posted on 6-Nov-2001 10:48:44 AM
Title: Journey of discovery

Summary: AU fic. No aliens. Just a little high school drama with a few twists thrown in. Slightly based on She’s all that.

Disclaimer: I don’t own Roswell or Roswell Characters so don’t sue!

Rating: General to PG 13

Author’s note: I’ve been trying to repost this for FOREVER and I’m hoping this time I’ll be able to do it. So if you’re reading this, then guess what? I was successful. *happy* Lame, I know! Anyway, I’ll be reposting in bits and pieces so that the page will download properly and stuff. This is the slightly re-edited version so a few things might be a little different. Okay, that’s enough out of me. Enjoy. And FB please!

Chapter 1

Liz Parker walked down the sidewalk leading to West Roswell high, readying herself for yet another week at a place where she felt so much like an outsider, she actually didn’t consider herself as a student there anymore. Hoisting her backpack to a more comfortable position on her shoulder, she turned a corner and groaned when she saw the steps of the building packed with thongs of students. She checked her watch and frowned at it. Her arrival at school was always perfectly timed. She would walk down the sidewalk and reach midway or three quarters of the way on the steps and that’s when first bell would ring. Then she’d climb the remaining steps and get into her first class of the day just seconds before the second bell rang. It was a perfectly timed operation. Liz had spent weeks in detention the year before, trying to find the exact number of minutes she needed to take from point A to B. She had been on the verge of suspension, expulsion even but her grades were just too damn good to kick her out. Several students thought they were like that because she cheated but her teachers could vouch for her. Liz Parker had never missed a class since she was a freshman. She may be always late but there was no question that she was a brilliant student. Their only and MAJOR gripe about her was that she needed an attitude adjustment. Her guidance counselor, Ms. Topolsky had made several suggestions in order for her to fit in more:

‘Liz, why don’t you join some clubs at school?’

‘ Liz, why don’t you try out for track?’ and here came the doozy:

‘ Liz, why not be a cheerleader? You’re very pretty and quite fit too.’

Yeah right. Liz had just stared at her and then erupted into laughter. Liz Parker, a cheerleader? Better yet, Liz Parker, PRETTY? The woman needed new glasses. Anyway back to her brilliant and now ruined morning arrival. The detentions had been well worth it. Her operation ran as smooth as silk, never one second too early, never one second too late. Except today it seemed. Liz shifted her gaze from her watch and frowned at the school itself and more specifically, the crowds of students on the steps. Damn it. It looked like she was going to have to mix in today. Sighing, she reached into her backpack and drew out her dark sunglasses, dropping them into place quickly. So she had to mix. Big deal. She just had to make sure they didn’t know who was mixing with them. For even though she was an outsider, she was a noticed outsider. And if there was one thing Liz Parker didn’t feel like being today, it was being noticed.

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

“ Hey Evans! Over here!”

Max Evans grinned broadly as he hopped out of his jeep and made his way over to the group of guys lounging against the railings of the steps. Along the way, countless guys and girls smiled at him or waved hello. It wasn’t a surprise. He was considered the most popular guy in school and while maintaining the third highest GPA in his class, he was their top basketball player too. And he was only a junior. Max grinned as yet another girl flashed him a flirty smile as she passed. Yep. In this place, he was treated like a god. He stopped one girl and asked her why everyone was still outside so late. She began to stutter but Max managed to get the gist of the words. Apparently, the school had been used for the Veterans ball last weekend and this was the only time they were cleaning it out. They were about to finish though and so the students were told to stay put. Max said thanks and gave her a smile. The poor girl practically fainted on the spot and Max chuckled. As soon as he reached his friends Kyle Valenti shook his head.

“ Evans, I swear, you’d flirt with any and all girls between here and Albuquerque if you could. And you’re probably arrogant enough to think you’d get away with it too.”

Max shrugged. Kyle was a good friend of his, but there was always this underlying jealousy in him. “ I’d only flirt with the cute ones Kyle. And it’s guaranteed they’d flirt right back. Anyway, look around.” Max swept his arm over the students. “ We have quite a selection today.” The rest of the guys with them laughed.

“ Yeah, well just keep your eyes and your mitts off of my girl, alright Max and Kyle? That is, unless both of you want to get around in a wheelchair forever.” A voice said from behind them.

Max laughed, recognizing the voice of Michael Guerin, his best friend, immediately. “ No worries, Michael. Maria’s all yours.”

Paulie Harper, a jock, snickered. “ Yeah Guerin. You make a lovely couple. She’s petite, you’re Mount Everest, she’s got the bouncy hair, you’ve got the spiky hair, she’s beautiful and you’re butt ugly. Opposites attract alright.”

Michael rolled his eyes and hopped onto the railing. “ Yeah whatever, Paulie.” He grinned at Max and Kyle. “ So what were you two arguing over today?”

Kyle smirked and gestured to Max. “ Evans here claims he can flirt with any girl between here and Albuquerque and that they’d flirt right back.”

“ I believe the wording was ‘cute girls’ Kyle. And I stand by my claim.” Max said.

“ Whatever. What do you say we make a little wager?” Kyle began, grinning. He looked at the other guys. “ Excuse us, fellows. We have a little business to take care of.” The other boys simply nodded and left with echoes of goodbyes. Kyle faced Max and Michael again.

“ What kind of wager?” Michael asked apprehensively.

“ To test Max’s claim. I mean, come on, the guy said he can get any ‘cute’ girl to flirt with him, right?”

“ Right. What did you have in mind?” Max asked.

“ Okay, how about this. There’s that big dance coming up, right? What’s it called?”

“ Summer Showdown. So what?” Michael asked, getting impatient and not liking the sound of it one bit.

“ So they have to crown two people as the King and Queen of the showdown. Now granted and I’m gagging here, Max will obviously be King but who gets to be Queen will be all up to you.”

Max frowned. “ Get real Kyle. You know the students vote on who the King and Queen will be. I can’t tell them to vote for just one girl. That’s called cheating.”

“ So who said anything about that? I haven’t finished yet. I’m going to make this easier for you. We have exactly seven more weeks until the big showdown. I’ll pick the girl, you flirt or do whatever it is you have to do to make sure she’ll be your girlfriend and just to prove that she’s up to the right standards, she has to get voted Queen of the Summer showdown. And if you can’t do that then…” Kyle beckoned them to come closer and whispered what would happen to the loser.

Michael’s jaw dropped and he jerked away. “ What? No way! Max, don’t do this. It’s not a good idea.”

Max just stared at Kyle who stared back unblinkingly. “ So what’ll it be, Evans?”

Max narrowed his eyes. “ And if I win?”

“ I highly doubt it but if by any chance you do, well, you get to pick the punishment.”

Max’s jaw clenched. “ I did say cute girl, didn’t I?”

“ You did.”

“ As long as you stick by that and the three of us swear that no one else will know this… then I’m in.”

“ Max!” Michael exclaimed.

“ Excellent. Guerin, you’re our witness.” He smiled at Max. “ Let’s go shopping.”

Max laughed. “ Do your worst, Kyle.”

Kyle flashed an evil grin. “ Oh I will. Come on.” Kyle led the way through the crowds but Michael pulled on Max’s arm and they lagged behind Kyle.

“ Max, this is insane! Remember when you and Kyle bet who could reach the furthest on the roof when we were kids?” Michael hissed.

“ I remember. I remember that I won.” Max whispered back.

“ I remember that too. I also remember that you slipped when coming down and broke two ribs.” He ran a hand through his spiky hair. “ I don’t like this.”

Max gave him a confident smile. “ Relax, Michael. I can handle this.”

“ Hey Evans! Guerin. Check it out.” Kyle called. He pointed at a smiling, bubbly redhead who was walking around with a ‘Kick me.’ Sign attached to her back. Tess Harding, the most popular girl in school and her clique were laughing hysterically. As soon as Tess caught sight of Max, she beamed at him and wiggled her fingers. Max gave her a frown and snatched the sign from the back of the girl as she passed by him. Tess pouted but Max had already turned away from her.

“ She still after you?” Michael asked sympathetically. Max and Tess had gone out practically the whole of last semester but Max had broken it off when they hit junior year. Now Tess was on a mission. Since Max wasn’t hers officially anymore she just made sure to eliminate any and all of her competition. Not that it was working too well. Girls still risked the wrath of the Wicked Witch of West Roswell high just to get close to Max. Max sighed and nodded. He looked over at Kyle.

“ Is she your final choice?”

Kyle tilted his head to one side. “ Naw. I can do better.”

They continued to mill through the crowds with Kyle picking out girls and then rejecting them the next minute. When he rejected the fifth girl, Max narrowed his eyes at him.

“ You wouldn’t happen to be looking for a specific girl, would you, Kyle?”

Kyle grinned nastily. “ What if I am? Anyway, I get to pick the girl and I can pick whoever I want. So come on.”

Michael let out a long suffering sigh. “ Please tell me this is over.”

Max shrugged and followed Kyle along and smacked into his back when he stopped abruptly. He gave Kyle an irritated look and was about to open his mouth to speak when Kyle announced,

“ Gentlemen, we’ve hit pay dirt.”

“ Who is it?” Max asked apprehensively, moving from behind Kyle excepting to see a girl who he didn’t even know. Instead, when he saw who it was, his jaw dropped.

“ Max, who is…” Michael trailed off and his jaw hit the floor along with Max’s. “ Oh man.”

Kyle grinned. “ What do you think guys?”

Max said nothing and simply continued to stare. It was no surprise. Because sitting on the grass right in front of them, dressed in tight black leather pants paired with a sleeveless, cropped black tank top and completed with combat boots and dark sunglasses was Liz Parker. The dark color contrasted sharply with her creamy white skin which was exposed in abundance by the tank top and her long dark hair was messily pulled up by a hair comb and fell out of it like a chocolate waterfall. When it came to looks, there were very few in school who could compete with Liz Parker. The same could be said in the academic field. And when it came to being a rebel, well, Liz Parker was the best at that too. The girl was untouchable. From what he heard, when Larry Sedgwick tried getting a little too ‘friendly’ with her, she had broken two of his fingers. She was as distant from the rest of her peers as the tip of Mount Everest was from the ground. She was, as he mentioned before, untouchable. And she hated him. Why? Well suffice it enough to say that they were once the closest of friends. And now… they just weren’t friends.

“ Evans? I kept up my end of the deal. They don’t get any cuter than Liz Parker. The girl is FINE! Unfortunately, or should I say fortunately for me, she’s not a remember of the Max Evans fan club.”

Max flinched. Yup. Good old Kyle. He’d done his worst all right. He cleared his throat. “ Are you sure about this Kyle? Liz Parker is your final decision?”

Kyle nodded. “ Yep. So what are you waiting for Romeo? Get going. Cause if Liz Parker is gonna be Queen… you need all the time you can get.”

Max set his jaw and squared his shoulders, preparing for the first words he would exchange with Liz Parker in years. Just relax, he told himself. It’s like a game. It’s like a basketball game. Just focus and relax. He began to walk towards her, watching her every move. He wasn’t the only one. He saw countless guys staring at Liz as well and girls kept giving her looks that bordered on admiration and jealousy. Liz was frowning at the sketchpad on her lap, drumming her chin with her pencil. Then she sighed and dropped the pencil onto the grass, taking off her sunglasses and propping them up on her head. He noticed that several of the guys staring at Liz almost fell to the ground when the tank top drifted even higher. Max focused his gaze on Liz again. She had closed the sketch book and was rummaging around in her backpack, totally oblivious to all the stares she was getting. It was now or never. As soon as he reached her, his shadow fell over her as the sun was at his back. She didn’t bother looking up.

“ You’re in my sun.”

Max blinked at the sound of her voice. Liz didn’t really talk much. She depended solely on body language to express herself to her classmates and it usually worked too. She just had this presence thing going for her. Her clothes were always perfectly put together and they always managed to be attention getters even though Liz never had to try to get attention. That whole presence thing just drew people’s stares to her. It screamed ‘ I’m a loner and I like it that way. Don’t mess with me.’ She could vanquish people with just one look and there were even some people, with too much time on their hands, in Max’s opinion, who said she was a witch. Yeah right. He moved immediately and knelt down on the grass next to her, picking her pencil up.

“ Hi Liz. How're you doing?”

He heard a couple of loud gasps from the crowds. Oh boy. They had an audience.

She muttered something under her breath and continued sorting through her pack, still not looking at him.

“ What was that?” Max asked. “ I didn’t get you.”

Liz sighed impatiently and finally lifted her chin and stared him straight in the eye. Whoa. No wonder most of the students stayed out of her way. It was like she was peering into the very depths of his being, seeing who he was deep inside. She was scrutinizing every last inch of him. He stared back at her, determined to show that she couldn’t work her magic on him but instead he found himself falling headlong into her eyes. He saw a lot of things that he thought he wasn’t supposed to see. He saw loneliness, sorrow and anger with a little frustration and loss mixed in. He blinked. Was he supposed to see that? Could she see all that he was feeling through his eyes the way he saw into hers? The thought panicked him for a reason he didn’t quite comprehend and he, Max Evans, most popular guy in school and the one who didn’t back down from anyone, was vanquished with one look like all the rest of them. He averted his gaze.

“ I said do me a favor.”

Max looked up at her. “ What?”

“ Stand up, turn around and leave me alone.”

Did it get colder here or is it just me, Max wondered. “ And I’ll gladly oblige you if you give me one minute of your time.”

Liz zipped her backpack and shut the clasp. She stared at Max and he again moved his gaze away. He realized that Liz did have great eyes. They were dark and brooding and… she was standing up! Max scrambled upwards to stand beside her, holding up the pencil, intending to give it back to her but she didn’t give him a chance.

She dropped the sunglasses back in place and Max was instantly relieved that she wouldn’t turn on the voodoo. “ Listen, Evans, I don’t know why you decided to come out of your cozy little world of worshippers and risk social suicide to be seen with me and frankly, I don’t care. I’ll reiterate: leave me alone.” She moved around him and started for the building, leaving a trail of staring males and gaping (mostly glaring) girls and one very shocked Max Evans (still holding a pencil up) in her wake. Max came to when he heard hysterical laughing. He turned and saw Kyle standing with two of his jock friends, laughing it up. Michael was smirking as well and Max strode over to them, stuffing the pencil in his pocket.

“ She was busy,” he announced to Michael and the rest. Kyle couldn’t speak. Michael grinned and slapped Max on the back.

“ I’ll bet. Come on. Let’s get to class. You’ll catch up with her later. Though I doubt it.” The last part was said in a whisper.


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

By lunch period, Liz felt like exploding. As she turned another corner and passed by a group of sophomore girls, she ignored the looks they gave her. But what they were talking about she couldn’t block out.

“ That’s her.”

“ Liz Parker? No way!”

“ Are you saying Max Evans actually talked to her?”

“Definitely! They were totally flirting with each other.”

“ No way!”

Liz gritted her teeth and stopped in her tracks, glaring at the sophomores until they slunk away. Perfect. Just a few minutes, no, seconds, of talking to Max Evans and she was suddenly the hottest topic in school. Big whoop. She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin, heading towards her locker. Just one quick stop at my locker then I’m out of here and into fresh air, she thought consolingly. Another group of guys and girls were standing clumped against the wall. One of them pointed at her. Liz took a deep breath and swept by them, willing herself not to notice them. Oh well, at least things couldn’t get worse, she thought again trying to make herself feel better. When she caught sight of her locker, her jaw dropped. Max Evans was lounging against it, like he owned the place. Things just got worse. She strode to her locker and glared at him.

“ Out of my way.”

He grinned, unfazed. “ Geez, Liz, rude much?”

Liz gave him a fake smile. “ Okay how’s this: Get out of my way please or I will injure you.” She tilted her head to one side. “Better?” She asked sweetly.

Max smirked. “ Much.” He moved off her locker and immediately settled on the one next to it. “ So listen… I was wondering-”

“ I’m not interested.”

The voice came from somewhere inside a locker and Max smiled. “ You don’t even know what I want to ask you yet.”

“ I don’t care.” It was the locker voice again. “ Whatever it is, I’m not interested.”

“ Well, how do you know you won’t be interested if you don’t know what it is?”

She slammed her locker shut with a slam that made him jump and stared him right in the eye again. Uh oh. She’s doing the voodoo thing again. He looked away.

“ I know you’re going to be there. That’s enough for me not to be interested.”

“ Ouch. I am so hurt.”

Liz rolled her eyes, and backpack in hand, she made her way to the quad with Max following at her heels.

“ Come on, Liz just give me a second.”

“ No.”

“ Please?”

“ No.”

“ Pretty please?”

“ No.”

“ Pretty please with sugar on top?” Max was shocked to find that he was actually enjoying this weird form of… flirting. And there was something he found very appealing when he needled her. Her eyes would get all stormy and she would bite her way-too-hot full lips and then this really cute flush would appear in her cheeks. They were in the quad now and getting as many, if not more stares, as they got in the morning. This was definitely new. Max Evans chasing a girl instead of the other way round? Oh yeah. Somebody take a picture.

Liz reached into her backpack and plopped her sunglasses back into place, doing it more for the sake of hiding her face than shielding her eyes from the sun. Was he trying to ruin her image? Or maybe just annoy her to death? How many no’s did she have to say before he got the hint? And why in God’s name was he following her? She increased her pace but he kept right with her, still pleading. Liz stopped and faced him, her heart stopping momentarily when she saw his amber gold eyes staring at her intently, just like in the morning. She didn’t want to admit it, but that little encounter had unnerved her. It was like taking a little of her own medicine to put it simply. Like for once, someone was inspecting everything she was inside. But she forgot about that for the mean time and her frustration took her full attention again.

“ Oh for… No, Evans! Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever! All right? Can you leave me alone now?” She turned and continued to her usual table, the one where she always ate her lunch alone. And that was the way she liked it. She heard footsteps behind her and groaned. Was he STILL following her? All right. Fine. She could deal. What did Max Evans crave most at lunch and at any or all social gatherings? He craved people. He craved attention. He craved followers. And if any of the mentioned things were missing then what would happen? The great Max Evans would be like a fish out of water. Perfect. She veered away from present course and headed for the most remote table. Upon reaching it, she brushed away the leaves that were piled on top of the table and plopped down. Liz stared at Max expectantly, waiting for him to go all bug eyed and turn around but believe it or not, after a few minutes of contemplation, the jerk actually GRINNED at her and slid onto the bench opposite hers. He tossed a lunch sack onto the table and began to open it. Liz gaped at him.

“ What are you DOING?” she asked incredulously.

“ Opening my lunch bag.” Max said, a confused expression on his face. Liz watched, dumbfounded, as he proceeded to pull out his lunch. Her eyes followed his movements and each article of food. A sandwich. A packet of nachos. An apple. Orange soda. A pack of Wrigley’s spearmint breath freshener gum. And last but not least a pack of twizzlers. Cherry flavored, if she was reading it right. Who, excluding herself, even ate twizzlers in West Roswell High anymore? After what had happened to Truman Frank the summer before, everyone was afraid to touch the stuff. But apparently, there was still one person in school (apart from her) who didn’t believe what had happened and continued to eat them. Liz stared balefully at the packet of twizzlers. Just when she had comforted herself with the fact that she and Max Evans had absolutely nothing in common, it had popped right out of his lunch bag. She was being irrational, but those twizzlers were like a line or something that connected her to Max Evans.

“ Aren’t you eating?” Max asked, taking a bite out of his sandwich. Liz stared at it. It was turkey. Or chicken. She couldn’t quite figure out which it was. But staring at his sandwich was definitely a good way to keep one half of her mind occupied while the other tried to calculate a way out of this mess. Her plan had totally backfired. So Max Evans could live without his adoring flunkies. Alert the presses. Now she just needed to get him to leave her alone. What was he doing here anyway? She glared at him. Liz didn’t trust Max. It was just too suspicious... She shifted her gaze and glared at the pack of twizzlers sitting there. Why did he pick Cherry anyway? Did he somehow know she had cherry twizzlers in her bag and get them just to make her mad? Liz moved her gaze and narrowed her eyes at Max. She definitely did not like this situation. Max was never mean to anyone or anything like that but it was a well-known fact that he and his group, The Popular’s, considered themselves the best. Not any peon could join them. And she didn’t think for one minute he was offering her membership because one, she didn’t want to join and two, Tess Harding, who was his girlfriend the last she had heard, hated her with a passion. The feeling was mutual… the pack of twizzlers caught her eye again. What was it with them? Were they demonic twizzlers or something? Designed to keep her attention on them forever and ever? Now that she thought about, they kind of were demonic. I mean, connecting her to Max Evans. That was hell. And further more… Liz let out an infuriated huff and stared daggers at the twizzlers. She was having a non-existent argument with a packet of twizzlers. She was losing her mind!

“ Do you want me to leave you two alone?” A voice asked.

Liz finally broke away from the spell of the twizzlers and stared up at Max. “ What?”

He pointed at the twizzlers. “ You two seem to have a thing going on. What’s the matter? Did you catch it with your best friend?”

Liz lifted her chin. “ I don’t have a best friend.” She retorted icily.

“ Oh.” He finished off his sandwich and wiped his mouth with the tissue it had been wrapped in. His hand movements once again mesmerized Liz which in turn annoyed her to no end. She cleared her throat and opened up her backpack, removing her own lunch. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A cup of low fat strawberry yogurt. A packet of extra spicy tortilla chips. A bottle of sparkling water. And then came the offending twizzlers. Yup. They were cherry flavored alright. As soon as she tossed them onto the table, Max’s eyes zeroed in on them.

“ Hey, you have Cherry twizzlers too! We do have something in common.”

Liz groaned.

Kill me now.

Please.

TBC…


Chapter 2

One step forward. Peek carefully around a corner and hope for the best. All clear. One more step forward. Then another. And another. Careful, careful. Not too much noise. Act natural. Act relaxed. Act like…

“ MICHAEL GUERIN!”

The shrill shriek reverberated around the halls. Michael jumped then flinched. Act like you haven’t been caught by your girlfriend while trying to skip class. He turned and was confronted by the image of one very pissed off but incredibly beautiful Maria De Luca homing in on him like a shark to the kill. Thank goodness it was lunch hour and everyone else was outside. The faculty room was upstairs so they couldn’t have heard anything. And Michael was very glad cause he knew one thing: This was not going to be pretty.

He tried to school his features into casualness and even managed to get his characteristic smirk back in place. That took monumental effort. Smirking when he was actually scared shitless of what Maria would do to him? Oh yeah. Bravo, Guerin! Hand me that Oscar. He waited for Maria to reach him and when she was about three inches away from him, Michael braced himself for the worst. She rammed her hands on her hips and pursed her lips at him, glaring all the way. Did he mention that she was tapping her foot too? She was. Tap, tap, tap, tap. Soon that foot would be tapping on his brain.

“ Well?”

“ Hey ‘Ria. Did you want something?”

Maria narrowed her eyes and Michael cringed. CRINGED!!!!!!!!! He, Michael Guerin, of the spiky hair and the bad ass attitude had cringed before a girl who barely reached his shoulder in height. He was so whipped.

“ Don’t you ‘hey Ria’ me, Michael. What were you doing?”

Michael gulped and then shrugged in what he HOPED was a nonchalant way. “ I was on my way to the little boys room.”

“ Oh really? Then why are you going the opposite way?”

Ooh, busted, a little voice in his head chimed. Michael shut the voice up roughly. He saw that Maria was still staring at him, waiting for an explanation. He sighed.

“ Will this take long?” He tried again. Escape was a necessity to his survival. “ I’ve got this painting in art class that really needs my attention and then I’ve got to-”

“ Michael, you’re babbling.” A change came over her face. She stopped tapping her foot and changed the position of her hands, resting one of them on his arm and the other on his cheek. She moved closer until her body was flush against his, her eyes became tender and Michael immediately felt his heart speed up. “ Michael, tell me. What were you doing?” Her voice was low and soft. Michael couldn’t resist. He was under her spell.

“ I was cutting English class.”

Maria smiled and this weird glint came into the blue eyes he adored. “ That’s what I thought.” Michael’s instincts screamed at him to run, but his damn stubborn body refused to obey him. The next thing he knew, Maria had slapped his head upside and had moved away from him.

“ OUCH!” he yelped. “ What was that for?”

“ You know very well what that was for. You know you can’t afford to cut any more classes, Michael.”

“ Maria, relax. I’ve totally cleaned up. All my teachers’ love me now and I attend every class and lecture plus do all the homework they give out. Besides, it’s a condition of emancipation that I attend all my classes.”

Maria glared at him. “ Then why are you cutting English?”

Michael looked at the ground. He muttered something under his breath. Maria leaned forward.

“ What was that Michael? I didn’t hear you.”

“ I said it’s because we have to read those dumb poems okay?” He blurted out loudly, an embarrassed look claiming his face.

Maria rolled her eyes. “ That’s it?”

Michael gaped at her. “ Maria, this is a big deal. Do you know what Ms. Rogers is looking for? She wants sappy, from deep within the heart lines about love and romance and tragedy. Romance! I don’t do Romance!”

Maria huffed. “ You got that right.” She went over to him but Michael shied away, looking at her suspiciously. She grinned. “ What’s the matter space boy? Afraid of little ol’ me?”

“ Yes.” Michael answered immediately.

Maria laughed. “ Come on, Michael. I promise I won’t hit you.”

He moved closer and Maria put her arm through his. “ Now about that poem. Did you actually write it?” They began to walk back towards the quad.

“ Yes,” Michael reluctantly answered.

“ Let’s see it. Is it in your locker?”

“ No.”

“ Where is it?”

He mumbled something incoherent again. Maria sighed. “ Space boy, quit mumbling!”

“ It’s in my pocket.”

“ Well, let’s see it.”

Michael hesitated. “ I don’t know. You might laugh.”

Maria gave his arm a reassuring squeeze. “ I promise I won’t laugh.”

Michael nodded and dug around the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a piece of carefully folded white paper. Maria looked at it in surprise as she took it from him. Papers that came from Michael’s pocket were usually all wrinkly and mixed with lint but this... this looked perfect. She opened it and began to read.

Flaxen hair and dewy skin, eyes so blue like ocean’s twin
She’s all I ever want and all I’ll ever need
She starts a fire within me that consumes my thoughts with greed
Lips, rose red, smiles, like the sun
Memories of her will linger even after all is done
Love, so true and perfect still, my heart longs to be with her at
will.
Light and free, laughter with her is multiplied by three
I’ll love her till the end of time, till there’s no reason or rhyme
Reason’s are simple, clear and true
Cause in the end there’s only one person who’d make me feel this way.
Only one person who’d make it all go away.
There is only one Maria.


Maria’s eyes were swimming with tears by the time she had reached the last line. And she had accused Michael of not being romantic! This was the most…she couldn’t believe that he’d written something so beautiful about her. It was amazing.

“ Michael,” She managed to choke out.

He looked into her tear filled eyes. His shoulders seemed to sag. “ That bad, huh?”

Maria shook her head vehemently. “ No! Michael, that was… I mean, words can’t even describe.” Tears spilled down her cheeks.

“ Don’t cry,” Michael begged.

“ I can’t help it. That was, like, (hiccup) so beautiful…” She pulled Michael into a tight hug, not caring that she was probably wetting his shirt in the process. “ I love you too.”

“ Ditto.”

Maria smiled at Michael’s signature phrase. Then an unwelcome thought popped into her head. She pulled away. “ Hey! Wait a minute. You didn’t want to read that in class? Why not?”

Michael looked embarrassed. “ I wasn’t sure you’d like it.”

This silenced Maria. “ Oh. Well, I like it. I love it in fact. So you’ll read it, right?”

“ Right.”

Maria beamed at him. “ Thank you, Michael.”

“ No, thank you, Maria.” He murmured.

***************************************************
OUTSIDE

Liz stared at the impossibly small text of the Biology book she was hiding her face behind. She had finished her lunch behind it and was now trying to find a way to get Max Evans out of her face. Not that she was getting any ideas. He was quiet now. A while ago, he’d been jabbering on about some stuff going on at school and Liz tuned him out completely. Didn’t he get it into his head by now? She wasn’t interested! Liz shifted in her seat and listened intently. It was quiet. Too quiet. Maybe he’d left. She peeked over the top of her book only to find him still there and staring right into her eyes. He smiled.

“ Hey.”

Liz shut her eyes and lowered her head. Screaming and yelling at him all throughout lunch hadn’t worked. Neither had glaring at him, well that was mostly done in turns between him and the twizzlers, but still. A couple of times she’d tried staring him down but he had looked right back at her. Max had always looked away first but not before managing to make her feel as if he was doing an X-ray of her insides. Definitely not good. Why was he just sitting there? Didn’t he have some social whatever to get ready for? Finally tired, Liz huffed and set the Bio text book down with a thud. He was still there, his head resting on one hand as he watched her.

“ Alright! What is going on with you?”

He furrowed his brow. “ What?”

“ Did you have a fight with all your friends or something?”

Max shook his head. “ No.”

“ I know. They caught you wearing white after Labor Day!” She said, her voice dripping sarcasm.

He raised an eyebrow at her blatant hostility. “ No.”

Liz narrowed her eyes and then snapped her fingers. “ It’s Ms. Topolsky, isn’t it? This some sort of new student-to-student outreach program right? You know… normal, peppy, popular student trying to coerce perfectly happy to be left alone outsider into happy, peppy make-me-hurl stuff?”

Max laughed. “ Are you always like this?” He sobered quickly at the murderous look that was starting to claim her face. “ No, it’s not some new outreach program. It’s just me trying to ask you something.”

Liz just stared at him for the longest time and Max shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Did she somehow know about the bet? He had a feeling that if she did, he should be running for his life right now. Well, he and Kyle if you wanted to be specific, but he knew that if Liz ever found out, there would be hell to pay. He cleared his throat.

“ I just wanted to ask if-”

Liz sighed in exasperation and frustration. “ Evans, which part of ‘I’m not interested’ did you not get?”

“ Oh I got everything.”

“ Then why are you still here?” She demanded.

“ Like I was saying before, I just want-”

Liz held up her hand and began to stuff her things back into her bag. “ Save it. I’m out of here.” She stood and shouldered her backpack.

“ What a coincidence,” Max replied, standing as well. “ I was just going too.”

“ In the opposite direction I’m going in I hope?”

He grinned. “ No such luck. I plan on going where you go, at least till lunch is over.”

Liz gave him a measuring stare. Then seeming to come to a decision on whatever was bothering her, she lifted her chin and raised her eyebrow at him.

“ Alright Evans. We’ll do it your way. Come and catch me. If you can.” Her eyes practically dared him to try.

With that, she whirled away from him and sauntered off, unaware that almost the entire male population in the quad was staring at her while the females, well, they weren’t happy. Especially after seeing Max Evans having lunch with her.

Max took a deep breath. A challenge had been made. And he had no choice but to accept it. All right. It’s a game. It’s just a game. Get ready. Get set. Go! He all but ran after Liz, almost catching up before she turned and went into the school. Max followed and almost plowed into the couple just coming out.

“ Watch it pal!” Maria warned. The she smiled when she saw who it was. “ Oh, hi Max.” A confused expression settled on her face. Max looked like he was chasing someone. But the only person Maria had seen go into the building was Liz Parker.

“ Hi, Maria. Hey Michael,” Max gasped out. Man, could Liz move fast. And in those huge boots of hers too. How did she manage to walk in those things let alone RUN? It must be a chick thing.

“ Maxwell? What’s up?” Michael asked.

Max heaved a few breaths. “ Did you two see Liz come by here?”

Maria’s eyebrows rose. “ Liz? As in, Liz Parker? You’re on a first name basis with Liz Parker?”

Max continued breathing. “ Well, not exactly. It’s more like a first name, last name basis. You know, I call her Liz, she calls me Evans.” Michael smirked and Max glared at him.

“ It’s not funny, Michael. So did she come by here?”

“ Um, yeah. She looked like she was in a hurry too.” Maria answered.

“ Which way did she go?” Maria stepped back. Max actually sounded… desperate.

“ I think she was going to the rest rooms,”

Max groaned and Michael began to chuckle. “ Perfect,” He griped. He gave Maria a quick smile and leveled a warning look at Michael, who was trying not to laugh again. “ Thanks. Gotta go!” And then he was off, just a blur disappearing round the corner.

Michael and Maria stared after him. “ That was, like, sooo weird! Did I actually just witness Max Evans chasing after a girl as in, actual chasing? Better yet, was the girl actually Liz Parker?” Maria asked.

Michael shrugged, feigning innocence. “ Beats me Ria. You’re the newshound in this relationship. Are you telling me you haven’t heard the stuff floating around school?”

Maria frowned. “ I haven’t heard anything. But I came in late today, I had to pick up the jetta.” She turned her gaze on Michael. “Why? What happened?”

Michael sighed. “ Come on. Let’s find Pam. She’ll be able to explain it way better than I can.”



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

Max stood outside the door and frowned at it. Okay. He had just hit a major block. How the hell was he going to get in there? Easy. Just walk in. But that was the hard part, too. Normally, it would be easy to just walk into a room but it was the room that was the problem. Max glared at the words on the door.

Ladies

It was hard to believe that a six-letter word could be so instrumental in ruining his life but every second that passed showed him just how possible it was. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. It was just his first day and he was already tired from just trying to keep up with Liz Parker. If this were the rate it kept going at, he’d be a corpse in seven weeks time. And Kyle would win. Strangely enough, the thought wasn’t as motivational as he hoped it could be. Instead, Liz’s beautiful face came into his mind. Her eyes sparkled with challenge and defiance and he realized that she would have no problem barging into the men’s room. He laughed at the picture his mind conjured up. He could just picture Kyle’s face if Liz did barge in on him. Then he squared his shoulders and pushed the door open…

TBC…

posted on 7-Nov-2001 8:50:27 AM
Chapter three

Liz paced up and down in the girl’s restrooms, constantly checking her watch. There were a lot of other girls in the room too, but Liz didn’t pay any attention to them. In fact, she didn’t even look up. She just paced, back and forth, clearly expecting them to stay out of her way and make sure that they didn’t bump into her. They didn’t disappoint. There was mild animosity in the room, due to the fact that most of the girls, if not all, were jealous of Liz. And seeing her with Max Evans didn’t help. But Liz didn’t give a damn about that. They could hate her forever and she still wouldn’t care. Right now, she was more concerned with berating herself.

Stupid, Liz. STUPID! Why did you say that? Come and catch me if you can?

She groaned out loud, attracting the stares of girls who were putting their make up on.

Liz ignored them and continued to pace. She had actually humored him! But you didn’t have a choice, she comforted herself. He was driving you insane. But I drive myself insane too, and nothing like that ever comes out of my mouth! Liz rubbed her forehead distractedly. What had she been thinking? Bad enough that she had lunch with him but to actually goad him into pursuing her? WHAT had she been thinking? It was the twizzlers! It had to be! They were tainted or something. They put her into some weird hypnotic, hallucinogenic state and… Liz stopped pacing abruptly and frowned. Since when did this weird obsession with twizzlers take over her brain? Oh yeah. Since Max Evans appeared with them too. It was his fault! Taking a deep breath, she managed to stop thinking about the demonic foodstuff and congratulate herself on her choice of rooms to hide in. Sure, Max did have the students wrapped around his little finger but he did have the teachers to suck up to. And sucking up was very hard to do when you’re in detention for going into the girls bathroom. She grinned and tossed her head in triumph. Ha! Take that, Mr.-I’m-the-king-of-everything- Evans!

Suddenly, a horrible prickly feeling invaded her body. She didn’t know how she knew but she just KNEW something was going to happen. She spun towards the door and the world (at least HER world) went into slow motion.

A shoe stepped around the doorway. A ridiculously expensive looking shoe. Skechers, if she wasn’t mistaken. That new line they just got out. The shoe is attached to a foot and the foot, which is covered by the shoe, is attached to a leg wearing black jeans. Which was good. Liz didn’t think she could really keep from hurling insults at everybody if just a foot wearing expensive Skechers waltzed into the girls bathroom. Another foot entered. Liz frowned. Why the hell was everything moving so slowly? She moved her gaze up from the shoes and worked her way up along the jeans and her gaze stopped on the chest area, which was covered by a navy blue short-sleeved shirt. Wait a minute. This girl was completely flat chested and yet her chest seemed to be well developed. Liz blinked in confusion. All right. Let’s put this on record, shall we? In addition to losing her mind, Liz Parker is going blind now too. Got it? Good. She lifted her head and stared the girl straight in the eye, feeling as if everything was coated with sticky molasses. Everything was still in slow motion. When her mind finally kicked in, she blinked again. Attention. Did I say ‘going’ blind? A major change is necessary. Put Liz Parker IS blind. Because there was no way she was going to believe what her eyes were showing her. Max Evans was standing INSIDE the GIRLS bathroom, staring right at her with a smug smirk on his face.

“ Hey Liz.”

Two words.

Two little itty bitty words had come from his mouth and then all of a sudden, the molasses was gone. Now it was just the opposite. Like someone had fed that Energizer battery the drummer bunny on TV had to all the girls in the restroom. To put it simply, all hell broke loose. Several girls let out shrieks and dove into the stalls while others gasped and stood frozen in front of the mirrors, their makeup forgotten. Liz cringed when the first ear splitting shrieks were let out. She was kind of in a daze actually. Max had done it. A small, teeny part of her couldn’t help but admire his guts but she quickly quieted it. She raised her eyebrows at him.

“ What are you doing here?” She demanded incredulously. Her poor little going insane mind was working triple overtime trying to cope with this new development.

He shrugged. “ Trying to catch you. Am I doing a good job?”

Liz let out a frustrated huff and Max smiled. “ Guess I am.”

She glared at the smug look on his face. “ In case you somehow missed reading lessons in elementary school, I’m pretty sure the sign out there says ladies. And you, Evans, are no lady.”

Max smirked. “ You sure? Do you wanna check?”

Several loud gasps from the silent observers echoed around the room. Had Max Evans asked Liz Parker to crop a feel on him? Oh, this was good. This was better than good actually.

Liz crossed her arms over her chest, not the least bit surprised. He was probably expecting her to jump at the offer. “ Not in this lifetime.”

“ Suit yourself. So can I ask you what I want to ask you now?”

Liz narrowed her eyes at him. “ No. But tell you what. You can practice asking someone else while you’re in detention.”

“ And how exactly am I going to get into detention?”

Liz smiled evilly. “ Oh, I don’t know. Maybe when one of the teachers gets a hold of this incident?”

Max gave her a blinding smile. Liz fought the impulse to snatch her sunglasses out of her backpack. It was the I’d-never-get-into-detention-cause-I’m-just-so-darn-cute-and-don’t-you-ever-forget-it smile. “ What incident?” He turned to the girls in the bathroom, pausing ever so often to look each and every one of them in the eye. Without a word, he had their full attention, even the girls who were peeking out of the stalls. Liz rolled her eyes. Professional sincerity. This guy was probably born to be a politician. “ What about it ladies? Do you think you could give me a break and keep this between us? A guy’s got to do what a guy’s got to do, right?” This elicited vigorous nodding all around and Liz groaned inwardly. What was it with these girls? They’d probably roll over and play dead if he asked them to. Liz cleared her throat and Max’s attention was immediately focused on her once again.

“ They might cover for you, Evans, but I won’t.”

“ And who exactly would believe you? I mean, it’s their word against just yours.”

Liz frowned. He had a point. It would be bad enough if she alone out of a whole group claimed to have seen Evans in the bathroom but it would be worse too. She wasn’t exactly on the teachers favorite student’s list. So she settled for sending Max a withering glare.

“ Whatever. But do me favor and answer the million dollar question alright?”

“ Shoot.”

“ What exactly does this guy have to do?” She said pointing at him.

He grinned. “ Get you to agree to go out with me.”

More gasps.

Liz choked.

The world spun. Whoa, whoa, back up! THAT’S what he wanted? For the first time, she let her icy façade slip away and she gaped at him. This guy was unbelievable. She barely knew him! Okay, maybe she did know him but she wished she didn’t. How dare he embarrass her in public like this? They weren’t even on speaking terms and then wham, bang, thank you ma’am, he wants them to go out. In less than a minute, she recovered herself and schooled her features in a neutral position though inside, she was boiling mad.

“ Not gonna happen, don’t waste my time and leave me alone.” With those ice-encrusted words, Liz had picked up the backpack that was at her feet and stalked out the door.

The crowd that was left behind just stared after her in shock. They had just witnessed history. Max Evans had been turned down. By Liz Parker. Unbelievable. Even more unbelievable than Liz Parker being asked in the first place. They shifted their collective gaze to Max to find his jaw clenched and his brow furrowed. The next instant, he was pushing through the crowd and out the door, obviously going in pursuit of Liz. Wait till Tess heard about this!

Max pounded down the hall after Liz more embarrassed than hurt. How could she have done that to him? Didn’t she know he had a reputation to protect? Didn’t she know who he was in this school? She probably does but she doesn’t care, a voice in his head told him. Why should she? It’s not like you’re friends or anything. The voice was sensible and calm and if Max was using even half his brain he would have realized that and listened but instead he began to argue with it. But they had been friends once upon a time. Good friends. You’d think that for the sake of old times she would have at least said ‘Maybe’ or even better said ‘yes’ but what had she done? Humiliated him. He caught sight of a graceful form stalking down the halls just ahead of him and he put on a burst of speed determined to catch up. When he did, he caught her arm and spun her around to face him.

“ What is your problem?” He demanded.

Surprise flashed in the deep chocolate pools that made up her eyes. Surprise that was quickly followed by anger. “ What’s my problem?” She repeated. “ I thought that was pretty obvious.”

“ Well it’s not,” Max snapped. “ So tell me, Liz. What is your problem?”

“Are you really that dense? You are Evans. You are my problem.”

“ What the hell have I ever done to you? I’ve never even talked to you this year apart from this morning. I’ve been nice to you, I ate lunch with you and if you’d accepted my offer to go out with me, you’d probably fit in more!” Later, when he’d think back on the whole thing, he would realize just how much of a lunatic he’d sounded. He’d remember missing the warning signs that would have probably saved him from a few very painful moments. But at the moment, he’d been so caught up that he’d missed all that. The second after his speech was over, a hand swung up and connected to his cheek in a hard slap. It wasn’t the hardest he’d ever been hit but it was enough to shock him. Liz tore her arm away from his tight grasp and Max gaped at her and shrank back at what he saw. Liz was so red, she looked like she had a severe sunburn. And if looks could kill, he would be dead in a second. Her fists were clenched at her sides and she looked about ready to take a swing at him.

“ How dare you!” She finally exploded. “ Who the hell do you think you are? I don’t give a shit if you’re nice to me or not. I didn’t ask you to eat lunch with me, in fact, I would really rather forget the whole thing even happened. And as for going out with you, I already told you, it’s not going to happen! I don’t want to fit in. And even if I did, I wouldn’t need your friggin’ seal of approval to do it. I don’t need your charity Evans! So I suggest you turn around and walk away or else I will punch you and I won’t miss.”

If Liz hadn’t been so angry, she would have laughed at the shocked look on his face. But given the situation, she was seeing everything through a red haze. When he didn’t move, Liz whirled away from him and stalked off, knowing that if she stayed another moment, she would punch his nose and the last thing she needed was him running to the faculty. With steam literally pouring out of her ears, she began to head towards the football field. She needed to let out some of her frustrations. And screaming bloody murder in an abandoned field seemed like a pretty good way to do it.

Max stood stock still after Liz had left. Everything she had said had hit home and realized just how much of an ass (or lunatic, take your pick *happy* )he had been. He ran a hand through his hair and headed in the opposite direction Liz had taken. He needed to regroup and strategize. And find a way to apologize to Liz. A very good way. Cause something told him she wasn’t even going to LOOK at him ever again if he didn’t do something.


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

By the time the last bell of the day rang, Liz felt like she’d been through World War 1 and 2 put together. Staring? No problem! Whispers? Got it covered. She could even deal with people pointing at her. What she couldn’t and didn’t want to deal with EVER again was the masses of girls rushing up to her and giggling, gushing and asking questions about Max Evans, who was the biggest jerk in the world in her book. As she turned a corner and spotted another group rushing towards her, she groaned. World? Uh uh. Make that universe. Here we go.

“ Oh, Liz! Hi, girlfriend!”

Liz cringed. Girlfriend?

“ Heard about what happened in the restrooms! That was great!”

Of course she’d heard what had happened in the restrooms. Everybody had. Except the teachers. Max had been right. They had all covered for him. And they wouldn’t believe Liz. Besides, if she did tell them, they’d probably arrange for extra sessions with Ms. Topolsky for her. And three times a week was more than enough for her.

“ So are you going to go out with him?”

“ Oh my god! Max Evans! You’re so lucky.”

“ What are you going to wear?”

“ Oh, there’s this new dress at the mall, you’d look to die for in it!”

“ Do you have any other colors than black?”

So many voices clamored for her attention that her head began to spin. Ugh. She could feel the beginnings of a migraine already starting to pound through her head. She never got migraines!!! Add that on to the already growing list of things to kill Max Evans for. She cleared her throat and raised her voice to be heard above the hubbub.

“ I have to go. I’ve got stuff to do.”

The girls nodded.

“ Oh, for sure!”

“ Like, go ahead.”

“ I’m sure you have tons of things to get together before your date tonight.”

“ Will you tell us all about it tomorrow?”

“ Please?”

Liz set her jaw. Breathe, Liz. Breathe. Oh what I wouldn’t give to be in the football field right now. She felt like screaming for an hour straight. She faced the girls with a pasted smile on her face.

“ I’m not dating him.”

Good. Now turn around and walk away. She followed her own advice to the letter and walked out the door without looking back, leaving a speechless crowd of girls behind her. As she walked down the sidewalk, she heaved in several deep breaths trying to at least keep the spirit of the banshee at bay till she reached a safe isolated area. She did NOT want a session with dear Ms. Topolsky about disturbing the peace and harmony of everyone else.

“ Elizabeth!”

Hearing the all too familiar voice behind her, Liz stiffened. Oh no. Not now. Please. Please…

“ Eizabeth!”

Maybe if she kept walking and pretended she didn’t hear anything she would be able to make her escape.

“ Elizabeth Parker, I know you’ve heard me young lady!”

Liz stopped walking and turned around to find Ms. Topolsky tapping her foot impatiently, peering at her over the eyeglasses that covered half her face. She smiled innocently.

“ Ms. Topolsky. What’s up? ”

“ Young lady, why were you ignoring me?”

Liz's smile widened. “ I was not ignoring you, ma’am. I was pondering the meaning of life.”

“ Nice try, Elizabeth.”

Liz shrugged and trudged over to her. “ Alright, alright. You caught me. I was actually thinking about killing someone.”

Ms. Topolsky blanched and then recovered herself. “ I liked the meaning of life excuse better.”

“ I’ll be sure to remember that.”

Ms. Topolsky sighed. “ Really, dear, I do wish you’d stop being so sarcastic.”

“ I can’t help it, ma’am. It’s my nature.”

“ And that’s what we have to change! I wanted to congratulate you. I saw you in the hall when the last bell rang. You certainly have a lot of new friends.”

Liz groaned. “ I don’t want to talk about it, ma’am.”

“ Oh, I understand. This atmosphere is clearly not suited to the nature of our discussions.”

“ Um, no, I mean I don’t want to talk about it, ever,”

“ We talked about this. Do you want us to attend that trust seminar again? Trust between a counselor and a student is crucial-“

Liz held up a hand. Taking that dumb seminar once was bad enough but twice? She wouldn’t live to tell the tale. “ Um, no, that’s okay. Of course we can talk about it.”

“ Good. What do say about tomorrow?”

“ Tomorrow’s fine.” Anything to get you off my back. I can’t deal with you now. Please go.

“ See you then.” Ms. Topolsky turned and walked off.

When she was about ten meters away Liz called her. “ Ms. Topolsky?”

“ Yes, Elizabeth?”

“ The name’s Liz.”


TBC…


Chapter 4

Max whirled around a corner, looking for Michael. He reached up and massaged his cheek, surprised that it still hurt so much long after Liz had slapped him. Well, it had only been a couple of hours, true, but man, did it hurt! Or maybe it was just his conscience that was making it hurt more. Max stuffed his hands in his pockets and frowned, wondering where Michael could be. Probably with Maria. His head snapped up. Michael, Maria together. Michael’s bike is still parked outside, Maria’s Jetta too. Therefore, the only logical place to look would be… Max grinned and pulled a lock pick from his pocket. Michael had given it to him last Christmas, claiming that he’d need it if he ever had to use the eraser room in an emergency. Well, today wasn’t exactly an emergency but he did need Michael urgently. Max stepped up to the door and twisted the knob as quietly as he could. Yup. It was locked. He could see vague shadows moving around inside and hear some giggles. Max groaned to himself, hoping that when he burst in, he wouldn’t find anything too embarrassing. Inserting the lock pick into the keyhole, he gave it what Michael and Kyle called the ‘jiggle, shake and hook.’ Hearing the click, Max smiled in satisfaction. It had taken him a while to get the moves right but now, he used them with ruthless efficiency. It was really a handy skill, especially when he forgot his keys and was locked out of his house. Glancing up momentarily, he noticed that the shadows hadn’t stopped moving around. Max sighed and gave the door a discreet knock. He heard some more giggling and more heavy breathing. Max knocked again, giving it a hard rap. The shadows stopped finally and he swung open the door, catching the tail end of Michael’s swearing and Maria’s nervous laughter plus a rustling of fabrics as they obviously tried to straighten their clothes.

“ Hey guys.”

Max took in Michael’s unruly hair, even more wild than usual and the traces of lipstick on his cheeks, lips and collar. Maria seemed neat enough, but the collar of her shirt needed straightening and her short blond hair was disheveled and sticking up. They both had slightly guilty looks on their faces but it was quickly being replaced with surprise.

“ Max?” Maria asked. “ What’s going on?”

“ Yeah, Maxwell. What was so important that you had to come bother us here of all places?” Michael looked a little pissed off that Max had interrupted them. So Max gave both of them a placating smile and held out his hands in apology.

“ Sorry I interrupted your little uh, meeting,” Maria blushed and a light crimson colored Michael’s cheeks. “ but I really need your help Michael.”

Michael snorted and flipped on the light switch while Maria grinned at Max and began to dig around in her purse of her comb and compact. “ Help? With what? If you could pick that lock, you really don’t need any more lessons Max.”

Max shook his head and reached up and began to massage his cheek again. “ It’s not about that, Michael. It’s about, um, well, you know the thing in the morning?”

“ Huh?” Michael muttered distractedly. He was watching Maria out of the corner of his eye and though his gaze seemed to be focused on Max, he knew that Michael’s mind was on Maria.

“ Michael, babe, I think Max has girl trouble.” Maria spoke up, her eyes never leaving the mirror in the compact as she applied a coat of mascara. Max sent her a thank you smile and she grinned back through the mirror. Michael’s gaze snapped from Maria to Max, his eyes wide with confusion.

“ You do? With who?”

Max squinted at Michael and glanced at Maria quickly to make sure she wasn’t looking then mouthed ‘Liz’ to his best friend. Michael smirked.

“ Oh, now I remember.”

“ Remember what?” Maria asked. “ Or in this case, who?”

“ No one,” Max answered quickly.

Maria pouted. “ What’s wrong Max? Don’t you trust me?”

Max sent Michael a pleading look and Michael rolled his eyes but turned to his girlfriend anyway. “ Course he trusts you, Ria. It’s just that he doesn’t want a lot of people to know who she is.”

“ Why not?” Maria asked, giving her hair a final sweep with her comb and then dropping the compact and comb back in her purse.

“ Cause she doesn’t exactly feel the same way about him.”

Maria’s eyes widened. “ You mean she’s playing hard to get? With Max?”

Max groaned, dropping his hand and revealing his still red cheek. If you looked closely, you could still make out a handprint. “ You don’t know the half of it, Maria.”

Michael and Maria’s eyes widened. Then a smile began to tug at the corners of Michael’s lips while Maria hurried to Max and peered closely at his cheek. “ Max! What happened to you?” Max smiled at her. Maria was like a sister to him, always fussing over him and trying to play cupid for him. No one, except his twin, Isabel, had been more aghast at his decision to date Tess than Maria. He wished he’d listened to them. Anyway that was the past now and there was no time like the present. And at the present moment, Michael was currently laughing himself silly.

“ S-she… did… it, didn’t she?” Michael got out in between his bouts of laughter.

Max looked away sheepishly. “ Yeah. She did.”

Maria’s eyes narrowed. “ She? She who? Did what? Michael? Max? Guys!”

Michael wiped the tears away from his eyes and heaved in a deep breath. He shook his head at max. “ Man! What did you say to her?”

Max shrugged. “ Nothing. I just asked her out publicly in the girl’s bathroom.”

Maria gasped. “ So it is true! Maxwell Evans!” She opened and shut her mouth several times before crossing her arms over her chest. “ Well, I can understand why she slapped you. I mean, asking her out in a bathroom? That’s worse than even the stunts Michael’s pulled.” A puzzled look crossed her face. “ Who were you asking? Oh my GOD!” She exclaimed. “ You were asking Liz Parker, weren’t you? She’s the ‘she’ you and Michael were talking about?”

Michael and Max exchanged looks. They couldn’t let Maria know about the bet. They knew for sure that she would injure both of them very badly if she even got a whiff of the deal. Luckily, she seemed too shocked to do any deep investigating.

“ I can’t believe it,” She was saying. “ Max Evans is in love!” Max snapped his gaze to meet her dreamy one head on.

“ WHAT? Maria, aren’t you jumping the gun here? We haven’t even gone out yet!”

“ Max, you went into a GIRLS bathroom for her. You actually ran after her at lunchtime. If that’s not love, well, okay, maybe it’s not but it definitely has serious potential.”

“ How does going into a bathroom for her rank as serious potential?” Max asked in bewilderment.

“ It’s way more than what you usually do for any of your ‘important’ dates.” Maria reminded him. Max frowned. Okay, so maybe she had a point. What he usually did for those dates was make sure he had on a clean shirt and had showered and make an effort to at least be on time. Nine out of ten times he wasn’t but the dates kept coming so he didn’t really mind. If he wanted to impress, he usually brought along some flowers and took her to a fancy restaurant.

“ Okay, okay, let’s skip the therapy session you two. What I really want to know is why she slapped you, besides the reason that you asked her in a bathroom.”

Max blushed. “ I, uh, well, she said no.”

“ Big surprise,” Michael muttered. Maria elbowed him. “ Ow!”

“ She did?” Maria asked incredulous and ignoring Michael’s little yelp. “ Wow. She’s really something else isn’t she?”

Max smiled ruefully and rubbed his cheek. “ Yeah.”

“ So after she said no…” Michael prompted.

“ She walked out and I ran after her.”

“ And?” Michael and Maria prompted.

“ We, uh, had a disagreement and she slapped me.”

Seeing the disbelieving lift of their eyebrows, Max took a defensive stance. “ What? That’s what happened.”

“ Must’ve been some disagreement.” Michael commented. Maria nodded in affirmation and the three of them began to walk out of the eraser room, with Michael carefully closing the door behind them. “ So why do you need me?”

“ Okay. It was actually all my fault she slapped me,” Max confessed. He looked up at Michael and Maria to see that they weren’t the least bit surprised.

“ Don’t looked so shocked that we don’t look so shocked Max,” Maria said grinning. “ I may love you like a brother but I do know that that tremendous ego of yours lands you into trouble loads of times.”

“ Gee thanks,” Max said. “ Anyway, I really screwed up big time.” Max felt his guilt come rushing back and his need to apologize increase considerably. He wasn’t even concerned about he game at this point. He really did want to apologize. He’d been a total ⊕sshole. “ And I’ve come up with a way to apologize.”

“ Oh joy.” Michael quipped sarcastically. They were in the parking lot now. “ But I ask again: Why do you need me?”

“ I need to break into school tonight.”

“ Whoa, whoa! Did I just hear you right, Max? Just tell me it was my Michael who said that and I’ll believe you.”

Max grinned. “ Sorry, Ria. But I do need to get into school tonight.” He turned to Michael. “ You up for it?”

Michael gave him a wide smile. “ Yeah. I’m there.”

“ Good! Now we have to head over to my house.”

“ Hey hold up a second! What about me? I want to help.” Maria exclaimed.

“ Don’t worry Maria. I need your help too. I’m gonna need to buy some of those balloons that your mom sells.”

Maria wrinkled her forehead. “ Why?”

“ You’ll see.”

Max went on ahead to his jeep leaving Maria and Michael together. “ Meet you at my house in a few!”

Maria shook her head at his back and leaned against Michael. “ I’ve never seen him like this.” He commented.

“ Neither have I.”

“ Let’s hope Max knows what he’s doing. If that handprint could last for all this time, I shudder to think how a right hook from her would feel.”

Maria laughed and flexed her slender arms. “ Mine will definitely hurt worse if you don’t get going Michael.”

He grinned and gave her a quick peck on the lips. “ See you there.”

“ You too.”

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


Liz sighed as she opened the door to the roomy split-level house she shared with her mother and stepped in. Tossing her keys onto the side table, she leaned against the door and groaned. The migraine hadn’t let up. She wondered briefly if it had anything to do with the fact that images of Max Evans face, packets of cherry twizzlers and the smiling faces of the girls kept dancing around inside her head, over and over as if they would never stop. She had given up pressing her fingers against her temples and massaging her head on the bus ride to the outskirts of town. Liz wondered if it was possible to use an icepack against her head to treat the migraine like you would a bump. But she quickly decided against it, vetoing the idea of plunging her fingers into the depths of a freezer. She pushed herself off from the door and made her way through the foyer and into the living room, about to turn and go up the stairs when a call stopped her.

“ Elizabeth? Is that you, honey?”

“ No, it’s Elizabeth’s evil twin, Liz. Will she do?”

“ Can you come in here for a minute, darling? I need to talk to you.”

Liz sighed again and made her way into the spacious Spanish styled kitchen. She saw her mother sitting at the table, a cup of steaming coffee in front of her. Uh oh. This could not be good, whatever it was. Whenever her mother or father wanted to have a serious talk with her, they always, ALWAYS had coffee in front of them, like they needed the caffeine boost to get them through it. She gave her mother a smile.

“ Let me just get some OJ,” She replied, going to the fridge and pulling the orange juice out. As she did so, Liz replayed the various times they’d had ‘ the coffee talk’ over the years and how the outcomes of the talks always seemed to be for the family’s ‘best’ interests or her ‘best’ interests and turn out to be hell for her. Like the time they’d sat her down when she was five and told her that going to the carnival with her stuffy nanny would be better than coming along with them for a business trip to Albuquerque. No sooner had they arrived then Liz was separated from the elderly woman and had been lost for two hours. She’d managed to eventually find the old woman again, who had fallen asleep on a bench but not before being extremely traumatized by the sight of clowns. Even now she couldn’t stand them. Hey, who wouldn’t hate them if you were five years old, lost, all by yourself and one of them came up to you every five minutes with all that creepy makeup and fake smile saying ‘ are you having fun little girl?’ She had been LOST. Had it looked like she was having fun? Liz carried her glass over to the coffee table and sat down. Oh, and let’s not forget the other monumental coffee talk, as in, the one that had happened when she was thirteen. She remembered all the lines they had fed her.

‘Liz, honey, I’m sure you’ve noticed that your father and I aren’t getting along so well, right?’

That had been an understatement. They had virtually been at each other’s throats day and night, 24 7. Hadn’t they known that fighting in front of their only child could scar her emotionally for life? Liz smiled. Apparently they hadn’t.

‘ It’s not that we don’t love each other. It’s just that we’ve grown apart.’

This came from her father. Liz had to stifle a laugh when she replayed that particular sentence. What crock. She’d found out precisely one month later why exactly her parents had ‘grown apart’. Her name was Mary-Anne. She was blond, busty and… her dad’s secretary. The smile faded. Now why did that sound like something out of a movie?

‘ Wouldn’t you rather have two, separately happy parents instead of two miserable ones who are together?’

Actually, at that point, Liz was ready to say that she’d rather not have ANY parents but her ‘inner voice’ told this wouldn’t exactly sit well with them.

‘ We’re going to get a divorce,’

They had said that sentence simultaneously and looks of relief had passed over their faces, as if glad they’d finally managed to get it out. Then came the whole part about how this would be a wonderful opportunity for the both of them and how she’d get to travel all over the country to visit her father and how they needed to get back to their own careers and how they’d found their purposes in life. Whoop de do. But where exactly had she fit in all that? All right, so maybe she hadn’t exactly been cheering then (she’d been closer to crying but the heavens took pity on her and stopped the dam of tears) but she had to admit that the deal she got hadn’t been half bad. Daddy dearest was going to move away WITH Mary-Anne and she got to stay with Mommy with the bonus of no more screaming matches. Alleluia.

“ Elizabeth?” Her mother was saying. “ Elizabeth.”

“ It’s Liz,” Liz murmured and finally made eye contact with her mother. “ So what’s up mom?” Nancy Parker looked five years younger than her actual 40 years of age. When her father had left, her mother had completely revamped herself, highlighting her fading red hair with vibrant colors and exercising five times a week. She had lost twelve pounds and she revived her law practice and was currently heading a small but booming law firm. She made enough to make sure she and Liz didn’t need anything from her father with a lot to spare. Which was fine by Liz.

“ Liz. Are you okay, honey? You seemed a little distracted.”

“ Hmm? Oh. It’s nothing mom. Just a rough day.” She took a sip of her juice. “ So what’s up?” She asked again.

Her mother smiled. “ Well, darling, I’m not exactly sure how to say this, but… how can I put this?” Nancy gulped down a mouthful of coffee and cleared her throat. She then reached up and began to tug at a lock of her hair and twirl it around her finger. “ Alright. Um, you know that… no wait. That is, what I’m trying to say is I… no that’s not right.” Liz raised an eyebrow as her normally cool, polished and collected mother began to actually wring her hands. Here was a woman who stared down criminals and could talk even the toughest jury into seeing things her way but she seemed to have fallen apart in front of the steady gaze of her seventeen-year-old daughter. As her mother halted in speech every few seconds, Liz could feel the bubble of apprehension growing. Finally she interrupted her mother.

“ Mom? Why don’t you try this: Just say it.”

Nancy Parker laughed. “ Yes, that would be the easiest thing to do. But I think it might shock you.”

“ Believe me mom, after the day I’ve had, nothing short of you telling me that you’re sending me to a convent would shock me.” Liz said, taking another sip of her juice.

“ Alright. I… I’ve met someone. And he’s asked me to marry him.”

For the second time in the day, Liz choked and practically spit her juice all over the table.

“ Liz? Oh honey, are you alright?” He mother stood and patted her back and then rushed off to clean up the spilled juice.

Liz coughed several times and swallowed rapidly in succession. “ Mom, did you say you’re going to MARRY again?” She rubbed at her forehead. “When did that happen? And why have I never met or even heard of this person until today?”

Nancy hurriedly cleared the table and returned to her spot. She gave her daughter an apologetic smile. “ I’m sorry, Liz. This must be quite a surprise.”

Liz shook her head. “ No mom, a surprise would be if you told me we were moving to Alaska. This, this is NOT a surprise.”

“ Then what is it?”

“ It’s… it’s… I don’t know what it is. Just know that this is totally…” Liz trailed off and shot her mother an exasperated look. “ When did you meet this guy and I am assuming and praying that it’s a normal guy.”

“ Elizabeth!”

“ It’s Liz.”

“ Of course he’s a normal guy! And I met him eight months ago.”

“ Well that’s a relief. I’d hate to think… wait a second. Eight months ago? Eight months ago?” Liz shook her head in disbelief. “ How… why…EIGHT months ago?” It was her turn to stutter now. Nancy watched with a hint of amusement as her beautiful daughter tried to make sense of an altogether too confusing situation. She had to give her credit though. Liz pulled herself together fairly quickly, much quicker than she had and she leveled her an open, intense look. “ Alright, mom. You’re going to explain this to me step by step until we reach the ‘ he’s asked me to marry him’ part.”

Nancy blushed. “ Step by step? Well, dear there are SOME things I’d like to keep to myself, if you don’t mind.”

Liz frowned and then she understood. She turned beet red. “ MOM! I really do NOT need to know about a parental figure’s sex life.”

Nancy flinched when the ‘word’ slipped as easily from Liz’s mouth as if she had been saying it for years. “ Yes, of course, Liz. So what do you want to know?”

Liz took another moment to regroup and she faced her mother again. “ What’s his name?”

“ His name is Derek Grant, he’s a psychiatrist and has his own practice. He’s very respectable.”

“ How old is he?”

“ He’s forty five.”

“ Where did you meet him?”

“ At the office. Sharon was handling a case for him and when it was over, he won by the way, he wanted to take Sharon out as a thank you but she was too busy and sent me instead. We enjoyed each other’s company immensely and-”

“ Alright, mom, alright! You dig the guy. That’s obvious.” Liz took a deep breath. “ So when did you find time to date him? I mean, you’ve been so busy over the last eight months…” Liz trailed off. Oh. She got it now. All the times her mother had been busy, those late nights she’s put in at the office they were all spent with him. Sadness overwhelmed her. Her own mother preferred somebody else’s company to hers. Liz sighed inwardly and berated herself. Get over it, Liz. It’s been done to you before and you’ve survived. No reason to start bawling over it now.

“ Liz? What is it, honey?”

“ Nothing, mom. I just… why didn’t you tell me earlier? I mean, eight months is quite a while.”

Nancy began to wring her hands once again. “ Well, I wasn’t exactly sure how you’d react, honey. I’ve wanted to tell you for some time now but you’re always busy with school or at the reservation and-”

“ Mom, you’re babbling. It’s very unbecoming.”

Nancy smiled sheepishly. “ I’m sorry dear.”

“ No biggie. Just… whenever there’s thing big thing going on in your life, I’d like it if you’d feel comfortable with telling me. I’m not very good with surprises. Deal?”

“ Deal.” She shook her head at Liz. “ Any more questions?”

“ Just one. Don’t you think you guys are rushing it a bit? I mean, eight months. That’s a little short.”

“ Well, he hasn’t exactly asked me yet, honey. We’ve just been talking about it. A lot.”

“ Oh. Well, just don’t rush into anything if you’re not ready, okay mom? And if it falls through, don’t worry about it. Girl power and all that.”

Nancy smiled affectionately at Liz. “ This is surreal isn’t it darling? I mean, it’s almost like our roles have been switched.” The smile faded. “ Or that you’ve grown up. It happened so fast. I don’t think I even saw it.”

Liz smiled sadly. “ That’s the way it is, mom. Blink and you’ll miss it.”

“ It seems so. But I miss my Lizzie.”

Liz stiffened at the nickname her father, mother and her childhood playmate, who currently shall remain unnamed for fear of her internal combustion used for her. She stood up. Okay. She’d had enough coffee talk.

“ Lizzie’s gone, Mom. She’s been gone for a while now.” She shouldered her backpack and headed out of the kitchen.

“ Liz?”

“ Yeah mom?” She called back.

“ Do you… would you maybe like to meet Derek sometime?”

Truth be told, Liz wasn’t exactly feeling sociable right then but she heard the hopeful tone in her mother’s voice and she hated to dash it.

“ Yeah. Sure.” And with that, she headed up the stairs back to her own world of solitude.

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

Max pulled off his ski mask and carefully arranged his little ‘surprise’ for Liz in her locker. When that was done, he faced Michael who was bouncing nervously next to him.

“ All done,” he whispered.

“ Good. Let’s get out of here. Are you sure that’s all?”

Max ticked off the mental checklist in his head. Liz’s desk, her schedule, her locker… the balloons and been bought, the flowers too and Maria and Michael had distributed the rest of the notes. It was done.

“ Yeah. Let’s get out of here.”

They were out of the building a few minutes later the boys pulled the masks off their heads and hopped into Bob.

“ Maxwell, Liz is sure going to be pissed off when she sees all that.”

“ I’m counting on it.”

“ I don’t get it,” Michael began as Max started the engine. “ Do you want her to hit you again?”

“ God no. I’m just hoping this will make her mad enough to talk to me again. That’s the most immediate part. Then I can apologize.”

“ I’ve got to hand it you but you’ve forgotten one thing. What about Tess?”

“ What about her?”

“ She’ll bust a gut.”

“ I don’t care. I have to, no NEED to apologize to Liz.”

Michael sighed. “ Guess everything set then. We’ll see what’ll happen tomorrow.”

TBC.
posted on 7-Nov-2001 11:02:41 AM
Chapter Five

Author’s Note: As always guys, thank you for the feedback. Just wanted to put a disclaimer on the song bit later in the chapter. The lyrics do NOT belong to me and I deserve no credit for them.

Max shifted uncomfortably in his seat, the very same place he had been sitting in yesterday at lunch and checked his watch nervously. It almost twelve thirty.

Where was she?

His little ‘operation’ had gone on without a hitch. He’d been waiting outside of Liz’s first period algebra class (at a safe distance and way back in some shadows) to see her reaction to the first phase of his plan. As soon as the bell had rung, the door swung open and one very pissed off Liz Parker charged out, struggling to stuff in some pieces of white notepaper into her backpack. Max had watched in amusement as she headed straight for a trashcan and began shoveling out pieces upon pieces of the paper, discarding them into the bin, muttering all the while. Asking her classmates to help him out had been a stroke of genius upon his part. He had been sitting at his desk for hours at the day before, writing down the apology over and over on individual notes. Then Maria and Michael had helped him to distribute them among their classmates, specifically anyone and everyone who had Liz Parker in a class with them. Max grinned in satisfaction. By the end of the day, he figured she’d have enough paper with her to make five notebooks. And that wasn’t counting the little surprise he’d arranged in her locker for her.

It had been truly fun to watch her reactions in the hallways when people she didn’t even know kept coming up to her and handing her notes. She would let out a heartfelt groan and open it, only to crumple it up and throw it behind her back a second later. He almost felt sorry for the freshmen and sophomores Michael and Maria had roped into handing Liz the notes in the hallways. Each of them received a withering look and after she’d taken the notes from them, they’d scampered away like their lives depended on it. But the best part so far, in his opinion, was the locker bit. From his position just inside a classroom, he had had a perfect view of Liz’s locker. When he’d seen her walk up to it during the free period half of the school enjoyed in the morning (thanks to a computer glitch) and begin to fiddle with her lock he’d held his breath in anticipation. Show time. Liz twirled the locker’s combination and the lock popped open. She pulled the locker door towards her and a jack in the box sprang out. It was the type that you could buy at any novelty store except for one thing. It had a picture of his face stuck on it’s head and a message sitting proudly on top that read:

I’ve been a royal fool. I’m sorry.

Max.

P.S. Did you get my notes?


The following moments had been hilarious to say the least. Liz had backed away when the jack in the box had popped out at her but she collected herself quickly and had stepped forward to read the message. She had scowled at it in disgust and grabbed it from its position just as he had thought she would. And that in turn triggered the second part of the locker surprise. It was like the domino effect. Once the note was removed, the head of the jack was reeled back into it’s box. Liz moved closer to her locker and peered at the box curiously, reaching out to open the clasp. Max gave himself another pat on the back for anticipating this move too. Ever the scientist. Even when they were kids, Liz had always been fascinated by the way things worked so it hadn’t been too hard to imagine what she would do once the jack was back in it’s box. She lifted the clasp. Nothing happened. Max saw her frown and go even closer. Then it hit. With a loud popping sound much like the one you get when you break open a Christmas cracker full of confetti, the jack popped out again, this time bringing with it a shower of notepaper with the same message from before. Several girls shrieked and the traffic in the hallways stopped. Max ignored them and fixed his gaze on Liz. She hadn’t even seemed fazed. She just buried her face in her hands and groaned loudly, enveloped in the shower of paper. Her head snapped up a moment later and she scanned the corridor as if searching for someone. Max unconsciously scooted backwards, going further into the classroom almost afraid that she would find him. Liz stopped her search and cleared her throat, jamming a hand on her hip as the other one rubbed at her forehead. Max had stared at the scene in amazement. By that little action of clearing her throat, Liz had somehow managed to make sure everyone’s attention was on her. She dropped her hand and looked everyone in the eye.

“ Alright. I’m going to ask this ridiculous question once, and only once. If anybody else has any, any at all goddamn friggn’ notes for me, now’s the time to give them up. I mean it. I will NOT be accepting any more of them today or any other day.” She paused and took a deep breath. “ And you can send a message to Evans too. Tell him he can keep his little apology notes...”

Max had had to bite his lip to keep from bursting with laughter managing to tune Liz out in the process. She stood by her locker, ranting about him, while the poor freshmen and sophomores made a haphazard line to it, tossing their notes into the locker and looking petrified. It was like they couldn’t look away from Liz for fear of being beaten up or something. Some of the students actually began hurrying away in fright until there were only a handful of them around. Too funny. He made a mental note to thank Maria and Michael for all their help later and to say a personal thank you to everyone who had given Liz one of his notes. But right now, the atmosphere was just right for what would be the next step in getting Liz to have lunch with him. Gathering up his courage, he arranged his trademark cocky grin onto his face and stepped out of the classroom heading towards the crowd and more specifically, Liz. A small gasp rippled through the few bystanders remaining and they automatically made way for him. Some of them actually looked scared to see what his reaction would be to Liz Parker publicly dissing him. Were they in for a surprise? Hell yeah.

“ Hey.”

Liz whipped her head to the side and her dark, seemingly bottomless eyes widened with surprise before they glazed over and narrowed in annoyance.

“ Whatever.”

“ Did you get my notes?”

Liz gave him a pasted smile. “ I believe I did. All one hundred and sixteen of them.”

Max grinned obligingly. “ You were keeping count. I feel like I should be honored.” Out of the corner of his eye, he noted that some of the guys and girls were starting to hang around to watch them. Perfect. He brought his attention back to Liz soon enough to catch her retort.

“ Yeah? Well don’t be.”

“ You’re right. I’ll break out the champagne when you receive the other two hundred and fourteen.”

Her jaw had dropped open in shock and Max had raised an eyebrow at her flabbergasted expression. “ What? You don’t believe me? Trust me, it’s true. A word of advice though. If you insist on throwing my heartfelt-” Max had halted here momentarily to watch in amusement as Liz rolled her eyes, “ apology notes into the garbage you should just lug a portable one around with you. It’d be a lot easier.”

Liz leveled him an icy stare. “ You think you’re so cute, don’t you?”

Max shrugged and grinned broadly. “ Hey, I always go with the majority. Let’s see what they say.” He cast a look around the growing spectators and noticed that even more were arriving. He smiled. “ This goes out to all the ladies. Am I cute?” Max called to them, keeping his eyes focused on Liz. Loud cheering and wolf whistling was the answer he received. “ I can’t very well argue with them now can I?” He asked.

Liz shook her head. “ Frankly, Evans, I really don’t care what you do or don’t do. All I want from you is to leave me alone and stop sending me these stupid notes.”

“ Nope, sorry, can’t do either.”

“ And why not? You’re not still under the demented idea of asking me to go out with you, are you?”

“ Not at this time. I just wanted to apologize.”

“ Apologize? And you think these,” Liz stopped momentarily to scoop up some of the papers and waved them in front of his face, “are going to melt me and make me forgive you for acting like the biggest jerk I have ever had the displeasure of meeting?” She threw them over her shoulder and back into the locker. “ Highly unlikely.”

Max’s grin faded and he schooled his expression into the most contrite version he could manage. He lowered his voice but it wouldn’t have mattered if he had whispered. It was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. “ I know I screwed up big time Liz. I had no right to say some-”

Liz snorted. “ Some? Make that any.”

“ Alright. I had no right to say ANY of those things to you. I just want a chance to set things right. Please Liz. Just talk to me.”

Max heard the collective ‘Awww’ from the crowd and held his breath.

Liz had raised an eyebrow at his earnest open expression, seeming to waver and Max had experienced sweet relief flowing through him. All right! He’d gotten through to her. Then she peered into his eyes in that creepy, voodoo like way of hers and tossed her hair over her shoulder. Uh oh. Max shifted his gaze away from hers and groaned internally. How did she DO that?

“ Nice try,” were the next words out of those luscious full lips of hers. “ But I’m not buying it.” He silently groaned again. He should have known she wouldn’t give in that easily. This was Liz Parker. Nothing about her could ever be described as easy.

Max had sighed. He had hoped it wouldn’t come to this but she had given him no choice. He was going to talk to Liz and he’d do whatever it took. Looking around the crowd, he saw Maria waving at him excitedly from behind a huge jock. He gave her a nod and she grinned widely ducking out of sight. Maria popped out a moment later, holding a boom box and she gave Max the thumbs up sign. He nodded and plunged to his knees in front of Liz. He grabbed her hand holding it firmly but gently, making sure it was the same hand she’d used to slap him yesterday.

Liz had stared at him as if he’d gone insane.

“ What are you doing?” She hissed at him. “ Get up! And let go of my hand!” The opening tunes of a song began to play, momentarily distracting her from ripping into him. This gave Max enough to time to gather up whatever was left of his guts and he began to sing.

She rolls the window down and she talks over the sound

Liz gasped in horror and her focus snapped back from the growing number of their audience to him.

“ Evans! Stop it!”

Max had shaken his head and continued singing.

Of the cars that pass us by and I don’t why but she’s changed my mind

More gasps were uttered. Dreamy sighs. Max looked up at Liz to find her staring down at him in shock. Her creamy skin was beginning to color with an alluring shade of crimson red. He grinned and let go of her hand, spinning around and facing the crowd. As he heard the drum roll of the chorus begin, he looked towards Maria again and she threw a perfectly aimed wireless mike at him. Max caught it with a flourish and raised it to his lips starting into the chorus.

Would you look at her as she looks at me

He gestured at Liz then to himself, executing some pretty complicated dance steps. He sent a silent thank you to his twin sister for nagging him into being her dance partner. More cheers rose from their peers. Liz closed her eyes but opened them a moment later, red to her hair roots.

“ Way to go, max!”

“ I wish my boyfriend was romantic enough to serenade me,” one girl was saying enviously.

she’s got me thinking about her constantly but she don’t know how I feel

When he sang the latter part, he made it a point to look into Liz’s eyes, trying to gauge her reaction. Her face was frozen in a mask of disbelief and Max continued his song.

And as she carries on without a doubt I wonder if she’s figured out

He had turned towards the crowd again and some girls actually began screaming wildly, like it was a real concert and they were hearing their idol singing.

I’m crazy for this girl and I’m crazy for this girl

-Crazy for this girl by Evan and Jaron

Maria stopped the song after the first chorus, just like Max had asked her to. Breathing a little heavy, he turned back to Liz who had gone stock still, staring at him with utter disbelief written all over her face. Well, that and total and complete embarrassment.

“ Liz, I’m really sorry. I just want to apologize. Please let me talk to you.” He had been drawing closer and closer as he spoke so by now he was directly in front of her. Max reached out and touched her upper arm gently. “ Please?”

She had gaped up at him, clearly not believing what her eyes had just seen or what her ears had just heard. She looked about ready to protest when someone called out,

“ Talk to him!”

Liz broke her hypnotic gaze on Max and scanned the crowd looking for who had spoken. The silence had been broken once again when yet another person yelled out.

“ Yeah! Come on Liz! Talk to him!”

Liz huffed in frustration and peered vainly at the students clumped around them and Max had the sneaking suspicion that she was doing it to purposely avoid looking at him.

“ Give him a chance!”

“ Talk to him!”

Liz looked around frantically, as if searching for an escape route before something else happened. Unfortunately for her, and very fortunately for him, something did. The crowd began to chant.

“ Talk to him! Talk to him! Talk to him!”

She had gone even redder, if that was possible and she finally raised up her hands.

“ OKAY! Enough already!” She screamed. “ I’ll talk to him! Anything to get you all to stop CHANTING and you-” She whipped around and pointed at Max, “ to stop sending me these notes!”

Max heaved in a deep breath and beamed in triumph. “ How about lunch? Say, twelve fifteen? I’ll meet you on the table from yesterday.”

Liz glanced around the crowd, glaring at anyone who looked like they were going to start chanting again. “ Alright. Fine. I’ll be there.”

She turned away from him abruptly.

“ Liz?” He called.

“ What?” She answered as she strode away.

“ See you later.”

His only answer had been a groan as she had disappeared into the crowd, which had begun cheering and clapping again. Max took a bow…

He smiled fondly at the memory. There had been a few rough spots but his immediate goal had been achieved. Liz was going to talk to him. Max glanced at his watch and sighed. If she ever got here, that is. He idly gazed at the scenery when he felt a prickle of awareness creep along his neck. He turned his head and his breath stalled in his throat. She was coming. And she looked… beyond beautiful. Max inched forward on his seat and drank in the sight of Liz. She had broken her all black ensemble today as she wore a formfitting white top held up by spaghetti straps that was molded to her upper body coupled with a long, tight fitting black skirt that rode low on her hips so that even though she wasn’t wearing a cropped top, tantalizing snatches of her smooth skin could be seen as she sauntered over to the table. Her long dark hair had been left loose and fell over her shoulders in loose waves with the wind occasionally picking it up and playing around with a few tendrils. She moved towards him with an easy grace, not that over acted swaying of the hips that was so reminiscent of Tess Harding. Her body seemed to instinctively know how to move in such a manner that all her various assets were displayed in the best, most graceful way. Liz Parker didn’t even need to do anything to call attention to herself. She radiated with SOMETHING that made it impossible to NOT look at her. And Max, just like everybody else, was powerless to resist. He snapped back to reality when she slid into the seat opposite him, refusing to make eye contact.

“ Hi.”

“ So what did you want to talk about?” Liz asked bluntly.

Max smiled. “ You don’t beat around the bush do you?”

She shrugged. “ It’s a waste of time and energy. Just like this is.”

“ So why are you here?” Max couldn’t help but ask.

Liz finally looked up at him. “ I’m here for peace of mind. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be followed around like, I don’t know, like how dogs follow a bone? I figure if I had to choose between one, gigantic ego manic who thinks he’s the greatest thing since the invention of color TV and them-” Liz gestured over her shoulder at the group watching in breathless anticipation, “ I choose you.”

Max gave her a crooked grin. “ Thanks. I think.” He cleared his throat. “ I guess there’s no easy way to say this so, I’m just going t say it. I’m really, really sorry Liz.” He peeked at her from under his lashes. To his surprise, she was actually listening to him, her elbow propped up onto the table and her face cradled on her hand. “ I acted like a jerk and I wasn’t thinking. What I said to you was wrong and completely, totally way out of line. Like I said before, I had no right to say any of it and I deserved getting slapped by you.”

After a long silence, Max couldn’t take it anymore. He felt as if her gaze was burning a hole through him.

“ Liz, say something. Say anything. You can even insult me, I won’t mind.”

She continued to stare at him, not changing her position. “ Why are you doing this, Evans? Why aren’t you just taking potshots at me behind my back or spreading rumors? Why go through all this?”

Max swallowed thickly, searching himself for an answer. His mind told him that it was so he could win the bet but his heart told him another thing altogether. “ Because… it’s the right thing to do. And I was wrong.”

Liz raised an eyebrow. “ I find that confession very hard to believe.”

“ Well, why do you think I’m doing this?” Max asked, leaning forward.

Liz smirked at him. “ Oh let’s see. I’m thinking that shot to the head you got yesterday kick started what’s left of your conscience if you even had one to begin with. I’m thinking it’s working over time due to that fact that it’s basically been dead for the past couple of years. I’m thinking you’re doing this because you’re feeling guilty and for once, it’s something you can’t talk your way out of.” She leaned forward. “ So Evans. Am I right?”

Max stared into her glassy brown eyes, seeing none of the emotions he had seen yesterday. He met her eyes with defiance.

“ Maybe. Maybe I am feeling guilty about how I acted. And contrary to what you may think, Liz, my conscience hasn’t been dead these past years. I am human you know.”

Liz let out a sardonic chuckle, still not letting any emotion reach her eyes. “ I doubt the last two things you’ve said Evans. I doubt them very much.”

He sighed. “ Look, Liz. I know I made a huge mistake yesterday. I admit it, all right? And all I want to do is make up for it.”

“ You want to make up for it?” Liz asked.

“ Desperately.” Max replied.

“ Fine.” Liz leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest. “ Leave me alone.”

“ I can’t do that.” Max answered immediately.

Liz expelled an exasperated sigh. “ Why?” She demanded, leaning forward again. “ Why won’t you leave me alone?”

“ Why do you want to be left alone?” Max countered.

“ Because I want it that way.”

“ Well we don’t always get what we want, Liz.”

“ I could say the same thing to you, Evans.”

“ Could you please call me Max?” Max asked irritably. “ This Evans thing you have going on is getting annoying.”

“ Are you getting annoyed? Cause I passed the annoyed stage oh, I don’t know, maybe a hundred notes ago? Deal with it… EVANS.”

Max sighed. “ You called me Max before. Why not now?”

Liz shot him a fierce glance. “ That was before.”

“ Yeah. And in that ‘before’ we were friends. Really good friends. What happened?”

“ You want to know what happened? Junior High happened. Figure it out from there.”

Max was transported back to a time when he thought his life had gone to all new levels of excitement. He was entering the world of junior high and beginning to taste the first fruits of popularity, reveling in how everyone seemed to know him by name even though he had no clue as to who they were. The he remembered numerous fights he’d had with a dark haired, dark eyed spitfire and the sick, queasy feeling of embarrassment for his friend as she was taunted by girls who were chanting that her father had run off with a tramp. How the sick feeling had suddenly turned into embarrassment for himself when someone mentioned that he hung out with Liz. Liz had looked at him expectantly then, the hope that he would stick by her and defend her so clear in her doe eyes but when she saw his face, tears had filled her eyes but they didn’t fall. In fact, they disappeared completely and she glared at him and everyone else before stalking away. That was when Liz had stopped taking his calls and being the famous outsider.

Max snapped to the present and stared at Liz. She stared back at him and smirked.

“ You remember. Big whoop.”

“ I’m… sorry.” Max ground out hoarsely. How had he forgotten about that? How could he have been so heartless? Liz’s eyes flickered with something before becoming cool and distant again.

“ You’re starting to sound like a broken record.”

He swallowed the lump in his throat. “ Liz…”

“ So do you think you can do that for me, Evans? Do you think you can leave me alone now?”

Max shook his head. “ I think you just gave me reasons to keep apologizing from here onto eternity.”

“ Right. You’re asking me to help ease your conscience. Typical.”

“ Why are you even talking to me?” Max asked incredulously. “ You must hate me. To take the time to even insult me after… why?”

Liz flipped her hair over her shoulder. “ In an utterly perverse and twisted way, would you believe I’m actually getting pleasure out of seeing that LOOK on your face?”

“ What look?”

“ The one that you get after you realize what a jackass you really are. It’s priceless. And almost worth my time. But now, as much fun as this has been, I’m going to have to go. Real life calls.”

She began to stand but Max’s hand shot out and fastened around her wrist effectively chaining her to the table. “ I’m sorry. I’m really… I’m sorry.”

Liz rolled her eyes. “ You bet you are. Now let me go.”

He raised his guilt filled eyes to her and Liz gasped. If there was one thing she simply couldn’t stand, it was to see another person in pain, no matter how much she hated the person. She always felt so sorry for them. And with Max’s expressive eyes, the effect was tripled.

“ Don’t do that.”

“ Liz, please. I have… I need to…”

Liz could feel her walls crumbling. He looked so much like the little boy who had fallen and scraped his knee and was begging his best friend to hold his hand while his mother attended to the wound.

“ I’m sorry,” He choked out again.

His eyes drew her in. Oh no…

“ God, Evans, don’t do that!”

“ Do what?” Max asked, confusion spreading over his pained expression.

“ The thing with your eyes. It’s freaking me out.”

“ Liz, I-”

“ I know. I know! You’re sorry about what happened yesterday. I get it. And… stop looking at me like that. You were an insensitive pig and you were spewing a loud full of rubbish. Stop it. You acted like a lunatic, coming into the girls bathroom! Further more… I said stop looking at me… oh for… alright! I forgive you for yesterday, okay? You’re forgiven!”

“ You mean it?”

“ Yes. Yes, I do. Now stop looking at me like that.”

“ Liz… thank you.”

“ Yeah, just don’t tell anyone. But this doesn’t change anything. I still can’t stand you.”

“ I understand.”

“ Good. I’m getting out of here.”

“ Right.”

“ Will you stop sending me notes?”

“ Yes.”

“ Will you stop singing to me in the hallways?”

“ Yes.”

“ Great.”

She stood up and began to walk away.

“ Liz?”

Liz spun around. “ God! What is IT Evans?”

“ Do you think you and I could ever be friends again?”

For the first time, Max saw her mask crack a little and she actually looked uncertain.

“ I don’t know. I’m not sure I even want to. The odds are really high against it.”

“ How high?”

Liz narrowed her eyes. “ About a million to one. Now stop shouting after me!” With that, she fairly ran out of the quad.

Max dropped his head onto the table, feeling drained but he couldn’t help but feel a tiny glimmer of hope. A million to one. Well, one wasn’t all that good but it was still a chance. And by God, he was going to take it.

TBC…

posted on 7-Nov-2001 12:46:08 PM
Chapter Six

Was that humming?

Liz tilted her head to one side and frowned thoughtfully, concentrating on the soft sounds.

Yes. It was definitely humming. And what was worse was that it was humming along the song from earlier. Memories of Max singing and spinning around in perfect time to the tune assailed her and Liz felt her cheeks heat up with residual embarrassment. The incident was burned into her mind and she was more than aware of the fact that she had let her disbelief and embarrassment show all too clearly to the crowd. Liz shook her head, irritated with herself.

She was supposed to be cool, icy, emotionless Liz Parker…

The girl who didn’t take crap from anyone...

The girl who was the ultimate rebel…

The one who refused to do what everyone else did just because everyone else was doing it...

The one who should have whacked Max Evans for embarrassing her like that because she knew that she had never been more mortified in her entire life.

Liz let her forehead drop onto the table and she expelled her breath in a frustrated huff. So why didn’t she? She wouldn’t have hesitated to deck him if he had been anyone else and the question of WHY that was so was wearing a groove through her brain. That and the fact that a little, itty bitty part of her couldn’t help but feel… flattered at the lengths he had gone to. Lifting her head up, Liz bit her lip and searched the ceiling anxiously. It didn’t make sense. After all that had happened between her and Max, how could she still feel anything but hate for him? Take the incident at lunch. She’d allowed him to get to her. Allowed herself to get guilted into doing whatever it was she did. Liz rubbed her forehead.

Now she couldn’t even remember what she’d said.

Fantastic.

Not.

All she could remember was that the way his eyes had filled with pain had slashed into her deeply. She was confused. Liz knew she was supposed to be furious with him, but instead she felt… empty. She sighed. Someone was still humming…

See what Max Evans has done to you?

He’s turned your brains into mush. You’re supposed to be studying for your physics test instead of going on instant replay on something that would be better off forgotten.

He’s actually made you feel sorry for him. God knows what he had to sell to the devil to do that.

He’s made you feel…

Tearing her gaze from the ceiling of the library, Liz shut her textbook and shoved it into her bag. When that was done, she began drumming her fingers against the table trying to clear her mind. She didn’t need this. There was way too much mental baggage in her mind as it was. Maybe if she… someone was still humming.

Liz felt irritation rise up in her like a tidal wave. It was just like the fates to send some humming idiot to disturb her while she was contemplating the next step in her life. Did they NOT want her sane when they sent their next torture to her? Wasn’t that how they worked? Lull someone into a fake sense of security and then throw a curveball at them, something they wouldn’t expect in a million years and laugh hysterically as they watched the unfortunate being scurry back and forth, trying to make some semblance of order in their lives? Her short life had taught her to believe in this theory wholeheartedly. Which was why it irked her to no end to realize that she had not worked in the Evans factor into her life. If she’d done that then maybe… Who was HUMMING?????

Liz jerked upright and stood, marching around the bookcase, honing in on the humming sound. Her eyes fell upon a short, pixyish, blonde haired girl who was bopping her head from side to side as she hummed making her hair bounce. Her eyes were closed and she seemed oblivious to the world. Liz noticed that she had earphones over her ears and realized that she had lost herself in the music. She studied the girl’s enraptured expression carefully, wondering what made her different from the other girls. She was smiling and chuckling softly, singing snatches of the song here and there and looking so happy and carefree, Liz stared in fascination at the obvious contrasts between them. ‘Carefree’ was definitely not a word you could use to describe Liz Parker. And the words ‘happy’ and the name ‘Liz Parker’ had no business being in the same sentence. The girl, who Liz now recognized as Maria De Luca, seemed to be totally absorbed in the music, losing herself in the beat. The expression on her face was open and trusting and she looked to be so genuinely finding pleasure in the song, her face glowed. Liz gulped, remembering a time when she too had known what it felt like to throw yourself into something so wholly and completely that whatever the results were, they made you smile. How long had it been since she had felt that way? Too long…

Shaking herself out of her trip into the darkest recesses of her mind, Liz realized she had been staring for far too long. Casting one last glance at the blissfully unaware Maria, Liz turned and began to walk away. She had gone only a few steps when someone called out to her.

“ Liz?”

Liz stopped and turned her head to the side, looking at Maria over her shoulder. She raised a questioning eyebrow at her. Maria slid off the table she had been perched on and pulled off her earphones stuffing them into a beaded purse, walking towards Liz. She was relieved to see that Liz was still standing in the same spot, staring at her with just the slightest hint of suspicion. It was going to be hard enough to have a conversation with Liz Parker as it was, never mind having to catch up with her if she was running away. Maria had seen how fast she could move the day before. She wondered idly why Liz didn’t try out for track before bringing her mind back. She was right beside Liz now and instead of seeing her face partially hidden behind her shoulder, Maria got her first good look at the enigma of a person Liz Parker was in years. Her eyes widened slightly. No wonder Max (and probably more than half of the male population in WRH!) was so captivated by her. While it was a known fact that Liz was gorgeous, something in her eyes seemed to amplify her beauty by ten thousand. There was this aura about her. Mysterious. Smoldering. Passionate. And kind of scary, Maria added, realizing at Liz was using her legendary ‘ seek and destroy’ look. She cleared her throat and pretended to not be intimidated.

“ I thought it was you. Can I talk to you for a second?”

She shrugged her slim shoulders and walked around a corner of a bookcase. “ What about? If this is another one of Ms. Topolsky’s little tricks to get me to join in on some activities, don’t waste your breath. I’ll deal with her later.”

Maria grinned at this and followed her around the bookcase. “ She’s done that to you too, huh?”

Liz, who was now seated at her original spot, glanced up at her in mild surprise. “ Too many times.” She arched a perfectly shaped brow at the popular blonde. “ Why’d she do it you? You fit in just fine, according to dear ms. Topolsky. She says you’re a perfect blend into crowds type of person.”

“ I am?” Maria crinkled her nose in distaste and slid into the seat opposite Liz. “ Not exactly what I was hoping to accomplish as a goal in life, but hey. Whatever works for her, I guess.”

Liz had a ghost of a smile on her face but she glanced down at the open notebook in front of her. A moment later she glanced back up. “ You have Topolsky on schedule too? Why? I thought I was the only one she liked to practice her psychiatrist talents on regularly.”

“ Nope. You’re definitely not the only one. Her diagnosis for me is ‘excessive exaggeration and exuberance’. Can you believe that? Since when is being exuberant a crime?”

Another ghost of a smile graced the lips of her seatmate and Maria watched in amusement as Liz shook her head. “ Will wonders never cease? Ms. Topolsky’s actually got another lab rat. I can’t believe it.”

“ I can. She’s probably got dozens of us, all filed away and hidden from each other. How many times do you have to meet with her?”

“ Every other day. More, if she feels she needs to avert disaster in my life.”

“ Every other day? How do you deal with that? Once a week is more than enough for me!”

Liz let out a humorless chuckle. “ My schedule with her is nothing. She actually took me to one of her freaky seminars.”

“ No!” Maria gasped.

“ Yes. If I can get through that, I can get through anything.” Liz ran a hand through her glossy mane and lifted it away from her face. “ Except maybe Max Evans serenading me,” she muttered under her breath.

“ What was that? I didn’t catch it.”

Liz glanced up, a startled look on her face as if she’d forgotten Maria was there. “ What? Oh. Nothing. It’s nothing. It’s…I was just…” she trailed off and rolled her eyes, infuriated at the way she was babbling. Yet another thing to thank Max for.

Maria hid a grin behind her hand, as Liz seemed to be scolding herself silently. She could have been mistaken, but she could have sworn Liz had said something that contained the words, ‘Max Evans’. And judging by the way she was muttering to herself, Maria could probably assume it was a safe bet.

“ So I guess I really shouldn’t take up any more of your time than I already have. I wanted to talk to you about that paper we have coming up in English.”

Liz seemed to snap herself back to the conversation and she gave Maria a quizzical look. “ Paper in English? Do we have English together?”

“ Yup.” Maria nodded vigorously. “ Every Wednesday and Friday, double periods right after third.”

“ I’ve never seen you in any of my classes.”

“ That’s cause you sit way in the back and I’m right in the front row, center aisle. Do you remember that time we were discussing one of Edgar Allan Poe’s works, the one about the crow? What was it called again?”

Liz actually felt the corner of her mouth lift just a bit. “ I think it was The Crow.”

“ Really?” Maria had a look of surprised incredulity on her face. “ That guy was really obsessed with birds. Anyway, I was the one who asked why that crow kept saying never more.”

“ That was you?” Liz leaned back and shook her head. “ I remember. That was when we had that Teacher’s Assistant from UNM subbing for Mr. White.” Liz took a deep breath as she tried to stifle a laugh. “ He claimed to be majoring in English but when he couldn’t answer you…” Liz trailed off and ducked her head, letting her hair obscure she face which had had broken out into a full-blown smile. It had been hard to keep a straight face in class when she had seen a petite blonde jump up in her seat and poke the TA’s chest with her fore finger, demanding to know, quote ‘ Why does that weird, creepy talking crow keep saying that? Is it demented?’ end quote.

Maria harrumphed. “ Yeah, that was it. He never did tell me why. Anyway for this upcoming paper, we’re going to be partners,”

Liz raised an eyebrow. “ Partners? How’d you figure that out?”

“ I looked at Mr. White’s notes.” At Liz’s disbelieving look Maria lifted her hands, palms upwards. “ What? I was curious.”

“ Are you sure?”

“ Yup. He’s got the class divided into boy, boy, girl, girl partnerships. I saw something about the next topic being Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. We may have to write up an essay on it.”

“ ‘Romeo and Juliet’?” Liz sighed. “ Great. Just what the doctor ordered. So what does this have to do with me?”

“ I was thinking we should probably get organized, ya know? Mr. White must’ve heard about the crow thing cause he gave me a B- on that one. I’m hoping that I’ll get an A or at least a B+. My average needs pulling up. So what do you say? Can we meet somewhere and you know, work out a schedule?”

The bell rang just then, signaling the end of study period. Liz grabbed her notebook and stuffed into her backpack, glancing at Maria warily. Then she shrugged. “ I do have some free time this afternoon. I’ll be at the Crash from four to five.”

Maria watched as Liz walked away a puzzled expression on her face. Had that been a yes? Or an invitation? She sighed and stood, taking her purse along with her. Oh well, she’d just show up at the Crashdown and see what happened from there. A sense of triumph spread through her. She had had an actual conversation with Liz Parker and she hadn’t been flamed or put down in any way. More than ever Maria believed that the stories about Liz being a bitch and then some were highly overrated. Sure, she could act pretty cold at times but she had never been mean to anyone as far as she knew and for a first time conversation, things had gone pretty well. There were times when Maria suspected that Liz had wanted to laugh or smile but was keeping a straight face. As she made her way out of the library, she spied a dark head peering cautiously from behind a bookshelf. She smiled.

“ Max!” she hissed. “ I’m alive, don’t worry. She didn’t kill me.” She said jokingly.

“ Very funny,” Max said, stepping out from behind the shelves. “ So? Did she say yes?”

Maria shrugged. “ I’m not exactly sure.”

Max frowned. “ What do you mean, you’re not exactly sure? Did she say yes or no?”

They were in the hallway by then and heading towards the history classroom, which they both had. “ Well, she said ‘ I’ll be at the Crash from four to five’. And then she left. What do you think?”

“ I think that’s a yes.”

Maria shoved his shoulder playfully. “ You mean you want it to be a yes.”

Max grinned at her. “ Alright. I want it to be a yes. Happy?”

Maria laughed. “ Yup.” She straightened her skirt and glanced up at Max questioningly. “ Hey, when is Izzy coming?”

“ Weekend. I’ll be meeting her at the bus terminal.”

Maria blanched. “ Isabel Evans, taking public transportation? What happened?”

“ She doesn’t exactly have a choice Maria. You know Izzy. She blew the money she was supposed to use for her ticket on clothes.”

“ She what? Do your parents know?”

“ I haven’t told them yet.”

“ Max!” Maria narrowed her eyes. “ Alright. What did Isabel threaten you with?”

Max stared at Maria in amusement. “ Nothing.”

“ Ha! Come on, Max! What is it? It must be totally horrific!”

“ Maria, I’m telling you, she didn’t threaten me. She doesn’t even know I haven’t told mom and dad yet.”

Maria wrinkled her forehead. “ Why? I mean after she blackmailed you into entering that dance contest with her, I’m sure you’d at least want a little pay back.” She glanced at Max and found a distant expression on his face. “ Max? Max! Hello? Is anybody in there?”

Max blinked. “ What? Oh… yeah. It sounds great.”

“ What sounds great?”

Now it was Max’s turn to concentrate. “ That… um… I give Li- Isabel…uh… payback.”

Maria rolled her eyes. “ Puh-lease, Max! You were just fishing around for those words! What’s wrong with you?” Understanding dawned on her as Max shrugged nonchalantly then almost fell over his own feet as he ogled at a girl with long dark hair, the exact same shade as Liz Parker’s. She slapped her forehead. “ Never mind, I know what’s wrong with you.”

Max had stuffed his hands in his pockets. “ Nothing’s wrong with me, Maria.” He walked into the History classroom and headed to the back with Maria following him.

“ Oh yeah? The Max Evans I know would be going crazy trying to plan the perfect revenge on his sister for putting him through what he called the worst experience of his life!”

Maria watched worriedly as Max slumped into his seat and raked a hand through his hair. “ I’ll do it later.”

She slid into the seat across the aisle from him. “ Max? You never did tell me how lunch with Liz went.”

Max sighed. “ It went, Maria. Nothing happened. Nothing I was hoping to accomplish anyway.”

“ Did she turn you down again?”

“ I never got around to asking her.”

“ So why exactly are you so bummed?”

Max’s eyes shifted nervously from one place to another. “ She… said some things. Awful things.”

Maria’s sympathy for Max was quickly turning into anger at Liz. What had she said to do this to Max? Maria hadn’t seen him this unhinged over a girl since, well, since never and what made it worse was that they weren’t even dating. “ What did she say to you? Do you want me to beat her up?”

This at least got a rise out of Max. “ No!” He said sharply. “ Leave her alone, Maria.” Maria stared at him dumbfounded. He took a deep breath and attempted to smile at her. “ I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped at you. Besides, I doubt would last two seconds with her,” He said with a wry smile.

Maria huffed. “ Give me a little credit Max,” Then she grinned and was about to speak when she saw that Max’s face had taken on a pensive quality.

“ Besides,” Max continued, as if Maria hadn’t spoken. “ Those things she said?” He faced Maria. “ They’re all true.”

Maria frowned and bit her lip, not quite sure how to respond. “ Well it can’t be that bad, can it?”

“ It can.”

Maria opened and shut her mouth, searching for something, anything to say. She wanted to get right to the bottom of whatever this was but with class rapidly drawing to a start, she couldn’t just very well say, ‘ Okay Max, spill your guts’. Mr. Powell would have a hernia if she stirred up his class again.

“ We’ll talk later,” She whispered to him. “ Alright, Max? Max?”

But Max wasn’t listening to her. Not at all.


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

“ So, Liz, why don’t you tell me what you feel right now?”

Liz stifled a yawn and blinked rapidly to keep from dozing off. Who could blame her? She was lying down on a very comfortable divan, staring up at a painting of fluffy white clouds against a bright blue backdrop and after the day she’d had, escaping into the world of dreams seemed like a pretty good thing to do. Of course, there was the fact that she didn’t believe in dreams anymore but hey…

“ Liz?”

Liz brought her gaze from the painting and peered at Ms. Topolsky. Yup. Here she was again. Right where she should be according to her schedule. She’d managed to ward off Ms. Topolsky’s attempts to gain insight into her life by rambling about every yawn worthy topic she could think of that existed under the sun. So far, she’d visited topics about whether celibacy was the key to writing a really good book, the effects of La Nina on Tahitian pearl farmers and her personal favorite, something that was guaranteed to send someone running to the hills, the exploration of whether or not the E Coli that collected on top of Strawberry Yogurt after prolonged storage in the fridge had a soul. For a while there, Ms. Topolsky looked about ready to end their session but she had pulled through quite admirably in Liz’s opinion.

Now, she was feeling very sleepy and sluggish and Ms. Topolsky had managed to ask the mandatory ‘ what are you feeling question’. Oh joy.

“ What I feel? Well, I kind of feel sleepy but I’m guessing that’s not exactly what you want to hear, right?”

“ Right. Let’s try this again. What are you thinking about?”

Liz shrugged and dragged her gaze back to the painting. “ Dreams.”

“ Dreams?” Katherine Topolsky stopped a moment to scribble something down on her clip pad. “ This is new. We’ve never talked about your dreams before. Tell me some of them.”

“ I don’t have any.”

“ Oh, come now, Liz. Everyone has dreams.”

“ I don’t believe in them.”

“ Why?” Katherine paused to see if Liz, who was by far the most intriguing of the students she had these sessions with, would elaborate, but apparently that was all she was going to get out of her on the subject. Liz had gone back to staring at the cloud painting. She sighed, and fixed Liz an inquisitive look. “Alright. Why don’t we talk about your new friends?”

This at least got a rise out of Liz. She propped herself on one elbow and frowned.

“ What new friends?”

“ The girls from yesterday, the people in that crowd from the morning, Maria De Luca-” She paused a flipped a page in her pad. “And Max Evans.” She smiled brightly at Liz. “ Can I just say that I am very happy that you are making an effort to meet new people and make friends? This is the first step in getting you to fit in better. Now I’m thinking that next time-”

Liz sat up abruptly and swung her legs to the floor. “ Hold it, Ms. Topolsky. Before you go into a victory dance, I think I need to clear up a few things. One: those girls in the hall yesterday? They are not my friends. And if I wanted to make friends, trust me, they are not the type I would want to associate with. Two: The people in that crowd were exactly that. They were just people in a crowd, watching a show. I don’t know them. I have no intention of knowing them. Not now and probably not any time in the near future. Three: Maria De Luca and I are not friends. We have English together twice a week and that’s it. We are acquaintances at best and I really think we’re not going any further than that. Four: Max Evans is so far from being a friend of mine I don’t even know WHAT he is. And no,” Liz protested, seeing Ms. Topolsky’s eyes light in obvious interest, “ I do not want to talk about him.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “ How do you get this stuff anyway?”

“ Well, it’s pretty hard to ignore what’s making the rounds in the hallways. And when it’s being discussed in the faculty room, I don’t see how I can possibly miss it.”

Liz stared at her in astonishment. “ What’s being discussed in the faculty room?”

“ Oh nothing. It’s just that several of your teachers were saying something about how their classes kept getting interrupted because of delivery boys,”

Liz eyebrows lowered and she gave Ms. Topolsky a half grin. “ Oh that.”

“ Yes, that. Care to explain?”

The bell rang just then signaling the end of their session. Liz stood and picked up her backpack, shrugging. “ Well, I could, but it would be so much easier to show you.”

Curious, Katherine got up and followed Liz to the door. Liz opened it with a flourish, revealing numerous huge bouquets of flowers and balloons with cards gathered right around Ms. Topolsky’s office door. She gaped at it in wonder. The bouquets and balloon bunches stretched right across the hallway.

“ Liz! What is all this?”

Liz stepped out of the office and plucked a white rose from its place in an intricate style. “ This is Max Evan’s way of trying to appease me and ease his conscience.” She leaned closer. “ But just between you and me, it’s not really working. And judging by the amount of cash he must have spent on these, I’m betting he’s got one heck of a guilt complex. Perhaps he’s the one you should be having sessions with.” She remarked innocently.

Liz straightened up and picked up a huge bouquet, handing to it to Ms. Topolsky with a bow. “ Thank you for a very uplifting session, ma’am. To show my appreciation, I’m giving all this…” She waved at the bouquets and balloons. “ To you.” She grinned. “ Hope you enjoy them!”

She turned and began to walk down the hall.

“ Liz! Wait a minute! What am I supposed to do with all these? How am I supposed to carry them?”

But Liz was already turning the corner. She had heard Ms. Topolsky though and she muttered,

“ Same way, I did ma’am. One at a time.”

When she got out into the warm afternoon sunshine, a breeze picked up and swept through her hair, lifting it away from her face. Liz let out a long sigh and briefly considered going straight home but she remembered that she had to meet Maria at the CrashDown. Normally and considering the fact that Maria was one of the elite, Liz would have blown her off or avoided her at all costs but conversing with her in the library earlier in the day hadn’t been half bad. In fact, she grudgingly admitted to herself, she had kind of enjoyed it.

Alright Liz. Think nice, happy thoughts and get over there before you change your mind.

With that firmly in mind, Liz set off for the popular hangout hoping against hope that Max wouldn’t be there. Again, normally, she wouldn’t give a damn if he was there or not but she also normally wouldn’t have tolerated what he had done in the morning. So until she got a grip on whatever phase she was going through, she was going to stay the hell away from him.


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

Max was rushing towards the exits, hoping to allude Maria and get to the Crash before Tess caught up with him. He’d been running away from her all day. Pathetic, yes, but really he didn’t think he’d be able to resist physically removing her from his path if she blocked him one more time. As he weaved his way through the crowd of students hurrying to get out of school, he smiled and waved at the people who greeted him. His beeper began to beep and Max dug it out of his pocket, not slowing down. When he read what was written, he stopped, causing the three people behind him to scramble or risk bumping into him. Or course, they chose to scramble but Max wasn’t paying attention. He re-read the message.

I’m at the bus terminal.

Pick me up.

NOW!


Max groaned. He knew whom it was from. His twin certainly did have a way with words. But thanks to her and ever changing plans, his plans were going to have to be put on hold. Unless he dared risk the wrath of Isabel and leave her to stew at the terminal for a few hours. Shaking his head, Max hopped into his jeep and gunned the engine. Forget it. Max wasn’t into pain and torture, two things he was sure he’d receive in abundance if he didn’t show up to pick Isabel. On the other hand, he thought, a grin beginning to break out over his face, this way he’d be able to get Isabel to help him sooner. And if today was any indication, he’d need all the help he could get.

TBC???

posted on 9-Nov-2001 2:20:36 PM
Chapter Seven

The next day took way too long to arrive, in Liz’s opinion. After spending the night hovering in a fitful sleep, she was almost glad that it was almost time to get up. As soon as she was pulled into consciousness though, Liz immediately wished she could go back to sleep or the watered down version she had been enduring. The sunlight made it all too real that today was another day she’d have to slog through, trying to keep her head in one piece. The day had a certain feel about it. Like something was going to happen. She opened one eye sleepily and shut it as soon as it encountered the first rays of sunshine streaming through her windows. What time was it anyway? Rolling over to her side, she blinked her eyes open and sought out her alarm clock. Her heavy lidded eyes found it a moment later and the bright blue neon numbers glowed out at her. Five fifty. Liz groaned and burrowed deep into her warm sheets. After the uncomfortable night’s sleep, her mind simply refused to accept the fact that her traitorous eyes were open when it wasn’t even six o clock in the morning. But try as she might, she couldn’t go back to sleep. Grumbling tiredly under her breath, she threw her blankets off and swung her feet down the side of the bed. Oh well. Sleep wasn’t that important anyway right? It was only one of the most basic things a human being needs…

“ Ugh,” Liz muttered. She slipped on her bedroom slippers and threw her robe on over the cropped tank top and low resting boxers that made up her sleep attire. It really made no sense for her to dilly dally in bed anyway, Liz told herself. There was no way she could go back to sleep. For one thing, the images she saw (herself being buried by an avalanche of flowers and Max Evans throwing even more notes at her) were almost enough to put her off sleep for life. And for another, her mother hadn’t come home last night. Liz flinched as she strode over to her vanity table. Okay, so that thought was so NOT welcome. When did her life change so drastically that it was HER staying up late waiting for her MOM and not the other way round? Liz squinted at her reflection. A pale, tired looking face with deep brown eyes stared back and her and Liz sighed, grabbing her brush and attempting to tame her tangles. When she had managed to restore it back to a silken mass, Liz nodded at her reflection in satisfaction. It would do. She might as well take the opportunity to go for a run. She hadn’t been out in ages. Eddie would be able to beat her at their next friendly competition for sure. Glancing at the clock, Liz saw that it was now six o five. She had plenty of time. She ducked into the bathroom for a minute to splash water on her face and brush her teeth. Deciding that she would take a shower when she got back, she peeled off her night wear and hurriedly pulled on black cycling shorts from J-Crew and a white cross back tank over a jog-bra. She pulled out a red bandana from her closet to keep her hair out of her face and scuttled across her room, hopping around while pulling her socks on as she made her way to her shoe rack. Once she had laced her running shoes, she headed out the room, without a backward glance at herself. Liz stopped in her tracks when she reached the door to leading to her mother’s room. Sending up a silent prayer, she stepped closer to the door.

“ Okay, mom, I better not hear anything like, like…whatever or else I’ll be scarred for life,” Liz muttered as she drew closer. When she was quite close, she stood still and listened but to her great relief (or horror, if you looked at it from another way), she heard nothing.

“ Mom?” She called out. Liz reached out and gave the door a light tap. “ Mom? Are you in there? I’m just going out for a jog, alright? I’ll be back soon.” No answer. “ Mom?” Half dreading and half expecting the sight she was about to see, Liz nudged the door open. When her eyes fell upon the bed, she didn’t know whether to be worried or relieved. It was empty and still perfectly made just like the maid they hired to come every day left it. She bit her lip uncertainly at the sight and left the room, closing the door behind her. Your mother is a grown woman, Liz, she reminded herself sternly as she sped down the stairs. She can take care of herself. Stopping in the kitchen to grab an apple and a glass of water, Liz saw the blinking light on the answering machine as she passed it. Doubling back as she bit into the apple, she pressed the play button and waited. Her mother’s cheerful voice boomed out a moment later.

“ Hi, sweetheart! Listen, Derek and I have gone out to dinner with some friends and it should go on a little late. Dinner’s in the fridge, hon. But if you don’t like it, you can order take out. Put it on my card. Have fun, sweetie. Don’t wait up!”

Liz couldn’t help but smile at how young and carefree her mother sounded. At least one of us is having a great time, Liz thought. She was about to step away when the beginnings of another message began to play. Liz recognized the voice at once and try as she might to move away, she was stuck.

“ Hi, Lizzie! How’s my little princess?”

Liz cringed, not at the voice itself, though it was giving her skin a crawly feeling, but at the high pitched simpering giggles that filled the background. Forcing herself to concentrate on the message itself, Liz drowned out the giggles.

“ Pumpkin, I’ll do it later alright? Don’t make me look for you, honey!”

Liz leaned against the doorjamb for support. Even through phone lines, it seemed like her father and his wife were still as sickeningly affectionate as ever. Good, lord, did he call her just so she could hear this, Liz wondered as another burst of giggles interrupted her father in mid speech.

“ Sorry about that, Lizzie,” Jeff Parker’s voice came back on the line. “ Where was I? Oh right! Mary Anne and I are driving up to Carlsbad this weekend and we want to see you. I’ve already sent a fax to your mother’s office and I’ve left a message for her there too and an email, so it won’t do any good to erase this message like last time.”

His voice had a faint hint of disapproval in it and Liz grinned. Ah, yes. She remembered that time very well. It had happened at the start of summer vacation last year. Her father had left a message startlingly similar to this one telling Liz that he and Mary Anne had arranged a camping trip for all three of them. Now there was NO WAY Liz was going to allow herself to get stuck with them for two weeks in the middle of nowhere so she had deleted all her father’s messages. Her mother had had no clue but when her father and come to the house with Mary Anne after waiting at the place where they were supposed to meet Liz for over three hours, she’d been caught. She’d been reprimanded by both her parents angrily with Mary Anne tut tutting here and there. Liz had given them all a glazed look which told them that their lecture had been completely lost on her. So now, her father wasn’t taking any chances. Liz dragged herself back to the present and the horrific message that was starting to unfold.

“… so this will be like a trial thing. The three of us will spend the day in Carlsbad and once we get to know each other better, we can discuss the possibility of you staying over in California for the summer. We can go to the…”

Liz uttered a strangled gasp and the rest of the sentence was lost on her. Uh uh. No. No. NO FREAKIN’ WAY!!!! A whole summer with father dearest and Mary Anne? In California? Well, okay, so the California bit did sound mildly appealing but nothing was worth the months of torture she was sure waited for her. She began to rub her forehead distractedly. The migraine was coming back.

“ I’ll talk it over with your mother when I get a hold of her,” her father’s voice was saying. “ Just a minute, honey! I’ll be done in a jiff! So that’s that, princess! Sounds like fun doesn’t it?”

“ No,” Liz muttered darkly. “ It does not sound like fun. A trip to the dentist to get all my teeth pulled out sounds like more fun.”

“ Call me when you get this message, alright, Lizzie? This is your old man signing off. Coming pumpkin!” The voice sang as the receiver on the other end was put down.

Liz stared numbly at the machine. Alright. After that, she really needed to get out of here. She threw the remains of her apple in the trash and rinsed her hands free of the sticky juice. Grabbing her keys as she strode past the side table, Liz made a beeline for the door and slammed it shut, locking it behind her. A second later, she was running down the road, away from the house, away from her mother’s empty bed and especially away from the message that was threatening to drive her insane.

As the wind whipped through her hair and she felt the warm sunshine on her back, Liz imagined she running away from everything complicated and painful. She imagined she was running amid vast green rolling hills or better yet, the dusty mesas of the Mesaliko reservation.

Too bad you couldn’t run from problems this easily.

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

Max opened his eyes and yawned widely, rolling over to his side, feeling as limp and exhausted as if he never had any sleep. Truth be told, having his twin back home was exhausting. Not that he wasn’t glad to see Isabel again, he was, but she could get on his nerves sometimes. They had argued the whole way home yesterday, with Max rebuking Isabel’s ever changing plans and the use of the air fare money on the wardrobe that spanned over five large suitcases, two duffels and from what he had managed to pick up in between dozing at the table, one more trunk that was scheduled to arrive tomorrow. She in turn had immediately laced into him for apparently telling their parents about her ‘mistake’ and how she was never going to live it down if all she was seen as in ‘ that school’ was Max Evans sister. She swore that if he did anything as dorky as try to hook her up with some guy to show her around (or worse, Tess!), that she would never speak to him again. She hadn’t even given him a chance to tell her that he and Tess weren’t together any more.

Max thought he had broken about two ribs while trying not to laugh as he watched Isabel get into character to prepare for what she obviously thought was going to be the worst telling off she’d had in her entire life. When they’d turned into their driveway and Max had killed the engine, Isabel had gone pale and her usual confident demeanor had gone completely to bits. For a minute, she’d actually wrung her hands and had offered to help him unload her suitcases, a sure sign that the Ice Queen was melting. Max would never forget the look on his twin’s face as they walked through the doors of the house. It was almost as funny as the one she’d had as their parents hugged her instead of scolding her as she had so obviously been expecting. Isabel had had a bewildered, totally lost expression on her face when her mother had asked her how her flight was. Max had been bringing the suitcases into the threshold and had managed to hide his grin from his parents but Isabel had spotted it. She immediately realized what had gone on and she launched into her act, feigning tiredness, jet lag and complaining that the food had been terrible all at once. Once again, Max had had to struggle to keep his laughter in. Hilarious. Isabel was a genius at conning their parents. Another yawn erupted from him and he sat up, grabbing his T-shirt and pulling it over his head. Thoughts of Isabel and yesterday’s events flew out of his mind when his gaze fell upon the photo that was the main reason he had gotten so little sleep.

It showed a dark haired boy and girl, they looked to be about nine or ten. They were both laughing but the boy had an arm slung around the shoulders of the girl and was looking at her instead of at the camera. The girl’s gaze was fixed on the camera and her eyes sparkled with warmth and laughter. Max had stared at it for ages the night before, wondering where those two carefree children had gone. It seemed that the little girl had disappeared into herself and the boy… he had been too foolish and weak to seek her out. He picked up the old photo and turned it over to read the inscription written in loopy childish handwriting.

Max,

Remember this day, ok? It was the best day of my life.

Best buds 4 ever!

Lizzie.


Max smiled at the message and traced it with his fingers. It had been the best day of his life too, even after all these years. He remembered it clearly now. He and Liz had both left their homes early in the morning and hadn’t come back till way after their curfews. They had been knee deep in trouble but it had been well worth it. They had explored every inch of Roswell and the surrounding desert, finding a cave in the cliffs right outside town. Funny thing was, even though Max remembered the cave itself clearly, he couldn’t for the life of him remember how to get there. They’d even commemorated the event by having their pictures taken in one of those photo booths. A sad smile curved his lips. Those were the days. A loud knock startled Max and the door swung open immediately after. He stuffed the photo under his sheets and glared up at his twin who had charged into the room without waiting to be asked in, still pajama clad.

He raised an eyebrow at his pacing sister and she met his gaze with a frustrated one of her own.

“Okay. What do you want me to do?”

“ What?”

Isabel frowned and sat down on the chair right in front of Max’s computer. “ Don’t play dumb Max. That’s my department. What do you want?” He didn’t answer. He was staring out the window. “ Max! Are you listening to me?”

Max shook his head at his sister. “ Yes, I am, Isabel. What do I want for what?”

“ Funny, Max. I’m serious. You haven’t sold me out to Mom and Dad, you haven’t asked for anything and all through dinner you just ate as if everything was normal. It’s driving me crazy! Maaax,” she whined. “ Are you even listening to me?” He was doing it again. Staring into the distance.

“ Aren’t you up a little early, Isabel? It’s,” Max paused and check the alarm clock on his bedside table. “ only six.”

“ I know that, Max. Quit ignoring me! You know I hate it when you do that.” Isabel snapped, clearly on her breaking point. “ I couldn’t sleep alright? Do you think I like having this hanging over me? That any second, you could blurt it out to Mom and Dad and they’ll just, I don’t know maybe send me back to school or something.”

“ Why did you leaving Ms. Graham’s Isabel? I thought you loved it there.”

“ I did. When it was a mixed school. But now that they’re making it into a girls only school, I’d rather be boiled alive than spend two more years with a bunch of chicks.” She narrowed her eyes at her brother. “ Stop changing the subject. Spit it out, Max. What’s in it for you?”

Max shrugged. “ Could be I just wanted to keep my little sister out of trouble.”

Isabel snorted. “ Little? Max, you’re only three minutes older than me. And I don’t believe for one second that you could ever not blackmail something big out of me.” Isabel trailed off and frowned at her brother. He was spacing out again. He’d been doing it all through dinner and even in the car ride coming home. She was getting worried. “ Max?” She ventured in a different tone of voice altogether. “ Max, is something wrong?”

A weary sigh was her answer. Isabel smiled, recognizing the sound instantly. How many times had she heard it at the dorms? It translated into only one thing. Relationship problems. So all wasn’t lost. Then an unwelcome thought rushed to her. What if Max was all bummed about that girl, whats-her-name, better known as the blond devil child?

“ Max, this isn’t about that, that GIRL is it?”

Max looked up at her. “ Girl?”

“ Yeah you know. Skankerella,” Seeing the look of revulsion on Isabel’s face, he understood.

“ I broke up with Tess, Isabel.”

“ You did? That’s great! But wait…” A sigh escaped Isabel’s lips. “All this anguish over her? She is not worth it, Max. Believe me-”

Max interrupted Isabel by waving a hand in the air. “ Your sympathy overwhelms me, Izzy. But no, all this anguish isn’t over Tess. I got over her in no time.”

Isabel leaned back and crossed her arms over her red silk shirt. “ If you ask me, there’s nothing to get over.” She regarded Max’s face with a searching gaze. “ So who’s the rebound girl?”

Max raised an eyebrow. “ Rebound girl?”

“ Yes, Max. Who is she? Since your spacing out on me every two minutes is obviously not due to that monster man eater, it must be over someone else. So who is she?”

Max swallowed, uncertain as to how he should broach the subject to Isabel. He knew that he couldn’t mention the bet to her, but he did need her help on some things. So he decided that half truths were the way to go.

“ I wouldn’t exactly call her that but I do have this kind of…project going on.”

“ Project? Sounds interesting. Do tell.”

“ There’s nothing much to tell, really.” An embarrassed flush rose on his cheeks. “ She actually kind of… blew me off.”

A wide grin decorated his sister’s mouth. “ She did? I like her already. Who is she?”

Max shifted uncomfortably on his bed and the movement caused the bed to shift under his weight. The photo he had so hastily hidden slipped out from beneath them and fluttered down to the floor. Max couldn’t move. He simply stared down at the two smiling faces smiling up at him from the floor. Isabel did the same before snatching it up a few minutes later.

“ What’s this Max?” She peered at it closely. “ Hey, I remember her! This is your best friend right? Before Michael? She’s the one you blew me off for when I visited right?”

“ I blew you off for her?”

Isabel laughed. “ Totally. The number of times I heard you whine to mom that you couldn’t show me around cause you were meeting Lizzie….” Isabel trailed off and she laughed some more. “ You know, I was really jealous of her in those times. I used to think you liked her better than me. By the way, where is she now?”

Max swallowed. Remembering how close he and Liz once were was like a knife to his heart. “ Um… she’s still around but…we don’t talk much.”

“ You don’t?” Isabel had raised a quizzical eyebrow and was now looking at the photo again. “ That’s too bad Max.” She stood up and handed him the photo. “ You two looked really cute together. I suspect you even had a crush on her when you were older. By the way, mom said breakfast would be ready in half an hour.”

As Isabel sauntered out and closed his door, Max felt relieved that she’d given up trying to pummel the reason he hadn’t sold her off out of him. He was too preoccupied with other things anyway. Looking at the two happy faces once more, he felt a lead weight settle in his chest. There was no way he’d be able to concentrate on conversation at the breakfast table in this state. Standing up from bed, he made a sudden decision. Going into his closet, he quickly pulled out a pair of sweat pants and a WRH T-shirt.

“ Mom?” He called.

“ Yes, honey?”

“ I’m going jogging. I’ll be back in a while.”

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

Liz ran until the pain in her side was too sharp to ignore. Wheezing, she lurched into a low brick wall and leaned against it for support, silently berating herself. She was completely winded. And she had no one to blame for that but herself. Her form was all wrong. Eddie would be appalled if he had seen her. Taking a few deep breaths trying to calm down her wildly heaving chest, she glanced around the pretty suburb she’d unwittingly run into. It looked like the picture perfect neighborhood. The lawns were all neatly mowed and each house had a two-car garage and decorations of either garden gnomes, flower beds or large swings. Liz shut her eyes. It looked exactly like her old neighborhood, the one she had lived in before she and her mother had moved to the edge of town. Before her father had left. At the thought of him, Liz’s eyes sprang open and anger began to well up in her. Didn’t he at least think of asking her if she WANTED to meet him at Carlsbad? Or better yet, didn’t he know she would rather become a hermit than spend a summer with him and Mary Anne? Taking deep breaths wasn’t exactly having the effect Liz had hoped it would. Instead, her breath seemed to be coming more erratically than ever. Why now? When he had left four years ago, he and his wife had gone on a round world trip. Then after that they had toured the whole country. The most she had ever received from him for two and a half years was the occasional birthday card (most of them post cards at that) and message on the answering machine. Liz still remembered staring numbly out at the night sky when another of her birthdays had gone by without so much as a phone call. But at least she didn’t cry. That much she could say for herself. Not one single teardrop had made it’s way out of her eyes since the day her parents had signed their divorce papers. And even then, the most she had managed was two tears.

Liz pushed off from the wall and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand wearily. She should probably be getting back now. As she looked down the road, she noticed one funny thing about the giant oak tree close to the wall she had been leaning against. There was a giant, roughly drawn heart in it’s trunk, it looked more like a circle really, with something gouged into the wood of the tree inside it. A horrible feeling of suspicion and recognition began to rise in her as she stepped closer in an effort to see what was written. It looked fairly old and it was hard to read the words so Liz ventured closer and closer until she was almost nose-to-nose with the tree. Was that an M? Yes, it was… an M and an E if she wasn’t mistaken. Frowning, she swiped away some of the bark that was covering it. When she finally made it out, Liz opened her mouth but nothing but a strangled gurgling came out. Backing away from the tree, she glanced wildly around the surrounding area. This place didn’t look EXACTLY like her old neighborhood. It WAS her old neighborhood. For as she looked in horror, the writing on the tree stared back at her:

M.E and L.P 4 EVER

A cold, sick feeling began to worm it’s way through her, not unlike the one she’d had when her father’s voice had began. She couldn’t believe her luck! She had run right into the jaws of hell. As if getting that message today wasn’t bad enough-

“ Liz?”

Liz whirled around so fast, she became slightly dizzy. Once her vision had cleared and she made out who it was, she could barely suppress a groan. Oh great.

Satan himself came out to meet her, Liz finished her thought miserably. She glared at Max and moved a fraction of an inch to the left, effectively shielding the trunk and the offending message from view.

“ Oh. It’s you.”

Max struggled not to flinch at the disdain that so clearly colored her voice or at the tortured look that had spread all over her face when she had seen him. He also struggled to keep his eyes locked on her face instead of traveling down her scantily clad body, sure that she would punch his lights out if he did. But it was a hard task. Max had just jogged one lap around the block and was on his second when he saw a very attractively built girl with long dark hair streaming down her back out of a vivid red bandana stumble to a wall and clutch it for support. She seemed to be having hard time breathing and he had been on the verge of running to her and asking her if she was all right when she had straightened up and thrown her hair back. Max had squelched his gasp of surprise just in time. Liz Parker was standing a few feet away from him, looking about ready to hyperventilate. He really didn’t think the sight of him would do her good at that moment. So he had jumped behind a tree, settling on making sure she didn’t see him and going his own way once she left. But did he do that? Nooo. The image of her in a skimpy tank top and cycling shorts had been burned into his brain and his eyes were longing for another look. He finally allowed himself to peek carefully around the trunk, telling himself he was only looking to make sure it was Liz. Yeah right. Once he had seen her, his neck had seemed to stick in that position. She was closing her eyes at moment and seemed to be concentrating on breathing properly.

Max could honestly say he had never found a person breathing so fascinating before. Her dark eyes had snapped open a moment later and even from his hiding place, he could see the raw fury shooting out of them. Uh oh. He reeled his stubborn head in and his heart began a tap dance across his chest. She hadn’t seen him, had she? Risking another look, he was relieved to find that she wasn’t bearing down on the tree but was staring off into the distance, a look of mutinous anger on it. She pushed off from the wall a moment later and was poised to begin running again when something about the oak tree next to her grabbed her attention. He shifted slightly closer to see a puzzled expression appear on her face before it turned into one of surprised horror. She scooted away from the tree and looked about her surroundings wildly as if she was going to be attacked. A twinge of panic began to sweep through him. Liz looked terrified. So he had stepped out from behind his tree and walked up to her and called her name softly, hoping he wouldn’t startle her. No such luck. Now, she was staring daggers at him and Max wished he’d stayed behind his tree, as he now saw that there was no one here to do Liz harm. He managed a small grin.

“ Yeah, it’s me. You alright?”

She was blocking his view of the tree that had horrified her so.

“ I’m fine.”

The temperature dropped 10 degrees at the sound of her voice. Max tried to peer around her shoulder but she kept moving.

“ Um, so. I guess we both had the same idea, huh?” He began, trying to make conversation.

Liz simply crossed her arms and continued glaring at him. It was becoming very uncomfortable.

“ You know…. Jogging and all. This is a really good day to jog. It’s a nice neighborhood too.”

“ Is it?” Liz had finally spoken. But her tone of voice, instead of making the question sound politely inquiring, laced it with disbelief.

“ Yes it is.” Max said with finality. “ But I’m sure you know that. You… you used to live here.”

Liz tossed her hair over her shoulder and raised an eyebrow at him. “ I’m surprised you remember that Evans. I was under the impression that you didn’t give a damn about anything that didn’t revolve around you. Well done.”

Max bristled at her condescending tone. Stay cool, he mentally told himself. Don’t let her get to you. The fates had presented him with a chance to talk to Liz away from school and he wasn’t going to waste it. He schooled his face into an amiable smile.

“ That’s not true, but thanks anyway. I’m glad you noticed.”

They stared at each other for another few moments before Liz looked down the street. The early birds were beginning to come out of their houses in their robes carrying their morning cups of coffees and picking up the daily paper. She spared him another glance.

“ How do I get out of here?”

“ Don’t you remember?”

“ It’s changed, alright?” She snapped. “ I have to get out onto Main street. Is there an exit here?”

“ Yeah. It’s this way. Come on.”

She stayed put. “ Just tell me.”

“ It’d be easier if I showed you. You could get lost and then you’d really be late for school.”

“ I don’t think so. Just point me in the right direction and I’ll be on my way.” She hissed. She looked to be getting more and more nervous as more people came out of their homes.

“ Liz, really, it’d take less time if I showed you. It’s just around this-”

“ Forget it.” She shook her head at him. “ I’ll find my own way.”

She turned and marched away from him, heading in the opposite direction of the exit. Max muttered under his breath and ran after her.

“ Liz! Wait up! Come on, you’re going the wrong way!” She had begun to run. He followed. “ Liz!” He yelled.

She turned around and faced him, walking backwards. “ Would you shut up?” She called back. “ You’ll wake everyone!”

“ They’re already awake!” He yelled. “ You’re going the wrong way!”

“ I said forget it, alright? Go home!”

She was still walking backwards, unaware that the paper boy was only a few feet away from her. He hadn’t seen her either as he was busy throwing newspapers left and right. Max’s eyes widened. “ Liz! Watch out!”

Liz whipped around and saw the paper boy the same time he saw her and for a split second, it looked like they were going to collide. But at the last moment, Liz flung herself to the sidewalk hard and the paperboy zoomed through where she had stood a second earlier. He stuck around long enough to make sure she was breathing before mounting his bicycle with a muffled, “ Oh no! Not again!” Then he was off before Max could reach him. He fell down at Liz’s side and helped her up.

“ Are you alright?”

Liz pushed his hands away and sat up awkwardly, testing her arms and legs gingerly for any sprained muscles. She had a scuffmark on her elbow but she ignored it and massaged her ankle tenderly. Max looked down at it worriedly. It was already starting to swell. He reached out.

“ Let me see.”

“ Get away from me.” She bit out curtly.

“ Liz, I’m only trying to help.”

“ I don’t want your help. It’s fine.” But she had gone white under her usual golden skin coloring and her hand was shaking as she massaged the ankle. Max had been injured enough times to know that it was really hurting her.

“ Liz, let me see it, okay? I just want to see it. I’m not going to hurt you.”

She looked at him warily but her trembling lip betrayed her. She let out a small huff.

“ Fine. Whatever.” She removed her hand and Max began to feel the swollen ankle gently. Liz winced once and a while but he had to give her her props. She took it extremely well. Not one sound or tear came out of her. “ So?” She asked once he had finished. “What’s the verdict, Evans? Will I live?” He was sure it was meant to come out sarcastic but evidently, the pain had clouded her usual iciness.

“ You will. You just gave it a very bad twist. It’ll need to be bandaged.”

“ Great,” She muttered. “ Just great.” Liz attempted to pull herself up but she trembled violently when a bit of her weight came to rest on her injured ankle. Max grabbed her hand and held it firmly even though she tried to squirm away and he helped her up till she was standing. Liz had to lean on him so they were very close together and her head was right under his chin. Even then, she attempted to extract her hand from his grasp and she let out an exasperated gasp.

“ Will you let go of me?”

“ No.” Max said. “ You’d fall flat on your tush.”

“ I won’t.”

“ You will.”

“ I-”

“ You will.” Max repeated, cutting her off. “ Besides, if I did, what would you do? Run home on that ankle? You wouldn’t make it past the first house.”

The deep brown eyes flashed with annoyance and she leaned back a little so she could glare up at him.

“ Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do, Evans!”

“ I wasn’t doing that,” He said calmly. “ I was merely saying that you are in no condition to use your ankle right now. We need to bring the swelling down.”

“ Oh of course! Let me just get the bandage I always carrying around in case of emergencies like this,” Again, he was sure this was meant to sting him but she was now breathing kind of funny and she had gone even paler.

“ That’s it. I’m taking you to my house.”

He managed to go two steps with her before she looked up at him again, the pain clouding her eyes. “ Wait. No, I don’t… I don’t…”

“ Liz, come on! You’re obviously in a lot of pain.”

“ I’m… fine…” She gasped out, trying to pull away.

“ Don’t do that,” Max said, finally reaching the end of his patience. “ All right! That’s it!” He wrapped his arms securely around Liz and lifted her clean off her feet, cradling her to his chest. The movement was so sudden, Liz had no choice but to wrap her arms around his neck or risk falling. She let out an outraged roar, all pain forgotten.

“ EVANS!!!! What do you think you’re doing?”

“ Carrying you. You forced me to do this, remember that!”

“ I…” Liz sputtered. “ I did NOT!” she yelled indignantly. “ Put me down! PUT ME DOWN!!!!!

People were beginning to stare at them and the older people shook their heads.

“ Crazy teenagers,” They muttered.

“ Must be some new fad.”

“ Evans! I can walk!”

“ No you can’t,” Max maintained stubbornly. “ We’re almost there.”

“ Evans, no! No! I refuse to be carried around like a sack of potatoes! I refuse! I’m not an invalid!”

“ No, you’re not. You’re just being very dumb. Here we are.” He began to reach out and ring the doorbell as he didn’t want to let Liz down but she was jostling too hard, trying to get free. “ Would you stop wriggling?” He had no choice but to turn sideways and use her uninjured foot to press the doorbell.

The smiling face of his mother opened the door a few minutes later with a polite,

“ Yes?”

The shock on her face was priceless. Here was her perfect, sensible son, carrying a complete stranger in his arms right in front of the neighborhood. The girl had now pressed her face into her son’s chest clearly too embarrassed to look up.

“ Max? What’s going on? What are you doing?”

“ I’ll explain later mom. Could you maybe step aside?”

“ B-but…” It was Diane’s turn to sputter.

Max stepped into the house carefully, making sure to avoid hitting anything with Liz’s foot. Isabel came wandering into the hall from the kitchen, a slice of toast in her hand. “ Mom, who is it?” When she saw her brother carrying a very skimpily clothed girl, her jaw dropped. “ Max! What-”

“ Later, Iz,” He made a beeline for the sitting room where he deposited Liz on the couch gently. As she moved away from her, she grabbed the collar of his shirt.

“ I swear, Evans,” (gasp) “ I’m going to get you for this.”

Max smiled at her. “ I’m counting on it.” He straightened up and faced his puzzled mother and twin. “ Mom, Izzy, this is a fr-” Max paused when he felt Liz jab at his back with her finger. “ Classmate,” He amended, “ of mine, Liz Parker. Maybe you remember her...” Max trailed off and stepped to the side revealing a very red faced Liz. Mrs. Evans simply looked at Liz before a look of delighted surprise came over her face.

“ Liz? Is that you? My God!” She hurried over to the couch and beamed at her. “ You’ve grown so tall! And so pretty!”

If possible, Liz flushed even more and an embarrassed little smile played on her lips. “ Uh, thank you, Mrs. Evans.”

“ Oh, don’t call me that, Liz! Call me Diane!”

“ Um, okay, Mrs. Evans, I mean, um…” Liz stuttered and she thought she would combust if her face grew any hotter. She shifted slightly, causing her ankle to move and she winced. Oh well. At least the pain was enough to take her mind off things.

Max hurried to the foot of the couch and began to remove her shoe and sock, ignoring the venomous look she threw at him.

“ I saw Liz when I saw out jogging mom,” He began. “ She almost got run over by a… car and she twisted her ankle.”

Liz gaped at him. And so did Mrs. Evans. “ She did? Oh you poor dear! Isabel, honey, run into the kitchen and get me some ice. I’ll get the first aid kit.” Both Evans women rushed off in opposite direction and Liz was free to turn her fury on Max.

“ Oh, you just wait till I’m on my feet again!”

“ You won’t be for a while.” He carefully propped her injured foot on top of a pillow. “ How does that feel?”

“ It feels like my twisted ankle is now being elevated.” She commented sarcastically.

“ Could you just answer the question?” Max snapped. A part of him hated to see Liz in pain, it was so very reminiscent of their younger years. Even then, every time Liz had been hurt, she acted as if everything was fine and nothing hurt. It irritated the hell out of him.

Liz looked mildly surprised but then she shrugged, apparently saving her strength. “ It’s okay.”

Sensing that this was as receptive as Liz was going to be, Max gathered his courage.

“ Can we talk?”

TBC

posted on 24-Dec-2001 1:18:56 PM
Chapter Eight

Blinking in surprise, Liz gazed up at him. A breathy, derisive laugh came from her a moment later.

“ You don’t give up, do you?”

Isabel came bustling into the room a moment later, grasping an ice pack in her hands. She was about to speak when Diane called,

“ Isabel, can you give me a hand here, honey? Let Max do that!”

Isabel sighed and shoved the ice pack at Max and moved out of the room once again with an apologetic smile at Liz.

Max stood and went over to the foot of the couch, applying the ice to Liz’s ankle. She winced, but only slightly. Her eyes were watching him warily. “ It’s not in my nature,” He finally replied, pinning her with a searching gaze. “ So can we?”

“ What is it with you? Are you trying to win the ‘most in touch with feminine side’ award for super jocks? Is that it?”

“ That’s ridiculous. And totally off the subject.”

Liz shook her head. “ I don’t believe this. Evans, I’m injured here. I really do not need any heart to hearts at the moment.”

“ I understand that completely but I figure this is the only time I’ll be able to talk to you and you won’t be able to run away. So can we talk?” A stony silence was his answer. He sighed. Sometimes, talking or trying to talk to Liz was like trying to talk a very stubborn child into going to bed or eating veggies. Very exhausting. “ Okay. How about a compromise then? I’ll talk, you listen.”

Max received no answer so he plunged ahead. “ I know you hate me, and you’ve got every right to. What I did… it wasn’t right. It was a terrible thing to do.” Max paused every few seconds, trying to make heads and tails out of the jumbled feelings and emotions that were churning in his mind and heart. “And…” He continued haltingly. “ What makes it more terrible is that I forced myself to forget about it, just to save myself from this moment.” Another pause. A deep breath. “ But it’s come and… am I really so wrong in trying to correct my mistake? Trying to make up for it?”

“ If this is about the other day, I told you. You’re forgiven. Completely. Totally. There’s nothing to apologize for anymore.” Liz’s voice was flat and emotionless.

“ No this isn’t about that. This is about what happened years ago. When I left you in that hallway to deal with everyone, everything… alone.”

Max could barely bring his gaze up from her foot and when he did, he found Liz staring at him unnervingly, like she was trying to scan him into her brain. He saw snatches of emotions flitting around in her eyes, surprise, anger, sadness…fear. They didn’t stay long enough for him to get a firm grasp on what they were but they were there all the same. “ I abandoned you. I don’t expect forgiveness for that to come easily or anytime soon-”

Liz continued to stare into his eyes and she shrugged nonchalantly, as if they were discussing nothing more serious than the weather. “ Apology accepted.” She interrupted.

Max stared at her, completely flummoxed.

At his totally stunned expression, Liz smiled. It didn’t reach her eyes. In fact, her eyes, eyes that were meant to sparkle and burn with fire looked dead. The bits and pieces of feelings he had seen were gone. A cold, empty nothingness had replaced them. “ It was no biggie, Evans. I lived. And I found out who my real friends were. Besides, I don’t really need another session of ‘ I’m sorry, Liz’. I’ve been having too much of those lately.”

Max didn’t know how to proceed from there. He had been baring his soul to her and every passing second made him feel like there was nothing he could do to get to Liz. His frustration level was mounting.

“ So that’s it? Just like that?”

“ I don’t know what more you’d want. You apologized, I accepted. Isn’t that the way it works?” She asked coolly.

Max gave her a gargoyle like grin. “ Perfect. Let’s go to the CrashDown this afternoon.”

“ No.” She answered immediately. “ How many times do I have to tell you-”

“ Why?” Max interrupted. “ If you really have forgiven me, then you have nothing to object about.”

“ I-”

“ Unless of course, you haven’t forgiven me.” Max cut her off. He sent her an accusatory glare. “ That would be a perfect explanation, wouldn’t it? I see it all clearly now.” He continued applying the ice gently to the injured ankle as his voice took on a tone of politeness, contrasting sharply with the anger he felt. “ You tell people what they want to hear so they back off thinking that whatever they’ve set out to do has been accomplished. Only you don’t mean what you say.” He lifted his gaze from her ankle and met her outraged gaze defiantly. “ You never let anyone near you long enough in case you start to feel. Pretty ingenious way of keeping people away, Liz.”

She didn’t say anything but the fear he had seen earlier returned and it seemed to blossom before being chased away ruthlessly. Brown eyes clashed with amber and Max immediately recognized the look Liz used as a defense. The one that bought him down to his knees every single time… but strangely, it didn’t affect him. He didn’t know if it was how Liz had callously brushed away his hard said words and deliberately lied to him to shut him up or how hopeless he felt at the moment. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that he had seen something in her eyes, that for once, he was the one x raying her insides but Max found himself staring back at her in the same away she was staring at him. He would not back down. Not this time. Not when he knew he was right.

“ It’s brilliant, really,” He continued, not breaking his gaze. “ You play the part of this aloof outsider. A rebel, complete with a tongue of pure fire and sharpness with a mind to match. No one crosses you, they’re too scared to dare and you like it fine that way. Cause if they got close enough, if they saw what I see when I look into your eyes… they’d realize you’re probably more scared of them than they are of you.”

This was clearly more than Liz could take. She drew herself into a sitting position so fast; Max didn’t even realize he was now applying ice to nothing but air. Liz looked positively livid. But despite of the rage so clearly dancing around in her eyes, her voice was low and calm and her words deftly avoided the more important issues and dealt with the minor ones.

“ I’m not even going to begin to pretend that I understood the warped logic that led you to this theory. You could show more gratitude that I forgave you-”

“ Gratitude?” Max repeated. “ You know, Liz, that’s just it. I would show you more if you’d actually forgiven me. But you haven’t, have you?”

“ If I say you’re forgiven, then you damn well are forgiven,” Liz retorted hotly, fighting to keep her voice low.

“ Saying it isn’t the same as meaning it.” Max answered back.

Liz shook her head at him. “ You are unbelievable! You stand there so high and mighty, telling me to be considerate when you practically made an art of NOT being considerate. Isn’t that a bit hypocritical?”

“ Hypocritical? Maybe. But at least I’m honest with myself. I don’t don a mask or façade to hide who I really am just to keep from getting hurt. Just because I’m scared.”

From the light that flashed momentarily in Liz’s eyes, Max knew he had struck a nerve.

“ Don’t you dare stand there and lecture me.” Liz said, her voice low and dangerous. “ I am who I am because I choose to be, Evans, not because I’m in hiding. And besides, who you are is just about the last person I’d want to become.”

Max winced slightly, her words stinging him all the way to his heart. But he recovered quickly. “ I couldn’t agree with you more Liz.” He said, choosing to ignore the last part of her sentence. “You do choose. You choose to hide. To conceal yourself behind all that attitude.”

“ God! You don’t get it do you?” Liz hissed at him. “ Do you think that that little episode destroyed me? Is that it? That after you left, I was so devastated, I fell apart? You have a more bloated ego than I thought. Let me make it clear to you, Evans. You actually did me a favour that day. Your ‘abandonment’ of me as you so dramatically put it, taught me that I didn’t need anyone there for me. That I could do fine by myself. And I have.”

Max felt the words like a punch to his stomach. He was terribly, terribly confused. He wasn’t even sure of what he wanted to accomplish anymore. Out of the haphazard clump of emotions coursing through him, one thing stood out. He had to find a way to out maneuver Liz, to at least guarantee one more meeting between them. All thoughts about the bet were forgotten. All Max wanted to do at that moment was to get through the walls she had built up around herself. “ So you’re saying that when I left you, it meant nothing to you at all?” He commented glibly.

“ By Jove, I think he’s got it,” Liz proclaimed sarcastically.

“ Then why did you stop talking to me after that?” Max dead panned. “ If it didn’t make you feel anything at all, why did you do it? Why are you still doing it?”

At last. Something Liz didn’t have a ready reply for. It brought Max a much needed moment of reprieve. He didn’t think he could take much more of this. Drawing a deep breath, he looked her in the eye one last time.

“ Every one needs someone, Liz. And not just so they make you feel safe and don’t ask you to open up to them. No person can be an island. And if you choose to be that, then I just might become an ocean. I’ll close in on you from all sides and I won’t give up.”

She had been watching him carefully throughout his whole speech, words that had surprised even Max himself. He didn’t where he had found them. It was if looking into Liz’s eyes was the key to unlocking the most surprisingly good part of his soul. And the words came pouring out.

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

Numbness was good. It was great, actually. It usually kept her from feeling anything. But the funny thing was Liz didn’t usually feel much to begin with so she couldn’t say she was numb. Because to be numb, you’d have to actually feel something, right? So since she’d felt something today, something and THEN some, she was experiencing the first numbness she’d had in years. It was like welcoming back an old friend. First you felt the turmoil. Everything, everything you experienced would keep coming in constant replay, over and over. Then came that part when you want to scream, or get rid of your brain so you could stop seeing everything. Give it more time and you gradually go blind to it all. It turns into a buzz at the back of your head. Pretty soon the buzz would start to feel like it’s always been there. And then, the most glorious part comes. The nothingness.

It was almost enough to make her want to feel stuff, just so she could go through the whole process again but then she decided that would really suck because if she did that, then she’d be crying at every sappy soap opera that graced the TV screen. But then again, she felt like crying right now, and there was no soap opera on the TV. Liz felt an unfamiliar burning sensation beginning to sting her eyes, and she sat up in a near panic. Oh God. What was she thinking? CRYING? She NEVER cried! She hopped up from the couch in her living room, momentarily forgetting that her ankle was injured and as soon as it touched the ground, she let out a yelp of pain and fell back. Biting her lip, she absently reached for the cup of tea on the side table next to her. Somewhere along the morning, after her and Max’s little discussion Mrs. Evans and Isabel had come back. They had wrapped up Liz’s ankle and asked if she wanted to call her mother. Now given that Liz didn’t even know where she was, coupled with the fact that she really didn’t want to think about that particular mess she had just asked if she could get a lift home. And guess who had volunteered? Yep, that’s right.

“ Is something wrong?”

Right on cue.

Liz fixed her gaze on the floor. She shook her head. “ No.”

“ Oh. Can I get you anything else?”

And again came the stupid, damn emotions. And this time, the on in the forefront wasn’t anger. It wasn’t resentment.

It was guilt.

Now to Liz, this was a new experience. She could say she hadn’t felt guilty since, she didn’t even remember when and it was wearing yet another groove into her brain. She couldn’t understand WHY she felt guilty. HE had been the one who had done something wrong. SHE hadn’t done anything to him, except ask him to leave her alone. And lie about forgiving him but that wasn’t a big deal! Wasn’t it? But she had seen the way his eyes had clouded over every time one of her more maliciously said words hit home and he didn’t deserve that. At least not all of it. Maybe she had been a bit harsher that necessary but she wasn’t used to all this touchy feely stuff. Evans on the other hand seemed to be so in tune with that emotional side of his, Liz wondered if he watched all those cheesy talk shows.

Next came confusion. After everything she had said to him, he had still volunteered to drive her home and make her as comfortable as possible. Liz would have liked it better if his mom or even his sister could have given her a lift but Diane had a meeting and Isabel didn’t know her way around town. She didn’t want to be more of a burden than she was already being. So she had agreed and had only waited a few minutes while Max had showered and then she and Max had hobbled to the door and into the jeep and he had driven her home. Both of them were already beyond late for school, so Diane said she would call and say Liz wouldn’t be in today and Max would turn up for his afternoon classes. There had been no conversation between them whatsoever and as soon as they had gotten in, Max had left her on the couch while he went into the kitchen to make TEA of all things. Liz never took tea; she was a coffee girl (an unfortunate habit picked up from both her parents). She moved her gaze from the floor up to him, surprised to find him watching her. Maybe he wasn’t so bad. He had taken a lot more of her crap than most, okay than all of their classmates would. And he was still here. And she had told him that there was a million to one chance, hadn’t she? She could also understand his need to apologize. Now that all these creepy feelings kept piling onto her, she knew that if guilt kept torturing her, she would probably be going crazy trying to apologize too. So…she could at least thank him for helping her out…

“ Evans?”

“ Yeah?”

“ I… this morning. I guess I was a little more…difficult than I usually am.”

He gave a small laugh. “ That’s for sure.”

Liz nodded. “ So I suppose what I’m trying to say is… thank you.”

He blinked. “ Wow. Did I hear… did you say thank you?”

“ Don’t let it get to you, alright? This doesn’t change anything.”

“ But it’s a start.”

“ Yeah. I guess.”

“ So does this mean that you won’t threaten to kill me every two seconds?”

Liz rolled her eyes. “ Like I said, don’t let it get to you. But… for a dumb jock, you’re okay.”

Max frowned. “ Do you mean it?”

“ Is it that important to you?” At the look on his face, she relented. “ Yes, alright, okay, I mean it. But this doesn’t mean we’re suddenly best friends or anything, got it?”

“ Got it. But I’m okay?” He smiled.

Liz decided to not notice the fact that Max suddenly looked extremely…adorable. Ugh. She needed to get a grip on things. But maybe this wouldn’t hurt.

“ Yeah. You are… a little.”

TBC…

posted on 24-Dec-2001 1:26:46 PM
Chapter Nine

“ Parker!”

Liz lifted her sunglasses and propped them up on her head, grinning at the tall Native American guy running towards her. He, on the other hand, was not grinning. In fact, he was frowning at her rather heavily. He met her halfway and glanced worriedly at her bandaged ankle before glaring at the golf club masquerading as a cane that she grasped in her left hand.

“ Parker, what are you doing here? You’re hurt!”

“ Nice observation, captain obvious.” Liz muttered under her breath. She grinned and waved. “ Hi Eddie,”

“ Hi Eddie?” He repeated blankly. “ Is that it? Hi Eddie?”

“ Um, okay, I suppose I could go with the more formal route of ‘ Hello, Master Eddie’ ” Liz said sarcastically, the latter part being intoned in a particularly heavy British accent, “ But that sounds extremely psychotic and ‘Psycho Liz’ is supposed to be sleeping right now after the morning she’s had.”

Eddie shook her head at her and held out his hand for her own. Liz stared at it and looked at him.

“ Okay, tell me one thing. Does having a bandaged ankle automatically make you an invalid?” At the look on his face, Liz rolled her eyes and let him take her free hand. “ Christ, Eddie, it was just a question,” She muttered.

“ How did this happen?” He asked her as they walked towards the center of the reservation.

Liz shrugged. “ I had a close encounter of the bicycle kind,”

“ Excuse me? Did I hear right? A bicycle?”

“ You heard me,” Liz replied, not looking at him.

Eddie bit his lip to keep from smiling. He cleared his throat. “ Right. So… A bicycle huh? That... that must’ve been quite painful.”

“ You find that funny?”

“ No, not all.” Eddie protested weakly.

“ Bull. You find it funny.” A pause. “ Why exactly do you find that funny?”

Eddie sighed. “ The thing is, the picture of you riding a bicycle and then falling off just appeals to me somehow. I mean, think about it: You’ve tackled the wildest horses we have here and you can’t handle a simple bicycle?” He laughed.

“ Laugh it up, farm boy. But I think you conveniently forgot that I never said I was on a bicycle.”

Eddie stopped laughing. “ Hey, yeah.” He frowned.” So… how did you get hurt?”

“ Short version: I was jogging. Kid with pink hair was cycling. Kid with bad dye job sees me at last moment. Luckily, I have excellent reflexes so I saved myself from further injury by jumping to the side. I landed badly. I sprained my ankle. End of story.”

“ Ouch.” Eddie muttered. Then he looked at Liz quizzically. “ Uh, I have a question though. Why didn’t you see the kid?”

Liz frowned. There was no way in hell she would admit to Eddie that she didn’t see him because she had been running away from someone. Because if she did that, he would ask who that someone was. And if he asked, she would have to tell him. Why? Well, let’s just say that Eddie had inherited some of his grandfather’s uncanny ability to make her do and say stuff she normally wouldn’t do or say otherwise and he used it without mercy when he had to. And after yet another shitty day, Liz really didn’t think she could stand that.

“ I was thinking.” She said offhandedly.

“ Oh.”

Eddie didn’t seem to have a reply to the question other than ‘Oh’. Which was good because Liz didn’t want to elaborate. He would never let her live it down if he knew what happened. He would have asked her, why didn’t you just beat him up? In fact, that was the question she was asking herself now. The question she had been asking herself since yesterday. Why oh why did she put up with everything Max had thrown at her? She could have punched him. Hell, she’d already slapped the guy so a punch wouldn’t be much worse. Maybe it was because that face was just too cute to mess up.

Had she actually thought that?

Oh no.

She had!

What was happening to her?

The next she’d know, she’d be joining the cheerleading squad and baking cookies in the Home Ec class.

Ms. Topolsky’s dream for her.

Her WORST nightmare.

Or maybe she’d be joining the ‘ I DROOL OVER MAX EVANS’ fan club. The thought turned her stomach. It was enough to make her hurl.

But wait, hadn’t she made peace with him in the morning? Did that mean she was just another mindless drone now? Liz fought the urge to groan.

She HAD hoped a long, dusty walk to the reservation would help rid her mind of disturbing thoughts such as these, and so, a few minutes after Max had finally left, she had busied herself by hobbling around the house looking for a makeshift walking cane. It had been a stroke of luck that she had come across her mother’s old golf set in the pantry. Nancy Parker had taken up golf when she CLAIMED to be on a health kick but once she had found out that she was actually expected to WALK eighteen holes instead of driving quote: ‘ Those cute little cart things’ end quote, she had dropped that particular hobby like a hot potato. Liz had the sneaking suspicion her mother had had a crush on the golf pro, which was why she’d taken it up in the first place, and her dropping of the hobby had come about because of the fact that the golf pro was already married.

Want proof you’ve got way too much time on your hands?

You’ve got it when you’re actually monitoring your parent’s love life instead of taking care of your own.

Not that she wanted one. Nope, her love life was sound. Sound asleep that is. And that was exactly how she wanted it.

After she had finally chosen a club, Liz had grabbed her keys, sunglasses and tied a sweater around her waist before leaving a message for her mother and starting her walk.

It worked. The normally thirty minute walk had stretched out to be an hour’s walk, but she didn’t mind. The images stopped coming. Of course, the fact that her ankle had started throbbing in pain could have had something do with it but why look gift horses in the mouth? Besides, she thought she was doing a pretty good job of masking the pain. Why, if she didn’t talk for a few more minutes, she was sure she could make it past the first house before collapsing…

“ Eddie?”

“ Yeah?”

“ I think I’m going to pass out…”

Those were the last words that came out of her mouth before she slumped to the ground.

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

Liz groaned.

Where was she? She felt the sensation of cool hands bathing her forehead. She smiled up groggily at the woman who she now recognized as Eddie’s mother, Willow.

“ How are you feeling?”

“ Loads better.” She looked around and found herself on yet another couch. She saw Eddie leaning against the door jamb, watching her in worry.

“ You passed out.” He announced.

Liz smirked. “ I figured.”

“ Thanks for the heads’ up by the way.” Eddie said, pushing off and walking towards the couch.

“ No problem,” She replied easily and attempted to get up but Willow pushed her back down gently.

“ Hold it, young lady! You’re not going anywhere. You need to rest up. How did you even get here with that ankle?”

“ Same way I always get here, Willow. I walk,” Liz answered.

She shook her head. “ That really was unwise, Liz! Did you even have a walking stick to help you?”

“ Yeah, I had one.” She wasn’t really lying. It had been a walking stick. Kind of. As long as Eddie didn’t spill the beans, she should be fine. Willow looked a little reassured but not by much as she still wore a frown.

Eddie laughed and held up the golf club. “ She did mom. In her own little way, Parker has taken the realm of walking sticks to new heights.”

Willow looked at the golf club, the little reassurance on her face disappearing. “ Liz! Tell me you didn’t walk here with that!”

“ Um, I didn’t walk here with that?” At the reproving look on Willow’s face, Liz shot Eddie an annoyed look before turning back to Willow with an apologetic smile. “ I’m sorry, Willow. There just weren’t any other options.”

“ Oh Liz,” Willow said, shaking her head. She checked the poultice that was covering the injured ankle before standing up. “ I’m calling your mother. You did leave a message for her, didn’t you?” She called over her shoulder as she walked into the kitchen.

“ Yes Willow!” Liz said. She glared at Eddie. “ Tattle tale!”

“ Just paying you back for that shock you gave me.” Eddie replied with a grin. It disappeared quickly. “ Don’t ever scare me like that again, Liz, you hear?”

Liz sighed. “ Yeah, Eddie, like I can control when I faint.” She glanced up at him, sighing again in surrender at the serious look on his face. “ Alright. I won’t. I’m sorry I freaked you out.”

Eddie nodded and then a smirk covered his lips. “ What makes you think I freaked out?”

Liz rolled her eyes. “ Oh please! You never call me ‘Liz’ unless you’re really worried. ” She grinned wickedly. “ Guess what your reward is gonna be?”

“ I’m scared to find out.”

“ Oh, come on. Just one guess.”

“ You’re not going to try to find me a girlfriend again, are you?”

Liz laughed. “ I’d rather not relive that whole scarring experience, thank you very much.”

“ Me neither. I still avoid that girl whenever I see her. I’ll never live that down.”

“ It wasn’t that bad! Come on, farm boy, admit it, you had fun.”

“ Alright. Maybe I did. A little.”

“ Yeah right. Anyway, like I said, I’d rather not relive that again. Nope, this time your reward’s going to be much better,”

“ You said that last time too.”

“ Well, this time I mean it. Come on, Eddie, I know you’ve been itching to ride Tempest for months now.”

Eddie’s eyes widened. “ You’re going to let me ride Tempest? Not that I’d mind, of course, but… he’s your horse! And he never let’s anyone close but you.”

“ Only because I tell him to.”

Eddie didn’t answer. He’d watched Liz talking to the magnificent black stallion enough times not to question her when she said things like that. And she was right. He had been literally panting to ride Tempest, but the stallion was much too difficult to control. The most experienced horsemen in the reservation had had virtually no luck with him and Liz was really the only one who he would obey. It was like they recognized something in each other, something that bonded them together. It had been his Grandfather who suggested that they allow Liz to give Tempest a shot and Eddie suspected that he’d seen this too. He smiled at Liz.

“ Are you really going to let me ride him?”

“ No,”

Eddie gave Liz a wounded look and she hooted with laughter. “ I was joking! Lighten up, farm boy!”

Eddie grinned back at her in relief. He and Liz were close, yes, but sometimes, even he couldn’t distinguish her sarcastic remarks from her jokes. Her walls were so thick, it was impossible to get a clear picture of her emotions. He suspected that there were parts of Liz that she hadn’t allowed anyone into for a long, long time and it was that which created the sometimes dead look in her eyes.

“ So what are we waiting for?”

“ We’re waiting for you to help me up. I’m injured, remember?

“ Right.” Eddie stepped close to her and helped her up, allowing her to lean on him. They had taken about two steps when they heard a throat being cleared behind them.

“ River dog!” Liz greeted with a wide smile.

“ Liz. How is your ankle? We were most distressed to see you fall.”

Liz flexed it slightly and was relieved when it didn’t hurt as much. “ It’s much better, thank you. That stuff Willow put on it did wonders.”

“ Indeed? Even so, I don’t think it is wise for you to go to school tomorrow. In fact, I don’t think it is wise for you to stand at all.”

Liz felt Eddie’s shoulders sag a little. Her smile dimmed. Eddie had been looking forward to riding for a long time but Tempest was mistrustful of everyone but her. He would never allow Eddie to ride him without a go ahead from her mouth.

“ But,” River dog continued. “ I know how restless your spirit is. And I also do not think it wise to deprive a restless spirit of it’s daily wanderings. So I am giving you this,” He drew an elegantly carved walking stick from behind him. It was made out of sturdy ebony and intricately carved with ancient symbols that must’ve once been used in the tribe. River dog passed it gently into Liz’s hand and Eddie moved away slightly. Using the stick, she was able to deflect most of her weight away from her ankle and she could even walk without too much pain. She smiled her thanks at the elderly native.

“ Thank you.”

River dog nodded. He was very fond of Liz and he was one of the few people who could see past the barriers she had built over the years to protect herself. But in the effort to spare herself pain, she had also managed to cut out feeling anything all together. And this saddened him. Such a passionate soul filled with zest for life was being locked away. Fire that was meant to burn in her eyes was all but dead. He was beginning to lose hope that anyone could re-ignite it. He had hoped his grandson could but it was obvious that while Liz and Eddie were fond of each other, they were more like brother and sister than anything else. Besides, Eddie was much too impatient…

“ Can we go now?” Eddie asked, almost bouncing in excitement.

Something he proved numerous times a day…


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

TWO DAYS LATER

Max pulled into a parking spot and killed the engine of the jeep. He glanced over at his sister who was busy touching up her makeup in the rearview mirror. He sighed and began to open the door when Isabel said,

“ Don’t open it!”

Max started at her sharp command. “ Why?”

“ The wind will mess up my hair.” Isabel answered matter-of-factly causing Max to shake his head.

“ Isabel, your make up looks fine. Your hair looks fine. You look FINE! I am opening the door now.” He said in exasperation.

He did so and a moment later, Isabel hopped out slamming the door behind her. She scowled at him.

“ Were you always this impatient?”

“ Yes.” Max answered shortly, beginning the walk from the parking lot to the school. As he went, he kept glancing around, oblivious to the greetings that were aimed at him from left and right. The most he did to return them was smile and wave. Smile and wave. His jaw was beginning to ache and still, he hadn’t found what he was looking for.

“ Max, would you relax?”

Max sent a questioning glance at his twin and she huffed. “ The girl sprained her ankle, brother dearest. She deserves a little time off if you ask me.”

“ I wasn’t looking for anyone,” He answered flippantly, trying to sound nonchalant.

“ Right. So when you were hanging around the locker that wasn’t yours yesterday, you were just there for the view?”

“ Are you two arguing again?”

The Evans’ twins spun around to find Michael and Maria behind them. Maria had her hands on her hips and Michael had on his trademark smirk.

Isabel smiled at her. “ Look who’s talking. As if you and Michael don’t argue half the time you’re together.”

“ We’re a couple.” Maria stated, crossing her arms over her chest. “ It’s allowed.”

“ We’re siblings. It’s practically law.”

Michael rolled his eyes and left Maria’s side, leaving her and Isabel to resolve their arguments. Max had gone back to scanning the campus and Michael had to clear his throat three times before Max noticed him.

“ Hey Michael.”

“ Hey.” He waited a beat. “ So… how’s it going?”

“ Fine.”

Michael gave him a disbelieving look and Max shrugged defensively. “ I live with Isabel. My bathroom’s been taken over and it resembles a beauty parlor. I’ve been insulted more in the last two days than my whole life combined. Like I said, it’s going fine.”

“ Still hasn’t shown up yet, has she?” Michael asked with a grin.

Max shoulders sagged in defeat. “ No. How am I supposed to do this when she’s not even here?”

“ You’ve got to make an effort, Maxwell. If you think someone like Liz Parker is just going to fall into your lap, you’re sorely mistaken.”

“ I know that. I’ve tried to call her but her number’s not listed. Twice, I drove by her house but I didn’t see anyone. And at this rate, even the schedule change we pulled won’t help if she doesn’t come!” Max raked his hands through his hair in frustration. “This is so difficult.”

“ Well you knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.”

“ Yeah.” Max looked pensive, something that Michael was fast becoming familiar with. “ After I made such progress too.”

At this, Michael’s attention was piqued. Max had told him about Liz spraining her ankle but he hadn’t given any details. Maybe this would be a good time to get more info.

“ So Max,” He began, only to be interrupted by a yell of:

“ Hey, Evans!”

Kyle was walking towards them, two of his jock friends in tow, a huge grin on his face. One of his friends gave Isabel an appreciative once over which she returned with a flirtatious grin, causing Max to step into the jock’s line of vision, glare at him until he looked away and snap,

“ What is it, Valenti?”

“ Touchy, aren’t we Max?” He grinned some more. “ So. How’s our little project going?”

“ It’s going,” Max answered tersely.

“ How fast?” Kyle asked eagerly.

“ Fast enough.”

Max’s eyes practically dared Kyle to say anything else and Kyle smirked. He and Max were never ones to ignore challenges from each other. Michael was just gearing himself to step between what could very quickly turn out into a verbal battle when he heard Isabel’s exclamation of

“ Whoa. Now THAT is the way to dress!”

All the heads to turned to where she was looking. Max’s jaw dropped, so with Kyle’s and his two friends. Michael could see why. It was Liz. Dressed in her standard black gear, which consisted of a tie back black halter-top that allowed expanses of her mid section to show, along with most of her back and a long skirt that rode low on her hips with slits on both sides reaching up to knee length. Her long hair had been twisted up in an upsweep but done in such a way that several tendrils of hair were already escaping, adding a look of delightful chaos to the outfit. You could feel the heat rise about ten degrees with her appearance. Michael glanced at Maria to find her watching the other guys with amusement dancing in her blue eyes.

Michael saw a dark green Lexus drive away and he assumed that Liz had been dropped off which explained why she was early for once. She sauntered past the stunned group without a single glance in Max’s direction, going straight into the school. When she disappeared from sight, the spell she cast broke and Kyle managed to find his cocky grin once more.

“ Fast huh?”

Max scowled and stuffed his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “ She’s a little frosty in the mornings.”

“ I’ll bet,” Maria muttered.


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

Room 104.

Biology.

At last… sanctuary.

Liz pushed open the door and headed to her usual seat at the back of the classroom. She had a lab table all to herself and that was just fine with her. Who needed partners anyway, right?

The class filled up quickly and soon it was filled with chattering students some of them comparing notes on how they did their homework, discussing the basketball game that had been on the tube last night and oh yes, that most fascinating of topics, guys. There was a certain group of girls she had the pleasure of having this class with and not once had she heard them talk of anything else but guys. It was always punctuated with lots of whispers and sly glances that weren’t so sly at the boys in class and then those absurd giggles.

Giggles.

Liz had promised herself long ago that if she ever began to giggle, she would have to go on a long sabbatical away from civilization. Long ago, before she had learned exactly how freakish it sounded, she HAD giggled but thankfully, she had stopped. She found sharing a class with these girls very damaging. They made an art of it. Liz had even nicknamed some of them.

That one was ‘Whinny’. Her giggles always sounded very much like Tempests neighing.

The other one was ‘ Wheezy’. Liz couldn’t decide whether the girl had a chest problem or doing it on purpose. Maybe she thought it was cute?

And let’s not forget, her personal favorite, good old ‘ Snorty’. Among the whole gaggle of girls, this one’s laugh was the most prominent. It started out loud and relatively normal sounding but towards the end, she would give a great big snort. Liz prayed to God she would never be sitting in front of the girl when she was drinking something and giggling at the same time. It was a strong hunch of hers that it was a very likely possibility that she would have her own personal rain shower if she did.

God. Could it get anymore like a retarded version of Snow White and the seven dwarves?

Come to think of it, SHE was retarded so maybe it didn’t matter.

The burst into giggles. Whinny, Wheezy and Snorty were the loudest as usual. But then, all of a sudden, they hushed up and began squealing excitedly. Liz snapped out of her funk long enough to listen in.

“ Oh my GOD! He’s here!”

“ I didn’t know he had a class with us!”

“ Do you think he got lost?”

“ Who cares? As long as I get to stare at him.”

“ He’s coming this way!”

Liz frowned. Who was it? Something made her crane her neck and peer over the heads of the giggle squad. She immediately wished she hadn’t. Because Max Evans was coming straight towards her, a smile on his face.

Oh no.

Not again.

Please, not again…

Please…

“ Hey. Is this seat taken?”

Liz raised an eyebrow at him. And he shrugged and sat down next to her. She received looks of death from the giggle squad.

This could not be happening again.

“ What are you doing here?” She asked incredulously, feeling a weird sense of déjà vu.

“ Coming to class,” He answered.

“ But this isn’t your class.”

It was his turn to raise an eyebrow at her. “ Um, yes, it is.”

“ You’ve never been in my bio classes before.”

“ Well I am now.”

“ You can’t be.”

“ I can. It’s says so on my schedule.” He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket.

“ See?”

She saw alright.

Every last class he had was the same as hers…

TBC…

posted on 24-Dec-2001 1:33:19 PM
Chapter Ten A

Max stared at Liz with a bit of apprehension, curious and then not so curious to see what her reaction would be to his little schedule change. She just stared at the paper for the longest time, her dark eyes scanning it. Up, down, side to side. Her eyes widened and then narrowed and after taking a deep breath, she handed it back to him with a smirk.

“ You hacked into the school records, didn’t you?” Her eyes held a look or reluctant admiration. Or at least that’s what he thought it was. It was really hard to tell. She shrugged. “ No matter. I can change it right back.”

Max grinned. “ Really? You’re gonna break into school?”

Liz shook her head. “ Is that how you did it? Oh, how little they know. You, see, little boy, I’m what’s known as a technophile, can you say that with me? It’s spelt T-E,” She paused to push a strand of hair out of her eyes. “ Or maybe that’s too big a word…” Another pause as Liz flashed him a sardonic smile. “ A hacker, Evans. I don’t need to break into school to access its computer records. I could do it from home. Hell, I could do it from computer class and be finished in ten minutes or less.”

Alright. He could handle this. He’d planned ahead.

“ My, my. Does my presence really affect you so?”

Liz narrowed her eyes at him, all traces of her smile, nasty or otherwise vanished. “ You wish.”

“ Oh, I do. Everyday. But I’m wondering. Why go to all the trouble of hacking just to get me out of your sight?” He grinned and settled his knowing gaze on her. “ Unless… you care.”

She sputtered in indignation. “ WHAT? That’s ridiculous!” She got herself under control and gave him the evil eye. “ I couldn’t care less about you if I tried and I am trying so hard, believe me.”

Max nodded. “ Okay. Now that we’ve gotten the fact that my presence doesn’t bother you out of the way, we should have no problems for the rest of the semester.”

She was silent. He could practically see the wheels in that incredibly complicated mind working double overtime and a frown settled on her face when she realized she’d been outmaneuvered. Liz turned to face him and she stared him straight in the eye.

Here we go.

Max stared back defiantly, wondering how much he could take this time. Twice, he had to clear his throat and remind himself to breathe because he was getting lost and scared shitless while staring into her eyes. It made him feel exposed. Like she knew all his secrets. So he caved.

He looked away and began to shuffle his books around. He watched Liz out of the corner of his eye and felt a rush of annoyance at himself when a satisfied smile settled on her lips. He knew what that smile meant. She was gloating. Who cared if she had all her classes with him if she could still shut him down with one look?

He was definitely going to have to work on that.

The lesson dragged on. Liz was ignoring him completely and had taken to giving him three word commands while they set up the lab together. He didn’t mind. It was a chance to see her in action, in a place where she was totally in control. And it was like art. In no time at all they had completed what they were required to do and Ms. Hardy had given them her seal of approval, giving them their assignment and allowing them to leave class ten minutes early. Liz picked up her books and left the class with Max at her heels.

“ Do you mind if I hang with you for a while?”

“ Yes, I do actually.” She said, not looking at him. “ But something tells you’re just going to ignore that and stay anyway,”

Max grinned. “ Something tells you good.” He glanced around the mostly deserted hallway. “ So where are we going?”

“ Depends on my mood. If I walked off a cliff would you follow?”

“ That’s really morbid, Liz.”

“ Would you?”

“ Yeah. I would. I mean, I’ve heard sky diving was fun.”

“ Except for this you won’t have a parachute.”

“ I think I’d follow you anyway.” He smiled. “ Hear that? I would die for you.”

Liz gave him a wry grin. “ No, Evans you said you’d die WITH me. There is a difference, you know.”

Max shook his head. “ You are some piece of work you know that?

“ Are you really that hell bent on annoying me? I mean, you pretty much said that even in my last moments you’d be right there, jabbering on. If the fall didn’t kill me, I’m sure you would.”

“ I’m not here just to annoy you.” Max said earnestly.

“ Well you’re doing a pretty good impression of it.” Liz snapped as she came to a stop a few feet away from the bathroom.

“ I live to serve.”

“ Whatever. I need to go to the bathroom.” She moved off and then stopped, turning around and coming back to him. “ Do me a favour. DO NOT FOLLOW ME. Clear?”

Max grinned. “ Crystal. I’ll just wait for you outside the door.”

She rolled her eyes and marched into the room, Max at her heels. True to his word, he stayed right outside the door.

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

Liz came to a stop before the huge mirrors resting her hands on either side of her on the counter. She shook her head and raised her eyes, scowling at the roof.

“ I hope you’re happy,” she muttered under her breath.

She could swear she heard the fates laughing.

Yeah.

Have another BIG laugh on me.

I mean, it’s not like I COUNT for ANYTHING in the universe right?


Why did feel like all of a sudden she was in a situation where anything that could happen would?

Somebody up there hated her.

Give me a break, she yelled mentally to whichever guardian angel guarded her life.

Just one little break.

Other people wished for huge things, you know, like world peace or the end of diseases or for school to never exist.

All she was asking for was ONE, MEASLY, LITTLE BREAK.

Liz vaguely registered the toilet in the stall behind her flush and the door of the cubicle swung open. A sharp clicking of heels came next. And then the unchallenged Mrs. Popular of the year was staring at her through the mirror.

Oh I’m sorry.

Did I say staring?

No, scratch that.

I actually meant glaring.


Tess Harding stood there for endless minutes, both of them just watching the other. Tess looked ready to kill. Liz smirked and raised an eyebrow at her.

Tess returned the action by flipping her blond hair over her shoulder and giving Liz what was obviously supposed to be a superior look. Only it didn’t turn out that way. In fact, it looked like more of a grimace.

Liz shook her head again.

Had they NOT heard her?

H to the E to the double L and O!

I asked for a break! Not the she-devil!

And then suddenly, it clicked. What was that crackpot saying her father always used to say to her?

Oh yeah.

‘Lizzie, sweetie. Good things always come in twos.’

Looks like BAD things followed the same credo too.

She got to deal with Mr. and Mrs. Popular.

Yay! Not.

Although the Mr. Popular thing wasn’t really that bad. No really. It was bad but not as bad as Mrs. Popular over there, Liz thought. Can I just add that Mrs. Popular is still staring, sorry, GLARING?

Yay! Not.

And with her luck, Mr. popular probably WAS waiting for her outside.

Yay! Not.

Liz sighed resignedly.

Whatever.

Tess seemed to bristle at the sound and she strode over to the counter, positioning herself so that she was directly next to Liz. Liz took a moment to assess their differences. They looked like polar opposites. Here was Tess, dressed in a white sundress that was way too tight for her own good, all blonde and blue eyed and the perfect picture of normalcy. And then there was her. Dressed in black, dark with her dark hair and eyes, total opposite of everything Tess was. And Liz was glad for it.

Tess swung a bag that looked like it contained half of Fort Knox in weight onto the counter and opened it, drawing out a tube of lipstick, mascara, blush, powder, tissues and a brush. Where was the hair drier, Liz thought in amusement. She was just about to open the tap to wash her hands when Mrs. Popular spoke.

“ Let’s talk.”

Liz felt her eyebrows threaten to disappear into her hairline. She gave Tess a disbelieving look.

“ Let’s not.” She retorted.

Tess looked like she was in shock. Liz supposed no one had ever said no to Mrs. Popular before. There’s a first time for everything, Mrs. Popular. Then the shocked look was replaced by anger.

“ Fine. Listen up then.” She began to brush her hair agitatedly. “ Max Evans is mine.”

Oh dear God no.

She was so NOT having this conversation.

“ Is he now? Good for you!”

Had she actually said that?

Fantastic.

It looked like she was having this conversation after all.

Tess narrowed her eyes at her and then dropped the brush with a clatter, picking up the powder instead. She opened the compact and began to scrutinize her face.

“ Stay away from him.”

“ Oh dear. Are her royal majesty’s knickers in a knot? You’re not jealous, are you Tess?”

Tess actually began to shake with anger.

“ Do you think that because Max is paying attention to you, he’s actually interested?” When Liz chose not to reply, she continued.

“ He’s not. Believe me, I can tell.” Tess shut the compact and picked up the blush.

Just walk away.

“ I guess you got tired, right, Liz? I mean, if I was a deranged freaky bitch who looked like the poster girl for the Glothic era I would get tired too. Is this your attempt at gaining popularity?”

Liz was thinking,

Just walk away.

But Tess’ last comment had been too much. She began to laugh.

Tess glared at her.

“ Was that funny? Because, really, sweetheart, woman to woman, it’s my duty to inform you that you are the laughing stock of this school.”

Liz stopped laughing abruptly. She saw a glimmer of satisfaction in Tess’ blue eyes, she obviously thought that her oh so witty comments were responsible but they weren’t. No, Liz’s breaking point had been the ‘sweetheart.’ Time to end this conversation.

“ First off,” She began, grinning at Tess. “ if Max Evans is yours, you’re welcome to him. I have absolutely no desire to poach on your turf. Your golden boy came to me. Believe me, if I had my way he’d be chained to your side but no one, not even he deserves that fate. Secondly, it’s not the Glothic era. It’s Gothic. But I suppose you’d have to actually pass History to know that so I guess I can understand where you’re coming from. Thirdly, call me sweetheart again and I’ll break your nose.” Seeing the glimmer of fear in Tess’ eyes was great but she wasn’t finished. “ And lastly, I don’t give a fuck about this school or your precious popularity, Tess. You and your cronies could laugh at me till the day you died and I still wouldn’t give a fuck. If being popular means being a suck up to you and wearing push up bras no thanks, I’ll pass on it. Anything that needs YOUR seal of approval on it isn’t really worth my time.” Liz turned from her and walked to the door but before she exited, she turned back.

“ Oh and before I forget, let’s not do this again. Ever.”

“ No wonder your father left.”

Liz stiffened. Then she turned with what she called her ‘don’t mess with me’ smile and look on her face.

“ Oh, was that the best you could do, Tessie?" She taunted. " Tsk. I expected better. Let me make something clear to you.” She began striding back to Tess, eyes blazing. That cornered rabbit look was back on Tess’ face. She kept backing up until she hit the wall. Liz stopped directly in front of her, Tess cowering under her stare. “ This is not seventh grade. I don’t do the caged, cowering animal routine anymore. So don’t push me. Cause I guarantee you will not like how I push back.” She took a step backward and tilted her head to the side. “ Are we clear?”

Tess didn’t answer.

“ I said, are we clear?” Liz repeated, a bit louder this time.

Tess flinched. “ Yes,” she whispered resentfully. She gave Liz a withering stare. “ But this isn’t over.”

Liz shrugged. “ I’d be disappointed if it was.” She curtly dismissed.

She marched out of the bathroom and almost crashed into Max. He looked worried.

“ Hey, hey! Where’s the fire?”

Liz continued walking. “ Not now, Evans. I’m not in the mood to deal with you.”

Max frowned and hurried after her. “ Liz? What’s wrong? What happened? I heard shouting. You okay?”

“ I’m fine,” Liz answered shortly. She spared him a quick glance as he struggled to keep up. “ I was just told to stop hanging around you. You really should tell people if you’re taken property.”

Max frowned again, this time in confusion. “ What? Liz, who was in there with you?”

Liz laughed sardonically. “ I’ll give you three guesses.”

Max’s jaw clenched. “ Was it Tess?”

“ Right in one. Give the boy a prize.”

She turned a corner. Max turned with her.

“ What did she say to you?”

Liz’s eyes clouded over for a moment and then cleared up. They looked icy. Like glass.

“ Oh the usual. Stay away from my man, he’s mine, stuff like that. You should have been there. It was like a cat fight without the actual fighting.”

“ What? She said that?” Max looked at Liz intently. A little of the pain still lingered in her eyes. “ What else did she say?” Her eyes clouded over again. “ Liz? Are you alright?”

“ I’m fine Evans. I was actually kind of disappointed y’know? I thought she’d do better.”

“ So you’re not upset?”

“ Uh, that would be a no. The day I get upset over Tess Harding…” Liz shook her head, eyes going back to glass status. “You should probably go calm her down or something. I think she’s about to go on overload.”

Max actually looked frightened for an instant. “ Liz? You didn’t, I don’t know, punch her or anything, did you? I mean not that I would mind but you… you could get into trouble.”

Liz grinned. “ I was tempted. But no, Evans, I don’t think suspensions are on the horizon.” She glanced at him again. “ Are you actually concerned about me?”

Max smiled. “ Yeah. I mean, you said I was okay, didn’t you? That means were kind of like, quasi buds or something. Of course I’m concerned.”

Liz nodded grimly. “ That’s what I thought.”

They were nearing the gym now. They passed the gym. They were going on.

Max looked at her in confusion.

“ Where are we going?”

“ Football field,” Liz answered. “ Hope you brought ear muffs,” she muttered under her breath.

TBC…

posted on 24-Dec-2001 1:37:37 PM
Chapter 10B

Liz opened the door to her home and shut it behind her.

She was beyond tired.

How she was even standing was a blessed miracle.

All she wanted was sleep.

And she wanted it like, YESTERDAY.

What was that old saying?

Oh yeah.

Thank God for Fridays.

THANK GOD!!!!!

Sighing heavily, she moved from her place leaning against the door to the doorway leading into the living room. She found her mother sitting on the couch, thumbing through a magazine.

“ Hey mom,” she greeted listlessly already on her way to the stairs.

“ Hi honey. Liz, could you stay a minute? We need to talk.”

Liz froze. “ What’s happened?”

Her mom shook her head. “ I have news,”

Liz shook her head and pressed her hands to her face, squealing. “ No! I don’t believe it.” She released her face. “ You CANNOT tell me something ELSE happened today. ”

“ Calm down, Liz,” Nancy smiled at her indulgently. “ Why don’t you sit down?”

Liz looked around the room warily. No sign of coffee anywhere. “ Um, thanks Mom but why don’t you just tell me.”

“ It’s nothing bad Liz.”

“ I think I’ll decide that one for myself.” Liz replied, crossing her arms over her chest.

“ Well, alright,” Nancy took a deep breath before starting. “ I received an email from your father today. And a message, plus a fax and about two letters. I think you neglected to inform me that he called.”

Liz rolled her eyes and leaned against the doorjamb. “ Oh that. It must have slipped my mind.” Liz paused and watched with a slight grin as her mother shook her head. It disappeared a moment later. “Just for the record mom, I don’t want to go. So you can go ahead and tell ‘my father’ not to waste his time and money coming down here.”

Sighing, Nancy rubbed her forehead, a characteristic Liz had inherited. “ Liz, I know you don’t think much of your father-”

Liz snorted. “ Ha! That has got to be the understatement of the year,”

“ But this is out of my hands.” Nancy finished. “ It’s the law, Liz. I get full custody of you but your father has visitation rights. If you don’t go it could give him leverage if he ever decides to fight for custody of you.”

“ That is not going to happen,” Liz muttered. “ So you’re saying I HAVE to meet him in Carlsbad this weekend?”

“ That’s what I’m saying.”

“ Is that really the law?”

“ It’s really the law.”

After a few minutes of contemplation the only thing Liz could think to say was,

“ The law sucks, mom.”

Nancy smiled wryly. “ Yes, well, it’s there anyway.”

“ What about that other trip? You know the one about me heading to California this summer?”

“ Oh, yes. That one, I’m pleased to say, is completely up to you. Although I do think it would be a good idea for you and your father to-”

Liz raised a hand, stalling her mother’s speech. “ No. No way. I am not going.”

“Liz…”

“ No, mom. I don’t want to. Anything that has the words ‘you and your father’ in it is not for me.” Liz shifted from one leg to another as a determined look appeared in her eyes. “I’ll just do what I do every summer. Nothing.”

Her mother sighed and nodded in resignation. She knew when to push and when to leave things alone with Liz and right now, her daughter was sending up the ‘LEAVE IT’ signal loud and clear. “ Whatever you want Liz.”

Liz nodded and turned to go when Nancy remembered something else.

“ Oh Liz! One more thing.”

A heartfelt groan was let out. Her daughter turned around reluctantly. “ What now? You’re not eloping with Derek what’s-his-name are you?”

A dreamy look appeared over Nancy’s face much to Liz’s horror. “ That wouldn’t be a bad idea,” she murmured.

“ MOM!” Liz bellowed. The shout didn’t jolt her mother out of her dream like state. Liz waved. “ HELLO! I’m still here! Yes, me, Liz. Your daughter? You were going to drop another ‘announcement’ on me. Remember?”

Nancy’s eyes came back into focus and Christ, was her mother BLUSHING?

She was!

Oh God.

“ I’m sorry, darling. I just wanted to tell you,”

Liz steeled herself for another onslaught, praying with all her might that it wouldn’t be TOO damaging whatever it was and hoping against hope that she would be able to control herself.

“ Your cousin Alex is going to be coming to stay for a while…”

Liz was speechless for an instant.

And then a huge smile broke out over her face.

And then, well…

She screamed.

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

Michael couldn’t stop laughing.

He’d tried.

Honest, he had!

But it was just too funny.

Max was sitting on the bed across from him, repeatedly hitting his ears with his palms, obviously trying to jump-start his hearing.

Or rid himself of the echoes.

At least that’s what he had told Michael.

“ Michael, it’s not funny.”

This came from Isabel. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor by Max’s feet, doing her homework. Her reprimanding tone was down pat but Michael could tell from the way that her lips twitched ever so often that she too was fighting hard to restrain her laughter.

Max had just told them the events of the day. How he had gone to all Liz’s classes, how they had ‘hung out’, Liz and Tess’ run in inside the loo, Liz’s screaming fetish…

Oh yeah, Maxwell had an eventful day.

And the day wasn’t even over yet!

Nope, according to Max, he and Liz had a little ‘get together’ at her house. Michael was sure that Liz had no idea about this get together, as Max called it. So he offered to chauffer Max over to her house. No way was he going to miss that.

He cleared his throat. “ Um so. Tell me again about the football field part. I, uh, didn’t get you.”

“ Maybe if you stopped laughing for a while, you’d hear better,” Max shot back irritably. He groaned. “ I can tell you this, though. I didn’t think it was possible for a human being to produce so much noise.”

Isabel chuckled. “ I don’t blame her. I mean, the girl got through a bitching session with she-who-shall-not-be-named without giving into the temptation of punching her. No wonder she was frustrated.” Her eyes twinkled mischievously. “ But who knows? Maybe the rumors are true then. Maybe she is a witch.”

This earned her a fierce glance from Max. “ Or not,” she finished uncomfortably.

Max flopped back onto his pillow and sighed. “ Maybe a banshee would be closer to home.” A dreamy smile appeared on his lips, one that didn’t go unnoticed by either Isabel or Michael. They exchanged knowing grins. Max saw them and cleared his throat, glancing down at Isabel’s unfinished homework. “ You need help with that, Izzy?” He asked, abruptly switching topics.

Isabel rolled her eyes at her twin’s obvious subject change but smiled anyway. “ No, thank you brother dear. We did learn over at Ms. Graham’s you know.”

“ And here I was thinking that your only majors there were guys and shopping 101.” Michael quipped. Isabel turned a cool gaze on him, which he returned with a grin. “ I’m impressed, Isabel.”

“ Uh huh. Whatever Michael.” Isabel ran a hand through her hair. “I need to get myself some more friends. Some who aren’t male and related to me.” She added, squinting at Michael and Max.

“ Why don’t you?” Max asked.

Isabel’s eyes narrowed. “ I was only joking Max.” She pursed her lips, glancing disdainfully at Michael as he tried to measure his tongue with her ruler. “ Well, maybe only semi joking. Besides, I’ve already met Maria and she and I get along fine. She’s told me that by the end of next week, I’ll know everyone in school. And judging by how many parties she’s lined up for us to go to this weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Max’s eyes lit up and he sat up, swinging his legs over the side of his bed and narrowly missing Isabel’s shoulder.

“ Party? What party?”

“ Well, one of them is for tonight. It’s over at Brenda Hawthorne’s house. A pool party if I’m not mistaken. And her parents are out.”

Max grinned. “ That could work.”

Michael’s eyes widened and he dropped the ruler, abandoning his task. “ No way, Max. You’ve got to be kidding me. You’re not going to ask…You can’t be serious!”

“ As a heart attack,” Max replied. Determination glinting in his amber eyes.

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

Music blasted from the stereo.

300 watts of sound pounded through the walls of her room and as she moved around it in time to the music, suddenly, Liz wasn’t feeling as tired anymore.

Nope, all in all, this was pretty much the happiest (or as close as she could come to feeling it) she had been since the beginning of the week. And considering that it had been a pretty shitty week, that was saying a lot. Her ankle didn’t even hurt anymore. Liz winched when her foot caught on a loose thread of her rug.

Well, not much, anyway.

And her father had rang earlier on saying that ‘they’ couldn’t make it on Saturday but they’d definitely be in Carlsbad on Sunday. Liz would have preferred they not come at all but a one day reprieve was better than nothing.

Plus Alex was coming!

The thought alone was enough to garner a delighted laugh from her. She stopped moving abruptly and frowned. The sound of her own laugh sounded unfamiliar to her and this both puzzled and worried her. What did it mean when your own laughter sounded as unfamiliar as a stranger’s? Alex would have her head for this. A grin began to play around her lips. She remembered his last command to her well.

One good long laugh a day, you hear Liz? I can’t be around to make a fool out of myself ALL the time so you better find something else to laugh over, alright?

Suffice it to say that she hadn’t exactly followed his advice.

She smiled.

Oh well.

“ LIZ!” It was her mother, clearly shouting her lungs out. “ I’m on the PHONE! Can you turn it down?”

Liz complied willingly, turning it down but keeping it loud enough to suit her mood. “ Sorry, mom!” she yelled back.

She hurried over to a sturdy mahogany chest that had a lock in it. It was where she kept her most precious things like her journal, mementos from her grandmother, aunt and uncle and photos of her loved ones. She lifted a necklace from under her shirt and inspected the gold key dangling from it. It looked a little worn out. Probably because she had opened the chest more times this week alone than a couple of months combined. But then again who could blame her? She turned the key in the lock and opened the chest, pulling out her leather bound journal and a stack of photographs. She then shut the chest and replaced the necklace around her neck, settling down on her bed against her pillows. Her fingers skimmed over the surface of the journal reverently and a wry smile decorated her lips.

Who’d have thought it?

Liz Parker, outcast of West Roswell High and generally the anti thesis of your normal average teenage girl actually had a journal.

Unbelievable, right?

Wrong.

Because for all her heaps of attitude and badass behavior, Liz was just like every other girl. She wanted to be accepted and belong to something just because she was her and not because she was a good suck up. To actually feel as if she was part of something. To feel something, anything. Because it seemed that when her father had left four years ago, something inside her had died. And she was neither sure if that ‘something’ could ever wake up, nor if she wanted it to after all this time.

She groaned and rolled over, face down into her pillow.

When exactly had she started questioning all aspects of her personality?

Oh yes, she knew the answer to that.

Ever since HE appeared.

And though she both hated and confused herself for acknowledging it, the fact remained that she had had fun today. The first time she had had fun outside of being with Eddie or Alex.

Fun…In a totally weird, weird sort of way.

The type of weird that Keanu Reeves character must’ve felt when he fell ‘into the rabbit hole’.

Minus the creepy cables coming out of body parts thing.

Anyway…

Liz flipped the journal open and skipped to the more recent entries. She scanned page after page after page. All the words were seething, boiling mad, inventing painful ways to execute someone. The entries seemed to become longer and longer at each new date and hey, guess who the main topic is?

Yup, that’s right.

None other than the world-loves-me-Max-Evans.

Please say this is NOT how obsession starts!

Stifling a disgusted groan at herself for even THINKING of such a thing, Liz snapped the journal shut and shoved it under her pillow. She grabbed the stack of photos and almost immediately, a smile replaced the disgusted frown on her face.

The photo showed her and Alex when they were about fifteen in front of a ride in an amusement park. Alex looked slightly pale but the happy go lucky grin that was his trademark was firmly in place. Why was he pale?

Let’s just say that eating five hotdogs, two bags of onion rings and downing two jumbo milkshakes is not an advisable thing to do before getting on the ‘Cyclone’.

The photo behind it showed Alex, her Grandma Claudia, Aunt Grace and Uncle John standing in front of a canyon in Arizona, all of them carrying shovels. Liz sighed feeling envious and not for the first time at that, that Alex was allowed to go globetrotting around the world with his parents and Grandmother. Her Grandmother was an archaeologist who was investigating the ancient Native American Indians of North and South America. Her Aunt Grace had followed in her mother’s footsteps and met her Uncle John at college. He too had a passion for the historical values of the Native Americans and their way of life and when they had married, everyone said it was a match made in heaven. Alex had come along soon after; right about the time she was born. There was only a difference of a month between the two of them but Alex acted like that month was a couple of years in Liz’s opinion. At least he got to accompany his parents on digs around the two continents. The lucky stiff hadn’t even attended normal school for more than a period of two months in his entire life!

Yep, when Lady Luck was bestowing her blessings or whatever, Liz was definitely sure her share had been given to Alex. Not that she minded. She absolutely adored her cousin and she KNEW he adored her right back.

Unlike some other family members…

Liz pushed the unpleasant thoughts aside. Like it or not, she had to meet her father on Sunday and she might as well make an effort to act civil. Or at least try her version of it. She shuffled through the rest of pack, smiling at each photo. There were several of her and Eddie mixed in along with family snaps as well. Like the one where they stood side by side beside a champion reservation horse. She and Eddie had had a bet going on the race that the stallion had won and Liz had had to clean stables for two weeks when she lost. She grinned. She had always sucked at bets anyway. Riverdog, Willow and even Tempest made occasional appearances but these were the more recent shots. When she had finished looking them over, she sorted them into a neat pile and grabbed her journal from under her pillow with the intent of putting them back in the chest. Just as she was putting them back in, two photographs lying facedown at the very bottom of the chest caught her attention. She picked them up and turned the first one face up.

Crap.

It was a family photo.

Way back before her father had left, before her parents had begun their daily battles, when she had been…happy.

Please start the violins now!

Liz rolled her eyes at how mushy she was becoming. That family in the photo didn’t exist anymore. They were gone. All of them were. It was just a reminder of how different her life had been once. How perfect…Shuddering slightly, she dropped the photo back into the depths of the chest. Let’s not go there. It was too close to actually seeing her father in the flesh to go down memory lane. Way too close for comfort. There was one more photo remaining. Liz regarded it suspiciously and contemplated on whether to turn it over or not. She huffed.

Yeah.

Let’s demean ourselves a little bit more by being scared of a photograph why don’t we?

And in any case whatever it shows can’t be worse than the first one, obviously.

She turned it over.

Crap.

Again.

It obviously could.

Two twelve year olds covered in blue paint from head to toe were laughing, looking straight at each other and paying no heed to the camera. Their bright blue selves made a startling contrast to the green of the grass they were standing on.

Two twelve year olds by the names of Max Evans and Liz Parker…

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

Max stood nervously outside the door of Liz’s house, shifting his weight from one leg to the other. He had been standing outside for more than ten minutes, wearing out his knuckles as he rapped on the door. He didn’t know if Liz knew he was down here about to break her door down and purposely ignoring him or if she couldn’t hear him because of the loud music. Maybe it was a combination of both. He raised his hand to knock again when the door opened and Max stopped with his hand in mid air. A woman who was undoubtedly Mrs. Parker, stood there, hands pressed over her ears. A bright smile suddenly broke out over her face.

“ Max? Little Max Evans? Is that you? Oh my goodness, you’ve grown up!”

Or at least that’s what Max thought she had said, the music made it really hard to hear. She ushered him inside with a quick sweeping notion.

“ I’m sorry about the noise! Liz is just working out some of her frustrations!” she yelled.

“ That’s alright,” Max said.

“ What?”

“ I said It’s okay!” Max yelled.

“ Oh, right!” A beat. “ Come on, the living room is this way!”

Max followed her to the room where he had left Liz the last time he had been there. Mrs. Parker pointed to the couch and Max nodded, sitting down on it.

“ Would you like something to eat? Or Drink?”

Max could barely hear her above the noise. He began to respond but apparently, as the song began to end on a guitar solo that was loud enough to shatter glassware, Liz’s mother had had enough.

“ ELIZABETH!!!!” She hollered. Max jumped. Now he knew where Liz had gotten it. “ TURN THAT MUSIC OFF NOW YOUNG LADY!”

The music stopped immediately and for a fleeting moment, Max thought he had gone deaf. But a resounding yell of,

“ Sorry Mom!”

assured him that he wasn’t. Breathing a sigh of relief, he glanced up at Liz’s mother. She was smiling at him in a motherly fashion.

“ How’ve you been, Max? How’s your mother?”

“ Um, fine, Mrs,” Max cleared his throat, “ Um, Ms…um,”

“ Just call me Nancy,” She laughed.

“ Um, Nancy. I’ve been fine. My mom’s okay too.”

“ Oh good. Would you like something to drink?”

“ I… A soda would be great, thanks.”

“ Coming right up.” Nancy Parker tilted her head upwards. “ Liz! You have a visitor, honey.”

“ Yeah right, mom!”

She sighed and turned to Max with an apologetic smile. “ You’ll have to forgive my daughter. She lives in a state of perpetual sarcasm and disbelief. It may take a while before she ventures down. I’ll be right back with your drink.”

She was back a few minutes later with a plate of cookies and lemonade. Max scanned the room. There were several canvasses and an easel that were in the room that hadn’t been there the last time.

“ Liz!” Nancy tried again. “ I’m serious, sweetie. You have a visitor.”

“ I’m busy mom. I’ll come down later, okay?”

Max looked at her and she shrugged helplessly. “ Sorry. I don’t think she’ll be coming down right now. She lives in fear that I make up these elaborate schemes just to get her to do her chores.”

Max laughed. “ I can definitely picture that.” He gestured at the canvas on the easel. “ May I have a look?”

“ Oh of course. It’s just a hobby of mine, you know. I have so many these days it’s hard to keep track but this one is definitely my favorite…”

It was a good thirty or more minutes before Liz finally made an appearance. In that time, Max had looked at several of Nancy Parker’s paintings and found them to be quite good. It was obvious that while she didn’t have as much time as she liked to paint, she took a great passion in it. She had also told him about her mother and sister and brother in law’s exploits in South America and shown him her mother’s books. In fact, she was exactly as Max remembered her. Warm, kind, funny and generous. He saw no trace of the bitter sarcasm and sharp tongue that were her daughter’s daily weapons. However when Liz did show up, Max couldn’t pick his jaw up from the floor. Her hair had come loose and cascaded over her shoulders wildly, like she had just danced her way through the day. Nancy was just in the middle of describing to him the different textures of paint when she saw his reaction to the sight of her daughter. Smothering her smile, she sat back to enjoy the show.

Liz hadn’t seen him yet. She was stretching out her stiff muscles when the hairs at the back of her neck stood up. She got that creepy, you’re-being-watched feeling and spun around and when she saw him, her expression was nothing short of priceless.

“ What are you doing here?” She blurted out.

Max recovered quickly and grinned. “ And hello to you too.” At her less than friendly look, he raised his lemonade glass. “ I was just drinking some lemonade.”

Liz blinked. “ Cute. No, really, what are you doing here?”

“ Drinking lemonade?” He smiled. “ Okay. I came to see you.”

Liz shook her head at him. “ I don’t believe this. Who let you in…MOM!” Liz exclaimed, spotting her mother on the couch opposite Max. Her eyes scanned the contents of the room.

Her Grandmother Claudia’s books.

Several framed photographs of her.

Paintings.

Okay.

All was not lost.

She didn’t see any photo albums lying around. But the paintings represented a problem. Liz knew better than anyone that once her mother got started on talking about them, trying to change conversation was like trying to pull teeth. But right now her immediate goal was to get Max out of the house before her mother could show him any of them.

“ Yes dear?”

“ You…you let HIM in!” Liz sputtered.

“ Well I certainly didn’t think it polite to leave him out there. And you took long enough in coming down, darling. Shouldn’t you apologize?”

Liz rubbed her forehead. “ I didn’t think you were serious!” She pointed a finger at Max who was watching the whole thing with amusement. “ You. Come here.” She gave her mother a grin. “ I just need to talk to Evans for a minute.”

“ What did I do?” Max asked innocently. But he got up and obediently trotted to where she waited in the hallway anyway. He had seen her frantic search of the items her mother had been showing him and had it duly noted. Clearly, she had been looking for something potentially embarrassing to her that her mother might have revealed. And luckily for him and rather unluckily for her, he knew exactly what it was.

“ What are you doing here?” She hissed.

“ I told you,” He whispered back. “ I came to see you.”

“ I don’t recall inviting you!” She replied hotly.

“ Your mom did.”

“ My mom… you mean she called your house and just said, ‘ Hey, can Max come over?’” She crossed her arms over her chest. “ I don’t think so.”

Max shrugged, his mind racing fast and furious. “ I happened to be in the neighborhood. I thought I would check to see how your ankle was.”

“ That has got to be the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard,” Liz snapped.

“ It’s no excuse. Oh by the way, I’m staying for dinner.”

“ WHAT?”

Max grinned. Gotcha. “ Uh huh. You mom invited me about ten minutes ago.”

“ No.” Liz shook her head. “No. Are you doing this on purpose?” She demanded. “ I am officially uninviting you.”

“ Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. You can’t uninvite a person you didn’t invite in the first place. And as you so strongly said before, you didn’t invite me.”

Liz bit her lip, thinking hard.

God damn it.

Had she let him do this to her AGAIN?

This was the second time she’d allowed him to outmaneuver her!

This was unacceptable.

No, what was even more unacceptable was him staying for dinner. Lord only knew what kind of childhood stories her mom would cook up.

“ What would it take for you to just conveniently find something else to do in place of staying for dinner?” Liz asked.

“ I’m hurt, Liz. Do you think I-”

“ Shut up and answer the question.”

Max fought down a grin. “ There’s a pool party over at Brenda Hawthorne’s tonight. Wanna go?”

Liz scowled. “ No!”

Apparently, the threat of him staying for dinner with her mother wasn’t a big enough threat. He’d have to turn up the heat…

“ Okay.” He shrugged. Max turned to go back into the living room. “ Nancy?”

“ Yes, Max?”

“ You know those old photo albums you were telling me about?”

This time he really had a hard time trying to keep his laughter in check when he heard Liz let out a string of muttered curses.

“ May I have a look-”

Max never got to finish his sentence. Because right then, Liz interrupted him.

“ I’ll get my suit.”

YES! She was going to go out with him!!!! Way to go, Maxwell! A victory dance was in order. But right now,

“ Great. I’ll just go offer my apologies…”

TBC…

posted on 24-Dec-2001 1:45:09 PM
Chapter 11

Max pulled into a parking space and he gave Liz a sidelong glance. She had been quiet throughout the ride and he really hoped she hadn’t reverted into using the silent treatment again. The large house ahead of them was brightly lit and they could hear strains of music, talk and laughter accompanied by the splashing of water. By the absence of beer cans littering the well-kept lawns in front of the house and the fact that there were no broken windows or loud curses echoing through the night, Max knew it was one of the more ‘exclusive’ parties. One where only the crème de la crème, to quote Tess, were invited. In short, it meant two people that could give them a lot of trouble were in attendance or at least they would be.

Kyle and Tess and the rest of their cronies.

Add Liz in the mix and well…

This was definitely going to be an interesting night.

Liz shifted slightly in her seat bringing Max’s attention back to her. He was struggling right now. Really struggling. Because even though he always had a hard time keeping his eyes from wandering where they shouldn’t be wandering where Liz was concerned, tonight, the task was especially hard. No scratch that. It was murder.

She had only kept him waiting a few minutes while she changed into something a bit more suitable at the goading of her mother, who had seemed ecstatic at the prospect of her daughter heading out for a party. Max himself was dressed in simple surfing shorts and a wife beater with a polo shirt thrown over it and while Liz had argued, her mother had insisted that her long skirt and thick soled boots were a little over the top for a pool party. So grumbling all the way and shooting Max looks of death, she had marched up the stairs and come down about ten minutes later almost, no, correction, causing his heart to stop. She had dressed in impossibly short black cut off shorts and a black bikini top and was shrugging on a white sleeveless polo shirt over her spectacular figure. Beautiful. She was…beautiful. And the manner in which she moved, totally oblivious to her beauty made it increase a thousand, no ten thousand fold. His musings stopped and his heart only started pumping again when she had glared at him, effectively releasing him from the spell.

“ I’m ready. Let’s go.”

She was already halfway to the door when she stopped and backtracked to where her mother was standing. Offering a smile, she kissed her on the cheek.

“ Bye, mom.”

“ Have a good time dear.”

“ Thanks but I won’t.”

“ Have her home by one!”


“ Stop it.”

Hearing her voice jerked him back to the present and he realized he’d been staring for far too long. She was twisting her long hair into a messy upsweep and she inserted thick French pins in various places to hold up the chocolate colored mass.

He raised an eyebrow questioningly.

“ Stop what?”

Liz just stared back at him, eyes narrowed, wall firmly back in place and sending out vibes. No, really, he meant VIBES. The type that said, ‘ Do Not Mess With Me or I Will Hurt You…Very Badly.’ With a toss of her head, she dismissed his question and she began to rub her forehead tersely.

“ Alright. Listen up. There are going to be rules in this little…thing,”

Max couldn’t help but grin at the confused expression that had settled on her face as she searched for a suitable word. He wiped it off his face though when she started glaring at him again.

“ Lay them on me.” He invited with as much seriousness as he could muster.

She pursed her lips. “ One. This is not in any way nor will it ever be called anything like a…like a…d-d-da,”

“ Date?” He finished for her.

“ Yeah. Are you getting me, Evans? This,” she gestured in between them, “ Is not that.”

Grinning slightly, he decided to tease her. “ Not what?”

“ You know what I’m talking about.”

Max put on his patented ‘dumb jock’ look and she took in a deep breath as if trying to remain calm.

“ This is not a d-“ She paused to flick a strand of hair away from her face. “ This is not a…date.”

He smiled. “ There you go. That wasn’t so bad was it?” This earned him another glare and he cleared his throat. “ But I have a question. What is it then? Two friends coming to a party together?”

“ No. We are not friends.”

“ Then what are we?” Max asked curiously.

“ We’re…we’re just two people riding in the same car, going to the same place…” She trailed off, avoiding his probing look. “ Think of it as an transaction. A business deal. One night of torture that buys me back my sanity.”

“ Okay, I got it,” Max said, nodding his head. “ Rule one: This is not a DATE,” he put much emphasis on the last word.

She chose to ignore him.

“ Rule number two. I am well aware that the hormone levels of the male species in school are reaching dangerous heights everyday. So if any of your jock friends try anything,”

[]They better not, Max thought darkly.

“ I get to deal with them. You don’t interfere.”

“ I’m not sure I like this rule,” he began. “ What if-”

“ I don’t play the damsel in distress part very well, Evans. In fact, I don’t play it at all. I can take care of myself.”

Max clenched his jaw. “ I’m sure but-”

“Next rule,” she began loudly, drowning out his voice. This time Max shot an irritated look at her while she stared out the windshield indifferently. “ I do not do any type of public frolicking and this includes dancing. I never have and I probably never will. So-”

“ I could teach you.”

She blinked and then looked him in the eye. “ You want to teach me how to dance?” Her tone was heavy with disbelief.

Max shrugged. “ Yeah. It could be fun.”

“ I think I’m perfectly happy with having two left feet, thanks.”

“ You ‘think’ you are?” He reached behind him and grabbed his towel. “ Having one right foot and one left isn’t all that bad you know.”

“ And you would know this how?”

He grinned. For the first time this evening she had lost her standoffish attitude or at least it had reduced a bit. Liz actually looked interested.

“ You’re looking at West Roswell High’s very own mean, lean dancing machine,”

Her eyebrows practically disappeared into her hairline and Max delivered his kicker.

“ Or have you forgotten the hallway thing already?”

Her eyes squeezed shut immediately and she shuddered slightly as if reliving the whole thing. That faint rose color was stealing over her cheeks again and when she opened her eyes, it was a smirking Max Evans that appeared. Her hackles rose up.

“ Unfortunately, no,” She answered. “ I may have nightmares for the rest of my life, thanks to you. Companions for my daymares. What fun,”

Ouch. Acid tongue was back.

A quick glance at her watch and another apprehensive one at the house in front of them were executed before Liz finally looked at him again.

“ So what are we waiting for? Let’s get this show on the road.”

She grabbed her towel from the backseat and stepped out of the car, slamming the door shut behind her. Max did the same and he hurried to Liz’s side where she stood staring at the house.

She stared.

And stared.

And stared.

Max thought the house would collapse.

“ Um, so. Shall we go in?”

She seemed to shake herself out of her trance.

“ Yea.”

They began to walk up the pathway leading to the house.

“ You know, you never did finish laying down the rules.” He glanced at her quizzically. “ Were those all?”

Silence. And then,

“ I’ll let you know.”

“ Oh. Okay.”

More silence. And then,

“ Evans?”

“ Yeah?”

“ Are we gate crashing?”

Max smiled wryly. Isabel knew he was bringing Liz. Michael knew he was bringing Liz. Michael would obviously tell Maria. Maria would obviously freak. Everyone in the party would obviously know. Hell, the whole world would probably know about it tomorrow.

Or at least they would once they saw them.

“ No,” He answered simply.

Liz smirked as they reached the front step.

“ Pity.”

Max smiled.

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

Max was raising his hand.

He was now about to press the doorbell.

He has now pressed the doorbell.

And…

A long rendition of classical music followed this, the score ending with an even longer chime of bells leaving Liz frowning into space.

What the hell was that???

It sounded like a friggn’ orchestra had taken up residence in the house and had been programmed to play every time someone pushed the button. It took a minute precisely for the damn thing to shut up. She looked up at Max and he looked down at her.

“ Who’s house is this again?” Liz asked.

“ Brenda Hawthorne’s,”

There was a smile playing around his lips, like he was sure whatever she was going to next would amuse him greatly. Another piece of the sarcastic humor he found so much pleasure in. Liz shook her head, staring at the doorbell.

Sorry to disappoint, Mr. Evans.

“ That is just so, so…” She was really pleased with her tone. It was light and bubbly and so…not her. Max looked surprised. Let’s thrown in the punch line, shall we?

She meant to say something normal for once. Something that someone who appreciated classical music would say. Like, ‘Oh how charming!’ or ‘What a wonderful piece!’. Even a ‘That was great’ would do. But her mouth clearly had a mind of it’s own. She swore, sometimes, she thought her tongue was possessed.

“ Incredibly bad.”

Oops.

“ I think I am now hearing impaired.”

I think that light, bubbly tone thing just vanished.

Yep, it had. And the edgy, derisive quality of her normal voice cut through like a chain saw through a strip of cloth.

Oh well.

So much for normal.


Liz avoided looking at Max because she knew he would be grinning. And she did not need to see him grinning. Especially not at her. So she stared at the door, waiting for it to open, waiting for whoever it was to fawn and drool and bow at Max’s feet and look at her like she had multiple heads and recoil from the sight.

That she could handle.

That she could deal with.

But grinning? Actual genuine grinning like they were best friends?

I’ll take a rain check on that.

Max let out a sigh next to her and pressed the doorbell again. Liz cringed as the amazingly long and horrible thing started up again. She shook her head as the bells began their turn and when it finished, Max was laughing.

“ You’re right. That is incredibly bad.”

Liz cracked a smile but glanced away. The music was probably too loud for them to hear even this doorbell. She wondered what they would do to make it up to their king when they found out that they had kept him waiting. Probably offer themselves up for execution. Beheading. Drowning.

What was that word Evans had used again?

Morbid.

Yeah, that’s what he would say.

‘That’s really morbid, Liz.’

Yeah, well, morbidity is a way of life with me, Mr. Evans.

Another impatient sigh. He raised his hand to press the button again but Liz didn’t think she could take another round. She reached out and stopped his hand.

“ Don’t.”

Liz stiffened.

Warm.

Smooth.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, these are qualities of Max Evans skin. Oh, and did I mentioned that electricity starts running up and down your arm when you touch him?

It does.

SHIT.

He stiffened too and Liz immediately pulled away. Crap, crap, crap and double crap. She glanced up at him to find him staring at her like…like…

Okay, let’s not go there.

You’re supposed to hate him, remember?

Raising an eyebrow at him, she shot him a cocky grin.

“ Oh I’m sorry. Did I taint the royal skin?”

He frowned and Liz immediately felt in control.

It’s good to be home.

She tilted her head to the side.

“ I don’t think I can suffer through another musical feast.”

He smirked. “ Then what are we supposed to do?”

“ How about this?” She balled her hand up into a fist and rapped loudly on the door. “ It’s this new phenomenal thing called ‘knocking’. You should try it sometime.”

There’s that grin again. What would it take to wipe that off permanently, she wondered idly.

“ Liz?”

“ Yea?” She answered distractedly.

“ Just… I don’t know. Try to have fun, okay? They’re honestly not as bad as you think.”

Liz brought her attention back to him and faced him directly, putting her arms over her chest. She regarded him steadily.

“ You sure about that?”

He swallowed convulsively a couple of times before meeting her gaze again.

“ Well,” Max began, an image of Tess and Kyle and even himself as he made the bet popping up. “ Most of them aren’t. So what do you say? You gonna try it?”

Dark chocolate eyes clashed endlessly with warm amber ones. Neither of them noticed that the door had opened and Brenda stood in it, dressed in her swimsuit with a sarong and frozen in shock staring at Max who was staring at some girl. She actually had to fight the urge to fan herself. When did it get so hot?

“ I’ll think about it,” Liz finally replied.

Minutes passed.

The two were still staring at each other.

Brenda cleared her throat, gaining the attention of both Max and Liz.

“ Max!” She squealed excitedly. “ You came! And you brought-” Her eyes widened when she realized who exactly MAX EVANS had been having a staring match with: LIZ PARKER.

Liz smirked. Oh yeah. This she could handle.

“ Liz!” Another high pitched squeal and Liz debated on whether she should just invest in earmuffs while she was in the house. “Girlfriend!”

Oh no.

This was the girl from the hallway.

The one who had asked for details of her supposed ‘date’ with Max.

The night was going to be torture.

“ Do you two know each other?” Max asked, a puzzled look on his face.

Liz shot him a suffering look of ‘Don’t ask’ which he read quite accurately. He tried to smother his smile.

“ No,” Liz answered, the same time Brenda exclaimed,

“ Yes! We take History together.”

“ We do?” Liz asked, giving her a blank stare.

“ Definitely. You sit way at the back and I sit at the second desk, third row.”

Liz rubbed her forehead. This was the second time someone had said something like that to her. Did people memorize the places where she sat in her classes? She was beginning to think so. She glanced at Brenda only to finding her looking at Max like he was her next meal.

Please let this night end.

Max cleared his throat. “ Um so. Can we come in?”

“ What? Oh!” Brenda actually began blushing and she practically leapt to one side to make room for them to pass.”I’m sorry! Come on in!” Liz half expected her to bow to Max as they passed. And she did. Well almost.

In her haste to follow Max around, she tripped on the edge of her sarong and went flying. I mean, what else could you expect? The girl was wearing three-inch high stiletto heels. In a swimsuit. With a sarong. She lurched forward with a yell heading straight for where Max and Liz were standing.

“ Watch out!” Someone yelled.

Now Liz was not the type of person who took pleasure in watching someone splat all over the floor on their face, it didn’t matter how shitty her life was or how screwed up she was.

Watching someone totally ram their face into a floor was not high on her things-to-see-before-I-die list.

So she reacted.

Just like Max did.

They reached out at the speed of light and managed to grab an arm each. They managed to stop Brenda’s face from connecting to the floor and she just hung there between them, breathing fast, like a rag doll. An astonished silence prevailed and Liz blew a strand of hair out of her face, still holding on to Brenda.

I think the party just stopped.

She looked up and saw all these stunned faces staring at her, obviously trying to decide what they should be more shocked about. The fact that their oh so gracious hostess had taken a spill and almost smashed her face in on the shiny wood floors or that Liz Parker was here.

First one?

Second one?

Maybe both?

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Max watching her with a grin before he turned to the crowd and raised his eyebrow at them all, still grinning.

“ Hey guys.”

Guess what?

They start clapping and cheering.

You’re kidding me.

“ Way to go guys!”

You’ve got to be kidding me.

“ Yeah! Nice save.”

Is this real?

They helped Brenda into a standing position and she beamed at Liz, HUGGED her before attaching herself to Max and planting a big wet one on his cheek.

Feeling special, Maxie Boy?

Brenda then joined the rest of crowd applauding them, and Liz blinked rapidly, trying to cope.

Oh yeah.

We are just so damn heroic.


Max was still smiling at her, totally oblivious that everyone saw that he was doing this, further reinforcing the fact that Liz wanted to wipe that smile off his face.

Jesus. Several thoughts ran through her mind, all of them making sense and then NOT making sense.

I have now entered a parallel universe.

I have now become the center of attention.

I am now a member of Max Evans court.

I am now being grinned at.

I am now going insane.


Well, except the last one.

They faced the crowd, side by side and Liz couldn’t believe that she was still standing there. By his side.

Is this how a King and Queen were applauded?

Oh God. Had she actually thought about playing Queen to Max as he played King?

Shit.

She was so screwed up.

Please let this night end.

No, really, PLEASE.

The small crowd of about ten people had begun to disperse, gone back to talking with their other friends and heading out to the pool. The music turned up again. Liz noticed she was the only girl not wearing a sarong. Did parties like this have dress codes or something? Maybe if she was lucky, this one would and they would throw her out.

An image of her bound in chains in front of a judge with a white wig and who looked remarkably like Tess popped into her mind. Max, that Maria girl, Isabel, Brenda, even the guy with the hair that was always with the Maria girl were the jurors. Her mother was in a seat behind her, sobbing her eyes out. Guess what? The Tess judge was wearing a sarong. They all were. Even the jurors.

‘We hereby decree that you, Elizabeth Parker are to be banned from ALL parties until the end of time.’

‘ I told you to wear one!’ Her mother was wailing. ‘ But you didn’t listen!’ Her cell phone rang. ‘ Yes? No! Damn it, Kelly I told you I’ll get to it in the morning! My little girl has just been banned from all parties till the end of time! Yes, I know, it’s tragic…’

The scene faded and left a cynical smile on Liz’s lips.

Had she mentioned that she was screwed up?

But on the other hand, she had just saved the owner of the house from wiping out AND she had just come in with Max Evans. Those two things were probably enough to guarantee that she would be the ‘it’ person of the party. Hell. Even if she had come alone she would have been the ‘it’ person of the party. The ‘it’ person who got blown off at that door. Which was why she never would have bothered thinking about coming to a party like this. Which was why she never even bothered to attempt to find out about parties like these. Because Liz Parker at a ‘part-tay’ was the ultimate unbelievable, hell freezing over, pigs flying kind of thing.

She glanced at the window and cracked another smile.

Well what dya know?

I think I just saw one.

“ Max, Liz!” It was the Maria girl. Liz immediately felt a little more at ease. She could deal with this. Maria was half decent and she was smiling genuinely, not one of those fake I-don’t-really-want-to-smile-at-you-but-I-will smiles. And oh, she wasn’t wearing a sarong. Wow. This is impressive. Instead, Maria looked even more out of place then she did. She was wearing a shirt that looked to be about two sizes too large for her that reached mid thigh. It had ‘METALLICA’ splashed out all over the front. She’s barefoot and her hair was falling over her shoulders in these amazingly bouncy looking curls. “ You’re here!” She exclaims. “Michael is so going to pay for not telling me this.”

Max looks puzzled. “ Michael didn’t tell you?”

“ No, he didn’t. Can you believe that? I’m going to go find him.” She reached up and gave Max a squeeze on his arm. “ Better make sure you reserve a front row seat when I find him. Cause it’s gonna be explosive.”

Max laughed.

Liz couldn’t help but be amused as well. She had a feeling that ‘Michael’ and Maria were explosive together whether she was telling him off or not. She was still thinking this when Maria came to stand in front of her, still smiling that rare, genuine smile.

“ I’m really glad you decided to come Liz. This is going to be a blast, trust me. Have fun, ‘kay?”

Liz blinked. This girl was so implausibly earnest. Something about her made Liz not want to be so snippy. At least not to her. So she smiled. Not one of those cynical smiles. Those she reserved for Max. Not one of those fake smiles she had in abundance. Those she reserved for Ms. Topolsky and her teachers. Not even one of her strained, forced ones. The ones that usually came out when she was with her mom. No, this smile was just that. A smile. One as genuine as Maria’s. One that usually only Alex or Eddie could bring.

“ Um…yeah. Thanks.”

Maria smiled again and squeezed her arm too. And then she went away yelling,

“ Space boy!!! Has anyone seen my Space boy?”

Liz grinned at her retreating back and glanced to the side only to find Max with his eyes fixed on her, grinning.

“ I think I witnessed a historical event.”

“ What event?”

“ You smiled.”

“ That was historical?”

Max nodded sagely, smiling at her in that way of his.

“ Definitely.”

He was grinning at her again.

“ Next rule.” Liz said.

Max looked at Liz in uneasiness, the smile disappearing. “ Yeah?” he asked warily.

“ No grinning.”

He visibly relaxed and laughed. It made his eyes dance. The hair on his forehead bounced around and down into his eyes and Liz was suddenly compelled to reach up and brush it out of his eyes. Max did this thing where he tossed his head to the side and the hair followed suite, going sideways. It reminded her of the time they dared each other to scale a cliff in the desert when they were about nine. Yes, nine. The desert had been their playground, their sanctuary and their parents, nannies, babysitters, none of them had ever been able to stop them from going there.

Yeah, we were badass.

Anyway, the scene that came to mind particularly was the part when they had reached about halfway. Max was slightly ahead of her, testing the ability of the rock jutting out above him to hold his weight. It passed the test.

And then it failed.

With a yell that had scared her half out of her mind, he had managed to dislodge the rock and fall past her, scraping his elbow and knee on the cliff surface. She had reached out and grabbed his hand at the same time he had reached for hers. And he hung there, looking up at her. The wind had blown his hair into his eyes and he had done that little tossing thing.

‘ Lizzie? Are you gonna let me fall?’

Trust. So much trust in his eyes. Trust that she wouldn’t allow it. He hadn’t even needed to ask. She wouldn’t have let him fall. But he had let her fall when she had needed him to hold her fast…

Liz hung her head for a moment before her eyes glazed over.

“ Liz?” It was Max. He looked concerned. “ Are you alright?”

Feeling that her perspective was firmly back in place, she held her head briskly.

“ Yep. I’m just dandy. So how long do we have to stay here?”

“ Till it’s over,” Max ventured slowly, seeing that defiant look back in her eyes. She nodded.

“ And then you never ask to see the albums again?”

“ Well-” Max was going to stall, going to try to lure her back into a conversation where she showed her dislike of him less blatantly. Where her eyes actually told him she was amused for a split second. Moments when she didn’t think he was that bad.

“ I’m not joking Evans. Never. Swear it.”

Obviously he’d failed.

“ I swear it.” He said seriously.

“ Good.” She shifted from one side to another. “ How long till it’s over?”

Max shrugged, pinching the bridge of his nose. He began to move towards the refreshment table and was relieved when she followed.

“ I’m honestly not sure. Probably till late.”

He watched as she bit her lip to contemplate this.

“ Then I’ll definitely need a drink.”

"The non alcoholic type, right?" Max said in mock seriousness, attempting a joke.

She didn't laugh. She didn't answer. She merely glared and trudged away.

Max drew in a deep breath. If she was going to be like this for the rest of their time here, then he would need one too.

TBC…


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 24-Dec-2001 1:57:26 PM ]
posted on 24-Dec-2001 1:52:00 PM
Okay!

I've finally finished! YAY!

I'm REALLY sorry I took so long and consider this a gift. It's unlikely to ever happen again cause I am really disorganzed!*big*

A question. Do you guys want me to repost 12-15 too? Let me know. I still should be on for about ten or so minutes and I'll check back here.

Merry Christmas!
posted on 4-Aug-2002 1:21:22 PM
Hey guys. Thanks for th FB! Did I not post chapt. 7? I'm pretty sure I did. I'll have to go check. And yeah, I did just write it going from the party to where they wake up in Liz's room. And thanks for the correction, about the Raven, I'll have to go back and change that too. Here's part 12B.

Chapter 12 B

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

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

Groaning, Max emerged from under his blankets.

“ What? What IS it?”

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

“ Jesus Christ!”

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

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

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

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

“ God, Isabel, what is it?”

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

Max grumbled and sat up on the floor.

“ Will this do?”

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

“ Speaking of which, where did you go? ”

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

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

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

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

Pursing her lips, Isabel punched him on the arm.

“ Not funny.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ What do you WANT?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ The party?”

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

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

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

Max’s frown deepened.

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

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

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

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

Max groaned and covered his face with his hands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ Uh huh.”

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

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

Max laughed. “ Now I remember that,”

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

Yes, that’s right.

Max Evans was falling.

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

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

He was falling.

Now just how hard and fast remains to be seen.

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

“ Max?”

“ Hmm?”

“ What does it feel like?”

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

“ What does what feel like?” He asked.

“ Falling for someone.”

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

“ What?”

Isabel raised an eyebrow.

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

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

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

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

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

“ Max,” She began.

“ I’m not,”

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

“ Oh. My. God.”

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

“ What?”

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

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

“ What are you talking about?” He ran a slightly shaking hand through his hair. “ I am not falling for anyone. I have never fallen for anyone and I’m not about to start now. And…and falling in love is the last thing I want to do. It’s the LAST thing I’m gonna do!” He paced up and down and then stopped in front of Isabel.

“ Come on, Isabel, do you actually think I’d fall for Liz? Liz is so…she’s too…I can’t…I mean, she’s…Liz, for crying out loud. And she…she hates me…and I don’t care that she hates me…okay, I do but she’d never…she’s too…She’s…” He continued to sputter and finally lapsed into silence. After several minutes, he made eye contact with his sister to see her wearing the same stunned expression. He groaned and flopped backwards onto his bed yet again, covering his face his pillow.

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

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

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

Silence.

“ You did,” Max said.

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

“ I didn’t,”

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

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

Another groan.

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

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

“ You’re in love,”

Max glared at her.

“ I am not.”

Isabel snorted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ Max, chill. You’re over reacting!”

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

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

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

“ Honestly, I-”

“ Swear.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ You think so?”

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

Max’s eyes widened.

“ She could?”

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

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

“ When you say sick, you mean-”

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

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

“ Um, Max, what are you doing?”

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

“ Why?”

“ I’m going out.”

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

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

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

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

“ I’m-I’m not…” He began weakly.

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

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

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

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

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

Isabel groaned. “ You’re hopeless.”

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

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

“ I think I do.”

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

“ YES! I have it!”

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

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

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

Isabel gaped at him.

“ What’s wrong?”

“ I can’t.”

“ Why not?”

“ What am I going to say?”

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

“ Max Evans not knowing what to say to a girl. I wouldn’t have believed it possible.” She fixed him a challenging stare. “ You’re in love. I rest my case.”

Max shot her a pointed look and opened his mouth to protest but then closed his mouth and ran a hand through his sleep-tousled hair.

Isabel shot him a superior smile when he didn’t deny it.

“ Let me give you a few pointers Max, cause this situation really is sad. Step one: When she picks up the phone, you say hello,”

“ Isabel,” Max began wearily.

“ Step two: Assuming she doesn’t hang up when she knows it’s you, asks her how she is. Be nice. Be polite,”

“ Isabel-” He tried again.

“ Step three: Tell her that you are totally, insanely, madly in love with her, that you can’t live without her, that you can’t even TALK without stammering because of her…”

At this point, Isabel burst out laughing, achieving her goal of reducing Max to a staring, red faced statue. Ah, yes, it was so good to have a brother to torture again.

Max knew he was beet red in the face and was wondering why exactly he even missed his twin when she was away because really, at that particular moment, he didn’t think he’d mind at all if she would go back to her old school. And now she was laughing. He shook his head, and pointed a finger at the door.

“ Out.”

“ Max,” Isabel whined. “ I’m sorry, I’ll be serious, promise!”

“ Out.”

“ I was joking! Really, I don’t even know why it should bother you…unless it’s true,”

“ OUT!” He commanded.

Huffing indignantly, Isabel jumped to her feet and began to walk to the door, stopping briefly in front of Max. She jabbed her finger into his chest.

“ Call her, Max,”

She walked out of the room and shut the door behind her.

Finally alone, Max sighed and stared at the phone. Aw, what the hell. He picked up the cordless once again. He punched in the number, waited for it to ring. It picked up.

“ Yes.”

Max winced. It was her. And she did not sound happy. In fact, she sounded the exact opposite of happy. Frankly, he was surprised the phone hadn’t frozen over due to the ice in her voice. And he had a feeling it would only get worse once she knew who it was. Common sense told him it would be better to hang up and call back when her mood was a little less…charming… but then again, he really had never been much of a sensible guy. So hoping she wouldn’t hang up on him, because he honestly didn’t know what he’d do then, he spoke.

“ Hey.”

There was silence on the other end. And then,

“ Evans?”

“ Uh yeah.”

“ What do you want?”

Whoa. And he’d thought her greeting was cold. It was then he knew that he should’ve listened to his sensible side. Cause Liz did not just sound pissed, she sounded ready to kill.

Oh boy.

What had he gotten himself into now?

TBC…

posted on 4-Aug-2002 1:22:57 PM
Does anyone know why the page is so.....wide?

Chapter Thirteen


Liz was never going to anything that even remotely resembled a party again.

Ever.

After forcing herself to get up from bed, lest her mother came up again, she had taken a long shower, alternating between blasts of extremely cold and extremely hot water. The result was that she emerged from the bathroom, shivering with the majority of her skin an angry red color where the blast of hot water had hit. The effect was…strange… but at least it distracted her from the fact that she still felt like throwing up and wanted to curl up and go to sleep. Practically dragging herself through the motions, she hurriedly threw on a mid-riff baring black tank top and khaki cargo pants. She didn’t even notice that they were a pair she detested, particularly because of the color and at that point, she really didn’t care. All she wanted to do was get a drink of water and some medicine for her head. When she finally got to the kitchen, her mother was already gone. She had left a note on the fridge, saying she would be back with Alex in the evening and signed it with a ‘love, mom’. Liz smiled faintly at the thought of Alex’s arrival before she opened the fridge and grabbed a pitcher. After she guzzled down a tall glass of water and a double dosage of aspirin, she set about making her coffee, which she hoped would revive her.

Yawning widely, she took the steaming mug into the living room where she plopped down on the couch, flipped on the TV and allowed a blank buzzing to take over her mind. This buzzing was her friend. She welcomed it. It chased away the vague images and recollections she had from the night before and she more than appreciated this. As disconcerting as it was to have a night of your life missing, the snatches she had managed to remember were more alarming. For example, she thought she remembered DANCING in front of a crowd of people with two other girls and pushing someone into a pool. And as if these weren’t bad enough, she seemed to recall sensations of being wrapped up in a pair of warm, strong and surprisingly gentle arms as she whirled lightly over a stone flagged floor. Warm amber eyes lit up in awe and some emotion she couldn’t (actually it was WOULDN’T) name as a smile that could rival the sun broke out over a perfectly chiseled face. A face that could only belong to one person…

She shut her eyes and pulled a cushion over her face. Liz didn’t even want to think about the possibility that these scenes really had happened. She did not need to spend hours wondering why on earth Max Evans had been staring and smiling at her like that or if those had been HIS arms holding her. And she certainly wasn’t even going to let her mind wander into the forbidden territory of what had happened in the morning. No. She refused to do it. So she was just going to sit here, drink her coffee and watch TV. That sounded like a perfectly harmless way to spend a morning. So that’s what she would do. Or maybe she could just sleep. The latter idea sounded more appealing than the first and so, knowing she’d never be able to sleep if she continued drinking coffee, she set it down on the center table and lay down. Rather unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. The amount of caffeine she’d just ingested made it almost impossible to relax. Her hands kept trembling, as they usually did when she was on sugar high and she just couldn’t stay put. After a while, she sank into a limbo, an in-between place where her desire to sleep waged war with the caffeine in her system. How long she lay there was a mystery but just as her body was winning the battle, just as her eyelids began to droop, just as the image of Max’s face flared up beneath her eyelids and disappeared like a dream…the shrill ringing of the phone jerked her back to consciousness.

Eyes snapping open, Liz swore and struggled to sit up. She glanced at the wall clock. Eleven o clock. Her previously steaming coffee was now stone cold. A quick brush of her fingertips against the mug was enough to confirm this. Another piercing ring shattered her peace and Liz cringed as the sound reverberated through her skull, threatening to bring back her earlier headache. She supposed she could lie with a cushion over her head and let the machine get it, but as the phone trilled for the third time, she knew her head would never withstand the assault. Liz plucked the phone from it’s cradle and fairly growled into it, her annoyance at the disturbance and discomfort due to what very may well be the start of a migraine coming through loud and clear.

“ Hello.”

“ Liz? Is that you?”

Liz’s eyes widened at the sound of the voice. Her breath stalled in her chest.

No way.

It can’t be…

Please don’t let it be,
she silently begged.

Summoning her courage, she opened her mouth to speak. There was, after all, only one way to find out.

“ Who is this?”

The question was asked bluntly, without an ounce of politeness in it. She couldn’t spare any.

“ Lizzie! It is you!” Came the booming reply. “ It’s your old dad honey!”

It was.

“ Princess? Are you there?”

Was lady luck, or the fates or whoever it was that was watching over her ever going to have mercy?

She knew the answer to that.

Not a snowball’s chance in hell.

“ Um, yeah, yes, I’m right here…dad,” she began hastily, hoping that the snappish quality of her voice had ebbed away. Why, she couldn’t fathom. Perhaps it had something to do with the manners that had been drilled into her by her grandmother during her brief layovers in Roswell. “ I’m sorry about…uh…I didn’t recognize you… I’m just…so what’s up?”

Dork.

Shock was setting in. To counteract THAT, she began running through her very short list of manners.

Always keep a civil tongue in your head while talking to people, especially your elders.

Check.

Keep your tone of voice as polite as possible even when all you want to do is blast them to kingdom come.

Check.

Thank you, Grandma Claudia.

And Liz Parker followed those rules. True, she might bend them once in a while but she followed them. Except in the case of a certain person but this wasn’t the time to go into that.

“ It’s so good to hear your voice, finally, Lizzie.” Jeff Parker said jovially, a warm paternal air wrapped around his every word. “Are you alright, honey? You sound a bit odd.”

Odd?

No shit. Concern oozed to her over the phone line and Liz blinked at the unfamiliarity of talking to her father over the phone. The tension and awkwardness was almost palpable. At least on her side it was. How long had it been since she had last talked to him like this? A year? Maybe two? Shaking herself slightly, she cleared her throat.

“ I’m…I’m fine…dad,”

The voice was most unlike her own. For one thing, it was nervous, and shaky, all traces of the cool, even, timbre that was her trademark had disappeared. And why had it been so damn hard to say that last word? She had had a wonderful father for most of her life. It shouldn’t BE hard to say the word. A traitorous little voice piped up in her head, whispering lightly, ah, but did you, really? Are you sure that what you had wasn’t just an…illusion? Liz shut the voice up roughly, concentrating instead on what her father was saying. She managed to catch the tail end of his sentence.

“ …you’re alright?”

“ Um, yeah, d-dad, I’m alright. Really.”

Liz wasn’t exactly sure but she had the sneaking suspicion that her short responses and long pauses were causing him to feel slightly awkward too.

Good!

Right? A strained silence developed over the line and Liz coughed, just to relieve the pressure.

“ Um, so, are you and, um, Mary-Anne in Carlsbad already?” she asked, trying to sound interested wincing at how unlike herself she sounded.

Jesus, she was turning into a wuss right then and there.

“ Oh, yes, as a matter of fact we arrived late in the evening yesterday,”

“ That’s…that’s nice.” After this, Liz made no more effort to continue the stem of conversation. The silence stretched on.

Somewhere, a part of her mind was groping and calculating a way out of this, trying to find some control or at least bring her voice back to normal.

“ So-” Her father began just as Liz, who had decided that she couldn’t take it anymore, said,

“ Can-”

Another pause.

“ You go first,” Liz offered quickly.

“ No, it’s alright, Lizzie, go on.”

She swallowed. “ No, really, you go first, um, Dad.”

“ Okay. I just wanted to ask, princess, if you would maybe like for me and Mary-Anne to pick you up tomorrow.”

Liz furrowed her brow.

“ Pick me up? As in from here? From Roswell??”

“ Well, yes, unless you’ve moved to another town,”

Liz couldn’t bring herself to laugh at his attempt for humor. She was too busy trying to figure out if her parents’ plans had changed and what the hell she was going to do if they had.

“ Um, didn’t you tell mom that she could drop me at that place you two agreed on?” she ventured vaguely. Her lack of enthusiasm for her upcoming day with her father resulted in her knowing virtually nothing about the travel plans. “ Has something gone wrong?” She asked, choosing to ignore how pathetically relieved she sounded.

Control, she chanted to herself.

Got to keep control.

“ No, honey, no, not at all. I just thought it would give us more time to get to spend with each other. You know, me, Mary-Anne and you.”

Struggling not to break and blurt out that that was the last thing on earth she wanted to do, she managed to formulate a coherent response.

“ Oh. Actually, the thing is, Mom was planning on going to Carlsbad anyway.” This wasn’t exactly a lie. Her mother HAD been thinking about taking Alex down to Carlsbad to see the caverns and stuff. She just hadn’t set the date yet. “ To show Alex,” Sensing, rather than hearing her father’s bewilderment at who ‘Alex’ was, Liz added an explanation, “ My cousin, remember?”

“ The tall kid? With dark hair?”

“ Yeah, that’s Alex. He’s coming over to stay with us for a while, you know, from South America. He moves around a lot with Grandma and Aunt Grace and Uncle John and he really hasn’t had much of a chance to have a stable home life and all that. So he’s, uh, coming here to find that, what’s the word, stability, yeah.” Liz’s hand honed in on her forehead and began to rub tersely, infuriation beginning to bubble up within her.

She sounded like the village idiot, babbling on and on. Deep breath.

Control.

Got to FIND control.


“ Oh. That’s- that’s really nice honey,” He finally replied. “ So you’ll be riding down with your mother, then?”

“ Uh, yeah.” Expel breath slowly. “Yeah, I will.” She said firmly.

“ That’s fine, Lizzie. I just thought…”

Liz shifted uncomfortably. She knew what he had thought. He thought she was going to jump at the chance of spending more time with them. And maybe, once upon a time, she would’ve. But not now. Not at this moment. Not when bitterness and anger was threatening to overwhelm her. Not when she was absolutely torn between hanging up and yelling furiously. Again, silence prevailed.

And again, she buckled under the strain and spoke.

Wimp.

“ Um, yeah, so she’ll just drop me off at that…place that you agreed upon and you’ll meet me there.”

“ Absolutely.” He cleared his throat. “ I actually called for two reasons. I, I mean, WE just wanted to ask if there was any place in particular you’d like to see while you’re here, princess.”

Princess.

Had she mentioned how much she hated that nickname? Oh, sure she’d loved it when she was little but now, it just sounded so wrong. She was no princess, just like her parents weren’t a king and queen and just like there were no fairy tale princes out there who could show her otherwise. It just wasn’t possible. There were no such things as fairy tale endings or happily ever afters. This phone conversation alone was proof positive of that.

“ Lizzie?”

Yet another nickname she abhorred. The shock he’d received from her father’s call was wearing off and so was the blundering, babbling hysteria that had overcome her. It felt like she was getting her old self back. And all the ire, the residual feelings and questions her father had left her with came rushing back, reminding her that this man really didn’t deserve to know what was going in her life. The part of her brain that had managed to remain sensible was pulling back, examining the situation. Then it clicked. So simple the solution was. It was a wonder she hadn’t thought of it in the first place. Liz took a deep breath. She was going to make it through the rest of this conversation in the exact same manner she used to get through a day at school. By being, cool, icy emotionless Liz Parker…

With a bright, sunny, twist.

Stammering and stuttering was just not her style, anyway. And as for her wildly spiraling emotions, well, they were nothing a good screaming session wouldn’t cure.

“ I’m still here, dad.” Liz inhaled slowly. “ Actually,” she continued, pleased at how unruffled her voice had become, “ I’m not all that familiar with Carlsbad’s entertainment sector. What else is out there, other than the caverns?”

“ Well, Mary-Anne and I have drawn up an itinerary…”

“ An itinerary?” Biting back a sarcastic response, Liz forced herself to inject some pleasantness to her tone. “ That sounds so very…efficient. What’s on it?”

“ You’ll love it, honey. We were out the whole morning planning it.”

Liz bit her lip, not trusting herself to answer to the ‘you’ll love it’ statement. The barrier she had built around her emotions began to shake.

How did he know that? How could he know what she liked and didn’t like much less love? He didn’t even know her. Not anymore anyway. She had changed A LOT in four years, she was still changing in fact, and for him to make that statement was like he thought time had stood still and she was still the same, waiting for him to come back. Nothing could be farther from the truth. She had given up on that years ago…

Liz shook her head. There would be time to go into THAT later. She was barely hanging onto her newly found self, she was so NOT going to risk losing it now. Instead, she addressed the second, easier issue.

“ Were you? I hope you two had fun. What’s on the itinerary?”

That’s it, she coached herself. Smooth.

“ Hold on a minute,” There was some shuffling and a few muted voices on the other end. “ Here it is.” Jeff Parker sounded happier, much like had sounded at the beginning of the conversation, which meant her current persona was working out fine. “Okay, there’s a great mall here, honey, and Mary-Anne thought it might be a good idea if you girls went shopping together while I take care of some business. What do you think?”

She swallowed.

Shopping with Mary-Anne.

Alone.

Okay.

Fine.

She could do that.

Hopefully.

“ That sounds nice.” She tapped her fingers gently against her thigh, her mind already inventing ways to survive the hellish sounding day. “ What else?”

“ There’s a flea market here too. Lots of little knick-knacks and odds and ends. I remember how you loved collecting weird looking objects when you were little, Lizzie.”

Liz grimaced. Great. A stroll down memory lane. This kept getting better and better. He was chuckling now, obviously remembering another fond from her childhood. She forced herself to relax and listen to him going on.

“ There should be plenty of those in this flea market. We’ll have a blast hunting around for the strangest looking stuff. Hey, maybe we should even have some sort of game. Whoever finds the most bizarre object wins! How about it?” A pause. “Lizzie? Are you there?”

Too late she realized she’d been silent for far too long. Envisioning torture can do that to a person.

“ Kind of like a scavenger hunt, right?” She jumped back into the pause.

“ Yes, exactly.” Her father agreed eagerly.

“ I hate scavenger hunts.” She deadpanned. It was out before she could stop it.

Oops. Apparently, her persona could only cope with so much.

As silence dominated on the other end, Liz rolled her eyes at herself in annoyance.

Nice, Liz. Really pleasant, she chided herself. Deciding quickly that she should just gloss over that, she cleared her throat.

“ What’s after that?”

“ Right…let’s see…there are lots of nice restaurants and cafes here, not like the old CrashDown of course, but the Mexican food is great. You can choose where we go for lunch.”

“ I’d be honored.”

She wrinkled her nose.

‘Honored’?

And what was worse, the way she had said it…

Closing her eyes in defeat, she realized the obvious:

Sarcasm had come screaming through. This was a lost cause. She had no choice but to cut her losses and run for it. Liz bit her lip, trying to decide how she could do this. She could feel the tide of hysteria rising. She wasn’t going to last for much longer. She HAD to end this conversation, pronto.

Running a hand through her hair, she latched onto the easiest way out and talking fast.

“ Dad, you know what? That itinerary sounds wonderful. It sounds great. I really hate to cut out and run but I have a friend coming over so I’ll see you tomorrow okay? Gotta go.”

No one was more surprised than Liz herself that she managed to all that out in one breath.

“ Wait, honey!”

Deep breath.

You can do this.

“ Yeah dad?”

Monumental effort went into keeping the desperate impatience out of her voice.

“ I love you princess.”

Liz froze.

She opened her mouth to speak, the automatic response on the tip of her tongue but it wouldn’t come.

She would not let it come.

“ Yeah…thanks. See ya.” She replied flippantly.

And with that, Liz hung up, thoughts racing fast and furious through her head.

‘Thanks’. Out of all the things to say, she had to say ‘thanks’.

Shaking her head, Liz sat immobilized, staring into the distance. After a few minutes, she realized she was trembling. Feeling disgusted at herself for even acknowledging weakness, she swallowed hard, pushing her hair away from her face, folding her hands together neatly in her lap.

It was over.

She had lived.

And she was still in control.

Now if only she could figure out how she could prevent herself from cracking while she spent one whole day playing ‘Happy Family’. One little phone call had tested her to the limits of human endurance. One whole day would probably reduce her to a nut case. So Liz sat there, gazing blankly at something only she could see, mind awhirl as she struggled to find a strategy that would ensure her survival. That would guarantee her sanity went on for another day. She sat there for a half hour, racking her brains.

But not surprisingly, nothing came to her.

It wasn’t like she had expected anything less so she began planning out the next best thing. The complete and total removal of anything that remotely had to do with feeling. There was no other alternative. Anything less… and she would definitely break. And so, in another half hour, her goal had been achieved.

It was laughably easy to wall everything in and lock out just the barest traces of what made her human. People could disagree that this wasn’t nearly enough and often describe her as an ice witch but as it should be clear by now, Liz Parker didn’t really care about other people and what they said about her. It was easier. They didn’t bother her and certainly didn’t bother them. They didn’t know her. It was safer that way. And if certain people would leave her alone, her life would suck just a little bit less.

Exhale.

Wall in place.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I do believe Liz Parker is back in business.

A smug grin lifted the corners of her lips. NOW she was ready.

The phone rang just then, resulting in the grin falling from her lips faster than the blink of an eye. She eyed the phone apprehensively, wondering if it was Daddy dearest again, wondering why she should care if it was, wondering when she would pick up the damn phone. Tossing her head defiantly, she lifted the receiver to her ear, only to be met with a steady busy signal. She stared at it incredulously. Why was it that when she was finally prepared that she found out that there was nothing to prepare for? And when she didn’t prepare, there was nuclear fall out.

Take the whole deal with her father leaving.

She had been an adolescent by then for God’s sake. She had known her parents were having problems. She had heard them screaming at each other more often then they talked. She knew the number of divorces grew by leaps and bounds each year. But did she stop to think about it, to prepare herself for it?

Uh, that would be a no.

Then there was the whole thing with Evans.

Completely out of the left field. Never saw it coming. Never in a million years thought it could happen. These had been her recurring thoughts after that day. He had been her best friend since the age of six, when they had gotten into a fight over who got to use the swing in the school playground. During the tedious wait for their parents outside the Principal’s office they had bonded over a shared fascination of bugs, the debate of whether the moon was really made out of blue (her idea) or green (Max’s idea) cheese and the argument of whether aliens really existed. At nine, they had covered the areas of the desert from one point to the other. At the age of twelve, they had performed what HE said was the best bud ritual. Becoming kin. Sharing blood. When they had placed their palms against each other’s, when her blood had mixed with his, forever binding them together, Max Evans became a part of her. Then they hit junior high and within the space of a few months after her father had left, friends bound by blood had become as distant from each other as it was possible to go. The rest, as they say, is history.

And she would make damned sure it stayed that way.

She had failed to prepare herself then, even when her father’s abrupt departure made it clear that nothing lasted forever. She had been stupid enough to believe that he would stay, that he would stand by her.

We all know how that turned out.

Shaking her head at herself, Liz stood and began to go into the kitchen to make lunch when the phone rang again. Calmly, she turned and picked it up, pausing to get her breath before she spoke.

“ Yes.”

There was an uneasy silence on the other end before someone answered.

“ Hey.”

Her eyebrows were in danger of disappearing into her hairline. It couldn’t be. Please don’t… Frowning in irritation, Liz stopped her train of thought. She knew it was him. And begging for it to not be so didn’t help. Besides, she was above that. But even so, her reply came out as a question.

“ Evans?”

“ Uh yeah?”

She smiled faintly, somehow amused at how his voice had trembled. But then she remembered the silent vow she had made earlier and realized that she absolutely had no business being ‘amused’ at Max Evans. No matter how adorable he was.

Ugh.

There was that word again.

Rolling her eyes at herself in annoyance, she squared her shoulders confidently, fully aware that her wall was in place and that this was a perfect opportunity to test it.

“ What do you want?” She snapped icily.

All she heard for several minutes was quick, rapid swallowing which clued her in to the fact that he was in fact, more than a little intimidated by her.

Well, hello, something good finally happened today!

Liz Parker –1

Slimy, traitorous, ex-best friend- 0

“ I just…” He trailed off uncertainly. “ I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” The soft and gentle way he said this completely threw her for a loop. Made her feel guilty at the way she had snapped at him. And worst of all, made her walls quake. “ So… are you okay?”

Hmm…let’s update the scores, why don’t we?

Liz Parker – 1

Slimy, traitorous, SNEAKY, ex-best friend- 1

This definitely wasn’t going to be a piece of cake she had expected. But she wasn’t going to give up without a fight.

“ Other than the fact that I have generally had the worst morning of my life and that is no exaggeration,” She began, meaning her every word and keeping her voice light with just the barest trace of annoyance. “ I’m fine.” Liz frowned slightly. “ How did you get this number?”

“ Um… last night, when I brought you home, you kinda… walked into the side table where the phone was. So when I was fixing it up, I took the liberty of… securing your phone number.”

“ You took liberties. In MY house?”

“ Hey, give me a break here, okay? I was doing you a favour.”

Liz snorted in disdain. Glancing out of the window, she brought her gaze around the room, finally resting it on her mother’s collection of crystal glasses. That’s when she remembered. Max, smiling at her with that lopsided grin of his, holding out a glass to her, filled with punch. Anger exploded inside her, thankfully replacing the melting feeling she had been experiencing. “ Why you… You gave it to me!” She yelled. “ You call that doing me favour?”

“ W-what?” He said, startled by her scream. “ Oh the punch. I can explain-”

“ God, Evans, just when I thought you could sink NO lower! I ought to-”

“ Liz! Calm down, please!” Max sounded genuinely worried about his opinion of him and her resolve to not let him get to her was broken.

But the only thing she intended on letting show was her anger so it wasn’t all lost. So that thought firmly in mind, she proceeded to let loose.

“ I will not calm down, who do you think you are? You-”

“ I didn’t know it was spiked!”

“ Oh right, like I’d really fall for that one.”

“ Liz-”

“ How stupid do you think I am?”

“ That depends.” Max bit back and Liz blinked at how suddenly he seemed to have gotten his backbone back. “ How stupid do you think I am? Cause if you think I purposely got you drunk for the goal of you prancing around in a swimming costume for every GUY to see, you’ve got another thing coming!”

And Liz was silenced.

Liz Parker – 1

Slimy, traitorous, sneaky AND ruthless, ex-best friend- 2

Let’s review. On one hand Max sounded extremely pissed off that (and she really didn’t want to think of this) other people, GUYS, specifically had seen her in that teeny tiny thing that was her bathing suit. On the other, it was HIS fault…

“ Like I had any control over myself,” She retorted hotly. “ If you hadn’t given me that punch-”

“ I DIDN’T KNOW!”

“ Even then,” Liz continued breezily, satisfied by his loud yell that she was indeed getting to him, “ You were responsible for me being there, blackmailing me and all. Or have you forgotten that too?” She asked pointedly.

He groaned.

Hah!

Liz Parker –2

Slimy, traitorous, sneaky, ruthless and sunk ex best friend- 2

“ Alright! Alright! Fine. It’s my fault. Everything is my fault! Just…please, tell me how I can make it up to you.”

For a moment, she softened but everything she had gone through earlier came screaming back and she allowed an evil grin to claim her lips.

“ You really mean it?”

“ I really mean it.”

“ Fine. Say a word for me.”

“ A word?”

“ Yes. It goes like this: goodbye.”

“ Goodbye?” He repeated, sounding puzzled.

And he asks how stupid he is, Liz thought rolling her eyes.

“ That’s great. Goodbye!”

She set the receiver down with a bang.

Now, where had she been?

Ah yes.

Lunch.

And whistling softly, Liz vanished into the kitchen, chuckling to herself at the look that should be coloring Evans’s face right now. The one time she actually wanted to see his mug, she was on the other side of town.

Figures.

TBC…

posted on 4-Aug-2002 1:25:13 PM
Chapter Fourteen

Max stared at the phone incredulously, still not quite believing he’d fallen for so SIMPLE a trick or that she had hung up on him. At least no one had heard him, thank God, he thought, going red. Smothered giggles from somewhere in the house alerted him to the fact that perhaps his consoling thoughts had been too early thought and he moved silently from his room to find out. Going downstairs, he peeked cautiously around the doorway to the living room and caught sight of Isabel, still in her pajamas, rollers and that goblin mask of hers, collapsed on the couch, hand pressed firmly to her mouth. Beside her sat Maria. The blonde girl was red with fighting the urge to laugh. Max cleared his throat.

The two girls scrambled up and face him with matching innocent expressions, although Maria’s lips were twitching madly and Isabel couldn’t seem to speak without gasping for breath.

“ Max! Hi,” Maria greeted. “ How are you? Oh stupid question, you’re here, you’re standing and you look fine-” This was as far as she got before she burst into laughter, clutching her stomach. It was like a chain reaction. Isabel erupted into laughter too and they held onto each other for support. Max didn’t know what he should do first. It was obvious that they had heard his conversation with Liz and he was torn between annoyance and amusement.

“ Oh my god,” Isabel was gasping out in between fits of laughter. “ You should’ve heard yourself….”

And embarrassment. Did he mention that?

“ Like you were afraid she was going to kill you or something!” Maria informed him.

Max reddened for what was it, he thought resignedly. The third time now? Fourth?

He settled for glaring irritably at the pair of them, trying to look more angry than embarrassed they had heard his downfall at the hands of Liz.

“ Have you two ever heard of ‘privacy’ and ‘manners’? You should really make an effort to find out more about them. It’ll make life so much easier.”

They continued to laugh.

Max ran his hands through his hair.

“ Go right ahead. Kick a guy while he’s down why don’t you?”

That did it.

Chastised, they stopped laughing and instead came towards Max with sympathetic looks on their faces.

“ Aw, poor sweetie,” Maria cooed, patting his arm lightly. “ I’m sorry I was insensitive. Do you want to tell Auntie Maria all about it?” She fussed.

Max shrugged.

“ I don’t know…” He began hesitantly.

“ Nonsense!” Isabel protested briskly, grabbing his hand and sitting him on the couch. “ You’ll sit right there and listen to Auntie Maria. I’ll get you your cookies and milk. Or have you graduated to juice now? I forget.”

They burst into laughter again and Max groaned.

Where was Michael when he needed him?


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

It was nearly seven in the evening.

Where were they?

Impatiently bouncing around in her seat at the window settee, Liz peered around the curtain towards the drive way for the tenth time in as many minutes. Patience never had been her strong point anyway. So intent was she on scanning the street for signs of her mother’s Lexus that the unexpected knock on the door almost her sent toppling to the hardwood floor in shock. Frowning suspiciously, she stood and made her way towards the door, stopping only to pick up her walking cane/golf club as protection. Liz peered through the peephole and when she didn’t see anyone, she opened the door just the tiniest crack.

No one there.

Casting her gaze downwards, she saw a bouquet of roses.

White roses.

Her favorite.

A pleased but puzzled smile broke over her face and she opened the door wider, kneeling down to pick up the bouquet. Just when she was enjoying the fragrant smell that hung around the half open buds she heard footsteps approaching and a shoe appeared in her line of vision. Liz didn’t even stop to think. She simply dropped the bouquet, picked up her golf club and with a shriek that could wake the dead, brought it upon the head of her attacker. There was an answering yell and whoever it was quickly ducked to the side and the potted begonia that hung above her head received the full brunt of her golf swing. Gasping for breath, she raised the club for another attack when she heard the last possible voice she had ever expected to hear.

“ Jesus, Liz! Are you TRYING to kill me?”

Liz’s mouth dropped open. She mouthed soundlessly for a couple of seconds before shutting her mouth and shaking her head. Was anything ever going to go right? Cause having Max Evans standing on her porch at this untimely hour was as far away from right as you could go.

“ I could ask you the same thing.” She bit back, quickly gathering herself together.

The two of them stood facing each other unblinkingly, both breathing hard from their efforts. Muttering under her breath, Liz dropped the golf club and crossed her arms over her chest, eyebrow raised archly. She glared at him and then gave a small huff of disbelief, tossing her hair over her shoulder dismissively.

“ Well? Are you going to tell me what you’re doing here?”

Smooth. Steady. Cold as a knife’s edge. Max took a breath and tried to keep his wits about him for what promised to be something. He had spent the remainder of the day rethinking his strategy, his plan and the whole bet all together. Oh no, he wasn’t about to back out. No. Max Evans might be a LOT of things, but he was no quitter. Except for that one time…

Shaking away the unpleasant memories that reminded him how big a jerk he was, he slowly took a step back and leaned against the porch railing, gazing intently at the beauty in front of him, wondering how he could have ever left her in the first place, wondering how he could make it up to her and what exactly he had to do to get past that impenetrable wall that surrounded her. So he had thought about it. And decided that a different approach was in order. The charm and grins that caused all the other girls to swoon definitely did not work on her, simply because Liz Parker was not like all other girls. So it was time to change tack. But he wasn’t changing it so much that he wouldn’t try giving her something to show his sincerity. He was no fool. He knew it would take a hell of a lot more than what he intended to give her to make her more…agreeable towards him but all the same, he knew that it would affect her. It was something he treasured in secret even after all these years. A very special something at that.

“ I just came to-”

“ Apologize? Been there, done that. What’d you want?”

“ If you’d stop interrupting me for once, I’ll tell you.” Max replied almost irritably.

Liz frowned. Was that attitude she had heard? He certainly couldn’t be fool enough to try and pull that on her could he? Studying the defiant set of his jaw, she allowed a lazy grin to lift the corners of her lips upwards.

Of course he could.

They didn’t call them ‘fools’ for nothing after all.

“Far be it for me to take away someone’s right to speak. Go on right ahead.”

Max was more than a little surprised at her easygoing agreement and he immediately went on edge. Something wasn’t right. She was setting him up. Swiftly deciding he would be able to take whatever she had to throw at him, Max began.

“ You wanted to know what happened last night. I’m going to tell you.”

Liz waved a careless hand in the air, her expression bored.

“ This is about that? I’m not in the mood-”

“ Well, I suggest you get into it because you need to know.” He interrupted shortly, causing her to pin him with a withering stare. Inside, Max quaked, but outwardly, he remained calm and totally focused on his mission.

“ ‘Need’ to know? Really, Evans, are all these dramatics necessary?”

He smirked at her, refusing to be intimidated.

“ Dramatics? Call it what you want, Liz. But I’m actually doing you a favor.”

Her response to this was a quick roll of the eyes.

“ Ohhh. Another one of those huh? Y’know, if you don’t stop doing me all these favors, I may not survive till my next birthday.”

“ No, what you might not survive is school on Monday.” Max corrected. “ Look, I know how people in there operate okay? And-”

“ You forget, I know how they operate too.” Liz stared at him coolly. “With all the vindictiveness and spite that hell’s minions have to offer.”

Max closed his eyes, knowing she was referring to the event that had been the turning point in their friendship. The one where he had failed to stand by her. Guilt. Regret. Shame. All three thundered down on him together with an unbending resolve. He would do whatever it took to make things right between he and Liz. He opened his eyes. Met her merciless gaze head on.

“ Then shouldn’t you at least be prepared?”

Liz blinked. And Max knew he had scored. Anxious to follow up on this minor success, he pressed on.

“ It’d be better to make sure all your bases are covered before you face, uh, hell’s minions. It’ll be difficult enough to deal with what really happened without the added crap of the lies and rumors.”

She said nothing. She wasn’t even looking at him. Liz was staring up into the now star studded sky, eyes shrouded in darkness, depriving him of his one, tiny advantage over her. After a while of silent debate that Max feared was never going to end, she finally glanced at him.

“ Like I said, far be it for me to take away someone’s right to speak. So tell me, what do you think I need to know?”

Max carefully studied her from his position against the railing. She gave nothing away but merely stared back stonily, her features neutral and almost bordering on hostility but otherwise completely calm.

“ We’ve already covered the getting drunk part and-”

“ And concluded that is was your fault,” Liz interjected pointedly.

Max shot her an annoyed look, wondering if he should bring up their earlier phone conversation. Remembering the way she had so successfully shot him down, he decided against it. The sly smirk currently playing on her lips alerted him to the fact that she was remembering it too. Opting to cut his losses, he allowed the remark to slide.

“So it’d be better if we went straight to the dancing part.”

He felt a slight glimmer of satisfaction when that ice encrusted look on her face melted a little.

“ Dancing.” She repeated in a quiet voice.

“ Yeah. Dancing. You, my sister and Maria kinda…let your hair down.”

Silence.

“ What else did we, um, ‘let down’ exactly?”

“ A few articles of clothing. And the hopes of the dozens of guys that were there,” He replied wryly. Seeing the stricken look on her face that she was trying to mask, he guessed the source of her panic. “ It’s okay.” He muttered reassuringly. “ You were…decent.”

She blinked. “ Oh.” Relief spread rapidly over her features but then the uneasy look crept back over it as she formulated her next question. “ Did I… you and I… did we…we didn’t…did we?”

Max was tempted to smile but he didn’t think it wise. Liz might mistake his amusement for mockery and then he’d never get anywhere with her. So instead, he chose to ask gently, “ What?”

“ Did we do anything?” Liz finally managed, looking absolutely tortured to have to say the words.

“ We? As in you and me?”

“ That’s usually what ‘we’ means,” She mumbled, not looking at him. The sarcastic tone was so muted that Max didn’t even think it was there but he was still slightly confused.

“ Like what? Do you remember anything?”

Liz shrugged, the action causing her long hair to bounce lightly over her shoulders. He suddenly noticed that the moon had risen and was bathing her in it’s silvery light, making her seem unreal, like something out of a fairy tale. The soft light played off her skin and hair beautifully and it was only through tremendous will that he managed to get his eyes off her. She probably thought he was a maniac already but there was no sense in making her think he was an obsessed maniac.

“ I remember a dance.”

Max shifted his gaze from where it had been planted on the road to her and cleared his throat uncertainly, his mouth suddenly going dry.

“ A dance?”

Their dance if you wanted to be specific about it. The one that had literally blown his world apart.

She nodded shortly.

“ Yeah. But I can’t remember who I was dancing with.”

Something in her tone made him think she wasn’t being entirely truthful but he didn’t comment on it, asking a question instead, one he was sure would throw her off balance.

“ Was it a nice dance?”

His tone was all innocence but it was enough. She stared straight into his eyes and cocked an eyebrow skyward.

“ I can’t remember that either. Why don’t you tell me? That is what you’re here for, right?”

Letting loose a grin, he shrugged, refusing to acknowledge the disdain that had crept back into her voice.

“ I thought you weren’t in the mood.”

“ Yeah, well, I got into it.” She said sharply. “ So you gonna talk or what?”

“ What do you want to know?”

“ I want to know about the dance.”

It was out before she could think about it and Max saw this. Thinking fast, he decided to play a very dangerous game.

“Back to the dance huh? Whoever you were dancing with seems to have left quite an impression on you.” He said slowly, a knowing grin on his lips.

Liz’s eyes narrowed.

“ Oh please,” she scoffed. “ I only want to know because whoever it was did serious injury to my toes.”

Max raised his eyebrows at the smoothly delivered lie. He had most certainly NOT stepped on any toes last night, especially hers. Well, okay so maybe he had stepped on toes, Kyle and Tess’ respectively, but it wasn’t in the literal sense. And it wasn’t anything new.

“ Really.” He said in an unbelieving tone.

“ Yes, really,” She repeated, raising her chin in defiance.

“ I don’t think so. You really seemed to enjoy yourself.”

“ I don’t particularly care what you think, Evans,” Liz shot back, clearly beginning to get frustrated. “ Could you just tell me who it was?”

“ I will. Just… why? And please tell the truth this time.”

She blinked.

“ This time?” She repeated warily. “ What makes you think I wasn’t telling the truth the first time?”

“ Does it matter?” Max asked with a small smile. “ So how about it? Equal exchange of info and all that,”

Liz stared at him and didn’t say a word. Max let his gaze wander upwards to rest on a distant pinprick of light, a star that stood slightly apart from its fellows, almost half hidden by the moon. Apart from the fact that it looked almost solitary, it still shone brighter than the rest so much that in the midst of so much beauty, his attention was still completely captivated by that one, lone star. It looked like it was trying to hide behind the silvery moon and yet it couldn’t accomplish that feat because no matter how hard it tried, it’s inner light just wouldn’t stay hidden. It was meant to shower the world with it’s magnificent light. And to hide it away, to be one of the reasons something that beautiful was hidden away, was nothing short of a crime.

That star…it reminded him of Liz. And he was one of the reasons she had hidden her light away…

“ It was you, wasn’t it?”

Max’s heart leapt into his throat. Was she accusing him? And if she was… how could he respond? With a start, he realized she’d been talking about her earlier question, not the past. A past she clearly wanted to forget, along with everyone who was in it. Swallowing, Max forced himself back to the present. Liz had somehow managed to walk across the length of the porch and stop beside him without making a sound. She too was staring up at the sky, a shuttered look about her face. He opened his mouth to lie, to continue the game, but he just couldn’t do it.

“ Yeah.” He swallowed. “ Are you mad?”

“ Does it matter?” She asked lifelessly, mimicking his earlier question. She didn’t know what had possessed her to walk over to stand next to him. He had just seemed to be so infinitely enthralled by something in the sky that she couldn’t help herself. And when she saw what he had been looking at, she promptly fell under the starry night sky’s spell too. They certainly were worth looking at tonight. Or maybe it was because she remembered the way time had seemed to stand still while they swayed to the music. How, even in her intoxicated state, a feeling of being safe had wrapped around and had refused to be ignored. How the stars had seemed to come down from their places in the sky to dance around them, enveloping them in their dream like light. The dream was over now though. And the stars had gone back up to their tranquil existence in the heavens, leaving her in turmoil no matter how hard she tried to block it all out.

Liz sighed. “ It’d be so much easier if I lived up there.”

“ There?” He turned and stared upwards once more. “ I don’t know Liz. It certainly looks really peaceful and very beautiful but… I hear it’s pretty cold up there.”

“ It’s pretty cold down here too.” She murmured, seemingly unaware that she had spoken, her eyes trained studiously on the stars above.

Max saw the now familiar empty look in her eyes and frantically cast his mind about for something, anything to say.

“ That kinda depends on the places you go Liz. It’s not all good down here with the rest of us mortals, I’ll gladly admit that, but it’s not all bad either.” He snuck a sidelong look at her, not really expecting to see her paying attention and being surprised when he saw she was. “ Like last night. Now, you may not remember exact details or anything but I do. And even though I know you probably don’t trust me as far as you could throw me, believe me on this, okay? You had fun last night. And…it was a great dance.”

He stared down into her eyes and tried to read them but it was impossible. In the blink of an eye, one emotion would swiftly give way to the next and before he could make heads or tails out of them all, they were gone. Leaving nothing, not even the emptiness he had glimpsed, but a blank wall behind. Still, as she answered something flickered in her eyes.

“ It was okay.”

“ Just okay?” He asked mischievously.

Liz shot him a look that warned him not to push it and stepped away from him.

“ So was that it?” Liz asked briskly.

Seeing that the conversation was fast drawing to a close, Max threw caution to the wind and played his trump card.

“ Just one more thing. Expect to receive a dry cleaning bill in the mail soon.”

Confusion bloomed in the dark depths of her eyes.

“ What?”

“ The pool? Tess? Ring any bells?” When her only response was to wrinkle her nose adorably at the mention of Tess, Max laughed. “ Aw, come on, you have to remember this at least!” He cajoled, his eyes beginning to dance with amusement. “ It was, how did Izzy put it? Right. It was the ‘highlight of the evening’.”

“ What was the highlight of the evening?” She asked cautiously. When Max looked at her disbelievingly, she shrugged. “ What?”

“ You seriously don’t remember?”

“ I don’t. And for your information I generally try to forget anything that has to do with Tess Harding as quickly as possible so me not remembering isn’t hard. Now what did I supposedly do?”

Max grinned at her and to her horror, Liz actually felt the corners of her mouth beginning to tip upward as well. Squelching the desire with no mercy, she prompted him to answer with an impatient huff.

“ Well?”

“ There’s nothing supposed about it,” Max said, still grinning that same grin which made her want to join in. But her walls were strong. They held. “ You pushed Tess into the pool.”

Liz blanched.

“ I did WHAT?”

“ You pushed Tess into the pool,” Max began to chuckle. “ And then when she finally got out, she began screaming that you’d pay for her dry cleaning bill.”

She shook her head in disbelief at herself, her eyes flitting from one place to another as she sifted through her mind, trying to find the recollections that fit these startling revelations. An image of Tess’ sneering face floated before her mind’s eye. She remembered feeling decided irritation that Tess was wasting her time with all her useless blather. And then she remembered saying…

“ Anyone ever tell you you’re all wet, Tess?”

Seeing the anger flashing in those cold blue eyes. Continuing in a loud voice,

“ Well you are! And this just proves it…”

With an impatient movement, much like brushing away a pesky fly, Liz had reached out and Tess, who had been gaping soundlessly at her took a trip into the cold pool, screeching that her ‘original, vintage, sarong’ was ruined when she finally resurfaced. She had been even more infuriated when she heard the thunderous applause that had gone Liz’s way and seen her bow with a flourish…

Her mouth dropped open in shock before a wide smile tipped her lips upwards, contrasting directly to the sheer bedlam rolling within her that she had been front and center of a large crowd, bathed in attention and admiration.

“ I really did do that, didn’t I?” Her voice came out strange, a mixture of amusement and a choke.

Max chuckled. “ You really did it.”

“ I never thought I’d say this but,” Liz paused and rolled her eyes, regulating her voice. “ I wish I could have seen her face,”

“ Oh you will,” Max reassured her. Liz looked up at him and he said, “ Maria took photos but she was drunk too so don’t expect them to be focused.”

They stood in companionable silence for a while before Max noticed that she was still smiling. And what a smile it was…

“ Whoa.”

“ What? Did I do something else to her?” Liz asked, almost eagerly.

“ Wasn’t that enough?” He smiled. “ You should do that more often.”

“ What, push Tess Harding into a pool?” Eyebrow raised, devilish grin on her lips, Liz directed her question at Max.

He rolled his eyes. “ Funny. Appealing as that sounds, what you’re doing right now is even more appealing.”

Her brows furrowed in confusion but it didn’t erase the dazzling smile clinging to her lips. “ What am I doing right now?”

“ Smiling.”

“ Oh.”

They began to stare.

And stare.

Liz heard alarms going off in her head, and she suddenly realized how close they were standing together but all she could see was the way Max’s eyes glittered softly in the moonlight and the unhidden awe and appreciation dancing within them. Just like while they had danced…Unconsciously, he leaned in closer. And amazingly, she let him. Thoughts stopped. Breath stalled in their throats. Only a quarter of an inch separated each of them from their goals… Then, like a well timed blessing, the headlights of a car cut across the porch momentarily blinding both of them and causing Liz to jerk violently away from Max. Simultaneously, they both raised their hands to shade their eyes against the glare of the headlights and when the car drove into the driveway, Liz’s heartbeat accelerated going even faster than it had been only seconds before.

They were home!

Immediately, overwhelmed with relief at the lucky interruption and cursing herself for letting him too close, she bounded away from Max and his all too disturbing effect on her, right towards the car. At the same time the front passenger door was flung open and a tall, lanky, yet wiry youth leapt out.

“ Alex!”

Liz shrieked delightedly.

“ Liz!”

Came the just as happy reply.

Max was trying to concentrate on breathing properly and at the same time wonder at how fast Liz had fled when he heard the yells. He immediately felt a pang of jealousy cut through him, which was of course, nothing short of insane. But it was only when the Alex person said in a teasing tone,

“ How’s my favorite cousin?”

that he realized this and it ebbed away. Rolling his eyes at himself, he laughed softly, imagining what Michael would’ve said to him if he had only known where his thoughts had been headed.

Liz rushed straight into her cousin’s arms and he lifted her up and swung her around, both of them laughing wildly.

“ Alex, you idiot, I’m your only cousin!”

Max smiled immediately upon hearing the quick rejoinder he knew would issue forth from Liz’s mouth. He shook his head in wonder as he watched. Liz was truly a mystery. How she managed to change so quickly from one feeling to the next was utterly beyond him. Noticing Nancy grinning broadly at the still spinning pair as she moved to bring down Alex’s bags, Max quickly moved to help her, cutting a wide berth around the reunited two.

“ Why, hello, Max,” Nancy greeted warmly as he took the heavy duffel from her grasp. “ How’re you? Liz didn’t mention you were coming.”

“ Hi Mrs. Park-Nancy,” He amended quickly at the look on her face. “ I’m fine. Actually, she didn’t know I was going to drop by. It was kinda a spur of the moment thing.”

“ Oh I see.”

Ducking his head and grabbing another suitcase to hide from her shrewd look, Max blushed. What was happening to him?

Together, he and Mrs. Parker put all the luggage on the porch and after two or three tries, she managed to get Alex and Liz’s attention.

“ Liz! Alex! Come on inside you two!” She shouted over their excited chatter.

Liz paused and smiled at her mom and then glanced up at Alex, only to see his gaze fixed on a point next to her mom. Following his gaze, her eyes landed on Max and he stared back at her, smiling slightly. Liz felt the color drain from her face. Max Evans had seen her prancing around like a maniac? Pursing her lips in an effort to curb her howl at the unfairness of it all, she narrowed her eyes at him…and promptly fell deep into his eyes’ shining depths.

Alex looked between the two and he lifted a curious brow, clearing his throat softly. When they didn’t stop, he stifled a grin, elbowing his cousin to get her attention.

“ Are you going to introduce me or are you just going to stand and stare at him all night?” He whispered to her.

Liz flushed and elbowed him back, none too lightly.

“ No, I am most certainly not going to introduce you or stand and stare at…at IT all night!” She hissed to him.

“ Oof.” Alex complained. “ That hurt! And since when did a person become an ‘it’?”

“ Since the said person isn’t really a person,” She answered back softly.

Before Alex could answer, Liz grabbed his arm and dragged him behind her, up the porch steps. She swept by Max with a casual glance and a short,

“ See ya.”

and attempted to pull Alex into the house behind her but he held fast, smiling at Max.

“ Hey.”

Max nodded at him, smiling back.

“ Hey.”

They both glanced at Liz, waiting for her to do the introductions. Liz stared back at them.

“ What?” Then she rolled her eyes and said, “ Oh for…Alex, that’s Evans. Evans, this is Alex. Okay that’s done, see ya at school.”

Max blinked. Alex had a confused expression on his face.

Liz was completely oblivious to it all.

“ Come on, Alex,” She tugged on his arm.

“ Liz!”

Liz spun around to find her mother staring reprovingly at her.

“ What?” She asked in what she hoped was an innocent tone of voice.

Nancy Parker shook her head and came forward, extracting Alex from her grip and bringing him closer to Max for proper introductions.

“ Max, meet my nephew, Alex Whitman. Alex, meet Max Evans. He’s a… friend… of Liz’s.”

This was accompanied by a very wide grin and a playful wink at her nephew who caught her drift immediately and winked back.

“ Ohhh. I get it.”

Liz and Max had both flushed a dark crimson.

“ MOM!” Liz howled.

“ What?” Nancy asked, in all innocence.

Liz turned her very embarrassed gaze back to Alex, lifting her chin defiantly all the same.

“ There’s nothing to get,”

“ We’re not…we’re not that type of friends,” Max protested in support, struggling to clear it up, finding it hard to look Alex in the eye suddenly. Maybe it was because he was really reluctant to confirm that on top of not being that type of friends, he wasn’t really sure they were even friends in the first place. He knew Liz would certainly deny that they were.

“ That’s right!” Liz declared, bringing back to the present conversation. “ We’re not even friends!”

Max looked away, amazed at how much the words stung. God, what was HAPPENING to him? Liz’s tirade grabbed his attention once more.

“ We’re…we’re…classmates! That’s it.”

Alex and Nancy exchanged meaningful looks.

“ No one’s arguing you two,” Nancy said gently.

“ Yeah. Did Aunty N strike a nerve somewhere cuz?”

Liz glared at him.

“ No.” She answered curtly.

“ Stay for dinner Max?” Nancy offered quickly, obviously seeking to change the subject.

Max glanced at Liz and she shook her head insistently, mouthing ‘no!’ behind her mother’s back.

“ I’d love to,” He began, saw Liz’s eyes widen in shock and dismay and he rushed on, “ but I have to get home to do…my…homework.”

“ Yeah, Evans has to go do his homework. Education comes first, right mom? Right. Okay. See ya at school.”

“ Yeah. Nice to meet you,” Max nodded to Alex once more. Alex grinned.

“ Likewise.”

Max turned slowly and locked eyes with Liz. The air around them began to grow hot and stifled. Alex tugged at the neck of his shirt reflexively, wondering at the sudden temperature rise.

“ So… I’ll see ya.”

Liz tried to act all cool and distant, really she did. But when she had been preparing herself in the afternoon, it had been for an assault of a different kind. The wall she had created was meant to lock out her father. And though it had held up pretty well during her time with Max it wasn’t Evans proof. Which was why instead of sending him packing with a glare she nodded dumbly.

“ Yeah.”

“ Um,” Max shifted from one foot to the other before he held out the fallen bouquet. “ You dropped this.”

Liz blinked at the sight of the roses and prepared herself to tell him he could keep them. That she didn’t want them. That she didn’t even like them. But then she made the fatal mistake of looking into his eyes. Saw his earnestness. The hope she would accept them. And then, as if under a spell, she hesitantly reached out to get the flowers from him with a nod.

Damn those wretched eyes of his, she cursed inwardly.

A sudden light came into the afore mentioned eyes and if her own weren’t deceiving her, was that a ghost of a grin on his lips? Wait a minute. He couldn’t possibly be thinking of trying to pull something could he?

His next words answered the question.

“ I’ll call you?”

He could.

And he just had.

Liz’s temper immediately flared and she opened her mouth to inform him that under no circumstances would he do such a thing, when he cut his gaze across to her mother. Liz wasn’t on the honor roll for nothing. He was telling her that unless she said yes, he would take up her mother’s offer. Biting her tongue to hold back the furious diatribe she longed to throw at him, she weighed the two evils and decided a phone call would be way, way less. And besides, she could easily take care of him over the phone.

A cunning light lit up her eyes and she nodded, smiling evilly .

“ Fine by me,” She said sweetly, her tone of voice completely contradicting the look she threw at him, one that was meant to scorch the target to a crisp. “ I’ll talk to you later. Coming Alex?”

“ Uh, yeah.” Alex could barely hold his laughter in. He hadn’t missed the way Liz’s eyes had filled with horror upon receiving the subtle message Max had sent, whatever it was but he hadn’t missed the apprehensive look that had come into Max’s eyes when he had seen Liz smile either. What was going on between these two?

As he waved goodbye to Max and lifted his luggage into the house, Alex decided one thing.

It sure would be fun to find out.

TBC…

posted on 4-Aug-2002 1:27:19 PM
Chapter Fifteen

“ Come on, Liz, let’s hear it! What’s going on between you and young Mr. Evans?” Alex inquired for what seemed like the millionth time in what he liked to call his ‘therapist’ voice.

“ Alex,” Liz began, rolling over to lie on her stomach instead of her back to stare reproachfully at her cousin, “ is there any point in telling you to drop it?”

“ Um, let me think a moment,” Alex paused, then threw a jelly baby into the air and caught it in his mouth. Chewing as he thoughtfully stared at Liz, he answered a moment later, happy go lucky grin in place. “ No.”

Liz groaned and grabbed up her soda can, taking a sip and squirming to get into a more comfortable position on the thick duvet they had spread out in front of the big screen TV. After a large dinner, in which Alex had consumed a full half of the food by himself, he had kept Liz and his Aunt in stitches narrating his exploits from down south and further west in detail, including his hilarious journey. Now, though, as they went about their ritual of watching TV in their PJ’s while pigging out on junk food the spotlight had switched from him over to her and Liz was trying with all her might to get out of it’s glare.

“ You may as well forget it, cuz. We are not having this conversation. Not now, not ever.” She fiercely declared. “Now pass me the remote!” She barked.

Alex shook his head and protectively clutched the remote against him. “ Nothing doing.” Then he grinned. “Wow. Whatever it is that’s going on between you two must be huge. As in gigantic.”

“ Alex! There is NOTHING-”

“ Going on between you and Max. You’ve been saying that over and over for the past,” Alex paused to glance at the clock suspended high above them, “three hours.”

“ There wouldn’t be any need for me to keep saying it if you didn’t keep bringing it up.” Liz pointed out, turning her attention to the TV Screen. Bugs Bunny had just tricked Elmer Fudge into running right off the edge of a cliff, using the spinning log gimmick. Alex let out a great guffaw of laughter, completely distracted by it and Liz rolled her eyes in amusement and relief, glad about Alex’s obsession with cartoons. He always had had a thing for Nick-at-nite, especially the old ‘toons and Bugs Bunny happened to be his favorite.

“ I love how good ol’ Elmer always falls for that one!” Alex stated.

“ I, however, feel sorry for the poor guy. Doesn’t he ever get a break?”

“ Of course not! That’s the beauty of it.”

“ Beauty?” Liz repeated, incredulous. Suddenly, she felt an odd, crazy kinship with Elmer. It had to be the shared pain bit. Liz marveled inwardly at the situation she found herself in. She was actually IDENTIFYING with Elmer Fudge. A fictional guy who was decades older than her. More proof that whatever good luck she might’ve once possessed had totally abandoned her. Glancing at the screen once more, she frowned.

“I’m sure you wouldn’t say that if you were in his position,”

Alex raised an eyebrow at her.

“ Since when did you become an Elmer sympathizer?”

“ Since I found out how being in a situation where you never win feels!” Liz answered.

“ Aha! Does this have something to do with Max?”

Irritation flashed in Liz’s eyes.

“ Of course not! What, you think I can’t win with Evans? Ha!” She uttered a harsh laugh. “ It’s more like the opposite. He never wins with me,”

Smiling slyly, Alex continued in his quest to unravel the mystery that was Max and Liz. Because there WAS something there to unravel. No matter how Liz tried to deny it.

“ Oh I don’t know. I think I distinctly saw him score a few points tonight,”

The sudden alarm that appeared in Liz’s eyes only drove the point home further. Oh yes. There DEFINITELY was something there.

Pursing her lips, Liz casually took another sip, evidently getting a hold of herself.

“ So he scored. Big deal. That doesn’t mean he won.” Her eyes took on a hint of wariness and pain that Alex hated to see there. “ Besides, I didn’t mean him and his whole situation when I was talking about not ever winning.”

“ So who were you talking about?” He asked softly.

Liz nervously glanced around them even though they were quite alone. Her mother had gone to bed about an hour after they had wrapped up their conversation saying she needed to rest but translated into the language of LOVE she had been using in excess around the house lately, that meant she was going to call Derek. She had yet to tell Alex about him and wondered what his reaction would be when she did. But now she had to talk to him about something she wasn’t entirely comfortable discussing with her mother. In fact, it was something she wasn’t comfortable discussing at all. With anyone. But Alex would understand.

“ My father called this morning.” She said in a low tone.

Her cousin sat up immediately at her revelation, his blue eyes communicating his concern for her.

“ He did? What did he say?” He waved an impatient hand in the air, as if erasing a bad memory. “ Scratch that, are you okay?”

Liz nodded wearily.

“ I’m fine. But whether I’ll be fine this time tomorrow remains to be seen,” She added darkly.

“ Meaning…?”

“ Meaning that Jeffrey Parker finally remembered he has a daughter. And that he’s finally going to perform his fatherly duties. Yay me, right?” Bitterness poured out of her voice but all the more clear was the hurt in her eyes. Hurt she was struggling to hide.

“ Is he coming here?” Alex asked, getting the direction the conversation was heading.

“ Nope.” Liz answered as nonchalantly as possible, like it didn’t really matter one way or another but Alex knew better. He listened closely as she continued. “I have to go to him and Mary-Anne in Carlsbad. For one whole day.”

Seeing the bothered look on Liz’s face, he pulled her into a hug.

“ Want me to come with you?”

A smile graced her face but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. It did however lighten the cloud of doom hovering within them.

“ I do.” Liz admitted softly. “ But I won’t let you. You need some rest, especially after that flight you had.”

“ Liz, I can sleep any old time. I’m serious. Do you want me to come? Just say the word.”

She bit her lip uncertainly.

“ I couldn’t-”

“ You could.”

She swallowed.

“ Okay.” She relented. “ But just for the car ride. I’ll handle him and his beloved on my own.”

“ Are you sure?” Alex asked.

“ Yes.” She gave him a sad look. “ Got to keep testing the strength of my walls you know?”

Alex frowned at her.

“ Right. About these walls, Liz, I-”

“ Alex, please. I can’t go into a discussion about how they’re not good for me right now. They’re the only things that keep me sane half the time.”

“ And the other half? Don’t you think they’re what drive you insane?”

“ Lately, the only thing that’s been driving me insane is Max Evans,” Liz grumbled.

The words, unthinkingly blurted out as they had been, served their purpose anyway. Alex’s eyes lit up again and Liz groaned inwardly. She glanced at the screen. Elmer Fudge that had look on his face, the totally hopeless, panic stricken one and he swallowed hard before he went off another cliff in his merry way.

Know how that feels, Elmer, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal,

“ And you say there’s nothing going on between you two,” He teased.

Sighing in resignation she allowed her head to slump to the duvet with a dull plop. And then a moment later, Liz’s head snapped back up.

“ For the last time there is NOTHING GOING ON BETWEEN US!” She hissed, her exasperated expression giving way to one of suspicion. “ But there definitely is something going on with him. I really don’t know what it is but something’s just…not right.” She trailed off uncertainly, her dark eyes narrowed as she vainly tried to determine what Max Evans’ game was.

Alex was amazed by how quickly the mention of Max could pull his cousin out of the abyss of broken promises and sad memories. A place she didn’t need to visit for the only thing that came out of it was the construction of the barriers she set up to protect herself and keep the world at arm’s length. And though Max Evans certainly didn’t seem like someone she liked very much, he at least distracted her from more painful topics.

If Liz could seen the thoughts running through Alex’s head at that moment, she would have laughed. Because in some ways, Max brought her more pain than the memories of her father did. Which was why she was making it her official goal as of right now to make sure he didn’t get to her more than he already had. Being around him was…dangerous. And she still didn’t trust him. So she couldn’t allow that to happen. Ever.

But damn him for making it so hard!

The phone rang then, startling both of them. Liz set away her drink and groped around for the phone. All the lights in the house were off and the only source of it was coming from the TV. As she picked it up, she felt another absurd pang of sympathy when Bugs triumphed over Elmer yet again and the cartoon ended.

“ Yeah?”

“ Liz.”

She was perplexed for an instant but the next minute she was scowling furiously.

“ Oh it’s you.” Liz ground out, irritation lacing her voice making it practically drip with disdain. She held the receiver away from her ear like it was going to explode and got ready to slam it back onto it’s cradle.

Liz knew that Max could tell that she was going to hang up on him in a few seconds by the way he began talking at double speed.

“ Um, yeah. Listen, I know it’s really late and I know you don’t want to talk to me and that’s fine. I just wanted to tell you that before you junk the flowers,” He paused to take a breath and Liz smirked. So he knew she was going to ‘junk’ the flowers did he? “ just check them first. Okay? Please just…check them first.”

Liz rolled her eyes and hung up. Alex raised his eyebrows at her from his sprawled position.

“ I would venture a guess and say that was Max but by the way you said that ‘you’ I think guessing is unnecessary. Why’d you hang up?”

“ Because he deserved it.” She answered shortly, her eyes flashing.

“ Uh huh. I’m not even gonna ask what he did to deserve it because you look like you’re going to blow a gasket.” He eyed his cousin apprehensively. “ So…what did he want?”

Liz shrugged and walked a few paces around the duvet, looking around the room distractedly.

“ He was blathering on about how I should check the flowers before I throw them away. Which is what I plan to do as soon as I find them.” She growled more to herself than to him.

Alex’s eyes widened at the hostility in Liz’s voice but he wisely chose not to comment it. Something had obviously happened between these two before. Something major. He resolved to ask Liz later but for now, he was going to try to diffuse the storm brewing.

“ Can I have them?”

Liz stopped her perusal of the room and looked down at him in surprise, her frown of annoyance lightening.

“ What? Why?”

Alex grinned up at her.

“ They’re pretty. They smell good. And for a guy who usually had to wake up in the morning and see horse kaka all over the place, and smell it too, they’re like a God send.” He explained, referring to the time he had spent with their grandmother and his parents at an Indian reservation where horses were bred. “Besides, I thought I could make potpourri,” All this was stated in a very matter-of-fact voice and Liz looked down at him, clearly not knowing what to say.

“ You…” Liz had to clear her throat several times. “ You know how to make potpourri?”

Alex arranged an incredulous expression of disbelief on his face.

“ Know how? KNOW HOW? Honey child,” Liz rolled her eyes and chuckled at his usage of their grandmother’s nickname for her and Alex mock glared at her, causing her to stop and he charged on, “I’m practically the KING of Potpourri maker’s! Air freshener wasn’t really an option back there for large amounts of time so…” He swatted her mischievously when she began to chuckle again. “ Hey, stop it! It’s not funny, Liz. You’re insulting Royalty here! What, you think I’m a pansy just cause I can make potpourri?”

“ No!” Liz protested immediately, trying to control herself. She was failing miserably though.“ It’s just…well, now that you mention it…” Liz collapsed back onto the duvet, overcome by laughter. Alex simply watched in amusement. When she finally stopped, she dropped her head into her hand, the angry scowl gone, replaced by the pretty smile his cousin used so very rarely. “ Teach me?”

Alex schooled his face into a properly miffed expression, though he couldn’t help the fact that his lips were twitching ever so often.

“ Well… I don’t know. You did practically just insult me…”

Rolling her eyes, Liz grabbed a pillow and hit him playfully with it.

“ I did not! I was merely expressing… surprise… that you, um, knew how to do it,”

“ Uh huh.”

“ So what do you say? Will you teach me?”

He looked at her assessingly. “ Maybe. But it’s an art y’know. You have to know specific amounts of stuff to use. Too much of one thing drowns out the scent of another. And if you mix in too much of good smelling stuff, you come out with something even worse than horse kaka. Like I said it’s an art. And there are very few artists who understand the making of potpourri. I just happen to be one of them,” Alex rambled on, sounding for the entire world to hear like a devoted potpourri maker, the last sentence being said in a particularly proud tone. When he glanced at Liz, she was biting her lip to keep from laughing again. Alex let his gaze wander upwards. “ Okay, tell me all that did NOT sound as bad as it did.”

“ It did. Especially the part about being ‘ The King’.” Liz reached out and ruffled his hair affectionately, “ But I don’t mind.”

Alex grinned at her and ruffled her hair in the exact same way. Simultaneously, they leaned back against their pillows and stared at the TV. Alex yawned.

“ Liz?”

She yawned too before replying,

“ Yeah?”

“ Do me a favour?”

“ Shoot.”

“ Don’t mention that to anyone. It could seriously ruin my image.”

“ What image?” Liz asked in amusement. “ You haven’t got one,”

“ True. But it could ruin the image I’m planning to cultivate you know.”

Liz rolled her eyes. “ You are so talking to the wrong person about images, Alex.” She snickered. “ But you’re right. It could. Thanks for reminding me.”

“ Liiizzzzz…” Alex wheedled.

“ Okay, okay. I won’t.”

“ Promise?”

“ I promise.”

Liz shifted and turned her back to him, pulling her blankets over her. Alex grinned.

“ Oh good. Now that we’ve gotten that cleared up, I just want to ask one more thing.”

“ Make it quick,” She muttered sleepily.

Eyes twinkling mischievously, Alex put his hands behind his head, leaning back further into the mound of pillows. He was sure his last question would obliterate any residual thoughts about her impending meeting with her father, if in the unlikely event that the potpourri talk hadn’t accomplished it. It was better to be safe than sorry.

“ You like him, don’t you?”

Her gradually drooping eyelids snapped open and for a split second, Liz actually thought she’d dreamed her cousin asking if she LIKED Max Evans. What made it worse was that he hadn’t even mentioned his name and her stubborn mind had immediately jumped to the immediate conclusion which annoyed her even further.

And then, to top it all off, she realized she hadn’t been asleep yet so she COULDN’T have dreamt it. She allowed her mouth to drop open and herself to shriek,

“ WHAT?!”

while doing a damn good imitation of a rocket, leaving her comfy haven of sheets as she shot up. She stared down at her very unaffected cousin, completely missing his not-so-subtle-wince, the fact that she had been just a tad too…vocal, and that her mother was asleep with nothing more than a bedroom floor separating them.

Alex winced at the loud (and this was putting it mildly) yell, sure that the few neighbors had heard it. Raising himself a little to peer out the window, the sight of a light being turned on in an upstairs room of the house next door confirmed it.

“ Ouch,” He muttered, glancing up at her. “ That was piercing.” Ignoring the flabbergasted expression on her face, Alex pressed on, determined to get an answer, be it denial or admittance to his question before his Aunt or the neighbors began to complain. “ So do ya?”

“ HOW COULD YOU EVEN ASK ME THAT?” She exploded, glaring at him. Alex winced again, not because she was glaring at him, but because he had just seen another light go on at another house.

Ooh, touchy! Taking a deep breath, he soldiered on, grinning at her.

“ Well, I just kinda open my mouth and let the words come out,” He replied innocently.

“ Liz? Alex? Is everything alright down there?”

Nancy’s voice floated down towards them, still carrying traces of sleep in it but those were fast disappearing as parental disapproval begun to take effect.

“ Everything’s fine, Aunty N!” Alex called back.

“ Keep it down, okay?”

“ We will. See you in the morning. G’night!”

He glanced at his cousin once more. Liz had apparently collected herself while he was talking to her mother and now had her lips firmly pressed together, her expression calm.

“ Didn’t I say we were never going to discuss this?”

Alex allowed his smile to wander back onto his face.

“ I believe the exact wording was, ‘Well you can forget it, cuz. We are not having this conversation. Not now, not ever’.” He supplied helpfully, in a pretty good impression of Liz, if you looked over the fact that their voices sounded nothing alike.

Liz lifted her chin.

“ Precisely.”

Alex struggled to a sitting position and asked seriously,

“ Do you value your beauty sleep?”

Liz raised an eyebrow, clearly suspicious about the obvious subject change but the relief spreading through her eyes made it clear to Alex just how willing she was to get away from the subject of Max Evans.

“ I don’t want beauty and therefore I don’t value ‘beauty sleep’.”

“Okay,” Alex shrugged. “ How about sleep then?”

“ On my top ten list of favorite things in the world, it ranks number five.” Liz answered amiably, fast falling into his devious trap. He hated to do this to her, but a Liz angry and hurt by thoughts of her father was so not fun. Even he had a hard time breaking her out of the funk those brought on. And he knew, from the few times she opened up to him, that she practically had to crawl her way out of there sometimes. So if he had to choose between having her drown in unpleasant memories or annoying her by digging for information about someone who could be a potential love interest, like, let’s say, Max Evans…well, if you adored your cousin to death and barely saw each other, which one would you pick?

Besides, he still hadn’t given up on the notion that it could be fun to find out.

So arranging an innocently curious expression onto his face, he asked,

“ What are the other four?”

“ My mom has the top spot. Then Grandma.” She grinned impishly. “ And you and Tempest are currently fighting it out for third position.”

“ Really?” Alex winked at her. “ I’m winning right?”

“ Actually, no.”

“ Hey! You’re telling me I’m being upstaged by a horse?” Alex crossed his arms over his chest. “ Way to kill my ego, Liz.”

She snorted.

“ You don’t have an ego!”

“ Yes I do!” Alex protested. “ I just hide it really well. And right now, you’re really hurting it. Thank you so much.”

“ My pleasure.” She replied wickedly.

Frowning and realizing that she was having way too much fun with this, he went back to his original question.

“ So do you like him?”

The teasing look immediately vanished and she had a deer-caught-in-the-headlights look on her face before that disappeared too and she scowled.

“ We are not talking about this, Alex!”

“ Fine. But know this Liz Parker,” Alex puffed out his chest and attempted to look intimidating. “ Your number five favorite thing is about to be seriously threatened.”

“ Oh yeah? How so?” She challenged.

Alex smiled suddenly.

“ I hope you like Garth Brooks, cause you’re about to be treated to a rendition of his full album, courtesy of my father’s impeccable taste in music.”

“ You’re joking!” Liz blurted out, horrified.

“ Nope! And then after that I’ll do some Kenny Rogers, maybe some Dolly Parton to even things out… gender equality and all that. So what do you think?”

For Liz had suddenly gone stock still, her eyes glazing over as she imagined Alex warbling along to a Garth Brooks song. True, he may be a talented bassist, but a singer he was not. Then she shook her head and smiled back.

“ I think that sounds fun.” He was SO not going to get an answer out of her, he could sing his lungs out if he wanted. Besides, she had listened to Ms. Topolsky’s speeches, her mother’s lectures and even Max Evans for crying out loud. She could take this. Smiling sweetly, she crossed her legs, Indian style and gestured at him to start.

He gaze her a broad grin and began on a high note that made Liz cringe.

This is going to be a long night.

About two hours later, Liz was seriously considering screaming her head off.

Or hitting her head repeatedly with a blunt object.

But while she tried to decide, she was lying on her back, her gaze fixed on the ceiling while Alex pranced around the room, strumming an imaginary guitar, singing along softly to yet ANOTHER Kenny Rogers song. Something about a father telling his son how he ‘don’t have to fight to be man’.

Liz flinched as he lapsed into the chorus, his voice breaking horribly. It didn’t seem possible, but Alex’s singing had deteriorated since the last time she had seen him.

Somewhere in the distance, she heard a coyote howling miserably.

Liz felt like howling right along with it.

“ Alex,” She began wearily. He ignored her. He had been ignoring her since he started. No amount of protesting or interrupting had worked, he had simply waited for her to stop talking or complaining and then picked up right where he left off. This time, he didn’t even stop singing. “ Alex, even the coyotes are begging you to stop,”

Alex simply shook his head no and continued to sing.

“ Don’t you care about wildlife? I thought you liked animals. Stop singing for their sakes at least.”

Alex gave her a disappointed look, as if disheartened by the fact that she would play on his love for animals to get him to stop.

Liz eyed the heavy vase that sat upon the coffee table speculatively. Could she…? Nah. She wasn’t into pain.

I wonder of tackling him to the ground and sitting on him would do any good, she wondered idly.

Wondering was a very bad idea.

Because the image that came to mind was of two seven year olds giggling madly as they chased each other around a playground. Liz instantly recognized the tiny, messy haired girl as herself and the little boy with his clothes mucked up as Max Evans. Little Liz put on a burst of speed and tackled Little Evans to the ground (go Little Liz!), sitting on his back and laughing as he landed face first into the sand. With a triumphant whoop, Little Liz snatched away a toy space ship from Little Evans and Little Evans begins to wail indignantly.

The end.

Liz shuddered.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, let it be known that once upon a time, Liz Parker DID giggle.

But let it also be known that she was SEVEN at the time, having just come into the age of reasoning and as the year progressed and she went on to the second year of reasoning, she dropped the habit. And…

And oh God, Alex was cracking the glassware now. Seriously, the glassware was CRACKING! Her mother was going to have a fit! Panic-stricken and willing to do ANYTHING to get the picture of the two happy little kiddies giggling out of her mind, Liz jumped up and hurried to the display cupboard in the hall. Alex was actually surprised enough to let his ‘singing’ falter but he jumped up as well and scurried after her, bobbing around at her back as she checked the fine crystal, her mother’s pride and joy. Liz glared at him in exasperation as he continued to strum his imaginary guitar.

“ Lay off the high notes, Sir Troubadour. I’m serious. If the glassware cracks, your head cracks,”

Unfazed, Alex began a new song.

Liz groaned and trudged back to the duvet, her cousin hot on her heels. It wasn’t new. In the past two hours, she had tried escaping his ‘singing’ by going to various rooms and trying to lock him out of them and at last, she accomplished the feat by locking herself in the dining room. She had come out two minutes later and Alex had celebrated by going into a particularly spirited solo. Why had she come out? Well, she hadn’t exactly been looking forward to sleeping on a table, thank you very much.

Now, as she settled in once more and Alex sat beside her, she sighed.

“ Alex, how long do you think you can keep this up? It’s been over TWO hours.”

No reply. Just another glass shattering high note.

Liz studied her cousin intently. His eyelids were slowly drifting shut and his voice definitely had a hoarse quality to it. He looked exhausted. He needed to stop.

That’s it!

Finally reaching her breaking point, Liz decided to try some psych out tactics of her own.

Shifting so that she was directly in front of him, looking him straight in the eyes, she crossed her legs Indian style once more. She began to stare. And stare. And stare. And stare. And stare.

Alex swallowed.

Liz stared.

Alex began to fidget.

Liz stared.

Alex’s voice, so steady for over two hours, began to waver.

Liz stared.

Alex was officially beginning to get freaked out.

Why had he never realized his cousin Liz was the owner of a very spooky stare? It was kinda cool and a relief to know she could like, make people disappear just by looking at them but wasn’t there some unwritten rule somewhere that prohibited using your top-of-the-line voodoo vision on relatives?

Liz was still staring.

Alex had stopped singing.

“ Liz?” He croaked out.

She was still staring.

“ Liz.” He reached out and shook her gently. “ Turn it off.”

Liz seemed to come out of a daze.

“ Turn what off?”

“ That.” Alex gestured at her. “ The eye thing. Turn it off. It’s really creeping me out.”

Liz blinked and then smiled broadly.

“ Hey! You stopped!”

“ And you don’t play fair,” Alex retorted.

“ That’s the breaks, Alex. Go to sleep. You look beat.”

“ No.” Alex declared stubbornly. “ I’m not going to sleep until you answer my question.”

“ Alex, why is it so important to you to have an answer? What if I lie?”

“ It’s better than leaving a question unanswered. I hate question marks. I really do.”

“ Well I hate this topic. I really, really do. GO to sleep.”

“ No.”

“ Alex, you know how cranky you get if you don’t get a good night’s sleep. Besides, I won’t be able to go to sleep if I know you’re awake torturing yourself.”

“ Then we’ll have an all night non-slumber party,” He quipped with a ghost of a grin.

No full blown grin?

Oh yeah.

He was definitely tired. And stubborn. Liz liked that about her cousin. When he wanted something, he wouldn’t give up. Not ever.

Rolling her eyes, Liz wagged a finger at him.

“ If I answer, you go to sleep and you let me sleep, capiche?”

Alex yawned widely.

“ Wow, Italian! Cool, we’re going to-”

“ Alex!”

“ Ok, ok! It’s a deal.”

Liz took a deep breath.

“ I don’t like him.”

“ Now was that so hard?”

Shaking her head, Liz said, “ Go to sleep Alex.”

Once more, she turned her back on him. She fluffed up her pillow and pulled her blankets until just under her chin. She grabbed another pillow and cuddled it to her chest.

“ It’s a pity you don’t like him,” Alex’s sleepy, hoarse voice came over to her. Liz decided to keep quiet. “ cause HE definitely likes you…”

Liz froze. She relaxed and then snuggled further into her blankets.

“ Like I care.” She scoffed.

“ You should care.” Alex told her drowsily. “ The way he looks at you… can you say ‘smitten’?”

Liz felt her cheeks begin to heat up in a blush. Great. Just great. This was what, the second time in a day? She was so going to have to get a handle on this. Refusing to acknowledge the statement, she opened her mouth.

“ Alex,” Liz growled. “ One more word about this and cousin or not, I’m gonna stuff a pillow in your mouth. I am NOT joking!”

“ Okay, okay. Geez, tough crowd. I’m going to sleep now.”

“ Good.”

“ Oh Liz?”

“ Alex, go to sleep.” Liz muttered immediately.

“ I just wanted to say goodnight.”

“ What? Oh for god’s sake.” A pause. “ Well? Go on. I don’t want you saying that I didn’t let you say goodnight to me twenty years from now.”

“ Gee thanks. Goodnight Liz.”

A sigh.

“ Good night Alex.”

“ Liz-”

“ GO TO SLEEP ALEX!”

“ But-”

“ I’m warning you Alex… SLEEP! NOW!”

“ Alright already! I’m going…”

“ Liz! Keep it down!” Came the sleepy, irritated command from upstairs.

Liz groaned.

A few minutes later, she heard the faint sound of Alex’s snores. She turned over and stared at his sleeping face, feeling a surge of affection for him overwhelming her. She smiled.

Annoying as he could be, she couldn’t deny it.

She was glad he was here.

TBC…

posted on 4-Aug-2002 1:30:57 PM
Chapter Sixteen

Alex was lying on the sofa, staring at the TV but barely registered anything that was going on. He glanced at the clock and as he dragged his gaze back to the screen, he noticed his Aunt do the same, although she was still talking on the phone. She had been wandering around the house, cordless phone to her ear and had finally settled on leaning against the doorjamb that led into the sitting room. Sensing her nephew’s gaze on her, Nancy glanced his way and Alex took the opportunity to mouth

‘ Where time is she coming?’

Frowning slightly, his Aunt shrugged and shook her head, turning her distracted attention back to her call.

“ What? Oh, I’m sorry Derek, I was…”

Alex immediately tuned her out. He really did NOT want to overhear, even if it was accidentally, his Aunt talking to her boyfriend.

Yep.

Aunty N had a BOYFRIEND.

He had determined this over the length of a three-hour phone conversation during which his Aunt had cooed into the phone and giggled and blushed a LOT and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t block it out. He had tried humming with his fingers pressed in his ears without being too obvious but honestly, he didn’t think his Aunt would notice if he began hopping around the room doing a Bugs Bunny imitation. Nevertheless, he persisted, only stopping when a buzzing filled his head. He really hadn’t wanted to hear any tidbits but Alex’s rule number 33 under the section of ‘Ways to prevent yourself from hearing something you don’t want to hear’ dictated that when a buzzing fills your head after attempts to shield yourself from hearing things you REALLY don’t want to hear, stop immediately and watch TV. As he thought back on it, he snorted in amusement, causing his Aunt to look at him funny.

Alex mouthed a ‘sorry’ and continued watching.

Nancy continued to talk.

“ Derek…”

Alex cringed slightly and concentrated more on the images before him. Idly musing to himself, he wondered why Liz had neglected to mention this ‘Derek’ person but considering what she had had to look forward to for today, well, it wasn’t all that surprising.

What was surprising was that Liz had now been gone for just over seven hours. During the ride to Carlsbad in the morning, she had jokingly confided to him that she planned to fake being sick as soon as two hours had passed. They had arrived at the park where she was supposed to meet her father and his wife at nine fifty. They hadn’t arrived yet and Liz had voiced loud protests when her mother and cousin had offered to wait with her. Her exact words had been,

‘ Guys, GO! I’ll be fine. And the sooner I get this over with, the better.’

Then she had winked at Alex.

‘ See you in a few.’

Alex sighed. Liz had been surprisingly upbeat during the ride. Laughing. Joking. Arguing fiercely with him one moment and then collapsing into hysterical chuckles the next. Talking enthusiastically about every topic under the sun. The surprised look his Aunt had shot at her daughter was enough to tell him that seeing Liz like this was almost like seeing Haley’s Comet flash through the sky. A once in a lifetime event. When Nancy had carefully broached the topic about the visit they were rapidly approaching, Liz had simply tossed her head back and laughed, telling her mother there was nothing to worry about and that she was SURE she would have a great time. He had distinctly seen his Aunt balk at her words Alex had watched Liz more carefully after that. His cousin had seemed to be genuinely enjoying herself and if there was any trace of a wall in there, he couldn’t see it. Even when they had dropped her off, she still seemed as cheerful and confident of the fun she would have as ever. And from the looks of things, it seemed like she was having fun. What other reason could there be for so long an absence?

Promptly at five thirty, the door opened. Nancy turned around and her mouth dropped open and her sentence remained unfinished when she saw Liz standing there. Alex had looked up in surprise when the steady stream of sound he had been vainly trying to blot out suddenly died and vanished altogether. He blinked in astonishment at the sight of his cousin, looking dusty and travel worn but still totally at ease and smiling at both of them, standing in the foyer.

“ Hey. Mom, could I have some cash? I’m about,” She paused and glanced down at the bills she held in her hand, “eight dollars and fifteen cents short. The cab driver’s waiting.”

Gaping, Nancy crossed the foyer to the coat rack and she fished a ten-dollar bill out of the pocket of her jacket and handed it to her daughter mutely, telling Derek she had to go and hanging up a second later. Alex had jumped up from the couch and taken his Aunt’s old position, leaning against the doorjamb. When Liz came back from paying the driver, she shut the door and gave both of them a puzzled smile as she hung her jacket.

“ What?”

“ Liz,” Nancy had found her voice and was frowning in concern. “ Wasn’t your father supposed to bring you home?”

“ Was he?” She shrugged. “ I wasn’t really into hearing the plans, mom. I wouldn’t know.”

“ So he put you in a cab right?” She inquired hopefully.

“ Actually, I put myself in the cab.”

Liz flashed her a practiced smile and began to walk towards the stairs, her mother and Alex trailing behind her.

“ Liz, be serious!” Nancy barked, her worry coming clearly through. “ What happened? Did you just take off on him and Mary Anne?”

“ Mom, relax. I didn’t take off on him and Mary-Anne and I guarantee that they are very happy.”

Nancy relaxed slightly but doggedly continued following her daughter as she climbed the stairs and Alex followed them, not wanting to miss anything. It occurred to him that Liz had NOT answered her mother’s question but she speeded up just then, causing her mother to speed up which in turn caused Alex to speed up. All in all they looked like a very weird caravan.

“ Well… how did it go?” Nancy asked.

Liz stopped abruptly outside her door. It took a minute before she finally faced them, and when she did, there was a strange little smile on her lips, as if she were trying hard not to grimace.

“ It didn’t. They never showed up.”

“ WHAT?”

Alex winced. His Aunt looked positively furious.

“ They. Didn’t. Show. Up.” Liz repeated more slowly and clearly, the sad attempt at a smile falling away altogether. Alex studied her intently, still hanging back. What wasn’t clear in the morning now most definitely was. The wall was in place. And boy, did it beat China’s Wall hands down.

“ But, but…” Nancy sputtered, her furious look disappearing as it was replaced by one of confusion. “ You said they were happy!”

“ Aren’t they always?” Liz quipped distractedly, brushing off her shirt and wincing when she saw the dust fly out. “Mom, let me just change and then we can talk okay?”

The furious look was back on her mother’s face.

“ Oh you bet we’ll talk young lady. Right after I talk to your father!” She spat. Turning on her heel, she stomped down the hallway and down the stairs, muttering angrily all the while.

“ Whoa. Look out dad,” Liz said sarcastically, rolling her eyes. She spotted Alex watching her, tried to repeat the little smile from earlier but failed. Sighing she went into her room. Alex tried to follow.

She stopped him.

“ Alex,” She began wearily. “ I know we’re close and all but I don’t think exposing bodies is in the agenda for cousins.”

Alex grimaced and began to back away.

“ Point taken, Liz. Meet you downstairs.”

“ Can’t wait,” She muttered derisively, pushing the door shut.

The door closed and he went downstairs, back into the living room where he saw his Aunt rifling through an address book and muttering furiously under her breath all the while. When she finally found what she was looking for, she ripped out the page and grabbed the phone, punching in the numbers with a lot more force needed to push a button, in Alex’s opinion. He hovered in the doorway, not sure whether he should stay. In another second, he was almost blasted off his feet by the force of his Aunt’s shriek.

“ JEFFREY PARKER! How COULD you just LEAVE our daughter all alone out there? I ought to-”

Alex breathed out a sigh of relief at the momentary silence that ensued while Nancy listened to her ex-husband, who had interrupted her. Jeff was shouting as well and Alex could hear him quietly clearly. This time, he made no effort to impair his hearing but listened avidly.

“ I most certainly did not LEAVE her there!” Came the indignant reply.

“ Oh that’s right! You didn’t leave her there you just failed to turn up! I feel so much better now!”

“ Nancy, listen to me. There was an emergency. Something was wrong with Mary-Anne!”

“ What happened?” Nancy demanded with a trace of bitterness. “ Did she break a nail?”

Ouch! Could his Aunt be nasty when she wanted to be or what?

“ God, Nancy, would you listen to yourself? You sound-”

“ Sound like what? Like a mother who is worried sick about what happened to her daughter while she waited SEVEN hours for a father who didn’t show up? Wake up, Jeff! That’s exactly what I am!” Nancy released a frustrated sigh. “ You told me you wouldn’t do this to her again. You promised, Jeff!”

“I didn’t do this on purpose! Nancy, I had to take Mary-Anne to the hospital because there was something wrong with the Baby!”

Alex froze.

Baby?

“ Well that’s rich I-” Nancy trailed off and then froze too. “ I’m sorry, did you just say…baby?”

A long pause.

“ Yes, I did.”

“ Oh my God.”

Ditto! Alex screamed inwardly, watching as his Aunt sank down onto the couch.

“ You have a new baby?”

“ Not yet. But we will.”

“ You mean,” She swallowed and closed her eyes. “ Mary-Anne’s…”

Pregnant, Alex finished the sentence in his head. Oh boy. How were they going to tell Liz?

“ Pregnant.” Came Jeff’s voice. “ Yes, she is.” He confirmed.

Her anger seemingly deflated, Nancy asked, “ How far along is she?”

“ Seven and a half months.”

“ Is she all right?” Alex looked up at her in surprise, but she seemed genuinely concerned.

“ She’s fine now, she’s been stabilized. We just had a bit of a scare earlier. Thought she was going into labor. That’s why I had to take her to the hospital.”

“ Oh my God.” Nancy exclaimed again, realization dawning over her. “ That was the whole point of coming down here wasn’t it? To tell Liz the news?” She asked.

“ Yes. We thought…we thought she’d be excited.”

Alex saw his Aunt’s hand immediately fly to her forehead and she began to rub it. He assumed she was thinking about how best to tell Liz the news. Alex shook his head. It wasn’t going to be a picnic that was for sure. And he was very certain that ‘excited’ wasn’t going to be one of his cousin’s chief emotions upon receiving that whopper.

“ Alright, fine. I apologize for blowing up at you earlier. But why didn’t you call Jeff? Liz didn’t come home until a few minutes ago…”

“ She didn’t?” The panic in his Uncle’s voice was evident and that too surprised Alex. “ Is she all right?”

“ I haven’t had the chance to talk to her yet. Why didn’t you call?” A steely note was creeping back into Nancy’s voice now.

“ Well, I… to tell you the truth, I forgot your cell phone number.”

Alex flinched.

Wrong move Uncle J.

Or was it ex-Uncle now?

“ WHAT? You forgot…Jeff, listen to me. I know you may have wanted to erase all traces of me from your life and I don’t blame you because I wanted to do the same thing about you as well but I at LEAST keep track of your latest numbers in case there’s an emergency with Liz!”

“ Nancy, I HAVE your number. I just…forgot it. I was under a lot of stress!” Came the defensive reply.

“ Why didn’t you call here? I assume you do still remember THIS number!”

“ Yes, I do remember the number and I did try to call in the morning but no one was answering,”

“ What time?” Nancy demanded.

“ Around lunch.”

Alex thought back and realized that he and his Aunt had eaten out and hadn’t come back till 2:30 in the afternoon. Upon which the phone had become permanently attached to Nancy’s ear. Uh oh. This was not going to be good.

“ And then every time I tried to call after that,” Came Jeff’s voice, “ The phone was busy.”

Alex glanced at Nancy who was beginning to flush guiltily.

“ I…I was on the phone. A very important call.”

“ For three hours?” A frustrated sigh. “ Look, Nancy. Is Liz okay? Can I talk to her? I want to explain.”

Nancy shook her head emphatically, wisely realizing that that wasn’t exactly going to be the best thing to do at the moment.

“ I’ll have her call you, Jeff. I need to…talk to her first.” She responded with slight hesitation.

“ Nancy. Don’t tell her about the baby yet. I want to do it.”

“ That’s…that’s fine Jeff. It’s your news. I hope Mary-Anne will be okay.”

“ Thank you. Tell Liz I love her?” Jeff asked gently.

“ I will.”

She replaced the phone on its cradle and met her nephew’s eyes.

“ Oh Alex. What am I going to say?”

Alex sighed.

“ I would say we have a problem.”

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

As soon as the door closed, Liz slumped against it and slowly slid to the floor. She glanced around her room, seeing that it was still the chaotic mess she had left it in earlier. Half her wardrobe was strewn all over the various pieces of furniture in the room and the other half was… her roving gaze landed on a half packed duffel bag that lay discarded on her hardwood floors by the bed.

Packed away in a bag,Liz finished her thought.

Evidence of the cowardice she had allowed herself to wallow in for a few hours in the early in the morning. She had woken up at about five o clock and crept up to her room, leaving Alex on the floor by himself. Once there, she had let the panic sink in. Though her talk with him the night before had distracted her from the thought of meeting her father, it didn’t mean she had forgotten about it. So when she had woken up, it had taken her a few minutes to ascertain why exactly she felt so bad and when she had, she had had no choice but to high tail it up to her room before she woke Alex up with her inevitable screech of frustration. Crazy, half formed ideas had played havoc with her brain and she found herself hitting her head repeatedly against a wall an hour after she had gone up. Liz could admit it now. She had been way beyond panic by then. Completely losing her head, she had worked herself into a nervous frenzy and that was when the clothes had started flying out of her closet and into her duffel bag.

Liz rolled her eyes at herself, still hardly able to believe that she had actually considered running away. What had she been thinking?

She knew the answer to that.

She had been thinking that she would rather live out the rest of her life as an earthworm rather than face the ‘oh-so-fun’ day her father and his dearest had planned.

Groaning, she closed her eyes and leaned her head back, massaging her temples tiredly, continuing the slideshow that was running in her head.

The next thing she had known, untouchable, unbreakable and I’m-ready-for-anything-so-bring-it-on-Liz had taken over. A strange calm had descended on her and she stopped packing. She banished the nervousness and fear and panic that had been running unchecked through her body to a far away distant corner of her mind, locking it away securely. Constructed what she liked to think was her best wall yet. Impenetrable. Indestructible. And with the added feature of being absolutely invisible to the naked eye, there was no question about it.

It was a masterpiece.

And it worked like a charm.

Liz knew that during the ride, her mother had been more than a little surprised at her suddenly lively and cheerful attitude. She knew that Alex had been downright suspicious of it. But she had managed to make them believe that she had no problems about her impending doom, er, visit, that she was even somehow looking forward to it. She knew that if she failed, they would worry about her and Liz didn’t want that. As uncomfortable as she was about her mother’s serious surprise relationship, she was a little glad about it too. At least Nancy wouldn’t spend all her time worrying about Liz like she had before Derek had come onto the scene. And Alex, Alex had come to Roswell to find stability and normalcy, not a weird cousin who had the unusual tendency of screaming bloody murder in abandoned football fields, serious issues she needed to work out and beyond miserable people skills. She wanted him to have fun here and he wouldn’t have fun if he spent his second day in town worrying about her. So she played the part of a teenaged girl eager to see her father and stepmother to perfection and lo and behold, it had actually worked.

It worked so well, in fact that to her horror, she found that a tiny part of her WAS eager. Painfully so. Because though she wouldn’t ever admit it to anyone, or to herself for that matter, she acknowledged the possibility that part of her, the foolish, still naïve part that the reality of the world hadn’t managed to subdue, would miss him. Did miss him, in fact. Liz had tried several times to squash the optimism but hadn’t succeeded. And somewhere along the wait for Jeffrey and Mary-Anne Parker, IT had taken over, making her almost giddy with excitement.

Just as it had the last time she had been scheduled to meet her father, the time before the whole camping trip disaster.

Surprise, surprise, he hadn’t turned up.

And so, just as it had been that time, it was crushed, the remainder of her heart and hope crushed along with it. She remembered the sick, disappointed feeling that coursed through her, making her eyes drift shut in pain. She couldn’t believe it still hurt so much. How could it possibly hurt that much? It had happened before. She should be used to it by now. But the horrible, awful truth of it was that she wasn’t completely sure she’d ever be able to get used to it. Which was why she hadn’t bothered to show up for the camping trip. She couldn’t take a chance like that again.

Liz opened her eyes and let out a weary sigh.

She now sincerely regretted not following through with the running away plan. Disappearing for a few hours would’ve been so much better than what she had gone through. When it had become apparent her father wasn’t going to come, she hadn’t allowed herself to dwell on his no show act after the first initial saddened feelings had overwhelmed her. She didn’t have time. She wouldn’t waste another minute languishing in pity and sorrow when that time could be used in a quest to get her home. And what a quest it had been. She had spent hours wandering around Carlsbad, looking for a way to call her mother. What were the chances that on the very same day a person needed to find a working and coin accepting payphone, the only ones they’d be able to find were either out of order or only accepted phone cards?

Quite high, apparently, because that was what exactly had happened to her.

And when she’d finally, finally managed to find a working payphone, her wanderings had taken her to a place she loathed. A carnival. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it was a carnival with CLOWNS. Recalling the episode, she shuddered involuntarily. They had been EVERYWHERE, smiling creepily with their grossly painted faces and fuzzy hair. To top it all off, when she called home, it was to be greeted with a steady busy signal. And when she’d called her mother’s cell phone, it was to be told that the party she was trying to call wasn’t reachable. She had been ready to kill. And all in all, it was safe to say that she had not had any fun at all.

Groaning, she picked herself up from the floor and quickly changed her clothes, grimacing at the dusty pile. Liz had been so caught up in her goal, she’d forgotten to have lunch. And it was almost dinner time now. Deciding that she couldn’t talk about her hellish day without some food in her stomach, she grabbed up her phone.

Some tacos maybe, she thought, her mouth already watering at the idea of food.

Or Pizza.

Her growling stomach alerted her to the fact that it didn’t care what she ordered, as long as she did it fast. It took her a few seconds to realize the phone was currently in use. Eyes widening in alarm, Liz made to gently put it back down when the conversation caught her attention.

“…did not LEAVE her there!”

Her mouth dropped open in shock and she stared at the phone.

Oh crap!

She didn’t want to hear any more of his excuses! But…then again, it could be fun to listen to him weasel his way out of this one. The thought occurred to Liz the same time a sly smile spread over her lips. Aw hell. She deserved SOMETHING after what she had gone through. Listening to her father getting chewed up by her mother seemed to be a pretty good cure for what ailed her.

“ Oh that’s right!” Her mother’s voice snapped. “ You didn’t leave her there, you just failed to turn up! I feel so much better now.”

Liz smirked, happy to know where she’d inherited the sarcastic streak that so exasperated Ms. Topolsky from.

“ Nancy, listen to me,” Her father, no, JEFFREY was saying. “ Something was wrong with Mary-Anne!”

Liz swallowed, the smirk fading away as an impassive mask slid over her features. Ah. Well, that was that. Game over. Check mate. Hadn’t her father proved, several times already in fact, that when it came down to a ‘who’s-more-important’ battle between his daughter and his wife, his wife inevitably won out? Yet another ‘something’ she had to get used to. Shaking herself free of the pall that had befallen her, Liz focused with all her might on the conversation she was eavesdropping on, careful to shield the mouthpiece with her hand. This was a once in a lifetime event damnit! She was NOT going to miss out just because something she’d suspected had turned out to be true.

“ …happened?” Nancy Parker’s voice was oozing impatience at the current topic. “ Did she break nail?”

In spite of herself, Liz smothered a chuckle. You go mom! She nodded in satisfaction. Let him have it!

“ God, Nancy, would you listen to yourself?” Came the angry reply. “ You sound-”

“ Sound like what?” She interrupted. “ Like a mother who is worried sick about what happened to her daughter while she waited SEVEN hours for a father who didn’t show up?” Liz wrinkled her nose. Um, that wasn’t right exactly. She had NOT waited for seven hours, how pathetic would that have been? Then again, she had waited for longer than she thought she possibly could…shaking her head in irritation, Liz pursed her lips. Not the time to do this. There would be plenty of time to shriek about how bloody sad the whole situation had been. With effort, she tuned back in.

“ Wake up, Jeff! That’s exactly what I am!” An aggravated sigh sounded over the line. “ You told me you wouldn’t do this to her again. You promised, Jeff!”

Liz almost snorted in disbelief. Hadn’t her mother gotten the memo yet? Promises were MADE to be broken. At least the ones that had been made to HER were. She would have gone on to reflect on this, but Jeffrey, apparently fed up with being chewed up and guilted out, had reached the end of his line.

“ I didn’t do this on purpose!” He burst out. Liz rolled her eyes. Uh huh. Tell me another one, dad. “ Nancy, I had to take Mary-Anne to the hospital because there was something wrong with the baby!”

Liz’s brain seemed to go into slow motion, as though it was suddenly drenched in molasses. Mary-Anne… Hospital… Wrong…Baby…

Baby.

BABY?!

She couldn’t help it. Her mouth opened in a sort of silent scream and she shot to her knees, phone still firmly attached to her ear. Liz felt her head begin to spin. She hadn’t heard correctly. That must be it. She must be so hungry, her mind was playing tricks on her.

“ Well, that’s rich,” Her mother was saying. Liz immediately felt better. See? She must’ve been imagining things.

“ I-”

The torrent of words stopped abruptly and she began to feel dread taking hold of her. Uh oh. Liz gripped the phone hard. Come on, Mom, She silently urged. Say something! Say anything!

She got her wish.

“ I’m sorry,” She heard Nancy say. “ Did you just say…” There was a slight pause here as her mother swallowed, “baby?”

Some wish.

Liz’s eyes widened in horror as she heard the last word. No! It was a trick! It had to be! As the silence grew, so did Liz’s panic. Get with it Jeff! Spill already!

“ Yes, I did.” Came the answer.

Forget the knees, even they gave out on her and Liz landed on her floor with a thump. A dazed look took residence in her eyes.

“ Oh my God.” Came the voice in her ear. Liz was frozen. No way. No way. No freakin’ possible way! Praying she didn’t hyperventilate, she tested the idea out in her mind. A baby brother or sister. For some reason, the idea…intrigued her…

Wait! What am I thinking? I DON’T want a baby brother or sister! She shrieked silently, her eyes once more growing wide, this time with terror. Images of endless streams of nappies and milk bottles and pacifiers and bloodcurdling screams invaded her head. She grimaced.

“ You have a new baby?”

Forcing her attention back on the call, Liz swallowed the mad yell threatening to erupt. Plenty of time for that later too, she promised herself. Gather info now, yell yourself hoarse later.

“ Not yet.” Sweet, wonderful relief filled Liz. “ But we will.”

Can’t you ever just let me be HAPPY for once? She thought furiously at him, a scowl marring her features. Must you always pop my bubble? Huh? Was it too much to ask to experience relief for TWO SECONDS?

“ You mean…Mary-Anne’s…”

Don’t say it, Liz begged mutely, almost hysterical at this point. If you don’t say it, it won’t seem so real!

“ Pregnant.” He said it. “ Yes, she is.”

I’m going to scream now.

She took a deep breath. Willed herself to stay calm. What was she getting so worked up about? She could take this. It was no biggie. All she had to do was think nice, calm, rational thoughts. Like…like…

“ How far along is she?”

Like that!

“ Seven and a half months.”

Okay. So now she knew that Mary-Anne was seven and a half month’s pregnant. Great.

“ Is she okay?”

Liz smiled slightly, thankfully distracted by the question. Her mother wasn’t exactly Mary-Anne’s biggest fan but she still managed to find genuine concern for her. Liz only hoped she’d inherited that too.

“ She’s fine now, she’s been stabilized. We just had a bit of a scare earlier. Thought she was going into labor. That’s why I had to take her to the hospital.”

There was silence for a few minutes. And then her mother’s understanding filled whisper filled the phone.

“ Oh my God. That was the whole point of coming down here wasn’t it?”

Liz frowned. She waited for her mother to continue.

“ To tell Liz the news?”

“ Yes. We thought… we thought she’d be excited.”

Liz’s eyes widened again. That was the only reason they’d come? To tell her the news? And they thought she’d be excited? Her thoughts began their wild dance around her head once more, tempting to upset the precarious balance she’d achieved. Her head began to throb. She was several things right now but excited was most definitely not one of them. With a start, she realized she’d missed the first part of her mother’s reply.

“… call Jeff? Liz didn’t come home until a few minutes ago…”

“ She didn’t?” Liz blinked at the concern in his voice, instantly latching onto it as a possible means of distraction from the ‘baby’ news. Wow. That was…strange. “ Is she all right?” And that, was even more strange. Jeffrey Parker actually concerned for her well-being? She should definitely mark this day down on her calendar. But…why waste ink?

“…talk to her yet. Why didn’t you call?”

Liz recognized ‘protective mother’ coming back onto the line. Well, let’s see how you get out of this one, Mr. Parker.

“ Well, I…to tell you the truth, I forgot your cell phone number.”

Now that, that wasn’t strange at all. Liz had no problem believing her father when he said he’d forgotten things to do with her or her mother. He’d been doing it for four, five years already. Why should she think he had changed? Liz listened with only half an ear to her mother’s angered answer. He would probably forget she even existed once his new baby arrived. She listened as they began discussing how he had her number, how he had forgotten it due to stress,how he should’ve called the home number, how no one had answered, how the phone had been busy after lunch…

Liz perked up as her mother began to stutter an explanation.

“ I…I was on the phone.” She could almost imagine the blush spreading across her mother’s cheeks. “ A very…important call.”

Oh I bet I know just HOW important it was. The name Derek ring a bell?

So that was it. She hadn’t been able to reach her mother because she’d been talking to her boyfriend. Her father had been too absorbed with his new family to even bother.

“ Look Nancy. Is Liz okay? Can I talk to her? I want to explain.”

Liz didn’t want to listen anymore, she didn’t think she could listen more. She’d had enough. She stood and went over to where the handset was and as gently as she could, she eased the phone back onto its cradle. Her eyes stared straight out her window, her face expressionless. That was it then. More proof. She really was alone. Liz weighed the thought and despite all her thoughts and words to the contrary, it still settled heavily in her mind. Wrapping her arms around her midsection, she hugged herself for comfort and found that even she had none left to give to herself.

Oh God.

I can’t take this.

It’s too much. So much…

I…I…

I can’t even finish freaking properly cause I’m too hungry!


Her stomach growled again and that action seemed to trigger the tear ducts in her eyes. For a horrible instant, she felt the hot prickly sensation of moisture, but then, incredibly, she laughed.

It was hollow and mirthless. Empty.

Just like her heart.

TBC
posted on 4-Aug-2002 1:34:58 PM
This is all I've got so far. Could someone please ask a mod to fix the page for me? It's really hard to read all this!

Chapter Seventeen

“ So… you’re saying that I shouldn’t have done it. I knew it. I knew it wasn’t right. I mean Alex probably thinks I’m a… playboy or something and that this is just my way of seeking out girls and it’s NOT. I-”

“ Max! Quit rambling! That’s my job!”

Max quieted down.

“ Sorry. So… do you think it was a bad idea?”

An exasperated sigh came from Maria’s general direction and Max peered up at her from his spot on the floor, lying on the comfortable throw rugs that Maria liked to claim were ‘stylishly’ placed around to add a look of ‘southwestern comfort’.

Michael liked to say they were ‘stupidly thrown’ around and added a look of ‘bad taste in interior decorating’ to an already ‘bad’ looking room. Maria hadn’t talked to him for a week after she heard him saying that. Max could still remember the look on Michael’s face when he realized Maria had heard him. It never failed to make him laugh. And speaking of Maria…

She was sitting Indian style on this weird…platform thing that had been set up in the middle of her room, surrounded by burning incense and with the music of bells chiming softly out of her Cd player. Her oils were lined up in a row on a table in front of her, according to the colors of the rainbow. She went through a weekly ritual of picking out which oils she would need to last through the week, and incense and candles and weird bell chime music plus sitting on a weird platform thing worked wonders for decision making, so she always told Max. In fact, she had confided to him, her decision about whether she should ‘risk it all’ and ‘tempt fate’ by agreeing to go out with Michael had been made on the very same pedestal she sat upon now. Max didn’t think Michael would appreciate being told that the most important person in his life had needed an arsenal of what he would definitely term ‘weird’ stuff to decide about him. But then again, this was Maria. Enough said.

“ Max, what exactly did you do? I know you sent Liz something, and that that something was special to both of you once, I’m coming back to that once later on, and that that something was concealed in roses, which I’ll have you know is SO common,” Maria paused to take a breath, “ but other than that, you haven’t told me anything concrete at all, like WHY you did it and WHAT happened when you visited her last night and WHO this Alex person is so how should I know if you shouldn’t have done whatever it was you did?”

Max blinked.

“ Okay, you know what? Forget I said anything.”

“ No way Max! I’m going back to that ‘once’ now.”

Max groaned. “ Maria, I’m not up for talking about it.”

“ Why?” Maria asked curiously, unfolding her legs and letting them dangle. “ What happened between you two that was so bad?”

Maria studied her almost-brother carefully. His jaw tensed and that usually bright spark in his eyes dimmed. She sighed heavily. Those signs told her she wasn’t getting anything about the subject off of him right then. Deciding to give him a break, she cleared her throat.

“ Okay, well, who’s Alex?”

Max relaxed and silently berated himself as he opened his mouth to answer. Why couldn’t he just tell them all what a stupid idiot he’d been? He knew they would all be appalled but he also knew that their feelings in no way could match the self disgust that he had managed to bury all these years. They wouldn’t even come close.

“ He’s her cousin. They’re pretty close, from what I’ve seen.” He said in reply, his voice sounding oddly strained.

“ Liz’s cousin, huh?” Maria’s eyes twinkled mischievously. “ And exactly how jealous were you when you didn’t know that little fact yet?”

“ Extremely.” Came the immediate and unplanned answer. Realizing what he’d said, Max felt a heated flush spread over his cheeks and he sat up uncomfortably. “ He’s, um, he’s coming to West Roswell too,”

“ Cool.” Maria pretended not to notice his obvious subject change and grinned at him. “ What’s he like? Like, is he a major hottie or something?” Max shot her a look that clearly said he hadn’t noticed anything of the sort and she sighed. “ I get the point. You didn’t notice, right?”

“ Would it matter if he was?” Max asked. “ Could you picture yourself giving up Michael for a new guy?”

“ No.” Maria answered promptly then grinned. “ But a girl’s gotta keep her options you know?” Slipping down from her perch, she sat next to Max. “ What about you, Max? Last I heard, you hadn’t gone out with a girl since you ended it with Tess. A wise decision as I’m sure you know.”

“ Oh I know, Maria. You’ve told me that at least a million times.” Max said with a slight smile. Then he sighed. “ I just… I’m kinda tired of doing the playboy routine. I used to do it for fun, you know. And it was fun. The thrill of the chase and all that. I made no promises, took them out on great dates…I never went ‘all the way’ with any of them contrary to the popular belief,” He added with a smirk, one which Maria returned in kind. Max’s playboy reputation had been a great source of amusement to them over the years.

“ Now it just feels so empty and shallow.” Max continued, looking wistfully into the distance. “ It’s nothing like what you and Michael have.” Shaking his head, he loosed a sheepish grin on Maria. “ Sorry. You must think I’m getting soft in my old age.”

“ I don’t think that at all. I think you’re changing.”

Max winced.

“ Changing huh?”

Maria rolled her eyes at him.

“ You make it sound like changing is the worst thing in the world, Max. Don’t you know change, well, most of it, is good?”

Max looked doubtful but he paid attention to her ramblings all the same. This was one of the things Maria liked most about Max. He always listened patiently to whatever she had to say. This didn’t necessarily mean he followed her advice, but he always listened and that earned him a gold star in her book.

“ Like this change. It’s a little too early to tell, but I think you’re changing for the better.” Maria saw the perfect opportunity to get the real goods on how Max felt about Liz so she leaned forward curiously. “ And I think it’s because of her. So what do you think?”

Max sat up and leaned back against the pedestal. He loosed a wry smile into the distance.

“ I think I’ve been behaving rather irrationally over this week.” He said, sidestepping her question. “ I mean, running into a girl’s bathroom? Serenading someone in the hall? Dancing?” Maria giggled as she recalled all the stunts Max had pulled and he joined in with a chuckle. “ Are you sure this change is good?”

“ Sure it is. For once, you’re actually making an effort and not expecting the girl to just fall over you. And that, Max, is a very good thing.”

The guilt rushed back in with full force. If there was one thing Max knew, it was that he liked to win. He loved the thrill of victory. The glory. But lately, he had begun to wonder…was all the trouble he was going to for Liz still because of the bet? Because if it was, then he was going to have to throw in the towel. It hadn’t even been a week and he was already exhausted, in every way. Had it only been yesterday when he’d resolved to not back out? Under normal circumstances, he would have given up to a certain degree by now, bet or no bet, pride be damned. Liz was just too big of a challenge. Every inch he gained with her required a battle of epic proportions.

So what was it that kept him coming back for more? The guilt he felt every time he saw her was eating away at him. And yet within seconds of being in her difficult presence, it would fade, his rapidly pounding heart and confusion overshadowing everything else. He would take one look into those mysterious depths that made up her eyes and be lost. Then the minute he left her, the guilt would come back, stronger than ever, bringing with it the fact that he had made himself forget what he done in an effort to avoid it. Why did he keep coming back? Was it because of all that had transpired between them long ago? Because he knew that she hadn’t forgiven him for what he had done and that he desperately wanted her to?

Max frowned.

He was a first class, grade A heel.

Here he was, doing everything in his power to get close to this girl, find out what made her tick, begging forgiveness from her, all the while having the knowledge of the deal he made within him. Where could he go from here? If he didn’t tell her about the bet and she found out, he would lose her. If he told her, he would still lose her. He couldn’t win.

He shook his head and closed his eyes, suddenly realizing the direction of his thoughts. Lose her? When, when had he gotten her? The last time he’d checked, she’d passed him off as someone she barely knew, someone less than an acquaintance, and here he was worrying about losing her. He was getting way ahead of himself, something he never did in a situation involving a girl.

But this isn’t just any girl, a little voice whispered to him. This is Liz. The girl you grew up with. The first girl you ever kissed. The girl you betrayed.

His eyes snapped open and he groaned.

“ I take it you don’t agree with me.”

Max started. He had forgotten that Maria was there with him.

“ What?”

Maria frowned at him.

“ Where’d ya go Max?”

“ Somewhere…” He answered absently. Max made a decision. He would tell Maria some of it and work from there. “Maria, what do you know about my childhood?”

She blinked, her blue-green eyes showing her confusion.

“ Is this a trick question?” At the look he gave her, Maria shrugged. “ Obviously not. Well… I know you had a very happy one. How could you not? Your parents are great. And I know that you didn’t see Isabel much but you guys stayed close…” She eyed him. “ What’s this about?”

“ Did you know who my best friend was?”

“ Sure I do. Michael, right?”

“ No.” Max shook his head. “ Michael and I only really became best friends in seventh grade. He’d just transferred in from the East Roswell Elementary.”

Maria’s brow furrowed.

“ So who was your best friend?”

Max swallowed. “ Liz Parker.”

“ No way!” Maria exclaimed, jaw dropping open in shock. “ You and Liz? You’re joking!”

“ I’m not. Liz and I grew up together. In fact, she was my next door neighbor.”

“ Max, are you serious?”

“ Dead serious.” He leaned back once more and fixed his gaze on the ceiling. “ We were best friends ever since we were knee high.”

“ But, but…” Maria stuttered. “ If that’s true then… why all the bad blood between you two? What happened, Max?”

Taking a deep breath, he took the plunge. “ I don’t know how to explain this so I’ll just say… something… which will hopefully make a little sense.” He let out a mirthless chuckle. Nice start, Maxwell. Clearing his throat, he continued.

“ When we were in seventh grade, I did something really… bad. I don’t think bad even covers it. I don’t think there’s even a word for it.” He paused and rubbed a hand over his face. “ How do you describe the worst possible thing you could ever…” Max trailed off and shook himself. “ Liz has hated me ever since. I can’t say I blame her.”

“ Did you try apologizing?” Maria asked, still not fully understanding but wanting to help. In truth, she was more than a little shocked by all this. She had always assumed that Liz was just one of those people who liked to keep to themselves. She had never suspected there might’ve been a reason. And now that she thought about it, she begun to recall several incidences when Max would freeze at the mention of Liz and glare at anyone who spoke badly of her. She had once entertained the notion that he had a crush on her, especially after seeing him stare at Liz for several minutes but once he had just turned and walked away, she had given up on that idea. Perhaps she hadn’t been so off the mark after all. But this past history was all news to her. She directed her attention back to Max.

A wry smile touched his lips.

“ I did. But I couldn’t get to her. I just couldn’t reach her anymore. She closed off and after a while, I just… stopped trying. It was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”

Maria touched his shoulder gently.

“ I’m sure it wasn’t that bad Max.”

“ But it was Maria. And you know what’s worse?” His eyes took on the distant, pensive quality she’d been seeing in them so much over the week. “ I made myself forget it.” Max continued. “ I couldn’t deal with it so instead I locked it all away. I forgot I ever knew Liz Parker.”

“ So what happened to make you remember?” Maria asked curiously. “ I mean, it must’ve been pretty big if it was able to make you start talking to her again.”

Max shifted uncomfortably. He wasn’t so sure he was ready to tell this to her. He couldn’t do it. Not yet. So instead, he glanced at his watch distractedly as a means of escape.

“ It’s getting late. I better head home.” He stood and looked down at Maria as she frowned up at him.

“ Max,”

“ Maria, not right now, okay? I’ll tell you, I promise, but not…not right now.” He gave her a half smile. “ Thanks for listening. Later.”

Max turned and began to walk out of the room but was stopped by Maria’s call.

“ Max?”

He turned.

“ Yeah.”

“ Don’t give up, ‘kay?” She peered at him earnestly. “ I have a feeling you’ll never forgive yourself if you do that this time.”

Max blinked and then nodded. With a wave, he was gone, pondering Maria’s words.

He had a feeling that Maria was right. He never would forgive himself. But if he didn’t tell Liz, and she found out, he had a feeling that she would never forgive him either.

He couldn’t win.

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

Alex stared at Liz’s door apprehensively, a pizza box and soda in hand. About a half hour ago, he had heard the shower in her room go on and decided against going into her room just then. The last thing he needed was a peep show. Praying that she was ready to talk, he reached out, tapped lightly and a second later, he heard her invitation to enter. Arranging a cheerful smile on his face, he burst into the room with a flourish, calling out,

“ Food time! Come and get it, Lizzie, the pizzas getting…” He faltered the minute he saw his cousin. Liz was already in her pajamas, her damp hair falling around her face limply as she sat curled upon the window seat, staring into the distance and wearing a look of such weariness and defeat, Alex could feel it literally wrapping itself in the air that surrounded her. “…cold.” He finished quietly. Depositing the food onto Liz’s desk, he hurried over to her side and slung his arm around her shoulder, his worry increasing when she remained immobile in his embrace. Gently pulling her hair away from her face, he shook her slightly.

“ Liz?”

She blinked once and then looked up at him.

“ Oh hi, Alex.”

Alex swallowed at the tone of her voice. Yep. Defeated was clearly the word of the hour. He attempted to smile at her and succeeded.

“ Hey there cuz. Want something to eat? It’s pizza. Your favorite if I recall.”

She simply shook her head and went back to staring into the distance. Alex was stumped. What should he do? Force her to talk when she so obviously didn’t want to? Leave her alone? He shook his head at the latter thought. No, leaving her alone wasn’t an option. They were family. You didn’t leave family alone when they needed you. Even if they didn’t know it themselves.

“ Do you want to talk about it?”

She shook her head again. And then, a minute later, as if she couldn’t keep it back any longer, she spoke.

“ When does it stop hurting Alex?” She asked dully. “ When will I be able to keep anything from hurting me… my heart…”

Alex’s heart broke for her. He quickly scanned the list of things that could affect Liz this way and he only came up with one thing. But it was impossible. How could she know? Then his eyes fell upon the phone and it clicked.

“ You know.”

She nodded.

“ I…I wanted to order some stuff…… I heard… I heard it all.” She shrugged. “ Guess I came in last again, right? With both my parents.”

“ Liz, I’m sorry. It was my fault we weren’t home, I-”

Alex was interrupted by Liz shaking her head and stopping him with a sad smile.

“ Alex, don’t. I didn’t mean it that way. Besides, you weren’t the one who tied up the phone all afternoon or failed to show up, were you?” She shook her head again. “ God. Listen to me. I sound like a selfish brat. Look. I don’t expect my mother to spend the rest of her life alone and I don’t want that for her. She’s more than just my mother, after all. She’s… her own person. And I’m glad she’s found someone she can be happy with. I am. As for my father… he made his choice a long time ago. I have to stop clinging to the absurd notion that…” She faltered. Swallowing thickly, she continued. “ I have to stop hoping.”

Alex shook his head and knelt in front of her, forcing her to look at him.

“ Liz, that is so not you talking. No way.”

She blinked bemusedly at him. “ What?”

“ Are you telling you’re quitting? That you’re going to stop believing?”

“ Quitting… believing what?” She frowned at him. “ What are you talking about Alex?”

“ Are you telling me you’re going to stop believing that there’s someone out there who’s going to love you and put you first just because of some minor setbacks?”

“ What?” She blurted out. “ Someone to love me? What are you talking about Alex?” She demanded again, some of her old fire coming back. Alex sighed inwardly. At least she had lost that look on her face and he was beyond relieved.

“ You know exactly what I’m talking about Lizzie. This is all about love and that you’re afraid no one ever will love you. That you’ll always be alone.”

“ Love?! Minor setbacks?” Liz screeched, her eyes positively blazing now. “ I’m afraid…” She let out an incredulous laugh. “ Alex, where are you coming up with this stuff? Look, I hardly think that what happened… they’re not just minor setbacks okay?” She blinked rapidly. “ I’m…damaged Alex. I can’t…feel.”

“ Liz. I know you alright? You tell me can’t feel? That’s not true. All this is coming from the fact that you feel that since everything in your life that you thought was going to be permanent, isn’t, you’re afraid that nothing in your life will ever be for forever. And as for being damaged… you can heal, Liz. You’re strong. You’re too strong to be destroyed by this. I don’t think you’ll ever allow it to.”

Liz was gaping soundlessly at him, too stunned to speak. Alex went on, knowing that this would be his only good shot at dynamiting Liz out of the hole she was preparing to bury herself in.

“ And you know why? Because at heart, you know what you want. You may try to deny it, but it’s true. You want what I want for myself too. What Grandma said we both deserve.”

In spite of herself, Liz whispered, “ True love.”

Alex grinned. “ Exactly. Well, not that exactly. She always did say I’d get true love and you’d get the soul mate type of love.” He wrinkled his nose at Liz. “ See? I always did say she liked you better.”

Liz just stared at him in amazement. What had just happened? One minute she was at one place and the next she was at another. Alex had forced her to see that everything he had said was true. She was afraid. Afraid she would never find that soul mate. Afraid she wouldn’t be worthy of him if she did. Afraid she wouldn’t ever be able to feel enough to love the way she was meant to. Because when her world had crashed around her, and the one person she’d counted on the most had deserted, something in her had died. The part that enabled to her to feel. It had been necessary to shut it down at the time, it was a way of shielding her already aching heart from more pain. But now, despite everything she had done to protect it, it had been dealt yet another mortal blow. And miracle of miracles, if she was entirely truthful with herself, she couldn’t honestly say it was dead. It was barely there, barely existing but the brief times she listened to it, it would tell her she was still hoping. That above all odds, it still believed that it would find it’s other half.

She had almost let the small flame flicker out completely, the latest string of events taking a heavy toll. But Alex and his words that fueled it and still it endured.

Shaking her head she sighed and looked up as Alex slid into the seat next to her again.

“ Don’t give up, Liz.” He said quietly. “ We promised Grandma we wouldn’t, remember?”

“ I remember.” She said wistfully. “ It seems so long ago.”

“ So… about the baby news. You okay?”

Liz’s expression hardened and she shrugged.

“ Like I said before, Alex, he made his choice long ago.” Then her features softened and she said softly, “ I really hope she’s okay though.”

Alex smiled down at her. That was Liz for you. By all rights, she shouldn’t care about her step mother at all but she did. Battered and torn her heart was, even the pieces could still care for someone she ought to hate.

“ Me too, cuz. Right. Enough of this.” He stood and pulled her to her feet. “ The pizza’s gone stone cold and it’s all your fault.” He admonished teasingly. “ But it’ll still taste good, I’ll bet.”

He took one step towards it when Liz stopped him.

“ Alex, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for you to become my own personal counselor or save me from myself or anything, it’s just-”

“ Liz, don’t apologize. We’re family.”

“ Grandma taught you well, I see.”

“ Damn right she did. But I’m no saint, Lizzie. Don’t think I won’t be claiming payment. I think a guide to all the hot chicks in your school tomorrow should be good start.”

Liz smirked slightly at him, still amazed at how quickly Alex could make her forget things. Almost as quickly as… cutting off her train of thought, she headed towards the pizza, shaking her head.

“ Alex, sometimes I think Grandma taught you too well.”

“ So that’s a no?”

“ That’s a definite no.”

“ Is this all the gratitude I get for-”

“ Alex, just eat.”

“ Right, right.”

They ate in silence for a while, Alex feeling distinctly pleased when Liz looked up at him with a smile.

“ Thanks.”

TBC…