posted on 4-Jul-2002 10:49:37 AM
This is an AU fic, M/L. Rated PG-13 I guess. You'll have to read to find out what it's about. This fic could get kind of dark, so fair warning.

fd93a7ed


Part 1

No one ever really knew Elizabeth Parker.

In many ways, she was a mystery to us all. Someone who we passed by in the hall without so much as a second glance. Someone who we only talked to if the situation arose. She was smart; that much we did know. But that was about it. We didn’t know about her home life, what kind of music she listened to. What she wanted to be when she grew up. It’s not like she was ugly. In fact, Elizabeth was quite beautiful. It was how she presented herself that kept us away. Shy and reserved. She spent most of her free time reading books or doing things that would look good on her college applications.

Elizabeth had one thing that none of us had, though: genuine kindness. She was the girl who picked up someone’s wrappers that they’d left at the lunch table. The girl who typed up the office announcements every morning before school. She was the one who stayed after for hours organizing the library books and card catalogs. She was every teacher’s favorite student. But there was a difference between her and your average do-gooder. Elizabeth didn’t gloat, she didn’t like it when a teacher complimented her. She was embarrassed when her name appeared in the school paper over something she had done.

That’s why when we were grouped up to organize the Homecoming dance, her because she volunteered, me because I got caught smoking in the boy’s bathroom, I was not what you’d call enthusiastic about it. I think Principal Ford thought it’d be funny to see me, Max Evans, writing couples’ names on paper hearts and sticking them to the cafeteria walls.

“Um, the theme is ‘Wonderful Tonight.’” She says, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear.

“‘Wonderful Tonight’? What kind of crap is that?” I say, leaning back in my chair.

“It’s from an Eric Clapton song.” She says, not taking her eyes off the paper she’s taking notes on.

“Oh.” I say, not really caring either way.

I look around the library, which is filled with losers who stay after to do their homework here. I can’t believe I’m stuck here in the library, after school, planning a lame dance which I do not intend to go to. I might as well buy a sweater vest now.

“Principal Ford wants us to use reds, yellows, and oranges.” She says quietly. “You know, to go with the autumn.”

“How original.” I say, not even bothering to lower my voice.

At my comment she looks around, I’m guessing to make sure no one heard what I said.

“Don’t worry, not even the school faculty stays this late.” I quip, making a joke about her daily routine of staying here late.

“Yeah, even Ms. Geiger, the librarian, is gone.” She replies, giving a little laugh.

I think all sarcastic humor is lost on this girl.

“Right.” I lean farther back to look out the window that overlooks the lobby.

If someone saw me in here with Elizabeth Parker I’d be forever dubbed a reject. It’s not that she’s considered a big loser in our school. It’s just that no one asks Elizabeth for anything except to copy off her homework. I do not think my friends would buy me being in here copying homework. Especially since they’ve heard my spiel about staying on campus when not required. I learned this last year when Mrs. Barnes talked me into staying after and helping her hang up some new posters in her room. Michael was walking by the door, he said he had stayed after to steal an exam out of Mr. Kenny’s room (I have my doubts), and saw me and for months afterward my friends wouldn’t stop calling me Mrs. Barnes’ Bitch. It was not a pleasant experience.

“So do you think we should have the pictures taken in here?” She asks, pulling me out of my reverie.

“I don’t care.” I say, turning my attention back to my notebook where I’ve started a drawing of Principal Ford, complete with the hideous toupee he wears that only he thinks is real.

“I think they’d be best in here because it has a lot of room.” She says, writing it down in her notebook.

I just nod my head and turn to look at the computer cubicles. I remember last year when Kyle and I sent out a school wide memo that told the teachers that there would be no school the following day because electricians were coming to fix a problem with the fuse boxes. The next day 96% of the staff was gone and there was about ten teachers who didn’t read the email who showed up. That was an exciting day until they tracked down the username of the person who had sent it out. I got three days suspension for that one.

“Are we done here?” I ask, turning my face to try to see behind her curtain of hair.

“Yes Maxwell, you can go. I’m just going to stay and think of some more ideas.” She says, finally looking up and smiling.

“It’s Max.” I say, standing up and shoving my stuff into my backpack.

“I’ll give these to Mr. Ford tomorrow morning.” She says, ignoring my comment.

I just give a thumbs up sign and walk away. This is going to be the longest, most miserable month of my life.

Part 2

“So let me get this straight.” Michael says, flipping the burgers on the sizzling grill. “You get caught smoking in the bathroom, so now you have to plan the Homecoming dance with Elizabeth Parker.”

It’s at this point that he bursts out laughing.

“Laugh all you want. I’m not the one stuck working at my parent’s restaurant all weekend.” I say, leaning against the wall, popping another french fry into my mouth.

“At least I’m getting paid.” He replies, moving to the work table to make a sandwich.

Michael’s parents own an alien-themed restaurant in town called The Crashdown. As far as I can remember they’ve made him and his sister, Tess, work there. I myself have on occasion filled in when they’ve needed someone. It is not a pleasant experience, working in customer service. I don’t know how even Michael, someone with a cool temperament, can stand it.

“Do you realize that this means I’ll have to spend almost every day after school sitting in the library with Ms. Girl Next Door? I hope she doesn’t force me to knit or something like that.” I say, turning to look out into the dining area of the restaurant.

“Well, if she does, you can knit me a sweater.” He says, still laughing.

“Michael, do you have that Galaxy Sub ready yet?” Tess asks from the other side of the order window.

“Tessie, what have I told you about asking if your orders are ready yet?” He asks, putting the sub into a meal basket and bringing it over to window.

“Do it loud, do it often.” She smiles and walks away with her order.

He just shakes his head and goes back to preparing another meal.

“At least you don’t have Isabel for a sister. ‘Max, can you lend me five dollars?’ ‘Max, why do you always have to embarrass me?’ ‘Max, why can’t you just be normal and not get in trouble so much?’” I say, imitating her voice.

“‘Max, why are you such a loser?’” Michael says, matching his voice to mine.

I walk over and punch him in the arm.

“I’m leaving. I can’t take this abuse.” I say, walking towards the door that leads to the dining room.

“Bye Max. I’ll be expecting some mittens from you.” He says, laughing at his joke.

I walk out leaving him there to find himself humorous. The dining room is pretty empty for a Saturday afternoon. The only people there are old couples and preteens. Tess is over by the register staring out the window.

“Having fun?” I ask, walking up to the station.

She looks over and smiles.

“Max. I see you’ve decided to stop by and pester Michael. No wonder the orders are taking so long to get done.” She giggles, her blue eyes lighting up.

“I think it’s more of him ragging on me.” I say, leaning against the counter and look outside.

“Ragging on you? What’d you do now?” She asks, sorting the money in the register.

“You are now looking at West Roswell’s newest member of the Homecoming Committee.” I say, giving a little curtsy.

“No shit.” She says looking up in surprise. “Max Evans picking out streamer colors. That is classic.”

“Ha ha ha. Everyone get their laughs. Just you wait though. I’ll get my revenge.” I say, pushing open the Crashdown door and walking out into the New Mexican heat.

Roswell is, I bet, one of the smallest towns in America. No only does gossip spread like wild fire, but everyone feels the need to bring it up with you personally and give you their opinion about it. I have lived here my whole life, and not once was I able to get away with something if someone outside my circle of friends knew about it. Once someone knows that you did something, your mother knows about it. As I walk down Main Street, I see Elizabeth and her mother standing in front of the floral shop looking at the flowers that sit out front. I turn my head downward, my best attempt at being avoided.

The only thing that anyone knows about Elizabeth and her family is that her father passed away when she was thirteen and that her mother is fairly strict. One time we egged their house and her mother saw us. Needless to say, we all ended up having to do thirty hours of community service and we all got grounded for two weeks. Everyone tries to steer clear of ever having to have an encounter with Mrs. Parker.

“Maxwell? Hey.” Elizabeth’s voice says softly, causing me to look up.

“Oh, hey Elizabeth.” I say, looking around to make sure no one is seeing this. “Hello Mrs. Parker.”

“Hello Mr. Evans. Keeping out of trouble, I hope. Elizabeth tells me that you’re on the Homecoming Committee.” She says, her voice sounding even and controlled. “I’m glad to see you’ve turned yourself around and cleaned up your act.”

“Mother.” Elizabeth says, her face turning red.

“Yes, Mrs. Parker. I’m trying to make myself a better person.” I say, hoping to end this quick.

Her eyes narrow a little, showing she knows that I’m being a smart ass.

“I hope that you take seriously the lessons that are being taught to you, Mr. Evans. I’d hate to think that all the punishments for your adolescent mistakes aren’t teaching you anything.” She says, her tone intimidating. “Come along, Elizabeth.”

She turns and starts walking away, but Elizabeth stands and looks at me.

“Elizabeth.” She says.

Elizabeth smiles at me then turns around and walks off with her mother. I shake my head a little, not sure if that whole thing just happened or not.

“Max, what are you doing?” Kyle asks, yelling to me from across the street.

I turn to see him weaving his way through the street trying not to get hit by a car.

“Kyle, hey.” I say, walking towards the street.

“Whoa.” He says, as a car stops short of hitting him. “Max, my man. What’s up? Are my eyes deceiving me or were you just talking to Elizabeth Parker and her mom.”

“They just wanted to know about something my mom is doing for the PTA.” I say, hoping he’ll forget about it.

“Sure. Where are we going tonight?” He asks, giving the guy who honked the horn at him the finger.

“Maria’s throwing a party. I figured we’d go and crash it.” I say, as we walk down towards the park.

“Great. A Maria party, my favorite kind.” He says, laughing. “I like how her mom conveniently forgets that there’s a keg of beer in her kitchen every time Maria decides to throw a party.”

Maria’s mom is the mom everyone wants. She lets Maria throw parties whenever she wants, buys the beer, and doesn’t seem to care when Maria gets in trouble. From what I’ve seen, she is more like a best friend towards Maria than a mother.

“I’ll tell Michael to meet us there.” I say, walking over to a bench and sitting down.

“Okay, later. I’ve got to go help my dad fix the dishwasher.” He waves then starts walking in the direction towards his house.

That’s another thing about Roswell. It’s so small, that you don’t really need a car. Sure, we all have them. But if we’re going to go to the Crashdown or the park, we walk. More because we don’t want to waste gas than the size of the town. I get up and start the walk home. It’s usually when I have to walk home that I regret not driving my car. My house isn’t that far from Main Street, but I hate walking through my neighborhood. All my neighbors seem to all walk out their doors just as I’m passing their house. You have to be an Olympic runner just to make it home without having to stop and chat about the weather. As I enter the exclusive neighborhood (my parents are well, rich), I start to jog.

“Max, sweetie. Can you help me load this into my car?” Mrs. Jenson asks from her driveway.

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

“Do you know how much fat is in that?” Isabel asks from the counter.

I look up from my bowl of Lucky Charms to see her standing there drinking water out of a bottle.

“Do you realize that you paid to drink water when you could walk over to the tap and get it for free?” I ask, shoving another spoonful of cereal in my mouth.

“Funny.” She says, rolling her eyes. “Are you going to Maria’s tonight?”

“Yeah.” I say, chewing with my mouth open.

“That is so disgusting.”

“Are you going?” I ask, slurping the last drops of milk out of the bowl.

“Yes. But I’d prefer it if you didn’t come up and talk to me this time.” She says, walking out of the room.

“Don’t worry big sis, I won’t!” I yell after her.

“Honey, keep your voice down.” My mother says, walking into the kitchen.

“Sorry mom.” I say, getting up and putting my bowl into the sink.

“Isabel tells me that you’re working on the Homecoming dance with that sweet Elizabeth Parker.” She says, with the typical mom voice.

“That’s right.” I reply, hoping she won’t ask me why I decided to be on the Homecoming Committee.

My dad and I made this pact that if I didn’t screw up the Homecoming dance he wouldn’t tell my mom the reason why I was on the committee. She has this tendency to become overdramatic when I do something wrong. No one likes that when it happens.

“I’m glad that you’re hanging out with her. She’s so adorable. Did you know that she single handedly organized last year’s Senior Citizen Celebration?” She asks, putting my bowl into the dishwasher.

“Really?” I ask, even though I knew all about it.

In fact, we had all gone around calling her ‘Grandma’ for weeks. I was even dared to put Bengay in her locker.

“Yeah. She is such a wonderful little girl.” She goes on, but I tune out.

I think every kid in town has gotten the “Why can’t you be more like Elizabeth Parker?” speech. That’s another reason we can’t stand her. She makes us all look bad.

“Mom, I’m going over to Kyle’s tonight and staying there. Is that okay?” I ask, hoping she doesn’t catch on to where I’ll really be going.

“Sure honey. Just don’t be too rowdy. I don’t want Jim calling me to tell me you’ve set fire to his shrubbery again.”

“That wasn’t me mom. The kids next door were having a bonfire and they let a flaming marshmallow fly over the fence.” I say, clearly remembering that it was me who set it on fire as a joke.

“Right. A group of five year olds did it.” She says, laughing at the memory.

She wasn’t laughing when it happened though. I had to repaint Mr. Valenti’s fence and replant the shrubs. Kyle had to clean the whole house spotless. Mr. Valenti is a nice guy, but when he gets pissed, you don’t want to be there.

“Okay, I’ll see you later.” I say, walking out of the kitchen towards my room.

I walk up the stairs to my room. My dad is president of one of the biggest corporations in New Mexico. So I’ve grown up in a pretty wealthy environment. All of my friends are pretty rich too. Kyle’s dad owns a landscaping business, Michael’s parents own the Crashdown, and Maria’s mom owns the town’s biggest supplier of all the damn alien crap. I don’t think the whole money thing has gotten to my head at all. I mean, sure I don’t generally hang out with people that don’t have as much money as me, but that’s just because I don’t find them interesting. I think Isabel is more of a stuck up snob than I am. That’s obvious to everyone. She won’t even look at the people who she doesn’t deem “worthy” of her time. Hell, I’m her brother and she barely speaks to me.

Most of the time I’m in my house, I do my best to avoid contact with my family. It’s not that I don’t love them, I just think that there should be a limit to the time you spend with them in a day. The time that I am home, I usually stay in my room and play video games or computer games.

“Holy shit!” I yell when the phone rings beside me. “Hello?”

“Hey dumbass, you ready?” Michael’s voice says into the receiver.

“What?” I ask, looking out the window.

To my surprise, it’s already dark out. I must’ve been playing longer than I thought.

“To go to Maria’s party. Don’t tell me you’ve already forgotten.” He says, laughing.

Michael is sad, really. He finds himself hilarious, leaving all of us to wonder what is going on in his head.

“I didn’t realize it was so late. I’ll meet you and Kyle there.” I say, hanging up the phone.

I look around for my shoes, hurriedly tying the laces when I find them. There’s two things I plan to do tonight: get drunk and have fun. I run down the stairs, almost running into my father.

“Wow, slow down there sport.” He says, carrying his newspaper to the den.

“Sorry dad. Later.” I say, continuing running to my Jeep out in the driveway.

For my sixteenth birthday last year, my parents bought my a Jeep. That’s another nice thing about having rich parents, you don’t have to have a job. Maria’s house is in a secluded spot out in Autopsy Woods. Well, actually it’s really called Autumn Woods, but whenever someone “has” a UFO sighting, it’s usually in those woods. Mrs. DeLuca thought it’d be cool to have a house out there in the middle of nowhere. She’s way too into alien stuff. But the house being out there is actually a good thing because there’s no one around to call the cops if we’re having a party.

By the time I get up her long driveway, there’s already fifteen cars laid out sporadically in the woods surrounding her house. I stop the car and step out. I can see Kyle’s Mustang next to a tree, but I can’t find Michael’s. He usually is late anyway. He’ll bother you about being on time, but he takes his own sweet time getting some place. I walk up the walkway and open the door. The music is loud and I can barely hear anyone’s voice.

“Hey Max!” Someone yells into my ear.

I turn to see Maria standing beside me. She’s wearing a tight clingy dress, her usual gear. She is one of those girls who always looks hot. She could be wearing a brown paper bag and she’d still look good.

“Hey Maria.” I say, giving her a kiss on the cheek.

“Kyle’s in the kitchen taking Jell-O shots.” She says, dancing to the music.

“Thanks!” I yell to her as I make my way to the kitchen.

I squeeze my way through the crowd. Most of the people here are already either drunk or stoned.

“Hey Max! Where you been?” A female voice yells from in front of me.

I look up to see Angela Turner.

“Hey Angela.” I say, walking up to her. “What’s up?”

“Nothing. This party was pretty lame till you showed up.” She says, scooting closer to me.

“Aren’t they all.” I say, joking.

“What do you say we go upstairs?” She asks, her eyes looking towards the steps.

I feel her grab my hand and start to pull me upstairs.

“Angela, no.” I say, pulling her to a stop. “You’re wasted.”

“I’m fine. Come on Max.” She says, smiling.

“No. Let’s go get you some water.” I say, leading her to the kitchen.

When we get there, I see Kyle sitting on the counter, yelling at Tommy Morris to chug.

“Here you go.” I say, handing her a cup of water. “Just go sit over there.”

I watch her as she goes over to the kitchen table and sits down sipping her water. I turn my attention back to Kyle.

“Kyle, what the hell are you doing?” I ask, walking over to him.

“Max, man. It’s about time you got here. We’re all trying to get Tommy as drunk as possible.” He says, laughing uncontrollably.

I just shake my head a little.

“How much have you had to drink?” I ask, reaching over for a cup of beer.

“Enough.” He says, continuing laughing.

“Max, you want a hit?” Greg Hill asks from next to me.

I reach over, take the blunt from him, and take a few long puffs from it.

“Share the wealth.” Kyle says, taking it from me.

A group of people come into the kitchen with Michael leading them in. Michael is always the life of the party. He has the best jokes and everyone rushes to get around him.

“Michael. Try this shit.” Kyle says, passing him the blunt.

Another good thing about Roswell is that the cops are blind. They don’t realize how many drugs are floating around right under their noses. They don’t even have the random drug searches at school because they’re so trustworthy.

“Guys, what’s up? You will not believe how much convincing I had to do to get my parents to let me come. I told them that I was going to a school organized fundraiser to raise money for homeless people. The only way I could get them to believe me was that I said that I was taking Tess. They still have this whole idea that Tess is this innocent little thing. So if Tess is going, then it must be something good.” He says, opening a bottle of beer.

“What’d you do, man? Drop her off at a street corner and tell her to start walking back home?” I ask, looking back over to make sure Angela is still sitting at the table.

“No. She said I actually had to take her this time or else she’d tell.”

What everyone usually does at these parties is hang around, drink, smoke, and talk. Upstairs, of course, is where people go to have sex. Most of the time though, everyone stays downstairs. I like to think that we’re all a pretty close knit group. All the people who come to the parties are people like us. Upper middle class to rich. We’ve gotten a little out of hand before. Every party we do a practical joke. We usually get away with it, but there’s those times when we get caught. One party we wrecked the superintendent’s house. We toilet papered it. We put shaving cream on every possible surface. Hell, we even covered his car in bologna. It was great. Fortunately, this was one of the times we weren’t caught. But for weeks afterward, Principal Ford kept making announcements that there was a full blown investigation on discovering who had done it. They never found out. Ford likes to bullshit a lot.

“So what is it this party?” Greg asks, releasing a long puff of smoke.

More people cram into the kitchen, anticipating what we’re going to do this time. The Party Practical Joke has become a tradition. We’re infamous for it. I think all the poorer kids at West Roswell resent us for it. They’ve been the victim to it at one time.

“We could do something to Ford.” Someone says from the doorway.

“We could roll his car down to the park!” Another person yells.

“No. I’m already stuck doing that damn Homecoming dance. If he catches me doing something to his house or his car, I’ll be planning Prom.” I say, taking another gulp of my drink.

“You’re planning Homecoming, Evans?” Terri Russ asks, causing everyone to laugh. “With the rest of West Roswell’s nerds at their finest?”

“Sadly, yes.” I say, knowing that I couldn’t have kept it a secret that much longer anyways.

“I was wondering why you were in the library with Elizabeth Parker on Friday.” Greg says, with only makes them laugh more.

The thought of me hanging out with Elizabeth Parker is more than funny for them. We’re on opposite sides of the Roswell Popularity Spectrum.

“You know what would be funny?” Kyle asks, leaning back onto the wooden cabinets.

“What?” Terri asks, smoking a cigarette.

“If we did something to Elizabeth. Think about that.” Kyle says, with a thoughtful look on his face. “Roswell’s sweetheart. We could get her good.”

Everyone in the room takes a moment to think about this. That would be the ultimate practical joke. Everyone has dreamed about doing something to Elizabeth to knock her off her high horse.

“Let’s do it.” I say, with a big smile on my face.

Part 3

Elizabeth lives in the not so nice part of town. It’s not like she’s as poor as some of the people at our school, it’s just that since her mother is their only source of income they don’t have very much money. Everyone knows where their house is, though. It’s a tiny little place down the road from the old park. When we were younger, every kid went to that park because it was the only one with a swing set. Then the big park off Main Street built a huge play area and since then no one has gone to the old park. All the equipment is rusted and the paint is chipping off. Elizabeth’s house is at the end of a no outlet street. It’s the only house on the street besides a few condemned ones. Whenever you drive by the street you can see it at the end, gray and shabby, just sitting there.

“So what exactly are we going to do?” Michael asks, turning off of Main Street towards her house.

“Let’s not egg it. We already did that. And we all know what happened.” I say, holding on to the door handle. Michael is not the world’s best driver.

“No, definitely not that again.” Michael says, taking a sip of his Coke.

“Well, we wouldn’t have to worry about that. Mrs. Parker is probably at that lame PTA meeting with the rest of the parents.” Kyle says from the back of the car.

“Dude, you know what would be really mean?” Greg asks in between puffs. “We could shut off her power box, then, when she comes out, we could hide and scare the piss out of her.”

“Shit, that’s awesome.” Kyle replies, laughing over the idea.

When we turn onto her street, Michael turns off his headlights. The empty park looks eerie as we pass. The only light on at Elizabeth’s house is the light in the front room. Michael pulls up to one of the abandoned houses next to hers and we all climb out.

“Okay, Michael and I will hide in the bushes over there.” I say, pointing to a row of tall hedges surrounding the house. “You two go find the breakers and turn them off. When she comes out, get the hell out of there.”

“Okay.” They all say in unison.

We split up, careful not to go near the window. From where we’re at we can see them at the side of the house open the power box. A few seconds later the light in the house goes off. Kyle and Greg run behind the porch.

“What the hell? Is she coming?” Michael asks after a few minutes pass.

Just as he says this, the front door opens and Elizabeth comes walking out with a flashlight in her hand. Her long brown hair is tied into a tight ponytail and she’s wearing her usual plain clothes.

“Here we go.” I say, whispering as she gets closer to the fuse box.

She walks so softly that it almost looks like she’s floating.

“Elizabeth.” Kyle’s voice whispers into the window.

She turns to look in the direction of where they’re at. She stares there for a few seconds then continues to the box.

“Elizabeth.” I whisper.

She turns again towards our direction now.

“Hello?” Her voice asks, blending into the wind.

She goes back to looking at the fuse box. A few seconds later the light in the living room goes back on. She shuts the box, the sound echoing throughout the empty neighborhood. She walks back to the porch.

“I’m watching you.” Greg says, disguising his voice.

“Is someone there?” She asks, standing on top of her porch.

She waits there for a few seconds in the silence then goes into her house, locking the door behind her. We all walk out into the front yard away from the window.

“Now let’s run around the house banging on the windows.” Michael says.

We all split up and run banging on the windows, then we meet at Michael’s car and get in as quickly as we can.

“Go, dumbass.” I say as Michael slowly gets into the car.

He starts it up and squeals away. I turn around to see Elizabeth standing on her porch looking around.

“Hell yes.” Kyle bursts out when we get back onto Main Street.

“We had to of scared the shit out of her.” Greg says, lighting up another joint.

When we get back to the party, everyone crowds around us trying to get as much information about the prank as possible. The story is concluded with everyone clapping and shouting.

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

The days after the pranks are always kind of tense. No one is sure if we’ll get in caught or not. Monday is the decisive day of whether we’ll get in trouble. If we all get called up to Principal Ford’s office, then that answers everything. Fortunately, Monday starts off fine and I walk past Ford without so much as a sneer. I walk to my locker, taking my time because I want to delay Government class as much as possible.

“Maxwell?” Elizabeth’s voice says from beside my locker door.

“Fuck.” I whisper to myself.

This can only mean one thing: she knows who was at her house on Saturday.

“Hey, Elizabeth.” I say, turning to her.

To my utter surprise, she doesn’t look mad at all. In fact, she is giving me a little smile.

“I was wondering if you thought about anymore plans for the Homecoming dance.” She says, completely clueless that I was one of the people who pulled the prank.

“Um, not really.” I say, not even bothering to come up with something lame.

“Oh.” She says, still smiling a little.

I look around the hall to make sure that no one is staring at us. It’s basically empty except for a few stragglers running to make it before the tardy bell rings.

“Well, I should get going. If you think of any, let me know.” She says, turning and walking away.

Her shoes squeak a little as she walks away. I, meanwhile, lean against the lockers breathing a sigh of relief. It’s hard enough actually having to work with her, but having to work with her knowing about my role in the prank would’ve been worse. I walk to class grudgingly. Mrs. Urman, my teacher, doesn’t exactly like me. She’s the one who gives me the most detentions.

“Mr. Evans.” She says when I walk in just as the tardy bell rings.

“I’m on time.” I say quickly, walking to my seat.

She just shakes her head and goes back to taking attendance.

“Evans.” I hear someone whisper from behind me.

I turn around to see Maria looking at me.

“Hey.”

“Heard about the prank.” She whispers, giving me a thumbs up.

I just smile back at her and turn around back to Mrs. Urman. She’s already starting to write notes on the board. I would sleep through this class, but Urman is one of those teachers that would get you suspended just for yawning.

“Max, pay attention.” She sternly says from her desk.

She is always making sure I don’t do anything wrong. I, of course, always do something wrong so I frequently get into trouble. I don’t know what it is. Whether it’s the sheer joy out of seeing her pissed, or that it’s just become a routine, I somehow manage to get told off once during class.

“Who remembers what the Monroe Doctrine is?” She asks, continuing with the notes.

This is followed by silence. They put all the troublemakers and the slow learners into this class. Mrs. Urman should realize by now that no one ever remembers anything we’ve learned. Our test scores are proof of that. I think 90% of us are not going to pass this class and are going to end up having to make it up in summer school.

“Max.” Maria whispers again. “Do you want to go see a movie tonight?”

I wait for Urman to turn back to the board before answering.

“Yeah, sure.” I whisper back.

Maria and I have been friends since we were little kids. I remember our moms bringing us to the park together to play. Since then, we’ve been inseparable. We dated for a while back in the ninth grade, but that didn’t work out well. We somehow managed to keep our friendship intact. I’m glad that she’s been here for me, she’s helped me out through some tough times.

“Max.” She says again.

“What?” I ask, getting a little annoyed.

“Mr. Evans and Ms. DeLuca, that is it. I’ve tried ignoring you for the past few minutes but enough is enough.” She says, slamming down her chalk on her desk.

“I’m so sorry Mrs. Urman.” Maria says in an innocent voice. The one she uses with adults.

“I’m not buying that. Go to Principal Ford’s office.” She says, shaking her head in disgust.

“We’re sorry.” I say, trying to get out of going there.

She just continues to shake her head and points to the door. We regretfully walk out of the room towards the office.

“Nice going, Maria.” I say, acting pissed off.

“Oh shut up.” She says laughing.

“What were you going to ask me?” I ask, moving out of the way of some kid.

“I was going to ask if you were going to the Crashdown for lunch or if you were going to stay in the caf.”

“I’m going to stay in the caf. If I’m tardy to Jacobs’ room one more time, he’ll suspend me.” I say, referring to my English teacher, whose class I have right after lunch.

“Okay. I was going to stay anyway because today’s the day my mom delivers the alien crap to the Crashdown and I didn’t want to run into her.” She replies, pulling her hair back into a ponytail.

When we get to the office we’re told to sit in the waiting area and wait for Ford to get out of a meeting. I already know I’m going to get bitched out like no other, so I don’t have an anxious apprehension.

“Oh my God.” I hear Maria say after a few minutes. “Slip Ons? I didn’t think anyone wore those anymore.”

I follow her gaze to see Elizabeth standing by a filing cabinet behind the desk.

“That is sad.” She says, laughing.

She is indeed wearing a pair of white Slip Ons. I can’t help but laugh at the sight of them. I remember girls wearing those back in the fifth grade. I didn’t think they sold them anymore.

“Yes it is.” I reply, leaning back in the chair.

“Quiet, she’s coming.” Maria says, straightening her face.

Elizabeth walks past us, going over to the secretary.

“Do you want me to put these in the student files?” She asks, holding up a handful of folders.

“Sure, sweetie.” Ms. Bryce, the head secretary, says.

Elizabeth walks past us again and opens the filing cabinet we first saw her at.

“I’m so glad you guys did that prank. I only wish I could’ve been there to see her face when you went around banging on the windows. That must’ve scared her half to death.” She says, still looking over at Elizabeth.

“It was great.” I say, remember the thrill of it all.

“Next time you all are taking me with you. I’m tired of you, Michael, Kyle, and Greg getting to do all the fun stuff. You know my mom wouldn’t care in the slightest if I got caught.”

Which was exactly true. Mrs. DeLuca would probably just say don’t do it again.

“Alright. I’ll make sure that you’re in on the next one.” I say, making a mental note.

Five minutes later a very pissed off Principal Ford steps out of his office glaring at the two of us.

“Max Evans, in my office now.” He calls from his doorframe.

Everyone in the office turns toward us.

“Good luck.” Maria whispers at me as I walk into his office.

As soon as we step into the room, he slams the door shut behind us.

“Have a seat, Mr. Evans.” He says, pointing one of the chairs beside his desk.

Okay, this is a bit freaky. Usually he starts yelling as soon as the door swings shut. Him being casual is not good.

“I understand you and Ms. DeLuca out there were causing a disturbance in Mrs. Urman’s room again.” He says, walking over and taking a seat in his chair.

“Yeah, I guess.” I say, shifting in my seat.

I have a feeling something bad is about to come out of his mouth.

“Mrs. Urman says you were.”

“We were.” I say, becoming increasingly uncomfortable.

He clears his throat and pulls out a file from under a stack of papers.

“I spoke with your parents a few minutes ago.” He starts. “And we’ve decided something.”

Shit.

“Yeah?”

“You are now on probation.” He says, writing something down on the folder.

“What does that mean?” I ask, scooting my chair a little closer to his desk.

“It means, Mr. Evans, that we’re on a three strikes rule now. You get two chances to screw up, but one more after those means you’re expelled. You’re parents have agreed to it. Three incidents and you will not graduate from West Roswell High School. Whether you like it or not, that’s the deal.” His voice indicates that there are no “and” “ifs” or “buts” about it.

“Okay.” I say, for lack of anything better.

“I’m glad we agree. Now go back to class. This won’t count as your first strike.” He says, getting up and opening the door.

I walk out, wondering if that all really happened. I was expecting him to scream at me and tell me that if I don’t apply myself, I’ll never be anything. I definitely wasn’t expecting that. That was so far from what I was ready for that I am actually in shock.

“How’d it go?” Maria asks, still waiting for her turn.

“I don’t even know.” I say, continuing past her and out of the office.

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

“We’ll need more streamers.” Elizabeth says, filling up the cart with more packages of streamers.

After school I had to meet Elizabeth at the party supply store off of Main Street. Most of the stuff up front is alien related, but all the locals know that if you want regular party stuff, you have to go to the back half of the store.

“Do you really think we’ll need this much shit?” I ask, glancing down at the overflowing cart.

“Um, I think that if we want the cafeteria to look really nice, we’ll need this all plus more.” She says, wincing a little at my use of the word ‘shit.’

“Will we have enough money?”

“Mr. Ford gave me two hundred for the decorations, then I went around and took donations from local businesses.” She says, turning her gaze back to the shelf of streamers.

It’s nauseating how into this whole dance thing she is. If it were up to me, we’d just make some posters that say, ‘Fall Homecoming’ on it or something. Then I’d get a stereo and that’d be the extent of my dance.

“I already hired a DJ. He’s suppose to be one of the best in Roswell.” She says, her voice holds the same innocent and sweetness that it always does.

We push the cart down the aisle towards the rolls of colored paper.

“I was thinking that we could do one wall in red, one in yellow, and then one in orange. Then, instead of putting the couples’ names on hearts, we could put them on leaves.” She says, already loading the heavy rolls of paper into a second cart.

I walk over and take the roll out of her arms and put them in myself. I may not like her very well, but I don’t think she needs a hernia.

“Thank you.” She says smiling.

After finishing shopping, which took forever by the way, we load all the stuff into her trunk. Actually, I’m pretty sure this is her mother’s car. Whenever anyone sees Elizabeth going somewhere she’s usually walking. I don’t think her mom likes her driving a lot.

“I’m going to go drop this stuff off at the school. I guess I’ll talk to you some other time this week.” She says, walking towards the driver’s side.

“Wait. I’ll go with you to the school.” I say.

I figure if I delay going home longer, then maybe my parents will calm down and won’t be yell so much when I get there.

“You don’t have to.” She says, unlocking the door.

“No, it’s fine.” I say, walking towards my Jeep. “I’ll just meet you there.”

I get to the school first, probably because Elizabeth goes exactly the speed limit. When she finally pulls in, I realize that I’m already late for dinner. I’ll probably get in even more trouble for being late.

“Thanks for coming. You really didn’t have to.” She says, as she opens her trunk.

We load the stuff into a storage closet that is near the gym. No one is in the school except janitors.

“I’ll see you later.” I say, walking towards the parking lot exit.

“Bye.” She says, heading off in the opposite direction.

Towards the library, no doubt. Okay, I’ll admit it now. She’s not as bad as I thought she’d be. I thought that she’d try to get me to donate money or something. Surprisingly she seems just like an ordinary girl, plus the need to help any and everyone. I drive home, forgetting all about Elizabeth Parker, and think about what awaits me at my house. I cautiously walk into my house.

“Hello?” I call out.

I set my keys down and walk into the living room. It’s empty. I walk past the room to the kitchen. There my parents sit surrounded by bills. This is a regular thing for them. After dinner, they sit at the table and talk, pay bills, and do whatever the hell it is that they do.

“Max, where have you been?” My mom asks when she notices me standing there.

“I was helping Elizabeth with the Homecoming dance.” I reply.

I’ve figured out something. Since my mother sees Elizabeth as the epitome of greatness, if I say I was with her, she’ll never suspect that I was doing something else. Of course this time it’s true, but I’m sure I can use the excuse in the future.

“Oh. Okay.” She says, accepting it. “Listen Max. We know Principal Ford talked to you about the policy we decided upon.”

“We just want to make sure you understand the serious ramifications of what will happen if you get expelled.” My father says, joining in.

“I do.” I say, going over and opening the fridge.

“Good. We’re just trying to look out for you. We love you Max, and we want you to have the best future possible.” She says, writing a check.

“I know.” I reply, pouring myself a glass of orange juice.

“We trust you.” Dad adds.

I take my glass and walk upstairs to my room. I guess it’s time for me to get my act together.





[ edited 2 time(s), last at 11-Jul-2002 3:18:18 PM ]
posted on 4-Jul-2002 6:46:11 PM
Part 4

“Do you realize that we only have about eight months of school left?” Michael asks, leaning back in the booth.

“Seriously?” Maria says, taking another sip of her drink.

“Yeah.” He replies.

Every Wednesday after school we go to Flying Pizza Pan, another alien themed restaurant. Those are about the only kinds of restaurants we have here. Well, except for the Mexican one down on Miller Road.

“Well, not all of us may be there.” Kyle says, pointing to me and laughing.

“Shut up.” I say, kicking him under the table.

“Strike three, you’re out.” Maria yells, giggle hysterically.

“Hey!” I say, giving her hair a tug.

“Here you go.” The waitress says, setting down our pizza.

“Thanks.” I say, grabbing the pizza cutter.

My friends and I have no manners what so ever. Even Maria, whose suppose to be the dainty girl is a slob. She can down more slices than all of us put together. It’s not a pretty sight afterwards, but when she’s actually doing it, it’s comical.

“I bet you a hundred dollars you that you will not make it to graduation.” Michael says, his mouth full of pizza.

“I want in on that.” Kyle says, opening his wallet and setting down a hundred dollar bill on the table.

“What the hell, I’m in too.” Maria says, following his example and setting a bill down too.

“Fine. If I make it to graduation, I get a hundred from each of you. If I don’t, then I’ll give you each a hundred.” I say, stuffing a fry in my mouth. “So I’m either up three hundred, or in the shitter three hundred.”

We all shake on it, then continue to stuff our faces.

“Look who it is.” Kyle says, looking towards the entrance.

I turn around to see Isabel walk in with a group of her friends.

“Don’t make direct eye contact.” I say. “That could seriously bring down her popularity level.”

“Like, totally.” Maria says, imitating Isabel’s voice.

“I don’t know, man. Isabel is looking pretty hot.” Kyle says, staring at her.

“Cut that out, that’s my sister.” I say, kicking his shin again.

“Ow, shit. That hurts.” He says, bending down and rubbing his leg.

“Watch this.” I say, turning back towards Isabel. “Hey Isabel Evans! My loving sister. It is I, your brother!”

They all look in my direction. Isabel’s face turns a bright red; she goes back to acting like she’s reading the menu.

“Shit, dude. That was awesome.” Michael says, trying to hide his laugh.

Isabel whispers something to her friends then walks over towards us. She does her usual Isabel ‘I’m better than you’ Evans walk.

“Max.” She growls. “What have I told you about talking to me in public?”

“Hey Isabel.” Kyle says, smiling big.

She just looks at him, her eyes burning. Kyle takes the hint and doesn’t say anything else.

“What? I can’t say hello to my favorite sister?” I ask, relishing the moment.

“I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t.” She says, then turns and walks away.

“Well, that was fun. Minus the fun part.” Maria says, sipping her drink.

Isabel has always been like that. Even when we were younger she didn’t like being around me. I don’t know if the whole image thing is really what it’s about or if that’s how she really feels.

“Max, look whose checking you out.” Michael says.

We all look to see Jill Carson looking right at me and smiling.

“She is not an eye sore.” I say, smiling back at her.

I’ve known Jill since the fifth grade. In junior high we hung with the same people. We were never really good friends, mainly casual acquaintances. Since junior high, however, she’s gotten pretty hot.

“Please. She is such a tramp.” Maria says, adding in her opinion. “I’d rather see you with...”

She stops, her face becoming thoughtful.

“Danielle Rust?” Michael says.

“Oh God, no.” Maria says, shaking her head in disgust.

“Barbara Cohn?” Kyle throws out.

“No.”

“Ah!” She says, snapping her fingers. “Elizabeth Parker.”

“Elizabeth Parker? Now that would be funny.” Michael laughs.

“I can guarantee you now, that will never happen.” I say, putting the thought aside.

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

“Max?”

I look up from my magazine to see my mom standing in front of me in an apron that says “Kiss the cook!” My parents are such losers.

“Yeah?”

“I need you to go to the store and pick up another bag of potatoes. Your Aunt Sally and Uncle Martin are coming over. And you know how much mashed potatoes your uncle eats. I swear, if that....” She says, continuing talking as she walks back into the kitchen.

My mother often goes off into crazy tangents. She can have full conversations with herself.

“Sure mom, I’ll go. Thanks for asking.” I say, rolling my eyes.

I set down the magazine on the coffee table and walk over to the door. As I slip on my jacket, grab my keys, and walk out to my car, my aunt and uncle pull in.

“Hey kiddo. Where you going?” Uncle Martin asks as he steps out of the car.

“I have to pick up something for mom at the grocery store. I’ll be right back.” I say, hoping to avoid further conversation with them.

My aunt and uncle are nice, really they are. It’s just that they’re so personal. They have to know every detail of your life. It’s very annoying at times.

“Okay, we’ll see you in a few.” He says, both of them walking to the door.

I start up my car and pull out. I rip on Roswell a lot, but it’s not that bad of a town. I mean, we have a low crime rate, people still feel safe keeping their doors unlocked, and everyone is generally friendly. It’s boring as hell, but it’s a nice place to raise your kids. I wouldn’t raise mine here because I’m getting out of here, but I can see it’s appeal.

“Evans!” I hear someone yell, followed by a horn honking.

I stop the car and turn around to see Ben Geiger, his head popping out of a sunroof, with Jenny Harris at the wheel.

“Hey, you idiot!” I yell back, leaning out my window a little. “Where are you two headed?”

“The Crashdown.” Jenny yells, pulling Ben down into the seat at the same time. “You going there?”

“No, I have to go to the grocery store for my mom.”

“Mama’s boy!” Ben screams, leaning back in the seat laughing.

I flick him off and continue driving. It always seems like that whenever you decide to go somewhere, everyone else in town decides to go out too. There’s only one grocery in Roswell. It’s a Mom and Pop store on Main Street, where everything worth going to is. It’s exactly like a normal corporate store except that you know all the people who work there.

“Hello Max. Can I help you with anything?” Miriam Sawyer, the owner, asks. As if I haven’t been into this store a million times.

“No thanks, Mrs. Sawyer. I just have to pick something up for mom.” I reply, walking past her to the section where the potatoes are.

I finally get to the potatoes after stopping to help Old Lady Meyers to get something off the top shelf. I think she is the town’s oldest living person.

“Potatoes.” I say as I reach the section where the potatoes are. “Great. Red or brown. What’s the difference?”

I hold up both bags, trying to remember what kind mom usually buys. She doesn’t let us in the kitchen when she’s cooking because we get in the way and eat everything she is cooking. I probably should’ve at least paid attention to how to make simple meals like mashed potatoes and grilled cheese.

“That is so adorable.” A voice says from the aisle next to the produce.

A few seconds later, there’s laughter. Maybe I can just ask someone what kind of potatoes you use. I set the bags down and walk over to the aisle. And would you imagine who is there. Elizabeth Parker and Old Lady Meyers. Just my luck. I’m beginning to think that Elizabeth is stalking me.

“Max sweetie, come here.” Mrs. Meyers says when she sees me standing there like a moron.

I reluctantly walk towards them.

“Hello Elizabeth, Mrs. Meyers.” I give her my innocent smile.

I’m not stupid. If I’m rude in any way to anybody, my parents will know about it by the time I get home. I learned this the hard way.

“I was just showing Elizabeth a picture of my great granddaughter.” She says, holding up the picture for me to see.

“She’s very pretty.” I say, coming up with nothing better.

“Isn’t she?” She smiles, putting the picture back in her wallet. “Did you find your potatoes?”

“Actually, I’m not sure which kind I should buy. I’m not exactly the world’s greatest cook.” I say, glancing around the aisle.

“I’m sure Elizabeth can show you. She’s a great cook. She comes over once a week and makes me dinner.” Mrs. Meyers says, her eyes lighting up. “She’s such a sweetheart.”

Gag me with a spoon.

“Will you help me?” I ask, feeling very uncomfortable.

“Sure.” She says, putting a box of crackers into Mrs. Meyers’ cart.

“Don’t be too long, Elizabeth.” Mrs. Meyers says. “She’s going to push my cart around for me. It’s getting a little to full for me.” She adds, off my look.

“Okay, I won’t.” Elizabeth replies, walking towards the potato section.

When we get there, I just stare at all the choices of potatoes.

“It’s enough to give you a brain aneurysm.” I say, wondering why there are so many varieties of the same thing.

“Well, what kind of potatoes are you making?” She asks, crossing her arms.

“Mashed.”

“Oh, for those you’d want to use regular brown potatoes. The red ones are for eating whole, like if you wanted to put them with cooked carrots and other vegetables.” She says, picking up a bag of the brown potatoes and handing them to me.

“Thanks.” I say, adjusting the bag a little so it doesn’t fall out of my hands.

“No problem.” She says, starting to walk back to the other aisle.

“Wait.” I say, causing her to turn around. “About grilled cheese.”

“Put butter on the sides of the bread facing outward.” She smiles then disappears into the next aisle.

I think I might’ve been a little too judgmental about Elizabeth Parker.

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

“That was good. Thanks mom.” I say, scooting my chair back and getting up to put my dishes in the sink.

“You’re mother was always a great cook.” Aunt Sally says, wiping her mouth. “I, however, wasn’t born with that gene.”

“She is not lying.” Uncle Martin says, earning him a smack on the back of the head by Sally.

My aunt and uncle are very sarcastic too. They fight a lot, but it’s petty stuff. I think they have one of the best marriages I’ve seen. Besides my mom and dad, that is. They never fight. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing though.

“So Max, how is school going?” Aunt Sally asks when I sit back in my chair.

“Good.” I say, hoping that my parents don’t add anything in.

“Except that he’s on probation.” Isabel says from across the table.

“What?” Sally asks, taken back a little.

“Isabel.” My mother warns. “He just can’t get in trouble anymore or else he’ll be expelled. We know that he won’t let that happen, right Max?”

“Right.” I say, feeling my face get red.

“Max is a good kid. He just has a little too much fun sometimes.” My dad adds, still eating his corn.

It’s times like these that I wish Isabel did things that I could use against her. Besides the fact that she’s a bitch, there’s really nothing I can bring up.

“I’m going to go over to Michael’s.” I say, standing up.

“Oh Max. I don’t know. It’s a school night.” My mom says, looking over at the stove clock.

“And don’t you have a test tomorrow?” Isabel says, taking a sip of her water.

“No.” I say, glaring at her. “I think you have that confused. You have that history exam tomorrow.”

My mom looks over at her.

“Izzy? I thought you didn’t have anything. If you have an exam, you can’t go over to Carrie’s house.” Mom says.

“But I don’t.” Isabel says, sitting up and getting ready to defend herself.

“Max?” My dad looks at me for an answer.

“She does.” I say, not even knowing if she does or not.

“No, you do.” Isabel says, her eyes burning.

“That’s it. Since neither of you can decide who has a test and who doesn’t, you both can stay home.” My dad says, his tone changing from one of good humor to one of a very pissed off person.

Isabel and I both have realized by now that when he uses this voice, it’s best not to argue. He usually only uses it if we fight when there’s company here or if we’re really irritating him. He’s been using it a little more lately. I think it’s because of the whole probation thing.

“I’ll be in my room.” Isabel says quietly, walking towards us and up the stairs.

“Me too.” I say, getting up and following her lead.

When I get in my room I do nothing except lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling. This lasts about thirty minutes before I want to pull out my hair. I look around the floor for my cell phone and call Michael when I finally find it.

“Yeah?” He answers.

“What are you doing?” I ask, making sure my door is locked.

“Sitting here at a booth watching Tess clean up the mess she made after she dropped an apple pie.” He says, laughing. “You missed a spot.”

“You’re such a nice brother.” I reply.

“And you’re world’s best sibling, too.” He cracks.

“Fuck off. What are you doing tonight?”

“I thought we were going to Mike’s.” He says, referring to a bar in town that frequently “forgets” to check IDs.

“Yeah, well my parents won’t let me leave now because Isabel’s a bitch.”

“That sucks.” He says, then says something to Tess that I can’t make out. “Why don’t you just sneak out?”

“Oh yeah, that’d be fun. Especially when my parents realized that I wasn’t home.” I say, lowering my voice so no one hears.

“Please. Like you care. That hasn’t stopped you before.” He replies.

“True. Alright. I’ll meet you at Mike’s.” I say, hanging up the phone.

I walk downstairs and here my parents and aunt and uncle talking. Probably playing cards like they always do. I walk in, yawning as I do.

“Hey.” I say, sitting on the couch next to my mom. “What are you guys doing?”

“We’re talking about political stuff, nothing that would interest you.” Uncle Martin says.

“Oh.” I say, yawning again.

“You tired?” My mom asks, looking over at me as she deals out cards.

“Yeah. I was just doing my history homework. It’s pretty boring stuff.” I say, laying it on thick.

“Do you have anymore?” My dad asks, looking at his cards.

“No. I did most of it in study hall.” I say, stretching.

“Well,” He starts, looking at his watch. “If you go to sleep now, you’ll get in a few extra hours. You’re always complaining about how you don’t get any sleep. Now’s the perfect time to catch up.”

Bingo.

“That sounds like a good idea.” I say, standing up. “Goodnight everyone.”

I give my mom and Aunt Sally a kiss on the cheek and walk up to my room. I shut the door and lock it. I’ll have to walk because they’ll hear my car if I try to drive. That means I’ll have to dress dark or else someone will see me walking around. I put on the first dark clothes I see and climb out the window leaving it open a crack. I land on the kitchen roof. Luckily there’s no room over the kitchen so the roof is lower than the rest of the house. I carefully jump off into the lawn. I look back at the house to make sure no one saw and start jogging towards town. By the time I get onto Main Street, I’m out of breath. I walk the rest of the way to Mike’s. When I open the door, I catch a whiff of alcohol. There’s a lot of drunks in Roswell. I guess because there’s nothing else to do.

“Hey, man. It’s about time.” Michael says as soon as he sees me.

“Well, some of us don’t live right down the road.” I say, still catching my breath.

“You’re such a loser, Max. I can’t believe your parents still use that ‘It’s a school night’ thing against you.” Maria says, taking a sip of her beer.

“But they’re still too stupid not to know that I’m not home.” I say, signaling John, the bartender, to get me a beer.

“I’ll give you that much.” She says, laughing.

“Hey!” Michael yells when the door opens.

I look back to see Kyle and Nichole Bennet walk in with their arms around each other.

“Since when have they been together?” Maria asks, spinning on her stool.

“Since now, apparently.” I say, taking my drink from John.

“Hi guys.” Kyle says, sitting at one of the tables.

“Hey Kyle, Nichole.” I say, taking a sip of my drink. “What’s up?”

“Nothing. We were bored so we thought we’d stop by and get something to eat. You three are up to no good, I see.” Kyle says, then turns to Zoe, the waitress. “A hamburger, fries, and a Coke.”

“And for you?” Zoe asks, turning to Nichole.

“Same, please.” She smiles.

Nichole is not the girl you’d usually see with Kyle. Sure, she’s popular and hot, but she’s more of the studious type and not so much of a partier. Kyle is the exact opposite. I don’t think that it’ll last long. Especially when the next kegger happens.

“Hey Nichole. How are you?” Maria asks, with a little edge to her voice.

Maria always gets a little threatened whenever one of us has a girlfriend. It’s not that she likes any of us in that way, it’s more of a friendship thing. Like if we have a girlfriend, then we won’t need her as a friend anymore. She’s gotten better about it, but it’s still there. I think once she gets into a serious relationship, she’ll loosen up.

“I’m good. You?” Nichole asks, taking a sip of her Coke.

“I’m fine.” Maria replies, then turns back to the bar drinking her beer.

With that, the door opens again and more people from school walk in. I am so surprised that this place hasn’t been busted for selling alcohol to minors. People talk, you’d think the parents or cops would realize what was going on, but they haven’t. We’re still “sweet and innocent” in their minds.

“John, four Millers over here.” Carl Davis yells from a booth against the wall.

“That guy is such an asshole.” Maria says towards Carl. “He needs to realize he isn’t as hot as he thinks he is.”

Maria always has an opinion about everything.

“Maria, you’re such a bitch.” Michaels says, laughing so hard he spits his drink out.

“Nice.” I comment.

“Okay, you guys do realize that we have no life, right?” Michael asks, turning to look at the room.

“We have lives. Check us out hanging here.” Maria says, punching him on the shoulder.

“He’s right.” I say, setting my beer down. “Kyle’s over there on a date, all those guys in that booth will probably get laid this weekend, and even John is getting some.”

“That’s no lie.” John says, walking past us to the refrigerator.

“See? And here we are, always hanging out together, well minus Kyle who is finally doing something. We do the same things every week. With the exception of my great new job on the Homecoming committee. We need lives, stat.” I say, thinking about all the routines we have.

“We should do something wacky for once. Like, skydiving.” Michael adds.

“Or maybe something a little less life threatening.” Maria says, resting her chin in her hands.

“Road trip?” Michael asks.

“No.” Maria and I say in unison.

“I can’t afford to ditch school for a week. Ford’s already on my ass.” I say, still staring out at the room.

“Oh yeah. I forgot, delinquent.” Michael says, brushing back his hair with his fingers.

“You need a haircut.” Maria says, giving his hair a tug. “You’re starting to look like Jesus.”

“Hey! I am not.” Michael says, shaking his head.

“Sure you’re not, Christ.” I say, laughing.

“Screw you guys.” Michael says, gulping down the rest of his beer.

We all laugh a little.

“Seriously though. We need to do something interesting before we graduate and get out of this hell pit. We need to leave our mark on this town.” I say, thinking of life beyond Roswell.

“Now that is a scary thought.” Maria says, nodding her head.

Part 5

I don’t think it’s till you’re actually sitting in class listening to the teacher teach that you realize the full pointlessness of Algebra. Don’t get me wrong, I mean, if you’re into it more power to you. But if your future plans don’t extend beyond simple addition and subtraction, the class is just an endless blob of useless information. Plus, there’s letters. I don’t think letters belong in math.

“Okay, Alex. What is three to the third?” Mrs. Calhoun, my teacher, asks.

“Um. Well, uh. It’s, um, 27?” Alex stutters, giving her a hopeful look.

“Correct.” She says, smiling.

Alex is an okay guy. I mean, he’s popular, but I don’t generally hang out with him. He’s one of those people who doesn’t try to be popular, they just are. He has a band and they usually play at the park stage. That’s also another reason that everyone hangs in the park. Every Friday they have concerts there. Sometimes it’s lame, like when they have the older bands come in to satisfy the adults of the town. Also, when they bring the kiddie bands for the children. Usually though, they cater to us because we buy the most shit at the concerts. Anyway, Alex’s band is pretty good. They have a pretty big following here in Roswell and even from neighboring towns. Alex is one of those alternative types who dye their hair a different color every week and buy their clothes at the thrift shop. There’s nothing wrong with that, but him and his friends don’t go out of their way to have conversations. It’s funny watching them because they usually communicate with grunts and nodding. It’s pretty entertaining to watch. Did I mention that we have a lot of free time here in Roswell?

“Mr. Evans, are you with us?” Mrs. Calhoun asks, still smiling.

Even with my track record Mrs. Calhoun has never rubbed it in my face like my other teachers do. She’s sweet, a bit of a pushover, but she means well. I admit that sometimes I do take advantage of that fact, but I don’t do it in a way that she realizes. We all like Mrs. Calhoun, it’s hard not to, and we all manipulate her sometimes, again, it’s hard not to, but we don’t do it in an obvious way. We’re mean, but we’re not that mean. We do it subtly. Okay, maybe not so subtle that other teachers don’t notice but so that Mrs. Calhoun doesn’t notice.

“Yes, Mrs. Calhoun.” I say, giving her my best grin.

“Okay.” She says, turning back to the chalkboard.

She’s writing something that looks like a foreign language. Math was never my best subject. In fact, school in general isn’t something I excel at.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please report to the gym for a mandatory school meeting.” Mr. Ford says over the P.A. system. “And Max Evans, meet me in front of the trophy case.”

Great, what did I do now?

“Okay class, please go in an orderly fashion. We don’t want another domino fall like we did last time.” Mrs. Calhoun says, referring to the last school assembly when we all rushed to get out of the classroom.

Helen Burns tripped over an untied shoelace and fell into Brian Williams who was in front of her who fell into Alex Whitman and so on and so forth. Needless to say that about the whole class landed face forward on the ground. This included me. That was not a good day for any of us. This time we steer clear of Helen and make sure not to get too close to anyone.

“Ha ha. Funny Mrs. Calhoun.” Helen says sarcastically.

We herd into the hallway which is filled with other students making their way to the gym. Roswell High doesn’t have a lot of students, or not as many as your typical high school, but the school is a little outdated. Like I said before, we’re a really small town. We get a lot of tourists, but no one really wants to stay here for too long. Even the U.F.O nuts get a little bored after a while. You can only find out so many “facts” about the “aliens” before you realize there’s really nothing to find out.

“Earth to Max.” Michael says, waving his hand in front of my face.

“Oh, sorry. I spaced out.” I say, shaking me head.

“I just wanted to say, strike one!” He yells, then continues on to the gym.

I swear Ford is out to expel me. I push through the crowd and walk to the trophy case where I see Principal Ford and Elizabeth Parker talking.

“Fuck.” I whisper to myself.

“Mr. Evans, glad that you decided to join us.” Ford says, glaring at me.

“Yeah, so what’s this about?” I ask, feeling the curious glances of my classmates in the back of my head.

This does nothing for my reputation. Being seen with Ford is one thing, but being seen with him and Elizabeth Parker at the same time is something completely different. I will be forever tormented for this.

“Actually Mr. Ford called the assembly on my behalf.” Elizabeth says lightly.

Figures. Only for her would Ford do anything nice.

“Okay.” I say, giving them a weird look.

“It’s for the Homecoming dance.” She explains. “I just wanted to talk about the dangers drinking and driving. I know that they’ve all heard about it a dozen times, but I just wanted to refresh their memories.”

I put my hand over my mouth. It’s all I can do to suppress a laugh. Stuff about 280 kids into a sweltering hot gym and talk to them about drinking and driving. I’m already regretting this.

“So I was thinking that maybe you could help too. Since you’re on the dance committee. You know, since you seem to have an influence over a lot of the kids.” She says, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear.

No way. This is not happening. Me talking to everyone about not drinking on Homecoming night? Everyone in school, besides Elizabeth it seems, knows that I’m one of the biggest partiers in town. I can’t say no, however, because Ford will probably give me a “strike,” as he said.

“That would be...swell.” I say, meaning for it to sound forced.

Ford gives me a look of warning but Elizabeth just smiles.

“Thank you.” She says, practically glowing.

“Mr. Evans, I trust that you will not do anything that would cause you to get in trouble. I hope that you remember our talk.” He says, looking past me.

“Loud and clear, sir.” I say, smiling.

“You two! Yeah, I’m talking to you.” He yells, walking past us towards Bill Henderson and Andrea Tukes, who continue making out despite his yelling.

Oh to be in Bill’s shoes right now.

“So, did you want me to start off or did you want to?” She asks, completely ignoring what is going on about fifteen feet away.

“You can.” I say quickly.

“Alright.” She says, looking down at a packet of notes that she has.

“So, what exactly am I suppose to say?” I ask, hoping to get this over with as soon as possible.

“Well,” She says, looking up from her packet. “I wrote down some things for you to talk about. I have two packets, so you don’t have to worry about giving me yours back. And I was also thinking that maybe we should let them have a chance to ask questions if they want.”

“Uh huh.” I reply, just thinking of the questions that will be asked.

“We’re ready for you.” Mr. Passmore, an English teacher, says to us from the entry to the gym.

“Okay.” Elizabeth says, smiling.

What is with her and all the smiling? I see nothing here to smile about.

“Let’s go.” She says, starting towards the gym.

We walk into the gym, hundreds of eyes following us as we make our way to the microphone that is set up in the middle of the gym. I look out into the crowd to see Michael, Maria, and Kyle pointing at me and laughing.

“Excuse me?” Elizabeth says into microphone.

Her voice is so soft that even the microphone doesn’t carry the noise very far. Nevertheless, everyone quiets down waiting to hear what we have to say.

“Thank you.” She says, referring to the quiet. “I asked Principal Ford to call this assembly so I could talk to you about the dangers of drinking and driving. With Homecoming weeks away, we wanted to make sure that you all knew how important it was not to get behind the wheel if you’ve even had one drink.”

This is followed by boos from the crowd. Of course, Elizabeth being, well Elizabeth, she doesn’t seem to hear any of it.

“Right now I wanted to have a fellow classmate, Maxwell Evans, talk with you about the consequences that come along with alcohol consumption.” She says, handing the mic and a packet over to me.

“Maxwell Evans loves Elizabeth Parker!” Someone yells from the bleachers, which sets of the crowd.

It takes about five minutes and Ford threatening suspensions before they quiet back down. I look over at Elizabeth. She is ignoring the crowd and reading a page from the other copy of the alcohol packet. Amazing. Here someone is trying to embarrass us in front of the entire school and she doesn’t even seem to notice. I wonder if maybe she is just so use to the teasing that she doesn’t even pay attention anymore. It kind of makes me feel sorry for her.

“Okay, I’m here to talk to you about the risks that come along with using alcohol.” I say, not even trying to screw this up.

Elizabeth may be a bit on the weird side, but I’m sure she has feelings just like the rest of us. I’d feel kind of bad ruining her assembly.

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

“Thanks Maxwell, that was really nice of you.” Elizabeth says over the noise of kids exiting the gym.

“No problem.” I say, patting her shoulder and walking back to class.

The assembly wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Although Ford did hand out some suspensions when I talked about how alcohol impairs your judgment which could lead to sex that you could later regret. That wasn’t pleasant for anyone. I’m actually glad that I was on the other side of the microphone because I know I’d of been one of those people that got suspended for creating a disturbance. When I get back to class, which I’ve been dreading, everyone is already in their seats.

“Excellent job, Mr. Evans.” Mrs. Calhoun says, clapping.

“Yeah, good job Maxwell.” Brian Williams says as I walk back to my desk.

For the rest of the day everyone calls me “Maxwell.” I don’t even know why Elizabeth does that. It’s my full name, but I’ve gone by Max since kindergarten. In fact, looking back, in every conversation I’ve had with her (which hasn’t been a lot), Elizabeth has called me Maxwell. I’ve corrected her every time, but she never seems to get it. Not only does everyone call me Maxwell, but somehow twelve pamphlets on alcohol abuse end up in my locker. Kids in high school are cruel.

“What were you thinking when you agreed to do that stupid assembly?” Maria asks, filling up a glass with Lime soda.

“I didn’t agree to it. If I didn’t do it, Ford would’ve given me one of those stupid strike things. The way I see it, if I at least behave until graduation is over, I’ll be able to get out of here as soon as possible.” I reply, standing by the counter waiting for her to finish.

Like I mentioned before, we basically have a routine that we go through every week. On Fridays we meet at the Crashdown. This is good on two levels. One is that we don’t have to pay for what we eat because according to Michael’s parents, his friends are their friends. Lame, I know, but at least we get out of paying. The other reason is that we have free range in the restaurant. Mr. and Mrs. Guerin don’t care if we go behind the counter for a refill or if we go into the Employees Only room. Again, that goes along with that whole your friends are our friends thing.

“All that I’m saying is that I’ve never laughed so hard when I saw you standing in the middle of the gym with Elizabeth Parker. That was the greatest thing ever. I only wish that I had a video recorder.” Michael says, spinning on one of the bar stools.

“Oh, come on. She’s not that bad.” I say, reaching for the drink Maria set in front of me.

They all turn to stare at me, including some other kids from school who are sitting at a table nearby.

“Jesus, you guys know that I was kidding, right? You’re so gullible.” I say, taking a drink from the glass.

The only thing was that I wasn’t kidding. Elizabeth really wasn’t that bad. Sure, she could use a visit to Abercrombie and Fitch. And sure, she could probably lose the books. But it’s not like she was repulsive.

“Sure you were.” Kyle says, slapping me on the back.

Luckily though, Maria changes the subject.

“So Kyle, are you and Nichole Bennet still seeing each other?” She asks, placing a glass filled with Coke in front of Michael.

“Yes, as a matter of fact we have a date tomorrow night. No doubt you three losers will be at the park or at Maria’s house.” He says, taking his drink to the booth we always sit in.

We follow him, taking our usual seats. Maria and Kyle on one side, me on the other, and Michael in a chair at the end of the booth. It’s always been like this, I don’t know why.

“Are you taking her to Homecoming?” Maria asks, sipping from her drink.

She actually seems disinterested about the whole thing. Normally she’d be asking fifty questions. I guess she’s finally over that whole phase.

“I don’t know. We’ll see. If we’re still going out, obviously yes.” He says, being careful about what he says. We all know about Maria’s quark.

“I guess I’ll be stuck going with some loser guy again.” She says, resting her chin on her hands.

“Don’t worry about that, sweetie. You can take me. I’ll just have to turn down all those offers that have been coming my way.” Michael says, acting nonchalant.

“Oh yeah, stud bucket.” She says, laughing at the thought.

“Who are you taking, Maxwell?” Kyle asks, snorting at his joke.

“Ha ha. Yeah, I think we’ve all heard the joke. It’s getting old.” I say, even though I know that it won’t stop them. “I’ll probably ask Jill Carson.”

“Slut.” Maria says under her breath.

Michael and Kyle laugh without even bothering to cover it up.

“She’s not a slut.” I say, defending her even though I haven’t even asked her yet.

“Wait. Don’t you have to like, hand out glasses of punch?” Michael asks, leaning back in his chair.

“No.” I snap.

All the jokes about being on the Homecoming committee are really starting to piss me off. I mean, I can stand a few, but one every two minutes is enough. Even I have my breaking point.

“Alright, I think it’s time we back off Max.” Kyle says, taking the hint.

“Thank you.” I say.

Rita, one of the waitresses, brings over our food. She already knows what we want because we always get the same thing. In fact, I think Rita knows what everyone who comes into the Crashdown on a regular basis wants.

“Here you go, kids. Enjoy.” She says, setting down the food in front of us.

“Thanks Rita.” We say in unison.

“So what are we doing tonight?” Maria asks, digging into her food.

“Who’s playing at the park tonight?” Kyle asks, his mouth full of ketchup and fries.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full. I think The American Dream is playing tonight.” Maria says all in one breath.

“Thank God. I couldn’t take another week of those stupid fake boy bands they bring in for the teenyboppers.” Michael says.

“Okay, folks. Ante up. My guess is green.” Maria says, putting fifty dollars on the table.

“Blue.” Michael says, putting fifty down too.

“Red.” Kyle replies, following their lead.

Whenever The American Dream plays, we take bets on what color Alex’s hair will be. Parents aren’t too keen on the different hair colors. With him being the lead singer, a lot of the younger kids are influenced by him and about every kid in the middle school has had neon colored hair at least once.

“What about you, Max?” Maria asks.

In class Alex’s hair was pink, but with him you never know what he’ll do.

“Orange. He hasn’t had that color in a while.” I say, opening my wallet and setting a bill down.

This is yet another sad fact of how boring Roswell is.

“Okay, I’ve got to go.” I say, wiping my hands off with my napkin. “You know my mom on Fridays.”

I regret the words as soon as they come out of my mouth. Michael and Kyle get up and start dancing.

“It’s Fiesta Friday!” They say, doing dance moves that I can’t even describe.

Every Friday my mom has friends over and they have themed dinners. This week is, obviously, Fiesta Friday. This has been going on as long as I can remember. It’s always best to be out of the house when guests start arriving, but beforehand my mom forces me and Isabel to decorate the backyard. The decorations are so old that we have to tape everything together every time we put them up. Everyone in towns knows about the weekly get togethers. Hell, they even know what theme goes with what Friday. It’s rather embarrassing.

“Shut up.” I say, shoving them both as I get out of the booth.

“We’ll meet you at the usual spot.” Kyle says to me as I walk out the door.

I get into my Jeep and back out. I nearly piss my pants when I see what time the clock says.

“Shit.” I yell to myself.

I’m already ten minutes late. It’s one thing to be late on any other night, but on Fridays you want to be there on time, early if possible. Last time I was late, my mom made me stay the entire night and pass out chopsticks. This was on Chinese Friday. I speed up, trying to beat a red light. The next thing I hear is sirens behind me. I look up to see Sheriff Dessen right on my ass.

“Son of a bitch.” I growl, pounding my fist on the steering wheel.

I pull over, pulling out my license at the same time.

“Well, well. Max Evans.” Dessen says, walking up the my side of the car.

“Sheriff.” I say, handing him my license, registration, and proof of insurance.

“Do you realize you were going 45 in a 25 and that you ran that red light back there?” He asks, taking off his sunglasses.

“Yes, sir.” I say, thinking of a way to get out of this.

“Where are you headed so fast?”

“It’s Fiesta Friday.” I say, knowing he’ll need no explanation.

He looks down at his watch and whistles.

“Cutting it a little close there, Max.” He replies, then looks back down at my license.

Dessen is pretty nice to me considering the number of times I’ve been in his office. He can be an asshole when he wants to be, believe me on that one, but he’s generally an okay guy. His head deputy though, his a major jerk and anytime he gets the chance to get me in trouble he’s all for it.

“Yeah, I know. I lost track of time.” I say, tapping my foot impatiently.

“Alright, here’s the deal Max. I’m going to let you go with a warning this time. I know how much your mother gets on your case when you’re late for Friday night dinners, so I won’t slow you down any longer. And, I’ll go you one further. I’m going to write you a note saying that you were helping me change a flat tire and that’s the reason you’re late.” He says, pulling out a pad and pen.

“Are you serious?” I ask, truthfully shocked.

“Yeah. Let’s just not talk about this with anyone and not let it happen again. Okay?” He says, writing something down on the notepad.

“Yes, sir.” I say, still not believing it.

“Here you go.” He says, handing me the note. “Try to keep out of trouble, Evans.”

“I will, Sheriff. Thanks.” I reply, starting the car up.

I wait till he drives away to pull back onto the road. While I’m waiting, I look down at the note:

“Mrs. Evans,

Sorry for holding Max up. He stopped to help me change a flat tire and we didn’t realize how late it had gotten. I just wanted you to know that it wasn’t his fault for being late. June and I will be there a little bit late tonight, so don’t worry about waiting till we get there to eat.

Thanks,
Stephen Dessen”


Well, hell yeah. I guess getting pulled over isn’t always a bad thing. Now I don’t have to worry about getting bitched out by my mom. I drive the rest of the way going the speed limit. No use pushing my luck. I have to park far down the street because I don’t want to be boxed into the driveway, then I jump out of the Jeep and run inside the house.

“Max Evans, is that you?” My mom’s angry voice asks from the kitchen.

“Yeah.” I say, smiling because I have a ‘get out of jail free’ card.

“Where have you been?” She asks, walking out into the living room.

I pull the note out of my pocket and hand it to her. While she’s reading it, her face goes from one of being pissed off to one of being proud.

“Ah, Max. That was nice of you to stop and help.” She says, hugging me.

I can’t help but feel a twinge of guilt, but that quickly fades when I see Isabel out in the backyard finishing up with the decorations. She looks towards the me when she hears the sliding door open.

“Where the hell have you been?” She asks, her voice like venom.

Isabel thinks that she shouldn’t have to do any kind of labor.

“I was helping Sheriff Dessen change a flat.” I say with a big smile on my face.

“Bullshit.” She says, walking over to me.

“Of course it’s bullshit, but mom bought it.” I reply, laughing.

“I hate you.” She says, and I’m not sure if she’s joking or being serious.

“Whatever. Did you have fun putting up all the decorations?” I ask, relishing in the idea of her balancing on the ladder while trying to hang up the Mexican hat lights.

“Fuck you.” She says, pushing past me and going into the house.

I flick her off and look around the backyard. Despite her doing it by herself, it doesn’t look too bad. But then again, there’s only so much you can do with these decorations. I think it’s about time mom went over to Party City and purchased some new ones.

“Max! Come in here and help me set out this food. People are going to start arriving any minute.” Dad calls from the kitchen.

I walk into the kitchen and start the tedious task of bringing all the food outside onto the buffet table they set up by the brick grill. There’s always a lot of food because my parents invite as many people as they can fit into our backyard. It’s a pretty big backyard so we’re talking a lot of people. As I’m walking back into the kitchen for another armload of food, the doorbell rings.

“Get that Max!” Isabel yells from the downstairs bathroom.

I flick her off again, even though she can’t see me, and walk to the foyer.

“Hey, Max.” Mrs. Jenson says when I open the door.

“Hello Mrs. Jenson.” I say as she kisses me on the cheek.

And yet another reason it’s best to stay away from Fiesta Friday.

“Mom’s out back.” I say, taking her jacket and purse.

“Thanks, sweetie.” She says, walking past me to the kitchen.

I turn to walk upstairs when the doorbell rings again. I mutter under my breath as I start back to the front door.

“Hello.” I say as I open the door.

“Max Evans, well aren’t you just a doll.” Mrs. Patrick says as she and her husband walk in.

“Thanks.” I guess.

Before I can make it to my bedroom, six more people show up. The fun hasn’t even begun yet. Just wait till Mr. and Mrs. Quinlin show up. I think they’re a few cards short of a deck, but at least they keep things humorous. I finally get up to my bedroom without having to stop and answer the door. I take a quick shower and get ready to go to the park. I have to walk carefully down the stairs or I could be stuck here for another hour talking to everyone in town. I almost get to the door before my mother stops me and asks me to come outside for a minute.

“Yeah?” I ask, trying to hide my impatience.

“I just wanted to ask where you were going and when you’d be back.” She says, leaving a group of people to get closer to me.

“I’m going to the park. I’m not sure when I’ll be back, but it’ll probably be late.” I reply, trying not to make direct eye contact with anyone in the backyard.

“Alright. Just don’t make it too late. You know how your father gets.” She says, smiling then ruffling my hair a little.

“Okay, bye mom.” I reply, hugging her.

“Bye sweetie.” She says, then turns to go back to the group she’d walked away from.

At this time, the backyard is pretty full and I have to squeeze my way through crowds of people to get to the sliding door that leads into the kitchen. Just as I’m about to reach it, I hear my dad calling my name. I turn around and walk over to where he’s standing.

“Hey Max, where are you going?” He asks, taking a sip of his beer.

This is also a daily routine. I always end up having to explain what I’m doing to both parents.

“I’m going to the park.” I say, starting to get anxious.

“Okay.” He says, smiling then turning to the person standing next to him. “Max, you remember Gladys Parker, right?”

I look over to see Elizabeth’s mother. Great, just what I needed.

“Of course. Hello Mrs. Parker.” I answer, trying not to show my frustration.

“Hello Max. How are you?” She asks, her voice containing the same edge it always has.

Don’t ask me why my parents invite her to these things. They don’t talk to her outside of the parties and she isn’t really friendly with anyone in town. She’s like Elizabeth; she keeps to herself and doesn’t socialize much.

“I’m good, and you?” I ask, being civil.

“I’m fine, thank you for asking.” She replies, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear.

The gesture reminds me of Elizabeth.

“I’m glad that you decided to come out tonight, Gladys.” Dad says, turning to her.

“Elizabeth practically forced me out. She said I needed to socialize a little more.” She says, her eyes lighting up a little.

“Ah, Elizabeth. She is such a darling young lady.” Dad says, sipping his beer. “Max, you’re working with her on the Homecoming dance, right?”

“Yeah.” I reply, casually glancing down at my watch. “I should be going. I’m meeting my friends there and I don’t want to be late.”

“Okay, we’ll see you later.” He says, patting me on the back.

“Bye Dad. Bye Mrs. Parker.” I say, waving at them then making my way to the kitchen.

Luckily, this time I make it without being stopped. I grab my jacket and walk out to my Jeep. Thankfully I remembered to park farther down the road. There’s cars lining the streets and filling the driveway. One time I accidentally parked in the driveway. Lets just say it was a long walk to Kyle’s house. Kyle, Michael, and Maria thought it’d be funny to make me walk all that way, so they wouldn’t come and pick me up.

When I get to the park, I’m relieved to see that most of the crowd is people from our school and not the younger kids or the older folks. A lot of people are already there by the time I park and start walking to the hill. That’s where we usually meet at. It’s not too close to the stage, but then it’s not too far. It’s basically a perfect view of the whole park.

“Max, buddy. Glad you could make it.” Greg says from the blanket he’s lying on.

Beside him is Mary Verner. No one is really sure what is going on with them. They’re one of the school’s on-again, off-again couples. Apparently, this is an on-again night.

“Hey freaks.” I say, giving Greg a high five.

“I brought the beverages.” Maria says, holding up a twelve-pack.

There’s cops that patrol the park on Fridays, but we’ve all learned ways to hide alcohol or drugs. Like I said before, the cops of Roswell aren’t too smart.

“I also brought beverages.” Kyle says, holding up a twenty four-pack.

In order to get alcohol, we have to drive out of town. Otherwise we’d never get any because everyone in Roswell knows who is twenty one and who isn’t. And besides Mike’s, no one will even dare sell beer to a minor.

Two hours and three bands later, they finally announce that The American Dream will be on shortly.

“Okay, vote.” Michael says from the nearby picnic table. “The first one was a seven, the second one was a five, and the third one was an eight.”

He’s referring to the rating system we developed on the bands that play here. It’s not very complicated. Ten is great, five is okay, and one is sucky. I think that you can catch on that we were pretty wasted when we thought of this system.

“My turn.” Greg says, slurring his words a little. “Five, three, and nine.”

“Oh please! Number two was at least a five.” Maria says, sitting up and looking over at Greg.

I look over at the stage and see Alex’s band setting up. It’ll be at least ten more minutes before they start playing.

“Does anyone see Alex? I have fifty riding on his hair being red.” Kyle says, causing everyone to look towards the stage.

“I don’t see him.” Mary says after a few seconds.

“He usually doesn’t show until they start playing, dumbasses. We’ve only seen them perform about twenty times.” Michael says, laughing for really no reason.

I glance at my watch. Only about two minutes have passed since the last band played. I can feel the need to take a leak coming on.

“I going to go piss before they start.” I say, getting up.

“I wouldn’t venture into the restrooms.” Greg says, looking over at me. “Someone clogged up one of the toilets and there is a very gnarly smell wafting in there.”

“Okay.” I say, and start to the woods that border one side of the park.

“Hurry up! I want my fifty dollars!” Kyle calls after me.

I start the walk to the woods. They’re on the other side of the park near the playground area. I think it helps the kids get the sense that they’re in a forest. I could be making that up, I’m not really sure. As I get closer to the woods, I notice someone sitting on one of the swings facing the stage. From where I’m at, it looks like a little kid.

“What the hell is a little kid doing here at this time of night?” I whisper to myself.

It’s not till I’m about ten feet away that I realize that it is not a kid but rather Elizabeth Parker.

Part 6

As I get closer, I realize that she’s singing softly to herself.

“Cheer up sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean to a daydream believer...” Her voice is low, almost child-like.

Okay, there’s two things I could do here. I could quietly go past her, hoping that she won’t see me. However, if she catches me, she’d probably realize I was trying to avoid her. Or, I could just say hi and not have to worry about hurting her feelings. The things I do.

“Elizabeth?” I say, trying not to startle her.

“Oh my gosh.” She says, jumping a little.

She turns around to see me standing there, her face lighting up.

“Maxwell. You scared me.” She says, laughing a little.

“Sorry, I was trying not to.” I say, looking back towards the stage. “I came over here to, uh, well.”

My face reddens at the thought of her knowing I was going to pee in the bush just feet away from her.

“Go to the bathroom?” She offers.

“Yeah.” I say, laughing.

So she’s not as clueless as I had originally thought.

“I can understand that. The restrooms here aren’t too clean.” She smiles, then turns back to the stage.

I’m not sure if that is the end our conversation or if I should say something else.

“So, what are you doing here?” I ask, then realizing how stupid it sounds. “Not that I mean you don’t have a life, I just haven’t seen you around here before.”

“Actually, I come up here almost every Friday.” She says, still looking at the stage. “I sit back here, away from the crowd.”

“Why?” I ask, walking over and sitting on the swing beside her.

“I like just sitting back here, away from everyone else, enjoying the music and the night.” She replies, looking up at the stars. “Plus I like watching Alex’s band.”

“Oh.” I say, a little surprised. “You know Alex?”

“Sort of. Our dads use to work together.” She replies, kicking the sand that’s under the swings.

“Oh.” I say, not sure what to say next.

The only thing we really have to talk about is the Homecoming dance and you can only talk about that so many times. It’s not like I can just start talking about the things that me and my friends talk about. Elizabeth doesn’t seem like the type who wants to hear about my bitchy sister or my desire to get laid.

“Are you here with your friends?” She asks, looking over at me.

“Uh, yeah. They’re down by the picnic tables.” I say, hoping she doesn’t ask to join us.

I can deal with talking to her when we’re alone, but not when my friends are around. I’d never hear the end of it.

“Oh.” She says, but her voice doesn’t sound like she’s about to ask any questions.

We sit there in silence for a few minutes, just listening to Alex’s band do sound checks. From where we’re at I can see Alex tuning his guitar. His hair is green.

“Shit.” I whisper to myself.

I can already hear Maria gloating.

“Excuse me?” Elizabeth asks, a little bit shocked.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I just remembered that I forgot to do something for my mom.” I say, coming up with a lie on the spot.

Lying just happens to be my specialty.

“Oh, okay. I guess I’ll see you at school then.” She says, still smiling.

I didn’t mean it to sound like a way to get away, but then again, I never was one to turn down something that could get me out of an uncomfortable situation.

“Okay. Bye.” I say, getting up and starting the walk back to the picnic tables.

I get about twenty feet away when her voice stops me.

“Maxwell?” She calls out.

I turn around, not sure what to expect.

“Thank you for stopping to talk to me.” She says, making me feel like crap.

“No problem.” I reply, then continue walking.

Thanks to Elizabeth I’m not going to be able to enjoy the rest of the night. Now I’m stuck thinking of her sitting on a swing in the dark, all by herself. She’s making me have a conscience and that’s not something I want. I pride myself on not giving a shit, and now I’m starting to think before I do stuff.

“Max, buddy. Where the hell have you been? And where is my fifty dollars at?” Maria asks as soon as she sees me.

“I ran into a pricker bush. It wasn’t pretty.” I say, taking a fifty out of my pocket and tossing it to her.

Just as I sit down, Alex’s band starts. A lot of the people near the stage get up and start dancing. These concerts are full blown proof that white people can’t dance.

“Pass me a beer.” I say, looking over to where Michael is sitting.

He pulls one out of the case and passes it to me. I gulp it down and ask for another. Before I know it, I’m having a great time with my friends and forgetting all about Elizabeth Parker.

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

“Alright, whose ready for a cheeseburger?” Kyle asks when The American Dream finishes up their set.

“Me!” Maria squeals.

By this time, we’re all a little out of it. After the concerts end, we usually go to the Crashdown and eat. Michael’s parents don’t seem to care, if they even notice, that we’re all a little wasted. I think that as long as we’re not driving, they don’t mind. We’re generally at the Crashdown for two to three hours, so by then we’re all sobered up. We pick up all our trash and blankets and start to the restaurant that is across the street.

“I’m starved.” I say, throwing all the garbage into a can.

“Ditto.” Greg says, hanging all over Mary.

“Get a room.” Kyle says, with Maria on his back.

We get to the crosswalk, where about a dozen other people are. Everyone else usually goes to the Crashdown too. Michael impatiently pushes the button to change the “Don’t Walk” sign to “Walk.” While I laugh at something Kyle said, I turn my head just in time to see Elizabeth walking down the street towards her road. Her arms are crossed and her head is down. She’s walking quickly, probably because her jacket is a little flimsy and it’s gotten cooler since the start of the concert. When I was sitting next to her on the swings, I noticed there were holes in the lining of the coat.

“Max?” Michael says, drawing my attention back to my friends.

I look over at them to see that they’re already across the street. I jog over to them and we walk into the Crashdown. It’s already filled with people, mostly teenagers because of the concert and what time it is. Mr. Guerin probably makes a fortune from the money that we teens spend here. No wonder Michael gets whatever he wants.

“Hey, guys.” Tess says, walking up to our booth. “Do you want the usual?”

Tess always seems to get stuck working the crappy hours. She doesn’t seem to mind that much, but then again, her three best friends all work here too.

“Yeah.” I say, knowing everyone wants the same thing they always get.

Life in Roswell is so predictable.

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

“Max! Get your ass up!”

At the sound of Isabel’s voice, I snap out of sleep. I lie there for a few more seconds, still in a daze.

“Max!” Isabel yells, then beats on the door.

“I’m up!” I yell back at her.

“Lazy son of a bitch.” She mutters loudly enough for me to hear as she walks away.

I kick off my covers and sit up. On Sundays my parents force me and Isabel to go to church. I don’t know why, I think it makes them feel like they’re better people. That’s not to say that they’re awful or anything. I mean, my mom is nice and everything, but it’s not like she’s Mother Theresa. And my dad, well he can be a dickhead at times. I dress into my “church” clothes and walk out into the hall.

“No, that’s not what he said.” I hear my dad’s voice say from their room.

“Phillip, don’t use that tone with me.” My mother’s angry voice follows.

I continue past, not really feeling the need to hear their argument. Isabel is watching television in the family room and putting on make-up. I hate Sundays. It’s enough knowing that tomorrow is Monday, but to have to get up early and to go church. I think church should be on Monday nights. That way you get all the crappy shit out of the way at the beginning of the week, plus you get to sleep in on both days of the weekend.

“Kids, time to go.” Mom says, opening up the hall closet and pulling out her coat.

Isabel lets out a frustrated growl and gets off the couch.

“Izzy, isn’t that outfit a little uh, too revealing for church.” Mom says, handing dad his coat.

“Mom.” Isabel says, being her usual bratty self.

“Okay, okay. I’m backing off.” She says, opening the front door.

We load up into my dad’s SUV and start the short drive to Roswell Baptist. There’s only two churches in Roswell. Roswell Baptist being one, the other is Roswell Methodist. It’s obvious from the names of the churches that no one in this town is very creative. About half the town goes to each church. If you’re of another faith, you have to go over to Corona or another nearby town. But being the lazy Americans that we are, most everyone goes to the two local churches. Most of my friends go to Roswell Baptist, which makes church a little less boring.

“Hey Bill!” Dad yells to Bill Cunningham when we’re climbing out of the car.

I ditch my parents and go to find Michael, Kyle, and Maria. Our parents don’t let us sit by each other anymore because of an ugly incident involving a hymn book, but beforehand we meet by the church cemetery. They’re already standing by the gate by the time I get there.

“Hey guys.” I say, tugging at my shirt collar.

“Hey loser.” Michael says, taking a puff of his cigarette.

“You know Mikey, one of these days Reverend Mills is going to catch you.” Maria says, fixing her skirt.

“So?” He says, giving her his patent ‘Fuck off’ look. “What’s he going to do? Make me scrub off the pews?”

“Okay, you do remember that we’ve had to do that before, right?” Kyle asks, taking a gulp of his Coke.

Michael’s face becomes one of realization as he remembers the time we all started singing “Smack My Bitch Up” when the choir sang “Amazing Grace” and had to spend three hours after church scrubbing the pews.

“Oh.” He replies, throwing his cigarette down and putting it out with his foot.

“That’s what I thought.” Kyle says, throwing his can into the trash can that’s next to the gate opening.

“Max!” My mom yells from the church entrance.

“Great, another exciting morning at church.” I groan as we all start back to the church.

“Max, don’t think of it as that.” Kyle says, patting me on the back. “Think of it as an adventure at God’s house.”

The church is already crowded by the time we get in. My parents always make sure to get a spot right in front. I think they think that it gives them brownie points with Reverend Mills. It also means that the Reverend is able to keep his eye on me at all times. I walk over and take my seat just as the choir comes in and starts the first hymn. Isabel glares at me as I sit down. She’s pissed because when my parents decided that I had to sit with them during church, they decided that Isabel should sit with them too.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to welcome you to Roswell Baptist.” Reverend Mills says after the choir finishes.

He starts on with his usual spiel. He always takes time to welcome any newcomers, as if there ever is any. If someone moves to Roswell, the whole town knows about it before the moving trucks even arrive. It’s around this time that I usually space out and start finding ways to entertain myself. Counting the tiles on the ceiling, counting the number of times Reverend uses the word ‘and’ in his sermon. I’ve gotten pretty creative over the years. Sometimes my mom catches me and practically shoves me into Mrs. Iverson, who sits next to me.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to talk with you all about this year’s Halloween festival.” Mills says, standing behind his podium. “As you know, last year’s was a big success for the church and we were able to refinish all of the pews.”

At the mention of the pews, I glance over at Kyle who is trying his hardest not to bust out laughing. Mr. Valenti notices and kicks him, but can’t help smiling. Mr. Valenti can be strict, but usually he’s pretty cool about things.

“This year we’re hoping to earn enough money to buy a new piano for Edna.” He continues, referring to Edna, the church pianist.

I’ll admit now, the piano has been sounding a little horrible lately. The thing is, a lot of people who live in Roswell are pretty well off. I don’t understand why the church has to have fundraisers and festivals to raise money. You’d think that since most of the people have a lot of money, they’d have no problem donating to the church. However, the donation tray that they pass around is never really full. Even my parents don’t donate that much. Hell, I’m guilty of just putting pennies in. The church usually goes all out to make the Halloween festival fun, and I doubt that they even make back the money that they spend on it.

“We’re hoping that this year will be our most successful year yet.” He goes on. “And also, our most special year. This year we have a special request for our teenage church goers. Right now I’d like to bring up the brains behind this idea, Elizabeth Parker.”

I can practically hear all the parents thinking, ‘Why can’t my kid be more like her?’ I look over at my mom to see her smiling as Elizabeth makes her way up to the podium. Even Elizabeth’s church clothes aren’t that nice. She always wears the same purple flower-print dress and the same white shoes.

“Thank you, Reverend.” She says before turning to face the crowd.

There’s a silent groan emitting from all the teenagers in the room. Elizabeth Parker ideas aren’t usually to our benefit.

“As some of you know, the foster care center over in Corona has had some drastic staff cuts in the past few months. As a result, they’ve decided to cancel trick-or-treating for the kids because they don’t have enough people to take the children out.” She says, giving a hint of a smile. “So I talked it over with Reverend Mills and we decided to do something about it. Before the festival, we thought that some of the teenagers from church could take their own group of kids from the center trick-or-treating then bring them back for the festival.”

Oh this is not good. This is not good at all. I’m already having visions of bratty kids running around and screaming.

“I made a sign-up sheet and I’m going to leave it up here.” She says, setting a clipboard down on the table that sits in front of the pews. “We’d really appreciate anyone who could join.”

She looks over at me and smiles. For the purpose of not looking like a jackass, I smile back.

“I expect you and Isabel to sign up.” Mom says into my ear.

“Can’t wait.” I reply sarcastically.

I knew that was going to happen. Oh well, it’s not like every other parent in church isn’t going to force their kid to sign up. Elizabeth has that affect on people.

“Thank you, Elizabeth.” Revered Mills says, his eyes practically glowing.

Elizabeth is one of the Reverend’s favorite people, as well as every adult’s. This explains why she’s pretty much avoided by every person at the high school that’s not over twenty. There’s times when I don’t mind her, like that she’s normal and not so holier than thou. But then there’s times like now, when she seems so wholesome and innocent that it makes me want to puke.

A half hour later and me almost banging my head against the back of the pew until I’m unconscious, the Reverend finally lets us know that it’s time for Sunday school. Because half the town comes to this church, they’ve had to renovate it so that it can fit everyone. It’s gotten pretty huge over the years. Each age group has their own room, which is pretty decent. Since there’s more teenagers than any other age group, we get the auditorium.

“Ladies and gentlemen, excuse me?” Alice, the director of our group, yells from the stage.

Everyone quiets down. Alice is pretty cool. She’s not old, so there’s that to factor in. She doesn’t force us to do lame stuff like gather in a circle and read passages from the Bible. And she divides us up and puts us into groups to play games. Since there is so many of us, they’ve had to bring in other people to help. There’s Jack, he’s probably in his late 20’s, Sarah, who’s probably only 20, and Deirdre, whose most likely the oldest one at age thirty. They’re all pretty nice.

“We’re going to break off into our usual groups. Today we’re reviewing Psalms and I’ve made a game of Jeopardy for each group. Now, here’s what we’re going to do. Each group that’s already been divided is going to be divided into four other groups. Then those teams will play against each other. The groups that win in those groups, stay with me here, will play the winners from all the other groups for the prize.” She says, yelling to be heard over the noise of people talking. “And today’s fabulous prize is, drum roll please.”

She goes off the stage to get the prize, leaving us to wonder what the hell she just said.

“Alright, ladies and gents.” She says, walking back onto the stage. “I have for the winners, brand new Bibles!”

At this point we all ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ in mock anticipation, then start going off into our groups. The only decent people in my group are Greg, Terri, and Alex. Reverend Mills made sure that me, Kyle, Maria, and Michael weren’t in the same group. He’s learned that putting us all together is just asking for trouble. It’s not too bad though, because Alice is the leader in our group.

“Alright, lets divide into four teams. Try to do it evenly.” She says, pulling out a huge piece of cardboard that I’m guessing is suppose to be the board.

Midway through the game, Mrs. Cunningham comes in and whispers something to Alice.

“Okay.” She says to Mrs. Cunningham, then looks around the room. “Attention, everyone! Elizabeth Parker, wherever you are, you need to go to Reverend Mills’ office.”

As soon as everyone sees Elizabeth walking towards the exit of the auditorium, they let out a predictable ‘ooo.’ This is further proof that no matter what age, most of us are still immature. I watch her go, wondering who she’s off to save now.

“Max!”

I shake my head and look over to where Alice is sitting.

“Huh?” I ask.

“We lost you there for a minute, buddy. It’s your turn.” She says, pointing to the board. “Pick one.”

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

“So, are you asking Jill?” Maria asks while Mrs. Urman puts in a video.

“Yeah. I’m meeting her a lunch.” I reply, making sure Mrs. Urman doesn’t notice us talking.

“At the Crashdown?” Maria asks, not even caring whether or not she gets in trouble.

She’s not the one who is on probation.

“Uh huh.”

“I’m thinking of asking Tom Meyers.” She says.

“Good.” I say, turning my attention to the television.

Mrs. Urman is making us watch some lame video about World War I. I think she does it just to catch someone sleeping. Because if you get caught sleeping in her class, she gives you at least a week’s detention. And believe me, it’s not a pleasant week.

“Do you think he’ll say yes?” Maria asks, tapping me repeatedly on the shoulder.

“God, Maria.” I say, giving a frustrated sigh. “Yes, I’m positive Tom will say yes.”

She nods her head, turning to the front of the room.

“Well, what if he says no?” She asks, her voice full of worry.

“Maria.” I say, rolling my eyes.

“Okay, okay. I get it.” She brushes a piece of hair off her face.

For the next half hour I try my best not to fall asleep, really I did try. But by the time America enters the war, I’m out. The next thing I know, Maria is shaking me awake and telling me to wipe the drool off my face.

“Mr. Evans, I believe you are familiar with my policy on people who sleep in my class.” Mrs. Urman says, already pulling out the detention slips.

I look around, realizing now that the entire class is staring at me.

“Yeah.” I say, already knowing what is coming.

“Good. One week’s detention.” She says, walking over and setting the slip down on my desk.

I think we all know what this means. Strike one.







posted on 4-Jul-2002 6:53:55 PM
Part 7

I can’t believe I’m doing this. I can’t believe that I took a detour from my way home to Elizabeth’s house. Even worse is that it’s not even because of some lame Homecoming meeting. I am here, standing on Elizabeth Parker’s front porch, of my own free will. Before knocking I look around the deserted neighborhood. The sky is overcast and it look likes it could rain any minute. The abandoned houses make it feel that more creepier. I take a deep breath and knock. It takes a minute before anyone answers.

“Maxwell, what are you doing here?” Elizabeth asks upon opening the door.

“How are you?” I ask, trying to beat around the bush as much as possible.

“I’m fine, and you?” She asks politely.

“I’m good. I just uh, wanted to stop by. See how things were going.” I say, sticking my hands into my pockets.

She gives me a confused look. I’m sure she’s wondering why the hell I’m here too.

“Do you want to come in?” She asks, opening the door a little bit wider.

“Sure.” I reply, stepping into the house.

I’ve never actually been inside Elizabeth’s house. I think my parents have been here. When Mr. Parker was alive, there were parties at the house once a month. The whole neighborhood was full of life. In fact, this neighborhood used to be one of the nicest ones in town. But it was like, when Mr. Parker died, so did everything on the street.

“My mother will be home in a while, so you can’t stay too long.” She says, leading me into the living room.

The house is pretty nice. I mean, it’s not as shabby as it looks on the outside. All the furniture is nice, but it’s not like she’s living in my section of town.

“Would you like something to drink?” She asks, standing there awkwardly.

It’s not every day you have some weird boy in your home who stares at your couch.

“Uh, yeah. Coke.” I say, taking my jacket off and setting it on the arm of the sofa.

“Actually, my mother doesn’t buy soft drinks. We have apple juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, and water. Sorry.” She says, shrugging her shoulders in an apologetic way.

“It’s okay. I’ll just have some water.” I reply.

“Okay. You can have a seat on the couch, I’ll be right back.” She leaves the room.

I sit down on the couch, glancing around the room. In one corner there’s a small television set, it looks like it hasn’t been turned on in a while. There’s dust covering the screen and the remote that is sitting on top of the tv. On top of the fireplace mantle there’s three picture frames: one of Elizabeth and her father, one of Mr. and Mrs. Parker, and the last of Elizabeth and an old woman. Her grandma, I’m guessing.

“Here you go.” She says, handing me a glass of water.

I take a sip then set the cup down on one of the end tables.

“So, Maxwell. Why exactly are you here?” She asks, sitting down in a chair that sits adjacent to the sofa.

“Well, as you know the dance is this weekend. And I wanted to ask you something.” I say, brushing my bangs out of my eyes.

“Yeah.” She says, looking even more confused.

“I’m, uh, I’m going with Jill Carson.” I say, realizing something as the words leave my mouth.

What if she thought I came here to ask her to the dance? Shit, I never even thought about that. I probably should’ve been straightforward rather than making it seem like I was going to ask her.

“Really? Good for you.” She says, with a genuine smile.

Which only makes me feel even worse. It didn’t even cross her mind that I might ask her. She probably doesn’t expect anyone to ask her.

“Thanks.” I say, being cordial. “Anyway, I wanted to know if, um...”

“Yeah?” She says, leaning forward.

“Well, the thing is.” I pause, my face growing red. “I wanted to know if you could maybe teach me how to dance.”

She lets out a little laugh.

“That’s all? I thought maybe you wanted me to rig the King and Queen voting so you’d both win.” She says, her shoulders relaxing a little. “I’d be glad to teach you.”

I sit back, my own body relaxing. I can’t believe I was nervous about asking her. I mean, it’s not like Elizabeth would actually say no to helping someone.

“I actually feel stupid about asking. I didn’t want to ask Maria or Isabel because they would’ve made fun of me the whole time.” I say, even though she probably doesn’t care about the details.

“And what makes you think I won’t?” She asks, a serious expression on her face.

“Uh.” I say, the feeling of stupidity coming back to me.

“I’m kidding.” She says, her face lighting up in a laugh.

“Oh.” I can’t help but laugh.

“What kind of dancing do you need help with? Because I’ll tell you now, Maxwell, I’m not very good at the fast kind.”

“No, no. It’s not that kind. Slow dancing.” I say, putting her mind to ease.

“I can’t promise you anything there either. I’ll try my best.” She says, standing up and pushing the coffee table out of the way.

“Okay.” I reply, standing up and helping her move the table.

“Alright, the first thing is hands.” She says, standing in front of me.

“Mine go where?” I ask, holding out my hands.

“The right goes here,” She replies, putting my right hand on her waist. “And the left one goes up here so Jill’s right hand can intertwine with it.”

She puts her hand in mine then her other hand on my shoulder.

“Now, her hand will rest on your shoulder like that. About your feet. Basically you’re just shuffling around in a circle.” She says, then she starts swaying a little.

“Like this?” I ask, replicating her movement.

“Right. Good job.” She says, smiling.

We dance in silence for a few minutes. Her hair smells like strawberries and I have to remind myself that this is Elizabeth Parker.

“She may put her head on your shoulder, but I won’t do that.” She says. “But if she does, just rest yours against her head lightly.”

“How did you learn to dance?” I ask, relieved that I won’t look like a moron out on the dance floor.

“When I was little, my father used to dance with me. I’d stand on his feet because I was so short. He said that it was important for me to learn to dance the old-fashioned way.” As she says this, she looks over at the picture of them together.

“The old-fashioned way?” I ask, not sure what she means.

“Oh, well, the way we’re dancing now is different from how everyone dances today. I guess I should probably teach you that way instead of this one.” She says, and takes her hand out of mine. “Girls usually put their hands around the neck of the guy, and the guy puts both his hands on her waist.”

She puts my hands on her waist and then her own around my neck.

“This is probably how Jill will dance.” She says.

“Okay.” I reply, and we continue to dance.

After a few minutes she pulls away, her face a little red.

“That’s basically it.” She says, pulling the coffee table back into place.

I look around the room, not sure what to do now.

“Uh, thanks.” I say, unable to think of anything better.

Truth be told, avoiding Isabel and Maria’s teasing wasn’t my only reason for coming. I mean, I could’ve easily had my mother teach me. Which would still have been embarrassing, but I wouldn’t have gotten teased. I felt bad because I knew that Elizabeth would be home by herself doing nothing but reading or planning another way to get world peace. Not that this means I like her or anything. I mean, she’s nice and all, but I’m not exactly itching to be around her. A half hour to a hour a week is about all that I can handle.

“My mom will probably be home any minute.” She hints, knowing that I don’t want to have a confrontation with her mother about why I’m in her house alone with her daughter.

“Right.” I say, picking up my jacket and putting it on.

She follows me to the door opening for me.

“I’ll see you at school tomorrow.” She says as I walk to my car.

I walk to the driver’s side, unlock the door, and look up to return the goodbye. She’s already shut the door and I can see her through the living room window reading.

“Goodbye Elizabeth.”

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

“Well, what do you want me to do?” I hear my mother’s voice ask when I walk into the house.

“I don’t know. He just doesn’t listen. It’s like he’s trying to get expelled.” My dad replies.

This is probably not a good time to interrupt their conversation. I lean against the wall trying to hear better.

“It’s just that he’s, I don’t know Phillip. We’ve tried everything. We’ve grounded him, we’ve taken away privileges.” She says, releasing a worried sigh. “I just don’t know what to do with him.”

Ford must’ve called and told them about strike one. I’m seeing many chores in my future.

“Diane, calm down.” My dad says, his voice not as soothing as he probably meant for it to be.

I walk back to the door, open it, then shut it loud.

“Mom? Dad?” I yell.

“Shh.” My mom whispers. “We’re in here, sweetie.”

I set my stuff down and walk into the living room, preparing myself for the inevitable punishment. Before I can get out my excuse, my dad stands up.

“Max, listen. We’re aware of what happened today. However, we will not be punishing you. We’re disappointed that you are not taking Mr. Ford’s warnings seriously, but this is really your choice. It’s your future on the line, Max.” He says, then walks past me and out of the room.

I look over to my mom, who has her head down.

“Mom?” I ask, knowing she wants to add something.

“Not now, Max.” She says, getting up and going in the direction of where my dad went.

Oh great. This is worse than a grounding. You know it’s bad when the use the “we’re disappointed” thing. Silence speaks louder than words.

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

“So let me get this straight. They didn’t yell at you, they didn’t punish you in any way, but they used the disappointed approach?” Maria whispers from across the table.

We’re suppose to look for books for our English projects, but instead we decided to sit in one of the back tables and procrastinate.

“Yeah. Which only makes me feel like a jerk.” I say, working on an Algebra problem at the same time.

“I hate when my mom does that. Especially since she’s usually pretty lax about stuff.” She says, scribbling something down in her notebook.

“Oh my God, guys. Check this out.” Michael says from the other side of the stack.

We turn to see his head peeking through a row of books.

“This book is about the female reproductive organs.” He says, looking down at the book and trying to hold in his laugh. “It even has pictures.”

“Michael, you are such a perv.” Maria says, rolling her eyes then looking back over to me. “Did I tell you that Tom said yes?”

“Only six times.” I reply.

“Please keep your voices down.” Mrs. Keller, the librarian, says, walking past us.

“What a bitch.” Maria says when she knows Mrs. Keller is out of earshot.

A few seconds later there’s a loud crashing noise from the other side of the library. I look over to see Greg and Mary sneaking out the library entrance and about a hundred books scattered all over the ground. Everyone else must’ve seen the creators of the mess because they all burst out laughing.

“Holy shit.” Michael says, walking up to the table. “That was classic.”

We all three laugh. It’s little things like this that keep us all entertained. And having to make Mrs. Keller, who really is a bitch, clean it all up is worth it.

“Alright, alright. Everyone calm down. It’s time to pack up your stuff, anyway.” Mr. Jacobs, my English teacher, says, getting pissed off.

We load our stuff into our backpacks and walk to the entrance as Mr. Jacobs carries on about when our projects are due and what he expects. Mr. Jacobs is like the English Nazi. Everything has to be perfect and precise.

“Move it along, people. I want to get back to class in time to give you an information outline.” Jacobs says, pushing his way to the front of the group.

“Dickhead.” Michael says, walking next to me.

I laugh at the comment.

“Thank you Elizabeth.” I hear Mrs. Keller say.

I turn around and see Elizabeth picking up all the books that Greg and Mary knocked over.

“It’s okay, Mrs. Keller. I know your back is bothering you.” Elizabeth replies, smiling at her.

I look from Elizabeth to my class, who are already filing out of the door. Guilt tells me to go and help her pick all those books up and put them back on the shelves. Pride tells me to ignore her and continue on back to English class.

“Yo, Max.” Maria says, holding the entrance door open and gesturing for me to hurry up.

Pride inevitably wins and I walk out the door without a second thought.

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

“I called you up here for an important reason, Mr. Evans.” Ford says, crossing his arms.

“To get me out of last period?” I say, even though I know it could more than likely piss him off enough to give me another strike.

It’s like when I’m around him, words just flow out of my mouth before I can even think about what they are. This isn’t exactly to my advantage.

“Funny.” He says, standing up and walking over to the window. “I called you up here to talk about consequences for your bad decision.”

For a minute I think he’s joking, but by the way his jaw is clenched I can tell he’s definitely not kidding.

“What?” I ask, even though I already know what he’s going to say.

“Well, we both know that you’ve received your first strike, which I’m hoping is the only one.” He pauses, looking outside. “Your parents contacted me and asked me to find ways to improve your attitude.”

The hell?

“With what kind of punishment?” I ask, now thoroughly confused.

I thought that whole “we’re disappointed” thing was all that I was getting. I underestimated my parents.

“Well, here’s what I’ve come up with.” He turns around to face me. “You’re going to work in the school’s main office instead of having your third period study hall.”

Is that even legal? I don’t think he can make me work in the office. I’m almost positive there’s laws against this sort of thing. .

“There you will do any and everything that our secretarial staff asks and you will not, I repeat, you will not in any way disrupt the office routine.”

It’s at this moment that I come to the realization that if I don’t do what he says, not only will I probably not graduate, but I’ll be stuck in this town working at Mike’s for the rest of my life.

“For the rest of the year?” I ask, sinking into the chair.

“Correct, Mr. Evans. You will be working there for the rest of the school year. Ms. Howard will give you a list of what your duties will be.” He walks over to the door and opens it. “I hope I won’t have to bring you back in here.”

I get up and walk out. Working in the main office is just a step above working in the library. I walk over to where Ms. Howard is sitting.

“Excuse me?” I say, trying not to startle her.

“Oh, sorry.” She says, turning around. “Max, I’m glad to see you without having to give you a detention or suspension slip.”

“Ha, ha.” I reply.

Ms. Howard isn’t too bad. I mean, she’s usually the one who has to give me the “You’re Screwed” forms and ends up having to call my parents. The other secretaries are huge bitches, but she doesn’t hassle me so much.

“Here you go. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She turns back to her computer and continues typing.

I walk out of the office, looking at the list as I do. I don’t really mind any of them, I mean it’s not like I have to make the morning announcements or anything like that. It’s more of answering the phones and sending out dismissal slips. This will be cake work.

By the time I reach my class, the bell is about to ring. I grab my stuff and line up by the door just as the it rings and everyone starts crowding the hallways.

“Max! Wait up!” Kyle yells from down the hall.

I walk off to the side of the hallway to save myself from a fatal trampling and wait for him to shove his way through the mass of relieved teenagers.

“Hurry up.” I say under my breath.

I have to get to the gym and help Elizabeth plan where all the decorations are going to go. Not something I’m exactly excited to go to, but then again, standing in a hallway full of people whose main goal is to get out isn’t something I’m enjoying.

“You want to go to the Crashdown?” He asks, making his way back into the hall.

“Can’t. Homecoming meeting.” I say, feeling no need to explain further.

“I forgot that you were Elizabeth Parker’s bitch. Have fun with that.” He says, then goes off into another direction.

“Screw you!” I yell after him.

A few people turn to look at me, but luckily no teacher hears my comment. I make my way to the gym. When I get there I see Elizabeth and the other dorks of the Homecoming committee standing over by the locker room doors. Elizabeth is talking and pointing around the gym.

“...so then we’ll put a group of balloons in all the corners.” She’s saying as I make my way over.

Only a few more days of this crap and then I’ll be free.

“Maxwell, I didn’t think you’d be able to make it.” Elizabeth says when she notices me.

“Yeah, well. I’m here.” I reply, hoping to get this over with.

“We were just discussing where the decorations will go.” She says, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear.

“Okay.” I say, going over and sitting down on the bleachers.

“Alright, I have all the decorations stored in one of the school’s storage closets. So if a couple of you could get here early on Saturday and help me bring it all in here they’ll all be ready to go when everyone else shows up. We need to get all the decorations up by at least five.” She says, looking down at the clipboard that’s in her hand. “Any questions?”

“What time do you want us here if we’re going to bring the decorations out of the closet?” This question comes from Clark Timmons.

He’s one of the nerdiest kids in school, complete with glasses and a pocket protector. It’s obvious to everyone that he has a thing for Elizabeth, except for Elizabeth herself. She seems oblivious to basically anything that doesn’t involve helping something or someone.

“Eleven is fine. I’ll be here earlier though, if anyone wants to come early.” She replies, politely smiling at him.

Clark will probably be the first one here, ready to drool over Elizabeth.

“Okay, I guess I’ll see you all on Saturday. If you have any questions, you can call me. My number is on that packet I gave you all a couple of weeks ago. The one with all the time and date information.” She says, going over to where I’m sitting.

At first I think she’s going to say something to me about our little dance lesson, but she just reaches past me, grabs her bag, turns, and walks towards the door.

The more I get to know her, the more I learn how complicated Elizabeth Parker really is.

Part 8

“Maxwell?” Elizabeth’s voice says from behind me.

“Holy shit!” I jump a little, turning around. “Sorry.”

She just smiles forgivingly.

“It’s okay. Listen.” She leans a little closer to me. “I was wondering if you might come early on Saturday.”

I groan inwardly. I knew somehow I’d get screwed into coming early. She probably wants me to hang the streamers from the ceiling or do some other job that no one else will do.

“Uh.” I say, trying to think of an excuse to get out of it.

“You don’t have to if you’re busy. It’s just that, and I’m not trying to sound mean, but Clark isn’t a very strong person and you are. So I thought we’d probably get more done with you there.” She looks around the school parking lot to make sure no one can hear.

I’m taken back a little. Normally Elizabeth would put up with Clark’s clumsiness, but I guess she really wants everything to go smoothly. I know if I had worked as hard as she has on this thing and Clark Timmons screwed it up, I’d be pissed.

“Well.” I start, still not sure if I want to do this.

I look down at her, the wind blowing her hair all over. She looks so tiny and helpless all bundled up in her coat.

“Okay.” I say, giving in.

“Thank you so much.” She says, then reaches up and pulls me into a hug. “I really appreciate all that you’ve done, Maxwell.”

“No problem.” I reply, hugging her back.

She pulls away, tucking her hair behind her ears. Her cheeks are red and I can tell she’s probably freezing. With the winter approaching, it not only gets dark earlier, but it has become surprisingly cold.

“I should get going.” She says, turning to walk home.

I open my car door and climb in. Immediately I start the car and turn up the heat as high as it can go. The parking lot is already empty with just myself and a few stragglers left. I stop at the red light that stands right outside of the school parking lot. While I’m stopped, I turn my head to the left and see her, walking home. Now, any self-respecting guy, or person for that matter, would offer her a ride home. And while I know I’m not exactly Joe Courteous, I at least have the decency to not let some girl walk home in the cold. I pull up beside her, but she doesn’t even look up.

“Elizabeth!” I yell to her.

She stops in her tracks and turns to me.

“Maxwell?” She says, a bit confused.

“Do you want a ride?” I yell.

She looks at the walk ahead, probably trying to figure out if she would rather finish the trek home in the cold, or get in a car with some guy that she barely knows. I guess in the end she decides that being frozen and having to walk home is more appealing than sitting alone in a car with a strange guy.

“Actually, I don’t think my mom would like that.” She says, wrapping her arms around herself. “It’s nothing personal, I just wouldn’t want to upset my mother.”

I look in the direction of her house then up at the sky. It could rain at any minute and it’s already pretty dark out.

“Would you object to me walking you home?” I ask, not even believing that the words are coming out of my mouth.

I can tell she’s going over it in her head. My walking her home probably wouldn’t be any better than me driving her.

“Only to the top of my street.” She says, still looking unsure. “And even then, only if you want to.”

“That’s fine.” I reply.

“We’re going to have to walk kind of fast because I have a doctor’s appointment and my mom is waiting.” She says, bouncing on the balls of her feet.

I feel the urge to ask why her mom didn’t just pick her up from school, but I bite my tongue. I glance at the walk ahead. I guess there’s really no going back now, I mean I’m the one who offered.

“Okay, just let me park my car.” I say, then pull my car off to the side of the street, parking it.

I grab a blanket out of the back seat, then jog over to where she’s standing.

“Here, this will keep you warm.” I say, handing the blanket over to her.

She just smiles and takes it, opening it up.

“You can get in too. No use both of us freezing.” She says, holding up the blanket so I can get in.

I get in, gladly excepting anything that will bring warmth. We walk a few blocks before either of us says anything.

“So you must be happy that the dance is almost over with.” She says, her teeth chattering a little.

“I guess.” I say without much thought.

“I mean, it’s more like a punishment for you.” She says.

“It is, but it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be.” I reply, truthfully.

In all honesty, it hasn’t sucked as much as I had originally thought it would. I mean, I’m not enjoying all the staying after school and getting up early parts, but it’s not like I absolutely dread doing some of the stuff. She bumps into me a little, probably trying to keep warm.

“Sorry.” She says, then continues. “Well, that’s good. I mean, sometimes it’s nice to do things that you don’t normally do. Just to step outside the box. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah.” I say, although I don’t really understand.

We get quiet again, both of us just trying to keep warm. If you had told me weeks ago that I would be walking Elizabeth Parker home, with me being the one who offered, I’d of told you it was a load of bullshit. Normally I’d be hanging out at the Crashdown or having a few drinks down at Mike’s. This is kind of weird. Before I know it, we’re at the top of her street. She takes the blanket off her shoulders and hands it to me.

“Thank you for walking me home. You really didn’t have to.” She says, then turns to leave.

“Elizabeth.” She turns around. “Here, you can take the blanket.”

She just smiles, like that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said.

“You keep it, Maxwell. You have to walk back to your car.” She says, turning to walk home.

I watch until she gets to her door, then I wrap the blanket around myself and start the walk back to my car. I take my time, because I don’t want to have to discuss my new job in the school’s main office with my parents.

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

“Mom! I’m home.” I yell, putting my keys on the table that sits in the foyer.

“Wash up! Dinner is going to be ready any minute.” I hear her yell back from the kitchen.

I run to the bathroom, wash my hands, and walk into the kitchen. Mom already has the food all set out and Isabel and my dad are sitting down. I quickly slip into my seat.

“So honey, how was your day?” Mom asks my father, who is already putting food on his plate.

“Good.” Is his simple reply.

“Dad, I’m going to need your credit card to pick up my dress.” Isabel says, not even bothering to make small talk.

Dad takes his wallet out of his pocket and hands her his Visa card.

“I need it too, to pick up my tux.” I say, my mouth full.

“Sweetie, don’t talk with your mouth full.” Mom says, frowning in a disapproving way.

“Isabel, give your brother the card after you’re done with it.” Dad says, sipping his drink.

This is basically how all our family dinners are. Mom tries to make small talk, dad tries to use as little amount of words as possible, Isabel asks for money and rambles on about some lame story about school or a cheerleading fundraiser, and I sit idly by and watch it all happen.

“...so anyway, Becky is going on and on about this guy she has a crush on and none of us have the nerve to tell her that she has a piece of lettuce stuck in her teeth.” Isabel is saying.

“Honey, did you mail the phone bill?” Mom asks dad.

“Yeah.” He replies.

“So she’s just going on and on about this guy, and then he walks up to our table and asks her if she wants to go to the movies. Well, she smiles huge and he sees the lettuce and just totally walks away. It was so harsh.” Isabel says, putting more mashed potatoes on her plate.

I roll my eyes at the complete stupidity of the story. Isabel and her friends are so utterly shallow. I hurry up and eat, not really paying attention to what kind of discussions are going on.

“May I be excused?” I ask, pushing my chair out.

“You may.” My mother says, then goes back to whatever she was talking about.

I put my dishes in the sink, careful not to make any noise so any attention is drawn to me. I can’t believe I got through dinner without my parents mentioning anything about my meeting with Ford. It’s a miracle. I walk up the stairs quickly, taking them two at a time. As soon as I get into my room, my phone rings. I dive across my unmade bed, picking it up after the second ring.

“Hello?” I answer.

“Hey, meet us at Mike’s.” Kyle’s voice says from the other line.

“I’m there.” I say, then hang up.

We’re men of little words. I look around my room, making sure I have everything I need. Then I grab my coat and run back down the stairs.

“I’m going to the library to work on my English project with Maria.” I yell, walking out the door.

I’m taking it that they don’t seem to care because no one comes running outside to tell me otherwise. I jump in the Jeep and drive to Mike’s. With it being so cold, everyone seems to have decided it best to stay inside. It’s almost deserted out besides the few people taking out their garbage. When I get to Mike’s , the place is unexpectedly packed with people from school.

“Max.” Maria yells from the bar.

I walk over to her and I can tell that she’s already had a few beers.

“What’s going on?” I ask, taking my coat off and sitting down.

“Kyle dared Michael that he wouldn’t run into Harry’s Hardware Store and ask for condoms.” She says, looking outside at Harry’s Hardware.

I walk over to the door. From where I’m at I can see Kyle staring in the window of the store, probably watching Michael, keeled over in a fit of laughter. The epitome of immaturity.

“That’s real smart. Michael’s dad will hear about it within an hour.” I say, going back over to the stool.

“What’s up with you?” Maria says, giving me a look.

“Nothing.” I say, signaling for Mike to get me a drink.

“Anyway, Mr. Guerin won’t give a shit. He has that ‘boys will be boys’ mentality.” She says, taking a swig of her beer.

“True.”

We continue looking at the door, waiting for them to walk back in. It’s about five minutes before they do. They run in, laughing uncontrollably.

“That was awesome.” Kyle says, chuckling.

“You guys are so lame.” Maria says, just shaking her head.

“Mike, two beers down here.” Michael yells down the bar to Mike. “Max, buddy. What have you been up to?”

“Yeah, we haven’t seen you a lot lately.” Kyle says, sitting on the stool next to mine.

“Have you guys forgotten already? I’ve been hanging out with the dorks from the Homecoming Committee planning this Saturday’s big dance.” I say, acting excited.

“Gee golly, is the big dance this weekend?” Kyle asks, doing his best 50’s impersonation.

“Sure is. I heard it’s going to be swell.” Maria replies, rolling her eyes.

I just laugh. We’re all about as enthusiastic about dances as we are about charity events. The only good thing about dances are the parties afterwards. Maria’s mom usually stays out late, as “coincidence” would have it, and that’s where the parties usually are.

“Well, at least we can all get drunk afterwards and repress the entire thing.” Michael deadpans.

We all nod in silent agreement. Just as I’m about to take a sip of my beer, the door opens and in walks Isabel. This is a surprise to everyone because, while Isabel drinks at parties, she would never even dare step foot in a “lowly establishment” such as Mike’s.

“Max.” She says, walking over to me. “I need to talk to you now.”

I can tell she’s upset because she usually never leaves the house until every hair is in place, but now her hair is disheveled and her makeup is smeared under her eyes. I’m getting the feeling this is more than her normal, “Oh my God, I broke a nail!” trauma. I get up, not asking any questions. I wave to Michael, Kyle, and Maria, then follow Isabel out of the bar.

“What is it?” I ask, once we’re out of earshot from everyone inside the bar.

She stops, her back turned towards me.

“Isabel?” I ask, starting to get worried.

“It’s about Grandma Jackson.” She says, turning around. “She had a stroke.”

I give her a confused look. Grandma Jackson, my mother’s mom, is probably about the healthiest old lady I’ve ever met. She exercises all the time and is always up and about doing some type of activity.

“What the hell?” Is all that I can say.

“I know. She always seemed so healthy.” She replies, shaking her head. “They took her to Judis.”

Judis is a city a couple miles away from here. It has the closest hospital and is the probably the biggest town near Roswell.

“Well, is she going to be alright?” I ask, still in shock.

“They don’t know, but mom and dad are already on their way there. We’re suppose to meet them there.” She says, calming herself down.

“Okay. Do you want to drive together?” I ask, pulling my keys out of my pocket.

“No. I’ll probably stay the night there and I know you don’t really like hospitals.” She says, digging through her purse, looking for her own set of keys.

She’s referring to the time when I was ten and had pneumonia. I ended up staying in the hospital for two weeks. The combination of that sterile smell and the worse-than-airline food really put a damper on any further visits to the hospital.

“Alright. I’ll see you there.” I say, getting in my Jeep as fast as I can.

Judis is about thirty minutes away from Roswell, but an ambulance can get there in ten minutes if necessary. Ten minutes is also the amount of time it usually takes almost any teenager from Roswell to get there, too. Judis is also home to the nearest movie theater, if you don’t count The Roswell Rialto, which only shows old movies that mainly adults go to see. Thus, when we want to see a movie we go to Judis, and no one feels like driving a hour there and back. Lucky for us though, there’s barely any cops who patrol in that area. You’d think they would, seeing as teenagers speed like crazy through there, but that’s just another part of the “Our kids would never do that” way of thinking.

I screech into a parking place fairly close to the Emergency Entrance and walk in. The first thing I see is my mother and father sitting together in a secluded corner of the room. My mom is crying, which can only mean two things. Either Grandma is dead or she’s on her way. Isabel almost runs into me.

“Sorry.” She uncharacteristically apologizes, then goes over to where mom and dad are sitting.

I’ll admit, when it comes to emergencies, Isabel can actually be a decent person. I follow Isabel to where they’re seated. Mom sees us and immediately stands up and pulls us into a hug.

“How is she?” Isabel asks, pulling away.

“She’s in the ICU right now. The doctor said that she’s doing fine, but they want to keep her under close observation.” Dad says, standing up.

“Can we see her?” I ask, feeling relief come over me.

“Dr. Oxland said he’d come and get us when she was ready for visitors.” Mom says, wiping tears off Isabel’s face.

It’s about forty-five minutes before we’re able to go in and visit her. By now they’ve moved her into her own room in the recovery section of the hospital. Being her typical self, she’s sitting up and talking to one of the nurses about her vegetable garden. The nurse, a young woman probably no more than twenty-three, is doing her best to act interested when she probably really wants to beat her head against the wall until she’s unconscious. At least that’s how I always feel when Grandma goes on about her tomatoes and squash.

“Grandma!” Isabel says as she walks into the room.

“Izzy!” Grandma says with a big smile on her face. “Max!”

We go over and give her a gentle hug as to not pull out any of the IVs stuck in her arm.

“How are you mom?” My mother asks, tears in her eyes.

I couldn’t imagine my mother having a stroke. I don’t even know how we would manage if something happened to her. Mom walks over, grabbing a hold of Grandma’s hand.

“I’m fine, sweetie. You know me, I’ve still got some fight left in me.” Grandma says, giving mom’s hand a little squeeze.

Dr. Oxland comes in and explains to us what exactly happened. Apparently she had a minor stroke. No serious damage was done, but he tells her that she needs to start taking it easy and not do so many activities. I can’t imagine my Grandma taking this advice, but when I look over at her, I can tell that she will. The stroke, though not a major one, probably scared her enough to realize that she needs to relax more and calm down. He also says they want to keep her overnight to make sure there are no further complications. Mom and Isabel decide to stay the night and Dad and I agree to go back home.

“I think I’m going to stay a bit longer if you wanted to go home, Max.” My dad says from his position by the window.

I look over at Grandma, Isabel, and my mom. They’re watching a rerun of Roseanne. I don’t really see any reason to stay. I grab my coat and walk over to my Grandma.

“Bye Grandma.” I kiss her on the cheek. “And remember to relax.”

I give my mother a kiss then walk towards the door, grabbing my coat on the way.

“See you guys at home.” I say, waving then continuing on out of the room.

As I’m walking towards the elevator, I’m reminded of the reason why I hate hospitals. Tons of sick people, that God-awful smell, and the pissed off people sitting in the waiting room. As I’m turning a corner and thinking how glad I’ll be to get out of here, I run into someone, knocking them down. I didn’t even know that I was walking that fast. I guess I was just so anxious to get out of this hellpit that I started speedwalking.

“I am so sorry!” I practically yell at the person I knocked over.

“It’s okay, it’s okay.” A small voice says reassuringly from the floor.

I reach down and help up Elizabeth Parker. I’m so surprised that I nearly let go of her hand and she almost falls back down. I grab her other arm and pull her up. She’s so small that I think I might’ve broken one of her bones, but she gets up and adjusts her skirt.

“Elizabeth?” I say, making sure that it’s really her.

“Maxwell!” She says, just as surprised. “Sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

“No, it’s my fault. I should’ve been paying more attention.” I say, shaking my head profusely. “Are you okay?”

“I promise, I’m fine. You didn’t bump me too hard.” She says, laughing at my babbling.

I give a laugh then lean against the wall. I have a feeling I could be here for a while. Elizabeth will probably want to know every detail about how my Grandma is doing. I should’ve just kept going after I bumped her. Had I known it was her, I probably would’ve.

“What are you doing here?” She asks, crossing her arms.

“My Grandma had a stroke.” I guess there’s really no other way to put it.

“Oh my gosh.” She gasps, putting her hand over her mouth. “Is she going to be okay?”

“Yeah, it was a minor one. They’re keeping her overnight, but she’s going to be fine.” I reply.

“That’s great.” She says, and by the way she relaxes I can tell that she was genuinely worried. “I’m so happy to hear that.”

“Thanks.” I say, eyeing the elevator. “So why are you here?”

Her smile disappears and she tenses up a little. Now that I’m really looking at her, I see that she’s really pale and it looks like she’s been crying. But being Elizabeth, she is covering up any sign that she’s upset.

“I had a doctor’s appointment, remember?” She asks, obviously faking a smile.

“Oh yeah. Is everything okay?” I ask, tapping my foot in anticipation of getting out of here.

“Yeah, it’s nothing.” She says, then looks down at the watch on her wrist. “I should get going.”

“Me too.” I say, a little weirded out by the way she’s acting.

She smiles then continues walking down the hall. I watch her go, wondering what is up with her, then walk on to the elevator.

Part 9

“Just put those over there.” Ms. Bryce, the head office secretary, says, pointing to a stack of papers on the end of her desk.

Today is my first day as the main office’s newest secretary. It’s not as bad as working on the Homecoming Committee with Elizabeth and the rest of West Roswell’s dorks at their finest. At least in here I don’t have a good chance of running into any of them. Unless Queen Dork herself, Elizabeth. I wouldn’t be surprised if she came in every five minutes just to see if anyone wanted a snack. I set down the stack of papers on her desk. Ms. Bryce is a huge bitch. I think she has a personal vendetta to get me. Every time I come in here she gives me evil looks and I’m beginning to think she asked Ford to make me work in here just so she could have me be her own personal slave. Luckily though, Ms. Howard is in here. She helps keep Ms. Bryce from putting leg irons on me.

“I’m also going to need to you reorganize a filing cabinet in the records room.” She says, not even bothering to look up from her computer screen.

I glare at her with my hate look. This, of course, only makes me look like a jackass. There I am, standing in the middle of the office staring at the back of Ms. Bryce’s head as she types up a school memo. Not exactly one of my finer moments.

“What filing cabinet?” I ask, leaning against the front counter.

“The one that’s labeled ‘School Events.’ It’s filled with all the activities that West Roswell will be holding for this school year.” She says, continuing her typing. “It’s completely disorganized.”

I walk down the hall connected to the office. This is kind of weird. The only time I ever get to walk down this hall is if I’m going into Ford’s office. His office is towards the front of the hall, so it’s not a long walk. I’ve never actually been this far down it. I go to the end and open the door marked ‘Records.’ Whenever you think of the school’s records room you think they have this elaborate system. Like it’s this huge room filled with walls and walls of files. Each student has their own shelf filled with all their personal history and pictures of them through the years. In reality, however, it’s a crowded little room filled with metal filing cabinets with stacks of papers all over the place. It’s stuffy, like they decided to save money by not air conditioning this area of the building. I squeeze my way around, looking for the right cabinet. I finally find it smashed between the ‘Detentions, Suspensions, and Expulsions’ cabinet (which I’m sure I probably have the first drawer to myself) and the ‘Sports’ cabinet. All the cabinets have locks on them except for the ‘School Events’ cabinet. I’m guessing they’re not worried about anyone breaking in to find out what the theme to Prom will be.

“Alright, here we go.” I say to myself, opening the first drawer.

A half hour later I’ve only managed to get two drawers completely organized. I guess this probably has something to do with the fact that I basically read every paper in there. This wasn’t out of curiosity but more to take up as much time as possible. The way I see it, the longer it takes me to finish, the less time I have to spend out there with Adolph Bryce.

“Hey Max.” Ms. Howard says, walking into the room and nearly giving me a heart attack.

“Ms. Howard, hey.” I say, wiping the guilty look of my face.

Not that I really have anything to be guilty about. I’m sure I’m not going to get suspended for reading up on this year’s pep rallies.

“Did Ms. Bryce order you back here to organize the school events cabinet?” She asks, unlocking a cabinet on the other side of the room.

“No. I thought to myself, ‘You know what would be really fun? Voluntarily categorizing all this year’s school activities.’ So I just hopped back here and got straight to it.” I say, rolling my eyes.

“Ha, ha.” She replies, pulling out a file.

She stares at it for a few seconds, then locks the cabinet back up.

“I’ll see you later Max. Don’t piss off Ms. Bryce too much.” She says, walking out of the door with the file in hand.

I set down a stack of information on this year’s sex talk and walk over to the cabinet where she was just at. It’s the ‘Student’s Personal Records’ cabinet. I look at the lock. I’ve picked more high tech ones than this. I could do this one with a bobby pin. As I reach for my Swiss Army knife the bell rings. I guess infiltrating the lives of West Roswell’s students will have to wait until Monday. I run into the office, grab my stuff, and am out the door before Ms. Bryce has time to tell me to slow down.

“Ow! Watch it!” Someone yells as I shove my way through the crowd.

My main goal is to put as much distance as possible between me and Ms. Bryce and her annoying chores. I’m in my car and out of the parking lot before there’s even time for traffic to back up. We have exactly sixty minutes for lunch and I intend to spend as little time on campus in that hour as possible. I’m suppose to meet Maria, Michael, and Kyle at the Crashdown. Even if I ran every stoplight and every stop sign from school to the Crashdown, I would never be able to beat Kyle. He not only drives like a maniac, but he knows every single back way to get anywhere in Roswell. We’ve even timed him. Which only goes to show you how little excitement we have here in town. But, on occasion, we make our own fun.

“So I’m driving and this dog totally comes out of nowhere. I swerved and barely avoided hitting a telephone pole.” Kyle is saying to Mr. Guerin at the counter.

“But the dog was fine?” Mr. Guerin asks, drying a cup.

“Yeah. But I’m a little shaken up.” Kyle says, shaking his head then looking in my direction. “Evans, buddy. Glad you could join me. Maria and Takes His Own Sweet Time aren’t here yet.”

He is, of course, referring to Michael.

“Hey now. Not all kids can be as maneuverable-y gifted as you.” Mr. Guerin laughs, walking into the kitchen. “After all, I’m the only one whose better than you.”

“Anytime, Mr. Guerin. Bring it on!” Kyle yells to him, cracking up.

Michael and Maria have the best parents out of all our friends. Maria’s mom, obviously, lets Maria throw parties whenever she feels like it and doesn’t care if Maria gets in trouble. Michael’s parents, although they’re not as lax as Ms. DeLuca, joke around with Michael and Tess’ friends all the time and let them get away with a lot of stuff. My parents are probably the strictest ones of all. They don’t let me get away with anything. Kyle’s dad is pretty cool, but he doesn’t let Kyle bullshit a lot.

“I already ordered for everyone.” Kyle says, because he knows what we’re all going to get.

“Thanks.” I say, walking behind the counter and fixing myself a drink.

It’s about five minutes before Michael and Maria finally show up. Michael comes in bitching about having to wait for Maria, who took forever because she couldn’t get into her locker. Maria’s car is getting a new paint job. She got tired of it being white so she decided to change it to black. And they say some people have too much money.

“Whose playing at the park tonight?” Kyle asks, like he does every Friday.

“Caffeine Junkies and Zack’s Garage.” Maria says, popping a fry in her mouth.

“Where the hell do they come up with their names?” Michael asks, reaching across the table and taking a fry off Maria’s plate.

“Who knows. Just as long as their music is good, then I don’t feel the need to ask questions.” She replies, smacking his hand away.

I glance down at my watch. We have ten minutes to get back to school.

“Okay, I should get going. I’ll see you guys here after school.” I say, scooting out of the booth.

“Later, loser. Wouldn’t want to be late to English class. Strike two!” Maria giggles from her seat.

“Funny.” I say, rolling my eyes. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you and Michael in said English class?”

She stops laughing and gets a confused look on her face.

“Yeah.” She says, still trying to come up with a comeback.

“That’s what I thought.” I say, turning to walk out the door.

“Well, your mom!” She yells.

I shake my head at the comment, which is typical Maria. Then I continue on to my Jeep and start the short drive back to school. That’s one plus to living in Roswell. You don’t have to worry about hauling ass back to school because no matter where you eat at in town, you’re still, at the most, five minutes away from the school at all times. Even though it is a bit chilly, it’s not so cold yet in the day that you can’t roll down your windows. The weather guy said that we should be over this “unseasonably cold” streak in a few days, but that’s probably all bullshit. The sun keeps it bearable during the day, though. I come to a stop at the red light next to Roswell Baptist.

“I’m a little worn out, but I’m okay.” I hear someone say.

I turn my head and see Reverend Mills and Elizabeth Parker standing out on the sidewalk talking.

“Well that’s good, Elizabeth. I’ve been really worried about how it would all go.” He says, patting her on the shoulder. “I just want you to feel better.”

“It’s not as bad as I thought it’d be.” She says, smiling at him. “And don’t worry, Reverend.”

Okay, what the hell is this about? I turn my head and see the light turn green. I guess that’ll have to wait until some other time.

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

“Just hang it up there. No, a little more to the right.” Isabel says, standing back and observing my work.

“Jesus, Isabel. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s just a lantern.” I grunt under the weight of the lantern.

You’d think that for a paper lantern, these things would be light. But my mom decided to buy the expensive, higher quality lanterns. Which means they’re actually built strong. I don’t know why she splurged on these, all the other decorations are pretty cheesy and cheap. I guess she just wanted one thing really nice.

“That’s good!” She yells when I move it to the right a few inches.

Isabel can get almost as Nazi-like about things as my mother. Everything has to be perfect with them or else it’ll drive them crazy for the rest of the day. After meeting Michael, Maria, and Kyle at the Crashdown when school let out, I hurried home to put up this Friday’s decorations. It’s Chinese Friday, or as Isabel and I call it, Fung Shui Friday.

“Are we done?” I ask, almost whining.

It’s not that I don’t like putting up decorations, okay, it is that. But the amount of time it takes is the worst thing. If I could just show up, take about ten minutes to get them all up and be out of there before guests start arriving, I wouldn’t mind it so much.

“Yes, we are.” She says, mimicking my whiny voice.

“Hey you two, cut that out.” Dad says from the doorway.

“Sorry daddy.” Isabel says, turning her expression from ‘go to hell’ to ‘I love doing this.’

“It’s okay, sweetie. Why don’t you go help your mom out in the kitchen.” He says, kissing her on the cheek.

“Sure.” She continues through the door and into the kitchen.

Damn her and her ability to get away with everything. If I tried something like that, dad would get suspicious and tell me to go to my room just to be sure I wouldn’t try anything.

“So are you and your buddies going to the park tonight?” He asks, walking over and setting down a huge bowl of white rice.

“Yep.” I answer.

Like we don’t go down there almost every Friday. I think our parents don’t want to admit that everyone in this town has resorted to conformity to get through the days. They could probably tell you where I was at all times, except for when I’m at Mike’s, of course.

“Well, be careful and have fun.” He says, taking a bite out of an eggroll.

“Phillip, those are for later.” Mom says, walking outside with grandma beside her.

Ever since grandma was released mom has taken on this whole need to be around her 24/7. Even though it has barely been a day, I can tell grandma is getting that look in her eyes. The one that is basically pleading for someone to get her out of here. I don’t know where my mom got her perfectionist attitude from. I guess from my grandfather. I never knew him, but I know she is almost nothing like grandma. Grandma is spontaneous and likes things that are a little different and have their own special style. Mom, on the other hand, likes things planned out and to be as precise as possible.

“Hey grandma, how are you feeling?” I ask, walking over to her.

“I’m doing good, Max. Don’t worry about me.” She says, patting me on the arm. “Now go out and have fun with your friends.”

Grandma understands the need to get as far away from my parents and themed-Fridays as possible. You need to get out while there’s still time.

“Okay, later.” I reply, kissing her on the cheek. “Bye.”

At this point, I walk as fast as possible to get out of the house without having to stop and help my parents in any way. Just as I’m pulling out the driveway, the first car of guests arrive. Fortunately for me, they don’t feel the need to stop and chat, so I continue towards the park. Driving out of my neighborhood I have to honk and wave at everyone coming in because they’re all, of course, going to my parents’ lame party. I get to the park just in time to help Maria lay out the blankets and fill up the cooler with beers. Soon, the park is filled with other teenagers from Roswell and neighboring towns and the opening band is playing.

“So anyway, mine is light pink and it’s long.” Maria is saying to Mary and Nichole.

“That sounds so gorgeous.” Mary replies, sounding a little over enthusiastic.

What is it with girls and clothes? I mean, they always need to know where the outfit was bought, what color it is, how much it cost, and what size it is. It’s enough to make you want to burn down the next Abercrombie & Fitch that you see.

“It is. I’m probably going to wear my hair down. I haven’t decided yet.” Maria says, pulling her hair up then releasing it. “What do you two think?”

I just shake my head and look over to Michael, Greg, and Kyle. They’re playing poker on the other blanket. It’s getting pretty intense, I can tell by the huge pile of money that’s stacked in the middle. I didn’t play because I don’t want to lose money. That and I suck at poker. I’ve learned that no amount of my bluffing can ever fool Kyle or Michael. I lie back on the blanket looking up in the sky. I’ve always wondered if there really is life out there. I’m sure everyone has, but if you just stare up at the stars for a while you begin to imagine each world revolving around each star. What those people are like, what they’re doing. How they’re different from us. And you start to realize your own insignificance in this world. That you just play a small part in the whole scheme of things. And after you’re gone, after you die, who is going to remember you?

“Max? Earth to Max.” I feel Michael kicking my leg.

I shake the thoughts out of my head, coming back to Roswell and the park.

“Sorry, I just dozed off.” I say, sitting up.

“We’re rating the first band.” Maria supplies. “I gave them a four. They’re definitely not The American Dream, but they’re not as bad as Creed.”

“Is anyone as bad as Creed?” Michael says, more as a statement than a question.

We all shake our heads in agreement. I hurry up with my rating because I don’t really feel like joining in with the group tonight. I don’t know what it is, but I just feel restless and bored. I glance around the park, looking for something that at least resembles excitement. My eyes drift towards a faraway section of the park, hidden by darkness. The playground area, or more exact, the swing set. I can’t help but wonder if Elizabeth is sitting up there on a swing, watching the rest of us.

“I’m gonna go to the bathroom.” I say, standing up and putting my jacket on.

“Don’t fall in.” Greg quips.

I think the years Greg has spent on smoking weed and doing whatever other drugs he can dig up have killed 98% of his brain cells.

“Good one.” I say, rolling my eyes.

I walk quickly and quietly to the secluded spot where the play area is. At first I don’t see her, it’s so dark I can barely see my own hand. But as I get a little closer, I see the outline of someone sitting on one of the swings, the same one she was in last week. I get closer to make sure it’s her and not some creepy old guy who gets his jollies by watching teenagers make out. I finally get close enough to recognize her long dark hair and short petite frame. She’s not doing anything, just sitting there and watching the stage.

“Elizabeth?” I whisper lightly.

She doesn’t hear me and continues watching the band play.

“Elizabeth?” I say, this time louder.

“Oh my God!” She yells, jumping out of the swing and turning to face me. “Who’s there?”

“It’s me, Max.” I say, stepping closer so she can see me. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

She looks like she’s about to pass out. This is the first time I’ve ever heard Elizabeth say God’s name in vain. I must’ve really frightened her.

“It’s okay.” She says, pushing her hair out of her face.

She takes a few deep breathes to calm herself down. She forces a smile on her face, but I can tell she’s still a bit shaken.

“I’m okay.” She relaxes, walking back to the swings and sitting down.

“I guess there’s really no easy way to come up behind someone in the middle of the night without scaring them.” I say, going over and sitting beside her.

“Yeah.” She says, laughing. “What are you doing here, Maxwell?”

“Well, I came to watch the bands.” I reply, turning to looks towards the stage.

“No, I mean up here, by the swing set.” She says, twirling the swing side to side. “You didn’t have to use the restroom again, did you?”

“No.” I say, with a grin on my face. “I guess I thought you’d be up here and would like some company.”

“Thank you.” She says, a smile spreading across her face.

“Are you nervous about the dance?” I ask, finding that’s about the only thing I can think of to say.

She’s quiet for a minute, probably thinking of all the things she has to do tomorrow. I’m thinking of all the ungrateful teenagers who will trash the place less than a hour after the dance starts.

“I’m just hoping that everything goes smoothly. I know how much this dance means to everyone. Aside from the Prom, this is the biggest thing of the year.” She explains, leaning her head against one of the chains that hold the swing up.

“I know what you mean.” I say, even though I know the dance really doesn’t mean anything to anyone besides her.

We sit in silence for a few moments. She’s probably thinking of all the people who will have fun tomorrow, I’m thinking of the disappointed look that will be in her eyes when she sees all the crepe paper torn down.

“How’s your grandmother doing?” She asks all the sudden.

I’m a little taken back. Even my friends didn’t really inquire about my grandma and her health. In fact, after the found out she was still alive, they started debating how a zipper really works.

“She’s doing really well. They let her come home this morning and she’s staying with us for a little while.” I respond, looking at her as I say this.

“That’s great. My mother and I asked Reverend Mills to include her in this week’s prayer.” She says.

“Thanks.” I reply, not believing that she went through the trouble.

She turns away, looking at the crowd of teens down by the stage. I continue looking at her as if seeing her for the first time. She really is beautiful. From her chocolate brown mane to her dark haunting eyes. It’s not really her looks that make everyone tease her. I think we can all agree that she isn’t an eyesore. It’s her personality that scares us all away. She’s too nice and willing to help anyone. She’s always been that way. Except now that I’m thinking about it, there was a period last year when she drew herself away from everyone and didn’t talk to anyone except Mrs. Keller, one of the school’s librarians. I’m pretty sure it was around the time of the three year anniversary of her father’s death. I remember this because we all joked that Perky Parker had finally run out of steam.

“What? Do I have something in my teeth?” She asks, bringing me out of my thoughts.

“Huh?” I ask, not sure what she’s talking about.

“You’re staring at me. I thought maybe I had something on my face.” She says, rubbing her teeth with her finger.

“No, it’s not that.” I say, shaking my head. “I was just thinking of how incredible it is that you basically put Homecoming together all by yourself.”

Lying won’t hurt anything. Sometimes I think that it’s necessary to lie just so you can keep something you really don’t want anyone to know inside or so that you won’t hurt someone’s feelings.

“Well, it was a lot of work, but it’s worth it.” She says, nodding her head.

“I have an idea.” I say, standing up and walking behind her.

“What, Maxwell?” She asks, turning around to see what I’m doing.

“Just hold on.” I say, pushing her a little on the swing.

“Maxwell, no.” She says, a playful smile on her lips.

I push her a little higher as she bursts out laughing and I begin to realize that being around Elizabeth Parker isn’t so bad after all.



posted on 4-Jul-2002 7:02:26 PM
Part 10

“Max, honey. If you’re going to get to the school by eleven, you better get up now.” My mother’s voice calls out from the other side of my door.

I groan, throwing the covers off me and sitting up.

“I’m up!” I yell back.

“Okay.” She says, walking away.

I grab some clothes and head for the bathroom. After a quick shower and shave, I run downstairs to grab a bite to eat. My mom and dad are out buying Halloween decorations and Isabel is out with her friends getting ready for tonight’s dance. Lucky for me, mom left a clean bowl and spoon out on the table for me and the box of Fruity Pebbles. I shove as much into my mouth at a time as possible, trying to hurry. After finishing, I dump the dishes into the sink, grab my coat off the coat rack, and run out to my car. The weather has warmed up quite a bit, but the sky still has a dark overcast. I get to the school at exactly 11 a.m. and proceed to haul ass into the gym. There I find Elizabeth, Clark, Denise Mueller, Ray Benson, and Margaret Oasis. Not exactly the type of people you’d find in a J. Crew catalog.

“Okay, we’ve got a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it in.” Elizabeth is saying while pulling packs of streamers out of a box. “Clark and Margaret, you two can start by covering up the bleachers with that dark red plastic covering.”

They all look over at a huge roll of the plastic covering. It looks like the stuff that is sometimes used as a table cloth except the roll is a lot longer. I remember getting it at the party supply store when we went together.

“The janitors are going to change the light bulbs so that they’re a bit dark. Not black or anything like that, but a deep yellow.” She explains.

Damn, she really went all out for this thing. I walk over to them, preparing myself for my job. She doesn’t notice me at first. After pushing her on the swing for a while last night, we sat and talked about everything from school to where we want to be in twenty years. After high school, Elizabeth is going to Harvard and from there, medical school. She wants to be a pediatrician. I felt a little awkward because I still haven’t figured out what I want to do yet. Now, without the intimacy of the night, I have a feeling things might be a little weird between us. Not that anything has really changed. She’s still Elizabeth Parker, nerd extraordinaire. It’s just that now we know a little more about each other.

“Maxwell?” She says, waving her hand in front of my face. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” I say, ridding my head of those thoughts. “Sorry. I zoned out.”

“It’s fine.” She says with a smile. “The ceiling is obviously too high to hang any streamers from it, so I discovered an alternative solution. I found this thing.”

She walks over to the bleachers and picks up something that looks like a long rail of some sort wrapped in plastic. She rips off the plastic and a row of red, orange, and yellow ribbons fall free.

“I found this at an arts and crafts store. Yesterday afternoon I had the custodians install these hangers from the rails on the ceiling.” She says, causing us all to look up.

Indeed, hanging from the ceiling rails are wires with little clips at the end of them. Of course she could get the janitorial staff to do that for her. This is the same girl who bought them gifts last year for Christmas.

“Maxwell, I need you to use that ladder over there to clip them up.” She continues, handing me the ribbon thing. “Hang one by each entrance, one by each end of the bleachers, and one in front of each basketball hoop.”

This girl does not cease to amaze me. No one else would’ve come up with something that clever. I beginning to think she’s had this thing planned for years. Who else could’ve done all of this in a month?

“Okay.” I reply, going over to the ladder to start my chore.

Three hours later, yes, three hours, we finally finish. I honestly didn’t think it’d take this long, but then I should’ve remembered that Elizabeth was the one who organized this which means it has to be perfect in every way. As everyone is getting their stuff together and leaving I walk up to Elizabeth who is writing something down in her notebook.

“Elizabeth?” I say, trying to get her attention.

She looks up, shaking a strand of hair out of her eyes.

“Yeah?” She asks, holding the notebook against her chest.

“I’m going to go. You need a ride home?” I ask, even though I know her mother wouldn’t allow it.

“No. I still have a couple things I need to finish up here. You go on ahead, though.” She replies, looking around the gym.

I follow her gaze. I must say that we did do a really good job. After a while, the other people on the committee arrived and helped us finish up. You can barely tell it’s the gym. Elizabeth did a really good job of giving it that “autumn touch,” as she called it.

“Alright. I guess I’ll see you tonight.” I say, grabbing my coat and heading for the exit.

“Yeah.” She says, then goes back to doing whatever she was doing before.

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

“Okay, Max, I picked up Jill’s corsage and Isabel, I picked up David’s booteneer.” Mom says, helping Isabel with her necklace.

“Thanks.” I say, fixing my bowtie.

“Honey, let me do that.” She says, walking away from Isabel and coming towards me.

She just shakes her head and laughs. Somehow, unbeknownst to me, she manages to tie it into a bow. It would’ve taken me all night just to figure out you don’t tie it like a shoelace.

“Aw, honey.” She sighs, then pulls me into a hug. “You two look so adorable.”

“Diane, I don’t think he can breathe.” Dad says, walking into the room.

Mom releases me and stands back to admire her work. Isabel rolls her eyes at mom’s show of affection.

“We should go.” I say, itching to get out of here.

Mom insisted that she take at least fifty pictures of us separately, together, and with each of them. This took almost a half hour. I can already see pictures of me in my tuxedo circulating at this year’s family reunion. Oh the blackmail cousin Mark will have.

“Okay. You two have fun.” Dad says, hugging us both. “Don’t stay out too late.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Isabel says, even though she can’t help smiling.

My parents rented Isabel and I a limousine. The only catch is that we have to ride together. Watching David Xavier and my sister make out is not what I’d call a highlight of my night. Nevertheless, that’s the only way I’ll be able to ride in it. I don’t really think Jill would go with me if I showed up at her house in the Jeep.

“Later.” I say, shutting the door behind me.

By the time we get to the gym, it’s already crowded with kids and filled with music. I guess no one besides Isabel wanted to be “fashionably late.” Jill looks incredibly hot. She’s wearing a short, strapless red dress with her hair up. I’m no fashion expert, but I can say that she definitely hit the nail on the head.

“Thanks for bringing me.” She says into my ear over the noise.

“No problem.” I reply, looking around the gym for Michael, Maria, or Kyle.

I find Maria and Tom standing in a corner laughing. I’m happy that Maria finally found someone she can get along with. She’s looking pretty good herself.

“Hey you two.” Jill says from beside me.

Maria looks over at us. I catch the look of disgust on her face as she sees Jill, but luckily Jill herself doesn’t see it.

“Hey.” She says lamely.

“How’s it going?” I ask Tom.

“Good. I heard that you helped with this.” He says, pointing to the decorations.

“Yep. I thought I’d give back to the community.” I say, and I can tell right away that he believes that I would actually do that. “I’m kidding.”

“Oh.” He says, with actual relief coming over him. “I thought you enjoyed hanging with the dweebs.”

“Yeah, I’m a regular decorating animal.” I respond, looking back over at Maria. “You look nice.”

“Why thank you.” She says, curtseying.

“Have fun.” I say, taking Jill’s arm and walking away.

We continue to make our way across the gym floor towards the drinks. There, Clark is unsurprisingly pouring glasses of pop for the people waiting in line. Elizabeth disclosed to me last night that Clark asked her to Homecoming. She, of course, told him that she wouldn’t really have time to dance or anything because she had to oversee everything and make sure it all ran smoothly. Had another person told me this, I would’ve known that they just didn’t want to go with him. Elizabeth, however, wouldn’t lie, so I know if she didn’t have to watch over everything she would’ve gone with him, whether she really wanted to or not.

“I’ll just have a Coke.” Jill is saying to Clark.

“What about you, Max?” She asks, nudging me a little.

“Oh, Sprite.” I say, pulling a couple dollars out of my wallet and handing them to Clark.

“Anyway, Mr. Fuller is such an asshole. He gave me a detention yesterday because I was talking to Renee about my period.” Jill says while taking a gulp of her drink.

Okay, that’s something I really didn’t need to know about. We finish off our drinks and head to the dance floor. Just as we get there, the first slow song of the night starts up and everyone pairs off. Here’s where my dance lessons come into place. The song they’re playing is something by one of those lame boy bands who can’t sing in any way.

“Oh, I love this song!” Jill squeals, pulling me to the center of the floor.

She wraps her arms around my neck, practically squeezing the oxygen out of my lungs. I put my hands on her waist, like Elizabeth told me, then sway back and forth. This isn’t so hard. I don’t know why I was making such a big deal out of it. It’s about halfway through the song when I look over Jill’s shoulder and see Elizabeth standing in a corner looking at the other side of the gym. Her lengthy brown hair is softly curled and she’s wearing a simple long black dress with straps. It’s not exactly sexy, but when you look at it, you know it’s exactly something Elizabeth would wear. She’s looking around at the crowd, as if she was searching for someone. Her eyes find mine. I smile at her and she, in turn, gives me a quick grin then continues glancing around.

“They did a nice job decorating the gym.” Jill says, resting her head on my shoulder.

“Yeah. I was actually one of the people who helped decorate.” I reply, still looking at Elizabeth.

She’s laughing at something Ms. Howard said. Many faculty members were forced to chaperone, Ms. Howard was no exception. I seriously think that Elizabeth is friends with each and every staff member at West Roswell. I don’t know how she does it. You’d think that some of them would hate her because she’s too nice, but they all seem to like that. Even Ms. Howard, who is sarcastic and secretly makes fun of people behind their backs, likes her. This was a surprise to me because Ms. Howard makes fun of anyone who is too nice.

“Really? You volunteered to be on the Homecoming Committee?” Jill asks, giving a little laugh.

“No. It was a punishment. Ford thought it’d be funny to see me hanging up streamers.” I answer, laughing, even though it really isn’t that funny.

“That’s hilarious.” She, of course, finds it funny. “You had to hang out with Clark Timmons and Elizabeth Parker for like, a month just to do this stupid dance?”

“Yep.” I say, with a hint of annoyance in my voice.

She doesn’t seem to catch it because she continues:

“Did Elizabeth make you work at the soup kitchen while you were planning it? Or did you have to plant flowers in some old geezer’s yard and talk about a color theme?” She’s basically cracking up at this point.

“Not really. We just talked about it in the library or in the hall.” I say, rolling my eyes even though she can’t see me do it.

At the mention of Elizabeth I look back over Jill’s shoulder to see if she’s still standing there, but all that I see is an empty corner. She probably went to put out more snacks or something like that.

“Still though, it’s not like you actually enjoyed having to spend time with her, right?” She asks, pulling her head up to look at me.

“No, of course not.” I lie.

Sometimes Elizabeth’s kindness can be a little too much for me, but usually I can ignore it. As long as we’re not around other people I don’t have to worry about her offering to help someone put their groceries in their trunk or help an old lady across the street. The song ends and she pulls away.

“I’m going to go to the bathroom, I’ll meet you at the punch bowl.” She says, walking away.

I just nod my head and walk off the dance floor to look for someone to talk to. Michael and Kyle are standing off by the bleachers talking. I get there in time to hear Michael tell the end of a joke that we’ve all heard a thousand times but still find funny.

“What’s up, losers?” I ask, leaning against the bleachers.

“Our dates took a bathroom break.” Kyle says. “Tell me why it is that girls have to go to the john in packs?”

“So they can talk about how good I’m looking in this tux.” Michael says, shaking hair out of his face.

“Yeah, right.” I laugh.

We stand there for a few minutes, staring out at the crowd. I think almost everyone from school is crammed into the gym, making it sweltering hot. I guess Elizabeth failed to think about the heat. I look over to see Jill walking towards us.

“Wow. Excellent choice, Maxwell.” Kyle says, giving a whistle.

I just punch him on the arm and walk over to meet Jill. She’s wiping off something on her dress and she doesn’t look too happy.

“Everything okay?” I ask, dreading her answer.

“No, damnit. Casey Brown spilled her Coke on my dress and now it’s going to stain.” She continues scrubbing.

“Do you want to go home?” I ask, secretly hoping she will.

This dance is pretty lame. Normally I’d do something to spice it up. Spike the punch, pull the fire alarm. Anything to take the lameness away. However, now I have to be careful not to get another strike. Well, that and I can just see the look on Elizabeth’s face when the entire school is running and shoving to get out of the school, ruining the dance.

“No.” She says, whining a little. “Jodie said that she can get some club soda and try to get it out. I’m going to go to the bathroom to wait for her. You don’t mind, do you?”

“It’s okay. I’ll just hang around here until you’re finished.” I reply, thinking of the two hours I’ll probably have to spend sitting in the chairs with the rest of the dateless dorks.

“I’ll try to hurry.” She says, walking away.

Well, there goes my evening. I was hoping to get a little pattycake before I crashed at home, but I don’t see that happening. Jill will more than likely be in the bathroom all night crying about an unnoticeable stain on her dress.

“Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen?” Ford says, standing on the make-shift stage we built earlier.

Everyone quiets down because we know what time it is. It’s time to announce the Homecoming King and Queen.

“I’d like to take this time to thank all of those who helped put this dance together. The brains behind it all, Elizabeth Parker.” He starts clapping excessively.

Everyone in the crowd isn’t sure what to do. Do we clap or do we boo? I mean, this is the girl we’ve all spent years making fun of. In the end, it’s a mixture of both. The staff claps and almost the entire student body boos. I look over to the side of the stage where she’s standing to get her reaction. She is, of course, looking down at her clipboard and totally ignoring the entire scene.

“Okay, okay. That’s enough.” Ford says, getting pissed. “I’d also liked to thank Max Evans for his dedication.”

It’s obvious that this was said to get back at me for everything I’ve ever done to him. I know this because he finds me in the crowd and when he finally sees me by the bleachers he gets a huge smile on his face. To his dissatisfaction, everyone in the entire gym starts clapping and whistling. It obviously wasn’t the reaction he was hoping for, so he immediately shuts everyone up.

“Now I’d like to announce this year’s Homecoming King and Queen.” He says a little too loud, causing a high pitched noise to come from the speakers.

Mrs. Bryce walks over to him and hands him an envelope. Our school takes Homecoming and Prom King and Queen voting seriously. They have special lock boxes that the votes go into and then they have a special envelope they put the winners’ names in. It’s like a whole CIA special ops thing. I make my way over to where Elizabeth is standing. This isn’t easy because everyone is standing still so I have to squeeze my way along.

“And this year’s King is...” He pauses for effect. “David Xavier!”

This is predictable. The nominees for the King were me, Michael, Kyle, and David. We all knew that David would win because we made sure no one voted for us. It’s one thing to be nominated, it’s another to actually win and have to go up there and put on the crown and dance in front of everyone with the Queen. Plus, Isabel will more than likely win and had I won, that would’ve just been wrong. I see the look of humiliation is David’s eyes. I’m pretty sure he did everything in his power to not win, too.

“And your Homecoming Queen is...” Once again, he pauses to make it a little dramatic. “Isabel Evans!”

This is a surprise to no one, not even Isabel. But she walks up to the stage acting like she had no idea she was going to win. The Queen nominees were Isabel, Maria, Vanessa McMillis, and Sara Henney. Maria, instead of campaigning to win like the other girls, campaigned to lose. She didn’t even know how she got nominated, but she said that she wasn’t about to win anything as degrading as Homecoming Queen. I’m betting that when Prom Queen nominations come up, it’ll be a completely different story. I finally get to Elizabeth, who is whispering something to Mr. Grant.

“Hey Elizabeth.” I say, clearing my throat.

“Hey Maxwell. Just a second.” She smiles politely then turns to Mr. Grant. “Don’t even worry about it. I’m coming here tomorrow morning to clean it all up.”

“You sure you don’t need my help?” He asks, almost shouting to be heard over the noise of Isabel and David giving their thank you speeches.

“Positive. I’ve got everything under control.” She says, waving her hand as to dismiss all the thoughts in his head.

“Okay, but if you do need help, you know where to reach me.” He says, walking away.

I watch him go then turn back to Elizabeth.

“What was that about?” I ask, pulling on my bow tie, which is really starting to annoy me.

“Oh, just about cleaning all this stuff up.” She says, looking around the gym.

She looks back down at her clipboard. I glance down at it and see a lot of notes. I guess she really wants this all to go smoothly. I see a small list to the right of the paper that is circled. It’s says Sunday, then under that it has a list of all the things that need to be done tomorrow. She never mentioned anything about us having to come in and take down all the decorations. I know that the janitors are taking care of all the cups and trash left behind, but they don’t deal with the decorations.

“How do you like the dance so far? Congratulations on your sister winning, by the way.” She says, looking up at me.

“It’s good. You did a really good job. Thank you.” I add this last part because I have a feeling that no one else will say it to her.

“You’re welcome.” She says, a grin coming over her face. “I’m glad that you’re having a good time. How’s Jill? You did bring Jill Carson, right?”

“Yeah. She had a little accident with a can of Coke and now she’s in the bathroom trying to get a stain out of her dress.” I say, laughing at the thought.

Elizabeth, however, gets a worried look on her face.

“I hope it doesn’t ruin her evening. Do you want me to go in there and help her?” She asks, looking past me and in the direction of the bathrooms.

“No, it’s okay. It’s nothing, really. Jill can be a little, uh...” I stop, trying to think of a word that won’t make Elizabeth think I’m a jerk.

“Dramatic?” She supplies.

I burst out laughing because it’s the last thing I’d ever expect to come out of her mouth. Elizabeth always seems so polite and tries her best not to hurt anyone’s feelings. Although since I’ve gotten to know her better, I’ve noticed that she isn’t as God-fearing as we all thought. Every once in a while she’ll surprise you with some comment that you never would’ve imagined coming out of her mouth. This is one of those moments. She puts her hand over her mouth.

“Did I just say that?” She says, biting her lip. “I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t even apologize. That’s exactly what I was thinking.” I say, still laughing. “I can’t believe you said that.”

She lets out a laugh.

“Well, I have my moments.” She says, turning to look on the stage.

Isabel is up there with the microphone taking this opportunity to talk as much as she wants. She’s thanking everyone from the place where she bought her dress to the people who made the lipstick she’s wearing.

“Your sister looks really beautiful.” She says, still looking at Isabel.

“She knows.” I say, following her gaze.

Mr. Ford finally intervenes and takes the mic out of her hand.

“And now for the customary King and Queen dance.” He says, moving the microphone stand off to the side so Isabel and David won’t dance into it.

“I love this song.” Elizabeth says softly, watching David and Isabel come together to start dancing.

I listen closely as the opening chords to the Eric Clapton song, “Wonderful Tonight” start to play. The song title also happens to be the theme of our dance. They always pick some mushy, romantic song to be the theme then play that song during the King and Queen dance. Everyone else is pairing off. I don’t see Jill coming out of the bathroom anytime soon so I guess there’s only one thing left to do.

“Would you like to dance?” I ask, turning to her.

I can tell she’s surprised by this, and I know for a fact that she absolutely wasn’t expecting me, or anyone else, to ask her to dance. She looks around, not sure.

“Don’t worry, if something comes up, you’re free to leave.” I say, knowing that’s the cause of her reluctance.

“Well, okay.” She says, setting her clipboard down on a table behind her.

We walk out to the dance floor and find a space that’s open. I start to put my hands on her waist, but remember that she prefers the other way so I put my hand in hers. I think I like this way better.

It’s late in the evening,
She’s wondering what clothes to wear.
She’ll put on her make up,
And brushes her long blond hair.
And then she’ll ask me,
“Do I look alright?”
And I say,
“Yes, you look wonderful tonight.”


“You look really nice in your tuxedo, by the way.” She says, her eyes looking up into mine.

“You look really nice, too.” Is the first thing that comes to my head.

I don’t exactly have a way with words.

We’ll go to a party,
And everyone turns to see,
This beautiful lady,
That’s walking around with me.
And then she’ll ask me,
“Do you feel alright?”
And I’ll say,
“Yes, I feel wonderful tonight.”


“Do you need help tomorrow cleaning up? Because I’m free.” I ask, waiting for that tinge of regret for asking, but it doesn’t come.

“You don’t have to.” She says, looking over my shoulder.

“No, it’s fine. I have nothing better to do.” I say, remembering that I have to get up early anyway and go to church.

“Okay. I guess I’ll meet you here after church then.” She replies, then gets silent.

And I feel wonderful,
‘Cause I see,
The love that’s in your eyes,
And the wonder of it all,
Is that you just don’t realize,
How much I love you.


This is okay. I mean, it’s not as bad as I thought it’d be. Sure, people are staring at us like we’re crazy. I mean, Max Evans slow dancing with Elizabeth Parker. No one saw that coming. I don’t think I realized till now how tiny she really is. I bet I could fit my fingers around her waist. I’m almost afraid that I’ll break her or something. I look over her shoulder and see Michael and his date, Kate Shurson, staring at me. I sort of shrug my shoulders and they turn away. I look down at Elizabeth to see that she has her eyes closed.

“What are you thinking?” I ask, trying to bring her out of her reverie.

She opens her eyes up and I notice they’re a little watery. She quickly recovers and pastes a smile on her face.

“I was just thinking about my dad. Eric Clapton was one of his favorite performers and this was my parent’s song.” She says, her eyes getting that far away look.

Okay, what do I say to that? Sorry your dad is dead, would you like some punch? So instead of actual words, I just pull her into a hug. I’m not complete devoid of human emotions, but it has been a while since I’ve really hugged someone. I mean, there’s the usual hugs from mom and dad, but not a real hug.

It’s time to go home now,
And I’ve got an aching head.
So I’ll give her the car keys,
And she’ll help me to bed.
And then I’ll tell her,
As I turn out the light,
I’ll say,
“My darling, you were wonderful tonight.
Oh, my darling. You were wonderful tonight.”


As the last notes of the song are played, I pull away from her to make sure she’s okay. She looks up at me and smiles, that smile that brightens up her whole face. And that’s when it happens, out of nowhere. That’s when I do the thing that I never in my entire life I thought I would ever do. I put my hands on both sides of her face and kiss her. I do it because she looks so small and innocent. I do it because being around Elizabeth Parker isn’t what I thought it would be. She pulls away almost immediately and looks around the gym. I know nobody saw us because they’re all focused on the stage, but I don’t think that’s why she’s looking around. I wait for a response. Something, anything.

“Elizabeth?” I say lightly.

She stops and looks up at me, her eyes tearing up again.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I can’t do this.”

And then she turns and runs away, pushing her way through the crowd and disappearing.

Part 11

“And so that brings us to the sign up sheet for teens who’d like to take the kids from the Corona Foster Care Center trick-or-treating.” Reverend Mills says, pulling a pad of paper out from behind his podium. “I’m going to pass this around and if you’re interested, please put your name down.”

He walks over and hands it to the people at the end of our pew. I can tell by just looking at the kid signing the sheet that his parents forced him into it. No sane person would give up their Halloween just to walk a group of snotty little brats around for two hours.

“Also, I’d prefer it if you would dress up in a costume. I think that would really make the kids excited.” He adds, walking back to his podium.

Great, not only do I have to spend Halloween with kids doped up on sugar, but now I have to dress up like an idiot. This is going to be a great Friday night.

“Max.” Mom says, handing me the pad of paper.

I quickly take the pen and scribble my name down then hand it to Isabel. The only good that comes from this is that Isabel has to do it too. Normally I’m the one who gets stuck doing all the crappy stuff and she stands off to the side laughing, but now she’s going to look like a moron just as much as I am.

“You are free to go to your Sunday school classes now.” Mills says, getting his notes organized for the adult session.

I stand up, looking around the room as I do. I didn’t see Elizabeth and her mother when I walked in. Usually they’re two of the first people here, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. And I’m almost positive that had she been here, Elizabeth would’ve been the one who talked about the trick-or-treating with the kids thing. This is odd because I can’t remember a time when they’ve ever missed church. For some reason, I can’t get past this, so I make my way over to Reverend Mills to ask him if he knows where they’re at.

“Excuse me, Reverend?” I say, putting on my boy next door act.

The Reverend and I don’t have a very good history. My parents make him talk to me whenever I’ve done something really bad. They think that the power of his words will make me realize my sins and become a better person.

“Mr. Evans.” He says, turning to face me. “How can I help you?”

I clear my throat, hoping he doesn’t remember the time Kyle and I set a greased pig loose in the church.

“I was just wondering if you knew why Elizabeth Parker wasn’t at church today?” I ask, looking up from my shoes as I do.

I can tell he’s surprised. From what he’s seen, Elizabeth and I never hang together, or talk for that matter.

“Something important came up and they had to go out of town.” He says, lowering his voice. “Don’t worry, though. She’ll be here next week.”

And with that he turns back to the person he was talking to before I interrupted. His explanation doesn’t completely put my mind at ease. All through Sunday school I can’t stop thinking of her and if something happened. Kissing her was stupid. I don’t even remember why I did it. I was just caught up in the moment and the atmosphere of the dance. Looking back on it now, I can’t imagine why I did it. Elizabeth is well, Elizabeth. The girl who helps me with my homework on occasion. The girl who would rather read a book than watch television. Certainly not someone I could be romantically involved with. Not only would I not know how we’d hang out, but it would most definitely ruin my reputation. And that’s about I’ll I’ve got going for me.

After church ends, I make my way to the school. Half of me hopes she’s there, the other half is telling me that if she is there, I should leave before she can see me. I bring my backpack in with me. I’ve been having trouble in History and I know Elizabeth is an expert in that department. I’m not expecting her to be there, but just to be on the safe side I bring it with me in case I have the courage to stay if she actually is there. I walk into the gym to see that it is indeed empty, but most of the mess is already cleaned up. At first I think the janitors decided to clean it up, but then I see someone standing in a corner rolling up streamers. As I get closer, I realize that it’s Elizabeth. So much for Mills’ whole “they had to go out of town” spiel. And here I thought lying was a sin.

“Elizabeth?” I say, walking towards her.

She turns around, a surprised look on her face.

“Maxwell, what are you doing here?” She asks, looking around.

“Remember? You asked me to come here and help you clean up?” I ask, looking at her like she’s crazy.

She must have a really short term memory.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry, I forgot.” She says, shaking her head. “I got most of it done.”

We both look around. There really isn’t much left to do. The only thing left is to take down the streamers I hanged yesterday that are hanging from the ceiling. I walk over to the ladder that’s leaning against the locker room door and start taking them down.

“When did he get here?” I hear a voice ask from where Elizabeth is sitting.

I can’t look over or else I’ll fall, but I have a sneaking suspicion who the voice belongs to. After I get the streamer and set it down I look over to discover I was right. The voice belongs to none other than Mrs. Parker. After I get the last streamer down, I carry them over to where they’re at. I’m not exactly sure what to say. I don’t want to piss off Mrs. Parker now. I’d be here forever while she lectured me.

“Here you go. Did you want me to put them into your car?” I ask, lifting them up onto my shoulders.

“Actually, you can just put them in that closet over there.” Elizabeth says, pointing to a storage closet on the other side of the gym.

I grunt under the weight of the poles as I make my way across the gym. Hopefully after I put this shit away, I can get out of here. Spending time with Elizabeth is okay, but her mother? No way is that going to happen.

“...feeling okay?” Mrs. Parker is asking Elizabeth.

This is probably the first time I’ve ever seen Mrs. Parker acting motherly towards Elizabeth. Usually she’s telling her what to do or what not to do. Right now she’s gently brushing the hair out of Elizabeth’s eyes and hugging her.

“I’ll be fine. I feel a lot better.” Elizabeth assures her.

Mrs. Parker picks up her jacket and purse then turns back to Elizabeth, her eyes filled with worry.

“Are you positive?” She asks, one last time to be sure.

“I’m positive mom, now go.” Elizabeth laughs.

I wait till she’s out of the gym before I say anything to Elizabeth. She’s putting some stuff into a bag, her back facing me.

“Are you okay?” I ask, crossing my arms.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” She says, turning to me with a smile. “I think I’m just coming down with a cold or something. It’s nothing, really.”

“Alright. But if you need anything, just ask.” I say, walking over to sit beside her.

“Thanks.” She says, then turns back to what she was doing previously.

I sit there for a few minutes, fiddling with the straps of my backpack. I’m waiting for her to bring up the kiss. The minutes drag on without either of us saying anything. I’m finally about to mention it when she suddenly turns to face me.

“Maxwell, about that kiss.” She says, her eyes looking directly into mine.

“Yeah, I was wondering when that would come up.” No use acting like it didn’t happen.

She takes a deep breath, clasping and unclasping her hands. She’s nervous, I can tell. I’m wondering whether she’s going to say it was a good thing or a bad thing.

“Maxwell.” She starts, then pauses. “I know you thought maybe it was a good idea at the dance to, well...and, you know, with the lights and the music maybe it seemed like the right thing to do, but, I don’t know how to say this. I don’t we should pursue it.”

And with that all my worries are gone. I had never thought that Elizabeth would be the one who ended this thing before it even started. I expected tears and me being the one to tell her that we shouldn’t continue it. Not that there was really ever anything to pursue, but it’s best to not even try to have that type of relationship with Elizabeth Parker.

“I was thinking the same thing.” I say, with a smile on my face.

She gives me that knowing look then picks up the bag that’s packed with decorations salvaged from the dance. To my surprise, no one really ruined any of the decorations. Color me stunned.

“Do you want me to put those in the closet for you?” I ask, standing up beside her.

“Oh, no. I’m taking these home.” She says, hefting the bag up. “I have to repair some of them.”

“Wait.” I say, grabbing my backpack. “I wanted to know if you could possibly help me with my History homework.”

She smiles, setting the bag down then walking back to the bleachers. I sit down, pulling out the worksheet I’m supposed to do. She sits down beside me.

“Okay, what do you need help with?” She asks, and I can tell that she really wants to help and isn’t doing it just because I asked.

“Well, it’s basically just questions about different presidents.” I say, handing her the worksheet.

She glances down at it then back up to me.

“How about this? I’ll help you, but only if you promise that you won’t just copy down the answers I give you. You have to make a genuine effort to get them right.” She says, smiling a little.

“You have my word.” I say, putting my hand over my heart.

“Okay. First question: Who was the youngest president of the United States?” She asks, reading the question off the paper.

“Kennedy.” I say instantly.

Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.

“Wrong.” She says.

“What? No way. JFK is definitely the youngest president!” I say, sitting up.

“Actually, John Kennedy was the youngest elected president. The youngest president was Theodore Roosevelt.” She says, looking down at the paper. “He became president after McKinney was assassinated.”

“Seriously?” I ask, still having my doubts.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always thought JFK was the youngest president.

“Yeah.” She says, like everyone knew that Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest president.

“I did not know that.” I say, still thinking about it.

“Okay, question two: Who was the first president, known as the common man, that changed the way we think about who our president should be?”

“I’m not even going to try guessing with that one.” I say, putting my feet up on the row in front of me.

“No idea?” She asks, trying to get me to think about it.

“Um...” I rack my brain, thinking of all the presidents. “Jefferson?”

She just gives me a polite smile, which means I got it wrong.

“It’s actually Andrew Jackson. He came from a poor family and became a war hero. He was so popular that when he ran for president, he won.” She explains, handing me the paper for me to write all this stuff down.

I write quickly, actually interested in what she’s saying. It’s nice to meet someone who really pays attention in school for once.
----------

“I’d like to thank everyone for acting politely at the dance on Saturday.” Mr. Ford is saying from the PA microphone.

I look over from my position by the Xerox machine to see Ford reading off a piece of paper and talking into the mic. It’s another glorious Monday morning here at West Roswell High, and that means another period of doing whatever Ms. Bryce tells me to do. Today she has me on photocopying duty. This, of course, means I won’t be able to break into the student records. I was really looking forward to it too, because I wanted to find out all the dirt on everyone and blackmail them with it. What secrets await me on the other side of that filing cabinet?

“Max? I said fifteen copies, not fifty.” Ms. Bryce says, suddenly appearing in front of me.

I shake my head and look down to see that I have accidentally typed in fifty copies of a worksheet for Mrs. Hartley’s freshman science class.

“Sorry.” I say, quickly stopping the machine as it prints number forty-three.

“We’re not Kinkos, Mr. Evans. We do have a limited paper budget, so watch how much you print.” She says, then returns to her desk.

“Uh, yeah. Okay.” I reply, absentmindedly.

I sneak a glance at the clock. Thirty minutes left. Oh God, this is torture. At this point I’d be willing to help the janitors clean out the toilets or help Mrs. Bailey write out her Physics notes for next year.

“I swear, it wasn’t my fault. Billy Myles was totally checking me out!” I hear Maria’s voice practically yelling.

Sure enough, she just walked into the office accompanied by everybody’s favorite vice-principal, Mr. Patterson.

“Ms. DeLuca, kneeing Billy Myles in the groin is in no way effective if you want to stop sexual harassment.” Patterson says, picking up a detention slip off Ms. Howard’s desk.

“But that’s the thing. Every time he thinks about hitting on a girl, he’ll remember this little episode and curve his impulse.” Maria says this while wildly flapping her arms around.

Mr. Patterson just rolls his eyes and starts writing on the form. Maria isn’t the dainty girl she appears to be. When she wants to, she can be mighty fierce. And this is coming from someone who has felt the sting of her fist. Even when joking around she is unyielding.

“Here you go.” He says, handing her the slip then walking back to his office.

“Mr. Patterson! Come on! You know I was just doing it for the welfare of females everywhere!” She yells after him even though she knows he won’t change his mind.

“Using those kickboxing lessons again?” I ask, walking over to the counter.

“Max, dude. Patterson is relentless.” She says, showing me her detention slip.

“That’s what you get, Xena.” I say, putting a paperclip onto a stack of lab sheets.

She leans against the counter, looking around the office.

“So, how’s the new office job going?” She asks, obviously getting back at me for the kickboxing joke. “What’s it like to be the person who sends out those school wide memos on faculty meetings after school? Exciting?”

“Very.” I reply sarcastically.

“Are you the one who types up the detention lists?” She asks, looking side to side.

“No, but I could somehow manage to gain access to it if I wanted.” I say, nonchalantly.

“Could you say, take someone’s name off the list?”

“I could, if I wanted.” I reply, putting the lab sheets into a folder.

“Would you want to for fifty dollars?” She says, taking a fifty out of her wallet and sliding it across the counter to me.

“I’d want to for a hundred.” I say, yawning.

She gives a frustrated sigh then digs into her wallet and pulls out another fifty.

“You better do it or I’m kneeing you in the groin.” She says, then turns and walks out of the office.

I quickly put the money into my pocket and walk back over to the copier just as Elizabeth walks in. She’s carrying a stack of books so high she can barely see over the top.

“Here, let me help.” Ford says, somehow re-entering the office without me noticing.

He takes the books from her hands and sets them down on Ms. Bryce’s desk.

“These are some of the books we’re donating to the foster center. Ms. Geiger said that they’re sending someone over to pick them up. They should be here by one o’clock.” She says, looking over the stack of books.

“Good, okay. How many more are there?” He asks, taking a sip of his coffee.

I put an American History quiz into the copier, press in twenty-three, and look back over to where they’re standing.

“There’s only about fifteen more books.” She says, her voice filled with disappointment. “We didn’t really get a lot of donations.”

She’s referring to the book drop we had about two weeks ago. The library was collecting new and used books to give to the Corona Foster Care Center. Michael and I stuck in copies of Playboy. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but now I regret doing it. Whenever our school holds any type of fundraiser we barely raise any money, unless it involves any athletic team of course.

“...I don’t know.” Ms. Howard is saying as she walks into the office from the connecting hall.

She’s followed by Ms. Bryce who is holding a magazine in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other.

“Oh, hello Elizabeth.” Ms. Bryce says, her face brightening up.

“Hi.” Elizabeth replies, smiling then going back to reviewing the books.

“Lou, I was wondering if you could help us with something?” Ms. Bryce says, talking to Ford.

I stifle a laugh. I had no idea that Ford’s first name was Lou. Every here just calls him “Ford” or “Jackass.” I continue to stand back and watch. Normally I’d offer up some clever quip about his name, but I know that’d probably earn me another strike.

“Sure.” He says, turning to look at them.

“Do you have any idea what an encyclical is?” She asks, reading it out of the magazine she’s holding.

“Uh...” He says, looking up at the ceiling thoughtfully.

“It’s a pope’s letter to send around to churches.” Elizabeth says, not even looking up.

We all turn to stare at her. Either she’s ignoring us or she doesn’t even realize that we’d all think it was weird that she’d know this. And from knowing Elizabeth, she mostly likely doesn’t realize that we’d all think this was weird.

“Well, okay then.” Ms. Howard says, chuckling as she walks back into the school conference room.

After they’re all gone, I walk over to where Elizabeth is standing.

“Hey.” I say as I walk up to her.

She looks over at me and smiles.

“Maxwell, hey. I heard that you worked in here third period.” She says, setting down a book she was looking at.

“Yep. It’s the best job ever.” I reply sarcastically.

“Oh come on, Maxwell. Taking phone calls and making copies has to be somewhat exciting, right?” She says, smirking.

I laugh at her joke. It still surprises me that she actually has a sense of humor.

“Oh, of course. You know how I love to hear parents complain about their kids being treated unfairly.”

“You’re so silly.” She says, laughing.

Just as I’m about to say something else, the bell rings signaling the end of third period. I reach down and grab my bag.

“I guess I’ll see you later.” I say, coming up with nothing better.

“Yeah.” She says, lost in her own little world.

I hover around her. No, I shouldn’t do this. It’s stupid. But before I know it I’m pulling the hundred dollars that Maria gave me out of my pocket and handing it to Elizabeth.

“This came in earlier, an anonymous donation to the book drop.” I say, hoping to get out before she realizes it’s really from me.

She just stares at the money in her hand, not sure if it’s real or not. Then she looks up at me with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.

“Do you know what this means?” She asks, her voice bursting with emotion.

“What?” I ask, not sure what to expect.

“The kids will be able to buy so many more books with this!” She says, then pulls me into a hug.

I’m a little taken back and for a second I just stand there stiffly. Then I pat her on the back, looking around to make sure no one is watching.

“That’s great.” I say, for lack of anything better.

“Thanks.” She whispers in my ear then turns and walks into the hallway off the main office.

I just shake my head in confusion. That girl is so bewildering, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to figure her out.

-----------

It’s not until the night of the church Halloween festival that I see Elizabeth again. The week seemed to drag on forever. It’s like everyone decided to make it the most frustrating week ever. Not only did every teacher seem to have a test or some huge homework assignment that was due, but Ms. Bryce decided to rent me out. By this I mean that she told every teacher that if they needed help with anything, they could have me during third period. This led to everything from helping Mrs. Urman hang up new posters to helping vacuum the carpet in the auditorium. Needless to say, my quest to take a good look at the student records is put off for another week. I’m really set on it too because Ben Geiger has been pissing me off lately, and I want something to use against him.

Earlier in the day Maria, Michael, Kyle, and I went out to find costumes that we are being forced to wear. Thankfully, we found costumes at a shop out in Judis. Maria is going to be a princess (surprise, surprise), Michael is going to be an alien (how original), Kyle is going to be Superman (Kyle in tights, those poor kids), and I am going to be James Bond. I figured I could just reuse my Homecoming tux and just buy fake James Bond equipment at the store. This worked out well and I barely had to spend any money.

“God, these tights are riding up my ass.” Kyle says, picking his wedgie.

“That’s what you get for picking that costume.” Maria responds, fixing the tiara on her head.

“Okay! Everyone gather round!” Elizabeth yells to be heard over the noise of all the teenagers and the kids who arrived from Corona.

We all quiet down. She’s dressed up in the same dress she had on at the Homecoming dance only now she has a pink button-up sweater over it. I’m not exactly sure what she’s supposed to be.

“Here’s how it’s going to go. Your groups have already been chosen, so just look at the number Reverend Mills gave you when you arrived and find the group of kids with that number.” She yells, as we look down at the numbers in our hands. “Basically you’re all going to take the kids to houses on the East side of town.”

The East side of town is the good, decent part. It’s where all the rich people, myself included, live. I guess she didn’t want them going over to the poorer sections on the West side of town, where oddly enough she lives.

“Make sure they’re back here by 8:30. Any questions?” She asks, looking around at all the people.

I look down at the number in my hand: 7. I hope the kids I get aren’t whiny. I say goodbye to Michael, Kyle, and Maria then head over to where my group is at. They don’t really appear to be snotty brats, but then again, it is only 6:30.

“Are you kids with group seven?” I ask when I make it to the group.

“Yeah.” A little girl dressed as Snow White says.

The kids’ costumes aren’t too elaborate, in fact they’re actually kind of shabby. I guess the foster center really didn’t have a lot of money to spend on Halloween.

“Okay, well, we’re going to wait until the other group leader shows up before we leave.” I say, looking around.

Each group is supposed to have two leaders. I’m only hoping that I don’t get stuck with any of Roswell’s losers. Five minutes pass and there’s still no co-leader in sight. Finally I see Elizabeth walk over to us with a worried look on her face.

“Sorry Maxwell. Darlene Stuart was supposed to be your co-partner, but she just called Reverend Mills about ten minutes ago to say that she couldn’t come because she was feeling sick.” She says, running her hands through her hair.

Yeah right, like Darlene Stuart is really sick. She probably blew this off just to go to a party.

“Oh really?” I feign surprise.

“I know, I just hope she feels better in time for the festival.” Elizabeth says, completely buying the story. “Anyway, I was supposed to stay here and help finish setting up the festival, but I’ve talked it over with the Reverend and he said that it would be best if I just went with you. Luckily we found someone to help him.”

“That’s great.” I reply, feeling somewhat relieved.

I have no idea how to handle kids, and I’m guessing that Elizabeth has a lot of experience. Now I don’t have to worry about one of them choking on a sucker.

“Okay, let’s go.” She says, then turns to the kids. “Who’s ready to get some candy?”

The kids all shriek in excitement. The sad thing is that this is probably the most fun these kids will have for a long time. It’s a lot different when you’re actually face to face with them. When Elizabeth has her book drops and bake sales, you don’t actually feel guilty about not helping. But when you look at the faces of the kids she’s trying to help, it makes you feel like shit.

“Maxwell?” Elizabeth says, pulling me out of my thoughts.

I look up to see her and the kids already a few feet away walking towards the first row of houses. I quickly catch up with them.

“I’m so glad that everyone decided to help with this.” She says, watching the kids as they go up to Mr. and Mrs. Garrison’s porch.

“Yeah, me too.” I say, knowing that everyone was basically forced to do this.

“So who are you supposed to be?” She asks, giving me the once-over.

“Bond. James Bond.” I say, raising an eyebrow.

She bursts out laughing.

“Are you mocking me?” I ask, acting offended.

“Never.” She says, putting her hand on her heart and shaking her head. “Here they come.”

As she says this, the kids come running towards us, showing us the candy they got. I can’t help but feel happy. I mean, these little innocent children have been handed such hard lives, but they can still manage to find some semblance of joy. I look up at Elizabeth. She’s listening to something one of the kids is saying and laughing. It’s right then that I realize that absolute beauty of her. She’s not particularly dressed up and she’s not wearing makeup, but at this moment she is probably the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.

“Okay, let’s go. We’ve still got dozens of more houses to go to.” She says, picking up the little girl dressed as Snow White.

I follow her and for the rest of the night I can’t get that thought out of my head.

Part 12

“Oh my God, here he comes. Everyone quiet down.” Maria says to Michael and Kyle as soon as she sees me walking towards them.

It’s only so obvious that they were talking about me and Elizabeth. I can already hear the jokes about me and her suddenly spending so much time together.

“Hey dorks.” I say when I finally get to them.

“I believe you’re the dork, Mr. Parker.” Michael says then bursts out laughing.

“Ha, ha. You’re all very funny and original.” I reply, rolling my eyes.

“Okay, but just so we’re clear on this, you not only helped Elizabeth Parker plan the Homecoming dance then proceeded to slow dance with her, but you are now going around treat-or-treating with her. I think you smoked some bad weed, man.” Kyle says, shaking his head.

“I didn’t choose to, it just happened. We didn’t exactly get to pick who we went around with.” I say, watching Derek Minion try to win Megan Mendenhull a stuff animal at one of the festival booths.

“Hmm.” Maria says, putting her hand on her chin. “Elizabeth Parker is running the event, keeping track of basically everything, and she just magically happens to get you for a partner.”

“Suspicious.” Michael adds.

“It’s not like that.” I say, feeling the need to defend Elizabeth for some reason.

“All that I’m saying is that I find it very unlikely--” Maria starts but is cut off by the sound of Reverend Mills’ voice coming out of a speaker a few feet away from us.

“Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen?” He says, tapping the mic. “I’d just like to let you know that we’re selling raffle tickets for the 20 inch television. All proceeds go to the church.”

No one makes a start for the raffle table. Then, simultaneously the children from the foster care center pull dollars out of their pockets and, following Elizabeth, make a line at the table. The sight is almost too much to bear. I gaze around the festival, not really seeing anyone watching the children. I’m blown away at the selfishness of these people that I’ve known for all my life. And I’m forced to think back to all the times I did the exact same thing, not wanting to give to charity, or pay attention to something that didn’t really benefit me. Something to my right catches my attention and I look over. There is Maria DeLuca, Ms. I-Spent-A-Thousand-Dollars-On-A-Pair-Of-Shoes, pulling money out of her wallet and starting towards the table. And in that instant, a tiny piece of my faith in humanity is restored.

“Where are you going, DeLuca?” Kyle asks, just now noticing Maria’s move towards the table.

“Where do you think?” She asks, pointing to the line of kids.

I follow her lead, pulling out my own wallet. Michael and Kyle, feeling perhaps the shame of standing there and doing nothing, trail me to the back of the line. It’s about ten minutes before we get to the front of the line. I stand behind Maria, waiting for her to pay for her tickets.

“Here you go.” She says, setting the money on the table, but not removing her hand from the bill.

She looks around a little, for some reason unbeknownst to me. I look over her shoulder to see that she has given them a hundred dollar bill. This shocks me so much that I don’t hear them telling me it’s my turn until Michael pushes me forward. After we’re all finished buying our tickets, we start towards one of the rides, never mentioning the donation. I think we’re all a little weirded out by what we did.

“Ooo, the Ferris Wheel!” Maria squeals, pulling Michael’s arm. “Let’s ride!”

Kyle rolls his eyes, turning to look at something else.

“I’ll be back.” He says, walking over to where Nichole Bennet is standing.

Kyle and Nichole broke up a few days ago, we haven’t really figured out why. I’m beginning to think that Kyle is actually in love with her, which disturbs me a little.

“Max! Come on!” Maria yells, waving me over to the line.

I jog over to them. Maria is bouncing up and down, excitedly. She can be so girly sometimes.

“Uh, yeah, dipshits. Who am I going to ride with?” I ask, looking up at the wheel.

“Elizabeth.” Michael says, making kissing noises.

“Shut the hell up.” I say, punching him on the arm.

“If you can’t take the heat, get out of the, um, however that goes.” He says, suddenly confused.

“Right.” I reply sarcastically. “Well, you two dateless losers can have fun. I’m going home.”

“What? Now? It’s barely nine o’clock.” Maria says, glancing down at her watch.

“I’m tired and mom said that if my room isn’t sparkling clean by Sunday, I’m grounded all next week.”

“You’re mom is like a drill sergeant.” Michael says, his gaze focused on the line ahead of him.

“I think we are all aware of that.” I say, turning to leave. “See you tomorrow night.”

They grunt goodbyes then turn to face the ride. I walk quickly, trying to avoid further conversation with anyone. I’m walking by the raffle table when I hear Elizabeth’s voice whispering to Reverend Mills.

“Is there anyway to switch tickets?” She asks, looking down at the ticket that’s in her hand. “I mean, I don’t need a television and the kids really deserve one.”

“Well Elizabeth, it would be wrong of me to put your ticket back in there and take out another. I mean, you won fair and square.” Mills says, and I know he feels the same way she does.

They must’ve already picked the winning ticket and by some weird coincidence, Elizabeth won.

“How about I never say that I won and anonymously donate it to the foster center?” She asks, her voice clearly distressed.

The Reverend takes a moment to think about this and I can literally see Elizabeth holding her breath as if this was the most important thing to ever happen in her life.

“Okay, we’ll do that.” He says, smiling as he takes her ticket. “Sometimes you’re just too generous, Elizabeth.”

“It’s not about being generous, Reverend. It’s about doing the right thing.” She says, smiling warmly.

I walk over, careful not to interrupt them. The Reverend takes the ticket out of her hand, smiling.

“Thank you so much.” Elizabeth says, her shoulders relaxing.

She turns around and nearly runs into me.

“Maxwell! Where did you come from?” She asks, surprised.

“Sorry, I just wanted to come over and see if you needed help with anything.” I say, crossing my arms.

“Oh, no. Everything is going fine.” She says, pushing up the sleeves of her sweater. “I was just checking up on things before I leave to go home.”

“Do you want me to walk you home?” I ask, looking over my shoulder to see who’s around us.

“You don’t have to do that. I wouldn’t want you going out of your way just to walk me home.” She says, shaking her head.

“It’s perfectly fine. I was going to walk home anyway.” I say, reassuringly.

She bites her lip, thinking. I’m not sure if Mrs. Parker is here or not, so I guess she is thinking about the possibility of getting caught with a boy.

“Okay. But only if you promise me it’s not out of your way.” She says, looking around.

“I promise.” I say as I start to walk in the direction of her house.

She follows, walking beside me. Almost everyone in town is at the festival, whether they go to Roswell Baptist or not. After trick-or-treating is over, everyone flocks to it because there’s absolutely nothing else to do. We walk quietly through the streets. It’s about five minutes before either of us say anything.

“So did you like the festival?” She asks, her voice sounding somewhat loud in the empty street.

“Yeah, you did a really good job on it.” I reply, then add, “I don’t know how you did it all on top of the Homecoming dance.”

“It wasn’t too bad. I had good help.” She says, nudging me on the arm.

“Well, I do what I can.” I say, stretching out my arms.

She just laughs. As we get closer to her house, the homes get smaller and more unkempt. The streetlights get fewer and farther apart. It’s like this part of town has just been forgotten. Left to become run-down.

“Can you believe it’s almost December?” She says as we turn onto her street.

“I know, pretty soon we’ll be graduating.”

I can see her house in the distance. The porch light is on, moths flying around it, but even though it gives off a dismal vibe, the yard is neatly trimmed, there’s flowers in a small garden in front of the house, and the bushes next to the porch are all evenly spruced.

“Where’s your mom?” I ask casually.

She just laughs at my question.

“Don’t worry, Maxwell. She’s helping out at the festival. She won’t lecture you or anything.” She says, knowing exactly what I was thinking.

“What? Are you kidding? I love your mom.” I lie.

“Ha, ha.” She replies, pulling the sleeves of her sweater down.

It’s gotten a bit cooler since we left the church. We walk up the steps that lead to her front door.

“Thanks, Maxwell. You really didn’t have to walk me, but I appreciate it.” She says, digging through her purse to find her keys.

“Don’t worry about it, Elizabeth.” I say, putting my hand on her shoulder.

She stops looking for her keys and looks over at my hand, then slowly looks up at me. I unconsciously lean closer to her, closing my eyes.

“Maxwell.” She whispers.

I open my eyes to see her eyes glancing from my eyes to my lips.

“I have to go.” She says, suddenly pulling away to unlock her door. “Goodbye Maxwell.”

I stand there, staring at the closed door, feeling more and more like a jackass. I can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m trying to swap spit with Elizabeth Parker. Of all the people in the world, why do I have to pick Elizabeth to tongue wrestle with. This is just great. And why is she so hell-bent on me not kissing her? Does she have a boyfriend? I leave her house confused as ever.

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

It’s not till ten o’clock the next night that something hits me. I’m pulling dirty clothes out from under my bed when it happens. And as much as I want to deny it and rationalize it, I just can’t. Somewhere between planning the Homecoming dance and trick-or-treating, I fell in love with Elizabeth Parker. As stupid and insane as that sounds, it’s true. It surprises me so much that I actually lift my head up and bash it against the bottom of my bed. I pull myself out from under it.

“Shit.” I say, rubbing my head.

“I heard that.” Mom says as she walks past my room.

“Sorry.” I mutter.

This is absolutely crazy. Only dorks with pocket protectors fall in love with Elizabeth Parker. Not me, Max Evans. The guy who laced the coffee machine in the teacher’s lounge with vodka and got half of the staff drunk. The guy who stuck pictures of Principal Ford in a speedo all over the school. I can’t be in love with her. This didn’t fit into my plans at all. I wanted to graduate high school with as little holding me back as possible.

At the beginning of the year I was perfectly fine. I didn’t care how my actions affected other people or whether or not some kids in a foster center were happy. I was going out to parties every weekend, laughing, drinking, basically having fun. But ever since I’ve been spending time with Elizabeth, I’ve been feeling more aware of those around me. It’s like she did something to me, changed me somehow while I wasn’t paying attention. It freaks me out so much that I pick up the phone and call Michael.

“What’s up?” He answers.

“What are you doing tonight?” I ask, without bothering to tell him who I am.

“Uh, there’s supposed to be a party over at Randy Gillis’ house. I was gonna go check it out.” He mumbles while chewing on something.

“You want some company?” I ask, slipping my shoes on then tying the laces.

“You sure? I mean, you’re not going to bring Elizabeth are you?” He asks, and I can tell by his voice that he’s half-serious.

“What? No, why would I do that?” I ask, a little pissed at everyone’s jokes about me and Elizabeth.

“It’s just that you two seem to have gotten kind of close.” He says, then says something to someone in the background.

“That was just because of that stupid Homecoming dance. I had to put some effort into it otherwise Ford would’ve expelled my ass.” I say, which is somewhat truthful.

“Whatever. I guess I’ll meet you there.” He says, then yells: “Tess, stop it! I told you, you can’t come with me.”

“Mikey, come on. I won’t get in your way.” Tess’ voice whines from the other line.

I feel sorry for Tess. Michael may act careless, but he actually does care a lot about his sister. I mean, every time he sees her at a party, he always keeps one eye on her. She can’t do anything without him wanting to know where she is and what time she’ll be back. He thinks that no one notices, but we all see it. Hell, we even joke about it when he’s not around.

“Tess. How many times do I have to tell you, the party is going to be filled with drunken assholes and I don’t want them hanging all over you.” He yells back to her.

I just roll my eyes and hang up. He knows that I’ll be there. No need for pleasantries. I quickly throw all my dirty clothes into the hamper in my closet. Then I glance around the room, making sure my mom will think it’s clean enough.

“Mom, I’m going over to Michael’s!” I yell as I descend the steps.

“Is your room clean?” She asks from her position next to my father on the sofa.

“Yeah. Spic-N-Span.” I say, grabbing my jacket off the coat rack and pulling it on.

“Be back by one.” Dad says, his eyes glued to the television.

I grunt a “yes” and walk out to the Jeep. Isabel stayed at one of her friends, so chances are I’ll run into her there. A perfect addition to an already perfect evening. Randy Gillis’ house is out in Autopsy Woods. His parents, along with Maria’s mother, are into that whole alien thing. They own a couple acres, which usually means we don’t have to worry about the cops breaking it up. It takes about fifteen minutes to get out there. The house itself is pretty big. Randy’s dad owns Snubby’s. It’s a family-oriented restaurant. There’s one in Roswell, Judis, and Corona. The one is Roswell is, of course, alien-themed, the one in Judis is sports-themed, and the one in Corona is television-themed. They’re very popular, which means that Randy won’t have to worry about getting a job any time soon.

When I pull up, there’s about ten cars parked in the driveway and on the lawn. Music is blaring from inside and I can see a couple of people dancing through the windows. As I’m watching them, I realize how long it has actually been since I’ve gone to a party. Sometime before Homecoming. And besides the traditional hanging out at the park on Fridays, I haven’t really seen any of my friends. It’s like Elizabeth gave me some kind of drug that made me blind for a while and it’s finally starting to wear off, but for some reason, I still can’t get her out of my head.

“Max Evans? At a party?” I hear Kyle’s voice from behind me.

I turn around to see him and Nichole making their way towards me. I’m going out on a limb and saying that they’re back together.

“Funny.” I say evenly.

“I’m just saying...” He says, holding his hands up.

“Hey Max.” Nichole says, her arm wrapped around Kyle’s waist.

“Hey Nichole.” I reply.

We walk into the house, squeezing our way through the crowd and into the living room. There we find Maria sitting on Tom Meyers’ lap. I can tell by her babbling that she’s obviously had a couple beers.

“Max! Buddy, what’s up?” Maria asks, getting up off Tom’s lap.

“Your blood-alcohol level, it seems.” I say, taking my jacket off and setting it down on a chair.

She bursts out laughing. Maria always finds stupid comments hilarious when she’s drunk.

“That is so funny.” She says, putting her arm around my shoulder. “You are so funny.”

“Come on, Maria. I think we should get you sobered up.” Tom says, standing up and walking Maria towards the kitchen.

I look around the room, observing who’s in here. It’s basically the same people who are always at these parties. I make my way through the house, not really staying anywhere for too long. I’m beginning to remember why I haven’t been to one of these in a while.

“Max, glad you could make it.” Michael says from behind me.

I turn around to face him. Surprisingly, Tess is standing beside him, looking around at everyone.

“He actually let you out of your cage?” I say to Tess.

“Out of the cage, but still on the leash.” She says, laughing.

“Funny.” Michael says, sarcastically. “You can walk around, but don’t go upstairs and don’t drink.”

Tess gives him a mock salute and walks off. Michael watches her until he can’t see her anymore.

“God, she’s impossible.” He says, rolling his eyes.

“She’s your sister and you love her.” I reply, patting him on the back.

“Eh.” Is his response.

He walks to the kitchen and I follow. The kitchen is usually where everyone goes to smoke weed or do any other type of drugs. Needless to say, we’ve all spent some time in there. As predicted, it’s the most crowded room in the house.

“Hey!” Everyone yells when we walk in.

Well, you can’t say they’re not friendly.

“Pass some this way.” Michael says, holding out his arm.

Greg hands him a blunt and he takes a long drawl, then he offers it to me. Normally, I’d take a couple hits, but there’s some nagging sensation in my head that makes me refuse his offer. He just gives me a look and hands it back to Greg.

“What’s wrong with you?” He asks, releasing a stream of smoke.

“I don’t know, I just don’t feel like it.” I shrug.

I turn to look at a group of people crowded around the kitchen table. When I look back over at Michael, he’s staring at me.

“What?” I ask, annoyed.

“It’s nothing.” He says, squinting his eyes a little. “You’re just...different.”

“Huh?“ I say, giving him a ‘what the hell?’ look.

“Nothing. You’ve just changed.” He says, shaking his head. “I don’t know.”

I guess I can see where he’s coming from. My bullshit tolerance is definitely lower and I’m starting to find stuff that I use to do petty and immature.

“Ever since you started hanging out with Elizabeth you’ve been acting more and more like an adult. It’s like some of her holiness rubbed off on you.” He says, pushing a piece of hair out of his eyes.

“Whatever.” I reply, walking away.

I always thought of Elizabeth as this girl who did everything she could just so she would look better than us. That she wanted to put us all to shame. But as I’ve gotten to know her, I’ve realized that she doesn’t do any of this to prove anything. In fact, she doesn’t even realize that anyone notices what she does. She does what she does because it’s helping someone. Not because it’ll get her recognition or look good on her college applications. And then I begin to think of myself over the past month, my vast transformation from asshole to someone who thinks before they act. It’s not till this very moment that I really stop to think about this. Elizabeth literally changed me. And I’m starting to like the person that I’m becoming.

“Max!” Jill Carson yells, walking towards me from across the room.

I turn around and head for the door. If there’s one thing I don’t want right now, it’s a confrontation with Jill on why I left her at the dance. I shove my way through the crowd, hearing Jill’s voice from somewhere behind me, and finally make it out the front door. From there I go to my car and quickly drive off before Jill has a chance to chase after me. I’m not really sure where I’m heading. In fact, it’s not until I turn the Jeep off and look up that I see where I’ve stopped. Elizabeth’s house.

I guess that’s where I really wanted to go. I need to ask her a question and I can’t wait till tomorrow at church to ask it. I run up the steps that lead to the front door and knock loudly. I’m not sure if Mrs. Parker is here, but I don’t really care. However, I’m a little surprised when she’s the one who answers the door.

“Can I help you?” She asks, not opening the door all the way.

“I need to talk to Elizabeth.” I say, knowing how ridiculous that sounds, especially at eleven o’clock at night.

“Mr. Evans, it’s late. Can’t this wait till tomorrow?” She asks, sighing and crossing her arms.

“It’s really important.” I say, and she just glares at me. “Please?”

I don’t know if it’s the desperation in my voice or the fact that she’s probably tired, but she turns around to face the stairs.

“Elizabeth! Someone is here to see you!” She yells, then turns back to me. “Stay on the porch.”

“Okay.” I say politely.

A couple seconds later Elizabeth comes walking down the stairs dressed in pajama pants and a t-shirt. It’s probably the most dressed-down I’ve ever seen her.

“Who is it?” She asks, looking at her feet as she descends.

When she gets to the bottom she looks up at me with a confused look.

“Maxwell?” She says, looking at her mom.

“Five minutes. On the porch.” Mrs. Parker says, walking to the kitchen. “I’ll be watching the clock.”

Elizabeth steps out onto the porch, shutting the door behind her.

“What are you doing here?” She asks, still obviously confused.

“I wanted to ask you something.” I say, stalling.

“Okay.” She says, waiting for me to get it out.

I brace myself.

“I just want to know why you can’t do this.” I say, looking down at my shoes.

“Do what?” She asks, shaking her head a little.

I point to her then to myself. She immediately understands what I’m getting at.

“Maxwell, it’s complicated. I just can’t get involved right now.” She says, thinking her words out carefully.

“Why?” I ask, swallowing my pride.

She sighs then leans against the house.

“I can’t tell you. You just have to understand.” She says, looking up at me.

I’m really starting to get annoyed with this whole cryptic thing she has going on. It’s getting really confusing. She’s a complete enigma to me.

“Elizabeth, you can’t just keep doing this. Shutting people out.” I say, not believing that the words are leaving my mouth.

Her shoulders stiffen a little and I can tell she’s shocked.

“What?” She asks, her forehead creasing in bewilderment.

“Your best friend is the school librarian, Elizabeth.” I reply.

“Maxwell, I really don’t want to do this...” She starts.

“Listen to me. You shut yourself off and busy yourself with charities and fundraisers. You never go to any parties or even attempt to make friends.” I say, feeling like now that I’m started, I can’t stop. “Everyone makes fun of you, but you don’t even notice. You act like everyone is good and pure.”

“You don’t think I know that?” She says, raising her voice. “You don’t think I hear people laughing at me or calling me Perky Parker?”

I step back, so surprised at her words. The fact that she isn’t as dense as I thought is mind blowing. All these years we made fun of her because she seemed so oblivious to everything. The irony of it all is that she actually heard every word we said.

“As stupid as I may seem, Maxwell, I know a lot more than you think.” She says, uncrossing her arms then re-crossing them.

I give a frustrated sigh.

“Why do you put up with it?” I ask, angry that she would just let everyone, myself included, talk like that about her.

“Because they don’t really mean it. It’s just high school insecurities and peer pressure.” She says, like that explains every bad behavior

“God! Can’t you hear yourself? Not everyone is good, there’s some bad people out there. The world isn’t this perfect place that you imagine it is.” I say, making sure to keep my voice low enough so that Mrs. Parker won’t hear it. “Shit happens. People kill people, children die, grandmas have strokes. For someone so smart, you sure follow your faith blindly.”

Her jaw clenches up and I know that I probably said too much, but I feel relief at having said it.

“I think you should go.” She says, turning towards the door.

“Elizabeth, wait.” I say, putting my hand on her arm.

She just looks down at it then up at me.

“Goodbye Max.”

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

“No. That’s not what I said. I said fifteen desks, not fifty.” Ms. Bryce is saying into the phone. “Well, it’s not my problem. I want to talk to your manager.”

I walk past her, not wanting to be near her when she gets off the phone. Ms. Bryce is bad enough in her normal mood. I can only imagine her being pissed off. It’s not something I’m really itching to see. I make my way to the records room. Today is finally the day I get to infiltrate West Roswell’s student body. I carefully shut the door behind me, making sure no one saw me come in. I pull out the pick I brought with me and make my way over to the filing cabinet.

“Bingo.” I say when I find it.

I fiddle around with it until it finally unlocks. I pull open the drawer marked ‘Seniors.’ Who should I start with? I start flipping through them all. I stop on Parker, Elizabeth. Ever since Saturday night I’ve been feeling really weird. She actually called me “Max.” Not “Maxwell.” This has to be really bad. I pull her file out and sit down on the floor, opening it. The first few pages are basically the emergency medical forms, the required school information, etc. Nothing too interesting. The next packet is her grades from all her high school years, her GPA, and all that other stuff that colleges look at. It’s not until I see the last page that I find all the really good stuff.

“Father died...took it hard...” I read softly to myself. “I already know all of this.”

I continue looking over the notes. I get about halfway down the page when I read it. It causes me to drop the file on the ground and stand up.

“Oh my God.” Is all that I can say.


posted on 4-Jul-2002 7:10:50 PM
Part 13

“Oh my God.” I repeat, feeling all of the air leaving my lungs.

This has to be wrong. There is no way that what I’m reading is true. Her information must’ve been mixed up with someone else’s. I glance up at the top of the page and sure enough it says, ‘Parker, Elizabeth.’ I force myself breathe in hopes of calming down. It doesn’t really work.

“Well, let me see. I have the receipt in the school finance cabinet.” Ms. Bryce’s voice says from outside the door.

I quickly shut the folder and cram it hurriedly into the collection of others. Just as I’m shutting the drawer, Ms. Bryce walks in.

“What do you think you’re doing?” She asks, her voice full of anger.

“I was uh, looking for this week’s lunch menu.” I say, guiltily leaning against the cabinet.

She just looks at me, and I can tell that she isn’t buying my story at all.

“Nice try, Max. Mr. Ford’s office, now.” She says, pointing towards his office.

“Fuck.” I mutter under my breath.

I make my way to Ford’s office, already knowing that my second strike is coming. Ms. Bryce follows behind me, making sure that I don’t run off. She knocks on the door, then opens it.

“Mr. Ford, sorry to interrupt you.” She says, pushing me into his office.

“It’s okay.” He says, looking up from a piece of paper on his desk. “Mr. Evans.”

By the smug smile on his face, I can tell that he already knows I did something wrong.

“It appears that Mr. Evans here was trying to break into the student records.” She says, throwing me a look.

It’s a good thing she doesn’t know that I actually did break into the cabinet. That could mean immediate expulsion. Attempting to break into it is just a misdemeanor. A blimp on the scale of high school crime.

“I’ll take it from here.” Ford says, meaning for her to leave.

She nods her head and walks out, shutting the door behind her. Ford points to one of the chairs across from the side he’s sitting on.

“Have a seat, Max.” He says, putting the paper he was reading into a drawer.

I sit down, preparing myself for the lecture that is sure to come.

“Breaking into the student records.” He shakes his head. “I was rather impressed that you hadn’t gotten anymore strikes and I had even begun to believe that you were following my advice and staying out of trouble.”

“I’m sorry.” I say, my mind wandering back to what I read in Elizabeth’s file.

He stops suddenly, looking at me like I’ve grown a second head.
“Excuse me?” He asks.

“I’m sorry.” I say a little louder.

He opens his mouth, as if to say something, then closes it. He’s confused. Normally I’d retort with a sarcastic remark. This whole apologizing thing scares him because it completely throws off our relationship. It’s always been him saying some comment made to make me feel like a dumbass, then me replying with something to make him feel like the dumbass. He gives up on thinking of something to say about my apology.

“This is your second strike, Max. I hope that I don’t have to give you a third one.” He says, opening a drawer and pulling out the paper that was originally on his desk.

I take this as my cue to leave. I walk out into the main office to see Ms. Howard typing away on her computer. She looks up at me, giving me a sad smile.

“I heard about your most recent strike. You better be careful, Max. I’d hate to see you get expelled.” She says, sounding unlike herself.

I just nod my head, knowing that I need to get my act together. If I get expelled, I know that there’s no way I’m ever getting out of this town. I grab my backpack. The bell is going to ring any second and I really don’t feel like spending another moment in here. I push open the door and make my way out to the lounge.

“Max, buddy. I heard that you got your second strike. That sucks, man.” Marcos Sanchez says, patting me on the back then continuing on his way.

News travels fast here at West Roswell. Most likely when Ms. Bryce told Ms. Howard, it was overheard by someone who promptly decided to tell any and everyone they saw. I’m really not surprised. This is what always happens.

“Evans, sorry about the second strike!” Peter Harley yells from the other side of the lounge.

Great. Now everyone who didn’t know, now does. Thanks, Pete. I make my way over to the vending machines. I need something to drink. My mouth feels like sandpaper. I walk faster, trying to avoid further comments from my oh-so-caring classmates. I’m a few feet away when I almost mow someone down.

“Sorry.” I say, turning around to see who I ran into.

“It’s okay.” Elizabeth says, bending down to pick up a book that fell out of her hands.

She stands up and lets out a weary sigh when she sees it’s me.

“Max--” She starts.

“Listen, Elizabeth. I’m sorry about what I said on Saturday. I shouldn’t have said it.” I say, feeling my stomach tighten up.

“I really need to get to class.” She says, turning her head to look at the hallway she was heading towards.

“I need to talk to you.” I say, lowering my voice so I won’t be overheard.

“I’m sorry.” She says, starting to turn around. “I have to go.”

And with that, she turns and walk away. I rub my hands over my face, feeling so helpless. I can’t stop thinking about how stupid we’ve all been. How we’ve all just hurt her, never thinking about her feelings. Me, most of all.

“What are we looking at?” Maria asks, coming up beside me.

“The stupidity and heartlessness of almost every person in this school.” I reply, still staring at the place where Elizabeth stood only moments ago.

“What?” She asks, following my gaze.

“Maria, have you ever realized in one moment how insignificant you are? How your problems are so meaningless and small?” I ask, thinking of Elizabeth and everything that she’s been through and done.

“I was hoping we’d get to have another one of these depressing talks. You know, since we haven’t had one in a while.” She says, laughing a little.

When she realizes that I was being serious, she stops and looks over at me.

“Max, are you okay?” She asks, putting her hand on my shoulder.

I shake myself out of the trance I’m in, and look at her.

“No.” I reply.

She looks down at the floor.

“What has she done to you?” She asks quietly.

“What?” I ask, surprised at her question.

“It’s like she’s made you...” She pauses, thinking of a word. “...human.”

She takes her hand off my shoulder and walks away. I’m not sure if she’s going to the Crashdown for lunch or just the cafeteria. I decide to wait until I get off school grounds before getting something to drink.

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

I decide to go to the taco stand off the old highway. It’s never too crowded and they have the best tacos in town. There’s only a few people from school, but fortunately, none that I ever hang out with. I sit at one of the picnic tables next to the highway. That way I can just hop in the Jeep after I’m done. Now I just have to figure out what to do about Elizabeth. I’m still at a loss. I never would have expected to read what I did. It’s like, everything I’ve ever believed in and thought was true, just went down the drain.

“Max?” Kyle says, waving his hand in front of my face.

Damnit, just when I thought I’d finally get some time to think things over, I’m interrupted yet again. This really is the smallest town ever.

“Hey. What are you doing out here?” I ask, a bit surprised.

Kyle doesn’t usually eat tacos. Something to do with indigestion.

“I just needed to get away from everyone.” He says, sitting down across from me.

I nod, knowing exactly what he means. Out of all of my friends, Kyle is probably the one I can relate to the most. He’s not as obnoxious as Michael can be, and obviously, he’s not a chick like Maria. He is the most level-headed out of all of us. And just like myself, I’ve noticed that he’s becoming more mature too.

“Same here.” I reply, taking a bite out of my taco.

“Do you want me to leave you alone?” He asks, getting ready to stand up.

“No.” I reassure him. “It’s fine. I just meant, away from the conformist blob that is the student body of West Roswell.”

“I know what you mean.” He says, putting hot sauce onto his taco.

We eat in silence for a few minutes. I’m wondering what he’s thinking. Kyle always wanted to get out of here just as much as I do. He wants to go off to UCLA after graduation and study cinematography.

“So, are you and Nichole back together?” I ask, suddenly feeling uncomfortable in the silence.

“Yeah.” He nods. “She’s great. Different than anyone I’ve ever dated before.”

“That’s good that you found someone. I mean, dating one girl after another can get boring.” I say, not really paying attention to the words coming out of me.

“It is good. And good for you too.” He says, his mouth full.

“What?” I ask, looking up from my food.

“I mean, you and Elizabeth. I don’t know how the others feel, but I don’t have a problem with it.” He takes a drink of his Coke. “She isn’t as bad as everyone makes her out to be.”

I nearly choke on my food.

“What?” I say, coughing. “Elizabeth and I aren’t dating.”

“You’re not?” He asks, his face showing his confusion. “But I always see you two together. I just assumed...”

I look around, making sure no one is listening to our conversation.

“The truth is, and I know you’re going to laugh at me, I actually got shot down by her.” I say, my face burning red.

He doesn’t laugh, but just smiles a little.

“Listen, Max. I know how weird love can be, and you falling in love with Elizabeth Parker is probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard. But we don’t choose who we love.” He says, leaning in a little. “Plus, these past few weeks I’ve noticed that you’ve been changing, maturity wise, and I can’t help but associate that with you hanging out with Elizabeth.”

Holy shit. This is shocking. Not only did he not make fun of my feelings for Elizabeth, but he’s actually saying it’s a good thing. This coming from Kyle Valenti is major. The Old Kyle would’ve laughed his ass off then went around telling everyone, but the New Kyle seems to understand my emotions. This is getting a little too odd for my taste.

“So, uh, are you going to your aunt’s for Thanksgiving this year?” I ask, changing the subject.

“No, dad wants to stay in town.” He replies, getting my hint.

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

“Mom? Dad? I’m home.” I yell, setting my keys down on the table in the foyer.

“Out here!” Mom’s voice calls back from the patio.

I walk through the kitchen and from there, outside. Grandma, mom, and dad are all sitting at the patio table drinking iced tea. I’m not sure if Ford told them about strike two.

“Max, have a seat.” Dad says, pulling the chair next to him out.

I guess that answers that question. I walk over and sit down. Mom pours me a glass of tea and slides it over to me.

“Principal Ford called and informed us about your second offense.” He says, setting down the glass that’s in his hand. “Now, we’re not going to ground you because we figure this is something you have to decide for yourself. Do you really want to graduate high school? That’s the question. You have the answer.”

I’m not sure if I really expected that or not. I think my parents have been trying to get me and Isabel to become more independent. Preparing us for the real world.

“Okay.” I say, not really coming up with anything better.

Grandma just gives me a comforting smile. She understands the need for a little teenage rebellion here and there. I get up, heading for my room. I’ve already had my fill of parental interaction for the day. I walk past Isabel, who is chatting away on her phone.

“...oh, I know. She is such a whore.” She is saying into the receiver.

I shut my door and immediately flop down on my bed. I’m so exhausted over worrying about school and Elizabeth. I can’t screw up anymore. If there’s one thing I don’t want, it’s to be stuck in Roshell for the rest of my life flipping burgers. I’d end up being a townie who goes to high school parties and tries to hook up with junior girls. Not exactly my life’s ambition. My other worry is, of course, Elizabeth. I don’t know what to do. I’m in love with her, I can’t hide that anymore. But that she...God, it’s like everything is suddenly focused and I can look back on these past months, past year even, and put everything into place. And that fact is that I’m so disgusted with myself that I don’t know what to do.

“Max! Phone!” Dad yells from somewhere downstairs.

I pick up the phone next to my bed.

“I’ve got it!” I yell down to him, then say into the phone: “Hello?”

“What’s up?” Michael’s voice asks from the other line.

“Nothing. What about you?” I ask, lying back onto my bed.

“Nothing here. So you want to go down to Mike’s?” He asks, that hint of irritation that’s always in his voice evident.

“No. I’m kind of tired. I think I’m just going to bed.” I say, not really feeling like going anywhere.

“Okay.” He says, then hangs up.

Michael was never one to stay on the phone when he didn’t need to. I set the phone back on the cradle and kick off my shoes. I pull my covers over my head, trying to clear it of all the thoughts running through it. I wish I had something that would just give me the answers. Tell me how to feel, what to say. I’m so confused. My life has done a total 180 in the past month and now it’s like the problems I had before don’t even compare to the ones I have now. I close my eyes, urging sleep to come just so I can stop everything that’s going on in my mind. It finally comes after about a hour of counting sheep.

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

“Okay, people. Remember that your projects are due on Thursday and I will not accept any late ones.” Mrs. Urman says, wrapping up her lesson for the day.

Lately, Mrs. Urman and I have been getting along. I think it has something to do with my dramatic behavior change. She hasn’t really felt the need to bitch at me or assign me extra work.

“Max, have you started your project yet?” Maria asks, keeping her voice low even though Mrs. Urman is finished telling us everything we ever wanted to know about F. D. R.

“Yeah, I finished it last week.” I say, putting my notebook into my bag.

“Wait, let me get this straight. Max Evans actually did his work ahead of time rather than waiting till the night before to do it?” She asks, holding her hands up.

“Yep.” I reply, standing up to wait by the door.

“Amazing.” She says, shaking her head and following me. “You are not going to believe what Peggy Stillman told me...”

I tune her out, staring adamantly at the clock. I need to talk to Elizabeth. I don’t care if anyone sees us, I don’t care if I get in trouble for missing my next class. All that I know right now is that I have to get everything out of my head or I’m going to explode.

“See you tomorrow!” Mrs. Urman yells as the bell rings.

I make my way through the hall, hearing Maria call my name from somewhere behind me. I ignore her. I have more important things on my mind right now. The first and most logical place to look for Elizabeth is the library. I walk in, seeing that the place is strangely empty. Normally there’s some kid skipping class to type up a paper that he forgot to do the night before, but now it’s deserted. I walk over to the stacks, thinking that maybe she’s in one of the rows. Luckily for me, I find her sitting down in the Science Fiction section re-shelving books.

“Elizabeth?” I ask, whispering so my voice won’t be heard all over the library.

She looks up from the books surrounding her.

“Maxwell? Don’t you have a class to go to?” She asks, putting a book onto the shelf.

“Yeah, but I wanted to talk to you.” I say, walking over to her and sitting down.

“About what?” She asks, writing something down on a pad of paper that’s on her lap.

I can’t tell her what I found out. That would only piss her off and make her pull away further. But there’s really no way I can just bring it up.

“I wanted to know if you wanted to go see a movie on Friday.” I say, hoping against hope that she’ll say yes.

She sighs, setting down the pad of paper.

“I’m sorry, I can’t.” She says, her voice laced with the same gentleness it always has.

Well, at least she’s not blowing me off again. That’s a plus. She picks up another book, reading the back of it. She looks so fragile. So innocent that I have to turn away.

“Will you please just talk to me?” I ask, realizing the hint of desperation in my voice.

I guess she notices it too, because she looks up suddenly, squinting her eyes as if to see what is going on in my head. For a second I think that she sees it. What I read, what I know. But just as quickly as her gaze starts, it ends. She stands up, taking the remaining books and stacking them onto the shelf closest to her. She walks past me, not turning around until she’s out of the row.

“I need to finish. I’ll talk to you later, Maxwell.” She says, smiling, then walking into the librarian’s office.

I watch her small frame until it disappears behind a wall and I can’t stop wondering who would rape Elizabeth Parker.

Part 14

“Max.” Someone is whispering into my ear. “Wake up.”

I sit up so quickly that my forehead hits Maria’s forehead.

“Oh my God. Ow, Jesus.” She says, rubbing the already red spot. “Max, what the hell was that about?”

“You’re the one who was standing over me and whispering into my ear.” I say, putting my hand over my forehead. “What the hell are you doing here, anyway?”

“I came to see if you wanted to go down to the Crashdown and get something to eat?” She asks, going over to look at the mirror above my dresser.

I push the covers off of me. I came straight home from school, went up to my room, and crashed on my bed. I guess I slept longer than I planned to.

“Why didn’t you just ask Michael or Kyle?” I ask, yawning.

“Kyle is out doing something with his dad and Michael is working. And you know he is never in a very good mood when he’s working.” She says, leaning towards the mirror, looking at her forehead.

I was hoping to just stay in tonight, do my homework, and get as much sleep as possible.

“Fine.” I reply. “Hand me my shoes.”

She picks up my Converse and throws them at me.

“Did you not hear the part where I said hand them to me?” I ask, putting them on.

“Whatever.” She says, not really paying attention to anything but the huge red mark on her head.

I stand up, grabbing my jacket as I do. She follows me downstairs and out to her car. She says we’re taking her car because she refuses to ride in my Jeep with the top off. Something about hair spray and a $100 hair styling bill. Whenever Maria talks about her hair, I tend to tune her out. When we pull up to the Crashdown, it’s obvious that it’s packed. There’s cars all over and people have started sitting in the patio sections in the front and side of the restaurant.

“I just hope we can find a booth.” She says, shutting off her car and getting out.

As expected, it’s crowded, almost nearing the occupancy limit. I glance around, seeing that there are no empty booths, except one that’s being cleaned by a busboy, and there’s a line of people waiting for a seat. There’s no way we’ll be getting a table anytime soon.

“Hey guys, what are you doing?” Tess asks, from the register station.

“We’re here to eat.” Maria says, walking over to her.

“Hold on.” Tess says, looking at us then walking over to a booth.

She whispers something into the ear of the busboy that’s cleaning the single empty booth. He looks over at us as she says something else, then nods his head. After a few seconds, she walks back over.

“What are your last names?” She asks, loudly enough so that the people waiting in line will hear.

“DeLuca and Evans.” Maria says, playing along.

This is the classic fake-out. Whenever it’s crowded and one of us comes in, Tess always pretends that we have reservations. She tells the busboy that she’ll pay him five bucks to keep his mouth shut. Then, of course, we have to pay her back the five bucks and make sure we leave her a hefty tip. Oh well, at least we get to cut ahead of everyone else.

“Hey losers.” Michael yells from the kitchen when he sees us.

“You guys want the usual?” Tess asks, as we sit in the booth.

“Yep.” I reply, handing her the menu that’s on the table.

It’s while we’re eating that it happens. I’m eating my cheeseburger when Maria looks up suddenly and starts laughing. I turn to where she’s looking and there is Elizabeth Parker, standing by the counter talking to Mr. Guerin.

“I’m sorry. I know you two are like, best friends now, but the girl needs a makeover, stat.” Maria says, shaking her head and taking a sip of her Coke.

“Maria, shut up.” I say, still looking at Elizabeth.

I can tell, without even looking at her, that she’s shocked. We joke around a lot, but I’ve never told her to, straight out, shut up. I usually hint around it.

“What?” She asks, confused.

“Just keep your mouth shut.” I say, scooting out of booth.

I walk over to Elizabeth, who is laughing at something Mr. Guerin said. She doesn’t notice me until I’m right next to her.

“Is Mr. Guerin forcing you to listen to his lame jokes?” I ask, leaning against the counter.

“Oh, they’re not lame.” Elizabeth says, looking over at me. “You just have to have a particular sense of humor to find them funny.”

I laugh at the obvious attempt to sound as nice as possible about the not-so-funny jokes.

“Hey, now. I’ll have you two know that many a person has found my jokes hilarious.” He says, laughing as he walks away.

“He’s in, what some people would call, denial.” I say, looking after him.

“Well, at least he has his moments.” She says, laughing.

I turn to look at her. She’s staring at the floor, avoiding my gaze as much as she can.

“What are you doing here?” I ask.

I never see Elizabeth in here. I figured that her mother was a health nut and they only ate at the Chinese restaurant at the other end of Main Street.

“Mom was in the mood for some onion rings.” She says, holding up a bag that I hadn’t noticed before.

“Oh.” Is my lame reply.

She just stands there, not sure what to do next.

“Well, I guess I’ll see you at school.” She says, turning and starting for the door.

I stand there for a few seconds, not sure what to do. I look back at Maria, who is staring at me, probably wondering what I’m going to do. Then my eyes sweep over at everyone in the restaurant. More than 75% of the people in the place are from school. And they all happen to be staring at me. Waiting for me to make a choice. Do I follow her or go back to my seat? This is a defining moment. If I follow her, then it’ll change everything. My reputation as school badass will be tarnished and I’ll forever be remembered as the guy who actually went after Elizabeth Parker. But if I stay and go back to my seat, everything will be forgotten. It’ll be idle gossip for a day or two, but then they’ll find something better to talk about.

“Max?” Michaels yells from the order window.

I look over at his questioning stare. Then I start walking to the door, pushing it open, and forever securing my place as the guy who went after Elizabeth Parker.

“Elizabeth, wait!” I yell after her.

She’s walking in the direction of her street, but at the sound of my voice she stops and turns around.

“Maxwell?” She asks, leaning forward to see if it’s me.

“Yeah.” I say, jogging up to her.

She looks at me like I’ve gone crazy. I don’t blame her.

“Did you want something?” She asks politely.

“Are you walking home?” I ask, even though I know she probably is.

Now that I know she was raped, I find it hard to believe that her mother won’t let her use the car more often. You’d think that for someone who was so protective, she wouldn’t want her daughter walking around at night by herself.

“Yeah.” She says, crossing her arms.

I think that’s a nervous habit of hers.

“Mind if I join you?” I ask, being sincere.

She bites her lip, another nervous habit, and thinks about my question. Before, I thought this was just because she didn’t want to get in trouble with her mother. Now I know it’s because she’s afraid I’ll try something.

“I guess.” She says hesitantly.

We start towards her house, a direction in which I’m becoming more and more familiar with. I want to tell her that I know. That it’s okay, and I’ll do whatever I can to help her deal with it. But a part of me is afraid of how she’ll respond to it.

“I heard about your second strike.” She says suddenly.

This isn’t surprising.

“Yep.” I reply, nodding my head. “I just can’t seem to stay out of trouble.”

“Maxwell, stop worrying.” She says, startling me.

“What?” I ask, confused.

“You can’t keep worrying about what people think of you. Who cares if everyone doesn’t think you’re this tough guy who will do any kind of dare. Or if you don’t go to every party.” She says, as we turn onto her street.

“Easier said than done.” I say, watching her house in the distance.

Every time I think of what happened to her, it’s like someone is crushing my lungs, making it hard for me to breathe. She, of all people, never deserved that. This is the girl who goes to church every Sunday, donates her lunch money to the Salvation Army, and also happens to be the person I’m in love with.

“Elizabeth.” I say, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk.

She walks a couple steps before she realizes I’ve stopped. She turns around to face me.

“Yeah?”

I feel that sensation in my stomach that feels like something is eating my insides. I have to do this. Even if it ruins my chance of every being with her, she has to know I’m here if she needs someone to talk to.

“There’s something I need to tell you.” I start.

“Okay.” She says, walking a little closer to me.

“This is probably going to sound a little, I don’t know, surprising.” I say, my stomach in knots. “But, I know about you.”

She gets this completely puzzled look on her face. I can almost see her going over her options of how to get away from me. I’m beginning to weird myself out.

“What?” She asks, not understanding what I’m getting at. “Are you okay?”

“I know what happened.” I say, desperately trying to avoid the word.

She still has that confused look on her face, but after a few seconds it slowly changes to realization. Realization that I know her secret.

“What? How?” She stutters.

I say the first thing that pops into my head:

“I overheard you talking to Reverend Mills about it.” I say, hoping that Mills knows about it.

She turns her head away, her eyes tearing up. I can tell she’s breathing slowly, trying to regain her composure. And now I’m kicking myself for bringing it up. It’s none of my business. It was her secret to tell. I should’ve just kept letting her know that I was her friend, not an enemy. Great job, Max. Maybe later you can go hit a puppy with your car.

“I, uh, I need to go.” She says, but remains standing in the same spot. “My mom’s probably wondering what’s taking me so long.”

“Elizabeth, I just wanted you to know that if you want to talk to someone about it, I’m here.” I say, not sure what to do.

I see a single tear fall from her eye, slowly traveling down her cheek. I want to wipe it away, hold her, and tell her that it’s not her fault and that I’ll make sure nothing like that ever happens to her again.

“I have to go.” She whispers. “My mother’s waiting.”

And all the sudden she’s gone, running to her house with her long hair seemingly floating behind her. I’m becoming a pro at getting her to run away from me. Now, I’m not sure if I truly did the right thing, but I guess it’s too late to take it back. I take one last look at her house and I’m surprised to see her standing on the porch, staring at me. She gives me a small wave, then turns and walks into the house. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad sign.

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

“Okay, so that’s two Galaxy Subs, one order of Saturn Rings, and one order of Space Fries. Can I get you anything else?” Tess says into the receiver.

I stand by the register station, waiting for her to get off the phone.

“Alright, that’ll be nine-fifty, and you can pick it up in five to ten minutes.” She says, staring down at her order pad. “Okay, you too. Bye.”

She quickly jots something down then looks up at me.

“Hey Max. Where’s everyone at?” She asks, sticking a receipt in her apron and walking over to the counter.

I follow her and sit on one of the stools.

“I don’t know. Normally they’d be here by now.” I say, looking over at the door. “I guess we’ve all just got better things to do now then spend Friday afternoons here.”

She leans on the counter, pushing her hair out of her face as she does.

“It kind of seems like you’re all just growing apart.” She says, pulling a cup out from under the counter and filling it with lime soda.

“I think it’s just that we’re all maturing, well some of us more than others.” I say, rubbing my hands over my face.

“Here, on the house.” She says, setting the drink down in front of me. “Anyway, Max, that’s what friendship is about. You all grow differently and change, but true friends still stay together. No matter what.”

She gives me a reassuring smile then walks over to a table where a group of people just sat. I sip on my soda, thinking of what she said. Michael, Maria, Kyle, and I have completely changed over the past month. Well, Michael not so much. He’s still the same asshole he’s always been. Kyle has definitely changed. I think he’s starting to realize there’s more to life than practical jokes and keggers. But what’s surprised me the most is Maria, who was once the self-proclaimed party queen of Roswell. Admittedly, she can still be a bitch, but lately I’ve noticed that she’s a little more caring. I don’t think there’s anything that can be done about Michael, though. But then again, you never know.

“Hey.” Michael says, sitting on the stool beside me. “Where’s Kyle and Maria?”

“I don’t know.” I say, staring ahead at the stack of plastic cups.

Usually we meet here right after school on Fridays, but I guess everyone is getting tired of this routine.

“Kyle’s probably off screwing Nichole and Maria’s probably binge drinking.” He says, walking behind the counter and getting himself a drink.

“Well that was tactless.” I say, laughing even though the joke was pretty crude.

“Yeah, well.” He says, gulping down his Coke.

A few seconds later the door above the door rings and in walks Kyle and Maria. They’re laughing at something and it looks like nothing has really changed between them.

“Hey.” Michael says from behind the counter.

“Hey.” Maria says, laughing. “You guys are not going to believe this. We were walking across the street and we saw Mary Verner making out with William McDonald.”

“Seriously?” I ask, not really surprised.

“Yeah. Greg is gonna be so pissed.” She says, waving at Tess to get her a drink.

“Oh come on, those two cheat on each other so much. I think they’re at the point where they don’t really care anymore.” Michael says, tucking a hair behind his ear.

We all agree. Who knows how many times they’ve cheated on each other. It seems like every other week they’re having this long drawn-out argument in the student lounge about which one slept with someone else. High school romances can be so dramatic.

“So are we still going to the park?” Kyle asks, swiveling around on his stool.

A couple of weeks ago, it would just have been assumed that we were going.

“Who’s playing?” Maria asks, pulling her hair into a ponytail.

“Sci-Fi Hybrid, Born Again, and The American Dream.” I reply, playing with the ice in my cup.

“I’m game.” Michael says, looking over at Tess.

“Me too.” Kyle says.

“Same.” I say, since I have nothing better to do.

“Well, then. It’s settled. After Max gets done decorating for Fifties Friday, we’ll meet.” Maria says, nodding her head decisively.

------------
“Mom, I really think you need to retire the poodle skirt.” Isabel says, adjusting the table cloth that covers the picnic table.

“Oh come on, Is. She looks adorable.” Dad says, giving mom a kiss on the cheek.

“Thanks, sweetie.” Mom says, smiling at him.

Fifties Friday is probably the most embarrassing of all the themed Fridays. This one requires that everyone dress up like someone from the fifties. Seeing your eighty-year old neighbor in a poodle skirt is something no one should ever have to see.

“Are we done?” Isabel asks, stepping back and looking over our work.

“Sure, honey. It looks great.” Mom says, setting down a bowl of pretzels on the table.

I fight off the urge to mention that it looks like it does every other Fifties Friday.

“It looks like it does every other Fifties Friday.” Isabel says, walking into the house.

I should’ve known that was coming.

“Mom, I’m going to the park.” I say, walking towards the kitchen.

“That’s fine. Just make sure you don’t get in any trouble.” She says, not really paying attention.

“Yeah, yeah.” I say, walking into the house and shutting the door behind me.

I quickly take a shower and change. Lack of anything better to do is only part of the reason I’m going. I’m hoping that by some small chance Elizabeth will be there. Sitting in that swing like she is every Friday night. I haul ass to the park, because I really don’t want to see any of Roswell’s adults dressed like teenagers off of Leave It To Beaver.

“Max! Over here!” Maria yells, waving her arms wildly.

Like the spot they’re sitting in isn’t the same spot we’ve sat in for the past four years. I walk over and sit down on one of the blankets. Everyone, meaning Maria, Michael, Kyle, and Nichole, is here except for Greg and Mary. I’m guessing he found out about her little adventure from this afternoon.

“You want a beer?” Michael asks, one hand in the cooler.

“No, I’m good.” I answer, getting weird looks from Michael and Maria.

I wait until Born Again starts playing before I excuse myself to go to the bathroom. Well, actually I don’t excuse myself. That would cause suspicion. I just say I’m going to take a leak. They all accept this because it doesn’t seem unusual at all. I make my way through the people sitting around on the lawn. By the time I get to the swing set, I convinced there’s no way Elizabeth is going to be there. But, like most things with Elizabeth, I’m surprised. There she is, sitting in the same swing she always sits in, with her head leaning against one of the chains holding up the seat. I walk up to her, making some noise so I don’t scare her. She turns around, not sure what to expect. When she sees me, she smiles a little.

“Hey Maxwell.” She says, turning to look back at the stage.

I walk over, sitting on the swing beside her. I don’t say anything for a few minutes, because I’m not sure what to say. “Hey, nice night. Sorry you were raped,” is probably something not to say. So instead I go with:

“I didn’t expect you to be here.”

“Why mess with tradition.” She replies, laughing.

I’m not sure whether to laugh or not. She’s not acting like herself, and that’s creeping me out. Elizabeth is always the strong one. The one who pulls through all the tough situations.

“Are you here to see Alex?” I ask, trying to bring back the Elizabeth I’ve grown use to.

“No.” She replies.

I don’t really see this conversation going anywhere. She probably just doesn’t want to talk right now. That’s understandable. 100% understandable, in fact. I sit there, staring at the stage as Born Again plays. I’m about to give up and go back to the lawn when she breaks the silence.

“Do you think that even though it happened, I’m still a virgin?” She asks quietly.

The sheer innocence of the question makes the situation that much worse. I think for a moment of how I want to answer the question.

“I think that until you make love to someone you truly care about, you’re a virgin.” I answer, thinking that’s the saddest question anyone has ever had to ask.

She doesn’t reply, but I can see hints of tears in her eyes. I’m thinking about how hard it must be for her to talk about this. Especially with me, a guy that she has just recently gotten to know. But looking back now, I’m surprised at how open with me she was from the beginning. Aside from never wanting to ride in the car with me, which is logical, she’s been completely friendly. I’m wondering what it was that made her trust me.

“After it happened, I had this feeling that I wasn’t worthy of being loved. Like that I had let it happen.” She says, sniffling.

I turn to look at her, and I realize once more that she wasn’t as naive as we all thought. In fact, she was more mature than any of us, knowing how the world really is.

“It wasn’t your fault.” I say, feeling like an idiot after the words leave my mouth.

I really need to work on my speaking skills.

“Yeah, I know. It took me six months of therapy to believe it, though.” She says, chuckling.

“How did it happen?” I ask, not sure if she’s ready to talk about that yet.

She gets quiet for a minute, and I’m not sure if I should’ve asked that.

“I’m not ready to talk about that yet.” She says, her voice low.

“That’s fine.” I reply. “Don’t even feel that you need to say something if you don’t want to.”

Born Again wraps up their performance and the emcee announces that The American Dream will be on shortly. I look down at the lawn and I just know that Maria is asking everyone where the hell am I. But for once, it doesn’t bother me if they see me and Elizabeth together. I’m beginning not to care what people think.

“So, do you want to go see a movie on Saturday?” She asks, turning to look at me.

And Elizabeth Parker just asked me out on a date.

Part 15

“No. No, not that either.” Isabel’s voice says from the hallway outside of my room. “I already told you, I refuse to go see an action movie.”

I roll my eyes. Isabel is most likely talking to one of her many boytoys. The poor idiot will probably be forced to go see some romantic comedy.

“Fine, bye.” She says, then suddenly appears in my doorway. “What are you doing tonight?”

“Uh, going to the movies.” I reply, shutting down my computer.

“With who?” She asks, walking in and sitting on my bed.

I’m surprised she is even in the room. Usually she won’t walk past the entrance for fear of catching a disease that she’s certain I have.

“Elizabeth.” I say, leaning back in the chair and stretching.

She looks over at me suddenly, with a look of disbelief on her face.

“Elizabeth Parker?” She asks.

“Yeah.” I reply, standing up to look for my shoes.

“Please tell me you’re joking.” She says, standing up and walking over to me.

“Nope.”

She gets this panicked look on her face and I know she’s thinking that me being seen with Elizabeth Parker will somehow effect her popularity. Death by association.

“Since when do you like Elizabeth Parker?” She asks, grasping at straws.

“Since when are you interested in what I do? You never seemed to care before.” I say, giving her a look.

“Since you started hanging around losers. At least before you were dating people who were semi-cool. Now you’re suddenly with the Queen of the Science Club?” She asks, her voice high pitched.

“Actually, I don’t think she’s in the Science Club.” I say, then pause. “Or is she? I guess I’ll have to ask her.”

“Max, please say that this is an elaborate attempt on your part to get me all riled up.” She says, pulling her long hair back out of her face.

“Jesus, Isabel. Get a hold of yourself.” I say, fully realizing now how superficial she really is. “You’re acting like this is the most important thing in the world.”

She just sighs angrily and storms out of the room. I knew Isabel was really protective of her place in West Roswell’s High Society, but I didn’t actually think she’d be that psycho about it. Who cares who I date? It doesn’t have anything to do with her.

“Max, did you say something to your sister?” Dad asks, from his place by the doorframe.

“I only said that her skin was really shiny tonight.” I say, bending down to put my shoes on.

“Max.” My dad groans. “You know how Isabel is about her skin. Now your mother and I are going to have to spend hours convincing her that it’s not shiny.”

This is true. Isabel, along with her popularity, is also protective of her skin. One mention of it, and she has to get to a mirror as soon as possible. Many of our family crisis’ has been centered around this fact. Mainly because it’s the only way I can get her away from me. I usually regret doing it afterwards because it turns into such a big deal. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to use that routine tonight.

“I’ll see you in three hours.” He says, walking towards her door.

I really should stop him, because once he says something about Isabel’s skin not being shiny, she’s going to ask him why he brought it up. Then he’ll realize what I did, and the shit will really hit the fan. I wait until after I hear him start talking to Isabel before I make a run for it.

“Bye mom!” I yell, shutting the door behind me.

I hop into my Jeep and peel out of there before either of them has time to stop me. They both know where I’m going, no need to stop and chitchat. Elizabeth and I agreed to meet at the Roswell Rialto. This means we’ll probably end up seeing some old movie that I never would’ve bothered to see before. I make my way to downtown Roswell, which is busy, this being a Saturday night and all. I find a spot a few blocks down from the theater, and start walking. I see Elizabeth standing by the ticket booth, staring at a group of teenagers. I follow her gaze. It’s Jill Carson and her friends. Not exactly Roswell’s elitist, but right up there next to them. I’m wondering what she’s thinking. If she wishes she was part of that crowd, having limitless friends who you could call up and talk to whenever you wanted.

“Elizabeth Parker.” Bonnie Thompson, Jill’s best friend, says, as soon as she sees her.

This causes the whole crowd to stop and look over at who Bonnie is talking to.

“Hello Bonnie. How are you tonight?” Elizabeth asks, smiling politely.

“What are you doing, Elizabeth? Got a hot date?” This comes from Jill, who suddenly seizes the opportunity to make Elizabeth look like an idiot.

“I’m here to see a movie.” Elizabeth replies, still keeping her smile.

A while ago, I would’ve thought that Elizabeth wouldn’t have understood what kind of game Jill was playing, but now I know that she knows exactly what’s going on. She’s just surpassed the maturity level where petty arguments lie.

“With your boyfriend?” Jill shoots back. “Where is Clark anyway?”

I finally get over to where they’re standing, and step between them. Jill looks surprised to see me at first, but them a smile slowly forms on her lips.

“Hey Max, what’s up?” She says, putting her arm in mine.

I look down at it, wondering what she’s planning next.

“Nothing. You?” I reply, still wary.

“We were just standing here talking to Elizabeth.” She winks at me, hinting at me to play along with us.

“Hey Elizabeth.” I say, turning to her and smiling.

“Hey Maxwell.” She replies, giving me a knowing grin.

“So, Maxwell,” Bonnie starts, causing the whole group to snicker. “You want to go with us to the Crash?”

“No.” I answer, taking my arm out of Jill’s. “I’ve already got plans.”

“Doing what?” Jill asks, still not getting the hint that I’m not interested in her.

“Seeing a movie with Elizabeth.” I answer, putting my arm around Elizabeth as I do.

There’s a collective gasp from the crowd. They’re all torn: Am I joking? Or am I actually seeing a movie with Elizabeth Parker?

“You’re kidding, right?” Jill laughs.

“No.” I reply, grinning.

They all give me this disgusted look and with that, my popularity level just dropped at least ten notches. I watch them walk away, giggling as they make their way to the Crash.

“That was so funny.” I say, turning to Elizabeth.

“Maxwell, you really shouldn’t have done that.” She says, but I can tell she’s trying not to laugh.

“Yeah, right. You loved that and you know it.” I say, messing up her hair.

She bursts out laughing, moving her head so I won’t totally screw up her ponytail.

“Okay, I admit, I did think it was a bit funny.” She says, her perfect teeth showing through her smile.

“Alright, Ms. Parker.” I start, after I calm down. “What movie are we seeing?”

“Tonight we will be seeing ‘Gone With The Wind.’” She says, pulling two tickets out of her pocket.

I have to suppress a groan. ‘Gone With The Wind’ is one of my mother’s favorite movies. I’ve never seen it, but she talks about it all the time. The only thing I know about the film is that it’s incredibly long and it’s a chick flick.

“Okay.” I say, pushing all my thoughts aside.

Elizabeth is obviously excited about seeing it, so I won’t ruin her night by suggesting we go see some action movie. We make our way into the theater, and I notice right away that there’s no one in here, besides us, that’s under thirty.

“Did you want to get some popcorn?” I ask, when we walk past the snack bar.

“Uh, sure.” She says, reaching into her pocket to pull out money.

“Don’t worry about it. This is on me.” I say, pulling out my wallet.

“Are you sure?” She asks, wavering to put her money away.

“Elizabeth, you have to know that it’s the guy’s job to pay for everything.” I say, realizing that she’s probably never been on a date before. “Now, I’ll let the ticket thing slide, but don’t let it happen again.”

“Oh, I’m sorry Mr. Evans. I won’t let it happen again.” She laughs, walking up to the counter.

We get our popcorn and drinks and walk into the theater. It’s pretty crowded, but then again, this is Roswell, so there isn’t a lot of things for older people to do on a Saturday night besides come here or go to the Bingo Hall.

“There’s two seats over there.” She says, making her way through the aisle, finding a seat in the middle of the theater.

“Have you seen ‘Gone With The Wind’ before?” I ask, preparing myself for the long sitting that’s ahead.

“Yeah, it’s one of my favorites. I’ve never seen it on a big screen before, though.” She says, taking off her jacket and setting it on the floor. “You?”

“No, but it’s one of my mom’s favorite movies.” I say, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable.

I’m sitting here, next to the girl I’m in love with, in the dark. Normally, I’d try to make a move, but with Elizabeth it’s different. I mean, there’s no way I could even try that on her, especially with knowing what I know.

“I think you’ll like it.” She says, lowering her voice so other people won’t be disrupted by our talking.

“Yeah.” I reply lamely, certain that I won’t.

The overture starts and the audience quiets down. I’m just hoping I won’t fall asleep and start snoring. That happened when I went to see ‘Titanic’ with Vanessa Brumner. Needless to say, that was the last time we went out.

“Fiddle-dee-dee.” Scarlett says from her seat on the porch.

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

By intermission, I’m embarrassed to say that I am actually enjoying the movie. It’s not as sappy as I thought it’d be. Of course, some of my liking it has something to do with the fact that every time I looked over at Elizabeth, she had this look of wonder on her face. Like a baby seeing something for the first time. It reminded me that there’s still some piece of that little girl innocence in her.

“I feel much better.” Elizabeth says, coming out of the bathroom.

“I’d imagine so. You know, holding it in for a hour isn’t too healthy.” I say, grinning.

“I know, but I didn’t want to miss any of the movie.” She says, smiling back at me.

We get back into our seats just as the second half of the movie is starting. Being in a theater full of older people is a lot different than being in a theater full of teenagers. For one thing, you don’t have to worry about the people in front of you making out during the movie. Another thing is there’s no cell phones ringing and no talking. I can’t say the same for the people who see the same movies I see: teenage girls who absolutely cannot miss a call from one of their friends, even if it is in the middle of the climax of the movie.

“The second half is the best part.” She whispers into my ear.

I nod, my eyes on the screen. It’s around the time when Scarlett goes to visit Rhett in jail that I put my hand into hers. I look over at her, and she has a confused look on her face. But when she looks into my eyes, she gives me a reassuring smile that it’s okay. We hold hands for the rest of the movie, and that’s enough for me.

“So?” Elizabeth says as we exit the theater.

We’re going to Sally’s, an ice cream parlor. It’s almost like every place in Roswell is owned by a local citizen. Everything from the Crashdown to Sally’s, from Mike’s to Sawyers, the one and only grocery store in town.

“So what?” I ask, my hand in hers as we walk down Main Street towards the shop.

“What did you think of the movie?” She asks, moving over so Mrs. Kern and her son can get past us.

“It was okay.” I reply.

“Yeah, right.” She says, laughing.

“What?” I ask, innocently.

“You liked it and you know it.” She says, bumping into my shoulder. “I saw you. You were so into it that you didn’t notice when I asked if you wanted me to refill your Coke for you.”

I stop, turning to look at her.

“You asked to refill my pop?” I ask, not even remembering this at all.

“Yeah, but you were so enthralled in the movie that you didn’t hear me.” She says, teasing me.

“Okay, I admit. I thought it was a good movie.” I say, as we continue towards the ice cream parlor. “But, if you tell anyone I said that I’ll force you to watch every Van Dame movie ever made.”

She acts like she’s zipping her lips.

“Your secret is safe with me.” She replies, her smile bright.

We make our way into the shop. It’s fairly crowded, but mostly with people from the theater. We make our way over to the counter.

“I’ll have a hot fudge sundae.” I say to Sally, then turn to Elizabeth. “What about you?”

“Um, I’ll just have some vanilla ice cream on a cone.” She says, staring down at all the tubs of ice cream.

“Are you sure? I don’t care if you get something more expensive.” I say, not sure if she’s doing that thing girls usually do.

Whenever I go on a date with a girl, she always orders a small salad and never eats all of it. Like she’s afraid I’ll dump her for eating too much.

“No, vanilla is my favorite.” She says, watching Sally make the sundae.

We find a table out on the patio. It’s pretty empty out here, everyone else is inside. We sit there for a few minutes, watching everything going on down Main Street. By now, most of the town’s teenagers are out, getting ready for a party or just hanging out.

“I’m sorry.” She says, staring down at her cone.

“For what?” I ask, my mouth full of hot fudge and ice cream.

“For what happened earlier with Jill and her friends. For what’s going to happen on Monday when we go back to school.” She says quietly.

She’s right. Now that it’s all out in the open, everyone will feel the need to make fun of me on Monday. It’ll be the talk of the school until something else happens. This being Roswell, it’ll be a while.

“Elizabeth.” I start, sticking my spoon into the cup. “I don’t care what people say or think. None of that matters to me anymore. It’s like, ever since I’ve been around you, I’ve started to see what’s really important.”

I look at her, but she continues to stare at the groups of people walking past us, laughing and having a good time.

“Maxwell, you can’t confuse what you think is important to what really is important.” She says, finally turning to look at me.

“What do you mean?” I ask, not understand what she’s getting at.

“I think it’s great that you’ve matured and you’re not as reckless as you used to be. But you’re still a teenager, Maxwell. You’re still allowed to have fun. Don’t lose your friendships with Maria, Michael, and Kyle just because you think you’re not supposed to have that kind of fun anymore.” She says, softly smiling. “You can still go out and party, but now it’s just a matter of watching what you do.”

“I don’t understand.” I reply, not getting what she saying.

“Go to a party, but don’t drink so much that you lose control. Play a joke on someone, but not the type of joke that will only be funny to you.” She says, putting her hand over mine. “You’re seventeen, not forty.”

I stare back at her, not sure what to say. Here is Elizabeth Parker, telling me, Max Evans, to let loose. It almost makes me want to laugh.

“What about you? Why don’t you take your own advice?” I ask gently.

“I can’t afford to.” She says, turning away to look back at the street.

“Why?” I ask, not sure if she’s talking about money.

“Let’s face it, Maxwell. I’m not exactly rich. I mean, my mother barely makes enough money to keep our house. If I don’t keep my grades up, there’s no way I’ll be able to get into college.” She says, laughing a bit. “And it’s not like I can just start partying. I have other people to think of. I’m not saying that you and all the other people that are financially better off necessarily have a better life. Looks can be really deceiving.”

I, of all people, know this. Especially with my recent discovery of the real Elizabeth Parker.

“But what I’m getting at is, if I want my mother to live out the rest of her life comfortably, I need to make sure I don’t do anything that would put my future plans in jeopardy.” She says thoughtfully, as if she was picking her words out carefully. “Do you know what I mean?”

“Yeah.” I reply, knowing exactly what she means.

Elizabeth, unbeknownst to the rest of us, already knows how important money is if you want to have a good life. The rest of us have taken advantage of the money we have. It’s always been there, so we’ve never thought about what it would be like not to have it. But Elizabeth has spent her whole life, barely scraping by. Even when her father was alive, they were barely able to afford living in their house. In fact, the only reason they’re still living in that house is because the value of houses in that neighborhood went down so much. Ever since they’ve started to build the bigger houses on the East side of town, no one has wanted to live in that section.

“What is something you’ve always wanted to do, but were afraid you’d get in trouble if you did it?” I ask, curious as to what things other things Elizabeth is hiding.

She bites her lip, thinking. I’m thinking what types of things Elizabeth dreams of doing, but would never actually do. Steal something? Play a practical joke on Jill Carson?

“I’ve always wanted to go to the top of Bluff’s Point and see the view of the city.” She says, an embarrassing blush coming over her cheeks.

I have to suppress a laugh. Bluff’s Point is the tallest hill in the city. It’s on private property owned by Old Man Walker. He’s this grouchy old man who yells at teenagers who so much as walk by his house. All of us, at some point, have snuck onto the land just to get to Bluff’s Point. We never get caught because Walker goes to bed at eight. It’s not even considered a risk to sneak up there. I stand up, almost knocking over the chair as I do.

“What are you doing?” She asks, looking at me alarmed.

“Let‘s go!” I say, grabbing her hand.

“Maxwell, if you’re thinking what I think your thinking, then no way.” She says, as we run towards the direction of Walker’s house.

“Come on, Elizabeth. You have to have at least one night of fun in your life.” I laugh as we make our way up the steep road.

She just laughs, and I now she isn’t going to stop herself from doing one fun thing in her life. Walker’s house is one of the oldest in the city. It also sits on top of a huge hill. This means if you ever want to get to it, you have to either drive up slowly, because most cars won’t go faster than 25 mph on it, or walk. Most people walk because they don’t want any damage done to their cars.

“This is good exercise.” She says from behind me.

“It’s worth it.” I say, breathing heavily.

By the time we get to the top, we’re both trying to catch our breaths. We take a second, then continue to quietly walk past the house, which is completely dark on the inside. We walk past the old barn, past the old silo, and finally to the edge of the hill.

“Wow.” She gasps quietly.

“I know.” I say, tightening my grasp of her hand.

From up here you can see the entire town. From the blinking UFO of the Crashdown, to the sparkling Christmas lights, which are always up, at Mr. and Mrs. Carvey’s house.

“This is incredible.” She says, sitting down in the grass.

I can’t think of anything to say, so I just sit down beside her. I’ve seen this sight more than a dozen times, but when I’m up here with her, it’s like I’m seeing it all for the first time again.

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

“What you want, baby I’ve got it....” I hear Michael’s voice singing as I enter the Crashdown.

When he hears someone in the restaurant, he immediately spins around.

“I wasn’t singing.” He says when he sees me.

“Oh, so that was some other guy that sounds exactly like you singing ‘Respect?’” I ask, walking behind the counter and up to the order window where he’s standing.

“Yeah, it was my evil twin.” He says lamely.

After I walked Elizabeth home, I had to come back for my Jeep, so I figured I’d take Elizabeth’s advice and see what Michael was up to. The place was closed for the night, but they always leave the front door open until they’ve finished cleaning up. Mr. Guerin has this thing that if someone really hungry comes in, who are they not to serve them. This, of course, means that Michael has spent many nights staying down here late to fix some couple, that came back into town late and was starving, but every other place was closed, dinner.

“Are you the only one left down here?” I ask, looking around.

“Yeah. Tess finished up a few minutes ago and left before anyone could come in.” He says, wiping off the prep counter. “You want something?”

“No, I’m good.” I reply, feeling awkward.

Normally I’d joke about something really stupid, but now it’s different. He continues cleaning up, and after a few minutes he takes off his apron and walks out into the dining area.

“Is there something you wanted?” He asks, pulling the keys out of his pocket, meaning he wants me to go so he can lock the door.

“I just wanted to see what was up with you.” I say, walking over to sit on one of the bar stools.

“Nothing, really.” He says, leaning against one of the tables.

“Do you want to go out and do something?” I ask, thinking there’s most likely a party going on somewhere in town.

“What’s your deal, Max?” He asks, some anger seeping through. “One minute you’re telling us how immature we all are and then going off to hang out with your geeky girlfriend and the next you’re wanting to go out and party. What kind of game are you playing?”
“I’m not playing any kind of game. I just want to hang out with you.” I say, getting defensive. “We haven’t done anything in awhile. I thought you might want to do something.”

“Now you want to do something? Did she dump you?” He asks, and I can tell he’s really pissed.

“What’s your problem?” I ask, a little surprised.

“Why don’t you ask your girlfriend, since she seems to know so much.” He says, turning around to walk back into the Employee Room.

“Michael.” I call after him.

He stops, but doesn’t turn around.

“Go ask Elizabeth.”




posted on 4-Jul-2002 7:16:23 PM
Part 16

“Your father and I will be staying at the Marriott. I left the address and the number by the phone. Now, I bought groceries last night, so you don’t have to worry about food. But just in case, I left a hundred on the coffee table.” Mom says, stirring sugar into her coffee.

“Mom, you’ll be gone for three days.” Isabel says, from her spot across the table from me.

“I know, but I don’t like leaving you two home alone.” She says, shaking her head.

That probably has something to do with the time they went out of town for a week and when they came home, the house was trashed and they had a message on the machine from Sheriff Dessen. For months afterward, every time they went out of town we had to stay with one of our friends. Mom ended up calling Michael’s parents every night to make sure I was there and that I wasn’t out partying. The only reason they’re trusting us now is because they’ve noticed how mature I’ve been lately and that Isabel hasn’t asked for money in a week, so that means she hasn’t been spending it on beer.

“We’ll be fine.” I say, putting another spoonful of cereal in my mouth.

“I know, but I just want to make sure you’ll be able to reach us in case something happens. God forbid.” She adds.

“Hey, kids.” Dad says, walking into the kitchen. “You ready? I’ve got the car loaded up.”

“Yeah, just let me make sure I have everything taken care of.” Mom says, looking around the room.

Dad has to go into Albequrque for some conference, and whenever he goes out of town, mom goes with him. I think they realize those are the only times they’ll be able to get out of Roswell. Like one last hurrah or something.

“Honey, everything is going to be fine. The kids can handle themselves.” He says, shaking his head.

“Fine, fine.” She says, picking up her jacket and purse. “I’ll call when we get there.”

“Bye mom.” I say, as she kisses my cheek.

“Bye sweetie.” She says, walking over to Isabel and kissing her on the cheek.

The front door closes, and the house becomes quiet. The only sound is Isabel’s constant chewing on her Nutri-Grain bar. I’m preparing myself for the inevitable teasing that will happen at school. The inevitable teasing that always comes on Monday mornings. Something major happens over the weekend, everyone hears about it, then on Monday everyone makes it their job to point it out to the person whose major thing it was. This has rarely happened to me. In fact, the only time I can remember it happening to me was when we got caught egging the Parker house.

“I want to make sure that you do not associate at all with me today.” Isabel says suddenly, filling the room with her demanding voice.

“Why’s that?” I ask, already knowing, but I want to hear her say it.

“Why? I’m sure you know why. Jill has already told everyone about your date with Elizabeth Parker. I can’t have people somehow connecting me to her.” She says, standing up and taking the Nurti-Grain wrapper to the trash can.

“Get over yourself.” I say, causing her to turn around. “Look at how you’re acting, Isabel. You’re making it seem like high school is the most important thing in the world. We only have five or six months left and after that, you’re off to California. So what does it matter what these people think of you? In five years it’s not going to matter that you were the most popular girl or that I dated the least popular girl.”

“I’m just trying to get through the year with as little trouble as possible.” She replies, walking back over to the table.

“Don’t get too caught up in it, Is.” I say, looking at her before I walk out of the room.

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

“Max and Elizabeth sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” Is the first taunt of the day.

It comes as soon as I step out of the Jeep and onto the pavement of the school parking lot. It comes from Doug Ison, whose parking spot it directly next to mine. I just glare at him and continue walking into the building.

“‘Oh, Maxwell!’ ‘Oh Elizabeth!’” This one comes from Terri Russ, which causes one-fourth of the school’s population, all of which are in the lobby, to burst out laughing.

I shove my way towards the bathroom, ignoring the comments about me and Elizabeth as I do. I finally get there, but not without nearly being run over by Jill and her friends, whose main goal for today is to humiliate me in whatever way possible. I don’t blame her, though. I mean, I know she had a thing for me and when she saw me with Elizabeth, it must’ve been a slap in the face. Once inside the bathroom, I release a frustrated sigh.

“Rough morning?” Kyle says from his place by the sinks.

I open my eyes to see him washing his hands. He’s grinning at me. He knows exactly what’s going on.

“Oh no, it’s going great. I mean, I’ve already received several compliments from my fellow classmates.” I reply, my voice flat.

“You holding up?” He asks, now sitting on the sink ledge.

“I’m fine.” I say, rubbing my hands over my face.

He gets up and starts for the door.

“Max?” He says, turning around to face me.

“Yeah?” I say, looking over at him.

“Just ask yourself if it’s worth it.” He says, sweeping his hands, indicating all the jokes and teasing. “Is it worth all of this?”

Then he pushes open the door and walks out into the crowded lobby. I turn on the cold water and splash some of it in my face, trying to relax myself. Is it worth it? Is being with Elizabeth worth all the trouble that comes with it? The mocking, taunting, and ragging. The complete 180 of my personality. The five minute bell rings, meaning I better haul ass to class, or I might end up with a third strike. I step into the room just as the bell rings, and make it to my seat just as Mrs. Urman walks in.

“Okay, lets get started. Get out your notebooks.” She says, picking up a piece of chalk.
-------------

“Max! Max! Wait up!” Maria’s voice comes from somewhere in the crowd behind me.

I don’t think I could take some snide remark from her, but I pull off to the side of the hall, waiting for her to catch up. She comes up to me, elbowing Randy Davis as she does.

“That’s for trying to cop a feel.” She says, yelling after him.

“You okay?” I ask, knowing she can handle herself.

“Yeah, I’m just tired of having to defend myself against the assholes who go to this school.” She says, loud enough to cause some heads to turn in our direction.

“Did you want to say something?” I ask, waiting for the comment that I’m sure will come.

“I needed to talk to you about something.” She says, pulling me to the small space under the stairwell so no one will hear us.

“Okay, but make it quick. I can’t be late to class.” I say, setting my bookbag on the ground.

She does the same, fixing her jean jacket as she does.

“Alright, I know about your date with Elizabeth and everything. And I know the crap you are and are going to have to put up with for the next few days.” She says, blabbering on as I look down at my watch. “Anyway, what I wanted to say was that I talked with Michael and I talked with Kyle.”

“About?” I ask, prompting her to hurry up.

“You and Elizabeth.” She says, giving me her patented ‘duh’ look. “Anyway, Kyle was telling me how we were all growing up and that meant change and sometimes things aren’t what we expected them to be. You know, Kyle is a lot deeper than you’d think.”

“Maria.” I say, pointing at my watch.

“Okay, so yeah. Kyle and I talked for a while about all of this, which helped me handle it better.” She says, using her hands in typical Maria fashion.

I don’t mention that my and Elizabeth’s relationship is really none of their business, and that it doesn’t really matter what they think I should do.

“I mean, Elizabeth is okay. It’s not like she’s a slut or anything, which was the problem I had with Jill. Sure, she’s annoyingly nice and sometimes overly helpful, but other than that, she’s not so bad.” She says, smiling.

I know Maria doesn’t care for Elizabeth in the slightest, but if I’m with her instead of Jill, then at least something’s going her way.

“And Michael? What did he say?” I ask, hoping she’ll have some explanation for his recent behavior.

“You know Michael. He resents change. Anything that is out of the norm sets him off. You going out with Jill was normal to him. So he didn’t really care. But you with Elizabeth is a completely different thing. You’re becoming more mature, and Michael is still lost in the world of comic books and practical jokes. He’ll probably always be that way.” She says, glancing down at her own watch. “He didn’t say, but he misses the way things were. The Saturday night parties, the Friday night beer bashes in the park. And most of us are realizing that college is just ahead and things are going to change drastically once we graduate. But with Michael...well, you know him. He gets mad when they change the television schedule around.”

I never really noticed it till now, but she’s right. Whether they’re subtle or large, change really pisses Michael off. We’ve never had a big one, because everything has basically been the same since we were little. No new friends in our group, no one has moved, nothing like that at all. I didn’t realize that Elizabeth didn’t just change my life. She’s changed the lives of those around me through me.

“Talk to him, Max.” She says, picking her bag up as the one minute bell rings.

“I will.” I say, grabbing my backpack and walking into the hallway.

I make it to lunch without any major disasters. The morning was mostly filled with expected jabs that started running together after the first hour. My main goal of the day was to look for Elizabeth and to make sure she was doing okay. I expected to see her in the office during third bell, but she never showed up. So instead of going to the Crashdown for lunch, I make my way towards the library in hopes that she’ll be there.

“Mr. Evans, can I help you?” Mrs. Keller, one of the librarians, asks when she sees me.

She has a look of surprise on her face. This is probably because I never come in the library unless I have to. In fact, the only time I’m in here is if one of my teachers decides to bring us in for research.

“Is Elizabeth here?” I ask, feeling uncomfortable under her scrutiny

She points to the stacks then goes back to typing something on her computer.

“Two in one day.” She mutters as I walk past her.

I nod, then start towards the aisles of books. I find Elizabeth in the Biography section, sorting through a small stack of books.

“Hey.” I say, leaning against the shelf.

“Maxwell.” She says, looking up and smiling. “What are you doing here?”

“I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” I say, sitting down next to her. “You know, with all the stuff that’s going on today.”

She sets the book in her hand down, then looks up at me.

“I’m doing fine. Just a bunch of stares and things like that. Definitely not as bad as I’m sure you’re getting.” She replies, smiling sadly.

She knows what people think of her. That she’s just some goody-two shoes who always goes to church and never does anything bad. So naturally she knows the teasing I’m getting is worse than the teasing she’s getting. Of course, in reality, my one day of hostility from my classmates is nothing compared to the lifetime she’s had.

“I can handle it.” I reply, picking up one of the books.

“Well, you know I’m here if you want to talk.” She says, looking up at me again.

“Yeah.” I say, fidgeting nervously. “Elizabeth, I wanted to, uh, talk to you about...you know.”

Her smile disappears and she looks down at the book in her hands, suddenly finding it to be the most interesting thing in the world.

“Maxwell, I don’t--” She starts.

“Elizabeth, I know that it’s hard, and I’m not pushing you. But you can’t keep it all bottled up inside.” I say, lowering my voice, even though there’s no one in the library except Mrs. Keller.

“I know that.” She says, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Maxwell, why do you think I was at the hospital that day? It wasn’t just a doctor’s appointment.”

I think back to that day, when I nearly gave her a concussion because I ran into her so hard. Back to when I thought she was just some annoying girl, an obstacle in my way out of Roswell.

“What was it?” I ask, knowing it has something to do with therapy of some sort.

She gets quiet for a second, and I begin to think of what it’s like to be her. To have all of this stuff to deal with, to have barely any friends, and still have this attitude that everyone has something good in them.

“A few months ago, I helped organize a group. Reverend Mills suggested it, to help me not only deal with it, but help others who’ve been raped deal with it.” She says, stumbling a bit on the word ‘rape.’ “Anyway, it’s basically a support group for teenage girls who’ve been raped.”

I never really thought any word could hold so much emotion. I mean, I know ‘love’ is a word you just don’t throw around, and according to my mother, ‘hate’ is also a very strong word. But I never really thought a word could hold so much meaning that it actually hurt to say it.

“Oh.” I say, realizing how stupid I sound. “And is it helping?”

“It’s been painful. Reliving that night. Having to hear other girls relive their nightmares. But, in the end, I think it’s been good for me and for them.” She pauses, breathing deeply. “People say they understand. But no one can ever understand unless its happened to them.”

All the sudden there’s a loud crashing sound, causing us both to look in the direction of the noise.

“What in the world?” Mrs. Keller’s voice yells from across the library.

Elizabeth and I stand up and walk to the aisle next to the one we were sitting in. There, standing in the middle of the aisle surrounded by an array of books, is Michael Guerin.

“Michael?” I say, wondering what the hell he’s doing in the library.

He just stands there, staring at Elizabeth, and I know he heard everything. I look down at Elizabeth, who has a look of horror on her face.

“Mr. Guerin, what is going on here?” Mrs. Keller asks, walking up to us.

He opens his mouth, not sure what to say. All he can do is look from me to Elizabeth.

“He reached for a book on the top shelf and accidently knocked down a couple books.” I say, hoping she buys it.

“Well, clean it up.” She says, shaking her head in a disapproving way.

After she walks away, Elizabeth bends down and starts picking up the books on the ground. I reach down and help her, shoving them on the shelf, not sure if they’re supposed to go a certain way.

“Max.” Michael says, still standing there.

“Michael, just go.” I say, standing up to look at him. “We’ll talk about this later.”

Elizabeth, done picking up the books, just stares at a shelf, avoiding eye contact with Michael.

“I’m sorry.” He says, then turns and runs out of the library.

I watch until he’s out the door then turn to Elizabeth. She’s fixing the books in the order they’re supposed to be in. I put my hand on my shoulder, not sure how she’s going to react.

“Elizabeth.” I say quietly.

“Talk to him, Maxwell.” She says suddenly.

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

“Tess, I said put the salt shakers in the cabinet, not on top of the counter.” Michael yells to Tess, who I’m assuming is in the backroom.

I walk to the counter so quietly that Michael doesn’t even notice me until I’m right behind me.

“Holy shit!” He says, almost dropping some of the salt shakers in his hand. “Where did you come from?”

“Sorry, I just came by to talk.” I say, taking some of the salt shakers from his hand and following him to the area of the restaurant where they keep all the condiments.

“Make noise next time.” He says, taking the shakers from my hands and putting them into one of the cabinets.

“I could say the same for you.” I reply, referring to the incident in the library.

He stops for a second, then continues putting the containers away.

“Max, I didn’t mean to hear that.” He says, walking over to the order window.

He pulls himself up a little and looks around the room.

“Tess!” He yells.

“I finished everything!” Tess yells back from somewhere upstairs.

He turns around and looks at me.

“I just wanted to make sure she wouldn’t hear anything.” He says, picking up the rag on the counter and setting it in a bucket on the floor.

“Michael, you can’t tell anyone.” I say immediately. “You haven’t told anyone, have you?”

“No.” He says, crossing his arms. “It’s not really something you go around spreading.”

Michael knows the power that gossip has on Roswell. How one little rumor can ruin someone’s life.

“I had no idea.” He says quietly.

Whether it’s out of shock or that he doesn’t want to be loud, but he’s be so unlike himself that it scares me a little. I thought I was ready for everyone to change. Kyle becoming more adult and Maria thinking of someone other than herself, that I can handle. But Michael suddenly being Mr. Stoic, it’s a bit unnerving.

“Neither did I.” I say, looking down at my hands.

I’m not sure how much of her secret I should reveal. Not that I know that much myself. I don’t know any of the specifics, like how it happened, where it happened, and the scariest question of all: who did it?

“It’s just that, she always seems so happy.” He says quietly.

I don’t think it hit him until today that everything isn’t what it seems. As lame as that may sound, but we’ve all lived an incredibly sheltered life. Nothing very tragic and real has ever happened to us. Hell, a paper cut is, at times, the biggest dilemma in our lives.

“Do you know who did it?” He asks, and I can tell he’s been wanting to ask the question ever since he found out.

“No.” I say truthfully.

I feel weird, talking about something so personal that really has nothing to do with either of us. Guilty, almost. That I’m talking to Michael, of all people, about Elizabeth Parker being raped.

“This town is so full of secrets, and shit that no one even knows about.” He says, his voice stripped from its normal attitude.

“What do you mean?” I ask, wondering if he’s just talking about Elizabeth.

“Nothing.” He replies, uncrossing his arms and picking up the bucket of water off the floor.

He walks into the backroom, then emerges a few seconds later, the bucket gone.

“Well, don’t worry. We only have a few more months.” I say, thinking of the days when Roswell will be long forgotten.

He just laughs, adjusting the glasses so that they’re all in perfect order.

“What?” I ask, not knowing what he finds so funny.

“It’s nothing, really.” He says, sliding one of the glasses to the left a little. “It’s just that my dad came to me a few days ago, you know to have one of our great father and son talks. Anyway, it turns out that dad has this big plan for me. One that I never knew about.”

“What’s that?” I ask, brushing the bangs out of my eyes.

Mr. Guerin isn’t the kind of dad that pushes his kids into a certain college. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t care what Michael or Tess does, as long as they get a good education.

“Well, he said that he always wanted the Crashdown to be a family business.” He says, and I start to know where this is going. “Apparently, after I graduate college, I’m supposed to take over here and run the restaurant.”

“What? I thought you were dead set on going to UCLA.” I say, not understanding why his dad would do that.

“Things change.” He says, untying his apron. “I’ll be going to Judis Community College and majoring in business. After graduation, I’ll be taking over the Crashdown. You know all those losers we made fun of? The ones who never made it out of here? I’ll be one of them.”

“Michael, your dad can’t make you take over the business.” I say, trying to be reasonable.

“Think about it, Max. With my grades colleges aren’t exactly banging down the door. With the Crashdown, I’m guaranteed a good life. Finance-wise, anyway. It’d be stupid to throw that all away and try to be a hero. Let’s look at it this way: Kyle’s got the grades, so he can basically do whatever he wants; Maria’s, well, Maria is Maria; and you’ve got a way with people. You can convince people of almost anything. Me? I’ve got a D average and so many marks on my record that there’s no decent college that would accept me.”

I don’t mention that my record is probably ten times as full as his and that my GPA isn’t exactly screaming for colleges to accept me. I’m expecting a handful of letters that just say, “No thanks.”

“Don’t settle for this just because you don’t think you can do any better.” I say, hating the thought of Michael spending the rest of his life in Roswell.

“You know I don’t like change. I think everyone knows that. And Roswell is the City of No Change. Everything is predictable. Everyone knows everyone else.” He says, picking at a string on his apron. “Deep down, I always knew I’d never go anywhere. And honestly, I thought you would be stuck here too. Owning a bar or something. But when you started hanging around Elizabeth, it’s like you became more aware of everything and thought things out more.”

So that explains it. The reason why he resents Elizabeth. She caused the thing that Michael hates the most: change. Elizabeth changed me, made me change my whole outlook on things. I’m not that immature little asshole anymore. But that’s what Michael knew me as, and that’s something he was familiar with.

“Michael.” I say, trying to think of words to say so that he’ll know that Roswell doesn’t have to be it for him.

“I’ve accepted it, Max.”

Part 17

“This is so stupid.”

“You’re only saying that because you don’t understand it.” Elizabeth says, laughing.

“It’s impossible.” I say, slamming the book shut.

She takes the book out of my hand and opens it back up, looking down at the worksheet on the table.

“Just think about it, Maxwell. What does the green light symbolize to Gatsby?” She asks, smiling so I won’t feel like an idiot.

We’re sitting in my living, doing our homework. Well, actually, Elizabeth finished her homework about thirty minutes ago and is now helping me analyze symbols in The Great Gatsby. She didn’t say anything, but I know that she read this book during sophomore year because she’s in the advanced classes. Unlike myself, who’s always been in the remedial English classes throughout my entire high school career.

“I have no idea. To me, it’s just a light at the end of a pier. How can it symbolize anything?” I ask, helplessly.

“Okay, lets just break it down.” She says, gently. “Gatsby is in love with Daisy, right?”

“Yeah.” That much I do know.

“Alright.” She says, obviously hoping that I’ll put the clues together. “The green light is at the end of Daisy and Tom’s pier. Which, is right across the river from Gatsby’s house. Now, when Gatsby reaches his hand outward towards the pier, it’s almost like he’s reaching for something.”

“So the green light represents Daisy?” I ask, having no idea if that’s right.

“Yes!” She says, excited that I’m getting it. “Now, Gatsby reaching for the green light means?”

“Gatsby wanting Daisy?” I reply, more as a question than an answer.

“Right. But in the end, Daisy isn’t who Gatsby thought she was. So, essentially, it means...” She cuts off, hoping I’ll fill in the rest.

“What Gatsby perceives as Daisy.” I say, resting my head in my hand. “Right?”

“Yeah. Or, you could say that the green light represents Gatsby’s version of the American Dream.” She says, giving me a push in the right direction.

“So it means--” I start, but stop suddenly at the sound of the front door opening.

A few seconds later, Isabel walks into the room, taking her coat off and setting it on the couch, something we aren’t allowed to do when mom and dad are home. Mom called on Tuesday to tell us that some head honcho couldn’t make it till Thursday, so they were going to stay until Sunday evening. Something both Isabel and I were thankful for. No themed Friday. Isabel looks up at us, and before she has a chance to paste on her fake smile I notice a hint of disgust and embarrassment. Isabel makes Elizabeth look like Mother Theresa. And Isabel is very aware of this fact.

“Hello Isabel.” Elizabeth says, trying to break the ice.

“Hi Elizabeth.” Isabel says, unsure of what to do.

Isabel can make fun of Elizabeth for hours on end, but when she’s actually confronted with her, she has no idea what to say.

“We’re working on our homework.” I say, for no reason at all.

“Oh, well. Have fun.” She says, then walks up the stairs to her room.

I look over at Elizabeth, who is staring at the place where Isabel stood seconds ago. When Elizabeth came over, she was a bit taken back with the size of our house. She didn’t say anything, but I could tell by the way she was staring at everything, almost in wonder. She was afraid to touch anything because she thought she might break something.

“Is she okay?” She asks, bringing me out of my thoughts.

“It’s Isabel. Who knows.” I reply, writing the answer Elizabeth gave me down on my worksheet.

“Oh, shoot.” She says suddenly. “It’s almost nine o’clock. I promised my mom I’d be home by then.”

She gets up and starts putting her stuff into her backpack, neatly. Elizabeth, without me saying anything, hung her coat up on the coat rack. I think she has built-in manners. Like, she knows exactly what to do and say without being told.

“Do you want me to drive you?” I ask, not realizing what I said till the words left my mouth.

I’ve never driven Elizabeth anywhere. At first, I thought this was because her mother didn’t want her alone in a car with anyone she didn’t know that well. Now I know it’s because she doesn’t want to be alone in a car in case someone tried something.

“Uh, yeah. Sure.” She says, putting her coat on.

I look over at her and she smiles. This is big. This means that she trusts me in way that she doesn’t trust any other person.

“Okay. Lets go.” I say, opening the front door for her.

We walk out to the Jeep, climbing in quickly to get out of the cold of the night. We ride in silence for a few minutes. I’m not sure what to say and I think she’s trying to keep from panicking. Even though she knows I would never do anything, she still has that fear, hidden in the back of her mind. It’s not until we’re almost downtown that she speaks.

“It happened during the third week of April last year.” She says, her voice sounding small in the stillness of the Jeep.

I don’t know if I should say something or not. She telling me something that you don’t just tell anyone. In the end, I opt to keep my mouth shut.

“I was visiting my aunt over in Judis for Spring Break.” She says, looking down at her hands. “I was out with my cousin and some of her friends. We had just left the movie theater and were on our way home. Cora, my cousin, wanted to ride home with her boyfriend. So I agreed to ride home with her friends Leslie and uh, Steven.”

She pauses for a minute, composing herself.

“We dropped Leslie off first, because she was closest to the theater. Then, we started for Aunt Genny’s house. He was talking about his car, but I wasn’t really paying attention because I was tired. Then he put his arm on the back of my seat. I didn’t really think anything of it. But then he pulled off into some empty parking lot.”

She stops, clearing her throat and wiping tears off her face.

“You don’t have to.” I say softly.

“At first I thought he was turning around, that he’d made a wrong turn somewhere. But instead he stopped the car and turned to me. He leaned forward to kiss me. I pulled away. I said, ‘What are you doing?’ and he just smiled and said that it was okay. He wouldn’t tell anyone.” She says, as we pass the Crashdown. “I didn’t know what he was talking about. But then he was kissing me and pressing himself--”

She stops, biting her lip to hold in the tears. We pull up to her house. Her mom’s car isn’t there, so I pull into the driveway. I shut off the engine and we sit in the dark for a few minutes.

“After it was over, he dropped me off at my aunt’s house. I took a shower and went to bed. I didn’t tell anyone for a month. Then one day, my mother and I were watching something on television about rape victims and I just blurted it out. I couldn’t hold it in anymore.” She says, looking at the front window of her house.

That’s why last year she suddenly stopped being herself. She didn’t talk in class, she didn’t stay after to help anyone. She did everything possible to not draw attention to herself. But by doing that, she caused the opposite effect. Everyone wondered what was wrong with her. I thought it had something to do with her father, most of us did.

“By then Steven had graduated and was off on some cross-country drive. My mom wanted to press charges, make sure he paid for everything he had done. But I didn’t want everyone to know what had happened. It was too personal. It would’ve been like your deepest, darkest secret suddenly out there for everyone to see and to comment on.”

I didn’t think it was possible to hate someone you’ve never met, but at that moment I wanted to find Steven and hurt him in the worst way possible.

“He took everything.” She says, crying openly.

I unbuckle my seatbelt and reach over to hug her. She wraps her arms around me, shaking. We stay that way for about ten minutes. I let her cry until she can’t cry anymore. She pulls away, wiping her nose on her sleeve.

“Sorry.” She says, looking up at me as she wipes a tear away.

“Don’t be.” I say, reaching into the glove compartment and pulling out the travel pack of tissues Maria insists I keep in there. “You know you can always talk to me.”

“Thanks.” She says, taking one out of the pack. “I didn’t meant to get like that. It’s just that there’s something about you. You kind of snuck up on me and I didn’t expect it.”

“I could say the same for you.” I laugh, brushing the hair off her face.

She smiles, a few tears still coming out of her eyes. She looks over at the clock, then says:

“I guess I should go. Mom will be home any minute.”

“Yeah, I should go too. Mom and dad are calling at ten o’clock to make sure me and Isabel are both home.” I say, starting the engine back up. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Okay.” She says, reaching for the door. “And if you ever need help with your homework again, Maxwell, don’t be afraid to ask.”

I nod my head, already seeing myself asking for help with my Algebra 2 homework.

“Oh, I wanted to tell you that you don’t have to worry about Michael.” I say, as she opens the door.

“I knew I wouldn’t have to.” She says, with a knowing smile.

She turns to leave, but stops suddenly, turning back to me. And before I know it, she kisses me on the lips and is out of the car. I watch her walk to the door, where she stops and waves goodbye. On the drive home I think about Steven, and what kind of person he is to do that to someone. I want to find him and make sure he never does that to anyone else. But if I did, people would start asking questions. Elizabeth’s secret would come up and everything she’s worked to hide would be exposed. I couldn’t do that to her. As much as I want to beat the shit out of him, I have to think before I act.

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

“I was never a big fan of the refried beans.” Maria says, looking down at her menu.

As a peace offering, I decided to skip our Friday night routine and invite Michael, Maria, and Kyle to have dinner with me and Elizabeth. At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I know Kyle doesn’t mind Elizabeth that much, and with Michael knowing her secret, I didn’t have anything to worry about there. But with Maria, I never know what to expect. Is she really okay with it or not?

“I wouldn’t want to be around you if you tried those.” Kyle cracks, gaining him a kick in the shin from her.

“Funny.” She says, then turns to look at me. “Where is she?”

“I don’t know.” I reply, staring at the door. “She should be here any minute.”

We all agreed to meet at Senor Chow’s. I was here first, just to make sure Elizabeth didn’t have to have any awkward silences with my friends. Maria showed up next, never one to turn down free food. Then Kyle, and finally Michael. Elizabeth, who’s usually on time, is ten minutes late.

“She better hurry before Maria eats all the complimentary chips and salsa.” Kyle says, watching Maria eat another chip.

“Hey, they’re free.” She says, her mouth full.

“Whatever.” Kyle says, shaking his head. “Do you have any LifeSavers?”

“We’re about to eat.” I say, ripping my napkin into tiny squares.

“My breath smells.” He replies, like that explains everything.

“He’s got a point there.” Michael says, after not speaking a word for ten minutes.

Kyle gives him an evil look then turns to Maria and holds out his hand. She hands him her purse. I have a theory that Maria has everything possible in there. Whenever one of us needs something, whether it be toothpicks, gum, or even a calculator, she has it in there. Kyle digs around the bag then pulls out a disposable camera.

“What the hell?” He says, looking at it.

“It’s for photography class.” Maria explains.

“It’s a black and white disposable camera.” He says, taking a picture of himself. “Isn’t a 35-millimeter required?”

“It is a 35-millimeter camera.” She says, grabbing the camera from him. “I still have pictures left on this?”

“There she is.” Michael says, looking over my shoulder.

We all turn to look at Elizabeth, who is talking to the hostess. When I first asked her to come to dinner with us, she wasn’t too sure. With all the teasing going on at school, she didn’t want me and my friends to have to deal with more if people saw us together. She’s dressed up, which surprises me a little. I guess she wanted to make a good impression, if it’s possible, on them.

“She’s not wearing her Slip Ons, is she?” Maria asks, laughing.

“Maria.” This comes from Michael.

We all look over at him. Michael defending Elizabeth is a shock to us all, even me.

“Hey.” Elizabeth says, walking up to our table.

I scoot over, so she can sit down next to me. Maria looks down at the table, not sure what to say now that she is face-to-face with Elizabeth Parker. Michael is smiling uncomfortably. Kyle is tapping his fingers on the table, oblivious to the awkwardness of the situation.

“Seems like I killed the conversation.” Elizabeth says, smiling at everyone.

I laugh, used to the fact that Elizabeth can joke just like the rest of us. Kyle, Maria, and Michael all stare at her, not sure if they should laugh or if she was being serious. To them, the idea of Elizabeth Parker joking and being a normal person is foreign.

“We were talking about you and when you came over, we thought it polite to shut up.” I reply, looking down at the menu.

“Oh, that’s okay. I was telling the hostess to tell you guys I never showed up, but Michael saw me before I could make a run for it.” She says, kicking my foot under the table.

It’s Maria who laughs first. It’s one of those laughs where you don’t know if you’re supposed to laugh, but you can’t hold it in. It causes the rest of us to laugh, easing the tension a little.

“You guys ready to order?” Sophia, the waitress, asks.

We all place our orders, without the normal bickering from Michael and Maria. I think they feel the need to be polite, just so Elizabeth won’t think they’re bad people. Which she wouldn’t, but they don’t know that.

“I’ll be right back with your orders.” Sophia says, smiling as she walks away.

We sit there for a minute, not sure what to say next. All the sudden there’s a bright flash of light from over by Maria.

“Now I’m seeing spots.” Maria says, blinking her eyes.

“Did you just take a picture of yourself?” Michael asks, leaning against the table.

“I didn’t mean to. I was just playing around with the flash button and the next thing, POW.” She says, flailing her arms.

“Actually, I think it was more of a FLASH than a POW.” Kyle says, nodding his head. “How many more do you have left?”

“Uh...” She says, looking down at the camera. “Three.”

“Take one of me.” Kyle says, pasting on his goofiest grin.

Maria turns the flash on then aims the camera over at him.

“Smile big.” She says, taking the picture.

I look over at Elizabeth, who is staring at the three of them. In a way, I think she’s fascinated with how they’re interacting. Even though she’s always surrounded by people at school, she is never really involved in what goes on there. Now, it’s like she’s finally found people she can be friends with. Even if they don’t know it yet.

“Look at this monster hangnail.” Kyle says to Michael.

“Dude, your breath does smell.” Michael says, turning his head away.

Elizabeth bursts out laughing, probably because to her it was so random. I look over at her and smile. Before I can explain the whole breath thing there’s a bright flash and Maria is smiling behind her camera.

“I have to get rid of these to find out what’s on the rest of the roll.” She says, raising her eyebrows.

The rest of the night is filled with some surprises. I didn’t honestly think they were all going to get along. I mean, I knew that on some level Michael, Kyle, and Maria would realize that Elizabeth wasn’t just this girl who sat home on Saturday nights reading. Or the person who put in more community service hours than any of us put together and didn’t bother to count them so she could put that on her college application. She likes to laugh and have fun just like the rest of us. It took me a month to realize this. It took them two hours.

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

“So did you have fun?” I ask, shutting off the car engine.

“I did.” She says, smiling.

She looks over at the bushes on the side of the house and I just stare at her.

“I love you.” I say without even thinking.

She looks over at me suddenly. Her eyes are wide, unsure. I’m almost positive that I just shocked the hell out of her.

“What?” She asks, not sure if she heard me right.

“I said I love you.” I repeat, saying it a bit more steadily.

She looks away, gazing out of the passenger side window.

“You shouldn’t.” She says, her voice low.

I’m not really sure what she means by that.

“Why not?” I ask softly.

All the sudden there’s a knock on my window. We both look over to see Mrs. Parker standing there in her robe. I roll down my window, preparing myself for a severe scolding as I do.

“It’s almost ten o’clock.” She says, her voice not containing its usual ‘You suck.’ attitude that’s always evident when she is talking to me.

“Okay.” Elizabeth says, opening her door and stepping out onto the driveway.

I watch her as she walks in front of the car and towards the front door. I don’t realize that Mrs. Parker is still standing by my window until she speaks.

“Be careful, Max.” She says, startling me.

“What?” I ask, confused with what’s going on.

“She’s been hurt a lot.” She says, staring at the front door.

I start thinking about her father and how much she must miss him, and everything she’s had to deal with. Not just the taunting she gets at school, but the worrying about bills and scholarships. She puts up quite a front, but I haven’t even begun to realize what she goes through everyday.

-----------

“Where have you been?” Isabel asks when I walk into the kitchen.

“Out.” I reply, opening the fridge and taking out the orange juice.

“Mom and dad called about ten minutes ago.” She says, turning the page in her magazine. “I told them you were sleeping.”

I look over at her as I pour the juice into a glass. Normally Isabel would jump at the chance to get me in trouble.

“I only did it because if we’re good while they’re gone, they might let me go to Cancun over Spring Break.” She says, sensing my disbelief.

Figures. She always has an ulterior motive. Just as I’m about to say something, the doorbell rings. We both look at each other, neither of us sure who would be here this late at night.

“I’ll get it.” She says, getting up and walking out of the room.

A minute later I hear two sets of feet walking towards the kitchen. Isabel probably invited one of her annoying friends over and forgot about it. She’s been known to do that.

“Isabel, you know you’re not supposed to have anyone over.” I say, downing my cup of orange juice.

“It’s not for me.” She says, appearing in the kitchen.

She steps a little to the right and Elizabeth walks in. I’m so surprised that I nearly choke on the juice.

“I’ll leave you two alone.” Isabel says, grabbing her magazine and leaving the room.

Elizabeth stares at the ground, crossing her arms. I’m wondering how she got out of the house without her mom knowing.

“I wanted to talk to you about something.” She says, not looking up at me.

“Okay.” I say, opening the sliding door that leads to the back. “Lets go out back.”

She walks over to the bench that’s in the middle of the garden and sits down. I follow, sitting beside her.

“My mom suggested that I stop by.” She says, answering my unspoken question.

“Oh.” I reply, not sure what else to say.

“I know that my mom may seem a little uptight at times, but if you really get to know her, she’s great.” She says, smoothing out her skirt.

“I’m getting that.” I say, thinking of the gentle tone Mrs. Parker had when she was talking about Elizabeth earlier.

“Anyway, I, of all people, should know that you have to seize the moment. Because who knows what’s going to happen in the future.” She says, biting her lip.

I still have no idea what she is talking about.

“I have a hard time trusting people. I mean, I love helping people and making a difference, but I don’t have an easy time giving my trust out.” She looks up at me for the first since she’s been here. “When you told me that you loved me, I just thought of my father. It’s almost like every time I trust someone, they betray me. I don’t think I could take you betraying me.”

“I would never do that.” I say quickly.

“I know, but I can’t help feeling the way I do.” She says, turning away.

I put my hand into hers and squeeze it. It’s going to be a long road ahead. Elizabeth has to learn to trust me and know that I won’t do anything to hurt her. And I, in turn, have to learn how important that trust is.

Part 18

“We’re home!” Mom’s voice says from downstairs.

I groan inwardly. It’s been pretty nice not having to deal with mom and dad’s annoying nagging. I’m not saying that I can’t stand them, it’s just that sometimes it gets to be too much.

“Isabel! Max!” Dad yells.

I hear Isabel mutter something under her breath as she emerges from her room.

“We’re coming!” She yells down to them, then rolls her eyes at me.

I follow behind her as she climbs down the stairs. Mom is in the kitchen, getting dinner ready. She’s not back ten minutes and already she’s back in the role of suburban housewife. Dad is carrying the suitcases up to their bedroom.

“Hey kids.” She says when she hears us walk in.

Mom has this sixth sense where she can tell which room in the house we’re in. This made sneaking food hard when we were younger. She always knew if we were taking one of the cookies out of the jar or if we were taking a Coke out of the fridge.

“How was your trip?” Isabel asks, going over to help her peel the carrots.

“Hectic.” She says, cutting up some potatoes. “The first few days were nice, because your father had no business to do. So we walked around downtown Albequerque and went to all the different shops, but when Mr. Fogley came, it was all business.”

During dinner we’re forced to listen to everything that went on during dad’s meetings. This is another downfall of having them back. They always feel the need to fill us in on every inane detail of their trip. Usually we just nod our heads and take turns saying, ‘Uh-huh’ and ‘Really?’ I’m just about to excuse myself when the phone rings. Isabel grabs it before any of us have a chance to get up.

“Hello?” She says cheerfully. “Oh. Hold on.”

She makes a disgusted face and hands the phone over to me.

“It’s Michael.”

“Max, what did I tell you about your friends calling during dinner time?” Mom asks, giving a disappointed frown.

“Sorry.” I reply, then walk into the living room so they won’t hear my conversation. “Hello?”

“Are you almost finished?” He asks, yelling over the noise in the background.

“Yeah, why?” I ask, wary of what he’s about to say.

“Thought you might want to come down here.” He says, not really sounding like he cares one way or another.

“Uh, I don’t know. My parents just got back.” I say, looking into the kitchen.

Mom is talking about hotel rates. Dad is pretending to care. Isabel is cutting up her meatloaf in tiny squares, mixing them with her mashed potatoes, and stuffing them in her mouth. Typical Sunday night.

“Oh, well. I kind of already called Elizabeth and invited her down.” He says, and I can almost see him grinning on the other end of the line.

“You what?” I practically yell, causing them all to look in my direction.

I shrug apologetically, then turn my attention back to Michael.

“I thought she might want to hang out with us.” He says, then yells something to someone in the background.

“How long ago did you call her?” I ask, walking up the stairs to my room.

“About five minutes before I called you.” He says, casually.

I cram my feet into my shoes, tying the laces quickly. I have a bad feeling about leaving Elizabeth in the hands of Michael. Five minutes with him and she’ll be telling dumb blonde jokes and making fun of old ladies. Not something I’m really hoping to see.

“I’ll be there in a few.” I say, then hang up the phone.

I run downstairs and walk into the kitchen.

“I’m going over to Michael’s.” I say, hoping mom isn’t in the mood to “bond.”

“Okay, but you better be home by ten o’clock. It’s a school night.” She says, clearing the dishes off the table.

I nod, then head towards the front door. I grab my coat off the rack and jog out to my car. I have to park up the street because the spots in front of the Crashdown are all taken. It’s surprisingly crowded for a Sunday night. I walk in, not sure what to expect. Most of the people are older. I don’t find that odd. It’s almost Monday. In about eleven hours school starts up. Every teenager is at home doing the homework they should’ve done Friday afternoon to get it out of the way.

“...so then I fell flat on my face.” Maria’s voice says from by the counter.

I look over to see Maria and Elizabeth sitting next to each other laughing. I can’t believe it at first. Maria voluntarily spending time with Elizabeth. Shocker.

“Max!” Michael yells from the Employee’s Only door. “You want something to eat?”

“No, I’m good.” I say, walking over to where Maria and Elizabeth are sitting.

“Hey.” Maria says, standing up so I can sit next to Elizabeth.

“Hey.” I say, thinking how incredible the situation is.

Seriously, putting this all into perspective, it’s almost unbelievable. I’m dating Elizabeth Parker. The girl who, a month ago, I couldn’t even be seen with. And now, not only is she my girlfriend, but she’s actually hanging out with my friends and having fun. It may not seem like much in the whole scheme of things, but in the universe of Roswell, it’s huge. Something that will be talked about at the high school for years.

“Maria was just telling me about the time when she was giving her English presentation and tripped.” Elizabeth says, smiling.

“Ah, yes.” I say, remembering it.

It was in the tenth grade. Mrs. James’ remedial English class. I only remember it because she thought she had done this awesome presentation that would finally get her out of remedial classes, but she ended up doing the wrong thing. Instead of Emily Dickinson’s works, she had done her life. Anyway, after she finished (Mrs. James, ever the bitch, had let her do the whole presentation before telling her at the end of class that she did the wrong thing), she tripped over the overhead projector cord and fell flat on her face. The class laughed for a good five minutes before Mrs. James threatened to give everyone detention if they didn’t shut up.

“That was wrong of Mrs. James, though.” Elizabeth says, softly.

Typical Elizabeth, she can’t help but point out the difference between right and wrong. I look over at Maria, who I expect to be rolling her eyes. But instead she is just looking thoughtfully up at the ceiling.

“You’re right.” She says, taking a sip of her Coke. “What a bitch.”

They both burst out laughing. I look over at Elizabeth, who is now talking to Michael. Ever since I told her I loved her, things have been a bit different. Even if it has only been two days, it seems like everything has changed. It’s like, unconsciously, we both realize that this is more than the typical high school romance. And while Elizabeth isn’t ready to say she feels the same way I do, it’s an unspoken understandment.

“Isn’t it past your bedtime, Parker?” Someone says from behind us.

I turn around to see Jill Carson with two of her friends. She’s smiling smugly. Ever since she told everyone about me and Elizabeth, she’s been Roswell’s one stop shop for any kind of gossip on our relationship.

“Get a life, Jill.” Maria says from behind the counter.

Now that there’s no chance that I’ll be involved with Jill, Maria’s taken it upon herself to humiliate Jill in every way possible. Not that I’m against that, but I’m really tired of everyone acting like our relationship is their business.

“Nice comeback, Maria.” Bonnie Thompson, Jill’s friend, says sarcastically.

Maria gasps mockingly.

“Bonnie, I’m shocked. Jill didn’t give you permission to speak.” She says, rolling her eyes.

Bonnie opens her mouth to say something, but gives up and walks away. Jill follows, telling Bonnie not to listen. I just laugh. The politics of high school are so screwed up.

“You okay?” I ask Elizabeth.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” She replies, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. “By now I’ve learned to not let that stuff get to me.”

“Elizabeth, I have to tell you something.” Maria says, leaning across the counter.

Maria starts in with her story about the time she backed her car into Kyle’s garage door. Maria has never had a lot of girlfriends. In fact, the only time she talks to any of the girls at school is if she’s at a party or if it’s absolutely necessary. I think that since Elizabeth is going to be around, she’s decided to try to make the best of it. And poor Elizabeth is going to have to hear all of Maria’s lame stories that we’ve never let her tell because we don’t find them interesting at all. I guess it’s also good for Elizabeth, because she’s never really had any girlfriends either. I think they can both learn together.

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

“No.” I say, staring at the screen.

Isabel changes the channel to MTV.

“No, I hate this show.” She says, referring to ‘The Real World.’

It’s not often that we’re both home with nothing to do but watch television. But when it does happen Isabel usually has control over the remote and I just give comments over whether I think it’s lame or not. We finally settle on an old episode of ‘Roseanne.’

“So, you and Elizabeth.” She says during a commercial break. “You guys are pretty serious, aren’t you.”

“Yeah.” I say, watching a Dominos commercial.

“There’s no chance that you two will be breaking up anytime soon?” She says, picking at her hair.

“Nope.” I say, wondering what this is about.

She bites her lip, thinking. Isabel can be pretty manipulative at times, so I’m trying to figure out what she’s trying to do.

“I guess I’ll just have to except it.” She says, sighing. “Kind of like when I went out with Craig Aames.”

Craig Aames was someone my sister dated last year. He was a year ahead of us and probably the stupidest person I’ve ever met. The only reason he got through high school was because he played football.

“Remember how he always called me Matt?” I ask, thinking back to junior year.

“Yeah. After a week you gave up trying to correct him.” She says, laughing at the memory.

“So, what about Craig Aames?” I ask, getting her back on the subject.

“My point is that you didn’t like him, but you didn’t hassle me about it. You just kind of accepted it.” She says, staring down at her nails. “And I may not really like Elizabeth, but I shouldn’t razz you about dating her.”

I stare at her in disbelief. Isabel has never said anything semi-nice to me in her life. Even when we were younger she always felt the need to be a bitch. Now, she’s suddenly understanding? This doesn’t seem right.

“Are you sure you’re not working together with Jill Carson to break us up?” I ask, being serious.

“That tramp?” She says, giving me a disgusted look. “There’s no way I would be seen with her.”

True. While Isabel and Jill may be popular, but they run with two completely different social circles. Isabel’s group is more of your typical popular crowd. They’re the group that everyone wants to be in. Jill’s crowd is a bit more confusing. One minute they’re acting goody-goody in front of adults, the next they’re getting drunk and heading upstairs with random guys.

“Haven’t we seen this episode like, six times?” She asks, changing the subject.

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

“Alright, Mr. Evans. Thirty-three copies. Can you handle that?” Ms. Bryce says, handing me a piece of paper.

“I’ll try my best.” I say, giving her my innocent smile.

She just rolls her eyes and walks back over to her desk. I look down at the paper. Some kind of lab sheet. I put it into the copier and type in ‘33.’ I’m starting to get used to this job. It’s not so bad. I mean, aside from Ms. Bryce, it’s cake work. Plus, in the first ten minutes I get here, I’m updated on any type of school gossip.

“Okay, so I have the Thanksgiving announcement typed up.” Ms. Howard says into her phone.

I feel exhausted just thinking of Thanksgiving. My whole entire family comes into town and camps out at our house. Then mom spends the entire week cooking and banishes us from the kitchen. She gives me and Isabel money to go to the Crashdown and eat so we won’t get in her way. Then, on Thanksgiving, dad and all my male relatives sit in the family room and watch football while all my female relatives stand around the kitchen and talk about the relatives that couldn’t make it down. All my younger cousins run around the house breaking things. I usually lock the door to my room and stay at Michael’s as much as possible.

“Well, I don’t know. Mr. Ford wanted it to be just Thursday and Friday.” She says, looking down at the paper in her hand.

Every year Ford fights to have Thanksgiving Break be just on Thursday and Friday, and every year the parents fight back to have it be on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. No one quite understands his motives for doing that, but he never wins. I don’t even know why he still fights for it. If I were him, I’d want to be away from us for as long as possible. I’d be fighting for a full week off.

“Hello?” Ms. Bryce answers her phone.

I stick the lab sheets into a folder and set them aside, then I pick up the next thing that needs to be copied. I never realized how much crap gets copied everyday. I bet we use the same amount of paper in one day as a third world country uses in one year.

“He’ll be right there.” Ms. Bryce says, hanging the phone up. “Max.”

I hesitantly turn around, already knowing she’s hired me out to do some teacher’s bitch work.

“Yeah?” I say, pasting a smile on my face.

“Elizabeth Parker needs your help in the library.” She says, grinning.

Ms. Bryce is probably the only person in Roswell who doesn’t know about my relationship with Elizabeth. In fact, I bet she thinks that by sending me to help Elizabeth Parker, she’s torturing me in some way.

“Aw, shucks.” I say, playing along. “Really?”

“Yeah, and I don’t want you teasing her or anything.” She says, giving me a stern look. “She’s a good kid, one of the few left in this town. You could learn a thing or two from her.”

Ms. Howard laughs, causing Ms. Bryce to look over at her. Ms. Howard covers her mouth and goes back to talking to whoever is on the phone. Ms. Bryce gives her a weird look then turns back to me.

“If I hear that you didn’t help her, I’ll let Principal Ford know.” She says, shooing me away with her hand.

As I walk past Ms. Howard, she smiles and winks at me. I’m wondering how long it’ll take her to tell Ms. Bryce that I’m dating Elizabeth. I think Ms. Howard has been waiting years for something like this. Something she could say to Ms. Bryce that would shock her so much that she finally stops treating Ms. Howard like a lower being. When I walk into the library, I see Elizabeth standing behind the librarian’s desk, typing something on the computer.

“Hey.” I say, walking over to her.

She looks up at me and smiles.

“Hey, I need your help with something.” She says, walking out from behind the desk.

I follow her over to one of the stacks. Even though we’re dating, I knew that Elizabeth wouldn’t call the office and say she needed my help if she really didn’t.

“Someone put a couple books on top of the stack.” She says, pointing up.

I reach up and grab the books.

“Here you go.” I say, handing them to her.

I smile as we walk back over to the desk. She could’ve easily stood up on a chair and got the books down herself. I glance around the library to see if any of the librarians are here. They’re either gone or in one of the back offices.

“So, what are you doing tonight? Got a hot date?” I ask, smiling.

“Not really hot. Just with this guy from school.” She says, raising her eyebrows. “Actually, I think he’s kind of a loser.”

“You mean you’re going out with Kyle Valenti?” I ask, holding in my laughter.

“Kyle? No, Kyle is cool. It’s this guy named Mark? No, that’s not it.” She puts her hand on her chin, thoughtfully.

“Max?” I supply.

“That’s it! Do you know him?” She asks, grinning.

“Yeah, he’s definitely a loser.” I reply.

She laughs as she sticks some book cards into a pile of books. I watch her as she checks back in all the returned books. I can’t believe how far we’ve come over the past weeks.
------------

“So where are you going?” Mrs. Parker asks.

“Uh, Italiano.” I say, staring uncomfortably down at my hands.

“On Main Street?” She asks, impressed.

“Yeah.”

Italiano is the nicest restaurant in Roswell. It’s a little Italian place a few blocks down from the Crashdown. I’ve been there a couple times with my parents, and I thought it’d be a nice, real first date for me and Elizabeth. Also, I have a feeling Elizabeth has never been there, because it’s so expensive.

“What time will you have her home?” She asks, crossing her arms. A nervous habit I’m sure Elizabeth picked up from her.

“Nine o’clock, since we have school tomorrow.” I answer, trying to sound adult-like.

Instead of doing my best to piss her off, I’ve suddenly developed the feeling that I need to impress her in every way possible.

“Mom, stop interrogating him.” Elizabeth says, coming down the stairs.

We both turn to look at her. She has her hair down and curled, slightly. Almost like it was at the Homecoming dance. She’s wearing a long red skirt, one I’ve never seen before, and a black top. I’m about to ask her if it’s new when I realize it probably wouldn’t be polite to ask that.

“You look amazing.” I say, and mean it.

“You too.” She says, smiling.

We leave, with me promising Mrs. Parker that I’ll make sure her daughter makes it home safe and sound. I’m actually a little afraid of what she’ll do if I bring Elizabeth home even a minute late.

“Sorry about my mother.” She says on the way to the restaurant. “She’s a little over-protected.”

“She has a right to be.” I reply, not knowing if by saying that, she’ll get upset.

“I guess you’re right.” She says quietly.

By the time we get to the restaurant, I’m almost positive I’ve ruined the night. But when we get seated, she’s suddenly alert.

“This restaurant is really nice. Are you sure you can afford it?” Elizabeth asks, looking around at all the expensive paintings.

“Don’t worry about it.” I say, smiling back at her.

The thought of money never crossed my mind. I guess that’s something else I need to learn: money isn’t important as I once thought it was. After the waitress takes our order, I decided to ask her something I’ve been wondering about.

“So have you heard back from the scholarship people?” I ask, referring to the application she sent for a scholarship to Harvard.

“Not yet, but I’m pretty confident.” She says, leaning forward. “I mean, my mother doesn’t really make that much, so I can qualify for financial aid.”

“With all your good grades and community service, you should have no problem.” I say, causing her to blush.

“Anyway, I’m not sure if I’m going to Harvard.” She says, looking down at the tablecloth.

“What do you mean?” I ask, hoping she’s joking.

“Well, it’s just that I don’t know if I could leave my mother here by herself.” She says, picking at the cloth.

“Elizabeth, if you want to go to Harvard, you should go. I know your mom wouldn’t want to stop you from doing what you want to do.” I say, putting my hand over hers.

“I don’t know.” She says, leaning back in her chair.

“Anyway, I kind of already sent an application in to Boston University.” I say, my own eyes staring at the table.

“You what?” She asks, now it’s her turn to be surprised.

“I sent an application to Boston U.” I repeat.

A huge smile breaks across her face. She gets up and comes to my side of the table, where she practically squeezes all the oxygen out of me.

“Are you serious?” She whispers into my ear.

“Yeah.” I say, hugging her back. “But don’t get too excited, I still have to get accepted.”

“Oh, I know you will.” She says, walking back to her seat.

“I don’t know. I mean, sure my grades are improving now, but the last three years haven’t been too good, and that’s what they’ll be looking at.” I say, skeptical that I’ll even get in.

“You’ll get in. I know they’ll recognize the thing in you that I see everyday.” She says, excitedly.

The rest of the night is spent with plans of what we’ll do when we go off to college. I didn’t realize how anxious she was to get out of Roswell. I always thought she loved this place, but I guess it holds a lot more bad memories for than me. I know her mother wouldn’t want her daughter to spend the rest of her life here in Roswell. If I know anything about Mrs. Parker, I know that much.

“...then we could go to Salem and take a tour of the city.” She says as we pull up into her driveway.

She stops talking and takes a deep breath. Leaving her mother alone wasn’t the only reason she didn’t want to go off to college. I think that on some level, she was afraid to go to someplace where she didn’t know anyone. But if I go with her, then she’ll have the best of both worlds. She’ll have someone familiar, but she’ll also get the experience of being in a new place.

“Thank you for dinner, Maxwell.” She says, suddenly getting quiet.

“No problem.” I reply, shutting the engine off.

“I guess I should go.” She says, unbuckling her seatbelt.

“Yeah, your mom will probably be out here any minute.” I say, looking over at the porch light.

She sits there for a few seconds, looking from her door to her hands.

“Maxwell?” She says as I look over at her.

“Yeah?”

“I just wanted to say thank you, for everything you’ve done. I mean, it may not seem like much, but you’ve given me a lot. Friends, a life, trust.” She says, straightening her skirt. “I guess what I wanted to say was that I love you.”

I’m starting to think I imagined it until she says:

“In spite of everything, I love you.” She says, softly. “I tried not to. I tried to list the reasons why I shouldn’t, but I can’t help it.”

She leans over and closes her eyes. This is probably the first real kiss we’ve ver had. The others were unexpected and hurried. This one is soft and delibrately slow. I put my hands on the side of her face, pulling her closer.

“I need to go.” She says, pulling away.

“I know.” I say, licking my lips.

She leans back in and kisses me once more.

“Goodbye.” She says, her hand on my cheek.

She opens the door and steps out. I watch until she gets inside, then start the drive home. I just hope I get into Boston U. For both our sakes.

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

“You know what would be really funny?” Michael says, cutting up some celery.

“What’s that?” I ask, tossing an olive up into the air and catching it with my mouth.

“If your pyscho-stalker, and by that I mean Jill of course.” He says.

“Obviously.” I reply, throwing another olive in the air.

“If she suddenly became the subject of all the school gossip.” He says, putting the celery into a salad.

He walks over to the order window, sets it down, and rings the bell.

“Order up, Tess.” He yells.

“That would be funny.” I say, thinking about it.

That would be slightly ironic. Jill suddenly being the focus of everyone instead of my relationship with Elizabeth, which she is trying hard to make sure everyone knows about.

“Do we have anything on her?” He asks, flipping some burgers.

“I don’t know, but I’m sure Maria does.” I say, almost positive she does.

Maria knows everyones business, whether she wants to or not. She always happens to just find out about it. One time she found out Carrie Enson was pregnant because she just happened to be tying her shoe in the Athletic Hallway. She’s never in that hallway, but she went into it that day because she wanted Gatorade.

“Is my Galaxy Sub ready yet?” Tess asks from the other side of the window.

“I’m working on it.” Michael says, putting the lettuce on the sub.

“Okay, I should go. Mom is giving me a list of things to get for Thanksgiving and I still need to go pick up my dad’s dry cleaning. ” I say, walking towards the alley exit.

“Thanksgiving isn’t for another week and a half.” He says, ringing the order bell. “Order up!”

“We’re talking about my mother, Michael.” I say, knowing that explains everything.

“You’re right. You should go before she sends out a search party.” He says, waving at me then going back to flipping burgers.

I walk out into the alley and start for the dry cleaners that’s across the street.

“Maxwell!” Elizabeth’s voice yells from somewhere.

I turn back to the Crashdown and see her standing there holding a couple bags. She’s waving excitedly.

“Hey! What are you doing?” I yell back.

“I’m shopping. Do you...” She cuts off, her smile suddenly disappearing. “Maxwell! Watch out!”

I give her a confused look and follow her gaze. A huge truck is heading straight towards me. I look back over to Elizabeth, who is frozen in place. My head automatically turns back to the truck and I close my eyes, preparing myself for the collision. And then it hits me, and I’m flying through the air. When I hit the pavement, everything goes black.

Part 19

Elizabeth died two days later.

On a Thursday when the sky was overcast, but it didn’t rain. I know this because I spent the entire day staring out her hospital room window, waiting for it. I wanted it to rain so badly. When it didn’t come, I went to the cafeteria and cried for an hour over a cup of oily coffee. I stayed that way until Michael came in and told me she was dead. I nodded, not really believing him. Then I followed him back to the ICU unit. Mrs. Parker was sitting in one of the plastic chairs outside of her room. She wasn’t sobbing, just staring straight ahead. I wanted to say something to her, but I was afraid that if I did, she’d start crying and wouldn’t be able to stop.

“Take your time.” The doctor had said, pulling the curtain back, then closing it behind me.

Elizabeth was lying on the bed, the sheet pulled up to her shoulders. As I walked up to her, I told myself that she was sleeping. That any minute she’d wake up and ask me why I was staring at her. Did she having something in her teeth? But instead she just lied there. No beautiful smile. No curiousness in her eyes. Whatever had taken her life from her had taken her soul as well.

And as I stood there, looking down at her lifeless body, I could only think of one thing. Something so inappropriate and out of place, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It was something that Elizabeth had taught me a week earlier, when I was writing a paper for English class. People lie down, but you lay objects down. And I couldn’t help but wonder if Elizabeth was lying down, or if she was laying down. I spent five minutes trying to figure this out. I wanted to ask the doctor. I wanted to know when you died, did your body became an object, an empty shell. Like a coffee table or a book.

“Max, sweetie.” My mom said from the doorway. “We should go.”

I nodded, but I didn’t move.

“I’ll give you a few more minutes.” She said softly.

Elizabeth’s face was pale and perfect, except for a small bruise on her temple. The rest of her body was bruised and beaten, but her face somehow managed to stay beautiful. I wondered how she could get hit by a speeding vehicle and die, but her face could still be so wonderful. I wanted to touch it, just one more time. But I was afraid if I did, I’d ruin it. So instead, I turned around and walked out of the room. My mother was sitting by Mrs. Parker, holding her hand. Michael was standing by the nurse’s station, holding his hair back with his hands. They didn’t notice me until I cleared my throat.

“I want to go home.” I said, walking past them to the elevator.

“I’ll drive him.” Michael said to no one in particular, then followed behind me.

I couldn’t take the atmosphere of the hospital anymore. All the death and the smells. I got into the elevator and pressed the button for the first floor. Michael didn’t bother with small talk, he was never one to. I stared at the brown linoleum of the elevator floor. There was a red stain in the corner and I couldn’t decide if it was a juice or blood stain. I tried to rationalize. Why would a hospital leave a blood stain on an elevator floor? That probably wouldn’t be too sanitary.

“I’m parked in the third row.” Michael said, mainly just to fill the silence.

“Oh.” I replied.

The drive from Judis back to Roswell seemed shorter than usual, if that’s possible. I slumped against the car door, tired, but unable to sleep. Michael didn’t say anything, but every couple minutes he looked over at me to make sure I was still breathing. I was in a trance. Measuring the miles by the throbbing of my arm under the cast. As we passed the Crashdown, I could see that most of the town was somehow crammed inside. Since word spread about the accident, the Crashdown had been like base camp for all the latest information concerning me and Elizabeth. Only this time, it wasn’t about our relationship. It was about our lives.

Michael stopped at the red light directly in front of the restaurant. Mr. Guerin and Ms. DeLuca stood outside, smoking. They both looked over at Michael’s car, their eyes going from me to Michael. Silently they asked if she was dead yet. Michael nodded, and within seconds, the whole town would be mourning for the loss of Elizabeth Parker.

“I think Isabel and your dad are at the Crashdown.” He said as he pulled into my driveway. “I’ll tell them you’re back.”

I nodded, as I opened the car door and slowly made my way to the house. I didn’t look back at Michael, but I knew he was making sure I got into the house okay. Then he’d drive back to the Crashdown and tell everyone when it happened. Isabel and my dad would come home and wait for me to come out of my room. I just sat on my bed, staring at the mirror that hung on my closet door. I was fine. Aside from a broken arm and a mild concussion, I was fine. I would wake up the next day, and the day after that. I would laugh. I would cry. I could watch ‘Gone With The Wind’ as many times as I wanted. Elizabeth would never do any of those things again. She wouldn’t teach me about past tense participles. She wouldn’t go to Harvard and become a pediatrician. She couldn’t watch ‘Gone With The Wind’ anymore.

I sat in her hospital room without leaving on the first day. The second day I ate a piece of bread, then went to the bathroom and threw it up. I sat in chair and stared out the window, glancing back at Elizabeth’s comatose form every once in a while. I didn’t open my mouth at all on the first day. I was afraid to. Scared that if I did, then I’d have to admit that it really happened. I tried not to think about it, I tried to think of other things. Like that rerun of ‘Roseanne’ that Isabel and I had watched the other day. But now, alone in my room without Elizabeth’s body barely hanging on beside me, I had no other choice. My mind started playing out the scene like some bad movie that you didn’t want to watch, but you couldn’t find the remote.

Sharon Vaughn and her sister Mallory were the ones who gave the report to the cops. They were standing in front of The Shoe Store when it happened. The second Elizabeth yelled my name, they both looked up to see who it was. Michael told me all of this on the second day, as we both stood out in the hallway, drinking coffee out of white paper cups.

“Sharon said that Elizabeth yelled out to warn you, but you just stood there, looking from Elizabeth to the truck, then closing your eyes.” He had said, sipping the luke warm drink. “Less than a second after you closed your eyes, Elizabeth dropped the shopping bags she was carrying and ran straight towards you.”

I stood there, thinking how my life could change completely in less than two seconds.

“Mallory said she shoved you out of the way just in time.” He said, cutting off.

“Just in time for her to get hit instead of me.” I had said, then walked back into her hospital room.

Elizabeth had given me life. Made me more human than I ever thought I could be. And I, in turn, had taken her life away from her just as if I was the one driving that 1993 Ford truck. I had taken away that beautiful smile that no one would ever see again. This became a mantra in my mind, something that would haunt me for years afterwards.

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

I didn’t go to her funeral. I couldn’t. Instead, I stayed home and watched an ‘I Love Lucy’ marathon while eating Cocoa Pebbles. It wasn’t until I knew for sure that everyone was out of the house that I left my room. While mom, dad, and Isabel were getting ready to go to the funeral, I sat at my computer and played solitaire.

“Max, we’re leaving!” Mom yelled from outside my door.

I didn’t answer her.

“I made some pancakes.” She said, making a last ditch effort to get me to go.

I moved the six of hearts on top of the seven of spades.

“They’re, uh, on the table in the kitchen.” She said, finally giving up.

A few seconds later there were three knocks on my door. I knew right away it was Isabel. Ever since I had returned from the hospital, Isabel had knocked three times on my door, and started talking to me. In typical Isabel fashion, she did all the talking. Never expecting me to make a sound. Why she did this, I didn’t know. She talked about school gossip, gave me her review on a new movie that was out, and even started reading to me. She did all the voices. I nearly fell off my bed with laughter when she did the voice of a black guy.

“Hey, I just wanted to let you know that the new issue of Seventeen came in the mail today, so don’t go to sleep early.” She said, then knocked three more times to say that she was leaving.

When I heard dad’s car back out of the driveway, I went downstairs. I poured myself a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles, went into the family room, turned on the television, and sat there watching the first channel that came on. Three hours and six episodes later, I heard dad’s car pull back in. I left my bowl on the coffee table and went back up to my room. I figured if mom saw it, she wouldn’t worry so much. I was still alive.

During the next two weeks, I lost fourteen pounds, grew a straggly goatee, and aced my test on The Great Gatsby. The first two were probably understandable to my parents, but the last one left my mother knocking on my door for thirty minutes straight.

“Max? Please just open the door.” She had said, pleadingly.

I worked on alphabetizing my book shelf.

“I want you to know how proud your father and I are of you.” She said, and I wondered if she had tears in her eyes.

I wasn’t sure what she was talking about at first. Proud of what? Proud that I had stood in the middle of a busy road, expecting every car to stop and wait for me to move? Proud that I had killed Roswell’s sweetheart?

“Mr. Jacobs called and told us about your A.” She said.

Oh. Proud of that.

“Max, honey?” She said, a good five minutes later.

I put A Tale of Two Cities next to Wuthering Heights, books that Elizabeth had bought for me to read.

“Max?” She said, and I could tell that she was crying.

I lined up all the spines of the books. After she left, I looked over my homework to make sure it was all done right. I hadn’t been to school since it happened, so everyday Isabel set my work outside my door. At exactly midnight, when I left the room to go to the bathroom, I brought it back in and didn’t sleep until it was all done. One night, as I was getting back from the restroom and bending down to get my work, I heard my parents’ door creak a bit. I knew it was my mother, just as I knew it was a six-step walk from my door to my computer desk. I took the books and went into my room, shutting and locking the door behind me. I didn’t blame her. She hadn’t seen me in weeks. The only way she knew I was alive was by the sporadic dish in the sink.

Isabel had told me that mom canceled all the Thanksgiving plans and that they ate at the Crashdown. All you can eat for $7.99. I, myself, finished reading Of Mice and Men, then lied in my bed for two hours staring up at the ceiling until I finally fell asleep.

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

On Tuesday, Maria came to the house.

“Are you going to let me in or not?” She asked, banging on the door.

When I didn’t answer, she cleared her throat.

“It was a really nice funeral.” She said, unsure if she was saying the right thing. “Reverend Mills made this really nice speech then Miranda Pickett sang ‘Amazing Grace.’”

I got up and started organizing the shoes in my closet.

“She looked really beautiful.” She said, lowering her voice.

For a dead girl, I wanted to say.

“The whole town was there.”

Except for me.

“It wasn’t your fault, Max.”

I was the dumbass who stopped in the middle of the street.

“If you need someone to talk to, I’m here.”

I told her that, once or twice. When I had found out that she had been raped.

“If you need someone to talk to, I’m here.” I had said.

“Anyway,” Maria said, reminding me that she was still there. “I brought you something. I’ll just leave it out here.”

Then she left, and I fell asleep until midnight, when my alarm clock when off and woke up. I went to the bathroom, then came back. Laying next to my homework was a VHS of ‘Gone With The Wind.’ Isabel must’ve seen the video because the next night, I almost tripped over her television and VCR on my way to the toilet. I brought them both in. I didn’t watch it right away. I had to prepare myself for seeing the movie without her. The next day I watched it three times in a row, trying to see it the way Elizabeth had seen it.

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

I allowed myself to think of Elizabeth for five minutes everyday. I figured that too much of it wasn’t good, but I very well couldn’t erase her completely. I tried to think of her in context of the girl I knew up until October. The shy, nerdy girl that I only paid attention to when I wanted to make fun of someone. It hurt less that way.

I stayed that way for nearly a month, only leaving my room late at night or when I was sure no one was in the house. Sometimes I think my dad took mom and Isabel out to dinner just so I could leave my room. Dad was different than mom. He didn’t pry. He didn’t plead for me to leave my room. He’d just stop by every now and then, and say something. Most of the time, it was before he left for work. I was usually still up, doing my homework, or finishing up some required reading. Even though I knew it was coming, he still managed to surprise me.

“Max?” He said, then knocked on the door.

I jumped, breaking the lead of my pencil.

“Mrs. Parker called last night, but we thought you were sleeping.” He said, his voice unsure. “She wanted to talk to you, but we told her it would probably be a while before you got back to her.”

I wondered if he knew I was awake, or if he was just saying it to say something.

“Well, I guess I’ll talk to you later.” He said, nervously.

Every morning he said that same thing, ‘Well, I guess I’ll talk to you later.’ And I knew that he stood there for a good minute after saying this, wanting to tell me something. But whatever he wanted to say, he never got out.

Michael and Kyle usually came together. I think this was mostly because Michael didn’t want to come by himself. This was the ultimate change. There was no ignoring this one. He could make excuses, convince himself that things were the same, but they’d never be the same again. Kyle came every Thursday at four o’clock. Not to talk about anything in particular.

“How’s the weather in there? Because I’ve got to tell you, it’s raining like a bitch out here.” He said one day.

“How high is that pile of dirty laundry?” He asked on another Thursday.

I never answered him, but I’d sit on my bed, silently laughing at his jokes. I think that he knew I was laughing, too. Something told me he knew. Just like Isabel knew I was sitting on the other side of the door listening to her read me the latest beauty tips, and Maria knew I was listening to every thing she said about Elizabeth.

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

It was a couple days before Christmas when I finally came out of my room. It wasn’t something that I planned or had been analyzing for days. I had fallen asleep around noon and when I woke up at six o’clock, my throat was so dry that it felt like sandpaper. So I walked downstairs to the kitchen and poured myself a glass of orange juice. When I turned around, mom, dad, and Isabel were all staring at me like I’d grown a second head. I guess I really couldn’t blame them. The last time they really saw me, I was at a healthy weight and I was freshly shaved. Now, it seemed like a small gust of wind could knock me over and I looked like a homeless person.

“Max?” Isabel had said, not sure if it was really me.

I just looked at her, uncertain of what to say.

“Are you hungry?” Dad asked, picking up the plate of chicken and holding it out to me.

Mom just got up and hugged me. She squeezed me so hard I thought I wouldn’t be able to breathe afterwards. I followed her back to the table and sat down in the spot where I always used to sit. I looked down and something surprised me. There was a plate and utensils sitting there, as if mom knew I’d be coming down for dinner. I later learned that she always set my place, just in case I came down.

“Can you please pass the mashed potatoes?” I asked, using my voice for the first time since Elizabeth’s funeral.

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

When I went back to school, everything was different. And I don’t mean just with myself. The whole atmosphere had changed. I came back mid-January, so I wasn’t sure if it was coming back to school after the winter holiday, or if it had something to do with Elizabeth’s death, but everyone was a bit more mellowed out. No one knew who I was when I went back. I had shaved off the goatee, but my hair was to my ears and I hadn’t gained back any of the weight I had lost, no matter how hard my mother tried to stuff my face with food. When I went to the office to talk with Principal Ford, Ms. Bryce asked me if I had my transcripts.

“I’m here to see Mr. Ford.” I had said, wondering why she was acting so strange.

“Well, do you have an appointment?” She asked, looking right at me but having no clue who I was.

“Yeah.” I replied, starting to think she was just messing with my head.

“Okay, what’s your name?” She asked, looking down at a piece of paper in her hand.

“Max Evans.” I said, which immediately caused her to look up at me.

She started at me, squinting her eyes as if to see if I was really in there somewhere. She opened her mouth to say something, but closed it. I had a feeling that she wanted to make some smart-ass comment, but then remembered. I could tell all this by the expression on her face. Something else I had learned to do. While in my room, I had watched dozens and dozens of movies. I studied their expressions, trying to figure out each one.

“You can go on back.” She said, still staring at me.

I walked back into his office, knocking on the door before walking in. He was on the phone and signaled for me to sit down. I waited for a couple minutes until he got off the phone. Then he looked up at me and smiled.

“How can I help you?” He asked, and I knew right away he didn’t know who I was either.

Old Max would’ve used this to his advantaged and messed with his head. New Max is too tired to do that. Old Max would’ve acted like a transfer student from France. New Max is thinking that he killed Elizabeth Parker.

“I’m here to talk to you about my coming back.” I said, tucking my hair behind my ears.
“Max?” He said, his voice bewildered.

“Yes.” I answered.

“I didn’t even recognize you.” He had said, leaning closer to look at me.

I nodded my head, smiling politely. He just shook his head, then proceeded to tell me that I had caught up on all my work, so I didn’t have to worry about that. He said that I shouldn’t even think about “that stupid” three strikes rule. I think he was trying to make sure I didn’t worry about anything. After he finished, he got up and hugged me, something that I definitely wasn’t expecting.

“If you want to talk, I’m here.” He said, patting me on the back.

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

I would like to say that I cleaned up my act for Elizabeth’s sake, and graduated high school without any trouble. But it’s a bit of the opposite, actually. I didn’t truly know Elizabeth for that long, but for the time that I did know her, she had changed my life in ways that no one else could’ve. And that made the very memory of her too painful for me to think about. So I did everything to forget her. I stopped talking to Kyle, Michael, and Maria because they told me to look at my behavior and how Elizabeth wouldn’t have wanted me to be that way. I started skipping school. A few days to go to a concert in Albuquerque with Greg and some of the other guys. A few days just to hang around Judis.

Ford was pretty lax about it at first, saying that he understood the pain I was going through. I agreed, just wanting to get out of his office. I chain smoked. I binged on alcohol every night. I did just about every kind of drug that you could imagine. Anything just to forget about her. Mom cried at night about me when she thought everyone was sleeping. Isabel took back her TV and VCR. Dad grumbled about curfew. I started getting suspended for talking back to teachers and being tardy all the time. I was on a one way street to self-destruction and this time, no one could save me. At least that’s what I thought.

It was in April that everything changed. I was getting ready to go to a party when someone rang the doorbell.

“Mom!” I yelled, not wanting to get the door.

No one answered and the doorbell continued to ring. Finally, I ran down the stairs and angrily opened the door. I wasn’t ready for who was there.

“Max?” Mrs. Parker said, not sure if it was really me.

“Yeah.” I said, feeling my stomach tighten up.

“Oh my, you look so different.” She said, looking me over. “You’ve grown your hair out. It looks nice.”

“Thanks.” I said, not sure what to do.

She just stood there, waiting for me to invite her in.

“Oh, come in.” I said, moving out of the way to let her through.

For the first time, I realized how much Elizabeth had resembled her mother. The same hair, the same eyes. It was like I was staring at a 40 year old version of Elizabeth. Of what she might’ve looked like one day, had she not died.

“I’m sorry to intrude.” She said, crossing her arms. “I know you’re probably busy, so I won’t keep you for too long. I just wanted to give you some things I found when I was going through Elizabeth’s room.”

At the mention of Elizabeth, her voice softened up and I could see the pain in her eyes. She handed me a small box, smiling as she did.

“She would’ve wanted you to have this.” She said, then turned and opened the door.

“Mrs. Parker?” I said, wanting to ask her something.

“Yeah?” She said, turning around.

“Do you blame me for what happened?” I asked, looking down at the ground.

There was a long pause, and I was almost certain that she was thinking of a way to tell me that it was my fault.

“No, sweetie. Of course not.” She had said.

And that’s the second that it happened. Looking back, I could pinpoint that moment as the one that made me change everything.

“Elizabeth was always a special kid. While everyone else was out going to parties, she stayed home and read Shakespeare.” She said, smiling at the memory. “When her father died, she told me that she couldn’t take losing someone she loved so much ever again. When she was...”

She cut off, calming herself down.

“When she was raped, I thought that she’d never be able to trust again. But then you came into her life, and it was like she was suddenly alive again. I could see some of the little girl she used to be in her eyes.” She cleared her throat. “At first I thought that it was some kind of joke and that you were just playing with her heart. But then I saw the way you looked at her. The same way Mr. Parker had looked at me.”

She paused, looking up at me to make sure I was paying attention.

“Elizabeth did what she did because she loved you. If she could do it all over again, I know she would’ve done the same thing. And as much as I miss her, I have to respect what she did.” She had tears in her eyes. “She was my baby, but I never understood her mind. Sometimes I thought she was a little too wise beyond her years.”

She shook her head, realizing she’d been spilling her thoughts to me.

“Max, don’t ever think it’s your fault. You gave Elizabeth so much in the short time you had with her. I don’t think you’ll ever know what you meant to her.”

And then she was gone. Afterwards, I took the box up to my room, locked the door, and sat on my bed, staring at it for an hour. Finally, I worked up the courage to open it. When I took off the lid, I was greeted with the smell of Elizabeth, something that I couldn’t forget no matter how much I tried. There wasn’t much in the box: a tape, a card, and a worn copy of ‘Gone With The Wind.’

The card was plain on the front except for a single yellow rose. Then, in silver writing it said, ‘Thank You.’ When I opened it something fell to the floor. The card itself had one simple message in it:


“Thank you for Max.

Love,
Maria”


Maria gave this to her? When? And where was I? I had no idea that Maria and Elizabeth even talked to each other when I wasn’t around. I bent down to the floor and picked up what had fallen out. It was a picture, the only one ever taken of me and Elizabeth. From the night we all went to Senor Chow’s and Maria was trying to get rid of the pictures on her disposable camera. Elizabeth was laughing over something someone had said, her head tilted back slightly. Her eyes were closed, but it was obvious that she was having a great time. I was looking over at her, smiling. It was the first time I had seen her in five months. I never conjured her image up, because I couldn’t do it justice. Neither did the picture. To understand her true beauty, you had to be around her in person. Only then could you realize it. A picture just showed what someone looked like, and by just looking at the picture, anyone could see how beautiful she was on the outside. But it was her internal beauty that you saw the most. Something that no one would ever see again.

-----------

When the acceptance letter came from Boston University, I was more than ready to get out of Roswell. During the last month and a half of school, I’d started to let myself bring Elizabeth back into my life. After much begging and groveling, Maria, Michael, and Kyle were speaking to me again. Isabel had brought her TV and VCR into my room and we watched ‘Gone With The Wind’ while Isabel asked incessant questions. Ironically enough, it was Isabel that finally answered the question I had been wondering for so long. It was around the part when Ashley and Scarlett were found together at the mill together by Ashley’s sister, then Scarlett had to go face Melanie.

“Oh, now I get it.” Isabel said, leaning against my headboard.

“Get what?” I asked, staring at the screen.

“Why this was Elizabeth’s favorite movie.” She said, moving to look at me from my position on the floor. “Doesn’t Melanie remind you of Elizabeth?”

I was a bit taken back. I had never thought about it.

“I guess.” I said, now seeing it.

We watched the rest of the movie without speaking. I suddenly saw the movie the way Elizabeth saw it. The real tragedy of the story wasn’t Scarlett. No, the real tragedy was Melanie. Just as the real tragedy of these past months wasn’t my loss and my self-loathing. The real tragedy was that Elizabeth died when she was just starting to live.

No one every really knew Elizabeth Parker.

Not truly.

Not me, not even her own mother. But for some reason she thought that giving her life up was better than living a life without me. And in the process of knowing her, she taught me to love, to care, and to be human, all the while, being myself. Every now and then, I couldn’t help but think that it was my fault that she died. Every time I stared down at her tombstone, the thought entered my head. But that was outweighed with all the thoughts of what she had given me. And for that, I can never forget her.

The End.



[ edited 1 time(s), last at 11-Jul-2002 3:16:17 PM ]