A/N: Hello, everyone! This will be the final post for this story (but you get three chapters in one). Thanks for your continued support and interest. It's been fun. Enjoy!
He always thought he'd be satisfied with the knowledge that Liz Parker was happy, healthy, and, most importantly, alive. Max would watch her from the distance, drinking in his fill of her beauty and grace, her intelligence and her poise from afar, and he'd be content. Then, they became friends – real friends not just lab partners who shared a lunch occasionally, and he changed his mind. After that, he assumed that conversations with Liz would sustain him. Despite the fact that he was in love with her, as long as they could catch-up with one another when they randomly met up about town or socialized in a small group, his need for her would be fulfilled. He now realized, though, that he had just been fooling himself. He would never be truly happy, truly content, until Liz Parker returned his feelings.
Up until just a few days ago, such a thought had always seemed ridiculous. She was... well, she was Liz – his dreamgirl: everything he wanted from a friend, a lover, and a partner all rolled up in one sexy, petite package. But, at the same time, though, he was Max Evans: everything no woman would ever want. He was too shy, too quiet, too strange, too moody, too secretive, too – and this was the biggest strike against him – not of this world. Even if Liz did know the truth about his background, and even if she had somehow managed to break through all his layers of self-protection, he still wasn't good enough for her. The fact that he only revealed his true nature to her out of desperation after nearly killing her was proof enough of that.
Apparently, however, he was the only one who couldn't fathom Liz's possible attraction to him. After she shared her confrontation with Maria and Alex, her two best friends, with him, he realized that Liz's closest confidants questioned her feelings towards him. Even more shocking was the fact that her own father believed Liz wanted more from their relationship than just mere friendship. Even after Jeff, Maria, and Alex's accusations, though, Max had been hesitant to believe such a miracle – Liz loving him as more than just her pal – to be possible. But then she had become all introspective and secretive following his reveal of her dad's ultimatum. While she didn't avoid him, she also didn't react to anything he had shared with her. She didn't deny that she had feelings for him, but, at the same time, she didn't admit that she did either. It was like he was on the cusp of attaining everything he had ever fantasized about but dismissed as impossible...
… And it was driving Max insane!
What was even worse, weeks had now passed since their conversation out in the desert, and with August rushing towards them like a runaway train intent upon decimating his very existence, Max was not only consumed with thoughts about what Liz was thinking about in regards to him, her dad, and their relationship – his relationship with her, not Jeff Parker, but he was also very much aware of the fact that, in less than a month's time, the person he loved more than anything in the world, the person whom his very sanity and survival depended, upon would be leaving Roswell – and him – behind for college.
At one point, he had dreamed of maybe following her to whichever school she ended up selecting... not that he knew yet where Liz would be attending college in the fall. And his intentions weren't to stalk her across the country but rather plan their mutual decision together. Max had even had his entire argument mapped out. He would emphasize how well they worked together as lab partners, how it was always nice to have something, someone familiar nearby when faced with nothing else but the unknown and strangers, and Max had even been prepared to argue his own insecurities, seeking to appeal to Liz's altruistic side.
Now, though, such dreams of late night study sessions were just that: figments of his overactive imagination. After the number he had done to his grades, not to mention his reputation and criminal record, there was no school worthy of Liz's interest which would ever accept him... even if his parents could pay off an admissions counselor or two. He was still on probation, and he was lucky that he had even passed his senior year of high school. The only reason he had managed to squeak by was because Liz had taken him under her wing once more after he agreed to get and stay sober, cramming nearly six months worth of information into his brain so he could score high enough on his finals to pass his classes. To say that his GPA had taken one for the team was a great understatement.
So, now, he was stuck in Roswell while he scrambled to find a way to continue to put his life back together, and Liz was off to who knew where – east coast; west coast; somewhere far, far away from his daily reach – in just a paltry twenty-some days... depending upon which school she flew off to. Besides the agony of his uncertainty about her feelings toward him, Max was also tortured by thoughts of how many miles would soon be separating the two of them, and he also questioned why Liz's final college choice was such a secret. From what he had been able to piece together... and by piece together he meant eavesdrop in on private conversations, no one knew which prestigious university would be welcoming Roswell's favorite friendly, overachieving waitress to their freshman orientation week and subsequent fall semester worth of classes.
Despite his inner turmoil, though, Max remained sober – as promised. In fact, his body no longer woke up in the morning and went to bed at night craving a drink. While he still had moments of weakness, mainly when put in a situation where his lack of social skills were forced to come to a forefront and Liz wasn't anywhere nearby to hold his hand and help him, he also believed that he had managed to turn a corner. That was the one source of brightness in his otherwise rapidly dimming life. For the first time since his parents had found him wandering aimlessly, naked, in the desert, Max was proud of himself for something. Sure, his sobriety wouldn't have been possible without Liz's support and willingness to connect with him, without Jeff Parker's intervention upon his daughter's insistence, or without his parents' love and faith, Max also knew that no one else was responsible for his decisions, that he was the one who now, for more than three months, had elected not to take a drink.
Whatever joy he had been briefly feeling in that moment, whatever peace had settled over his countenance temporarily vanished, though, as Max returned to the present – to the stickiness of the overwhelmingly hot July midday. Upon Liz's insistence, they had gone against sensibility and taken a drive out into the desert that afternoon as had become their summer custom. Neither of them had to work until the dinner shift, so they had the day free... only the day was too hot to do anything physical, and they weren't the sort of friends to hide away indoors, savoring the air conditioning while sitting in silence because what they had to discuss they couldn't do in public. Usually, they spent their free afternoons in the park – playing frisbee, biking, or sometimes they went out to the beach at Bitter Lake, but, on that particular July afternoon, Max and Liz found themselves once more parked in the middle of nowhere, the exposed skin of their legs sticking to the seats of his jeep, while the dust which had been kicked up by his tires as they drove down the old, dirt highways was being caked into their bodies by the unrelenting, unmerciful sun. Not a single cloud peppered the blindingly blue New Mexico sky, and the desert was certainly not the place to go if one wanted to seek out the shade.
“Listen, maybe we should just keep driving,” Max suggested, already moving on to explain himself without giving Liz a chance to respond. “I know you said you had something you wanted to talk about, but if you get sun poisoning because of me or you have a heat stroke, your dad is going to....”
She interrupted him. “I didn't ask you to bring us out here so we could talk about my dad, Max.”
Her words were teasing – he could hear her laughter coloring them in warm tones, but, still, he refused to look at her. Since he had picked her up earlier that day, Max had avoided all eye contact with Liz. Afraid of what he might see in her gaze and, even more, afraid of what he wouldn't see, it had just been one risk he couldn't bring himself to take. Even if the limbo of uncertainty was quickly making him go mad, it was better than the alternative. Insanity – and hope – were always preferable over outright rejection.
Swallowing once, then twice, and then finally a third time – his adam's apple bobbing maniacally as he struggled to clear his dry and tight throat, Max eventually croaked out, “well, uh... what did you want to tell... I mean, uh, what did you want to....”
And then a miracle happened. His inept, clumsy, embarrassingly awkward question was cut short when Liz's mouth was suddenly covering his. At first, that's all Max was aware of: her lips were touching his, but then slowly, as she gently coaxed a reaction from him, everything else about the moment became poignantly clear to him. She was straddling his lap – Liz's legs spread wide to fold around his own, bringing their lower bodies into intimate contact – and barreling, tunneling her slender fingers through his hair. With her short nails, she massaged his scalp, relaxing his shoulders more and more by the moment as other parts of his anatomy came alive with barely leashed tension and pressure. After several stunned moments, Max surrendered happily to her surprise assault, dropping his hands to wrap possessively around her delicately rounded hips. His digits flared wide. While his thumbs rubbed sensuously over her lower abdomen, his fingers stretched to wrap around her bottom, clenching and releasing in a rhythm which matched the rolling and rocking of their lower bodies. And then Liz flicked her tongue against the seam of his lips, and reality fell away.
Max opened his mouth wide, an invitation she readily accepted. At first, her tongue just explored shallowly – running up and then down below to slide against the insides of his lips, but he soon lost patience with the provocative temptation of her delicate actions. He wanted to taste her, consume her, become her, and so Max let go of the last, lingering tendrils of his restraint and took control of their kiss. Wrapping his own tongue around Liz's, he drew her into the sultry, wet recesses of his mouth, drinking from her passion and returning to her tenfold. In doing so, he brought her body even closer to his own, the tender suppleness of her breasts rubbing lusciously against his chest, their diamond hard points finally drilling some sense back into Max's brain... and raging libido.
He broke the connection of their mouths, making sure, though, that Liz did not move from his lap, and rested their foreheads together intimately as they each struggled deliciously for breath. Though his body was no longer surging up into hers, Max couldn't release his hold upon the enticing curves of her bottom, and Liz seemed in absolutely no hurry to break their embrace either. If the sheer agony of his arousal was not throbbing in time with her heartbeat, Max would have questioned if what he had just experienced was actually real or just another of his very realistic fantasies. Then, Liz spoke, and the surreal nature of the moment deepened, expanded, nearly suffocated him in its wonder.
“I'm in love with you, too.”
He grinned then, and, even without seeing it, Max knew that it was one of those silly, boyish grins that made him appear about twelve, a grin that only Liz Parker could inspire. Despite his joy, though, he was nothing if not practical. “What about your dad, though?”
“While I love my father, Max, I think it would be super strange if I felt the same way I feel about you towards him as well.”
Growling playfully, he leaned forward and nipped at the tip of her nose, making Liz giggle, his frolicsome mood a pleasant surprise for the both of them. “You know that's not what I meant.”
“I know, and, to really answer your question, I'm eighteen, I'm going off to college in a few weeks, and what Jeff Parker doesn't know won't hurt him.”
“What are you saying, Liz,” he questioned her, intrigued by the devilish light illuminating her coffee colored eyes.
“I'm asking you how you feel about entering into a secret affair with me?” Before he could respond, she continued, “it's not that I'm ashamed of you, Max. Please don't think that. But I know how tenacious my father can be, and, with me leaving soon, I can't allow you to stay here and face him alone.”
“Allow me to, huh?” He jostled her slightly, making Liz roll her eyes in humor.
“Max, you're focusing on all the wrong parts of what I'm saying here. Did the words 'secret affair' not penetrate that thick, warped-because-you're-a-guy skull of yours?”
“Oh, no, trust me,” he assured her, smiling once more as he realigned their lower bodies. “It registered.”
“And tell me more about what you had in mind.”
“Well, we have twenty-three days until I leave, and, in the meantime, I thought you could ravish me whenever we're lucky enough to be alone – you know, quick kisses in the Crashdown kitchen; make-out sessions every morning during our jog through the park... though we'll have to cut down on our route to make time. Damn, what a shame,” she added dryly. “And, best of all, heavy petting sessions at night in the back of the jeep while we're parked out here in the desert.”
“Of course I want that,” he assured her, punctuating his remark with a quick peck to her lips, “but what about after you leave for school? I guess we'll have Christmas break, and we call and email each other... though we'll have to be careful with the former in case your dad scrutinizes your phone bill too closely.”
“Yeah, about that...,” Liz started, making Max panic slightly when she pulled far enough away from him so that she could rest her hands upon his sweaty, t-shirt clad chest, her fingers sweeping back and forth distractedly while avoiding his gaze. “What if I told you that we might be able to see each other more than just on my Christmas and summer breaks?”
Biting her lip, she rushed to admit, “I'm going to Texas Tech.”
Texas Tech meant Lubbock. Texas Tech meant that, if he took US-380, he could be with Liz in less than three hours... probably closer to two if he broke a few speed limits. Texas Tech meant she could come home every weekend; he could go and see her on his days off; and, if he was particularly missing her, or needing to connect with her, or craving the taste of her mouth, all Max would have to do was drive to her and spend the night. Texas Tech also meant....
“But what about Harvard, or MIT, or Stanford, or Berkeley, or all those other amazing schools which would be lucky to have you attend their university?”
Liz shrugged. “Harvard's still my dream, but it doesn't have to be my dream now.”
“I don't understand.”
“In order to do what I want to do someday, I'm going to have to go to school for many, many years and for multiple degrees. I can go to Harvard for my Master's, or maybe even my Doctorate, but to start out there now while I'm just studying for my Bachelors seems ridiculous. While I might be an only child, and while my parents have been saving for my tuition for years, they don't have Harvard money. And Texas Tech is a good school. I can work if I go there, too – save up my money, get an apartment, and become a resident so I can pay in-state tuition. And, best of all,” she confessed, now fiddling with the collar of his shirt, “by going to Texas Tech, I get to live a dream that's even more important to me than Harvard: you, Max – being with you. You know, you're not the only one in this relationship who has been crushing on the other for years.”
Suddenly, he was bursting with energy, with inspiration, with hope. “And I can get another part-time job and continue saving up as well. Plus, if I apply to community college and prove myself there, I might be able to join you in six months... or a year – whatever it takes. Then, maybe we could get an apartment together, and if I do well enough, perhaps I could prove to....”
“While I love your mind,” Liz interrupted him, her forehead once more leaning against his own as her palms cupped his jaw, “think silently, Max; think silently.”
As her mouth once more touched his, and their kiss quickly escalated out of control yet again, the last coherent thought Max had was that his dreamgirl tasted like raspberry lemonade and sunshine. The flavor of tabasco had been usurped; it was no longer his favorite essence. Liz was.
; : ;
Ever since their confrontation, Max had avoided Jeff Parker. Now, even with Liz in Texas, he tried to stay away from the older man as much as possible. Though they had been successful at keeping their burgeoning relationship a secret, Liz's father was still suspicious of their friendship, of Max's feelings for his little girl, and he knew that Mr. Parker partially blamed him for Liz's decision to go to school so close to home, no matter how many times she explained the logical reasons behind her choice. Because he worked for him, though, and because Jeff was his sponsor, avoiding his boss was easier said than done, though he was working on the latter of those two complications.
Despite not being a traditional alcoholic, Max still liked going to AA. Sure, there were the steps, and the members were supposed to work the program... whatever that meant, but, for him, the meetings provided him with a sense of belonging, with a sense of camaraderie. And, while he argued that his disease was different than everyone else due to his extraterrestrial nature, his differences were just an extreme case; everyone else who belonged to AA had something about their history or their life which set them apart, too. In their mutual uniqueness, Max found that maybe he wasn't so different after all, and perhaps that was the true beauty of the group: learning that, no matter what, you weren't alone. Perhaps he couldn't completely open up like other members, but he still felt as though he now had a support team, and, someday, he hoped to help someone the way Jeff Parker had helped him. In the meantime, though, because of the strain on their personal relationship, he knew that it was time to find a new sponsor. In fact, he was even considering looking for a new group to join... perhaps one in Clovis.
As for work, though, he wasn't giving up the Crashdown. If it were any other restaurant, he'd gladly turn in one chef's apron for another, but Liz worked there as well... at least for now. Until her Texas residency became official and until he was able to transfer to Texas Tech with her, their plan was that she would come home every weekend. Of course, that meant that she would continue to don her Crashdown uniform and serve greasy spoon fare to the hungry, alien-hunting masses. As long as Liz worked at her parents' cafe, then he would as well... that is, as long as the Parkers didn't fire him. However, because of his tension with Mr. Parker, Max now felt as though he were walking on egg shells while flipping burgers and frying onion rings, and he did everything within his power to avoid the older man.
And that included going to Liz's mother now whenever he had a question, a concern, or a work related issue to discuss. Either Nancy was oblivious to the bond her husband was so quick to sniff out between Liz and Max, or she supported the idea of them being more than friends, because Nancy was just as kind and considerate towards him as she had always been. He was leaning more towards the former option, though, given the fact that she had yet to notice the distance between Max and his sponsor as well.
As he came into the Crashdown that afternoon, Max used the back entrance, knowing that Jeff Parker liked to man the cash register and chat with his usual customers during the lagging hours of the midday. Not only was it a good way to fetter out the town's latest gossip, but Liz's dad thought of himself as the face of the Crashdown Cafe... seeing as how he was the restaurant's owner, so he believed it was his duty as the boss to be front and center for his customers to see and be seen by. Mrs. Parker was the opposite. She was quieter, less outgoing, and really rather shy. While she didn't mind helping out in the family restaurant, she preferred handling the less visible duties. She kept the books, handled most of the stocking duties, and, now that Liz had gone off to college, she also handled the scheduling responsibilities as well... which suited Max's intentions perfectly.
So as not to startle her, Max took care to make plenty of noise as he approached the supply closet, already knowing from his conversation with Liz earlier that her mother had planned to spend her day holed up in the small stock room. Despite having already announced his presence, he still rapped his knuckles upon the doorway's trim, calling out pleasantly, “knock, knock.”
Over her shoulder, Mrs. Parker graced him with a smile. “Come on in, Max. I didn't know you were working today? And aren't you a little early for your shift... or am I just that much behind on my task?”
“No, don't worry,” he reassured her. “If I were scheduled for the dinner shift, then I'd be early. But I actually had to take the day off.”
“Oh? Nothing's wrong, right?”
He grinned, the gesture apparently contagious as Nancy returned it with a grin of her own. “Everything's great. In fact, I just got back from scheduling my fall classes.”
“Max, that's wonderful! Your parents must be thrilled... and proud, too.”
“Well, it's just Clovis Community College,” he informed her. Despite his best intentions, he blushed, too, knowing that she was only so effusive with her praise because of his recent missteps on the road towards higher education.
“Everybody's got to start somewhere,” Nancy responded realistically. “Now, pull up a box,” she nodded towards the large packages of canned supplies behind her, “and tell me what you're thinking about majoring in.”
He did as he was told. “Well, at CCC, I just want to get a semester or two worth of my basic courses under my belt, hopefully pull a 4.0, and show larger, more prestigious universities that this past year was just a fluke.”
“Any idea where you might want to transfer to?”
He was purposefully obtuse, shrugging his shoulders in a nonchalant manner. “I have a few schools in mind, and I'm sure my parents will have some thoughts as well.”
Mrs. Parker chuckled. “We parents tend to where our children's futures are concerned.”
With that opportunity, he decided to feel her out as to her feelings towards Liz's decision to forego the Ivy League as an undergrad and attend a more local, less prestigious university. “What do you think about Liz going to Texas Tech?”
“I'm sure she told you that her father rivaled the Crashdown sign out front he was so angry?” He nodded, Nancy rolled her eyes, and then she continued. “Don't tell my husband this, but I actually think that Liz made the right decision. While I don't doubt my daughter's capabilities, I do think that Harvard, or MIT, or Stanford would have been a huge adjustment for her. She would have gone from being Roswell's bright and shining star to just one of thousands of bright and shining stars. Texas Tech is a good middle ground for her. She'll have some competition, but she will also still have the opportunity to stand out from the crowd as well. Plus, there's always been a part of me which suspected Harvard was more her father's dream for her than Liz's dream for herself.”
“You should tell her that,” Max encouraged her.
“Maybe I will,” she agreed, pausing long enough in her efforts to turn around and offer him a soft, small smile. “Anyway, listen to me going on and on. Weren't you going to tell me about your plans?”
“I'm thinking secondary education, actually,” he answered, “but I don't want to teach. I want to then go back and get my Masters in school counseling. I want to be a guidance counselor – work with and help kids who were like me in high school.”
“You and Liz with your big plans – she wants to cure diseases; you can't to prevent teen loneliness and depression. You two are so much alike sometimes, it's no wonder you were always lab partners and now friends. I think that's a great idea, Max.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Parker.”
“But what did I tell you about that Mrs. Parker business?”
He chuckled. “Not to use it, Nancy.”
“Much better. Now, I'm assuming you didn't stop by just to keep my company while I tried to make sense of my husband's organizational skills or, more precisely, a lack thereof.”
“It's a guy thing,” Max told her, snickering.
“Only too true... and very astute of you to realize that already. Anyway,” she sighed, placing down her clipboard and turning around to smile at him. “What can I do for you today, Max?”
“I was actually hoping that I could change my schedule. You see, I'm getting a second job in the afternoons... over at the UFO Center actually.” Now, instead of trying to hide from alien hunters, he'd be assisting them. It was ironic, really, and hilarious, too. “And I decided to take night classes, so, if a lecture runs over, I won't be late for work. I already checked with Jose, and he'd actually prefer the nights now, because his wife's due at any time to give birth to their first child, and he knows it'll be nearly impossible for him to wake up in time to be here to start prep work by six.”
“Let me get this straight: you're going to work two part time jobs and take classes? Just when exactly, Max, do you plan on sleeping, on eating, on studying?”
“I'm only going to take twelve credits this semester, and I scheduled it so that I only have classes on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I'll have Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, not to mention the weekend, to study.”
“But that still leaves sleeping and eating,” she pointed out.
“I work in diner, so I don't think eating will be a problem. As for sleeping, I've never really needed a lot of rest.” Shrugging his shoulders, Max played it off as if this aspect of his physiology was just a strange quirk. “When I was little, I used to drive my parents crazy, because they'd wake up in the middle of the night to find me playing with action figures or legos. At first, they would scold me, but, after a while when I didn't show signs of being tired, they just realized that I was different, I guess.”
“Lucky them.” Snorting, she recollected, “Liz was a bear if she didn't get eight hours of sleep when she was little. She's still like that, actually.”
Max filed that helpful insight away. “So, about that change in the schedule...?”
“Consider it done,” Nancy told him. “But, Max, seriously, if anything becomes too much, let me know, and we'll work something out, alright? I don't want you pushing yourself too hard or risking... everything that you've accomplished during these past few months.”
Briefly, he wondered if the adults in his life would ever, if not forget, then at least forgive his mistakes from the spring and winter before, but he also knew that those mistakes were probably too fresh upon their minds to be overlooked anytime soon. “I won't, and I will,” he reassured her, “come to you, I mean, if things get to be too much. And thanks... for everything.”
“It's no problem, and it's my pleasure, Max,” Mrs. Parker offered him kindly.
As he left the tiny supply room with a small wave, he had to wonder if Mr. Parker would feel the same way. It didn't matter, though, because he couldn't touch or hurt Max at that point. For the first time in his life, everything was... well, pretty much perfect. He had Liz, he was learning how to make friends and socialize in a healthy manner, his future was back on track, and he had his parents' faith and trust back, too. There was nothing that Jeff Parker had the power to take from him at that point... no matter what the older man might think or threaten him with.
For years, Max had believed the dead of night to be the quietest part of the day – when everyone was asleep, when the stoplights were turned off because the idea of traffic in Roswell became obsolete, and when the sizzle of the desert sun was replaced by the cool serenity of the moon. Now, though, he knew better. Dawn was true stillness. It was during the haze between night and day when their small part of the world ground to a halt. As if sensing the quickly approaching bustle, people slept heavier, deeper, and the nocturnal creatures which roamed the wilderness gave up their prowling ghost, retiring before the sun could give chase to their starlit shadows. It was in the anticipation of something new and noisy that time really did seem to grind to a halt, a blanket of lethargic stasis buffering his reality. In those brief moments between dark and light, that was when Max now found himself the most at peace.
The changes in his life certainly didn't hurt matters either. While he was glad for his jobs and enjoying school once more, Max knew that the real reason behind his newfound contentment was Liz – truly knowing her, kissing her, being with her. She was everything he had always wanted but never believed he'd be privileged enough to enjoy. Loving her and being loved in return by her made Max happy for the first time in his life, and it was during those preciously fleeting moments every day between when the dark of night faded into the light of morning when he found the world still enough to contemplate how lucky he really was. As he woke up from a night of dreaming about her or stumbled in silently from a night of being in her presence, sharing her company, Max always took a few seconds to acknowledge his gratitude.
“We need to talk.”
In his alarm, Max stumbled back a step or two until he collided with the wall behind him, and it took him a moment to place the faceless tone coming from the depths of his family's kitchen. “Dad,” he finally questioned, squinting into the near darkness, the only light barely slinking in from the room's west-facing windows. Max had been on his way towards the back of the house where the bedrooms and bathrooms were located when he had, what had felt like, been ambushed. Further pushing his senses into the space, he realized that his father wasn't alone, that there was a second presence there as well. “Mom?”
“Come in and sit down, Max,” she told him remotely, without greeting or warmth.
“What's going on,” he questioned. Suddenly realizing how strange their early morning meeting was, he jumped to conclusions, “what's wrong?”
“Like I said, son, there are some things we need to discuss.”
He relaxed somewhat, reassured when his parents didn't immediately tell him some piece of bad news. Though he moved into the kitchen like they requested, he didn't sit down. “Listen, if this is about my grades, you guys don't have anything to worry about. I got my midterms back yesterday, and I passed them all with flying colors. Right now, I'm on track for a 4.0, but I really can't get into this with you right now. I need to be at work in half an hour.”
Coldly, his dad ordered, “Maxwell, do as your mother told you and sit down. You're not going into the Crashdown today.”
“What? Why not?”
It was his mother's turn to speak. “We called you off.”
“You called me off,” Max parroted, confused and then quickly annoyed. “Why would you do that? I realize that I've been busy lately, but, now, Jeff and Nancy are not only going to think that I can't handle my work load but that I'm too immature to handle my own affairs, that I had to have my mommy fight my battles for me. You should have come to me, and we would have scheduled a dinner or something.”
“Scheduled a dinner or something,” this time it was his mom who repeated his words. “Max, you are our son. This is getting out of hand.”
“This...,” she gestured wildly between the space separating them across the table. “You, your life again.”
“Son, the deal was that you would work at the Crashdown, run every morning with Jeff Parker, and that you would go to meetings with him as your sponsor. When Liz took over for her father when he no longer had time to run with you, that was one thing, but now there's a second job, and school, and a new sponsor, and you don't come home at night.”
“I call,” Max jumped in to defend himself. “I've never once stayed out and not told you first that I wouldn't be home.”
“And let's talk about those phone calls, shall we,” his mom prompted. “You're vague, Max. You tell us that you're staying over at a friend's place, and that's it. No name, no number as to where we can reach you. You haven't even introduced us to this friend.”
Suddenly, he could sense where their conversation was headed, and Max shut down. Becoming detached, he said, “I didn't realize that I was supposed to.”
“That's always been the rule, Max,” his mother pressed on, “ever since you first went to school. The deal was that, if you wanted to spend the night at a friend's house, we had to meet the friend and his parents first.”
Calmly, despite his frustration, he responded, “I'm not in elementary school any longer, and who said anything about this friend being a guy?”
His mom sucked in a harsh breath, and his father sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “This is exactly what we're talking about, son. You've become secretive again. You're keeping things from us, lying, you're sneaking around, you're....”
“I haven't lied to you,” he interrupted, defending himself. “Not once.” Changing gears, Max asked, “where is all this suspicion coming from?” Narrowing his gaze in his parents' direction, he leveled his own accusations. “I thought you'd be proud of the initiative I've taken, that you'd be happy that I've taken back control of my life once again, and that you'd be pleased that I'm doing so well.”
“But are you really, Max,” his mom wanted to know. “It's like six months ago all over again. We gave you an inch, and you took a mile.”
“No, what I thought you had given me was your trust back, and I decided to prove to you that you were right to do so.” Standing up, he rolled his shoulders back so that he was standing up perfectly straight. “Just what exactly is it that you guys are trying to say to me?”
A fourth voice entered the fray, and Max's body swiveled to meet the eyes of the person who he just instinctively knew had startled the entire mess that he now had to deal with. “We want to know why a young man with no financial responsibilities suddenly feels its necessary to work not just one job but two, why you're all of a sudden so happy, where you spend your nights, and how you can possibly be functioning on so little sleep? Your parents told me, Max, that you're rarely home, that most mornings you only make it back in time to shower and change before work.”
“You're still just making implications, Mr. Parker.” He no longer felt that he could call Liz's dad by his first name. “If you want to accuse me of something, then do it.”
“What are you on, Max? It's not alcohol this time, so what it is? Cocaine? Heroin? Speed?”
He laughed then, but the gesture held no signs of humor. Rolling his eyes, he turned back to his parents. “Let me guess what happened here. Mr. Parker came to you, told you of his suspicions, and, now, without even giving me a chance to defend myself, you're going to believe him.”
“The signs are all there, son,” his mom stated.
“And, in doing this, you've broken our trust and, more importantly, your promise to us to remain clean,” his father picked up where she left off. “Consequently, we want you to pack your bags. Either you go to rehab this morning, or you leave this house and not come back until you're ready to do whatever your mother and I say.”
“You're also out of a job, Max,” Liz's dad added. “Don't even think about going to Nancy or my Lizzie about this either. You're no longer employed by or welcome in the Crashdown. As for Milton... well, I'm not sure what he's decided. I went to him yesterday, told him about your problems, and he said he'd think about them over night and make a decision. My guess is that he'll no longer want you working at the UFO Center. Finally, there's school to consider. While we can't get CCC to kick you out, your parents and I are going to go and speak with your advisor this morning. He needs to be kept abreast of your situation so that he can closely monitor you. Hopefully, though, you'll agree to your parents' demands, and we'll simply withdrawal you from your courses instead.”
Despite everything the older man had said, he refused to look at Mr. Parker. Instead, Max kept his unblinking gaze upon his parents the entire time Liz's dad talked, his unwavering stare finally breaking them as they nervously glanced away. After several moments of tense, awkward silence while they waited for his response, he said, “well, then, I guess you leave me with no choice.” And, with that, he turned around on his heels and marched out of the only home he'd ever known.
; : ;
For one of the first times in his life, Max Evans followed his instincts. He didn't second guess himself, he didn't do the opposite of what his intuition told him simply to spite his alien-ness, and he didn't question or doubt what his body, mind, and heart needed. In the blinding maelstrom of emotions which assaulted him after his parents' ambush, Max just... ran, but, unlike in the past, he didn't run away from his demons; he ran towards his salvation.
He knocked solidly on the door, knowing that she'd be alone, for her roommate generally stayed over at either her boyfriend's fraternity house or a friend's off-campus apartment, and knowing that, after just leaving her a few hours before, she'd be exhausted and sound asleep. It had taken what had felt like forever to get to her, but time slowed down even more as Max waited for the entrance to the dorm room before him to swing open. When it finally did, he knew that he was the last person she was expecting to see. Her greeting proved as much.
“If this is some sick RA's idea of a good time for a severe weather drill, then we are seriously going to have to consider orchestrating a coup to... Max,” Liz questioned, relaxing immediately upon recognizing him only to lean against her doorjamb and rub tiredly at her sleepy eyes. “What are you... is everything okay?”
There were so many things he wanted... no, that he needed to tell her. He was upset about his parents – how they could so easily doubt him and turn against him when he had been doing everything within his power to prove to them, the town, and himself that he had changed; he was lost as to what he should do next, how he could possibly piece what had been his life just a mere few hours ago back together; and he was besotted by her adorable appearance – fuzzy slippers, teeny, tiny shorts which disappeared under one of his t-shirts she had already managed to confiscate and claim as her own, and what had to be the cutest head of bed hair he had ever seen. Instead, though, Max confessed the one thing that was bothering him the most, and, unfortunately, of all the burdens weighing down his broad shoulders – worries that he knew she would gladly bear with him, his admission was the one that scared him the most, the one that could very easily push her away from him for good.
“I wanted to hurt him, Liz. For a moment, I forgot everything: how my life depends upon my ability to keep my secrets, how hurting him wouldn't fix any of my problems, even you. He just... he tried to take everything away from me, and I wanted to do the same thing to him, only I knew that I could hurt him in ways he never imagined.”
Immediately, the exhaustion fled from her delicate features, and another regret piled itself upon his conscience. For the first time since he fled his parents' house earlier, Max realized just how selfishly he had acted in running to Liz. She was a college freshman. Her life should have been nothing but school, making new friends, and having fun, but, instead, he dragged her down with him by laying his problems at her feet. There she was: tired and no doubt just a few hours shy of a jam-packed, loaded day, and, without a thought for her feelings, he pounded on her door, waking her up from her well-deserved sleep.
“Whoa, stop right there,” she broke into his thoughts, making Max's gaze once more snap up to meet hers remorsefully. “I know that look. You look like you just kicked a kitten... one named Liz, but I won't let you do this to yourself, Max. You don't have to feel guilty for turning to me. That's what people do, especially when they're dating.” Without giving him a chance to respond, she grabbed his arm and started pulling him into her room. “Now, come inside.”
He followed her, quickly distracted when her grip slid from his forearm down to his hand so that their fingers could lace together. She led him to her bed, only turning around when she was close enough to lean against its raised platform. Without words, she undressed him – first his shirt and then his pants as he hastily kicked off his shoes and socks. All the while, Liz bit her bottom lip contemplatively, but Max was surprised to notice that her actions lacked the nervousness he would have expected. Though their relationship had been progressing steadily for the past couple of months – both emotionally and physically, she had yet to act so forward around him, and they had never completely been together. When he slept over, that's all they did: sleep, and, usually, they were at least partially dressed if not completely so. They kissed, and they touched, and they played, but there had been this unspoken agreement between them that they didn't need sexual intimacy to be close to one another... at least, not yet. Rather, they had elected to savor an achingly sweet yet no less torturously slow romantic build-up.
Once Max was left in nothing but his boxer-briefs, he slid his hands under Liz's arms, lifting her so that her body was flushed against him for several seconds before placing her bottom on the edge of her high twin bed. Usually, she had to use a stool to climb in at night... or whenever else she wanted to curl up amongst her cocoon of blankets and pillows, but Max found that he didn't want to be away from her for even a moment; he couldn't be. Immediately, she parted her legs, and he positioned himself between them, pulling her body even closer to the edge of the bed so that he was nestled in the cradle of her thighs.
In a whisper soft caress, he trailed his fingers down her bare things, circled her knees, and then slithered over her calves until he encountered the high-ankled, fuzzy slippers she wore. Teasingly, he pulled them off, tossing them over his shoulders only to make Liz laugh. By way of explanation, she offered, “my feet were cold without you here.”
For a moment, he was tempted to just kiss her then, breaking the spell she had managed to so quickly weave around them and forget about his heart which, just minutes before, had been breaking into a thousand devastated, jaded pieces, but he tabled his ever-growing desire and need for the woman perched before him; his need to confide in her and have her comfort him emotionally was even greater. That didn't mean, though, that holding her nearly naked body close to him wouldn't be a comfort as well. So, with that thought in mind, his wandering hands left her feet and traveled back up to her hips, reaching for the hem of the large, baggy t-shirt she was wearing and, in one fluid motion, stripping it off her. She was bare beneath his shirt, her unbound breasts immediately puckering as the cool air brushed against them. As Max met her gaze, Liz never blushed or blinked once. Rather, she simply scooted back on the bed, leaned against the pillows resting against her headboard, and pulled him after her, settling them so that he sat between her legs and was leaned back against her, his head cushioned against her petal soft chest while her legs and arms wrapped themselves comfortingly around him. He was desperate to see her, though, too, so he twisted his torso around so that their gazes could lock, her compassionate mocha colliding with his wounded whisky-hued depths.
“Who did you want to hurt,” she finally asked him, and the weight of his earlier confession settled down upon Max once more. Liz must have sensed him tense, because she immediately began to sooth him, her right hand brushing tenderly against the skin above his still rapidly beating heart, her fingers absently flickering against his nipple occasionally, while her left hand slid low against his middle – past his belly button, through the thin line of hair which led a trail down his abdomen, and then slipped under the band of his boxer-briefs. Suddenly shivering with need himself, Max realized how chilled Liz must be, so he reached forward to pull her various assortment of sheets, blankets, and comforters up around them, allowing them naturally to settle against their laps.
Taking a deep, bracing breath, he released it before confessing, “your father – I wanted to hurt your father.” This time, it was her turn to tense, and she even gasped, too, but, instead of panicking, Max took a page out of her book and used his hands to sooth her before attempting to explain away his feelings towards her dad with words. He dropped his right hand beneath the covers, found the right leg opening of her shorts, and positioned his palm to cup the firm roundness of her bottom. By doing so, he determined that she wasn't wearing any underwear. Then, still twisted in order to see her face, Max leaned over and kissed the pouty tip of her left breast before lifting his left hand to idly stroke the underside of the creamy, pert flesh. He only used the pads of his fingers, but, this time when Liz gasped, it wasn't from horror but from pleasure.
“You don't have to worry, though. I didn't touch him. I never would, no matter what he did to me, because you love him.”
“But what did he do to you, Max,” she questioned curiously. He could also hear the slight note of fear which tinged her otherwise steady words. “Despite everything, I've never seen you lose your temper... not even around Kyle and his idiot friends. What could my dad have possibly done to make you....”
Interrupting her, he answered, “he convinced my parents that I'm no longer sober, only, this time, he has them thinking that I'm not just drinking but using drugs.”
“Oh my god, Max,” she softly lamented on his behalf.
“He fired me; talked to Milton, so I'll probably lose my job at the UFO Center as well; and he and my parents are going to talk to my advisor this morning. But, worst of all, my parents told me to get out, to not come back until I was ready to go to rehab.” Sucking in a breath in order to regain control of his emotions, Max confessed, “I've never felt like I belonged anywhere, like I fit... until now. All these years, I was lost. While I appreciated everything my parents had done for me, there was this wall between us. Because of you, I was finally ready to let them in, and I was trying to make them proud of me, Liz, by holding down two jobs, by going to school and doing so well, by learning from you how to be a friend and put myself out there, but, now, that's all gone.”
“I'm so sorry, Max,” she whispered, dropping her head down to nuzzle his neck briefly before lifting her lips to his face. She didn't kiss his mouth, though. Instead, as she continued to murmur her apology over and over again, she brushed butterfly caresses against his forehead and his temples; his eyelids, his nose, and his cheek bones; his upper lip; his chin and his jaw. With every feather like touch of her lips against him, Max let a tiny piece of his sorrow go. Slowly, gently, Liz was healing him in the way that only she could.
She had finally dropped her mouth to his, and they had barely shared a brushing touch of their lips when a loud, frame-rattling pounding started upon her door and didn't let up; in fact, it just got worse, to the point where Max started to fear that the person on the other side would stop at nothing until they were granted entrance. It was with that thought that he realized who was standing in the hallway. “It's your dad,” he muttered, for some reason not wanting Jeff to hear him.
Liz's reaction, on the other hand, was anything but tentative or nervous. Hastily but not roughly, she pushed away and out from behind him, scrambling down from her semi-lofted bed before he could stop her. “Good,” she announced, hands on hips and looking, for all the world, like some ancient warrior princess about to go into battle. “There's a few things he and I need to get straight.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he called after her, jumping out of bed to wrap a tight arm around her waist and pull her back against his chest. “Don't you think you're forgetting something first.”
After a comical pause, Liz dropped her gaze and regarded her own – and his – near nudity. “Oh.”
“Here,” he said, tossing her his shirt that she had been wearing when he arrived earlier. Then, he quickly scrambled into his jeans. By the time he had both legs in their proper holes, though, it was too late to put on his shirt, let alone actually button his pants, for Liz had already wrenched open her dorm room door. Even with her back to him, Max could tell that her eyes were blazing with acrimony. If possible, she was even more beautiful when in a temper.
“You,” Jeff Parker bellowed, rudely pushing past his daughter and leveling an accusatory gaze and finger in Max's direction. “Get your clothes and get out of here. I thought I told you what would happen if you messed with my daughter.”
Before he could get a word in edgewise, Liz was on the attack. “Oh, you certainly made yourself perfectly clear, but it's not like you can threaten Max with anything at this point, dad. You've already taken everything away from him.”
Mr. Parker whirled around to face his daughter. “What do you know about...?”
“I know everything,” she intervened, breaking off her father's question. “I know about the ultimatum you gave Max months ago to keep us apart, not that it worked. All it did was force us to sneak around rather than be upfront about our relationship. And, now, I know about the lies you told his parents, too.”
“They weren't lies, Lizzie.”
“I spend nearly every single night with Max, Dad,” she snapped, glaring in the older man's direction. The two of them were so locked into their argument that they both had seemed to have forgotten his presence there... at least, momentarily. “He's not using drugs, and you know that, too. You're just scared of losing me, and that's alright, but it's not alright to take that fear out on Max. You destroyed his life today, and you destroyed the Mr and Mrs. Evans' lives, too. Yes, I turned to you for help back in the spring, but that was because I trusted you and believed that you were capable of putting someone else first before yourself. I guess I was wrong.”
“You're damn right I'm afraid,” Jeff fired back. “You have this whole, amazing future ahead of you, Lizzie, and I won't stand by and watch some punk kid ruin it. He already got you to forfeit your chance at Harvard; I won't let him hurt you anymore.”
“Some punk kid,” she repeated, snorting derisively. “Open your eyes and take a good, hard look at Max, Dad. Yes, he got himself into some trouble, but he's turned his entire life around. He's working two jobs in order to save for next semester when he transfers out here to be with me, because he doesn't want me to worry about having to work to help pay for our apartment. Plus, he's going to school. He's taking four courses, and he's acing all of them, not to mention the fact that he drives here every night after he's done with his classes to spend time with me, to help me study, to be my boyfriend.”
“But Liz,” he father tried to protest, but she wouldn't allow him to.
“But nothing. After everything that you did when you were Max's age, all the trouble you caused, and everything Grandpa put you through in order for you to be with Mom, you were the last person I ever thought would act this hypocritical.”
“I just want you to be happy.”
With this, Liz crossed the room and slipped into Max's arms. Although he didn't know what was going to happen next, he was awed by how she had defended him. “Max makes me happy, Dad.” After giving him a quick squeeze, she turned her attention back to Mr. Parker. “You need to make this right. You need to fix what you broke between Max and his parents, with Milton, and you better stop Mr. and Mrs. Evans from talking to Max's academic advisor. If you don't, well... I don't think I'll be able to come home unless its just to see Mom, Alex, and Maria.” Before Jeff could respond, Liz was quick to add, “and this isn't me giving you an ultimatum. I just... it's hard for me to look at you right now. I'm really angry and hurt, and it's going to take me some time, not to mention you making amends, before I can forgive you.”
“So, basically, you're choosing him over me,” he father questioned.
“No, Dad,” Liz corrected him, slipping out of Max's arms and then moving across the room to open the door even wider, insinuating that it was time for Mr. Parker to leave. “You made that choice for me.”
He left without another word.
Liz closed the door behind him, locked it, and then turned back to face Max. Removing her shirt, she then surprised him further by pushing down her shorts as well. With an impish smirk, she said, “let's go to bed.”
Six Years Later...
Dropping his keys onto the kitchen bar countertop, Max took a quick glance around the apartment he shared with Liz. Moving noiselessly throughout their home, he failed to catch a glimpse of her petite frame. Despite the fact that six years of connecting and living with her had managed to suppress his awareness of his surroundings to a point where he could easily blend in, it was still his habit to leave as quiet of a footprint upon his senses as possible. Plus, he had long since learned that sneaking up upon Liz had its benefits. Long ago, he had lost count of how many times the ability had afforded him the chance to surprise her in the shower or watch her silently, unsuspected from a doorway. On the other hand, they also went through more dishes than the average couple, but such a loss was a worthy sacrifice in his opinion.
As he moved, he stripped, peeling off the sticky clothes which clung to his still damp with perspiration skin. Despite the fact that the heat of summer had yet to settle upon Dallas, a sunny, May afternoon was nothing to scoff at... especially when he had spent the last two hours down at the local community center playing basketball with a group of teenage boys younger and, apparently, more resilient than he was. The day's high had only touched the mid-eighties, but, still, Max was a sweaty mess.
First, it was his shoes and socks. He toed them off as he moved across the large, central living space of the flat he shared with Liz, picking them up and holding them in his hands as his now bare feat greedily sunk into the thick cushion of the carpet. Bypassing the guest bathroom, he peered into the room that doubled as their office and guest bedroom... not that anyone from Roswell made it to Dallas all that often. Still, when they did, it was nice to have a place to comfortably put them, especially given the fact that their guest bedroom was situated on the opposite side of the apartment from the bedroom he and Liz used as their own. Not finding her there working on her thesis, he lifted his arms over his head and removed his t-shirt. Immediately, the cool air of their air conditioned home made his balmy skin break out in goosebumps, but the sensation was quickly suppressed as his body, once more, adjusted to the fluctuating temperatures.
Max was just about to make his way towards their bedroom when he caught a glimpse of the sight he sought through the double windows which looked out onto their balcony. He should have known. When they were looking for a place to live after relocating to Dallas to attend grad school and start their first real, adult jobs, Liz had asked for one thing concerning their prospective apartment: she wanted a balcony. He had been more practical, trying to find a place somewhere equidistant from the UT Southwestern Medical Center – Dallas, where she was studying for her Masters in Molecular Biology, and from Dallas Baptist University where Max had decided to enroll for his own graduate degree in school counseling.
Max had also been worried about parking, about laundry hookups, about having a dishwasher. They had been surprised, though, at how easy it was to find something which fit both Liz's more romantic ideals for their first real home together and his functional ones. Now that they had it, though, even he had to admit that their balcony was his favorite place as well. It was private, overlooked the waterfront and downtown Irving, and it was the perfect place for the two of them to unwind after a long, stressful, jam-packed day. Their lives were anything but peaceful – what, between both of their studies and their full-time jobs: Liz as a clinical laboratory technologist and his as a high school psychology teacher, but the balcony afforded them their own slice of relaxation on a daily basis.
Quickly, Max made his way back out into the living and dining room, electing to deposit his clothes in their bedroom before using its second access door to join Liz outside. Whether it was because of his surreptitious movements or because she was too engrossed in whatever it was she was working on, her laptop balanced on her crossed legs, Max was able to make his way over to where Liz sat, the end of the lounge chair she occupied free for him to claim as his own. He kneeled upon it, leaning forward to both get closer to the woman he loved and to peek at whatever it was that had captured her attention so completely.
“Should I be jealous,” he teased, already grinning as he anticipated both her reaction to his sudden appearance and the proper greeting he had planned for her.
She gasped, though, shying away from him, and, almost immediately, Max's playful smirk turned into a frown, and his brow furrowed. “Don't, shoo, get away,” Liz ordered as she backpedaled as far away from him on the chair as she possibly could and held her computer up and away from his prying gaze. “You can't look!”
“Liz, I've seen pieces of your thesis about a thousand times already. If you haven't realized it yet, you mutter parts of it under your breath while you're working on it, while you're cleaning. Hell, you once started talking about your topic while you were sleeping.” Leveling her with a pointed gaze, he admonished, “just be warned that I will draw the line during sex. If you even once mention your paper while we're....”
“Okay, okay, I get it, but, for your information,” she informed him haughtily, “I'm not working on my thesis. In fact, I finished it earlier.”
His eyes lit up with joy and congratulations that Max didn't even attempt to disguise. “You did?”
Liz nodded, sighing dreamily. “All I have to do now is print it out, get all my signatures, and then turn it in for binding.”
“Well, then, we should celebrate.” He leaned forward to kiss her, but, before he could, she squirmed away from him, apparently still paranoid that he would catch a glimpse at her laptop. Leveling her with a pointed gaze, he asked, “do I even want to know what you're attempting to hide from me?”
She laughed. “Max, it's nothing bad. You just can't see it.”
“Well, that's enlightening.”
Rolling her eyes, Liz finally closed her computer, setting it aside on the patio table next to them. Now capable of directing her full attention on him, she wrapped her arms lazily around his neck, pulling him closer, and unfolded her legs to curl them around his hips. He settled into the juncture of her thighs comfortably. As she ran her fingers through his sweaty hair, she murmured, “you reek.”
“So romantic,” he taunted, nuzzling his face into the hollow of her neck and causing Liz to giggle and burrow closer to him despite his unpleasant scent. After dropping several kisses upon her delicate flesh, he once more looked up to meet her coffee gaze. “So, tell me, Miss Parker: what exactly were you looking at that had you so engrossed?”
“All I'm going to say is its bad luck for you to see it before the wedding.”
“Ah, that,” Max replied with a big, goofy grin upon his face. Pausing, he reached behind him to remove her left hand from where she had it entangled in the ends of his hair, bringing it forward so as to caress his lips against the warm skin where her finger met the platinum of her diamond engagement ring. He had surprised her with his proposal during the tension-filled madness of midterms, creating a bubble of excitement in between the chaos of papers, exams, and presentations two months before. Now, they were planning an August wedding – a final hurrah to their life in Dallas and a proper segue into their married existence elsewhere. Returning back to the moment at hand, though, Max questioned, “I thought that superstition applied only if I saw you wearing your wedding dress.”
“Let's just say that I'm not willing to tempt fate. The last six years with you have been perfect; I want the next sixty to be so as well.”
“I want the same thing,” he confided in a whisper, rubbing their noses together before finally giving Liz the hello kiss he had been intending to since he first opened the door to their apartment. He tasted her languidly, luxuriating in the freedom to do so. It didn't matter how many times they were together intimately, Max never once took a moment he shared with the woman he loved for granted. Then, with one last provocative swipe of his tongue against her bottom lip, he pulled away, hoping that the seductive embrace they had just shared would be enough to tempt her into showering with him. “So, you found your wedding dress this afternoon?”
“I did,” Liz confirmed.
“Did you find anything else, make any other decisions without me?” Because he was about to have the next three months off, while Liz would still be working full-time, he was determined to shoulder much of the burden which came with planning a wedding. Though their nuptials would not be a massive production – after all, neither of them had large families, he still wanted it to be beautiful and memorable for Liz. Plus, with their families eight hours away, neither his mother nor Liz's would be able to help with the planning very much, and Maria, though Liz's maid-of-honor and quite excited for them, had a life of her own to live. On top of everything else, Liz had to finalize her application to her PhD program of choice, they had an apartment to pack up, and they had an entire new life to build together.
“I found Maria's bridesmaid dress, but I'm still trying to narrow down which location I think we should book at the Arboretum.
Max shrugged, standing up, prepared to solve that problem for her. “Why don't we just go tonight and check it out. We'll make an entire evening out of it. We'll go into Dallas and stop at the Arboretum on our way to dinner. After all, like I said before, we need to celebrate.”
Liz's eyes lit up with anticipation and excitement. Standing with him, she cupped his face. “Oh, I like the way you think, Mr. Evans.”
Without warning, he scooped her up in his arms, lifting her so that her legs could circle him around his waist as he walked them both into their bedroom. Liz laughed the entire way. “Well, then, come on. Time's a wasting. We only have a little bit of time before I need to leave for my meeting, and we need to get our shower in before I go.”
Max smiled brightly. “It's almost summer-time in the South, darlin'. We need to conserve water.”
She tossed her head back in amusement, her long, thick hair cascading down in a rich shower of decadence. “I can't believe you used that line on me!”
“Hey, you're the scientist. I shouldn't be telling you anything you don't already know.”
“What, that my fiance is the lamest pick-up artist in the entire state of Texas?”
He pinched her butt, making Liz squeal. “And that's a good thing, isn't it?”
Before allowing her a chance to respond, though, Max covered her mouth with his own, kicking the bathroom door shut behind them.
; : ;
“... and, now, in three months' time, my fiancee and I will be getting married, we'll be moving to Baltimore, Maryland. I'll be starting my first job as a guidance counselor – hopefully, helping kids who were just like me in high school... and some who weren't as well, and she'll be working as a clinical laboratory scientist and starting the PhD program in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It's not Harvard... like her father always wanted for her,” Max admitted with a slight chuckle, meeting the interested, amused, pleased glances of the men and women surrounding him, “but we weren't sure if we were ready for those Massachusetts winters yet.”
It had taken him six years before he felt ready to completely open up and share his story with his fellow AA members... an albeit slightly edited version in order to maintain his anonymity... in more ways than one, and it felt good – like a fitting conclusion to their lives in Texas, their lives before their marriage. In talking about his own past at that evening's meeting, Max felt the last link to his former addiction break, and he knew without a doubt that he'd never take another drink again. While he would still attend meeting, he knew that the temptation had finally, once and for all, been conquered. This also meant that he felt he was now ready to be someone else's sponsor.
“Best of all, we're buying a house. It's this historical, brick, central hall colonial, something so... normal. It's got four bedrooms, a large, family-friendly, eat-in kitchen, and a big, fenced-in back yard. It's the perfect place for my fiancee and I, in a few years, to start and raise our family.” Becoming more serious, Max sat up straight. “When I think back to what my life was like six years ago and then compare it to what it is now, I realize that there was one key thing to my sobriety: trust. My getting clean was dependent upon one moment: that night when I was finally honest about who I was with the woman I love. For the first time in my life, I really allowed someone to know me; I let her in. If it wasn't for that moment, then nothing that has happened since would have been possible. We're not islands. We can't survive on our own... no matter how much we initially might think and want otherwise, and it was only with this realization that I was able to find true and lasting serenity.”
After he finished talking, the meeting closed with its traditional prayer and the socializing which always came afterwards. Some nights, he joined in; others, he didn't. It usually depended upon how much grading he had to do... or how good he thought his chances were of convincing Liz to be naughty with him and spend the rest of the night in bed together rather than working on their respective school and work commitments. With an evening out on the town planned with his soon-to-be wife, Max had no plans to stick around long. His intentions, though, were sidelined as, while he was walking towards the door, a new visitor to their meeting that night stepped into his path.
“Hey,” the other man greeted, awkwardly shuffling his motorcycle boot clad feet and shoving his clenched fists just that much deeper into his jeans pockets. “Do you have a minute,” the stranger requested.
Max nodded, leading him outside to the parking lot where they could talk in private. Briefly, he recalled another monumental conversation held in a similar parking lot years before, but he quickly brushed his recollections aside, for the man before him deserved his undivided attention. Without hesitation, he got to the point. “You're new.”
“Yeah, well, this isn't the easiest thing to do in the world.”
“What, admit that you have a problem,” Max supplied, questioning.
“No,” the other man contradicted, shaking his head in a negative fashion to further emphasize his response. The stranger had long, dirty-blond hair which hung down into his eyes and cloaked his face, and his shoulders were hunched forward as if exhausted from a lifetime of carrying an invisible yet no less heavy burden. “This,” the world-weary guy gestured between them. “Opening up. It's like you said before,” he continued on, “how learning to trust someone was the hardest yet most important thing you've ever done.”
“I never said it was the hardest,” Max corrected, though there was no censure to his tone. In fact, a small smile accompanied his words. “And is that what you're doing? Are you trying to open up to me?”
“I'm here, aren't I? I'm talking to you.”
“There's a big difference, though, between talking to someone and talking with them.”
The stranger snorted. “I just had to pick the shrink to confide in, didn't I?” Before Max could reply, the other man was continuing on, “look, I can't promise that I'll tell you everything about my life. There are things that... well, let's just say I have some secrets, and they're going to stay that way.”
“But,” he prompted.
“But I'd like for you to be my sponsor.”
“And I'd be honored,” Max said. “But, as I told the group just a few minutes ago, I'm moving across the country in a few months.”
“That's cool,” the blond guy replied with a shrug. “I don't like to stay in one place for long anyway.” As if to support that claim, he then glanced around them, looking over his shoulder as if uneasy and fearing somebody was watching or listening into their conversation. “After you leave, we could email, maybe talk on the phone some. Whatever.”
“That's not the ideal set-up for a sponsor/sponsee relationship.”
“It's better than nothing, and you're the first guy I've met at any of these meetings who I felt comfortable enough to even think about talking to... or with.”
“Fair enough,” Max agreed, holding his hand out to shake the stranger's. “In that case, the name's Max Evans. If you have a cell phone, I'll program my information into it for you.”
Digging the requested electronic out of his back pocket, the other guy gave him what he requested while holding out his free hand. “Here. Give me yours and I'll do the same.”
After several minutes of typing, the two men handed the other their respective phones back. “And your name,” Max had to ask, obviously his new sponsee was too keyed up, too nervous, to realize the fact that he had failed to introduce himself.
They parted ways then, but Max couldn't help but look back over his shoulder at the retreating form of Michael Guerin. He was standing by his car, keys in hand, ready to unlock his door and drive away, but something made him pause. Just as he had felt his ties to his past snapping just moments before inside, after talking to Michael, he had felt something else change inside of him as well. Though it wasn't unsettling, he knew that his life was about to change yet again. There was just something about the other guy... something that he couldn't quite put his finger on.
But he'd solve that puzzle another day. After all, he had a lifetime to do so. In the meantime, however, he had a fiancee back at home waiting for him, a wedding to plan, and a finished thesis to celebrate. Life was... pretty much perfect.