CATEGORY: M/L, with others blended in. AU. Characters do not belong to me.
RATING: PG – PG-15
SUMMARY: The alien group are all 25 years old. They’ve known for several years, because of their special gifts, of their alien status. But only recently are pieces of the puzzle beginning to fit together. Read on and find out how.

SMELLING THE FLOWERS ALONG THE WAY

Part 1

(At the law firm of Evans, Evans, Guerin and Harding)

“Max, you have a call on line 1.”

“Take a message, Rose. I’m going to an important meeting.”

“I know that. But the caller says it’s urgent.”

Not having a clue what could be so urgent, Max thanked Rose and took the call.

“Hello?”

“Is this Mr. Evans?”

“Yes.”

“Hi. This is Dr. Johnson, at Roswell Community. I wanted to let you know we admitted your grandmother, Claudia, into the hospital because she had a stroke. It was fairly mild, considering. But we’re going to keep her here overnight for observation. If everything checks out okay, we’ll release her tomorrow.”

Too stunned to form any coherent questions, all Max could think to say was to thank the doctor for his call before hanging up.

After contemplating these developments, he called his partners into his office to apprise them of what had happened. “Guys, I need to take the day off tomorrow to take care of our grandmother. I was going to begin depositions on a really important case, but I’m going to need you guys to take up the slack for me.”

“Don’t worry, Max. Of course, we’ll help out. But since you are starting that case, maybe it would work out better if I got help her instead.”

“That’s a thought, Isabel. But your apartment is a lot farther from the office than mine. I think it will probably be more realistic for me to do, since we don’t know yet what the final prognosis is. They’re going to do further tests on her tonight, and I’ll get further details when I pick her up tomorrow.”

“Okay. If you think that’s best. Just let us know whatever we can do to help out,” Isabel said. And Michael and Tess chimed in their agreement to her statement.

(The next day at the hospital)

“Mr. Evans, before you see your grandmother, I need to fill you in on the results of the tests we took last night.”

“Okay.”

“There’s good news and there’s bad news. What would you like first?”

After briefly considering, Max said, “I really need to hear some good news. So let’s do that first.”

“The good news is, your grandmother’s stroke was rather minor. So there will be very few residual problems with that.”

“That’s great news! But you don’t look too thrilled with that. What’s the bad news?”

“The bad news is, we’ve found she is suffering with terminal brain cancer, which really contributed to the stroke she had.”

Stunned speechless, Max was quiet for several seconds. Finally, when he spoke, he asked, “How long does she have?”

“I don’t have hope beyond 6 months, if that. I’ve already talked with her about chemo, but she’s already informed me she does not want anything to do with that. She’s adamant that she doesn’t want it. The problem is, as she goes downhill, she’s going to need more and more care, practically 24/7. We could keep her in the hospital, but she’s also stated she would much rather spend what time she has left with her family. Is there any way your family can provide that kind of care for her?”

Before Max could think, let alone respond, there was a voice behind him that said, “I’ll be available for the next several months to care for her.”

TBC-?????

Part 2

“Oh, good, Liz. You got our message. Claudia just gave us your number this morning. I’m glad you were able to get here on such short notice.”

As Dr. Johnson was speaking, Max sat there, staring at the young woman who had just spoken. The name sounded familiar but, for the life of him, he couldn’t remember ever having met her before.

“I’d just gotten into town when my mom told me you’d called.”

Max finally regained his thinking faculties and spoke. “Excuse me, but how do you know my grandmother?”

“Oh, I’ve known Claudia since I was a child. She’s lived next door to my parents for years.”

“I’ve visited my grandmother often, but I don’t remember ever seeing you there.”

Before Max could get an answer, though, Dr. Johnson interjected. “Perhaps you could discuss that at another time. Right now we need to get the arrangements settled, so we can release Claudia today.
“Now, Liz, you said you’d be available for the next several months. As I mentioned, it would really be wise for her to have care around the clock. Would you be available under those circumstances?”

“Absolutely. I’m on a sabbatical from teaching for the next several months. So it will be no problem.”

“The next question, Max, is, would you be able to accommodate Liz with a room, so that she can be there 24/7?”

Max had had absolutely no opportunity to meditate on the circumstances which had just befallen him. So he paused briefly before responding. “Yes, of course. I have two rooms right next to each other. That way Liz can be in the room right next to Claudia.”

“Excellent. Then I suggest you go home and pack some things, Liz, for at least a few days. Perhaps, when Max has some free time, you’ll be able to get any other things you’ll need.”

Liz started to exit the room, but then realized she didn’t have Max’s address. So she turned back toward Max and asked, “It will be easier for me to get there if I know where I am going.”

“Of course. How negligent of me.”

“I understand. You’ve just been handed a lot to digest.”

“Thanks for understanding.” As he responded, he wrote his address on a Post-it for Liz.

“Thanks. I’ll try to get there as soon as I can.” With that, Liz promptly left.

Once she’d gone, Max continued getting further information concerning his grandmother’s prognosis, and then tried to discreetly find out more about how it came about that Liz was contacted.

“I don’t really have that much information. I just know that Claudia had Liz on her ‘Emergency Contact’ list. In fact, I was a little surprised to notice that her name was listed even before you or your sister Isabel.” After giving just that little bit of information, Dr. Johnson brought the conversation to a close, indicating he had his morning rounds he needed to do.

Needless to say, Max hadn’t really learned much to satisfy his growing curiosity about this young woman who had so mysteriously just entered his family’s life. So he was definitely going to put his lawyer skills to work, trying to learn more about her. For now, though, his first concern was getting his grandmother released and then settled comfortably in his apartment. Since it appeared Liz would be around for a while, he determined he’d have plenty of time to do his research. With that thought in mind, he decided to put it on the back burner for the time being and start the procedure of getting Claudia released.

Part 3

As Liz left the hospital, she reflected back on the conversation that had taken place in Dr. Johnson’s office, and the comment Max had made about having never seen her around. She couldn’t help but remember herself why that was.

~~Flashback~~

“Aunt Claudia, (that was how Claudia had asked to be addressed by her), why do your grandchildren always ignore me when I’m around?” 12-year-old Liz asked.

“Child, don’t think it has anything to do with you. They’ve had difficulty being able to blend in, what with being adopted and all.”

Liz paused thoughtfully and then responded, “Because they’re different. I understand.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“You know.”

“No, I don’t. Why don’t you tell me.”

Liz was hesitant to respond, fearing she might say something she shouldn’t. But as Claudia reassured her, she relented. “Well, the other day, when my cat got hit by a car, Max healed her.”

“How do you know that’s what happened?”

“Because I saw my cat in the street. I was so afraid to go get her because I knew I would start crying. Before I even could think what to do, I saw Max look around before he walked over to her. He didn’t see me because I was hiding around the corner of the house. When I saw him run over to her, I was wondering what he was going to do. I didn’t want him to see me watching him. That’s why I didn’t let him know I was there.

“Anyway, after a couple minutes, he stood up, with Misty in his arms, looked around, and then gently put her down. Misty ran right to me. But by then, Max had already run off again. I wasn’t sure if maybe I’d just thought it was a mistake. So I went over to the street where I’d seen Misty lying just a few minutes before. And right there in the street was a big stain of blood. So I knew I really had not imagined it.”

After listening to Liz’s explanation, Claudia paused briefly before deciding how to handle this new development. “How do you feel about what happened, Liz?”

“I’m a little afraid of Max. But I’m also happy he helped Misty. I’m also sure he wouldn’t like it if he knew I’d seen him. I think he’d really be mad at me. You won’t tell him, will you?”

“Of course not, honey. It will just be our secret. But that also means you shouldn’t tell anyone else either.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I won’t tell a soul.”

“Does that help you understand, though, why it seems that Max and Isabel ignore you?”

“Yeah, I guess so. But it makes me sad. Because I really wish we could all be friends.”

“Don’t worry, Lizzie dear. You will be one day. It’s just not time yet.”

“How do you know, Aunt Claudia?”

“When the time is right, I’ll explain it to you.”

~~End of Flashback~~

After coming out of her flashback, it occurred to Liz that Claudia never had given an explanation about what she’d meant. Now she wondered, with Claudia being as sick as she was, whether she ever would learn what Claudia had meant.

“Oh, well,” she thought to herself. “I’ll have to think about that later. For now, I need to get myself prepared to help her.” With that, she started packing an overnight bag before heading off to Max’s apartment.



Part 4

As Liz was preparing herself to meet Max at his place, Max was busy trying to get Isabel and his partners caught up on what had transpired that morning. After he’d taken care of the preliminaries of discussing Claudia’s prognosis, he then proceeded to explain what had been arranged for her care. Before he’d even begun to explain, he knew he was going to get flack from everyone.

“But, Max, how could you allow this? We don’t even know this person. For all we know, she’s someone connected with the FBI who’s working undercover.”

“I have to agree with Isabel, Max. It’s not like you to be so quick to allow a stranger into our lives, and in such close proximity,” Michael said, quite beside himself with Max’s apparent lack of concern for the possible consequences.”

“I can’t help but concur with them, Max. What are you thinking? You know how all these years we’ve tried to be as unobtrusive as possible, especially when it comes to strangers.” Tess paused momentarily and then proceeded. “Surely you must have some thoughts about this stranger,” a thought that Isabel and Michael quickly nodded their heads to in agreement.

“Of course, I have. Have our goals been low key for so long that you think I’ve forgotten to be careful? As soon as that person Liz left the office, I tried as discreetly as possible to find out as much information about her as I could. Unfortunately, Dr. Johnson had his rounds to attend to. And since, as he informed me, her name was on Claudia’s ‘Emergency Call’ list -- above yours and mine, I might add, my dear sister – he didn’t give it a second thought when he made the effort to contact her.”

With this piece of vital information shared, the other three people were beside themselves. “How is it possible she’s on the list? I’ve never even heard of her before. And I’m sure I’ve never met her. What about you, Max?” Isabel asked anxiously.

Max had given a lot of thought to that question himself ever since he’d heard about Liz. “Honestly, Isabel, I don’t remember ever meeting her before. But somehow her name does ring a bell. I just don’t know why. But believe me, I definitely intend to find out. We’re not all attorneys for nothing. I intend to put our expertise to work in getting to the bottom of the mystery of this Liz person.”

After pausing briefly, Max continued. “For now, though, I need to get home and get things in order before I go pick up Claudia. And, of course, I need to be there when Liz arrives.”

Somehow, although Max shared this piece of information with his collective adoptive family, he couldn’t bring himself to also share with them that he found himself actually feeling a little lightheaded at the prospect of seeing the young woman again. But because of the mystery surrounding her, he didn’t dwell too long on the emotion. He just chocked it up to the uneasiness he felt at her sudden intrusion into their lives, without any prior warning.

“I’ll be in touch with you guys later.” With that, Max left the office for the rest of the day.

Part 5

After Max had left, the three remaining friends continued to discuss this latest turn of events in their lives. “Was it my imagination, guys, or did Max actually seem to have an almost imperceptible smile on his face as he mentioned that person Liz?” Tess asked.

“I have to admit, I saw it too,” Michael added. “If it weren’t for the fact that I know you and Max got past the whole destiny episode ages ago, I would have been inclined to just think you were jealous to have even thought such a thing. But I actually sensed the same thing in his demeanor.”

“I don’t know, guys. Don’t you think you’re reading just a little too much into what ‘might’ have been a smile? Come on. We’ve all been taking care of each other for years. Couldn’t it possibly just be that overprotective, cautious side of you imagining such an idea?” Isabel said.

“Come on, Isabel. You, of all people, should know Max well enough to have seen it,” Michael said.

“You’re right. I feel I do know him better. That’s why I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. Although, the truth is, I have to admit I did see that look. But we’ve been over this kind of discussion so many times before. After all, isn’t Max the one who instituted the ‘Beware of all strangers’ rule, especially for Tess and me with guys, and for you and him with girls. I really have a hard time imagining that one young woman could make him so quickly throw his own rule out the window.”

Remembering back on all the meetings they’d had concerning just that one topic, Michael and Tess were forced to agree that Max had remained adamant about that rule over all the years they’d been on this planet, a topic which especially took priority over all else when they all began entering puberty in the human bodies they’d grown up in.

There was still so much they hadn’t learned about their past. But they’d learned very early on in their young lives that the most vital concern was to conceal their true identities from the people among whom they lived as much as possible. Their belief in this thought was so strong, they even concealed their alien sides from the families who had so kindly adopted them, Max and Isabel by the Evans family, and Michael and Tess by the Hardings.

After voicing these concerns with one another for quite some time, they finally decided they should get back to work, or at least to put their desks in order before leaving the office for the day. The fact was, none of them could really concentrate on work after all that Max had revealed to them earlier. So they finally just decided to call it a day and go home, anxiously waiting to hear from Max as to what else he might have found out by then.
~~~~~~~~~
After Max left the office, he headed home to make sure things were in order before bringing his grandmother home. But subconsciously, he was even more concerned about having Liz stay in his home. He still hadn’t had any time to come to terms with the possible implications of her presence there. Even now he didn’t have much time to dwell on the topic, since, after all, he really didn’t live that far from his office. So after pulling into the driveway of his home, he quickly jumped out, preoccupied with thoughts of tasks he’d need to take care of before his guests arrived.

But that thought was quickly brought to a screeching halt when he heard a car door had slammed. He promptly turned around and was surprised to see Liz walking toward him from a small, modest Toyota Corolla. Quickly regaining his composure, he smiled at Liz and said, “I didn’t expect you to be here until after I brought my grandmother home.”

“Yeah, I figured you might. But I also thought you may need some help to get prepared for her. So I wanted to come help you.”

“That was really thoughtful. But you shouldn’t have bothered. I’m actually quite capable of preparing for visitors.”

As Max spoke, Liz was again reminded of the time she’d discreetly watched him save her beloved kitty Misty. “Believe me, I have no doubt that you’re quite capable. I just wanted to try to lighten your load, since I’m sure you’ve probably had a lot of things on your mind since learning of your grandmother’s condition.”

As Liz was speaking, Max had opened the door of his home and then extended his arm for her to enter ahead of him. Something in her comment was unsettling to him, though. How could she so quickly indicate her confidence in his abilities? She didn’t even know him. He couldn’t stifle his curiosity. So before even having time to think through what he was going to say, he just blurted it out.

“How could you possibly be so confident in my abilities? You don’t even know me. For that matter, I don’t even know you. And for the life of me, I can’t imagine how your name could possibly have been higher on my grandmother’s ‘Emergency Call’ list than even mine and my sister’s, her own grandchildren,” he said almost in anger.

Liz was not expecting his outburst. So she was caught completely off guard by his apparent animosity. Knowing it would be difficult to even be civil to one another until at least this one topic was discussed, and also knowing how important it would be for Max and her to work together to care for his grandmother, she decided there was no time like the present to address it. So she took the bull by the horns and spoke.

“You know, I wondered how long it would take for you to bring that up. Maybe it’s just as well that we discuss this before you bring Aunt Claudia home.”

“Aunt Claudia,” Max thought to himself. Where did that come from? But he decided now was not the time to discuss that. There were obviously other, more important topics that came to mind for the time being. And then he realized Liz was still talking.

“To be perfectly honest with you, I was as surprised as you were. As I told you earlier, I’ve known Claudia since my childhood. So I’ve always felt close to her. In fact, there were times that I couldn’t even go to my own parents for help with things going on in my life. So she’s often been like a shining beacon in a dark world to me.

“And she’s often expressed to me her deep love for you and Isabel. So I know my name being on the list was not meant in any way to minimize your importance in her life. But she’s also expressed concerns to me over the years that there might come a time when you wouldn’t be available if she had an emergency. She never asked me, but I know because of our closeness, she was confident that, if I could be contacted, I would do everything within my power to help her in an emergency.” Liz paused in her comments, trying to gauge Max’s response to what she’d just said.

As Liz paused, Max found himself stunned by this new revelation about the relationship this young woman had with his grandmother. Why had his grandmother never mentioned her? How was it possible she had such a tight hold on his grandmother’s heart? But the thought that concerned him most was whether his grandmother had revealed their alien status to her. As he slowly recovered from this most recent revelation, he cautiously asked her, “Did she ever say why she thought there might come a time we would not be available?”

Knowing why Max was asking this question, but not wanting to reveal what she knew, she decided to be as nebulous in her response as possible. “She’s never gone into detail, except to say that she knew, with you and Isabel being adopted, you would likely eventually go on a quest to learn more about your birth parents. She even told me once, she was almost certain that was the reason you and Isabel and your friends all decided to become attorneys, so you could put that expertise to use in doing that research.”

Once again, within only a matter of a few brief moments, Liz had stunned Max speechless. He felt as though within only a matter of minutes Liz had succeeded in breaking down the barrier he had so painstakingly worked to develop over many years to protect himself and his friends from possible exposure.

The thing that surprised Max most, though, was the feeling that somehow he and his friends could trust this young woman to keep their secret; that is, if she even knew what it was. But with all he’d learned just now, he wasn’t quite ready to deal with that likely prospect. Instead, he chose to try to appear unmoved by her comments.

“Well, I guess, since she explained it that way, it makes more sense to me now. Okay. I’ll accept that explanation.

Concluding he’d rather spend his energies getting better acquainted with this young woman so he could learn more about her background and possibly finding out what had really motivated her to give the appearance of such a self-sacrificing spirit in volunteering so much of her free time, he decided to consider this first minor battle a draw and spoke. “So what do you say we work together to get things ready for Claudia. After all, it really will make things less stressful for me.”

TBC-???

Part 6

“Well, I think it’s about time we go pick up Claudia,” Max said, as they finished getting things prepared.

“Okay. While you do that, I’ll go run some errands.”

“Oh, you’re not coming with me?” Max asked, surprised he actually felt disappointment at her statement.

“Well, I figured you might appreciate being able to spend time with your grandmother more privately, since you may not have that opportunity often once she’s here.”

After giving her comment some thought, Max realized she was right. There were still some things he wanted to ask Claudia that he’d rather do when Liz was not around. “You know, you’re right. That would be nice. I haven’t really spent any time with her by ourselves in quite some time. Usually, Isabel and I together go visit her.”

As Max was leaving, he turned in the doorway back to Liz and said, “I just want you to know I – that is, I know my grandmother appreciates your willingness to help out here.”

“You have no idea, Max, how happy I am to do anything to help your grandmother. This seems like such a small thing. I wish I could do more.”

'''''
After Max took care of the paperwork, picked up his grandmother, and headed home, he knew he wouldn’t have much time to talk with her before either getting her home or, if Liz was still gone, before she would return. So he knew he needed to make these few precious minutes count. And so he began. “Grandmother, you know it’s within my power to heal you. You just say the word, and I’ll do it, no questions asked.”

“I wondered how long it would take you to offer that. But I also know that for you to do that would be the ultimate sacrifice. And I can’t allow you to make it when so much more is at stake, as well as the lives of so many others. Such a sudden ‘cure’ would not go unnoticed, and I cannot allow my desire to extend my life put you and the others at risk of being found out. You know as well as I how there’s been so much speculation over the years regarding all of you, starting at the very beginning, when you were all found in the desert, walking around naked, not being able to speak or understand, at least not understanding us. But I think the biggest mystery to everyone was how four beautiful children could be found in such a condition, and yet no one came forward indicating they had a clue where you all came from.

“And I, for one, do not want to be the cause of raising any other questions in people’s minds.”

“I know you’re right, Grandmother. But I just had to let you know how hard it is for me to allow you to progressively become worse. The four of us love you so much. We owe everything to you. If it hadn’t been for you finding us in the desert when you did, who knows where we may have ended up. It was because of you that we were all adopted into loving homes and have been cared for enough to be able to grow into the people we are today.

“The hard part is that there are still so many unanswered questions for us, though. Even with all the work we’ve put forth in trying to find answers, it’s been almost as though there’s been a piece missing, keeping us from being able to put all the pieces together that we have found, so that there’s a picture that’s clear to us. “

Max’s admission tore at her heart, but now was not the time to dwell on that topic. For now, there were other things needing to be addressed. “I’m sure that piece will be found, my dear, when the time is right.

“But for now, are there any other things you’d like to say to me while we still have time? That is, while we still have some time alone?” Of course, she knew very well one of the main concerns that would be on his mind, and she hoped she’d baited him enough to get him to ask.

Max thought for a minute, trying to decide whether this would be the appropriate time to ask about Liz. But since Claudia had asked the question, he figured he may as well, since he didn’t know when the opportunity might come up again. “Well, since you put it that way, there is something I’ve been wondering about.”

“What’s that?” she asked, knowingly.

“This Liz person who’s going to be staying at my place to help you out, how did you come to know her? I’ve been wracking my brains trying to figure out why I don’t ever remember seeing her during all the times Isabel and I would come visit you. After all, she did say she lived next door to you during her childhood. And, for that matter, I don’t remember you ever once mentioning her to m- -- us. Why is that? And how is it possible you felt so close to her that you had her name on your ‘Emergency Call’ list even above that of mine and Isabel’s?”

“Mercy. I figured you’d have a few questions. But it looks like I’ve opened a floodgate of them,” she said in amusement.

Max had to smile at her comment, because he himself didn’t realize how much he wanted to know until he started asking questions. “I guess I do have a lot of questions. So if you only feel like answering one right now, how about, why was Liz’s name on your list?”

Claudia wasn’t quite sure how to answer that one question without having to go into further detail, which would ultimately answer all the other questions he had. So she chose to be as brief and nondescript in her answer as possible, without possibly raising any other questions Max might have that she wasn’t yet prepared to answer. “Well, Liz and I spent a lot of time together when she was growing up, and she told me many times during all the conversations we had that it would really hurt her if she wasn’t the first person I contacted if I ever needed urgent help. So what could I do? You know me, Max. I’ve never been able to say no to people I care about, especially when it’s children. Liz was a child when she said that, and I just wanted to dignify her feelings by doing that. Of course, I had no idea the time would ever come.”

As Claudia was finishing her response, Max pulled into the driveway of his home. So he didn’t have much chance to give it the full attention he felt it deserved. But he hoped he’d be able to at another time. It just wasn’t going to happen right now, especially because, as he drove up, so did Liz in her Toyota.

Which made Max think something else. He couldn’t figure out how Liz seemed to have such impeccable timing in arriving there just at the same moment he did, something else he’d like to give attention to in the future.

Just as Liz pulled up to the house, she realized Max was pulling into the driveway. It was beginning to be a little unsettling to her how impeccable Max’s timing was at seeming to arrive just at the same time she did, but she didn’t have much time to dwell on that right now. Hopefully, she’d be able to at another time.

TBC-???

Part 7

“Hi, Max. That little trip didn’t take long.” As she was speaking, she ran up to the passenger’s side of the car to open the door for Claudia. Once she had carefully helped Claudia out, she engulfed her in a huge, loving hug. “I’m so glad to see you out of the hospital. Maybe now we can spend some quality time together,” she said lovingly.

Her gestures did not go unnoticed by Max. He couldn’t help but wonder how Liz and his grandmother had been able to build such a close bond with one another. There were so many questions he needed answers to. But for now, he needed to get his beloved grandmother settled in.

“Okay, you two. Why don’t we take this pretty picture inside, so we don’t put on a display for the entire neighborhood.” Although his comment was made in humor, Claudia knew it was out of the habit Max had gotten into over the years of trying to take care of personal matters in as discreet a fashion as possible, so as to protect his true identity and that of his friends, even such emotional displays as these. She knew Max was only too aware of how innocent gestures could be so badly blown out of proportion if vindictive eyes chose to use them in a perverted way, to further their own selfish goals. So she took his humorous comment in the way it was meant, but also knew how important it was to him that they get inside as soon as possible.

“Come on, Liz. Help this old woman inside, will you.”

'''''

After talking to Max and Liz for a half hour or so, Claudia realized how drained she was feeling just having taken the short trip from the hospital to Max’s home. She also knew, with all that had happened that day, Max and Liz probably hadn’t really been able to get acquainted. So she decided to make herself scarce, to give them that opportunity. She just hoped they would do so. She knew the things she would need to share with them in the next few months would depend heavily upon their knowledge of one another. Her main concern now was how to encourage them to do just that.

“Well, you two, I’m sure there will probably be some details you’ll need to work out for this living arrangement to work for the time being. And I’m feeling rather tired after all the ‘excitement’ of the day. So I’m going to excuse myself and go lie down. Hopefully, it will give you the opportunity to take care of those preliminaries. I honestly don’t know how my illness will progress over the next few weeks. So you may not have another chance to do so if you don’t do it now.”

As Claudia spoke, Max and Liz both, though not observing each other’s reactions, couldn’t help but feel they sensed a gleam in her eyes as she spoke. Neither had a clue why there would be such a gleam. So each, in their own minds, decided they had imagined it and decided to just respond to her comments. “Okay, Grandmother.” “Okay, Aunt Claudia,” they both said simultaneously.

Claudia turned away from them as they both responded, again with the gleam in her eyes they thought they had only imagined.

~~~~~

As Claudia left, Max spoke first. “That woman never ceases to amaze me. Even as ill as she is, she still has the presence of mind to remind me of things that I should know to do but often don’t think of.”

“I know what you mean.” Without elaborating on his comment, Liz decided it would be best for now to do just what Claudia had mentioned. She hoped in the future she would be able to engage Max in a conversation that would develop that thought further. But once again, she knew now was not the time.

“So why don’t we put her mind at ease and do just that, shall we?”

“Yeah, you’re right. We should. Do you have any suggestions where we should start?”

“Actually, I think I do. Since we both know it will be difficult for you to be available during the day, maybe that would be a good place to start. Now, I’ve made a list of tasks I can take care of during the day while I’m here and while you’re at work. And then I’ve made a list of things that could be done once you return. If you like, we can split that list up, and we can take turns doing them. Or if you like, I can make a list of things for you to do regularly and a list of things for me to do regularly.”

As Liz continued talking, Max couldn’t understand the feelings he seemed to be experiencing. He couldn’t quite put his finger on the emotions, except that they seemed familiar and, at the same time, soothing – feelings that were so different from what he’d been experiencing over the years, that of fear, uneasiness, suspicion, to name just a few.

He paused in his thoughts, realizing Liz was no longer speaking. He looked down into her face, realizing she was looking up at him expectantly. “I’m sorry. My mind wandered briefly. To be honest with you, whatever is convenient for you is fine with me.”

“Well, I know with you being at work all day, you’ll have very little time to just sit and visit with your grandmother. So maybe I can make a list of things you can do around here when you get back. And then I’ll take care of the list of things needing to be done away from here when you return. That way, you’ll also be able to spend some quality time with her, without feeling like that time is being invaded by others, namely, me.”

Once again, Max was touched by Liz’s apparent ability to perceive that he needed desperately to have some quality time with his grandmother, without others present. Although he still knew next to nothing about this young woman, she was almost imperceptibly finding her way to his heart.

Which made him reflect on all the years he and Isabel were growing up. Neither of them had ever dated or become involved with anyone. Neither had Michael and Tess, for that matter. They all knew, the little they did know, that they were supposed to be bonded with one another. But none of them had ever felt a connection in a romantic or physical way with each other to ever take the steps necessary to make that kind of prospect a reality. Instead, they had all just been ‘content’ to support one another emotionally by just being there for one another, and having rap sessions whenever they were needed.

Of course, they were always getting together whenever anything would be in the news that they thought might somehow provide them with more of the information they were looking for to finally find their way home. And even at work, during slow-downs in their schedules, they would use that time to continue in their efforts at researching anything which might provide clues to their heritage.

But during all that time, none of them had ever really felt the need to have a relationship with anyone, especially as they continually reminded themselves such would only be temporary, at best, since they somehow sensed the time would eventually arrive when they would possibly return to the home of their heritage.

That was why these feelings he felt stirring within him felt so strange. He couldn’t really identify what they were, let alone what was causing them. But again, he realized he’d been staring off into “space” when he noticed Liz had once again stopped talking, waiting for his reply.

“Thanks for your thoughtfulness, Liz. I really would like the opportunity to spend some time with her alone. I hope you understand it’s nothing personal.”

“Of course, I realize that. To be honest with you, even though she’s not my grandmother, I treasure the moments I’m able to spend with her alone.”

“That reminds me of a question I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

“Sure. What’s that?”

“Why do you call her ‘Aunt Claudia’?”

Liz hadn’t even realized she had been doing so until Max asked his question. So she had to think back to try and remember the information Claudia had given her on how that had all begun.

~~~~~Flashback~~~~~

Claudia had been in the desert, again engaged in an archeological dig, her favorite pastime. During one of her visits, she had unexpectedly happened on four small children who had seemed to have appeared from nowhere. After following through and helping to place them in loving homes, one of which was the home of her own son, she had once again found the time to go exploring. So she had returned to the same location in which she had been privileged to find the four beautiful children.

She’d only been there a short time when again, to her utter amazement, she found a child, this one appearing to be all alone. This child, just like the four before her, was not able to speak English, as well as being in a naked state. Claudia again found herself faced with the question of what to do with this child. She had remembered a conversation she’d had with a person from town about her own neighbors, the Parkers, and how jealous they had been to find out the Evanses and the Hardings had been so richly blessed when both couples had been able to adopt such beautiful children. They had ached for years to have another child themselves, after their only infant had died so unexpectedly from SIDS. So without even dwelling on the matter for long, she knew exactly where this child was going to go.

Liz, the name the Parkers had decided to give this blessed child, had only been in their care for a few weeks and had already been developing English language skills. The Parkers were beside themselves to have in their care such an intelligent little child as this sweet little thing. After having placed Liz in the loving care of the Parkers, Claudia couldn’t help but want to keep a close eye on how she continued to grow and develop. So she would spend all of her free time with Liz.

During the short time Liz had known her, she’d taken to calling her Claudia, since that was what her parents called her. But somehow, that didn’t seem to convey the affection she felt for this woman who had cared for her so lovingly these past several weeks, even though she knew she was in a loving home. So she asked Claudia what she could call her that would help her express her love and affection for this woman.

“Can I call you Grandma Claudia?” Liz asked innocently.

Although Claudia would love to have been called grandma by Liz, somehow she felt it might cause problems down the road if she ever called her that in the presence of the other four children, whom Liz had not met. After thinking about the question briefly, Claudia had an idea. “Why don’t you call me Aunt Claudia.”

Liz was a little hurt that she couldn’t call her grandma, since that seemed to be what children on TV programs called the parents of their own parents.

Claudia could see the disappointment in Liz’s sweet little face. So she quickly tried to reassure Liz of how happy it would make her feel to be called “Aunt,” since she knew of no one else who used that term of endearment with her. When Liz realized she would be the only person who would be calling her that, somehow it made the idea so much more appealing to her. Somehow, it made Liz feel that only she would have a special enough bond with her to use the term “aunt.” And so that was how she had come to call her “Aunt Claudia” all those years ago.

~~~~~End of Flashback~~~~~

It was only later, when Liz was old enough to understand, that she realized it would have been really hard to explain how one child was calling her grandma when there were four others doing the same, whom she had never personally met. So it was that piece of information she decided to pass on to Max.

After contemplating the matter for several seconds, she responded to Max’s question. “Well, one day when I was asking Claudia what I could call her that would help me feel I was showing more affection to her, I asked her if I could call her grandma. She explained to me there were already some others who were calling her that. Of course, I was devastated to not be able to use what I felt was such an endearing term. I think she must have seen my disappointment. Because she then suggested I used a term that she was sure no one else would call her. So she was the one to suggest I start calling her ‘Aunt Claudia.’”

That one simple explanation to Max conveyed so much that was unspoken. It helped him realize how much affection this young woman really did have for his grandmother as well as the genuine affection his grandmother obviously had for her, in being perceptive enough to not want to crush the delicate heart of a child.

“Any other questions?” Liz asked.

”No, not tonight. This has been a long day. And I don’t have the energy to ask anything more right now.”

“I feel the same way. So I guess I’ll get started on those lists tomorrow, and we can go from there. Does that sound okay to you?”

“Yeah, that sounds great. Good night, Liz.”

“Good night, Max.”

~~~~~

Of course, neither Max nor Liz knew that they had an audience during this entire conversation. They had not realized at all that Claudia had been listening in the whole time. She knew there was so much more she needed to share with both of them. She knew she didn’t have much time. So, even though she felt bad eavesdropping on them, she knew it was the only way she would be able to monitor their progress in getting to know one another. And it was only by knowing their progress that she would be able to perceive when she could be more open with them about other essential information.

For now, though, she really would have to get to bed this time. She only hoped that in her dreams she’d be able to sort out what and during what time she’d be able to be more forthcoming with them.

Part 8a

A few weeks had gone by since Liz had moved into Max’s home to help take care of his grandmother. As much as Claudia had sneaked around, trying to eavesdrop on any other conversations Max and Liz might be having, she was totally disappointed. Neither had seemed to be making an effort to get to know one another any further than the very first night since Liz had moved in, especially since Max had been spending so much time at the office. It was starting to unsettle Claudia. She began worrying she would not live long enough to share with Max and Liz what needed to be disclosed to them.

The end of the fourth week of Liz’s stay at Max’s home, Liz was beginning to feel a little restless. She knew staying here, taking care of Claudia, was something she would never regret doing. But still, she missed spending time with her old friends. In fact, she’d so quickly started this arrangement to help with Claudia that she’d never even been able to spend one night with her friends since her return to Roswell. So she started formulating an idea to rectify that.

“Maria, hi. It’s Liz. Listen, I really need to spend some time with my old friends tonight. Do you think you could get Alex and Kyle together? If I can arrange things with Max, maybe the four of us could get together for dinner tonight?”

“Oh, Lizzie. That would be great. Let me talk with the guys, and I’ll call you back.”

“Oh, thanks, Maria. I really need this. I’ll wait to hear from you.”

Again, though Liz didn’t realize it, she’d had an audience. Claudia had been listening in. She didn’t know how much longer she’d be able to get up and around to do this, but she figured she’d take advantage of it while she could. And from what she’d just heard, she wasn’t so sure Liz’s plan was such a good idea. She started imagining all kinds of things. What if Liz started wanting to hang out with either Kyle or Alex? She knew both young men well enough to know they were both really sweet guys. But that wasn’t the issue. Her biggest concern was that Liz might develop feelings for either of them, and with what she knew needed to take place, she couldn’t just stand by and let that happen.

But she also realized Liz did need friends. A much as she’d hoped Liz would get better acquainted with Max, all Max’s free time had been consumed by the case he’d begun the day Claudia had ended up in the hospital. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if Liz just spent the evening with her friends. For now, Claudia would keep her thoughts to herself, but she really hoped sometime in the very near future Max and Liz would be able to get better acquainted. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could hang on.

*****
Meanwhile, at the office, Max and the others were just closing the files on the big case they’d been working on the last few weeks. Because of all the hard work and research they’d done, they’d been able to settle the case out of court, ultimately saving them months of additional work. The four of them had decided to celebrate and were just deciding among themselves where to do it when the phone rang for Max.

“Mr. Evans, you have a call on line 1.”

“Rose, take a message, would you, please. We’re leaving for the day.”

“Mr. Evans, you told me, if Liz Parker ever called, to let you know ASAP.”

At the mention of Liz’s name, Max immediately felt a pang of nausea in his stomach, fearing she was calling with bad news about Claudia.

"Okay, Rose. Thanks. I'll take it in my office.
“What’s wrong, Liz? What happened?”

“Nothing’s wrong, Max. Aunt Claudia’s fine. I just” –

Sensing an immediate feeling of calm, Max responded, “Oh, that’s a relief. So, to what do I owe the pleasant surprise of your call?”

As Max was speaking, Liz felt her throat go dry at the sound of his voice. She then realized Max had paused, as though waiting for her reply.

“Oh, well, I wanted to ask a favor of you.”

“Sure. What can I do for you? You know, you actually have great timing. The four of us are in the mood for celebrating. We just settled that case we’ve been working on the last few weeks. We were just leaving to get some dinner and begin the celebration. Can I get you something while we’re out?”

At hearing Max’s excited statement, Liz felt an immediate sense of disappointment at realizing she’d have to spend yet another night alone.

“Liz, are you there?”

Liz paused before responding, trying to control the sound of her voice.

“Oh,” she said, dejectedly. “No, thanks. I’ll talk with you later.” She then hung up as quickly as possible, before Max could hear the crack in her voice.

Max was standing with the phone still in his hand when Isabel called out to him. “Come on, Max. Are you ready?” As she spoke, she stepped into Max’s office. “What’s wrong, Max? What did Liz want?”

“I don’t know. When I told her we were going out to celebrate, she hung up before I could get anything more out of her.
“You know what. Why don’t you guys go on ahead. I’m going home to see what’s going on. Don’t worry if I don’t show up. I’ll call you later.”

Before Isabel could respond, Max was out the door.

*****
“Hi, Maria. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to cancel tonight. I found out when I called Max that they already had plans for the evening.” As she talked, she tried unsuccessfully to keep the sadness and disappointment out of her voice.

Maria felt so bad for her friend. She knew how desperately Liz needed their company tonight. “Liz, how about if we just bring something over? We can just eat some take-out. What’s important is that we get together; right?”

“No, Maria. All of a sudden, I don’t feel I’d be very good company right now. I wouldn’t want to rain on your parade. I’ll talk with you later,” and she hung up without giving Maria a chance to even try changing her mind.

“Liz, why didn’t you tell me you had plans tonight?”

Liz turned around at the sound of the question. “Max, how long have you been standing there?”

“Long enough to know you cancelled your plans because of me. I’m so sorry, Liz. I had no idea.
“Look, I have a thought. Why don’t you call your friends back. I’ll call Isabel and the others and have them come over too. But, of course, we’ll have them all bring some food and drinks back with them.”

“Oh, Max,” Liz said with tears of joy, “you wouldn’t mind that? It would be okay if they come over?”

“Of course, it’s okay. I don’t know why you didn’t invite them over before now. I can’t imagine how lonely you must have been feeling all this time.” 'Well, maybe I do,' he thought to himself, 'but not for the same reasons, of course.'

“Oh, Max, thanks so much,” Liz gushed as she swung her arms around Max’s neck and kissed him quickly on the lips. “I’m going to call Maria back right now,” she said as she ran back over to the phone.

Max stood there in a daze, as Liz ran off. 'What just happened?' Max asked himself. As he slowly regained his mental faculties, he could still imagine the soft lips that had touched his for much too brief a moment.

He was still reliving the moment when Liz came bounding back to him. “They’re coming over, Max. Thanks so much. This really means a lot to me,” she said, as she once again threw her arms around his neck and planted another quick kiss on his lips. But this time Max was a little more conscious of what was happening. Before he could respond to her touch, though, the phone rang.

“Oh, I better get that. It might be Maria again,” she said, although she seemed to hesitate as she stepped back from Max, seemingly perplexed at what she realized she’d just done. She’d never been so forward in her life with anyone before, she thought to herself. She couldn’t imagine what had possessed her to do it now, not only once but twice, within only a few minutes. Before she could think further, though, she realized the phone was continuing to ring, immediately distracting her from her thoughts.

“Hello,” she said breathlessly. “Oh, hi, Isabel. Yeah. Just a minute.
“Max, it’s Isabel." As she handed the phone to Max, their hands lightly overlapped for the briefest of moments. But in those brief moments, sparks flew for both of them. Again, though, before either had a chance to react, the doorbell rang this time. “I better go get that while you talk with Isabel,” she said breathlessly.

*****
“Hi, Isabel. What’s up?”

“We just wanted to know what to expect before we decided what to do for dinner.”

“Oh, Isabel, I’m glad you called. Look, what do you guys think about getting some take-out and bringing it over tonight?”

“Sure, that could work. Can you fill me in a little more, though, as to why…..”

With that, Max began explaining what had happened with Liz, at least the part about the phone calls. Somehow, her kisses of appreciation seemed a little irrelevant at that moment. Although a part of him truly hoped maybe there was more to them than that. But he’d have to think about that later. Now was not the time to dwell on it.

A few minutes later, Max got off the phone with Isabel. He stood there briefly, once again trying to gather his thoughts. Then he realized he hadn’t thought of Claudia once since he’d gotten home a half hour before. So he quietly walked to his grandmother’s room to check on her, only to see Liz quietly walking out of the room and closing the door behind her.

“How is she?” Max asked softly.

“She’s still awake. Why don’t you go see for yourself. I know she’d be thrilled to see you.”

“Oh, okay. I haven’t had much chance lately, what with the court case and all. I’ll catch up with you out front in a little while,” Max said, as Liz began to walk away.
“Wait, Liz?”

“Yeah?”

“Who was at the door?”

“Oh, it was a pizza guy, but he had the wrong house. Too bad for us, huh? I’ll talk with you later.”

“Wait.”

“Yes?” Liz said once again, as she turned to see an unreadable expression on Max’s face.

“I just want you to know how much I appreciate all your help and time. I’m so sorry I’ve been so busy. I didn’t realize how burned out you must have been feeling lately.”

“Thanks, Max. That means a lot to me. I’m going to get the front room set up for our friends. I’ll talk with you later. Okay?”

“Yeah. I’ll see you shortly.”

*****
“Hi, Grandma. How are you?”

“I’m as well as can be expected, my Dear.
"I’m really happy to see you. I feel like we haven’t talked in so long.”

“You’re right, Grandma. I’m so sorry about that. But the case we’ve been working on settled just today. We’re all getting together – that is, the four of us and Liz and her friends. We didn’t want to leave you here by yourself. So they’re all coming over here tonight to celebrate with us. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course, I don’t mind, Dear. I’m so happy you’re doing that." As Claudia responded to Max, she had an epiphany, and she decided to go with it. "Quite frankly, I’ve been a little worried about Liz lately. She’s been so lonely. I tried getting her to invite her friends over before now, but she wouldn’t have it. She didn’t want to impose on your hospitality.”

“She said that?” Max asked in utter shock. “I had no idea she was so unhappy.”

“Oh, she hasn’t been unhappy, Dear. She’s just needed some company. And I’m afraid I haven’t been able to fill that need, in my condition.” Claudia knew she was perhaps exaggerating the point just a little, but she was certain there was at least a measure of truth to what she was saying. So she didn’t feel too guilty about what she was telling Max. It was, after all, for their own good.

“Of course not, Grandma. No one would expect you to.” To himself he thought, 'I’m going to have to give some thought to what I can do about it, though.'

“I’m going to leave you for tonight, Grandma. Our friends should be arriving shortly. I haven’t met Liz’s friends yet, and they haven’t met us either. So I want to be an attentive host when they arrive.”

“Of course, Dear. You kids have a good time tonight. Don’t worry about me. I’m just going to get some sleep. I’ll talk with you tomorrow. Of course, I’ll expect you both to fill me in on how the evening went.”

“You got it. And, Grandma, I know I haven’t told you this much, but I just want you to know, you mean the world to me. Whether it’s this one or another one out there, doesn’t matter to me.”

“I know, Dear. I feel the same way. Now, you run along. I’m sure Liz will be needing some help before your friends get here. Good night.”

“Good night, Grandma.”

TBC-????

Part 8b

As Max walked to the living room, subconsciously thinking about his conversation with Claudia, he heard voices as he approached. When he got to the entryway, he saw Liz greeting her friends. In fact, Liz was even hugging a tall, lanky young man. At observing the sight, Max felt an emotion rise within him he wasn’t familiar with. He found himself almost wanting to haul off and take a swing at the young man whose arms were encircling Liz as he was giving her a peck on the lips. Although in reality, it lasted for the briefest of moments, Max couldn’t seem to rid himself of this new emotion that was invading him.

Fortunately, there was another young woman with the lanky young man who pulled him away from Liz so she herself could give Liz an all-encompassing hug. At watching this exchange between the two young women, Max immediately felt that unfamiliar emotion leave him, only to have it flare up once again as a second young man came up and hugged Liz. This young man, though he did kiss Liz, only did so for an even briefer moment than the previous young man. And Liz seemed to accept it with just as brief a response, which somehow had the effect of helping Max to maintain the calm that had befallen him after the tall, lanky young man had stopped kissing Liz.

As Liz released the second young man, she saw her friends looking to the entryway of the living room. So she also turned to see what had their attention. “Oh, Max, you’re just in time to meet my friends. I’d like you to meet Kyle, an old college chum and very dear friend; Alex, another of my best friends in the whole world since elementary school; and, of course, my best gal pal friend since forever, Maria.”

As Liz made the introductions, Max walked up to each of the friends and shook their hand. Kyle and Alex seemed to size him up very carefully, but with Maria, he turned and gave her a big smile as he shook her hand. “I’m glad to meet you all. I was just telling Liz I was surprised you hadn’t all been over sooner than this.” Although Max was trying to sound sincere in his comment, he couldn’t help but feel he wasn’t being, especially concerning the young men before him. But no one seemed to notice anyway, or so he thought.

After Liz made the introductions, she stood back and watched as Max was greeting each of her friends. He seemed genuine enough with Maria, but there was something not quite right about the way he greeted Kyle and Alex. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she made a mental note to herself to try to watch his interaction with them throughout the evening. She didn’t have much time to formulate any kind of detailed thoughts, though, because, as Max was becoming acquainted with her friends, the doorbell rang once again.

Not wanting to interfere with her friends becoming acquainted with Max, she responded, “I’ll get that,” and ran to the front door.

As Liz opened the door, she saw three young people enter, two quite beautiful young women and a young, ruggedly good-looking man. Each of the three took their turns in introducing themselves. “Hi. You must be Liz. I’m Isabel, Max’s sister.”

“I’m Michael, Max’s oldest friend.”

“And I’m Tess. I’m not related, but we’ve all known each other forever.”

As the second young woman introduced herself, Liz felt a knot develop in her stomach. She didn’t understand why, but this young woman made Liz feel uncomfortable. She didn’t have time to dwell on it further, though. As Tess introduced herself, the four young people who’d been in the living room came to the door.

“Ah, I see you’ve met my friends, Liz. Allow me to introduce them to your friends, if you don’t mind.”

“Please, go right ahead,” Liz responded. And with that, Max proceeded to introduce his friends/family to Liz’s friends. As Liz observed the introductions, she paid particular attention to how her friends seemed to respond to Max’s group. What she didn’t expect was that it seemed everyone was actually hitting it off. Her tall, lanky friend, Alex, was immediately enamored by Max’s sister, Isabel. The ruggedly good-looking young man, Michael, and her best friend in the whole world, Maria, also seemed to mutually hit it off.

The biggest surprise to her, though, was her old college chum, Kyle. She remembered back to her college days and how Kyle had tried hitting on her. When she’d met him, he’d been a typical jock, captain of all the football, basketball, and baseball teams throughout college, with an ego big enough to fill the state of New Mexico. Although Liz was not a student there, but was there earning credits toward her degree in the capacity of a tutor, he had tried hitting on her for ages, not fathoming it was actually possible his charms didn’t work on everyone. In fact, Liz had represented even more of a challenge to him for that reason.

Finally, after several unsuccessful attempts to impress her, he had the sense to go talk with Alex about what it would take to get Liz Parker to go out with him. It was only after talking with Alex, and Alex getting through to his male ego, that he finally accepted that impressing Liz and trying to date her were never going to happen. Once he got past that hurdle and just started talking with Liz as a person instead of as an object that existed solely for stimulating his male ego, he found that Liz opened up to him. Of course, he also found out most of the things she talked about he didn’t understand. But he’d developed a bond of friendship with her that made him realize he didn’t need to impress her for her to really genuinely like him. As time had passed, he found himself feeling more of a brother/sister bond with her and found himself wanting to protect her from others who would have mistaken notions of trying to make her their “girl toys.”

Now, though, as Liz observed her dear friend Kyle interacting with Tess, the young woman Liz had been feeling uneasy with, she sensed that uneasiness dissolve. As beautiful as Tess was, gone was the macho, egotistical young man Liz had met all those years ago. Whether he or Liz realized it or not, their having hung around together had over time produced a change in Kyle. Instead of only thinking of women as objects for his own personal gratification, he’d come to actually respect them and enjoy them as people who had thoughts and feelings. As Liz continued to watch Kyle and Tess, she saw the way in which Kyle treated this young, beautiful woman with dignity. She also sensed in Kyle, though, that he definitely was planning to become better acquainted with her, not in a macho way, but as a friend with whom there might be future opportunities for closeness.

As she continued watching the interchange, she saw movement with her peripheral vision and realized Max was walking toward her. Before she had time to think, he softly whispered in her ear “Well, it looks like everyone’s hitting off, wouldn’t you say?”

Liz silently nodded her head in agreement, wistfully wishing she could share her thoughts as freely with someone as her friends seemed to be doing. Not wanting to get all emotional, she excused herself to the kitchen. After all, her friends and Max’s had just brought a bunch of stuff in for dinner that needed either refrigerating or to be heated up. What better way to distract her emotional thoughts than to keep busy.

As Max watched Liz silently walk to the kitchen, he couldn’t help but sense the emotion of sadness from her as she passed him. Seeing that the other six young people were sufficiently engulfed in conversation not to miss his exit, he followed Liz into the kitchen. After all, he had told his grandmother he wanted to be a good host to everyone. He couldn’t very well do that if he let Liz do all the work without him.

Getting the distinct impression Liz wasn’t planning to say anything, Max decided to attempt getting the ball rolling. “Well, it looks like everyone’s hitting it off out there. They all act as if they’ve known each other forever.” Even as Max said the words, he almost got choked up on them himself. He realized he actually felt somewhat jealous that the six in the other room seemed so at ease with one another, each seeming to be genuinely enjoying the company of the new people in their lives. It occurred to Max, except for his sister and Michael and Tess, he himself had never had the pleasure of experiencing a relationship like that with anyone. Dwelling on that point, Max seemed to space out.

Concerned with Max’s sudden silence, Liz walked up to Max, asking him if he was okay. When he didn’t respond to her words, she gently put her hand to his cheek, tapping it lightly. “Max, are you okay?” she said a second time.

Although Max had heard the words, they didn’t seem to register until he felt a small, gentle hand caress his cheek. Without even realizing it, he grabbed the hand at his cheek and just stood there, holding onto it, breathing a contented sigh.

As Liz stood there with Max holding her hand to his cheek, she felt her breath coming in shallow, halting spurts. She wanted nothing more than to kiss those lips she’d kissed momentarily earlier in the evening. Before she had time to even think or move, though, she heard someone clear their throat at the entry to the kitchen.

“Excuse me, guys, but we’re really getting hungry.” Liz immediately felt her face flush at the sound of the voice. Even Max, who had totally spaced out, daydreaming as he stood there, suddenly became embarrassingly aware of the scene the young woman Maria had happened upon.

“Of course. We’ll be right there. I was just seeing if Max was okay. He…..”

“Hey, you don’t owe me any explanation. We just want some food out here. None of us have eaten in hours,” Maria interrupted. “Here, let me help you guys.”

“No, Maria. We’ve got it covered. We’ll be right out,” Liz responded.

“Okay. If you say so,” Mary said, and walked back to the living room.

“I am so sorry, Liz. I don’t know what happened. I guess maybe I’m just more tired than I realized, after working on that court case. I just kind of spaced out for a minute.”

“Are you sure? Is there anything I can get you? An aspirin or something?” Liz asked worriedly.

“No, really. I’m fine,” Max responded. To himself, though, he said, ‘I know what would really make me feel better, having you in my arms and kissing you senseless.’ In the next instant, though, he was berating himself. ‘What is wrong with you? The woman kisses you a couple times out of gratitude, and you’re blowing the meaning all out of proportion. Get a grip already!’ As he finished chewing himself out, he got some of the food out, heated it, and then headed for the living room, hoping that creating some space between him and Liz would help him clear his thoughts.

Liz stood and watched as Max suddenly got things on a tray and headed out of the kitchen. She couldn’t help but feel a sense of disappointment at his immediate departure from the room. ‘What? You were expecting him to sweep you off your feet and plant a sensual, leisurely kiss on you? Like that’s going to happen, with a house full of people? Or, for that matter, at all? Who are you kidding? Pull yourself together and get over it. Max isn’t thinking of you that way. Besides, there are other things you need to concentrate on right now, like visiting your friends you were so eager to see so desperately earlier today!’ With those thoughts in mind, Liz pulled herself out of her pity-party and got more things to take to the others in the living room.

The rest of the evening went really well. Although Max’s friends and Liz’s friends enjoyed meeting, they hadn’t forgotten they wanted to spend time with their respective friends as well. Liz was finally able to spend some time with her friends while Max and his friends caught up on their celebration at concluding the case they’d discussed earlier in the day. Periodically, when there was a lull in the conversation Liz was listening to, she’d subtly glance out past her friends, seeing how Max was doing with his friends. Each time she did so, she was embarrassed to see that Max was doing the same thing, glancing around past his friends and looking at her. As they’d catch each other’s glances, they’d both shyly smile at one another only very briefly before trying to look like they were only casually looking around the room.
***

“Well, guys, I don’t know about you, but I’m really tuckered. This has been a really long day, and I need to get home before I fall asleep standing up,” Maria said in her typical dramatic way.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Michael said. “It’s been a long day for all of us, though totally enjoyable, I must admit. But we really should be going.” As he concluded his comment, he looked around the room. “Wow, I didn’t realize we’d made such a mess. If you like, I’ll stay and help tidy up,” he offered.

“Don’t worry about it, Michael. We’ll take care of it. You guys just get home safely. I’ll see you at the office Monday,” Max said, in his usual authoritative voice. Of course, Michael suspected Max had other reasons for being only too willing to tidy up without any help, but he was too tired to dwell on it for now. He’d think about that when he was more wide awake. “Okay, then. I’ll see you Monday.
“Maria, if you like, I’d be happy to give you a ride home.”

“Oh, that’d be great, Michael. It will save Kyle the hassle of giving me a ride.”

Each of the friends said their good night’s in succession, until finally Isabel had left, with Alex being only too willing to escort her to her door.
***

Part 8c

After Max said good night to his sister and stood at the door until he saw her drive off in Alex’s car, he returned to the kitchen to help Liz tidy it up. Of course, he knew he could make really quick work of it, but then he’d have to use his powers in front of Liz. He decided for obvious reasons not to go that route. But he also had a selfish reason in mind. If they cleaned up the old-fashioned way, it would take longer, which meant, of course, having more time to talk with Liz and get better acquainted with her. He realized she’d already been in his home for almost a month, and he hadn’t really had the time to do that. And for some reason he couldn’t explain he felt a pull of familiarity toward her. So he headed to the kitchen with purpose.

“Well, that was really a successful gathering tonight, don’t you think?” Max stated to Liz as he went to fill the sink to do the dishes.

“Yeah, it was. Thanks again, Max, for your hospitality toward my friends. I really needed to see them tonight. It really meant a lot to me,” she said as she put the water on to boil for some tea.

“It was my pleasure, Liz. I think my sister and our friends enjoyed it just as much. It seemed both our groups of friends hit it off really well. In fact, even though my sister didn’t say anything, I know she was really flattered by the attention your friend Alex was giving her. She usually shies away from people she doesn’t know, men in particular. But it seemed as if Alex saw her in a different light from most men who initially meet her. She’s used to guys hitting on her and trying to treat her like a piece of meat.”

“Yeah, Alex always has been a really sweet guy. Don’t get me wrong. He enjoys seeing a beautiful woman just as much as the next guy. But he seems to inherently know there’s so much more to a person than just the beauty on the surface. He’s a genuine person who sincerely sees people for who they are and not what they look like.” After pausing momentarily, she continued, “I guess that’s why I’ve always appreciated his friendship. He really has a knack for seeing the ‘real’ person and accepting them anyway, foibles and all,” she said wistfully.

As she spoke, Max thought he detected a note of sadness and yearning in her voice. “You talk as if you’ve had your share of people only knowing you on the surface.”

Liz realized she’d made her previous statement almost as if she was thinking out loud to herself. So she wasn’t prepared to have a conversation on the subject when Max made his comment. Catching herself before she said more than she intended, she responded, “I’m sure we’ve all had our experiences of people only seeing what they want to see and not really bothering to look past their expectations.”

Max was intrigued by her response, but he also had the feeling she didn’t plan to expound on it. So he chose to just acknowledge it and move. “Yeah, you’re probably right about that.
“Well, shall we tackle getting these dishes done?”

“Actually, I was just going to leave everything for the night and start fresh in the morning. I’m just planning to have a cup of tea and then head to bed for now.”

Max was disappointed but could see she really looked pretty tired from all the excitement of the evening. Then he had an epiphany. “Why don’t you go get comfortable in the living room. The water’s almost ready. I’ll bring a cup in for you shortly. You really exerted yourself tonight, not just for your friends, but for me and my friends as well. You deserve at least a little hospitality yourself.”

“Max, you don’t have to” –

“I know I don’t. But I want to do this. So just go in there and get comfortable. I’ll bring it in to you. By the way, what do you take in it?”

“Actually, I just like it with a little cream.”

“Okay. Your order will be up shortly. Now get in there and relax a little.”

“Okay. If you insist.”

“I most certainly do.”

So Liz did what she was told and went and got comfortable on the sofa. The room was slightly chilly. So she took the throw blanket lying across the sofa and covered herself with it. She could hear Max getting the tea ready to bring it in. but he didn’t come in immediately. As she sat there cozily wrapped in the throw, her mind drifted back over the evening to the two times when she’d kissed Max. She still didn’t know what had possessed her, but she felt a warm, cozy feeling just thinking about it. Without even realizing it, she drifted off to sleep, with thoughts of those kisses being the last thing on her mind.

As Max was getting the tea ready, he tried to think of what else he could take in with it. Glancing around the kitchen, he saw some cookies that were still left over from the evening. So he decided to put some on a plate. But he also wanted to personalize the tray. So he discreetly took some silk flowers that had been sitting on the table and rearranged their molecular structure into one beautiful white rose, and then he placed it delicately into a bud vase and set it on the tray before taking everything to Liz.

“Okay. Here’s your order, Miss….” Before he even finished his sentence, he was able to see that Liz had fallen asleep. He was really disappointed because he had hoped to be able to just sit and talk and get better acquainted with her. But he could see that wasn’t going to happen tonight. He kicked himself for taking so long trying to get things ‘just so.’

He sat there for a few minutes, trying to decide if he should just let her stay there on the couch or take her up to her room. The more he thought about it, he decided the ‘kind’ thing would be to take her upstairs. So he gathered Liz together in his arms, sofa throw and all, and carefully took her upstairs to her room. Once there, he gently laid her down, head first.

Once he’d laid her there, he sat there looking at her beautiful face. She looked so peaceful. As he continued sitting there, he remembered back to the two times in the evening when Liz had quickly kissed him. He also remembered he hadn’t been quick enough to respond to her actions, which he was still kicking himself for. He still couldn’t understand why he felt such a pull toward her. But he was sure of one thing. He wanted to pay her back for the kisses he’d received earlier. Of course, he realized she was sleeping and probably wouldn’t remember anyway (and maybe that was a good thing), but he decided to go for it. So he gently bent over her sleeping form and took his time kissing those beautiful soft lips.

As he slowly and regretfully raised himself from her lips, Liz let out a soft moan and said, “Good night, Max,” and turned on her side.

Stunned that perhaps he’d awakened her, he waited to see if she’d say anything else. When she still didn’t move after several seconds, he decided he better leave before she really did awaken and possibly get very upset with him for what he had done. So he as quietly as possible walked to the door and, as he closed it, he turned to Liz and softly whispered, “Good night, Liz.”

***

Part 9

Except for dreaming about having received the most amazing kiss, from Max of all people, Liz had been sleeping peacefully for most of the night. But then, without warning, during her sleep, she began seeing images of a strange land and strange people. She’d read many books and seen pictures of countries around the world, but the images in her dream didn’t match anything she’d ever seen or read about. When she saw people speaking in her dream, she realized they weren’t even speaking a language she’d ever heard or become familiar with while developing her natural knack for languages in the special schools she’d attended. But for some reason, the language seemed strangely familiar. She seemed to be able to understand what they were saying, even though the language wasn’t familiar to her. She realized she must be hearing their thoughts.

Strangely, though nothing in her dream seemed familiar to her, it hadn’t frightened her. It was the last scene that caused her to awaken with a blood-curdling scream.
***
After Max had left Liz sleeping peacefully in her room, he still couldn’t sleep. So he had gone downstairs and decided to make quick work of the kitchen using his powers. After all, he certainly wasn’t worried about Liz catching him in the act. It didn’t take him long to finish. He didn’t understand why, but once that was done, all he could think of was getting to his bed before he fell asleep standing up.

He immediately got to his room, undressed, got into bed, and fell asleep almost before his head hit the pillow. If he hadn’t known better, he would have sworn he’d been drugged. Whatever was the cause, he was not complaining. He hadn’t really had a good night of sleep since he’d started the court case that had just concluded. If anyone would have asked him, he would have said he was sure it was the fact that the case had settled that had contributed to him getting the best night of sleep he’d had in a very long time.

Max slept peacefully for the rest of the night, the only thing interrupting the deep sleep being a very pleasant dream he was having about contentedly kissing Liz and leisurely holding her in his arms.
***

Max probably would have continued sleeping for another hour or so if not for the blood-curdling scream he heard coming from Liz’s room. Immediately, upon awakening and hearing her scream, he ran to her room to see what was wrong.

Max threw Liz’s door open and ran in. He found her sitting up in bed, rocking back and forth, holding herself, crying profusely. Without concern for propriety, he ran to her bed and engulfed her in his arms, holding her tenderly and whispering, “Shh. It’s okay. I’m here. You’re safe.” He said nothing more, but just continued sitting there, holding and comforting her for several minutes as she continued sobbing.

After holding Liz and rocking her for several minutes, she gradually calmed down and just relaxed in the comfort of Max’s embrace, her head resting on his shoulder. He was still holding her when they both heard Claudia call for Liz. “Liz, dear, are you all right?” Claudia too had heard Liz’s scream, but she was feeling too weak to get up and go to her.

Though she felt bad that she was not able to run to Liz’s side, she didn’t feel too bad about not checking on her because she also immediately heard Max run in to her. She decided to wait for a few minutes to see what would happen, or at least until her curiosity got the better of her.

Not hearing anything immediately, she again called out, “Liz, are you all right?”

Not wanting to alarm Claudia, Liz called out from the comfort of Max’s arms, “Yes, Aunt Claudia, I’m fine. I just had a bad dream. Max came in to check on me,” she said as she looked shyly into Max’s eyes.

“Okay, Dear. As long as you’re all right.”

“I’m fine,” Liz called once again.

After responding to Claudia, Liz quietly spoke to Max. “Thanks for checking on me, Max. I’m sorry if I woke you. I don’t know what happened. I don’t remember ever having a nightmare that bad before.”

“You’ve had some before?”

“Well, only in bits and pieces, but never anything lasting long enough for me to feel the full impact of the fear I felt this time.”

After a moment of contemplation, Max spoke. “That does it. You need to get away for the day. Get dressed, and I’ll meet you downstairs.”

“Wait a minute. What are you talking about? I’m fine, Max. It was just a bad dream. I’ll be fine.”

“Nonsense. I won’t take no for an answer. I’m taking you out for a day of rest, relaxation, and fun.”

“But…”

“No but’s. Get dressed and be downstairs in 10 minutes.”

“What about Aunt Claudia? Shouldn’t we stay here to keep an eye on her, in case she needs something?”

“I’m going to talk with her right now. Don’t worry. We won’t be too far away. I’m going to make sure she has everything she needs and has the phone nearby. I’ll make sure she has my cell phone number handy, in case she needs us. Now, go.”

“But I can’t get properly dressed in 10 minutes,” Liz protested.

“Nonsense. You’ll look fine no matter what you wear,” Max said. He flushed a little as he looked at Liz, realizing what he’d just said. So to add a little levity to the moment, he continued, “Don’t worry. I won’t take you to any places like my office, where everyone’s dressed in formal business suits. I have something more casual in mind. Now, go,” he once again said, this time with authority.

“Yes, sir,” she responded, and jumped out of bed and ran to her bathroom. “I’m going to take a quick shower first, though,” she said over her shoulder as she was leaving.

Max stood near her bed as she headed to her bathroom. Liz had forgotten she’d changed her clothes in the middle of the night, and was only wearing a very thin nightgown, with nothing on underneath but her panties. So as Max watched her leave, he again felt his face flush, this time realizing the state of undress Liz was in. “You know, that’s a good idea. I think I’ll do that too, as soon as I talk with Grandma,” he said as he left her room.
***
“Grandma,” Max said as he entered her room, “how are you feeling right now?”

“I’m actually feeling fairly decent today, although I’m feeling a little weak.”

“Would you mind if Liz and I left you alone for a while today?”

“Is Liz okay?” Claudia asked worriedly, not knowing what had awakened her in such a terrified state.

“She’s fine. She just had a nightmare. You know, after seeing how much she enjoyed visitors last night, and realizing she hasn’t really been out for a relaxing day since she’s been here, I’ve decided to make it my mission today to make sure she gets as much rest and relaxation as she can.” Of course, Max also had in mind hoping to get better acquainted with her, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to share that bit of personal information with Claudia right now. He was sure she’d be happy enough to know Liz was going to have a chance to relax for a while.

“Max, that’s a wonderful idea. I agree wholeheartedly with you that she needs a break. You’re absolutely right. I think it will do wonders for her. I’ve been worried about her being here by herself, especially when I haven’t felt strong enough to make sure she got out myself. Besides, it will give you two a chance to get better acquainted.” As she made her last comment, she looked knowingly at Max and noticed he began to flush as she finished it.

“Don’t look at me that way, Grandma.”

Claudia didn’t respond, but only continued sitting in her bed, continuing her knowing smile at Max.

“What?”

“Nothing. Except…..I was just thinking, my dear. As long as I’ve known you, I can’t remember ever seeing you flush before at the mention of getting better acquainted with someone. And now that I think if it, I can’t ever remember a time when you’ve ever had a serious attachment to any young women. I can’t help but wonder that maybe Liz is going to change all that.”

“Grandma, I barely know her,” Max responded indignantly. “Where did you ever get such a crazy notion?” But even as he spoke, he knew there was a lot more truth to her words than he was willing to admit. Trying to change the subject -- although not very successfully, he observed, as she continued smiling at him – “Look, I’m going to bring the phone for you to have nearby, just in case you need to get ahold of me. I’ll leave you my cell phone number. If you need anything at all, don’t hesitate to call me. Now, I’m going to get ready,” he said as he bent down to give her a peck on the cheek. “Try to behave yourself while we’re gone, will you,” he said teasingly, and then went off to take that shower he now needed more than ever.
Although Claudia still was feeling weak, as she had honestly told Max, she couldn’t help but be extremely pleased that Max was finally seeming to show an interest in knowing Liz.

She couldn’t help but wonder what could have caused Liz to have a nightmare. But she remembered from the information the alien had given her before he died that such a dream would be an indicator that it would soon be time for Claudia to reveal all the information the alien had provided.

She wasn’t sure if she’d know the right moment, but at this point, she decided to wait and see what transpired between Max and Liz over the next couple of days. For now, she was just content to have seen the flush on Max’s face. She’d known for many years how lonely Max had felt for a soulmate. Even having the companionship of the other three aliens had not been enough to fill that yearning. But seeing his flush and the glint in his eyes, she couldn’t help but hope that that was now going to change. For now, she’d just settle back in her bed and watch some TV and possibly take a nap.





[ edited 3 time(s), last at 16-Jan-2003 10:09:56 PM ]