Title: The Trials of Love
Disclaimer: Own nothing….
Category: M/L, M/T, M/L in end, of course!
Rating: PG+
Summary: AU, no aliens, Max is a lawyer who is happily married to Tess. He’s never met Liz, until she becomes a client of his, divorcing her husband because of domestic abuse. Then, use your imagination…
Author’s Note: I’m home, sick, and bored out of my mind… And I’ve never written AU before… Here’s my first shot…

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PART 1

Max sighed as he entered his home and closed the door behind him, set down his briefcase on the coffee table, and sprawled out on the couch.
“Max, that you?” his wife, Tess, called from the kitchen.
“Yep.” He replied, shortly.
“You’re home late, tough day?”
“Oh, yea.”
Tess entered the room, wiping her hands on a dishtowel, “You wanna talk about it?”
“I’d really rather not,” he replied sitting up.
“Alright…. Well, dinner’s ready if you want it.”
“Coming,” Max said, quietly.
“OK.” Tess nodded suspiciously, and then left the room.
Max waited for a minute or two and after hearing his stomach growl for the food aromas drifting into the parlor, he got up and headed into the kitchen.

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~BEEP~
Uh, hi, Max. It’s me, Michael. I’ve got a new case for ya. Girl, 26, domestic abuse, filing for divorce. The guy’s caught and everything, but we still need the legal stuff to be sorted through. I thought this would be perfect for you. Call me.

Max groaned and leaned back in his chair, as he heard the news of yet ANOTHER case coming in. But being the lawyer, he knew he needed to take it on.
He slowly dialed Michael’s number, realizing he was making even LESS time for him and his wife, which had really been annoying her lately.
“Hello, Guerin and Whitman Law Firm, can I help you?”
“Michael, it’s me.”
“Hey, Max, you get my message?”
“Yea, I dunno, I’ve got SO many cases already.”
“Look, Max, this girl’s short on money and has huge medical bills and since you’re the lawyer with the lowest rates around here….”
“I - alright… Alright. What’s her name?”
“Liz Parker. I told her you’d call her.”
“OK, hang on, let me get a pen.”
Max had a pen, but felt he needed to collect his thoughts - and possibly think about his wife murdering him.
“OK, I got it.”
“OK, here’s here number.”
“Uh huh,” Max said distantly, scribbling down the numbers, “Yup, I’ll call her. Alright - thanks, bye.”
Here he was - engaged in yet another legal battle. With more time in the office, with a girl his age no less, and less time with the woman he was supposed to love.

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PART 2

BBBRRRIIINNNGGG, BBBRRRIIINNGG!
“Oh, damn, hang on!” Liz called to the phone as she finished wrapping a bandage around her knee.
“Hang on, hang on!” she continued to call, hopping out to the living room.
“Hello?” she asked, out of breath.
“Uh, hi, Liz Parker?” Max asked.
“Um, yes,” she replied, trying to catch her breath.
“Hi, I was told somebody by the name of Michael Guerin recommended me to you as a lawyer. I’m Max Evans.”
“Oh, yes! Thanks for calling!”
“Um, how can I help you?”
“I’m filing for divorce. My husband - he’s a jerk. Don’t know why I married him. He’s been beating me up for ages now.”
“Oh, alright, you should make as appointment with me here. I don’t really handle that, I’ll put you through to my secretary, ok?”
“Yes, sure, thank you very much!”
“You’re welcome. I’ll do everything I can to help.”

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“Hello?” Tess answered the phone from her house.
“Hi, hon,” Max said, awkwardly.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“I, uh, I’m gonna be home kinda late tonight. I’m being overloaded with cases.”
“I thought tonight was our night.”
“It was - I just - I’m sorry, but if I don’t do my job, I get fired.”
“I know,” she said, trying to sound indifferent, but Max could hear the disappointment in her voice.
“Look, don’t wait up. I’ll be home probably around midnight.”
“OK, fine, bye.” And she hung up.
Max pulled the phone away from his ear and listened to that droning dial tone for a few seconds, and then slammed it down onto the receiver and took out his files.

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Midnight came and went, and so did 1:00 a.m.. Max finally got home around 1:30 in the morning and realized he was in trouble when he found a TV dinner on the counter with a post-it note on it.

Dear Max,
Here’s your dinner and the chick flicks are on the couch if you want to practice your crying for tomorrow morning.
Love Always,
Tess

And it was then that Max knew he was in hot water.

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PART 3

BBBUUUZZZZZZ….
“Yes,” Max said into his speaker phone.
“We have a Mrs. - Miss Liz Parker here,” replied his secretary, “Who said she had an appointment with you now.”
“Um, yea, send her in.”
Max organized his desk a little as he waited for the girl to enter, but once she did, he dropped all that was in his hands and stood up.
“Hi, we talked on the phone,” she said holding out her hand.
“Yes, hi.” Max responded, slightly in awe of her beauty, as he shook her hand.
“Does divorce usually take a long time?”
“Hmm?” Max asked snapping out of his daze, “Um, not usually. Some can, but if the two sides cooperate, it’s done rather quickly.”
“Oh, good.”
“You want to sit?” Max asked, gesturing to the chair in front of his desk.
“Oh, sure, thanks.”
Max sat down too as he asked, “Did you happen to fill out a really long form in the lobby?”
“Yes, - ow!”
“Are you alright?”
“My knee. It’s all black and blue.”
“Jerk.”
“What?” Liz asked looking up.
“Oh, sorry,” Max quickly added, realizing his huge mistake, “I just don’t understand how someone could beat you.” He almost added “someone as beautiful as you”, but again he caught himself. Not only would that have been very unprofessional, but it would make him feel really guilty.
“Anyway,” he said lightly, trying to change the subject, “Do you have the form?”
“Mmhmm.” Liz replied, handing it to him.
“Thanks,” Max said quietly as he glanced at it, “Domestic abuse, divorce. That’s it right?”
“Yea, he was arrested a few weeks ago, but we’ve been trying to get divorced for a long time.”
“OK, both of you are willing to sign the papers?”
“I am, and I’m assuming he is. I haven’t talked to him for awhile.”
“I’ll call him. He’ll sign ‘em.”
“Thank you.”
“No problem.”
Then Liz glanced at her watch and sighed.
“Something wrong?” Max asked.
“No, I just missed my friends for lunch.”
“I could take you to lunch.”
Liz looked at him in confusion, “Don’t you have to work?”
“No, well, yea, but it’s time for my lunch break now anyway. C’mon… My treat.”
“Well, OK.”

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“So, where you from?” Liz asked over her salad.
“Originally? Boston,” Max replied, “But my dad got transferred to Roswell when I was sixteen. I’ve lived here ever since. How ‘bout you?”
“Always from here. It’s nice.”
“Yea, it is.”
The two talked on and on, unaware of who was watching them… Tess….

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PART 4

“It was strictly business!” Max yelled.

“Yea, it was also strictly business when you didn’t come home the other night!” Tess yelled back.

“It was business!”

“Then how come you two looked so cozy?”

“We were discussing terms of divorce!”

“Well, maybe that’s what we should be doing!”

“What?!? It was one night and one business lunch!”

“Fine, you know what? I’m leaving now. I’m going to my mom’s for tonight. I might be home tomorrow, I dunno.” Then she ran into her room.

“What? You’re leaving me?” Max cried as he ran in after her.

“Just for tonight,” Tess replied shoving her clothes into a duffel bag.

“But what-“

“No, Max,” Tess said firmly, yet quietly, turning on her heels and staring him in the eyes, “We need a break. I’ll be back soon. - I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Feeling tears start running down her cheeks, Tess turned again and left right then.

Max felt tears prick his eyes too, but he wiped them away and went to bed.

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“Michael, I can’t continue to do this case,” Max cried into the phone.

“The girl needs you!” Michael cried back.

“I also need my wife, and the whole job thing is tearing our marriage to pieces.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Take this case.”

“No, Max, this one’s yours. You gotta know that once you take a case you’ve signed on for the duration.”

“I know. I know, I just-“

“Just talk to Tess, that’s all I can say.”

“All right, fine, goodbye.”

“Bye.”

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“Hello?” asked a man’s voice.

“Hi, this is Max Evans, your wife’s attorney,” Max said trying not to explode at the guy.

“Hi, Mario Manchez, you got our divorce papers ready?”

“Yes, sir. You two just need to sign them.”

“How soon can I come in?”

“Uh, actually tomorrow I have an opening at 3:30. Is that alright?

“Yea, sure, but you can bet I’m bringin’ my lawyer.”

“That’s fine, sir.”

“Fine, tomorrow.” And he hung up.

“Obnoxious jerk!” Max said to himself, slamming down the phone.

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PART 5

“So, you comin’ home today?” Max asked Tess over the phone in his, once their, room.

“No, actually, I’m gonna stay a little longer. It’s nice staying with my mom.”

“Tess, c’mon, it’s really lonely here without you.”

“Yea buddy, welcome to my life every night you came home late, or didn’t come home at all. After working ALL day.”

“Hon, I’m sorry. It’s just a job is a job.”

“You’re absolutely right. But a wife isn’t just any wife. There’s only one of me and if you can’t value me as one a kind - if you value the time on your job more than time with me - then there’s no point in us being together.”

“Tess, I love you, this is insanity! If you HAD a job you might be late some nights too!”

“I could get a job, Max,” Tess said with dead seriousness and fury, “Don’t you go thinking I’m incapable.”

“I don’t, but you expect me to support us AND make time for us and well, sometimes there only enough of me to do one thing at a time!”

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I guess I just didn’t know you as well as I thought I did.”

“No, Tess, you know me better than anyone.”

“No, I don’t anymore. I’ll wait until I do again to come home.”

“No, Tess-“ and she hung up…. Again….

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“You agree to the terms in these papers, correct?” Max asked Mario and Liz.

Both of them nodded, picked up their pens, and signed the form.

“There you go,” Max said, standing up, “You’re done!”

“Thanks,” Mario said, and then got up and left. His lawyer followed as Max and Liz watched them, slightly in awe.

“He tends to be like that,” Liz said, standing up as well.

Max laughed a little, but Liz could hear the remorse in his voice. She’d heard it through the whole divorce process.

“I don’t want to be get too personal with you,” Liz said quietly, “But is everything all right?

Max hesitated, but then realized that it didn’t really matter if she knew, “My wife left me last night - at least for the time being.”

“Omigod! I’m sorry.”

“It’s weird - you think you know a person so well and then..” he trailed off.

“Yea, I know.”

“It’s like I woke up one morning and saw her in this whole different light, like she changed.”

Liz nodded solemnly and watched Max nervously play with a pencil, “How ‘bout I take you to dinner? My treat this time.”

“No, that’s all right, sorry for dumping my problems on you.”

“Like I haven’t dumped mine on you!”

“Yea, but I’m a lawyer. That’s what I do.”

“Well, I could pretend to be a lawyer. For tonight at least. Ok?”

Max was very reluctant to say yes even though he wanted to. He didn’t know if it was right. His wife just left him, because he was with Liz, and now he was going out with her. No - not going out - it was her, repaying Max. Yes, that’s what it was. “Ok,” he finally agreed, “I’ll take the rest of the night off.”

And that’s what Max did, then went out with Liz.

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PART 6

“This is a nice place,” Max said, sliding into a booth at a huge Mexican restaurant.

“Yea, it’s ok. I used to come here a lot with my parents,” Liz commented, getting into the booth across from him.

“Used to?”

“Yea, my parents moved away when I got involved with Mario.”

“So they don’t know about him beating you?”

“No. They disassociated themselves with me.”

“That’s horrible.”

“I got used to it, I guess. How’s your family? In one piece?”

“Pretty much, yea. I’ve got a sister at Yale, and my parents live in the city here. My mom’s a teacher and my dad’s an engineer.”

“Wow. You sound like you have a nice family.”

“Yea, I guess so. I’m pretty lucky.”

“Yea, you are. I think your wife’s pretty lucky too. You seem like a really nice guy.”

“Good luck convincing her of that.”

“Mind if I ask what happened?”

“We’ve been having problems ever since I became so overloaded with cases. I had a lot less time for her and last night it exploded in a huge argument and she went to her mom’s. I don’t know if or when she’ll come back.”

“Marriages are tough like that sometimes.”

“Wow.”

“Wow, what?”

“You’re amazing! You’ve been beaten by your ex-husband and you just seem so together! I’m griping over a little argument and you’re still happy even after all your pain!”

“Uh, thanks…”

“How do you do that? Get over pain?”

“By thinking about the happier things in your life. Being beaten’s bad. But surviving it enough to complain about it - now that’s a miracle. And I count my blessings every day.”

“I’ve gotta learn how to do that.”

“Well, I’ll help you. You’ve certainly helped me enough.”

“Hello, welcome!” A waitress said cheerfully, stepping up to Max and Liz’s booth, “Can I get you anything?”

“Uh, Coke?” Liz asked.

“Me too, thanks.” Max nodded.

“Be right back with them,” the waitress said, and left.

“How are you gonna help me?” Max asked, turning his attention back towards Liz.

“Well, first,” Liz said, pulling a pen out of her purse and a napkin off the table, “Is writing down your problems. Here - on this napkin.”

“On a napkin?” Max asked skeptically.

“Yea, write ‘em down.”

Max did as he was told writing down: marriage issues, too much work, stress, a unemployed wife, and migraines.

“OK,” Liz said, taking the list from Max, “Now we cross off the ones easily solved or impossible to solve.” She glanced at the list, “You can take care of migraines, aspirin. Doubt you’re gonna be able to employ your wife. Kinda impossible. I think stress goes with too much work and marriage issues. I think marriage issues goes with too much work. OK - there we go! You’re problem is too much work!”

“I know.” Max said, trying not to disappoint Liz, “I’ve known that for a while.”

“Then why haven’t you done anything about it?”

“I - I guess - I guess I don’t know….”

“My prediction - you want what’s best for yourself and your wife, but you’re digging your own grave. You need to relax. You need to skip work for a day and do nothing or pretend you’re sick and watch cartoons till dinnertime.”

“Here you go!” The waitress cried, all to cheerfully again, bringing in Max and Liz’s drinks.

“Thanks,” Liz said, taking them.

“Are you ready to order yet?”

“Um, no not yet.”

“OK, I’ll come back in a few minutes.” And the waitress disappeared… again…

“I can’t skip work,” Max said taking his drink from Liz.

“Yes - you can. Look, would it make you uncomfortable to come to my apartment tonight?”

“No, why?”

“Because,” Liz said taking a sip of her Coke, “I’ve got a hilariously funny movie. We’re friends, we could watch it and just get our mind off our troubles. OK?”

“Uh, yea, sure, after dinner, let’s go.”

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Max did go with Liz back to her apartment. And they watched the movie. And fell asleep.

“Omigod!” Max cried, jumping up from his position on Liz’s couch.

“Hmmm?” Liz asked sleepily, “Max what is it?”

“Omigod… Omigod… Tess, she-“

“Max it was just a dream,” Liz said soothingly, sitting up next to him, “We fell asleep. Tess, is that you’re wife? She’s fine.”

She talked to Max like she would talk to a five-year-old who had had a nightmare, but the gentle tone of her voice assuaged Max’s fears.

“Are you okay?” Liz asked with concern.

“Um, yea, thanks,” Max answered, grinding sleep, and maybe tears out of his eyes with his fists.

Then they looked into each other’s eyes. And that was the end of friendship. Liz took Max’s hand in her own and then leaned over and gently kissed him.

“Omigod, I’m sorry!” Liz cried, jumping back.

“No, don’t be sorry,” Max whispered, “It was…. Really nice….”

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PART 7

“Hello, Max Evans,” Max said picking up the phone in his office, “Liz, hi! How are you? - That’s good! What’s up? Uh, huh, sure, where do you want me to meet you? For lunch, sure. - OK, be right there.”

And Max Evans, HUGE workaholic, left work, no words said. Everyone in his office had noticed a difference in him. They didn’t know what it was, just that he and Tess weren’t together anymore. Or weren’t living together anymore, and it seemed ever since the separation, Max was a new man. And they liked him that way.


Max met Liz in the park, where she said to meet her.

“Hey, Max!” she called out from a bench by a fountain.

“Hi, Liz,” he yelled back, and jogged to the bench.

“OK, sit down. I have big news!”

“What is it?” Max asked, anxiously, taking his place beside her.


“I got a job!”

“You did? That’s great! Where?”

“In your office!”

“Omigod! What’re you doing?”

“Third secretary. They let me in ‘cause I’m a good friend of yours.”

“That’s wonderful!” Max cried as he leaned over and hugged her, “We should celebrate!”

“Where?”

“My place - tonight. I’ll cook. You just come. 7:00.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. OK?”

“OK. See you tonight then.”


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PART 8

It was plain by the outcome of just the rice that Max couldn’t cook. But he kept trying.

First of all, the chicken, though brown on the outside, was pink on the inside. So he cooked it longer and on a higher temperature. He wound up with what resembled a charred bird, though could have passed for an oddly-shaped lump of coal.

The biscuits called for two teaspoons of baking powder, which in Max’s mind would be the same as two tablespoons, seeing as how he couldn’t find a teaspoon. Trying one, he almost choked on the extremely powerful salty content.

He forgot to add butter and milk to the mashed potatoes, which resulted in a chalky mess, and he also forgot that after a certain date, milk goes bad.

After that fiasco, you can only imagine the condition of Max, nevermind the kitchen which was a complete lost cause. And that’s how Liz found him, in the kitchen, threatening the chicken with a carving knife, while trying tame the boiling bubbles flying out of the pot on the stove.

“Max, Max!” Liz cried, grabbing the knife and turning off the stove.

“I don’t like cooking,” Max said, glumly, turning towards Liz.

“Looks like cooking doesn’t like you either,” Liz commented wiping a blob of half-mashed potatoes off his forehead, “What happened?”

“I dunno, this whole thing seems impossible.”

“Look, we can get takeout.”

“Liz, that wasn’t the point. I could have gotten takeout before I started cooking, but I wanted to do something nice for you.”

“You have no idea how many nice things you’ve done for me, Max.”

“No - I - meant something really special.”

“Why?” Liz asked curiously, half not wanting to hear the answer.

“I really like you, Liz.”

Liz sighed, “Max, that’s what I was afraid of. You have a wife. You’re separated, but you’re still married.

“I know. I know, but you know me better from a week of acquaintance than Tess has in four years.”

“I don’t know, Max. Maybe you’re just saying this because you’re coming down from a very happy marriage and just want to believe you’re happy again.”

“But I AM happy again.”

“OK, ok let’s just drop this and celebrate,” Liz finally said, picking up the phone, “What do you want? Chinese ok?”

“What, you’re not gonna even try my potato paste?” Max asked playfully.

“Chinese it is!” Liz replied, laughing and then placed the order.

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Even with the takeout, Max and Liz created a pleasant evening for themselves. They ate their lo mein by candlelight and watched some soap opera special on TV.

The climax of the evening was when the pulled a Lady and the Tramp and both happened to latch onto the same piece of lo mein. And that’s how Tess caught them, walking in, calling she was home, only to find Max liplocked with his “business lunchee” oven Chinese and candlelight and a soap opera.


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PART 9

“Sorry to interrupt you lovebirds,” Tess said coldly, “But I guess came for the rest of my stuff.”

“Uh, Tess,” Max said jumping up, “This isn’t what it looks like.”

“Then what is it?”

“Uh, I,” but Max didn’t have an answer and that was plain.

“That’s what I thought,” she said, throwing up her hands and running into their room.

Max followed, “What are you doing now?”

“Leaving you,” she replied pulling dresses on hangars out of the closet. “For good.”

“No, Tess, I,”

“Max, you made a decision not only to forget I was in your life, but also to cheat on me. Staying together would make us more miserable than we are now.”

“So - that’s it?!” Max yelled, feeling tears start to burn his eyes, “We’re just throwing away four years of marriage?”

“WE’RE not, Max. I was perfectly happy with our four, going on five, year marriage. It’s you that wasn’t.”

“We can’t solve this?”

Tess closed her eyes, and turned towards Max, speaking surprisingly gentle, “Max, not all problems CAN be solved. You’re a lawyer - you’re in the mindset that with a piece of paper and a signature, problems disappear. Some problems are deeper than that.”

“Are we getting divorced?” Max asked in a whisper, not trusting his choked voice.

“Don’t you think it’s best? Truthfully?”

Max nodded and watched Tess break down in tears on the bed.

“Tess,” Max said, wanting to comfort her, but then realizing his maybe-girlfriend was in the other room.

“No!” Tess cried jumping up, “I’m leaving. Now. We’ll get together
our lawyers for the divorce.”

And with that she did leave, slamming the door behind her. Liz had heard almost the whole thing from the other room, but now went into the bedroom and found Max at the foot of his bed, an arm across his knees, and sobbing.

“Max,” Liz whispered, sitting beside him and putting a hand on his shoulder.

“We’re getting divorced,” he cried.

“I know,” Liz said gently and pulled Max towards her. He cried for a long time, then finally fell asleep in her arms, and she did too. What had brought apart a marriage, had brought a new love together.

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PART 10

The divorce process of Tess and Max was fairly easy because they were both ready for it. Tess finished moving into her mother’s house and Max and Liz became a steady couple.

“Hey, Liz!” Max said, entering her home and kissing her.

“Hey, what’s up?” she asked, pulling away.

“Just giving you these,” Max replied, pulling one arms from behind
his back, with a huge bouquet of red roses.

“There’s thirteen,” Liz said, looking up and smiling.

“Well, I know twelve is traditional, but I put traditional and birthday together and gave you an extra for good luck.”

“To what to I owe this?” she asked, pulling the paper off, and putting them in a vase.

“Nothing. It’s just I have a proposition for you. And I figured that roses would help.”

“What is it?” Liz asked warily, though grinning, while balling up the paper in her fists.

“Would like to move in with me?” Max asked nervously.

“Um, - sure! But where are you gonna put me?”

“Well, there is Tess and my old room, you know, but if you want a separate room, there’s always the guest room.”

“No! You’re room’s fine!”

“That’s what I thought!” Max beamed, then hugged Liz, picking her up and swinging her around.

“You know, this is perfect! My friend’s looking for an apartment, I’ll just give her mine!”

“Perfect. You wanna move in tonight?”

“Tonight?”

“Just bring some stuff.

“Are you sure?”

“As long as you are.”

“Well, ok, fine, let’s do that!”

Liz and Max packed her a suitcase and then she gave her friend Maria a call who was overjoyed. The day was good.

“Here we are!” Max said, dropping Liz’s suitcase inside the door and putting his keys on the coffee table.

“Um, I think you have messages, Max,” Liz said, eyeing the blinking red light on the answering machine.

“Push the big blue button!” Max called, while dragging Liz’s suitcase into his - their - room.

~BEEP~ Hey, Max. It’s Michael. Um, buddy, got some bad news. Tess, she’s dead. Doctor’s think she committed suicide. They found her on the kitchen floor in her mother’s house, an empty bottle of pills next to her. I’m real sorry. Her mother told me to tell you to call her when you get a chance. Call me too, if you feel up to it. Bye. ~BEEP~

Liz looked up from the machine in awe and then saw Max next to her, his eyes filled with tears and his shoulders shaking.

“Max,” Liz said gently, stepping up to him, “I’m so sorry.”

“I did this to her, Liz.” He whispered back.

“No, Max, you didn’t. It was me. I tore you two apart, I should have seen it then, I’m so sorry.”

“No, Liz, I could have helped, I could,” and the he lost all control and collapsed into Liz’s arms. He tried to hold back his crying, but he was powerless against Liz’s fierce embrace, which brought forth all truth in him, and his body was racked with sobs.

“Max, maybe I should leave,” Liz whispered into his shoulder, “Maybe I shouldn’t stay here.”

“No, Liz please,” Max pleaded, clutching her tighter, “Please don’t leave.”

“Ok, Max, ok,” she reassured him, rubbing his back in attempt to sooth his fears of her leaving, “I won’t leave. I promise.”

“I love you, Liz.”

“I - I love you too, Max,” she finally whispered back.

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PART 11

The service for Tess was heart-wrenching, though nice at the same time. It had everyone in tears, but not anguished tears, more happy-for-her tears.

“Hey, Max, you alright?” Liz asked, stepping out of a pew, wiping away tears with one hand, while taking Max’s hand in the other.

“Yea, I - I’m ok.” He replied uncomfortably.

“How ‘bout we leave?”

“Yea, sure,” he said looking up, “But can we take a walk first?”

“Of course. Let’s go,” and Liz led Max outside.

“Where’re you takin’ me?” Max asked, sitting next to Liz in the car.

“Special place,” Liz said, not wanting to give it away.

“Where is it?”

“Really close to here. And actually,” she said, turning onto a small dirt patch and parking, “We’re here.”

The two got out of the car and Liz led him down a small path through some dense trees and then they were out in the open on a huge gorgeous lake.

“Wow,” Max smiled, “This place is beautiful.”

“Isn’t it?” Liz responded, smiling herself.

“You know,” Max said, turning towards her, “I’ve lived here eleven years and never knew there was a lake.”

“Well,” Liz said, stepping up to him, “Don’t feel to bad. Not many people do. I didn’t for a long time. Actually, Mario brought me here on our second date. He introduced me to this place.”

“It’s great,” Max said, sadness filling his voice again.

“Hey!” Liz said cheerfully, trying to lighten the mood, “We should sit down. There’s a picnic table over to the right.”

Liz led Max to the table, where he sat down and she slid in on the other side, facing him.

“So…” Liz nodded, breaking the silence.

“Life’s ironic, you know,” Max started, completely ignoring Liz’s attempts to keep the conversation light, “You are beaten like crazy and have this wonderful outlook on life and then here’s me - being the whiner like usual, our thought-to-be-wonderful lovers leave us, and we come together to make the perfect couple that I didn’t think could even exist.”

“Yea,” Liz said taking in all the insight Max had just put into the whole horrible situation, “You’re right. But maybe it’s supposed to be this way.”

“Yea - I guess it is.”

Then a glint caught Liz’s eye and she realized that Max still had his wedding band on.

Realizing what Liz saw, Max stated, “I haven’t wanted to take it off. It’s like a part of me. You know, one of the only things that reminds of the good times with Tess.”

“No, it’s ok, I understand,” Liz said, taking his hand again, “I don’t care if you keep it on forever.”

“This doesn’t bother you?”

“Remember what I said about counting your blessing?”

Max nodded, not sure where this was going.

“Tess was a blessing,” Liz said, smiling, “If only for a small time, as was Mario. And you have good memories. Keep those memories forever. You don’t have to get rid of them because of me.”

“Thank you, Liz.” Max whispered.

“Always here, Max,” Liz whispered back, leaning forward and kissing him, “Always here.”

-------------------------------------------------------

EPILOGUE

Max and Liz headed home from the lake after dark, after having stayed there for five hours. When they returned home, they found a letter under the door.

They entered the house and saw the answering machine blinking again.

~BEEP~ Hey Max, it’s Michael. That letter under your door - they found it in Tess’s room. I thought that maybe you’d want to have it. Bye.
~BEEP

Liz read over Max’s shoulder the final letter of Tess Evans, now the former Tess Harding.

Dear Max,
I couldn’t stand to watch you and Liz together everyday, enjoying her company more than you ever enjoyed mine. But maybe it’s for the best.
Don’t worry about me, Max, I’m being taken care of now. And I’m not mad. I’ve always wanted what was best for you, what would make you happiest, and if that’s being with Liz, then so be it.
Max, I’ll love you forever, even though your love for me is probably dwindling. Take care of yourself and Liz, your obvious destiny.
Love Always,
Tess

“Wow,” Liz said, “That’s really… nice…”

“She always had that deep quality about her,” Max replied, putting down the letter.

“Are you ok,” Liz asked, watching him stand up.

“For once - I am,” Max replied, “I can take this off now,” he said looking at his ring and after a few tugs, pulled it off.

“You don’t have to do that,” Liz said softly.

“I want to,” Max whispered, smiling.

“I love you, Max.”

“Ditto, Liz,” Max replied, leaning over and kissing her, then hugging her to him, like he always would.

THE END!!!!