Alien_Friend See, this is why I can't finish this damn fic, because everybody is rooting for me not to.
keepsmiling7 I think Liz will get over the snoring comment, eventually.
sarammlover I don't think that Isabel is going to make any real progress in kicking her habit until she can admit to herself that she has a problem.
FSU/MSW-94 It was nice to give Max and Liz a cute scene like that because they've had so few. They get to be a normal couple now, for a while.
mddk98 Me too.
Natalie36 Not only are they not for headaches, but they're not even the pills that Isabel was taking before anyway. So who knows what the hell Isabel is taking.
Gold Diggers – Fifty-Five
Amy Deluca parked her car in front of the Pasternick's house, two doors diagonally across from Alex's home.
Alex could see his mother in the front yard tending her flower beds. His father's car was parked in the driveway.
“If you like, we can go back to my place to freshen up and get something to eat first,” Amy suggested when Alex showed no sign of exiting the car.
He shook his head. “Thanks, I'm fine, I just need a minute.”
Amy said nothing as she waited patiently. Alex was extremely grateful to her. She seemed to understand his nervousness about his reunion with his parents better than Liz and Maria did, and hadn't pushed him to talk like the two girls always tried to do. Instead, she'd kept up a steady stream of chatter throughout the three hour drive, mostly about Maria and Maddie. It had helped Alex to quench his nerves, though he'd had to bite his tongue whenever she talked about Michael. It was ironic that Amy, who never liked any of Maria's boyfriends before, was crazy about the second worst guy she'd ever been involved with.
Realizing that he couldn't put it off any longer, Alex opened the car door and put one foot out and then the other. He took a fortifying breath and pushed himself out of the car. He grabbed his overnight bag from the back seat and leaned down to speak through the lowered window. “Thanks for the ride, Amy.”
“No problem, Alex. And remember, I'm just a couple of blocks away if you need anything.”
He nodded his thanks and stood back as she drove away.
Then he crossed the street and approached his old home. It was almost two years since he'd last been there. It hadn't changed a bit.
His mother looked up as he came closer and her eyes widened in surprise. She stood up and waited in trepidation.
“Hi, Mom,” Alex said with a small, hopeful smile.
Gloria gave a strangled cry as she threw herself at Alex and wrapped her arms around him. She was sobbing and laughing as she kissed his cheek repeatedly. She stood back them to take in his tall frame, then hugged him again.
Alex felt his eyes tear up as it hit him just how much he'd missed her. “I'm sorry, Mom. I'm so sorry,” he said guiltily.
“Oh, Alex... it doesn't matter. You're home now,” she smiled up at him. “You... you are home?”
He nodded. “Yes.”
Fresh tears rolled down his mother's cheek. She grabbed his hand and pulled him into the house. “Charles, Charles,” she yelled.
Alex's father appeared from the kitchen grumbling about the way his wife was yelling at him, but he stopped the moment he clapped eyes on his son. “Alex!”
His father come forward slowly and uncertainly before pulling Alex into a bone crushing hug. “Son, it's so good to see you.”
They pulled him into the kitchen to examine him more closely. They both agreed that Alex was thinner now, that he looked older and more mature. They both thought he needed a haircut. It wasn't until Alex told them that he was hungry that they stopped looking at him like he was a museum artifact and started acting normally again.
Charles Whitman made lunch and they gathered around the table together for the first time in two years.
“We were so sorry to hear about your center, Alex,” his mother said. “You were doing such amazing work there.”
“What happened?” his dad asked.
“I uh... I had a run in with the Evans family. They didn't care for the presence of the center.”
His parents paled and exchanged a look.
“I think maybe it's time that we talked about that,” Alex suggested. “My mother - Lucinda, I mean. And her connection with David Evans.”
Charles put down his sandwich and nodded solemnly. “Yes. You're right.”
“We should have been honest with you,” Gloria said. “We shouldn't have tried to keep the truth from you. We're so sorry, Alex.”
“Can you tell me the truth now? I heard a story... if it's true then... I need to know the real story about her.”
“It's not a nice story, Alex,” his father cautioned.
“I know,” Alex nodded. “I'm ready for that.”
“The article you read about her was almost completely false,” Charles said. “I spread the story about her helping destitute women because I didn't want people to know the truth. I didn't want you to know the truth. And then when the reporter from the local paper heard it and wanted to do a feature on her, I had to keep it up.”
“We did mean to tell you that you were adopted,” Gloria chimed in. “But we knew you'd have questions and we were afraid to tell you because we didn't want you to know what she was really like.”
Again, Alex nodded. He'd worked that much out for himself since finding out the truth about Lucinda. “You wanted to protect me, I can understand that. I just wish that you'd have told me that I was adopted. I could have handled that much.”
Charles hung his head. “The truth is, Alex, that I was ashamed of Lucy. I was furious and embarrassed by her and what she had done. You were the only good thing she ever did and I didn't want to... to sully you by telling you about her.”
Alex sighed. He'd been holding onto a small hope that Michael was lying, or at least stretching the truth, but that hope died with his father's admission. “So, she was really that bad, huh?”
“She wasn't all bad,” Charles said with a small, sad smile. “When we were kids, she was terrific. She was very smart. You definitely got her brains. She won a scholarship to the Winamen Academy when she was fourteen... I've always thought that's where it started.”
“Where what started?”
“Her greed, her thirst for money. We weren't poor by any normal standards. We had a very comfortable upbringing, we never wanted for anything.” Charles shook his head. “But once she started at that school, she changed. I never really understood why. She wasn't being bullied or picked on. She had lots of friends there. But she wanted what they had and was angry when my parents couldn't take us skiing, or build a pool or buy her designer clothes. She acted as if she was being deprived of something.
“When she went to college, we thought she'd get over it. But she started coming home in fancy clothes that she couldn't have afforded on the allowance my parents gave her. She was wearing expensive jewelery. She arrived home one Christmas driving a car that a 'friend' had loaned her. My dad discovered the registration papers were in her name and they had a huge argument about where she was getting the money from. She stopped coming home after that. She would only come for my mother's birthday. We learned that she'd dropped out of college.
“My dad went to LA looking for her, and... I never knew what he found out, but when he got back he acted as if he'd never had a daughter.
“We started seeing her names in gossip magazines then. Especially when she started seeing David Evans. It was the only way we knew she was alive. I tried to contact her, she would send me little notes sometimes but she told me not to visit.
“Then one day we got a call from her because she was in prison on charges of prostitution and solicitation. My dad was diagnosed with cancer three weeks later and he was dead within four months. My mother died a year later. I've always-”
“Charles,” Gloria shook her head. She didn't want Alex to hear him blame Lucinda for her own parent's deaths. She looked at her son to see how he was coping.
Alex poured himself a glass of water and sipped it. His stomach was churning. After listening to what Michael had to say, Alex had thought he was prepared to hear the truth about his mother, but hearing it from his father was different. He couldn't pretend that his father was exaggerating or lying. “Go on,” she said hoarsely.
His father cleared his throat and continued. “I went to see her in the prison, but she wasn't interested in seeing me. I couldn't afford to pay for her lawyer and when I tried to talk her into hiring somebody more affordable she kicked me out. Next thing I knew, she was released from prison and she was in the Bahamas. We found out that the Evanses had paid her legal fees. I never knew why.
“The next time I heard from Luce was when we got two plane tickets in the mail one day and a letter begging us to come out to her. When we arrived we discovered that she was pregnant. You were born two days after we got there. She told us to take you back with us. She had the papers ready and everything.”
“We had been trying to have a child for a long time and it just never happened for us,” Gloria said softly. “We were so happy to have you. We loved you from the very first second you were born.”
Alex smiled at her and covered her hand with his. “Thank you.” He reached across and took his father's hand in his too. He was shocked to find that his father was shaking.
They held hands in silence for a while. Charles stopped shaking and got himself under control.
“Lucinda died, and we didn't know how to tell you about her. So we didn't tell you anything,” he concluded.
Alex didn't ask about his birth father. He didn't want to know, it didn't matter anymore. Instead he asked about the money that had made up his trust fund.
“She had that set up for you too, before you were even born,” Gloria explained. “I really believe that she loved you, Alex, but she knew that she wasn't fit to be your mother. That's why she gave you to us.”
Alex leaned back in his chair, utterly exhausted. “Well, I think that's enough for one day.” He knew there was more, he could see it in their faces but it was too much. He'd has as much as he could stomach in one go.
His parents slumped in relief.
“Are you OK?” his mother asked.
Alex shrugged. “I'm kind of numb. I knew it was coming and I've had some time to kind of get used to the idea, but hearing it is still difficult. I get why you didn't tell me.”
“We just didn't know how,” Gloria told him. “It seems simple now, of course. We should have sat you down and told you like we did today. You've always been so strong and smart, you could have handled it.”
“I don't know if I was ready for it, before,” Alex said to assuage her guilt. “I didn't exactly handle the news that I was adopted very well.”
He cringed at the memory of the way he'd reacted so badly when he'd found the article and the adoption papers in the box in the attic. He'd flown into a fury and screamed at his parents before storming out.
He knew that his initial anger was justified. He'd been lied to his whole life. But, the way he'd acted afterward, refusing to see them or even talk to them had been cruel and unfair.
“I'm so, so sorry for how I acted towards you guys,” he told them. “You've always been amazing parents to me and I love you so much. I'm sorry for being a brat.”
“You're not a brat, Al,” his father said. “The last thing in the world anybody would accuse you of being is a brat.”
“We're so proud of you and of everything you've done for the past two years.”
Alex blushed, he didn’t feel that he deserved their pride after the way he'd treated them. “Thank you.” He pushed his glass away and stood up, bringing an end to the conversation. “Can I wash up?”
“Sure, let me show you to our new downstairs washroom,” his mother offered.
Alex followed her with a smile. She'd finally talked his father into installing a downstairs bathroom. He wished he could have seen that.
They didn’t return to their previous conversation for the rest of the day. Instead they talked about Liz and Maria, Maddie and Grandma Claudia. Gloria showed Alex the renovations they'd made to the house since he was last home. Charles discussed his work. He helped his mother in the garden for a little while and watched his father make his special Italian chicken recipe for dinner.
Afterwards, Alex took a beer out to the garden to sit on the swing and watch the night sky. His father joined him a few minutes later and they sat in companionable silence for a while, occasionally one of them would point out a certain star formation.
After about an hour, Charles stood up to go back inside, but he stopped and came back. “You know, Lucinda left money to Gloria and me too. We've never touched it. But, if you'd like to start your center up again, we'd love to invest in it.”
“Thank you. I'm not sure that I'll be doing it.”
“Oh.” Charles returned to the seat he had just vacated. “You don't want to try again?”
Alex shook his head, then shrugged. “I tried and it didn’t work. I don't know if I have the energy to try something like that again.”
“Have you any other plans.”
“No,” Alex sighed wearily. “I don't have any clue what I'm going to do now.”
Liz broke into a bright smile when she opened the door of her apartment to find Max waiting outside with a bouquet of flowers.
It was his one night off that week and he had to see Liz. “I know this is against the rules but-” the rest of his words were cut off as Liz yanked him inside and crushed her lips against his.
Max dropped the flowers and the folder he was holding and slid his hands around Liz's slim waist. He pressed her against the wall and devoured her.
The broke apart only at the sound of an obnoxious buzzing noise.
“What's that?” Max asked, picking up the flowers and the folder.
Max followed Liz into the kitchen and his mouth immediately watered at the delicious smells wafting from the oven. He watched hungrily as Liz took a lasagne from the oven. “Wow, beautiful, brains and you can cook. You're definitely a keeper.”
“This isn't cooking, this is reheating,” Liz laughed. “I can cook, just not to this standard.”
“Well, two and a half out of three isn't bad,” Max shrugged flippantly.
Liz giggled. “Knives and forks are in the drawer, glasses and plates are in that cupboard.”
Max quickly set the table as Liz dished out lasagne and a salad.
“So, how was your exam?” he asked when they were both sitting down.
“It was fine. Nothing unexpected came up. I'm pretty confident that this one's in the bag,” Liz smiled. “How was the first day of your course?”
Liz's face fell. “Oh no. Why?”
Max sighed. “It's just not me. I'm not cut out for it. Everybody else there has proved themselves. They're the brightest and the best, rising stars of the company. And then there's me, a pen counter.”
“Max, you're a lot more than that.”
“No,” Max shook his head. “Everybody else there had earned their place on that course because they've worked hard and proven that they have the ability to be there. I'm only there because my family owns the company. They all know what they're talking about, they know the business, they're ambitious. I was able to fake it because I learned stuff by heart the time those Japanese business men were in town but that will only get me by the next day or two. It won't be long before they all realize that I'm a fraud.”
Liz put down her fork and reached for his hand. “Your brother got you a place on that course because he felt you were ready for it. I know you. You're a lot smarter than you give yourself credit for. I know you'll do well.”
Max shook his head. “It's not that. I know I'll be able to pass it if I work hard and concentrate and don't mess around.” He rubbed his face with his hands. “It's just that they gave us a talk about what we'd be doing on the course and how it would help us afterwards. It honestly sounds like my idea of hell.
“Everybody else was thrilled with it because they want to be managers and executives. But, I don't, Liz. I think Michael's job is a nightmare. I'd hate it. I don't want to be stuck in an office, becoming an Evans robot. It's just not me.
“Sitting there today, it dawned on me that's what's going to happen to me. I'll finish the course and Michael will find some mid-level management job for me. It'll be tedious and boring, but I'll have to do it. Then after a year or so, I'll get moved up the ladder and become a junior executive and then a senior executive. I'll have a big office and my own assistant and I'll read reports and play golf with incredibly boring sycophants who just want a piece of the Evans' action and that'll be it for the rest of my life.”
Liz didn't know what to say but before she could even formulate a response, Max was talking again.
“I shouldn't complain because I'll have a secure job, I'll be well paid, I'll have a nice house, a nice car, I'll be able to take three or four vacations a year.” Max shook his head. “So why does it feel like I'm being sent to prison.”
“Max, if you really feel this way then talk to your parents and tell them.”
“I can't, Liz.” Max shook his head vigorously. “I've dropped out of college twice. I've never held down a real job. I'm a huge disappointment to them. I can't drop out of this course too. I can't let them down again. I don't want to be somebody who can't finish anything, or who never amounts to anything.”
“Max,” Liz broke in. “What do you want to do with your life?”
He shrugged, but there was something in the way he avoided her eyes that told Liz he did know.
“Max,” she pressed.
“I think, I'd kind of like to work with people.” He rolled his eyes at the vagueness of that reply. “I mean, I enjoy working at the home because I get to interact with the residents there. They're cool, you know? I think that I'd like to do something in that field. I don't know what exactly, but something where it's about people and not profits.”
Liz smiled proudly at him and leaned over to kiss him. “Max! That's wonderful.”
Max grinned bashfully. “Bet you never thought you'd hear me say that.”
“Not when we first met,” Liz admitted. She straightened up again. “You guys have a pretty important charity foundation, would you like to work there?”
“I guess,” Max nodded slowly. “But, truthfully, the work at the foundation is just as bureaucratic and clerical as everything else the company does. It's all about finding funding and approving funding. I want something that's more hands on and interactive. I wish I knew what that was exactly.”
“Do you think that your parents would disapprove of you wanting to work outside the company?”
“No, not at all,” Max told her. “I know that Dad always dreamed of having Michael and I work with him, but it's not a requirement. If I had a job and I liked it, then I know that he'd be happy with that.”
Liz nodded pensively. They lapsed into silence as they ate their dinner, each thinking of Max's dilemma.
“Can I make a suggestion?” Liz asked after cutting two slices of chocolate cake.
“Please,” Max urged eagerly.
“I did some reading, about your course,” she began. “It sounds like it's really prestigious. I read that people who've completed it have all done really well in your company and some have even been headhunted by other companies or started their own businesses.”
Max nodded in confirmation. They had been told how well graduates of the course had done during the induction day and it had been very impressive. Max had even heard of some of them without ever realizing that they were connected to the family company and others he knew of because of their work in the company.
“So, what I suggest is that you finish the course. It's only a few months, and once it's over you'll have something impressive to put on your resume, especially because you don't have any other qualifications. And also, it'll show your dad that you've changed and that you're serious about getting a job.”
Max nodded. “Yeah, I can do that. It's just a few months, I'll just have to suck it up.”
“And you need a plan,” Liz continued. “I think you should see a career guidance counselor. Get some advice. Do some aptitude tests. It can really help to sit down and explore your options and they might be able to suggest something that you've never considered before.
“Then, when your course is over, you go to your dad with your plan. You say to him, 'this is what I want to do and this is how I'm going to do it'. He'll be able to see that you've given it a lot of thought and that you're serious about it and that you'll follow through with it. If it can be done within the company, then that's great. It's a win win. If not, then like you said, your dad won't mind. As long as you have a plan.”
“It sounds so simple,” Max said, almost to himself.
“It is,” Liz nodded her head firmly. “Look, Max, I can't pretend to know what you're going through because I've known what I wanted to do since I was eleven years old. I can't imagine what it must be like not to know and not to have a plan. That would be the scariest thing in the world for me. I know there are some people who just wing it and they come out fine, but I truly believe that at some stage in your life you've got to knuckle down and make some hard decisions. And yeah, part of that means putting yourself through a course you don't enjoy, but it's only a few months and then you've got the rest of your life. Beside, you survived Nancy and the pen closet, how hard can this course be?”
“You're right,” Max said resolutely. His head bobbed in agreement and he slapped the table with his fist. “I have a plan. And the plan is that I'm going to make a plan.”
“Thank you, Liz,” Max said sincerely. “You've no idea how much this has helped me. It's like a fog has been lifted and the path is clear now.”
“Glad to be of service,” Liz smiled. “In return, you can do the washing up.”
Max washed up and then joined Liz in the living room. She was curled up on the couch reading through her notes for her next exam.
“I should go,” Max said.
“No,” Liz protested. “Stay. I know what I said, but I don't want you to go.” She stood up. “Why don't you stay here and watch TV while I do some studying and then we can have an early night.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “ My exam doesn't start until two tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?”
Liz nodded. “Yes. Totally. I want you here.”
Max smiled and pushed back a strand of hair from her face. “Alright, I'll stay. But I have some studying of my own to do.” He gestured to the thick folder he had brought with him.
“I'll go into the bedroom and you can stay here and that way we won't distract each other,” Liz decided. She kissed him and skipped out of the room. She stopped in the doorway and smiled at Max. “I'm so proud of you.”
With a smile on his face, Max sat down on the couch and opened the folder. He ran his eyes over the first page and grimaced. It was so deathly dull.
At this point in the past he would have thrown the folder aside and turned on the TV, or more likely, he would have gone to find Liz so that he could distract her. This time, he kept the folder open and actually studied.
After thirty minutes, he heard Liz calling his name.
“Yeah?” he called back.
“Can you come here, please. I need a help with something.”
Max sighed, he had just found his groove with the whole studying thing and he was a little annoyed with the interruption. He put the folder aside and shuffled down the hall to her room in his bare feet.
“You're cutting into my studying...” His complaints died on his lips when he entered the room and found his girlfriend stretched out on her bed wearing nothing but a smile.
He pulled himself together quickly and leaned nonchalantly against the door. “How's the studying going?”
Liz shrugged, imitating his manner. “Meh, if I don't know it by now, I’ll never know it.”
“That's a good point,” Max agreed with a nod. “So?”
Liz wiggled her eyebrows saucily. “So.”
Max shut the bedroom door and threw himself on the bed to join her.