posted on 9-Sep-2001 7:03:56 PM
Title: PAIN

Category: Um? There will be mentions of everyone.
Disclaimer: I own nothing, and let’s face it, who would want to anymore?

Summary: Future Fic; 5 years after Decrapture

I’ve given the finale a different ending for this story. Max has gone off in the Granolith into the great unknown with Tess. Whether he went of his own free will, or if a certain murdering tramp had anything to do with it, I will not divulge.

Soon after their ‘departure’, a major event occurred leaving only a few of the group behind.

This will mostly be about them, through one point of view.

And yes it is more than likely that the sniveling little wanker of a King will be back.

It’s pretty dark. (There is some suicide talk so if that bothers you, best not continue)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

PAIN
n.
1. An unpleasant sensation occurring in varying degrees of severity as a consequence of injury, disease, or emotional disorder.
2. Suffering or distress.


Prologue-

I’ve always heard it said that everyone, at some point in his or her life, contemplates suicide.

Not me. Never me.

Not even in my darkest hour, when almost everyone I love was viciously ripped from my heart, leaving a gaping, hemorrhaging hole that still bleeds. When the sheer weight of the pain was so great it squeezed and pinched my lungs until my breath came in gasps and gulps and I literally blacked out.

The enormity of the situation would send any normal person running for the nearest bottle of pills, the closest razor blade.

But not me.

I persevered through the ultimate loss. Through the anger, the grief, the heartache, and the pain.

I carried on. I held the remainder of us together. I was an army of strength.

I guess that’s why I was so shocked the first time I found myself in the kitchen holding the butcher knife in my right hand as I inspected my left wrist.

I poked at the throbbing blue vein pulsing there with the tip of the knife and a little bubble of blood formed quickly around the cold steel. I withdrew it and a trail of red traveled slowly down the length of my arm.

It was warm against the coolness of my skin and goose bumps broke out all over my body.

I was mesmerized by that bright red trail, so I made an identical one on my other arm.

Holding the handle of the knife in both hands I pressed my arms together and watched as the liquid pooled in the bends of my elbows. I discovered that the harder I squeezed the handle the faster it ran out of the holes in my wrists.

Eventually there was too much for the crevasses to hold and it started to trickle down the sides of my arms, clinging and sticking to the little hairs growing from my pale skin.

I don’t know how long I would have sat there at the kitchen table with two rivers of blood flowing down my arms if one of them hadn’t snatched the knife from my hands screaming, “What are you trying to do kill yourself?” and drug me to the sink.

I could only stare at him as he washed the stains from my flesh.

WAS that what I was doing?

I didn’t know.

I was also shocked the first time I swallowed an entire bottle of aspirin. You know one of those gigantic bottles you can buy at Costco and places like that.

It started out with just two, and then six and then handfuls, until I’d consumed all one thousand little white pills.

They took me to the hospital and I had to have my stomach pumped. The next morning I still had a headache.

I’m not positive exactly when it was that I consciously realized what I was doing. I think it might have been the night after the third trip to the hospital when I went into our room and opened the closet door to hang up my coat.

I found him there on the floor, crying like I’d only seen him cry one other time in the years I’d known him.

He begged me to stop, told me that he couldn’t take it, that he couldn’t lose me too, that I was killing him... I believed him.

He cried on my chest soaking my shirt clear to the skin. I held him most of the night, there on the floor of the closet with the shoes, and told him I would never leave him.

It wasn’t really a lie.

So from that moment on I resigned my self to only praying for death. No scratch that, I stopped believing in God long ago, to only wishing for death.

Every night before I go to sleep I make a wish that I’ll never wake up.


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

Part 1




My eyes snap open and I inhale deeply.

I feel them next to me, touching me in that subtle way, and I smile.

But I don’t mean it.

I blink and notice a new water spot on the ceiling.

I blink again and inhale another deep breath.

I wonder how long it will be before my body abides by my wishes and stops this breathing nonsense.

I glance to my right, and then to my left, and I smile again.

But I still don’t mean it.

They stir at the same time and I know soon their eyes will snap open and they will inhale deeply and they will smile.

But they won’t mean it.

Kyle is the first to open his eyes, the first to inhale deeply, the first to smile and not mean it.

He is curled up on my left side, his head resting just at the edge of my shoulder, his hand clasped lightly around my arm.

He releases his hold from my limb and rolls onto his back, the bed shifting and creaking under the movement.

Michael’s eyes pop open at the noise. He inhales deeply; he smiles and doesn’t mean it.

He is snuggled up on my right side, lying on his stomach. His arm is draped across my abdomen; his head is resting just at the edge of my other shoulder.

He drags his arm slowly off my middle and flips over onto his back.

They blink and inhale deeply.

“There’s a new water spot,” they say in unison.

“Yeah,” I say and we all smile and don’t mean it.

I sigh and Kyle takes my left hand in his and Michael grabs onto my right.

I know they are remembering with me.

Remembering when it was the four of us.

But Isabel disappeared 5 weeks ago.

And now it’s only three.

My heart lurches in my chest, and I wonder how long it will be before it’s only two.

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


Part 2


“Eggs?” I ask as we stumble out into the kitchen.

“And toast,” Kyle says.

“And coffee,” Michael adds with his ‘mornings suck’ groan.

I open the fridge and pull out the eggs. Michael hands me the skillet and Kyle measures out the coffee.

I crack an egg on the edge of the skillet and dump its contents into the center.

A piece of shell breaks off and falls into the pan.

I watch as it floats and jiggles around in the egg white.

Michael’s big hand comes into view, his thumb and forefinger extracting the shell.

He hands me another egg.

I crack it on the edge of the skillet and dump its contents into the center.

I watch as two pieces of shell float and jiggle around in the egg whites.

“You suck at this,” Michael says.

“Yeah,” I say nodding.

“I’ll do it,” he says grabbing two more eggs.

I smile and don’t mean it.

Kyle is setting the table, the coffee maker is gurgling.

I go to the pantry to get the bread for toast.

“We’re out of Tabasco,” I say into the cupboard.

“I’ll go get some,” Kyle says as he finishes the table.

He disappears into his room and reappears a minute later dressed, with shoes in hand.

Sitting down at the table he slips them on his feet.

“Anything else?” he asks standing up.

“Orange juice,” Michael says from the stove.

He walks to the door, flips the deadbolt, and pulls it open.

“I’ll be right back,” he calls to us as he steps into the hallway.

He freezes as he realizes what he’s just said.

Michael and I stare at his back.

He turns around and smiles.

But he doesn’t mean it.

The door closes and his steps echo down the hallway.

Michael’s eyes find mine and we sit together at the table.

*******************************************
Part 3

Michael wipes away a tear that has escaped my eye.

“He went to get Tabasco not milk,” he says as if it makes a difference.

He catches another runaway tear with the tip of his finger.

“I know,” I say grasping his hand in mine. I squeeze it tight and then place a gentle kiss in the middle of his palm.

He reaches across the table with his other hand and tucks a strand of hair behind my ear.

I blink, and for a second, I see Alex’s face, blurry and distorted through my tears. His sweet brown eyes are smiling at me.

I blink again and Michaels return, the moment gone.

“He’ll be back,” he reassures me.

“The toast is burning,” I say getting up.

“He’ll be back,” Michael says again.

I nod, my back to him.

I’m not sure who he’s trying to convince more, himself or me.

I look at the clock; 11 minutes have gone by. I start to calculate in my head.

The store is 2 minutes away, it takes 2 minutes to find Tabasco and orange juice, and it takes 2, maybe 3 minutes to check out and 2 minutes to walk back home. That’s 11 minutes. Any second, any second…

Michael watches the clock with me. 12 minutes, 13 minutes, 14… 15… 16… 17...

We hear footsteps in the hallway and collectively hold our breath. They slow and come to a stop.

Our door swings open and Kyle walks in carrying a bag way too big for Tabasco and orange juice.

“You wouldn’t believe how many people were down there,” he says depositing the bag on the kitchen counter.

I close my eyes and let out a breath of relief. I hear Michael do the same.

Kyle pulls two big bottles of Tabasco out of the bag, two cartons of orange juice, a carton of milk, a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs and a gallon of vanilla ice cream.

Michael and I looked at him quizzically. “So no one has to go back to the store any time soon,” he says putting the groceries away.

I smile. Michael smiles.

We both almost mean it.

“Did you burn the toast?” Kyle asks.


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

Part 4


I don’t tell Michael my suspicions about Isabel.

I don’t tell Kyle either for that matter, but I’m fairly certain he feels the same way I do.

Michael believes she’s been kidnapped, or murdered, or some other such tragedy has befallen her.

I never suggest anything different.
I go with him when he randomly decides to search for her. I sit with him on the bench in the park after hours of looking in alleys and stores and parks and sometimes, even houses.

I hold his hand and tell him that we’ll find her.

I don’t tell him what I really think.

I don’t tell him that I think she left of her own accord, that the pain was too much for her.

That being around us, around him, was destroying her.

And that we’ll probably never see her again.

I don’t tell him about the night he was working late and Kyle and I found her in the alley behind the grocery store.

How she was curled up in a tight little ball, hugging her knees to her chest, her cheek scraping against the filthy, urine covered ground.

I don’t tell him how pieces of trash and debris from the alley had crawled and tangled their way into her perfect golden hair.

Or how endless tear tracks smeared and stained her beautiful face.

Or how she begged Kyle and I to leave, to let her die.

I don’t tell him how Kyle gathered her up in his arms and carried her up the four flights of stairs to our apartment.

Or how we picked the garbage out of her hair, piece by disgusting piece.

Or how we had to forcefully pry her arms from around her legs so we could get her out of her dirty clothes.

Or how she shivered and convulsed uncontrollably when we slipped her into the hot bath water.

I don’t tell him how she mumbled ‘It hurts, it hurts, it hurts’ over and over and over after we finally got her into bed.

I don’t tell him how she whispered ‘Tell Michael I’m sorry and that I love him’ before she drifted off into a restless, fitful sleep.

I don’t tell him that when he got home that night, and I said Kyle and I were going for a walk, that what we really did was go back to the alley where we found her.

That we burned her clothes in one of those big metal trash cans because they smelled of death and decay.

No, I don’t tell him any of this because then I’d have to tell him that it could have been me in that alley, me that begged for death. Me with trash in my hair and urine on my face. Me that Kyle carried home and forced into a bath.

Me that could no longer bare the burden of living one more second.

I’d have to tell him I wish it were me that went to the store and never came home.

But that would push him over the edge, beyond the point of no return, and I don’t want that.

Not for Michael.

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

Part 5


“We’re going to be late for work,” Kyle mumbles into my chest.

“Probably,” I answer and continue running my fingers through his hair. He likes it when I do that.

“Who cares,” Michael states as he returns to our bed from the bathroom.

He crawls back under the covers and cuddles up on my other side. I wrap my arm around him and run my fingers through his hair.

Michael likes that too.

We all work at the same place. We all have the same shift. If one of us is late, we’re all late.

We put toys together. It’s true.

We’re on the 8:00 to 4:00 assembly line crew at Fisher-Price. Isabel worked there too, until she disappeared.

It seems an odd choice for us, but it’s actually quite perfect for a few reasons. The first being it’s a huge company where no one will pay attention to us. We’re just names and social security numbers on a time card.

Fake names and social security numbers, thanks to Michaels ‘special gifts’.

I’m Jane Smith. Could it be any more ordinary?

Michael is Steve Wilson, Kyle is John Green, and Isabel was Mary Jones.

Maybe she still is, somewhere. Or maybe she’s Ann Thomas by now, or something equally All-American.

Another reason it’s perfect is that it’s right down the street from our apartment. Funny that we can still be late when it’s a ten-minute walk.

The best one though is that while you’re trying to make sure a tiny plastic airplane has all it’s parts securely fastened, you don’t really have time to think about anything else.

No bad, evil, horrible thoughts invade between 8:00 and 4:00 Monday through Friday. And sometimes, we get to work over time. That’s even better.

The escape from our own minds is glorious.

I guess the final reason is that we all can be together. We go in together, we eat lunch together, and we go home together.

Ever since we came to New York that’s how it’s been. We do everything together. Well, almost everything. I don’t think anyone will be going to the store by themselves any time soon.

We shouldn’t really be going anywhere alone anyway, since we’re being hunted and all.

That’s why we ended up here. New York City, population: 8 million plus. Good place to hide.

“We really should get up,” I prompt.

“Can’t we just call in sick?” Kyle whines.

“All three of us? That’s mighty suspicious Kyle,” I chide.

“Fine, fine,” he grumbles. “But I get the shower first.”

He kisses my cheek gently and rolls out of bed.

“Try not to use all the hot water,” Michael calls to him.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” we hear before the door clicks shut.

Michael sighs and rolls away from me onto his back.

I scoot over to him and situate my self up against his side. His arm wraps around me pulling me in tight. I rest my head on his chest and play with the curls of hair growing there. It’s so much lighter than the hair on his head.

“I miss her,” he whispers and I feel his lips press against the crown of my head.

“Me too,” I reply, “me too.”

I’m only half sure, of which ‘her’ he’s referring to.

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

Part 6

Kyle walks out of the bathroom followed by billowing steam from his shower.

“Who’s next,” he asks rubbing a towel over his sopping head.

“You wanna go?” Michael asks me, “There might still be some hot water left.”

“No, you go next. You know I like lukewarm showers,” I say trying to make Kyle feel a little better. He really does use all the hot water.

“Okay, your loss,” he says and kisses my other cheek before he climbs out of bed.

Most people would probably find it strange that we use the same bathroom, since we have 3. And would probably find it stranger that we share the same bed. We have 3 of those too. But we learned along time ago it’s the only way we can sleep. The nightmares don’t come, if we’re together.

I can’t really explain the bathroom thing.

I watch Kyle towel dry his hair.

He still looks the same, for the most part. There are some lines creasing his face that weren’t there before, and the faintest sprinkling of gray at his temples, but all in all he’s the same.

Except for his eyes.

They don’t laugh anymore, or twinkle with mischief, or shine with love.

The pain. That’s all there is to see in them now.

“You wanna watch?” He asks me, jerking his thumb in the direction of our living room.

I nod and throw the covers back. He hands me my robe. I slip it on and follow him to the T.V.

Kyle and I like to watch infomercials together.

There’s this one with a machine that sucks all the air out of things, so you can preserve food for months and months. I like that one.

Kyle thinks it’s cool when they suck the bowling ball up with it.

We sit side by side on the couch. Kyle drapes his arm across my shoulders and clicks on the set.

“It’s your favorite,” he says as he stops at channel 42.

We watch as the two unnaturally happy hosts suck the air out of Tupperware containers, plastic bags, and aluminum cans.

“Do you and Michael ever….” Kyle asks, leaving the end of his question unspoken.

I have the sudden urge to laugh. This throws me off more than his question.

I don’t remember the last time I laughed, let alone had the urge to.

I partially turn my head and look at him out of the corner of my eye, “What?” I say very slowly. I want to make sure I understood exactly what he was implying.

“You know,” he says never taking his eyes off the super sucker.

Yep. That’s what I thought. “Where did that question come from Kyle?” I ask, turning fully to face him.

“Um, I don’t know,” he says casting me a quick glance, “I was just curious.”

I stare at his profile. His ears seem to have turned an odd shade of pink.

“Well no. We don’t. Do you?” I ask.

“Me and Michael???” he practically yells, “No! No! No way!!”

He is looking at me, completely mortified, and I now have the sudden urge to smile. A real, genuine smile. So I do. It’s a strange feeling.

Kyle smiles back and now we both feel strange.
“Do you ever think about it?” he asks and our smiles fade quickly.

“With Michael?” I ask.

“With anyone,” he clarifies.

“No. You?”

“Yeah, sometimes,” he nods.

“Cool. The bowling ball.” Michael says walking out from the bedroom, effectively ending our impromptu conversation.

“My turn,” I say jumping up.

“I’m gonna get dressed,” Kyle says, jumping up.

Michael replaces us on the couch.

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


"Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional."

Edited by - ShellSueD on 09/10/2001 19:17:05

Edited by - ShellSueD on 09/15/2001 22:10:50
posted on 9-Sep-2001 7:08:44 PM
Part 7

It’s Sunday afternoon and we’re in our usual spot, feeding the pigeons.

It’s like an unspoken pact that we come here every week. I don’t know why, but then I don’t know much of anything.

I toss another breadcrumb and four of them fight over it like it’s their last meal.

“MARIA!!!!!!!!” A woman screams the name across the crowd of people populating the park.

Another woman comes bounding along the path. A tiny petite woman, with long blond hair and sparkling green eyes, and big pouty lips.

She looks amazingly like my best friend, Michael’s true love, and Kyle’s sister.

Or maybe we just want her to.

“Maria!! Over here!!” The woman calls again, motioning frantically with her arms.

She is blissfully unaware that the simple use of her friends name sends the three of us spiraling wildly down into the depths of despair.

It brings forth sorrowful memories and horrifying visions of things we’d give anything to make not true.

Or at least to forget they ever happened.

The other woman, equally unaware, bounces up to her friend in glaringly obvious excitement. They embrace giddily and the tiny one starts babbling a million miles a minute. “Allison babe, you are never gonna believe what happened last night. Okay so I was at that new club on 5th avenue….”

She even sounds like Maria.

Or maybe we just want her to.

“It’s been three years,” Michael says. His voice sounds faint and weak as if he’s struggling for air.

He laces his fingers through mine and grips tightly. I automatically feel my fingers begin to grow numb, but I don’t care.

“Four,” Kyle corrects. His voice is barely a whisper and his fingers entwine with mine, identically to Michaels.

I’m surprised at their words. We’ve never talked about it. Never.

But that’s it. That’s all they say, and we sit in silence in the middle of the bustling activity of central park.

I glance down at our hands and I see the tips of my fingers actually turning purple from lack of circulation.

They are completely numb. I don’t feel a thing. If only they could do that to my heart.

I dofeel the hot tears stinging the back of my eyes. I use to think that there was a point your body would reach where it could no longer produce tears, but that’s just not true.

You could cry all day long, every day, and it would never fail.

The first one gained liberty and raced down my cheek.

It burned like fire.

I blinked furiously in an attempt to ward off others sure to follow.

I hate to cry, especially over Maria. She wouldn’t want me to. She wouldn’t want any of us to.

I don’t look, but I know Michael and Kyle are crying with me. That’s how it always is.

No one ever cries alone in our dwindling group.

“Lets go home,” Michael sniffs and stands up without releasing my hand.

I stand up too, pulling Kyle with me because he doesn’t release my other hand either.

The pigeons squawk and scatter away, upset their lunch ended so abruptly.

We walk home this way, hand in hand.


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

Part 8

As much as I beg and plead and wish, the memory of that day never fades. Not even a little.

Gone for four days, we were finally on our way back home from yet another wild goose chase, when Michael got the bizarre call on his cell phone.

No one was on the line, but he said it sounded like things were being thrown and broken in the background. With one final crash that we all heard, the connection was severed.

Michael pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at the digital display. We didn’t have to ask who’s number was showing in the tiny window, the look on his face told us all we needed to know.

Kyle pounded his foot down on the accelerator of his mustang and we raced home at over 100 mph.

Unfortunately, we were over an hour away.

Completely terrified of what we might find, we parked a few blocks from the new Valenti/Deluca residence and spilt up after exiting the car.

Michael and I went one direction and Kyle and Isabel went another checking the streets and yards and houses for anything suspicious.

We converged upon the back sliding glass door at the same time.

I remember how dark the house was.

Ominously dark.

Michael held his forefinger up to his lips to remind us to keep quiet, and slid the door open soundlessly.

He slipped inside and we quickly followed.

We huddled together near a back wall and listened for any sounds. Satisfied there weren’t any, Michael and Kyle motioned for Isabel and I to remain behind while they searched the house.

We agreed and then followed them anyway, moving stealthily through the room.

Our desperate attempts at silence were thwarted when Michael tripped over one of the many boxes littering the floor.

The sound of Michaels foot kicking the box echoed off the walls. I’d never heard anything so loud.

We froze in our tracks, hearts hammering wildly. The whites of our panicked eyes glowed visibly in the darkness of the room.

After an eternity of not moving, not even breathing, he determined the coast was clear and we moved cautiously into the hallway.

Michael moved around the corner first, then me, then Kyle and finally Isabel.

We could just make out the shadows of boxes lining the hall.

We walked as one, doing our best to avoid any obstacles in the way.

When we reached the end of the path where the hall spills out into the living room and kitchen, the smell hit us like a brick wall.

You know that coppery metal smell that is distinct only to pennies.

And blood.

It was tangible, palpable, to the point where with every breath; the taste lingered on my tongue.

It made my stomach lurch violently and bile burned its way up my throat.

I heard Isabel whisper ‘Oh God’ as Michael stepped out into the living room.

He stopped a couple steps in and ‘Holy Shit’ escaped his lips in a low growl.

The room was in utter disarray.

Lamps, chairs, the coffee table, the T.V, the new couch. All destroyed

The boxes yet to be unpacked, lay scattered and dumped, the contents spilling out onto the floor.

The rest of us moved around and flanked Michael, surveying the damage. We stood in an awkward semi circle our eyes moving mechanically from wall to wall.

They were covered with huge black scorch marks, as if fireballs had been thrown at them.

Kyle was the first one to move toward the archway leading into the kitchen.

No longer concerned about keeping quiet, his leaden feet plodded and kicked through the mess on the floor.

The strangled cry that erupted from his throat ripped through our hearts and we rushed to his side.

Jim Valenti, Kyle’s Dad, our friend, was on the floor of the kitchen, slumped over on one side, half sitting half laying against the refrigerator.

Tangled up in his arms was his new bride, Amy DeLuca-Valenti.

Even in the dark I could see the bruises and lacerations covering both of them.

A moat of blood had formed around their bodies and was inching it’s way across the bright white of the tiled floor.

When Kyle fell to his knees and crawled to their lifeless forms, the blood soaking through the denim of his jeans, I looked away with hot tears pouring down my face.

I heard him crying out “Please! Noooo!” but I knew he wouldn’t be able to help them. They were dead before we got there.

I stumbled blindly into the adjoining dining room and cried out when I tripped over something hard, yet soft crumpled on the floor.

I grabbed on to the edge of the table to try and steady myself and attempted to wipe my eyes to see what I’d almost fallen on.

I didn’t realize Michael had followed me until I heard his desperate sobbing.

The crumpled mass I’d tripped over was Maria and she was now cradled delicately in Michael’s arms.
“Wake up Maria, please wake up” he kept whispering to her. He pushed her hair off her face, smearing blood into her golden locks.

I dropped down beside them, staring in to the dead eyes of my best fried. I couldn’t have stopped the tears if I wanted to.

He arms hung limply at her sides as Michael hugged her to his chest. I held one of her hands and brought it up to my cheek. The bones were crushed as if someone had stomped on her hand.

“Liz,” I heard Isabel call my name and turned my head up to face her. Tears were running down her cheeks and her body shook with anguish.

She was pointing at something on the floor and my eyes followed her finger.

There on the white tile, was the smashed cordless phone that Maria had used to try and call us for help, and next to it she had written the name ‘Nicholas’ in her own blood.

*****************************
Part 9

Michael and Kyle are cooking breakfast.

Today they won’t let me help. Partly because I’m the world’s worst cook, but mostly because it’s my birthday.

I watch from the kitchen table as Kyle pours the batter into the waffle iron.

“Dude, you’re doing it wrong,” Michael points out.

“Doing it wrong? How can I be doing it wrong?” Kyle protests, “You pour the batter in and shut the lid. Impossible to screw up.”

“You filled it too full man. It’s going to run out the sides,” Michael insists.

“Whatever,” Kyle says and closes the lid.

The batter sizzles and pops and oozes out the sides, plopping ceremoniously onto the counter.

Michael’s eyebrows rise in an ‘I told you so’ manner and he swipes his hand over the mess, removing all traces.

Kyle simply rolls his eyes and gets the orange juice from the fridge.

Every once in a while I get a glimpse of the boys they use to be so long ago.

Blunt, arrogant Michael who held himself at arms length from everyone with his impenetrable stonewall, and sarcastic, witty Kyle who would protect those he loved with fierce loyalty.

They stand before me now, broken men.

Kyle, who never wanted to be a part of any of this, lost his entire family in one night, for reasons we still don’t know.

Michael, who finally let down the fortress, lost his family and the only girl he ever let touch his heart.

They cling desperately to each other, and to me, the only shred left of the lives they once knew.

I feel tears prick my eyes as I watch them dote on me, but I will them away quickly before they see.

We have a strict ‘no crying on birthdays’ policy.

There is a brightly wrapped and slightly odd shaped package on the table.

We don’t give each other presents, not really. We just wrap up what ever is needed in the house and give that. 3 months ago, Kyle got 6 rolls of toilet paper for his 23rd.

23. God, on the inside it feels like we’ve lived a lifetime. And it’s starting to show on the outside.

We’ve all have lines around our eyes and traces of gray in our hair.

I finger the package and wonder absently what we’ve run out of recently. Paper towels, Kleenex, shampoo….

“Here you go, extra chocolate chips.” Michael sets the plate of waffles down in front of me.

“Thank you both,” I say and Kyle pours the orange juice.

We eat together in the quiet of the morning.

“Go on, open it,” Kyle prods, pushing the package toward me with his finger.

I pick it up gingerly, it’s heavier than I thought, and tear at the paper.

A gasp pushes it’s way out my mouth as the torn wrapping reveals the box underneath.

“What did you guys do?” I ask rhetorically.

It’s the super sucker food saver.

“You should not have done this,” I say. “We don’t do this,” I also say, waving the box in the air.

“Wait, before you get mad,” Michael starts, “we have purely selfish reasons for buying it.” He motions to Kyle with the tilt of his head and Kyle disappears into the bedroom.

“What are you talking about Michael?” I’m getting impatient.

“Hold on, hold on.” He gestures with his hands.

A second later Kyle comes out of the bedroom hiding something behind his back.

“We wanna see if it will really suck this thing up,” he says revealing the bowling ball he brought out.

I stare at the two of them for a minute and then suddenly I laugh.

An honest to goodness, from the belly laugh.

It feels good.

I hug Michael tightly and he whispers in my ear. “Happy Birthday Liz,” and even softer, “I love you.”

He releases me and I pull Kyle to me tightly as well. He whispers the identical words in my other ear and I can’t help but well up with tears.

“No, no, no,” he says brushing my cheeks with his thumbs, “you’re breaking the rules.”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry,” I say and quickly wipe the rest away.

We spend the next three hours sucking up any thing and every thing in the house.

It really does suck up that bowling ball.

*************************************
Part 10


“Okay, we need one from the 8:00 to 4:00 crew for some over time tonight,” our shift supervisor yelled over the noise of the factory.

Most of the time they only want one so we rotate volunteering between the 3 of us. No one but us ever volunteers. I guess they don’t need the escape.

Tonight it’s Michael’s turn and he raises his hand.

“Number?” the supervisor asks and Michael rattles off his phony social security number.

He notes it on his clipboard and strolls back to his office.

“Call us when you’re ready to leave,” I say to Michael as I slip on my coat.

“Of course,” he assures me and Kyle and I wave on our way out the door.

Kyle takes my hand as we step outside and we walk home through the crowded city.

We’ll go back when Michael calls. No one walks home alone anymore, not since Isabel.

I shrug out of my coat and Kyle hangs it up for me.

“What should we have for dinner,” Kyle asks with his head still in the closet.

“Whatever,” I say not really caring if we ever eat again.

“You okay?” he asks as he shuts the door and walks over to the bed.

“I’m just tired Kyle,” I say.

He nods, knowing what I mean, and crawls into bed next to me.

“Lets take a nap until Michael calls and then we can just pick up some food on the way home.”

I do believe this is the best idea I’ve ever heard and I tell him so.

I kiss his cheek and snuggle up to his chest and we drift off into dreamless sleep.

The sound of the telephone is loud in the quiet of the house and it startles us both awake.

Kyle reaches for the cordless handset and mumbles a sleepy ‘Hello’ into the mouthpiece.

“Yeah, okay. We’re on our way,” he says and clicks off the phone.

“Let’s go get Michael.” He nudges me gently with his elbow and I groan my protest, but get up with him anyway.

Kyle holds out my coat for me and I slide my arms into the sleeves.

I glance at the clock on our way out the door. 9:45 is glowing brightly.

“They kept him late tonight,” I say to Kyle as he locks the dead bolt.

“Yep,” he replied draping his arm across my shoulders, “they must have changed the release date again.”

Our heels click on the hardwood as we walk down the hall.

10 minutes later we are standing at the door of our place of employment. Kyle pulls it open and we go inside.

Michael is not in the lobby.

“Maybe he’s in the bathroom,” Kyle suggests, “I’ll go look.”

He reappears a few minutes later, his face visibly pale.

“Um—he ah—he wasn’t in there. Margo said he left 10 minutes ago.”

I burst through the door out into the street, my eyes drowning in tears.

I spin around, scanning the crowd through blurry vision.

He isn’t there.

I hear Kyle calling my name as I run blindly, shoving and pushing people out of my way.

The only thing I can think about is home and that’s where I end up.

I don’t have my key and I pound madly on the door. I half expect Michael to yank it open complaining bitterly about the noise.

But my knocking only echoes in the emptiness of the apartment.

Kyle appears at my shoulder and inserts the key in the lock.

The door fly’s open and I stumble in off balance.

I run wildly through the apartment searching for him, knowing he isn’t there.

Kyle grabs me on my fourth pass around, hugging me tightly to his chest.

“Liz please stop, please stop.”

I am vaguely aware by the sound of his voice that I’m starting to freak him out.

“He wouldn’t do this Kyle! Not Michael, not Michael!” I cry pummeling his chest with my fists, “ Let me go! Let me go!”

I shove as hard as I can and breaking free from his grasp, I run for the bathroom.

“Why? Why do we continue to do this Kyle? I rummage through the medicine cabinet looking for pills I know we don’t have.

“Don’t you want it to be over?” I ask as I push past him on my way to the kitchen. I know we still have knives.

I rip open the silverware drawer and grab for the first one I see.

“I mean really Kyle, how much can one person take? What point do you have to reach before the pain is too much and you simply can’t go on?”

I grip the wooden handle of the knife tightly in my hand.

“I can’t do this anymore Kyle,” I say pointing at him with the steel blade, “We’ve been running for four years Kyle. Running from enemies we don’t know and can’t even pretend to understand. Our family has either been taken from us or disappeared and it hurts Kyle, it hurts. Everyday it gets bigger and stronger until I think I’ll just explode from the pressure. I want it to stop Kyle—I just want it to stop.”

Kyle’s lashes are wet with tears and I can no longer look at him. My eyes fall on the blade in my hand.

It’s not the butcher knife but it will do.

I seek out the blue veins in my wrist and a sudden calm washes over me.

That’s when I hear Kyle scream and I find myself floating backward until my body slams hard into the door of the refrigerator.

Somewhere far away I hear the sound of steel clanging loudly onto the hardwood floor.

“Stop it, stop it, stop it!” Kyle is crying and shaking me violently by the shoulders. “You can’t Liz—you can’t! I need you too much, I need you Liz.”

The shaking stops abruptly and he gathers me into his strong arms. “Please Liz—please. I need you, I need you.”

His voice is thick and choked and desperate and I return his hug fiercely. “I need you too Kyle, I need you too,” I cry into his shoulder.

He pulls back and searches my eyes, “Don’t leave me Liz,” he pleads.

“I won’t—I won’t.” I promise him shaking my head.

“It’s just us now. It’s just us,” he whispers.

“Just us,” I repeat and wipe the tear tracks from his cheeks.

Suddenly he’s kissing me hard. So hard our teeth click.

His tongue begins plundering my mouth and I realize I’m returning his kiss.

My hands travel to his neck and I pull him in closer wanting more, needing more.

Soon it’s not enough and my hands start exploring the planes of his chest, the ridges of his abs.

I need to feel his skin and I roughly tear at his shirt ripping the buttons off.

He inhales sharply when the coolness of my hand comes in contact with his chest.

It’s warm and soft and I want to touch every inch.

I feel him tugging at the collar of my coat, trying to get it off.

I shrug it off my shoulders and let it slide down the length of my arms, pooling at my feet.

Before I can return my hands to his torso, he’s ripping at my shirt in an effort to have it join my jacket on the floor…and soon it does.

With a snap of his wrist my bra is unhooked and joins the growing pile. I push his torn shirt off and it too falls to the floor.

Our mouths meet again in an urgent flurry of tongues and lips, desire growing with each wet touch.

He smoothes his palms down my face to my neck, across my bare shoulders, down my arms and then they circle my waist, hugging me close.

I trail quick kisses across his collarbone up his neck, his jaw line and finally his lips.

His hands are traveling again across my hips, up my belly, through the valley of my breasts. He covers each with a hand and squeezes gently.

I arch into his touch, his name a raspy whisper from my throat.

He reaches down and lifts me up by my hips.

I wrap my legs around his waist feeling him straining tight behind his pants.

He presses me flush against the refrigerator door and his fingers find the hem of my skirt, inching it up quickly.

Holding me up with one arm, his other hand slips beneath my skirt.

His thumb brushes lightly over the edge of my panties and I fumble with the zipper of his pants.

I finally yank it down at the same moment his fingers are moving aside my obstructing underclothes.

I slip my hand inside the slit of his cotton boxers and he gasps when my fingers touch his hardness.

I wrap my entire fist around his length as two of his fingers slide smoothly inside me.

We each begin quick hard movements, desperate to feel anything but the pain that has consumed us for so long.

Our mouths catch again and cling there.

But the sound that groaned from inside him was regret as he torn himself from my lips.

“Liz, we can’t do this,” he whispers. “Not like this—not like this.”

“I know,” I agree and withdraw my hand away reluctantly. He does the same and gently lowers me until I’m standing on my own.

“I’m sorry Liz,” he blurts out, new tears welling in his sad eyes.

I quiet him with a finger to his lips. “Don’t be,” I say, “I’m not.”

He brushes a loose strand of hair from my face and reaches down for my shirt. Picking it up he wraps in around my shoulders covering my bare flesh.

“I love you,” he says pulling me into a hug, “I love you.”

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

Part 11

I’m lying on the couch, wrapped up in Kyle’s arms.

We’ve been here since he stopped my apparent nervous breakdown.

I keep watching the door, thinking Michael will burst through any second.

But I know he won’t.

I never thought that Michael would leave that way.

I’m beginning to think that maybe I was wrong about Isabel, that maybe they’ve finally found us.

Kyle thinks this too.

“Should we go someplace else?” he asks brushing my hair off my face.

“Where would we go Kyle?” I ask, “We’ve been everywhere.”

It’s true; we’ve lived in every state for some period of time. 50 states in 4 years, that has to be some kind of record.

“We could leave the country,” he suggests.

“If they can find us here, they’ll be able to find us anywhere Kyle.”

“Yeah, I guess so. I feel like we should be doing something though, at least finding a new apartment.”

I think he’s talking now just to fill the silence.

“I’m sure if they know where we work, then they know where we live too,” I point out, “I’m tired of running Kyle. I can’t do it anymore. If they’ve found us, then they’ve found us. So be it. At least we’ll be together.”

“And we’ll get to see everyone,” he adds with a sad smile.

“Yeah,” I nod into his chest. I feel tears welling up again. I am so sick of crying.

“I guess we stayed here too long,” Kyle says after awhile.

I consider this. He’s probably right. We’ve been here almost a year. We never stayed anywhere else more than a couple of months.

I don’t even know why we’ve stayed, probably because we’re so tired of this life we had to stop.

I mean you can only run for so long, right?

I look around the apartment. It’s a nice place, but it’s not our home.

There isn’t any art on the walls, no pictures of smiling faces on the mantle, nothing to suggest that a happy family lives here.

I won’t miss it.

“So we just wait until they come?” Kyle’s question ends my reverie.

“Yes,” I say and bury myself further in his embrace.

“Okay,” he nods in acceptance.

“Liz?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For staying. I couldn’t have made it through the past years without you.”

I tilt my head up to look at him. I see my reflection in the pools of his eyes.

“Oh Kyle,” I whisper, “we couldn’t have made it without each other.”

He kisses me gently and I taste the tears that have spilled down his face.

Kyle stiffens underneath me and his head snaps toward the door.

I stop breathing when I hear what he has.

Footfalls are thundering loudly down the hallway.

Kyle’s arms tighten around my body, “I guess this is it,” he says and kisses me again quickly.

“I love you Kyle,” I say as they halt at what is obviously our door.

It flies open.

We didn’t even bother to lock it.

I know this is a moment that I will never forget.

Kyle is across the room in a flash; I swear I didn’t even feel him get up.

His fist connects with the face of the man framing our doorway with such a force that he is propelled out into the hallway, his body slamming hard into the opposite wall.

I’m pretty sure I heard Michael’s jaw break, but I suppose it could have been Kyle’s hand.
***********************************************

Part 12

“Jesus Kyle, I think you broke my jaw,” Michael mumbled through the hand that was gingerly holding his face.

“Good,” Kyle retorted, “Because I think your jaw broke my hand.”

The injured appendage was visibly swelling and Michaels face was turning 10 different shades of black and blue.

I was standing in the doorjamb staring at Michael with equal amounts of relief and anger.

I couldn’t be happier that he was here and alive and I couldn’t be more pissed at what he’d just put us through.

I didn’t know whether to hug him breathless or break the other side of his face.

“Let me see your hand Kyle,” I say turning to him. He holds it out and I take in gently in my own. It too is turning colors.

“Well, I’m no doctor, but I’d say it’s definitely broken. You will heal this Michael,” I say not looking at him.

“First he’s going to tell us where the hell he’s been for the past 2 ½ hours and why the hell he didn’t at least call us and tell us where he was” Kyle spit out through clenched teeth.

“Do you know what that did to her you asshole?” he asked turning to glare at Michael’s crumpled form still slumped against the wall.

“Lets get inside,” I say before Michael can respond.

Neither of us helps him up off the floor.

Kyle winces as he sits back down on the couch.

“Are you sure you don’t want him to heal that before he tells us where he’s been,” I ask sitting beside him.

“All right,” he agrees, “but only mine. I don’t want him healing himself till he spills. I want him to feel that for a while.”

“Michael,” I say gesturing to Kyle’s very swollen, very purple hand.

He came over without a word and laid his hand on top of Kyle’s.

A faint red glow emanated from beneath it as it worked to repair the damage.

Within a few moments all traces of the injury were gone. Kyle flexed his hand at the wrist and then wiggled all his fingers.

Michael had gotten a whole lot better with the healing over the years.

“Thanks,” he said reluctantly, and I think I heard a muffled ‘you’re welcome,’ but I can’t be positive.

Kyle wrapped his now good arm around my shoulder as Michael sat down in the chair opposite us.

“Okay jerk off, what the hell happened?” Kyle asked bluntly.

Michael was silent and I could see unshed tears pooling in his eyes. Whether they were from his jaw or something else I couldn’t tell.

“Holy Christ Michael!” Kyle practically yelled, “we’ve been sitting here thinking you’ve been captured and are most likely dead, and pretty sure the bounty hunters would be coming for us next, and you’re just going to sit there and not say anything? Do you want me to break yournose too??”

“Kyle,” I warn and squeeze his leg gently. I had no doubt that he’d do it too, so I felt the need to intervene.

“It’s okay Michael,” I say softly, “we’re mad, but it’ll pass. We just want to know what happened. We know you wouldn’t intentionally do something like that.Right Kyle?”

“Yeah I guess,” he muttered.

Michael drew in a deep breath and then proceeded to completely shock us with three words.

“I saw Isabel.”

Kyle and I looked at each other, and then at Michael.

“What?” we both say.

“I was standing out side waiting for you,” he began, “ and I know, I know, I’m supposed to wait in the lobby, but I needed some air so I went out. I was leaning up again the side of the building when I felt someone watching me.”

Michael got that feeling a lot. It saved our butts on more than one occasion.

“But it didn’t feel evil, like the others,” he continued, “so I casually started scanning the faces, and there she was, right across the street. It was like—it was almost like she was waiting for me to notice her. I made a move to cross the street and she took off running. So I followed her.”

He paused for a moment and tenderly cupped his jaw. It was getting more and more difficult for him to talk, but he abided by Kyle’s wish and didn’t attempt to heal it.

“All I could think about was her, you know? So I just kept running and running and eventually I lost her and that’s when I realized how long it had been and that I really didn’t have a clue where I was. I couldn’t even find a cab, let alone a telephone. I ended up hitching part of the way back.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he whispered, “I knew you would be worried and I headed back as soon as I realized what I’d done. I’m so sorry.” His head dropped and I watched a tear fall off his chin and soak into the thigh of his khaki pants.

“Why did she leave us like that?” he choked out, “I thought they’d taken her…” his words faded away into sobs.

I felt my heart twist in my chest, chasing away the initial anger I held for him.

It had hurt Michael deeply when she disappeared. The last of his family gone and now to learn that she was still alive and apparently still in the city was too much for him.

I breached the distance between us and crawled into his lap hugging him tightly.

“Maybe it wasn’t her Michael, maybe you just thought is was her because you miss her so much.”

“It was her,” he said positively, “Kyle, can I heal this now?” he asked without looking up.

“Yeah man, sure.” Kyle answered.

Michael repaired his jaw and leaned his head back in the chair. “I’m really sorry,” he said to the ceiling, “I should have waited for you and we could have gone after her together. I won’t do it again.”

“It’s okay Michael,” Kyle responded, “I’m sorry I broke your jaw,” he added.

“Don’t be. I deserved it.”

“Michael,” I said slowly, “what if wasn’t her?”

“It was her Liz,” he said with a little frustration.

“No, what I mean is, what if it was Lonnie?”
*************************************


"Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional."
posted on 9-Sep-2001 7:15:32 PM
Part 13

I have this horrible foreboding plaguing my thoughts.

It seems as if this is all coming to a head, to a rather fatal conclusion.

One that can’t be avoided.

And so I can’t help but think of Max tonight.

This all began because of him.

It was that day way back in September 1999 when Max Evans saved my life.

I use to say that was the day my life began, and it was.

I just didn’t know until much later that it was the beginning of the end.

When I look at my life now, I can’t help but wish he had let me die that day.

I never use to regret it. Not ever.

Because of that one selfless risk, I got to experience the greatest love I have ever know.

But I don’t think it was worth it.
Losing Alex, Maria, Jim, Amy, possible Isabel and even Max himself, it wasn’t worth it.

Of course he had no way of knowing did he? That this is how things would end up.

No way of knowing that because a boy loved a girl, the world would end.

We never did find out what happened to him that day in the pod chamber.

We were convinced that Tess somehow forced him into leaving with her; we even spent almost an entire year searching for a way to try and get to him.

Which only resulted in Michael and I being arrested in Utah and spending a night in jail.

You’d think that that might of deterred us a little, but oh no, we were off hunting down another clue the night they killed Maria, Jim, and Amy.

We can only assume it had something to do with Max and Tess. I mean, what else could it have been?

The next night we found out from Larek/Brody that Alien Bounty Hunters had been dispatched, with Nicholas as their ring leader.

He didn’t know why, and in fact all he did tell us was that they would never stop until we were all dead.

So we ran and we’ve been running ever since.

I’m tired now. I don’t want to run anymore.

Kyle wants to leave again and Michael wants to search for Isabel.

I’ve been listening to them argue about it for a couple of hours.

They will ask me what I think in a minute. That’s how it always goes.

Liz the mediator.

I still can’t convince Michael that it wasn’t Isabel he saw tonight.

I don’t even know why I brought up Lonnie, but it could have been her. We don’t know what became of the dupes and I don’t think Isabel would show up after all this time.

She wouldn’t put Michael through that. She has to know how hard it was on him when she left.

If she did leave.

Now we’re back to that again. The uncertainty is the worst part.

The way I see it, these are the possibilities:

1) Isabel left and she’d either dead or hiding out somewhere. If this is the case, I don’t think she’d ever come back here—unless she knows something and is trying to warn us…
2) The bounty hunters found her and disposed of her and that means it was Lonnie Michael saw—however if they did find her, it would only be natural to assume that they would have found us too, which would bring us back to my first conclusion.

You see the problem here.

I’ve been trying to explain all of this to Michael, but I’ve just proceeded to confuse all of us so I’ve just decided that it’s time for bed.

Liz the decision maker.

Kyle and I head off to the bedroom alone because Michael wants to stay awake incase Isabel decides to come back here.

I told you I couldn’t convince him it wasn’t her.

Maybe he’s right, who knows.

My thoughts turn to Kyle as he holds me in his arms under the covers.

He and I, we crossed a line tonight. It was a reaction to Michael being missing I know, but only partially, and I’m not sure what to think about that.

So for now, I will just go to sleep.


*******************************
TBC

Part 14

I feel someone watching me so I pry my eyes open slowly.

The first thing I see is Kyle’s neck.

We fell asleep in quite an intimate tangle.

It is not Kyle watching me, as he’s still asleep, so my eyes travel to the end of the bed where they encounter Michaels.

He is sitting on top of the chest at the foot of the bed with a penetrating gaze fixed on me.

I unweave myself from Kyle’s embrace and slip out of bed.

“Liz?” Kyle questions sleepily

“I’ll be right back Kyle,” I whisper in the still of the early morning.

“Okay,” his muffled reply comes from the pillow as he rolls onto his side.

Michael needs me so I pull on my robe and pad out into the living room with him right on my heels.

I settle into a corner of the couch and Michael positions himself beside me.

“Are you okay?” I ask him and touch his cheek lightly with the back of my fingers.

Guilt is still glimmering faintly behind his soft brown eyes.

He reaches a large hand up and covers my small one with it, leaning his head heavily into my touch.

“I’m sorry about last night Liz. I’m so unbelievably sorry.”

“I know you are Michael, but you’ve already apologized and you can only say sorry so many times before it just becomes a word. Let it go. You’re here now and that’s all that matters.” I assure him.

“I would never leave you, you know. Not intentionally. Not like Isabel” His eyes flash with darkness briefly.

“I know Michael—I know.”

He nodded and gently fingered a lock of my hair.

It was a while before either of us spoke again.

“If you and Kyle, uh, want to be alone, I can start sleeping in one of the other bedrooms,” he said catching me completely off guard.

I could feel my cheeks getting hot and my voice didn’t seem to want to work.

“What—what do you mean?” I finally choke out.

“You know—I uh, I….”

“Michael, did you—did you ah, get a flash?” I interrupt.

He nodded slowly and I tried to determine if was a flicker of jealously I saw before he turned away.

Michael gets flashes from me sometimes.

I’ve never gotten any from him, except once. The night I found him crying in the bottom of our closet.

We both freaked out the first time it happened. That had only ever occurred between Max and I, so it was a little disconcerting for both of us.

“I don’t want anything to change Liz, between the three of us,” he uttered hastily.

“I need you too much. Both of you,” he added softly.

“We need each other Michael,” I say. Taking his hand in mine, I kiss his knuckles. “Nothing is going to change.” I add confidently.

“I’m afraid it will Liz,” he says somberly, “ It was Isabel I saw,” he adds abruptly changing the subject.

“How can you be so sure Michael?” I ask.

“Because she dream walked me last night,” he says simply.

I can feel the shock in my features and they grow more pronounced with his next sentence.

“Max is here Liz.”
********************************************

Part 15


My eyes close involuntarily as Michael’s words bounce wildly through my head.

“WHAT???”

Kyle’s voice booms from the doorway of our bedroom.

“You’d better sit down man,” Michael warns, and Kyle sinks into the chair opposite us.
“Isabel dream walked me last night,” he says again.

“Yeah, I heard that.”

“And Max is back.”

“Yeah I heard that too. What the fuck is going on Michael?” he asks with undisguised confusion and animosity.

“I don’t really know,” Michael says softly.

I choose this moment to vault to my feet.

“This isn’t possible, this isn’t possible, it’s been too long, too long.” I can hear myself muttering but am powerless to stop it.

The feeling of dread that’s been growing in my gut is suddenly making itself known in a very crystal clear way.

I can’t stop pacing the floor. I feel rigid, like I’m coiled tightly with tension, ready to explode.

I’m starting to shake. I hear Michael say something to Kyle in a low voice and he gets up out of the chair.

“Liz,” Kyle says softly, like he’s talking to an injured animal, “you look sick. Sit down.”

I back up, just like a frightened animal, shaking my head.

“I’m okay.” I feel sick. I feel like any second I’m going to fall flat on my face, but I shake my head. “I don’t want to sit down.”

Kyle takes a step toward me, but I back away.

“Don’t touch me,” I say. My heart is pounding in slow thumps, throbbing at the side of my head, and I wonder if they can hear it. Maybe that’s why they are looking at me so strangely; they can hear my heart beating…

The phone rings and after a moments hesitation, Kyle turns from me to it, and picks up the extension from the table.

He says “Hello” and then listens. “No, I’m sorry,” he says, “We can’t,” and hangs up quickly.

“It was work, they wanted us to come in today.”

My stomach gives a violent start and turns into a hunk of ice. The living room is spinning around me and blobs of faces and visions of things past are dancing in the haze that has settled over the room. I feel myself swaying on my feet.

I hear Michael cry out, “Jesus Christ!”

And the floor rushes up to meet me very suddenly.

When I wake up it’s dark. And very quiet.

“Kyle? Michael?” My voice is hoarse.

They simultaneously arrive on either side of me.

“Oh God, Liz,” Kyle says stroking the hair from my face, “you scared us half to death.”

“What happened?” I ask. “I had the craziest dream.”

My voice is returning to normal.

Michael and Kyle share a look over the top of me.

“Oh. It wasn’t a dream.” I say, realization dawning.

They both shake their heads in the negative.

Can it possibly be true? Can Max actually be here? A shudder runs down my spine and I struggle to sit up, shoving at the many blankets they covered me with.

“Did I faint or something? How long have I been out?” I ask, noticing again how dark it is.

“Yeah. All day,” Michael says and helps me with the blankets.

“Sorry, you were shivering and we didn’t know what else to do,” Kyle says taking a quilt from Michael.

“It’s okay Kyle. I guess I still need to know what’s going on. Michael is Max—is he really back?” I ask not really sure I want to know.

“I think so,” Michael responds vaguely. He and Kyle take their respective places beside me on the bed.

“What exactly took place in this dream walk Michael?” Kyle chimes in, “I mean did she tell you where she’s been? Why she left? How she knows Max is here? Is she with him? Is that how she knows? What…”

“Kyle, slow down,” I say, “Give him a chance to answer.”

We both turn to him expectantly. He takes a deep breath and plunges in.

“She said a lot of things,” he begins, “mostly about how sorry she is that she left us that way and how she’s wanted to come back a thousand times, but didn’t think we would want her to.”

“Does she know what that did to us?” Kyle interrupts, “Does she know how we searched for her night after…”

“Kyle,” I warn, “let him finish.”

As much as I hate her for putting us through that, especially Michael, I can’t be angry. I understand why she left. I understand how she could want to run away and never ever look back. I understand because I’ve wanted to do the same thing a million times over. But the difference obviously is I never did.

“She never even left the city,” he continues, “and no she’s not with Max, she only found out he was here yesterday.”

“Did she talk to him? What did he say? Does he know that we’re being hunted? How the hell did he get back here?”

Kyle’s barrage of questions continues.

“Okay, okay,” I hold up my hands up to silence him, “I think that we should be hearing this straight from the source, don’t you?”

I really didn’t know if I wanted to hear anything at all. My mind was just not willing to wrap itself around this new information.

“Michael, can you get a hold of her, see if she’ll come home?” I ask.

“Um, yeah. She said she would call tonight,” he said slowly.

“Right. Good. Okay then.”

And we waited for the phone to ring.
**********************************
TBC

Part 16

Michael was wearing a path in the hardwood floor by the phone with his constant pacing.

He didn’t know anymore than he’d already divulged to us, so we just waited and waited and waited.

Kyle and I watched Michael go back and forth from our vantage point on the couch.

He alternated between running a hand through his shortly cropped hair and chewing on his fingernails until Kyle couldn’t take it anymore and screamed at him to sit down.

He opted to take a shower instead, and that’s where he is now.

I am curled up with Kyle, my head resting on his chest. I can hear his heart beating.

“You really scared me Liz,” he says seriously.

“Well, I didn’t mean to faint,” I say.

“No, that’s not what I’m talking about, although that freaked me out too, I mean when you wouldn’t let me touch you.”

“Huh?” I ask, perplexed.

“You know, before you fainted, when you were all shaky. I went to try and hug you and you told me not to touch you.”

“I did?”

“Yeah.”

“Whoa. I don’t even remember that. I must have been totally out of it.”

“Yeah, I guess you were.” He paused and tangled his fingers in my hair, “It made me realize something.”

“What’s that?” I ask.

“That I don’t ever want to not be able to touch you.”

My heart leapt into my throat and I had to bite my lip to keep from crying.

“I don’t want that either,” I say when I finally trust my voice again.

“Liz, no matter—no matter what happens, you know—with Max, I don’t want you to forget how much I love you,” his fingers move from my hair and run feather light down my cheek, “how much I need you,” he adds in a voice softer than a whisper.

“Kyle I….”

RIIIIINNNNGGG!!

Our heads snap to the direction of the noise and Michael comes barreling out of the bedroom.

He snatches up the phone and curtly says “Yeah.”

We listen intently to his side of the conversation.

“Okay…yeah I know…what?….but Isabel….probably….yeah….why can’t you just….uh huh….tomorrow?…….I guess……right, okay….yeah……bye.”

Kyle and I have gotten up and are hovering right behind him.

He’s just standing there, staring at the phone in his hand.

“Michael,” I say tentatively.

He starts at the sound of my voice and drops the phone onto the base.

He stalks over to the couch and throws him self down into the cushions.

Rubbing his hand over his face in frustration he mutters, “She wants to meet us tomorrow. The park, 11:00.”

We don’t even ask why she won’t come here.

Kyle sits in the chair opposite the couch and I lower myself next to Michael. Glancing at the clock, I notice it’s 2:30 in the morning, and I wonder where Isabel is right now.

“We should try and get some sleep,” I say and Kyle nods in agreement.

“I’m not tired,” Michael says.

And once again Kyle and I head off to bed alone.

Sometime in the early hours of the morning, Michael crawled into bed with us.

He settled in on my right side, nestling his head gently in the crook of my neck.

His tear stained cheek was wet against my skin, but I didn’t mind.

I wrapped my arm around his shoulder and held him until the sun’s bright orange rays peeked in our window.

11:00 on the dot, we arrive in central park.

Instinctively our legs carry us to the bench where we feed the pigeons every Sunday afternoon.

It’s empty, and I suddenly fear that she won’t show up.

We sit down and instantly the birds flock around like they know who we are.

I feel bad; we didn’t bring any breadcrumbs.

Kyle sees her first and nudges me in the side. My head snaps up and I follow his line of vision.

I don’t know how he recognized her.

Her always perfectly coifed golden locks are gone, replaced by dull short layers unevenly spaced over her entire head.

Gone also, is her perfectly tailored wardrobe of cashmere and leather, replaced by dirty torn jeans, and an oversized sweatshirt.

Gone is the poised, perfect ice queen who could silence you with a look.

Walking towards us now is a frightened, wounded little girl, afraid of her own shadow.

The one Kyle and I found in the alley.

She stops a few feet from us, and even at this distance I can see the dark purple bruises under her eyes, as if she hasn’t slept since she left us.

I hope she hasn’t.

Michael gets up. I knew he would. He just couldn’t wait and let her come the rest of they way over.

They stand toe to toe, neither one saying anything.

Both of them are crying. I can see the tears chasing down their cheeks.

A sob escapes Isabel’s throat and I watch as Michael’s arms gather her to him, warm and safe.

The embrace lasts an eternity, expressing what words never could.

At last Michael is leading her over to Kyle and I.

Kyle gets up but I do not. He hugs her too and whispers something in her ear that starts her tears all over again.

He releases her and steps away and now it’s only her and I.

She holds my gaze with tears still pooling above dark circles.

I feel my own burning my eyes distorting her face and I wish them away futilely.

I refuse to get up and she eventually sits beside me on our bench.

We look at each other and at the same time reach out to embrace the other.

I whisper in the same ear Kyle did.

“If you ever leave again, I’ll kill you myself.”

She nods into my hair and we have reached an understanding.

Kyle and Michael pull us to our feet and we engage in one giant group hug, but then it’s down to business.

It’s time to talk about Max.

Unfortunately there wasn’t much more she had to tell us, that Michael hadn’t already.

What it boiled down to was she saw him yesterday walking down 5th avenue.

She said she called out his name, but he didn’t even flinch, just kept right on walking. She tried chasing after him, but lost him in the crowd.

That’s why she showed up at our work. She knew that she had to tell us. That it was time to come home.

But she got scared when Michael saw her and bolted.

That’s it. That’s all she knows.

Not very useful at all.

So now we’ve just been sitting here, the four of us again, with angry pigeons.

“Holy Shit,” I hear whispered from Kyle’s mouth and this is when time began to move in slow motion.

I look where Kyle is pointing.

I see a man and a woman.

The man is smiling at her. Sweetly, lovingly.

He reaches a hand up to brush away a white blond curl of hair away that’s gotten stuck in her lipstick.

Leaning in, he touches his lips to those very same lipstick covered ones.

She hugs him tightly and I can see her mouth the words ‘I love you.’

He is about to say them back when a little boy bounces up to the couple carrying a bright red Frisbee in his hand.

He looks to be about 5 years old.

He has dark hair and sparkling blue eyes and his ears stick out ever so slightly.

Minus the eyes, he is a carbon copy of his father.

The next thing I know, I’m hunched over the nearest trashcan, dry heaves racking my body.
*****************

TBC

Part 17

“Liz??”

“Liz? Are you okay?”

I could hear Kyle’s voice, but it sounded muffled and far away.

I tried to answer that I was definitely NOT okay, but another dry heave hindered my response.

The wretched vision was still burning my eyes.

It was just an illusion.

It had to be….right?

“Liz?”

I tried to speak again, but fire scorched my throat.

“Take her home Kyle.”

Michael’s voice this time, also muffled and distant.

I wondered what was wrong with my ears.

“Isabel, you go with them.”

“But Michael…”

“No arguments Iz. I’ll deal with this—and none of you need to see it.”

“Michael—it could be a trap. What if they’re shape shifters?” Isabel argued.

“I said no arguments Isabel. Go home.”

The haze was beginning to clear from my head. I recognized that hard, cold tone of Michael’s voice.

“She’s right Michael, it’s too dangerous. We’re not leaving you here alone.” Kyle said from beside me.

I didn’t look, but I could feel the heat of Michael’s glare.

“Take Liz home Kyle,” he said through clenched teeth. “I’m not going to do this with you. I said take her home, now do it—both of you.”

Isabel and Kyle stood on either side, and lifted me off the ground, surrendering to Michael’s command.

I knew I was the only one who might be able to talk him out of this ludicrous plan.

I launched myself at him, nearly knocking him over with the force of my embrace.

The tears came unbidden, and I pleaded with him.

“No Michael, no. Come with us, we’ll go and pretend we never saw them. Please, let’s just go home—We’ll leave tonight, go someplace else. Please Michael, Please. It’s a trap—it has to be a trap.”

“Liz,” he tried softly.

“No Michael—I won’t leave you here—I won’t.” I clung to him mercilessly, digging my fingernails into his neck until I thought I’d draw blood.

“What if it’s not a trap,” he said lowly into my ear, “what if it’s them? Do you really want to see him that way? Happy? In love with her? Do you really want to see the child they made together?”

It was as if he’d plunged the knife directly into my heart.

I pushed him away, clutching at my chest trying to remove the knife.

“You bastard,” I heard Kyle hiss.

“Take me home Kyle.” I ordered. The waver of my voice betrayed my command.

Kyle pulled me to him and we stepped together, toward home. We heard Isabel ask Michael a question and froze on the spot.

“What will you do Michael?”

“Kill him,” he responded without hesitation.

A tiny gasp, or was it a sob? Tore from her throat and then she was beside us, pulling us away, not bothering to wipe her tear stained face.

An unknown force turned my head and made me look over my shoulder as we walked away.

Kyle, Isabel, and even I told my self not to look but it was out of my control.

The last image I saw was Michael stalking purposefully toward the man that once owned my soul.

*********************
Part 18

“He’s really going to kill him, isn’t he?” Kyle asks as we enter our apartment.

It was the first any of us had spoken since we left the park.

Isabel doesn’t answer, and neither do I.

I know someone is likely to die, I’m just not sure it will be Max.

It’s entirely possible that Isabel is right. That they are shape shifters, waiting for us to come to them so they can kill us.

It’s also entirely possible that it is Max and his family.

Just the thought of it makes me cringe and my stomach flips.

“We shouldn’t have left him,” Isabel mumbles.

I shoot her a look. Was she or was she not the one dragging Kyle and I away?

“Why can’t any of us stand up to him when he gets like that?” she says a little more clearly.

“Shut up Isabel,” Kyle says from the couch.

A short laugh bursts from my mouth at the look on her face.

I don’t think any one has ever said that to her before.

Isabel’s mouth snaps shut and she grimaces. I’m pretty sure she just literally ‘bit her tongue’.

“We have to go back,” I say suddenly.

“What?” Kyle says

I can see in his eyes that he thinks I’ve gone insane. I probably have.

“She’s right,” Isabel is quick to agree with me.

“It’s quite clear you both have lost your minds. Don’t you think it’s a little late for that now? I think I can safely say that what ever was going to happen already has.”

Of course it has. It’s been what? 30 minutes? I look at the clock, make that 40 minutes.

Unfortunately this does nothing to abate the strong desire I have to return to the park.

“I want to go back Kyle,” I say.

“No,” he says simply.

“Yes.”

“No.”

“I’m going,” I say not making a move from my spot in the chair.

“No you’re not.”

“Yes I am.”

“Liz and I will go, you stay here,” Isabel interrupts our debate pulling me to my feet.

I hadn’t even noticed she’d crossed the room.

I let her lead me to the door, not taking my eyes off of Kyle. I’m sure he’s going to try and stop us.

But he just watches our retreat from the couch.

I hear Isabel’s hand grasp the doorknob, one of her rings scraping loudly against the brass.

“You promised you’d never leave me Liz,” he says softly, almost inaudibly.

I jerk my arm from Isabel’s grip and turn fully toward him.

“Come with me,” I say

He shakes his head no.

“Please,” I beg.

“Stay here with me,” he offers.

I don’t know what to do now. Half of me wants to curl up beside him and never leave. The other half of me wants to go back to the park and find out what happened to Michael, or what happened to Max.

Isabel saved me the trouble of having to make a decision.

“I’m going,” she stated and ripped open the door.

“Oh God,” leaked out of her mouth in a slow hiss.

I whipped my body around at the sound and time began to move in slow motion for the second time that day.

Have you ever seen one of those movies where a person is dying and you see their ghost or whatever floating around watching everything that’s happening?

That’s what this was like for me, except I wasn’t dying.

I watched myself hurl my body at him, knocking her down in the process.

He tumbled down with me on top of him.

I watched as my hands wrapped around his neck tightly and began to squeeze the breath right from his lungs.

I listened as I screamed profanities at him and shook him so hard his head banged against the wood floor.

Without warning my two bodies merged and I felt him clawing at my hands, gasping desperately for breath.

A myriad of hands were trying to pry me from his body and somehow, through the buzz in my ears, I heard Michaels voice.

“Stop Liz, stop. It’s not Max—It’s not Max.”

Another sound broke through the noise—the sound of a little boy crying.

Slowly I released my hands from around his neck and Kyle’s arms lifted me off his body.

He struggled to his feet holding his mangled neck with one hand. She slipped an arm around his waist helping him stand.

“Are you all right?” I heard her ask through a tear-choked throat.

He just stared at me.

I took a step closer, peering deep into his eyes.

My hand clamped involuntarily over my mouth as I realized I nearly strangled Zan to death.

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

Part 19

Realization hit me like a ton of bricks when I first saw them in the park.

I knew at that moment that I blamed him for everything.

The fear, the anger, the despair, the loneliness, the heartache, and most of all, the pain.

It never goes away. It doesn’t lessen, or dull, or fade, not even a little.

And so the pressure was finally too much and I snapped.

I’m not a violent person, it’s not in my nature, but I just attacked an innocent person and brought him to the brink of death.

It scared me how much I wanted him to die.

Even after I knew it wasn’t Max, I wished with every fiber of my being that it had been.

Poor unsuspecting Zan absorbed the brunt of my rage.

Guilt multiplied two fold when I saw the look on Ava’s face and that of their little boy, John.

The poor kid is going to need serious therapy after seeing me attack his Father.

I apologized profusely of course, but really, how do you say you’re sorry for nearly killing someone with your bare hands?

I wonder now why he didn’t use his powers to toss me across the room. Or why any of them didn’t. Shock? Perhaps. I certainly would have, had I any such powers.

However if I did, he surely would be dead now.

We got the abbreviated version of the encounter in central park, I’m pretty sure Zan and his family didn’t want to spend any more time with us than they already had.

Michael strode right up to him and punched him in the mouth ala Kyle. Luckily he noticed it wasn’t Max before he killed him right there in broad daylight.

Zan of course thought he was Rath and in return, tried to kill Michael.

What an unnecessary ugly mess.

Whoever thought two sets of them was a good idea was smoking crack.

It’s truly amazing how much they resemble the others.

Only their eyes give them away.

Anyway, the story in a nutshell, Ava came back to New York after leaving us all those years ago, found Zan still alive, she got pregnant, they got married and they’ve been together ever since. I guess Zan finally realized it was her he’d been waiting for all along.

They know nothing of Max, Tess, or anything else even remotely alien and frankly they don’t care. Not that I could blame them.

They hightailed it out of here after our grilling questions and I’m sure we won’t ever see them again.

We’re leaving tomorrow.

I don’t know to where, not that it matters, just that we are going.

Another state, another town, another apartment, another name

I don’t want to go, but I don’t want to argue about it.

Besides, everyone is still freaked out over my psychotic murderous episode.

In all honesty, I’m a little freaked out myself.

That certainly wasn’t me, or it wasn’t who I was 5 years ago.

I haven’t recognized the woman who stares at me in the mirror with dead eyes in a long time.

None of us are who we were and we won’t ever be again.

Max made sure of that.

I wonder what will happen if I ever do see him again.




"Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional."
posted on 14-Sep-2001 10:10:02 PM
Part 20

They are staring at me.

It’s been this way since Zan and Ava left.

I mean since John, Alison, and little John Henderson left.

I can just see it now, they have a tiny house in a suburb called “Whispering Pines” and “Alison” drives little John to kindergarten in the blue Honda Accord.

It almost makes me choke how disgustingly happy they are.

They still haven’t said a word. They can only stare.

I guess I wouldn’t know what to say to me either.

Kyle is the first to cut through the deafening silence. I knew it would be him.

“Liz, are yo….”

“I’m fine Kyle, really. I guess I’ve been harboring some anger for him, but I’m better now. Really I am.”

He doesn’t look convinced; as well he shouldn’t, since I’m lying.

He knows though. Kyle always knows when I’m lying.

“Anger, yeah. That might be a bit of an understatement,” he says.

“Look, it’s not like I was premeditating it or anything, it just—happened. Can we move on now?” I look at all of them in turn.

“Sure, yeah.” Nods all around.

“I’m—I’m gonna take a shower,” Isabel says awkwardly and moves toward the bedroom.

That’s good, you need one, I almost say out loud.

I feel so strange, so anxious.

Like I’m waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop.

I don’t even notice I’m wringing my hands together until Kyle’s settle firmly over the top of mine.

“Liz,” he says slowly, “it’s not your fault.”

It unnerves me how he does that, it’s like he can crawl right inside my head and see what I’m thinking.

I guess he just knows me really well.

“I almost….I mean I could have….”

The tears spring to the front of my eyes and a lump the size of a melon surges into my throat effectively stifling my words.

“But you didn’t Liz—you didn’t.”

Kyle lets me sob all over his chest, drenching his shirt, and Michael joins the comfort team on my other side. Just like always.

I’m crying because I almost killed a man and—because I didn’t. I think I’m going to have to join little John in therapy.

It’s in the midst of this cry fest that Michael drops the “Hey, we’re getting the heck out of dodge” bomb.

“Good,” Kyle says nodding his head in concurrence.

I just sniff and wipe my nose on his shirt.

“Where will we go?” Isabel asks quietly from the doorway.

“Anywhere. It doesn’t matter. But we go together.” He looks pointedly at her and she nods almost imperceptibly.

“Anyone feel like dinner?” Kyle changes the subject.

“It’s 4:00 Kyle,” Michael scoffs.

“True, but we haven’t eaten all day and it looks like Isabel hasn’t eaten all month.”

We all turn to look at her.

She’d put on a tank top and a pair of jeans after her shower. They hung from her as if they belonged to someone 3 times her size.

Fidgeting nervously under our scrutiny she quickly crossed the room and sunk deep into the cushions of the chair adjoining the couch.

It swallowed her whole.

“How bout Pizza?” she asks intent on distracting our evaluation of her emaciated state.

I’m suddenly extremely hungry and can taste the gooey cheese already.

“I’ll call.” Michael grabs the phone off the table and orders 2 large pepperoni pizza’s from Zito’s Italian Bistro.

Dinner in 30 minutes or less.

It’s grown silent again and my earlier anxiety flares brightly back to the surface.

A million butterflies dance wildly in my gut.

I hope it’s just the hunger.

The knock at the door makes us all jump.

I guess I’m not the only one with an insect party in their stomach.

“I’ll get it.” Kyle gets up, but then takes excruciatingly slow steps to the door.

He flips the deadbolt and yanks it open so hard I’m positive it’s going to fall right off the hinges.

“Oh you have to be kidding me,” he says incredulously, “Forget it pal. Whatever your story is, we don’t want to hear it, so just get back in your little alien transport machine and return to whatever timeline you came from.”

He slams the door and I get a glimpse of leather and long hair before the image disappears behind the wood.

Kyle turns the deadbolt back to the locked position and hooks the chain.

“Please tell me that was just a hallucination,” he mumbles as he settles back down beside me, “I don’t think I can take any more of this crap.”

Another knock sounds almost immediately and we all freeze at the noise.

A third knock and none of us move a muscle.

With eyes trained on the door, I don’t think any of us are surprised when the chains slides out of the tract on it’s own and dangles noisily down the doorframe.

Nor are we surprised when the deadbolt flips back to unlock.

The door creaks open slowly like something out of one of those cheesy horror movies, revealing the evil, psychotic, axe wielding murdered who’s come to finally kill us all.

Only instead of an axe he’s holding a duffel bag. Maybe the axe is in the duffel bag. Not very convenient.

I shake my head and blink hard. I’ve apparently gone completely loony.

Michael, Kyle, and Isabel all turn slowly towards me.

They all know the story; I didn’t see any reason to keep it to myself anymore.

So now they stare at me wanting to know why there is a man standing in our doorway who looks remarkably like the future version of Max I described to them years ago.

Or they want to know if I intend to strangle this one too.

The future Max look-a-like takes a step into our apartment. His eyes are glued to me—only me. He hasn’t given anyone else even a glance.

My body rises from the couch against my will and the all too familiar buzz starts humming in my ears.

I hear Kyle call my name but he’s a million miles away.

My feet carry me around the coffee table.

He follows every movement.

I stop a mere arms length from him.

“Liz.”

My name rolls of his tongue in barely a whisper.

A voice I thought I’d long forgotten, sent shivers rippling down my spine.

“NO.” My voice was loud and strong and then I attacked.
**************************
Part 20b

With the palms of my hands I shoved him as hard as I could.

He stumbled back, a rather stunned expression on his face

“Liz, wh—what..”he stuttered.

“NO!” I cut him off. “No, Max I won’t. I did what you asked once before and look where it got me. ‘Make me fall out of love with you’ you said. ‘The end of the world’ you said. Well guess what Max? The world ended anyway. My world.” I shoved him again, “My life.” One more shove and I had him out the door and pinned up against the wall opposite our apartment.

“I gave up everything for you and what did it get me?”

“Liz—I—I….”

“Can’t you even talk in complete sentences anymore Max? What is it? What do you want from me this time? Blood from my veins?” I shoved my wrist in his face. “Because that’s about all I have left.”

He glanced nervously over my shoulder into the apartment, clearly looking for some assistance from the occupants inside.

“You think they’re going to help you?” I shake my head slowly, “They won’t. Go back where you came from, we don’t want you here.”

I released my hand from his chest and took a step back. He doesn’t make a move to leave.

And I thought I was being very clear.

“Liz, what are you talking about?”

“You asshole.” I meant to scream it, but it came out in a tiny little squeak, so I slapped him hard across the face and my knee made rather firm contact with his nether region.

He crumpled to the floor, one hand holding his balls and the other cupping his stinging cheek.

“I can’t believe you have the audacity to pretend you don’t know Max,” I hissed at him.

“Please Liz, Please. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He begs me through clenched teeth.

I took a good long look at his face and noticed for the first time the jagged scar that runs from his hair line down between his eyes, over his nose, through his lips, and ends at the tip of his chin.

It’s as if someone attempted to cut his face right in half.

I gasp when I let my glance linger in his. Deep inside those desperate, tear filled eyes I catch a glimpse of a boy I knew in another life.

“You’re not from the future are you?” I asked on a whisper.

His face twisted in obvious confusion, and probably some pain.

“What are you talking about? How could I be from the future?”

“It’s really you.” I said as I slid slowly down the wall, landing with a thump on the hardwood floor.

“Yeah Liz, it’s me,” he said softly, almost tenderly. “I’ve been looking for you, for all of you,” he glances quickly into the door, “for a long time.”

“Why would you think I’m from the future Liz? That’s not even possible.” The hand he was using to hold his cheek moved and made an attempt to touch me.

I flinched away and the hand retracted as if I’d set it on fire.

“How did you get here Max? How did you find us?” I hear Isabel ask from inside.

“It’s a long story,” he says and then sighs as if that’s explanation enough.

“Well are you going to share that story with the rest of class your majesty?” Kyle bit out sarcastically.

A part of me still wants to beat him to a bloody pulp and the rest really wants to hear that story.

“Is it all right if I come inside then?” he asks tentatively.

“Oh now he asks if he can come in.”

I can actually hear Kyle’s eyes roll from the hallway.

When no one else answers, Isabel’s says, “Of course you can.”

He slowly gets to his feet and extends a hand to help me up.

“I can get up all by myself,” I say slapping his hand away.

He lets me go inside first and then shuts the door behind us.

I go immediately to the couch and the comfort of Kyle’s arms.

He wraps them around me tightly when I practically crawl onto his lap.

We spend what seems like hours just looking at each other and then Michael, unable to stand it any longer begins the barrage of questions.

“How’d you get here Max? What happened to the murdering bitch? Where’s your son?”

“Hold on Michael,” Max silences him with his hands, “One question at time. I came back in the Granolith and Tess is dead,” his voice is hard and icy and he said that with out a trace of regret. “I don’t have a son. She was never pregnant.” This is said with more regret than I’ve ever heard. Whether it’s because he doesn’t have a son or because she deceived him, I can’t be sure.

Michael, Isabel, and Kyle are shocked by this news.

It doesn’t surprise me one bit. I always suspected just that.

“How long have you been back?” Isabel asks quietly.

“3 years,” he says and averts his eyes to his suddenly very fascinating lap.

The silence following that revelation is suffocating, I feel like my lungs have filled with concrete.

“Do you—do you ah—know about…” Kyle’s question died on his lips.

Max looks up at us, his eyes wet with emotion. “Yeah, I do,” he nods. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know Nicholas would retaliate like that.”

A tear breaks free and escapes down his cheek.

“By the time I found out and got back home it was—it was too late. I ah—I discovered you all had vanished and I could only hope you were safe.”

“They’re dead, every single one of them that was hunting you has been destroyed. Even Nicholas,” he added subconsciously touching the scar that runs the length of his face.

“Is that how you got that?” Isabel whispers pointing to the slightly raised serrated line that splits his face in two.

He nods and a flicker of hate flashes in his eyes like a bolt of lightning.

“Why and what exactly was he retaliating Max?” Michael asked.

Max sucked in a deep breath, “Because I killed Khivar.”

A ton of conflicting emotions were swimming through me at this point. Max had obviously been through a great deal and I wasn’t sure how to feel about it all. I’ve been harboring all this—well this hate I guess is what it is—and now, I don’t know. There’s still a couple of nagging questions in my mind and I don’t know if this is the right time to address them or not.

“What happened Max?” Michael asked urgently

“Well, when we first arrived on Antar, we were immediately thrown into what I can only describe as a dungeon. We were held there for quite awhile.”

His voice took on a detached, dead tone as he continued the story.

“It seems Khivar was on some neighboring planet when we arrived and had to be summoned. We were detained until he could get there.”

“He knew immediately upon touching her that Tess did not carry my heir and killed her on the spot. I can’t say that it upset me all that much.”

“With me, it was a bit more difficult.” He paused and ran his hands wearily over his face and then through his shoulder length hair.

“Luckily,” he began again,” there was a small army of revolutionaries who’d been trying to over throw Khivar for a long time. They came to my rescue.”

“Larek was—is the leader of that army. It was his plan that ultimately allowed me to destroy Khivar. Larek is now the newly appointed King of Antar and the four ruling planets. Peace has been restored.”

“I headed back as soon as I heard about Nicholas. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry I didn’t get here in time,” he chokes up now, and the rest of the unshed tears tumble down his marred face.

“How long—how long have we been running from nothing?” Kyle asks.

“A little over two years,” Max answers, his voice drowning in regret.

“Jesus Christ,” he says under his breath.

“I know, I know. I’m sorry. I’ve been trying to find you to tell you, but you’ve disappeared very well. If I hadn’t of run into Zan and Ava a while ago, I would still be looking. They told me where I could find you, wished me good luck, and then went on their way.”

“What happened that day Max? In the pod chamber?” I ask my first question. “Did she—did she force you to go with her?”

I know the answer to this will define everything.

He looked at me for a long time before he answered.

“No,” he finally shook his head.

“You—you went willingly? You just left us? How could you do that Max?” Isabel was practically shrieking. “God—if you’d have stayed—none of it—none of it would have happened.”

“Iz, I didn’t—I couldn’t…”

“She’s right Max,” Kyle said lowly, “I might still have a family and we wouldn’t have had to disappear, essentially giving up our identities, our lives, for nothing.”

“I’m not—I don’t…”

“Yes, it always has been just about you hasn’t it Evans?” Kyle spit out, interrupting him.

“Kyle, don’t,” I say rubbing his knee, “it’s not worth it. I need to speak with Max alone.”

I look at everyone and they rise without a word and file one by one out of the room.

“If I had known Liz, if I’d known I never would have left,” he started when the bedroom door shut out everyone else.

“I’m sure that’s true Max,” I lie.

“I need to know one more thing though,” I say.

“Anything.”

“Was the sex real?”

He rubbed his temples as if that could erase the question.

“Yes,” he let out with the breath he’d been so obviously holding.

I guess I knew the answer to that one on some level, but I think I was still holding out hope that it also was a trick, and that’s why the last part of my heart that still bore his name died with that one word response.

“I can’t tell you how much I regret it Liz, how sorry I am that I screwed up the one thing that meant anything to me. How wrong I was about—well about everything. If I could take it all back, if I could fix any of it, I would. In a heart beat.” He paused and inhaled deeply. “I never meant to hurt you, any of you.”

His eyes pleaded with me to understand.

Eyes that once upon a time could penetrate my defenses and electrify my senses.

Eyes that could grasp my soul.

Strangely I felt nothing from them now.

“But you did,” I say simply.

“I hope someday you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me,” he said softly.

“Me too.” I say getting up. I head for the kitchen.

“Liz? Can you tell me why you thought I was from the future?”

I stopped and turned back to him. In the wake of his revelations I’d temporarily forgotten that I thought he was a future version.

Those pleading eyes looked back at me, silently begging for forgiveness.

I made my way back to the couch and sat down. I knew right then that I wanted him to know everything that had happened since that fateful day back in October of 2000.

Not only did I want him to know, I wanted him to see, to feel every ounce of pain I’ve endured in the past 6 years.

“Yeah Max, I can. But I think it would be easier if I could show you. Can you—can you open a connection between us?” I ask.

He swallowed and shook his head, “Um yeah, but I’m going to—I’m going to need to touch you. Is that—is that all right?”

I silently shake my head yes, involuntarily remembering the night he came to me after the shooting, saying those exact words. How different things are now.

He placed his hands on either side of my face and the once familiar connection flared quickly to life. I concentrated hard on sending him every shred of the life he created from the night of the future version of himself to a few hours ago when I almost killed Zan.

For me it was as if the weight of the world was suddenly lifted off my shoulders. It was like he absorbed all the pain that has been building over the years into himself.

Maybe that’s what he intended to do.

The connection severed abruptly and it took a few moments for everything to come back into focus.

When it did, I found Max curled into a ball in the chair sobbing uncontrollably.

In that other life, I would have done anything to try and console him. But now I just sat and watched him suffer. I wanted him to.

I stood up and went to the bedroom leaving him crying and alone in the chair.

***************************
PAIN~~~~EPILOGUE

We followed through with our plans to leave the next day.

Well, Kyle and I did anyway.

We got on the first plane to New Mexico with a few days worth of clothes stuffed into backpacks.

Oh and of course we took along the super sucker food saver.

Going back to Roswell was the only logical choice, for me anyway.

My poor parents had spent the last 4 years thinking I was missing and probably dead.

I wanted to see them.

I wanted to go home.

It was strange at first, being in the place that held so many memories.

The bad ones out weighed the good most days and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to stay, but over time the good and bad mingled into something almost indiscernible.

My parents were ecstatic of course and hardly let Kyle and I out of their sight for weeks.

We’ve been home about 4 years now, and sometimes when things are really good; we can almost forget that we ever left. Almost.

The Crashdown is still going strong and I’ve taken to helping out with the weekend crowds donning my classic aquamarine uniform and bobbing silver antennae.

Kyle was just sworn in as Roswell’s newest Sheriff.

A bit surprising yes, and definitely ironic, but it helps him keep his Dad close to his heart and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I’ve been attending ENMU in Portales and will graduate next summer with a BS degree in Archeology. It’s not molecular biology, but I’m enjoying it and that’s all that matters.

We rent a little house over on 16th street, not far from the high school.

We’ve been in it practically since we came back. With the money Kyle inherited from his Dad’s will and the money my parents put away for me for college, we’ve been doing just fine.

It was mostly just platonic for Kyle and I in the beginning. He wanted more, and truthfully so did I, but I don’t think either of us was quite ready for that, not then.

We’ve sort of evolved, so to speak, into what we are now. It’s sounds trite to say we’re ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’ because it’s so much more than that.

Kyle is essentially my everything. He makes my life worth living everyday.

I don’t want to even imagine what it would be like to wake up in the morning with out him by my side, and that’s why I’ve decided to make it official.

I mean we’re already married in all sense of the word anyway.

Isabel has been helping me make plans. Tomorrow night is Kyle’s 27th birthday and I’m going to propose.

And yes, I did say Isabel. The pod squad is here in Roswell too.

The knock on our door sounded about two months after we arrived back in town. I knew it was Michael before I even opened it.

He was holding a rather odd looking plant in one hand, a house warming gift he said, and his duffel bag in the other.

It wasn’t a surprise, him showing up. I knew they would make their way back here eventually. The plant on the other hand was a very un-Michael thing.

He’d just flown in and wanted to stay until Max and Isabel arrived. They were driving from New York. Isabel insisted on bringing all the furniture from our old apartment.

She always did like that stuff.

Michael bore another unusual offering for me. It came in crisp white envelope with my named scrawled on the front in an unforgettable script.

Four days would pass before I opened it.

Its contents surprised me.

For all the moments we spent together
Were not measured in time,
With you time was suspended,
As I was lost in your beauty;
Beauty of spirit, mind, and body.
Some say love comes but once,
This I say would be true,
For the love I hold for you
Deep inside my heart and soul
Could never find a place,
In anyone but you.


It wasn’t signed, and of course it didn’t need to be.

I never figured Max for poetry, but then I never thought he’d serenade me either.

It was beautiful in it’s simplicity, and I will always cherish it—and the love we once shared.

He never mentioned it, nor did I, in fact there was only one time when he ever brought up anything about ‘us.’

One night when we were waiting for everyone else to show up for dinner, Max said, “He really makes you happy doesn’t he?” I could only smile and he chuckled, but then got very serious, “All I ever wanted was for you to be happy Liz, I’m just sorry I couldn’t be the one to accomplish that.”

Then he hugged me and the rest of our gang came barreling through the door.

It took a long time, but we all forgave Max in our own way. It was inevitable. Harboring all that resentment and hatred just made the suffering greater.

We were all finally able to let it all go and move on and ahead with our lives.

Even Max, although I do suspect he still is carrying around some guilt and regret, but that too is inevitable.

The three of them share a house just a couple of streets over from Kyle and I.

Michael, if you can believe it, is one of Kyle’s deputies. That, I think, may define irony.

It’s good for Michael. It lets him be the soldier, the protector, he was made to be. He also likes turn on the sirens in his patrol car for no apparent reason.

Isabel has been doing some modeling, no surprise there. She says it keeps her sane and she gets to keep most of the clothes. It’s better than going to the mall, she’s said on more than one occasion.

She probably wouldn’t want you to know, but what she really loves is volunteering down at the children’s center. I think that is what keeps her sane.

Max has been substitute teaching while he works towards his BS degree in Astronomy at NMSU-Las Cruses. I guess this would define ironic, not Michael being a deputy.

The four of us get together at least once a week, for dinner or coffee or what ever. Max joins us when he can, but he never misses our monthly gathering at the cemetery.

It’s our time to remember our family and friends and we bring flowers and tell only happy stories of times long ago. It’s therapeutic for all of us.

When I was a little girl, I had visions of how my life was going to turn out. Unrealistic childhood fantasies, yes, but I always thought somehow I could make them a reality.

Unfortunately life hardly ever turns out the way you thought it would when you were 10.

I’m not the youngest head of molecular biology research at Harvard. I’m not married to prince charming, with 2.5 kids, a dog, a cat, and a white picket fence.

But I do have a man who is all the prince I’ll ever need, some great friends, parents who love me and come next fall I’ll have a great job.

It’s not what I dreamed and I had to go to hell and back to get here, suffered through more pain than normal people could even imagine, but life is good again and that ain’t bad.


~End~

"Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional."