|posted on 6-Mar-2002 10:04:24 AM|
|Disclaimer: The plot is mine; Roswell and its characters aren't.|
Category: A new one for me--Zan and Liz
Rating: R? Dunno. . .see how it goes.
Dedication: To Jen, who woke up this Dreamer!
“Okay, I’ll meet you at the Belly Deli in ten.” Liz Parker pressed “end” on her cell phone and tucked it into her favorite Kate Spade bucket bag. The rest of the bag was crammed with papers, notes to herself, and makeup, but she managed to find a vacant pocket to hold the small phone. Fishing her sunglasses out of the bottom of the bag, she put them on and headed toward Times Square. Serena would be at the deli before she would, she knew, but it wouldn’t take long to get there.
As Liz walked, she was almost oblivious to the busy New York City street that surrounded her. After three years in the city, she was used to the commotion that had at first bewildered the small town girl in her. Her apartment near Columbia University was her haven, her sanctuary, but Liz seldom spent much time in it. Once upon a time, she had relished her time alone; now she rarely wished to be alone with her thoughts. Much had changed in those three years—most notably Liz herself. Maria had commented on this the last time that she had visited. She had been largely talking about Liz's new haircut, which had transformed her long, dark hair into a mass of choppy layers that swung freely around her face and neck. But there was much more than that. More than the leaner-than-ever body and toned muscles she had acquired from hours spent at the gym and in kickboxing classes with Serena, more than the devastatingly stylish designer clothing she now favored, more even than the sophisticated air that she had slowly come to exude. The simple truth of it was that Liz Parker had gone from being a dreamy-eyed girl to a strong, independent woman who made her own way and didn’t wait for affirmations that were never going to come. Sometimes, when she looked in the mirror, she wondered if the people she had left behind in Roswell would even recognize her now.
Liz’s last two years in Roswell were a hazy blur of tears and hurt that she tried never to think about. Sometimes, despite her best efforts, the memories resurfaced, but whenever that happened Liz would leave her apartment and go ice skating at Rockefeller Center, or seek out a concert or raucous club. Anything anonymous and loud enough to drown out those painful thoughts. Her friend Serena seemed to know instinctively when Liz’s past got the best of her; more often than not she would appear on Liz’s doorstep with some wild suggestion to jar Liz out of her melancholy. Sometimes a party, sometimes a trip to Coney Island, sometimes something a little crazier. Liz now had had a pierced navel and a small tattoo on her lower back to show for Serena’s troubles. Max Evans’ time-traveling self had gotten one thing right—and only one thing, she had long ago decided: Serena was indeed a friend. Liz wasn’t sure how she would have made these past few years without her.
Almost to the deli, Liz quickened her pace. She could see Serena standing outside and smiled to herself. Serena’s tall, lanky frame, creamy skin, and jet-black hair were easy enough to pick out—even in the lunchtime crowd near Times Square. Her friend was standing just outside the doorway, her posture reflecting careless elegance. Serena could easily have been a fashion model, but that wasn’t her style. She would never have been happy with a career that centered on walking down a runway. She preferred challenges that tested the limits of her mind—and Liz had come to find out that those limits were very broad indeed. Serena was a brilliant physics student, and one day she would be a brilliant scientist.
Three years ago, on the first day of chem class at Columbia University, when Serena sat down and introduced herself, Liz had nearly fallen out of her chair. As though she would ever forget that name. . .or anything else Future Max had said. Was it possible that, changed as the future was, this was the same Serena he had spoken of? Liz had eventually decided it had to be. Serena was the only person Liz could imagine ever having the ability to turn the granilith into a time machine. Eventually, Liz had told Serena everything— everything about the connection they were supposed to have had. Serena had taken this surprisingly well, although she did seem disappointed to learn that she would never have the chance to tinker with the granilith. She was the only person in Liz’s new life that knew about Liz’s past in Roswell, but though this had made the bond between them strong, neither of them ever spoke of it. Liz had decided long ago that the only way to move forward was to put the past behind her and never look back. Serena agreed.
Serena saw Liz almost at the same instant Liz saw her, and waved, taking off her sunglasses. Liz squinted into the sun and waved back. Since her eyes were on her friend half a block away, Liz didn’t see the man in her path until they almost collided. Liz managed to get stopped in time, and started to apologize.
“Excuse me, I’m sorry,” she murmured.
“’S’okay,” he answered in a thick New York accent. “My bad.”
“No, I—” Liz began, but she never finished her sentence. “Max?”
Liz was having trouble breathing. “I—I. . .um, you—” she stammered helplessly, staring at the man before her. “You’re. . .Max?”
He shook his head and smiled. “Nope. That ain’t my name.”
Liz gulped. No, he couldn’t be Max—not unless Max had recently taken to sporting a pierced eyebrow and midnight blue streaks in spiky, rock-star styled hair. And Max Evans didn’t have that crooked, ironic half-grin, either. This guy was. . .someone else entirely. “Uh, right, sorry,” Liz managed, finding her voice.
He was looking at her thoughtfully. “Hey, do I know you?” he asked.
Did he? Oh, god, this was confusing. “Um, no. Probably not,” Liz managed.
“Are you sure?” he went on. “’Cause you look real familiar. You live around here?”
“Um, not really—I mean, in the city, but not. . .right here.” She took a deep breath, trying to clear her head. No dice. “I’m a student at Columbia,” she blurted. “Biology.”
“Yeah?” he asked, flashing her that devastating grin. “You must be pretty smart.”
She blushed for the first time in ages. “I—uh. . .what did you say your name was?”
He was still looking at her in that thoughtful, half-familiar, completely disconcerting way. “Zan,” he said finally. “My name’s Zan.”
Liz’s stomach crashed to her knee-high Jimmy Choo boots. “Zan?” she repeated in a whisper. Zan’s dead—Ava said Zan was dead! She stared at him, her face going a shade paler. “Are you sure?”
He laughed. “Pretty sure,” he assured her.
“Right,” she said faintly.
“Liz!” Both of them turned to see Serena coming toward them, walking as quickly as her spike heels would allow. “Are you coming?” she asked as she reached them, then stopped as she noticed Zan. “Oh. Hello,” she said, looking at him with unabashed curiosity. A smiled played along the corners of her mouth. “I didn’t know you had a friend,” she said to Liz.
Liz shot her a meaningful look. “This is Zan,” she said pointedly. She had told Serena about Zan, right?
Apparently so. Serena’s mouth dropped open and she stared at Zan in amazement for an instant before she recovered herself. “Oh.”
“So, do I get to know your name, or what?” he asked, looking at Liz. Any other time, Serena would have been offended, but this time she could only try very hard not to stare.
“I—I’m Liz,” Liz said. “Liz Parker.”
“Liz Parker,” he repeated, testing the sound of her name. He seemed about to say more, but a beeping sound interrupted him. He swore under his breath as he reached for the pager on his belt. The number was obviously one he recognized, but he hesitated. “I—I gotta go,” he said finally.
“Yeah, I’m on my way to lunch,” Liz nodded. “Sorry about. . .how I bumped into you.”
“No problem. Nice meetin’ you.” He looked her up and down one last time, trying to decide what it was about her that felt like a dream you couldn’t quite remember upon waking up.
“You, too,” she agreed. Was he really just going to walk away?!
“Yeah.” He hesitated for another second, then turned to go. “Bye,” he muttered under his breath as he walked away.
Serena waited until he was out of earshot, then she grabbed Liz’s arm. “Liz, was that really—”
“I don’t know,” Liz said faintly. “I guess so.”
“But I thought you said he was—”
“I thought he was,” Liz answered. “They all said he was.”
“Then do you think he’s really—”
“I don’t think he can be anyone else.” Liz stared after him, her eyes following him through the throng of people. “God, he looks just like him.”
“Max looked like that?” Serena wanted to know.
“Well. . .more J. Crew,” she admitted. “Less Helmut Lang. But, other than that. . .god, it’s incredible.”
“What are you going to do?” Serena asked.
Liz was still staring. “I. . .nothing, I guess. I mean, what can I do?”
Serena thought for a moment. “No, you’re right,” she agreed. “Nothing.” The two of them stood there for another second, watching Zan’s retreating back, then Serena took Liz’s arm. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get lunch. I heard about this fantastic club we can go to later if you’re up for it. Lines around the block, but I know one of the bouncers, so we can get right in. You could wear those new leather pants you bought at Jasmine Sola. . .”
* * * * *
Zan walked down the street, fighting the urge to turn around and look back at Liz Parker. Something about her was so familiar. . .why did he feel like he should know her? And why did he feel like he should be running after her? At the curb, he paused to wait for a break in traffic, and couldn’t stop himself from turning around. Liz and her friend were walking in the opposite direction, arm in arm. Dressed like a Park Avenue princess, he thought. In her short gray skirt, black tights, tall boots, and fake-fur trimmed black coat she looked she had just stepped out of a Cosmopolitan fashion spread. Girls like that didn’t look at guys like him—unless it was to prove that they weren’t the uptight Stepford-wives-in-training they were terrified to become. Zan had never given her kind a second thought. . .until now. He had almost convinced himself to look away when she suddenly paused and looked back over her shoulder. Their eyes met and held for a long moment, and Zan had the peculiar feeling that she was looking past his eyes and into his soul. He would have stood there forever, but a truck passed between them, hiding her from view. By the time it was gone, Liz had disappeared in the crowd.
All right, man, get your mind off the princess. Zan shook his head to clear it of the fog that had overtaken his mind as he stood at the edge of Battery Park. He came here a lot at lunchtimes; he liked to watch classes of school children board the ferry for Ellis Island. Every day they came, excited and loud, their creating a din most people would have avoided. Not Zan, however. He liked their noise, their shouts and challenges and endless questions. They represented a childhood he’d never had—not on this world, anyway. He had always been drawn to children, fascinated by their innocence and candor, and rarely tired of watching them. Today, however, he had barely noticed them. Liz Parker occupied his mind, and had for three days, ever since she had nearly run him down on the sidewalk near Times Square. It was like walking with his hand in front of his face: he could see around it enough to go about his daily routine, but not much more than that.
Who the hell is she? he wondered for the thousandth time. Looking down, he noticed with distaste that the Polish sausage he had been eating for lunch had long since gotten cold. Grimacing, he tossed the rest of it into a nearby trash can and wiped his mouth with the thin paper napkin he’d been clutching. She can’t be. . .one of us, he told himself firmly. Varet would have told us if there were more. Varet, the protector who had—in his own, half-assed way—raised him and the others, had never hidden the fact that Zan, Lonnie, and Ava were not the only Antarian royalty on the planet. Zan knew there were other races here, too, but he would have bet money that she wasn’t one of them, either. He seemed to have a sixth sense about them—just passing by a Skin or someone else from “back there,” as he referred to Antar made the hair on the back of his neck stand straight up. Not that they had bothered with him, much. They knew, as did he, that he wasn’t first in line for the throne of Antar. That honor belonged to someone else, far away in New Mexico—at least he had been in New Mexico the last time Zan heard about him. Besides, Zan was supposed to be dead—at the hands of a careless trucker or his own sister, depending on who was telling the story.
He drained the last of his Coke and tossed away the can. So if she wasn’t an alien, why was he so preoccupied with her? And why was he so incredibly drawn to her? “One way to find out,” he said aloud, slinging his messenger bag over his shoulder. He glanced down at his watch. Two o’clock on a Monday. . .she had said Columbia, biology. He could work with that.
* * * * *
“Liz, you’ve got to get your mind off the hottie!” Serena handed Liz her tall non-fat latte and took a sip from her own half-caf cappuccino. Together they walked out of the Starbucks near the bio-chem building, heading for the next class building where they would have their next classes. “I mean, I know he was positively delicious, and that the two of sort of have a past. . .in a twisted, evil twin, alternate universe kind of way. . .but you have to stop obsessing. It’s bringing you down, girlfriend!”
Liz sipped her latte, cupping her gloved hands around the cup for warmth. “I know,” she said. “Believe me, I know. It’s just that I can’t stop thinking about him.”
“About Max, you mean,” Serena said disapprovingly.
Liz slowly shook her head. “No,” she said thoughtfully, “I don’t think so. I mean, yeah, he reminds me of Max. He looks just like him, for Christ’s sake.”
“So find yourself a new guy,” Serena persisted. “Some blond hunk who couldn’t look less like Max or Rocker-boy, and make yourself forget.” She frowned. “What about what’s-his-name from the club the other night—you know, the model from the Abercrombie ads? He was into you.”
Liz thought for a minute, then shook her head. “I don’t think I could be into a guy I’ve already seen mostly naked in a catalog.”
A devilish glint appeared in Serena’s blue eyes. “At least you’d know what you’re getting into,” she suggested.
Liz considered this, but was not convinced. “What if they airbrush? I don’t think I’m up for the disappointment.”
“Good point.” Serena licked a tiny speck of foam off her upper lip. “Then find yourself someone else, ravish him, and blow him off. You’ll feel like a new woman.”
Liz laughed and was about to answer when someone stepped into her path.
“Hey, fancy meetin’ you here.”
Liz nearly dropped her coffee. “Zan.”
He nodded, then silence fell between them. Serena looked from one to the other, her eyes wide, but interested. Finally, Zan gestured to the surrounding classroom buildings. “So you really do go to Columbia, then,” he said, wondering for the millionth time what he was doing here.
“Yeah, I do,” Liz agreed. Had he come looking for her? Why?
“Biology, right?” he persisted, casting about for something to say to her. What the hell am I doing? he asked himself.
“Right,” she said. She took a deep breath. “So do you—do you work around here?”
“Me? No. No, I was—uh, I had an errand to run.”
“Oh. Oh, right.” She glanced around the crowded street. “I was just at class.”
“And Starbucks,” he added, nodding at her cup.
“Um, yeah.” Self-consciously, Liz took a sip of her latte. “Gotta have my caffeine rush.”
At this point, Serena rolled her eyes and cleared her throat. “You know what? There’s not enough sugar in this cappuccino,” she said. “I’m going to go get a little more.”
Liz looked at her in surprise. “But you don’t like—” she began, but stopped when Serena pointedly raised her eyebrows. “—much sugar in your coffee,” she finished.
“I know—and this still isn’t enough,” Serena said smoothly, feigning annoyance. “Are you guys going to be okay out here?”
“Um, yeah,” Liz answered. “Okay.” When Serena was gone, she turned back to Zan, trying not to stare as she studied him. The resemblance between him and Max was like looking into a funhouse mirror—familiar, but off a beat, somehow. “Did you finish your errand?” she asked him.
“My—oh, yeah. My errand. Yeah, all done. Nothin’ big, ya know?” He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand, looking at her for a long moment as though appraising her. “Look, uh—you wanna sit down?” He gestured to a nearby bench.
“Sure.” She smiled, wondering where this was going, but not wanting it to end.
“Good.” He led the way to the bench, carefully dusting it off before she sat down. Her plaid wool skirt looked expensive—and he liked the way it clung to her body without being too obvious. No use ruining it.
Liz crossed her legs and rested her coffee cup on her knee. “So, do you come here a lot?” she wanted to know. “Because I’ve never seen you here before.”
Zan shrugged. “Nah, not really. I just. . .had to do something here today.” He glanced at her. “You’re probably here a lot.”
She nodded, smiling. “Almost every day.”
Another awkward silence fell. It was Zan who finally broke it. “Hey, uh. . .do you like Incubus?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Liz answered honestly. “I love them. When I first bought their CD I played it so much I wore it out.”
“Really?” Zan looked pleased. “I know this club—Incubus is going to be there tomorrow night. You feel like goin’?”
“Yes!” Liz grinned. “I’d love to go.”
Zan grinned back. “Yeah? Well, the show starts at seven. Maybe we could have drinks, or get something to eat before that.”
“I’d like that.” Liz nodded. “I—I have class until four-thirty.”
Liz pointed. “In that building right there.”
“I’ll meet you here then. You like pizza?”
“Love it.” Liz stood when she saw Serena coming. “Oh, I have class. Now, actually.”
He stood up, too. “No problem. I’ll see you tomorrow. Here.”
“Right here?” she teased, smiling.
He pointed to the spot where he was standing. “I’ll be right here,” he retorted.
“Okay, then.” She nodded, backing toward Serena. “Tomorrow. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
|posted on 6-Mar-2002 10:46:24 AM|
“Liz, I still can’t believe you’re doing this, but I have to say, Rocker Boy is going to die when he sees you.” Serena reached out and smoothed a strand of Liz’s shiny brown hair. “You look incredible.”
Liz twisted around to check out how she looked from behind in the mirror over the sinks. She and Serena had been in this bathroom on the first floor of the biochem building for the past twenty minutes, having skipped class to get Liz ready for her date with Zan. She craned her neck to look over her shoulder, trying to decide if her new red leather pants were too tight. No, she decided, just right. “Not bad for twenty minutes,” she told Serena.
“Not bad?” Serena repeated, shaking her head. “Girl, you are going to cause a heat wave!” It was true—Liz did look great. The leather pants fit her perfectly, riding low on her hips, and hugging her body until they flared slightly at her calves. With them she wore a black halter top that left her arms and shoulders bare and stopped a couple of inches above her waist. The gap between her top and her pants left her silver navel ring exposed, and sometimes when she moved the top of her tattoo was visible. Her hair was brushed and pomaded into choppy waves that she had copied from the latest issue of Glamour, and the highlights she spent too much money on every month glinted under the harsh florescent lights in the bathroom. Her make-up was heavier than usual, and she had just finished putting on silver hoop earrings and a black leather wrist cuff. Looking in the mirror, her main thought was that she hoped Zan would approve. But somewhere in the back of her mind, another thought registered, too—that Max Evans wouldn’t recognize her now if she passed by him on the street.
“Okay, I better go,” she told Serena. “He’s probably waiting.”
“Yeah.” Serena gathered a few items they had left on the countertop and stuffed them into her cosmetic bag. “He probably is.”
“Right.” Liz grabbed her coat and shrugged into it.
Serena stopped what she was doing, hesitating as Liz started for the door. “Liz,” she blurted finally.
Liz paused and looked back at her friend. “What?”
“Don’t go out with him because you think he’s Max.”
Liz stared hard at Serena. “I would never do that.”
Serena nodded seriously. “I hope not. Just remember, Liz—Max Evans loved you. And when you couldn’t be who he wanted you to be, he broke your heart. You didn’t deserve that. Neither does anyone else.”
“I want to go out with Zan,” Liz said firmly.
“Good.” Serena smiled encouragingly. “Then go—he’s waiting for you.”
Liz hesitated for a second, but realized Zan probably was waiting. “I’m going,” she said over her shoulder as she walked out the door.
* * * * *
Zan paced outside the Starbucks where he and Liz had met for the second time. This is insane—this is freakin’ insane, he told himself. He had been looking forward to this since the minute Liz agreed to go out with him. Not just the concert—though he was sure that was going to be great, too—but seeing Liz. Once again, she had been on his mind all day. He had barely been able to keep his mind on his work that day—and it had been a busy day. What is it about her? he wondered. He stopped pacing and glanced at his reflection in the window of Starbucks, doing a double take when he realized he was not alone. He spun and found Liz standing a few steps away from him. She smiled shyly, her expression completely at odds with the rest of her appearance.
“Hi,” she said. “Have you been waiting long?”
Mutely, he shook his head. She looked. . .amazing. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Finally, realizing he was staring, he found his voice. “You—you look great,” he said. “How—how were your classes?”
Liz wrinkled her nose. “Fine, I guess. They’re over now. I’m really excited about the concert.”
“Yeah, me, too.” Zan nodded. He paused for a second. “You wanna get goin’?”
“Yeah, let’s go.” She nodded and they fell into step together. “So what did you say you do?” she asked after a moment.
“I didn’t.” He hesitated, then glanced at her. “I, uh—I work for the city. A works project.”
He didn’t elaborate, and she didn’t press. “Oh. Where are we going again?”
“You ever been to Il Villagio?” he asked her.
“No.” She shook her head. “Sounds Italian. Pizza?”
“Breakfast of champions,” he agreed, giving her that ironic grin.
“Sounds great. I’m starving.”
“Good thing. Roberta and Giulio won’t like it if you don’t eat.”
She looked at him questioningly. “Roberta and Giulio?”
“The owners. I’ve been goin’ there ever since I was a kid—and they’re always there.” Zan grinned at her. “You’ll like ‘em. They’re real nice people.”
She smiled. “You’ve. . .lived in New York all your life, then?” She felt a little guilty asking him this, since she was almost sure she knew the answer. It crossed her mind that if anything was to happen between them, she was going to have be honest with him sooner or later. Later, she told herself. Worry about that later.
“All my life,” he agreed proudly. “You?”
“No, I moved here for college,” she told him. “I love it, though.” She paused for a moment. “So, is your family here then?” she asked hesitantly.
A shadow crossed Zan’s face. “Yeah, my family’s here,” he said grimly. “If you wanna call ‘em that.” They walked in silence for a few minutes, then Zan put his hand on her elbow to stop her. “This is it,” he said.
They had reached a small store front restaurant with red awnings and a profusion of green plants just inside the front windows. When Zan opened the door for her, a burst of warm air smelling of garlic and tomato sauce hit Liz’s face and she sniffed appreciatively. “Mmm, smells good,” she said, just as a short, round man in an apron, moving very fast for his size, hurried up to them.
“Zan, come in, come in!” he exclaimed in a heavily accented voice. “So long you have stayed away! Roberta is thinking you don’t eat anymore!”
Zan grinned. “Naw, just been busy, Giulio. Got a table for me and my friend? I told her this was the best pizza in New York.”
“Always, always,” Giulio beamed. He turned to Liz, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he smiled. “A very beautiful lady,” he said to Zan.
“This is Liz Parker,” Zan said quickly. “Liz, this is Giulio Buonetti.”
“Nice to meet you,” Liz smiled. She blushed when Giulio took the hand she offered and planted a feather-light kiss on her knuckles.
“Bellissima,” he said. “It is my pleasure.” Tucking her hand into the crook of his elbow, he led them to a table near the front windows. “Sit, my dear,” Giulio told Liz, pulling out her chair. Zan took the one across from her. “Roberta!” Giulio called as Liz shrugged out of her coat. “Roberta, come and mean Zan’s beautiful friend!” Liz grinned at Zan across the table and he rolled his eyes apologetically.
Roberta matched her husband—she was plump and short, but her white hair was soft and thick, wound into a neat bun at the back of her head, and her brown eyes were the color of melted chocolate. Liz could easily imagine that she had once been a knock-out. She bustled up to them, wiping her hands on a dishcloth, smiling from ear to ear. “Zan,” she exclaimed happily. “Where have you been, you naughty boy?” She took his face between her hands and kissed him on both cheeks. “I have worried about you.”
“Sorry, Roberta—just been busy, that’s all.” Zan’s ears were a little red, Liz noticed with amusement, though he seemed to be glad to see the old couple.
“Too busy to eat?” she demanded imperiously.
“Won’t happen again,” he assured her.
Roberta had noticed Liz by then, and was looking at her curiously. “This is Liz Parker,” Giulio informed her. “Zan’s friend.”
Liz blushed again as she shook Roberta’s hand. “Nice to meet you. This is a lovely place,” she offered.
“Pah, wait until you taste our pies,” Roberta said. “That is the real reason Zan comes here, not for our tablecloths and my husband’s silly plants.”
“Hey, I like the plants,” Zan protested. “Nice, Giulio, really.”
“Hmph.” Roberta sniffed. “Now, what would you like to eat? Something special for your friend? Pasta, perhaps? Or a salad? All the girls eat salad these days—rabbit food, I say.”
“Pizza,” Liz said immediately.
Zan grinned at her. “You heard the lady,” he told Roberta. “One pizza with extra cheese and pepperoni—you like pepperoni, right?”
Liz nodded. “Love it.”
“Coming right up,” Giulio said. He winked at Zan. “I bring you a bottle of chianti, too, yes? For you and bellissima?”
“Sounds good.” Zan waited until they were gone, then looked up at Liz. “They get a little carried away sometimes.”
“They’re wonderful,” Liz said honestly.
“I never had grandparents,” Zan told her. “Giulio and Roberta are pretty close, though.” He leaned across the table. “How about you? You got family?”
Liz nodded. “Yeah, my parents and my brother back home, and some aunts and uncles.”
“Yeah? And where is home?” he wanted to know.
Liz took a deep breath. This is it. “Um, I grew up in New Mexico. Roswell, New Mexico.”
Zan smiled as a young waiter set a bottle of Chianti and two wineglasses on the table between them. “Roswell?” he repeated. “That’s, like UFO-ville, right?”
If her response bothered him, he sure wasn’t showing it. “Um, yeah,” Liz managed, watching him as he casually poured her a glass of wine. “The—uh, the crash, and all.” She cleared her throat. “My family even owns a restaurant with an alien theme. It’s called the Crashdown.”
“Yeah? You ever get any little green men in there?” he teased.
Liz was sure her face was flaming. “Noo—oo,” she said finally. “No little green men. But I did used to wear antennae with my uniform?”
“Yeah. Silver, springy antennae.”
He laughed at that. “Now, that’s something I’d like to see. Do you—you know, bring ‘em out for special occasions?”
His complete lack of reaction to Roswell—and to aliens, for pity’s sake!—had her flustered. But that grin was hard to resist. “Haven’t had any occasion that special,” she grinned back.
“We’ll see what we can do about that,” he retorted. He took a sip of his wine. “So tell me more about your family.”
“Well, there’s my parents. They’re—you know, parents.” Liz shrugged. “They call me every few days to make sure I haven’t gotten mugged or murdered in the big, bad city.”
Zan chuckled. “What about your brother?”
Liz smiled—she always smiled when she thought about Alexander. “He’s three and a half,” she said, toying with her wineglass. “He was born right before I left for college, so I thought he wouldn’t remember me too much. But he always does. I know I’m prejudiced, but he’s really smart, and he’s adorable, too. I talk to him on the phone, and he draws me pictures—my fridge is like a museum. I love him like crazy.”
“It’s just the two of you, then?” he asked. At her nod, he shook his head. “Lot of years between the two of you.”
Liz laughed. “Yeah, he was kind of a surprise. A big surprise, actually. Mom and Dad hadn’t planned to have any more kids, but somebody had other ideas, I guess.”
“What’s his name?” Zan wanted to know.
“Alexander,” Liz answered.
“Big name for a little guy. You call him Alex?”
Liz’s smile faded. “No.”
Clearly she didn’t want to talk about whatever it was that had driven the smile from her face, so Zan didn’t press. Instead, he asked began asking her about school. As she answered, he couldn’t stop his mind from wandering. So she’s from Roswell, he told himself. Big deal. People live in Roswell—lots of people. Besides, she’s a scientist. People like her don’t believe in aliens. She probably thinks the crash was a weather balloon or something.
“Here we are—for you and your lady.” Beaming, Giulio set a steaming pizza on the table. Zan looked up, startled, but recovered quickly.
“Thanks, Giulio. Smells terrific.”
“Is terrific,” Giulio corrected archly. Deftly, he slid a slice onto Liz’s plate. “Here, cara mia—you try, and tell me if it is not the best pizza in the city.”
Liz carefully picked up the slice and blew on it before taking a cautious bite. It was delicious. “Mmm,” she said, closing her eyes as she chewed. “It’s wonderful.”
Giulio’s smile widened even farther. “See? I told you. Now eat up—both of you.” With that he hurried off to wait on the rest of his customers.
Zan transferred a slice to his own plate. “Good, huh?” he asked, raising it to his mouth.
Liz’s mouth was already full, but she smiled. “Better than good,” she asserted, when she could speak again.
Zan swallowed and wiped his mouth. “I’m glad you like it.”
“I really do.” She took another bite and they chewed in silence for a while. Finally, Liz cleared her throat. “So tell me about you. Do you—uh. . .” Liz cast about for something to ask him. She already knew he didn’t have a family, and that he grown up on the streets. . . “do you live around here?”
He shook hid head. “Not anymore. I used to live just a few blocks away, though. Long time ago.”
“Is that why you know Giulio and Roberta?”
“Yeah. I used to come in here all the time.” He smiled sheepishly. “Actually, I still come in here all the time.”
“I got that,” Liz agreed, grinning.
Zan laughed. “Perceptive, aren’t ya?”
“Women’s intuition,” she chuckled. “Um, you said you worked for the city. What do you do?”
He shrugged. “It’s a community works project. I just—ah, I do whatever needs done. You know how those things go—there’s never enough help. You gotta know how to do everything.” He took a drink of his wine. “So you’re a biology major. Does that mean you wanna be a doctor?”
Liz licked a bit of sauce off her finger, not noticing how Zan’s eyes followed her movement with interest. “Maybe. Right now I really think I want to be a virologist.”
Zan looked thoughtful. “Like that move with the monkey that gave everybody the disease?”
“Something like that.” Liz nodded. “I don’t know exactly what area I want to work in, though.”
“How long do you gotta go to school for something like that?”
“Depends on how far I want to go,” she answered. “A Ph.D. takes eight years, post college.”
Zan looked amazed. “Eight years? You’re plannin’ on bein’ in school for eight years?”
She laughed. “Well, sure, when you say it like that. . .”
Liz had finished her pizza, so Zan slid another slice onto her plate. “You must like school.”
“Sort of,” she nodded. “I always liked science in high school.”
They talked the whole way through the pizza, most of the wine, and cannolis that they were barely able to finish. Both were so into their conversation that when Zan glanced at the clock an hour later, they couldn’t believe what time it was. Zan drained the last of his wine. “Whoa, we gotta hurry,” he said.
Liz looked at her watch in surprise. “I can’t believe it’s this late.” She reached for her coat and stood up as Zan did the same.
He tossed some money on the table and waved a hasty goodbye to Giulio behind the counter. “Here, let me help you,” he said to Liz, stepping behind her to help her with her coat.
“Thanks,” she said, as she buttoned it up to her chin. She wrapped her scarf around her neck and turned around to smile at Zan. “Ready?”
He finished buttoning his own coat and nodded. “Yeah. Let’s get out of here,” he said, and lightly put his hand on her elbow to guide her to the door.
Meet me in outer space
We could spend the night
Watch the earth come up
I’ve grown tired of that place;
Won’t you come with me?
We could start again.
How do you do it?
It’s better than I ever knew.
Meet me in outer space.
I will hold you close
If you’re afraid of heights.
I need you to see this place
It might be the only way
That I can show you how
It feels to be inside of you
How do you do it?
It’s better than I ever knew.
You are stellar.
“That was amazing!” Liz’s cheeks were flushed and her eyes were bright as she and Zan left Club Alpha a little after one-thirty that morning. “They were so. . .so—” She gave up and shook her head, laughing.
“I know,” Zan agreed. “That’s just what I was thinking.”
“I really liked that last song,” Liz continued, not noticing how he was looking at her. “Meet me in outer space. . . That’s so pretty.” Liz had had a few drinks that night—enough to make her mellow and contemplative. Now she turned her face to the sky and took a deep breath. “You can’t see the stars here, but in the desert, there’s so many. And they’re so close. It’s like you could really meet someone there.”
Zan couldn’t take his eyes from her. She seemed like part of the night, standing there with her midnight hair blowing in the slight breeze, her eyes sparkling as brightly as any star. “I’ve never seen anything like that. The stars always seem far away to me.”
That seemed to make her sad. “Really? That’s a shame.” A small smile played around her lips. “Everyone should feel like they can touch the stars sometimes.”
That dreamy look in her eyes was doing strange things to Zan’s pulse. He stepped a little closer to her. “And do you feel like that?”
Liz’s eyes grew round and she suddenly felt breathless. “Sometimes,” she answered in a small voice.
“I should take you home,” Zan said, but he didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry. He stepped even closer to her, looking down into her bright eyes.
“Yeah, I have class tomorrow,” Liz agreed unconvincingly. Her heart was beating fast, and the haze from her gin and tonic was clearing quickly. This isn’t fair. . .I have to tell him.
“Yeah, I’ve got work,” Zan murmured, his eyes tracing the line of her lips.
“Then maybe I should just hail a cab,” Liz said faintly. “You don’t have to take me—” But she never finished her sentence. Before she knew what was going on Zan had put his hands on her upper arms and was kissing her, gently caressing her lips, waiting for her response. Liz’s head started to spin again and she shut her eyes. Part of her knew a thousand reasons why this was wrong—they had just met, they had a connection he didn’t know about, they had both had too much to drink to be thinking clearly—but the minute she felt Zan’s mouth begin to tug ever so gently on her lower lip, she knew that part of her was not going to win out. As one of his hands slipped inside her coat to rest just below the edge of her shirt, she shivered and opened her mouth slightly, inviting more.
Zan took his time, running his tongue lightly over her lips before dipping into her mouth. He could taste her bubble gum-flavored lip-gloss, and the lime twist from her drink that she had been sucking on before they left the club, and he thought that nothing had ever tasted so incredible. Slowly, almost lazily, he explored every corner of her mouth, and before he was done he thought his head would explode from the shear pleasure of it. He felt it when her breath quickened, and when she began to respond eagerly, her hands pulling at his coat, he let himself go a little more. His hand left her shoulder and went to her waist to pull her closer. She didn’t protest; instead she reached up and put her arms around his neck. Zan was no longer thinking clearly. Liz occupied his mind, overwhelmed his senses. Was he crazy, or could he actually feel her heart beating? He was losing himself in her, and nothing had ever felt more right. The ground could split beneath his feet, and he still wouldn’t stop touching her—*flash* I just have to get out of here, Maria. Out of Roswell. I feel like I can’t breathe here anymore. . .*flash*
Stunned, Zan broke off the kiss. He stared at Liz in confusion. “What—?” he began, then stopped. Liz looked bewildered as well.
“What happened?” Liz asked, then realization dawned. He had seen one of the flashes—like those she and Max had experienced years ago. But she hadn’t seen anything. Why?
“Nothing,” Zan said, shaking his head. The memory had been as clear as if it was his own. He looked down at Liz, unsure what to do, but the moment seemed to have passed.
She looked down. “Maybe I should get a taxi,” she suggested, refusing to meet his gaze.
But Zan wasn’t about to let her go that easily. “Is that what you wanna do?” he asked in a husky voice.
Liz raised her head and looked up at him, her eyes bright. “I don’t know,” she managed to say before his lips captured hers again. Their kiss was even longer this time; Zan let her go only when both their lungs burned for air. “It’s late,” Liz gasped, her eyes still closed.
“It’s early somewhere,” Zan responded, bending his head to kiss her once more.
It was Liz who ended it this time. . .eventually. “I—I really do have to get home,” she murmured, though she hadn’t pulled away from him. Her arms were still around his neck, and she showed no resistance to his hands on her waist.
“Yeah,” Zan agreed, still breathing heavily. Reluctantly, he released her. “I’ll get you a cab.” He walked to the curb and signaled to a passing taxi. As it pulled to the edge of the street, Liz tried to catch her breath. Zan opened the door for her and stood there waiting, watching her every move. As she was about to get into the car, he put his hand on her shoulder, stopping her. “Can I see you again?” he asked.
In answer, Liz reached up and pulled his face down to give him another searing kiss. “What do you think?” she asked, pressing a folded slip of paper into his hand. Before he could react, she slid into the cab, quickly giving the driver directions. She looked up at Zan as he prepared to shut the door behind her. “I had a really good time tonight. Thanks.”
“Me, too,” he answered. He started to say more, but thought better of it and closed the door. She watched him through the window until the cab had pulled away. Zan stood there watching the tailights until the car was lost in the flow of traffic. Only then did he turn away, heading home for the night. “Me, too,” he murmured again.
|posted on 6-Mar-2002 10:50:45 AM|
“You kissed him?!” Serena shrieked. “Repeatedly?!"
Liz sat on the edge of her bed, still dressed in the clothes she had worn to the concert, the phone in her lap. “Well, if you had kissed him once, you’d have done it again, too,” she retorted.
Serena moaned. “That good?” she asked.
“That good,” Liz confirmed with a sigh. It was well after 1:00 in the morning, and she had just arrived at her apartment, but she knew if she didn’t call Serena right away with the details of her date Serena would be royally upset. Smothering a yawn, Liz bent over to take off her shoes. “Like, stars exploding good,” she told her friend, then suddenly remembered something. “I think he had a flash.”
Serena sounded confused. “A flash of what?”
Liz slid off the bed and wandered over to her desk. “Remember how I told you when Max and I would kiss—”
“Oh, right, a flash,” Serena interrupted excitedly. “What did you see?”
“Nothing. I said he had a flash. At least, I think he did. He didn’t say one way or the other.” Liz rifled through the mail she had dropped on her desk. Bills, catalogues . . .
“He didn’t tell you?” Serena paused. “Liz, did you tell him you know about him?”
Liz hesitated. “Well, no,” she admitted guiltily. “It never came up.”
“Did you consider bringing it up?” Serena demanded.
“I told him I was from Roswell—I thought that would do it,” Liz said. She twisted a strand of her hair nervously. “But he didn’t react and then we were eating pizza, and we couldn’t talk at the concert, and we were having such a good time, and I—”
“Chickened out,” Serena finished flatly.
“Pretty much,” Liz agreed.
“So now when you tell him about Max and all the rest of it, he’s going to wonder why you didn’t do it the first time you went out.”
“Uh-huh.” Liz sighed heavily. “It’s not like I didn’t want to—I mean, I’m dying to know why Ava and the rest of them thought he was dead. But how do you start that conversation? So, how long have you been an alien?”
“You have got to tell him,” Serena said firmly.
“I know, I know.” Liz rifled through the envelopes until she found one from her mother—marked with telltale crayon scribbles and messy fingerprints. She smiled; her mother always let Alexander decorate the envelopes when she mailed his artwork to Liz. “I’ll tell him, Serena,” she said. “If I don’t—well, I don’t want him to see Max in a flash, or something.”
“Yes, he could see Max in a flash!” Serena nearly shouted. Liz wondered briefly if Serena had been drinking, but figured her friend was just tired. “Do you want that to happen?”
“Of course not, Serena.” Liz slid a finger under the flap of the envelope to open it. “I’m going to tell him—soon. I just need to make sure I do it in a way that won’t scare him off.”
“So you’re going to tell him that your true love is his preppier, more suburban twin in a way that won’t upset him.” Serena’s voice was a study in sarcasm. “Let me know how that works out for you.”
“Well, what do you think I should do?” Liz asked irritably. She ripped the envelope open to find several sheets of crayon-scribbled paper.
“Just tell him. Out with it. There is no easy way to tell him, so do it now before he breaks your heart when he runs away,” Serena said immediately.
“Thanks—that was cheerful and optimistic.” Liz tucked the phone under her ear and leaned against the desk as she looked at Alexander’s drawings. Most were multi-colored scribbles, but a few were beginning to form recognizable shapes—for instance, the one on top might have been a house. Sure enough, in the corner, her mother had written “House.” “What makes you think he’s going to run away?”
“Once he knows you know he’s an alien?” Serena demanded. “I don’t know—survival instinct, maybe?”
“That’s ridiculous. If I didn’t turn Max in, why would I turn him in?” Liz frowned. “And anyway, Max didn’t run away.”
“Max was different,” Serena insisted. “Max is an alien.”
Liz could feel the beginnings of a headache. “So is Zan, Serena,” she said wearily.
“Yes, and you have got to tell him you know that!” Serena finished triumphantly.
“Oh, yeah, that’s a headache,” Liz mumbled under her breath. She flipped through the rest of her brother’s drawings, smiling a little. There was “Kitty,” “Daddy,” and “Boat.” The very last one wasn’t labeled; instead there was a post-it note attached. He wouldn’t tell me what this was, her mother had written. He just said it was “for Liz.” But Liz didn’t need anyone to tell her that Alexander had drawn a star system. Her whole body went cold as her eyes traced the path of five planets, situated in a V formation. Alexander had seemed to concentrate on one planet in particular, drawing circles of red, green, yellow, and purple around the central mass of blue scribbles. Liz sucked in a breath. Antar.
“Liz?” Serena leaned across her astrophysics homework to peer at the paper Liz had been doodling on for the past hour. “Honey, that’s not an algorithm.”
“What? Oh, no, I guess it’s not.” Liz looked down at the paper. Sketches of the Antarian star system in varying sizes covered it. She sighed heavily and crumpled the paper between her hands. “I just wish I knew where Alexander saw this.”
Serena took the paper from her and smoothed it carefully, looking over the drawings with interested eyes. “Maybe it isn’t Antar,” she suggested. “Maybe it was just random scribbles.”
Liz looked at her with disbelieving eyes. “And maybe the theory of relativity was just a guess,” she said, frowning.
Serena didn’t argue. The placement of the planets, the special attention to Antar on Alexander’s crude map—it was too much to be coincidence. “Well, does he hang out with any of—you know, them? Maybe one of them showed him, like they showed you.”
“He sees Michael a lot,” Liz admitted. “I mean, he and Maria are at the Crashdown all the time, and my parents take Alexander there a lot.”
“See? Maybe Michael showed him—drew it, or something.” Serena looked pleased with herself.
Liz slowly shook her head. “I doubt it,” she disagreed. “I don’t think Michael would be that careless. What if someone asked what it was?”
“But why would they?” Serena reasoned. “It’s just a design—no one would know what it means unless they’d seen it before.”
Liz nodded absently. “Maybe,” she agreed vaguely. Her mind was on something else—something that had been nagging her ever since she told Serena about Alexander’s drawing. Who showed the Antarian system to me? Had it been Max—had he drawn it for her, or had she seen it in one of the flashes? Had it been in the destiny book, or perhaps one of the symbols Michael had used to signal Nasedo? She simply couldn’t recall—but she had immediately identified it in Alexander’s drawing. It was a small thing, perhaps, but with her old life coming back to haunt her these days, it was something she couldn’t forget.
“That must have been what happened,” Serena said firmly. “It’s the only thing that makes sense.”
“Serena, when has any part of this made sense?” Liz demanded.
Serena had no answer for that. Instead, she crumpled up the drawing and tossed it aside. “So, have you heard from Zan?” she asked.
That brought a smile to Liz’s face. “Um, he left me a message yesterday while I was in class. He said he was going to call me today.”
Serena grinned. “So, there’s going to be a second date?” she asked coyly.
“I hope so,” Liz answered honestly. She tapped her pencil on the library table where they had been studying for the past three hours—since class had finished. “I know you think this is about him being like Max, but the truth is he isn’t anything like Max. He’s just. . .he’s different. I like him.”
“Different like I’m curious now and I want to get to know the rest of him,” Liz said. “I mean, I’m curious about the other, too—you, know, the—” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “—the alien thing.”
“But you’re liking the human side,” Serena crowed happily.
Liz couldn’t hide her grin. Those kisses had been incredible. “Yeah, I am,” she admitted.
“You have to tell him,” Serena said, suddenly serious.
“I will,” Liz protested in what had become a habit. “I just. . .I want him to know I think he’s special—not just because I know what he is. Then I’ll tell him.”
“He’s going to want to know why you didn’t tell him before,” Serena predicted.
Liz shrugged. “I think he’ll understand.” She was about to say more when her cell phone beeped and she grabbed for it in her bag. “Unknown number,” she read aloud, then flashed Serena a grin. “It could be him.” Without waiting for Serena’s answer, she jumped up and left the reading room. As she hurried into the lobby, she picked up the call. “Hello?” she asked.
“Hi, Liz? It’s Zan.”
Liz leaned against a marble pillar, knowing she was grinning like a school girl. “Hi, Zan,” she said. “I. . .I was hoping you’d call.”
“You were?” He sounded pleased. “That’s good to hear.” He paused for a minute. “So, how’s everything?”
“Good. I’m just studying. Classes ended a while ago.”
“I don’t wanna interrupt—” he began, but she cut him off.
“You’re not,” she assured him. “My mind really wasn’t on it, anyway.”
“Yeah, I know how that is,” he agreed, and it was true. He had been able to think of little but Liz in days. At night, he lay awake, seeing her face in his mind, remembering how her kiss outside the club had left him spinning.
“It’s just reading,” she told him. “Sometimes I think I’m the only one in class that does it.”
“And you always do it?” he wanted to know.
“Um, well—most of the time,” Liz admitted, grinning. “It is a little dry sometimes.” She paused, then cleared her throat. “So how’s work?”
“It’s—you know, it’s work.” There was a short pause and then he asked, “Hey, I’m callin’ because I thought maybe you’d want to get together this weekend. Maybe Saturday?”
Liz didn’t even pretend to think about it. “I’d like that,” she said. “What did you have in mind?”
“You know where the ferry dock is at the Battery?” he asked.
“Yes. . .are we going to Ellis Island?” she wanted to know.
“You’ll have to wait until we get there,” he told her, and she could hear the smile in his voice. “Look, I won’t be able to make it there until about four, so. . .”
“That’s good. I have some stuff to do on Saturday, anyway. I’ll meet you there.”
“Cool. I’ll see you there.”
Liz ended the call and looked up to see Serena standing in the doorway of the reading room, a questioning look on her face. Liz smiled. “Saturday,” she said, her eyes sparkling.
Liz woke up early on Saturday—ostensibly so she could finish her errands and chores before she had to meet Zan, but really because she was too excited to sleep very long. All day she did laundry, grocery shopped, studied, and wrote a short email to Maria. The email took her a while; all she could think of to tell her friend was Zan, but she wasn’t quite ready to do that yet.
By two, Liz was dressed in the clothes she planned to wear on their date—a ribbed black sweater and chocolate brown pants—and couldn’t sit still. She tried on several pairs of shoes before deciding on her black ankle boots, then pulled her favorite leather jacket out of her closet and tossed it onto the couch to grab later. Her Burberry scarf landed on top of it, as did her tan beret and gloves. She figured that would keep her warm, even if Zan planned to take her to the top of the Statue of Liberty. She carefully reapplied her make-up, brushed her hair until it shone, then sat down on the couch and pretended to read The Picture of Dorian Gray. But although Oscar Wilde was one of her favorites, she simply wasn’t paying attention. After she read the same page three times, she put the book down and glanced at the clock. Almost two-thirty. If she left now, she’d be early, but at least she’d be doing something. Quickly, she put on her coat, her scarf, and her hat, stopping in front of the mirror to check her reflection.
“You’re going to tell him tonight,” she told herself firmly. “No excuses this time.” Grabbing her purse, gloves, and keys, she left the apartment.
The subway was crowded, as usual, but Liz made good time on her way to the park. When she got off the train at last, she jogged lightly up the steps and into the clear, cold day. Swarms of people filled the area, some waiting for the ferry, some taking pictures of the skyscrapers or the harbor. Not all were tourists; Liz saw quite a few stock-broker types hurrying into the subway. Probably worked all day—even on Saturday, she thought, looking around. Zan had said four, and she was almost half an hour early. But maybe he would be early, too.
Liz walked along the water, telling herself she wasn’t looking for Zan, but before she had reached the visitor’s center, she paused and turned in the opposite direction, feeling as though something was pulling her that way—something familiar, but not felt in a long, long time. . . A smile lit her face when she saw Zan coming down the gangplank of one of the ferries, his tall frame easy to pick out above the heads of at least a dozen young boys around him. Liz watched him for a moment, curiously noting that he seemed to know the boys. They followed him onto the deck and crowded around him as he seemed to give instructions. She hung back for a moment, watching, then decided to go see what was going on.
“We’re a little early,” Zan was saying over the din created by the boys. “Stay together—Tony should be here any minute to pick you up.” He started to say more, but two of the boys, who had been tussling over something Liz couldn’t see suddenly fell to the ground, hitting on each other.
“It’s mine!” one cried, while the other protested, “Gimme it!”
Zan pushed aside the other boys and quickly separated the two. “No,” he said, when the smaller of the boys tried to pocket the item, “give it to me.” The boy reluctantly handed it over, and Zan turned it over in his hands, shaking his head. “You’re fightin’ over this?” he demanded, holding up a small rubber ball.
The smaller boy scuffed his shoe on the ground. “Stephan tried to take it,” he said rebelliously.
“You do that, Stephan?” Zan asked.
“He wouldn’t let me see it,” the other boy said sullenly. “We’re s’posed to share.”
Zan shook his head. “It’s nice to share,” he corrected. “But Jonah doesn’t have to give it to you if he doesn’t want to.”
“I woulda give it to him if he asked!” Jonah protested.
Zan looked at the ball again. “You gonna fight over this?” he asked, looking from one boy to the other.
Both boys shook their heads. “No,” they muttered.
“Good.” He tossed the ball back to Jonah. “Now, no more fightin—at least not ‘til Tony gets here,” he added wearily. It was then that he looked up to see Liz standing a few feet away, smiling, but curious. He stepped closer to him, aware that the boys were watching him. “You’re early,” he said, not sure what else to say.
“Hi,” Liz said, stuffing her hands in her pockets and looking at him curiously. “So, is this the job with the city?” She pointed to a hat one of the boys wore—backwards, naturally. It read, “City Youth.”
Zan looked like a kid whose mother just opened his messy closet. “Uh, yeah. I work at a youth center in Brooklyn.”
A slow, knowing smile stretched across Liz’s face, and Zan forgot all about the kids, the windy day, the crowd of people. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked.
He ducked his head. “You know, I—” He stopped as another man approached them. “Hey, Tony,” he said quickly. “They’re all yours.”
“My luck,” Tony responded, grinning at the boys. He looked at Liz questioningly. “Anything else you want to tell me, Zan?”
“No,” Zan said.
Tony gave a theatrical sigh. “Fine,” he said, and turned to Liz. “I’m Tony Laurentano,” he told her, holding out his hand.
“Liz Parker,” Liz answered, smiling. “Nice to meet you.”
He nodded in Zan’s direction. “I take it you two know each other?”
“She’s with me,” Zan interrupted. “And these guys are with you, so—”
“Not so fast.” Tony seemed to be enjoying this. “Hey, guys, have you met Zan’s new friend yet?”
“No,” they all chorused, suddenly wide-eyed and obedient.
Tony shot Zan a devilish grin. “Zan?”
Zan rolled his eyes. “This is my friend Liz Parker,” he announced, loud enough for everyone to hear. “Liz, this is. . .the boys—some of ‘em, anyway.”
Liz smiled at all of them, trying not to laugh as they grinned and nudged each other. “Nice to meet you all,” she said.
“Yeah, well, you guys better get goin’ now,” Zan told Tony. “Their moms are gonna wonder where they are.”
Tony shot Liz a knowing look. “Yeah, that’s why we have to go,” he smirked. “You two have a good time.”
Liz grinned at Zan as Tony led the boys to a waiting van at the edge of the park. “So you work with kids,” she said, pushing up her sunglasses for a better look at him.
“Yeah.” Zan shrugged. “Without a little extra help a lot of those kids would end up on the streets, or in gangs, or. . .worse.” He paused, looking uncomfortable. “I was already on the streets by the time I was their age, and I know it ain’t easy to stay clear of all the stuff out there. I know what can happen—I’ve seen it happen.”
“Why didn’t you tell me before?” she wanted to know.
They walked along in silence for a moment or two until he shrugged again. “I don’t know. I just thought maybe—I don’t know, maybe you wouldn’t want to go out or something.”
Liz looked at him in amazement. “You thought I wouldn’t want to go out with you if I found out you cared about how those kids end up?” She stopped walking to search his eyes for her answer, and he stopped, too, not sure what to say. She shook her head and the smile that made him feel warm all over stretched across her face again. “Do you have any idea how attractive you are right now?” she asked him, stepping closer to him.
He raised an eyebrow. “Attractive like ‘big brother’ attractive, or attractive like ‘you wanna jump my bones’ attractive?”
Liz’s cheeks were pink, and it had nothing to do with the chill of the wind off the water. “Um, what if I said somewhere in between?” she hazarded.
Zan nodded, seeming satisfied. “That I can work with,” he said with a grin, putting his arm around her waist as they walked from the park.
[ edited 1 time(s), last at 6-Mar-2002 11:07:32 AM ]
|posted on 6-Mar-2002 11:20:49 AM|
Dinner was Greek food, which they ate standing very close together outside a tiny take-out window. They shared mousaka, spinach and feta pies, and several pitas, which they ripped apart and dipped into a container of the best hummus Liz could remember having. Afterward, they walked through Manhattan, window shopping and talking. He told her about the kids he worked with, and she told him about wanting to be a scientist. He even told her a little bit about Lonnie, Rath, and Ava, though he described them only as kids he had grown up with. Liz listened, looking for a way to tell him about Max and the others, but none came. I’ll tell him, she told herself. But first I’ll let him get comfortable with me. That’s not wrong, is it? But Liz’s inner monologue stopped when Zan took her to a club a few blocks from the Imperial Theater. The volume and driving beat of the house band made it impossible to think of such things anymore. The gin and tonics didn’t hurt, either. By the time the second band started their set, Liz was leaning back in her chair, relaxed and mellow.
“Hey, that’s ska,” she said, her eyes sparkling. “I haven’t heard ska in a long time.”
“Yeah? I never listened to it myself.”
“Nothing better to dance to,” Liz told him, grinning.
“You feel like dancin’?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Always,” Liz said, flashing a grin. Without waiting for him, she started for the dance floor.
“My kind of girl,” Zan murmured, voicing what he had been thinking all night as he followed her.
Liz went straight to the middle of the dance floor, moving easily through the crowd. Zan followed her. “You gonna want another drink?” he yelled over the roar of the music.
Liz nodded, her body already moving to the music. “Gin and tonic!” she shouted back.
“Right.” Zan headed for the bar, shaking his head. This night was full of surprises. By the time he got back to her, she was really into the music, her arms over her head and her hips swaying in time to the horns and driving beat of the band. She smiled when Zan handed her her glass, and used her free hand to draw him further into the crowd. He followed without protest, his eyes following the movement of her body. She grinned at him over the rim of her glass as he started to move with her.
“What do you think?” she asked, nodding to the band.
“Pretty good,” he answered. “never heard too much of this before.”
Liz closed her eyes and let her body sway even more. “I love it,” she said.
Watching her, Zan took a large gulp of his rum and coke, then put his glass on a nearby table. “I’ll take that,” he said, relieving her of her glass, too. She surrendered it after another sip and stepped closer to him, running her hands lightly over his arms and shoulders.
“I like a man who likes to dance,” she said, locking her hands behind his neck.
“I like a girl who knows how to have fun,” he answered, putting his hands on her waist.
Liz stepped out of his grasp, only to turn her back to him and grind her body against his. Pulse pounding, Zan put his hands on her hips as she swayed in time to the music. She let him for a moment, then stepped away again, shooting him a sexy glance over her shoulder. This time he went after her, closing his arms around her.
“Now you’re playing games,” he growled against her ear.
Liz was never sure what had come over her that night, but she right then she felt freer than she had in her entire life. She turned in his arms and stood on tiptoe, drawing his head down to her lips. “There’s only one game I want to play,” she answered, her breath warm against his ear.
Zan searched her face for a moment, trying to decide if she was serious. Finally he grabbed her hand. “Then let’s get outta here,” he said. “There’s somethin’ I wanna show you.”
Liz was surprised, but she followed him off the dance floor and out of the club, stopping only to take her coat when he handed it to her. Outside, she buttoned it securely and pulled her beret down low on her forehead. The night was cold, and their breath hung in icy puffs in the air.
“Where are we going?” Liz asked.
“You’ll find out,” Zan said.
They took the subway downtown, and almost before Liz realized it, they were at the Empire State Building. “Is this it?” she asked, looking up.
“Almost,” he told her. They took the elevator to the observation deck, and when Liz stepped outside, the view took her breath away. The whole city seemed stretched out below them, lit up like a million Christmas trees.
Hand in hand, they walked to the edge Liz stood in awed silence. She had been here once before, during the day, and been impressed by the view, but that was nothing compared to this. Zan watched her for a long moment, and finally spoke. “You said you liked feelin’ close to the stars,” he said. “This is as close as I ever got. I’ve always kinda preferred the view below, though,” he added, gesturing to the city.
Liz tore her eyes from the view long enough to look upward. Yes, he was right. The stars were a little more visible from so high up, but they still paled in comparison to the lights of the city below. “It’s so beautiful,” she said finally, turning her gaze back to the city. A small smile curved her lips. “That word doesn’t even begin to describe it.”
Zan’s eyes were on her only. “No,” he agreed. “No, it doesn’t.”
Liz caught the serious undertone in his voice and looked up at him, the lights of the city reflected in her eyes. Tell him now, she thought. Tell him—
“Liz, I’ve been wantin’ to say somethin’ to you,” he said suddenly.
Maybe he should talk first. “What’s that?” Liz asked.
He stepped closer to her, touching her chin with one hand. “I like you. I feel really—really comfortable around you, you know? I think it’s because. . .when you look at me, it’s like you see me. And you’re not lookin’ for anything else.” He smiled down at her. “No one’s ever looked at me like that before.”
Liz reached up to put her hand on his cheek, forgetting everything but him. “Their loss,” she murmured.
“You think so?” he asked, bending his head to brush his lips against her eyes, her forehead, her cheeks.
She closed her eyes as his mouth hovered close to hers. “I really do,” she answered then pulled his head down to kiss him.
Stars brighter than any she had ever seen in the desert exploded in Liz’s head as Zan kissed her with such intensity that her knees buckled. He caught her without losing his hold on her lips and held her against his body as he continued to kiss her. He was getting the pictures again, the strange, broken images that seemed to come from Liz, but they whirled by so fast he could barely see what they were. He didn’t care. The only thing that mattered was this moment, this instant with Liz in his arms and the city beneath them.
Liz’s head was spinning, and she clung to Zan as though she was afraid he would be snatched away with the rest of the world. She kissed him back, matching his intensity with her own, and still she wanted more. She wanted his body pressed against hers, wanted to feel the heat of his skin beneath her hands. When he broke away, his chest heaving as he took in great lungfuls of the cold night air, she pressed her face against his shoulder. “Want to go to my place?” she asked in a shaky voice.
He pulled back to look at her. “Are you sure?” he asked, searching her eyes for her answer.
She nodded. “I’m sure.”
Liz could have traveled to China in the time it took to get back to her apartment—or so it seemed to her as she sat beside Zan, trying to stay calm. They walked the last couple of blocks, silent in their haste. Zan grabbed her hand and held it tightly, his fingers warm even through the wool of her glove. When they at last got to her door, she fumbled with the key, hastily fitting it to the lock as Zan pushed aside her hair to kiss the sensitive skin behind her ear. He turned her around and pressed her up against the door, kissing her hungrily. Liz reached for the doorhandle, trying in vain to open the door as his hands unbuttoned her coat and pulled her scarf from her neck. Finally Zan reached behind her and opened the door, and they nearly toppled into the apartment.
The door was barely shut behind them before their hands were on each other again, pulling at clothes and buttons. Liz felt dizzy as his lips moved over her ear and down the side of her throat. She reached for the buttons on his coat, nearly twisting them off in her haste, and finally managed to get them opened. Impatiently, he tugged it off, and it fell to the floor around their feet. Liz’s landed somewhere near it, and he started on the tiny buttons on the front of her sweater.
“Stupid buttons,” Liz murmured against his lips, and Zan chuckled.
“Too many of ‘em,” he agreed. He managed to get the first few undone, and bent his head to kiss the warm, smooth skin he had uncovered. Liz shivered at the tingle his touch brought. “Cold?” he asked distractedly, most of his attention focused on her right hand, which was slipping beneath his shirt.
Liz shook her head. “Not even a little,” she whispered. Her fingers trailed lightly over his back, following the pattern of the corded muscles there. His skin was so hot it seemed that fire burned in his veins. Hastily, she slipped her other hand beneath his shirt, pressing her palms flat against his skin. She leaned her head back, giving him better access to her throat, and gave a tiny moan as his lips found the hollow at the base of her neck. Her entire world centered on the touch of his hands and his mouth on her skin. Then, abruptly, he pulled away. Surprised, she opened her eyes and raised her head. “Zan?” she asked.
His hands went to frame her face. “You know what’s gonna happen if I stay?” he wanted to know. At her nod, he went on. “You want me to stay, or you want me to go?”
Liz reached for him, kissing him with renewed intensity. “I want you to stay,” she said firmly.
He smiled, and it occurred to her that his smile made the world seem like a good place to be. “Good,” he said, brushing a stray piece of hair from her forehead. He bent his head to kiss her again, gently sucking on her lower lip.
“Bedroom?” Liz asked breathlessly.
“Good idea.” He put his arm around her waist and they walked into Liz’s bedroom together.
Liz sat on the bed and scooted herself up against the pillows, pulling him with her. He knelt in front of her, reaching for the rest of her buttons as she tugged his shirt up. Impatiently, he pulled away long enough to take it off, tossing it to the floor. Liz lay back against the pillows and ran her hands all over his warm, bare skin. Zan had her sweater open now, and one of his hands went to rest on the curve of her hip while the other cupped her breast through the black satin of her bra. Both of them were breathing hard, and Liz thought she would die if he stopped touching her.
Then the phone rang.
“Forget it,” Zan murmured, peeling her sweater back over her shoulders.
“Forget what?” Liz asked as he pushed aside her bra strap.
The answering machine picked up. Hi, this is Liz. I can’t come to the phone right now, but leave your name and number so I can get back to you. There was a pause, then a familiar voice came from the machine.
“Liz? Liz, it’s Maria. Are you there? Pick up if you’re there.”
Liz barely heard.
“Lii-iiz? I just called your cell phone and you didn’t pick up, so I know you’re not out. Come on, after that two-line email today you owe me. Pick up!”
Liz groaned and Zan pulled away. “Should you get that?” he asked.
“No,” Liz said firmly, pulling him back to her.
“Are you not picking up because you have company? Who is it? Is it Serena? I want to talk to her, too.” There was a short pause, then Maria’s voice became sing-songy. “You know I’m just going to keep talking until you pick up.”
Liz gave a frustrated groan and Zan leaned back, laughing. “Why don’t you get that? I’m not goin’ anywhere.”
Liz glared murder at the phone. “She will keep talking,” she told Zan. “She’s done it before.” Reluctantly, she slid from the bed. “I’ll get rid of her,” she said, just as Maria’s voice rang out again.
“Liz, do you have a guy there?!”
Liz couldn’t help but laugh at the half-shocked, half-admiring tone in Maria’s voice. “I’ll be right back,” she said, leaning over to give Zan a quick kiss.
He laughed, too. “I’ll keep your spot warm.”
Liz shook her head and went to grab the phone just as Maria began, “Oh, my god, who is it? Is it someone I know? Why haven’t you told me—”
Hastily, Liz grabbed the phone. “Hi, Maria. What’s going on?”
“Liz, is it a guy?” Maria demanded delightedly. “Why didn’t you tell me about him?”
With an apologetic look at Zan, Liz took the phone into the living room
“Maria, this really isn’t a good time,” she said quietly, shrugging her sweater back on.
“You do have a man in there!” Maria shrieked. “Who is he?”
Liz winced and held the phone a little away from her ear. “You don’t know him—look, I promise I’ll call you tomorrow and tell you everything.”
“I’ve got a better idea: you could tell me now,” Maria insisted. “Unless you’re—” She stopped suddenly and when she spoke again Liz could hear the smirk in her voice. “You’re having sex, aren’t you?”
“Maria—that’s a personal question—”
“Far be if from me to interrupt. What’s our motto?”
Liz could feel the blush creeping into her cheeks. “Always be prepared,” she muttered, praying Zan couldn’t hear.
“That’s my girl,” Maria crowed happily. “Call me tomorrow and tell me everything—I’m gonna want details. And have fun!”
The click that followed told Liz Maria had hung up. She took a deep breath to calm herself, and hoped she wasn’t blushing anymore when she turned to go back to the bedroom. “Sorry, that was—”
Liz stopped when she saw Zan standing beside her desk, Alexander’s drawing in his hand. He tried to smile when he saw her. “Liz, what’s—what’s this?”
The color drained from Liz’s face. I should have told him. Oh, god, I should have told him. “Zan, I can explain.”
“Explain?” he asked, beginning to look wary. “You mean. . .you know what this is?”
“Yes, but not—not for the reason that you think,” she said, taking a tentative step toward him.
He moved away. “And what do I think?”
“Look, I’m not an alien—I’m not going to hurt you.” She gave him a pleading look. “Let me explain, please.”
“An alien?” he repeated. “What are you talking about?”
Liz stared at the floor, trying to decide how to say it. Finally, she blurted, “I know Max Evans. At least I did. Once. In Roswell. But that was a long time ago.”
“Max—?” He stopped suddenly as realization dawned. “You know.”
Zan grabbed for his shirt, pulling it on as Liz watched speechlessly. “I gotta go,” he muttered.
“Zan, wait,” Liz protested, finding her voice.
“Why?” He turned to look at her, his eyes begging her to give him a reason to stay.
“Because you have to let me explain. It really isn’t what you think.” She took another step toward him, and this time he didn’t back away. She took a deep breath. “I knew Max Evans. But he is not the reason I asked you to come here tonight. Believe me, if I had been thinking of Max, I—”
“You were in love with him,” Zan said. It was not a question.
Liz didn’t argue. Truth—from now on, she told herself firmly. “I was. But I’m not anymore.”
Zan didn’t look convinced. “That day on the street—you stopped me because you thought I was him. You. . .you even called me by his name.”
Liz nodded. “Yes. That first time, I stopped you because I thought you were him. But after that—it was all about you, and only you.” She took a deep breath. “I like you, Zan. I like you a lot. I should have told you about Max sooner, but—”
“That would have been a good idea,” he interrupted brusquely.
Liz was stung. “So does this—does this mean you don’t want to see me anymore?” she asked softly.
Zan paused, his expression unreadable. The vulnerability and openness he had let her glimpse before was long gone. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “I don’t know what to think right now.” He shook his head. “I gotta go,” he said again, starting for the door.
Liz stepped in front of him. “Please don’t go,” she pleaded. “I was wrong not to tell you—but I’ll tell you the whole story now, I swear.”
He hesitated, but only for a moment. “Liz, I just can’t right now. I gotta go think this over, you know? This isn’t exactly easy for me. No one has known about me in a long time. I don’t talk about it.”
“I don’t talk about Max Evans, either,” she shot back.
Zan caught the undertone in her voice. “What did he do to you?” he asked, anger flashing in his dark eyes.
“Just what you’re doing,” Liz said, her voice threatening to crack. “He left.”
Zan was torn. “Maybe in a couple days—” he began, but Liz cut him off.
“If you’re going, just go,” she ordered. “I’ve had enough of long good-byes.”
Zan stood there for a moment more, fighting with himself, then finally he walked past Liz and through the door.
Liz closed her eyes against the tears that burned, determined not to let him see her cry. Her back to the door, she heard him gather his coat and put it on. The slam of the front door felt like a physical slap to her face, and it was only then that she allowed herself to sink to her knees and cry.
Sunday morning dawned gray and rainy, and Liz spent most of the day in bed or curled up on the couch watching movies on cable. She had finished her crying last night, and now she refused to shed another tear.
“I’ve cried enough over aliens,” she told Serena, when her friend called to find out about her date.
Liz was watching another “Real World” marathon when the phone rang for the second time that day. Hoping it would be Zan, Liz lunged for it, picking it up almost before it finished the first ring. “Hello?”
“Why didn’t you call?” Maria demanded. “How did it go? Is he still there?”
“Oh, hi, Maria.” Liz tried not to sound disappointed.
“Don’t ‘hi, Maria’ me,” the other girl retorted. “I want details, and I want them now.”
Liz paused. “Nothing happened,” she said after a moment. “We were going to—we both wanted to, but nothing happened.”
“Wait, wait wait.” Maria sounded perplexed. “He was in your apartment, he knew you wanted to, and you just didn’t?”
“It’s not really that simple,” Liz said, and before she knew it the whole story had poured out.
Five minutes later, Maria was shaking her head. “So you’re dating Max’s double,” she said. “Don’t you think that’s a little twisted—even if we ignore the fact that 1) he’s an alien, and 2) he’s supposed to be dead?”
“He’s not just Max’s double,” Liz said defensively. “He’s not even that much like Max.”
“They’re clones, Liz,” Maria enunciated clearly. “A little hair dye and some tattoos don’t change that.”
“I meant his personality,” Liz clarified. “He’s different—and he’s a great guy. God, I hope I didn’t ruin this.”
Maria paused for a moment, then blurted, “Liz, do you think this is a good idea? I mean, you remember what Rath and Lonnie were like.”
“Yes, and I also remember what Ava was like,” Liz retorted. “She was a good person—and she loved Zan. Doesn’t that tell you something?”
“No, it really doesn’t,” Maria insisted. “He could be dangerous. And how did he not get killed when the truck hit him? Did you think about that?”
“Of course I did,” Liz told her. “But, Maria, if you could have seen him with those kids yesterday—and last night. . .he just looked so hurt. I should have told him before.”
“You should have told me before,” Maria muttered. “Look, just promise me you’ll be careful, okay?”
Liz nodded glumly, then realized Maria couldn’t see that. “I’ll be careful. That’s me, right? Think-It-To-Death Liz.”
Maria opened her mouth to say that that didn’t really describe Liz anymore, but figured this wasn’t the time to bring that up. “Good.”
Liz sighed. “I’ve got some homework to do before class tomorrow. I should go.”
“Okay.” Maria started to say goodbye, but thought of something. “Liz, wait a minute. Tell me, something, okay?”
“Are you in love with him?”
Liz took a deep breath, and a bittersweet smile began to play around her lips. “You know,” she said, “I think I just might be.”
|posted on 6-Mar-2002 11:38:58 AM|
Sunday night passed with no word from Zan. Liz went to bed telling herself it was too soon to expect anything. Monday came and went, and still nothing from him. Liz wondered if telling him to leave had been the wrong thing to do, but reasoned that he was probably just being cautious. After all, he had been hurt before. . .most notably when his sister pushed him in front of a truck. . .and he had every reason to be cautious. Tuesday morning she woke up trying to decide if it was too soon to go looking for him.
All that day she kept her cell phone on in class, sitting beside the door so she could get up and answer it in case he called. By the time she and Serena met for coffee after their classes were over, she was heading for a full-fledged depression.
“Maybe he’s not sure you want him to come back,” Serena suggested. “I mean, you did kind of kick him out.”
“Only after he said he was leaving,” Liz protested, though she had lain awake thinking of that, too. Absently, she stirred her untouched coffee. “I just keep thinking how it must look to him. He must think I’m awful!”
Serena put a comforting hand on Liz’s shoulder. “Liz, honey, if he doesn’t come back. . .he wasn’t what you thought he was, anyway.”
“I thought he was,” Liz said, her eyes distant and sad. “If felt real this time.”
“Sometimes that’s not the best judge,” Serena said gently.
Liz nodded. “I know. I can’t do this. I’m not going to mope around like this.” She started to gather her things. “I’ve got to finish the reading for virology tomorrow,” she told Serena. “I’m going home.”
“You want me to come with you?” Serena asked.
Liz shot her a grin. “Don’t you have a date with the Abercrombie guy?”
“Well, yeah, but. . .you know I’d cancel if you needed me,” Serena said.
“Don’t you dare,” Liz teased. “I’m counting on you to tell me if they airbrush.”
“For future reference?” Serena shot back.
“I’m going to write it down,” Liz assured her. She put on her coat. “Call me later,” she said.
Liz walked back to her apartment, her head bowed against the cold wind. When she finally got to her building, she unlocked the foyer door with relief, and quickly retrieved her mail before going upstairs. She was flipping through it when she turned the corner to her apartment door, but when she looked up, the envelopes fluttered to the ground.
Zan was there.
“Hey,” he said simply, bending to help her retrieve her mail.
She yanked him back upright. “What are you doing here?” she demanded.
He studied her for a long moment, then shrugged. “I thought you had a story to tell me.”
Relief coursed through Liz from head to toe. “Does that mean you want to listen?” she asked.
Stalling for time, he knelt to retrieve the envelopes and handed them back to her. “It means I’ve had a little time to cool down, and I wish I had listened before.” He paused, his eyes lingering on her hopeful expression. “I’m not promisin’ anythin, Liz, but I don’t wanna never know what would have happened.”
Liz gave a tentative smile. “That’s a start,” she said. They stood there looking at each other for a long moment, then she cleared her throat. “Do you want to come in?”
He nodded and followed her as she unlocked the door. “I, uh, didn’t get to tell you before, but this is a nice apartment. Kinda homey.”
“Thanks,” Liz said. “Can I take your coat?”
“Uh, sure.” He shrugged out of it and handed it to her, watching as she hung it on a coat rack in the corner.
She took off hers, too, and hung it beside his, then turned to him. “Do you want something to drink? Coffee, tea?”
“You got anything cold?” he asked.
“Is Coke okay?”
Liz nodded. “I’ll get us some. Why don’t you go and, um, make yourself comfortable?” She pointed to the living room.
“Yeah, okay.” He nodded, too, and went to sit on the sofa as she crossed to the small kitchen. She was back in a minute with two frosty cans of Coke, one of which she handed to Zan. “Thanks,” he said, popping it open.
She did the same to hers, and sat down on the opposite end of the couch, kicking off her shoes so she could curl one leg under her. She played with the top of her can for a moment as awkward silence stretched between them, then she cleared her throat. “Well, where do you want me to start?” she asked him.
Zan didn’t even need to think about that one. “How do you know about us?”
A small smile played on Liz’s lips and she looked away for a moment, remembering. “Max Evans saved my life,” she said simply, and proceeded to tell him the whole story of that day in the Crashdown when she had opened her eyes to see Max’s face and somehow known it would all be okay.
“Wow,” Zan said when she had finished. “That was a big risk for him.”
Liz nodded. “I know. I don’t know if I fell in love with him because of what he did that day, or if that was just what made me realize it, but. . .my life was never the same after that.” Something unaccountably sad darkened her eyes for a moment. “Neither was his.”
“What do you mean?” Zan asked.
Liz shrugged her slim shoulders helplessly. “After that he was always running, and hiding—from the government, from the enemies of his—your—race.”
“Is that what broke the two of you up?” he wanted to know.
A sad smile twisted her mouth, and it was all Zan could do not to reach out to her. If I ever get my hands on Max Evans. . .he thought fiercely.
But Liz was shaking her head. “No, those things never came between us. By the time we had faced those things down, I thought nothing could ever come between us. But I was wrong.” She stopped and drew a deep breath.
“What was it?” Zan asked gently.
Liz couldn’t stop the stab of anger that shot through her. Some things just couldn’t be forgiven. “Tess,” she said flatly. “She tried to take everything. She got. . .a lot.”
“Max’s ‘mate’,” Liz said bitterly.
Zan frowned briefly. “Oh,” he said after a minute. “You mean. . .like Ava was to me.”
She shook her head. “No. Tess wasn’t like anyone.” Speaking in short, awkward sentences, Liz told him about Tess’s betrayal—in painful detail.
At the end of the story, he was confused. “So, after he found out the truth, Max still went with Tess?” he asked, his anger at Max Evans growing.
“No.” Liz looked down at her tightly clenched fists. “But he still thought there was a baby, and it was all he could think about.”
“There was no baby?” Zan demanded.
Liz shook her head. “No, that was another lie. She had to find some way to convice him they had to go back. I guess she thought that if he didn’t love her enough, he might do it for his child.”
“Then what happened?”
Liz sighed heavily. “The whole time he was looking for his baby, I knew that when he was with me, he was still thinking about Tess. He may not have loved her, but she had a hold on him I couldn’t compete with. And I couldn’t live with that.” She shrugged. “And I don’t think he ever trusted me again, anyway.”
“The—the thing with Kyle. It was never the same after that.” She twisted the fringe on a pillow between her fingers. “I guess that was what I wanted it to do. I didn’t know it would work so well.”
“But you told Max you didn’t really sleep with Kyle. . .didn’t he believe you?”
Liz looked sad. “I think he did. He said he did. But it still hurt.” She grimaced. “Him sleeping with Tess hurt, too.”
“But he wanted you back,” Zan said. “And—and you saved his life.”
Liz nodded, hugging herself as though the memory of those last months made her feel suddenly cold. “He said he wanted to be with me. But that whole year. . .we didn’t know how to be together anymore. It was like we had both moved past the people we were before, and. . .it just didn’t work out.” Liz shook her head and looked down, looking very small and alone. “I still loved him. And it still hurt.”
Zan’s heart twisted, and he moved closer to her. “If you loved him, why did you come all the way to New York for school?”
“I had to.” Liz looked up, smiling faintly. “I finally realized that Max loved the person I had been. And I just wasn’t that person anymore. I couldn’t make him see it, so I had to leave.” The smile faded. “He never tried to stop me. Even when I was getting on the plane, part of me hoped he’d come running up asking me to stay.”
Zan was still a little confused. “Before. . .you said that he left you.”
She nodded. “He did. It took me a long time to realize that, and I felt guilty about leaving for months after I moved here. But the truth was that he put more distance between us than I ever could.” She looked at Zan, a half-amused, half-regretful look on her face. “You know he never once asked me why I pretended to sleep with Kyle? It was like he didn’t even want to know.” Liz rose from the couch and walked to the windown, parting the curtains to look out at the street below. “That last night, before I left Roswell, he came to my window—just like he used to before. . .before Tess. I really thought he was going to ask me to stay then. But he didn’t. He just told me he hoped I’d be happy, and then he left.” She shook her head sadly. “That was when I realized that I wasn’t really leaving him. He was the one who had left me. A long time ago.”
She fell silent for a long time then, watching Zan as he tried to process all the information she had just given him. Finally, she turned back to him and smiled sadly. “What are you thinking?”
He stood up and met her gaze seriously. “Tryin’ to figure out why he ever let go of you,” he said.
“Maria!” Michael Guerin jumped back as a platter of nachos hit the floor and splattered in all directions. “That’s the third plate you’ve dropped today. What’s up with you?” He gave her a sour look and bent to help clean up the mess.
“I’m just—I’m just having a bad day, okay?” Maria shot back, cleaning a spot of nacho cheese off her sneaker. She grabbed the rest of the plates and piled them on her tray. “I have to get these people their order. Quit asking me stupid questions!”
Michael stared after her in confusion. Maria was high-strung on the best of days, but today something was definitely up, and obviously whatever it was would be Michael’s problem, too. Even if he had no idea what it was. Sighing, he quickly cleared away the mess and had started on another platter by the time she returned to the kitchen. “Michael, I just have some things to think through,” she began, as though he had bothered her again. “Do I have to be cheerful all the time?”
“Of course not,” Michael said calmly.
“I mean, is it too much to ask that sometimes I will be in a bad mood and you just have to accept that?!”
Michael shook his head. “Not at all.”
“Because there are things in my life that I don’t tell you—I have a life outside you, you know!” Maria put her hands on her hips.
Michael looked relieved. “You mean this isn’t about me?”
“This is not funny!” Maria nearly shouted. “Where are my nachos?”
“Coming right up,” he assured her.
“Well, good!” She turned and banged back through the door.
Relieved, Michael went back to cooking. He was putting more burgers on the grill when he heard Maria call. “Michael! Michael, come out here!”
Groaning, Michael turned down the flame and went into the dining room. “Great,” he muttered. “Just great.”
But once in the dining room, his frown cleared. Jeff and Nancy Parker were there, and their three-year-old son Alexander was in Maria’s arms, giving her a slobbery kiss. As soon as he saw Michael, the boy’s eyes lit.
“Mi-chael,” he exclaimed, holding his arms out. His hopeful grin was like a tractor beam—the hardest heart in the world couldn’t have resisted it. Michael felt a grin of his own stretch across his face as he reached out to take the toddler.
“Hey, Al,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
“We’re on our way to the bank,” Jeff Parker told Michael and Maria. “We’re about to sign loan papers for the new addition.” He looked proudly around the restaurant. “In about four months, this place will look a lot different.”
Michael looked pleased. “Business had been really good,” he said, disentangling Alexander’s fingers from the strap of his apron.
Jeff nodded. “Yeah, it has. It’s a good time to expand.”
Nancy looked at her watch. “Jeff, honey, we’d better get going. We’re supposed to be at the bank in twenty minutes.”
Jeff nodded in agreement and started to take Alexander from Michael, but the boy protested, burying his head in Michael’s neck. “Stay wif Michael,” he murmured.
“Come on, Alexander. Time to go,” Jeff persisted.
“We can watch him while you’re at the bank,” Michael offered. “It’s not that busy, and my shift ends in a few minutes anyway.”
Nancy looked unsure. “Oh, we can take him with us,” she said.
“To the bank?” Maria shook her head. “Don’t be silly. He’ll be fine here.” She leaned over and kissed Alexander’s cheek affectionately. “You like it here with us, don’t you?” she asked him, and he grinned shyly.
“Well, if you really don’t mind. . .” Nancy smiled at them. “It would probably go more quickly without him around.”
“We’d love to have him,” Michael assured them. “Come on, buddy. What do you say we find something for you in the kitchen? Maybe some ice cream?”
Nancy rolled her eyes. “No wonder he likes staying with you guys,” she said as she and her husband turned to leave.
They were almost at the door when it opened and another familiar person walked in. “Max Evans—we don’t see much of you anymore,” Jeff observed. “How are you?”
Max smiled at Liz’s parents. “Fine—I just don’t have a lot of free time these days. College and all.”
“We understand that,” Jeff said, glancing at his wife, who nodded. “Every time we talk to Lizzie she’s either on her way out or studying.” He winked at Max. “At least, she says she’s studying.”
Michael and Maria glanced at each other worriedly. They rarely mentioned Liz around Max. But Max merely nodded, a brief sadness flashing through his eyes. “She was always a good student,” was all he said.
Michael had been so intent on what Max would say that he had barely noticed that Alexander was squirming to get down. Now the boy was getting frustrated. “Max!” he exclaimed, twisting in Michael’s arms.
Max’s eyes lit when he noticed Alexander. He had always seemed very fond of the child. Michael privately wondered if that fondness had anything to do with the fact that Alexander’s dark hair, high cheekbones, and velvety brown eyes sometimes made him look like a small copy of Liz. Now Michael quickly put Alexander down and watched with a grin as the boy ran to Max and grabbed hold of his leg.
“Max, up!” he demanded.
Max leaned down and scooped Alexander into his arms. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
Alexander pointed to Michael. “Michael gots icecream,” he told Max.
“Does he?” Max asked. “Is he going to give you some of it?”
“Yeah,” Alexander answered. He cocked his head to one side, considering. “Maybe chocolate.”
“Well, he’s in good hands, Nance,” Jeff said, taking his wife’s arm. “Let’s get going.”
She nodded and quickly said goodbyes. “We’ll be back in a little while. Are you sure you don’t mind watching him?”
The others all shook their heads. “We’ll love it,” Maria told her.
The Parkers both kissed their son goodbye and then left the diner arm in arm. Once they were gone, Maria glanced at Max apprehensively. It would kill Max if he ever found out about Liz and Zan, she thought sadly. And Liz would kill me if I ever told him. She nodded decisively. It’s not my place to tell him, and I won’t. Satisfied, she turned to go back into the kitchen before remembering something. But if Zan is bad—if he’s like Rath and Lonnie—Max might be the only one who could save Liz! She spun back around, her eyes wide with alarm, and nearly knocked Max over as he headed for a booth with Alexander in his arms.
“Maria, is something wrong?” Max asked, concerned.
Michael rolled his eyes. “She’s allowed to be upset and she has a life outside me,” he informed Max.
Maria shot him a scathing look. “That’s not Max’s problem,” she retorted.
Max looked confused. “I have a problem?”
“No-oo,” Maria said carefully. “Not exactly.”
“If you figure anything out, let me know,” Michael said. “I’ve got orders to finish.” He shook his head as he went into the kitchen.
Max shifted Alexander’s weight and looked at Maria with concern. “Is something going on?” he asked.
She fiddled with the corner of her order pad. “I’m not really sure,” she said. If something happens to Liz, and Max could have prevented it, I’ll never forgive myself, she thought.
“What is it?” he persisted.
Maria fidgeted, and finally took a deep breath. “Can we sit down?” she asked.
“Sure.” Max moved to the closest booth and set Alexander down on one of the benches before sliding in beside him.
Maria perched on the edge of the opposite bench and took a deep breath. “The thing is, Max,” she began hesitantly, “it’s about Liz.”
Max’s head came up with a jerk and he stiffened. “’Bout Liz!” Alexander cried happily, banging a small fist on the table top. “My Lizzie!”
Maria watched Max closely. It seemed an eternity until he answered. “What about Liz?” he asked.
Maria tapped her fingers nervously on the countertop, then stopped abruptly. Doing that always made her think of Tess and her goddamn mindwarps. “It—it might be nothing, so I wasn’t sure I should tell you,” she babbled. “But then I thought it might be something—it might be something bad, so I thought I really should tell you in case Liz gets hurt. I mean, I know you guys haven’t talked, but you used to mean so much to each other—”
“Maria, what about Liz?” Max interrupted.
She took a deep breath. “Brace yourself,” she breathed, more to herself than to Max.
“I’m braced,” he ground out. “What about Liz?”
Maria stared at her tightly clenched hands. “Liz. . .Liz is dating Zan.”
“Liz? Do you want me to stay?”
Liz stared at Zan in amazement. “Do you want to stay?” she asked warily.
The vulnerability in her eyes nearly undid him. He wondered if she had ever looked at Max Evans that way, and how the guy could have walked away from her if she had. He nodded seriously. “I wanna stay,” he said simply.
Relief washed over Liz in a powerful wave. She suddenly realized she had been holding her breath and released it. “I didn’t know what I was going to do if you said no,” she admitted with a shaky laugh.
He stepped a little closer to her. “I was never gonna say no,” he told her.
He shook his head, moving ever closer. “No. I know this is crazy, Liz, ‘cause I just met you and all—but it’s like. . .like when I’m not with you I can’t breathe right, you know?” He gave a small, self-deprecating smile. “Now I probably scared you off, huh?”
Liz shook her head. “No.”
“I didn’t?” he asked, tentatively reaching out to touch her.
Liz covered the rest of the distance between them. “No,” she said softly, putting her hands on his shoulders. “Because I feel the same way.”
He didn’t know what to say to that, so he simply brought one hand to her face, gently tracing the contour of her jaw. It seemed so familiar to him—everything about Liz seemed familiar to him. Her smile, her walk, the sparkle in her eyes that made his pulse speed up, even the feel of her skin beneath his hands. And when he kissed her—well, that felt most familiar of all.
Liz closed her eyes as Zan’s lips lowered on hers. His touch was light at first, almost teasing, but grew steadily more intense. Liz nearly forgot to breathe as he explored every inch of her mouth, tasting and caressing in a leisurely manner that left her head spinning. His hands were on her back, pulling her close, and Liz could feel herself slipping away, getting lost in him. Then the flashes started.
Zan saw Liz running from a cave in the desert, tears streaming down her face. Liz saw Zan tramping through the sewers, carrying a bag of food and a battered basketball. He broke off the kiss in surprise, looking at her in confusion. “Did you see—?” he began.
She nodded. “Flashes. Yeah. I saw you.”
“How does that happen?” he wondered.
“I don’t know,” was all she managed to say before he kissed her again. This time she saw him as a young man, confronting an emissary from his planet, refusing to sit at the summit with Kivar. Then he was arguing with Lonnie, knowing all the while that his sister would betray him. Liz broke off the kiss. “You knew?” she asked in amazement.
His eyes were dark with long-buried anger—and hurt. “I knew,” he said evenly.
She searched his face for answers. “Ava said she pushed you in front of a truck—did you know she was going to do that?”
Zan shrugged. “Not that, but I knew she’d do something. She wanted to go home—and Lonnie never did stop until she got what she wanted.”
The matter-of-fact way in which he related his sister’s betrayal made Liz’s heart ache for him. “How did you survive?” she asked softly.
His eyes were hard. “I knew she was planning something. I was watchin’ for it, and the minute I stepped into the street to get the ball I knew that was it.” He looked away, his eyes on something Liz could not see. “I laid down on the street—hugged the pavement, you know? So the truck didn’t hit me. It just went over me, and then I used my powers to make the others think I was dead. I didn’t have to do it for long; they ran away pretty fast.”
Liz put her hand on his cheek and he looked at her as though she had startled him out of a dream. “You must have felt so alone,” she said softly.
“Just like you felt when Max went with Tess,” he countered. “Guess we’ve both felt pretty alone.”
Liz stood on tiptoe to kiss him. “Not anymore,” she murmured.
Zan tangled his fingers in her hair, marveling at the softness of the strands as they slipped through his fingers. His other hand slipped down to caress her neck, his lips following soon after. Liz tilted her head back and slid her hands beneath his shirt. The flashes continued—Zan running after Rath in the park, intent on a game; sleeping alone on a bench in a subway station downtown; watching other children with their parents on a busy city street. She felt his frustration, his sadness, and above all the loneliness that was always with him. Her heart twisted painfully, and she held him closer, running her hands all over his back beneath his shirt. His kiss grew still more intense, and she knew he wanted the comfort that she wanted to give. His hands went to the buttons on the front of her pale pink blouse, steadily undoing them as she tugged on his shirt. He heard her moan softly as he pushed the blouse off her shoulders and began kissing the sensitive flesh he found there.
“Zan,” she said softly, licking her lips in a way that made his pulse pound harder.
“Go slow,” she murmured. “I don’t want to forget any of this.”
He raised his head and smiled, his eyes smoldering with desire. “You won’t,” he promised softly. She nodded, hypnotized by the intensity in his gaze. He lifted her chin and kissed her again, easing her blouse over her shoulders and arms. It fell to the floor unnoticed and Liz reached for him again, pulling at his shirt. He released her long enough to pull it off, and drew in a sharp breath as she traced her fingers over his bare chest. She bent her head to press her lips to his chest, marveling at the heat of his skin. Eyes closed, he stood very still, submitting to the painful pleasure her touch brought. When he could stand it no longer, he reached for her again, gently stroking her hair back from her face.
“I want you so much,” he said softly.
She nodded, turning her face into his palm. “I want you, too,” she answered. She kissed his palm, then took his hand and led him into her bedroom.
They crossed to her bed, and Liz lay back against her pillows, drawing him with her. Everything else faded away as his hands roamed over her body, undressing and caressing her, leaving a trail of fire where ever they went. Liz moaned, closing her eyes as his one of his hands cupped her breast. He kissed her again, sucking on her lower lip, then pulled back all at once. “Look at me, Liz,” he murmured huskily, and her eyes opened.
“Don’t stop touching me,” she whimpered. “Don’t stop. . .”
“I won’t.” His eyes bored into hers, and Liz felt herself falling forward, lost in his touch and conscious only of him. Their bodies tangled together, and she could no longer tell where she left off and he began. He moved intimately against her, and she gasped, throwing her head back, but his eyes still held her gaze fast, and he wasn’t about to let her go. For an instant her eyes blurred, and when she could see again she gave a small cry, for she realized that she could see what he saw, too. She could feel what he felt as he touched her, feel the hunger he felt for her that was making him tremble, feel the wonder that coursed through him as he joined with her.
“Zan,” she cried out.
“I know,” he murmured, covering her lips with his once more.
His touch was working her body to a fevered pitch, making every second exquisite agony that swept away everything but him. Every nerve in her body tingled, and her pulse pounded in her ears so loudly she thought the whole city must hear. Her mouth opened in a choked cry as a tidal wave of pleasure crested inside her, and she clung to him, sure she would be dragged under. A myriad of stars burst into a thousand colors before her eyes, for an agonizing moment time seemed to stand still. And just when she thought the world would explode. . .it did.
|posted on 7-Mar-2002 10:12:18 AM|
“Maxwell, what’s going on?” Michael stood in the doorway to Max’s room, watching as his friend threw clothes into an open suitcase on the bed.
“I have to go to New York,” Max said shortly, heading to the dresser to collect his brush and other toiletries.
“New York? Why?” Michael frowned darkly, “Another summit?”
“No.” Max pulled a gray sweater from a drawer and shoved in into the suitcase.
Max stopped his angry pacing. “Liz is dating Zan,” he said flatly. “She told Maria.”
Michael looked confused. “Zan. . .? Wait, Zan is dead.”
“That’s what we all thought. Apparently we were wrong.” Max jammed another shirt into the suitcase and shut it with a snap. “He’s alive, and now he’s got Liz.”
“Wait.” Michael held up a hand. “You mean ‘he’s got her’ like he’s kidnapped her?”
“No—I mean, I don’t think so.” Max looked rebellious. “Maria just said Liz was dating him.”
“And that makes you think you have to run to New York?”
Max looked at him in disbelief. “You know what they were like, Michael.”
Michael shook his head. “No,” he corrected, “we know what Lonnie and Rath were like. And we know that Ava helped save your life. But we don’t know anything about Zan, except that he wouldn’t let Rath and Lonnie play him.” He shrugged. “I don’t know—sounds like a good recommendation to me.”
“We don’t know why he’s interested in Liz. He could do anything to her. He could be using her to get to me.”
Michael gave him a hard stare. “Or he could see that she’s smart and beautiful, and has a good heart.” Michael paused. “Look, you know Maria—Liz could have gone out with him once and she’d act like they were engaged.”
“Liz told Maria it’s serious,” Max said shortly. “She thinks. . .Maria thinks she’s in love with him.”
Michael folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the door frame. “Then don’t go.”
Max stopped what he was doing to stare at Michael. “What?”
“You heard me. If she’s found someone, and she’s happy, you’ve got to leave her alone. This isn’t fair to her.” Michael sighed heavily. “It’s a bitch, Max, but you’ve got to move on.”
Max’s eyes hardened. “I love her, Michael. And I’ve waited for her to come back for three years. Now I find out she’s dating my—my evil twin—and you tell me to move on?”
Michael was quiet for a long time, and when he spoke again his voice was heavy with regret. “You know what I think, Maxwell? I think you love the memory of her.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you love the Liz Parker who used to bring you cherry Coke at the Crashdown and sneaked into the eraser room with you in high school. The one who waited for you to come back to her for a year after Tess left.”
“Michael, I thought my son was out there somewhere—”
“I know what you thought. I’m not saying what you did was wrong or that I would have done anything differently. But right or wrong, it happened, and Liz waited for you for a whole year while you looked for your kid—for Tess’s kid. Do you know what that did to her?”
Max’s shoulders slumped. “I never wanted to hurt her. If she had just stayed—”
Michael shook his head. “But she didn’t. She had to get out of here, Max. And she’s a different person now. The old Liz Parker is gone.”
“Liz and I saw into each other’s souls. That will never change.”
“Max, listen to me. Liz has changed.” Michael shook his head. “You could walk by her on the street and never recognize her.”
Max smiled faintly. “Michael, if I was blind I’d still see her.”
Michael looked sad. “Not anymore,” he said quietly. “Even Maria almost didn’t.”
Max’s eyes swung up to meet Michael’s. “Maria’s seen Liz?”
Michael nodded. “Last Christmas, when you and Isabel went skiing with your parents, Maria and I went to New York.”
“You saw Liz?” Max demanded. “How was she? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“She asked me not to.” Michael shrugged. “She didn’t want to talk about it—any of it. I got the feeling she didn’t like to be reminded.”
“Then why is she dating Zan?” Max lashed out, his anger returning.
“I don’t know. Maybe she loves him?”
“I love her,” Max enunciated clearly. “For three years I’ve waited for her to come back, or—or to call me, or write—anything to let me know there was still a chance. But she never did. I have to go.” He looked at Michael. “I love her that much.”
Michael nodded. “I know you do. I was just hoping you loved her enough not to.” He watched Max regretfully for another instant, then turned and walked away.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Outside Liz’s apartment, the city street was noisy and crowded as usual, but inside Liz and Zan lay wrapped in silence and each other’s arms. Zan lay on his back, his eyes half-closed in contentment, one hand tangled in Liz’s hair, the other lazily stroking her back. After a moment, his exploring fingers found her tattoo and began to trace the pattern of the Chinese symbols on her skin. “What does it mean?” he asked softly. It was the first time either of them had spoken in over an hour.
Liz lay half asleep on his chest, her head pillowed on his shoulder. At his words, she turned her head to press a kiss against the warm, smooth skin beneath her cheek. “The top one means ‘strength,’ and the bottom one is ‘wisdom.’ They were what I needed most when I came here.”
“Leavin’ him was hard.” It wasn’t a question.
“It was,” Liz said honestly, “until I realized that he had left me a long time ago.” She raised herself up on one elbow and looked down at him thoughtfully. “After that, it wasn’t so bad. I knew I had to move on, because. . .you can’t go back to someone who’s already gone.”
Zan reached up to tuck back a strand of her hair that had come loose, then trailed his hand wonderingly down the curve of her jaw. “Why’d he ever let you go?” he murmured.
Liz shook her head, setting her hair loose again. “It wasn’t all him, Zan. The situation was just. . .it was impossible.”
He smiled slightly. “Funny. When you’re around, it kinda makes me think anything is possible.” He sobered, twisting a lock of her hair around his finger. “Liz, if you ever want me to leave, you’re gonna have to tell me. ‘Cause I’ll never just walk away from you.”
Her eyes searched his for a long time, then she smiled. “I really believe you,” she said finally. She kissed him gently, then put her head back down on his chest with a contented sigh.
Zan pulled the blankets a little higher around them and wrapped his arms around Liz’s body. His last thought before he went to sleep was that in two lifetimes, he had never been so content.
Liz woke up the next morning to the gentle touch of Zan’s lips on her eyelids, her cheeks, and the tip of her nose. Eyes still closed, praying this wasn’t a dream, she reached out to draw him closer and heard his rumble of laughter as he pulled her into his arms.
“You’re awake,” he said, rolling them both onto their sides.
Liz wrapped her arms tight around him. “No,” she mumbled sleepily.
“No?” he asked, and proceeded to give her a long, slow kiss that made her tingle from head to toe.
Liz opened her eyes and peered at him thoughtfully. “Well. . . maybe I am,” she amended with a grin.
A slow smile spread across his face, and he kissed her again, wondering if any man had ever been this lucky before. She stretched against him, running her hands over the corded muscles of his back, and he pulled back, raising an eyebrow. “Not sleepy anymore?”
She shook her head. “Nope.” A mischievous smile tugged at her lips, and she snuggled closer.
He laughed. “Hang on, hang on,” he protested. “Don’t go startin’ something you’re not gonna finish.”
The grin widened. “Who says I’m not gonna finish?” she demanded, giving him another searing kiss.
Regretfully, wondering if he had truly gone mad, Zan disentangled himself from her arms. “Well, I’m not complaining, but I think you might have a hard time explainin’ to your professor why you’re late,” he said, nodding to the clock on her nightstand.
Liz followed his gaze and sat straight up. “Oh, my god!” she cried. “I have class in half an hour!”
Zan nodded. “I know. I gotta be at work in forty-five minutes.”
Liz groaned, falling back against him dramatically. “I don’t want to go,” she sighed.
“Neither do I,” he agreed, putting his arms around her. “But you gotta go to class.” He pushed them both to a sitting position, planting a kiss on her temple. “I’ll see you tonight, I promise.”
“Yeah.” He smiled. “If you hurry and get ready, I’ll walk you to class. Even carry your books for you.”
“They’re pretty heavy,” Liz warned.
“I can handle it,” he answered. “Come on—we can still make in time to stop for coffee.”
She groaned again and slid to the edge of the bed. “Okay, okay—you talked me into it,” she grumbled. “But just so you know, I’m not a morning person.”
Zan watched with a grin as she reached for her bathrobe and stumbled into the bathroom. “Yeah,” he agreed, “I got that.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“This is me.” Liz stopped in front of a classroom, bringing Zan to a halt with her.
“Okay.” He glanced inside the room. “Looks like you’re on time.”
Liz looked at her watch. “I’ve got a couple of minutes. You better get going, though.”
“Right.” He handed over her knapsack, helping her hoist it onto her shoulder. “I’ll see you after work tonight, right?”
“Yeah. I’ll meet you at Roberta and Giulio’s for dinner.” She stepped closer to him, reluctant to let him leave. “Five-thirty?”
He shook his head. “Better make it six. Some of the kids don’t get picked up right on time.”
Liz frowned. “But that’s so late,” she protested. “I don’t—”
Zan chuckled and covered her mouth with his, silencing her. He meant it to be a short kiss, but she hung on, turning it into something far different. Finally, when she let him pull away, he shook his head. “Five-thirty,” he agreed, taking a deep breath before kissing her again.
This time it was she who pulled away. “Zan, I’ve got class,” she began, only to have him kiss her again. “Really,” she managed, trying to pull away. Finally, she gave him a playful shove. “You have to work!” she exclaimed.
He reached for her again. “Are you kidding? They’re pre-teen boys. They won’t even know I’m there.”
She stepped out of his reach. “They’d notice if you were gone,” she said seriously.
He sighed. “Yeah, prob’ly,” he relented. He stepped close to her again, brushing back a stray lock of hair that had escaped from her beret. “Tonight, then?”
“Tonight,” she promised, her eyes sparkling.
He gave her one last, brief kiss and then turned to go. Liz would have watched him all the way down the hallway, but almost as soon as he was gone she heard a familiar voice.
“So, was that Rocker Boy?” Serena stood there, leaning against the doorway with a smirk on her face.
Liz was too happy to notice the teasing tone in her friend’s voice. “Yes,” she said happily. “He, um, walked me to class.”
“And you had breakfast together,” Serena prodded, nodding at the Starbuck’s cup and paper bag in Liz’s hand.
Liz nodded. “Yes.”
Serena nodded thoughtfully. “I see. And did he call you for breakfast, or nudge you?” she asked with a devilish grin.
Liz didn’t even blush. “Nudge,” she answered, grinning back.
Serena’s mouth opened in surprise, then she laughed. “Liz, you tramp! How was it?!”
Together, they walked into the classroom, talking in hushed tones. “It was. . .incredible,” Liz admitted.
“Tell me more,” Serena demanded. “Did you come clean about Max?”
“Completely,” Liz assured her. “He knows everything. And then when we were. . .you know. . .he kept getting the flashes, so he really knows everything.”
“And did you see anything?”
Liz nodded as they took their seats. “I saw him. Like I saw Max, only more. He didn’t hold anything back from me.” She leaned closer. “And then, in the end, it was like we were joined or something. I could feel everything he felt—everything we both felt. It was—”
“I wasn’t sure how much more I could take,” Liz confided. She looked thoughtful. “But it felt so right, you know? Like I’d been waiting for him all my life, and he was finally here.”
“And the fireworks?” Serena wanted to know.
“Like the Fourth of July,” Liz confirmed. She shook her head slightly, remembering. “And it lasted like, an hour.”
“An hour?” Serena repeated, staring.
“An hour,” Liz nodded.
“Wait.” Serena lowered her voice to a whisper as the professor took her place at the front of the room. “The—the ‘kaboom’ lasted an hour?”
Liz took out her notebook. “Yeah. I kept thinking it was over, and then it would just. . .keep going.”
Serena couldn’t seem to stop staring. Finally, she tore her eyes away from Liz just as the professor began the lecture. “An hour,” Liz heard her murmur. “God, I’ve got to find me an alien.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Classes seem to drag on endlessly that day, but somehow Liz made it through. She even managed to do most of her reading for the next day while she waited for a sensible time to leave for the pizza parlor. Finally, at five o’clock, she set out to meet Zan.
She didn’t see the tall, dark-haired man who stood in the lobby of the biology building, studying a map of the campus, didn’t notice when he gave up his perusal of the map and went to the student worker at the information desk, and was out the door by the time he managed to get the girl’s attention.
“Can I help you?” the girl asked.
“Yeah.” He leaned against the counter. “My name is Max Evans, and I’m here looking for a friend of mine. She’s a biology major—I was wondering if you know her.”
“Maybe,” the girl answered. She hoped she could help—this guy was cute. “What’s her name?”
“Her name’s Liz Parker,” Max told her. “She has brown hair—”
“Liz Parker?” the girl repeated.
“Yeah,” Max nodded. “Would she be around here anywhere?”
“Well, not anymore,” the girl informed him, pointing toward the door. “She just left.”
Max spun in time to catch a glimpse of a petite, dark-haired girl in a tan wool trench coat, plaid beret, and tall boots as she pushed through the revolving door. Liz. Amazed, he could only stare as she hailed a cab and slid into the back seat. Was it possible that he had walked right past her?
“You’re late.” Liz smiled up at Zan as he hurried over to the table where she sat.
He grinned, leaning down to give her a kiss. “You’re beautiful.”
Her smile widened. “I forgive you,” she said happily.
“Thank God for that,” he said, shrugging out of his coat and sitting in the seat opposite her. “How was class?”
“Good. I got my virology exam back.”
“Yeah? How’d you do?”
“Ninety-four,” Liz answered, trying to sound nonchalant.
Zan grinned and grabbed her hand, leaning across the table to give her another kiss. “Smart chicks are such a turn-on,” he told her, a wicked glint in his eyes.
She laughed. “Wait until I tell you about my SATs,” she said with a sexy wink, running the toe of her boot up his calf.
He raised an eyebrow. “Lookin’ forward to it.” He opened his mouth to say more, but by then Roberta had seen them and was on her way over.
“Zan, Zan—here again so soon!” she exclaimed happily. “And you’ve brought your lovely friend,” she added, smiling at Liz. “So nice to see you again, my dear.”
“You, too, Mrs.Buonetti,” Liz answered, smiling.
Roberta frowned and shook her head. “Mrs. Buonetti—what is this? My name is Roberta.”
Liz glanced at Zan, who was grinning broadly at her. “Oops, my bad,” she said. “Roberta.”
“Much better.” Roberta nodded, pleased. “Now, what can I get you, children?”
“Large pepperoni, extra cheese,” Zan said, then looked at Liz. “That okay?”
“Perfect,” she agreed. “And a bottle of wine?”
“Yes, yes—I will send Giovanni over with your wine and some bread for you while you wait,” Roberta told them. She looked fondly at the two of them. “You two eat up, yes?” She looked from one to the other knowingly. “I think you need your strength.”
Liz’s cheeks flamed, and Zan’s ears turned pink. “Aw, come on, Roberta,” he protested.
“Humph.” She reached out and tweaked his cheek. “You think I was always this old?” she demanded.
When she had gone, Zan reached out and took Liz’s hand again. “Tony asked me about you again today. He wanted to know if I was goin’ to bring you around to see the Center.”
“And are you going to?” Liz asked, propping her chin on her free hand and studying him thoughtfully.
“You wanna see it?” he asked.
He smiled at her. “Then yeah. I will. You’ll love the kids—they’re good kids, really.”
The waiter brought over their bread, along with two wineglasses and a bottle of Chianti. Zan thanked him and let go of Liz’s hand long enough to pour them both some wine and they sat there talking, so intent on each other that they barely noticed the rest of the world. Roberta went to stand near Giulio, who was already watching them.
“He likes her,” Giulio said softly.
Roberta shot him a look. “Like?” she repeated. “Pah! Love, I think.”
Giulio smiled. “Yes, I think you may be right.” He put his arm around his wife’s shoulders and kissed her plump cheek, and she smiled as they stood there, watching.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Max winced as Liz leaned across the table to brush a breadcrumb from Zan’s chin. He grinned and captured her hand, kissing her knuckles, and Max turned away, closing his eyes briefly. They seemed so comfortable together, so engrossed in each other. Max could still remember when he and Liz had been connected like that, and a few days ago those memories had made him smile. Now they brought slivers of pain that lodged in his heart and wouldn’t go away.
He can’t have her, Max told himself, clenching his fists. I need her. God, I need her so much. He turned back to watch them through the window of the Chinese restaurant where he sat, ignoring the steaming pot of tea the waitress had just brought. In the three years since Liz had left Roswell, Max had managed to go on, one day at a time. The morning after she had left for New York, he had known that that would be the only way to get through this, since contemplating four years without Liz was simply too much to take. But never once had it entered his mind that she might never come back to him.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“So I meant to ask you something,” Zan began, picking up another slice of pizza and sliding it onto her plate.
“Yeah?” Liz prompted, raising an eyebrow at him over the rim of her wineglass.
“That picture—the one your little brother drew.” Zan looked at her curiously. “How’d he know to draw that?”
Liz paused, setting her glass down. “I don’t know,” she said honestly. “I thought maybe Max or one of the others showed him, but I can’t imagine they would.”
“He sees Max?” Zan asked, his eyes darkening.
Liz nodded. “Roswell’s not a very big place,” she said, “and Max still comes to my parents’ restaurant. Maria says Alexander likes him.” She smiled at him and touched his hand. “I’m sure he’ll like you, too.”
Zan smiled back at her. “I’d like to meet him.”
“You will,” Liz assured him.
They both bit into their pizza then, chewing in silence for a moment, then Zan remembered something. “So how did you know what it looked like?”
Liz slowly put her pizza down. “I’m not really sure,” she said. “I guess. . .I guess I must have seen it somewhere.”
“Did Max show it to you?” he wanted to know.
She shook her head. “Not on purpose. He never talked about that stuff if he could help it. But I might have seen it in one of the flashes.”
“You got the flashes with him?”
Liz couldn’t help but laugh. “Don’t be jealous,” she told him.
He frowned. “I’m not jealous of Max Evans,” he protested.
Liz laughed again. “No?”
Zan hesitated. “Well. . .” He shook his head. “Doesn’t matter now.”
Liz shook her head. “No, it doesn’t.” She finished off her wine and set the glass back on the table. “So what are we going to do now?” she wanted to know.
“Now?” Zan leaned forward and took her hand, bringing it to his lips. He toyed with her fingers for a moment, then kissed her palm. “Well, I was going to take you home and tickle you until you scream, but if you’ve got a better idea—”
Liz signaled the waiter. “Check, please!” she called.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Max watched as Liz and Zan rose from the table and started bundling into their coats and hats. Zan turned to take Liz’s arm as she adjusted her beret, and whispered something in her ear that made her laugh. Quickly, Max threw some money on the table and grabbed his own coat. When Zan and Liz left the restaurant and headed down the street toward the subway station, Max was close behind.
|posted on 8-Mar-2002 10:05:35 AM|
“You have time to eat breakfast.” Liz stood in the doorway to the bathroom, looking at Zan imperiously as he shaved.
Zan glanced at her and hid a smile. She was already dressed in a black and white tweed skirt and red turtleneck sweater, but her feet were bare and her wet hair hung around her face. She wasn’t wearing make-up yet, either, he noted, and he wondered how she could possibly look so young. “I’m runnin’ a little late here,” he said, rinsing his razor under the faucet. He shot her a teasing glance. “If someone hadn’t kept distractin’ me. . .”
Liz tried to glare at him, but ended up smiling. “Oh, right, that was me,” she said. “But if you don’t eat now you’ll be tired all day.” He started to protest, but she would have none of it. “Don’t argue with me. I’m a scientist.”
He put down the razor and grabbed for her, pulling her into his arms. “Well, I guess you’d know best then, wouldn’t you?”
Her eyes were the brightest stars he had ever seen. “Yes, I would,” she answered. “Now, do you want coffee, or tea?”
She looked surprised. “Juice, then?”
“No,” he growled, slipping his hand under her sweater. “You.”
Liz’s eyes closed as his hands found the zipper on her skirt. “I thought you were running late?” she murmured absently.
“Oh, no, you pulled that one yesterday,” he informed her, his mouth going to the sensitive spot behind her ear. “You’re not getting away with it again.”
She breathed in sharply as he nipped her earlobe. “I’m not?”
“No,” he said firmly. In one smooth motion he picked her up and put her over his shoulder.
Surprised, she burst into laughter. “Zan, put me down!”
He crossed to the bed. “My pleasure,” he said, dumping her unceromoniously on top of the rumpled covers. He threw himself down next to her and pulled her into his arms, rolling her on top of him. He kissed her thoroughly, knowing he had won when she started to pull his shirt off.
Then suddenly she stopped and sat up, glaring down at him with a challenge in her eyes. “But you’re still going to eat breakfast.”
“You bet I am,” he said huskily, drawing her back down to the bed.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Well, at least take the muffin with you!” Liz protested, following Zan to the door. He had taken the coffee she offered with minimal protest, but he had yet to cave on the muffin.
At the door he turned to her with a resigned look on his face. “Okay, I’ll take it with me,” he relented. “But they’ve got donuts at the Center.”
Liz shook her head. “These are healthier,” she said firmly, handing it to him. “Besides, I like taking care of you.”
He couldn’t help but smile at that. “Yeah? Well. . .I like it, too.” He touched her cheek, then leaned down to give her a gentle kiss. “Bye. I’ll see you tonight.”
“Okay.” She kissed him again as he opened the door, and stood in the doorway as he walked down the hall. “Have a good day.”
He turned around to smile at her. “You, too,” he said, then turned the corner and was gone.
Liz stood in the doorway a moment longer, a dreamy smile on her face. She hadn’t felt this good, this happy in. . .well, ever. Sighing happily, she went back in the apartment and shut the door behind her. She didn’t have any classes until noon, but she did have plenty of reading to do, so she planned to arrive early and go to the library for a while. She had put on her shoes and was looking for her genetics notebook when she heard a knock at the door.
“I’m not expecting anyone,” she murmured, then noticed Zan’s gloves laying on the coffee table. Shaking her head, she picked them up and headed for the door. “Zan, you forgot your—”
She stopped dead when she saw who was standing there. Max.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“What—what are you doing here?!” Liz slammed the door behind Max and began to pace the living room with short, jerky steps.
This was not the reaction Max had anticipated. Although, come to think of it, he wasn’t precisely sure what he had thought she’d do. He supposed it was a good sign that she hadn’t slammed the door until after he was in the apartment. “I—I came to see you,” he managed to answer, then stood there staring at her in amazement. Liz Parker certainly hadn’t looked like this the day she left Roswell. He had stood in the airport terminal that day, watching her from a distance as she hugged her parents, held her baby brother, and kissed Maria goodbye. He had thought he memorized every part of her in those last moments, but he had never imagined her looking like this. She almost looked like a different person.
“Well?” she demanded. “You’ve seen me. Happy?”
He shook his head. “I—I’m sorry. I should have called first, but I. . .I don’t know. I didn’t know what to say.”
Liz crossed her arms defensively across her chest. “Lot of that going around,” she murmured, more to herself than to him.
He couldn’t take his eyes from her. “You look. . .you look good,” he said finally, and he meant it, though he was still having trouble with her new look.
“So do you,” she said, even though looking at Max now was a strange experience for her. He was so like Zan, and yet. . .something was missing. Taking a deep breath to calm her shattered nerves, she cocked her head to one side. “Max,” she said seriously, “what are you doing here?”
He took a few steps toward her, appalled when she backed away. “Liz, I had to see you.”
“Why?” she asked bluntly. “Why now, after three years?”
He hesitated, then finally blurted, “I know about you and Zan.”
Liz’s expression went from confusion to realization to anger in about three seconds. “Please tell me you’re kidding.”
“I was worried about you,” Max protested. “We don’t know anything about him—he could be dangerous.” He started to come closer, but she tensed, so he moved away again. “I couldn’t let you get hurt.”
A dangerous glint appeared in Liz’s eyes. “So this is because it’s him? You don’t want Zan to hurt me?” She advanced on him, looking at him in disbelief. “Where were you for three years? Where were you when I dated jerks and losers and cried myself to sleep at night?” She stared at him for a moment, waiting for an answer, but when none came she threw her hands up in the air in a gesture of barely contained fury. “My god, where were you three weeks ago when I was so alone I could barely stand it? And now, when I’ve finally moved past all of that and found a great guy who makes me happy, you show up with your puppy dog eyes and all those memories I’ve tried so hard to forget and tell me you don’t want me to get hurt?”
Max recoiled in shock. “Liz. . .did you think I didn’t want to come to you?”
She stared. “Do you mean that you did?” she asked quietly.
Still shocked, Max took a step toward her. “Of course I did. Every day I thought about just forgetting everything else and coming here to get you. But you—you came all the way to New York to get away from me. You never wrote, or called, or—”
“And you did?” Liz interrupted, white-faced. Tears pooled in her eyes, and finally spilled down her cheeks. “Max, I waited for you for a whole year. I know you thought you had a son somewhere—I understand that. But it was like. . .you acted like I didn’t matter. When I left, it was because I couldn’t stand to sit back and be the last priority in your life anymore.”
He looked as though she had slapped him in the face. “Is that what you thought you were? Liz, you’re everything to me! I would have gone crazy a million times if it wasn’t for you. Do you know how hard it was for me to let you go? To wake up every morning and not know where you were or what you were doing?” He stepped closer to her, and put out a hand to touch her face. Liz flinched, but didn’t move away. “I love you, Liz. That will never change.”
More tears streamed down her cheeks, and she shook her head. “No, you don’t Max. You don’t—”
He put a finger over her lips, silencing her. “Yes, I do,” he said simply. “I always will.” Then he bent his head, and pressed his lips to hers.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Zan whistled softly to himself as he turned the corner, hands stuffed deep in his pockets against the cold. He had forgotten his gloves—again. On any other day he would have simply done without them, but he had promised several of the boys he would play street hockey with them after school, and last night’s drop in temperature had made it too cold to play without gloves. Plus, he might just get to surprise Liz. . .
Smiling to himself, he quickened his pace as he neared her building, and just before he crossed the street, he happened to glance up to her window. What he saw killed his smile instantly. Liz wasn’t alone. There, beside the window, stood two people locked in an embrace. One was Liz. The other was Max Evans.
Without a word, Zan turned and walked back in the direction he had come.
Gently, hesitantly, Max drew out the kiss, caressing Liz’s lips with his, waiting for the flashes to begin. If anything could remind Liz of what they shared—what they were to each other—it would be the flashes. So he kept on, waiting, hoping. . .
Liz stood very still as he kissed her, not responding, but not fighting, either. She thought somehow she ought to be, but the emotional roller coaster she had just been on had left her too drained to fight him. All at once she knew what he was trying to do, and she tensed, waiting for the flashes, but nothing came.
After a moment, Max broke off the kiss and stared down at Liz in amazement. He frowned, confused. “What—?” he began, but she merely took a step back and shook her head.
“It’s too late, Max,” she said softly, and her voice was not without regret. “What we had is over. It’s been over for a long time.”
He shook his head, moving toward her again. “No, Liz, it can’t be. I still love you—I still want you.”
A bittersweet smile touched her lips. “That’s not what love is, Max. It’s not want—it’s not even need. It’s. . .sharing, and putting someone first in your life.” She paused for an instant, caught in a memory he knew he would never share. “It’s not knowing where one of you leaves off and the other begins.”
Hurt darkened Max’s chocolate brown eyes. “That’s how I always felt about you—how I wanted to make you feel, too,” he said. She said nothing, but her eyes told him he had failed. The ache in his chest increased tenfold as he realized how much that failure must have hurt her. Their eyes met, his pleading, hers calm. “Liz, please, give me another chance. I do love you, and I swear you’ll never have to doubt it again.”
She looked sad now as she shook her head. “It wouldn’t be fair to you,” she told him softly.
A muscle in his jaw twitched. “Not fair to me?” he repeated. “Like you sleeping with my double is fair to me?”
She flinched, but she knew he was hurt, so she let it go. “He’s so much more than that,” was her only reply. She took a deep breath and stepped away, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “Max, before—before Alex, before Tess, before. . .everything—when I looked at you, I only saw you. I know that you loved me then, because I could see it.” A long sigh made her shoulders heave. “Now. . .I see other things. Things that I’ve tried really hard to forget.”
“Liz, it wouldn’t be like that,” he protested. “I’m different now.”
She smiled. “So am I,” she said. “It’s been three years—we don’t even know each other anymore.”
He shook his head. “I do know you—and you know me, too. We saw into each other’s souls. We’ll never be strangers now. If you’ll just come back with me—”
“Max,” she interrupted, “my life is here now. Did you really think I was just going to pack up and go back with you?”
He frowned. “No—no, of course not. I just meant. . .I can’t leave Roswell—you know that. But I want to make this work.”
She chuckled. “On your terms,” she murmured. She shook her head. “No, Max. I’m not going anywhere.”
“You’re not even willing to try then?” he demanded. “After all that we were to each other?”
She was starting to get angry now. “Were,” she repeated. “That’s right—were. It’s in the past. My present and—I hope—my future is here, in New York, with Zan. I love him, Max.” She paused, waiting for her words to sink in, then repeated, “I love Zan.”
Despite his growing anger, his heart twisted. “You love him,” he repeated. “You don’t even know him. You don’t know what he’s capable of.”
“I thought I knew you,” she shot back angrily, “and look what happened there.”
He shook his head. “That’s not fair, Liz.”
“Life’s not fair, Max,” she answered. She turned away from him, her shoulders rigid, her chin set at a stubborn angle. “You know what I see most when I look at you now?”
She turned back, anger and sorrow mixed in her eyes. “I see that you’re not him,” she said simply.
He had no answer for that. Standing there, facing this girl—no, this woman who had once been the girl he loved, Max Evans felt the last piece of his old life shatter into a million pieces. There was nothing left to hold onto.
Liz watched him, and somehow he knew that, even though the bond they had shared was gone now, she still knew what he was feeling. This knowledge was reinforced by the gentle tone in her voice when she said, “I think it would be best if you left, Max.”
He nodded woodenly. “I guess so,” he agreed. He started for the door, still reeling from what had just happened. With one hand on the doorknob, he turned back. “He can’t love you like I love you,” he said.
Liz shrugged. “I hope he loves me better,” she answered.
Max stood there for a long moment, then turned and walked out the door.
When he was gone, Liz crossed to the couch and sank down into it. She wished for a drink, she wished for an aspirin—but most of all she wished for Zan. Seeing Max had shattered her nerves, and seeing Zan would go a long way to calm her. But she had not spent three years on her own for nothing, and after a few moments of deep breaths and soothing silence, she rose and finished getting ready for class. After all, she would see Zan tonight. She decided that she would cook dinner for them both, and maybe rent a movie for them to watch together. After the events of the morning, she needed a night at home. So long as Zan was there, she didn’t care what they did.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
By five-thirty, Liz was putting the finishing touches on their meal. She had prepared herb-grilled chicken, risotto, a salad, and even made an Asteroid Pie, much like the ones her parents served at the Crashdown. She hoped Zan would like it. He would be there soon, she thought as she set the table. She turned down the lights, lit candles in the living room and around the table, and made sure the wine was chilling. She was going to tell Zan about Max’s visit as soon as he got there, and she wanted to be sure the atmosphere was. . .soothing, as she was certain he was going to be a little upset.
Flipping through the CDs in her shelf, Liz selected some soft jazz and turned the CD player to a soft volume, then sat down on the couch to wait for Zan.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
At eleven o’clock that night, Liz uncurled herself from the couch and blew out the candles, leaving the room in darkness. Zan had not come.
At nine o’clock the next morning, Max climbed the stairs to Liz’s apartment, wondering if he was doing the right thing. He had slept little last night, tossing and turning as he remembered the things he and Liz had said to each other. He had intended to get on a plane today and fly out of this godforsaken city that had never meant anything but pain to him, but as he climbed into a cab that morning, he had known that he couldn’t leave things with Liz this way. So, instead of instructin the cabbie to take him to the airport, he had given him Liz’s address and sat in the back of the car, wondering what he could possibly say to her.
Now, he paused for a moment at her door, gathering his nerve, before he raised his hand to knock. He heard muffled footsteps inside, then Liz threw open the door. She was dressed in sweatpants and a tank top, and a hooded sweatshirt was wrapped around her. Her hair was pulled back in a pony tail, and she wore no make-up, making her look more like the Liz Max remembered from all those years ago in Roswell. As soon as she saw him, the hopeful light in her eyes died.
“Max,” she said. “What are you doing here?”
She sounded so tired that he stopped before he had a chance to start the speech he had prepared. “Liz, what’s wrong?” he asked.
She shook her head and looked away. “Nothing,” she told him. “This just isn’t really a good time.”
“I know—it’s early, and you’re probably getting ready for class,” he began, “but I’m getting ready to leave and I didn’t want to. . .” It was then he noticed that her eyes were red and damp with tears. “Liz, what’s going on?”
“Nothing,” she repeated, but her voice wavered and nearly cracked. “Look, could you please just go? I really can’t deal with this right now—”
“Liz, please.” Max’s voice was soft. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
The concern in his eyes was almost too much for her to take. She blinked hard and took a deep breath. “Zan was supposed to come over last night,” she said, unable to meet his gaze. “He never showed up.”
Max’s eyes darkened. “Did he call you?” he demanded.
She shook her head, looking miserable. “No. I called the City Youth Center today—where he works—and at first they said he was there, but I think he told them he didn’t want to talk to me, because then they came back and said he wasn’t in.”
“What happened? Did you have a fight?”
“No.” Liz’s voice shook. “I thought everything was fine, and then. . .then he just didn’t come.” She took a tissue out of her pocket and blew her nose. “God, Max, what’s wrong with me? I couldn’t keep you, and know he’s left—”
“Listen to me,” Max interrupted in such an authoritative tone of voice that she stopped and looked at him. “What happened with us wasn’t your fault. Neither is this. If Zan doesn’t come back, it’s because he’s too much of a fool to see how amazing you are.” He smiled sadly, and reached out to brush a tear from her cheek. “And that’s his loss.”
Liz managed a small, shaky smile. “Thanks, Max,” she whispered. “Do you want to come in?”
He hesitated, then shook his head. “No. I just came by to tell you I’m sorry for the things I said yesterday.” He swallowed hard. “And I’m sorry. . .that I never made sure you knew how much you meant to me.” He looked down, not wanting her to see that he was fighting tears, too. “I just didn’t want to leave things the way they were. . .there’s been enough of that between us.”
More tears spilled down Liz’s cheeks and she reached out to touch his arm. “Max,” she said softly, “I am sorry.”
He glanced up at her. “Me, too,” he said simply, then drew in a sharp breath as she reached out to hug him. He held her tightly, closing his eyes and inhaling the scent of her hair, pretending for an instant that he didn’t have to let her go.
But he knew that he did, and after a moment he released her. “It’ll be okay,” he told her, nodding reassuringly.
“Thanks,” she said, but he could tell she didn’t believe him. He wondered briefly what had happened to the old Liz, the one who had believed in dreams and wished on stars. He prayed to God that he hadn’t destroyed that in her. She cleared her throat. “Are you sure you don’t want to come in?”
He shook his head. “No. I’ve—I’ve got some things to do before I leave the city.”
She nodded. “Okay. Have a safe flight.”
“Thanks.” He smiled down at her, memorizing her face as she stood there in the weak gray light of morning. “Be happy, Liz,” he said finally.
She nodded. “You, too, Max.”
He nodded, too, and turned to go. Liz watched him until he had turned the corner, then stood silently, listening as his footsteps faded away down the stairs.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
When he left Liz, Max walked down the street with his hands stuffed in his pockets, ignoring everything around him. He couldn’t believe what a fool Zan was being—but then, Zan wouldn’t know what it was like to live without Liz Parker once you had loved her. He couldn’t stop thinking about Liz sitting alone in her apartment, crying and thinking this was somehow her fault. His jaw clenched. No one was going to hurt Liz like that—not without an explanation.
He strode quickly to the curb and hailed a taxi.
“Where to, man?” the cabbie asked.
“Do you know where the City Youth Center is?” Max wanted to know.
“Yeah, sure—but it’s a long way off. It’ll cost you.”
“That’s okay. Just get me there,” Max said, sliding into the back seat. As the cab pulled away from the curb, Max stared unseeingly out the window. It was about time he had a little talk with his double.
|posted on 8-Mar-2002 10:22:05 AM|
Zan bent to retrieve a basketball from the floor of the gym and tossed it in the direction of the open utility closet. It hit the door frame and bounced off, rolling across the room. Zan swore under his breath and jogged after it. He was really off his game—yesterday the boys had almost laughed him off the court. But ever since yesterday morning, when he had seen Liz with Max Evans, he couldn’t keep his mind on anything else.
I’ve gotta get my mind off her, he told himself for the hundredth time. It—it’s prob’ly better this way anyway. He tossed the ball again, more vengefully this time. Better for her, better for me. . .better for Max Evans.
He gathered the few remaining hockey sticks and soccer balls from the morning’s before school care and headed for the closet. Space there was tight, but he managed to find room for them and exited, shutting the door tightly behind him. He locked it securely, and turned around, noticing for the first time that he was not alone. Zan surveyed the other man, slowly folding his arms across his chest.
“Max Evans,” he said grimly. “I was wonderin’ if you’d show up.”
“Wasn’t going to,” Max answered, coming forward. He found himself staring at the twisted mirror image of himself, almost unable to believe what he saw. If he hadn’t seen how alike Isabel and Lonnie were, or Michael and Rath. . .
“Than what are you doing here?” Zan wanted to know. His face was a blank slate.
“I’m here because of Liz,” Max said, stopping a few feet away.
“Yeah, I figured that,” Zan said dryly. “So. . .what? Do you want to duel at sunrise or something?”
“This isn’t funny,” Max insisted. “Do you think you can just use her—make her think you love her, and then just walk out on her?”
Zan brushed past him. “Thought that was your department,” he muttered.
Max grabbed his arm. “This is not a joke,” he ground out through clenched teeth. “I don’t give a damn what you think about me, but you cannot use Liz like that.”
Zan shrugged roughly out of Max’s grip. “Use her?” he repeated. “Me, use her? Get your facts straight, man. I would never use Liz. I cared about her—” He started to say more, then broke off, shaking his head. “That’s over. And it was never any of your business.”
“Wrong.” Max’s eyes were hard. “It is my business, because I love her. I don’t know how you’ve lived your life up until now, who you’ve used and dropped, but you don’t get to do that to Liz.”
“Do that,” Zan repeated. “Do what? Love her? Trust her? Feel like she’s part of me?” His jaw clenched, he pounded a fist on the wall. “Why don’t you tell me what I don’t get to do?” He stepped closer to Max, looking the other man in the eye with barely suppressed rage. “It’s all right for you, though, right? You get to touch her, you get to hold her, you get to know what she’s thinking and feeling—yeah, it’s all right for you, isn’t it?”
“What are you talking about?” Max asked, frowning.
Zan paid no attention. “You made your point, okay? She’s yours—I never had a chance. Now get the hell out.”
Max’s frown faded as realization dawned. “You think that’s why I’m here? Because Liz and I are together?”
“Look, the two of you got a bond I can’t ever share—a past together, growin’ up together. I saw it in her memories, all right?” Zan fixed his eyes on a point just to the left of Max’s head, his expression still closed off. “I ain’t gonna fight you on this. I won’t do that to her.”
“You’re wrong,” Max said. “She chose you.”
Zan’s eyes narrowed. “Whatta you talkin’ about?”
Max took a deep, painful breath. “Liz wants you. I went to her apartment yesterday, and I told her I wanted her back. I told her I’d do anything she wanted, if she’d just give me a chance. But she didn’t.” He stared at the floor, a muscle in his jaw twitching slightly. “She loves you.”
“I saw you kiss her,” Zan blurted, shaking his head. “I saw her—with you—”
“Yes, I kissed her,” Max said. “But that was all. She didn’t kiss me back. . .there were no flashes, nothing.” He broke off, swallowing hard. “I thought if I could show her. . .but she didn’t want it. She didn’t want me.” He shook his head. “What you saw was my fault, not Liz’s. If you blame her for it you’re not the kind of man she thinks you are.”
“Why didn’t she tell me you were in town?” Zan demanded, wanting to believe, but still unsure.
“She didn’t know until I showed up that morning,” Max said. He looked at Zan for a long moment, then shook his head. “I can’t make you believe in her. But I can tell you that if you don’t, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.” His eyes were dark with grief when he spoke again. “I’ve loved her since the first time I saw her. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to live my life without her. What it will be like.”
Zan watched the other man carefully. He believed him—there was real pain in his eyes, and Zan didn’t believe that anyone was that good an actor. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because Liz believes that you can make her happy,” Max said simply. “And more than anything in this world, I want Liz to be happy.”
Zan was quiet for a long time. “You really love her,” he said finally.
Max nodded. “I always did—I always will. But it wasn’t enough. She needed me to trust her, too. And I didn’t, and I lost her because of it.” He stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets and prepared to go. “Don’t make the same mistake.” With that, he turned and left.
Zan didn’t bother to watch him go. He stood there, lost in thought for many moments, then finally left the gym, heading for the office.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“I’m not going to just let him go, Serena.” Liz bent to put on her shoes, tucking the phone beneath her chin.
“What are you going to do?” Serena asked. Liz’s knew determination was a relief to her; last night’s despondency and defeatist attitude had worried her. But even over the phone, she could tell her friend’s attitude had improved.
“I’m going to go look for him,” Liz answered. “I’m going to the youth center.”
Serena glanced at her watch. “It’s after five,” she said. “It’ll probably be closed by the time you get there.”
Liz straightened. “Then I’ll see if anyone is still in there—and I’ll check the pizza parlor. He goes there a lot.”
“I hope you find him, Liz,” Serena said seriously.
Liz paused, her face a mask of determination. “I have to, Serena,” she told her friend. “I need him.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
But late that night, when Liz got back to her apartment, she was still alone. Her eyes burned with tears she wouldn’t shed as she shrugged out of her coat. The message light on her answering machine was blinking, but even as she crossed the room to play the message she somehow knew it would not be Zan. Sure enough, Max’s voice came from the machine.
“Hi, Liz, it’s me. . .Max. I just wanted to let you know that I’m catching an early flight home tomorrow—everything for today was booked. I’m sorry—about everything. I really hope it all works out for you. And, Liz, if you ever need me, you know where to find me. Goodbye.”
Liz almost smiled as the machine beeped, signaling the end of the message. Things felt better between her and Max now—but that was small comfort knowing that Zan was still unaccounted for. Liz closed her eyes briefly against the tears that threatened, kneading her forehead with the fingers of one hand. Still fully clothed, she went to her bedroom and lay down across the covers, hugging a pillow her her chest as she fell into a restless, troubled sleep.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Across town, Zan tossed and turned until the cushions on Tony’s battered couch were nearly on the ground. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop thinking about Liz. . .and Max, and what Max had said. It was well after midnight when he finally managed to doze off.
|posted on 30-May-2002 1:17:32 PM|
|Hey, look--new readers! Thanks for the feedback. The other parts of this story are on the regular board. I think if you do a search you will find them. Someday when my connection isn't ancient and resentful, I will get around to posting them on this board, too.|