L-J-L 76 (2x)
Everything was silent and dark when Liz entered her home, but she still nervously checked to make sure her dad wasn’t anywhere downstairs before letting Max into the house. She didn’t need the hassle of getting caught sneaking a boy into the house. Once he was inside, Liz quietly shut the front door and set the alarm. Slowly, Liz started to creep up the stairs with Max following behind her. As they reached the top step, Liz froze in fear when she heard the floorboard creak loudly under her foot. Glancing to the right, she saw that her father’s door was partially open and felt her panic increase. She glanced back at Max, who looked just as nervous and held her hand up for him to stop moving. For a moment, they both stood there silently, listening for any sign that her father was waking. Instead, she heard the light sounds of snoring coming from his room and let out a sigh of relief. They turned to the left and quickly walked down the hallway towards Liz’s bedroom.
Liz shut the door behind them and when she turned to Max, a feeling of awkwardness went through her. Being the goody two shoes that she was, she’d never snuck a boy in her room before. Not even when she was dating Kyle. Max didn’t seem to notice her unease though, too lost in his own thoughts.
“You can sit down,” she said, hoping to make the situation feel more comfortable. With a small nod, he moved to sit at the end of her bed. The empty look in his eyes broke Liz’s heart and made her forget all about her uneasiness and she went to sit down next to him. “Is there anything I can do?”
Max shook his head, staring down at the letter still clutched tightly in his right hand. “I just can’t believe she’d leave me like this.”
“Did she say way she left?”
Max didn’t respond to that. Instead, he handed the letter to her. For a moment, Liz was surprised that he would feel comfortable with reading something so personal, but she took the letter and started reading it…
My sweet Max,
Words cannot express how much it pains me to write this letter. You know I love you more than anything. But I can’t do this anymore. I know this is hard, but you’re almost eighteen. You don’t need me to protect you anymore…not that I was ever very good at that. You’ve always been the strong one and that’s why I know that you’ll be okay in the end. I’m so sorry, baby. But please know that I love you.
As Liz set the letter down on her lap, she felt her blood boiling with rage. What a pathetic excuse for a mother! How could she leave her child behind like that? She turned to Max and her heart broke at seeing the distraught look on his face. She wrapped her arms around Max and pulled him close, trying to give him whatever comfort she could. “I’m so sorry, Max.”
Max hugged her back, savoring the warmth her body provided. Being around her made him feel safe and loved. All he wanted to do was stay with her like that forever. When they broke apart, Max found his gaze travelling down to Liz’s lips and the urge to kiss her was almost overpowering. His mind flashed back to the kiss they shared outside of the Aftermath and all he wanted to do was feel that again. When her eyes drifted down to his lips, he wondered if she was thinking the same thing. But then her eyes darted away awkwardly, and Max was reminded of why he couldn’t kiss her. Suddenly he felt guilty and idiotic for even coming to her house.
“I should go,” he said as he stood up from the bed. He started heading towards the door when Liz grasped his wrist and rose from the bed, moving to stand in front of him.
“You can’t be serious?” Liz looked at him like he’d gone insane. “You can’t be alone with your dad.”
Max gave her a small smile, touched by the concern in her voice, “I’ll be fine. He’s probably passed our right now.”
Max started moving towards the door again, but Liz stepped in front of him, a stubborn look in her eyes. “Max, you can’t go back to that house.”
“I guess I can sleep in my car.”
“Or you can stay here.” Liz could see the surprise in Max’s eyes, and she didn’t blame him. With things as complicated as they were, he probably hadn’t expected her to make such an offer. She hadn’t expected it either. Her cell phone buzzed, and she pulled it out from her back pocket. When Maria’s name showed up on the screen, she was reminded of just how complicated her situation was. She turned away from Max so he couldn’t see who was texting and opened the message.
M: Hey, I was wondering if we could talk tomorrow.
Liz’s fingers started typing up a reply.
L: Sure. What about?
M: I just wanted to clear the air. I hate that things are so tense between us.
L: I do too. I’ll stop by your house around 11am.
After sending her response, Liz slid the phone back into her pocket and turned to Max, who was looking at her curiously.
“Liz, are you sure me stay is a good idea?”
Was this a good idea? She didn’t know, but she wasn’t going to second guess her choice now. Not when Max clearly needed help. “It’s fine, Max. My dad’s going to be out of town for a few days,” she said. “You can hang out here and figure things out.”
“And what about Maria? I know it was her that just texted. Are you going to keep lying to her?”
That made Liz pause. She didn’t know what she was going to tell Maria. She knew what she needed to do, but she wasn’t sure she was ready to deal with that. Letting out a tired sigh, she ran a hand through her hair. “I don’t know and I’m too tired to think about that right now. Just stay here tonight and we’ll figure everything out tomorrow.”
Max gave Liz a small nod, deciding not to argue. Truth was, he didn’t want to leave. He stood there silently, watching Liz as she walked over to her closet and pulled out a sleeping back from the top shelf. She laid it out on the floor beside her bed.
“I’m just going to change out of these clothes,” Liz said as she grabbed a camisole and a pair of shorts from her dresser. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
Liz started to leave when Max grabbed her hand to stop her. “Thanks for this. It means a lot.”
Liz’s fingers instinctively wrapped around his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Of course.” Without thinking, Liz leaned forward and gently kissed his cheek, unable to resist the desire to be close to him. Her lips lingered against his skin, not quite ready to pull away. Finally, she pulled away and walked out of the room.
Max watched her, controlling the urge to grab Liz and kiss her. Letting out a frustrated sigh, Max laid down on the sleeping bag. Five minutes later Liz returned, dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, giving Max an exquisite view of her bare legs. He quickly looked away though as she climbed into her bed and turned off the lamp.
“Goodnight, Max,” she said after a few moments of awkward silence.
The room fell silent again as they laid there, doing their best to get some sleep.
Liz awoke to the sound of her phone ringing. Groggily, she rolled onto her side and reached for her phone. “Hello,” she said, mildly annoyed at whoever had just interrupted her sleep.
“Well, someone’s cheery this morning,” Tess replied with a chuckle. “Sorry if I woke you.”
Liz rubbed the sleep from her eyes and rolled onto her back. “It’s fine. What’s up?”
“I just wanted to ask how your date with Doug went?”
The events of the other night flooded through Liz’s mind and she became more alert. Quietly, she leaned over and looked down to see Max sleeping soundly on the floor. Ignoring the butterflies she felt at seeing the peaceful expression on his face, she laid back down on her back.
“It was fine,” she replied, opting for a vague answer. As much as she wanted to tell her best friend what had happened, she’d decided it was best to wait until Max wasn’t within earshot. “Look, can I call you back later? I have some things I need to take care of.”
“Sure,” Tess said. “I’ll talk to you later.
Liz hit the disconnect button and tossed the phone down beside her. She quietly slipped out of bed of bed and went downstairs to the kitchen for food. She smiled when she saw muffins and coffee sitting on the counter with a note from her dad telling her that he loved her. Eagerly, she grabbed the coffee cup and took a sip before grabbing the bag of muffins and heading back upstairs to her room.
Max was sitting up as she entered the room, stretching as he looked over at her. “Morning.”
“Morning,” she said, tossing the bag of muffins in his direction as she sat down on the floor next to him. “Muffins?”
“Thanks.” Max opened the bag and pulled out a chocolate chip muffing, tearing a chunk off and popping in his mouth. Liz took another sip of coffee before handing the cup to him. The two sat that way for a few minutes, silently eating while they passed the coffee back and forth.
Finish the coffee, Liz set the empty cup on her nightstand and looked at Max. “How are you doing?” She asked.
Max shrugged as he finished the rest of his muffin. “I’m okay.” He could feel her concerned eyes on him and knew that she was hoping he wouldn’t go back to his home. He wasn’t ready to think about any of that yet, so quickly tried to switch topics. “You still going to Maria’s?”
“What are you going to tell her?”
“The truth,” Liz said with a sigh. “I’m tired of lying. However she reacts, I just want everything to be out in the open.”
Max nodded but didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to, though, because Liz could see the guilt in his eyes and knew he was blaming himself for coming between her and Maria. “This isn’t your fault, Max,” she said, hoping to assure him. “Maria and I have need to have this conversation for a while.”
“I just know how much Maria means to you,” he said. “I don’t want you to lose her.”
Liz wanted to say something reassuring. She wanted to convince him that everything would be okay. That Maria would accept her and Max, and they would remain friends. But how could she convince him of something she didn’t believe herself. Of course, Maria wouldn’t forgive her. She had lied and continued a relationship with the person who had broken Maria’s heart. That wasn’t the type of thing people forgave. “This isn’t your fault,” Liz repeated, hoping that those words would sink in. Once again, all he gave her was a silent nod. “I’ll be back in a little bit.”
Max silently watched Liz as she went to the bathroom to change, wondering to himself how and when everything got so fucked up.
Liz walked up the steps of Maria’s front porch and knocked on the door, mentally preparing herself for her conversation with Maria. A moment later, the front door opened, and Amy Deluca stood there with a friendly smile on her face. “Hi, Liz.”
Liz smiled back at her. “Hey, Ms. Deluca. Is Maria here?”
Amy immediately stepped aside so Liz could enter the house. As Liz stepped into the foyer, Amy shut the door behind her. “She’s up in her room, sweetie.”
Giving her a small nod, Liz headed up the stairs to the second floor. Maria’s bedroom was the first door on the right and when Liz entered, she found Maria sitting cross legged on her bed, flipping through a magazine. She looked up when Liz came in and tossed the magazine at the end of the bed. “Hey, Liz.”
“Hey,” Liz greeted as she shut the bedroom door behind her. She felt like an idiot as she stood there awkwardly in Maria’s room, trying to figure out what to say to her. She could tell by the way Maria fiddled with her comforter that she was feeling the same way.
“So, how was your date with Doug?” She asked, finally breaking the silence.
With a nervous breath, Liz came over and sat next to Maria on the bed. “It was fine. But I don’t think Doug and I are going to be seeing each other anymore.”
Liz waited for Maria to respond, but she just sat there staring at her, looking almost unsurprised by what Liz was saying. “Maria, you’re my friend. I care about you a lot and I don’t want to keep lying to you.”
“You and Max are together,” Maria said in a matter of fact way, her expression still calm and knowing.
“We haven’t been dating,” Liz quickly corrected. “But we’ve been getting to know each other, and I really care about him. I hope you can understand that.”
Maria didn’t say anything for a long moment. She continued to stare at Liz with an emotionless expression. Seeing her like that unnerved Liz. Maria wasn’t one to hold back her emotions, so Liz had been expecting yelling or crying.
“He’s going to hurt you,” Maria finally said, a hint of pity in her voice. “Why can’t you see that?”
“You don’t know him like I do, Maria.”
That seemed to break through Maria’s calm demeanor and Liz could finally see the brewing in Maria’s eyes. “Oh, really?” She bit out angrily. “You think because you’ve been screwing him behind my back that you know him better than I do?”
“We haven’t been screwing,” Liz snapped back, feeling her own irritation begin to rise. “And you two are not even together. I shouldn’t have to justify my feelings to you just because you’re bitter that he didn’t want you back.”
Liz regretted the words as soon as she said them as she saw Maria’s expression turn cold. “I’m sorry I said that,” she muttered, but she could tell that Maria didn’t believe her. “Is there any way you could accept this?”
“He’s going to hurt you,” she repeated as she stood up from the bed. “And when he does, don’t come crying to me. You chose a guy over your friend and I can’t accept that.”
With that, she turned and walked over her bedroom door and opened it, signaling to Liz that it was time for her to leave. The painful realization that she had lost a friend hit Liz like a brick as she stood up and left. She did her best to contain her tears as she walked home.
Liz found Max sitting on the front steps of her porch when she returned home, a concerned look in his eyes. “Are you okay?” He asked as she sat down next to him.
Liz did her best to appear fine, but she could tell by the way Max intently watched her that she wasn’t fooling him. She settled for honesty. “No. But I will be.”
That was the truth. She hated the rift between her and Maria, but she was glad to finally put an end to the lying. No matter what now, she was done denying what her heart wanted. As she thought this, her hand found its way into Max’s, their fingers interlocking, and Liz felt so much safety and comfort in that touch. When she caught the intensity in his gaze, she knew there was no denying what they both wanted.
Without hesitation, Max gently cupped the back of her head with his free hands and pulled her towards him. The moment their lips met, it felt like coming home.