Casualties and Confessions
Max was gone.
Liz stood motionless in the middle of her bedroom, her feet cemented to the wood floor. How had she gotten there? Everything seemed so intangible to her, like a dream with a flurry of obscured scenes and fragmented emotions. None of which made sense to her because they were too painful to be real. She remembered the relief of finally getting to Max so she could tell him that Tess was the one who killed Alex but after that everything was a blur of events where the heartbreaking sound of Isabel screaming and the feeling of strong hands lifting her was all that appeared the clearest.
Her eyes scanned the room around her and thought how odd it was that nothing seemed remotely different about it—as if she somehow she expected it to reflect the way she was feeling on the inside. But it unlike her, it was unchanged and intact. Her bookbag still sat next to her desk where she’d left it, a basket of folded laundry lay in front of her dresser waiting to be put away, the picture of Amelia Earhart was in its usual spot on the headboard, and the bed…
All at once, something important snapped inside her as the memories came flooding back with such an overwhelming force her knees almost buckled under the weight.
Her and Max had made love. After her brutal confession to him that she’d altered their future, they’d made love. Their bodies clung to each other in desperation, neither one letting go of the other as they expressed with each touch, each kiss, and each caress everything that words could not convey. It had been intense, life altering, and a little scary because she didn’t know how she was going to survive without him once it over and they were no longer connected the same way. But afterwards when the physical connection had ended, the mental one remained stronger then ever. How was she going to live without that connection to him? She wondered. They’d been apart for so long, to finally be together had been a miracle.
But it didn’t matter. None of it did, after all. He left anyway … with Tess. How could he knowingly leave with Alex’s killer? None of it made sense to Liz. Was it possible that Max’s love for Tess made him blind to what she’d done?
No. Liz shook her head vehemently. It had to have been because of the baby. Of course Max would’ve made sure the baby arrived safely. That was the only explanation that the rational side of Liz’s thought process could come up with to justify his actions. But the assumption didn’t take away the aching pain in her chest and the complete and total emptiness she felt inside. That was hers to keep and endure. All her hopes for the future she had been planning for—all the dreams she kept in her heart for so long were now gone, and she knew without a shadow of a doubt, nothing in her life would be right again.
On shaky legs, she walked to the bed and lightly ran one hand over the side where Max had slept. It had once held so much love and warmth but was now cold in its eerie silence. The sheets were rumpled and the impression of his head was still visible on the empty pillow. She lifted it and brought it up to her nose, breathing in deeply. The fresh masculine scent of his shampoo mixed with his own unique scent brought the first shiny tear from her eyes which she let it roll down her cheek unchecked.
She clutched the pillow tightly to her chest wishing it was him.
Suddenly, Liz felt the ground spirally beneath her feet as the image of Max lying next to her, eyes glistening with tears, flashed through her mind and the sound of his pleading words pierced her heart “I love you. Never forget that, please.”
“Oh my God…Max.” Her body gave way underneath her and she sank down onto the bed, tears flowing freely as she sobbed his name over and over against the pillow.
“I know you hate me right now but you’re going to have to talk to me eventually, you know.”
The unspoken rage coming from him thickened the air in the small space. Although they were given considerable room to walk around without touching, it wasn’t nearly enough for Max. He hated being forced to breathe the same air as Tess let alone talk to her. Instead he acted as if he hadn’t heard her at all.
After a few moments without a response, she stood up and cautiously walked closer to him, yet keeping a safe distance at the same time. “Since we’re stuck in this together, you might as well hear me out…let me at least explain.” She implored.
He glared down at her with contempt, curling his full upper lip in anger. “There’s not a damn thing you have to say that I’d want to hear. It’s all lies anyway. And as far as being stuck in this together—we’re not. I don’t want anything to do with you. You murdered Alex, lied about being pregnant with the intention of watching us get slaughtered by Kivar, and forced me to come with you—leaving everyone I love back on earth where I’ll likely never see them again.” He said in a low icy tone, barely maintaining control of himself. “So there’s no excuse you could give me to justify your actions.”
He could see the fear and hesitation in her eyes as she spoke to him again.
“You might want to reconsider because what might be waiting for us isn’t going to be pretty.”
Max shook his head angrily. Why was he even wasting his time listening to her to begin with? Anything that came out of that mouth of hers was going to be lies to get what she wanted.
Manipulating, scheming, murdering bitch.
He tightened his fists at his sides to keep his raging impulse in check.
Because regardless of how much his hand itched to blast a hole straight through her, he needed answers that only she could give.
“Why? They’re not your enemies, remember. What does it matter to you?”
“They will be when we get there.” She answered.
Through his scowl he still was able to give her a puzzled look.
She opened her arms. “Well, I’m obviously not carrying your heir and I failed to bring the rest of the precious Royal Four…
“That’s why you forced me to go with you isn’t it…you needed some sort of collateral to stay alive.” He groaned loudly, roughly running his hands through his hair.
“Partly.” She replied guiltily and then continued to explain. “It’s not as simple as that. If Kivar should happen to be there when we arrive, neither one of us will be welcomed with open arms. I needed you since you carry the mark of the king. It was the only way they’d accept me when we arrive. Without you with me, I’m nothing to them.”
“What the hell are you talking about? If Kivar should happen to show up. Who else would be waiting for us?” He didn’t want to think about more than one enemy waiting to kill him, one was enough. Instantly the Summit in New York City and the encounter with the other leaders of the five planets came to mind. He had made a lot of powerful enemies by turning down Kivar’s offer to relinquish his title as king of Antar and give up the location of the granolith in favor of peace between the warring planets. For all he knew, a whole alien army could be waiting to take him out.
As if sensing what Max was thinking, she moved closer to him and explained. “It’s not what you think. The Rebellion is supposed to be waiting for our arrival. Your family Max.” She smiled as if she’d just handed him a gift on his birthday.
He narrowed his eyes. “How do you know that?”
“Because I’ve been working with Larek for months now, communicating with him through Brody, hoping to find a way home and a way out of the deal Nasedo made. But I had to keep up Nasedo’s plans at the same time so he wouldn’t find out what I was really up to. Killing Alex wasn’t part of the plan, I swear. I never wanted to hurt anyone. I just wanted to go home.”
He gritted his teeth hearing Alex’s name. The rest didn’t make sense to him at all. She’d been working with Larek behind his back all this time. And how was Nasedo going to find out? He was a pile a dust the last time Max had seen him.
“Give me a break, Tess. Nasedo’s died last fall. You didn’t have to keep up his end of the deal once he was gone.”
A look of confliction showed in her expression, like she was struggling with something internally. She backed away from him slightly and lowered her gaze.
“He’s not dead….”
Max put up one of his hands, readying himself to kill her for lying once again. “No! That’s a lie!” He shouted. “I saw his body turn to dust just like everyone else.”
She flinched but stood her ground.
“When are you going to learn Max? Nothing is ever what it seems. It was a mindwarp. As soon as he was healed, he walked away unscathed.” Tess said in disgust as if the idea made her sick.
“He wanted you to believe that he was dead so he could have the freedom to make sure his plan come out the way he’d orchestrated it… without having to be at your beck and call. He did everything—forcing me to mindwarp Alex to use him for his nerdy computer skills, framing some random college student from Las Cruses, renting the abandoned shack where he kept the key—all to insure that we could have to translation for ourselves without knowing of his involvement. He was going to sneak a ride to Antar at the last moment once I gave him the signal. But I had plans of my own and with Larek’s help it almost worked.”
“And what plans were those Tess?”
She looked at him, sadly. “I wanted my family back. I remembered only a handful of memories about the life I lived before, and between what Nasedo told me about being the queen of an entire planet and Larek’s description of my life with you there, I would have done anything to have that life back.” Embarrassed, she looked away from him. “Growing up the way I did and the things Nasedo did to me, it was a dream come true. I swore I’d never let anything or anyone get in my way. Not Nasedo, not the fear of Kivar’s wrath, and especially not Liz.”
She clenched her teeth. “If it hadn’t been for her it would’ve worked perfectly. But once again she…”
“Don’t. Say. Another. Word.” His voice was lethal as he punctuated each word. “If you want to live to see Antar, you will shut your mouth when it comes to Liz.”
“Oh, that’s right. How could I forget? You slept with her and then left her. I guess I’m not the only bad guy in this triangle.” She snorted snugly, paying little attention to his threat until it was too late.
With inhuman speed, he lunged at her, grabbing her arm roughly with his large hand. He could feel the burning heat as his grip tightened around her upper arm. But he didn’t let go.
He wanted to hurt her. Make her pay.
The mention of Liz and their last night together cut him to the quick. The memory was too precious. Tess wasn’t going to tarnish what he had left of Liz.
But what enraged him also was the fact that she was right. The one person he despised the most knew what he really was. Above all else, he was the bad guy. As much as he intended and strived to do the right thing by others, he always failed. Pushing away and hurting the people who loved him. This time failing the person who mattered most to him. Tess reminding him of that, made his blood boil.
He squeezed again, tightening his hold, sending painful charges of electricity up her harm.
“M…Max…I’m sorry.” In fright, she squeaked out.
Max looked down at her face and then down at the tiny bit of smoke coming from under his hand.
A cluster of flashes formulated in his mind, all melding together in confusing disjointed images and emotions.
Tess being yelled at by Nasedo…
Her conversation with Larek…
Tess as a little girl locked in her room…
Alex on the floor dead…
The night in the observatory…
She lifted up her hand, pushing him away from her as forcefully as she could with her power.
His body was jolted back a several steps, while still holding onto her arm. Surprised and angry, he let go of her with a hard shove, sending her like a ragdoll, slamming into the wall behind her.
She slid down it into a seated position clutching her burned arm.
Once again it was silent.