Six Days to Sunday(AU,M/L,Mature) (Complete)

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Applebylicious
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Six Days to Sunday(AU,M/L,Mature) (Complete)

Post by Applebylicious » Sat Sep 17, 2005 7:23 am

Winner - Round 8

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Title: Six Days to Sunday
Author: Lindsay
Category: AU M/L
Rating: MATURE
Disclaimer: The characters of Roswell belong to The WB, Melinda Metz, and UPN.
Summary: Liz Parker, professional sports writer. Max Evans, professional football player. Liz wants Max. Max wants to win a Super Bowl. See Liz try every method possible to make the quarterback she's loved all her life finally come to his knees. Watch Max try to master the art of the perfect play-action route. Experience two stubborn souls' journey from the dry desert of New Mexico to the humid Tampa Bay area, as they come to grips with life, love and football.
Author's Note: So...I thought I was done with AU. I really, truly did. Then I got bit in the butt by this idea and I apparently don't possess the willpower to Just. Say. No. Therefore, you all haven't gotten rid of me yet lol. Also, the title of this fic comes from a popular sports show that airs on the NFL Network. I just found it appropriate. :wink:


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banner by lizard_queen

Six Days to Sunday



Prologue – Luv U 4 Ever


On a typical summer day in New Mexico – just outside of a popular children’s park – Liz Parker fell in love.

Her head spun, her breath caught, and the world quickly turned upside down. Being only five years old at the time of the momentous event, she never stopped to consider that these effects were probably due more to the fact that she’d been knocked to the ground rather than any sort of softer emotion.

She lied on the sweet-smelling grass, blinking up at the sky while voices shouted in the distance, barely registering the fact that she’d suffered a stinging blow to the head. Her mangled jump rope – it was her absolute most precious possession and therefore had seen much use – rested in a forgotten pile somewhere to her left.

“Hey, are you all right?” a youthful voice cried out. All of her attention was immediately focused on the slight figure rushing toward her at breakneck speed.

Despite the dull throbbing behind her eyes, she made out the nervous expression wracking a boyish face. Eyes the color of the rich honey her mother used in her tea stared down at her. She sighed, recognizing the object of her newfound affection and, ironically enough, the person responsible for the aches and pains she now suffered.

“We didn’t see you,” he continued breathlessly as she stared back at him with stars in her eyes and butterflies in her girlish heart. “You must’ve been a whole mile away! Heck, I didn’t know I could throw a ball that far! Wait’ll I tell my Dad…” He trailed off, flushing deeply and obviously realizing he’d run a bit off topic. “You’re okay, aren’t you?”

She sighed again. Smiled widely. “I’m okay.”

He flashed a relieved smile, sitting back on his knees and running a hand through his short-cropped dark hair. The worn jersey that clung to his narrow shoulders was spattered in mud, and his jeans were a size too small for his growing body. But she thought him the most beautiful thing in the world.

“You’re gonna have a black eye,” he continued apologetically. “But I think it’ll look pretty cool. I’m Max, by the way. Max Evans.” He held out a hand and she took it gingerly, squeezing his fingers as he helped her sit up. He shoved his free hand into the pocket of his jeans, retrieving a crumpled bright red bandana which he then proceeded to press against a spot at the corner of her mouth. “Bleedin’ a bit,” he explained.

“I’m Liz,” she answered brightly, leaning into his hand. “Liz Parker. I live at the Crashdown Café. Are you an angel?”

He blinked, then laughed again and dropped his hand. “Yeah, right..” He drew his lower lip between his teeth, throwing an impatient glance over his shoulder as someone yelled his name. When he looked back at her, he smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve eaten at the Crashdown. Maybe I’ll see ya around.”

She opened her mouth to answer, but he was up and running before the words were even formed. She watched him race away, laughing at something his friend had said and slugging him playfully as the two boys picked back up their game.

Her eyes fell on the bandana he’d left behind and she picked it up, holding it to her heart for a long moment. She vowed then and there that she would sleep with it under her pillow every night for the rest of her life. And she promised herself that someday, she would marry Max Evans.


<center>***</center>


“Maxwell Phillip Evans.”

Loud clapping and some catcalls answered the principal’s voice as Max took the stage. His whiskey-colored eyes met those of several friends in the front rows of the auditorium, and they twinkled mischievously.

Liz immediately sat up straighter in her seat. Her fingers stopped drumming on her knee and she leaned forward unconsciously, drinking in the sight of the gorgeous senior who was now receiving his diploma while the vast sum of his achievements at West Roswell High School were read off by the principal’s booming voice.

“Thought that’d get your attention,” her best friend, Maria DeLuca, muttered at her left. “You’ve been staring off into space for the past half-hour. Belinda Brown nearly fell on her face – twice – and you didn’t even blink.”

“She did not.” Liz smiled. “And I am paying attention.”

“Yeah, now that Maxie Pooh is up,” Maria snickered. “You’re so obvious, Liz. How many times have you asked that boy out by now?”

Liz squirmed in her seat, sending her friend a dark glare. “We’re friends, Maria. Friends ask each other to do things.”

“Uh huh,” Maria yawned, obviously not buying Liz’s hissed denial. “Then why does he always say no?”

Her face burned as she slumped further down in her seat. “He doesn’t say no all the time.” Liz felt that it was vitally important that she made that clear. Maybe just for her own sense of pride.

“You’re right,” Maria acquiesced. Just as Liz began to breathe a sigh of relief that the embarrassing conversation was at an end, her friend continued. “Sometimes he just runs away screaming.”

That got her. Turning fully in her seat, Liz shot her friend an annoyed look. “One time. One time, Maria. And besides, he was only ten years old. And he didn’t scream, he just—”

“Yelled ‘Ew, gross!’,” Maria finished, eyes sparkling with humor. “I have to say, Liz. It takes a heck of a woman to ask a boy to marry her when she’s six years old. Kudos to you.”

Liz closed her eyes, sinking back into her chair as the graduation ceremony continued around them. “Shut up. Just shut up.”

But Maria was on a roll now. “Of course, you can’t really blame the guy. You did propose marriage after all. Oh, and try to plant a smacker on him—”

“Maria!” she shouted, drawing several pairs of eyes their way. Lowering her head at the glances of annoyance, she slid her gaze back toward her friend and muttered, “You are gonna get it.”

“Did you hear he got a scholarship?”

The sudden change of topic had Liz blinking. She wondered why Maria was watching her with blatant curiosity. After all, she wasn’t telling Liz anything she didn’t already know. Since the day he’d first played football on an organized team, everyone had known that Maxwell Evans was destined to go far in the athletic world.

He’d displayed the skill level of a seasoned college player throughout his high school career. He’d won the coveted position as starting quarterback his freshman year of high school, and led the West Roswell Comets to their first ever consecutive championship seasons. He’d been named to the All-American Team before his seventeenth birthday. Universities had begun courting him in earnest after he’d gained recognition on ESPN.

But despite the generous offers from schools all over the country, Max had his roots dug deep in the southwest and was planning to attend the nearby Arizona State University on a full-ride football scholarship. Liz knew, because she’d hounded him into admitting his choice to her during one his regular stops at the Crashdown. Not one of her prouder moments, but she’d needed to put her fears to rest.

Answering Maria’s question, she replied, “Max? Yeah, two or three.”

“Make that four.”

Liz frowned at Maria’s words. “What are you talking about?”

Maria glanced around as though about to impart a national secret, before finally leaning in and whispering into Liz’s ear. “Remember Melanie Johnson’s brother, Steve? He dates Max’s sister, and she let it slip that some scouts from Ohio State came by the Evans’ house last weekend with scholarship papers that would make your tongue fall out of your mouth. They want the Golden Boy bad.”

Liz began to feel sick. “Ohio State?” she returned weakly. “No, Max is going to Arizona…”

“Not anymore,” Maria sang triumphantly, obviously excited to be the one to impart the bit of juicy gossip. “Like, no one knows yet. Mr. Evans wanted to keep it quiet until he’d cut everything off with Arizona. Don’t wanna cause a stink, ya know…”

Liz wasn’t listening any longer. She stared at the back of Max’s head, several rows down, wondering why she felt like she’d been betrayed. It was ridiculous – she had no hold on Max. He’d made that perfectly clear over the years by consistently refusing any offers of friendship she’d attempted. She often wondered if she’d simply imagined that moment of connection they’d shared when she’d been five years old and he a youthful nine.

She’d make up her mind that no matter what, she’d move on and forget Max Evans. Then he’d appear out of nowhere, a smile on his face as he joked around with her at her parents’ restaurant. And just like that, she’d fall all over again. Only to be disappointed when he continued to treat her like a distant younger sister, or even worse, a complete stranger.

When she’d heard he was definitely leaving New Mexico for college, she’d embarrassed herself by crying buckets on Maria’s shoulder. When she’d discovered he was staying close to home, her entire world had lit back up. He’d told her he was staying close…

As if feeling her burning stare, Max turned in his seat, a laugh on lips. When their eyes met, his laughter died, to be replaced by surprise. Then a questioning look, followed by a cautious smile. She didn’t return the gesture.

His brows raised. She struggled to remain impassive, tearing her gaze away as her breathing began to grow short. She could feel the tears stinging the backs of her lids and she suddenly wished she were anywhere else on the planet than attending Max’s graduation ceremony.

And to think she’d been so thrilled to have copped a ticket.

“Liz? I’m sorry…I didn’t think…”

The sound of Maria’s sympathetic voice only made things worse. She forced a bright smile, shaking her head and whispering, “No, it’s fine. Absolutely…”

She’d meant to say fine, but the roaring in her head was getting out of control. “Excuse me,” she managed, standing up quite suddenly and nearly stumbling over a pair of legs that were stretched out next to her. “Sorry, excuse me.”

She could hear Maria calling her name in a whispered hiss, but she ignored it as she plowed her way towards the exit. She imagined that she felt Max’s stare on her back, as well, but chalked it up to wishful thinking. The guy didn’t care two cents about her. It was nothing new. So why did she let it hurt her so badly?

“Idiot,” she whispered to herself as she reached the bathroom, biting her lip as tears threatened to fall. “You’re such an idiot, Parker.”

She stared at her image in the mirror. An average face reflected back at her – average brown eyes, average brown hair. Average fourteen-year-old body. God, no wonder he wasn’t interested in her. Not when girls like Tess Harding, the blonde bombshell of a cheerleader whom Max had escorted to the prom, were around. Too bad Tess was nearly as kind as she was beautiful, or Liz would have burned her in effigy.

She sniffed, reaching over for a paper towel. “Pathetic,” she muttered to herself. “It’s time to grow up, Liz. It’s just not going to happen. Get used to it. Would’ve thought you’d get the picture by now.” The words were her own, but instead of her voice she heard Max’s.

The sudden applause jerked her out of her self-induced pity party. Realizing that the ceremony was now drawing to a close, she quickly blew her nose and prepared to meet Maria in the lobby of the auditorium.

When she caught sight of her friend again, she nearly stumbled to a halt as she realized who Maria was deep in conversation with. Her best friend was gesturing animatedly as Max listened and nodded. Her eyes caught Liz’s and widened as she approached.

“What’s going on?” Liz wondered as Max turned to face her. “Max, hi.” She offered him a cool nod, hoping he couldn’t see the flush on her cheeks or hear the pounding of her pulse. Damn him, he’d always done this to her.

“Hey, Liz,” he answered in that wonderfully rich, deep voice that sent shivers down her spine. She knew it sounded like something out of a bad romance novel, but well there you go. “What’d you think of the ceremony?”

There seemed to be honest interest in his question, so she answered, shrugging slightly. “It was good.”

When she didn’t say anything else, he appeared confused, glancing between her and Maria as the tension thickened.

In an attempt to lighten the mood, Maria smiled. “No one fell on their face.”

Taking his eyes away from Liz, Max glanced at Maria and laughed. “Right.”

Liz didn’t react whatsoever, obviously perplexing him further. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, Maria’s cell rang.

She looked at it quickly and chirped, “It’s the parentals. Probably calling to make sure I haven’t driven the car into a ditch or something. I’ll be right back.” Without looking at Liz, she muttered in a quieter voice that Max couldn’t hear, “Talk to him or you can find another ride home.”

Sometimes Liz absolutely hated that she was two years younger than Maria. As she watched her friend’s departing figure, her mind raced for something innocuous to say. She settled for, “So.”

Max rocked back on his heels, robe opened and cap skewed on his head. He studied her warily through his tawny eyes and murmured, “So. Why do I get the feeling you’d like to beat me up or something, Parker?”

It was the thinly veiled sarcasm that did it, the faint sneer in his voice that he never bothered to hide when they were alone. Normally she ignored it, telling herself that it was just his way of avoiding how he felt for her – yeah right! But tonight, after everything Maria had revealed, she felt like stirring a little trouble. “Oh, go to hell Evans.”

It was obvious she’d shocked him by the way his brows disappeared beneath his cap and his mouth fell open. “What did you say?”

Her cheeks heated, but she clenched her fists and replied, “I said go. To. Hell.”

After a beat of silence, he laughed. “Kiss your mother with that mouth, Parker?”

He wasn’t taking her seriously. He never did. It was that sudden realization that set her temper off on the path of no return. Later, she would look back on that instant as the moment she completely lost her mind. But not now.

“How could you go to Ohio State, Max?” The minute the words were out of her mouth, she couldn’t keep the rest from following. “You promised you were staying close to Roswell. You lied to me! You’re such a liar!”

He didn’t seem surprised by her outburst as much as resigned. She was huffing so wildly that she barely noticed when he took her by the arm and led her toward the doors. Only when she felt the cool night air hit her bare arms did she realize she was standing outside – in the dark – with the school’s most popular senior and all-around town hero. “Max, what are you—”

“How did you find out?” he interrupted her. “I haven’t even signed the papers.”

She caught her breath, anger dissolving into hope. “You haven’t…?”

“Yet,” he finished sternly. “I am going to, Liz. What I want to know, is how you found out.”

“Maria heard it from Melanie who heard it from Steve,” she snapped back. “How could you, Max? You’re going to be a thousand miles away! What about your parents? What about Isabel?” What about me? she wanted to whine. But she knew that wouldn’t matter to him.

A muscle ticked in his jaw as he gazed down at her. He was silent for a long moment before he finally sighed, taking off his cap and running a hand through his hair. “I’m going, Liz. It’s time you understood…there’s nothing…”

She suddenly had a distinct feeling that she knew what he was about to say, and her face burned in mortification. “I know that,” she interrupted quickly.

“Do you?” he wondered in exasperation, letting his hand fall to his side as he studied her. His eyes seemed to glow as a passing car drove by, illuminating his features for a split second of time. She thought she caught a fleeting expression of hunger burning in that amber gaze, but it was most likely just plain anger.

It was confirmed a moment later when he continued in a sharp tone, “This has to stop. You’re fourteen years old, Parker. Even if I wanted to – which I don’t – there couldn’t be anything between us.”

Good God, would the humiliation never cease? She stared at her feet, preparing to mumble a quick goodbye and escape to find Maria, then spend the rest of the night hitting herself over the head with a brick block. But when she opened her mouth, she blurted out instead, “Why not?”

She jerked her gaze up, horrified that she’d spoken the words out loud. She prayed fervently for an earthquake to occur and swallow her whole. Had she really just said…?

Max didn’t seem to know how to answer, probably shocked to the core that she’d actually had the balls to come out and ask him. “I…you…Liz…you’re fourteen!” he stammered, tugging at the collar of his robes and appearing completely out of sorts. It helped her gather together the torn shreds of her pride.

“So that’s the only reason?” she pressed on. In for a penny, in for a pound. “Because I’m fourteen? That’s just stupid, Max.”

“No it’s not!” he answered vehemently. “It’s a very good…” He let out a short growl. Then he said something that had the hair on her neck standing on end. “One day you’ll understand.”

“I’m not a child, Max!” she yelled.

“I didn’t say you were—”

“Oh, yes you did! And I think I’ve figured out what the problem is. You can’t see past the five year old girl that you threw a football at when you were nine years old!”

He drew himself up straight, glaring at her. “I did not throw a football at you! It was an accident—”

“Oh, just shut up!” she growled, angry with the both of them. “I may be fourteen, Max, but I know what I want.”

That shut him up. Appearing slightly hesitant, he asked, “You…you do?”

She prepared to tell him exactly what she wanted, then at the last moment decided to show him instead. He never saw it coming.

Grabbing the sides of his robes, she jerked him toward her as she stood on her tiptoes and pressed her lips against his. He froze in outright shock, then his arms slowly crept up to her shoulders. She expected him to shove her away, and moved closer so that he couldn’t. But he didn’t try.

“Liz…” He whispered her name, then suddenly he was kissing her back so fiercely that it took a moment for her head to stop spinning. She melted into his embrace as his tongue slipped inside her mouth. She gasped, her grip tightening on him as he moved even closer. She’d never felt anything like kissing Max Evans.

He seemed to be enjoying it, too. His fingers were buried in her hair, plastering her to him as he groaned her name. Then everything seemed to change so rapidly that she couldn’t keep up. His grip became rougher, his breath grew heavier.

“This is what you want?” His voice sounded dark and dangerous, and she paused momentarily at the drastic change.

His hands began to slide down her sides, then back up, hovering just beneath her rib cage. She gasped, trying to pull away as she realized his intent. “Max!”

He didn’t let her go. Pulling her closer so that he could whisper in her ear, he asked, “Isn’t this what you want?”

“No!” she yelled in mortification. “Max, let me go!”

He hesitated, then shoved her away with a curse. He moved to touch her arm, but she jerked away. He stood panting, glaring at her as she remained frozen, a look of horror on her face. “See, this is why…you’re too young, Liz! You’re too young to deal with a guy like me.”

“You mean a complete asshole?” she returned, close to tears.

“You don’t know what you want.”

“Yes, I do! I want you!” she cried out. “I’ve loved you since I was five years old! I’ll love you forever.”

A look of pain skated across his features, then they became impassive. “No, you won’t.”

A tear slid down her cheek as she stared at him. He appeared so hard and unyielding, nothing like the boy who’d held her only moments before everything had gone wrong. She said as much to him, and he laughed in her face.

“That’s just it, Liz. I’m not a boy. But you…you are a girl.”

“I…I don’t understand,” she whispered. “Max…”

“Don’t touch me,” he declared sharply when she reached out a hand. She drew it back like she’d been burned, flinching at the anger in his tone. “I’m leaving, Liz. I’m going to Ohio State. It’d be better if…if you forgot all about me.”

And with that, he turned on his heel and strode away. She watched him go, too confused and upset to go after him. Never knowing that it would be the last time she’d see Max Evans for ten years.
Last edited by Applebylicious on Fri Oct 14, 2005 12:42 pm, edited 30 times in total.
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Post by Applebylicious » Sat Sep 17, 2005 4:28 pm

Wow. I wasn't sure how everyone would feel about an extremely football-centric fic, but apparently I shouldn't have worried. :wink: Glad you are all enjoying this so far! I'm gonna go ahead and post the first chapter since it's ready and I don't know if I'll be able to post tomorrow. Hopefully no one will mind two parts in one day, lol.

And for those of you reading Denial, never fear. That'll be updated sometime this weekend, as well. Smooches!



Part One – Well, That Was Unexpected


God, his shoulder burned.

Max Evans grimaced, shifting so that the steaming hot water didn’t pelt his sore muscle. He leaned a forearm against the tile wall, sighing in disgust as he mentally replayed the series of events that had led to his most recent stint on the D.L.

It should’ve been a shutout. Everyone knew that the Buccaneers were headed for their first Super Bowl since Max had joined the team six years prior. It had taken a lot of building on the coaches’ parts, and a lot of blood and sweat on the players, but everyone was agreed - it was finally Tampa Bay’s year.

Then Cleveland had come to town. Although the Browns hadn’t even made the play-offs for the past three seasons, they’d arrived at Raymond James Stadium with a chip on their shoulders, prepared to shut down the darling of the National Football League. They’d nearly gotten their wish.

So many things had gone wrong that Max wasn’t really sure where to place the blame for the near disastrous defeat. A sudden rainstorm had left the natural grass field slick and made it damn near impossible to dig your feet into. Missed tackles abounded, and one resulted in a particularly nasty sack that had left him lying on the ground, gasping for breath as the sound of the crowd’s booing echoed like a gunshot in his head.

He’d been so shocked that he’d barely felt the ripping sensation as the ligaments in his shoulder tore, although his brain automatically categorized the injury. AC separation. Three months of rehabilitation. Which meant he’d miss nearly the whole season, if he was lucky enough to play at all.

As the realization - and the pain – had begun to sink in, he’d blinked up at the leering expression of the abnormally large defensive tackle who’d taken him down. Through his helmet, the DT had sneered, “Nice to meet you, Golden Boy.”

Max winced at the reminder of the nickname that had – unfortunately, in his opinion – followed him from high school into the professional world of football. He’d been labeled since the first time he’d taken a snap in Ohio, to the first bullet pass he’d thrown in Tampa Bay as fans cheered for the Golden Boy who’d brought life back into an offense desperately needing it.

But it didn’t really matter how golden you were when you were staring down the line at roughly three hundred plus pounds of sheer, hard muscle ready to blitz you into oblivion.

After he’d been carted off the field amidst Coach Gruden’s hoarse shouts and an even more angered Tampa Bay crowd, Max suddenly had a flash from nearly nineteen years prior. He was playing ball at the park with one of the boys who lived down the street – he remembered the face, but not the name – when he’d lobbed a pass right into the waiting face of a five-year-old girl.

It was the thought of Liz that had him gritting his teeth, not the pain of his separated shoulder or even the rage that he would most definitely be logged onto the disabled list for the better part of the season.

“Evans. You ‘bout done in there?”

He opened his eyes, realizing that the water had gone from pleasantly steamy to mildly lukewarm while he’d been lost in his thoughts. With a grunt, he switched off the faucet and grabbed a towel to wrap around his waist before he met up with his trainer for his first fun-filled session of rehab.

He could feel the eyes of his teammates following him as he sauntered through the locker room towards the ominous rooms in the back. Did they think it was his fault that they’d nearly lost a game that should have been an easy win? He had the urge to turn around and shout at them all. What did they expect, he wasn’t golden. He was human.

He met the eyes of Kyle Valenti, the backup quarterback who would be taking his place until he managed to get his shoulder working again, and offered the nervous young man a nod. “Good work out there in the fourth, Valenti. You really pulled our asses out of the trenches.”

Kyle nodded, and looked like he wanted to say something. But as Max moved past, he pressed his lips together tightly and glanced away. Max knew they were all wondering whether or not he’d lose it. It was common knowledge, after all, that he couldn’t afford much more damage to his right shoulder.

After nearly a lifetime of playing a high-impact sport like football, he’d suffered plenty of random injuries that had made him miss one or maybe two games. A broken bone here, a stinger there. Concussions, triceps strains, and a mild shoulder dislocation back during his first year at The Ohio State University had left him waiting on the sidelines as his team played on without him. He’d always bounced back with no problem, but as the years progressed, the injuries grew worse and the bouncing back was harder to do.

His doctor had informed him earlier that day that without intense and rigorous rehabilitation, there was a good chance he might not recover from this latest injury. It was almost unfathomable, that something so common could ruin him for good. Although the news wasn’t public knowledge, Max knew his team had an inkling of the situation and were rightfully worried.

He glanced down the hallway and found the entire offensive coaching team waiting for him, grim looks on their faces. Great, he sighed inwardly, Dr. McNair’s told them the news. He stiffened his shoulders and prepared for an onslaught of yelling to take place as he met Coach Gruden’s narrowed gaze.

“Evans, inside,” the young head coach snapped, turning on his heels and entering the rehab room while everyone else stood there staring at Max with something akin to sympathy. He ignored the expressions, clenching his jaw and following Gruden into the room.

He stood there, arms folded across his chest as he waited for one of the coaches’ to speak. When no speech was forthcoming, he lifted a brow and asked, “Should I be worried?”

Coach Gruden turned and met his gaze. “She’s struck again, Max. I have absolutely no fucking clue how she found out so damn quickly – hell, I’d barely gotten the news before she’d had it plastered all over her damn column.”

Something wasn’t right. Max frowned, not following the coach’s words. “I’m sorry?”

Slamming his fist down on a chair, Gruden bared his teeth into something resembling a smile from The Bride of Chucky. “That damn sports columnist, Liz Parker. She’s at it again, Evans. The fallout from this one…it ain’t gonna be pretty.”

Suddenly everything fell into place. His teammates’ careful gazes, the presence of practically the entire coaching staff on what should have been a minor rehab session…

Liz Parker. The bane of his existence. He felt his blood begin to boil as he thought about the twenty-four year old sports writer who had moved her way up the ranks at ESPN faster than anyone before her. She possessed a sharp wit and a knowledge of the game that had many on the field and off admiring her, following her reports like rabid dogs.

Max wasn’t one of them.

“Goddamn it, not again,” he groaned, falling back against the wall as he rubbed at his temples. “You’ve gotta be shitting me.”

The Golden Boy was Liz Parker’s favorite subject. Without fail, she reported on him every week during football season, and nearly as much during the off-season. While Max didn’t mind the occasional publicity, Liz Parker always managed to coat her reports on him with a heavy dose of biting sarcasm and sneering disapproval.

If he won a game, she commented on how he could have read the defensive plays better. If he lost, she had a field day. She also managed to find out every last detail of his private life and smear it across the pages of her column, painting him to be anything but the Golden Boy he was reputed to be on-field. Max often wondered where she got her information, but so far he’d come up with nothing.

He was almost too scared to ask. “What does she know?”

“Goddamn everything!” Gruden growled, obviously just as enamored of the talented Miss Parker as Max was. “She went to print not even two hours ago, and a review of the whole damn game’s in there. Only, she also decided to air the dirty laundry that you might be out for good, Evans. And she wasn’t exactly sympathetic about it.”

Max’s temples began to throb. “She didn’t.”

Gruden reached over and grabbed a colorful magazine, throwing it at him. Max caught it against his chest, wincing slightly from the sting in his shoulder, and opened it to the page where Liz’s reports always appeared. His eyes nearly bugged out of his head. “Shit, she got a four page layout? That’s unreal!”

“Read it,” Gruden clipped off.

Max glanced down, trying to ignore the snapshot of a smiling Liz that headed the article. She looked so different from what he remembered of the shy and awkward fourteen year-old that he’d left behind ten years ago. Still, there was enough of the impish twinkle in her dark brown eyes that told him it was the same Liz. Her hair was shorter, styled in choppy brown waves that fell to her shoulders. The planes and contours of her face had narrowed over the years, lending her an attractive and mature appearance that was pleasing to the eye.

Goddamn it, who was he kidding? Pleasing? Attractive? She was downright gorgeous. Which only pissed him off even more. He gritted his teeth and moved onto the report itself.

<center>Golden Days At An End in Tampa Bay?

Natives of the Tampa Bay area didn’t have much to rejoice over today. After a close win in what should have been a gimme game for the leading contenders in the National Football Conference, the Bucs have to contend with something far more pressing than a near loss to a non-conference team. After a brutal sack by talented Brown’s defensive tackle, Amon Gordon, Tampa Bay quarterback Max Evans – the heart and soul of the Bucs offense – might find himself calling plays from the bench this season instead of leading his team to a Super Bowl win in Detroit...</center>

Ten minutes later, Max snapped the magazine shut, a dark expression coloring his features. “I should’ve done more damage with that football,” he grumbled. At the confused expressions on the other’s faces, he shrugged. “Old business.”

“You’re gonna have to issue a press conference,” Coach Gruden announced grimly. “Once the media gets a hold of this…”

Max growled, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. “Un-fucking-believable. Why can’t she go out and kick some stray dogs or something instead? Christ.”

Gruden snorted. “Figure out what you wanna say, and figure it out before the press is knocking down our door.” He turned towards Dr. McNair, whose presence Max had completely forgotten about during the course of the past few minutes. “This session’s gonna have to be rescheduled, Tom. Thanks to that interfering busybody…the whole team’s gonna know what’s up…”

Max tuned out of the conversation and began imagining all the things he’d like to do if he could get his hands on Liz Parker. Most of them involved boiling tar and feathers. Perhaps a noose.

Sure enough, once he re-entered the main locker room, the place was abuzz with the latest in the Liz Parker vs. The Golden Boy saga. Commiserating glances were met everywhere he looked. It did nothing to calm him down, merely stoked the flame burning in his chest to do some serious damage to one nosy sports writer with too much time on her hands.

He spent the next two hours preparing for the impromptu press conference taking place in the club room of RJ stadium. When he finally arrived, he was irritated to see that a representative from nearly every newspaper, magazine and sports network in the country seemed to be present. He ignored the sudden flash of bulbs and excited murmuring as he took his seat beside Coach Gruden.

The crowd quieted as Gruden cleared his throat. “I’m sure by now you’ve all read the papers,” a vein in his forehead throbbed as he forced the words out with uncharacteristic politeness. It would have been amusing to Max, had he not been so damned angry himself. “We’ve called this conference so you can all ask whatever questions you might have pertaining to the situation. We’ll try to answer them the best we can.”

More like bluff the best we can, Max thought. He feigned interest as Coach Gruden began his speech, nodding at opportune intervals while waiting for his own turn to speak. Roughly five minutes later, he had his chance.

“Well, we certainly weren’t expecting to have so many problems, offensively,” he began. “That was an oversight on our part, and nothing to be contributed to Cleveland. They proved they have a good ball club today. I think we can all agree on that.”

A reporter raised his hand, waiting for Max to recognize him with a nod. “Mr. Evans, can you describe for us the extent of your injury?”

Max sighed inwardly, but offered a polite smile. “Sure. It’s an AC separation – basically a tear of the ligaments between the clavicle and acromion bone - which causes the collarbone to stick up. It’s not deadly serious, but of course there will be needed rehabilitation.”

A buzz started throughout the room as more cameras flashed. Max tried to maintain a pleasant expression even as he wished he were anywhere but where he was. He could practically smell the interest in the room. He felt as though he were surrounded by a flock of circling vultures.

Questions bombarded him left and right, and he quickly and methodically answered each one, doing his best to steer clear of the one topic everyone really wanted to discuss. Then a voice called out over the rest of the group, “Mr. Evans! Liz Parker, ESPN News Journal.”

Max’s mouth fell open as the crowd quieted and parted to reveal a petite figure near the back of the room. No. It couldn’t be. His mind refused to comprehend what it was seeing, even as it accepted the sick, sad truth. Liz Parker was in Tampa Bay. At his press conference.

Goddamn it, he’d thought she was tucked safely away – from him – back in New Mexico! Although working for one of the most prestigious sports magazines in the world today, she’d never had the inclination to leave the place of their birth. Except, apparently, to drive him completely out of his mind.

Offering him a small smile, she stepped forward, clad in an understated black pantsuit that accentuated one pertinent detail – Liz Parker was no longer the girl he’d accused her of being that horrible night of his graduation. She was every inch the woman, and she knew it.

She calmly asked her question with the poise and grace of a professional reporter, as if there had never been any sort of issue between them. As if she hadn’t spent the last six years attempting to make his life a living hell, journalistically speaking.

“Mr. Evans, you’ve sustained severe injury to your shoulder over the past two years. Is there any possibility that this particular injury will force you into an early retirement, and what effect will that have on the team as pertains to Super Bowl hopes?”

Every eye in the room was on him. He could practically see the smoke billowing out of Coach Gruden’s ears as he gnashed his teeth to Max’s left. Liz continued smiling, a glint of satisfaction evident in her steady gaze.

Maybe it was the fact that he was so shocked to actually see her, or maybe it was the culmination of everything that had – and hadn’t – happened between them over the years. But for whatever reason, he opened his mouth and sneered, “What the fuck do you think, Parker?”

Gasps went up through the crowd and Coach Gruden cursed beneath his breath as Max stifled a groan. Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. His eyes never strayed from Liz’s as his jaw clenched together tightly.


Considering that the last time he’d laid eyes on her, she’d been crying and emotional, he expected her to react much the same way now. But the only reaction he received from his outburst was cold amusement. A brow lifted, and she shook her head at the surrounding reporters and journalists as if to say “See? He’s not so Golden after all…”

“We have to wrap it up now,” Gruden broke in with a strained tone. “I can assure you all that whatever means necessary will be used to make sure Max is back on the practice field in the near future. There’s nothing to worry over.” Max heard the silent addendum to the statement. Nothing to worry over…yet.

Questions continued to be asked, but they were ignored as Max was ushered quickly from the room. He could feel doe brown eyes following his movements and resisted the urge to look over his shoulder.

He was disgusted with himself, and with Liz Parker for managing to rile him in public. He was sure she was pleased with her success, and that the events of the incident would appear in her next report – complete with the usual sly comments.

Back in the safety of the locker room, Gruden turned on him with a thunderous expression. “Just what the hell was that about, Evans? Have you lost your ever-fucking mind?”

“Possibly,” Max sighed. “God, that woman makes me want to…”

He’d been about to say hurt her, but his voice trailed off before he could complete the sentence. It just wasn’t true. Well, it was – she aggravated him beyond belief. But there had always been a part of him that wanted to throw her down on the ground and have his way with her. Even when he’d been a more mature eighteen and she a naïve, innocent fourteen year old with wide, trusting eyes that still haunted him to this day, he’d wanted her. It wasn’t something he was proud of, and it had caused him to treat her in ways that now embarrassed him.

He remembered the last time he’d seen her with startling clarity. Remembered the heated words they’d exchanged, and the even hotter kiss. She’d finally driven him to acting on his feelings for her, and she’d done exactly what he’d known she’d do all along. She’d been too young for what he’d wanted from her. He’d had to leave, before they both did something they’d regret. Besides, what she’d mistakenly thought she felt for him had been nothing more than a childish infatuation, that much was evident by her current attitude toward him.

“I know the woman is a class A bitch, but you’ve gotta keep a cool head in this, Max,” Coach Gruden continued. “And for the record, cussing out a popular sports journalist in the middle of a press conference is not keeping a cool head.”

“She was deliberately provoking me,” Max answered in annoyance. “I know I shouldn’t have said it, but damn!”

Gruden didn’t debate the point, and Max felt like his coach had probably wanted to answer Liz the same way he had. After a moment of silence, Gruden grunted. “Well, PR has their work cut out for them this week. Why don’t you head on home while I take care of this mess?”

Max met his head coach’s gaze without flinching. “And tomorrow? Am I practicing?”

Gruden sighed, rubbing his forehead wearily. “You know the answer to that, Max. Even if I could, I wouldn’t let you strain that shoulder more than you already have. It’s gotta be rahab, at least until the doc tells me something different.”

Max could feel his hopes and dreams for winning a Super Bowl going up in smoke. Desperation had him blurting out, “Coach, I can do it. The injury’s not as bad as Doc McNair’s making it out to be—”

He trailed off as Gruden pierced him with a narrowed look. “Are you really gonna screw your chance up, Evans?” he wondered blithely. “You know what playing injured can do to a player. Don’t fuck around. Do the goddamn rehab and then we’ll talk.”

Biting his tongue against the several retorts that came to mind, Max muttered, “Right, coach.”

Gruden watched him carefully for a long moment, then cursed again and strode down the hallway to where his office was located. The door slammed shut after him, evidence of the head man’s ire.

Max wished he could slam something, himself.

He went to his locker and grabbed his bag, turning to leave the locker room and head home to sulk for a few hours. He came to a screeching halt when he glanced toward the door to find himself staring into a familiar pair of large brown eyes.

“Hello, Max.”
Last edited by Applebylicious on Sat Sep 17, 2005 9:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Applebylicious » Sun Sep 18, 2005 5:27 am

I'm back...bwah! Did anyone miss me lol? This fic is completely writing itself, I swear! I'm lovin' it! :D I hope no one minds the speedy updates, but I can't promise exactly how long they'll last. However, the next three parts ARE written, so they won't be stopping anytime soon lol.

Before I post, a few things to go over. I realize that this story has a lot of sports terms, and I'm also aware that many of you might not be familiar with American football, or football in general. If you read something that you don't understand, please feel free to PM me or post your question on the thread and I'll be glad to answer. I'm here to educate, people! :wink:

Also, in an effort to make this story as realistic as possible, certain characters are real people. You can take it as fact that any person not from the show is a living, breathing human being. Coach Jon Gruden is indeed the head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Amon Gordon really is a defensive tackle for the Cleveland Browns. And in case anyone is interested, this story takes place during the present day.

Okay, I think I've blathered long enough. I'm loving all the feedback, people! It makes me want more... :mrgreen: Hope you all enjoy the new part!



Part Two – Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder?


Liz had thought she’d known exactly what to expect upon seeing Max Evans again for the first time in ten years. After all, it wasn’t like she hadn’t kept up with him over their period of separation. She’d watched his games – hell, she’d even attended a few of them. Not that she’d ever admit it.

She’d imagined this moment several times over the years, and she was always calm. Collected. Cool. She always showed him that she didn’t mind in the least that he’d rejected her ten years prior then left without a word. She always left him panting after her while this time she’d be the one to turn and walk away without a care in the world.

But as Max came to a stop a few feet in front of her, expression cloudy and eyes stormy, she immediately realized she’d made a gross miscalculation. Inside the press room she’d been too overwhelmed with proving a point to actually focus on the physical punch brought upon by seeing him again.

Alone in the locker room with the illustrious quarterback, she could do nothing but take in the sight of him – clothed only in a worn, sleeveless t-shirt and a pair of baggy sweat shorts – and struggle not to react to the blatant sexuality he wore like an expensive cologne. Suddenly, the room felt stifling and overly warm. She resisted the urge to wipe her palms against her slacks and met his gaze as serenely as possible.

“Hello, Max,” she murmured in a polite, almost distant tone she was extremely proud of. She was rewarded when he mumbled an oath beneath his breath, shifting his feet and running a hand through his tousled hair while glaring severely.

“What’re you doing here, anyway?” he demanded without pretense. “Don’t you have some poor soul’s career to destroy?”

“Only yours,” she answered with a feline smile. “Honestly, Max. A girl would think you weren’t happy to see her after all these years.” Add a little pout – just enough to get his attention. Throughout her profession, which was prominently dominated by men, she’d learned several tactics to use whenever she needed to get something she wanted. And this time, she wanted it badly.

Sure enough, his gaze dropped to her mouth and he cursed again before jerking his eyes back to hers. They were nearly glowing with accusation.

“I’m thrilled beyond belief,” he answered snidely. “In fact, I’m so overwhelmed that it would probably be a good idea if I left before I did something I might regret.”

Her smile faded. “Are you threatening me, Evans?”

He bared his teeth. “Lady, you have no idea.”

He started to push past her and she caught a whiff of the familiar scent she’d always attributed to Maxwell Evans. Irish Spring soap and just a hint of juniper. When she realized that her eyes were closing and she was breathing in the scent eagerly, she stiffened. Before he could leave the room, she blurted out, “We need to talk.”

He paused at the doors. As he turned around, she could feel the tension thickening in the air as he tossed his heavy bag on the floor at his feet before crossing his arms against his chest. She had to admire the fact that he barely flinched at what had to be a painful maneuver on his shoulder.

“You’re damn right we do,” he snapped. “Just what the hell are you getting at, harassing me in your column and then showing up unannounced at the press conference that was called merely to maintain the damage you created in the first place, then hounding me about my damn injury?”

She drew herself up at the remonstration evident in his tone. If there was one thing she couldn’t stand, it was being chastised. And especially not by this particular man. “The public has a right to know,” she responded sanctimoniously.

Max snorted. “This isn’t politics, Liz. It’s football. And while leaking the truth about my injury may not cause a terrorist attack, it sure as hell makes it easy for the next team to draw a big, fat target on my back.”

She had to give him that one, but damned if she’d admit out loud that he was right. Instead, she tossed her hair and sent him a narrowed gaze. “Are you saying you’ll be playing?”

He opened his mouth, then clamped his lips shut and glared at her. “I guess you’ll just have to wait and see.” He followed the comment up with a mumble that sounded something like, “and so will I.”

She studied him closely for a long moment, wondering just how to broach the question she needed to ask him. Deciding it was best to just get it over with, she took a deep breath and steeled herself for the explosion sure to follow. “I want an exclusive, Max.”

He blinked, obviously unsure if he’d heard her correctly. When she didn’t repeat herself, his brows lowered and he asked, “What did you just say?”

Without missing a beat, she reiterated her previous statement, despite the fact that her palms were sweating. When he threw his head back and started laughing uproariously, annoyance overshadowed hesitation and she snapped, “It’s the only smart thing to do, and you know it. The press is going to be beating down your door wanting to know every last detail about the Golden Boy’s possibly career-ending injury—”

“Yeah, you’ve made sure of that,” Max broke in sarcastically. “And don’t call me Golden Boy, goddamn it.”

She ignored him. “Regardless of how it happened, it’s a fact. That pathetic excuse of a press conference isn’t going to cut it, Evans. You’re going to have to make a statement. I’m offering you the chance.”

His lips curled into a sneer. “Well, isn’t that fucking charitable of you, Liz. Should I get down on my knees and thank you?”

“If you’d like,” she answered coolly. “Or you can continue behaving like a jackass and let the media say whatever it wants to say. Which it will, and if you think it’s bad now…just wait until Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser are debating over you on Pardon the Interruption.”

The mention of the popular, provocative show devoted exclusively to sports opinions and headline issues made him stiffen. “I think I can handle it,” he answered, although she caught the fleeting horror glimmering in his eyes. “And to tell you the truth, I’d rather run around naked during a televised game wearing a lace doily on my head than give you an exclusive interview.”

She barely refrained from growling. “You’re such a child.”

He wasn’t offended; merely raised one brow. “Are we finished?” he wondered in a faintly bored tone. If she couldn’t read the rage in his gaze, she’d assume he was quite indifferent to her presence.

She hesitated, then shrugged her shoulders. “Fine, if that’s how you feel. I’ll just find Amon Gordon and see how he feels about an interview.”

She turned on her heel, but was drawn up short. She glanced down at the powerful hand grasping her arm and looked up to meet Max’s furious expression. “I thought we were finished?” she batted her lashes sweetly.

“Amon Gordon?” he managed between his teeth.

“Yes, the particularly talented defensive back who sacked you during today’s game? Surely you haven’t forgotten already. I know football players suffer from concussions, but I haven’t heard of any brain damage you’ve sustained recently…”

His fingers tightened and she bit back a wince. “Don’t jerk me around.”

She yanked herself away from him and glared back. “I’ll do whatever the hell I want, Golden Boy. I offered you the chance to say your side, but you threw it back in my face. Fine. I’ll just go to Cleveland. I’m sure they’d love a chance to talk about taking down an offensive juggernaut!”

He eyed her speculatively. “What makes you think they’ll talk? Hate to break it to you, but there’s something of an honor among the league that’s missing from the journalistic world.”

She scowled at the veiled insult, turning her nose up in the air. “As it so happens, I’m sure they’d be perfectly willing to dispel with any honor and tell me everything I want to know. You’re not exactly the most beloved person in Ohio anymore.”

His gaze narrowed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean that since you decided to go with Tampa Bay on Draft Day rather than stick close to your alma mater out of loyalty…they’re out for your blood. Or didn’t the shoulder separation clue you in?”

He frowned. “Tampa Bay called first.”

Liz raised both brows. “Yes, but you knew Cleveland was hoping to score you as their first round pick that year. When the call came in from Tampa Bay, you decided to screw over everyone who’d helped you get to where you are today and went with whoever promised you the most money, and the best chance of a starting position.”

“That’s not true—”

“Not that it’s exactly surprising,” Liz continued blithely. “You do have a history of abandoning the people who need you.”

She wasn’t sure which one of them was more surprised by her words. Max’s mouth closed with an audible click, and he stared at her intensely as she struggled not to fidget under the scrutiny.

“Just how long have you wanted to throw that one at me?” he demanded a moment later.

Because he was right – she had wanted to make him regret leaving so many years ago – she flared up and hissed, “This has nothing to do with me. You haven’t been home in ten years, Max. Have you even thought about your family? Or are they just happy to scrounge around for whatever scraps the Golden Boy deems appropriate to throw at them—”

He moved so quickly that she let out a mortifying squeak of alarm. His hand wrapped around her neck in a deceptively gentle grip. “Don’t…talk about my family,” he warned softly.

She refused to be intimidated, letting out a brazen laugh even as her pulse jumped crazily. “What, are you going to strangle me now?”

A muscle in his jaw jumped and his fingers squeezed, then he let her go. “No. You’d just come back to haunt me forever.”

“Damn right,” she agreed. “Now, can we discuss this like adults or should I plan on buying a plane ticket to Ohio?”

“Why do you need this interview so badly?” he questioned suspiciously. “Just what’s in it for you, Parker?”

She debated on giving him the brush-off, then figured it would help her to be honest with him. “I’m up for a promotion. An anchor position on SportsCenter.”

His brows lifted. “Anchor? Since when do they let sports writers hold anchor positions? You don’t have the experience.”

“As it happens, I got my degree in mass communication and journalism,” she stated in annoyance. “The first job I held was at a small, privately owned news station in Albuquerque. So, yes, I do have the experience. And the know-how.”

Not that he’d know. And boy, did it gall to be slapped in the face with the reality that despite the fact she’d kept up with him over the years, he definitely hadn’t been doing the same. Why was she surprised?

He seemed to be going over her statement, rubbing the faint beard that shadowed his jaw. “So, I repeat. What does any of this have to do with me?”

Her irritation began to grow as she recalled the conversation earlier that day that had led to her hopping a jet to attend the Buccaneers press conference. “My boss wants an exclusive. You never give interviews, and he thinks it would be a slam-dunk to get you in our magazine. He has an in at ESPN and promised me an anchor position if I could bag you. No offense intended,” she added belatedly.

He appeared amused, one corner of his mouth lifting. “You? Offensive? Color me shocked, Parker.”

“Oh, shut up,” she growled through her teeth. “Will you do the damn interview or not? And rest assured – if you refuse, I will get my information anyway I can, and I can’t promise that it’ll portray you in a good light.”

They stayed locked in a silent battle of wills as the clock overhead ticked by the second. She held her breath, crossed her fingers behind her back, as the world seemed to slow down and hinge upon his next words.

Finally, he released a heavy sigh and closed his eyes wearily. “Fine. Whatever. Like it can get any worse.”

She let out a squeal so loud that Max nearly jumped out of his skin. “Yes!” she cried out, pumping her fist in the air with uncharacteristic emotion. “Max, you made the right choice.”

He eyed her warily, obviously torn between wanting to tear out of there and wanting to watch his back. “Somehow, Parker, I doubt it.”


<center>***</center>


“I’ve got the interview, Michael,” Liz spoke into her cell as she attempted to maneuver her sporty red MX-5 Miata through early evening traffic in downtown Tampa Bay. Her fingers tapped the wheel along to the anthem of a particularly catchy Budweiser radio commercial.

“Outstanding,” her boss’s voice grew tinny as she drove beneath an overpass. “And how did you do it? I expected I’d have to come pick you up in a body bag after what happened at the press conference.”

Liz snorted, turning the radio up as it returned to the broadcast of the Indianapolis versus Jacksonville game. “It’s not my fault he completely overreacted to an innocent question.”

A laugh came across the line. “Innocent, right. You basically forced the guy into admitting retirement in front of every sports magazine in the nation, Liz. No wonder he looked like he wanted to use you for target practice.”

“He’s all talk,” Liz mumbled. “And I got the interview, didn’t I?”

“Yes, and you still haven’t told me how you managed it.”

She sighed, knowing he wasn’t going to be happy with her underhanded methods. A lot could be said about Michael Guerin, but he liked to play fair. “I…might have mentioned something about visiting Cleveland if he didn’t give me an exclusive…”

There was silence on the other end, and she winced. Then to her surprise, Michael roared with laughter. “Oh, shit! I wish I could have seen the look on Evans’ face…”

A reluctant smile crossed her features at the memory of Max’s horrified expression. “He wasn’t very happy.”

“I bet. And he agreed? Great job, Parker. Get it done and to me and the anchor job has your name on it.”

Applause came from the speakers, signaling that the home-team Jags had scored against the Colts. “Gotcha, boss,” she replied, attention torn between the phone call and the game she was supposed to be listening to for her later column. “Sorry to report and run, but—”

“But Jacksonville is about to knock Indy out of the running for the AFC championship,” Michael finished, immediately understanding. “I’m watching it on the big screen. Fucking Manning…what’s up his ass today? Hasn’t completed a single TD pass.”

Liz stifled a smile. “I’ll be sure to ask him at the next press conference,” she answered impishly. “I’ll check in later and let you know what I have for print tomorrow.”

She ended the call, rolling down the windows as she turned onto the interstate in order to enjoy the scent of the ocean. Muttering a curse as the Indianapolis offense ran yet another three-and-out, she rolled her eyes and rested a hand on the window, leaning her head against it. “Fucking Manning,” she mumbled.

She knew she wasn’t supposed to be biased, but she couldn’t deny that privately she cheered and rooted for her favorite teams. And bitched and moaned when they lost, which it was clear the Colts were in danger of doing.

Sure enough, as she pulled into the parking lot of the Ameri-Suites that she was temporarily staying in, the final score read 28-24 Jacksonville. She let out a growl of frustration, then brushed aside all personal feelings as she began to mentally outline her Sunday report.

She waved absently at the desk clerk while digging inside her purse for her key card. As she entered the suite, she tossed her bags on the empty bed that wasn’t being used, then immediately turned on the television in order to check SportsCenter’s daily scores. As she listened to Linda Cohn deliver her witty comments on the pennant race, she allowed herself to fantasize momentarily about sitting behind that big desk herself.

“One step at a time, Liz,” she murmured with a sigh. “First you have to get through an interview with Max Evans.”

Now, in the privacy of her hotel room, she let herself experience all the anxiety that had swirled around inside of her prior to coming face-to-face with the man who’d held her heart in his all-star hands since she’d been five years old. She’d never been able to convince herself when she was younger that she was over him, and seeing him that day had only solidified her greatest fear. That she still wasn’t.

But she didn’t have to let him know it. As it was, he probably assumed she hated him with a deadly passion, and judging by her criticism of him over the years, he couldn’t really be blamed for thinking so. Only she knew why she couldn’t seem to stop reporting on him – negative or otherwise. Because if she didn’t, she knew that any thought of herself would fade from his mind until she was merely a distant memory. And there was enough of the starry-eyed, lovesick teenager inside of her that couldn’t let that happen.

She wasn’t deluded enough to believe anything would ever come of the two of them, as she had been years ago. She’d been in relationships over the years, some of them more serious than others. She’d thought herself in love, only to be disappointed in the end when none of the men she chose could ever live up to the one who hadn’t chosen her. Maybe that was the real reason she couldn’t seem to write down his name without bitterness and sarcasm following along. She just wanted to be free of Max Evans, the way he was obviously free of her. As if he’d ever lost a wink of sleep over her in his life.

The hotel telephone rang, dragging her out of her depressing thoughts. She moved toward the end table and picked up the receiver, wondering why Michael was calling her again. After all, he was the only person she’d given the number to. “I haven’t finished the column, boss.”

“Thank God for small favors.”

She froze in the act of sliding off one strappy sandal. Her heart began to race at the familiar voice. “M-Max? Is that you?”

“Would there happen to be another Max out there whom you’re blackmailing into a tell-all interview?” he questioned jokingly. “Yeah, it’s me. I called your office in Albuquerque and they forwarded me this number.”

Dizzying excitement rapidly turned into righteous indignation. “They did what? They aren’t supposed to release that kind of info to random people!”

When he answered, there was a hint of smugness in his tone. “They didn’t want to, until I said who I was. Then your little secretary practically tripped over her tongue to tell me anything I wanted. Be glad I stopped with your hotel number, although if you’re in the mood to tell me what size underwear you wear, I won’t stop you.”

“What size…” She trailed off in shock. Feeling her face heat, she scowled and threw her shoe at the wall where it hit with a dull thud. ““What’s gotten into you?” she mumbled. “And why are you calling me? We agreed to meet tomorrow.”

“No, you agreed,” Max replied lazily. She could just picture him - stretched out on a leather recliner, watching the evening game on his big screen, platinum TV and nibbling on chocolate covered cherries. Her nose wrinkled at the thought. It wasn’t quite right…Max Evans would probably rather scarf down pork rinds and drink cheap beer than nibble on gourmet chocolates. Why, oh why, did that have to appeal to her?

“What do you want?” she demanded, dropping her other shoe to the ground. “If you don’t mind, I have nine football games and three baseball games to write up before seven AM tomorrow morning.”

“Boo hoo, I’ll send you a box of Kleenex,” he returned sarcastically. “Listen up, Parker. You want that interview? Well, then we’re gonna do it on my time. We meet when and where I say, and to tell you the truth, I’d rather hang out somewhere with you then sit at home wondering when they’re going to replace me with Kyle Valenti.”

Her ears pricked. “Kyle Valenti? The rookie QB?”

“Yeah. He’s got good hands and great potential, but he’s nowhere near ready to lead this team.” Frustration was evident in Max’s tone. “And I’m not just saying that because I think I’m better, so don’t even start.”

“No one can question your talent,” she answered reasonably, sitting on the bed and reading the score ticker at the bottom of the screen.

Max gasped over the line. “Did Liz Parker just give me a compliment? Hang on, I think the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse are storming the front door as we speak…”

“Oh, go to hell.”

“Oh, I’m already there, babe. You know the little hamburger joint in St. Petersburg? Chattaway’s?”

“I’ve been here a day, Max. Of course I don’t know where your little hamburger joint is,” she snapped in annoyance.

“Oh, right. Well, no big deal. You’re at the Ameri-Suites downtown, right? I’ll pick you up. Say, an hour? That ought to give you enough time to change into some real clothes.”

“Now wait just a minute—” she began, outraged at his insinuation about her – very stylish, if she said so herself – choice of clothing.

“One hour. Or else I’ll run to the Chronicle and tell them anything they want to know,” Max said slyly. “Two can play the game, Parker.”

She gasped at his threat to go to her rival paper. “You wouldn’t.”

“Oh, I most certainly would,” he laughed darkly. “Lucky for you, I’m giving you one chance. Be ready in an hour, or you can kiss your anchor job goodbye.”

“Max, wait—” The dial tone sounded and she growled in frustration. “Stupid…idiot!”

She stared down at the receiver, one thought spinning inside of her mind.

God, what the hell was she going to wear?
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Post by Applebylicious » Mon Sep 19, 2005 1:09 am

I love hearing all of your opinions, lol. Is Max a self-absorbed jerk? Is Liz a scary stalker? Or are they both just stubborn as hell? Hmm...who knows? lol Don't you just love battles of will? :wink: Enjoy!

edited to add: Thanks to lizard_queen for the absolutely AMAZING banner! *smooch* Ki-ki!


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Part Three – Can I Get Some Cheese With That Whine?



An hour later, Max was standing in front of Liz’s hotel room door, debating the wisdom of asking her out on what could be misconstrued as a date.

When the idea had first emerged in his mind, he’d been sprawled out on the living room couch of his million-dollar seaside home, absently watching the end of the Ravens/Redskins game. While he generally enjoyed keeping up with the other teams in the league, he found that today he just wasn’t able to concentrate on the game.

Worries and doubts over his future playing ability had continued to plague him since he’d left the training complex earlier that afternoon. Coupled with the looming interview with Liz that he’d agreed to – although he still wasn’t exactly sure why he’d agreed – and he was unable to think of much else but when, if ever, he’d be playing again.

She’d caught him at a vulnerable time, that was the only explanation as to why he’d caved. Because surely he hadn’t been cowed by his arch nemesis into agreeing to give an exclusive. Since his early days at Ohio State, he’d taken to refusing any and all interviews with the press except those that were deemed absolutely necessary. He liked his privacy, and simply didn’t see the need to flash his face all over the television screen. He preferred to let his actions on the football field speak for him.

As he’d sat there, silently stewing over the fact that he’d allowed Liz Parker to get the best of him, it had suddenly clicked into place. If he had to be miserable over the next few weeks, why not make her feel the same way? Perhaps it was juvenile on his part, but after she’d egged him into acting like a jackass at the press conference he wasn’t feeling particularly kindly toward his childhood acquaintance.

So he’d make the entire process as annoying as possible for her. Oh, she’d get her interview, all right. But it would be on his terms. He’d drag her out at all hours of the night, leading her on with tantalizing tidbits she could use in her damned report, but never giving her everything she wanted all at once. He’d force her to have to stick around.

His vehement desire to keep her in Tampa Bay had nothing to do with the fact that he was finding it difficult to keep from grabbing her and planting one on that smart mouth of hers. No, he was over that. He didn’t feel anything for her anymore besides sheer annoyance…although she did fill out those stuffy pantsuits pretty damned well.

He smirked as he remembered her indignation when he’d alluded that there was something wrong with the way she dressed. The Liz he remembered had always taken extra pains to appear presentable and he knew it had to absolutely gall her to think someone might think she was anything less than fashionable. He was dying to see what she’d show up in to prove her point.

He found that he was grinning like a fool, one fist hovering over the dark, cherry wood. He quickly swallowed the amusement and knocked sharply. Leaning against the doorjamb, he schooled his features into casual greeting as the door slowly opened. “Hey…”

His words trailed off as he met Liz’s slightly miffed expression. She stood, arms crossed beneath her breasts as she lifted a brow. “You’re late, you know.”

He blinked, running his gaze down the bright pink sundress clinging to soft curves. His fingers began to itch. With a quick swallow, he forced his eyes back to hers. “Traffic,” he managed, dismayed by the huskiness in his tone. “You ready?”

She watched him intently, and for a split-second he wondered if she’d read his less-than innocent thoughts. Then she rolled her eyes and spun around to grab her purse. The short hem of her dress flew up, gifting him more leg than he could handle. He reached up to tug at the collar of his shirt, wondering why the simple polo that had felt comfortable moments before now seemed as if it were choking him.

“I’m driving,” she announced, brushing past him so that he caught a hint of something exotic and smoky scented. By the time he came back to his senses, it was too late to protest her statement. He followed her down the hall and into the elevator, careful not to look at her again in that damned dress while there was nothing to hide behind.

After a moment of silence, she demanded, “What’s wrong with you? I thought you’d be happy to drag me away from my job.”

He smiled. “I thought I was your job,” he returned silkily, enjoying the sudden stiffening of her shoulders. Glad to once again be in control of the situation, he half-turned and regarded her through his lashes. “By the way, I like your dress.”

She flushed dark red, looking away before grumbling, “I didn’t wear it for you. I just…felt like dressing up. Okay?” She spun back around and pierced him with a glare that dared him to contradict her. He simply hummed enigmatically.

During the forty-minute drive they managed to sit in companionable silence, both listening intently to the headlines on EPSNews. He overheard her cursing beneath her breath several times, and finally glanced over. “What’s up?”

She didn’t meet his gaze, staring out through the windshield grimly. “Damn Colts,” was all she said. He lifted a brow, wondering why she gave a rat’s ass about Indianapolis. Before he could ask, they’d arrived at their destination.

Liz took in the retro-styled restaurant with unreadable eyes. Max held his breath, feeling like an idiot for wondering what she was thinking. The neighborhood café had been his favorite since he’d arrived in Tampa Bay – the atmosphere was low-key and friendly and the food was superb and not overpriced.

“Well? I’m starved, shall we?” He mockingly held out an arm for her as she turned toward him. He caught the disbelieving expression coloring her features and felt his hackles begin to rise. “What?”

She blinked slowly. “You eat here?” she asked skeptically.

“Yeah, so?” he demanded defensively. “Is there a problem? I know it’s not a fancy French bistro like you’re probably used to—”

“It looks amazing,” she broke in, eyes sparkling. “It reminds me of the Crashdown, only more outdoorsy. I just can’t believe you like it.”

He relaxed at the evidence of her approval, taking her arm and pulling her towards the entrance. “And why is that so hard to believe?” he wondered easily.

She laughed as if he’d made a great joke. “You’re kidding, right? You’re a superstar, Max. Superstars don’t eat at greasy burger joints. They eat at fancy French bistros or hip nightclubs…” She trailed off, shaking her head in wonderment.

He couldn’t help but tease her, bumping her side with his own. “Aw, shucks, Parker. When have you known me to like anything French?”

A small smile tilted her lips as he held the door open for her. “Well, I don’t know about that…I’m sure there are a few things you like. French toast, for example.”

“Got me there,” he agreed.

“French vanilla…”

“Stop, you’re making me look bad,” he joked.

“French kissing.”

He paused, glancing toward her with raised brows. She was watching him with an impish expression. He shook his head and gave a strangled laugh. “Now, I can’t tell you all my secrets, Parker.”

“Yeah, like it’s much of a secret,” she retorted sarcastically. “You’re a guy and you have a pulse, right?”

He held a hand up to his heart. “Ouch. You wound me, Liz. Is that what you think of me?”

“You don’t even want to know,” she muttered as a waitress came forward to show them to a small, tile-topped patio table covered with a large umbrella. “How adorable! Max, isn’t this the cutest place you’ve ever seen?”

The pretty waitress offered them a friendly smile. “Welcome to Chattaway’s, I’m Cindy and I’ll be taking care of you guys tonight. Would you like to hear the…”

Max knew the exact moment their waitress placed him, because her mouth fell open and her eyes went wide and dilated. Without missing a beat, he took the menus from her slackened fingers and handed one to Liz, all the while offering the speechless woman a flirtatious smile. “Thanks, Cindy. Could you grab us a couple of beers? You have Bud on draft tonight, right?”

Cindy, mesmerized by the power of the Golden Boy at his brightest, merely nodded dumbly and began to walk backwards towards the bar. She stumbled into another table of diners halfway across the patio and Max chuckled good-naturedly.

“You’re sick,” Liz declared in disgust.

He met her glower with an innocent expression. “What? She was cute…”

Her expression darkening, Liz sat back and crossed her legs. “Pig. Do you really think all it takes is a sexy little grin and any woman will fall on the floor at your feet?” she sneered.

Max glanced back over to where Cindy was struggling to stand back up amidst a pile of broken dishes. Cocking a brow, he returned his gaze to Liz’s. “You said it, not me.”

He was immediately rewarded by a string of colorful oaths that made it extremely difficult to control the smile wanting to break out on his lips. God, she was so easy to rile. Little did she know that the womanizing persona she was currently cooking up in that devious mind of hers was so off the mark, it was laughable.

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone out on a date. He’d been solely focused on football for so long - first on leading the Bucs to play-offs victory, and now the Super Bowl – that he hadn’t had the time or the inclination for women. Which was obviously the reason annoying little Liz Parker was getting to him. It’d been way too long since he’d been laid. Of course, now that he was most likely benched for the next few months, he’d have all the time in the world to pursue whatever...sport he wanted. The question now was, what was he prepared to do about it?

While he silently debated the dilemma in his mind, their waitress reappeared – flushed and carrying two frosted mugs of beer. Max pretended not to notice the fact that there was a fresh rip in her hose and that her hair was standing on end. “Thanks, Cindy,” he said warmly, discreetly squeezing her fingers reassuringly as she handed him the glass.

The young girl hesitated after delivering their drinks, twisting her hands together as Max waited expectantly. Sure enough, she blurted out, “Mr. Evans…my brother’s a huge fan, and I just wondered if you wouldn’t mind…that is, I…”

“Gotta pen?” Max stepped in smoothly, reaching over to grab a clean napkin from the small metal holder. “And what’s your brother’s name?”

“Chris,” Cindy sighed in relief, digging into her apron for a writing utensil. “God, thank you so much. He’d absolutely murder me if he found out you’d come in and I hadn’t asked you…I’m sure you must get this a lot. I’m sorry.”

“No problem,” Max replied, taking the pen from her fingers and scrawling a quick message across the white paper. Glancing up, he met her gaze and smiled. “Ever been to a game, Cindy?”

Her eyes widened. “Me? Oh heck no, all my money’s going towards tuition.” Obviously thinking she might have accidentally insulted him, she turned bright red and began to stammer, “I-I mean, not that I wouldn’t want to g-go…”

“I understand. Here, when you get home, call this number and tell them Max Evans said to send you two tickets for next Sunday’s game. They always reserve extras for the players that aren’t released to the public, in case any family wants to make it up. Since my family’s interested in just about anything but football, I figure maybe you and your brother will enjoy them.” He handed her the napkin, noting that Liz was staring intently at him from across the table.

Cindy stared at him in disbelief. “Are you…really?”

Max sat back and took a sip of his beer, grinning easily. “I think I just saw a fly buzz into your mouth, Cindy.”

The waitress snapped her hanging jaw shut with a strangled laugh. “Oh my God…I can’t believe…thank you,” she managed, before turning on her heel and walking away dizzily.

Max took another draw from his glass, finally meeting Liz’s gaze. Her silence was palpable, and he began to feel self-conscious. “What?”

She appeared extremely confused, and not particularly happy about it. “That was….really nice of you, Max.”

For whatever reason, hearing her speak in that soft tone of voice caused a flush to creep up his neck, and he shrugged carelessly. “I had the tickets, didn’t I? Why not give them to her?”

She blinked, a small smile forming as she lifted her own glass to her lips. “Hmm…why not?” she agreed.


<center>***</center>


“You’re absolutely out of your mind,” Max bleated an hour later, shaking his head sorrowfully. “You’d pick Tom Brady over Michael Vick? With a team like yours, you’d need the extra help on the running game.”

While stuffing their faces with thick, juicy burgers and homemade fries – which surprisingly enough, Liz ate by the handful, much to Max’s reluctant admiration – they’d debated nearly every pressing issue in the sports world today. Currently, the topic was centered on fantasy football, and what players they’d choose to head their teams.

“Oh, like you know anything,” Liz snorted, munching on a cold fry. “You picked yourself as quarterback!”

Max sat back with a grin, causing the front legs of his chair to come off the floor. “So? I happen to know exactly what my abilities are. That’s intelligent drafting, in my opinion.”

“Yeah, right! You’re just secretly pissed that I picked Tom before you could,” she responded smugly. “His passing record beats yours, you know. Plus, he’s drop-dead gorgeous.”

His chair fell back with a thud as scowled. “Brady’s a pansy-assed pretty boy,” he sneered darkly. “And the only reason – the only reason – his record’s better than mine, is because our offensive line sucked my first season. Brady’s got all the time in the world to throw a ball. New England’s pocket protection is—”

He trailed off when he realized Liz was snickering at him. “And just what’s so goddamn funny?” he wondered in annoyance.

She waved a hand, unable to speak through her giggles. “You…you’re jealous…Tom Brady’s one of your best friends!”

“Not anymore, he isn’t,” Max grumbled, realizing he did indeed sound like a jealous idiot. He was surprised by the swift reaction that had taken hold of him upon hearing Liz extol his friend’s virtues. He didn’t like it a damn bit. “Okay, we agree to disagree. Who’s your pick for defensive rookie of the year?”

“Mm,” Liz swallowed a sip of beer. “DeMarcus Ware. No doubt.”

“Okay, so maybe I can see why they want to give you that job at SportsCenter,” Max answered grudgingly. “You’re not completely inept. Just when it comes to writing about me.”

She rolled her eyes. “Gah, want some cheese with that whine? Get over it, Evans.”

“You sure do have a smart mouth, Parker,” Max shook his head. “Which begs the question: just what kind of men have you been around that they haven’t curbed that attitude yet?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” she volleyed blithely.

He wasn’t sure if it was the effects of the alcohol, but he decided to answer honestly. “Yeah, I would. Is there some poor fool in New Mexico waiting for you to roll back into town?”

She frowned, narrowing her eyes as if expecting a trap. “Maybe. But in all honesty, my personal life is none of your business, Max.”

Hmm. He seemed to have struck a nerve. Schooling his features into as innocent an expression as he could muster, he replied coyly, “Oh, I forget. We’re here to dissect my personal life, right? After all, I’m fair game.”

If he’d expected her to take the bait, he was sadly mistaken. She pushed an empty plate from in front of her and leaned forward on her elbows. “Glad you understand. And since you brought it up…” She bent down and came up with a small notebook and a pen. “We can get started on the real reason why you dragged me out here.”

It was his turn to frown. “Put that away,” he grumbled, glancing around to where people sat. “I’m not discussing anything here, for God’s sake.”

Emitting a small growl, Liz slapped the notebook on the table. “Then why the hell are we here, Max?”

“I was hungry.”

She opened her mouth, then shut it and closed her eyes as if counting to ten. When they reopened, they were burning with ire. “I’m leaving. You obviously think this is all some kind of game, that I’ll jump through whatever hoops you toss in the air. Well, I have two words for you, Evans. Fuck off.”

She was halfway out the door when he managed to catch up with her. “Hey, slow down would you? Christ…”

“Just leave me alone,” she answered, annoyed. “I’ll fax you over a copy of the questions I want to ask in the morning and you can fill them out and send them back at your leisure. Then I can get the hell out of here and go back home before Michael gives up on me.”

Max’s ears pricked, and he grabbed her arm. “Michael, eh? So there is some guy waiting for you,” he crowed triumphantly.

“Oh, please. Michael’s my boss,” Liz snapped, shoving him away and picking up her stride. “He’s…you know what, it doesn’t even matter. Like I said before, it’s none of your business—”

“Come off it,” he snapped back, following her closely. “So what, you can ask me whatever you want to know, and I can’t do the same? I’m supposed to sit back like a well-trained puppy and take whatever crap you throw at me? Well, that’s nothing new…I’ve only been doing it for the past six years.”

She answered with a crude hand gesture, not bothering to stop walking. She reached her car, digging in her purse for her keys. He was suddenly overcome with the realization that the last thing he wanted was for them to part on these terms. He hadn’t minded it ten years before, because it had been what was necessary in order to get her to forget him. But forgetting him was the last thing he wanted her to do now.

Reaching for her before she could slide inside the car, he ignored the stiffening of her body and took a deep breath before admitting, “Look, I’m sorry all right? I’ve had too much to drink tonight, I don’t even know what I’m saying.”

She snorted, looking as if she wanted to blast him between the eyeballs, then for whatever reason went slack. “Me too,” she sighed. “God, this has been a long day.” She rubbed the side of her head, looking troubled. It made him want to take her in his arms and…

Oh, no. He wasn’t going there.

Quickly taking a step back, he shoved both hands in his pockets and cleared his throat. “You’re not really going to leave me here, are you? My car’s still at your hotel, and think about what the press would say if I showed up in a cab at the place you’re staying at this time of night.”

She looked up at him with an ironic expression. “Probably nothing worse than what they’d say if you showed up there with me.”

“Oh. Yeah, good point,” he bit his lip, smiling charmingly. “Come on, Parker. Take pity on an old friend…I need a ride.”

“You are pretty pitiful,” she snarked, but didn’t protest when he moved around the car to get in the passenger side. “I must be out of my mind.”

Max just smiled, stretching out in his seat. “You wanted the interview.”

Her expression grim, she took the car out of park and glanced behind her before pulling out of the parking lot. “Like I said…completely out of my mind.”
Last edited by Applebylicious on Mon Sep 19, 2005 6:29 am, edited 6 times in total.
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Applebylicious
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Post by Applebylicious » Tue Sep 20, 2005 3:04 pm

Hey guys, sorry for the wait...I was dealing with child drama. Sigh. ANyway, thanks for all the lurvely feedback and hope you all enjoy the new part! Can't wait to hear what you all think! :D


Part Four – Why Can’t We Be Friends?



The day bloomed bright and cloudless in Tampa Bay.

Liz turned over with a moan as sunlight spilled through the partially opened curtains and across the bed where she currently slept. She threw an arm over her face, grumbling beneath her breath.

Misty vestiges of the dream she’d just been having whispered through her mind as she began to awaken. Images of hard muscles and wicked golden eyes, wide palms and scorching kisses had her face heating as she came to realize exactly what – and who – she’d been dreaming about.

The bedside alarm began going off, signaling she had roughly twenty minutes to get her daily report faxed over to Michael’s office. Luckily she’d taken care of that the night before, after leaving Max standing alone in the hotel parking lot. The memory of his masculine form, half-hidden in the shadows as he watched her walk away, sent a belated shiver down her spine that supremely annoyed her. The last thing she needed to be obsessing over was Max Evans.

She managed to go five seconds without thinking about him again.

Stifling a scream into a pillow, she rolled over and slapped the offensive alarm before sitting up and running a hand through her disheveled locks. She reached over for the phone and ordered a quick breakfast delivery while turning on the television to catch the morning news.

A sudden beeping indicated an incoming data transfer to her cell, and she picked the phone up and flipped the face open, quickly scanning the message. Eyes widening, she jumped up, completely forgetting her desperate need for coffee.

An hour later, she was putting the finishing touches on her makeup while maneuvering her car through mid-morning traffic. One hand clasped around the wheel and the other clutching a tube of lip-gloss, she muttered beneath her breath, “Shit! Shit, shit, shit!”

Apparently Max planned on making her work for her information. There was no other reason she could think of for why he would have neglected to mention last night that the team had a scheduled practice that morning at RJS. A practice in which Max would be attending, despite his questionable injury.

“Damn him,” she muttered. “Could have told me…supposed to be interviewing his sorry ass…” She made a sharp turn onto Dale Mabry and cut off an oncoming truck. A loud horn blast followed and she grumbled, “Yeah, yeah! Well, life ain’t fair buddy!”

Reaching the stadium, she squealed into the near-empty parking lot and slammed the door shut as she hopped out. A dark expression covered her features as she made her way toward the locker rooms. She could hear shouting coming from the field, but somehow she knew she’d find Max inside.

Throwing open the door, she quickly scanned the room, ignoring the whistles and catcalls from the few remaining players still dressing out. She stalked past them all, eyes solely focused on the training rooms down the hall where a familiar voice drifted through the air.

As she opened the door, she heard Max say, “But it looks good, right? You don’t think it’s anything serious?”

“I can’t say for sure until I see what you’re capable of doing,” another male voice answered. “Certainly the exercises will help, but we can’t do too much too soon—” The voice trailed off as Liz stepped into the room.

“Max Evans! If you think you can run and hide and not have to do this interview, then you’re sadly mistaken. If I have to shove a tracking device up your ass, I’ll do it! You’re not going to…oh. Oh, my,” she finished weakly, getting her first good look at the scene before her.

Max quirked a brow at her expression, folding his arms across a naked chest that was attached to a very naked, male body. “Can I help you, Parker?” he asked – quite inanely in Liz’s opinion, considering the circumstances.

“Um…” She struggled not to lick her lips, unable to keep from staring at the part of him that she certainly hadn’t expected to see that morning. If ever. “I just…” She shrugged, her face burning as she caught the doctor’s amused expression. “I can come back later,” she squeaked.

Max reached over and grabbed a towel, wrapping it carelessly around his waist. “You obviously have something you want to say,” he answered, a small smile lifting his lips. Facing her again, he ran his fingers through his hair – causing all those intriguing muscles to bunch and shift – and added, “Hit me with it. God knows you won’t be satisfied until you’ve bitten off a chunk of my ass.”

She felt absolutely mortified. The doctor had obviously cottoned on to the undercurrents simmering in the room, and he coughed before quietly making an exit. Liz blinked and began backing away as Max moved toward her. “I-I’ll just wait until you’re done here…it’s really no big deal. Really.” She cursed herself for the desperation that coated her last word.

“Uh huh.” His eyes grew lidded, regarding her intently as he circled her like a predator. “What’s wrong, Liz? Never seen a football player in his birthday suit? That seems hard to believe, knowing your reputation.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” She tried for an indignant tone, but fell miserably short as he came closer.

“I mean,” he answered in a low tone, “that you’re not exactly a – virgin, shall we say – to locker room customs. A bit of bare ass shouldn’t bother you. Or is it just my bare ass that’s the problem?”

“It was a bit more than a bare ass,” she mumbled. Realizing she was quickly losing the fight, she discreetly reached for the door handle while turning her nose up in the air. “I really don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t have time to play games. I’ll wait for you out on the field.”

She spun around on her heel, and nearly collided with another hard body. Her eyes grew wide and she yelped, “Kyle!”

“Hey, Liz,” Kyle Valenti smiled broadly, looking boyishly attractive in a practice jersey and pads. A light sheen of sweat shone across his features, dampening his hair. He seemed slightly out of breath as he ran a hand down her arm, leaning down to brush a light kiss against her lips. “What are you doing here?”

She could feel the silence behind her like a lead weight. Resisting the urge to curse out loud, she managed a strained smile and replied, “I’m…interviewing Max. I told you, remember?”

As if just realizing that there was someone else in the room, Kyle looked past her and blinked. “Oh. Hey, Evans.”

“Valenti.” He sounded pleasant enough, but Liz caught the dangerous edge to his voice. “Well, isn’t this cozy.”

Stepping forward and wrapping an arm around her waist, Kyle beamed. “Isn’t she great? She’ll do you right this time, Max, I swear. At first I thought maybe I’d made a mistake, seeing as how you two didn’t seem to think much of each other. But I know Liz, and if anyone can make you look good, buddy, my girl’s it.”

Oh, God. She wanted to sink right through the floor as a thunderous expression fleeted across Max’s face.

“What,” he demanded through clenched teeth, “in the hell are you talking about, Valenti?”

Not picking up on the tension, Kyle laughed slightly. “Well…you, retiring. Obviously.”

Silence stretched for a long moment. Kyle’s expression grew confused the longer that Max didn’t answer. Liz didn’t dare meet his gaze, staring at a spot just over his head and pretending she didn’t hear Max’s teeth grinding.

Finally, he repeated in a voice that sent shivers down her spine, “I’m afraid you have made a mistake, Kyle. One, I’m not retiring. And two, the last person who could help me is Liz Parker. Excuse me.”

He shoved past them, not even bothering for civility as he began barking at the first person that called his name. Liz closed her eyes, a thousand different emotions roiling around inside her.

After another beat of silence, Kyle laughed in bafflement. “Jesus, what was that all about? Did he say something to you?”

“He didn’t…exactly know that you were the one who told me about his injury,” Liz explained quietly. “And I’d assume that he’s just now realizing that it’s been you all along.”


<center>***</center>


God, this was awful.

Liz stood on the sideline as Kyle called out plays through his helmet, the sounds of grunting and pads hitting pads echoing through the air. She slid a glance to her left and saw Max standing in deep conversation with one of the assistant coaches. She tried to catch his gaze, but he stared at her only long enough to let her read the fury in his eyes before looking away again.

It’d been this way for the past hour and a half. She’d try to talk to him, and he’d cut her off with a sharp retort and move away to discuss blocking maneuvers and everything else under the sun. She was desperate with the need to explain to him, even as her own anger began to grow. Why was he behaving like such a damn child?

Okay, so maybe it had been wrong to take the info that Kyle had unwittingly revealed over the years and twist it around to make him look bad. She’d felt that she’d been in the right then, although now she could see that a lot of it was pure vindictiveness. Still…he could at least hear her out, for Heaven’s sake!

Feeling fed up, she released a frustrated sigh and stalked over to him. Without waiting for a break in the conversation, she tapped him on the shoulder and met him glare for glare. “You can ignore me all you want, but I’m not leaving without my information.”

He excused himself from the others, turning fully around to face her. “Why don’t you just do what you’ve done before, and seduce my teammates into giving it to you. I’m busy,” he snapped.

She refused to flinch at his words. “First of all, I didn’t seduce Kyle into giving me anything. We…you know what, that’s neither here nor there at the moment. I’ve tried to explain what happened to you all afternoon and you wanted none of it.”

“Then why are you sticking around?” he sneered. “I’ve changed my mind. You can fax me over a copy of your questions and I’ll get them back to you at my earliest convenience.”

She resisted the urge to pull her hair out. “Max, just listen—”

He made a disgusted sound and pushed past her. “Get out of here, Liz. I’m not answering your questions and there’s no other reason for you to be here.”

“Maybe I’m here to watch my boyfriend play,” she called out, reaching her boiling point. “What do you think of that, Evans? God!”

He just kept walking. She glanced around to find other players watching their interaction, and snapped, “What? I hate football players!”

They all quickly found something else to do.

Shrieking slightly, she stormed away before she did something that she’d have to report herself on in her column. She could just see it now: Deranged Sports Writer Maims Entire Football Team. Fan of Rival Team?

By the time she’d finally managed to blow off some steam, she realized she’d made her way all the way across the field, to the entrance of Buccaneer Cove – a special addition of Raymond James Stadium that featured a weathered, 2-story fishing village façade. She slowed her pace, taking in the scattered variety of beach hut kiosks that offered concessions and other enhancements during Buccaneers home games.

In the center of the area was a majestic, 103-foot-long ship - an authentic replica of an early 1800's pirate ship, and arguably one of the most recognizable stadium features in the world. She could only stop and stare at the realistic rigging, huge sails and eight cannons. It was really all extremely spectacular, and brought a smile to her face regardless of her mood. She stepped forward, running her hand along one of the shiny brass cannons.

“Careful, or you’ll set it off.”

She spun around at the quiet statement, staring in surprise as Max slowly walked toward her. “You scared me! God!”

His lips curved, but his eyes were unreadable. “What are you doing up here anyway?”

Now that her heart rate had slowed, she managed a scowl. “It’s a free country, Max. I can do whatever I want.”

“Not in a privately owned stadium, you can’t,” he retorted, but there was no anger in his voice as there had been before. He stepped up beside her, looking out over the side of the ship to where the team continued to practice below. “Like it?”

She blinked at the change in topic, and answered warily. “Yes…I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this before. The fans must love it.”

He turned around, leaning against the railing as he studied her. “Everything works, too. There’s a crew that does the sails and works the rigging. And whenever we score, the cannons go off and shoot fire, smoke, confetti, mini-footballs…fun stuff. The crowd loves it. They all yell ‘Boom!’ and the cheerleaders wave the flags…”

Realizing he had her full attention, he reached out and turned her slightly toward the main sail, which was blood red and featured a menacing skull and crossed swords facing the playing field.

“The mouth actually breathes smoke and the eyes glow,” he informed her, amusement coloring his tone as he read her shock. “Cool, huh?”

“It must be every ten year old boy’s wet dream,” she managed with a laugh. “My God.”

“Yeah, it’s a crowd pleaser.”

She chewed her lip, then cleared her throat and looked slightly away. “I…noticed you had one of those on your…um…backside, earlier,” she admitted with a flush, gesturing toward the skull and crossbones.

Max laughed. “You miss nothing, do you? Yeah, the night after I reported to spring training my first year, a couple of the guys got me liquored up and talked me into getting tattooed to ‘prove my loyalty to the team’ or some such crap. Typical rookie hazing, you know.”

Liz nodded solemnly. “Uh huh. And what happens when you get traded or decide to go somewhere else?”

He shrugged, squinting out over the field. “Dunno. I guess I’ll get another one. And I’ll just keep getting them over and over, and then maybe when I’m forced into retirement I can get a job as a circus freak.”

She jerked her gaze up sharply, but there was no accusation in his tone…just a sort of sarcastic acceptance that made her heart hurt, despite the unresolved issues still lingering between them. “Max, you don’t necessarily know that retirement is your only option.”

He didn’t answer for a long moment, then let out a short laugh. “Are you trying to make me feel better, Parker? Hell, I figured you’d jump all over that piece of info like a dog on a bone.”

She refused to let that one sting. “I suppose I deserve that,” she answered quietly. “Although, the truth would have come out eventually, Max. If I hadn’t reported it, someone else would have.”

“Do you think I don’t know that?” he snapped, and immediately the momentary easiness they’d shared disappeared. “Christ, if you had any idea what it’s like…if any of you damned reporters knew what it was like…putting yourself out there every week and never knowing if it’ll be the last time…”

He cut himself off abruptly, pacing away as she stared after him. “Everyone thinks it’s just a big never-ending party,” he continued a minute later, and she half-wondered if he was talking to himself more than her. “But it’s not. It’s hard work. It’s sacrifice. Hell, I haven’t even seen my family for ten years.”

Her ears pricked at the offhand statement. “Why not?” she breathed, her reporter’s instinct heating up despite the sympathy she felt. “Why haven’t you come home, Max?”

She didn’t think he was going to answer her, but he turned around with a faintly defeated expression. “They don’t want me there, Parker. Trust me.”

When it became clear he wasn’t going to say more, she barely refrained from cursing. “Why? What makes you think that? ”

He stared at her, searching her gaze. “Who’s asking? Liz the reporter, or Liz the girl who used to be my friend?”

“I thought you said we were never friends,” she whispered, echoing his harsh words from her youth. “Or so you told me every time I tried.”

“We couldn’t be…it wasn’t…” he broke off with a curse. “Forget about that for a minute. You want the truth? No-holds barred?”

“Of course I do,” she answered immediately. “Max…”

“My dad,” he interrupted, looking away. “He wasn’t satisfied with me getting four football scholarships and joining one of the most prestigious college programs in the country. No, not Phillip Evans. He wanted, demanded I be better. He wanted to be the Big Man, wanted to run the show. I had different ideas.”

She could see where this was headed. “Oh, Max.”

He refused to look at her. “The day I left to get on a plane to Ohio, he told me one thing. Not goodbye, or even an ‘I’ll miss you, son.’ He told me that if I didn’t learn some respect for the people who knew better than I did, then I didn’t need to bother coming back home. He refused to be disrespected and unappreciated.”

Tears sparkled in her eyes. “That’s horrible,” she managed, wishing she could strangle the gruff Mr. Evans. She’d seen him enough times at Max’s high school games to know the man was never satisfied with his son’s accomplishments.

“I told him it took respect to earn respect, and he wrote me off then and there. The rest of the family fell in line. After all, who would stand up to Phillip Evans?” he continued bitterly. “It’s just not worth it.”

She reached out to touch his arm, wanting to comfort him anyway she could. But he flinched away, snapping, “Don’t. Don’t…touch me, okay?”

They stood in silence. Just as she was about to turn around and leave, he spoke in a voice so soft she wouldn’t have heard it if she wasn’t so attuned to his every breath. If she hadn’t always been.

“So, you and Kyle.”

She took a deep breath, wanting to right the issue before he could get angry again. “I’m so sorry, Max. I know it…I know it was wrong of me to pit a teammate against you. I admit I had every right to report what I did about you, but…the way I went about it all was wrong. Kyle only wanted to help, you have to believe that. He worships you.”

Max snorted. “Oh, really. Is that the reason he was feeding you information under the table all these years?”

“He didn’t know it was coming from him,” she replied. “I doubt he does even now. Kyle’s a wonderful person, but he doesn’t…he doesn’t realize the consequences of his actions sometimes.”

Max muttered something along the lines of, “He will,” before staring at her intently. “And you two…you’re…?”

She caught his meaning and flushed. Unable to meet his gaze, she made a helpless motion with her hands. “It’s…complicated…”

“Uh huh. You either are or you aren’t,” Max pressed on. His voice seemed closer than before. “Are you seeing him?”

“Of course I see him,” she snapped, feeling flustered. “I see you, too. I see a lot of people.”

“I meant romantically, don’t play dumb.” His voice was soft and silky. “Have you slept with him?”

“That’s none of your business, and I can’t believe you’d ask me!” she gasped.

He appeared frustrated, grinding his teeth together. “Considering what the two of you have put me through, I think I deserve to ask some questions of my own.”

She couldn’t fault him for that sly maneuver. Gritting her own teeth together and trying to drown out the buzzing in her head, she ground out, “No. We haven’t slept together. God…”

“Hmm.”

When he didn’t say anything else, she blinked. “That’s all you have to say? ‘Hmm’? You ask – no, demand – to hear a piece of extremely personal information, then all you have to say is ‘Hmm’?” she asked incredulously.

“Maybe I’m just satisfied with the answer,” he replied enigmatically. “Look, Parker. I’m willing to forgive and forget the past for the sake of the interview. What do you say? Think we can get along? Friends?”

She stared at his outstretched palm and wondered why she felt like screaming. Friends? Is that really what she wanted from this man? But a part of her thought maybe it was better to just take whatever he offered. And lowering for her to realize that’s exactly what she would do. “Fine,” she mumbled, shaking his hand and wishing she wasn’t still in the same position she’d been in ten years ago.

Loving a man who would never love her.
Last edited by Applebylicious on Wed Sep 21, 2005 4:56 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Post by Applebylicious » Thu Sep 22, 2005 10:51 am

Sorry. I suck. I hate me. Here's the part I've so evilly withheld from you all due to my own laziness...*runs and hides*

PS: I figured I'd throw Kara a bone in this chapter. She'll know what I mean. :wink:



Part Five – You Win Some, You Lose Some


Max had been saddled on the bench before. Nearly every person who ever made it to the NFL spent at least one game sitting on the sidelines, watching the ongoing fury of the game around them as they desperately imagined throwing all caution to the wind and joining their teammates on the field.

On the occasion that he found himself warming the bench, he always did his best not to lament his status and instead think ahead to the moment when he’d once again be able to don pads and a helmet and throw a football into the waiting hands of a wide out. It usually worked. Not this time.

He’d never resented his stagnant position as much as he did at this particular moment, watching as the leading contenders for the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers, methodically picked apart his team’s offense.

The stadium erupted into boos from the home crowd of Tampa Bay as pressure from the line forced Kyle to throw into double coverage, resulting in yet another interception – the fourth turnover from the Buccaneers that day. Max jumped to his feet along with the coaching staff and half of the stadium, yelling out obscenities as several Packers players ran up and jumped onto the back of the lucky defensive linebacker, congratulating him as their offense prepared to take the field.

“I don’t believe this shit!” Coach Gruden was hollering in his hoarse voice, yanking off his headphones and throwing them to the ground. “It’s called blocking, you sons of bitches! Are we playing fucking touch football?”

Kyle came running up, taking of his helmet to reveal his sweaty, enraged expression. “They’re beating every receiver I have lined up,” he gasped as an athletic trainer came up to squirt Gatorade in his mouth.

“Then you fucking run the ball!” Gruden snapped, motioning toward the defensive coordinator. “Or call a play-action, for Christ’s sake, Valenti!”

Kyle’s jaw locked, and instead of goofing off with the other players as he typically did whenever he wasn’t in play, he sat on the bench and stared out over the field as the defensive line for the Buccaneers lined up in a 4-3 defense in the hopes of stopping a scoring drive by the Packers.

Max tried to ignore the desolate expression on the younger quarterback’s face; after all, it was Kyle who had sold him out to Liz in the hopes that gaining more publicity about Max’s injury might push the coaching staff to name him as starter. Or at least that was the only viable reason Max could come up with as to why Kyle would have talked.

The idea that it might have been merely innocent conversation exchanged between two people who were in the midst of creating an intimate relationship wasn’t something he particularly wanted to think about now, if ever.

But for whatever reason, he just couldn’t stand there and do nothing while Kyle beat himself up over what had happened during that last horrific play. God only knew he’d made his own share of mistakes when he’d been younger, and thinking about them only fucked with the mind. Personal feelings aside, the last thing the Bucs needed at this particular moment were an injured superstar and a backup who couldn’t get his head straight.

He took the empty seat next to Kyle, watching as Green Bay came out of the huddle and lined up on the line of scrimmage. He could barely hear the sound of Brett Favre calling out his play due to the roar of the angry crowd, but it was clear that the noise wasn’t bothering the leading Packers whatsoever.

The ball was snapped, and Brett fell back into the pocket with the ease of a fourteen-year veteran. Before Max could blink, the ball was sailing through the air where a receiver caught it down in the red zone, putting the Packers in the perfect position to score six more points.

Kyle cursed under his breath and Max slanted a glance in his direction. “Welcome to the NFL, rookie.”

Kyle looked over and glared, the expression so different from his usual joviality that Max had to grin. “I’m not a damned rookie,” Kyle snapped.

Max shrugged, leaning back and crossing his legs at the ankles. “You are to this team,” he stated simply.

“Maybe that’s the problem,” Kyle muttered, shoving his fingers through his sandy hair. “I never had this kind of trouble at Carolina. They respected me at Carolina.” He shot a disgruntled glance at Coach Gruden, who was deeply engrossed in an animated conversation with one of the referee’s over the latest play.

“Get over yourself,” Max snorted. “The team doesn’t know you. You’ve started one game since you’ve been here, Valenti. It takes time. You can’t expect to gain undying admiration from a few shots in the pocket.”

Kyle turned to meet his gaze. “You did.”

Max scowled, slouching further on the bench. “Don’t start preaching that Golden Boy shit to me or I’ll use your pretty face for throwing practice.”

The conversation died as the play clock began winding down three plays later, nearing zero, and a Packers offensive lineman moved just enough that the Buccaneers defense began jumping up and down, pointing fiercely.

“False start!” Gruden yelled triumphantly, clapping his hands together as the Bucs fans cheered, waiting for the yellow penalty flag to be thrown. Sure enough, a minute later the Packers were repeating their fourth and final down from five yards further away.

“Draw ‘em offsides, again!”

“Hold them!”

Various snippets reached Max’s ears from the stands, and the cheerleaders began leading the crowd in a deafening roar of “Defense, defense, defense!”

A quick glance at the time remaining in the game had Max holding his breath. They’d reach the two-minute warning in the middle of the play, and each team would get a quick timeout afterward whether or not Green Bay managed to score. But if they did, it would be a sure victory for Wisconsin, because there was no way the Bucs would be able to come back from a three-score deficit margin.

As it was, they’d have to both score and win an onsides kick to even have the hope of tying the game up before the clock ran out. Everything depended on the next play, and whether or not Tampa Bay could hold.

“Oh, God. I think I’m gonna be sick,” Kyle managed, eyes glued on the field as Brett licked two fingers and called an audible. Sure enough, his face had turned a slight tinge of green that had Max scooting further down the bench.

“Come on, guys,” he muttered beneath his breath. “You watched the game films. Favre likes to run it fast and sharp up the middle. He won’t throw it into the end zone…he’ll be out to prove he can beat you with the run. Blitz his ass. Blitz him hard.”

“He’s not gonna risk a run, are you crazy?” Kyle hissed. “We’re running a nickel!”

“Did you not just hear the audible?” Max asked grimly. “Watch his eyes…he’s gonna do it. Goddamn, that’s balls.”

“I can’t believe you heard anything in this place.”

But Max knew exactly what the Green Bay quarterback was feeling at that moment. Pure, unadulterated confidence that he was playing a team he could beat. He’d felt it plenty of times in his life.

The ball was snapped, and sure enough…Favre faked a pitch to the tight end, allowing for a hole in zone coverage which he used to tuck the ball under and run right through the defense. The sound of the two-minute warning horn blasted as Favre skipped into the end zone amidst thunderous booing and shouting. Max closed his eyes.

Green Bay celebrated across the field as the Tampa Bay organization stared in open-mouthed shock. There was no doubt the home team would take home a loss, but it was something that neither the media or the fans, or even the team themselves, had expected to happen during their year. The standings for the NFC South would now be tied up between the Buccaneers and their neighbors, the Atlanta Falcons. What had once been a sure thing was now something they’d be lucky to achieve.

The Bucs offense, led by Kyle, came back onto the field after the timeout but there was just no time to work with. They managed a single first down before being stopped, turning the ball back over to the Packers. Brett Favre took a quick knee and Green Bay rejoiced to the sound of the clock buzzing zero. The Buccaneers, grim-faced and shell-shocked, headed toward the locker room.

Max wasn’t surprised to see Liz waiting just inside, along with several other members of the media who were practically salivating at the idea of questioning the fallen Super Bowl XL prospects of the NFL.

As the others approached with microphones and flashing cameras, Liz hung back against a pair of lockers. Max met her eyes above the cacophony of questions, and stared into her sympathetic expression.

“Max, could you have saved the Bucs passing game today?” one reporter asked, shoving a mike beneath his nose.

“No comment,” he managed, trying to push past the crowd. “That’s all any of you will get from me, okay?”

There were murmurs of disappointment, before they all turned their attention on other entering players. Max made his way toward Liz, who stepped away and met him. They stared at each other for a long moment, before she moved as if to touch his arm. Hesitation skipped across her features, and she clasped her hands together instead.

“It’s not your fault, Max,” she said softly, correctly interpreting his inner emotions. “You can’t know if this would have happened whether or not you were injured.”

He snorted, turning to open his locker. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

“You know what I mean.” She stood beside him, nibbling her lips in distress. “Is Kyle…?”

His head turned sharply. “Is Kyle what? Worried about your boyfriend, are you?”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” she scowled. “And even if he was…no. No, you’re not going to change the subject. I know you too well, Max.”

He merely grunted, not wishing to acknowledge the truth in her statement. Truth that had always been a constant, since a memorable day when he’d been nine years old. “What’s up?”

She opened her mouth to speak, then sighed. “I know this isn’t the best time—”

“If this is about the interview, then you’re right,” he interrupted, biting back a curse as he overheard a reporter harassing one of the defensive linemen. “Crap, Parker. Can’t you see things are a little fucked up right now?”

“You’ve put this off for two weeks,” she answered obstinately, although he caught the sympathy lingering in her voice. “I’m sorry to do this now, Max, but I can’t stay in Tampa Bay forever. I have a job back in New Mexico.”

“Until you get that anchor position,” he reminded her.

“Yes, well, there will be no anchor position unless you cooperate,” she retorted. “It’s one loss, Max. It doesn’t mean you guys can’t still get to Detroit. There are always Wild Card slots—”

He slammed his locker, turning to face her. “You just don’t get it, Liz. This was our year. I’ve worked hard for this, for six long seasons. The team has worked hard for this. How dare you make it sound like something that can just be brushed under the rug until next week’s game? Wild Card? Those boys deserve more than a fucking Wild Card slot in the play-offs. And if I wasn’t on the goddamned disabled list, maybe I could help them get it.”

She was quiet for a long moment after his outburst as he sat there steaming, a grimace on his lips and blood in his eyes. “I know how important this is to you,” she said softly. “I do. But taking the weight of responsibility for an injury that you couldn’t control – don’t look at me like that! There was nothing you could have done to keep your shoulder from tearing, Max. I read the doctor’s report. It was a forced injury, and that tackle was lucky he didn’t get fined for it.”

Max raised a brow at the sudden vehemence in her voice. “That’s certainly a different song than the one you were singing in your article.”

“Will you ever forget those stupid articles?” she gritted through her teeth. Taking a deep breath, she moved closer so they wouldn’t be overheard. Max’s nostrils flared at the fresh scent emanating off of her and struggled not to react to it in the most basic of male ways. “Listen, Max. I thought we made an agreement. I thought…we were friends now?”

It was the uncertainty in her tone that did it. His anger dissolved and he slumped against the locker. “We are, Parker.”

“Then tell me why you’ve been avoiding this interview for the last few weeks. Explain to me why every time I show up at practices or team meetings, you’re always ‘indisposed’. Tell me why you’re avoiding me.”

He couldn’t meet her gaze. “I just…I’ve been busy,” he snapped, catching the interested expression of one of his teammates. “I might be injured, but I don’t just sit around waiting for someone to throw me a bone, Liz. There’s tons of rehab to do—”

“Okay, you’re right. Before we start another fight…I’ll just say you’re right.” Frustration was evident in her tone, and she made a soft sound before reaching into her purse and pulling out a small card. “Here. Call me whenever you finally decide you have time for me, and my interview.”

Without another word, she turned and walked away, leaving him feeling like a heel. But damn it, he didn’t want to be around her when he felt as vulnerable as he did after a loss. It was too easy to lean on her, way too easy to talk to her about what he was feeling. And that was too dangerous for a guy whose sole focus was and had to remain on getting his career back on track.

Liz Parker was a luxury he simply couldn’t afford.
Last edited by Applebylicious on Thu Sep 22, 2005 11:31 am, edited 5 times in total.
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Post by Applebylicious » Sun Sep 25, 2005 8:41 am

Hey guys! Sorry for the wait...

Okay, just a warning. Nobody freak out on me, okay?? I said there wouldn't be a LOT of angst...but there WILL be a little, lol. No, this isn't going to turn into an angst fest. No, I won't torture you all for long. Just take a deep breath and calm down before you guys even start. :wink:

Good luck to all the teams playing today (but most importantly, New England! lol) Also, the infamous Battle of the Bays is today, so GO TAMPA BAY! (sorry, cheese heads...but in keeping with the spirit of the fic and all... :) )

Enjoy!



Part Six – Obviously Oblivious


Guilt was eating her alive.

It had been a week since she’d last spoken to Max. One week, filled with watching news reports dedicated to Max’s absence during the game against Green Bay, and the effect it had obviously had on Tampa Bay’s offense. She’d cringed upon seeing reporter after reporter demanding his opinion on everything from Kyle’s performance to the coaching decisions, wondering if she came across as hard-edged and nosy as the rest of them. Considering the years of salacious articles she’d printed on him, he probably thought her ten times worse.

Max’s standard answer had been a “No comment”, but that didn’t stop the more ambitious journalists from attempting to glean any bit of info from the Golden Boy that they could. It made Liz both frustrated and sympathetic to see the mounting dissatisfaction in his eyes each time someone mentioned his injury. Knowing she’d have to do the same thing. Again.

She’d received a fax from Michael three days prior, outlining several specific questions she was to ask of Max whenever he deemed necessary to hold their interview, which was now scheduled to be a live television feed. Among them, was the possible retirement of the Golden Boy from the National Football League. The idea of asking Max something so personal – despite the fact that she’d originally planned to, anyway - now had her biting her nails in trepidation.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know he wasn’t going to be pleased. She envisioned an ugly scene in her mind, of Max calling her every name under the sun – possibly even throwing things – and ordering her away and out of his life forever. Her anchor position at SC would be kaput, but she found that she surprisingly didn’t really care about that.

She couldn’t quite put her finger on the moment when she’d forgiven Max for his actions ten years ago. Perhaps she’d finally just understood. He’d done the right thing, if a bit cruelly, and she’d allowed something that truly had been in her best interest to poison her mind through years of pointed attacks on a person she cared about deeply. The idea of being the one to hurt him again when the interview went live…it had kept her up every night since Michael’s fax had come in.
It was bothering her now as she stared at the television in her hotel room, rain pattering the windows outside.

She couldn’t help but wonder where Max was, and what he was doing. She knew he was in town – it was a bye week for Tampa Bay, after a dominating win over San Francisco the week before. Liz had watched the game from her room, and had nearly cried in relief when the final score had been announced. From the expression on Max’s face, he’d been torn between being happy for his team’s victory, and worried over the obvious improvement of Kyle’s performance.

She knew it couldn’t be easy for him, to sit out and watch someone younger – although Max was hardly a veteran – do the job that was rightfully his. Starting positions were so fickle in the NFL; all it took was one person to outshine another, and you’d find yourself reduced to second string or lower quicker than you could launch a Hail Mary pass into the end zone.

She didn’t want to see that happen to Max Evans. She hoped whatever rehabilitation the coaching staff was putting him through was going well, because the idea of a football world without the Golden Boy in it…was unfathomable. She’d nearly called several times to ask him how it was all going, but hadn’t quite mustered up the courage thus far.

Besides, the ball was in his court now. Her final words to him in the Tampa Bay locker room rang in her ears. Call me whenever you finally have time for me.

Apparently, he still didn’t.

The sudden ring of her cell had her jumping in alarm, than a sickly anticipation. Could it finally be him? She leaped for the bedside table, checking the caller ID with a sinking heart as she realized the caller’s identity. With a heavy sigh, she flipped the face open and spoke.

“Hello, mom.”

“Sweetheart! Just wanted to call and say hi…your father and I saw you on that sporty news show you did for ESPN,” her mother’s bright voice filled the line.

Liz bit back a small smile. “ESPNews?” she wondered wryly, trying not to laugh at the idea of her mother – whose idea of sports was cleaning the house – sitting through an hour long sports extravaganza.

It used to be a bone of contention between them; her mother unable to understand where she’d gone wrong to have a daughter who enjoyed the outdoors and the activities that came along with it more than she liked shopping or crocheting baby blankets. Or having babies, for that matter.

But Nancy Parker had finally grown accustomed to her only child’s fascination and adoration for the sports world. While she never pretended to understand, she at least faked an enthusiasm for it on occasion. Liz didn’t expect more.

“That’s the one!” her mother chirped. “Although, I don’t know who you do it, Liz. All of those men are just so…large. And virile. They look like they could carry a woman back to their cave and have their way with her, and the woman wouldn’t protest in the least! I certainly wouldn’t.”

Liz nearly spit out the mouthful of soda she’d just sipped. “Mom!” she sputtered. “Good God.”

“Well, it’s true! And speaking of which, how’s that young man you’re seeing? You haven’t spoken of him in a long while.”

Liz sighed. “Kyle’s fine. And we’re not that serious, Mom. It’s just a casual—”

“Casual! Darling, it’s long past time you stopped being casual and found someone to be serious with. Or have you forgotten that time’s ticking away? You can’t go running around naked men’s locker rooms forever.”

“Geez.” Liz’s eyes crossed at her mother’s bluntness. “Mom, I’m only twenty-four, all right? There’s still plenty of time for me to get married and fill the house with the pitter patter of little feet.”

Her mother sniffed. “You say that like it’s a bad thing, sweetheart. Don’t you want to get married and have children?”

Liz sat back and rubbed her temples, knowing there was no way she could stop the familiar conversation from happening. “Of course, I do,” she lied.

Not that it was necessarily a lie. She was perfectly willing to get married – whenever she finally met a man she could live with. It wasn’t that she was afraid of commitment, but most men she’d dated weren’t pleased with the idea of a woman who had a more stable career than they did. And could probably recall sports stats with more accuracy than themselves.

A vague image attempted to take shape in her mind, and her breath caught. Oh, no. She definitely wasn’t going there. The last person who’d ever want to spend time with her on a regular basis was Max Evans.

“Mom, I’m really busy at the moment,” she tried to interrupt before her mother could really get going on the topic. She felt a slight pang of guilt at lying, but if it was the only way…

“Oh, of course you are,” Nancy sighed. “You’re always busy. You really work much too hard, Liz. Well, I’ll only take up your time for another minute. Thanksgiving is next weekend, darling.”

“Hmm?” Liz wondered half-heartedly, attention captured by the amazing pass play she’d just witnessed on the television screen. “Son of a bitch! No way he caught that!”

“Liz, are you listening to me? And sweetheart, don’t curse.”

“Oh, sorry,” she apologized automatically, struggling to tear her eyes away from the TV and concentrate. “And yes, something about Thanksgiving?”

“Your father and I thought it might be nice if you came home for it this year,” her mother continued. “I know we usually spend Christmas together instead, but it’s just been so long since we’ve seen you…your father misses you so much. You’re so far away now.”

“I live in Albuquerque,” Liz blinked.

“Well, he’s not up to driving as much as he used to be,” Nancy replied firmly. “I’m making a fat turkey and cranberry jelly. Pumpkin pie…”

Liz groaned. “Stop. I can already feel myself gaining weight.”

“Then you’ll come?” her mother asked excitedly. “You really should, dear. It’d be the first time we’ve all been together for Thanksgiving for years.”

Guilt began to trickle through her again. “Mom…you know…my job, sometimes I just can’t drop what I’m doing. No matter how much I’d like to do otherwise. This month’s a pretty big one in my career. I thought you and Dad understood…?”

“We do, of course we do. But couldn’t you maybe…just this once?”

She chewed her lip. The idea of going back home and seeing everyone was extremely appealing. Despite her protestations about Albuquerque not being that far away, it had been an entire year since she’d managed a trip back to Roswell.

With a sigh, she resigned herself to pokes and prods from well-meaning family about why she’d yet to settle down. “Sure, Mom. I’ll be there.”

“Wonderful! And Liz…if there’s someone you’d like to bring…”

“Thanks, Mom,” she said quickly. “But please, don’t get your hopes up, okay?”

“Hmph. You could have anyone you wanted—”

“Mom!”

“All right!” her mother sighed. Then with a subject change that had her mind spinning circles, her mother continued with, “By the way. You’ll never guess who I ran into at the grocery yesterday.”

Small-town gossip. Was there ever anything like it, she wondered with a smile. “Hmm…Tom Brokaw?” she teased, knowing her mother held a soft spot for the TV news veteran.

“Liz! Tom Brokaw…what an imagination you have,” Nancy tittered. “It was Diane Evans. Apparently, her daughter Isabel’s getting married and we were discussing the wedding. It was the strangest thing, I mentioned Max – you remember him, don’t you dear? Oh, of course you do. He’s a big football star, isn’t he?”

The fact that her mother didn’t know that was proof enough of the little importance sports held in her life. Liz sat, listening in horror as she continued.

“Well, anyway, I asked if Max was coming home, because when I got to thinking about it…I don’t remember seeing him home for years! I remember, because the darling boy used to stop by the café all the time when he was younger. Then he went away to college, I guess, and we’ve seen neither hide nor tail of him since! Well, Diane was very strange about the entire thing.”

“You don’t say,” Liz managed in a strangled tone. “Mother…maybe we shouldn’t be talking about this…it’s not really our business, is it?”

“Oh, nonsense! We’re family, aren’t we? Who can you discuss things with, if not family? I think there might be some kind of riff between poor Max and his parents. I have simply no idea on whose side the blame falls, although as a mother, I could never allow anything to come between me and my child. I was going to tell Diane so—”

“Mother, tell me you didn’t,” Liz groaned.

“—but she changed the subject and left, rather rudely, in my opinion,” Nancy finished. Liz breathed a sigh of relief, but before she could relax, her mother added, “Well? What do you think?”

“About what?” Liz hesitated.

“Oh, honestly Elizabeth! Can’t you pay attention for one minute!”

“What’s that? Oh no…my PDA’s going off. It must be something important, from work,” Liz fibbed. “I’ll have to talk to you later, Mom. Give dad my love, and I’ll see you both next weekend. Bye!”

She hung up quickly before her mother could begin protesting, resting the phone against her forehead and shaking her head at the narrow escape. “Good. God.”

She fell backwards on the bed, yanking a pillow over her head and wondering if she wanted to laugh or cry. Then a single thought pierced her mind.

Isabel was getting married. And Max likely had no idea.

She remembered the two siblings from high school, and there had never been two who were closer. People had often thought them twins; they’d been so close in age and confidence. The idea that somehow Max’s father had destroyed that between the two siblings was nearly unbelievable to Liz. But judging from the little Max had divulged about his recent relationship with his family, it had happened.

She felt sick to her stomach. Should she tell him? If she didn’t, and he discovered – somehow – that she knew, would he hate her for not saying anything? Or would he be angered if she did? Was it even any of her business?

A knock on the door had her gasping, and she sat straight up in bed. Due to the heavy downpour taking place outside, she simply couldn’t imagine who could be coming to visit her. She’d taken a day off from her job, and Kyle was running drills with the rest of the team at RJ Stadium.

Another knock sounded, and she temporarily debated on letting whomever it was think she wasn’t there. But curiosity got the better of her, and she stood and began making her way across the room. “I’m coming!” She opened the door, careful to keep any rain from making its way inside, and stared in shock at the figure hunched on the small doorstep.

Max offered her an exasperated expression. “Can you quit goggling at me and let me in before I’m completely drenched?” He was wearing a pair of threadbare track pants and a t-shirt, holding a windbreaker over his head like an umbrella. She’d have laughed at the sight if she hadn’t been suddenly reminded of her own appearance.

As she hadn’t been expecting company, she’d dressed in her most favorite – and oldest – pair of pajamas, featuring Bubbles from the Power Puff Girls. Her hair hadn’t been washed since the day before, and she’d pulled it up into a high ponytail that made her look five years younger than she really was. As if she could really afford to look younger. A quick glance at the mirror on the wall confirmed all of her worst fears, and she blanched. Dear God, did she really look like that without makeup?

“Liz?”

She snapped her attention back to Max. “What are you doing here?” she blurted without thinking.

“Can we discuss this inside?” he wondered, sounding a bit annoyed. “In case you haven’t noticed, it’s fucking pouring out here.”

“Oh! Right…uh…come in.” She threw the door wide, letting him walk inside and staring at the empty spot he’d been standing on for a moment before shutting the door and turning around. Her fingers closed around the handle in a white-knuckled grip.

He’d taken off his shirt and was wringing it out over the sink. She stared at the muscle play in his back, wondering if maybe she was dreaming. God only knew she’d had the fantasy of a half-naked Max Evans in her hotel room more than once over the past few weeks.

He looked up and met her glazed expression in the mirror. A strange look crossed over his features before he threw a glance over his shoulder. “I hope I’m not interrupting,” he said, nodding wryly toward the blaring game on television. “Who’s winning?”

“What?” She blinked, shaking her head and looking sharply away upon realizing she’d just been ogling him. And he’d so totally noticed. Feeling her face heat, she stared so hard at the television screen that her eyes began to burn. “Oh, uh…you know, I’m not really…Seattle, I think.”

“You think?” he repeated, turning and crossing his arms over his – still naked – chest. A smirk played at the edges of his lips. “Were you watching it or not, Parker?”

The challenge in his tone had her regaining her senses, and she sent him a sneer before flopping on the bed as if she hadn’t a care in the world. As if there wasn’t a gorgeous quarterback standing at her sink. Without his shirt on. “I was, before I was so rudely interrupted.”

“Ah, there she is,” he sang jokingly. “I wondered where my old Liz was.”

“She never left. She was just trying to figure out why the hell you were standing on her doorstep in the rain. And I’m not your Liz,” she mumbled, hoping he couldn’t read the flush on her cheeks.

If he heard her, he didn’t let on. “Oh, I was just in the neighborhood…” His voice trailed off as he joined her on the bed. She stiffened, but his attention immediately went to the televised game. He let out a low whistle. “Hasselbeck’s looking good this year. Damn, I wish I had a running back like Shaun Alexander to pitch to.”

Liz slanted him a glance. “You do. You’ve got Cadillac Williams, remember?”

Max blinked, then smiled slowly. “You’re right. Now that’s one helluva rookie.”

He was sitting so closely she could smell the rain on his body and feel the heat from where his thigh pressed against her knee. Struggling to appear aloof and slightly annoyed, she said, “As fascinating as this conversation is, care to tell me what you’re doing here? Being in the neighborhood, and all.”

“Look at that screen play,” Max answered with admiration, eyes on the TV. Then, “What?”

Liz rolled her eyes, trying not to smile as she recalled that she’d done the same thing while on the phone with her Mom. It was not cute, damn it! “Max, why are you here?”

“Oh. Well…did I mention I was in the neighborhood?” he asked with a smile. When she narrowed her gaze, he sighed. “Damn, Parker. I haven’t seen you in a week and you’re acting like I’m a stranger.”

The reminder of their separation brought back memories of the last time they’d spoken, again, and she became uncomfortable. “Well…that’s been your decision,” she answered quietly, refusing to look at him.

He didn’t reply for a long moment, and she finally snuck a glance his way to find him frowning at the TV. “I needed some time…that Green Bay game was…” He trailed off; obviously frustrated at not being able to get out what he wanted to say.

She understood him, all the same. “I know, Max. It was hard.”

He let out a rough laugh. “Try fucking horrifying. God. And then I took it out on you, and I-I’m sorry. I just wanted you to know that.”

She refused to cry at the sincere expression on his face as he turned and met her gaze. “Max, I know you didn’t mean to…and even if you did, I wouldn’t blame you for it. It was a bad day.”

He stared at her, unreadable emotions in his eyes. He nodded slowly. “Yeah…it was a bad day,” he admitted, his voice sounding lower than before. Then, “You look like a high school cheerleader.” He gave her ponytail a quick flip.

She scowled, batting his hand away. “Shut up—”

He didn’t let her hand go, but dragged her closer. Her breath seemed stuck in her chest as she stared at him in open-mouthed shock. He stared at her lips. “Max, what are you—”

“I’ve been thinking a lot over the past week, during rehab,” he interrupted her. “Wondering why I let you get to me the way you do. Piss me off so much. I think I finally figured it out.”

She swallowed. “Figured out…” She trailed off helplessly as his other hand came up to wrap around the back of her neck. Her heart was beating so quickly it sounded like a drum line had taken up place inside of her breast.

“It’s all this tension,” he continued, sounding hoarse. And frustrated.

“Tension?” All she seemed able to do was echo him. Her eyes were the size of saucers.

“Don’t tell me you don’t feel it.” His fingers tightened on the base of her neck, his eyes narrowing threateningly. “I know you do.”

“Feel what?” She tried to brazen it out, unable to keep from licking her lips. His gaze followed and his nostrils flared.

“All this…tension,” he repeated. “I know you want me, Parker.”

She gasped, trying to shove him away as humiliation took hold of her. God, had she been that transparent? “Max!”

“I want you too,” he added, stilling her with four simple words. “I want you so bad, I can’t sleep at night for thinking about what it would be like between us. I can’t concentrate on getting better…all I see is you, spread out under me and—”

“Oh, my God,” she whispered, feeling her face burn as he let loose with a colorful description of exactly what he’d been thinking about.

His eyes were on fire and his jaw was locked. He looked more angry than happy about the conclusion he’d come to. “So? What are we going to do about this, Liz? I want you so fucking bad I can taste it.”

“We’re…we’re not going to do anything,” she shrieked, scooting away from him as she continued to stare at him. “Do you hear yourself, Max? This is me, Liz Parker. The woman you’d like to – and I quote – ‘see strung up by her imaginary balls’.”

He paused in his pursuit of her, pursing his lips together as if in fond memory. “Hmm. That was a good one. Where’s it from, again?”

“GQ,” she snapped, bumping into the dresser as she continued backing away. “So there’s no possible way you could w-want me…”

He was smiling now, a predatory grin that made her equal parts terrified and aroused. “Oh, but I do.”

She suddenly realized she was fleeing from him like a scared bunny rabbit from the big bad wolf. The image didn’t sit very well with her, and she stiffened her back. “I am not sleeping with you,” she bit off with a hiss. “Get that through your dumb jock skull!”

“Ouch. You wound me, babe.” He patted his chest dramatically. “I’ll have you know I got a 3.4 GPA in college.”

The rapid-fire change in topic had her blinking. “What does that have to do with anything?” she growled.

He shrugged powerful shoulders. “Got me. I thought this was your idea of foreplay.”

She was torn between wanting to jump him and wanting to hit him in his grinning face. “You…you…”

“Stud? Sexy, gorgeous hunk of a man?” he wondered. “Why thanks, Parker. C’mere.”

“Get lost, Evans,” she sneered. “Before I string you up by your balls.”

“Anytime you want to play with my balls, all you have to do is ask.”

“You’re unbelievable!”

“Just one kiss,” he pleaded huskily, trapping her by the bathroom door. With his good shoulder, he raised his arm and blocked her from getting away while crowding her with the rest of his body. “Let me kiss you, and see if you can still try and deny what you feel.”

“Like you did, ten years ago?” The words were out of her mouth before she could call them back, and he froze. She bit her lip, wondering if he’d now wake up and realize what exactly was happening. And fearing he would.

To her utter shock, his eyes grew heavy and he moved closer. “Yes, like I did ten years ago,” he whispered. “One more kiss, Liz. One more…”

“Max…” It was all she got out before he closed his mouth over hers, thrusting his tongue between her lips with a natural skill that had her melting against him without protest. She wrapped both arms around him, digging her nails into his naked back as he released a sharp groan.

They exploded. Every moment they’d spent challenging each other over the past few years had been leading up to this moment, she was now certain. Nothing had ever felt as right. They wanted as fiercely as they argued, and the passion was almost more than she could handle.

The memory of the impending interview and the news her mother had let slip suddenly came to her, and she knew then and there she couldn’t let herself be intimate with him when there were still so many secrets between them.

She pulled away, but he didn’t let her escape his arms. She stared up into his heavy-lidded eyes. “Max…we have to…stop.”

“Why? You want this as bad as I do.” He accented this comment by sliding his hands down her back, to the curves of her backside.

She turned her head before he could kiss her again, feeling a fleeting disappointment when his lips connected with her cheek. “Things are too…complicated right now,” she managed over a moan as his hands squeezed her bottom.

That seemed to pierce through the fog of passion, and he stilled. A dark expression colored his features and he released her and stepped back. “Ah, yes. Complicated. I’ve heard this before,” he answered.

“What?”

“I guess you don’t want to jeopardize things with your boyfriend,” he sneered, anger evident in his eyes. “After all, where else would you get your information on me?”

Her mind was so foggy from his embrace that his meaning didn’t penetrate immediately. “Boyfriend? What are you…?”

“Valenti,” he spat out. “God, I am an idiot.”

Everything clicked into place. “You think…Kyle…information…” His words sounded again in her mind, and she grew angry and distressed. “I’ve apologized for that before, Max! I thought you believed me.”

He lifted his chin. “You did it before, why wouldn’t you do it again? After all, it’d be in your best interest, wouldn’t it? Your boyfriend as the quarterback of the team most likely to win the Super Bowl? Although, judging from your reaction a minute ago, I guess you wouldn’t mind screwing around with a has-been, too.”

She saw red, and tears filled her eyes. “How dare you,” she whispered. “Kyle is not my boyfriend, not that it’s any of your business! We went out on two dates! Two! We’re just good friends! How dare you make me sound like a…like a whore…”

He was evidently shocked at what he’d said, too. Regret shined in his gaze. “Liz. I…”

“Shut up!” she cried out, her voice breaking as she was filled with the desperate desire to hurt him as much as he’d hurt her. Over and over again. “Your team? Win the Super Bowl? You’re joking, right? You guys can barely win a game!

“Liz—”

“Get out!” she shrieked. “Screw the damn interview! I never want to s-see you again…” She covered her face with shaking hands. “All you ever do is make me feel like…”

“Like what?” he wondered softly.

“I want you to leave,” she said coldly. “I’ll tell Michael he’s not getting his interview. They can give the anchor position to someone else. I just want to go home…”

She heard him take a step toward her, then pause. The sound of the door closing softly behind him was the last thing she heard before she broke down into sobs.
Last edited by Applebylicious on Sun Sep 25, 2005 9:21 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Applebylicious » Mon Sep 26, 2005 10:21 am

Part Seven – It’s Lonely At The Top


Max held his breath while the doctor examined his shoulder. The outcome of weeks of conditioning was about to be revealed, and it could very well determine whether or not he’d be allowed to join regular practice, or if he’d be stuck doing rehab for another month.

He blinked as the doctor probed the juncture where his shoulder met his collarbone, but felt only a fleeting pinch.

“How’s that feel?”

“Doable,” Max answered anxiously. “Well? What’s the word, Doc? Don’t keep me waiting in suspense here.” His attempted joking tone fell flat.

Dr. McNair sighed, taking off his glasses and rubbing them against his sleeve. “Your tests came back normal, Max. And you don’t seem to be experiencing severe enough pain for me justifiably keep you in strength conditioning and off the field.”

Everything inside of him leaped with hope. “So, I can practice? You’ll tell Coach—”

“Wait,” the doctor interrupted with a hand. “Here’s the thing that concerns me, Max. Your shoulder can’t take much more injury. Anything like what you experienced against Cleveland…I don’t know if the ligaments could handle it. You could end up being unable to use your shoulder at all, much less throw touchdown passes.”

Max absorbed this news with a sort of numb acceptance. It was everything he’d dreaded, aside from being handed trade – or worse, retirement – papers. Yet, it wasn’t anything he hadn’t already known. Hadn’t he told him self to be prepared for the worst that very morning when he’d arrived at the training facility?

But now that he was hearing the words from the doctor’s own lips, frustration and impotence welled inside of him. “So, what am I supposed to do?” he wondered, a bit roughly. “More rehab? Will that help?”

The doctor hesitated, obviously concerned by Max’s abrupt change in attitude. “I…can’t be the one to make that decision for you, Max,” he answered quietly. “I can only tell you the possible outcomes of the decisions you might make.”

Max’s jaw tensed, and he stared at the clock hanging on the wall. The hands seemed to be ticking away the remainder of his football career with each second; the face leered at him like that of a defensive lineman on a blitz route.

“So,” he spoke a moment later, voice no more than a croak. “I can do more rehab and conditioning, but there’s no definite chance that I’ll be able to play the way I did before. Or, I can go out there and see what happens, and hope I don’t get hammered? Is that what you’re telling me?”

Dr. McNair’s eyes shined with sympathy. “More or less,” he replied. “The truth is, we just don’t know what might happen, Max. You are young…that’s a point for you. The body heals quicker. But on the same token, your body’s endured more than many players who reach their eleventh or twelfth year in the League. There’s only so much a body can take before it decides not to take anymore.”

He was only twenty-eight years old. The thought kept ringing in his ears, like a gong. Twenty-eight goddamn years old…barely halfway through what was considered a healthy career in the NFL. He thought of other players he’d come to know over the years, men he considered friends.

Corey Simon. Quincy Morgan. Tom Brady. Jeremiah Trotter.

All of these men were the same age he was, and all were in the prime of their career. It seemed outlandish and impossible that while they were taking the field each Sunday, he was now looking down the short end of the barrel.

“Fuck,” he sighed, leaning his head back and closing his eyes.

“You should talk to the coaching staff before you make any kind of decision,” the doctor suggested carefully.

Max thought of his teammates, of the Super Bowl dream they’d all nursed in their hearts since his own rookie year. He thought of all the hard work they’d done to get where they were today, and how he knew it would all be for naught if he wasn’t able to play.

Everyone knew he was Tampa Bay’s best shot. Kyle was an outstanding player, but he lacked the discipline in the pocket that just seemed to come naturally to Max. Many often said that if you cut him open, Max Evans would bleed cool. Calm. Collected. He’d proven it in situations over the years that would horrify even the most seasoned veteran.

He thought of the Buccaneers fans; many of who came to each and every game, each and every Sunday to support their team. He thought about how much they deserved to see their team finally get their due.

How could he not do everything in his power to help his team on their road to glory? Even if it meant chancing a career-ending injury. After all, there was no surefire way of knowing either way, or so the doctor had said. Why not take the risk? It was in his blood, as a fighter.

“No,” he replied hollowly a moment later. “If there’s a chance I can make it, I have to try.”

“Max-”

He slid off the table, meeting the doctor’s concern with an impassive expression. “You said it’s my decision. That there’s really no reason for you to make me stay. Well, I choose to stick with my team. I choose to win.”

“Even knowing you might be more of a hindrance than a help at this point?” Dr. McNair pointed out wisely. “They’ll come after you, Max.”

Max shot him a self-assured grin, pulling a sweatshirt over his head. “Looking forward to it.”

And he was. Now that he’d made his decision, he felt at peace with the world. With every step that drew him closer to the locker room, his entire being felt lighter than it had in weeks. Except for one little problem.

His smile faded and his step faltered as he was brutally reminded of the scene with Liz that had occurred several nights ago. As it happened every time he’d thought of her since, a wave of crushing guilt, anger, and passion welled up inside of him.

He hadn’t meant to attack her the way he had. Hell, he’d gone about the whole thing the wrong way. He’d been so frustrated…a few beers later and he’d found himself running across town in pouring rain. As he’d stood in front of her hotel room door, he’d debated with himself the wisdom of what he was about to do.

He couldn’t stop thinking about her. He wasn’t quite sure if it was lingering feelings from the past that were haunting him, or new ones that were threatening to drive him completely insane. He didn’t quite trust her – and a part of him wondered if he could expect the return of her biting rhetoric in future columns - but he couldn’t deny he wanted her. Badly. And he’d finally decided to act on it.

Of course, he hadn’t expected her reaction. Now that he looked back on it, he realized how extremely short-sighted he’d been to automatically assume she’d just fall into bed with him and allow him to purge every confusing feeling he was having between the sheets. That would be way too easy for a woman like Liz Parker.

And in truth…he was glad she hadn’t let him use her that way. He might have been drunk and overcome with desire, but he’d have only been disgusted with the both of them the next morning. No matter what his body said, the last thing he really wanted was meaningless sex with some random woman. Not that Liz was random, which was a problem in and of itself.

And then…and then…

He winced upon remembering the jealous words that had issued from his mouth. Not only had he accused her of wanting to use him to further her career – which was sort of true, but they’d come to terms about it…or so he’d thought – but he’d also basically called her a whore.

What was really awful was that he wasn’t even sure he could completely blame it on the alcohol. There was a part of him that was desperate to know just what her relationship with his backup quarterback truly was. She acted like she was still attracted to him, but then Kyle had called her his girl…and Liz hadn’t exactly protested. Apparently, things were just complicated.

The bottom line was that he missed her, missed the friendship they’d begun to cultivate. They hadn’t spoken since she’d ordered him from her hotel room, and he’d been too mortified by his actions to attempt to contact her and apologize. Something he knew he needed to do, at least for his own peace of mind, but he assumed she’d gone through with her threat and had left Tampa Bay.

That’s when the answer hit him, and he came to a halt just outside the Buccaneers main locker room. The team was scheduled to play a Monday Night Football double header against the Atlanta Falcons, which meant he had an entire three day weekend before he had to report for training once he explained his situation to Coach Gruden and the rest of the staff.

There was only one way he could think of to get back In Liz’s good graces.

Five minutes later, he was on the phone with the operator. “Yes, can you connect me to Michael Guerin, ESPN news bracket in Albuquerque, New Mexico.”



<center>***</center>



He couldn’t believe he was really going home.

Max stared out of the window in first class, jaw locked and eyes hooded as he watched the New Mexican desert sprawl out beneath the plane’s descent. His fingers tapped nervously against his thigh.

He had to have completely lost his mind. That was the only viable explanation for why he found himself on a direct course to Roswell, when he’d sworn to himself ten years ago that he’d never return.

But Liz Parker was in Roswell, according to her boss – who had practically laid golden eggs over the telephone upon realizing Max’s identity. It had been no trouble at all for Max to convince the other man to release Liz’s whereabouts, not when he’d heard Max’s reasons. And so he was on his way to a homecoming that would be anything but warm.

“What the hell’s she doing in Roswell, anyway?” he muttered to himself, drawing curious glances from several of the other first class customers who had been watching him off and on throughout the flight, recognizing his profile.

But of course, the answer was obvious. It was Thanksgiving weekend, something he was usually too busy to remember during this time of year. Assuming he wasn’t playing a game, he occasionally met up with some friends and they all watched games and pigged out on takeout from whatever restaurants were still open during the holiday. But it wasn’t anything like the holidays he remembered from his youth.

A pang went through him as he thought about his childhood; remembering the way his father would challenge him and Isabel to a game of touch football while his mother happily slaved away over the stove. Back when things had been easy.

But he wasn’t there to try and repair any rips in the fabric of his relationship with his family. He’d put that sob story behind him years ago. No, he was here for a completely different reason, and one who was going to be mighty surprised to see him.

He firmly shoved any lingering thoughts of his family out of his mind as the wheels came out from beneath the plane, concentrating on Liz and exactly what move he’d make first. He could wait until the morning; get a good night’s sleep at a local motel and carefully plan out what he feared might be an explosive reunion.

Would she even hear what he had to say? She’d been so angered and hurt the last time he’d seen her…the memory of the pain that had flashed across her pretty face still made him feel like a heel. Maybe he should buy her something to pave the way? Flowers? God, he didn’t know.

As he stepped off the plane into Las Cruces International, he quickly made his way through baggage claim and headed toward the car rental desk. After a few minutes of signing autographs for the stunned clerks, he had the keys to a 2006 Lexus LX and was ready to make the four-hour drive to Roswell.

Surprisingly, the holiday traffic wasn’t too bad and he mostly found himself alone on the desert highway. The lyrics to Ozzy Osbourne’s Road to Nowhere began to play over the radio, and he was unable to keep from smirking at the appropriateness of the song. He soon found himself singing along, sliding on a pair of sunglasses to ward off the glare of the hot sun on sand.

It was nearing dusk when he finally caught sight of the “Welcome to Roswell” sign, complete with a happy, green alien. He turned down the radio, slid off his glasses as bittersweet memories and painful regrets threatened to overwhelm him. He brushed them aside, pulling off onto the exit.

Nothing had changed in the ten years since he’d been gone. There was still one main road that wove throughout the town, aptly called Main Street. All of the small, stucco-style houses appeared as they had when he’d left, aside from fresh coats of paint and a few recent flowering additions.

He shook his head at the sight of the sign that read Closed Sundays on the one gas station in town, thankful he’d thought to fill up before leaving Las Cruces. He’d been suddenly thrust back into the Land That Time Forgot, where people didn’t drive on Sundays and everyone knew everything about everyone.

Home Sweet Home.

He drove into the main part of town, and slowed as the Crashdown Café came into view. Through the large glass windows, he could see it was filled to the brim with both locals and tourists alike – as popular a landmark in the small town as the legendary UFO crash site.

He was debating on whether or not to stop in and grab a quick bite before searching for a motel room, when he saw Liz step out of the kitchen. She was wearing the familiar antenna headband and alien-head apron he remembered from when she’d worked there as a teenager, over a pair of jeans and a powder blue sweatshirt. She was all smiles; nothing like he remembered from their last encounter.

He swung into the parking lot on a whim, heart beating rapidly as he pulled expertly into a slot and shoved the gearshift into park. Before stepping out, he threw his sunglasses back on and added a battered baseball cap in case anyone recognized who he was. Then he had to snort at himself.

Roswell was such a small-town; there was every possibility that none of the people remembered a once great high school football star. He doubted many of them followed anything that occurred outside of town, so the idea that he’d immediately be recognized was egocentric at best. He tossed the glasses on the passenger side seat and stepped out of the car.

The door jingled as he walked in, and he was hit with the scents of cooking meat and spilled grease. A comfort he hadn’t really experienced since he’d been a teenager took over him, and he was unable to keep from grinning. Then he glanced around, and realized maybe his worries weren’t so unfounded after all.

All conversation had stopped upon his entrance. Eyes stared at him, several mouths were dropped in open astonishment at the sight of him. He caught snippets of a few fevered exchanges as he walked steadily toward the back where Liz was ringing up orders.

“…Max Evans…”

“…hasn’t been home in years…”

Liz slowly turned around as she finally became aware of the change in the atmosphere. Max paused a few feet away from her, watching as her eyes widened. A pencil fell from her fingers and clattered to the ground. “Max…what are you…?”

He took another step forward, staring back at her as everyone in the café watched them with baited breath. Making a quick decision as the surprise in her gaze turned to horrified anger, he took off his cap and scratched his head, offering her a sheepish smile.

“I’m ready for my interview, Ms. Parker.”
Last edited by Applebylicious on Mon Sep 26, 2005 10:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Applebylicious » Tue Sep 27, 2005 12:09 am

Sorry...I fell asleep. Blah. By the way, don't worry...there will be plenty of groveling ahead lol. Eventually...


Part Eight - Love Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry…Again



Liz was determined to stay busy during her stay in Roswell, so as not to have time to ponder everything that had happened over the past few weeks. Unfortunately, she made the mistake of mentioning it to her mother, who immediately shackled her with a to-do list that ran the length of the entire state.

She cleaned. She gardened. She peeled enough potatoes to feed the starving children in Ethiopia, but it still wasn’t enough to keep her mind off of her departure from Tampa Bay and the fight with Max that had preceded it.

Memories of the heated words they’d exchanged kept her awake at night, tossing and turning as she struggled not to cry over it. The fact that she wanted to upset her more than anything. Hadn’t she learned by now? Hadn’t her skin grown thick enough when it came to Max Evans? Apparently not.

She was ashamed that her first inclination after he’d left that night had been to sit down and purge her anger in a column report that would finally show the world – once and for all – what an obnoxious creep the Golden Boy really was. She just wished she believed it, herself.

And that was the problem. No matter how much he’d wounded her by saying the things he had, a part of her still mourned the loss of whatever it had been that they were working toward. It was like he was in her blood, and had been for so long that to be without him felt like an amputation.

It was beyond ridiculous…she’d gone years without seeing his face, for God’s sake. She just had to try and forget him, put him out of her mind until she could analyze the situation without bawling like a baby.

Which is how she currently found herself waiting tables in the family restaurant like she’d done so many times in her youth. She didn’t really mind…she’d always enjoyed the Crashdown, and it’s clientele. The gossip and small talk did more to empty out her mind than anything else she’d tried thus far.

She’d put her foot down at wearing the wacky Star Trek inspired uniform her father had cultivated for the staff, but she was wearing the springy antenna and shiny apron without a word of protest. In fact, every time she caught sight of herself in the mirror, she couldn’t help but chuckle.

It was nearing the beginning of the dinner rush, and she’d prepared herself to be bombarded with good-natured probes about how she’d been doing from curious townspeople, and outrageous questions from tourists who were hoping to spot an alien among them.

Shaking her head over the last customer she’d served, who had been wearing a vivid orange t-shirt with the blazing slogan Elvis Has Left The Planet, she moved toward the next table in her section. Without looking up, she recited the usual greeting.

A surprised gasp drew her attention, and she found herself staring into a vaguely familiar pair of brown eyes. Taking in the silky blonde hair and gorgeous features, she realized with a start that she was gaping at the sight of no other than Isabel Evans.

“I-Isabel?” she managed, lowering her order pad and flicking her gaze toward the lanky brown-haired gentleman seated next to her. He offered her a friendly smile, apparently oblivious to the sudden tension in the air.

Isabel nodded coolly. “Liz. I had no idea you were back.” Her voice lacked any of the warmth that would suggest that the two women had once been friends of a sort.

Liz chewed her lip. “I’m not…really,” she tried for a civil tone, all the while wondering if the guy Isabel was with was the one she was planning to marry. Without letting Max know. The reminder turned her own smile a bit frosty, despite whatever differences she and Max might have experienced. “Just helping out for the holiday.”

“Oh.” Appraising eyes looked over her, and apparently found her wanting as Isabel’s expression turned into a sneer.

After a moment where no one spoke, Isabel’s companion cleared his throat. “Isabel, why don’t you introduce me to your…friend?” he wondered in confusion, eyes flying back and forth between the silent women.

“She’s not my friend,” Isabel snapped hotly, then sobered. “But whatever. Liz Parker, this is Alex Whitman. My fiancé. Alex, this is Liz…we used to go to school together.”

Alex’s eyes lit up. “Really? I bet you can tell me all kinds of interesting stories about Izzy then. She’s annoyingly tight-lipped sometimes,” he joked, squeezing his arm around Isabel’s stiff form.

“Is that right?” Liz smiled politely. “I couldn’t imagine why…after all, Isabel’s always been so open.” Some devil inside of her made her lean forward conspiratorially, “But if you really want the scoop on Iz, you should talk to her brother Max. The two of them—”

“You know what? Suddenly I’m not hungry. At all,” Isabel interrupted, turning a bright shade of red that Liz couldn’t distinguish was due to embarrassment or anger. “Let’s go, Alex.”

“Uh…all right,” Alex blinked, finally cottoning on to the undercurrents running between the two. “It was, uh, nice meeting you?”

“Likewise,” Liz smiled, feeling sorry for someone who seemed so genuine to be stuck with a wench like Isabel Evans. “Isabel, don’t be a stranger!”

Max’s sister paused halfway to the door, spoke softly to her fiancé, then turned around and stalked back to where Liz was standing in bemusement. Dark rage highlighted her cheekbones and fired her eyes.

When she was close enough not to be overheard, Isabel hissed, “You leave my brother alone, do you hear me? All you’ve done for the past six years is tear him down any way you could. One more word from you and I’ll…I’ll…sue you for slander! Don’t think I won’t!”

Liz blinked. “Excuse me?”

“Don’t pretend you don’t understand me!” Isabel was nearly shrieking now. “I’ve read your column,” she spat the word out with disdain so strong that Liz was faintly surprised lightening didn’t burst from the sky and fry her on the spot. “All you’ve done is try and paint him like a fool! He doesn’t deserve that—”

“Oh, and he deserves to be cut off from his entire family for ten years?” Liz returned, stiffening at Isabel’s comments. “He deserves to not even know that his only sister is getting married? Where was your concern when your father was cutting Max off from everyone he loves, Isabel?”

“I…” Isabel’s jaw hung open, then closed with a click. “How do you know any of that?” she demanded warily.

“Well—”

Liz cut herself off as she realized that she was hesitant for whatever reason to admit that she’d spoken with Max on the subject. Revising her statement, she continued, “It’s rather obvious, isn’t it? He hasn’t come home in ten years…your family never attends any of his games. He never talks about any of you in any press releases.”

Isabel’s eyes suddenly filled with tears. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she whispered. “Just…leave Max alone.”

With those choked words, she turned and ran from the restaurant as Alex chased after her with a worried expression. He glanced back once at Liz, frowned, and then disappeared.

After a moment, Liz glanced down and realized that she was gripping the edge of the table so hard that her knuckles had turned white. With a quick release of breath, she released the counter as if it had burned her, then made her way to the back room to compose herself.

The nerve of Max’s sister…affecting a concern for Max after years of pretending as though he didn’t exist! It made her blood boil to think over the conversation they’d shared, to recall the pain that had flashed through Max’s eyes when he’d revealed the truth to her.

The rest of the family fell in line. After all, who would stand up to Phillip Evans?

She was just thankful that Max was nowhere around to have witnessed his sister’s hypocrisy.

She took a deep breath and plastered a smile on her face, determined to get through the rest of the evening without having people wonder what was wrong with her. She’d wait until she was alone to scream.

She went her rounds for about a half-hour, moving to take over the cash register in the back as the crowd began to thin. She became so lost in her own thoughts that it took her a moment to realize that the café had grown uncharacteristically quiet. She turned around, a frown on her face, and ran the gamut of a thousand emotions all at once.

Max was staring at her with an unreadable expression, clutching a beat up Devil Rays hat in his hands as he stood a few feet away from her. He seemed to be waiting for some kind of sign from her.

All she could think of was a stammered, ““Max…w-what are you…?”

He smiled, scratching his head wryly before striking a pose that would have normally left her melting at his feet. Not that she’d have let him know it. But now…she was far too flabbergasted to do anything but gawk.

“I’m ready for my interview, Ms. Parker,” he replied cheekily, a mixture of devilry and anxiety coloring his handsome features.

Her mind went blank. “Interview?” she parroted, then blinked upon the realization that nearly the entire restaurant was listening in to their conversation. “Max! What are you doing here?”

Her voice had taken on a snappish tone, and his smile disappeared before he let a heavy sigh loose. “I knew this wouldn’t be easy,” he started ruefully. “Liz…I need to talk to you for a minute. Alone.”

Before she realized what was happening, he’d taken her arm and was steering her toward the back room. She could only sputter in disbelief. “How did you…how…?”

“How’d I know you were here?” he questioned for her, softly closing the door behind them before turning to meet her gaze. “Well, I—”

“Wait, don’t tell me.” He cocked a brow at her interruption, and she began to feel her facilities returning to normal as irritation took hold. “My secretary told you.”

He flashed her an appreciative smile. “Not this time. It was Michael Guerin who let the cat out of the bag.”

“Michael,” she drawled, a slow burn taking place inside of her as she imagined wringing her boss’s stubborn neck. Her eyes flashed. “Then Michael surely mentioned that the interview was off.”

Max eyed her for a moment, then glanced down as he casually approached. “Actually, he didn’t seem to know anything about that…” He looked up and she thought she saw a glint of amusement in his eyes.

“I’ll kill him,” she bit off. “Scheming, manipulative…”

“Don’t you want the SportsCenter job, Liz?” he interrupted suddenly.

Without thinking, she blurted out, “Not if I have to interview you to do it.”

She waited for him to blast her back with one of the clever rejoinders that were so commonplace during their arguments. What she didn’t expect, was for his expression to fall slightly. Or for him to suddenly appear both lost and frustrated.

“Am I that bad, then?”

She stared at him, wondering where the trap was laid. Surely he hadn’t come all the way to Roswell – a place he’d professed to hate – to find…her? “Max, what are you doing here? Really?” she demanded, ignoring his last comment.

“I promised you an interview. I might be a complete asshole sometimes, but I don’t go back on my word,” he responded quietly.

She stared at him so hard that his image began to blur. “You came for the interview,” she echoed. “After everything that happened…”

“Liz, please,” he broke in. His face screwed up like he’d tasted something extremely nasty. “About the other night…I’m sorry. I’m really sorry for what I said, and what I didn’t say. I’d had a few drinks – not that it excuses anything, but—”

“What didn’t you say?”

“—but,” he paused upon registering her question, then frowned. “Well…when I alluded to the fact that you were a…a…” His face colored. “You know.”

“A whore?” she snapped. “Let’s see, what were your exact words? Oh yes, something about ‘screwing a has-been’, right?”

“I didn’t mean that.”

She eyed him speculatively. “What about me using my boyfriend in order to move myself up the ranks? Did you mean that?

He appeared both horrified and chagrined. “Did I say that?

All at once, she felt drained. Rubbing her temples, she turned away and whispered, “Is that really what you think, Max?”

“No!” he answered immediately. Then there was a moment of hesitation. “Well…maybe a little. But not anymore.”

She spun around, meeting his apologetic gaze. He threw his hands up and began pacing the room. “What was I supposed to think, Parker? You made me the butt of ridicule in your column for years, then show up unannounced only when there’s a definite threat looming over my career. You demand an interview, then blackmail me to get it. You admit you’ve been garnering inside information from a colleague of mine. What would you think?”

“I apologized for all of that!” she insisted, but felt the heat of shame crawling up her neck.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t believe you,” he replied sullenly. “At least not at first. That night I told you about my family…remember?”

How could she forget? She’d just been thinking of the same night earlier when Isabel had…oh, God. Isabel. Her face drained of color, but he didn’t seem to notice.

“I decided to trust you that night,” he continued obliviously. “I thought, ‘Man…you know there’s a good chance this’ll end up in that damn column of hers’, but I took a chance anyway.”

“I’d never print something like that,” she managed, appalled.

He glanced up and managed a sour smile. “Well, that’s nice to know. But it doesn’t really matter, you see? Because I’d already made a decision. To trust you. I just…lost sight of that for awhile.”

His words made her heart flip over. “God, Max.”

“I really am sorry,” he hurried on. “I never meant to run you out, Liz. I know how much the anchor position matters to you. I’m willing to do the interview, then I’ll leave you alone. We’ll just…go back to being strangers. Only this time, without the biting sarcasm, maybe?”

His joke fell flat, and she wondered if he were thinking of how difficult it would be for them to ever go back to acting like strangers. She’d already come to the same conclusion hours after leaving Florida, but she hadn’t quite decided what to do about it.

“Is that really what you want?”

“Isn’t it what you want?” he wondered.

“What I want is for you to stop accusing me of being after you or Kyle or anyone else to further my career,” she answered wearily, although at one point it had all been true. “I want you to believe me when I say that the days of me acting like a psychotic lunatic in my column are over.”

His mouth twitched. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

She looked over sharply, then realized he was smiling. Rolling her eyes, she mumbled, “Very funny.”

He chuckled, then his expression turned sober again. “Listen, Liz. About the whole Kyle thing…”

“Max, there’s nothing between us!” she huffed in exasperation. “All right, we went out on two dates in college. Then we kept in touch over the years because, well, we just have fun together. It’s not nor has it ever been anything serious.”

He cocked a disbelieving brow. “Are you sure Kyle knows that?”

She almost had to laugh. Despite his blatant jealousy over her supposed relationship with his teammate, he sounded as if he wanted to make sure she wasn’t playing around with Kyle’s tender feelings. It was just one more sign of the bond Max had with his team. “Yes, he knows. And even if he wasn’t sure, I clarified it when I first arrived in Tampa Bay. We’re just friends.”

His expression cleared from suspicion, then turned coy. “Friends…like we were friends?” he asked silkily, and she felt a sudden jolt of lust shoot through her.

Clearing her throat and hoping her face wouldn’t betray her, she lifted a brow. “You think we were ever really friends, Max?”

His mouth opened, but no words seemed to come out. His eyes narrowed, and she knew he was trying to determine how to respond. “Is that a trick question?”

She shrugged. “I’m just surprised that you’d think we were, considering all we ever seemed to do was argue.”

His teeth flashed. “That’s not all we ever did,” he replied huskily.

“That is definitely not going to happen again,” she managed, forcing herself to hold her ground, even as she wondered why in the world she was protesting.

“Fine,” he answered easily, and she imagined she could hear the silent addendum. For now. She resisted the urge to shiver.

A sudden knock on the door caused them both to jump, and Liz’s mother’s voice sounded only seconds before she pushed the door wide open. “Elizabeth? Sweetheart, what are you…”

Nancy Parker trailed off at the sight of her daughter and a familiar looking young man standing close together. She raised both brows. “Liz?”

“Mom!” Liz cried out. “I…I was just…” She cursed her luck and grabbed Max’s arm, dragging him forward. “Mom, you remember Max Evans?”

Nancy’s eyes widened comically. “Max? Heavens…you’ve come home? But I thought…” She trailed off, glancing between the two of them again, a shrewdness gleaming in her eyes that made Liz groan. “Hmm. Well.”

“Mother,” Liz warned. “It’s not what you thi—”

“I’m just so glad Lizzie decided to bring one of her friends after all,” Nancy bulldozed over her, taking Max by both shoulders and pressing a welcoming kiss on his cheek. “And look at you, Max! You’ve gotten so handsome! Why, the two of you make an absolutely darling couple!”

In an aside to Liz, she whispered, “You really should have told me, Liz. Would it kill you for once not to keep secrets from me?”

“I don’t keep secrets from you,” Liz snapped. “And we’re not a couple—”

“Well, how did the two of you meet? Or, re-meet?” Nancy tittered.

Max’s mouth worked like a goldfish as he shot Liz a helpless look. She was torn between the urge to cry and the desire to burst out laughing at how uncomfortable the Golden Boy looked out of his element. There was no pocket protection strong enough to withstand Nancy Parker.

“Mom, Max really needs to find a place to stay,” Liz broke in. “It’s getting late.”

“A place to stay?” Mrs. Parker blinked theatrically. “Nonsense! He’ll stay with us!

“He will?” Liz bleated at the same time Max echoed, “I will?”

Nancy looked from the distinctly horrified expression on her daughter’s face, to the thoughtful one coloring Max’s features, and hid her own grin. “Of course. Everyone knows it’s impossible to find a place to stay this late without a prior reservation. Not even taking into account the holiday…”

Liz groaned again. “She’s right. The Tumbleweed will be packed. And I don’t suppose you feel like camping in Frazier’s Woods?” she joked grumpily.

“Uh…” Was all Max got out before Nancy squealed.

“Then it’s settled! Max, you’ll stay with us…in Liz’s room.”

“What?!” Liz cried out. “Mother! What will Daddy think?”

“Your father knows you’re a grown woman, darling,” Nancy sniffed. “And besides, we don’t have to tell him…we’ll let him think Max is sleeping in the spare room that we attached to yours last year.” At this, she shot Max a wink. Liz caught him trying not to smile, which only made her that more infuriated.

“I really don’t think—”

This time it was Max who cut her off, by wrapping his muscular arm around her shoulders and giving her a squeeze. “Thanks, Mrs. Parker. It’s very kind of you to offer your lovely home.”

“Oh, ick,” Liz mumbled, and jumped when she felt Max pinch her lightly. “Hey!”

“Now, stop calling me Mrs. Parker immediately,” Liz’s mother laughed. “You simply must call me Nancy.”

“It’d be a pleasure,” Max winked. Liz fumed.

It took another ten minutes before Mrs. Parker left them alone, to the promise that Liz would help make Max as comfortable as possible – as if!! – and Liz finally turned on him with a demanding scowl.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?”

Max grinned, chucking her beneath the chin. “Remember, darling…the interview. Chin up, and all that rot.”

He walked out of the room with a whistle, and Liz struggled not to break into a smile before stomping after him.
Last edited by Applebylicious on Tue Sep 27, 2005 12:26 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Applebylicious
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Post by Applebylicious » Tue Sep 27, 2005 2:41 pm

Okay, I lied. I'm updating early, because I just found out that I have to attend a work function with my husband later tonight. I love last minute notice on things. Anyway, here's the new chapter. Don't go expecting another one until tomorrow, lol. Hope you all enjoy!

By the way, Kara, are we due for another pruning yet?



Part Nine – If You Can’t Beat Them, Arrange To Have Them Beaten


Max awakened to several delicious scents drifting upstairs from the kitchen. He turned a bleary eye toward the small clock that rested on the bedside table, grumbling beneath his breath as he realized it was shortly after six. Who in God’s name woke up at the crack of dawn on Thanksgiving?

From the sound of the shower running next door, he answered his own question with a small smirk. Suddenly he had no desire to return to sleep, and rolled over with a long yawn before falling out of bed into the pushup position. He did a few quick reps, then stood and made his way to Liz’s room, stretching.

He was still slightly irked that she’d insisted that he sleep in the guest room during the past few nights he’d been in Roswell. He’d been extremely interested in scoping out her childhood bedroom, wondering just what information on the woman he could glean from it. Something that could help him figure her out, once and for all, would be nice. Not to mention the simple fact that sleeping in the same room would rouse all sorts of interesting situations.

So far he’d had little luck on either front. Although her mother attempted to throw them together as often as possible, Liz was just as skillful at deflecting her mom’s well-meaning matchmaking. It was obviously something she’d become used to, which raised even more questions in Max’s mind.

Nancy Parker acted as if Liz never brought men home to meet her parents. That was hard for Max to fathom, and he began thinking back over some of the relationships she’d been linked to over the years that he’d come across in the media. Had none of them been serious enough to warrant a meeting with Mom and Dad? And if not, why? Surely Liz wanted to settle down…eventually.

He knew how motivated she was about her job, but he also saw aspects of her personality that hinted at a deeper longing for family. Love. Just yesterday they’d taken a walk around dusk, making inane conversation as they traveled some of the well-trodden paths of their youth. They’d ended up at, of all places, the park where he’d knocked her out with a misdirected football.

There’d been a group of children, obviously trying to get in as much playtime as possible before they were called home, and Liz had watched them with such blatant longing that Max had nearly commented. Then she’d wiped her expression clean and suggested they head home for dinner. But the image of her, laughing and playing with children of her own, had stuck with him since.

He bit back a smile, pushing open the adjoining bathroom door. Steam rushed out, making his skin slick as he stepped inside. He could hear Liz singing to herself behind the opaque shower curtain, and a devilish grin lifted his lips.

He folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against the sink counter. Not a minute later, the sound of running water stopped, and a hand slid out to grab a thick, fluffy towel. Max held his breath as the curtain was drawn back.

She was still humming the lyrics of an old Tori Amos song as she finished wrapping the towel around herself. Then she looked up and saw him, a deer-in-the-headlights expression taking over her features.

“Max! What the hell are you doing in here?”

“Sleepwalking?” he offered easily. “It is practically dark outside.”

“I…like to get up early on Thanksgiving and help Mom cook,” Liz replied with a slight flush. “I’m sorry if I woke you, but would you mind…?” She trailed off with a meaningful glance, holding the ends of her towel together more firmly. When he didn’t move, she scowled. “Let me put it in Jock Speak for you: Get the fuck out of here, Evans!”

“I need to brush my teeth,” he answered with a wounded expression. Then, “Can I borrow your toothbrush, sweetie?”

Eurgh!” A strangled sound came from her lips, and she fumbled behind her for a moment before throwing a slimy bar of soap at his head. Thanks to quick reflexes he’d perfected over the years, the soap missed him and slammed against the door.

He cocked a brow at her, shaking his head ruefully. “Now look what you’ve done. You dropped the soap.”

“Look, I know you’re probably getting a kick out of the way my mother’s fawning all over you,” Liz fumed. “It’s oh-so-hilarious. But let’s get something straight, Evans. If you call me ‘darling’ or ‘sweetie’ one more time, I’m going to—”

You look sexy as hell when you’re all wet.”

She trailed off with a helpless blow of breath, cheeks pinkening as he flashed her a wicked grin. “Come off of it, Max,” she mumbled, although with a distinct lack of heat. “And get out of here!”

He left the bathroom with a chuckle, thinking of how great it felt to finally have her feeling off-kilter. God only knew she’d done the same to him during their high school years. It’d been all he could do not to give into the sly flirtations every time they’d seen one another. But of course, back then, she’d been too young. And he’d been too intent on his burgeoning football career.

He wasn’t sure when it had ceased to matter to him that Liz Parker posed a definite threat to his focus of the game. All he knew was that it was becoming exceedingly difficult to deny that she was slowly taking over his mind. He didn’t dare justify it as anything more than an intense case of lust, but it was really starting to get out of control. Sooner or later, they were going to have to have it out.

With that delicious thought in mind, he waited until he could hear her bedroom door shut, and went to take his own – cold – shower. By the time he’d shaved and dressed, he was ready to sit back and enjoy the lovely tradition of Thanksgiving Day ball on the Parker’s big screen.

He and Liz’s father, a gruff yet somehow laid back man in his mid-fifties, had already bonded over Max’s profession. Jeff Parker remembered him as the high school football star that had come by to help wait tables at the Crashdown when he’d needed an extra buck here or there. They’d spent hours discussing running plays and offensive strategy, sleeper teams, and bad calls over the season. It was easy to see where Liz had gotten her extensive knowledge and love for the game.

He met Mrs. Parker at the bottom of the stairs, and feeling refreshed and exuberant from his interlude with Liz, planted a smacking kiss on her surprised lips. “Good morning, Gorgeous,” he grinned. “What smells amazing, besides you?”

“Max!” Nancy laughed, blushing like a young schoolgirl. “Go on with you! I hope you have a big appetite today.” She winked, patting him maternally on the cheek before disappearing into the kitchen. “Liz is on the back patio!” she called out a moment later.

Max couldn’t help but smile at the hopeful tone. He decided he’d make Mrs. Parker happy, and search after her daughter. He passed the living room and paused at the sound of Dan Patrick and Kenny Mayne discussing the day’s events on SportsCenter. He poked his head in, glanced at the TV and groaned at the headline that streaked across the screen.

<center>Golden Boy Finds Way Home After Ten-Year Absence</center>


“Home?” Dan Patrick’s voice was saying in amusement. “I wasn’t aware he had one. When has he ever talked about it? I thought he was one of those, you know, those guys who just suddenly appear out of nowhere.”

“Sounds like you’re talking about UFO’s,” Kenny joked. “I’m pretty sure Max Evans isn’t an alien.”

“Well, he is from Roswell…”

Max blocked out the conversation, rubbing his temples. Somehow he’d known the truth would leak out eventually, but he’d hoped to conceal his whereabouts at least until he was back in Tampa Bay. That way there wouldn’t be overt questions about why he hadn’t stopped by to see his family during the holiday. God, his family. Despite himself, he couldn’t help but wonder if they now knew he was in town. Not that it would make a damn difference to them.

Damn airport officials. One of them had surely told some overeager reporter that he’d left…

A sudden, sickening thought filled his mind and he found himself stomping toward the back door with a dark expression. He heard the sounds of laughter, recognized Liz’s, and threw the door open, barking, “Liz!”

He caught sight of her, face flushed with pleasure that faded rapidly into concern when she noted his expression.

“Max…what’s wrong? What happened?”

He motioned silently for her to follow him, and was mildly surprised when he heard her footsteps behind him as he turned and stalked back to the living room. As they entered, he thrust a hand toward the TV and spat, “Did you know about this?”

“Know about…” She blinked in confusion, glancing at the television. A gasp slipped her lips, and she slid noiselessly into the couch. “Oh, no…how’d they find out?”

He eyed her carefully. “You mean, you didn’t tell them?”

“Tell them? Of course not!” she cried out.

At the palpable offense coloring her features, he relaxed. She was telling the truth. Not that he’d actually believed she would have ratted him out – after all, what would she have to gain from it? She wouldn’t be the one reporting the story – but he hadn’t been able to keep the thought from forming.

“I can’t believe it…you still think I’d…” She trailed off, a wounded expression on her face. “Max, I didn’t say anything. I promise.”

“I know you didn’t,” he answered wearily, sinking onto the cushion beside her. “I just wasn’t expecting to see that—“ he gestured towards the TV “—plastered all over the screen this morning. Goddamn vultures,” he added darkly.

She nibbled her lip. “Do they know you’re…here?” she wondered anxiously.

“I dunno,” he replied absently, watching the news report with a sinking stomach. “Christ, please don’t let the local papers pick this shit up…last thing I need…”

“Liz? Where’d you go?” a laughing female voice called from the hallway, and Liz jerked beside him. He quirked a questioning brow, and heard her mumble something beneath her breath.

“Spending time with your Chosen One? Who’d Nancy pick out this time? Let’s have a looksie…”

Maria DeLuca – because Max simply couldn’t think of anyone else who could possibly be as perky and eccentric as the petite blond walking into the room – came to a crashing halt as she caught sight of him, green eyes widening comically. “M-Max? Max Evans? Is that you?” she sputtered in disbelief.

He stood up, managing a smile despite his current irritation. “Maria, it’s been a long time.”

“Yes, it’s certainly been that.” Maria’s eyes drifted toward Liz, curiosity shining. “Liz didn’t mention you were…joining her this weekend.” He read the underlying censure in her tone, and stiffened.

“Is that a problem?” he wondered coolly, trying to determine what issue Maria could possibly have with him. They’d always gotten along well enough back in high school; Maria had even commiserated with him more than once over his plight with Liz. She’d understood what Liz hadn’t then – that a relationship between the two of them would have been disastrous. Not to mention illegal.

It was Liz who spoke up. “I would have told you, Maria, but I didn’t know he was joining us, either.” Her wry tone dispelled some of the tension in the room, and Max and Maria stopped glaring at each other. “Max is here for an interview.”

“An interview?” Maria’s brows cleared. “An interview, of course. I can’t believe I thought…” She trailed off with a sheepish laugh. “”I mean, everyone knows that the two of you can’t stand…good Lord, I must be jet-lagged to have even imagined—”

“We drove, honey,” another voice interrupted, and Max glanced over to see a tall man with thick arms and dark brown hair enter the room. He came up to Maria, looping an arm fondly around her waist. “Therefore, it’s impossible for you to be jet-lagged.”

“Hmph,” Maria replied. “Do you eavesdrop on all private conversations, Michael, or just mine?”

Max’s ears pricked. “Michael? As in, Michael Guerin?” he questioned, eyeing the dark, surly male with speculation.

“The one and only. Always a pleasure to meet a superstar,” Michael joked, reaching out to shake Max’s hand. In a quieter tone, he nodded toward Liz and added, “I see I was able to help, after all.”

“More than you know,” Max murmured, glancing over. “She’s a little stubborn.”

“She’s a hard worker. She’ll get the job done.”

“Um, would you two mind not discussing me as if I’m not in the room?” Liz asked in a frostily polite tone. “Michael, I need to talk to you. Now.”

She didn’t wait for Michael’s assent; simply took him by the arm and dragged him from the room. Max watched them leave, brows raised, then looked toward Maria. “Well, that was interesting.”

“What are you doing here?” Maria wondered. “I thought you and Liz hated each other.”

“What makes you think that? You haven’t seen me for ten years.”

Maria acknowledged this with a nod. “True. But I have seen Liz. And I’ve read her columns. She doesn’t exactly think highly of you, now does she?”

“Maybe you’re reading into something that’s none of your business.” Max offered a dangerous smile. “For all you know, Liz and I have kissed and made up.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Have you?” she asked pointedly.

Max debated on leading her on with a vague statement, but couldn’t quite bring himself to lie about Liz and himself, even to as nosy a friend as Maria. Instead, he dodged the question and answered with, “I’m here because I owe Liz an exclusive interview.”

“And this…interview just happens to take place in Liz’s family home over the Thanksgiving holiday?” Maria replied dryly. “Do I look like a pendejo to you?”

“Uh…maybe?” Max scratched his head. “What’s that mean? And why in Christ’s name are you speaking another language, anyway?”

Maria glowered at him. “It’s Spanish for dumbass, you dumbass. And I’m taking an online foreign language course.”

“Oh. Of course,” Max answered with a roll of his eyes. “Whatever. Look, Maria, what’s up your ass, anyway?”

“I want to know if you plan on hurting Liz again,” Maria straightened her shoulders and met his gaze head-on. “Like you did the last time the two of you were together in Roswell.”

Uh, oh. Liz had obviously confided the events of graduation night to her best friend. Max wasn’t sure why he hadn’t figured it out before. He released a short sigh. “Maria, this really isn’t any of your bus—”

“Don’t tell me this isn’t any of my business, Max,” she hissed, stepping forward and jabbing him in the chest with a long fingernail. “Just because you’re some hot-shot football player doesn’t mean you can fuck around with my friends. Liz is very sensitive and caring—”

Max had to laugh outright at that statement, thinking of the many scathing reports Liz had written about him over the years. “I think Liz can take care of herself, trust me.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that this interview was Liz’s idea in the first place,” Max answered, beginning to grow annoyed. “So why don’t you go bug her about it?”

“Oh, I intend to. I’ll find out what’s really going on around here…don’t think I won’t.”

Max just shook his head in exasperation, as Michael suddenly reappeared. Liz followed, and Max blinked at the realization that she’d pulled on a worn out Colts jersey over her shirt. She held a football in one hand, and cocked a brow at his expression.

Michael grinned. “Anyone up for a quick game? Today’s the day, after all.”

“Michael, I’m wearing Manolo's,” Maria whined, wrinkling her nose at Liz’s outfit. “I can’t believe you’d wear that willingly, woman.”

Max thought she looked hot, despite the fact that she was wearing one of his rivals’ jerseys, and found he was having a hard time not gawking in appreciation as he took in the sight of her in her football gear. He stepped forward slowly, watching her eyes as he reached out a finger and traced it down the bold number 18 on her chest. “Peyton Manning?” he sneered.

Her eyes had widened at his touch, but then she lifted her nose. “I happen to think he’s an amazing player,” she retorted. “And very nice.” Her narrowed gaze dared him to say more – and he would have, if they’d been alone – but he simply shook his head and moved back.

“Manning’s a nancy boy.”

“Oh, ho,” she answered sharply. “Strong words about a player who’s broken nearly every quarterback record in the League. You know what, Max? I think you’re just…”

His brows narrowed as she drew the sentence out, her brown eyes lighting with wickedness. “Don’t you dare—”

“…jealous,” she finished triumphantly.

He growled low in his throat, then turned to where a bemused Michael and Maria were watching the byplay between them. “Guys against girls,” he snapped. “And we’re playing tackle.”

“Fine by me,” Liz responded, turning on her heel so fast that her ponytail nearly caught him in the face. “Last team outside loses the coin toss!”

“But Liz, I’m wearing Manol—”

Max tuned out Maria as he ran after her, ready to make Liz Parker – finally – put her money where her mouth was. And, oh, was he going to enjoy every moment of it.
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