posted on 11-Oct-2001 1:48:35 PM
Author: Fanatic101 (Dan)

E-mail: koval1⊕charter.net

Category: A/U with M/L of course

Summary: Max has to deal with a tragedy, but he finds out that everything happens for a reason. (No aliens in this Fic)

Disclaimer: I don't own anything related to Roswell.........yet.

Best I Ever Had

Part 1

Max Evans looked out the window of the bus that was taking him away from his past. He watched as the scenery rushed past, but his mind couldn't focus on what his eyes saw. His mind was focused on how his life had taken such a drastic turn. He kept replaying the scene that would haunt him for the rest of his life over and over again.

Max had lived with his father in San Diego for most of his life. His parents had divorced when he was very young, and it had been agreed through the court system that Max would live with his dad, while his twin sister, Isabel, would live with his mom. His mom and sister lived in the small, but famous town called Roswell.

He never really knew his mom or his sister, but after the accident, he had no choice but to move out there. He closed his eyes as the all to familiar movie began to play out in his mind.

(Flashback)
"I'm so proud of you, son," Philip Evans said as he glanced over at his son. Max was driving them home from the campus at San Diego University, where Max had just signed his letter of intent to play basketball for the college next year, in exchange for a full-ride scholarship. He was just starting his senior year in high school, and now that he didn't have to worry about college, he felt calm and relaxed.

"Thanks dad," Max replied. "I still can't believe they're going to pay for my schooling just because I can put a ball through a hoop."

"Well, you've worked very hard, not only on your basketball skills, but also in the classroom," Philip replied. "Nobody deserves it more than you do."

Max smiled as he glanced over at his dad. "Thanks, dad. You've always supported me, no matter what."

"That's what I'm here for," Philip replied with a smile of his own. "Now...I don't know about you, but I'm starving. What do you say we grab a bite to eat?"

"Sounds good," Max replied.
(End Flashback)

As Max sat with his eyes still closed, a single tear ran down his cheek. He quickly reached up and wiped it away, grateful that nobody was in the seat next to him. He sniffed once before opening his eyes in an attempt to rid his mind of the movie. He soon found out that it didn't matter if his eyes were open or closed, he couldn't stop his mind from thinking back to that car ride.

(Flashback)
As Max and his father discussed what restaurant they wanted to go to, Max switched lanes on the freeway so he could pass a slower vehicle. What he didn't see was the semi-truck that had just jackknifed in the middle of the road. Max's eyes widened as he slammed on the brakes....but it was too late.

The car skidded as Max tried to steer past the wreckage, but it wasn't enough. The car slammed into the semi-truck, causing the air bags to deploy. The next thing he remembered was waking up with warm liquid running down his face. He reached up and found that he had a big cut right above his left eye, and the warm liquid was his blood. He felt lightheaded, but as his eyes searched out for his dad, he instantly sobered.

"Dad," Max said as he reached over and shook his fathers shoulder. After receiving no reply, Max started to panic. "DAD!" he said more forcefully. Apparently the car had turned onto its side sometime after the collision, because all Max could see when he looked out the window next to his dad was pavement.

As Max squirmed free from his seatbelt, he was careful not to fall on top of his dad in the process. He could hear people outside the car running up to help out, but his only concern was checking on his dad. He carefully positioned himself in front of his dad, then reached out and lifted his head. Max had the breath knocked out of him when he saw his fathers face. It was covered in blood.

"Dad, wake up. Please, dad," Max begged as a sob escaped his throat.

"Hey," a voice called from outside the car. "Are you okay?"

"My dad needs help," Max called back as he hugged his father to his chest.

"An ambulance is on the way," the stranger called back. "You shouldn't move him until they get here. Here, give me your hand and I'll help you out."

"I'm not leaving my dad," Max said emphatically. A few minutes later, he heard the sirens of an ambulance drawing closer. "Hang on, dad," Max whispered. "They're almost here."
(End flashback)

"Excuse me," a soft voice said, pulling Max out of his trance. He looked up; still a little dazed, to find a middle-aged woman smiling down at him. "I just wanted to let you know we stopped."

Max looked around him, realizing that the bus was indeed stopped. "Where are we?"

"Just outside of Phoenix," the woman replied. "We won't be stopping again until we reach Albuquerque, so I thought you might like to stretch your legs and get a bite to eat."

"Thank you," Max replied softly as he stood up and made his way off the bus. There was a small diner across the street that everyone was walking to, but he wasn't the least bit hungry, so he decided to spend his time walking around the bus. It was early in the afternoon, so the sun was out in full force. As Max walked around, the rest of his nightmare played out before his eyes.

(Flashback)
"Is my dad going to be alright?" Max asked the doctor once they reached the emergency room.

"Why don't we get you stitched up while I send someone to check?" the doctor replied. He then looked at one of the nurses, who nodded before leaving the room.

Max didn't even notice any pain when the doctor began to stitch up his cut. His head hurt like it never had before, but all he could think about was his dad. It seemed like an eternity before the doctor was done with him and allowed him to walk out into the main lobby.

"I need to know how Philip Evans is doing," Max said urgently after he approached the main desk of the E.R.

"Are you a family member?" the nurse asked politely.

"I'm his son," Max replied.

The nurse typed something into the computer, then looked back at Max. "Let me page the doctor that helped your father."

After waiting an eternity, an older man dressed in scrubs finally approached Max.

"Are you the doctor?" Max asked.

"Yes," came the reply. "Why don't we sit down before I explain what's happened to your father." Max didn't want to sit, but he followed the doctor anyway.

"How is he?" Max asked once he was seated next to the doctor.

"Your father suffered major head and internal injuries as a result of the crash. The airbag deployed, but your father must have been sitting awkwardly because the force of the airbag caused his head to hit the door frame of the car forcefully."

"Is he going to be okay?" Max asked, trying to get an answer to the only question that matter to him.

The doctor looked down at his hands before he glanced back up at Max. "There was too much damage. I'm sorry, but...your father didn't make it."
(End flashback)

Max closed his eyes, the pain in his chest being too much to bear. The accident only happened two weeks ago, so the cut in his heart was still fresh. His mom and sister had made it out to the funeral, but they had to leave as soon as it was over. He never got a chance to talk to either of them. He had been staying with a close friend of his fathers for the past two weeks, but it was decided after his mom showed up for the funeral that he would move out and live with her for the remainder of his senior year. That was the only conversation he had had with his mom.

He glanced over and noticed that everyone was making their way back onto the bus, so he took a deep breath before he walked over and climbed back into his seat.

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

The rest of the trip went by slowly. Max continually thought about what he could have done differently to prevent his fathers’ death. Maybe if he had swerved in the other direction, his father would still be alive. Maybe if he had stayed behind the slower vehicle, the accident never would have happened. Maybe he should have taken a different route to get home. The thoughts kept piling up, one behind another. It wasn't until he felt a hand on his shoulder that he snapped out of his daze. He looked up and saw the same lady that had informed him they had stopped back in Phoenix, standing next to his seat.

"We're here," she said softly with a smile.

Max returned her smile, then slowly made his way off the bus, throwing his book bag over his shoulder once he stepped outside. It was late at night, so everything was dark. He looked around for his mom, and found her standing next to the doors of the bus station with his sister. He slowly walked up to them, his head hanging slightly. Once he reached them, his mom pulled him into a hug.

"Hi, honey," Diane Evans said. After the divorce, she had decided to keep her married name because it sounded more professional than her maiden name: Gilfinkel.

"Hi," Max replied weakly as he hugged his mom back nervously. He and his mom had rarely seen each other over the years, the only times being when Diane went to San Diego on business. In the twelve years his parents had been divorced, he only saw his mom a total of ten times, not including the divorce. The last time being when he was thirteen...four years ago. He pulled back from his mom and looked over at his sister.

"Hey, Max," Isabel said with a nervous smile.

"Hey, Isabel," Max replied.

After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, Diane spoke. "It looks like your cut is healing nicely," she commented as she pointed to the wound over Max's left eye. After seeing him nod in response, she decided to get things moving. "So, how much luggage do you have?"

"Two suitcases," Max answered. "The rest of my stuff is being shipped with dad's things. They should be here in a couple of days."

There was another awkward moment of silence before Diane lightly clapped her hands together and raised her eyebrows. "Well...let's get your suitcases, then head home, shall we?"

Max followed behind his mom and sister with his head hung low. He wondered if anyone else blamed him for his fathers’ death like he did. Neither his mom nor his sister acted like they did, but then again, he didn't really know either of them well enough to tell. Maybe they did blame him, and they were just putting up a front for his benefit.

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

The car ride from Albuquerque to Roswell took a couple of hours. Max sat in the back seat by himself, while his mom and sister talked up front. The word 'uncomfortable' couldn't even begin to describe the way he was feeling. It was Saturday, so at least he had one day to get used to his new surroundings before he had to start school. Going to a new school wasn't something he was looking forward to at all.

"Max?" his mom asked as she looked at him through the rearview mirror.

Max turned his head away from the window he had been staring out of since he got in the car, and looked at his mom's reflection in the mirror.

"Are you alright?" Diane asked.

Max could tell that his mom was really worried about him. He wasn't mad at her for not being more active in his life while he was growing up, but he knew he would really have a hard time opening up to her. She did make it a point to visit him whenever she came to town, and he was always happy when she did.

"Max?" Diane asked again softly.

Max blinked a couple of times to clear his head. He didn't realize it, but he had completely spaced out in front of his mom and sister. The long pause that took place before he addressed the question totally contradicted his answer. "Yeah...I'm fine."

Isabel turned in her seat so she could look at Max. The last time she saw him was nearly seven years ago, when her mom took her on vacation to San Francisco. They deliberately made a stop in San Diego, just so they could visit with her dad and Max. She may not know him very well, but she could tell he was anything but fine. She exchanged worried looks with her mom before she turned back around and looked out the windshield.

She couldn't even image what her brother must be going through right now. All the guilt, the feeling that came from loosing the one person who you were closest to. She didn't know her dad all that well, but the feeling that washed over her when she first found out that he had died was something that she never wanted to feel again. The only way she could compare what Max was feeling was to imagine loosing her mom. She would die inside if that ever happened, and she could tell that that's exactly what was happening to Max.

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

When they got home, Isabel and Diane helped Max with his luggage while he took a second to look at his new home. It was a nice house on the outside, with a fairly good-sized yard. He followed his mom and sister into the house, where they promptly gave him the grand tour of the place. It was a two-story house, and it had three bedrooms and three bathrooms. Overall it was about the same size as his house was in San Diego.

"And this is your room," Diane said as she opened the door and stepped aside so Max could walk in and take a look around.

Max noticed that his room was complete with a queen sized bed, a dresser, and a desk with a computer on it. He had a nice sized closet, and a bathroom just across the hallway from his room. After he inspected the room, he turned to his mom and sister who were both standing in the doorway watching him. "Thank you," he said just above a whisper as he averted his gaze to the floor.

"Max," Diane said as she walked up to her son and put her hand on his shoulder. "I know this can't be easy for you, but I want you to know that if you need anyone to talk to, I'm always ready to listen."

"Thanks," Max replied, still looking at the floor. "But I'm fine...really."

"Well," Diane said with a smile. "I guess we'll let you unpack. I know it's late, but you must be hungry. I'm going to make some dinner, so I'll let you know when it's ready." Giving her son one more smile and hug, Diane walked out of his room and down to the kitchen.

Isabel lingered in Max's doorway until he finally looked up at her. The pain she saw in his eyes nearly knocked her over. This time he didn't avert his gaze, but kept his eyes locked on hers. She had no idea what came over her, but she suddenly felt tears start to run down her cheeks. She wasn't sure if it was because of her, but suddenly, she saw Max start to cry. She may not know her brother very well, but she still loved him, and it tore her up inside to see him this way.

Isabel walked up to Max and pulled him into a hug. She didn't expect any type of reaction from him in return, thinking that he would be uncomfortable with it...but she was surprised when she felt his arms wrap around and cling to her as if his life depended on it. She just stood there, holding him as violent sobs began to rip through his body. She rubbed his back in an attempt to sooth his pain as tears continued to run down her own cheeks.

After a few minutes of letting himself cry, Max pulled back from Isabel and wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his jacket. He made eye contact with Isabel again as she wiped her eyes, and he let out a nervous laugh. "Sorry about that," he said with a smile before he sniffed.

"Don't be," Isabel responded with a smile as she reached out and placed her hand on his upper arm. "I know you probably don't want to talk about it, so anytime you need someone to share your pain without asking you a bunch of questions, don't hesitate to hunt me down."

Max smiled back before he lowered his gaze to the floor. "Thanks. I know this must be hard on you...you know, me living here."

"Don't be ridiculous," Isabel said with a wave of her hand. "It'll be nice to have a sibling around for me to pick on."

Max's smiled grew as he raised his eyes to meet Isabel’s'.

"Well...did you want help unpacking?" Isabel asked as she pointed to his suitcases.

"No, that's alright," Max responded. "I'm sure you have better things to do."

"If you don't let me help you unpack, mom is going to make me help with dinner. You would be doing me...and yourself...a huge favor by keeping me out of the kitchen," Isabel said.

Again Max smiled. "Alright. The suitcase in front of you is full of cloths..."

"Say no more," Isabel interrupted. "I'm on it." She then opened it up and began putting his cloths in the dresser drawers, putting some to the side so she could hang them up in his closet.

Max began to unpack the rest of his things, which consisted mostly of pictures and photo albums. He began to place the framed pictures around his room, while he put the photo albums under his nightstand. He had a lot more stuff coming, but cloths, pictures, and bathroom items were the only thing that he felt were really essential.

"Who are they?" Isabel asked as she pointed at the picture Max had just put on his dresser. The picture had Max standing between two others guys, and he had one arm draped around each of their shoulders. All three of them were wearing boxing gloves, and she noticed that Max had some type of championship belt around his waist.

Max looked at the picture before answering the question. "The guy on my right is Brendan, and the guy on my left is Jason. They're my best friends."

"And you're into boxing?" Isabel asked in shock.

"Why do you sound so surprised?" Max asked with a smile.

"Oh...it's not that I don't think...I mean I'm sure you're very good...it's just...we don't see that sport a lot around here," Isabel stuttered.

Max just smiled. "Yeah, I love boxing."

"Don't you get hurt?" Isabel asked as she looked at the picture again.

"You can," Max replied. "If you let the other person hit you. But, I've never been hit really hard myself...yet."

"And is that a belt around your waist?" Isabel asked.

"Yeah," Max replied as he looked at the picture. "I won that at the Regional Championship last year."

"Do you still have it?" Isabel asked.

"Yeah. It's coming with the rest of my stuff."

Just then, Diane walked into the room. "Do you have everything unpacked already?" she asked.

"Yeah, for the most part," Max responded as he looked around him room. "It goes by a lot quicker were you let someone else do it for you," he said as he smiled at Isabel.

Diane looked from Max's smiling face to Isabel's, and she couldn't help but notice how easily these two had accepted each other. She found herself smiling along with her two children for a minute before she remembered why she had come up here. "Well...dinner's ready."

As the three of them made their way downstairs, Diane started a conversation. "Since tomorrow is Sunday, maybe Isabel could show you around town a little. You know...introduce you to some of her friends. That way, the transition into school may be a little easier for you, Max."

"I'm sure she has better things to do..." Max began only to get cut off by Isabel.

"That's the second time tonight you've said that to me," she said with a smile. "I'll make this easy for you. If you don't go with me tomorrow, I'll drag you out to the car and tie you to the seat. You're going with me, and that's final."

"Okay, okay," Max said as he raised his hands in surrender.

"Good," Diane said. "Now that that's settled, let's eat. I'm starved."

Part 2

Isabel woke up the next morning full of energy. She was eager to show Max around town, and she didn't want to waist any time. She jumped up and glanced at the clock beside her bed, noticing that it was a little past nine o'clock. She made her way out of her room, and knocked lightly on Max's door. There was no answer, so she gently opened his door and looked inside. His bed was neatly made, and he was nowhere is sight. She looked around the room in confusion before she shut his door and walked downstairs. She heard her mom in the kitchen making breakfast, so she figured that Max was in there with her.

"Good morning, honey," Diane said when she saw Isabel walk in.

"Morning," Isabel responded as she looked around the kitchen and the adjoining dinning room in search of Max. But he was nowhere to be found. "Where's Max?"

"Oh, he wanted to go jogging this morning," Diane responded.

"Jogging?" Isabel asked in disbelief.

"Yeah…jogging," Diane responded as she gave her daughter a strange look.

"But he doesn't know his way around town yet," Isabel said, starting to panic. "He could get lost!"

"He's not a puppy," Diane said with a smile. "Besides, I already thought of that. I drove him up to the high school so he could use their track. I thought it might be a good time for him to walk around the campus a little so he had some idea of what to expect tomorrow."

"When are you going to pick him up?" Isabel asked.

"I just dropped him off a few minutes ago, and he wanted me to pick him up around 10:30," Diane responded.

"I'll pick him up," Isabel said quickly, causing her mother to look at her strangely again. "That way I can show him around school...you know, point out where certain things are."

"Good idea," Diane said with a smile.

Isabel then rushed up to her bedroom, but before she jumped in the shower, she made a few phone calls.

After her shower, she got ready to leave, giving her mom a kiss on the cheek before she started to head out of the house.

"Where are you going?" Diane asked.

"To pick Max up," Isabel responded.

"But it's only ten o'clock."

"I know," Isabel said. "I have to pick up a few things before I get him."

"Oh, okay. I'll see you in a little while," Diane said with a smile.

Isabel rushed out of the house and climbed into a newer Jeep that she always drove. She pulled out of the driveway and made two stops before heading toward the school. Once she pulled into the parking lot, it was a little before 10:30. "Alright...remember what I told you guys. Whatever you do, DON'T bring up my dad in front of Max. I know you probably what to tell him how sorry you are about what happened, but trust me on this one. It will only make things worse."

"Chill, Iz," Michael said as he climbed out of the Jeep. "You've told us that about a dozen times since you picked us up five minutes ago."

Isabel took a deep breath as she began to walk toward the track with her friends. "I know, I know. I just want him to feel as comfortable as possible."

"Don't worry so much," Liz said as she reached out and put her arm around Isabel's shoulders.

As they approached the track, they could all see Max running.

"Wait, wait," Isabel said as she watched her brother from a distance. Both Michael and Liz looked at her in confusion. "We should let him finish his run before we walk up there."

Liz watched as Isabel's brother ran around the track. She couldn't see his face very well, but she didn't have to to realize what he was feeling. She could see it in the way he ran. He wasn't running like the typical person would. He was running with urgency, as if he was trying to run away from something. She could tell even from the distance that separated them that Max Evans was hurting.

Max ran as fast as he could, trying to outrun the memories of he and his dad that flashed across his mind.

(Flashback)
It was Max's sixteenth birthday, and his dad decided to take him to a professional basketball game in Los Angeles. As they were about to leave the house, Philip walked up to his son and handed him a small wrapped box that had a bow on top.

"What's this?" Max asked as he took the box from his dad.

"You're birthday present," Philip replied.

Max's eyes widened. "But I thought the basketball game was my present."

"Nope. The game is just for fun. This is to show you how proud I am of the choices you've made in your life," Philip replied.

Max smiled as he unwrapped the gift, then opened the lid. His eyes widened even more and he let out a gasp at what he saw in the box. He slowly reached in and pulled out a pair of car keys. He looked at his dad in shock, then back at the car keys.

"It's in the driveway," Philip said with a smile. "Let's go take a look at it."

Max bolted for the door in a heartbeat and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw his car parked out front. It was a brand new black Mustang convertible.

"I hope you like it," Philip said with a smile.

Max turned around and gave his dad a bear hug.
(End flashback)

As more and more memories came across his mind, Max started to run harder and harder. He ran to the point of exhaustion and then some. When he couldn’t run any longer, he stopped and began to walk around the track, wrapping his hands behind his neck as he hung his head. After walking for a lap, Max went over and grabbed his jacket, then began to make his way toward the front of the school. He could see three people watching him, and it took him a second to realize that one of them was Isabel.

Isabel began to make her way over to Max, followed closely by Michael and Liz.

As they got closer, Liz found that she couldn't take her eyes off of Max. There was something about him that drew her in and refused to let her go. The fact that he was all sweaty and out of breath only made him more attractive to her. She noticed that he had a cut above his left eye that was still healing, and she remembered Isabel saying that it was from the car crash. At one point she had to remind herself to breathe.

Max could now make out the faces of the people with Isabel, but his eyes stayed glued to the short brunette as soon as he saw her. There was something about her that drew him in and refused to let him go. He felt his stomach start to flip with each step he took.

"Hey, Max," Isabel said with a smile.

"Hey," Max said as he tore his gaze away from the brunette and looked at his sister.

"I want you to meet a couple of my friends. This is Michael, and that's Liz," Isabel said as he motioned to each of her friends in turn.

"How's it going?" Michael asked as he extended his hand to Max.

"Not bad," Max responded as he shook Michael's hand. "You?"

Michael just shrugged his shoulders. "I'll let you know after breakfast."

Max smiled, knowing right away that he would get along great with this guy. He then turned to Liz, and smiled when their eyes locked.

"Hi," Liz said in a slightly dreamy voice as she reached out for Max's hand. God, that smile of his was driving her crazy.

"Hey," Max said as he gently grabbed Liz's hand and held onto it a few seconds longer than a normal handshake.

This exchange did not go unnoticed by Isabel, who smiled despite the fact that she was a little nervous about Max and Liz hooking up. It wasn't that she didn't want them to get together, she was just nervous about what Liz's ex-boyfriend might do when he found out.

"Well," Isabel said, pulling Max and Liz out of their staring contest. "Let's give you the grand tour of the school." She then linked arms with her brother before dragging him off, with Liz and Michael following.

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

After the tour was over, and after a lot of complaining from Michael about being hungry, they all decided to head over to Isabel's place for breakfast. Michael and Liz were riding in the back of the Jeep, while Isabel and Max rode up front.

"How do you like Roswell so far?" Liz asked as she leaned in-between the two front seats.

"It's a lot different than San Diego," Max responded as he glanced back at her.

"I'll bet," Michael said. "If we want to see any type of action, we need to drive to Albuquerque. And since I don't have a car, I always have to bum a ride from Iz."

"Speaking of rides," Isabel said. "I'm sure we can work something out so you can use the Jeep when you need to."

"That's not necces..." Max began only to get interrupted by Isabel.

"It's not a problem. I don't mind sharing my car every once in a while."

Max looked at his sister as a tiny smile came to his lips. "You don't understand. I won't need to borrow your car, because mine is being shipped along with the rest of my stuff."

"YOU HAVE A CAR?" Isabel asked in disbelief. When she saw Max nod, she shook her head in confusion. "Then why did you take the bus to get here?"

"I didn't really think I could handle a trip like that all by myself after the...," Max began, cutting himself off as he looked down at his hands that where resting on his lap. "After what happened." He wasn't completely lying when he said that. Truth be told, he hadn't driven a car since the night his dad died. He was the one that had gotten into the accident, so just thinking about getting behind the wheel of a car again scared him half to death.

Liz felt her heart break for him. She didn't know the first thing about him, but for some reason, she found herself gazing lovingly at him from the back seat. She wanted to reach over and touch him, just to let him know that she was sorry about what had happened…and before she knew what she was doing, her hand came into contact with his shoulder.

Max looked back at Liz, a little surprised to feel her gentle touch. She smiled, but her eyes told him exactly what she was trying desperately to hide. She felt sorry for him. He smiled back weakly before he tore his gaze away and looked out his window.

Liz brought her hand back, but she kept her eyes on Max. She could tell how tense his body was when she touched him. It seemed like every muscle in his body was stiff and aching. She could tell that Max was shy because he wouldn't talk unless someone asked him a question, so she decided to ask the one question that had been bugging her ever since she first laid eyes on him. Since she couldn’t really just come out and ask it, she chose to take the indirect route.

"So...Max," Liz began. "How did your girlfriend feel about you moving out here?"

"Girl...girlfriend?" Max asked.

"Yeah, you know...girls that stare at you for a long period of time, who make goo-goo eyes at you, who always want to touch you, who make excuses just to see you," Michael said as he threw Liz a knowing glance. He decided to end his rant when Liz threw him an icy glare in return. "You know, some guys have them, some guys don't. I think what Liz really wants to know is if you have one or not."

"Michael!" Liz whispered through clenched teeth as she elbowed him in the ribs.

Max smiled as he glanced back at Liz. "No, I don't have a girlfriend. In fact, I haven't even been out on a date for nearly two years now."

"TWO YEARS??" Isabel and Liz both yelled at the same time.

"What's so bad about an independent man?" Michael asked, jumping to Max's defense as he patted his new friend on the back.

"Thank you," Max said, showing Michael he appreciated his sticking up for him.

"How do you do it?" Isabel asked. "I'd go crazy if I didn't date for a month, let alone TWO YEARS!"

"I've been busy with other things," Max replied.

"Like what?" Liz asked, wanting to know as much about him as possible.

Max turned in his seat so he could face his friends. "Like...school, basketball, boxing..."

"You box?" Michael asked with a smile.

"Yeah. Do you?" Max asked back.

"Nope, but I've always liked the sport."

"So school and sports keep you that busy?" Liz asked in disbelief. "Come on...I find it hard to believe that you can't make time for a little romance."

"I guess I never really wanted to before," Max replied with a shrug.

"What about now?" Liz asked before she could stop herself. She could feel her cheeks redden as Max made eye contact with her and smiled.

"Anything's possible," Max said reverently, causing Liz to smile. She had an awesome smile, and the more he saw it, the more he craved it.

It was then that Isabel pulled up outside her house. Everyone climbed out and made their way into the kitchen.

"Oh!" Diane said in surprise when she saw everyone. "Hello Michael, Liz."

"Hi, Ms. Evans," Michael and Liz said in unison.

Diane then turned to her kids. "How was your run, Max?"

"It was good," Max replied. "Thanks." After a brief pause, Max started to back out of the kitchen. "I think I'm going to take a quick shower."

"Alright," Diane said. "Breakfast will be waiting when you get done."

Liz watched at Max ran up the stairs and disappeared down the hallway. She let out a sigh when he was gone, then turned to Isabel. "Iz...you have got to hook me up with him!"

Isabel laughed. "I don't think I need to do much. It looks to me like he already likes you."

"Really?" Liz asked, excited but nervous at the same time.

"Come on, lets eat," Isabel said as she pointed to the food.

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

The rest of the day went by rather quickly. Max didn't get a chance to meet any more of Isabel's friends, but he heard a little about each of them throughout the day. There was Maria, who apparently was dating Michael; Alex, who was Isabel's boyfriend; and finally, Kyle and Tess, who were dating each other.

Isabel, Michael and Liz had been showing Max around town, but Max and Liz often found themselves falling behind as they talked.

"So who's your boyfriend?" Max asked Liz out of curiosity.

Liz smiled shyly at Max as she nervously played with her hands. "I...I don't have one."

"You don't have one?" Max asked in disbelief. Throughout the day, he found himself opening up a little to Michael and Liz. He was still nervous around them, but they were making an effort to make him feel at ease.

"No," Liz responded, still playing with her hands as her eyes fell to the ground.

"I find that hard to believe," Max said with a smile.

"Why?" Liz asked, finally raising her eyes to meet his.

"If you went to my old school back in San Diego, you'd have at least thirty guys falling all over themselves as they tried to get to you," Max responded. "Including me," he added in a whisper as he looked down at the ground.

"What was that last part?" Liz asked, not quite picking up what he had said at the end.

"Nothing," Max responded as he looked up and gazed into Liz's eyes.

Liz may not have heard him very well, but she heard enough to know what he had meant, and it brought a smile to her face. "What about you?" she asked.

"What about me?" Max responded in confusion.

"I find it hard to believe that you didn't have a girlfriend, let alone not date for two whole years!" Liz clarified.

"Like I said, I was busy," Max replied. "I'd have boxing tournaments all the time, and when I didn't have those, I'd have basketball tournaments to go to."

"And that was more important than finding your true love?" Liz asked in a teasing voice.

Max smiled before he answered her question. "Trust me...if you could see the girls at my old school, you'd completely understand."

Liz found herself laughing at that comment. "Oh, come on. They can't be THAT bad."

Max chuckled a little himself. "I don’t know…"

"Come on you guys," Isabel called. "We're here to show you around town, Max. Not talk all day."

Max rolled his eyes before he shrugged his shoulders. "Does she always take charge like this?" he asked Liz.

Liz smiled as she and Max began to walk up to Isabel and Michael. "You should see her around Christmas time."

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

That night, Max sat on his bed and let out a heavy sigh as he looked around his room. He hated to be alone because he always thought about his dad when he was by himself. He was grateful when he heard a light knock come to his door. "Come in," he called. He was surprised when Liz opened the door and poked her head in. "Liz! I thought you went home."

"Not yet," Liz replied. "I wanted to talk to you first. Can I come in?"

"Uh, yeah…sure," Max replied as he stood up.

Liz slipped into his room and closed the door behind her. When she looked up at Max, she completely forgot what she wanted to say to him. She was lost in his eyes.

Max found himself in a trance as well as he looked into Liz's eyes. He couldn't seem to pull his gaze away from her. It wasn't until he saw her shake her head in an attempt to clear her thoughts that he did likewise.

"Right...I, uh...just wanted to..." Liz began before she motioned to the bed. "Do you mind if I sit down?"

It took a second for her question to register, but eventually Max gestured toward the bed. "Uh...no, not at all...please." He then walked over and sat next to her.

"Max," Liz began again as she made eye contact with him. "I...I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am...for what happened to your dad." In that instant, Liz knew exactly why Isabel didn't want her to say anything to Max about their dad. The amount of pain she saw in his eyes knocked the breath out of her. She didn't think it was possible for that much pain to be locked up inside of anyone, especially a teenager like Max. "I'm...I'm so sorry I said that," Liz began to apologize.

"It's okay," Max replied weakly as he turned his gaze from Liz's face to his hands. "Don't be sorry for telling me how you feel. I'm still recovering from everything, so all it will take is some time."

Liz nodded as she glanced down at her own hands. "Well, I should get going...it's getting late." She then stood up and walked over to the door. "I'll...I'll see you at school tomorrow," she said as she opened the door and started to walk out.

"Liz," Max called as he stood up from his bed, causing her to turn around and face him. "Thanks...for helping me feel welcome...and for...well, for everything you did for me today."

"But Max, I didn't really do anything," Liz replied in confusion.

"You may not think so, but…just talking to you seemed to relax me," Max replied.

Liz smiled before she walked over and grabbed his hand, holding it palm up. "Do you have a pen?" she asked.

Max was a little confused, but stumbled out a response anyway. "Uh...yeah, yeah." He reached over and grabbed a pen that was sitting on his nightstand, careful not to lose contact with Liz.

Liz took the pen and began to write on his palm. When she was done, she handed the pen back to Max, then let go of his hand. Max looked down to see what she had written, and found that she had put her name and phone number on his hand.

"Call me anytime," Liz said with a smile before she backed out of his room and shut his door.

Max smiled as he stared at his hand. For the first time all weekend, he couldn't wait to start school the next day.

Part 3

The next morning found Max and Isabel standing in front of the school office.

"Do you want me to go in there with you?" Isabel asked.

"Nah, I think I'll be okay," Max replied.

"Alright...meet me back here at lunchtime, okay?" Isabel said before heading off to class.
She was really glad that she was given this opportunity to get to know her brother. She just wished that it could have happened under different circumstances.

"Okay," Max replied before he walked into the school office.

"May I help you?" an older woman asked when Max walked up to the desk.

"Yeah...my name's Max Evans...this is my first day here."

"Ah, Mr. Evans. You're mother told us you would be coming," the old lady replied with a smile. "If you don't mind waiting, I'll go ahead and get Mrs. Kellner for you. She'll be the one to show you around campus."

"Sure," Max replied as moved away from the desk. A few minutes later, a middle-aged lady walked up to him.

"Max Evans?" she asked.

"That's me," Max replied.

After shaking hands, Mrs. Kellner handed him his class schedule and motioned toward the hallway. "If you'll just follow me, I'll show you where you can find all your classes."

Since the school wasn't very big, the tour didn't take long. Nervousness didn't start to set in until Max and Mrs. Kellner made their way to his first period classroom.

"This is Mr. Bell's classroom, but before you go in, do you have any questions you would like me to answer?" Mrs. Kellner asked.

"Uh, no. I think you covered everything," Max replied.

"Alright then. If you have any problems, all you have to do is come talk to me, okay?" After Max nodded, Mrs. Kellner knocked on the classroom door, opened it, then stepped inside with Max following. "I'm sorry to interrupt, Mr. Bell, but this is Max Evans."

"Mr. Evans," Mr. Bell said with a smile. "You can go ahead and take a seat anywhere you like."

Max smiled at the teacher, then Mrs. Kellner before he glanced around the classroom. He ignored all the stares from the other students, knowing before hand that he would get a few. He spotted an open seat near the back, so he put his head down and made his way over. What he didn't realize was that someone he already knew was in that class. It wasn't until he felt a hand glide across his shoulders that he looked up to see Liz as she sat in the empty seat next to him. Apparently she had been sitting on the other side of the classroom, but as soon as she saw where Max was going to sit, she gathered her things and moved to the seat right next to him.

Max let out a sigh of relief before he gave Liz a thankful smile. He then leaned closer to her and whispered: "I hate having everyone stare at me."

Liz let out a giggle. "Well, if it makes you feel any better, most of the girls are still looking at you right now."

Max glanced up to see that Liz was right. He made eye contact with a few of them, and each time he did, they would smile at him. He glanced back at Liz with terror in his eyes. "Please save me," he begged.

Liz let out a few more giggles before she leaned in closer so she could whisper in his ear. "Don't worry...I'll make sure nobody gets the chance to make a move on you."

Feeling Liz's breath against his ear was causing havoc on Max's body. Chills instantly shot through him as he involuntary shivered.

He didn't get a chance to respond before Mr. Bell spoke up. "Would someone be willing to help Mr. Evans after school so he can catch up on what we've already covered?" Nearly every girl in the class immediately raised their hand, causing Liz to laugh lightly. Max shot her a look of despair, which Liz responded to by giving him a look of pity. "Well, Mr. Evans...it looks like you have quite a selection to choose from," Mr. Bell said.

Max gave Liz another desperate look, which she responded to with a smile. "I'd love to," she whispered to him.

Max again let out a heavy sigh before he turned to the teacher. "Since I already know Liz, I'd like her to help me out."

Mr. Bell nodded, then continued his lesson. The remainder of the class period went by rather quickly, and afterwards Max and Liz walked out together.

"Let me see your class schedule," Liz said.

Max reached into his pocket and handed the list over to Liz. As she looked at it, her eyes lit up. She had two more classes with Max; one right before lunch, and the other at the very end of the day.

"It looks like your next class in on the way to mine," Liz commented. "I'll show you where it is."

Max nodded with a smile as he took his schedule from Liz. He already knew were his next class was, but if Liz wanted to show him anyway, he wasn't about to complain. They made a stop at Liz's locker so she could get the books she needed.

"Do you know where your locker is?" Liz asked.

"Yeah...its on the top floor," Max responded.

Liz shut her locker and turned to face Max, but her attention was drawn to something over his shoulder. "Oh, sh*t," she mumbled.

"What?" Max asked as he glanced over his shoulder, trying to found out what Liz was staring at.

"My ex-boyfriend, Brad," Liz responded with distain in her voice. But before she could grab Max and walk away, Brad rushed over to them.

"How's my girl doing?" Brad asked as he stared right at Max.

"How many times do I have to tell you," Liz said, clearly angry. "We broke up...I'm not your girl!! Get over it!! Come on, Max," she said as she linked arms with Max.

"And who are you?" Brad asked, stepping in front of Max, preventing him from leaving.

"I'm pretty sure Liz just said his name was Max," came a voice from behind Brad. Everyone turned to see Michael taking a very aggressive stance behind Brad, ready to throw down at the drop of a hat. There was definitely no love loss between him and Liz's ex.

"Max," Brad responded, ignoring Michael's threatening stance as he turned back to face Max. "Isabel's brother, right?"

Max didn't say anything, but his gaze never faltered from Brad's.

"What's the matter?" Brad asked mockingly. "Can't fight your own battles? Need your friends to fight them for you?" After Max refused to respond, Brad decided to keep going with the verbal attack. "Yeah...I heard about you. Word is, you were the one driving when that little accident happened with your dad a couple weeks ago. Is that right?" Seeing Max's jaw tighten at the mention of the accident, Brad decided to press the issue further. He shook his head before he continued. "Man...how do you live with yourself...knowing that you killed your own father?"

That was the straw that broke the camel's back. Max dropped his books and pulled his arm back, ready to smash his fist into Brad's face, when someone grabbed his arm from behind, preventing him from decking the guy. Max didn't even turn to see who was holding him back. He didn't care. His eyes stayed glued to Brad, not noticing the crowd that had gathered around them.

Brad stated to laugh as he backed away, but Michael wasn't about to let the scumbag leave. He grabbed him around the collar and slammed him up against a row of lockers. "You know, Brad," Michael said, still holding firmly to his collar. "I can't think of a single reason why I shouldn't slam your head into each and every locker in this school."

Even though Brad was shoved up against the lockers, he still managed a smile. "Yes you do. You know that if you get into another fight, you'll be expelled and you won't be able to graduate," he said arrogantly.

Michael pulled Brad back and was about to throw him into the lockers as hard as he could when someone ran up and grabbed him, causing him to let go. Brad just smiled as Michael tried to get a hold of him again.

"It was good seeing all of you again," Brad said as he started to walk away. He then made eye contact with Max, and his smile widened. "I'll see you around, Max."

As Brad disappeared into the crowd, Michael turned around to see that Kyle was the one who was holding him back. He squirmed free of Kyle's grasp, and stared in the direction that Brad had gone.

Max didn't even bother to see who was holding him back, he simply forced himself free of the grasp, then grabbed his books.

"Max," Liz whispered as she tried to get his attention by touching his arm.

Max's jaw was still set tightly as he continued to stare down the hallway, but Liz could see all the pain he was feeling through his eyes. Damn you, Brad, Liz thought to herself.

Max suddenly turned around and took off in the opposite direction from everyone else, just wanting to get away from it all.

"MAX!" Liz called as she started to follow him.

"Liz," Isabel said as she grabbed her arm and stopped her. Liz didn't even notice that she was there, but as she turned to face Iz, she saw that the entire group was there. Iz, Alex, Kyle, Tess, Michael and Maria. Alex had been the one holding Max back just now.

"I think he wants to be alone right now," Isabel said. "Besides, he can't go very far. He's only lived in this town for a day."

Liz wanted to follow Max more than anything, but she didn't know him well enough to realize when he needed to be alone. She would just have to trust Isabel's judgment on this one. She sadly turned and stared down the same hallway that Max had just left by, silently hoping that he was all right.

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

Max just wanted to get away from everything. Even though he knew that that guy was just trying to get under his skin, what he had said still stung. *Man...how do you live with yourself...knowing that you killed your own father?* Those words just kept repeating in his head, and he couldn't stop them.

Max stormed out of the school and headed to the only place he knew of...the track. He was thankful that the P.E. classes weren't being held outside that day, allowing him to be alone. He walked as far away from the school as he could, then collapsed to the ground, refusing to let his emotions overtake him.

*Man...how do you live with yourself...knowing that you killed your own father?* That thought just wouldn't leave. Max covered his ears with the palms of his hands in an attempt to block out Brad's voice, but it didn't work. If anything, it made his voice even louder. Max lowered his hands and noticed for the first time that his entire body was shaking. Guilt and anger continued to rip through his body as he began to flex his hands, balling them into fists, then stretching them out. He didn't care if he missed his first day of school; the only thing he felt like doing....was dying.

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

Liz couldn't wait to get to her fourth period class, because she knew that Max had the same one that she did. She had looked for him between classes all morning, but he was nowhere to be found.

After third period, Liz searched the halls on her way to class, hoping that she would be able to find him. She took one step into her class, looked for Max, but once she saw that he wasn't there, she turned around and walked right back out. She was going to find him.

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

After looking everywhere inside the school, Liz decided to look outside. The first place that came to mind was the same place that she had met Max the day before. The track.

As she approached it, she could see someone sitting in the grass on the far end, facing away from her. She knew without a doubt that it was Max. She quietly walked up behind him and noticed that he was sitting Indian style, his head hung as he pulled up blades of grass and played with them between his fingers.

"Max," Liz said softly so she wouldn't startle him.

Max whipped his head around and looked up at Liz. "Hey," he said reverently before he hung his head again.

"Mind if I join you?" Liz asked.

Max shook his head once before he motioned toward the grassy area next to him.

Instead of sitting next to him, Liz moved around and sat directly in front of him. "Max..." she said as she reached out and placed a hand over his. "I'm so sorry for what Brad said earlier."

Max shrugged slightly before he glanced up at her. "It's alright. Besides, you shouldn't apologize for him."

"I'm not apologizing for him," Liz said, pulling her hand away as her gaze faltered away from Max's. "The only reason he said that was because of me. We used to date, and ever since we broke up, he's tried his hardest to make my life a living hell. He was really trying to hurt me back there, not you. That's what I'm apologizing for."

"Don't be sorry," Max said as he reached out and placed a finger under Liz's chin, gently lifting her head until she looked at him. "Isabel tried to warn me about him yesterday."

"She did?" Liz asked in confusion. "Why?"

"Because I...uh...kind of...asked her about...you," Max said as his gaze shifted to the ground.

Liz smiled as she noticed how shy he was acting. "And what else did she tell you?" she asked playfully.

Max glanced back up at her and gave her a half smile. "That you're the smartest girl in school...that you're a blast to hang out with...that your ex is a prick...and that you're my only competition for Valedictorian."

"Oh, really?" Liz asked in amusement to his last comment. "And you actually think you'll beat me out for top of the class?"

Max smiled at her competitive attitude. "That depends," he said casually.

"On what?" Liz asked with a smile.

"On whether or not you can handle the competition. I wouldn't want to break that fragile ego of yours," Max replied playfully as he smiled.

"Why you little..." Liz said in shock as she playfully slapped Max on the arm, causing him to laugh. "For your information, I can handle competition just fine. You should be more worried about YOUR ego than mine, because there is no way I'm going to lose." She was thankful that Max was smiling again after what had happened earlier that morning.

"Whatever you say," Max said, still smiling. His smile quickly disappeared as he continued to stare into Liz's eyes. He was lost, and he could feel the butterflies circling in his stomach.

Liz was having just as hard a time as Max was. His eyes pulled her in so fast, she thought she was going to drown. Neither of them really knew how long they sat there in silence, just staring into each other’s eyes, but they both jumped a little when the bell rang, signaling lunchtime.

Max blinked a couple of times, trying to clear his mind somewhat, and so did Liz.

"We should meet up with Isabel," Liz said. "She was worried about you after what happened in the hallway."

"Yeah," Max replied. "She wanted me to meet her in front of the office for lunch."

Max quickly stood up, then offered his hand to Liz so he could help her up. She smiled at his gesture and grabbed his hand without hesitation. The instant their hands touched, she felt a spark shoot through her body, and when she looked into Max's eyes, she could tell that he had felt it too. Once she was standing, Max reluctantly let go of her hand and motioned toward the school. "After you."

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

"Max!!" Isabel said as she saw her brother walking up to her and her friends. "There you are! I've been looking everywhere for you."

"I just needed a little time to myself," Max replied as he looked past his sister to the group that was standing behind her.

"Are you alright?" Isabel asked with concern.

"Yeah...I'm fine," Max said. "I just needed to cool down a bit."

"Yeah, me too," Michael said as he walked up to Max. "I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to kick that guys ass."

"I can see why," Max replied. "Thanks...you know, for watching my back."

Michael shook his head and patted Max on the back. "I'll always cover your ass. Especially when it comes to that scrub."

"So this must be Max," Maria said as she walked up and extended Max her hand. "I'm Maria, Michael's girlfriend."

Max shook her hand and gave her a smile.

"I'm sorry," Isabel said as he motioned toward the others. "I forgot you guys haven't met yet. "This is Kyle, that's Tess and this is my boyfriend, Alex. Guys, this is my brother, Max."

Max shook hands with everyone before a silence fell over the group.

"So..." Kyle said, breaking the quiet spell. "I don't know about you guys, but I'm starving."

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

The gang agreed to meet at Max and Isabel's house after school so they could all hang out some more. The rest of the school day went by without any further incidents, and Max realized that he had Alex and Kyle in his fifth period class, then Liz and Maria in his sixth, and last, period class. He didn't have any classes with his sister, but he found out that he had at least one member of the group in each of his six classes.

After class got out, Maria, Liz and Max all walked out into the parking lot together. As they turned and headed toward their cars, Liz saw Brad talking with some of his friends that were parked a few spaces away from Maria's Jetta.

"You've got to be kidding me," Liz said as she stopped dead in her tracks.

"What?" Max asked as he and Maria stopped with her.

Liz pointed over at her ex. "Brad."

Max's eyes immediately shot to where Liz was pointing, his anger beginning to rise again.

"Come on," Liz said as she grabbed Max's arm. Let's just go back inside and wait for them to leave.

"Oh, come on," Michael said as he joined the group. He had overheard everything that Liz had said, and he hated the idea of going out of his way just to avoid someone like Brad.

Max and Liz turned around to see that the rest of their friends had just joined them as well.

"What do you say, Valenti? Whitman?" Michael asked as he motioned toward Brad. "We won't get into a fight, but do you guys feel like making some waves?"

"With Brad?" Kyle asked. "Anytime." Nobody in the group liked Brad. That much was apparent to Max.

"I'm in," Alex said as he handed his backpack to Isabel.

"Come on, Max," Michael said as he started to walk over to Brad and his two friends.

"Max," Liz said. "You don't have to do this."

"We just can't ignore him forever, Liz," Max said. "Besides, I've wanted to put him in his place all day." After seeing the worried look in her eyes, Max smiled and placed his hand on her shoulder. "We're not going to fight, and even if we did, I'm pretty sure I could defend myself."

Isabel let out a giggle as she remembered the conversation she had with Max the day before; the conversation about him being the Regional Boxing Champion.

As Max and the rest of the gang started to walk towards Brad, Liz looked at Isabel in confusion. "What are you laughing about? I'm worried about him."

"Don't be," Isabel said as she and the other girls followed the guys so they could hear what was going to be said. "Nobody else knows this, but Max was the best boxer in his weight class over in California."

"Max boxes?" Maria and Tess both asked at the same time.

"As Michael would say," Isabel began with a smile. "He can definitely open a can of whoop ass!"

"Brad, old buddy, old pal!" Michael said as he walked up to Brad with Max right by his side. They both stopped a few feet away from Brad as he and his friends moved until they were all standing right next to each other. That's when they all noticed that it wasn't just Max and Michael, but also Alex and Kyle.

"Michael," Brad said before he turned to Max. "Maxi pad! It's good to see you again. I hope I didn't hurt you feelings this morning," he said mockingly.

Max just smiled as he folded his arms across his chest. "You know, I think I've got you figured out," Max said.

"Oh really?" Brad said as he folded his arms across his chest. "Do tell."

"You're scared," Max said simply.

Brad laughed. "Scared? Scared of what? You?"

Max shook his head, still smiling. "Scared of yourself."

Brad looked at his friends in confusion before he turned back to Max with amusement. "Care to explain?"

"You know deep down that you're nothing, so you feel like you have to bring Liz down with you," Max said. "I'm sure the reason you two broke up was because she saw how pathetic you really are, and you're scared that you'll let other people see how worthless you, just like Liz did."

"You know," Brad said as he took a step toward Max. "I should kick the living sh*t out of you right now."

Max didn't back down one bit, in fact he took a step forward himself. "You know, you talk a lot of sh*t for someone who never says anything."

That comment sent Michael, Alex and Kyle into a fit of laughter.

Brad just glared at Max as he took a step back. "You better watch your back," he warned as he and his friends climbed into a car and drove off.

"That was awesome!" Michael said as he gave Max a high-five.

Max just smiled as he turned around to face the rest of the group. There was a look of shock on Tess, Maria and especially Liz's faces. Isabel on the other hand, was laughing just as hard as the guys were.

"I've never heard anyone tell Brad off like that!" Maria finally said. "Not even you, Michael."

Max had his eyes locked on Liz's as he walked up to her. "Are you okay?" he asked as his eyebrows furrowed together.

Liz nodded slowly, her eyes still wide in shock. "I...I've never seen him run away from a fight so fast," she said, finally smiling.

"Well, it was probably the smartest choice he's made his entire life," Max said as he wrapped his arm around Liz's shoulders and walked her over to the Jeep.

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

When they all pulled up to the Evan's home, a big truck was parked out front.

"Is that the rest of your stuff?" Isabel asked as she pulled into the driveway.

"Yeah," Max answered as he climbed out of the Jeep, followed by Liz.

The eight friends met up before they walked up to the front door. When they walked in, they all caught Diane by surprise.

"Oh! Goodness," Diane said as she held her hand over the chest. "Looks like we have the whole gang here."

After everyone greeted Max and Isabel's mom, Diane turned to Max. "I didn't know were to put anything, so I had them stack everything in the garage for now."

"That's fine," Max said with a smile.

"Well, everything except for your car. They told me that it should be arriving any time now," Diane said.

"What kind of a car do you have?" Kyle asked, curious. He had a dark green pick-up truck himself.

"Mustang," Max replied as the phone began to ring. Diane excused herself as she went to answer the phone.

"Mustang, huh?" Kyle responded. "Newer body style, or older?"

"Newer," Max replied.

Kyle nodded in approval. "What color?"

Max didn't get a chance to answer the question, because Diane walked back in to the room just then.

"Max," Diane said softly. "There's a Mr. Richardson on the phone for you. He says he was your father's attorney."

Max sucked in his breath as he reached over and took the cordless phone from his mom. "This is Max."

"Max, my name's Andy Richardson. I was your father's attorney. I'm the one who handled his last will and testament. If I can arrange it, would you be able to fly back here to San Diego sometime with your mother and sister?"

"Um, yeah, I guess. What for?" Max asked.

"There are legal documents I need to go over with you, your mom and your sister. I'll need each of your signatures in order to release his assets," Mr. Richardson said.

"Why do my mom and sister need to go?" Max asked as he glanced around the group who were all listening intently to what he was saying.

"Because your dad included them in his will," Mr. Richardson said.

"Uh, let me check real quick," Max replied. He brought the phone away from his ear and placed his hand over the receiver to muffle his upcoming conversation with his family. "He needs us all to go to San Diego," he said as he looked at his mom and sister. "Apparently dad left us all something." This announcement caught both Isabel and Diane by surprise because they didn't expect to be included in Philip's will.

"Can I bring Alex?" Isabel asked nervously. She would desperately need him there with her for this.

"The attorney will arrange for us to fly out there," Max began. "But I'm not sure how the airline fairs will work out."

"I'll pay for it," Diane said quickly.

Max then looked at Liz, and noticed that she had a depressed look on her face. "What about Liz?" he suddenly asked.

"What?" Liz asked, shocked by Max's sudden outburst.

"Can I bring Liz with me?" Max asked, keeping his gaze on her face.

"Uh, sure," Diane responded, confused as to why Max would want to bring someone he had just met along with him.

The smile that spread across Liz's face took Max's breath away. He smiled back before he remembered that the attorney was still on the phone. "When can we leave?" he asked his mom.

"How about this weekend?" Diane suggested.

Max nodded, then brought the phone back up to his ear. "Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Richardson."

"No problem," came the reply.

"We can come this weekend," Max informed him. "But we're going to need five plane tickets, not three."

"Alright, I think I can convince my firm to cover the extra expense," Mr. Richardson said. "I'll have my secretary overnight a copy of the itinerary to you."

"Thank you," Max said before he ended the conversation. "It's all set," he told his friends. "They're going to cover all traveling expenses for everyone. We should be getting a copy of the itinerary tomorrow." Max was in a trance as he stared at the phone in his hands. He was going back to San Diego...back to his nightmare. At least this time he would have Liz there with him. He wanted to introduce her to his dad, and this would be the perfect opportunity to do so.


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 26-Jun-2002 7:26:54 PM ]
posted on 11-Oct-2001 1:57:11 PM
Part 4

There were a lot of boxes to go through, so the gang stuck around that night to help Max sort through them. Most of the boxes were labeled, which made things a lot easier.

"What about these, Max?" Isabel asked as she pulled out some posters from a box that sat on Max's bed.

"Just leave those in the box," Max said before he started to sift through some of the things on the floor in front of him.

It was getting late, so everyone decided to call it a night. They had all agreed to meet up the next day so they could finish helping Max sort through the remaining boxes. There weren't many left, but they all seemed eager to help, so Max decided to go with the flow.

"You need a ride, Liz?" Maria asked.

"Nah, I think I'll hang out here a while longer to help clean up the boxes we already went through," Liz responded, much to Max's delight.

"Did you need to call your parents?" Isabel asked.

"I already did," Liz replied. "I called them about an hour ago."

"Alright," Maria called back. "I'll see you guys tomorrow."

"Bye guys," Max said as he walked everyone to the door. "Thanks for all your help."

"No problem, Maxwell," Michael said, much to Max's surprise.

"Maxwell?" Max asked with amusement.

"Don't mind him," Maria said. "He always says stuff like that."

With one last wave, Max closed the front door and let out a sigh before he started to rub the back of his neck with his hand.

"Still sore?" Liz asked as she walked up behind him.

Max turned around and smiled. "Yeah, a little."

"Come on," Liz said as she grabbed his hand and led him back up to his bedroom. Once they were inside, Liz closed the door and pointed to the bed. "Take your shirt off and lie down," she commanded.

Max was taken back by her forwardness. "Come again?"

Liz let out a giggle when she saw Max's expression. "If you take your shirt off and lie down, I'll give you a massage," she clarified.

"Where's Isabel?" Max asked nervously.

"She took Alex home," Liz said as she walked over to the bed. She noticed that Max was shy about the current situation he was in, and she had to smile at his adorable face. "If you don't take your shirt off, then I'll have to do it for you."

Max found himself smiling at that image, but he complied and took it off himself.

Liz had a sharp intake of breath when she saw Max's bare chest and stomach. He was ripped to the teeth! She found that she had trouble speaking, so instead of asking him to lie down on the bed, she simply pointed with her finger, her eyes still wide with shock.

Max nervously made his way over to his bed, avoiding Liz's gaze at all costs. He laid down on his stomach, folded his arms out in front of him, then rested his head on his arms. "Are you just going to stare at me all night?" he asked playfully.

"Uh huh," Liz mumbled before she could stop herself. "I mean...no," she quickly amended. She shook her head to clear her thoughts, then climbed onto the bed and straddled Max's hips before reaching out to rub his back.

Max closed his eyes as he anticipated the first contact, and when it finally happened, it sent goose bumps all over his body. Her hands felt so good as she massaged away his tension, leaving a trail of fire wherever she touched.

Liz watched as each muscle she touched tensed up slightly, then completely relaxed. She smiled to herself as she made her way up his bare back, over his shoulders, then up to his neck. She wasn't the least bit surprised when she found about a million knots spread throughout his body. She rubbed them out the best she could, and felt her stomach flip every time she heard Max let out a soft moan when she massaged a really tense spot.

When she was done with the massage, Liz refused to climb off of him. Instead, she lightly ran her hands up and down his back, causing him to close his eyes and alternate between gasps and moans. His head was turned to the side, and as she looked at his face, she couldn't stop the urge to run a hand along his cheek. She reached out and touched his face, then her eyes found the scar above his left eye that was still healing. She moved her hand from his cheek and started to trace the scar with her index finger. She wished that she could heal it for him, but more than that, she wished she could heal the damage that was done on the inside...all the painful memories that came with how the scar got there in the first place.

When Max turned his head away from her touch to hide his scar, Liz knew that she shouldn't have touched him there. She decided to try and make him forget about everything for a while, and she hoped that her gentle touch on his bare back would do the trick. She ran her hands over his shoulders, then began to run her hands along his sides. She was caught off guard when he suddenly jumped and squirmed underneath her. She knew right away what had caused him to jump.

"Ticklish?" Liz asked with a big smile.

"Nope," Max lied with a smile, trying to convince Liz that he was fine.

"Right," Liz said before she reached down and attacked his sides, causing him to squirm and laugh as he tried to get her to stop.

It wasn't long before Max somehow managed to pull Liz off of him and pin her to the bed. Once he was in control, he began his own tickle-torture, causing Liz to squeal out in laughter as she tried to squirm away from him.

"NO MAX!" Liz begged between laughs. "PLEASE STOP!! I CAN'T TAKE ANYMORE!"

In the next instant, Isabel came barging into his room, having heard Liz's cries from the hallway. The scene that greeted her was not what she had expected. Her brother was shirtless, and had Liz pinned to the bed as he tickled her, causing Liz to thrash around as she laughed.

Both Max and Liz looked up and smiled when they saw Isabel standing there with her hands on her hips, her eyebrow raised in curiosity.

"Now that's not fair," Isabel said. "Liz doesn't stand a chance when you have her pinned down like that."

"That's the whole idea," Max replied, still smiling. He made no attempt to climb off of Liz until he saw his mom walk in. He then jumped up and tried his best to look innocent in front of his mother.

Diane looked at her half-naked son in shock. "Did you need me to do laundry for you, Max?"

Max looked at her in confusion before he realized that he wasn't wearing a shirt. He quickly scrambled and threw on his shirt, much to Isabel and Liz's amusement.

Diane gave her son a chastising look before she walked out of his room, sending Liz and Isabel into a fit of laughter.

"Very funny," Max said with a sarcastic smile.

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

After they finished cleaning up Max's room, Liz glanced at the clock. "I have to get home," she said.

"I'll give you a ride," Max said quickly.

"Oooohhhh, I get to ride in your fancy sports car?" Liz asked with a smile.

Max just smiled back as he grabbed his coat. "I'm going to run Liz home, mom," he called out when he walked past the living room.

"Alright," Diane responded. "Be careful."

As Max and Liz approached his car, he suddenly turned to her. "Did you want to drive?"

Liz looked at him strangely, but eventually reached out and took the keys. She could have sworn that she saw pure terror flash through those beautiful eyes of his.

Liz lived in a house that was attached to the Crashdown Cafe, a restaurant that her parents owned. She pulled up to the front of the restaurant, causing Max to look around in confusion.

"You live in a cafe?" Max asked seriously.

Liz laughed as she looked over at him. "My parents own the cafe. We live in the house that's attached to it."

"Oh," Max replied.

"Well...thanks for bringing me home," Liz said.

"I'll walk you to your door," Max said as he and Liz started to climb out. After seeing that she had left the keys in the ignition, Max reached over and pulled them out. He then walked her up to the front of the cafe, where they both stood, nervously looking at each other.

"I better get inside," Liz said. "Thanks for letting me drive your car."

Max looked back at his Mustang, then handed Liz his car keys. "I think I'll walk back home. Why don't you just pick me up for school tomorrow?"

Liz didn't take the keys, instead she locked eyes with him. "Tell me what's wrong," she said softly.

"What do you mean?" Max asked in confusion.

"You want me to take your car so I can pick you up for school tomorrow, just because you feel like walking home? You basically begged me to drive over here, and now you're trying to avoid driving home," Liz explained.

"I...just feel like walking," Max said again.

"Max," Liz said softly as she reached out for the car keys. "I'll agree to take you home right now, then pick you up for school tomorrow morning...in your own car, mind you...if you agree to tell me why you don't want to drive."

Max looked at the ground, not even trying to think of an excuse to tell Liz.

"Tell you what," Liz said with a smile as she reached over and grabbed Max's hand. "Why don't you come in for a few minutes and have some desert. One sundae, two spoons, then you can tell me what's bothering you."

Max had no idea why, but he found himself eager to explain his fears to Liz. He knew that she would make him feel at ease, and that was something he desperately needed. "Alright," he said with a smile as he looked into her eyes.

Liz smiled back, then unlocked the front door to the cafe and went inside, with Max right behind her. "Make yourself comfortable," Liz said as she started to walk toward the back. "I'm just going to whip us up a sundae, then I'll be right back."

Max looked around the cafe and noticed that all the decorations had something to do with aliens. He smiled when he saw some alien blow-up dolls stuck to the ceiling and chuckled at the fact that all the tables where shaped like alien's heads. He walked over and sat in a booth while he waited for Liz. It wasn't long before she came out and sat across from him.

"So," Max began as he picked up one of the spoons. "How long have you lived here?"

Liz dug her spoon into the sundae before answering. "All my life."

"I'm sure you get some pretty wacky tourist in here, huh?" Max asked before he scooped up some ice cream and ate it.

"Well, I'm not sure you know this, but I actually work here as a waitress," Liz said. From the look on Max's face, she realized that he wasn't aware of that fact. "So does Maria...and we get some real nut cases from time to time." Liz took a long look at Max before she spoke again. "Okay...let's stop beating around the bush here. Are you going to tell me what's wrong?"

"I'm not beating around the bush," Max said defensively.

Liz raised an eyebrow, giving him an 'are-you-kidding-me' look. "You're avoiding the topic we came in here to discuss."

Max shifted in his seat as his eyes looked anywhere but at Liz. "I...I'm not sure I want to talk about it," he said quietly.

Liz put her spoon down and reached across the table, grabbing his hand. "If you don't want to talk about it, then we won't. But it might help to voice your problems. Maybe I can help."

"Not unless you can turn back time," Max muttered. He finally looked into her eyes and saw concern written all over her beautiful face. He then took a deep breath before he started. "I haven't driven a car since the accident. Just thinking about getting behind the wheel again scares me half to death. I know I shouldn't be scared, but all I can think about is...what if it happens again? What if someone else is in the car with me next time, and they end up dying too?" Max closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

"I think you have the right to be scared," Liz said softly. "But you also have to realize that what happened was NOT your fault. There's no way you could have known that that was going to happen."

Max opened his eyes and looked at Liz. "Maybe there was no way of knowing what was going to happen, but I could have swerved the other way. Maybe if my side of the car had hit the truck instead of my dad's..."

"Don't do that to yourself," Liz interrupted him. "The impact of the accident wasn't what killed your dad. The airbag sent his head back in the wrong direction. It wouldn't have mattered which way you turned, the airbag still would have deployed."

"How did you know about the airbag?" Max asked in shock.

"Isabel told me," Liz said with a sympathetic smile. "Max, listen to me. You can't keep torturing yourself about what you could have done differently. This is no more your fault than it is Isabel's, or your mom's...or mine."

"But why did it have to be him?" Max asked, amazed that he was able to keep himself from crying. "Why couldn't it have been me," he added softly as he hung his head.

"MAX!! Don't you dare say that again!" Liz said forcefully, causing Max to look up at her. "Do you really think your dad would want to live if it meant that you didn't?"

Max couldn't argue with her about that. His dad would sacrifice anything for his son, including his own life. But it didn't make it any easier because Max would do the same for him.

Liz was just starting to see what kind of demons Max was battling with, and she was sure that once they got to San Diego she would see a lot more.

"Thanks for talking with me," Max said as he stood up to leave. "I should head home."

"Do you want me to keep your car?" Liz asked as she stood up with him.

"If you don't mind," Max said. "I'm sure I'll drive it one of these days, but not tonight."

"Sure," Liz said with a smile. "Come on...I'll take you home."

"That's okay," Max responded. "I think I'll just walk."

"Do you even know where your house is?" Liz asked with raised eyebrows.

Max looked out the front doors, clearly trying to get his bearings. He then looked back at Liz with a tiny smile before his gaze fell to the floor.

"I didn't think so," Liz said as she linked arms with him and walked out to his car.

The drive back to Max's house went by in silence. Liz kept sneaking looks over at Max, but each time she did, he had the same look on his face as he stared out the windshield. It looked like he was in a trance. She pulled up to his house and parked the car, then turned in her seat so she could face him. "I'll be back here tomorrow morning to pick you up."

"Thanks, Liz," Max said as he looked over at her. "For everything."

"If you need to talk, give me a call," Liz responded. "No matter what time it is."

"Thanks," Max replied as he leaned over and gave her a long hug before he climbed out and walked up to his front door.

Liz watched as he walked away, her own heart aching for him. His inner struggles were so great, she didn't know how he managed to stay sane. As she started to drive home, she said a silent prayer...praying that he would let her help him through this, and that she would have the strength to take on his burdens with him.

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

The rest of the week went by without any further incidents. Apparently Brad had either disappeared or was trying his best to avoid everyone from the group because nobody saw him.

It was now Saturday morning, and the itinerary said that the plane for San Diego would leave the Albuquerque airport at eleven o'clock. Diane had called both Liz and Alex's parents and had explained the reason why their kids were invited to go to San Diego for the weekend. After hearing that Diane would be there the entire time, both sets of parents agreed to let them go.

They left Roswell pretty early, just to make sure they gave themselves plenty of time to get to the airport. They picked Liz and Alex up on the way out of town, squeezing them in the back seat with Max. It wasn't all that crowded because Diane had a big SUV, but Max wouldn't have minded if it were. Liz sat in the middle, between Max and Alex, but her body was shifted toward Max for maximum touching.

Liz noticed during the drive to Albuquerque that Max was really nervous, mostly because he didn't say anything. She could tell that his mind was somewhere else because the only thing he did was gaze out the window and watch the scenery go by. She reached over and grabbed one of his hands as she laid her head on his shoulder.

When Max felt Liz grab his hand and rest against his shoulder, he turned his attention from the outside world to her. He glanced down and looked at their intertwined hands, raising them slightly from his lap so he could get a better grip on hers before resting them back on his thigh. He turned and looked out the window again, wishing that he could just crawl under a rock and hide from everything.

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

By the time they arrived at the airport and checked in at the gate, they had over an hour before their flight left. They decided to get some breakfast and coffee at a nearby shop, then try to relax as they sat at one of the tables.

Everyone noticed the change in Max once they sat down. He had his moments throughout the week where he had closed himself off and hadn't let anybody in, but this was different. Before he would at least respond when spoken to, but right now, anytime someone would ask him a question, he would either give a one-word answer, or shrug his shoulders.

As Liz sat next to him, her eyes stayed glued to his face. She could see the blank look in his eyes, and after spending the last week with him, she knew that he only had that look when he was seriously thinking about something...or more accurately, someone.

"Max?" Diane asked softly, trying to get him to talk a little. He raised his gaze from the tabletop to her face for a second, before returning it back to the shiny surface in front of him. "Did you want something else to eat?" she asked, noting that the food she had bought for him sat on the table untouched. Max shook his head in response.

Liz hated to see him like this. She leaned over and started to whisper in his ear. "I know this is hard for you. Just remember that we're all here for you...especially me. I just wanted you to know that it's killing me inside to see you like this."

Max looked over at her and smiled as he grabbed one of her hands. He then turned toward the others. "I'm sorry guys," he said. "I know I've been in my own little world since we left the house. I've just got a lot on my mind right now."

Diane looked over at Liz, surprised that all it took were a few kind words from her to get Max to open up a bit. "That's okay honey," she said to her son. "We just want to help."

"I know," Max replied.

Before long, the boarding call came over the intercom for their flight. They picked up their bags, threw away their trash, and made their way to the gate. Max took a deep breath as he boarded the plane, realizing that once he stepped off again, he would be back in San Diego.

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

"I'm just going to get our rental car," Diane said once they arrived in the San Diego airport.

Liz could tell that Max was really starting to stress out because his whole body was tense. She wrapped her arm around his waist and started to rub his back in comfort, and she was rewarded by a wide smile.

When they got to their rental car, they noticed that it was a sedan.

"Did you want to sit up front, Max?" Isabel asked. She felt bad for making him squeeze in the back seat with Liz and Alex.

"Nah, go ahead," Max answered. He needed Liz right by his side the entire time he would be there. It was strange to him that he felt so close to Liz, when he had just met her a week ago. He couldn't explain it, but it felt like he had known her his entire life.

Diane pulled out of the parking lot, and made her way to the freeway. "Do you know where the attorneys office is?" she asked Max.

Max thought for a second, and when he realized where the office was, his eyes widened as his face turned pale.

Liz noticed the change right away because she felt him tense up even more that he already was. "What's the matter?" she asked gently.

Max looked at her, but didn't answer her question. He gave directions to his mom, then sat back and waited. They were going to pass right by the spot where he had lost his dad.

Max started to rock back and forth slightly in his seat as he watched the road rush by. This was the exact same road he had been driving on, and as he looked out the window, he started to see all the events of that horrific night start to play out in front of his eyes.

He knew the exact spot where his life had changed, and it was just a few seconds away. As he continued to look out the windshield, his mind started to play tricks on him. He could see the car in front of him as he switched lanes, then the jackknifed semi truck in the middle of the freeway. His eyes were wide open, but he wasn't registering what was really in front of him. The only thing he could see was the semi getting closer as he slammed on the brakes.

When his mom was about to pass over the exact spot where the accident had occurred, Max could literally see it as if it were really happening again. He closed his eyes and braced himself for the impact, but nothing happened. He opened his eyes a few seconds later, took a deep breath, then closed them again as he leaned his head back against the headrest.

Liz watched as Max's facial expressions changed by the second, and wondered what he was thinking about. Then it hit her like a ton of bricks. This must be the freeway that his dad had died on. She reached over and grabbed his hand, trying to give him some of her strength.

When Max felt Liz's hand cover his, he kept his eyes closed, but held onto her hand for dear life. He took a few more deep breaths before he opened his eyes and frantically blinked back his tears. He turned his head away from Liz and looked out the window, not wanting to loose control of his emotions in front of her.

Liz knew exactly what he was trying to do, so she pulled on his arm and forced him into a hug. Max buried his face in the crook of her neck as her arms wrap around him. She held onto him tightly as she felt his tears against her neck. From the way he was trying to bury his face deeper and deeper into her neck, it seemed as though he was trying to hide from the outside world...from all his pain.

Liz kissed the top of his head before she rested her cheek against his hair. "Just let it out," she whispered to him. "Don't keep it locked up inside." Her own eyes started to well up with tears as she felt his body shake from a sob.

A few minutes later, Diane pulled into the parking lot of the law office they needed to go to. "Okay, we're..." her words trailed off when she turned around and saw the condition that Max was in. He still had his face buried in Liz's neck, and he was holding onto her jacket so tight, his knuckles had all turned white.

"Could you give us a minute?" Liz asked quietly, raising her head as a single tear ran down her cheek.

Diane, Isabel and Alex all nodded before climbing out of the car.

Liz rested her cheek against his hair again as she started to rub his arm. "Shhh. We'll get through this," she promised before she kissed the top of his head. She knew that he had stopped crying several minutes ago, and now he was just tying to regain his composure before he entered the attorney’s office.

Max sniffed a couple of times before he finally pulled back. He then reached over and wiped his tears off of Liz's neck and collar. "Sorry," he said with a smile. "I didn't mean to drench you."

Liz smiled back. "Don't be sorry. I'll always be here for you."

"Thank you," Max said before he looked out the window and noticed that the others were waiting outside for him. He took a few deep breaths before he turned his gaze back to Liz. "Ready?"

"If you are," Liz replied.

Part 5

Everyone sat on the couch in the front office, waiting for Mr. Richardson to come get them. Isabel and Alex were holding hands at one end of the couch while Max and Liz sat at the other end. Diane sat in-between the two couples.

Max was anxious to get this meeting over with, not wanting to talk about his dad's belonging for too long. He leaned forward and clamped his hands together, resting his forearms just above his knees.

Liz reached over after Max leaned forward and started drawing lazy circles on his back. She glanced at his face and smiled when she saw his eyes close as he relaxed under her touch.

"I'm sorry to keep you waiting," Mr. Richardson said as he walked up, causing Max's eyes to snap open.

"It's not a problem," Diane said as she stood up and shook hands with the attorney.

"Well," Mr. Richardson said after all of the introductions were out of the way. "If you three would follow me into my office, we can go over the will," he said, pointing to Max, Diane and Isabel in turn.

Isabel looked over at Alex before she asked: "What about Alex and Liz?"

Mr. Richardson looked at the two friends before he spoke. "Normally these matters are for family members only."

Alex walked up and put his arm around Isabel. "We'll just wait out here."

Liz gave Max an encouraging smile before he followed the attorney. Once they were all seated around the rather spacious office, Mr. Richardson pulled out some paperwork.

"I'm not sure if any of you were aware of Mr. Evans' assets, but he had quite a bit of money to his name," Mr. Richardson began. He placed the paperwork in front of the family members before he continued. "I'll cover the big stuff first. The house was paid for, and he left that to Max. What you want to do with it is up to you. If you want to sell it, I can arrange that through a local realty firm. As you probably know, both cars were left in Max's name as well, but I understand that the insurance company is compensating you for the vehicle that was in the accident. That money will also go to you, Max. The other car, a Mustang, is in your custody right now isn't it?" he asked Max. After Max nodded, he continued.

"As for his money...he divided that up between the three of you. Since Max and Isabel are both seventeen years old, that money will be placed in a trust fund and released once you turn eighteen. Of course the money that was left in your name, Diane, will be released to you once the paperwork goes through."

Diane held up a hand to interrupt. "Did Philip tell you why he included me and Isabel in his will?"

"We spoke briefly about his reasons, and he told me that he included Isabel because she was his daughter...plain and simple. He said that he included you for two reasons; one because you raised his daughter, and two because he still loved you," Mr. Richardson said, causing Diane to get teary eyed.

Mr. Richardson waited a few seconds before he continued. “Now, I need to cover the amount of money each of you will receive," he said as he added up the numbers on his calculator. "Including all his stocks, bonds and money, minus the mandatory taxes that the government takes out on all inheritances...he left Diane around $200,000, Isabel around $400,000, and Max around $650,000. Now, you need to understand that these figures are just estimates. I won't have the final numbers until I file the paperwork."

All three family members just sat in their chairs completely shocked. Nobody knew that Philip had that much money, not even Max.

Mr. Richardson could sense the amount of shock in the room, but he decided to continue anyway. "Mr. Evans wanted me to stress that the money he's leaving his children, he wanted to be used to further their education…if they didn’t already have a college degree by the time he died. Of course, with the amount of money we're talking about here, each of you should have plenty left over after graduating from college. Especially you, Max, since your schooling is already paid for."

Diane and Isabel both turned to Max in confusion. "Why is your schooling already paid for?" Diane asked.

Max tried to swallow the lump in his throat before he answered with a hoarse voice. "Can we talk about it later?" He just wanted to get out of that office as quickly as possible.

After covering a few minor details and technicalities about the will, the meeting was finally over. Mr. Richardson stood from behind his desk and shook hands with the Evans’ family before he walked them to his office door. "I'll be in touch when everything is finalized," he said.

"Thank you," Diane said before she walked out.

When they reached the waiting area, Alex and Liz jumped off the couch and hurried over to them.

"How did it go?" Alex asked as he pulled Isabel into a hug.

"Good," Isabel replied, still trying to come to terms with everything.

Liz stood in front of Max and looked at him with concern. She didn't say anything, but she didn't need to to know what he was feeling. She may have only met him a week ago, but she already knew more about him in that one week than she knew about any of her other boyfriends combined.

"Max?" Diane asked as she turned to her son.

Max had been staring off into space, but hearing his mom's voice brought him back to reality. "Yeah?"

"I know this might not be the best time to talk about this, but do you know what you want to do with the house?" Diane asked cautiously. "If you wanted to sell it, it would be better to arrange that while we're still here instead of back in Roswell."

Max's eyes shifted from his mom's face to the picture that was hanging on the wall behind her as he started to drift off again. He shook his head slightly before meeting his mom's gaze again. "I'm not sure what I want to do. I guess it all depends on what I'm going to do for college."

Four sets of eyes stared at Max, waiting for him to explain. Max looked at everyone before his eyes shifted to the front door. "Look...can we talk about this later? I just want to get out of here."

"Sure," Diane said with a smile before everyone made their way to the door.

Liz was still staring at Max with concern, taking note of the way he was walking. He looked like a zombie. She reached over and grabbed his hand, lacing her fingers with his. Max looked down at their hands, then up at Liz's smiling face. He gave her a sweet smile in return, thanking her with his eyes for her support.

After everyone climbed back into the car, Diane turned around in her seat. "What should we do now? Our flight to Albuquerque doesn't leave until six o'clock tomorrow night, and seeing as how it's only four o'clock right now, it looks like we've got some time to kill."

"We could head over to the hotel and check in," Isabel suggested.

"Or we could get something to eat," Alex said.

"Could we..." Max began to say, causing everyone to turn and look at him as he gazed out the window. "Could we visit dad?" he asked as he turned his glossy eyes to his mom.

"Sure, honey," Diane said before she turned around and started the car. The gravesite of her ex-husband was the only place she really knew how to get to by herself.

Max turned to Liz and noticed from her expression that she was feeling the exact same thing that he was. Sorrow, loss, but most of all, pain. He could tell that she wanted to take his pain away, and it only confirmed what he already knew. He was falling head over heels in love with Liz Parker.

He smiled at her, still holding onto her hand. "I want you to meet him," he whispered with a quivering smile.

Liz smiled back as she reached up and cupped his cheek with her free hand. "I'd really like that."

About twenty minutes later, the gang found themselves walking up to the gravesite of Philip Evans. As soon as his headstone was in view, Max stopped abruptly, causing everyone else to stop as well. In the two weeks he had lived in San Diego after his father’s death, Max had visited this spot every single day.

"Could you guys give me a few minutes alone with him?" Max asked, his eyes still locked on his father's headstone.

"Take your time," Diane replied as she placed her hand on his arm.

Max then turned to Liz. "Could you wait five minutes, then join me?"

"Of course," Liz replied with a smile before she reluctantly let go of Max's hand.

Max took his time as he walked up to his dad's grave. He walked up to the side and knelt down next to the headstone. He just stared at the engravings for a minute, then reached out and traced the name 'Philip Evans' with his index finger. He proceeded to trace the other letters and numbers located just under his name before he spoke.

"Hey dad. I'm back, and this time I brought the family with me… as you can see. In case you’re wondering who the other two people are, the guy's name is Alex...he's Isabel's boyfriend. And the beautiful brunette...is Liz," Max said as he turned to look at her. She was standing next to his mom, staring right back at him. He turned back and looked at his dad's headstone again before he continued.

"The move to Roswell was not something I wanted to do, but it turned out all right. Isabel introduced me to her friends, and they're all great. They've welcomed me into their circle with open arms, and it has made everything a whole lot easier for me." He paused for a few seconds as a tear ran down his cheek. "You know how you were always on my case about getting a girlfriend?" he asked with a smile before he sniffed back more tears. "Well, I think I finally found one. Liz is great. As you can see, she's beautiful, but what makes her stand out in my mind is how gentle and loving her heart is. Her inner beauty is so amazing, I constantly find myself grinning like an idiot every time I catch a glimpse of her.

"I know that I’ve only known her for a week, but I can’t help the way I feel about her. I wanted to bring her with me so you could meet her. She’s my very own personal angel. I already know that you'll love her...she tends to have that effect on people," Max said with a smile.

Liz stood silently behind Max, not wanting to interrupt him. After five minutes had passed, she had silently made her way up to him, just like he had asked. She was glad that she didn't interrupt, otherwise she never would have heard Max tell his dad that he wanted her to be his girlfriend. But it was his last comments that sent her heart soaring and brought her emotions to the surface.

Max realized that Liz would be coming over soon, so he stood up and glanced back, surprised to see her standing right behind him, staring at him. As he looked at her, he noticed that her eyebrows were furrowed together and she was crying. She had one hand covering her mouth, but he could still see that her bottom lip was quivering.

She lowered her hand away from her mouth and tried to smile, but it only caused her bottom lip to quiver even more. Max immediately walked over and pulled her into a hug, taking in deep breaths of the scent that her hair gave off. He pulled back, but kept one arm wrapped around her shoulders while she kept one wrapped around his waist.

"Dad," Max said, looking down at the headstone. "This is Liz. Liz, this is my dad."

Liz looked down at the headstone before she smiled again. "It's nice to meet you, Mr. Evans," she said softly before she looked back up at Max. "How are you doing, Max?"

Max looked over at her and smiled as a tear ran down his cheek. Liz reached up and wiped it away with her thumb. His next move caught her by surprise, but it also made her incredibly happy. He turned so he was standing directly in front of her, then leaned in and rested his forehead against hers. He closed his eyes in at attempt to prevent more tears from falling as he grabbed a hold of her jacket with both hands. Liz reached up and cupped his cheeks with her hands before she closed her own eyes and let a few tears fall down her face.

Max took a few deep breaths before he opened his eyes and stared at Liz until she looked up and met his gaze. "Thank you," he whispered.

"For what?" Liz asked with a watery smile.

"For being here with me," Max replied. "For helping me through this."

Liz's smile deepened despite her tears. "Anything for you," she whispered before she buried her face in the crook of his neck.

Diane, Isabel and Alex all watched the scene in front of them with smiles on their faces. Alex was the only one not crying, but he still felt a lump in his throat as he watched Max and Liz cling to each other. Diane and Isabel were not only crying over the emotional scene, but also for Philip. They always knew that he and Max were close, but after watching Max for a few minutes, they realized just how close the two men really were.

A few minutes later, Max and Liz pulled apart, both taking deep breaths as they tried to control their emotions. After giving Liz one last smile, Max looked over at his mom and waved them over.

After everyone was finished at the gravesite, they all started to walk back to the car...everyone except for Max and Liz. Max wanted to say goodbye without his family there. He knelt down next to the grave and traced his dad's name with his finger one last time before he stood up, walked over to Liz, and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

"I miss you, dad," Max whispered before he and Liz turned to follow the others.

Part 6

After they checked into the hotel, everyone decided to head over to the mall. It had stores for Isabel to shop at, and a food court for Alex to pig out at. Max had suggested the idea, wanting nothing more than to forget about the real reason why he was back in San Diego.

“This mall is HUGE!” Isabel exclaimed with a smile as Diane pulled into the parking lot.

“Well, it doesn’t close for another three hours, so you have a little time to wander around,” Max said.

After Diane parked the car, they all made their way inside.

“Let’s get something to eat,” Alex said, eyeing the food court immediately.

They had all kinds of food there…everything from McDonald’s and Burger King to Chinese.

“What did you want to eat?” Max asked Liz, who had followed him over to the Chinese stand.

“I love Chinese,” Liz responded, linking her arm with Max’s.

As Max stared up at the menu, he raised his arm and wrapped it around Liz’s shoulders, pulling her close to his body. The funny thing was, he didn’t even think twice about it at first. It wasn’t until he felt Liz’s arm wrap around his waist that he realized what he had just done. If he had thought about it before he acted, he probably wouldn’t have been so bold. He glanced at Liz out of the corner of his eye, trying to gauge her reaction to his move. When he saw a tiny smile float across her face, his stomach started to flip inside out.

Liz was surprised by his move, but deliriously happy at the same time. She had goose bumps all over her body, and she felt like she was coming undone at the seams. She leaned into his body, resting her head against his shoulder before she actually concentrated on the menu for the first time.

“What do you feel like?” Max asked as he leaned down, resting his cheek against the top of her head.

“Sweet and sour chicken,” Liz responded.

“That’s my favorite,” Max said as he pulled back and looked down at the top of her head.

Liz tilted her head back slightly so she could look up at him. Once their eyes met, everything else was obsolete. The electricity that was flowing through both of them was enough to light up the entire city for a year. They stayed like that, lost in each other’s eyes, for what seemed like hours. It wasn’t until they heard someone call out Max’s name that they broke out of their trance.

“Max Evans?” a voice asked. It took a few seconds for Max and Liz to realize that someone was standing right behind them, trying to get their attention. “Max?” they asked again.

Max shook his head slightly before he turned around to find one of his best friends standing there. “Brendan?” he asked with a smile. He pulled away from Liz so he could hug his friend, then reached over and grabbed Liz’s hand. “Where’s Jason?”

“Maximus!!” Jason called out as he ran over and hugged Max.

Max let go of Liz’s hand and hugged his other friend, then turned so he could introduce her. “Guys, this is Liz. Liz, this is Jason and Brendan.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Liz said as she shook hands with both of them.

As Max watched his friends greet Liz, he suddenly felt a wave of protectiveness come over him after seeing the way Jason and Brendan were looking at her. He quickly reached over and wrapped his arm around Liz’s shoulders, pulling her into his side.

Jason and Brendan just looked at Max strangely, wondering why he was acting so weird.

“Are you two…an item?” Jason asked in surprise.

“Why do you sound so surprised?” Max asked. Liz noticed that while he didn’t say ‘yes’ to the question, he didn’t say ‘no’ either.

“Oh, I don’t know…probably because you haven’t had a girlfriend since you reached puberty,” Brendan responded.

“Yeah…well, things change,” Max answered, tightening his grip on Liz.

All Liz could do was smile. Max was practically telling his two best friends in the entire world that she was his girlfriend. After resting her head against his shoulder again, she wrapped both arms around his waist and hugged him tightly.

“Well…all I’ve got to say is, it’s about damn time,” Brendan said before he patted Max on the back.

“How long are you in town for?” Jason asked.

“I’m leaving tomorrow night,” Max responded. “Did you guys want to meet my mom and sister? They’re sitting right over there,” he said as he pointed.

“Lead the way,” Brendan responded.

As Max walked over to his mom, he noticed that Liz was still hugging him tightly with both arms. “Are you okay?”

Liz looked up into his face and smiled brightly. “Never been better,” she replied.

Max smiled in return before he turned to his mom. “Mom, I’d like you to meet my two best friends. This is Jason and that’s Brendan,” he said, pointing to each of his friends in turn. “Guys, this is my mom…my sister, Isabel…and her boyfriend, Alex.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Diane said with a friendly smile. “How long have you known Max?”

Jason and Brendan looked at each other for a second, both trying to figure out how long they had been friends.

“Since third grade,” Jason finally answered.

After a brief conversation with everyone in the group, Isabel excused herself so she could go shopping. She reached back and dragged Alex along with her, causing him to groan in protest.

“Well, we need to get going,” Jason said as he turned to Max. “Let us know when you move back here for college so we can all room together.” He then turned to Liz. “It was nice to meet you, Liz.”

“It was nice to meet you too,” Liz responded as she shook hands with the two guys again.

Max said goodbye and watched as his friends walked out of the mall.

“So,” Liz began once she had Max’s attention again. “You’re moving back here for college?”

Max’s gaze faltered as he tried to look anywhere but at Liz. “I don’t know yet.”

“Well, your friends seem to think you are,” Liz said gently, trying to get Max to open up a little.

“That was before the…” Max began to say. “Things are different now.”

“Did you want to talk about it?” Liz asked softly.

“Yeah,” Max answered. “But not right now. This is something my mom and sister need to hear too, and I don’t think I can explain it more than once.”

Liz nodded in understanding before she led them back to sit with Diane so they could both eat dinner.

_________________

After having to practically carry Isabel out of the mall, they all decided to call it a night. Max wanted to talk about his college options as soon as possible so he could at least try to enjoy some time with Liz. He and Alex were going to share a room, as were Diane, Isabel and Liz.

Max had asked if he could talk with everyone, so they were all sitting on one of the beds in the girl’s room, waiting for him to explain the purpose of the meeting.

Max sat down on the bed across from everyone, then looked up and made eye contact with each of them before he began. “First off, I wanted to thank Alex and Liz for coming here with us. Secondly, I’m sure you’re all wondering about a few things that were brought up at the attorney’s office…namely, my college plans.

“The only thing I’m going to ask is that you bear with me. I’ve never talked about this before, not even with my best friends.” After seeing everyone nod, he took a deep breath before he started. “Dad and I were on our way back from the campus at San Diego University, were I had just signed my letter of intent to play basketball for them next year.

“I remember looking over at him as he told me how proud he was of me,” Max said as his eyes took on a distant look and a smile came to his lips. Then, as quickly as the smile had come, it was gone. Max looked down at his hands, which were rubbing together nervously on his lap. Even though his throat and eyes had started to sting, he continued to hold back his tears. He had cried enough over this.

Liz stood up from her seat, made her way over and sat down on the bed next to Max. She reached out and started to rub his back, hoping that the simple gesture would somehow give him strength. Max turned to her and smiled before he glanced back down at his hands.

“We were trying to decide were we wanted to eat…when the accident happened,” Max continued. “I remember waking up with a massive headache, then looking over at dad.” He closed his eyes briefly as he mustered up enough strength to continue. “He was unconscious when the ambulance came. At the hospital, once they were done stitching up the cut on my forehead, I finally tracked down the doctor who was helping him. He told me that…that…” Max trailed off.

It was then that Liz noticed just how upset Max really was. She glanced down at his hands and saw that they were shaking out of control. Diane must have noticed too, because she reached out and placed her hand over his.

“You don’t have to tell us right now,” she said softly to her son. “It can wait.”

“I want to,” Max said with determination before he continued. “I don’t remember anything after that. I’m not sure if I blacked out or what, but the next thing I knew, I was laying in a bed at dad’s best friends house. Later that week, I talked with the coach at SDU, and he told me that if I didn’t want to play ball my senior year in high school, my scholarship would still be waiting for me next year. He said that if I needed more time than that, he would understand and would clear everything up with the administration office for me.”

“So that’s why your college is all paid for,” Isabel said.

“Only if I go to college at SDU,” Max clarified.

“From the sounds of it, I don’t think you’d have a problem getting a scholarship at another school,” Alex pointed out.

“I already signed my letter of intent,” Max said. “I can’t attend another college on an athletic scholarship. Not unless I want to sit out and not play for an entire year.”

“So…what do you want to do?” Liz asked gently as she continued to rub his back in comfort.

Max glanced over at her and smiled weakly. “I don’t know.”

“Well, whatever you decide, you know I’ll support you,” Diane said with a smile.

“Me too,” Isabel added.

“Thanks,” Max replied. “There’s just one more thing I need to tell all of you. When I was packing dad’s stuff before I moved out to Roswell, I found his journal. I started to read it, and there was one particular entry that really moved me. I copied it down onto a sheet of paper, and have carried it with me ever since.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out the paper. “This was dated about two months before the accident.” Max cleared his throat in an attempt to get past the lump that had lodged itself there.

“I just watched Max receive an award from his high school for his outstanding athletics and academics. I continue to be amazed at how my pride for him grows day in and day out. As he stood up on stage in front of hundreds of other parents and students, his eyes somehow managed to find me. I couldn’t help but get a little choked up as he smiled at me, his eyes shining brightly as he raised the plaque for me to see.

I didn’t get to see him until after the ceremony was done, but as soon as I did, he walked right over and gave me a hug. He said ‘thank you’ and that he couldn’t have done it without my help. What did I do to deserve such an outstanding son?

My only wish is that he could have grown up with his mom and sister. His mom is an amazing woman, and I hope that he’ll be able to get to know her sometime in the near future. As I continue to watch Max grow, my heart can’t help but feel sorrow that I’m not able to watch Isabel grow in the same way. From what Diane tells me from time to time, Isabel sounds exactly like Max. They are twins after all.

Max has brought so much joy into my life that I constantly find myself staring at him in amazement. We are a lot closer than most father’s are to their son’s, and I thank God every day for that. I only wish that he would find himself a girlfriend now. I can’t even remember the last time he voluntarily went out on a date.

I hope Max knows that I will always love him, no matter what happens. I will always watch over him and look in on him as he grows, no matter how far apart we are.”

Max’s voice cracked slightly during the last sentence, so he stopped for a moment and took a few deep breaths. Liz was still rubbing his back in comfort, unable to control the tears that had welled up in her eyes. When Max regained his composure, he started to read again.

”I arranged a surprise for Max after he graduates from high school. The only thing I need to do now is talk to Diane to see if her and Isabel can go with us. It would be the first time that we ever went on a vacation as a family. I can’t wait to see the look on Max and Isabel’s faces when they step off the plane in Tahiti.”

Max folded the paper up and placed it back in his pocket, keeping his head hung low. “That was his last journal entry,” he told them. “I just thought you’d want to know what he had planned for the end of our senior year.” He then glanced up to see everyone’s reaction, and noticed that everyone was in tears. Even Alex was a little teary-eyed.

“Did he ever talk to you about that, mom?” Isabel asked after Alex had pulled her into a hug.

Diane shook her head. “No. He never mentioned it to me.”

Max glanced over at Liz, who was staring back at him in concern. He reached over, pulled her into a hug and didn’t let go. They all stayed like that for a few minutes, no words being spoken by anyone. It was Diane who finally broke the silence.

“It’s getting pretty late. Maybe we should all head to bed.”

Max and Alex made their way to the door, their room being located across the hallway from the girls’. The girls walked them over to the door, Isabel and Liz still attached to their arms.

“Are you going to be okay?” Liz asked.

Max smiled down at her before he nodded. “Yeah. Sorry this trip hasn’t been more upbeat…”

He was cut off when Liz raised her finger to his lips. “Don’t be sorry. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy for anyone when I agreed to come along. I just wanted to be here for you and Isabel. Nothing else matters.”

Max nodded in silence as his gaze dropped to the floor. “I want to show you around town tomorrow,” he said as his eyes rose to meet Liz’s. “I want to show you where I used to live, where I went to school…everything.”

“Then that’s what we’ll do,” Liz responded with a smile. “I got you something when we were at the mall,” she said before she walked over to her bag. When she returned, she handed Max a CD.

“What’s this?” Max asked as he reached out and took the CD from her.

“I want you to listen to a particular song on this CD,” Liz said. “It expresses how I feel about everything you’re going through.”

After Liz told him what song to listen to, Max gave her one last hug before he and Alex disappeared into their room. They didn’t say anything to each other as they both got ready for bed. It wasn’t until Alex came out of the bathroom and saw Max standing in front of the window, looking out over the city, that he spoke up.

“You okay?” he asked as he stood next to Max.

Max looked over at him briefly before he turned to stare out the window again. “Yeah. I just didn’t expect to be back in this city so soon.”

Alex patted Max on the back before he walked over to his bed. “I’m giving you fair warning…I tend to snore a little,” he said as he climbed under the sheets.

Max heard what Alex had said, but it didn’t register in his brain. His eyes stayed focused on the city in front of him as he realized that there was no way he would able to sleep that night. He waited until he heard Alex start to snore before he changed back into his street cloths. He grabbed his key to the room, his portable CD player, and the CD that Liz had given him, then quietly snuck out, shutting off the light on his way.

He had no idea where he was going to go. The only thing he did know is that he needed fresh air in his lungs. After placing the CD that Liz gave him inside his portable player, he put on his headphones and pushed play. He listened to the song as he walked down the street, his memories coming back as he saw certain things that reminded him of his life that existed just a few weeks ago.

He pasted by the gym that he, Jason and Brendan used to box at…the restaurant that his friends dragged him out to in an attempt to get him to date someone named Courtney…even his old high school. He must have been walking around for hours, because he now found himself standing in front of his old house.

He still had his key to the house, so he walked up, opened the door and reluctantly stepped inside. The place was completely empty, everything now being stored in Roswell. He walked into the living room and sat down on the wooden floor, facing the window. He just sat there for a while as more memories played out across his mind, some making him smile, some making him frown. He had been listening to the same song over and over again, and as he sat there, he really concentrated on the words for the first time that night.

Life is full of lots of up and downs
But the distance feels further
When it's headed for the ground
And there's nothing more painful
Then to let your feelings take
You down

It's so hard to know
The way you feel inside
When there's many thoughts
And feelings that you hide
But you might feel better
If you let me walk with you
By your side

And when you need
A shoulder to cry on
When you need
A friend to rely on
When the whole world is gone, you won't be alone
'Cause I'll be there
I'll be your shoulder to cry on
I'll be there
I'll be your friend to rely on
When the whole world's gone, you won't be alone
'Cause I'll be there

All of the times
When everything is wrong
And you're feeling like
There's no use going on
You can't give it up
I'll help you work it out
And carry on

Side by side
With you till the end
I'll always be the one
To firmly hold your hand
No matter what is said or done
Our love will always continue on

Everyone needs a shoulder to cry on
Everyone needs a friend to rely on
When the whole world is gone, you won't be alone
'Cause I'll be there
I'll be your shoulder to cry on
I'll be there
I’ll be your friend to rely on
When the whole world is gone, you won't be alone
'Cause I'll be there
You'll have my shoulder to cry on
I'll be there
I'll be the one to rely on
When the whole world's gone, you won't be alone
'Cause I'll be there

And when the whole world's gone
You'll always have my shoulder to cry on

(Tommy Page)

He glanced up at the sky and noticed that is was starting to get light out. He didn’t realize that he had been out all night, but he knew that he had to high tail it back to the hotel before anyone woke up and noticed that he was missing.

It took him an hour and a half to make it back to the hotel. After running nearly the entire way, he decided to rest a little in the lobby so he could catch his breath. He had no idea what time it was when he finally got into the elevator, but as soon as he stepped off and walked up to his room, he noticed that he was too late. Everyone was already awake. He heard voices coming from the girls’ room, and as he walked closer, he began to make out what everyone was saying.

“I’m sure he just went out for a jog or something,” Diane was saying.

“But he didn’t say anything to me,” Alex said. “I woke up over two hours ago, and he was gone! He hasn’t come back since.”

“Where could he have gone, and why didn’t he tell someone he was leaving?” That stress-filled voice definitely belonged to Isabel.

“I’ll go down to the lobby again to see if he’s there,” Liz said as she headed out the door, only to find herself standing face to face with Max. She just stared at him in shock.

“Hi,” Max said with a smile, slightly embarrassed that he had been caught eavesdropping in on a conversation about himself. He then walked up and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “Thanks for the CD,” he said, raising his portable CD player for her to see. “The song really meant a lot to me.” Liz smiled in return before Max led them back inside the room. “So, I hear everyone’s looking for me,” he said as he entered the room.

“MAX!!” Isabel exclaimed in relief. “Where have you been?”

“I couldn’t sleep, so I decided to take a little walk,” Max replied, trying to sound as casual as possible.

“It looks like you’ve been outside all night,” Isabel said. “Your face is all red, and your lips have taken on a bluish tint.”

“Its no big deal guys,” Max said. “I just needed some fresh air.”

Diane could tell that Max really didn’t want to talk about where he had gone last night, so she took it upon herself to change the focus away from him. “Well, now that everyone’s here, let’s get ready so we can check out.”

Max was thankful that his mom came to his rescue, and even more thankful when nobody continued to press him for answers about his whereabouts last night.

After everyone was showered, packed, and ready to go, they all made their way down to the lobby. After Diane checked out, they packed their stuff in the car and started to climb in.

“Max,” Diane said. “Since you know where everything is, why don’t you drive.”

Liz saw the look of horror pass through Max’s eyes instantly, so she reached out and held his hand, giving him the support he needed. “If you’re not ready, you could sit in the passengers seat while I drive,” she whispered into his ear. “You could tell me where to go.”

Max looked down at her and let out a sigh of relief as a smile broke out across his face. “I know I need to get over this stupid phobia I have of driving, but I don’t think the best place to start is with a car full of people I love.”

Liz smiled up at him, trying not to read too much into what he had just said. Did he mean that he loved her, or just his mom and sister? If he did love her, what kind of love was it? Was it he kind of love that two friends have for each other, or the kind of love that she felt deep down in her soul for him?

“Liz?” Max whispered as he reached out and touched her arm, pulling her out of her trance.

“What? Oh…sorry,” Liz mumbled once she realized that she had just spaced out. “So, did you want me to drive?”

“That would be great,” Max replied as he handed her the car keys.

After everyone was buckled in, Liz turned to Max. “So…where to?”

To Be Continued……………

posted on 12-Oct-2001 1:59:54 PM
Part 7

Max spent the entire morning showing everyone around town. They stopped at his old high school were he told them stories about the things he and his friends had done while they went there. They mostly stayed in the car and just drove past these places, but when they drove up to his old house, Liz parked the car and everyone climbed out.

It was around noon now, and they all seemed anxious to see where Max had grown up.

“As you can see,” Max said as he led everyone through the front door. “The living room is off to the right, the kitchen to the left, and the bedroom and bathrooms are down the hallway and up the stairs. You guys can walk around and scope the place out if you want.”

While Diane, Isabel and Alex made their way through the house, looking at all the rooms, Liz walked up to Max. “Could you show me which room was yours?” she asked shyly.

Max smiled before he grabbed her hand and led her up the stairs. His room was the first door they came to, so he opened it and led Liz inside.

“This is pretty roomy,” Liz said, taking note of the rather large room.

“Yeah,” Max said before he and Liz walked over to the window that overlooked the back yard. “I remember when I was eight years old, I climbed out of this window because I wanted to play G.I. Joe on the roof with some of my friends. I ended up slipping on the shingles and fell off.”

Liz let out a gasp as she looked at Max. “Were you okay?”

Max let out a chuckle before he answered her question. “I broke my wrist and elbow. I can still remember looking at an x-ray of my arm after they put me in a cast. They had to insert two metal pins to hold my elbow together while it healed.”

“That must have been painful,” Liz said as she looked out the window.

“It probably was, but to be honest, I don’t really remember the pain. I do remember the look on my dad’s face when he came rushing out of the house, though.” A small smile came to Max’s lips as he thought back in time. “I think he was freaking out more than I was. The nurses gave him a hard time because while I was in the operating room, he was pacing just outside the doors, refusing to sit down while he waited. He told me later that the nurses said they’d have to replace the tiles in front of the door because my dad had paced back and forth on them for nearly two hours.”

Liz smiled as she listened to Max recite memories from his childhood. She loved to hear stories about him when he was younger, and it saddened her when she realized that the only other person who could tell her such stories, besides Max, was no longer with them.

“Here you are,” Diane said as she walked into the room with Isabel and Alex. “Let me guess…this was your room, right?”

Max smiled as he nodded. “Yeah. This was my room for as long as I can remember. I grew up in here.”

After showing Liz the rest of the house with everyone else tagging along, Max finally made his way out to the back yard. There was a basketball hoop set up near the porch, on the only slab of concrete in the yard. Max walked over to the fence after he noticed an orange object resting there. He reached down to pick it up, then noticed that is was a basketball he had forgotten to pack.

“Uh oh,” Alex said with a smile when he saw Max walk back with the ball in his hands. “You know, I may not be ‘Mr. All-American’ like you, Max, but I still think I can take you in a game of one-on-one.”

Max stopped in his tracks and tilted his head to the side slightly, a smile forming on his lips. “You think you got what it takes to beat me?”

“Honestly…no,” Alex admitted. “But I’ll certainly give you a run for your money.”

Max took off his jacket and handed it to Liz, as Alex handed his to Isabel. Liz immediately put his jacket on, surrounding herself with the scent that could only be described with one word…Max.

Max and Alex stood at the top to the court, facing the basket.

“Okay,” Max said while he dribbled the ball. “We’ll play to twenty one, each basket counts for one point.”

“Fine with me,” Alex replied. “Who takes the ball out first?”

“If I make it from here, I do,” Max said. “If I miss, you do.” Alex agreed, so Max shot the ball and drained it. “My ball,” he said.

The girls all sat on the step of the porch while they watched the two boys play. Liz had to admit that she had never seen anyone play as well as Max did. All his shots were going in, and he wasn’t allowing Alex to get anywhere near the basket when he played defense.

The only time Alex scored was when he did something completely goofy that caused Max to double over in laughter. Liz was surprised to hear Max laugh like he was. It was the first time since she met him that he actually let out a genuine laugh. Seeing the smile on his face was all it took for Liz to smile herself. His laugh must have been contagious, because all three girls joined him whenever he doubled over from something that Alex did.

When the game was over, Max emerged as the victor, beating a helpless Alex by the score of 21-3.

“I almost beat you,” Alex said as he and Max walked over to the girls.

“You were almost there,” Max said with a chuckle.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I ordered us some pizza for lunch,” Diane said as she, Liz and Isabel all stood up.

“How?” Max asked. “The phone’s not hooked up.”

Diane pulled out her cell phone and flashed it in front of her.

“Oh,” Max said as he nodded. “Are you sure you told them the right address?”

“I got it covered,” Diane said.

They all started to walk back into the house when Max suddenly had an idea. He gently grabbed Liz’s arm, stopping her from following the others. “I want to show you something,” he whispered before he led Liz back into the yard. “We’ll be right back, mom!” he called out.

“Did you want your jacket back?” Liz asked as she started to take it off.

Max placed his hand on her shoulder, stopping her movement. “Nah, that’s alright. Besides, it looks good on you.” Liz could wear anything of his and he would still think that it looked good on her.

“Where are we going?” Liz asked with a smile as she grabbed Max’s hand and laced her fingers through his.

“That’s a surprise,” Max said, flashing Liz that amazing half smile of his.

They made their way around the house and walked down the street a ways. It didn’t take long before they came up to an old elementary school. Liz could tell just by looking at it from the outside that it had been closed down for some time.

“This is my old elementary school,” Max said as he walked up to the front door.

“Why isn’t it opened anymore?” Liz asked.

“You’ll see,” Max said as he pried the door open.

When they stepped inside, Liz let out a gasp from the sight in front of her. The inside of the school was a complete disaster. The walls, ceiling, and floors were all charcoal black, indicating that a major fire had taken place here. “When did all this happen?”

“Three years ago,” Max said. “The fire happened over the summer, so luckily nobody was here.”

“How did it start?” Liz asked as she and Max make their way through the rumble.

“Faulty wiring,” Max responded. “This school was built decades ago, and they never had the money to remodel it. The wiring inside the walls shorted out, and that’s what caused the place to go up in flames.”

“Why didn’t they rebuild it?” Liz asked.

“They couldn’t afford to. The only reason it’s still standing here today is because they can’t afford to take it down either.” There was a brief pause before Max motioned toward the back of the building. “The only thing that wasn’t burned was the playground.”

Liz smiled as she tugged on Max’s hand. “I want to see it.”

“What…the playground?” Max asked. After Liz nodded, Max agreed and led them out to the back of the building. “When I went to school here, I used to spend all my time on those monkey bars,” he said as he pointed them out to Liz.

“And I bet that all the girls used to chase you, too,” Liz said as she gave Max a playful shove, enjoying the opportunity she had to tease him a little.

“Watch yourself,” Max warned. “You really shouldn’t push people around like that.”

“Like what?” Liz asked with a smile. “Like this?” she asked before she gave him another playful shove.

“Alright, that’s it,” Max said before he reached out to grab her.

Liz had been expecting him to do something in return, so she moved out of his grasp just before he could get a hold of her. They both stopped walking and just stared at each other for a few seconds before the chase began.

Liz’s smile faded as soon as she saw the mischievous gleam enter Max’s eyes. Her eyes widened momentarily, then she did the only thing she could think of. She ran.

Max had no trouble catching up with her, and once he did, he grabbed Liz around the waist and lifted her up into the air.

“NO, MAX!! PLEASE DON’T,” Liz pleaded. She had no idea what he was going to do, but she did know that whatever it was, she would be begging him to stop sooner or later.

“Don’t what?” Max asked with a chuckle.

“Don’t do whatever it is you’re going to do,” Liz begged as Max continued to hold her up in the air.

“Okay…but I think you would have liked what I had planned,” Max said as he put Liz down.

Now Liz’s curiosity was peaked. “What were you going to do?”

“Sorry, I can’t tell you,” Max said in a defiant tone.

“Please,” Liz begged as she clasped her hands in front of her chest, pleading with him to tell her.

“Well…for your information, I WAS going to place you on one of those swings over there and push you,” Max said.

“Well…you still can,” Liz said, getting excited about the idea. “Let’s just pretend that I never asked you to stop, okay?”

Max smiled as he led the way over to the swing set. Liz sat down on a swing while Max walked behind her. He placed his hands on her back and gently gave her a push.

Liz closed her eyes so she could enjoy the feeling she got every time Max’s hands came into contact with her back. They didn’t say anything to each other, they just enjoyed their time together.

They stayed like that for about ten minutes before Max realized that his mom was probably waiting for him and Liz. He placed his hands on her sides to slow her down, and when she finally stopped, Max made no attempt to remove his hands from around her waist.

Liz quickly stood up, turned around, then climbed up and stood on the swing, making sure that Max’s hands never left her body. Once she was finally facing him, she reached out and wrapped her arms around his neck as she stepped off the swing.

They were now staring into each other’s eyes, Liz’s arms wrapped around Max’s neck while his arms were wrapped around her waist. They didn’t know who made the first move, but they both found themselves leaning in closer until they could feel each other’s breath on their faces.

Max reached up and ran one hand through Liz’s hair a couple of times before he gently wrapped it around her neck.

Liz’s eyes fluttered shut as soon as Max’s hand came into contact with her neck.

Max looked down at Liz’s lips, trying in vain to overcome the nervous feeling that kept him from kissing her. Just lean forward you moron, he told himself.

Max took one last deep breath before he closed his own eyes and leaned forward, closing the remaining distance between them. At first, the kiss was soft and innocent, but as soon as Liz opened her mouth and ran her tongue along his bottom lip, things really started to heat up.

Max immediately opened his mouth and deepened the kiss, letting out a sigh as soon as their tongues made contact with each other. Liz started to run her hands through his hair, trying to pull him closer. She didn’t realize that she had let out a moan until she heard Max do the same.

The only thing that broke them apart was the lack of oxygen. They both kept their eyes closed as they gulped in huge breathes of air, neither one pulling back more than a few inches from the other.

“Wow,” Liz whispered after she caught her breath.

“Yeah,” Max whispered back. “That pretty much sums it up.”

It was then that Liz realized that Diane was still waiting at the house for them. “We should probably head back. Everyone’s waiting for us.”

Max nodded as he took a deep breath, then opened his eyes to find himself staring right into Liz’s. There was a sparkle in her eye that spoke volumes about what she was feeling.

“Come on,” Max said as he turned around and motioned for Liz to climb onto his back.

Liz didn’t hesitate. She jumped onto his back with a smile, wrapping her arms around his neck, her legs around his waist, and resting her cheek against his.

“Don’t let go,” Max said as he looked at her out of the corner of his eye. He then started running as fast as he could back to his house, causing Liz’s body to bounce up and down against him. Liz let out a shriek, then laughed the whole way back.

When they finally reached the house, Max made his way into the backyard, refusing to let Liz climb off his back. That was perfectly fine with her, because the last thing she wanted was to let go of him.

Max walked into the house with Liz still attached to his back, causing the others to look at them quizzically.

“Alright! The pizza’s here,” Max said as he walked over to the counter and leaned forward so Liz could grab a piece over his shoulder. He then straightened his back and tried to figure out how he could eat without having to put Liz down.

As if reading his mind, Liz raised her piece to his mouth so he could take a bite. She continued to alternate between feeding herself and feeding Max, not noticing the looks that everyone was giving her.

Max was in heaven. He had the most gorgeous girl clinging to him while she hand fed him his lunch. When they had finished eating, Max tilted his head to the side and gently kissed Liz on the lips, completely forgetting that nobody else knew they were an item yet.

Liz must have forgotten too, because after she kissed Max back, she acted as if the two of them had been together for years.

“Well,” Alex said as he looked at Max and Liz. “It looks like you two are getting along pretty well.”

“How come you never give me piggyback rides?” Isabel asked as she turned to Alex and placed her hands on her hips.

“Because you never give ME piggyback rides,” Alex replied as he placed his hands on his hips, mocking her.

“No, it’s because she can’t hold you up,” Max said with a smile. Over the course of the past week, he had learned how to push his sister’s buttons, and he knew that his last statement would get her riled up.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Isabel said as she turned to face Max, now focusing her irritation at her brother.

“He means you’re weak,” Alex said before he could stop himself. He immediately clamped his mouth shut and covered it with his hand as he watched Isabel slowly turn to glare at him. His eyes instantly dropped to the ground, and he looked just like a little puppy that was about to be punished.

“Weak, huh?” Isabel asked. She then looked over Alex’s shoulder, her eyes resting on the basketball. She walked over and grabbed it, then shoved it into Alex’s chest. “Let’s go, big guy.”

Alex looked up at her to see if she was serious, and once he saw the determination in her eyes, he turned to face the others. Diane and Liz both had smiles on their faces, while Max was just barely holding in his laughter.

“I don’t want to take advantage of you in your enraged state,” Alex finally said after he turned back to Isabel.

There wasn’t anything particularly funny about Alex’s statement, but for some reason, it sent Max over the edge. He started to laugh, causing Diane and Liz to giggle a little themselves.

“You want a piece of the action to, Max?” Isabel blasted as she turned and glared at her brother. “You wouldn’t last ten seconds out there with me.”

That statement really sent Max into laughter. He doubled over and held his stomach as he laughed, then dropped down to his knees with Liz still clinging to his back.

Liz finally climbed off him and stood to the side, an idea suddenly forming in her mind. “Alright…why don’t we settle this little gender battle right now,” she said as she walked over and stood next to Isabel. “Guys versus girls, first one to eleven wins.”

Max looked up from his position on his knees to see if Liz was actually serious. He then made the mistake of looking at Alex, who was ready to burst out into laughter himself.

Isabel noticed that the two boys were ready to start laughing again, so she reached out, grabbed Alex by the ear and dragged him outside before he could start.

“OWWWW!” Alex cried as Isabel pulled him out of the house.

Liz folded her arms across her chest as she watched Max stand up. “We can do this one of two ways,” she said. “You can either come out on your own, or I can drag you out like Isabel just did to Alex.”

Max held up his hand in surrender as he walked over to her. Liz started to walk outside with Diane, but Max reached out and grabbed her arm to stop her. Diane kept walking, which left Max and Liz alone.

“I wasn’t laughing because I don’t think women can play sports,” he said in a serious tone. “I was laughing because of how riled up Isabel got.”

Now it was Liz’s turn to bite back her laughter. “You know, Max,” she said as she wrapped her arms around his neck. “You worry too much. I never thought for a second that you were laughing because you think woman are inferior. I know you were just kidding around.”

Max let out a sigh as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

“You need to lighten up,” Liz said as she gave Max a little shake. “I think I know you well enough to realize when you’re joking around.”

Max smiled as he looked into Liz’s eyes. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Good,” Liz said. “Now lets go, you big stud,” she said as she pulled Max outside.

By the time they got outside, Isabel and Alex were already at each other’s throats. They were bickering over who got the ball first.

“Alex,” Max said as he walked over and threw his arm around his friend’s shoulders. “Let them have the ball first. They’re going to need all the help they can get.” His comment earned him a glare from both Isabel and Liz. He just smiled back as he and Alex walked up to them, Alex guarding Isabel while Max guarded Liz. “You sure you want to put yourself through this?” he asked with a smile.

Liz smiled back sarcastically. “We’re going to beat the pants off you guys.”

“Right,” Max said with a nod of his head. “Bring it on, woman!”

Isabel passed the ball to Liz, who immediately had it stolen by Max. Max dribbled the ball in front of Liz, taunting her every time she tried to steal it back. When he noticed Alex cut toward the basket, he whipped a one handed, no look pass to his teammate, who scored easily.

After a few more baskets, the score was suddenly 5-0 in favor of the guys.

“Timeout,” Liz announced after the guys had scored their fifth point. “Come here, Iz.” They both walked over to the far end of the court so the guys couldn’t hear what they were going to talk about. “I think we need to change tactics here.”

“What did you have in mind,” Isabel asked, her frustration growing by the minute.

“This is what we need to do,” Liz said before she explained her plan.

“What do you think they’re talking about?” Alex asked Max as they watched the two girls converse.

“They’re probably trying to think of a way to back out of the game,” Max said with a smile.

“Come on ladies!” Alex called out. “Congress doesn’t even take this long.”

Liz and Isabel walked back over to the guys, both of them smiling brightly. Alex handed Isabel the ball, then immediately tried to take it away from her. She passed it to Liz before Alex could get it, who in turn cradled it like a football before she ran past Max and scored without dribbling.

Max stood rooted to his spot, a confused look on his face. He then turned to look at Alex, who seemed to be just as perplexed as he was.

“Uh, Liz,” Max said gently after he turned to face her. “I think you traveled there.”

“I don’t think she did,” Isabel said in Liz’s defense. “But we’ll get another opinion. Hey, mom…did Liz travel?”

Diane smiled at the girls’ new tactic…total disregard for the rules. “It didn’t look like it to me.”

Max playfully glared at his mom before he turned to face Liz. “You paid off the ref, didn’t you?”

Liz looked up at Max innocently before she handed him the ball. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Maybe you just need to have your eyes checked.”

“So that’s how you want to play the game, huh?” Alex asked.

Max took the ball, then started to dribble. As soon as he made a move toward the basket, Liz jumped into his arms, wrapping her hands around his neck, her legs around his waist. Max had two choices just then. He could either catch Liz to make sure she didn’t fall, or he could continue to dribble. Needless to say, he chose option one. He wrapped his arms around her waist to steady her, then watched as Isabel picked up the ball and scored again.

Max looked at Liz, who was still clinging to him. When their eyes met, they almost forgot where they were for a second. “I think you fouled me,” Max said, completely captivated by what he saw reflecting in her eyes.

Liz just smiled at him before her eyes lowered to his lips.

“None of that, Parker!” Alex called out. “And get your head in the game, Max! That point doesn’t count. Liz fouled the hell out of him.”

“Ref?” Isabel asked as she turned to her mom, asking her if the point should count or not.

“It looked like a clean steal to me,” Diane said. “I didn’t see a foul.”

Liz slowly climbed off of Max just before Alex came over and grabbed his arm, dragging him away. “Timeout,” he called over his shoulder.

“We need a plan of our own,” Alex said.

Max thought for a second, then smiled as he looked over at the girls. “This is what we’ll do.” After the plan was formed, Max walked up to the top of the court and grabbed the ball as Liz prepared to guard him. Alex walked over and stood right behind Max, causing the girls to look at each other in confusion.

“You girls ready?” Max asked. After they gave him a nod, Max quickly wrapped the ball behind his back and handed it to Alex, then rushed forward, grabbing both girls around the waist and lifting them into the air. Alex took his time as he dripped up to the basket and scored. After the ball went through the hoop, Max put the girls back down.

“Now that was a foul!” Isabel exclaimed.

“Ref?” Max asked as he turned to his mom.

Diane thought about taking the girls’ side, but changed her mind when she looked at her son’s smiling face. It was the first time in the past week that he was genuinely smiling and having a good time. “That was close, but I don’t think it was a foul.”

“MOM!” Isabel exclaimed, surprised that she didn’t take her side.

“Hey…I call it as I see it,” Diane said with a shrug of her shoulders.

The girls took the ball out, but lost it right away when Alex knocked it away Isabel and Max picked it up. Max turned his back to Liz, just to make sure she wouldn’t be able to jump into his arms again. Liz noticed this, so she did the next best thing…she jumped onto his back. Max somehow managed to wrap one arm around his back to hold Liz up while he dribbled the ball with the other. Isabel joined the party and jumped on Alex to keep him from getting the ball. Max was slowly making his way up to the basket with Liz still hanging onto his back when Isabel decided to jump on him instead of Alex.

With the two girls now hanging onto him, Max somehow managed to throw the ball in the direction of the hoop before he fell to the ground, letting out a victory laugh when the ball actually went through the hoop.

The game continued on like that until the boy’s final won by a score of 11-5.

“You guys cheated,” Isabel said once the game was over.

“WE cheated?” Alex asked in disbelief. “This coming from the girl who jumped on my back to keep me from getting the ball?”

Isabel smiled despite herself, then walked up and playfully shoved him.

At the same time, Liz walked up to Max and wrapped her arms around his waist. “You’re the man,” she said with a smile.

“You know,” Max said as he wrapped his arms around her in return. “To be honest, I had so much fun I wouldn’t have cared if we lost 11-0. I can’t even remember the last time I had that much fun.”

Liz leaned up and kissed him on the tip of his nose before she buried her cheek into his chest. “We’ll have to do it more often then.”

“Yeah, but next time we’ll have to set the rules beforehand,” Alex said as he walked by.

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

After the game, it was time to head to the airport. They all sat around the terminal and waited for their flight, lightly conversing with each other. When the boarding call came over the P.A. system, they all grabbed their bags and headed for the plane. Max took one last look over his shoulder and realized that while part of him wanting to stay in San Diego, another part wanted to get as far away from the city as possible. When he turned back to walk down the ramp, he found that Liz was still standing there, patiently waiting for him. He smiled as he walked up and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, planting a kiss on her temple.

“What are your college plans?” Max asked as they walked down the ramp to board the plane.

“What?” Liz asked as she looked up and him.

“What college are you going to?”

“I haven’t really decided yet,” Liz said. “I still haven’t received all my acceptance letters, so I probably won’t decide for a few months. Why do you ask?”

“Just curious,” Max replied, trying to sound casual. The real reason why he wanted to know was because the college that Liz chose would greatly affect his decision. He wanted to make sure that he went to the same school that she did.

“My parents want me to go to Harvard, but I’m not so sure I want to move that far away,” Liz said. “What about you? Have you given college any more thought?”

“Yeah, a little” Max replied.

“And…” Liz prompted.

“And…I don’t know just yet,” Max replied. They were now on the plane, so Max took Liz’s bag and put it in the overhead compartment above their seats before he did the same with his own.

Liz could tell that Max wanted to talk about the college situation, but he seemed reluctant to do so. She figured that it had something to do with the fact that they were on a crowded plane, so she decided to bring the subject up again the next time they were alone. She wouldn’t admit it out loud just yet, but her choice of college now depended greatly on which college Max went to.

To Be Continued………..

Part 8

“Maxwell!” Michael called out as he hurried down the hallway at school. Max stopped, turned around, and waited for Michael to catch up with him. “I was just wondering how everything went in San Diego.”

It was now Monday; a day after Max and the others had gotten back from California. “It went pretty well,” Max responded. “I don’t imagine I missed much while I was gone.”

“Not really,” Michael said with a smirk. “But I do have something that might brighten your day a bit.”

“Oh, yeah?” Max asked. “What’s that?”

“What’s what?” Liz asked as she walked up and wrapped her arm around Max’s waist. “Good morning, babe,” she said to Max before she leaned up and kissed him quickly on the lips.

Michael watched the whole interaction with a great deal of curiosity. “It looks like you two got to know each other over the weekend,” he said with a raised eyebrow.

Max blushed slightly before Liz changed the subject. “What were you two talking about just now?”

Michael opened up his backpack and pulled something out. “I have in my hand…four tickets to the National Boxing Championships that are being held in Phoenix, Arizona next month,” he announced proudly with a smile.

Max’s eyes widened as his mouth dropped open slightly. The look of shock on his face soon turned into one of sheer happiness. His lips curled up slowly until a full-fledged smile broke out across his face.

Liz watched as Max’s expression changed by the second, a smiled forming on her own lips after seeing his. She had no idea what the Boxing Championships were, but apparently Max was overjoyed with the news, so that made her happy.

“You’re kidding me,” Max said in disbelief.

“Hey man…the tickets don’t lie,” Michael said as he handed them to Max.

Max took one look at them, then turned his attention back to Michael. “How did you get these?”

“I have a few friends that owed me a favor,” Michael replied.

“So…it’s going to be a boys night out in Phoenix then, huh?” Liz asked, trying to hide her disappointment that Max would be spending an entire weekend away from her. She was happy that Michael, Alex and Kyle wanted to take Max out and show him a good time, but she wished she could go along with them.

“Actually…no,” Michael replied as he looked at Liz. “I talked to Maria, and she thought it would be fun if you and her went along with us.”

Liz was shocked at first, then nearly threw herself into Michael’s arms as she hugged him, unable to control her urge to jump up and down.

Just then, Maria walked up and joined the group. “Liz, if you were any other girl, I’d knock you silly for hugging my boyfriend like that,” she joked.

Liz spun around to face her friend, then threw her arms around Maria’s neck as she let out a little shriek. “We’re going to Phoenix! We’re going to Phoenix!” she squealed.

“I take it Michael told you about our little trip next month,” Maria said with a smile as she hugged Liz back.

Michael looked over at Max, silently asking him what was going on with Liz. Max just shrugged his shoulders before he reached out and slapped hands with Michael.

“You’re the man,” Max said with a smile.

“Yeah, a man who’s going to be late for first period,” Michael said as he looked at the clock hanging on the wall. He then grabbed Maria’s hand and started to make his way down the hall. “I’ll catch you later, Maxwell,” he called over his shoulder.

Liz bounced over to Max and threw her arms around his neck.

“You’re pretty excited about this,” Max said. “I didn’t know you were into boxing,” he teased, knowing full well the reason why she was so excited was because she loved road trips.

“Of course I am,” Liz said with a smile. “Let’s go. We don’t want to be late for class,” she said before she grabbed his hand and skipped off down the hallway, dragging Max behind her.

**********

Over the course of the next few weeks, Max found himself hanging out quite a bit with Michael. Besides Liz, Michael was the one that Max really clicked with from the beginning. But the closer he seemed to get to Michael, the more Liz felt left out. At first, she thought she was just jealous because Max didn’t spend every waking minute with her. But as the days passed by, she began to realize that it was something else. He was pulling away from her for some reason.

“Are you okay?” Liz asked Max as they sat on her balcony one night, holding each other while they stared up at the stars.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Max replied. “Why do you ask?”

That seemed to be his universal answer lately. Whenever she tried to get him to open up and share what was bothering him, he always said that nothing was wrong and that he was fine.

“No reason,” Liz said as she snuggled up closer to him. “No…actually, that’s not true,” she corrected herself as she sat up and turned to face him. “I know that something’s bothering you. Why won’t you tell me what it is?”

Max looked at her with a mixture of shock and disbelief. He wondered how she knew something was really wrong with him. He thought he was doing a terrific job of hiding his emotions, but apparently he couldn’t slip anything past Liz. “N…nothing’s wrong,” he stuttered.

“Max, don’t play games with me,” Liz said, giving him a stern look. “I know something’s eating away at you, and I want to help.”

Something was bothering him, but he didn’t think he could explain it - at least not to Liz. “I need to go,” he mumbled before he stood up and make his way over to the ladder that led down to the alleyway below.

“Max,” Liz pleaded as she followed him over and grabbed his arm, stopping him from leaving. “Please…talk to me,” she begged.

Max opened his mouth to say something, but closed it before any words came out. He then tried to speak again, this time with more success. “I…I can’t explain it. I don’t even have it sorted out in my head yet,” he said sadly.

“Will you please try?” Liz asked softly.

“Liz…please,” Max begged. “I need to go.” He then climbed down the ladder, leaving a very confused and upset Liz standing alone on her balcony, watching as he walked away.

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

Isabel had been out on a date with Alex that night, and since it was Friday, she didn’t have to be home until midnight. She walked through the front door to her house just before her curfew, and made her way up to her bedroom. Just as she started to get ready for bed, her phone rang. Figuring it was Alex, she answered it with a sweet ‘hello’.

“Isabel? It’s Liz,” came the voice on the other end.

“Hey, Liz,” Isabel said, confused as to why she was calling her so late.

“Sorry I’m calling so late,” Liz apologized.

“That’s okay,” Isabel said, now noticing that Liz’s voice was shaking a bit. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s Max,” Liz replied. “Do you know what’s wrong with him?”

“What do you mean?” Isabel asked.

After Liz explained what had happened on her balcony earlier that night, Isabel could tell that Max’s girlfriend was almost in tears. “I get the feeling that he’s pulling away from me,” Liz said. “I just want to know what I did wrong.”

“Liz,” Isabel said, trying to comfort her friend. “I’m sure he’s not doing it on purpose. Let me go talk to him, then I’ll call you right back, okay?”

Isabel hung up the phone and walked down the hall to her brother’s bedroom door. She knocked, but there was no reply. She opened the door slowly, and noticed that Max wasn’t in his room. She then walked downstairs, and as she looked through the kitchen, she was surprised to see Max sitting on the back step of their porch, all alone. She gently opened the sliding glass door and sat down next to him.

“I thought you’d be in bed by now,” Isabel said. When Max didn’t say anything in return, she began to worry. “Look, Max. I know that something’s been bothering you for a while now. I can tell…hell everyone in the whole damn group can tell.”

Max kept his eyes glued to the stars as he began to speak. “You know, I often wonder what dad thinks of me now.”

“What do you mean?” Isabel asked in confusion.

Max took a deep breath before he finally turned his head to look at his sister. “I want to tell you what’s bothering me, but I have no idea how to explain it. If I tried, it would probably come out all distorted and wouldn’t make much sense.”

“Try me,” Isabel said gently.

Max looked back up at the stars before he began to explain. “Ever since I moved here to Roswell, I’ve had some of the best times of my life. I finally got to know you and mom, and everyone in the group. Liz has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“I’m not following,” Isabel said. “Why does that bother you?”

“The only reason I’m here is because dad died,” Max said sadly. “If dad were still alive, I never would have gotten to know you or any of your friends. I never would have gotten to know mom or…Liz. I just have this feeling that I shouldn’t be here. I mean, what kind of a son am I? My dad dies, so I move in with my mom and end up having the time of my life? I finally find a girl who’s more than I could ever hope for, and the only reason I met her was because dad died. I feel like I’m betraying him in some way.”

“Do you really think that dad is sitting up in heaven right now, looking down on you in anger because you may have finally found the love of your life?” Isabel asked. “I believe we all make our own destiny. We all have choices, Max. The choices we make determine what path our lives head down.”

“But what choice did dad have?” Max asked. “He didn’t ask to die.”

“You’re right. When it comes down to it, there are certain things we have no control over…like dad’s death,” Isabel said softly. “But the way I see it, right now you have two choices. You can either reflect on the past and live with all the guilt you’ve burdened yourself with, or you can start living the life that dad would want you to live. It may be true that you and Liz would have never met if dad hadn’t died, but these things happen for a reason. Just think of were dad is right now. A place where there’s no pain, no sorrow…nothing but peace. He lives in paradise. Do you really think he wants you to live out the rest of your days trapped in the prison you’ve put yourself in from all the guilt you have?”

“The worst part about it is that I feel happy where I am,” Max said in a shaky voice. “I’m happy here in Roswell. I mean, the times I’ve shared with Liz are…the best I’ve ever had. Does that mean I’m happy that dad died?”

“Not at all,” Isabel said with a smile as she wrapped her arm around her brother’s shoulders. “That means you’re starting to live the life that dad wants you to live. He may have passed on, but I know he still wants you to be happy, Max. Right now, he’s probably smiling down on you BECAUSE you’re having the time of your life. If the trip to San Diego taught me one thing, its that dad only wanted the best for you.” After a lengthy pause, Isabel pulled her arm back. “Now, what’s going on with Liz?”

Max let out a shaky breath before he answered. “I guess I was pulling away from her because I felt guilty. I didn’t think I should be feeling the way I always do when I’m around her. I had the feeling that I was betraying dad.”

“Well, now that we got that cleared up, I can tell you that Liz is extremely confused right now,” Isabel said. “She thinks she did something wrong to turn you away from her. I mean, I just talked to her, and she was practically in tears.”

“You just talked to her?” Max asked as he finally turned to face his sister again.

“Yeah, right before I came out here,” Isabel said. “You need to talk to her, Max. Tell her everything you just told me.”

Max nodded before he and Isabel walked back into the house. “Can you cover for me?” he asked.

“No problem,” Isabel said with a smile, knowing that Max needed to have this talk with Liz face to face.

Max walked out the front door and climbed into his car. A few minutes later, he pulled up in the alleyway next to the Crashdown cafe, right under Liz’s balcony. He climbed out of his Mustang and jumped onto the ladder that led to the one person he desperately needed to see at that moment.

As Max started to pull himself up over the edge, the sight in front of him stopped his movement. Liz was sitting in her lawn chair, a cordless phone in one hand, a tissue in the other. Max realized that she was crying. He had caused her to cry. His heart broke at the sight in front of him.

Not being able to take it any longer, Max swung himself over the ledge and practically ran over to Liz, startling her in the process. He pulled her up off the chair, cradled her against his chest, then sat down on the chair, placing Liz securely on his lap…all in one swift motion. They clung to each other as if the world were going to end. Liz buried her face in Max’s neck, while Max buried his in Liz’s hair.

“I’m so sorry, Liz,” Max mumbled into her hair. “I’m so sorry.”

Liz started to cry again, but this time they were tears of relief. “I thought you were going to leave me,” she admitted as she tried to sniff back her tears.

“Never,” Max said with authority. “I just found you…there’s no way I’m leaving.”

After several more minutes of silent embrace, Liz finally pulled back and looked into Max’s eyes. “Will you please tell me what’s bothering you now?”

Max nodded before he explained the reason why he was pulling away from her. “I know I was just being stupid,” he said after the explanation.

“No you weren’t,” Liz said with a smile. “You were just being yourself…always thinking about your loved ones. That’s one of the things I love most about you…your compassion.”

Max blinked in surprise at Liz’s statement. Were his ears playing tricks on him, or did she actually just say that she loved him?

Liz watched as Max’s expression changed from shock, to amazement, and finally…to happiness as a smile crept over his face. “What?” she asked nervously.

“Did you…did you just say that…that you loved me?” Max asked, hoping with all his heart that he had heard her right.

Liz thought about what she had just said when a smile suddenly formed on her lips. “Yeah…I did. I love you, Max,” she repeated as she stared into his eyes.

Max stood up from the chair and spun Liz around in the air, feeling a sense of peace in his soul as he listened to her laugh. He then pulled her close to his body and ran a hand through her hair as he stared into her loving eyes. “I love you, Liz.”

The kiss they shared was filled with love and possessiveness. Max found himself getting dizzy from the feelings that were shooting through his body, and every time he heard Liz moan into his mouth, his knees became more and more weak.

Liz thought that she was going to pass out at any moment. Her and Max had never kissed like this before, and it was turning her body into putty.

They finally pulled apart, resting their foreheads together as they both tried to regain their balance. They remained like that for a few more minutes until Max finally spoke.

“I need to get home. My mom’s going to kill me if I stay out much later.”

“Yeah,” Liz replied. “Just let me grab my jacket, then I’ll give you a ride home.”

“You don’t need to, Liz,” Max said, pulling out his car keys.

“You drove over here?!?” Liz asked with wide eyes.

Max thought about it for a few seconds before realization hit him. Tonight had been the first time since the accident that he had driven a car. He hadn’t thought about it when he was actually driving. The only thing he thought about was getting to Liz as quickly as he possible could.

“Yeah,” Max said as he stared at his keys in disbelief. “I guess I did.”

Liz wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. The night had started out to be a complete disaster, but the ending was anything but. The most important part of the night, though, was when her and Max confessed their love for each other. In reality, they had only been together for a little over a month, but it felt like ages to them.

“Just promise me one thing,” Liz said as she pulled back and looked Max straight in the eyes. “Promise me that you won’t push me away like that ever again. If something’s bothering you, tell me.”

Max smiled before he ran a hand across her cheek. “I promise.”

To Be Continued……..

posted on 12-Oct-2001 2:03:05 PM
Part 9

The weekend trip to Phoenix was just around the corner, and Max and Liz still hadn’t asked if they could go yet. Max didn’t think it would be a good idea to tell his mom that Liz would be going, but he knew that she would find out sooner or later. He had been thinking of what to say to her all day, but he was still drawing a blank as he pulled into his driveway after school, with Michael following in his own car.

“I can’t believe you still haven’t asked your mom yet,” Michael said he and Max walked up to the house.

“Hey, mom?” Max called out as he and Michael walked through the front door.

“In here,” Diane called out from the kitchen.

“You’re home early,” Max said.

“Suzie, my business partner, was willing to take over the office for the day,” Diane said as she stood over the sink, peeling some potatoes. “I wasn’t really feeling that well this morning.” She turned around and noticed that Michael was there as well. “Hi, Michael.”

“Hi,” Michael responded, giving Diane a little wave.

“Are you okay?” Max asked his mom as he and Michael sat down at the dinner table.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Diane responded with a smile. “I took a nap and now I’m feeling much better.”

“Good,” Max said before he started to rub his hands together on the tabletop. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Diane said.

“Michael got tickets to the National Boxing Championships that are being held in Phoenix next weekend, and I was wondering if I could go.”

“Who else is going?” Diane asked.

Max swallowed hard before he answered. “Uh, Michael, me, Maria and Liz,” he said in a rush.

“No parents?” Diane asked with a raised eyebrow.

“We’ll be staying with my aunt and uncle,” Michael said. “They live on the outskirts of town, and they said they’d let us borrow one of their cars so we could drive to the fights.”

“And how old are your aunt and uncle?” Diane asked, a little skeptical about the story she was hearing.

“In their late thirties,” Michael replied. “I can give you their address and phone number if you want to call them. You know, just to make sure everything’s alright.”

Apparently they were telling the truth, Diane thought. “I’d appreciate that, Michael. Just in case something happened, I’d like to know where you’d be staying. Thank you,” she said with a smile before she turned around and began to peel the potatoes again.

“So…does this mean I can go?” Max asked, his excitement starting to peak.

“I assume you’ll be flying?” Diane asked.

“Yeah,” Michael said. “It would take too long to drive.”

“You can go, as long as I can call Michael’s aunt and uncle, just to make sure this isn’t going to inconvenience them,” Diane said.

Max jumped out of his seat and hugged his mom, then kissed her cheek before he turned to Michael. “Does Liz know that we’ll be staying with your uncle and aunt?”

“You know, I don’t think she does,” Michael said.

“Come on,” Max said, pulling Michael out of his chair. “We’ll be back in a little while mom.”

Max knew that Liz was going to ask her parents after school, and he wanted Michael to be there so he could let Mr. and Mrs. Parker know that there would be parental supervision. He drove over to the Crashdown as fast as he could, then parked out front. He and Michael walked through the front doors of the café and immediately saw Liz in the far corner talking to her dad.

Liz turned her head toward the front door when she heard it jingle, signaling that someone was coming in. She smiled when her eyes met Max’s, but a frown instantly took over because she realized that her dad wasn’t to hot with the idea of her going to Phoenix.

Mr. Parker looked up just as Max and Michael made their way over to him. “I’m sorry boys, but I don’t think that Liz will be able to make the trip to Arizona.”

“Why not, dad?” Liz asked, exasperated.

“Because you’ll be going without any adult supervision,” Mr. Parker said.

Michael cleared his throat, causing both father and daughter to look at him. “Actually, we’ll be staying with my aunt and uncle. They live close to town and said they wouldn’t mind if I wanted to bring a few friends over for the weekend. Here’s their address and phone number, in case you wanted to give them a call,” he said, handing Mr. Parker a piece of paper with all the information on it.

Mr. Parker took the paper from Michael, then looked it over.

“Can I please go?” Liz asked again.

Mr. Parker let out a sigh as he handed the paper to Liz. “Go ask your mother.”

Liz smiled brightly as she threw her arms around her dad and hugged him tightly. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she repeated.

Mr. Parker let out another sign before he walked away to help some customers.

“Why are you so happy?” Michael asked. “He didn’t say you could go. He told you to ask your mom.”

Liz linked her arm with Max’s as she continued to smile. “Whenever my dad says that, I always get what I ask for. My mom is going to ask me what my dad said, and when I tell her that he wanted me to ask her, she’ll say that its okay for me to go. Come on…see for yourself.”

Liz led the two boys up the back stairs and into her house. “Mom?” she called out as she walked into the living room.

“Yeah,” Mrs. Parker said, looking up from the TV.

“Michael invited me, Maria and Max to go to Phoenix with him next weekend for a big boxing tournament. We’ll be staying with his aunt and uncle, and we won’t miss any school,” Liz said, handing her mom the piece of paper with all the information for Michael’s relatives on it.

“Did you ask your father about this?” Diane asked.

“Yeah,” Liz responded. “He told me to ask you.”

Mrs. Parker let out a sigh, something that obviously ran in the family, Max realized.

“I guess it would be all right if you went,” Mrs. Parker said. Liz quickly hugged and thanked her mom before she walked back over to the boys. “Does your mom know about this, Max?” Mrs. Parker asked.

“Yeah,” Max said. “I just asked her a few minutes ago.”

Mrs. Parker nodded before she turned her attention back to the TV.

The only person who didn’t have any trouble convincing her parents to let her go was Maria. Mrs. Deluca knew that Michael had family living near Phoenix, and she already had their phone number written down. Maria had taken a trip out there with Michael a few months back, so her mom knew that there would be adults staying with them.

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

“Evans!” Kyle yelled after he spotted Max walking down the hallway after school. It was the day before Max, Liz, Maria and Michael were flying out to Phoenix, so they were all happy and excited.

Max was walking with Liz, getting ready to leave when he heard Kyle calling his name. He turned around and moved to the side of the hallway as he and Liz waited for Kyle and Tess to catch up with them.

“Hey, there’s a short meeting right now for the varsity basketball team,” Kyle said, pointing over his shoulder.

Max glanced over at Liz and then turned back to face Kyle. “I’m not sure I’m going to play this year,” he said.

Kyle blinked in surprise. “Wh…what do you mean? You HAVE to play! Alex told me all about how you beat the pants off him. With you on the team, we can’t lose.”

Max looked down at the ground briefly before he glanced over at Liz again.

“Maybe you could just go take a look at the team, and maybe talk with the coach,” Liz said softly. “But if you don’t want to play, then don’t.”

Max looked back at Kyle, then nodded his head slightly before he walked back into the school. Liz and Tess were just going to wait outside the classroom until the meeting was over with.

As soon as Max and Kyle walked into the room, the coach immediately approached them. “You must be Max Evans. I’m Coach Swain,” he said, extending his hand. He was a heavy-set coach, a little taller than Max was, with eyeglasses and a mustache.

Max nodded as he shook the coach’s hand.

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Coach Swain said. “If you’re not too busy, as soon as this meeting is over, I’d like to have you come over to the gym and play with the rest of the team. It’s nothing serious, just a few pick-up games.”

“I’ll have to check with my friends outside,” Max said. “They’re waiting for me to give them a ride home.” He knew that Liz wouldn’t mind waiting if he wanted to play, but this way he had an excuse to leave if he didn’t feel like sticking around.

The meeting didn’t cover anything really important. The coach just went over the basic outline for try-outs, what practices would be like, and the general rules for those who made the team. Towards the end of the meeting, the coach did something that totally surprised Max. He pointed at him, then introduced him to the rest of the guys in the room. Max gave a little wave as about forty pairs of eyes focused on him.

Once the meeting had ended, Max walked out with Kyle and Coach Swain.

“I understand that you’re not sure if you want to play or not,” Coach Swain said. Max didn’t say anything, he just nodded. “I can understand that after everything you’ve been through. I just want you to know that you already have a spot on my team if you do decide to play.”

“Thanks, coach,” Max said.

“No matter what your decision is, I’d still like for you to come play right now,” Coach Swain said, pointing towards the gym. He then gave Max a smile before he walked off to let the other players into the locker room.

“Did you want to play right now?” Liz asked as she wrapped her arm around Max’s waist.

“Of course he does,” Kyle answered for him, taking charge as he led everyone over to the gym.

”I guess so,” Max said before Kyle dragged him into the locker room, leaving Liz and Tess alone in the gym.

“So, why doesn’t Max want to play?” Tess asked as she sat down on the bleachers with Liz.

“His dad,” Liz said. “To make a long story short, his dad died while he and Max were driving back from SDU, where Max had just signed his letter of intent to play basketball for them. Although he denies it, I can tell that he still feels a little guilty about what happened to his dad.”

Tess nodded as she tried to understand what Max had gone through. She had never lost anyone that she was extremely close to, so she could only imagine what that felt like.

“Personally,” Liz said, pulling Tess from her thoughts. “I think there’s another reason why he doesn’t want to play.” She paused for a few seconds before she gave her opinion. “His dad saw the last game he played in, and for Max, knowing that his dad watched his entire basketball career means a lot to him.”

Before Tess could respond, Max and Kyle walked out of the locker room with the rest of the guys. Her eyes widened when she saw Max in shorts and a basketball jersey. “I had no idea he was so built!”

Liz let out a little laugh as her eyes locked with Max’s. “Just keep your hands off him,” she joked.

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

“You have got to play for the team,” Kyle told Max as the two of them changed in the locker room after the scrimmage.

Max smiled as he leaned down to tie his shoes. He had to admit that he did have a good time out there on the court with the other guys. They had a pretty good team, considering the size of the school. “We’ll see,” he said as he stood up and grabbed his jacket.

“So, I hear you’re heading to Phoenix with Guerin,” Kyle said as he walked back into the gym with Max.

“Yeah. Actually, we’re leaving first thing tomorrow morning,” Max said as he looked around the gym for Liz. He found her standing next to the door, both thumbs looped in the straps of her backpack as she talked with Tess. She looked so cute just standing there that Max stopped and smiled, tilting his head to the side slightly.

Liz turned just in time to see Max standing in the middle of the gym with a smile on his face, giving her an adorable look that made her smile in return. She bit her lower lip as her gaze fell to the floor momentarily before raising again to meet Max’s.

Kyle and Tess were looking back and forth between Max and Liz before they shared a look with each other. They both shrugged at the same time and then pulled the two lovesick teenagers over to each other.

“You two are SO bad,” Tess said with a smile once the four of them were standing together.

“What?” Liz asked, finally tearing her gaze away from Max.

“Nothing,” Kyle said as he motioned toward the door. “Shall we?”

Max looped his arm around Liz’s shoulders before he leaned over and kissed the top of her head.

“You were great out there,” Liz said as they walked through the door, into the school.

Max was about to respond when something at the other end of the hallway caught his eye, causing him to stop.

“Hey, Max,” Kyle said as he walked up with Tess. “Let me ask…” he started before he noticed that something had Max distracted. He followed his friends’ gaze just as he heard Liz sigh.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Liz muttered.

That’s when Kyle noticed that Brad was leaning against Liz’s locker with that annoying smile of his plastered across his face as he stared at Max. “Come on, Max,” Kyle said, trying to push his friend out the doors and into the parking lot. “You can’t do anything to him on school property.”

“You know, I’d give just about anything to get that Leonardo Dicaprio wannabe into a boxing ring,” Max said as he shook his head.

Kyle thought about that comment for a second before a smile came to his face. “What are you guys doing next Friday?” he asked Max and Liz.

“I don’t think we have any plans,” Liz said as she looked up at Max for conformation.

“Good,” Tess said, realizing what Kyle was getting at. “There’s going to be a party at the old soap factory that you guys need to go to.”

“I’m not really into parties,” Max said.

“Oh, come on,” Kyle said. “It’ll be fun. Besides, I know that Alex and Iz are going, and as soon as Michael and Maria hear about it, they’ll go to. Just come hang out with us.”

Max looked down at Liz and then shrugged.

“We’ll be there,” Liz said with a smile.

“Alright,” Kyle said. He knew for a fact that Brad would be there, so all he had to do know was bring two sets of boxing gloves.

To Be Continued…….

Part 10

Saturday morning found Max standing in the living room of Liz’s house, waiting while she threw some last minute items into her bag.

“We’re going to miss the flight, Liz,” Max called out.

“Just a minute,” Liz called back. A few seconds later, she came down with her dad, who was carrying her suitcase for her.

“Uh, Liz,” Max said when he noticed her suitcase. “We’re only going to be gone for one day. We’re flying back here tomorrow night.”

“I know,” Liz said, completely oblivious to what Max was referring to.

“Okay, before you leave,” Jeff Parker said as Max walked up and grabbed the suitcase from him. “Be careful out there. No drinking, no drugs…”

“Dad,” Liz said, rolling her eyes. “We’ve been over this before. Besides, we’re going to Phoenix not Compton. It’s just a weekend trip.”

“Yeah, and hell’s just a sauna,” Jeff answered.

“Oh, Jeff,” Nancy Parker said as she walked into the room. “Don’t mind him,” she said, giving Max and Liz a smile. “You two have a good time.”

Max gave a little smile back as he tried not to laugh at Jeff’s last comment. He followed Liz out to his car and then put her suitcase next to his duffle bag in the trunk. He shook his head as he realized just how much heavier Liz’s bag was than his own. He then climbed into the car and headed over to Michael’s house.

***********

The flight to Phoenix went by rather quickly. Max dozed off as soon as the plane was airborne, resting his head against Liz’s shoulder. Liz spent the trip reading a book while she absentmindedly ran her fingers through Max’s hair. Michael and Maria talked quietly in the seats in front of them.

“Max,” Liz whispered as she reached over and brushed the hair off his forehead. She then ran her hand down his cheek to wake him up. “Wake up, babe. We’re here.”

Max slowly came to, glancing around before he looked up at Liz. He gave her a small smile before he leaned his head back against his own seat.

Before long, they all had their bags in hand and were heading out to the terminal. Michael spotted his uncle standing near the gate with his four-year old son.

“Cousin Michael!” the little boy yelled as he ran over to the group with a smile on his face.

Michael bent down just as the boy reached him, then picked him up when he felt two tiny arms wrap around his neck. “How’s my favorite cousin?”

The little boy let out a giggle as he pulled back and looked at Michael. “I’m your only cousin, you know,” he said in that little ‘I-know-all’ tone of voice that every little kid had.

Michael smiled as he put the boy down and turned to his friends. “Josh, you remember Maria, don’t you?” Josh nodded and gave Maria a shy smile as he reached up and grabbed Michael’s hand. “And these are my other friends, Max and Liz.”

Josh looked at Max, who was smiling at him, and returned the smile before his eyes focused on Liz. “You’re very pretty,” he said as he blushed a little.

Liz giggled as she leaned down next to Josh. “Why thank you. You know, you’re quite handsome yourself. I’ll bet you have all the girls chasing you at school.”

Josh scrunched up his nose as he shook his head vigorously. “All the girls at my school have cooties.”

This caused everyone to laugh, including Michael’s uncle who had walked over to join them. “How are you Michael?” he asked as he gave him a quick hug.

“Pretty good, Brent. How about you?” Michael asked.

“Doing good, thanks,” Brent replied.

After all the introductions were made, everyone piled into Brent’s suburban and drove out to his house.

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

“This is awesome,” Max said as everyone sat down in the arena, fairly close to the ring. He and Michael sat next to each other, while Liz sat on the other side of Max. Maria opted not to sit next to Michael, knowing that he would be so into the fight that he wouldn’t respond if she tried to talk to him. So she sat next to Liz.

There were about eight championship fights that night, each fight lasting four rounds at most. Liz chatted with Maria during the fights, but her attention was always drawn back to Max. She watched as his eyes lit up every time he looked up into the ring, and smiled as he and Michael winced whenever one of the fighters landed a good punch. She couldn’t control her giggles every time there was a knock down, because Max and Michael would both jump out of their seats and yell their approval.

A few hours later, the fights were over with and everyone decided to stop for something to eat.

“I can’t believe you guys actually like that stuff,” Maria said before she took a bite of her salad, referring to the boxing matches they had just watched. “And I can’t believe you actually DO that kind of thing,” she said, pointing her fork at Max.

Max just smiled as he took a bite of his hamburger. “Boxing isn’t for everybody,” he said.

“You got that right,” Maria muttered.

“So you wouldn’t approve if I started to box?” Michael asked, already knowing the answer to that question.

“Are you kidding?!?” Maria exclaimed. “You actually think that I’d sit there and watch as some big ogre beat that pretty little face of yours?” she asked as she reached out and pinched his cheek.

Michael rolled his eyes, but kept his mouth shut. He glanced at his watch and noted the time. “We need to head back. I don’t want to get in too late and wake my relatives.”

By the time they got back to the house, it was a little after midnight. The house wasn’t extremely huge, but it did have a spare bedroom that Maria and Liz agreed to share. They, unlike Max and Michael, didn’t mind sharing a bed. Max and Michael wouldn’t be caught dead in the same bed, even if their lives depended on it.

“I like ya,” Michael said. “But I don’t like ya that much.”

Max shook his head as he grabbed a blanket and laid down on one of the sofas. Michael opted to take a sleeping bag and sleep on the floor, saying that he always did that whenever he stayed at someone else’s house. They all fell asleep rather quickly, even though Max couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that Liz was just in the other room.

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

Liz and Maria were the first one’s to wake up the next morning. Josh had been awake for a while, but he stayed in his bedroom and watched cartoons, just like his dad had asked him to.

It was about eight o’clock and Maria couldn’t believe that she was actually awake that early on a weekend. As the two of them walked out into the living room, they noticed that both Max and Michael were still sleeping.

Liz couldn’t help but notice how adorable Max looked. He was lying on his stomach, one arm hanging off the sofa while one leg stuck out from under the blanket. He had one cheek buried into the pillow, his mouth was open slightly, and his hair was a complete mess.

Maria nudged Liz, then motioned towards the two boys with her chin as a smile spread across her face. Liz smiled in return and nodded. They both tiptoed up to their boyfriends before Maria held up three fingers and started the count down. When she reached zero, her and Liz both jumped on the boys, waking them up with a start.

Max nearly fell off the sofa as his eyes shot open, desperately trying to figure out what just happened. As Maria jumped on Michael, she accidentally kneed him in the gut, causing him to yelp in pain.

“Oh my god!” Maria exclaimed. “I’m so sorry, Michael. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Yeah, right,” Michael muttered as he rolled onto his back. Maria immediately laid out next to him and started to rub the side she hurt, hoping it would make him feel better somehow.

As soon as Max realized that it was Liz who had jumped on him, he reached up and pulled her against his body, then rolled over on the sofa, effectively pinning her down to the cushions. He draped the blanket over their entire bodies, including their heads, before he buried his cheek into Liz’s shoulder and closed his eyes to go back to sleep.

“Max,” Liz said with a laugh. “You need to get up.”

“Mmm,” Max mumbled into her neck as he moved around slightly to get more comfortable.

Liz tried to push him up, but to no avail. She let out a sigh as she threw her head back against the pillow. At least now she knew not to wake Max up that way. “Come on, Max,” she said.

Max snuggled further into her neck. As soon as he took a deep breath and inhaled Liz’s scent, his eyes shot open. He found himself staring at the sensitive skin right under her ear, and was unable to control his sudden urge to kiss her.

Liz was about to push him off the sofa when she felt something that caused her to gasp. She felt Max plant a soft, open-mouthed kiss on the side of her neck. She closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around his neck, threading her fingers through his hair instinctively. She let out a soft moan as Max continued to kiss her neck, slowly making his way around to her throat.

She didn’t know why, but for some reason she couldn’t sit still. The things that Max was doing with his tongue were driving her completely insane. “Max…” she moaned softly, grateful that Michael and Maria couldn’t see what they were doing under the blanket. Her body was squirming under Max’s, occasionally grinding up against him and causing him to moan softly.

That’s when they were both brought back to reality with a thud. Michael and Maria had both snuck up to them before Michael reached out and ripped the blanket away. Liz let out a shriek as Max jumped back slightly. They both looked up and glared at Michael and Maria who were laughing hysterically.

“Ha, ha, very funny,” Liz said after she had recovered. She looked up and met Max’s gaze, then let out a giggle when Max chuckled softly.

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

The rest of the day went by rather quickly. The group mostly hung around the house with Michael’s uncle, his wife Linda, and Josh. They did make one more trip to Phoenix so the girls could do a little shopping, but apart from that, they all just relaxed and talked.

When they arrived at the airport later that day, everyone said goodbye and gave their thanks to Brent and Linda for letting them stay at their house. It was obvious that little Josh had developed a crush on Liz, because his eyes never left her. He watched everything she did, even when she leaned up and kissed Max, or reached out and held her boyfriends hand.

He was sad to see her go, but before she did, she kneeled down to say goodbye.

“It was nice to meet you, Josh,” Liz said as she reached out and toughed his nose with her finger, causing the boy to giggle.

“Will you come back soon?” Josh asked with pleading eyes.

Liz smiled as she looked up at the boy’s parents. “I’ll see what I can do,” she whispered, giving Josh a wink before standing up.

“It looks like I have some competition,” Max whispered as they made their way down the boarding ramp.

“I have to admit, I am drawn to the little guy,” Liz teased as she gave Max a playful shove.

“So what would it take to convince you to say with me?” Max asked as he wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

“Hmm,” Liz said, pretending to be deep in thought. She then leaned up and planted a kiss on his cheek before she whispered: “What you did this morning would be a good start.”

Max smiled as he looked around. “Okay. I never knew you were into kinky foreplay like that, but what the hell.” He then leaned over and dug his face into Liz’s neck, causing her to let out a little shriek as she laughed.

“I didn’t mean right here,” she said with a smile as she pushed Max back slightly.

“Oh,” Max said before he started to pout.

“Oh…I’m sorry,” Liz said as her face took on a look of sympathy. She reached up and ran her hand down his cheek. “I promise that as soon as we’re alone, we can fool around a little, alright?” she said, acting like she was talking to a four-year old.

Max led Liz to their seats and smiled when his eyes came to rest on the tiny room at the back of the plane. “They do have a bathroom on the plane,” he said as he wiggled his eyebrows up and down.

“I don’t think so,” Liz said with a giggle. “This plane is tiny. Everyone would notice if we went into the bathroom together.”

“Damn,” Max whispered in exaggerated disappointment. “I guess we’ll just have to wait until we get back to Roswell then.”

“Do you think you can control yourself until then?” Liz asked with a seductive smile.

Max looked Liz up and down as he licked his lips. “I don’t think so.”

“Come on you two,” Michael said as he turned around in his seat. “You’re making the other passengers nauseous.”

Max and Liz looked at each other and shrugged. Even though they were just joking around, neither one of them could ignore the feeling they got in the pit of their stomach when they thought about being alone together.

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

“I’m sorry I can’t stay out later,” Liz said as she and Max sat out front of the Crashdown Café later that night. “My dad wanted me to come home as soon as I got back.”

“That’s okay,” Max said with a smile. “Besides, my mom wants me home too.”

They stared at each other for another minute in complete silence, then Max slowly leaned over and kissed her. The kiss lasted for several minutes, nether one of them wanting to break apart. Max playfully nibbled on Liz’s lower lip, causing her to moan as she pulled him closer.

They were as close as the car would allow, but as the kiss went on, Liz realized that she was still too far away from him. She crawled up on her seat and over the middle console until she was sitting on Max’s lap, never once breaking the kiss.

Max ran his hands under Liz’s shirt and across her back, moaning as he felt how soft her skin was. When they finally broke apart, they rested their foreheads together as they fought to regain their breath.

“What happened?” Max suddenly asked.

“What do you mean?” Liz asked, confused.

“Before this morning, we never got THIS intense,” Max said. “I never could keep my hands off of you…but now, if I’m not touching you, I go insane.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Liz asked, a little nervous of his answer.

Max looked up and saw a flash of fear cross through Liz’s eyes. “NO! No, not at all. I just want to make sure that things aren’t moving to fast for you.”

Liz let out the breath she had been holding, smiling as she ran a hand down Max’s cheek. “If things were moving to fast, I’d tell you. Besides, it’s not like you’re groping me or anything. We’re just making out…heavily.”

“So you’ll tell me if things start to get out of hand?” Max asked. He desperately wanted to know where the line was so he didn’t step over it.

“What about you?” Liz asked. “Are you ready to go all the way?”

Max was shocked by her question. It took him a second to respond. “Uh, n…no. I mean…you know that I love you, but sleeping together…I think we should wait. Not that I don’t want to sleep with you, because believe me I do…it’s just that I don’t think I’m…I don’t think we should…”

Liz smiled as she placed her finger against Max’s lips, stopping him from rambling on any further. “You’re starting to sound like Maria. Believe me, I know what you’re saying and I totally agree. We’ve only been together for a little over a month, and even though it feels like we’ve been together for ages, I think it would be best to wait.”

Max nodded as a tiny smile came to his face.

“But,” Liz continued. “That doesn’t mean we can’t fool around a little,” she said before she leaned in for another kiss.

To Be Continued…………

Part 11

It was Thursday morning, and Max found himself sitting patiently in the guidance counselor’s office, waiting for her to talk to him. She had pulled him out of class because she wanted to discuss his plans for the future.

Thoughts continuously ran around inside Max’s head, and he was desperately trying to sort them out. How was he supposed to talk to a high school guidance counselor about what he wanted to do after graduation when he didn’t even know? He didn’t even know if he was going to play on the high school basketball team this year, and try-outs were only a couple of weeks away. How was he supposed to know what he wanted to do a year from now?

“Hi Max,” Ms. Topolski, the guidance counselor, said as she walked into her office.

Max smiled as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“The reason I wanted to talk to you today was because I haven’t really had the chance to yet,” Ms. Topolski said as she sat down behind her desk. “How are you liking Roswell so far?”

“It’s different,” Max responded. “It takes some getting used to, but I think I’m adjusting pretty well.”

“Yeah, I can imagine this would be quite a change from San Diego,” Ms. Topolski replied as she opened a manila folder. “It says here that you were awarded an athletic scholarship to San Diego University.”

“That’s right,” Max replied.

“It’s a little early to register for classes, but have you given any thought to which ones you want to take?”

“Uh, actually…I haven’t really decided if that’s where I want to go to school,” Max replied.

“Oh? Could I ask why? It seems that everything’s all set for you to attend classes there next fall,” Ms. Topolski said.

“Some things have happened that have changed my outlook on college,” Max said with a shrug.

“Max, I don’t want to overstep my boundaries here, but are you referring to what happened to your father?” Ms. Topolski asked cautiously. She didn’t want to upset Max, but she felt that it might do him some good to talk to someone who had some insight about the subject. When Max looked up and met her gaze, she could tell that she had hit the nail right on the head. She closed the manila folder and folded her hands on top of it before she looked Max straight in the eyes.

“I’m going to be completely honest with you, Max. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I know, or fully understand, what it is you’re going through. I can imagine this must be very hard on you, judging from your indecisiveness about SDU. What it all boils down to is this: You have to do some serious searching within yourself in order to determine the best path to take. No one can do that for you, no matter how many people you talk to about this.

“I know this decision is a hard one to make, and I’ll do everything I can to make it easier for you. Losing a parent is the worst thing that any teenager can go through, and I admire your strength. But until you decide what it is you want to do, you won’t be able to fully move on with your life. Now, are there any other reasons why you haven’t decided on a college yet?”

Max wanted to say yes, but he didn’t feel like explaining that his decision now depended mostly on Liz. “N…no,” he stuttered.

“I want to help you, Max,” Ms. Topolski said in a soft voice. “My advice right now is for you to talk this over with your family, then make a decision. If you keep dragging this out, you’re going to start feeling weighed down somewhere down the line. You’ll be amazed at how much lighter your load will be once you choose.”

Max thought about that conversation for the rest of the day. Ms. Topolski was right, and he knew it. He needed to make a decision, even though he really didn’t want to think about the subject. Once he decided which college to attend, he wouldn’t have to think about it any more. He wouldn’t feel the stress that seemed to plague him day in and day out.

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

Max was sitting on his bed, flipping through some old photo albums of he and his dad when a soft knock came to his door.

“Come in,” he called out, glancing up from the pictures.

His mom opened the door slowly, then walked in and sat on the edge of Max’s bed with a smile on her face. “I figured you’d be out with Liz,” she said as she glanced down at the pictures Max was looking at.

“She had to work,” Max said. “Besides, I don’t really feel like going out tonight.”

“How come?” Diane asked with curiosity.

Max took a deep breath, then looked down at the photo album again. “You know, I still remember when dad and I had this picture taken,” he said, pointing to the one that showed them standing at the entrance of Disney Land. “I was only nine years old, and it was my first trip to Disney Land. I don’t really remember anything else about the trip except for when this picture was taken.”

Diane noticed the smile that crossed her son’s face as he thought back on that day.

“It’s kind of funny that you remember some things, but not others,” Max said as he looked up from the picture.

“Why don’t you come downstairs with me. I’ll make us some hot chocolate, then you can tell me what’s really bothering you,” Diane suggested.

Max nodded as he shut the album and followed his mom downstairs to the kitchen. “Where’s Isabel?”

“She went out with Alex,” Diane replied.

Max sat down at the kitchen table and waited for his mom to join him with two cups of hot chocolate.

“So, what’s on your mind?” Diane asked.

“College,” Max replied as he ran his finger around the rim of his mug. “I talked with the guidance counselor this morning and I realized that I need to make a decision.”

“What did you decide?” Diane asked.

“I haven’t,” Max responded. “I’ve racked my brain all day trying to come up with a solution, but every time I think I have it all figured out, all I’ve really done is brought up more questions.”

“More questions?” Diane asked.

“Yeah. I’ve tried to look at this from all angles. I could take a year off, which I don’t want to do, so that’s out of the question. I could attend a college around here, but I’m not sure if any of my friends will be. I could take my scholarship and head back to San Diego, but I’m not sure which college Li…..” Max stopped himself, not wanting his mom to think that all his future college plans depended solely on Liz.

Diane nodded, finally understanding what Max was getting at. “So this decision of yours really doesn’t have to do with the actual colleges, but rather where Liz is going.”

Max dropped his gaze to the tabletop as he nodded. “Something like that.”

“What does Liz have to say about it?” Diane asked.

“I…I haven’t talked to her about it,” Max replied.

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to scare her off,” Max explained. “I don’t want her to think that she’s controlling my life.”

“Let me ask you this,” Diane said. “How would you react if Liz came up to you and said that the college she was going to depended solely on which one you went to?”

Max thought about it for a second before he answered. “Truthfully, I’d be happy that she wanted to be with me so badly that she would sacrifice her college of choice for me.”

“Don’t you think that Liz would feel the same way?” Diane asked.

Max didn’t respond. He already knew the answer to that question.

“Is there anything else that’s making this decision hard for you?” Diane asked. She was worried that Max didn’t want to go back to San Diego because of the memories that it would conger up.

“I always thought that I wouldn’t want to go back to San Diego because of dad,” Max said as if he somehow knew what his mom was thinking. “But I’ve come to realize that reliving the memories of growing up aren’t as painful as they were when he first died.”

“Do you want to move back there?”

“I don’t know,” Max said, finally looking up into his mother’s eyes.

“Why don’t I give you some advice,” Diane said. “Go talk to Liz.”

Max blinked, surprised by her suggestion. “Wh…what?”

“Go talk to Liz,” Diane repeated. “She’s the one who can help you through this. You said it yourself…she has a great deal to do with your decision. If you tell her everything you just told me, I can guarantee you that her reaction will not be what you’re scared it will be.”

Max nodded before he stood up and hugged his mom. “Thanks mom.”

“Anytime, dear,” Diane replied.

Max ran back up to his room, grabbed his jacket and keys and then ran back downstairs. “I’ll be back in a little while,” he said before he bolted out the front door.

********

Liz looked at the clock mounted on the wall of the Crashdown for the hundredth time in the past ten minutes. She let out a groan as she sat down on one of the barstool and laid her head on the countertop. The café was always dead on Thursdays, and today was no exception. There wasn’t a single customer in the place. She always hated it when her dad made her work the Thursday night shift.

“You want to play cards?” Maria asked as she sat next to her friend.

At least I got stuck here with Maria, Liz thought. “I want to close down is what I want to do.”

Maria smiled as she glanced at the clock over Liz’s head. “We only have an hour left to go.”

“How did Michael manage to get the night off?” Liz asked as she grabbed the playing cards from Maria and started to shuffle them.

“That’s a good question,” Maria said as she scratched her head in thought.

“Well, at least we don’t have to work tomorrow,” Liz said as she started to deal out the cards. “Poker?”

Maria shrugged as she reached over the counter and grabbed a dinner roll. “How’s Max doing?”

“Fine,” Liz responded. “Why?”

“He seemed…distracted today at school,” Maria said.

“You noticed that too, huh?” Liz asked. “I just thought I was being paranoid or something.”

“The boy definitely had something on his mind,” Maria said as she looked over her cards.

“I know,” Liz responded. “I even asked him what it was, but he wouldn’t tell me.

“Did he just ignore the question, or did he say that nothing was wrong?” Maria asked as she glanced up at her friend.

“He said that nothing was wrong,” Liz said with a sigh. “Which always means that SOMETHING’S wrong. I just wish he’d tell me what it was.”

“Well, why don’t you MAKE him tell you?” Maria asked.

“I’m going to as soon as my shift’s over,” Liz replied.

There were a few seconds of silence before Maria asked her next question, seemingly out of the blue. “Has Max taken up any unique hobbies lately?”

“Say what?” Liz asked, clearly confused.

“It’s really none of my business, but I think that Max is the first person I’ve ever know who’s taken up the hobby of ‘Liz Watching.’” Maria said as she stared at the cards in her hand.

“Maria, what are you talking about?” Liz asked, unable to decode her friend’s message.

Maria just nodded towards the front window. Liz turned in her seat and saw that Max was standing outside, leaning against the window with his hands in his pockets and a smile on his face. Liz immediately felt a smile form on her lips as she watched him push away from the window and walk through the front door.

“Hey Max,” Liz said, hypnotized by his amazing amber eyes. “What are you doing here?”

“I…uh…I needed to talk to you,” Max said, shoving his hands farther into the pockets of his jeans.

“Okay,” Liz said before she turned to Maria.

“Go ahead,” Maria said with a sigh. “I’ll holler if, by some miracle, we actually get busy.”

“Thanks Maria,” Liz said before she stood up and led Max into the break room. She sat down on the couch and patted the seat next to her as she looked up at Max, indicating for him to sit.

Max sat down, but once he looked into Liz’s eyes, he stood back up and started to pace back and forth in front of her.

Liz had never seen Max like this before. She could tell that he was really nervous for some reason, and it was starting to scare her. She reached out and grabbed his hand as he passed in front of her, causing him to stop and look at her. She gave him a smile as she rubbed her thumb over the back of his hand. “Talk to me.”

Max nodded as he took a deep breath. “I…uh…I have to talk to you about college. I have a lot to say, so please just let me get it all out before you respond. ” After seeing Liz nod, he slipped his hand out of her grasp and started to pace again. Before he continued, he glanced down and saw the hurt expression on Liz’s face that came when he had pulled his hand away. “Sorry, but I need to keep moving around or I’ll never get through this. I can’t sit still.” Liz nodded again and waited for Max to explain.

“Alright. The reason I haven’t decided on a college yet is because I’ve been waiting for something. I never thought I’d base my decision on this, but over the past month, my priorities have definitely changed. I didn’t want to tell you this before because I was afraid I’d scare you off.”

Several thoughts were running through Liz’s head as she listened to Max. She thought that it must be something bad if he didn’t want to tell her about it. Maybe he was going off to college without her. Maybe he didn’t want her to follow him wherever he went. What could he possibly say that would scare her off? Max suddenly stopped right in front of Liz, and she reluctantly raised her fear filled eyes to meat his.

“The thing I’ve been waiting for…is you,” Max said, waiting for Liz’s reaction.

Liz was shocked. She wondered what he meant exactly. “Me?”

“Yeah, you,” Max responded before he sat down next to her, grabbed one of her hands and placed it between the two of his. “I’ve been waiting for you to tell me what college your going to, because…because I want to go wherever you go.”

Liz let out a relieved sigh as a smile spread across her face. “And you thought that would scare me off?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

Max looked away, suddenly feeling very stupid for thinking so. “Yeah,” he said so softly that Liz almost didn’t hear him.

“Max, look at me,” Liz said and then waited for him to comply before she continued. “The reason I haven’t picked a college yet is because I’ve been waiting for YOU to make up your mind. It doesn’t matter what college I go to as long as I’m with you.”

The corners of Max’s mouth turned up slightly as he looked at Liz. “Really?”

“Yeah, really,” Liz said. “Why did you think that I would be scared off?”

Max looked away, again feeling his stupidity come rushing back. “I thought that you’d feel like you had complete control over me, and I know that’s not what you want.”

They sat there in silence for a few minutes, Liz’s eyes locked on Max’s while he looked at their hands that were still intertwined and resting on his knee. Liz slid as close to Max as she could before she reached over and pulled his chin up, forcing him to look at her. She then leaned over and kissed him softly.

Max wrapped his arms around Liz’s waist and then lifted her onto his lap. He deepened the kiss and pulled her body close to his while he ran his hands up and down her back. Liz wrapped her arms around his neck and threaded her fingers through his hair.

Things really started to heat up, and before she could stop herself, Liz shifted on Max’s lap until she was straddling him. They continued to kiss for a few more minutes, running their hands all over each other’s bodies. The only reason they broke apart was so they could catch their breath. Liz leaned down and rested her cheek against Max’s shoulder as she continued to straddle him.

“So now that we both know we’re going off to college together, the question is, which college?” Liz asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” Max said as he ran a hand through Liz’s hair. “Wherever you want to go, I’ll follow.”

“Oh no you don’t,” Liz said as she pulled back slightly. “You are NOT going to leave this decision to me. WE are going to decide on a college. TOGETHER.”

“Okay,” Max said with a smile. He was willing to do anything if it made Liz happy.

“Alright,” Liz said before she took a deep breath. “I think the best thing to do would be to list all of the colleges we’re thinking about going to, then discuss the pros and cons of each of them.”

“Okay,” Max said, still smiling.

“I’ll go get some paper so we can make a list,” Liz said before she stood up.

”Okay,” Max said again.

Liz stopped and turned to look back at Max. “When I come back, you better have better answers than just ‘okay’.”

“Okay,” Max said, now smiling brightly.

Liz rolled her eyes before she ran up to her room to get her notebook. When she came back down, she grabbed Max’s hand and helped him off the couch, then led them back into the café. Maria was still sitting on the same stool, tapping her fingernails against the countertop with one hand while resting her chin in the other.

Liz smiled as she and Max walked up and sat next to her. “Maria, you can help us with this. It’ll give you something to do.”

“Thank god,” Maria muttered before she gave Liz her full attention. “What are we doing?”

“We’re listing all the possible colleges that Max and I could attend,” Liz said.

“You and Max are going to the same college?” Maria asked as she looked back and forth between the two.

“Yes we are,” Max said with a smile, puffing out his chest.

Maria smiled and shook her head slightly before Liz started to talk.

“Okay. Let’s start with the obvious choices. There’s the San Diego University and the University of New Mexico. What other schools have you looked at Max?”

“I actually got offered scholarships to Duke and Stanford University,” Max said casually.

Both Liz and Maria stared at Max in shock.

“What?” Max asked.

“Duke and Stanford?” Liz asked in amazement.

“Yeah,” Max said, shrugging his shoulders.

“As in Stanford of California?” Maria asked.

“No, Stanford of Bosnia,” Max said sarcastically with a smile. “Yeah Stanford of California.”

Just then the front door opened and Michael walked in.

“That’s like one of the best school’s in the nation,” Maria said, not paying any attention to the front door.

“What’s one of the best school’s in the nation?” Michael asked as he sat next to Maria.

“Oh, hi Michael,” Liz said, noticing him for the first time.

“Hi. So…what’s one of the best school’s in the nation?” he asked again.

“Stanford,” Max replied.

“Yeah, and their basketball team’s number one in the nation,” Michael said. This was news to Liz and Maria, so they both looked over at Max again in astonishment. Michael noticed that something was going on between the three of them, and his curiosity started to rise. “What’s going on?”

“We’re making a list of possible colleges for me and Liz to go to, and I just told them that I got offered scholarships to Duke and Stanford,” Max said.

“DUKE AND STANFORD?!?” Michael asked in disbelief. “You got offered basketball scholarships to Duke and Stanford? The same Stanford that’s ranked number one in the nation, and the same Duke that’s ranked number two in the nation?”

“The same,” Max replied.

“Why didn’t you agree to one of those schools instead of SDU?” Michael asked in disbelief. “If you played for either of those two, you’d be playing on national TV! As in ESPN!”

“I know,” Max said softly as his eyes fell to the countertop. “I chose SDU because that would have allowed my dad to watch me play.”

That comment silenced everyone for a few minutes.

“Sorry,” Michael muttered.

“Don’t worry about it,” Max said. “So, back to the list.”

“Right,” Liz said, shaking her head to regain her focus. “So, Duke and Stanford. Are there any others you were thinking about?”

“Harvard,” Max said. “But I haven’t gotten my acceptance letter from them yet.”

“Neither have I,” Liz said. “But we’ll list them anyway. Any others?”

“Nope,” Max said. “What about you?”

“Well, besides Harvard, the only other colleges I was looking at were Yale and Stanford,” Liz said.

“I haven’t applied to Yale,” Max said. “But I still have a few more months to send it out.”

“I haven’t applied to Duke or SDU,” Liz said. “So it looks like the only ones we’ve both applied to are Harvard and Stanford.”

“Now that I think about it, why don’t you cross Duke off,” Max said. “If I have to live on the east coast, I want to at least go to an Ivy League school.”

“Okay…that’s one down,” Liz said as she drew a line through Duke.

“If I were you, I’d go to Stanford,” Michael said. “If I had the grades, I would.”

“I think we can cross off Yale too,” Liz said. “I was never really big on that one. I only applied there because my dad wanted me to.”

“What about UNM?” Maria asked.

Liz and Max looked at each other before they both responded: “Too close to home” at the same time, causing them to chuckle softly.

“Okay, that was creepy,” Michael said. “I know you two are close, but the fact that you now share the same brain is a little unnerving.”

Liz ignored Michael as she crossed UNM off the list. “So that leaves SDU, Stanford, and Harvard. Why don’t we start to list the pros and cons for each school?”

“I own a house in San Diego,” Max pointed out.

“And both Stanford and SDU are in California,” Maria said. “Harvard is in Boston. It gets REALLY cold in Boston.”

“But Harvard is an Ivy League school,” Liz said.

“But Harvard is located clear across the county.” Maria said.

Liz looked over at Max to get his opinion.

“I never really gave Harvard that much thought,” Max said honestly. “I always thought I’d be going to SDU.”

Liz let out a sigh of relief. She didn’t know why, but for some reason she was glad that Max didn’t want to go to Harvard. “I always thought that I’d want to go there, but now that I think about it, I’m not overly thrilled about moving cross country. I’ll cross out Harvard. That leaves Stanford and SDU.”

“Stanford is a much more prestigious school,” Michael said.

“What city is it in?” Maria asked.

“Actually, all the addresses on campus are listed as Stanford, California, but it’s located right next to Palo Alto,” Max replied.

“That’s where I would go if I were you,” Michael said again, starting to sound like a broken record.

Liz had been watching Max the entire time. Truth be told, she would rather go to Stanford than SDU, but she was willing to go anywhere Max wanted to. She’d even go to the community college in Albuquerque if Max asked her to. She watched as several emotions crossed over Max’s face as he thought about the two colleges. He finally closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths, then opened them again and looked directly at her.

Max didn’t say anything. He just sat there and stared at Liz, his face maintaining a blank expression. His gaze gradually drifted off and lowered to the countertop in front of Liz.

Liz could tell that Max was having a really hard time trying to decide where he wanted to go, so she helped him out. “Why don’t we think about this for a little while. Now that we have it narrowed down to two schools, the decision should…” She was surprised when Max suddenly interrupted her.

“Stanford,” he said, his gaze still fixed on the list of schools in front of him. He knew that Liz wanted to go to Stanford, and that was all he needed to know. He slowly lifted his eyes to meet Liz’s. “I’d rather go to Stanford.”

“Are you sure?” Liz asked. She was excited that he wanted to go to the same school she did, but she didn’t want to let that excitement show until she was positive that Max was sure about his decision.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Max said, flashing Liz a half smile as he looked deeply into her eyes.

“Good choice,” Maria said before she glanced up at the clock. “Can we close now?” she whined as she looked at Liz.

Liz smiled at her friend before she turned to Max. “I think we should. After all, we could all use a night of fun out on the town.”

posted on 12-Oct-2001 2:07:52 PM
Part 12

It was Friday, and everyone in the group couldn’t wait until school got out. The big party at the old soap factory was later that night, and it seemed like school was never going to end.

Kyle sat through his last class of the day, government, slumped in his seat as he doodled on a blank sheet of paper. He glanced up at the clock and rolled his eyes as he let out a heavy sigh.

“Am I boring you, Mr. Valenti?” Mr. Preston, the teacher, asked.

Kyle sat up straight in his seat, silently cursing himself for letting his boredom show. “N…no.”

“If I were you, I’d pay attention to the lecture,” Mr. Preston said. “What I’m going over right now will be on the test next week.”

“Right,” Kyle said, trying his best to look like he was paying attention.

As the teacher continued his lecture, Kyle glanced over to were Max was sitting. Max wasn’t looking at him, but Kyle could tell from the smirk on his face that he was silently laughing at him.

Kyle ripped out a sheet of paper from his notebook as quietly as he could, wrote something on it and then wadded it into a ball. When the teacher turned his back to write something on the board, Kyle threw the paper ball at Max, hitting him in the head.

Max looked up from his notes, surprised by the sudden assault. He glanced at the offending paper that was lying on the floor, then picked it up and looked over at Kyle, who was conveniently paying attention to the teacher now.

Max glanced up to make sure that the teacher wasn’t looking before he un-crumpled the paper and read the note.

Is it just me, or would Mr. Preston look exactly like RuPaul on crack if he put on a little make up, wore a skimpy dress, and a pair of high heels?

Max couldn’t control the laugh that escaped his throat.

“Is something funny, Mr. Evans?” Mr. Preston asked as he glanced over his shoulder.

“No, no sir,” Max replied as he quickly looked up and hid the note, a smile still on his face. “The fifteenth amendment just reminds me of a joke my friend told me once,” he lied. He had no idea what the fifteenth amendment covered, but it was the only excuse he could think of at the moment.

“Oh really?” Mr. Preston asked. “I’d love to hear it.”

Max looked around the classroom to find that all eyes were on him. He looked at Kyle and saw just how hard it was for his friend to hold back his laughter. Kyle was starting to turn red in the face from the effort.

“Uh…I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Max said.

“Why not?” Mr. Preston asked.

“Because I don’t want Kyle’s dad to call me up and yell at me for telling a crude joke in front of his son’s virgin ears,” Max said, throwing Kyle a smile.

As everyone in the classroom started to laugh, Kyle’s face turned bright red. His smile vanished immediately and his mouth fell open in shock.

Mr. Preston couldn’t help but let out a little chuckle himself. “Alright…let’s get back to the lecture.”

Once everyone was focused back on their notes, Max looked over at Kyle and smiled again. Kyle threw him a glare and then shook his fist in the air, silently threatening to beat him up after class.

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

When the bell finally rang, Max and Kyle walked out into the hallway side by side.

“I can’t believe you said that,” Kyle said as he gave Max a shove. “For your information, these ears have heard a lot more than yours have.”

“Porno’s don’t count, Kyle,” Max replied with a smile.

“You better watch yourself, Evans,” Kyle warned as the two of them walked up to Maria and Liz.

“Hey gorgeous,” Max said as he leaned over and kissed Liz softly on the lips.

“What, you’re just going to act like I’m not here?” Maria asked. “No ‘Hi Maria, how are you?’ I see where your priorities are,” she joked.

“Hi Maria,” Max said as he leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “How are you?”

“HEY!” Michael called out as he walked up. “Did I just see you kiss my girlfriend?” he asked as he stepped up to Max.

“She asked me to!” Max replied defensively as he pointed at Maria.

Michael slowly turned to face Maria. He folded his arms across his chest and glared at his girlfriend.

“I’m sorry, babe,” Maria said with puppy dog eyes, reaching out and wrapping her arms around Michael’s neck. “I thought he was you.”

“Yeah right,” Michael said before he turned to Liz. “And you’re just going to stand there while your boyfriend kisses someone else?”

That’s when Max noticed for the first time that Liz had been glaring at him ever since he kissed Maria on the cheek. “I…uh…I thought she was you?” he asked with a pleading face, trying to use Maria’s excuse.

Liz tried to keep from smiling, but it didn’t take long before she started to giggle from the pathetic look that Max was giving her. “I can understand how you got me and Maria confused. She’s blonde, I’m brunette. She has green eyes, I have brown. People mistake us for one another all the time.”

“Wait a minute,” Kyle said. “I thought the two of you were twins.”

“You and me both, buddy,” Alex said as he walked up with Isabel. He had no idea what his friend was talking about, but that didn’t stop him from agreeing. “What are we talking about?”

Liz rolled her eyes before she grabbed Max’s hand and led the group out into the parking lot. “So, we’re all meeting up at the soap factory, right?”

“Right,” came the chorus of replies.

Everyone split up and walked to their various cars. Naturally, Max gave Liz a ride back to her house, were he parked out front before he turned to his girlfriend. “Are you sure you don’t want me to give you a ride to the party tonight?”

“There’s nothing I want more than for you to give me a ride,” Liz replied. “But like I told you before, my dad needs me to run errands with him today. He said that he’d drop me off as soon as we’re done.”

Max nodded before he leaned over and gave Liz a kiss. He didn’t mean for it to turn into anything passionate, but once he felt Liz slide her tongue along his bottom lip and moan as soon as he granted her access, he lost all sense of control. He nibbled on her lower lip as he threaded his fingers through her hair, pulling her closer to him.

Liz ran her hand along the side of Max’s neck, then down his chest and stomach. She needed to feel his skin, so she lifted up his shirt slightly and ran her hand underneath it. “Oh god,” she moaned as soon as her hand made contact with his muscular stomach. She wiggled out of her seat and climbed over the middle console, then straddled his hips, grinding herself into him in the process.

Max took in a sharp intake of breath when he felt Liz rub up against him. He couldn’t control the moan that escaped his lips as he pulled Liz as close to his body as he could. What little control Max had left came back to him as he slowly pulled away, resting his forehead against Liz’s.

When he opened his eyes, he glanced over Liz’s shoulder and saw that five people were eating outside the Crashdown Café, and they were all looking back at him. He ducked his head behind Liz as a blush crept up his face.

“What’s wrong?” Liz asked as she pulled back.

“We have an audience,” Max replied as he nodded toward the café.

Liz turned around to look and immediately felt herself redden. “Oh my god!” she exclaimed as she buried her face in Max’s neck.

“Maybe we should get out of the car now,” Max suggested. “The last thing we need is for your dad to find us like this.”

Liz nodded as she reached over and opened the driver’s side door, then climbed out. Max followed and grabbed her hand as soon as he could. He shut the car door before he walked Liz up to the café, trying desperately to ignore the five people who were now clapping at them.

Liz practically ran through the café and up the back stairs that led to her house. “I can’t believe we just did that!” she exclaimed once her and Max were alone in her bedroom with the door closed.

“You need to stop being so damn irresistible,” Max said as he wrapped his arms around Liz’s waist and pulled her close to his body.

“Oh really?” Liz asked seductively as she wrapped her arms around Max’s neck. “What about you, huh? You know, there’s a reason why I can’t keep my hands off of you.”

“And what would that be?” Max asked with a smile as he lowered his head toward Liz’s. He pretended like he was going to kiss her, and then pulled back at the last second, teasing her a bit.

Liz couldn’t form a coherent sentence if her life depended on it. She was in a daze, and she never wanted it to end. She whimpered as Max continued to tease her, then decided to take matters into her own hands. She jumped up and wrapped her legs around Max’s waist before she forced him to kiss her. Max slowly made his way over to her bed, and then gently laid the two of them down, never once breaking their kiss.

“Liz?” a voice called out from the other side of the bedroom door.

Max quickly scrambled off of Liz and sat up on her bed. Liz tried to smooth down her hair as she too sat up. “Yeah, dad,” she called out.

Jeff Parker opened the door and found the two teenagers sitting at the foot of Liz’s bed, both a little red in the face. He gave them both a stern look before he spoke. “Hi Max. You ready to go, Liz?”

“Yeah,” Liz replied before she turned to Max and gave him an apologetic look.

Max smiled back as he walked out into the living room with Liz and her dad. “I’ll see you at the party,” he said before he gave her a quick kiss on the lips.

“Yeah,” Liz replied. “I’ll see you there.”

As Max walked out to his car, he was thankful to find that the five people who were eating outside when he arrived were now gone. He shook his head slightly as he climbed into his car. He just knew that one of these days, he and Liz were going to get into trouble because they couldn’t keep their hands off each other.

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

Liz walked into the soap factory about a half an hour later than she told her friends she would be. The place was packed and the party was in full swing. She looked around, trying desperately to find a familiar face. She spotted Michael and Maria off to the side, both drinking something that looked like punch.

“Hey guys,” Liz said as she walked up to them.

“Oh, hey Liz!” Maria said. “I thought you’d never get here.”

“Yeah, my dad took a little longer than I thought,” Liz replied. “Have either of you seen Max?”

“Last I saw him he was with Valenti,” Michael said as he pointed in the general direction he last saw the two boys. “But if you just hang out here for a little while, he should be back soon.”

Just then, a song came on that Maria loved. “Come on, Michael. Let’s dance,” she said as she dragged Michael out into the crowd.

Michael let out a groan before he followed Maria, causing Liz to smile.

Liz stood off to the side, scanning the crowd for Max, when an all too familiar voice spoke up from behind her.

“Your looking good, Liz.”

Liz briefly closed her eyes in annoyance before she turned around and faced the one person she really didn’t want to run into. “What do you want Brad?”

“I want you to dance with me,” Brad said as he wrapped his arm around Liz’s waist and tried to pull her closer to him.

Liz put both of her hands on Brad’s chest and tried to push him away. That’s when she got a good whiff of his breath. “You’re drunk,” she stated plainly.

“I may have had a few beers,” Brad said. “Now let’s dance.”

“Let’s not,” Liz said as she squirmed out of his grasp.

“Why not?” Brad asked in anger. “Will you’re little boy toy get jealous?”

Before Liz could respond, someone else did for her.

“No. He’ll just get pissed.”

Brad swung around and found himself standing toe to toe with none other than Max Evans.

The relief that flooded through Liz was visible from miles away.

“You know, I’ve been waiting a long time to come face to face with you off campus,” Brad said, stepping so close to Max that their noses were practically touching.

There was nothing Max wanted to do more than knock the guy out, but he could now smell the alcohol on Brad’s breathe. Drunks were the worst ones to fight because they never knew when to give up. They would just keep coming at you until they got knocked unconscious.

Max side stepped Brad and grabbed Liz’s hand. He started to walk away when Brad suddenly pushed him in the back. By this time, Kyle, Tess, Michael and Maria had all gathered around.

“Why don’t you stay and fight, you pussy,” Brad barked as he pushed Max again.

Max swung around with his fist clenched, but stopped himself from throwing a punch. “If you weren’t drunk, I’d knock you flat on your ass right now.”

“I’m so scared,” Brad said, shaking his hands in front of him sarcastically.

“You know, I have two pairs of boxing gloves out in my truck,” Kyle said as he stood next to Max. “That way, you won’t have to hurt your hands on a piece of sh*t like him,” he said, nodding toward Brad.

Max was about to walk away again when Brad grabbed his arm.

“You aren’t going anywhere until I get my dance with Liz,” Brad said, looking Liz up and down.

“Get the damn gloves!” Max told Kyle. “Michael…you’ve watched boxing before so you know the rules, right?”

“Yeah, I know the rules,” Michael replied, starting to get excited about the upcoming fight. He had been waiting a long time to see Brad get what he deserved.

“Good,” Max said before he pushed his way through the crowd and walked out into the parking lot, still holding firmly to Liz’s hand.

“I don’t like this Max,” Liz said once they were alone. “He’s drunk and I don’t want you to get hurt.”

Max smiled down at his girlfriend. “Don’t worry. He’ll have boxing gloves on, so he won’t be able to pull out a knife or anything. Besides, Michael’s going to make sure he doesn’t break the rules.”

“I still don’t like it,” Liz said.

“If it makes you feel any better, I don’t like it either,” Max said as he pulled Liz into a hug. “But I’ll be damned if I’m just going to sit by and watch as he treats you the way he just did.”

“Just be careful,” Liz said as she leaned up and kissed Max softly, then looked into his eyes for a few moments. She then let go of him and walked over to stand next to Maria.

Evidentially, word spread throughout the party that there was going to be a fight, so the crowd outside continued to grow until everyone at the party had formed a circle around Max and Brad. Kyle walked over and put the gloves on Max first, then repeated the process with Brad.

“You do know that Max is going to beat the living sh*t out of you, right?” Kyle asked Brad before he walked away without waiting for an answer.

Michael stepped into the middle of the man-made circle and raised his arms to silence the crowd. “This is a boxing match, not a wrestling match,” he said, looking directly at Brad. “No hitting below the belt, no head butting, not rabbit punches. If I see you do any of those things, my fist will have a run in with your face. Ready?” he asked as he looked over at Max. When Max nodded, Michael stepped back to let the fight begin, not bothering to check if Brad was ready.

Max and Brad walked towards each other, but neither threw a punch for the first few seconds. Max knew that Brad was going to go all out in the first few seconds, so all he had to do was weather the storm and let Brad punch himself out. Then he’d be too tired to fight, and it wouldn’t be too hard to knock him out.

Just as Max had suspected, Brad came at him, throwing several wild punches. Most of the punches either missed Max completely, or Max blocked them with his arms. The last punch was the only one that got through, connecting with his jaw.

“How’d you like that?” Brad asked as he backed away, taking pride if the fact that out of the twenty some punches he threw, only one landed.

Max just smiled before he threw a few punches himself. It was like target practice for him. His flurry of punches ended with an uppercut, which promptly sent Brad to the dirt covered parking lot.

Everyone who was watching the fight erupted into applause as Michael stepped up and Max backed away. “Um…one, two, three…” Michael started counting.

Brad made a valiant effort to stand up, but his legs were too wobbly. He did manage to stumble to his feet, only to have his legs give out from under him, sending him back to the ground, face first.

“I think that just about does it,” Michael said with a laugh as he rolled Brad over onto his back. “You just got knocked the f*ck out!”

Max had Kyle untie his boxing gloves before he walked over and dropped them onto Brad’s stomach. “Just let me know if you want a rematch.” He then walked over to where Liz was standing with Maria and wrapped his arm around his girlfriend. “Now, are you ready to dance?”

Liz was still in shock as Max led her back into the soap factory. She had never actually seen a fight in person - at least not one that took place outside of a boxing ring. After the initial shock had worn off, she found herself grinning at Max, who was still working his way back into the building with her securely fastened to his side.

Max glanced down at Liz briefly, but did a double take when he noticed that she was staring at him with a smile on her face. “What?” he asked with a curious smile.

“I love you,” Liz said before she leaned up and kissed him on his jaw line, right on the spot where Brad had hit him.

“I love you, too,” Max said as he looked at Liz strangely.

“I just wanted to tell you that,” Liz said when she noticed that Max was still looking at her. “Now you owe me some dancing,” she said as she took the lead out onto the dance floor.

By the time they got to the dance floor, Bon Jovi’s ‘Thank you for loving me’ had just started to play. Max pulled Liz close as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

Liz smiled as she wrapped her arms around Max’s neck, threading her fingers through his hair. “How’s your jaw?”

Max laughed lightly. “Isabel hits harder than he does.”

Liz giggled before she rested her cheek against Max’s shoulder. “You do know that if you go around beating everyone up, I’ll be very upset, don’t you? I don’t like violence, but in Brad’s case, I’m more than willing to make an exception.”

“As hard as this may be for you to believe, I don’t like violence either,” Max whispered in Liz’s ear.

Liz pulled back and gave Max an ‘are-you-kidding-me’ look. “I don’t know who you’re trying to fool here, but I know for a fact that you love the ruff stuff.”

“There’s a difference between the sport of boxing and what just happened out in that parking lot,” Max said. “I hate street fighting, and I try to avoid it at all costs.”

“Okay,” Liz said, admitting defeat. “I admit there is a difference between the two. As long as you don’t get into a fight at the drop of a hat, I’ll be happy.”

“I promise that will never happen,” Max said with a smile.

To Be Continued……….

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

Part 13

After the party, Max dropped Liz off at her house before he headed home. When he got there, he found his sister sitting at the dining room table, drinking a cup of tea.

“Hey,” Max said as he walked in and sat down next to her.

“Hey,” Isabel replied.

“What are you still doing up?” Max asked.

“Waiting for you, actually,” Isabel said.

“Me? Why?” Max asked as he stood up and walked over to the fridge to get something to drink.

“I heard you beat the crap out of Brad,” Isabel said with a smile.

“Yeah,” Max replied with a laugh. “You weren’t there?” he asked as he walked back over and sat down at the table again with a glass of orange juice in his hand.

“Alex and I didn’t get there until the fight was over with,” Isabel said. “It doesn’t look like he even hit you,” she said as she inspected Max’s face.

“Actually, he did land one punch,” Max said. “But to be honest…you hit harder than he does.”

“That’s because I’m your sister,” Isabel said proudly as she raised her chin in the air.

Max laughed as he shook his head slightly.

There were a few moments of silence before Isabel turned serious. “I have a question for you.”

“Shoot,” Max said.

“Are you going to play basketball this year?” Isabel asked.

Max paused for a second before he answered. “You know, if you would have asked me that last week, I’d of told you that I didn’t know,” Max said with a smile. “But for some reason, over the past couple of days I’ve made up my mind.”

“And…” Isabel prompted.

“And I’ve decided that basketball isn’t a priority in my life anymore,” Max replied before he took a drink of his juice.

“But you have so much talent,” Isabel said. “What made you decide to give it up?”

Max took a deep breath before he explained. “Dad saw my last game. He saw my entire career. I don’t know why, but knowing that…it gives me a sense of peace.”

“But it also leaves you with an empty feeling, doesn’t it,” Isabel said, noticing that Max was trying to hide the way he really felt. Max didn’t answer, so Isabel decided to say the one thing she really wanted to tell him. “The thing you need to realize, Max, is that while dad may have watched your entire career, mom and I never got the chance to. I would love to see you play, and I know that mom feels the same way. I just hope you let us.”

Max had never thought about that before. His dad had been the only one he thought about when it came to basketball. He didn’t even realize that none of his friends had really seen him play. He played against Alex one on one, but that wasn’t anything serious. Neither was the scrimmage he played in with Kyle.

“Max,” Isabel said, trying to get her brothers attention.

Max shook his head once before he tuned back to his sister. “Yeah?”

“Are you okay?” Isabel asked.

“Y…yeah. I’m fine,” Max said, forcing a smile. “I’m just tired. I think I’m going to hit the sack.”

“Okay,” Isabel said with a smile. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Max practically ran up the stairs and into his bedroom. He glanced at his clock and noticed that it was pretty late, but he really needed to talk to Liz. He hesitantly picked up the phone and dialed her number.

“Hello?” Liz answered.

“Hey, babe,” Max replied. “Sorry for calling so late.”

Even though Max couldn’t see it, Liz found herself smiling at the sound of his voice. “Don’t worry about it. What’s up?”

“Is watching me play basketball important to you?” Max blurted out.

It took Liz a second to register the question. “Max, the only thing that’s important to me is that you’re happy,” she said. “If playing basketball makes you happy, then it makes me happy. If not playing is what you want to do, then that’s what I want too.”

“But do you want to see me play basketball?” Max asked.

“Max, like I just said, whatever you…” Liz started, only to be interrupted by Max.

“No, Liz,” Max said gently. “I want to know what YOU think, and what YOU feel. Do YOU want to watch me play basketball?”

Liz was silent for a few seconds before she reluctantly answered Max’s question. “Yes,” she finally whispered. “I want to watch you play.”

Max let out a sigh of relief as he sat down on his bed. “That’s all I wanted to know,” he replied with a smile.

“But I don’t want you to feel like you have to play just because of me,” Liz quickly added. “I just want you to be happy.”

“I know,” Max said quietly. “That’s one of the many reasons why I love you so much,” he said, causing Liz to smile.

“So, are you going to play?” Liz asked after a brief silence.

“You know what…I think I am,” Max replied.

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

Time seemed to fly by, and before anyone knew it, basketball season was beginning. The coach was elated to hear that Max would be playing, so he called both Max and Kyle in to his office to inform them that they were going to be the captains of the team. They had to pick out the team shoes, the practice jerseys, and everything else that the team would wear.

Liz was happy that Max was playing, but she didn’t like the fact that Coach Swain closed off the gym for practices and didn’t let anyone watch. He said that having people watch would be a distraction to his players. When she had told Max that, he had laughed.

(flashback)

“He’s right, you know,” Max said with a smile. “If I knew you were up there watching me during practice, I would definitely be distracted.”

(end flashback)

Liz had to smile when he said that.

“Why are you smiling at the milk shake machine?” Maria asked as she walked past her friend on her way to the back room.

Liz snapped out of her daydream and finished wiping down the counter. She and Maria were working the closing shift at the Crashdown, with Michael in the kitchen cooking. It was Thursday, and while they normally had Thursday’s off, Liz’s dad had agreed to switch their schedules so they could go watch the high school basketball game on Friday night.

Like all other Thursday’s, the café was completely deserted.

“Hey gorgeous,” a seductive voice said from behind Liz, causing her to smile. She turned around slowly and felt her smile widen when her eyes landed on Max.

“Hi. I didn’t hear you come in,” Liz said as she looked over at the front door.

“Michael let me in the back door,” Max said, pointing over his shoulder atMichael who was standing in the kitchen. “You’re going to be at the game tomorrow, right?”

“Of course!” Liz said, pretending to be insulted. “Just who do you think you’re dealing with here? I’m going to be the loudest one out there.”

Max smiled as he walked up and planted a kiss on Liz’s lips, then moved to her ear. “So I finally get to hear you scream my name, huh?” he asked in a seductive tone.

“MAX EVANS!” Liz said in shock as she pulled back. She looked into his half amused, half longing eyes and felt her breath catch in her throat. Her eyes instinctively lowered to his lips as her tongue snaked out to wet her own. “If you want to hear me scream your name, it will take a lot more than just putting a ball through a hoop.”

“What if I put something else through the hoop?” Max asked as he wrapped his arms around Liz’s waist.

Liz’s eyes widened as she looked around the café, making sure that nobody overheard what her and Max were talking about. “Max, I’m going to give you two choices. Either you back off right now, or I’m going to jump your bones right here.”

This time, Max’s eyes widened in surprise.

“I don’t think my dad would be too happy to hear that I ripped the cloths off my boyfriend and had my way with him in the middle of the café,” Liz said. Her and Max had yet to take that final step in their relationship, although they had come close on numerous occasions.

“Hey…I’m game if you are,” Max said before he buried his face into Liz’s neck, causing her to let out a shriek.

“You know,” Liz said as she pushed Max back, a smile on her face. “It’s a good thing that nobody’s in here right now.”

“I don’t mind,” Michael called out from the kitchen. “Go for it.” Both Liz and Max turned to find Michael resting his chin in the palm of his hand as he watched the two lovebirds through the opening that separated the kitchen from the café.

“MICHEAL!” Maria exclaimed, walking up and spanking her boyfriend on the butt.

“OWWW!” Michael yelled as he jumped a little, rubbing his ass with one hand. “What the hell was that for?”

Maria just glared at him for a second before she walked out to join Max and Liz in the café. “I think I’m going to keep you two company so you don’t do anything that might cause me to lose my job.”

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

Friday night at the high school gym was a sight to see. Liz had been to a few games the previous year to cheer for Kyle, but she had never seen so many people show up for a game before. The gym was pretty good sized. It could hold a capacity of about 1000 people, and as Liz looked around, she guessed that there were probably about that many people there. Bleachers ran along both sides of the court; the entrance to the boy’s locker room on one side of the gym, the entrance to the girl’s locker room on the other. There were even people standing around because no more seats were available.

The group was lucky they had arrived early and grabbed enough seats for all of them. They were in the middle of the bleachers, and from where they were sitting, they could all see the boy’s locker room door. Michael and Alex sat next to each other, with Tess sitting on the other side of Michael. Diane, Isabel, Maria and Liz all sat behind them.

The junior varsity game was just ending, and Roswell ended up beating the neighboring town of Artesia by the score of 57-49. Once the game was over, everyone stood up and stretched.

“I’ve never seen this many people come out for a basketball game before,” Maria said as she turned toward Liz.

“Neither have I,” Liz admitted.

“That’s because we now have an All-American basketball player on our team,” Michael said.

“What’s an All-American?” Maria asked.

“An All-American is someone who made the All-American team,” Alex said as he turned around to face the girls.

“And what is the All-American team?” Maria asked, getting slightly annoyed.

“Coaches and scouts vote on who the best high school players are in the country,” Michael said. “Those who make the list are named to the All-American team.”

Maria turned to Liz in shock. “Max was voted one of the best high school basketball players in the country?”

Liz just shrugged. It was news to her, but she was used to finding out new things about Max, so nothing surprised her anymore. “I learn more and more about him every day. I’m used to hearing about all his miraculous achievements by now.”

Just as Liz finished her sentence, the varsity team for Artesia came out onto the floor.

“Prepare to get your asses kicked!” Liz heard one of her fellow students yell out.

“When’s our team coming out?” Isabel asked as she glanced over at the locker room door.

Just then, the warm-up music started to blare over the P.A. system.

“Right about now,” Alex said with a smile. “You ready?” he asked Michael as he motioned towards the court with his head.

“Absolutely,” Michael said with a smile.

“Ready for what?” Maria asked.

“We need to give our friends a proper greeting,” Michael said as he and Alex made their way down to the court and waited on the sideline.

A few seconds later, the boy’s locker room door flew open and the Roswell Comets made their way onto the floor. Kyle was in the lead, and as he passed by Michael and Alex, who were both yelling and cheering, they all exchanged high-fives.

Liz’s eyes scanned each and every player on the team, but Max was nowhere to be found. The rest of the group must have noticed too, because both Michael and Alex glanced up at their friends in confusion as Isabel asked the one question that was on everyone’s mind.

“Where’s Max?”

Everyone shrugged as the rest of the Roswell Comets started to run their lay-up drills. Michael and Alex stayed down on the sideline, their eyes glued to the locker room door. A faint hush fell over the crowd, as if the rest of the fans all noticed that Max was missing as well.

When they all saw Coach Swain walk out with his assistant coaches, their confusion grew.

Then, as if from some gladiator movie, Max emerged from the locker room, walking at his normal pace. He was looking down at his shoes as he walked, testing them out to make sure they wouldn’t hurt his feet.

When the deafening roar erupted from the crowd, it surprised Max, causing his step to falter, his head to snap up and his eyes to widen. When he realized that everyone was cheering for him, a smile came to his face. He could see Michael and Alex standing on the far sideline, clapping and shouting as they looked back at him. His eyes scanned the crowd right about his two friends and quickly found the rest of the group. His mom, his sister, Tess, Maria, and finally…Liz. His eyes lingered on her for a few seconds before he started to jog over to Michael and Alex.

“What took you so long?” Michael asked.

“The trainer had to tape my ankles,” Max replied as he slowly made his way over to his team.

Michael reached out and slapped hands with Max before he and Alex made their way back up to the rest of the group.

Liz watched as Max warmed up. He did a few lay-up drills, then sat down near mid court and began to stretch. He had his eyes closed as he stretched, and Liz found herself wondering what he was thinking about. Knowing Max, it probably had nothing to do with basketball.

“Did you guys notice Max’s shoes?” Michael asked.

“Yeah,” Maria answered. “Their mostly white with black streaks down the sides, and their made by Nike.”

“You don’t miss a thing, do you?” Michael asked sarcastically. “I meant, did you guys notice what he WROTE on his shoes?”

Since Max was sitting on the floor, nobody could see what Michael was talking about. But as soon as he stood up, they all saw it. He had taken a black Sharpie, and had written ‘DAD’ on the side of his shoe. When he turned around, the other shoe had ‘Thank U’ written on it.

Just then, Liz remembered a conversation she had had with Max when he first moved to Roswell. He had said that he owed everything to his dad; that he had his dad to thank for all the success in his life. She smiled as she watched Max loosen up. He was the sweetest guy in the world, and she loved him for it.

Before the game started, since Max was the main captain for the team, he and the captain from Artesia walked out to the middle of the court with the refs. After the refs had explained a few things, Max and the other captain shook hands, but continued to talk to each other.

Michael couldn’t believe his eyes. “Please don’t tell me that Max is actually being NICE to the enemy!”

“Of course not,” Alex said, hoping that Max was just talking trash to the guy…telling him that he was going to light them up for fifty points or something. After they all saw Max and the other guy smile and start to laugh, it was confirmed.

“Now he’s joking around with the guy!?!” Michael asked in disbelief.

“What’s wrong with that?” Maria asked. “He’s just being nice.”

Both Michael and Alex turned to stare at her.

“You don’t understand,” Alex said. “Artesia and West Roswell are supposed to HATE each other. If Max and the captain from Artesia are nice to each other, it would ruin the reputation.”

Liz, Maria, Tess and Isabel all rolled their eyes at the same time.

“Men and their testosterone,” Maria muttered, causing the other three girls to giggle. Even Diane couldn’t control the snicker that escaped her throat.

The buzzer sounded, signaling the start of the game. The announcer came over the P.A. system and announced the starting line-up for the visiting team. Then, with a great deal more enthusiasm, he announced the line-up for West Roswell.

“At guard, a senior, number 11, Kyle Valenti!” Everyone started to yell as loud as they could, quieting down just long enough for the announcer to introduce Max. “And at the other guard, a senior, number 32, Max Evans!” After the introductions were made, everyone settled down a bit as they waited for the opening tip-off.

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

The game was going along really well, with Roswell ahead by more than fifteen points for most of the game.

Michael and Alex loved watching Max play. Every time he made a shot or did some incredible move, they would both stand up and holler. One time, two players from Artesia tried to double team Max, and the entire group burst into laughter as they watched Max toy with the two guys.

Max would make a move towards the basket, then back up just to spite them. When they would try to guard him again, Max would dribble circles around them. It got to the point where one of the guys got so frustrated, he tired to steal the ball, knowing full well that he couldn’t. He ended up fouling Max, who in turn smiled up at his friends in the stands as he handed the ball to the ref.

After that little performance, things really started to heat up between Max and the guy who was guarding him. Michael could see the two of them talking to each other, and from the looks on their faces, whatever they were saying definitely wasn’t suitable dinner table conversation.

“Do I see Max talking trash?” Alex asked with a smile.

”I believe you do,” Michael said as he continued to watch the game.

Then, all hell just about broke loose.

Max had a fast break, and as he was going in for the lay-up, the guy he was having a verbal war with ran up from behind and fouled him hard. He took Max’s legs out from underneath him, sending him to the wooden floor at an awkward angle. Liz gasped and covered her mouth with her hand as she stood up, worried that Max might be seriously hurt.

Max immediately bounced up off the floor and got right into the guys face, standing toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose with him. Nobody in the bleachers could hear what Max was saying, but he was pointing his finger right in the guys face… so whatever it was, it wasn’t pleasant.

Kyle rushed over and grabbed Max, pulling him away as he continued to yell at the guy. Whoever the player from Artesia was, he wasn’t backing down. He was talking right back to Max the entire time, even when one of his teammates started to pull him away.

The two refs had a little conference to discuss what action to take, then one of them walked over to the scorer’s table. A short conversation took place before the announcer came over the P.A. system.

“There has been an intentional foul called on number 21 from Artesia, as well as a technical foul.”

The crowd erupted with applause before the announcer could finish. He waited until the roaring came to a halt before he continued.

“There has also been a technical foul called on number 32 from Roswell.”

This caused a series of boo’s to burst forth from the bleachers.

“Could someone please explain to me what just happened?” Maria asked, looking around at her friends in confusion.

“They just called a technical foul on Max,” Alex said.

“And what’s a technical foul?” Maria asked.

“Every game, you have five fouls before you foul out,” Michael started to explain. “A foul is when you hit someone on the arm when they’re trying to shoot, or when you push them over while you’re trying to guard them, things like that.”

“I know what a normal foul is,” Maria said in annoyance.

“A technical foul,” Michael continued, acting like Maria hadn’t said anything. “Is when you do something that’s worse than a normal foul. Like if you get into someone’s face like Max just did, or if you try to hurt another player, or if you kick the ball into the bleachers…”

”Or if you mouth off to the refs,” Alex added.

“Max and the other guy both got technical fouls for almost getting into a fight,” Michael said. “You’re only allowed two technical fouls before you’re ejected from the game.”

“And an intentional foul is when you foul someone on purpose,” Alex said.

“So that’s why they call it an INTENTIONAL foul,” Isabel said in a sarcastic voice.

Liz heard every word Michael had said, but her attention was focused on Max. She could tell that he was really pissed at the other guy. He was still staring him down from halfway across the gym. Kyle was talking to him, trying to calm him down.

Once both teams were under control again, the game proceeded. Towards the end, West Roswell was winning by twenty-two points, so Coach Swain decided to take Max out with four minutes left in the game. He didn’t want to risk his star player getting hurt just because one of the players on the other team was pissed at him.

Max left to a round of applause as he made his way to the end of the bench and grabbed his warm-up top, putting it on. He sat down and reached behind him to grab a towel. He draped it over his head like a hood, tucking the ends into the top of his warm-ups.

“Why did Max just put a towel over his head?” Isabel asked.

“I give up, why?” Alex asked with sarcasm in his voice.

Isabel smiled sarcastically back at him. When the game finally ended, the West Roswell Comets came out victorious by the score of 78-60. Max went through and shook hands with everyone from Artesia, even the guy he almost got into a fight with. Max didn’t say anything to him, and the guy didn’t say anything in return, so it was apparent that they were both still holding a grudge against one another.

Everyone waited just outside the gym for Max and Kyle to come out. When they finally did, both boys were laughing. Max smiled at Liz as she walked up and wrapped her arms around his waist. She looked up into his face, and noticed just how adorable he was when his hair was still wet from the shower.

“You had a good game,” Liz said as she leaned up and kissed him softly on the lips.

“Thanks,” Max muttered against her lips.

“Okay…I have to know,” Alex said, interrupting Max and Liz’s moment together. “What did you say to that guy?”

Max smiled before his eyes landed on his mom, who had her arms folded across her chest and an eyebrow raised, waiting for his answer.

“I asked him if he liked to fish,” Max said, quickly wiping the smile off his face.

“Fishing?” Isabel asked in disbelief. “You’re trying to tell me that that guy nearly planted you into the wall because you asked him if he liked to fish?”

“Apparently he doesn’t care much for the sport and took offense to me asking,” Max said, shifting his duffel bag further up on his shoulder.

“Right,” Alex said with a smile. Everyone knew that fishing was the last thing that the two of them were talking about, but they all let it slide because Diane was standing there.

“Max Evans?” a man asked as he cautiously approached the group.

Max turned around to find out who the unfamiliar voice belonged to. “That’s me.”

“Hi. My name’s Jacob Larson. I’m the sports writer for the local newspaper. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about the game tonight.”

“Sure,” Max said, walking over to the far wall with the reporter for the interview. Once that was done, everyone agreed to head over to the Crashdown for something to eat while they decided what to do for the rest of the night.

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

“How many points did you have tonight, Kyle?” Isabel asked as the group ate around a large table at the Crashdown.

“Twenty two,” Tess replied for him with a smile.

Kyle smiled back before he leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“What about Max?” Isabel asked, looking at Liz as if she would somehow know.

Liz shrugged as she turned to Max. She wasn’t used to counting how many points her boyfriend scored like Tess was.

“The reporter said that I had thirty five,” Max replied before he popped a French fry into his mouth.

“I knew you had a lot, but I didn’t realize you had THAT many,” Michael said as he picked up his hamburger and took a bite.

“So between the two of you, you scored fifty seven of the teams seventy eight points?” Liz asked in awe.

“What can I say,” Kyle said as he shrugged his shoulders. “Evans and I make a good team.”

“You played a great game tonight, honey,” Diane said as she stood up and kissed Max on the top of his head.

“Are you leaving?” Max asked.

“Yeah,” Diane replied. “It’s past my bedtime. Don’t come home too late,” she told her two children before she walked out of the café.

“So…what are we going to do for the rest of the night?” Maria asked after silence claimed the group.

“Let’s go bowling,” Alex suggested.

“Works for me,” Kyle said. “Besides, there’s really nothing else to do besides go to the movies.”

It was agreed that they would all go bowling, and after they finished their dinner, the eight friends all walked the three blocks to the bowling alley side by side.

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

“Do you have to go already?” Liz asked as she and Max snuggled on the lawn chair on her balcony later that night.

“I guess not,” Max replied as he tightened his grip on Liz. “I could stay here as long as I want, but my mom would probably ground me for life.”

Liz let out a sigh as she buried her face into the crook of Max’s neck. “Why don’t you just move in with me?”

“Yeah…I’m sure your parents would love that,” Max replied with a smile.

“They don’t have to know,” Liz said as she leaned her head back slightly so she could look into Max’s face. “You could sneak in at night after they go to bed. We could store your stuff in my closet and bathroom, and anything that won’t fit there, we could stick under my bed.”

“I love you,” Max said with a chuckle as he kissed the top of Liz’s head.

“I love you too,” Liz replied before she continued to explain her plan for Max to live with her, acting as if she were never interrupted.

“Liz,” Max said, trying to get her attention. When she stopped talking, Max took advantage of her silence. “The only way we would be able to live together is if we ran away.”

“Okay,” Liz said with a smile. “I know this beautiful place out in California that would be perfect…”

Max interrupted her by leaning down and kissing her soundly on the lips. When he pulled back, he looked deeply into her eyes. “We have less than seven months until we graduate. Do you think you can wait until then?” he asked with a serious expression.

Liz looked at Max, a little surprised by his question. “Max,” she said as she sat up, still looking down at him. “I know we were just kidding around just now…you know…about the whole running away thing…”

“Yeah…” Max said, prompting Liz to continue.

“But were you serious just now about moving in after we graduate?” Liz asked as her eyes lowered to stare at the rings on her fingers that she had started to play with, trying to find something to distract herself from Max’s possible answer.

As Max looked at Liz, he had a hard time gauging her reaction. “Well, I was…I mean…I just thought that…you know…that since you and I were going to the same school and all that we would…that you and I…” he stopped himself as soon as he noticed that he was stumbling over his words. “Never mind. I was just assuming something I shouldn’t have been,” he said as his eyes lowered to his hands that were folded on his lap.

Liz’s head shot up when she heard the sadness in Max’s voice. “Max,” she whispered as she reached out and ran her hand through his hair. “The only reason I asked was because we’ve never talked about it before. I just want to make sure I’m not pressuring you into doing something that you don’t want to do.”

Max looked up and met Liz’s gaze. “You thought that I didn’t want to live with you?” he asked in disbelief.

“No…not…not exactly,” Liz said as her hand came to rest on Max’s cheek. “I just want to make sure that I’M not assuming too much.”

“The only reason I never talked about it before was because I always thought it was settled,” Max said. “I just got the feeling that we both silently agreed to live together. I didn’t think it was something that had to be discussed.”

“I know,” Liz said as she looked down at Max’s shirt. “I feel the same way. I don’t know why I brought it up.”

Max pulled Liz back into his arms so she could rest her cheek against his chest. “Promise me that if anything is ever unclear to you, that you’ll ask me about it. The last thing I want is for you to feel confused about what I’m feeling or thinking.”

“I Promise,” Liz said with a smile. “I guess I was just anxious; knowing that we’ll be living together in a few months. It just seems too good to be true.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Max said. “You know…we should probably head out to Palos Altos sometime in the near future.”

“Why?” Liz asked in confusion.

“Well…we do need to find a place to live, so I thought we could go house shopping,” Max replied as he stroked Liz’s hair.

Liz sat up so abruptly that she nearly fell off the chair. She looked at Max, her eyebrows raised slightly as a look of shock crossed her face. “Hou…house shopping?” she asked as a smile started to form on her lips. “As is…a house to buy? A house for you and I to live in…together…and to own?”

Max smiled back as he noticed the enthusiasm flood through Liz. “Well, if you’d rather live in a cramped apartment, then I guess…”

He wasn’t able to finish his sentence before Liz threw herself at him, kissing him everywhere she could. “No…no…I want…a house,” she said between kisses. “And a garden…and a back yard…and a fireplace…and…most importantly…” She stopped kissing him and pulled back to look into his eyes before she finished her sentence. “Most importantly, I want you,” she said before she lowered her lips to Max’s for a kiss full of love and affection.

When they broke for air, Max smiled up at Liz’s flushed face. “If that’s the kind of reaction I get every time I suggest we buy a house, then I’ll have to buy you a few of them,” he joked.

Liz laughed lightly as she leaned down to rest her forehead against Max’s. “I think one will be plenty,” she said. “As long as that one house always has you in it, it will always be perfect.”

They stayed in each others arms for a few more minutes before Max reluctantly pulled away. “I need to go,” he whispered.

“I know,” Liz whispered back. “Call me tomorrow morning, okay?”

“First thing,” Max replied with a smile before he leaned over and brushed his lips against Liz’s. He nibbled at her bottom lip, and let out a gasp when he felt Liz’s tongue sneak past his lips and touch his own. Before the kiss could get out of hand, Max pulled back and took a few deep breaths to control his body, not noticing that Liz did the same.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Max said.

“Yeah,” was all Liz could say in return. As Max made his way over to the ladder that led down into the alleyway below, Liz suddenly remembered that he didn’t have his car with him. He let Isabel take it home earlier in the night. “Max, wait! You don’t have your car.”

Max smiled as he turned to look at Liz. “I know. I feel like walking.”

“Are you sure?” Liz asked. “You could call Isabel if you want.”

“Thanks, but I want to walk,” Max said as he walked back over and ran his hand down Liz’s cheek. “Love you,” he whispered before he leaned down and brushed his lips against hers.

“Love you,” Liz said as Max backed up and walked over to the ladder. He turned and gave her one last look before he disappeared.

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

Isabel was in the kitchen, fixing herself a midnight snack when she heard the front door open.

“Max?” she asked as she poked her head into the main hallway.

“Yeah,” Max replied as he took off his jacket.

“I was just fixing myself a snack, do you want something?” Isabel asked, suddenly wondering why Max was just standing in the darkened hallway as if he were hiding.

“No thanks. I’m just going to head to bed,” Max said as he ducked his head, turning it away from Isabel as he walked past her and headed for the stairs.

“Max?” Isabel asked. Her brother stopped, but refused to turn around and look at her. “What’s going on with you?”

“Nothing,” Max replied. “I’m just tired.”

“Could you at least turn around and face me while I talk to you?” Isabel asked as she turned on the hallway light.

Max let out a sigh as he hung his head again. He slowly turned around to face his sister and then raised his eyes to meet hers.

As soon as Isabel got a good look at Max’s face, she let out a gasp as her hand shot up to cover her mouth. “OH MY GOD, MAX! What happened to your face?”

Part 14

Max threw himself on his bed and closed his eyes, enjoying the relaxation that he so desperately craved. It wasn’t easy getting Isabel off his case, but he finally convinced her that he was tired and would explain everything in the morning.

She insisted that he tell the rest of the group, reminding him that he couldn’t hide the cuts and bruises on his face. She had demanded to know who beat him up, and while Max convinced her that he never got a good look at the guy’s faces, in actuality he knew exactly who it was.

He slowly got off his bed, wincing and rubbing his sore rib as he stood up. He walked into the bathroom across the hallway and looked in the mirror for the first time that night. He looked a lot worse than he felt. He had a black eye, a cut lip, a bruise forming on his left cheekbone, and another cut just above his right eye.

He lifted up his shirt and saw that he also had a bruise forming on his side, right were he had been kicked in the ribs. “Great,” he muttered to himself as he started to get ready for bed.

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

The next morning, Liz had woken up early and was on her way to Max’s. Isabel had called and insisted that she come over as soon as possible. Liz didn’t mind because that meant she could see Max bright and early.

Liz walked up to the front door and knocked lightly. It was still pretty early so she didn’t want to wake anyone up who was still asleep.

Isabel answered the door and smiled when she saw Liz standing there. “Hey, Liz.”

“Hey,” Liz said. “So…why did you want me to come over so early?” she asked as she stepped inside.

“I’ll tell you when the others arrive,” Isabel said as she led Liz into the living room.

“Where’s Max?” Liz asked.

“Still asleep,” Isabel said, pointing toward the stairs.

“I think I’ll go wake him up then,” Liz said with a smile as she started to walk over to the stairs.

“NO!” Isabel exclaimed as she rushed over and blocked her friends’ path, causing Liz to give her a strange look. “He looked pretty tired last night,” she quickly added. “We should probably let him sleep.”

Liz nodded, sensing that Isabel was a bit on edge.

“Why don’t I go get us something to drink,” Isabel said.

“That would be great,” Liz said, watching as Isabel walked out of the room. As soon as she was gone, Liz quietly made her way up the stairs and over to Max’s room. His door was closed so she gently opened it and peaked inside. Max was facing away from the door, his face buried in his pillow.

Liz smiled as she quietly snuck into bed with him, wrapping her arms around his waist. She heard Max mumble as he turned over to face her. His eyes were still closed, but as soon as Liz got a good look at his face, she gasped, inadvertently shaking him and waking him up.

“Liz?” Max mumbled as he slowly opened his eyes.

Liz was still staring at Max’s face in shock. She couldn’t seem to find her voice at the moment, so she just sat there, her hand covering her mouth, her eyes wide.

Max sat up and searched Liz’s face for any indication of what she was thinking before he reached over and pulled her into a hug.

“Max?” Liz asked softly as she pulled back, finally finding her voice. “What…what happened to you?”

“I got jumped last night,” Max said as he looked into Liz’s eyes, stroking her hair softly in the process.

“By who?” Liz asked as her brow furrowed together. Her eyes were inspecting each and every bruise and cut on Max’s face.

Max wasn’t able to answer the question before his sister interrupted them.

“Liz?” Isabel asked as she pushed Max’s bedroom door open all the way. She let out a frustrated sigh when she saw that Liz had snuck up to see her brother. “The others are here,” she said before she walked out.

“I need to get dressed, so I’ll meet you downstairs,” Max told Liz as he leaned in and gave her a soft kiss on the lips. “Don’t worry, I’m fine.”

Liz nodded before she made her way down to the living room. She had a feeling that Max wasn’t being completely honest with her, but she wasn’t going to push him at the moment.

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

As Max walked down the stairs, he could hear Michael in the living room.

“Alright, Iz. You dragged me out of bed on a Saturday morning. What’s the big emergency?”

Max walked into the living room and watched as everyone glanced up at him casually, then did a double take when they realized that something was wrong.

“What the hell happened to you?” Michael asked as he stood up from the couch and walked over to Max.

“A few guys ruffed me up last night,” Max replied, causing everyone to gasp.

“Who was it?” Michael demanded, his jaw set in anger. “It was Brad and his little band of minions, wasn’t it?”

Max looked at everyone in the room before he realized that lying to them was pointless. “Yeah. They jumped me from behind. It was dark so I couldn’t see them coming.”

“I knew it,” Michael said as he started to pace the length of the room.

“How many where there?” Kyle asked.

“I don’t know…maybe four or five,” Max said.

“I could have my dad look into it,” Kyle offered.

“No, it’s not a big deal,” Max said.

“Not a big deal?” Tess asked in disbelief. “Look at you.”

“I’m fine,” Max said with a smile. He knew that his friends would have figured everything out if he hadn’t told them. He just hoped that none of them would do anything crazy. “I don’t want you guys going off and doing anything stupid,” he said, looking directly at Michael.

“You’re just going to let them get away with this?” Michael asked in shock.

“No,” Max said in frustration. “Just give me some time to figure out the best way to handle this. I don’t think that fighting back will solve anything.”

“It would make me feel a lot better,” Michael said.

“Please, just leave it alone for now,” Max pleaded.

“Fine,” Michael said. “For now.”

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

Max and Liz were driving back to Liz’s house later that morning, and Liz couldn’t help but peak over at Max every few seconds.

“What?” Max finally asked as he drove, never taking his eyes off the road.

“Nothing,” Liz replied as she quickly looked away.

“Liz,” Max said as he glanced over, giving her a pointed look.

“I’m sorry. I just feel horrible. The only reason you got jumped last night was because of me,” Liz muttered as she shook her head slightly.

“Liz,” Max said softly as he glanced from the road to his girlfriend. “It’s not your fault that Brad’s a psychopathic, ex-girlfriend stalker. Just promise me that you won’t flip out the next time you see him. Let me handle this.”

“What are you going to do?” Liz asked as she glanced out the window.

“I don’t know yet,” Max said. “But I’ll think of something that doesn’t involve physical abuse. Beating the crap out of him again won’t prove anything. The only thing it will do is make him and his buddies retaliate. I think the way to keep Brad out of our hair is to outthink him.”

“That won’t be too hard,” Liz said. “The last time a thought actually passed through Brad’s brain was when I told him what to think.” She glanced over at Max just as he started to smile, a mischief gleam in his eyes. “What?”

“I have an idea,” Max said. “I’ll need Michael’s help though.”

“Are you going to tell me what this idea of yours is?” Liz asked with a smile.

“Oh yeah,” Max said as he pulled up to the Crashdown. “Let me call Michael first so he can hear this.”

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

“You do realize that this is against the law, don’t you?” Liz asked once she had heard Max’s plan.

“That’s where Kyle comes into play,” Max said. “I’m going to have him explain everything to his dad so there’s no surprises.”

“You think that the Sheriff is just going to let this little prank of ours slide?” Michael asked.

“Yeah, I do,” Max said. “I know for a fact that the Sheriff can’t stand Brad because he’s always getting into trouble, but his parents keep bailing him out by talking to the Mayor. Brad gets off scot-free because his parents are rich. Besides, it’s not like we’re going to do any permanent damage.”

“This might just work,” Michael said with a smile. “When do you want to do it?”

“Tomorrow night,” Liz said. “Alex found out that Brad left his car at school and won’t be picking it up until school’s out on Monday.”

“How the hell did he find that out?” Michael asked.

Liz shrugged, feeling just as baffled as Michael.

“Then tomorrow it is,” Max said.

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

Sunday night came, and the gang all gathered at Liz’s house.

“You sure I can’t help?” Kyle asked.

“Your dad said he didn’t want you to get involved, just in case we get caught by one of his deputies,” Max said.

“What about me?” Alex asked with a smile.

“You’re with us, buddy,” Michael replied. “We need help carrying everything.”

Max nodded as he turned to the others. “Kyle and Tess should stay clear of the school. See if you can find out if any of the deputies are patrolling in that area. Maria and Isabel are going to drive the getaway cars, just in case we need to make a quick exit. Liz, you go with Maria and keep a lookout. Let me know over the walky-talky if anyone’s coming. Alex, Michael and I are going to move as quickly as we can, but it’ll take some time.”

“Let’s get this show on the road,” Alex said.

The three boys dressed up in all black outfits, complete with black gloves and shoes. Max wore a beanie on his head while Alex went for the ‘Rambo’ look, wearing a camouflage bandana. Michael opted to go hat free as soon as he saw Alex.

“You do realize that you look completely stupid, right?” Michael asked Alex.

“You’re just jealous,” Alex said as the group walked out to the cars. “Just admit that I look better as a criminal than you do.”

“Whatever,” Michael muttered as he climbed into the Jetta with Maria and Liz. Max, Alex and Isabel all went in Max’s Mustang, taking the lead as they headed off to the school.

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

The school parking lot was nearly empty except for a few cars, including Brad’s. Max parked his car near the street so that Isabel, Maria and Liz would have a clear view of traffic. He climbed out with Alex and met up with Michael before the three boys ran off toward Brad’s Toyota MR2. The car was relatively small, so it made the whole process a lot easier.

It took the boys about an hour to get everything done. Michael had to hot-wire the Toyota while Max picked the lock on the schools’ front doors. Alex then ran through the hallways, making sure that nobody was around. When the coast was clear, Max took out the center divider of the huge double doors to make the entrance bigger, before Michael drove the car into the school and parked it in front of the office.

“Are you guys almost done?” Max heard Liz ask over the walky-talky.

“Why, is something wrong?” Max asked.

“A patrol car just drove past,” Liz said. “But he didn’t even slow down, so I think everything’s fine.”

“We just need a few more minutes,” Max said. “We need to make a few modifications, then we’re out of here.”

The three boys set to work on the car, making a few mechanical adjustments here and there. When they were done, Michael made sure that all the wiring underneath the steering wheel was put back into place so there was no evidence of it being hot-wired. Max put the center divider back between the double doors and checked to make sure everything was locked before he, Michael and Alex all ran out into the parking lot.

Isabel and Maria started the cars as soon as they saw the boys running up to them, and after everyone climbed in, they sped away.

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

On Monday morning everyone got to school early so they could see first hand the look on Brad’s face when he saw his car sitting out front of the office. When they got there, a crowd had already gathered around the small sports car. Alex walked up to the front doors to see if Brad was in sight, then walked back over to the group a few minutes later.

“He’s here,” Alex informed them. Everyone in the group stood off to the side except for Max and Michael. They had every intention of rubbing this in.

Brad was smiling as he walked through the doors of the school with his friend, but stopped dead in his tracks when he saw his car in front of him, rocking from side to side as if it were in a severe windstorm. The smile on his face disappeared immediately.

“You know Brad,” Max said as he and Michael walked up behind him. “I could be mistaken, but I don’t think you’re allowed to park here.”

“You’re looking at a pretty hefty parking ticket,” Michael said as he shook his head slightly.

Brad turned to face Max and Michael, his face bright red from humiliation and anger. “You…you two did this,” he said as he pointed to his car. “You’re so busted.”

“Now how could we?” Michael asked. “We don’t have the keys to your car. Only you do.”

“You know what I think?” Max asked as he turned to face Michael. “I think that Brad here did this himself, intent on blaming us for the whole thing. He must have thought that he could get us into trouble if he played it off to be our fault.”

“Brad,” the principal called out from the office. “Could I have a word with you?”

Brad turned to the principal, then back to Max and Michael who were both smiling with their arms folded across their chests.

“Go on,” Max said, shooing Brad with his hands.

When Brad turned and walked into the principals office, Max saw Sheriff Valenti standing there, trying to keep a smile off his face.

“You owe me one, Mr. Evans,” Sheriff Valenti said with a smile as he followed Brad into the principal’s office.

Once the office door was shut, everyone burst out into laughter. Max and Michael had to lean on each other to keep their balance as the rest of the group staggered over.

“That was a Kodak moment,” Maria said.

“We definitely need to take a few pictures,” Isabel said as she pulled out her camera. “I’m sure the yearbook staff has a nice big page for this.”

“Where did you come up with an idea like this?” Liz asked Max as she wrapped her arms around his waist.

“Have you ever seen the movie ‘Real Genius’?” Max asked as he wrapped his arm around Liz’s shoulders.

Liz burst out in laughter when she realized that Max had done nearly the exact same thing that happened in the movie. “I totally forgot about that part.”

Max shrugged as he started to walk Liz to class. “What can I say? The prank was so good in the movie, I just had to try it out.”

posted on 12-Oct-2001 2:10:22 PM
Part 15

The next few weeks flew by and before anyone knew it, Christmas was upon them. This would be the first Christmas that Max would go through without his father, but more importantly, his dad’s birthday was December 19th…just one day away.

“You’re still coming over for Christmas dinner next week, night?” Liz asked as she and Max walked down the sidewalk together. She had her arm linked through his and had her cheek resting against his shoulder.

“Yeah,” Max replied. “Although I’m a little confused as to why your parents want me over.”

“Because they never get a chance to talk to you,” Liz said as she pulled back and looked up at him. “You know, if you don’t want to come over you don’t have to.”

“No, no,” Max said as he looked down at Liz. “I want to. It’s just that nobody’s ever invited me over for dinner before. It just caught me off guard.”

“I promise you there’s no hidden agenda,” Liz said with a smile. “Its just dinner.”

“Just dinner,” Max repeated as he nodded his head in agreement, looking a bit nervous. “Right.”

Liz couldn’t help but feel bad at how uncomfortable Max looked. “Is something wrong?”

“Wrong?” Max asked in return. “No, why would anything be wrong?”

“You seem a bit…edgy,” Liz said as she rubbed his arm. “What’s up?”

“It’s just that…” Max began only to cut himself off when he couldn’t find the words to explain what he was feeling. “Do your parents like me?”

“Of course they like you,” Liz said as her brow furrowed together in confusion. “Why wouldn’t they?”

“Never mind,” Max said, waiving his hand in front of him, trying to dismiss his previous question.

“No,” Liz said as she stopped walking, causing Max to stop as well. She waited until he turned to face her before she continued. “Why do you think my parents don’t like you?”

“It’s not that I think they don’t like me,” Max said as he ran a hand through his hair. “It’s just that…what if I show up for dinner and they suddenly realize they don’t like me?”

“Okay, now you’re just being paranoid and stupid,” Liz said bluntly.

“Excuse me?” Max asked, shocked that Liz would just come out and say something like that. “Stupid?”

“Yeah, stupid,” Liz repeated. “My parents don’t hate you, and unless you show up and throw food at them while we’re eating they aren’t going to.”

“Well…thank you for relieving my fears so gently,” Max said sarcastically before he grabbed Liz’s hand and started to walk down the street again.

“That’s what I’m here for,” Liz said with a smile.

Max let out a chuckle as he shook his head. Just as they were about to cross the street and head into the Crashdown, Max spotted Michael a block or two away. “Hey, what’s Michael doing?” he asked, walking toward his friend.

Liz peered down the street, trying to figure out the exact same thing. “I have no idea.”

“Hey Michael,” Max said as he approached his friend. “What’s up?”

Michael glanced over at Max and Liz, then back to the store window that he had been looking through. “Nothing. Just trying to figure out what to buy Maria for Christmas.”

“You haven’t bought Maria a present yet?” Liz asked. “Christmas is a week away.”

“Hey, it isn’t as easy as it looks,” Michael said in frustration. “She said that this present has to be…significant.”

“Well I know that Isabel’s going shopping tomorrow,” Liz said. “Maybe you could go with her and she can give you some ideas.”

“No way!” Michael said, holding his hands up in the air. “I am NOT going shopping with the Christmas Nazi!”

“Oh come on,” Liz said with a sigh. “She can’t be THAT bad.”

Max and Michael shared a look before they both answered in unison: “Yes she is.”

Although this was the first Christmas that Max would share with his mother and sister (at least the first one he could remember), he could already tell that Isabel took everything to the extreme.

“Have you gotten Liz’s present yet?” Michael asked Max.

Max glanced down at Liz, who was now looking up at him expectantly. “Kind of,” he answered, looking back at Michael.

“What do you mean, ‘kind of’?” Liz asked in shock. “You better have my present.”

“I do, I do,” Max said quickly. “I just haven’t picked it up yet. I had to special order it, but they called me today and told me that it’s ready.”

“Special order, huh?” Liz asked with a smile.

“Excuse me,” Michael said, getting Max and Liz’s attention again. “Could we focus on the problem at hand? I need help!”

“Tell you what, Michael,” Max said, patting his friend on the shoulder. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning and take you shopping. I’m sure the two of us can figure something out.”

“Tomorrow,” Michael repeated. “Right.”

“Hey, we’re heading into the Crashdown to grab a bite to eat. Want to join us?” Liz asked, pointing over her shoulder at the café.

“Yeah sure,” Michael replied. “All this thinking has had me hungry.”

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

The next morning Max woke up early and drove over to Michael’s. As he raised his hand to knock on the front door, it suddenly swung open, revealing Michael.

“Let’s go,” Michael said as he brushed past Max who still had his hand raised to knock.

“Morning,” Max said with a smile as he followed Michael down to his car.

“Yeah,” Michael mumbled as he climbed into Max’s Mustang.

“You okay?” Max asked as he started up his car.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?” Michael asked.

“I don’t know,” Max said with a shrug. “You just seem…jumpy.”

“Jumpy?” Michael asked, suddenly alarmed. “As in…jumpy scared or jumpy excited?”

“Both,” Max said, his brow furrowing together as he looked at his friend.

“Both?” Michael asked, now a little upset. “How can I be both?”

Max shook his head slowly as he shrugged again. “You sure you want to go right now?”

“Oh course,” Michael answered. “Why wouldn’t I?”

Max decided to end the conversation right there. It was apparent that his friend was really stressing out about Maria’s present.

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

When Max got home later that afternoon, he threw himself on his bed. Shopping with Michael had turned out to be very exhausting. Some of the things he had wanted to buy Maria were completely off the wall. Max shook his head as he remembered Michael’s suggestion about stopping by the hardware store.

Max felt like going over to Liz’s, but remembered that she was working the late shift and wouldn’t be off until later that night. He decided that he would stop by the Crashdown about a half an hour before her shift ended to surprise her. They didn’t have plans, but since it was his father’s birthday, Max didn’t feel like being alone.

Max glanced over at the photo albums on the self underneath his nightstand and couldn’t help but flip through them. As he turned from one picture to the next, different emotions crossed over his face. He would smile at one and nearly cry at another. Once he reached the end, he closed the album, stood up and then walked over to his closet. He dug through some of his things until he found exactly what he was looking for…the homemade tapes.

He carried them downstairs to the living room, surprisingly thankful that nobody else was home at the time. He wanted to be alone for some reason, at least for a little while. He turned on the TV and VCR before he put in the first tape. He sat on the floor in front of the TV, placing the rest of the tapes next to him. He grabbed the remote and pushed play, smiling when an image of his dad came on the screen.

He watched the entire tape and when it was done, he put in another. He watched himself as a young boy, smiling and waiving at the camera that his dad was holding. In the video he was at the ballpark - it was the first time that his dad had ever taken him to a major league baseball game - and he let out a little laugh when he saw himself bouncing around in his seat, a hotdog in one hand, a baseball mitt on the other.

Max watched his entire life on tape - from grade school to high school and everything in-between. He was just finishing the last tape, the one that showed him signing his letter of intent to play at SDU, when he finally lost it. He had let a few solitary tears fall throughout the various tapes, but now he wasn’t even trying to hold them back. A sob escaped his throat when his dad gave the camera to someone else so he could get a picture with his son. Max realized that that was the last image taken of his dad before he died. The car accident had happened no more than an hour after that scene. As the picture faded out and was replaced by snow, Max let his head fall forward as the tears continued to fall.

That’s when he felt someone wrap their arms around him. He was surprised to say the least, but when he looked up, he saw Liz’s tearful eyes staring back at him.

She had convinced her dad to let her leave work early so she could surprise Max. She had approached his front door and was about to knock when she looked through the large window into the living room. There she saw Max sitting on the floor watching videos of him and his dad. She quietly walked into the house and stood by the entranceway to the living room, just out of Max’s sight.

She watched as Max would laugh, then cry, and sometimes he would just smile with tears in his eyes. She couldn’t help the tears that fell from her own eyes as she watched. She knew that today was his dads’ birthday, and that was the main reason why she wanted to be with him. She knew he would be upset and she wanted to comfort him.

She remained at a distance for several minutes, but as soon as she saw the last scene flicker across the screen and then Max completely break down in tears, she walked over, knelt down next to him and pulled him into a hug.

“How…how long have you been here?” Max asked.

Liz reached out and cupped Max’s cheek, wiping away his tears with her thumb. “Long enough,” she replied with a sad smile.

Max held on to Liz as he tried to calm himself down. When he felt that he was under control again, he pulled back and looked at the TV screen as a watery smile came to his face. “Happy birthday, dad,” he choked out. He quickly turned back to Liz and lifted her onto his lap before he buried his face in the crook of her neck.

Liz held Max, wishing there was something more she could do to make him feel better. “It’s okay,” she whispered. “I’m here.”

“I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am to see you,” Max mumbled into Liz’s neck. “I need you so much.”

“I’ll always be here for you,” Liz said soothingly as she ran her hand through Max’s hair. “This is where I belong…with you.”

Neither of them knew how it happened, but they soon found themselves lying on the floor, Max on his back and Liz on top of Max. They where both pretty tired, Liz physically from work and Max emotionally from watching the videos, so it didn’t take long for them to fall asleep.

A couple of hours went by before the front door opened and Isabel and Diane walked through. They both casually glanced into the living room as they passed by, both stopping mid-step when they saw Max lying on his back with Liz sprawled out on top of him.

As Diane walked in to wake them up, she noticed the box of tapes next to Max. She bent down and picked them up, realizing that they were tapes of Max’s childhood. She glanced down at her son and saw faint tear marks on his cheeks. She smiled at him lovingly before she put the tapes down, walked over to the couch, grabbed a blanket and then covered both Max and Liz with it.

Diane smiled at the two sleeping forms one more time before she shut off the TV and walked back over to Isabel.

“What’s going on?” Isabel whispered.

“Today’s your fathers’ birthday,” Diane said as she looked into the living room again. “Max was watching tapes of himself and your dad.”

Isabel nodded as she looked at her brother. Her dad had died a few months ago, but to Max the wound was still fresh. It was far from healed.

“Come on,” Diane said, wrapping her arm around Isabel’s back, leading her into the kitchen. “I’m sure your brother could use the rest.”

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

Liz was the first to wake up later that afternoon. She was surprised to find a blanket covering both her and Max, but when she heard voices coming from the kitchen, she assumed either Isabel or Diane put it there. She couldn’t help but smile as she glanced down at Max who was still asleep.

She took in every square inch of his face, loving the way he looked when he was asleep. He looked so peaceful, like he didn’t have a care in the world. Liz knew that was the exact opposite from the truth, but it was satisfying to her to see him at peace, even if it was only in his sleep.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Max asked, his eyes still closed.

A look of amusement passed over Liz’s face. “What makes you think I’m looking at you? I could be looking out the window for all you know.”

“But you’re not,” Max replied with a smile, his eyes still closed. “I know you’re looking at me because I get butterflies in my stomach every time you do.”

Liz smiled as she laid back out on top of Max, bringing her mouth no more than an inch away from his ear. “Do you have butterflies now?” she whispered, causing him to open his eyes as a shiver ran down his body.

“Always,” Max replied with a smile before he rolled over, pinning Liz underneath him.

“And just what do you think you’re doing?” Liz asked with a giggle.

“This,” Max said before he sucked Liz’s bottom lip into his mouth, causing her to moan softly. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him as close to her body as she could.

“Ahem.”

Both Max and Liz jerked apart when they heard someone clearing their throat. They both turned to find Isabel standing in the doorway, her arms folded across her chest, a smile on her face.

“Dinner’s ready,” Isabel said.

“I’d better be going then,” Liz said as she stood up.

Max stood with her, pulling her into a hug. “You’re not going anywhere.”

“But Max…” Liz began only to have her boyfriend cut her off.

“But nothing. You’re having dinner over here tonight,” Max said with determination. He then leaned in and placed a kiss in front of Liz’s ear before he whispered: “Please.”

Liz glanced over at Isabel, who gave her a reassuring smile.

“My mom wants you to stay for dinner,” Isabel said before she turned and walked back into the kitchen.

“It’s all settled then,” Max said with a smile.

“Just let me call my mom,” Liz said with a half smile before she reached over and grabbed the phone.

“I’m going to go see if they need any help in the kitchen,” Max said, leaving Liz alone to talk to her mom.

As Max walked into the kitchen, he found that everything was already done. The table was set and his mom was just bringing the last plate of food over from the counter.

Diane smiled at her son as he walked in. “You feeling better?” she asked gently as she reached out and rubbed his arm.

“Yeah, thanks,” Max replied.

“Where’s Liz?” Isabel asked as she sat down.

“Calling her mom,” Max replied as he pointed over his shoulder with his thumb.

“Here she is now,” Diane said with a smile when Liz walked in.

“Thanks for having me over for dinner, Mrs. Evans,” Liz said as she stood next to Max.

“My pleasure,” Diane said before she motioned for Liz and Max to sit down.

Max walked over to Liz’s chair and pulled it out for her, receiving a full-blown smile for his efforts. When Liz was all situated, he pulled out the chair next to her and sat down himself.

As the food was passed around the table, a light conversation started.

“So Liz,” Diane said as she passed the casserole. “I understand that you and Max are going to Stanford together.”

“Yeah…as long as I get accepted,” Liz said with a shy smile.

“Oh please,” Isabel said dramatically. “Don’t tell me that Ms. Valedictorian here is actually worried about getting accepted.”

“Not to blow my own horn or anything but the last time I checked I was in the lead for Valedictorian,” Max said.

“We’ll see about that,” Liz said with a playful glare.

“Do you have any plans for Christmas break?” Diane asked as she passed the mashed potatoes.

“Just hanging out around town,” Liz replied. “Nothing really special.”

The light conversation continued throughout dinner, and when everyone was done eating, Diane, Isabel and Max all started to clear the table. Liz tried to help but was told to go have a seat in the living room and relax for a little while. She reluctantly obeyed and as she sat on the couch, her eyes landed on the box of tapes that Max had been watching. She slid off the cushion and sat on the floor next to the box, realizing that there was also a photo album lying next to them.

As she opened it, a smile came to her face when she saw Max and Isabel as infants, both being held by their father. She glanced from picture to picture and noticed that after the fourth page or so, all the pictures were of Max and his dad alone. No Isabel or Diane.

“What did you get yourself into now,” Max said playfully as he sat behind Liz and pulled her back so she could rest against his chest.

Liz laid her head back against his shoulder as she felt his arms slide around her waist, then held up the photo album for him to see.

“Oh,” Max said with a nod. “I see you’re almost done. See anything exciting?”

“Well I don’t know about exciting, but I’ve definitely seen some interesting things,” Liz said as she flipped the page.

“Really,” Max said suspiciously. “Like what?”

“Oh…like this,” Liz said as she flipped back a few pages, showing Max the picture of himself as a toddler picking raspberries off a bush, his face stained red from eating them.

Max chuckled as he shook his head slightly. “I remember I got sick from eating too many raspberries that day. I haven’t been able to eat a single one since.”

Liz smiled as she flipped the page. As she and Max looked at the pictures, Max would give a little background on each of them, giving Liz an idea of what it was like for him growing up. They would both laugh at certain stories, completely oblivious to the fact that Diane had been standing in the doorway watching them the entire time. She smiled as she watched her son relive his childhood with Liz, the petite brunette who had eased his pain with a simple yet profound touch.

Diane backed away slowly and made her way into the kitchen where Isabel was sitting quietly at the dinner table, sipping tea.

“What’s the matter?” Diane asked as she sat across from her daughter.

Isabel glanced up at her mom briefly, then gazed at the tea bag she was currently moving around in her mug. “It’s Max.”

“What about him?” Diane asked softly.

“Its just that…” Isabel began before taking a deep breath. “I don’t want to sound jealous or anything, but sometimes I just wish he’d open up to me like he opens up to Liz.”

Diane smiled as she reached across the table and took her daughters hand in her own. “Give him time. I’m sure he’s not shutting you out on purpose.”

“He’s not shutting me out exactly,” Isabel said in frustration. “It just feels like whenever he has a problem he always runs to Liz. I just wish that he’d come to me every once in a while.”

“Have you gone to him with any of your problems?” Diane asked.

“Well…no,” Isabel said in confusion as she glanced up at her mom. “What does that have to do with it?”

“Maybe if you go to him with one of your problems instead of Alex, he’ll open up to you,” Diane suggested. “If Max knows that you want him to be there for you, I’m sure that he’ll let you in.”

“Maybe,” Isabel said as she glanced over her mom’s shoulder and out the window.

“I think the two of you need to spend more time together,” Diane said. “You’re both so busy with school, work and sports that you never get to see each other. Tell you what…after Christmas, why don’t the two of you take a little road trip to Albuquerque? Max needs to go cloths shopping and he’ll never go unless we force him to.”

“I’m always up for shopping,” Isabel said with a smile.

“Just remember,” Diane said as she stood up. “If you want your brother to open up to you, you should open up to him.”

Isabel smiled at her mothers retreating form. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to open up to Max, she just never gave it any thought. She always went to Alex with her problems, so going to anyone else was foreign to her. That’s when she realized that Max probably felt the same way. He probably went to their dad with his problems, but now that their dad was gone, Max found that taking his problems to Liz was easiest for him.

Isabel was happy that Max had someone to go to with his problems and she didn’t want it to look like she was trying to take him away from Liz. She just wanted to be an alternative in case her brother needed her.

Part 16

The following week Max found himself standing in front of the door to the Parker household. He smoothed down the front of his shirt before he took a deep breath and reached out to ring the doorbell.

“I’LL GET IT!”

He heard Liz yell out to her parents. He closed his eyes briefly, thankful that he wouldn’t be confronted by Mr. Parker without Liz being there. A few seconds later, Liz answered the door wearing a fleece turtleneck and a pair of kaki pants. Max looked her up and down, amazed that she could look so good in something so simply. When his eyes finally met hers, she flashed him a radiant smile.

“Hi,” Liz said as she reached out and took his hand, leading him inside.

“You look…” Max said, running his eyes over her body again. “Wow.”

Liz looked down at her outfit, then back up at Max with a confused expression. “I’m not wearing anything spectacular. It’s just a turtleneck and kakis.”

“I know,” Max said, a smile lighting up his face. “That’s what’s so amazing. You look incredible in everything you wear.”

Liz’s smile grew as she shyly looked down at the floor. “Thank you,” she said quietly as her eyes rose to meet his. “You don’t look too bad yourself.”

Now it was Max’s turn to look down at his attire. He was wearing a pair of kaki pants himself with a v-neck sweatshirt. “Are you sure? I didn’t want to over do it, but I didn’t want to under do it either.”

“You worry too much,” Liz said as she helped Max take off his jacket. “You look great.”

Before Max could respond, Mr. and Mrs. Parker walked out of the kitchen to greet him.

“Max!” Mr. Parker said with a smile as he walked over and shook hands with the teenage boy. “I’m so glad you could make it.”

“Thanks for having me over Mr. and Mrs. Parker,” Max said as he reached out and shook hands with Liz’s parents.

“This is Jeff and I’m Nancy,” Liz’s mom said with a smile. “Every time I hear someone call me Mrs. Parker I look around for Jeff’s mother.”

Max smiled even though he had heard that joke thousands of times before.

“Well…dinner’s almost ready so why don’t you two go relax in the living room while Jeff and I finish up,” Nancy said.

“Did you need any help?” Max asked, feeling bad for sitting down while Liz’s parents prepared the food he was about to eat.

“Thanks, but no,” Nancy said. “There’s not much left to do. Now go on!” she said, shooing both Max and Liz away with her hands.

“Thanks mom,” Liz said with a smile as she grabbed Max’s hand and led him into the living room. “You see…this isn’t so bad, is it?” she asked as she sat on the couch with Max.

“No,” Max agreed with a shy smile. “But I’ve never spent more than five minutes at a time with your parents before.”

“Relax,” Liz said, running her hand up and down Max’s thigh to try and get him to loosen up.

“I can’t relax if you keep doing that,” Max said, nodding toward Liz’s roaming hand.

“Oops,” Liz said, removing her hand from his thigh and wrapping it around his shoulders instead. “What are you doing after Christmas?” she asked as she started to play with the hair at the back of his neck.

“Um…Isabel and I are going shopping in Albuquerque one day…but other than that I don’t have anything going,” Max said, looking over at Liz. “Why?”

“Just curious,” Liz said casually.

“Uh huh,” Max said with a smile, knowing full well that Liz had something up her sleeve. “Why?” he asked again.

“Well…I was just wondering if you wanted to go camping or something,” Liz said, tilting her head to the side slightly.

“Camping huh?” Max asked. “It’s the middle of winter…but what the hell,” he said before he leaned in and placed a soft kiss on her lips.

“Good,” Liz said with a smile after they pulled back. “Would you mind if we invited the rest of the gang? I think it would be a lot of fun if we all went.”

“What…and it wouldn’t be fun if it was just you and me?” Max asked, pretending to be hurt by Liz’s last comment.

“No, no…that’s not what I’m saying,” Liz said quickly. “I just meant that…” She wasn’t able to finish her sentence before Max started to crack up in laughter. “Ha, ha…very funny,” she said, glaring at him.

“I try,” Max said as he reached over and cupped her cheek with his hand. “You know I love you.”

Liz couldn’t help but smile at him. “I know. I love you too.” She glanced toward the kitchen before she leaned over and rested her cheek on Max’s shoulder. “Max?”

“Yeah,” Max replied as he reached over and grabbled Liz’s free hand, giving it a massage.

“I need to tell you something,” Liz said, sitting up straight and turning in her seat so she was facing him fully. She brought her arm back from around Max’s shoulders and let it rest on her lap, but continued to let him massage her hand. “I think you should know that I never told my parents about what happened to your dad.”

Max stopped his movements as he looked up at Liz. “Why not?” he asked softly, a look of confusion passing across his face.

“I…I told them that your dad had an accident, but every time I tried to tell them that he…that he didn’t make it, I kept getting interrupted.” Liz glanced up at Max, hoping that he didn’t feel uncomfortable.

“Why does that bother you?” Max asked as he started to rub Liz’s hand again.

“It’s just that I know how uncomfortable this is for you…you know, being here and all…and I just don’t want you to feel even more uncomfortable if my parents bring it up,” Liz said softly.

Max gave Liz a half smile. “You worry too much,” he said, causing her to smile. “Practically everyone in town already knows about me and my dad. I’m sure your parents heard it from someone else.”

“Still…I just thought I should warn you,” Liz said, realizing for the first time just how soothing it felt to have Max rub her hand. “That feels really good,” she said with a smile as she closed her eyes.

Max smiled back even though Liz couldn’t see him. His attention was turned toward the kitchen when he heard Liz’s mom call out to them.

“DINNER”S READY!”

“I guess that’s our cue,” Max said, standing up from the couch before extending his hand to help Liz up.

Liz smiled as she intertwined her fingers with his, giving his hand a light squeeze as they walked into the dinning room.

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

“So…Max,” Jeff said as he cut into a piece of chicken. “How’s Roswell been treating you?”

“Really well actually,” Max said before taking a bite of his dinner roll.

“This must be quite a change from San Diego,” Nancy said.

“Yeah it is,” Max replied. “I’m still getting used to the fact that the entire town closes down at nine.”

Jeff smiled as he wiped his mouth with his napkin. “What about your dad? I’ve heard a few rumors around town that he didn’t move out here with you. I remember Liz mentioning one time that he had an accident?”

Liz dropped her fork on her plate, causing both of her parents to look over at her. The warning look she gave her father was strong enough to make him falter.

“Uh…well…maybe that was the wrong question,” Jeff said, looking at Liz with a confused expression.

Max watched the interaction between Liz and her dad and couldn’t help but smile. Apparently he wasn’t the only one who was affected by the stern looks that Liz gave. He reached under the table and slid his hand over Liz’s thigh, surprising her a little. When she looked at him, he smiled, showing her that he wasn’t uncomfortable about answering the question.

“It’s okay,” Max said quietly, one eyebrow slightly raised with the tiniest of smiles on his face. He then turned to Jeff and Nancy. “The truth is, I moved out here because my dad had a car accident. Well, to be more precise, I had the accident but my dad was in the car with me at the time. I was driving back from signing a letter of intent to play basketball at San Diego University next year when it happened.

“We were on the freeway, trying to decide where to eat to celebrate, when a semi jackknifed in front of us. I didn’t see it at first because it was dark at there was a car in front of me. I switched lanes to pass the car, but by the time I saw the semi it was too late. I tried to swerve out of the way, but the passengers side of our car slammed into it.”

Jeff and Nancy sat speechless as they listened to Max. Nancy was afraid to ask what had happened to his dad, but she didn’t have to because Max told them without prompting.

“They rushed my dad and I to the emergency room,” Max went on. “I had a cut above my left eye that needed to be stitched up, but that was it,” he said, pointing to the fresh scar near his eyebrow. “My dad’s injuries were much more severe. He…he died in the ER.”

Nancy covered her mouth with her hand to stop a gasp from escaping. Jeff looked like he was about to punch himself out for asking such a stupid question.

“God Max,” Jeff said, his shoulders slumping. “I’m so sorry. I should have known better.”

“No, it’s okay,” Max said, his eyes softening. The last thing he wanted was for Liz’s parents to feel bad for wanting to know a little about him. “I’m glad I got the chance to tell you.”

“Well…why didn’t you say anything Liz?” Nancy asked.

“I tried,” Liz said emphatically. “But every time I did, something would come up.”

“It’s okay…really,” Max said, smiling at everyone. “At least everyone knows.”

Silence overtook the table for several minutes before Jeff spoke to Max again.

“So…Liz mentioned that you’re thinking about going to Stanford next year.”

Max glanced over at Liz, a little confused. As far as he knew, the plans were set. He and Liz were both going to Stanford next year.

Liz looked like a deer that was caught staring into a pair of oncoming headlights. She had mentioned to her parents that she was looking at Stanford, and that Max was too, but she left out the part about them actually deciding to go there together. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to tell them, she just didn’t want it to look like she was basing her college decision on Max…which was actually the truth. She wanted it to look like she was weighing her options instead of jumping on the ‘I’ll Go Wherever Max Evans Goes’ bandwagon.

“Um…yeah…that’s right,” Liz said, answering for Max. “He’s also thinking about heading east and going to Duke.”

“Duke?” Jeff asked. “That’s a great school. I visited their campus one time. It’s really phenomenal.”

Max wasn’t paying attention to anything that Jeff was saying. His eyes were glued to the table as he tried to decide how he felt about Liz lying to her parents like she was. One part of him argued that she wasn’t actually lying to them, she was just withholding the truth. Then another part was asking if there was a difference between the two. Lying and withholding the truth was the same thing wasn’t it? And yet another part was asking if it even matter that she was lying. Kids lie to their parents all the time. Even he had lied to his dad before. In the end, he figured that Liz had a reason for keeping this from them so he decided to let it go until Liz could explain.

Max felt Liz slide her hand onto his leg, and when he turned to look at her, he saw just how badly she wanted him to understand that she had a reason for keeping their post-high school plans to herself. He could tell exactly what she was feeling by simply looking into her eyes. And right now she was afraid that he was upset with her.

Max smiled at Liz, trying his best to show her that he wasn’t mad. He reached under the table and grabbed her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. He watched Liz take a deep breath of relief before a smile came to her lips. He could literally see the tension and fear leave her body.

“Thank you,” she mouthed to him, causing his smile to widen.

Max stared into Liz’s eyes for a few more seconds before he turned to Jeff and tried his best to act like he had been paying attention.

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

Liz watched Max closely for the rest of the night. She wanted to get him alone so she could explain why she was keeping the college thing from her parents, but either her mom or dad would always be in the room talking to them. She was positive that Max wasn’t mad at her, but the paranoid side of her wanted to make sure.

Finally, around nine o’clock, Max called it a night. “Thank you for dinner,” he said as he stood up from the couch.

“Thanks for coming,” Jeff said as he shook Max’s hand.

“We should do this again sometime,” Nancy said as she too shook Max’s hand.

“I’m just going to walk him out to his car,” Liz said, thankful that she could finally get Max alone.

“Goodnight,” Max called over his shoulder as he and Liz made their way out the front door.

As soon as they were alone by his car, Liz tried to hurry out an explanation. “Max, listen, about my parents and the whole school thing…” She was cut off when Max placed his index finger over her lips.

“It’s okay, Liz,” Max said with a half smile. “I’m sure you have your reasons for keeping it from them. Just do me a favor…don’t keep it from them for too much longer, okay?”

Liz nodded as a smile broke out across her face. “It’s just that I don’t want them to think that you’re influencing my decision on where I go to college. They want me to pick the best school for me, and if I told them that we already planned on going to Stanford so we could stay together, I know they’ll think that you talked me into it. Does that make any sense?”

“Completely,” Max said, giving Liz a full-blown smile. “Trust me…I don’t want them blaming me for you not going to Harvard.”

“If I just wait a couple more months I think they’ll realize that I’m going to Stanford because I want to, not just because you’ll be there,” Liz said as she wrapped her arms around Max’s waist, placing her cheek against his chest.

“It’s kind of funny,” Max said, chuckling softly as he wrapped his arms around Liz. “Stanford is one of the best school’s in the nation, but the only reason I’m going there is to be with you.” He placed a kiss on the top of her head before he added: “And to get a degree in the process.”

Liz smiled as she nuzzled her cheek further into Max’s chest. They stayed like that for several minutes before Liz finally pulled back. “Get home safely,” she said, looking up into his eyes.

“I’ll call you when I get there,” Max said, leaning over and placing a kiss on her lips.

“I know you will,” Liz said against his lips before she pulled back. “God…I’d love nothing more than to kiss you all night, but I have a feeling that my parents are watching us right now.”

Max smiled as he gave Liz one last kiss. “I’ll talk to you soon.”

“Bye,” Liz said, watching as he climbed into his car and drove off. When she walked back into her house, her parents were standing in the hallway, trying to act casual. Liz rolled her eyes as she walked up to them. “I know you guys were watching us so you don’t have to pretend you weren’t.”

Jeff smiled at his daughter as a faint blush crept up his face.

“He’s a very nice young man,” Nancy said, trying to steer the conversation in a new direction. “Liz…your father and I are sorry about earlier…you know…when we asked about his dad…”

Liz shook her head as she raised her hand in the air. “Don’t worry about it. Max isn’t mad, so neither am I.”

“Next time you talk to him, could you apologize for us anyway?” Jeff asked. “I don’t want him to feel uncomfortable around us.”

“Sure dad,” Liz said with a smile before she headed up to her room. “I’ll see you guys in the morning.”

“Goodnight honey,” Jeff called after her.

As soon as Liz walked into her room, she shut the door and fell onto her bed, waiting for Max to call. About ten minutes later, that call came.

“Hey,” Liz said with a smile as she answered the phone.

“Hey yourself,” Max replied.

“Before I forget, my parents wanted me to apologize to you on their behalf,” Liz said. “They really feel bad about asking you what they did.”

“It’s not a big deal,” Max said. “I’m glad they finally know what happened.”

“That’s what I told them, but they still feel bad,” Liz said.

“Now I know where you get your self induced guilt trips from,” Max said, a smile in his voice.

“Yeah, no kidding,” Liz said as she rolled her eyes. “There’s one more gene I can thank my parents for.”

“Listen…my mom asked if you were stopping by on Christmas,” Max said.

“Of course,” Liz said. “I’m not going to go all day without seeing you.”

“Sounds good to me,” Max said. “Well, I’ve got to get going. Isabel wants to wake up bright and early tomorrow just to make sure that everything’s set for Christmas Eve, and guess who she enlisted for help?”

“Well, at least you get to maximize your day,” Liz said with a giggle.

“I’d rather sleep in ‘til noon, thank you,” Max said. “Oh well. Love you babe.”

“Love you too,” Liz said. “Call me tomorrow when Isabel’s done with you.”

“I will…if she’ll let me,” Max said. “Sleep tight.”

“You too,” Liz said before she hung up the phone. With Max in her life, this was going to be the best Christmas ever.

To Be Continued……

Part 17

Christmas morning was supposed to be relaxing at the Evans household. Isabel had been up since six o’clock, waiting for the others to get out of bed. Around seven, she finally decided to take matters into her own hands. Her mom was easy to wake up - having been through numerous Christmas’s before, Diane knew that Isabel could hardly contain herself when it came to opening presents.

Max, on the other hand, was quite difficult to get out of bed. Isabel tried shouting in his ear, but he simply grabbed his pillow and covered his head with it. She tried to push him out of bed, but he was too big to move. She started to jump on his bed, hoping that it would annoy him to the point where he would get up, but all he did was lie there motionless with his pillow still covering his head.

Finally, as a last resort, Isabel got her cell phone and dialed the phone number to Max’s line, knowing that what she was about to do would get him out of bed.

“Oh, hi Liz,” Isabel said into Max’s phone, smiling when her brother tossed his pillow aside and reached for the phone. Isabel jumped out of his grasp and continued to hold a fake conversation with Liz. “I’m sorry Liz, but Max just doesn’t want to get out of bed this morning. Did you want me to have him call you when he finally comes out of hibernation?”

“Iz!” Max groaned, still half asleep. “Give me the phone.”

Isabel smiled as she handed Max the phone.

“Liz?” Max asked.

“No, I’m sorry brother,” Isabel said into her cell phone.

Max finally opened his eyes and looked up at his sister, realizing that he had been fooled. “That was low,” he said as he clumsily hung up his telephone.

“You didn’t leave me any choice,” Isabel said. “Now lets go. Mom’s waiting.”

Max groaned as he rolled out of bed and pulled on a t-shirt. “There must have been a mistake at the hospital,” he mumbled to himself. “There’s no way we’re related.”

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

By mid-afternoon, Max was pacing back and forth in the living room, waiting for Liz to show up. He had her Christmas present all ready, but truth be told, he was a little nervous about giving it to her. Deep down he knew that she’d love it, but that didn’t stop the butterflies from fluttering.

After what seemed like years for Max, Liz finally pulled up in her parents’ car. Max took a deep breath as he walked over and stood in the doorframe of the living room, overlooking the entryway.

Liz opened the front door a few seconds later, smiling when she saw Max standing there, waiting for her. “Hey babe,” she said as she closed the door, then walked up to him, giving him a soft kiss on the lips. “Are you waiting for little ‘ol me?”

Max gave Liz a tight smile in return as he helped her take off her coat.

“You okay?” Liz asked, her eyebrows furrowing together in concern as she watched Max hang up her coat.

“Yeah…fine,” Max said, trying his best to act normal.

Liz narrowed her eyes at him as she crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Okay, spill it.”

“Spill what?” Max asked, now starting to panic. He knew that Liz would figure out sooner or later that he was nervous, but he thought it would take longer than five seconds.

“Max Evans,” Liz said, now placing her hands on her slender hips. “Don’t play stupid with me. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Look at you,” she said as she walked up and grabbed his hands, inspecting them. “Your face is flushed and your hands are sweating.”

“I’m just hot,” Max said with a shrug, trying to look innocent. He could tell that Liz wasn’t buying the whole ‘I’ve-got-nothing-to-hide’ approach, so he decided to confess. “Fine,” he said, wiping his damp hands on his jeans. “I’m…I’m a little nervous about giving you your Christmas present.”

Liz’s attitude changed immediately. “Aww,” she cooed as she reached up and ran her hand down Max’s cheek. “You shouldn’t be nervous. You know that I love everything you give me.”

Max’s gaze fell to the floor as he shifted from one foot to the other. “Yeah, but I’ve never given you something like this before.”

“Then why don’t you give it to me now?” Liz asked. “The sooner you give it to me, the sooner you’ll relax.”

Before Max could respond, Diane poked her head out from the kitchen. “LIZ!” she exclaimed as she walked into the entryway, wiping her hands on her apron. “I’m so glad you could make it.” She pulled the petite young woman into a quick hug, then smiled at her son.

“Hi Diane,” Liz said politely. She was still a little uncomfortable about calling Max’s mom by her first name, but the woman left her little choice. She could either call her ‘Diane’ or ‘mom’, and between the two, ‘Diane’ was definitely less awkward. “Thanks for having me over. I hope you don’t mind if I steal Max away for a little while later on. My parents want him to come over.”

“Of course not,” Diane said with a smile. “Actually, why don’t you invite them over? That way we can all get to know each other a little better.”

Liz looked up at Max to see if he was comfortable with that idea. He just shrugged in response, letting her know that it was up to her. “Okay,” she replied with a smile. “Just let me go call them.”

Max watched as his mom led Liz into the kitchen to use the phone. “Great,” he muttered to himself. “Now I’ll never get her alone.”

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

A half an hour later, Liz’s parents arrived. Diane answered the door while Max and Liz looked on from the living room.

“Jeff, Nancy!” Diane said as she gave each of them a hug in turn. “Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas to you too,” Jeff said with a smile as he took off his coat, then helped his wife take off hers.

“Oh…let me get those,” Diane said as she took the coats from Jeff, hanging them up on the coat rack near the front door.

“Thanks,” Nancy said as she turned and looked into the living room. “Max,” she said with a smile, pulling her husband over to where the young man stood with her daughter. “Merry Christmas,” she said, pulling him into a brief hug.

“Merry Christmas,” Max replied, shaking hands with Mr. Parker.

“Isabel!” Diane called. “Would you come in here for a minute.” A few seconds later, Isabel bounced into the room. “You know Liz’s parents, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” Isabel said with a smile as she walked up and shook hands with them. “This is perfect. Alex is on his way over right now and he’s bringing his parents with him. Looks like we’ll have a full house this year,” she said excitedly.

Max had to keep from rolling his eyes in frustration. All he wanted to do was get Liz alone so he could give her his Christmas present and finally settle his rattled nerves that had been affecting him all day. With Alex and his parents coming over, that meant that the chances of he and Liz disappearing for a while were slim to none. His mom would expect him to be the perfect host, which meant that he would always have to be around. He couldn’t take it anymore. He had to give Liz her present before he had a breakdown.

Max reached over and grabbed Liz’s hand, smiling sweetly at the others in the room. “I hope you guys don’t mind, but I need to give Liz her present before the Whitman’s arrive.” He didn’t wait for anyone to respond; he just marched out of the room, towing a surprised Liz behind him.

“Max,” Liz said with a giggle as she followed him up to his room. “I’ve never seen you like this before.”

“Well…that’s because I’ve never done this before,” Max said.

“Done what?” Liz asked. “You’ve never given anyone a Christmas present before?”

“Not a present like this,” Max mumbled as he pulled Liz into his room and shut the door.

“Max,” Liz said, now getting concerned. She walked up and grabbed both of his hands, noticing that they were shaking uncontrollably. “Why are you so nervous? You’re starting to worry me.”

Max took a couple of deep breaths as he closed his eyes, trying to compose himself just long enough to get through the next few minutes. “Liz,” he said, opening his eyes. He grabbed her hand and led her over to his bed where they both sat down. “Since I moved here, you’ve healed a part of me that I thought was unhealable. There will always be a place left empty in my heart, a void that was created when my father died, but you helped heal me. Your smile, your touch, the way your eyes look into mine, your love – everything about you helped me in a way that I can never fully explain. You’re the reason my heart started to beat again.”

Max reached into his pocket and pulled out a thin pink ribbon. “At first, I dreaded coming here to Roswell. But as soon as I met you, I felt like I was…home. The very first time I laid eyes on you, I just knew that you were the one.” He gently grabbed Liz’s left hand, holding it delicately in his shaking palm. He laid her hand down on his thigh, then began to tie one end of the pink ribbon around her ring finger.

Liz’s eyes widened when she realized that he chose that particular finger for a reason. She let out a gasp, covering her mouth with her free hand when she saw Max pull out a tiny velvet box from his pocket. By this time, her hands had started to shake worse than Max’s were. It wasn’t just her hands though; it was her entire body.

“I love you Liz,” Max continued as he opened up the velvet box and removed an engagement ring. He looked up into Liz’s tear filled eyes as he set the box down on the bed. “I always have, I always will.” He brought the ring up to the other end of the string, holding it there as he continued to stare into Liz’s eyes. “I know we’re still young, and that we won’t be able to get married for at least another year or so, but that doesn’t change the way I feel about what I’m about to ask you. I’ll wait an eternity for you if that’s what it takes, but you’d make me the happiest man alive if you’d wear my ring.” He took a deep breath before he finished his speech. “Liz Parker…will you marry me?”

Liz could feel her entire body shaking – from the hair on her head to the tips of her toes. Her eyes were glued to Max’s as tears flowed freely down her cheeks. She started to fan her face with her free hand, not doing it because she wanted to, but because she was on such an emotional high that she couldn’t control her own body. She let out a sob as a watery smile broke out across her face. “God I love you,” she said, throwing both arms around his neck.

Max had to act fast in order to save the ring from flying across the room. When Liz threw her arms around his neck, the ring had almost slipped out of his hands. They held each other for several minutes while their bodies calmed down.

When they finally pulled apart again, Liz looked up into Max’s eyes and let out a giggle.

“So…you’re answer is ‘yes’?” Max asked with a half smile.

Liz nodded as she wiped at her eyes. “Hell yes.”

Max’s smile grew as he picked up the ribbon, threaded it through the ring, then let the diamond gently slide down to Liz’s finger. He pushed it in place before he untied the ribbon and threw it on the bed next to the box.

Liz raised her hand to look at the ring, a smile plastered across her face as she continued to sniffle. “Thank you so much,” she said, her gaze finally leaving the ring for Max’s face.

“No…thank you,” Max said as he reached out and wiped her tears away with his thumb.

Liz looked back at the ring, a frown suddenly forming on her lips.

“What’s wrong?” Max asked, alarmed.

“My parents,” Liz said, her tortured gaze locking with Max’s. “I…I don’t think they’ll understand…”

Before she could finish, Max reached into his pocket and produced a thin gold chain necklace. “When I bought the ring, I did so knowing you wouldn’t be able to wear it around your finger until we graduate. So I bought a chain for you to put it on until then.”

Liz smiled as Max slid the ring off her finger and put it on the necklace instead. He then stood up and walked behind her, putting the necklace on.

“You just thought of everything, didn’t you?” Liz asked, still smiling. “Mr. Perfect…as always.”

“I try,” Max replied as he fastened the necklace in place.

“I’ll never take it off,” Liz said as she twirled the necklace around her fingers. “Now come here,” she said, lying down on the bed, pulling Max on top of her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and gently began to kiss him.

They continued to kiss for a half an hour, only breaking apart when they heard Isabel’s voice calling to them from the other side of the bedroom door.

“Just give us a second, Iz,” Max called back. He pulled himself into a sitting position, then helped Liz do the same. “Oops,” he said. “I guess we kind of got carried away.”

“Yeah,” Liz agreed with a giggle. “You know, this isn’t fair at all,” she said, looking over at Max.

“What’s not fair?” Max asked, confused.

“How am I supposed to top this?” Liz asked, holding the ring up.

Max smiled as he gently wrapped his hand behind Liz’s neck. “You already have, Liz. By agreeing to be my wife, you’ve given me the best present I could ever ask for.”

To Be Continued…

posted on 12-Oct-2001 2:16:12 PM
Part 18

As Max and Liz walked back down the stairs, hand in hand, they noticed that Alex and his parents had arrived.

“There you guys are,” Alex said as he walked over and gave Liz a hug, then shook hands with Max. “Merry Christmas you two.”

“Merry Christmas,” Liz replied with a smile.

“So what did Max give you honey?” Jeff asked from his seat next to Mr. Whitman on the couch.

“Uh…well…” Liz stumbled, looking up at Max for help.

“I got her some jewelry,” Max said quickly. He wasn’t actually lying to her parents; he did buy her some jewelry. He just decided to leave out the part about it being an engagement ring.

“Oh?” Nancy asked with raised eyebrows. “Can I see?”

Liz gave Max a nervous look before she walked over and stood in front of her mom. She pointed to the gold necklace that hid the engagement ring under her sweater. “It’s a necklace.”

Nancy leaned forward, reaching out to touch the necklace. “It’s very pretty,” she said, lifting the side of the gold chain with one finger.

Liz could feel the engagement ring sliding further and further up until it finally reached the top of her sweater.

“Didn’t you get her something else, Max?” Diane asked as she turned to her son.

Nancy turned her attention from the necklace to Max, bringing her hand away from Liz.

Liz took a deep breath as she closed her eyes, thankful that the ring hadn’t come into view. Then she turned to Max in a panic, wondering if his mom knew about their engagement.

“Yeah, I did,” Max said, reaching into his back pocket. “I’m also going to take her to a Gomez concert in Santa Fe later next month.”

Liz just stared at Max in shock, wondering how many other presents he had gotten her. “You are?”

“Yeah,” Max said with a smile, flashing the tickets in front of him for Liz to see.

Liz shook her head, a smile forming on her lips. She walked over and wrapped her arms around Max’s waist, resting her cheek against his chest. “You’re too much, you know that?”

Max just continued to smile as he wrapped an arm around Liz’s shoulders.

“Have you given Max your present yet?” Jeff asked his daughter.

Liz pulled back, suddenly getting very excited. “No, but I’m going to right now.” She ran over to her coat and grabbed a box from the pocket. She walked up to Max with a smile and handed him the present. “Merry Christmas.”

Max looked at the package in his hands, then at Liz. A tiny smile came to his lips as he began to unwrap his gift. His eyebrows furrowed together as he tried to figure out what was in the plain silver box that rested in his hands. He took the lid off to reveal what was inside, his eyes darting up and locking on Liz as soon as he realized what she had gotten him. “How…what…when…how did you know?”

“When you first moved here, I remember you said that you wanted one,” Liz said with a smile, holding her hands behind her back. “So I got you one.”

“What is it Max?” Alex asked, just as curious as everyone else in the room.

Max took the watch out of the box and showed it to everyone. “It’s a watch. A really, really expensive watch,” he added, looking right at Liz.

“Don’t you dare try to tell me that price is an issue here,” Liz said, deliberately fingering her necklace as casually as she could to emphasize her point.

Max couldn’t help but smile. He looked down at the watch, then back up at Liz. “Thank you,” he said, pulling her into a hug.

“There’s something written on the inside of the watch,” Liz whispered into Max’s ear. She didn’t want everyone in the room to know what she had inscribed; only Max.

Max pulled back and turned the watch over, reading what Liz had put there: ‘Max + Liz Forever’. He smiled again as he looked at Liz. “You better believe it.”

“Believe what?” Alex asked, completely oblivious, just like everyone else, as to what was going on.

“Inside joke,” Max said, never taking his eyes off Liz.

As all the others starting talking amongst themselves, Max mouthed the words ‘Love You’ to Liz, who in turn mouthed them back. He pulled her into his side as he turned to look at everyone who was gathered around his living room. This was definitely one of the best Christmas’s ever.

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

Later that night, Michael, Maria, Kyle and Tess all decided to join the party, bringing the total number of bodies to 13. Everyone sat around the kitchen table and talked about whatever came to mind. There were about five different conversations going on, filling the room with noisy chatter.

“Maxwell, Alex,” Michael called out. He was sitting at the kitchen counter along with Maria, Kyle and Tess. “Get over here. Kyle and I are going to play some poker and we need more people.”

“Poker?” Jeff asked, tuning out the conversation he was currently involved in. “If you need more bodies you can deal me in.”

“The more the merrier,” Kyle said, shuffling the cards.

“Why don’t you guys sit at the table,” Diane said, standing from her chair. “The rest of us can go into the living room to talk.”

“Works for me,” Michael said, quickly changing seats.

“So who’s playing and whose talking?” Alex said, sitting next to Michael.

“Deal me in,” Max said before he turned to Liz. “Did you want to play?”

“Not in the least,” Liz said with a shake of her head. “But I’ll watch.”

After a little rustling around the card players all sat at the table. There was Max, Michael, Maria, Alex, Isabel, Kyle, Mr. Whitman and Jeff Parker. Tess and Liz both stayed, but decided to watch instead of play. The only ones to leave the room were Diane, Mrs. Whitman and Nancy.

Since there were so many people playing cards, they had a hard time finding enough chairs for everyone. They gathered as many as they could but still came up one short.

“That’s alright,” Liz said. “I already have a seat,” she said, planting herself on Max’s lap.

Max tentatively looked across the table at Jeff, afraid of how he would react to his daughter sitting on her boyfriends lap.

Jeff raised an eyebrow at the two of them, giving Liz a stern look.

“What?” Liz asked, catching her dad’s look. “There aren’t any chairs left and I think I’m a little to old to sit on my daddy’s lap. Besides, I wouldn’t want to hurt you in your old age,” she joked with a smile.

Jeff playfully glared at his daughter before he looked at Max. “If you feel the sudden urge to bounce her off your lap and onto the floor, you have my blessing.”

Max couldn’t help but laugh, especially when he heard Liz gasp in shock. He watched as she reached over, grabbed a potato chip and threw it at her dad.

Jeff laughed as he dodged the flying chip, enjoying the way that he and his daughter were joking around.

“Alright,” Michael said from the head of the table. “Since us youngin’s don’t have a great deal of money, I though we could bet using M&M’s. We all get the same amount to start out with, but if you should eat them rather that bet with them, you’re SOL.”

The game began with very little talking. Everyone was concentrating on their cards, so they all looked up when they heard Liz speak.

“All those Aces and Queens are good, right?” Liz asked Max in a whispered voice.

Max looked up to find that, even though Liz had whispered, everyone had heard her.

“I fold,” Alex and Michael said in unison, throwing their cards down on the table.

Max smiled weakly as his eyes shifted up to Liz. He raised his eyebrows, giving her a ‘please-don’t-do-that-again’ look.

“What?” Liz asked defensively. “I was just asking a question.”

“I’m not buying it,” Jeff said as he narrowed his eyes at his daughter. “You know how to play poker, Liz. You’re just trying to get us all to fold so Max will win.”

“I’m not taking the chance,” Isabel said, throwing her cards down on the table. “I know my brother too well.”

After all the others folded one by one, it was finally down to Max and Jeff.

“I call,” Jeff said, laying his cards on the table. “Full house, Tens over Fives.”

Max looked down at Jeff’s cards for a second before showing his own hand. “Full house, Queens over Aces.”

Jeff looked back and forth between Max’s face and his cards. He was completely shocked.

Max just shrugged as he slid all of the M&M’s in the middle of the table over to his pile.

“New rule!” Jeff announced. “No talking!”

“No talking?” Maria asked in disbelief. “How about no talking about cards? There is no way I can sit here without talking about something.”

***********

About forty minutes later, Max walked out of the kitchen victorious. All his friends had dropped out one by one, the last to go being Mr. Whitman. It only took two hands to wipe Alex’s dad out.

“Who won?” Nancy asked from her seat on the couch. She was sitting next to Diane, while Mrs. Whitman sat in the armchair next to them.

“Max did,” Liz said with a smile.

“No thanks to you,” Max joked.

Liz gasped as she looked up at Max. “What do you mean by that?”

“You kept eating my money,” Max said with a half smile. “I hardly had any M&M’s left to play with at the end.”

“I…I got hungry,” Liz said with a guilty face. “Besides, you ate some too.”

“True,” Max said with a shrug.

“Well, I think it’s time we headed out,” Nancy said after looking at her watch. “Thanks for dinner, Diane,” she said as she walked over to her husband.

“Thanks for coming,” Diane said as she stood up, walking her guests to the front door.

“We’ll see you at home in a few minutes,” Nancy said to Liz as she walked by.

“Okay,” Liz said, waving as her parents walked out of the house.

It didn’t take long before the Whitman’s followed suit, filing out after Alex gave Isabel a goodbye kiss.

“Walk me to my car?” Liz asked as she looked up at Max.

“Of course,” Max said with a smile, holding out Liz’s coat to help her put it on.

Once they were outside, Liz snuggled as close to Max as she could while they walked to her car. “What time can I see you tomorrow?”

“I think Isabel wants to head to Albuquerque pretty early, so I probably won’t be able to see you until tomorrow night,” Max said. Liz pouted as she stood by her car, causing Max to groan. “Come on…don’t do that. Please?” he begged.

Liz’s pout slowly turned into a smile as she leaned up and placed a kiss on his lips. “That’s okay. I told my dad that I’d help him reorganize the back of the restaurant tomorrow anyway.”

“I’ll call you as soon as I get back,” Max said, running the back of his hand down Liz’s cheek.

“I know you will,” Liz said. “Call me tomorrow morning before you leave, okay?”

“Sure,” Max replied with a smile.

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

Later that night, Liz had just finished getting ready for bed when her phone rang. Figuring it was either Max or Maria, she snatched the cordless off her nightstand and answered in a cheerful voice. “Hello?”

“Liz?”

“Isabel?” Liz asked, a little confused as to why Isabel would be calling her so late.

“Yeah,” Isabel replied frantically. “Listen, is Max there with you?”

“Uh…no,” Liz replied, now adding concern to her confusion. “Why would he be?”

“I don’t know,” Isabel replied. “He got a phone call right after you left, then he just took off without saying anything.”

“Who called him?” Liz asked.

“I have no idea,” Isabel said, defeated.

Liz could tell that Isabel was on the verge of tears. “Well…why do you think it’s something bad?”

“The look on his face,” Isabel said. “The look in his eyes when he hung up the phone…he looked so confused and troubled.”

“And he didn’t say anything before he left?” Liz asked as she started to change her cloths. There was no way she’d be able to sleep until she knew where Max was.

“No,” Isabel said dramatically. “He mumbled something to himself, but the only words I caught were…‘Not Again’.”

To Be Continued…

Part 19

“I think we should check the airport first,” Isabel said as she and Liz drove down Main Street in Roswell.

“Why don’t we look around town first,” Liz suggested. “I really doubt that Max would jump on a plane and take off without telling anyone.”

“You’re right,” Isabel said as she took a deep breath. “Lets check the places that are still open in town.”

“It shouldn’t take too long,” Liz said. “Most of the stores are closed since its Christmas. We should call your mom to see if he’s checked in yet.”

“Yeah,” Isabel agreed as she turned onto a different street. “My cell phone is in my purse.”

Liz pulled out the phone and quickly dialed Isabel’s number. A few seconds later, Diane answered. “Hi Diane, it’s Liz. Has Max checked in yet?”

“No,” Diane said. “I take it you haven’t had any luck finding him.”

“None,” Liz said with a sigh. “We’re going to look around town a bit before we head out to the airport.”

“Okay,” Diane said. “Be careful.”

Liz hung up the phone and stared out the window. “Where are you Max?” she whispered to herself.

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

A half an hour later, Liz and Isabel found themselves on their way to the airport. They had searched all over town but had found no sign of Max. Isabel parked the car in the short term parking zone, then hurried inside the airport with Liz.

“Let’s check the ticket counters first,” Liz said.

The two of them hurried through the lower level of the airport and were just about to head up to the gates when Liz found what they were looking for.

“MAX!” she yelled as she hurried over to him. He was standing at the ticket counter of a major airline, talking with the agent behind the computer.

“Liz?” Max asked, more than a little surprised to see her there. When he spotted his sister right behind her, his confusion grew. “Isabel? What are you guys doing here?”

“I was just about to ask you the same question,” Isabel said, folding her arms in front of her chest. “What, did you think that you could just hop on a plane and take off without telling anyone?”

“Well…no,” Max said, perplexed. Before he could say anything else, Isabel spoke up.

“You get a disturbing phone call, then you bolt out of the house without saying anything, then you rush over here to the airport and jump on the first available plane? Let me tell you something buster, there’s no way you’re getting on that plane!”

“I know I’m not,” Max said, looking at Liz for an explanation to his sisters’ actions.

“Okay, okay,” Liz said, tucking her hair behind her ears. “Max, if you’re not here to catch a plane, then what are you doing here?”

“Alright, let me start from the beginning,” Max said, pulling both Liz and Isabel off to the side. “The person who called me back at the house is a friend of mine from San Diego. He…he has a dad who beats him when he’s drunk, and apparently he had been drinking tonight. My friend called me from the airport down in San Diego, asking if I could get him a plane ticket so he could fly up to Oregon to be with his mom.”

“So you’re here to pay for his plane ticket,” Liz said, nodding in understanding.

“Exactly,” Max said before he turned to his sister. “I told you and mom that I’d be back in a little while. Didn’t you hear me?”

“The only thing I heard was: mumble, mumble, mumble, not again, mumble, mumble, mumble,” Isabel said, cooling down a bit.

“I take it this isn’t the first time you’ve helped your friend out,” Liz said as the three of them walked back over to the ticket counter.

Max shook his head. “Hence the ‘Not Again’ remark.”

“I better call mom,” Isabel said, pulling out her cell phone. After holding a brief conversation with her mother, she hung up and spoke to Max. “So you’ll be home in a little while?”

“As soon as I get my friend squared away,” Max said as he handed the ticket agent some money.

“Okay,” Isabel said as she took a deep breath. “I’m going to head home and try to calm mom down before you get there. She’s kind of pissed.”

Max winced as he scratched the side of his head. “On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t go home tonight.”

“Yeah, that would go over really well,” Isabel said with a roll of her eyes. “Liz, did you want me to give you a ride, or did you want to get one from Max.”

“I’ll go with Max,” Liz said, smiling at Isabel.

“Of course,” Isabel said as she turned to leave. “Why’d I even ask?”

Once Isabel was gone, Liz turned to Max and slapped him on the arm. “You scared the crap out of me,” she said through gritted teeth.

“Sorry,” Max said with a smile. “I thought Isabel heard me when I said I’d be right back. I never thought she’d call you.”

After confirming everything with the ticket agent, Max and Liz soon found themselves on their way home.

“Listen, Liz,” Max said as he turned down the radio. “I wanted to talk to you about something.”

“Yeah, go ahead,” Liz said, giving Max her full attention.

“It’s about us and your parents,” Max said, glancing over at his fiancé. “I know you said that they wouldn’t understand about our engagement, and I agree. I don’t think either of our parents would handle the news very well. But I also don’t think it’s the greatest idea to hide it from them. I mean, your parents don’t even know we’re going to the same college yet.”

“You want me to tell my parents, don’t you?” Liz asked.

“Not if you don’t want to,” Max said. “I mean, my mom doesn’t know that I proposed to you so it wouldn’t be fair of me to ask you to tell your parents. Hell, Isabel doesn’t even know yet. But I do think that you should at least tell them about school.”

“I don’t know,” Liz said. “I still think it’s a little too early.”

“I’m not going to pressure you to do anything,” Max said, reaching over and grabbing one of Liz’s hands. “But the longer you wait, the harder it will be. I think it would be a lot easier for them to handle the wedding news if they already knew that we’re going to stay together.”

“Does your mom know that we’re going to Stanford together?” Liz asked, hoping the answer would be ‘no’.

“Yeah, she does,” Max said. “Actually, she was the one who told me to talk to you about it. She’s known since the beginning. Look, you said that you didn’t want your parents thinking that I had any influence on your decision, but they’d have to be a special kind of stupid not to have figured it out. I wouldn’t be surprised if they already knew.”

Liz looked out the window as she played with her gold necklace. Deep down she knew that everything Max was saying was true, but the fact of the matter was that she was terrified about telling her parents.

“I can be there with you if you want me to,” Max said, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. “I know this isn’t one of your favorite things to do, but the sooner you get it done, the less you have to worry about it.”

Liz just nodded as Max pulled up to her house. “I’ll talk to them tomorrow. I promise,” she said, turning to face him.

“Did you want me to come over?” Max asked. Truth be told, he had no desire to be around when Jeff and Nancy heard the news, but he’d do it for Liz.

Liz smiled as she ran her hand down Max’s cheek. “No. I think this would go over a lot easier if I did it alone.”

Max returned her smile before he leaned over and gave her a kiss. “I’m here for you; remember that.”

“I know,” Liz said. “Love you.”

“Love you,” Max said before he leaned in for another kiss. “I’ll call you tomorrow morning.”

“You better,” Liz said, giving him a stern look. “And no more running off in the middle of the night without telling me.”

“Yes ma’am,” Max said, giving Liz his patented half smile. “Goodnight, Liz.”

“Goodnight, Max.”

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

The next morning Max woke up with a groan, having gotten very little sleep the night before. When he got home, his mom had been waiting up for him. She sat him down and gave him a lecture about how he was going to put her in an early grave if he ran off like that again. But after he explained about his friend, she seemed to loosen up.

“Let’s go Max,” Isabel said as she threw his door open on her way to the bathroom. Needless to say, she was still a little upset with him.

An hour later, Max finally took a shower and got himself ready. After giving Liz a call, he and Isabel headed out for Albuquerque. He tried several times to start up a conversation with his sister, but every time he did, she wouldn’t respond. It took a half an hour of apologizing and the promise to buy her anything she wanted before he was finally forgiven.

Once they got to the mall in Albuquerque, the shopping spree began. Normally Max didn’t like to shop, but for some reason, being with his sister changed that. They were having a genuinely good time together. They took a break for lunch at the food court and Max couldn’t help but think of Liz. She was probably talking to her parents at that very moment, yet here he was, hours away.

“Missing Liz already?” Isabel asked before taking a bite of her salad.

Max shook his head to clear his thoughts before he turned to his sister. “Well…she’s telling her parents today that we’re going to college together.”

“ Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is,” Isabel said, wiping her mouth with her napkin. “I mean, it’s not like she’s giving up Harvard to go to the Western Albuquerque Technical Institute of Sheetrock Repair. She’s going to Stanford, one of the best school’s out there.”

“That’s what Michael said,” Max replied with a smile. “Except I think he substituted the Western Albuquerque Technical Institute of Sheetrock Repair for the Roswell Engineering School Of Binary Disposal.”

Isabel giggled, noticing that Max was just trying to make light of the situation. She could tell from the look in his eyes that he was really worried. “Do you want to call her?”

“More that anything,” Max replied without hesitation. “But I’m not going to. I’ll just call her when we get back.”

“You sure?” Isabel asked.

“There’s something I need to tell you,” Max said, abruptly changing the subject. When Isabel remained silent, he pushed on. “For Christmas, I…I got Liz a special present that we didn’t tell anyone about.”

“Oh…do tell,” Isabel said, her excitement peaking.

“Well I…I… kind of…proposed to her,” Max said quietly, his gaze fixed on the table in front of him.

“You did what!?” Isabel asked in a hushed voice, leaning forward in her seat.

“I asked Liz to marry me,” Max repeated, finally looking up at his sister.

“OH…MY…GOD!” Isabel said as she sat back in her seat, a look of disbelief on her face. Just as Max started to stress out about her reaction, a full-blown smile suddenly erupted across her face. “And of course she said ‘yes’, right?” she asked.

“Well…yeah,” Max said.

“OH…MY…GOD!” Isabel said again, this time excitedly. “When’s the wedding?”

“We don’t know yet,” Max said, relieved that his sister seemed to be just as excited about the upcoming event as he was. “We still need to tell our parents.”

Isabel grimaced at that revelation. She knew that her mom would initially freak out, but it would be nothing compared to how Liz’s parents would react. She could just picture Liz’s dad chasing Max around the Crashdown with a meat cleaver. “When are you going to tell them?”

“I’m not sure,” Max said with a shrug. “I left it up to Liz, so probably not for a couple of months.”

“Well, just make sure that there aren’t any sharp objects lying around when the two of you tell Liz’s parents,” Isabel joked. “Her dad might overreact just a tad.”

To Be Continued…

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

Part 20

Liz had been stressing out all morning about the unavoidable conversation she was bound to have with her parents. When Max called, he gave her the comfort she needed, but now she wished that she’d taken him up on his offer to be there with her when she told her mom and dad about school. She was currently in the back room with her dad, helping him organize the files for the restaurant.

“Dad, can I talk to you for a minute?” Liz asked.

“Sure honey, go ahead,” Jeff said as he continued to sort through some folders.

“It’s about college,” Liz said, glad that her dad had something to do to distract him for the time being.

“What about it?” Jeff asked, quickly glancing at Liz before returning his attention to the files.

“I’ve decided what college I’m going to,” Liz said, looking down at the manila folders in her hands.

“Well that’s great honey,” Jeff said excitedly, dropping everything to give his daughter his undivided attention. “So what did you decide on? Harvard? Yale?…”

“Stanford,” Liz said, cutting him off.

Jeff looked confused for a second. “But I thought you wanted to go to an Ivy League school. I though that Harvard was your first choice.”

“It was, at least for a while,” Liz said, reluctantly looking up at her dad. “But I decided that I’d rather go to a school that was a little closer to home. Besides, Stanford’s a really good college. It’s not like I’m going to the Public Institute Of Pesticide Management to major in Flee Control.”

“You’re right,” Jeff said with a chuckle. “Stanford is a really good school, so if that’s what you want, I’m happy for you.”

“There’s something else I need to tell you,” Liz said in a rush, knowing that if she waited any longer she would lose her nerve. “Max is going there too.”

“Oh, I see,” Jeff said, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “But I’m sure you’re going to tell me that he had no bearing on your decision, right?”

“No, I’m not,” Liz said, looking directly into her dad’s eyes. “He did have something to do with my decision, but before you go and blame him for changing my mind about Harvard, I think you should know that he’s willing to go to whatever school I want to. If I told him that I want to go to Harvard, he’d go to Harvard with me. If I wanted to go to Yale, he’d follow me. We both decided that the best course of action to take was to list all the school’s we were thinking about attending, then eliminate them one by one. When it was all said and done, Stanford was the only name left on the list.”

“Liz,” Jeff said, taking the folders out of her hands before leading her over to his desk so they could sit down. “Ever since you were a little girl, you always wanted to go to Harvard. I remember you told me just last year that it was your dream school. Now don’t get me wrong, I think the world of Max, but I wouldn’t be much of a father if I didn’t say that I’m worried you’re giving up on your dreams because of him.”

“That’s just it, dad,” Liz said, absentmindedly playing with her necklace. “When I met Max, my dreams changed. I’m not going to hide the fact that I love him, because I really do. I know that you and mom both think that what we have is just ‘puppy love’, but you’re wrong. I can’t describe the feelings I have for Max. I just have this sense of peace all the time; that when it comes to Max, I’ve never been more sure about anything in my life. Max and I complete each other.”

Jeff knew that arguing with his daughter would get him nowhere, but he truly felt that Liz wasn’t thinking things through. The last thing he wanted was for her to go off to Stanford with Max, have the two of them break up, then have her say that she wished she would have gone to Harvard in the first place. “I just can’t help but feel that the main reason why you’re going to Stanford is because of Max. That’s the wrong reason to go there, Liz.”

“Dad, I just told you that Max was willing to go anywhere I wanted to,” Liz said, frustrated. “I’m not tagging along here. We BOTH decided on Stanford.”

Before Jeff could respond, Nancy’s voice called down from the stairs. “Liz…telephone.”

Liz looked at her dad, hoping that he would understand her position.

“Go on,” Jeff said with a sigh. “We can finish talking about this later when your mom’s not busy.”

Liz gave her dad a tight smile before she ran up the stairs and into her bedroom. That conversation didn’t go as well as she had hoped, yet it didn’t go as bad as she had feared either. She decided to forget about it for the time being, knowing that if she didn’t, she would only drive herself crazy. She picked up her phone as she tucked her hair behind her ear, expecting it to be Max on the other end of the line. “Hello?”

“Hey Liz. How’s it going?”

“Michael?” Liz asked in confusion.

“Yeah, why do you sound so surprised?” Michael asked.

“Oh…I…I’m not,” Liz lied. “When my mom told me that I had a phone call, I just expected it to be from Max.”

“Sorry to disappoint you,” Michael said with a chuckle. “Speaking of Max, do you know where he and Iz are?”

“Yeah, they’re both in Albuquerque,” Liz said. “But they should be back in a couple of hours. Why do you ask?”

“Well, my parents are out of town and Maria somehow convinced me to have a party tonight, so I wanted to make sure that everyone could come over,” Michael said.

“A party?” Liz asked. “Yeah, that…that sounds great. I’ll let Max know as soon as he calls me.”

“It starts around six, babe,” Maria yelled in the background, causing Michael to mumble something to her. Liz just giggled as she listened to the two of them argue.

“Michael,” Liz said, pulling him out of his conversation with Maria. “We’ll be there.”

***********

“A party?” Isabel asked as she and Max drove home.

“That’s what Liz said,” Max replied with a shrug. “We have just enough time to run home and change before we need to head over there.”

“Don’t we have to pick Liz up first?” Isabel asked.

“Nope,” Max said. “Maria wants her to help with the grocery shopping so I’m just going to meet her there.”

“Let me call Alex then,” Isabel said, grabbing her cell phone. “I’ll tell him to head over without me.” After the phone call, she turned back to Max. “So how’d it go with Liz and her parents?”

Max let out a deep breath. “She doesn’t know yet. She said that her dad didn’t flip out, but he wasn’t elated either. I guess they’re going to talk about it later.”

“What about her mom?” Isabel asked.

“She doesn’t know,” Max said. “I didn’t get the whole story, but Liz said that she was only able to talk to her dad.”

“Everything’s going to be fine,” Isabel said reassuringly. “You’ll see.”

“I hope so,” Max replied as he looked out the windshield. “I really hope so.”

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

An hour later, Max and Isabel pulled up to the Guerin household. The two siblings made their way through the house and out to the backyard, where they saw Michael and Kyle throwing a football. Alex was talking to Michael as Tess tried her hardest to get Kyle to fumble the ball. She was currently hanging onto his back as he tried to throw it.

Max scanned the backyard, immediately noticing that Liz was nowhere in sight. Neither was Maria.

“They’re still getting food,” Michael said, noticing Max’s expression.

Max nodded as he and Isabel walked over to their friends.

“I’m glad you’re here, Maxwell,” Michael said, slapping his friend on the back. “Alex and I were just talking, and we seem to disagree on who the world’s best pound for pound boxer is. Who gets your vote?”

“Best pound for pound boxer, huh,” Max said, crossing his arms in front of his chest as he thought about the question. “Ever or today?”

“Today,” Alex said.

“Well, he’s kind of given himself a bad rap these days by fighting a bunch of no-name opponents, but I’d still have to go with Roy Jones, Jr.,” Max replied.

“Ha,” Alex said, pointing a finger at Michael. “I told you.”

“The guys not the best just because Max says he is,” Michael said in retaliation.

“That’s true,” Isabel said. “That’s an opinion question, so there’s no right or wrong answer.”

“Hey,” Alex said, giving Isabel a wounded look. “Who’s side are you on here?”

Isabel shook her head with a smile on her face as she wrapped her arms around Alex’s waist. “Yours,” she said before giving him a kiss on the cheek.

“That’s better,” Alex said with a nod.

“Hey Max,” Kyle called out. “Catch!”

Max turned just in time to see the football as it whizzed toward his head. His instinctive reaction caused him to duck, but he still managed to bring his hands up in time to catch the ball.

“Nice reflexes,” Michael commented, nodding his approval.

Max glared over at Kyle, the football still in his hands as he slowly started to walk over to his friend.

“Max?” Kyle said questioningly, his hands raised defensively as he slowly backed away.

“He’s going to peg you with that ball,” Tess said as she casually put some distance between herself and Kyle.

“No he’s not,” Kyle said unconvincingly. “’Cause we’re friends, right Max?”

An evil smile slowly crept up Max’s face as he moved closer to his target. As soon as he raised the football to throw it, Kyle made a beeline for the side of the house, hoping to get some protection.

Max started laughing when he watched Kyle literally dive for cover. He turned to Tess, who was laughing just as hard as he was, and gently tossed her the ball, making it easy to catch.

“What a wussy!” Alex said, nearly doubled over in laughter alongside Michael.

“Very graceful, honey,” Tess said as Kyle poked his head out to make sure that the coast was clear.

“Hey, I’ve got P.E. with he guy so I’ve played dodge ball against him,” Kyle said in defense. “If you knew how hard he could throw a ball you’d be diving for cover too.”

“Come on Wonder Woman,” Michael said motioning towards the house. “I think you need to change your boxers.”

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

“So what did Michael get you for Christmas?” Liz asked as she and Maria drove back to the party. She knew that Max was really the one who picked out the present, but Maria didn’t need to know that.

Maria smiled as she glanced over at her friend. “Well, first he got me a deluxe package at the local health spa. It comes complete with a manicure, a facial, and most importantly, an hour massage.”

“Wow,” Liz said, impressed that Max would think of a present like that.

“Yeah, tell me about it,” Maria said. “I thought for sure he’d get me a plunger and a box of Raisinets or something. Anyway, the second thing he got me was a pair of pearl earrings. I mean, we’re talking REAL pearl earrings here.”

“That must have cost him a fortune,” Liz said with a smile.

“I know,” Maria agreed. “To be honest, when he gave me the presents, I thought for sure he had paid Max or someone to pick them out. I mean, we’re talking about Michael Guerin. I love him dearly, but there’s no way he thought of those things by himself.”

Liz had to bite back her smile. “Did you ask him how he thought of them?”

“Of course,” Maria replied. “He said that he tagged along with Max when he bought your present, and that’s when he thought of the earrings. Then he said that he just drove by the health spa one day and thought that I’d like to be pampered there, so he bought me a package.”

“I think that’s sweet,” Liz said, going along with Michael’s made up story. “It’s definitely an improvement from last year.”

Maria rolled her eyes dramatically. “I still haven’t used that electric toothbrush he bought me.” There was a brief pause before Maria changed the subject. “On a serious note, I need your help with something,” she said reluctantly. “I know you’re kind of embarrassed to talk about it, but please, do it for me.”

“Maria, what are you talking about?” Liz asked.

“Okay,” Maria said, taking a deep breath. “Last night, Michael and I came really close to…to doing the deed, if you know what I mean. I want our first time to be really special, so I wanted to get your advice on how to make that happen.”

Liz was completely speechless. “Well…I…I’m not really sure I know what to suggest.”

“Well, what did Max do the first time you guys did it?” Maria asked. “Knowing him, he had to do something special.”

Liz blushed as she tucked her hair behind her ears. “Well, since Max and I haven’t taken that step yet…”

“You guys haven’t done it yet!?” Maria asked in shock, cutting Liz off.

“We’ve come close,” Liz admitted. “But both of our families are religiously strong, so we’re going to save ourselves until we’re married.”

“Wait a minute,” Maria said. “When you say that you’re going to wait until you’re married, do you mean that casually, like you’re going to save yourself until you eventually take that step with someone, or have you and Max already started to make plans and you just forgot to tell your best friend in the whole wide world?”

“I didn’t forget to tell you anything,” Liz said innocently. “This is the first time I’ve see you since Max proposed to me yesterday.”

“HE DID WHAT!?!” Maria exclaimed, turning to look at Liz.

Liz grabbed Maria’s chin and forced her to watch the road before the car crashed. “He proposed to me yesterday,” she repeated.

“What did you say?” Maria asked, sneaking glances over at Liz.

“What do you think?” Liz asked back, giving Maria a sarcastic look.

“Sorry, dumb question,” Maria said, mentally kicking herself. “When?”

“We don’t know yet,” Liz said. “I’m kind of hoping that we do it this summer, but I’m not so sure that Max wants to do it that early.”

“What about the ring?” Maria asked, smiling from ear to ear. “He gave you the perfect ring, didn’t he?” She glanced down at Liz’s left hand, her brow furrowing together in confusion. “He did get you a ring, didn’t he?”

“Of course he did,” Liz said with a laugh. “But I can’t just go around wearing it on my hand. Can you imagine what my parents would say?”

“True,” Maria said with a nod. “You’re dad would probably chase after Max with a chainsaw or something. So…where is it?”

“On my necklace,” Liz said with a smile.

“Let me see, let me see, let me see,” Maria said, jumping around in her seat.

“I’ll let you see it when we get to Michael’s,” Liz said, still smiling. “I don’t want you wrecking the car.”

A few minutes later, Maria pulled into the driveway at Michael’s house. After drooling over Liz’s ring for five minutes, the girls grabbed some of the groceries and headed into the house. As soon as they walked through the front door, they heard strange noises coming from the living room. They both looked at each other in confusion before they walked over to the entryway to see what was going on.

Alex and Kyle were playing a fighting game on Michael’s Playstation, both creating their own sound effects to go along with the characters they were controlling. Maria shook her head as she made her way to the kitchen. “Do you guys think you could manage to tear yourselves away from that game for a few minutes? There’s still tons of groceries in the car.”

“Just give us a second,” Alex said, concentrating on the game. His tongue was slightly sticking out from between his lips, making him look like a five year old as he played.

As Liz followed Maria into the kitchen, she passed Isabel and Tess who were on their way out to help with the groceries. She wondered where Max and Michael were, noticing as soon as she walked into the house that they were the only two missing.

As if hearing her question, Maria set the grocery bags down on the counter and looked out into the backyard. “I hope Michael started the grill. If he didn’t, I’m going to rip him a new one.”

Liz followed Maria’s gaze, a tiny smile forming on her lips when she saw Max standing next to Michael at the barbeque grill.

“Good,” Maria said, turning her attention to the food in front of her. “Give me a hand with all this, would you doll?” she asked Liz.

“Sure,” Liz said, busying herself around the kitchen.

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

“ENGAGED!?” Michael asked in shock, his eyes wide as he stared at Max.

Max nodded as he shoved his hands into his coat pockets. “Pretty wild, huh?”

It took Michael a second to refocus after the surprising news he had just been told. “Wow. You think you’re ready for that?”

“Absolutely,” Max said without hesitation. “I’d marry her today if I could.”

“I have no doubt,” Michael said, shoving one hand into his pocket as he took a drink of his hot chocolate. “To be honest, I knew it was only a matter of time with you two.”

Max smiled as he looked down, shuffling his feet. When he looked up, his smile was gone, replaced by a slight frown.

“Something else bugging you?” Michael asked, noticing the quick change in Max’s facial expression.

Max looked at Michael and opened his mouth to talk, but found himself at a loss for words. He closed his mouth as he thought about what he wanted to say, trying to find the right way to phrase what was on his mind.

“Come on Maxwell,” Michael said, nudging him with his elbow. “What’s up?”

“I…I’ve been thinking a lot about the wedding,” Max said. “I know that everyone who’s important to me and Liz will be there…everyone except for my dad that is.” Michael nodded, but remained silent as Max continued. “I just wish that…that he could be there, you know?”

“Max, you know I’m not a very…emotional person,” Michael said. “But let me just say that I’m positive that wherever your dad is right now, he wouldn’t miss your wedding for the world. He may not be there physically, but I can guarantee you that he’ll be there in spirit.”

The two guys remained silent for a minute until Max finally spoke up.

“Thanks, Michael.”

“No problem,” Michael said before taking another sip of his hot chocolate. “Just don’t tell anyone what I said. The last thing I need is for Maria to catch wind of it. If she does, she’ll be expecting poetry from me by the end of the school year.”

Max laughed as he looked back toward the house, noticing that Liz and Maria were back. “You know,” he said, turning back to face Michael, “I think this is the first time you’ve ever called me Max.”

“And it’ll be the last too,” Michael said, looking over Max’s shoulder as Liz made her way outside. “It looks like you have a visitor. I’m going to head inside to get the hamburger meat. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Max turned after Michael left, smiling as Liz walked up to him and wrapped her arms around his waist, burying her cheek into his chest.

“I missed you today,” Liz mumbled into his shirt.

“I missed you too,” Max said, wrapping Liz in his embrace as he nuzzled the top of her head with his cheek. “I’m sorry your dad didn’t handle the news as well as you would have liked.”

“That’s okay,” Liz said as she pulled back and looked up into Max’s face. “At least he didn’t wig out.”

“True,” Max said as he stared at Liz for a few seconds, then glanced up at the sky. “You know, I’ve been thinking. I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but maybe camping in the middle on winter isn’t such a hot idea.”

Liz let out a laugh as she snuggled closer to Max. “It is pretty cold, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, a little,” Max replied with a smile.

“But we’re definitely doing it this spring,” Liz said.

“Works for me,” Michael said as he passed the two lovebirds on his way to the barbeque, placing the hamburger meat in neat rows on the grill. “Now…what did I just agree to?”

***********

After everyone had eaten dinner, they all gathered upstairs in the ‘Movie Room’. Michael’s dad had gone all out, buying the best TV and surround sound stereo system, trying to make it sound as close to the movie theater as he could. After debating for several minutes about which movie to watch – the girls wanting The Wedding Planner while the guys opted for 3000 Miles To Graceland – they all decided on The Mexican.

Everyone scattered around the room as the movie began, Michael and Maria taking the couch, while Kyle and Tess grabbed a blanket and some pillows from one of the bedrooms and made themselves comfortable on the floor. Alex and Isabel followed suit, lying on the floor at the other end of the sofa. Max sat down in the only chair in the room, a rocking chair, and pulled Liz down onto his lap. She immediately snuggled into him as he wrapped a blanket around her petite body, a sigh of contempt escaping her lips as he slowly began to rock back and forth.

About halfway through the movie, Max leaned over and whispered into Liz’s ear: “I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?” Liz asked quietly.

“To the bathroom,” Max said, standing up with Liz still in his arms before gently placing her back down in the chair.

After twenty minutes had passed, Liz decided to get up and look for her missing boyfriend. When she passed the bathroom, she noticed right away that Max wasn’t in there. “Max?” she called out softly as she made her way downstairs. She looked in the living room, the dining room, the bathrooms on the lower level, then finally the kitchen. That’s when she saw him sitting out on the porch steps leading to the backyard. She gently opened the sliding glass door, realizing very quickly just how cold it was. “Max? What are you doing out here?” she asked as she sat down next to him. “It’s freezing.”

Max turned and looked at her, not saying a word as he took off his coat and wrapped it around her shoulders. He continued to stare at her as he reached out and traced her eyebrow with his fingertips, slowly moving down her cheekbone to her mouth, where he traced both her lips.

“Are you okay?” Liz asked with concern.

Instead of answering her verbally, Max reached over and picked her up, placing her on his lap, much like he did up in the movie room. Liz was a little surprised, but she wasn’t about to complain. She ran her fingers through his hair, their eyes still locked, neither saying a word for several minutes.

“Are you going to tell me…” Liz began, cutting her sentence off when Max softly placed his index finger against her lips. He slowly leaned in and nibbled on her bottom lip, gently pulling it into his mouth. He continued to kiss her slowly, passionately, lovingly, making it absolutely clear that he was in no rush.

When they finally pulled back, their eyes instinctively found their way back to each other’s.

“Max, tell me what you’re thinking,” Liz said, unable to look away from him. “I’ve never seen this look on your face before.” It was the truth. They had been together for several months now, but she had never seen the intense stare he was currently giving her.

“I love you, Liz,” Max finally said, his eyes locked on hers. “I love you more than anything in the world.”

A tiny smile of affection came to Liz’s lips. “I know,” she whispered. “I feel the same way about you. Is that what you’ve been thinking about?”

“Sort of,” Max said before he buried his face into the crook of Liz’s neck.

“What do you mean, ‘sort of’?” Liz asked as she continued to run her fingers through his hair.

“I…I’ve been thinking a lot about us and our wedding,” Max said, closing his eyes as he inhaled Liz’s scent. “I can’t help but wish that…that my dad were still here to share it with me…with us.”

Liz didn’t know what to say, so she just held Max close as he went on.

“I’ve come to realize that my dad is going to miss the most important times in my life,” Max said.

“What else is there besides the wedding?” Liz asked softly.

“Prom, graduation, college, graduation from college,” Max said. “He’ll never get to meet you, get to know just how wonderful and amazing you really are. But what bothers me the most is that he’ll never get to see his grandkids. He’ll never get to watch them grow up, never get to see them playing in the backyard, never get to celebrate their birthdays, or get to see the look in their eyes that only a child gets when Christmas rolls around. And that’s when I realize that it also means that our kids will never get to meet their grandpa. They’ll never get to know him.” Max kept himself from crying, but he couldn’t control the tremble that overtook his lower lip.

Since they were so close to each other, Liz could tell the exact moment that Max’s lip started to quiver. She held him even tighter, but found herself at a loss for words. She didn’t know what to do or what to say to make things better. She felt completely helpless, and it was that feeling that caused her to start crying herself. She nuzzled the top of Max’s head with her cheek, planting soft kisses here and there.

“God…look at me,” Max said with a chuckle as he pulled back and wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. “I’m acting like my dad just died last week.”

“Max,” Liz said softly, cupping his cheeks with both of her hands, forcing him to look at her. “Your dad just died a little over four months ago. To be honest, I can’t believe how strong you’ve been. If my dad had died, I’d still be balling my eyes out every night. Your wound is still fresh and needs time to heal. You can’t expect yourself to come to terms with his death over night.”

Max sniffled as a smile came to his lips. “This is the exact reason why I wish he could have met you. You always know exactly what to say to calm me down.”

Liz smiled back as she shifted off Max’s lap and sat next to him. “Max, I never told you this before, but I do kind of know what you’re going through.” Max remained silent, waiting for Liz to continue. “My sophomore year, something happened that changed my life forever. My Grandma Claudia came to visit us towards the beginning of the school year. We were extremely close. I don’t know why, but I always felt closer to her than I did my mom. I considered her to be the basis of my existence. Anyway, to make a long story short, she had a stroke while she was here and ended up dying.”

“Oh Liz…I’m so sorry,” Max said, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. “Why didn’t you ever tell me about her?” When she looked up at him, he saw the tears welling up in her eyes just seconds before they fell down her cheeks.

“Because it still hurts,” Liz whispered.

Max couldn’t stand to see the tortured look in Liz’s eyes. He pulled her into his embrace, kissing the top of her head as he ran his fingers through her hair.

A few seconds later, Liz pulled back and wiped her eyes before looking at Max. “The reason I’m telling you now is to prove my point. Even though my grandma died over two years ago, it still hurts. Don’t ever think that you need to get over your dad’s death. If you feel like crying, cry. If in ten or twenty years from now you still feel like crying, don’t keep it in. There’s no law that says there’s a time limit for how long you can mourn. Take as long as you need.”

Max smiled as he felt his throat tighten. He didn’t know how to respond, so he did the only thing he could think of…he kissed Liz. The kiss was short, but the brief contact was all he needed to calm down a bit. He rested his forehead against Liz’s, enjoying the feeling that he got every time he was close to her. When he finally opened his eyes, he saw that Liz was staring at him with that special smile of affection that she refused to give anyone but him. “Can I ask you something?” he said softly.

“Anything,” Liz replied.

“Marry me this summer,” Max said.

It took a minute for his request to register, but when it did, Liz couldn’t help but smile. “Are you serious?” she asked, unable to keep the look of hope off her face.

“As a heart attack,” Max replied. “I figured that since we’re both going to be living together anyway, we might as well not do it in sin.”

Liz’s smile grew as she ran her hand down Max’s cheek. “If I could, I’d marry you on my eighteenth birthday.”

“Why can’t you?” Max asked.

Liz didn’t know how to respond, the question catching her completely off guard. “I…I was just kidding.”

“Seriously,” Max said. “Why can’t we get married on your birthday? I’ll already be eighteen by then.”

“But Max, my birthday’s in the beginning of May,” Liz said. “Graduation isn’t until the middle of June. We’d still be in high school.”

“So?” Max said.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Liz asked. Max only nodded. “I just barely built up enough courage to tell my parents that we’re going to college together. Now you want me to tell them that I’m going to get married before I even graduate from high school?”

“We don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Max said. “But how many couples out there actually get married on one of their birthdays? Just think…not only will you get a birthday present from me, but you’ll also get an anniversary present.”

“Yeah, but you could be suggesting this for another reason,” Liz said, eyeing Max carefully.

“And what would that be?” Max asked with a laugh.

“If we get married on my birthday, you’d be able to kill two birds with one stone,” Liz said.

“I’m not following,” Max said, confused.

“Some guys have a hard time remembering their anniversaries and their wife’s birthday, so this way all you have to do is remember one date,” Liz explained. “And instead of having to take me out once on my birthday and once on our anniversary, you’d be able to get both out of the way in one outing.”

“I guess that’s one way to look at it,” Max said with an amused smile. “Or you could look at it from my viewpoint. If your birthday and our anniversary fall on the same day, that just means that I’m going to have to work twice as hard to pamper you. Instead of getting two days a year of mediocre treatment, you’d get one full day of all out, non stop attention and affection.”

“Max,” Liz said, wrapping her arms around his neck. “We both know that if my birthday and our anniversary fall on separate days, I’d get TWO full days of all out, non stop attention and affection. I’ve never seen you do anything mediocre.”

All Max could do was smile - Liz had him there. “Tell you what…I’ll let you decide the date as long as the wedding takes place before we move to California.”

“I’d love to have the wedding on my birthday, but realistically, I don’t think it’s possible,” Liz said. “But this is something we need to decide together. It’s obvious that we both want to tie the knot as soon as possible, so lets take a look at a calendar later on to figure out the best day. Just promise me that you’ll be there when I tell my parents that we’re engaged.”

“Of course I’ll be there,” Max said. “But I’m staying behind you. I don’t want to give your dad a clear path to my throat.”

Liz let out a giggle as she pictured her parents reaction. “I should warn you, my dad owns a gun.”

Max smiled as he scratched the side of his head. “Yeah, but can he hit anything with it?”

“Do you really want to find out?” Liz asked back.

Max laughed. “Maybe we should stop by the army surplus store,” he joked. “I hear they have good deals on Flack armor and Kevlar helmets.”

To Be Continued…

posted on 26-Jun-2002 7:22:24 PM
Part 21

The next few weeks flew by and before anyone knew it, it was the middle of February.

Liz had the talk with her parents about going to Stanford instead of Harvard, and at first, her mom was not pleased in the least. Her dad had had some time to come to terms with it, so he was trying to be as supportive as possible. The conversation ended on a bad note, with her mom saying that she was disappointed in her decision. But by the next morning, after having a talk with her husband, Nancy apologized to Liz and accepted the fact that her daughter was going to attend Stanford. After a few days had passed, she was even happy about it. The relief that Liz felt was enough to last her a lifetime.

“I need another break from school,” Maria complained as she and Liz walked through the school hallway. “How long before we graduate again?”

Liz smiled as she listened to her friend complain. As the two of them turned a corner, they saw Kyle and Tess standing with Michael and Alex.

“Hey guys,” Liz said as she walked up to them. “What are we talking about?”

“The game tonight,” Kyle said. “It’s the biggest game of the year. If we win, we clinch the league title and get a birth into the state tournament next week.”

“Oh,” Liz said, nodding her head.

“What happens if you guys lose?” Maria asked as she wrapped her arms around Michael’s waist.

“Then our season’s over,” Kyle said.

“There you guys are,” Isabel said as she walked up to the group.

“Where’s Max?” Liz asked, beating Kyle to the question.

“Sick as a dog,” Isabel said. “You should have seen him this morning. He looked like a Mac truck just ran him over.”

“SICK!?” Kyle exclaimed. “He can’t be sick! We have a game tonight!”

“Maybe you should tell that to the flu bug that bit him,” Isabel said. “He was throwing up all night.”

Liz’s brow furrowed together in concern. Max had mentioned the night before over the phone that he wasn’t feeling very well, but she never thought that it was serious. “How was he when you left?”

“Sleeping,” Isabel said. “You can tell exactly how he feels just by looking into his eyes. I feel so bad for him.”

“But, but, but…he needs to play tonight,” Kyle said.

“Well, maybe he’ll feel better by game time,” Tess said with a shrug.

“You don’t understand,” Kyle said. “In order for him to be eligible to play tonight, Max has to attend at least half of his classes. If he misses more than three classes, he won’t be able to play no matter what.”

“Well I think his health is a little more important than a game,” Liz said. “To tell you the truth, I hope he doesn’t come to school.”

“I’m not saying that I don’t care about his health,” Kyle said, calming down a bit. “It’s just that…this is the first time we’ve ever had a legitimate shot at winning the state tournament.”

“Let’s just play it by ear,” Michael said. “If push comes to shove, I’m sure you guys can win without him.”

Just then the bell rang, signaling that class was about to start.

“So he has to show up by fourth period, right?” Alex asked. After Kyle nodded, he added, “Well who has fourth period with him?”

“Kyle and I do,” Liz said.

“Then I guess you two will be the first to know if he show’s up,” Alex said. “See you guys later,” he said before he led Isabel down the hall.

“Please don’t show up, Max,” Liz whispered to herself as she headed off to class. She had every intention of going over to his house at lunchtime, just to make sure he was all right. Who knows…maybe she could blow off school for the afternoon and spend it taking care of her soon to be husband instead.

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

When fourth period finally rolled around, Liz let out a sigh of relief when she walked into the classroom and found that Max wasn’t there. She took her seat near the middle of the classroom, with Kyle on one side and an empty desk that was normally occupied by Max on the other. Kyle looked frantic.

“Kyle,” Liz said, reaching over and touching his shoulder to get his attention. “You guys won last year without him, so I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

“Yeah but we never came close to winning the league last year,” Kyle said. “We didn’t even make it to the state tournament.”

Before Liz could respond, the teacher started his lecture. About five minutes into class, the door slowly opened and, much to Liz’s dismay, Max walked in. She watched as he slowly walked up to the teacher and handed him an excuse slip for being tardy. She couldn’t help but notice how sluggish he looked.

Max slowly made his way over to his desk, carefully dropping down into the seat before taking a deep breath and looking over at Liz.

Liz felt her heart clench in her chest as she looked into Max’s eyes. They were glossed over and his eyelids looked very heavy. Her brow furrowed together in concern as she reached over and brushed Max’s hair off his forehead.

“What are you doing here?” she whispered.

“We have a game tonight,” Max said quietly, his voice a little horse.

“But you’re sick,” Liz said. “Look at you…you can barely sit up.”

“I’m fine,” Max lied.

“Yeah right,” Liz said, knowing better. “How do you expect to play if you’re throwing up every five minutes?”

“Ms. Parker, Mr. Evans,” the teacher said. “I’m not disturbing you with my lecture, am I?”

Max and Liz both faced the front of the class, each of them blushing slightly. They mumbled their apologies before the teacher began his lesson again.

Liz snuck a peek over at Max, frowning when she saw just how hard it was for him to concentrate on the class. His eyelids kept closing, remaining shut for several seconds before he slowly opened them again. The main thought that ran through her mind was that he was going to kill himself if he tried to play that night.

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

“How are you feeling?” Maria asked Max as the group walked down the halls during their lunch hour.

“Like shit,” Max mumbled.

“Boy, you must really be sick if you’re swearing,” Alex said. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you utter a cuss word.”

“Just so you know, if I end up getting sick because of you, I’m going to kick your ass,” Michael said as he opened the doors to the cafeteria without thinking.

All it took was one whiff of the lunchroom to send Max sprinting for the nearest bathroom with his hand covering his mouth.

“Max!” Liz called out as she ran after him. She stopped just outside the guys’ bathroom, her head falling forward as she listened to her significant other throwing up.

“I’ll check on him,” Michael said as he pushed the bathroom door open. He checked the first stall, finding his friend kneeling on the floor over the toilet, holding his stomach. “You need any help?”

Max shook his head, his eyes closed as he fought off another wave of nausea. In the end, he lost the battle and threw up again, causing Michael to instinctively take a step back. After staying on the floor for a few more minutes, just to make sure he wasn’t going to throw up again, Max slowly stood up and flushed the toilet. When he turned around, Michael handed him a few paper towels. “Thanks,” he mumbled.

“Go home,” Michael said as he helped Max over to the sink, noticing that his friends’ eyes were now watering uncontrollably.

“I’m fine,” Max said as he turned on the cold water and splashed his face. He cupped his hands under the faucet and sipped some water into his mouth, washing it out the best he could. “Do you have any gum?”

“I think that bad breath is the least of your worries,” Michael said. “Now come on. You’ve got an extremely worried woman standing outside.”

As soon as Max and Michael stepped out of the bathroom, Liz wrapped her arm around Max’s waist, helping him over to the couch that sat in the hallway. “I’m taking you home as soon as you feel good enough to walk out to the car,” she said.

“I’m fine,” Max repeated. “It was just the smell of the Caf that got to me.”

“I don’t care,” Liz said as she sat on the couch, gently placing Max’s head on her lap as he laid down in the fetal position. She ran her fingers through his hair as he closed his eyes, and in a matter of seconds, he was asleep.

“Poor guy,” Michael said before he motioned to the others who were standing just outside the Cafeteria. “I’ll let them know how he’s doing.”

“Tell Kyle to go find Coach Swain,” Liz said.

“Why?” Michael asked in confusion.

“Because if Max knows that Swain won’t play him tonight, even if he’s eligible, maybe he’ll listen to reason and go home,” Liz said.

Michael nodded as he walked over to relay the news to everyone. A few seconds later, Kyle took off down the hallway in search of his coach. He found him in his classroom, quietly eating his lunch as he graded some papers.

“Kyle,” Coach Swain said as he put his pen down. “Something wrong?”

“You could say that,” Kyle said. “I need to show you something.”

Coach Swain didn’t ask any more questions; instead he just followed his player down the hallway. As soon as his eyes landed on Max, he let out a defeated sigh. “What’s wrong with him?”

“Flu,” Kyle said.

Coach Swain knelt down in front of Max, gently placing the back of his hand on Max’s forehead. “He’s burning up.”

“And he won’t listen to us when we tell him to go home,” Maria said. “He keeps saying that he needs to be here in order to be eligible to play tonight.”

Coach Swain shook his head as a tiny smile formed on his lips. “It’s amazing how much devotion this kid has,” he said to no one in particular. “Can one of you drive him home?”

“I plan to as soon as he wakes up,” Liz said.

“Max,” Coach Swain said.

Max woke up, his eyes having trouble focusing as he looked at his coach. “Hey Coach,” he said lazily.

“Come on,” Coach Swain said as he helped Max up. The two of them made their way out to Max’s car, followed by the others. Coach Swain put Max into the passengers seat and was about to close the door when Max stopped him.

“But if I leave, I won’t be eligible to play tonight,” Max protested.

“Max,” Coach Swain said, “if it were that important, I’d find a way to make you eligible. Don’t overdo it here, okay? Just take it easy for the rest of the day.”

Max nodded as he closed his eyes.

“Thanks for your help,” Liz said to Coach Swain before she took out her car keys and climbed into the drivers seat. It was moments like these that made her thankful that Max had given her the spare key to his car.

Coach Swain walked over to the driver’s side, motioning for Liz to roll down her window. “When he wakes up again, tell him that if I see him anywhere near this school tonight, he’ll be running sprints until graduation.”

“You got it,” Liz said with a smile as she started the car.

“Do me a favor,” Coach Swain said before Liz started to pull away. “Call the school later on today and let me know how he’s doing.”

“Sure,” Liz said, giving her friends one last wave before driving off.

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

Liz helped Max up to his bedroom as soon as they got to his house, taking off his shoes and jacket before pulling the blankets over his body. She lovingly brushed the hair off his forehead before she placed a gentle kiss there. “I’m going to get you something to eat,” she said.

Max made a tortured face, shaking his head slightly. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“I’ll just heat you up some soup and crackers, and if you don’t feel like eating right now, I’ll put it in the fridge for later,” Liz said quietly.

Max just nodded as he closed his eyes, to tired to say anything else.

Liz shook her head slightly as she stood up from the bed and backed out of the room, quietly closing the door behind her. She walked downstairs into the kitchen, where she set about making Max some tomato soup with crackers. She was halfway through heating the soup when she heard the front door open.

“Liz!” Diane said with shock after she walked into the kitchen.

“Hey,” Liz replied with a smile.

“Shouldn’t you be in school?” Diane asked as she placed her purse down on the counter.

“Yeah,” Liz replied with a nod. “But your son decided that he wasn’t really sick today, so he showed up for class.”

“Oh Max,” Diane said in that concerned, motherly voice. “Please tell me he didn’t.”

“He did,” Liz said with a nod. “And he also lost in when lunchtime rolled around.”

“Did he at least make it to the bathroom?” Diane asked.

“Yeah,” Liz answered. “Barely.”

“Well, I’m going to go up and check on him,” Diane said, rubbing Liz’s back briefly before leaving the room. A few minutes later, she returned.

“How is he?” Liz asked.

“He’s asleep,” Diane said with a sigh. “He really should try to eat something, even if it’s just saltines.”

“Do you think he’ll be able to keep it down?” Liz asked.

“Probably not,” Diane said. “But maybe he’ll feel better when he wakes up.”

“I’ll just put the soup in the fridge then,” Liz said, opening a drawer to get a bowl out.

“Why don’t you let me do that?” Diane said, taking the bowl from Liz. “I’m sure Max could use you right now, but I’m afraid that you’ll get sick if you go up there.”

“That’s a small price to pay,” Liz said with a smile. “Besides, if I get sick, Max will have to take care of me.”

“You do know how guilty he’ll feel if you actually catch the bug, don’t you?” Diane asked.

“Absolutely,” Liz said, her smile widening.

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

A few hours later, Max slowly came around. He was lying on his side with his eyes closed, but he could feel someone running their hand through his hair. He wearily opened his eyes, finding that Liz was sitting next to him, working on her homework with one hand as she combed his hair back with the fingers on her other. He just watched her for a few minutes, smiling as he took in the look on concentration on her face.

Max finally made it known that he was awake, shifting onto his back as he took a deep breath.

“Hey you,” Liz said with a smile as she dropped her pen and turned her attention to Max. “How are you feeling?”

“A lot better, actually,” Max said as he closed his eyes, relaxing his body as he reached over and placed his hand on Liz’s leg. “What time is it?”

“Almost six,” Liz said.

Max’s eyes snapped open as he sat up in bed. “The game starts in an hour!” When he tried to get up from the bed, Liz grabbed his wrist and pulled him back down.

“Where do you think you’re going?” she asked.

“I need to get ready,” Max replied.

“I don’t think so,” Liz said with a laugh. “You’re not going anywhere until you’re better.”

“I am better,” Max said with a forced smile.

“Max,” Liz said with a sigh. “Your eyes are completely glossed over. I can tell that you still feel like crap.”

“I feel good enough to play,” Max said. “After that, I can stay home all day tomorrow and rest.”

“If you show up tonight,” Liz said, gently poking Max in the chest, “Coach Swain said he’ll make you run lines until graduation.”

“Sounds like fun,” Max said before he started to get dressed.

“Alright,” Liz said with another sigh. “You leave me no choice…Diane!!”

Max turned and playfully glared at Liz, unable to say anything before his mom walked in.

“Yes de…” Diane said as she walked in, her eyes narrowing when she saw that Max was dressed. “And just where do you think you’re going young man?” she asked as she placed her hands on her hips.

“Mom,” Max said, trying his hardest to ignore the smirk of triumph on Liz’s face. “I feel fine.”

“So you think you can go play a 32-minute basketball game?” Diane asked. “You haven’t eaten anything all day.”

“I’ll grab some crackers on my way out,” Max said, willing to say anything to get to the game.

“Crackers?” Liz asked with a laugh. “You think that crackers will give you all the energy you need?”

Max raised an eyebrow at Liz, silently telling her to stay out of it.

“Don’t you give me that look,” Liz said, folding her arms across her chest as she stood up next to Diane.

Max let out a sigh as he eyeballed the two stubborn women standing in front of him. “This is really important to me. I promise that after the game, I’ll stay in bed until I’ve completely recovered. Please…if I have to lay here all night, I’ll go crazy.”

Diane and Liz shared a look, knowing that what they were about to do went against their better judgment.

“Liz made some soup for you earlier this afternoon,” Diane said, her stance relaxing. “If you can keep that down, I’ll let you go to the game.”

Max looked at Liz, making sure that she agreed with his mom. “Liz?”

“Fine,” Liz said, rolling her eyes. “But if you barf out on the court, I’m going to be very upset.”

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

Max somehow managed to keep the soup down, so it wasn’t long before he, along with his mom and Liz, were on their way to the game. Once they got to the locker room, he refused to give Liz a kiss, saying that he didn’t want her to get sick.

“I think it’s a little late for that,” Liz said with a smile. “I spent all afternoon in your room with you. If I’m going to get sick, it won’t be from a little kiss.”

Max couldn’t help but smile as he gave her a quick peck on the lips before he walked into the locker room. He was greeted by all the guys, every one of them surprised to see him there.

“Max!” Kyle said when his friend sat next to him and started to change into his uniform. “I thought you were taking the night off.”

“Nope,” Max said. “I slept for a few hours so I feel a lot better.”

“Max!” Coach Swain called out. “Get in here!”

Max looked over at Kyle, wondering why his coach sounded pissed. Kyle just shrugged in return, figuring that the best course of action to take was one of ignorance.

“What’s up coach?” Max asked after he walked into the coach’s office and shut the door.

“What are you doing here?” Coach Swain asked as he sat on the edge of his desk, folding his arms over his chest.

“We have a game to play,” Max said, confused by his question.

“I realize that,” Coach Swain said. “But that still doesn’t explain what you’re doing here. Did Liz tell you what would happen if you showed up tonight?”

“Well yeah, but…” Max said, unable to finish his sentence before his coach interrupted.

“So it looks like you want to run lines for the next four months then,” Coach Swain said as he pushed off his desk and walked up to Max. “As much as I love and admire your dedication, there’s one big question that I have to figure out now. Are you going to help or hurt our team if I put you out there tonight? You’re sick…that’s going to affect how well you play. Are you going to be there mentally, or are you going to have lapses that result in turnovers or baskets for the other team. Do you get what I’m saying?”

“Completely,” Max said. “I’m going to be perfectly honest with you. I still feel like crap, but I know that if I play tonight, I’ll get the job done. I can’t guarantee that I won’t have my moments of fatigue, because I know I will. But that won’t stop me from winning.”

Coach Swain stared at Max for a few seconds before he nodded. “Tell you what…you go ahead and suit up. I’ll watch you during warm-ups, and if I think your good enough to go, I’ll play you.”

“Thanks coach,” Max said before he walked out of the office.

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

“I can’t believe he’s going to try and play,” Isabel said as the entire group sat up in the bleachers.

“He’s got guts,” Alex said.

“What he’s got is a lack of brain cells,” Maria said. “Liz, how could you let him come here? That boy should be at home sleeping right now.”

“Yeah, I’d like to see you try and stop him once he’s made up his mind,” Liz said sarcastically. “Trust me, there’s nothing I could have done to keep him away from here, apart from handcuffing him to the bed.”

“Which wouldn’t have been a bad idea,” Maria said.

Before the conversation could continue, the warm-up music began, followed closely by the locker room door opening and the Roswell Comets running out onto the floor.

“So where is wonder boy?” Maria asked, noticing that Max wasn’t out on the court yet.

“Probably getting his ankles taped,” Michael said.

“Or maybe he’s puking,” Alex offered.

“Why does he have to be so hard headed?” Liz asked as she turned to Diane.

Diane just shrugged. “Sports are important to him. If he decides not to play in college, this could be the last game he’ll ever play in again that actually means something to him.”

Everyone turned towards the locker room when Max walked out, accompanied by his coach.

“He still looks like shit,” Michael commented.

Max jogged over and started to warm-up with the rest of the team, visibly slower than usual.

“Do you think Swain will play him?” Alex asked to no one in particular.

“We’ll find out soon enough,” Isabel said.

Several minutes later, the two teams finished stretching and made their way back to the benches. It wasn’t long before one of the faculty members came over the PA system to read off the starting lineups.

“…number 11, Kyle Valenti! At the other guard, number 32, Max Evans!”

“I guess that answers my question,” Alex said.

As Max took off his warm-up pants and shirt, he glanced up at Liz and offered her a smile. She smiled in return, still wishing that he would have stayed home. The game started, and it took about three minutes before Coach Swain took Max out for a break. He walked over to the end of the bench, where the coach had strategically put a bucket just in case Max felt the urge to upchuck. He draped a towel over his head as he leaned forward in his seat, not paying the least bit of attention to the game.

After he rested for a minute or two, he threw the towel behind him and walked over to the scores table to check into the game. This time he lasted until the end of the first quarter, where he again walked over to the end of the bench and put the towel over his head. One of the assistant coaches walked over and sat next to him, holding an ice pack to the back of his neck. When the second quarter started, Max stood up and walked back out onto the court.

Liz couldn’t believe how well Max was playing, especially when she took into account his physical state. He was playing one of the best games she had ever seen him play, and he was getting better and better as the game went on. By halftime, Roswell was only leading by five, 38-33, but Max had managed to score 18 of those 38 points.

“Apparently he plays better when he’s sick,” Michael said as he stood up to stretch.

“Yeah, and I haven’t seen him puke yet,” Alex added, earning him a smack from Isabel.

“He’s almost out of gas,” Liz said as she turned and looked at Diane, her eyes showing her concern.

“You noticed that too, huh?” Diane asked before she wrapped her arm around Liz’s shoulders. “And the worst part is that we both know he’s going to push himself until he can’t walk anymore if that’s what it takes to win.”

“Hey Liz,” Maria said, interrupting her conversation with Diane. “Isn’t that your parents over there?”

Liz followed Maria’s gaze, her eyes widening when she noticed that her mom and dad were standing next to the entrance, obviously looking for her. “I’ll be right back,” she said before she stood up and walked over to them. “Mom, dad, what are you doing here?”

Jeff and Nancy smiled at their daughter. “We’ve never seen Max play before, so your father closed the restaurant early.”

“Oh,” Liz said, shocked to say the least.

“Is it okay if we come sit by you?” Jeff asked, pointing over to her group of friends in the stands.

“Uh…yeah, yeah come on,” Liz said before she led the way over.

“Jeff, Nancy,” Diane said as she stood up to greet Liz’s parents. “It’s good to see you.”

After everyone was seated again, Nancy next to Diane and Jeff next to Liz and Michael, they all talked amongst themselves until the locker room doors opened and the Comets came back out.

“Where’s Max?” Jeff asked.

“Probably in the locker room throwing up,” Michael said. Jeff glanced over at him in confusion, so Michael clarified. “The boy’s sick as a dog.”

“And he’s still playing?” Jeff asked.

“Stupid, isn’t it?” Liz asked.

Before Jeff could respond, Max walked out with his warm-ups on, obviously trying to keep from catching a chill.

“He doesn’t look so hot,” Jeff commented as he watched Max sit down on the bench.

The second half started much like the first half did. Max had his moments of fatigue, taking himself out of the game periodically so he could rest. He ended up playing the entire fourth quarter, solely because the game was close. In the end, Roswell won by six, 77-71, with Max scoring 41 of the teams 77 points.

As soon as the buzzer sounded, Kyle excitedly hurried over and pulled him into a hug, then wrapped his arm around his friends’ waist after Max practically collapsed in his arms. “Easy does it,” Kyle said as he sat Max down on the bench, holding the pack of ice on the back of his neck for him.

“Kyle,” Coach Swain said. “Help him into the locker room.”

Kyle nodded, doing exactly what his coach told him to.

“Wow,” Jeff said as everyone stood up and gathered their things. “Is everyone going to wait for him and Kyle to come out?”

“Yeah,” Liz said. “But you don’t have to.”

“No, no,” Jeff said as he walked toward the exit with his daughter. “I’d like to, if that’s alright with you. I just want to make sure that he’s alright and doesn’t need anything.”

Liz smiled up at her dad, thankful that he was showing concern for Max. Maybe telling her parents about the wedding wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all. But then again…

To Be Continued…

Part 22

Max’s illness passed, but not before he gave it to Liz. She never got as sick as he did, but she still threw up a couple of times.

Max felt horrible. He was by her side the entire time, doing everything and anything she asked him to. Liz milked it for all it was worth, taking full advantage of his willingness to make it up to her. Max knew exactly what she was doing, but he didn’t care. He wanted to be at her beck and call.

It didn’t take long before Liz got over the flu and everything went back to normal.

Then the time had come.

Max and Liz opted to tell Diane about the wedding first, knowing that out of all the parents involved, she would come around the quickest.

Both teenagers were sitting on the couch in Max’s house as Diane brought them some tea. She set the drinks down on the table before she sat in the armchair next to Max. “So, what did you want to talk to me about?” she asked with a smile.

“Mom,” Max said, turning in his seat to face her, “I…well we…” he took a deep breath as he tried to find the courage to go on.

Liz reached over and started to rub his back, hoping that the contact would relax him.

Max looked back up at his mom again before he went on. “I asked Liz to marry me and she said yes.” Both he and Liz sat there, waiting for the verbal eruption that they were certain was coming their way.

Diane nodded as she took a sip of her tea. She set her mug down before she gave Max and Liz her full attention. “Okay.”

Max was too shocked to say anything, and all Liz could manage was one word. “Okay?”

“Okay,” Diane repeated.

“No, you don’t understand,” Max said with a smile, his ability to speak finally returning to him. Apparently his mom didn’t understand what he had just said. “Liz and I are getting married. As in husband and wife.”

“Okay,” Diane repeated, this time with a smile.

“What?” Max asked, confused. “Wait…you’re supposed to get upset.”

“Would it make you feel better if I yelled at you?” Diane asked.

“Well…no,” Max said. “But the fact that you’re taking this so calmly makes me question whether or not you realize what I just told you.”

“Max,” Diane said with a smile. “I’ve known you two were engaged for over a month now.”

“What…huh…who…how?” Max finally asked.

“I found out from Mr. Pagalleri, the owner of the jewelry store that you bought Liz’s ring from,” Diane said. “I went in last month to have him fix the lock on one of my bracelets that broke when he congratulated me. He went on to mention that you were in there just a few weeks earlier and had purchased an engagement ring.”

“Well…why didn’t you say anything?” Max asked.

“I was going to,” Diane said truthfully. “But I decided to give myself time to adjust to the news before I brought it up. I didn’t want my motherly instinct to kick in and cause me to say something I’d regret later. To be honest, I wasn’t too happy about it at first, but I realized that you’re both going to be eighteen very soon. You can legally do anything you want, apart from drinking at the ceremony.”

“So you’re okay with this?” Max asked.

“I am now,” Diane said. “It didn’t take me too long to realize that you picked the perfect young woman to marry. Now if you were engaged to a girl who had pink hair, tattoos, and a nose ring, I’d have my reservations. But I love you both, and I know that this wasn’t a decision that you rushed in to. You’re both responsible and over the past few months, I’ve seen that the two of you fit together like two pieces of a puzzle.”

“So the fact that we’ve only been dating for six months doesn’t bother you?” Liz asked.

“Should it?” Diane asked back.

“I know my parents will bring it up when we tell them,” Liz said.

“To be honest, the one thing that bothered me the most was that you’re both so young,” Diane said. “But you’re also both so mature for your age.”

“That’s what I keep telling people who bring up the age issue,” Max said.

Diane smiled at her son. “After your father proposed to me, he said the exact same thing to his parents. That age didn’t matter, it was the maturity level that did. You get that from him.”

“So you’re really okay with this, aren’t you?” Max asked as a smile lit up his face.

“Well, I’ve had over a month to come to terms with it,” Diane said. “So…congratulations.” She stood up and hugged Max first, then Liz.

“So you’ve know all this time, and you were still nice to me?” Liz asked.

“Liz,” Diane said with a smile. “I love you. I think you’re perfect for Max. I’ve thought that since the very beginning.”

“Thank you,” Liz said, her smile lighting up her entire face.

“No, thank you,” Diane said, “for making him happy. Welcome to the family.”

Max wrapped his arm around Liz’s shoulders as a sense of relief flooded through his body.

“So let me see this ring that cost more than I care to mention,” Diane said, glaring at Max out of the corner of her eye.

Liz gladly took her necklace off and placed the ring on her finger, holding it up for Diane to see.

“Oh my,” Diane said as she covered her heart with one hand, gently grabbing Liz’s hand with the other. She looked up at Max with a smile as she shook her head slightly. “You certainly inherited my ability to choose jewelry. Your father never was very good at it. This is gorgeous,” she said, turning her attention back to the ring.

Liz looked up at Max. The smile of love and affection that she gave him was almost enough to bring him to his knees. What he loved most was that mixed in with that love and affection was a gleam of excitement. He could tell that she was feeling the exact same thing he was…now that one of their parents knew about it, it seemed so much more real. “Love you,” he mouthed to her.

“Love you,” Liz mouthed back, tucking her hair behind her ear before she turned to Diane. It didn’t take long before the two women were throwing out ideas for the wedding - where it would be held, what Liz’s dress would look like, where the reception would be after that…ect., ect., ect.

Max just sat back and listened to the two of them with a smile on his face, loving every second of it.

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

“I need to talk to you guys,” Liz said as she nervously started to pace the length of the room. “Now I know that you’re probably going to flip out, but you need to know this,” she rubbed her palms together as she tried to swallow past the lump in her throat. “Max and I have…we’ve decided to get married. Now before you say anything, I need you to know how much I love him. I know you’re going to say that I’m rushing into this, but I’m not. I’ve given it a lot of thought and I know that he’s the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. I know this must be a shock for you guys, but I need you to support me on this. I need you guys to be there for the wedding, and I know this is a little much to ask of you right now, but eventually I need you to be happy for me.”

“Sounds good, chica,” Maria said as she sat on Liz’s bed.

“You think so?” Liz asked as she stopped pacing.

“Personally, I think that given a day or two, you’re parents will be fine,” Maria said. “I don’t see why you think you need to practice what you’re going to tell them. If they can’t see that you and Max are madly in love, then they need to have their eyes checked. Besides, isn’t Max going to be there with you anyway?”

“Well, yeah he is, but--” Liz began to say.

“Then let him do the talking,” Maria said.

“Let him do the talking,” Liz repeated, looking at Maria as if she were insane. “Do you realize what my dad would do to him?”

“Relax,” Maria said with a laugh. “Just keep Prince Charming behind you and everything will be fine. That way, if your dad charges after him, you can give Max a head start for the door while you try and slow your dad down.”

“This isn’t funny, Maria,” Liz said as she plopped down on the bed next to her.

“I’m sorry,” Maria said with another laugh. “Look…both your parents love Max. Hell, everyone loves Max. Just tell them what you feel, sit back for the initial outburst that we both know will be coming from your dad, then wait until he calms down.”

“You’re supposed to say that my parents are going to handle the news a lot better than I think they are,” Liz said, looking at Maria. “Then you’re supposed to say that everything will work out.”

“Babe,” Maria said with a smile, reaching over and placing her hand on Liz’s knee. “We both know that your dad’s going to flip out at first. You need to realize that so you can be prepared.”

“I know,” Liz said as she slumped her shoulders.

“But the good news is that you have Diane on your side,” Maria said. “If your mom or dad need help dealing, they can talk to her.”

“True,” Liz said. “Unless my dad kills Max.”

“Relax,” Maria said, gently rubbing Liz’s shoulders. “Speaking of Max, what time is he coming over?”

Liz glanced at the clock before she looked out the window. “He should be on his way over right now.”

“And you’re sure you want to tell them tonight?” Maria asked.

“I figure it’s the best time to,” Liz said. “We have school tomorrow, so they can’t keep me up all night, yelling at me. And they can’t kill Max either because the teachers will notice if he doesn’t show up for school.”

“You worry too much,” Maria said.

“Wouldn’t you?” Liz asked.

Maria looked up at the ceiling as she thought about the question. “Yeah…I’d be freaked about telling my mom.”

“Liz!” Nancy called from the living room. “Max is here!”

“Showtime,” Maria said with a smile. Before she walked out with Liz, she gave her friend a hug. “Call me tonight and let me know how it went.”

“I will,” Liz promised. “If I’m still alive.”

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

Jeff and Nancy were seated on the couch as Max and Liz sat in the two chairs on the other side of the coffee table, facing Liz’s parents.

“What did you want to talk about?” Nancy asked.

Jeff could tell that both Max and Liz were extremely nervous, so he immediately feared the worst. He could feel his face heating up as he glared at Max, positive that the kid sitting in front of him was about to tell him that he had gotten his one and only daughter pregnant.

Max saw the way Jeff was glaring at him, and he felt the sudden urge to bolt.

“Did you get my daughter pregnant?” Jeff bit out, his jaw clenched.

“What!” both Max and Liz exclaimed at the same time.

“Dad!” Liz said, shocked by his outburst. “Not like it’s any of your business, but Max and I haven’t even been together like that.”

“So you’re not pregnant?” Jeff asked, looking at Liz for the first time.

“God no!” Liz exclaimed. “Why would you think that?”

Jeff closed his eyes briefly as his anger left him, his face returning to its normal color. “I’m sorry,” he said, looking at Max. “I just saw the uncertain look on both your faces, so I thought the worst.”

That little outburst didn’t make Liz feel any better about what she was about to confess.

“What did you want to talk about?” Jeff asked with a smile.

Max was sufficiently wigged out. He could feel the sweat beading up on his forehead as his breathing became irregular.

Liz took a few deep breaths before she faced her parents. “Max and I are getting married,” she rushed out, not only surprising Max to no end, but herself as well.

Max cautioned a glance at Jeff, who was now staring back at him in disbelief. It took a minute, but eventually the same look of protectiveness crossed his face again.

“Dad,” Liz said, noticing the look as well. She got up and protectively stood in front of Max, not wanting him to be the target of her father’s wrath. If her dad was upset, which she would understand, she wanted him to take it out on her, not Max.

“Max,” Jeff said as he stood up and made his way towards the door. “Could I have a word with you?”

“No you can’t,” Liz said as Max stood up. She reached behind her and looped a couple of her fingers into one of the belt loops on Max’s jeans to keep him next to her. “You can talk to us…together.”

“It’s okay,” Max whispered into Liz’s hear so only she could hear him. “If he tries to kill me, I’ll just use my alien powers to protect myself.”

Liz turned and looked at Max, making sure he was really comfortable with the idea of talking to her dad alone. “Are you sure?” she asked quietly.

“No,” Max said after taking another look at Jeff. “But at least I’ll earn his respect if I do. I’ve got to start somewhere,” he said with a shrug.

“You don’t have to—” Liz said, stopping short when Max placed his index finger against her lips.

“I’ll be okay,” he said with a smile. “Just think, after this it only gets easier…I hope.”

Liz nodded as she let Max go, watching as he walked out of the house and down to the restaurant, followed by her dad. She took a deep breath before she turned to face her mom, who still hadn’t said anything. “Mom?” she asked as she sat next to her.

Nancy just looked at Liz as her eyes filled with tears. “Not yet.”

“Huh?” Liz asked, confused by what she meant by that.

“You can’t get married yet,” Nancy said. “You’re still my baby girl.”

“Mom,” Liz said, leaning over and pulling her into a hug. “It’s not like you’re going to lose me.”

“But that’s what it feels like,” Nancy said as she clung to her daughter. “You’re too young to get married.”

“I’m almost eighteen,” Liz said. “And I think you know that it wouldn’t matter if I waited until I was twenty-five because I’d still marry Max.”

Nancy just nodded as a tear ran down her cheek. She pulled back and looked at Liz before she spoke again. “Just give me some time to deal with this, okay?”

“Sure,” Liz said, thankful that her mom was taking the news relatively well, considering the way her dad was reacting. “I need you’re support on this mom. Both you and dad.”

Nancy smiled as she brushed some of Liz’s hair behind her ear. “I know. Just give me some time.”

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

Jeff had led Max into the restaurant and was currently getting them something to drink while Max waited at the counter. He gave Max a soda, but laced his own drink with a generous about of alcohol.

“So you think you’re getting married, huh?” Jeff asked after he sat down next to Max.

“Mr. Parker—” Max began, unable to get anything else out before Jeff spoke again.

“She’s my only daughter, Max,” Jeff continued as if Max hadn’t said anything. “I’ll do anything to keep her safe, especially when I think she’s making the wrong choice. She’s not even eighteen years old yet, and you two are already talking about making a life long commitment. Neither of you are ready for this.”

“Yes we are,” Max said. “Age doesn’t matter. Maturity does.”

“Maturity, huh?” Jeff asked as he looked at Max. “Tell me, Max…do you even have a plan for the future? Are you going to be able to give my daughter everything she needs? You’re just barely turning eighteen yourself. How could you possibly sit there and tell me that you can support her?”

“I know I can support her,” Max said, not liking the way the conversation was going.

“Oh can you now?” Jeff asked, his voice slowly rising. “I doubt you could even support yourself without your mom’s help. If the two of you get married, you’re on your own. No help for school, no help for housing…nothing. But you’re convinced that you’ll be fine, huh?”

Max just stared at Jeff for the longest time, trying to figure out exactly what he was mad about. “Why are you lashing out at me?”

“Because you’re the one my daughter’s thinking about marrying!” Jeff yelled. “I’m sure you’re the one who put these ideas in her head. Liz is a responsible person, so I know there’s no way she would agree to this without being pressured into it. I’m not going to let you push her into this, Max.”

By this time, Jeff’s voice had raised to the point that Liz and Nancy could hear it up in the house. They both came down and stood in the doorway, watching as Jeff lashed out at Max. Liz was about to rush in and defend her fiancé when, much to her surprise, Max lost his temper.

“You know what?” Max asked as he stood up, knocking his stool over in the process. “I’m not pushing her into anything; she can think for herself. As far as your other concerns go, I can provide for Liz. I can give her anything she needs, anything she wants. She understands that we’re in this together and that no matter what happens, we can deal with it if we’re together. The fact that we’re young has no bearing as far as we’re concerned.”

“The fact that your young has everything—” Jeff began, looking up at Max in shock when the teenager interrupted him.

“You’ve got blinders on,” Max continued in frustration. “Both Liz and I are going to Stanford to get the best education possible, yet all you can focus on is the fact that we’ll be going there together. You sit there and lash out at me, acting as if Liz doesn’t have a mind of her own. Did you ever stop to think that maybe she wants this to happen? Does her happiness even matter to you? Because it sure as hell matters to me.”

“How dare you stand there and question whether or not I care about my daughters happiness,” Jeff said as he stood up and faced Max.

Liz started walking into the room, stopping when she saw Max hold up his hand, telling her to stay where she was. “If her happiness is so important to you, then why are you trying to take that away from her? Whether you want to admit it or not, we love each other and we’ll get married with or without your blessing. I know that it would mean the world to Liz if you were there, but I’m not going to bend over backwards to get on your good side if this is how you’re going to treat her.”

“I think it would be best if you left,” Jeff said, his face red from anger.

“No dad,” Liz said, rushing over to Max, grabbing his hand.

Max and Jeff were still glaring at each other, but Max spoke softly, not wanting to yell anymore. “When I first moved here, both you and Nancy treated me as if I were your own. You have no idea how much that meant to me as I tried to deal with my own dad’s death.” His eyes started tearing up, mostly from frustration, but he refused to let them fall. “Every time I came over here, I felt the same kindness from you that my dad used to give me, the same sense of protection. There’s not a soul on this planet who could even come close to taking his place, but you were the closest that anyone could possibly come. You were the one person who I felt could fill just a tiny bit of the void that was left when he died.” He looked away briefly before he let out a laugh. “And to think, I was actually excited about becoming a part of your family. I was excited about getting back just a little bit of what I lost six months ago…a dad. I guess I was wrong.” With that, Max let go of Liz’s hand and ran out of the restaurant before he completely lost it.

“Max!” Liz called after him, running out the door. She wasn’t able to stop him before he climbed into his car and sped off. She took a deep breath as she watched him drive away, pure unadulterated anger coursing through her as she turned back to confront her father. She walked right up to him, looked him straight in the eyes, and said in a calm voice, “I hope you’re happy. If you’ve ruined this for me and Max, I’ll never forgive you.” With that, she walked past her parents and up to her room to get dressed. She had to find Max.

Jeff let out a sigh as he hung his head, rubbing at his eyes with his thumb and index finger. He looked over at his wife, who was still staring at him in disbelief. “Not my finest hour, huh?” he asked.

“Who are you?” Nancy asked as she walked up to him.

“I don’t know,” Jeff said, looking out the door that Max had just run out of. “But I can’t help the way I feel. They’re just not ready for that kind of commitment.”

“They’re not ready?” Nancy asked. “Or could it be that you’re not ready?”

Jeff thought about the question but remained silent.

“Do you remember the way my dad reacted when we told him about our engagement?” Nancy asked.

“How could I forget?” Jeff said with a smile. “He reacted…well, he reacted the exact same way I just did. At least now I know how he was feeling.”

“Yeah, but do you remember what you told me that very same night?” Nancy asked. When Jeff didn’t answer, she did. “You said that you would never react that way when our children told us that they were getting married.”

Jeff just looked down at his feet, unable to respond.

“Just remember the way you felt when my dad blew his top, then multiply it by a million,” Nancy said. “That should give you some idea of how Max is feeling right now. At least my dad never cornered you and questioned your intentions or doubted your ability to give me the kind of future I wanted.” She rubbed her husbands arm and gave him a weak smile before she made her way back up to the living room, leaving Jeff alone in the restaurant.

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

“Liz!” Diane said from her seat at the dinner table, surprised to see the teenager walk into the room.

“Hi,” Liz said as she tucked her hair behind her ears. “Do you know where Max is?”

“I thought he was with you,” Diane said in confusion. “Is something wrong?”

“You could say that,” Liz said, her eyes misting up.

“Oh honey,” Diane said, rushing over to Liz’s side. “What is it?”

“My parents,” Liz said, fighting back her tears. “We told them about the wedding and…well, my dad blew his lid and took it all out on Max.”

“Oh no,” Diane said, leading Liz into the living room. After they sat down on the couch, Diane waited until Liz was ready to talk.

“The worst part is that it’s all my fault,” Liz said.

“Why would it be your fault?” Diane asked gently.

“I’m the one who left Max alone with my dad,” Liz said as a single tear ran down her cheek. “I never should have left him alone.”

Diane started to rub Liz’s back in comfort, her heart going out to the young woman. “Don’t blame yourself. You had no idea that your dad was going to react that way.”

“That’s just it,” Liz said. “I could tell that he was upset, yet I still let Max talk to him alone.”

“I know this may be hard for you to believe, but your dad reacted that way because he cares about you,” Diane said.

Liz let out a laugh. “He’s sure got a funny way of showing it.”

“He’s just scared,” Diane said. “He’s afraid that you’re not thinking things through. Just give him some time.”

“I don’t care if he’s scared or not, he had no right to blow up at Max like that,” Liz said. “He had to right to make Max feel as though he wasn’t good enough for me.”

Diane decided not to say anything else about her dad. Liz was obviously very upset with him. “What about your mom? How did she handle it?”

“A lot better than my dad,” Liz said. “She told me that all she needed was time to deal with the news, but that she’d support my decision.”

Diane nodded. “All I needed was a little time myself. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your mom comes around.”

“I hope so,” Liz said.

“And I’m sure that once your dad calms down a bit, he’ll see things more clearly and won’t let his protectiveness cloud his mind,” Diane said with a smile.

“He better,” Liz said.

“Now…if you want to find Max, I have two suggestions,” Diane said. “Try the basketball court in the park, and if he’s not there, try Ironworks Gym.”

“Ironworks Gym?” Liz asked.

“It’s a boxing gym down on Monroe St.,” Diane said. “They’re closed for the night, but Mr. Phillips, the owner, gave Max a key to the place because he helps out whenever he can. He absolutely loves Max.”

“Thanks for everything,” Liz said before she stood up and walked out to her car.

Diane shook her head as she watched Liz drive off. Maybe she could meet with the Parkers and discuss things, hopefully helping them deal with their concerns.

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

Liz checked the park first, finding that Max was nowhere in site. She followed Diane’s directions over to Ironworks Gym, letting out a sigh of relief when she spotted Max’s car parked out front. She parked right next to him and slowly made her way inside the gym. She saw Max off in the far corner, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and shoes, along with some boxing gloves, hitting the heavy bag. She slowly walked over to where he was, not quite sure what to say. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Max replied without stopping his movements.

“How are you?” Liz asked.

“How do you think?” Max replied, a little harsher than he intended.

Liz nervously tucked her hair behind her ears as she tried to find the right thing to say. “I…I’m sorry about my dad.” When Max didn’t say anything in return, she went on. “I never should have left you alone with him.” When Max still refused to say anything, just continued to hit the bag, Liz didn’t know what to do. “Would you please say something?” she asked with a tiny laugh.

“What do you want me to say Liz?” Max asked in frustration as he momentarily stopped hitting the bag and held out his arms.

“Max, please don’t take your anger out on me,” Liz begged, her voice a little shaky.

Max closed his eyes as he leaned over to rest his forehead against the bag. “I’m sorry,” he said before he walked over and pulled Liz into a hug. “I just don’t know what to do anymore.”

“Just don’t shut me out,” Liz said as she clung to him, not caring that he was a little sweaty.

“I didn’t mean to,” Max said. “I just…what you’re dad said really hit me hard. But as long as I still have you, I’ll be fine.”

They stood there in silence, holding each other for several minutes as they gave each other comfort.

“We’ll get through this, Max,” Liz said forcefully. “I promise.”

To Be Continued…

Part 23

The next week was really hard for Max, especially when it came to avoiding Jeff Parker. Every time he went over to pick Liz up, he refused to go inside, and in some cases, refused to even get out of the car.

The whole situation was tearing at Liz’s heart. She wanted everyone to get along, but she also realized that wasn’t a possibility at the moment. Her dad had yet to apologize for anything he said to Max, so she in turn refused to talk to him. Her mom was coming around a lot quicker than she expected, just like Diane said she would. The two mom’s even met for lunch one day to discuss the wedding arrangements.

Max was thankful that he still had basketball to concentrate on. The state tournament was just around the corner, so Coach Swain had them practicing more than usual. The tournament was going to be held at the University of New Mexico, located in Albuquerque. The entire basketball team was going to have the week of the tournament off from school; the number of days they were going to miss depended on how far they went. There were some students who wanted to go, and as long as they had a B average, they were allowed to miss school as well. The school administration was extremely lenient, seeing as how this was the first time that the basketball team, either guys or girls, made it to State in over ten years.

“Are you guys excited?” Maria asked Max and Kyle as the group sat around at lunchtime. “You get to leave for State tomorrow morning.”

“Hell yeah,” Kyle said enthusiastically. “We’re going to kick some ass.”

All eyes shifted to Max when he didn’t respond. His eyes were downcast as he pushed his food around with a French fry, obviously not paying attention.

Liz nudged him with her elbow, causing him to blink out of his trance and look over at her. “Huh?”

“Maria just asked if you were excited about State,” Liz said.

“Oh,” Max said, turning to Maria. “Sorry. Yeah…it’ll be great.” He tried to sound as upbeat as he could, but he didn’t do a very good job of it.

“Something bugging you Maxwell?” Michael asked. In reality he knew exactly what was wrong with him, just like everyone else in the group did. He just thought that maybe Max would feel better if he got it off his chest.

“No,” Max said with a slight shake of his head. “Listen, I’ve got to go talk to Mr. Sellinger about the assignments I’m going to miss,” he said as he stood up. “I’ll talk to you guys later.” He leaned over and gave Liz a quick kiss before he threw his trash away and walked out of the cafeteria.

“He’s not taking this too well is he?” Alex asked once Max was out of earshot.

“Not at all,” Isabel replied. “And he won’t talk about it either. Has he opened up to you at all?” she asked, her question directed at Liz.

Liz shook her head. “Sometimes when he comes to pick me up, he won’t even walk up to my door. He doesn’t want to take the chance that my dad will answer.”

“What about you?” Maria asked. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m trying to keep it together, but I can’t at times,” Liz said. “I hate what my dad did to Max, and I hate that Max won’t even look at my dad anymore.”

“Is your dad ready to apologize?” Tess asked.

“I doubt it,” Liz replied. “But I don’t know. I haven’t really talked to him lately. You know, of all the scenarios and all the nightmares I had about telling my parents about the wedding, never once did I think it would turn out this bad.”

“But look at your mom,” Maria said. “She’s actually excited about it now.”

“How do you know?” Liz asked in confusion.

“Because she talked my mom’s ear off for an hour,” Maria said. “She gave away every detail so far, down to the brand of champagne that’s going to be served at the reception.”

Liz couldn’t help but smile. Now that she thought about it, her mom was a lot more upbeat that she normally was. Hopefully she could pass some of that on to her dad.

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

The next morning, the basketball team was on the bus, driving to Albuquerque for the State tournament. Max was sitting towards the front, staring blankly out the window, while most of the other players were in the back, as far away from the coaches as possible.

“Got a minute?” Coach Swain asked before he sat next to Max.

“Sure,” Max said, glad that he could focus on something other than his thoughts.

“I know this may not be any of my business, but you’ve been somewhere else for the past two weeks,” Coach Swain said. “Even in practice it just seems like your going through the motions.”

“I’ve just had a lot on my mind,” Max said. “But I’ll be focused come game time.”

“I heard about the problem you’re having with Liz’s parents,” Coach Swain said. “Kyle was concerned, so he brought it to my attention.”

“I’ll be fine,” Max said.

“I know,” Coach Swain said with a nod. “But I just thought that I’d give you a little insight about parenting. I have a five year old daughter myself, and just the thought that someone out there is going to marry her one day makes my blood boil a little. As a father, nobody will ever be good enough for her, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to hate the person she chooses. All it takes is time to adjust.”

“That’s what everyone keeps telling me,” Max said. “But it doesn’t change what he said.”

“I don’t know what he said, but I can see that whatever it was is really affecting you,” Coach Swain said. “All I’m saying is that when he finally comes around, I hope you’ll give him a second chance. I hope you’ll give him the chance to make things better.”

Max nodded, but remained silent.

“Just hang in there,” Coach Swain said, patting Max on the back before he got up and walked back to his seat in the front of the bus.

Max glanced out the window again, turning his head when he felt someone sit next to him.

“I hope you’re not pissed that I told him,” Kyle said, pointing to their coach.

“Nah,” Max said with a slight shake of his head.

“Listen, if you want to talk about—” Kyle began, stopping when Max interrupted him.

“I don’t,” Max said, looking Kyle directly in the eyes.

“Okay,” Kyle said with a smile. “So…about the game tonight…” If Max didn’t want to talk about it, Kyle figured the least he could do was distract him so he didn’t think about it either.

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

The rest of the gang - Liz, Maria, Tess, Alex, Isabel and Michael - all drove over to Albuquerque together. Since nobody owned a Suburban, they had to take two cars in order to fit everyone. They arrived on the campus of the University of New Mexico about twenty minutes before Roswell was scheduled to play. They all paid their admission fees and made their way over to the Comets cheering section. There was quite a turnout from Roswell, many of the citizens taking interest in the team. After everyone took their seats, they all made small talk while they waited for the game to start.

“Well, well…look who’s here,” Maria said with a smile, causing everyone to turn and look.

“Mom!” Liz exclaimed when Nancy walked over and sat next to her daughter. “What are you doing here?”

“Isn’t Max playing tonight?” Nancy asked.

“Well, yeah but…what about dad?” Liz asked, noticing that both Diane and Jim Valenti were there as well.

“Your dad’s covering the restaurant for the night,” Nancy said.

“So he’s not here?” Liz asked. She was kind of relieved because she didn’t want to be forced to talk to him.

“No, sorry,” Nancy said.

Before Liz could respond, the Roswell basketball team came out onto the court. She turned and shared a look with Maria when she noticed that everyone on the team was wearing matching headbands, including Max and Kyle. All she could do was shake her head and smile.

Michael noticed the headbands as well, but his response was a bit different from Liz’s. “What the hell is that?” he asked, earning him a smack from Maria.

“Watch your mouth!” she said, giving the parents an apologetic look.

“It’s pretty corny if you ask me, but I’m not the one in charge,” Isabel said.

They continued to talk until the game started, then turned their attention towards the court and cheered their friends along.

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

Roswell ended up winning the first game rather easily, along with the second. But the third game, for the state championship, was a real nail biter. The score bounced back and forth so many times, it was hard to keep track of who was winning.

The fourth and final quarter started with Roswell leading by three points, but that lead only lasted for a minute. Michael and Alex were on the edge of their seats the entire night, cheering one second then booing the next. As the game neared the end, the scoring margin became greater…with Roswell coming out on the short end of the stick. When the final minute came, the deficit was large enough for Coach Swain to put in a substitute for Kyle, just so he could get a round of applause from the crowd. Kyle hugged his coach as he made his way to the bench, clearly upset that they were about to lose.

With about twenty seconds left, Coach Swain did the exact same thing for Max.

Max glanced over at the scorer’s table when he heard his teammate call out his name and point to him, indicating that he was being taken out. He slowly walked over to the bench, getting a hug from the player who came in to sub for him. Everyone who was sitting in the Roswell section, along with some who weren’t, gave him a standing ovation. He walked up to Coach Swain and gave him a hug, his throat too tight to say anything. He slowly made his way towards the end of the bench to where Kyle was sitting. The two friends hugged, both sharing the same painful feeling of defeat.

“We gave it a good run,” Kyle said, his voice choked up.

“Yeah we did,” Max replied, his voice sounding a lot like Kyle’s.

When the buzzer sounded, signaling the end of the game, the other team started jumping up and down in triumph while the Comets all hung their heads in defeat as they huddled around their coach.

“I don’t want to see anyone hang their heads,” Coach Swain said. “We had a hell of a season and each one of you should be proud of what we accomplished. Walk off this court with pride, with your heads held high.”

The two teams lined up to shake hands before Roswell made it’s way back to the locker room, leaving the victorious team out on the court to celebrate.

Max glanced over at Liz, who was standing right next to the entrance of the locker room. She reached over and held out her hand, which he grabbed and held briefly before he walked in to change.

“Poor guys,” Maria said. “They came so close.”

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

As the stadium slowly emptied, leaving only the friends and family members of the players, the gang all hung around on the side of the court while they waited for Max and Kyle. They watched as each player from Roswell came out one by one, leaving only Max, Kyle and Coach Swain unaccounted for. It wasn’t until all the other players walked outside and boarded the bus that the other three came out.

Coach Swain was the first to appear, shaking hands with Jim, letting him know that Max and Kyle would still be a few minutes before he walked outside and climbed onto the bus.

Everyone waited another five minutes before the only two remaining players finally came out. Both Max and Kyle were fighting back tears as they approached the group, their eyes red from crying.

Kyle hugged his father as a new wave of tears came on, quietly crying on his shoulder. Tess stood next to him and rubbed his back in comfort, waiting for him to turn and give her a hug.

Max clenched his jaw to fight back his own tears as Michael, Maria, Alex and Isabel all gave him a quick hug in turn. When he got to his mom, his brow furrowed together as it became increasingly harder for him to hold back his emotions. As soon as she pulled him into a hug, he lost it. He let out a sob as he clung to his mom, wishing that his high school basketball career had ended differently.

He pulled back and glanced over his mom’s shoulder, noticing that Liz was waiting for him to finish with everyone else so she could have him all to herself. He smiled as he walked up to her, dropping his duffel bag before he reached out and pulled her into a hug so fierce, he actually lifted her off the ground.

“I love you,” Liz whispered into his ear before she placed a gentle kiss on his neck.

Max wasn’t able to say anything in return, fearing that he would start sobbing again if he tried. He just closed his eyes as he clung to Liz, knowing that she could make everything better by simply being the person she was. After holding her for a few minutes, he finally spoke. “You know what we need to do?” he asked, not even pulling back so much as an inch.

“What’s that?” Liz replied, placing another kiss on his neck.

“We need to have some fun tonight,” Max said.

“That’s quite a mood change there,” Liz said with a smile. “Are you sure you’re up for it?”

“Absolutely,” Max said, finally putting Liz back on her feet. “What do you say Kyle?” he asked, looking over at his friend as he pulled Liz into his side. “You ready to kill this sour mood?”

“Lead the way,” Kyle said.

“Let’s bounce,” Max said with a nod, leading Liz towards the exit, completely forgetting about his bag.

“What about your stuff?” Liz asked.

“Who cares,” Max said, not even bothering to look back.

“I’ve got it,” Michael said, throwing the strap over his shoulder.

Once they were all out in the parking lot, the parents made sure that the teenagers were going to head straight back to Roswell. They didn’t mind them hanging out for the night, so long as they did it in Roswell.

“We’ll be right behind you,” Alex said before everyone climbed into their cars and headed home.

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

Everyone spent the night hanging around Roswell, doing anything and everything they could think of. Once the night ended and everyone went home, Max found himself sitting on his bed, looking around his bedroom at all the trophies he had won over the years. He stood up and grabbed a basketball trophy, smiling as he remembered the time he won it. He ran his finger over the engraving on the base when a light knock came to his widow. He walked over and opened it, surprised to find Liz standing on the other side. “Liz, what are you doing here?” he asked as he helped her inside.

“It’s…it’s my dad,” Liz said as she and Max sat on the bed.

“What happened?” Max asked, his voice not as soft as it was before.

“I just don’t want to be around him right now,” Liz said, grabbing Max’s hand and threading her fingers through his.

“Did he say something to you?” Max asked.

“He…he’s just being himself,” Liz said. “He wants to control me and I won’t let him.”

“What did he do?” Max asked.

“He didn’t want me going out tonight,” Liz said. “When I got home, he was a little peeved.”

“But your mom said that you could go out,” Max said.

“I know. But when she told him that, he said it didn’t matter. He said I needed to check with him no matter what.”

“So he basically told your mom that she has no right to make decisions regarding your curfew,” Max said.

“Yep,” Liz said, offering him a smile. “And as you can imagine, that didn’t set in too well with my mom. When I left for my room, they were really getting into it verbally.”

“And let me guess,” Max said with a smirk, “he blamed everything on me.”

“Not directly,” Liz said. “But I won’t lie to you Max…I could tell that he was about to play that card.”

Max just shook his head as he looked out the window.

“Just tell me that you still love me even though my dad’s a prick,” Liz said, cupping his cheek.

As soon as Max looked into Liz’s eyes he smiled. “There’s nothing in this world that could keep me away from you, Liz. Even your dad.”

Liz let out a sigh of relief as she leaned over to rest her head on his shoulder. “That’s all I needed to hear.”

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

Kyle, Michael, Alex and Max were all in the grocery store about a week later, getting food for the ‘guys only’ sports party that was about to take place. There were going to be a ton of basketball games on TV, so they all decided to hang out and watch them together, without the girls.

“How much do you want to bet that the girls will show up even though we told them not to?” Alex asked as he read over the grocery list.

“They better not,” Michael mumbled before he started assigning work for everyone. “Alright…Alex, you get the soda and cookies, Kyle, you get the cereal and milk…”

“Cereal and milk?” Kyle asked in confusion.

“Yeah…cereal and milk,” Michael repeated. “I need cereal and milk.”

“Right,” Kyle said before he and Alex walked away to get their assigned food.

“Max,” Michael continued, “why don’t you get the chips and dip. I’ll head over and pick up the steaks.”

Max nodded before he set out for the chip isle. He was standing in front of the display shelf, contemplating which bag to get, when someone accidentally bumped into him.

“Oh, I’m sorr…” the guy said as he turned to look at the person he had just run into.

When Max turned, intent to waive off the apology, his jaw set when he found himself looking at none other than Jeff Parker. He stared at Liz’ dad for a second, his jaw muscle flexing slightly before he turned back around and grabbed the first bag he could reach. He purposefully strode down the isle, determined to get away from Jeff as soon as possible when he ran into Nancy.

“Oh…Max,” Nancy said with a smile. “How are you?”

“I’m good,” Max said, returning her smile. “At least I was,” he said as he glanced over his shoulder at Jeff.

Nancy let out a sigh when she saw that her husband was trying to act casual, like Max wasn’t even around. “Max, I know this can’t be easy for you, but trust me when I say that it isn’t any easier for me and Liz.”

“I know,” Max said with a nod.

“I know deep down that he’ll come around eventually,” Nancy said. “I just hope that when he finally does it’s not too late.”

“I’m going to be perfectly honest with you,” Max said. “At this point, even if he apologized to me, the most I can offer is that I’ll be civil around him. I can’t promise you that things will be kosher between us, no matter how hard he tries to make up for what he said. There’s no way I can just forget it, and I’m not even sure I’ll be able to forgive him.”

“He was just trying to look after Liz,” Nancy said, trying to defend her husband as gently as possible.

“That may be,” Max said. “But he had no right to say what he said.” He offered Nancy one last smile before he walked off in search of his friends.

Nancy took a deep breath before she walked up to her husband. She made a decision right then and there that is was time to end the feud.

To Be Continued…

Part 24

Max was standing in front of his closet a few days later, getting ready to go out to dinner with Liz, when Isabel walked into his room.

“Going out tonight?” she asked.

Max turned and looked at her before he replied. “Yeah. Liz kept dropping me subtle hints at school today that she wanted me to take her to dinner.”

“I’m impressed that you picked up on them,” Isabel confessed.

“Why’s that?” Max asked with a smile. “I can take a hint, especially when its crammed down my throat.”

“I was just kidding,” Isabel said with a laugh. “Where are you taking her?”

“I’m not sure,” Max said as he grabbed a shirt and held it up to get Isabel’s opinion.

Isabel shook her head before she reached in and grabbed another one, handing it to her brother. “Don’t you think it would be a good idea to figure that out before you pick her up?”

“She told me that she wanted to decide,” Max said with a shrug.

“Huh. Well I’ll let you get changed. Have fun,” Isabel said before she walked out of his room, closing the door behind her.

Max quickly changed his cloths before he grabbed his car keys and headed downstairs, finding his mom in the living room. “I’m on my way out.”

“Okay,” Diane said with a smile. “Don’t be too late.”

“I won’t,” Max called over his shoulder before he walked out the front door and climbed into his Mustang. As soon as he pulled up to Liz’s, he saw her skip out of her house and climb in next to him before he could even shut off the engine. “You look great,” he said with a smile.

“Thanks,” Liz replied as she leaned over and gave him a kiss. “So do you.”

Max backed out of his parking spot but stopped before he pulled out onto the street. “So…where to?”

“Take a left,” Liz said. “I want to try that new restaurant over on Baker Street.”

“Sounds good to me,” Max said.

After they got to the restaurant and pulled into the parking lot, Liz suddenly turned to Max as he shut off the engine. “I need you to not be mad at me for doing this.”

“For doing what?” Max asked, confused.

“You’ll see,” Liz said nervously. “Just promise that you won’t get mad at me. I swear it wasn’t my idea.”

“Liz,” Max said with a smile, “whatever it is, I promise that I won’t get mad at you.”

“Okay,” Liz said with a sigh of relief.

“Are you going to tell me what it is that I’m not supposed to get mad about?” Max asked after he and Liz climbed out of the car. As they walked into the restaurant, instead of answering him verbally, she simply pointed. Max turned to see what she was pointing at, his eyes turning cold as his jaw muscle started to flex, something that only happened when he was not pleased.

“Are you mad at me?” Liz asked quietly, afraid of his answer.

“No,” Max said bluntly, his eyes still locked on Jeff Parker who was sitting at a table across the room with Nancy.

“You seem like you are,” Liz said.

“I’M NOT…” Max began to snap, catching himself before he blew up at the one person he needed the most. “I’m sorry,” he said as he finally turned to look at her, his eyes softening. “I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the situation. I didn’t except this.”

“I know,” Liz said as she threaded her fingers through his. “But I swear this wasn’t my idea.”

“I know,” Max said with a smile, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. “Love you.”

“Love you,” Liz said, returning his smile before she took a deep breath. “Ready?”

“Not in the least,” Max said, looking back over at Jeff. “But I’ll do it for you.”

As the two of them started to walk over to the table, Jeff and Nancy looked up just before they reached it. Max could tell from the look of hesitation on Jeff’s face that he had some idea of what was going on.

“Please sit down,” Nancy said to Max and Liz, motioning to the two seats across the table from her and Jeff. “First off, this was my idea. Actually it was Diane’s, but I decided to make it happen. Secondly, the reason I brought everyone here tonight, in a public place mind you, is so we can all speak our minds like civilized people. No yelling, no screaming, no accusing…I just want everyone to say what they’re feeling.”

There was a silence at the table so Nancy decided to break the ice. “Okay, I’ll go first. As a parent, I want what’s best for my daughter,” she said, looking right at Max. “At first, the news about the marriage didn’t set in too well with me, mostly because the two of you are so young. But after I thought about it for a while, and after talking to Diane, I realized that this wasn’t my decision to make. Once I dealt with that, I was able to move past the initial hesitation I felt and slowly began to fall in love with the idea of the wedding. I think you’re a wonderful young man, Max, and I can’t tell you how thankful and proud I am that you’ll be a part of my family.”

Max smiled at Nancy as another silence overtook the table. Nancy looked at her daughter, silently telling her to go next.

“I guess I’m up,” Liz said with a nervous laugh. “The past few weeks have been really stressful for me. I feel like I’m caught in the middle of a territorial battle, with the grand prize being my affection. On one hand I have Max, who I love more than anything in the world, and on the other I have my dad, who I love just as much. I feel like I’m being forced to choose between the two of you, and that’s not fair to me. I can’t tell you how upset I am about what you said to Max dad, but I do understand that you were just trying to look out for me. What you need to realize is that I’m a big girl now. I can make my own decisions, and regardless of whether you think I’m making a mistake or not, you need to see that it’s my mistake to make, not yours. And Max…I understand why you’re holding a grudge against my dad, I really do…but I just want you to know that its really hurting me…both of you are.”

Max avoided everyone’s gaze, especially Liz’s. He never thought that his anger towards Jeff would turn around and hurt Liz, but now that he thought about it, it made perfect sense. Why wouldn’t it hurt her? He was her dad. He just couldn’t believe that he didn’t see it before now.

“I never meant to…” Max began, cutting himself off as he though about what he wanted to say. “I’m sorry,” he said to Liz. “I don’t know why, but I never realized before now that while I was busy blaming your dad for your unhappiness, I was actually causing some of it. I know this may sound stubborn, but apart from hurting you by ignoring him, I don’t think I did anything wrong.” He turned to her parents before he went on. “The only thing I’ve ever done is love Liz unconditionally, and if that’s wrong, then I’ve lived my entire life in error. Sure…I’ve made my share of mistakes growing up, but loving her is the one thing I know I did right.” He paused briefly before he continued. “When we first told you two about the wedding, I was willing to talk to Jeff alone in the hopes that he would see that I was not only serious about the commitment, but that I would also do anything to protect his daughter. I thought that maybe I would earn some respect…”

“You did,” Jeff said out of nowhere. All eyes shifted to him as he looked over at Max. “You earned my respect a long time ago. Listening to you now, and thinking about everything you said to me, I guess I didn’t want to admit that you were right. Maybe it was my pride, maybe it was my parental instinct to protect my daughter from possible heartache. Whatever the case may be, the fact that you’re sitting here right now, and that you’ve stuck by her side through all of this, tells me one thing…that you’ll do anything for her. I’ve tried to think back on what I said to you that night in the restaurant, but every time I do, my mind draws a blank. I know that whatever I said really hit a nerve, but the fact that I don’t remember it makes me realize that I didn’t mean it. There’s only one sentence that I remember clearly, and it’s the last thing you said to me before tonight. You said, ‘I was excited about getting back just a little bit of what I lost six months ago…a dad. I guess I was wrong.’ I think that statement is the reason I haven’t talked to you for the past couple of weeks. That really hurt me when you said that, and I know I’ve been immature about how I’ve handled it. You didn’t deserve anything I said to you, and you surely didn’t deserve the way I’ve been treating you. I find it kind of ironic that between the two of us, I’m the one acting like a teenager. I…I’m sorry, and I know that it’s going to take some time to repair the damage I’ve done, but I hope that you’ll give me the chance, even though I don’t deserve it.”

Nobody at the table knew how to respond. Just the other day Jeff got upset when Nancy so much as said Max’s name, but now here he was, apologizing for everything he had done. Everyone was confused as to what caused the sudden change in his attitude.

“You mean the world to me Liz,” Jeff went on after a short pause. “I want to protect you for the rest of your life, but I know that’s not possible. The only thing I can do is make sure that the person you choose to be your husband takes over for me in watching out for you. In this case, I know Max will do just that.”

Again everyone was speechless. Max looked like a deer that was caught staring into a pair of oncoming headlights. It wasn’t until he felt Liz cover his hand with her own that he turned away from Jeff to look at her. She smiled, encouraging him to say something. He turned back to Jeff, who was staring down at his hands as he fiddled with his fork.

“Max,” Liz whispered. “Could you please say something to him?”

Max nodded even though he had no idea what to say. Without thinking, he began talking about the first thing that popped into his head. “When my dad died, my entire world turned upside down. I was forced to move to a different state and leave all my friends behind. I was forced to leave everything I grew up with. But I met someone special the very first day I was here. She was one of the first people I met, and I knew right away that she was the one for me. I knew this because she could sense what I was feeling without asking me. She could put my mind at ease with a simple smile and ease my pain with a simple touch. I can feel her every time she’s near, and I still get weak in the knees every time she walks into the room. But the really amazing part, the part that makes me want to cry from sheer joy, is that she feels the exact same way about me. I don’t know what I did to deserve her, but to be perfectly honest I don’t really care. The only thing I care about is that she loves me and she wants to be with me. That’s all I need. I guess the reason I’m telling you this is to thank you both,” he said, looking at Jeff and Nancy in turn.

“Thank us?” Nancy asked with a smile. “For what?”

“For bringing Liz up the way you did,” Max said. “She’s the most amazing person I’ve ever met, and part of that is because of you guys and the way you raised her.” He paused for a second before he turned to Jeff. “There’s just one thing I need to know. What made you change your mind?”

Jeff ran a hand through his hair before he looked over at Liz. “I changed my mind a week ago, but my pride wouldn’t let me apologize. I felt that if I apologized, I’d be sorry for wanting to protect Liz. There’s no way I’ll ever be sorry for that, but sitting here, listening to her, I realize that I’d end up losing her if I wasn’t careful. I hope you can understand that I am sorry for reacting the way I did when I said what I said to you, but I’m not sorry for what I felt when I said them. I just didn’t express my fears and hesitations the way I should have.”

“Are you ready to order?” the waiter asked politely after he approached the table.

Nothing more was said about the past few weeks as they ate dinner. They all conversed just like they used to, even laughing from time to time. As Liz looked between the two most important men in her life, she had to smile. Things were finally heading in the right direction, and even though it would take some time to mend the bridges between Max and her dad, the work to do so had just begun.

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

“No way!” Maria exclaimed as she and Liz stretched out on her bed to watch a movie later that night. “He actually apologized?”

“Yeah,” Liz said before she dipped her spoon into a bowl of ice cream and ate it. “It seemed like one minute he was ready to ring Max’s neck, and the next he was confessing that he had been acting immature.”

“This is a parental breakthrough, Liz,” Maria said. “A dad actually admitting that he was acting immature? This has got to be the first time in history.”

“I’m just glad that he and Max are talking again,” Liz said truthfully.

“Yeah, speaking of…how are things going between them?” Maria asked. “I’d imagine it’s kind of awkward right now.”

“It is for them,” Liz said. “They’re both at that stage where they don’t know what to say or how to act around each other. Then again, it’s only been a couple of hours since they made a truce, so I’m sure they’ll work it out.”

“You’d think so,” Maria said.

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

A couple of weeks passed without anything really significant happening. It was nearing prom time, only a month away now, and all the girls were starting to get excited. Max and Jeff saw each other on several occasions as the gap between them slowly started to close. Jeff had invited Max over to dinner five times in the past two weeks, trying his best to mend the damage he had caused.

Max was currently walking up to Liz’s front door, having accepted another invitation from Jeff for dinner.

“Max!” Jeff said after he opened the door. “I’m glad you could make it.”

“Thanks for having me…again,” Max said with a smile as he stepped inside. “Although I have to tell you, my mom’s starting to get jealous because lately I’ve been eating over here more than I have at home.”

Jeff smiled as he looked past Max, confusion overtaking him as he called out to his wife. “Nancy! I though you invited Diane over for dinner tonight.”

“She did,” Max answered for his wife. “She got held up at work so she’ll be a little late.”

“Oh,” Jeff said as he led Max into the living room.

“Hey babe,” Liz said with a smile as she bounced down the stairs and gave Max a hug.

“Hey,” Max replied, returning her smile.

“I got my prom dress today,” Liz said, her smile widening as she kept her arms wrapped around his waist. “I think you’ll love it.”

“I know I will,” Max said. “As long as you’ll be wearing it, how can I not?”

Liz shyly looked down at the subtle compliment, something that Max absolutely loved. She always looked so cute when she did that.

They were so wrapped up in each other that neither of them noticed when Jeff left with a smile on his face. Max reached around and grabbed Liz’s hands, holding them in his own as he brought them up to his lips and kissed them lightly. He ran his thumb over her engagement ring, something he did every time they were together now.

“I love that you can finally wear this,” he said as he looked at her, his eyes filled with affection.

“Me to,” Liz said, looking at him the exact same way. “No more hiding.”

Max shook his head in agreement. “Never again.”

Just then the doorbell rang, causing Jeff to walk back into the entryway. “Diane!” he said with a smile after he opened the door, stepping to the side so Max’s mom could enter. “Max said that you’d be running late.”

“I was,” Diane said. “But I was able duck out of the office earlier than I thought I would.”

“Hey mom,” Max said, pulling Liz into his side as Diane walked by the living room.

“Hi honey,” Diane said with a smile. “Does Nancy need any help in the kitchen?” she asked as she turned to face Jeff again.

“Even if she did, she’d never admit it,” Jeff said. “But you’re more than welcome to offer.”

After the parents left, Liz leaned into Max, resting her head against his shoulder. “Can you believe it? Our parents actually accepted the engagement.”

Max smiled as he placed a kiss on the top of her head. “To be honest, I never thought your dad would come around. I thought for sure he’d hate me for the rest of his life.”

“Of course he wouldn’t,” Liz said, looking up at him. “You’re just too damn cute to hate.”

“You’re biased,” Max said with a smirk.

“Yes I am,” Liz replied as she smiled up at him seductively. She leaned in so she could whisper in his ear, her smile growing when she felt his breathing become erratic. “But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re hot.” She nibbled on his earlobe for a second, giggling when she heard him groan in protest after she pulled away.

“You’re trying to kill me, aren’t you?” Max asked

“Oh you know you love it,” Liz said as she started to walk away, swaying her hips on purpose as she threw him a glace over her shoulder.

Max playfully glared after her for a second before an evil smile spread across his face.

Liz stopped dead in her tracks, her smile fading when she saw the look on his face. “Oh no you don’t,” she said as she turned around to face him fully, pointing her index finger at him to stop him from advancing on her.

Max ignored her as he slowly made his way over, his face still showing the same evil smile.

“Max…please,” Liz begged as she started to backpedal. “I…I was just kidding.”

“I know,” Max said as he raised an eyebrow at her.

Liz decided to turn and make a run for the kitchen, hoping that her parents would give her safe haven from whatever it was that Max planned to do to her. She had no such luck. Max covered the ground between them in two quick strides before he wrapped his arms around her waist, lifting her up into the air to prevent her from fleeing. He spun around and gently dropped her on the couch before he laid out on top of her, pinning her down. His hands slowly began to roam around her sides, flirting with her ticklish spots.

“Max, no!” Liz half begged, half laughed. “Please.” Her plea fell on deaf ears as Max began to tickle her all over. “Stop!” Liz said between laughs as she tried to squirm away. Since Max wasn’t playing fair by pinning her to the couch, she decided to say the one thing she knew would get him to stop. “Max…if you love me you’d stop.”

Max stopped immediately, giving her a look of disbelief. “No fair!”

“Look who’s talking,” Liz said with a smile. “Like pinning me to the couch is fair!”

“Hey, it’s not my fault you’re weak!” Max shot back.

“WEAK!” Liz exclaimed with wide eyes.

As soon as Max saw her eyes narrow, he knew he was in trouble. “Uh oh,” he muttered. He slowly began to back off her, trying to give her his cutest smile.

“Don’t bother,” Liz said as she continued to glare at him. “That sweet smile of yours isn’t going to save you this time.”

“Now Liz,” Max said with a laugh as he started to backpedal, holding his hands out in front of him to keep her from attacking. “I know you don’t want to do anything you might regret later.”

“And why is that?” Liz asked, slowly hounding him as if he were her prey.

“Because I wouldn’t want you to hurt your fragile self,” Max said with a laugh.

Liz gasped, her eyes widening momentarily before they returned to their playful glare. “Oh…you are so dead.”

Then, almost simultaneously, Max made a dash for the stairs as Liz lunged out to grab him.

“Get back here!” Liz called out as she began to chase him.

“No way!” Max called back as he ran down the hall and into her bedroom. He quickly closed the door before she got there, leaning into it to keep her from getting in.

“Open up!” Liz demanded as she pounded on the door. When Max refused, she tried a different approach. “Maaaaaax,” she whined. “Please let me in. I miss you.” When she heard him back away, she smiled as she slowly pushed the door open and found him standing on the far side of her bed, armed with a pillow. “A little paranoid, aren’t we?” she asked as she folded her arms across her chest.

“I prefer the word ‘cautious’,” Max said.

“Ah,” Liz said with a nod as she slowly started to walk towards him. “And what, you’re going to hit me with that pillow if I try to get you back for tickling me?”

“If it comes to that,” Max said as he slowly started to back away. It wasn’t long before he found himself backed into a corner with nowhere to run. “Now just remember that I didn’t have to let you in here.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Liz said with a smile as she reached out and grabbed the pillow, throwing it over her shoulder and onto her bed. She had every intention of getting him back, but for some reason he looked so sexy just standing there, carefully watching every move she made. Needless to say her mood changed instantly. She reached out and brushed his hair off his forehead before she slowly ran her hand down his chest and began to undress him with her eyes.

“Liz,” Max said softly, meaning it as a warning even though it sounded more like an invitation. His breathing picked up as soon as he saw the look of pure lust in Liz’s eyes. “You know how I…tend to lose control when you…you look at me like that.”

“I know,” Liz said as her eyes continued to roam up and down his body. “I…I can’t help it,” she admitted as her heart began to race. “Max…I know that we…that we agreed to wait…you know, until we’re married. Do you still think…do you still think that’s a good idea?”

“I don’t know,” Max said as he closed his eyes, his hands running up under her shirt as if they had taken on a mind of their own. “The only thing I know is that…is that it keeps getting harder and harder every time I’m near you…no pun intended.”

Liz started to laugh as she leaned into him, resting her forehead against his chin as she closed her eyes. “I know what you mean. Both our parents are downstairs, but I want you so much right now that I don’t care.”

Max groaned softly as he pulled his hands out from under her shirt and ran them through her hair to keep them from wandering. “Why do we have to be so damn responsible all the time? We’re going to make love eventually, whether it be today or in a few months when we finally get married.”

“I know,” Liz agreed, her eyes still closed. “But just imagine how special our wedding night’s going to be when we finally give ourselves to each other. I always wanted my first time to be special, and I can’t think of a better time than that.”

“Me neither,” Max agreed, placing a kiss on the top of her head. “I just hope I can last that long.”

posted on 26-Jun-2002 7:25:07 PM
Part 25

Prom

That one word was the cause of all the excitement, and the stress, that surrounded four young women who were all shopping for everything they would possible need to make the upcoming event the best it could possibly be. Three of the four girls were having a great time at the mall as they ran from store to store, but for Liz, who was still trying to organize Max’s birthday party the following week, a trip to the mall turned out to be a little more nerve racking than she would have liked.

“What about this one?” Maria asked as she modeled a dress.

Liz was sitting in a chair at the store, propping her elbows on her knees so she could hold her chin in her palms of her hands. This was the third store that they had gone to, and in an attempt to find the perfect dress, Maria had tried on every single one in the entire mall. Isabel and Tess had grown tired of her inability to choose, so they had gone their own way after the second store. Liz on the other hand didn’t want her best friend to have to shop alone, so she had trudged through the indecisiveness and whining while trying her best to stay upbeat…but even she had her breaking point.

“Like I said about the last dress, I still like the one you tried on back at Macy’s,” Liz said.

“I just don’t know if I can get past the strings on the back,” Maria said. “I want something low cut in the back, and having those strings criss-crossing just covered up too much skin.”

Liz let out a sigh as she shook her head, telling Maria that she didn’t like the one she had on.

“I thought so too,” Maria said, scrunching up her nose slightly before she headed back to the dressing room.

“God, please help me,” Liz muttered as she ran her hands through her hair.

“You rang.”

Liz looked up at the sound of the familiar voice, her eyes lighting up when they landed on Max. She jumped off the chair and flung herself into his arms, a permanent smile etched on her face. “MAX! How did you know I was here?” she asked as she pulled back to look at him.

“I ran into Isabel and Tess over at the food court,” Max said.

“Oh,” Liz replied. “Come to think of it, what are you doing here?”

“Shopping,” Max said with a shrug.

“Shopping?” Liz asked skeptically. “Are you forgetting that I know you? You hate shopping.”

Max let out a laugh as he nodded over his shoulder. “Michael needs a tux and he didn’t want to come by himself.”

“Are Alex and Kyle with you?” Liz asked, waving at Michael in the distance.

“No, they would be the lucky ones,” Max said. “Kyle had plans with his dad and Alex was busy cleaning out his garage.”

“I don’t know if I’d call them lucky,” Liz said.

Max just smiled as he leaned over so he could whisper in her ear. “Trust me. I’d much rather help your dad clean the kitchen at the Crashdown than shop with this one here.”

Liz laughed as she pointed toward the dressing room. “I know what you mean. Maria’s dragged me around the entire mall and right now I’m about ready to pull my hair out.”

“Oh, don’t do that,” Max said as he reached out and ran his hand through her hair, a small wrinkle appearing across his forehead. “I love your hair. If it’s stressing you out that much…pull Maria’s hair out. She’s the one causing the tension.”

“You know, if she doesn’t pick a damn dress soon, I might just do that,” Liz said.

Max gently turned Liz around so her back was facing him, then brushed her hair over her shoulder before he slid his hands up and began to give her neck a light massage.

Liz let out a moan of satisfaction as she closed her eyes and let her head fall forward. “Don’t stop.”

“I don’t want to, but I need to get Michael out of here before Maria comes back out,” Max said. “She said that he’d be a dead man if he saw her in her prom dress before prom.”

“I doubt you have anything to worry about,” Liz said with a sigh. “She won’t be finding a dress for another hour or two.”

Max pulled Liz back into his chest and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, placing a soft kiss near her ear. “I’ll call you in an hour so we can meet up and have lunch.”

“Okay,” Liz replied as she turned her head and gave him a kiss over her shoulder.

“Love you,” Max said before he started to walk away.

“Love you,” Liz replied as she turned around to face him, giving him a wave as he left the store.

“What about this one?” Maria asked as she came back out, oblivious to the fact that Max and Michael had just been there.

Liz took a deep breath as she settled herself back down on the seat and shook her head.

“I don’t like it either,” Maria said as she turned and headed off for the dressing room yet again.

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

“Michael, it’s just a tux,” Max said with a smirk.

“No, it’s not just a tux,” Michael said in frustration. “It has to be a tux in MY style.”

“I hate to break this to you, but they don’t exactly make a tux in your style,” Max said as he patted his friend on the shoulder.

“So which one should I get then?” Michael asked as he looked from tux to tux.

“Like I said before, you can’t go wrong with classic black,” Max said, pointing to a couple of different styles. “If I were you, I wouldn’t try to go down the same road that Alex did. A white tux with a cane and top hat just wouldn’t suit you.”

“Okay,” Michael said before he pointed to the one he thought looked the least hideous.

“Good one,” Max said with a nod. “Now, are you going with a vest or cummerbund?”

“Vest,” Michael replied quickly.

“Okay. Typically your bowtie and vest should match the color of your date’s dress, but since Maria hasn’t picked out an outfit yet, that leaves us with one choice,” Max said.

“Which is?” Michael asked.

“Black all around,” Max replied. “Unless you know what color dress she’s getting?”

“Nobody knows that,” Michael muttered. “Not ever her.”

“Let’s go get you measured so we can order it,” Max said.

Once they were done in the tux shop, the two of them made their way out into the mall. They walked around for a while, trying to waist time until they met up with the girls for lunch. When they passed by a bed and bath store, Max stopped and looked inside.

“Don’t tell me we’re going in there,” Michael said as he looked into the store as well.

“Just for a second,” Max said before he walked in, ignoring Michael’s groan. Max looked around for a few minutes until he found what he was looking for, a smile lighting up his face as he picked it up and headed for the checkout line.

“What’s that?” Michael asked.

“Bubble bath,” Max replied.

“Do chicks honestly like that stuff?” Michael asked.

“Michael,” Max said as he put his arm around his friend’s shoulders, “as long as it’s unexpected and from the heart, they’ll love anything you give them. Now granted, a half withered bouquet of dandelions won’t get you the same reaction than a dozen fresh red roses will, but just showing that you’re always thinking about them, especially when they’re not around, makes them feel…cherished and special, which they should.”

“Maxwell, once again your pearls of wisdom amaze me,” Michael said before he turned to go find something for Maria.

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

About a half an hour later, Max and Michael found themselves at the food court, waiting for Liz and Maria.

“So you don’t think this present’s lame?” Michael asked, seriously concerned that Maria would hate what he had picked out for her.

“I would if you were giving it to me,” Max said. “But then again I’m not a girl.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Michael asked, eyeing his friend.

“Relax,” Max said with a smile. “I’m sure she’ll love it. Just don’t give it to her until the two of you are alone.”

“Why? You think she’ll want to take it back?” Michael asked.

Max just shook his head as he patted his friend on the back. “Just trust me on this one. If you give it to her when you’re alone…well, let’s just say the reward will be a lot better.”

Before Michael could respond, their girlfriend’s walked up. Maria had a big smile of triumph on her face, having finally found her dress, and Liz had a big smile of relief, thankful that her shopping day was over.

“Hey sexy,” Max said softly as he opened his arms, allowing Liz to walk right into him.

“Hey,” Liz said with a sigh as she wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her cheek into his chest. “You have no idea how happy I am to see you.”

“What, you didn’t have fun shopping with Maria?” Max asked quietly, already knowing the answer.

Liz pulled back and let out another sigh, giving Max the most pathetic look she could muster.

“Ahh,” Max cooed as he ran one of his hands through her hair, giving her a tiny smile as his eyes softened. “It looks like someone needs me to finish that massage.”

Liz’s eyes closed in bliss at the mere thought of a massage. “In the worst way.”

Max’s smile grew as he leaned forward and kissed her forehead, letting his lips linger for a few seconds so he could enjoy the smell of her hair. “Then I’ll come over tonight.”

“Let’s eat!” Maria said as she grabbed Michael by the arm and led him to the nearest food joint. “I’m starving.”

Max and Liz just smiled when they heard Michael groan, something that their friend did a lot, especially around Maria. Neither of them made an attempt to pull back though, both preferring to be close rather that heading off to get food.

“I love you, Liz,” Max said out of nowhere.

Liz looked up at him, a little surprised by his sudden an unexpected confession of love. “I love you, too,” she said softly. “Where did that come from?”

Max just shrugged. “I just wanted to make sure you knew that.”

“Of course I do,” Liz said as she began to run her hands up and down his back. That’s when she noticed a little hesitancy in his eyes. “Are you okay? Is something wrong?”

“No,” Max said with a tender smile.

As Liz looked at him, she realized that he was indeed telling the truth. Nothing was wrong, but something was definitely on his mind. That’s when she decided to push the issue. “Max…tell me what you’re thinking about.”

Max just looked at her for a second before he let out a little laugh and shook his head. “Why can’t I ever get anything past you?”

“You should know by now that it’s useless even trying,” Liz replied with a smile. “Now what is it?”

“What if I want it to be a surprise?” Max asked.

“Max,” Liz said as she took a step back and placed her hands on her hips, tilting her head to the side slightly.

“Liz,” Max said, mimicking her exact movements, even down to the stance she was in.

That’s when Liz folded her arms across her chest and glared at him. As soon as Max started to mimic her again she said, “Don’t you dare.”

Max let out a laugh before he reached out and placed both hands on Liz’s shoulders. “I’m sorry. You just look so cute when you try to be bossy.”

“I’m not moving until you tell me what you’re thinking about,” Liz said, ignoring his comment. “You can’t joke your way out of this one.”

“I’m not trying to joke my way out of anything,” Max said with a smirk. “I want to tell you, but it kind of involves Michael and Maria too, so can you just wait until they get back in a couple of minutes?”

“Fine,” Liz said as she sat down at a nearby table, keeping her arms folded across her chest as she crossed her legs under the table.

“Are you hungry?” Max asked, motioning toward the food booths.

“Not anymore,” Liz said, refusing to look up at him.

“Liz,” Max said as he crouched down next to her and placed his hand on her thigh. When she still refused to look at him, he let out a sigh. “I want to go somewhere after prom with you, Michael and Maria,” he confessed.

When Liz finally looked at him, she had a puzzled expression on her face.

“Kind of like a small camp out,” Max added with a smirk. “I…I just really want to get out before finals start, and I can’t think of a better time than prom night.”

“And you want to go camping?” Liz asked as she reached out and brushed the hair off his forehead. “On prom night?”

Max opened his mouth to respond, but before he could speak, Michael and Maria walked back over and sat down across from Liz.

“Proposing again?” Michael asked before he took a drink of his soda.

Max gave Liz a smile before he stood up and moved to the other side of her, sitting down so he was facing his friends. “I’ve got a question for you two.”

“Shoot,” Michael said, paying more attention to his french fries than to Max.

“What are you doing after prom?”

“Well that depends,” Maria said as she poured her salad dressing on her food.

“On what?” Max asked.

“On what you’re about to suggest,” Michael answered.

“How about a night at the Buchanan Mansion?” Max asked with a smile. Three sets of eyes were now staring at him as everyone stopped what they were doing.

“The Buchanan mansion?” Maria asked, looking at Max as if he had grown a second head. “You can’t be serious.”

“Why not?” Max asked.

“Have you ever heard the stories that people tell about that place?” Maria asked. “You know, there’s a very good reason why that place has been deserted for sixty years.”

“Oh come on,” Max said. “Don’t tell me you actually believe those cheesy ghost stories.”

“It would be one thing if some loony nutcase ranted about what he saw there, but there have been several - S E V E R A L - people who have witnessed the exact same thing,” Maria said.

“Yeah, they all said that around two in the morning they saw a bright white light behind one of the closed bedroom doors, then the door started to vibrate before unexpectedly swinging open, revealing the ghost of Dominic Buchanan himself,” Michael said, his voice lased with sarcasm.

“You don’t believe the stories?” Liz asked.

“It’s just a scam to make the mansion look freaky,” Michael insisted. “There are no such things as ghosts.”

“Thank you,” Max said to Michael. “For once you’re the voice of reason.”

“Michael, the voice of reason?” Maria asked with a laugh. “Yeah, that’ll be the day.”

“Why don’t you just admit that you’re too scared to spend the night there?” Michael shot back.

“I am admitting it,” Maria said.

“Come on Maria,” Liz said, surprising both Max and Michael. Max thought for sure that she’d be just as hard to convince as Maria would. “All we have to do is stay behind the boys. That way, if we do run into a ghost, we can push Max and Michael toward it while we bolt out the front door.”

“You’d sacrifice me to save your own hide?” Max asked with a look of hurt.

“You bet your ass I would,” Liz said without hesitation, unable to keep a straight face despite her best effort.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Max said with a glare.

“But what if the ghost comes up from behind us?” Maria asked.

“Then you’re screwed,” Michael said. “Then Max and I get to shove you two at it while we turn tail and run.”

“Come on guys,” Max said. “It’ll be fun.”

“What about the others?” Maria asked.

“They can’t go,” Max said. “Kyle and Tess are heading off to Albuquerque to look at apartments, and we all know there’s no way in hell Isabel’s going to go so that eliminates Alex too.”

All eyes turned to Maria as they waited for her to relent. “Fine,” she finally bit out. “But if I die, I’m haunting each and every one of you for the rest of your lives.”

“Speaking of moving,” Michael said, changing the subject. “When are you two heading to Stanford to look for a house?”

Liz’s eyes lit up as she turned to her friends, causing a big dopey smile to spread across Max’s face. He loved how animated she got whenever she talked about something she loved.

“The week after prom,” Liz said. “I’ve already talked to a couple of real estate agents and have a few walk-throughs lined up.”

“You do?” Max asked in surprise, unaware that Liz had already started to get the ball rolling.

“Yeah,” Liz said with a smile as she turned to him. Her smile faded away momentarily as a thought passed through her head. Maybe he wanted to look at the pictures of the houses with her before she set up the appointments. “You’re not mad are you? ‘Cause I could always call them back and cancel if you don’t like the houses.”

“It’s fine,” Max said with a reassuring smile. He leaned over and kissed her forehead as he wrapped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer to him. “I’m actually glad you’re setting everything up.”

“Yeah, it makes your job a lot easier, huh?” Michael asked. “All you have to do is nod and go along with whatever Liz wants.”

“You better not,” Liz said. “WE’RE going house shopping, meaning the two of us. You better give me your honest opinion if you don’t like a particular house, even if I love it, you got it?”

“I got it,” Max said as he raised his hands in the air, signaling his surrender.

“How are the wedding plans going?” Maria asked, changing the subject again.

“Well…” Liz began, getting that excited gleam in her eyes again.

The four friends spent the rest of the day hanging out, doing everything and nothing all at the same time. When dinnertime came, they all separated to their various houses, but not before Liz made Max promise to stop by later on that night for some ‘quality time’.

To Be Continued…

Part 26

The following week, for Max’s surprise birthday party, Michael’s sole job was to keep the birthday boy away from the Crashdown after school. That simple task turned out to be a lot more difficult than it sounded. In the end, Michael had to enlist Kyle’s help because his excuses for staying away from the cafe were starting to sound suspicious, even to his own ears. If he continued to try and distract Max by himself, his friend was bound to figure out that something was going on.

“You know guys,” Max was saying, “I really appreciate you wanting to take me out for my birthday, but before we go, I really just want to go see Liz for a second.” Liz had told him that Agnes had called in sick so her dad was making her work that night, thus preventing her from spending time with him until after her shift ended. What she didn’t mention was that her dad had agreed to shut down the café entirely for the night so she could throw him a party there.

“No can do,” Michael said.

“Why not?” Max asked.

“Because this is a chick free night,” Kyle said, covering for Michael.

“But it’s MY birthday,” Max said with a smirk. “Don’t you think I should have a say in what we do?”

“Absolutely not,” Kyle said as he threw his arm around Max’s shoulders. “If we left it up to you, you’d make us all sit around the Crashdown and wait for Liz to get off. No offense, but that’s not really my idea of fun.” As soon as he had finished his sentence his cell phone rang. He took a step away from Max as he reached down and checked the caller ID, seeing that it was Liz. “It’s Tess,” he lied. “This will only take a second. Hey babe,” he said after he answered the phone.

“Kyle?” Liz asked, wanting to make sure she had the right number.

“Yeah,” Kyle said, hoping that Liz would figure out that he was trying to throw Max off, which she did rather quickly.

“Max is standing right next to you, isn’t he?” Liz asked with a smile.

“Yep,” Kyle answered, not even daring to caution a glance at his friend.

“Great,” Liz said. “You and Michael can bring him over now. Everything’s ready.”

“Are you sure?” Kyle asked.

“Yeah,” Liz replied. “Just remember to bring him through the back door. I don’t want him to notice that the café’s parking lot out front is practically deserted.”

“You got it,” Kyle said. “See you soon.” He hung up the phone and turned to Max and Michael who, much to his relief, weren’t really paying attention to him anymore. “Well, it looks like we need to swing by the Crashdown after all.”

“Why?” Michael asked, doing a pretty good job of acting like he was clueless.

“Tess forgot to give me something at school today,” Kyle said.

“Chick free night, huh?” Max asked as he headed for the door, glad that he would at least be able to see Liz for a little while before Michael and Kyle dragged him off for the night.

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

Liz was running around making sure that everything was set when Isabel came rushing into the café through the back room.

“HE’S HERE, HE’S HERE!”

“Alright everyone, quiet!” Liz said as she took her spot behind the counter while everyone else hid from view.

Jeff Parker was pretending to work the grill in the kitchen when Max, Michael and Kyle walked through the back door. “Max! Happy birthday,” he said as he reached out and shook his hand.

“Thanks,” Max said with a smile. “You got stuck working too, huh?”

“Yeah well, I had two people call in sick and I promised Michael that I’d give him the night off,” Jeff said, giving Michael a wink. “Say, you’re going to stop by later on tonight, aren’t you?”

“I was planning on it,” Max said with a nod. “Why?”

“Well…Nancy and I got you a present,” Jeff said.

“You didn’t have to…” Max began to say.

“Nonsense,” Jeff interrupted with a wave of his hand. “Why don’t you boys go take a booth while I cook you up some burgers…my treat.”

“Free food?” Kyle asked before he headed over to the swinging door that led to the café. “You don’t need to tell me twice.”

Max smiled his thanks before he followed behind Kyle.

“After you,” Kyle said, bowing slightly as he motioned to the door with his hands.

Max gave him a weird look, wondering for a second why he was suddenly being so chivalrous. He found out as soon as he walked through the door.

“SURPRISE!!!!”

“GOOD GOD!” Max exclaimed as he jumped back a little, startled to say the least. The restaurant was filled with people and was completely covered with party decorations, everything from balloons and streamers to birthday hats and presents. He closed his eyes for a second and smiled as his heart rate slowly returned to normal, shaking his head as his mom came up and gave him a hug.

“Happy birthday, sweetheart,” Diane said.

“Thanks mom,” Max replied before Isabel pulled him into a hug. “Who’s idea was this?” he asked as he glanced over his sister’s shoulder, answering his own question when his eyes landed on Liz who was smiling at him from behind the counter. “Never mind.”

After getting a hug, or a pat on the back in Michael’s case, from his friends, the only one left was Liz. Max slowly walked up to the counter with his arms folded across his chest, giving his fiancé a playful glare. “This is your doing.”

Liz nodded slowly as she bit her bottom lip, her hands clasped behind her back as she waited for him to walk up to her.

Once he was finally standing in front of her, his eyes softened as a tiny smile came to his lips. “Thanks,” he whispered before he bent over and tenderly covered her lips with his own. Then, just as he had wrapped his arms around Liz’s waist and felt her wrap hers around his neck, a camera flash caused them to separate.

“Ahhh, that was the sweetest picture,” Maria cooed as she lowered her camera.

“Come on everyone,” Jeff said, having followed Max out from the back room. “Dig in, the food’s getting cold.”

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

Everyone at the party was having a good time mingling together, smiling and laughing every chance they got. Although Max would normally pass when given the chance to be the center of attention, for some reason he found himself rather enjoying it. Michael, Kyle and Alex were all joking about how they were going to take him to a strip bar later that night, which of course didn’t go over too well with Liz. She had replied that the only naked female Max was going to be laying eyes on was her, which caused everyone in the group to start laughing…everyone except for her dad who had overheard her. Max immediately raised his hands in Jeff’s direction and started to back up, not only trying to put some distance between the two of them, but also trying to move away from Liz so her dad didn’t feel threatened in any way.

“Is that so?” Jeff asked his daughter.

“Well…eventually,” Liz muttered as her face turned bright red.

Jeff threw another glance at Max before he walked into the back room, smiling at how he was able to joke around with the young man again without either of them feeling awkward.

“Thanks a lot,” Max said as he walked back up to Liz. “Now your dad’s going to glare at me whenever I so much as hold your hand.”

“Oh he was just kidding around,” Nancy said with a wave of her hand.

The party went on for another couple of hours before everyone finally started to split up. They all filed out one by one until the only people left were Max, Liz and their parents.

“Max, Liz…get out of here,” Jeff said when he noticed that the two of them had started to help clean up.

“But dad…” Liz began to say; feeling guilty that her parents were going to be the ones stuck cleaning up after a party that she threw.

“No buts,” Nancy said. “You heard your father, get going!”

“Thanks for everything,” Max said to the adults, wanting to get out of the Crashdown before they changed their minds. He grabbed Liz’s hand and headed out the front door, frowning when he realized that his car was still parked at Michael’s.

“No car?” Liz asked with a smile.

Max glanced over at her and let out a laugh before he turned and looked back into the Crashdown.

“Lets just take a walk,” Liz suggested as she linked her arm with his.

“Are you sure?” Max asked.

“Yeah, it’s a pretty night,” Liz said as she looked up at the starlit sky. “Besides, Michael’s isn’t that far away.”

They started to walk in silence, both enjoying the other’s company, before Max started a conversation. “So…I seem to remember getting a present from everyone at that party except for you.”

“Yeah,” Liz said with a smile as she glanced up at him briefly. “I kind of wanted to give it to you when we were alone.”

“Well…I think we’re alone,” Max said as he motioned around him with his free hand.

“I know,” Liz said shyly, staring down at the ground.

“Hey,” Max said with concern as he reached over and placed a finger under her chin, urging her to look at him. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” Liz said as she glanced up at him and stopped walking, causing Max to do the same. She continued to look at him for a second before she smiled and took off her coat, then pulled down on the neckline of her tee-shirt to reveal the back of her shoulder.

Max was at a loss for words. He now found himself staring at a tattoo just above Liz’s shoulder blade that read ‘MAX’. “You…you got a tattoo,” he said, unable to think of anything else.

“You like it?” Liz asked, trying to hold back her laughter at the shocked expression on his face.

Max had a tight smile on his face as he continued to stare at his name, unsure of what to do or what to say. She had branded herself for him. He briefly looked up into Liz’s eyes, noticing for the first time that there was a playful gleam there.

Liz wasn’t able to hold back any longer as she burst into laughter, confusing Max to no end.

“What’s so funny?” he asked.

“The…the look on your face,” Liz said as she pointed at him. It took her a few minutes to get her laughter under control, with Max glaring at her the entire time, but she finally decided to fill him in on the big secret. “It’s fake.”

Max just raised and eyebrow as he folded his arms across his chest. “And you think that’s funny?”

“Oh your expression was definitely funny,” Liz replied.

Max tried to keep a straight face but it didn’t take long before he felt his lips curling upward slightly.

“See?” Liz said with a triumphant smile as she pointed at his lips.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Max said as he turned away from her and started walking again before his smile betrayed him.

“Oh you don’t, huh?” Liz asked as she caught up to him and began to tickle his sides lightly.

“Hey!” Max said with a laugh as he jumped away from her, trying to squirm out of her reach.

“Come on, admit it,” Liz said as she began to chase him down the street. “I got you good. You totally thought it was real.”

“I knew it was fake all along,” Max lied as he let Liz catch up, motioning for her to jump on his back so he could give her a piggy-back ride.

“You know, you never were a very good liar,” Liz said as she clung to him, letting out a shriek when he started running as fast as he could, causing her to bounce up and down.

“Actually,” Max said after he slowed to a walk, “I’m an exceptionally good liar.” He threw Liz a glare over his shoulder when he heard her laugh in response. “I’m just not very good around you.”

Liz wrapped her arms a little tighter around his neck as she leaned in and rubbed her cheek against his. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Max said with a smile, the endearment catching him a little off guard. “So…where’s this present of mine?”

“We need a car first,” Liz said as she hopped off his back and grabbed his hand instead.

Several minutes later they finally got to their destination, and as soon as Max’s car was in view, Liz reached into the pocket of his jeans and stole his keys before he could say anything.

“We’re not eloping to Vegas, are we?” Max joked as he and Liz climbed into the car.

“Maybe,” Liz replied as she started the engine and pulled out onto the street. “I hear that the Elvis Chapel of Love has a discount if we use their drive-through.”

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

Max and Liz drove for a while, leaving the confines of Roswell as soon as they could to gain some privacy.

“I don’t mean to question your natural radar, but do you know where you’re going?” Max asked.

“Of course I do,” Liz replied with a smile, giving Max a sideways look. “Your present is waiting for you out in the desert.”

Max looked over at her with a mixture of curiosity and confusion. What could she possibly have up her sleeve?

Liz continued to steal sideways glances at Max, her smile growing as she watched him try to figure out what his present was.

A short time later Liz pulled off the paved road and onto a dirt path. They drove for a few minutes before Max noticed that there was a blanket spread out on the ground near a large rock formation. There were things piled up on the blanket, but he couldn’t made out what they were with the limited light he had from the moon and headlights.

“We’re here,” Liz said as she shut off the engine and headlights. “Come on.” She climbed out with Max and skipped over to his side of the car, throwing her arm around his waist as she led him over to the blanket that lay several feet away.

Max could now tell that sitting next to the blanket was Liz’s telescope that used to be on her balcony, along with a backpack that was zipped up tight. “What this?”

“This is your present,” Liz said with a smile as she knelt down on the blanket, pulling Max down with her.

Max was still a little confused but he remained silent, knowing that Liz would explain everything in time. His confusion only grew, however, when instead of pointing the telescope up at the sky, Liz pointed it out into the desert.

“Look,” she said.

Max crawled over on his knees, giving Liz a questioning glace before he looked through the telescope. A smile instantly came to his face and grew even bigger when he felt Liz move in behind him to wrap her arms tightly around his waist, resting her chin on his shoulder.

“You like it?” she whispered into his ear.

“I love it,” Max whispered back. Through the telescope he found himself staring at the side of another huge rock formation, but what made this one stand out was that carved into the surface was a heart that had ‘M.E. + L.P.’ written in the middle, lit up by a huge flood light that lay below. Max looked down to find the source of the light and let out a little chuckle when he saw Michael standing next to Maria, who was waving in his direction even though she couldn’t see him. “Michael’s handy work?”

“Mostly,” Liz replied, giving his neck a soft kiss. “But that’s not really your present.”

Max turned and looked at her over his shoulder before his attention was suddenly drawn down to her hands that were wrapped around his stomach when he heard a soft creaking sound. His eyes widened when he saw what she was holding, his head swinging around to look into her eyes again.

“I know we’d get you one eventually, but since you picked mine out for me, I wanted to pick yours out for you,” Liz said, giving him a weak smile when she saw the look of shock on his face.

Max just stared at her over his shoulder for several seconds before he finally regained his ability to move again. He turned in her arms so he was facing her before he slowly reached down and took the velvet box out of her hands. He looked at the wedding ring for a few seconds before he glanced up at her, unable to resist the urge to lay her down on the blanket and move himself gently on top of her so as not to crush her.

Liz watched as he just stared at her again, his eyes glistening in the moonlight more and more by the second.

“I love you,” he whispered before he leaned down and kissed her tenderly, lazily, just enjoying the way she always felt when he touched her.

“I love you, too,” Liz said as she ran a hand down his chest. “Try it on. I want to see if I got the size right.”

Max sat back up and pulled Liz with him, his hand shaking a little as he held it out and allowed Liz to take the ring and slide it onto his finger. It was the perfect size and Max couldn’t help but hold it up so he could get a closer look at it, looking over the platinum silver band that had two thin stripes of gold on either side of it. The ring wasn’t overly shiny, something that Max liked, and the more he looked at it the more he realized that it was exactly the type of ring that he would have picked out for himself.

“You like it?” Liz asked softly.

Max looked over at her with a huge smile on his face. “No. I love it.”

Liz returned his smile with one of her own as she shyly tucked her hair behind her ear.

“But nowhere near as much as I love you,” Max said before he leaned over and kissed her again, grabbing her around the waist as he lifted her up onto his lap. “What about you? Do you like the way it looks on me?”

Liz gently grabbed his hand and brought it up so she could see the ring. She tenderly ran her index finger over the ring, then over Max’s finger. She couldn’t help but daydream about what it would be like after they were finally married, about how Max would be wearing her ring every minute of every day, signaling that he was not only lawfully hers, but spiritually hers as well. Instead of answering him verbally she wrapped her arms around his neck and covered his lips with her own, pushing him onto his back as she straddled his waist, never once breaking the kiss.

They continued to nibble on each other’s lips, both letting out sighs and moans as they let themselves lose control a little. It wasn’t until Max found himself running his hand under Liz’s shirt and reaching for her bra that he finally comprehended what was going on. Her soft gasp at his gentle touch was what got his attention, so he pulled his hands back and wrapped them around her waist instead as he leaned his forehead against hers.

“You…you always make me lose my head,” Liz panted out before she buried her nose into Max’s neck, inhaling his scent with each breath she took.

“You’re one to talk. All you have to do is look at me and I’m gone,” Max replied before he smiled and added, “Besides, you started it.”

Liz let out a laugh as she playfully bit Max’s neck, letting her lips and tongue gently ease the pain away before she pulled back, earning herself a warning glare from him.

“Keep it up and your virtue will be a thing of the past,” Max warned.

“Promise?” Liz teased with a devilish grin, knowing that Max would never let himself lose control like that. At least that’s what she thought.

To Be Continued…

Part 27

“Oh god…oh yeah,” Liz moaned as Max laid her down on the blanket, trailing hot open-mouthed kisses down her neck. She gasped when she felt him slide his hands under her shirt again and reach for the clasp of her bra, clumsily unhooking it before he pulled back to look in her eyes, hesitantly cupping her breast in his hand as he ran his thumb over her nipple. Liz’s eyes closed as she arched into his hand, her face twisting in torturous pleasure as she dealt with the new sensations that Max was stirring up inside her. “Max…don’t stop.”

At that exact moment, Max nearly lost it…literally. As soon as his hand came into contact with her soft breast he could feel himself harden even more, which he didn’t think was possible. Then, if seeing the look of passion on Liz’s face wasn’t enough to almost sent him over the edge, hearing her moan his name definitely was. “Oh god,” he mumbled as he crushed his lips over hers, desperately needing to do something before he lost it by simply watching her.

Liz grabbed the front of his jacket to pull him down even closer, then changed her mind and rolled them over so she could be on top. She quickly straddled his waist as Max continued to lightly massaging her breast, making it impossible for her to think. She sat up and pulled him with her, making quick work to get rid of his coat and shirt, leaving him naked from the waist up. She wasted no time as she pushed him onto his back again, taking a second to admire his chest before she leaned over and closed her mouth over one of his nipples.

Max hissed as his body jerked, finding himself more than a little surprised at how aggressive Liz was being. It wasn’t that he minded; it was just a side of her that he rarely got to see.

Liz continued to kiss her way around his chest and stomach, smiling to herself when she felt his entire body tense as she ran her tongue along the waistband of his pants. She was about to go to work on undoing the button and zipper of his jeans when he suddenly pulled her up and kissed her…hard.

He trailed his lips along her jaw line and made his way up to her ear where he stopped for a second. “Since I’m half naked, I think it’s only fair that you be to.” Without waiting for her to respond, Max slid her jacket off and reached for the hem of her tee-shirt, his breath coming out in pants as he watched her lift her arms, silently giving him permission to take her shirt off. He couldn’t stop the gasp that escaped him when he first saw Liz’s body, and he could actually feel his heart accelerate to the point of failing.

Liz watched as Max’s eyes roamed over her, and for some reason, she didn’t feel the least bit self-conscious or embarrassed. The look of pure passion that he was giving her left no room for doubt that he loved what he saw. “Touch me Max,” she whispered, causing his head to snap up, his eyes burning with a desire that could only be matched by hers.

He nodded slowly as he brought a trembling hand up to her shoulder and traced her collarbone, his eyes following the trial of his fingertips as he carefully made his way down her petite body. When he came into contact with her exposed breast, he unknowingly held his breath as he cupped her in his hand again, his head spinning as he listened to her moan his name. It wasn’t long before he realized that touching her wasn’t enough; he needed to taste her. As he leaned in to do just that, he suddenly remembered that he hadn’t taken a breath for quite a while. He forced some air into his starving lungs just seconds before the tip of his nose softly nuzzled up against one of her nipples, causing her head to fall back as she reached out and ran her hands through his hair, urging him to kiss her where nobody had ever kissed her before.

“OH GOD!” Liz moaned loudly when she felt Max take her nipple softly into his mouth and run his tongue along it, sucking just hard enough to drive her completely mad.

After loving her like that for a minute, Max moved to the other nipple and repeated the action, groaning when he felt Liz grind herself into him, the sensation nearly causing him to buckle over in pleasure. “God…I want you so bad right now,” he mumbled as he kissed his way back up to her mouth, pulling back slightly so he could look into her dazed eyes.

“Then take me,” Liz whispered.

Max continued to look at her for a second before he slowly laid her on her back and nestled himself between her legs. He tenderly began to run his hand through her hair as his eyes remained locked on hers. “Are you sure? I know how much you wanted to wait until our wedding night.”

At that reminder, Liz found herself torn. She did want to wait until their wedding night, but after what they had just started, there was no way she could just put her cloths back on and ignore the burning desire she felt for him. That’s when a smile lit up her face.

“What?” Max asked with curiosity.

“I do still want to wait until our wedding night to make love to you, but that doesn’t mean we can’t…fool around a little.”

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

“How much longer do we have to wait out here?” Michael complained as he and Maria kept the spotlight facing the rock formation out in the desert.

“Oh quit your bitching,” Maria said as she stopped waving to an invisible Max and Liz were who were probably not paying the least bit of attention to her anymore.

“I want to get out of here,” Michael said. “Come on. Those two are probably sucking face by now.”

“I told Liz that we’d wait until 10:30, so that’s what we’re going to do,” Maria replied.

“But that’s another ten minutes!” Michael exclaimed after he glanced at his watch.

Maria slowly turned around and gave him an icy glare, which promptly caused Michael to shut his mouth.

“I should have brought my portable DVD player,” Michael mumbled to himself as he folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against the car. “At least then I’d have some entertainment.”

Instead of Maria retorting with a smart-ass remark, which she normally did, she found herself smiling at her boyfriend. He just looked so cute, and for some reason very hot, standing against her car, pouting like a little boy. “You want entertainment?” she asked seductively as she walked up and wrapped her arms around his waist.

Michael stood up a little straighter at her suggestive tone, glancing around to see if anyone was in sight. He knew that they were alone, but they were teenagers so double checking just to make sure was something that he did no matter where they were. “What did you have in mind?” he asked with a smirk.

Maria eyed the backseat over his shoulder, causing him to growl at what she was suggesting. “I’m game if you are,” she said as she licked her lips slowly.

It only took Michael about a second to open the back door and drag Maria inside with him. “I’m definitely game.”

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

“You two did it out in the desert in the back seat of your car?” Liz asked Maria the following morning. The two of them were sitting in a booth at the Crashdown, eating breakfast.

Maria just shrugged before she took a sip of her coffee. “What about you? I have to say that you’re positively glowing this morning.”

Liz couldn’t help the smile that instantly spread across her face. “Well…we didn’t actually DO it, but…” she let her sentence trail off, knowing that Maria would put two and two together.

“Oh my,” Maria said with wide eyes. “But you two definitely rounded third base, huh?”

“Let’s just say that Max and I are well on our way home,” Liz said with a laugh.

“So how was it?” Maria asked.

“It felt amazing, incredible…it was just…wow,” Liz said as a dreamy, far off look came to her face.

“Yeah? Just wait until you two actually do it,” Maria said before she dug into her food. “It’s a million times better.”

Just then the front door of the café opened and Max walked in. He immediately found Liz sitting in the booth with Maria and headed in their direction with a huge, dopey grin on his face.

“He looks more giddy this morning than you do,” Maria muttered to Liz.

When Max got closer to the table, Liz jumped out of her seat and threw her arms around his neck, giving him a proper good morning kiss.

“Hey,” Max said softly.

“Hey,” Liz replied.

“I missed you last night,” Max whispered in her ear.

“Not nearly as much as I missed you,” Liz whispered back.

“So, about prom,” Maria said, intentionally breaking into the lovebirds revere. “Michael said that you were taking care of the limo.”

“Yeah, I am,” Max replied as he and Liz slid into the booth across from Maria. “Just to make sure I gave them the right itinerary, we’re all meeting here on prom night, right?”

“Right,” Maria said with a nod.

“Then we’re heading to dinner at Chez Pierre and the prom after that, right?” Max asked.

“Right,” Maria replied.

“Then we’re all being dropped off back here at the café at the end of the night,” Max said.

“You got it, loverboy,” Maria said with a smile as she gave Max a wink. “So how was last night? Did you have fun out in the dessert?”

Max’s cheeks flushed a little as he turned and looked at Liz, silently asking her with his eyes if she had told her friend what they had done the night before.

Liz winced a little as she shrugged her shoulders.

Max just shook his head and smirked as he tried to give her a stern look.

“So what are you up to today?” Maria asked Max, knowing that he would appreciate a change in subject.

“I’ve got to go help Michael with his motorcycle,” Max replied with a sigh.

“Oh, that’s right,” Maria said with a nod. “He mentioned that to me yesterday. You don’t mind if Liz and I come by to see you two later on after our shifts, do you?”

“Not at all,” Max said with a smile as he turned to Liz. “In fact, I’d really like it if you did.”

“I’ll be there,” Liz replied with a smile of her own.

“I can’t wait,” Max said before he leaned over and gave her a lingering kiss, then said his goodbyes and walked out of the café.

“Come on Princess,” Maria said as she stood up from the booth. “We need to go clock in. Prince Charming will have to wait.”

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

Later that day, Max and Michael were in the Guerin garage, giving Michael’s motorcycle a slight tune up. It was rather hot inside the garage, even with the door wide open, so both boys stripped off their shirts and worked with only their jeans and wife beaters on.

“I have to say, I’m impressed, Maxwell,” Michael said as he tightened a bolt near the engine of his motorcycle. “The way you and Liz were acting there for a while, I was starting to think that neither of you had a horny bone in your body.”

Max nearly choked on the soda he was drinking at Michael’s sudden confession, inadvertently spilling some of it on his white undershirt. “What are you talking about?” he asked as he wiped the drink off his chin with the back of his hand.

“Maria told me about your little ‘rendezvous’ out in the dessert last night,” Michael said with a smirk.

“Oh did she?” Max asked as he tried to clamp down on his embarrassment, making a mental note to talk to Liz later that night. He wasn’t upset with her for telling her best friend what they did, but at the same time he felt very strongly that some things were just meant to stay between the two of them.

“You aren’t pissed, are you?” Michael asked, noting the sudden change in his friend’s demeanor.

Max shook his head as he turned toward Michael. “Nah. It’s just not something I want to go into detail about.”

“Understood,” Michael said with a nod as he turned his attention back to his bike. “You’re a sensitive guy and I respect your viewpoint.”

At that Max started laughing, casing Michael to frown up at him. “You respect my viewpoint?” Max asked. “Maria’s been making you watch to many episodes of The View.”

“Hey, it keeps me in touch with my feminine side,” Michael said defensively.

“Boys, boys, boys,” Maria said as she and Liz walked into the garage, her eyes roaming over both sets of bodies in front of her.

“Hey,” Liz said as she walked up and wrapped her arms around Max’s waist, a small crease of confusion appearing on her forehead when her eyes landed on his under shirt. “Missed your mouth?” she asked with amusement as she nodded toward the soda stain.

Max looked down at his shirt and let out a small chuckle. “Yeah, you could say that.”

“Are you almost done here?” Liz asked, her question directed at both Max and Michael.

“Yeah, just a few more bolts to tighten,” Michael answered as he handed Max a socket wrench.

“Why?” Max asked as he squatted down to help Michael finish the job.

“Just curious,” Liz said as she skipped over to stand next to Maria.

“Liz,” Max said, knowing full well there was a definite reason why his girlfriend wanted to know when they were going to be finished. “Why?” he repeated.

“Geez,” Maria said before Liz could answer. “Can’t a girl be curious?”

Max ignored Maria and continued to look at Liz, a tiny smirk lighting up his face when he saw her wiggle her eyebrows and lick her lips seductively, giving a slight nod over her shoulder as she smiled wickedly at him. This little exchange between them went completely unnoticed by both Michael and Maria, who were too busy arguing about something completely irrelevant. It wasn’t until they both noticed Max start to tighten bolts at light speed that they turned to him with a mixture of confusion and surprise.

“What’s the rush there, Maxwell?” Michael asked.

“I just remembered that I’ve got some things to do at home,” Max said, trying to hide the slight blush that had crept up his cheeks.

Maria quickly realized what was going on when she turned toward Liz and saw that her friend had the same identical blush on her face as well. “Oh…right. I remember Isabel telling me that your mom needed help,” she lied. She was fully aware that both Max and Liz got embarrassed really easy when they were teased about fooling around with each other, so she decided to play dumb and give the two a break for once.

“Get going then,” Michael said, completely oblivious to what was really going on. “Tell your mom hi for me.”

“Will do,” Max said as he bolted up from the ground, grabbing Liz’s hand before he practically ran out of the garage and over to his car.

“You forgot your shirt!” Michael yelled after him.

“I’ll get it later!” Max yelled back before he and Liz climbed into his car and peeled out onto the street.

“I don’t get it,” Michael said as he turned toward Maria. “That boy sure is excited about helping his mom out,” he said, being completely serious.

“Yep,” Maria agreed with a smile, silently laughing at how clueless her boyfriend could be at times.

Part 28

It was finally time…Prom had arrived.

“But this is my house too!” Max complained as Isabel started to push him towards the front door, handing him his tux on the way.

“I don’t care,” Isabel replied. “Liz is on her way over and I promised her I’d have you out of the house before she got here.”

“Why would she want me out of the house?” Max asked in disbelief. He had a hard time believing that Liz wouldn’t want to see him.

“She doesn’t want you to see her before she’s all dressed up for the prom,” Isabel said with an exaggerated sigh.

“Why would that matter?” Max argued back. “Since when is it a tradition that couples don’t see each other before the prom?”

“Look,” Isabel said, trying to be patient with her brother. “I’m just doing what I was told. She doesn’t want you to see her before she’s all dolled up and beautiful, so you aren’t going to see her. Period.”

“She’s always beautiful,” Max muttered as he turned to head out the door. “Fine…I’ll leave, but you tell her that I’m not happy about it.”

“I sure will,” Isabel agreed, giving her brother a slight shove before she closed the door behind him.

Max let out a sigh as he walked over and climbed into his car, suddenly tempted to just wait there until Liz arrived. He thought better of the idea when he realized that she was probably serious when she said that she didn’t want him to see her until she was all ready. She was always cute like that when I came to special occasions. He smiled to himself as he started up his car and drove over to the first friend’s house he could think of.

“Maxwell,” Michael said after he answered his door, slightly surprised to find his friend on his front doorstep. “What gives?”

“Well…I kind of got evicted by a group of teenage girls,” Max replied with a smile as he lightly scratched behind his ear.

“Ah,” Michael said as he stepped aside to let Max enter. “If it’s any consolation, I don’t know of any guy who could put up a serious fight against the four of them. They’re kind of like the Power Rangers in that sense.”

“Say what?” Max asked with a laugh.

“The Power Rangers,” Michael replied. “You know…if you can get them one on one, you’ve got a shot to win. But when you have to face them all at once, you can kiss your ass goodbye ‘cause you don’t got a snowballs chance in hell.”

“Interesting analogy,” Max said as he draped his rented tux over the back of a chair. “And just how often do you watch the kiddy shows?”

“Every Saturday morning,” Michael replied, catching the amused look Max was giving him. “Hey, give me a break. Cartoons are the only thing that’s on when I wake up. It’s either that or ‘This Old House’ with Bob Vila.”

“Well…we’ve got three hours until we have to go pick up the girls,” Max said after he glanced at his watch, quickly changing the subject.

“Want to play some Madden?” Michael asked, motioning over to his Playstation.

“Yeah, why not,” Max replied as he shrugged his shoulders.

“Alright, but just so you know, I get to be the Ravens,” Michael said.

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

The four girls were so busy getting each other ready for the big night that nobody noticed when Diane snuck into Isabel’s room with a camera. It wasn’t until the flash went off that they all jumped and turned to find Isabel’s mom smiling happily at them.

“Mom!” Isabel exclaimed, throwing her friends an apologizing glance.

“I’m sorry,” Diane said as she raised the camera to take another picture. “It’s my job to take pictures.”

“Well can you at least wait until we’re all ready?” Isabel asked as she rushed over and stood in front of her mom, preventing her from snapping any more pictures.

“You all look absolutely beautiful,” Diane said before Isabel backed her out of the room.

After the door was securely shut, Isabel turned to her friends with a slight blush. “Sorry about that.”

“Don’t be,” Maria said with a wave of her hand. “If you think you’ve got it bad, just know that my mom would be up in here with a video camera, filming everything so she could download it onto her computer and send it out to all her friends. You have no idea how haunting it feels to know that there are videos of me out there floating through cyberspace.”

“Hey, I don’t want to freak anyone out, but the guys are going to be here in fifteen minutes,” Liz pointed out as she continued to apply her makeup.

“HOLY GUACAMOLE” Maria practically yelled, causing the other three girls to look at each other before they burst out laughing. “What?”

“Holy Guacamole?” Liz asked with a laugh. “Where did you get that?”

“Hey, back up off me,” Maria said. “Every time I use profanity in my house I have to put a quarter in a jar. After the first week I practically had to put my entire paycheck in there, so I was forced to substitute the curse words with something else.”

“And you chose guacamole?” Isabel asked.

“What’s wrong with guacamole?” Maria asked back. “Hey, it works okay? Leave me alone.”

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

“Maria said that they’d be ready to go by now!” Michael said in agitation after he glanced at his watch. He was currently pacing the length of the Evans’ living room while Max, Kyle and Alex all watched on from the doorway in amusement.

“My man, loosen your bra strap a notch” Alex said as he walked over and grabbed Michael by the shoulders, preventing him from moving. “If a woman says that she’ll be ready by seven thirty, that really means that she’ll be ready by eight.”

“Then why the hell did we get here so early?” Michael asked. “Why didn’t we just come at eight?”

“Because the women would get pissed if we weren’t here by seven thirty,” Alex replied.

“But if they’re not going to be ready until eight, why would they care?” Michael asked back.

“Michael, you ask questions to which there are no answers,” Alex said. “Many men have tried to figure out the inner workings of the female mind, but all have failed. The only thing we can do as men is accept the fact that there are certain situations that have no logical explanations.”

“What Alex is trying to say, in a rather lengthy way, is that if the girls say they’ll be ready by seven thirty, that means we better be here by seven thirty,” Kyle said. “Plain and simple.”

“But that makes no sense,” Michael said.

“It’s not supposed to,” Kyle replied.

Michel then turned to Max, hoping that he could shed some light on the subject.

“Hey, don’t look at me,” Max said with a smile as he raised his hands in the air. “I don’t question something that I know I won’t be able to understand.”

“Come on boys, I want all of you to stand together,” Diane said as she walked into the living room with the camera. As she looked at the four boys, she couldn’t help but smile. Max, Michael and Kyle all had on black tuxedos, each with different colored vests to go with them. But Alex on the other hand was a bold contrast to the other three. His outfit was completely white, from the jacket and pants down to the bow tie and shoes. He didn’t get the top hat and cane that went with the outfit only because Isabel refused to let him.

All four boys followed orders and stood together, with Alex and Max standing between Kyle and Michael. Just before Diane snapped the shot, Alex threw his arms over Max and Kyle’s shoulders, smiling brightly along with his friends.

“You all look so handsome,” Diane said as she walked over and pulled Max into a hug. When she pulled back, intent on retreating to the entryway until the girls came down, Alex cleared his throat to get her attention. When she turned towards him, she couldn’t help but smile when she saw him extend him arms out, telling her that he wanted a hug too.

All four boys turned towards the stairway when they heard female voices getting louder, each of them straining their necks as they tried to get a glimpse of their better halves.

Maria and Tess were the first ones down, and they both smiled at their boyfriends as they walked over to them. Tess’s outfit was quite simple. She wore a burgundy dress that fell down to her knees, with two thin straps running over each shoulder. It wasn’t really a tight fitting dress, but it did extenuate her curves in all the right places. Her hair was mostly pinned up, with just her curly bangs hanging loosely around her face and forehead.

Maria, on the other hand, finally decided to go with something a little more daring. It was still a school dance though, so she couldn’t really delve too far over the line and risk the chance that the school chaperons would refuse to let her into her senior prom because of indecent exposure. Her dress was a light pink color, and at first glance it appeared to be see through, even though it wasn’t. She decided to keep her hair fairly simple, styling it much the same way she normally would.

“Hey there handsome,” Maria said as she walked up to Michael. “Been waiting long?”

Max started to smooth out the front of his jacket as he waited for Liz to come down, taking a deep breath as he felt the butterflies in his stomach flutter to life. It didn’t take long before he could hear Liz’s voice getting louder, and as he looked up to the top of the stairs, his breath left him in a rush when his eyes landed on his most prized possession.

Liz must have felt the same way Max did because as soon as she saw him, her conversation with Isabel died a quick death. She briefly paused at the top of the stairs before she descended them, slowly making her way up to Max.

Max slowly looked over her outfit, the corners of his mouth tilting up in a smile at what he saw. She was wearing a white dress that hung down to her ankles, with one long slit running up one side to mid thigh. It had two thin straps holding it up, one over each shoulder, and they crossed in the back. The back of the dress dipped dangerously low and revealed a lot of skin, something that she knew Max would love. Her hair was curled and she had the front half pulled back, with just a few strands left dangling to frame her face. She decided not to pin it up completely, knowing that Max really liked it when her hair fell freely down her back, allowing him to run his hands through it.

Liz observed Max’s outfit much the same way that he did hers. He was wearing a classic black tux, much like Kyle and Michael’s, yet he looked completely different in it than the other two guys. The tux fit him snuggly in all the right spots, complimenting his muscles perfectly. She had seen dozens of guys wearing a very similar tuxedo as Max’s, but she had never seen anyone fill it out as well as he did. He looked, for lack of a better word, absolutely beautiful.

“You look positively gorgeous,” Max whispered as his eyes locked with hers.

“Thank you,” Liz replied with a shy smile. “You don’t look too bad yourself,” she said as she reached out and began to finger the lapel on his jacket.

Max gently reached out and pulled Liz into him, giving her a feather light kiss as he said, “Love you.”

“Love you too,” Liz whispered back.

“Alright everyone,” Diane said. “Before you head over to the Crashdown to get the limo, it’s time for corsages.”

When Max turned to his mom, who was standing next to Isabel, he noticed for the first time what his sister was wearing. Her dress was red, Alex’s favorite, and it ran down to her knees. It was strapless and tight fitting in a classical way. Her hair was completely pulled back and curled, even more so that the rest of the girls.

“Look at you,” Max said as he walked over and gave her a quick hug.

“Not too bad, huh?” Isabel asked with a smile.

“Not too bad at all,” Max replied. “But listen, you have to make me a promise tonight.”

“What’s that?” Isabel asked.

“You have to save me at least one dance,” Max said.

“You got it,” Isabel replied with a full blown smile.

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

Before they all went to dinner, they stopped by the Crashdown where all the parents had gathered to see their kids off. There were a bunch of pictures taken of the eight teens and a ton of hugs that took place between the parents and kids. Once the limo arrived, each teenager was given the common lecture about being safe, and after the parents had established a curfew with each of them, the kids were off to the restaurant.

Dinner went by without a hitch, with all eight friends laughing and conversing in the back of the restaurant. Max and Liz kept stealing kisses whenever they could, but neither dared to let the kisses linger too long.

After everyone had finished eating dinner they all headed towards the prom. When they got there, everyone decided to wait in line and get their pictures taken first. Each couple had their turn in front of the camera, and after they were all done, they all stood together and took one big group picture.

After that, they wondered over and found an empty table to put their things on. Max had just barely taken off his jacket and hung it over the back of a chair when Lifehouse’s ‘Everything’ started to play. Liz quickly grabbed his hand and dragged him out onto the dance floor, not wanting to waist a single second that they could be spending in each other’s arms.

Max didn’t object as he pulled Liz close to his body, unable to keep from smiling as he stared down into her sparkling eyes.

“Tell me what you’re thinking about,” Liz said softly, completely loving the way that he was looking at her. From the twinkle in his eyes, she could tell that he absolutely adored her, and she always felt cherished when he looked at her that way.

“You,” Max replied simply.

“What about me?” Liz asked as a smile slowly crept up her face.

“When I saw you for the first time tonight, I had trouble breathing,” Max admitted. “I knew that you’d look absolutely gorgeous in your dress, but when I saw that it was white…I don’t know…I can’t really describe what I was feeling.”

“But I already told you that my dress was white,” Liz said with a giggle.

“I know,” Max said with a slight shrug. “I guess I just wasn’t prepared for how angelic you would look. To be honest, the first thing that went through my mind when I saw you tonight was how our wedding would be.”

“Really?” Liz asked as she started to play with the hair at the back of his neck.

“I just know that when I see you in your wedding dress, covered in white from head to toe, you’ll look so incredibly beautiful that I’ll need to have Michael steady me so I don’t fall over,” Max said, causing Liz to giggle again. “You may think I’m joking, but just wait and see. As soon as you start to walk down the isle, I can guarantee you that my legs with wobble a bit.”

“Well I guess I better tell my dad that we need to run down the isle then,” Liz joked.

“I’d appreciate it,” Max replied with a smile. He continued to stare at her for a few moments before he spoke again. “I don’t know how you do it,” he suddenly said out of nowhere, a hint of awe evident in his voice.

“Do what?” Liz asked in confusion.

“Make my heart beat a mile a minute,” Max replied as he gently grabbed one of Liz’s hands and brought it up to cover his heart so she could feel it for herself. “Every time you walk into the room, I can feel my knees weaken. Every time you look in my eyes, like you’re doing right now, I feel like breaking down from sheer joy. And every time we’re forced to part at the end of the night, I feel an overwhelming emptiness deep down in my soul. I need you; I crave you. I can’t breathe without you, I can’t think without you, I…I can’t live without you. I need to see your beautiful face each night before I close my eyes to sleep, and I need to wake up the next morning to the same sight. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you, Liz. I’d…I’d walk across water for you, I’d sacrifice everything I own for you…I’d die for you. I’m not complete without you.”

“Max,” Liz whispered with tears in her eyes, momentarily stopping his confession. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Be…because you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Max confessed. “And I’m scared to death that you’ll be taken away from me someday.”

“Why would you think that?” Liz asked softly as she reached up and cupped his cheek with her hand.

“I…I don’t know,” Max said as he closed his eyes and leaned into Liz’s touch, placing a light kiss on the palm of her hand. “Because it happened to me once before.”

“Max,” Liz said as she wrapped both arms around his neck and pulled him into a hug, not caring that they had stopped dancing in the middle of the dance floor. “I’ll never leave you…never.”

“I know you won’t,” Max said as he wrapped his arms tightly around her waist. “But we can’t always control what happens to us. Things are going so good for us right now, but I’m...I’m just afraid that someday you’ll be taken away from me…”

“Like your dad was,” Liz finished for him, running her hand though his hair when she felt him nod in response. She knew that he had finally come to terms with his dad’s death a little while ago, but she had no idea that he was actually afraid that she would be taken away from him as well. She could feel the tears welling in her eyes again as she placed a soft kiss on his neck, hating the feeling that she had no idea what to say. “I love you so much Max, not even death could stop me from being with you.” She closed her eyes in relief when she felt him smile against her neck, signaling that what she had just said was exactly what he needed to hear.

“You’re amazing, you know that?” Max whispered in awe. “Having spent the last nine months with you has made me realize just how lost I really was without you in my life. Now that I know what it feels like to be loved by you, I can’t understand how I ever lived without it.”

“Well you don’t have to worry about that anymore,” Liz whispered back. “No matter what happens, I’m going to love you eternally. That’s a promise.”

Max pulled back and locked eyes with Liz as an adoring smile lit up his face. “I’m going to hold you to that,” he said before he leaned over and reverently covered her lips with his own.

“You know, when you’re out on the dance floor, you’re supposed to be dancing, not making out,” Alex chimed in as he and Isabel swooped past them.

Max leaned his forehead against Liz’s as they both smiled at each other, finding it amusing that for a few minutes they had forgotten where they were.

The two of them spent the remainder of the night out on the dance floor along with the rest of their friends. Maria even managed to drag Michael out there, but not before he made her sign a waver, stating that he wouldn’t be held liable for any bodily injury that may occur from his inability to bust a move.

As the night drew to a close, all eight friends found themselves heading back to the Crashdown for a midnight snack before they headed their separate ways. Isabel and Alex were off to watch a movie at Isabel’s house, while Kyle and Tess were off to who knows where to do who knows what. After the other four had left, Max, Liz, Michael and Maria all gathered their things and climbed into Max’s car before they headed towards their destination for the night…the Buchanan Mansion.

To Be Continued…

Part 29

“Can someone please tell me again why I agreed to this?” Maria asked as Max pulled up to the main gate of the Buchanan Mansion.

“Because it’s fun to scare the piss out of ourselves, right Maxwell?” Michael asked before he climbed out of the car.

Everyone else followed suit, each of them grabbing their bags before they started to walk towards the house. The outside appearance clearly reflected that the mansion hadn’t been occupied for several decades, from the peeling paint and cracked woodwork of the house to the weeds and swampland of the front yard. The house itself was only two stories tall, but it was wide enough to accommodate an orphanage.

“Well, it’s a good thing we changed our cloths before we headed over here,” Max said as he tried his best to avoid stepping in any mud.

Liz had grabbed a hold of the back of Max’s shirt with both hands, using him for balance as she followed his footsteps. Although she wouldn’t admit it out loud, she was a tad scared so she wanted him nearby just in case she needed to jump in his arms for protection.

“Max Evans, I’m going to pulverize you as soon as we get back to Roswell,” Maria said as she grabbed a hold of Michael’s arm.

“I never forced you out here,” Max replied with a smirk.

“Peer pressure,” Maria said sarcastically. “If I die out here tonight, I’m taking you with me.”

When they finally reached the front porch, they all stopped and looked at the shaky floor boards, wondering if the wood was strong enough to hold their body weight.

“After you, Maxwell,” Michael said. “Let us know if it’s safe.”

“Sissy,” Max muttered as he climbed the four steps up to the porch. He carefully made his way towards the front door while the other three waited to see if he’d fall through the floor or not. When he got to the front door, he noticed that it was slightly cracked open and that, judging from the damaged doorframe, it would be impossible to close all the way again. He slowly reached out and pushed the door open, peering into the house as the hinges squeaked loudly in protest. He took one step inside before a mischievous grin lit up his face. He cautioned a look back at his three friends to make sure they were still waiting for him to signal that it was safe before he took another step into the house and out of their view.

Liz was straining her neck as she tried to keep Max in sight, but after he had stepped further inside, she lost him. She directed her flashlight in through the front door, but apparently Max had stepped off to the side somewhere. “Max?”

There was no answer.

“Maxwell!” Michael yelled out.

Still no answer.

“Alright Max, quit screwing around!” Maria yelled.

Then, all of a sudden, they heard Max let out a cry for help from within the house. His voice sounded distant, but they could all hear a hint of desperation in his yell.

Liz didn’t hesitate for a second as she bolted onto the porch and into the house, followed closely by Michael and Maria. “Max!” she yelled.

She was met by silence.

“MAX!” she yelled again.

“Help!”

They all ran into a large room near the back of the house that used to be the living room at one time. They nervously glanced around but Max was nowhere in sight.

“Max, this isn’t funny!” Liz said in a slightly shaky voice.

“Oh God!” Maria suddenly said as she covered her mouth with her hand.

“What!?” Michael and Liz said at the same time.

All Maria could do was point down to the ground with a shaky finger.

When Liz directed her flashlight to the spot that Maria was pointing at, she could feel her stomach turn at the sight in front of her. Lying on the ground was Max’s backpack, and right next to it on the dusty floor were a set of footprints with two drag marks in-between that led over to a closed door. It was clear evidence that one person had been dragging another.

Liz glanced up at Michael before her eyes focused on the closed door again.

“Stay behind me,” Michael said quietly as he slowly walked over to the door.

“Michael!” Maria hissed. “What are you doing?”

“Shh!” Michael said as he placed his finger over his lips. “Just stay behind me.” He slowly reached out and pushed the door open, realizing that he was about to enter the kitchen.

Maria and Liz clung to each other as they closely followed behind Michael, nervously looking around for anything that seemed out of place. They made their way inside the kitchen, following the footprints and drag marks that led them to another door. When Michael reached out to grab the doorknob, Max made his presence known.

He had crept up behind the group and had nearly given himself away when a laugh threatened to overtake him upon seeing the looks on his friend’s faces. “BOOO!” he yelled as he jumped into everyone’s line of sight, the floorboards beneath his feet making a loud banging sound.

Liz and Maria both let out a high pitched scream as they jumped back a good five feet, while Michael chose a different approach to deal with his fear. Upon hearing the ‘intruder’, he quickly turned in Max’s direction and let loose with a blind right hook, not knowing whom it was he was trying to hit. The punch caught Max square on the jaw, sending him stumbling back a couple of steps.

“YOU BASTARD!!” Maria yelled as she ran over and started to punch Max wherever she could. Max protected his already bruised face with his arms as he tried to back away from Maria’s assault.

“Maria!” Max said. “It’s me!”

“I KNOW IT’S YOU!” Maria yelled.

Michael quickly rushed over and grabbed his girlfriend, preventing her from causing any more physical damage to Max. After getting one last punch in, Maria let out a huff before she stormed off towards the front door again.

Max finally looked up at Michael as he rubbed his jaw, his expression one of unbelieving surprise. “Why the hell did you hit me?!”

“Oh shove it, Maxwell,” Michael said before he followed his girlfriend. “You’re lucky I didn’t try to break your freaking neck.”

Max flexed his jaw muscle a little as he turned to Liz, who had yet to move from her spot against the wall. Max could tell that she was royally pissed, and rightfully so. She was staring at him with an icy glare and he could see that her chest was heaving in and out as she tried to calm down from the heart attack that he had probably given her. “Liz,” he said as he took a step towards her.

Liz held up her hands and shook her head as she turned and started to leave.

“Liz…I was just having some fun,” Max said with a smile.

“Just having some fun?!” Liz suddenly yelled as she whirled around to face him. “What…you thought that scaring the living shit out of me would be fun?!!!! I seriously thought that something happened to you! I was literally on the verge of tears!” Upon saying that she actually did start to cry, but she turned her back on Max so he wouldn’t see.

And that made Max feel like a complete and utter jackass. “Liz,” he said softly as he walked over to pull her into a hug. “I’m sor…”

He wasn’t able to complete his sentence because as soon as he was within reaching distance, Liz whirled around to face him again. Her intention was to point her finger in his chest and give him another piece of her mind, but that’s not what actually happened. When she turned, her arm swung around a little higher than she wanted. She accidentally smacked Max in the face with her fist, nailing him with another right hook across the jaw.

The punch actually sent Max stumbling back on his ass, landing with a soft thump. It wasn’t that the punch was exceptionally strong, even though it was coming from someone Liz’s size, it was just that the right hook had caught him completely off guard.

Liz looked down at Max in surprise, her hand flying to her mouth when she realized what she had just done. “Oh my God, I am SO sorry,” she said as she knelt down next to him.

Max shook his head slightly as Liz helped him climb to his feet. He rubbed his jaw again, realizing, rather painfully, that pulling a prank like that wasn’t the brightest idea in the world.

“Are you alright?” Liz asked worriedly.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Max replied with a smile. “Just surprised is all.”

Liz wasn’t sure what to do now. She hadn’t meant to hit him, but she was still mad at him for what he had done. “I’m sorry for hitting you…but I’m still pissed at you,” she said before she stormed off through the door that led to the front of the house.

“Liz!” Max called out. He let out a defeated sigh as he brushed the dust off his pants, then retrieved his backpack and slowly made his way out to the front porch where he intended on apologizing profusely.

As he was walking through the front door, he noticed that Michael had his arms wrapped around Maria as they stood off to the side of the porch that overlooked the driveway. He quickly looked around him but he didn’t see Liz anywhere. He took a deep breath as he put his backpack down and walked over to his two friends. “Look guys…I’m really sorry about that. I was just trying to have some fun, but I realize now that it was an incredibly thoughtless thing for me to do.” After getting no response from either of them, Max went on. “You’re right Maria…I’m a bastard, a prick, a complete and utter waist of space…”

“Don’t forget lame ass,” Michael chimed in.

“And lowly piece of shit who doesn’t deserve to have us as friends,” Maria added.

“I’m really sorry,” Max said again.

“I swear to God Max, if you ever try anything like that again I’m going to castrate you,” Maria said, causing Max to smile.

“I’ll even hand you the knife,” Max said. “So…are we good?”

Maria let out a heavy sigh as she leaned into Michael. “Yeah girlfriend, we’re good.”

Max then turned his eyes to Michael.

“I don’t know,” Michael said. “I think I need to get a few more punches in before I’ll start to feel better.”

“Liz already beat you to it,” Max said as he opened his mouth a little and rubbed at the sore spot on his jaw line. He could tell that he had a bruise forming already.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Maria said with a smile. “Liz decked you?”

“Yeah,” Max said with a nod. “She didn’t do it on purpose, but she hit me so hard I fell on my ass.”

“Alright Liz!” Maria said with a laugh. “You know, forget about us, you deserve a lot worse for what you did to her.”

“Yeah, I know,” Max said quietly. “Have you seen her?”

“She never came out of the house,” Maria said.

Max nodded as he turned and walked back through the front door, scanning the entryway for Liz. “Liz?”

“In here.”

Max walked into the first open room on the left, following the sound of her voice. He saw her standing next to a window that was half covered by wooden boards, half open to look out over the porch and front yard. She had her arms crossed in front of her body, hugging herself in an attempt to draw comfort. “Hey,” he said as he stood next to her.

“Hey,” Liz replied as she kept her gaze out the window.

“I’m a jackass, aren’t I?” Max asked.

“Yes you are,” Liz said, still refusing to look at him.

“And I deserve everything I got and more,” Max went on. “Even your right hook that sent me sprawling on my ass.”

“I didn’t do it on purpose, but you deserve a hell of a lot more than that,” Liz said. “You deserve to get the living hell beat out of you.”

“Yeah, I do,” Max agreed. “And I’ll let you do that if it would make up for what I just did. I’ll let you beat me until I’m black and blue if it means that you’ll forgive me. I’ll even provide the accessories like a bat or a club if you need something with more leverage.”

Liz couldn’t help but smile a little at that. She finally turned her head and looked up at him for the first time since he had joined her. “You know Max, I’m not pissed that you played a joke that scared me…well, not that pissed anyway…but what really got to me is that you made me believe something had happened to you. You made me believe that someone had attacked you and dragged your body away. If you had just jumped out and scared us without staging that whole scene in the living room, I wouldn’t really be mad at you.”

“Liz, I’m really sorry. I didn’t think,” Max said as he reached out and ran his hand down her back soothingly. “I should have known better.”

“Yeah, Max, you should have,” Liz said softly.

Max could still see the look of fear in her eyes, and it made him feel lower than pond scum. Forget about Liz beating the living hell out of him, at that particular moment he felt like beating the living hell out of himself. “I’m such an idiot,” he said as he pulled Liz into a hug.

Liz wrapped her arms around his waist as she buried her cheek into his chest, allowing him to hold her. After a few minutes, when Max started to pull back a little, she refused to let him. She clung to him even tighter as she grabbed fistfuls of his jacket in her hands.

Max started to plant soft kisses all over her forehead as he ran a hand through her hair. “It’ll never happen again Liz, I promise,” he said.

“I know,” Liz whispered back. “I know.”

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

“Jaw sore?” Michael asked Max later that night as all four friends gathered in the living room. They had lit the two lanterns they brought with them so they could have some light to situate themselves with. They had a couple of foam mattresses that they laid out underneath their sleeping bags so they wouldn’t have to lay on the hard floor.

“Yeah, it does,” Max said as he flexed his jaw.

“Good,” Michael replied.

“I’m really sorry I hit you,” Liz said as she reached up and lightly rubbed his jaw for him.

“I’m not,” Michael muttered.

“It’s okay Liz,” Max said with a smile. “Don’t worry about it.”

“But it’s not okay,” Liz insisted. “I should have been more careful.”

“You know, if you two were married, that could be considered domestic abuse,” Maria joked.

“Oh, that’s just great,” Liz said as he looked over at Maria. “It’s not like I don’t feel horrible already.”

“Liz,” Max said with a laugh. “You didn’t do it on purpose.”

“Still,” Liz said as she looked up at him with concern.

“Don’t apologize,” Michael said. “He deserved it.”

“Are you still holding a grudge?” Max asked.

“You’re damn right I am!” Michael said.

“Oh get over it Michael,” Maria said as she dug through her backpack, looking for a snack.

“You know, we still haven’t checked out the rest of the mansion,” Max said before Michael could respond.

“I’m not sure I want to after the crap you just pulled,” Maria said.

“I’ll give Liz my leash,” Max said. “No more jokes tonight, I promise.”

Maria eyed him carefully before she finally nodded. “Alright, I’ll hold you to that.”

The four of them grabbed their flashlights before they stood up and walked out into the main hallway.

“Let’s check upstairs first,” Michael said, leading the way to the staircase near the front door.

The stairs were well worn, with some of the steps missing altogether. They all creaked as the group made their way up with Michael in the led, followed by Maria, Max and Liz. Every room they went into was a complete mess of wood and dust, with practically every window boarded shut. One of the rooms didn’t even have a floor, having collapsed to the lower level a number of years ago.

After having completely checked out the upper level, Liz and Maria were sufficiently wigged out. Every creek, every whistle of wind that came through the boarded up windows, every imaginary sound that they heard caused them to grab a hold of Max and Michael even more. By the time they made it back downstairs, both boys had claw marks on their arms from the girls’ grip.

“Loosen up, will ya?” Michael asked as he glanced down at Maria. “I still need that arm.”

“Can it Michael,” Maria said, in no mood to argue with him.

“Let’s check out down here,” Max said, pointing his flashlight down the only hallway they had yet to explore.

“Let’s not and say we did,” Maria said as she and Michael reluctantly followed behind Max and Liz.

They were about halfway down the hallway when they all heard a low rumbling sound coming the closed door at the very end. They all stopped dead in their tracks as Max and Michael shared a look, both swallowing hard before they slowly went on. As they approached the last room at the end of the hallway, the rumble steadily grew louder until the floorboards beneath their feet started to vibrate.

“Okay, can we go please?” Maria begged. “I’m too young to die.”

“Max!” Liz whispered with wide eyes, pointing to the floor by the closed door.

“What the hell?” Michael asked.

All four eyes were transfixed on the bottom of the door, were a bright white light had suddenly appeared, illuminating the floor in front of them.

“That’s it!” Maria exclaimed. “I’m out of here!”

Michael quickly grabbed her around the waist before she could take off, causing her to squirm against him. “Maria…would you rather stick with us, or run off by yourself?”

Maria stopped squirming, but it was clear from her body language that she wanted to be anywhere but there.

Max took a step forward, but before he could reach out and grab the doorknob, Liz grabbed his arm.

“What are you doing?!” she whispered urgently.

“I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation for this,” Max insisted. “We’ll never know unless we open that door.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard the explanation before,” Maria said. “This is exactly what everyone says happens before the door swings open to the ghost of Dominic Buchanan. I say we get the hell out of here now!”

“Just wait a second,” Max said as he reached for the doorknob again. Just before he grabbed a hold of it, the door itself started to vibrate, causing him, and everyone else, to jump back a step.

“ALRIGHT DAMN IT!” Michael yelled, having clearly lost his temper. He hated feeling scared, so he handled the situation the only way he knew how…through his anger. “I’m going to open this door and there better not be anyone, or anything, on the other side. If there is, I’m going to stick my foot so far up your Casper ass that you’ll be flossing with my shoelaces!”

With that said, Michael reached out and threw the door open, causing both Liz and Maria to let out a little scream. They all took an instinctive step back, bracing themselves for the worst, but the sight that greeted them caused Max to start laughing uncontrollably. It wasn’t long before Michael joined him, while both girls looked at them like they were insane.

On the far end of the room there was an open window that overlooked the back yard. It looked like it had been boarded up at one time, but now it was open to the outside world. The light that had been shinning through the door, and the cause of the vibrating floorboards, was nothing more than a train that was heading in their direction. Apparently there were railroad tracks that ran along the side of the house, so when night came, the lights from the trains shined right in through the open window, causing the eerie effects.

“I’m sorry, but I fail to see the humor in this situation,” Maria said as she placed her hands on her hips.

“There’s your ‘Casper’,” Max said to Michael with a laugh, pointing at the train. “Flossing with your shoelaces? Very creative.”

At that, Liz couldn’t help but let out a giggle herself.

“Can we please leave now?” Maria asked again.

“Yeah, let’s get out of here,” Michael said. “I’m sure we can find a more comfortable camping spot out in the desert somewhere.”

“Sounds good to me,” Liz said as she led the way back to gather their stuff. After they doubled checked to make sure they didn’t leave anything behind, they all piled back into Max’s car and tore off down the dirt road, away from the mansion.

To Be Continued…