|posted on 2-Jan-2002 1:10:36 AM|
Well, this is a different fic than what I’ve posted previously, but I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to write. I’m not going to issue any summaries, except to say this is a future fic, an AU world that will become apparent as you read. How wild to start a new fic thread--it's been a LONG time since I've done that!! LOL!
TITLE: ANTARIAN SKY
DISCLAIMER: No copyright infringement intended with respect to Jason Katims, Melinda Metz, or UPN. Nor intended toward Cameron Crowe. Cough, cough. Hint, hint…though not too much of one!
Thou still unravished bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
From John Keats’ ODE ON A GRECIAN URN
Frieze. A moment caught in time, figures in dance with one another, hand to hand, shadow to light. Ancient battles fought, long ago decided, and ever yet hanging in balance so long as sculpture remained.
A weapon lifted, a horse rearing, a moment lost in time.
An empire crumbling.
She’d stood in the British Museum and studied their antiquities collection, and she’d walked the grounds of the Parthenon. Alone…always alone. In her memories and recollections, it didn’t matter if Maria had flown cross Atlantic to tour with her on a Eurail pass. Or if some boy from her exchange program had asked to tag along to the museum.
In her remembrances, she was always detached, studying the ancient dramas, captured in stone—wondering how these great figures, mythological and immortal, still died such very slow deaths after countless years. Yet unlike Liz Parker, they weren’t quite alone. No, they were accompanied in death by the hands of artisans and builders, and students throughout the ages.
Frieze. A term she’d first learned in Art History 101 some eight years earlier. The term for decorative sculpture and ornament atop a building, like on the temples in Greece and Rome.
And for some reason, she dreamed it every night.
In her sleep, there was always the brightly dappled hillside, some place exotic like Athens or Rome. A crumbling building, ruins all around. Chunks of stone and pediments. Rocks and heat simmering in a desert mirage.
And then the frieze.
A ruler, servants bowing down, sometimes soldiers. Fluttering pages in open art history tomes…slides flashing on her college classroom wall. A kaleidoscope of kings and emperors, tragedy and ruin.
And always the strangest sky, like something from an impressionist painting, all pink and purple and dappled. Too bright. Unearthly.
Like now, as Liz lay on her back at the foot of the temple, arms spread out at her sides, unable to move, unfeeling. Just watching the clouds float quickly overhead in the purple sky. Too quickly, as the sun began setting with shocking ease, and yet still she remained immobilized. Her hands grew cold, her feet, numb and paralyzed.
And her face always ached with the same excruciating pain. Particularly her jaw as she wrestled to speak, but couldn’t so much as cry for help.
Help me, she moaned within her mind. Love me, see me…acknowledge my existence. Heal me.
Yet she remained alone, broken…and utterly unable to speak.
Liz slammed awake, the damp sheets tangled around her body. She clutched at her throat, working her mouth soundlessly. God, why was it always so real, the aching need to cry out? Her nightshirt was wet with perspiration, and her hair clung to her neck.
Liz rubbed her jaw, which ached a bit. Her dentist said she ground her teeth at night, and that was why she woke with the pain. Yet he couldn’t find any signs of TMJ or anything else to elicit such sharp facial sensations during her sleep.
She sank back into the mattress, pulling the blankets around her and wished the dreams would end. And wondered why they’d begun her freshman year in college, a snowy morning in Virginia…exactly one day after Max Evans’ death.
Liz sipped her gourmet coffee, pulling her jacket tight around her shoulders. Santa Fe winters were bitingly cold, with chilling winds that blew unexpectedly. She loved how the lights twinkled in darkness on the plaza, though, how fresh the winter air felt when it filled her lungs. Roswell had never been that way, with its dusty air and shuddering heat.
Liz had bought a small house just a few blocks off the plaza, which meant she could walk to her gallery in a matter of moments. A convenient fact, since she all but lived in her small downtown shop, and seemed to walk there most often when it was still dark. And only headed home long after sunset.
She glanced down at her watch, tightening her knit scarf around her neck and hunkered low over her coffee. Six-thirty eight a.m. Late again, she thought, laughing wryly as the plaza came into view. Her gallery was nestled into a far corner, probably the least glamorous art establishment in the heart of downtown.
Funny how things had turned out, how unlike what she’d always imagined. For years her father had offered her a role in the Crashdown, suggested she open up a second café on the other side of Roswell. But the idea of entering the family business had left her cold. How ironic then, that in the end she’d turned out to be more of an entrepreneur than her father had ever guessed—and now made a decent living not only running the gallery, but also representing artists for a living.
Her father could hardly contain his pride, bragging to all their friends in Roswell that his daughter had inherited the old Parker business acumen. And when she jetted to New York four times a year, he was the first one calling her hotel room every night, to ask how her meetings had gone down in Soho.
Liz reached the doorway to her gallery and paused, retrieving the key from her pocket with thickly gloved fingers. She couldn’t seem to clasp the key, as she juggled her coffee against her chest.
And that’s when she saw it, tucked neatly in the corner of the doorway, just propped against the glass door. It was wrapped in pristine brown paper, tied with a piece of plain string. Smallish, not too big, waiting like a simple calling card.
She scowled at it a moment, it was so thoroughly unexpected. She was accustomed to unsolicited submissions and queries, desperate artists clamoring for the attention of an agent. But those typically arrived by mail, Federal Express, and the notes by e-mail.
No one had ever simply left a package on her doorstep like this, some eerie talisman in the night.
Liz continued staring down at it, and wondered what kind of desperate artist would drop his original work at her gallery this way, with no guarantee that it wouldn’t be stolen or even just discarded without consideration.
But curiosity had the better of her, and slowly she knelt to retrieve it between her gloved fingers. The brown paper crinkled like dried leaves as she lifted it, and that was when she glimpsed the simple white card that was attached.
No artist’s name was listed, no phone number or address. Just one simple message.
Open Your Eyes.
“Alright, I know you left it.” Liz cradled the phone receiver against her ear, while quickly typing out a reply to an email from a dealer in New York.
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” Michael huffed from the other end of the line. He sounded grumpy and tired, even though she’d patiently waited until ten a.m., the earliest he was willing to answer her calls.
“Michael, this isn’t funny.”
“I’m not doing anything!” He cried impatiently. In the background she could hear music echoing in his loft. “I’m serious, I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.”
“I’m talking about the weird package you left down here in the middle of the night.”
“I was sleeping in the middle of the night.”
“That’s a first,” she quipped. Michael typically painted until three or four a.m., then slept until at least ten.
“Dry spell,” he grumbled.
“Should I be worried?”
“Thanks for the pep talk.”
“It’s not my job to give you pep talks,” she retorted, spinning in her chair when the small bell chimed over the door. An elderly couple, clearly tourists, entered the gallery. She lowered her voice, turning back toward the computer. “It’s my job to keep you on track. New York is expecting something from me in two weeks.”
“Yeah, Liz, from you,” he laughed, and she heard him take a swig of coffee. “That doesn’t mean from me.”
“No, Michael, Leon wants three new paintings from you.”
“You need to find some new talent,” he offered softly. “You know why I’m in this…”
“For the money.”
“Yeah, last I checked that was you, babe.”
“Why did you leave me this painting?” She pressed again, knowing she sounded irritable.
“I’m hanging up,” he said and before she could open her mouth to reply, the phone clicked.
She rotated in her desk chair, and eyed the package on the counter. She’d not opened it yet, not with how mysteriously she’d found it. Instead, she’d waited to call Michael, even though she knew he was far too boyish for this kind of thing, despite her determined questioning. He typically brought his paintings to the gallery with much fanfare, all exuberant for her praise and reaction. Leaving any of his work like that, especially so vulnerable to theft, simply wasn’t his style.
But she’d hoped somehow that he would offer an explanation, tell her it belonged to one of his artist buddies from town. She’d needed that kind of explanation because for reasons she couldn’t pinpoint, the package unsettled her. Like a quickly glimpsed dopple ganger on a train, someone who looked like a lost friend but wasn’t, the package unnerved her.
She’d watched for Max in crowds for eight years now. Eight years, traversing continents, moving in New York subway trains, walking through airports, she always sought him. And she’d done a double take on countless occasions, only to glimpse a pair of green eyes. Or a different nose or chin. Never Max, no matter how hard she looked for him. She looked, even though she knew he was dead, because she couldn’t stop looking. Old habits died hard.
So now the painting sat atop her large counter desk, neatly folded within the confines of brown wrapping. And somehow, it reminded her of those strangers on trains, men turning on Fifth Avenue…moments caught in time, full of possibility.
The package was smallish, most certainly a painting, she thought, as she shivered and reached for her knife.
Open Your Eyes, she thought, drawing in a tight breath, as slowly she sliced open the paper. It unfolded like a flower, revealing an explosion of color—purples and golds and dreamy pinks. A sky. A giant, panorama of an otherworldly sky.
Like something straight out of her dreams.
[ edited 36time(s), last at 12-Mar-2002 12:19:08 AM ]
|posted on 2-Jan-2002 1:49:21 PM|
|She was detached, studying the ancient dramas, captured in stone—wondering how these great figures, mythological and immortal, still died such very slow deaths after countless years. |
Ooh, Tim!! So happy to see you here. I have always loved your comments so very much. I am going to reply in two notes, b/c of difficulty in cutting and pasting, etc.
To address your first question, I pasted in the above. The "she was detached" isn't a remembrance mode thing, as her reflecting that in ACTUALITY Maria had been there, or that some boy came, it's "dream mode." If you note just above this passage, it says "In her memories and recolletions." The event is a current state of affairs, within her memory...it remains active.
I know I risk this being potentially confusing, because I'm aiming for a real fluid, dream-like style...this whole beginning is essentially a dream, and wanted to cut in and out like this to create that feeling. The story is a kind of answer to VANILLA SKY, though I don't want to address where it departs, and where it draws its inspiration. But that movie is very dreamy and surreal...
But I SO appreciate the thought and am very welcoming of fb like yours. In this case, though, I think that if you take the meaning within context--that she's referring to her dreamstate, "She was detached..." makes sense. unless, perhaps, the addition of an "always" might clarify. Going to take a look at the other question now. does this explanation make sense? I am having a sort of foggy day today b/c of poor sleep, so not sure that I was clear here...
But so happy that you're here and posting!
[ edited 1 time(s), last at 2-Jan-2002 1:53:54 PM ]
|posted on 2-Jan-2002 1:56:22 PM|
|Hmm...to me the "they" is clearly referring to dreams, but I know exactly what you mean about an antecedent being UNCLEAR. What a writer thinks makes sense can be murky indeed. I"ll revisit that one and see how to be more precise. Thanks, T!|
|posted on 3-Jan-2002 11:31:39 PM|
You guys are awesome! And you’ve raised so many questions. Yes, as Kath and others observed, this is a very lonely and grief-filled piece. But that’s just where we’re starting…I can’t thank all of you enough for the encouraging words, especially because this is a stretch for me. I think the more epic mythological stuff comes much more easily to me than the quieter, literary pieces. So THANK YOU.
Cookie—loved the observations about the movie!
Many questions, I know. But all shall be answered in time!
“Look, Michael,” she began as he walked into the gallery. “This isn’t funny.” He handed her a cup of Starbucks, meeting her gaze with his own perpetually melancholy one. His long brown hair was disheveled and he needed a shave. Typical Michael, she thought, as he drew his eyebrows together in a scowl.
“Yeah, you said that on the phone. Where is it?” He asked, brushing past her and glancing intently around. He’d come downstairs from the loft he rented above the gallery, when she’d called a second time…after opening the package.
She pointed mutely to where the mysterious painting now hung on the gallery wall. She’d wanted to see how it looked on display, how it presented--if it would still impact her just as profoundly. Michael turned on his heel, and Liz took a sip of the steaming coffee.
He was silent a long moment, studying it from where they each leaned against her small counter. The vibrant colors were even more stunning on the wall, more magical and mysterious. A sky spread out, open and surreal, filled with radiant colors that bled one into another. Movement. That was the word that Liz heard clearly in her mind. Like some J.M.W. Turner painting, this one was all about energy and movement.
An angel soared heavenward, arms spread at its sides, opening to the sky above. Welcoming its destiny. Yet the angel’s face was darkened, not like the lovely colors undulating all around it. And it was shrouded completely in black, draped like some dark figure of apotheosis.
Liz shivered as she studied the work, feeling its magnetic allure. She stepped slowly closer, and lifted her fingers, allowing them to gently graze the surface of the painting. She needed to feel the strokes, their texture--was compelled to enter the painting, as she would a dream.
And it opened, the sky all above her…arms at her sides, gazing upward. And instead of the angel, she glimpsed the temple from her dream. Crumbling and broken. Shattered.
“No note?” Michael asked, stepping closer to the painting. She was jerked back to the present with a start.
She hesitated a moment, then lied. “No, nothing.” She wasn’t sure why she wanted to keep the card a secret. “I just assumed it was some artist looking for representation.”
“Maybe so,” Michael replied, still studying the piece quietly. “God, is this whacked or what?” She caught a hint of jealousy in his voice. Competition.
“I love it,” she whispered, again lightly touching the surface of each stroke. Feeling them resonate inside her, weave their otherworldly magic within her soul.
“It’s pretty damn creepy, that’s what it is,” Michael assessed irritably.
“You’re jealous,” she laughed, slowly gazing up at him in surprise. His eyes shifted ever so slightly. Found out, known. They always did that to one another, ever since that eternal day on a hillside, some ten years before.
And then, “Why the hell would I be jealous, Liz?” She sensed his chest almost puff out, his territorialism. “I’ve got all the notice I want for my work.”
“Yeah, right,” she smirked, suddenly finding his moodiness sexy and charming. “Then just admit it.”
“Whoever painted this is really good.”
He blew out a breath, his eyes narrowing as he studied it. She watched his reaction, the way his brown depths shifted like soft mercury. Finally, he shrugged indifferently. “You’re the better judge of this stuff.”
“Why won’t you just admit it?” She stomped in frustration. God, he drove her crazy, and as he brushed his long hair away from his eyes she ached to kiss him. To just end their standoff, once and for all, and pull his mouth down to hers for a searing, loving kiss.
But that would require movement, something other than being trapped together in this motionless dance, endlessly spinning out between them.
“I mean, who just leaves something like this on your doorstep, huh?” He demanded, whirling to face her, and suddenly she was back in Roswell, ten years before.
The Great Alien Abyss. The Conspiracy. Someone always after them. The intervening years when the threats had died out dissolved, and suddenly time stood still. Max was calling a meeting in the basement of the UFO Center. Michael was pacing, angry and reactive, dead-set to know more about their origins. Not the very different man who stood before her now, dressed in a thick wool sweater and faded jeans, drinking Starbucks coffee. An artist to the core. Not an alien, or a gifted warrior with a profound destiny all his own. Certainly never that.
“Liz?” He asked. “Did you hear me?” He looked vexed with her, as she focused in again. She shook her head in confusion.
“Don’t you find it a little weird? Someone just leaves this…thing,” he gestured at the work derisively. “Anonymously on your doorstep? I mean anything could be happening here…anything.” He stared at her intently, conveying the precise meaning she’d imagined. Anything alien could be happening here, even though they’d buried those concerns together long ago.
She reflected a moment, yanked back to Roswell. To another Michael, to a time when Max was still with them…and closed her eyes to shut out the keen memories.
Clouds floating overhead, arms spread out at her sides, her jaw aching endlessly. Shattered. Frozen and captured.
She stared at a sky filled with smoke, trailing like some comet of death.
“Liz,” he whispered now, his voice suddenly surprisingly gentle. She felt his large hand on her shoulder, his warm breath on her cheek, and her eyes fluttered open.
“I’m sorry. I…didn’t mean to push,” he offered softly. He could read her so well, after all these years of being only friends, of working together. Of both of them just surviving without Max.
“I think it’s really bizarre, yeah,” she answered, ignoring the tender concern in his voice. Yet he didn’t drop his hand away from her arm, instead let it rest there, burning softly against her.
“Then again,” he suggested offhandedly, “It’s probably just some aspiring artist, desperate for Liz Parker’s attention.”
Like you? She ached to ask, feeling the unspoken words scald her throat. Just like you, Michael Guerin?
Michael turned slowly, slipping his arm around her shoulder. They stood in silence, and studied the painting together. “God, it’s gorgeous. His use of color is just…incredibly powerful,” she whispered, hesitating as she reached inside for what her true reaction was. “He moves me.”
“He?” Michael asked sharply, catching her slip up instantly. “What makes you so sure it’s a he?
Liz rubbed her jaw absently, wondering why she felt so clearly that the artist was a man. “I don’t know…I just…feel it.” Something about mentioning the artist’s identity caused a little shiver to shoot across her skin, touched some long dormant part of her heart.
Michael tightened his arm around her shoulder almost imperceptibly, drawing her closer to his side. But she ignored the feel of his hand, slung so easily across her shoulder…how it electrified her.
“So I guess we wait,” he volunteered after a moment. A moment when her heart pounded heavily, when she sensed how his own beat in the magnetic silence between them both.
“We wait,” she agreed, swallowing hard.
Michael had been the first to run to her, that day at the Pod Chamber, almost ten years before. And that single memory was like a fine engraving, etched into her recollections, subtle yet permanent. The kind of detail that only struck one after the fact.
“So I guess we wait,” Michael had said as they’d stepped outside the cave. The world had seemed instantly sharp, far too sunny, as their eyes had adjusted slowly from the chamber’s dank interior.
“He doesn’t have long,” Isabel had reminded them. “Only about two minutes.”
“It won’t take Maxwell long to do what he’s got to do,” Michael had asserted boldly, and his gaze had imperceptibly wandered in her direction. Even as he and Maria had embraced so closely.
The minutes had ticked off, the time had drawn explosively near. Yet still no sign of Max at all.
And then it all became a blur in her remembrance, a series of images all pasted together like some jumbled collage.
Heat, smoke, and stone, mangled in memory. Pieced together, after the fact.
The Granolith had blasted away, sending an avalanche of rock and debris cascading down the hillside as she’d skidded down the rocky incline with the others. Then, when the smoke cloud had cleared away, and they’d been left lying facedown and breathless in the rubble, it had been Michael who’d gone tearing back up the rock face to find Max.
And Maria had held her close, refusing to let her follow after him.
When Max had told them all to leave, to give him just a few minutes inside the chamber with Tess, she’d never guessed it would be the very last time she’d see him. Never imagined that he’d simply vanish, no more said between them in the crushing weight of all that had happened.
But when Michael had slowly ambled back down the rocks, his head bowed and features unreadable, Liz had known before he ever reached her. Max was gone. Isabel was frantic, but for some bizarre reason, Liz felt an unearthly calm, just a steady sense of awareness.
Max had left with Tess. End of story.
Not like I love you…not like I love you…not like I love you. The words had beat like her heart, insistent and hypnotic as she’d watched Michael high atop the jagged rocks. She’d squinted, gazing up at the hidden cave like some ancient ruin on a Roman hillside—praying that somehow her instinct was wrong. That Max would emerge from inside the cave, sweep her into his arms, and plant a smoldering kiss on her lips once again.
Not like I love you…not like I love you.
Her hand had clutched desperately at her throat, as she struggled to breathe. Tears burned her eyes as she’d watched Michael’s descent, and then finally he’d reached the place where she knelt on the dusty earth, Isabel clutching at his arm—and his eyes had met hers in the silence. They’d watered with his own unshed tears, anguished as he’d stared at her, unable to speak.
“He’s gone,” Liz had managed to whisper. She hadn’t voiced it as a question, she’d simply understood. Michael had dropped his gaze a moment again, as Maria had leapt to his side, and Isabel crumpled into his arms. Then, slowly, he’d met her intense gaze again, uttering only two words. “I’m sorry.”
And he’d never stopped murmuring those words ever since, not in all those ten years. They’d remained forever frozen in that single moment together, like the ancient sculptures from Liz’s dreams, unable to say the things that begged to be said. Always, those words hung between them, suspended and haunting.
Words that Max had never spoken before vanishing into a dreamy cloud of remembrance on that desert hillside.
It was well after five p.m. and Liz was still on the phone with New York. She would be traveling there in just a few weeks, and was still frantically setting meetings with key buyers and dealers. She sat at her desk, a makeshift area semi-hidden behind her counter, scrolling through the new emails that had arrived within the past few hours.
Several queries cluttered her inbox, as well as a forwarded joke from Maria with the subject line, “Are you still alive, chicka? See you in two weeks!” And that was it.
Until a new e-mail suddenly appeared from an unfamiliar address. DavidPeyton321⊕newmex.net.
She clicked open, right as Leon came to the phone. She’d been on hold, and had used those moments to log online.
“Liz,” he laughed in his smoker’s rasp. “I’ve got really terrific news for you.”
“Great, what’s going on?” She asked, opening the e-mail from the mysterious David Peyton.
“Looks like I just sold Guerin’s last piece in here. Guess how much?”
She thought a moment, wondering what kind of figure might leave Leon breathless like that, especially since he wasn’t easily given to flights of fancy.
“I don’t know…eight thousand?” She guessed, but her gaze had fallen on the open e-mail. One line blinked at her from the computer screen.
“Does it have possibilities?”
“Ten thousand!” Leon laughed enthusiastically. “You’ve got to get me some new pieces from him soon. I think he’s finally ready to break out up here…I want to talk about a big show in the fall.”
“Okay,” Liz mumbled, staring at the computer screen.
Does it have possibilities? What kind of obnoxious artist would send a query like that? She felt her dander rise in irritation, feeling indignant, no matter how talented he obviously was.
“Oh, Liz, gotta run,” Leon buzzed across the phone line. “Someone’s coming in…talk to you in the a.m.”
Liz stood quickly from her desk, and walked to the glass door of the gallery. She flipped over the closed sign, bolting the door, and stared out onto the darkened plaza. Nighttime fell so early at this time of year, covering the old square with a delicate hush—even with the bustle of tourists and shoppers.
She squinted, staring out into the darkness, and felt a strange sensation shiver across her skin. It was as if someone were studying her, watching her from just beyond the glass door. Someone unseen and clandestine, out in the frigid nighttime.
Liz walked away, rubbing her neck slowly. She surveyed the narrow walls of her gallery, as she often did at this time of the day. From floor to ceiling, paintings hung in enticing display, intended to draw in the most ambivalent of patrons. Splashes of color, like New Mexico sun, brightened the walls.
That was her taste, what she was known for from Santa Fe to downtown Manhattan. Liz Parker had a fabulous eye for color and form. In the local business journal, she’d been described as having, “impeccable instincts.” And now, when she called certain dealers, touting a new discovery, they took note, because they knew the level of talent she scouted.
She leaned against the glass display counter, filled with much smaller trinkets and carvings-- something meant to draw the tourist traffic. Her gaze roved the current arrangement of works on the walls, as she considered how they might be re-arranged. But despite her best intentions, her gaze was drawn like a magnet to the one new piece that hung right before her.
Does it have possibilities?
Should she answer honestly? Or should she dismiss David Peyton out of hand. She despised the gimmicky tactics of would be artists, always clamoring for her attention in such peculiar ways. She’d often wondered why they didn’t realize that a straightforward approach would get them much further, rather than such coy and vain meanderings.
That’s how the elusive David Peyton now struck her, with his pithy little e-mail, absent of so much as his phone number. Instinct led her to forget his seductive painting. But her heart seemed to say something else entirely, as she was drawn magnetically toward his work again.
It reminded her of another painting, one that she couldn’t quite place. The way the angel lifted off the earth, flying heavenward. The stark black, contrasted with the vivid colors…well, that part was reminiscent of Gaugin to her. But not the angel. That was just beyond her grasp.
She moved to her computer screen, and began quickly typing. “Are you seeking representation?” She felt testy and irritable, wanted to add something snide, since she received hundreds of these queries a month-- but for some inexplicable reason, refrained, and sent the e-mail without another word.
Only moments later, she received a reply.
I’m interested in your opinion, to know what you think of the work.
Liz yanked on her hair in frustration, and a mock-scream escaped her lips. “David Peyton, I’m going to throttle you!” She shouted, leaping from her chair. “You’re so completely obnoxious!”
Did the guy not believe in anything other than single line exposition? Good thing he was an artist and not a writer, she thought with a frustrated roll of her eyes.
She’d been about to leave for the night, her jacket already on, and a scarf wrapped around her neck. But something had compelled her to check her e-mail one last time as she’d turned out the lights in the gallery. Now, she lamented that decision, as her terrible curiosity flamed anew.
“Look, I’m not in the habit of this kind of…staccato communication,” she hammered out quickly. “Why don’t you come down to the gallery tomorrow and we can discuss your work and whether or not it’s something I’d want to represent. Okay? Otherwise, let’s not waste one another’s time.”
She hit send, and immediately turned off her computer screen. There, she thought with some satisfaction. That should show him.
The phone rang again in the darkness, and this time it was Michael. “Hear anything?” he asked, and somehow Liz felt he was a little too concerned. And not because he thought the painting represented a threat from beyond their galaxy.
“Nope,” she lied, the second time in one day. “Not a word.”
“I’ll let you know, okay?” She asked, spinning in her chair to check the door. Her earlier sense that someone had been watching her still left her a bit unsettled.
“Cool. What are you doing tonight?” he asked. “Thought I might make you a little dinner.”
“Uh, oh,” she laughed gently, thumbing through the pile of mail that still sat unopened on her desk.
“What?” He cried indignantly.
“You only cook for me when you need something,” she said knowingly.
He fell silent a long moment, and she heard him cough a bit, which perplexed her. Michael would ordinarily joust right back, tussling playfully with her. Instead, her words were only met with pensive quiet, until he finally spoke again.
“Yeah, I just need to talk,” he finished somberly.
“I’ll be right up.”
Michael had come to visit her in February of her freshman year of college. At that point, nearly two years had passed since Max had disappeared in the granolith, and Liz still maintained the vague hope that he would one day return.
Her hope for their love had slowly diminished with every dream of that day at the chamber. With every flash of Michael’s gentle brown eyes, distraught as they met hers--two people, reaching soundlessly for one another.
Her subconscious, the perfect panorama of betrayal.
But it was much more difficult to convince her heart that Max Evans had left her forever.
Isabel had moved to San Francisco, Maria had gone to New York, and Liz had headed off to private college in Virginia. Their group had scattered like so many ashes in the wind, each to their separate corners.
It was Michael who’d stayed at home, and begun painting his heart out, frantic in his need for expression. The canvas was the one place he could speak the unutterable things, the silent words that friendship with Max wouldn’t allow him to breathe life into.
Fractured images appeared, a schematic of what had happened to their leader, their destiny. The greatest love of her life. But he’d shown them to no one, just kept on painting. He only confessed his addiction to Liz on that snowy visit freshman year, as they’d roamed the corridors of the National Gallery. Laid awake talking in her dorm room until dawn.
He’d flown into Dulles Airport, an army duffel slung over one shoulder, and a black portfolio in his other hand. His hair had grown hopelessly long, obscuring his features from her as he’d loped into the gate area. He’d brushed at the hair with his fingers, searching her out and then their gazes had met across the short distance.
And an uncertain smile had formed on his lips. Liz understood that hesitation well, because she was terrified to see Michael alone, without accompanying friends and noise. Because alone, they might actually speak of secrets trapped between them.
One of them might actually make a move, instead of remaining in statuesque form, eternally reaching for the other. Not in love, not in friendship…but in ruin.
|posted on 4-Jan-2002 12:39:42 AM|
|Ah, you guys crack me up. Nobody worry that this will take off into some kind of polar fic. But think about it this way--life is complex, and sometimes we find ourselves connected to people in very surprising ways, particularly b/c of grief. That's the significance to take away from Michael and Liz in this story.|
Cookie--actually, the answer isn't out on Max being dead. The first part indicates he died while she was in college...and obviously the granolith blasted off with him in it ten years earlier from our present day story....so "death" was eight years before, granolith ten. That's all I'll say!
GLAD you guys are intrigued. And just hang with it on the dreamer stuff...
|posted on 4-Jan-2002 9:07:11 AM|
|Oh, no!! You guys are making me sad!! And you know why??? Because I'm upsetting YOU! All I'll say is this (kath??)--most of you have read my stories before. You KNOW you can trust me. And you know I'm a dreamer...if I write something like CRAZY, I make it clear up front.|
But a big part of this story is how Michael and Liz have reacted to their grief over Max's death. (I'm not going to explain that yet.) They're kind of frozen in that one moment of his blasting off in the granolith, which is when the grief REALLY began. And they're frozen in their inability to let go, despite all protests to the contrary.
All shall be revealed, and just trust little ole moi. And I won't keep you hanging long. But remember this--a mystery is unfolding. We're piecing together clues of what happened in the past, and what's happening now in the present.
Lots of hugs!
|posted on 5-Jan-2002 3:46:31 PM|
|Kath--I know you trust me! I just meant in general, I didn't want people being afraid I might be cruel to their dreamer hearts. TAs--welcome home!!!|
Michael slid open the door to his loft, a weighty, leaden thing. Like a door to a crypt, she thought, as it strained on its hinges. Inside, the apartment had a vacant, hollow feeling, despite the rhythmic droning from his stereo. A melodious drumming of only a few notes, over and over.
Liz frowned, glancing in the direction of the CD player. Michael followed her gaze. “It’s only Radiohead,” he explained defensively.
“I hate Radiohead.”
“You don’t listen to their music,” he argued. “They rock.”
“Only before Kid A.”
Michael huffed soundlessly, as he lifted the stereo remote, and clicked the volume control with his thumb.
It was their usual banter, playful and charged with disagreeable tension, yet Liz sensed something else between them. Michael seemed nervous, fidgeting as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
“What?” She asked, suspicion edging her voice. “What’s going on?”
He avoided her gaze, and instead moved away from her, smiling faintly. “Nothing, Liz, I just wanted to see you.”
“You told me you needed to talk.”
He sighed, slipping the door to the loft back in place. It groaned in aching complaint, as Liz dropped heavily onto his sofa, pulling her jacket tight around her. The loft was always drafty, and tonight was no exception.
“I do,” he agreed, turning to face her. He drew in an audible breath, then finally spoke. “About Max.”
The hair on the back of her neck bristled at the mere mention of his name. They rarely spoke of him, though he stood ever between them.
“I’d rather talk about Leon’s call a few minutes ago.”
“You’re just changing the subject.”
“He got ten thousand for the last painting,” she countered.
Michael’s eyes widened, obviously despite himself. “Really?”
Liz leaned back into the sofa, folding her arms over her chest in satisfaction. She loved her job, loved making her clients’ dreams come true. Even though Michael was her beloved friend, he was still her client—and the disbelief shining in his eyes made every thankless moment worth it.
“Yeah, really!” She laughed. “And he wants to talk about a show in the fall.”
Michael began pacing, wringing his hands together slightly. His eyes had assumed a far off look, as he quickly processed all that she’d shared. His work had been selling steadily in Soho for a year now, but no one had offered him a show yet.
And this meant he’d forget about Max, Liz sighed with delicate relief.
“But I still want to talk about Max,” he announced, turning to face her where she sat on the sofa.
“Well, I don’t.” She closed herself off instantly, became resistant.
“Isabel called yesterday,” he continued. “I hadn’t wanted to say anything yet, but I don’t know…I just think it’s time you dealt with this.”
“With this?” She exclaimed. She had the sense that they were closing in on her like a tight knot, choking the breath from her lungs.
“She wants to do some kind of memorial this spring…at the chamber.”
Liz began shaking her head vehemently. “No, no…that’s just not right.”
“What can’t be right about it? This spring will be ten years, Liz, and everybody wants to do something.”
“Everybody?” She asked meaningfully, feeling somehow betrayed by him.
“Yeah, I do, too,” he admitted with a shrug of his shoulder.
“That’s not when he died,” she whispered hoarsely, her throat burning. “Don’t you even care about that?”
“Liz,” Michael dropped to the floor just in front of her, planting his hand on the arm of the sofa. His eyes shimmered in the golden light of the loft, filled with undeniable feeling. “You know I care, but it’s the only sure thing the others can mark.”
“But…don’t you believe me?” She asked, feeling tears burn her eyes. Damn him, for bringing her emotions to the surface like this, she thought. For making her heart awaken, when all she wanted was for it to remain cold as a stone.
He touched her face, and slowly stroked a long strand of hair from her cheek, his fingers lingering tenderly there. “Liz, I’ve always believed you. In the connection you shared with him.”
“You know what I’m asking, Michael,” she nearly cried, ducking sharply away from his hand. He dropped it instantly as she recoiled from his touch, and she noticed that his features hardened a bit.
“When would you want a memorial?” He snapped. “I mean, you tell me when you’d do it, and hell, I’ll set it up.”
She dropped her head, feeling her jaw ache. Her throat constricted painfully, and all she wanted was to run. To move freely, not to feel so transfixed by emotion. So captured by Michael’s keen stare.
“In February…that’s when it happened.”
“No, Liz, it isn’t. He left in May.”
“Stop it!” She cried, wiping at her eyes. She leapt to her feet, struggling past him, but he immediately followed, pouncing to his feet like a graceful tiger.
“You’ve got to deal with this, Liz,” he pressed. “I care enough to make you.”
“He died in February and I know it!” she shouted, her words echoing hollowly off the rafters of the loft. Michael caught her arm, spinning her back to face him. Suddenly, his expression softened as tears filled her eyes.
“I know, Liz,” he shushed her gently. He suddenly seemed so tall, looming over her in the half-darkness of his apartment. “It’s just…well, the others aren’t as convinced.”
“I felt it the moment it happened,” she explained, words tumbling out in a rush. “I dreamed it eight years ago this month…at precisely the moment it happened.”
“Then why can’t you let him go?”
“What?” she cried indignantly. “Excuse me, but what did you just say?” She planted her hands on her hips, staring up at him in forceful determination.
“You heard me.”
“But see, I can’t believe I just heard that from you of all people, Michael Guerin.”
“I love you, Liz,” he blurted, raking his fingers through his long hair. Their eyes met for a soundless moment, only their hearts beating against the insistent rhythm of the music.
Not like I love you…not like I love you…not like I love you.
He’d spoken the unutterable, broken the sacred promise that had bound them, all these many years.
Liz began moving, around the loft, toward the door. Anything other than just standing in the crosshairs of his vulnerable gaze. She clutched at her throat, wishing the painful tightness would lessen.
“Look, I’ve got to go,” she finally answered. “Do whatever you guys want on the stupid memorial. He’s dead, end of story.”
“Then why can’t ours just begin, Liz?” he asked quietly, so softly she nearly missed it.
“I’ve gotta go,” she repeated numbly, images of the mystery painting flashing in her mind.
Open sky, arms extended.
Broken sculpture…slides in college.
Michael in her dorm room, nestling far too close in her bed. Holding her for hours while they both wept. Stroking her hair.
The most loving hands since…
She reached for the handle on the door, throwing all her weight into it, working to force it open. Suddenly Michael caught her hands, trapping them against the steel.
“Wake up, Liz,” he hissed powerfully against her ear. “Max is dead.”
She paused a moment, closing her eyes, trying to regain her equilibrium, even though her legs trembled beneath her. Finally, she swallowed hard and spoke.
“Yeah, well so am I, Michael.”
A polar ice cap shifting, groaning against the solid surface underneath. A shattering, a re-arranging. A deal forsaken.
Liz glanced upward, into the New York sky, just the fragments of clear blue that peeked from above the glass and chrome and steel. Occasionally, a cloud would sail quickly into view, then beyond.
An aperture opened and closed, revealing a series of images soaring overhead-- sped up then eerily slowed down, frame by frame, depending on how she studied them.
She sipped her coffee, not Starbucks this time. From that other coffee place that she only ever found in New York. The one whose name she never could remember, not even in her dreams, like now.
A little froth tickled her upper lip, and her tongue darted out, licking it away, as she looked first to the left, then to the right of the busy intersection. Blaring horns wailed, pierced the morning calm.
Steam roiled upward from the subway grating, billowing in delicate puffs of creamy white. Smoke signals from the subterranean city, a secret code that she might decipher.
If only she understood the lexicon of her dreams.
She was in New York, somewhere in the financial district in the early morning. Men in pristine suits bustled to monotonous jobs on Wall Street. Traders and bankers, all droning to employment they might not want, like so many bees in a hive.
The noise was cacophonous, harsh in her ears, as she glanced upward, searching for the sky. And that’s when the edges of blue and cloud glinted from above, tessarae in some critical mosaic. Here was where the truth lay, if only she could reach deeper into the dream.
On her first trip to New York, she’d wanted to see the World Trade Center memorial, had been inexplicably drawn there. She knew from Maria that there wasn’t much to see—not in those days at least—but some part of her needed to touch it herself.
Three thousand or more voices silenced all at once, beautiful and vital, then suddenly no more. Well, not quite at once, she reflected as she stood on the downtown corner in Manhattan, glancing left and right at the morning traffic.
Not a singular moment, but a series of silences. First, 8:53 a.m., and then death parceled out in measurable increments. Like Max’s journey. First the granolith, and later her vision of his death. Now the memorial his loved ones and friends wanted to stage.
And then just silence.
The downtown memorial area was a windswept crater in the midst of the throbbing city center--like a mini-Hiroshima, some cosmic canyon of the human consciousness.
Liz stood on the platform, gazing out at the bits of mangled steel and concrete that remained. Stylized rubble, like some piece of modern sculpture.
Then, in the smallish morning gathering, she saw him. Just standing on the other side of the street, dark hair neatly brushed back, briefcase in hand.
A doppelganger, an eerie likeness of her erstwhile soul mate.
Only this time he looked up at her, from the other side of the flowing river, taxis and buses, pedestrians pulsating between them.
Golden eyes didn’t shift to green, a chin wasn’t different.
Max smiled at her, a tender, haunting half-smile of acknowledgement.
“Max!” She screamed soundlessly, unable to work her mouth. Her jaw throbbed as she moved her lips, tried to utter something. But he turned slowly from her, no further acknowledgment as she scrambled desperately down the viewing platform. She tripped on the steps, sliding.
She hurled herself after him, into the street.
And slammed awake as she landed on the hood of a taxi, sprawling wildly. A hand splayed on the hood, coffee flung against glass.
Shattered pieces. Broken shards. A moment’s image in pieces.
She lay on the hood, breathless and terrified, searching the crowd for Max.
But he was gone, lost in a sea of souls all around her.
Liz woke from the dream in a sweat, glancing quickly at the digital alarm clock.
The same time she’d been waking for most every night eight years now, always vaguely terrified. Always from the same dreams.
She rubbed her eyes sleepily and reached for the lamp. She’d tried explaining the repetitive dreaming to her psychiatrist, the one her family had insisted she see during college.
After Max had died.
And he’d explained the waking pattern to her in a perfectly scientific manner, one that she readily acknowledged as the truth. She woke every night at the same time—at the precise time of his death-- as some way of holding onto Max. She’d elected herself keeper of his memory, the one who cared enough to stand vigil over his death hour.
It was like a perverse deathbed watch.
Only she’d never been allowed that, given that closure. So instead she clung to 4:34 A.M, repeated night after night, like some surreal purgatory of her own making.
And that was much less painful than actually clinging to Max.
A single e-mail flashed in Liz’s inbox, begging to be read. David Peyton had responded in her absence.
She felt her heart quicken in anticipation, as she slipped out of her heavy winter coat. She flicked the coffee pot on, and settled into her desk chair, ready to be irritated by him.
But she’d never expected the words that she saw, flickering luminously on the screen.
I must apologize, Ms. Parker. I meant no disrespect at all…quite the contrary. I do know how busy you are, and wanted only to make my intentions known. I am not seeking representation, simply to know if you feel my work has potential. Please accept my most humble apology if my actions seemed rude or…crafty.
P.S. I will send a courier for the painting.
For crying out loud, Liz thought with a roll of her eyes. It wasn’t even six a.m. She was tired and irritable, and somehow such a seemingly genuine response only frustrated her more.
No problem, she tapped out snappishly. Just curious what, “Open Your Eyes,” meant. Can you come to the gallery? We’ll discuss your work…I’m here all day.
Liz heard a shuffling overhead and felt a sharp pang of guilt. Michael never stirred this early, which meant one of two things. Either, he’d been up all night, or was already awake uncommonly early.
She knew that either way, she was partly to blame, the way she’d blown off his declaration of love for her. She closed her eyes, shuddering at the memory. And remembered how she’d ached to kiss him just the day before, how beautiful he’d looked standing there beside her, studying the painting.
I love you, Liz. He’d murmured the words with such passion, such intent feeling. She knew the price he’d paid to admit what should never have been spoken.
But he understood their arrangement, and it wasn’t to be defied. No matter what her heart kept whispering in return.
I regret that I can’t come. Unfortunately, it isn’t feasible. I am, as they say…physically challenged.
The ellipses betrayed his confession, beckoned her attention to his words, as if he’d wrestled with his self-description, and had arrived at the only possible explanation. But not quite right, she sensed somehow.
Do you take visitors? She quipped, feeling smug. Have you any other work that I might come see?
She was determined to know what secrets David Peyton hid, how this secretive man’s life mirrored her own. For there was a kinship she sensed in his painting, something clandestine and obscured in his work. A terrible secret, a moment forever lost…ever remembered.
There are other pieces, yes, Ms. Parker. But I don’t think you should come. I’ll leave them for your perusal, if that’s alright.
“No, it’s not alright!” She cried loudly, then glanced overhead wondering if Michael had heard her shout, especially since a muffled sound answered right above where she sat.
“Sorry, Michael,” she muttered quietly under her breath, hoping she hadn’t woken him from a tentative nap.
I will come there, she persisted. Liz Parker hadn’t made a name in the art world in just four very short years without learning how to be quite determined when it came to scouting talent. Because as curious as she was about the elusive David Peyton, she also knew he had something.
The ability might be slightly undeveloped yet, but his one painting revealed a gift for expressing himself outside convention. She saw thousands of paintings a year from would-be clients, all of them perfectly competent. The problem was what they lacked…the magic. The inspiration. A certain something that would set them apart from the masses of other artists.
David Peyton had that something, so she was willing to pursue him a bit.
What about “Open Your Eyes,” she added in a second email. What did that mean, David?
Liz walked to the coffee pot, startled by the quick refrain of “you’ve got mail,” as it chimed almost immediately within the silent gallery. She ambled back to her computer, and opened another e-mail from DavidPeyton321⊕newmex.net.
Open Your Eyes…is the title of the painting.
Those ellipses again, Liz thought smugly, and knew that while it might be the title, he’d also yearned to tell her something entirely different.
|posted on 7-Jan-2002 10:44:46 PM|
Tas, you rock for bumping! And is it to be believed--is the board working? I'm not even going to linger over this note b/c I want to get it up while it will post!!!! THANKS TO ALL for the comments and fb!
David Peyton’s colors moved within her soul.
All day long, Liz’s gaze had been drawn to his painting, as it seemed to exercise an unearthly force upon her.
His brushstrokes touched dead places, luring her deep inside his canvas, and left her aching for more. Unresolved…hungry.
Open Your Eyes, she thought. Oh, David…if only I could.
She lifted tentative fingers to touch the angel’s wings and closed her eyes. Just breathing.
In and out, the cadence of sleeping. The rhythm of dreams. Her hands reached upward, toward the beckoning sky. And she could simply leave, float away to a distant world forever.
Open Your Eyes….
Michael hadn’t answered a single one of her calls all day. Now it was nearly five p.m., and he hadn’t so much as brought her a cup of Starbucks to share—one of their little daily rituals. She’d ached to talk to him, to make sure she hadn’t hurt him too badly the night before.
He’d told he loved her. Finally. The culmination of ten years worth of emotion and deflected desire, and she hadn’t even been able to look him in the eye. Hadn’t admitted that sometimes, for the briefest moments, she felt alive when he was near.
That sometimes she believed in their possibilities.
So she strode to her desk, dialing his number again on her portable phone. She’d decided to take a bold step when he finally did answer her call, because there was something she needed him to know, a branch she yearned to extend by way of explanation.
She settled in her desk chair, drawing her legs up beneath her, and swiveled away from the rest of the gallery toward the wall. A calendar with vintage photos of New York City hung beside her, turned to last December. She’d left it there because she loved the photo of two lovers kissing at Coney Island…an illicit moment stolen under the boardwalk.
Michael jarred her by answering with his usual gruff hello. At least that was a positive sign, since he had caller I.d.
“What’s up?” He asked off-handedly. But she could hear the raw emotion in his voice, how tired he sounded.
“Painting?” She tried to sound bright.
“Not today.” Then nothing, as she became aware of the receiver in her clammy hand. Help me, Michael, she begged mutely. Make this just a bit easier, please.
“So…” He began, but his voice drifted off into awkward silence.
“There’s something I want to say, Michael,” she began tentatively. “Something I wish I’d explained…before.”
“Sure,” he encouraged softly.
She drew in a steadying breath, her gaze trained on the boardwalk kiss. “I know Max is dead,” she began quietly, the sound of blood rushing in her ears. “I’m the one who felt it.”
“Liz, look, I was out of line,” he explained.
“Just let me say this,” she interrupted.
“But sometimes I miss him so much that I think it will kill me,” Liz half-whispered into the phone, her chest tightening with the blurted admission. Michael couldn’t possibly understand what he’d done to her last night, that he’d awakened something slumbering and glacial inside. Something she didn’t want to arouse.
But he only remained soundless on the other end of the phone, his soft breath barely audible. Whether he realized it or not, her own confession had come at a great price. Because she’d admitted to feeling something, and that was more than she’d been able to do for almost eight years.
Missing him like this would kill me…if I weren’t already dead, she thought, rubbing her jaw.
“Well, Liz, I wish I could help you on that,” Michael finally answered. “But I think I’m done trying.”
Her chest ached at his words, and she felt her throat constrict. “Michael,” she begged softly. “Please.”
“Liz, I can’t go on like this,” he admitted, his voice filled with emotion. “I told you how I feel…you’ve known it for forever. But you still love him.”
“So do you,” she pointed out gently.
“That’s not relevant to this conversation.”
“Michael, it’s the heart of this conversation. It’s everything.”
He sighed heavily, and she heard the clatter of brushes behind him. Maybe he was painting, but why would he have lied?
“Why does loving him mean I can’t love you?” His voice was surprisingly lost and bewildered. “Or that you can’t love me?”
“I…I’m not saying that.”
“Yeah, Liz, I think you are…it’s what you’re always saying. Or not saying,” he said.
“Michael,” she began, but he cut her off.
“You still love him, Liz. You’re just frozen there, and I can’t fight it anymore,” he sighed heavily. “And I can’t fight him. Because if there’s one thing I figured out years ago, it’s that I’m never going to be Max Evans.” His voice broke on the last words, causing Liz’s heart to turn over in her chest.
“I gotta go…gotta paint,” he mumbled, slamming the phone down with a loud click, and Liz felt tears sting her eyes. She stared at the receiver, lightly stroking her fingers across the mouthpiece.
Michael, I love you.
She’d almost said it, had been painfully close. But like elevator doors caught too late, slamming shut just before she reached them, the moment had vanished. Another floor, another life. Another opportunity lost.
Liz had returned to Roswell after graduation strangely expectant. Not just about her career in art, but also about Michael. Maybe one bled into another, but for one fragmentary moment, it seemed she could be whole.
Her eternal mosaic shifted briefly then, and seemed to sort into place, a fractured image of possibility.
She and Michael had been growing closer during the whole of their four-year separation, especially during his east coast visits, when they’d trailed through the galleries together endlessly. Afterwards, each time, they’d spent hours just talking over pizza, fingers brushing together lightly with an explosion of surprising heat.
In those days, she’d thought she might be falling in love with him, but she’d willed the emotions back underground, buried them beneath the cold embers of her heart. But every time they’d been near one another, they’d wound up taking another cautious step closer. Finally, they’d spent her spring break that senior year camped out in her dorm room, and they’d lay nestled together every night.
Once during that week, when he’d thought she was asleep, Liz had felt him press tender kisses against her forehead. Stolen and achingly beautiful. But no matter how much she’d wanted to simply tilt her face upward, and capture his soft lips with her own, she’d been unable. She’d been paralyzed, just lying there in his arms, images of Max haunting her. Visions of their first kiss on her balcony, the feel of his fingers against her exposed skin.
Finally, she’d heard Michael’s breathing change, grow deeper against the top of her head, his hand relax slightly against her side. And Liz had wept for what might have been.
Not just for Max, and how he might have been the one holding her that chilly spring night. But for Michael, too. For all that might have been in her life.
But by the time she returned to Roswell that late spring, she’d made a conscious decision. They were all attending a small graduation party her parents were throwing at the Crashdown. Maria was returning from New York, Isabel from California, and the gang would be together, celebrating with friends from home.
And she would tell Michael that she wanted him, because while she never ceased aching for Max, she’d come to the tentative conclusion that she could care for Michael, too. Her heart was opening like an early spring flower, delicate and fragile.
As she dressed for the party, she spent hours before the mirror, piling her hair in just the right style, and she wondered how Michael felt about seeing Maria again. The two of them had broken up during their senior year of high school, but she also knew his feelings were still slightly unresolved about her—and that he’d hardly seen her in all the intervening years. It was Liz that he traveled to visit at least once a year, not Maria.
As for Maria, she was well involved with the drummer in her latest band—some guy who worked an internship at MTV on the side. So Liz knew that while Maria might be surprised, she certainly wouldn’t be shocked if the two of them began dating. And while she yearned to talk to her about it—especially when Maria pressed her for details about her nonexistent love life at every possible juncture—somehow it just felt too awkward.
All through the party, Liz caught Michael staring at her at odd moments, and she blushed softly in reply each time. Especially at how shy he seemed around her, so different than their last time back east. His cautious behavior recalled memories of another shy young man, just watching her from the other side of the Crashdown silently.
Michael laughed with Maria all night long, but every time Liz looked up, his eyes had been trained on her. Full of unmasked desire.
At some point, with all the friends coming in and out of the diner, Liz had lost track of him. But he’d already asked her to walk back to his apartment and hang out—he hadn’t moved to Santa Fe yet then.
As the gathering drew to a close, Liz toted a few dirty plates into the kitchen, and she heard a strange noise in the supply closet. Something cautioned her to ignore it, some primal instinct of protection, yet she found herself opening the closet door—despite every warning in her mind.
And she found Michael and Maria entwined together in the dark, her legs wrapped easily around him, his mouth buried against her neck. They’d both cried out, as the small arc of light from the hallway had pierced the darkness, illuminating their half-naked bodies perfectly. And Liz had stood transfixed for what felt forever, until finally she’d mumbled an awkward, “sorry…so sorry,” and pulled the door shut again, her face flushed in terrible shame.
She’d stumbled upstairs to her room, wiping her eyes blindly--and cursing herself for having hoped, for having ever believed she might be able to love again.
Especially when she couldn’t stop her heart from loving Max. All else was just pretense.
Later, Michael found her on the balcony, lovingly reading the first entries in her old journal. She’d drawn her legs up, and just nestled with her memories of Max, stroking each yellowing page as she’d turned it.
Michael lumbered through her window, silent and palpably guilty in his demeanor.
“Liz,” he began, slipping his long legs through the small opening of her casement.
“Michael, God, let’s just not talk about it, okay?” She blurted, feeling utterly foolish.
“I don’t love her anymore.”
“Yeah, of course you do. She’s Maria. She’s wonderful,” Liz had gushed, meaning every word.
“You’re wonderful…I’d be with you in a heartbeat if I thought you’d have me.”
“Maria’s the one for you,” she countered quietly, avoiding his piercing gaze.
“She’s a habit…a comfortable habit.”
“Look, Michael, you know I will only ever love one person,” Liz replied archly, meaning to sound distant. But what she spoke was the truth, and he needed to know it. “You read it in this book years ago.” She waved the journal at him meaningfully, reminding him of those purloined words, emotions from her heart that he’d never been meant to know.
It occurred to her that perhaps those words were what bound the two of them together so profoundly, as they stood caught forever on that rocky hillside, billows of smoke rising from the pod chamber.
“I could love you.” Michael’s voice had become quiet, undeniably gentle, as he stood on her dark balcony, his hands thrust awkwardly in his jeans pockets. He was a strange counterpoint to all her memories of Max, standing on that same balcony in such a similar pose.
“Yeah, well don’t,” she snapped, closing her diary with an air of finality. But she’d never forgotten the way he’d stared at her, his melancholy eyes seeming so dazed and lost.
Something nascent had withered inside of her that night. It was as if her heart had almost opened again, a tiny crocus blossom peeking out from the snow. But had closed again just as quickly, never to bloom again.
“I’m sorry,” Michael murmured, staring at some unseen point over her shoulder, as he pressed a cup of Starbucks coffee into her hand. He glanced anxiously around the gallery, at the walls, the paintings, his eyes apparently focusing on anything but her.
Liz blushed softly, feeling the awkward strain between them. Aching to end it somehow.
“I deserved it,” she answered quietly. He shook his head in silent denial, and their eyes met for a moment, as she walked around the counter toward him. He stepped away from her, pausing just in front of David Peyton’s painting, thoughtfully studying it.
Unspoken words crackled like electricity in the air, held life even in silence. She sensed that there was more he wanted to say, as he brushed his hair away from his eyes pensively. For a moment, he seemed ready to speak, and Liz braced herself. Then, his demeanor changed a bit, relaxed.
“Why does this thing bug the crap outta me?” He asked rhetorically, scratching his eyebrow as he squinted at the painting. “I think I hate it.”
“Why?” She asked, puzzled by his reaction. Keenly aware of how near he stood to her, the proximity of his body, so warm. Like Max’s always had been. Warmer than a human’s body, just pulsating with heat and power.
“It’s pretentious,” he observed, taking a sip from his own cup of coffee. “I mean, hell, it’s like a rip on Chagall or something.”
That was it. The painting that had been eluding her recollection, the one it had reminded her of all along. David’s work was reminiscent of Chagall’s childlike flights of fancy, yet was borne of some darkly illuminated alter-universe, twisted and misshapen.
His gift was rare as a comet’s path, chasing through an unknown galaxy, trailing stardust in its wake.
“It’s…like magic,” she breathed, gazing at the angel’s hands. They were so perfectly formed and beautiful, reaching ever upward with long tapered fingers, delicate in shape. The kind that could touch you and bring healing—or unlock your soul if you needed it.
Hands that would stroke your hair all night long, just soothing you until the demons departed.
“You’re in love,” Michael scowled, moving away from her. For a moment, his words caused her to start.
Images flashed quickly through her mind. Michael at his easel, whistling softly while she napped on his sofa. The pull of desire, as she watched him through a half-opened eye.
Michael touching her cheek to wake her, resting his fingers a moment too long.
Found out, utterly exposed.
Until she realized he meant that she’d fallen in love with the painting. “So you better figure out who the hell painted the thing, huh?” He all but growled.
She stared after him, as he loped toward the darkened front door. His sweater had a large hole in the back, along his upper shoulder, and she had the urge to slip her fingers through the torn place and just touch his back. To caress it, expressing everything she couldn’t say in words.
“I know who painted it,” she confessed, staring after him, aching for him to stay just a little longer.
Slowly, Michael spun to face her, his liquid brown eyes shifting mercurially.
“His name is David Peyton,” she explained. “And he’s couriering more over before the end of the day.”
“Well, hope they’re as…magical as this one,” he barked. He was reverting, yanking her back ten years ago, to a time when they were always opponents. Abandoning her.
“But I wanted to know what you think, too.” Her voice was small, as forlorn as she felt inside.
“You don’t need my opinion, Liz,” he snapped coolly, opening the door. “Hell, you don’t need me at all.”
“Can you give me the address where you picked these up?” Liz asked, turning the courier’s clipboard so she could sign for the packages. He balanced a slim stack of three neatly wrapped paintings under his arm, the paper measured and pristine in the way it enfolded each one.
“Sorry,” the courier answered, handing her a yellow receipt. “Not allowed to give that information out.”
“These are from David Peyton, correct?” Liz persisted, as she took possession of the three pieces, cradling them to her chest like delicate porcelain. “That’s who sent them?”
“If that’s what it says on the slip,” the courier answered flatly, turning toward the door.
“Sure you can’t give me his address?” Liz pressed, unwilling to be daunted, but the courier simply shook his head.
“Can you at least tell me what he looked like?” Liz called, aware that her voice was edged with desperation. “Anything at all?” For reasons she couldn’t begin to fathom, she needed to learn something solid about her enigmatic David Peyton.
The courier paused a moment, his hand just resting on the glass door. He stared down at the ground momentarily, clearly considering whether company policy allowed him to answer. “Different,” he finally said, opening the door. “Definitely different. See you later, Ms. Parker.”
Different. What kind of an answer was that? Not handsome, or crippled or wickedly ugly. Just…different.
Liz felt an undeniable tug of curiosity, as she balanced the three packages in her hands, walking to the counter. She spread them in an orderly row atop the glass, noticing that each bore a plain white card on the outside.
The first note was written in impeccably neat hand, and read simply, Insert Pictures Here. She wasn’t sure if it was an instruction, or the work’s title. She frowned, studying the next painting’s placard. Segue to Dream. Now, that was a title, and a damn good one, she thought with some satisfaction. And then the third card read, As Yet Untitled Ms. Parker.
And oddly enough, that was the card that puzzled her the most. It was clearly just a working title for that painting, but because of the absent comma, it almost seemed to imply that she was the as-yet-untitled Ms. Parker. As if all her life, Liz Parker had been in a holding pattern, simply waiting for David Peyton to bestow a title upon her. The one she most eloquently deserved.
As if that title might still be in the offing.
Liz reached a hand, and slowly caressed the paper of the first package, noting the crisp edges. And something made her refrain from opening it…any of them. Instead, she moved around the counter to her desk and typed out a short e-mail to the one who’d so lovingly wrapped them.
David, they’ve arrived. I’ve not opened them yet, but am curious about the titles before I do. Any explanation in order? Anything here a companion to another? All Best, Liz P.
Liz dialed New York, handling a few mundane details of her upcoming trip, and all the while her eyes were trained on her e-mail inbox. Finally, the reply she’d been anticipating arrived.
“Insert Pictures Here” and “Segue to Dream” are, in fact, semi-companions…though I’m not certain it struck me that way until you asked. As mentioned, the third one is hopelessly in need of a title. Perhaps simply “Ms. Parker” might do nicely? Incidentally, may I call you Liz? Or am I being too forward, as one who’s never met you?
Liz couldn’t explain it, but she was blushing terribly. Heat had crept up her neck, all the way to the crown of her head, at his mere suggestion of naming the painting, Ms. Parker. And that combined with his polite request to address her by her first name, had left her face flushed like a schoolgirl’s. She ran her fingers through her hair, willing her heart to stop its insane thundering.
No stranger should be able to unnerve her this way, yet something about David’s cryptic, terse notes had begun to fluster her—to delve inside her as easily as his painting had.
Liz backed away from the computer screen, reaching for her slim pocketknife. Michael had given her a pink Swiss Army Knife a few Christmases back. It had been a campy little joke between them, since she’d been ever borrowing his clunky, half-rusted knife and not returning it. So, he’d managed to find what he termed, “A girl’s knife” for her handy wielding.
Liz assessed the neat little row of brown packages, laboring over which one to open first. For some reason, she found herself thinking of the golden boxes of Godivas that her clients showered her with each Christmas.
Undeniable curiosity drew her to the Ms. Parker painting—as she’d already come to think of it in those few short moments-- and she sliced open the paper of that package first. The brown wrapping unfolded, beckoning her closer like a coy lover.
She brushed back the paper’s edges, and suddenly otherworldly pinks and reds dusted a harsh landscape. On a distant hillside, barely visible, was a young woman. She stood on a jagged promontory, glancing over her shoulder, captured just as she turned away. She was draped in a black shawl, almost a mantle, as she looked out on a flat, unfolding terrain below. It seemed like the New Mexico desert, with its many surprising and amorphous hues. But Liz realized that wasn’t quite right. Somehow, it felt like she was staring into another world altogether.
The landscape was too unforgiving, too brutal, as if it had been forged from the driest bones and rock. The terrain was parched, yet at the same time mystical and hushed. This painting was no different than the angel one—a bizarre mixture of the painfully lovely, as well as the relentless and foreign.
Liz released a slow sigh, and only then did she realize she’d been holding her breath, tight within her lungs as she gazed down at the work. Her gaze swept over the landscape, lingering for a moment on the young woman. She was cloaked in the perfect black covering, just peering out from a distance. Liz had to admit that she possessed an undeniable sensuality. Creamy skin, offset by the vibrant colors shimmering all around her.
Like a middle-Eastern beauty, she stood mesmerized by the landscape around her, the terrain of dreams.
A hand flew to her face, as Liz became aware of how warmly her cheeks flamed at the realization that this dark beauty, so delicately inserted in the midst of David’s maelstrom of color and light was perhaps in some way intended to be…her.
May I call you Liz? Or is that too forward…
Liz shook her head, laughing out loud. “God, Parker!” she giggled. “You’re spending way too much time alone lately.” What had she been thinking? David Peyton was nothing more than an aspiring artist, still quite bent on capturing her attention like the philistine that he was. He hadn’t even met her, or seen her.
No man has made you blush like this in years, a soft voice argued. You know just how long it’s been.
But she pressed the thought aside, moving to open the other two paintings, drawn forward by an aching curiosity.
[ edited 2 time(s), last at 7-Jan-2002 11:15:23 PM ]
|posted on 7-Jan-2002 11:40:31 PM|
|Kath--You being obsessed is such a fabulous compliment!!! THANK YOU! And I must confess I was all fluttery and happy seeing your post...and now I'm the one who must dangle waiting until probably tomorrow for your thoughts! LOL!|
Meanwhile, I am a few parts behind on BTSAS b/c of the board being slow. Hopefully, since I could get in tonight, I can start reading on it this week. Just told Cookie that my new guilty pleasure is I'm going to let myself read fanfic at lunch. Not a totally new pleasure, but more than I was doing.
How's that for a new year's resolution???
|posted on 22-Jan-2002 1:42:58 PM|
|Test...trying to see how much I lost of what I'd posted!|
|posted on 22-Jan-2002 1:43:54 PM|
|OKay, looks like I need to repost part five, and add the new six and seven. Will do after lunch! Hugs, d|
|posted on 22-Jan-2002 1:57:57 PM|
|Author’s Note: Thanks to Tasyfa for saving my sanity on this section. Your feedback and thoughts were invaluable to this hormone-laden brain.|
Well, so many fabulous questions have come up. I forget who asked what school Liz attended in Virginia. I had someplace like Sweet Briar in mind. And as for all the other specs, just keep them coming—but I don’t think I can answer any of them just yet!! LOL! But I still LOVE hearing them.
Thanks for all the wonderfully encouraging posts and comments. And, Kath I can’t say I’m sorry that you feel like Max in TLV. I think that’s one hell of a compliment!! Btw, be sure to check the writer’s thread for a discussion of the Marco calendar page for Roswell calendar. It’s the old thread.
I’m leaving until Sunday afternoon and hope to update on Monday some time.
Liz had jotted off a quick note to David Peyton moments before, explaining that she was going to wait until the next morning to open his final painting, Insert Pictures Here. Then, she’d added with a devilish smile, Your pieces are far too special to open all at once.
It was a silly confession, a flirty one she knew, but she’d made it nonetheless.
And he had taken the bait heartily.
So you’re doling out the paintings to yourself now? I think I must resolve to shower you with them forever, then, if they bring you this much joy. Still waiting on the Liz/Ms. Parker answer, though. I think I very much prefer Liz…with all due respect, of course.
“I think I very much prefer Liz,” she whispered aloud, feeling undeniably breathless as she examined the newly opened Segue to Dream. Until she unwrapped the final piece, this one would remain without its mate.
Yet even on its own, Segue to Dream was stunning. And different than David’s other paintings, at least that she’d seen. It was oddly edgier, although it was less about movement and urgency, and more about stillness. Quiet. A hush hovered over the canvas like a spirit, whispering to her.
For some reason, as she studied the work, she found herself thinking of a Sunday afternoon, the kind where you’d lie on your bed, just reading, dust motes cascading through rays of sunlight.
The colors were far more muted than in his other two paintings. There was a large gray mass--what looked to be a wall--accented by splashes of bright light and golden oranges. The contrast was what captured her. Dark and light, fantasy and reality. This one was all about juxtapositions, surprises.
And beneath the arcs of light, a man lay facedown, sleeping. He was cloaked and faceless beneath a blanket, and almost seemed to be in a cell of sorts. Liz’s gaze swept the painting’s surface again.
The gray mass, the light piercing from one corner, then the man on the cot.
The man was in prison, she realized. He was surrounded by walls, and given only the one window—a beautiful portal glimpse into ethereal light. Segue to Dream.
Was the idea that this man’s life was a prison, and his only freedom came in sleep? Or were his dreams his prison?
Liz had to walk away, the painting troubled her so.
She’d read about the art treasures of Pompeii in her survey course, and studied them in depth later her senior year. But it wasn’t their art that impacted her so hauntingly. It was the moment, suspended forever, a study in human kind.
A child laughing as she clasped her mother’s hand. Lovers trapped in an erotic embrace, stealing kisses throughout time.
Two perplexed figures staring upward at the sky, confusion riddling their features, eternally mesmerized by an unforeseen avalanche of lava and rock.
Sometimes these ancients appeared on the hillsides of Liz’s dreams, overshadowed by temples and ruins. Jagged pieces of sky, pasted against fluted columns, lovers in relief against cloud.
That’s what Segue to Dream reminded her of. Her own nightly frescos, painted on the gray walls of her sleeping mind.
But occasionally in her dreams, it was blackest night. Wet streets reflecting light and movement on the pavement. The city. Like now, as Liz walked through the brisk nighttime world of New York, drawing her coat close around her body. A turn off 45th Street, and there she was in the heart of Times Square, garish neon flashing.
Human bodies pressed close together, shoving past her, never meeting her gaze.
In the median, a man turned. Familiar dark head of hair, but longer. Older than he’d ever been, a face etched by slight scars. She could see the outline of his perfectly muscled arms even from where she stood, recognized the leather.
Max turned slowly toward her, smiling faintly, a beautiful warrior marred by unthinkable battles. She began waving frantically, dropping her briefcase as her mouth worked to form his name.
“Max!” she cried, as cars cut a swath between them, speeding arcs of color and sound. Hordes of people stepped among them, ever moving.
He raised a hand, scattering something into the traffic, something she couldn’t quite make out. For only a moment, she glanced down at the wet pavement of Broadway, a chiaroscuro of dark and light. Then just that quickly he’d vanished.
“Max!” she shouted again, leaping after him into the traffic. But like the night they’d danced on her balcony, and he’d twirled her in his strong arms as his bride, he was gone.
The scraps of paper fluttered in the wind, sticking to the wet pavement. Other bits floated down from the sky. She knelt in the road, determined to divine their meaning, like so many tiny Chinese fortunes.
Cars swerved, missing her with keen wailing horns, as one by one she lifted the papers from the pavement. But then they were caught by the wind, billowing upward into the neon of Times Square. She reached for them, had to know what prophetic utterances he’d left her.
She never heard a sound, was simply catapulted onto the hood of the taxi, sprawling painfully against the glass windshield. She lay on her back, breathless and aching, unable to move.
The small scraps cascaded earthward, landing in her outstretched hands. Open Your Eyes…Insert Pictures Here…Segue to Dream.
A mystery resolved. Truth fashioned together like a Warholian collage of her life.
Liz moaned softly, rolling over in bed as she glanced at the clock.
No surprise in that, she thought, feeling her heartbeat instantly quicken. She needed to use the bathroom, but was vaguely frightened. Too afraid to confront the dark.
She’d never figured out precisely what scared her so about this nightly witching hour. Was it Max? Did she think his boundless spirit lurked in the depths of her closet, just waiting for her to pass by on her way to the bathroom? That made no sense. Max had loved her with all his heart. So why did the notion of his spirit hovering nearby paralyze her with fear?
Only at night, she reminded herself. Only when darkness draped her dreams like inky velvet, smothering her with memory.
Liz flicked on her bedside lamp. Her gaze fell on a small strip of photos inserted in her mirror. The same one that had been there for years now, though its edges had curled with age. But she reached for another set of pictures assembled in a small album on her bedside, and began thumbing through it.
A birthday present from Maria a few months earlier, it contained old photos from high school. And more recent ones of her visit to New York, when Maria had yanked her from one glamorous party to another. Finally, she’d included a few wayward pictures of Michael, his arm thrown around Liz’s shoulder, holding her surprisingly close during his opening at her gallery two years ago.
Why hadn’t she realized how intimate their pose looked? What had Maria thought, Liz wondered, tracing the photo lightly with her fingertip. Yet Maria had included the pictures in her folio album, almost as if she intended for Liz to notice something about them.
In the first one, Michael was staring at her, his soft brown eyes wide and joyous. His hand was tucked around her shoulder possessively, as if announcing to the world that Liz Parker belonged to him.
And in that picture, Liz had to admit that she didn’t mind being claimed by him. She nestled her head on his shoulder, and for once, was smiling.
She flipped a page, and her gaze fell on pictures from junior prom. Liz’s stomach tightened convulsively. Max stood beside her, awkward and stiff with his arm on her shoulder. Things had become so strained by then. He’d been so young and handsome, more innocent than he looked even just a few weeks later. How was it possible that one could age so much in only a matter of days?
Another page showed a picture of her on Max’s lap from sophomore year, before Tess had shown up. Max’s hands had slipped around her waist, as Liz leaned into his arms. She could almost smell his leather jacket, so familiar and soft, even after all those years.
Liz closed her eyes and inhaled, just remembering.
“Wake up, Lizzie,” Maria had whispered in her ear a few weeks after Max left for Antar. “You’ve got to get up.” Maria had found her curled up in her bed with Max’s jacket, something she’d managed to wrangle out of Isabel right after he’d disappeared in the granolith.
“Go away!” Liz cried, burying her face in the familiar leather coat again. It still smelled like him, just a trace.
Liz wasn’t even sure how much time had passed since the awful day at the pod chamber, just that she’d told her parents she was sick, and pulled the curtains shut. And slept. Day in and day out, a cocoon of dreams woven around her, she’d slept.
And the dreams had smothered her. The images had bled one into another…Future Max, Tess, Max, herself. But never any answers. No matter how long she held out her hands, they remained full of empty promises.
Maria jerked back the covers, wrenching his leather jacket from her hands. “Stop it!” Liz shouted, but Maria wouldn’t be daunted, flopping down on the bed.
“Liz, I love you, but this has to end.”
“What has to end?” Liz asked, nestling her face into the down pillow.
“This death watch, or whatever the hell it is.”
“Max isn’t dead,” Liz countered defensively, lifting her head.
“No, Lizzie, he’s not dead. He left with Tess,” she reminded her gently, leaning close into her face. “You know, the girl he slept with and knocked up.”
Liz groaned, rolling onto her side again. “When I left the chamber, I didn’t think he would still go. He didn’t even tell me goodbye,” she whispered into her pillow. “Or anything at all…like why.”
“You may never know why.”
“He loved me more than he ever cared for her…he told me so. You read his letter.”
Maria curled up beside her on the bed, slipping her arm around her, slowly stroking her hair. “Liz, Max left two weeks ago. You’ve been holed up in here for almost that long. You’re going to have to live,” she said with loving force.
“Lizzie, Max would have wanted you to live. That’s one answer I do have.”
“It’s killing me, Maria,” she said and a little helpless cry escaped as she began sobbing softly. “Alex, then Max…I’m dying inside.”
Liz felt like someone had thrown a dark blanket over her head, capturing her so that now she was trapped, suffocating soundlessly.
“I know, I know,” Maria shushed gently. “But you’re still here and you’ve got to join the rest of us. It’s time to get out of bed and just breathe, babe.”
The shiny knife blade flicked open easily, and Liz cut the wrapping around the final painting, Insert Pictures Here. It had haunted her all night—in her dreams, her fantasies. What would this final revelation bring?
Liz had almost sprinted the entire way to the gallery, so eager had she been with anticipation. And she felt melancholy with the knowledge that her stolen pleasures ended with this painting.
Unless David Peyton proved true to his suggestion of “showering her with paintings,” a promise that had caused her pulse to skitter wildly, at the way it implied something sensual. As if paintings were the same currency as furs or diamonds--or languid kisses between two lovers on long winter nights.
Liz brushed the paper back, wide-eyed with expectation. What latest lover’s gift had David Peyton bestowed on her now, she wondered.
Paper curled away to reveal what appeared a woman’s bedroom. A mound of blankets and quilts heaped in a disheveled mass, and in the middle of the bed a woman peeked out from beneath the covers. A cloud of dark tresses spilled across her pillow, but she lay facedown, unknowable. Just as the solitary man in the companion painting had appeared on his jail cell cot.
Only this woman was a study in sensual pleasure, not surrounded by the cold masses of gray walls in Segue to Dream. Her room vibrated with color—a plum vase, a sun-dappled quilt, a splash of wild flowers by her bedside. But all through the room, on her vanity, on her walls were picture frames—and none of them held any pictures inside whatsoever. As if this faceless young woman somehow lacked the memories or experience to fill the frames. As if she herself were something of a blank slate.
Liz shivered, cocking her head to the side. Because the woman on the bed bore a striking resemblance to the raven-haired beauty in the Ms. Parker painting—and somehow, in a nearly amorphous way, the bedroom was reminiscent of her old room above the Crashdown.
Isabel had called her, later that very day after Max left in the granolith. They’d lingered at first on the hillside, just kicking at the rocks, discussing the inconceivable. Not only had Tess murdered Alex, but Max had left with her for reasons none of them could fathom.
And then finally, they’d all slowly scattered, each to their own homes to rest a bit. It had been several days since Liz had slept at all, and she’d collapsed onto her bed, unbelievably numb. Yet it was a familiar feeling, much like the morning of Alex’s funeral, as if some part of herself had just stopped moving. Like a clock, with its hands forever positioned at one time of day.
Sleep had come like a gauzy thing, wrapping itself around her mind, muting the voices in her head. The ringing phone had jarred her, and she’d sat upright in bed, just gazing around the room in confusion as she fumbled for it on her bedside.
Isabel’s voice had been almost unrecognizable with grief, as she’d murmured into the phone, “I have something for you, Liz. Something that Max left you.”
“Okay,” Liz answered, her heart clenching painfully. “I’ll be right over.”
She’d walked all the way to his house, hoping to regain her equilibrium, but had only felt overcome by heat the further she strode. By the time Isabel opened the door, she was nearly faint from the beating sun, and Isabel had pulled her quickly into Max’s room.
“Our parents have no idea,” Isabel whispered softly, tears glinting in her eyes. “They think he’s out running errands or something. I don’t know what to tell them.”
“They’ll find the jeep,” Liz suggested, sitting on the edge of Max’s bed. Everything still appeared just as he’d left it. A book was even propped open on the covers, as if he’d just set it aside moments earlier.
“I don’t understand why he left, Liz,” Isabel said quietly, walking toward his closet. “Why he would have gone with her, once we knew what she’d done.” Isabel stood surveying Max’s clothing, and Liz had the feeling she was hiding tears. “God, Liz, you do know how much my brother loved you, don’t you? I mean, do you have any idea?”
“He still does,” Liz asserted in a small voice. She didn’t like Isabel’s use of past tense in describing Max.
Isabel reached inside his desk drawer, and withdrew a thin white envelope. “He left you a letter, Liz. I found it on his bed when I got back.” Isabel extended it to her, and Liz accepted it like a sacred offering, something pristine and delicate. “I think he wrote it before we left for the pod chamber,” Isabel explained.
“Thanks,” Liz said, turning it over in her hand.
“My parents aren’t here, so I’ll just leave you alone in here, okay?” Isabel suggested and Liz nodded, already gingerly opening the letter.
Liz stared down at Max’s neat handwriting, at paper that now seemed little more than an artifact of their love, the words blurring with her tears. She swiped at her eyes, and began reading.
God, I hope you know what this is doing to me. How leaving you behind, when all I’ve ever wanted is you, is tearing my heart out. There was so much I should have said in the jeep earlier. I should never have let you leave without saying those things. But I was scared. Scared that I would only hurt you more, if I tried to explain that I ran to Tess because I thought...
What? I don’t even know what I thought anymore, Liz. Just that all I ever really wanted was you. And when I thought I’d lost you, I was almost crazy for a while. I swear I didn’t even feel sane, Liz. And now all I wish is that I’d pressed you harder for the truth. Asked more questions; kept my faith. Now I’ll only ever regret that I gave up on you. On us.
I’ll never know why you wanted me to believe you’d slept with Kyle, though I fear I have a theory. I think maybe you were trying to push me toward Tess all that time, weren’t you?
How could I not have seen it??
Because I’m a fool. I had the perfect love of the most perfect girl and I threw it away.
Tess is never going to be you. Not tomorrow, not ten years from now. All my life I’ll only be wishing she were you. All my life. And all my life, I’ll only be wondering what my soul mate is doing, if she’s happy. Because that’s what I want for you, Liz: to be happy.
I don’t deserve your forgiveness. I can’t even ask for it. But just know that I’d undo it all, if only given the chance. You would be the first woman I ever made love to, the mother of my first child. Because in my heart, you’ve always been first. And even when I slept with Tess, my heart wished that she were you.
Wherever it is I’m going now, whatever Antar turns out to be, I know that you’ll always be my compass. That no one can erase you from my mind because you’re written there indelibly. No matter how bad things get, I know I’ll feel you, even at the worst of it…because a part of you is inside me now, and I can’t shake that. Nothing can break that bond between us. I’m not even sure death could.
I’m not going to say I’ll come back, Liz. I can’t promise that because it wouldn’t be fair to you. All I’m going to say is that no matter where I go, no matter how long I live, I will always love you, Liz. Always.
Liz sat staring at the paper for what seemed hours, just gazing at his handwriting, the last personal touch she’d ever have from him. Until Isabel finally came, and slowly helped her up off the bed, pressing Max’s leather jacket into her hands to comfort her. Until Maria came to drive her home.
Later that afternoon, she crawled in bed, just holding his jacket and reading the letter over and over. And that’s where she stayed for weeks.
Liz carefully hung Insert Pictures Here on the main wall of the gallery, leaving enough room for Segue to Dream right beside it. They were inverted images of the same idea. One painting represented a desolate life, yet with glimmers of hope, where as the other was of a rich, verdant one pervaded by inexplicable emptiness. Opposite sides of the same coin, the man and woman seemed to be.
Liz only wished that both paintings weren’t such a piercing reflection of her own life. That they didn’t leave her feeling as if David Peyton were able to glimpse inside her soul, delving out her heart’s most tender secrets.
Something about that idea caused her stomach to tighten with an indescribable heat. Something strangely akin to desire.
As she stared at the girl in the disheveled bed, nearly buried under a mass of brightly colored quilts, she wondered why David Peyton left her burning so. And as she reached a finger to delicately outline the brushstrokes of the man sleeping on the cot, the dark head of hair, the subtle outline of shoulder, she traced every lift of David’s brush. She stroked every swirling line, aching to know what the faceless stranger looked like.
The door chime tinkled, interrupting Liz’s reverie, and a little girl and her mother entered the gallery, holding hands. They were regulars who Liz instantly recognized. The mother dabbled in pottery, selling a few pieces on the plaza occasionally, and her tiny daughter was her constant companion.
“Good morning,” Liz called brightly, swiveling in her chair.
“It’s snowing!” The little girl cried, clapping with glee. “Look,” she offered, extending a mittened hand for Liz’s examination.
“Look at that,” Liz agreed with a smile, as the little girl twirled in a sudden circle. Lacy flakes vanished into her pink woolen hand.
“Is that an angel, mommy?” Lelia asked, her delicate blonde eyebrows knitting in confusion, as she stopped her pirouettes in front of Open Your Eyes.
“Yes, sweetheart, it is.”
“Is he going to heaven?” the little girl asked seriously. “Is that why he’s flying, mommy?”
“I think he probably is going to heaven,” the mother explained with a patient smile.
“I don’t think he’s a happy angel, though.”
“Why not?” Liz asked, feeling curious as she stepped closer to the little girl. “Maybe he’s happy to be going away,” she suggested.
“No, happy angels would never wear black. They’d wear gold or pink. Never black.”
The little girl spun in another circle, unsteady as she reached toward Liz. “Are you a happy angel?” Little Lelia laughed, gazing earnestly up at Liz. As if it were the most important question in the world.
And for some reason, Liz felt tears instantly sting her eyes.
|posted on 22-Jan-2002 1:58:57 PM|
Thanks for all the awesome feedback, yet again! This part is a tad different than the others, but for a reason, and not really all that much. And there are some answers—at least hints of them. Oh, I’m not completely evil, either. LOL! Em, you obsessed?? Why do you think I left that oh-so-innocent note, eh? And Meagzie, so glad you’re waiting!
And what did the lovely Ms. Parker think of the last two paintings? The anticipation is killing me.
Lovely. He’d described her as lovely. Now, the odd thing about that was that David Peyton had no idea what she looked like—at least not that Liz was aware of. She tapped her pencil lightly against her forehead, trying to recall any photos that might have appeared of her online, or even in local papers. She could think of nothing, and her pulse quickened at the possibility that David might have been watching her.
In fact, she should have been frightened, or immediately on the phone with Michael about it. But it had been so long since any man had made her feel beautiful in quite the way that David’s spare words did, that she couldn’t help but stare at the screen in heated surprise.
So rather than commenting on his paintings, she slowly composed her own haiku style e-mail, feeling flirtatious and sassy. Like a woman.
David, David. You’re going to make me blush. How would you know whether I’m ugly, exquisite or otherwise homely? I’m an e-mail inbox to you, am I not?
Liz…a most decidedly Liz, not Ms. Parker.
Your heart is lovely-- that much is readily apparent. I may be a mere painter, but I recognize that kind of beauty in any form.
P.S. There is also a damned good picture of you in Santa Fe Trend from November.
She sat staring at the screen, blinking. Trying to comprehend how this quiet stranger—and precisely how she knew he was quiet, she wasn’t sure—could write so simply, yet electrify her to the core. The only rational explanation she could offer was because that was how his paintings touched her, how he caused her to open like an early morning flower, petal by petal.
As if his fingertips were literally coaxing her with every stroke of his brush.
But that didn’t explain the way his postscript left her feeling flushed, and oddly shivering with desire. How her gaze swept the entrance to the gallery, wondering if David Peyton had ever been inside of it, an anonymous stranger in her midst, just studying her with an artist’s keen eyes. Or the way she imagined him looking. Exotic, like the landscapes he captured on canvas. Dark, like the man in the prison cell.
And what did “physically challenged” mean precisely? That question had been steadily plaguing her since yesterday.
She chewed on the tip of her pencil, and wished she possessed some alien gifting, some way of perceiving more of David’s motives. Max might have been able to get a flash off the open e-mail, might have known his intentions just by placing a warm palm against the screen.
But not her, because once Max had returned to Antar, any nascent alien power within her had been snuffed out. It was as if that part of Max—that little spark of his spirit still resident within her soul- had slowly withered, until the strange bursts of energy that she’d once felt had dissipated completely.
In fact, that part of her had died the last time she’d gone to the granolith chamber. Alone with Michael. That had been the end of all things alien for Liz. And sometimes she wondered if that was what scared her away from him, the fear of unlocking that hidden part of herself again. As if Michael’s alienness might resonate with that latent bit of Max, still concealed so deftly in her heart’s chambers.
Liz blinked, studying David’s e-mail again. She didn’t have any special powers, so she’d just have to seek the answers she yearned for.
May I ask a rather personal question? When you say, “physically challenged,” you mean…what exactly? I hope you don’t mind my asking.
Liz drew in a tight breath, and prayed she wasn’t pushing the tentative boundaries of their new friendship too far. Different, definitely different. That’s what the courier had said, and she’d been unable to stop speculating about that description ever since. It sent her mind racing with possibilities. And fortunately, David’s answer came almost immediately.
Ah, Decidedly Lovely Liz,
I knew that you would ask because you seem far too curious to leave something that open-ended dangling. If only the explanation were a simple one. Yet, I will try for a simple answer. I use a cane.
“A cane? That’s all?” Liz shrieked, shoving back from her desk. The wheels on her chair careened wildly, nearly knocking her into the small display counter. She frowned at the computer screen, slowly rolling back toward the keyboard. “Alright, David, this is war. All out war,” she murmured under her breath.
She began typing furiously. And what, may I ask, do you mean by that? Then you can come down to the gallery and discuss representation, can you not? A cane should not prevent you from seeing me, either here or at your home.
I am joking, though not entirely. I do use a cane, yes, but that’s not the extent of the issue. It is complex, and suffice it to say that I’m…very limited in my ability to get downtown. And, well… there’s just a lot more to it than that. But I enjoy your e-mails very much. You’re a remarkable person.
P.S. Still wondering on those last two paintings…can’t help but ask again.
As mentioned, you can come down here and talk about the paintings if you want me to represent you. Grrrr.
P.S. Where were you trained? How did you begin painting? If you wish for my opinion, which I’m more than willing to give, I need to know more. It’s only fair.
“There,” Liz declared, sending the letter with a toss of her hair. “Let’s just see how you answer those questions, David Peyton.”
Something about him had begun to unsettle her. Not just the way he’d made her blush so easily, or even the aching beauty of his paintings. But the inescapable sense that he was speaking to her through his work--that words were passing between them somehow.
But more than that, in the past fifteen minutes, as they’d traded e-mails quickly across cyber-space, he’d begun to fluster her. She’d lost her perfect composure, and that was an unfamiliar sensation these days.
The Federal Express man entered, bantering lightly about the traffic out on the highway, and how nobody really knew how to drive in the snow. He fumbled awkwardly with the packages he handed her, dropping one letter packet to the ground. Liz always suspected that he had a crush on her, just by how awkward he seemed with each delivery.
She heard the quiet refrain of, “You’ve got mail,” and stepped away from him eagerly. “Thanks!” She called, stepping back to her computer, as he left her gallery. Liz hurriedly opened her newest e-mail from David, her pulse quickening with anticipation.
Ah, grrr indeed. I really don’t mean to frustrate you, I promise.
I’m not really interested in having you represent me—though I do know your reputation, and am honored by your interest. Honestly, it was just important to know what you thought of the works.
I do hope we might meet sometime, though.
“What?” Liz squealed, stomping her foot in frustration. “No…no, no, no. You’re not weaseling out of this one, Mr. Peyton.”
You didn’t answer all the questions, she tapped out angrily, hitting send.
Liz jumped up from her desk, nearly knocking the chair over in her swift movement backwards. She felt like throwing something hard. At Michael. He would make a worthy target, she decided, reaching for the phone. After all, it was his fault she was in such an edgy mood anyway. He’d been ignoring her all day again, causing her blood pressure to slowly rise.
Causing the endless ache in her jaw to thrum, she thought as she rubbed her cheek with her fingers, listening to the ringing phone. She heard Michael’s laconic greeting on the other end, and had the distinct impression she’d just interrupted his work.
“I’m coming up,” she spat, without waiting for him to reply. “And you will open the door.”
“Yes, sir,” he answered dutifully, and she was at least relieved to hear some amusement in his voice.
She’d knocked on Michael’s apartment door in Roswell in just the same frame of mind. Resolute and angry.
In need of some kind of truth she could have faith in.
It had been two weeks since Max had left in the granolith, and she’d spent that time in bed, clutching his leather jacket, simply aching. Her body, her heart. Like so many shards of glass, pieced together into a makeshift whole.
Michael had squinted as the desert sunlight flooded his dimly lit apartment, and Liz had realized he wasn’t doing much better than she was. It was different for him, losing a best friend, a brother—and yet, as he filled the doorframe, rubbing his mournful brown eyes, Liz had felt something twist in her heart.
Before even thinking about it, she’d flung herself against his chest, pulling him tightly toward her. “I’m so sorry,” she murmured. “God, Michael, I know this must be so hard for you.”
Everyone had expected her to mourn, allowed her that grief. But what of Michael, now thrust into the position of their erstwhile leader? Liz felt his hands slowly close around her back, hesitant, yet filled with surprising warmth. Like Max’s. A gentle warrior’s hands, surging with life and power.
“Thanks,” he mumbled softly against the top of her head, sounding adrift. He wanted so badly to be strong, she could sense it. Most especially for her, though she couldn’t grasp why.
He patted her awkwardly on the back, stepping apart. “Wanna come in?”
“Actually, I wanted to take you some place,” Liz explained softly. “I have an idea of something that might help us both.”
“What’s that?” He asked, drawing his dark eyebrows together dubiously.
“I need to know why Max left with Tess,” she answered flatly, feeling tears sting her eyes. “Because it doesn’t make sense.”
“He’s gone, Liz,” Michael began, shaking his head as he squinted into the sunlight. Spring had come early that year, and it was already a swelteringly hot day, even in early June. “We have to accept that fact. Both of us.”
“But the question is why. Don’t you want to know?”
Michael grew thoughtful a moment, folding his arms over his chest, then just nodded silently.
“What’s your plan?” he asked, his brown eyes narrowing.
“For you to get flashes off the chamber,” she explained simply. “So we’ll know what happened after we all left him alone with her in there.”
Michael frowned sharply. “Liz, it may not work like that. I can’t just get flashes at will.”
“I can’t explain it, Michael. But somehow we’ll just know.”
They rode in thick silence all the way to the pod chamber. Liz had asked Maria if she could borrow the Jetta, making some excuse about an errand for her dad in Hondo, but hadn’t confessed the true reason. She knew Maria would have tried to convince her not to do it, would have wanted to protect her.
But not Michael. He was far too familiar with the burning need to simply know, and so he’d dutifully climbed into the car, supporting her silently as they wound out the dusty highway into the desert.
Michael kept flipping the radio dial, until it landed on an oldies station. He hesitated a moment, his finger just hovering over the dial in indecision, as John Lennon’s voice filled the car with the haunting lyrics of A Day in the Life.
I read a news today, oh boy, about a lucky man who made a grade, and though the news was rather sad, well I just had to laugh…I saw the photograph.
Michael turned the dial again, sighing heavily as he changed the station.
And Liz understood. The song felt far too reminiscent of Max’s disappearance from their lives. So like a death…yet not quite.
Liz recalled a photograph she’d once seen of the Beatles as a child, one of those endless bits of Paul is Dead arcana, part of a labyrinthine mythology she’d never fully grasped. That’s what Max’s departure reminded her of now. So many clues, so many pieces of him scattered throughout their lives. Yet none of them pointing to a fully comprehensible truth.
A letter…a jacket…a pendant.
Disjointed evidence of one glaring fact.
He’d left her. Forever.
And not just her, she realized as she glanced sideways at Michael. He stared out the window, head propped against the glass, silent and moody. She felt such inexplicable kinship with him now, as if losing Max had forged them together into an unlikely bond of sorts.
At the chamber, Michael placed his palm on the glowing handprint, and the door slid open effortlessly. For a moment, he simply stood, gazing into the dank interior, a perplexed look shadowing his features. As if the very fact of his opening the door signified the conveying of Max’s mantle.
Finally, Michael stepped cautiously over the threshold, shielding his eyes as he entered the cave. Images of ancient Egyptian tombs flashed through Liz’s mind, chambers filled with artifacts of a remote heritage, dusty treasures leading nowhere. Liz followed, walking slowly toward the dimly glowing pods. She traced her fingers across the strange material, feeling a little jolt of energy in the heart of her being.
“That’s mine,” Michael gestured offhandedly at one of the luminous pods, then stopped in front of Max’s, just staring a moment.
Liz touched Michael lightly on the arm, wanting to offer comfort, but he bolted away from her instantly, moving to the other side of the chamber. Liz slowly traced her fingers across the veined surface of Max’s pod. She knew it was his because he’d pointed it out to her once, when he’d drawn her fingers to it reverentially. Fearfully.
She stroked the rough surface again now, tracing the undulating curves as she had that day, just breathing. In and out.
In and out, the rhythm of life in any part of the universe.
In and out, trying to feel Max, to drink him in from across the galaxies. In and out, as she felt his power slowly begin coursing through her body.
Almost a trance-like feeling overtook her, as she pressed her eyes tightly shut, hearing an otherworldly hum she’d never noticed, and then it grew louder. Became an insistent keening wail.
Became Tess’s shrill, high-pitched voice, as images flooded Liz’s mind like a rushing river of electricity.
If you don’t come with me, I’ll kill her. Tess paced the length of the chamber. The image faded, replaced by Max, lifting his hand in anger, ready to strike her down.
But Tess created a protective shield, hissing at him. You can’t stop me that easily, your highness. She disappeared then, reemerging inside the granolith as Max stared up at her in shock.
Khivar’s assassins will come for her, and the others, too. But I’ll be sure Liz dies first. By then, we won’t need you.
The image shimmered, nearly faded, then a clear snapshot formed. Max crying out sharply, slamming his hands against the granolith’s smooth exterior.
I’ll protect her—
--You won’t be able to! Not any of them. Unless you come with me now, Tess promised coolly. If you come with me now, we’ll spare everyone. Khivar will have what he wants…you.
Max glanced around the chamber, desperate. Frantic as he stared at the cave door, torn painfully. She felt his fear for her, stifling to the point that she began rasping for breath. But she wouldn’t break the rush of images, had to know.
He glanced at the door again, needed her so badly, just to touch her one more time.
Damn you for this, Tess, he cried in pure anguish, placing his palms flat against the granolith. With those words Max reached upward, drawn instantly within the Granolith’s interior cylinder.
And then just that easily, they both vanished.
Liz heard a strange choking sound, an unearthly rasping of breath, like dry leaves brushing together. The pulsating feel of the pod moved beneath her fingertips as hot tears streaked her face. Yet the dry sound didn’t stop, only intensified in frequency and pitch.
“Liz!” She felt Michael’s fingers close around her arms. “Liz, you’ve gotta pull out of this!”
He called to her as if down a tunnel of sorts, beckoning forcefully. But she wanted to shrug him off, needed to stay. She kept reaching for more of Max, kept feeling for him.
“Liz, open your eyes!” he cried against her cheek, warm breath so surprising. “Pull out…now!” And then her eyes just fluttered open, the rush of images and sensations arrested, and she realized her chest was heaving desperately.
The rasping sound was her own shallow, convulsive breathing. She collapsed forward against Max’s pod, sobbing, wrestling for breath, and Michael drew her into his arms. He cradled her there on the floor for what seemed hours as her heart hammered erratically, and her breathing felt like it would never normalize.
“God, Liz,” he whispered as she shook in his arms, unable to stop the tremors. “You scared the hell out of me…what would I have done?”
“Done?” she asked in a daze, feeling her hands tingle with the raw alien power she’d unleashed.
“If you’d died,” he breathed against the top of her head, his hands clenched too tightly around her. “You almost died.”
Something about that struck Liz as oddly funny, because she could have sworn she really had.
“So, he’s been like what? Stalking you?” Michael thundered in angry frustration. His fingers were covered in paint, and he wiped at his cheek with the back of his hand. He’d let her in the loft, smiling faintly, a welcome relief after their unacknowledged standoff. And then Liz had sputtered all the facts breathlessly, wanting someone to understand her confusion over David’s bizarre communications—not confessing that they’d begun to feel like some sort of innocent courtship.
And she’d naively believed that Michael wouldn’t resurrect the alien mafia on her behalf.
“No, Michael,” she sighed in exasperation, as she flopped onto his sofa. “God, please don’t be melodramatic about this.”
He stood in front of her, a paintbrush still in his hand. His hair was tied back beneath a faded blue bandana and a light streak of purple lined his jaw. He’d obviously only stopped working long enough to let her in.
Usually they bantered while he worked, and she reclined on his sofa, shoes kicked off on the floor. It was a comfortable habit, just nestling there among his things like that, listening to his music. Just basking in their closeness, as often they both fell completely silent for long stretches. And sometimes, it was far more than arousing.
Like when she caught him studying her once, slowly licking his lips with desire. He’d thought her to be reading, and when she’d glanced up from the newspaper, it had been too sudden for him to mask the hunger in his mercurial eyes. He’d turned away, blushing as he fumbled with a tube of paint.
But she hadn’t missed it, and had felt something twist low in her abdomen…something fiery. Had been unable to stop stealing glances at him the rest of the night.
The rest of the month.
That had been just last month, as a matter of fact.
Yet, now he stood staring at her, mouth slightly open in dismay, her protector once again.
“Liz!” he cried in frustration. “You’re not being yourself about this. I think this guy is psycho.”
“Oh, and he’d be the first psycho, over-sensitive painter I’ve known?” she teased huskily, as she gazed up at him through lowered lashes. She saw his eyes flare in reaction, knew that he’d seen the look. The intended flirtatiousness in it.
He took a step backward, shaking his head. “God, Liz, you’re smarter than this.”
“You’re jealous,” she snapped.
“You’re trying to play me.”
“Now why would I do that?” It was an honest question, almost intended as much for herself, as it had been for him.
“Damn good question,” he retorted loudly, hurling his paintbrush hard against the wall, an angry gesture she couldn’t recall seeing from him before. Normally he treated his brushes with true reverence, soaking them and cleaning them religiously. “I don’t get you right now, Liz. I just don’t.”
“Michael, please don’t worry about me…or about David. That’s not why I came up…”
“Then why did you?”
That answer was undeniably simple. Yet so frightening, it stifled the very air from her lungs. “I need you right now.” Her voice was hushed, almost like the prayer that it felt.
“For what?” he blurted, his eyes shifting vulnerably around the room. “Tell me for what.”
She hesitated, saw the undisguised hurt in his quick glance, and instantly regretted her flirtatiousness. It was like she was being torn apart, pulled toward David Peyton one moment, then drawn magnetically by Micahel the next.
He blew out a breath, answering his own question in a sarcastic voice. “Yeah, you need me. You’ve always needed me. I love you, but you need me.”
Liz’s chest tightened sharply at his words. “Michael,” she began quietly, but he held his hand up, silencing her.
“I’m looking into this freak. I’m not going to let you underestimate some guy who’s obviously following you around town.”
She leapt to her feet, slipping on her shoes. “I thought you might actually help me for once, not just overreact.”
“God, now you’re sounding like Maxwell!” he thundered.
She cut her eyes at him angrily, storming toward the open loft door. She had the impression he was following her. “I just thought you’d listen,” she mumbled as she hurried away from him.
This was how it always seemed to be ending between them lately, no matter what she did.
“It’s my job to protect you, Liz!” he called after her into the hallway. “Last orders, remember?”
How could she forget, she reflected as she ran down the stairs two at a time.
Liz fumbled with her key, her hands shaking so hard she couldn’t get it in the lock of the gallery. She’d closed shop right at twelve, leaving her sign, “Out at lunch—Back at one,” dangling in the glass pane of the door.
Snow had slowly been accumulating on the walkway, and for a moment she lost her footing as she finally turned the key, opening the door.
Michael had left her trembling with countless emotions. She didn’t understand all the stirring she’d felt toward him in recent months, and it only seemed oddly magnified in the past few days. She wasn’t sure if that was because of his declaration of love for her—twice now in as many days--or if it was the sudden appearance of David Peyton and his arousing paintings.
Another thought danced on the periphery of her mind, one she refused to acknowledge as it chanted and whispered quietly. A reminder of the anniversary that would fall in two more days.
Eight years without the promise of Max, without life. Stone cold, like the people in Pompeii, forever frozen glancing upward.
Eternally losing Max, reliving that moment outside the cave over and over. And sadly, Michael’s presence in her life had always been something of a perverse reminder of that fact.
Liz dropped her keys on the counter, settling down at her desk. She’d received at least fifteen e-mails in the short time she’d been upstairs at Michael’s. But there was only one that instantly captured her attention and it was addressed to “A most determined agent.”
No, I don’t suppose I did answer all the questions. In fact, I know I didn’t, and I apologize for that. By “physically challenged” I mean that I am disabled. Really, it isn’t the physical impairment that makes it so troublesome—that’s nothing too difficult--but the fact that I… wear a facial prosthetic. So to quote you, perhaps it could be said that I’m “ugly, exquisite and homely”--yet all three at once. You’d have to ask my mirror to be sure.
At any rate, I think I prefer knowing you this way for now…if you don’t mind. Thanks, Liz.
Liz’s throat tightened to the point that she feared her windpipe might close up completely. A prosthetic was something that replaced an arm, or a leg…not a face. Was David telling her that he had no face at all?
She typed the term “facial prosthetic” quickly into her Internet search engine, desperate to know what it might mean.
Desperate to know if her poetic David Peyton, whose hands crafted such painfully beautiful work, and who left her feeling flushed and desirable--might have put far more of himself into those paintings than she’d ever imagined.
|posted on 22-Jan-2002 1:59:34 PM|
Floating. She was floating through a quiet museum, maybe the National Gallery, down the corridors like a restless spirit. She hovered periodically, just studying a wall of paintings spread before her, until she found the room that felt most like home.
She settled there on a soft bench, drawing her legs up beneath her as she examined the works on the long wall. First, there were Michael’s familiar canvases, so much a part of her that they almost undulated with her heart’s rhythm. They represented all that was beautiful and perfect in her life now. She sighed softly, just drinking them in. So like Michael’s spirit, she thought, breathing in the colors and movement with each slow inhalation.
Then her gazed shifted, as she discovered David’s paintings hanging just beside Michael’s. They were arousing, moving her deepest places, and somehow, though she’d never noticed it before, powerfully erotic.
A nearly forgotten sensation of heat crested low in her body, as she gazed at the faceless stranger in Segue to Dream. The artist had revealed nothing of himself, yet somehow she knew he was exquisite and handsome. She was sure of that fact, as she studied the dark head of hair, the suggestion of shoulder.
Suddenly the figure in the painting turned slightly, his face coming into view.
And there was nothing, only a bland, featureless mask.
“But that’s not right,” she ached to cry. “Something here is so wrong.”
Then the painting shimmered momentarily, and was as it had been before. Liz rubbed her jaw, puzzling over the canvas, and wondered why it seemed something crucial lay just beyond her understanding. Something critical that she couldn’t piece together yet.
Finally, she allowed her gaze to wander further, and it fell on a familiar series of engravings, depictions of The Seven Wonders of the World.
A mausoleum, a temple, a lighthouse. A template of mankind’s melancholy greatness lay in ruins before her—now little more than a remembered glimmer in Herodotus’ eye.
In her sophomore year, she’d been particularly captivated by a painting of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, imagining herself to be the exotic princess, brought from lands far away. And Max to be the king who loved her enough to create a replica of a distant home, light years across the galaxies.
Max her prince, the man who could give her the universe if only she asked. The one who held the twinkling stars in the mere palm of his hand, weaving legends around their love as easily as gossamer.
Max, alive and beautiful, his golden eyes shimmering with alien fire, more princely than he’d ever seemed on earth. Surrounded by servants and jewels. Nebuchadnezzar recreating an Earthly garden of hanging mysteries.
All for her, because he ached to woo his bride, his alien queen.
But then the projector had clicked again, shifting the slide, light replaced by dark. A new painting, a new dream, the old ones too stifling.
But knowing Max was dead hadn’t stopped the dreams. And that image of the gardens had imprinted on her mind’s canvas, burned in like an encaustic painting. Her hopes, hardened like wax, unyielding to touch. Smothering her soundlessly, night after night.
Almost like a nightly rendezvous, a secret tryst between Max and herself. She’d never even told Michael about her nightly wakings, though he understood a bit. And now, Liz lay in the dark, her heart hammering painfully in her chest, as she stared at the digital clock. Such a long distance existed between the bathroom and her bed, such cloying fears along the way.
One more night. One more rotation of the Earth, two more journeys of the clock’s hands around the dial. Eight years marked in passing.
She’d been sleeping soundly in her dorm that night in late February, the room glowing brightly because of newly fallen snow blanketing the earth outside. Already the familiar noises of the snowplow had begun, as it spread salt on the drive outside her dorm window. She’d passed in and out of sleep all night, wrestling thick dreams of Max. Harsher dreams than in the past months, when things had muted a bit after she’d first left Roswell.
But that night the images had been keener, more circuitous. Over and over, she’d seen his eyes, pleading. But for what? He knelt before her, head bowed, dark hair unusually damp. She reached her fingers to slowly stroke it, to soothe him.
Shh, she whispered softly. I’m here, Max. Right here.
But when she’d pulled her hand away, the fingers had been sticky with blood. Redder than her own, alien blood. She’d opened her mouth to scream, to cry out, her jaw aching with indescribable pain. I’m here, she’d shouted, but only muffled sounds had escaped her lips. Max, don’t give up. I’m here…with you. I’d never leave…never leave.
She’d felt him reach for her, as surely as if he’d been holding her in his arms. He looked up, golden gaze on her again, but the animating flash that was so familiar had disappeared, utterly vanquished.
Then she felt only coldness, enfolding her like a deathly lover’s embrace.
“Max!” she screamed, waking again with a shuddering start. She bolted up in bed, feeling all around in the dark covers. Everything was damp. Her hair, the sheets, and her face throbbed with blinding pain. “Oh, Max,” she whispered again, glancing at the clock.
“I miss you so much,” she murmured into the thick darkness, as she rubbed her chest with her open palm, willing her heart to settle. “God, I never stop aching like this, Max…for you.”
And with those words, her throat tightened convulsively, tears spilling down her cheeks. She grasped frantically at her hair, pulling at her scalp in a fruitless effort to stop the avalanche of emotion that she’d unleashed.
Finally, she crumpled on her side in a tight little knot, her chest racking with unspent sobs. Why can’t it just hurt less, Max, she wondered through the veil of tears. It’s been so long.
Liz stepped carefully along the sidewalk, through the hushed snow that had shrouded Santa Fe overnight. There were only a few inches, maybe three at most, yet all of town was still whisper quiet, though an occasional car would kick up damp slush as it passed by.
Mostly the sidewalks remained pristine, with only periodic footprints scattered ahead of her. Liz drew her scarf tight around her neck, lifting her mug of coffee close to her lips. The chocolate-laced aroma filled her senses, as she took a quick sip of the warmth. Rounding the edge of the plaza, she glimpsed the darkened doorway of her gallery, and thought for a moment that she saw a tiny package propped against the door, dry beneath the overhang.
She blinked once, certain that her eyes must be deceiving her, must be playing on her secret hopes. Yet, the neatly wrapped package remained.
Liz all but ran the last steps, the hot liquid sloshing in her mug. She knelt carefully, her boot slipping on the wet snow as she dropped to her knees. Right against the door was a very small package, a flat square in brown paper, probably no more than a foot or so in length and height.
On the front, the familiar neat handwriting read, Windows to the Soul. For Lovely Liz.
Liz cradled the package within her gloved hands, pressing it tightly against her chest, like a sacred treasure. She glanced around her quickly, as if she might find her enigmatic painter, lurking there in the shadows.
She felt watched, as if his artist’s gaze might be trained on her. She brushed a woolen hand over her hair, smoothing it nervously, as slowly she stepped to her feet.
And that’s when she saw the tracks, clearly discernible in the fresh snow. Two foot prints, and a third circular indention. One foot had obviously fallen heavier than the other, the mark was deeper, and the prints led neatly to her doorway.
Two shoe prints and a small circle the size of a quarter. Like a block print cut out, the imprint betrayed David’s gait. Just as he’d said, he walked with a cane.
Liz began slowly following his unique tracks away from her gallery. For a moment, she lost the path of him, as his markings melded with another’s, then reappeared a few steps further. If it hadn’t been so early, she never would have been able to see the prints so clearly, a blazing trail winding right back to him.
Five blocks she followed, until the footprints disappeared up a walkway leading to a small bungalow. Inside, soft lights filled what looked to be the kitchen, and a ribbon of smoke curled into the dark morning sky from the chimney. Liz ached to follow closer, straight up the path, and knock on David Peyton’s door.
And then she saw them. A pair of black hiking boots left neatly in front of the door, as if to dry. Her imagination filled in a portrait, David bending low to unlace the boots, while shifting his weight onto his cane. A young man, despite appearances. A perversely handsome man.
Liz brushed stray hair away from her eyes, her heart racing because of such a personal detail. Something so simple as his shoes, yet she knew she’d violated David’s protective walls, his self-imposed isolation by following him. But now that she was here, she needed so much more, needed to see what he’d meant by a “facial prosthetic.” For she’d been left with far too many questions on that count, all of them more than disturbing.
She searched the exterior of the house for any further sign of him, for a shadow in the window, but glimpsed nothing. The small painting rested close against her chest, burning there, and she considered removing the note and leaving it inside his mailbox—letting him know that she’d found him. But that seemed like a slap in the face, when he’d only meant to leave her a gift.
And she had a sudden image of David as Boo Radley, leaving precious treasures in her tree trunk—in this case, her gallery doorway. Just as Scout had felt protective of Boo, she now felt that for her own shy stranger, a scarred recluse darting in and out of darkened shadows as he watched over her like an angel--a strangely seductive and sensual guardian.
Open your eyes, Liz…open your eyes.
She drew in a shuddering breath, remembering his beautiful angel painting, and carefully backed away.
Liz hadn’t responded to David’s last e-mail because she wasn’t sure precisely how she should. And every time she began slowly typing a reply, the words just seemed too flat. She still wasn’t sure what he’d meant by a “facial prosthetic,” though a haunting thought had begun to shadow her.
One web site had struck a particularly eerie chord. It promised “A Whole New Life…Welcome to the World of Full Facial Prosthetics.”
A whole new life. Something about the ironic slogan caused her to shiver uncontrollably. The images on her screen seemed anything but hopeful, as she gazed at an array of what could only be described as nearly featureless masks.
Faces for the faceless.
Liz wrapped her arms around herself, shivering again, and wondered what she could possibly say to David. She hadn’t opened his new gift yet, had saved it as a special treasure for later in the day, though it burned in her awareness like a smoldering fire.
She began slowly composing a note, one that simply felt right in her heart, the only possible way to answer his vulnerable confession.
You’ve showered me with yet another painting. And see, they’ve become more precious than Godivas to me, so I’m waiting to open this one as well. At least a few more hours.
As for your note of last night, it seems that you’re a man of mystique, then. If you intended to thwart my growing interest, I fear you’ve only fanned the flames.
Liz (who is now blushing)
With as flirtatious as she knew her words had been, she’d been unable to resist. She’d been compelled to write something that enticing, had yearned to make David feel as desirable as he’d left her feeling in the past few days. Perhaps his face was horribly disfigured, yet somehow she was certain it was oddly beautiful, too--if only because of its alluring uniqueness.
The bell tinkled on her door, and Liz glanced up, her face reddening instantly for some inexplicable reason. Perhaps because she felt discovered in her cyber-courtship. Her cheeks only flushed more deeply when Michael loped inside, bearing two cups of Starbucks coffee in his hands, and a small brown bag tucked between his fingers.
“Hey!” she called, knowing her voice sounded overly bright. Michael smiled softly, tossing his hair out of his eyes.
“Peace offering,” he grumbled, yet his eyes revealed his utter sincerity as he plopped the bag onto the counter.
“Why do I think that’s a blueberry scone, lightly toasted?” she giggled, picking up the bag. He dropped his gaze, and she swore he seemed oddly shy with her, as she sniffed inside the bag theatrically. “Ummm…”
“Just sell my work in New York next week,” he explained gruffly, his voice edged with slight bitterness, despite the overture. Liz felt her chest tighten with an inexplicable wave of pain.
“Of course I will, Michael,” she answered softly. “I always do.” He stepped away from her, turning his back as he sipped his coffee.
Liz followed him to where he stopped in front of David’s paintings that she’d hung on the wall, and for a moment she saw his confusion as he glanced around the gallery. She’d removed three of his key pieces in order to display David’s work, so she touched him lightly on the arm, rushing to explain.
“I moved yours to the window…as the major display.”
He nodded without glancing at her. “Whatever, Liz,” he answered coolly. “I trust you.”
Something about those words seemed critical, about far more than her placement of his work within the gallery.
“But you’re still mad at me,” she offered softly, chewing on her lip.
“No…no, I’m not,” he answered in an aloof voice, rubbing his chin as he stared at the paintings. “More of the freaknik’s work, huh?”
“He’s not a freak,” she answered defensively, feeling even more protective since David’s admission about the prosthesis.
“No, I don’t suppose so,” Michael answered, and she was surprised by the way his tone had softened. “His work really is…powerful, isn’t it?”
“What does it make you think of, Michael?” she asked seriously, feeling the familiar kinship they shared flame to life. They were always at their best together this way, just talking art comfortably.
He combed his fingers through his hair thoughtfully, his eyes flickering between each painting. Finally, he drew in a breath as he stared at the untitled painting of the harsh landscape. The Ms. Parker painting. “The pod chamber,” he answered evenly. “The pod chamber, but twisted somehow.”
“What?” she cried, her eyes widening as she stared at the painting. The dark-haired beauty still turned, staring out at her coyly, and the vibrant colors still splashed across the exotic sky. How did Michael possibly see the pod chamber?
“Well, what does it make you think of?” he quipped, folding his arms across his chest with a light sigh of impatience.
She shook her head, staring in disbelief because the scene did vaguely remind her of the pod chamber rocks, now that she thought of it.
But she didn’t admit that to Michael. “Maybe Afghanistan or something,” she murmured, staring at the woman, who haunted like the image of some refugee from the pages of National Geographic.
They fell silent again, just standing there together and Liz sensed that Michael longed to tell her something. But if she’d learned anything in all their years of friendship, it was that she couldn’t push him.
“I followed him,” he admitted softly.
“Who?” Liz asked, because she really had no idea who Michael was referring to.
“David Peyton,” he sighed, his eyebrows arching guiltily. “I got his address from the Fed Ex guy and followed him last night.”
“What?” Liz all but roared. Her hands began shaking with tremors as her mouth open and shut in disbelief. “You, what?”
“You heard me,” Michael snapped, taking a long sip of his coffee. “Did it to protect you.”
“God, I just want to kill you!” she cried in exasperation. “I mean, am I not a grown woman?”
“He’s harmless, Liz.” Michael half-smiled at her, gloating in the revelation. She swore his chest puffed out, as if he were proud to declare David worthy of her trust.
“As if I needed your say in that,” she seethed, storming away from him.
“Aren’t you glad to know, though?”
“You drive me crazy, Guerin.”
“He walks with a cane,” he announced, again seeming overly smug. As if he knew he’d squarely vanquished David Peyton before a race of romantic intentions had even begun.
“Yeah, well guess what?” Liz snapped, plopping down in her desk chair. “I already knew that, okay?”
She instantly regretted the declaration, when she saw Michael’s expression darken with unexpected disappointment. “I mean, he told me,” she stammered awkwardly. But Liz couldn’t help wondering if Michael had gotten a look at David’s face.
“What did he look like?” she asked quietly, dropping her gaze quickly so he wouldn’t see how she blushed at the question.
“Didn’t see much,” Michael explained. “Young I think…long, dark hair.”
“Long?” she asked in surprise, imagining the risqué cover of some romance novel. “How long?”
“About my length, I guess,” Michael answered, absently raking his fingers through his hair.
“And that’s it?” Liz asked. “You just followed him?”
And this time, Michael looked truly sheepish for a moment, as he moved away from her. “I had to be sure he was okay, Liz. Had to make sure you were.”
“You searched his place.” It was an acknowledgement, not a question on her part. Michael nodded guiltily.
“He went for a walk after dark, stayed out a while. He walks so damn slow, it was easy to do.”
Liz closed her eyes, rubbing her temples. Suddenly, her head throbbed with inexplicable pain. “Alien mafia strikes again. Remind me to call Isabel later to commiserate.”
“He’s just a painter, Liz. He’s alright.”
“Glad I have your approval, dad. I mean, otherwise I could have been in real jeopardy,” she snapped bitterly. “I mean, he might have beaten me with his cane or something.”
“Damn it, Liz,” Michael thundered, slamming his palm onto her glass counter loudly. “Would you just chill the hell out? Are you forgetting that there was a time when our enemies wanted you dead? You of all people should believe in that danger, since you’re the one who’s convinced that Max was murdered by them.”
Electric silence instantly filled the gallery, as Liz stared at Michael in shock, feeling tears sting her eyes. Never had he mentioned Max’s death so bluntly, or so vividly with her. Their eyes locked for long moments, his brown depths filled with indescribable regret. Liz wondered if either of them would ever dare speak.
“But why would they still want me?” she finally asked, and Michael’s eyes closed instantly.
“Because you were everything to him, Liz,” he answered quietly. “And destroying Max might not have been quite enough for them.”
You’ve been upgraded, see? Although “beautiful” doesn’t contain quite the same alliterative joys for me, it seems a more apt description.
Well, guess who’s blushing now? Someone other than you, I can promise. Dashing? I think only through the snow, but nevertheless, I’ll take the compliment. Thank you.
So, how is our package? Opened or not?
Liz read the note several times, each of them making her heartbeat quicken a little faster. Now, she’d made him blush. She wondered again what his face looked like, how those cheeks appeared, touched with reddish pink. Were they scarred? Or merely rugged? Without thinking, she traced her fingertips over the words flickering on the screen.
Dashing…compliment…opened. Harmless words were suddenly imbued with sensual energy, just because David cyber-whispered them in her ear.
The truth was she’d burned to ask Michael countless questions about David. What his house was like, if he was tall, if he might be handsome. If his home were as neat as his handwriting. But as earlier, when she’d found his little cottage, she backed away from such intrusive questions, and waited for David to reveal those details himself.
However, she did elect to push just a little bit harder this time, as she began typing her reply.
I’d like to come by your place before I leave for New York. I fly out early next week. Might I just drop by for a short visit before then? I understand all that you’ve told me, but truly, you’ll find me quite safe and harmless (despite the barracuda reputation.)
Liz spun in her desk chair, noting that darkness had already fallen outside. The day was done, and yet her gift remained unopened. She picked it up from where it rested on the far side of her desk, and brushed her fingers along the wrapping, so neat and carefully folded. The painting held perfect promise this way, remained ever undiscovered. Tenderly, she gathered it within her arms, and for some inexplicable reason, decided to take it home with her.
Floating. She was floating over Roswell. First the Crashdown and her balcony, later the high school and Max’s house, then back down toward the park.
Disembodied, ethereal as a mist, she moved at dusk. Just watching from above, noting the sameness below her, despite the passing years.
Even as scattered as they all were now, to the afterworld even, life continued in Roswell, everything in its right place. Different children maybe, unfamiliar young loves, yet forever the same. Just a different era, a new epoch in time.
Liz felt wistful, as a young man opened the car door for his girlfriend, helping her from his Explorer onto the sidewalk. Max had been just such a gentleman. And as the blonde haired boy stole a quick, awkward kiss, Liz began to weep.
For her lost love and purloined innocence.
For her stolen youth.
But then she sailed onward, the clouds moving beneath her, the desert suddenly appearing, until she hovered just over the pod chamber’s jagged rocks. The scene changed and there was Michael, gazing at her where she crouched against the sun-covered rocks, everything bright as an overexposed photograph.
It was that moment, the one that had defined the two of them ever since. Michael squinting in the sun, as their eyes met.
Not like I love you…not like I love you…not like I love you.
And she just knew that Max was gone forever.
[ edited 1 time(s), last at 23-Jan-2002 3:24:51 PM ]
|posted on 23-Jan-2002 10:06:59 PM|
|Smooches to all of you!!! I am really not trying to break your hearts!!! But I understand about the tears b/c I cried writing that last part!! So I'm right there with you, I promise.|
Tiger--no apologies, babe!
Tim--So glad to have you reading this one! Your comments always make me feel like I'm hitting the mark.
Believendreamstoo, araxie, and soooooo many other dear readers (I need to go back and scan the list, this is actually a flyby!) THANK YOU for the encouraging comments. I can't tell you how exciting it is to see SO MANY new readers! People who have never read (at least posted) on my other stories. that's tremendously gratifying!
That is one downside of being mid-trilogy, is that I know it's hard for people to pick up and follow from the beginning sometimes, so hopefully this is a good way for me to meet some of you NEW wonderful readers!
Well enough ramblesome talk from me. Just wanted to thank all of you for reading and taking the time for fb'ing.
|posted on 24-Jan-2002 3:10:48 PM|
|Tiger--Very interesting, dear!! Apparently, you're not the only one, as others have confessed to dreams as well. How interesting is that. Liz has all these dreams, then the readers...dream!|
I posted on the other site that I am planning to have a new part up Saturday night. It's been a busy and hectic week for me. But more soon, promise!
|posted on 24-Jan-2002 3:11:16 PM|
|oh--btw, those of you reading CRAZY TIMES TWO, there's a new part up.|
|posted on 25-Jan-2002 9:56:40 AM|
|Believendreamstoo!!! OH MY! I DIDNT mean a new part of crazy!! YIKES! I update that one SOOO slowly I just figured everybody would know I meant the one from the past 24 hours!! LOL! I'm sorry to frustrate you, babe!|
But you are SWEET to want this fic to stay on the front page. What a dear.
I'm writing away on next part...
|posted on 26-Jan-2002 11:21:52 PM|
Well, you guys have been patient this week! But the good news is that it looks like I’ll be able to reward you well! I have another part nearly complete, and it will most likely go up tomorrow night—though there’s a slight possibility that I’ll post it late this evening. But I doubt that. Enjoy, and as always, thanks for the AMAZING fb!!!
You'll wait a long, long time for anything much
To happen in heaven beyond the floats of cloud
And the Northern Lights that run like tingling nerves.
The sun and moon get crossed, but they never touch,
Nor strike out fire from each other nor crash out loud.
The planets seem to interfere in their curves
But nothing ever happens, no harm is done.
We may as well go patiently on with our life,
And look elsewhere than to stars and moon and sun
For the shocks and changes we need to keep us sane.
From Robert Frost’s ON LOOKING UP BY CHANCE AT THE CONSTELLATIONS
Broadway or Seventh, a choice to be made. And for some reason Liz thought of Alex, and his Robert Frost poem—of all the Robert Frost poems that seemed to touch her life, whether roads not taken, or snowy evenings, or constellations in the sky. Choices, marching ever onward, moments standing still like twinkling stars in the midnight tapestry overhead.
Manhattan, so cold and empty, despite the thrumming streets and taxis. Despite the friends nearby.
Liz tightened her jacket around her, shivering as she waited for the light to change, her eyes unconsciously searching for Max, as they always did, especially in New York, for reasons she couldn’t quite pinpoint.
She thought of Robert Frost again, as she watched the endless throngs of businessmen and tourists pressing all around. And they, since they were not the one dead, turned to their affairs….
That’s what you did in a city like this one, you kept on moving, kept on breathing, kept on filling your lungs one more time, Liz thought, stepping out into Seventh Avenue. That’s when she saw him, just on the other side. Sculpted arms and shoulders, leather vest. A glorious warrior. Her love.
And she was furious, as she half-skipped across the street toward him. “Alright,” she demanded, all but floating up to him. “What are you doing here, Max?”
He steadied her by the arm, his eyes narrowing a bit. “Liz, it’s me,” he laughed quietly, as businessmen moved past them, cutting a neat swath.
“No, see, I know that, Max,” she cried, the anger welling like a hot geyser in her stomach. “What I want to know is what you’re doing here.”
“You asked me that once before, Liz,” he chided gently, glancing around them at the passing cars. “In fact, more than once. A long time ago.”
“You’re not going to tell me, are you?” She stomped, as a Japanese man lightly bumped her shoulder, moving past her. She dropped her Coach briefcase to the sidewalk, folding her arms over her chest. “You ruined my life, you know--” But he cut her off, lifting his fingertips to her lips, causing a shower of electricity across her face.
“I’m going to tell you that I love you,” he answered quietly, his eyes suddenly unspeakably melancholy. “I’m going to tell you that you’re the only one I’ve ever loved…that I can’t let go. How could I?”
Liz pressed her hands over her ears, needing to silence him. “Stop it.”
He moved his hands around both sides of her head, cradling her face tenderly within his rough palms. More heat answered beneath his weathered touch. “I’m going to tell you that you’ve got to live,” he continued in his quiet voice.
“Shut up!” She cried, jerking backwards away from him.
With that, she turned from him, running out into the current of cars and taxis, as the sound of blaring horns filled her ears. But Max yanked her by the arm, right back onto the curb, as a taxi screeched to a halt, barely missing her.
He spun her to face him forcefully, amber eyes flashing with emotion. He drew his lips right against her ear, slowly stroking the hair back from her face. So close, she could feel his warm breath fanning against her cheek. “Liz, live. Eight years is far too long to mourn.”
“I don’t understand why you’d tell me this,” she cried, leaning her head against his shoulder. “You of all people.”
“But you do, Liz. Your heart already knows,” he answered, stroking her hair beneath his open palm. His touch was indescribably soothing, filled with love. “Your mind just has to figure it out.”
Liz’s eyes fluttered open, and her small living room came fuzzily into view. She’d dozed off on the sofa, while nestling on her side by the fire. Now the flames had cooled to mere embers, and a chill had descended over the room. Liz shivered, pulling her sweater tightly around her shoulders.
Her computer screen provided an artificial glow, spilling across her hardwood floors and adobe walls.
And that light was a clear invitation. She’d checked her email before settling on her sofa some two hours earlier, yet there’d only been a few business e-mails. Now the luminous screen drew her like a beacon with the possibility of David Peyton’s reply.
With the possibility of his explaining the painting she’d opened just before her nap.
It was a small work, oil on panel, yet even as she spied it now across the room, just resting on her desk, her pulse skittered.
Windows to the Soul.
What was David trying to tell her, she wondered, as she rose slowly to her feet and padding through the darkness. The bluish light of her monitor altered the colors of his work, gave them a ghostly, surreal tint, when in fact they were vital and pulsating with life. The panel was of a window, nearly straight out of Segue to Dream. There was only the small border of gray wall around the edge, and then a man’s hands were splayed on each side—as if he were gazing out beyond his cell. Outside the window spread the gorgeous pinks and purples and yellows of Segue.
Only this time, on a very distant cliff, the woman stood again, the dark-haired phantom from the Ms. Parker painting. As Liz stared down at the panel now, at the otherworldly hues and light, she grew just as breathless as she had before, felt something nearly forgotten course through her body. Something sensual and womanly.
David had painted her. Somehow she was certain of it.
And this time, the painting was far more erotic than any of the others. Just the way he’d rendered the woman, the promise in the tilt of her chin, the way her long shawl draped off her creamy shoulder, seductive and alluring. The painting all but whispered promises of something forbidden. Something that the man gazing out the window longed for with all his soul.
Liz shivered, wrapping her arms around herself. No artist had ever affected her this profoundly. Michael knew it, and that was the real reason for his unbridled jealousy. His work had always amazed her, captured her imagination and taken her places. But not like this. David’s brush touched something deep inside, something altogether different and intimate and impossibly forbidden. Almost as if David were making a strange kind of love to her.
Her eyes widened as she studied the pair of man’s hands on both sides of the window, because she noticed something that she hadn’t before. One of them seemed oddly…bent. Swollen, perhaps. Injured. It was a subtle detail, and didn’t strike her nearly as strongly as the beauty of the fingers, the long tapered shape. Only now, she could see that the left hand was certainly crooked.
What had happened to David Peyton, she wondered, lightly touching the hand with her fingertips. The stroke became a tender caress, as her fingers lingered against the painted ones, and for a moment, she swore she could feel his hand beneath hers, warm and vital. She closed her eyes and dreamed what it would be to just touch him that way. A man she’d never even seen, but whose hands beckoned her indescribably.
Suddenly, she began laughing as she withdrew her own hand sharply. “God, I’m spending way too much time alone lately,” she sighed softly. But despite her declaration, she burned to know what David’s own hand would feel like beneath her own, just as she’d fantasized.
She flopped down in her desk chair, opening her home e-mail account, and sighed happily upon discovering a new email from him.
You persist in your desire to meet me. And what happens if you do? Right now, I’m anyone you want me to be…but then, I’ll only be what you see. I fear my paintings are far more appealing than you’ll ever find me. I fear that you are far lovelier than I can even imagine at present.
Though you fire my imagination indescribably already.
What of this, Liz? Not enough?
Liz’s mouth literally fell open at how bold he’d become. So quickly, and he was already speaking a lovers’ words in her ear. He was a lover who wished to remain a stranger. A lover who wished to shower her with paintings and suggestions and open her heart like a tiny box of jewels, like secrets he might hold in his hand.
She began typing.
I doubt this can ever be enough. I want to meet you. Don’t even get me started on imagination and beauty and your paintings. Or you. I’ve seen your hands now.
God, she was becoming a wily seductress, someone she hardly recognized at all. That’s what this stranger was doing to her. And yet, for reasons she couldn’t possibly fathom, she felt utterly safe in his hands. The hands that she’d glimpsed, one perfect and another slightly broken.
Liz yearned to sit at the computer, just waiting breathlessly for more. But it was late, and she needed sleep.
And the moment she dreaded more than any other awaited her. 4:34 a.m. Eight years without her soul mate’s heart beating in her own chest. Eight years of an empty connection, of feeling nothing of the one person she needed more than any other.
Eight years of feeling like a statue, marble and lifeless, forever reaching toward her love.
They were sitting in the Crashdown in a booth together. He had his arm slung comfortably over the back of the leather seat, smiling at her from beneath those long, thick lashes. And the golden eyes were lit with undisguised desire. Liz blushed, feeling thankful that her parents were upstairs.
“What?” she giggled, dropping her own eyes shyly as she sipped from her vanilla shake.
“Nothing. You just look so beautiful, Liz.”
“I always look like this,” she laughed, feeling her face flush with embarrassment.
“But I haven’t seen you in such a long time. I’ve missed this so much. You.”
“Nobody asked you to go, Max,” she countered seriously, feeling a sudden swell of anger at him. “Nobody made you leave with her.”
“I didn’t want to go, Liz.”
“Then you shouldn’t have gotten her pregnant.”
“Oh, yeah,” she laughed softly, glancing up at him again, as she rolled her eyes. His familiar leather jacket fell open, and she had the urge to leap across the table and just nestle her face against his chest, to find shelter in his arms once again. “Then who did?”
“Liz, there’s a lot you don’t know about what happened.”
“I know that you gave up on us.”
“But you’ve forgiven me for all that. And you know why I left. You saw it afterward in the granolith…in your vision.”
Liz thought about what he said, and upon reflection, realized that he was right. She did know the reason he’d left, and it wasn’t to be with Tess. And he’d written her that letter…he regretted it all.
“You left to save me,” she announced, as the truth came clear again.
“Tess could never have dragged me away from you otherwise.”
“But all this time, I’ve been alone.”
“No, Liz,” he corrected gently, his eyes flashing with wildfire, as he reached across the table for her hand. “You haven’t. I’ve been right inside you. At least, a part of me has.”
Their fingers threaded together, as suddenly Michael strode up in his familiar way, smiling at them both. “Hey, Maxwell.” He announced it as if it were the most casual and normal greeting in the world. As if they saw Max like this every day.
Max beamed as he looked up at their best friend. “I’ve missed you, too,” Max joked with a quiet laugh. But his eyes betrayed his joy at seeing Michael again—different from his response to her, yet genuine pleasure that lit his entire face.
“Not like we’ve missed you,” Michael affirmed quietly, and slid into the booth beside Max.
Not like we’ve missed you…not like we’ve missed you.
Why did the cadence of that phrase feel so significant?
Max didn’t answer, just bowed his head thoughtfully, as Michael slipped an arm around his shoulder. “Liz can’t move on, Max.” He was confiding in Max, even as he stared at Liz pointedly. “You need to let her.”
“I’ve told her to live, Michael,” Max agreed with an adamant nod of his head, and Liz felt her throat tighten. “But she won’t listen to me.”
“Well, welcome to the club, man. She’s as stubborn as you are. No wonder you two fit together so well.”
“But who will she listen to, Michael?” Max asked softly, cutting his eyes in her direction. “If not us, then who?”
“Oh, yeah, well that one’s simple enough, Maxwell,” Michael laughed, planting his elbows on the table. “David Peyton.”
Yes, you’ve seen my hands now. And what do you think when you gaze at them? Do you know that I long to touch you, to run my fingers through your hair, sifting it like silk? Do you know how my left hand aches constantly? But that when I consider what it would be just to hold your hand in mine, the throbbing pain fades.
What do I think when I look at your hands? That they paint the jewels you sprinkle over me. And I wonder what it would be to be touched by you.
Liz felt him then, just running his hands down her hips, then through her hair, caressing her cheek. Fingers lingered against her collarbone, stroking the place where her pulse throbbed, then wound their way lower, lifting back the front of her nightshirt. And he was faceless, unknown, yet so perfectly beautiful.
So incredibly beautiful, he whispered in her ear. My Liz, so beautiful.
And then she woke with a painful start.
Liz lay trembling in the dark, tears coursing her cheeks. Between the woods and frozen lake, the darkest evening of the year. It was as if she’d expected a visitation on the anniversary of Max’s death. As if he might have given some part of himself from beyond the grave.
But she’d been kidding herself, dreaming as always, she now realized wistfully. She was just the young girl who’d waited a year after Max left in the granolith, believing he’d find a way home to her. The one who’d sworn that at unexpected moments, she’d felt him whisper against her ear, breathe across her skin like heat lightning.
She was still that same innocent who’d stared at the stars and believed in true love, in soul mates and destiny. Her own destiny, not some prescribed separation cast upon her like an evil spell.
But that had all changed one snowy night at 4:34 a.m.
Even so, she’d never been able to let go of that last bit of hope, had held it like a tight tether within her small hands. And it had choked her, as the chord of faith had wrapped surely and slowly around her neck, smothering the life from her lungs. Winding it’s way into her life subtly, until there was nothing left, except the shell of that eighteen year old girl, just sitting and believing for a day that would never come.
She would have accepted anything of him now. Anything at all to know he still loved her, no matter how small or insignificant the token.
She wiped the hot tears from her cheeks and blamed him for her fragile state, because he was the one who’d wondered if even death could separate them. And with those words, it was as if he’d cast an enchantment over her, kept her from ever truly letting go.
And maybe that’s why she still held on so firmly.
Maybe that’s why she’d expected him to appear to her at the precise moment of his death tonight. Yet, she had dreamed of him all night in more realistic detail than in years. He’d spoken to her clearly, she was sure of it, though it was hard to remember the specifics of what he’d said.
But, oddly enough, she did remember the last dreams of David’s hands. The way he’d caressed the length of her hair, winding his fingers through it appreciatively, just breathing in and out softly beside her. He’d remained faceless in her dream, but she’d certainly felt him, especially as his hands had come to rest upon her own.
At just the memory of that physical detail, she felt a strange heat sweep her body--and wondered why her dormant womanhood was awakening now. And why, after so many years, David Peyton was the one to rouse her from deathly slumber.
[ edited 2 time(s), last at 26-Jan-2002 11:28:17 PM ]
|posted on 27-Jan-2002 12:51:53 AM|
|Hmmm...De taps her finger on the desk (not because it's a mindwarp, either, Kath.) INteresting comment there, Cookie about dream clarity. Hmm...|
Araxie--the puzzle pieces will continue to fall into place. With each part, a few more come together...that's kind of how I'm writing this, so that makes sense you'd feel that way!
Klaatu (oops...am I misremembering your screenname?? I can't see while posting this!) Glad you feel that way about the fic, b/c I'm a serious dreamer too...but knowing that I've written something where you could go either way means a lot!
Glad to see everybody here! Night!
|posted on 28-Jan-2002 3:07:43 PM|
Wanted to give you an update on this next part. Well, actually first, THANKS for the awesome comments. I'm sooooo enjoying all the specs here! Anyway, since I'd siad I hoped to post last night, wanted to update. In fact, this next part (nine) has turned out much longer than I thought and I've had to do a lot more tweaking and additions. It could be late tonight, though I suspect the new part will be up tomorrow in the morning some time. I'll do my best!!
Thanks again, guys!
|posted on 28-Jan-2002 3:25:09 PM|
|Believendreamstoo!! We were posting at the same time! How funny is that?? I actually had to search for the fic b/c it was buried when I went to post the note. Then, not only your note, but the other one from Strawberry had popped up. How funny! Yep, long is good--if it IS good! LOL!|
|posted on 29-Jan-2002 12:14:48 AM|
|Author's Note: Wimsey--Been meaning to thank you for the FABULOUS note on the other board! Funny about Monet, since in VANILLA SKY that's the artist...they're looking at a painting called VANILLA SKY by him!!! You're very cool to have picked up that "mood." I've also left a few other author notes in the past few days, guys. THANKS for all the great fb!|
And know this: no matter what happens with Roswell, I will finish not only this story but my others. I'm still launching a couple of new ones in the coming months, in fact, including the third story in the GRAVITY trilogy! Just wanted to say that with the sad news over on Crashdown...Thanks to all of you for reading.
I’ve debated my response all morning, but I know what my heart wants. I must meet you, too. But this is alternately terrifying and exhilarating for me, please understand. Tomorrow night? I can offer dinner, or wine, or just a painting if you wish. Perhaps all three…
Liz read the e-mail repeatedly in stunned silence, not believing her eyes. Despite her hopes, she’d not believed David would ever actually consent to meeting her—at least not this soon. Not with his shy, reclusive nature, and not with his admission about the facial prosthetic. For the briefest moment, she wondered how bad his disfigurement really was, how she’d react upon glimpsing it. She hoped she could trust herself not to hurt him somehow--then just as quickly, she ached to make him feel handsome, desirable. As flushed as he always left her.
So she began tapping out a quick reply.
Oh Dashing One,
Terrifying is one word I’m definitely familiar with. So is exhilarating. Believe me, David, I can relate on both counts. Please don’t make dinner…just a glass of wine and the chance to see all your paintings is certainly enough for one night. Oh, and you, of course!
“So you’re going to this guy’s place?” Michael huffed, as he gazed up at the new arrangement of paintings in the center of her gallery. “You have no idea who he really is, but you’re just waltzing over there like it’s perfectly safe.”
Michael’s voice tightened with obvious jealousy, and Liz couldn’t help wondering how he would respond if he knew how heated David’s e-mails were becoming. How romantic they’d been from the very beginning.
But the seductive e-mails were her own precious secret, just as she refused to share the way David’s paintings aroused her, invading her dreams even. Some men would have dangled diamonds or pearls as courtly enticements, yet her elusive David adorned her in paintings. And the way he was wooing her with his hands and brushes and paints was a lovers’ dance meant for no one else to share.
“Is that what you’re doing, then?” Michael repeated, his voice thick as he fiddled with the bandana around his head. He often pulled his long hair back that way when painting, and ordinarily Liz found it quite sexy. But somehow today it struck her differently; more like a familiar detail she’d always associate with her beloved friend, not something that caused her to entertain thoughts of lunchtime seduction.
“You said he’s safe,” she argued softly, avoiding Michael’s gaze. He knew her far too well, and if she were to meet his penetrating examination, Liz was certain he’d see right through her. That all her secrets would come unraveling within his hands.
“Maybe,” he admitted reluctantly, chewing on his lip as he assessed the new arrangement of paintings. “This one’s crooked,” he offered, stepping forward to delicately adjust one of the low-hanging panels.
“Well, you checked him out,” Liz said, glancing all around them to be certain they were truly alone in the gallery. “I mean you did do that, right?” she asked in a more hushed voice.
“I didn’t get any flashes, if that’s what you mean.”
“Then how do you know he’s safe?” she asked irritably, though she hardly needed Michael’s assurance of what her heart already knew.
“I felt it, Liz. I don’t know…I can’t explain. I just knew you could trust him,” he admitted quietly. “I mean, I wish I could lie about it, but yeah, the freak felt okay to me.”
“He’s not a freak.”
“The guy, Mr. Mystery…whatever,” he grumbled.
“Just so you know, Michael, I trust him completely,” she stated resolutely. “And I’m going to see him.”
Michael surprised her by simply nodding in acquiescence as he strode away from her, toward the door. “Tomorrow night?” he asked finally, turning back momentarily.
“Yes, Michael, I’m going over there tomorrow night,” she explained with forced patience. “So long as that suits you, fearless leader.”
She’d meant it as a playful term of endearment, yet Michael winced visibly. It implied too much about their shared history, and about his ultimate acceptance of Max’s vacant role. It was one of the great ironies of Max’s death that Michael--who had always pressed Max to assume his rightful leadership position--had assiduously avoided taking that mantle once he had the opportunity. Then again, Liz knew that related far more to Michael’s unwillingness to let Max go, than his actual reluctance to lead.
Of course, once Max left, it became quickly apparent that there wasn’t much need for a leader. All the threats against their group had simply faded away with time, though Michael had never ceased being incredibly protective of her in particular. And that part had puzzled her for years.
He ignored her baiting comment, and instead his voice assumed a surprisingly gentle tone. “Have dinner with me tonight, then,” he offered quietly. “I want to take you out on the town. To celebrate.”
“Celebrate what exactly?” Liz asked, wondering bitterly what was possibly worth celebrating about today of all days. Well, other than her breakthrough with David, which caused her heart to beat crazily every time she thought of it. But Michael obviously had no desire to celebrate anything pertaining to David Peyton.
“Well…” Michael scratched his eyebrow for a thoughtful moment, and Liz had the definite impression that he was trying to invent a reason for their supposed celebration. “Hell if I know. I just want to take you out, okay?” He finally blurted, and Liz instantly understood what he was really trying to do—distract her on Max’s anniversary. She saw the worry etch his features, and realized that he didn’t want her alone tonight, mourning.
“That sounds perfect, Michael,” she answered with a quiet smile. “Thank you.”
Liz waited in a booth at the Canyon Café, sipping her glass of chardonnay. Michael was a few minutes late, but that hardly surprised her. And unlike Maria, who had always fumed and taken Michael’s tardiness far too personally, it never bothered her much. Maybe it was because she knew so many artists now, and had come to see Michael’s habits within that larger context. Or maybe it related to the easiness with which they’d accepted one another since senior year. Sadly, it had taken Max’s disappearance, and ultimately his death, to eradicate all the tension between them. At least the unpleasant kind, she thought wryly, reflecting on the romantic tugging that had plagued them all these years.
Liz glanced up and found Michael winding his way through the busy bar area, which was filled with happy hour patrons. The Canyon was a key gathering place for local artists and writers, and Liz tried to frequent it often after work. It was a good way to socialize with her competition and to network without being obvious about it.
She also made sure to drag Michael out in the art milieu far more often than suited him, so she’d learned the hard way to ply him with good, spicy food in order to get him out on the town.
“Hey,” he smiled, sliding into the booth across from her. His long hair was still slightly damp from the shower, pulled into a halfhearted ponytail, despite the frigid temperatures outside. He looked striking and handsome, and not a little bit sexy, with one damp tendril falling loose against his cheek.
Instinctively, Liz reached to tuck it behind his ear, and their eyes met in crackling silence for a moment. “Missed one,” she smiled softly, dropping her hand.
He brushed at the hair awkwardly, and a faint pink color tinted his cheeks. “Thanks,” he mumbled, seeming oddly shy as he stared down at his menu.
All their earlier tension had dissipated, and Liz was thankful he’d insisted on taking her out to dinner. Clearly he remembered that today marked eight years since Max’s passing. Even though he hadn’t mentioned the anniversary all day, he’d obviously endeavored to drag her out for the night, to get her mind off the melancholy remembrance.
She’d gone home first to change clothes, and when she’d logged on to check her e-mail, she’d seen two notes waiting from David. But before she could open them, her mother had phoned and by the time she’d ended the call, she feared being late. So now the two unread missives burned in her consciousness, distracting her despite her best intentions. Every time she thought of them, her pulse raced, causing her face to flush uncontrollably.
And Michael seemed to notice the way her thoughts drifted, as he glanced up at her several times in curious silence.
“Look, Liz,” he blurted, licking his lips nervously as he gazed down at the menu. “I just want to say something, before half of Santa Fe starts parading up to our table.”
“Okay,” she encouraged gently, wondering why he seemed suddenly uncomfortable. “Sure.”
“I’ve been wrong, Liz, to push you right now,” he said, still averting his eyes. “I mean, I know how I feel about you, but now is a damn stupid time to push you about it…and I don’t want you to think,” he hesitated a moment, his voice catching slightly with emotion. “Well, that it means I don’t miss Max, or didn’t love him…or whatever.”
Her heart lurched painfully, especially at the melancholy she glimpsed in his brown eyes. “Michael, I would never even think that. God, you know I wouldn’t.” She reached for his hand, drawing it into her own. For a moment, he resisted, and then slowly closed her hand within his.
“I just wanted to say it.”
She nodded silently, squeezing his hand. And then, for some reason, she didn’t let it go, just held it warmly like that. What she felt in turn wasn’t desire, or electricity, but gentle comfort from her dearest friend. And knew that he felt the same from her.
He closed the menu, and looked up at her. “Are you okay these days, Liz?” he asked seriously. “I mean, really okay?”
Liz thought she might cry at his simple question, at the concern she glimpsed in his eyes, and how loved he made her feel. She swallowed hard and nodded.
“I’m worried about you,” he continued softly, as she took a sip of her wine. “Maria is, too.”
“Maria?” she asked in surprise.
“Yeah, she’s been e-mailing me,” he explained, tracing his fingers absently across the scarred wooden tabletop. “Says you haven’t returned her calls about the trip next week, haven’t been responding.”
“Oh, I just dread going, that’s all. I’ve been meaning to call her.”
“But that’s not like you,” Michael argued, glancing around for their absentee waitress. “New York always energizes you.”
“Not this year.”
“Because you’re depressed,” he observed simply.
Liz thought about his statement, and realized that he was more right than she wanted to admit. The only thing that had roused her passion in months was David Peyton’s paintings. Perhaps that was why they meant so much to her.
Perhaps it was why David already meant so much to her, as well.
She nodded slowly in affirmation, taking another sip of wine, as she tried to steady her thoughts. “I’d be a lot more excited about New York if you were coming with me,” she teased lightly. “God, we could go to the Metropolitan and spend the weekend just bumming around.”
“I’d come with you, if it was just… coming with you,” he shrugged. “I mean, so long as it wasn’t a bunch of glad-handing.”
“You’d really come?” she asked in surprise, feeling suddenly hopeful about the trip.
“Yeah, sure I would.”
Liz’s eyes widened with excitement. The thought of Michael accompanying her to New York brought back all their happiest times together, and made the burdensome trip seem suddenly exciting.
“Well, then come!” she all but cried, as she began formulating plans quickly. “There’s a great exhibit at the Met, and we could have lunch at Tavern on the Green…”
Michael’s gaze softened, and Liz was instantly grateful. Grateful that he was her best friend again, and that the look in his eyes wasn’t one of desire or hunger, as she’d often glimpsed recently. Grateful that tonight of all nights, it seemed the perfect balance of their friendship had been restored.
“Cannoli,” he laughed softly. “We can do whatever you want so long as I get my cannoli from that place on Seventh.”
“Well, that’s an improvement over the cigars from that other place on Seventh,” Liz teased huskily, making a face of displeasure.
“Okay, Maria, don’t give me crap about my Cohibas,” he snorted. “I only smoke ‘em like twice a year.”
“Maria!” Liz exclaimed suddenly, clapping with pleasure. “She’ll be as excited as I am about your coming!” How could she not have thought about Maria joining them, Liz wondered.
But Michael’s eyes darkened instantly. “Let’s just…keep it us, okay?” he asked softly. “I mean, I know you’ll see her, but don’t tell her I’m coming.”
“You don’t want to see Maria?” Liz asked, shocked that despite their rocky relationship, he wouldn’t at least want to see her.
Michael shook his head silently.
“Michael, what happened last time?” She asked, referring to Maria’s visit for his gallery exhibition two years before.
“Liz, please…it’s a long story.”
“Well, you’ve never told me, and she won’t either.”
“Now that’s a surprise,” he observed sardonically. “Maria keeping quiet about her never-ending disappointment with me.”
“Maria loves you, Michael,” she disagreed quietly, feeling oddly removed, as she often did when they discussed his relationship with Maria.
“She loves me, but she can’t stand me. Great combination.”
“I think you’re wrong. She asks about you all the time, Michael,” Liz countered. “She’s never gotten serious with anyone but you. Not in all these years.”
“I love Maria. That’s never changed. But she’s never going to accept me just as I am…I figured that out a long time ago.”
“I don’t buy that.”
“She wants me in New York, playing the game like she does. And I’m just not cut out that way, Liz. You know it…you always have,” he said, tugging absently at his ponytail. “My mistake was in trying again with her after college. I should have let her go forever after high school.”
Liz’s palms grew clammy because they were wandering into dangerous territory, a realm they’d silently agreed never to discuss between themselves, yet something warned her that the bridge was about to be crossed.
And then, the waitress appeared, and just that easily, the moment was lost. The unspoken things were again cast into the realm of the unspeakable, and Liz breathed in quiet relief.
“Thanks for dinner,” Liz said, stepping carefully along the snowy sidewalk. All the slush had solidified into a treacherous icy sheen, as soon as the sun had set.
“No problem.” Michael clasped her elbow, guiding her over a particularly slippery spot. “I enjoyed it. And besides, you managed to seduce me into that trip next week.”
Liz glanced up at him through her lashes. “Seduce you?” she teased huskily, feeling her heart race at the way he gazed down at her with sudden flaring passion.
“That’s what it was. Seduction, pure and simple, Parker.”
“Yeah, right,” she laughed, stepping ahead of him with a toss of her hair. “You wish, Guerin.”
“Call it like I see it, Liz.”
She glanced back at him, about to level him with a witty retort, but in that quick moment, she stepped on a patch of black ice and felt the world shift beneath her feet. She fell hard, flying off the edge of the sidewalk and nearly landed right in busy Canyon Road.
“Liz,” Michael cried, reaching for her clumsily as he captured her arm. But she slid hard, landing on her side, causing her feet to dangle off the curb dangerously.
“Oh, God!” she cried, drawing them back as a car passed, causing wet slush to fly into her face.
“You okay?” he asked, dropping quickly beside her on the frozen ground. “God, you scared the shit outta me!”
She wiped the dampness from her face, and he clasped her shoulders within his palms, turning her to face him. “You okay, Liz?” he asked again, so incredibly gentle. And for a moment, she feared she would faint. Then just that quickly, before she could think about it, or even analyze it, he was kissing her.
He was just kneeling there beside her, cradling her close within his arms, his lips brushing softly against her own.
And the most familiar warmth erupted, unfurled as their lips parted, and his tongue darted warmly inside her mouth.
This was an alien kiss, not a human one, and all the accompanying sensations were so exotic. Yet not at all like one of Max’s kisses, she realized, even as the flashes began. Because unlike with Max, the images stumbled awkwardly one atop another, with the quickness of film frames, yet none of them were of her. None of them were romantic, or erotic, or painfully beautiful. There were no celestial glimpses in the twinkling of their moment.
There was only Max. Every single flash the two of them shared in that stolen intimacy was of Max Evans. Her love, their beloved friend, their leader. Her soul mate.
Which meant that nothing about the moment truly belonged to them, but remained instead the property of another--one whose absence was utterly palpable, even as their lips pressed heatedly together.
Liz broke the kiss first, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand as she pulled quickly away from Michael’s touch. “God.” It was all she could even think to say, her mind had become so unsteady and thick. “God, Michael,” she whispered again, sliding back from him as if she’d just been burned.
He stared at her, his brown eyes growing unthinkably sad, as he let her slip out of his grasp. “Sorry.”
It was all he said, as they just sat staring wordlessly at one another. “No…no, don’t be,” she stammered after a moment of stunned quiet.
“Liz, please,” he stated simply, shaking his head as he rose to his feet. “Let’s just get you home.”
He extended a warm hand to her, and for a moment as Liz sat staring up at him, she thought she might burst into terrible, convulsive sobs. How was it that something she’d dreamed of so many times could have fallen so miserably flat?
The worst part was how guilty and disloyal she felt toward Max, as if they’d just betrayed him unthinkably on the very anniversary of his death. The two people who’d loved him most.
But then she felt another flash of remorse, one that surprised her far more, as she imagined a pair of beautiful hands. One perfect, the other slightly broken.
And she wondered how it was that David Peyton had already laid claim to her heart—and just this quickly.
Michael knelt in front of her fireplace, poking at the smoldering logs. “This should get it going,” he said, sounding oddly formal. From the moment they’d kissed in the middle of Canyon Road, he’d assumed this distant tone with her, and Liz’s stomach was starting to roil nervously.
She couldn’t risk things growing worse between them, not now—especially not when they’d made such headway over dinner.
“Michael, look, please don’t be…”
“What, Liz?” he snapped, turning to face her. “Embarrassed?”
She shook her head firmly. “I wasn’t going to say that.”
“You didn’t have to.”
She suddenly felt unbelievably exhausted, as if all she wanted was to sleep forever. “Michael, it’s just tonight of all times…”
“No, Liz,” he cried out unexpectedly. “Don’t you get it? It’s just me.”
“That’s not at all true, and you know it.”
Michael stormed past her, pacing in front of the sofa where she sat with her legs tucked neatly beneath her. “No, Liz, you’re right,” he finally agreed softly, spinning to face her. “It hasn’t always been this way between us.”
Liz’s throat tightened painfully. Here they were again, dancing perilously close to a realm she never wanted to enter with him. And she had no doubt he was going to forge ahead.
“You wanted a relationship with me after college,” he whispered fiercely. “And I totally blew it.”
The air became electric between them, and Liz felt her heart’s tempo increase quickly at the admission. “No…” she began, wanting to reassure him. “Not really.”
“I blew it because that night at the party, when you’d come home from Virginia, I saw something in your eyes,” he continued, settling on the floor at her feet. He had his back to her now, raking his fingers through his long hair shakily.
Liz slid off the sofa, onto the floor beside him, needing to see his face. “What?” She’d felt sure she knew where the conversation was headed, but this admission was a surprise.
“You were looking at me like you used to look at Maxwell,” he answered thickly. “And it terrified the hell out of me.” Liz closed her eyes, feeling jagged pain shoot through her heart.
“God, I was such an asshole to you that night,” he breathed, and Liz’s eyes fluttered open. “But when I saw that look, I knew what it meant,” he continued. “That you could love me, that I could be what…ah, hell. Not what he’d been, never that, but you were just so open.”
“I do love you, Michael.” The words rushed out before she could stop them this time. And Liz’s face blushed painfully, as his soft brown eyes widened in surprise, then glimmered with emotion.
“I loved you then, Michael. So much. I think I’ve loved you ever since that day you came to see me in Virginia and got off the plane.”
“At the party, it seemed you wanted me to be Max.”
“I think I did,” she agreed softly, though she’d never realized it until this very moment.
“I can never be Max,” Michael sighed. “Can’t even come close. I can only be me…and Maria can’t handle that.” He turned to her, his gaze painfully lost. “But it’s always seemed like you really just get me, you know?”
“I do get you. You’re my best friend.”
“And that’s just it, Liz. We’re best friends. Very best friends, but I want more…and you still want me to be Max. I felt that when we kissed earlier.”
“No, Michael. You’re not quite right about that…it’s not that I want you to be Max. It’s that I still want him.”
“Yeah, same thing, though, Liz. Same damn thing. And I’m only ever gonna be me,” he sighed quietly, gazing past her into the darting flames. When he finally spoke again his words were so quiet, she nearly missed them. “I swear you’re more interested in this David Peyton than you’ve ever been in me.”
Liz ached to disagree with him, to put his mind at ease on this last point. And yet, in her heart’s secret places, she knew that Michael was absolutely right.
Liz stared into the fire a moment, and her thoughts drifted easily to David, to the way he was awakening her. As only Max Evans ever had. And she wondered if she had the strength to tell Michael what he really needed to know about their earlier kiss, though she knew she had no real choice.
“When we kissed, I got flashes, Michael,” she whispered on a tight breath.
“Yeah?” he asked, lifting his eyebrows curiously.
She nodded, swallowing hard as she gazed into his earnest brown eyes. Her best friend, the one she needed more than anyone. Her rock. She took a steadying breath, and slipped her hand onto his knee.
“I saw Max,” she said simply.
“Just lots and lots of flashes of Max. He’s not just my problem here, Michael, he’s yours, too. You’re hanging onto him as hard as I am.” Michael ran a hand through his hair, avoiding her eyes. He drew his knees closer to his chest, and suddenly seemed so incredibly vulnerable.
“Of course I am,” he finally breathed, his voice wavering tremulously. “I can’t let go anymore than you can. Because then otherwise he really is dead.”
And with those words, Michael began to cry, silent tears streaking his face. Liz’s chest tightened painfully, as she tried to draw him near. He ducked away from her touch, burying his face in his hands, but she wouldn’t be daunted. She reached again and finally was able to pull him into her arms.
Liz rocked him close against her like that, just stroking his hair as he’d done for her so many times, willing him to feel comforted and loved, as his hot tears dampened her blouse.
[ edited 2 time(s), last at 29-Jan-2002 12:46:29 AM ]
|posted on 29-Jan-2002 10:03:17 AM|
|Good morning, guys!! Everybody, I know it's a sad day today...and last night. But I just wanted to say this: the show lives on, so long as we have our fanfic. I mean we know this logically, but just know that I for one will continue writing and reading. |
Also, FYI, be sure to note that I added a part on Sunday also. So if you hadn't been by the board, don't miss the one before this, okay?
Mega, mega hugs to all....Rosdeidre
|posted on 30-Jan-2002 4:17:57 PM|
First, THANKS so much for the great support, guys. It's funny, but while I knew this part was sad, I didn't know it would hit people as quite SO sad. But that's the funny thing on writing...I've written things where I thought people would bawl and they didn't. It's sometimes hard to judge b/c the writer is in the thick of it all! I hope to update again friday night, FYI.
Meanwhile, I wanted to let you guys know that I'm starting an egroup for readers of my fics. This way, I can keep you guys up to date on new postings, new stories, and we can even discuss the fics if you want. That part will be up to you guys!! If you want to sign up, follow this link (which I'm hoping works) OR email me at RosDeidre⊕aol.com
|posted on 30-Jan-2002 4:21:52 PM|
|Tara--and I loved your comment, "I'm rooting for Liz." What a GREAT way to look at this story! And Nina, sorry to make you sob, dear!! But thanks for the wonderful comments. ..d|
|posted on 1-Feb-2002 3:40:39 AM|
|See, guys, Stacey thinks I'm going to cave. She thinks she's going to wear me down bit by bit until I BLURT David Peyton's real identity accidentally. I had her convinced for a half minute that he was Marco (which you all know,he's NOT!) Then, she got about three people genuinely convinced of that. But the truth is...all shall be revealed.|
I am desperately working toward a late Friday night posting, so hopefully that will happen.
Now, I'm about to post this, and then a WONDERFUL story banner that the fab chick Schurry made me!! YEA! But I'm posting this first!
|posted on 1-Feb-2002 3:41:31 AM|
For some reason this isn't working, so let me try again...I may have to consult with an expert! LOL!
[ edited 6 time(s), last at 1-Feb-2002 7:29:24 PM ]
|posted on 3-Feb-2002 2:45:15 PM|
Chocolate???? Godiva??? Little golden boxes? Oh, sigh. I'm like Liz, shower me babe. Paintings, chocolates...you name it. I am definitely bribable.
Actually, some happy news!! AS is on a roll...new part tonight by around 9ish or ten at the latest. I'll keep you posted as I get closer. I'd THOUGHT it would be Friday night but that didn't work out.
|posted on 3-Feb-2002 5:11:27 PM|
I’m reposting Schurry’s awesome banner, because I want to make sure everybody sees it!! Isn’t it yummy??? Also, please note that I’m starting an e-group for keeping readers aware of new story postings and updates. The direct link is a few posts back in my author’s note, or just e-mail Rosdeidre⊕aol.com and I’ll subscribe you.
Meanwhile, here is part ten. This was going to be a very long part, but it got away from me, so now I’m almost done with a very long part eleven!! LOL! I hope to post it very late tonight, though it will probably be around midnight. For now, I hope you enjoy part ten, and I’ll do my best to add eleven late tonight! Thanks, as always, for the wonderful fb and for reading!!!!!
IN A TRAIN
There has been a light snow.
Dark car tracks move in out of the darkness.
I stare at the train window marked with soft dust.
I have awakened at Missoula Montana utterly happy.
By Robert Bly
Liz combed out the tangles in her wet hair, padding softly through the semi-darkness of her living room. While she’d showered, she’d left Michael resting on her sofa by the fire, pensive and quiet. They’d nestled close together on the floor for several hours, she just stroking his hair, soothing him, until finally he’d settled his head in her lap sleepily. A hush had fallen over them, a sacred closeness--though something pivotal had changed between them permanently.
When Michael’s eyes had grown heavy and he’d seemed ready to drift off, she’d pulled a pillow and blanket out of the hall closet, and suggested that he sleep on her sofa, since neither of them wanted to part from the other. It was as if they needed to be physically near tonight, as if that proximity provided strength—then again, that was the way it had been between them for ten years now.
As Liz stepped into the living room, she was greeted by his peaceful snoring, rhythmic and even as it filled the silent room. He slept soundly on his side in front of the dying fire, and Liz tiptoed cautiously past him toward her computer, determined not to wake him. He needed the rest, but even more than that, she could no longer restrain herself from checking David Peyton’s two unopened emails. And she didn’t want to hurt Michael any more than she already had tonight.
The hardwood floor was cool beneath her bare feet, as she settled at her computer, her pulse instantly racing as she logged online. A quiet thrill raced down her spine as she began to read.
So it seems I must paint something by tomorrow night…something that will say far more than I ever could. When we meet, you’ll find that words don’t come very easily to me--unfortunately, I can thank the injuries to my jaw on that count.
In fact, I fear you’ll find it much easier to understand my paintings and e-mails than my broken sentences. But perhaps here in the midst of my paintings and books and countless bits of things, you’ll hear my heart. It seems you’ve already been doing that from the very beginning, doesn’t it?
Besides, I’m tired of staring at this November issue of Santa Fe Trend. Although it truly is a beautiful picture of you, Ms. Parker, I have no doubt it will pale in comparison to the real thing.
She swallowed hard, her hands trembling where she’d unconsciously gathered them against her chest. My paintings and books and countless bits of things.
The image invoked something deeply personal, something surprisingly romantic and intimate. Perhaps it was the notion of David Peyton’s world, such a palpable and real thing, that she would enter within a matter of hours. And that he would then cease to exist only in her fantasies, and instead, come to life on her own canvas. Her eyes drifted shut a moment, as she imagined his graceful hands, the way they’d looked in Windows of the Soul. And they were touching her…roaming over her body, through her hair, stroking her breasts. He was caressing her as a lover would, undeniable and gentle.
She gasped a bit, arching slightly into her chair and it was almost as if she could feel his mouth graze her cheek, as she imagined his hands threading through her hair. David, sweet David, she thought. How is it you’ve woven such a spell over me like this?
And she swore she heard him answer, a quiet, unknowable voice. I am the morning sun, and your heart the frozen earth. Open your eyes, my Liz…
She did open her eyes then, sighing dreamily as she stared at his poetic words again. Finally, she clicked on his second note, and immediately felt a sharp pang of guilt when she glimpsed directions to his home. She saved the note, and began composing a careful reply to his first letter.
You express yourself perfectly with your art. Every lift of your brush, every color, every shimmer of light. Words are highly overrated anyway, don’t you think? They can reveal so much, and yet often not at all what we hope. Then again, I’ve seen quite a lot of you in these spare emails of yours. How was it I knew you were quiet???
Apparently, somehow, that notion suits you very well. I can’t wait until tomorrow night!
Yours, she suddenly thought, noticing that she’d slipped into his hallmark phrase. From the very beginning, David had signed every letter with that word, and suddenly it seemed as if all along, from the very first e-mail, he’d been promising something of himself to her. Had been declaring, whispering in her ear, that he would ultimately belong exclusively to her.
She was walking through downtown Santa Fe in the middle of the night, alone through freshly fallen snow, deep and silent. Cascading flakes settled on her lashes, and she brushed at them, needing to see—determined to follow the path ahead of her.
Tracks led the way, clear imprints in the otherwise pristine snow. And even in the bright darkness, she spied the faintest trail of blood, winding through the darkness ahead.
Someone had been murdered here, she was sure of it. And she shivered, drawing her coat closer around her shoulders, following the trickle of red against white through the silent town.
“Someone died here,” she whispered, glancing over her shoulder fearfully, as she quickened her pace. Then why was she so certain that it was safe to be here, she wondered.
The trail of blood led up a walk, straight to a small bungalow, a familiar one. She paused, gazing up at the porch. Not here, a voice keened like the wind. Not here.
She hesitated, feeling conflicted, unsure, and that’s when she spotted him. Further up the blanketed sidewalk stood Max, hands in the coat of his leather jacket, as if he’d been waiting for her all along. His dark hair was dusted with snow, and he stood still as a marble statue.
She glanced again up to the darkened porch of the bungalow, then back at him, as he waved her closer.
“Liz,” he whispered, beckoning her with his hand.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, her voice edged with irritation, as she approached him.
“Some way to greet your soul mate,” he laughed, opening his arms wide to her.
“Max, this isn’t funny,” she complained, allowing him to fold her close against his chest. “You’ve got to stop doing this to me.”
“Doing what?” he teased gently, kissing the top of her head. It was such a familiar feeling, as if he’d cradled her close within his arms only yesterday.
“Just…showing up all over the place.”
“In your dreams,” he clarified, as if there were a world of difference.
“So what?” she cried, pulling back to look into his eyes. “You’re dead, and yet you’re everywhere.”
“I’m dead?” he laughed uncertainly.
“Max, you’re the one who keeps telling me to let go, to move on, to…God! You’re so frustrating!” she stomped.
He cupped her face within his palms, suddenly very serious. “I love you so much, Liz,” he whispered, drawing her lips up to his own. “That’s never stopped, no matter where I’ve been.”
“Stop it,” she said, pressing her eyes shut, as their lips grazed softly together. Somehow she’d not expected his kiss to feel so warm, so utterly alive.
“Why’s it so hard to hear?”
“Because you’ve left me alone, all this time.”
“No, Liz,” he murmured, kissing her softly again. “Never left you alone. Never.”
“I’m alone now.”
“Liz, you just have to live,” he urged gently, stroking her cheek with his thumb.
“I’m trying,” she said, her voice breaking on the words. “But it’s so hard without you.”
“Open your heart, Liz.” The words were familiar, yet not quite right.
Open your heart…open your heart.
“You can love him,” he whispered fiercely, stepping away from her as he glanced up at the bungalow meaningfully. “Just open your heart.”
Liz clutched Max’s leather jacket within her hands, just drinking in his scent, desperate for any last bit of him. She closed her eyes and breathed… in and out, in and out, the rhythm of sleep. The rhythm of wakeful dreams.
The years spread ahead, then dissolved like a mist until she lay in her old bedroom, the one above the Crashdown.
Max had just left for Antar days before, and every one of her emotions was raw. She could only cloak herself in slumber, and wish that he’d taken her with him--that he hadn’t slept with Tess or fathered her child.
She could only bury the restless hopes within her dreams, and pray that reality would cease.
So many bits of their lives had been arranged like mislaid tessarae in a mosaic. She ached to gather the tiny shards into her palm, and lay the tiles out correctly, forming a new picture. One where Max had stayed on Earth, where he’d made love to her that night, instead of Tess. One where even at a mere seventeen, his small baby would have been growing within her own womb, not Tess’s.
Yet her regrets were mere wisps of smoke, ethereal as misremembered dreams in the night. As pointless, she realized as her eyes fluttered open.
And there he was, standing in her moonlit bedroom, gazing down at her with those mesmerizing, golden eyes, as if he’d never left her for a moment. As if nothing had ever wedged between them, and they were only two soul mates, meeting for a clandestine tryst.
“Liz,” he whispered, settling on the edge of her bed. “You’ve got to get up now.”
He began slowly easing the blankets back, even though her fingers instinctively curled around the edges.
“I can’t,” she complained, as their eyes locked in the darkness.
“If you don’t, Liz, it will be too late,” he disagreed, prying her fingers loose from the quilt. “Come on,” he urged, taking her by the hand. “Follow me.”
Liz allowed him to tug on her hand, slowly leading her out of the bed, even though she still clutched his leather jacket within her hand. His gaze fell on it momentarily, and a sweet smile spread across his features. “You still have that?” he asked in surprise.
“It’s all I had left of you,” she responded archly, even though her heart thundered at his sudden nearness. “That and your letter.”
“I didn’t want to leave you,” he explained, leading her toward the open window. “God, it killed me, Liz. But I had to protect you from Tess, no matter the cost.” The curtain fluttered in the breeze, and beyond she glimpsed her balcony, gilded in moonlight.
“I know, Max,” she answered, as he paused at the window, gathering her hands within his own. She stared up into his familiar eyes, always so expressive and lovely. Even now, after everything, she didn’t want to hurt him. But there was something she had to say. “But no one made you sleep with her.”
He stared at her a long moment, his expression shifting visibly, even in the near-darkness of her room. “Is that what you believe, still? That I slept with her?” He sounded almost hurt, disbelieving that she’d still begrudge his betrayal.
“Max,” she began quietly, shaking her head. “You can’t change that fact, that she was the one you chose.”
“She chose me. But I chose you.” His answer was final, definitive. “I only ever chose you.”
He turned to climb through the window, and it surprised her that nothing about his presence was ephemeral or ghostly. It was as if he were truly with her, as he slipped through the opening onto her balcony, his legs disappearing as he emerged on the other side of the casement. She tried breathing as she reached up toward him, but it suddenly felt strangely difficult, as her chest labored hard, reaching deeper for more air.
“Come on, Liz,” he encouraged gently, extending his hand to her. “Just breathe and follow me.”
And then she was with him; there on the balcony as if none of the intervening years had elapsed. They were just seventeen, two kids defying her parents at midnight, as he settled on her lounge chair, patting the place between his legs so that she could nestle there against him.
Liz leaned back within his arms, and he folded her close against his chest. She could feel his heart, pounding softly against her back, even as he began stroking her hair in familiar intimacy. Her head fit neatly beneath his chin, and they snuggled silently like that for what felt an eternity, just staring up at the twinkling blanket of stars overhead.
“This was always the best part about Earth,” he reflected, and for a moment, she thought he meant holding her. “All these stars. You don’t appreciate them until they’re gone.”
“It isn’t this way on Antar?” she asked, interested despite the way his words caused her heart to ache.
“Different.” His voice assumed a strangely distant tone. “Beautiful, but different than this.”
“Do you miss it? Antar, I mean.”
“I’ve never stopped missing you, not for one moment,” he answered, and then his voice assumed a bitter tone. “And Earth is my only home.”
“I’ve missed you so much, Max,” she confessed, feeling tears sting her eyes, as the words came rushing out. “I wanted to be angry, wanted to hate you, but…”
“You couldn’t because of our connection.”
She nodded silently, blinking back the tears. He smoothed her hair beneath his fingers, nestling her even closer between his legs with his other hand. “It never died, Liz…our bond. You do know that?” She nodded again, as the tears began coursing her cheeks.
“I wanted to believe it had.”
“But you still felt me, always.” His voice was quiet, comforting, yet the tears only welled up even more painfully.
“You keep telling me to let go, but you keep holding on inside my heart, Max.” She buried her face in her hands, feeling her jaw tighten with indescribable pain. “How can I let go when you’re doing this to me?”
He sighed softly, his breath fanning the top of her head. “The way to move on, Liz, is for you to let go.”
“But you’re still in here,” she cried, clutching her chest. “Just like this, like it was yesterday.”
“But you’re falling in love, Liz,” he disagreed gently, covering her hand with his own.
“No.” She shook her head forcefully. “No, I’m not.”
“You are, Liz. You’re falling in love with David Peyton, and that’s okay. It’s the most important thing.”
For a moment she fell silent, aware of how their chests rose in synchronous union, how their breaths had assumed an even cadence. A soft, rhythmic sound…in and out…in and out…the rhythm of remembrance.
“You’re right,” she whispered finally, staring up at the midnight sky as her heart spoke with sudden clarity. “I am falling in love with him. I’ve never even met him, but it’s happening.”
She felt Max nod, as he pressed his lips against the top of her head again. “I want that for you, Liz.”
“But that makes no sense,” she cried, as he splayed his palm against her ribs, drawing her even closer, so that she felt the way his chest thundered against her back.
“Your heart already understands, Liz,” he explained quietly. “Your mind just has to figure it out.”
And then, as if being called from the furthest reaches of a dark forest, she came suddenly awake.
|posted on 4-Feb-2002 12:04:27 AM|
|Uh oh! Nina has a Godiva connection! NINA HAS A GODIVA CONNECTION!!!! WOO HOO!|
Forget Part eleven b/c...Nina has a Godiva connection!!!
Okay, Klaatu and others, on the "Stacey thinks I'm going to reveal David's true identity" remark, that was actually me kidding with her b/c she's sent me MANY emails BEGGING me to tell her if David is REALLY david or someone else...that's what I was really referring to! THough you're clever to think you detected a slip! I actually had a few friends convinced that DAvid was Marco from GRAVITY, but finally had to confess my little humorous ploy!
WEll, I'm going to post part eleven in a moment. For those just tuning in--don't miss TEN!! Both parts in ONE NIGHT! LOL! Hugs, d
|posted on 4-Feb-2002 12:12:49 AM|
|Author's Note: This is the second part I've posted tonight, so be sure to read part ten first. It's on the last page before this one. ENJOY! I have a feeing you guys are going to definitely find this part an interesting one. HEEEEE HEEEEE...evil laugh (which I stole from Stacey) bwwwhaaaaahaaaahaaaa!|
WAKING FROM SLEEP
Inside the veins there are navies setting forth
Tiny explosions at the water lines
And seagulls weaving in the wind of the salty blood.
It is the morning. The country has slept the whole winter.
Window seats were covered with fur skins the yard was full
Of stiff dogs and hands that clumsily held heavy books.
Now we wake and rise from bed and eat breakfast!-
Shouts rise from the harbor of the blood
Mist and masts rising the knock of wooden tackle in the sunlight.
Now we sing and do tiny dances on the kitchen floor.
Our whole body is like a harbor at dawn;
We know that our master has left us for the day.
By Robert Bly
Liz climbed the steps of David Peyton’s bungalow, clutching a small bottle of chardonnay against her chest. Her heart thundered painfully, as she gripped his handrail for careful balance. His steps were dark and slick with snow. The last thing she needed was another icy slip like the one last night. That would make for a graceless first impression, she thought with a wry laugh-- and then for a moment, she feared she might literally be sick with nervousness.
Countless fears swelled in her heart. That they’d have nothing to say to one another, that he’d find her unattractive. And worst of all, that she’d be unable to handle the shock of his appearance without reacting visibly. That was the one thing she was determined above all else—that she wouldn’t inadvertently hurt him by gawking when he opened the door. Not when he’d showered her with his beautiful paintings, making her feel desirable and lovely.
Besides, it was too late for regrets. She’d begun dreaming of him now, her heart waking just a little bit more every time, and the truth was, she didn’t care what he looked like. Not with the way he’d moved inside her soul so effortlessly.
Through a small pane of glass on the door, she glimpsed muted lighting inside, and thought she heard faint strains of music. She sucked in a tight breath, tossing her hair back from her face, and knocked on his door resolutely.
There was a muffled answer of footsteps from within, an off-kilter rhythm accented by a quiet thud. I walk with a cane…
She felt her throat constrict, and swallowed, licking her lips as the slow steps grew closer.
He’s far more nervous than you are, she tried to coach herself, and yet she wondered if that was even true as the door slowly opened.
And then there, in the half-light of his entryway, stood her enigma—her haunting and strangely beautiful David Peyton.
“Liz,” he said, his soft voice nearly indiscernible from beneath what could only be described as a mask. Long, wavy hair fell almost to his shoulders, dark and luminous. But it was the prosthetic mask that nearly struck her speechless as he eased the door open in invitation.
He leaned most of his weight on a wooden cane, a hand-carved piece, the kind of thing she’d seen for sale on the streets of the Plaza. The kind of cane a true artist would use.
She cradled the wine bottle in her arm, gently extending her hand to him. “David, it’s wonderful to meet you,” she said, and was instantly dismayed at how breathless she sounded. He took her hand within his own, and she blushed, as her eyes were again drawn sharply to his prosthetic.
Because despite what he called it, the prosthetic seemed quite simply a mask, a smooth veneer covering his entire face. Only his dark eyes remained visible, and they were almost impossible to see clearly, though one was obviously scarred, swollen partially closed. For his mouth, there was a small opening, with the form of lips, forever captured in a Mona Lisa smile. She was struck by that melancholy image of the frozen half-smile, and yearned to know what lay beneath.
“Nice…so nice, this,” he nodded, and this time when he spoke, she caught how halting his words were, how slurred by his apparent facial injuries. Her chest tightened sharply at the quiet sound, as he urged her inside with the silent wave of his hand.
She turned to him as he closed the door behind them, willing a radiant smile to spread across her features, aching for him to feel at ease.
“I brought wine,” she offered, producing the small bottle from the crook of her arm. “It’s already cold.”
“Thanks, Liz,” he nodded, averting his face from her as he took the bottle. “I’ll…open.”
His hand wandered absently to the left side of his face, rubbing his jaw as he stepped into a small kitchenette just off the entryway. “Snowing?” he called, as he opened a cabinet.
“Not anymore.” Her gaze quickly swept beyond the foyer and into his living room, as she shrugged out of her coat. He emerged from the kitchen, reaching for her jacket.
“Sorry,” he apologized, taking it from her. “Let…me.”
“It’s okay,” she answered gently, handing him the coat. She noticed how his hands shook nervously, and she smiled encouragingly again. Yet he hardly met her gaze a single time, despite her efforts to ease his anxiousness.
The quiet crooning of Frank Sinatra’s Witchcraft wafted from his living room. She chewed her lip, wondering if he’d chosen the music in a purposeful effort to woo her, to create a romantic atmosphere. But she didn’t have time to consider it further, as she stepped into his living room, and was instantly overwhelmed by an explosion of vibrant color.
All around her hung countless paintings, displayed with perfect precision on every adobe wall—over the sofa, along the hallways, and further into a large sun porch at the end of the living room, obviously his studio. For a moment, she felt unsteady upon glimpsing so much of his painfully beautiful work. It was nearly inconceivable that so many of his delicate and rare treasures spread before her, all for the partaking. Almost like some artistic Garden of Eden, with tempting pleasures as far as she could see.
Take, eat of this fruit, she thought whimsically, as her gaze fell on a painting of a woman, seductive and innocent all at once. She was wrapped only in a towel, and the work recalled an impressionist piece, one by Renoir. It was deliberately referential, yet imbued with far more sensuality in some strange way. Perhaps because of his color choices, which included a vibrant red, offset by creamy whites and stark blacks. Liz stepped closer, her hand flitting unconsciously to her jaw in a mirror image of David’s earlier gesture.
She drew near the painting, feeling its rhythm, the swirl of the colors. Such energy radiated from the canvas, pulsating life, that her eyes widened as it wove a mystic spell over her.
“Like… it?” David asked, walking slowly toward her. He seemed to be looking at her this time, straight on, not casting his eyes downward. She lifted her chin, meeting his gaze intently.
“Amazing,” she breathed. “God, David, your work…” she shook her head, wishing that the right words would suddenly present themselves. “I don’t have a way with words, either,” she finally blurted with a nervous laugh. And then just as quickly, she feared she might have offended him, until after a long moment, he began laughing softly, such a warm, gentle sound as he extended her a glass of wine.
“Good,” he agreed, the words muffled beneath his prosthetic, as he handed her a glass of wine. “Both… of us then.”
“But you have such a way with your art,” she continued, feeling an unexpected explosion of heat as their fingers brushed lightly together for the briefest moment. “No one has ever spoken to me like this, like you do with your paintings.”
No one, except Max Evans, a soft voice whispered in her mind.
“My painting…how I speak,” he answered simply, glancing past her to the canvas that had captured her attention. “Now.” And then he rubbed his jaw again, stealing a quick glance at her. “Jaw…is problem.”
She nodded encouragingly, and he immediately looked away again, his long hair obscuring his face. His hair was a dark brown, nearly black, and for some reason she ached to touch it. David appeared to be quite young, probably only a few years older than she was at most, though it was hard to pinpoint his age precisely because of the prosthetic. But his hair, his hands, even his general demeanor made her think of a thirty-year old man.
As she stole secretive glances at him, she noticed his left hand; that two fingers were crooked, the knuckles slightly swollen. She’d guessed correctly about the Windows of the Soul painting—he’d depicted his own imperfect hand. She ached to know what drastic fate had befallen David, leaving his body so badly broken.
She cut her eyes sideways, and for the first time since arriving, allowed herself to study his wardrobe. He was on the thin side, though not overly so, and wore a thickly knit, oversized sweater, the kind that Michael tended to slouch around in, only quite a bit neater. His jeans were faded, but like the sweater, far from sloppy. David dressed much the way he wrapped her packages, addressed her notes—kept his home even. Tidy and pristine, though filled with simmering passion, the kind that roiled in every one of his paintings.
Her face flushed sharply when he caught her staring at him, and she realized her mouth had fallen open unconsciously. She coughed in embarrassment, turning away immediately, and prayed he’d not thought her dismayed by his appearance.
“It’s okay,” he reassured her softly. “To look…odd, yes?”
“Odd?” she repeated in surprised confusion, still averting her eyes.
“No…no, it’s not,” she rushed, feeling heat creep from her face, all the way down into her neck. He laughed quietly again, and it electrified her completely.
She glanced up at him, and though she couldn’t see his mouth at all, only that illusion of a half-smile that was part of the mask, she felt him smiling. A broad, deep thing that caused warmth to erupt through her whole being.
“Am I that bad?” she teased, and he nodded generously.
“Doesn’t…suit,” he agreed, gesturing toward her. “You.”
“Okay, David, yeah the mask is just really… different,” she rushed, brushing at her hair nervously. “But you know that, of course you do.” She regretted that her words were so awkward and bumbling. “I just wish I could see you. It’s not that I’m staring, it’s just that I keep trying to do that, to see you, I mean.”
He nodded slowly, as if he were considering her words, and for a moment she thought he might remove the prosthetic. But instead he clasped her arm, guiding her very gently toward his studio. “Then…come.”
Stacks of paintings leaned against the walls, propped on easels, and generally spread in every direction of the sun porch, which like the rest of his house had a hardwood floor and adobe walls. “Me,” he explained, his words slurring softly. “See…me.”
“In your work,” she whispered, as her gaze roamed over the room, taking in his neatly arranged work materials, the paints and blank canvases. “You’re saying that’s how I can see you.”
And suddenly she understood more than she’d ever guessed about David Peyton. He, who could only express himself in such broken, halting sentences, had instead poured his heart into the paintings, saying otherwise unutterable things. And therein lay the power she’d sensed from the very first painting he’d left on her doorstep. He literally put something of his soul in every stroke-- something that would otherwise remain unspoken, even though he ached to express it.
“And hear,” he added quietly. “My… words.”
She nodded again, and suddenly tears filled her eyes, as something nearly lost within her heart thrummed to sudden life. What it was, she couldn’t say, yet the canvases before her blurred instantly, as David stepped past her to one in particular, displayed on an easel.
“Painted…for,” he hesitated a moment, rubbing his left jaw again. “You, Liz.”
There was a small loveseat in front of the canvas, and Liz dropped onto it wordlessly, sipping her wine as if it might provide boldness. Because the work displayed before her reached even deeper into her heart’s fragile places, as if David’s fingers had clasped something tender and fragile there, twining around it relentlessly.
“For you,” he repeated softly, as she gazed up at the small canvas of a nighttime sky, filled with floating clouds and radiant stars, and then in the distance was the dark angel again. “Called…Ascendance,” he explained, studying it as she did.
Why he’d chosen such a dark painting as her special gift, she wasn’t sure. And yet it wasn’t dark, was the furthest thing from it. It was pure magic, like a spell of mystery he’d enchanted over the tiny canvas. Instead of a somber or depressing feeling, the work conveyed all the shimmering wonder of the desert at night.
“What does the angel mean?” she asked in an unsteady voice, not even really meaning to pose the question aloud. Tears burned her eyes again, as she thought of all the nights she’d stared heavenward with Max, out in the desert even. Of the night they’d found the orb, when something much deeper had almost happened between them, something that might have changed their future irreversibly.
“Angel…changes. Is many things,” he explained haltingly, and she ached to hear him clearly, to know all that pressed on his heart. “Tonight, angel is you.”
“Me?” she asked in surprise, turning quickly to look at him. But he leaned heavily on his cane, staring at the painting. She had the sense that he was avoiding her eyes.
“Way it feels…you here.”
“Oh.” It was all she could say, feeling her heart’s tempo suddenly increase wildly. She could hardly even think clearly, she was so surprised by his bold admission. “Thank you,” she finally managed thickly.
He turned toward her then, and again she had the impression that he smiled at her. “Just truth.”
“It feels really amazing to me, too,” she admitted softly, and for a moment their gazes locked. She could barely see his dark eyes, not with how dim the lighting was throughout his home—and she realized he’d probably arranged it that way on purpose, to hide his strangely masked features. Perhaps to put her more at ease with him.
Yet even in the dimly lit room, something flared powerfully to life between them in that moment, and she saw him swallow hard, as he just stared at her wordlessly. Neither seemed able to look away, and she realized her hands trembled in her lap.
“More,” he finally half-whispered. “Show you more.” She literally leaned forward in order to hear him, his words were that quiet and slurred. He bent low, leaning heavily on the cane as he sorted through a stack of paintings propped on the floor, against the wall. “Here,” he encouraged and Liz rose from the sofa, stepping toward him.
She noticed the difficulty with which he balanced his weight, while sifting through the paintings, and she placed her hand atop his momentarily, where it rested on the cane. “Let me sit on the floor,” she offered, glancing at him. “And I’ll do it.”
He nodded wordlessly, as she settled at his feet, her wine sloshing a bit onto her hand. Instantly, he reached for a soft cloth on the easel behind them, and blotted her fingers dry, and more fire shot across her skin at the intimacy, as their eyes met again for a long moment.
“How did you start painting, David?” she asked, as she turned hungrily toward the canvases, and images of clouds, sky, undulating colors paraded before her eyes with dizzying urgency. “You never told me that.”
“You persisted…though.” She heard him laugh softly, and he settled onto the love seat behind her.
“You bet I did, David,” she agreed. “I’m an agent. I have to be persistent.”
“Yes…surely.” She caught a hint of admiration in his voice, as she continued looking through his paintings. His gaze burned against her back, she was that sure he studied her from where he sat on the loveseat behind her.
“So, allow me to persist again,” she continued, without glancing back at him. “How did you start?”
“Long story,” he answered with a weary-sounding sigh.
“But I want to know,” she argued, as her gaze fell on one painting in particular of a little girl with dark hair, surrounded by a field of red flowers, growing high up to her knees. “You see what your work does to me. How affected I am by it.” The painting felt familiar, as if something about it struck a long forgotten chord in her being, as she eased it from the stack.
“Rehab,” he answered with a light cough. “Began in rehab.”
She scooted backwards, until she leaned against the sofa, right beside where he sat. The painting rested in her lap, and she outlined the swirling red flowers with her fingertips, tracing the pattern of movement.
“Tulips?” she asked curiously, wondering again what the tug of familiarity was.
“What happened to you, David?” she asked, still just staring down at the painting. She didn’t want to hurt him, to press too hard, but she had to understand. “Was it an accident?”
He snorted wordlessly, and even as muffled as the sound was, she recognized the derisiveness in it. “No.” He said no more, only that, leaving her painfully curious.
“No? Then what, David?” Was he saying that someone had done this to him intentionally? Hurt him this profoundly by design?
“No accident,” he answered again softly, then, “Liz, please.”
“You don’t want to talk about it.”
“Not tonight,” he agreed quietly.
She glanced over her shoulder at him, begging him with her eyes. “Will you explain to me sometime, though?” She needed to know this part of his history, to piece that part of his obscured past together.
“Okay, then,” she nodded, focusing again on the beautiful painting that rested against her knees. She sucked in a sharp breath as she felt something unfamiliar twist deep in her heart, at the way the work moved her so fully.
“David, you must understand. Art is my life, my business…it’s my whole world,” she explained thickly. “And no one has ever moved me like you do. You have an inexpressible gift.”
She wasn’t sure precisely what he meant by that comment, or what kind of inspiration he was referring to. But then he clarified. “You.”
“Me?” she asked, staring straight ahead, keenly aware of the way her shoulder brushed his knee where she leaned against the loveseat.
“Your…reaction. Inspiring,” he explained, the words slurring even more, as if the emotion of his confession was unsettling him. “You…great inspiration.”
“But you only just met me,” she offered faintly, still uncertain of his meaning. She found herself longing for the ease of their e-mail communication, though his physical proximity was worth far more than easy words.
He was silent for a long moment, and Liz could hear that his breathing quickened, the soft sound growing heavier beneath his prosthetic. She began to wonder if he’d ever speak, and that’s when she felt it. His fingers lightly touched her hair, just stroking the length of it in wondrous silence.
She could only hold her breath, as she felt his gentle touch electrify her whole body. He wasn’t just touching her; he was offering her something beautiful. His heart.
Her eyes drifted shut, as David slowly ran his hand down the length of her hair, his fingers twining loosely through the strands. Worship, that’s what it felt like. As if his very caresses were an act of pure worship.
She drew in a tight breath, and slowly turned her face until her lips met his hand. Tentatively, she kissed his fingers, allowing her lips just to graze them one by one, yet she never looked back at him. Fire skittered across her cheeks, blazing her very soul, as he slowly stroked her cheek with the back of his hand, caressing her even more deeply now.
“Beautiful,” he assessed in a whisper. “Liz, so beautiful.”
She shivered at his words, at how his fingers wound their way across the length of her hair again. Some part of her brain questioned how an almost stranger could arouse her like this, could pierce her heart like a keen arrow, but she didn’t care. Nor did she require an answer. All she needed was this moment with her shy David, the feel of his gentle touch.
Without thinking, she reached over her shoulder and their fingers met, changing the caress. This one became more like lovemaking, as hands lingered together, hesitated then lightly stroked. Wordless, powerful lovemaking, of a kind she’d only known with one other person.
She heard his staggered sigh behind her, as their fingers twined carefully together, and suddenly tears blurred her vision again. Her heart ached with the beauty of his touch, of her awakening, and suddenly hot tears coursed her cheeks.
She blinked hard, needing more of his touch, yet burning to escape now. She pulled her hand back suddenly, wiping at the tears. “I’ve…got to go,” she managed to stammer, climbing awkwardly to her feet. “This has been perfect, David.”
One quick glance, and she saw the confusion in his dark gaze, as he stared up at her, struggling to his feet. Obviously, it wasn’t a simple task for him, as he worked with his cane, trying to follow her quick movement.
“It was wonderful, David,” she continued in a rush, wiping at the hot tears, as she brushed past where he labored to rise from the sofa. “You are, too,” she continued, and heard him behind her, the light thud of his cane, and the uneven cadence of his slow steps.
“Liz,” he called again. “Don’t…” His voice trailed off, and this time she was sure it wasn’t because of his halting speech. She had the sense that he was dumbfounded by her sudden flight, and her chest tightened painfully. This was what she’d wanted to avoid, hurting him in any way at all.
She spun on her heel as he approached. “It’s not you, David,” she whispered intently, not caring that he would see how she’d begun crying. “Absolutely not you.”
“Tell…me,” he urged, reaching lightly for her arm.
Tell me. Tell me the secrets long buried in your heart, the things you never wanted to admit again, not to anyone. Tell me that I’m awakening your long-slumbering soul.
“I loved someone once,” she explained fiercely, gazing up into his strange, half-obscured eyes. “I loved him more than life itself, more than my own life sometimes. But he died.”
David cocked his head to the side mutely, as if her words were unanticipated, difficult to process. “He died and no one else has ever touched me like he did, not in all these years,” she confessed, running a shaking hand through her hair. “Until tonight. Until you.”
With that, she spun away from him, nearly sprinting toward the door before he could speak again. Because it was almost as if she felt her composure disintegrating beneath his gaze, at even the memory of his touch.
And that was something she’d sworn no man would ever do to her again.
|posted on 4-Feb-2002 6:26:42 PM|
|You guys are amazing!!!! I say that everytime. You'd think *I* would have a way with words, but I think I'm more like Liz and David when it comes to your glowing fb!|
Hmmm...I know there was a lot I wanted to remark on, but I need to re-read everyone's comments. Nina! If you've got Godivas, I'll take 'em! In a heartbeat!
Stacey--I'll tell everyone it's YOUR evil laugh. Everyone, the evil laugh? It's not mine. It's Stacey's. It's just my unwitting hostage. (see my sig line for explanation.)
I wish I could remember all the comments that I wanted to remark on. I'll go read again and be back!
|posted on 5-Feb-2002 12:34:16 PM|
Wow, I am just amazed by all this fb and speculation. Liking the Zan specs...interesting. Liking the Max specs...interesing. Liking all the specs. See how opaque I'm being??? I'm EVVVVILLLLLL!!!
Bwaaahhaaaahaaaaaa (evil laugh, copyright Stacey)
Seriously, I can actually answer a few questions, so I'm all excited!
1) Will I finish this in the 9 weeks left until the baby comes? Definitely. That is my wholehearted plan. To finish this one and start the GRAVITY sequel.
2) When will I post again? My plan is to post friday or saturday. BTW, I started an egroup (you probably saw me post this info already, just trying to be sure you all see it). If you go back to like page 11, the button is there to click on and join. OR, you can join by emailing
RosDeidre⊕aol.com and I'll sign you up. That way, you'll know all about how the updates are going, etc.
3) Is Michael even an alien? Why isn't he getting flashes?? Okay this question I can answer. Yes, he is certainly an alien, but the way I see it is this. He's been grieving just as badly as Liz, and in a way, his response to that, to losing his bestfriend and his only male touchstone with his alien heritage has been to become NORMAL. As normal as possible. To lose himself in his art, Liz, the little world he's woven around himself. Being an alien doesn't really jive with that anymore--and in fact just reminds him of all he's lost. Even Maria, in a sense, since he DID open himself to her and felt flashes etc. They ALL just buried that part of themselves (the humans included) with Max and tried to move on. The threats ceased, and life felt normal, so they became "normal." Only not. Things are never quite as simple as we all want them to be, no matter how much we ache for them.
4) Did Michael get flashes from Liz and why not? Why not from David's apartment?
--Again, he's subjugated that alien side so thoroughly, it's just not as much a part of who he is. Sure, he still uses his powers but he's not as open anymore. At David's, he used his powers to break in, but didn't get any flashes and didn't press for any. That simple. With Liz, the jury is still out. WE don't know if he got them or not. ;-)
I'm just all excited I could finally answer some questions!! LOL! Hugs to all, d
|posted on 5-Feb-2002 2:34:29 PM|
|Woodwinds-no, David didn't get flashes from Liz. Was just saying we don't know Michael DIDNT. We don't know if he did, either, though STacey.|
I did know you were joking on Michael being an alien. Me being literal back was my own silly humor..but your larger question was important. Why didn't we know more about Michael and his alien side? That's all I really meant.
I've got a pretty good handle on the false prophet (stacey)'s silliness by now!! LOL!
|posted on 8-Feb-2002 6:58:16 PM|
|Just wanted to tell you guys that I hope to post the next part later tonight, probably by ten at the latest. Fingers crossed!! |
So I'll be back and let you know how it's going in a bit!! Hugs, d
|posted on 8-Feb-2002 8:40:24 PM|
|Author’s Note: The feedback on those last two parts literally blew my mind, guys!!! WOW. Talk about motivation to push forward in a timely manner! I have a lot of the next part written, so my hope is to post it either very late tomorrow night or on Sunday afternoon at some point. I’ll try my best for tomorrow night!! Thanks for the wonderful and insightful observations. I am SO enjoying your speculations—if only I could answer them!|
SURPRISED BY EVENING
There is unknown dust that is near us
Waves breaking on shores just over the hill
Trees full of birds that we have never seen
Nets drawn with dark fish.
The evening arrives; we look up and it is there
It has come through the nets of the stars
Through the tissues of the grass
Walking quietly over the asylums of the waters.
The day shall never end we think:
We have hair that seemed born for the daylight;
But at last the quiet waters of the night will rise
And our skin shall see far off as it does under water
BY ROBERT BLY
Liz hadn’t stopped shaking since she’d fled David’s bungalow. Not on the short drive home, not after entering her house and collapsing on the sofa, and certainly not after finally opening the brief e-mail she’d found waiting from him in her inbox.
Now she sat at her computer, her hands trembling uncontrollably and wondered how she could possibly respond, what she could do to stop the avalanche of emotion that he’d somehow unleashed within her.
Tonight was electric. Magic. Nearly more than my heart could handle, I swear.
I only wish you hadn’t left so quickly. Not when there was so much more I longed to say.
I never should have been so bold, so careless with your emotions—especially not when my shocking appearance must have been enough for one night. God, I can only imagine what you thought of me, how startled you were, and for that, again I am so very sorry.
The thing is, Liz, you are beautiful. But that’s not what moved me tonight, not really. It was that being with you was so incredibly beautiful, too.
Liz buried her face in her hands, and began to sob uncontrollably. It was as if all the frozen emotions of the past ten years were suddenly welling up, unlocked from deep within her heart. All by a shy man’s quiet touch. By his simple caresses of her hair, her face.
All because he’d held her hand.
And she’d managed to hurt him. Somehow, even though she’d explained, he thought his face had frightened her, shocked her.
Through her veil of tears, she began typing, working to compose something that might make sense.
It wasn’t you, I promise. In fact, I wish I could express how very little your appearance even matters to me.
But on the other hand, it really was you…and the powerful affect you’re having on me. It’s like you’re winding your way into my heart, bit by bit, and I promised myself I’d never feel these things again, never come alive like this at any man’s touch.
That’s what scares me, David. Not the way you look, or the prosthetic…not even wondering what lies beneath it. I can handle all of that, just not the way you’re awakening my heart so quickly. That, sweet David, has left me utterly and completely terrified.
Liz wandered into the kitchen, still wiping her eyes, and poured a small glass of wine. Then she just settled on her sofa in the darkness, trying to harness her emotions. She clicked the stereo remote, and Patti Smith came to life on her CD player, the haunting refrain of Because the Night floating through the darkened living room. Take me now, baby, here as I am…pull me close, try and understand…
And so she sat. Not really because she wanted the wine, or to listen to the music, but because she could hardly move until a reply came from David Peyton. Fortunately, she didn’t have long to wait, as one appeared in her inbox almost instantly. Liz realized he’d probably been waiting just as expectantly for her own answer, as she opened his latest note.
So it seems we’re both terrified, though for our own very different reasons. Let’s just remember to breathe (I think I forgot that peculiar habit for about fifteen minutes earlier this evening.)
And we can take this slow, Liz, as slow as need be. The only urgent matter is getting your coat back to you, especially since as I gaze outside my studio window, I see it’s begun snowing again. Unfortunately, you left it in your hasty departure.
Well… admittedly not so unfortunate for me, since now I have the perfect excuse to see you at least once more.
Can I tempt you with another glass of wine tomorrow night, a toast to your New York trip? I can assure you that I will remain at a gentlemanly distance. Only my artist’s eyes shall adore you, not my wandering hands.
Liz’s lower lip began trembling uncontrollably, and the tears threatened to start anew. Her face had flushed upon reading the final sentence of his note, and now she felt her abdomen tighten with undeniable desire for him.
How was she to answer his request to see her again, and so soon? If he’d affected her this powerfully the first time, she could only imagine the results should she venture near him again so soon.
Yet, even as she reached to turn off the computer without replying, she knew she wouldn’t be able to stay away. Not now. Not after being touched by him.
This time, the dream was different. Liz lay sleeping in her bed in Santa Fe, nestled comfortably beneath the covers, fingers delicately curved along the edge of the blanket. She heard a quiet rustling within her room, something near the door, and though her heart thundered, she wasn’t afraid.
She was expectant.
And then he was there, just shadowing the frame, watching her. His unknowable dark eyes searching her heart, her very soul. Instead of moving, she lay watching him. He was beautiful, surprisingly so, in the soft moonlight that fanned across her hardwood floor. Like some oddly formed statue with a smooth, porcelain face, he braced himself against the doorframe. His silken dark hair fell to his shoulders, slightly disheveled.
“Come closer,” she whispered, aware that her voice had grown husky and thick.
He blinked soundlessly, and she sensed him ache for her, how he longed to touch her again.
“Liz,” he murmured quietly, and stepped toward her, his familiar, uneven gait echoing in her silent room.
“I want you,” she breathed in the darkness, following his darkened movements with her eyes.
“I want,” he agreed, nodding almost imperceptibly. “You, Liz.”
“Why is it like this?” she asked breathlessly. “The way you move me; how is it this strong?”
He settled on the side of her bed, reaching tentatively for her hand. “Me…you,” he whispered cryptically, his voice ever gentle. Then she caught a glimpse of his brown eyes, the way they widened with his words. If only she understood the meaning of his simple phrase.
“I don’t understand, David.” She shook her head, swallowing hard. “But I want to.”
“You said…it.” His words slurred softly, as he gathered her hand in his own then, averting his eyes from her. His breathing became softly audible beneath the mask. “I awaken…” He paused, wrestling for words.
“You awaken me,” she finished for him, touching his arm, and he nodded in quiet agreement. “Yes, David, you do. I’m coming alive because of you.”
Very delicately, he reached his hand to her cheek and caressed it. Fingers explored silently, outlining the shape of her jaw, then the fullness of her mouth—and hesitated a moment, as slowly she kissed his fingertips. His fingers trembled lightly against her lips, yet seared her beyond description.
“Kiss me, David,” she murmured in the darkness.
He shook his head. Because what she was really asking, was for him to reveal himself, to remove his mask. There would be no other way.
And so instead, she lifted her hand to his chest, feeling the thick wool of his sweater, then slowly trailed her fingers upward. They grazed his collarbone, where she felt his pulse beating steadily, and then explored carefully upward until she touched the odd synthetic material shrouding his face. Yet she felt him beneath, the strong outline of jaw, then nose, flesh and bone. A man, one she was falling in love with. She cupped his strange face within her palms.
“Come closer, David,” she begged quietly, trying to draw his face near. Needing more of him, to kiss his own lips. “Please.”
He shook his head, flinching as her fingers explored the side of his face that seemed to always cause him such pain. Yet even as he drew away, she pursued.
“Let me,” she murmured, as he averted that side of his face from her. “I want to touch you.” And she knew she’d found the center of his heartache, the aspect of his disfigurement that grieved him most deeply.
“Why?” he half-cried.
She hesitated a moment, just listening to the way his breathing grew heavier, sensing his hesitation. She ached to feel his skin against her own.
“You…me,” she answered simply, repeating his earlier words as she stroked his silken hair. He bowed his head wordlessly beneath her touch.
Finally, she saw him swallow, and he nodded. “Feel…me,” he breathed, glancing up at her again, as slowly she lifted her hand and stroked the tender jaw that he’d tried to hide from her touch. “My…Liz.”
My Liz. Somewhere in the night, or perhaps the evening, or even the past week—she’d given herself to him. Become his very own. If only she could recall that moment, the point when she’d obviously bound herself to this stranger—a stranger who would become a lover.
Dream letters, parchment fluttering in the night like misplaced pages of her journal. Caught in pieces and bits as she moved in and out of sleep. Restless and insistent, they surfaced in her thoughts, moving ever upward in her consciousness.
One word, full of so much meaning. A hand, a caress. A touch from you. Your eyes. The electricity that ripples through a room when you are near. Beautiful.
All you…and now I must attempt to sleep.
A man who wishes to hide from me, yet reveals his soul so generously. A man who I glimpse in every one of his paintings, and feel in every one of his touches. But it’s not enough. I want to truly see this man with my own eyes. I’m dreaming of it now.
Liz sat on a bench in Rockefeller Center, watching the ice-skaters glide around the rink, some gracefully, others with awkward, jarring motions, but always in elliptical patterns. Circular, endless, frigid in the night.
The crisp flags surrounding the rink snapped in the February wind, unfurled and proud. Flags of nations, vivid colors rippling overhead, as young people held hands, snuggling close to watch the movement on the rink below.
Yet Liz sat alone. All alone, arms wrapped around herself as she shivered in the cold, watching the lovers’ ageless dance all around her.
Until Max was there. As easily as he’d once left her, becoming nothing more than a shrouding mist around her heart, he was beside her on the bench.
As handsome as he’d ever been, in his leather jacket and jeans, familiar boyish bangs framing his face. He glanced at her sideways, just beaming at the sight of her.
“God, Liz, you have no idea how much I’ve missed you,” he confessed, studying her as if it had been years.
“You saw me just last night.”
He shook his head. “Dreams don’t count.”
“Sure they do,” she laughed, as he slung his arm easily along the back of the bench. “And sometimes the dreams keep it from hurting so much.”
“But you can’t rest in them, Liz.”
She bowed her head, staring at her hands, knowing he’d hit the mark. “I know.”
“Haven’t you wondered why I’m here, Liz?”
Liz thought a moment, watching one couple in particular skating awkwardly around the rink. The girl had long dark hair, and it caught occasionally in the wind, blowing into her eyes. The boy’s hair was dark as midnight—like a younger version of Max.
“I don’t care why.”
“There’s a reason, Liz,” he pressed. “A reason why I keep coming back.”
“And why do I have a feeling you’re going to tell me what it is?” she laughed, closing her eyes and feeling the warmth of him. Everything about Max was so different than David Peyton, she reflected silently. He was strong and sure, handsome, and left her feeling steady.
Yet the feeling wasn’t very different at all, she realized, as her eyes fluttered open. Again, the skaters caught her attention, the young lovers teasing as they moved in rhythmic union around the rink.
“That first Christmas after you left, Max, do you know what they did in Roswell?” she asked, turning to face him. His features darkened, shadowed with a melancholy that she could never have anticipated.
He shook his head silently, uncertainty flashing in his eyes.
“They put in a small ice rink in the middle of the park,” she explained, feeling the familiar tug of anger toward him. “Right there in Roswell.”
“They’d done that a few years before, too.”
“Yeah, but we weren’t together then, Max,” she corrected. “I didn’t care. It was that first Christmas, once you’d left that mattered. Because all I could think, every time I saw it, was what it would have been like if you’d taken me skating.”
“I’m a lousy skater,” he teased in his soft voice, the words nearly lost in the wind.
She ignored him, pressing forward with what needed to be said. “I went down to that stupid rink every night after my shift at the cafe, just like this, Max,” she continued, feeling bitter tears sting her eyes. “And watched the people skate. It was like I was dead, just watching them from some other dimension. That was how uninvolved I felt, how cold my heart had grown over you leaving.”
“Liz,” he whispered, pressing a gentle kiss to the top of her head, but she cut him off, needing to continue.
“I’d watch just like this, and think how you should have been there with me,” she finished, her voice breaking.
“I can’t tell you how much I wanted to be.”
“I know,” she nodded sadly. “I knew it even then somehow.”
“I’d sit and imagine you, Liz, and wonder what you were doing. It was hard to figure out the calendar, but I had a rough idea when it was Christmas,” he admitted thickly. “My heart never left you.”
She turned to stare at him. “You thought about me?”
“Every day, every minute.” He rubbed his eyes wearily, avoiding her keen glance.
“What did they do to you, Max?” she asked, reaching to stroke the bangs away from his forehead. “Tell me.”
“I can’t, Liz.”
“They hurt you,” she nearly cried, tears blurring her vision. “I felt it when they killed you.”
He closed his eyes, bowing his head. “I tried…” His voice trailed off, and he shook his head.
“Tried what, Max?” she begged, clutching at his arm. “I need to know. I’ve needed to know for so long.”
“To reach you,” he admitted, his face crumpling in pain. “I shouldn’t have done it, but I was so afraid. Not just of them, what they were doing to me, but…God, of losing you forever.”
“I felt you,” she repeated intently. “I knew when it happened.”
“Liz, you have got to let go.”
“Of what?” she shouted, the anger erupting with unexpected force. “You, Max? Is that what you’re saying?”
“All this hurt, the memory of that horrendous moment, me,” he urged, his golden eyes flashing powerfully. “It’s killing you, Liz. Literally.”
“I don’t want to let go.”
“God, you’re as stubborn as I am,” he observed in frustration.
“Welcome to my world,” she snapped irritably.
He shook his head, smiling wryly. “You’ve been around Michael too long.”
“Guess what? He didn’t leave me,” she cried, standing quickly, and clenching her hands in tight fists. “Michael didn’t leave me, Max. Michael didn’t sleep with our enemy. Michael has been there for me and never left.”
“I didn’t sleep with Tess.” His admission was so quiet she almost missed it, dissolving into the wind as it did.
“What?” she asked, spinning to face him.
“I never slept with her,” he repeated, gazing up at her earnestly. “There was no baby. It’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for so long.”
Liz felt her insides begin to quake, as something dislodged painfully, something she’d been holding inside since that day at the chamber almost ten years before. A silent cry formed on her lips, a terrible reflection of that famous Munch painting, as she collapsed to her knees. Max rushed to the ground beside her.
“Liz, sweetheart,” he begged. “Look at me.”
“But, but…” she could only stammer as the world spun crazily around her.
“She tricked me. Us. That’s all she ever did, and I was a fool to believe the memories she planted in my mind.”
Planted…memories. Fool to believe…
“I’m telling you now for one reason, Liz,” he explained, stroking the length of her hair soothingly, as he folded her tight within his arms. “I’m the only one you’ll listen to. It’s why they sent me.”
“They?” she asked dimly.
“You’re frozen back there, Liz,” he explained as she buried her face against his leather jacket. “You’ve been stuck for so long.”
“What am I supposed to do, Max?” she murmured, clinging to his leather-clad shoulders.
“Listen to David Peyton.” She bristled at the mention of David’s name, at the sound of it on Max’s lips. “Liz, open your eyes.”
[ edited 1 time(s), last at 8-Feb-2002 9:19:25 PM ]
|posted on 9-Feb-2002 10:34:35 PM|
So many GOOD questions. Unfortunately, can’t answer any of them!! LOL! But this part will provide at least some definitive answers if you read closely. And a huge amount of resolution is coming very, very soon (next part and those after.) So keep persevering! And thanks for the fb!
By the way, I also posted part twelve LAST night, so be sure not to miss that one!
We awoke from our dream; things are not always what they seem,
Memories linger on, it’s like a sweet, sad old song.
I’d love a toast to my New York trip. Tonight at 7, then? And by the way…you were a perfect gentleman last night. I think I was the one who ravished you, was I not? But, nevertheless, I’ll pledge to be a perfect lady, as well.
Well, a modern one at least.
I never mind a good ravishing, just so you know. Not one as tender and sexy as you’re apparently capable of.
7 it is.
Apparently the nervous tension didn’t get any better. Not even upon a second visit to David’s home, Liz thought, as she sucked in gulps of frigid air before knocking. It was a perfect replay of the night before; inside she heard muted music, saw the dim lighting. And she was barely more than a nervous wreck, clutching another small bottle of wine in the crook of her arm.
Shouldn’t this be getting any easier? She wondered, licking her lips. At least she knew what to expect when he opened the door, but in a way, that made her even more anxious.
Because what she could expect was the near-inability to control her reactions when around her beautiful enigma.
Liz raised her hand, and repeated her mantra, “You’ve done harder things than this…you’ve done harder things than this,” silently within her mind as she knocked.
From within, she heard the slow, familiar steps, accented by the rhythmic thud of David’s cane, then his shadowed form appeared within the glass window. Her throat went completely dry, as his door slowly opened, revealing his hauntingly familiar features.
She beamed instantly, tucking a stray hair behind her ear. “Hi, again,” she laughed, and something about the way she sensed him smile in return, the way she felt his generous welcome more than even glimpsed it, relaxed her instantly.
“Welcome back,” he nodded encouragingly, opening the door wide to her. “Liz… Parker.”
As she stepped into his warmly lit home, the adobe walls shimmering with candlelight and shadows, she could have sworn she heard her own heart answer, welcome home.
Liz sat on David’s sofa, her hands folded neatly in her lap. She would have done anything to quell the visible tremors that shook them, yet as she watched his measured approach with her glass of wine, the shaking only intensified. She seemed unable to respond otherwise to his proximity, at least not tonight; though the nervous energy had dissipated, melting into a thrumming anticipation that vibrated through her entire body.
“Here,” he said simply, extending a single wine glass. She reached for it shakily, and like the other night, their fingers brushed lightly together, causing a shower of electric energy to shoot through her hands. It seemed she was keenly aware of the slightest physical contact with him.
“Thank you,” she smiled brightly, gazing up at his strange face. For a moment, she caught a glimpse of his dark eyes, of how they glittered in the candlelight of his living room. There was something undeniably melancholy in his gaze that even the prosthetic couldn’t hide, as their eyes locked for a silent moment.
Liz wished she could see his eyes more clearly, but unfortunately, they were partially obscured by the mask, causing them to appear deeply recessed behind the synthetic material.
For a moment, she thought of her art restoration class, and the way a black light revealed what lay beneath a painting’s surface. If there’d been a different sketch originally, perhaps a mother and child, instead of a pair of entwined lovers, then the light would reveal that secret history. Now, she wished she could shine such a light on David’s placidly sculpted facade and know what lay beneath.
“Excited…about New York?” he asked, jarring her back to the moment with his attempt at conversation. He balanced his weight carefully on the cane as he settled beside her on the sofa, extending his left leg straight out, as she’d seen him do the previous night. Somehow that stirred her differently this time, as she imagined how it must ache, especially when he rubbed his knee absently for a moment.
“Not really,” she laughed, and he glanced at her, seemingly surprised.
“No? But galleries...” he hesitated, and she sensed his frustration as he labored to speak. “Seems exciting… you.”
“Exciting to me?” she clarified and again their eyes met for a brief moment, electrifying her completely.
He nodded, looking sharply away so that a lock of dark hair fell across his face. “As agent,” he explained quietly.
She smiled, realizing how easily she already understood his unusual syntax, how his words seemed to form within her before he even spoke them now. “Normally,” she reflected, remembering Michael’s observation about her lack of enthusiasm for this particular trip.
Because you’re depressed…
“I don’t know, it just feels more like work this time for some reason.”
“You love…job,” he answered, the words slurring slightly, and she understood it was more of question, really, than a statement.
“Yeah,” she agreed softly. “I adore my job. I’m doing exactly what I want with my life. But somehow, this time, I don’t know. My heart just isn’t in it.” She stole another furtive sideways glance at him. The smooth features of his mask were shadowed eerily by the shimmering firelight, creating unexpected planes of dark and light. Pure chiaroscuro.
“Why?” he asked, staring straight ahead into the leaping firelight. For the first time, she noticed rich highlights in his hair, but also some threads of gray that silvered in the candlelight.
She shrugged. “I think I just need a break.” I think it’s just the anniversary of Max’s death.
“I’m glad Michael’s going with me, though,” she added brightly.
“Michael?” he asked, and she wasn’t sure, but thought she detected a subtle flash of jealousy in his features, or perhaps surprise. “Friend?”
“Oh, Michael’s my best friend,” she rushed to explain, not wanting him to misunderstand. “One of my clients. You might even know his work, he’s local,” she stammered awkwardly. “Michael Guerin?” she offered helpfully, wishing she didn’t sound so oddly guilty.
David blinked, and she wondered what strange emotion she’d seen shadow his eyes. “Yes,” he agreed with an enthusiastic nod. “Amazing…artist.”
“Oh, so you’ve seen his work.”
“Window…your gallery,” he explained quietly and she leaned a bit closer trying to hear his muffled words. “Your web site…also.” The last was added almost as a shy confession, and was nearly inaudible.
She smiled in satisfaction, noticing how reticent he suddenly seemed, staring down at his knee, as he rubbed it absently. “You went to my web site?” she asked warmly.
“Of course.” He looked away from her, but then she had the distinct impression that he smiled as he laughed quietly. “But disappointed, Liz…no picture.”
Her cheeks burned at his words and she laughed giddily, too loudly really, as she took a long sip of wine.
“You’re blushing,” he observed, turning to face her, and she shivered as his hand brushed her arm.
“Yeah, well you should see what your e-mails do to me,” she smiled, glancing at him through her lashes flirtatiously.
“My emails…you blush?”
She fanned herself with her hand for dramatic effect. “God, David, it’s unbelievable how they affect me.”
“E-mail easier,” he reflected, rubbing his jaw. “For me.”
“To say what you really mean?” she prompted and he nodded wordlessly.
“Very frustrating, this.” His words slurred a bit more than usual, as he added, “But I like more…being together.”
“Yeah, and I bet you’re blushing right now, too,” she teased, tipping her chin upward boldly as their eyes locked for a long moment.
“One day you’ll show me,” she asserted confidently, wanting him to know that she believed he’d open up to her. “I’ll see how handsome you are when you blush like this.”
“Not handsome.” That was all he said, dropping his gaze in an unreadable gesture. “But blushing, yes.”
“Why do you wear the prosthetic, David?” she pressed gently, not wanting to hurt him, yet needing to understand who he really was. “I mean, I know your face must be scarred, but…”
“Disfigured,” he corrected simply. “Badly.”
“But you won’t tell me what happened?”
“Liz, please,” he begged, his difficult words growing husky. “You…here tonight.”
You here tonight. For some reason, the meaning of that particular phrase eluded Liz.
“I’m sorry?” she finally asked, taking a nervous sip of wine. She hated asking him to repeat anything, not with how difficult it was for him to speak. But she’d already come to place a premium on every one of his utterances.
“You’re here with me,” he clarified slowly, brushing at his hair with a nervous gesture. “Past very painful. But you…so lovely.”
“Oh,” she sighed, feeling her heart pound like a tribal drum.
“I will tell you,” he paused, swallowing hard. “Promise.”
“Okay,” she agreed, her heart aching at his mention of a painful past. It seemed unfair that one with such a gentle spirit would have suffered this badly. And for some reason, she felt the undeniable urge to simply touch him as he glanced away from her again.
Delicately, she placed her hand atop his where it rested on his jean-clad thigh, almost as if she were trying to tame a rare and exotic creature. He stared down at her hand a moment, and she sensed how he stiffened beside her, but then he gingerly rotated his hand until their palms met.
She gasped softly at the contact, at the feel of his warm skin grazing her own, just like the other night. The moment was entirely up to her, she knew. His hand lingered beneath hers, an unanswered question, yet she understood that he wouldn’t push, not this time. Tentatively, she threaded her fingers through his, until their hands closed together as one.
“I…promised,” he explained gently. “To only look…you. Not touch.”
She became aware of her breathing, that her chest labored a bit as she stared down at their joined hands. “It’s okay, David,” she encouraged, squeezing his hand. “I want more.”
He turned to her in surprise, cocking his head sideways as he studied her. She ached to know his thoughts, to read his expression—yet his prosthetic was impassive as stone.
Very tentatively, she lifted her other hand toward his face, and he jerked away reflexively. Something about the moment was hauntingly familiar, as if it had already happened, was something in the past not their present.
“I want to feel you,” she breathed, a soft sound that escaped her lips like electric current.
He shook his head vigorously, slipping his hand out of hers, as he pulled away from her. “No, Liz.” His answer was surprisingly firm, final even.
“You don’t want to feel me?” she asked, her voice wavering with emotion.
“More than,” he swallowed visibly. “You can know.”
Again, she lifted her hand slowly toward his face, and he bowed his head. But he didn’t flinch, and didn’t pull away. Gingerly, she stroked his cheek with her fingertips, feeling the synthetic material rough beneath her hand. She trailed her fingers lower, until they brushed against his neck, meeting his own skin, so warm and vital to touch. His neck was scratchy with light stubble, as she explored lower, reaching the hollow of his throat, and his pulse throbbed beneath her fingertips.
The silence between them was palpable, as only the sound of their breathing filled the moment. She was nearly leaning into his lap, she realized suddenly, and had never even noticed. Slowly, now, he turned toward her and she saw more acutely than ever how his left eye was swollen partially shut. For a moment, she shivered, thinking how it revealed much about his disfigurement, about how dramatic his injuries beneath the mask must be. For the briefest moment, the firelight glinted in his other eye, illuminating flecks of amber and gold. But Liz refused to dwell on that detail, wanted only to think of David, not recall the lost eyes of her spectral love.
“May…I touch?” he asked in a whisper, meeting her eyes with sudden boldness. “Don’t want to…” his voice trailed off a moment, and he blinked.
“You won’t upset me this time, David,” she encouraged, and he lifted a tentative hand toward her face. He cupped her cheek a moment, closing his eyes as if to drink her in, and Liz felt her chest tighten at the intimacy.
“Beautiful,” he assessed on a sigh, and somehow, she could hear the radiant smile in his voice. “Liz.”
She literally ached to kiss him, to feel their lips brush together. Yet that remained an impossibility, at least until they reached a point where he’d remove the mask.
His eyes fluttered open again, widening as he asked, “May I…paint you?”
It was as if he’d asked to make love to her, his request left her feeling so shy and womanly all at once-- and it caused radiant heat to shimmer across her face in response. “Tonight?” she managed to answer, swallowing hard.
He nodded, slowly stroking her cheek beneath his thumb. “On…sofa.” Again, the images that rushed through her mind had nothing to do with painting, and much more with seduction. Just as he’d always bestowed his canvases upon her like a lover’s kiss, now the very act of painting her seemed something far more intimate indeed.
“Why would you want to paint me?” she managed to laugh, wishing she didn’t burn so beneath his steady caress.
Gently, he dropped his hand away from her cheek. “Been painting,” he swallowed hard, tapping his cane lightly against the floor for a moment before finally finishing. “You.”
She knew she should have felt strange at his admission, smothered or frightened even, but it was so innocent, it only left her glowing. She thought of all his paintings with dark haired women in them. “Really?” The word escaped her lips breathlessly, and she wished she’d sounded more in command of her emotions.
“Ms. Parker Painting,” he explained. “Others.”
“Why me?” she cried in surprise, yet he only stared into his lap for a moment.
“Santa Fe Trend?” he finally offered with a soft laugh, and she knew he was teasing her.
“Remind me to thank them,” she giggled.
“Damn good picture,” he nodded. “Told you.”
“But I don’t completely buy that.”
“Had you seen me around town or something?” she asked, wrinkling her nose in confusion, unable to avoid the sudden sense that something more was happening between them. That a secret wedged there that she couldn’t quite decipher.
He shook his head vigorously, suddenly laboring with his cane as if he intended to rise.
“Yet you painted me.”
“Like angel…dark haired girl… changes.” he finally explained cryptically. “Tonight you.”
“Oh, so now the truth comes out!” she cried, only half-jokingly. “You just have a thing for girls with dark hair.”
He eased onto his feet, leaning heavily on his cane as he gazed down at her, suddenly seeming frail and weary for such a very young man. “Never, Liz. Only you.”
She lay curled on her side, pensive as David painted her from where he sat on the sun porch. He’d turned on more lights and she stole furtive glances in his direction, needing to see him more clearly, where he sat awkwardly astride a stool. Yet he stayed too far away, secure within the lights of his studio, glancing at her periodically as he worked.
“You’re reminding me of Michael.”
“Oh?” he asked in surprise. “How?”
“Well, we do this a lot…he’ll paint and I read.”
“He paints you?”
“Not much,” she answered, wondering again if he didn’t seem slightly jealous, in a benign sort of way. “He’s more of a landscape guy…with an abstract feel.”
“I would…think he paint you,” he reflected, glancing back at the canvas. “Beautiful subject, Liz.”
“Thank you.” She brushed at her hair self-consciously, and decided to keep her history with Michael a secret, something hidden between them still. Because Michael led distinctly to Max, and she was far from ready to open up any further about him.
“Close your eyes,” David instructed quietly. “Painting you asleep.”
He was silent a moment, and she peered at him through half-closed lids, wondering if he’d even answer at all. “So you won’t look…at me,” he finally replied.
“What’s wrong with me looking at you?” she asked, her eyes sweeping his living room, at the swirling colors that filled the canvases on every wall. Such energy radiated from his home, yet it stilled her soul.
“Easy answer, no?” he asked, scratching his neck with the end of his paintbrush.
“You’re very striking.”
“Ah, bad liar…again,” he laughed a bit wryly, glancing in her direction with what she could only characterize as a flirtatious look. Even with the prosthetic, she could recognize the undisguised message in his eyes.
“David Peyton!” she cried, sitting up on his sofa with a start. “I am so not a liar about that.”
“Striking?” he replied thoughtfully. “Compliment?”
“Of course it’s a compliment,” she teased huskily, easing back down into his thick pillows. “I can’t take my eyes off of you.”
“Both of us…then,” he coughed, shy with her once again. “You beautiful, blushing.”
With those words, she felt her entire face flame even hotter, and so she nestled back into her previous position. “I think I’ll just close my eyes,” she finally managed thickly.
“Sweet dreams, Liz.”
And with that benediction, she lost herself in his music, as Frank Sinatra spun a web around her thoughts, dizzying and romantic. Her very last notion was how relaxed she felt, as if she’d come home at long last, resting there on David’s sofa while he painted.
She was running, breathless and wild amidst tall red flowers. They nearly reached her thighs they grew so high, as she combed her fingertips along their velvet blooms. Laughter kept welling up from deep within her chest, and spilling forth like a babbling brook. Over and over, she giggled and felt someone chasing just behind.
“Lizzie!” her father called, and then she’d laugh again, a lilting free thing. Something she hadn’t known for such a long time.
“Catch me, daddy!” she cried, shuffling quickly through the mass of red waves.
“Careful, Lizzie!” he laughed, hurrying behind her. “Don’t leave the path.”
She squealed as he reached her, scooping her up into his large safe arms. “Daddy!”
“Got you, little girl.”
But then the scene morphed, shimmering like an image in a reflecting pool, radiating out in elliptical circles, shattering. Rearranging.
Suddenly, it was Max, breathless and reaching for her, as she ran through undulating waves of crimson. She wore a long, white sundress, flowing halfway down her calves. “Catch me,” she teased with a coquettish glance over her shoulder, as he pursued her through a mass of red flowers, ones she’d never seen before. Unearthly buds, glittering and rich all at once.
“Yes, my lady,” he answered, reaching her waist and spinning her right into his arms. “And so you’re caught, princess.”
“Queen, thank you very much,” she corrected breathlessly, as he slipped his hands around her back, drawing her flush against him.
“Oh, very soon, sweetheart.” He lowered her slowly in the field of flowers, so that she lay on her back, gazing up into his smoldering golden eyes as he dropped to the ground beside her. Above her spread a pinkish sky, familiar yet alien all at once. Along the far horizon, she glimpsed twin moons on the rise.
She cupped his cheek within her palm. “Is this real, Max?”
He blinked a moment, stroking the length of her hair with his fingers. “In my dreams, it’s always been real.”
“But I’m not awake, am I?”
“Oh,” she answered sadly as he nestled beside her in the field, propping himself on his elbow as he gazed down at her. He wore a strange outfit, leather pants and a linen shirt, loose and open, so that she glimpsed the sun-touched planes of his chest. She reached an innocent hand and slowly stroked the warm skin there.
“Dreams are perfect, aren’t they?” she whispered reverently.
“That’s what makes them our dreams,” he answered with a boyish grin, dimples flashing suddenly.
She glanced around them at the field of vibrant red flowers. “You painted this scene, didn’t you?”
“I saw the painting in your studio the other night.”
He stared at her in seeming confusion, long lashes fluttering seductively.
“Don’t even try it, Evans,” she warned with a devilish smile.
“What?” he cried with feigned innocence, raking his fingers through his hair.
“You know what your eyes do to my soul.”
He dipped his head low, capturing her mouth with a tender kiss. For a long moment, their lips lingered together, as Liz threaded her fingers through his dark hair, longish on his nape. “Ditto on the kisses,” she murmured finally against his cheek.
He laughed, such a gentle, rumbling sound as he leaned back to look at her. “I dreamed of this for so long. It was the only thing that kept me alive, just fantasizing about being in your arms like this.”
“Yes, on Antar.”
“But the dream started,” she hesitated, unsure. “Well, like a memory. And that’s what the painting seemed to be.”
“Your memory, yes…I saw it once. In a flash when we kissed.” He rolled onto his back then, gazing up at the quickly moving clouds, like something from a surreal painting. “Aren’t they amazing?” he asked, propping his head on his arm lazily. “How often I would see these clouds and imagine your reaction. What you would have made of them, of the moons here, the stars.”
Liz nestled her head close to his shoulder, and suddenly they were little more than children again, lying on their backs, gazing up at the sky together, dreaming.
“Beautiful,” she breathed, drawing his hand close against her cheek. “Absolutely beautiful.”
Liz fought the need to wake, just as she would grapple with an assailant, as a monotonous sound kept a steady, rhythmic pace within her dream. It was like the pounding of a drum, over and over, dull and repetitious. For a moment, she swore she heard voices crowding around, but that only caused her to settle more completely into the gauze of her dream-state. Maria…Michael…her parents. Their voices echoed in the corridors of her thick sleep. But she couldn’t be certain what they were saying. Isabel? Liz swore she heard her muffled voice, too.
Then it began again, insistent and loud, a rapping sound, and slowly Liz eased one eye open. The fuzzy world around her was disconcerting until she recognized the rhythmic sound as someone knocking on her front door.
Her room had filled with morning light, and as she rolled onto her side with a groan she saw that it was after eleven a.m. Michael, she thought, planting her feet stalwartly on the floor. Only Michael would show up and knock that loudly on a Sunday morning.
And that meant one thing. Coffee and scones, she thought with a slight hop of glee, as she unfastened her door lock.
Michael lay on her sofa, his head propped casually on a cushion. He’d deposited his socked feet in her lap, and now Liz rubbed them absently as they talked, massaging his soles just like he loved.
This was a ritual for them, one they’d fallen comfortably into for Sunday mornings over the past few years. Later they would prowl around the antique markets up on the expressway, though she rarely found anything valuable enough to cart home. Really, it was more about spending time together—that, and the great treasure hunt, which she’d been addicted to ever since discovering a rococo painting at a flea market senior year. That easy six thousand dollars from Sotheby’s had whetted her appetite for discovery like nothing sense ever had. So, now, Michael usually tagged along and kept her company.
“Tell me everything,” he urged, sounding suspiciously like a best girl friend, Liz thought with a laugh. He was referring to her date with David Peyton two nights before, and she refrained from clarifying that, in fact, she’d seen him twice now.
“What?” he cried with a defensive scowl.
“Tell me everything,” she mimicked playfully, rubbing his feet with affection. “You’re so funny, Michael.”
“It was a date, wasn’t it?” he demanded gruffly.
“Yes, Michael,” she acknowledged with a reluctant smile.
“All the more reason I should know everything. I’m hoping you hated him.”
She hesitated a moment, glancing down at his feet, then quietly admitted, “I didn’t.”
“Well, what was he like?” His voice sounded undeniably vulnerable, and Liz’s heart lurched.
“Michael, look,” she began, cradling his feet a little closer against her lap. “It’s no big deal.”
“It is a big deal, Liz,” he argued softly. “I know nothing’s going to happen between us now. I mean, I know that for sure after the other night. I just want you to be happy.”
“What does that have to do with David?”
“The way you’re reacting to him, Liz,” Michael sighed, brushing at his hair where it had fallen into his eyes. “It’s powerful.”
“He’s a very unusual guy, Michael,” she answered, ignoring the implication of his sentence. This wasn’t territory she cared to explore with Michael, at least not yet, not when she knew how raw his emotions must still be from their discussion the other night.
“He wears a facial prosthetic.”
Michael frowned, his dark eyebrows knitting together. “What the hell does that mean?”
“It’s…it’s like a mask,” she answered, feeling undeniably protective of David. “I think he’s…well that his face is badly disfigured from whatever happened. I mean, you saw that he uses a cane.”
“Damn, Liz, this guy just gets weirder and weirder.”
“He’s not weird, Michael,” she argued defensively. “I mean, it’s hard to explain, but he’s just incredibly…gentle. Funny, even. Talented. So many different things all at once.”
She glanced at Michael, and his mouth had fallen slightly open in surprise. “What?” she asked.
“You’re falling in love with this guy,” he pronounced quietly, his brown eyes wide with disbelief.
“Oh, I am not,” she argued with a roll of her eyes. “I hardly know him.”
He shook his head slowly, just studying her from where he lay on the sofa. “You and Max hardly knew one another in the beginning.”
“This isn’t the same,” she disagreed, taking a sip of coffee, as she avoided his astute gaze.
“It’s never the same,” Michael said with a frustrated sigh. “David Peyton is getting to you, Liz.”
“I’m just not even going to comment on all this,” she huffed, reaching into the brown bag for her blueberry scone.
“Fine,” she sniffed.
“So what did he think about me going to New York with you?” he pressed suddenly. “Your best friend, who just so happens to be a guy?”
She narrowed her eyes at him in the closest approximation of a withering glare that she could manage. Yet, he only began laughing uncontrollably in reply.
“Yeah, that’s what I figured,” he snorted. “He was jealous as hell.”
“Thanks for the science lesson,” Liz snapped, shoving his feet out of her lap.
“At least it explains another mystery that’s been plaguing me,” Michael reflected, sitting up on the sofa as he reached for his coffee.
“And that would be?”
“The flashes I got from you during that stupid kiss.” Liz cringed because as badly as their kiss had ended, she never wanted him to think of it as stupid. Oddly, even with all its awkwardness and impossibility, it had been incredibly sweet to her, a treasured memory.
“Michael, the kiss wasn’t stupid.”
He ignored her, and instead explained. “I saw Max when we kissed, Liz, like you did. But that wasn’t all.”
“What else?” she asked, her voice wavering uncertainly. What could Michael have possibly glimpsed in that brief intimacy?
“You were in your room sleeping and someone had come to your bedside.”
“I thought it was Future Max or something…the long dark hair and all. Except now I get it,” he reflected, almost as if thinking out loud. “The guy didn’t have a face…at least not one I could see.”
“It was just kind of…blank,” he nodded. “Like some kind of mask.”
“You saw David Peyton inside my mind,” she whispered in awe.
“No, Liz, not inside your mind,” he disagreed gently. “Inside your soul.”
Liz shivered, because that meant that somehow, shy, elusive David Peyton had already entered that inner sanctuary, the one she’d reserved for no one else but Max—and before they’d even met or touched.
Apparently, she was in far more emotional jeopardy than she’d even guessed.
|posted on 10-Feb-2002 2:13:36 PM|
|You know what? There are some MARVELOUS SPECS going on here!!! And I think what I will do is when I get past the next part and can actually give little "rewards" to those who guessed well, I will do just that!! HEE HEE! Go back and cut and paste some of the specs that came closest to the truth.|
Meanwhile, I'm working on part 14, which will be very pivotal. :-)
|posted on 11-Feb-2002 1:40:00 AM|
Well, at last I’m providing a few answers, huh? This part should really do that. Kath likes to call the whole fic a mindwarp, and in a way, the mindwarp becomes clear here. LOL!
Enjoy…and thank you for the amazing fb!
THE DREAM, by John Donne
DEAR love, for nothing less than thee
Would I have broke this happy dream ;
It was a theme
For reason, much too strong for fantasy.
Therefore thou waked'st me wisely ; yet
My dream thou brokest not, but continued'st it.
Thou art so true that thoughts of thee suffice
To make dreams truths, and fables histories;
Enter these arms, for since thou thought'st it best,
Not to dream all my dream, let's act the rest.
As lightning, or a taper's light,
Thine eyes, and not thy noise waked me ;
Yet I thought thee
—For thou lovest truth—an angel, at first sight ;
But when I saw thou saw'st my heart,
And knew'st my thoughts beyond an angel's art,
When thou knew'st what I dreamt, when thou knew'st when
Excess of joy would wake me, and camest then,
I must confess, it could not choose but be
Profane, to think thee any thing but thee.
Coming and staying show'd thee, thee,
But rising makes me doubt, that now
Thou art not thou.
That love is weak where fear's as strong as he;
'Tis not all spirit, pure and brave,
If mixture it of fear, shame, honour have ;
Perchance as torches, which must ready be,
Men light and put out, so thou deal'st with me ;
Thou camest to kindle, go'st to come ; then I
Will dream that hope again, but else would die.
New York enveloped Liz’s senses. It was easy to forget how visceral this city was, how the smells of coffee and pastries wafted out of cafés, then blended with exhaust fumes of a passing bus. Santa Fe was such a fresh city, the air so exhilarating, yet Liz wouldn’t have replaced the particular aromas of New York for anything—she was addicted to them.
The staccato sounds of sirens and horns, wailing even long into the night brought her to life, caused her blood to flow a little bit quicker. She’d forgotten that. But now, as she worked hard to keep pace with Michael’s long strides down Lexington Avenue, she took long drafts of air and smiled. And remembered that this was her city.
“Michael, slow down a little,” she asked, reaching her hand into the crook of his arm. He stared down at her in surprise, completely unaware that he’d nearly left her behind in the midst of the passing throngs.
“Sorry,” he mumbled. He always did that when they were in the city. His pace would increase, grow a little brisker, and she’d nearly have to chase after him. Which was fine at first, until her feet began to grow tired.
He broke into a smile, and she tucked her hand neatly through his, as they began a slower walk. “I just want to drink it all in for a minute,” she explained and he nodded, squinting as he glanced up at the leaden sky.
“It’s gonna snow,” he pronounced, as they side-stepped, allowing a pair of businessmen to pass them.
“It won’t stick, though.”
“Nope, the guy at the front desk said three inches this afternoon.”
They stepped under a large scaffolding, then came to the familiar revolving door of their hotel, the one where Liz always stayed right on Lexington.
Her throat tightened nervously, as she released Michael’s arm and prayed that he wouldn’t be angry with her, as he disappeared within the moving door. Liz followed, and as soon as she emerged on the other side, her gaze fell right on Maria, standing in the middle of the lobby.
Michael hadn’t glimpsed her yet, though Maria had clearly seen him, her eyes filling with indescribable emotion as she just stared at him. In fact, Liz had to smile, because Maria had yet to even notice her, she was so captivated by Michael’s appearance in the lobby.
After all, two years was a very long time when you still loved someone.
And Michael stopped right in his tracks, murmuring, “Oh, shit,” under his breath.
Liz glanced at him, and for a moment, her heart lurched with sympathy because his brown eyes were panicked, filled with sudden anxiety. Liz actually worried that he might spin on his heel and leave the hotel without another word.
“Some way to greet a girl there, Guerin,” Maria laughed and scooped Liz into a tight hug, exclaiming, “Sweetie!” She squeezed Liz within her arms for a long moment and Liz felt tears sting her eyes, as Maria’s familiar scent washed over her, sending her catapulting back through time, through decades even.
“So you managed to bring the old lug along,” Maria teased, releasing her as she stepped toward Michael, who had only slightly managed to regain his composure.
For a moment, they stood and simply stared at one another, until Michael took a tentative step toward Maria, embracing her loosely within his arms.
“Didn’t expect me, huh?” she teased him, looping her arms around his neck.
“Liz promised I wouldn’t.”
“Now, that’s not entirely true,” Liz laughed and Maria rolled her eyes.
“Actually, I’m sure it is,” Maria laughed, as her gaze moved down the length of Liz’s new suit. She whistled appreciatively. “Looking hot, babe!” she declared, and Liz glowed beneath her approval. Maria’s fashion sense had become impeccable after so many years in New York, and Liz sometimes felt small town next to her, despite the sophisticated circles she moved in back in Santa Fe.
“You look great, too, Maria,” Liz assessed, prompting Michael with a pointed stare. “Doesn’t she, Michael?”
“Sure…great,” he mumbled in a daze, and for the first time, Liz noticed that he was blushing as they stepped toward the restaurant.
“Yeah, well she’s fallen in love with the Phantom of the Opera,” Michael grumbled, picking at his salad with his fork.
“The musical?” Maria asked, frowning in confusion.
“The guy,” Michael explained, glancing up at Maria. “He lives in Santa Fe, disguised as some painter.”
“You sound really happy about it, too,” Maria observed, raising an eyebrow wryly.
“He’s not the Phantom of the Opera,” Liz snapped, cutting her eyes at Michael. She didn’t understand why he’d fallen into his worst, most disagreeable behavior while Maria was with them.
“Tell me about him,” Maria encouraged, sipping from her ice water delicately. Liz smiled, because for some reason Maria suddenly seemed incredibly beautiful to her, more than she remembered. Maria glanced up and caught her staring. “What?” she laughed self-consciously.
“You’re so beautiful, Maria,” Liz answered with a warm smile. “I forget that sometimes when we’re apart. You just look wonderful.”
Maria reached across the table, covering her hand with her own. “I’ve missed you too, Lizzie.”
Liz’s throat tightened, because it suddenly seemed like such a very long time since she’d even seen Maria, as if she might never see her again, for that matter.
“So are you going to tell me about this painter or what?” Maria laughed, glancing at Michael for encouragement.
Michael only shrugged. “Don’t look at me.”
“Well, his name is David Peyton and he’s really amazing. Just so talented and…” Liz thought a moment as to how she might possibly describe him. “Well, like a beautiful riddle. I don’t know if that makes sense at all.”
“I’ll put it more bluntly,” Michael offered irritably, finally looking up at Maria. “He leaves paintings on her doorstep in the middle of the night, is handicapped and wears a strange kind of mask to hide his face.”
Liz thought she might actually hit Michael, such fury welled within her. She turned to him, seething. “Thank you, Michael.”
Liz rolled her eyes and turned back to Maria who was staring at her in confused sympathy. “Michael is only being an asshole because I’m here, Liz. You can save all the details until we send him packing.”
“Yeah, not a bad idea,” Michael agreed sourly.
“Then go!” Liz cried, swatting him hard on the arm. “God, why are you doing this? I know you wanted to see Maria,” Liz blurted angrily. “She’s going to think you’re always a total jerk.”
“No, Liz, Maria knows I’m always a jerk,” he said, tossing his white linen napkin on the table, and pushing his chair back. “Just ask her.”
“Only when I’m around, Guerin,” Maria disagreed.
Liz planted her elbows on the table, groaning into her hands. “Please, I just wanted to be with my two best friends. I just wanted a happy little reunion. Is that too much to ask?”
“Apparently,” Maria observed, tossing her long blonde hair over her shoulder.
“What happened with you guys?” Liz asked suddenly, glancing up at Maria. “I am sick of all this and I want to know what went wrong between the two of you.”
Silence fell over the table instantly, as Michael shifted uncomfortably in his chair, still ready to leave, though hesitating now, as the question hung unanswered in the air.
“Well?” Liz prompted again, glancing between them both. Maria sighed heavily, folding her napkin with care and laying it on the table.
“He never told you?”
“No, Maria, neither of you ever told me what happened when you came to Santa Fe,” Liz answered in frustration. “And it’s time you did.”
“She asked me to marry her,” Michael answered simply, gazing at Maria with infinite sadness in his brown eyes. “To have a baby with her.”
Liz swallowed hard in disbelief, as the two of them just gazed at one another, yet clearly communicated so much in the melancholy silence. “I’m sorry?” Liz finally managed to ask, not certain she’d truly heard Michael correctly.
“You heard him,” Maria answered, still staring at Michael.
“I said no,” he explained softly, brushing his hair away from his face.
Maria laughed sardonically, finally looking down at her plate. “Not quite that elegantly, I might add. It went more like, ‘why the hell would I do that?’”
“Why the hell would I have done that?” Michael cried, his voice rising a bit too loudly for the restaurant.
“Because you loved me, you moron,” Maria snapped, her eyes filling with tears. “You had just told me that, remember?”
“Maria, I never knew any of this,” Liz half-whispered, reaching for her hand.
“Yeah, well the details were just a little too mortifying to share,” Maria sighed quietly, staring into her plate. “As you might imagine.”
Michael leaned close across the table, his eyes trained intently on Maria. “I don’t even know if I can have children, Maria,” he whispered, glancing around them nervously, as he leaned closer toward her. “Especially not the kind you want,” he added softly, his face drawing into a painful expression of regret. “Why should I have lied about that?”
“I knew the risks, Michael…of who you are. What you are. I only wanted to try,” Maria whispered, tears now welling in her eyes. “And not with just anybody. With you.”
Michael leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest. “You only wanted me here, playing the whole New York game.”
“That’s not true,” Maria disagreed thickly, taking a long drink of water. “And you know it, Michael.”
“Whatever,” he grumbled, glancing around for some kind of escape. Yet he remained in his chair, and Liz realized that at least that was a good sign.
“Oh, you know what?” Liz interrupted suddenly, glancing at her watch in dramatic exaggeration. “I totally forgot a meeting I have downtown in just a bit.”
“Liz,” Maria begged her with her eyes. “Don’t go.”
“No, really, I’m serious,” she explained, pushing back from the table and slowly rising to her feet. “I forgot it completely!” She laughed nervously, brushing her hair from her eyes, as Michael gazed up at her in wide-eyed panic. “I’ll be back in about three hours,” she explained and leaned low to kiss him on the cheek. “Don’t run,” she urged in a whisper, quietly enough that Maria wouldn’t hear. “Stay and work it out with her.”
Then, she moved toward Maria, and drew her into a warm hug. “Now, you, my dear, I intend to see again tonight for drinks at the Monkey Bar, okay?”
Maria wiped at her eyes, still damp with tears and nodded, kissing her on the cheek. “Six o’clock.”
“See you then,” Liz agreed, stepping quickly away from them with a triumphant smile on her face. Even if it had been painful, she was certain they’d just made progress for the first time in two years.
Liz marveled that a light dusting of snow had already accumulated along the sidewalks of Manhattan during their brief lunch. It made walking in her boots a slippery proposition, and several times Liz skidded along the pavement awkwardly. The snow swirled earthbound in thick clumps, blowing into Liz’s eyes and blinding her slightly, and she wished that she’d brought an umbrella as so many of the other business people hurrying briskly past her had done.
The truth was, she didn’t have any other meetings booked for the afternoon—she’d blocked out the time for spending with Maria and Michael, and had figured she’d just go shopping if the reunion failed miserably. Liz smiled to herself, drawing the coat close around her shoulders for warmth, and thought that oddly enough, leaving them alone had actually been the right thing. Even though they hadn’t realized it, Liz was convinced they had finally reached some kind of breakthrough during that brief lunch.
Liz stopped a moment, staring into a gift shop window, and found herself immediately thinking of David, what silly trinket she might tote home for him. He’d shadowed her thoughts constantly, long before she’d even left Santa Fe. They’d exchanged a few e-mails already, each of his missives leaving her even giddier than the last. One thing she could easily say of David Peyton—a poet’s heart beat in his chest, such that every one of his short letters were imbued with romantic promise, leaving her flushed and aroused.
Liz shivered slightly, and not from the whipping wind, as she came upon Times Square. She stared at the intersection where Broadway and Seventh met, wondering where she’d continue ambling. Suddenly, the thought of a glass of wine at the Marriott sounded warm and appealing, and she glanced quickly at the light as it changed, stepping into the slippery street.
Before she could blink, or even process the moment, she was hurled violently into the air, her briefcase catapulting out of her hand. That was the last thing she remembered noticing—the way her papers cascaded through the wind like scattered dust, mixing with the snow that fell all around—as she sprawled painfully onto the hood of a taxi.
She couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. She could only lie mutely on her back, staring up at the sky, white with swirling snow. Her head had slammed against the glass window with an inhuman crack, shattering the glass windshield she was sure. But why couldn’t she seem to move a muscle?
The moment seemed endless, as she lay staring heavenward, her thoughts tracking back far into the past. A quick rush of images flashed in her mind, punctuated repeatedly by Max leaning over her dying body in the Crashdown. You have to look at me…you have to look at me…you have to look at me.
She heard voices all around, shouts and cries, some familiar as her own heartbeat, others foreign and unknown. She heard the taxi driver’s shrill cries, was aware of how he waved his arms wildly at his sides. Yet she remained paralyzed and immobile.
Until Max appeared, pressing through the gathered crowd with determination.
“Max,” she managed to murmur, though her jaw ached terribly, causing her to slur his name. She thought of David then, of the pain he constantly lived with.
“I’m here, Liz,” Max reassured her, climbing carefully up onto the roof of the taxi with her. “I’m here, sweetheart.”
She nodded painfully, as he cupped her face within his palms. “You’re okay, Liz. I’m here.” He kept repeating those words, his voice soothing the fear she hadn’t even realized was crowding her thoughts.
“Help,” was all she could manage to choke out, as their eyes locked.
“Just look at me, Liz,” he reminded her gently. “Just like before. Look at me.”
He slipped a warm palm beneath her sweater, placing it squarely over her heart, as he cradled the back of her head with his other hand. Vaguely, as if through a dense fog, she wondered how he could be so bold, so utterly unconcerned with the crowd gathered around.
“Careful,” she murmured thickly, feeling as if her mouth were filled with cotton.
“It’s okay, Liz, they’re not even really here.”
She nodded mutely again, wondering why his words made such perfect sense, as she felt a burning sensation erupt through her chest. “I’m healing you, though, Liz. Just accept that.”
And she felt his energy surge through her whole body then, her head, her chest. It powered down to her toes even, causing her to shake. “How?” she whispered hoarsely, as he pressed a light kiss against her temple.
“Through your dream, Liz,” he explained, stroking her hair out of her eyes. His strength began emanating through her body then, and she trembled against him, as he eased her slowly upright.
“Better?” he asked softly, his palm still so warm against her chest, his fingers lightly grazing the material of her bra as he slowly removed his hand.
She nodded, just staring at him. “What happened, Max?” she asked in thick confusion. Around them on the sidewalk, a crowd was gathered, yet no one attempted to talk to her.
“Come with me,” he urged, clasping her hand in his warm one, guiding her away from the scene. “Ignore them and come with me.”
He led her silently through the snow, a soft blanket along the sidewalks now, as he kept guiding her quietly away from the scene. “Max?”
“Just follow me,” he repeated again, glancing at her over his shoulder with a reassuring smile. Max had always felt so safe, just like this, she thought as he tugged her down streets until they came upon Rockefeller Center.
“I wanted you to see this again,” he smiled broadly, as the ice-skating rink appeared below them, dozens of skaters reveling in the wintry snowfall. “While we talked.” He leaned against the railing, staring into the icy world down below them.
“About what, Max?” Liz asked, turning to him in surprise. For some reason, their entire odyssey made a bizarre kind of sense. The accident with the taxi, his healing her, and now winding up here at the skating rink again.
“You, Liz,” he answered softly, drawing her gloved hand into his own. “Your life.” He squeezed her hand tightly, and as she gazed up at him, his golden eyes flaring with raw emotion.
“This is it, Liz,” he explained with surprising firmness. “Where it all ends, sweetheart.”
“Where what ends?” she asked, wrinkling her nose in confusion.
“You have to wake up now.”
“No,” she disagreed huskily, glancing around them. “No, I don’t, Max.”
“You’re dying, Liz. If your heart stops again, they won’t revive you.”
“What?” she cried in confusion, but was only met by his warm, amber eyes, filled with undeniable compassion.
“Liz you’ve been asleep for thirty eight days, and it’s almost too late.”
“God, Max, you’re crazy!” she started laughing, rubbing his hands between her own gloved ones. “I have not.”
“Liz, you don’t understand,” he pressed gently, but his gaze remained intent and serious. “You’re in a coma. You were hit by a taxi thirty eight days ago…and you’re not waking up.”
“No, see, that’s just wrong, Max,” she laughed awkwardly, glancing all around them in an effort to understand. “I’ve had some dreams about you lately, but that’s it.”
“You’re not waking up because you won’t let go of me,” he continued. “You have got to let go and live.”
She shook her head forcefully, thinking of Future Max for some reason. Of all that he’d once asked her to sacrifice. “I won’t do it,” she announced. Because suddenly she did understand, knew that she’d had him again all these weeks in the midst of such vivid dreams. “I won’t give you up.”
“I’m dead, Liz,” he whispered, cupping her face within his hands. “This version of me died eight years ago. You’ve always known it.”
Tears blurred her vision. “What are you trying to do to me, Max?” Her heart lurched with incredible pain.
“Help you let go. It’s what I’ve been trying to do the whole time.”
“I can’t,” she disagreed, shaking her head firmly. “I won’t.”
“Liz if you don’t choose to live, you will die in this hospital,” he said intently, drawing her face close to his. “You will die, and I’ll never have you again.”
“But you’re already dead, you just said so yourself,” she offered brightly. “So we can be together if I die!”
He shook his head slowly, just running his hand down the length of her hair. “Liz, this version of me is gone, long gone. Same as the beautiful seventeen-year old girl is, the one I used to just stare at for hours on end in the Crashdown. We're different people now and we can never go back.”
“What are you saying, Max?” she cried, beginning to sob, as he pulled her close within his leather-clad arms. “Tell me.”
“Your heart has known all along, Liz,” he explained gently. “Now your mind is finally starting to figure it out.” He pressed something into her hand then, and only when she glanced down at it, did she recognize it. David Peyton’s prosthetic.
Liz stared down at it, clutching it tightly within her fingers. “If I wake up, I’ll lose you.”
“You’ll find me,” he countered fiercely. “I’m waiting for you back in Santa Fe. That version of me needs you so much more than this one ever did…needs your love, your healing. God, your very touch, Liz. Only you can give him that.”
“I love him, too, but,” she reached deep within her lungs, dredging for any breath at all.
“You haven’t let go of our past.”
She nodded hard, burying her face against the cool leather of his jacket, feeling his heart’s keen rhythm against her cheek. “I love him so much, Max. Already.”
“Then all you have to do is wake up.”
“Does David know? Who he is?”
“Yes,” he nodded, stroking her hair, soothing her just as sweetly as he ever had. “But he doesn’t remember everything.”
“What they did to him,” he paused a moment, then corrected himself. “To me, Liz, it’s going to be very difficult for him to speak about. There are places in his mind that aren’t quite as clear as others, memories that are missing or damaged. But he knows exactly who you are, precisely what you mean to him.”
“Then why did he hide from me?” she cried. “Why didn’t you just tell me, Max?”
He stepped back then, stroking her cheek slowly beneath his thumb, like David had the last night she’d seen him. “Did any of these things actually happen, Max? Have I even met him? The paintings, were they real?”
“It all happened before you came to New York,” he nodded. “And you’ve been trying to figure it out ever since. In your dreams.”
He stepped further away from her then, so young and handsome, like a lost fragment of her childhood, fading away. “Don’t go,” she choked again.
“Open your eyes, Liz,” he encouraged softly. “You’ve got to live.”
“I need to know why David hid from me,” she pressed again, as Max stepped further from her, leaving her standing there by herself. “Please, Max.”
He turned from her then, with a melancholy smile, and mouthed the words, “I love you.”
“Max!” she cried, clutching her chest, as he walked away. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t feel anything but tightness in her lungs and throat. But then he turned back to face her again, his long hair falling to his shoulders, and he moved much more slowly.
His face was disfigured, just as he’d told her, marred by countless jagged, angry scars. His left eye was half-closed and his jaw was misshapen and swollen. Yet, he was still her Max, beautiful in a strange, haunting way, as he walked carefully toward her, every halting step punctuated by his cane.
“Why didn’t you just tell me?” she murmured again, wiping at her tears, as he drew near.
“Unworthy,” he explained slowly, in the familiar broken syntax of David Peyton. “Felt…so unworthy.”
“Of what, David?” she asked, even though she knew he was Max now.
“You, Liz,” he said, reaching the place where she stood. “Your…love.”
“How could you have ever been unworthy of my love?” she cried, reaching to touch his scarred cheek.
“Broken,” he answered simply, staring down at the ground. “This…me, Liz.”
She lunged at him, not caring how forcefully she dragged him into her arms. “I love you, Max. You know that.”
He kissed the top of her head very gently, shyly even. “But…this?” he asked quietly, the words slurring as they had with the mask on.
“Any way that you’d come to me, in my dreams even,” she cried, holding him closer than life itself. “I love you,” she murmured against his chest again.
“But,” he sighed softly, folding his arms close around her back, pulling her tight against himself. “Left…you.”
“To save me,” she countered, and he pulled back to look at her, his eyes widening in surprise. “I’ve always known that, Max.”
Tears filled his amber eyes then, and he just nodded, averting his gaze from her. “Look at me,” she whispered, cupping his scarred face within her palms, and slowly turning it until their eyes met. “You’re beautiful, Max.”
“No,” he disagreed, shaking his head, then a slow smile spread across his unusual features, so that even his dimples appeared. “Striking,” he whispered, reminding her of how she’d described him back in Santa Fe. “Beautiful, you.”
“You’re really waiting for me?” she exclaimed in sudden excitement “Back home?”
“So worried,” he explained quietly. “Afraid…lose you.”
“What do I need to do, Max?” she asked, feeling her heart thunder in eager anticipation. “Just tell me.”
“Easy,” he whispered, stroking the length of her hair lovingly. “Open…”
“My eyes,” she finished, and he nodded in agreement.
And just like that, she did.
The cold wind gave way to warm sheets. The feel of Max’s arms dissolved to the touch of Michael’s worried hand on her arm. The sounds of laughter and traffic morphed into the pulsing drone of her monitors, as slowly her eyes fluttered open.
She could only squint for a moment, couldn’t move at all, as she gazed around the room. Michael sat beside the bed, reading a magazine, yet his warm hand rested right on her arm. Beside him, Maria was sleeping, her head propped on Michael’s shoulder. Liz blinked repeatedly at the bright lights, just listening to the strange repetitive noises in the room, one in particular that kept making a light suctioning sound.
Michael glanced up at her from his magazine suddenly, though she was certain she hadn’t moved at all. His brown eyes grew wide with surprise, as he stared at her wordlessly. She blinked a few times, and he remained silent, just stroking her arm beneath his hand, as tears filled his eyes. The moment was a stolen secret between the two of them, stretching like eternity, his gaze just locked with her own.
It was as it had been between them on that sun-parched day long ago, when he’d emerged from the chamber without Max, and met her expectant gaze. Only this moment was an inverse image of the other, because instead of bringing death, it promised life. Rather than signifying their loss of Max, she returned with him held delicately in her heart.
Quite simply, she’d come back from the dead, bringing Max along with her.
And even though the details of her dreams were already growing dim, like the desert sky after the sun has set, of one thing she remained certain. David Peyton was her beloved soul mate, come home to her at last.
That was the last thought she had, as she drifted soundlessly back to sleep, hearing Michael cry, “Get the nurse!”
[ edited 5 time(s), last at 11-Feb-2002 12:10:26 PM ]
|posted on 12-Feb-2002 12:05:30 PM|
You guys have made my week. Not that I'm happy I made you cry, mind you, but it means the story has impacted you and that's exciting. Ah, heck, I'm happy I made you cry. But only because that means you entered the world I wove and believed in it like I do. Thank you for that!
Several people are asking how long the story will be, and FYI, I anticipate about three or four more chapters. PRobably three and an epilogue. So that's where we are!
Enjoy Roswell Tuesday.
hugs to all, d
|posted on 17-Feb-2002 9:45:42 AM|
You are so sweet to bump this fic!!! Really inspires me! I am hard at work on the next chapter and hope to post late tonight. We'll have to see b/c it's giving me some trouble so far. But I think probably I'll have something up by late!! THanks for all the wonderful compliments on the story and glad you guys love it!
|posted on 17-Feb-2002 7:46:37 PM|
|Author's Note: Well, I'm earlier than I expected! So, hopefully that means I can get another part up by Tuesday night. |
This one will provide yet a few more answers. ENJOY! (Michelle, that bump was timely!)
Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.
If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two:
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do.
And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.
Such wilt thou be to me, who must
Like the other foot, obliquely run:
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.
From John Donne’s A VALEDICTION: FORBIDDING MOURNING
Apparently, it was April. Or so Michael had explained when she finally woke with some degree of clarity.
She’d gazed around the hospital room again, studying the strange machines that pulsated rhythmically around her, some trailing tubes into her throat and nose, even her wrists. More time had obviously passed, casting a shroud of darkness over her room, yet Michael still remained by her side, appearing haggard and tired. He’d pulled his disheveled hair back into the familiar bandana, and his eyes were shadowed by exhaustion.
Her entire body throbbed with pain, emanating most strongly from the back of her, but then radiating through her extremities like her wrist and ankle—ending in her jaw and ribs.
She’d tried talking almost immediately after waking again, only to find something thick lodged painfully in her throat. Michael had taken her hand within his own clammy one, and gently stroked her hair, explaining that she was still on a respirator, a breathing tube inserted down her throat. She’d nodded in slow understanding, glimpsing undeniable pain in his brown eyes as he studied her.
What’s wrong? She formed soundlessly in her mind, aching just to talk to him. But then the look quickly disappeared from his features, leaving her with the impression that he suffered to see her like this. But she also had the sense that there was much she didn’t know about the past thirty-eight days.
If your heart stops again, they won’t revive you, she heard whisper through her mind. Max had said that, in her dream. But at the time she hadn’t thought of the implications as she did now, blearily studying Michael’s worn expression as he continued softly stroking her hair.
“Liz, we’ve all been so worried about you,” he explained quietly. “Everyone’s been here. Maria, me…your parents.”
She raised her eyebrows in question, glancing around the room meaningfully and he rushed to explain. “Went back to Roswell last night. Just for a couple of days to see to some business stuff…they’re killing themselves that they weren’t here when you woke. Neither one of them has left until now, Liz.”
She nodded wordlessly, her throat aching with tight dryness. Lightly, she reached a weak hand to indicate her throat, glancing at him in question. “The respirator is off,” Michael explained. “But they didn’t want to remove the tube yet. Not until…” he paused, casting his gaze downward momentarily. “Well, until they were sure you were breathing well on your own.”
Again, she nodded, suddenly heavy with exhaustion. She closed her eyes, her thoughts drifting to David, secure at the mere thought of his gentle presence, as surreal images from his paintings floated through her mind. Red flowers surrounding her, knee-high and glorious. Then Max, lying on his side, innocent and seductive all at once, as a starched linen shirt fell open, revealing his smooth chest.
The two of them together, lying on their backs and staring up at the Antarian Sky, at a glorious pair of twin moons on the horizon.
What had David thought of her prolonged absence all these weeks? Had he believed that she was simply ignoring his emails, she wondered with a start, her eyes fluttering open again.
Because chasing quickly on the heels of that thought was another. David Peyton was Max. In the thick gauze of sleep, she’d forgotten that newly discovered fact.
She glanced quickly at Michael, feeling panicked. “What, Liz?” he asked, concern etching his features. “What’s wrong?”
Her eyes darted around the room, seeking some way to communicate, as she tugged slightly on the tube that half-choked her. Michael’s hand immediately clasped hers, stopping her reflexive action.
“Liz, don’t,” he urged her, his voice still so surprisingly gentle. “It has to stay in.” She sank further into her bed, wishing he could know her unspoken thoughts, when suddenly he reached beside the bed, retrieving a pencil and paper.
“Can you write it?” he offered, and she nodded, taking the pencil within her weakened fingers. Just holding the instrument was difficult enough, and manipulating it from her reclining position proved even tougher. She raised the pad to eye-level, desperate to scribble her question. She managed to scrawl “David” with a question mark after; though she wasn’t sure how legible his name appeared.
She handed the paper to Michael, flinching as sharp pain shot through her shoulder like fire. She lifted her fingers, rubbing her tender shoulder and was surprised to find it bandaged tightly.
“Broken collarbone,” Michael explained. “That and one badly bruised jaw, two broken ribs, a sprained wrist, and one hell of a concussion,” he cataloged methodically, then glanced down at the paper, drawing his eyebrows together in confusion. She blinked in silent understanding, but had the distinct feeling he was withholding additional information about her injuries.
He continued to study the paper in his hands, chewing his lip. “I can’t read this, Liz,” he finally admitted. “I’m sorry.”
She closed her eyes in exhaustion. All she wanted to know was whether he’d heard from “David”, though she imagined not—which meant he remained in Santa Fe, undoubtedly convinced that she’d decided his physical appearance bothered her too much to continue their nascent relationship. For how else could he account for what was most likely a series of unanswered emails now.
Liz’s chest tightened painfully. She would never have wanted to hurt him, not even when she’d thought of him as her mysterious David Peyton—and now that she knew he was Max, that idea pained her far worse.
She stared at Michael in frustration, and again he stroked her hair slowly beneath his fingertips. “Liz, we’ve got plenty of time to talk about everything.”
She nodded, and then an idea formed within her mind. She gestured toward her face, making a sweeping motion across her features with her hand, and prayed he’d understand that she indicated a mask.
His brown eyes widened, as he glanced again at the paper. “David,” he finally deciphered in understanding and she nodded.
Michael tugged nervously on his bandana, leaning back into his chair with a soft sigh. “Liz, he knows about your accident,” he explained. “He…called me in Santa Fe and left a message,” he began, drawing his eyebrows sharply together in a familiar expression of regret. “I…well, Liz, I owe you an apology about him. I was really wrong.”
Liz smiled wanly, her whole body warming at the notion that Michael had no idea just how wrong he’d been--that his other best friend would soon be restored to him. That thought was especially touching as she observed how he shifted awkwardly in his seat, clearly feeling guilty for all his past derogatory remarks about David Peyton.
“I think he loves you, Liz,” he blurted finally. “That’s the only way I know to explain how I felt when he called. In fact, he calls here everyday, something that’s obviously very difficult for him with his…well, with his speech problem.” Michael averted his eyes, and Liz imagined the first conversation between Michael and “David,” and how it might have gone.
I…call…Liz, she heard in her mind, imagining how strange his slurring and broken syntax must have sounded to Michael in the beginning. If only he knew the truth.
“He found out about your accident from the newspaper, and called me at home. Left a message on my voice mail. I guess you’d mentioned my name or something.” Liz nodded in agreement, keenly aware of precisely how he’d remembered Michael’s name so easily. “Yeah, well, he was definitely worried, Liz. Like I said, I think he really does care about you. I phoned him earlier today and let him know you’d come out of the coma.”
Liz closed her eyes, remembering Max’s dream words to her. So afraid…lose you. He’d been waiting for her back in Santa Fe all these weeks, probably too intimidated to come to her in New York, or perhaps not feeling it was appropriate. Yet, loving her enough that he’d risked contacting Michael as he had.
“What about David?” Michael asked, leaning close over her bed. They’d extubated her earlier in the morning, but her throat was so raw and tight, she could only whisper breathily in his ear.
“David…is…Max,” she repeated with great exertion, feeling his long hair fan against her cheek. Michael leaned back, studying her in confusion, and she fought to keep her eyes open. For days now, she’d drifted in and out of consciousness, her thoughts remaining on the border of some netherworld existence.
“David is Max,” he finally repeated, rubbing his eyes in exhaustion. “What?” he asked, frowning in confusion.
She motioned him close again, and he leaned low over her bed. She reached a hand and cupped his scratchy cheek within her palm. “I…love you, Michael,” she whispered quietly, needing him to know her heart before she continued. The past weeks had vividly taught her that every moment in life was precious, fleeting.
“Liz,” he soothed softly, stroking her cheek. “I know that… and I love you, too. Tell me again,” he continued. “I’m trying to understand.”
“I…know.” For a moment, she thought of Max, of how difficult it was for him to express himself, and understood how trapped he must feel at times like this, when he burned to say something.
“David Peyton is Max,” she repeated on a breath. “They’re the same person, Michael.”
“Liz, you’ve been asleep a long time,” he began, leaning away from her. He thinks my mind is just muddled, she realized hopelessly, her eyes suddenly heavy again.
“Michael, ask him,” she begged with all the energy she could summon. “Please just ask…”
And then sleep enveloped her once again, leading her toward her beloved.
They were lying in the field of flowers again, lush crimson blooms surrounding them in every direction. Max propped lazily on his elbow, staring down into her eyes with what could only be described as a princely mien. The unusual Antarian sunlight caught his eyes differently than the Earth’s sun ever had, flecking the gold seductively, making his depths shimmer and change by the moment.
“You’re beautiful,” she whispered, reaching a hand to trace his jawline, and he dropped his gaze immediately. “How could I have forgotten just how this feels?” she wondered aloud.
“Did you forget?” he asked, his voice suddenly low and husky.
“No,” she admitted, allowing her fingers to explore the left side of his face. “Never did I forget. I think that was the problem.”
“And now?” he asked, his eyes growing suddenly doubtful. “Are you frightened of me?”
“I could never be afraid of you, Max.”
“What about how I’ll look,” he offered, lowering his lips to her forehead, sealing it with a warm kiss that caused her to shiver. “Don’t you worry it might be…shocking?”
“Show me,” she encouraged, stroking the hair along the nape of his neck, as he nuzzled his mouth low against her collarbone.
“Is this where it hurts?” he asked, his lips lingering along the place where her bone had been shattered.
“Yes,” she managed, suddenly aware that something was changing between them, something physical.
“Let me heal it,” he urged, tracing his fingertips along the base of her throat, then delicately outlining her fractured bones. Instantly, she felt the injury repair beneath his loving touch. She sighed, settling back into the grass.
“I still want you to show me,” she encouraged, as he pulled back to stare into her eyes. His face remained perfect, his skin smooth and gilded by the setting sun.
“You’ve already seen the worst of it,” he finally answered, studying her carefully.
“Why haven’t you healed yourself, Max?” she asked in confusion, and he rolled away from her, onto his back. “Or why didn’t anyone else here on Antar heal you?”
His eyes became unspeakably melancholy as he lay staring up at the sky, nestling his head against hers quietly. “You ask tough questions sometimes, sweetheart.”
“It’s why you love me,” she laughed, drawing his hand to her lips and kissing his fingers slowly.
“I do love it about you, but it’s not why I love you,” he disagreed quietly. “Not by a long shot.” She didn’t miss how serious his voice had grown. All the amorous teasing was gone, and now a somber mood settled quickly over them. “I couldn’t heal myself,” he finally answered. “I tried over and over.”
“But…why not?” she asked, feeling very confused. “Was it because the injuries were your own?”
“Maybe, but I don’t think so,” he admitted. “My people think Khivar planted something in my mind, my soul even. Some kind of block to the healing.”
She sat up with a start, staring down at him in shock. A stranger couldn’t plant something in your soul, it shouldn’t even be possible. Max continued lying on his back, staring at her with an unthinkably sad expression on his face.
“How could he do that, Max?” she finally managed thickly. “Your soul is your own.”
He nodded silently, reaching a tentative hand to stroke her hair back over her shoulder. “Yes, it is my own. But that didn’t prevent him from extracting as much vengeance within it as he could.”
“I don’t understand,” she whispered, feeling tears sting her eyes. How had such a beautiful moment as this one, something filled with childlike innocence and sensuality all at once, been so easily darkened?
“Not here,” he finally said, seeming to read her mind. “Not like this, Liz. I’ll explain in Santa Fe.”
“Why couldn’t anyone else heal you?” she pressed, wondering why these questions seemed so critical, yet nearly impossible to voice.
Max’s gaze wavered, and instead seemed to move to the sky, where the twin moons had continued their ascendance. “Look at them,” he whispered in awe. “Come close to me, Liz and just look.”
She settled onto her back again, nestling against his side, so that they both stared up at the heavens. “I watched them like this every night from my cell. They were a rare moment of beauty every day. And every day I’d whisper to you across the galaxies when I saw them. Did you ever hear me?”
He turned toward her then, cupping her cheek within his palm, his expression growing melancholy again. “You didn’t, did you?”
“I…I’m not sure, Max,” she finally admitted.
“You believed me dead,” he stated simply and she swallowed hard, nodding.
“You can heal me,” he breathed, the words moving like electricity across her very heart. “The elders, my followers…they couldn’t get past the blocks Khivar placed inside me. But you can.”
“Me?” she asked, turning toward him in surprise.
“My gift is inside you, ever since that day at the Crashdown. You just don’t realize it. Part of my soul is inside yours since that day, too,” he continued slowly, obviously wanting her to understand. “I’m telling you now because David doesn’t remember everything, especially not about the healing. He needs you Liz. Like I told you before, he needs you more than you can imagine.”
“I don’t understand…about our souls.”
“Did you feel alive all these years? When you thought I was dead?” he asked seriously, leaning up on his elbow to gaze into her eyes.
She thought for a long moment, closing her eyes at the impact of his words. Finally, she whispered, “No. I was dead inside, too.”
“You were dead as you felt me to be,” he explained huskily. “Because our souls are like those moons above us, Liz. Twins, joined yet separate. As one moves, so does the other, even though we might be a universe apart.”
“Then why was I so sure you’d died that night? I felt it, Max. I felt you reach to me, then you just…” She couldn’t finish, as tears began streaking her face, choking her very words from her throat.
“Because I did die that night.”
“What?” she cried, her eyes flying open in shocked disbelief. “But you told me you didn’t. You said so!”
“I reached to you just before it happened, and then,” he paused, running a nervous hand through his hair. “I died. I actually left my body and saw it lying on the floor of the cell beneath me. But then I felt you, reaching for me, pulling me back and I couldn’t go yet. You saved my life that night, Liz. By promising me you’d never leave me.”
Liz closed her eyes as the tears coursed her cheeks, and she buried her face against his chest. “You saved me,” he whispered again. “You’ve always saved me, Liz.”
“How long have I been out of the coma?” Liz asked sleepily, gazing up at Michael where she’d found him sitting beside her bed. He’d been staring blankly at the wall, clearly deep in thought when she’d woken again.
“Where is everybody else?” she asked groggily, glancing around the room. It was dark again, lit only by the dim glowing displays of the monitors and the corridor lights.
“Well, Maria went home to rest, your parents are back at the hotel.”
“And you’re here with me,” she finished.
“I’m here with you,” he agreed, nodding slowly.
“Thank you, Michael,” she whispered, reaching for his hand. “You’ve been here every day, I know.”
“I couldn’t have been anywhere else, Liz,” he explained quietly. “You know that. I’ve been insane…we all have.”
“I’m going to be okay, Michael,” she reassured him.
He nodded, squeezing her hand warmly within his own, and then their fingers threaded together, as she drew his hand against her chest. They remained like that for several long moments, and she stole periodic glances at him, feeling a certain weight press against her. She knew Michael better than anyone else, and she sensed that he longed to tell her something.
“What is it, Michael?” she finally asked, feeling somewhat apprehensive. “What aren’t you telling me?”
He sighed, leaning closer toward her, still holding her hand tightly. “Liz, I need to talk to you about something.” She noticed that his voice wavered nervously, and her heart began beating in nervous apprehension. Perhaps she had some permanent injury, something that was going to leave her debilitated.
She tried sitting up in bed, and he stopped her with his hand. “You still need to lie down,” he explained quietly.
“Tell me what’s wrong, Michael,” she pressed, feeling her voice grow tight. “You’re scaring me.”
And then he did the most surprising thing. He began laughing, a joyous sound that was completely incongruous with how nervous he seemed. She wrinkled her nose in confusion, just staring at him.
“Liz, it’s…it’s not bad,” he explained warmly. “Just hard to say.”
“Okay,” she answered, still feeling a little wary. “Go on.”
“Do you even remember what you tried telling me about David Peyton when you first came out of the coma?” he asked.
She thought a moment, staring up at the ceiling. She’d tried writing Michael some note that first day or so, though she couldn’t recall what had been in it now.
“Kind of,” she finally answered. “But I’m not sure what it said.”
“You don’t remember, do you?”
She shook her head. “Not really, no. Something about…if he knew I was in the hospital?”
“More than that, Liz. A lot more,” he continued, his eyes dancing with undisguised joy. “You told me that David Peyton is Max.”
“What?” she laughed, wondering why on earth she’d have told him something so ludicrous. Yet the notion felt incredibly familiar, undeniably true, and her laughter faded on her lips. Something about the way Michael’s brown eyes danced as he stared at her caused her abdomen to twist in expectation.
“That’s what you told me,” he explained, his voice edged with excitement. “God, I don’t even know why you suddenly thought that, but…well I had to go back to Santa Fe to check on the gallery and something made me want to know if you were just crazy…”
“Or if I was telling the truth,” she whispered, realization beginning to dawn. Her dreams began crystallizing in her mind again, as memories of talking to Max came into sharp relief.
“Yeah, Liz,” he nodded, smiling. “As crazy as it was, I had to know. So I went to see David. Unannounced.”
Liz realized her entire body had grown taut as a drum, from her hands to her toes, as if she were bracing for a sharp blow. “Tell me,” she finally whispered tightly. “Michael, please.”
Michael bowed his head a moment, reaching inside his jacket pocket. He produced a pristine white envelope, and she saw her name written in neat hand on the front—in David Peyton’s familiar handwriting. Carefully, he passed the letter to her, as if by way of explanation.
“What are you saying, Michael?” she all but cried, taking the envelope within her hand.
“Max is alive, Liz,” he explained quietly, tears filling his eyes. “Very much alive.”
She stared at the white envelope through eyes blurred with her own tears, then drew it to her lips, just pressing it there. For a long moment, she remained completely silent, her thoughts spinning in countless directions—back to her coma-induced dreams, through her more recent ones, and then to her time with David in Santa Fe.
“I think I always knew,” she finally whispered, closing her eyes. “Somehow my heart recognized him from the very beginning.” My mind just had to figure it out, she finished silently, recalling the repeated words of Max’s dream self.
“You figured it out in the coma, didn’t you?” Michael asked.
“He came to me, in my dreams,” she explained, remembering her vision of Max at Rockefeller Center. “Max did. And told me to wake up. Then he told me he was David.”
“He thinks you won’t have anything to do with him now,” Michael explained, laughing softly. “Same old Maxwell. Stubborn as hell…he’s convinced you’ll never forgive him for leaving in the first place, and now for not telling you who he was once he came back.”
Liz just shook her head. “Did you explain?”
“That I stopped living the day I thought he died,” she cried hoarsely. “How can he think I’d do anything other than love him? That I ever could?”
“Because he thinks you won’t accept the way he looks now,” Michael answered seriously. “That it will be too much.”
Liz stared at Michael through her tears, feeling a sob well up within her chest. “What did they do to him, Michael?”
“I…I’m not sure, but it’s a lot deeper than what they did to his body. It’s what they did to his soul.”
She nodded, wiping at the tears. “How bad is it? The disfigurement?” she asked, though it hardly mattered to her. The only reason she asked was because her heart broke for him, at the memory of how he’d hid behind the prosthetic, so clearly ashamed of his appearance.
Michael dropped his gaze suddenly, avoiding her eyes and she felt her chest tighten. “It’s bad, Liz,” he finally answered, glancing up at her significantly before continuing. “But not nearly so bad as he thinks it is. That’s the real problem.”
She nodded, swallowing hard, remembering how he’d flinched when she’d reached a hand to the left side of his face, averting it so quickly from her touch. How mortified he’d been for her to feel the contours of his injuries.
“What did you tell him about me?” she finally continued. “About what I’d think?”
“That part was easy,” Michael explained, folding his arms over his chest as he studied her. “I told him that if he didn’t know one thing about Liz Parker by now, he never would. That you were his soul mate, plain and simple, and that was something that no scars could ever change.”
“I fell in love with him again as David,” she whispered. “I didn’t care what he looked like, how badly disfigured he might be. I just loved him with all my heart already.”
“I know and I told him that, too,” Michael smiled reflectively. “That not in ten years had you ever fallen for anyone, not until the mysterious David Peyton appeared,” he continued, and Liz didn’t miss the faintest edge of melancholy in his voice at the admission. “That’s what made me wonder if you were right about his identity, Liz. The way he’d affected you.”
Liz stared at the envelope, fingering it. “He’s just afraid, Liz,” Michael continued softly. “That you won’t love him. That you can’t now.”
“I can deal with that,” she answered with a resolute nod. “I can definitely deal with that.”
“I tried to get him to come back to New York with me, but he thought you’d need some time.”
“What did you tell him about you and me?” Liz suddenly asked, glancing at Michael meaningfully. He dropped his gaze again, blushing slightly.
“That things had changed since he left,” Michael explained huskily. “That you’re my best friend. That you’re a really important part of my life now and he’s going to have to get used to that fact.”
“I’m sure he had something interesting to say about that,” she giggled, feeling tears burn her eyes anew.
Michael coughed, shifting self-consciously in his chair, and Liz wondered why he seemed suddenly so shy. Finally, he answered her. “Yeah, he was really glad we’ve had one another all this time,” he answered. “That neither of us was alone.” Then, he began laughing sheepishly. “That, and he gloated that I finally figured out why he always loved you so much.”
Liz thought he seemed a tad guilty at the last, until he laughed softly. “Kind of ironic, huh?”
“How do you mean?”
“Before, I gave him such a hard time about you, about how in love he was with you,” he answered quietly. “And in the end, I couldn’t live without you any more than he could. The past few weeks taught me that much for sure.”
“Oh, Michael,” she whispered, reaching for his hand, and cradling it close against her cheek. “Thank you for believing me. For going to him.”
“And now he’s waiting for you, Liz,” he answered. “I don’t think he’ll be able to rest until he sees you again…and as himself, not David Peyton.”
Liz nodded, gazing down at the envelope in her hands again. And knew that she wouldn’t be able to rest either, not until she held Max in her arms, their two bodies forming as one. Not until she beheld his handsome face again, no matter how badly it was scarred.
For Max Evans could only ever be one thing to her—her beautiful beloved.
|posted on 19-Feb-2002 3:00:38 PM|
|And so it's Tuesday! But, unfortunately real life has intruded and I have had no time to work on the next section. Mel, I'm sorry!!!! You're so faithful, too! I think it will be several more days, but then it should come pretty quickly. Meanwhile, I wanted to repost the link to my egroup, since some of you may not have seen it (it's way back in this thread.)|
Here's the link and this way I can provide information on all the latest updates on my stories (and even the baby when she arrives!)
So follow the button if you'd like to join:
|posted on 23-Feb-2002 8:37:31 PM|
|Michelle, Jeanine, Kita, et al!|
I promise I'm not trying to torture you!! This part has proved really tough to write, and I've also not felt well this week (I've had some contractions in the past week, so trying to be smarter and take it easy.) BUT! Guess what? I've got this part mostly done and am polishing. If I don't get it finished tonight, it will definitely be up early tomorrow!!! And then, I don't anticipate a super long wait on the next part.
So hopefully the parts will have been worth the wait!! Your'e all so awesome for bumping the fic though!! I've never written anything where my readers kindly bump this much, and it feels really great to know my story is wanted!! LOL!
|posted on 24-Feb-2002 12:08:00 AM|
|Oh, NO! Don't stop asking and checking on the story, please!! That's not why I shared about having needed to rest. Honestly, it's been such an inspiration to hear how much the story means to you, and to know that you guys are waiting not-so-patiently!! ;) I promise!|
Now about this new part. Hee hee. I'm about thirty or so minutes away from posting it! HOORAH! I had a real breakthrough tonight. So I just want to proof again, then I'll post, okay???
|posted on 24-Feb-2002 1:00:02 AM|
Be sure to see the one right above, by the way! I just added a new one a few minutes ago. Sarah, in answer to your question, I'm naming my daughter Riley, and there is actually a Riley in GRAVITY ALWAYS WINS. I love the name, and it IS a kind of Roswellian name, in the sense of being from one of my fics!! LOL!
Well, here goes. I hope to get another part up by Monday night, guys. Maybe sooner. cough. we'll see how I do tomorrow!!! ;-)
But it definitely won't be as long as between the last part and this one!
And huge thanks to Tasyfa for beta-reading this section!
Hold me in your hands like a bunch of flowers.
Set me moving to your sweetest song.
I know what I think I’ve known all along…
Loving you is the right thing to do.
The airplane banked, slicing effortlessly through a cloud until it emerged high above the frothy white, bathed in sunlight. Liz squinted, leaning her head against the oval windowpane beside her seat. So much had changed since the last time she’d traveled on a plane. Two months had passed, and the season had transitioned from winter to late spring.
And now she was going home.
Her heart quickened in anticipation, as her thoughts moved to Max, to seeing him once she was back in Santa Fe. She was thankful that she was returning alone with Michael, and not her parents. She wasn’t ready to explain Max’s mysterious return to them yet, not when more pressing matters weighed on her mind. Like getting through Max’s stubborn assumptions about her ability to love him. Or figuring out how she was the one who could ultimately heal him, as he’d explained in the dream.
That part perplexed her considerably, but she’d already decided to proceed slowly, and keep it like a carefully guarded confidence. Somehow she knew that the right moment would present itself, but until then she would focus on simply loving him, healing him with her heart.
Michael had assured her parents that he would help her settle back into the house, and ultimately urged them to return separately to Roswell a few days earlier. Still, they’d continued hovering over her until the very last moment, even long after her move to a regular hospital room. Liz had grown impatient, though she’d tried to imagine how she would have felt if her own daughter had nearly died.
Unconsciously, Liz traced a finger across her collarbone. While still in ICU, it had inexplicably improved one night, mystifying her team of doctors. Yet Liz wasn’t bewildered at all. She remembered the way Max had traced his fingers along that fragile place, leaving a fiery trail in the wake of his healing. It didn’t matter that it had been in her dream, because in that moment, their souls had touched. Just as they had on the countless other occasions where they’d met in that in-between place of dreams and wakefulness, the realm where souls brushed together.
Liz closed her eyes and breathed in and out, until she sensed him deep inside of her. That was the thing she’d learned in the coma—and then remembered in the subsequent days after she’d woken. Some part of Max, a latent bit of his soul, lay deeply entwined with her own, ever since he’d healed her in the Crashdown. And nothing could tear that from within her, not death, nor illness, not even a chasm that spanned galaxies.
Their souls were interlaced, like a carefully wrought sculpture, where the beginning melded seamlessly into the end, and back again.
Now she just had to make him understand that a bond like that transcended mere appearances, that despite his scars and slow gait—even his prosthetic—he was breathtakingly beautiful to her. That had never changed.
Liz glanced sideways at Michael, but he was wearing his headphones, watching the movie that had just begun, so she clandestinely reached inside her briefcase and retrieved Max’s letter.
The first time she’d read it, she’d begun sobbing halfway through, and then with every subsequent reading, she’d continued to cry, though more quietly into her hospital pillow. It had reminded her of his letter from so long ago, and how she’d lain in bed for weeks, burying her face against his leather jacket for comfort. If she’d had that familiar jacket in the hospital, she’d have been holding it along with the letter, not just the cool edge of her hospital sheet.
But now, her emotions were shifting. Perhaps it was knowing that she was only a few hours away from seeing Max again, but the tears had finally dried. Instead they were replaced by a keen sense of expectation, her heart thundering as she imagined holding him in her arms again at last.
She sighed as she unfolded the letter and began reading the now familiar words, ones she’d nearly memorized in her heart’s deepest places.
My beautiful Liz,
I’ve stared at this empty page for hours now. If only I understood it as well as the blank canvases I paint upon. If only I knew how to wield a pen as well as a paintbrush, or understood my heart well enough to express it to you in words.
How do I cover the span of ten years in one letter?
How do I tell my beloved that I never wanted to leave her so many years ago, and that I certainly never intended to deceive her when I returned?
I suppose I must begin as I do with every painting, first a stroke, then another. For you’ve always known the quiet language of my soul, Liz. That’s why you responded to my paintings as you did, as if I were making love to you with each piece. Because in a very real way, I was.
I’ve dreamed of you every night for years now. Yet those dreams have changed in recent weeks, becoming more vivid and lifelike while you were in the coma. It was as if we began speaking to one another then, sharing secret things between our souls.
For so long, I’ve wanted you to know the real reason why I left with Tess, and while Michael assures me that you knew I left to save you, nothing will ever erase my regret. Not your forgiveness, not time. Not even countless paintings where I’ve tried to show you how I ached.
And because of that regret, I determined to stay as far from you as possible when I returned from Antar--because I didn’t want to hurt you any more than I already had.
So when I arrived here a year ago, I lost myself in New York City, miles from where I knew you lived. I literally forced myself to stay away, and for a very little while it worked. Then I saw Maria on Spring Street one afternoon. She never even knew, yet with that one glimpse, it was as if all the intervening years had just evaporated.
After that I had to come home. To follow my heart where it has always led me, back to you, Liz. No matter where I’ve been in the universe, even in prison all those years, my heart was always with you.
I’m not the same, Liz. I can’t pretend that I am, and surely even with the prosthetic you can see that. I’m a twenty-eight year old man whose body seems to grow more ancient every day. Sometimes the pain in my jaw and knee becomes so unbearable I think I’ll go mad. But that’s what they did to me--drove me mad, bit by bit. By breaking my body, stealing my memories, and marring my soul.
I should not speak of these things. Instead, I should just say that I love you. That all I ever lived for was coming home to you, even though I tried to fight it. But beneath the prosthetic, my face is forever changed, Liz. My jaw is swollen and disfigured. The scars, they're deep and brutal, and there are a lot of them. In my heart I couldn’t imagine that you’d love me like this, yet I couldn’t stop hoping.
Michael tells me that all these years, you were certain that I’d died. But by now, if my recent dreams are true, you understand what really did happen. Because I’ve told you countless times in the past month, over and over. Needed you to know that you did feel me die that night, that you sensed the moment when my spirit left my body. But you drew me back with your promise. “I will never leave you,” you said.
And that’s why I had to hope, despite my broken body, despite my ruined face--that you might still love a man who loved you as deeply as I always have.
That’s why I left you the very first painting, and why I couldn’t stay away afterwards.
That unspeakable night eight years ago, Khivar called me to his chambers. He hated me because of my family, my claim to his throne, but it was more than that. He despised my humanity. And knowing that a mere human bore the royal Antarian seal, well let’s just say that he despised that most of all. I was beaten beyond recognition that night, as he watched, then later he mindraped me. But that wasn’t enough. He wanted my face, that mark of humanity that mocked him so forcefully. His guards took it that night, with their weapons, their hands.
And then they left me on the floor of my cell to die. No one returned for nearly six days. Maybe longer, I’m honestly not sure. The only thing I held on for was you, Liz. The six longest days of my life and I clung to you with every breath.
I long for you even now. To have you back in my arms, to touch you, and yet I fear so much. I know you’ve seen me in your dreams. Seen my face. And I know that you’ve not run; yet I can’t silence the fears. But I shall certainly try, Liz. I will do whatever it takes to be ready for you, for when you return to me.
I love you more than you’ll ever know.
After reading his letter, Liz had immediately yearned to call Max and dispel every one of his fears about her love for him, scars and all. But as many times as she had reached toward the phone, something had always stopped her. Perhaps it was the knowledge of how difficult it was for him to talk, she wasn’t sure, but replying by letter had seemed the only proper response, especially since she knew their first conversation would be an emotional one.
So once she was transferred to a regular hospital room a few days later, and even though Michael urged her to rest longer, she powered up her laptop and began composing a careful reply.
Max had raised so many issues in his letter, and she ached for him to understand that her love for him had never diminished. That forgiveness was a gift she could easily give, especially when he’d only left to save her life, and had never stopped paying such a terrible price for that one act.
It had been difficult to type with her wrist still bandaged, so she’d worked to formulate words within her mind that day, and then carefully translated them into a brief e-mail. Yet she’d hoped that her simple words would adequately reflect the incredible depths of her feelings for him.
After so many years, do you not know my heart? Could I ever love you less than I did from the beginning? In my dreams you told me that you left part of your soul inside my own that day you healed me. And I have no doubt that somehow a part of mine is hidden deeply inside of you, as well.
I’m coming home to you, Max. But until then, know that I fell in love with you all over again as David Peyton, because my heart would recognize you anywhere. Like I said then, no one has ever made me feel the way Max Evans did—until that night.
I’ll never forget the way just being in your bungalow electrified me. How just gazing at your paintings set my soul afire. Or even how your simplest emails set me blushing like a seventeen-year old girl. God, who else could ever move me like that, Max? The answer is simple. Only you.
There is much more to say, but Maria is scowling at me, and I think Michael will join her next if I do not rest. So, I will save the words to whisper in your ear very soon, Max. Until then, know that I yearn for you as never before, and that the years have only magnified those feelings inside my heart.
All my love,
And so had begun the exchange of a series of loving e-mails between them, traded approximately once a day for the past week. Each letter had only intensified her need to see him, to touch his face, more acutely than the last. Liz closed her eyes and reached inside her soul again, breathing in and out, and tried to calm her rapidly thundering heart.
Only a few more hours, she promised herself, clutching his letter against her chest.
“Okay, so you’ve got groceries in the fridge, and your stuff’s unloaded from the car,” Michael announced, giving her living room a cursory glance. He’d insisted on settling her on the sofa with pillows and a blanket, before actually going home himself.
While Liz felt a bit hovered over, she couldn’t fight the sense that he and Max had arrived at some kind of undisclosed agreement. The two of them seemed far too insistent that she rest after her long travels, rather than see Max. She didn’t have trouble guessing who the chief conspirator probably was, as Michael moved around her living room, giving everything one final inspection before he left her.
“Michael, I’m fine,” she assured him with an embarrassed laugh, leaning back against her pillows. “I promise.”
“It was a long trip, Liz,” he reminded her seriously, folding his arms across his chest as if he dared her to challenge him.
“You carted me to and from the gates in a wheelchair,” she complained, staring up into his brown eyes.
“Because you were only released from the hospital yesterday, Liz.”
“I haven’t done anything all day but sit on an airplane.”
“Is this an argument for going to Max’s?” he questioned, his eyes narrowing seriously, though she saw them dance with a bit of playful mischief.
“No, because Max won’t hear of it,” she sighed in frustration. “We already discussed it by email. He’s insisting I rest tonight, just like you are.”
“Well, he’s right.”
“I’ve waited ten years to see him again and I’m going crazy.”
“Too bad,” Michael laughed, tossing her the television remote control, which landed on her lap. “So is he. But he knows you need the rest, Liz.”
“And you know this because?” she waved her hand in the air, wondering just how often he’d been communicating with Max in the past few weeks.
“Because he told me on the phone last night,” Michael supplied with a boyish grin.
“You’re saying that just to infuriate me,” Liz huffed. “You know how badly I want to talk to him.”
Michael turned toward her kitchen counter, retrieved her cordless telephone, and then tossed it to her as easily as he’d just flung the remote. “Then call him.”
Liz stared down at the receiver where it rested against her legs. “I don’t want to,” she admitted softly.
“God, would you just give him a call already?” Michael cried in exasperation. “The two of you are driving me insane.”
“It’s so hard for him to speak,” she explained, tucking a stray hair behind her ear as she stared up at Michael. “When we talk the first time, I want it to be in person.”
“You have talked before,” Michael countered gently, sitting on the arm of the sofa. “Only you thought he was David Peyton.”
“That was different,” she answered, dropping her gaze to her lap.
“And it’s not that hard for him, Liz. He actually does pretty well on the phone.”
“I think I’m afraid,” she admitted, her voice tremulous. “I just don’t know what of.”
“Of course you’re afraid, Liz,” Michael nodded, reaching to rub her foot in reassurance. “But just call him and tell him to get his ass over here.”
“I thought you wanted me to rest?” Liz asked in confusion.
“I do,” he agreed, moving close to where she lay on the couch. “But I know you too damn well, Liz. You’re only going to lie here and fret.” He bent low and kissed her softly on the temple. “So call him already.”
“Maybe,” she answered, cradling the phone within her hand.
Michael moved toward her foyer to leave, then turned back to her. “You know the number?” he called.
“He gave it to me in an e-mail.” And I memorized it instantly, she added silently.
Michael just smiled at her, shaking his head as he left. “Talk to you tomorrow, Liz,” he called over his shoulder with a wave of his hand, disappearing out her front door. Liz heard his key turn in the deadbolt, and leaned back into the pillows he’d arranged behind her. The truth was, she was tired, though not nearly as much as she’d expected. But she knew that the plan she’d formulated with Max was best—that she would take this first night to recuperate from her journey home, then see him the next day.
Liz ran down the darkened beach, the long white dress flowing around her, whipping in the ocean breeze. Max laughed behind her, catching hold of her arm, then spinning her easily into his warm embrace.
It was the first time she’d glimpsed his face that night, and he was stunning. The twin moons caused his eyes to nearly burn, flashing darkly in the pale golden light. But that wasn’t the only thing that struck her. His face was etched with countless scars, dark even in the moonlight, and his left eye was partially closed. They gave his face a rugged appeal that he’d never possessed before.
And she’d never wanted him more.
They tumbled easily onto the sand in one another’s arms, unable to stop the passion quickly unfurling between their two bodies.
As in the field of red flowers, Max wore a white linen shirt that fell open revealing the smooth skin of his chest. Only this time, she glimpsed a jagged scar that slashed over his heart, puckered and angry. “No way to dress on the beach,” she teased, as he drew her flush against himself, where he lay on his side. She traced her fingertips along his chest, outlining the scar.
“How would you have me dress?” he laughed, combing his fingers through her long tresses, as they settled on the sand.
Her hand wandered along the waistband of his leather pants, her fingers dipping easily inside the edge. She teased with her fingertips, aching for so much more.
Yet this was all that had ever existed between them. There was only the two of them, together in their dreams, as in love as they’d been as mere children. He was always her beautiful Antarian lover, clad in the traditional wardrobe of a prince, and she his young bride, ready for their wedding night.
As Max bent his head low, capturing her lips for a kiss, she sensed how controlled his passion was. That he wanted much more of her, yet the sweetest kisses were all he claimed.
“Tell me why,” he whispered softly in her ear, his voice surprisingly serious. She pulled back and gazed at him, still surprised to see how his face was etched with jagged scars.
“Why, what?” she asked, her heart quickening its pace.
“Kyle,” he answered, rolling onto his back. This was how it always seemed to end. Whether in the field of flowers, or here on the beach, the kisses always ended. Became secrets shared between their two hearts.
“You’ve asked about him once before,” she clarified. His voice had grown indescribably quiet and her heart ached. “Long ago.”
“I don’t remember the answer,” he explained, propping his head atop his arm, as he stared up at the darkened sky. “I know I saw you in bed with him,” he answered softly. “But I don’t feel like you slept with him. I never have.”
“Oh, Max,” she whispered, rolling onto her side to stare down at him. She traced her fingertip across his cheek, outlining the harsh marks that lined it. “I’m so sorry.”
“You’re wearing white,” he explained, glancing sideways at her. “You always are in these dreams. An Antarian Princess or Queen can’t wear this white dress unless she’s saved herself for her husband.”
“Max, I did save myself for you. Always.”
“All these years I’ve tried to remember, to understand,” he continued, raking his fingers through his long, dark hair. “I think I did at least a little before…that night.”
“What night?” Liz asked, leaning closer toward him.
“When Khivar mindraped me,” he explained, his voice growing weary and distant. “He stole my memories then, and some things have never made sense again.”
“But Max, the reason you don’t understand is because I never had the chance to explain. You’re missing some memories, but that’s not why you’re confused.”
“But why?” he asked, glancing at her. “Why would you have lied to me about that? I don’t remember…don’t understand,” he explained, rubbing a hand over his eyes. He sounded so vulnerable and lost, that Liz instantly felt tears sting her eyes. “I’m just trying to make sense of the memories I do have, Liz.”
“I know,” she soothed, pressing gentle kisses against his cheek. “Of course, sweetheart.”
It had never occurred to her that in their years apart, he might have wondered if she’d actually slept with Kyle. Not when she’d told him that much of the truth before he left. Her heart broke silently as she realized that he’d remained unsure about the facts, always riddling over the disjointed and remembered pieces that he did possess. Yet he seemed equally certain that she remained untouched because of the white dress she wore in so many of his dreams.
“Max, trust me when I tell you that nothing happened with Kyle,” she promised solemnly, stroking his long hair away from his face. He closed his eyes, a faint smile playing at his lips. For a moment, he reminded her of a cat, the way he nearly purred beneath her loving caresses. “It’s such a long story, but your dreams have all been true. No one has ever touched me, not in all these years apart.”
“Me neither,” he admitted, the smile broadening. “But you probably guessed that I’m still a virgin.”
She leaned low over him then, drawing her lips right against his ear. “Wake up and make love to me,” she coaxed, surprised by how husky her voice grew with the words.
“Open my eyes?” he smiled, dimples appearing, as his eyes fluttered open.
“Yes, and make me your lover. Forever,” she breathed against his cheek. “I’ve waited so long.”
“We both have,” he agreed huskily, cupping her face within his palms. “But I would have waited forever to hold you again like this.”
He leaned upwards, pressing light kisses against each of her eyelids. “Let’s both wake up, sweetheart,” he murmured and Liz felt her dreams give way to reality.
Liz’s hands were shaking as she dialed Max’s phone number, but she could wait no longer. Carefully, she pressed each button and heard the phone ring on the other end, as she leaned back into her pillows.
“Liz?” Max’s soft voice called from the other end of the receiver. Not hello, just her name.
Liz laughed nervously, swallowing hard. “You must have caller I.d.,” she joked, her voice sounded strained even to herself.
“Very handy,” he laughed, sounding a bit breathless as he spoke. “Home?”
Liz’s heart instantly found a saner pace, as his familiar broken syntax comforted her. It amazed her how easily she understood him, no matter how nonsensically his words might arrange themselves.
“A while ago,” she explained, glancing at the clock. It was just past ten-thirty. “I’ve been napping,” she said, then added significantly, “Dreaming.”
“Oh,” was all he answered, but she heard his smile in the slurred words as he added. “Nice dreams…hope?”
“Wonderful ones,” she blushed, leaning deep into the pillow behind her. For a moment they both fell silent, yet it wasn’t awkward, as she’d thought it might be. It was perfect and beautiful, like when she’d still thought him David Peyton, and had sat just watching him paint. Finally she spoke again, tugging on the edge of her crocheted comforter. “The thing is, Max, they made me want to see you. Tonight.”
She heard his soft exhalation of breath, sensed how he considered that option. “Should rest…Liz,” he encouraged, yet she knew what he really wanted. Felt the silent words his heart longed to whisper.
“I did,” she argued. “I feel great and I was thinking that I could just throw on some fresh clothes and come see you. Unless…well, you’re tired…or…or,” her words trailed off, and she felt her cheeks flame hot with embarrassment. Suddenly, she felt inexplicably shy for pressing him about getting together. But then she heard him laugh softly on the other end.
“Liz Parker…want to see…you,” he explained, instantly allaying all her fears. “Just worried…you.”
“I’m fine, Max. I’m absolutely fine,” she answered in a rush. “Please don’t worry.”
She cradled the phone closer to her ear; nearly whispering as the moment suddenly seemed utterly intimate. “But you don’t need to worry anymore.”
“Hard…to believe,” he confessed, his voice growing just as quiet as her own.
“Then see me, and it won’t be,” she urged.
“I come… there.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Okay,” she nodded, even though he couldn’t see her. “Come here, then. Great…I’ll just change.” She tried to breathe, tried to prevent her heart from slamming so forcefully within her chest.
“Messy.” It was all he said, and she wondered exactly what he meant. Some of his one-word assessments were endearing at times, in how open-ended they seemed.
“You or me?” she asked, wrinkling her nose in confusion.
“Me,” he laughed easily. “Been…painting.”
“Painting what exactly?” she flirted, suddenly suspicious that it was a gift for her.
“Surprise, Liz,” he countered, pausing a moment. “You wait…few days.”
“I will,” she promised breathlessly. “But I don’t want to wait anymore for you, so hurry over, okay?”
“Bye, Max,” she smiled, and leapt from the couch, hurrying toward her bedroom to choose the perfect outfit.
She flung open her closet door, nearly panicked with indecision. What did you wear when you saw the love of your life for practically the first time in ten years? Anything at all?
And then she spied it, dangling right in the back of the closet. A dress her mother had bought her last spring, and which she’d never even worn because it seemed so naïve and girlish. A white sundress that flowed well below her knees, airy and innocent, yet oddly seductive in the way it formed around her curves.
Liz pulled it from the rack, drawing a tight breath as she gathered the soft cotton within her hand. She had to smile, as she wondered what Max would be wearing tonight, if he’d appear magically clad in black leather pants.
Because one thing was certain, no matter what Max chose to wear tonight. The white sundress was straight out of her Antarian dreams.
[ edited 1 time(s), last at 24-Feb-2002 2:41:46 AM ]
|posted on 25-Feb-2002 12:23:35 AM|
Well our journey is nearing its close. I can’t thank all of you enough for the unbelievable encouragement you’ve extended to me throughout the writing of this story. Let’s just say that it came at a very good time for me, not just as a writer, but even personally. And I will be forever grateful to each of you in ways that I can’t express. Isn’t that ironic? A writer who can’t express themselves. Oh my! But thanks to all of you, particularly the wonderful readers like Tasyfa and Angela who allowed themselves to be spoiled for the benefit of this floundering author!! It’s not over yet—we still have at least a very lengthy epilogue. But wanted to say thanks now!!!
The white dress fit perfectly, even though she’d lost some weight in the hospital. Liz ran her palm down the length of it, smoothing the gauzy material beneath her fingertips as she examined herself in the hallway mirror.
It amazed her how similar the sundress was to the one from her dreams, and she wondered if perhaps her subconscious had simply supplied a familiar article of clothing. If so, then Max’s black leather might only have appeared from her memories of his future self, she reflected. But somehow she knew that wasn’t the truth. Max had described their attire as traditional Antarian garb, nothing less.
Liz tugged nervously at the cotton fabric that dipped slightly low in front, outlining the soft rise of her breasts in full detail. She blushed inexplicably, as she imagined Max’s reaction, feeling as if she prepared for a first date with him. And in a strange way, she did. She spun a slow turn in front of the mirror, and time seemed to melt away around her. She became seventeen again, dressing in her room above the Crashdown.
She smiled, remembering the night when Max had gotten drunk and followed her around town on her blind date. He’d been so incredibly determined in his love for her then, such an innocent boy. A harsh wave of melancholy reminded her that he’d ceased to be a boy not long after that night--had become a man with a painful, unavoidable destiny that had led him galaxies away, and then back again. Now she awaited that same man, one who was battered, yet not jaded. Still beautiful, no matter how time had ravaged his heart and body.
Liz shivered, shaking off the painful memories because tonight was about healing. She pirouetted in front of the mirror, examining herself again. Her naturally dark features seemed luminous against the crisp white, creating a surprisingly girlish impression. She wore her hair loose, spilling across her shoulders. It had grown longer while she’d been in the coma, and though it needed a slight trim, she liked the added length. Liz smoothed the tresses over her shoulders, leaning a little closer to the mirror to study her reflection.
The only thing she couldn’t hide were the dark circles that still shadowed her eyes. There seemed no way around those, no amount of makeup to hide that truth. But she’d lit candles all around her living room and entryway, creating the same atmospheric lighting that had bathed Max’s own home. She wanted him to feel relaxed and comfortable around her, not scrutinized. And, hopefully the shimmering lights would obscure the dark marks beneath her eyes.
Perhaps the hardest choice had been her music selection. She’d knelt before the stereo, riffling through her cd’s, tossing dozens aside. Something from ten years before seemed overly pointed, yet she didn’t want anything too contemporary either. Frank Sinatra had been the perfect choice at his house before, and now she couldn’t seem to find anything to rival it. Finally, her gaze fell on an old Carly Simon cd that she’d borrowed from her father’s collection at Christmas. There were no deep memories associated with it for them, not like Gomez or Counting Crows. Yet it was romantic music to the core.
Liz felt her throat go dry as the opening notes of The Spy Who Loved Me filled her living room. This reunion was utterly different than when she’d gone to see David Peyton. It was as thrilling and intimidating as that one had been, yet imbued with an undeniable expectation all its own.
Then she heard the soft knock on her front door, a sound as gentle as the man who awaited her on the other side. She hurried to unlock the door, and felt the white dress billow around her, floating airily upward just as it had in the dreams. She drew in a tight breath, her hands trembling on the edge of the door as she opened it.
And there he stood, dressed in soft khaki paints and a long-sleeved jersey t-shirt, something he might easily have worn ten years before. His hair fell loose on his shoulders, and he leaned slightly forward on his cane.
For a moment, they simply stared at one another, unable to speak, and Liz felt her face burn beneath his steady gaze. She tried to keep her own eyes from sweeping the perfectly sculpted features of his prosthetic, even though she fought tears at the sight of it. She’d been certain he wouldn’t hide himself any longer, not after all they’d shared in the past months.
Not after the dreams.
He was the one to finally break the silence. “Hello…Liz,” he said, in his familiar quiet voice, the words slurring softly.
“Max,” she finally managed, her voice a near-whisper. For the briefest moment, her gaze wavered, moving over his smooth mask.
He bowed his head instantly, the long hair obscuring his features as he glanced downward in seeming uncertainty. And she knew that despite her efforts, her face had betrayed her shock that he’d worn the prosthetic.
She reached quickly toward him with her hand, beckoning him inside the house.
“Max, please,” she urged hoarsely, forcing a smile. “Please come in.” All she’d wanted was for this moment to be a perfect reunion, and it seemed to be disintegrating before it had even begun.
He shifted his weight momentarily on the cane, as he fumbled with a small bouquet of white roses that he clutched tightly in his other hand. Tears nearly blurred her vision as she spied the lovely blossoms. But then he glanced upward again, and she caught an unfettered glimpse of his golden eyes beneath her porch light, their amber hues familiar and hauntingly beautiful. Her heart lurched at the undisguised anguish she spied in their depths, at the fear he couldn’t possibly express, as for a brief moment his unsteady gaze locked with hers. She willed her own eyes to reveal all the love in her heart, to reassure him more than her words ever could.
And then he averted his face from her again, moving past her, and inside the house. He remained stiffly beside her there, as she closed the door, aching for him to sweep her into his arms. Yet his stance remained formal, as he leaned heavily on his cane for support.
“You…so lovely,” he finally said, studying her shyly, still just clutching the bouquet of roses in his other hand. “Tonight.”
She blushed at the quiet compliment, toying nervously with a strand of her hair. “Thank you, Max.” She yearned to say thousands of other words, to put voice to every emotion pounding within her heart. Yet they only stood there, awkward and silent, unsure of one another. She finally gestured toward the white roses, “You remembered.” It seemed such a lame remark, that she instantly wished she could rush after it, and retrieve it from the quiet space between them.
Max nodded, extending them to her gingerly. “Never…forget,” he assured her softly. “White favorite.”
Their fingers brushed together with a momentary explosion of fire, as she gathered the flowers into her hands. She drew them to her face, closing her eyes and suddenly flashed on the night he’d serenaded her. The night of Future Max. Unbelievable, that all these years, he’d never known her secret.
“Beautiful,” she smiled, cradling them against her chest. “I’m surprised they weren’t red, though,” she teased, taking a chance by pushing the emotional boundaries between them. “I think red tulips might just be my new favorite.”
Max nodded, brushing at his hair nervously. “None at…florist,” he laughed, and she sensed that he smiled broadly beneath the mask.
“Maybe I’ll just insist on the original painting,” she countered flirtatiously, tilting her chin upward.
“Artist difficult,” he advised in mock-seriousness, with a knowing shake of his head. “Temperamental.”
“Oh, I can tame a moody artist in a heartbeat,” she giggled. “Lots of practice with that one, Max.”
“Tame?” he questioned pointedly, meeting her steady gaze with an undeniably suggestive one of his own.
Liz’s face flamed even hotter at his comment, and he laughed quietly at her clear discomfort. And then she began laughing too, as she realized that the moment had grown suddenly easy between them. They were flirting and sparring and all the tension had dissipated. The nervous tension, at least. The physical and emotional tension remained immense.
“Embarrassed?” he teased, shifting his weight on the cane momentarily.
“No, not one bit,” she denied playfully, drawing the flowers close to her face again. “I’ll just…go put these in water. Yes, that’s exactly what I’ll do,” she giggled nervously. She moved away from him, quickly toward her kitchen, feeling her face with the back of her hand. Her cheeks were blazing hot.
She fumbled awkwardly with the bouquet of small sweetheart roses, her hands shaking as she unwrapped the delicately gathered buds. How very like Max, she reflected as she arranged them in a vase, positioning them on the windowsill of her kitchen.
The soft thudding of Max’s cane betrayed his movements through her living room, and she smiled, realizing he was studying her paintings. She was certain of his position, just by the slow rhythm that moved around the periphery of her living room. His own small panel of Windows of the Soul hung beside her desk, where she could glance at it as many times as she wanted while working. She wondered if he’d spied it yet, if he’d gauged its utter importance to her from its key positioning.
Liz found him staring up at one of Michael’s gorgeous canvases, probably her most favorite of his works, one that he’d painted of the desert near the pod chamber. Max studied it silently, and she wondered what he thought. For the first time, she reflected on just how much he and Michael had in common now, this totally new territory in the realm of their paintings. Both were so gifted, yet utterly different in style.
“What do you think?” she asked, moving close to him. A light shiver passed down her spine as she drew near to him, sensing the incredibly energy of his body. He turned to her momentarily and smiled. She didn’t see it, couldn’t possibly, yet she felt the warmth of it all the way to the center of her being.
“Very talented,” he assessed, the words slurring softly. “Proud…him.”
“Me, too,” she agreed. “He’s worked so hard, Max. Incredibly hard at his gift.”
“Clearly. Always made,” he hesitated, pausing to rub his jaw before continuing. “Him…happy.”
“Yes, it did,” she agreed, easing a little closer toward him. She ached to embrace him, to simply throw her arms around his neck, and draw him close against her body. She was keenly aware that they’d yet to even touch. “And you, too, apparently,” she observed.
He glanced at her, his eyes widening in surprise. “You think?”
“That it makes you happy? Yes, that’s obvious,” she agreed with an eager nod of her head, then suddenly doubted herself. “Doesn’t it?” she asked uncertainly, noting how he stared at her in surprise.
He was silent a long moment, and gazed again at Michael’s painting. “Yes, definitely…you’re right.” That was all he said, but she sensed much more beneath the surface, volumes that he ached to speak, but wouldn’t even try.
“Tell me more,” she pressed, touching him lightly on the arm. “What you’re not saying, Max. I want to know.”
“Painting like…breathing,” he explained with a sigh. “Now. Talking.”
Painting like breathing and talking now. She wondered what that meant, how it translated in his fractured lexicon.
“It’s how you express yourself?” she asked, easing even closer so that her hand rested in the small of his back. Again, a shiver of electricity shot through her hand at their physical contact. He glanced at her momentarily, then just as quickly away again. He was still averting his face, hiding from her, she was certain.
“First year…after,” he paused, and finally gestured toward his face in explanation. “Couldn’t speak. That year.”
Liz nodded, feeling tears sting her eyes anew. He hadn’t even been able to speak for the first year after his injuries.
“Is that when you began painting?” she asked quietly, and he nodded, glancing away from her.
“Guard…friend,” he offered in simple explanation, and for a moment Liz riddled over the words. But she needed more, had to press for information, to understand this critical piece of Max’s life on Antar.
“There was a guard who was your friend?” she clarified, reaching toward his arm again, only this time he shifted his cane to his other hand, and gathered her hand within his own. He just held it warmly, then slowly drew it against his chest.
“Sympathetic…my family,” he finally continued. Liz was keenly aware of the way their hands pressed together over his heart. “Sympathetic me. Brought paints…brushes.”
“And that’s how you began painting,” Liz finished in a wondrous voice. Max nodded silently, gazing down at the ground in deep reflection.
“No pens…weapon. No writing.”
“But they let you have brushes and paints because they were okay. Safe,” she finished easily.
“So spoke… with paints,” he continued, his thick words growing husky with emotion. “No words, only…” his voice trailed off and he gestured at the painting before them in explanation. “Still easier.”
“Yes, I’m sure it’s much easier to express yourself in painting, even now,” she assured him, and he squeezed her hand even closer within his. She moved slowly then, until she half-faced him. “But your words are just as beautiful as your paintings, Max.”
He glanced at her dubiously, his golden eyes narrowing with emotion. “Frustrating.” It was all he said; yet her own mind filled in all the unspoken words. He was frustrated to be with her, so unable to express himself. Frustrated by his own limitations, that wielding his brushes came with such ease, while his spoken words were nearly incomprehensible to most.
“I know,” she whispered in reassurance, then reached a tentative hand toward his face, and softly stroked the hair away from his eyes. “But I understand you perfectly, Max. You know that.”
Suddenly, it seemed they were utterly transfixed that way, her hand stroking his hair, his head inclined toward her. Yet neither was able to move, to speak. To even breathe. The need between them surged unexpectedly, becoming something tangible and palpable in the air between them. The silence was charged with electricity, moving like electrons in the short span between their bodies.
“Liz,” he finally whispered huskily, reaching his own hand toward her. And then the tension ruptured, and before she could think, she’d flung herself against his chest, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. She felt him stagger slightly at the sudden impact, but only embraced him harder, drawing him flush against her own body. She needed to hold him in her arms so badly, needed it more than maintaining her composure, more than whatever strange dance had been in play between them.
“I can’t stay away, Max,” she murmured, holding him close. “Can’t pretend that I don’t want to touch you like this.”
As in her dreams, she felt his hands fold around her back, tentative yet filled with love. “Wanted this…so long,” he whispered against the top of her head. “Ached for you…so long.”
“Then hold me,” she urged quietly. “Just like this. Hold me all night long, Max.” She pulled back, and gazed up into his eyes, saw the utter vulnerability in them. It wasn’t disguised now, the countless emotions that flickered in his shimmering depths.
“Take it off, Max,” she urged in a whisper, and his eyes widened. “Please.”
He shook his head forcefully, his gaze growing panicked, as he bowed his head away from her.
“Please,” she begged again, reaching to cup his face within her palms, as she slowly turned it toward her again. “I want to see your face so badly.”
“Can’t,” he managed and she saw tears fill his eyes.
“But it’s me, Max,” she reminded him, and slowly stroked his face beneath her fingertips, feeling the rough material of his prosthetic. “I will always love you. I love you no matter what.”
He broke away from her then, shrugging off her hands, and spun his back toward her. Slowly, he thudded to the other side of the room, and she saw his shoulders heave as if beneath a great weight.
“Liz,” he began and she heard his voice waver uncertainly. He hesitated, raking a hand through his hair, as slowly he moved around her living room. She let him distance himself, step away, even though she yearned to match his every step. “Too much.”
“No, it’s not,” she countered without hesitation. “I’m not asking too much at all.”
“No, injuries…too much.”
“For what, Max?” she cried, clutching her chest with her hands. “My love? My acceptance? How are they possibly too much?”
“Because they are,” he shouted with sudden force, spinning to face her. “Told you…in letter,” he cried, his voice growing much quieter. Yet the anguished intensity remained in his words.
“I’ve seen the scars, Max, countless times,” she reminded him, her voice equally intent as she stepped closer toward him. “I’ve seen them in my dreams, and I haven’t run. You said that in your letter, too,” she reminded him, becoming suddenly angry. Angry that he was such a stubborn man, that he’d always made these decisions for her. “It’s my choice whether they’re too much, Max,” she said, her throat tightening painfully as tears began to spill down her cheeks. “And I choose you. I’ve always chosen you. That has never changed!”
Suddenly, he bowed his head, a soft cry of pain escaping his lips. His shoulders slumped forward and he buried his face in his hands, and then another soft sob followed the first cry. Liz ran to him, as he sank onto her sofa, his shoulders shaking slightly. And they weren’t faint tears that he cried. They were deep, heart-wrenching ones that needed to find release.
She mirrored his action, settling just beside him on the sofa, as he hid his face in his hands. “Why choose…me?” he asked suddenly, gazing up at her through his tears, his long hair tangling across his features.
“Do you even need to ask?” she whispered in awe, reaching to gently cradle his face within her palms. “After everything we’ve shared these months? After our letters?” She hesitated a moment, brushing his hair away from his smooth featured face. “With as much as I’ve always loved you?”
He stared down at his hands, silent for such a long time, Liz wondered if he’d ever answer. Until finally, he met her piercing gaze with his own steady one, whispering, “How love…me? Like this?”
“Because soul mates love forever, Max,” she murmured softly, drawing her lips right against his cheek. She knew he wouldn’t feel the kiss, not really, not with the thick material shrouding his skin. But slowly, she parted her lips and kissed him there, long and tender. “I will love you forever, Max,” she sighed against his cheek, nuzzling him with her mouth. “Let me kiss you,” she finally urged on a sigh, as her fingers gingerly explored the edge of the prosthetic, the place where it met his hairline. “I need to kiss you so badly.” Liz held her breath a long moment, expecting his protests. Yet he didn’t fight her, just remained still as a statue beneath her exploratory touch.
So, she eased closer, leaning halfway into his lap, and again, kissed him on the face, ignoring the synthetic material that separated them. She focused on Max, on the man just beneath the mask. Tenderly, she reached behind his head, slowly unfastening the band that affixed the prosthetic, so that it fell loose within her hand. She faced him completely now, almost in his lap, and with her fingers, she delicately began prying loose the mask.
The first thing she saw was a jagged red scar, running the length of his face, nearly from his hairline, down to his jaw. Then more scars appeared as the prosthetic crumpled within her fingers. Yet Max remained stoic and still, his eyes closed. It was almost as if he were bracing himself, the way his facial muscles had tensed. Almost as if he expected her to cry out at what she saw.
Yet she saw only her beloved. A beautiful face scored with countless dark scars and lines, yet rugged and handsome as never before. Slowly, she outlined the longest one with her fingertip. She drew her lips close against it and pressed loving, searing kisses along the length of the mark. She willed Max to feel her adoration of him, as her lips trailed fire across his face. Literally, she wanted him to know he was bathed in her love, as she moved her lips to the other side of his face. To the one that was so badly swollen and disfigured along the jaw. She pressed her mouth against the bone, the place that was painfully misshapen, and she heard a quiet cry escape his lips.
But then he did the most unexpected thing. He cupped her hips firmly within his palms and pulled her straight onto his lap. So easily, in fact, it was as if she were the most delicate thing in the world. As if his knee wouldn’t hurt beneath the weight of her body at all.
She pulled back and stared down into his eyes. They were so open and eager, shimmering with tears. He stroked the length of her hair with his fingers, threading them through like a trail of fire. Until his hand rested tentatively on her waist, feeling the white material of her dress. He stared down at it, tugging softly on the folds that spilled across his lap.
“Seen…this,” he acknowledged, smiling gently. “Many times.”
“I wondered if you’d recognize it,” she laughed breathlessly, slipping her arms around his neck. He drew her closer against his chest, settling her more neatly on his lap.
“Princess…Liz,” he beamed, and Liz literally felt her heart thunder at the radiant smile on his face. He had no idea, and that was what amazed her the most. He literally had no idea that he was still a strikingly handsome man, just more rugged than before. And seeing his beautiful features for the first time in ten years moved her in places she hadn’t known still existed.
“What?” he asked softly, raising his eyebrows in question.
“You’re simply…beautiful,” she sighed, shaking her head in deep pleasure. He cupped her face within his own palms now, drawing it near his own. She began trembling against his touch, her whole body shaking with light tremors. “I forgot the way you move me, that it feels like this to be in your arms.”
He blinked beneath her steady gaze, then drew her mouth down, capturing it in the softest of kisses. Like warm velvet, their lips met. For the first time in ten years, she kissed this man, the one she’d never stopped loving. Had been unable to relinquish within her heart.
His fingers threaded through the folds of her white dress, as she explored the long soft tresses that spilled to his shoulders. Liz couldn’t say where he ended and she began at that moment, as sensations began cresting through her body, images and motion swirling as one. As she bathed him in her love, determined that each of her gentle kisses would heal him just a bit more.
All she knew was that she lost herself in him. Right then and there, the important divisions melted away, and her soul became one with his for those moments. But not just then, she realized as flashes shimmered like gold dust between them, reflecting all their shared memories and dreams.
No, their souls would always be one, for the rest of eternity.
|posted on 27-Feb-2002 10:46:24 PM|
|Nina--Oh my!! You made ME cry, too! I totally believe in a soul mate love b/c I MARRIED my soul mate. Truly. So don't ever stop believing!! I don't think you're crazy at all. But seriously, between the WEST SIDE STORY medley on tv and your remarks, I completely teared up!|
Thanks to ALL of you for loving this story. I'm working hard to write a dreamy conclusion!! Hopefully by Saturday a new part will be up. I'm still not sure if there's one or two parts left!!!
Oh--btw. Everybody be sure to note that I posted TWO new parts last weekend, both on one day. So don't miss one of them!
[ edited 1 time(s), last at 27-Feb-2002 10:48:41 PM ]
|posted on 3-Mar-2002 5:15:12 PM|
You guys are awesome! Thanks for the gentle nudges and bumps (Wimsey, you rock, btw for hitting both boards!) You're all just wonderful.
I'm hard at work on the next bit, and it won't be much longer. Hopefully by late tomorrow night. So don't despair! ;) And I"m definitely going to be doing a sequel or prequel, as it were. I won't say more yet, but it's going to be very welcome news to a number of you! Hee hee...
|posted on 5-Mar-2002 1:18:35 PM|
I'm back! I'm really not trying to torture you guys, I promise. BUt the muse just rebelled for about a week. I thought I could have something up by last night, but alas, I was wrong. I'm not going to give a time estimate this time b/c I always get it wrong. Sigh. Just know that I'm working on it, and I hope to have something soon. I'll report back in sooner rather than later and let you know how its progressing. But it IS on track now!!
Thanks for being patient!! Hugs, d
|posted on 6-Mar-2002 12:43:45 PM|
This took a lot longer than I expected!! LOL! Actually, I had muse issues, but she’s been beaten into healthy submission now, poor thing. She just tried to get all feisty and that wouldn’t do. I reminded her who was the boss of whom. Ahem. Seriously, now the story has come completely together, and there will actually be one final part after this one. Heard that before, right? Who knows. Maybe there will be fifty more parts, but I doubt it. Especially since I HAVE decided to write a sequel/prequel (all in one!) that will be…drum roll…Max’s POV!!!! Hee hee! I’m not sure if I can start it before the baby comes, but will try. Hugs! D
A summer rain drummed against Max’s rooftop, melodious and rhythmic, lulling Liz as she lay on his sofa. Over the past two months, this had become a tender habit between them—he would paint, while she read or rested on his couch, just as she’d often done at Michael’s loft.
Yet tonight was different, because Max had shyly asked to paint her portrait, indicating that he had something special in mind. He’d already been working on it for several hours, studying her quietly from the studio while he painted. Each time he glanced in her direction, his eyes seemed to grow moodier, filled with undeniable need.
And her body answered every glance, every gesture he made toward her. Truthfully, the longer she lay beneath his studied gaze, the more her body flushed in reply—especially as she glimpsed how his own cheeks stained with pleasure whenever their eyes met.
He’d wanted her in the white dress for the portrait, and she’d brought it to change into after work. But an unexpected downpour had begun during her drive to his house, so she’d run up his front steps quickly, sheltering the dress against her chest. Her sandals had slapped puddles along his walkway, splattering water onto her bare calves. By the time Max opened his front door, dark rivulets of water trickled down her legs, and her hair was thoroughly doused.
Max ushered her inside, taking the dress from her, as he led her into his kitchen with a silent smile. She was confused by his reaction until he softly assessed, “Hair beautiful…wet. Good painting.”
She blushed, running her fingers over the wayward strands, until he raised his hand to stop her. “No…like this.”
“You sure?” she asked uncertainly and he nodded, wiping his thumb across her damp cheek. Then, he surprised her by taking a hand towel, and leaning low on his cane to dry her damp legs. She protested that she could do it herself, but he only smiled, as he stood again. Slowly, he kissed her on the mouth, licking at droplets of rain that still tickled her upper lip.
And something was markedly different in that kiss. It was imbued with an expectation, an unrestrained heat. The warmth of it seared her, as their lips brushed together and it deepened for a moment. Whatever new mystery had begun between them, her lips burned as he slowly pulled back.
“Hey,” he whispered, as if seeing her for the first time all night. Only then did she realize he’d barely spoken since her arrival. Yet they’d been communicating ever since.
She reached her damp fingertips to his cheek and touched his face. It was something she loved to do, could hardly refrain from doing anymore. “You’re in a good mood,” she observed softly, tracing his most jagged scar, and his eyes flared. She recognized the same energy from their kiss, flashing like the flecks of gold and amber in his eyes.
“Happy,” he agreed, slipping a hand around her waist, guiding her into his living room. “Weekend.”
Liz gazed up at him, as they moved slowly together toward his sofa. It amazed her how easily she understood him now; how his most fractured sentences seemed lengthy and detailed. Happy weekend. In Max’s lexicon that meant he was happy that the weekend had arrived, bestowing upon them almost three days to share without interruption.
He loved their weekends together, seemed to thrive on them, and she adored bathing him in her loving attention then. There was no gallery, no other artists clamoring for her time. Well, unless you counted Michael’s Sunday morning visits, but that fell within the realm of family and best friends, not needy clients.
“Me, too,” she agreed, as he slowly lowered himself onto the sofa, gazing up at her expectantly. “Don’t you want me to change?” she asked, as he laid the dress beside them on the sofa.
He shook his head. “Not yet,” he answered huskily. “Explain portrait.”
“Explain?” she asked, wrinkling her nose in confusion as she dropped carefully beside him on the couch. He seemed suddenly shy, as he clasped his cane between his fingers, rolling it within his palm.
He trained his eyes on his hands, averting his face from her, as he whispered, “Explain…the dress.”
“I think I know why you want me in this dress, Max,” she teased girlishly, leaning against him. “I think I know exactly why.”
“Think about it…always,” he offered softly, still toying with the cane.
“Think about what, Max?” she pressed, although she already knew his answer. Knew what he wanted, what he was implying.
“Not just it…you,” he sighed, glancing at her with undisguised longing. “Always think…you.”
And she’d been sure he was going to confess how he ached to make love to her, whisper the words in her ear. Ask her finally. Yet he’d not, had only struggled slowly to his feet without another word, and walked toward his studio.
For a moment, she’d felt the familiar ache of frustration, had wanted to cry out. To ask if he didn’t feel the things she did, until he’d paused, glancing back at her with one of his warm smiles. The kind when his dimples flashed suddenly, and his entire face lit with radiant joy.
“Love you,” he offered. “So much, Liz.”
“I love you, too, Max,” she’d answered gently, her frustration dissolving in the light of that smile. One she imagined had appeared far too infrequently for so many years.
And she’d been lying on his sofa ever since, puzzling over the dress, over what he’d said about it. Had he really meant what she’d imagined?
As she listened to the pattering of rain on the roof, her thoughts floated to the dreams, to Max on the beach, to the field of flowers. To the meaning of the white dress between them both.
What it still meant between them even now, because they’d not yet given their bodies to one another, not in the two months since they’d come back together. They’d been too careful in their explorations, their touches. Too delicate in the balance of love that had blossomed between them like a crocus after winter snows.
Liz loved him more now than ever before, but she’d also realized they should move slowly in their physical relationship--especially with what she’d learned about his handicap. How sometimes his knee plagued him for days, requiring only rest, as he lay with it propped on pillows. The way his jaw thrummed with such intense pain, he couldn’t even speak at times. And she’d seen how he visibly blanched when he stumbled with the cane, though he always fought to hide the pain from her.
No, she’d become far too familiar with Max’s silent pain cues--the ones he seemed to think he hid so well—to rush anything physical between them. Their first time making love should be gentle and careful. It had to be absolutely right, because she refused to make him feel exposed or vulnerable about his body.
Especially not when it was still so utterly beautiful.
She knew that much because she’d glimpsed him at odd moments without his shirt, only in jeans or boxers after they’d spent the night in one another’s arms. She’d felt his body against hers, when they’d exchanged little more than chaste kisses--and he’d opened her shirt, trailing his lips over her chest in a path of shimmering silver. When he’d drawn her nipple inside his mouth, laving it until his energy shot unexpectedly across her chest like a dazzling meteor shower.
But she’d seen nothing more. Not yet. Though she already knew that he was exquisitely beautiful. Loving him had always told her that.
She jumped when he asked, “What thinking?” He’d stopped painting and stood wiping a brush on a cloth, watching her. Like Michael, he tended to pull his long hair away from his eyes while he painted, and loose tendrils fell along his cheek.
“Wh…what?” she stammered, as he wiped his face with the back of his hand. She felt suddenly exposed, as if he’d known her thoughts, especially the way his eyes widened a bit at her question.
“Liz,” he laughed, dropping the brush on his worktable. “Bad liar. Remember?” he teased, slowly ambling toward her. Without his cane.
She bolted upright, ready to comment on his unaided steps-- yet something silenced her. Perhaps that she wasn’t sure he even realized he did it, as he took slow and plodding strides her way, smiling seductively.
“Then I won’t lie,” she answered boldly, tossing her hair over her shoulder. The sundress fell open suggestively, disheveled from her position on the sofa. She knew it revealed the rise of her breasts, perhaps more. But she didn’t reach to adjust it. Instead, she never allowed her gaze to waver from his face.
“I was thinking how much I want you,” she answered, her voice thick and husky. “That all I want is for you to make love to me.” He stood over her, gazing down into her eyes. “It’s what I’ve wanted all these months,” she finished, feeling her cheeks grow warm.
“That’s why…” he paused a moment, and Liz saw him wince momentarily in pain, then he continued. “I wanted…white dress,” he said, reaching to touch the cotton material where it fell along her shoulder. “Tonight.”
“Really?” Liz asked, aware that her heart began racing wildly.
“Why I had…to paint you,” he nodded, stepping even closer. She reached a hand and caressed his waist, slipping her fingers beneath the edge of his t-shirt, so that she stroked his flat abdomen. “Tonight,” he answered finally in a thick voice. “Painting like…making love. Speaking. Breathing.” It was almost what he’d said that night months ago, only now he listed making love as the first comparison.
She lifted his shirt, until she glimpsed the smooth bare warmth of his stomach, and leaned forward, pressing a tender kiss there. It was something she’d wanted to do since high school, since she’d first glimpsed his lovely body. It had changed since then, certainly. Yet it remained surprisingly muscled and defined, despite his handicap, despite the years of imprisonment.
A soft sound escaped his lips, as she continued slowly kissing his abdomen, pushing the waistband on his jeans lower, so that her mouth could graze the skin beneath. He plunged his hands through her hair, kneading his fingers in the length of it with a quiet cry.
“Liz,” he begged softly, as she slipped a hand along his hip. She knew she was taking the lead, that it would change in a moment when they entered the bedroom. But right now, she wanted him to feel all her restrained desire for him, wanted him to know how she saw him. Had always seen him.
Suddenly a river opened beneath them, and they tumbled headlong together, spiraling into the rushing sound of light and images, as Max knelt slowly in front of her. She nearly stopped him, almost protested that he should be careful with his knee, but she didn’t dare. The flashes intensified, the rushing sound wrapping around them like a lover’s arms, and she saw everything inside his heart.
His fears, his vulnerability about the scars and disfigurement, his craving for her and the way it never ended. And she saw that he’d taken her like this on thousands of occasions, more times than he could count, always making love to her as his betrothed in white. He as her prince, she the bride of his heart.
Tears began streaking her face and she couldn’t stop them, could only murmur his name softly against his scarred cheek. “Max,” she begged, twining her fingers through his long hair, as he eased onto the sofa with her. “Max,” she moaned again, moving aside so he fit easily in her arms. She slid her palms beneath his shirt again, easing it upward so that her hands moved against his fiery skin.
“Liz,” he cried, tugging the shirt over his head. “Love…my love,” he murmured, falling into her arms again. His hair spilled loosely across his shoulders, and she couldn’t stop touching it, trailing her fingers through the silken strands. Just as his own fingers kept caressing her body, outlining every curve with such desperate need, as he pulled at the material of her dress.
She glimpsed his longing in the flashes, that he needed her body joined with his. Not clad in folds of material, not separated by his jeans. He had to have her as his own.
“Liz,” he finally managed. “Bedroom…not…sofa.”
“No, not sofa,” she repeated, mirroring his pattern of speech, as they broke their desperate kisses and stared into one another’s eyes for a long moment, drawing in shaky breaths.
“Liz, changes…everything,” he offered, pressing a tender kiss against her temple. “You know that. Never same.”
“I want those changes, Max,” she answered, clutching his shoulders. “I can’t wait anymore. I need all of you now.”
“Me too,” he nodded softly, scooping her hands into his. He pressed gentle kisses into her palms, gazing into them for a thoughtful moment. Then their eyes met in the shimmering candlelight, as he whispered, “I need all of us, Liz.”
Sunlight splashed across Max’s bed, warming their bare bodies in the morning’s first golden rays. As Liz woke to the feel of Max’s hand nestled securely against her abdomen, she smiled. Yet she didn’t dare open her eyes, or even move, lest she wake him.
They were lovers now, and there’d be no going back. Their bodies had solidified what had always existed between their souls. They were one.
He’d been right in a way—making love had changed things between them forever. Now she would always know the feel of him, moving deep within her own body. Would always know the depth of their connection, what it was to lose herself in his golden shimmering light.
But one thing could never have changed, not from one night of making love, not from a thousand. Her love for him remained as constant as the pounding of her own heart, as certain as the twin moons of Antar.
Max snored softly against her cheek, a sweet, melodic sound that she’d come to treasure in the past two months. Without even opening her eyes, she sensed the peace surrounding his soul; that he rested more easily than he had in years. Since high school even. And perhaps that was how one marked the passage from beloved to lover. Maybe it was in the way one trusted just like this, how one’s heart beat a little more surely, even in dreams.
Liz couldn’t be sure. Yet, as they lay together in his bed, she had all she’d ever wanted; her soul mate lying flush against her, his warm body draped with her own.
Slowly, she allowed her eyes to flutter open, and found Max’s long hair tangled across his face. She studied him freely, blinking as the sunlight spilled across his dark hair, silvering strands of gray against his pillow.
And something uncanny drew her attention to the scars along his face.
For a moment, she swore the dappled sunlight played a trick on her, but then she dismissed it, deciding the strands of hair were simply obscuring his features. But finally, she lifted a tentative hand, and stroked dark tresses away from his cheek, because she needed to see his scars more clearly.
She drew in a sharp breath at the sight of his face, her eyes growing wide with wonder. Instantly, Max stirred beside her, and she allowed her hand to drop away. He opened his eyes, smiling at her sleepily.
She stroked his face with her fingertips, outlining the familiar scars, the deep scored lines along each cheek. And they even felt different beneath her touch.
Max stretched languidly, raising his arms above his head, so that the sheet draped low around his hips. Liz’s gaze fell on the familiar scar that shot like a dagger across his heart, amazed that it, too, had faded overnight.
Liz placed her palm over his heart, feeling the thick scar beneath her hand. “Max,” she managed, swallowing hard. “I love you.” For some reason, she wanted him to know that first, to hear the words pass her lips. But her voice betrayed her, wavering with emotion, and he glanced at her in surprise.
“Love you, too,” he answered softly, but his dark eyebrows drew together in confusion. “What’s…wrong?”
Liz brushed her hair over her shoulder, sitting up in bed to look at him. The new angle afforded her an incredible view of his transformed face, of just how different that rugged terrain appeared after only a ten-hour span.
She gathered his hand within her own, threading their fingers together before speaking. “Max, something happened to you,” she explained gently. “When we made love.”
His demeanor changed instantly, his features relaxing. “No kidding,” he laughed, caressing her shoulder slowly with his hand. “Was amazing.”
“No, I mean something really happened, Max,” she pressed, feeling tears well in her eyes. “To your face.”
“My face?” he asked, reaching to rub his jaw. “Don’t understand.”
“Max, the scars are…they’re,” she stammered, and the tears spilled down her cheek before she whispered hoarsely, “Lighter. A lot lighter…this morning.”
The marks had always been a harsh pink, unhealed and angry against his golden skin. In the past two months, Liz had longed to suggest the healing stones, to gather everyone and attempt to heal him. Yet something had always stopped her, prevented her from making that suggestion.
She’d held back because she’d glimpsed things in their flashes while kissing, things she knew he’d never meant for her to see.
Max ran his hand over his face, surprisingly calm, then finally rolled onto his back and just stared at the ceiling. Countless emotions shifted across his features, and Liz felt excluded from them all. He was back on Antar, back in prison. Millions of miles from their bed, her arms.
“Max, talk to me,” she urged, wiping at the tears with the back of her hand. “What are you thinking?” She’d expected him to rejoice, to be happy, not melancholy and withdrawn like this.
For a long moment he was silent, until finally he sighed heavily. “Wondering why I ever left with Tess.”
The room seemed to spin at his words, as a bit of magic faded quickly away. “You don’t…understand,” he finally continued, after a long moment of studying her. “Do you?”
“No,” she answered, shaking her head. Why would he mention Tess now, draw her into their bed at the precise moment when his healing had begun?
“You healed me,” he answered simply. “I felt it, Liz. Last night.”
His speech had changed, was less broken and more coherent. But Liz didn’t focus on that; instead she trained her gaze on her lover, on the golden eyes that never left her own face. “When you…touched,” he hesitated a moment, rubbing his jaw with a frustrated sigh. “My face.”
She knew the precise moment he referred to, the one when the change had happened during their lovemaking. His eyes had told her everything then-- at the height of it, when she’d cupped his beautiful face within her palms, showering kisses across the brutal scars. Something had happened beneath her lips, something mystical--and then silver had shot across his skin, like the distant lightning that kept illuminating his room. His mouth had opened, a soft cry escaping, and he’d reached to touch his own face in wonder.
“I know you did,” Liz agreed, cupping his face within her palm even now. “Silver moved across your scars then, Max. I saw it.”
“Like handprint,” he whispered, eyes widening. “On you.”
“Just like it, only,” she paused, thinking how to describe it. “It was like an electrical storm.”
“Liz, not healed before.” The statement was obvious, and left her uncertain of his meaning.
“I know, sweetheart,” she finally affirmed, nodding her head, as she cuddled close against him in the bed. Yet Tess’s name still seemed to echo within the room, haunting the moment even now.
“Because of Tess,” he said simply.
“What?” she nearly cried. In her dreams, he’d explained about Khivar, that he’d placed blocks to the healing. In their flashes, she’d seen how Max’s followers had tried to heal him after his release from prison, but without success.
“Tess was there…night,” he shook his head, and now his eyes filled with tears. And Liz understood. Something absolutely critical was happening between them, some important facet of his healing. His sentences were becoming fractured again because he was delving into a hidden place, something he’d never exposed to light before.
Magic fell over the room again, like a shimmering hush of expectation.
“Tess was there when, Max?” Liz encouraged, stroking his hair soothingly. “Tell me.”
“Khivar mindraped me,” he finished thickly. “Tess there and…hurt me.”
“Tess hurt you?” Liz repeated hoarsely, feeling fury well within her core. “How?”
Max shook his head firmly, and Liz felt his hands tighten painfully around her waist. He seemed utterly unaware that his once gentle hold on her had become like a vise. “My mind. She hurt my mind.”
Max grew silent, staring at Liz as if she held the balm that would heal his very soul. As if she would divine his meaning without the need for words. She hurt my mind. What was he telling her? Liz felt desperate, as she contemplated the cryptic words.
“During the mindrape?” Liz finally asked, chewing her lip in frustration. “She hurt your mind, then?”
“She blocked…healing. Permanently. She joined power…with Khivar, placed blocks…my mind. No healing.”
“Oh, God,” Liz whispered, as the horrible truth of what he meant became clear. Max only stared at her, his eyes wide and vulnerable. “God, I’m so sorry, Max.”
Tess and Khivar had joined their power to place healing blocks within his mind, to make sure that no one could ever repair the damage done to Max that night. That was why the elders had been unsuccessful back on Antar, why Liz had instinctively known they shouldn’t try the healing stones.
“Only you, Liz,” he finally murmured, burying his face against the top of her head. “Your love. Only you…could heal.”
“Did Tess tell you that?” Liz asked. “That without me, you’d never be healed?”
“Yes.” He said nothing more, yet Liz knew that ghosts stood between them. More, Max, she urged him silently. Tell me everything.
Yet he remained quiet, cuddling her tight against his chest, his breathing uneven and anxious. Finally, when Liz almost begged him to finish, he admitted softly, “Tess said…you never love me…like this. No healing without your love.”
Liz closed her eyes, as a quiet sob escaped her lips at his confession. Tess had taunted him, told him that he’d lost the love of his soul mate forever that night, because his face had been ruined. And yet she’d made sure he knew that only one avenue remained for his healing—the love of that very same soul mate. Tess had meant it as a cruel joke, had been certain that he’d never find his way back to Liz. She’d convinced Max that even if he did, Liz couldn’t love him, not with his face and body so badly broken.
Liz continued to cry, pressing tender kisses along every scar. “She was so wrong, Max. You won, don’t you see?” She smiled, feeling radiant laughter well from within. “We won, Max. We defeated your enemies once and for all.”
“She stole…too much. Ten years…with you.”
“We can’t think about that, Max,” Liz reassured him, shaking her head firmly. “Not now. Not after you’ve come home to me at last.”
“She stole memories, things…” he sighed in frustration, then finally looked steadfastly into Liz’s eyes. “Belonged to us. Gone. Years gone. Khivar stole too much.”
“Like what?” Liz asked and Max clutched her tightly. “What kind of memories?” She felt her heart’s pace quicken, dreading his answer. Did he not remember their first kiss? Healing her?
“Prom?” Liz nearly choked the word out. “What?”
“I remember going with you, but…not leaving. Not taking you home. No kiss.”
“Oh, God, Max,” Liz whispered, sitting up in bed. With that one statement, he’d just explained so much about his experiences on Antar. He’d spent years riddling over their prom date, over why he had no memory of taking her home—when Liz knew the painful truth of what had happened the night of that dance. She wondered how many other moments fell apart in his hands like that one, shattered into nonsensical pieces that would hurt so much less if only he understood them.
“Max, prom was a disaster. If you don’t remember that, then all the better.”
“How is that…possible?” he asked, knitting his brows together. “I loved you. Wanted so much that night.”
Liz nodded, feeling tears burn her eyes anew. “I know you did,” she whispered. “I know.”
“How remember?” he finally asked. “How will I know what…lost? So much is confusing.”
Liz thought a long moment, then gazed into his eyes intently. “Because I remember for you, Max.” she answered, understanding that she held the key to the unanswered questions that plagued him. “It’s the way my love will truly heal you. All those memories, everything you’ve forgotten. They’re still locked inside of you, and I see them in the flashes. And you’ll start seeing them, too. Things from Antar, from our past together, your childhood. You’ll find them all again each time we make love.”
Max’s golden eyes grew wide and luminous. “You… are right,” he finally agreed huskily, drawing her hand against his cheek, as he sat up in bed.
“You will remember, Max,” she whispered fiercely. “Let that be my gift to you. My gift of love.”
He drew her hand against his mouth, and kissed each finger tenderly. “Your love…is already… gift.”
Liz threaded her arms around his neck, and drew her lips within a breath of his own. “Max Evans, no one can ever separate us again,” she proclaimed, feeling his hands close around her waist. Heat exploded within her core, as slowly he lowered her onto her back. “No one can take this love from you. From us,” she finished as he followed her down into the mattress. “You know why, Max?” she asked breathlessly, as she felt the warmth of him between her legs.
Max interrupted her, finishing the sentence as he kissed her, “Because soul mates… love forever,” he whispered fiercely.
She cupped his face within her palms, drawing his mouth near for another kiss, and Liz glimpsed silver shimmer across his scars.
And then she swore they grew just a little bit lighter before her very eyes.
|posted on 9-Mar-2002 1:04:27 AM|
|Sablaine--These are VERY good questions, and actually, there's going to be a sequel where you WILL learn more about those very kinds of things!! Hee hee! I may wind up having the baby first, but I do intend to write a sequel MAX POV fic to this story. I'm starting to contemplate a title and when I have one, will let you know.|
Everybody--I hope to have the epilogue up sunday night.
hugs to all...
|posted on 12-Mar-2002 12:17:15 AM|
Here we go, guys! This is really just a short coda to the rest of the story, one last little glimpse into their world. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support with this story. I couldn’t have done it without all my wonderfully supportive and encouraging readers. Bless you! And now, I hope to start the sequel before the baby comes, though I have a few ideas in mind for other stories, too. Plus, I need to write some more on CRAZY finally!
Liz hurried toward the gallery, glancing at her watch as she rounded the corner of the plaza. She was late again, a recent habit she kept intending to break, yet her resolve always seemed to fail her. Somehow her long workdays weren’t nearly as alluring anymore, not when she woke every morning nestled securely within Max’s arms.
Not when he whispered quiet words of seduction in her ear, often nearly begging her to make love before they parted for the day—she to the gallery, and he to his studio. And it was especially hard to resist his murmured pleas for artistic inspiration, right as he tumbled her onto her back with a sexy growl.
Liz smiled, feeling a familiar burning low in her abdomen, a keen sensation that sometimes grew quite intense after he’d been inside her. A human lover would never have left her so radiant, at least not in her deepest places. But nothing about her union with Max had ever been normal, so the curious tingling rarely surprised her.
Ahead, she glimpsed the gallery doorway, lined in golden sunlight, and for a moment her thoughts traveled back to the previous winter, to that brief magical time of David Peyton. And her eyes misted with sudden tears.
Oddly, when she recalled how Max had once courted her secretly, she felt sentimental, wistful even. Not because she regretted that David had turned out to be Max, but rather because there’d been something overwhelmingly innocent about that fleeting time. About the expectation and mystery she’d felt every day as she walked to the gallery, wondering if he’d bestowed another of his treasures upon her.
Now, Max’s canvases were inextricably woven with her love for him-- no beginning, no end. They were the beauty of his soul. And that was something far more precious than David Peyton’s courtship had ever been. As was the healing reflected in every new painting Max created, causing even his recognizable style to alter slightly. Become bolder, freer…more whimsical and joyous.
The healing had come gradually, too, transforming him every time they touched or made love. Eventually, he’d been utterly changed, his features, his body. He’d discarded the cane a month ago, his gait now only slightly halting and uneven. And though the familiar scars still etched his face, they were no longer thick and harshly colored, but had instead silvered to a faint white. Lately, if she glimpsed Max from across the street, or even in a dimly lit room, she couldn’t even discern them anymore. They’d become a finely marked legend of his time on Antar-- always there, just subtle and delicate now.
In a way, it made sense that he’d forever bear at least some aspect of the scars. Because what he’d experienced during those ten years had been too significant, his soul too deeply wounded, for all the outward marks to vanish completely. They would remain as a testament to what he’d endured-- to what they’d endured--during their years apart. Besides, Liz reflected with a devilish smile, they only gave him a roguish handsomeness that she adored.
Liz fished in her pocketbook for the key to the gallery door, but stopped mid-stride when she glimpsed something leaning just inside the portico. It was a slender package, flat and wrapped in pristine brown paper. For a moment she blinked, not trusting her eyes, because it seemed so eerily familiar. Yet it remained, just waiting for her.
Liz’s heartbeat increased quickly, as she dropped to the ground and lifted the package. She turned it over within her hands, feeling the contours of canvas beneath the paper. On the backside, a simple white card was attached, inscribed in neat hand.
What Dreams Are Made Of…
That was all it said, in her beloved’s familiar handwriting. What was Max up to?
Liz stood, feeling her fingers tremble unexpectedly as she turned the key in the door, and entered the gallery. Overhead lights flickered on, spotlighting the long array of paintings on the walls, as she set the package on the counter. She tugged at the edges of the paper, and finally reached for her pink pocketknife, wondering why Max would have chosen to deliver a painting this way.
Wondering why he might have titled it so mysteriously.
The paper unfolded with the delicacy of a morning rosebud, revealing a familiar scattering of bold reds and a small girl dressed in white. It was the painting she’d loved so many months before when she’d first visited his bungalow. The one that had been displayed in her bedroom ever since he’d brought it over and hung it himself, so that every time she woke, it was nearly the first thing she beheld.
The night she’d discovered the red painting was when she’d first suspected she was falling in love again--without ever knowing that her mysterious David Peyton was Max.
But why had he suddenly left the painting on her doorstep this morning, like some delicate offering of love? She couldn’t recall noticing its disappearance from her bedroom, although she’d slept at his house last night, so he might have retrieved it without her notice. But that still didn’t answer her nagging question of why he’d done it.
The emotions coursing through her body were achingly familiar, as her pulse skittered unpredictably and somehow she felt as if he were courting her all over again. She gazed down at the vivid colors on the canvas, the vibrant reds, and then the pure white of the little girl’s dress, contrasted with the nearly black color of her hair.
It was an image lifted from her memories, and captured lovingly on canvas, stroke by very stroke. Suddenly, the most impermanent illusions from within her mind became bold and lasting beneath Max’s touch.
Somehow, gazing down at the painting anew, it impacted her as it had the first time, not with the familiarity of a beloved piece she glimpsed every day. Maybe that’s what Max had been trying to tell her?
She stepped around the counter, and reached for the phone, but something stopped her. Somehow she understood the rules to this flirtatious game he’d begun, and instead she returned the phone to the receiver, logging online.
One email flickered in her mailbox from Maxwelle⊕newmexnet.net. Liz smiled, and clicked open.
My Beautiful Liz,
I can imagine the thoughts in your head, even as you sit down to the computer. How is it I’m sure you won’t just call me? Because I know you, sweet Liz. Like my own heart, like these scars on my face, like the feel of your body beneath my hands. You’re a part of me now, though that much never changed.
You’re wondering what I’m up to. And rightly so. You’ve always loved a plan, and there is madness to this one.
To the title of this painting, I will now add another:
Open Your Eyes.
Yours…and for always,
And then the dream changed, and suddenly she was catapulted within the painting, running breathlessly in the field of flowers. She was a tiny girl again, feeling her father clasp the hem of her sundress.
“Lizzie!” he called. “I’m going to catch you!”
“No, daddy!” she cried, feeling flowers brush against her tiny legs. “You can’t! I’m too fast!”
“I’m going to catch you!” a deeper voice teased and suddenly Max spun her into his arms. And she was a woman, in her husband’s strong embrace.
“What are you doing, Max?” she laughed breathlessly, shielding her eyes against the setting Antarian sun. “Have I been dreaming all along?”
“I’m showing you something important,” he explained, drawing her flush against his body. He panted lightly, as he cupped her face within his palms, turning it upward. Their gazes locked for a long moment, and she glimpsed fire within his amber eyes. She saw the familiar scars etched along his face, light against his golden skin. If not for her close proximity, she might never have even noticed them. But she loved them, as surely as she loved the feel of his silken hair, or the strong line of his jaw. They were an inseparable part of him now, and she wouldn’t have wished them gone.
“Max,” she laughed, feeling a little confused. “The dreams keep changing.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“I’m not sure,” she frowned. “Am I in a coma again?” she asked, feeling suddenly afraid, but he pressed a soothing kiss against her temple.
“Never. Never again,” he whispered gently and her fear dissipated. “No, Liz, there’s something here. Something important,” he explained, glancing around at the familiar field of flowers. “I want you to understand.”
He twirled Liz, so that she spun like a graceful little girl, the velvet field of red spiraling around her. It was just like her childhood memory, only transformed into Max’s own fantasy from Antar. She knew they were on his planet because the twin moons peeked along the edge of the horizon, cresting just behind a purple-hued mountain.
“We’re on Antar again.”
“Yes,” he answered simply. “Where I first dreamed of this.”
“This?” Liz asked in confusion, turning back toward him. She noticed that he wore the white linen shirt, saw how it fell open low along his chest, only half-tucked into his leather pants. She gazed down, and was surprised to find herself draped in the white sundress.
“Max, we’re not virgins anymore,” she laughed, feeling her face flush, despite how familiar they’d become with one another’s bodies. With one another’s passion. “I thought this was the Antarian wedding attire…for our first time,” she stammered shyly.
“That’s true,” he agreed with a broad smile. “But that’s not what this dream is about.”
“Then just tell me,” she laughed nervously, as he tugged on her hand, so that they dropped easily to the ground together. He patted the soft place beside him, as he collapsed onto the warm grass. “Here, Liz.”
She cuddled against him, her hands wandering hungrily beneath the soft folds of his shirt. His chest rippled like warm velvet beneath her touch, and she heard his breathing change, grow unsteady. He propped his head on the elbow, gazing up at the sky, and asked, “How did this dream begin?” He seemed to be leading her someplace, toward some destination that only he knew.
She nestled close against his chest, her fingers still exploring beneath his linen shirt. “At the gallery?” she asked, feeling confused.
“But it led here, to where it began some ten years ago. You and me, like this…but Liz, this vision was always tied to another. To the one I painted of you as a little girl,” he explained, his voice growing thick as he rolled onto his side to study her. She was surprised to see tears shine in his eyes.
“You and me, Liz,” he whispered fiercely. “It was all I ever ached for…all those years in prison.” He stroked the length of her hair, his fingers just winding slowly through it, as he continued. “Except there was one other thing I wanted. Just one.”
He lifted an eyebrow; as if he thought she’d understand, supply his next words for him. And for some reason, her heart began palpitating wildly.
“You wanted a daughter,” she finally offered, her voice wavering. He only nodded, tears brimming in his eyes.
“I wanted to be your husband, your lover…but I wanted to be a father, too.” He stared into her eyes intently, and countless words moved between them, unspoken yet effortless.
And then she simply knew. “I’m pregnant,” she realized aloud, her voice filled with wonder. “That’s what you’re telling me, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sweetheart,” he agreed, causing her own eyes to burn with tears. “A little girl, like the one in the painting.”
“You painted our future,” she said softly.
“I saw it in your past.”
“So what do I do now?” she asked breathlessly and he rolled her close against his side, showering her face with loving kisses.
“Just open your eyes,” he murmured, smiling like a boy of seventeen. “And let our dreams truly begin.”
And as Liz glanced around them at the vivid colors of the Antarian landscape, at the twin moons in ascendance, she understood something critical. Something she’d missed in all their other dreams just like this one.
She realized that every time they dreamed of this Antarian Sky, spread above them like a glittering mystic tapestry, it meant one thing. One thing that was truer now than ever before.
The king had returned to his kingdom, and all was right with the world.
|posted on 25-Mar-2002 2:52:24 PM|
|Just a quick note to make sure everyone knows that the sequel to this is underway and posted on the main board now. Also, I'll post a link later, but for any who want to join my egroup please email rosDeidre⊕aol.com. I'll sign you up for updates on stories, etc that way!!|
Thanks for reading and I look forward to seeing you on the thread for the sequel, ANTARIAN NIGHTS!
|posted on 12-Apr-2002 5:49:31 AM|
|Not sure if I ever posted a link to the sequel for this story, ANTARIAN NIGHTS, but it is on the main board and here's the link:|
|posted on 5-May-2002 11:35:10 PM|
|Ah, Pinky! You are too funny! And Micha, you know I love you, too, girl. You guys have made me feel wonderful tonight.|
I wanted to post this press release here. Warning: the "sample cover art" hosting seems to be doing something wonky. So I'm posting now, but no promises on those links. I'm hoping they'll work, but if not, the disclaimer has been issued!! LOL!Date: May 7, 2002-May 17, 2002
Event: A live, online fan fiction auction on e-bay to benefit FSMA
Questions: Contact RosDeidre⊕aol.com or link to:
Ever since the pilot of Roswell, the series’ hallmark has been memorable writing. So it comes as no surprise that this beloved television show has generated one of the Internet’s most imaginative and devoted group of fan fiction authors. And although Roswell may be ending forever on May 14th, you have a rare opportunity to own some of your favorite stories permanently. You can treasure them year after year; long after Roswellian fan fiction sites vanish from the Internet. All auctioned stories will be professionally bound, with laminated original covers—many beautifully designed by artists such as Schurry, Blanca, EmilyluvsRoswell, Piper, and fishish25.
Roswriters for FSMA is an informal collective of fan fiction authors and artists banding together to help find a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy. On May 7, 2002, we are launching an auction on e-bay, and approximately 35-40 original fan fiction stories will be gathered in eight separate tote bags being auctioned off individually. You won’t want to miss the opportunity to bid on these hand-painted totes, each with a different specialty theme, such as Dreamer Tote, UC Couple Tote, NC-17 Tote, just to name a few.
As a special bonus, three Dreamer Totes will also contain CDs of more than 800 of bigspam’s original photos, including images from one of Roswell’s last days on location, while filming the finale. Further, each tote will contain two originally designed posters, and a CD of music.
One very unique Dreamer tote will also contain a gorgeous, hand-designed “Dreamer Quilt.” This lovely work of art has been crafted by Cookieman789 (Stacey), and will be a great way to snuggle up with the Dream Guy himself. This original quilt will be 62”x 62.”
Each of the below totes will be listed separately on e-bay. We will be uploading pictures of the quilt and the posters in the next few days.
DREAMER NC-17 Tote #1
Poster by Destinee: The Best Thing
Poster by fishish25: Globe
Breathless—A Special Kind of Love
RosDeidre—How To Disappear Completely
Compilation of the following:
Majesty—Arms Wide Open
LivE—An Evans Valentine
Tasyfa—The Forging of a Lifebond (Short version)
SAMPLE COVER ART:
DREAMER NC-17 Tote #2
Poster by Destinee: Breathless Moments
Poster by fishish25: Dancer
bigspam Photo CD
LivE—All for You
Linda—Inside My Heart
Majesty—Heart of the Phoenix
Compilation of the following:
Carol000—Dreamer Holiday Series
SAMPLE COVER ART:
DREAMER PG-13 Tote #3
Poster by Destinee:Gravity
Poster by fishish25: Doors
bigspam Photo CD
Carol000—Epiphanies 1 & 2
Kath7—Between the Sand and Stone
Compilation of the following:
SAMPLE COVER ART:
DREAMER PG-13 Tote #4
Poster by Destinee: Keep Me Alive
Poster by Flycat64: Catch My Breath
bigspam Photo CD
Compilation of the following:
SAMPLE COVER ART:
Conventional Couple PG-13 Tote # 5
Poster by Schurry: Roswell, the Dramatic Movie
Poster by Schurry: Roswell, the Sci-fi Movie
Kath7—Out of the Woods
Linda—Us Six Against the World
Compilation of the following:
BennieBA—Before I Sleep (Liz POV)
BennieBA—For All (All)
BennieBA—I'm No Buffy (Liz/CC)
EmilyluvsRoswell—Crash Into Me (Alex)
SAMPLE COVER ART:
Conventional Couple NC-17 Tote # 6
Poster by Schurry: Michael and Maria
Poster by Schurry: Sensual Conventionality
DocPaul—The Praetorians (Michael/Maria)
RosDeidre—Gravity Always Wins (Max/Liz and Marco/Tess)
Red—Hail Jing Bang (CC)
Compilation of the following:
StarGazerGirl—Sins of the Mother (Isabel POV)
DocPaul—All Our Tomorrows Were Yesterday (Michael/Maria)
Tasyfa—Always, Spaceboy (Michael/Maria)
SAMPLE COVER ART:
Unconventional Couples NC-17 Tote # 7
Poster by Schurry: I Want All of You
Poster by Schurry: Sunset Awakening
Watcher Tara—Two Down, Two to Go (Slash/het)
Compilation of the following:
Compilation of the following:
BennieBA—Watch Her Fall (CC/UC—Mi/L)
Elizabeth—Days of Grace (Max/Michael slash)
Elizabeth—Paradise Lost (Kyle/Isabel)
Reese—Thirteen Years Ago (M/T K/L Maria/Brody)
ShellSueD—The Very Thought of You (Kyle/Liz)
SAMPLE COVER ART:
Quilt/Dreamer PG-13 Tote # 8
The centerpiece of this tote is a beautiful Dreamer quilt, handmade by Cookieman1234.
Poster by Schurry: Roswellian Outlaws
Poster by Terri: Drawing of Max Evans
Max and Liz quilt, 62 X 62, designed by Cookieman1234 (Stacey)
Compilation of the following:
Compilation of the following:
Cookie2697—Behind the Lies
Tasyfa—Inside My Mind
SAMPLE COVER ART:
SAMPLE QUILT ART:
|posted on 4-Jan-2003 2:56:37 PM|
Thanks for reading and also for leaving fb! ANTARIAN NIGHTS is the sequel and is on the dreamer thread. It's actually a prequel, and my plan is to wrap it up, then write a third story that focuses on Max's POV in NYC and Santa Fe. ;)
take care, d