was Max’s. Kyle, Valenti. . .Max’s family. My secret would be out. It was only a matter of time.


~Michael~

I was ridiculously nervous the day Liz and Sophie were due to arrive in L.A. I guess part of it was because I was anxious to make sure they were okay, but most of my nervousness stemmed from the fact that I now had a great big secret to keep from Max. And I wasn’t at all sure that keeping it was the right decision.

All morning I wanted to ask Max if he’d had any more dreams. I was almost sure they would pick up in intensity the closer Sophie got to L.A., and I wondered how long it would be before Max saw something he recognized. God, what if he saw Liz? I didn’t know what that would do to him. Worse, what if he saw Liz in a place he recognized as close by? It was possible—maybe even probable. If Max found out Liz was in L.A. and I hadn’t told him, I knew he’d be upset. But what if I told him and then Liz decided she didn’t want to see him? Damn it, there seemed to be no real answer in this one.

My nerves were not improved when I went to talk to Max that afternoon. He was listless and distracted, and clearly anxious to get back to his one millionth perusal of The Count of Monte Cristo, but I stayed to talk for a while anyway. I almost brought up the dreams, but thought better of it. I talked about sports and the three new prisoners who had come in that day, and Max made a small effort to seem interested. I had started to relax a little when another guard came looking for me.

“Guerin!” he called from down the block. “You’ve got a phone call in the office.”

Me? I rarely got phone calls at work. “Who is it?” I called back without thinking.

“I don’t know. Some woman,” he answered.

Damn. Max had chosen that moment to look genuinely interested. “Better hurry, Michael,” he said with a hint of a real smile.

“Right. I’ll see you later.” I headed to the office, wondering how I could have been so stupid. It was almost certainly Liz—or maybe Maria. What if the other guard had said her name? I swore under my breath as I walked. Max was going to want an explanation later.

“Michael Guerin here,” I said when I picked up the phone, then wondered why I answered that way.

“You didn’t tell me you worked in the prison.”

It was Liz, and she sounded accusing. “You didn’t ask,” I said. “Are you in California?”

“I’m at Maria’s,” she answered.

Hm. I hadn’t known she would stay with Maria, but it made sense. “Oh. How was the trip?”

“Long,” she answered. “We just got in a little while ago.” She paused. “Michael, did you tell Max I was coming?”

I leaned against the wall. “No. Do you want me to?”

“I don’t know,” she answered. “If I wanted to get in to see him—”

“I can get you in,” I said quickly. “No problem.”

“I don’t know if I’ll need to,” she said, her words coming in a hurry. “I might be able to get all the information I need from the will, or the insurance company.”

So she was only going to come if she needed more information about the case? Suddenly I was glad I hadn’t told Max. “Well, if you decide to come, I can get you in,” I told her. We were quiet for a moment, then I cleared my throat. “How’s Sophie?”

“She’s fine. She and Maria are picking up some Chinese food.” Liz hesitated, then asked, “Do you want to see her while we’re here? I know she’d like to see you.”

I couldn’t help the smile that spread across my face. “Really? Yeah, I’d like that,” I told her. “Maybe I could take her to the beach or something.”

“I think she’d like that a lot,” Liz said. “Um, I’d really like to talk to you, too, Michael. There’s some things I want to ask you.”

“Sure.” I wanted to talk to her, too, actually. I wondered if she had any idea Sophie and Max were connecting in Max’s dreams. “About what?”

“About the case,” she said. “And some other stuff, too.” I heard her take a deep breath. “I need to ask you some things about Sophie.”

My heart speeded up a little. “What things?” I wanted to know, then I changed my mind. “No, wait. We’ll talk about it in person. How about if I take you out to dinner this weekend?”

She sounded relieved. “That would be good. How about Friday night? I’m going to spend the day at the courthouse, I think, so I’ll be in the city.”

“That sounds good. I get off at five-thirty. I can meet you somewhere.”

“Okay.”

I smiled a little. “Liz, I’m really glad you decided to come here,” I said.

She gave a short laugh. “So far that makes one of us,” she told me, “but I’ll keep you posted.”

posted on 5-Apr-2002 1:12:31 PM by mockingbird39

Part 18


~Max~

Michael turned bright red when he heard that “some woman” was on the phone for him. He’s dated some over the years, but I’ve never gotten the feeling that any of the women he’s taken out have meant much to him. I can’t help but think he’s still waiting for Maria. Just like I’m still waiting for Liz.

He didn’t come back that afternoon—I guess he got busy. Either that or he was avoiding me because he knew I’d ask about her. I spent the afternoon writing a letter to my parents, then I continued to read.

That night I had another dream. It was by far the most vivid one I’d ever had, but it was still muddled, the images strung together without connection. I saw a chilly grey sky broken by streaks of pink, then I was behind a window, looking out at clouds below me. I saw what looked like an airport—though it wasn’t one I recognized—and then I saw Liz. Even in sleep, I tried to stay perfectly still, to hold onto the image as long as I possibly could. I watched as she walked toward me, a tired smile on her face. She brushed her hair out of her eyes and said something I couldn’t hear, then I felt her arms go around me. Her touch so startled me that I jerked in my sleep and came abruptly awake. In all my dreams, I’d never been able to feel her before. I lay there on my bed, breathing hard, going over the images in my mind. That hadn’t been a memory. For the first time, I was sure of it. The other times I’d seen her, the images had been fleeting and faint, but this one was clear enough to convince me it wasn’t a memory. Liz hadn’t looked like that the last time I saw her. Ten years ago, Liz had been a girl. The Liz I’d dreamed about was a woman—a beautiful woman with eyes that made my heart pound painfully in my chest. That brief moment when I felt her touch me was seared into my mind. I could feel her still, wrapping her arms around me in a tight embrace, and the constant, dull ache I’d come to know so well flared into a longing I’d never been able to forget for long.

But even as I lay there missing her, part of me felt energized. If my dreams of Liz were flashes and not memories, it meant we were connected in some way—that our bond hadn’t died all those years ago. And that was something. It was bittersweet, thinking that Liz and I were still bound together, particularly now that I knew I would never see her again in person.

I closed my eyes and thought over all the dreams I’d had over the years, trying to make sense of them, wondering if any of them provided a clue to where she was, what she was doing. Was she close by, or had she stayed in Boston after college? Or had she gone somewhere else entirely—somewhere new where she could start over with no old memories to hold her back? The first dream I’d had of her was probably in Cambridge. I vaguely recalled an old stone bridge like the one I’d seen her on from the one day and night I spent in the city. After that I had no idea. None of the things I’d seen after that were familiar to me—not the rooms, not the streets, not the blue and white mansion, not even the airport.

The airport. Why had that dream felt so different? Why had I felt her touch tonight, after ten years? I rolled onto my side tried to recall the images as they had appeared. The sky, the clouds, the airport, then her face. She walked toward me, smiling, then her touch that had startled me into wakefulness. I lay there going over it again and again in my mind, and after a while I found myself starting to drift off. But just before I went to sleep, I remembered something. In that last instant before I felt Liz’s touch, I’d seen something I did recognize—rather, someone.

Maria.



~Liz~

The day after Sophie and I arrived in Los Angeles, I slept late and woke up to find Maria and Sophie gone. Wandering downstairs, I found a note on the refridgerator telling me that the two of them had gone out for breakfast and were going to a music store afterward to pick out some books and a strap for the new guitar Maria had given Sophie the night before. Maria added that they would probably be gone for most of the afternoon, so I was free to start working on the case. As I read the note, I realized again how nice it was to have Maria around again. We’d lived together for almost six years, until I graduated from law school and moved to New York with Sophie. Maria moved to L.A. then, at the advice of her managers, and I’d missed her ever since. Taking care of Sophie by myself is sometimes an overwhelming responsibility. Without Maria, I’d never have been able to finish college or go to law school. But that wasn’t the only reason I missed her. Maria is the only person who knows all my secrets. When I’m around her, I’m relaxed—there’s nothing to hide.

I took some of the leftover Chinese food from the fridge and took it upstairs to my room, where I began spreading out the case files. For background noise, I turned the television to CNN (god, I miss 24-hour news networks) and listened with half an ear as I recreated the piles I’d originally made in Petersburg. This time I added something new to the post-it note labels I’d stuck to each one—missing items. I’d decided last night that I would begin by tracking down the items on each label and go from there. First on my list was the codicil to Langley’s will.

It didn’t take me long to find a phone number for the attorney who’d drafted the will. I sat on the floor in my pajamas and reading glasses, a blank legal pad on my lap, as I dialed the number. A receptionist answered on the first ring.

“Smith, Cooper, Kellis,” she chirped efficiently.

“Anthony Kellis,” I requested, giving the name I’d found on the will.

“One moment, please.”

Anthony Kellis’s secretary picked up next. “Mr. Kellis’s office.”

“Hello, my name is Elizabeth Parker—” I hesitated a moment, then added, “—and I’m an attorney with Christian Dior. I would like to speak with Mr. Kellis, please.”

“What is this regarding, please?” she enquired.

“A case he handled some years ago,” I answered.

“Which case would that be?”

“It’s an estate case,” I said. She waited for me to go on, but I remained silent.

“I see,” she said finally. “Is Mr. Kellis expecting your call?” Her tone was slightly less polite now.

“Is he available?” I persisted. I knew this game. I play this game. I’m not bad at it, either.

“I’ll see if he’s in his office,” she said. “Please hold.”

It took longer than I expected for her to come back with the politely regretful answer that he had stepped out—maybe estate attorneys don’t get too many calls from Christian Dior. “I see,” I said, and that was when the game began. In law school they teach you how to get your way, and I’ve honed my skills at it over the years. In Russia, you don’t get your way without a strong desire to do so, particularly if you happen to be a woman. I’ve learned to fight for what I want—I don’t take no for an answer anymore. I’ve often wondered if my life would be quite the same if I’d learned that lesson earlier. At any rate, it took me just under seven minutes to wrangle an appointment with Kellis for that afternoon.

I got directions to the office, then got off the phone quickly and went to shower. Half an hour later, I was dressed and packing my briefcase. Before I left the house, I took a look in the foyer mirror. I’d worn my most intimidating suit—the black one with gray pinstripes and a hip-length, belted jacket. It’s a Dior, naturally, and it looks like one. Beneath it I wore a gray blouse that matched the pinstripes. In Russia, I wear knee-high boots with this suit, but here in L.A. that seemed inappropriate, so I’d worn my black Manolo Blahnik pumps with the thin heels and ankle strap. They are completely inappropriate for walking on cobblestones in St. Petersburg, but I love them anyway. I added my glasses, since I’ve been told they make me look older and more professional, then decided I looked ready to meet the illustrious Anthony Kellis, Esquire.

I left the house determined to find out what had happened to Cal Langley’s money ten years ago, and certain that when I found his millions, I’d find him, too.


~Michael~

Max never asked me about the phone call I’d gotten from Liz. At first I was relieved, but that died quickly when I saw the look on his face. I knew that look, and I knew that only one person could cause it.

Liz.

“Michael, Maria lives in L.A., right?” he asked before I even had a chance to say hello that morning.

I stopped and stared. “Huh?”

“Maria,” he repeated. “She lives in L.A. I heard some of the guys talking about her.”

“I. . .I think so,” I said cautiously. The number Liz had given me had a Los Angeles area code, but I hadn’t actually been to Maria’s house, so it wasn’t a lie. Technically.

“She does,” he insisted. “Rozier said he read it in a magazine.”

Rozier was a young guy, in for armed robbery, and one of the ones I most wanted to kick the crap out of when it came to Maria. Other than that, I had no problem with him. “So why are you asking me?” I asked Max warily.

“I just thought you might know for sure,” he said.

“I don’t,” I said defensively, but he wasn’t paying attention.

“She must live in L.A.,” he went on. “Rozier said he read that she loved it here—she moved here from New York a couple of years ago.”

That was news to me, actually. It stung a little that Maria had lived in the city for that long and had never looked me up. Then again, she hadn’t looked me up in all the years before that, so it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. It was hard for me to be angry at her for that anyway, now that I knew why she and Liz had left without explanation all those years ago. “Yeah? That’s kind of a surprise. She always liked New York.”

“Yeah, I remember she went there,” Max said thoughtfully.

“Maybe she missed the warm weather,” I said uncomfortably.

“Maybe.” He glanced at me, his eyes narrowing as though he was deciding whether or not to say more. Finally, he went on. “Remember those dreams I told you about?”

I nodded, my pulse picking up a little. Had he figured out what they were? “I remember.”

“I don’t think they’re dreams,” Max said. He stared at nothing for a moment, then shook his head. “I think they’re flashes. From Liz. And they’re getting clearer.”

From Liz. Of course he thought they were from Liz. I tried to look surprised but not guilty. “From Liz?” I asked. “Are you sure?”

He frowned briefly. “They have to be,” he said. “I keep seeing her in them. They’re not memories—she looks different than she did before.”

“But you only got flashes from her when you were touching her,” I pointed out, trying to direct him without telling him Liz’s secret outright.

“But that was before we were. . .connected,” he said awkwardly. His ears reddened a little, and he shook his head. “They have to be from her, Michael—who else would they be from?”

“Did you ever get flashes like this before?” I asked bluntly, hoping he’d remember the ones from his son that summer after Tess left.

But the only thing on his mind right now was Liz. “It was so real. . .I could feel her touching me,” he murmured. His eyes were dark and pensive. “We’ve been connected all this time. . .I wonder if she gets them, too.”

“Do you think it could happen from that far away?” I asked him. I wasn’t sure if he was really being dense, or if the secret I’d been keeping in was making me impatient. Maybe both.

Max stood up and began to pace the confines of his cell. “I think she’s closer now,” he said.

“But she wasn’t always,” I persisted.

“What do you mean?” he demanded suspiciously, and I knew I’d said a little too much. “How do you know?”

I backpedaled. “Well, I mean—she went to college in Boston, right?”

“Right.” He studied me with narrowed eyes, finally clueing into the fact that I wasn’t telling him something. The old Maxwell would have figured that out days ago, but years of being alone had dulled his perception. He stopped pacing and stepped close to me. “Michael, I think Liz is in L.A.,” he said, and for a second I couldn’t breathe. How the hell could he know that?
Then it struck me—he must have seen Maria in one of his dreams and remembered she lived in L.A. And if Liz was with Maria, that put Liz in L.A., too.

“Why do you think that?” I managed to ask, unable to meet his piercing gaze.

He stared at me so hard I could feel my ears burning. “You already knew,” he said. It wasn’t a question. “Michael, how did you know?”

posted on 10-Apr-2002 11:31:54 AM by mockingbird39
Author's Note:

Dear Real Life,
Will you kindly stop hounding me so that I can sit down and write fic for a while? My lovely readers, my lonely characters, and I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you for your consideration.

Love,
Melanie

P.S.--If you see my Muse, would you please send her over here for a while? Her name is Shirley the Muse. (She is distantly related to Roger the Shrubber, if that helps.) Thanks again!



Part 19

Los Angeles, 2012


~Michael~



“How do you know Michael? Did you see her? Is she okay? What is she doing here?” Max’s questions fired at me in rapid succession. I don’t think he breathed between them.

I looked at him evenly. “Do you care?” I asked.

His eyes widened. “How can you ask me that?” he asked in a harsh voice.

“You sent back her letters—you didn’t care to know if she was okay before.” The more I thought about it, the angrier that one fact made me.

“I had my reasons,” he muttered.

“Yeah? Well, they sucked,” I said flatly.

He held up a hand, taking a deep breath. “Michael, just tell me. Is she here?”

I swallowed hard and looked at the ground. “Yeah, she’s here.”

He closed his eyes for a second. “Why?”

I thought for a second, then decided that the truth was the only way to go. Lies had started this mess—they weren’t going to get any of us out of it. “Because I asked her to come.”

“You what?” he demanded.

“I went to her and asked her to look at your case,” I said.

Anger made his eyes flash, but there was something beneath that. Hope? “You had no right to do that,” he ground out. “No right at all—I’ve spent ten years trying to forget about her and you go ask her for help? How could you do that?”

“Liz is an attorney, Max,” I said. “When your last appeal was denied, I asked her to take a look at your case.”

His face was ashen. “You had no right, Michael,” he repeated. “No right at all.”

That made me angry. “Maybe you didn’t hear me,” I told him. “Liz is a lawyer. A lawyer who thinks you’re innocent. Those are few and far between these days.”

He started to pace the confines of his cell, reminding me of caged animals I’d seen at the zoo. It was wrong for Max to be in here—he didn’t deserve it. But he couldn’t seem to see that. He’d rather spend the rest of his life here, atoning for imagined wrongs, than ask for help from the one person who’d never turn him down. He paused for a second, glancing at me angrily. “Have you known where she was all this time?” he demanded.

I shook my head. “Just the past couple of weeks. I found Maria first, and I talked her into giving me Liz’s address.”

He paced for a moment longer, then stopped and leaned against the wall. The anger faded from his gaze, replaced by hunger—need. “How is she, Michael?” he asked finally. “Is she okay? Is she. . .is she happy?”

He was staring at the ground, his jaw clenched, his expression stoic. I wondered which answer would be harder for him to hear. Finally, I took a deep breath. “She should be,” I answered. “She’s got a good life. She ought to be happy.” I looked at him and shook my head. “But she’s not, Max.”

“Why?” he asked hoarsely, looking up at me with dark, haunted eyes.

I met his gaze. “Why do you think?” I asked him.

He was breathing hard. “I wanted her to be happy,” he murmured, more to himself than me. “I thought if I let her go, she could be happy.”

Standing there that day, I realized that Max was like me. He’d never understood how much Liz loved him because he never imagined anyone could love him so completely. We had both started off believing there was something wrong with us—that we were flawed. But Liz hadn’t thought that way, and Max had never known. I had known it. I’d seen it a long time ago, first when I’d read her diary, then again as Liz risked her life for him time after time and stood by him through every decision he’d made for the group, and yet again the summer of his trial. It was cruel, cruel irony that Max himself had never known it—still didn’t know it.

He looked at me, his face pale beneath the deep tan he’d gotten working on the prison grounds crew. “Will she come here?” he asked.

I considered what to tell him, decided on the truth. “She thinks you won’t see her,” I said, and he flinched, closing his eyes. “Would you see her?” I asked.

He was silent for a long time, and I wondered if he had heard me at all. But then he turned away, his shoulders slumped in defeat. “If she asked, I’d see her,” he said. “But she won’t ask.”


~Liz~

Anthony Kellis’s office was exactly what most people think a law office should look like. Dark wood paneling, lots of thick books, pictures of boats and forests. My office at Dior doesn’t look anything like that. I think I’d be depressed if my office was as dark as the one I sat in waiting for my appointment.

Kellis kept me waiting five minutes past my appointment time, which is what several attorneys I know do to ensure that the other party is intimidated before the meeting begins. I figured this was a good sign, since it meant that Anthony Kellis was already trying to pull rank. I had the upper hand in this situation, since I already knew what we would be talking about and I really had nothing to lose. Even if he wouldn’t tell me what I wanted to know, I wasn’t any worse off than when I’d started.

Anthony Kellis, however, had things to be concerned about.

“Mr. Kellis will see you now.”

I looked up to find his secretary standing over me. “Thank you,” I said, reaching for my briefcase. She pointed me into an inner office and went back to her desk, watching me the whole time.

“Mr. Kellis, I’m Elizabeth Parker,” I said to the gray-haired man behind the desk. Despite his hair, he looked younger than I had expected. “I’m sorry to interrupt your day like this, but—”

“Nonsense,” he interrupted, right on cue. He stood up and shook my hand. “Anthony Kellis. I must admit, though, I am curious as to why I’m being sought out by an attorney from a fashion house. I’m an estate lawyer, as I’m sure you know.”

“Yes,” I agreed, sitting in one of the leather Queen Anne chairs in front of his desk. “I’m actually looking for information on an estate you executed about ten years ago.”

He frowned a little. “Ten years ago? It’s a little late to be contesting now, isn’t it?”

I shook my head. “I don’t want to contest it, Mr. Kellis. I just need to see a complete copy of the will.”

“We file all documents with the appropriate county authorities,” he said stiffly.

I smiled, trying to put him back at ease. “This one seems to have slipped through the cracks.”

Didn’t work. “Which case are we talking about, Ms. Parker?” he asked flatly.

“Cal Langley,” I answered. “I’ve obtained a copy of his will, which, as you said, was on file with the county. But the codicil was missing.”

He gave me a pleasantly blank look. “Codicil?”

Someone should tell Anthony Kellis never to play poker. That’s the look mediocre actors give the camera when they’re trying to emote that their character does know something crucial to the plot, but can’t tell. Ridiculous denials aside, I was a little surprised he remembered to be evasive about Langley’s will—after all, it’s been ten years. “Yes,” I told him. “The codicil you added three years after the will was written.” Two months before Langley died, I wanted to add, but I kept that piece of information to myself.

“Ms. Parker, I’m sure you know it would be an ethical violation for me to discuss the matter—”

All right. If he played the game with any finesse, I might have played, too. But this was silly. “If the codicil had been properly filed, I wouldn’t need to discuss the matter,” I interrupted. “Is there something abnormal about the codicil, Mr. Kellis?”

He seemed to take offense. “Certainly not. It was merely a change in distribution of assets, and—” He broke off, and I knew he hadn’t meant to say that much. “It was only a minor change to the original will,” he said finally.

Minor? That wasn’t how it had looked to me. I sat back in my chair. “According to the copy I obtained, the codicil very nearly rendered the existing will moot,” I disagreed. “Why didn’t you simply write a new will?” It had occurred to me on the plane ride yesterday that writing the codicil and annotating the will was actually more paperwork than writing a new will. There had to be a reason Langley had wanted it done like that.

“My client had his reasons,” Kellis told me. He was starting to get angry, and I did nothing to stop it. Anger tends to loosen a person's tongue. If he’d shown any sign of helping me volutarily, I’d have tried to placate him. But if he wanted to play, I was ready. Only I was going to win.

“Mr. Kellis, Cal Langley was murdered,” I said. “He left behind an enormous estate that would most certainly constitute a motive for murder.”

“That’s ridiculous,” he protested. “Cal Langley wasn’t murdered for his money. That kid—the one who wanted Langley to help him get a movie deal. He murdered Langley. It was an open and shut case.”

“It might not have been, if this will was properly filed,” I retorted. “Did it ever occur to you, that by not properly filing that codicil, you might have withheld vital information in a murder investigation? That’s a serious ethical violation—far more serious than a breach of attorny-client privilege—and it’s also a felony.”

“That case was air tight,” Anthony Kellis sputtered, glaring at me across the desk.

“Is that your opinion, Mr. Kellis?” I asked calmly, my tone making abundantly clear what value I placed on his opinion. It wasn’t entirely an act. I’d have expected Langley to retain a more talented lawyer. Then again, a more talented lawyer wouldn’t have made himself vulnerable to a situation like this. Maybe Langley had known what he was doing after all.

His nostrils flared. “Who did you say you represent, Ms. Parker?” he demanded.

I stood up, gathering my briefcase. “I didn’t, Mr. Kellis.” I laid my card on his desk and started for the door. “I’m going to be spending tomorrow at the courthouse, researching,” I told him casually. “I’d hoped to have copy of the codicil in hand before that. I’d hate to have to pursue it through official channels.” I paused and glanced at him. “My fax number in L.A. is on the back of my card. Thank you for your time.” Without waiting for an answer, I opened the door and left his office.

His silence made it clear I’d won.


~Max~

The day I learned Liz was in Los Angeles, I was scheduled for afternoon work detail. I was grateful to have something to do. Otherwise, I might have gone mad, pacing my cell and thinking about what had brought Liz to L.A. As I slowly worked my way around the grounds, raking up late autumn leaves, my head was spinning. Memories of Liz rushed through my mind, and for the first time in years I thought I could sense her close by. I’d never told her, but ever since that day in the Crashdown when I’d healed her, I’d always been able to tell when she was near. It was like an extension of my senses—nothing I could pinpoint, just an awareness of her. It was part of the reason I’d never been able to be apart from her for very long. Whenever there was great distance between us—like when Liz had spent the summer in Florida, or when I’d been in Los Angeles, or she’d been in Vermont—I lost that awareness, and I felt it keenly. After my last confrontation with Langley, I’d driven all night, unable to stand the blankness where the sense of her had been for another minute. For the past ten years, I’d struggled to live with that loss and though it had taken a long time, I’d learned to deal with it.

But when I’d woken up that morning, it felt like I had been wandering in a dim room for years, only to have someone turn on a bright light. I was suddenly aware Liz again. If I concentrated at all, I knew I would feel her presence. I wanted to do it. My desire to connect with her was so strong it had become a physical craving. All that afternoon as I worked, I imagined the relief I’d feel when I finally felt her again. I’ve never had a an addiction—I couldn’t drink, and I’ve never smoked—but right then I understood an addict’s craving for his particular vice. My need for her was so intense I thought I’d give anything for just a moment of relief.

But then what? I asked myself. After I’d allowed myself that one moment of release, how would I go back to the darkness of the past ten years? Liz wouldn’t stay in L.A. forever. Sooner or later she’d head back to whereever it was Michael had found her and I’d be blind again. How long would it take me to get used to it this time?

She shouldn’t be here. Even as my need for her surged through me, I knew that. I hadn’t sent her away ten years ago only to have her come back and open wounds that should have healed a long time ago. I was furious with Michael for bringing her back into this. How could he have gone behind my back like this? I was frustrated, too, since I was helpless to do anything about it. But underneath all that, I felt the first stirrings of hope since my last appeal was denied. I’ve never admitted it to anyone, but for the past ten years, I’ve been holding out for the day I’d be able to knock on Liz’s door as a free man and tell her it was over and I’d never wanted anything but her. A month ago, when it finally sank in that I had no more chances, I’d had to put away those dreams. It felt like losing her all over again. But if she was in L.A.—if she hadn’t slammed the door in Michael’s face when he asked her to look at my case. . .my heart pounded at the thought of what that might mean. I paused in my work, leaning heavily on the rake and all I could see was Liz as she’d been in my dream the night before.

I believed what I’d told Michael. Liz wouldn’t ask to see me. I’d made sure she would never want to look at me again. But if she did ask. . .the smart thing to do would be to refuse. That would get her out of L.A. faster than anything else. The only problem was that I didn’t know if I could do it. Michael’s quiet assurance that Liz wasn’t happy had shaken me. I didn’t want to believe it, but he had seemed so sure—he hadn’t even hesitated. All those years ago I’d been positive that if Liz could only put all this behind her. . .put me behind her. . .she could go on and find happiness somewhere else. I wanted her to do that. But what if she hadn’t? What if, like me, she still dreamed the past? What if, despite everything, she still hurt for everything we could have been together? What if that was why she was here?

The questions haunted me as I made one final sweep of the grounds. That night as I lay awake in bed, still painfully conscious of her I began to wonder why she had come to California to look at my case. She could have done that from whereever she lived now, but she had chosen to come here. Did she plan on physically pursuing the case—she wasn’t planning to look for Langley, was she?! Dread washed over me as I thought about what could happen to her if she sought him out, and I was close to panic when I realized what would happen if she found him.

I didn’t sleep that night. I was too afraid of the dreams I might have. But by the time the sun rose the next morning, I knew what one thing: I had to see Liz.
posted on 13-Apr-2002 3:51:42 PM by mockingbird39
Part 20

Los Angeles, 2012


~Maria~


Having Liz and Sophie in L.A. was great. The morning after they flew in, I went downstairs to find Sophie planted in front of the television wearing her pajamas and watching cartoons. Reruns of Daria, to be exact. I joined her, giving her a long good morning squeeze to make up for all the mornings I don’t get one of the world’s best hugs before breakfast.

“Morning!” she cried happily.

“Morning!” I answered, giving her a loud kiss on the cheek. She returned it with a giggle, and our hug turned into a tickle fight. Have I mentioned how much I miss having Sophie around? Sometimes I miss her so much I’m ready to hop on the Siberian Express and park myself in Liz’s fabulous, frigid apartment.

“What are we gonna do today?” she asked, when we’d called a truce and settled down to watch some more disgruntled girl cartoons.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “What do you want to do?”

“Will you teach me how to play my guitar?”

I nodded, pleased. I’d given her the miniature guitar last night, and she’d seemed to like it then. I was glad she liked it enough to want to learn how to play. “We can do that. But let’s wait until Mommy gets up, okay? I don’t want to wake her too soon.”

“Okay,” she agreed. “She was pretty tired. But can we have breakfast before she wakes up?”

“Sure. What do you want to have?”

She hesitated. “Are you going to cook?” she asked warily.

“Hey!” I pretended to be offended. “Are you trying to tell me something?”

She pursed her lips together, trying not to giggle. “No-ooo,” she said.

I rolled my eyes. “How about the Rose Diner?”

“What’s that?”

“Kind of like Denny’s,” I told her, “but cleaner and with less smoke.”

“Okay.” She hopped off the sofa. “I’ll go get dressed.”

“Bring your guitar,” I called after her. “We’ll stop at the music store and get a strap for it.”

“Cool!” she called back, thundering up the stairs.

*****

Half an hour later, we were in the diner, tall stacks of pancakes in front of us. Sophie was drinking milk, and I was working my way through my second cup of coffee.

“So then Brian said no way did I know you,” Sophie was saying around a mouthful of pancakes, “but I said yes I did and you used to live with me and mommy before we moved to New York. But he still didn’t believe me until I showed him the pictures we took last summer at Peterhof and then he said he was just kidding and would you give him an autograph.”

“And what did you say?” I asked.

“I said no way ‘cause you only give autographs to nice people,” she answered, grinning. “But you’ll give me one for my friend Anne-Marie, right? She’s French.”

“Of course,” I told her. “Just remind me when we get home, okay?”

“Okay.” She chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “You know what would be funny? If next time when you come to Petersburg, you come to my class. Brian would be so freaked out!”

“I’ll put it on my calendar,” I told her. “When do you get out of school?”

“June, I think,” she said.

I sighed. June in St. Petersburg looks like a mudslide with extra fog. “I’ll be there,” I promised reluctantly.

She had already moved on to the next topic. “Why do I need a strap for my guitar?”

“You don’t have to have one if you don’t want it,” I said. “I think it’s easier, though.” I got up out of the booth. “I’m going to get some more coffee. Do you need anything else?”

“No, I’m okay.” She picked up her glass and took a long drink as I walked to the counter for a refill. While the waitress filled my cup, I turned back to watch Sophie. When she reached out to set her glass back down next to her plate, she brushed the sleeve of her sweater against a spot of syrup on her plate. Lifting my cup to my lips, I watched as she frowned ferociously at the stain.

What she did next made me choke on my coffee. She glanced around for a second, making sure no one was watching, then held her hand over her sleeve for a second. When she removed it, the stain was gone.



~Liz~

When I left Anthony Kellis’s office, I was in a great mood. I’d painted Kellis into a corner without breaking a sweat, and I felt certain the codicil would be waiting for me on Maria’s fax machine by the time I got back. I’d spend some time with Maria and Sophie tonight, then go to my room and read over the documents before I went to bed. In the morning I’d go to the courthouse and find the transfer papers for Langley’s real estate holdings and find out when they were transferred and to whom they had gone. I also planned to call whatever insurance company Langley had used and figure out how they had identified the body.

But first I was going to celebrate my win.

I pulled my rental car into Maria’s driveway just behind her silver sports car and got out, grabbing my briefcase. I’d taken off my suit jacket for the drive, so I carried that over my arm. When I stepped into the foyer, I called out, “Mommy’s home!”

“Mom, come in here!” I heard from the living room. At least, I think it’s the living room. It has a television and some couches, but so do a couple of other rooms in Maria’s house. I’m not entirely sure. I followed the sound of her voice and found her sitting on the floor with her new guitar in her lap. Maria was beside her, holding her own guitar.

I dumped my jacket and briefcase on a nearby chair and went to give my daughter a kiss. “I missed you this morning,” I told her.

“You were sleeping,” she informed me.

“I was tired,” I answered.

“That’s okay. We had breakfast, and then we bought me a guitar strap, and then we came back and Aunt Maria taught me how to play a song.” She beamed at me. “Want to hear it?”

“Of course I do,” I grinned back at her, still thrilled with my own little victory.

A look of intense concentration made her forehead crease as she bent her head over the guitar. She carefully placed her fingers on the strings and a second later I recognized a little of “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain.” I glanced over at Maria, smiling, but she managed only a faint smile in return. Confused, I turned my attention back to Sophie just as she finished her song.

“That was great!” I exclaimed. “You learned that this afternoon?”

“Yup,” she said proudly.

“What do you say to Aunt Maria for teaching you?” I asked her.

“Thanks, Aunt Maria,” she chirped.

Maria managed a slightly less confused smile and kissed Sophie’s head. “You’re welcome, sweets,” she said, then looked up at me. “Liz, I mean to give you something before I left this morning, but I forgot. Come on—I’ll get it now.” She jumped to her feet and headed out of the room, motioning for me to follow.

I glanced at Sophie as I stood up. “Play it for me again when I come back, okay?” I told her.

“Okay,” she said, her attention on the sheet music before her.

I followed Maria into the kitchen. “What did you want to—”

She interrupted, holding out a cell phone. “Carry this tomorrow,” she ordered. I stared blankly at it, so she took my hand and folded it around the phone. “I had no way of getting in touch with you!” she hissed.

“Okay,” I answered, confused. “Did something happen today?”

She sat down on one of the barstools next to the counter. “You could say that,” she muttered.

I was starting to get apprehensive. “Maria, you’re scaring me. What’s wrong?”

She rubbed a hand over her eyes, looking tired. “Liz, look, I don’t want to freak you out, but. . .well, this is just going to freak you out. There’s no way around it.” She reached out and took my hand, looking at me seriously. “Sophie has powers.”

I stared at her, kicking myself for not telling her this before. God, she must have been terrified, I thought. “How do you know?” I asked her calmly.

“Okay, we were in the diner this morning eating breakfast, and Sophie got syrup on her sleeve, and she did that weird hand wave that Isabel used to do, and it was just gone,” Maria said in one breath. “I don’t think anyone else saw, and I didn’t say anything about it—I didn’t know what to say.” She broke off and looked at me, her eyes narrowing. “You’re taking this pretty calmly,” she said, sounding suspicious.

I nodded. “I’m sorry. I should have told you. She did it before last week.”

Maria’s eyes widened. “The stain thing?”

“No, not exactly.” I sat down beside her. “We were walking on Nevskii Prospekt and she. . .she warmed up her hands.”

Maria looked at me blankly. “Warmed her hands? That’s not—”

“Her palms glowed.”

“Oh.” Maria rubbed her forehead. “God, why didn’t you tell me, Liz? I mean, I know she’s your daughter and all, but I helped raise her all those years, too. If something happens with her, I want to know.”

“I know, Maria,” I said, feeling my ever-present guilt increase. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I didn’t say anything—I guess maybe I just hoped it was a fluke and she’d never do it again. I mean, I didn’t even know if she knew she was doing it.”

Maria’s look was equal parts sympathy and disbelief. “Was that a one-way ticket to Denial Land, or did you buy the round trip?”

I sighed. “I’m on my way back,” I assured her. “I think I’ve been there longer than I realized.”

“We’re going to have to talk to her,” Maria said. “She can’t go around doing alien mojo where people can see her.”

“I know.” I nodded, brushing my bangs away from my face. “I’m having dinner with Michael tomorrow night. That’s one of the things I want to talk to him about.”

She looked a little surprised. “You’re having dinner with Michael?”

“Yeah, tomorrow. He’s meeting me at the courthouse after he gets off work.”

“Oh.” She tried to smile. “Tell him I said hi.”

I studied Maria for a long minute. “You still miss him?” I asked her at length.

“Miss Alien Boy?” she repeated, almost managing to look nonchalant. “Yeah, I’m just devastated that I don’t have to deal with his moods and his immaturity and the screw-ups that never end.” She snorted and shook her head, standing up quickly. “Just devastated,” she repeated as she went back into the living room.


~Michael~

When I came to work on Friday morning, Max was waiting for me at the door of his cell.

“Morning, Max,” I said gruffly. I wasn’t sure how he was going to act with me now that he knew Liz was here.

“I want to see Liz,” was all he said. His jaw was clenched, and his face was pale. He looked like he hadn’t slept at all. “Let her know I want to see her.” He turned away, going to stand near the back of his cell.

I stood there in amazement for a second, not sure what to say. Finally I just nodded. “Okay. I’ll tell her.”

“Tomorrow’s Saturday,” he said without looking at me. “Visitor’s day. Get her here then, if you can.”

He didn’t say anymore, and I didn’t want to push it in case he changed his mind. “I’ll try,” I told him. I stood there a minute longer in case he said anything else, but he didn’t. I went to finish my morning rounds and I didn’t see Maxwell for the rest of the day.

I’d brought clothes to change into so that I could meet Liz at the courthouse plaza that day. After my shift I quickly switched my uniform for the jeans and brown shirt I’d brought with me. I hoped Liz didn’t want to go anywhere too fancy—it hadn’t occurred to me to bring dress clothes. I knew there were some pretty good casual restaurants in the vicinity of the courthouse; hopefully she’d be satisfied with one of those.

Besides, once I dropped the bomb that Max wanted to see her, I didn’t think she’d be eating much anyway.

Liz was sitting on a bench at the bottom of the stairs when I got there. She was dressed in a chocolate brown suit with a tan blouse and she was reading from a stack of papers on her lap. I figured they probably had something to do with Max’s case, and hoped she would fill me in later. She didn’t see me at first, so I stood there watching her as she scanned one page and made a note of something in the margin. After a minute or two, she looked around and saw me coming toward her. She smiled and tucked the papers into her briefcase, standing up.

“Michael,” she said warmly, giving me a brief hug. “Good to see you. How are you?”

“Good,” I answered. “You?”

She nodded, fingering the shoulder strap of her briefcase. “Good.”

“How’s Sophie?” I asked.

Liz smiled. “She’s good, too. She’s with Maria.”

“Oh. I bet they’re having fun.” I could imagine Maria and Sophie would be two of a kind. “Uh, I thought maybe I could pick Sophie up tomorrow morning,” I said. “I have tickets to a hockey game. . .do you think she’d like hockey?”

“She loves hockey,” Liz told me. “We’ve gone to a couple games in Petersburg, and she was a big Bruins fan when we lived in Boston.”

“Bruins?” I repeated. “Geez, it’s a good thing you brought her out here when you did. She might have gone through life like that.”

Liz chuckled. “I wouldn’t trash the Bruins around her—or the Red Sox. She definitely a Bostonian when it comes to sports.”

“I’ll have to do my best to change her mind,” I answered, grinning. I was really looking forward to spending time with Sophie.

Liz nodded. “She’s excited you’re taking her out,” she told me, then looked around. “So, where are we going to dinner? I’m hungry.”

We settled on a steakhouse not far from the courthouse. It probably wasn’t what Liz was used to, but the food was good. When we were seated, Liz ordered a Long Island Iced Tea to go with the appetizers we were going to share. I guess it had been a long day. I thought about it, and decided it was better to wait until she’d gotten some food—and maybe some alcohol—into her system before I told her Max wanted to see her. I wasn’t really sure how she was going to react to that. But Liz wasn’t one to put things off.

“Does Max know I’m here?” she asked bluntly, once the waitress had taken our orders and left.

I lined up my silverware exactly perpendicular to each other. “Uh. . .yeah. Yeah, he does,” I answered finally.

She nodded, taking in that information. “Did you tell him?”

I looked up at her. “No, I didn’t. He guessed. . .no, he knew. He knew you were here.”

I was watching her closely, and I could sense a tiny crack in her composure. “He can feel me, can’t he?” she asked softly.

“I don’t know.”

She closed her eyes for a second. “He can,” she told me simply. “I guess I’m not surprised.”

Really? Because it had shocked the hell out of me. “Can you feel him, too?” I asked carefully.

She nodded, not looking at me. “All the time.”

We were quiet for a few minutes, then I cleared my throat. “Look, Liz. . .the thing is, Max has been getting these dreams. Visions, maybe. He sees you in them, so he thinks they’re from you—like the flashes you used to get.”

Liz stared at the table for a moment. “They’re not from me,” she said simply. “I can feel Max, but I can’t see him. I haven’t seen the flashes since. . .since the last time we were together.” She took a deep breath. “They must be from Sophie.”

I sat back in the booth, relieved that she had come to the conclusion on her own and wondering why the hell Max couldn’t. “That’s what I thought, too.” I hesitated for a second. “Do you think the flashes go both ways? Does Sophie see them, too?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know. She’s never said anything about it. . .but she might not know what they are even if she does see them.”

We fell silent as the waitress brought our appetizers and Liz’s drink. She reached for it gratefully and took a long sip. I wished I had something to take the edge off, too. When we were alone again, I cleared my throat.

“Liz, you. . .you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, but, uh. . .has Sophie ever—I mean, does she. . .” I broke off, shaking my head.

Liz looked right at me, meeting my gaze evenly. “Sophie has powers, Michael. I’m not sure how long she’s known, but the first time I saw her use them was about a week ago. She did it again with Maria this morning.”

Oh, man. I could imagine Sophie’s confusion at finding she had magic powers. On one hand it was exciting—suddenly you could do amazing things no one else could. But at the same time, you were aware that those amazing things set you apart. You’d never be like everyone else. You’d always be alone. I remembered those feelings—I wasn’t sure I’d ever quite gotten over them. I couldn’t stand the thought of Sophie having to carry that baggage around with her, having it still that quick smile and put shadows in her bright eyes.

“I haven’t talked to her about it yet,” Liz said, fingering her straw restlessly. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Does she know—does she know what we are. . .what she is?” I asked in a low voice.

Liz shook her head vigorously. “No. No, she has no idea.”

I gave a long sigh. “You can’t keep it from her forever,” I told Liz quietly. “She’s going to have to know sooner or later.”

Liz rested her forehead on her hand. “I know. I just didn’t think it would be so soon.” She gave a sad little laugh. “Michael, why is all this happening now? Why all at once? I’ve spent the last ten years dreading these things catching up to me. But I never thought it would all happen at the same time.”

I had no answer, and it killed me to think I had one more thing to lay on her shoulders. “I’m sorry, Liz,” I said, reaching out to put my hand over hers. I thought of Max all alone in his cell for a decade, and Liz running away from everything that had once been who she was, and I wondered which of them had suffered more—Max, in his prison of stone and concrete, or Liz caught between her walls of secrets. I didn’t know what else to say, and for a minute I regretted that I had dragged Liz back into this. But I knew that wasn’t the real reason for Liz’s problems, and sending her back to St. Petersburg wasn’t the solution. I still believed she needed Max—just like he needed her.

“Michael, what is it?” I looked up to find her eyes on me, searching my face. “What’s wrong?”

She knew. She could tell something else was coming, and she was tensed for it, ready for the slap. I hated that I had to be the one to bring it.

“Max wants to see you,” I blurted after a moment. There wasn’t any other way to say it. “He asked me to tell you.”

She slipped her hand from beneath mine and lowered it to her lap. “When?” was all she asked.

“Tomorrow,” I answered. “He wants you to come tomorrow.”

posted on 17-Apr-2002 11:52:08 AM by mockingbird39
Okay, guys, I really, really, really intend to have an update out today. Shirley the Muse has been on the lam all week--apparently she heard I was going to make her write a paper on Russian feminism and she took off. But I tempted her back with the promise of some nookie by the end of this fic, so we are once again hard at work.

Thanks for your patience, and, of course, your feedback. *big*

Spaseeba bolshoi!

Milan'ya. . .um, I mean Melanie *wink*
posted on 17-Apr-2002 12:57:24 PM by mockingbird39
Author's Note: Whew! I thought this one was never going to come right. Sorry for the delay, but here it is. Thanks again for the feedback!

Part 21

Los Angeles, 2012


~Liz~


I wasn’t surprised when Michael told me Max wanted to see me. The thing is, we’ve never been able to stay apart for very long. Now that I was this close to him, I knew it was only a matter of time before one or both of us would have to take the last step. It was almost a relief to know when it would happen. I toyed with a bunch of responses. My first reaction was a thin sliver of joy—Max wanted to see me. Ten years after kicking me out of his life, he wanted me back—at least for the length of a visit. Right on the heels of that came anger. Tomorrow? Did Max expect me to drop everything and come running when he called after ten years of silence? Of course he did—Max had always issued orders, and the rest of us had always obeyed. All those times he’d insisted he wasn’t a king. . .he certainly acted like one. Well, now he could wait. He could wonder and wait, just like I had.

But then it hit me all at once how much I wanted to see him, too. It had been easier to stay away when I was in Boston, and New York. In Petersburg, the temptation was even fainter. Oh, it never quite went away, but the farther I was from Max, the easier it was to maintain the distance. Now, with only a few miles between us, the desire to see him was overwhelming. As I sat there across from Michael, I knew I’d never be able to leave Los Angeles without seeing Max. I sat silently for a moment, pondering my choices, and decided I might as well get it over with. I told Michael I’d go.

Michael was obviously surprised that I didn’t fight him about going to see Max. I wondered if Max would be surprised, too, or if he could feel the pull that had taken hold of me when I got on the plane in St. Petersburg.

“Can you get me in tomorrow?” I asked Michael.

He nodded. “I already put your name on the list for tomorrow.” He frowned a little. “I actually didn’t think you’d go tomorrow, but. . .” He broke off, shaking his head. “Just bring I.D. with you.”

“I will.” I was quiet for a minute, trying to let it sink in that I would see Max Evans in less than twenty-four hours. Everything in my past seemed out to be falling in on me, the careful walls I’d built demolished under the repeated blows. And now I would see Max, in the very place he’d rejected me years ago when I’d come to tell him I was pregnant with his baby. His baby. I hadn’t thought of Sophie that way in years. She was mine, my child. But the past few weeks had made it clear that I wasn’t the only one with a claim to my daughter.

“You should try to get there by ten,” he told me. “Otherwise it starts to get busy—some people have a long drive and they start getting there around noon.”

Ten years ago Michael and I had gotten there just after noon. “I’ll go in the morning,” I told Michael.

He seemed uncomfortable. “Good.” He paused a moment, then took a deep breath. “Are you going to tell Max about Sophie?”

I took a long sip of my drink, wishing I’d ordered a martini or something else that worked hard and fast. “I don’t know, Michael. I don’t know what he’s going to say, or why he wants to see me.” I glanced at him. “Did he tell you?”

Michael shook his head. “No,” he said. “I think it’s because. . .because he knows you’re here now. I don’t think he can take being this close and not seeing—”

“Maybe he wants to tell me to mind my own business,” I interrupted. I didn’t want to hear that Max missed me. I didn’t want to hear that he’d felt me close by, or that he’d felt the tug of our shared past. I’d spent ten years convincing myself that Max didn’t love me anymore. If I’d been wrong about that. . .if I’d left Max to rot alone in his prison cell and he hadn’t meant what he said that day. . .No. He had made the decision.

“If Max told you to stop working on the case, would you do it?” Michael wanted to know.

I looked at him seriously. “No. No, I wouldn’t. There’s something really wrong with this whole case, and I think I’m getting close to it. I’m going to find out what happened—and I’m not asking for Max’s permission.” I pushed aside my troubled thoughts and concentrated on the case. “I got the codicil last night, and it amazes me that no one looked into this before.”

“There’s something funny with it?” he asked, looking hopeful.

I nodded. “Langley’s original will was written three years before he died. It gives most of his money to a scholarship program for film students at UCLA—with the stipulation that the fund be named after him. It’s pretty standard—for an egotist like Langley. Remember all the press about him being such a visionary and what a big loss his death was to the film community? Well, I’m pretty sure that’s because they thought they were getting a healthy chunk of his millions.”

“And they didn’t?”

“Not a penny,” I told him. “See, three months before Langley supposedly died—six weeks after he met Max—he added a very lengthy codicil that completely changed all that.”

Michael grabbed a mozzarella stick from the platter between us. “So who got the money?” he asked, taking a bite.

“Some guy named Wheeland—a New York theater producer.” I picked up a chicken finger and took a small bite. “But he didn’t just get the money Langley already had. Langley took out a million dollars in life insurance the January before he died. That went to Wheeland, too.”

“How much did it all come out to?” Michael wondered.

“A little over seven million, plus the house, which went for two and a half million later that year.” I shook my head. “But that’s not the end of it. Langley owned rights to a lot of his films, and he had options on several screenplays and books that have been made into films in the past ten years. I don’t know how much the whole package has been worth over the years, but it’s got to be in excess of fifteen million.”

Michael gave a low whistle. “Fifteen million dollars,” he murmured, then looked up at me. “No way Langley would have given that up.”

“That’s what I thought, too,” I agreed. “I don’t care how good a friend this Wheeland guy was—Langley wouldn’t just walk away from fifteen million.”

“So somehow he got it back—at least some of it—from Wheeland,” Michael finished. “We’ve gotta find him. He’s the closest link to Langley.”

“I’m working on it,” I told him. “He sold Langley’s house right after he inherited it—apparently he was living in New York back then. The insurance pay-out would have taken longer, I think, so that’s my next step.”

“Finding the insurance company?”

I shook my head. “No, I already found the insurance company. Now I need to get in there and talk to someone. I’ll have to wait until Monday, though.”

He leaned back in his chair. “Sounds like you’re on the track,” he told me.

I smiled ruefully. “At the moment, but it’s a pretty cold trail. It’s been ten years since anyone had reason to look at this. I could hit a dead end any minute, Michael.” I sighed. “I just don’t want you to get too excited and have it not pan out.”

“Liz, this is more than we’ve had to go on in years,” he said. “What you’ve done already is great. Is there anything I can do to help?”

I thought for a second. “I still want a look at those autopsy photos, and anything you can get about the crime scene.”

He nodded. “I know a couple of guys on the force. Maybe they can get me some information.”

“That would be great, Michael,” I told him.

He finished his mozzarella stick and reached for another. “No problem.” He paused for a second, then looked at me. “Liz, thanks again for doing this. You didn’t have to, and I know it must be hard for you. But it means a lot—”

“You’re welcome,” I said quickly. I didn’t want to talk about my motives for being here. I hadn’t gotten to the bottom of that myself yet. I took a deep breath and searched for something else to talk about. “So, who’s playing tomorrow?”

For the rest of the night, we carefully avoided any mention of Max or his case. We talked about hockey and how Sophie and I were adjusting to L.A. after so long in Petersburg, and later he wanted to know more about Sophie. He asked about her school, her friends, her likes and dislikes, and he seemed so hungry to know her that I told him all of that and more. I decided that no matter what happened, I would keep in touch with Michael—for Sophie’s sake, and his, too.

It was late when we finally said goodbye. Michael walked me to my car, promising to pick Sophie up at eleven the next day.

“You don’t have any rules about no junk food or anything, do you?” he asked as he opened my car door for me.

I grinned at him. “I think we can suspend them for tomorrow. But I’m warning you—if she has too much sugar you’ll have a wild beast on your hands.”

He laughed. “I’ll remember that.”

“Thanks for dinner,” I told him.

“You’re welcome.” He seemed about to say more, then shook his head. “See you tomorrow,” he said, and shut the door for me. He waited until I started the car and pulled out of the parking space, then he turned to go. But when I looked in the rearview mirror as I left the parking lot, I could see him still standing there, watching me leave.


~Max~

By lights out on Friday night—the night before I hoped Liz would be coming to the prison—I was exhausted. I had barely slept at all the night before, and I had spent most of the day outside, working on the grounds. I should have been asleep before my head hit the pillow, but I wasn’t. I lay there as the cellblock quieted and the guards made their rounds. I hoped Michael had been able to get the message to Liz. I’d tried to call him earlier, but he wasn’t at home.

Maybe he was with Liz. The more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed. Michael had acted like it would be no problem for him to give Liz my message. I wondered if they were meeting at Maria’s house, or at Michael’s, or somewhere else entirely. I wondered what they were talking about, and how much Michael would tell her about why I wanted to see her. Mostly, I wondered if she would agree to come.

I wanted to see her. I wanted it almost more than I could allow myself to think. As I lay there in the darkness, I could still feel her close by, and each time I thought that tomorrow I might see her in the flesh my heart thudded in my chest. I knew I had to tell her to stop digging into my case. It was too dangerous for her to be chasing down Langley or anyone associated with him. But after ten years of dreaming about her and longing for her every minute, I wasn’t sure what would happen when I finally saw her. Would I be able to send her away again? For a few moments, I considered what would happen if I didn’t tell Liz to go away. If I could convince her to stop investigating the case, maybe I wouldn’t have to push her so far away again. Maybe things could be different—maybe it didn’t have to end with the terrible loneliness I’d known for so long.

But I knew it wouldn’t be that easy. Liz wouldn’t give up on the case—it wasn’t in her to let something go once she’d determined to figure it out. I remembered how she had gone after Alex’s murderer with blind determination and absolute certainty in her belief that his death hadn’t been an accident. Liz had chased down the truth about Alex’s death through sheer force of will, and over a decade later it still amazed me. Michael had said Liz was an attorney—I smiled at the thought. I certainly hadn’t expected that, but it wasn’t exactly a surprise, either. It fit with the Liz I remembered.

My smile died when I recalled that Liz had been extremely lucky not to get herself killed that time. Tess had proven that she would kill to get what she wanted. If anything, Langley was even more ruthless. I had to get Liz off this crusade of hers—even if it meant pushing her away again. If something happened to her because of me and I couldn’t do anything to prevent it or protect her. . .

No. I wasn’t going to let that happen. No matter what I had to do.


~Maria~


“You’re going where?”

I stared at Liz in disbelief. She had just come in from her dinner with Michael, and found Sophie and me in the living room watching television. She’d kissed Sophie hello, then sent her upstairs to get ready for bed, promising to come up and read a story in a few minutes. Then she turned to me and dropped her bombshell about visiting Max the next day.

“I might as well get it over with, Maria,” she said wearily, taking off her suit jacket and dropping down beside me on the sofa. Even in the middle of my confusion and anger, I couldn’t help but notice that she still looked stunning. Her dark brown suit and mocha-colored blouse were impeccably tailored, and despite a full day at the courthouse and a late dinner she didn’t look rumpled or wilted. Her hair was windblown from the drive, and she hadn’t bothered to freshen her lipstick after dinner, but she managed to retain the casual elegance that she’s picked up somewhere between her days as a Crashdown waitress and her life as an expatriate living in one of the world’s most elegant cities. That’s the best way I can think to describe Liz now—elegant.

No, wait. At the moment “insane” seems to fit, too. “Were you planning on visiting him all along?” I demanded. “Because you neglected to mention that.”

A tired smile played along her lips. “Why? Would you have refused to let me stay in your house?”

“Maybe,” I sputtered. “Liz, what are you thinking? He pushes you away for ten years, then gets it into his little prison-addled head that he wants to see you and you go running?”

Liz stopped smiling and suddenly looked exhausted. Ten years of secrets will do that to you. “It was going to happen, Maria. This whole thing—me coming back here, seeing Max—it was inevitable.”

Inevitable? This was starting to sound like one of Tess’s “it’s your destiny” speeches. “I don’t believe that,” I told Liz firmly, “and I think your going to see him is a bad idea.” She didn’t answer, and I looked at her closely. “Are you going to tell him about Sophie?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know what I’m going to say to him, Maria. I have no idea.” She stood up. “I have to go tuck Sophie in,” she said, then paused. “Do you mind being here tomorrow when Michael comes to pick her up?”

“Michael’s taking Sophie out?” I asked. That was a new one. I mean, I’d figured he’d insist on guarding her the same way he’s spent the last ten years guarding Max, but I hadn’t guessed field trips would figure into it. Then I had a brief memory of Michael dressed in a Santa suit creating an instant bond with the kids who came to sit on his lap, and I realized I wasn’t surprised after all.

“They’re going to a hockey game,” Liz told me. “He’ll be here around eleven. Is that okay?”

I nodded. “Sure. I’ll be here.”

“Good. I’m going to the prison early.” She turned and started to head for the stairs.

“Liz,” I called after her, and she looked at me. “I still think this is a bad idea.”

She smiled bleakly. “I never said it was a good one.”

posted on 22-Apr-2002 7:31:47 AM by mockingbird39
Part 22

Los Angeles, 2012


~Michael~


I got to Maria’s a little before eleven. I’d never been to her house before, but I found it pretty easily. It was in an expensive suburb a little way out of the city, set back from the street behind a privacy hedge and a row of palm trees. I parked beside a bright red BMW convertible. The garage door was open, and I could see a gray SUV parked inside—a Grand Cherokee, I think. Yesterday Liz had been driving a black Lexus. I didn’t see it anywhere; Liz had probably already left for the prison.

I sat in my car for a minute or two, hoping things were going okay with Max and Liz. I wasn’t sure which one I was more worried about. Finally, I got out of the car and walked up Maria’s front walk.

I knocked on the door and after a few seconds I heard footsteps inside the house. The door swung open, and Maria stood there, dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt the color of my favorite coffee. She was barefoot, and her hair was pinned up loosely. She looked me over for a second, then she gave a small smile.

“Hi, Michael,” she said simply.

“Hi,” I answered. “Uh, I. . .I came to pick Sophie up,” I continued after a minute. “I’m taking her to the hockey game.”

“I know,” she said, stepping aside. “Come on in—she’s getting her shoes and her coat.”

“Thanks,” I answered, entering the foyer. It was cool and white, with high ceilings and lots of light. Looking around, I thought that it was just as impressive as Liz’s apartment, but in a completely different way. “Nice place,” I offered.

“Thanks,” she told me, leading me farther into the house. We stopped in a living room with red walls and hardwood floors. A long couch with dull gold cushions took up most of one wall, and a piano sat against another. Two guitars leaned against the coffee table, one was Maria’s. I recognized it from Roswell; it was battered and scarred now, but I would have recognized it anywhere. The other was smaller and looked new; the size made me wonder if it was Sophie’s. Maria would surely have taught her to play guitar—I couldn’t imagine any kid growing up with Maria would escape some music lessons. Maria paused just inside the doors and leaned toward the stairs I’d glimpsed.

“Sophie, Michael’s here!” she called out.

“Coming!” I heard from upstairs.

I turned to Maria. “So how’ve you been?” I asked.

She crossed her arms across her chest. “Okay,” she said. “You?”

“Okay,” I answered. “Pretty good.” I opened my mouth to say more, but Maria didn’t let me get another word out.

“Did you tell Max to see Liz?” she demanded flatly.

Oh, man. Here we go. “Me?” I asked. “No. No, I swear I didn’t.”

“Did you tell her to see him?” she went on.

I shook my head, sticking my hands in my pockets. “No.”

“Good. Then I don’t have to kill you,” she said without a smile as I heard clattering on the stairs.

“I can’t find my hat!” Sophie said as she walked through the doorway. She stopped and looked at me. “Hi, Michael.”

“Hi, Sophie,” I said. “I hear you’re a hockey fan.”

She grinned. “Yeah. Mommy says you are, too.”

I nodded. “She’s right.”

“Cool.” She looked at Maria. “Have you seen my Mets hat?” she wanted to know. “I can’t find it in my room.”

Maria glanced around the living room. “Did you wear it yesterday?” she asked.

Sophie nodded. “Yeah, to the diner.”

Maria went to the corner and rifled through a blue canvas bag. She pulled out what looked like sheet music, a make-up bag, and then came up with a blue baseball cap. “Here it is,” she said, holding it out to Sophie.

Sophie took it and put it on her head. She was wearing jeans, a red sweater, and white tennis shoes. Maria helped her shrug into a backpack, and then she stood there looking at me expectantly. “I’m ready to go,” she informed me.

I glanced at Maria, whose eyes were a warning. If you don’t bring her home in one piece. . . I could almost hear her saying. “Me, too,” I told Sophie.

“Have a good time,” Maria said, “and don’t forget your jacket.” She bent and kissed Sophie’s cheek, then handed her a jacket. “Be good for Michael.”

Sophie rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “I will. See you later.” She started to walk out and I followed.

“I’ll see you later,” I told Maria.

She stepped close to me. “Home by seven, Michael. You got that? Seven.” Then she followed Sophie into the foyer. “Bye, sweetie—don’t forget to call me if you need anything.”



~Max~

I woke up the next morning disoriented and anxious, wondering if Liz would really come. She had every reason to refuse, but I wanted her to come—I wanted to see her, if only for a little while.

The morning passed slowly—agonizingly so. I kept looking at the clock while I tried to read a book, then a newspaper. Neither kept my attention. I had no idea when Liz would arrive, or even if she was coming at all, but all morning I was poised for a guard to come and get me and take me to the visitor’s pavilion. By ten-thirty, I was starting to wonder if Liz had turned Michael down. How was I going to tell her to stop her investigation if she refused to talk to me?

“Evans. You’ve got a visitor.”

The guard at my cell jingled his keys, startling me out of my thoughts. A visitor. It had to be Liz. . .didn’t it? My pulse pounded in my ears as I got off my bed and held out my hands to be cuffed. The guard made some meaningless conversation as he led me down the hallways and to the double doors that separated the visitor’s pavilion from the main prison building. I heard almost none of it. As we were buzzed through the door, he tried again.

“Your parents here, Max?” he asked.

I shook my head. “No. It’s someone else.” As I stepped into the pavilion, my awareness of her sharpened into something completely overwhelming. It was crowded that day, but if the world had gone completely dark I still would have found her. I turned my head to the right and she was there, standing by herself next to an orange plastic picnic table, staring at me with those eyes that had consumed my dreams for ten years. Our gazes met and locked, and though there were dozens of people between us, I could sense her heart pounding.

“Twenty-seven, Max,” the guard told me, and later I realized it was the table number. But at that moment, he could have been giving me winning lottery numbers or stock quotes or reciting a nursery rhyme. All I knew was that Liz was here—just a few yards away. Without ever taking my eyes from her, I began walking toward her.

When we reached the table, I paused and held out my hands. The guard uncuffed me and I absently rubbed my wrists, still looking at Liz. She hadn’t moved, or spoken a word. Instead she stood there transfixed, her eyes burning into mine. I wished I could have said something—anything—to mark this as reality and not another dream. But what could I say? There are moments in life when language, with all its poetry and occasional wisdom, is useless.

In the end, it was Liz who broke the silence. “Hello, Max,” she said simply. Her voice was lower, throatier than I remembered.

“Hi, Liz,” I said, suddenly finding the power of speech again. I still couldn’t take my eyes from her.

We stood there looking at each other for a while longer, and I wondered if she could sense our connection like I could, like a persistent hum in my ears. I couldn’t help staring—she was more beautiful than ever. At first I thought she was taller than I remembered, but then I realized that she was wearing high heels. Her hair was different—shorter, with bangs—but it was still dark and shiny, and I could still imagine how it would feel to sift my fingers through it. Like strands of silk, I thought idly, my eyes roaming over her. Her face was thinner, making her eyes seem even larger. Those eyes captivated me—dark brown with gold flecks that glimmered in the bright California sunlight. Liz’s eyes were the only place I’d ever seen myself as I really was, but as I looked into them that day I couldn’t see anything. Her eyes were shadowed now, guarded. More than anything else, that was what convinced me that Liz had changed.

Eventually, Liz broke our silence once more. “How have you been, Max?” she asked quietly.

“Okay,” I said. “I—I’ve been okay.” I tried to smile. “How about you?”

“I’m good,” she answered quickly.

Are you really? I longed to ask, but I bit back the question. “I’m glad,” I said instead.

She met my eyes briefly, then looked down. “Should we. . .do you want to sit down?” she asked, nodding toward the picnic table.

“Okay, sure,” I agreed. We stepped over to the table and sat down opposite each other. Once there, neither of us could seem to find anything to say.

“I wasn’t sure if you’d come,” I said finally.

She looked at her hands. “I shuffled some things around,” she told me, ignoring what I’d actually said. I knew she’d heard, but she wasn’t going to acknowledge it. “It wasn’t a problem.”

If she needed to play that game—if she needed to put distance between us—then I’d go along with it. “Good,” I said, looking down. Liz’s hands were folded in front of her on the table, and without noticing it, I had mirrored her posture. Now our hands were inches apart—close enough to touch if we both straightened our fingers just a little. I knew she was staring at the distance between us, too, when she clenched her fingers tightly together.

“You look. . .” I paused, unsure what to say. She looked amazing, like an angel from a dream of heaven. But I couldn’t say that. “You look really good,” I finished lamely.

Her hands clenched a little more tightly. “Thanks.”

“Michael said. . .he said you’re a lawyer now,” I said.

She nodded. “Yeah. I. . .um, I work for Christian Dior.”

Christian Dior? Meaning she probably didn’t specialize in criminal defense. . . “In New York?” I asked. I don’t know why I assumed New York. It just seemed like the kind of place Liz would belong now.

But she shook her head. “No. I started there, but I moved to St. Petersburg about two years ago.”

I nodded. “Oh. Well, that’s good. I guess you’re close to your aunt, then?” I remembered that Liz’s favorite aunt had lived close to Tampa. In that long ago summer when Liz had run off to Florida without saying goodbye, I had spent an afternoon in the library pouring over a Florida guidebook, trying to imagine where she was. I thought I dimly remembered that Tampa and St. Petersburg were pretty close together.

Liz, however, was giving me a baffled look. “My aunt?” she repeated, then her face cleared. “Oh, no. Not St. Petersburg, Florida. St. Petersburg, Russia.”

Liz lives in Russia? Now, that was a surprise. “Oh,” was all I could think to say. “That must be. . .I mean. . .do you like it there?”

She nodded, smiling a little. “Yeah, I do. It’s a great city.”

I tried to imagine her living in a foreign country, but I didn’t know enough about Russia to get a very clear picture. “Do you speak Russian?” I asked her.

“Enough. Almost all of my work is in English, so I only need Russian to get around in the city.” She shrugged. “When you hear it all the time, it isn’t so hard to pick it up.”

I glanced at her, still trying to get used to this new Liz. I would have loved to ask more questions—why Russia, for instance? And had she gone there alone? Did she have friends there? But it was time to get this over with. “Liz, Michael told me you’ve been looking over my case.”

She nodded a little and raised her head, looking at me evenly. “Yes.”

“You have to stop,” I said in what I hoped was a firm voice. “It’s over, Liz. The appeals failed—there’s nothing you can do.”

“I found something,” she said, as though she hadn’t heard me. “Did Michael tell you that?”

I stared at her. She had found something? Already?

“I’ve been looking at Langley’s will—from what you told me about him, there’s no way he would have walked away from all that cash.” She shook her head. “He changed his will just after he met you, but the codicil was never filed properly. I just got a copy of it yesterday, and it completely changes the picture. There are some people I think we need to check out—”

“Liz, no,” I interrupted. “You have to stop.”

She paused, looking down again for a second. When she looked up again, her eyes glinted with the hard, cold flash of a diamond. “Why?” she demanded.

I frowned and opened my mouth to answer. I was going to say it was too dangerous for her to be chasing Langley, and that it wouldn’t do any good anyway, but then I realized that she wasn’t looking for an answer. She was issuing a challenge. I looked at her in amazement, but she didn’t back down.

“Tell me why, Max,” she repeated acidly, in a tone I imagine must intimidate the hell out of opposing counsel. “Is it dangerous? Is it none of my business? Is it too hard for you?”

Her last question hit me hard, and I knew this wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d hoped. “It’s all of those things,” I answered, “so you need to keep out of it.”

“I’m not going to,” she said flatly, giving me a defiant stare.

“I’m not asking you,” I told her. “I’m telling you to keep out of it. It’s over.” I took a deep breath and forced out the words, “We’re over.”

She stared at me for a second, I knew I’d hurt her. I could see the old Liz then, the one I’d pushed away all those years ago. But all at once she slammed a palm down on the table and the vulnerability disappeared. “Do you really think I would have come here if it—if any of it—was over?” For a minute I thought she might mention the connection between us because by then I was sure she felt it, too. But she just shook her head. “This is not a vacation for me, Max. I didn’t come here to mess with your head and play detective.”

“Then why are you here?” I demanded.

“Because Michael asked me for help,” she said, her voice calm and emotionless. It was like a mask had slipped over her—her face and her voice, even her tightly clenched hands all suddenly relaxed, and we might have been discussing the weather for all the emotion she showed. But I knew it was an act. I was trying to keep my sense of her shuttered off, but her anger and frustration thrummed in my head like a buzz saw.

“That wasn’t Michael’s decision to make,” I told her angrily.

“I think it was,” she disagreed, her tone still maddeningly blank. “Michael’s given up ten years of his life to stay here and guard you. He’s got as much interest as anyone else to see you get out of here.”

“I never asked Michael to work here,” I answered. “He made his own choices.”

She gave a short, sarcastic laugh. “Is that what you think?” she demanded. “None of us ever got to choose, Max. You chose for all of us. You always chose—and we always followed. You’re the king, right?”

“I’m not a king,” I muttered.

“No? Well, for a regular guy you’ve got one hell of a Napolean complex,” she shot back. “You know what? I don’t follow orders anymore.”

“Liz, you don’t understand,” I ground out. Her stubborn streak had gotten stronger over the past ten years, but she still didn’t have a cautious bone in her body. “These people will kill you if you get too close to them. They’ll go after you and everyone you love.”

She flinched a little, but she still didn’t back down. “I’m not going to stop, Max,” she told me. “I have my reasons.” She looked down at her hands, then shook her head. “Look, we’re not going to agree on this. Maybe I’d better go.”

She started to stand up, and but I couldn’t let her go—not without making sure she was going to stop her investigation. “Liz, wait,” I said, and without thinking I reached out and grabbed her wrist.

That was all it took for the flashes to begin.

I saw Liz walking down a long marble hallway, her heels clicking sharply on the floor. The Japanese associate is coming in tomorrow to sign the contract. . . I saw her sitting on the floor in her pajamas, rifling through a stack of papers. I saw her holding her hands out to a tall man in an overcoat, smiling as he approached. Thierry, I thought you weren’t coming! Then I saw her curled up on a bed, cradling a little girl with dark hair and bright eyes. One more story, Mommy? Please?

Shocked, I jumped back and released her wrist. Mommy? I looked up at Liz, who was staring at me with wide, panicked eyes.

“Max, I—”

“You have a child?” I asked, my pulse pounding as it all finally fell into place. Liz’s departure from Roswell. Her letters from Cambridge months later. My dreams—no, not dreams, and not flashes, either. Visions. Visions from my daughter. “Whose is she, Liz?” I asked, my whole body beginning to shake. “Is she mine?”

Liz was trembling, too. She braced her hands on the table and got up. “I have to go,” she murmured, half under her breath.

She was going to walk away—after this? My head was spinning, but I knew I couldn’t let her go until I knew for sure. “Is she my daughter?” I repeated, pounding my fist on the table between us. This couldn’t be happening. Liz would never do something like this—she wouldn’t keep this from me. She could never be that cruel. I shook my head. “Whose is she, Liz? You owe me that much.”

Her eyes flashed angrily. “Mine,” she snapped. “She’s mine.”

I needed to hear her say it. I closed my eyes for a second, taking a deep, painful breath. “Liz, please,” I pleaded quietly.

She took a sharp breath and her anger faded before my eyes. “Yours, Max,” she said finally. “Yours and mine.”

I felt like someone had punched me in the chest. All the breath left my lungs and I couldn’t seem to fill them again. I slowly lowered myself back onto the bench, wondering if this could be a dream. Shutting my eyes again, I put my hand over my face. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I managed to ask.

“I tried, Max. I tried three times.” She sighed. “You wouldn’t listen.” I sensed her moving around, then I heard her voice one more time. “I’m sorry, Max. I have to go.”

I wanted to go after her, but I didn’t have the strength. I’m not sure how long I sat there with my head in my hands, but when I looked up again, she was gone. Before me on the table was a worn book; I picked it up.

The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 22-Apr-2002 7:35:01 AM ]
posted on 24-Apr-2002 3:55:31 PM by mockingbird39
Part 23

~Maria~

After Michael and Sophie left, I knocked around the house for a while, trying to find something to occupy my mind. Finally, frustrated with myself, I went out shopping but even that didn’t distract me for very long. I was back at the house by late afternoon, dragging two shopping bags full of things I didn’t even think I liked anymore.

When I got home, I first thought that the house was empty. But then I saw Liz’s purse and briefcase in the foyer, and her keys on the table.

“Liz?” I called, walking through the first floor. “Liz?” Going through the kitchen, I noticed the patio door was open, and I walked outside. Liz sat at the table near the pool, smoking a cigarette.

“Liz?” I asked in surprise, crossing to her. She looked dazed—her eyes were blank, her face white. I tried to smile. “Smoking doesn’t solve anything,” I told her, reaching out to take her cigarette and stub it out in the ashtray beside her.

She calmly took another cigarette from the pack on the table. “I know that,” she said, putting it into her mouth. She lit it and inhaled deeply. “That’s why I have vodka,” she told me, blowing out a cloud of smoke and nodding in the direction of a bottle of Grey Goose on the table.

I put my hand on her shoulder. “What’s wrong, girlfriend?”

She puffed on her cigarette some more. “I told Max,” she said, staring out over the pool.

“About Langley and Wheeland?” I asked. “What did he say?”

“Not about Langley,” she said. “About Sophie.”

I suddenly felt sick. “Oh, god,” I heard myself mutter. I sat down hard on the chair next to Liz and reached for her bottle of vodka.

She offered me a cigarette and handed me a lighter. “I didn’t have to say anything,” she went on. “He touched me and he got a flash and then he just knew.” She lowered her head, rubbing her forehead. “He asked anyway. . .he looked so—betrayed. God, Maria. Did we really think we could keep this a secret forever?”

I shook my head. “I don’t remember,” I said. “I just remember thinking that we had no choice.”

Liz took a sip of vodka, winced, and set the bottle unsteadily on the table where we could both reach it. From what I could tell, she’d had quite a bit already. “When Michael came to Petersburg and saw Sophie, I knew what he was thinking. I knew just as well as if he’d said it. He was thinking, ‘Not even Tess did that.’”

I stared at Liz in disbelief. “Is that what you think?” I demanded. “Liz, no. You are nothing like Tess, do you hear me? You gave Max a chance—you gave him more than one chance to know the truth. He’s the one who chose not to hear it.”

She went on like she hadn’t heard. “All these years I’ve been able to think he didn’t care—that even if he knew he it wouldn’t matter to him. But it did. When I saw his face. . .”

“What did he say?” I asked softly.

“Not much,” she said, shaking her head. “He asked. . .he asked why I never told him.”

Why she hadn’t told him? That was rich. Or had he forgotten sending back her letters all those years ago? Max Evans was damn lucky I hadn’t been around that morning, or he’d have found himself eating his prison slop through a straw. “Did you tell him he should start reading his mail if he wants to know what’s going on?”

“I just left,” she confessed. “I didn’t know what to say.”

I reached out and put my hand over hers. “Maybe there wasn’t anything,” I told her. In truth, I couldn’t imagine anything that would have made much of a difference. Feeling sorry for Max wasn’t exactly first on my agenda, but even I had to admit that he would be pretty upset to find out he had a child he’d never known about. Even if it was completely and totally his fault. Wanker.

Liz didn’t answer, but I knew she didn’t agree. “At least maybe he’ll understand why I can’t quit working on his case,” she mused quietly, reaching for the vodka again.

“So you’re staying, then?” I wanted to know.

She nodded unsteadily. “Yeah. I couldn’t leave now.” A deep sigh made her shoulders heave. “I’m going to have to see him again.”

I couldn’t argue that one. I wanted to, but now that she had dropped her bombshell there was no good way to go back. “I’m here,” I said finally. “If there’s anything I can do to help. . .I’m always here.”

Liz nodded and puffed on her cigarette. “I know, Maria. Thanks.”

I put my hand over hers where it rested on the arm of her chair. “You’re welcome, Liz.”

We sat together beside the pool until the sun started to go down that evening. We didn’t talk much—there wasn’t really anything else we needed to say.


~Michael~

When Sophie and I first left Maria’s house, I was afraid she might be nervous about going to the game with me. I mean, she was away from home, her mother was out, she had only met me once before—she had reasons to be shy.

I didn’t have to worry.

“So, who’s your favorite hockey team?” I asked her when she had buckled her seat belt and I was navigating the streets of Maria’s neighborhood.

“The Bruins,” she answered immediately, the corners of her mouth turning up in an impish grin. “Got a problem with that?” she wanted to know.

I had to laugh. “No, no problem,” I told her. “Just as long as you know they’ll never beat L.A.”

“Ha.” She waved a hand in the air, a remarkably grown-up gesture that she pulled off artlessly. “As if. Boston rocks.”

“No way,” I protested, but Sophie stuck to her guns all the way to the arena. We talked about hockey and how she had liked Boston because in the winter you could ice skate in Boston Common and in the summer you could drive to the beach or take the ferry to the harbor islands. She had liked New York, too, although they hadn’t stayed there very long. Over all, she thought she liked St. Petersburg best, because of the palaces and the churches and the outdoor markets that she and Liz went to on the weekends. She liked her bedroom there best, too, because it had a stained glass window over her bed and a view of the canal outside. I asked her how she liked California, and she shrugged, looking out the window.

“It’s pretty,” she said, “but not as pretty as Petersburg.” Then she went on to tell me about the tsar’s palace and how many years ago the poorest workers in the city had marched to the palace to ask the tsar to help them. “But he wasn’t there,” she said sadly, “and the tsar’s soldiers thought they had come to fight and they got scared and fired their guns. A lot of people got hurt, and some died, and nobody helped them.”

I glanced over at her, wondering if Liz knew Sophie had stories like that one tucked away in her head. “That’s a sad story,” I said.

She nodded. “Gruya says that Russians remember their tears, but that it’s okay to cry because it just means you feel things.”

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I just nodded. We reached the arena soon after that, and we bought hot dogs, sodas, and soft pretzels to eat while we watched the game. Sophie finished her hot dog while the players were warming up, but she promptly forgot her pretzel and everything else as soon as the game started. I think I watched her more than the ice that day, because she was having a blast. I bought her cotton candy at intermission, and quickly learned that Liz hadn’t been kidding about the sugar high. Sophie shouted and cheered for the rest of the game, and she was still bouncing with energy when we left. As we walked outside, she slipped her hand into mine. It surprised me, but she didn’t appear to notice, and she kept her grip on my fingers until we reached the car again. When we got inside, she turned to me expectantly.

“Where are we going now?” she wanted to know.

I took her to an arcade, where we went through several rolls of quarters playing foosball, air hockey, and just about every video game in the place. When she was finished. . .okay, when we were finished. . .I took her out for pizza. She chattered for a while about how they have Pizza Hut in St. Petersburg, but it’s not like in the United States.

“Sometimes Mommy makes pizza at home,” she continued, “when she doesn’t have to work and Gruya isn’t there.”

“That’s why I live in America,” I teased her. “Because of the pizza.”

She laughed. “They have good food in Russia, too,” she informed me. “Like. . .oh, like pierozhki, and Dasha bars, and shashlik, and stuff like that. Oh, and watermelon. The watermelon is really, really good.”

“We have watermelon here, too,” I said.

“I know that. But it’s better there.” She chewed thoughtfully for a minute. “So’s the chocolate.”

I’d eaten a bar of chocolate in St. Petersburg, and I had to admit she had me there. But as I ate, I realized that Sophie thought of Petersburg as home. She referred to that way, and although she seemed like she was having a good time I could sense she’d want to go back there pretty soon. That just made it even clearer that Liz and Sophie would eventually head back to Russia—unless something convinced them to stay.

By the time we finished our pizza and the chocolate cake that followed, it was getting pretty late. We drove back to Maria’s house, with Sophie firmly in control of the radio. When we got to the house, she jumped out of the car and ran up the walk. I followed more slowly, carring her backpack, jacket, the stuffed animal I’d won for her at the arcade, and the tee shirt they’d given her at the pizza parlor after she charmed the waiter. Maria must have been watching for her, because she opened the door before Sophie reached the end of the walk.

“Aunt Maria, we’re back!” she called. “I got a tee shirt—and Michael won me a stuffed animal.”

Maria bent and opened her arms for Sophie’s enthusiastic hug. “Did you have a good time?” she asked.

“It was great—L.A. lost,” she told Maria smugly.

When I got to the door, I wasn’t sure what to do. I wanted to find out what had happened with Max and Liz that day, but I didn’t want Maria to think I was butting in. Too late for that, I reminded myself. I’d crossed that line back when I went looking for Liz in Petersburg. Finally I just stood there behind Sophie, watching the two of them and hoping Maria would fill me in on Liz.

“Is Mommy home?” Sophie asked.

Maria nodded. “Yeah, but I think she’s sleeping. She has a headache. You can go peek in her room to make sure, but if she’s asleep, don’t wake her up, okay?”

“Okay.” Sophie turned back to me with a big grin. “Bye, Michael. I’ll see you later.”

“What do you say?” Maria prompted.

“Thank you for taking me to the game and the arcade and dinner,” she recited, then raised an eyebrow. “And Boston rocks.”

“Whatever,” I teased. “You’re welcome.”

She laughed, rolled her eyes, and scampered into the house. When she was gone, Maria stood there looking at me. “Hi, Michael,” she said. She sounded tired.

“Hi,” I answered. “You look. . .” I paused, looking at her in surprise. She looked terrible. Her eyes were swollen and bleary, and her shoulders drooped dispiritedly. “Maria, what’s wrong?”

She pressed her lips together for a second, then took a deep breath. “Liz told Max about Sophie.”

I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. “She. . .she told him?”

Maria nodded. “Yeah.”

I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. “What did he say?”

She shook her head. “Not much. I think Liz left before it had a chance to sink in.” Her lips twisted briefly, bitterness making her grimace. “He asked her how she could have kept this from him,” she said angrily. “Like it was her fault he didn’t read her letters.”

Jesus, what did he say to her? I wondered, feeling a surge of anger. “How is she?” I asked.

“Not good.” Maria stared at the flagstones beneath her feet. “We drank a bottle of vodka. . .I don’t know how much she had. She passed out a while ago.”

I shook my head, staring at nothing. “They’ve both gotta be. . .What do we do?”

“I don’t know.” Maria hugged herself. “I don’t know how to help her on this one. She says she has to go see Max again, but after what it did to her today—how does he do this to her, Michael?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know.” We stood there in silence for a minute, then I cleared my throat. “Is there anything I can do?”

“I don’t think so.” Maria looked small and alone as she stood there in the doorway, and I desperately wanted to do something to take away the burden that made her shoulders slump. But when I stepped toward her, she looked down. “I’m really tired, Michael. Thanks for bringing Sophie home.”

Right. I took a deep breath and stepped back. “You’re welcome, Maria,” I said. “Here, you better take her stuff.” I handed over Sophie’s belongings without touching Maria, and took a step back. “Good night.”

She nodded. “Good night.”

I started to walk back to my car, but halfway there I turned back. Maria was still in the doorway, watching me. She looked surprised when I hurried back up the walk. “Maria, wait a second,” I said. “I. . .look, I know you and Liz can handle things, but—just in case—why don’t you let me stay here tonight? I’ll watch Sophie and make sure she gets to bed so you can keep an eye on Liz.”

She hesitated. “Michael, we’ll be okay—”

“I know you will,” I said quickly. “But maybe. . .” I shook my head. “You know, I’d feel better if you’d just let me. . .if I could help.”

She studied me thoughtfully. “Don’t you have things to do at home?”

I shook my head. “No.” I didn’t add that I thought I might go crazy if I had to go home alone and think about this all night.

After a minute, she nodded. “Okay.”

Maria led me into the house like she had that morning. Her steps were slow, her movements a little clumsy, and I wondered how much of that bottle of vodka she had consumed. Sophie was coming down the stairs as we emerged from the foyer.

“Mommy’s asleep,” she said. “I didn’t wake her up.”

Maria gave a tired nod. “Thank you,” she said. “You can see her in the morning and tell her all about the game.”

“Yeah,” Sophie agreed, then looked at me questioningly. “What are you doing here?”

I glanced at Maria, who shrugged. “I’m going to stay here tonight,” I said finally. “I’m a little tired, and it’s a long drive.”

“Oh.”

We were all quiet for a minute, then I looked at Sophie. “Hey, did you bring any pictures of St. Petersburg?”

She nodded. “Yeah. Do you wanna see them?”

“I’d love to,” I told her.

“But aren’t you tired?”

I shrugged. “Not that tired.”

She looked suspicious, but she nodded anyway. “Okay. I’ll go get my scrap book.”

When she was gone, I looked at Maria. “We’ll be okay,” I assured her. “Why don’t you go check on Liz?”

“Yeah.” She nodded vaguely. “Yeah, I’ll do that.” She started to follow Sophie up the stairs, then paused. “Thanks, Michael,” she said quietly.

She still seemed surprised that I wanted to help. I wondered what she’d say if she knew how much I’d wanted to go to Cambridge with her and Liz all those years ago, and how much more I hated myself for turning her down now that I knew why they’d gone. Now I just shrugged. “You’re welcome.”

Sophie gave me the complete rundown of her photo album. It started when she was an infant, and went all the way up to her school pictures, taken less than a month before. I was glad I’d asked to see it—it was amazing to watch Sophie grow up in the pages of this carefully constructed book. Every important moment of her young life was documented—from her first picture in the hospital nursery to her first steps, her first day at kindegarden, her peewee soccer league, her class at the American School in St. Petersburg, every Christmas and birthday, and all the other things in between. Each picture was carefully labeled and dated in Liz’s handwriting, and I realized she must have spent hours putting this together. It struck me that Liz had chronicled Sophie’s life in a way that would make perfect sense to a stranger, and I knew in a flash that, even if she hadn’t done it consciously, Liz had made this for Max. My heart ached when I thought of her carefully recording their daughter’s existence in this book, never knowing if he would ever see it.

When we had gone through every page of the album, Sophie closed it and wound the thin pink ribbon tie around an ornate silver button on the cover. “That’s it,” she announced.

I absently patted her knee. “You have some nice pictures,” I told her. “Thanks for showing them to me.”

“You’re welcome,” she said. “Wanna watch TV?”

We sat side by side on the couch for a while, watching an old comedy that Sophie had never seen. A little before nine-thirty, Maria came down the stairs and stood in the doorway. She was wearing a blue satin robe and slippers, and a glass of red wine dangled from her hand. I looked over at her, and she shook her head almost imperceptibly. She looked utterly drained.

“Sophie, time for bed,” she said.

Sophie sighed and hopped off the couch. “I’m not tired,” she protested.

Maria raised an eyebrow. “No?”

“Well. . .maybe a little.”

“Go change your clothes and brush your teeth—I’ll be in in a few minutes to tuck you in.” Maria rubbed a hand over her eyes. “Michael, you can sleep in the—”

“I’ll do that,” I said quickly.

“What?”

“I’ll tuck Sophie in. Is that okay with you?” I asked, looking at Sophie.

“Will you read to me?” she wanted to know. “Mommy and Aunt Maria always read me a story before I go to sleep.”

I nodded. “Sure. You got a book?”

“Uh-huh.” She looked at Maria. “Michael can tuck me in,” she said.

Maria didn’t look convinced. “I’m not sick,” she protested. “I can do it.”

“I don’t mind,” I assured her. “Really. Look, Maria, I’m having the time of my life here, okay?”

She looked a little mollified. “Are you sure, Sophie?” she asked.

“Yup.” Sophie was lingering by the television, trying to put off bedtime as long as possible.

“Okay, then.” Maria walked into the room and shut off the TV. “But go get ready now—you’ve had a long day.”

She gave a theatrical sigh and headed for the stairs, dragging her feet. “Okay. G’night.”

Maria caught her on the way by and gave her a good night kiss. “I’m glad you had a good time,” she said quietly.

Sophie nodded. “Yeah,” she said. She kissed Maria’s cheek and then went upstairs. Maria walked into the living room and took on the opposite end of the sofa.

“She had a good time today,” she said, nodding in the direction Sophie had gone.

“So did I,” I admitted. “I wish. . .I wish it hadn’t gone so bad for Liz and Max.”

Maria nodded and took a sip of her wine. “Me, too.”

We fell silent for a minute, then Maria turned to me with a searching gaze. “Why are you doing this, Michael?”

I was confused. “Doing what?”

She gestured vaguely. “This. . .taking Liz out to dinner, spending all this time with Sophie. Is it because of Max?”

She still thought this was about sides. I’d taken Max’s; she’d taken Liz’s. I sighed and stood up, pausing for a second before I headed up the stairs to tuck Sophie in. “No,” I said. “I’m not doing this because of Max. I’m doing it because. . .because I want to. And because if I’d had the chance, I’d have done it before.”

She looked a little surprised. “Oh,” she said. “Then. . .then thank you. Thanks for—you know. Everything.”

“You’re welcome,” I said, then waited a second because I thought she was going to say more.

But Maria only raised her glass to her lips again and waved a hand. “You’d better go. Sophie’s waiting for you.”


posted on 29-Apr-2002 5:12:36 PM by mockingbird39
Sorry for the delay--this part was another difficult one to write. Hopefully Shirley will be sticking close to home from now on! *happy*

Part 24

~Max~

When Liz walked out of the prison visiting yard that afternoon, I was in shock. I should have gone after her—I should have at least tried to make her stay. But I couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. I couldn’t even call her name as she left.

I don’t know how long I sat there with my head in my hands, eyes closed against the awful truth crowding in on me. I had a child. Not only had I abandoned Liz, I had abandoned my own child. I’d gotten used to the failures in my life—my failure as a son, a king, a soulmate—but this one. . .how could I ever atone for this one?

Eventually, a guard came to take me back to my cell. I had enough presence of mind to conceal the book Liz had left, even though I had no idea why she’d left it. As soon as I saw it, I recognized it—it was the book I’d left my note in all those years ago in Cambridge. She must have kept it all these years, taking it with her when she moved back to Cambridge that summer, then years later to New York, and still later to St. Petersburg. And now she had brought it to California with her, only to leave it with me. As I walked back to my cell, I could only wonder why.

When the guard left me alone, I took the book out of shirt where I’d hidden it and ran my fingers over the cover. It was worn and cracked, and I thought that Liz must have opened it many, many times. She must have looked at the cover, traced the title, then opened it, just as I was doing right that moment. But when I opened the cover, the first thing I saw was an envelope—an envelope I’d seen before. It was one of the letters Liz had sent me from Cambridge. I found the other a few pages later. A few pages after that, I found another letter—this one with no address or postmark, just a date. As I flipped through the book, I found more letters, all sealed in envelopes, all neatly dated in Liz’s handwriting. There were over a dozen in all, spanning almost nine years of our child’s life. I put them in order by their dates, methodically checking through each page of the book. Tucked into the very last page was a photograph—a photograph of a little girl with shiny dark hair, bright eyes, and a gap-toothed smile. My daughter. Our daughter. I stared at her picture until it was burned into my memory.

God, she was beautiful. So much like Liz it took my breath away. My chest suddenly felt tight—too small to contain the powerful emotion that was making my heart pound. How was it possible that this child—this child that Liz and I had created—had existed for so many years and I’d never known? It seemed impossible that I had been a part of such a miracle and never even guessed—that I hadn’t had some innate awareness of it. How could I never have known?

“Goddammit, how could I have been so stupid?” I asked aloud, fighting the urge to put my fist through something. Liz’s letters, my dreams. . .I’d had a million reasons to know, and I’d ignored them all.

I should have known. I should have known that Liz wouldn’t have walked away from me—from us without a good reason. A reason like protecting her child.

Liz’s child. How many of my daydreams had centered on just that possibility over the years? And now I was looking at a picture of a child more perfect than any I’d ever dreamed. Liz and I had a daughter. We had a child together, and Liz had raised her alone all these years. I had left Liz to do this alone. God, how could I have done this to her—to them? I put my hand over my eyes, cursing myself for my blindness and my arrogance. I’d been so sure that Liz would be better off that I hadn’t listened to what she’d been trying to tell me. Damn it, why didn’t I read those letters?

The letters. Slowly, I opened my eyes and looked down where I’d placed them beside me on the bed. Liz had given them back to me. I didn’t deserve it—I didn’t deserve another chance to read them. Maybe I didn’t even deserve to know I had a daughter. But Liz had given them to me anyway. I picked up the first one, remembering the day it had first come to me. I’d thought I was being so strong that day. I didn’t think that anymore. Stubborn, foolish, arrogant—that was more like it. And now it had cost me the two most precious things in the universe—Liz and our child. A scream built in my throat as I realized all I’d lost. I wanted to weep, I wanted to do something to fix the terrible mistake I’d made. But it was too late. It was almost a decade too late.

I opened the letter anyway.

Dear Max,
It’s been six months since I saw you or talked to you or heard anything about you. You told me it’s better for you this way, and maybe it is. I don’t know. I do know that it isn’t better for me. It will never be better for me. Being cut off from you like this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. Everyone told me it would get easier, and I know that they believe that is true. But they don’t understand what you and I are to each other. I’m not sure I understand it myself.
I know you said you didn’t want to hear from me, and if not for what I’m about to tell you I might have been able to keep this letter locked inside forever. But there is something you should know.
In a few weeks you’re going to be a father. I’m pregnant. That’s why Maria and I moved to Cambridge so quickly last summer. We didn’t know what was going to happen, and we wanted to be somewhere we could hide just in case. But so far everything is very normal, and in about three weeks our baby will be born. I think it’s a girl—I don’t know why I think that, I just do. I already love her so much. She is the most important thing in my life. Everything else I have ever done seems insignificant when I compare it to being my baby’s mother. Well, everything except maybe loving you.
Maybe you don’t want to know this, Max. Maybe it won’t matter to you at all—maybe it will be too hard for you to hear it. But I don’t think that. I know what kind of man you are, and I know this will matter to you. You aren’t the kind of man who could ignore a child. I saw what it did to you when Tess took your son away, and I just can’t believe that you will let our child go.
I don’t know what I hope will happen when you read this letter. I guess part of me hopes you will change your mind and ask me to come back. I’d come in a minute, Max—you know that. I won’t lie to you. What you said at the prison that day hurt me. You broke my heart again, and sometimes I hate you for it. But at night when I lay awake and feel our baby move inside me, I can’t believe you meant it. If this is another of your ways to get me to go on without you, maybe now you can see that I can never do that. I’ll never be able to forget you. I have our child to raise. Please don’t make me do it alone, Max.
I love you.
Liz


By the time I finished reading, I was shaking. She’d loved me, wanted me, despite what I’d done to her. She’d needed me, and I’d been too stubborn to see it. What kind of man was I to have done this? Liz had sacrificed so much for me, and when she needed me most I’d refused to listen. I’m sorry, I thought. God, I’m so sorry. But even as I thought it, I knew words could never make up for what I’d done.

I read all of Liz’s letters that night, read them over and over. The one she’d written just after our daughter’s birth. Dear Max, You have a daughter. Her name is Sophie Marie Parker and she is sleeping next to me in her bassinet as I write. . . The ones she’d written about Sophie’s first steps, her first words. She looked at us very seriously and said, ‘Bear.’ We all sat there stunned for a minute, then we started cheering like she’d recited the whole of Plato’s Republic. Kennedy didn’t get that kind of reception at the Berlin Wall. There were later ones, written on Sophie’s first birthday, her first day of school. She stood there with her Cinderella lunch box and her brand-new backpack and waved goodbye to me before she went into her classroom. I went outside and sat on a bench to cry. What happened to the baby that I rocked to sleep? I can’t understand when she got so grown up.

The last letter was dated October 5, 2010.

Dear Max, it began, Tomorrow Sophie and I are moving to St. Petersburg. We visited a few weeks ago when my job first offered me the transfer, and I fell in love with the city on our first day there. It’s a great opportunity for me, and I think I’ll like the work. Sophie will get to go to a great school, and I know it will be good for her to experience such a different culture. I can’t imagine a better situation, or a better time for it. I’m ready to get away, to branch out into something totally new. When I visited there, I immediately knew I wanted to live there. I wanted to raise Sophie in this beautiful city where we can go to the theater and visit centuries-old churches and palaces. But even with all of that, I hesitated. I hesitated because of you.
It’s been eight years since the last time I saw you. I’m a different person now—I’m a mother, I’m an attorney. I’m an adult. But there are times at night when I lay awake and I can almost feel you, even thousands of miles away, and I am terrified to lose that. I’m afraid that Russia is too far away, even for our connection, and that I’ll never feel it again. When I think about that all the air goes out of the room. I can’t imagine never seeing you again, Max.
I know you probably think I hate you—that’s what you meant to do, right? Make me hate you? Well, it didn’t work. I’m angry with you, and I hate that because of you our daughter is growing up without a father. But I don’t hate you, and even now, after all this time, I still dream about you. I wish it wasn’t true—it would be easier if I did hate you. I wouldn’t have hesitated to move to St. Petersburg, and I wouldn’t be sitting up tonight wondering if I’ve made the right decision. I hate that you’re my weakness. I hate that you can hurt me this much after all these years. I hate that every time I get the mail I wonder if there will be a letter from you in it. I hate that I’d come back if you asked me, and I hate that I know you won’t.
So I’m going. I’m going to a place where you’ve never been and would never think to look for me. I wonder if you’ll feel it when I go. I wonder if I’ll ever be back.
Liz


That was it. There was so much more I wanted to know—needed to know. But after that there were no more letters. Liz had moved to St. Petersburg and had put no more letters into the pages of this book. Maybe the distance she had put between us had finally given her room to forget. . .but then why was she here now? I lay down on the bed, holding her last letter and our daughter’s picture against my eyes, still reeling, and I was more aware of her closeness than ever. Liz, I thought, and I could almost feel her answer. It took an enormous effort not to reach out to her, not to let the connection between us solidify.

And then, without making a conscious decision, I simply stopped fighting.

I can’t explain the relief I felt in that moment. It was the relief you feel when you’ve been under water too long and are suddenly thrust to the surface where you take a deep, gasping breath and feel cool, blessed oxygen fill your burning lungs. I’d been waiting ten years for that breath of air. I wondered if Liz knew I wasn’t fighting it anymore—if she could feel the same heightened awareness whose longed-for familiarity was making my heart hammer in my chest.

I clung to that awareness all that afternoon, into the evening, and when I went to sleep that night, it was the last thing I remembered feeling. Now that I’d given in to the temptation, I wondered how I could ever let go.


~Liz~

I woke up on Sunday morning with a raging headache and a mouth like cotton. For a second I was confused, but then I remembered tossing an empty vodka bottle onto the floor at one point last night and it all made sense.

I’d told Max about Sophie. Then I’d run out on him. Then I’d smoked a pack of Marlboros and drank a bottle of vodka. Right. Very mature, Liz. Wonderful idea. You really should pat yourself on the back for that one, just as soon as you can sit up without puking on Maria’s carpet.

I lay back with my eyes closed, wishing someone would close the damn blinds before the sunlight flooding through the windows seared a path straight to my brain. Suddenly I was homesick for St. Petersburg, with its pearly gray clouds and the gentle, purple-tinged light of morning. Then, as I lay there contemplating the energy it would take to get up and close them myself, the room went dim and I heard someone moving around. I risked permanent blindness to open one eye and found Michael standing over me, a mug in his hand.

“Hi,” he said simply. “You want coffee?”

I closed my eyes for a second and swallowed. “No. What are you doing here?”

Michael shrugged and took a sip from the mug. “I stayed here last night when I brought Sophie home. Maria said you were pretty wrung out, and she didn’t look too good, either.”

“Oh.” I moved my head and winced as the pounding increased.

“You still don’t look too good,” he informed me, sitting gingerly on the edge of the bed.

“Thanks,” I mumbled.

He was quiet for a minute, then he put his hand on my arm. His fingers were warm where they’d been holding his coffee cup. “Liz, she told me about Max. I’m. . .I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”

His distress almost brought tears to my eyes. “It’s not your fault, Michael.”

He shook his head. “I never should have asked you to come here. I never thought he’d act like this.” Michael stopped and grimaced. “We’re going to have a little talk when I get to work tomorrow.”

“No, don’t do that.” If there was one thing Max didn’t need, it was for his one ally to turn on him. I struggled to a sitting position, closing my eyes until the world stopped spinning. “Can I have some of that?” I asked, pointing to the coffee he’d offered earlier.

“Sure.” He handed it to me and I took a sip. “It’s a little strong,” he chuckled when I made a face.

“No stronger than what I was drinking yesterday,” I told him.

“Yeah, I heard,” he said with a smile. “A whole bottle? That’s pretty impressive.”

“Maria helped,” I defended.

“I know. I already took her some coffee.” He paused for a second, then looked away. “Liz, you know what Max said wasn’t true, right? It wasn’t your fault. None of it was. This is because of him, and if he’d just open his eyes for a second, he’d see it.”

I stared into the murky depths of my coffee. “I could have tried harder,” I said. It was the first time I’d said that out loud.

“He could have listened,” Michael countered. “He should have listened.”

I didn’t answer. Instead I took a sip of coffee and glanced at Michael. “I’m going to have to go see him again. Can you get me in tomorrow?”

Michael hesitated for a minute, then nodded. “You can go in as his lawyer,” he said, “or you could wait until Saturday and I’ll go with you.”

I smiled a little. “Thanks, Michael,” I said, “but I can’t ask you to do that. I have to do this.”

Michael sighed. “You know, sometimes people really want to help,” he told me. “Sometimes it’s not about pity, or thinking you can’t do it. Sometimes it’s just about letting people be there for you.”

I nodded. “I know. And sometimes I’m about as stubborn as Max.”

Michael leaned against the headboard next to me. “Yeah, I know that one,” he agreed. He reached for the coffee cup and took a sip. “Just remember that I’m here because I want to be,” he said in a low voice, not looking at me. “Okay?”

I smiled. “Thanks, Michael.”

He nodded and handed me the coffee mug. “You’re welcome,” he said, then he rose and left me alone with my thoughts.


posted on 5-May-2002 8:45:03 PM by mockingbird39
Part 25


~Michael~

I went to work early on Monday morning. I knew I had to be there early to put Liz’s name on the visitor’s list for the day, and I needed to see one of the other guards about trading a shift. But the most compelling reason was that I had a little something to discuss with Max Evans before he saw Liz again.

I found Max sitting on his bed, like almost every other day of the week. But this morning he was surrounded by envelopes and pieces of paper, all placed carefully around him. He was reading from one, completely engrossed in it, and when I approached he didn’t even look up. I stood back for a second, watching as he read for a while, then abruptly closed his eyes and pressed his hands to his face, breathing deeply. At first I couldn’t imagine what he was doing, then I realized. Liz had given him back her letters. Liz had only mentioned two, but now I saw that there were at least a dozen scattered around him on his bed. She must have written to him over and over. But he had never answered. That thought brought my anger rocketing back to the surface, and I remembered that I was there to confront him about what he had said to Liz.

But then I noticed that his jaw was clenched, and that his hands were shaking a little as he sat there breathing deeply. He was in bad shape—as bad as Liz, maybe worse. I wondered if he had spent the whole weekend reading those letters, and, much to my disgust I felt a pang of sympathy. He did this himself, I reminded myself, but that didn’t change that fact that Max was sitting on his bed in a prison cell pouring over these letters about the daughter he didn’t know—the daughter I’d just spent most of the weekend with. In the end, when I approached Max I didn’t lay into him with the speech I’d planned.

“Max,” I said quietly, and he opened his eyes and looked at me. His eyes were red-rimmed and dark with grief.

“Michael,” he said. He looked at me for a long moment, seeming dazed. “You knew about her,” he said. “About my daughter. . .about Sophie.”

The way he pronounced her name—carefully, as though it felt alien to his tongue—got to me more than any words. Max barely knew his daughter’s name. I nodded. “Yeah.”

“You could have told me,” he said, but his voice was too weary to be accusing.

“You could have read Liz’s letters,” I countered.

“You think I don’t regret that now?” he demanded. There was no answer to that, so I waited for him to continue. “How long have you known?” he asked.

I shook my head and ran my finger down one of the bars that fronted his cell. “Not long. Only since Petersburg.”

“Have you seen her?”

I couldn’t look at him as I answered. “In Petersburg,” I said quietly. “And I. . .I took her to the game on Saturday.” I didn’t add that I’d stayed over on Saturday night, or that we’d spent Sunday morning making pancakes and swimming in Maria’s pool. I could feel his eyes on me, so eventually I looked up. “Max, I really wanted to tell you,” I said after a minute. “After I got back from Petersburg, I. . .”

“What’s she like, Michael?” he interrupted, staring at me hungrily.

“Sophie?” Of course he meant Sophie. I bowed my head as I thought about Sophie jumping up and down with excitement during the hockey game, diving into the swimming pool with a shriek, and watching me with sleep-heavy eyes as I read to her before bedtime. How could I explain all of that to Max? Finally I just shook my head. “She’s amazing,” I said. “She’s just. . .amazing.”

His eyes darkened further. “Is she—”

“She’s perfect, Max,” I said with a shrug. “She’s happy and smart and sweet and healthy. . .she’s everything you could ever want.”

He put his head in his hands. “God, Michael, I can’t believe this is happening,” he murmured.

“Well, it is,” I told him flatly. “You’ve got a daughter, Maxwell, and she needs a father.”

He shook his head. “If I had known—”

“You could have known anytime you wanted to,” I interrupted, thinking about Liz and her guilt-induced vodka binge. I wasn’t going to let him put this on her—not this time. “This isn’t Liz’s fault.”

He raised his head and gave me a blank look. “Liz’s fault?” he repeated. “How could this be Liz’s fault?” He gestured to the papers all around him. “She wrote me these letters—I sent them back. She tried. I’m the one that abandoned her—and Sophie, too.”

I stared at him. “That’s not what you said to Liz,” I shot back. “She’s spent ten years feeling guilty for your mistake, and you almost pushed her over the edge this weekend.”

He opened his mouth to speak, but then a look of horror crossed his face. “Oh, god,” he breathed. “I asked her. . .I asked her why she didn’t tell me.” He sat there motionless for a minute, remembering, then he jumped off the bed and slammed his fist into the wall. “Damn it!” he cried, sweeping a stack of books onto the floor with his hand. “Damn it! How could I—” He broke off, shaking his head in disgust and savagely kicked a book into the wall. “God damn it,” he muttered. He faced the wall, his shoulders heaving, then he turned to me. “Is she okay?” he asked. “Did she. . .Maria’s with her, right?”

“She drank a bottle of vodka and passed out,” I said flatly.

He blanched. “A bottle of vodka?”

I waited for that to sink in, then I went on. “She had one hell of a hangover, but she’ll recover. She’s had a lot of practice. She’s coming here today, and I swear to God if you do that to her again I’ll kick your ass. She doesn’t deserve this—”

“Liz is coming back?” he interrupted. “Here?”

I nodded. “She asked me to get her in here today. She’s coming as your attorney—don’t screw that up, or she’ll have to wait until Saturday.”

At the word ‘attorney’ his eyes darkened and I prepared myself for a fight about letting Liz work on the case, but we didn’t have a chance to get started. Another guard came down the corridor, nodding at me.

“Hey, Guerin,” he said, stopping at Max’s cell. “Your attorney’s here, Evans.”

Max glanced at me as he went to his bed and took something—a picture, I think—from it. He tucked it into his shirt pocket and then quietly went to have his hands cuffed. I looked away; I’ve gotten used to seeing Max in his cell, but something about the sight of him in handcuffs still gets to me.

“Max,” I said as they prepared to go, and he looked at me. “She’s not going to stop. She needs this, too.”

He didn’t answer, only looked at the ground as he was led away.


~Liz~

I knew Max was getting closer. I could feel him approaching as I sat in the dull cinder-block room where I waited for him, trying to act like an attorney and not a spurned girlfriend. I’d brought copies of Langley’s will and the codicil, as well as copies of the insurance policy to give to Max, but I wasn’t sure if he’d take them or not. I’d brought some other things, too—mostly pictures of Sophie—and I hoped he’d agree to take them, at least.

When the door opened and Max entered, led by a guard I barely looked at, I sat up straight. Our eyes locked immediately, my heart began pounding. So did his; I could feel it. I wasn’t sure exactly what had happened between us after I’d left the prison on Saturday, but while I was driving home that afternoon it was as though a door had opened between us. Ever since then I’d been conscious of him in a way I’d almost forgotten was possible. Even my date with the vodka bottle on Saturday hadn’t dulled it—no matter how much I drank, I could still feel him. Feel his despair.

Max’s eyes never left mine as the guard uncuffed his hands and pointed him to the table where I sat. I think the guard said something to me before he left—I’m not really sure. I only remember Max’s eyes. . .those dark amber eyes I’d dreamed of for so long. . .boring into mine. He sat down across from me and folded his hands on the table between us, just like he had on Saturday. I didn’t know what to do with my hands, so I clenched them together in my lap. I tried to sit still as he stared at me, but I found myself fidgeting like a child under his gaze.

“Max, I’m sorry,” I said finally. “I didn’t mean to tell you like that.”

He looked down for a second. “Did you mean to tell me at all?” he asked.

Stung, I looked away. “I don’t know,” I murmured honestly.

I heard him sigh. “Look, Liz, I didn’t mean that,” he said. “I didn’t mean. . .what I said on Saturday, either.”

I shook my head. “Neither of us were at our best,” I said. “Let’s just leave it at that, okay?”

“Liz, no.” He reached out as if to touch me, but I tensed, and at the last second he dropped his hand. “It’s not. . .I’ve spent all weekend reading your letters and I—” He paused, and I felt his anguish echo in my heart. “I never meant to do that to you, Liz. Or to my—our daughter.” He stopped, bowing his head, and a muscle in his jaw clenched. I knew he was fighting back tears, and I knew that they would come anyway. “I thought it would be better for you. . .I never thought—I didn’t listen. I’m so sorry, Liz.” He pressed his fist over his mouth, but he couldn’t stop the tears from pooling in his eyes.

My heart ached as I watched him. I’d been angry with Max Evans for years. . .hell, I’d been furious with him as recently as this morning. . .but as I sat there across from him all I felt was pity. I thought about him alone all weekend, reading the letters I’d left for him, and I wanted to cry. I’d had Maria and Michael—and Sophie—to comfort me. Max had no one. He was alone, powerless, stuck inside these walls and forced to wait on the decisions of others. My eyes burned as I realized he probably had wondered whether or not I would come back.

He shook his head. “If I had known. . .”

“I know, Max,” I said quietly. “I knew it would have mattered to you—she would have mattered to you. I know you wouldn’t have done it if you knew. I knew what you were doing that day when I came to visit you. Oh, maybe not right away,” I added when he opened his mouth to protest. “I was too hurt to see it right away, but later I knew. I just never admitted it to myself.”

He stared at me. “What?”

“I could have told you, too,” I went on, afraid that if I stopped I would never get this out. “I could have told Michael or Isabel. . .or even your parents, and they would have told you. Or I could have come back here and just said it before you had a chance to tell me to leave. But I didn’t do any of those things. I made sure you’d never find out. That was me, not you.” I stood up and walked over to one of the long, narrow windows and looked outside. I could see several men in prison denims working the yard with rakes and grass trimmers and I wondered if that was how Max spent his days—looking at the world from behind a fence. My eyes burned with unshed tears as I stared out the window.

“All these years I’ve been furious with you for taking my choice away,” I said, fighting to keep my voice even. “But the truth is, I did the same thing to you, and to Sophie and to Michael and Isabel and everyone else I kept this secret from. You and I both made mistakes, Max. The difference is that I knew the mistake I was making. You didn’t. I’m to blame, Max. This is my fault.”

I wanted him to be angry. I wanted him to shout and accuse me of all the things I knew I was guilty of. I was prepared for his anger and for betrayal in his eyes, and I wouldn’t have blamed him in the slightest if he’d kicked me out again. But Max didn’t do any of those things. Instead he bowed his head.

“I don’t blame you, Liz,” he said quietly. “You had every reason to try and protect her. You probably thought I’d hurt her like I hurt you. You probably thought. . .” He drew a quick, sharp breath and his jaw clenched again. “. . .you probably thought I wouldn’t love her.” Stunned, I watched as he raised his head and stared at me though tear-filled eyes. “But I do, Liz,” he said, his voice cracking. “I already do.” And then he put his hands over his face and sobbed brokenly, silently, like a wounded child.

For a moment I could only stand there, frozen to the ground as I watched him weep. It hurt me to see him here, to see him so alone and so powerless and so broken. Somewhere along the line, his spirit. . .that beautiful spirit I had loved so much. . .had been broken, and I felt its loss at the very center of my heart. Finally, I crossed to him and knelt down beside his chair.

“Max,” I murmured, pulling his hands from his face. He didn’t fight me—there was no fight left in him. “Max, come here.” I reached for him, pulling him into my arms to comfort him the way I comfort Sophie when she cries. But as his arms went around me, I found that I was crying, too—deep, uncontrolled sobs that left me shaking. He slid from his chair to kneel beside me, never losing his hold on me. He held me like I’d wanted him to all these years—enfolding me in his arms where I was safe and warm and whole—and I prayed he’d never let go.

“I’m sorry,” he said over and over again. “I’m so sorry.”

“It wasn’t you,” I told him. “I know you didn’t want it like this.” I reached out to cup his face in my palms, putting my fingers over his lips to silence the apologies that I didn’t deserve.

“But what about Sophie?” he asked, his eyes dark with guilt and grief.

“She’s fine,” I said. “She’s safe and she’s healthy.”

“Does she know about me?” he asked in a shaky voice.

I shook my head, feeling fresh pangs of guilt. “Not much. She knows your name, and that you’re from Roswell. I told her. . .I told her we loved each other.” I couldn’t look at him when I said that; I was too afraid of what I’d see in his eyes.

“Does she know. . .where I am?” he wanted to know. The shame he felt echoed in my heart, and I had to fight tears again.

I shook my head. “No.”

He bowed his head again. “She won’t understand,” he murmured.

I put my hand on his cheek. “She will,” I told him. I waited for a minute, then I tilted my head to meet his downward gaze. “Max, do you want to see her?”

His head came up with a jerk. “You. . .you would bring her here?”

Oh, God, what did I do to him? I bit my lip to hold back tears. “Of course I will,” I assured him. “When can I bring her?”

“Saturday,” he said. “Saturday is visitor’s day.”

Saturday? That was almost a week away. I didn’t know if I could last that long, and I couldn’t imagine how Max would. “Okay,” I said finally. “I’ll bring her on Saturday.”

He put his head on my shoulder, holding me close again, seeking and giving comfort all at once. “What will I tell her, Liz? What do I say to her?”

I cradled his head on my shoulder like I had so many years before and stroked his hair. There was gray there now, sprinkled among the dark locks I remembered so well. “It’ll be okay, Max,” I said softly. “Everything will be okay.”

posted on 9-May-2002 7:45:59 AM by mockingbird39
Okay, sorry for the delay. I had most of the next part written, but it didn't work right so I started over. I really hope to have the update out in the next day or so. I hope it's worth the wait!

Mel
posted on 14-May-2002 5:40:20 PM by mockingbird39
Part 26


~Max~

“That’s last summer at Peterhof. . .Peterhof is one of the old Romanov palaces. It’s famous for its grounds especially the fountains. Sophie likes the fountains.”

Liz’s voice trailed off as she shuffled through the stack of pictures before her, searching for something else to talk about. Something to fill the silence. I don’t know how long we had knelt on the cement floor, searching for comfort in each other. . .finding a little, too, I think. For me time stopped and I was only conscious of Liz—of the way it felt to hold her. I’d always thought I remembered, but I was wrong. I’d forgotten the scent of her hair, how fragile she felt, and how tightly she could hold me. I’d forgotten how just touching her could make my pulse race even as she calmed my soul.

I was so lost in her that when she began to pull away I didn’t notice. It took me a moment before I realized that she wanted me to let go. When I finally did, she got to her feet, dabbing at her eyes, and went back to the table.

“It’ll be okay,” I heard her repeat, and I wondered if she was talking to me or herself. She turned her back to me, and I could see that she was trying to compose herself. I wondered if she knew how keenly I could feel her emotions roiling beneath the pleasantly detached demeanor she slipped on like a mask.

“I brought some pictures,” she said brightly. “I thought you might want to see them.”

So for the past half hour we’d been sitting across from each other, close enough to touch but careful not to, needing to say so many things, but not saying any of them. Liz kept up a running commentary about the photographs she’d brought—Sophie as a baby, wearing a ruffled white bonnet and tiny pink shoes; Sophie feeding bread crumbs to the swans at the Boston Public Gardens. Standing on a dock on Cape Cod. Skating at Rockefeller Center in New York.

“That one’s in Hong Kong,” Liz said, pointing to a picture of herself, Sophie, and Maria on a street corner, surrounded by a sea of flower stands.

“Hong Kong?”

“Yeah, I went there on a business trip while I was working in the New York office. I didn’t want to leave Sophie, so Maria came with us to take care of her while I worked.” Liz smiled faintly. “We had a nice time.” She paused, remembering, then found another picture. “Um, this one’s in our apartment in Petersburg,” she told me, pushing it across the table.

I picked it up, studying it carefully. Liz and Sophie were curled up together on a big leather sofa, a blanket wrapped around them both. It looked like they were reading; a book lay across Liz’s lap and Sophie was reaching out to turn a page. The room around them looked big, with high ceilings and patterned wood floors. My mother would have loved it—I remember she used to have magazines full of photographs just like this one. “You have a beautiful apartment,” I said, glancing at her.

To my surprise, I caught a flash of guilt from her. “It’s—well, it’s convenient to my office and Sophie’s school.” Hurriedly, she searched for another picture. “Here’s one at the beach.”

I took it from her hand. It showed Sophie in a blue and white bikini, white sun hat, and sunglasses splashing in incredibly blue water. “This can’t be Massachusetts,” I observed. The water was too blue, the sand too white. Not that I’d ever been there, of course.

Liz slowly shook her head. “Um, no. That’s in Portugal—on the Gulf of Cadiz at Portimao. We went there last summer for vacation.” She looked away again, frowning. “A friend recommended the resorts there.”

“It looks beautiful,” I said.

“It was.” Again, she looked away as a wash of guilt flowed through her.

I studied the pictures thoughtfully. Boston, New York, Hong Kong, Portimao, St. Petersburg. . .all these amazing things my daughter had already seen. To be eight years old and already know that the world was full of such incredible places and experiences. . .what would that be like? I looked across the table at Liz and I realized how big her world. . .and Sophie’s. . .had become since she left Roswell. Each picture she handed me underscored the huge gap between us. And then I understood the guilt that was making her eyes darken. She could feel it, too—the gulf that separated us. Ten years ago our lives had been very similar. We’d lived in the same town, gone to the same school, known the same people. After that day in the Crashdown when she was shot our lives had been even closer because we’d shared common fears and dangers and enemies. But when Liz left L.A. ten years ago our lives had taken drastically different turns. The woman sitting across from me was not the teenager I’d known—she was an educated, professional woman with a child, a career, and a life I knew nothing about. Seeing these pictures of her life drove that thought home to me in a way I couldn’t deny. Liz and I were, undeniably, worlds apart.

“Max, we should probably talk about your case,” she said suddenly.

I looked at her. “What about it?” I asked warily.

She opened her briefcase again and pulled out some papers. “I’ve been looking through Langley’s will. There’s something about it that doesn’t look right to me.” She put on a pair of small reading glasses and flipped through a couple of pages. “See here—this is a codicil that was written—”

“Liz, no.” I closed the folder she was reading from. “I told you on Saturday—”

Her eyes flashed. “And I told you on Saturday that I don’t take orders anymore,” she said.

“I’m not going to let you do this,” I told her, raising my voice. Did she really think I would let her do this now that I knew we had a child to worry about?

“You can’t stop me,” she said quietly, opening the folder again.

Frustration surged through me. She was right—I couldn’t stop her. I couldn’t protect her, either, if something went wrong. “I won’t help you,” I said finally. “I just. . .I won’t help you do this.”

She stared at the papers in front of her for a long time, then she pressed her lips together, took a deep breath and looked at me. “Sophie has powers, Max,” she said in a low voice.

I frowned at her. “She. . .what?”

“She has powers. I’ve seen her use them once, and Maria’s seen her once, but I doubt those were the only times she’s ever used them.” Liz suddenly looked very tired. “I haven’t talked to her about it. I don’t know what to say.”

“Oh, god.” I rubbed a hand over my eyes. “Does she know. . .what we are?”

She shook her head. “No. I mean, I never told her. I don’t think she knows.”

“Has she ever asked about it? Said anything?” I asked Liz.

“No.” She squeezed her hands together. “And if she did. . .I don’t know what I’d say to her.”

I wished I could reassure her, but what was there to say? “Liz, it’s okay—”

“Sophie isn’t like other kids, Max,” she interrupted. “I’ve done everything I can to keep her safe and happy, but this is. . .this is something different.” She took a deep breath, and I knew how heavy her heart was—like a dead weight in her chest. “I don’t know if I can do this alone anymore, Max. Sophie. . .might just need more than I can give,” she finished haltingly, and I knew how every word cost her.

I had never felt so helpless—or so guilty. Not only had I left Liz alone to raise a child, I’d left her alone to raise a child with an alien side that none of really understood. “I—I can try to talk to her,” I said finally, aware that this was woefully inadequate.

“What about when she needs more than that?” Liz asked in a voice so low that I had to strain to hear it. “What about when she needs you to be her father—not just for two hours on a Saturday morning? What if someone finds out about her and she needs you to keep her safe?”

I closed my eyes for a second. “Is this what you think I want?” I demanded. “Do you know what it’s doing to me to have a child I don’t even know? Do you know what it feels like to see these pictures of her and know I’m not part of her life—that I’ll never be part of it?” I shook my head, anger making my heart pound. “Do you know what it feels like to have Michael know my daughter before I do?”

“Then help me,” she said, her voice tight.

“Help you get yourself killed? Help you find a man who’d kill you and Sophie both if he had the chance? Is that what I’m supposed to help you do?” I demanded. “I won’t do it, Liz.”

She glared at me. “You know, Max, I’m not an idiot. I’m not going to go knock on his door and ask him to confess.”

“You’d never get a chance to knock,” I retorted. “He’d kill you before you ever got that far. You have got to stop this before it’s too late.”

She looked away for a second, then cocked her head to one side and studied me. “What are you going to do on Saturday, Max?”

I frowned. Was she saying she wouldn’t bring Sophie after all? “What do you mean?”

“I mean I’m bringing your daughter here to see you and I want to know what you’re going to do.” Her jaw was clenched, her eyes hard. “Are you going to talk to her, get to know her, maybe start to love her, then let her go back into a life and a world you’ll never be part of? Will that be enough for you, Max? Can you let her grow up never really knowing her?”

“I don’t have a choice,” I cried in frustration.

“You do have a choice,” she shot back. “There’s always a choice.”

I was fighting for control. “My hands are tied, Liz—”

“No, they’re not,” she interrupted furiously. “You’re sitting on them.”

I was so angry my whole body was shaking, but I wasn’t just angry with Liz. I was angry at the whole situation. I wanted out of here—I wanted out more desperately than ever. I didn’t want to meet my daughter for the first time in a prison visiting room, and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life waiting for letters and pictures about school plays and vacations and Christmas morning. I wanted to be there to see it all myself.

But not if it meant putting Liz’s life in danger. I’d done that too many times already, and I wasn’t about to do it again now that she had a child to raise. Our child. As desperate as I was to get out of here, I was not going to risk leaving Sophie to grow up without her mother. Sophie needed Liz—even more than I did. Why couldn’t Liz see that?

Liz was looking at me with appraising eyes. “You’re angry, aren’t you?” she asked. “It’s about goddamn time. Langley set you up, Max. He hated you so much he wanted you to rot in prison for the rest of your life—all because you were a stupid kid trying to make up for a big mistake. You didn’t deserve this.” She was looking at me expectantly. “Well? Aren’t you angry about this? You should be. You should be throwing things and punching the wall and—and screaming. I’ve done it—I’ve done it more than once. How can you not be angry?” she demanded. I didn’t answer, but I didn’t have to. She had plenty to say. “You see all this?” she asked, indicating the pictures of Sophie. “You missed all of this because of Langley. You’ll miss out on a lot more if you don’t get off your ass and help me find him.”

“What about Sophie?” I asked.

“Sophie needs you out of here,” she said. The anger left her voice and when she spoke again she just sounded tired. “So do I, Max. So do I.” She closed her eyes for a minute, rubbing her temples. “God, Max, please. I can’t do this alone anymore.”

My heart thudded painfully in my chest. “Liz. . .I’m sorry,” I murmured. Tentatively, I reached out and touched her hand. I had thought she might pull away, but she only drew in a sharp breath, then turned her hand over until she could lace her fingers through mine. She gripped my hand so tightly her knuckles turned white, and brought our clasped hands to her cheek.

“It’s been so hard, Max,” she whispered. “Sometimes I don’t think I can make it.”

She wasn’t only talking about Sophie anymore. That was part of it, I knew, but the tears that dampened my hand were for other things, too—for the sudden end to our relationship ten years ago that had left her no time to grieve. For secrets that ate away at her heart and isolated her from everything she had once counted on. For ten years of tears shed alone at night.

“I know why you did it, Max,” she said softly. “I know you thought it would be better for me. But nothing has ever been better for me than you. Nothing.” She pressed her cheek into my hand for a second, then abruptly let go and stood up. “I should go,” she murmured, reaching for her briefcase.

“Liz, wait,” I protested. “You don’t have to go—”

She wouldn’t look at me. “I really do,” she said. “I’m sorry—I have to pick up some papers from the courthouse and try to make an appointment for tomorrow.”

I stood up, too. “Will you come back?” I asked, hating the plea in my voice.

She nodded vigorously, her eyes still avoiding mine. “Yeah, I’ll be back tomorrow—it might be late. I’m trying to talk to the insurance company before I leave for Roswell on Wednesday.”

“Roswell?” I repeated in surprise. Michael had told me Liz had never been back. “You’re going to Roswell?”

She nodded again. “Yeah, for Thanksgiving. We’ll be back on Friday night.”

I’d completely forgotten Thanksgiving. It’s usually just another day for me, although a couple of times my parents, Isabel, and Jesse have driven out to visit on the holiday weekend. “That sounds nice.”

She shrugged. “I thought it was time Sophie saw where I. . .where we grew up.”

I would have given a lot to be there when our daughter saw Roswell for the first time. I wished I could show her the Crashdown, the UFO Center, the highschool. . .the playground where I first saw Liz. I wished I could take her to my parents’ house and listen to my father try to explain a football game to her while my mother rushed back and forth between the television and the enormous Thanksgiving dinner I knew she’d be cooking for her one and only grandchild.

But Liz would have to show Sophie those special places herself, and my parents wouldn’t even know they had a grandchild, much less that she was in town for the holiday. I took a deep breath. “Don’t forget. . .don’t forget all of these,” I told Liz, waving a hand over the pictures scattered on the table.

Liz shook her head. “You keep them. I have copies.” She paused, tapping the file folder that held her information on Langley. “You keep this, too,” she said. “If you change your mind, look it over and see if you remember anything. If not. . .” She paused and glanced out the window. “Just look it over, Max. Please.”

She still wouldn’t look at me as she went to the door and pressed the call button. When the door clanged open she stood there for a second, then glanced at me ever so briefly. “I’ll be back tomorrow,” she said, and then she was gone.



~Maria~

I was turning into my driveway with Sophie in the front seat next to me when my cell phone rang.

“Hello?” I asked, once I’d found it at the bottom of my purse.

“Hi, it’s me.” Liz sounded strained, and it wasn’t hard to imagine why.

“Hey, did you. . .go see your client?” I asked, glancing at Sophie, who was watching me closely.

“Yeah, I saw him.”

“So how did it go?”

Liz was quiet for a moment. “Better than last time,” she said finally.

Considering that last time she’d ended up on a vodka bender, that wasn’t saying much. “That good?” I asked flatly.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said. “Where are you guys?”

“In my driveway,” I answered. “Why?”

“I’ll come home for lunch,” she told me. “I’ll be there in a few minutes. You didn’t eat yet, did you?”

“No, but I thought you were going to the insurance company this afternoon,” I said curiously.

“I am. But they can’t see me until four.” She sighed. “I just want to see Sophie for a while, okay?”

Great. Max must have been his charming self again. “Okay. I’ll make us something. See you in a few minutes.”

* * * * *

Liz pulled into the driveway ten minutes later. Sophie was watching for her and called out to me as she ran out to meet her mother. I went out the patio door and walked around the house just in time to see Liz get out of the car. Sophie ran straight for her, and Liz scooped her daughter up in her arms, holding onto her tightly.

“Mommy, you’re squashing me,” Sophie complained.

“Well, squash me back!” Liz answered, bringing a giggle from Sophie. Liz kissed Sophie’s hair, breathing deeply. I could almost see the tension drain from her body. It’s petty of me, but sometimes I am insanely jealous of the security Liz and Sophie get from each other. For Sophie, everything is okay so long as Liz says it is. For Liz, everything is okay so long as Sophie is safe and happy. Someday I want to have a daughter. And I want to be the kind of mom Liz is.

“What did you do this morning?” Liz was asking. She settled Sophie on her hip and carried her toward the house.

“Um, we went to the mall and Aunt Maria signed autographs for these girls. . .one had blue hair. It was weird.” Sophie chattered on as Liz carried her to the back patio, where I waited for them. She glanced up and saw me watching them, but she only smiled.

“What’s for lunch?” she asked when Sophie stopped for breath.

“Pasta,” I told her. “I hope you still like meat sauce.” My mom had brought several jars with her when she visited last time, but I hadn’t really been home much since then.

Liz nodded. “Love it.”

“Can I have soda?” Sophie asked Liz.

Liz pretended to consider. “Well. . .I guess so.” She set her daughter down on the patio. “Go wash your hands.”

“They’re not dirty.”

“You’ve been splashing in the pool,” Liz said, bringing mystified looks from both of us. “Go wash them.”

Sophie must have realized that you don’t argue with your mother’s psychic powers, because she went into the house and a moment later I heard water running.

“How did you know that?” I asked her, slapping the dishtowel in my hand against my thigh.

Liz shrugged. “She smelled like chlorine.”

Huh. Sometimes it freaks me out when she acts like a mom. “So what happened?” I asked her.

Liz looked down at her expensive shoes. I think they were Kate Spade. “We talked about her. I showed him the pictures. He told me to quit going after Langley.”

“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “He meant quit finding information on Langley, right? Because you’re not going to go looking for him yourself. Right, Liz?”

She sighed. “Do I have ‘please kill me’ written on my forehead?” she wondered aloud.

“Just checking,” I defended.

“Max wants to see her,” Liz said suddenly, nodding in the direction Sophie had gone. “I’m taking her on Saturday.” She sighed again as I stood there dumbfounded, then walked into the house. “I should probably tell Michael,” she added over her shoulder.

Sweet Jesus.

posted on 20-May-2002 7:12:03 AM by mockingbird39
Part 27


~Michael~

I wasn’t sure how long Liz would stay that day, so I kept finding reasons to walk past Max’s cell to see if he was back yet. When an hour went by and he still wasn’t there I started to get curious. Had he actually agreed to help her? Or maybe they were still talking about Sophie. Or they were having a shouting match and neither of them would back down. Well, I told myself, pissed off is better than lethargic. And if anyone could piss Max off, it was Liz.

Right before lunchtime, two of the inmates got into a shoving match in the TV room. Another guard and I were close enough to stop it almost before it started, but I got busy after that, taking the inmates back to their cells and filling out the report. I didn’t get another chance to go by Max’s cell until early afternoon. He was back by then, sitting on his bed with a pile of photos in his hands. He looked drained, but still better than he’d been that morning.

“How’d it go, Maxwell?” I asked as I approached.

“What? Oh. . .it was okay.” He glanced at me for a second, then back down at the pictures. “She brought these,” he said. “Pictures.”

“Yeah? That was nice of her.”

He flipped through the pictures. “Boston. . .New York. . .did you know Liz took her to Hong Kong?”

I nodded. “Sophie told me,” I admitted.

“At the game?” he asked, almost managing a smile. “You actually let someone talk to you during a hockey game?”

“She made me promise not to talk during the game before we got there,” I told him, unable to hide a grin at the memory. “I took her out for pizza afterwards—she told me then.”

”You spent all day with her,” he said quietly.

I nodded. “Yeah.”

“Liz is bringing her here on Saturday,” he blurted suddenly.

Okay, that was sooner than I had expected. I wondered if one of them had insisted, or if they had actually made a decision together for once. “That’s. . .that’s good,” I said cautiously. The expression on his face didn’t tell me whether or not he agreed.

“I don’t know what to tell her. . .how to explain why I’m here and why she’s never met me before.” He shook his head slowly. “She won’t understand.”

“She might,” I ventured, “if you take the time to explain to her and answer her questions.” I shook my head. “Liz is a good mother. She’ll make sure Sophie understands.” He looked doubtful, but I was confident. “Liz wouldn’t be here if she thought it would hurt Sophie. I know that for a fact, Maxwell.”

He didn’t answer, but a moment later he said gruffly, “She still won’t quit with this Langley thing.”

I shrugged. “I didn’t think she would.”

He stared at me. “You think she’s right, then? You think she should be looking for him?”

“I don’t think she should go have lunch with the guy, but I think she’s the first one to make progress on this in years,” I answered. Jesus, how stupid did he think we were?

He started to pace the small confines of his cell, his face a mask of conflicting emotion. I’d known from the time I decided to find Liz that this would be hard on Max. At the time I’d thought that in the end it might be good for him—that it might jolt him out of his depression and isolation. But I hadn’t figured on Sophie, and now it was tearing him up knowing that the only chance he might ever have to know his daughter depended on the love of his life putting herself in harm’s way.

“I can’t protect them from in here,” he muttered. “I can’t do anything from in here.” He stopped pacing to slam his fist into the wall—even harder than he had that morning. “Liz doesn’t get it, Michael. She just doesn’t get it.”

“I don’t get it either, Maxwell,” I told him flatly. “Why don’t you explain it to me? Tell me why you’d rather stay in here than be with your daughter.” I shook my head. “She’s not even mine, Max, and I couldn’t stay away now if I tried.”

“Jesus, Michael, this isn’t the way I want it!” he cried in frustration.

“Then what do you want?” I demanded.

“What do you think I want?” he retorted, nearly shouting now. “I want out of here—I want to walk out of here like you and Liz and everyone else do. I want to go find my child and beg her forgiveness for missing the first eight years of her life. I want to have a home, Michael. Not just. . .three walls and a set of bars.” He hurled his tattered copy of The Count of Monte Cristo at the ground, and its ragged binding finally gave way, scattering pages all over the floor. But Max appeared not to notice as he sat down on his bed and covered his face with both hands. “I have to get out of here, Michael,” he said, his voice muffled. “I can’t stay here.”

Finally. “Liz is your best shot at that,” I said quietly. “Right now she’s your only shot.”

Rebellion flashed in his eyes. “Langley is not getting anywhere near Liz or my daughter—”

“Did you think I was going to let him?” I demanded. “I care about Liz, too—and Sophie. I’m not about to let anything happen to them.”

He got up and paced some more, pure anguish on his face. It occurred to me that if anything did happen to Liz, all the suicide watches in the world wouldn’t stop Max from taking it out on himself. If I’d needed more of a reason to make sure Liz got out of this unharmed, this would have done it. Finally, Max paused and walked over to me. He grabbed one of the bars and stared me straight in the eyes. “Promise me Liz never gets near Langley. She gets the information and then she takes Sophie somewhere safe until we’ve got him.”

“I can’t speak for Liz, Max,” I reminded him. “She doesn’t really take orders—I think she’s better at giving them now.”

“Promise me, Michael,” he insisted. His eyes bored into mine, holding more determination than I’d seen in almost a decade. “Liz isn’t going to pay for my mistakes—not anymore.”

I stared back at him. “Does this mean you’re going to help?”

He shook his head, obviously still fighting with himself. “I have to talk to Liz first. I need to make sure she understands.”

“I’ll tell her,” I said, barely able to contain my triumph.

“No, I’ll do it.” He stood there a moment, thinking. “I have to explain to her.”

“Do it without giving an order,” I told him. “I don’t think she’d take well to that.”

Max looked at the ground. “She told me I have a Napolean complex,” he muttered darkly.

Heh. Not particularly diplomatic, but I couldn’t disagree. “Was that before or after you told her to go away again?” I asked him.

“I didn’t tell her to go away,” he protested.

“Whatever. Is she coming back here?”

He nodded. “She said tomorrow. Then Wednesday they’re going to Roswell for Thanksgiving.”

That was news to me, but I was glad to hear it. Liz’s parents would be thrilled. “That’s good,” I said.

“Yeah. At least she’s safe until Saturday.” He nodded emphatically. “After that I need you to watch her again.”

Watch her? Yeah, Liz would take to that really well. “She’s not gonna want a babysitter,” I warned him.

“Too bad.” He returned to pacing. “I’m not going to let her get hurt. If it comes down to that, I’d rather stay here.” He stopped and faced the wall. “If something happened to her, Michael, I—I don’t know what I’d do.”



~Liz~

“Ms. Parker?”

I looked up from my notes about Langley’s will to see a young, dark-haired man standing near me. I’d been waiting in the lobby of Hyperion Insurance, Inc., for about five minutes, passing the time by rehashing the wording of the codicil. I practically knew it by heart now.

“I’m Ryan Whitley,” the man said, smiling politely. “I understand you have a few questions regarding a claim?”

I stood up. “Yes. Yes, I do. Nice to meet you,” I said, thinking that he couldn’t have been the one to handle Langley’s life insurance claim ten years ago. He didn’t look much older than me.

“Let’s go to my office then, and we’ll see what we can do.” He motioned me down a hallway, leading the way to a small, but well-appointed office. When we were seated, he offered me coffee, which I refused, and asked me what kind of answers I needed.

“Your office handled a case a number of years ago,” I began. “It was a large insurance pay-out to the beneficiaries of a very wealthy man who had been murdered.”

“I see,” he nodded. “Do you represent a new claimant?”

I shook my head. “No. I represent the man who is in prison for the murder.”

His eyes widened a little. “Oh. May I ask. . .may I ask why you’ve come here, then?”

“I need to know how you identified the body,” I said.

“Do you think we may have been mistaken?” he asked carefully.

I hesitated. “I may have reason to believe so,” I said finally.

“I see,” he said again. He thought for a moment. “Ms. Parker, who are we talking about?”

“The policy was taken out on Cal Langley. He was a—”

“A Hollywood producer,” Ryan Whitley filled in. “I remember when that happened. I followed the trial,” he said thoughtfully. “It didn’t last very long.”

I winced, remembering that summer. “No, it didn’t,” I agreed, though at the time it had seemed to last forever—right up until the end, when time had flown through my fingers.

“And you’re here representing the murderer?” he wanted to know.

“I’m representing the man who was convicted,” I said firmly.

“You don’t believe he’s guilty,” Whitley observed.

“No, as a matter of fact I don’t.”

He nodded thoughtfully. “And you think if the victim was not Mr. Langley, it will prove that your client is innocent? Couldn’t he have been mistaken about the victim’s identity as well?”

“That’s one possibility,” I admitted.

“But you don’t believe that.”

“No.” I lifted my chin. “I think there is much more to it than that.”

He mulled over it for a moment, then shook his head. “If you’re right, an innocent man has spent the past decade in prison. I remember seeing pictures of him in the newspapers. I think. . .I think he was my age.”

“He was eighteen,” I said quietly.

He looked at me closely. “Did you know him?”

“Yes.”

“I can’t imagine. . .” He paused. “I can give you what information we have, but I don’t know how much it will be. It may not be much, especially if we didn’t have any problems with the case. I wasn’t working here then—I’ll have to check to be sure.”

“I’m mostly interested in how the claim was verified,” I told him.

He nodded. “Let me see what I can find.” He checked something on his computer, then jotted down a few notes and stood up. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

He left and I waited impatiently in his office, hoping he’d find something. I had been sitting there for a minute or two when my cell phone rang. I fished it out of my bag and found the “answer” button. “Hello?” I asked.

“Liz, it’s me.”

“Hi, Maria,” I said, then started to get worried. “Is something wrong? Is Sophie okay?”

“She’s fine, she’s fine,” Maria assured me quickly. “She’s playing her guitar. I just wanted to know if you think you’ll be home late tonight.”

I shook my head, even though I knew she couldn’t see that. “No, I don’t think so. Why?”

“I just remembered I have to have dinner with my manager tonight. I can cancel, but I’ll just have to go sometime next week.”

“No, don’t do that. I won’t be long here, and I’ll just come straight home. I was going to do that anyway.” I glanced at the door to make sure Whitley hadn’t come back yet. “I should be back by six—is that okay?”

“That’s fine. Do you want me to order you guys some dinner?” she wanted to know.

“No, that’s okay. I’ll cook.”

“Um. . .then you might want to stop at the grocery store,” she told me. “I don’t actually have a lot of stuff to cook with.”

I laughed. “I was already planning on it,” I assured her.

“Okay. See you at six, then.”

We hung up quickly and I was putting away my phone when Whitley returned. He sat down at his desk, placing an open folder in front of him.

“This is what we have,” he told me. “It looks like the body was identified through fingerprints.” He gave me an apologetic look. “That’s a pretty definite identification.”

Damn. I’d known it was possible for Langley to change the body’s fingerprints. I’d just hoped he hadn’t. “Does it tell you who took the post-mortem fingerprints?” I asked.

Whitley scanned the paper in front of him and shook his head. “The M.E., I’d imagine,” he said. He handed the paper to me. “It only says here that we got them.”

I looked over the form; it looked pretty ordinary. Boxes for type of claim, claimant’s relationship, method of identification—there was an “x” in the box for “Fingerprints” under that question. Okay, so he faked the fingerprints, I thought. We’re not out of the game yet.

“Wait a second.”

Ryan Whitley’s voice started me out of my thoughts. “What is it?” I asked, craning my neck to see what he had found.

“This is a little odd,” he murmured. “The beneficiary came forward almost immediately, but. . .it looks like there was some kind of problem identifying the body.” He raised his eyebrows questioningly. “Did you know about this?”

I shook my head. “Not exactly.”

“If we had fingerprints, I can’t understand why there was a problem,” he said, flipping through the file.

“Is there a way to find out?” I asked.

He continued looking through the papers. “I don’t know. Maybe the person who handled the claim would remember.”

“May I see that person?”

“Donald Lewis,” he murmured, then looked up at me. “Donald Lewis retired right after I started working here.”

Damn. Nothing about this was easy. Of course, nothing having to do with Max Evans had ever been easy, so I should have been prepared. “Do you have an address for him?”

Whitley hesitated. “We don’t give out personnel information,” he said slowly.

I nodded. “I respect that—I understand,” I said. “But this is very important. There has been a terrible mistake, and I need to make it right.”

He shook his head. “I wish I could help you—I really do. But I’m not allowed—”

“Could you call this man and see if he is willing to meet with me?” I persisted. “If he isn’t, I promise you I won’t bother you or him again. I just have to try.”

He paused, looking down. He picked up a sheet of paper and studied it carefully. “I checked you out before you came here today,” he said finally. “You’re not a criminal defense attorney.”

I shook my head. “No, I’m not,” I admitted.

“You don’t even live in L.A.,” he went on. “According to last year’s Bar Review, you’re in-house counsel for Christian Dior’s St. Petersburg offices. That’s kind of an unusual kind of visitor for us.” He shook his head. “When you came in, I thought for sure I’d seen you before. But I couldn’t figure out where—until I saw this.” He held out another piece of paper. This time it was a photocopy of a newspaper article. It was a very old article about the murder trial, and it was accompanied by a photograph of Max leaving the courthouse. I was beside him, clutching his arm. The look on my face was desperation. I could still remember how it felt—out of the whole summer, that was what I most remembered.

“This is you,” he said simply.

I nodded, still staring at the picture. I’d forgotten how young we’d been. “Yes. Yes, it is.”

“Have you been trying to free him all this time?” Ryan Whitley asked softly.

“No.” I shook my head, looking away. “I haven’t looked at the case in. . .in years.” I managed a fleeting smile. “Almost since that picture was taken.”

He was quiet for a moment, shuffling papers around as though he was embarrassed by what he’d uncovered. “I’ll call Donald Lewis for you,” he said finally. “I think he’ll help you. He was. . .he was very interested in this case when it happened. When I started working here he told me about it—he talked about it quite a lot.”

“Thank you,” I said quietly. There didn’t seem to be much else to say.

“If he won’t talk to you, I’ll see what I can find out,” he went on as though he hadn’t heard. “Is there a number where I can reach you?”

I fumbled for a business card. “Yes. Yes, my phone number and fax in L.A. are on the back,” I said.

He accepted it. “I’ll call you as soon as I speak with Mr. Lewis.”

“Thank you,” I said again, and he smiled a little.

“Let’s go see my secretary. I can’t let you copy the whole file, but I’ll give you what I can.”

* * * * *

I left that afternoon feeling optimistic. I could find Langley—I knew I could. Now if only Max would accept my help.

posted on 21-May-2002 12:50:14 PM by mockingbird39
Author's Note: Shirley is in overdrive this week! Maybe she's just happy that my thesis proposal is done. Whatever. Here's some candy for you guys--hope you like it. *big*


Part 28


~Michael~

I stopped by the police station after work that day to see a friend on the force who was trying to get me the autopsy and crime scene photos Liz had asked for. I knew there were several in the court papers, so I wasn’t exactly sure what she was looking for, but this was her deal, not mine. Maybe she would see something I didn’t.

Matt Hopkins had the photos ready for me when I got there. We talked for a few minutes about work and football—Matt’s not a hockey man, but he’s still a good guy—and then I left to go home. Halfway there I decided to take the pictures to Liz instead, since she I wanted to make sure she had them before she left for Roswell on Wednesday. So I made a couple of quick turns, got on the freeway, and sat in traffic for half an hour before I got to Maria’s exit. Sometimes I really hate L.A.

I got to Maria’s as the sun was going down and turned off the car. Liz’s rental was in the driveway, but I didn’t see Maria’s car. I wondered where she was. I knocked on the front door, but got no answer. I’d started to think that maybe all three of them had gone out together when I realized I could hear music coming from the back of the house. I rang the doorbell one more time, but when I still got no answer I walked around to the patio.

U2 was playing—loud—inside the kitchen, drifting out the open windows and the patio screen door. Inside I could see Liz and Sophie at the counter stirring something gooey and chocolatey in a big bowl. Sophie stuck her finger in the bowl and took a taste.

“It’s good,” I heard her say over the music.

“Yeah?” Liz asked, and tasted it, too. “Mm, you’re right.”

I watched them for a minute, then knocked on the window. Liz jumped and turned around. When she saw me she smiled. “Hey, Michael,” she called, nodding to Sophie. “Look who’s here.”

Sophie twisted around on her chair and when she saw me she grinned. “Hey,” she said, echoing her mother. She jumped down and headed over to the door, pushing it open with the hand that wasn’t spotted with chocolate. “What are you doing here?”

I tugged on her ponytail. It was damp; she must have been in the pool earlier. “Just brought some stuff over for your mom,” I said.

“What kinda stuff?” she demanded with a cheeky smile. “Lawyer stuff?”

“Yeah, lawyer stuff,” I agreed as Liz wiped her hands on a kitchen towel, turned down the music, and came over to join us.

“Didn’t know you were coming over,” she said.

“Well, I stopped by the police station and my friend over there had the stuff that you asked for. I just thought I’d bring it over.” I shrugged. “You can look at it whenever.”

She took the folder I held out. “You didn’t have to come all the way over here—I could have met you tomorrow.”

“It wasn’t any trouble.” I didn’t add that I’d wanted to make sure she was doing okay after her visit with Max.

“Well, thanks.” She smiled. “You want to come in and stay for a while?”

“Yeah, we’re makin’ brownies,” Sophie put in. “Do you like brownies? They’re chocolate.”

I couldn’t help but smile. She had chocolate all over her face. “I’m a pretty big chocolate fan,” I admitted, then shook my head. “But you guys are busy—”

“No, we’re not,” Liz interrupted. “We’re just about to make some dinner—as soon as we put those in the oven. Why don’t you stay? Maria’s out, so it’s just us.”

I hesitated. “No, that’s okay. This is. . .you know, family time. I don’t want to intrude.”

“Michael.” Liz’s voice was reproachful, but she smiled at me. “If you’re not family, I don’t know who is.” She slung her dishtowel over her shoulder and touched my arm. “Stay,” she said simply.

“Yeah, stay,” Sophie chimed in.

Maria might tell you otherwise, but my heart isn’t made of stone, and I couldn’t resist an entreaty like that. Besides, what else did I have to do? Go home and heat up a TV dinner, watch some pretty awful television, fall asleep on the couch. Yeah, riveting. I shrugged and smiled at Liz. “Okay, why not?”

She grinned back, looking startlingly like Sophie. “Good,” she said, pleased. “We’re having veal picatta. You can pound the veal.”

“Now I have to work?” I asked, following her to the counter. I took a seat on one of the tall chairs and helped myself to some brownie batter. “Mm, glad I stayed,” I told Sophie, who giggled.

“Those who work eat faster,” Liz said grandly, going to the fridge. She pulled out a plate of meat, then took a big wooden hammer out of a drawer. “Here,” she said, setting them down in front of me. “Pound those until they’re about an eighth of an inch, okay? There’s a cutting board and plastic wrap over there.”

Liz went back to stirring the brownies and Sophie fiddled with the CD player on the counter before deciding it was funnier to watch me hit meat than it was to watch Liz stir brownie batter. She dragged a chair over near me and climbed up on it, watching me for a minute.

“Do you like this music?” she asked after a minute.

I listened and recognized Led Zepplin. “Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, I like this a lot.”

“Me and Mom do, too,” she told me. She waited a second, then asked, “Is that your uniform?”

I glanced down at my clothes. I was wearing my uniform, but my shirt was unbuttoned and I’d taken off my heavy belt. “Yeah,” I answered.

“Where do you work?” she wanted to know.

I looked at Liz, who shrugged. “I work at a prison,” I said finally.

“Oh.” She didn’t look fazed. “What do you do there?”

“I’m a guard. I make sure everybody stays where they’re supposed to be.”

She thought about it. “What if someone gets out?”

“I take them back where they’re supposed to be.” I glanced up and caught Liz looking at me thoughtfully as she poured the brownie batter into a pan. When she caught my gaze, she hurriedly looked back down. “Do you think these are done?” I asked Sophie, indicating the meat.

She leaned over to inspect them. “Nope,” she said firmly. “Thinner.”

I went back to pounding them, careful to aim far away from her. “You’re the boss.”

When I’d finally pounded enough to satisfy Sophie, Liz poured us all glasses of iced tea and Sophie and I sat at the counter and watched as she finished fixing dinner. It looked pretty complicated, what with the flouring and stirring and taking stuff in and out of the pan. But she did it quickly, and with no recipe that I could see. We ate in the dining room, all grouped together at one end of the long table, but when it was time for dessert, we didn’t make it out of the kitchen. We sat at the counter, eating brownies and ice cream, talking and hanging out, and we were still there when Maria came in around nine o’clock.

“Liz? Soph?” she called from the kitchen. “Are you here?”

“In the kitchen, Maria,” Liz called back.

I heard her shoes clicking in the hallway, and a moment later she came into the kitchen. “Do you have company? There was another car in the—” She stopped short when she saw me. “Oh. Hi, Michael. I. . .I should have recognized your car.”

“Hey, Maria,” I said lamely. She looked. . .she looked really good. She was wearing a brown leather skirt and a dark red halter top, red high heeled sandals, and a brown leather jacket that matched her skirt. Her hair was sort of messy, piled on top of her head with sparkly barrettes, and she was wearing bright red lipstick. I knew I was staring, but I couldn’t stop myself.

“Michael helped make dinner,” Sophie said, picking up her cocoa.

She smiled at Sophie and smoothed her ponytail. “Did he?” she asked. “I’m sorry I missed that.”

“I just came by to drop off some stuff for Liz,” I said hastily.

“Oh.” She nodded. “That was nice.”

“How was dinner?” Liz asked, sipping her coffee and looking from one of us to the other.

“Good. It was good,” she said. “I. . .it was just business stuff. My manager,” she told me.

I nodded. “Oh.”

“Did you actually eat?” Liz asked casually. “There’s leftovers if you’re hungry.”

“Yeah, yeah—we’ve got veal, and noodles, and brownies and stuff,” I said. “You want me to get you something?”

“No, that’s okay. I ate already,” she said, then looked thoughtful. “Brownies?”

“Yeah, Liz made ‘em,” I told her. “You want one?”

“They’re really good,” Sophie piped up.

“No more for you,” Liz said quickly.

“I know,” she huffed.

“I’ll take a brownie,” Maria said, sitting down across from me. She shrugged out of her jacket, putting it on the back of her chair.

“Okay.” I jumped up and got her one, putting it on a small plate. “Here you go. Want coffee?”

“Sure.”

I turned to grab a cup and Liz chuckled. “Just like old times, huh?” she asked Maria, who laughed.

“We just need a bell and some antennae,” Maria agreed.

I grinned as I put a cup of coffee in front of her, adding cream and sugar automatically. That was how Maria always liked her coffee. As I sat back down, I noticed that she was watching me with a funny look on her face. “Don’t you take cream and sugar anymore?” I asked her.

She shook her head quickly. “No, I do. That’s. . .that’s perfect.”

“Good.”

Liz glanced at me, then at Maria. “Okay, Soph—almost finished with that cocoa?” she asked abruptly.

Sophie took a long drink. “Almost,” she said, licking her lips.

“Good. Finish up and let’s go get ready for bed. I want you to show me the school work you did today.”

“Okay.” Sophie drained her mug and set it on the counter, then got down off her stool.

“Hey, wait a second,” Maria protested, pointing at her cheek. “Kisses. Hit me right here.”

Sophie complied, and Maria hugged her. “Good night,” she murmured. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“G’night,” Sophie said. As she walked out of the kitchen, she paused and reached up to hug me. “Night, Michael,” she said.

She took me by surprise a little, but I leaned down to return her hug. “Good night. Thanks for the brownies.”

“You’re welcome,” she said cheerfully. “Hey, can we go to another hockey game sometime? Before we go back to Petersburg?”

I glanced at Liz, who smiled and nodded. “I’ll see what I can do about tickets,” I said.

“Cool.” She punched my shoulder and grinned. “See if Boston’s playing.”

Liz laughed. “Okay, time for bed. No hockey arguments tonight.” She picked up the envelope of photographs from the counter and grinned in my direction. “Good night, Michael. Thanks for stopping by.”

“Aren’t you coming back down?” Maria wanted to know.

Liz shook her head. “I think I’ll do some work before I go to bed.” She grinned. “But you guys finish the coffee. Catch up.” She stuffed her hands in the pockets of her jeans and gave a wide-eyed look of innocence as she turned to leave.

When they were gone, I looked over at Maria. She was staring at her coffee, tracing her fingertip around the rim of her mug. “So. . .um, what were you dropping off?”

“Some photographs,” I said, taking a sip of my own coffee.

“Oh. What kind of photographs?”

“Uh. . .they were of the body. The one they thought was Langley. I talked to a buddy of mine on the force—he got me the ones that weren’t introduced in court.”

Maria grimaced. “That’s what she’s looking at before bed? Cheerful.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, I guess.” I paused, then shrugged. “She’s really intent on this.”

“I know.” Maria didn’t smile. “She won’t quit.”

I looked at her for a long time. “You don’t think she should be doing this,” I said finally.

She lifted her chin and met my gaze with angry eyes. “I think that every effort Liz has made to reach out to Max Evans in the past ten years has ended with her heart in tiny pieces,” she said venomously. “I think that three chances is more than enough.” She picked up a paper napkin and began pulling it to pieces with angry, jerky motion, adding, “And I think that if he hurts Sophie I’ll beat him to death with a tire iron.”

“If that happens, I’ve got one you can borrow,” I muttered, setting my cup down. She gave me a suspicious look and I sighed. “I don’t have to agree with him all the time, Maria. And I sure as hell don’t agree with what he did to Liz.” We fell silent for a minute or two, and then I stood up. “I should go.”

“You don’t have to,” she murmured.

“But I should.” I grabbed my keys off the counter and started for the door. “Tell Liz thanks for dinner,” I said over my shoulder, then walked out the front door and into the cool California night.



~Maria~


Michael walked out without looking back. I stood in the foyer, watching him go, unsure what to do, until I heard Liz call my name.

She was standing at the top of the stairs. “Maria, what are you doing?” she demanded.

“Huh?”

“Go after him,” she ordered, pointing at the door.

“What?” I asked in confusion.

“Maria, don’t be an idiot,” she said, shaking her head. “Go after him.”

“And say what?” I demanded.

“Say anything—just don’t let him walk out like that.” She stood there with his arms folded. “Maria,” she said seriously. “Just go.”

I nodded vaguely and turned to go after him. By the time I got to the door, he was halfway down the walk.

“Michael!” I called, and he turned to look back at me.

“Yeah?” he asked.

Stalling for time, I walked toward him. “I just. . .I just wanted to say goodnight,” I said.

He looked confused. “Okay. Goodnight.”

“Yeah. Goodnight.” I looked down at my shoes, then up at him again. He had a brownie crumb near his mouth. “You. . .you have something right there,” I said, pointing. He brushed at it, but missed, so I stepped closer to him and reached out to brush it away. His skin felt warm and familiar beneath my fingers. “There,” I said, aware that my heart was beating fast. “Got it.”

“Thanks,” he said. We stood there staring at each other in the dim light from the street lamps.

“Michael,” I said quietly, looking up at him.

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t call when I moved to L.A.” I couldn’t look at him as I said it. I wasn’t sure what reaction I wanted to see, but there was a whole slew of ones I didn’t.

He was quiet for a minute. “We all have stuff we’re sorry for,” he said finally. He waited another minute, then cleared his throat. “Good night, then,” he said.

I raised my eyes to find him staring at me. “Good night,” I murmured, then without thinking about it I stood on my tiptoes and kissed his cheek.

He was startled—I could hear his quick intake of breath. But he held perfectly still while I lingered near him. Then I felt his one of his hands come to rest on my waist and I wondered if he could hear how loudly my heart was pounding. Very, very slowly, he bent his head and kissed me, caressing my lips lightly with his. He tasted like chocolate and coffee and something else—something so familiar I wondered how I could have forgotten it.

It couldn’t have been more than a minute, but his kiss seemed to last a lifetime and when finally he pulled away I could hardly breathe. Without another word he turned and walked down the path, got into his car, and drove away. I stood there for a long time, my hand pressed to my lips, tingling from my head all the way to my toes.

posted on 3-Jun-2002 7:23:12 AM by mockingbird39
Author's Note: Sorry to keep you guys waiting so long for this. I was moving to a different city (St. Petersburg! Yay!) at the same time I was preparing to come back to the States for a couple of weeks. Stress headache much? Thanks for being patient!

Part 29


~Max~

I had another dream that night. This time I saw Liz standing at a counter with a bowl cradled in her arms, laughing at something I couldn’t hear. Next, to my surprise, I saw her with Michael. The two of them were sitting side by side, talking animatedly. Liz had a coffee cup in her hand, and Michael was filling it for her. I saw a swimming pool, cool and blue with sunlight shimmering across the surface, and Maria sitting on the edge, dangling her feet in the water. Then Liz getting out of a car, dressed in the suit I’d seen her in earlier, holding her arms out. I woke with a jerk before I could touch her, opening my eyes to the dim light from outside my cell, then just as quickly closing them to hang onto the images as long as I could. Now that I knew what they were, my dreams were more important to me than ever. They were my one and only connection with my daughter.

Michael must be spending a lot of time with Sophie and Liz, I thought with a pang of jealousy. He must have gone to Maria’s tonight after work. He’d probably spent most of the night there, talking with them, playing with Sophie. Part of me was glad he’d been keeping an eye on them; the rest of me envied every minute he spent with them.

I turned over in my bed and reached for the clock. Two-thirty in the morning. I mentally calculated the hours before I could start looking for Liz to come and without conscious thought I reached for the bond between us. In the space of four days, I’d become dependent on that connection. I dreaded the holiday weekend, when Liz would be in Roswell and out of reach—but not nearly as much as I dreaded the thought of her leaving for good.

She’s not gone yet, I told myself. I took a deep breath and concentrated on Liz, and instantly felt a jolt of energy. She wasn’t asleep, as I had thought she’d be at this time of night. And she was excited about something. . .she was wide awake and energized. Her thoughts were whirling and although I couldn’t tell what had her so excited, I knew it was something good. I could feel. . .triumph. Had she found something about Langley? That thought made me come awake in a hurry, and I wondered what she could have found at this time of the night. I wished I had asked her more about what she was doing—at least then I’d have had an idea.

Moving very quietly so I wouldn’t attract any attention, I reached under my bed and pulled out the folder Liz had left with me. I had to move the pictures of Sophie off the top. . .in the dim light from the hallway I could see her smiling at me from a bridge in St. Petersburg. I turned over to face the wall and opened the folder quietly, scanning the pages for anything new. I’d looked at them a little before bed, but I hadn’t really understood much. She seemed to be concentrating less on the court documents from the trial and more on Langley’s will. I remembered her saying something about a codicil, but unfortunately I hadn’t let her get too far.

Damn. I didn’t even know what I should be looking for. Swearing under my breath, I turned pages until I found something that had evidently held Liz’s interest for a while—she had made notes all over it. It was a photocopy of the one she had annotated, but I could see dark spots where she had highlighted, too. On the last page, she had both highlighted and circled the signature line. . .but it wasn’t the signature that had drawn her attention. It was the date—January 30, 2002. That was barely three months after I’d met Langley, and only two months before his “death.”

He set you up, Max. Liz’s words echoed in my head, and I suddenly knew why she had been so angry. I’d known from the beginning that Langley had been aiming for me when he faked his death, but this. . .this was concrete evidence that he had planned it for months. All that time I had been unaware, doing everything I could to hang on to what I had left—Liz, Isabel, Michael, what little I could salvage of my relationship with my parents. . .all that time Langley had been setting up his cards, right down to his precious cash. Then he had killed someone—an innocent victim who had no part in this mess, framed me, and taken off into the night to enjoy his millions while I was arrested, put on trial, and lived on the run in airports and cheap motels. While my family was interrogated and intimidated. While I was thrown in prison and cut off my relationship with Liz. While my daughter was born on the other side of the country.

And then I felt it. Fury. Blind, raging fury that threatened to choke me. I had been angry before, but it was nothing compared to what I felt now. This kind of rage made my heart pound in my chest, made a sweat break out on my forehead. That I could do nothing in response only made it worse. I will find you, I thought, and when I do, you’ll wish you had died ten years ago.

First thing in the morning I would read through all the papers Liz had left for me. Then when she came I would get her to fill me in on everything else she had found. She and Michael seemed to think they had something, and with every fiber of my body I hoped they did.

But how did you find a shape-shifter and, more importantly, how did you make him confess? There were no more technicalities to get my case re-examined. Only new evidence could get me out of here now. And I have to get out of here, I thought, reaching beneath my pillow for the photograph I’d put there earlier. It was the one of Liz and Sophie in their apartment, curled up together beneath a blanket. More than any of the others, that picture represented what I wanted—a home. A home with Liz and our daughter. I wanted that more than I’d ever wanted anything in my life.

I lay there wide awake, wishing for morning. It was the first time I could remember doing that in a long time. Adrenaline pumped through my veins, and I knew wouldn’t sleep now, so I concentrated on Liz once more. She was still intent on something, but she was calmer, more determined and utterly focused. As I lay there in the semi-darkness, staring at the picture of her and Sophie, I dimly heard her voice echo in my head.

That’s not Langley. There’s no way in hell that could be Cal Langley.



~Liz~

I didn’t sleep much that night. After I put Sophie to bed, I’d taken out the photos Michael had brought and looked through them carefully. I never met Cal Langley, so at first I didn’t see much. But then I realized there were a lot more pictures here than had been in the court documents and I went over to the piles I had made on the floor in front of the television, searching until I found the photographs Michael had first given me in St. Petersburg. I had grouped them with the newspaper clippings about the murder, and now I picked up the whole pile and carried it to the bed, laying the photographs out beside the ones Michael had gotten from the police files. I studied them carefully, trying to figure out why the prosecution had chosen the ones they had, but it wasn’t until I laid one down beside a newspaper photo of Langley at some Hollywood premiere that I started to get excited.

The two pictures were not of the same man. To be fair, there was some resemblance—both men were of medium build, bald, and had small, deep-set eyes. But comparing them now, I couldn’t imagine how anyone had ever thought they were the same person.

Except that the body was in Langley’s house, wearing Langley’s clothes, carrying his wallet, and was identified by Langley’s doctor, I reminded myself.

The doctor. I scrambled off the bed and found the trial transcript, paging through it until I found his testimony.
Q: Mr. Langley had confided to you that the defendant had been seen “lurking” around his home?
A: Yeah. Yeah, he had. He seemed very threatened by the boy. He told me he was going to install more cameras on his property.
Q: Did you find it strange that Mr. Langley confided this to you, his doctor?
A: No, I did not. We moved in many of the same social circles. We had a relationship outside the doctor-patient relationship.


They were friends—or at least acquaintances. So how did the doctor, Allward, look at this body and think for a minute it could have been Langley? He couldn’t have. There didn’t seem to be any other answer. Allward must have known that the body wasn’t Langley, but he had given a positive identification anyway.

So Allward must have known. Allward must be the link—he had to be. So we had to find Allward. I reached for the phone book I’d used to find Anthony Kellis earlier that week, and looked though it for Allward’s name. I looked for him in the yellow pages, too, searching for a medical office, but I found nothing. Of course, it was possible that he had retired. . .it had been ten years, after all. He wasn’t in the white pages, either, although that only meant he didn’t live in the same section of L.A. that Maria did. I didn’t know how many phone books covered the L.A. area, but it had to be several. Finally, I went to my laptop, turned it on, and logged on to some Internet people searches. I didn’t have any luck there, either, and around three in the morning I decided the search would have to wait until tomorrow. But first I checked my email.

I couldn’t get into my work email, and I figured that was probably a good thing. I didn’t even want to think about the mountain of work that was probably taking shape on my desk. But I quickly went to my personal email account and skimmed through the several new messages there. There were a couple from friends in St. Petersburg. . .nothing from Thierry, I was relieved to see. I wasn’t ready to handle that yet. The last one made me smile. The subject line was “You never write, you never call. . .” and it was from Jack Collins, an old friend from law school. I’d met him on my first day of property class in my first year, and we’d been friends ever since. He was great with Sophie, and was always a good friend to both me and Maria. In the second semester of our first year, Jack and I had gone out on exactly four dates, and on the last one we’d ended up at his place, making out on his couch. I was pretty sure we were headed for something that would have changed our relationship forever, and I was pretty sure I wanted it. But as he reached for the buttons on my shirt, I’d flashed on Max and I knew then I wasn’t ready. By the time I was, a couple of years later, Jack had been engaged to a girl he had grown up with in South Boston. Sophie had been the flower girl at his wedding. But his marriage had lasted only a little over a year and six months ago Jack had shown up on my doorstep in St. Petersburg needing a friend. Of course, I’d been involved with Thierry then, so a friend was all he’d gotten. It was almost funny—we joked that our innate sense of timing had brought us together that first day and then run for the hills. Now, though, I wondered if I had always been making excuses to avoid having to decide between my dreams of Max and a real relationship with a man I knew I could love. But the bottom line was that Jack and I had been there for each other through some pretty serious stuff and our friendship was strong. As I read his email, I wanted to kick myself for not calling him before I left St. Petersburg. He was practicing law in Santa Barbara now, only a few hours away, and when he found out I was in L.A., he was going to throw a fit. I searched for a piece of scrap paper and made a note to myself to call Jack the next morning before I got started on all I planned to do. As I logged off, I propped the note on my computer. I got into bed wondering what Jack would say when I told him I was here. . .he knew nothing about Max.

Max. I closed my eyes and I could feel him—feel him reaching out to me. I pictured him lying in the darkness of a small, cramped prison cell, and I was more determined than ever to get him out of there.

* * * * *

I was at the prison by ten the next morning, pacing the small, cinder block room and practicing the speech I planned to give Max when they brought him in. Max, I know you want to protect me and Sophie, and I understand why you want me to be careful. But this has to stop. I need you out of here—Sophie and I both need you to get out of here. So I need you to—

I stopped pacing when the door clanged open and Max walked into the room, handcuffed and followed by a uniformed guard. Max’s eyes met mine immediately and held; we stood there communicating silently as the guard removed his handcuffs and left.

“You found something,” he said as soon as we were alone.

I stared. “How did you—” Stupid. Of course he knew. Just like I knew he hadn’t slept last night and had been waiting for me to come since before dawn.

Max walked over to the table at the center of the room and pulled out a chair for me. “Tell me,” he said. “Tell me everything.”

I stared some more, wondering what game he was playing now, but then I realized. He had changed his mind. He was going to help me. I couldn’t stop the smile that spread across my face. “Does this mean you’re not going to fight me on this?”

He wasn’t smiling. “You told me I couldn’t stop you.”

I stood there with my arms folded, determined not to give an inch, and finally he sighed. “I do want to get out of here, Liz,” he said after a minute. “Now more than ever.” He pushed a hand through his hair and shook his head. “You know, I did try. I didn’t just sit in here. We’ve been filing appeals since the day I got in here. Ten years. . .I never stopped trying to get out of here.” I could sense that he wanted to say more, so I dropped my defensive posture and sat down across from him. “I always thought something would work and I’d get out,” he went on, then shrugged a little. “But nothing did, and after last time there was nothing left to do.”

“I read the briefs and the opinions,” I said. “It doesn’t seem like there was all that much to go on.”

He raised his head and gave me a wry smile. “Is that your professional opinion?”

I sighed. “My professional opinion is that Langley meant business when he framed you,” I said. Before he could sink back into his hopeless funk, I added, “But I also think there’s no such thing as the perfect crime. It only takes one mistake to get you caught—and we’re going to catch him.” I met his gaze steadily, trying to show him—without words, since that didn’t seem to be working—how sure I was that we could do this.

At length, he nodded once. “Just. . .just promise me you won’t go after him yourself,” he said. “I don’t even want him to know you’re involved.” He looked up at me with such worry in his eyes that I couldn’t protest.

“Okay, Max,” I said. “I’ll be careful. I promise.”

“Good.”

Our hands were very close on the table, and I wished he would touch me. I could feel him wanting to—it was a continual battle for him to stop himself. But he held back and after a minute I sighed and reached for the folder I’d brought with me. Inside were the photographs I’d compared last night.

“Do you want to look these?” I asked quietly. “They’re photographs. Michael brought them over last night.”

“Is that what you were doing last night?” he wanted to know. “Are those what made you so excited?”

I nodded. “Some of these photographs—they don’t even look like Langley.” I rifled through my briefcase for the portion of the transcript that had Allward’s testimony. “Now, the doctor that ID’d him—Allward—said the two of them were friends. But look at these pictures. You want to know what I think?”

He reached for them. “I want to know everything,” he said firmly. I watched as he spread the photographs out on the table and bent over them, examining each one carefully, and hope surged through me.

He’s going to do it, I thought. We’re going to do this together.

“So what do you think this means?” he asked after a minute. He raised his head, seeming surprised to find me staring at him.

I lowered my eyes quickly, pointing to one of the pictures. “I think it means Allward knew this body wasn’t Langley. Look at the pictures—look at his face. The nose different, the shape of the chin—there’s no way that’s Langley.”

Max took the picture I had pointed out. “You’re right. It looks a little like him, but if they were friends. . .”

“No friend would ID that body as Langley,” I said seriously.

“Unless there was something in it for him,” he added.

“Right.” He nodded. “So we need to find Allward.”

“That’s what I think, too,” I told him, “but first I want to talk to the insurance agent who handled the pay-out. I think he may have something to say.”

“Take Michael with you,” Max ordered.

“He’s just an insurance agent, Max. He didn’t even know Langley,” I protested.

He looked up at me, his eyes dark and soft. “Please, Liz,” he said quietly. “Please.”

There was something in his plea that I couldn’t fight. It reminded me of the night before he had planned to leave with Tess and the others—that night when we sat in his Jeep outside the Crashdown, thinking we would never see each other again. I’d been so afraid for him—afraid that his planet held danger I couldn’t protect him against. I’d been afraid for myself, too, facing a whole lifetime without him. A decade later, the memory of that night made my heart ache in my chest, and as we sat there I knew he remembered it, too. “Okay, Max,” I murmured finally.

He nodded, letting out a deep breath. “Thank you,” he said softly.

I looked away again—away from his eyes that were boring into mine. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw there. . .tenderness. . .regret. . .longing. Longing so deep it echoed deep within me, too, so strongly I couldn’t take a deep breath. Ten years. . .I never stopped trying. . . “Max,” I breathed, staring at our hands inches apart on the table.

“Yeah?” he answered in a whisper.

“When you were filing those appeals. . .”

“Yeah?”

I moved my hand a little closer to his. “What were you going to do when you got out?”

He slipped his hand over mine, caressing my fingers with infinite gentleness. “Find you,” he said quietly. “I was going to find you.”

posted on 9-Jun-2002 2:30:50 PM by mockingbird39
Part 30


~Maria~

Liz ran out the door almost before I was awake on Tuesday morning. She was giving me directions as she left—make sure my mom knew what time our flight to Roswell landed, tell Sophie to work on her French homework sometime before dinner, forward any calls that might come in to her cell. . .yeah, I lost her somewhere around there. It was way too early in the morning to be spitting out that many instructions. She kissed Sophie goodbye on her way out, waved to me, and then she was gone. Sophie and I stood there staring at each other in bewilderment. Sophie was still dressed in her pajamas, her hair sticking up at odd angles all over her head.

She glanced at the door, looking befuddled and maybe a little irritated. “She was up early,” she muttered darkly.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Want to watch TV?”

“Okay.” She nodded sleepily and headed toward the living room.

I started to follow her, then remembered what Liz had said about Sophie’s school work. “Wait a minute, honey,” I said. “Mom says you have to work on your French.”

She sighed heavily and wrinkled her nose. “After breakfast?” she pleaded. “I’m too sleepy now.”

“Okay,” I relented. “One cartoon show, then breakfast, then homework.”

“Can you help me?” she wanted to know.

I looked at her doubtfully. “With French?” I asked. “Soph, some days I’m just happy that I can speak English.”

“Please?”

I sighed. I had taken French in high school, and a little in college, but I remembered almost nothing. “I’ll go get your book and take a look at it,” I told her, switching directions to head upstairs. I looked in Sophie’s room first, but all I found there was a French dictionary. I took that with, tucking it under my arm as I went to Liz’s room to check there. I was sure I’d need a dictionary if we were going to get anywhere.

I found Sophie’s text book right away, sitting on the desk next to Liz’s laptop. I noticed a note propped on Liz’s keyboard: Call Jack. I knew right away who she meant—Jack Collins. He’s one of our Boston friends, and he’s been in love with Liz for years. I wondered if she had called him yet, and how she could have waited this long. He was in Santa Barbara now, practicing law there, and he’d been trying to get Liz to visit almost as long as I had. When he found out she was here, I was sure he’d drop everything to come see her.

Just as I was leaving the room, the telephone on Liz’s desk rang. I picked it up.

“Hello?”

“May I speak with Liz Parker, please?”

“She’s not in right now,” I answered automatically. “May I take a mess—?” I stopped. The caller had a thick Boston accent that I couldn’t help but recognize. “Jack?” I asked.

The caller hesitated. “Maria?” he asked after a minute.

“Yes! Oh, my god, I’m so glad you called!” I exclaimed happily. “How are you?”

“I’m good, I’m good,” he answered, still sounding bewildered. “Uh, how are you?”

“I’m great,” I told him.

“Um, so Liz left me a message saying to call her at this number,” he said slowly. “Is she—is Liz in California?”

“Yeah, she’s staying here with me,” I told him. “Didn’t she tell you?”

He gave an excited whoop, and I remembered for the thousandth time how much I liked Jack. “No, she just said to call her,” he said. “I can’t believe she just up and came out here—I’ve been tryin’ to get her here for years!”

“I know!” I agreed. “But she’s actually here. It’s, like, a miracle.”

I could almost hear the smile in his voice. “Just outta the blue,” he mused. “Hey, she brought Sophie, right?”

“Yeah, she’s downstairs,” I assured him. “She’s gotten so big—wait until you see her. You are coming down, right?”

I could hear him tapping at computer keys. “I’m checkin’ my docket right now,” he said. “Yeah, if I hurry my two o’clock I can be there tonight. What are you guys doing for dinner?”

Ha! I knew he’d come. “Nothing, I think,” I answered. “Liz is out right now—she’s. . .um, working on a case. But she’ll be back this afternoon.”

“She’s working on a case?” he sounded curious. “For Dior?”

I hesitated. “Uh. . .you’ll have to ask her about it,” I said finally.

“Oh.” He let it go easily, but probably not permanently. “Well, look, don’t tell them I’m coming, okay? I wanna surprise them.” He laughed. “She can’t just sneak around and come to California without telling me, you know?”

“She’ll be thrilled—and so will Sophie,” I told him. “I can’t wait to see you—it’ll be just like back in Boston.” I really was looking forward to it—Jack is a great guy. Plus, when Liz is around him, she’s different. Happier. We talked for a few more minutes, and then hung up. Jack said he’d be there that evening around five. When we’d said goodbye, I picked up Sophie’s book and started to leave the room, but the phone rang again before I was out the door.

“Hello?”

It was Jack again. He needed directions to my house. I gave them to him carefully; you don’t want to get lost on the freeway. You’ll end up in Mexico before you find a place to turn around. We said goodbye again and I grabbed Sophie’s books, but once again the phone rang before I’d gotten anywhere close to the door.

“What do you need, Jack—a sherpa?” I teased for a greeting.

“Maria? It’s me.” Michael sounded irritated. “Who’s Jack?”

Oops. “No one. A friend. Liz’s friend.” I grimaced. Very smooth, Maria.

He was quiet for a minute. “Right,” he said finally. “Look, I’m just calling to check in. . .” He paused. “I mean, I just wanted to see if—uh, if Liz found anything in those pictures.”

I leaned against the desk and cradled the phone beneath my chin. “I don’t know,” I admitted. “She just left to go see Max again. You could catch up with her there, I guess.”

“I’m not working until tonight,” he told me.

“Oh, you’re not?” I was kind of surprised, then I realized he must work shifts—obviously they needed guards around the clock. “So, um. . .are you working the holiday?”

“Thanksgiving? No. I have to work on Friday, though.”

“Oh.” I wondered where he was spending Thanksgiving Day, then. He probably had somewhere to go. Right? I cleared my throat. “What—what are you doing on Thursday then?” I asked, trying to sound casual.

I could imagine him shrugging. “I’ll probably go grab dinner somewhere and watch the games.”

“By yourself?” I cried. “At a restaurant?” That was wrong in so many ways.

“Nah, there’s a couple of us single guys. We usually go to—”

“Listen, Liz and Sophie and I are going to Roswell. Do you want to come?” I asked before I could have second thoughts. “We’re flying out tomorrow afternoon.” He hesitated, but now I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. “We’re having dinner at Liz’s parents’ place—you know they’d love to have you.”

“I don’t want to butt in,” he said.

“You’re not,” I insisted. “Come on—if you don’t come, I’m going to have to tell the Parkers you don’t like their cooking anymore.”

He was quiet for a second, and I hoped he was smiling. “Well, I can’t have that,” he said. “What time are you leaving?”

* * * * *

By the time I went back downstairs, I’d almost forgotten about Jack. I couldn’t believe I had just invited Michael to Thanksgiving dinner. What was I thinking? Probably about that kiss, I admitted to myself. Just the thought of it made my lips tingle all over again.




~Max

I was going to find you.

Liz froze up a little when I said that, and if it hadn’t been so true I would have wished I could take it back. She was all business after that, taking me methodically through the will and the codicil, the photographs, and the documents she’d gotten from the insurance company. After an hour, my head was spinning, and I wondered how she was keeping it all straight. She didn’t seem to need notes—she ran through it as though by memory. I was kept busy, however, scribbling down snatches of what she said whenever she took a breath.

Finally, she stopped and sat back in her chair. “So that’s where we are,” she said. “Whitley from Hyperion has a call in to this Donald Lewis guy. . .hopefully he’ll call back before I have to leave for Roswell tomorrow.”

I was still a little overwhelmed by all the information she’d just given me, but at the mention of her trip I glanced up at her. “Right. Roswell. When. . .when are you leaving?”

“Tomorrow afternoon,” she said. “I think our flight leaves at four. I’ll try to come by tomorrow morning to tell you what I find today.” She looked down at the table. “You’ll feel it when I go, won’t you?” she asked quietly.

I nodded. “Yes.” I didn’t add that I was dreading that more with every hour that passed. When we were this close, my sense of her was so strong that it was almost like touching her. And when we actually touched. . .god, when I touched her the whole world fell away.

“So will I,” she murmured, her words so low I had to strain to hear them.

“I’m sorry,” I said helplessly. “I don’t know how to make it stop.”

She shook her head. “It’s okay. I don’t—” She stopped, and I wondered what she had been about to say. “We’ll be back on Friday night. I guess. . .I guess you’ll know that, too.”

“Yeah,” I admitted. I knew I’d wait for that, straining to feel her as she got closer. But I didn’t tell her that, either.

“Me, too.” She gave a short sigh. “I haven’t told Sophie about. . .that we’re coming here on Saturday. I didn’t want to tell her now and then have her wait all week.” She raised her chin. “I’ll tell her, though. I thought. . .I thought I might tell her in Roswell. It seems right, you know?”

I nodded. I could see that, though until then I hadn’t been sure Liz’s memories of Roswell were anything but painful to her. “Whatever you think is best,” I said. “I don’t. . .I don’t know what to say to her.”

She looked at me, her eyes holding mine. “You will,” she said simply. “When you see her, you will.” I wasn’t so sure, but I took what assurance I could from that. After a minute, she looked away. “Is there anything you want me to tell her?”

My mind reeled. There were a million things I wanted my daughter to know—but most of them were things I’d need a lifetime to show her. Finally, I shook my head. “Just tell her that I love her,” I said.

She nodded. “I will,” she agreed, then took a deep breath. “Saturday morning, then? If for some reason I can’t make it tomorrow?”

“Are you leaving?” I asked. “Now?” It felt like she had just gotten there.

Liz looked at me steadily. “Do you want me to stay?” she asked quietly.

I couldn’t look away. Yes, I wanted to say. I always wanted you to stay. When you leave I feel like I can’t breathe. But I couldn’t get the words out. “You. . .you probably have things to do,” I said lamely.

She looked away and gave a long sigh. “Yeah, I probably do,” she murmured. She started to gather her things, and I couldn’t mistake the disappointment in her eyes, or the ache that flared in her. I couldn’t let her leave like that—not when I’d already hurt her so much. And I didn’t want her to leave, anyway. The hours between her visits seemed like days to me, and there was so much I had to tell her—so many things I wanted to say, questions I wanted to ask.

“Liz, wait,” I said, and she paused. I put my hand over hers. “Stay,” I said quietly. “Please stay. I want you to stay.”

She stared at my hand over hers, and after a moment she put down the papers she had been holding. “That’s all you have to say, Max,” she whispered. “That’s all you ever had to say.”

Without thinking, I reached out to touch her face, gently tracing my fingers along her jaw. She closed her eyes and drew a deep breath, and I felt her hand close around mine. I closed my eyes, too, as the flashes began.

I saw her sitting in a rocking chair with a tiny, sleeping Sophie in her arms. Mommy loves you, Sophie. More than anything in the world, more than the moon, and all the stars. I saw her standing on a bridge in Cambridge with Maria and Sophie—the same bridge I’d seen in my dream so many years ago, but now I knew she was watching a crew race on the river below, all three of them cheering on the leader. Come on, Jack! Brian, go! Go, go, go! I saw her with Sophie, standing on the deck of a ferry boat with the wind in her hair. Look, Sophie—look how big it is up close. I can’t even see the torch anymore. I saw her see St. Petersburg for the first time—saw it through her eyes, and I knew how much she and Sophie loved it there. The palace, Mommy—it’s just like a fairy tale.

I opened my eyes then, because I knew that they would go back there. Cambridge hadn’t been home to her, and neither had New York, but when she thought of St. Petersburg, her thoughts were different. Calmer. To Liz, St. Petersburg was home.

I think she felt the change in me, too, because she opened her eyes just after I did, seeming startled. “Max,” she began in a soft voice, but I never heard the rest of it because at that moment her cell phone rang. She blinked as though she had just woken from a dream, then gave a long, regretful sigh and shook her head. “I have to get that,” she said.

“Oh. Okay,” I told her quickly. She released my hand and dug in her briefcase until she found her phone.

“Hello?” she asked, then there was a long pause as she listened. Finally she started nodding and reached for paper and a pen. I handed her the one I had been using and she mouthed a silent “thank you.” “Yes, yes, I’m still interested. I’m really glad you called. Where can I meet you?”

I knew in an instant it must be the man from the insurance company and my apprehension started to build. “Take Michael,” I said in a quiet, urgent voice. “You promised.”

She nodded at me, motioning for me to be quiet. “I’ll find it,” she said. “Could you give me the exact address?” She scrawled something down on her legal pad—an address I didn’t recognize. “Is there a number where I can reach you?” She scrawled something else, and underlined it. “Thank you, Mr. Lewis. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I promise I won’t take up too much of your time.” She hung up a few seconds later, a small smile on her face.

“You’re taking Michael, right?” I asked, and she looked up at me.

“What? Oh, right,” she said absently.

“Liz, I mean it,” I said more firmly. “You don’t know this guy—and you don’t know L.A., either. What if he wants you to meet him somewhere that isn’t safe?”

“Okay, okay,” she said, picking up the phone again. “I’m calling him right now, see?”

She left twenty minutes later, with plans to meet Michael at his house and drive with him to the coffee shop where Donald Weaver would be waiting. She told me Michael would fill me in when he came on duty that evening.

“But you’re coming tomorrow, aren’t you?” I asked.

She nodded, shouldering the long strap of her briefcase. “I’ll be back,” she said.

“Good.” I nodded, my worry still increasing. She started for the door, but stopped when I said her name.

“Yeah?”

“I’m worried about you,” I told her, and she nodded again.

“I know. But I’ll be careful. I promise.”

I took a deep breath. “Do you still have powers?” I asked quietly.

A shadow crossed her eyes. “I don’t know,” she admitted, looking down. “I never tried to use them after—after that summer.”

I remembered how much it had scared her when her powers had first flared, and I hated to bring it up again—especially since it was my fault she had them, anyway. “If something happens—if this guy is connected to Langley, you might need them,” I said finally.

She pressed her lips together. “Michael’s coming with me,” she said.

“I know, but. . .what if he’s not there? What if Langley finds out what you’re doing and waits until you’re alone—or until it’s just you and Sophie?”

Mentioning Sophie seemed to get to her, but she still hesitated. “Max, it’s been ten years—”

“Just try, okay?” I persisted. I motioned her back to the table and she came, reluctantly.

“What do you want me to do?” she asked quietly.

I picked up a pencil she had left on the table and put it a few feet away on the floor. “Break the pencil,” I said, returning to where she sat, her hands splayed on the table. She seemed to be concentrating very hard, and after a second or two I saw green energy crackle over her fingers.

“That’s good,” I said, as she gasped and jumped back. “It’s okay,” I told her. “Remember how I taught you?” She nodded, still clearly shaken, and I put my hand on her shoulder. She was trembling. “Liz, it’s okay. You can control it—you can use it.” She nodded again, and I pointed to the pencil on the ground. “Now go ahead. Break the pencil.”

She squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. “Okay,” she murmured. “Okay.” She held out her hand, her fingers spread wide, and her eyes narrowed with intense concentration. Her jaw was clenched, and I could feel the tension that knotted her whole body. For a moment I thought it had been too long—that she wouldn’t be able to do it. I should have known better.

It took her a minute, but finally her hand glowed green and the pencil across the room shattered, flinging shards of wood everywhere. I quickly used my powers to protect both of us, then caught Liz as she stumbled backward.

“I wasn’t sure I could do it,” she said breathlessly.

“You did,” I said, feeling a little bit relieved. At least she wasn’t defenseless.

“Yeah,” she agreed. “I did. I guess. . .I guess you changed me for good.”

“Yeah.” I nodded. “I guess I did.”

She took a second to catch her breath, then walked away from me to retrieve her briefcase. “I should go,” she said. “I have to meet Michael.”

I stepped close to her. “Liz, I need to know you’re okay,” I said. “If you feel me reach for you, just. . .please don’t shut me out, okay?”

She looked at me seriously. “I never shut you out, Max,” she said simply, then she hit the call button beside the door. “I can’t,” she told me, giving a wistful little smile. “I never could.”


posted on 17-Jun-2002 3:22:26 PM by mockingbird39
Sorry for the wait. This part is pretty long--I hope this helps make up for it. Thanks for the feedback!


Part 31


~Michael~

“You know what this guy looks like?” I asked Liz as I pulled into the coffee shop parking lot.

She looked up from her notes, squinting against the bright sunlight. “No, but there can’t be too many people here, can there?”

“I guess not,” I agreed, scanning the rest of the parking lot. “He’s probably old, right?”

“Well, he’s retired,” she told me.

“Right. Old.” I turned off the car, and looked over at her. “So what are we trying to find out here?”

“I want to run him through what he remembers about the settlement,” she said. “I don’t want to push anything, but I want to see if he remembers anything strange about how the body was ID’ed.” She frowned briefly. “The records say they used fingerprints, but we both know if they were Cal’s they didn’t come from the body.”

“Unless he altered them to make them match,” I pointed out.

“Right, I guess.” She looked at me questioningly. “You know how to do that, right?”

I shrugged. “Yeah.”

“How long would it last, do you think?”

I thought back to the time that Nasedo had forced me how to learn that little trick. “I don’t know. A few hours maybe? It’s not like changing other stuff—after a while it changes back.”

“So not long enough to make it though the autopsy probably?”

“I don’t know,” I said as she reached for her door handle. “How long does that take?”

She shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. It took them a couple of days to find the body—probably a day or two more to do the autopsy. It wouldn’t last that long, right?”

I considered. “No, I don’t think it could be done that long. Even Nasedo couldn’t maintain changes that long. He always changed back into the same form, remember?”

She nodded. “I remember.” After a second she pushed her door open and got out. “We’ll just try to get him talking and see what comes out,” she told me. “Sometimes they start to remember more than they think they do.”

“And that’s when you’ll trap him,” I put in.

She wrinkled her nose. “He’s not a hostile witness, Michael. I’m not looking to destroy him on a witness stand.”

“Is that what you do to hostile witnesses?” I asked her with a grin. I could picture Liz laying into someone on the witness stand, letting them talk until they trapped themselves and then turning their words on them like a key in a lock.

She gave me a crooked smile. “I don’t actually get to court very much,” she said.

“But when you do. . .” I prodded.

She lifted her chin. “Let’s just say I enjoyed cross-exam in my trial practice class,” was all she would say.

As we walked across the parking lot, I remembered something. “Liz, I don’t know if Maria told you she invited me to Thanksgiving.”

“She did. My parents will be thrilled.” She smiled at me. “I’m glad you’re coming, too.”

“Look, I know this is the first time you’ve been to Roswell—”

She sighed. “If this is another speech about you not butting in, save it. You’re as much a part of my family as anyone else.”

I looked down for a second. “Liz, I’m flattered that you would say that, but I really don’t want to impose on your parents—or on you. If you’d rather—”

She paused as we reached the door to the coffee shop and smiled sweetly at me, taking off her sunglasses. “Michael, one more word about you imposing and I’m going to cross examine you,” she said. I opened my mouth to say more, but she raised an eyebrow. “Do I look like I’m kidding?” she asked, opening the door.

“No, ma’am.” I shook my head and followed her into the coffee shop.

She spotted Donald Lewis right away, pointing him out discreetly, and walked over to the corner table where he sat. “Mr. Lewis?” she asked as we neared.

An older man with iron gray hair and a nose that must have been broken at some point in his life looked up at us. “Yes?” he answered. “Are you Miss Parker?”

Liz nodded. “Yes. Elizabeth Parker.” She nodded in my direction. “This is my friend, Michael Guerin.”

He shot me a suspicious look. “I didn’t know there would be anyone else involved.”

Liz slid into the booth. “Michael is an old friend,” she said, her voice reassuring. “You can trust him. I do.”

He looked from one of us to the other. “Did you know the boy they convicted?” he asked me.

I nodded. “He’s like a brother to me.”

He nodded, too, seeming to accept that. “You I recognize,” he said to Liz. “I was there the day they read the verdict.”

I’d tried not to think about that day for years, but the memories never quite went away. Max’s mother had sobbed brokenly, but Liz hadn’t made a sound. She had swayed once, and then Kyle and Maria caught her as she slumped to the ground in a dead faint.


“If you’re such good friends, what took the two of you so long?” Donald Lewis demanded shrewdly.

Liz stared at the table, biting her lip, so I answered for both of us. “None of us ever thought of this angle,” I admitted.

“You’ve tried other things then? You’ve appealed?”

I nodded. “For ten years.”

“It was a solid case they built against him,” he said thoughtfully. “Probably not much to go on.”

“No, there wasn’t,” Liz admitted, then she squared her shoulders. “Do you have something new to give us?”

He considered. “You’ve looked at the insurance policy, I assume?”

Liz nodded. “Yes. I thought the timing was. . .well, convenient.”

“Too damn convenient,” Lewis corrected. “If Cal Langley had just gotten married, or had a child maybe, it wouldn’t have been so strange. But a guy with no family and no friends to speak of doesn’t wake up one morning with a burning desire to take out a million dollars in life insurance on himself. I worked in that industry for a long time—believe me when I say that was plenty uncommon.”

“So what do you think happened?” I asked, leaning forward.

He shook his head. “I don’t know anything for sure now,” he told us, “but when I first saw it, I pegged it as fraud.”

“But there was a body,” Liz pointed out. “Insurance fraud doesn’t usually include murder.”

“No usually,” he admitted, “but it isn’t unheard of.”

“For only a million?” Liz shook her head. “He had ten times that at his fingertips. Why risk killing someone for a million dollars?”

I glanced at her. Apparently a million dollars didn’t seem like much to her. I suddenly wondered how much money a contracts attorney makes, but I didn’t have time to dwell on it right then. “So what are you saying?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. But something was funny about that case from start to finish. Have you seen the fingerprints?”

I looked at Liz, but she seemed utterly composed. “Fingerprints?” she asked calmly. “That was how the body was positively identified, wasn’t it?”

“Only by me,” he answered grimly. “The police had the guy’s doctor ID him.”

“But you didn’t think that was enough?” I asked.

He raised an eyebrow. “Son, we were paying out a million dollars. I wanted more than the word of a man I’d never seen before.”

“So you used fingerprints,” Liz said.

“That’s standard procedure,” he agreed. “The coroner’s office sends them to us along with the autopsy report.”

“But that isn’t what happened this time, is it?” Liz persisted.

He shook his head. “No, it wasn’t. How did you know that?”

She smiled slightly. “It took almost four months for you to make the first pay-out,” she said. “That’s not normal, is it?”

“You’ve done your homework,” he said approvingly. “We didn’t get fingerprints from the coroner—not right away, anyway.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“Well, in the old days, we got fingerprints just like everyone else—inked on a card. But by the time Langley was killed, there was a new method being used. Infrared scanners. They press the print on the scanner and it’s entered into a computer data base. Helpful when you’re trying to identify John Does.” He shook his head. “So when I noticed we hadn’t gotten the Langley prints, I faxed the coroners office for a computer copy. But they didn’t have one.”

“So they didn’t take fingerprints?” I asked, confused.

“According to the assistant coroner who performed the autopsy, he always takes fingerprints,” Lewis informed me. “When I didn’t have a copy, he offered to send another one over.”

“But they weren’t in his computer,” Liz guessed. At least, I think that was a guess.

“No, they weren’t. It was as if no file had ever existed.” Lewis shook his head. “I knew that guy—he wasn’t careless. He wouldn’t have just forgotten.”

“If he didn’t have fingerprints, why did you put on your report that you used them to ID the body?” I demanded, and Liz kicked my ankle under the table.

“Did you find them after the fact?” she added quickly.

He hid a smile, and I felt sure he knew about that kick. “I didn’t falsify my report,” he told us. “I did use fingerprints—I’m getting to that.” He took a sip of the coffee in front of him. “When I tried to see if we could get prints later, I found out that the body had been cremated forty-eight hours after the autopsy. That’s a little quick for a murder victim, if you want my opinion. So once I realized there was no way we were getting prints, I called the beneficiary to tell him we couldn’t make a pay out until we had positive ID. He thought the doctor’s ID should be enough—he was pretty emphatic about it. Threatened us with a lawsuit, if I remember correctly.”

“So what happened?” I wanted to know.

“I told him we were within the law and he would have to wait until we had properly investigated Mr. Langley’s death,” he answered. “Then, two weeks later, the coroner called me back. He said he’d been looking through Langley’s file and found a paper copy of the fingerprints. When I asked him where it had come from, he said he must have forgotten he’d made them. That was all he’d say—that was all he’d ever say.”

“You tried to ask him about it?” Liz asked.

He nodded. “More than once. But he would only say that those were the fingerprints he’d taken and he’s testify to that in court.” Lewis grimaced. “We had to pay out the money—we didn’t have a choice.”

“You think someone got to him, then,” I observed.

“I think he was scared of something,” he agreed. “I think someone gave him those fingerprints and told him to pass them along, and he was too intimidated to do anything else.” He looked at the two of us closely. “You understand, then, that I’d rather you didn’t mention my name to anyone?”

“Of course,” Liz murmured professionally. “I appreciate you talking with us at all.”

He nodded. “I hope I can help.”

“You are,” she assured him. She took a deep breath and adjusted her glasses. “Mr. Lewis, where do you think the prints came from?” she asked, taking out a legal pad. Her pen poised over the paper, she looked at Lewis. “Do you think they were falsified?”

He looked at both of us. “How much do you two know about fingerprints?”

“Not a lot,” she admitted.

Lewis reached onto the seat beside him and picked up a folder. “This is a copy of the fingerprints the coroner gave me,” he said, laying a piece of paper on the table. “See the way the outside edges are smudged? That’s what happens when you roll your finger over paper. The pad of your finger flattens out and distorts the outer ridges a little. See?”

I nodded vaguely. “Yeah, I guess.”

But Liz had taken the paper and was peering at them closely as she rolled her own index finger on the table before her, seeming not to notice her pantomime. “But that wouldn’t happen on a dead person, would it? I mean, after the tissues started to harden?”

He gave her an approving look. “Are you a criminal attorney, Miss Parker?”

She shook her head. “Contracts,” she said.

A trace of a smile crossed his face. “Maybe you should think about a career change. You’ve got a quick mind. You’re right—I’ve always thought these didn’t look like prints from a corpse.”

“So we’ve got suspect fingerprints and a skittish coroner,” I mused.

“And a very new, very valuable insurance policy,” Liz added.

Donald Lewis nodded. “All of which seems more than a little convenient,” he said.

“Why didn’t anyone else ever look into this?” Liz grumbled under her breath.

“Probably because your friend had already been convicted by the time the case was settled,” Lewis told us.

Liz flipped through her notes. “Right,” she agreed absently. “Does it often take that long to settle an estate?”

He shrugged. “It varies. For a case with this many problems—with these kinds of problems—this was pretty fast.”

“What was the guy’s name again?” I asked suddenly. “The one who got Langley’s money?”

“Wheeland,” Liz said. “Jacob Wheeland.”

“That sounds right,” Lewis said, nodding. He picked up his coffee cup, drained it, and set it back down. “That’s about all I have,” he told us, looking from one to the other. “I hope it helps. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to pick up my granddaughters from preschool.” He smiled a little. “They’re twins—only three—and if I’m not waiting when they get out, they get upset.”

Liz smiled. “I understand—I’ve got one of my own.”

“Yeah?” His smile widened. “Girl or boy?”

“Girl,” Liz answered. “She’s eight.”

He looked at her shrewdly. “Eight?” he repeated.

Liz nodded gravely. “Yes.”

Donald Lewis hesitated for a second, then he reached for Liz’s legal pad. “This is my phone number. I don’t know how much more I can do for you, but. . .if you think of something. . .”

Liz accepted the paper. “Thank you, Mr. Lewis.”

He left a few minutes later, and Liz and I sat there in silence. After a long moment, she looked over at me.

“We need to find Wheeland,” she said. “Allward, too. Those pictures—the whole identification of the body is suspect.”

I nodded and prepared to stand up. “Right. Then we find Wheeland and Allward.”

“I’ll go check the courthouse records,” she said. “We should be able to get addresses from there.”

“What if they’ve moved?” I asked.

She shrugged. “It’s a start.”



~Liz~

Nothing. I found nothing.

As I drove home from the courthouse that afternoon, I punched the steering wheel with the heel of my hand. Three hours at the courthouse, sifting through their records and using their database and I had nothing to show for it. The only addresses for Allward and Wheeland were nine years old, and beyond that—

“Nothing!” I cried angrily, swearing and pounding the steering wheel again. At this rate, either my hand or the steering wheel was going to break before this thing was over.

If it ever was.

I drove to Maria’s in a haze, alternately grumbling and swearing outright. I turned on the radio, but nothing satisfied me, so I ended up turning it back off. When I finally pulled into the driveway, I sat there for a minute, unwilling to go inside and put on a brave face for my daughter and Maria. I knew Sophie was beginning to sense my preoccupation, and the fact that I couldn’t hide it made me angry and guilty all at once. Finally, I went inside and found them in the living room, playing their guitars.

“Hi, Mom,” Sophie said. “How’s the case?”

I sighed and sat down on the couch near her spot on the floor. “Frustrating,” I admitted, smoothing her hair. I made a mental note to get her an appointment with my hairdresser. I try to keep her hair around shoulder-length; it's is so thick that anything longer is hard to manage.

Sophie abandoned her guitar and came to sit beside me on the sofa. “You’ll fix it though, right?” she asked simply, and I felt resolve harden in my stomach.

“I’ll fix it,” I told her. “I promise.” I managed a smile and pulled her close for a hug. “I just have to work harder.” Over the top of her head, I saw Maria give me a concerned look, but I shook my head. I wasn’t ready to deal with questions just yet.

“Did you talk to Michael?” Sophie asked. “Is he excited to go to Roswell?”

I nodded. “Yeah, he’s excited. Are you?”

She grinned. “Yup. I already packed my bag.”

“Good girl,” I told her. “Did you work on your French?”

“Yeah. I did almost all of it.”

“Good. Now you won’t have to take it to Roswell.” I stood up. “I’m going to go change,” I told them.

Maria got up, too, and followed me to the stairs. “Did you find out anything?” she asked me quietly.

I shrugged. “Oh, plenty,” I told her. “Right before I hit the brick wall.”

“Huh?”

I shook my head. “I can’t right now, okay?” I said. “I’m sorry—I’m just so. . .so frustrated.” I took a few deep breaths.

“Are you going to be okay?” she asked, concerned.

“I’ll be fine,” I told her. “I’ll be fine when this is over. . .when there’s something I can do, you know?” Her eyes were dark, and I wished I hadn’t been so honest. Maria didn’t need anything else to hold against Max. “I’m fine,” I said before she could speak. “I’m fine—just tired, okay?”

She nodded grudgingly, letting it go. “I talked to my mom today. She’s going to pick us up at the airport tomorrow.”

I smiled. It would be good to see Amy again. “That’s really nice of her.”

Maria shrugged. “She wants to do it,” she assured me. “There’s just. . .there’s one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“The Valentis are coming to Thanksgiving,” she said. “My mom always has them to dinner. You know how they used to buy those frozen dinners and eat them in front of the TV. . .well, she hates that. So she talked to your mom, and your mom thought it was a great idea, and—um, now they’re coming, too.”

“Wow, Mom’s going to have a full house,” I said, and Maria looked at me in surprise.

“So, you’re okay with this?”

I nodded. “I was going to go see them anyway,” I told her. “I couldn’t go to Roswell and not see them.”

Maria let out a big breath and leaned against the wall. “What do you think they’re going to say when they find out about her?” she asked, nodding toward the living room where Sophie had evidently taken up her guitar again.

I thought about it for a few seconds. “They’re probably going to be a little hurt that we didn’t trust them,” I said finally. “But. . .I hope they’ll understand in time.”

“We should go over before dinner,” she said. “I’d hate for them to just show up for dinner and be shocked.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I’d like to be able to explain first.” We were quiet for a minute, then I put my hand on the banister. “I’m going to get out of these clothes,” I told her. “What are we doing for dinner?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Let’s just see what happens, okay?”

I was too worn out to worry about it too much. “Okay,” I agreed, then went upstairs.

In my room, I threw my suit coat on my bed and began to pace. I was so restless that I felt ready to jump out of my own skin. It wasn’t even five o’clock yet, but the day’s events and revelations were massive. I wanted to be doing something—anything—to advance the case, and I didn’t think I could sit still for five minutes. We were close to something. I knew it. But what? And what was the next step?

“Find Allward,” I muttered, still pacing. “Find Allward and find Wheeland.” I positively itched to do something—to find an outlet for the energy that was making my skin crawl. I kicked off my shoes and sat down on the edge of my bed, contemplating calling Michael. . .wishing I could call Max.

And then, as thought my thoughts had called to him, I felt him. He was reaching for me across the distance that separated us, hesitantly opening that connection just a little, waiting for me to accept or reject his overture. I had meant what I said at the prison—when this happened, I’d never shut him out. How many nights had I lain awake in my bed, hoping to feel this?

I’m okay, Max, I thought, trying to send my words across the distance. A second later I knew he’d heard—it was almost like a nod in my head. There was something else, too. . .doubt? Humph. “I really am fine,” I said aloud.

But he still didn’t believe me. Finally, I opened my eyes and looked around the room. “Just a little restless,” I muttered. After a second, my eyes fell on my sneakers in the bottom of my closet, and I nodded, relieved. “Just gonna go for a little run,” I told myself. I dressed quickly and a few minutes later I was on my way out the door, calling a goodbye to Maria and Sophie.

“I’ll be back soon!” I called. Behind me, I heard Maria protest, but I was already out the door, running down the street. I soon found my stride, and ran down the tree-lined streets of Maria’s neighborhood, feeling the tension drain away. The whole time, I was conscious of Max—he was in my head, gently keeping the connection open. It wasn’t intrusive, although I knew instinctively he thought it might be. It was more like a hand on my shoulder, making sure I was okay, and it was oddly comforting. It made me feel. . .cherished. No one had made me feel like that in a long time.

As I ran, I remembered him touching my face that morning. The longing in his touch had made me shiver, even as his fingers left a trail of fire down the line of my jaw. For a second, ten years had melted away and I was a girl again—his girl. His lover, his soul mate. I had barely breathed, wanting it to last forever.

But then he had pulled away, and I still didn’t know why. What had he seen that made him back off—that made him shut down? God, had he seen Thierry? I hadn’t been thinking about Thierry—I hadn’t been thinking of anything but Max, of his hand on my cheek, his heart pounding in rhythm with mine. But if he had seen Thierry, at the moment we were so open to each other. . .

Angrily, I picked up my pace, pushing myself to run harder. I should have known better. The connection between us was so intimate—even more intimate, perhaps, than making love.
And yet at the moment it was so tenuous. I was acutely aware that the smallest misstep would completely reverse the tiny spark of healing that had begun between us. And if Max thought I had been thinking of another man while I was so close to him. . .

“Damn it,” I hissed under my breath. “Damn it, damn it, damn it.” Before I had gone another block, I was running at an all-out sprint, my legs pumping as hard and fast as I could make them. My heart slammed against my chest, and I was soon out of breath, but I made myself keep running as though the devil himself was chasing me. Run away, Liz. That’s what you do, right? Run away?

I ignored the voice in my head and kept running. I could feel Max’s concern deepen, until it was almost a question in my head. Liz. . .?

Nothing, Max, I thought. It’s nothing.

But it didn’t fade away—not his question, or his concern. I felt him with me all the way back to Maria’s house.

When I rounded the corner, I slowed a little because there was another car sitting in Maria’s driveway. It was sleek and black and new, but I didn’t recognize it. Immediately wary, I checked and found that the car had California plates. Maria hadn’t said she was expecting anyone, but I guessed someone could have stopped by.

I jogged up to the back door and bent to take off my shoes, but I had only managed to untie one of them when I heard Sophie’s voice.

“Mom? Are you back? You’re never gonna guess—” I heard footsteps and then I saw three people standing in the kitchen—Maria, Sophie, and—

“Jack?” I squinted through the screen door as my jaw dropped. Sure enough, Jack Collins, tall and handsome and a little too cocky for his own good turned and gave me a grin.

“Hey, Parker—what, were you runnin’ the marathon?”

I felt a grin spread across my face and I pushed open the screen door, ignoring my muddy running shoes. “Jack!” I exclaimed. He met me halfway in a bear hug, lifting me off my feet. In that instant, as his arms closed around me, I felt Max reach out to me again, and the connection between us opened a little more. My breath caught in my throat. Damn. . .

In a second of panic, I did what I'd never been able to do before. I slammed it shut.


[ edited 2 time(s), last at 18-Jun-2002 12:52:26 AM ]
posted on 17-Jun-2002 4:58:28 PM by mockingbird39
McGees--I can only answer one of your questions at this point: I'm not in the legal profession, but I did work at a public policy center in college, then went to law school for a year, then worked at a law firm for six months. I no longer want any part of the scene, but I am shocking addicted to those crime/court shows on the Discovery Channel, TLC and CourtTV. The New Detectives, Forensic Files, The System. . .I love them all!

As for the other stuff. . .all will be revealed in time. Mwahahahaha!
posted on 17-Jun-2002 10:47:17 PM by mockingbird39
Okay, it's come to my attention that there may have been a misunderstanding in the latest part. The last line wasn't nearly as clear as I'd thought, so I've changed it. Please check it out again.

Thanks!
Melanie
posted on 23-Jun-2002 2:49:35 PM by mockingbird39
Part 32


~Maria~

Jack took us to dinner that night at Engine Co. No. 28, a restaurant in a converted firehouse in downtown L.A. The food is good—brewery-type stuff—and the atmosphere is fun. It was a good choice; he must have known Sophie would love it. We got there just in time to make our reservation, and Jack headed to the bar to grab us drinks.

“Here we go,” he said when he returned, expertly balancing four drinks in his hands. “Chardonnay for one of my favorite ladies,” he announced, putting the glass in front of me. “Pinot Grigio for another—even if she does sneak into town without telling me” he added, placing Liz’s glass beside her hand, “and for my favorite lady of them all. . .cherry cola—with two cherries.” He set Sophie’s glass down with a flourish and she grinned at him, plucking one cherry from the glass right away.

“Thanks,” she said, popping it into her mouth.

“You’re welcome, Sweetness,” he told her, taking a sip of his own drink. I knew it was probably scotch and soda—Jack’s drink order hadn’t changed since Boston. Neither had any of ours, I realized. He hadn’t had to ask when he went to the bar, and he had gotten it exactly right.

“So,” he continued, addressing Sophie, but glancing at Liz, “how did you talk Mommy into coming to L.A.?”

Sophie shrugged. “I didn’t. She came to work on a case.”

Jack cast a glance at Liz, who was suddenly absorbed in her menu. “Yeah? Well, what do you think of California, now that you’re finally here?”

She thought for a second. “It’s okay. It’s warm. But I like Petersburg better.”

I watched her wistfully. I hated to think about them going back.

“Well, that’s only ‘cause you haven’t been to Santa Barbara,” Jack told her. “You know I can see the ocean from my apartment?”

She looked suitably impressed. “Really? That’s cool. We haven’t been to the ocean yet here.”

“No? Well, we can’t let that go on.” He smiled at Liz. “You and your mom are gonna have to come to my place while you’re here.”

Sophie looked at Liz. “Can we?”

Liz shrugged. “Sure—if Jack can spare the time from his busy schedule.”

“I think I can fit you in between repeated felons and bitter divorces,” he retorted.

“You’re such a saint,” Liz said innocently. “Keeping the world safe for endless squabbles over fishing boats and the good china.”

“Just trying to keep up with you,” he answered. “All that brave work you do standing up for the rights of designer clothes. You’re an inspiration.”

“And accessories,” Liz added. “Don’t forget the accessories.”

“Ah, yes,” he agreed. “Your work with handbags alone is enough to inspire a whole class of law students.”

“It’s difficult at times,” Liz said airily, “but someone has to persevere.”

Watching Liz with Jack is like watching a completely different person. He makes her laugh—once when she was in law school he made her laugh so hard she snorted beer all over him. He took that in stride, calmly dabbing a dollop of foam onto the end of her nose, which made her laugh harder. I don’t know if anything will ever completely take the shadows from Liz’s eyes, but Jack comes pretty close. The Liz that sat across from me at dinner that night, wearing a red dress that turned heads from across the room, barely resembled the frustrated, exhausted woman who’d come home that afternoon only to go on a punishing run through my neighborhood.

“Are you guys busy on Saturday?” Jack was asking.

Liz’s smile dimmed just a little. “Um, yeah. We’ve got some things to take care of.”

“Oh. How about Sunday?”

She shrugged. “Sunday. . .Sunday’s good.”

“Great.” He turned to Sophie. “I’ll pick you in the morning. How about you, Maria?” he added. “You wanna get out of the city for a while?”

“And into another one?” I asked.

“Well. . .yeah.”

I grinned. “I’m in. You’re going to feed us, right?”

“Have you ever seen me go without eating for very long?” he asked.

He had me there. Jack grew up on hearty Irish food his grandmother cooked for every meal, and he might wear custom suits now and drive a Porsche, but deep down he’s still a kid from South Boston. He definitely eats like it.

“Is there a pub we might be visiting?” I asked him.

“With an Irish band on Sunday nights,” he said happily.

“Do we get to sing?” Sophie asked excitedly, and I smiled. She must remember the nights we spent at the Black Rose in Boston, singing along with the folk singers and eating shepherd’s pie and colcannon.

“Only if you want to eat,” he told her. “I hope you remember the words.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Some of ‘em,” she said cautiously.

“Some?” he repeated incredulously, then turned to Liz. “This is what happens when you move an impressionable child to the other side of the world.”

“She forgets the words to drinking songs?” Liz asked dryly.

“Yes!” Jack exclaimed. “You see why this can’t happen?”

“It might cause people to question my parenting skills,” she deadpanned.

“Hey, I didn’t forget them all,” Sophie protested indignantly.

“Sunday night we’ll see how much you remember,” Jack told her. “Maybe you and Mom can practice before then.”

“We’re goin’ to Roswell for Thanksgiving,” she informed him.

He cast a surprised look at Liz. “Oh, yeah?” he asked.

“Yeah. We’re having dinner with Nanna and Poppy and Aunt Amy—and Michael’s coming, too.” She paused thoughtfully. “Michael used to work with Mom and Aunt Maria at the Crashdown.”

Now Jack’s look turned to me, and I felt my cheeks flush. God, how much had I told him about Michael over the years? Not much, probably, but he might have guessed more than I’d said. I suddenly found the menu as fascinating as Liz had a moment ago and buried my head in it. When my cell phone rang a minute later, I thought I could kiss whoever was on the other line. “Excuse me,” I said quickly, leaving the table. I found an alcove and fished my phone out of my purse.

“Hello?” I asked.

“Maria, it’s me.”

Speak of the spaceman. “Hi, Michael,” I said.

“Where the hell are you? Is Liz with you?” he asked without preamble.

I swear, Michael Guerin is the only person on earth who can piss me off in ten words or less. “Why do you want to know?” I demanded.

“Because I just talked to Max and he’s worried about her,” he retorted.

“Why should he be worried about her?” I hissed. “We’re fine—we’re having dinner.”

“Then why isn’t she answering her phone?”

“I don’t know, Michael. Maybe she turned it off so she could have a nice dinner with friends.” I looked back at the table, where Liz and Jack were deep in conversation.

“Friends? What friends?” Michael sounded suspicious. “Jack?”

“How do you know about—oh, right.” I heaved a sigh. “Yes, it’s Jack.”

“Who is this guy?” Michael demanded. “How do you know him? Can you trust him?”

“Of course I can trust him,” I said indignantly. “We’ve known him for years—his grandma sends me cookies every Christmas, for pity’s sake.”

He wasn’t convinced. “How much do you know about this guy?”

“More than I know about you,” I told him flatly, then gave a heavy sigh. Why am I so defensive with him? I asked myself. “Look, Michael, we’re fine. You can tell Max that, too.”

He was quiet for a minute, then he sighed, too. “Look, just call me when you get home, okay? So I know you got there?”

It was my turn to be quiet. My whole life, no one had made me feel quiet so protected as Michael. “I thought you were working,” I said quietly.

“I am,” he said. “But I’ll check my messages until I know you’re home okay.”

“All right, Michael,” I told him finally. “I’ll call you later.”

We hung up, and I went back to the table to find Sophie grinning from ear to ear. “Guess what, Aunt Maria?” she asked. “Jack’s coming to Roswell for Thanksgiving!”

I looked at Liz, who shrugged and smiled, then at Jack, who was watching Liz.

“If he doesn’t already have plans,” Liz put it.

Jack put down his drink. “I don’t have plans,” he said seriously, “and if I did. . .I’d cancel ‘em. I’d love to go.”

As I sat down, I smiled at the three of them. One thing was for sure—this would be an interesting Thanksgiving.


~Max~

I worked outside that afternoon, edging the walkways around the prison complex. It was mindless work, which meant I could keep close contact with Liz. I couldn’t quite see what she was doing, but I felt her emotions clearly, and once in a while a thought or phrase would come through as well. For a while, her thoughts were smooth and untroubled, but as the afternoon wore on, she started to get frustrated. By the time my work shift was over, she was fuming.

As I went to the dining hall and ate my dinner, I felt her frustration bubble over, subside briefly, and then flare again. A little while later, her anger began to flare, too, and when I felt her heart begin to pound I began to worry and I tried to strengthen the connection between us to find out what was troubling her. Liz, what’s wrong? I thought, wondering if she could hear me. She didn’t answer, exactly, but I could sense her unwillingness to share. If she had been standing in front of me, she would have told me she was “fine,” in that obstinate, steely tone that she gets when she doesn’t want to talk about something. But she didn’t shut me out, so I didn’t sever the connection, either.

She was starting to calm down a little. . .or maybe she was just tired. . .when I felt something else invade her mind—apprehension. My own heart started to pound then, and I held my breath, reaching out to her with all my strength. It almost worked—for a second I became acutely conscious of her, of her pounding heart and her breath coming in winded gasps. I felt a second of her confusion, then it cleared into surprise.

Then it was gone.

I was walking back to my cell when it happened, and I actually stumbled a little bit. It was like suddenly shutting off a radio that has been blaring in your ear for hours—the silence is more deafening than the noise ever was. Liz? I cried out to her. Liz?! But her only answer was more silence.

I don’t remember making it back to my cell that evening, or taking out the picture of her and Sophie, but when Michael came by during his shift, I was on my bed with the photograph in my hand staring at it blankly. She had told me she wouldn’t shut me out—that she couldn’t. But then what had happened? Had it been involuntary—oh, god, had something happened to Liz? Was that why I couldn’t feel her anymore?

“Liz, please,” I murmured. “Please be okay.”

“Maxwell, what’s wrong?”

I jerked upright when I heard Michael’s voice. I’d forgotten he was working the night shift, but I was never so glad to see someone in my life. Except Liz.

“Michael, something’s wrong with Liz,” I said. “I could feel her—she was upset, and then it was just gone.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked, frowning. “Liz was fine when I left her. She was going to go to the courthouse.”

“She’s not fine, Michael,” I insisted. “Something’s happened—you have to get a hold of her. Call her and make sure she’s okay.” He stared at me, evidently sizing up my concern, and I almost snapped. “Michael, do it! I’m not fooling around here,” I cried. “Something’s wrong—I know it. She wouldn’t shut me out for no reason.”

After what seemed like an eternity, he nodded. “Okay. I’ll go call her. I’ll be back in a while.” He turned to go.

“Hurry,” I called after him, and he nodded again. When he was gone, I went back to my bed and closed my eyes, trying to find her again. But where she should have been was blank—it was like hitting a brick wall. After four days of being as conscious of her as I was of my own body, this blankness was worse than being blind.

“God, Liz, please be okay.” I bowed my head, fighting absolute despair. If something had happened to her. . .if something had happened to her while she was trying to help me. . . I never should have let her do it, I told myself, then I stopped. Let? It occurred to me that no one “let” Liz Parker do anything anymore. She either did it, or she didn’t, and she didn’t ask permission. But I should have done something, I thought. But what? I didn’t have an answer to that.

What about Sophie? A stab of fear shot through me as I thought of my daughter. If something had happened to Liz, what about our daughter? Was she okay? Would she ever be okay without Liz to protect her? There was no doubt in my mind that if something happened to Liz, nothing on earth could prevent me from walking out of this place, finding my daughter and doing whatever I had to to keep her safe. Michael and Isabel could fend for themselves; Sophie was an innocent—and helpless.

It was an eternity before Michael returned—an empty eternity. When I finally heard his footsteps I jumped up and waited for him at the bars of my cell.

“Is she okay?” I demanded.

Michael waited until he reached me. “She’s fine. I talked to Maria; she said they’re having dinner with a friend.”

It was like a punch in the stomach. “Then why did she. . .why did she shut me out like that?”

He didn’t say a word—he didn’t have to. He just stood there looking at me seriously, and I bowed my head. “That was different,” I muttered, but I knew it wasn’t. “I just. . .I was worried about her. I thought something had happened to her.”

“She’s okay,” he assured me. “She’s with Maria and Sophie.” He looked down at his feet for a second, considering, and then all at once he met my eyes and blurted, “I’m going to Roswell with them tomorrow.”

I took a moment to process that. Michael was going to Roswell. He was going to spend the holiday with Liz and my daughter—probably helping them cook, watching the game, eating with them. . .all the things I knew I’d spend all day dreaming about. While I waited here, feeling Liz move farther and farther away from me, he would be enjoying a family holiday with them. Michael would be there when Sophie got her first glimpse of Roswell. I looked away. “Good,” I said finally. “You can protect them.”

He nodded. “Yeah,” he said, “but. . .that’s not the only reason I’m going.”

Anger suffused my veins again—anger at the bars that held me, anger at Langley who had put me here, anger at myself for not being able to prevent it. I turned away. “I know that, Michael,” I said harshly. “Have a great time.”

I could sense him hovering around the door of my cell, but I didn’t turn to look at him. I didn’t think I could right then—at least not without taking some of my anger out on him. “This sucks, Maxwell,” he said after a minute. “I mean. . .this isn’t fair—not to you, not to Liz, and not to Sophie. But. . .I think it’s going to work this time. I think it’s gonna get better.”

Until an hour ago, when Liz had severed the connection between us, I had almost thought so, too. But now I was alone as ever—as alone as I’d been before Liz came back to L.A. “You don’t know that Michael,” I said. “Even if Liz can trace Langley. . .” I shook my head, unwilling to think about that. “Who is this friend they’re having dinner with?” I asked. “Do you know him?”

Michael shook his head. “It’s some guy they knew from Boston. Jack something.”

“Jack?” I repeated. “Who’s Jack?”

“That’s the question of the hour, Max,” he answered flatly.

“You don’t know?” I demanded.

He shook his head again. “No, I don’t.” He paused for a second, then looked me straight in the eyes. “But you know I’ll take care of them, right?”

I met his stubborn, resolute gaze. “I know, Michael. I know.”

* * * * *

Later—much later, after bed check and lights out, I suddenly felt the blankness give way and Liz was there again. I grabbed on to her gratefully, determined that this time, I wouldn’t let go.


~Liz~

As soon as I severed my connection with Max, I felt like someone had taken all the air out of the room. Even as Jack hugged me, teased me about my disheveled appearance, even as I told him—truthfully—how great it was to see him again, I was reeling. I found myself drawing deep breaths, as though I really couldn’t get enough air. My first impulse was to reach out for Max again, but I stopped myself. What if Max saw Jack? Worse, what if he felt what Jack sometimes made me feel? It wasn’t love—it certainly wasn’t like what I felt for Max—but it was something. Something I couldn’t explain. . .or deny. I know I laugh more when Jack is around, and when I’m with him, I forget the things that sometimes make me feel tired and alone. I didn’t want Max to feel that—whatever was happening between us might not survive it. So I kept that door in my soul shut, while I went upstairs to change, while we drove into the city, all during dinner, and through the drive back to Maria’s. By the time Jack and I stood beside his car saying goodbye, I was itching to open that door again.

“So, I’ll see you tomorrow at LAX,” Jack said. “Thanks for inviting me.”

I smiled up at him. “I’m glad you’re coming,” I said honestly. It would be nice t have Jack there, and I hated the idea of him spending the holiday alone. “I wish you could stay for Friday,” I added.

He shook his head. “No, I’ve got appointments most of the day. Some people have no respect for the biggest shopping holiday of the year.”

“I’m not one of them,” I said seriously, and then giggled.

He laughed, too. “Yeah, I remember that. Yet another reason to fly back Thursday night.” He opened his arms to hug me, and I went into them without hesitation. “I’m really glad you’re here,” he said quietly against my ear. “You gonna tell me something about this case you’re working on?” he asked as he released me.

I hesitated. “It’s complicated, Jack,” I said finally.

“And has nothing to do with Dior,” he added, looking at me seriously.

I leaned against his car. “Good guess.”

“That’s why they pay me the big bucks,” he returned. “What’s the deal?”

My weariness returned in one fell swoop and I rubbed my forehead with one hand. “Can I put you off until tomorrow?” I asked quietly.

“You can put me off as long as you need to,” he answered. “But you know I’ll help you, if you want me to.”

I nodded. “I know.” I stepped close to him and kissed his cheek. “Thanks, Jack.”

He kissed me back, pressing his lips to my temple for a moment, then he turned to go. “I gotta get going. I have a hearing tomorrow.”

I stepped away from his car. “Good luck,” I said. “See you tomorrow.”

He nodded. “Three-thirty at the gate,” he agreed. He reached out and touched my cheek for a second. “Good night, Liz.”

“Night, Jack,” I answered, leaving stepping onto the lawn. I stood there as he got into the car and started it, then as he started to back down the driveway I stepped into the glare of his headlights and waved goodbye. He waved in answer, then he drove away.

When he was gone, I went upstairs, checked on Sophie, who was already sound asleep, and then went to my bedroom. I perched on the edge of my bed, rotating my neck to ease the ache in my shoulders.

“Did Jack leave?”

I looked up to see Maria in the door to my room, two glasses of wine in her hand. “Yeah,” I answered. “Just a minute ago.”

“Oh.” She stepped into the room and held out one of the glasses. “Here.”

I shook my head. “Oh, no. I’ve had enough.”

She made a face. “This is the last of that bottle from the fridge,” she protested. “I already threw the bottle away.”

Sighing, I took the glass from her. “You’re a bad influence,” I told her.

She didn’t seem too concerned. “How did it go with Michael today?” she asked.

I shrugged, taking a sip of wine. “Okay. Lewis was pretty interesting—he always had suspicions about Langley, I think.”

“Did you find out anything new?”

“Langley threatened the coroner,” I said. “He also probably slipped fingerprints in to get the insurance company.” I shook my head. “That doesn’t get me any closer to him.”

“Do you think you’ll find him?”

“I hope so.” I took a deep breath. “I think Michael’s excited about Thanksgiving.”

She looked down. “That’s good.”

“I’m glad you invited him,” I told her.

“I thought he’d put up a bigger fight,” she admitted, “but I’m glad he’s coming.”

I reached out and squeezed her hand. “He loves you, Maria,” I said simply. “I know he does.”

Her eyes widened. “What?”

“It’s true,” I said. “You still love him, too, don’t you?”

She gave a long sigh and sat down on the bed next to me. “Do you still love Max?” she countered.

“I asked you first,” I insisted.

She nodded. “Right. Okay.” She took a deep breath. “Yeah, I still love him. He makes me furious sometimes, but I’d rather be furious at him than all gooshy with someone else. There’s always something missing about every guy I meet, Liz,” she went on, shaking her head ruefully. “I think I just realized what it is. They’re not Michael.” She paused for a second. “It all seems so simple when I say it like that, doesn’t it? But then I keep thinking about how long it’s been. . .we’re different people now. I don’t even know if we could be together anymore. Maybe it’s just been too long.”

“Maria, I’m sorry,” I said quietly.

She shook her head vigorously. “It’s not your fault,” she said. “We did the only thing we knew to do.”

“We should have thought of something else,” I said. “There must have been something else.”

She put her arm around me and hugged me tightly. “We were nineteen, Liz,” she said. “We weren’t rocket scientists, psychologists, or—or hostage negotiators.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Hostage negotiators?”

She shook her head. “Whatever. My point is, we were scared kids. And for scared kids, I think we did a hell of a job.”

Tears stung my eyes. “Thank you, Maria.”

“You’re welcome,” she said, her voice high-pitched and wavery.

We hugged each other for a minute more, then I started to get up. “I’m going to take a nice hot bath,” I said, thinking that I’d try to relax and then open the connection with Max again.

“You didn’t answer me,” she said quickly, swiping at her eyes.

“What?” I asked, trying to play dumb.

“About Max,” she persisted, not buying it. “Do you still love him?”

I sat back down on the bed, my shoulders sagging, and took a sip of wine. “You know what I keep thinking about, Maria? That day in the Crashdown when he saved my life. Whatever else happened. . .I’d be dead if not for him.”

She made a face, unconvinced. “Liz, how many times did you save him after that?” she asked.

I shook my head. “But that was after,” I told her. “When I did those things for him, I already knew how he felt about me. I knew that he loved me. But that day. . .” I sighed. “Max didn’t know if I felt anything for him. He didn’t know if I would be grateful, or freak out and turn him over to the FBI. But he saved me anyway. He loved me that much.” I closed my eyes against the hot tears that threatened. “Then. . .that night in Vermont when we went out that window. . .we both knew there was no way we going to survive that fall. We were going to die, but he saved me. It wasn’t even a conscious thought—he didn’t decide to save me and let himself fall. He just did it. He wanted me to live, and it mattered more to him than his own life.” I couldn’t control my tears anymore. They ran unchecked down my cheeks. “How could I ever stop loving him after that, Maria? How?”

She was crying, too. “Liz, what if this doesn’t work? What if you can’t get him out?”

I couldn’t think about it. In fact, I couldn’t see past when I knew I would have to return to Petersburg. Because if I had to go and Max was still in prison. . .I didn’t know what I could do. My life—the one I’d built so carefully in Boston, then in New York, then in Petersburg—seemed so far out of reach that I could no longer even see it. “I’m going to,” I said. “I have to get him out.”

* * * * *

Maria left a little while later, going to her own room, and I went into my bathroom and drew a warm bath. While the water was running, I found my favorite bathrobe, picked up my wineglass, and took them into the bathroom, then undressed and slipped into the tub. I turned on the whirlpool jets and lay back to let them pound the tension from my body. For a few minutes, I lay there sipping my wine and breathing deeply to relax myself. Then I closed my eyes and reached out for Max.

Max?

Instantly, he responded, reaching out to grab onto the thread between us. I could feel his relief flood through both of us, and I immediately felt guilty for having shut him out for so long.

I’m sorry, I thought. I’m okay. I didn’t know how clearly he could hear my thoughts, so I concentrated on making him understand that I was okay. I stretched my legs, feeling the water swirl around them, and slipped deeper into the warm water. I’d added a few scoops of milk bath, so the water was cloudy and fragrant, and a thin layer of scented bubbles floated on the surface. It felt wonderful—between the water and the pounding jets, the soft floral fragrance, the wine and the relief of feeling Max again, I felt like I was floating. I closed my eyes, and, like I had so many times before, I began to remember that long-ago night in Cambridge when Max and I had made love. I remembered his hands on my body—not just touching, but molding to the contours of my ribs, lingering as my muscles moved beneath his palms, and his fingers sought out the curves and ridges below my skin, then moving ever downward until every inch of my body burned from his touch. I remembered how he had laid first his hand and then his mouth over the place where he’d healed me and even now, almost ten years later, I shivered at the memory of the heat his touch brought.

Unconsciously, I pressed my hand to that spot just below my ribs, imagining that he was touching me now, and I suddenly became aware that Max’s heart was pounding as rapidly as mine. I gasped as I realized that he was seeing my memories, too, and I slipped lower under the water as though I would hide my body from him now. But even as I did it, I realized the futility of it. Max knew my body already—he wouldn’t have forgotten a single thing about that night any more than I had. Embarrassed, I reached for my wine and was about to get out of the tub when I heard his voice in my head.

Relax, he murmured, and then another memory flashed through my mind—his hands cupping my face, his fingers leaving swirls in the sheen of shimmering silver that covered us both. That was his memory, not mine, and seeing this from his perspective added a whole new dimension I had never been able to consider before. He shared other memories, too. . .my breath warm against his neck. . .my heart pounding beneath his cheek. . .the taste of my skin as he trailed kisses down my collar bone. A whimper escaped my lips as he remembered the moment when climax began to build in both of us, when he had wrenched his mouth from mine to stare into my eyes. My own memories of that moment flashed through my head, too, blurring with his and making the present fade away.

And then it was no longer memory. I could feel his hands on me as I lay there in the bath, I could feel him caressing and stroking me all over. Max. . . My breath came in shallow gasps as a wave of incredible pleasure built inside me, and then golden light—light I had remembered for years—exploded behind my eyes and my back arched. “Max,” I cried softly, throwing my head back. For a few seconds, the pleasure was so intense I couldn’t draw a breath, then as it subsided I sank slowly back into the bath, still breathing hard. Amazed, I lay there with my eyes closed as the jets pounded my limp body.

Max. . . I smiled faintly as I felt him answer, felt the same sated glow from him that I knew radiated from me.

Half an hour later, I turned off the jets, wrapped myself in my bathrobe, and went to bed. My head was barely on the pillow before I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep, but all that night as I slept, I could feel Max. I knew he wasn’t about to let go.

* * * * *

posted on 30-Jun-2002 12:32:25 PM by mockingbird39
Part 33


~Michael~

Before I left the prison the next morning, I went by to see Max again. He was already awake, laying on his bed looking at pictures of Liz and Sophie. Immediately, I could see that he was calmer, more relaxed.

“Morning, Maxwell,” I said.

He sat up and looked at me. “Hi,” he answered. He paused a second, then said, “Liz is okay. Last night I. . .I felt her again.”

He wasn’t telling me something, but to be honest I didn’t exactly understand the connection he and Liz shared anyway. I wasn’t about to pry; I was just happy to see how good he looked that morning. “Good. I talked to Maria again last night, too. She said they got home okay. I wanted to come by and tell you, but it was pretty late.”

“That’s okay,” he assured me with a smile. “I already knew.”

“Do you know what happened?” I asked. “Why she uh, shut you out?”

His eyes clouded a little bit. “No. I don’t know why. But she’s not doing it anymore.”

I nodded. “That’s the important thing, right?” I asked.

“Yeah, right,” he said. He paused for a second, then shook his head. “Are you off now?”

“Yeah. I’m gonna go home and get some sleep before the flight tonight.” Immediately, I wished I hadn’t mentioned the trip to Roswell. The wistful look that shot through Max’s eyes made me feel guilty. I cleared my throat. “You gonna be all right until I get back?”

He nodded. “I’ll be fine. Have a good time.”

I hesitated. “I thought I might go by and see your parents,” I began, but he shook his head.

“What would you tell them?” he asked. “That you’re there with Liz and Sophie? I have to tell them about this myself.” He stared at nothing for a moment. “Plus, if you tell them now, they might try to come up here this weekend, and that’s when Liz is bringing Sophie. No,” he went on, shaking his head again. “I’ll call them after Saturday. After. . .after I see her.”

I understood that. For Max, nothing existed past Saturday when he would meet his daughter. I wondered how in the hell he was holding out until then. “Okay. I’ll only really be there one day,” I said. “It shouldn’t be too hard to avoid them. But you need to call them soon. I think Liz wants to see Kyle and Valenti while she’s there. It’ll be hard to keep that kind of secret for too much longer.”

He nodded. “I will.” He looked down at the picture in his hand, then back up at me. “Tell everyone I said hello.”

“I will,” I said. “I’ll see you on Friday.”

“Right.” He nodded and I started to go. His voice stopped me a few seconds later.

“Michael.”

I paused and looked back at him.

“Have a good time. I mean it.” He smiled slightly. “Happy Thanksgiving, Michael.”

Over the years, I’ve had to come to terms with Max being in prison—with seeing him treated like the rest of the inmates I guard. I’ve hated every minute of it, but never more so than right then. I tried to smile back. “Thanks, Max.”

* * * * *

When I left work, I went home and showered, then threw some clothes into a duffel bag to take to Roswell. I was supposed to meet Maria, Liz, and Sophie at Maria’s house that afternoon to drive to the airport. I put my bag in the living room beside the door, and then headed to the bedroom to get some sleep. I was looking forward to the holiday, but I was willing to bet I’d need plenty of energy. Keeping up with Sophie is enough to wear anyone out.

But when I lay down, I found I couldn’t sleep. I lay there for a while, tossing and turning and trying not to think about Max being alone in his cell for Thanksgiving, or the possibility that I—or. . .oh, man. . .Liz and Sophie could run into Max’s parents. Finally, I got back up and went to get a glass of juice from the kitchen. I thought about going for a run to tire myself out, but when I looked outside the sky was gray and I guessed it was going to rain soon. I hate to run in the rain. I was wondering what to do with myself when the phone rang.

“Hello?” I asked, grabbing for it.

“Hi, Michael.” It was Maria. And for once, she didn’t sound mad.

“Hey, Maria,” I answered. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” she said. “How are you? I didn’t wake you up, did I?”

“No,” I assured her. “I—uh, I couldn’t sleep.”

“Oh. Is everything okay?” she wanted to know.

“Yeah, it’s fine. I’m fine.” I glanced at the clock and found that it was still pretty early. Maria’s never really been much of a morning person. I wondered why she was up so early. “How come you’re awake?” I asked her.

She chuckled a little. “I’m not sure I’d really call this awake,” she said.

I could picture how she must look. . .hair in a messy ponytail, eyes sleepy, pajamas tousled, probably hanging onto a cup of coffee like a lifeline. I’d never told her, but I loved the mornings she had spent at my place back in Roswell. I don’t just mean the physical part. . .although that was great, too. . .I liked being with her before she was quite awake. When she would roll over first thing in the morning and give me that slow, sleepy smile I thought I’d do anything to see that again every morning for the rest of my life. Just thinking about it made me smile.

“Liz was up with the sun,” she was saying. “She left to go see Max a little while ago.”

That would make him happy, I reflected. “And she left you to get everyone ready for Roswell?” I asked her.

“Oh, no,” she yawned. “That’s already done. I just couldn’t sleep anymore after she left.”

“You’re still worried about her,” I said.

“Aren’t you?” she asked seriously.

I hesitated. I was still fairly worried about both of them—this still had potential for disaster. “I guess I am,” I admitted finally. “I’m worried about both of them.”

“She still loves him,” Maria said softly. “She’s always loved him.”

I bowed my head. “I know,” I answered, my voice quiet, too. “He loves her, too. I know he has a god-awful way of showing it, but everything he did. . .he did it because he loves her.”

She was silent for a long moment, and when she spoke again her voice wavered a little. “She believes that,” she said. “I hope. . .I hope it’s true.”

“It is, Maria,” I told her. “It really is.”

We were both quiet, then she cleared her throat. “Anyway, Michael,” she said, “I wanted to call and make sure it’s okay if you stay with me and my mom at her house. That way Liz can have some time with her parents. Plus, it’s going to be crowded there. . .um, she invited Jack to come, too. He’s going to stay at the Parkers’ house.”

“Jack’s coming?” I demanded, frowning.

“Yes, and please don’t start,” she sighed. “He’s a good friend, Michael. You might even like him. He’s a hockey fan.”

“Yeah, probably a Bruins fan,” I muttered.

“What’s the difference?” She sounded exasperated.

“Are you kidding me?”

“Michael, just give him a chance. He was good to Liz and Sophie. . .and me, too. He wasn’t going anywhere for the holiday—his family’s all in Boston.”

I sighed. “I won’t push him out of the plane,” I told her.

“Well, that’s reassuring,” she grumbled, then took a deep breath. I could imagine her smoothing her messy hair back from her face. “Look, do you mind staying with Mom and me?”

Mind? “Of course not, Maria. It’ll be good to see your mom again.”

“Yeah, she’s really looking forward to seeing you, too,” she said dryly. “I’ll see you this afternoon, right?”

“Right.”

“Um, Michael?”

“Yeah?”

She sighed. “Do you mind driving to the airport? I really hate driving there. All the traffic—I get all ticked off. . .”

I smiled a little. “Sure, Maria. I’ll drive.”

“Thanks.” She paused for a second. “I’m glad you’re coming.”

“So you don’t have to drive?” I teased.

She didn’t laugh. “That’s one reason,” she told me seriously. “Bye, Michael.”

I didn’t know what to say. “Yeah, bye,” I echoed.

She hung up then, leaving me—as per usual—confused. And enjoying every minute of it.


~Max~


When in my arms your slender form
I take, perhaps a shade too boldly,
And words of love, impetuous, warm,
Pour out to you, in silence, coldly
From my unasked-for, rash embrace
You free yourself, and for an instant
A smile appears upon your face,
At once mistrustful, wan and distant.
Too promptly has your memory stored
Of all my errant ways the rumor—
I speak, and you are out of humor,
I plead my cause, and you are bored. . .
--Untitled, Aleksander Pushkin


I woke up early the next morning—at the same time Liz did, I think. I was very aware that we were still intensely connected, and had been, all night long. All night I’d dreamed about touching her—really touching her, feeling her skin beneath my fingers, the play of her muscles beneath my hands. I wondered if she had seen my dreams. I had slept well that night; it had been almost like holding her as I slept.

But the next morning I wondered how it would be between us after we what had happened the night before. I knew I was walking the edge of a cliff in my relationship with Liz. Every time I reached out to her, she backed away, and I couldn’t blame her. I’d hurt her so badly ten years ago that I had fully expected her to walk away forever. That I had done it thinking it was better for her didn’t change the fact that it was a miracle she could still look at me.

I didn’t regret what we had done last night. I wanted Liz to know how much I wanted her—had always wanted her. I wanted her to know that I had lied that day when I downplayed what making love to her had meant to me. I wanted her to know that, for the rest of my life, every other memory would be second to that one. I knew that, as it was happening, she had wanted it, too, but what was she thinking now in the light of morning? No one had to tell me that it could all look very different once the sun came up. I didn’t feel any regret from her, but if I had pushed too hard—if she hadn’t wanted it as much as I did—

“Evans—your lawyer’s here again.”

I was startled when the guard came to get me, but relieved that Liz had come so early. If I’d had to wait until afternoon, I might have gone crazy. I grabbed the folder of Liz’s notes, felt for the picture of Liz and Sophie I had been keeping in my shirt pocket, and held out my hands to be cuffed. I knew she was close—I could feel her. The tension that had begun last night felt like a rubber band stretched between us, drawing us closer and closer. The only difference was that instead of easing, the tension got stronger with every step that brought us closer.

The walk seemed to last forever, but finally we were at the door to the attorney visiting room. The guard opened the door and over his shoulder I could see Liz.

She was sitting at the table, her chair pulled sideways so she could see the door. Her legs were crossed at the knee and one hand rested lightly against her temple. Two cups of coffee sat on the table before her; she was idly toying with the lid of one. When I entered the room, she stood up quickly, the heels of her shoes clicking on the cement floor. She wasn’t wearing a suit today, just a pair of brown pinstriped pants that hugged her slim hips and a tan blouse open at the neck. As I watched, Liz lifted a hand to touch her necklace, nervously twisting the pendant between her slim fingers and I imagined what it must feel like, the metal warmed by the heat of her skin. I could see the rise and fall of her chest beneath the thin material of her blouse and I knew her breathing was more rapid than normal. The casual clothes somehow brought her within my reach—I could imagine touching this woman. I could imagine feeling the heat of her skin beneath the thin cotton of her blouse, I could imagine how the buttons would feel beneath my fingers as I slowly undid them—

I stopped. She was blushing furiously, staring at the table and biting her lower lip. She knew what I was thinking about, and it was making her heart pound. Resolutely, I looked down and kept my mind on safe things while the guard uncuffed my hands and left, closing the door behind us. When he had gone, I dared look at her again. She raised her head.

“I brought you coffee,” she said, blindly gesturing to the table, never taking her eyes from me. She took a small step, her heels clicking on the cement floor. “Scones, too. I didn’t have time to eat breakfast. . .”

“That was nice,” I said, watching as she ran the tip of her tongue over her lips. “It smells good.”

She nodded. “French roast,” she said. I nodded and opened my mouth to speak, but I never got the words out. “Look, Max,” she said, “about last night—I just want to say that I’m sorry.”

My heart sank and my mouth went dry. “You’re sorry?” I repeated.

She hugged herself. “I don’t know why I did it. . .or maybe I do. I don’t know. I didn’t mean to at first, but then I just thought. . .” I stared at her, not wanting to understand what she was saying, as she shook her head and uncrossed her arms to run her hands through her hair. “Then when I felt you again, I knew how worried you had been and. . .I was wrong. I mean, I promised you I wouldn’t do it—”

“Wait a minute,” I interrupted, confused. “You mean. . .what are you sorry for?”

She looked at me blankly. “For shutting you out. I didn’t mean to do it—I mean, maybe I did. . .I just. . .” Realization dawned and her eyes widened. “Oh. . .you thought I meant—” She stopped and shook her head. “No. Max, I’m not sorry for that.” She looked at me, and I nearly shivered because it seemed she was looking right into my soul. How could she still do that after all this time? “Are you sorry?” she asked quietly.

I shook my head. “No,” I said simply, then I knew I had to go on. “There hasn’t been a day that I didn’t think about you, Liz—not a day I didn’t want you. Last night I wanted you to know how much.”

She looked away, suddenly vulnerable. “That day you said—I thought you. . .”

I knew what she was talking about, and I knew it was time to make this right. “I lied, Liz,” I said, my heart heavy with regret. “That night—that night when we made love—was the best night of my life. I have never felt anything that even comes close to what I felt with you that night. Please don’t ever doubt that.”

Relief washed over her. “I’ve thought about it so many times, Max.”

“So have I,” I told her. I took a step toward her. “My memories of you are. . .the best memories I have. Langley—he took a lot, but he could never take those.” I took another step, and she began walking toward me, too. Slowly, inexorably, we were being drawn toward each other by the incredible tension between us. We met in the center of the room and I reached out to touch her face, stroking my fingers down the line of her jaw. “God, I missed you so much,” I whispered, the words drawn from deep within me.

She put her hand on my chest, her palm resting over my heart. “I know,” she murmured, raising her face to me.

It was the most natural thing in the world to draw her close to me, to put my hand on her waist and cup her jaw in my palm. She turned her face into my hand, closing her eyes for a few seconds, breathing deeply. Until that moment, all the touches between us had been about comfort—giving and receiving the comfort that both of us had been denied for so long. But when Liz stepped into my arms that day, it was no longer about comfort. It was about her savoring my touch, seeking more. It was about my craving for her—the one that never went away and was now so strong I could hardly breathe.

“Liz,” I murmured, “I want to kiss you.”

She opened her eyes, drawing a deep breath. “Please. . .” she whispered.

It was all I needed. I bent my head and pressed my lips to hers as the tension between us exploded in a million bursts of blinding gold light. Her lips were so soft that first all I could do was caress them with mine. Then they parted ever so slightly, inviting more, and I slipped my tongue between them to taste her incredible sweetness. She tasted like toothpaste and coffee and. . .god, how was it possible she still tasted like strawberries?

I felt her arms go around me, holding me tightly, her fingers digging into my back and I wished she would hold me tighter and never let go. I felt alive in her arms—my whole body tingled from her touch. My heart pounded and I could hardly breathe, but I only wanted more. I wrenched my mouth from hers to trail kisses down her jaw, but she shook her head, murmuring something unintelligible as she found my lips again.

“Don’t stop,” she murmured into my mouth. “Max, don’t stop.”

Her plea set my blood roaring in my ears, and I pulled her closer. Her arms tightened around me and her hands clenched, clutching handfuls of my shirt in her fists as she sought to pull me closer still. I felt like I was drowning in her—losing myself and wanting nothing more than to be lost.

There have been many times when my life changed in the space of a heartbeat, and every one of them flashed through my head at that moment. I remembered a gunshot in the Crashdown that changed my life forever. I remembered the day we first learned why we had been sent to earth—that instant after my mother’s message when I looked at Liz and we were no longer children. I remembered the night I found Liz in bed with Kyle, when one glimpse through her window left my world in ruins around me. I remembered opening a Los Angeles newspaper and finding out I had been convicted of first-degree murder. I remembered the moment I touched Liz and saw our daughter in her mind. Those other moments might have been more dramatic than this one, but when Liz and I finally broke apart for breath, my life was no less changed. I stared down at flushed face, as she drew quick, shallow breaths, and I knew that she felt it, too.

Any space between us was too much, and I was still breathing hard when she pulled my head down to hers again. She put her hand on my cheek and caressed my face as our lips met and tasted each other once again. Her other hand rested on the side of my waist, just below my ribs, and I could feel her fingers lightly kneading my flesh. I threaded my fingers through her hair—it was shorter now, but still thick and heavy, and it slid through my fingers like silk.

This time when we broke apart, Liz pressed her face against my shoulder. I closed my eyes and leaned my head back, drawing deep breaths and cradling her against me.

“Max, I don’t know what to do,” she whispered, still breathing hard. “I don’t—I don’t know what this means.”

I pressed my lips against her temple. “Neither do I,” I answered honestly, “but I can’t stop. I can’t let go of you again. Even if it’s better—”

She raised her head and put her fingers over my lips. “It isn’t, Max. I told you—it never was.”

I kissed her fingertips, trying to smile. “I want to believe you.”

Liz stood on tiptoe and kissed me again, this time slowly, gently, leaving me with an ache deep in my chest. “Then just believe,” she whispered. “Trust me, Max. That’s all I’m asking. Just trust me.”


~Liz~

I stayed at the prison as long as I could that day. We talked a little about Max’s case—I told him more about what Donald Lewis had told Michael and me—but mostly we just talked, sitting at the table and holding hands, exchanging gentle caresses and slowly trying to heal ten years of wounds.

“I used to have this fantasy,” Max said, soon after we sat down. He was holding my hand, tracing small circles all across my palm. We hadn’t stopped touching since he first touched my cheek—neither of us could seem to pull away. He glanced up at me and smiled sheepishly.

“Tell me,” I encouraged softly, touching his forearm below the rough denim of his sleeve.

He hesitated a second, then began to speak without meeting my gaze. “It would be the end of the day,” he said softly, “and the sun would be going down. You would be coming home. . .first it was from class, then later from work. . .and you would be tired. But you would be so beautiful.” As he spoke, the images played out in his mind like a favorite movie watched over and over. I could see myself as he’d imagined me—me as I’d looked a dozen years ago, when I was still a girl. “You would climb the stairs,” he continued, still caressing my palm, “and you would be digging in your pocket for your keys, and then you would stop and look up, and I would be there, waiting beside your door for you to come home. We would stand there staring at each other for a minute, because neither one of us would quite believe it’s real, then I would touch your face and you would smile, and we would just hold each other. We wouldn’t even speak because. . .we wouldn’t need words.”

God, how I wished that had happened. How many nights had I closed my eyes as I climbed the stairs or went to answer the door, praying that when I opened them I would see Max? Now I laughed a little. “You would have gotten a big surprise,” I said, meaning Sophie.

Max nodded. “The best surprise.”

I smiled wistfully. “What would have happened if I did come home and find you there, and I had Sophie with me?” I asked.

He shrugged a little. “I would have loved her,” he said simply, “just like I do now.”

I reached out to touch his face. “Max, promise me something,” I said, and he nodded.

“Anything, Liz,” he answered with the trace of a smile.

“Don’t shut her out,” I said, and his face fell. I knew I was hurting him, but this was my daughter’s happiness at stake. As much as I wanted to preserve this new thing happening between Max and me, I couldn’t take the chance that he would do to Sophie what he had tried so hard to do to me. “Listen to me, Max,” I continued. “She will love you back—I know she will. And it’s. . .when she hugs you, when she tells you she loves you, everything else becomes insignificant. And when she comes to you for help, or for comfort, you feel like the most important person in the world, but. . .the weight it puts on your shoulders can be enormous. It’s hard, Max—it can be so hard sometimes. Sometimes I wonder if I can ever be enough, and I’ve been with her every day of her life. I know. . .I know it’s going to tear you up inside when you see her on Saturday, thinking about how much you’ve missed of her life, and how much is at stake now. And when she has to leave and you have to stay here. . .if it was me, I don’t know if I could do it, either. But please—whatever you do—don’t shut her out because it’s too hard.”

There were tears in his eyes, and he reached for both of my hands, gripping them tightly. “I won’t Liz,” he said, his voice low and strained with emotion. “I swear to you—I won’t. I don’t think. . .I don’t think I could do it again. When I told you to leave before. . .” He paused and shook his head. “That was all I had. I can’t do it again.”

I nodded, lifting his hands to my lips and kissing his knuckles. “Okay,” I said. “I just. . .I had to be sure.”

“I know,” he answered, nodding vigorously. He still couldn’t look at me. “I know, Liz. But I swear I’ll do everything I can for her. I want—I want to be a good father. I really do.”

“You will be,” I told him. “I know you will be.”

He looked at me with such uncertainty in his eyes that my heart twisted. “I don’t know how to be a father, Liz,” he said. “I’ve already done everything wrong. . .”

“Max, you love her,” I interrupted. “I know you do—I can feel it in your heart. That’s not everything, but it’s a good start.” He still didn’t look like he believed me, so I squeezed his hands. “If I didn’t think you could do this, I wouldn’t be bringing her,” I said simply. “Sophie is the most important thing in my life. Do you think I would risk her getting hurt?”

He shook his head slowly. “No.”

We were silent for a few moments, then he looked at me. “Tell me about her,” he said softly.

I thought for a second. “Did you read my letters?”

He nodded. “I’ve read them. . .a lot,” he admitted, “but they stop two years ago.”

“Oh.” I sighed heavily. I remembered writing that last letter—when I’d finished it, I had promised myself that our move to St. Petersburg would be a new start. But I wished he knew how many letters I’d written in my head as I lay awake at night. I took a deep breath. “What do you want to know, Max?” I asked.

“Everything,” he answered immediately. “I want to know everything.”

I leaned forward, my hands still clasped in his, and took a deep breath. “Come here,” I said softly, and he turned in his chair, facing me. I disentangled my hands from his and put them on either side of his face. I could tell he knew what I was doing when he closed his eyes and framed my face in his hands. I closed my eyes, too, and breathed deeply. I could feel him reaching out to me, strengthening our connection, and I pictured Sophie as she had been that morning when I left, still in her pajamas, her hair sticking up all over her head, giving me a sleepy hug goodbye. I pictured her as she had been last night when I checked on her during the night—tangled up in her blankets, her head half-hidden beneath a pillow, her cheeks flushed, her fist resting against her mouth. She’d sucked her thumb when she was a toddler, and even after she’d outgrown that habit, she’d always slept with her fist pressed against her mouth. That thought brought a whole slew of other memories to my mind—rocking her to sleep in our apartment in Boston. . .pulling her thumb out of her mouth before someone snapped a picture at my college graduation. . .curling up next to her in her bed that first night in Petersburg, wondering if I’d made the right decision. . .splashing each other in the ocean in Portugal. . .dancing to Janis Joplin in our living room in New York. . .

I don’t know how long we sat there, my memories flooding through both of us, but when I opened my eyes, Max reached out and pulled me into his arms. “Thank you,” he said softly, his voice husky with emotion.

I rested my cheek against his chest, listening to his heart beat. “You’re welcome.”

“What are you going to tell her?” he asked.

I smiled a little. “The truth,” I said, leaning back to look at him. “We have to tell her the truth.”

“How will she understand?” he asked.

I shook my head. “She may not. There are things about this that I don’t understand. But. . .if we don’t tell her the truth, later all she’ll understand is that we lied. We can’t let that happen.”

He looked at me helplessly. “I don’t know how to do this, Liz.”

“Neither do I,” I admitted. “But. . .we’re not alone now, Max.” I paused for a second, then I smiled, reaching up to touch his hair where the sun caught several strands of gray and turned them to silver. “Do you remember that morning in Vermont. . .that morning when we woke up together and we were both alive and—and safe, and together?”

He pulled me close again, breathing deeply. “I could never forget that,” he whispered against my hair.

I held him, closing my eyes, lost in the memory. “I remember that morning. . .I remember standing there near the gate when you were getting ready to leave and thinking that nothing else mattered. I wasn’t scared of. . .of aliens, or my father, or the FBI, or—or anything else. I wasn’t scared of anything because we were together, and I knew that we do anything.” Tears stung my eyes as I remembered the shock of what had come after. “I didn’t think I'd ever feel like that again,” I said softly, then I raised my head and looked at him. “I think I could now, Max. I really think I could.”

posted on 4-Jul-2002 8:19:12 AM by mockingbird39
Part 34


~Maria~

It was a miracle we got to the airport on time. Michael was late—as usual—and Liz rushed in at the last minute, then spent another ten minutes in her room with the door locked. I guessed she was trying to calm down after her visit with Max. Michael and I spent most of that ten minutes glaring at each other.

“If Max said anything. . .” I warned.

“He didn’t, Maria,” Michael said. “He wants her here as much as she wants to be here.”

“That didn’t stop him before,” I hissed.

“Will you stop?” he retorted, and I fell silent, but I kept glaring at him until Liz came downstairs.

Two hours later—miraculously—we were safely seated on the plane. I sat next to Michael, while Liz, Jack, and Sophie sat across the aisle from us. Jack was entertaining Sophie, but Liz was sitting back in her seat with her jaw clenched and her eyes closed.

“See?” I told Michael, who was watching Jack and Sophie like a hawk. “She’s upset now.”

“Well, yeah, she’s upset,” he told me. “The farther away she gets, the harder it is for her to feel Max. He’s probably trying to hold on as hard as she is.”

I fell back in my seat, frowning. “Oh.”

We were quiet for most of the flight, and eventually Liz opened her eyes and talked to Jack and Sophie for a while. She still looked tired, though, when we got off the plane and walked to the rental car counter. Liz’s parents had wanted to pick us up, and so had my mother, but Liz and I wanted to have a car to use while we were in Roswell. We ended up renting an SUV, and Michael and Jack threw our bags into the back as Liz climbed into the driver’s seat, informing us that she would drive. We planned to go to my mom’s first, since she was making dinner for everyone.

“So what do you think of Roswell?” I asked Sophie, who sat beside the window in the back, staring wide-eyed as we drove into town.

“It’s. . .this is the desert, isn’t it?” she asked curiously.

I laughed and hugged her. “Yeah, this is the desert. Hey, look—right up there. That’s where your mom and I went to school.” She craned her neck to see.

“That doesn’t look much like your school, does it, Soph?” Jack asked, glancing at her from his seat beside Liz in the front.

She shook her head. “Nope.”

“What’s your school look like?” Michael asked.

“More like a house,” Sophie said.

“More like a palace,” Jack put in, chuckling. “It was one, too. Then the Soviets used it as headquarters for some ministry—what was it, Liz?”

“Mm, the research of fossil fuels, I think,” she answered distractedly.

“You’ve been to her school?” Michael asked Jack.

Jack nodded. “Yeah, I picked her up a couple times last spring when I was visiting.” He grinned. “You should see it—it doesn’t look much like where I went to school, either.”

Michael started to smile, then remembered he wasn’t supposed to like Jack and scowled out the window. He’d been doing that ever since we met Jack at the airport. I cast him an annoyed glance as we passed West Roswell High. “Hey, it looks like they’ve built onto it,” I said.

“It’s a new gym,” Michael told me. “Kyle said they built a whole new complex—locker rooms and everything.”

Liz eyed him in the mirror. “You’ve talked to Kyle?” she asked.

“Last time I was here,” he answered. “A few months ago.”

“Oh.” She looked back at the road. “Look, Soph—that’s where Alex lived. His parents still live there, I think.”

Sophie pressed her nose to the glass as we passed Alex’s house, and the rest of us fell silent. Jack knew about Alex—it had come up years ago—and when I glanced at Michael I realized he still hadn’t forgiven himself for Alex’s death. To tell the truth, I don’t think any of us have ever forgiven ourselves for that.

“He played the guitar, too, didn’t he?” Sophie asked.

It was Michael who answered. “Yeah, he did,” he told her. “Alex was a real good guitar player.”

Liz and I pointed out a few other things on the way to my mom’s house—the park where they used to have the Christmas plays, the UFO Center, which Sophie immediately wanted to visit, and Michael’s old house. At one point, Liz turned onto a side street abruptly, and I started to ask why before I realized that she wanted to avoid the Evans’ house. Michael said nothing.

“Here we are,” I announced when Liz pulled the SUV into my mom’s driveway. “This is my house,” I told Sophie. “This is where I grew up.”

Sophie opened her door and jumped out. “It’s pretty,” she said, just as the door opened and Liz’s parents, followed by my mom, came toward us.

“My girls are here!” Liz’s dad called, beaming, as he led the welcome parade. Liz grinned as she got out of the car.

“Hi, Daddy,” she cried, running up the driveway. Sophie dodged around Michael and followed her mother to hug her grandfather.

“Poppy!” Sophie called as she slammed into him full force. He picked her up and hugged her tightly, then held out his arm for Liz, too. I smiled as the three of them were joined by Liz’s mother, then I heard my mom’s voice.

“Maria, my baby, come here!” she called, running for me with her arms outstretched. “My baby girl is home for Thanksgiving—finally!” She hugged me tightly, and I grinned as I hugged her back. I never really appreciated my mother until I was out of the house. Now I miss her more than I admit—to her, at least.

“Hi, Mom,” I said, standing still while she looked me over carefully.

“Oooh, you’re still too thin—what have I told you about eating right while you’re on tour?” she demanded.

“To. . .um, eat right while I’m on tour,” I answered dutifully.

“And do you do it?” she asked.

“Not. . .always,” I admitted.

“We’ll talk about this later,” she said darkly, then turned to the Parkers, who were still exclaiming over Sophie and Liz. “And what do we have here?” she asked.

I smiled. “Mom, this is Sophie. Sophie, this is my mom.”

My mom grinned from ear to ear. “Sophie, I’ve been waiting to meet you for a long time,” she said, holding out her hand.

Sophie grinned back. “You shoulda come to Petersburg,” she said, then bypassed my mom’s hand and threw her arms around her neck.

After we’d introduced Jack to my mom—Liz’s parents had met him years ago while we were in Boston—we went into the house where Liz’s dad fixed us drinks.

“Michael, it’s good to see you again,” I heard Jeff Parker say as he handed him a soda. “I wish we’d been able to stay in touch better over the years.”

Michael nodded. “Yeah, me, too,” he agreed, then glanced at Liz and Sophie. “I, uh, I understand, though.”

Jeff smiled at him. “I’m glad you and Lizzie are friends again.”

“Me, too,” Michael said. “Me, too.”

“So, Jack,” Nancy said, settling next to him on the sofa. “Tell us how you’ve been.”

He accepted a scotch and soda from Jeff and leaned back. “Well, I guess you heard about the divorce.”

She nodded, patting his arm. “Liz told us. I’m very sorry.”

He shrugged and took a sip of his drink. “Yeah, I was, too,” he admitted. “But I’m good now. The practice is going well. . .I like Santa Barbara. Things are pretty good.” He looked over at Liz. “And just when I least expect it, Liz finally gets it in her head to come back to the States,” he added with a grin.

Liz gave a rather forced smile. “Yes, I am the cause of your miraculous recovery. I’m glad you finally noticed,” she teased.

He raised his drink to her, giving her a cocky smile. “I bow to your healing powers,” he retorted, and Liz blanched for a second but recovered quickly.

“Don’t forget it,” she told him.

While we talked, my mom checked on dinner from time to time and after a while she called us to the table. She had outdone herself—there was an enormous ham, scalloped potatoes, broccoli and cheese, homemade cornbread, and at least three other things I just didn’t have room to try out. I could believe she expected us to do this justice and still be hungry in time for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. There was wine, too, and after a couple of glasses, we—except for Michael, of course—were feeling pretty mellow. We sat on the porch and talked some more, and as we sat there I looked around and wondered how I could have forgotten this—this feeling of home, family. I caught Michael looking at me from across the porch where he sat with Sophie on my mom’s wooden swing and I smiled. When he smiled back, winding Sophie’s ponytail around his finger, I felt a flush of warmth.

“When we lived in New York, we went to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade,” Sophie chattered to him, and he turned his smile on her.

“Yeah? Are the balloons as big as they look on TV?” he asked her.

“Bigger,” she assured him. “It was cool.”

“We’ll just have to watch it on TV tomorrow,” he told her.

“Will you come over early so we don’t miss any of the beginning?” she wanted to know.

Michael beamed at her and my heart flipped. “Yeah, I’ll be there bright and early. Then we’ll watch football. You do like football, right?”

She hesitated. “Kind of,” she hedged.

He mimed a knife to his heart. “Aw, man—please don’t tell me you’re a Patriots fan.”

She grinned. “Jets?”

He pretended to twist the knife. “Aaaughh, Soph—you’re killing me here. These East Coast teams. . .isn’t there any way to change your mind?”

“I like the East Coast,” she protested, then raised an eyebrow in a very adult manner. “At least it isn’t the desert,” she added darkly, and we all burst into laughter.

“Don’t you like the desert?” my mom asked, gesturing to the expanse of night sky that stretched over our heads. “I bet you can’t see the stars like this from St. Petersburg.”

Sophie turned her face to the sky thoughtfully. I watched her, wondering if she saw anything there that was hidden from the rest of us—except for Michael, maybe. “No,” she said finally, “I guess not.”

We talked a while longer, then Liz, who sat between her father and Jack, gave an enormous yawn. “Excuse me,” she said, laughing.

“Tired, sweetheart?” her father asked.

Liz shrugged. “It’s been a long day.”

He put his arm around her. “I bet. Maybe we should be getting home, then.”

Liz smiled at him. “That sounds good,” she said.

We all began to stand up. “Nancy, what time should I come over tomorrow?” my mom asked. “I want to help you get dinner ready.”

Liz’s mom looked thoughtful. “Hmm, well. . .the Valentis are coming at three. . .I’ll probably start everything around noon.”

“Michael’s coming early to watch the parade,” Sophie put in, then thought a second. “And football.”

They eventually decided that we’d come over late in the morning to help with dinner and watch the games. We parted for the night, with Liz, Sophie, and Jack piling into the rented SUV to follow the Parkers home. When they were gone, I turned to Michael as my mom went in to turn on the dishwasher.

“I’ll show you the guest room,” I told him.

He nodded. “Okay.”

We went into the house and Michael grabbed both of our bags as we headed upstairs. The guest room was the first room on the right. I led the way inside, switching on the light. “This is it,” I said, looking around. Mom had taken the pink floral prints out several years ago, thank God, and now it was decorated in navy blue and taupe. “Bathroom’s down the hall. . .extra pillows in the closet—blankets, too.” I opened the closet and pointed. “If you need anything—well, you know which one is my bedroom.”

“Thanks.” He set his bag down and looked at me. “It’s nice,” he offered.

I nodded. “Yeah, she redid it a while ago. This is much better, believe me.”

He smiled. “I’ll take your word for it.” He cleared his throat. “Uh, thanks again for letting me stay here.”

“You’re welcome, Michael,” I said. “You. . .you’re always welcome. I’m really glad that you came. It’s good to have you here.”

We stood there awkwardly, neither one of us sure what to say. Finally I took a deep breath. “Good night, then.”

“Right,” he agreed. “Good night.”

I started to go, then realized he was holding my bag. “Oh, wait—I’ll take that,” I said, stepping close to him to take it.”

“Want me to carry it to your room?” he asked.

I shook my head. “No, it’s okay. It’s not heavy.”

He lifted it onto my shoulder, his hand lingering there. “Good night, Maria,” he said again, his voice suddenly husky.

I raised my head, staring at him. His eyes were tender—and hungry. “Michael. . .” I said softly, and he shook his head.

“Shhh,” he murmured, putting a finger over my mouth, tracing my lips lightly. “Don’t say anything.”

I was barely breathing as he lowered his lips to mine and kissed me gently and slowly. It was sweet and almost chaste—his lips caressed mine with a feather-light touch and asked no more. My heart was pounding and I wanted more, but it was only a moment before he broke away. “I’ll see you in the morning,” he murmured huskily.

Dazed, I nodded. “Okay.” I turned and walked out of the room, my head still spinning from the perfection of his kiss. I went to my room and dumped my bad on the floor, switching on the dresser light. My mom had left my room much the same as it was when I left for Boston, though over the years she had gotten rid of most of the clutter. I stared at my reflection in my old bedroom mirror that night and my heart pounded in my ears. Why had he stopped? Why had I let him stop? I put my hand over my lips and breathed deeply, then ran my fingers through my hair. As I closed my eyes, all I could see was Michael’s face as I walked away from him ten years ago. I’d hurt him then—I knew it, and I regretted it every day. I opened my eyes and took a deep breath.

I’m not going to walk away this time, I told myself. I started into the mirror for another minute, gathering my nerve, then I left my room before I could change my mind and went straight to Michael’s room, where I knocked on the door. A few seconds later he opened the door, his shirt hanging open.

“Maria, is something—” he began, but I cut him off.

“Shut up, Michael,” I said, then pushed him into the room and shut the door behind us. Without hesitating, I reached for him and pulled his head down to mine. “Don’t say anything,” I told him just as my lips closed over his. I kissed him long and thoroughly, sucking on his bottom lip in the way I knew had driven him crazy years before. It still worked—he reached for me and drew me close against him, tangling one hand in my hair. When we broke apart for breath, he stared at me.

“Maria, what are you doing?” he asked.

I put my arms around him, holding him tightly, and raising my face to him. “What do you think I’m doing?” I demanded just before our lips met again.

His kiss was less hesitant this time, more urgent as I pressed my body against his. I knew he wanted me, and I wanted him, too. I’d always wanted him, I realized as his hands started to roam over my body, leaving a trail of fire where ever he touched.

“Are you sure?” he murmured against my ear. “Maria—”

“I’m sure, Michael,” I said, silencing him with another kiss. I nudged him toward the bed until he was backed up against it, then I gave him a push that put him on his back, looking up at me with a half-surprised, half-amused look on his face. I straddled him as he lay there and desire leaped in his eyes as he reached for me. “I’m sure,” I said breathlessly, then his lips closed on mine and neither of us had anything more to say.

* * * * *


~Michael~

When I woke up early Thanksgiving morning and opened my eyes to an unfamiliar ceiling, I knew immediately where I was. It didn’t hurt that Maria was curled up against me, the sheets that covered us both tangled around her sleeping body. Her hair was tousled. . .one of the carefully layered pieces stuck up like a little horn on the side of her head. . .her eye make-up was smeared, and her cheeks were flushed. I thought I’d never seen her look more beautiful.

I was still watching her a few minutes later when she stirred, smoothed her hand over my chest, and smiled without opening her eyes.

“Mmm,” she murmured. “Michael. . .?”

“Right here,” I answered, smoothing her hair back from her face.

“I know that,” she yawned.

“Then why are you asking?” I asked mildly.

She smiled again and pressed a kiss to my shoulder. “I don’t know. Just making sure, I guess.”

“Okay.” I gathered her close and ran a hand down her back.

“So. . .” she began hesitantly, “you’re not. . .you’re not sorry, are you?”

Sorry? That had nothing to do with what I was feeling. I propped myself up on the pillows we’d pushed aside last night, bringing her with me. “Maria, I love you,” I said simply, “and I will never, ever be sorry for what we did last night.”

Her eyes widened. “You—oh? You. . .you do. Love me, I mean.”

I nodded. It felt incredible to say those words to her again after all these years. I felt like I had been holding them back ever since the day she walked out of my house. “I love you,” I said again, feeling a huge grin stretch across my face.

She didn’t smile back. “But I left you.”

“Yeah, you did,” I said. “But you’re here now.”

A slow, tentative smile stretched across her face. “Then. . .then you don’t think it’s been too long?”

“I think,” I said seriously, “that it’s been way too long.” I slowly lowered her onto her back as I spoke, smoothing her hair back and smiling down at her. “Which is why we should start making up for lost time,” I added huskily, finding the place behind her ear that made her shiver whenever I touched it.

It worked. She shivered and drew me closer. “Really, Michael?” she asked breathlessly, and I felt her wrap both her legs around one of mine as I stretched out over her.

I raised my head and looked down at her, wondering how it was possible to be so in love with someone I’d barely seen for ten years. “Really,” I murmured.

* * * * *

Maria went to her room when we heard her mom start to stir, tip-toeing across the hallway, wrapped in a sheet and carrying her clothes under her arm. I watched her go with a satisfied smile, and waved when she stood in her doorway and blew me a sexy kiss. When she shut her door, I closed mine too and went back to throw myself on my bed, closing my eyes to better remember last night.

I hadn’t realized I was dozing off until I heard a knock at my door that startled me awake. I got up quickly and opened the door.

“What’s the matter, Maria? Forget—”

I stopped short when I saw Amy standing there with a knowing smirk. “Morning, Michael,” she said archly. “Have a good time last night?”

I stared at her, feeling my ears turn red. “I, uh. . .”

“Your cell phone was ringing downstairs. You must have left it there last night.” She handed it to me and I took it, staring stupidly down at it. “You might want to see who called,” she told me.

I nodded. “Right. Uh, I. . .I must have—”

“Michael,” she interrupted calmly, “I know what happens in my own house.”

Damn. “You do?”

She nodded. “Yes. I’m not mad—you and my daughter are adults. And believe me, better you than the last guy.”

Huh? “What last guy?”

“But,” she continued pleasantly, “if you break my baby’s heart, I will hunt you down. Do we understand each other?”

“Um. . .yes, ma’am?”

“Good.” She smiled at me. “Just as long as we’re clear.”

I was still staring at her dumbstruck when the phone in my hand rang again.

“You might want to get that,” she prompted, then turned on her heel and walked away.

I stood there for a second, still in shock, then finally I shut the door and answered my phone. “Hello?”

“Michael, are you gonna come watch the parade?”

It was Sophie, and she sounded impatient. I glanced at the clock and found it was already after eight—the parade in New York was probably almost over, but maybe they were going to show it again for the rest of the country.

“Yeah, I’m coming,” I said. “How long have you been up?”

“A long time,” she informed me. “I helped Poppy get the restaurant ready. We’re watching the parade in New York now.”

“The restaurant’s open?” I asked.

“Just for breakfast,” she said. “If you come now, Poppy says he’ll make you pancakes with tabasco sauce. Do you really eat that?”

I laughed. “It’s my favorite. I’ll be over in a little while. Just let me get Maria—”

“She’ll take forever to get ready,” Sophie interrupted, groaning.

Hmm. She had me there. “Let me see if I can speed her up, okay? She’s going to want to come.”

“She doesn’t like tabasco pancakes,” Sophie warned.

“I know. But she’ll be mad if I don’t wait for her.” I looked over at the clock on the night stand. “Do you know what time it is?” I asked her.

“Yes. I’m wearing my watch.”

“Give me half an hour,” I told her. “I’ll get her there, or I’ll. . .I’ll wear your Bruins hat to dinner.”

She laughed. “Deal.”

We said goodbye and hung up, and I went across to Maria’s room and knocked on the door.

“Hey,” I said when she opened it, now wrapped in her robe but still half asleep.

“Michael,” she said with a sleepy smile. “You better go back to your room—my mom’s up.”

“She already knows,” I told her.

That woke her up in a hurry. “What? Did you tell her?”

I shook my head. “No, she just knew.”

Maria leaned against the doorway, shaking her head. “Damn. Is she up here? She’s going to want to talk, isn’t she?”

“Not if we get to the Crashdown before she knows you’re up,” I told her. “She can’t corner you if the Parkers are around.”

She frowned. “Michael, I have to shower and wash my hair, and then I have to—”

“Explain to your mother what happened under her roof last night?” I interrupted.

She stopped cold. “Right. Give me twenty minutes.”

“I’ll give you fifteen,” I told her as she slammed the door in my face. Grinning, I went back to my room. No way I was going to be wearing that Bruins hat tonight.

posted on 11-Jul-2002 2:11:15 PM by mockingbird39
Part 35


~Max~

When Liz left that afternoon, I knew I was in for the longest two days of my life. She hadn’t wanted to go, and I hadn’t wanted her to.

“It’s only until Friday,” I had told her as leaned against the table, reluctant to leave. “When you get back to LA. . .it’ll be better.”

She nodded, taking a deep breath. “I know. I just. . .I hate leaving you. It gets harder and harder to leave.”

I reached out to touch her face, tucking her hair behind her ear. “I know.”

She closed her eyes and put her forehead on my shoulder, resting her hands on my waist. “There’s going to be a big dinner,” she said softly. “We’re all going to my parents’ house, and Kyle and Valenti are going to be there.”

“And Jack,” I added.

Liz raised her head. “Yes. Jack’s coming, too. He didn’t have anywhere to go for the holiday—his family’s in Boston—”

“Who is he, Liz?” I asked quietly.

She shook her head and put her arms around me, holding me close. “He’s only a friend, Max. I used to think maybe he could be more, but then I came here. . .” She paused for a second and I held my breath, waiting for her to continue. “He’s a good friend.”

I held her against me, trying to shake the jealousy. “Do you trust him?” I asked her.

I felt her nod. “Yeah, I do. He’s never given me a reason not to.”

I winced. She had plenty of reasons not to trust me. “You don’t think he’s. . .”

She laughed a little. “He’s human, Max. I know his family—I think I know most of his neighborhood.”

I tried to let that allay my fears. “Okay,” I said, “I believe you.”

“Good.” She leaned back to look at me. “Will you be okay?”

I nodded. “Yes. Don’t worry about me.”

She reached up and touched my forehead, stroking my hair. I closed my eyes to concentrate on her touch. No one had touched me like this in so long—gently, with such love in her hands that it brought tears to my eyes. Her fingers found a scar along my cheekbone. . .an old scar—I barely remembered how it had come to be there. . .and lingered there, tracing it lightly. “What happened?” she asked softly.

I shook my head, not wanting her to touch it. When she was there, I could forget things like that. But she wouldn’t stop. “How?” she persisted.

“A. . .a fight in the exercise yard,” I said finally, pushing her hand away. “It isn’t important—”

There were tears in her eyes, but she resisted. “Why didn’t you heal it?”

“I—I couldn’t. They would have known.”

I could feel her despair as she reached up with her other hand, framing my face, and drew my face down to hers. Her lips moved over my scar and then she pressed her cheek against mine. “I’m going to get you out of here, Max,” she whispered in a choked voice. “I swear it to you. Don’t tell me to stop, because I can’t. I can’t let you stay here. You don’t belong here—you belong with me.”

I closed my eyes. “Liz, whatever happens,” I said quietly, “I’ll be okay. These last few days with you. . .” I held her closer, remembering. “This is more than I ever thought I’d have again.”

She was holding me tightly, and I remembered again how strong she could be. “It’s not enough, Max. You know it isn’t.”

It wasn’t, and it would never be. It wouldn’t be enough until I could go home with her and Sophie. But I couldn’t say the words. “Shh,” I murmured, kissing her cheek. “It’ll be okay. We’ll be okay.” She clung to me, and I cradled her for a long moment. Finally, I looked at the clock over the door. “Your plane leaves soon,” I said.

She held me tighter. “Maybe I shouldn’t go,” she murmured, and I knew what she was thinking about because I was thinking about it, too. When she walked out that door, the thread that bound us together would start to thin, and it would keep getting thinner until it was so faint that it would take all our concentration to hang onto it. Then, eventually, we wouldn’t be able to feel it at all. I was dreading it as much as she was. . .and her heart was already aching in anticipation.

“Go have Thanksgiving,” I said softly, bending my head to whisper against her ear, “and then come back to me. Bring our daughter back. I need you for that—I can’t do it without you. Please, Liz.”

She raised her head and looked into my eyes. “I’ll be here. You know that.”

I nodded. “I know.” I leaned down and kissed her gently, caressing her incredibly soft lips with mine. Her eyes closed and she melted into my arms, her lips parting to my touch.

Her soul was already open.

* * * * *

Liz left a few minutes later, reluctantly, and I went back to my cell to wait out the afternoon. . .and the rest of the days until I would feel her return. All day I felt the connection thin, even though I knew both of us were fighting to hang onto it. Finally, as the sun went down, I lost it altogether. When that happened, I lay down on my bed and closed my eyes, trying to breathe deeply.

I miss you, I thought. God, I miss you so much.

I reached into my pocket and brought out the picture of Liz and Sophie, pressing it to my forehead. I didn’t need to look at it anymore; I could see it with my eyes closed. Every detail was burned into my mind—from Sophie’s small hand tangled in the fringe of the blanket, to Liz’s gentle smile. I wanted so badly to be a part of that simple, homey scene—even more than I wanted to be spending Thanksgiving in Roswell.

But if I wanted any of it—if I wanted to know my daughter outside of a prison visiting room, or make love to Liz for real—I needed to find Cal Langley. As I lay there, fury made my heart pound. If not for Langley, I would be with Liz at this moment. I would be with Liz and our daughter instead of alone and unable to protect them. If not for Langley, I reflected, wanting to put my fist through something, they wouldn’t need protecting.

I had to get out of here. I had to. I couldn’t sit here year after year, missing holidays and birthdays and everything else in Liz and Sophie’s lives. I wanted—needed—to be with them. And just maybe, in time, they might start to need me, too.

After a few moments, I sat up and took out the folder of documents about my case and began looking through them. The problem was, I didn’t really know what I was looking for. Liz’s legal knowledge had helped her find the flaws—I didn’t have her expertise, and I had been looking at the case for so long that I no longer saw anything new there.

But maybe I shouldn’t only be looking for something new. I crossed to the shelf near the back of my cell and took down the box of papers that held the research I’d put together over the last ten years. Everything was in there—the appeals filed by my lawyer, the opinions issued in return, the legal research I’d done in the prison library, my trial transcript and copies of the exhibits. In the very bottom of the box was a manila envelope—old, faded, tattered—that I hadn’t looked at in years. It was what I’d brought with me ten years ago when I turned myself in to the California police. All the research and notes I’d made as I searched for Langley ten years ago. As I took it out that day, it seemed very thin. Not much to show for almost a year of searching—a year away from Liz and my family. But I opened it anyway, and spread the contents over my bed. I picked up a folded paper and found that it was one of Liz’s emails—one of the first she had sent.

Dear Max, Last night we went to the Paradise Rock Club on Comm. Ave. to see Remy Zero. They were great, but they made me think of you and Alex and everyone else in Roswell. I miss it there so much. When you find Langley and come to me here, I want to go home for a visit. As much as I love Boston, Roswell is still home. I can’t imagine anywhere else every being my home. . .

I put the letter down, shaking my head and wondering how we had gotten so far away from that. I’d never found Langley, and when I went to Liz in Cambridge I’d left her in the night. Liz’s last visit to Roswell had ended in disaster, and now she was so far removed from it that our daughter had never even seen the place we had grown up. Except that maybe she was seeing it now.

What will you think of it? I wondered. Would she love it—love the wide open spaces and the night sky that seemed to close? Would she find it strange after living in big cities so far away? Would it feel like home to her? Or was her home far away in a place I’d never seen?

I closed my eyes for a second, raking over the fragmented images I’d seen in my dreams and trying to picture St. Petersburg. What would it be like to live there with Liz and Sophie—to walk beneath the shadows of the buildings I’d seen in dreams? To stand on the bridges and see the sun set over the river like I’d seen it in Liz’s memories?

Ten years ago I had believed I would find Langley—that one day I would walk up to Liz’s door in Cambridge a free man and that I would be with Liz forever. Back then, when I woke up every morning I wondered if today would be the day I would find Langley and end my nightmare. I remembered the slim leads that had kept me going, and how I had clung to them and to Liz’s emails as proof that one day soon this would be over. I needed to believe that now, too, but how? How would we find Langley ten years after the trail had gone cold?

Restlessly, I opened my eyes and sifted through the rest of the papers on my bed. I was about to put them away again when I turned over a newspaper clipping. It was just a picture—a picture of five people. The one in the center was short, bald, and had deep-set eyes. Something in my memory stirred and then I looked down at the caption.

The man’s name was Jacob Wheeland.

* * * * *

~Liz~

I woke up early Thanksgiving morning, and for a second I forgot where I was. Then I saw the bright desert sunlight streaming through the windows and I had the absurd thought that the past ten years had never happened. That I was Liz Parker, from Roswell, New Mexico, waking up in my bed like every other morning. But even as that thought took hold, I realized I wasn’t alone. Sophie was curled up next to me on the bed, one arm thrown over my waist. I looked down and brushed her hair back from her face. When she’s awake, she’s fiercely independent and almost as grow-up as she thinks she is. But when she’s sleeping like this, Sophie is still my baby. Sometimes I sneak into her room early in the morning and sit by her bed and watch her sleep. If she knew, she would give me that world-weary look and roll her eyes, wondering why her mother is so strange. But in these moments, she’s still the tiny baby I gave my heart to the first time the nurse put her in my arms.

As I lay there watching her, she scrunched up her face and gave a long sigh. I wondered if she was dreaming, and if Max could see her dreams. I felt a pang of jealousy that he could share them with her when I couldn’t, but I quashed it almost immediately. There were a thousand things I had shared with our daughter that Max had missed. I couldn’t begrudge him this.

It wasn’t long before Sophie stirred and opened her eyes. She, too, seemed confused about where she was for an instant, but when she saw me there her face cleared and she snuggled a little closer.

“Were you dreaming?” I asked her, settling her against me.

I felt her nod. “Yeah.”

“About what?” I asked.

She looked up at me, frowning. “I don’t know,” she said.

“You don’t know?” I repeated.

She shook her head. “I don’t know what it is,” she said.

I tried to stay calm. “Do you have dreams like that very often?”

She shrugged. “Not really. Just sometimes.”

“And you don’t recognize anything in them?” I persisted.

She thought about it for a minute or two, then shrugged. “I don’t think so,” she said. “Do you think the parade is on yet?” she wanted to know.

I glanced at the clock, resisting the urge to question her more. Sophie didn’t seem concerned about her dreams, and I didn’t want to upset her. “Yeah, it’s probably on. They’re a couple of hours ahead, remember?”

“Oh. Right.”

I started to sit up, thinking of all the things I wanted to do that day. “If you get dressed and go down to the Crashdown, I bet you could help Poppy set up for the day.”

She looked interested. “Okay. What are you gonna do?”

Go explain to one of my best friends why I haven’t spoken to him in ten years.

“I’m going to go see if Nanna needs any help and then maybe take a walk around town,” I told her. “There’s some stuff I want to see.”

“You’re not going to the UFO Center are you?” she demanded. “Because I want to go there.”

I shook my head. “Nope. It’s probably closed today, anyway.”

“Okay.” She hopped off the bed. “I’m gonna call Michael, okay?”

“Sure. Do you know his number?”

She shook her head. “No.”

I reached over to the night stand and grabbed my cell phone. “It’s in here,” I told her. “I’m going to go take a shower.” I left her finding Michael’s number on my phone and went into the bathroom where I took a quick shower. When I went back to get dressed, Sophie was already gone and I sat down on the bed, thinking about her dreams. Was she dreaming of Max? And if she was, what had she seen? I wished I could ask her if he was okay. Being away from him was like walking with my hand in front of my face. I could see around it, and I could function, but it was always right in front of me. Knowing that he was alone today made it worse. I ached to get on a plane and keep going until I was with him again. Last night, I’d lain awake in bed as Sophie slept, trying to feel him. Once, when I was nearly asleep, I’d thought I felt him reaching out to me and I jolted awake when I tried to find him. But I lost that breath of him, and even though I tried, I hadn’t been able to find it again. I lay back on the bed, closing my eyes, and tried to find the place in my mind—or was it my soul—where I knew he should be.

Max? Are you there?

But there was no answer, and finally I got up and got dressed. I went downstairs first, where my mom was having a cup of coffee and going over a list of things to do that day. I joined her for a few minutes, but she refused to let me help.

“Maybe later,” she said. “Go relax for a while—get used to being home again.”

Home? I had barely thought of Roswell as home for years. But if Roswell wasn’t home, then. . .where? Petersburg? New York? Boston? I had loved all of those places, but had any of them really been home? I stared down at the dregs of my coffee and grimaced. It was too early in the morning for thoughts like this, particularly considering what I had to do this morning. I gave a heavy sigh and got up, grabbing my keys and purse.

I checked on Sophie and my dad in the restaurant and found them having a great time. Jack was there, too, drinking coffee and eating an omelet while Dad ran the cash register.

“Mom, look!” Sophie called excitedly, motioning me over. I saw that she was holding a small video camera, looking into the viewer.

“What have you got there?” I asked her, leaning on the counter between them. I glanced over at Jack and grinned. “Hey, Jack. Sleep well?”

He pecked my cheek. “Morning, Parker. Lovin’ the service here. You want some breakfast?”

I shook my head. “No, I had coffee,” I told him.

“And?” he prompted.

I shrugged. “Cream?”

He rolled his eyes. “That’s not breakfast.”

“Nope, it’s not,” Sophie agreed, turning the camera on me.

I laughed. “Where did you get that thing?” I asked, changing the subject.

“From Poppy,” she informed me, staring down at the viewer. “Look, it can zoom.”

My dad was making his way over by that time. “Morning, sweetheart,” he said, leaning across the counter to kiss my cheek.

“Hi, Daddy,” I said, then gestured to the camera. “When did you get this?”

He looked sheepish. “Now, don’t get mad. It’s a present. A Christmas present. Early.”

“Poppy said it’s so I can tape stuff and sent it to him and Nanna,” Sophie told me.

I looked at my dad. “You bought her a video camera?”

He shrugged. “Well, yes. I thought—since you’re living so far away now—that she could use it to tape things at school and at home. So we don’t miss everything.”

I felt a pang of guilt. My parents adored Sophie, and we had always lived so far away that they got to spend precious little time with her. “Daddy, are you sure? This is a pretty nice gift.”

“Of course I’m sure. I wanted to do it—so did your mother.” He smiled at me. “She’s already figured out how to use it, see?”

I watched Sophie, who was filming the customers that walked into the door. She was clearly enjoying it. “Did you tell Poppy thank you?”

She looked up and flashed him a brilliant smile. “Thanks, Poppy.”

He reached out and ruffled her hair. “You’re welcome, Sophie.”

I left Sophie filming everything in the Crashdown while she waited for Michael and Maria to come watch the parade. I knew she would be busy for hours, and I had plenty to do. As I got in the car, I felt in my pocket for the paper where I’d jotted down Kyle’s address the night before. Michael had given me directions, but I didn’t think I’d need them. Kyle’s complex was three blocks from the high school where he was now a gym teacher and the assistant wrestling coach. The complex must be new, I reflected as I parked the car and got out, surveying my surroundings. I didn’t remember it from before.

His apartment turned out to be on the second floor. I felt a little shaky as I pressed his doorbell, and by the time I heard footsteps behind the door I had decided this was a bad idea and I should go home and reconsider, but by then it was too late. The door was swinging open, and then all of a sudden Kyle was standing there.

“Hi,” I said, and the word hung there in the air as he stared at me. Should have called first, I thought, but I knew if I’d taken the time to do that, I would have chickened out before I ever got in the car.

“Li—Liz,” he stammered, clearly surprised to see me standing on his doorstep. I braced myself for his next reaction, whatever it might be. He stared at me for a second longer, then he smiled a little. “I heard you were coming home, but I wasn’t sure if I believed it.”

I looked down for a second, not sure what to say. “Yeah, I’m here,” I said finally. This wasn’t going to be easy, and by rights I knew it shouldn’t be. “I thought. . .I thought I should come by first. We should probably—”

“Talk,” Kyle finished, nodding. He stepped aside. “Do you want to come in?”

I hesitated. “It’s really nice outside. Do you mind if we walk?”

He raised an eyebrow. “So you’ve got room to take off if this doesn’t go well?”

Ouch. “I won’t run,” I said, taking a deep breath. “I promise.”

I waited while he got his shoes and a jacket, then we walked downstairs and started in the direction of the school. “I hear you’re a teacher,” I ventured as we walked.

Kyle nodded. “Yeah.”

“I’m proud of you, Kyle,” I said softly, venturing a glance at him. “I bet you’re a good teacher.”

He shrugged and squinted into the sun. “I hear you’re a good lawyer,” he said. He stopped walking and put out a hand to stop me, too, looking me over closely. “You look good, Liz,” he said. “You look. . .different.”

I wondered what that meant, but I wasn’t sure I really wanted to know. “Thanks,” I said. “You—you, too.”

We walked a little longer, then I looked at him again. “I think I owe you an explanation,” I said finally.

He nodded again. “Yeah, I think you do,” he agreed simply.

I opened my mouth to start at the beginning—at the place where Max Evans broke my heart. . .again. . .and I ran away. . .again. But the words wouldn’t come. Finally, I turned to him and took a deep breath. “Kyle, I have a daughter.”

His eyes widened. “You do?”

I nodded. “Yes. Her name is Sophie. She’s. . .she’s eight years old. She’ll be nine in February.”

I could practically see him counting backwards in his head. After a second, he shook his head and looked down. “Aw, man,” he said. He gave a heavy sigh and looked at me. “She’s Max’s,” he said.

It wasn’t a question, but I answered anyway. “Yes.”

Kyle stopped walking and scrubbed a hand across h is forehead. “And Max doesn’t know,” he said.

I shrugged. “He does now.”

“That’s why you went to California after all this time,” Kyle reasoned. “To tell Max he has a daughter.”

I shook my head, then just as quickly wondered if that was why I’d come to California. “Well,” I said slowly, “I came to work on Max’s case.”

“And he figured out why,” he said softly.

“He saw her,” I told Kyle. “In a flash.”

“And?”

I shrugged. “And. . .and I’m taking her to meet him on Saturday,” I said. I shook my head sadly. “All these years I’ve been telling myself he wouldn’t care, but. . .he does. And I was. . .really, really wrong to keep this from him—from everyone—for all this time.” I squinted up at the sun for a second, then blurted, “I’m sorry, Kyle. I should have told you before—I wish to God I had—but. . .”

“But if everyone in Roswell knew, Max would have found out,” Kyle interrupted. He looked at me closely. “Why didn’t you tell him? You always told him everything.”

“I tried,” I said. “He wouldn’t listen. I went to visit him and he told me to leave him alone. I wrote him letters, but he sent them back, and I. . .god, I was so stupid. I knew he was just protecting me.”

“By telling you to go away?” Kyle demanded, then shook his head. “Yeah, that sounds like Max. Still likes to throw himself on the grenade, doesn’t he?”

I gave a tiny smile. “Yeah.”

We started walking again, each lost in thought for a long moment. Then Kyle turned to me. “I wish I’d known,” he said. “I’ve been kind of. . .”

“Pissed off at me?” I asked with a smile.

He chuckled. “Well, yeah. I couldn’t figure out what I did—”

“Kyle, you didn’t do anything. I was wrong,” I interrupted.

“You were scared,” he told me.

“It was still wrong,” I said. “You have every right to be angry with me—”

He cut me off altogether. “Yeah, but I’m not,” he said simply. Then he smiled and gave me a hug that, more than anything in Roswell, felt like coming home.

posted on 18-Jul-2002 4:40:02 PM by mockingbird39
Part 36

~Liz~

I hadn’t realized how much I missed Kyle until he was there again after all these years. All at once I remembered what it was like to have him there standing next to me without judgment and without question—just standing there with a silent offer of support that was never intrusive but always present. And I never appreciated him more than when he offered to stop by his father’s house and break the news so I wouldn’t have to do it twice in one day. I took him up on that, if only so I could get one other thing out of the way before heading back to my parents’ house.

[center]Alexander Charles Whitman
1983-2001
[/center]

I took off my sunglasses and sank to my knees next to Alex’s grave, clutching a small bouquet of flowers I’d bought on the way. As I placed the autumn-colored blossoms at his headstone, they seemed woefully inadequate to make up for ten years of silence. Particularly since, now that I was here, I couldn’t seem to open my mouth.

Maybe it was because, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t feel Alex here. I felt him everywhere else in Roswell—around the high school, on the street where he’d lived, in the Crashdown. Sometimes I felt him so strongly I almost turned around to look. I’d spent a year in Roswell without Alex, but I’d spent seventeen in Roswell with him and now that I’d returned, those were the ones that burned in my memory. Here—here where we’d watched his body lowered into the ground—I felt nothing. There was nothing of my friend here.

I gave a long sigh and traced Alex’s name on the headstone. I don’t know what I had expected—a connection of some sort, I suppose. Something that would make me feel like Alex was still with me, because I’d wanted to feel that for years.

“Where did you go, Alex?” I asked aloud, feeling tears sting my eyes. “I really wish you were here right now. I’ve got a lot to tell you.” But speaking to him aloud didn’t conjure him, and after a minute I shook my head. “I guess I’ll just have to hope you already know, won’t I?” I wiped my cheeks with the back of my hand and started to rise, but before I got to my feet, I heard a voice behind me.

“Liz?”

I froze for a second, because I knew that voice.

“Liz, is that you?”

I took a deep breath and turned around. Isabel Evans—no, I reminded myself, Isabel Ramirez. Isabel stood there a few feet away, holding a bouquet nearly identical to the one I’d just laid beneath Alex’s name. Her eyes were wide with surprise, her mouth open a little. I remember that I used to feel clumsy and childish around Isabel, but as we stood there in the cemetery that day, I didn’t feel either of those things. And despite everything, I was glad to see her. I wasn’t surprised, either. It was right, somehow, that we should meet there.

“Hi, Isabel,” I said, smiling.

She stood there staring at me for a second. “I can’t believe it’s you. I haven’t seen you for—”

“Ten years,” I finished, nodding. “It’s been a long time.”

“It has,” she said, still staring. “I. . .I didn’t think anyone would be here,” she told me, glancing at Alex’s headstone. She looked down and smiled a little. “I really didn’t think you would be here.”

I chuckled. “No, I guess not.” I paused because I wasn’t really sure what she knew or assumed about what had happened between Max and me. “I. . .I was just leaving,” I ventured finally, trying to give her a way out if she didn’t care to speak to me.

“Oh, no,” she said quickly. “You don’t have to go. I never really. . .I don’t stay long.” She shrugged. “I always come here when I’m home, but. . .”

“He’s not here,” I said simply.

“No,” she agreed. “I always think he will be, but. . .he never is.” She blinked in the bright sunlight and then shook her head. “But you,” she said. “How have you been?”

I folded my arms across. “I’m good,” I said, then smiled a little, because for the first time in ten years, I almost was. “How about you—how’s Jesse?”

She smiled back. “He’s good,” she said. She took a breath, then hesitated, and I tensed, prepared for questions or accusations or whatever else might be coming. Finally, she shook her head. “I always wondered about you. I wondered what you were doing.”

I nodded. “I wondered about you, too. All of you,” I added lamely.

She seemed to know what I meant. “Your parents must be thrilled you finally came home,” she said. “Are you. . .are you visiting for the holiday, or. . .?”

I nodded again. “Yeah. I’m just here for a couple of days.” I smiled again—a little nervously this time. I had almost said “we,” and I knew Max wanted to tell his parents about Sophie himself. Still, I fought the urge to tell Isabel right then—partly because I wanted to save Max what I knew would be a painful conversation and partly because I knew I deserved whatever accusations Isabel and the Evans might throw at me.

Isabel shook her head and laughed a little. “So. . .where have you been, Liz? No one seems to know. What have you been up to?”

I shrugged, not sure what to say. “I’m a lawyer now,” I said finally.

“You are? Liz, that’s great.” She seemed genuinely pleased to hear it, just like she seemed pleased to see me. “Where are you living? Still in Boston?”

I shook my head. “No, I’m living in St. Petersburg,” I told her. Before she could mistake it, I added, “Russia.”

She started to grin. “You live in Russia? That’s. . .that’s amazing. What do you do there?”

“I work for Christian Dior,” I said. “What. . .what have you been up to? Are you still in Chicago?”

She nodded. “Yeah, Chicago. Jesse’s practicing—mostly family law—and I work for a non-profit. A museum,” she added with a trace of pride. “We’re small, but we’ve gotten some pretty good acquisitions lately.”

“That’s great,” I said. “I’m happy for you.”

We stood there in silence for a minute, and I didn’t know what to do. Isabel and I had never been close—we’d mostly been bound together because we both loved Max. I wondered what she had thought when I left for Cambridge and never came back. Had she ending our relationship was my decision or had she known—in that way Isabel sometimes did—that I’d loved him too much for that? She had known how much Max loved me. If there’s one voice my brother will hear no matter where he is. . . But had she known that it went both ways?

“Liz,” Isabel said suddenly, and I looked up, jolted from my thoughts. “Are you married?” she asked quietly, and I knew what she was really asking.

I shook my head solemnly. “No. I’m not married.”

She nodded, a sympathetic look flitting across her face. I wished I could have stayed and talked to her more, but I knew it would be too difficult to do that without saying anything about Sophie. I promised myself that I would take Sophie to visit Isabel and Jesse in Chicago sometime soon. She should know her aunt—just like she should know her grandparents—and I hoped Isabel would forgive me for staying silent this time.

“I should go,” I said slowly. “It was good to see you, Isabel.”

Her face fell a little. “It was good to see you, too,” she said.

I started to walk away. “Bye, then,” I told her. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

She nodded. “You, too. Tell your parents I said hello.”

“I will.” I stood there for a second longer, then I smiled at her and began to walk away. I was halfway to the cemetery gates when I heard her call my name. I turned and saw her walking quickly toward me. I waited until she was a few feet away, watching as she dug in her purse.

“Here, here’s my card,” she told me. “My home number is on the back. Call me sometime. You know—if you’re ever in Chicago.” She shrugged. “Or. . .even if you’re not.”

“I will, Isabel,” I said. “Soon—I promise.”

She smiled. “Good.”

Our eyes met and held for a moment longer, then I nodded in the direction of the street. “I have to go. My mom’s making dinner. She might need help.”

“Yeah, me too,” she agreed. “I—I’m glad you were here.”

I smiled at her. “Me, too.”

* * * * *

After I left the cemetery, I went back home to help Mom with dinner. Amy was already there, and they had the kitchen under control, so I was sent back to the living room to watch football with Maria, Michael, my dad, Sophie, and Jack. They were sprawled across the couches and the floor, bowls of snacks scattered between them. I walked into the living room just as a collective groan came from the group.

“Who’s winning?” I asked casually, perching myself on the edge of the sofa next to Sophie. Jack sat on the floor near my feet. Ever since I’ve known him, Jack has preferred the floor to any couch, chair, or other available surface. Once, right in the middle of pulling an all-nighter for our Criminal Procedures final, I looked over and found him sound asleep on the floor of my living room.

“Not us,” Sophie and Jack groaned in unison.

“This is an embarrassment,” my dad said, tossing a pillow in the direction of the television.

“There goes my fifty bucks,” Michael complained. “Stupid. . .” He hesitated, glancing at Sophie. “. . .quarterback.”

“Does that mean we get to watch something else?” Maria asked brightly.

“No!” everyone else answered.

She sighed and looked over at me. “How did it go?” she asked.

I nodded and smiled. “Good.”

She wasn’t going to be satisfied with that. “Good? And?”

“And they’ll be here at three,” I said with a shrug. I wasn’t prepared to talk about it now, so I slid to the floor beside Jack. “What’s the score?”

Jack slipped an arm around to rest against my shoulders—it was friendly, not romantic. Jack is always careful not to cross that line. I like to think it’s because our friendship means too much for him to risk it. “Are you gonna make me say it out loud?” he asked with a grimace.

He was saved when my mom came into the room. “Liz, did Kyle say when he and Jim are coming over?”

“Um. . .aren’t they coming at three?” I asked.

“Didn’t you think to make sure?” she persisted.

“Uh, we were. . .talking about other stuff,” I said vaguely. “I think they’re still coming at three.”

She sighed. “Well, if they’re not coming until then, will someone please run to the store and pick up a can of condensed milk and some pecans? Amy thinks we should make more sweet potatoes.” When no one spoke, she prodded, “Liz?”

I frowned. “I just got back.”

“Then you aren’t involved in the game yet,” my mom said firmly.

I sighed. “Okay.” I wasn’t going to protest too hard—Amy makes great sweet potatoes.

“I’ll go, too,” Maria volunteered. “I don’t know what’s going on anyway.”

“Want me to go?” Michael asked quietly, and she shook her head, brushing his hair back from his eyes as she stood up.

“No. Enjoy the game. I’ll be back.”

I watched them, wondering what exactly had happened since I left them the night before. I planned to grill her on the way to the store.

“I wanna go, too,” Sophie announced. “Can I take my camera?”

Jack tipped his head back to look at her. “Are you going to abandon the team now?” he asked.

“They’re losing,” she said, shaking her head.

“Well, you still root for the Mets,” he teased, earning a yelp of protest from her.

“Yeah, well. . .you root for the Sox,” she retorted.

“She’s got you there,” my dad said, not taking his eyes from the television.

It was Jack’s turn to protest. “We’re gonna get ‘em next year,” he said.

“Until September,” Michael muttered, and Jack laughed.

“I heard that,” he said good-naturedly.

“Come on, ladies,” I said to Maria and Sophie. “We want to get back before Kyle and Jim get here.”

“Who’s Kyle and Jim?” Sophie asked as she hopped off the couch. Jack made a grab for her foot, which she dodged, giggling.

“Old friends,” I told her. “You’ll meet them soon.”

“Okay,” she said. She picked up her video camera. “I’m ready.”

“What are you going to film at the supermarket?” Maria wanted to know.

“Stuff,” she answered vaguely.

We called out a goodbye that was largely ignored by the despairing sports fans in the living room and left for the store with Sophie filming Roswell as we drove.

It didn’t take long to get there—it was less than a mile from my parents’ house. As we walked across the parking lot, I glanced at Maria.

“So. . .you and Michael?” I asked pointedly.

She blushed and walked faster. “We’re good.”

“How good?” I asked.

“Liz!” she protested in a loud whisper. “Your daughter is right in front of us!” She pointed to Sophie, who was obviously engrossed in her new cinematic enterprise.

“And not paying a bit of attention,” I said. “Now. . .how good?”

She was bright red now. “Um, we had to run out of the house this morning before my mom could corner us.”

Wow. That must have been pretty good. I grinned at her and gave her an impulsive hug. “That’s great.”

She grinned back. “Yeah, it was,” she admitted, then sobered a little. “I just wish I knew what it means, you know?”

“You’ll figure it out,” I assured her, and I believed it, too. I’d seen the way Michael looked at her lately, and there was no way in hell he was going to let her go again.

“I hope so,” she said with a smile that lingered on her face as we walked into the store.

“You get the pecans, I’ll get the milk,” I told her.

“Okay,” she agreed. “I don’t know what condensed milk looks like anyway.”

I called out to Sophie, and she followed me, trailing behind me with her video camera. We found the milk quickly and went back to meet Maria in front of the check-out counters.

“You’re having fun with that thing, aren’t you?” I asked her.

She nodded distractedly, fiddling with one of the zoom buttons. “Yeah. It’s cool. I’m gonna take it to Jack’s on Sunday.”

Sunday. God, I couldn’t think past Saturday. “That’s a good idea,” I told her. “You can film the ocean.”

“Uh-huh,” she agreed.

I didn’t see Maria standing around the check-out lanes, so I took Sophie’s hand and started walking. “I hope they’re not out of pecans,” I said to Sophie.

“What do we need pecans for?” she wanted to know.

“Sweet potatoes. Amy makes them with marshmallows and pecans and brown sugar.”

She looked interested. “That sounds good.”

“It is,” I said. I caught sight of Maria talking to someone near a display of Indian corn and gourds. “Hey, there she is,” I said, picking up my pace. I had almost reached her when I realized who it was.

Diane Evans. Max’s mother. Sophie’s grandmother—the one who had no idea she had a grandchild, let alone that she was fifteen feet away.

“Damn,” I heard myself whisper. I grabbed Sophie’s hand and ducked behind an aisle before they could see us.

“Mom, what—?” she began, but I shushed her.

“Shh,” I said. “Be quiet a minute, okay?”

She gave me a puzzled look. “How come?”

“Don’t argue.” I glanced at the door, wondering if we could sneak out without being seen, but just as I was about to try it, I heard a voice behind me.

“Liz?”

I spun around to see Isabel standing there, a bottle of sparkling cider clutched limply in her hand. She was staring at Sophie.

“Oh, my god,” she breathed.

I was too shocked to speak, though a million things raced through my mind in the few seconds we stood there. Then the bottle fell from Isabel’s hand and crashed to the ground, shattering, and spewing cider and glass all over the floor.

The noise brought Maria’s and Diane’s attention to the three of us, still locked in our silent drama.

“Isabel, are you okay?” Diane asked, crossing to her daughter.

Isabel nodded, her face pale, still staring at my daughter, who stared back with a puzzled look. “Yeah. Yeah, Mom. . .I’m fine.”

Diane turned to see what had captured Isabel’s attention, and when her gaze landed on Sophie, I felt it like a knife through my heart. How stupid had I been to think I could bring Sophie here and hide who she was? Every time I looked at her, I saw Max—she had his eyes, his smile, his quiet, fluid grace. She was his daughter as much as she was mine. How could I have thought no one would notice?

“Mom?” Sophie asked uncertainly, slipping her hand into mine.

Diane Evans’s eyes swung to my face as I pulled Sophie closer to me. “It’s okay, Sophie,” I said quietly.

Diane drew in a sharp breath and seemed determined to recover. “Liz. . .” she said faintly, her eyes going back to Sophie. “Isabel told me you were home. I didn’t know that you. . .that you brought someone with you.”

I swallowed with some difficulty. I’m sorry, I wanted to blurt. I’m so sorry. But I looked down at Sophie and shook my head. Apologies would have to come later. “This is my daughter,” I said simply. “Sophie, this is. . .this is Mrs. Evans.”

“Hi,” Sophie said in a small voice. I could sense her thoughts whirling and I wondered if she had made the connection. I would have bet good money that she had.

Diane was still looking at Sophie as though she sought to memorize her face. “It’s nice to meet you, Sophie,” she said. “You’re a very beautiful young lady.”

Sophie took a small step toward me. “Thank you,” she murmured.

Diane gestured to Isabel, who still stood shocked and silent. “This is my daughter, Isabel,” she told Sophie.

Sophie looked up and smiled a little. “Hi,” she said again.

“Hi,” Isabel repeated. “It’s. . .it’s nice to meet you.” She looked at me with damp eyes and I could only look back, wishing she knew how much I’d wanted to tell her the truth this morning.

Diane looked at me, too. “Are you staying in Roswell long, Liz?” she asked.

I shook my head. “No. . .no, we have to leave tomorrow.”

“Back to Russia?” Isabel asked in a choked voice.

I looked at her and decided to tell her the truth. “No. To Los Angeles. We’ve been staying with Maria this week.”

“Los Angeles,” she murmured. Her eyes were full of questions, but I couldn’t answer them right now. Maybe after Saturday. . .

“Liz, we’d better go,” Maria said gently. “Your mom will be wondering where we are.”

I nodded. “Right. Yeah, we. . .we have to go.”

Diane managed a shaky smile. “Of course,” she murmured. “It was good. . .it was good to see you. Tell your parents I said hello.” She took a deep breath and looked at Sophie one more time. “It was good to meet you, Sophie. I hope. . .I hope I’ll see you again sometime.”

Sophie nodded. “Okay.” She smiled a little. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“You, too,” Diane said. She nodded, still smiling, then she put a hand over her mouth and hurried away.

Isabel stood there a second longer. “I. . .I have to go to her,” she said finally. “I—goodbye, Sophie.” Then she turned and followed her mother.

When they had gone, Maria took Sophie’s hand and put an arm around me. “Come on,” she said quietly. “We have to get home.”

Sophie was quiet as we paid for the milk and pecans, and on the drive home, she was glued to the window with her video camera.

Tonight, I told myself, watching her closely. I have to tell her tonight. I can’t put it off anymore. As Sophie filmed Roswell through the windows of the car, I closed my eyes. I wish you were here, Max. God, I wish you were here.

posted on 25-Jul-2002 3:00:30 PM by mockingbird39
Part 37


~Maria~

I drove home from the grocery store. Liz wasn’t in any shape to do it, so I simply took the keys from her hand as we walked across the parking lot. She didn’t protest.

She and Sophie were quiet on the way home. I desperately wanted to say something, but what? I knew from the look on Liz’s face that she was beating herself up with guilt again. To tell the truth, seeing Diane and Isabel’s reaction to Sophie had made me feel pretty bad, too, but I still didn’t see what decision we could have made that would have avoided any of this. Max hadn’t left Liz with too many choices when he kicked her out of his life. He may have believed he was doing it for good reasons. . .I wasn’t entirely sold on that theory yet. . .but he had still painted us into a corner.

As we neared the house, I saw an unfamiliar car parked out front.

“Hey, it looks like the Valentis are here,” I said. “Or one of them, at least.”

“They’re coming together,” Liz told me in a flat voice. She drew a deep breath, making a visible effort to pull it together. “That’s what Kyle said.”

“We’d better go in, then,” I said, shutting off the engine. I glanced at Liz. “You okay?” I asked quietly.

She nodded. “Yeah. Come on.” She opened her door and got out of the car, waiting for Sophie to do the same before she started up the walk. “Ready, Soph?”

Sophie shrugged. “I still don’t know who Kyle and Jim are,” she said, “but okay.”

“You’ll like them,” Liz said, managing a smile. “They’re good guys. Jim is the sheriff.”

“So don’t pull any funny business,” I teased.

Sophie grinned. “Mom and Jack are lawyers.”

I slapped my forehead. “How could I forget? Carry on, then.”

She skipped ahead of us to the house, seeming to shrug off the silence she had fallen into on the drive home.

“Are you okay?” I asked Liz quietly.

She looked at me. “Oh, did I look okay?” she asked, trying to smile. “Because. . .no.” She shook her head. “God, I need to talk to Max. I can’t let this go—did you see their faces?”

“I saw,” I admitted. “But you said Max wants to tell them himself.”

“I know,” she nodded. “But now. . .it’s different now. I can’t just leave Roswell tomorrow without explaining this to them. God. . .I don’t even know what to say to them.” She shook her head again, her forehead creased with guilt and worry. “I need to talk to Max,” she said.

I sighed helplessly. “Talk to Michael, Liz,” I suggested finally. “Maybe he can get Max a message.” She nodded, but I knew that wouldn’t be enough. Liz needed to talk to Max—not just because of his family. She just needed him.

We walked up to the door as Liz’s mom opened it for Sophie. “Hi, girls,” she called. “Did you get the milk and the pecans?”

Liz held up the bag. “Yeah, we got them.”

“Good. Now come in here—the Valentis are here, and they can’t wait to see you.”

We quickened our pace a little and followed her into the house. We went right to the living room, but were barely in the door when I found myself engulfed in a bear hug.

“Kyle,” I gasped, caught entirely off guard. “It’s—it’s good to see you, too.”

“Happy Thanksgiving,” he said. “Welcome home.” He released me and turned to Liz, opening his arms to hug her, then shook his head and dropped them again. “I already saw you,” he said. She looked surprised, but he grinned and shrugged. “Oh, all right. Give me another one,” he said, pulling her into one of his rib-cracking hugs. By the time he released her, Jim had gotten out of his chair and was coming toward us. I hadn’t realized how much I missed him. In those years when we were our own version of an alien conspiracy, Jim had been a father to all of us.

“Hi, Maria,” he said now, crossing to me with a smile. “Welcome home.”

I threw my arms around him, hugging him as tightly as Kyle had hugged me. “Thanks,” I said, blinking back tears. I hung onto him for a moment longer, then leaned back a little.

“It’s good to see you,” he told me.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m sorry I never—”

He shook his head, smiling. “It’s okay, Maria. Kyle explained.”

“He did?”

Jim nodded. “Yes. I understand. I wish. . .I wish there had been some other way, but I understand.” He looked back and noticed Liz standing there, watching us. “That goes for you, too,” he added.

Liz’s eyes glimmered with tears. “Thank you,” she managed to say, her voice choked.

Jim saw her tears and distress etched itself across his face. “Now, don’t go doing that,” he admonished, putting his arms around her. He pulled her close, smoothing her hair gently. “It’s okay.” He held her close for a long moment, then pushed her back and smiled at her. “I hear we have someone to meet,” he said.

Liz swiped at her eyes and nodded. “Oh, yeah—yeah.” She looked around for Sophie, found her standing near the door watching us. “Sophie, come here,” she said, holding out her hand. Sophie came forward shyly, sticking close to Liz. “Kyle, Jim, this is my daughter, Sophie. Sophie, this is Kyle, and this is his dad—”

“Jim,” he put in. “You call me Jim.” He knelt and put out his hand. “I’m very pleased to meet you.”

Sophie shook his hand gravely. “Me, too,” she said. “Are you really the sheriff?” she wanted to know.

“Yeah, I am,” he told her, smiling. “If you and your mom have time while you’re in Roswell, you can come down to the office and I’ll teach you how to roll fingerprints.”

She smiled. “Cool. Can you show me how to handcuff someone?”

Jim looked at Liz, who rolled her eyes heavenward. “We’ll see,” he said cautiously. He looked at Kyle. “Looks just like her mom, doesn’t she?” he asked, standing up.

Kyle nodded. “Yeah, she does.” He looked at Sophie, grinning. “Did you know your mom used to be my girlfriend?” he asked.

Sophie’s eyes widened. “Really?”

“I don’t think I heard that story,” Jack put in, walking in from the kitchen. Had my mother let him help her cook? Geez, even I wasn’t allowed in the kitchen when the stove was on.

“First girl I ever gave flowers to,” Kyle confirmed.

Liz rolled her eyes. “Definitely not the last. Kyle had lots of girlfriends,” she told her daughter.

Kyle hurriedly changed the subject. “So, I hear you live in Russia,” he said to Sophie. “What’s that like?”

Liz shook her head at Jack, who stepped close to her with a concerned look. “You okay?” he asked quietly.

“Fine,” she said quickly, then cast him an amused glance. “Were you cooking?”

“Just being a good guest,” he said. “Your mom makes great mashed potatoes, by the way.”

Liz was incredulous. “She let you test them before dinner?”

Jack’s look was smug. “I even got to peel potatoes.”

“I think I have to sit down,” Liz teased, pretending to swoon.

“It’s not the end of the world,” he told her, catching her in the middle of her mock-faint. “Amy just kicked me out.”

Kyle and Jim were both watching Liz and Jack with faintly confused looks. Kyle glanced at me, and I just shrugged. Liz and Jack’s relationship is more than a little hard to explain.

We watched football until dinner was ready, and by the time we sat down to eat, I’d almost gotten an explanation regarding first downs. Liz was pretty quiet, but Jack stayed by her side and by dinner time she was smiling again. I noticed that she waylaid Michael on the way to the table, and I guessed she was asking him to get a message to Max.

Dinner was great—and enormous. Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dried corn, rolls, cranberry sauce, stuffing, sweet potatoes. . .and just when I thought I couldn’t eat any more, Mom brought out pie.

“Honest,” Liz’s dad groaned, putting a hand over his stomach. “I swear, I can’t eat anymore. If I could, I’d definitely be eating that pie.”

“How about you, Jack?” my mother persisted.

Jack thought about it for a moment. “Give me a few minutes,” he said. “I’ll find some room.”

“Michael?”

He stretched, thinking about it. “Yeah, I could maybe eat one,” he said finally.

Liz groaned. “You guys are amazing,” she said.

“So you’re not going to eat a piece of coconut cream?” her mother asked, setting a gorgeous pie topped with toasted coconut on the table just in front of Liz.

Liz paused. “Words cannot express how much I want to eat that pie.”

“Well, why don’t we clear the table and take dessert out onto the patio?” Liz’s dad suggested. “Maybe by then we’ll have room.”

“I’ve got room,” Sophie announced. “I want pumpkin.”

“You ate half a pan of sweet potatoes,” Liz said in disbelief.

“They were vegetables,” Sophie told her.

“So clearly they don’t count as food,” Kyle agreed solemnly.

“Yeah.” Sophie nodded matter-of-factly. “So I want pumpkin.”

“Then let’s go outside,” Jeff said, pushing his chair back. “It looks like a beautiful evening.”

We all helped clear the table and put away the leftovers, then we headed outside to enjoy the desert sunset.

“What time do you have to go?” I asked Michael as we walked onto the patio.

He put his arm around my waist as we reached the outside railing and stood leaning against it. It felt so good to be held like that—good and familiar and incredibly welcome. “My flight leaves at nine,” he said, glancing at his watch. “It’s five-thirty now.”

“We should probably leave by seven,” I sighed. I wished he was staying—or that I was going back to L.A. with him. But I knew that Liz was going to need me tomorrow.

“Yeah, I guess,” he agreed. “I wish I could stay.”

I looked at him in surprise. Michael rarely says things like that out loud. But he leaned down and kissed my forehead, leaving me still more surprised. “Me, too,” I finally managed to say. “But. . .I’ll be back tomorrow night. You could come over.”

He nodded. “Okay. You want to go somewhere?”

“Where?”

“I don’t care. You pick.” He smiled at me.

Okay, this was new. Nice, but new. Planning a date with Michael used to be like pulling teeth. “Okay,” I say uncertainly.

His smile widened. “You know if I pick we’ll end up at a sports bar somewhere.”

Good point. “I’ll pick,” I told him quickly.

“I figured,” he laughed.

I glanced over at Liz, who was talking with Jim, and I leaned close to Michael. “Did Liz tell you about Isabel and Max’s mother?”

His smile died. “Yeah. I don’t know what to tell her—I think she should go over there, but Max wanted to tell them himself. It might be better coming from him.”

“I think she just wants to talk to him,” I said.

He was watching Liz. “This is so hard on them,” he murmured.

“Can you tell Max to call her here?” I asked.

He nodded. “I’ll find an excuse to go by there early tomorrow.”

“I hope she can wait that long.”

“I guess they’re gonna have to,” he said. “She’s gonna tell Sophie tonight, then?”

I nodded. “Yeah. She wants to give her a chance to get used to it before she sees Max.” I moved a little closer to him. “What do you think is gonna happen when he sees her, Michael?” I asked.

Michael pulled me closer, smoothing my hair. “He already loves her, Maria. He loved her the first minute he knew about her.”

I wasn’t convinced. “He loves Liz, too, and look what he did to her.”

Michael sighed. “They both made mistakes, Maria,” he said, “but it wasn’t ever because they didn’t love each other enough. And I think that they’ve both had enough time to realize that, too.”

“You think it’s going to be okay?” I asked, leaning against him.

He was quiet for a minute. Finally, he shook his head. “I think. . .I think it can’t go back to the way it was before.”


~Liz~

“Do you want another piece of pie, Jack?” my mother asked, reaching for Jack’s plate.

Reluctantly, he shook his head. “No, I think I’ll have to pass,” he said. “With great regret.”

She smiled at him. Jack is nothing if not charming. “Why don’t you take some home with you?” she asked. “I’ll pack it so it won’t get crushed.”

He grinned. “That would be great,” he said. “I’ll enjoy it while I’m slaving away at my desk tomorrow.”

“I thought you were going to court tomorrow,” I said curiously.

He turned his grin on me. “I am. But I like that part.”

Now that I believe. As my mom walked away to package some pie for Jack, I leaned back against the railing behind our seats. “So what did you think of Thanksgiving in Roswell?” I asked.

“Almost as good as Thanksgiving in Boston,” he answered with a smirk.

I elbowed him. “Almost?”

“Well, in Boston my gram woulda pinched my cheeks,” he said.

I laughed. “I’m sure my mom would do if you asked her.”

“I think I’ll wait until I know her better.” He leaned back, too, and casually put his arm around my shoulders. I smiled and leaned into him comfortably—it was starting to get a little chilly, and Jack was nice and warm. “So how are you holding up?” he asked quietly.

I looked up at him in surprise. I knew I wasn’t exactly myself today, but I had thought I’d managed to hide most of my discomfiture. “What do you mean?”

He nodded at our surroundings. “This must be kinda hard on you,” he said. “Coming home after all this time.”

I wrinkled my nose, looking away. “Where did you learn to be so perceptive?”

“Court,” he said matter-of-factly, then gave me a little squeeze. “C’mon, Liz. I’ve known you for—what?—five years now? Six? You’ve never once come here. You never told me exactly what happened to make you leave, but I figure it’s gotta be something that hurt you bad. You’re not the kind of person who just up and runs away.”

I looked down at my hands, folded tightly in my lap. “That used to be true,” I murmured, “but it changed a long time ago—before I ever met you.”

“I don’t believe that,” he said firmly. When I opened my mouth to speak, he shook his head and held up a hand, stopping me. “You’re not going to convince me,” he warned with a grin.

I smiled back. “Thanks, Jack. I really. . .I’m glad you’re here.”

“Me, too,” he agreed. He reached around me to retrieve his wineglass and took a small sip, watching the others gathered on the patio. My dad had brought out a small CD player and now country music floated softly across the light autumn breeze. I didn’t recognize the song, but between Sophie and Jack, I figured no country song would last very long. Sure enough, Sophie left the table where she had been sitting with my parents and Jim and went over to the CD player, searching through the selection of CDs my dad had brought out.

“Hey, Jack, look!” she called, holding one up.

I squinted and saw that it was the soundtrack to The Big Chill. I wasn’t surprised she’d pick that one, especially with Jack around. It’s one of his favorite movies, and every time I’ve ever been in his car, he’s either had the soundtrack or some other Motown album playing. If you ask him about it, he just laughs and says that you don’t mess with a classic. He loves the movie, too, actually. I can’t even count the number of times he showed up on our doorstep in law school with that movie and The Shining in his hands. We’d order pizza and watch The Big Chill first, then after Sophie went to bed he’d insist on watching The Shining. He’d sit on the floor while Maria and I would start off on the couch, but by the time Jack Nicholson walked through the Overlook with his roque mallet, we’d both be on the floor next to him with our faces buried in his shirt. Hm. No wonder he likes that movie.

“Hey, that’s what I’m talkin’ about,” Jack called back approvingly. Sophie giggled and put the CD into the stereo, turning it up a little. After a few seconds, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” started to play. Jack smiled and we sat silently for a few minutes.

It occurred to me that there I had a lot of reasons to worry about the next few days, but somehow right then I couldn’t. It felt good to be back in Roswell—back with my family and my friends. If Max could have been here. . .Soon, I told myself. This will all be over soon. It has to be. I stared at nothing, lost in my thoughts, until I felt Jack’s gaze on me. I grinned at him. “What?” I asked, pretending to be annoyed.

But he didn’t smile. For once, Jack was serious. “How come it never happened with us, Parker?” he asked, his voice quiet, but not accusing. It made me love him even more.

I shrugged a little, picking my own wineglass up and twirling the stem in my fingers. “There were always obstacles, Jack.” We’d talked about it before, but perhaps never quite this seriously.

Jack sipped his wine. “As I remember it, last time there was only one obstacle. One large, suave, French obstacle.”

We were back on familiar ground now—half-teasing, half-serious. I wrinkled my nose. “Is that what you thought of Thierry?”

“Sorry. I don’t know the French word for ‘buttinsky,’” he muttered, draining his glass.

“I think that’s actually a cognate,” I told him.

“Hm. I’ll have to remember that,” he said, then sobered suddenly. “So what about now? I don’t see Thierry, but you’re looking at me like you just asked what I want for my last meal.”

I looked over at Sophie, who was chattering to Kyle as she showed him her video camera, and took a deep breath. “Jack, it’s the same thing that’s always been between us, I think.”

“We’re talking about Sophie’s father, aren’t we?” he asked simply.

I looked at him in surprise. “How did you know that?”

He sighed. “It’s my sharp legal brain,” he answered, then shook his head. “You’ve been gun-shy as long as I’ve known you, Liz. But you’ve got Sophie, so I like to think that at some point you let a guy in—let him really get close to you.” He shrugged, but his jaw tightened visibly. “So then he broke your heart and every time you look at the rest of the male species, all you really see is him.” His eyes narrowed. “I’d like to give his name to some guys I know in Jersy,” he added darkly. “Real nice guys—”

“Who specialize in waste management?” I asked with a grin.

He laughed. “Something like that,” he agreed.

I smoothed a hand over my linen trousers, looking down. “Jack, I need to ask you a favor,” I began hesitantly.

He frowned and set his glass on the railing behind us. “What kind of favor?” he asked. I couldn’t answer at first, just looked at him, feeling like a jerk for what I was about to ask him to do. He didn’t need to hear my answer. “Aw, man,” he muttered, kneading his forehead with one hand.

“I just need you to look into some names,” I said hurriedly. “I know you’ve got contacts in California—I don’t have that. Later—if it comes to it—I might need someone who can practice in L.A. But right now I just need information.”

“Please tell me you want me to find this guy and introduce him to my friends in Jersey,” he said.

I shook my head slowly. “I already know where Sophie’s father is.”

“Are you gonna tell me where?” he asked.

I looked down. “I can’t. Not right now—not until Sophie knows. It just wouldn’t be fair.”

“Is he in Roswell?” Jack persisted, and I shook my head. “But he used to be,” Jack guessed.

I nodded. “Yeah.”

“And Sophie has no idea. . .” He suddenly turned and stared at me with disbelief. “Liz, is he—” He broke off and lowered his voice. “Is Sophie’s father in prison?

“Jack, please don’t ask me right now—”

“Oh, my god,” he breathed. “I can’t believe. . .What happened?” I started to shake my head, but he interrupted. “I know, you can’t tell me now.” He pulled away from me, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “Jesus, Liz,” he muttered, rubbing his eyes wearily. He was quiet for a minute, then he looked over at me. “And now you want my help? With this guy who broke your heart and abandoned his daughter? You really think you’re going to ride off into the sunset with him?”

I shook my head. “It isn’t what you think, Jack. He didn’t do what they said he did. I know he didn’t.”

His mouth twisted in a mockery of his sardonic grin. “You know in your heart?” he demanded sarcastically. “You know how many women say that to me every day?”

“This is different. He didn’t do it—not just because I. . .well, because I know he couldn’t have. He was set up. I think I can prove it.” I squared my shoulders. “Are you going to help me?”

“What if I don’t?” he asked.

I shrugged. “I’ll find someone else.”

For a second, it looked like he was considering it, but then he shook his head. “I don’t want you doin’ this by yourself,” he said finally.

“So you’ll help?”

He nodded reluctantly. “Yeah, I’ll help. Just promise me I’ll get the whole story one of these days, okay?”

I put my arm around him. “You will. It’s not that I don’t trust you now, but—”

“You gotta tell Sophie first,” he finished. “I know.” He looked at me for a long minute, then shook his head again and pulled me into a tight embrace. “You drive me crazy, Parker, you know that?”

“Yeah,” I admitted. “Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize.” He planted a firm kiss on my forehead and sighed. “But this is the last time I help you with a guy you like better than me.”

“Don’t worry,” I told him honestly. “This is the only guy I like better than you.”

“Just my luck,” he said, rolling his eyes. He glanced over at the CD player as “The Tracks of My Tears” started to play and stood up. “Dance with me, Parker?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Here?”

“No, at the gas station,” he retorted. “Yes, here.” When I hesitated, he reached for my hand. “Come on—you owe me.”

I couldn’t argue, so I took his hand and stood up. He pulled me to the middle of the patio and put his arms around me, and we started to dance as I slipped my arms around his neck. It felt familiar—Jack and I had danced together like this dozens of time over the years. I smiled up at him as I heard Sophie’s voice.

What are you doin’?” she demanded.

Jack grinned and put a finger at his lips. “Shh,” he admonished. “I’m collecting a debt.”

I craned my neck to see Sophie’s reaction, which was pretty much what I expected. She rolled her eyes and shook her head at Kyle, apparently pondering the strangeness of adults. But Kyle only laughed and grabbed her hand. “Come on, don’t you like to dance?” he asked.

Within minutes, every last one of them had joined Jack and I and were swaying slowly to the music as the early winter twilight deepened. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Michael and Maria locked in an embrace and I couldn’t help but smile.

“So you’re sure this is what you want?” Jack asked softly.

I looked up at Jack, deciding to be truthful. It would hurt, but not as much as a lie. “I need him, Jack. I didn’t think I did, but. . .”

“You can’t run anymore, right?” he wanted to know.

“No,” I agreed, “and I can’t be without him anymore, either.”

“Okay.” He sighed heavily. “Just write down those names and give them to me before I go.”

I nodded. “Thanks, Jack.”

“You’re welcome.”

The song ended, and I started to pull away, but he shook his head and grinned as “Joy to the World” started. “Oh, no. Breakin’ my heart rates at least two songs,” he told me. “At least.” He twirled me around and I started to laugh, forgetting for a few moments what lay ahead.

posted on 29-Jul-2002 7:46:35 AM by mockingbird39
Part 38

Author's Note: Special thanks on this part to my excellent betas, Angela and Stacey, without whom I would have tossed my laptop out the window last night. Thanks, guys!

~Liz~

Michael promised to get Max a message for me as soon as he could. That couldn’t possibly be soon enough, however. When we dropped off Jack and Michael at the airport and returned home, there was nothing left to distract me from that disastrous meeting at the supermarket. I kept remembering Isabel’s face when she saw Sophie, and I felt so guilty I could hardly breathe.

When I left Roswell all those years ago, I had known that I was doing more than leaving Max behind. Over the years, I had thought about Max’s family. . .Michael. . .Kyle and Jim. . .and what they would all think of me if they knew what I’d done. But I’d never come face to face with it before. Michael and the Valentis had been relatively easy. But then, Michael had been privy to most of what had happened between Max and me that summer, and as far as I could tell, any betrayal he saw was limited to what I’d done to Max. Michael didn’t seem to think I owed him anything at all. Kyle and Jim had certainly been hurt by what I’d done, but they’d been caught up in what Maria termed “the alien abyss” themselves a time or two. Besides, it wasn’t their son or brother that I’d betrayed.

Isabel and her parents would be a different story.

“Do you want me to stay?” Maria asked quietly as we got out of the car at my parents’ house. Amy was inside helping my mother clean up, so I’d brought Maria back there.

I shook my head as Sophie skipped up the walk ahead of us. “No. I have to do this.” I smiled wanly at her. “Besides, I don’t really know how she’s going to take this. You might not want to be around later.”

Maria looked as distressed as I felt. “I feel like I should be there. I kept it from her, too.”

“She might need you later,” I said. “If she doesn’t want to talk to me. . .”

“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” Maria suggested. “She uses her powers—maybe she knows more than we think.”

“But I still hid a secret about her,” I reminded. “If it were me—”

“We did the best we knew how,” she insisted.

I wasn’t sure of that anymore. Not when I could close my eyes and see Max’s face in my mind, crumpled with the grief I’d caused him. Not when I could hear Diane Evans’s voice in my head, speaking to her only grandchild—flesh and blood of the son she’d lost. I hope I see you again sometime. But I wasn’t about to add to Maria’s guilt, either, so I nodded. “Right. Thanks, Maria.”

Her mom had apparently been waiting for us to get back, because she came to the door with her purse and some dishes she had brought with her and called out to Maria.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay?” Maria asked me.

I nodded. “I’ll be fine.”

We hugged and I went inside as Maria and her mother went to the car. My parents were sitting in the living room watching television, and Sophie was sitting between them on the couch.

“Did they take off okay?” my dad asked.

“Yeah, their plane left on time,” I told them. “Everything was great today—I’m glad you didn’t mind having some extra guests.”

“It was our pleasure, Liz,” my mom said. “I’m so glad Jack could come—I would have hated thinking about him all alone today. No one should be by themselves on a holiday.”

I winced, thinking of Max. “No, they really shouldn’t,” I agreed. I was about to ask Sophie to go upstairs when the phone rang. My mother started to get up, but I waved her back into her seat. “I’ll get it,” I said. Anything to put this off a little longer.

“Hello?”

I’d grabbed the telephone on the wall in the kitchen, switching on the light over the stove as I waited for an answer. When it came, I nearly dropped the telephone.

This call originated at a California State Correctional Facility, came the recorded message. A pause, and then, Will you accept the charges?

I scurried further into the kitchen, finding a corner beside the refrigerator where I could see anyone coming from the living room before they saw me. “Yes,” I said clearly. “Yes, I’ll accept the charges.”

The automated “thank you” chirped over the line and then I heard Max’s voice, felt it reverberate to the core of my soul. “Liz?” he asked. “Liz, is that you?”

I felt tears sting my eyes. How had he known I needed him at that moment? There was no way Michael could have gotten Max a message already—his plane was barely in the air. “Max,” I murmured, trying to keep my voice steady. “Yeah, it’s me.” I leaned against the refrigerator and slid to the floor, pulling my knees up to my chest. “How did you—how did you know I needed to talk to you?”

“You do? What’s wrong—are you okay? Is it Sophie?”

I heard the panic rising in his voice and I rushed to reassure him. “No, we’re okay. It’s nothing like that.”

“Liz what’s wrong?” he asked, and I could tell he wasn’t convinced. He sounded so concerned, so earnest, so desperate, that it took me a long moment to control my voice. It was killing him to be so far away from me. . .from us. “What is it?” he asked after a moment, his voice gentle.

I started to rub my eyes, but stopped before I could ruin my eye make-up. “It’s just. . .” I swallowed hard. “It’s good to hear your voice.”

He was quiet for a moment, and when he spoke again I heard the catch in his voice. “It’s good to hear your voice, too, Liz.” He paused for another moment, then he asked, “Do you want to tell me what’s wrong?”

I took a deep breath. “Max, I saw Isabel and your mother,” I blurted.

“Oh.” There was another pause. “Did you tell them—”

“Sophie was with me,” I added.

He swore under his breath. “Did they know?” he asked. “Did you tell them?”

“No,” I told him. “I promised you I wouldn’t.”

“But they—”

“I didn’t have to,” I interrupted, forcing a laugh past the lump in my throat. “Max, she looks just like you.”

He seemed startled by that, even though he’d seen her in pictures. A line from a book I read years ago—The Thorn Birds, I think—flashed through my mind. Lucky for us, men never recognize their own eyes. . .

I hurried on, keeping my voice low so my parents and Sophie wouldn’t hear. “I know you wanted to tell them yourself,” I said, “and I know you wanted to wait until after Saturday, but, Max, I don’t think I can take Sophie out of Roswell without seeing them again. It isn’t fair to them. They must have told your father by now. I wouldn’t blame them if they came beating down the door.” I swallowed hard. “God, if you had seen their faces. . .”

Max gave a long sigh. “I’m sorry, Liz,” he said. “I’m sorry you had to do that alone. I should have called them before you ever got to Roswell. I should have known this would happen.”

“It’s not your fault,” I assured him. “It was silly of me to think I wouldn’t see them. I should have thought of this.”

“I just figured you wouldn’t be there very long,” he muttered absently. But that wasn’t quite the truth, either, and we both knew it.

“Max,” I said softly, and he murmured in assent. “I wanted you to know her first, too.”

He was quiet, and I knew he understood. Finally, he cleared his throat. “Did you tell her yet?”

“No,” I answered. “Tonight. I’m going to do it soon.”

“I wish I could be there,” he said softly. “I wish I could help.”

I smiled. “I just wish you were here,” I admitted. “I wish I could feel you.”

His voice was husky. “Me, too.”

“Max, I don’t want to leave L.A. again unless you’re with me,” I said suddenly. I didn’t know where the words had come from, but the thought had been in my head for days.

“Liz, don’t say that,” he said, his voice growing desperate again. I knew I’d crossed the line—we hadn’t talked about the future in terms like that. But I couldn’t keep it in any longer, and he was afraid to let himself think about it. “You have a life—a good life. There’s your job, and Sophie’s school in St. Petersburg—”

“And there’s you in California,” I interrupted. “I can find another job, and I can find a good school for Sophie there. But in Petersburg we can’t be with you, and we need you.”

“You both love it there,” he said.

I love you more, I wanted to say, and so will Sophie. But I was very aware that this was the final line between us. Neither of us had dared to say I love you. But the words hung heavily in the air between us, voiced or not.

“We can learn to love L.A.,” I said instead. “Maria is there, and Michael.”

“Do you realize how different your lives would be?” he asked. “That’s not the kind of life I want for you—or for Sophie.”

“It wouldn’t be forever,” I told him. “Only until we find Langley.”

“That could take years,” he said gently. “Or it might never happen at all.”

I closed my eyes against his words. “Don’t say that, Max. Don’t say it.” I couldn’t fathom a life spent like this—phone calls and supervised visits and watching him grow old behind prison bars. My heart ached as I imagined bringing him pictures of Sophie’s birthdays and other holidays, always sharing our lives with him after the fact. He would try to hide it from us—the loneliness and the sheer horror of life in prison—just like he’d tried to hide the scar on his face. And little by little, even if we wrote and called and visited, we would have to grow apart just to be able to live our separate lives. I didn’t want our lives to be separate. I wanted him there with us—I wanted to bring him home and heal away all those years when he’d been so alone.

“Liz, we can’t count on this ever changing,” he said softly, and I knew the words cost him. But I couldn’t let him give up on me.

“You promised you wouldn’t push us away,” I said, my throat tight.

“I’m not,” he said quickly. “I swear to you, Liz, I’m not pushing you away. I want to be in your lives—and I can’t let go of you again. I need you, too. I—I need both of you. But I don’t want you to have to plan your lives around me.”

We weren’t going to agree on this easily—that much was obvious. I sighed and pushed away those thoughts determinedly. Right now I had enough to worry about. “What about your parents? Is it okay if I go over there tomorrow? If I bring Sophie?”

He took a deep breath. “I’ll call them in the morning,” he said. “I’ll tell them the truth—I don’t want you to go over there until I tell them what really happened.”

He evidently expected pretty much the reaction I did. “Are you sure? I can tell them, if you want.”

“No. It should come from me.” His voice was firm. “Give me until noon, okay?”

“Do you think you could make it a little earlier?” I asked. “We need to leave for the airport around three. I don’t want to have to run out on them.”

“Okay,” he agreed. “I’ll call them tonight then. Should I tell them you’re coming tomorrow?”

“Yeah. I’ll be over in the morning.” I squared my shoulders, and took a deep breath. “Tell them we’ll be over.”

“What if Sophie doesn’t want to go?” he wanted to know.

I tried to force a laugh. “I’m the mom,” I said. “And. . .and I think after tonight she’ll be curious enough to want to go.”

“I’m sorry you have to do this yourself,” he told me again.

“It’s okay. This is my responsibility.” I tried to sound reassuring, but I don’t think I quite managed it.

“Tell her I love her,” he said softly. “Tell her I’m sorry. . .and that I’m waiting for her on Saturday.”

More tears stung my eyes and I wondered how there could be more when it felt like all I’d done for days was cry. “I will.”

I think he knew I was on the verge of tears, because his voice got softer—it was the same tone he had used when I tested my powers at the prison and he had known how much it frightened me. “I’m waiting for you, too, Liz.”

I wanted to say it then—I wanted to tell him how much I loved him, how much I’d always loved him and that I knew I always would. But something held me back. There was still so much I wasn’t sure of. “Saturday,” I said. “I’ll see you on Saturday. We’ll be there early.” He was quiet, and I wondered if he knew what I’d been about to say. “Max?” I asked finally.

“Yeah?”

“How did you know I needed to talk to you?”

He hesitated. “I didn’t,” he said. “I just. . .I just couldn’t wait anymore.”

I smiled. “Wait for what?”

“I had to talk to you,” he murmured. “It feels like. . .it feels like forever.” He paused and I wondered if he was thinking about the ten years of silence between us that seemed like a distant dream to me now. Had I really gone ten years without hearing his voice, without feeling the tug of his soul in the center of my being? It wasn’t possible. I was about to speak when he beat me to it. “Liz, I almost forgot,” he said.

“Hm?”

“I started going through the stuff about Langley I found years ago, and I found a picture of Jacob Wheeland.”

I sat up straight, my melancholy thoughts forgotten in an instant. “You did? Where? Where did you see him?”

“In a newspaper photograph. He’s a theater producer in New York. Well, at least he was then.” Max’s voice was growing more and more animated. “And Liz?”

“Yeah?” I asked, my mind racing.

“He looks like Cal Langley.”


* * * * *

Max and I hung up a few minutes later, and I sat on the floor in the kitchen for a while, my mind still spinning. Wheeland had been in theater—entertainment. I should have figured Langley wouldn’t move far from his Hollywood focus. He liked the glamour and power too much. We finally had a place to start. As soon as I got back to L.A, I’d give Jack the new information. I felt energized, and, more importantly, so did Max. He had scared the hell out of me on the phone when he said that we might never find Langley. I needed him to work with me on this, or it we would never succeed. But finding the picture of Wheeland—who I would have bet good money was the new persona Langley had crafted for himself—had given him a much-needed push.

“Liz, are you okay out there?” my mother called, interrupting my thoughts.

I got to my feet and started into the living room. “I’m fine,” I said.

Sophie sat between my parents on the sofa, snuggled up against my dad. “Who was on the phone?” my dad asked absently, smoothing Sophie’s hair as they watched television.

“No one,” I said quickly. I stood there for a few seconds, then decided I couldn’t put this off any more. “Hey, Soph, let’s go upstairs.”

She looked at me in surprise. “Now? It’s not late.”

I nodded. “I know. I just want to have a talk with you.”

She sat up. “Am I in trouble?” she asked suspiciously.

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Not that I’m aware of,” I told her. “Should you be?”

“I don’t think so,” she ventured, clearly thinking hard.

“Then come on. Let’s go sit on the balcony, okay?”

She got off the couch. “Okay,” she said. We both kissed my parents goodnight, then we headed upstairs together. I helped her out onto the balcony, bringing a light afghan from the bed, and we settled together on a wicker love seat. My mother had replaced most of the furniture I’d put out here years ago. I had to admit it was more comfortable, but I still missed my lawn chairs—and my Christmas lights.

“Are you comfortable?” I asked her.

She nodded. “Yeah.”

I put my arm around her. “Did you have a good Thanksgiving?”

She nodded again. “It was fun.”

We were quiet for a few minutes, then I looked down at her. “You have some questions for me, don’t you, Sophie?”

She looked up at me and nodded slowly. “Yes.”

I took a deep breath. “You can ask me anything—I’ve always told you that, right?”

“Yeah.”

I nodded. “And that’s still true. But. . .I want to tell you a story, Sophie, and I think that might answer a lot of your questions. After that, you can ask me anything I missed, okay?”

“Okay.”

She snuggled against me, and I knew that she was as nervous as I was. “You know that when I was a teenager I used to be a waitress at the Crashdown, right?” I asked her, and I felt her nod against me. “Well, one day when I was sixteen, I was working there, two men were having an argument, and one of them had a gun. And then, all of a sudden, it went off. I didn’t exactly know what had happened, but the next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor and I knew I was hurt really badly. I couldn’t move, and I was terrified—I thought I might even be dying. But. . .then I felt someone touch me and I opened my eyes and I saw. . .I saw Max Evans.”

“Max Evans?” Sophie questioned, lifting her head.

I nodded. “Yes. Your father. He was leaning over me, and he told me he was going to help me, but I had to keep looking at him. I didn’t know what he was going to do, but I knew he was going to help me. And I knew I was going to be okay.” I paused for a second, then smiled a little as I continued. “He pulled my uniform open, and he put his hand over the place where the bullet had hit me, and then I felt—I felt this warmth all over my whole body, and the place where his hand was on my skin got so hot I tried to move away. But he wouldn’t let me move. It seemed like a long time, but I think it was really only a few seconds before all the pain was gone and he started to leave. He reached over and broke a ketchup bottle, and told me to tell the police that I’d broken a bottle and spilled it on myself. He told me not to tell what had happened, but the truth was, I didn’t really know. I was so confused and dazed I just stood there while he left, and it wasn’t until later that I realized he’d saved my life. He had healed me.”

She was staring at me. “He healed you?”

I nodded. “Yeah. He healed me. And the next day at school, I cornered him and I made him tell me why he could do that.”

Her eyes got even bigger. “Why could he do it?”

“Well, Sophie, Max—your father—is different from most people. This might be hard for you to understand, but I’m telling you the truth. I wouldn’t lie to you about this.” I reached for her hand and held it tightly. “Sophie, your father is an alien.” I scrubbed a hand across my forehead, frowning. “Well, not really an alien. He’s a hybrid. That means he’s part human, part alien. His DNA was mixed with human DNA, and—” I broke off, shaking my head. “Sophie, a long time ago on a planet called Antar, your father was the king. But there was a war, and he was killed, but that’s not the end of the story.” I told her everything we knew about Antar then—about how Max had been sent to Earth. I realized it wasn’t much. “But Max didn’t know all of that when he healed me,” I told her. “He didn’t learn that until much later.”

“So he could heal you. . .because he was an alien?”

I nodded. “He has some special powers—because of what he is.” I touched her face. “Sophie, your father isn’t the only one. You remember the lady we met at the store today? Isabel?”

“Yeah.” Sophie looked thoughtful. “She’s an alien, too?”

“Yes. She’s Max’s—your father’s sister. Your aunt.” I watched as she tried to take that in. “And Michael, too,” I added.

She didn’t look as surprised as I had thought she’d be. “Oh,” she said. “Can Michael do stuff, too?”

“Yes. He can. . .” I frowned. “Well, he. . .blows things up. And he can. . .um, change things.”

“But not heal people?”

“No. Only Max could ever do that.”

She looked up at me. “Mom, are you an alien?”

I shook my head. “No, but when Max healed me, he kind of. . .changed me. And I can do things, too.”

Her eyes nearly popped out of her head, and I was amazed that out of everything I’d just told her, the fact of my powers was the only one that really seemed to shock her. “You can?”

I nodded. “Yes. Not like Max or Michael or Isabel, but I have a little bit of power.” I held out my hand and concentrated. “Here,” I said. “Watch this.” After a few seconds, I managed to make the green energy crackle over my fingers. “See?” I asked, relieved I’d been able to do it for her.

She was still staring. “But. . .but you’re not an alien.”

“No.”

She was quiet for a second. “Then what am I?”

I pulled her close. “You’re Sophie Parker,” I said simply. “You’re a smart, beautiful, special little girl—and you’re my little girl. And I love you more than anything, and that will never, ever change.”

“But if my father is an alien—”

“Part alien,” I corrected, “which makes you part alien, too. But it doesn’t change who you are.” I waited for a moment, then I asked quietly, “Sophie, did you already know some of this?”

She thought about it, then nodded. “Yeah. I think so.”

“How did you know?” I asked her.

“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head. “I just kinda knew it.” She was quiet for a long time, then she looked up at me. “Mommy, I have powers, too,” she said in a small voice. “I can do stuff.”

I was determined not to make her feel any stranger than she already must. “I’m not surprised.”

She cocked her head to one side. “You’re not?”

I shook my head. “No. You get a lot of things from your father,” I said, and I knew I was smiling as I searched her face for those precious signs of Max I’d found over the years. “You have his eyes,” I told her, “and when you’re thinking hard, you both cock your head to the side—just like you’re doing now. And when you smile,” I added, touching a spot on her cheek, “you have a little dimple right here, just like he does.”

She wasn’t smiling now. “Mommy, how come my father never wanted to see me?” The hurt and confusion in her eyes broke my heart.

I shook my head quickly, smoothing her hair back from her forehead. “Sophie, baby, I know it doesn’t make any sense, but don’t you ever think that. He does want to see you—your father loves you very much.”

“Then why isn’t he here?” she demanded, her face contorting angrily. “How come he doesn’t live with us—and how come he doesn’t call us, or write us letters? Why?!” She stared at me for a second, then her face crumpled and she started to cry.

I pulled her into my arms, whispering to her. “Shh, sweetie, don’t cry. It’s okay.”

She resisted, but I just held her until she was too tired to fight me. That was another trick I learned from her father. By the time she was quiet in my arms, I was crying too. After a long moment, I pushed her back and used the soft edge of the afghan to wipe away the tears on her face. “Sophie, baby—listen to me,” I said softly. “You’re being such a brave girl tonight. I know the things I’m telling you are confusing, and scary—they scare me, too. A lot of grown-ups wouldn’t be as brave about this as you are. I am very, very proud of you.” I kissed her forehead and hugged her again. “But I need you to be brave about one more thing. Can you do that for me?”

She squared her shoulders, sniffed, and wiped her nose on her sleeve. I winced, but for once I let it go. “Okay,” she said, her voice wavering a little..

I gave her what I hoped was a reassuring smile. “That’s my girl.”

“Is it about my father?” she wanted to know.

I nodded. “Yes. You need to know why he hasn’t. . .why he’s never been around. It isn’t his fault, Sophie. He didn’t want it this way.”

I’d forgotten she also had Max’s obstinate streak. Now her jaw was set stubbornly and I could tell she didn’t believe me. “Then why doesn’t he come see us?” she demanded.

“Because. . .because he can’t, Sophie,” I said finally. I took a deep breath. “Soph, you know what prison is, don’t you?”

Her eyes grew round again, and I felt my heart twist. How could she possibly understand? And what would it do to her—and to Max—if she didn’t? “Is it—it’s jail, right?” she asked uncertainly.

I nodded. “Yes. It’s jail.”

“Is he—is my father in jail?” she asked in a small voice.

I nodded again. “Yes, he is.”

Her eyes filled with tears again. “Why? What did he do?”

I pulled her close again. “He didn’t do anything, Sophie. It was all a terrible mistake.”

“Then why did they put him in jail?” she asked, her voice muffled against my sweater and cracking pitifully.

“Sweetie,” I began slowly, suddenly doubting the explanation I’d worked out so carefully over the past few days, “remember how we talked about people—about how people aren’t perfect? And that they sometimes make mistakes?” She nodded a little, and I hoped she really understood. “Well, the police and judges and juries are all people, too. So sometimes. . .they make mistakes. That doesn’t mean that they’re bad or—or wrong, or that we shouldn’t trust them. It just means that we have to be careful and realize that they aren’t perfect. Do you understand?”

She looked up at me, frowning. “How come—why doesn’t somebody tell them they made a mistake? You can tell them—they’ll believe you. You’re a lawyer.”

“It’s not that easy,” I said, shaking my head. “We need to have evidence—you know what evidence is?” She nodded. “We have to show the judge that he didn’t do it. But I’m working on it, and so is Michael, and Jack’s going to help, too. We’re trying to get him out of jail so he can come home.”

She was quiet again, and I wished I could see into her thoughts to know what was sinking in. I wondered if Max would see anything in her dreams that night, and I vowed to ask him the next time I talked to him. Finally, she spoke again. “But, Mommy, couldn’t he write us letters? Or call us sometimes? Why didn’t he do that?”

I stroked her hair. “Sophie, your father and I are people, too. And we make mistakes—we’ve made lots of them. But it was never because we didn’t love you—or each other—enough. Sometimes the people we love the most are the people we hurt the most. We don’t mean to, but sometimes we want what’s best for them so much that we don’t think about what they want.” She was looking at me with a quizzical frown, so I went on. “Do you remember when we lived at the apartment in Cambridge near Sullivan Square?” She nodded now. “And do you remember how Nanna and Poppy came to visit and they wanted us to move to that bigger apartment by MIT?”

She nodded again. “It was far away from school and from Joel’s house,” she remembered. Joel had been her best friend in Boston.

“Right,” I agreed. “But they didn’t know all of that. All they knew was that it was a bigger apartment, and the building had a doorman, and they thought we would be safer there, remember? And remember how Poppy got upset and yelled when I told him we wouldn’t move? Well, that wasn’t because he didn’t love us. It was because he wanted what he thought was best for us.” I shrugged a little. “But we didn’t want to move. So even if they were right, we wouldn’t have been happy there, would we?”

“No.” She shook her head. “I liked Sullivan Square.”

“Me, too,” I told her. “Well, that’s kind of what happened with your father and me. We were so busy worrying about what was best for each other that we didn’t see how much we hurt each other—how unhappy we made each other.”

She leaned back to look at me. “And that’s why he never wrote to us?”

“Well, it’s more than that,” I admitted. “Sophie, when your father went to prison, he thought I would be happier if I moved away and found somebody else to fall in love with, but he knew that I wouldn’t leave him if I thought he needed me. So he told me he didn’t—he told me he wanted me to go away. And I thought that he was telling the truth, and I was hurt and I was angry at him. And I thought that it was better for him if I didn’t come around anymore. So I went away, and I didn’t come back and I kept you away, too.” I touched her face. “But Sophie, it wasn’t better for him, and it wasn’t better for me, and it wasn’t fair to you, either. And I am so sorry that you’ve had to pay for my mistake.”

“Does he want me now?” she asked.

I nodded, trying to smile at her. “He always wanted you, Sophie. And he wanted me to tell you that he loves you very much and that he can’t wait to see you.”

Hurt flashed in her eyes. “Did you talk to him?”

“Yes, I did,” I said. I smoothed her hair. “Sophie, he’s the reason I had to come to L.A. I’m working on his case.”

She pushed my hand away from her face. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she demanded. “You could have told me.”

“I should have,” I agreed. “I made a lot of mistakes, and that was one of them. I should have been honest with you.”

She looked away, angry. “He’s my father,” she muttered. “You should have told me.”

I gently touched her shoulder. “You’re right. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to get hurt. But I was wrong.” She still wouldn’t look at me. “Sophie,” I said softly, “I promise I will never keep anything like that from you again.”

She was quiet again, and after a second her gaze softened. “That lady at the store today—that was his mother, right?”

I nodded. “Yes.”

“She was so sad,” Sophie mused softly.

I felt a rush of tenderness for my amazing little girl. All the things she’d just had to absorb about herself, and she could still think about a woman she’d seen once for two minutes in the supermarket. “Yes, she was,” I agreed. “She misses her son very much.” I hesitated, then asked, “Do you think you’d like to go see her tomorrow? I think she would like that.”

She thought about it for a moment. “Does she know?”

“That she’s your grandmother? Yes, she does.”

“Will you go with me?”

I hugged her. “Of course.”

It took her a second, but she hugged me back. “Mom?” she asked. “What about my father? Can I see him, too?”

“He asked me if I could bring you to see him on Saturday,” I told her. “Do you think you can do that?”

She looked doubtful. “At prison?”

I could understand her fears. It was hard enough for me to walk through those gates. “Yes,” I said slowly. “But there will be lots of guards around, and I’ll be there with you, and I promise you that your father won’t let anything happen to you.”

“Okay,” she said finally. “Okay, I’ll go.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 29-Jul-2002 7:55:24 AM ]
posted on 2-Aug-2002 1:46:30 AM by mockingbird39
Part 39


~Max~

Thanksgiving night, after I’d talked to Liz, I called my parents. It was the most exhausting telephone conversation I’d ever had. My mother was already in tears when Jesse handed her the phone. Thankfully I’d been able to get a few words in to Jesse about the situation before both my parents picked up different phones.

“Max, how could she do this?” my mother sobbed. “How could she keep this from you—keep this from all of us? She’s your flesh and blood!”

“Max, she can’t do this,” my father said. “We’ll take her to court and get visitation rights for you—you have rights to your child, son. She can’t keep her from you.”

“Mom, Dad, wait,” I interrupted. “It’s not what you think—”

“She’s holding your daughter—our granddaughter—hostage!” my mother cried. “She’s going to take her back to Russia. . .Russia, Max! We’ll never see her again.”

“Mom, Liz is bringing her there tomorrow morning,” I said before my father could agree.

There was dead silence on the other end of the line for a few seconds, then my father asked, “She’s coming here?”

“Yes,” I agreed. “I just talked to her. Mom, Liz wanted to tell you today, but she knew I wanted to tell you about her myself.”

“You’ve spoken to Liz about this?” my mother wanted to know, and I could hear the hurt in her voice. “Max, why didn’t you tell us?”

I lowered my head, closing my eyes for a moment. “Mom, I was going to tell you. But I. . .” I took a deep breath. “I haven’t seen her yet. Michael—he took her to a hockey game last weekend, and Maria helped Liz raise her all those years. I guess—I guess I just wanted to be the next person she got to know. I’m sorry.”

My father cleared his throat. “You. . .you haven’t met her, then?” he asked.

“Not yet,” I answered. “Saturday. Liz is going to bring her here on Saturday.” I’d said it so many times, but it was only beginning to become real to me. My daughter would be here in two days. I’d finally get to meet her—get to talk to her. My chest felt tight just thinking about it.

I heard a muffled sob from my mother. “She’s so beautiful, Max. She. . .she looks just like you.”

“I think she looks like Liz,” I said, smiling. “She brought me pictures. . .she brought a lot of pictures.”

“How long have you known?” my father asked me quietly.

I hesitated, but I knew Liz would be brutally honest when she told them her version of events. “A week,” I said finally. “Liz came to see me last weekend and I. . .well, I’ve known for a week.”

“She kept it from you for all these years,” he murmured.

“It isn’t fair, Max,” my mother broke in. “It isn’t right.”

“It wasn’t her fault, Mom,” I said softly. “Liz didn’t want it this way.”

I told them everything then—how I’d gone to Liz in Cambridge that night before I turned myself in, how I’d left her before sunrise as she slept. I told them how I feared Liz would give up her dreams of Harvard for me, how her life would be far less than I wanted for her if I didn’t push her away. And finally I told them how I’d sent her away that day at the prison and returned her letters months later. When I finished, I was drained and exhausted, and my parents were quiet.

“She could have gotten word to you, Max,” my father said after a moment.

“She didn’t have any reason to think it would do any good,” I said wearily. “She was protecting Sophie. You can’t blame her for that.”

“She should have known you would have cared, Max. If she knew you at all—”

“Mom,” I interrupted quietly, “what if it had been Isabel?”

They both fell silent and I knew I’d hit a nerve. My sister hadn’t had an easy life, but at least she’d been married all these years to a man who loved her—she hadn’t been alone. Not like Liz, who’d struggled to raise our child by herself. I knew which one they’d prefer for their daughter—and what I would want for mine. It occurred to me that we were on different footing now, my parents and I. Now I was a parent, too.

“Liz is telling Sophie the truth right now,” I said, aware that the twenty-minute time limit on my phone call was getting closer. “When she brings her over tomorrow, please don’t say anything to Liz. Don’t—”

“We won’t, Max,” my father assured me. “I promise.” He paused. “Max, you and Liz—are you—?”

“I don’t know, Dad,” I said honestly. “I know that. . .I know that I need her. Her and Sophie.” I cleared my throat. “I have to go soon. Can I talk to Isabel, please?”

They said goodbye and Isabel got on the phone. I looked at the clock and found I had six minutes left. “Max, what’s going on?” she asked, her voice wavering.

“It’s okay, Iz,” I said. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

“How? Max, your child!” she cried. She choked on a sob. “I didn’t even know if we could have children,” she said quietly, lowering her voice so our parents wouldn’t hear.

“Liz says she’s perfectly healthy,” I told her. “Everything was normal.” Except that maybe it wasn’t anymore. “Iz,” I said quietly, “Sophie has powers.”

Her sobs stopped. “She does?” she asked in a whisper, no doubt remembering how it had been when we’d discovered just how different we were. “How much?”

“I don’t know. Liz says she’s used them twice that we know of—probably more.”

“Does she know why?” Isabel demanded.

“She will after tonight. Liz was going to tell her.” I looked at the clock. “She’s probably telling her right now.”

“What? But Liz doesn’t know what it’s like to be. . .” Isabel broke off. “One of us should be there—she hasn’t even met any of us! How will she know—”

“She knows Michael,” I put in.

“What?” she breathed. “Michael knew? Michael knew and we didn’t?”

“Michael went looking for Liz in St. Petersburg,” I said quickly, watching the clock. “He saw Sophie. It was only a couple of weeks ago, Iz.”

“And Liz told him not to tell us,” she fumed.

“That’s not what happened,” I protested. “Michael didn’t know what to do.”

“But Liz did,” she muttered angrily.

“Isabel, stop it,” I ordered firmly. “If you give a damn about me or Sophie, stop this now. Liz didn’t have much of a choice. She came to tell me she was pregnant, but before she could say anything I told her to go. I pushed her away and that’s why she left. You can ask Michael—he was there.”

“I will,” she said pointedly.

“Look, Iz, I don’t have much time here, but I need you to promise me you won’t say anything to Liz when she comes over there tomorrow.”

“She’s coming here? Is she bringing your daughter?”

“Sophie is Liz’s daughter, too,” I said, “and Liz was doing what she thought was best.”

“You can’t believe that, Max—”

“I do believe it,” I interrupted. “Isabel, promise me you won’t start with Liz tomorrow.” I saw the guard at the end of the row of phones look at the clock and then at me. “Isabel, promise me,” I said urgently.

“Max, she had no right—”

“Isabel, promise me,” I insisted, watching the clock tick. “Promise me, or. . .or you’ll have to stay away tomorrow. I can’t have you upsetting Sophie.”

She was stunned. “You don’t mean that.”

“Yes, I do. Lay off or stay away.” I hated to do this to her, but Liz had been through enough. More than enough. “Please, Isabel. I need you to do this for me.” I paused for a second. “You’ll feel differently in a few days when you get a chance to think about this—I promise. Don’t say something tomorrow that you’ll regret for a long time.”

“It wasn’t fair,” Isabel said in a small, teary voice.

“I know,” I agreed. “It wasn’t and I hate this. I hate. . .I hate not knowing her. I hate that I missed Thanksgiving today—again. I hate that Sophie saw Roswell for the first time last night and I wasn’t there.” I closed my eyes for a second and leaned against the wall. “I hate all of it, Iz. But. . .I’m a father now, and I have to think about what’s best for my daughter. I’m not going to pretend I know what that is right now, but. . .I know it’s not having you fighting with her mother.” Looking up, I saw the guard coming toward me. “I have to go, Iz. Please promise me—”

“I promise,” she said finally. “I promise, Max.”

“Thank you, Isabel,” I told her. “I love you.” Why was it so easy to say to her and so hard to say to Liz?

“I love you, too, Max,” she said.

“I have to go. Tell Mom and Dad I love them, too.”

“I will. Good night.”

“Good night.”

I hung up the phone just as the guard reached me. “Almost time for lights out,” he said. I knew he’d done me a favor by letting me out this long so close to bed check, and I was grateful.

“Yeah,” I said. We walked in silence back to my cell and when he locked me in I threw myself down on my bed, exhausted.

Tomorrow my daughter would meet my parents and my sister. She would be in the very house where I grew up—walking the rooms and hallways where I’d spent my childhood. She would sit with my parents, with Isabel, and talk to them. She would tell them the things I longed to know. Isabel was right—this wasn’t fair. But at least I wouldn’t have to wait much longer.

Saturday I would see her myself. I closed my eyes and prayed I would know what to say to her—what to do. I wanted to hold her in my arms so badly, but for her sake I knew I’d have to hold myself back. I didn’t want to frighten her—not anymore than I knew she already would be. Liz had more faith in me on this than I deserved. She seemed to think being a father would just come to me. But so far I didn’t know a thing—except that I loved my daughter. Without ever having seen her, ever having heard her voice, I loved her.

Saturday couldn’t come fast enough.

* * * * *

I had another dream that night. It wasn’t as vivid as the ones I’d had when Sophie was close by in L.A., but it was clear, just the same. I saw Roswell through her eyes. . .saw the familiar streets and houses. I saw the UFO center, felt her amusement and curiosity about it. I saw Liz’s house and the Crashdown, with Liz’s father behind the counter making coffee. I saw Alex’s house, too, and I knew it must mean something important to her. I wasn’t surprised; of course Liz and Maria would have told her about Alex. I saw the high school—only it looked different than the last time I’d been there—and Maria’s house, then Michael’s. It was like a litany of my childhood, but seen through the eyes of my daughter it was infinitely more precious.

Then I saw what I guessed was Thanksgiving dinner, caught a glimpse of Kyle and his father. Then I was staring at the desert sunset overhead and all around me people were dancing. Liz was dancing. With a tall, dark-haired man that I didn’t know and instantly didn’t like. When I woke up a moment or two later, I realized it must be Jack Collins, and I liked him even less. It was irrational and unfair, but I hated the way he put his arms around her and I hated the way she smiled up at him. She looked so comfortable dancing with him—she looked like she was having a good time. She laughed and her eyes sparkled as he twirled her around and I they might have been singing along to the music.

As I lay there in the darkness, jealousy shot through me like a fire. I knew Liz didn’t love Jack—she’d told me she didn’t, and when I kissed her I’d known she’d been telling me the truth. But she was comfortable with him. He made her laugh. They had fun together.

I was very aware that every moment Liz and I spent together was charged with emotion. It was no wonder—nearly a decade of loneliness and regret lay between us. But seeing Liz with Jack Collins made me wonder if she and I would ever have that simple, shared comfort. When was the last time I’d made her laugh like that? I couldn’t remember—I wasn’t sure I ever had. Liz and I had had precious little to laugh about together over the years. It had been crisis after crisis ever since that day in the Crashdown when I’d first healed her. I hadn’t wanted it to be like that, and I cherished the times when we had been able to relax and enjoy each other like normal people. When I thought of Liz, so many things ran through my mind. . .healing her. . .falling into her arms when I’d escaped from the White Room. . .opening my eyes to see her leaning over me after we fell from the window in Vermont. But the memories I went back to over and over were simpler things—studying in the Crashdown. Driving in the desert with the radio turned up loud. That was what I wanted to have again—that, and a place where the three of us could be a family.

As I lay there in bed, I promised myself that we would have that. And that I would spend the rest of my life making Liz and Sophie smile—making sure they were safe and happy and never had reason to doubt me again. I pictured them sleeping side by side in Liz’s bedroom in Roswell, and I repeated those promises over and over, hoping that somehow they could hear me.

Saturday I would tell them in person.

* * * * *


~Liz~

Sophie and I had breakfast at the Crashdown the next morning. I was watching her closely, but she seemed okay. She’d rooted through her suitcase to find her favorite khaki capris pants—the ones with pink flowers and butterflies embroidered around the pockets and the hems. She loves those pants, and the fact that she chose to wear them made me realize how important this was to her. She picked her pink tee shirt and white sweater to wear with them, then put on her pink and white tennis shoes, let me brush her hair, and went downstairs to wait for me. As I picked out my own clothes, I wondered what she would wear to visit Max tomorrow.

I decided on the brown pants and tan blouse I’d worn on Wednesday. Max had seemed to like them when I visited him. . .I blushed as I remembered the thoughts I’d seen in his mind when he first saw me. The outfit made me look older, I thought, and I needed all the help I could get. As I went downstairs, I wished I could talk to Max again before I visited his parents. Last night, just hearing his voice had gotten me through my talk with Sophie. I could have used his help again. I’d dreamed about him—vaguely, nothing I could really identify—but I’d heard his voice, and felt his presence. I was sure it was because we’d both been reaching for each other as we slept.

Soon. I’ll be there soon, I thought as I entered the Crashdown.

Sophie ate pancakes—without Tabasco—and I choked down poached eggs on toast to please my father, who insisted I had to eat. He knew where I was going; the night before he’d asked me point blank if I was going to take Sophie to see her other grandparents. I’d never told my parents who Sophie’s father was, but they had known. Last night was the first night we’d ever mentioned it.

“Ready to go, Soph?” I asked as she drained her glass of orange juice.

“Yeah,” she agreed, putting the glass down.

My father noticed us getting ready to leave and came over to us. “Are you leaving now?” he asked.

I nodded. “Yeah. I want to. . .I want to give us plenty of time.”

“Do they know you’re coming?” he asked quietly, and I nodded. “Do you want. . .do you want me to go with you?”

I shook my head. “No, Daddy. I have to do this myself.” I smiled and kissed his cheek. “Thanks, though.”

He smiled at me. “If you need anything, Lizzie. . .”

“I’ll call you.”

“Good girl.”

We left a minute later, getting into our rented SUV for the short drive to the Evans house. On the way there, she turned to me.

“Is this the house where my father lived?” she asked. “Before he got sent to jail?”

I nodded. My throat was already tight with nerves and nostalgia brought on just by the drive to Max’s house, but I forced the words out anyway. “Yes. This is where he grew up.”

“Do you think they have pictures of him?”

I’d saved only a few photographs of Max over the years, and when we’d come to L.A. I’d considered bringing them along. In the end I had left them in Petersburg—with one exception. “Sophie, reach in my purse and get my wallet,” I instructed. She did so, handing it to me. I waited until we stopped at a red light and then opened a hidden inner pocket, taking out a faded, creased photograph that I’d carried with me longer than I cared to remember. It was Max—his senior picture, taken before our lives fell apart. I glanced at it for a second, then handed it to Sophie.

“There you go,” I said. “That’s him. That’s Max.”

She took it and studied it carefully. “You think I look like him?” she asked curiously after a moment.

I nodded, watching her out of the corner of my eye. “Yes. Don’t you?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know.”

We were almost there, and I remembered something important. “Sophie, remember what I told you about your grandparents—they don’t know about you and Max and Isabel. So don’t say anything to them about it, okay?”

“Can I talk to Isabel about it?” she wanted to know.

“If you can do it somewhere that your grandparents don’t hear,” I told her. I could imagine she had questions for Isabel—just like I figured she’d interrogate Michael when we got back to L.A.

“Okay.”

I pulled up in front of the Evans’ house and turned off the car. “Ready?” I asked.

She nodded uncertainly. “I guess.”

I put my hand on her shoulder. “Sophie, listen,” I said softly. “If you’re uncomfortable, or you feel funny, or. . .or if you just want to leave, you let me know, okay? You remember the sign?”

“I come give you my watch to put in your purse,” she answered. That had been our signal for years—and before that, it had been Maria’s and my sign for help, too.

“Good,” I said. I leaned over and kissed her forehead. “I love you, Sophie, and I’m proud of you.”

She smiled, suddenly looking very small. “I love you, too, Mom,” she said, and opened her door.

We got out of the car and went up the flagstone walk. It was a beautiful day—warm for the end of November, sunny, and clear. The Evans’ house looked much as I remembered it. It was large and gracious and the yard was immaculate. I remembered Max’s dad used to spend hours on the lawn, and I noticed that the grass looked wet that morning. I wondered if he had already been outside watering his lawn as he waited for us.

As soon as I rang the bell, I heard footsteps behind the door. I squeezed Sophie’s hand and closed my eyes for a second, and when I opened them again, the door was swinging open. Philip Evans stood there, older than he’d been the last time I saw him, but still tall and handsome. His looked at me for a second, his eyes grave, then his gaze went to Sophie and he searched her face hungrily. She squirmed under his scrutiny, and he recovered himself immediately.

“Well,” he said. “Well, you’re here. It’s. . .it’s good to see you again, Liz.”

“You, too, Mr. Evans,” I said. “Um, this is. . .this is Sophie,” I added. “Sophie, this is your grandfather.”

She was staring up at him, squinting a little in the bright sunlight. “Hi,” she said simply.

Philip Evans stooped down to put himself at eye-level with her. “Hello, Sophie. We. . .we’ve been waiting to meet you.”

“That’s what Mom said,” she told him.

“Did she?” he questioned.

“Philip, is that them?” came a voice from inside the house, and I looked over his shoulder to see Diane Evans coming toward the door. She stopped for a brief second when she saw me and Sophie, then she hurried over to us.

Philip straightened and moved aside to allow Diane to stand beside him in the doorway. “Yeah, it’s them,” he answered, smiling a little at Sophie. “See? We’ve been waiting for you to come.”

Sophie smiled a little as Diane reached out a hand to her. “Hi,” she said again, taking her grandmother’s hand.

“It’s nice to see you again, Sophie,” Diane said. She stood there looking at Sophie, and I knew she was looking for her son in the child before her. I knew she’d find him there, too. Sophie stared back for a moment, then she cocked her head to one side and reached out to hug Diane.

“Oh,” Diane said in surprise, then she leaned down and hugged Sophie back, holding her tightly for a long time. There were tears on her face when they broke apart and she dabbed at them with her hand. “Well, why don’t you—”

But Sophie wasn’t finished. She turned to Philip and hugged him, too. He looked even more surprised than Diane had, but just as grateful. He held her gently, patting her back with his hand. When she let go, he smiled at her with bright eyes, seeming unsure of himself. “Well, why don’t we. . .let’s go inside,” he said.

Sophie reached for my hand again as we followed them into the house. “Are you hungry?” Diane asked. “We have donuts and croissants—and fruit, if you like.”

“I ate already,” Sophie said. “Poppy made me strawberry pancakes at the Crashdown.”

“Well, how about some orange juice, then?” Philip suggested. “Liz, some coffee?”

“Um, sure,” I said as we entered the living room. Isabel and Jesse were already there, sitting in a pair of Queen Anne chairs beside the bay window. When we walked in, they looked up. Jesse smiled and stood up.

“Hey, Liz,” he said, crossing to me. He took my hand and kissed my cheek. “It’s good to see you again.”

“You, too, Jesse,” I said honestly. I still remembered how great Jesse had been the summer of Max’s trial. I hadn’t known him much before that, and I’d known him even less after it, but for the rest of my life I’d be grateful to him for those few weeks.

“You look good,” he said, then looked down at Sophie. “Hey, looks like we’ve got another Harvardee in training,” he observed, noticing the Harvard crest on her white sweater. He grinned at her. “I’m your Uncle Jesse—and I went to Harvard, too.”

She looked a little surprised. “You lived in Boston?”

“A long time ago,” he agreed, “before I met your aunt.” He looked back at Isabel, who was hanging back with an uncertain look. “You met your Aunt Isabel yesterday, right?” he added, holding out his hand to his wife. Isabel came forward, clutching his hand tightly.

“Yeah,” Sophie said, looking at Isabel with new interest.

“Hi, Sophie,” Isabel said, forcing a strained smile. “I’m glad you. . .your mom could bring you over today.”

“She said you guys would want to see me,” Sophie answered.

Isabel nodded. “She was right.” She swiped at her eyes quickly. “You look like your father,” she said “Jesse, doesn’t she look like Max?”

Jesse made a show of looking at Sophie. “I think she’s prettier than Max,” he teased, and Sophie cracked a grin. “But yeah, you look like him.”

“That’s what Mom said,” Sophie mused. Thoughtfully, she took out the picture I’d given her and looked at it.

Diane chose that moment to come into the room with Sophie’s orange juice. “What have you got there?” she asked Sophie.

Sophie held it out to show her. “Mom gave it to me,” she told her.

“Oh.” Diane’s smile wavered for a moment. “Oh. . .that’s Max. That’s my son—your father.”

“Yeah,” Sophie agreed.

Diane took the picture and looked at it for a long time. “I tried to get him to cut his hair before they took these pictures,” she said absently. “But he was always so busy. . .” She drew a deep breath and smiled down at Sophie. “Would you like to see more pictures?” she asked.

Sophie nodded. “Yeah. I—I brought pictures to show you, too.” She glanced up at me. “Mom, can I have my photo album?”

* * * * *

“So you’re an attorney now.” Jesse set down his coffee cup and looked at me with a smile. We were sitting near the bay window where he and Isabel had been sitting earlier. Sophie, Isabel, Diane, and Philip were all on the sofa looking at Sophie’s photo album and the pictures Diane had pulled out to show Sophie. I was watching them out of the corner of my eye, but doing my best to give them space to get to know each other. When I looked over at Jesse, I knew he knew what I was doing.

“Wha—? Um, yeah. An attorney.” I shrugged and took a sip of my coffee. “Ironic, huh?”

“Always thought you’d be a doctor, or maybe a researcher,” he admitted.

“What, you didn’t guess contracts attorney?” I asked, grinning.

“Contracts?” he repeated. “No, I didn’t guess that one. I thought maybe. . .patents. Malpractice.” He glanced at me. “Criminal law.”

I took a sip of my coffee. “Well,” I said slowly, “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t log some heavy research hours reading California case law.”

“I thought as much.”

I traced the rim of my cup and looked over at Sophie, ensconced in the middle of Max’s family. Her family, too, I reminded myself. “How much do you know?” I asked him.

“Almost nothing,” he said. “I talked to Michael after Isabel was finished with him.” He shook his head. “Poor guy.”

I winced. “Did Michael tell you about me working on Max’s case?”

Jesse nodded. “Yeah, and I’m ashamed to say I never really looked at the will. I can’t believe I never thought of this.”

I shrugged. “I probably wouldn’t have thought of it myself if I didn’t know there weren’t any more points of law to argue. I was scraping the barrel.”

“But you found something.”

“God, I hope so.” I took a deep breath and nodded at Sophie and the others on the sofa. “I feel terrible about this. If I could go back nine years—”

“Liz, don’t.” Jesse reached out and touched my knee. “Max explained everything last night.”

I shook my head. “Max thinks this is all his fault, Jesse. It’s not. I did this, too.”

“Sounds to me like he didn’t leave you much choice.”

“I knew Max would have cared about Sophie,” I told him. “I knew one of you would have told him about her and he would have backed off his stupid plan to push me away. But I acted to make sure that didn’t happen, and I’m sorry.”

“You were scared, Liz, and you were hurt.” Jesse shook his head. “And you were a kid. They all know that. I’m not gonna lie to you—they’re pretty hurt about this. But I think now they just want to make sure that you’re not going to shut them out of her life again.”

“I’m not,” I said. “I can’t do it any longer. They’re her family—Max is her father.”

He smiled reassuringly at me. “They’ll come around,” he said. “This helps—today. It’s good that you brought her over.” He grinned. “It was crazy in this house this morning. I thought we were gonna be in the market for a group rate on Ritalin.”

I smiled back. “I can imagine.”

“They just want to know her, Liz,” Jesse said seriously.

“I want that, too,” I agreed.

We were quiet for a second, then he cleared his throat. “Can I ask what’s going on with you and Max?”

I looked down at my lap. “I’m not leaving him again,” I murmured. “I spent ten years trying not to need him. . .it never worked.” I took a deep breath. “I always thought he’d get out somehow—that he’d come looking for me. When Michael came to me in Petersburg and told me that he’d exhausted his appeals. . .” I shook my head, swallowing hard. “I can’t let him spend the rest of his life there, Jesse. He doesn’t belong there.”

Jesse nodded. “I know.”

“I’m not going to let him push me away again,” I said determinedly. “Sophie and I need him—and he needs us, too.”

He nodded again. “I know he does. Liz, if there’s anything I do to help, let me know. We’re leaving for Chicago tomorrow, but I can be on a plane out here if you need me.”

I smiled. “That’s really nice of you, Jesse.”

“I wish I could have done something ten years ago,” he said, his voice heavy with regret.

“Don’t beat yourself up, Jesse,” I told him. “We’ve all done enough of that.”

A moment later, Isabel glanced over at me and caught my eye. She looked away quickly and I dropped my gaze, stung. But then she got up off the couch and came toward Jesse and I.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” she said to Sophie, putting a hand briefly on her shoulder.

Jesse rose as she approached us. “I think I’ll go get some more coffee. Anyone else need a refill?” he asked.

I shook my head, as did Isabel. “No thanks.”

When he had gone, Isabel sat down in the chair he had vacated. Before she had a chance to speak, I shook my head.

“Isabel, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. I wanted to. I just—”

“Max wanted to tell us. I know,” she interrupted. She shook her head, not meeting my gaze. “I would have helped you, Liz.”

“I know. I never doubted that, Isabel.”

She clenched a fist and pounded it lightly on the arm of her chair. “I know what Max did to you, Liz, and it wasn’t right. And when I think about it objectively—when I stop thinking that it’s my brother who’s never met his own child—I can see why you did it. But, Liz—you of all people know how alone we are. And now there’s. . .Max’s child—his own child. . .and we never knew. I just—” Her voice cracked and she stopped. “Max has been so alone,” she said finally. “If you could have seen him—he had nothing. But now. . .when I talked to him last night, he was so different. More like himself than he has been in years—he even gave me an order.” She laughed through her tears. “He loves her so much, Liz. He wants to be a good father.”

Tears sprang to my eyes. “I know. I know he does.” We were both quiet for a minute, then I swallowed hard. “I love him, Isabel. I always have.”

She nodded vigorously. “I know,” she sniffed. “I know you do—and he loves you, too. He needs you. It’s hard for him to say, but he really does.” She reached for my hand and squeezed it hard. “He needs both of you.”

* * * * *

We left a few hours later, Sophie carrying three pictures that Diane had given her—one of Max and Isabel on the day their adoption was finalized, one of Max at sixteen on the day he’d gotten his Jeep, and one of the whole family together at Isabel’s wedding. When I looked at the last one, all I could think of was dancing in Max’s arms that day. I’d been so sure we’d dance at our wedding someday. . .

“Thank you for bringing her,” Diane said, taking my hand as we lingered on the porch steps.

“I was glad to do it,” I told her, then reached into my pocket, bringing out my business card. “You should have this,” I said, pressing it into her hand. “Maria’s number is on the back—it’s where we’re staying in L.A. My numbers in Petersburg are on the other side. I don’t know exactly when we’ll be back there, but. . .well, you should know how to reach us.”

Diane took the card and turned it over in her hands. “Thank you, Liz,” she said quietly. She looked at me and smiled. “She’s a beautiful child, Liz—so special. You must be a wonderful mother.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I really appreciate that.”

Philip put his hand on my shoulder next. “Liz, thank you for coming over,” he said. “It was. . .” His voice trailed off as he looked at Sophie, who was hugging Isabel goodbye. “Thank you,” he said again, his voice hoarse with emotion.

“You’re welcome. Diane has my numbers—call anytime. Sophie loves to talk on the phone.” I smiled at them both and went down the rest of the stairs. “Maybe you can visit sometime. Petersburg is a beautiful city.”

“Have a safe flight,” Philip called, putting his arm around his wife.

“Thanks,” I told them, waving.

“I have to go back to Chicago tomorrow,” Isabel was telling Sophie, “but we’ll talk—I promise. Maybe you can visit sometime. What do you think?”

“Okay,” Sophie agreed. “And you can visit us, too.”

“I’d like that,” Isabel said. She drew Sophie into a hug, then looked at me as they broke apart. “Thank you, Liz,” she told me. “Maybe now. . .maybe we can talk sometimes. Or—well, you and Sophie can come visit us in Chicago.”

“I’d like that,” I said. I handed her my card, too, explaining the numbers like I had to Diane. She laughed, glancing at Jesse as he said goodbye to Sophie.

“Great—international phone bills now. Jesse will be thrilled.”

I laughed, too. “You get used to it.”

“Tell Max I said hello, okay?” she asked.

I nodded. “I will “

“Bye, Isabel.” I smiled at her and squeezed her hand. “I’ll call you if anything comes up about the case.”

“Thanks,” she said. “Goodbye.”

Jesse hugged me briefly. “Remember what I said,” he murmured. “If you need anything—”

“I’ll call,” I finished for him. “Thanks. Isabel has my numbers. Make sure she uses them, okay?”

He nodded. “I will.”

“Jesse, thanks,” I told him. “For everything. I don’t think I ever said that to you.”

He chuckled. “You’ve had a lot on your mind—for the last ten years.”

I smiled. “I guess I have.”

“I’ll talk to you soon,” he said, then ruffled Sophie’s hair. “It was good to meet you, Sophie. You’re comin’ to Chicago sometime, right?”

“Yup,” she agreed. “Aunt Isabel and I are going shopping.”

“Great. She’ll have a whole new set of stores to visit,” he teased, rolling his eyes in mock horror.

We waved goodbye and got in the SUV. As we drove down the street, Sophie turned to me.

“They were nice,” she said. “I liked them.”

“They liked you, too,” I smiled.

“And tomorrow we go see my father,” she mused.

“That’s right.” I nodded, my heart speeding up a little.

Tomorrow we would go see Max.
posted on 10-Aug-2002 6:54:54 PM by mockingbird39
Author's Note: Thanks for being so patient, guys! This part was very difficult to write--and much awaited!--and I wanted it to be satisfying for everyone. I hope you enjoy it.

Check out Bordersinsanity's fantastic banner on page one! Thanks, Jennifer!


Part 40


~Michael~

Maria, Liz, and Sophie got back to L.A. early in the evening. I picked them up at the airport. I was insanely glad to see Maria again, even though it had been less than a full day since I’d left her in Roswell. When she came through the gate and saw me, her eyes lit up and I felt like a sixteen-year-old kid again.

“Michael!”

Sophie reached me first, giving me an enthusiastic hug. I hugged her back, glad to see her again, too. It occurred to me that my life had gotten a lot more full since that night in St. Petersburg when I first found Liz. I liked it a hell of a lot better this way.

“Hey,” I greeted her. “How was the flight?”

She shrugged. “Okay.” Then she leaned close to me and whispered, “Mom says you’re like me.”

Huh? My confusion must have shown on my face, because she nodded firmly. “You know,” she persisted, “different.

“Oh,” I said, then it hit me. “Oh. Uh, yeah. You and me. . .real different.”

“And Aunt Isabel, too,” she said seriously. “And my father. You’re his friend, right?”

“Um. . .” I looked at Liz, who had reached us and was standing back a little. She shrugged and nodded.

“It’s okay,” she said. “Sophie knows all about it now. We talked last night—and today we went to see her grandparents.” She smiled at me. “Isabel says hi.”

“Yeah, that’s not all she said,” I muttered, remembering the conversation I’d had last night. My ears still hurt from that one.

“Michael,” Sophie said, tugging me down to speak into my ear, “can you show me how to blow stuff up?”

I laughed. “Well, we could—” I began until Liz gave me a swift kick in the ankle. She shook her head vigorously, mouthing a firm “no.” “You know, I don’t really do that anymore,” I said hastily. “You can find other stuff to do that’ll be just as good.” The look on Sophie’s face made it clear she didn’t believe that any more than I did, but I was saved when Maria reached us.

“Hi, Spaceboy,” she said, smiling shyly at me.

Spaceboy. I used to hate it when she called me that. Now it didn’t seem so bad. “Hi,” I said. “How’s Roswell?”

“Still the way you left it,” she answered. “In one piece.”

“Glad to hear it.” I glanced at Sophie and Liz, who were pretending not to watch us, and then shrugged. “Come here,” I said, pulling her close. I kissed her briefly, not caring who saw us, and then tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “Did you decide where we’re going tonight?”

She beamed at me and I was glad I’d taken the chance. “Yeah, I know a place I want to show you,” she said.

I looked over at Liz, who was grinning, and Sophie, who was staring outright now. “Then let’s get going,” I said.

* * * * *

We dropped Liz and Sophie at Maria’s house, and then left again. Maria gave me directions to the place she’d picked, and before long we’d left the city and were driving along the coast.

“So where is this place? Is it a restaurant?” I asked her.

She smiled. “Yeah—it’s right on the beach.”

“Are we getting close?”

“Soon,” she nodded.

We drove a little while longer, and I started thinking I didn’t care when we got there. It was nice just driving along with the windows down and Maria beside me. She looked over at me and smiled, and I wouldn’t have minded driving for the rest of the night. But finally we reached the restaurant—actually a little café on a dock that overlooked a cove—and I parked close to the door. It was late afternoon by then, and the beach was peaceful and cool.

“You wanna take a walk later?” I asked her. “Maybe after dinner?”

She slipped her hand into mine as we headed for the restaurant. “Yeah,” she smiled. “I’d like that.” She squeezed my hand. “Come on—I want to show you this place.”

We walked inside and I realized that it wasn’t just a café. There was a stage in the front, and a man stood there, playing a guitar and singing. I recognized him from television and the newspaper—he’d had several hit songs in the past year or so.


“You didn’t tell me we were going to a concert,” I whispered to her.

“It’s not a concert,” she answered. “It’s just a coffee house. A lot of people come here to relax and try out new songs.” She smiled at me. “Or old ones.” By “people” she apparently meant “musicians,” or maybe “famous musicians,” because everywhere I looked I saw people I recognized from CDs and posters and magazines. I couldn’t figure out why she’d brought me here—I sure didn’t fit in with these people.

We went to a table in the corner beside one of the windows—it had a breathtaking view of the sea—and sat down. A moment later, a waiter came up and set a pot of coffee and two cups on the table between us.

“Hi, Maria,” he said with a grin. “Are you gonna sing tonight, or eat?”

She smiled back. “Maybe both,” she told him. “This is Michael,” she added, pointing at me. “Michael, this is Anthony. He’s a fabulous guitar player.”

“She exagerates,” Anthony said, shaking my hand. “Nice to meet you.” He put two menus on the table and looked at Maria again. “Let me know if you want me to put you on the list. We’re not that busy yet.”

“Thanks,” she told him. As he left, she turned to me. “What do you think?” she asked. “Is this okay?”

I nodded, still looking around. I hoped I wasn’t acting like some star-struck tourist. “It’s nice,” I said. “Do you. . .uh, do you come here a lot?”

She waved to someone across the room. “Hm? Oh, yeah. I come all the time when I’m in town.” She looked at me questioningly. “Do you want me to introduce you around?”

I shook my head quickly. “No, that’s okay.” I really just wanted to spend time with her, and I was beginning to think that wasn’t going to happen—at least not alone. I shrugged. “You know, maybe later—if you want.”

She cocked her head to one side and reached across the table to touch my hand. “Michael, is this okay? Do you want to leave?”

I poured us both some coffee. “Leave? No. No, this is fine.”

She wasn’t quite as sure of herself as she had been a minute ago. “I just thought. . .if we came here no one will really bother us.” She looked down at the table. “You know, sometimes I get people coming up for autographs and it’s kind of awkward. . .I didn’t think we’d want that tonight.” She paused for a second, then shrugged. “And I kind of thought. . .well, this is where I come a lot. I know these people.”

Then I knew why she had brought me here. This was her world—at least the part of it she liked most, felt comfortable in, and wanted to share with me. I reached for her hand. “Maria, it’s great,” I said. I wished I had the words to tell her why, but I just couldn’t seem to say it. “I’m glad you brought me here,” I added finally, and she smiled.

“Good,” she murmured. I think she understood what I wanted to say.

* * * * *

We ate huge sandwiches on crusty bread and drank one pot of coffee, then started on another. Maria had been right—a few people came up to say hello, but none of them stayed long and no one asked for an autograph. It was. . .nice. We talked about her career and what we’d both done after leaving Roswell, about college and places we’d visited. She told me what Liz had told her about their visit to Max’s family, and how Sophie had taken the news that she was. . .not entirely human.

“I think it would be good if you could talk to her,” Maria ventured, breaking off a piece of piecrust with her fork.

I shrugged, swallowing a spoonful of ice cream. “Maybe Max should do that. He’s her father.”

“But you know her,” she said. “She trusts you.”

Yeah, and that was driving Maxwell crazy. Every time one of us mentioned Sophie to the other, I could see the resentment in his eyes. Oh, he was trying to hide it, and I knew it wasn’t really directed at me so much as at the situation, but it was still there. “I think Max would really like to do it,” I said finally.

“But if she asks you. . .”

“I’ll answer,” I said quickly. “She should know.”

Maria put down her fork and pushed her plate away. “She’s always been so happy, Michael. I just don’t want her to lose that.”

“Me, neither,” I agreed. I knew she was thinking about what would happen tomorrow, and I knew that she would always be protective of Sophie and Liz when it came to Max. But she seemed to be easing up on him a little—maybe it was because she’d seen Isabel and Max’s mom over Thanksgiving. As Maria stared out the window with a troubled look, I reached across the table and took her hand. “Maria,” I began quietly, “if you could see how much he loves her. . .both of them.”

“You keep saying that,” she murmured.

“It’s true. They’re all he’s ever wanted and now. . .they’re right here. So close. But he knows he can still lose them and it’s tearing him up.” I shook my head. “You know what being away from him has done to Liz all these years,” I said, and she nodded. “Well, at least she had Sophie. Max had nobody.”

“He had you,” she said, smiling wistfully. She sighed and rubbed my hand in both of hers. “I wish I’d had you all this time.”

A flush of warmth spread from my chest all over my body. “You’ve got me now,” I said.

She looked at me hopefully. “Do I?”

I nodded. “You really do, Maria.”

A big grin spread across her face. She looked down at our clasped hands, still grinning, and then looked back up at me. “Wanna take that walk, Michael?”

“You bet I do.”

* * * * *

~Liz~

I felt Max close to me all night. It was as though now he’d gotten me back, he wasn’t going to let go. All the way back from Roswell I’d been conscious of the distance between us growing ever shorter—of our connection strengthening. I’d felt him reaching out, grabbing on tightly, binding us together again. Max Evans was drawing me back to him and I went willingly—gratefully.

The next morning I woke up early and I knew he was waking up, too. I lay there in my soft, wide bed in Maria’s house and stretched against the cool cotton sheets and I knew he was still with me. Remembering the other night, I lay back and closed my eyes. Sure enough, I felt his phantom caresses over my body. It was almost like waking up in his arms. I knew how nervous he was, so I lingered for a few moments, trying to comfort him. I wished I could hold him right now—I wished I could stroke his hair and kiss his forehead and tell him it would be all right. I hoped he knew how much I wanted to be with him.

But I had a daughter to think about, too, so after a few moments I reluctantly pushed back the covers and got out of bed. We’ll be there soon, Max, I thought, and I felt his response.

Sophie wasn’t in her bed, so I started downstairs to look for her. I stopped halfway down when I heard voices from Maria’s bathroom.

“Hold still, Sophie. We want it to be straight.”

“I’m trying—hey, that itches!”

I frowned, wondering if Maria was playing dress-up with my daughter again, and walked into the bathroom. “Hey, Soph, we’ve got to start getting ready,” I began, but stopped suddenly.

Sophie was in her pajamas, a towel wrapped around her shoulders, her hair wet, trying to hold still while Maria stood behind her with a pair of scissors in her hand. When they saw me, they both fell silent. Finally, Maria shrugged.

“You said she needed a haircut,” she ventured. “I figured you’d want her to look extra nice. . .today.”

Tears sprang to my eyes. Over the years I’ve had dozens of reasons—no, hundreds of reasons to be thankful for Maria. But I’d never appreciated my best friend more than at that moment. “Thanks, Maria,” I managed to say. I blinked furiously, smiling at them. “It looks great.” I stood there for a second, then I turned quickly to go downstairs. “I’ll go make us some breakfast. Scrambled eggs and bacon? Yeah, that’ll be good.”

* * * * *

10:32am

Sophie and I stood in line with about fifteen other people, waiting to be let inside the prison. She was holding my hand tightly and clutching her backpack with her other hand. I looked down at her, giving her a reassuring smile, and brushed at her hair. Maria had done a good job—it hung straight and shiny to just below her chin, naturally flipping under at the bottom. She was wearing sunglasses and her Mets hat, and I wondered if she was trying to copy Maria’s incognito look. She’d gotten dressed while I was in the shower, choosing her denim skirt, a white blouse with blue flowers embroidered around the collar, and the new blue sneakers Maria had bought her before we left for Roswell. It was a little chilly where we stood in the shade of the prison, and she was wrapped in her white sweater again. It had taken me a while to choose my clothes, too—this was the first time I’d be seeing Max as something other than his lawyer. Officially, anyway. We both knew my visits all week had been about more than his case. Finally, I’d put on comfortable black linen pants, a black tank top, and a silk fishnet sweater of tobacco brown. I’d stood before the mirror hoping Max would like it until I realized I was acting like a sixteen-year-old. Silly, I’d told myself, shaking my head. But I still left the house wearing the strappy heels that make my legs look longer.

“You okay?” I murmured to Sophie, who was watching the people around us with trepidation.

“Yeah.”

“Do you want to take your sunglasses off? We’re in the shade.”

“No.”

I let it go, but I hoped she’d take them off before the guards brought Max in.

“Michael works here?” she asked suddenly.

I nodded. “Yes.”

“Is he here now?”

“Yes.” He’d told me he was working the early shift and would be off around three. He planned to come down and check on us then to give Max and I the chance to talk for a few minutes.

“Can we see him?” she wanted to know.

I nodded again. “Later on. Once we’ve spent some time with your father.”

She was quiet for a minute, then she looked up at me from behind her sunglasses. “What should I call him?” she asked.

I looked down at her. “Your father?” I asked, and she nodded. I was at a loss. I knew how badly Max would love to hear her call him “Daddy,” but I wasn’t going to push her. “Well,” I said finally, “why don’t you wait and see what feels most comfortable.”

“Won’t he want me to call him Dad?” she asked uncertainly.

I put my hand on her shoulder. “He wants you to be comfortable,” I told her. I pushed the brim of her hat up a little. “Remember what I told you—he loves you very much.”

“I know.” She looked away as the gate ahead swung open. The line ahead of us began to move slowly and Sophie’s grip on my hand tightened.

My nerves were picking up, too, and somewhere inside Max was torn between excitement and apprehension. He’d been pinning so much on this day—I hoped to God he wouldn’t be disappointed. At the gate I handed our passports to the guard.

“Who are you here to see?” he asked, putting our names into a computer.

“Max Evans,” I answered, and he entered that, too.

“Bags, please,” he said, and I handed over my purse and Sophie’s backpack. Another guard checked them carefully and they waved metal detectors over us. This was a much more thorough search than what I had to go through when I went as Max’s lawyer, but then there were a lot more people around today. Sophie eyed the man searching her bag suspiciously and he smiled, handing it back to her.

“All yours,” he said. “See? I didn’t take anything.” She looked away, not in the mood for teasing.

“Here are your badges,” the first guard said, handing them to me.

“Here, Soph—you have to wear this,” I told her, fastening hers to her blouse. I hung mine from the hem of my sweater and took her hand.

“You can go wait at Number Four,” the guard said, pointing. “First row. He’ll be out in a minute.”

“Thank you,” I nodded.

Sophie and I walked through the gate and headed to the table he had indicated. “He’s not here yet?” she asked me in a small voice.

“He’ll be here soon,” I assured her. I sat down at the orange plastic table and Sophie sat beside me, holding her backpack on her lap. She took off her sunglasses and tucked them into her backpack, then squinted up at the cloudless sky overhead. I reached over and touched her face. “It’ll be okay,” I told her. “But. . .if you want to leave, you know the signal.”

She nodded, staring at the grass under the table. “Yeah.”

We waited quietly, and after a few moments I could feel Max getting closer. His heart was pounding and mine speeded up to match it. I closed my eyes, reaching for him. We’re here, I told him, though he already knew. We’re waiting for you.

“He’s here,” Sophie said suddenly, and I opened my eyes. There was no one at the prisoner’s gate yet, but as I opened my mouth to answer, the door behind the gate opened and Max stepped through it, handcuffed and accompanied by a guard. He paused and squinted in the sunlight, and as he looked into the visitor’s pavilion his eyes landed on us immediately. Beside me, Sophie tensed. “Will they take off his handcuffs?” she asked, inching closer to me.

I nodded and put my arm around her shoulders. “Yes, as soon as they bring him to us.”

His eyes were locked on us as they processed him at the gate and led him through it. He was trying to walk quickly, but the guard had a firm hold on his arm and impeded his progress at every step. It seemed like forever until he reached us. When he had, he stood silently as the guard uncuffed him and left. I stood up quickly and went to him, putting my arms around him.

“Hi, Max,” I whispered, holding him close.

“Hi,” he answered hoarsely, gratefully pressing his face into my neck for a brief moment. “Is she okay?” he murmured softly.

I nodded as I released him. He was so nervous he was shaking. “She’s fine,” I answered. “It’s okay.” I kept one arm around his waist as I turned and held out a hand to Sophie. She took it slowly, stepping closer to us. “Sophie, this is your father,” I said simply, then looked up at Max. His eyes searched her face hungrily and I could feel his rapid breathing. “Max, this is Sophie,” I told him softly, pouring all the reassurance I could into my voice for both their sakes. “Your daughter.”

Max dropped to one knee, putting himself at eye level with Sophie. “Hi, Sophie,” he said, his voice husky. He cleared his throat. “It’s. . .I’m really glad to meet you.”

She nodded a little. “Me, too.”

My hand was still on his shoulder, bringing our connection to completion. When we touched, we could very nearly read each other’s thoughts. So as I stood there watching them, I could feel how he ached to touch her—how he wanted to sweep her into his arms and hold her against him, just to convince himself this wasn’t a dream. But he was holding back, afraid to startle her, and the effort it took made me realize how strong Max’s will was—and had always been.

“I’m glad you came today,” he told her finally, trying to smile. “I’ve been waiting to meet you.”

She was staring at him, her eyes searching his face, too. “I know,” she said absently.

He nodded. “Sophie. . .I’m sorry I haven’t been around. I know this must be very confusing, but—but you can ask me any questions you have and I’ll try to answer.” He smiled ruefully. “I may not know all the answers, but. . .I’ll try.”

“Okay,” she said. She stood there for a long moment, studying him as carefully as he studied her. She didn’t shy away from his scrutiny as she had from Philip’s and Diane’s, and at length she cocked her head to one side, mirroring his posture in a way that brought tears to my eyes. Finally, she gave a slow, cautious smile.

Max let out a deep breath and I felt his heart jump as he smiled back at her—the same shy, quiet smile that had brightened the eyes of the boy I fell in love with a lifetime ago. Seeing it now in the man before me made my chest ache with longing. Somehow, without my realizing it, my hand had come to rest at the back of his neck, my fingers twining in the hair that curled almost to his collar. I hadn’t touched him like that in years—many, many years—but it was familiar to me today as it had been the last night I lay in his arms.

“I saw pictures of you yesterday,” Sophie said. “You look different now.”

“Really?” His smile grew a little self-conscious. “Yeah, I guess I do.” He paused for a second. “You look like your pictures,” he said. “Liz—your mom, I mean—brought me pictures of you.” He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a photograph. In the second before he held it out to Sophie I saw that it was the one I’d given him of Sophie and me at our apartment in Petersburg. Looking back, I remembered that he’d reacted to that one most of all and I wondered why. But as he held it in his hand that day, I realized—home. That’s what it represented to Max—a home.

“See?” he was asking her. “This is my favorite.”

She looked at it curiously. “That’s our place in Petersburg,” she said, then she tilted her head to the side again. “You carry that around?” she wanted to know.

He nodded. “Yeah. Ever since your mom gave it to me. It. . .it makes me feel closer to you.”

She frowned. “But you don’t even know me,” she said slowly.

Sadness washed over him, and his smile dimmed. “I—I know,” he said finally, looking down at the picture in his hand. He was quiet for a second, then he looked up at her again. “But I want to, Sophie. I really do.”

* * * * *

posted on 15-Aug-2002 1:41:26 PM by mockingbird39
Part 41


~Max~

She’s so much like Liz.

The thought kept running through my mind as I sat beside my daughter that crisp fall day. When I’d first seen her through the fence in the pavilion, all the air left my lungs in a rush because in that instant I was thrown back twenty years to the day I’d first seen Liz across the playground. Though I hadn’t thought about it before, Sophie was very nearly the same age Liz had been that day when I had seen her smile at me and known that I would carry that moment with me for the rest of my life.

Liz and my parents had said they thought Sophie looked like me, but as I sat there that day, unable to take my eyes from her, all I could see was Liz. She had Liz’s dark, thick hair and heart-shaped face, her slight build, her delicate features. Each time she turned her head or gestured with her hands, I caught a new glimpse of Liz in her and I savored every one. It crossed my mind that maybe we each saw in her what we wanted to see. Or maybe we were both right and Sophie really was a mixture of the two of us—a living reminder of that night almost a decade ago when for one moment we’d come together and made each other whole.

But the longer she talked, slowly coming out of her shell and favoring me with smiles that I couldn’t help but return, I realized that Sophie wasn’t merely a reflection of Liz or me or anyone else. She was herself—her own person. And that was the thing I loved most of all.

It was bittersweet to have her here. On one hand, it helped to fill the intense need that had been in my heart all week—to know her. To be near my child. On the other, it made me ache for all the time we had lost. And in the back of my mind I kept dreading the end of the afternoon, when I knew she and Liz would have to leave. It won’t be like this forever, I swore to myself. I won’t let it.

“This is my school in New York,” Sophie told me, pointing out another photo in her scrapbook. It showed a large, stone building on a city block. We had been looking at the book for the better part of an hour and though I’d seen some of the pictures before, I loved hearing her tell me about them. I sat beside her at the table and little by little she’d scooted closer to give me better access to her pictures. Liz sat on her other side, watching us, and as Sophie talked about New York, I felt her hand slip over mine where it rested behind Sophie on the bench. Gratefully, I turned my hand over and laced our fingers together.

“It’s called Beechwood Academy,” Sophie added. “I liked it there, but I like the American School better.”

“The American School?” I asked, leaning over to take a closer look.

She nodded. “Yeah, that’s my school in Petersburg.” She flipped a few pages ahead in the book, past more pictures that I hoped I’d get to look at later, and pointed out another one. This one was taken at sunset, when streaks of pale pink and deep purple crept across the sky. This building I recognized—I’d seen it in a dream about a year ago. It was large and gracious, set back from the street and partially hidden by hedges and a large gate.

“It’s pretty,” I said. Again I realized how different Sophie’s childhood was from mine—and Liz’s too. But she was happy and healthy and thriving under Liz’s care and that was the important thing. I was grateful beyond measure that my alien side—and the danger that sometimes went with it—had not managed to taint Sophie yet.

“That’s my friend Anne-Marie,” she told me, pointing to a picture of herself and another little girl. Both of them wore what I assumed were their school uniforms. . .which reminded me of nothing so much as the uniform Liz had worn during her semester in Vermont. “She’s my best friend,” Sophie continued. “She’s French—when we go to her house, we have to speak French to her mom. She doesn’t speak English very well.”

“You speak French, too?” I asked her in surprise.

She shrugged. “I take it at school, and sometimes Anne-Marie helps me with it. And Thierry, too.”

I caught a flash of something from Liz, who was sitting on Sophie’s other side. Surprise, maybe—and a little apprehension. I decided not to ask about “Thierry.” At the moment I was having enough problems with some guy named Jack Collins. Who just happened to be in several of the pictures we’d just looked at. One in particular ate at me—Sophie, Liz, and Jack wearing Red Sox jerseys and standing together at a ballpark. Jack was holding Sophie in one arm and keeping Liz close by with the other. They looked like a family, and I couldn’t get that picture out of my head. When I get out of here. . . I took a deep breath and tried to think of other things. “You speak Russian, right?” I prompted. “Your mom says you’re really good at it.”

“Well, our housekeeper doesn’t speak English, so I have to talk to her in Russian.”

“I’d like to hear you speak it sometime,” I said. I was amazed—eight years old, and she already spoke three languages.

She wrinkled her nose. “What do you want me to say?”

“You know some poems,” Liz suggested. “You could say one of those.”

Sophie looked doubtful. “Which one?”

I smiled at her. “Which is your favorite?”

“I don’t know. . .I like Pushkin. We memorized a bunch of his poems in school.” she told me. She thought for a moment, tilting her head to one side, then looked from Liz to me and began to speak softly.

“ ‘Ya vas lyoobil, lyoobov eshyo bit mozhet. . .’ ”

I didn’t understand a word of it, but the sounds were lyrical and pleasant to the ear. It almost sounded like music. And though I didn’t understand it, Liz obviously did. She looked at Sophie in surprise, her eyes widening a little, then she dropped her gaze to the table. An unmistakable melancholy shot through her—and me, too—followed by a wistfulness that puzzled me. A moment later, I understood.

“I’m impressed,” I told Sophie as she finished. “What does it mean?”

She frowned. “I don’t know it in English,” she said, looking at Liz. “Mom, do you know?”

Liz raised her head reluctantly. “I. . .well, it’s a sonnet to a woman he loved,” she ventured finally. She took a deep breath and began to translate slowly, haltingly. “ ‘I loved you, and perhaps I love you still. . .The fire is not extinguished, yet it. . .it burns so quietly within my soul. No longer be distressed by it. I loved you silently, hopelessly. . .At times too jealous and at times too shy. May God grant that another love you as tenderly and truly as I.’ ”

When she finished, she looked up at me and our eyes locked. “I. . .I think that’s it. That’s the gist of it, anyway.”

I squeezed her hand and she smiled a little, squeezing mine in return. “It’s beautiful,” I murmured.

“It’s tragic,” Liz said in a choked voice. “She lost him and he was alone. Love like that. . .it should at least have a chance.”

Our gazes held for a long moment, and I wished I could tell her that I knew that now—and that I had no intention of sitting by and hoping that she would find someone else to love her like I did. Because no one else could ever love Liz Parker like I did—no one. And I hoped to God I’d get to spend the rest of my life showing her that.

“Mom likes Pushkin,” Sophie volunteered, breaking our silence.

I nodded. “And you do, too, right?”

She nodded. “I like his fairy tales. We read those before bed at night.”

I caught a flash from Liz then—the two of them curled up in Sophie’s bed with a book between them. I looked over at Liz and she squeezed my hand tightly in hers. She knew what I’d seen, and she knew how much I wanted to be part of it. The ache in my chest intensified as Sophie continued showing me her pictures, telling me details about her life that I committed to memory. She showed me last Christmas—she’d gotten roller blades from Liz’s parents, a pile of clothes from Maria, and an aquarium from Liz. I saw pictures of her last birthday, which she had spent with Liz and Maria on a visit to Paris. There was a photograph of her on the Champs-Elysee that I liked especially—she was wearing a winter coat and hat, holding a paper-wrapped bunch of flowers as snow fell from the sky. Her grin stretched from ear to ear, and her eyes sparkled.

“Paris is pretty in the snow,” she mused, and it stirred something in my memory. Had we shared a dream of Paris in winter? I stared at the picture, raking over distant memories. February. . .in February I’d been preparing for my final appeal. I’d been transferred briefly from grounds crew to the prison laundry where it was hot and humid all day long. . .I remembered lying in my bed dreaming of a place where it snowed and the air was icy cold on my face. Lost in thought, I was startled to feel a light touch on my hand.

It was Sophie. She looked up at me seriously. “Have you ever been to Paris?” she asked.

I shook my head. “No,” I answered. Every nerve in my body was focused on the place where her hand lay on mine. “No, I’ve never been to Paris. There’s a lot of places I’ve never been.”

“Because you have to stay here?” she questioned, her eyes searching mine.

I nodded. “Yes.”

She looked down at our hands, resting together on the worn plastic table and my gaze followed hers. For the first time, I saw something of myself in her—her hands. Mine were far larger, and rougher, marked with calluses, but they were the same shape as my daughter’s. For some reason, that simple fact seared a path straight to my heart. My daughter. This child next to me was part of me, and I loved her so much I couldn’t begin to express it. More than ever, I longed to hold her in my arms and tell her how much I loved her, to promise that I would never again be absent from her life.

“Mom says you didn’t do what they think you did,” she said softly, her eyes still on our hands.

“That’s right,” I said firmly. It was desperately important to me that she understand this—and believe it. “Sophie, I didn’t hurt that man.”

She nodded, raising her head to look at me. Just like Liz, Sophie could see right into my soul. It was unnerving, but I didn’t look away. I wanted her to see me for what I was—and for how much I loved her. “I know,” she said finally. Her hand tightened on mine, and I held my breath. “I wish you didn’t have to stay here,” she told me simply.

I turned my hand over and clasped her fingers lightly. Liz’s hold on my other hand was still tight, and I knew she was watching us closely. “So do I, Sophie,” I agreed.

“If you didn’t have to stay here, would you be with me and Mom?” she wanted to know.

My throat tightened so that I could barely speak. I nodded. “Yeah,” I managed to say. “Yeah, that’s where I’d be—with you.”

Her eyes were still boring into me, looking past the walls I’d spent so many years building. “Because you love us?”

Tears burned my eyes now, but I couldn’t look away. “Yes,” I said. I freed my hand from Liz’s and slowly reached out to touch Sophie’s face. She didn’t shy away, just sat there looking at me with those intense brown eyes. “I love you. . .I love both of you so much.” I felt Liz’s reaction—a sharp pain in her heart and then a burst of hope—and when I glanced over at her I saw that her eyes were closed, and one of her hands was pressed over her mouth. Without a conscious thought, I reached for them—for both of them—and pulled them into my arms.

Liz clung to me without hesitation and I felt her tears wet my shoulder as she pressed her face against me. She wrapped one arm around me and the other around Sophie, and a second or two later I felt Sophie’s small arms wrap around both of us. I shut my eyes against my own tears and held them close as my heart hammered in my chest and I knew right then I couldn’t live separate from them for the rest of my life.

But that was the future, and the present was Liz and Sophie in my arms. I smoothed Sophie’s hair and pressed my cheek against Liz’s forehead and prayed that it would last forever.

* * * * *

Michael came down after his shift ended. He walked toward us through the gate, and Sophie smiled when she spotted him. He grinned back, waving, and I couldn’t stave off the pang of jealousy that shot through me. Sophie had warmed considerably in the few short hours since I’d first seen her from behind the fence, but I was well aware that she wasn’t exactly comfortable with me yet. With Michael, on the other hand, she was obviously at ease.

“Hi, Michael!” she exclaimed when he got close enough. She had been sitting very close to me, almost leaning against me, and as he approached she straightened and pulled away a little bit. “Got my Bruins hat?” she demanded, and Michael laughed.

He dropped onto the bench on the other side of the table and loosened his shirt collar. “Hey, Liz. Max,” he said, nodding at each of us. He shot me a grin and leaned across the table toward Sophie. “Bruins hat?” he repeated. “You don’t mean that ugly old hat that fell out the window of the plane when I was over flying over the desert?”

“You didn’t,” she grinned, resting her elbows on the table and leaning forward to meet his gaze. Her eyes sparkled with a challenge.

Michael shrugged. “Might have,” he returned.

Sophie snorted. “I guess I’ll have to wear my Jets tee shirt next time we go out to dinner,” she told him archly.

Michael groaned and clutched his heart. “Augh. Okay, okay—it’s in my car. I’ll give it to you before you go home.”

She giggled. “Gotcha. I don’t even have a Jets tee shirt.”

He laughed and tapped the Mets hat she had placed on the table earlier. “This is almost as bad.” He looked at me. “Do you see this, Maxwell?” he asked. “She roots for the Mets. This can’t go on—and I’m not even gonna go into her hockey team.”

Sophie looked at me, too, evidently gauging my reaction. I hadn’t followed sports for years—baseball, hockey, or anything else—but from the look on her face, this seemed important to Sophie. I shrugged. “I always kind of liked the Mets,” I ventured, and she grinned.

“Ha!” she crowed, pointing one small finger straight at Michael’s nose. “That makes three of us, and one of you.” She turned to me, rolling her eyes. “Michael keeps stealing my Bruins hat,” she informed me. “He took it on Thanksgiving before he came back to L.A.”

“I’m just trying to save you from yourself,” Michael protested.

“You know the Bruins are actually—” Liz began, but Michael put his hands over his ears.

“Stop! I don’t want to hear any more,” he said. “I don’t think I can take it from you, too.” He sighed heavily. “Hey, Soph, you thirsty? There’s some soda machines right inside.”

Sophie looked at Liz and murmured something in Russian. Liz leaned over. “Let’s use English, okay? Your father and Michael don’t speak Russian,” she said quietly. I nearly didn’t catch the words, and I know Michael didn’t. She smiled reassuringly, taking any reproach out of the words. “Nobody will mind if you go with Michael.”

“Okay.” Sophie slid from the bench as Michael stood up.

“You guys want anything?” Michael asked Liz and I.

“Diet?” Liz requested, and he nodded.

“Maxwell?”

“Whatever.”

He nodded again, and I watched with another jealous pang as Sophie slipped her hand into his. I wondered if she’d ever be that comfortable with me. “What kind of soda do you want?” he asked her as they walked away from the table.

“Cherry Coke,” she replied immediately. “It’s my favorite.”

“No kidding?” he asked. “That’s your dad’s favorite, too. . .”

When they were out of earshot, I looked at Liz. She smiled at me and reached out to put her hand over mine. “You’re doing really well, Max,” she said softly.

I shook my head. “I keep thinking there’s something I should be saying to her—something I should be doing.” I frowned. “Should I mention the. . .the alien thing?”

“If she wants to talk about it, she’ll bring it up,” Liz told me. “She knows it’s okay to ask you questions.” She squeezed my hand, and I thought she might mention what I’d said earlier, but she only stood up. “Want to walk?” she asked, nodding at the grassy yard outside the pavilion. There were several other people wandering across the open space, but it was still far more private than the pavilion. I stood up, too, then glanced down at her feet. She wore high-heeled sandals that looked pretty uncomfortable.

“Can you walk in those?” I asked her. “The ground is kind of soft.”

She shrugged. “They’re more comfortable than they look,” she assured me.

“They’d almost have to be,” I muttered doubtfully, and she laughed. It was a nice sound.

“Come on, Max,” she said, slipping her arm through mine. We walked out from under the pavilion and into the sunlight, moving slowly across the grass. I was careful to make sure we stayed well away from the fence—I had no wish to draw the attention of the guards. Liz walked very close to me, her body brushing mine occasionally, her arm firmly linked with mine. It was nice—almost normal—to walk with her like this. At length, she looked up at me and smiled. “I brought something for you,” she said, digging in her pocket with her free hand. She brought out a folded slip of paper and handed it to me.

I took it curiously and unfolded it with one hand, not wanting to loosen my grip on Liz. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I read. Certificate of Live Birth. I smiled a little—Liz had brought me a copy of Sophie’s birth certificate. Sophie Marie Parker. . . 5:29am, February 9, 2004. . .6lbs., 7 oz., 21 inches long. . .Mother, Elizabeth Parker. . .Father— I stopped and looked at Liz.

“I wanted you to know,” she said softly. “I never thought it was forever—you being here. I always thought you’d come for us.” She turned her head, squinting up at the bright sky. “And I wanted you to know. . .and to protect her if I ever couldn’t. My lawyer has instructions that if anything were ever to happen to me you should be informed. I wrote letters—one to you and one to Isabel, just in case—”

“In case I didn’t open it,” I finished, forcing the words past the lump in my throat.

She squeezed my hand. “I was just covering all my bases,” she said.

“You shouldn’t have had to,” I murmured.

“Hush,” she ordered—in much the same tone I imagine she must use with Sophie. She stopped walking and turned to face me, reaching up to put her hands on my face. “I’m not talking about that anymore, Max Evans.” She smiled at me. “Not one more word. We can’t take back the past, but I’m not going to live in it, either. The past—” She shook her head. “—the past is not a place I want to be again.”

I couldn’t help but smile at the determined look in her eyes. “Me, neither,” I agreed fervently, “but—”

“No,” she interrupted, pressing her hand over my mouth. “Not another word.” She raised an eyebrow. “Max, I have been trained by one of the most prestigious universities in the world to make my living arguing. Trust me—you really don’t want to start with me.” A smile curved her lips. “Are we clear?” Her hand was still firmly over my mouth, so I could only nod. Her smile widened and she nodded, satisfied. “Good,” she said, removing her hand. “Now tell me everything you remembered about Wheeland.”

Quickly, I filled her in about how I’d seen his picture in the paper all those years ago and planned to go after him to see if he had any connection to Langley. I’d brought the newspaper clipping with me, and now I gave it to her and watched as she studied it. Her eyes grew angry as she stared at the man we both now believed had stolen so much from us.

“I’m going to get him, Max. I’m going to find him and nail his ass to the wall.” Her jaw clenched, and anger bubbled up in her, but she knew what to do with it. “I’ll give this to Jack tomorrow and he can pass it along. Then on Monday I’ll call New York and see if he’s still there. Maria might have some friends in theater. . .I think someone offered her a Broadway show a while back. This is good—we can find him with this.”

I was impressed—but not surprised. Liz had always been able to channel her emotions into action. Two minutes and she had a plan. . .one that involved Jack Collins. I tried not to let that bother me, but in the end I really wanted to know. “So. . .Jack is helping?” I asked, trying to sound casual.

She nodded seriously. “Yeah. He’s got contacts here—I don’t have that. And eventually we’ll need someone who can practice in California.” She cracked a smile. “I don’t think you want to wait for me to be admitted to the bar here.”

No, I sure didn’t. But. . .Jack Collins. “If Langley confesses, we don’t need an attorney.”

“We still might,” she informed me. “I’ve been reading up on it—according to the Supreme Court, there’s no basis in the Constitution for a right to demand they consider new evidence after conviction.”

“What?” I couldn’t believe I was hearing this right. “They can still keep me here if he confesses?”

She scowled. “Thank Justice Scalia. Herrera v. Collins. It’s right on point—and that was a death penalty case, so there’s a higher standard of review.”

“I don’t understand,” I protested. “There’s got to be some way to get them to look at my case again—I mean, when we find Langley—”

“A jury’s verdict is sovereign,” she interrupted. She’d slipped into lawyer mode somewhere along the way, and even in my shocked state I registered that this side of her was intruiging. “Confessions can be coerced, or. . .I don’t know. . .bribed. False. We can’t just run to the judge and argue ‘innocent.’ We’ve got to find something new to go on—jury misconduct, perjury— something.”

“New like a confession?” I prompted.

“It’s not that easy—and it could take. . .well, it could take a hell of a lot longer than I want to wait.” She looked up at me, shaking her head. “I can’t wait much longer, Max.”

Neither could I. I’d never dreamed we might find Langley and still have to wait for the system to work. I gave a frustrated sigh and ran a hand through my hair. “I don’t want to wait another day,” I told her. “Every day I’m in here is another day that. . .” I stopped as I caught sight of Michael and Sophie emerging from the building, each carrying two cans of soda. He said something to her and she glared up at him, landing a kick on his ankle that made him stumble. That made her laugh so hard she nearly dropped her soda. I sighed again. “It’s another day I’m not with you and I can’t—” I shook my head. “I can’t take it anymore, Liz. I just. . .I don’t think I can do it.”

“I know,” she said, stepping close to me. “Max, I know.” Her voice was soothing, but I didn’t want to be soothed.

“I want to go home with you,” I burst out. “I don’t want to miss anything else. I don’t want my daughter to be a stranger to me anymore. I want to be in your life—not just for a few hours.” I put my hands on her jaw, cupping her face in my palms. “I want to touch you, Liz. I want to make love to you. Do you know how much I want that?”

“Yes,” she said simply. “I know because I want you just as much.”

I drew her close and pressed my lips to her forehead. “So what do we do?” I asked her.

She was quiet for a moment, just holding onto me. Then she leaned back and gave me a reassuring smile. “When we find Langley, we go to the governor and remind him what bad press it is to have a man in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. And we stress that you’ve spent your entire adult life here while Langley has been enjoying the money he defrauded from an insurance company. No public official wants press like that.”

“So we go after a pardon?”

“At first—then, once everything has come out, we get the conviction overturned so it isn’t on your record.” She smoothed a hand over my shoulder. “Okay?”

I nodded. “Okay,” I agreed. “As long as it gets me home with you and Sophie.”

“It will,” she assured me. “We’re going to be a family. I’m not living my whole life without you—I promise.” She took a deep breath. “Max, what you said before. . .I wanted to tell you then—I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time. I love you, too. I always have.” She smiled, touching my face gently. “I always will.”

* * * * *

The afternoon passed quickly—too quickly. Almost before I knew it, the sun had begun to bank and it was time for them to go. We started saying goodbye at the table where we’d spent most of the day, but we just couldn’t seem to let go at the end I walked with them as far as I could go. Sophie walked very close to me as we walked past the other inmates and the guards. I realized how incredible traumatic it must be for her to come here, and I promised myself I would make it up to her—along with the eight years of her life I’d missed, and the questions about her alien side that would never really have answers, and a million other mistakes I’d already made as a father. When we got to the gate, I knelt in front of her again.

“Thank you for coming to see me today,” I said with the best smile I could muster. “I’m glad we got to talk some. . .and I liked looking at your pictures.” I looked down, searching for the right words. “Sophie, I’m really glad you came.”

She nodded, studying me. “Me, too,” she said. She tilted her head to one side. “Are you going to call Mom this week?” she wanted to know.

“Yeah, I probably will,” I told her.

“Can I talk to you when you call?” she asked.

I glanced at Liz, who nodded quickly. “I’d like that,” I said. “How about if I call tomorrow night, just to talk to you?”

She smiled. “Okay,” she said, “but you can talk to Mom, too. I don’t mind.”

“We’ll see,” I told her. I tried not to stare, but I couldn’t help taking a moment to memorize her face. Who knew when I might see her again? I hoped it would be soon, and I knew that Liz intended to bring her back at every opportunity, but I couldn’t count on it—not with Langley and whoever else might be waiting out there for a chance to get to us. After a moment, I reached out to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, wanting to hug her, but still unsure of myself with her. I hesitated, but Sophie made the decision for me. She put her arms around my neck and hugged me tightly, putting her head on my shoulder. Tears stung my eyes as I held her small body against me.

“I wish you didn’t have to stay here, Daddy,” she whispered in my ear.

Daddy. God, that was the most beautiful word I’d ever heard. I shut my eyes and took a deep breath. “So do I,” I managed to say. “But. . .but I’ll see you again soon, okay?”

I felt her nod as she let go. “Okay.”

I smoothed her hair and leaned over to kiss her forehead. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow night,” I said, then I swallowed hard. “I love you,” I added.

She smiled at me, and I thought my heart would pound right out of my chest. “I love you, too,” she said shyly, and I pulled her into my arms again.

When I released her, I saw Liz looking down at us with tears in her eyes. I stood up and reached for her hands, but she put her arms around me and pressed her face against my neck. “I’m going to get you out of here, Max,” she whispered. “I need you out of here—we both do.”

I held her close against me, unable to speak for a long moment. More than anything I wanted to walk out of here with them and share their lives, protect them, watch Sophie grow up, hold Liz in my arms every night. I cleared my throat. “Just be careful, Liz,” I managed to say. “Please.”

She clung to me fiercely. “I will.” She pulled back a little, and I saw that her eyes were bright with tears. “Promise me, Max. Promise me you won’t give up.”

I framed her face in my hands. “I promise, Liz,” I whispered. “I’m going to walk out of here with you. I swear it.” She nodded, and I pulled her close again. Our connection ran freely, and I could feel everything she felt—her longing, her loneliness, her frustration. Her love.

“I love you,” she said softly. “I love you so much.”

My heart leaped at those words like it always had when Liz said them. “I love you, too, Liz,” I said. “Always.”

I could feel her steeling herself, gathering the strength it would take to walk away by herself. It took her a moment, but eventually her arms loosened around my neck and she reluctantly stepped away. “I’ll be back on Monday,” she told me, and I knew I would count the minutes until then.

“I’ll call tomorrow,” I said.

“Good. In the evening, okay?” she asked. “We’re. . .we’re going to Santa Barbara for the day.”

Michael had told me Jack Collins lived in Santa Barbara. I hadn’t even met the man, but I hated him already. I looked down and put my hand on Sophie’s head, trying not to feel this way. Accordingly to Liz—and, grudgingly, Michael—Jack was a good friend. I swallowed hard. “That’s good,” I told them. “Have a good time.”

“We’re goin’ to the beach,” Sophie informed me happily. She gave me a smile that broke my heart just a little more, then reached for Liz’s hand. “Bye, Dad,” she said.

Liz looked at me with her heart in her eyes. “Bye, Max,” she said in a small voice.

“Goodbye,” I answered, and it seemed woefully inadequate. We had almost been a family today, and now it was ending. I wished I could say something else, but there simply wasn’t anything to be said.

She nodded and they turned to go. Liz took two steps and then she released Sophie’s hand, turned back, and flung herself at me. She put a hand on my cheek and pressed her lips to mine. She kissed me hungrily, with the same desperate longing I felt for her, and I kissed her back, tangling my hand in her hair. My head felt light and my heart slammed against my chest as we stood there and when Liz pressed her body against mine, desire shot through me like a fire.

“I miss you already,” she whispered.

Then all at once she wrenched herself away, took Sophie’s hand, and walked resolutely through the gate. Not until it slammed shut behind her did she look back at me.

“I love you,” she said. “I’ll see you soon.”

I nodded, still reeling from the strength of her kiss. “I love you, too. Both of you.” Now that I’d said it once, I couldn’t say it enough.

They both stood there for a second longer, then they turned and walked away. I watched them until they disappeared into the prison complex, and then they were gone.

posted on 26-Aug-2002 11:16:30 AM by mockingbird39
Part 42


~Maria~

When Liz and Sophie came home on Saturday, they were both quiet. They’d eaten dinner on the way home and went upstairs almost immediately. When I passed by Liz’s doorway a little later, I saw them lying together on Liz’s bed, talking quietly. I wanted to know what was happening, but I didn’t want to interrupt them. They needed time alone together.

I talked to Michael briefly that night—he wasn’t thrilled that I was visiting Jack the next day in Santa Barbara, but he didn’t argue too much.

The next morning I got up early to find Liz and Sophie in the kitchen making breakfast. I grabbed a cup of coffee to drink while I got ready and took it upstairs. By the time I made it back down, Jack was already there, helping them polish off waffles and scrambled eggs.

“Hey, ‘Ria,” he said when I entered the kitchen. “You’re late.”

“Eleven minutes,” Sophie added, pointing at the clock.


“What, are you going to take your next appointment if we don’t show up on time?” I demanded, pinching Jack’s ear.

“Ow,” he complained. “I got up on time this morning and drove all the way here to get you. The least you could do is be ready—on time.”

“Hey, you’re lucky I’m up this early,” I informed him. “We musicians aren’t known for our early bird ways.”

“Right, I keep forgetting you’re a big popstar now,” he said. “Remind me again a few times today—just in case?”

I pinched harder and he yelled louder as I sat down in front of the plate Liz had fixed for me. “Looks yummy,” I told her, pointedly ignoring Jack. He didn’t notice—he was too busy entertaining Sophie.

“So I’m gonna take my video camera to the ocean,” she informed him. “And I’m gonna make a tape for my dad. Mom said she’ll take it with her when she goes to see him tomorrow.”

Jack looked at Liz, who shrugged. “I bet he’ll like that,” Jack said finally.

She nodded. “Yeah, I think so.” She looked at Jack seriously. “He misses us. But you’re gonna help Mom get him out of jail, right?”

Jack smiled at her. “I’m sure gonna try, Princess.”

She flashed him a grin. “Thanks, Jack.”

“Sure thing,” he answered, tapping the tip of her nose with his index finger. He picked up her video camera. “What do you want on your tape?”

She shrugged. “The ocean. Me and Mom.”

“And Maria?”

“I think your dad would rather see you and your mom,” I told Sophie. I was really trying to believe that Max wasn’t going to push them away again, but I couldn’t help feeling a little protective. Liz and Sophie had been my family for so long—I couldn’t just stand around when I was worried about them.

“You knew him, too, right?” she questioned.

“Yeah, I knew him,” I nodded. She looked at me curiously, and I made myself smile at her. She was confused enough without picking up on any misgivings I might have about her father.

“Soph, did you put your sweatshirt with my bag?” Liz asked her.

“Yeah. My blue one.”

“Good girl.” Liz smiled at Sophie and I thought how relaxed she seemed. She was dressed more casually than she’d been all week—in low rider jeans, a sleeveless turtleneck sweater in a soft creamy color, and sandals—and she looked rested. I supposed she was just relieved that Sophie’s meeting with Max had gone well. Damn, I really wanted to talk to her about that. Not knowing was driving me nuts.

* * * * *

We left my house a little while later and drove to Santa Barbara in Jack’s Porsche with the top down and the radio blaring some oldies station. I sat beside Sophie in the back, and as soon as we were on the freeway she started singing along with the radio. Soon we were all singing with her, shouting the words to “Me and My Bobby McGee,” “Son of a Preacher Man,” and a bunch of other songs over the wind whipping through the car. Sophie filmed part of the drive, but it was pretty much just freeway and after a few minutes she lost interest. As we neared Santa Barbara, I picked up the camera and filmed her leaning back in her seat with the wind in her hair, her sunglasses on her nose, singing along to Marvin Gaye’s “Can I Get a Witness.” If Max loved her like Liz said, I figured he’d like to see her like that—carefree, grinning and relaxed. She waved at the camera and pushed her sunglasses down on her nose to look into the lens.

“Even tossin’ in my sleep,” she sang happily, “’Cause I haven’t seen my baby all week. Can I get a witness?”

Maybe I’m prejudiced, but I think she has a hell of a little voice on her. Up in the front seat, Jack and Liz were talking about people from law school. I heard names I recognized, and the names of a half a dozen law firms. At one point, Liz laughed in surprise as we realized that one of her old classmates worked at Jesse’s firm in Chicago.

“Wow, imagine if that had ever come up,” she said, glancing back at me.

“Tell me about it,” I agreed. I could just hear that conversation. Your wife’s from Roswell? I used to know some people from Roswell. Yeah, Liz Parker—and her daughter. It occurred to me that we had been seriously lucky for a very long time.

A little while later, we pulled in to a complex near the beach, and Jack parked the car in a space near the door. “Is this it?” Sophie asked, pushing up her sunglasses for a better look.

“Yeah, this is it, Princess,” Jack confirmed. He got out of the car and pushed the seat up so she could get out, too. “See over there?” he asked, pointing behind the complex. “The ocean’s right over there.”

She climbed from the car slowly, looking around. “I can hear it,” she said, nodding. “I hear the waves.”

“Nice, Jack,” Liz said as she got out of the car, and she was right. The complex was beautiful, and I could imagine Jack had a fantastic view.

He shrugged nonchalantly, but I could tell he was proud of his home. “Not bad for a boy from Dorchester, huh?” he asked with a grin.

“Not bad at all,” I agreed. I got out of the car and hugged him briefly. I’m so proud of Jack—he worked his way through college and law school with no help from anyone, landed a top job when he graduated, and managed to keep his head above water when his wife left him. Nobody deserves to succeed more than Jack Collins. As we stood there beside Jack’s Porsche that day, I was proud of all three of us, but part of me was a little sad. We’d all done well for ourselves, but sometimes I miss our salad days in Boston. Money had sometimes been tight back then, and it sometimes it was damn hard. Keeping a secret like we had can take a lot out of you. But we’d had a lot of good times, too. Being with Liz, Sophie, and Jack that day made me remember just how good those years had been.

Jack put his arm around my shoulders and kissed my forehead. “There’s a vacancy on my floor,” he told me with a lop-sided grin. “Wanna be my neighbor?”

For a second I was tempted. The location was beautiful, and having Jack around again would be great. But then I pictured trying to explain to Michael that I was moving in down the hall from Jack and I realized that would never work out. I shook my head. “Nah. I’d miss my pool,” I said lightly.

“We got a pool here—we got a whole ocean,” he said.

“Yeah, but I’ve got my own pool.”

“You’re a snob,” he said gravely, but his eyes twinkled.

“It happens,” I agreed seriously.

“Jack, can we go to the beach now?” Sophie asked, tugging on his hand.

He ruffled her hair. “That’s what you came for, right?” he asked.

“Yup,” she agreed, reaching for his hand. Once when we lived in Boston and Sophie was about three, Jack had come with me and Liz when we picked Sophie up from daycare. I think we must have been on the way to dinner or something—I don’t quite remember what—but when she saw him come into the room her eyes lit up and she ran for him. I knew in a heartbeat that she was about to call him ‘Daddy’ and I knew just as surely that it would break Liz’s heart if she did. So I ran ahead and picked her up before she could get to him and I started babbling about anything that popped into my head. When I took her over to Liz, I kept saying Jack’s name over and over again like a lunatic until Sophie said it, too. That was a long time ago, but that day in Santa Barbara I felt the same apprehension, the same need to intervene before a boundary was crossed.

“Don’t film that, okay?”

I looked over to find Liz beside me, shouldering the canvas bag she’d just grabbed from the car. She was looking down at the video camera in my hand. “What?” I asked. “Oh. . .yeah, I wasn’t going to.”

“Good,” she nodded. “Max is. . .he doesn’t need to see that.”

“He must have seen Jack in Sophie’s photo album yesterday,” I ventured.

She grimaced. “Yeah. I didn’t realize how many pictures of Jack are in that thing until yesterday.”

I couldn’t help feeling defensive for Jack. “He’s been a good friend—for a long time.”

“Yeah,” she agreed easily. “Yeah, he has, and Max knows it. But it’s killing him that Jack—and you and Michael and everyone else—have been in Sophie’s life and he hasn’t. I’m not going to rub his face in it. Believe me, he’s already aware of it.”

“Right,” I nodded. She started to follow Sophie and Jack, and I fell into step beside her. “So it went okay yesterday?”

She stared straight ahead, but a small smile appeared on her lips. “It went okay,” she confirmed. “It went. . .I was barely hoping for it to go that well.”

I waited for a second, but she seemed lost in thought. “And?” I prompted. “How did Sophie react?”

Liz smiled again. “She was great. She talked to him, she showed him her pictures. She let him hug her, and when we were leaving she hugged him and called him Daddy. I think she could tell how much he loves her.”

I hadn’t realized how worried I’d been until some of my tension slipped away. “What about Max?” I asked her. He wasn’t exactly on my good list yet, but I wasn’t so cold-hearted that his situation didn’t touch me a little. This whole thing would have induced some serious self-flagellation in the Max Evans I remembered.

“He was glad to have her there. At first—when we first got there, all he wanted to do was hold her, but he was afraid he’d scare her. He let her make the first move, but. . .well, when I touched him I could feel him shaking.” She glanced at me. “I know you don’t approve, Maria, but Max is her father, and he loves her. I think she’s starting to love him back.”

I touched Liz’s shoulder. “Liz, it isn’t that I don’t approve—or like I don’t know how much this whole thing just sucks. I mean, he’s been in prison for almost ten years, and he didn’t do a damn thing to deserve it. I just. . .I guess I can’t help remembering all the times he thought he was doing what was best for you and just ended up breaking your heart. I don’t want that to happen to Sophie—if he does that to Sophie, I’ll kill him, Liz.”

She smiled at me. “Thank you,” she said. “But I don’t think you have to worry about that anymore. Max knows we both need him in our lives. He needs us, too.”

“I just hope he keeps that in mind,” I muttered. I looked over at her and shook my head. “Liz, when you get him out—and I know you’ll get him out—I won’t make a fuss. I know that you love him and that the three of you belong together and that’s enough for me. I won’t. . .slam the door in his face or introduce him to Jack’s friends in Jersey or anything like that.”

“How did you know Jack has friends in Jersey?” she demanded.

I shrugged. “Remember when I went out with that guy from Chicago and he dumped me?”

Liz’s eyes widened. “Jack didn’t—”

“Well, no,” I admitted. “But he offered.”

“Mom!”

We had just reached the sand, and as we bent to take off our shoes, we heard Sophie’s squeal. She and Jack were down beside the water with their jeans rolled up, splashing in the surf. Jack was chasing her down the beach and as we watched he caught her, swooped her up in his arms, and slung her over his shoulder.

Liz laughed and jogged down the beach to join them. “Don’t you drop her,” she cautioned Jack. “That water’s got to be freezing.”

“Drop her?” Jack asked, sounding insulted. “What kinda guy do you think I am?”

Liz realized her mistake a second too late and started to back up the beach. “Oh, no,” she cried, as Jack advanced on her.

“Come here, Parker—I got enough room for two,” he threatened, chasing her with Sophie still on his shoulder, giggling.

Liz ran down the beach, but Jack caught her easily and grabbed her around the waist, swinging her around and dragging her closer to the surf. A wave broke around them, spraying all three of them with icy water, and Liz and Sophie shrieked as it hit them. “Jack, let go!” Liz ordered. “It’s cold!”

“Are you afraid I’ll drop you?” he demanded, dangling her precariously over the surf as it crashed around them.

“Yes!”

“When have I ever dropped you, Parker?” he asked.

“Boston Common—right on my face in the snow,” she retorted, struggling to free herself.

“Well, yeah, but that was on purpose.”

Liz managed to wriggle free enough to get her feet on the ground, and she pushed them further up the beach, away from the water. A few seconds later, the three of them landed in a tangled heap on the sand, laughing breathlessly.

“That’s it,” Liz said, grabbing a handful of sand. “Someone’s getting sand down their shirt. Sophie, hold him down. . .”

As I watched the three of them struggling on the sand, shrieking with laughter and shared amusement, I felt my first real pang of pity for Max Evans.

* * * * *

We went back to Jack’s once Sophie had her fill of the sand and the water. His condo was nice, if sparsely decorated. I reasoned that he hadn’t lived there very long, and—well, Jack’s not really the kind to hire a decorator. He’d much rather spend the money on a big screen TV and live with bare walls. . .which, I soon realized, was exactly what he had done.

Sophie quickly went through all the rooms, touching Jack’s things and experimenting with faucets, drawers, light switches and anything that caught her attention. At length, she pronounced it “cool” and settled on the sofa where she could see both the television and the magnificent view from the living room window. Jack and Liz wandered into the bedroom he used as a study to talk about the case and after a moment or two I followed them.

“—gave the names to the P.I. I recommend for divorce work,” Jack was saying.

“You have a preferred P.I.?” Liz asked with a laugh. “If I’m ever tempted to go into divorce work, I’m going to remember this.”

“What you don’t have some ex-KGB guy to do your dirty work?” he grinned.

“No, I certainly don’t,” she assured him.

“Well, then it’s a good thing I’m around,” he said. He looked over at me. “Hey, ‘Ria, have a seat,” he invited, nodding at the leather chair beside Liz. He sat at his desk, tapping a pencil on a legal pad.

“Am I allowed?” I asked. “Or is this only for attorneys?”

“Are you kidding?” Liz demanded. “After listening to us babble through law school, you probably know more about law than some judges.”

She was trying to make me feel good, but it was sweet of her. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll see if I can’t point you amateurs in the right direction.”

“Right,” Jack grinned. He glanced at the legal pad and continued. “So I passed along the names and I’m waiting to hear back from my guy. I think that and this picture should be enough.”

“You got a picture?” I asked.

Liz nodded and snatched a newspaper clipping from Jack’s desk. “Max had one. He found it when he was looking for Langley ten years ago.”

I took the clipping. “God, I never knew he was this close,” I murmured.

“Neither did I,” Liz said quietly. “Anyway, that’s Wheeland, and we think. . .um, we think he’s connected to Langley.”

“Because he got the insurance pay-out,” Jack added. I caught Liz’s eye and realized there was more to this—the alien kind of “more.”

“Right,” I said. “Makes sense.”

“Well, I still think we’re gonna have to go for a pardon even if we find new evidence,” Jack told Liz. “Of course, I still don’t know what kind of evidence we’re looking for,” he muttered darkly.

She sailed right past his observation. “Yeah, I think you’re right. If we want to get him out of there quickly, we’re going to have to go around Hererra v. Collins.”

“You found that one, did you?” Jack asked, and she sighed.

“Yeah, I found it. No Constitutional basis for a right to demand review of new evidence after a conviction is rendered.” She pounded a fist on the arm of her chair. “Cert denied. Thank you, Justice Scalia.”

“Well, think of the door they would have opened if they’d decided any other way,” Jack pointed out. “Defense attorneys all over the country would be trying to get their cases heard again.”

“Would have kept you in business for years to come,” Liz mused innocently.

“Damn you, Scalia,” Jack agreed absently. “There’s gotta be something in there we can use, though.”

Liz looked thoughtful. “What was the dissent?” she asked.

Jack opened a drawer in his desk, rummaged around for a moment, and came up with a small sheaf of papers. “Lemme see,” he murmured, flipping through the pages. “Here we go.” He scanned it, then shook his head. “Great—shocks the conscience. Big help there.”

“Damn,” Liz muttered.

“What?” I asked, and they both glanced at me.

“It’s hard to use a dissenting opinion in your favor when the reasoning is subjective like that,” Liz said. “‘Shocks the conscience’ could mean anything. This one’s a beauty—apparently it shocks the conscience to execute an innocent man.” Looking disgusted, she shook her head. “You think?” she asked, rolling her eyes so hard she probably could see inside her own head. She sighed and leaned over Jack’s shoulder, reading. “I can’t believe you just have this lying around,” she told him. “Did you use this in a case?”

He smirked. “Nope. But sometimes when I start feeling like an idiot in the face of all this judicial wisdom, I like to read the first line of O’Connor’s concur.” Liz looked mystified until he flipped through a couple of pages and pointed something out.

“‘I cannot disagree with the fundamental legal principle that executing the innocent is inconsistent with the Constitution,’” Liz read aloud. She frowned, then looked at Jack, who was biting his lip to hold back his laughter. Liz’s frown deepened and she read it again, then suddenly she sat back in her chair and began to laugh. Jack joined her, and soon they were laughing so hard they were nearly crying.

“It’s a good thing she was there to keep those boys in line,” Jack managed to say, and they laughed harder.

“Otherwise they might have gone around executing the innocent all willy-nilly,” Liz added.

I hate it when they go all lawyer-y.

Since I obviously wasn’t going to understand what they were giggling like idiots over, I gave up and looked down at the newspaper clipping Liz had given me. I squinted at the grainy, black and white picture—it was a photocopy of the actual clipping. Liz must have kept the original. Something about the guy looked familiar, and I shut my eyes as I tried to remember. A year ago—two, maybe, right after I finished my first European tour. . .

“He was in New York ten years ago, right?” Jack asked Liz. They had recovered from their giggles and were back to work.

“Yeah. The caption says it was the opening of a Broadway show,” she pointed out.

Broadway. That was it. When I’d gotten back from Europe I’d spent some time in New York with my agent. We’d made the rounds of premieres and openings, and right before I’d left we’d gone to the opening of some show that had been hyped for months but tanked within the year. I’d forgotten about it until now, but at the after party a producer had approached me about taking the place of a lead actress in another show while she was on maternity leave. I had no interest in taking over the role so soon after finishing an exhausting tour, but it stuck in my mind because it was the first time someone had approached me with that kind of offer simply because of who I was.

“So we check New York first,” Jack said, making a note on his legal pad.

“Check the backers for ‘East and West,’” I announced, and they both looked at me.

“You recognize him?” Liz asked.

“I. . .I might,” I said cautiously. “Remember when that producer guy tried to get me to fill in for the lead in that show a while back?” I asked Liz, and she nodded.

“Wheeland was the guy?” she asked excitedly.

“No, I don’t think so,” I told her, “but I think he was one of the money guys. The producer introduced me to some of the backers, and I think this guy might have been one of them.” I shivered as I realized how close I’d been to this guy.

Liz grabbed Jack’s legal pad and scribbled furiously. “Maria, this is great. Two years ago Wheeland was in New York. He could still be there.”

“Is ‘East and West’ still running?” Jack wondered.

Liz and I both groaned. “Are you kidding?” I asked. “It’s like ‘Cats’—the show that won’t die.”

“You didn’t like it?”

Liz shot him a scathing glance. “Jack, we just compared it to ‘Cats.’”

“Oh.” He nodded. “I get it.” He grabbed his legal pad back from Liz and starting writing. “Okay, so tomorrow I’ll get this info to my guy and he’ll check out this ‘East and West’ thing. That’s a pretty strong connection—and a recent one. We should have something on him soon.”

A smile spread across Liz’s face. “Max will be thrilled to hear this—hell, I’m thrilled to hear this. We’re actually getting somewhere.”

“Start drafting that request to the governor, Parker,” Jack told her with a grin. “I have a feeling you’re going to need it soon.”
posted on 1-Sep-2002 11:51:17 AM by mockingbird39
Part 43


~Max~

Sunday seemed endless. In prison, every minute of the day is carefully scheduled and accounted for—but Sundays are a minor exception. There is less guard presence, no work detail (other than for the guys who work in the kitchens), and no visitors—not even attorneys, although I guess it would be possible to see your lawyer if you put up a fuss. It’s illegal to deny an inmate legal counsel.

I spent most of the day lying on my bed with my eyes closed, going over every minute of the day before. I wanted to solidify the memories while they were still fresh in my mind—I didn’t want a single one to be blurred or forgotten. As the day went on and my connection with Liz stretched a little thinner, I knew she must be on her way to Santa Barbara Jack Collins and jealousy began to intrude on my otherwise good mood. Liz and Sophie were my family, not his. I should be with them today, not him. He probably didn’t even realize how damn lucky he was.

Liz was having a good time, too. We were still bound together enough for me to sense that she was relaxed and enjoying herself. I couldn’t begrudge her that—she’d had more than enough stress lately—and I liked sharing in her pleasure at spending a day relaxing with friends. I kept feeling flashes of amusement from her and I wondered if Jack Collins was making her laugh again.

He must be a real funny guy, I thought grimly. I bet he was getting along with Sophie just fine, too.

“Hey, Maxwell.”

I looked up to see Michael approaching. He looked about as thrilled as I felt. “Hi, Michael,” I said. “What’s going on?”

He shook his head. “Nothing. Maria went with Liz and Sophie to Santa Barbara.” He scowled when he said it, and I couldn’t have agreed more.

“To Jack’s place, right?” I asked.

He nodded. “I hate that guy,” he muttered.

“Me, too,” I agreed, then I sat up straighter. “Wait, I thought you said he was okay.”

“He is,” Michael confirmed. “I mean—he’s not evil or anything. I just. . .I hate the guy. When he’s around Maria and Liz act like he’s God or something. They all know the same people and they have all these inside jokes about. . .about the Red Sox and Boston and. . .Motown, or something. And that movie—The Big Chill.” He shook his head. “I never even saw that movie.”

“Me, neither,” I said. “But he’s just a friend, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, that’s what she keeps telling me,” he admitted. “But it’s like—remember how they used to be with Alex? Well, it’s like that, only Jack Collins is this big guy who drives a Porsche and has this big law practice, you know? And they haven’t known him since kindergarten, so it’s not like he’s practically their brother, either.”

I’d seen Jack in Sophie’s dream, so I knew what Michael was talking about. Jack Collins was the kind of guy women liked—even without the Porsche and the condo on the ocean in Santa Barbara. I didn’t care much for this, either. But at least I knew exactly how Liz felt about Jack—it might not have assuaged my jealousy, but I wasn’t genuinely worried that something was going to happen between them. As for Sophie—well, that was a lot worse. From the pictures I’d seen, it looked like he’d been a big part of her life for a long time. Sophie probably didn’t remember a time before she knew Jack Collins. In her mind, he’d been around forever, and she was probably just as confident he’d always been there. I knew it would be a long, long time before she felt that way about me.

And that was the worst part of everything. Yesterday the fact had finally hit home—I was Sophie’s father. She was my child, part of me. But I wasn’t really a father, not in the way I so desperately wanted to be. As much as I had loved hearing Sophie call me “Daddy,” I knew I didn’t deserve it yet. I had a long way to go before I would ever be worthy of that title, and I wasn’t sure I could ever do it if I was stuck in this place. Even if I got out today, I knew I’d have to work hard to show Sophie how much I loved her—and there were some things I would never be able to make up for. But if we never found Langley and I had to stay here. . .

I shut my eyes tightly for a moment, pushing that thought away. I couldn’t think about that now, or I would be no good to anyone. I will get out of here, I told myself. I will go home with Liz and Sophie and we will be a family.

Opening my eyes, I took a deep breath and focused on Michael.

“Did you talk to Maria about this?” I asked him.

He scowled again. “No. She keeps saying it’s nothing—that I’m paranoid, or something. She says they’re just friends.”

“Well, then maybe they are,” I ventured.

He raised his eyebrows. “Max, you can see into Liz’s soul, and you hate the guy because of what he is to her.”

Good point. “Look, Michael,” I told him, “Maria’s gone all this time without marrying some guy—or even getting engaged—and she must have plenty of guys after her. I mean, she’s on TV all the time, and in magazines—”

“Are you gettin’ to a point here, Maxwell?” he demanded.

“The point is, she’s with you. She wants you. If she’d wanted Jack Collins or anyone else, she could have had them years ago.” I stared at the wall, remembering Liz’s face when she’d said she loved me. I couldn’t doubt that anymore—it was written in her eyes and in her soul and after all this time I finally knew what that meant. “I think you should trust Maria,” I said after a moment.

He didn’t look entirely convinced, but he didn’t want to talk about it more, either. “Yeah, I guess,” he mumbled. “Look, you wanna call Liz tonight, right?”

“Yeah,” I answered.

“I’ll come get you around seven, then. Is that okay?”

God, that was hours away. But I had no idea what time they would be back from Santa Barbara. “Yeah, that’s fine,” I told him.

Now I just had to hold out until seven.

* * * * *

Michael came for me at seven on the dot. I was more than ready. He left me at the row of wall phones and I dialed quickly. I’d memorized Maria’s number that morning.

Liz answered.

“Max?” she asked, once the recorded greeting was finished. “Hi, Max.” Her voice was drowsy and quiet and at first I thought I’d woken her up.

“Were you sleeping?” I asked.

I could hear her smile. “No, we’re just laying here,” she said. “We were hoping you’d call soon.”

“I didn’t know what time you would be home,” I told her.

“We got in a while ago,” she answered.

“You sound tired.” I loved the way her voice sounded—relaxed, intimate. I could imagine her lying there with her eyes half-closed, a sleepy smile on her face.

“Not really,” she said. “Just. . .really relaxed.” She paused. “It’s nice to hear your voice. I miss you.”

“I miss you, too.” I leaned my forehead against the cool metal of the phone, wishing I could have been lying there beside them at that moment. Closing my eyes, I tried to pretend I was there with my arms around both of them, listening to them breathe. “Is Sophie with you?” I asked Liz softly.

“Yeah. She wants to talk to you.”

I smiled. “Put her on, okay?”

“Okay. But Max, I have to tell you something. Save me a few minutes?” she requested.

“Sure.” I paused. “I love you.”

I felt her response before the words left her mouth. “I love you, too. Here’s Sophie.”

There was a pause, and I heard Liz’s voice, muffled—“Sophie, it’s Daddy.” That word still made my heart melt. I wondered if it would ever change.

“Hi, Daddy.”

Her voice was drowsy and quiet, just like Liz’s had been. “Hi, Sophie,” I said, clearing my throat. “How are you?”

“Good,” she said. “We went to the beach today. I made you a videotape and Mommy’s gonna bring it tomorrow so you can see.”

“I can’t wait,” I told her. “Did you have a good time in Santa Barbara?”

“Oh, yeah. We ran all over the beach, and the water was so cold my feet got all tingly. And we played Frisbee, and then we went back to Jack’s apartment—he has a huge TV. He has lots of channels, too, and I got to watch cartoons in Japanese.”

I smiled. “You don’t speak Japanese, do you?”

“No,” she answered, “but maybe I’ll learn.”

“After you finish learning French?”

“Yup.” She sighed. “We went to the pub for dinner,” she continued. “I had shepherd’s pie, and we got to sing and everything.”

“You sang at dinner?” I repeated.

“Yeah—you know, Irish songs. I learned ‘em in Boston.” She giggled. “Jack thought I would forget ‘em since they don’t have Irish pubs in Russia, but I remembered a bunch of them.”

“I bet you did.” I couldn’t even picture the three of them sitting in a pub somewhere singing what Sophie called “Irish songs.” I wasn’t even sure what that meant. And it was four of them, a voice in my head reminded me. I opened my eyes and pushed away the burst of jealousy—well, I tried to, anyway. “Do I get to see you singing on the tape you made?”

“I didn’t film that,” she said thoughtfully, “but maybe I can get Mom to tape me playing my guitar. Aunt Maria’s teaching me to play—she bought me my own guitar. It’s smaller than hers, but it’s the same color.”

“I can’t wait to see.”

“Are you gonna come home with us when Mom and Jack help you get out of jail?” she asked suddenly.

It took me a moment to control my voice. Finally, I managed to speak. “Yeah, Sophie, I’m going to come home with you.”

“Home to Petersburg?”

“Home to Petersburg, home to where ever you are,” I told her.

“Will you be home for Christmas?” she asked.

Christmas was less than a month away. I didn’t know what I would do if I had to spend it here. “I don’t know, Sophie,” I told her finally. Liz had said we needed to be honest with her, and the last thing I wanted to do was make a promise I couldn’t keep. “I hope so.”

“Me, too,” she said. “Last year we went to church on Christmas Eve, and when we came out it was snowing and we walked home. It was so pretty. Aunt Maria and Nanna and Poppy were with us, too—and we each opened one present before we went to bed.”

As she spoke I remembered the pictures she’d shown me, and the ache in my chest intensified. God, I wanted to be there this year. “I hope I get to be there, Sophie,” I said finally.

“Me, too,” she told me. She was quiet for a moment, then she sighed. “Do you want to talk to Mommy now?”

“Okay,” I answered, sensing she wanted to go. “I love you, Sophie. I love you very much.”

“I love you, too,” she said. “I hope you come home soon. Bye, Daddy.”

By the time she handed the phone to Liz, my eyes were burning and I could hardly speak. And Liz knew—I could feel her reaching out to comfort me, and I was able to find my voice again. “Liz, I have to get out of here,” I murmured into the phone. “I need you both so much. I want to be with you. I can’t live like this anymore—I just can’t.”

“I know, Max, I know,” she said softly. “It’s going to be okay. We found something today—we’re closer to Langley than we’ve ever been.”

Hope surged through me, followed by a chilling fear. Getting close to Langley was like approaching the deadliest of snakes. “What did you find?” I asked cautiously.

“Two years ago Wheeland was in New York. Maria’s almost positive she saw him there. He’s working in Broadway, just like he was when you found that picture.”

My mind reeled. Two years ago? If he’d been working in theater all that time, it meant he probably still was. “How did she see him?”

“She was offered a role in a show he was backing. One of the producers introduced him to her.”

“Maria met him?” I asked, my heart pounding. If he had known who Maria was and dared come that close to her. . . “Did he know who she was?”

“I don’t know. Do you think he would have done that if he knew?” She sounded worried. “Do you think he could have known?”

“I don’t know.” I closed my eyes briefly. “If he was watching the trial, he probably saw her with Michael.”

“I bet he did watch the trial,” Liz said. “He’d want to see what he was doing to you.”

“To all of us,” I said.

She fell silent for a few seconds, and I knew she was remembering that summer, just like I was.

“Liz,” I said finally, “I know you’re being careful, but please. . .”

“I know,” she told me softly. “Max, he can get to you, too. Please be careful.”

“I will.” But I couldn’t worry about myself—not when Liz and Sophie were out there in danger. Liz must have sensed what I was thinking.

“Max, I mean it. If something happens to you now—” She broke off, and I knew she was trying to control her voice for Sophie’s benefit. “We’re so close. I need you to make it out of this and come home to me.”

“You know I want that, too,” I murmured. I would have given anything to be holding her at that moment, to simply lie down beside her and rest. It felt like a lifetime since I had last held her in my arms and known the peace that only being close to Liz could bring. But I was never more aware that for that to happen, we both had to stay alive.

“I gave a copy of the clipping to Jack,” she said.

I winced. “That’s. . .that’s good. Did he have any ideas?”

“Max,” she said softly.

“Yeah?”

“I don’t love Jack. I love you.” She paused for a second, letting her words sink in. “You’re the one I want—the one I dream about. Just you, Max.”

I couldn’t help but smile. Liz had known exactly what I was thinking. “I love you, too.” I glanced up at the clock and realized my time was almost up. “I can’t wait to see you tomorrow.”

“Me, neither,” she agreed. “I’ll be there early.” We were quiet for a few seconds, then she sighed. “Do you have to go?”

“Yeah,” I answered reluctantly.

“Max, I hate this,” she whispered. “This is so wrong.”

“I know,” I said. “I hate it, too. But. . .maybe it won’t be much longer.”

“I hope not.” I could feel the longing that shot through her and I ached to do something—anything—to take it away. “I’ll see you in the morning,” she said finally.

“I’ll be waiting.” I could have talked to her all night. There was so much I needed to say and so many questions I wanted to ask. I would have been content just to listen to her voice. But my time was up. “I have to go, Liz,” I said. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” she told me. “Don’t give up, Max.”

“I won’t.” I tried to make my voice firm. “Good night, Liz.”

“Good night.”

* * * * *

~Liz~

I went to the prison early on Monday morning. I knew Max was anxious for me to get there, and I knew just as surely that I would be restless and unfocused until I saw him, touched him. I wondered if he knew how much I needed to touch him.

I waited impatiently in the attorney room, sipping from the coffee I’d brought. I’d picked up muffins this time, too, and more coffee for Max. I’d also put fifty dollars into his account at the prison, but I wasn’t about to tell him that. He’d figure it out eventually, but maybe he wouldn’t say anything.

Yeah, right, I thought, taking another sip of coffee as Max’s presence drew closer. He was almost there, and a moment or two later I heard the lock slide open and he stepped in, proceeded by a guard. It still hurt to see him like that—led around in handcuffs as though he were some kind of animal that might break loose and go wild at any moment. They couldn’t have been more wrong about him. Max was the most gentle person I’d ever met.

The guard uncuffed him and nodded at me—I suppose my friendship with Michael had gotten around after he joined us on Saturday. I gave him an off-hand smile, but my attention was reserved for Max.

“Hi,” I said, crossing to him when the guard had gone. I put my arms around him and held him close, sighing in contentment when I felt his hands on my back, drawing me against him. “I missed you.”

“Me, too,” he said softly.

“How are you?” I asked, looking up at him. “How did you sleep?”

He touched my face and twined a strand of my hair around his finger. When we were teenagers, my hair had been much longer, but Max didn’t seem to mind my shorter cut. He threaded his fingers through my hair, starting at my forehead and continuing down, lightly brushing his fingertips against my face and my throat. “I had good dreams,” he murmured.

I smiled up at him. “Yeah?”

He nodded. “About you. Running on the beach,” he said, still touching me with gentle hands.

“We’ll go back there some day,” I promised him, “when you’re with us.”

“That would be nice.” He was quiet for a moment. “Is she with Maria today?”

“Yeah. They’re going to see one of Maria’s friends in the city. She’s a sculptor, and Sophie says that’s what she wants to be.”

“Really?” he asked with a smile.

“Yes. They did a unit on sculpture in her art class, and she loved it.”

“Maria knows what’s going on, right?” he asked. “About Langley and Wheeland?”

“Yes,” I nodded.

“She knows how dangerous they are?” he persisted.

I nodded again. “She knows. Max, she won’t let anything happen to Sophie.”

His jaw was clenched. “Yeah, I know.”

“But that doesn’t make it any easier,” I said, understanding.

He gave a frustrated sigh. “She’s just so. . .so helpless. If anything happened to her. . .Liz, she has to be safe.”

I nodded. “I know. I trust Maria. She’s been with Sophie almost her whole life, and she would do anything to protect her.”

He nodded, too. “Right.” He took a deep breath, trying to calm down. “Maybe. . .maybe Michael should sleep at Maria’s.”

I smiled. “I don’t think that would take much convincing,” I told him.

His forehead furrowed briefly. “No?” he asked, then he realized. “Oh. Oh—Michael and Maria are—?”

“Yeah. Since Thanksgiving,” I told him. “You should have seen them trying to avoid Amy all day.”

He chuckled a little. “I bet that was a show.”

I laughed, too. “Yeah, it was.”

“I’m happy for them,” he said, though I could sense he envied them, too.

I reached for his hand and brought it to my cheek. “Max, it’ll be our turn soon. I promise.”

“I know,” he agreed, stroking the line of my cheek with his fingers. “I’m counting on it.”

I closed my eyes to concentrate on his touch. “Max?” I asked after a minute.

“Yeah?”

I’d been waiting to tell him, couldn’t quite put it into words. “Saturday. . .the way you were with Sophie. . .Max, I never loved you more than when I watched you with her.” I opened my eyes to find him watching me with a smile. “You love her so much. I knew that you would, but when I actually saw it—” I felt tears burn my eyes. “I just. . .I wanted to tell you how much that means to me. How special you are.” In truth my heart ached for all the years we had missed being a family—because of my anger and stubbornness. If I’d just tried a little harder all those years ago—

“Liz, don’t,” he said suddenly. His arms tightened around me protectively, as though he’d been reading my thoughts. “You said you didn’t want to live in the past—you wouldn’t let me dwell on that. I’m not going to let you, either.” He smiled suddenly, the same shy, quiet smile he had given Sophie the day before, and put his finger over my lips. “Not another word.”

* * * * *

Hi, Daddy! We’re in Santa Barbara—there’s the ocean. It’s so cold!

We watched Sophie’s videotape sitting very close together at the table. Well, Max watched the videotape. I watched him, watched the smile that spread across his face at the sight of Sophie standing on the beach and waving at the camera. He reached for my hand, an unconscious gesture that warmed me all over, and laced our fingers together.

“She had a good time,” he said, his eyes still on the video camera’s small display screen.

I nodded, leaning closer to him as Sophie ran down the beach with Maria and I close behind her. Jack must have filmed this, I realized. “She tired herself out,” I told him as the tape ended. “She fell asleep right after she talked to you.”

“What about you?” he asked.

I smiled. “Not much later,” I admitted.

He looked over at me. “You’re wearing yourself out,” he said, frowning.

I shook my head. “I’m fine, Max. I just. . .I want this done. I want it over. I want you with me. Then I can rest.”

As Max raised our clasped hands to his lips to brush a kiss on my knuckles, I realized he was right—I was tired. But it had nothing to do with jet lag or the late hours I’d been keeping—hell, these hours were no different from those I usually kept. It wasn’t the stress or working unfamiliar territory, or even my urgency to free Max. I was simply tired. After ten years of being without Max and trying to ignore how much I needed him, an end finally seemed to be in sight. Now that rest—real rest, lying down beside Max and feeling complete again after all this time—was so close, I finally knew how weary I really was. And as I looked at Max, looked into his eyes, I knew that he was tired, too—maybe more so, because over the years I’d had Sophie, and I’d been able to find peace in her, too. Max had been alone.

“When this is over,” I said softly, touching his face with my the back of my hand, “we can both rest.”

He closed his eyes and drew a deep breath as I touched him. His skin was warm beneath my hand, and smooth from his morning shave. A faint whiff of aftershave clung to him, mixing with the crisp, clean smell of his clothes and something else—something familiar and masculine and uniquely Max. When I breathed it in, a thousand memories filled my mind. I wondered if Max could see them, too. Neither of us spoke for a long moment, just content to sit silently together.

Finally, Max reached out to touch my face. “Tell me what St. Petersburg is like,” he said quietly.

I leaned forward, propping my chin on my hand. “Mm, it’s beautiful,” I said.

He nodded, stroking my cheek with one hand. “Why?” he asked. “Tell me why.”

I thought for a moment, conjuring up pictures of the city I now called home. “The light,” I said finally. I was incredibly relaxed as I sat there with one of Max’s hands clasping mine, the other tracing the lines of my face. I smiled, remembering. “Do you know what the White Nights are?” I asked him. He shook his head, so I explained. “St. Petersburg is so far north that for several days around the summer solstice, the sun doesn’t set at all. The sky lightens, and it turns this color. . .Maria says it’s gray, but it isn’t. It’s kind of. . .pearl. It’s every color and yet it’s the absence of color—all at once.

“The buildings are painted all these colors—all the university buildings are yellow, and there’s pink and blue and turquoise—and the sky takes on all those colors as you walk through the city. There’s water everywhere. . .the river, the canals, the gulf. . .and old stone bridges. Churches, too, and some of them have gold domes that reflect the sun no matter what the weather is.”

“What about winter?” he asked softly. “What is it like there now?”

My memories shifted to frozen rivers and snow-covered streets and purple twilights that came early. “It’s cold,” I told him. “When it gets really cold, Sophie comes to sleep in my bed and we curl up under a pile of blankets and listen to the snow falling outside. Snow has a sound. . .I never knew that until I lived in Petersburg.

“By the time I leave work, it’s already dark,” I went on. “Nights come early in winter. The streets are all lit up, and busy with people hurrying home to their families. And I know that Sophie will already be home with Gruya, and that the apartment will be warm that Sophie’s waiting for me to tell me about her day at school.” I paused, meeting his gaze. “But, Max, every day when I climbed those stairs, part of me could hardly breathe for hoping you would somehow be there.” Tears swam in my eyes and spilled over, and Max wiped them away as each one fell.

“I wish I’d been there,” he said softly. “Liz, I wish that so much.”

I took both his hands and pressed them to my face. “You will be,” I told him. “I know you will be.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 1-Sep-2002 12:19:36 PM ]
posted on 2-Sep-2002 12:38:40 PM by mockingbird39
Thanks for all your feedback, guys! I really appreciate it. RosWool, you can find "Begin Again" here:
viewthread?forum=dreamer-fanfiction&id=37191

Love,
Mel
posted on 4-Sep-2002 12:05:16 AM by mockingbird39
Part 44


~Michael~

I worked day shift the Monday after Maria, Liz, and Sophie went to Santa Barbara. I tried to call Maria on my lunch break, but she wasn’t home and for some reason I didn’t want to call her cell. Instead, I decided to go over after work. I didn’t want to be too obvious, but I was anxious to see what had happened the day before when she went to see Jack Collins. I stopped by a bakery on my way and picked up some pastries—strawberry for Maria and Liz, chocolate for Sophie.

Maria answered my knock. She wore jeans and a tank top beneath a bulky cardigan sweater. The weather had turned chilly that afternoon, and as she stood there in her bare feet, smiling at me, she shivered in the light breeze.

“Come on in, Michael—it’s cold out there,” she said, opening the door.

“I just thought I’d stop by,” I explained as I stepped into the foyer.

“Good,” she said with a grin, standing on tiptoe to kiss me. “I missed you yesterday.”

“Yeah. . .I was working,” I said awkwardly.

“Night shift?”

“Uh-huh.” I nodded. “Did you have a good time?”

She smiled knowingly. “Yeah, it was nice. We went to the beach for a while, then we had dinner at this little pub. We didn’t stay late.”

I figured they hadn’t, since they’d been home at seven when Max called Liz. I tried not to be too jealous. “I, um, I brought some pastries,” I said, handing her the bakery box.

“That was nice, Michael,” she beamed. She peeked inside. “Mmm, strawberry. My favorite.”

“Yeah, I remembered.”

She headed into the kitchen, beckoning me to follow. “We’ll have these for dessert. You’re staying for dinner, aren’t you?”

“Uh. . .okay.” I followed her down the hallway, unbuttoning the top buttons of my uniform shirt. “What are we having?”

“Whatever Liz is making,” she informed me as we reached the kitchen. Sure enough, Liz was at the counter, chopping an onion into tiny pieces. She looked up when we came in.

“Hi, Michael,” she said. “How was work?”

I shrugged, dropping onto a stool beside the counter. “Okay. Max said you found something new about his case?”

“Yeah. We think Wheeland is in New York—or at least he was two years ago. Jack’s detective is checking it out right now.”

“That’s pretty recent,” I observed, helping myself to a piece of chopped red pepper from one side of the cutting board. “How did you figure that out?”

Liz glanced up at Maria. “Um. . .actually Maria did.”

What? I looked over at Maria, who tried to pull off a casual shrug. “Well, I didn’t know who he was,” she said. “Someone offered me a role in a play and Wheeland was one of the backers. I barely said hello to him, but when I saw the picture, I remembered his face.”

My head felt light. Wheeland—or Langley, or whoever the hell he was—had dared get close to Maria? “What?” I asked. “When did this happen?”

“About two years ago,” Maria explained, watching me with some apprehension.

“Did he know who you were?” I demanded. “Did he know you were from Roswell?”

“I don’t know,” she said, glancing at Liz. “He didn’t say anything about it—but, Michael, I don’t think I said three sentences to him. It was just a few minutes.”

“If he ever gets close to you again—any of you—I’ll take him out myself,” I said flatly. As a matter of fact, I was looking forward to it. When I thought of everything that bastard had put Max and Liz and everyone else through in the past decade, I started to wonder if I could convince Max to bring him back so I could kill him a few dozen times.

Liz and Maria stood there looking at me, as if they expected a bigger blow up. “That’s all,” I told them, and they looked relieved. “Except that I’m sleeping here until we find this guy and put him away.”

Maria grinned at me and put her arms around my shoulders. “No argument from me,” she said. “No argument at all.”

Liz smiled as she watched us. “Good to have you, Michael,” she told me.

“Thanks,” I said, just as Sophie joined us in the kitchen.

“Hi, Michael,” she said when she saw me. She came over and climbed up on the chair beside me, leaning over to give me a hug. “Did you see my dad today?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I did. He said to tell you hi, and he loves you, and to do this.” I gave her another hug, then tousled her hair.

“He told you to mess my hair up?” she demanded, wrinkling her nose as she brushed her dark locks out her face.

“Well, I might have added that,” I admitted.

She rolled her eyes. “I figured.”

“Soph, Michael is going to stay here with us for a while,” Liz told her.

She looked at me quizzically. “How come?”

I shrugged. “Someone’s gotta keep an eye on you and Maria.”

“What about Mom?”

“It takes more than one person to keep an eye on her,” I said gravely.

Sophie giggled, but Liz just smiled sweetly. “Keep it up, Guerin. I know where you sleep.”

“Yeah, and now it’s right down the hall,” Maria added.

They had a point. I decided to move on. “So what’s for dinner?”

“Pork roast—”

“With peppers and tomatoes,” Sophie piped up.

“—with peppers and tomatoes,” Liz agreed, “mashed potatoes, asparagus, and rolls. Who wants to set the table?”

“I’ll help,” I volunteered, standing up. “Where’s the plates?”

Sophie helped me find plates and silverware while Liz finished dinner and Maria. . .observed. Dinner was ready soon after, and as we sat down to eat I thought how nice it was to be part of a family like this. Briefly, I wondered what it would have been like if I’d gone with Maria that day ten years ago when she asked me to.

* * * * *

“Soph, time for bed.”

A little before nine, Liz motioned Sophie off the couch and up the stairs. We’d spent the evening in the living room watching television together—except for Liz, who sat with us but spent most of her time tapping away on her laptop. When Sophie had—reluctantly, dragging her feet—gone upstairs, I asked her what she was writing.

“I’m drafting Max’s pardon request to the governor,” she answered absently.

“Oh, yeah?” I asked, interested. Max had told me Liz wanted to go right to the governor once we located Langley. I wondered if she really thought we were this close, or if she just hated to feel like there was nothing more for her to do.

She nodded. “Yeah.” She looked very—well, lawyer-ish sitting there with her laptop out and a pair of small, round glasses balanced on her nose. There were several thick books around her in the chair and on the floor, and loose papers were scattered all over. “I just want to have it ready for when we need it.”

She seemed very sure of herself; I guessed she was counting on needing it soon. I was pretty sure Max was, too, and I hoped they would be right. Since Saturday, when he’d finally met Sophie, Max’s urgency to get out of prison was doubled—at least. Every hour he spent there was another hour of his life, and Sophie’s, and Liz’s that he could never get back. He was even willing to accept help from Jack Collins, and I knew that had to kill him.

“You think we’re gonna need it soon,” I observed.

Liz smiled wistfully. “I really hope so,” she told me. “I don’t think Max can take this much longer. When I was with him today, he was just so. . .tired. He’s been holding himself in for so long—he’s had to, or he would have gone crazy in there. But now he can’t do it anymore.” Her forehead furrowed. “Sometimes I wonder if I’m hurting him by going there every day. While I’m there he lets himself go, he lets himself come out of that shell. But when I leave—he has to watch me leave, and I know all he wants to do is come with me—and then he has to go back to his cell by himself and try to close himself off again. Just not so much that he can’t talk to Sophie on the phone or reach out to me at night.” She shook her head. “I just wonder if I’m making it worse for him.”

I didn’t know what to say to her—it was harder for Max to deal with the daily grind of prison life now that he so desperately wanted to be on the outside with Liz and his daughter. But I also knew that Liz’s daily visits were what kept him hanging on minute to minute. If she stopped going to the prison, it would only make him more desperate to get out and be with her and Sophie.

“Liz,” I said finally, leaning forward, “please don’t stop going there. Max is counting on your visits. Maybe you’re right—maybe it makes it harder for him to go back to his cell every day, but to him, it’s worth it.” I didn’t know how to stress it more. “If you don’t believe me, ask him what he wants. I think he’ll tell you the truth this time.”

Liz shook her head. “I don’t need to. I know he wants me there—and I’m not going to stop going. I can’t, Michael. When I’m not with him, I feel how alone he is, and I worry about what it’s doing to him.” She stared at the floor, her eyes dark and sad. “I need to see him, too. Sometimes it’s all I can do to leave him.”

I felt Maria shiver as she sat beside me and I glanced over at her to see tears in her eyes. “Liz, it’ll get better,” she said. “I know it will.”

Liz gave a forced smile and looked up at us. “This is the first time in years I’ve really believed that.”

She got up a moment later to tuck Sophie in, and Maria went with her. Left alone, I reached for the remote and began flipping through the channels. I didn’t get far before I heard my name.

“Michael!”

It was Maria, standing at the top of the stairs. “What?” I called back.

“Sophie wants to say good night,” she answered. “Um, again.”

I wasn’t about to refuse that, even if I knew it was another stall tactic on Sophie’s part. “I’m coming,” I told her, switching off the television. I was on my way to the stairs when I heard my cell phone ring. I paused, decided to ignore it, then without consciously changing my mind, I turned back and went to answer it.

“Guerin,” I said.

“Michael, it’s Matt Hopkins.”

Matt was my friend on the police force, the one who’d gotten me Langley’s autopsy photos. “Hi, Matt,” I said. “What’s going on? How’s the family?”

“They’re good, Michael—real good.” He sounded troubled, though, and instantly I knew it had something to do with the favor he’d done me.

“Hey, I didn’t get you in trouble when I asked you to get those pictures, did I?” I asked him.

“No, you didn’t,” he assured me. “It isn’t that. I just got a funny phone call today and I thought I’d give you a heads up. Somebody knows you wanted those pictures, and they’re not happy about it. Whoever you gave ‘em to better watch their back.”

* * * * *

~Liz~

I slept in Sophie’s room that night. After the phone call Michael got, I couldn’t bear to leave her alone. Michael and Maria were just as shaken—I spent twenty minutes convincing Michael he didn’t need to sleep outside the door. He had no sooner gone down the hall to Maria’s room when I wished I hadn’t tried so hard. I lay awake most of the night, listening to every creak of the house, every car that drove by. The worst of it was that Max knew I was terrified, and I couldn’t reach him to tell him why. He clung to me all night, and I knew that his fear was compounded by the fact that he was helpless—and practically in the dark. He must have figured it had something to do with the case, but he didn’t know precisely what the threat was, and it kept him awake most of the night.

Toward dawn, sheer exhaustion caught up with me and I slept for a couple of hours. I woke up at five-thirty, groggy and disoriented and reaching for Max. He was awake, too, and no less worried. Sophie was sleeping beside me, curled up with her head pressed against my chest. She had undoubtedly sensed my fear last night. I had no idea what I was going to tell her when she woke up. I lay there thinking about it until I heard Michael’s voice in the hallway.

“. . .just get on a plane as quick as you can, Iz. We need you out here. If Wheeland or Langley or whoever the hell he is knows what’s going on, we’re going to need everyone here and ready for him.”

Carefully, trying not to disturb Sophie, I slipped out of bed and went to the doorway. Michael stood at one end of the hall, pacing as he spoke into the phone. “There’s a flight leaving Chicago in two hours. Can you be on it?” He paused for a moment, listening. “Good. America West, flight 282. It leaves O’Hare from Gate 27C at 9:47am. . .yeah, your time.” He paused again. “Yeah, okay. Take the shuttle to Maria’s—no, wait. You’d better rent a car. Something dependable with lots of room in the back. Do you have Maria’s address?”

I listened as he gave Maria’s address, then said goodbye. When he had hung up the phone, he gave a long sigh and ran a hand through his hair. I stepped into the doorway and cleared my throat. He looked over at me in surprise.

“Oh. Um, morning, Liz. I didn’t wake you up, did I?” He looked as bad as I felt—dark circles, bloodshot eyes, the whole nine yards.

I shook my head. “No. I didn’t sleep much, anyway.” I took a deep breath and joined him in the hall, pulling Sophie’s door shut behind me so I wouldn’t wake her up. “You called Isabel?” I asked him.

He nodded, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “I thought it was time to call in the troops.”

“Good,” I agreed. We needed all the help we could get. “Michael, do you think Langley’s coming for us?” I asked him bluntly.

Michael stared at the polished hardwood floors for a moment, thinking hard. At length, he looked up and met my gaze evenly. “Given what I know about Langley, yeah. I think he’ll do anything to protect the life he’s made for himself. I don’t think he’ll stop with threats.”

“Particularly if we don’t quit with the investigation,” I added.

Michael nodded. “Yeah.” He paused. “Are you planning on quitting?”

I shook my head. “No. This just underscores how much we need Max around. Langley’s not the only threat to us.”

“I know.”

I put my hands over my eyes and leaned against the wall. “This is exactly what Max was afraid of,” I murmured.

“Yeah,” Michael agreed. He leaned against the wall beside me, and I felt his eyes on me. “If you had known this was going to happen, would you still have come here?” he asked quietly.

It was the question I’d wrestled with all night. It wasn’t until that moment that I had my answer. “If Langley knows we’re this close to him, it’s got to be because he was watching us all this time,” I said. The thought made my blood run cold, but I went on. “If that’s true, he could have come after us any time he felt threatened—any time we made a misstep. It could have happened when Sophie and I were alone somewhere—in Petersburg, where ever.” I sighed heavily and opened my eyes. “If it had to happen, at least it happened here where we’re not alone.”

“When Max finds out about this, he’s gonna want to bust out of there now,” Michael observed.

I nodded. “I know. He’s close to doing it now,” I told him.

“What?”

“All night. He knows something’s wrong and he’s frantic. I tried to make him understand that we’re okay for the moment, but even if we were face to face that wouldn’t make it any better.”

“You didn’t tell him what’s happening?” he demanded.

“It’s not a phone line, Michael,” I said, trying not to sound impatient. “I did what I could, but I need to go down there and talk to him. Will you stay with Sophie?”

He nodded. “Sure—of course I will. But what about you?”

“I’ll be okay—I think I can still blast someone across the room long enough to run away.” I shrugged. “I’ll be with Max most of the time, anyway.” I grimaced as the pounding in my head increased. I’d been up less than half an hour, and I already had a tension headache. “Are you working today?”

“Yeah, at three.”

“Can you go in early?” I asked him.

“I think I could pick up a few hours,” he agreed. He started to ask why, then he expelled a deep breath as my reasoning dawned on him. “You think he’ll go after Max, too.”

“Don’t you?” I asked.

He nodded. “Yeah, I guess he would.”

“As soon as I get back here, I want you to go to the prison and keep an eye on Max. Can you make sure he stays in his cell? No. . .I don’t know. Just make sure he doesn’t get into some situation where he’s vulnerable. No crowds or anything.”

Michael nodded again. “Yeah, I’ll keep an eye on him.”

“Good. What time will Isabel be here?”

“Around noon, I think,” he answered.

“Okay.” I pushed myself upright. “I’m going to call Jack and tell him to be careful.” I opened Sophie’s door so I could hear her if she called out, and started to go down the hall.

“Liz, wait.” Michael reached out and grabbed my wrist. “Are you sure you trust Jack?” he asked in a low voice.

I took a deep breath. “With my life, Michael. I’ve always trusted him. If he was going to hurt any of us, he had dozens of opportunities. He never did—not once.”

“What if he never had a reason to before?”

I could understand his concern, but I still didn’t agree with him. “Okay, Michael—let’s assume for a minute that Jack is connected to this somehow. Why would he wait until we’re here where you can protect us? Where Max could get to us if he really tried? He could have done anything he wanted on Sunday—we were at his house by ourselves. Jack isn’t a threat to us—I’d stake my life on it.”

“That is what you’re doing,” Michael said grimly. He shook his head. “Okay. If you trust him, I guess I have to, too.”

I squeezed his hand. “Thanks, Michael.”

“You’re welcome,” he said gruffly. “I’m gonna go make coffee. You want some?”

“That’d be great,” I said, managing a smile. “Thanks.”

* * * * *

I paced the attorney visiting room while I waited for Max to be brought down. I’d never realized how small it was, how cramped. But today I felt trapped in there, and I couldn’t imagine how Max must have felt in his cell. I could tell that he knew I was here, but he was still extremely worried.

“Hurry up,” I muttered as I paced. I glanced at my watch, calculating that Isabel’s plane was already in the air and that Jack should have been at his office by now. I hadn’t been able to get a hold of him before I left, but I’d left messages at all his numbers. I prayed I hadn’t brought him into this only to get him hurt—or worse.

It seemed like an eternity before I finally heard the key turn in the lock. I spun and faced the door as Max was led in. His face was ashen, his eyes dark with worry. When he saw me, I felt his tiny sliver of relief, but it was almost nothing in the face of what he was feeling. As soon as the door shut behind the guard, he crossed to me. “What happened?” he asked hoarsely, putting his hands on my face. He looked me over carefully, his hands skimming over my face and neck to rest on my upper arms. “Are you okay? Is it Sophie? What’s wrong?”

“We’re okay—we’re fine,” I said quickly. “Sophie’s with Michael and Maria.”

“Then why are you—” He broke off, shaking his head. “God, Liz—please. Tell me what happened.”

“Michael got a phone call last night,” I began, trying to keep my voice steady. “It was from his cop friend that got us the autopsy photos of the body identified as Langley.”

“What did he say? Did he threaten you?” Max drew me closer, his eyes searching my face frantically.

I shook my head. “Not—not the cop. But apparently he got a call yesterday from someone wanting to know why those photos were pulled.” I paused, taking a deep breath. “And telling him that anyone wanting to drag that case up again. . .better rethink it.”

“Better rethink it?” Max repeated, raising his eyebrows. I chewed my lower lip for a moment, not even wanting to repeat the words Michael had reluctantly passed along last night. “Liz?” Max prompted.

I expelled a deep breath. “The caller said that it would be safer for everyone involved if the case stayed shut,” I admitted.

Max closed his eyes, his hands tightening on my arms. “It had to be Langley.”

“Or Wheeland pretending to be Langley.”

He shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. God, I should have known this was going to happen.”

“No, Max, you couldn’t have known—”

“But I did, Liz,” he cried. He opened his eyes, and they were full of anguish. “I knew he would do this—he’s not going to stop.”

“I know,” I said. “I know—that’s why we have to get him first.”

“No. No, you and Sophie have to get out of here.” He took a deep breath. “You’ve got to go get her—”

“Where would we go?” I interrupted. “Max, listen to me.” I put my hands on his face, making him meet my eyes. “If Langley knows what we’ve been doing, it’s because he’s been watching us all along. And if that’s true, he’ll find us where ever we go. I’d rather take my chances here with you and Michael around than anywhere else.”

“Take Michael with you, then,” he insisted.

“And leave you here by yourself?” I cried. “No way, Max. I won’t do it, and I know Michael won’t.”

“Liz, don’t you get it?” he demanded. “Langley will come after you and Sophie. And if he finds you, he’ll—”

“I know what he’ll do,” I interrupted.

“Then you know I can’t let that happen.” He framed my face in his hands again. “Liz, do you remember the first time you came to L.A. after I was arrested?”

I nodded. How could I have forgotten that? I’d been so relieved to see him, but so afraid at the same time. I realized that wasn’t so different from what I was feeling now. “I remember.”

“Do you remember what I told you when you wanted to go after Langley then?” he went on, gently caressing my face. “I told you I would rather spend the rest of my life in jail than lose you. That’s still true. As long as I have you, I have a reason to fight. If I lose you and Sophie now, I don’t care what happens to me.”

“Well, I do,” I said softly. “Max, if we run, he’ll follow us. That might be just what he wants—to separate us. This is it—this is what we’ve been waiting for. When Langley takes a swing this time, we’ll be ready for him. Isabel’s on her way out here right now, Michael’s ready. This time we’re going to get him—we’re going to get him and you’re going to get out of here and come home with me and Sophie where you belong.”

He looked away, and I could sense his turmoil. He knew that this might be the best chance we had to catch Langley, but the fact that he was so helpless at the moment—stuck in here waiting on us to bring him word of what happened—was tearing him up. When he opened his mouth next, I knew what he was going to say. “Liz,” he said in a low voice, “I can get out of here—at least long enough to help you get help him. Just until the two of you are safe, then I’ll turn myself back in.”

“No,” I said firmly. “Max, if you do that, they’ll tack time on to your sentence and you’ll have to serve it even when the initial conviction is overturned.”

“But, Liz—”

“No!” I wasn’t going to back down. “You’re not going to throw away another day of our lives, Max Evans—do you hear me?”

“But if something happens to you—”

“You’re just going to have to trust me and Michael and Isabel to take care of this,” I said. “I know it’s hard—I know you want to be out there where you can protect us, but I need you to hang on just a little bit longer so that you can be with us for the rest of our lives. Please, Max.”

“Liz, I just want to keep you safe,” he murmured, stroking my cheek. “You and Sophie are all I care about.”

“I know,” I said. “I know, Max. But we’ll be safest when we’re with you. Langley isn’t the only threat to us—you know that.”

He nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I know,” he said, then he pulled me close against him. I could hear his heart pounding beneath my cheek, testament to the fear that was weighing so heavily on him. “I just can’t lose you,” he said softly. “I need you. I always needed you, but now. . .I need you even more.” He bent his head, pressing his cheek against the top of my head. “I’m so tired, Liz. I’m tired of being without you.”

I held him tightly, wrapping my arms around him and pressing my face against his chest. “I know you are. It won’t be much longer—it won’t be, Max.”

“You really believe that,” he sighed quietly.

“I do—I know it,” I said firmly. “I can feel it, Max. And I need you to believe it, too.”

“I’m trying.” His arms tightened around me. “I trust you. But, Liz, if anything happens to you—if Langley gets any closer or you get into trouble, I’m coming for you. Don’t tell me not to. I can’t sit here if you’re in trouble. You know you wouldn’t if you were me.”

I couldn’t argue with that. If Max or Sophie were in danger, I’d do whatever I had to do in order to get to them. “Max, I—” I began, but I never got to finish. My cell phone shrilled, breaking the silence, and Max and I both jumped. I let go of him long enough to go to the table and grab my phone from my briefcase.

“Elizabeth Parker,” I said automatically.

“Liz, this is Jack. Where are you?”

“Jack?” I asked. “Jack, I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all morning. Where are you?”

“Liz, listen to me,” he ordered, ignoring my question. “Are you with Sophie right now?”

My heart skipped, then began to pound in my chest. “No, I’m with Max. Why? Jack, what’s going on?”

“Who’s with her?” he demanded. “Is it just Maria?”

“Jack, tell me what’s going on!” I cried. I could hear traffic noises in the background—he must have been driving as he talked.

“Just tell me, Liz—is she alone with Maria?”

“No, Michael’s there, too. Jack—”

“Good. Liz, Langley’s onto you. I need you to go pack up Sophie and get the hell out of Maria’s house. It’s too visible—it’s the first place he’ll look for you.”

My head felt light. “What are you talking about, Jack? Langley—”

“Fine—Wheeland. Whatever you want to call him. The shapeshifter—the protector.”

Now I swayed in earnest. Max caught me and guided me into a chair. “Liz, what’s going on?” he asked in an urgent whisper, but I waved a hand to silence him.

“Jack, you need to explain this to me right now,” I said, trying to sound calm and authoritative.

“Liz, I swear I will, but there’s no time right now. I’m on my way to Maria’s, but I don’t know if I’m ahead of Langley or not.”

“Jack, how do you know about Langley?” I demanded, fighting the hysteria that threatened.

“If you ever trusted me, trust me now,” he said. “Go get Sophie and get out of Maria’s house. You can get there faster than I can. When you get there tell Guerin to go to the prison and stay with Max. Langley will want him out of commission before he tries anything.”

“How do you know this?!” I cried. “Jack, what the hell are you?”

Max grabbed my hand. “Liz, give me the phone,” he ordered, and I was too dazed to protest. I handed it over.

“This is Max Evans,” he said. “I don’t know what game you’re playing, but you stay the hell away from my family—do you understand?” He paused for a second, listening, and I pressed my ear close to the phone, listening in.

“My name is Jack Collins, and my family have been loyal supporters of yours for centuries,” Jack was saying calmly. “My grandfather was sent to Earth when your family learned that the shapeshifters sought to betray the Royal Four. My grandfather and the rest of my family is loyal to you,” he said, then he paused for just an instant. “But I am loyal to Liz and your daughter and my priority is to protect them.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 4-Sep-2002 12:08:35 AM ]
posted on 9-Sep-2002 2:15:53 PM by mockingbird39
Author's Note: LTF, thanks so much for the beautiful fanart! It's really lovely. Do you mind if I post it over at the Boardello, so they can enjoy it over there, too?


Part 45


~Max~

I stared at Liz. Her eyes were wide with shock, and she shook her head woodenly. Was it possible? This man that Liz and Maria—and Sophie—had trusted for all these years was. . .was an alien? I had no way to judge, and Liz was barely taking it in.

“Liz?” I asked softly, holding my hand over the phone so the man on the other end—whoever he was—couldn’t hear.

“I don’t know,” she breathed. “I never thought—” Then she sat up a little. “Max, he calls Sophie ‘Princess.’ He’s always called her that.”

My heart thudded a little more. “How could he know?” I asked her.

She shook her head again. “How could any of them have known?”

She was right. Nasedo, Tess, the Skins—they had all known who we were before we knew them. Liz and I stared at each other in shock for a moment longer, then I raised the phone to my ear again. “I’m going to tell you this one more time,” I ground out. “Stay away from my family. Stay away from Liz, stay away from Sophie. I don’t know who you really are, and I don’t care. If you get near them again, I will kill you myself.”

“You don’t have enough information to make this decision—” he began, but I hung up the phone before he could finish. I turned to Liz, trying to stay calm. “Liz, you’ve got to get home to Sophie. You heard what he said—he’s on his way.”

“Max, what if he’s telling the truth?” she asked in a small voice.

I looked at her in disbelief. “Do you believe him?”

She shook her head slowly. “I don’t know what to believe. But I just can’t believe that Jack would mean us any harm. He’s been so good to us—and if he’d wanted to hurt us, he could have done it a million times.”

I wasn’t convinced. “He’s lied to you.” I stood up. “You have to get home to Sophie—now. Get her out of there. Take Michael with you and get out of L.A.”

“To where?” she asked, her voice wavering.

I was shaking, my mind whirling in a dozen directions, unable to think. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know what to do.” I reached for her, pulling her close against me. I closed my eyes, breathing deeply for a moment, trying to get my thoughts together. And then I knew what I had to do. “I’ll come with you,” I said. “If we have to run, we’ll do it together.”

“No.” Liz pulled back, shaking her head determinedly. “I told you—if you escape, you’ll have to serve more time no matter what happens with the conviction. I started to protest, but she wouldn’t let me speak. “Listen to me. If Sophie and I have to run, we’ll get word to you and you can meet us somewhere. Until then you have to stay here. We’re too close for you to something rash.”

“Rash?” I repeated in disbelief. “Liz, Langley is coming after you!”

“Unless we believe Jack, we don’t know that yet,” she pointed out. “And if we believe him, we’ve got another protector—”

“Our history with protectors doesn’t make that very comforting,” I interrupted.

“Listen to me,” she insisted. “I don’t have much time. We’ve got Michael, and Isabel’s on her way.”

“Here? Iz is coming here?”

“Yes, Michael called her this morning. She’s on a plane right now. We’ll be safe—and if we have to run, you’ll come with us.” She held on to me tightly. “Please, Max. It’s just until we know what’s happening.”

I closed my eyes, crushing her against me. She was right; it didn’t matter how long I stayed gone. The minute I walked out the gate of the prison, I would be liable for escape—an offense that carried a heavy sentence. We had no way of knowing what might happen now. If I escaped and helped them capture Langley, I might be thrown back in jail just to leave them vulnerable to more threats. We had been incredibly lucky all these years. I wasn’t about to count on that luck holding out.

But how could I sit here when Liz and our child were in danger? What if there was no time to get a message to me and they had to take leave without my knowing where they were going? What if I never see them again?

“Max, no,” Liz murmured. “It’s going to be okay. It has to be.” Her voice broke and she pressed her face against my shoulder. “I didn’t come here just to lose you again. I can’t lose you—” She raised her head to look at me. “You won’t lose us, either,” she said. “I won’t let that happen.”

“Liz, I can’t let you do this alone,” I managed to say. My throat was so tight I could barely speak.

She reached up and touched my face, her hands smooth and cool against my skin. “I’m not alone, Max. I have you.”

I wrapped my hands around her wrists, and I shuddered at how fragile they felt in my grasp. How could she fight Langley? “Liz, keep Michael with you,” I said finally.

“But what about you?” she cried. “He can get to you, too.”

“I can take care of myself,” I told her. “Please don’t argue. I need to know you have someone to keep you safe.” She chewed on her lower lip, ready to protest, but I wasn’t about to compromise on this one. “Liz, either you keep Michael with you, or I’m coming with you right now. That’s all there is to it.”

She closed her eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. “Okay,” she said finally. “Okay, this is what we’re going to do. I’m going to call Michael and tell him to get Maria and Sophie and take them to the airport to wait for Isabel. As soon as her plane lands, they’ll come here and call me from the parking lot. I’ll go out to meet them and Michael will stay here with you. That way we’re all protected—none of us are alone.”

“Where will you go?” I asked her.

She shook her head. “I don’t know. But we can call Michael and get word to you when we figure it out.”

I took a second to think and realized it was the best plan we were going to come up with. “Okay,” I said finally. “Call Michael now.”

She took her cell phone from the table and dialed, and I listened as she gave Michael a brief explanation of what had just happened, then told him what to do. When she finished, she listened for a moment, then turned to me. “He wants to talk to you,” she said, handing me the phone.

“Maxwell, what the hell is going on?” Michael demanded.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “Michael, keep Sophie with you, do you hear me? Right with you. Don’t let her near any doors or windows.” My heart was still beating fast, and thinking of my daughter out there with a madman who hated me and my family didn’t help. “Is she with you, Michael?”

“She’s in the kitchen,” he answered, and I heard him call her name. “Sophie—Sophie, I want you to stay close to me, okay?”

“Don’t scare her, Michael,” I cautioned.

“Too late,” he muttered into the phone.

“You didn’t tell her—”

“No, but she knows something’s up,” he said. I heard Sophie’s voice, and then Michael said something to her. A second later, he spoke to me. “She wants to talk to you,” he said.

I wanted to talk to her, too. “Put her on,” I said. “And tell Maria to get ready to leave. You need to get out of that house now.”

“Yeah, all right,” he agreed. “Here she is.”

“Daddy?” Sophie sounded frightened, and it went straight to my heart.

“Hi, sweetheart,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm and steady.

“Daddy, Michael says there’s someone looking for us. Is he going to find us?” she asked.

“Everything’s going to be okay,” I told her, vowing I would keep that promise no matter what I had to do. “You’re going to be fine—I promise. I won’t let anything happen to you, and neither will Michael. You trust Michael, right?”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “Can we come to you? I want to come to you and Mommy.”

I closed my eyes and pulled Liz close to me. Yes, I wanted to say. Yes, come straight to me and I’ll make sure no one ever scares you again. To hell with what comes after. My little girl was frightened and in danger and all I could think of was getting to her so I could protect her.

But I couldn’t—not yet. “Not quite yet, Sophie. I have to stay here a while longer, but Michael’s going to drive you to go meet your aunt Isabel’s plane, and then you’re going to come get Mommy. So you’ll be okay. Nobody can hurt you while they’re around, right?”

“Right,” she said in a small voice.

“Sophie, I need you to do something for me,” I told her. “I need you to stay very close to Michael—stay right next to him, okay? Can you do that for me?”

“Okay,” she agreed. “But who’s going to stay next to Mommy?”

“I’m with Mommy right now—she’s right here. I won’t let anything happen to her.” I felt Liz’s arms tighten around me, and I smoothed a hand over her back. No one was getting to Liz while I was with her. “Mommy will be with me until you come get her.”

“And then what?” she wanted to know. I almost smiled—like Liz, Sophie wanted to have a plan in mind.

“Then you’ll be with Mommy and Aunt Isabel and Aunt Maria,” I answered.

“And Michael will be with you?”

“Yes, Michael will be with me, and Mommy’s going to call him and let him know what’s going on so that he can tell me, too.” I fought to keep the fear from my voice. “I’ll know where you are, Sophie, and I promise you—if you need me, I’ll come to you.”

“Okay,” she said in a small voice. “But, Daddy, I want to be with you now.”

“I know, sweetheart,” I answered, fighting to keep the fear out of my voice. “I want to be with you, too. But you’ll be okay, and I’ll see you soon. Until then, you stay close to Michael and do exactly what he tells you. Can you do that for me?”

“Yes,” she answered finally.

“Good.” I felt Liz’s arms tighten around me and I swallowed hard. “Sophie, I love you,” I told her. “I love you very much.”

“I love you, too,” she said. I heard muffled sounds and then she sighed. “Michael wants to talk to you.”

“Okay. Don’t forget what I told you,” I said.

“I won’t,” she told me, then she handed the phone to Michael.

“I gave Maria ten minutes,” he said. “She’s upstairs getting a bag together for the three of them.”

“Good. Just get them out of there, Michael.”

We hung up as soon as Maria had finished packing their bag, and I set the phone down. “They’re leaving the house now,” I told Liz.

She nodded. “Good. How did Sophie sound?”

I shook my head. “She’s scared.”

“I think she knows Michael won’t let her down,” Liz ventured. “I just I was with—” She stopped, looking at me awkwardly.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I wish I was with her, too.”

She was quiet for a moment, then she looked up at me. “Max, what are we going to do about Jack?”

“Stay away from him. We don’t know who he is or what he wants. He’s dangerous.”

“But he might be the only one who knows where Langley is,” she ventured.

I searched her face. “What are you saying? You believe him? You want to go to him?”

“No, I didn’t say that,” she said quickly. “I just think. . .Max, if he’d wanted to get to us, why warn us? It doesn’t make any sense.”

It didn’t make any sense for a “protector” to sit idly by for all this time, either, but she had a point. Jack Collins could have done whatever he wanted to Liz and Sophie at any time over the years, and he hadn’t. He could have done it as recently as Sunday, but he chose not to. There had to be a reason for that. “Maybe he didn’t have to before,” I said. “Maybe it wasn’t important until you started looking for Langley.”

“Jack’s known I was looking for Langley since Thanksgiving,” she told me. “He had Sophie and Maria and I alone at his place all day on Sunday—he could have done anything he wanted to then.” She stared at nothing, thinking hard. “Max. . .if he was telling the truth just now, then he’s lied to us all these years. But I just can’t believe that he would ever hurt Sophie.” She raised her eyes to me, shaking her head. “Besides, he has to know the first thing I would do would be go to you and Michael. Why take that chance?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “But I still don’t trust him.”

“I don’t think I do, either. Not anymore.” she said. I knew what it did to her to learn that one of her best friends had lied to her for years, and I decided that Jack Collins would pay for this, too. “But,” she continued, “if he knows something about Langley, we might need him.” She chewed her lower lip. “I don’t want to run forever—and I don’t want this to be for nothing.”

“Liz, I told you before,” I protested urgently, “the most important thing here is that you and Sophie be safe.”

“And I told you that we’re safest when we’re with you,” she said firmly. “If Langley knows about Sophie, other people could, too. We need you.” She smoothed a hand over my shoulder, her fingers lingering and caressing. “Not just to protect us, Max. We just need you.”

I pulled her close again, taking one last moment to hold her in my arms. “Okay,” I agreed. “Okay.” I smoothed her hair back from her face and leaned down to kiss her, and I tried not to remember that night in Cambridge when I’d sat on the edge of her bed and kissed her as she slept, knowing that it might be the last time. “Come back to me,” I pleaded.

There were tears in her eyes. “I’m not gone yet, Max,” she whispered, pressing her lips to mine again. Her kiss was desperate and hungry, but no more so than mine as our tongues met, tasted, tangled together. Flashes spun through my mind—Liz as she’d been the very first time I saw her, a tiny child on a playground. . .Liz on the night of her radio “Dream Date” when I’d chased her all over town. . .the two of us together in Roswell in winter, holding hands at the ice skating rink. . .Liz in my arms in our hotel room in Los Angeles, silently offering me her strength and her support during that awful summer ten years ago. Then I saw Sophie, saw the first moments of her life as the doctor lifted her from Liz’s body and held her in the air, a squalling, squirming miracle of life. I saw Liz sitting beside Sophie’s crib in the early morning light, holding a textbook but seeing only our daughter as she slept. I saw them standing in a darkened church with Maria and Liz’s parents, holding candles and singing in hushed voices.

By the time we broke apart, both our faces were wet with tears. “I wish I had been there,” I whispered, kissing her cheek, tasting the salt of her tears. “I’m so sorry.”

“Hush, Max,” she murmured. “Don’t talk—just hold me, please. Don’t let go.”

We spent the rest of the time in each other’s arms. When her cell phone rang, I knew it would be Michael, and I knew it was time for her to leave me. It took every ounce of willpower I possessed to let her go that morning, every bit of strength and hope for the future. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, picked up her briefcase, and pressed the call button beside the door. Then she stood there looking at me with those dark eyes I loved more than the air in my lungs.

“I love you, Max,” she said. “Don’t ever forget that.”

“I love you, too.” It was all I had time to say before the door opened behind her and she left.

* * * * *

I was still reeling when the guard came to take me back to my cell. He noticed my distraction immediately.

“You doin’ okay, Max?” he asked as we walked.

“Thinking about my daughter,” I said woodenly.

He frowned. “I didn’t know you had a daughter,” he said.

I nodded. “Yeah. She’s eight.”

He looked interested. “That’s a good age. I’ve got two daughters myself.” He talked about his children all the way to my cell, but I couldn’t keep my mind on the conversation. All I could think about was Sophie and Liz driving away from me. It seemed like an eternity before Michael came to me. Even in my daze, I recognized that he looked awful. I wondered if he had slept at all.

“Max,” he said, standing close to the bars. “You holding on?”

“Trying,” I answered. “How are they?”

“Isabel’s fine—jumpy, but fine. She’s mad as hell, too. Sophie’s being quiet, but I think she understands a lot more than we thought. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.” He paused and shrugged. “I guess you know how Liz is.”

“Yeah.” I pushed my hands through my hair. “Michael, I need to be with them.”

“You know what Liz said,” he reminded me. He paused for a second, then shook his head. “What about this Jack Collins guy? Do you believe him?”

“I think Liz does,” I answered bitterly. “She doesn’t think he’ll hurt Sophie, anyway.”

“Maria wants to believe him, too,” he told me. “She’s mad that he lied to them, but she still wants to believe he’s a good guy.”

“What do you think?” I demanded. “You met him—is he telling the truth?”

Michael stared thoughtfully at the ground. “It looked to me like he cared about them,” he finally admitted. “I don’t know what to tell you other than that. Is he. . .different? Could be.”

“Liz thinks this would be a bad way for him to come after them,” I told him. I had to admit, I was starting to believe her. “She thinks he could have gotten to them before without involving you or me.”

He nodded. “Yeah, Maria said that, too. It sounds right, but if his family was supposed to be loyal to you, why haven’t they done something before?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. But maybe they’ve been protecting Liz and Sophie all this time—Jack said he was loyal to them first.”

“Fine, he’s loyal to them. What about you? They’ve left you here all this time so he can make time with Liz—doesn’t sound loyal to me.”

I had been thinking the same thing. “If he knows where Langley is, we might have to play along with him,” I said. “We’ve got to get Langley, Michael. None of us are safe until we do.”

“I know—I already thought of that,” he said, his jaw clenched.

I thought hard, unconsciously reaching for Liz. She hadn’t gone too far yet; I could still feel her close by. We were close enough that I knew she wasn’t going to let this go. “Liz is going to go after Jack Collins,” I told Michael with sudden certainty. “She thinks he’s the way to Langley, and she wants Langley.”

Michael’s face was pale. “You think she’ll do it by herself?”

* * * * *

~Liz~

“It was Jack again.” I saved the voice mail I’d just listened to on my cell phone and hung up.

“If he calls again, don’t answer it,” Isabel said. She sat next to Maria in the front seat, but she had turned in her seat to look at me and Sophie in the back. “Michael said—”

“Isabel, he’s the only one who might know where Langley is and why he’s coming for us now,” I interrupted. “Without Jack, we don’t know what’s going on.”

“And you think he’ll tell you the truth?” she demanded.

“I’m not going to take anything he says at face value,” I told her. “But if he’s got a lead on Langley and where he’s going, we’re going to need him.”

“Max will never agree to that,” Isabel pointed out, shaking her head.

I met her gaze evenly. “Max isn’t here,” I said clearly. “I wish he was—I wish he was here to forbid me to do this. But he’s not, and the only way we’re going to get him back is to find Langley.”

She stared back at me, and for a moment I was reminded of the Isabel Evans I’d known in high school—the untouchable ice queen. But I wasn’t the shy, timid Liz Parker I’d been back then, and I wasn’t about to give in on this. Still, I needed her help on this, or we’d end up putting everyone we loved in danger. I took a deep breath and leaned toward her. “Isabel, I know you want him out, too,” I said softly. “Please help me.”

Her eyes softened, but Isabel was never one to give in easily. “We should at least wait for Michael.”

I shook my head. “Michael needs to stay with Max—Max is as vulnerable in there as we are out here.”

We stared at each other for a long moment, then my phone rang again. I didn’t have to look to know it would be Jack. Finally, Isabel gave a long sigh. “You’d better answer it,” she said, her voice resigned.

I gave her a grateful look and hit the “talk” button. “Hello?”

“Liz, thank God.” Jack sounded relieved. “I just went by Maria’s. Where the hell are you?”

I couldn’t keep the note of distrust out of my voice—not that I tried very hard. “I don’t know if I want to tell you that, Jack,” I said.

“Liz, I know how bad this must look—”

“No, I really don’t think you do,” I interrupted. “Jack, you’ve lied to me for years—ever since I’ve known you, apparently. I’m not inclined to trust you now.”

“I hated lying to you,” he said, but I wasn’t in the mood.

“Then you shouldn’t have,” I told him flatly. “But I don’t have time for this. Tell me what you know about Langley.”

“I know what he is, and I know that he wants you because you’re looking for him,” Jack said. “And I know he’ll kill to protect himself—that includes you and anyone that stands in his way.”

“What about Max?” I asked, testing him. I knew Langley couldn’t kill Max, but Jack might not know that I knew.

“He can’t kill Max,” he said impatiently. “He doesn’t have the ability—it’s in his genes. But that doesn’t mean he can’t hurt him, and I’m tellin’ you, he’ll want Max out of the way before he makes a move on you. He. . .he thinks the two of you are—I don’t know—connected somehow, and he knows that Max will do anything to protect you.”

“Connected?” I asked. “What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know,” he cried in frustration. “Liz, just tell me where you’re going, and I’ll come to you.”

I took a deep breath. “No. You tell me where Langley’s going to look for us.”

“You are not going after Langley,” he said. “Don’t tell me Evans is gonna let you go after him!”

“Listen to me,” I ordered, suddenly aware that Isabel and Sophie were both staring at me openly while Maria stole glances in the rear view mirror. “I am going to find Langley—with or without you. I am going to get Max out of prison—with or without you. If our friendship ever meant anything to you beyond. . .beyond some twisted game—”

“It was never a game!” he interrupted.

“Then help me!” I demanded furiously. I knew something was about to happen—to Max, to Sophie, to all of us—and I wasn’t about to sit back and wait for it. The more I thought about it, the more I knew it had to be now. Langley had managed to stay hidden for a decade. Next time he would take even more precautions—next time we wouldn’t get the breaks that had allowed us to scare him into action. We had to do this right the first time. I closed my eyes, thinking hard. “Jack, I’m not alone,” I said. “And I’m not exactly helpless, either.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked suspiciously.

“I don’t think I can tell you that,” I said slowly.

“Liz, I swear I’d never hurt you,” he said earnestly, and I very nearly believed him. But I couldn’t risk Sophie’s life—or Max’s—on that.

“I never thought you’d lie to me, either,” I told him. I knew that later, after I’d had time to think, Jack’s deception was going to be devastating. I’d trusted him for so long. . .but I didn’t have time for that right now. “Look, you seem to know what Langley is doing. I need to know how you know that.”

“I’ve been tracking Langley since you told me you were working on Max’s case,” he said. “I knew he’d do something to stop whoever was investigating. I was hoping I’d be able to make him come after me instead of you, but it was too late.”

“Where is he now?” I demanded.

“In LA,” Jack answered. “I’d imagine he’s going to Maria’s house—you stay away from there, you hear me?”

I frowned. I know it was ridiculous of me at that moment, but I hate being told what to do and hearing it from someone who’d lied to me from the moment I met him made me furious. “Where are you going?” I asked harshly.

“Where ever you are,” he answered. “Liz, please. You need help—you can’t do this yourself. I’m telling you the truth here. My family is loyal to Max—”

“You let Max rot in prison for nine years,” I spat furiously. “What kind of loyalty is that?”

“What were we supposed to do—break him out of prison? If he’d wanted out like that, he could have walked out the door any time he wanted to. You know that.”

Okay, that was true. Max himself had admitted that he could get out if he’d wanted—or needed—to. But there had to have been other ways. “I’ve been working on the case for less than a month,” I said stubbornly. “You had ten years. What the hell have you been doing all this time?” I asked.

“We’ve been trying, Liz. I know you might not believe it, but we have.” Jack paused for a second. “Liz, I told Evans earlier, and I’ll tell you now. My family’s loyalty is to him as king. I share that loyalty—but to me that’s secondary. My first loyalty is to you and to Sophie. Please let me help you. I swear I won’t let Langley hurt you.”

“I want to catch him,” I said. “Sophie and I need Max out of prison. If you’re not going to help me with that—”

“I am going to help you with that, Liz,” he interrupted. “The minute you told me you wanted him out, that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”

I paused. He seemed to be telling the truth. Ever since Thanksgiving, Jack had been working hard on Max’s case. Before that. . .Before that he had no reason to think I wanted Max anywhere but far away from me and Sophie. It was true; I had never even mentioned Max’s name to Jack in the years I’d known him. He’d seen me date other people, most notably Thierry, who I realized I’d nearly forgotten about three weeks after I’d actually considered moving to Paris with him.

“Liz, please let me meet you somewhere. If you don’t think I’m telling the truth, you don’t have to tell me where you’re going after that.” He paused for a second. “And I swear to you, I won’t come near Sophie, if that’s what it takes.”

I knew that had to cost him—whatever else I believed, I had to believe that Jack cared for Sophie. No one could be that good an actor. I took a deep breath. “Okay, Jack. Tell me where you’re going to be.”

* * * * *

I hung up several minutes later and gave directions to Maria. “Hurry,” I said, leaning back into my seat wearily. I could only hope I’d made the right decision.

Sophie slid over next to me and leaned her head against me. “Are we goin’ to see Jack?” she asked.

I put an arm around her. I knew she was frightened, and none of us were particularly comforting right now. “Yes, but this time you’re going to stay in the car with Aunt Maria and Aunt Isabel.”

“Why?”

I hesitated. “I need to talk to Jack alone,” I said finally.

She was quiet for a few moments, then she looked up at me seriously. “Mommy, we need to go to Jack.”

The quiet assurance in her eyes threw me. I stared down at her, nodding. “I know. That’s where we’re going,” I said slowly. Was it possible that Sophie knew something—sensed something—that I didn’t?

“Good.” She put her head against me again. “Jack will help us.”

I looked up and caught the question in Isabel’s eyes as she stared at us, but I didn’t have an answer. Leaning back in my seat, I closed my eyes wearily and reached for Max. He was reaching for me, too, and for a moment or two we clung to each other. He was so worried about us that it brought tears to my eyes. I knew that I’d better pray this was over soon, or there would be no talking him out of escape. He was afraid for us, and he was incredibly lonely.

Then I felt something else. Surprise. . .alarm? A burst of adrenaline made my heart pound in my chest and I sat up straight.

“Isabel,” I gasped. “Isabel, call Michael. Something’s wrong with Max.”

“Liz, what—” she began, but I didn’t hear the rest. Max’s heartbeat pounded in my ears and terror shot through him, accompanied by a blinding pain in his head. I felt his desperation as he reached for me, trying to hold on.

Max? Max! I grabbed onto him, and for an instant our bond was so strong that I could almost feel his hands close around mine. Then a searing pain made dark spots dance before my eyes and before I could recover from that, our connection slipped through my fingers and Max was gone.

Max? I reached for him across the distance that separated us, but there was no answer. He wasn’t there. Terror seized my chest and I gasped for breath, felt myself falling into the chasm that had claimed him. And then there was nothing but darkness and empty space and the echo of my daughter’s voice, calling for me.


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 16-Sep-2002 1:08:35 PM ]
posted on 16-Sep-2002 1:07:17 PM by mockingbird39
Part 46


~Max

Michael went to call Liz about half an hour after he'd left them in the parking lot. He promised to come back and tell me what he learned as soon as he could. It had been only a few minutes when another guard came to my cell.

"Work duty, Evans," he said. "Ready to go?"

I'd completely forgotten that I was scheduled to work this afternoon. I stood there frozen for a moment, torn. If I went outside to work the grounds, Michael wouldn't be able to bring me word about Liz and Sophie until I finished later that day. It also was a bad place to get caught alone, in case Jack Collins had been telling the truth and Langley wanted me out of the way before he moved on Liz and Sophie. But if I didn't go, I risked a behavior write-up that could potentially put me into solitary. In solitary, I still might be able to see Liz if she came as my attorney, but other visitors would be prohibited. That meant no Saturdays with Sophie if Liz was able to bring her back, and no phone calls, either. It meant that I wouldn't be able to call them, either, and I couldn't risk that. It would be harder to escape from solitary, too, I thought, knowing that it still might be necessary.

So in the end I went without protest and hoped I'd finish soon. My awareness of Liz still thrummed in my head, strengthened by the intense connection we'd formed this morning. If something happened to her, I'd know. I might not know what, but I'd know.

But Liz would turn right around and come back here if she found out what I was doing.

I walked out to the yard and collected the tools I'd need for the day. It was a beautiful, clear fall day, but all I could concentrate on was Liz. She was agitated and nervous, though not scared, exactly, and I realized again how amazing Liz was. When it came down to the wire, she never flinched. Of course, that also made her liable to go running right into trouble without thinking about her own safety. Be careful, I thought urgently. Please be careful.

I worked for about half an hour, clearing autumn leaves from the grass near the fence, keeping close contact with Liz. She only grew more agitated, and I grew more worried. After a while, I felt her consciously reach for me and I reached out, too, strengthening the already incredibly strong bond that still connected us. I wasn't sure what had caused it—our kiss, the flashes we'd shared, or perhaps just our desperate need for each other—but this morning we'd formed a bond like never before. The only time I remembered being this connected to Liz was the night we'd made love, when her dreams had played in my head all night long. I continued to work, but my awareness of Liz occupied my attention.

I didn't realize my mistake until it was too late. A shadow fell across the grass where I was working and I looked up to see an inmate I didn't know-a tall, muscled guy wearing a bandanna-coming toward me. Two other inmates flanked him, looking at me grimly. I took a step back and realized I was almost at the outer fence.

"Nothin' personal, man," the guy in the middle said casually. "This is strictly a business situation. I got nothin' against you—but somebody sure as hell does."

I looked at the guard tower for help, but there was only a lone man there, and his back was to us. Damn. Damn, damn, damn. I'd walked right into a corner—worse, a corner where I couldn't be seen. "Look, you don't want to do this," I said. "The guy who wants this done will turn on you—you can't trust him."

The leader shook his head, taking out a length of pipe that I guessed was cut from the frame of one of the beds. I had seen weapons like it before, but I'd never had one used against me.

"I don't have to trust him—I just gotta trust his cash, man."

I was backed up against the fence, and they were still advancing. Once before, when I'd been outnumbered like this, I'd managed to use my powers without notice—just to strengthen my punches enough to defend myself. I didn't know if I could do that same thing if they were going to use a weapon, but I had to try anyway.

“You’re getting into something you don’t understand,” I told them, sizing up the situation and stepping to the side.

“Oh, I think I understand just fine,” the leader assured me. “We rough you up, we get paid.” He shrugged. “Like I said, nothin’ personal.”

He lunged at me with his pipe, and I dodged at the last second. He came so close I heard the whistle of air through the hollow pipe, but I managed to deflect him. I put my hand on his chest as though to push him out of the way, and used my powers to send him flying backwards. The other two looked so surprised that for a moment I thought they might let me go, but before I
could act, the larger one grabbed the pipe from his fallen leader’s hand and moved toward me.

The last thing I heard was Liz’s scream of protest, echoing in my head.

* * * * *

~Liz~

“Liz? Liz, come on—I need you to wake up.”

No matter how much I tried to ignore it, the voice pulling me from sleep would not go away. I didn’t want to wake up—I knew that something I didn’t want to face waited for me outside my cocoon of warmth and darkness. But then I heard Sophie’s voice.

“Jack, why doesn’t she wake up?”

Jack? I forced my eyes to open and struggled to sit up as horror descended. Sure enough, Jack was leaning over me, his hands cradling my head.

“Get away from me,” I said, still groggy. I tried to push his hands away, but he wasn’t having it.

“Stay still,” he ordered. “I don’t know exactly what happened to you, but you blacked out. There might be something wrong—”

And then I remembered. “Max!” I cried, pushing Jack away forcefully. “What happened to Max?”

“We don’t know—we can’t get a hold of Michael,” Maria said. I realized I was lying in the back seat of Maria’s SUV, my feet dangling out the open door. Jack had managed to wedge himself between the front and back seats, awkwardly kneeling there beside me. Sophie sat in the front seat in Maria’s arms, and Isabel was beside them, tight-lipped and teary.

“We have to find out what happened to him,” I told them firmly. I looked at Jack, who was watching me grimly. “And you stay the hell away from us,” I added, pointing at him. “Out of the car—I need to talk to you.”

He nodded, resigned. “But first let me make sure you’re not hurt—”

“No,” I interrupted. “I’m fine—and I’ll be better when I find out what’s going on.” He made no move to get out of the car, which angered me enough to bring me out of my daze. “Out,” I ordered again.

This time he followed my instructions, but I ignored the hand he offered to help me up. “Stay here,” I told the others. “Isabel, keep trying Michael.” I slammed the door shut behind me and, squared my shoulders, and motioned to Jack to follow me. I walked far enough away from the car so that Sophie wouldn’t hear if this turned out to be a shouting match, and Jack followed meekly. It was almost funny—I’d never seen Jack take an order so quietly. When we were out of earshot, I turned to face him.

“Where is Langley?” I demanded.

He shook his head. “Somewhere in L.A. I think he’d go to Maria’s first, but I really don’t know.”

“Wheeland is Langley, isn’t he?” I went on, trying to work it all out in my mind.

“Yes,” Jack confirmed. “After you gave me that picture, I sent it to my family and they checked him out. He came out of nowhere ten years ago, and he’s got striking similarities to Langley.”

“You only just realized that?” I asked. “What the hell have you been doing for ten years?”

“Protecting Max,” he retorted, his eyes sparking angrily. “Do you have any idea what kind of position his conviction put my family in? If he’d wanted to break out, we would have helped him do it. But he never tried, so we had to find other ways. We got Guerin the job in the prison so he could keep an eye on Evans, and my father has assisted in every appeal—”

“Well, that was really helpful, wasn’t it?” I interrupted. I stared at him, looking for. . .I don’t know. Antennae, maybe. Something that I had missed that should have told me he wasn’t what he seemed. “What exactly are you?” I asked him. “Are you a shapeshifter?”

He shook his head. “No. This is me—this is what you get,” he said.

I raised an eyebrow. “You’re a skin, then?” I asked, although that didn’t make sense, either. I’d known Jack for almost six years by then and I’ve watched as he’s grown older—complete with a sprinkling of gray in his dark hair.

Now he looked insulted. “No, of course not. I’m a hybrid—like Evans and the others.”

That was rich. “You are nothing like Max Evans,” I spat angrily. “Do you hear me? Nothing. Max never lied to me about who he was.”

“And what would you have done if I had told you?” he demanded, angry now, too. “Are you tellin’ me you wouldn’t have run away and never come back?”

“That should have been my decision,” I told him. “You shouldn’t have gone around stalking me—”

“It was an accident that we met, Liz,” he said seriously. “I mean, I knew who you were. I’d seen your picture in the newspapers during Max’s trial, but I didn’t know you were in Boston—let alone that you were at Harvard. And we sure didn’t know about Sophie. I didn’t even know for sure if she was Max’s until my grandfather met her.”

That had been almost a year after I first met Jack. “You must have guessed,” I said.

He shrugged. “I wondered. But we didn’t know how it would have happened—we still don’t know that.” He looked at me questioningly, but I wasn’t about to tell him about the one night Max had spent in my arms all those years ago. Finally, he went on. “Once we knew there was an heir, we had no choice but to protect her, too.”

“You mean like you protected Max by keeping him in prison all these years?” I shot back.

“We’ve been trying to get him out through every legal means—”

“Max’s own lawyers have been working on that angle,” I interrupted. “You could have been tracking Langley all this time—you could have freed him years ago!” Anger made my heart pound at the thought of that—at the thought that I had been so close to a means to free Max, and never realized it. All the years we had missed together. . .all the precious time we could have spent as a family—and all this time Max had been in prison while his “protectors” enjoyed their freedom at his expense. “Goddamn you, you let him rot in there all these years! And now something’s happened to him and I can’t get to him and you stand here talking to me about ‘every legal means?’” I exploded, and before I thought that it might not be a good idea, I slapped him as hard as I could across the face.

He said nothing, just worked his jaw once or twice and I realized how hard I’d hit him—my hand print was starting to appear on his face, outlined in red. I froze for a moment, afraid of what he might do in return. That was a new feeling; in all the years I’ve known Jack, I’ve never been afraid of him.

“Jack, just tell me where to find Langley,” I said in a low voice. “If you really care about any of us, tell me where to find him.”

He took a deep breath. “I don’t know, Liz. I thought he’d be at Maria’s—but unless he’s been there and gone. . .” He stared at nothing for a second, thinking. “Maybe Michael’s. It would make sense for you to go there.”

“Then we’re going to Michael’s,” I said firmly, though I was nearly shaking at the thought of facing down the man who held all our futures in his hands.

“I’m going with you,” he told me, and I knew the stubborn look on his face. He wasn’t going to back down, and I knew I was going to need him, anyway.

“Fine. You can follow us.” I turned to go, praying Isabel had been able to reach Michael. I got back into the car, and when I looked back, I saw Jack getting into his Porsche.

Maria turned to look at me. “Well? Where are we going?”

“Michael’s,” I said shortly. “Isabel, did you. . .?”

She shook her head. “No. Did you feel anything else?”

I shook my head, too. “No.” The blankness where he should have been was the most complete I’d felt since I landed in LA nearly two weeks ago. Before, when one or both of us was fighting it, it had still thrummed below the surface, refusing to be ignored. And when I’d gone to Roswell, I’d known still felt him there, just out of my reach. But now there was simply nothing, and I was terrified.

“Mommy, is Daddy okay?” Sophie asked fearfully.

I hugged her close. “Michael’s with him,” I said, wishing I could say more to reassure her. “They’ll take care of each other.”

“I want to go see Daddy,” she whimpered. “He wants to be with us, too—he said so.”

“I know, baby,” I soothed, smoothing her hair. “I want to be with Daddy, too. But right now we have to go to Michael’s.”

“Why are we going to Michael’s?” Maria wanted to know.

“Jack thinks Langley might go there,” I answered. I felt Sophie tense beside me, and I wondered how much of this she understood.

Maria looked at me in the rearview mirror. “Liz, if Langley’s going there, shouldn’t we be going in the opposite direction?” she asked.

“Not if we want to catch him,” I told her. I looked at Isabel, who nodded, her jaw set. It might have been more ideal to wait for Michael, but we didn’t have that luxury. It was now or never—we had to get to Langley before he got to us.

* * * * *

We drove to Michael’s, fighting traffic all over the freeway. I was grateful Maria was driving, because it gave me time to think about what I would do when we got there. I decided we’d park a block or two away from Michael’s house and leave Sophie with Maria and Isabel while Jack and I checked the place out. After that. . .after that I had no idea. We would keep calling Michael, of course. I had to find out what had happened to Max—soon. If we couldn’t reach Michael, we’d have to go back to the prison and pound on someone’s door until they told us what was going on. I couldn’t wait much longer.

“We’re almost there,” Maria said. I recognized the neighborhood from last week, when I’d driven there to meet Michael. I glanced behind us and saw Jack’s Porsche a car behind us.

“Pull up to the corner over there and turn around so you can see anyone driving onto the street,” I instructed. Jack went past us, past Michael’s house, parking his car behind a beat-up Jeep Cherokee at the opposite end of the street. A second later, my phone rang.

“Hello?”

“I’m going to check out the house,” Jack said without preamble. “Did you get a hold of Guerin?”

“No,” I answered, “and I’m going with you.”

“It’s safer if you stay in the car until I know—”

“If you go in there and get ambushed we’ve got no connection to Langley,” I interrupted. “Go around to the back—there’s patio doors back there. We’ll go in from there.”

“I wish you’d stay back until I check it out,” he said.

“Just go around the back, Jack,” I told him.

He did as I said, and in a few moments we were standing on either side of Michael’s patio doors. “Are you okay?” Jack asked in a low voice.

I looked at him in disbelief. “Do I look okay?” I hissed back.

He grimaced. “Sorry. How do you want to do this?”

“I want to check out the house. Do you think he’s inside?”

Jack shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“I thought you knew where he was going,” I said.

“I knew Wheeland left New York for Los Angeles this morning,” he told me. “He has to be coming for you—and Evans, too.”

“How did you find that out?” I demanded.

“Flight manifest,” he answered. “I sent my detective to New York this weekend and he located Wheeland’s apartment. My guy was watching this morning when Wheeland left his apartment and went to La Guardia. He got on a plane to Dallas, and when we checked the manifests out of there, we found him on a plane to LAX.”

“You didn’t know where he was before this weekend?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No. We’ve been looking for Langley for years, but we never knew about this Wheeland guy—he’s only mentioned in the will.”

“And none of you thought to look at it?” I persisted, and he shook his head again. “Are all of you profoundly stupid?”

“Are resources are stretched a little thin,” he retorted. “With Evans in California and his sister in Chicago—”

“You watched Isabel, too?”

“Of course. She’s one of the Royal—”

“—Royal Four, yes, I know,” I interrupted.

“And then there’s you and Sophie in St. Petersburg,” he continued, and I felt my face flush with anger.

“You’ve watched us all this time?” I asked him.

He realized what he’d said, and winced. “Well. . .Sophie is Evans’s heir. She had to be protected.”

“When this is over,” I said, amazed how calm my voice sounded, “you call off your spies. We don’t need you, and I’m not going to spend the rest of my life wondering if I’m being watched. Do you understand?”

“It’s not my decision,” he protested.

“I don’t give a damn whose decision it is,” I told him flatly. “You tell them to stay the hell away from us.”

His look was rebellious. “Let’s talk about this later, okay? Right now we need to check out the house.” Without waiting for an answer, he placed his hand over the lock on the door and used his powers to open it. We slipped inside together and shut the door behind us. The house was dim and silent, and I could hear every creak and groan of the floor as we walked.

“Stay behind me,” Jack ordered quietly. He reached out to take my arm and push me behind him, but I flinched away. In the dim light from the windows, I could see the flash of hurt that crossed his face, but he said nothing.

Michael’s house was one floor, an open plan where the living room opened into the kitchen and den. We checked those rooms first, then headed for the two bedrooms. One was obviously Michael’s—the bed was unmade and several articles of clothing were draped across the back of a chair. That room was empty, too, and we moved on to the other bedroom, which he apparently used for storage. A foosball table stood in one corner, surrounded by boxes and other paraphenalia. I wondered briefly how long Michael had lived here, because it didn’t look like he’d ever quite finished unpacking.

“Bathroom?” Jack asked, once we’d ascertained that this room was empty, too.

I nodded and followed him to the last door in the hallway. He checked behind the door and pulled back the shower curtain, but there was no one there, either. Langley either hadn’t gotten here yet, or he’d already left.

“Now what?” I asked as we went back to the living room. I didn’t wait for Jack’s answer—didn’t really want one, anyway. “I have to get a hold of Michael. I need to know what happened to Max.”

“I told you, Langley can’t kill him—he’s got to be all right.”

“He couldn’t do it himself,” I said, “but could he get someone else to?”

Jack thought for a moment. “I don’t think so. He couldn’t give the order.”

“But if someone got carried away—”

Jack’s eyes widened. “Liz, you don’t think Evans is. . .”

I closed my eyes and thought back to that night in Vermont when I’d felt Max die. That night I’d felt something taken away—something wrenched from the very center of my soul. Slowly, I shook my head. “No. No, he’s alive. He’s just. . .he’s hurt. I know he’s hurt and he can’t reach out to me.” The more I concentrated on the blankness where Max should have been, the more desperation clawed at me. “Jack, I have to get to him—I have to find out what happened to him.”

Jack nodded sympathetically. “I know. Look, Langley’s not here. What if I wait for him here and you go back to the prison with Sophie and the others?”

That was exactly what I wanted to do, but there was more at stake here. “What are you going to do if Langley comes? You can’t kill him—we need him to confess so we can get Max out of prison.”

He gave a frustrated sigh. “Liz, I don’t know how we’re going to get him to do that. I mean, Evans can order him to confess, but that would mean getting the two of them close enough—”

“And you really don’t think I’d be stupid enough to let that happen, do you?”

I spun around as another, unfamiliar voice split the silence in the room. A short, bald man in a tan suit stood near the patio doors, smirking at us from behind dark sunglasses. I froze, unable to breathe.

Langley

posted on 19-Sep-2002 7:39:25 AM by mockingbird39
Part 47


~Maria~

It started to rain as we sat in the car waiting for Liz and Jack.

Perfect, I told myself, reaching for my cell phone to dial Michael again. This day started pretty damn near the bottom of the hill, but apparently we still had room to fall.

“He’s not answering,” I told Isabel a moment later, hitting “end” on my phone with a sharp poke.

“Maybe he turned it off,” Isabel said worriedly.

I shook my head. “He wouldn’t. Not now.” We were quiet for a moment, then I looked back at Sophie. She was curled up on the seat, hugging her knees to her chest and staring out the window. We could see the front of Michael’s house from here, though the windows were dark. “You doing okay back there?” I asked her.

She nodded slightly, her dark eyes enormous in her pale little face. “When Mommy and Jack come back, can we go back and see my daddy?” she wanted to know.

Isabel and I exchanged a glance. “I don’t know,” I admitted finally. “Maybe you can talk to him later.”

“Why won’t Michael answer his phone?” she asked, looking from me to Isabel.

“He. . .he gets busy sometimes,” Isabel said slowly. “He’ll answer sooner or later.”

Sophie went back to staring out the window. “Yeah,” she said shortly, and I couldn’t tell if she believed it or not.

I looked over at Isabel apprehensively. “How long do we wait here?”

She seemed as frightened as I felt. “I don’t know,” she said. “We can’t leave—” She paused, glancing back at Sophie, and lowered her voice. “—we can’t leave Liz here with Jack.”

“But we can’t go get her, either,” I finished. “We can’t take Sophie into that house.”

Isabel looked at her watch. “They’ve only been gone ten minutes.”

Ten minutes? It seemed like an hour. “I wish Michael would pick up,” I murmured, staring at my cell phone, resisting the urge to check that it was on. I’d checked three times since Liz disappeared into the house with Jack.

I stared outside at the raindrops beading on the windshield and wondered what the hell we would do if Liz didn’t come back out of that house. Why the hell had I let her go in there, anyway? Oh, right—I’ve tried arguing with Liz before. It doesn’t do much good anymore.

“Twelve minutes,” Isabel murmured.

Twelve. “Five more and we try to call her cell,” I told her.

“Okay.”

I looked back at Sophie again. “Do you want to come up here with us?” I asked her.

She considered it, started to nod, then changed her mind. “No. I’ll stay here.”

“Okay,” I said, checking to make sure all the doors were locked. I’d left the ignition running so that we could get out of there in a hurry if we had to.

We were sitting in heavy silence when the phone in my hand rang. Finally, I thought, hitting the “talk” button even before the number had a chance to show up on the display. God, this had better be Michael.

“Hello?” I asked.

“Maria? Maria, it’s Michael. Put Liz on the phone.”

“Michael, what’s going on?” I demanded. “Liz said something—” I glanced back at Sophie, but by now she knew what was up anyway. “She said something happened to Max. Is he okay? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he said, then paused. “Max is. . .Max was attacked in the yard. They’re taking him to the hospital.”

“What?!” I nearly shrieked. “Michael, is he okay? What happened?”

“Put Liz on,” he said again. “I need to talk to her.”

“Michael, I can’t,” I said. “Liz went to check out your house with Jack.”

“What?!” He sounded furious. “She’s with Jack? What are you doing at my house?”

“Jack thought Langley might come here,” I explained. “He and Liz went in to make sure it was clear.”

“Why did they do that?” he roared.

“Because Liz thinks this is our only chance to get Langley,” I said, beginning to see the ridiculousness of her plan. What was she supposed to do against Langley? “Michael, is Max going to be okay?”

I heard a thousand answers in the pause before he spoke. “He’s hurt bad,” he said finally.

“But—”

“Get Liz and get over to Mercy Hospital,” he said. “She brought him back before.”

I closed my eyes. He didn’t mean that Max might not make it, did he? “Michael,” I began, then I felt Sophie’s hand on my shoulder.

“Aunt Maria,” she said urgently, and I turned to look back at her. “Aunt Maria, we have to get Mommy.”

“Baby, we can’t go in there,” I told her quickly. “Mommy will come back out to us.”

“No, we have to go now,” she insisted. “Aunt Isabel, please,” she added, turning to Isabel.

“Is something wrong, Sophie?” Isabel asked, clearly torn between what Michael was telling me on the phone and what Sophie was trying to say.

Sophie’s eyes were wide with fear and she gripped my shoulder hard. “Aunt Maria, we have to go now,” she said.

“Maria, what’s going on?” Michael demanded. “Is she okay?”

But I never got to answer. At that moment, a burst of green light lit the windows of Michael’s house, and blew out the glass in a huge bang that shook the car.

Sophie screamed. “Mommy!” she cried, and then before Isabel or I could stop her, she had wrenched open her door and was running for the house.

* * * * *

~Liz~

“Well, well.” Langley took off his sunglasses and stepped toward us with a smirk. “If it isn’t the soulmate and her devoted puppy. How did she talk you into this one?” he asked Jack.

Jack pushed me behind him, and this time I didn’t protest. “She asked,” he said flatly.

“Such selflessness,” Langley sighed mockingly. “Of course, you can afford to be selfless now that she’s shot you down so completely. How long have you been chasing after her now? Five years? Six?” He looked at me and I tensed, feeling electricity surge in my fingers. “Great story, isn’t it? Maybe I’ll even turn it into a musical. . .the bodyguard who fell in love with the king’s woman. Tres romantic, yes? Could be bigger than Cats.

“You’re not getting her,” Jack ground out. “You’re not getting Evans, either.”

“Oooh, wrong again.” Langley seemed to be enjoying himself. “Max Evans is out of commission. Just like you will be in. . .oh, another minute or so.”

“If you touch either of them, I will hunt you down,” Jack said with deadly calm. “I will hunt you down and when I find you, you’ll beg me to kill you.”

“Oh, yeah—this part needs a song all its own! Hail the great protector, the queen’s knight in shining armor.” Langley crowed. “Beautiful—keep it coming!” He paused, smirking again. “Tell me the truth—did you ever get anything for your trouble? A little after-hours tumble with the king’s woman? Or were you too afraid she’d call his name?”

“What did you do to Max?” I demanded, pushing past Jack, who stepped in front of me again without missing a beat.

“Me? Not a thing.” The grin left his face. “Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed pounding the shit out of His Majesty myself.” His eyes glittered hard and cold. “But I left that to some very capable felons.”

“You can’t kill him,” I said. “You’re not allowed.”

He smiled again. “Sadly, no. But who knows what three convicted murderers can do in the heat of the moment?”

My head felt light. “He’s not dead,” I murmured. “I know he’s alive.”

“Yeah?” Langley asked. “For how long?” He raised his eyebrows. “Think he’ll live long enough to feel you die? How about your baby girl?”

“No!”

The word felt ripped from my throat and for the second time in the past few hours I acted before I thought. I felt energy surge through my whole body and I raised my hand, pointing it at the center of Langley’s chest. Green light exploded from my palm with a deafening boom and hit Langley just where I’d aimed. It knocked him off his feet and sent him flying through the air straight into the wall beside the front door. In the same instant, the windows at the front of the house shattered, spewing tiny pieces of glass all the way to the street. Jack was knocked off his feet, and when the light faded, I found him lying there standing at me in amazement.

“Liz,” he mumbled, struggling to sit up. “Liz, how did you—”

And then Langley began to laugh, the most frightening sound I’d ever heard. “Whew,” he chuckled, getting to his feet and shaking himself off. “Look at you—somebody’s been borrowing powers. Didn’t know you had it in you, Counselor. Not too surprised, though. That’s why I had to make sure Evans was down for the count.” I guess my confusion showed on my face, because he seemed amused. “What? You didn’t think you could bring me down on your own, did you? With Evans, you might have had a shot. Depends on how strong you’re bonded. My guess? Pretty strong.”

I swore under my breath. Three hours ago Max and I had been so intensely connected I could feel his heartbeat. But now. . .now as I frantically reached for him, there was nothing.

Langley wasn’t finished. “Didn’t know you had powers,” he said. “That makes things interesting.” He laughed to himself. “Always knew I liked you. You’ve got spunk—that’s why I didn’t kill you all these years. Well,” he amended, shrugging, “that, and I figured Evans screwed you over so bad you’d want him to suffer as much as I did.” He looked thoughtful. “Does he know about the kid yet? ‘Cause if not, I’ll be sure to tell him before he kicks off. That’ll be a real Hallmark moment.”

I was trembling, but I managed to keep my voice steady. “Max is not going to die,” I said, biding my time until I could get my powers to surge again, “and you are not getting anywhere near my daughter.”

He advanced slowly, swaggering, his eyes locked on me. “What are you going to do?” he asked as Jack struggled to his feet.

“Stay away—” he began, but with a casual wave of his hand Langley sent Jack sprawling again.

“Are you going to kill me?” he asked calmly, then smiled. “Do that and even if your one true love manages to survive he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison.” He shook his head. “You don’t have it in you.”

Jack managed to send a bolt of energy, but the shapeshifter deflected it with one of his own and went on as if nothing had happened. “You know what your problem is?” he asked. “You still believe in the happy ending. You think you and Evans are going to ride off into the sunset together with your darling little girl and live happily ever after.” Jack moved toward him again and Langley sent an end table flying into him, pinning him against the wall. “But you should know by now,” he said. “There ain’t no happy ending, Counselor. True love dies, white horses get dirty, and soulmates. . .well, we both know what soulmates do, don’t we?”

I raised my hand as he got closer and but only a tiny flash of green shot from my hand. I’d wiped myself out with that first blast. “Don’t come near me,” I warned. “Don’t—”

Jack had freed himself and dove at Langley, but once again the shapeshifter deflected him without breaking stride. Then I was staring into Langley’s cold, dark eyes. “Are you thinking about him?” he asked softly. “Thinking about what he did to you? Good.” And then his hand closed around my throat, cutting off my air. I couldn’t push him away—he was too strong. Frantically, I reached for Max, but there was only blankness where he should have been. Black spots started to appear before my eyes and I thought of Sophie—of every moment I’d ever spent with her.

I love you, I thought.

“Get away from her! Get off, get off—get off!

I struggled to open my eyes as I heard Sophie’s voice. Langley’s hands dropped from my neck as though my skin had burned him, and cool, clean air flooded my lungs. I slumped to the floor, choking and clutching my throat.

Sophie stood just inside the doorway, pointing one small finger at Langley. “Get away!” she cried, as Isabel burst through the door and grabbed Sophie around the waist.

“Get her out of here,” I ordered hoarsely, but Sophie was fighting with every bit of strength, kicking and clawing at Isabel.

“Put me down!” she shouted. “Mommy—”

“Go with Isabel,” I cried, getting to my feet. “Go—”

“Liz, wait.”

Jack had managed to get to his feet again. I glanced at him and dimly realized that he was bleeding from a cut over his eye. He put a hand on my arm, pointing to Langley.

“No.” Langley shook his head, and a hysterical laugh broke from his mouth. “No, she’s not the heir. The heir is the other one—the one he wanted to save.” He lunged toward Jack and I again, but Sophie cried out.

“No—no, don’t touch them!”

And Langley fell back, his eyes glittering murder at my daughter. “This can’t be—this isn’t happening,” he muttered.

“She’s the heir—next in line to the throne of Antar,” Jack breathed softly in my ear. “He has to do what she says.”

But she wasn’t. That title belonged to Max’s other child—Tess’s son, the child we’d never seen.

“Sophie,” Jack said, moving slowly toward her and dragging me with him, “this is the man who hurt your father—he’s the reason your father is in prison. You can make him help your daddy get out. He has to do what you say.”

Sophie was staring wide-eyed at the scene before her. “What?” she asked.

“Sophie, tell him to stay here—tell him not to run,” Jack said quickly, as Langley realized his mistake and tried to take off.

“Don’t run away,” she called after him, and he stopped in his tracks. By then I’d come to my senses and run to her, putting my arms around her and holding her tightly. When Langley turned to face us, I turned, sheilding her with my body.

“No,” he said again, pointing at Sophie. “You’re not the heir!” he shouted angrily.

“Jack, she isn’t,” I whispered urgently. “There’s another child—Max has a son.”

Jack shook his head. “The shapeshifters were bound only to the king—and to his heir. His direct heir. Sophie has to be it.”

“What happened to the other one?” Langley demanded. He was flushed, nearly shaking with rage. “You can’t do this,” he said, pointing to Sophie. “What happened to the boy?!”

I backed away, cradling my daughter against me. She was trembling, but I could tell from the stubborn set of her chin that she wasn’t about to back down.

She pushed away from me. “You made my father go to prison,” she said furiously, her eyes flashing.

“Sophie, he can help get him out, too,” Jack told her, never taking his eyes from Langley. He stepped in front of us, sheilding us from anything Langley might try.

“How?” Sophie demanded.

Cautiously, still keeping an eye on Langley, Jack backed toward us. “Maria, call the police,” he instructed, and it was only then that I realized she stood in the doorway next to Isabel. Then he knelt down next to Sophie and me. “Okay, Sophie, here’s what I need you to do.” He began talking to her in a low voice, instructing her what to tell Langley.

As Sophie began to repeat his orders, I dimly heard Maria’s voice. “Michael? Michael, I have to call you back. I think. . .I think it’s over.”

But it wasn’t over.

As I knelt there on the floor with Sophie in my arms, I knew that it wouldn’t be over until we were with Max again. Tears stung my eyes as I reached for him again, straining with all my might. Max, please. Please— And then I felt it. Weak and far away, tenuous as a spider’s web, but it was there. Liz? Relief washed over me in a wave so strong that I began to shake.

“Mommy?” Sophie asked uncertainly, looking into my eyes.

“It’s okay,” I assured her, holding her tightly. “Daddy’s okay. He’s going to be okay.”


posted on 22-Sep-2002 2:30:07 AM by mockingbird39
Part 48


~Liz~

Michael was waiting for us outside the hospital. Maria let Isabel, Sophie, and me out of the car near the front door, probably figuring the three of us would jump whether or not she slowed down. I spotted him as we pulled up to the curb and I was out of the car almost before Maria managed to bring it to a stop.

“Michael!” I called, running up to him. “Michael, is he okay?”

I skidded on the rain-slick tiles outside the hospital entrance, and just like he had a month before when I chased him down the stairs in Petersburg, Michael caught me before I could fall. “Slow down,” he said. “Are you all right?”

“Michael, where is he?” I demanded. “How’s he doing?” Max’s touch on my mind had gotten stronger in the two hours since I’d first felt it, but I needed to know for sure. It had killed me to wait while the police came to take Langley away and get our statements, but I knew I had no choice—not if I wanted Max home as soon as possible. Now, though, I couldn’t wait another minute.

“He’s going to be okay,” Michael finally assured me. “He’s sleeping—they gave him some pretty heavy drugs.”

“Can I see him?”

“I know the guy guarding the door,” Michael said. “I think I can get you in.”

“I want to see him, too,” Sophie cried. She was right beside me, clinging to my hand.

Michael knelt. “Hey, are you okay?” he asked, clearly looking her over. He frowned anxiously, smoothing her hair and checking her for scrapes and bruises. “I heard you saved the day—I’m proud of you. And your dad will be, too.” He hesitated a moment, then pulled her into a bear hug. “But don’t you ever do anything like that again, you hear me?” he added sternly.

“Okay,” she said, her voice muffled against his shoulder. “Michael, can I please see my dad now?”

He sighed heavily as he released her. “I’m gonna do what I can, Sophie. Can you hang on for a little while?”

She sighed, too. “I guess,” she said reluctantly. “But can you tell him I’m here?”

“He’s sleeping right now,” Michael told her, “but I’ll tell him as soon as he wakes up. I know he can’t wait to see you, too. He’s been worried about you.”

“Is he gonna be okay?”

Michael nodded firmly. “Yes. I promise.” He stood up, glancing at Isabel. “Hi, Iz. You doin’ okay?”

“I’ve been better,” she admitted. Michael hugged her briefly, then offered Sophie his hand.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go upstairs.”

* * * * *

We left Sophie and Isabel in the waiting room and Michael led me to the end of a hallway, where a guard sat outside a closed door. Just before we reached it, I remembered something that had me on the edge of panic.

“Michael, did they draw blood? They must have. They’ll figure out—”

“Taken care of,” Michael interrupted calmly.

I stared at him blankly. “How?”

He cracked a small, ironic smile. “You know how we can change the molecular structure of things.”

I nodded, remembering a bottle of ketchup that turned to mustard before my eyes, and blue fingernail polish just the shade of my favorite sandals. “Yes.”

He shrugged. “Works on blood samples, too. I don’t know why we never thought of it years ago.”

I stared, remembering the circus tricks we’d had to play at the hospital ten years ago after Max and I had been in that car accident. “Are you sure it works?” I asked.

He nodded. “Yeah. I did it a few years ago when he—well, when he needed to go to the infirmary at the prison.” He didn’t tell me why, but I wondered if it had something to do with the scar on Max’s face, or if there were other injuries he’d never told me about.

But right then I had enough to worry about.

“This is his lawyer,” Michael announced as we reached the door, nodding at me.

The guard on duty frowned a little. “He’s unconscious—they drugged him up pretty good.”

“Then he won’t be tryin’ to escape, will he?” Michael asked, managing to sound casual.

The other man looked at me and I felt a slow blush creep over my cheeks. I’d caught a brief glimpse of myself on the elevator ride up—my hair was damp and messy, my clothes were rumpled, and I had an impressive set of bruises around my throat. I nervously adjusted my collar, hoping it covered at least some of the purple and green marks there.

“I guess not,” the guard said slowly. He shrugged and nodded in the direction of the door.

“I’ll wait with Sophie,” Michael said, giving me a gentle push toward the door. He looked anxious to get back there to her, too, and I felt a rush of love for Michael. He cared so much for my daughter. . .for all of us.

“Thanks, Michael,” I murmured, forcing the words past the lump in my throat. He nodded and turned to go as I put my hand on the doorknob.

Michael had said he was sleeping, and through our connection I could tell he was right. So I slipped inside as quietly as I could, closing the door carefully behind me.

Max was handcuffed to the bed.

That was the first thing I noticed, before the cuts and bruises all over his face, before the bandages wrapped tight around his torso and the sling that secured his right arm. He was hurt and unconscious, and they still believed he had to be restrained like some wild animal. Tears sprang to my eyes, but I blinked them back and went closer to the bed, dropping into the hard plastic chair beside it. It was obvious that Max had been beaten badly. He had deep cuts on his face, and there was a bandage covering part of his hairline. His lip was split, and bruises ranged all over his face. I guessed that the bandage around his torso meant that one or more of his ribs were broken, but I had no way of knowing how badly his right arm, which lay in a sling across his chest, was injured. Gently, afraid to wake him or to hurt him even more, I touched his hand—the one cuffed to the bed rail—and folded both of mine around it. He didn’t stir, so I dared lean down close to him and rub my cheek against the back of his hand. His fingers were slack in mine, but still warm and familiar.

I’m here, I told him silently, reaching out to smooth his hair from his forehead. Max, I’m here. Carefully, avoiding the bruises and contusions, I planted a gentle kiss on his forehead and even before he stirred, I felt him begin to wake up.

It took him a moment to open his eyes; later, when I found out what kind of medication he was on, I was amazed he’d managed to do it at all. He drew a deep breath, winced, and turned his head to look at me.

“Liz?” he murmured groggily. He reached for me, seeming confused when the handcuffs kept him from touching me. I quickly put my hand in his again.

“Shh,” I said softly, “don’t talk. It’s okay. I’m here now.”

But as he slowly came awake, remembering what had happened, he became more agitated. “Sophie?” he asked thickly, having difficulty forming her name with his swollen lips.

“She’s okay,” I assured him, leaning close to his face. “She was wonderful.”

His eyes roamed my face. “You?” he persisted, clearing his throat. “You all right?”

I nodded. “I’m fine, Max.” I smiled at him, but I couldn’t keep the tears from my eyes. “We got him, Max. We got Langley. He’s in custody right now.”

He stared at me. “What? How?”

“It was Sophie. Langley had to obey her—like he had to obey you.”

He tried to sit up. “He got near her—did he hurt her?” he demanded.

“No,” I said quickly. “No, Max. She’s fine. She’s here—she’s with Michael and Isabel. She wants to see you.”

His eyes were dark with worry. “How did he get to her? Did you. . .” His face went gray and he tried to sit up again. “Did he find you? How did he find you?”

“Max, calm down,” I told him. “Everything’s okay now.” I gently pushed him back down, then stroked his face. “It’s all over. He can’t ever hurt us again.” I leaned over him, trying to smile, and met his gaze. “See? Everything’s okay.”

“How?” he wanted to know. “Tell me what happened.”

“Max, you should rest,” I said.

He gripped my hand tightly. “Please, Liz. Just tell me what happened.”

I took a deep breath. I knew he wouldn’t rest until he knew what had happened, but I wasn’t altogether sure that he would rest once I told him, either. But I couldn’t hold back when he lay there staring at me so desperately, and finally I nodded. “Okay. But. . .just remember—it’s over now. Everyone’s okay.” Watching him carefully, I told him the whole story—from the time I left him in the prison, right up to the moment the police had taken Langley away. A few times he got so upset I almost stopped, but each time he begged me to continue and I couldn’t refuse him. The only thing I left out was the apparent disappearance of his son from the line of succession. I’d tell him about it sooner or later, when I had more information and he wasn’t lying in a hospital bed driving himself crazy with worry. When I finished, he closed his eyes.

“You could have been killed—both of you,” he murmured. He paused for a second, his face twisting in anguish. “Liz, don’t you know how much I need you to be safe?”

“We are, Max,” I whispered, leaning close to him. I knew he wanted to touch me, and I’d never wanted to be held more. But the handcuffs and his injured arm held him back, and it was killing both of us. Finally, I crossed to his other side, lowered the bed rail, and carefully lay down next to him. He turned his head to face me as I gingerly laid my arm across his chest, avoiding his bandaged ribs and his injured arm. “We’re safe now,” I said, and gently kissed his forehead. “Now all we need is for you to get better. I already started drafting your pardon request. I’ll finish it as soon as I get my laptop, then I’ll fax it to the governor.”

His eyes were hopeful, but I could feel his caution, his unwillingness to give in to the promise. “What if he says no?” he asked softly.

“He won’t, Max—he can’t,” I said quickly. I raised my hand to his face, caressing his jaw. “Don’t say it.”

He turned his face into my palm, pressing a gentle kiss there. “I just don’t want—”

“Max, hush. This is going to work. Maria’s going to get my laptop and my notes, and I’ll finish the request here. You just relax and get better. Leave this to me.” I looked into his eyes, nodding firmly. “Trust me.”

He nodded. “Okay,” he murmured, and I could feel him giving in, putting his trust in me. I was determined not to fail him on this. But at that moment, he needed more than my legal training. I curled up closer to him, stroking his face. “I love you,” I said softly, trailing my fingers down his jaw, and he smiled weakly.

“I love you, too,” he answered. I laid my arm across his chest again, wishing I could hold him in my arms. I had to settle for lying very close, my forehead resting lightly against his. He stirred a little, shifting his injured arm as he reached for my hand. He winced, a small hiss of pain escaping his lips, and I quickly slipped my hand beneath his.

“You’re in pain,” I said quietly, feeling tears fringe my eyes. “How bad is it?”

He tried to play it off. “It’s not bad,” he said. “I’m fine.” I said nothing, just raised my eyebrows, and he smiled ruefully. “Better now,” he amended. “Better with you here like this.”

“Can’t you heal it?” I asked quietly.

“I tried,” he answered. “I can’t get my powers to do what I want. I think it’s my head—maybe when I’m not so tired.”

“You need to sleep,” I told him. “I should go check on Sophie and see if Maria—”

“No, don’t go,” he interrupted. “Please just stay for a while.” His eyes were dark and pleading. “I want you to stay.”

There was no way I could refuse that. I nodded and gently kissed his lips. “Okay. Okay, Max. I’m not going anywhere. I promise.”

He looked relieved. “Thank you. I just. . .I don’t want to let go of you yet.”

“Promise me you’ll sleep?” I asked. “I need you to get better.”

“Okay,” he agreed easily. I didn’t think he would be able to fight it much longer—his eyes were heavy with sleep. “But you’ll wake me up if—”

He stopped when a light knock sounded at the door, and I scrambled off the bed, getting to my feet just as the door opened and Michael stuck his head inside.

“Hey,” he said in a low voice. “Good—you’re awake. I told Capelli I’d watch the door while he went for some coffee,” he told us. “I don’t know how long he’ll be gone, but somebody out here really wants to see you.”

Max managed to smile. “Bring her in,” he said, then he hesitated. “Michael, could you do something about. . .?” he asked quietly, and rattled the handcuffs that secured him to the bedrail.

Michael nodded quickly, glancing back outside. “Sure,” he said. He hurried to Max’s side and used his powers to unlock the cuffs. “We’ll have to put ‘em back on,” he reminded reluctantly.

“I know,” Max agreed. “I just didn’t want her to see.”

“Right.” Michael paused, an unmistakable flash of sadness passing through his eyes, then he went back to the door and opened it a little further. “Come on, Soph.”

She walked inside, looking very small and scared. “Daddy?” she asked, her eyes wide as she looked at him.

Max held out his now-free hand. “Sophie, come here, sweetheart,” he said, smiling at her. “I’ve been waiting to see you.” She crossed to his side and he touched her face, his hand lingering tenderly. “Don’t be scared,” he told her softly. “I’m okay. Come here—come sit by me.” He glanced at me, and I lowered the other bed rail and then lifted Sophie up to sit on the edge of his bed. She sat there looking at him for a long moment and he let her, remaining silent until she spoke.

“Did that man hurt you, too?” she asked, her voice wavering.

“Yes,” he answered honestly, “but he can’t ever hurt me or you or any of us again.” He smiled at her, but I knew he was struggling to hold back his emotion. “Mommy told me what you did today—I’m so proud of you.”

All at once Sophie’s eyes filled with tears. “He was hurting Mommy,” she said, sniffling, “and Jack couldn’t get up. I didn’t know what to do.”

Max reached for her, pulling her down to hold her against his chest. I saw him wince as she leaned against his ribs, but I wouldn’t have stopped her for the world. He held her, murmuring words of comfort and smoothing her hair. “You were so brave,” he whispered. “You did exactly right—you saved all of us. I’m so proud of you, Sophie.”

“But he hurt you,” she whimpered. “He hurt you anyway.”

“Sophie, I promise you—I’ll be fine. It’ll be okay. You’ll see.”

“Are you coming home with us now?” she wanted to know.

Max kissed her forehead. “Soon,” he told her. “Soon.” He closed his eyes as he lay there, cradling our daughter against his chest, and much of the tension in his face drained away. Sophie lay very still against him, stroking his injured arm with gentle fingers.

“Daddy?” she said quietly, and he murmured in answer. “Do you want me to fix your arm?”

Max’s eyes snapped open and he looked at me in surprise. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an answer. Our eyes held for a long moment, then he looked at Sophie. “Do you know how to do that, Sophie?” he asked softly.

She remained where she was, curled against his shoulder. “I think so,” she said cautiously. Her small hand roamed carefully over his forearm. “It feels. . .it feels wrong. Right here.” She hovered a hand over a spot near his elbow. “It’s broken right here.” She lightly laid her hand over that spot and her brow furrowed in concentration. Max looked at me again in alarm as a soft silver light glowed beneath Sophie’s hand, but I could only watch. It lasted only a moment, and then she raised her head. “There. It’s right now.”

Max tested it cautiously. “It’s. . .it feels good,” he said. He released Sophie long enough to his arm free of the sling and flexed it a little. “You did it, Sophie. That was great—thank you.” He reached for her with both arms this time, pulling her close. “Thank you,” he said again, pressing a kiss to her temple.

She looked pleased with herself. “It doesn’t hurt anymore?”

“Not at all,” he answered. “It feels great.” He patted her back. “See? Now I can give you a real hug.”

Sophie smiled. “Yeah.”

He held her for a moment longer and she snuggled against him, putting her head on his shoulder. Max glanced over at me with a smile and reached out for me. I didn’t have to be asked twice. Careful not to jostle him, I lay down beside him and curled up close to him. Max put his arm around me and I could feel his content as he lay there holding both of us.

“This feels so good,” he murmured, and I could only agree.

He was almost asleep when Michael opened the door a few moments later to get Sophie. He took her back to Isabel and then returned to watch the door until the other guard returned. When we were alone again, Max pulled me close with one arm, reaching for my hand with the other.

“Did you know she could do that?” he asked, indicating his newly-healed arm a little.

I shook my head. “No,” I said honestly, “but I’m not surprised.”

“You’re not?”

“No.” I laced my fingers through his and brushed a kiss on his knuckles. “Her hands are just like yours, Max. They always were.” He smiled faintly and kissed my forehead. “Go to sleep, Max,” I encouraged. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”

He nodded wearily and closed his eyes, and I lay there watching him until he fell asleep.


posted on 28-Sep-2002 8:18:05 PM by mockingbird39
Part 49


~Liz~

I stayed with Max as long as I dared, stroking his hair and listening to him breathe. If I’d let myself, I could have fallen asleep there in his arms—I was more than tired by then. I would have loved to lay there beside him and close my eyes, lose myself in him. But I couldn’t. . .not yet, anyway. I had to worry about getting Max set free first.

After a while, I reluctantly slipped out from beneath his arm. He stirred slightly, frowning in his sleep, and I pressed a kiss to his lips before sliding from the bed. I’ll be back soon, I told him, my eyes lingering on him for a long moment. I hoped he wouldn’t wake up while I was gone.

I replaced the bed rails and smoothed out his blankets, and then I remembered Max’s broken arm. We couldn’t let the hospital staff find it miraculously healed, so I carefully replaced the sling. I was about to leave when I caught sight of the handcuffs dangling from one of the bed rails. If the guard outside happened to find Max uncuffed, he’d know Michael had done it, and I couldn’t let that happen, either. Reluctantly, my heart heavy with regret, I reached for Max’s wrist and snapped the cuff around it. I’m sorry, I thought, kissing him lightly again. I’ll ask Michael to take them off again later.

I took one last look at him, then turned and left the room. I nodded to the guard on my way out.

“I’ll be back in a little while,” I told him, hoping I sounded authoritative. “I’ve got to work on a request—I need to get the facts straight with him.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the guard said, sounding bored with the whole situation.

Well, at least he won’t be a problem, I thought, nodding again before I walked down the hallway.

I found Sophie sitting between Michael and Maria, leaning her head on Maria’s shoulder. Isabel was curled in a chair by herself, looking exhausted. Jack was there, too, sitting a little away from the others. A laptop. . .my laptop. . .was open on his knees. When he saw me there, he straightened.

“How. . .how is he?”

“He’s asleep,” I answered. I glanced at the others. “Everyone okay?” I asked, and they all nodded. “Sophie?” I persisted.

She looked up at me. “Yeah,” she said absently. “I’m kinda tired.”

“Come here,” Michael told her, pulling her against him. He reached out and pulled Maria into his arms as well, and they both leaned into him comfortably. “Take a little nap—maybe we can get you back in to see your dad again later.”

She smiled at him. “Okay,” she agreed. “Mom, you’re staying here, right?”

I nodded. “Of course. I’m not going anywhere.” I glanced at Michael and Maria, then back at Jack. “We need to talk,” I told him.

He nodded grimly. “Yeah, I guess we do,” he agreed, shutting the laptop and tucking it under his arm.

I’d seen a smaller, empty waiting room just down the hall. “Come on,” I said, nodding in its direction. Jack followed me down the hallway and into the alcove. He set the computer down on a small table and yanked out a chair for me, but I ignored it, standing there with my arms folded. I didn’t know where to begin—what to say to him. That was another new experience. Conversation with Jack had always come easily for me. Finally, I turned to him, my jaw clenched.

“You want to tell me how your loyal family let their king get experimented on by the FBI, killed by a psychopathic millionaire, betrayed by one ‘protector,’ framed for murder by the other, and locked up for ten years?” I asked angrily.

He raised his eyebrows. “How about you tell me why the king of Antar was hiding in the desert for all those years?” he retorted.

I glared at him. “You have no idea what happened to him,” I spat. “Don’t you dare blame—”

“I’m the last one to blame him, Liz,” Jack interrupted. “Don’t you get it? None of us asked for this destiny. Not Max, not you, and sure as hell not me.”

“What are you talking about?” I demanded.

Jack pushed a hand through his hair. He looked weary and angry and frustrated all at once—not a bad summary of what I was feeling, come to think of it. “Look, Liz,” he said, “my grandfather was sent to earth fifty years ago when the monarchy learned that the shapeshifters had betrayed Zan and the others. He was to wait until the pods matured and the Royal Four were in a position to claim the throne and needed his help. But. . .forty years is a long time to wait. Once Khivar took over the government of the planet, he lost contact with the monarchists. We still don’t know if there are any left. And then. . .my grandfather met my grandmother, they got married, had a family. When the forty years was up, my father was sent to Roswell to get Evans and the others. But when he got there, he found them already gone. He stayed in Roswell for a while and made sure they were okay, and he and my grandfather eventually realized that no one knew what they were. They were safe—safer than they would be in Boston with us. I remember when he came home. My mother had bedrooms ready for them—I thought I was going to get four new brothers and sisters. But he told us they were safe in New Mexico—except Ava. We looked everywhere for her.”

“Nasedo took her,” I told him quietly.

He nodded. “We found that out later—by the time we found out it was too late. She didn’t concern us anymore. She was as much a traitor as Langley and Nasedo.”

I shook my head. “She was a child, Jack. You might have been able to save her—she didn’t have to be what she was.”

“We knew Nasedo hadn’t found the others,” he told me. “and the shapeshifters didn’t know we were on earth then. We wanted to keep it that way.”

“So you abandoned a child to a man you already knew was a traitor?”

“No.” His jaw clenched. “My uncle—my father’s brother Frank—spent five years tracking them. He found them, too. He was going to take Ava back.”

“He didn’t die in a car accident,” I murmured. I knew about the son Jack’s grandmother had lost. Fifteen years later, her eyes still filled with tears whenever someone mentioned his name.

“Nasedo killed him,” Jack said flatly. “He killed him, and left him in the street like a dog.” He was quiet for a moment, then he took a deep breath and went on. “It didn’t change anything. I grew up knowing what I was—what I was meant to be.”

“And what is that?”

His mouth twisted in a bitter smile. “Loyal servant to King Zan of Antar—a guy I’d never laid eyes on and didn’t care to. Defender of a planet I never wanted to see.” He turned to face the windows, rubbing the back of his neck. “Remember how you told me your dad used to sit you on his knee and tell you how you were going to Harvard—how you could be anything you wanted?” He glanced at me, his eyes sad. “I know you say it to Sophie. I’ve heard you.” He paused for a second. “My dad never said stuff like that to me. All my life, it was ‘Antarians don’t forget,’ and ‘This isn’t really our home.’ ‘We’re loyal servants of the monarchy.’”

“Nice job with that,” I said flatly.

He nodded grimly. “I don’t blame you for being angry. I wish I could have been straight with you. But I still think you would have run off the minute I told you the truth, and I couldn’t let that happen.”

“Why not?” I demanded. “So you could take Max’s place?”

The minute I said it I wished I could take it back. It was too personal, too close to what Langley had said that afternoon.

Jack turned to face me, his eyes shadowed. “I would have done anything to get what Max Evans threw away,” he said softly. We stared at each other for a long moment, and despite my anger my heart went out to him. I wondered if he would ever realize how close I had come to accepting what he offered years ago.

“That’s not the point, Liz,” he went on quietly, still looking at me. “The point is, I never gave a damn about what happened on Antar before I met you and Sophie. When I was seventeen, I told my family there was no way in hell I was going to be a bodyguard or a soldier or anything else for a planet I didn’t want to live on. Back then, it didn’t seem like much of an issue. It was right after Evans used the granilith to send Ava home and didn’t go with her. If he didn’t want to be king, there was no need for me to be his devoted servant, right?” He shook his head. “Then all hell broke loose. We didn’t know Evans had found the other protector until Langley set him up for murder. My father and grandfather came to me again and asked me to help, but I. . .I said no. I still wanted my own life. I didn’t want to go to Antar, I didn’t want any part of it. I mean, how many generations of us are supposed to be bound to him? When do we get to be free?”

“Free?” I repeated. “You knew an innocent man was going to prison and you did nothing to stop it. Don’t talk to me about freedom.”

“How many times have you looked over that case, Liz? Tell me the truth. How many times in law school did you go over it in your mind, looking for something to work with?” I didn’t answer, but he didn’t really need to hear it. “I did it, too,” he said. “Not as much as you did, but I spent some heavy time on it. There just wasn’t anything to work with. No legal grounds.”

“Why did you never look for Langley? You could have found him years ago,” I accused. “You could have found him and Max—Max wouldn’t be lying handcuffed to a hospital bed!”

I couldn’t mistake the guilt that flashed through his eyes. I knew Jack too well for that. He bowed his head. “I’m sorry, Liz. My father’s spent the last ten years looking for Langley. For a while he thought he’d gone back to Antar—he just wasn’t anywhere to be found. Then he thought Langley became Allward—the doctor who ID’ed the body. Remember him?” I nodded, and Jack kicked at the worn carpet beneath his foot. “Well, he’s nowhere, either. He just dropped off the planet. But this Wheeland guy. . .Dad never found him.”

“And what were you doing all this time? Watching me and Sophie? If you’d gotten Max out of prison, we wouldn’t need you to.” I met his gaze evenly. “You could have gotten on with that life you wanted so much.”

Jack shook his head. “I haven’t been watching you, Liz,” he said simply. “That’s not my job anymore. My grandfather. . .he saw what was happening and he forbid me to see you.” He shrugged and managed a bleak smile. “I’ve never been much for following orders.”

I frowned. “What are you talking about?” I asked.

He stared at something I couldn’t see. “It doesn’t do for a lowly bodyguard to fall in love with the king’s soulmate, does it?” he asked bitterly.

I fell silent at that. There was really no answer. I’d always known Jack cared for me, but he’d never stated it so openly before. “That’s. . .that’s why you hate Max,” I said after a moment. “That’s why you never helped him.”

“No, Liz—it’s not that. It wasn’t like that.” Jack gave a long sigh. “Look, like I said—until I met you and Sophie, I didn’t care what happened on Antar. I guess I figured most people reap what they sow, you know? But you guys were innocent—you had nothing to do with what happened there. I knew that Langley could still use you, though, to hurt Evans more. I still don’t know why he never did. So I went to my grandfather and I told him I wanted back in, but only to protect you and Sophie.” He paused, shaking his head. “But that didn’t mean I cared what happened to Max Evans. To be honest, Liz, the day I figured out he had abandoned you and his child, I lost all respect for him. I sure as hell wasn’t going to pledge obeisance to a guy that could do that—and I’m not gonna pretend I know why you came back to him now.” He was getting angry now, the kind of angry I know he gets when someone he loves is hurt and there’s nothing he can do about it. I’ve seen that anger before—when Sophie had the chicken pox and her fever got so high we had to take her to the hospital, when Maria came home in tears after a bad date. . .when I finally told him that I wasn’t ready for a relationship yet and might never be. “I know you, Liz,” he went on, “and you’re better than that. You deserve better. So does Sophie.”

It was my turn to look away. “He didn’t know, Jack,” I said in a small voice, forcing the words past the lump in my throat.

He looked at me blankly. “What?”

I lifted my head and made myself meet his gaze. “Max didn’t know about Sophie. He didn’t know until I went to see him ten days ago.”

Jack’s jaw dropped. “You. . .you never told him?”

“I tried to. . .but not hard enough.” I sighed heavily. “Jack, you have to understand. . .Max always believed he was holding me back. Always. He thought I’d be better off with someone else. And when he had to turn himself in, he was sure of it. So he pushed me away.” I shook my head. “It wasn’t because he didn’t love me, Jack. It was because he did.”

“He left you pregnant and alone!” Jack cried angrily. He shook his head when I started to protest. “No, don’t tell me he didn’t know—he slept with you and then took off. Unless he’s a bigger imbecile than I’m giving him credit for, he had to know there was a chance this could happen.”

“Jack, both of us made mistakes—huge ones,” I told him. “But it doesn’t change the fact that I love Max. I always have, and I always will.”

He looked away, nodding slowly. “I know you do,” he said quietly. “I know.” His shoulders slumped in defeat, and my heart twisted. For a minute I forgot about all that now lay between us and saw only my friend.

But he had lied to me—our entire relationship had been one of half-truths and secrets. He wasn’t the only one with secrets, I reminded myself. I just didn’t know if it was possible to get past this. I folded my arms, staring at the floor. “Jack, I don’t know what to say to you right now.”

He nodded. “Okay. I understand that. But. . .are you going to let me help you? I thought of something that might get us around Herrera v. Collins. It’s not a sure thing, but it might help.”

I hesitated for a second. Max wasn’t going to want Jack Collins or any of his “loyal” family near us. But I wasn’t a child anymore, and Max didn’t get to make all the decisions. I nodded slowly. “Okay,” I said finally. “Can you write it down? And get me a contact and number for the governor’s office?”

“I already made a call,” Jack said. “You’ll have the number any minute now.” He gestured to my laptop. “Maria let me look through your notes—you’ve got a good start. Can I help?”

“Could you be my second chair?” I asked. “Look over what I’ve got? I’ve never done anything like this before and now. . .now it’s got to count.”

“Of course. Just tell me what you want me to do.” He offered me a tentative smile, but I couldn’t quite return it.

“Jack, we still have a long way to go,” I said softly.

His smile faded and he nodded quickly. “I know. I know. But. . .but it’s a start, right?”

He looked so hopeful that I managed a tiny smile in return. “I guess so,” I told him. I hesitated for a moment, then I picked up my laptop. “I have to get back to Max,” I said finally. “I don’t want him to wake up and find me gone.”

“Right,” he agreed awkwardly. “He’ll want you there.”

I nodded and turned to go. “I’ll check back with you in a little while,” I said.

“I’ll keep working,” he told me.

Just before I got back to Max’s room, I paused and turned around to glance back at Jack. He was standing near the windows, one arm braced against the pane, staring blankly out at the parking lot below. And I wondered if I really knew him at all.

* * * * *

~Max~

I don’t know how long I slept, but when I woke up again, the light from the windows was dim. The pain in my arm was gone, but my ribs still ached, and the pounding in my head hadn’t faded much as far as I could tell. I knew Liz was close by, but the drugs they’d given me made it hard for me to concentrate on our connection. I remembered falling asleep with her in my arms, but I had no idea how I’d come to be cuffed back to the bed, my arm back in the sling.

I turned my head on the pillow and forced my eyes to focus. Liz sat near my side, curled into a chair with her laptop balanced on one knee. She had changed her clothes, and was now wearing a gray sweater and a pair of worn, faded jeans. Her hair was pulled back from her face, and a pair of small, oval glasses were perched on her nose. Briefly, I wondered when she had begun wearing those. She was tapping away on her laptop, presumably working on my pardon request. She looked exhausted, and I realized she must have waited until I was asleep and then gotten right to work. I wished she would come lay down beside me again and let herself rest, but I knew she’d never agree to it. Liz wouldn’t rest until she could do absolutely nothing else to move this along—or until she dropped from sheer exhaustion.

I had only been watching her a few seconds when she smiled, her eyes still on her laptop screen. “Hi,” she said, tapping a few more keys before she looked at me. “How do you feel?”

“Drugged,” I answered truthfully. She’d guessed the rest, anyway—I could see it in her eyes as she set aside her laptop, took off her glasses, and came to sit beside me on the bed. “How long did I sleep?” I asked her.

She leaned over to stroke my forehead. “Not that long. A couple of hours. You need it.”

“So do you,” I said, searching her face.

Her eyes turned slightly rebellious and I knew the denial was coming. “I’m all right.”

“No, you aren’t,” I insisted. “You’re tired and you’re worn out.” I blinked as I noticed the row of bruises around her throat. “What’s that?” I demanded, pointing to the marks.

She flushed and covered her throat with her hand, but it wasn’t enough. I could still see angry purple bruises there, almost like. . .like fingerprints. And then I knew. Langley had choked her. He had put his hands around her neck and tried to squeeze the life out of her. Rage made my heart race, clearing some of the haze left by the drugs. “He choked you,” I said. “He put his hands on you—”

“Max, shh,” she murmured. “It’s okay. It doesn’t hurt.” She reached behind my neck and unhooked the sling, freeing my arm.

“He could have killed you,” I said, reaching out to touch them. She folded her hand around mine and brought it to her cheek.

“He didn’t,” she told me firmly. “And now he can’t hurt any of us.”

I traced the line of her jaw. “No one is ever going to hurt you again, Liz. I swear it.”

“Okay,” she said softly, pressing a kiss to my palm. “Please don’t get upset, Max. Just concentrate on getting better.” She held my hand tightly, pressing it against her chest. “Are you thirsty? Hungry?”

I realized my mouth was bone-dry, but I had no desire for food. “Some water?” I asked.

She nodded and reached for a glass on the bedside table, then carefully helped me raise my head so I could drink through the straw. I took a few sips of cool water and nodded. “Thanks,” I told her.

She smiled. “You’re welcome. Do you want some food?”

“No.” I shook my head. My eyes were getting heavy again, but I fought to keep them open. I didn’t want to sleep yet—not while she was here. She would have to leave eventually, and I dreaded lying there awake and alone, wondering where she was.

“Do you feel sick?” she asked, and suddenly I could see her sitting beside Sophie’s bed, asking the same questions. Until then, I’d had a hard time picturing Liz as someone’s mother; now I could see this side of her clearly, and I loved it—just like I loved everything else about her.

“Not really,” I said. “Just tired.”

“Your head is still bad, isn’t it?” she asked, touching the side of my face.

I opened my mouth to say that it wasn’t so bad, but then I realized she already knew. “It’s. . .it’ll get better,” I said finally.

She nodded. “Is there anything I can do?”

I smiled at her. “Just stay a while?” I asked, sighing. “Please?”

She smiled back. “I wasn’t going to go anywhere,” she assured me. I reached for her gratefully, and she lay down beside me like she had before, resting her head on my shoulder. “Is this okay?” she asked. “I’m not hurting you, am I?”

“No, this is good,” I told her, smoothing her hair. “This is perfect.” I wished I could focus my powers enough unlock the handcuffs on my left arm, but I could barely manage to keep my eyes open. Liz seemed to be reading my mind, though, because she reached over and put her hand in mine, pressing a kiss against my shoulder.

“I’m sorry about the handcuffs,” she murmured. “I didn’t want Michael to get in trouble.”

“It’s okay,” I said quickly.

“No,” she disagreed quietly. “It really isn’t.”

We were quiet for a moment, and I gave in briefly, shutting my eyes to concentrate on the touch of Liz’s body on mine, the feel of her warm breath on my skin. “Where’s Sophie?” I asked at length.

“She’s with Isabel. They went to find something to eat.”

“How are they?” I asked, turning my head to rest my cheek against her forehead.

“They’re holding up. They’ll be better when you’re out of here and home with us.” She paused. “I should be working on that request. I’m almost done. I wanted to throw in some of the stuff Jack though of—”

I opened my eyes at that. “Jack?” I repeated. “You still trust him to help?”

She was silent for a long moment. “I’m angry with him,” she said finally. “I hate that he lied to me, and I hate that he did nothing to help you for so long. But I believe what he says.”

I tightened my hold on her. “He’s in love with you,” I said quietly. She didn’t speak, but her silence was answer enough. “I don’t care what he did today,” I went on. “I don’t trust him, and I don’t want him anywhere near you or Sophie.”

“Max, he saved our lives today,” she protested. “And now he’s out there trying to get you out of prison.” She paused, but I wasn’t willing to give in yet. “He knew what Langley could do, and he didn’t back down. He could have been killed, too.” She raised her head and put her hand on my cheek. “I know you hate that he’s been in our lives all these years and you haven’t. I hate it, too.” She smiled slightly. “I’m not asking you to take him to a football game—I know you’ll never be friends. But I’m not sending him away. We need his help right now.”

I didn’t want to need anything from Jack Collins or his family. I didn’t want to meet him, or hear his name ever again. I wanted to get out of this bed, gather Liz and Sophie, and take them somewhere Jack Collins and everyone else like him could never find us. But the metal cuff on my wrist wasn’t the only thing holding me here. We had to make sure Langley could never hurt anyone again. We had to make sure our daughter would grow up safe and healthy and not running from the police or anyone else. Reluctantly, I nodded. “Okay, Liz,” I said. I was well aware that I really had no choice. “Just. . .you won’t leave Sophie alone with him, right?”

She chuckled. “Michael wouldn’t hear of it, even if I would,” she assured me. “He was gnashing his teeth when she went downstairs with Isabel.”

“She likes him,” I said. “And I know he cares about her.”

Liz nodded. “Yes. He’s really great with her.” She paused for a moment, searching my face in that simple, direct way that tells her exactly what’s in my heart. “Max, she knows you love her. She can’t wait for you to come home with us.” She leaned down and kissed me, her lips gently caressing mine. “Neither can I.”

“I love you so much,” I blurted, the words the only thing I could pull from the jumble of thoughts and emotions that flooded my mind.

She smiled. “I love you, too, Max.” She put her head back down on my shoulder, pressing more kisses along my neck. “Now relax. Go to sleep. Get better for me.” I heard the smile in her voice as slipped one hand behind my neck and twined her fingers in my hair. “You’re going to need your strength when you get home—I plan to wear you out, and I’d like it to take as long as possible.”

I caught a flash from her then—she was thinking about pushing me down on a bed and lifting my shirt to graze her mouth down the center of my ribs. I felt a tightening low in my stomach, and if I’d had any energy at all, I’d have flipped her onto her back and done the same thing to her right then and there. But I was fighting just to stay awake. That fantasy and a thousand others would have to wait until later.

“Is that a threat?” I asked her drowsily.

“A promise,” she answered, still curling my hair around her fingers. “Just you wait, Max Evans,” she murmured against my ear. “You’re going to get better and come home with me, and then. . .” She gave a long sigh and snuggled against me. “. . .the things I’m going to do to you then. . .”

I fell asleep a little while later, dreaming of Liz and the endless winter nights I planned to spend in her arms.

* * * * *

posted on 6-Oct-2002 9:16:40 PM by mockingbird39
Part 50


~Liz~

I stayed with Max longer this time, watching him as he slipped in and out of drugged sleep, lying with my head on his shoulder and stroking my fingers across his chest. Twice when I tried to get up, he turned restless, forcing himself awake the moment I moved away. The second time, he strained against the handcuffs.

“Don’t go,” he murmured thickly, and I rushed to reassure him.

“I’m here,” I whispered against his ear. I curled close against him, smoothing a hand across his collar bone. “See? I’m right here.”

“I thought you were leaving,” he sighed. The plea in his voice made my heart twist.

“No,” I whispered. “No, I’m staying with you.” I slipped my hand into his, lacing our fingers together. “Go back to sleep.”

“I don’t want to lose you,” he murmured.

I lifted my head to look down at him. “Lose me?” I repeated.

He frowned, his eyes still closed. “I need you,” he said drowsily. “Need you. . .so much.”

I kissed his face. “I know,” I said softly. “Max, I know. You’re not going to lose me. I promise.”

He seemed to relax a little then, and I settled my head back on his shoulder, listening to him breathe. I didn’t want Max to wake up again, but I knew that I needed to work on the pardon request, so eventually I sat up and reached for my computer. I finished the request sitting next to him on the bed, pausing to touch and reassure him whenever he stirred.

I handed my draft of Max’s pardon request over to Jack at six-thirty that evening. He took it and proofed it, handing it back to me half an hour later with some minor changes and corrections penciled in the margins. We sat at a table in the waiting room, heads bent very close together, to do final edits, and I couldn’t help but think of the year we’d competed together on the mock trial team at Harvard. It had been the first and last time I’d considered criminal law. I’d really been intrigued by it that year—it brought back the fascination that had started the summer of Max’s trial—but I knew I would have a hard time practicing criminal law and being a single mother. So I’d chosen contracts, which I knew would provide a stable income and allow me to work normal hours, then come home to be with Sophie.

By eight, we had finished the final edits, and I went back to Max’s room so he could sign it. He was still asleep, and though I hated to wake him I gently kissed his forehead until he opened his eyes.

“You’re here again,” he murmured, reaching for me.

I nodded. “Yes. You were asleep when I left. Did you know I was gone?”

“Yes,” he said simply.

“I’m sorry,” I told him, stroking his cheek. He sighed and leaned into my touch. “I was working on the request.” I held up the manila folder I’d placed it in. “It’s done. I just need your signature.”

“It’s done?” he asked. That seemed to wake him up a little more.

“Yes,” I agreed, unclipping the pen I’d brought. “Here—I need you to sign here.” I paused, the attorney in me taking over. “You should read it first.”

He laughed softly. “I trust you—and I don’t think I can stay awake long enough to read it.”

I smiled. “Okay. I’ll fill you in later.” I put the pen in his hand and held the request so he could sign it. When he’d finished, I leaned down to kiss him again, searching his face carefully. I may have simply been hoping for it, but it seemed to me that he looked a bit better than he had earlier. Isabel had said that rest would allow his alien system to heal his injuries, and it looked like she was right. But I had to wonder if the same drugs that were helping him sleep were keeping him from using his powers to fully heal himself. “Are you feeling better?” I asked him. “How’s the pain?”

“Better,” he told me, though I knew he would have said that even if it was worse. “I’m going to be okay, Liz,” he said softly. “I promise.” We stared at each other for a moment, then he handed me the request.

“What will you do with it now?” he asked.

“I’m going down the street to fax it,” I said, putting the signed copy neatly in the folder. I shut it carefully, smoothing my hand over the cover. That request held all our lives between its typewritten pages, and Max and I both knew it. “I’ll come back as soon as I’ve got the confirmation.”

“Are you going by yourself?” Max questioned.

I frowned. “It’s not far,” I said.

“Take someone with you,” he told me, looking worried. “Please.”

After the events of the day, I couldn’t argue. “Okay,” I agreed. I kissed him again, and he grabbed my wrist, holding me down with him for a moment.

“Be careful,” he said. “This is L.A.” I suppose I must have frowned, because he shook his head wearily. “Don’t argue. I almost lost you again today. Give me at least a week to recover.”

I smiled at him, kissing his forehead. I’d been so worried about him all day, and now when we were together I couldn’t seem to stop touching him. “Okay,” I said. “I’m not arguing—I promise.”

“Good.” He touched my hair. “Will you come back before you leave for the night?”

“I’m not leaving, Max,” I assured him. “I’m going to stay here with you tonight—in the waiting room, anyway.”

“What about Sophie?” he asked.

“Isabel already took her back to Maria’s,” I told him.

“You should go home,” he said. “You’re exhausted.”

“And you think I’d sleep if I left?” I asked wryly.

“You should try,” he insisted.

“I’ll try in the waiting room,” I assured him. “I just want to be here in case you need me—or in case the governor’s office calls early. I’ll be fine.”

* * * * *

I figured I could get Michael to walk with me to the copy store, but when I went back out to the waiting room, I found him asleep next to Maria on one of the couches. He’d been exhausted all day, and I knew he hadn’t slept last night, either. I hesitated, slapping manila folder against my thigh. I didn’t want to wake him up, but if I faxed this now, I might catch someone working late at the governor’s office.

“Did you get the signature?”

I spun and found Jack standing there, watching me. “Yeah,” I said. “He signed it. It’s all ready to be faxed in.” I glanced at Michael, who was still sound asleep. “I guess I’ll just go take it to Kinkos. . .” I hesitated for a second, thinking of Max waiting alone in his room.

“Why don’t you let me do that?” Jack asked. “Go back with Max.”

I considered it, then shook my head. “No, that’s okay. I’ll just sit here and worry that the fax machine is eating it, or that it’s not going through. . .you know how it is.” I sighed and reached for my jacket where I’d left it hanging on a chair. I was about to leave when I decided something. “Hey, why don’t you walk with me? I have to talk to you about something.”

He nodded, grabbing his own jacket. “Sure. Let’s go. Maybe we’ll catch someone working late up at the statehouse.”

We walked down the street to a copy store to fax the finished product to the governor’s office. As we stood in front of the fax machine at Kinko’s, I watched each page feed into the machine.

Please, I thought over and over. Please.

I glanced at Jack and found him looking as strained and nervous as I felt. Twenty-four hours ago, I would have put my arm around him and leaned against him, giving and drawing comfort from our friendship. But things were different now, and as much as I wanted that comfort I’d always been able to find in Jack—as much as I wanted to pretend things were okay between us, I knew they weren’t. I wasn’t sure they ever would be again.

“This is going to work,” Jack murmured. “I know it’s going to work.”

I nodded. “Yes,” I agreed. “It has to.”

He looked over at me—I could feel his eyes on me even before I met his gaze. “Liz,” he said quietly, “I’m sorry.”

I looked at him then, meeting his eyes seriously. He seemed sincere, and I really believed he regretted what he’d done—at least as it related to our relationship. But I’d had a lot of time to think this over as I lay beside Max, watching him sleep. “I know, Jack,” I told him. “But it’s not enough this time.”

He tried for a light tone. “As opposed to the other times I’ve screwed up your life?”

I didn’t smile. “I’m serious,” I said. I took a deep breath. It hurt to say these things to him, but I knew they had to be said. “Jack, I need you to back off.”

Jack’s face fell and he looked down. “Okay,” he said slowly. “What. . .what does that mean?”

I folded my arms, staring at the pages feeding into the fax machine. “I love Max, Jack,” I said clearly. “I love him, and he. . .he needs my love. He needs me—he needs to know that I’m not going anywhere.” I shrugged a little. “And when he gets out of prison, he’s going to need me even more. He’s been in there so long. He’s got a lot of adjusting to do.” I sighed. “But it’s more than that.” I paused. “Max is still afraid I’m going to leave him,” I said finally. “He needs to know that I’m not going anywhere. That no one is going to come between us.”

“That kind of seems like it’s his problem, not yours—”

“No, it really isn’t,” I interrupted, feeling a flash of anger. “You don’t know him, Jack. You don’t know what he’s been through—you don’t know what his life has been like. You make all these assumptions, but the truth is, you don’t know anything at all about Max Evans. You don’t know how much he loves me. Max has never believed that he deserves my love—he’s never believed he’s good enough. But the truth is, I don’t know if I’m good enough.” I took a deep breath. “Being without Max all these years was. . .was hell. A part of me has been missing so long that I thought it was dead. And that—” I broke off and shook my head. “He knew what it would feel like. He already knew, and he tried to make me hate him so I would be angry instead of hurt. So I wouldn’t keep coming back. I can’t even imagine how much it must have hurt him to think that I hated him all these years. After what we were to each other. . .I don’t think I could have done it. I couldn’t have pushed him away like that—even if I believed it was better. I just don’t think I could do it.”

“Liz, I swear I’m not going to try to come between you. I’m not arrogant enough to think I could. The two of you. . .you’ve got something I can’t compete with.” His eyes were sad. “I don’t even want to try.”

I was quiet for a moment. “The thing is, Jack,” I said finally, “Max and I have been apart for so long. I love him so much, but. . .we don’t even know each other, Jack. There’s years we haven’t even started to talk about. Years we have to catch up on.” I shook my head, remembering. “When I first came to see him, I told him I was living in St. Petersburg, and he thought. . .he thought I meant Florida. We’re so connected,” I went on, staring absently at the fax machine. “I can feel his heart beating. I know that he’s sleeping right now—I can almost see his dreams. But there’s much of our lives we haven’t shared.” I concentrated on the part of myself that was Max, the place that was finally awake and alive after all these years, and I smiled. His dreams were tangled images of Sophie and me, half-remembered, half-imagined. But my smile faded as I thought how long it would take us to work through all the years that lay between us.

“When this is over, Jack,” I said quietly, “Max and Sophie and I are going to need a lot of time just to get used to being a family. We have a lot of time to make up for. Sophie needs to get to know her father. She needs to learn that he’s going to be there for her. Max has a lot of guilt that he needs to work through—and he’s going to need us to help him adjust to being free again. He’s spent his whole adult life in there.” I sighed heavily. “Do you realize the last time he was a free man, we hadn’t even graduated from high school yet?”

Jack didn’t answer, just bowed his head—but not before I caught another flash of guilt in his dark eyes.

I took a deep breath. “So I’m asking you to stay away,” I continued. “It hurts me to say that to you. I always figured that when Max got out of prison and came looking for me, I’d find some way to explain what you and I are to each other. . .were to each other. The two of you are so different. . .but I guess I hoped you would both care enough about Sophie and me to find a way to get along.” I looked at him and shook my head. “I can’t explain this to him, Jack. It’s just too much.” I paused, closing my eyes. “Max knows that you. . .that you’re—”

“That I’m in love with you,” he finished softly.

“Yeah,” I agreed, not daring to look at him. “And it isn’t fair to Max to ask him to sit back and just accept it.”

He nodded, staring at the ground. “Right. Yeah, I understand. You love him,” he added, smiling bleakly. “I want you and Sophie to be happy, Liz,” he told me quietly. “I always wanted that.”

I nodded, too. “I know that, Jack.” I paused for a moment, feeling my eyes burn. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

He waited until the fax confirmation had printed, then he gathered the request and tapped the papers into a neat pile with the confirmation on top. “You’ll want to hang on to that,” he said, handing it to me.

I took it and tucked the whole stack into my manila folder. “Thanks,” I said.

“Welcome.” He jerked his head at the door. “Ready to go, or. . .did you need some office supplies?”

I shook my head, managing a strained smile. “No, I bought paper clips and highlighters last weekend.”

He turned to go. “Okay, then. Let’s go. C’mon, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee on the way back.”

I shook my head. Max was waiting for me, and I wanted to get back to him before he woke up. “I should get back.”

His face fell. “Yeah, okay. Whatever you want, Parker.” He reached over my head to open the door for me, and we left the store together. “I. . .I’ll give you the name of a lawyer from my firm. A good criminal attorney—he’ll help you with the case. He’s good. He’s the best.”

I nodded. “Thanks. That’s. . .that’s probably best. Isabel said Jesse’s coming in tomorrow morning, but—”

“But you still need a member of the California bar,” he finished.

“Right,” I agreed. “Thanks.” We walked quietly for half a block or so, then I stopped and looked at Jack. “Jack, I know we owe you for what you did today—”

He raised a hand to stop me. “No, don’t,” he said quickly. “We’ve never been beholden to each other. I’d like to keep it that way.”

I nodded slowly. “Okay,” I said awkwardly. I sighed heavily. “I wish it hadn’t ended this way,” I said finally.

A sad smile twisted his mouth and I couldn’t help but remember his cocky grin. “So do I,” he said softly. “So do I.”

* * * * *

I dreamed of Petersburg—of purple light and streaks of softest pink across the sky. I dreamed of snow and the soft whisper each flake made as it drifted through the air. I dreamed of Max and Sophie lying beside me in my bed, the three of us tangled in a warm, secure embrace and I never, ever wanted to wake up. . .

“Liz. Liz, wake up.”

I fought the voice that drew me from sleep, turning my head into the pillow beneath my cheek. But the voice would not be deterred, and soon it was joined by a hand gently jostling my shoulder.

“What?” I grumbled, refusing to open my eyes. If I didn’t wake up entirely, maybe I could still go back to my dream.

“The governor’s office—they’re on the phone for you.”

That brought me to my senses in a hurry. I forced my eyes open and found Michael crouched beside the waiting room sofa where I’d finally managed to doze off some time after the television began to show nothing but infomercials. Sunlight streamed across the blue commercial-grade carpet, and I squinted at Michael. “The governor?” I asked, clearing my throat. He put a cup of coffee into my hand as I sat up.

“Her office. They want to speak to Max’s lawyer.”

I blinked, trying to push away the fog of sleep that clung to my brain. “Already? What time is it?”

“A little after nine,” he answered, pressing my cell phone into my hand. “Are you going to talk to them or what?”

“Right.” I cleared my throat again, searching around for a legal pad—which Michael passed to me before I had a chance to ask—and put the phone to my ear. “This is Elizabeth Parker,” I said, hoping I didn’t sound too sleepy.

“Ms. Parker, this is Andrew Newcomb. I’m the scheduling secretary for Governor Ellis?”

“Yes,” I said quickly, my heart pounding. Please, please, please. Michael was watching me like a hawk, too, his tired eyes animated. “How can I help you?” I asked.

“We’ve received the pardon request you sent in regarding Max Evans,” he said. “The governor was actually expecting it, once she learned what happened yesterday with Cal Langley.”

“I see,” I murmured. “Has the governor been able to review the request?”

“We forwarded a copy to her at her home last night,” the man assured me. “I’m calling because the governor has asked me to inform you that a representative of her office would like to speak with Mr. Evans as soon as possible. You would be present, too, of course,” he added. “We understand that his injuries are severe—would it be possible to speak to him today, or would it be better if we waited—”

“No,” I interrupted hastily, then paused. “No,” I repeated, more quietly. “He’ll want to speak to you as soon as possible.”

“Of course.” There was a pause. “I could send someone over at ten-thirty. Would that be convenient?”

I scrambled for my watch, which I’d tucked in my pocket the night before. It was just after nine. “That would be fine,” I agreed. “Could you tell me who will be coming?”

“Certainly.”

We hung up a moment or two later and I bowed my head, hiding my face in my hands and breathing deeply.

“Well?” Michael asked finally.

I raised my head. “The governor’s reviewed the request and is sending over a representative,” I said tightly.

“What does that mean?” Michael persisted.

I tried to look at the situation professionally. “I. . .I think it’s a good sign that they’re aware of the situation with Langley. I think it’s a very good sign that they’re already reacting to the request.”

“But are they going to grant it?”

I hesitated. “I can’t say for sure, Michael.”

“How about a good guess?” he demanded.

“I would guess. . .I would guess that they’re doing damage control, which means they realize that this is bad publicity.” He raised his eyebrows, motioning my to continue. I sighed. “If they’d wanted to deny it, they could have done it over the phone.”

Michael’s face burst into a smile. “You think. . .you think they’re going to do it?”

“I didn’t say that,” I said hurriedly, trying not to let my own hopes get too high. “They might be coming here for something entirely different—they could be coming to get more information—”

Michael’s grin widened. “You think they’re gonna set him free,” he said, searching my face. “You think that’s why they’re sending someone over here.”

I bit my lip, looking at the floor and trying not to count on this. “Michael, I—”

He suddenly grabbed my face in both his hands, planted a firm kiss on my forehead, and grinned at me. “Shut up,” he said. “We both know what you think.”

I stared at him for a second, then I couldn’t stop my smile. “Yeah. . .yeah, okay. This could be it.”

He pulled me to my feet. “Go tell Max,” he said. “He’ll want to hear this from you.”

I nodded, suddenly energized. My heart pounded, sending jolts of adrenaline through my body and pushing away my weariness for the time being. “Okay. Right, I’m going.” I started to leave the waiting room, then I paused. “Michael,” I said, tossing him my cell phone, “do me a favor. Call Maria and tell her to bring me some clothes. A suit—and shoes.”

He had already started dialing. “Okay,” he agreed.

I hesitated for a second, but I knew what Max was going to want. “Tell her to bring Sophie, too. And get here ASAP.”

He grinned at me. “I’ll tell her.” He waved me away. “Now go to Max. Go.”

I smiled back, then turned and practically ran down the hospital corridor.

* * * * *

~Max~

“Max? Max, wake up. It’s me.”

I woke up to find Liz leaning over me, stroking my face with her hands, and until then pain in my head and my ribs got my attention, I was sure I must still be dreaming. Then I remembered the day before, and I realized she was really here, though not nearly as close as I wanted her to be. I smiled and reached for her, pulling her down closer.

“You’re here early,” I murmured.

“It’s after nine,” she said, sitting down next to me on the bed.

I reached up to touch her face. “Then what took you so long?”

She smiled. “Sorry,” she said, leaning down to kiss me. When she straightened, I noticed that her eyes were sparkling. She was excited, too—her heart was beating fast.

“What happened?” I asked. I knew she had faxed in the pardon request to the governor’s office the night before, but surely it was too soon for an answer. . .wasn’t it?

“The governor’s office called,” she said, and before I could open my mouth to ask why, she had rushed on. “They’re sending someone over to talk to you this morning. This could. . .this could mean any number of things, but—”

“But what do you think it means?” I interrupted. I was suddenly wide-awake, my heart pounding. She bit her lip, looking into my eyes, and I had my answer. My head spun, and it had nothing to do with the drugs still flowing through my system. “When are they coming?” I asked. “Will you be here?”

“Ten-thirty,” she said. “Of course I’ll be here.” Her eyes softened and she leaned close to me. “I’ll always be here, Max—forever. I promise.”

For a moment I forgot everything but Liz, the scent of her hair, the feel of her skin beneath my palm as I caressed her face, the sound of her voice murmuring the word “forever.” I pulled her closer and she leaned down to rest her cheek against mine. “I love you,” I whispered.

She pressed her lips to my face. “I love you, too.”

We stayed that way for a moment or two, then she straightened up and started to brush my hair back from face—another motherly gesture that made me smile. “Are you okay to talk to the governor’s rep?” she asked. “Do you need more pain medicine?”

“No,” I said quickly. “No, I don’t want anymore. I can’t think when I’m all drugged up.”

“But your head—”

“It’s better,” I assured her. At her doubtful look, I smiled. “It really is. Anyway, I think the drugs are messing with my powers. I want to see if I can heal myself when they wear off.”

She didn’t look convinced, but she nodded anyway. “Don’t wear yourself out,” she cautioned.

I took her hand and pressed her palm to my lips. “I thought you were going to do that,” I murmured.

She looked surprised, then she grinned. “That’s right,” she agreed firmly. “Don’t you forget it.”

“Not a chance.” Incredibly, it seemed within reach now. Even when I’d known how much Liz believed it would happen, I’d had to hold myself back. After my first appeal was turned down, I’d learned to prepare myself for the worst—I couldn’t fall apart after the denial, not when my mother and Isabel and everyone else needed me to be strong. Even this time, when I’d wanted to hope so badly, when I’d wanted to believe in the promise of reclaiming my life and my family more than ever, I’d had to check myself because I knew Liz and Sophie would need me to be strong if we failed this time, too. But now I couldn’t hold off any longer—not with Langley behind bars and Liz and Sophie so close by. This had to work—it had to work, or we’d have to find another way to be together. If there was one thing I could be sure of, it was that I couldn’t live without them anymore.

“Maria’s bringing Sophie,” she said, and more than anything that made me realize how strongly Liz believed that this meant I was about to be pardoned.

“Good,” I answered. “That’s good.” We stared at each other for a long moment, and her voice echoed somewhere in my mind. . .I can’t leave you again. . . I reached for her. “I don’t want you to leave either,” I said hoarsely. I couldn’t think about it—couldn’t think about what I would do if I couldn’t be with her now.

She lay down next to me, curling up on her side. I turned my head so that our foreheads rested against each other, and I reached up to touch her cheek. “You were here all night,” I said.

“I slept,” she defended. “I know I probably don’t look like it, but—”

“I think you look beautiful,” I interrupted honestly. “I think you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

She bit the corner of her lip, holding back a smile, then she wrinkled her nose and laughed. “You’re on a lot of medication, Max.”

But I meant every word. “You are,” I insisted. “In all my life I’ve never imagined anything more beautiful than you.”

Her smile turned tender. “I am going to make you so happy, Max. I promise. You’re going to walk out of here with me, and I’m going to spend the rest of my life making you happy.”

I caressed her jaw, smoothing my thumb over her lips. “Being with you and Sophie is all I want, Liz. Everything else is just. . .details.” I pulled her face closer to mine and kissed her, ignoring my sore and swollen lips. It was worth it to taste her mouth, to feel her pulse speed up in response to my touch. I slipped my hand down to rest against her neck, tangling my fingers in her hair. Her skin was so smooth, her hair soft and lush against my fingers. I wanted her so much at that moment, I wanted her in my arms, skin to skin with nothing in between. With Liz lying next to me, I forgot all about the pounding in my head and the ache in my side. Her touch drove everything else away.

We lay there together until Michael knocked on the door to tell us that Maria and Sophie were there, then Liz reluctantly got up to change her clothes, leaving me with one final kiss that made my heart pound. If I’d needed more incentive to get well, that kiss would have done it. There was promise in it, and passion.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” she said. “You just. . .you just close your eyes and try to rest.”

Now? But if I protested, she’d spend another ten minutes insisting, so I let it go. “I’ll just wait right here,” I said with a grin.

“Very funny,” she murmured, pressing her lips to my forehead again. “I’ll be right back.” She headed toward the door, releasing my hand reluctantly. She paused with her fingers on the doorknob, turning back to me. “It’s going to be okay, Max,” she said, her eyes shining. “I promise.”

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 6-Oct-2002 9:42:26 PM ]
posted on 13-Oct-2002 1:25:03 AM by mockingbird39
Part 51


~Max~

A nurse, followed by the guard who’d been outside my door all night, brought me breakfast on a tray while I waited for Liz to come back. The guard glanced at me, and realized that with one of my arms in a sling and the other cuffed to the bed, breakfast would be damn near impossible. He waited until the nurse left, then took off the cuff.

“It goes back on when you’re done eating,” he said gruffly.

“Thanks,” I answered. I had no intention of eating, but I was grateful just the same. I waited until he left, then rubbed my wrist with my other hand. I must have pulled against the cuff while I was asleep, because a raised red mark circled my wrist where the metal had been. Being restrained like that had made it difficult to get comfortable last night, too—I had to lie flat on my back with my left arm held tight against the bed rail. The fact that I’d been able to sleep so long was either a testament to how tired I’d been or a recommendation for the painkillers they’d been forcing down my throat. I decided I wasn’t going to take anymore; if I could clear my head enough to heal my ribs and my concussion, I wouldn’t need them anyway.

I found a cup of semi-hot water and a teabag on my breakfast tray, and I drank the weak tea it made, hoping the caffeine would help me wake up. Briefly, I remembered the coffee Liz and I had shared for breakfast two days ago and wished I had a cup of it now. I spent the rest of the time watching the second hand sweep around the clock as I concentrated on Liz and wondered if Sophie was close by. I desperately wanted to see her, just to be sure she was okay and not afraid anymore. I wondered what exactly would happen if the governor’s office was granting me a pardon—if I would be released immediately, or if it would take time to push the paperwork through. However they decided to do it, I wasn’t going to go much longer without seeing my daughter. I didn’t care what I had to do.

It was almost half an hour before I heard a knock on the door and Liz walked in, followed by the guard and a tall man in a suit who had to be from the governor’s office. I looked at Liz, trying to see if she had learned anything new, but she only smiled reassuringly. She was wearing the suit she’d worn the first time she came to see me, along with the heels that made her much taller. She’d put on a little make-up to cover the circles beneath her eyes, her hair was pinned up neatly, and she wore her reading glasses, which made her look a little older. I thought she looked damn impressive.

“Max, this is Ephraim Wells,” she said, coming to stand close to me. But not too close, I instantly realized. When Ephraim Wells and the guard were present, we were attorney and client. I checked my impulse to reach for her hand and nodded. “Mr. Wells, this is Max Evans.”

“I’m sorry we’re not meeting under better circumstances, Mr. Evans,” Wells told me, holding out a hand for me to shake. I took it briefly, wondering if it was a good sign. Surely he wouldn’t shake hands with a man he was about to send back to prison. . .would he?

“Thank you,” I said quietly. I wasn’t really sure what was expected of me here, but I didn’t have to worry. Liz and the governor’s representative took over immediately.

“I’m sure you know why I’m here,” Wells said to Liz, and she nodded.

“I understand the governor is aware of the situation with Cal Langley and has read the request we faxed over last night,” she answered calmly, and I couldn’t help being impressed. Her heart was pounding and her emotions were roiling beneath that calm demeanor, but she never let on. Standing beside my hospital bed that morning speaking with a man who held our futures in his briefcase, Liz was the picture of professionalism.

“Yes, she has,” Wells agreed. “We’re certainly taken aback by the current situation.”

“So were we,” Liz said pointedly.

“Yes, of course,” he murmured. “We deeply regret what occurred with you and your daughter yesterday. I understand your co-counsel was attacked, as well?”

Liz nodded. “Yes.”

Wells glanced around. “Will he be joining us today?” he questioned.

Something I couldn’t identify flashed through Liz’s eyes. “Mr. Collins will no longer be assisting with the case,” she said simply.

I looked at her in surprise. I had little use for Jack Collins myself, but I would never have guessed he would bail on Liz. That made me angrier than ever.

“Ah, I see.” Wells suddenly looked alarmed. “Was he injured yesterday?”

“Not seriously,” Liz answered.

He nodded. “I’m glad the three of you weren’t seriously harmed.” But as he said it, his eyes lingered on the bruises visible above Liz’s collar.

“Thank you,” she said. “We were very lucky. Unfortunately, Mr. Evans wasn’t.” She glanced at me when she said it, and I caught the undercurrent of anger in her voice.

“Yes,” he agreed hurriedly. Her tone snapped him into action, and he quickly set his briefcase on a nearby chair and opened it. “Well, I’m sure you’re anxious for me to get on with it, aren’t you?” he mused. Neither Liz nor I answered, but Liz’s jaw clenched just a fraction and I knew she was ready to scream. Wells pulled three sheaves of paper from his briefcase and looked at them briefly. “I’m sure you’ve heard that Mr. Langley has given a full confession,” he told us, “and has indicated that Mr. Evans had no part in the murder and subsequent cover-up.”

Liz’s eyes were on the papers in his hands. If she had been staring any harder, she just might have been able to see through them. “Yes,” she agreed. “We’ve been informed about the confession.”

“And I’m sure you understand that this confession will most likely make it possible to have Mr. Evans’s conviction overturned by the appeals court,” he continued, and Liz nodded again. “However,” he went on, “in light of what happened yesterday—and in light of the fact that Mr. Evans has already served ten years in prison—the governor feels that more immediate steps are necessary.”

I felt a flash of joy from Liz—a flash so strong it made my head feel light. I looked over to find her beaming at me, all pretense forgotten.

“Therefore,” Ephraim Wells told us, handing a sheaf of papers to Liz and one to me, “she has decided to issue a full—and immediate—pardon.” He looked at me with a smile. “As of this morning, you’re a free man, Mr. Evans.”

I couldn’t speak. A pardon. A full pardon—an immediate pardon. I looked over at Liz and found her staring at Wells as though she wasn’t quite sure she believed what she’d just heard. Forgetting any pretense, she stepped close to me and reached for my hand, squeezing it tightly. I lifted her fingers to my lips and closed my eyes. A free man.

“The appropriate papers have already been forwarded to the prison and the court, along with—”

“A strong suggestion that the lower court’s decision be overturned in light of new evidence,” Liz finished. She had been scanning the document furiously, and now she looked up at Wells.

He nodded. “The governor found your discussion of Herrera v. Collins very interesting. She’ll be looking for your brief when you submit it to the appeals court.”

Liz’s eyes glowed. “Thanks,” she said. “I’ll be. . .I’m already at work on it.”

“She’ll be glad to hear that.” He paused for a second. “Mr. Evans, I’d just like to express on behalf of Governor Ellis and the state of California that we are deeply, deeply sorry for the mistake that was made ten years ago. I know that no apology can begin to make up for the years of your life that you’ve lost, but if there’s anything we can do to assist you. . .well, we’ll certainly do anything we can.”

I could almost hear Liz’s snort of derision and I remembered what she’d said about this being a public relations nightmare for the executive office. I didn’t care—let them cover their bases. I had no intention of drawing attention to myself with accusations or lawsuits anyway. As a matter of fact, if granting my pardon was a public relations measure for them, I’d get down on my knees and kiss the feet of the governor’s media advisors.

“Thank you,” Liz said politely. “That’s very kind of you.”

Mr. Wells shut his briefcase. “I should let you rest now, Mr. Evans. I’m sure quite a few people will be wanting some of your time—I noticed several media vans outside—”

“I won’t be making any statements,” I interrupted, still holding Liz’s hand tightly.

He looked surprised. “This case is a leading story on this morning’s news,” he said. “People will expect you to make some sort of statement—perhaps a press conference—”

“No press conference,” I told him. I looked to Liz, and she smiled reassuringly.

“Mr. Evans isn’t interested in capitalizing on the situation,” she said firmly. She glanced at me with a soft look. “He just wants to go home.”

Wells didn’t look entirely convinced, and I wondered if he was worried what I would say about the governor’s role in all of this. “Of course,” he murmured. “Well, then. . .good luck to you. As I said, please call if we can be of further assistance.” He picked up his briefcase. “Mr. Evans, Miss Parker.”

“Thank you,” Liz said. “I’ll walk you downstairs.”

He nodded. “Thank you,” he said. He shook my hand, then turned to speak to the guard.

“I’ll be right back, Max,” Liz said quietly. “I promise.”

I clasped her hand tightly for a moment. “Bring Sophie,” I answered. “Please—I can’t wait to see her.”

She smiled widely. “She can’t wait to see you, either.” She glanced at Wells, found his back turned, and leaned down to give me a searing kiss. “I love you,” she whispered.

“I love you, too.” I didn’t want to let go of her, but Wells was ready to go. Finally, I gave her hand one last squeeze and released her. “Hurry,” I said softly.

She smiled as she went to join Wells at the door. The guard was already gone, and he hadn’t bothered to replace the handcuffs. He was probably as glad to leave as I was to see him go. “After you,” Liz said to Wells. He proceeded her through the door, and she lingered for just a second. “I love you,” she mouthed, leaving me with a smile brighter than the sunlight streaming through the windows. And then the door shut behind her and I was alone.

* * * * *

It seemed like an eternity until Liz came back. I watched the clock tick away the seconds and tested my powers, trying to heal my ribs so I could sit up on my own. I still couldn’t seem to make them work like usual, but I thought I could feel them coming back. And I discovered that my body was starting to heal anyway—my ribs ached a little as I pushed myself to a sitting position, but not nearly as bad as they had the night before.

Finally. . .finally, I heard footsteps and voices outside the door and then it opened.

“Daddy?”

Sophie stood in the doorway, smiling shyly at me. Liz was right behind her, beaming. I held out my arms to both of them. “Come in here,” I said. Sophie’s smile widened and she scurried in, coming straight to my side and climbing up beside me.

“Are you better?” she asked cautiously.

I nodded. “I’m getting there,” I told her, pulling her into my arms. “I missed you,” I said.

“I wanted to come in earlier, but Aunt Maria said I had to stay outside,” she told me in an aggrieved tone.

“Well, she was right—Mommy and I had one thing to take care of, but now you can stay as long as you want,” I answered. I leaned back and smoothed her hair as Liz joined us on the bed. “We have something to tell you, okay?”

Sophie looked from me to Liz and a knowing smile appeared on her face. “Are you coming home with us?” she asked excitedly.

I smiled back at her and nodded. “Yes. Yes, I’m coming home with you.”

“For good?” she persisted. “You don’t have to go back to prison—ever?”

I nodded again. “Never ever,” I confirmed, wondering how long it would take me to believe that myself. “I’m coming home with you and Mommy—for good.” I hugged her again, and this time Liz put her arms around both of us.

Sophie rested her head against my chest. “I knew you would come home,” she said. “I knew it.”

She felt so small and fragile in my arms that a fresh wave of fear washed over me as I thought of what had happened yesterday. Langley would hate my daughter like he’d hated me—she’d ruined his life more surely than I had eleven years ago. I held her closer as I thought of what he’d do to her if he ever got the chance. That’s not going to happen, I told myself. I won’t let him hurt her. I felt Liz’s arms tighten around my waist and I wondered if she knew what I was thinking. Even behind bars, even genetically bound to my family and me, Langley was still a threat to us—he had proven that all too well. But he wouldn’t get to my family again. Not while I was breathing. Eleven years ago I’d underestimated Langley and his hatred for me, and that error in judgment had cost me a decade of my life. This time I wouldn’t be so naïve. He would have to be taken care of once and for all—soon. I wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice.

* * * * *

“. . .and if we go back to Roswell, we could go to the UFO Center,” Sophie said. “We didn’t get to go there before ‘cause it was closed. But I want to go—can we go?” She lifted her head to look at me, her eyes bright.

“Sure,” I said, wondering how in the world Liz ever managed to say no to that grin.

“Softie,” Liz murmured against my ear, and I smiled as she brought my hand to her lips. She sat beside me on the bed, her arm linked with mine, her head resting against my shoulder. Sophie sat on my other side, curled up beneath my arm. We’d settled that way a while ago, and I thought I might never move.

“You know, I used to work at the UFO Center,” I told Sophie. “I’ll give you the guided tour.”

“You worked there?” she repeated incredulously.

Liz grinned. “That’s called ‘irony,’ sweetheart.”

I’d been a free man for nearly four hours by that time, and Liz hadn’t left my side for more than five minutes. Neither had Sophie. Michael, Isabel, and Jesse had all been in for a while to visit, but eventually they’d gone again, Isabel and Jesse going to check into a hotel and Michael returning to Maria in the waiting room. I’d told him to go home and get some sleep, but he just shrugged off my suggestion.

“I’ll sleep when Liz does,” he’d said with a laugh.

“I might just decide to sleep here,” Liz had retorted lightly, and I hoped she would. I knew she was exhausted, but I wasn’t looking forward to letting her out of my sight any time soon. Besides, few things were more appealing than holding Liz in my arms as she slept.

I’d talked to my parents earlier, and they were overjoyed. My mother had wanted to come to LA immediately, but my father convinced her to wait a day. I think he knew how much I wanted a little time with Liz and Sophie. After the others had gone, we’d shut the door and settled together on the bed. Both Liz and Sophie seemed as content as I felt—content just to sit there together talking quietly. I couldn’t imagine Sophie usually sat still this long, but I reasoned that she’d been through a lot in the past week, and she probably needed a rest just as much as Liz and I did. When she gave an enormous yawn and leaned her head back against me, I knew I was right.

“Tired?” I asked her, but she shook her head.

“No,” she denied firmly. “I’m fine.”

Where have I heard that before? I thought, looking at Liz. She rolled her eyes, grinning. “I think Daddy’s almost asleep,” she said, and it was my turn to protest.

“No, I’m fine,” I said. “It was just the drugs—they made me tired.”

“They’re helping you sleep so your head can heal,” Liz corrected. “So you can better and come home.”

“Once I’m home I can heal myself,” I told her.

“I thought your powers weren’t working,” she said, lacing her fingers through mine.

“They’re coming back,” I said. “I think it really was the drugs—I can’t focus enough to use my powers when I’m drugged up.”

Liz raised her head to look at me, searching my face, and I knew she could tell what was coming. “Max, you have a serious concussion. You need to stay where the doctors can monitor you.”

“Only until it’s healed—which it will be when I get out of here,” I told her.

She touched my face. “Max, none of us knows anything about head injuries. How do you know it’ll heal—”

“I didn’t know anything about gunshot wounds, either,” I reminded her quietly, pressing our clasped hands over the place on her abdomen where, years before, I’d first touched her skin.

She considered this. I knew that she wanted me home with her as much as I wanted to be there, but she wasn’t willing to take any chances now. “What if something goes wrong?” she asked softly.

“It won’t,” I answered. “Remember when we were in that car accident? I had a concussion then, too—but it healed.”

“I know,” she said, nodding. “I know, but. . .” She paused, heaving a big sigh. “They’re not going to just let you walk out of here.”

“I’ll sign myself out,” I told her. “I just want to be with you.”

Liz shook her head. “You are with us,” she said, kissing my forehead. “We’re not going anywhere.”

“Liz, please,” I persisted. “Let’s go home.”

“I want Daddy to come home with us,” Sophie announced, snuggling closer to me.

Liz sighed. “Oh, man. It’s catching.”

“What?”

She shook her head, leaning over to kiss Sophie, then me. “Incredible stubbornness,” she groaned.

“I can’t think of any other place she would have picked that up,” I answered gravely.

Liz’s eyes narrowed. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said airily. She shook her head. “I’ll talk to the doctor and get a better idea of what’s wrong. Maybe if we get an x-ray or something so you’d know where to start. . .”

I didn’t think an x-ray would tell me very much, but if it made her feel better, I was willing to go along with it. “Whatever you think is best,” I said, raising her fingers to my lips. “Thank you.”

“I think it’s the bump,” Sophie piped up.

“What?”

“The bump on your head.” She sat up and pointed to a spot on the side of my head. “Yeah, right there. You’ve got a bump—that’s what’s wrong with your head.” Liz and I exchanged a glance, then looked at Sophie. She looked back, her eyes clear and certain. “It’s the bump,” she repeated calmly.

I looked back at Liz. “You heard her,” I said. Liz’s gaze was dark with questions, and I wished I had answers. Later, when things calmed down, we’d need to talk about Sophie and her powers—we didn’t even know the extent of them yet. I was beginning to form some ideas, though.

Liz cleared her throat. “If I go talk to the doctor, will you rest for a while?” she asked.

I nodded. “Yeah,” I agreed easily. I was getting tired anyway. “Just as long as you’ll be back soon.”

She smiled a little, smoothing my hair back from my forehead, and I chuckled when I realized she was feeling for the bump Sophie had pointed out. She blushed, letting her hand drop. “I’ll be back, Max. You can count on it.”