posted on 1-Sep-2001 7:28:53 PM
Title: Get In the Game
Author: Me Kippy1932⊕
Rating: PG-13 (always like to be safe)
Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with the show, actors, writers, producers, network, or characters in Roswell.
I only wish I did.
Summary: Max's life begins to change more than Michael and Isabelle would like as he becomes more and more frustrated with living in the background
Category: M/L or Other
Author's Note: As promised I am posting all the installments of this series. Here's the second.

Max Evans stood in his driveway tossing his University of Arizona basketball through the hoop in his front driveway. It was just beginning to get dark, that time of day when there's a bit of a haze over everything around you. A haze, Max thought to himself, that's what these past few weeks have been. It was all pretty unreal the more he thought about it. One day he'd been quietly pining over Liz Parker and the next he was going out with her. Well sure he wasn't really going out with her, they were just friends - at times incredibly awkward friends. She was going out with Kyle, she had been for almost two months. Liz talked with him about it, she talked to him about everything. And although it was almost painful for Max at times to listen to her talk about her relationship with Kyle he'd come to the conclusion that being friends with her was better than simply being on the outside looking in. Now he was involved in her life.

He bent down to pick up the basketball as it bounced off the backboard. What was really going on with him and Liz?? They were friends, awkward friends who spent much of their time staring at each other. He drove towards the basket and effortlessly layed the ball in the hoop. But he had always stared at Liz. Only for the past few weeks had his stares been returned. Isabelle and Michael knew now. They weren't happy but they knew and they lived with it. Isabelle had accepted and even sympathized with the fact that her brother couldn't simply sit back and watch Liz from a distance any longer. Both she and Michael kept a close monitor on their friendship however. Making sure that it went no further than a friendship. Dribbling
the ball between his legs, Max cut to the right of the basket, stopped, and layed an easy jumpshot through
the hoop.

"Hey.." Isabelle stepped outside. She was wearing a loose fitting pair of black sweatpants and a plain long sleeved cotton shirt.

"Hey," Max stopped dribbling the ball and he did a double-take at his sister's wardrobe. "No date tonight?" he smiled innocently and she simply shrugged.

"What about you?" she inquired.

"What's that supposed to mean?" he looked at his sister though he knew what she was referring to.

"I mean you going to meet Liz at the Crashdown?" Max looked towards the ten foot basket, releasing the ball from his hands. It sailed through.

"She's doing something with Kyle tonight," Max dismissed the issue and Isabelle moved under the basket to gather the ball for him. As soon as the ball entered Max’s hands he released it towards the hoop. For the first time in the fifteen minutes he'd been out in the driveway shooting baskets, the ball hit the front rim and bounced to the ground.

"It really bothers you doesn't it?" Isabelle questioned as she failed to retrieve the basket this time,
just watched her brother jog under the basket to pick it up himself.

"Kyle and Liz? no, I-"

"Max don't lie," Isabelle started to say and Max looked over at her.

"Look Iz, I'm fine with it - I play basketball with Kyle sometimes, I hang out with Liz. Nothing else..."

"Speaking of which. Max, have you even talked to Michael today?" Isabelle questioned.

"Yeah sure I have..." Max continued to take shots from far out and avoided any form of eye contact with his sister.

"When? You didn't hang out with him fifth period? you were with Liz in the bio room, and I saw him alone in the caf - "

"We were making up a lab -"

"Max, you're ignoring him," Isabelle finally stated what had been bothering her for the past week. Max opened up his mouth to say something but Isabelle interuppted, "between review sessions with Liz," there was something about the way she said the words that made Max finally look her in the eye, "and six hour basketball tournaments with Kyle you -"

"I play whenever they need an extra man - it's not like I'm there every day after school."

"No, you're at the Crash after school 'til it closes," Isabelle attacked.

"You guys can come with me? Not like I make it a solo affair.."

"What so we can watch you stare at Liz for two hours? I think I'll pass."

"What - did you come out here to criticize me? Forgive me for having a life.."

"That's the whole point Max, we're not supposed to-"

"-not supposed to have a life?" Max continued and the way the words came out of his mouth made Isabelle sigh loudly.

"Not supposed to get involved."

As Max walked through the halls of West Roswell High School, his sisters words kept ringing in his ears. Not supposed to get involved. He knew that was the motto that he, Michael and Isabelle stuck to. They had stuck to it since the fifth grade. Since Isabelle had first been invited to a classmate's birthday party. But now things were different. He saw Liz from down the hall and his heart began to beat so loudly within his chest he could hear it. Not be involved with Liz? That was impossible now that he knew what it was like to be with her. It was like asking him to stop breathing, stop eating. He needed Liz to get through the day. Suddenly out of the corner of his eye he spotted Michael. He appeared to have been looking at Max from his slouched position next to the water fountain, but as Max began to walk over towards his friend, Michael
quickly turned on his heel and walked in the other direction. Max rushed up to join him at his side.

"Hey Michael," he greeted, attempting to sound as casual as possible. Michael ignored him. "Michael?"

"Look, I know you were goin’ to see Liz - why don't you just not try to -"

"Michael I wasn't going to - " he glanced behind him, Kyle had now joined Liz. "I wasn't going to Liz." Michael simply glared at him.

"You were going to go to her. If you two are in a four mile radius of each other you'll end up together," Michael gave his friend a thoroughly disgusted look.

"She's going out with Kyle," Max stated as if that resolved anything in his life.

"Don't give me that - Face it Max, you've got a whole new life now. With Liz. Forget our sacred pact, forget all the promises, forget - oh yeah, the secret that your life depends on."

"You're overreacting Michael, I catch a milkshake at the Crash it doesn't mean my entire life is-"

"Hey....Evans," Kyle suddenly called as he brushed past Max with Liz joined at his side. "Paulie's out today," he stated as if no other explanation was needed, tossing a basketball into the air. Max just nodded his head slightly, mumbling a subdued yeah and realizing that what Michael said was right. His life had changed.

Max didn't actually talk to Kyle outside of the basketball court. In fact they hardly talked on the court. But when Kyle told him that Paulie was out, or that Rich had to bail early it was a command to be at the courts at 3:30 after school. A two on three shirts and skins game was ongoing after school that Wednesday. Max had been attending an after-school biology tutoring session - with Liz of course. He had received a B minus on his last test, a grade marginally lower than his norm and as part of mandatory class policy had to attend the after-school review session - taught of course by Liz. Not like it had been forced upon him or much of punishment. He wished he could get bad grades more often. Kyle had been on his back as he arrived late to the court however. Max was the secret to his teams success, at the moment they were losing. He and Senior Rob Archie, simply Archie to everyone, were glad to see Max jog onto the court.

"Bout time Evans," Archie commented, none too happy about Max's tardiness. Archie didn't care why Max was late, he was here now. Archie was a lanky 6'4 and he and Max along with Kyle made a good team. He didn't know Max too well, he hadn't even had a conversation with him over six words. Max didn't talk much when he played. Like today, he simply stripped his shirt off to join he and Kyle on the skins team and jumped into play.

His impact was quick. It took no more than two minutes for him to cut the deficit in half. He shot threes, he could drive to the hoop, he could pass, he could defend. And for all that he did, he never once said a word.

"Evans, how come you weren't at tryouts last month?" Archie asked, his voice had a sense of hostility in it. "The team could use you, man." The fourth year Senior starter again said it more as an intimidation than a compliment - at the moment the West Roswell Comets were having their fair share of woes. They had a meagre .500 record, and the wins they had attained were a struggle. Kyle was the only underclassmen on a Senior-laden roster. Max didn't respond and Kyle suddenly spoke.

"That's not Max's thing," he commented and the way which he said made Max jerk up his head.

"Why is it not my thing?" he spoke for the first time in two weeks. Kyle picked up his head, he hadn't expected Max to say anything. The four other people on the court had hardly known what his voice sounded like.

"What?" Kyle was beyond surprised that Max had said anything.

"I was...I was just curious why you said it wouldn't be my thing."

"Well Max, you're just not..." Kyle actually laughed slightly, "you're not real involved."

Max shuddered at Kyle's last words, a chill going down his spine thinking of how Isabelle had said exactly that the other day. Thousands of thoughts running through his mind, Max simply left the issue alone and as Archie finished tying his shoe he jogged back on defense.

The matter didn't arise again that afternoon. Archie seemed to dismiss the notion of Max joining the team, Kyle dismissed Max's sudden defensiveness and Max dismissed Kyle's comment. The next play he'd simply taken the ball and cut through Rich and Ben, laying the ball into the hoop. He looked out across the courtyard and saw Michael and Isabelle walk by as he drove to the hoop. They both glared at him as they walked silently on the other side. They glared at him as Kyle screamed out in celebration that Max's layup had put his team in front. They glared at him as he reached up with his long arms and blocked the shot of Rich Rundgen, passing it down the court to the awaiting Archie for two more points. Max actually
smiled then as his team went up by even more and as he looked to Michael and Isabelle glaring at him, he just glared back. Michael and Isabelle on one side of the fence and he on the other.

Dinner at the Evans house was quiet that night. Max hadn't spoken to Isabelle since he had seen her
walk by the courts - he knew it was juvenile to give her the silent treatment, but suddenly he didn't care anymore. What did Michael and Isabelle want from him? To live an unhappy, miserable and lonely life in the background? Unnoticed, undisturbed. He knew that the latter was exactly what they had aimed at for the past six years but the more he thought about it the more he wondered why. How did other people perceive them? How did Liz see him? Isabelle had friends, she was different - almost like the exception to their rule. So why was he denied an exemption from it? All the thoughts raced around his head as he sat at the dinner table quietly cutting his chicken cutlet. He hadn't even realized his parents were talking to him until his father actually yelled at him from across the table.

"Huh? What?" Max jerked his head up suddenly.

"You gonna eat the dinner your mother made, or you just going to play with it?" his father scolded him as Max pushed the peas all over his plate, staring down at the food and not at anyone.

"Oh, sorry..." he put his fork down.

"Y'okay, Max? You seem a little - off - today?" his mother inquired. Isabelle kept her mouth quiet at the other end of the table.

"Yeah, I'm - I'm fine..just - tired is all," Max assured his mother. Tired is right he thought to himself.

"Yeah I bet," Isabelle suddenly commented, "after playing basketball for four hours." The comment stung, as much as Max wanted to pretend it didn't. It hurt hearing his sister talk to him like that, Isabelle was more than his sister she was his best friend. He was quiet however. "How was the game, Max? Hope it was worth it?" She spat again and both parents seemed utterly confused by her sudden spitefulness. Again Max didn't say anything. "Oh real mature, Max! What are you just not going to talk to me for the rest of your life - oh wait, you should be just fine - you've got plenty of other friends!" Mr. Evans dropped his fork now and was about to intervene when Max finally said something.

"And what about you? You go out almost every weekend - with guys - you have more friends than I could even hope for, " Max said the statement with some sadness in his voice and he started to continue, when Isabelle interuppted.

"It's different Max, don't even go there, you're not being careful, you don't know what could happen, we can't just -"

"Isabelle I'm not talking about this here," Max ground his teeth together, reminding his sister that both their parents were sitting at the table with them.

"Talk about what - kids, what is going on?" their mother suddenly inquired and Max put his hand to his forehead, as if he had the most mind-knumbing headache imaginable.

"When are you going to talk about it? After it's too late?"

"It's not going to kill me to get involved a little!" he stated the thoughts that had been racing
through his mind.

"Involved a little? If this has anything to do with Liz -"

"Liz, Liz who???" Mrs. Evans inquired again but Isabelle continued.

"-then you and I both know it's not just involved a little."

"Leave Liz out of this -" Max defended.

"Whose Liz??What Liz?" Mrs. Evans continued to question while Isabelle continued her onslaught.

The words were flying at him from every angle. Isabelle criticizing him about everything and anything, his mother inquiring about Liz, his father inquiring him about what the problem was and he suddenly stood up from the table - unable to take it anymore. Throwing his napkin onto the table he grabbed his jacket and began to walk towards the front door.

"Max where are you going?"

"Max get back here!" both his father and mother ordered but the door slammed shut.

Max hadn't even bothered to get his jeep, he had just stormed out of the house and down the road. He didn't know where he was going, he was just walking. Away from home, away from the problems there - from Isabelle, from his parents so in the dark about everything in his life. He hadn't meant to end up at the Crashdown, but somehow after hours of walking around the streets of Roswell he did. The store was closed up, the windows dark. He suddenly remembered that Liz had told him how sometimes at night she stayed up on her balcony and he found himself walking towards it.

It's October 25, I'm Liz Parker and I'm confused. Confused about everything. The more time that I spend with Kyle the more I realize he's not the person I really want to be with. Because Kyle doesn't give me chills everytime I'm with him, my heart doesn't skip a beat every time he enters a room. Only one person does that to me. And each day that goes by that I spend with Kyle and not with him I just get more confused.

"Liz!" Max called down from the sidewalk. He wasn't sure if she was up there or not, but he called her name anyway. More than he had ever hoped in his life, he hoped that she was up there. "Liz!" he called hoarsely again.

Liz hadn't believed it the first time he had called her name. She'd known who it was the moment she heard it and the goosebumps began to appear, she just hadn't believed it. He need not call her a third time, she slipped her pen inside her journal, closed it and walked to the ledge.

"Hey.." she smiled shyly leaning over the ledge. There was Max, standing with his hands at his sides peering up at her.

"Can I come up?" he asked boldly and she was a bit taken aback.

"Umm...yeah, yeah sure - what're you, what're you doing here, Max?" she turned her back to doublecheck that her journal was out of sight. When she turned back around Max was hoisting himself over the edge. "It's late.." she stated, not sure of what she meant. Not as if she wanted him to go. She just spoke to fill the awkward silence she knew would develop.

"I know, I just..I had to...I -" Max stuttered, unsure himself as to why he had come. He couldn't help it, it was as if there was a force that had drawn him to her balcony, to her. "I wanted to talk to you." He finally made out. Liz did all she could to keep herself from fainting right there and she felt her face go hot. It was dark out, hopefully he couldn't see.

"What's up?" she asked, her voice wavering as she tried to control herself from saying something else. Something she might regret. Max sat down on the lawn chair Liz had been laying on before he came. She sat down next to him.

"When you look at me - do you...." Liz sat down beside him.

"Do I what?" she moved her face closer towards his.

"I mean before last month...before - like last year and....even now - would you.." Max stammered.

"Would I what?" Liz smiled, as again she questioned his purpose in coming here tonight. His face was only inches from hers and she was looking up at him, staring at him so intensely Max thought he would die right there.

He turned his head forward, "would you say I'm not involved?" he finally asked.

"What do you mean not involved?" she questioned, trying to pretend she wasn't frustrated that he had turned his head the other way, that she wasn't dissappointed.

"I mean..." Max paused and lowered his head into his hands, "I don't - I don't know what I mean...I'm sorry." He apologized standing up and Liz got to her feet too.

"No, I'm glad you came..." she said quietly, not believing that she'd actuallly said that out loud. What was she doing? She might as well have just read him her entire journal. Read him the pages and pages of entries she had written about him.

"You are??" He asked softly, " 'cos I was - I was afraid maybe I....I woke you up."

"You didn't," she smiled, shaking her head, her hair falling over her shoulders. More than anything in the world Max wanted to reach out and touch that hair.

"Good..." Max mumbled as he used all the control he had to keep his hands at his sides. But again both their faces moved closer together. "I better go..." he said weakly, taking a step back.

"Okay..." she, for some reason, nodded her head in agreement.

"'Night.." he said softly, walking to the edge and climbing over.

"Good night.." she mumbled back as his head began to dissappear behind the ledge. "Oh and Max!" she suddenly called and rushed over to the edge, looking down at him. "Just because you're not on student government and you don't play seven varsity sports," she laughed at the last comment - knowing she was thinking of Kyle - "it doesn't mean you're not involved..."

"He climbed up your balcony??" Maria exclaimed as she and Liz worked behind the counter of the Crashdown Saturday morning. Liz just nodded, a tiny smile playing on her lips as she hoisted a new tray of coffee cups up onto the counter. "Did he say why??" she inquired.

"He started to ask me something about...I don't know about being involved or something, I didn't really - "

"Like his lack of involvement?" Maria was quick to comment and Liz suddenly found herself rushing to Max's defense.

"He is too involved...I mean he might not seem - "

"Let's see: does he have a friend other than his sibling." Maria said it more as a statement than a

"Michael," Liz was quick to say.

"Whose not an ex-convict." her friend added.

"He has me..." Liz said softly and Maria glanced over at her friend.

"Mmmm, so you're admitting there's a friendship there?"

"A friendship? Yes," Liz nodded her head, "I mean...yeah, Max is my friend,'' she stated as if she
were assuring herself more than anybody else.

"He's your friend?" Maria doublechecked.

"Max is my friend," she loudly announced to herself and in the process the entire diner. There weren't too many people in on Saturday morning luckily, but as Maria picked up her pot of coffee and looked up she saw the entire Evans family standing in the doorway. Maria gulped loudly and nodded her head, quickly making a bee-line for the kitchen. Liz was about to scurry after her friend but Mr. Evans spoke loudly.

"Do we just seat ourselves?" he questioned loudly and his voice echoed throughout the room.

"Yeah dad, just - just sit where you want.." Max dismissed his father before Liz could answer, almost a bit embarassed as he ducked into the closest booth he could find. It wasn't his normal booth and he found the Crashdown didn't have the same appeal it always had without seeing Liz.

"I don't see why you made us come here," Isabelle grumbled irratably, getting up at eight AM not being one of the highlights of her weekend.

"Well you kids always hang out here, and we never go out to breakfast anymore -" Mrs. Evans began.

"And we thought it'd be a good time to talk about what exactly happened last night during dinner." Mr. Evans stated and everyone looked down the table to Max.

"Max?" his mother questioned but Max didn't respond.

"Max what was that?" his father interrogated, referring to his dramatic exit last night. Max's eyes
were shifting every which way but at his parents and just before either said another thing Maria stepped up to the table to take their drink orders. It was no doubt weird for her to be serving her two classmates in such a formal manner but she had seen the uncomfortable look on Max's face as she and Liz had debated who was going to serve them from their vantage point behind the counter. Knowing that her timid friend wasn't going to go up, Maria grabbed her order pad and came to Max's rescue. He looked at her gratefully as she explained to his parents what exactly was inside a Neptune Omelette and Isabelle just looked at him.

The two still had hardly spoken at all since their argument last night and their parents were more than curious to find out why the two, who were normally best of friends, were in such a face-off. Mr. Evans was reading the back of the menu, which described in detail the rumored 1947 Crash and the series of events that had trademarked the town of Roswell ever since.

"You kids never got into that stuff, huh?" he commented as he finished reading it and looked on all the walls at the signs about UFOlogist meetings and conventions, interviews and conferences with those who
had achieved rumored direct contact. "That whole alien thing..." Isabelle and Max just looked at each other quietly, a nervousness about the two of them sensing that each and every thing they did would make themselves too obvious.

"Well Izzy at least went to that Crash Festival last month, Max - do you just not find it interesting at all?" his mother asked genuinely curious, although Max heard it as a direct interrogation.

"I don't know...the novelty kind of wears off after a gets old," Max attempted an excuse.

"That's all you think of it - a novelty?" His father raised his eyebrows, "you don't think there's even
the slightest possibility of life on other planets?" Max shifted his eyes around nervously again and he looked towards Isabelle.

"Well there's always the possibilty...but, come on, little green men with antennaes?" Isabelle said honestly, answering for her brother and Max picked up his head, seemingly in agreement with her statement.

"Yeah," was all he said. Mr. Evans just shrugged as he put down the menu.

"Well Max, you did have your space-camp phase.." he laughed and Isabelle suddenly joined in, smiling for the first time in two days.

"Oh my God...Max's space camp phase!" Isabelle looked towards her brother smiling widely "you kept trying to convince mom and dad to let you try out for DoubleDare because the main prize was a trip to space camp.." she laughed at the memory and Max just looked down at the counter sheepishly. Pouring coffee at the next booth over, Liz couldn't help but overhear the conversation and smile.

Liz and Maria burst through the back door of the Crashdown hurriedly at 4:13 Wednesday after school.

"God Liz, we are so late - your dad's gonna kill us!" Maria threw her bookbag down and seized her uniform. Liz didn't comment on the criticism she was sure would await her and her friend and immedietly began changing. "Why does Kyle have to do that?" Maria asked exasperatedly, referring to the way Kyle had stopped Liz and Maria on their way out of school and interrogated Liz. Liz just rolled her eyes, obviously no more happy about the matter than Maria.

"I guess he feels like he has to check up on me..."

"That's just sad - I mean he knows you work at the Crashdown every day after school." Maria fixed the antennae headband onto her head and smoothed out her apron.

"I don't know, I think he saw me talking to Max after Bio Monday..." Liz dismissed tying her hair back in the regular ponytail .

"Mmmm - what about?" Maria inquired.

"," Liz sputtered and she quickly headed into the kitchen, leaving Maria standing there with a wide grin on her face. Liz could lie all she wanted Maria knew that when Max and Liz got together they talked abount anything but bio.

"So Liz you want to take the counter? I'll take the room?" Maria attempted to hide her smile as she entered the main room and joined her friend. They looked out into the room, the group of orthodontists that had been making the Crashdown a living nightmare for the past week was seated at the first four tables, there was a group of Kyle's friends wedged into a booth and Sherriff Valenti was seated at a table by himself. Suddenly the door swung oopen and bookbag slung over his shoulder, Max entered the Crashdown. He didn't seat himself immedietly, he just stood in the doorway and stared up at Liz behind the counter. "Forget it.." Maria whispered as she began to take orders of those sitting at the counter, leaving Max and the room to Liz.

Max walked over to his typical booth, and though he was smiling he couldn't help but note that for the fifth straight time he was coming into the Crashdown alone. He was sitting in the booth without Michael and Isabelle. Well that is if you didn't count Saturday morning with his family. It was the only time Isabelle had even been pleasant to him since last week. And he missed his sister, he missed Michael. As much of a dream it was to be with Liz, to be friends with her, to be able to talk to someone other than Michael and Isabelle he began to wonder if it was worth it.

"Hey Max," Liz approached the booth, "get you something?" she questioned casually.

"Cherry Coke," he responded automatically and Liz mouthed along to the familiar order - Max got Cherry Coke everytime he came in.

"Nothing else?" she grinned and Max scanned up and down the menu. He glanced up at the clock on the wall and shook his head.

"I'm gonna be eating dinner in a couple hours - just uh - some Saturn Rings."

"Okay," the smile remained on Liz's face as she nodded her head, "there's an uh - " she motioned behind her to the tables of orthodontists, "an orthodontists convention, so it might be a little...slow coming out." Max shook his head and smiled.

"I'm not in a rush."

Just as there had been Friday afternoon last week, Friday afternoon the following week there was a shirts and skins game ongoing on the front basketball courts of West Roswell. Max had just set Archie up for a spectacular alley-oop and they were jogging back to line up on defense when Liz suddenly walked by on the other side of the chain link fence.

She glanced over once, knowing that it was Kyle and his friends but did a doubletake as she saw that Max too was on the court. She knew he played every now and then, but when she saw him drive down and lay the ball in the hoop and sprint down the other way she stopped in her tracks and just watched him. She hadn't realized he was that involved in the game, she hadn't realized that the other members on the court actually knew his name. She watched him as he defended his basket, bumping and moving uderneath it amongst the other boys. She didn't even realize she was staring at him and his bare chest until Kyle called her name.

"Hey Liz, y'okay?" He called from the basket, holding up his hand signally a break in the game.

"Huh?" she jerked her head over to face Kyle.

"You were just kinda...blankin' out there - had me kinda worried," he said honestly. Liz breathed a sigh of relief as she realized he hadn't seen that she had been staring at Max. Max almost seemed to be hiding behind Archie and she could hardly see him. He was fidgeting from foot to foot, obviously agitated and awkward at being at the same place with both Kyle and Liz. She could just barely see the side of his face, but her eyes were fixated on the small portion of him she could see and she hardly heard what Kyle was saying to her. "So we're on for tonight, right? Just a coupla movies? Not too late?" Max listened quietly in the background and he motioned for the basketball from Rich and began shooting the ball while Kyle and Liz continued talking about their date tonight. The four others on the court remained quiet, but Max was noisily
dribbling and shooting the ball through the clamorous chain net. The more Liz and Kyle talked about that night, the louder Max dribbled the ball.

"Yeah, my Grandma Claudia is - I can't stay that late."

"You can or you can't? Max - cut it out for a minute, gimme the damn ball - " Kyle suddenly barked irritably, the combination of gardeners next to the court and Max shooting and dribbling under the basket made it hard for Kyle to hear Liz's soft voice. Almost like a scolded puppy, Max silently stopped and walked to the front of the net with the rest of Kyle's friends, handing Kyle the basketball.

"Hey, Max," Liz suddenly greeted quietly and casually.

"Hey," Max mumbled, looking down to the ground. Kyle guickly glanced curiously at both Liz and Max and continued his conversation. Liz nodded her head to everything that Kyle said, but she hardly heard anything, her eyes remained on Max.

Mrs. Evans had called Max inside for dinner three times that night, as he stood in the driveway continuing to shoot baskets. The fourth time, Isabelle stormed out to get him.

"Max!!" she yelled angrily, "Max - listen to mom!" she yelled again but Max continued to shoot the basketball.

"Be in in a minute.." he told her between breaths and Isabelle noted that not one of his baskets so far had gone in.

"Max, just come inside," she said frustratedly yet Max continued. Over and over he would release the ball from his hands and every time it would bounce off the front of the rim or off the back of the back board or sometimes miss the net completely.

"Liz going out with Kyle tonight?" she broke the empty sound of the basketball bouncing on the ground in a rare gesture of friendliness, though her voice had spite in it more than anything. Max just looked straight ahead at the basket and swallowed. "Look Max, just come in and have dinner okay - you're being disrespectful to-"

"I have to make a basket," Max stated and continued.

"You don't have to," Isabelle argued and Max finally looked over at her.

"I can't go in without..." he sought for the right word, "I have to make a shot."

"God when did basketball become so important to you!?" Isabelle asked as she began to storm back into the house to which Max had no answer. She stopped midstride suddenly and spun back around to face him. "I mean you already played at school for two hours - you come out here and you play.'re with Liz after school," Isabelle's voice actually began to waiver, "you haven't even spoken to Michael or I all week..." and a solitary tear suddenly dripped down her face. Max dropped the basketball. "Max, I'm sorry..." Isabelle finally uttered. "I'm sorry for...for - telling you, you couldn't have a life - and you couldn't make friends..'cos I realize that I do.." she paused momentarily. "But they're not Max," she whispered, "they're not my friends, they're not even close to it...and when I see you and Liz - ....I'm more lonely than you are because at least you have her." Max didn't say anything. He would have never imagined that Isabelle would be jealous of the life he lived. Isabelle had all the girls envying her - even the Senior girls, she had all the boys knocking down her door. Max was just Max. "And Michael..." Isabelle just held her hands up to
her face. "Michael doesn't have anybody - he has us and that's it. And if you're not there..."

"I can't go back in the shadows, Iz - I can't." Max stated firmly.

"I get that Max, but this whole you and Liz thing..." Isabelle made a face and Max just looked at her, the way he had for the past week. Isabelle caught herself but before she could continue their mother ordered them inside as their dinner was getting cold, leaving the conversation unfinished. That's just what the whole he and Liz thing was. Unfinished. Always getting interuppted - by one thing or another. Their relationship didn't progress, there was nothing to worry about. That's what he continued to tell himself though he knew how far from the truth it was. He thought back to Friday night, how close he'd come to kissing her, how close she’d come from kissing him. Too close. His mind drifted back to her words after he had apologized for coming over. I'm glad you did. Or not close enough?

Walking into his room from the kitchen the same words kept flashing through his head, the same thoughts. Too close or not close enough? He always analyzed the things that occurred between he and Liz to no end, never actually attaining an answer or conclusion to anything. It was so different from when he was actually with her. Then he didn't have time to analyze, he didn't have time to think. Everything he did just happened. It was like he had no control.

"Max - answer your phone!" Isabelle yelled from behind her door, interuppting Max's thought process. He jogged towards his bedside to pick up the phone, but his answering machine had already started. ~ Hi it's Max - I'm not here right now but leave a message ~ came the recorded message.

"Hi Max," the voice on the other line sounded and at the sound of it Max instantly snapped his head up. "It's Liz. Um, I'm at the hospital," thoughts immedietly began to race through Max's head - Liz at the hospital, in the hospital. "Something happened to my grandmother," he felt guilty breathing a sigh of relief, but he couldn't help it, "y'know we don't know if it's serious, seems really bad. I'm just..." there was a long pause and Max realized just how shaken up Liz was, the way her voice had begun to waiver. "...scared. Look I dont even know why I called you, I guess I just wanted to hear your voice or something." And Max's heart stopped. "Um - now I just feel completely stupid. Look - you - dont come here 'cos everyone's here...I'll see you at school tomorrow," she said awkwardly. "Sorry for the weird call. Bye" Max hit stop on his answering machine, then he rewound the message and listened to it again. And again. And again before he grabbed the keys to his jeep, his leather jacket and ran out the door.

Liz was standing nervously in the waiting room of the hospital with her family. Dr. Sanchez had just come outside with the revelation that her grandmother had had a stroke and no one in her family had said anything since. Kyle was standing awkwardly beside Liz. Their date had been interuppted as he and Liz had been returning to the Crashdown only to be greeted by an ambulance and her grandmother on a stretcher. Liz was looking down at the ground - her grandmother had had a stroke, her grandmother so full of life, so seemingly unstoppable was lying in a hospital bed. The doors suddenly swung open and Liz lifted
her head to see Max standing there, hands at his side just staring at her.

Kyle blinked twice to make sure it was really him. That his mind hadn’t been playing tricks on him. What the heck was Max Evans doing here? But Max didn't even notice Kyle. All he saw was Liz.

"Max..." Liz mumbled to herself, her mouth actually turning up at the corners. He walked towards her and she took a few steps towards him. "My grandmother just had a stroke..." she couldn’t believe the words that she was saying - it almost seemed unreal.

"Oh," was all Max could say, he didn't know how to react to news like that, especially when he could see that this person who mattered so much to him was so distressed over it, "I'm sorry." She just looked up at him and Max could see in her eyes that she'd been crying. His heart ached as he could tell just how hard saying those last words had been for her. "You okay?" he asked quietly what he had been worrying over since she had called him. She just nodded her head slowly. There was silence between them, that awkward silence that always developed after a while.

"You gonna introduce us?" Mr. Parker suddenly called to Liz and she quickly spun around, remembering that her parents were in the room. And Kyle. Max realized Kyle was in the room for the first time and he knew how odd it must look for him to be here.

"Everyone...this is Max," Liz introduced awkwardly and Max just looked at the surprised and confused parents.

"Max, what're you doing here??" Kyle suddenly asked loudly, his voice having a sense of animosity to it. Max's mind sought quickly for an excuse. He hadn't thought of an excuse when he had driven over, all he had been worrying about was Liz.

"My cousin had a car accident," he quickly spat out, "I don't think it’s serious." He couldn't tell if
Kyle had bought it or not. He stood there with his arms folded as he watched the close and unspoken interaction between Max and Liz. Or maybe he was overreacting. Maybe Max's cousin had gotten into a car accident. Whose to say he hadn't. Then he thought about the news Archie had delivered to him the other day. How he had seen Max and Liz talking a little longer than normal at the Crashdown when she had taken his order. "I better go see if he's okay," Max turned around to head out the door and as he turned the corner and dissappeared Kyle saw, out of the corner of his eye, Liz's saddened face watching him go.

Max walked through the halls of West Roswell attempting to be as unnoticeable as possible. Friday night had been a mistake. Of all the things that he'd done with Liz this had been the worst. He had hardly ventured out of his house all weekend, he hadn't even gone to the Crashdown, afraid that Kyle would be there or one of his friends. He had seen the way Kyle had glared at him in the hospital. Not like he could really blame him. It must have looked more than odd for him to have arrived at the hospital. He couldn't help but notice that Liz wasn't in school however, and his mind feared the worst. Liz never missed school.

Kyle must have realized it too because as he waited by Liz's locker seventh period and realized that she wasn't coming, he walked over to Max. Kyle had thought things through over the weekend too. He had been tempted to ask Liz that night in the hospital that night what exactly Max was doing there, but he knew it wasn't the time or the place. He had come to his own conclusions. Max was being a good friend. He had seen Liz on his way to see his cousin and stopped to see what she was doing there. That's what Kyle told himself, that's what he kept telling himself. So what if Max was Liz's friend? Alex Whitman was Liz's friend. Liz could have guy friends, that wasn't what bothered Kyle. It was the way that she had been around
him. For that brief moment of time. Part of his head told him to forget about it, not to think too hard about Max's presence the other night. Max was a good guy. He was quiet and he didn't stir up trouble. He wouldn't get mixed up with Liz. Especially if he knew Liz was with him. And the entire school did. Max was just Liz's friend. He could live with that

"Hey Max," Kyle walked up towards Max and Max stiffened up. "You know where Liz is?"

"I," Max stuttered and he looked towards Kyle. He didn't look like he was coming over to interrogate Max or to threaten him. He looked casual so Max tried to be casual too. "I was about to ask you," he added jamming his hands in his pockets.

"You heard from her at all?" Kyle chewed his gum and Max just shook his head. "Hmm..." Kyle just scratched his head and walked away. Max stood with his feet rooted to the spot, standing next to Liz's locker as Kyle continued down the hall. He eyed Maria out of the corner of his eye as she walked down the hall with Alex. If Kyle came to him something must be up.
He called Maria's name urgently, walking across the hall towards her. Max barely talked to Liz in school and he never talked to Maria to begin with. He called her name again and she continued to walk, almost seeming to dismiss it as a figment of her imagination. If Maria was confused, Alex was even more confused - as he was completely unaware that Max and Liz were even friends. Last time he checked they were lab partners and that was all. Maria continued down the hall and Max jogged past her so that he was standing in front of her as she walked forward. "Where is-" he suddenly caught how desperate he sounded and attempted to sound less pressing than he knew he had, "where's Liz today?" he questioned, attempting to be casual. Maria tried to suppress the smile she knew would emerge. Wait 'til Liz heard about this. Max interrogating
her about where she was. Liz needed news like this to help cheer her up. Hell, Maria needed something like this to cheer her up. Grandma Claudia was almost like her own grandmother. "Is she - is she okay?" Max
continued, "I mean I know about.." his voice grew quieter. "Is she alright?" Maria was about to burst and
she was surprised she wasn't smiling from ear to ear as Max continued his interrogation about Liz. Alex just watched and listened to everything with open ears, completely confused by Max Evans sudden interest in Liz's life. Maria chose her words carefully.

"I think you should probably ask her yourself..."

Max walked tentatively around to the back entrance of the Crashdown - to the backdoor of Liz's house. It was mid-evening, the commotion in the Cafe had begun to die down and it was just barely beginning to get dark. He knocked on the door softly, afraid of the state which he would find Liz. He was expecting bad news as Maria hadn't answered him directly. Mrs. Parker opened up the door, and Max was caught a bit off guard. She looked tired and Max was sure under different circumstances the meeting would have been a bit more awkward, but she just smiled meekly.
"Hi uh..." he stumbled.
"Max right?" Mrs. Parker said with a sense of exhaustion. Max just nodded his head, shifting from
foot to foot nervously. "Liz isn't really - " Mrs. Evans began to say but Liz appeared behind her.

"It's okay mom," Liz dismissed her mother, walking towards the door. "I'm okay."

"You sure Lizzie? You should go rest -"
"Mom, I'm good..really," she looked at Max standing outside the door, "I'm fine."

"So..." Max inquired softly as the two walked down the street.

"So she hasn't woken up yet," Liz finished, saying it with a shakiness in her voice that had Max thinking she was about to break down any minute.
"I meant are you okay?" he asked, suddenly stopping in his tracks and looking at her worriedly. She was staring at the ground. "Liz?" he called her name softly and she finally picked her head up to meet his gaze.
"I'm just..." she sighed loudly, "I don't know this is all just’s like a bad dream." Max was quiet as Liz stared into his eyes. He was looking at her the way he always did. The way that made her feel like she was the only thing in the world at that moment that mattered. "And I'm not waking up."

Isabelle had dismissed herself from her friends and pulled Michael into the eraser room fifth period to talk to him about everything she had discussed with Max about his relationship with Liz. Michael still refused to accept it.
"Michael he's just her friend."
"Don't tell me you believe that," Michael laughed. "That's just because she’s going out with the
Sheriffs son. You and I both know that if she wasn't -"
"Max would still stay away from her," Isabelle defended her brother.

"Like he's staying away from her now?" Michael glared at Isabelle and she just looked down at the floor.
"We can't ask so much from him, Michael...I mean he tries - he really does." Michael laughed.

"Yeah he sure stayed away from Liz like he said he would."

"He's trying, Michael - but you can't make him - "
"He's not trying."
"He is," Isabelle almost yelled, "he is...we can't expect him to...they're just friends." Michael smiled
at the statement and laughed to himself.
"They're not gonna stay friends Isabelle, you know that - you see the way he looks at her."

"I trust him."
"You want to trust him."
"He's not going to tell her - I do know that."
"How do you know he hasn't already? She could know about all of us." Isabelle rolled her eyes.

"God Michael, why are you always like this?"
"Like what?" Michael shot back, "I'm being safe. We can't get involved and Max knows that."

"Making a friend isn’t going to endanger our lives..." Isabelle began to slowly see the reasoning
Max had been using on her for the past week. "You don't know what it's like for him..." she suddenly softened, "you don't know what it's like to have someone like that, that you feel like you can tell anything to - who you can with, feel normal with -" Isabelle said with a sense of longing in her voice.

"And you have someone like that?"
"No, but Max does..." Michael didn't respond, "Let him have her." Isabelle stated plainly.

"Have her?" Michael raised his eyebrows, suggesting more than Isabelle had intended in her statement.
"You know what I mean...let him...have a friend...let him - get involved. For the two of us at least
let him get involved."

Maria's eyes remained fixedly on the eraser room and though she couldn't see anything through the frosted window pane she appeared as if she was watching an entire scene being played out on the glass.

"What're you looking at?" Max suddenly questioned, approaching Maria from behind. Maria turned around sharply, caught off-guard at Max's comment. She and Max had talked in the Crashdown after Max had spoken to Liz yesterday evening. He had even offered to help Maria who was short-staffed and manning almost the entire room alone. She had insisted that he didn't and though Max had persisted at first, he had finally relented - seeing Maria's stubborn resiliance. In the small gesture however, he had simply shown to Maria that he wanted to be her friend. He knew he was part of Liz's life now - whether Michael and Isabelle
liked it or not - and that being involved in that life meant being friends with Maria. She had returned the
gesture, knowing full-well the same thing.

"Your sister just went in there with Michael..." Maria stated curiously, as if she was expecting an explanation from him. Maria couldn't help but notice it. Michael had entered the tiny room first. She had been watching him. She had been watching him for the past two years. Though she made cracks about him all the time, calling him an 'ex-con' or 'a juvenile delinquent', she couldn't deny the fact that she was attracted to Michael Guerin. Over the past two years he had become less of a scrawny little kid with an uncut mop of sandy blonde hair, into something she couldn't quite put her finger on. He was an enigma - the type of person her mother would call a 'vibrator'. He just sent out these vibes. Sure she had never talked to him, except once in the eighth grade when they'd been paired together on an English project (that she had ended up doing all the work on), but there was just something about him.

"Michael...Michael Guerin?" Max doublechecked and Maria just shook her head.

"Yes Michael - goes-to-class-once-a-month -Guerin," she couldn't help the comments that flew from her mouth. Max's mouth remained in a thin, straight line and Maria wasn't entirely sure why he seemed so upset. Before he could say a thing his name sounded from down the hall.

"Evans!! Evans!!" it sounded and both Maria and Max turned their heads. The cries continued and suddenly Kyle came sprinting down the hall. He was in his basketball warm-ups, and looked as if he had just run a ten mile race he was sweating so hard. "Max," he uttered breathlessly, stopping next to a genuinely confused Max and Maria. "I've been looking all over for you...we need you." Kyle said desperately.

"Who?" Max asked naively, unsure as to what could be so important as to have Kyle address him in such an urgent matter.

"The team."

"Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains"

-Jean Jaques Rousseau

Edited by - kayarra on 09/02/2001 19:32:45
posted on 1-Sep-2001 7:30:43 PM
The West Roswell Comets were scheduled to do battle against the Irving Heights Cowboys that afternoon at 3:45 and as the entire student body pushed and shoved their way through the gym doors and made their way towards the bleachers Isabelle and Michael scanned the crowd for Max. The Comets basketball games were the sole highlight of the winter and fall sports season. Going to homecoming dances,
parades and parties was one matter, not attending the basketball games was another. Michael had somewhat reluctantly followed Isabelle into the gym. He didn't mind if he was seen as an outcast, and that's where he and Isabelle and Max were different. They just wanted to blend into the background. He wanted to fade away.

Michael had been unwilling to go to the game and even moreso to go with Max. Unlike Isabelle, he hadn't even spoken to Max since last week. If Max could give the silent treatment, Michael could even better.

"I don't see him," Michael mumbled, not seeming overly bothered by the comment. "Oh well.." He
turned on his heel.

"Come back here," Isabelle grabbed him by the back collar of his shirt and jerked him around. "Let's go get our seats," she climbed up the wooden bleachers, searching for open seats. She and Michael plopped down and glancing to their right suddenly realized they were right next to Liz, Maria, and Alex. Michael grimaced.

"What did Max set this up?"

"Where is he? Max is never late," Isabelle asked, a bit concerned and Maria perked up her head.

"You guys don't know?" she interjected and Isabelle and Michael glared at her.

"Excuse me? We weren't talking to -" Isabelle began to say, but Maria just ignored her attempt at a brush off.
"You were talking about Max - he's not watching the game," Michael and Isabelle rolled their eyes and Michael began to grumble something under his breath. "He's in it."

"What?!" Isabelle exclaimed, grabbing Maria's left arm.

"Maria what are you talking about?" Liz grabbed her right arm.

"Max is - " Maria began to explain, but suddenly the overhead sounded.

"AND NOW YOUR WEST ROSWELL COMETS!!" it blared and the small team of eight came jogging onto the court. Michael and Isabelle's mouths dropped open in disbelief as they eyed Max jog out onto the court behind the rest of the blue and gold clad team. Liz's mouth dropped open as well, not so much out of surprise though. As she saw him come onto the court with the team her mind drifted back to the conversation they had shared on her balcony the other night, his concern over being involved. And Liz genuinely smiled for the first time since last Friday.

The team was parttaking in the pre-game shoot around, knocking balls into the empty and open basket, but Max stood near the bench, dribbling quietly by himself. Michael had gotten to his feet the minute Max had jogged onto the court and as Michael made his way down onto the gym floor, Isabelle in close pursuit, Max put the ball onto the ground and walked to the corner of the court where they were waiting.

"What the hell is this?" Michael demanded harshly, pointing to the shiny blue and gold warm-ups Max was wearing, "what are you doing?" Max was quiet.

"They needed an extra-" Max began to explain but Isabelle cut him off.

"They needed an extra man, yeah right, Max - you say that all the time," Isabelle fumed.

"It's true," Max said honestly.
"You could have said no," Isabelle fought back.
"Evans get on the floor and warm up!" the coach barked and Max nodded his head, but turned back to Michael and Isabelle.

"Who said I want to?" he retaliated quietly.
"That's the thing - you like your fake little life a little too much. Just remember Maxwell, you're different from everyone out there. You'll never fit in." Michael said the words harshly, not seeming to be bothered by them at all. Attempting to be a bit less gentle, Isabelle cut in.
"Being friends with Liz is one thing, Max, playing on the basketball team is another," Isabelle reprimanded.
"No, it's not," Max defended and he opened up his mouth to say more, but was cut off by the coach again.
"Evans, take some shots!" he barked and Max again nodded his head and turned back to Michael and Isabelle.
"You're enjoying your pretend life and you're putting our lives at stake," Michael continued his attack.
"I'm not putting anyone's life at stake - you think I would ever do something I think would put us in danger." Max responded truthfully.
"I think when it comes to Liz, you don't think at all," Michael replied causticly and Max looked at him, his face seeming to tell Michael that he had crossed the line.
"This has nothing to do with Liz," he stated firmly, "this is about us - the three of us, going out,
living a life, not watching it go by."
"Evans!" the coach barked once again and this time Max began to back onto the court. Isabelle and Michael were left standing on the sidelines by the corner of the court, Isabelle's arms crossed and her mouth in a worried line and Michael scowling as Max picked up a ball and finally began to shoot.

The time remaining until the start of the game drifted just shy of two minutes and as Max had been shooting for three minutes already and not made a shot yet, Kyle began to get worried. It was he who had suggested bringing Max onto the team. When Rich Rundgen had broken his ankle during gym class fifth period, everyone had been devistated. Today was the big game of all big games. The rivalry to top all rivalries - the West Roswell Comets vs. the Irving Heights Cowboys. They battled each other in football, they battled each other in baseball and they battled each other in basketball. Kyle knew that if they wanted to beat the Cowboys today they couldn't simply bring a freshman up from JV. Irving Heights was going to be difficult to beat to begin with. Hell, they needed a miracle. And Kyle’s mind immedietly went to Max.

The Seniors glared at Kyle though, as everyone of Max's shots bounced off the rim or off the backboard. Even Archie, who had played with Max countless times before, found it hard to stick up for Kyle’s decision. Max was unable to concentrate and nothing was coming close to the basket. Suddenly he felt foolish, maybe he should have just said no to Kyle. Maybe it was a dangerous idea, exposing himself like this. His mind began to whirl again, like it always did. He thought about going back to his life in the shadows, where he was unnoticed and ignored. Then he looked up at the stands, at all the people up in the
stands. And then his eyes rested on Liz and his shot sailed through the hoop.

An unhappy Isabelle and disgruntled Michael returned to the stands and Liz couldn't help but be curious. She had seen the confrontation they’d had with Max down on the sideline and had been intrigued. They had both seemed so irate at Max’s presence in a basketball uniform and it had seemed as if Max was frustrated by them.
"What was that about?" Maria whispered to Liz as the both Michael and Isabelle returned to the stands with irate looks on their faces. The two plopped down next to Maria and whispered in hushed tones to one another. By the time the buzzer sounded, signalling the start of the game they both appeared to have calmed down a bit. Michael turned his attention to the game and as the starting five walked onto the court and Max stayed on the bench with the three other reserves, he threw up his arms.

"Are you kidding me?? All this and he's not even starting!" Michael yelled and Isabelle just poked him.
"Michael.." she mumbled, a bit embarrassed by his outburst.

"No - you've gotta be kidding, he’s not just gonna-"
"He's the first man off the bench - relax!!" Maria suddenly interjected, cutting into the conversation and Isabelle, Michael, Alex and Liz just stared at her, surprised by her newfound basketball knowledge. "What? What? I heard Kyle talking to him!" she defended. "He's the sixth man - don't worry. He'll play."

The scoreboard read 14-2 after only five minutes had gone by. The Comets were getting drilled and many of the fans in the stand had already begun to leave. Another three points were added to the board and Michael stood up.
"That's it, I'm goin' home," he stated flatly.
"Michael.." Isabelle groaned, "just stay."
"First man off the bench, huh?" Michael glared over at Maria and she shot him a look right back. Just as the words came out of his mouth, the coach tapped Max on the back and he pulled off the shiny blue and gold warmups and left the three other reserve players on the bench. Liz smiled as she watched him clerk in at the scorers table and she craned her neck to see him better. At the next stoppage of play, Max jogged onto the court, replacing the starting Senior point guard DJ Smith.

"Now checking into the game for West Roswell, number fifteen Max Evans," the announcer sounded routinely, and Isabelle and Liz both erupted, standing up from their seats.

"Alright Max!! Let's go Max!" they cheered, and Max seemed a bit embarrassed down on the court at the sudden applause. Liz looked over at Isabelle awkwardly as they both sat back down, eyeing each other warily. Liz knew Isabelle didn't like her. She had never even spoken to her, but she saw the way that Isabelle looked at her when she was with her brother. Liz quietly sat back down and Isabelle glanced towards her and gave the faintest makings of a smile. They looked down on the court, to a nervous Max, taking his position in the game, smiling at the knowledge that at least they had one thing in common.
Michael attempted not to look interested, but Isabelle knew he was. If he hadn't been at all interested he would have left. So he sat like he had been before, slouched against the bleacher behind him attempting to look disinterested and detached. But he wasn't fooling anybody.

Max stepped into the starting point guard position, his hands sweating and his brow glistening. He looked to the other guard, a player he had never played with before. Mack Bradley was the leading point-man on the West Roswell squad and as the referee handed Mack the ball behind the baseline Max wiped his hands nervously on his shorts.

"Relax Max!" Archie called to the uneasy sophomore, for the first time calling him by his first name and not simply 'Evans'. "Just pretend like we're on the court after school," the experienced Senior shouted words of encouragement from his position at center.

"You ready, man?" Mack inquired casually and as Max glanced up at Liz in the stands and nodded his head quickly, Mack passed him the ball. Max dribbled up the court a few steps and passed the ball back to Mack. Taking it across halfcourt, Mack acting as pointman and team leader on the court looked around for the developing play. He'd been told about Max. He had been told about his amazing three-point shot, his infallible free throws, his spectacular passes, his drive to the net. Not only by Kyle, but by Archie too, by the injured Rich resting on the bench, by Paulie McKinley - resentful of Max's advancement and his spot on the bench. It seemed almost impossible that all of that came out of the quiet, dark-haired sophomore standing across from him. If Max was so good how come he hadn't seen him play before? Taking a few cut backs
and looking towards a heavily covered Kyle, Mack passed the ball to Max, who was clear for a three, waiting to see his so-called magic. Max hesitated with the ball and threaded a pass through the center to Archie. Failing to convert the pass, the Cowboys seized the rebound and immedietly looked for the outlet pass. The very next play Mack again gave the ball to Max, who though not as open for the shot as last time, opted to pass to Kyle. Kyle passed the ball back to Mack and Mack returned the ball to Mack.

"Take the shot, Max!" Kyle yelled as he moved to get open, but again Max gave the ball to Mack. With the shot clock now running down Mack was forced to take the shot, that bounced off the backboard and into the hands of the Cowboys. On the Comets next position Mack again looked towards Max for the play. Max dribbled towards the key, looking for the open pass. By now Archie, Kyle and Ray no longer wanted to be open - they wanted Max to take the shot.

"Let's go Comets!!" he recognized Liz's voice sound from the stands.

"Shoot it, Max," Isabelle mumbled softly to herself. She'd seen Max play. For the past three weeks
she'd seen him play. Outside in the driveway, rain or shine. She knew Max could shoot. He had gone ten minutes at a time without missing a shot and while she didn't know what had sparked the change in her brother, what had motivated the sudden concentration on athletics, and the concentration on being involved, she knew that she had to accept it. She had to accept whatever had suddenly made him unable to remain in the shadows. Then she looked towards her right, towards Liz, staring intently at Max - her eyes focused on him and only him, and then her eyes shifted back to Max, who she knew out of his peripheral vision was returning the gaze. "Shoot it, Max!!" she yelled loudly and, with the enouragement from his sister ringing in his ears, Max released the ball from his hands. The ball swept picturesquely through the net and the Comets
had five points.

Max's first three-pointer had sent shock-waves through the West Roswell gymnasium. Fans who had been heading out the door, stopped and turned around as on the Cowboys ensuing drive, Max swiped a pass away with his hand and broke down the court alone for an easy fast break and two points.

"West Roswell basket, scored by number fifteen, Max Evans," the announcer sounded again and again Isabelle and Liz leaped into the air, this time smiling at each other as they both glanced down at Max. Michael feigned disinterest, but Isabelle knew he had been surprised by Max's play. The players who had been slouching on the bench suddenly picked their heads up. Suddenly West Roswell wasn't so out of this game. 17-8 was no longer such an impossible margin to make up as they looked to Max on the floor as he grabbing a rebound and passing ahead to Ray Chavez. Ray didn't go for the easy two, instead he passed it back to Max for three points. 17-11 and the Cowboys called a time-out, sending the Comets fans into an uproar.
Kyle, Mack, Archie and Ray all gathered around Max, slapping him on the back excitedly, rejuvinated by his incredible play. The coach had nothing to say as the team stood by the bench for the thirty second time-out. He just looked towards Max in wonder. He was different from all the other players, the coach sensed. There was a quietness about him, a humbleness. And a mysteriousness. He had never before heard of Max Evans and he knew no one in the crowd had either. Max had gotten his jersey only minutes before the game and so it did not read EVANS across the back as Kyle or Mack's sported their names. All it had on it was his number. The crowd was mystified by the dark-haired basketball phenom. Except for those members of the student body, hardly anyone knew his name or even who he was.

"Son, why didn't you try out for the team last month?" Was all he could say and Archie and Kyle both just laughed at the comment and Max bowed his head. The players on the bench all jumped up and huddled around Max. Awesome job, Evans, Yeah Evans, they would congratulate and Max just looked around the gym in awe. He was hardly registering anything and his eyes rested on Isabelle and Liz cheering happily for him. Isabelle was happy for him. Isabelle was smiling for him but more importantly, she was
smiling for him standing next to Liz. As he and the four others walked back onto the court his eyes remained on the two. He saw Isabelle say something to Liz as the two sat back down, he saw Liz smile and Isabelle laugh. And down on the court he smiled.

The Comets went on a seventeen point run after the time-out came to a close. Thirteen out of the seventeen points were from Max. He was in a state of amazement as he jogged off the court at the end of the quarter. As he looked to the cheerleaders yelling for him he saw people he had never even spoken to shouting and cheering for him. He would stare around at the entire gym, but his eyes always continued to drift up to Liz. None of the players knew how to respond in the locker room. DJ Smith, the man whom Max had replaced was a bit resentful that the young upstart sophomore had filled in so well for him, though he couldn't be too upset at the fact that they were now leading the Cowboys. Mack now loved Max, he put him in a head lock and tousled his hair yelling at him for not joining the team earlier and he and Archie roughed him up playfully. It was the two Seniors who took to him the most. Kyle for the most part was quiet as he sat in front of his locker with a towel over his head watching the two Seniors laugh and joke around with Max. He had heard Liz cheering for Max too loudly and too often that first quarter. He’d seen her staring at Max too frequently and he’d seen Max too many times staring up at Liz. He had no more excuses to fill his
mind. He had no more recoveries or explanations as to why whatever was going on between Max and Liz was going on.

It drove him insane for all of the second half. Everytime Max scored he’d glance up to see Liz's face glowing as she watched him jog back up the court. The coach had nearly taken him out of the game as he was proving so ineffective. All he could keep thinking about was Max and Liz. How all this time he had been so nice to Max and all the while Max had been seeing his girlfriend. He was fuming inside with each basket Max took. As more people stood up and cheered, and Mack and Archie slapped him five, he
just got more angry. Liz and Max's sister had hardly sat down all of the second half and even Maria and Alex had begun to stand up as the more Max played, the more he amazed everyone in the gym and the more he annoyed Kyle. Max would hit two three-pointers in a row and as the student body would begin chants of Max, Max, Max! Kyle would just clinch his jaw shut. The game drew to a close, the score West Roswell 72 - Irving Heighs 61 - and as the 'Max Support Group' made their way down to the court, Kyle began to make his way over towards Max. Hot, sweaty and fatigued after registering thirty-six points in the game, Max just smiled as Isabelle didn't say anything either, she just hugged him. Michael stood in the background, hardly flinching, simply staring at Max with a detached look. Max just looked past Michael to Liz. She was standing quietly behind Michael, waiting for her turn to congratulate him. Isabelle not wanting to make a scene, yet so incredibly happy for her brother, pulled away from him. Besides, she knew who Max wanted to go to.

Liz just walked slowly towards him. Kyle was marching towards Max from behind, ready to confront him, but he stopped in his tracks as he saw Liz approaching him. She was smiling slightly, the corners of her mouth just barely turned up as she walked to the sweaty number fifteen. Knowing what was going on with Liz's grandmother and how upset she was over the matter, when he saw Liz smile his feet stopped moving. She stood in front of Max and for the longest time neither said anything.

"Max, I had no idea..." was all she could utter, at a loss for words, as was Max, her voice hardly a whisper. "How come -"

"I didn"t try out for the team before," Max finished her sentence, he’d been asked that question at
least ten times already. Liz just nodded her head. "I think you know," he answered softly, his voice cracking a bit. Isabelle's head shot up at the comment, suddenly worry that maybe he had told Liz. How else would she have known? What could Max possibly be talking about? Liz just smiled.

"Yeah," she nodded her head shyly. "You didn't have to..." she shook her head, "I mean - what I said Friday...I meant it - you don't have to -"

"I know," Max smiled, nodding his head. "I wanted to." Liz let the statement sink in and she just nodded her head.

"I didn't know you were so good though," she suddenly said playfully shoving his shoulder.

"Neither did I," Max laughed, scratching his head and Isabelle just smiled as she saw Max for the first time, truly happy. One would mistake him for the hometown high school hero standing there with Liz. He had singlehandedly won the most important game of the season for the Comets and now, talking with Liz, Isabelle was almost saddened at the sight. She knew how much Max wanted to be with her, what
torture it was for him not to be. And after spending the entire second half of the game with Liz, though she hadn't said it directly to her, Isabelle knew how much Liz wanted to be with him. Michael slowly ambled as casually as possible over to Max, attempting not to seem too enthused or excited. Neither said a word, Max waited for Michael to speak first and Michael waited for Max.

"It's still not safe," Michael raised his eyebrows in a scolding fashion, "it's not smart." Max
remained quiet and again Liz just listened with curiosity. Wondering why joining the basketball team could be viewed as an unsafe maneuver. Michael's stone wall began to crumble however. "It's pretty cool that you kicked their ass though," he added and Max just smiled.

"You should join," he laughed and Michael shoved him jokingly.

"Don't push your luck." Suddenly Maria butted into the conversation.

"You know what we should all do?" she said enthusiastically looking around to the conglomerate group of people huddled around Max, "is go out tonight. You know, like a victory party." The six standing there looked awkwardly at each other. Alex was completely lost and in an oblivion. Maria had attempted to fill him in during the game about everything that was but wasn't going on with Liz and Max, but there were holes all over her story and he was thoroughly confused. No matter, he would never turn down a night with Isabelle Evans.

"I..I don't uh - " Michael stuttered, unused to the friendly invite. No one ever invited him anywhere. Maria looked towards him hopefully and though he opened up his mouth to decline, nothing came out.

"It'll be fun - the six of us," she urged, looking towards Max and Liz, then to Isabelle and Alex. Liz knew her friend was trying to hook up her and Max more than anything, but Maria was trying to do the impossible here. Have the six of them all go out as a group. Hardly any knew each other. Isabelle barely gave any of them the time of day and Michael barely knew Alex’s name. The 'Elle McPherson' of the Sophomore class gave a slight nod to her head however.

"Maybe," she said quietly, looking towards Liz, then Maria, and then finally to quiet unassuming Alex in the background. There were worse things she could do tonight than go out with Maria DeLuca and Alex Whitman. "I'm definitely up for a victory celebration." Max and Liz both agreed, and though no one else did Maria still looked pleased by her suggestion. Max and Liz stood together, neither saying anything. Wanting to say so much, but keeping both their mouths shut. There was enough sexual tension in the air to cut with a knife and Maria quickly grabbed Alex’s arm and began to walk away, leaving the two alone as Alex began his bombardment of questions. Then, a bit reluctantly, Michael and Isabelle walked towards the
exit leaving Max and Liz alone. The two finally stood alone by the empty bleachers. They both opened up their mouths to say something at the same time. Liz laughed.

"You go first," she urged and Max shook his head.

"No, go ahead," but neither said anything, they both just looked at each other hiding smiles and hiding and holding back what they both wanted to say.

The last thing he wanted to happen, Max and Liz alone, Kyle began to storm towards Max again.

"I should go..I'm all.." Max lifted up his jersey, motioning towards the locker room.

"Yeah," Liz just laughed, "I'll see you tonight though?" she questioned and Max just nodded his head.

"Yeah..tonight," he nodded as she headed out the door of the gym. Max just smiled as he watched her go and suddenly an incensed voice sounded behind him.

"That's not cool, Evans," Kyle suddenly interjected, stepping up towards Max. Max spun around
to face Kyle.

"What? What's up, Kyle?" Max aked, genuinely confused.

"What's goin' on with you and Liz - "

"Nothing's going on -" Max corrected innocently.

"-it's not cool. I mean - I could deal with you coming to the hospital. Right, whatever, your cousin
got in a car accident or not, you came by to check on her - that's fine. You hang out at the Crashdown with her a little - that's cool," Kyle began to raise his voice and Max was unsure as to what Kyle was aiming at. "I could deal with you two being friends, but Liz is my girlfriend Max - and I like her...a lot. You know, I thought we were friends." Max seemed taken aback by the statement, he would hardly qualify Kyle as his friend. Kyle seemed genuinely bothered though by the matter though. "You takin' my girl like that -"

"Kyle, I didn't take her. Liz and I are just -"

"Aww you're just friends. That's sweet, Max, that's really sweet. Look - Archie's the one who told me about how you're all over her at the Crashdown. I mean I never figured you for the type of guy to lie, but-"


"Yeah, he said you two are all over each other."

"Well then you must have misinterpreted him, because - " Max began to stand up for himself and Kyle just laughed.

"Max, Max, Max - there's no use lying. I'm here just to tell you - to stop. Stop doing whatever it is you're doing. Fine, you're not together. Then what the hell are you?"

"We're friends," Max stated again, not sure if he wanted to get into this conversation with Kyle of all people.

"There's something more than friendship there - and I want it to stop," Kyle suddenly commanded and Max just stared at Kyle, confused by his sudden supremacy.

"Whatever's going on - stop. Because now it's like...Liz doesn't even know I exist anymore." Max's prior feelings of anger towards Kyle's sudden authority now turned to pity, of all things. "I mean I finish the game tonight, and she doesn't even.." he didn't finish his sentence, seeming clearly bothered by the issue, "Now it's all about you."

Max dried his wet hair with a towel as he walked into his room from the bathroom, he glanced at the clock quickly. It was 6:40, he was due to meet Liz, Maria and Alex at the Crash in twenty minutes. As he pulled on his tan button down, neatling closing the cuffs and straightening and smoothing the wrinkles he thought back to Kyle's ultimatum. Even Kyle could recognize that there was something between Max and Liz. Why couldnt they? He walked into this sisters room.

"You gonna come?" he asked hopefully and Isabelle just shrugged, seemingly busy as she applied makeup and searched through he closet. Max just sat down on the bed, a tired and frustrated expression on his face and Isabelle just looked at him curiously.

"Max, it's not that big a deal if I don't-"

"No, it's not that..."Max dismissed quietly, "it's just this whole thing with..."

"-Liz," Isabelle finished. "Look Max,"

"Kyle came up to me," Max suddenly sputtered and Isabelle looked at him wide-eyed.

"What'd he say?" she asked urgently.

"He just...he told me to stay away from her - he doesn't want us being friends - I mean he thinks, he thinks we're together."

"What'd you say?"


Isabelle and Max made their way to Michael's in near silence. Max just kept his eyes on the road as he made his way to the trailer park to pick up Michael. The conflict with Kyle had been bothering him, and eating him up inside but he didn't say anything.

"So are you going to do anything?" Isabelle finally broke the silence. "I mean -"

"I don't know," Max said quickly, "I don't want to-" Max faltered, "I's safer to back down."

"Max, if I've learned anything from you the past two weeks, it's not to back down. You know- not staying in the shadows," Max continued driving. "If anything that we've gone through the past weeks means'll stand up for yourself." Max glanced over towards his sister.

"What're you suggesting?" Max smiled, "I fight Kyle?"

"That you, 'get in the game' you know? Exactly what you said to us - don't sit back and passively watch. You tell Michael and I to go out and get involved and okay, we're taking a risk. We're going out...Michael, God do you even know what a big step this is for him?" Isabelle was referring to the fact that he was coming out with them tonight.

"I realize that."

"Do you? I mean - Max you want to be with her, that's what this whole thing was about - "

"It wasn't."

"It's what prompted wanted to be with her." Max beeped the horn as he stopped the jeep in front of Michael's trailer. Isabelle could even confront the issue. That made Kyle, Michael and Isabelle. Hell, even Maria and Alex now. So why couldn't he. Why couldn't Liz.

"I can't," he said cautiously.

"You have to stand up for yourself!" Isabelle
turned to her brother. Max, who always got beaten up in the sixth grade because he had refused to hit back. "You take this huge risk, you go join the basketball team and you can't even stick up for what you want!" Max was silent, "You can't back down from this, from him...I mean, who is he to control your life - to control Liz's life?"

"I don't blame him - I mean I have been hanging around her a lot."

"Stop that!" Isabelle said angrily, "stop sympathizing with him. You go out and tell us to get involved, to come out of our shells. Do the same for yourself! We're going out and making friends, like you said. Now go do what I know is the hardest thing for you." Max honked again as Michael failed to come out. Max failed to look at his sister. "Playing basketball is one thing, but sticking up for yourself, confronting what you want," Isabelle paused for a moment. Max could hardly believe what Isabelle was advocating him to do. "That's something you've never done.”

The night had started off more than awkward. No one had known where to sit or who to sit next to. Except for Max and Liz. He, Liz and Isabelle had ended up sitting in one booth and an uncomfortable Michael sat with Alex and Maria on the other side. Drinks were plopped down in front of them and Isabelle raised her glass, seeming in proposal of a toast.
"To Max," she stated simply and all seemed to be in favor. Especially Liz. Max just bowed his head.

"And the all new West Roswell basketball team," Alex added, they all nodded in agreement, but that was as far as the group conversation went that night. Max and Liz had talked quietly amongst themselves, seemingly in their own world and the other four just sat there tapping their fingers or fidgeting with the menu. Maria made several attempts for conversation which ended quickly with a short response from Michael. Liz laughed at a comment made by Max and Isabelle suddenly joined in. The conversation
began to spread and finally the group began to talk with each other, but it quickly came to an end as Kyle approached the table.

"Max, what's going on?” Kyle suddenly laughed in disbelief eyeing Max and Liz sitting close together. Max looked up at Kyle and he knew Isabelle's eyes were on him.

"Nothing," Max dismissed. "I mean - we're just - the six of us," Max faltered, clearly unnerved by
Kyle's presence. He was still unsure how to go about anything.

"Yeah I thought I said I didn’t want you together," he laughed again, "so what're you doing?"

"Kyle - look, we were just -" Liz began to protest, but Kyle shut her down.

"Liz quiet," Kyle commanded, "I'm talking to Max." And there was something within that statement, that order, that made something in Max snap. "I told you not to go near her -" Liz opened up her mouth to object at the statement again, but Kyle continued, "get out - get away from her," Kyle ordered casually.

"No," Max said softly and at that moment Liz laced her foot around his ankle, rubbing it against his.

"What?" Kyle was more than shocked. He had expected Max to be submissive as usual.

"No," Max said louder this time, more forcefully and Isabelle looked over at Max, smiling. For the first time he was standing up for himself and as she looked to Liz she knew how much she must mean to him. Kyle laughed again to himself.

"Liz - come on, you're coming with me," he reached to pull Max out of the booth and grab Liz, but Max resisted.

"Leave her alone," he pushed Kyle's arms away from him and the air suddenly grew thin. Kyle looked towards Max in disbelief.

"There is something going on with you two isn't there?" he asked icily, glaring at both Liz and Max in the booth, in disbelief that Max had actually pushed him. "Liz -you're coming with me." Again Kyle reached in to retrieve Liz and this time Max stood up from the booth.

"She doesn't want to go with you," he stood between Liz and Kyle, quietly sticking up for her.

Before anyone knew what was happening, Kyle clinched his jaw shut and spun around quickly, punching Max squarely in the jaw and sending him to the linoleum floor of the Crashdown. Everyone at the booth immediety stood up, Michael was about to take a run at Kyle if Alex had not been standing in front of him. It was Liz who ran out first
however, though Max was on his feet before Liz could come to him. He held his hand up to his lip where blood was flowing and just looked at Kyle, swallowing the retaliation that was inside of him. Liz just walked towards Kyle, who didn’t seem at all bothered by his previous action. The other customers eyed the group of kids warily.

"Kyle, you touch him again," Liz said delicately, "and we're done." Max's head immedietly shot up
and he looked towards her in amazement. Kyle shook his head as he looked at Liz in shock.

"Look what you've done to her!" he turned towards Max. Max didn't say anything, he simply stared at Liz. At the protective words that had come out of her mouth. About him. Seeming to know that his relationship with Liz was over no matter what he did, Kyle's fist again met Max’s jaw and the two came crashing onto the floor. Chairs were overturned and as they fell with a clatter, the customers seated around scattered, some ran to the counter, others gathered around as Max and Kyle scuffled around on the floor. Punches were thrown by both and Liz could see blood on both their faces. No one dared to interrupt, but Liz could hear Isabelle muttering under her breath. 'Get him, Max,' she mumbled quietly. Liz and Maria were the only things keeping Michael from joining the fray as he watched Kyle lay a solid hit to Max's cheek. Seizing Kyle's collar, Max wrestled the varsity athlete off of him and managed to throw him into a table. At the clamor, and the commotion by the other customers Jeff Parker suddenly ran into the dining room.

"Hey, hey - what the heck's going on?? Break it up!!" the restaurant owner yelled as he ran between the two
boys who had both quickly staggered to their feet. "Kyle what's this about?" he asked the sheriff's son, a boy he had known before to be responsible and well-tempered. His daughter had good taste. He looked to the other boy, he was wearing a brown leather jacket and a tan button down shirt that was now stained with blood on the collar. Beneath the tousled hair, bruised face and rumpled clothing Jeff Parker thought he recognized the boy as the one who had come to visit Liz last Friday in the hospital. He and Kyle stood opposing one another, standing feet apart as if they were repelling magnets. Kyle looked towards Liz and
mumbled something unintelligible as he glared towards the boy one last time and headed out the door.

Max walked through the hallway attempting to hide his face, yet knowing that everyone had seen it. They had seen his bruised cheek just like they'd seen Kyle's black eye. People were talking, Max knew they were. It didn't help to stem the flow of gossip when Liz approached him in the hallway.

"Hey Max," she stepped up to his locker as he was emptying his books into it. "I've been looking for you - we didn't get to talk." Max nodded his head as he pulled out his biology book.

After Kyle had ran out of the Crashdown last night, Mr. Parker had turned to question him. Max had looked around wildly, a lost look in his eye almost. 'I'm sorry,' he had mumbled, looking towards Liz then towards her father. 'I didn't mean...' he had stumbled, holding his hand up again to his lip as he began to back towards the door. 'No, Max - you're bleeding," Liz had protested, but he had left.

"Are you okay? I wanted to -" Liz began to ask.

"I'm fine," Max dismissed, "You know, I just - I want to apologize for -"

"No - I want to apologize for Kyle"

"That's not your fault," Max was quick to say.

"No, I mean..." she looked up at Max's face. There was a huge bruise on his left cheek, two cuts above his eye and an open cut on his bottom lip. "God he really..." Liz voice drifted as she looked up at his face. "That's really bad."

"You should see the other guy," Max managed to crack a smile and Liz just laughed as the two walked to bio together.

Basketball practice had drawn to close at six o'clock, it was 6:30 however, and Max was out in his driveway shooting baskets. Releasing the ball from his hands, Max's mind drifted off to everything that had happened this past month. To him, to Michael, to Isabelle. To Liz. He wasn't sure what exactly Michael and Isabelle thought about the whole situation. Isabelle had been the one who had urged him to stand up for himself, to stand up to Kyle but in the whole scheme of things - him joining the team, him being friends with her in the first place, the fact that it had been he who had initiated the friendship. And that he had kept it from her and Michael for that first week. She didn't really want him to *be* with Liz. It had been the whole principle of it. About being involved. The concept that had dominated this past month in the three's lives. It had been the most conflict filled month of their lives. Max jogged under the basket to retrieve the ball and
as he dribbled back out to shoot it he saw Michael standing by the curb. He had his hands jammed into his pockets, looking more than awkward. Including last night Michael had said no more than six words to Max in the past week. He didn't know how Michael felt about any of it.

"You know there's a rumor going around that Kyle was jumped by a group of UFO nuts outside the center," Michael finally broke the silence awkwardly as he couldn't help but look at the cuts and bruises on his friends face.

"And what's going around about me?" Max grinned.

"You fell," Michael responded shortly and the two both started laughing.

"Figures," Max dismissed, though not at all upset about it. He actually chuckled at the statement, glad no one really knew what happened.

"Yeah that's the way it is," Michael just shrugged. The two just stood there looking at each other,
knowing that in his last statement Michael had just summed up their entire high school experience. "So what's...
really going on with you and Liz?" Michael finally addressed the question that had been plaguing him forever.

"We're friends," Max said simply and he thought back to the past three weeks. About all that he and Liz had shared. All they had talked about and all they had gone through. "Good friends," he added with a smile.

"And you're cool with that?" Michael asked uneasily.

"Yeah..." Max paused, "I'm fine," he finally said confidently. And for the first time it hadn't been a lie. At that moment, he felt perfectly fine. He felt like everything in his life was falling back into place. The
conflicts that had arisen earlier and stirred up so much trouble were slowly being dissolved. In fact, as he thought back to this past day with Liz, about the interesting encounters they'd both had dissecting a
grasshopper together in bio, the laughs they had shared during math class, and the quiet companionship they each provided at each others lockers, he smiled. He was better than fine. "How 'bout you? I mean last night - you're cool with that?" Max referred to last night's group adventure. Maria, Liz and Alex were the first people Michael had ever gone out with besides Max and Isabelle. Michael paused for a moment.

"Beats bein' with Hank," Michael shrugged and Max winced at the statement, knowing what Michael's homelife was like. Yet in Michael's casual attempt to blow last night's' events over, Max knew Michael had enjoyed himself. He would survive. As Max had said so many times, getting involved was not going to kill him. In fact he might've actually had fun as at the last statement he just stared down at the pavement.

"Do it again, sometime," Max suddenly threw the ball at Michael's chest, smiling slightly. Michael
held the ball up in front of his chest, seeming to be doing exactly what Max had just been doing. Thinking over everything that had happened in the past few weeks and ever so slowly a smile began to form on his lips. He checked the ball back to Max and Max quickly returned it to Michael and the game began.

"Come on, let's see what you got?" Michael taunted jokingly. "You're not so tough, you're not so tough," he drove to the basket and put the ball into the air, but Max immedietly stuffed the ball back towards Michael, blocking it with his hands. Michael tried again and this time the ball went through the basket. Michael raised his arms in celebration and grabbing the ball and returning back out to 'half court' - or the edge of his driveway - Max dribbled between his legs as he just looked at Michael. "Come on Maxwell, take your best shot - Mr. Basketball Star, take your best shot," he continued to trash talk in good fun and quietly Max released the ball from his hands. It sailed perfectly through the hoop. "Lucky shot, lucky shot," Michael dismissed, jogging under the basket and retrieving the ball. Max shook his head and laughed as his friend jogged back out. Isabelle walked out the front door and Max just called to her.

"Come on, Iz, get in the game!" he suggested, "Michael needs - all the help he can get!" he laughed as he reached up and again blocked Michael's shot.

"Would you quit it!" Michael yelled, frustrated but not serious as he bounced the ball off of Max's

"Hey!" Max laughed, spinning around to face his friend.

"Michael," Isabelle scampered onto the driveway in her bare feet and, joining teams against her brother, motioned for the ball. He quickly passed to her and she took a shot from way out that was well short. Michael raced to grab the rebound before Max and ran back out to take a shot from outside. The ball bounced off of the backboard and was hanging on the rim, appearing to be rolling off when suddenly - as if controlled by some outside force - it spun around into the basket.

"Hey.." Max looked towards his sister, knowing she had used her 'super-natural assets' - as she liked to call them - on that one. "Least I play fair," he shook his head in mock shame as he ran under and fetched the rebound. Juking past Isabelle and racing past Michael, Max attempted a behind-the-back layup that just barely rolled off the rim.

"Someone's gettin' cocky," Michael laughed and Max just grinned widely. Max dribbled between his legs and shifted his feet back and forth, attempting to maneuver past Michael, but Michael was all over Max. He swiped for the ball with his hands and knocked it loose. Max sprung for it and the two were playfully fighting for the ball. Isabelle joined the fray, giggling as both she and Michael tried to tear the ball away from Max, who was on his back on the floor and holding onto it tightly. They ripped it free and Isabelle tossed the ball into the air towards the hoop. It bounced once, bounced twice, bounced a third time
and rolled into the basket. Isabelle raised her arms triumphantly and Max laughed, realizing how much he had missed this, missed being with Iz and Michael - his two best friends - over these past weeks. He knew that all the conflicts he had had with Isabelle about his involvement with Liz were finally over. All the arguments and shouting matches he had had with Michael about his extracurricular activity on the basketball courts was over. And the dull aching that he had had in his heart seeing Liz with someone else was finally over. And Max Evans smiled to himself, for the first time in his life not just content, but happy.

"Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains"

-Jean Jaques Rousseau