Page 6 of 7
Posted: Sat Sep 27, 2003 10:33 pm
Okay, another explanation. This was supposed to be the last "real time" chapter, and then an epilog. However, I didn't get enough writing time in this week, so I've only got half the chapter written. As a result, you're getting that half (still 13 pages long!) and the second half next week. I guess that's a good news/ bad news situation.
Oh, and THANKS to the several people who nominated my story and the fanfic awards site. I'm very touched, and whether or not this gets tangible results, I appreciate you all so very much.
Okay, here's your half-chapter . . .
From Part 43
Alex had stopped to watch the remote moving toward his two uncles. Without warning, he held out his arm and the remote shot off the floor, glanced off his small hand, and landed back on the floor at Alex’s feet. He had retrieved it successfully, but his hand was too small to hold onto it. Unperturbed, he bent, grasped it by the narrow end, and turned to Max, offering up his prize.
A wide-eyed Max took the remote. “Thank you, Alex.”
Alex offered him a quick smile, then moved on to more interesting matters, like the straps of Liz’s sandals that criss-crossed her foot.
“Now you’ve got a name, too,” Maria laughed. “But between ‘Muk’ and ‘Muks,’ you’ll have to listen pretty closely.”
What Alex called him was the least of their problems, Max thought as he watched their charge blithely investigating his world. They had to figure out a way to control these impulses, or they’d never be able to let the boy out of the house!
“I’m going to try something, but Alex can’t be distracted at all. Let me take him into the bedroom; you all wait out here.”
Max, what are you going to do?
Liz’s thoughts drew Max’s eyes back to her. Out loud he said, “I’m going to try to connect with him. I don’t know if he’ll be able to understand anything, but it’s worth a try. Parents on Antar must have had this same problem, except they didn’t have to keep it a secret.”
Everyone looked skeptical, including Max, but since no one had a better idea, they watched silently as Max picked up Alex and disappeared into the bedroom.
Whether he was picking up on Max’s serious vibes or just interested in the change of activity, Alex turned his unnervingly intent look on Max as they entered the bedroom. Max settled him in the center of the bed, then lowered himself down next to him, hunkering down to keep their eye contact as level as possible.
“Hey, Alex. We need to talk. Somehow, I have to make you understand that you’re special, but that it has to be our secret for a while. I’m going to touch your face, okay, little guy? Keep looking at me. That’s it.”
Max had no idea what to expect when he connected with Alex. This was a first on several different levels, and he had to take things slowly. Alex seemed neither restless nor worried, but Max was both, fearing that Alex wouldn’t let him in or would be overpowered by the mental intrusion. Max reached out to touch Alex’s face very gently, surprised at how the toddler continued to hold his gaze. Then the other hand completed the contact. Still no resistance. And then he was in.
It was like walking through a dream—impressions, half-thoughts, blurred images. Everything he could see through Alex’s mind looked big and confusing, but not scary. He wasn’t afraid of much, that was certain. But this was virgin territory. Max had always limited these forays into another person’s consciousness to just sharing memories or thoughts. This time, he knew he needed to influence Alex, and that was something he was both inexperienced in and uncomfortable with.
Max wandered gingerly through this little person’s mind, fascinated by his perspective, yet a little frustrated at how limited Alex’s understanding was likely to be. Pictures. That was how he needed to start. Show him pictures of things he’d done, and then try to create the impression that he shouldn’t do them. Max started with the recent memory of the pool, inserting an image of the scene with little Sarah. This time, as they recreated the memory through Alex’s eyes, when he reached his hand out to touch Sarah, Max pulled it gently away with a mild warning.
Alex tried to reconstruct the scene again, more resistant this time when Max pulled his arm away. There was a trace of frustration underlying his attempt to touch Sarah in spite of Max’s interference. Finally, the scene played out a third time, and Alex was mentally fighting Max, determined—even in memory—to reach out to the little girl.
Using only one example would likely just bewilder Alex, Max realized, leaving him with the impression that what he was doing was inherently or always wrong. Patiently, Max helped recreate the scene over and over, allowing him to complete the gesture with the image of Serena, then stopping it with Sarah. Allowing it with Kyle, stopping it with Sarah. He continued the alternating pattern, permitting the touch with all of the familiar people in Alex’s life, but stopping it with Sarah, and then with the other baby who had been in the pool this afternoon. As they stepped through the list, Alex seemed to catch on to the lesson—it was okay with the adults who cared for him, not okay with other people.
Fearing the connection might be draining Alex, Max broke it off, watching carefully for signs of extreme fatigue or distress, but Alex seemed content to watch Max, a glimmer of understanding and curiosity in his eyes. Only time would tell if this lesson would make any lasting impression. Tomorrow, Max decided, he would talk to Kyle and Serena and explain what he’d done. He hoped to get permission to continue these sessions with Alex every day, if it looked like he was retaining any of it overnight.
Sitting there facing each other on the bed, the two aliens just observed one another. The atmosphere was quiet, but charged with a new relationship. Perhaps Alex was aware of something here that he had not experienced with the others, or maybe he just enjoyed the full attention of one of “his adults.” Whatever the reason, Max couldn’t help but be charmed when Alex crawled into his lap and began to scan the room with interest. He’d never been in Max and Liz’s room before, and his insatiable curiosity had plenty of exploring to do.
Max let himself relax, intensely aware of this small heated weight nestled in the well his crossed legs created. There was a life force flowing from Alex that energized him, and he wondered if that was the case with any baby or just alien ones.
“You are going to have some kind of life, Alex Crawford-Valenti,” Max murmured aloud. “You will grow up among so many people who care about you and you’ll have such wonderful experiences. And if I have anything to say about it, you’ll have some others like you to play with. I expect you to help take care of my little girl one day. You gonna be up for that? Hmmm?”
Alex waved his arms excitedly, and Max wondered briefly if what he’d said had actually penetrated that fuzzy baby brain, when suddenly, a small plush alien doll sailed toward them and fell into Alex’s lap. Alex picked it up and waved it triumphantly at Max, grinning broadly.
Max sighed. “Yeah, well, I guess we have a few things to work on first, huh?”
Maybe it was just his imagination, but Max swore he saw an impish intent in those eyes. He chuckled in spite of himself. This wasn’t going to be easy.
Max climbed slowly from a deep, satisfying sleep. A vague, unfamiliar feeling nudged at his semi-consciousness, and he reached for it, trying to understand. Something was different, though he couldn’t put his finger on it. The warmth nestled close to him was off somehow, a not-Liz warmth, and he frowned, struggling to interpret what wasn’t right.
His opened his eyes with effort, much preferring the dark dreaminess that still beckoned. At first, he didn’t understand what he was seeing; it wasn’t Liz, and that in itself was disconcerting. Within seconds, though, he realized the blue eyes looking back at him belonged to a small boy. A very small boy. And that boy was watching him intently.
“Hi,” he whispered, giving in to the urge to stroke the petal-soft cheek with his finger. A tremulous smile rounded the cheek even more, and Max felt a new sort of warmth spread through his chest.
The intent look didn’t alter, and Max allowed himself to just enjoy the quiet moment. He raised his head long enough to see Liz curled comfortably on Alex’s other side, and he flashed yet again on the happy image of the family they would one day have.
As Max and Alex stared at each other in silent communion, Max pondered the expressions that peeked from behind the wide, innocent eyes. Something about Alex seemed older, wiser than it should, and yet he was so often the typical baby, full of unsteady steps, delighted smiles, and frustrated tantrums. What was going on in that mind of his? He knew from their connection the night before that he was still figuring out his world, still unsure and confused by much of his life. And yet . . .
Max watched with interest as Alex slid a pudgy hand toward him, then opened the relaxed fist to clamp moist fingers around one of Max’s. The smile that began to form on Max’s lips was instantly replaced by a gaping “oh” as Alex initiated their connection. Several scenes from their session yesterday, including the one where he stopped himself from helping Sarah, came through, and an expression of baby-like pride crossed his features at Max’s look of wonder.
“Alex, you remembered. You learned!” Now Alex’s tremulous smile grew more confident, and it was all Max could do not to whoop with excitement. He had not only gotten through to Alex, he had proof that some of what he’d try to teach him had stuck! He wanted to laugh out loud, but kept it trapped between pressed lips and puffed cheeks. Then all the air whooshed from his lungs as a bigger revelation took hold.
Alex had initiated a connection.
Liz stirred, then sat up, awakened by a sound of some kind. Like whispering. Or a gasp. Her eyes found Max’s immediately, but they weren’t focused on her; they were riveted to the face of the baby who lay calmly between them.
“Max, is something wrong?”
Max’s wide-eyed shock gradually morphed into pleased incredulity. A smile crept wider across his face and he finally turned his attention to her.
“Liz, Alex just reached over to me and made a connection.”
Looking groggy and befuddled, Liz worked to untangle this bit of news.
“He connected with you?”
Max only nodded his head, his gaze returning to Alex. Alex, however, was less impressed with the whole exchange than Max was, and turned to Liz expectantly, apparently realizing that he was, in fact, hungry.
“I’ll fix his cereal; you change him. I think I need a minute to wake up before we talk about this.”
Max found himself grinning down at Alex as he changed the soggy diaper, his mind whirring with what this could mean in terms of educating and, to be honest, controlling the inevitable progeny of hybrid/human—or maybe it was hybrid/“changed” human—couples. This would have an impact on his methods of both fathering and teaching, and he was the pioneer. There were no books, no courses, no roadmaps for this journey. He’d be the one writing those books—so to speak, and this was an exciting beginning.
Max refocused from his distant vision, and beamed at Alex. “Looks like we’ll be spending a lot of time together, little guy.”
He hoisted Alex against his chest and joined Liz in the kitchen. Gathering her in with his free arm, he kissed her soundly, then grabbed a bib from the diaper bag that lay open on the counter. Swinging Alex’s chunky legs into place within the portable high chair, he turned to Liz, continuing his internal conversation, in spite of the fact that she hadn’t heard the beginning of it.
“I wonder how I should go about it. Do you think a short time period together every day? Or is every day too much at his age? What if I can’t do it with all of them? Or what if they don’t want to? I mean . . . if they resist, then what? I can’t force it, but on the other hand . . .”
He looked up, but his mind was still busy elsewhere.
“What on earth are you talking about?”
He stared at her, confused, until he realized what he’d been doing. The two of them had concluded, since settling into more of a routine life, that sharing their thoughts needed to be a conscious choice and not a constant dialogue. It kept them sane . . . and safer, relationship-wise, since they knew random, meaningless thoughts could be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and mis-takes.
His expression cleared, then turned contrite. He stepped across the room and wrapped her in a hug, breathing in the scent of sleep and babies.
“I’m sorry. I started that whole stream of conscious in my head, forgetting that you weren’t there.”
He released her, but kept his hands on her, sweeping rogue strands of hair from her face. She was waiting patiently for his explanation.
“In the other room, Alex not only connected with me of his own free will, he also showed me scenes that I had projected to him yesterday when I was trying to help him understand about not using his powers with anyone but the six of us. He understood, Liz! He knows. We have a real connection now, and I have a way to help him understand what he needs to know. It’s amazing! But I’ll need to work with him often; I was asking you how often you think would be good.”
The grin had returned, and he waited for her to react. Her smile was genuine, but reserved.
“What?” he frowned, disappointed.
“It is wonderful, Max. I can only imagine all the implications, but . . .”
“But what?” He was getting a little defensive now.
“But you’re not his father.”
Max blinked. “I know.”
“Max, I’m just thinking about Kyle. He left Alex with us for one night so he could have some time with Serena, and what he gets back is a boy who is connecting with another adult male who is the only one who can control him. It kind of makes Kyle a little superfluous, doesn’t it? How’s he going to feel about that?”
There was an uncomfortable silence as Max pondered her words. “I just want to help, Liz. I’m not trying to be Alex’s father. I don’t want to be his father. But someone needs to teach him about using his powers—or rather, not using them—and Kyle and Serena can’t do it. What am I supposed to do?”
Liz set a bowl of instant oatmeal laced with a single drop of Tabasco sauce on the table in front of Alex. She couldn’t believe it, but Serena had given her the instructions. Having observed Max and Michael, she’d tried it with Alex and discovered he ate much better with just a hint of the hot sauce. Now his hook-to-the-table high chair bounced rhythmically as the little feet swung in anticipation.
“It’s just that Kyle has really taken to the idea of being a dad. It’s turned everything around for him, and he’s happy, I think. For the first time in a long while. I don’t want to jeopardize that.”
The two sat at the table with Alex, fingers twining and untwining as they thought.
“Here’s an idea,” Max said suddenly, a sly smile returning to his face.
Serena was almost ready to leave for work when Max and Liz arrived at her apartment with Alex. Kyle greeted them at the door and immediately reached for his son, his eyes alight with happiness.
“I missed you, dude,” he grinned, lifting Alex high to zerbert his stomach. “Did you miss Daddy?”
Alex let out a gleeful screech, and Serena laughed at the sound as she walked in from the bedroom, glowing in a way that Liz had never seen her before. She absolutely radiated happiness, and it was clear that whatever had happened between her and Kyle the night before had filled them both with a joy that shone from within. She wondered if she had looked like that yesterday after her night of passionate loving with Max. She hoped so. It was obvious, but it was beautiful.
“I hope he behaved for you,” Serena said, coming to wrap her arms around her favorite men.
“He was perfect,” Liz assured her.
“No alien incidents?” she inquired casually, her eyes drinking in the happy faces within her embrace. Liz and Max were barely there for her in that moment.
Max flipped Liz an uncomfortable look. They had agreed to let him breech the subject as he saw fit. After all, he was the only one who could really explain it.
“No, not really. Except, well . . .”
The hesitant voice didn’t fit in the conversation, and both Serena and Kyle turned their attention to Max.
“Well, there was one small thing, . . .” he rushed to finish his sentence as an appalled look began to seize their faces. “. . . but no bad consequences! It’s all fine, really. In fact, it worked out great, because we learned something from it that should really help.”
“What’s that?” Kyle asked, a hint of skepticism on his face.
“Well, Alex saw a little girl—just a baby, really—upset down in the baby pool, and he was concerned, so he went over to her and . . . he just touched her, but his hand glowed a little . . .”
“What?!” This time it was Serena, slack-jawed and pale in milliseconds. “Who saw him? What did he do?”
Liz left Max’s side and put an arm around Serena. “It was fine, Serena. We were the only ones who saw.”
“But we took him home and were brainstorming with Michael and Maria about how to raise a part-alien child in a human environment, you know? And then I had an idea. And it worked! I think.”
“What did you do to him?” Kyle looked more worried than angry.
“I connected with him.”
“You did what?” Kyle’s expression was closed, tight. Max rushed on.
“I was real gentle, Kyle, and I was ready to abandon it the second he seemed upset or anything, but he was fine with it. In fact, we spent quite a while together, and through the connection, we went through scenarios where I’d stop him from using his powers with anyone but the six of us. And this morning, when he woke up, he connected with me on his own and played a couple of them back! It was amazing, Kyle. He initiated the connection and he remembered what we’d worked on. At least some of it.”
Max watched the emotions play across Kyle’s face, and knew without a doubt that Liz had nailed it. Kyle was seeing himself losing the special bond with his son by virtue of not being an alien. This was going to take some explaining.
continued in next post
Posted: Sat Sep 27, 2003 10:35 pm
Part 44 continued
Kyle eyed Max Evans and was suddenly and completely sick of seeing his face. Every relationship that was important to him had been lessened by this man’s presence. Liz. Tess. Even his father. And now his son. Goddamn it, when did he get something that was just his?
Serena’s hand came to rest on his shoulder, and one look at her worried face told him he was scowling.
“So now you take over raising my son?” He could hear the bitterness in his own voice, but he didn’t care. Enough was enough. “Because surely a paltry human can’t handle it, right?”
“Kyle.” The exact same admonishment in the exact same tone came from both women, and he almost laughed. Every woman defended this man. He might as well be God. His eyes shot daggers as all the old baggage came hurtling to the surface.
“Kyle, I don’t want to raise your son. He’s your son.”
“And that just galls you, doesn’t it, Evans? I had the alien baby first. Sort of stole your thunder, didn’t I?”
Max had been prepared for some hesitation, even reluctance, but the open anger Kyle felt came as a surprise.
“No, Kyle. This has nothing to do with that. I came to tell you that I think maybe you and Alex can share a connection, and I’d like to help you try. It might make things easier.”
Kyle felt mildly appeased, but still resentful and guarded. And frankly, he was at the point where he didn't want Max's help. What he wanted was Max's absence.
"This help doesn't involve adopting my son, does it?"
It was Serena. Just looking at her eased his heart . . . until she spoke.
"You're being an ass again. Just so you know."
Her tone was soft and kind, so he had to run her comment through his brain a second time. He wished he hadn't. He opened his mouth to contradict her, realizing somewhat belatedly that he couldn't. She was right. He was being an ass. Why couldn't he let go of some of this stuff? It was always just below the surface, waiting to make him look like an idiot. Still, he had his pride, and Max had wounded it so many times, it never really healed. And that, in truth, was what this was about. But he had a son; he had Serena; he had a job and friends and what the hell was he complaining about?
"Sorry, Evans," he sighed, hating to apologize yet again. "Don't know why I'm so touchy."
Max's barely audible words could have meant anything, but when the men's eyes locked, the meaning was crystal clear. Max knew where he was coming from, Kyle now realized. Max's pride had taken a lifetime of beatings. He had grown up with a heart full of hopes that he knew could never be realized. And his life had been more complicated than anyone's. He of all people knew what it was to never be able to have what he really wanted—a normal life. But his life turned a corner the day Liz was shot, and he had found home. Now, Kyle knew, it was his turn; he was at that same life-altering crossroad where what he'd been hoping and praying for had finally come to him, and he'd found home.
The tension level dropped like a stone, and Kyle's face eased.
"Yeah, I think you do."
There was a gap in the conversation, and Serena stepped into it with grace. "Come on, everyone. Have a seat and tell us your idea, Max."
They began to settle on the furniture in couples when Max suddenly moved toward Kyle. "We should sit together, with Alex," he suggested. Serena moved to Liz's side and the men sat at angles, almost facing. Alex squirmed in Kyle's arms, impatient with the lack of freedom.
"Muks," he said, holding out his arms to someone he thought might put him down and let him wander.
Max chuckled. "Not yet, Alex. We need you for this."
Alex raised his hand, scowling, and Max's eyes widened. "Oh, no you don't." He pressed Alex's hand down to his side and opened a connection. A scene scampered through Alex's mind in which two quick scenarios played: in the first, Alex used his powers and then stayed inside with angry parents; in the second, he didn't use his powers and he got to go outside to play. Alex pouted at Max, but left his arm lowered when Max released him.
"Well, that was interesting," Kyle drawled sarcastically. "And how is it, exactly, that this system of control helps us?"
"Kyle, your abilities have come on early and fast, probably because you were healed twice. In just a few weeks, you've gone from no powers to being able to read other people's moods at will. That's a telepathic gift. At the same time, Alex has already proved himself to be more powerful than any of us—probably because he's the product of a hybrid and a human who was already changing when he was conceived. He initiated a connection with me, and he's only 11 months old. I think, with some practice, maybe you two can connect."
Kyle stared at him, and Serena looked a little scared, or at least very dubious. "I don't know, Max," Kyle stuttered, "I mean, connecting . . . that's pretty heavy stuff. I don't know if I can do it . . . or even if I should."
"Kyle," Liz soothed, "I understand how spooky this seems, but honestly, you saw it just now. It works. At least sometimes. I'm sure Alex will just defy it at some point, but even so, it may be the only tool you have. Max is willing to work with him, too, but only as much as you think he should. Meanwhile, you need to be able to raise him with some level of discipline, because once he understands what he can do, someone has to be able to set limits. He may be advanced, but he's still just a little boy."
Kyle sat looking at Alex, who was currently fascinated with the Velcro straps on his shoes.
"Do you think I can do it?"
"I think it's a good possibility," Max said. "But it'll take a little practice. You and I have done this twice, but only when you were badly hurt and barely conscious. We need to connect while we're both very aware of what's going on, so you can feel what it's like to have someone else in your mind. It's important that you know what Alex is feeling."
"We have to connect?" He could feel the old hackles rising again, in spite of his efforts to quell them.
Max smiled, and Kyle knew he'd given himself away again. "The first time I ever connected with Liz, I had no idea what I was doing," Max told him. "I was desperate for her not to be afraid of me, but I was also scared that I would overwhelm her."
Max looked over at Liz, and Kyle saw for the thousandth time the instant spark between them. She was looking at him with a Mona Lisa smile on her face and a faraway look in her eye, and he knew they were back there again—to that first connection, the one that changed Kyle's life without his even knowing it.
He looked over at Serena. She was watching them, too. It was hard not to. And yet as he watched her watching them, he knew there was a similar look on his face. He loved her. So much. It was still sinking in just how much, and suddenly anything was possible.
"Let's do it."
Max's head snapped back, and Kyle saw him return from his fond memory. Max stood and Kyle followed suit, leaving Alex on the sofa staring at them in open fascination. He seemed to sense the energy begin to boil.
"Okay, I'm going to touch you, and you try to make your mind blank out."
He lifted his hands to Kyle's shoulders while Kyle breathed deeply and wondered how one makes one's mind blank out. As he exhaled, though, Max suddenly looked back over to Liz, a guilty smirk on his face.
"Because I wanted to touch your face, that's why. I had very different motives that night."
Liz managed to grin and look reproachful at the same time.
"What are you talking about?" Kyle asked.
"Nothing," Max grinned. "Liz just wanted to know why . . . never mind."
Liz giggled, and Kyle rolled his eyes. "Whatever."
With Max's hands on his shoulders, Kyle locked eyes with his alien friend and hoped for the best. He found it difficult not to think of anything; he had questions and worries and issues, but this was too important to screw up, so he determinedly beat back his errant thoughts. Calling upon his Buddhist meditation techniques, he centered himself, and . . . to use his own word for it . . . zoned.
With a jolt, Max was in his mind, sharing images of coming to Roswell for the first time, without friends or memories or even speech; seeing Liz at school that first day and knowing immediately she was meant for him; the flash of decision when Liz was shot; his anger with Michael for melting the lock on Kyle's locker; saving Kyle's life and the internal battle he had fought before exposing his alien side once and for all in front of the sheriff; the intense, debilitating hurt of seeing Kyle in bed with Liz followed by a grudging respect that Kyle would help Liz without question when she was desperate—once the truth was out about Future Max; the weight of responsibility as they fled Roswell after graduation to find a life where they could be safe. Even in the midst of connection, Kyle knew Max had selected these images carefully, sharing vulnerable parts of himself that might help Kyle understand who he was. It was working.
As Max pulled back mentally, Kyle felt his encouragement to share images of his own. Kyle wasn't nearly so skilled or disciplined, though, and what came through was a jumble of images that were important to Kyle, but not all were ones he would have chosen to share: his father telling him his mother had left; his pride at being one of Roswell's most popular athletes; his early loathing of Max as a threat to his relationship with Liz; his jealousy when his father seemed to care more about where Max Evans was than where his own son was; his smug satisfaction at Max's face when viewed from Liz's bed; being almost buried alive with Alex; the fear of knowing he might be turning into an alien; his shock at learning he was a father; his first lovemaking with Serena just the night before.
The images flew through their minds subliminally; they had come and gone before Kyle could even register them enough to stop the flow. The shock of inadvertently sharing those private emotions with Max broke the connection, and he pulled back with a convulsive gasp.
Their eyes stayed locked, and the silent moment between them was filled with emotion and deep understanding as they took an unspoken vow to keep what they had shared private. And with that vow, as firm and undeniable as any signed contract, they found a new respect for each other. Walk a mile in my shoes. See how the other half lives. Recognizing the clichés in spite of his shock, Kyle settled on the one that he knew was true: this would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
He was trembling, and when his knees buckled, he found himself sitting on the sofa next to his son. He looked back up at Max, still amazed, but worried, too.
"How am I supposed to do that with Alex? I don't even know what you did."
A trace of a grimace flashed across Max’s face, a sure sign that he didn’t really have an answer.
“I don’t know, Kyle, but I’m thinking that maybe Alex will open your connection instinctively. Now that you’ve experienced it, at least you’ll know how it feels and what to do if he does.”
Kyle’s gaze fell to his son, and he couldn’t help but smile. Alex was watching him with that trademark intensity he demonstrated so often, and he answered Kyle’s smile with one of his own.
“Da!” he said happily, pleased to have his father’s attention. Then he pulled the Velcro strap of his shoe open and looked up again proudly. Kyle laughed.
“Great. Now we’ll spend half our time trying to find your shoes.”
Serena moved toward them looking hesitant. “I don’t suppose Alex and I could ever do this, since I’m just . . .”
“Normal?” Kyle arched an eyebrow at her, half teasing, half serious.
“No! Just . . . you know . . . unchanged or whatever.”
Liz tried unsuccessfully to suppress a chuckle, and all three faces swung toward her.
“I’m sorry,” she smiled sheepishly. “It’s just that for a second there, it was like listening to this conversation from outside—like outside our little group, and it just sounds . . . like sci fi,” she shrugged. “I mean, how many people could actually have this conversation with a straight face?”
That won her an amused twitch of the eyebrow from Max, a sarcastic snort from Kyle, and a startled expression from Serena.
“I guess you’re right,” she said with a slight laugh. “When I think about my life three months ago versus now, it does seem like I’ve taken a walk on the weird side.”
Then, at Kyle’s hurt pout, she hastened to add, “But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” She leaned down and kissed both Kyle and Alex on the cheek.
Kyle, satisfied with the outcome, lifted Alex to his lap. “So, little guy, do you think we can connect? ‘Cause I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Alex merely smiled again, seemingly unaware of what was being asked of him. Then he reached toward Serena, wanting to be picked up. Kyle looked back up at Max, hoping for some advice.
“Give it time, Kyle,” Max suggested. “He initiated it with me this morning, but we’d already connected once. You may just have to wait until he’s ready.”
“And what if we can’t, Max? What if this is something he can only do with you, or God forbid, Guerin? No offense, but I’m not looking to live in a commune.” He glanced at Serena, and saw her imperceptible nod of agreement, feeling his body go on alert at the knowing look in her eye.
“Believe me,” Max assured him quickly, “neither am I.” He reached for Liz instinctively, and she stepped into his arms. None of them wanted to relinquish their privacy, not even to stay near Alex.
“Tell you what,” Liz said. “I’ll walk Serena down to work and let you guys work on this. We may be distracting him too much.”
“Good idea,” Serena agreed. “I’m already late, anyway.”
Immediately, Kyle stood and reached for Serena, just as Max pulled Liz in close. The goodbye kisses that, for many couples, might have been a quick and remote routine, were anything but. Fortunately, they were both so lost in their own lingering goodbyes, they had neither the time nor inclination to tease the other. When they parted, the women looked mildly dazed and the men looked mildly hungry. All looked happy with the result.
As the door closed behind them, Liz leaned toward Serena conspiratorially. “That was some kiss, Serena. I take it last night went well?”
A brilliant smile set Serena glowing, and Liz couldn’t help but return it.
“Liz, he’s so . . . wonderful. He was sweet and sensitive and so incredibly . . .” A shiver finished her sentence and her eyes drifted away to a beautiful memory. “I can’t wait until tonight!”
At that, the two women laughed together, and walked, arm in arm, toward the elevators.
Posted: Sat Oct 04, 2003 11:17 pm
Well, here we are, folks. The End. Sort of. What you are about to read is the Conclusion of Chameleon: Present Day. What will follow in the weeks to come are (I think) 3 epilogs that will give us a glimpse at significant events in the future. I hope that you all have enjoyed the trip, and will stick with me just a little longer. But whether you do or not, you will always have my profound gratitude for adding immeasurably to the joy the Rosworld has brought me. Thank you.
From Part 44
Kyle, satisfied with the outcome, lifted Alex to his lap. “So, little guy, do you think we can connect? ‘Cause I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Alex merely smiled again, seemingly unaware of what was being asked of him. Then he reached toward Serena, wanting to be picked up. Kyle looked back up at Max, hoping for some advice.
“Give it time, Kyle,” Max suggested. “He initiated it with me this morning, but we’d already connected once. You may just have to wait until he’s ready.”
It was a frustrating 40-plus minutes, and Max could see the tension building in Kyle as his son failed to make a move to connect with him. Restless and persistent, Alex kept toddling to the door and looking hopefully at his two potential playmates. The air was growing brittle and, Max couldn't help but think, counterproductive.
"Why don't we take a break," Max suggested. "We'll take him outside for a while."
Kyle scowled, then sighed. "Yeah, it's better than pissin' each other off in here."
Shoes located and fitted to an excited Alex, the men grabbed a couple of tennis racquets and went down to the courts. If they were empty, which at this hour of the day was entirely possible, they could let Alex chase some balls and burn off some of that endless toddler energy. The plan was a success. Fortunately, Max noted, Alex was only tempted to use his powers when he couldn't get what he wanted the human way, so he was delighted to chase after errant balls. Running on chunky legs, he would home in on his target, lean down with precarious balance to grab it--which took two hands--and then return with it to whichever man was closer, beaming a proud smile. Soon, the tension left them, and they were enjoying themselves immensely. Alex was nothing short of fascinating.
It was when he tipped suddenly while retrieving a ball, rolling like an egg until he righted himself on his cushioned bottom, that they realized how tired he was getting. Like a light switch, all the run had gone out of him. He made no attempt to stand, but waited for his father to come lift him up, and as soon as Kyle had him in his arms, Alex laid his damp head down on his dad's shoulder with a sigh.
"Nap time," Kyle said unnecessarily. "I guess we'll just have to try again later."
"Maybe," Max mused, keeping his hypothesis to himself. Kyle didn’t need another disappointment.
Back in the apartment, Kyle headed into Serena’s bedroom to change Alex.
“Why don’t you lay down with him on the bed?”
“He and I were just waking up when he connected with me. I don’t know if it was the fact that we were right next to each other or if it was the quiet of just waking or what, but it’s worth a shot.”
Kyle shrugged. “Yeah, okay.”
A few minutes later, a little voice drifted in to the living room where Max waited anxiously. He fervently hoped, if only for Kyle’s sake, that this worked.
He froze. This was the last thing Kyle needed—to hear his son calling out for Max. Especially if it resulted in a connection. He held his breath and hoped the sound didn’t repeat.
“Muks?” A little louder, more insistent. Damn.
“You might as well come in, Max.” Kyle’s voice told the story. Resigned. He was already resigned to not being able to do this. Double damn.
Max stood next to the bed, wondering what it was Kyle expected from him. Or, more to the point, what Alex expected.
“Muks.” Sleepy eyes watched him, seeming to demand something. But what?
“Go ahead and lay down, Evans, but so help me, if you tell another living soul we were in bed together, I’ll pull your heart out through parts of your anatomy that you’d rather use elsewhere, if you get my drift.”
Max couldn’t stop the grin. Kyle’s sense of humor was growing on him, especially now that the animosity between them had all but disappeared. The sarcasm lived on, but the venom was gone. Kyle and he had a new relationship, one they would never talk about but would forever be aware of. They understood each other, finally, in a way most people never do, and although it didn’t mean they would now agree on everything, it did mean neither saw the other as a threat or a rival. Now, in a very real sense, they were brothers.
Still grinning at Kyle’s exaggerated wariness, he lowered himself to the bed, hoping that Alex would settle down but not connect with him. He understood Kyle’s insecurity about it. He’d understood even before they connected, just not as deeply. If Kyle and Alex couldn’t connect, the repercussions for raising him were enormous.
In a not-so-subtle gesture, Kyle snuggled Alex to his chest and looked at him, his eyes widening with hope to find Alex looking back. The room was still; only the steady ticking of the old-fashioned table clock on the dresser disturbed the silence. They lay like that for several minutes until Max could see the hope fading. In an act of quiet desperation, Max reached over, ever so slowly, and touched Alex’s back.
Kyle’s sharp intake of breath was the only indication that anything had changed, but Max was almost as shocked. He was there, with both of them, in a connection unlike any other he’d ever formed. He was sure Kyle knew he was there, but Kyle’s eyes never left his son. The communication was unfocused, random, but filled with the excitement of discovery. Flashes of little moments they had already shared flew back and forth between them, and Max felt like an intruder. Moving with agonizing slowness, Max pulled away from Alex, his hand a millimeter away from Alex’s back, watching for any sign that the father-son connection was broken. No, it wasn’t. The answer was clearly written in the wonder on Kyle’s face. How did Alex know they needed Max to jumpstart them? How did he know so much that still seemed out of Max’s reach?
After another quiet moment, Max rolled carefully off the bed and closed the bedroom door behind him.
One week later
David Crawford knocked on his daughter’s apartment door and waited. It would be nice to have one last evening alone with her before he headed home to New Jersey. He’d already stayed longer than he’d expected to, and had been true to his word about halting an investigation into the band of Roswell teens who had befriended his daughter, although a preliminary report he’d commissioned earlier had reached his email a few days ago with some interesting tidbits. He had to admit, he’d found little to fault, at least with Kyle. In general, the kids had been decent students—some exceptional, actually—and had no history of trouble except for one very strange incident in Utah that had been dropped like a hot potato for some unknown reason. But he still had a lot of questions and wrestled with his promise to Serena versus his concern for her.
His musings were interrupted when her door opened, and she smiled up at him as she wiped her hands on a dishtowel.
“Hello, pumpkin.” He kissed her cheek and walked inside, sniffing appreciatively at the spicy aroma wafting in from the kitchen. “Smells great. What did you cook?”
“It’s an enchilada casserole; Maria gave me the recipe.”
They moved toward the living room, and David stopped short. Stacks of plates and an assortment of glasses and tableware were arranged on the buffet. Frowning, he turned to Serena.
“I thought it was just us.”
“It is . . . for a little while, but the others are coming over to eat. Don’t be mad, Dad,” she said quickly, watching the crease in his forehead deepen, “but I have a good reason. You’ve been great this week, really. I know you’ve made an effort to get to know my friends, and you’ve given me some space with Kyle, but I can tell you still have reservations. You’re afraid that what you don’t know can hurt me. What I haven’t told you is that I do know the answers to those questions, they just weren’t mine to tell. But as a favor to me, the others are coming. They’re going to answer your questions, and I think once you hear them out, you’ll quit worrying so much.”
He didn’t know what to say. He felt a little ganged up on, but on the other hand, if he were going to get some answers, he’d deal with it.
“I need a drink.”
“I anticipated that,” she chuckled. “Coming right up.”
“You have alcohol here?”
“Don’t freak, Dad. Uncle Brad gave me what I need to fix you a martini. You might be pleased to know that most of my friends don’t even drink.”
He harrumphed a noncommittal response and took a seat in the living room.
“If your friends are willing to tell me what happened, why can’t you just do it?” he called into the kitchen.
“I could, I suppose, but it’s their story. They’ve been through a lot.” She emerged from the kitchen with his drink and sat down opposite him. “Besides, I think it’s easier to understand someone if you’re looking at them when they talk. These are good people, Dad. Really good people. And Kyle . . .” Her smile lit her face, and David couldn’t help but be warmed by it. She was certainly happy, and that went a long way to soothing his concerns. But not all the way.
“Kyle is wonderful, Dad. He treats me like I’m someone special . . .”
“You are someone special.”
She threw him a slightly patronizing look, dressed up with an embarrassed smile. “You’re my dad. You have to say that. But Kyle doesn’t care that I’m rich.”
She raised a hand against his imminent comment. “I’m serious, Dad. If I gave it all up right this minute, he wouldn’t care. He loves me. I know it. I can feel it. We’re already a family. It’s amazing.”
A timer rang in the kitchen, and she rose. “I’ll be right back.”
David sipped his drink. He was tired. Bone tired. The last week had only heightened the conflicting feelings—scratch that—just having feelings had made him conflicted . . . and drained him immeasurably. He’d forgotten how they could hurt. But also, how they could warm. So which was better? Feeling nothing or feeling something? Damn, everything was so complicated.
Anticipating a long night, David rose to find Serena’s bathroom. Minutes later, he returned to find a poignant scene: Kyle had arrived with . . . he might as well get used to it . . . his son, and was kissing Serena in a way that made him feel heat from across the room. Alex, tucked in his father’s arm and apparently accustomed to such shows of affection, had simply attached himself to both of them—a familial group hug. Without warning, tears ached behind his eyes. It was a sensation from his past—a sensation he had bitterly fought off even when his own son died. But now, some emotional line had been crossed, and love touched him again.
“We’ll get through this,” Kyle was telling her. “I love you. Even if your father is part of the package.”
“How reassuring,” David said, making his presence known. The two lovers leapt apart, and he chuckled internally at the look on Kyle’s face.
“I . . . I’m sorry, sir,” Kyle stuttered. “I didn’t mean . . .”
“I know exactly what you meant,” David said sternly, then relaxed into a half-smile. “You meant what every young man means when he realizes he’s marrying a family, not just a woman. Believe me, I felt the same way.”
Kyle’s shock left him motionless and speechless until Alex’s squirming shook him out of it. He set his son down, closed his mouth with difficulty, and turned to Serena. “Need some help in the kitchen?” he asked hopefully.
Serena was only slightly less surprised, nodding as she tugged her willing fiancé into the kitchen. David made his way over to Alex, stooping down to try some grandfatherly interaction. Colorful toys spilled from a plastic toy box through which Alex dug purposefully.
“Hey, Alex, what have you got there?”
Alex looked up, pleased as always with the attention. “Gwosh,” he said informatively, holding up a plush chameleon that shimmered in iridescent colors.
“Yes, I can see that,” David said, settling on the floor. “Is this your favorite?”
Alex offered it to him, and he took it, unsure what to do with it next. He shook it gently, which, he was happy to see, attracted Alex’s rapt attention. Alex reached for the chameleon, but David, hoping to start a game, pulled it out of his reach. Alex frowned and reached a little further, but again, the toy moved away from him. With a scowl of concentration, he reached again.
Kyle’s and Serena’s voices became one, flying through the air at their son. Distracted, Alex looked around to see his father rushing toward him.
“He’s okay,” David assured them, confused. “We were only playing.”
“I know, but . . .” Serena groped for an explanation for what appeared to be serious overreaction. “. . . but we’re trying to teach him to share. He should have let you have the toy.”
“But I was . . .”
The knock at the door was a godsend.
Serena hurried over to open it, gratefully welcoming her latest guests.
“Come in, everybody. We were just . . . watching Alex play with my dad.” The meaningful looks that passed among them sailed right by David, and he rose to greet his daughter’s friends.
“Hello, Max. Liz. Maria, good to see you. How are you, Michael?”
They all knew why they were there, but David suppressed the urge to bombard them with questions before they’d even sat down. In an effort to cover the awkwardness, he offered to help Serena with drinks, and the two disappeared into the kitchen.
“I hate this already,” Michael complained in a whisper. “Why did we all have to come?”
“Because a lot is riding on this, and I want him convinced!” Kyle hissed back. Then he sat and took a deep breath. “It’ll look more on the up and up if we’re all relaxed and on the same page about it,” he finished. “Does everyone have the story straight? Max will do most of the talking. If we all talk, we might contradict each other. Agreed?”
“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice . . .”
“Can it, Miss Drama Queen,” Kyle snapped at Maria. “Just stick with the script, okay? Now, does everyone have the story straight? We may have to use it again in the future, so you’d better be sure.”
They nodded in unison as David came through the door with a tray of glasses, Serena right behind him.
“Here we are,” he smiled with as friendly a face as he could muster.
They settled into seats and looked at one another, each hoping someone else would begin an interesting conversation. Finally, Serena cut to the chase. There was no point in delaying it.
“Dad, I know you still have questions for my friends. Let me just say that what they’ve agreed to tell you isn’t really your business, and I told them they didn’t have to say anything, but they are gracious enough to share some things with you because they know you’re concerned for me. And now that I have Alex, I think I understand a little better how you must feel. So ask your questions. Just know that this is for you, not me, because I already feel privileged to know them and to call them friends. How you react to this is up to you, but it won’t change my feelings or my plans. Are we clear?”
David watched his daughter laying down the law to him and was caught between outrage at her impertinence and admiration for her courage and loyalty. He didn’t know what to say, so he just nodded.
“What do you want to know, Mr. Crawford?”
David turned to Max, the one who always came across as the leader of the pack, somehow. Maybe it was the way he carried himself or the way he always seemed so quiet and controlled, like the benevolent leader keeping an eye on things. But it was also Max who was at the heart of that Utah incident, an armed robbery charge. Not to mention he seemed to be the major target of a government investigation. That was quite a history for a kid from Roswell, New Mexico.
“Let me just say that I bear no ill will against any of you. I’m not out to hurt anyone, but my first priority is Serena. She left home two years ago as a teen, excited about college and a career. Now she is a young woman with friends I don’t know—friends with a very suspect past, I might add—a fiancé, and a baby. I’m not used to not knowing what’s happening in my daughter’s life, and I hope you’ll agree I have good reason to harbor reservations. On the other hand, having come to know you all over the last week, I believe your friendship with Serena is sincere, so I would like to understand the circumstances that have brought you all here.”
Having gotten that off his chest, he took a deep breath and dove in.
“Max, can you tell me why you were arrested for armed robbery in Utah? With Liz? And why the charges were dropped so suddenly?”
Max seemed to brace himself, then reached for his young wife’s hand. They looked at each other for several seconds, and then, with a slight nod from her, he began.
“Mr. Crawford, I have a sister. Her name is Isabel and until her marriage last year, we both lived in Roswell. We’re adopted, Mr. Crawford, like Alex here. And like Alex, we were taken in by a wonderful family. Michael may be our brother, for all we know, because he was abandoned in the same general vicinity that we were, but found at a different time and sent to foster care. The reason this is relevant is because this whole mess started when we decided to find our birth parents. We thought it might help us understand the dreams.”
“None of us remember where or who we were before we were found outside Roswell. Our parents questioned us often over the years, but we couldn’t remember anything. What we didn’t know at the time was that each of us had been having dreams . . . nightmares, really . . . full of unsettling images. I know I always woke up scared and out of breath, like I’d been running from something, but I kept it to myself. I didn’t want to frighten the others. My parents noticed, though, and even sent me to therapy for a while. It didn’t do any good. I guess Isabel hid it better than I did because none of us knew about her dreams until one night when Michael came to my room in the middle of the night, shaking. He wouldn’t talk about it at first, but finally it came out that we were all having bad dreams. Once we got to talking, we realized the nightmares had certain common elements—like the same faces and the same sense of fear—and we began to think we were all remembering our childhood. A pretty nasty one, it looked like. The only way we could think of to find any peace was to confront it, to locate our parents and find out once and for all what happened to us.”
“Surely social services had some answers,” David speculated. “And your father’s an attorney—couldn’t he find any answers?”
Max sighed and nodded. “My parents tried, believe me. Every lead turned into a dead end. They had finally given up, and they hoped we had, too. We wanted them to have some peace of mind, so we pretended to let it go. But we couldn’t.”
He paused, concentrating on the next part of the story.
“We had a friend—a really good friend—named Alex.” At the mention of his name, little Alex looked up from his toys. His smile put a wistful look on every face that had once known his special namesake.
“Ah, that’s why his name is Alex,” David said, thinking he understood the connection. Perhaps that connection wasn’t truly accurate, but it suited everyone, anyway, and they nodded.
“Alex was a whiz with computers. He offered to help us look some stuff up on the Internet, and we said sure. What we didn’t know was that Alex was hacking into closed computer records. I guess he figured it wasn’t anything we didn’t have a right to know, and it wouldn’t do any harm. Anyway, he gave us a lead in Utah. I told Isabel and Michael that Liz and I would go up there and see what we could find out. See, our plan was to camp out so no one could trace our whereabouts, and then be back before we were in too much trouble. Basically, we were faking a field trip. If we were successful, we planned to tell our parents, and if not, we wouldn’t reopen old wounds by letting on what we were doing.”
So far, the story sounded plausible. Stupid, but plausible, considering teens were capable of all kinds of things.
“Why did you have a gun?”
Max’s mouth twitched slightly. “That turned out to be pretty stupid, I guess. Michael took it from his foster father’s dresser and gave it to us before we left—just for protection. Snakes, drifters, whatever. We never intended to use it. Liz didn’t even want to take it, but I figured it couldn’t hurt, even if it only made Michael feel better about things. Anyway, when we got to Utah, the address Alex had given us turned out to be a convenience store.”
“You thought you were going to find your parents there?” David asked, confused.
“No, not our parents. We thought we’d find the social worker who handled the adoption. We knew he was retired and had moved, but we didn’t know he had a business. I guess we thought it would be a house or an apartment building or something.”
The tension level in the room had risen, David thought. All of them, even Serena, were holding themselves in, their anxiety seeping into the air through rigid muscles and nervous body language. Max stood and began to pace back and forth in front of the coffee table, apparently unable to contain his own nervous energy. Something was off.
“What you have to understand, Mr. Crawford,” Max went on, suddenly still and looking at him directly, “is my state of mind at the time. My nightmares were getting worse; I was never able to sleep through a night. I was tired and not thinking clearly. Walking into that store, I thought I was finally going to get my answers, but the man denied knowing anything about any adoptions, and I guess I freaked. Liz . . .” He looked over at his wife, whose adoring eyes seemed to be almost physically holding him up, and he took a bracing breath. “Liz only wanted to help me,” he finished quietly, sinking down onto the sofa next to her again.
“I would never have used the gun, Mr. Crawford,” Liz began, reaching for Max’s hand. “The only reason I even had it with me was because we didn’t think it was safe to leave it behind at the campground with kids running around exploring everything, so I just stuffed it in my bag. But I never intended to use it. It’s just that if you’d seen what this was doing to him . . . I just thought if I scared the man, he’d tell Max the truth and we could go home. It’s the single stupidest thing I’ve ever done, but it was a knee-jerk reaction; at that moment, I felt desperate.”
Max stepped in again, seeming protective of his young wife. “She did it for me, and I kick myself every day for dragging her into such a dangerous situation. What made the whole thing mushroom out of proportion, though, is that the government was following us. If we’d been able to just leave that day, it would just have been a really bad decision, but getting caught leant weight to the government’s concerns.”
continued in next post
Posted: Sat Oct 04, 2003 11:20 pm
Part 45 continued
Eyes squinted in confusion, David tried to make the mental jump. “What? Why was the government following you? What in the world would make them interested in a bunch of teens trying to find their birth parents?”
“Well, that’s where I have to get a little vague. The government has made us sign non-disclosure documents. All I can tell you is that Alex, in trying to help us . . .” This time, the grief in their eyes was genuine; David could almost feel their pain. “Alex accidentally hacked into some files that were top secret. Some word he was using for the search broke open a bunch of coded documents, and not knowing what he was getting into, he went to the University of New Mexico and used their supercomputer to translate them. The government must have traced it or something. Even we don’t know everything, but our friend wound up dead . . . I don’t think we’ll ever know if that was truly a car accident or something . . . else.”
His voice cracked, and David saw a tear trail down Maria’s cheek as Michael slipped an arm around her. Liz’s eyes were shining with tears, too. Max stood and began to pace again.
“Somehow our names were all linked to whatever it was, and they came after us. My parents even found a listening device in our house, and we were all on edge. When the military showed up at our graduation, we ran. We didn’t know how or why Alex died, but we were scared; it didn’t take much to spook us.”
David watched Max begin to relax, as if his ordeal was finally over. The facts as he’d presented them did jibe, loosely at least, with the preliminary report he’d been given. He still had questions, though. Big ones.
“I promised Serena I’d stop investigating you all, and I did. But I had already commissioned a PI, as I’m sure you expected. The preliminary report I received matches your story in many respects, but you’ve left off one detail I find intriguing.”
Max tensed again, waiting.
“The details are sketchy, but several people said you took the stage, Max. At that graduation, you took the stage and made a speech. Why? You just said you were scared and ran. Why the speech?”
“I’ll tell you why,” Maria spoke up suddenly. “To save the rest of us. He was prepared to go up there and draw the attention to himself so we could get away. He might’ve died if Michael hadn’t roared up there and gotten him.”
She leaned over and kissed Michael’s cheek, teary eyes shining with pride.
“Ah yes, the motorcycle. That was another confusing piece of the puzzle.”
Michael only shrugged. “I sort of blew off high school. I wasn’t graduating with the others. But when I saw trouble, I had no choice.”
The group was silent, and Max took his seat by Liz again. David surveyed them, impressed and a little doubtful all at once. He didn’t see himself as naïve, but he also didn’t see the government trying to kill a bunch of teenagers because a computer hacker got lucky . . . or unlucky.
“I have to say, that’s an impressive story. And I mean it when I say I want to believe you, but you’re asking me to believe that our government would have killed you just because your names were associated with a computer hacker? Forgive me, but that’s a little hard to swallow.”
Kyle, who had been completely quiet throughout the recounting, finally spoke.
“You’ve met my father, Mr. Crawford. He’s a former sheriff and currently a deputy in Roswell. And Max’s father is an attorney, as you said. They, too, have been sworn to secrecy about certain things, but they’ll back up what we’ve said. And if you feel the need for more proof, check the public record; you’ll see that the officer in charge of the investigation in Roswell was crazy. He authorized surveillance and force that was completely out of line. When General Christopher came, the guy even framed the General’s son for murder. That man is now in a facility for the criminally insane, and the General has bent over backwards to make the government’s apologies for a campaign against us that was without foundation and without proper protocol. In government-speak, that’s ‘We screwed up.’ Mr. Evans was ready to sue except the General convinced our families that what was at stake for the government was too important. The deal they struck was that we would sign nondisclosure statements in exchange for government protection if we ever thought we were in danger of any kind. The only reason we’ve told you what we have is so you aren’t losing sleep over the kind of people that are close to Serena. We’ve done nothing wrong, Mr. Crawford. And I think we could even go home now, if we chose to, but we’ve begun lives here—for now, at least—and I think we’d like to stay for a while. In any case, I won’t go anywhere without Serena and Alex. I hope you can make peace with that.”
Serena turned loving eyes to Kyle, and David was sure he saw pride in them; it wasn’t every boy—or perhaps he should say man—who would take a stand like that. Not in front of him. He’d intimidated lawyers and congressmen and tycoons. But the young man clenching his daughter’s hand was not backing down. He had to admire that.
“I have a thousand questions yet,” he began, noting immediately the dismay on every face, “but I’m not going to ask them. Not only because I promised Serena I wouldn’t, and not only because you’ve said you can’t reveal any more, but because having met you, having met your families, and knowing what I do of Serena’s good instincts . . . and my own . . . I think Serena is lucky to have met people like you. I quite imagine that there is much you haven’t said, but in the end, I don’t think those details matter. I only want what’s best for my daughter, and although I had my doubts at first, I do believe she may have found it.”
His speech had cost him, but the look of love and relief in his daughter’s eyes made it instantly worthwhile.
“Daddy,” she whispered, coming toward him with open arms. He rose to meet her, hugging her tightly against him and letting himself feel it all again for the first time in a very long time. He blinked back his own tears, determined not to lose what shred of intimidation was left to him. After all, he still had a future son-in-law to keep in line. The thought both scared and elated him. His little girl had found love. Every father’s fondest dream. And every father’s worst fear.
Pulling back, he looked into his little girl’s eyes, wiped a tear from her cheek, and asked, “When’s dinner?”
One month later
Maria giggled. That had been the first time she’d ever been asked for an autograph, and it had been a real kick to sign the man’s cocktail napkin. He’d spotted her beside the pool with her friends, and the napkin was all he had for her to write on. Her giggle launched a flurry of speculation and teasing.
“So, does this mean we’re gonna have to start calling you Ms. DeLuca and you won’t do dishes anymore?” Kyle asked, making a bow in front of her.
“Yes,” she answered haughtily. “And peel me a grape while you’re at it.”
“I think it’s great,” Liz beamed, hugging her friend. “They’re going to have to start booking you into more shows than just emergency subbing. Just the three you’ve done have gotten more attention than they were expecting, I think.”
“Oh yeah,” Serena agreed. “I think they’re planning to offer you a night a week. You’re drawing almost as well as some of the smaller acts, and I’m sure in a few weeks, you’ll be pulling quite a crowd. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that our assistant entertainment director is in love with you and tells everyone to come check out your show when you’re scheduled.”
Michael had been observing from the sidelines, bouncing Alex in his arms. At Serena’s last comment, though, he must have squeezed Alex too tightly because the little boy yelped in protest.
With a grimace at Alex’s fierce scowl, Michael passed him off to his father and closed in on Maria, swinging an arm around her possessively.
“You mean that weasel Pierre? First of all, he’s as French as I am. I bet his name is Norman or some other nerd name. Second of all, Maria is engaged, or isn’t he aware of that? Has he been cozying up to you?”
He stopped talking abruptly when he observed the amused expressions on his friends’ faces. “What?”
“I didn’t mean in love literally, Michael,” Serena squeaked through an ill-concealed smirk. “I just meant he thinks she’s really talented and has been plugging her appearances.”
Maria grinned at her fiancé and pushed up to give him a hot kiss. “Jealous, spaceboy?”
The laughter burst around them. Life had been good to them in the last month. Max was now registered for classes, and his parents, who had his college fund still intact, had gotten the go-ahead from General Christopher to deposit some of the money in his account. Liz’s parents had done the same, so both teens would be starting classes at the new semester. They had elected, however, to keep working part-time at the resort, both as a way to make some extra cash and to keep closer contact with their other friends. The arrangement suited them all.
True to his word, Max was going to begin an education curriculum, taking 18 hours right off the bat. He assured Liz he could handle it; his focus was finishing in three years so he’d be done when Space Mountain opened. Liz was more conservative, registering for 15 hours in a biology major. She knew the labs alone would be time-consuming, and between working and saving time for Max, she thought that was plenty. Looking at it that way, Max agreed completely.
Maria continued her regular job, but was thrilled with the attention her singing was getting. It looked as though she might have that career she’d always wanted, after all. Michael, though training for a casino floor job, was still keeping his fingers in with security, and had taken personal responsibility for security at Maria’s intermittent shows. He intended to maintain that role no matter what else he was doing, and no one was inclined to argue with him.
With David Crawford’s blessing, Serena and Kyle were blissfully happy. Every day, Kyle seemed more relaxed, happier, and more focused on the future. With her father’s loving wishes fresh in her mind, Serena had convinced Kyle to wait a bit before they married, but that hadn’t stopped him from moving into her apartment. They worked their schedules so that one of them was always with Alex, and their friends offered babysitting at least once a week so they could have some time alone. Judging from the intimate touches and glowing smiles they always wore the next day, they were putting that time to good use.
Serena was working hard to catch up in her classes, and much to everyone’s surprise and amusement, Kyle began to take a class as well. The part that surprised them was that he’d decided to attend college; the part that amused them—and gave them a rich source of harassment material—was related to his choice of major: Recreation. Once he braved their teasing, though, they realized his thinking was sound—Space Mountain would need a recreation director. Kyle’s love of sports, his interest in keeping in shape, and his obvious way with people—helped in no small part by his ability to sense their moods and feelings—were perfect characteristics for a job that would be central to the new resort’s success. Gradually, the teasing eased and the group made their admiration and approval known. He’d never felt so good.
So it was that Brody found them, happy and relaxed around the pool.
“Brody!” Max saw him first and rose to greet their friend. “You’re early!”
“Just eager, I guess,” he grinned, happy to see them all looking so well. “I’ve got great news and I couldn’t wait to share it.”
Maria was next in line for a hug. She had a soft spot in her heart for Brody, and his wild hair and accent took her right back to the days of delivering his lunch every day and enjoying a chat. The others followed suit, except Michael, who was happy to settle for a handshake. When Brody reached Serena, who was holding Alex, he didn’t hesitate for an instant.
“And this must be the beautiful Serena,” he smiled. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
“Well, thank you. I could say the same. And this is our son, Alex.”
“I can’t believe how he’s grown,” Brody marveled. “I haven’t seen him since . . .”
He stopped, realizing perhaps that memory would be awkward but already too far along to rescind the comment.
“It’s okay, Brody,” Kyle assured him. “We aired all the dirty laundry. It’s water under the bridge. Come sit down.”
They settled into their chairs around a poolside table and eyed the roll of papers Brody carried eagerly.
“The plans?” Michael asked.
Brody grinned at them. “The plans, the permits, and the contracts. We’re ready to break ground.”
“Already?” The word came out of every single mouth, and Brody beamed his pleasure.
“Anything can be done with the right incentive. We should have a working office out there in two years and be open for guests in three. Now all that’s missing is a commitment from you all that you’ll come. To live and work. I’m counting on it.”
“So are we,” Max said. “You probably haven’t heard our most recent plans, but I’m going into teaching; Liz into medicine; Michael maybe security . . .”
“And artwork,” Maria interjected. “I’m telling you, he does amazing work.”
“Maria . . .”
“You do,” she glared, daring him to contradict her.
“Kyle’s going into Recreation and Serena was already in Hotel Management. Maria, of course, can be your headliner.”
Maria blushed mildly, but didn’t protest.
“Music to my ears,” Brody nodded happily. “The family with the two boys has already committed to the project. He was a trucker, as you recall, and his wife worked in a salon. They can both help. They haven’t said so straight out, but I think they’ve pretty much figured out at least a little about their sons’ ‘special gifts.’ You should be ready for some questions from the boys on the dream plane about what to tell them when they begin to ask the tough questions.”
“Yeah, we’ve seen it coming,” Liz said. “We’ll be ready.”
“Samuel’s parents want to come, too. They’re looking forward to a fresh start for themselves and their son. It was no small factor that you would be there, Max.”
Max looked pleased, but embarrassed. “I’m glad,” he said simply.
“The other families are interested, but I don’t know that they’ll make the move. I think maybe the children will when they’re old enough. We’ll see. Meanwhile, take a look.”
He unrolled the huge white sheets covered in architectural renderings of the different elevations. The resort was going to be amazing. The main building was shaped like a dome—or saucer, if you used your imagination—and once inside, the vaulted ceiling, lighting, and scaled down rows of windows painted on the interior made it look as though you had entered a mother ship, very much like the interior Richard Dreyfus saw in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
“There’ll be three wings off the main building,” Brody explained. “One will be directly behind the dome, here,” he pointed, “and will contain hotel rooms and suites, for those who want more urban accommodation. On the first floor will be a formal restaurant and a casual cafeteria-style restaurant. Behind it, in this long low section, we’ll run our resort activities; that’s where you’ll book wildlife excursions, rent canoes, get hiking trail maps, reserve tee times, etc. Plus that’ll be the central location for the children’s program.
“Over in this wing,” he pulled out another massive sheet, “we’ll have retail and the spa. By the way, Max, your sister is interested in getting involved with the spa. Besides her college classes, she taking courses at the cosmetology school.”
“She wants to do people’s make-up?” Michael asked incredulously.
Chuckling, Brody shook his head. “I don’t think she wants to do it, Michael. I think she sees herself managing the place, but she knows she’ll have to know about that, and hair styling, and massage, and business management. In reality, it won’t be an easy job, but I’m more than happy to have her take a shot at it.”
Max rolled his eyes at Liz, and she snorted with laughter.
“What did you say to her?” Kyle asked, already laughing.
“I refuse to comment,” Max said over his own grin. “This is my sister we’re talking about.”
They could all imagine the joke Max and Liz had shared, but let it go. There was too much more to see in Brody’s plans.
“The third wing will contain two nightclubs—one rock and one different acts from magicians to singers to comedians. Maria, that’s probably where you’d perform. If you want, that is. You might be famous by then, and won’t have time for our little resort.”
Maria didn’t smile. “Don’t ever say that, Brody. Space Mountain will be our home. We’re going to raise our family there, right, Michael?”
He looked at her with so much love that Brody paused, startled. Finally, he broke the silence. “Good to know, Maria.”
Pulling out yet another sheet, he pointed out other features of the grounds. “Over here is the pool complex. Golf course in this area, eventually, although it’s unclear if we can have that ready by the time we open, and out here . . .” Another sheet from the bottom of the pile gave them the biggest surprise. “Out here will be residential living and more rustic guest accommodations. In this section, we’ll have cabins available to guests. They’ll be rustic looking but have all the modern conveniences. But over here, there will be pods of homes for employees. Each pod will have eight homes. I’m going to build this first one halfway up the mountain with a view of the valley. There’s a waterfall there; it’s so beautiful. Then, if all are agreeable, we can settle the alien contingent together where they can relax and be themselves and raise their children among others who understand. Maybe a school can even go in this area.”
“Eight,” Serena mused out loud. “Max and Liz. Michael and Maria. Kyle and me?”
“And Isabel and Jesse,” Max added.
“Maybe Nate and Taylor,” added Maria.
“And our parents,” Liz chimed in.
“Oh, wait,” Maria said, looking guilty. “That doesn’t allow for Brody and Sidney.”
“Don’t worry,” Brody said. “We’ll be living in the main complex. As owner and manager, I need to be available all the time, but thanks for thinking of me.”
Their questions, suggestions, and excited chatter went on for hours, and gradually the future became a reality—they could see it, they could feel it beckoning them from just over the horizon, and as it came into focus, so did the events that led them to this place. It had been hard sometimes, filled with uncertainty, grief, and deception. But it had been wonderful, too. The love and friendships that had made this view of the future possible were stronger than ever, and promised better times to come.
You don’t have to be that chameleon anymore, Max, Liz said to her husband through their connection. We can live the life you’ve always wanted for us.
Unconcerned with the indulgent glances from their friends, Max bent to kiss the woman who had, in her way, made all this possible. As if focused on the same goal, their eyes locked, and their future daughter’s presence joined them. They welcomed her, brimming with the love they already felt for her and for each other.
Unbidden, the familiar tenor of the connection shifted. Liz gasped and broke off the kiss, holding Max’s gaze. Their shocked expressions slowly relaxed into broad smiles, and they kissed again, eyes closed. Their glimpse of the future had just changed . . . again. Because their daughter was not alone.
Max couldn’t speak, but thanked whatever power had delivered him from his hell of secrecy and shame into the loving arms of friends and family who had saved him. No, he no longer identified with a chameleon. He felt strong and resilient, like the mythological phoenix, rising from the ashes of his life into a new one.
I think you just named our daughter, Max.
He looked at her, pulled from his thoughts with a smile.
Phoenix, she said. We should name her Phoenix.
He nodded, pull her closely against him, eager to get on with this new life. It wouldn’t be long. Two years, maybe, and they could get serious about giving their daughter life. In the meantime, well, practice made perfect, didn’t it? He felt his wife smile against his chest and looked out over his friends, still poring over drawings and brainstorming ideas.
It didn’t get any better than this.
Stay tuned for epilogs of the gang's future, posted every week or two. See you then!
Posted: Sat Oct 11, 2003 11:09 pm
And here we are again, this time with the first of 3 epilogs to this marathon story!
First, let me say I'm a little awed by the over 3000 hits to this last chapter. I'm inclined to believe it's really the repeated visits from people who decided to read the story once they knew it was done, and we all know how many visits that
But so much the better. I hope lots of people find this story who didn't want to wait for individual chapters.
These epilogs are not plot. They are snapshots of the future based on the story. They are a product of my great love for these characters. Long ago, I started to care. And since beginning this story, I've even managed to create some characters that I care about now, too. Alex and Kyle are very special to me, and I find them easier and easier to write. I will miss them.
Epilogue 1 of 3
18 months later
“I’m gonna throw up.”
“Suck it up, man. This is self-inflicted. You’re bein’ a wuss.”
“Yeah? Well at least I’m doin’ it. You and Maria are still draggin’ your feet. I think maybe you’re the wuss.”
“It’s not me, dude. She’s happy the way things are. Who am I to argue with a lady?”
Michael put on a self-satisfied smirk, but his heart squeezed painfully in his chest. Maria hadn’t seemed in any hurry to get married once they were engaged, and he was beginning to wonder if she ever meant to go through with it. But he never voiced his concerns. Not to anyone, except maybe once to Max, but only to find out if Maria was mad at him for something. Most guys would think he had it made. She loved him. She was an eager partner in bed. And she never gave any of her groupies any reason to hope. Still, he had dark moments when their future didn’t seem quite as clear as it used to.
There was a knock at the door.
Isabel was a blur of ice blue, and Kyle stared mutely at the empty doorway as if she might reappear and give him more time.
“Having second thoughts?” Michael started out teasing, then began to worry. Kyle looked like death—pale and clammy.
“About Serena? Never. She’s an angel and I want to marry her more than anything in the world. In fact, she’s the only person on earth who could make me go through this.”
“Then why do you look like you want to bolt through that door and never look back?”
Kyle groped for a glass of water and lifted it to his lips, frowned, and set it down again.
“Are you fucking kidding? Have you looked out there? It’s like a who’s who of Vegas and Atlantic City society, not to mention tycoons, entertainers, and the idle rich. For god’s sake, there’s a contingent of paparazzi out there! It’s a circus!”
He changed his mind and grabbed for the water again, downing several gulps, then burped loudly.
“I’m gonna throw up.”
In the doorway stood two-and-a-half-year-old Alex, spectacular in a mini-tuxedo complete with boutonnière and shiny shoes. He mirrored his Uncle Max almost exactly, except his face was clouded with concern, whereas Max’s was split with a broad grin.
“Hey, little fella. You’re lookin’ mighty fine. Come here.”
Alex let go of Max’s hand and ran to his father, a relieved smile on his face. Kyle pulled him into his lap and breathed deeply of the baby fine, freshly shampooed hair. He could tell Liz had gotten him ready; his son smelled like strawberries.
“Auntie Liz get you dressed?”
Alex nodded enthusiastically and pointed to his shoes, so smartly shined that Alex could see a muted reflection.
“Yeah, I wonder how long that’ll last.” He was starting to feel better. Being with Alex always improved his mood.
“It better last until the ceremony,” Max said with mock warning. “I’ve been threatened.”
“What is it with women and weddings?” Kyle wondered aloud. “I mean, it lasts like what . . . half an hour? And for this you spend months planning, thousands of dollars, and enough stress to put you in an early grave. What’s the deal?”
Max shrugged, enjoying his friend’s misery just a little. “I couldn’t say. Liz and I just had that little ceremony in the chapel.”
Ignoring Kyle’s glowering, Michael picked up the thread. “Yeah, and Maria just wants to do something small and private . . . when the time comes.” There was that squeeze again.
“And Taylor and Nate just eloped, so that wasn’t a big deal. They didn’t even tell us until they showed up to party after the ceremony. That was a hell of a night, though,” Max remembered fondly. They all wound up with a little honeymooning that night.
“Oh, god, it’s just me. I’m the only one who has to go through this. Oh, god.”
Feeling a little guilty for hassling his friend, Max set about trying to make Kyle relax.
“Look, Kyle, you know it’s not Serena doing all this. I know she would have preferred something smaller, too, but look at it this way—you’re making brownie points with the father-in-law and giving Serena some beautiful memories. It’ll all be over by tonight, and then you can leave on your honeymoon.”
“Where did you say you were going?” Michael asked casually, hoping Kyle’s distracted state would prompt him to blurt the closely guarded secret.
“Oh, no you don’t, Guerin. Our contact information is in sealed envelopes—one for Liz and one for Serena’s dad and that’s it. Eyes Only. I’m not gonna have you guys messin’ with us.”
“Well, there’s always Isabel . . .”
Kyle threw a death glare at Michael who let loose a genuine belly laugh. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, Kyle was usually involved.
“What’s so funny?”
Liz glided through the door, dressed in a deep purple strapless gown that skimmed her body all the way to the floor. A matching organdy wrap draped off the shoulders and looped elegantly over the crook of her arms. Her hair swung loose, held away from her face with a small halo of flowers woven through it, and she held a nosegay bursting with violets.
Max stared, open-mouthed. He rose slowly, and walked toward her, his heart pounding almost as hard as it did on their own wedding day.
“Liz.” It was more of a breath than a name, but the sound of it brought a stunning smile to her face.
“You like?” she asked softly.
“You’re a vision,” he whispered. He bent to kiss her, but she put her hand to his face.
“Max, my make-up. My hair. It’s almost time. I’ll make it up to you later, I promise.”
“Later’s not good enough,” he growled. “I’ll fix it.”
Then, with no care for lipstick or flowers or coifs, he took her into his arms and pressed a kiss to her lips that made her forget the rest, too. Kyle and Michael stared unselfconsciously, used to their friends’ constant PDAs, but clearly impressed with the heat of this one. It had gone on for some time when Maria breezed in and put a stop to it.
“Max! Cut it out! We’re T minus 3 minutes and you’re messing her all up.”
They didn’t part right away, but the temperature cooled just enough to un-meld their lips—their swollen, smeared lips.
“I’m warning you, Max. Fix her now.
And yourself, too. Everyone will think you two had sex in the narthex before you came up the aisle, and I don’t think Serena would appreciate her attendants getting more attention than she does.”
Michael had lost track of the conversation. Maria stood next to Liz, the perfect counterpart to her dark-haired friend in royal purple. Her gown was lavender, also body-hugging, but with sharp cut-ins from armpit to neck, the draped fabric fastening at the nape. She, too, had a matching organdy wrap, and her flowers were deep purple, just like the ones that had been woven into her shiny blond hair. The two women looked like blossoms, dew-kissed and fresh from the garden, and Michael didn’t even think before he strode across the room and took her mouth.
The grunt of protest melted away in a sigh, and soon both women needed some alien-inspired repair work.
“Kissin’” Alex said, clearly accustomed to this passionate ritual.
“Yeah, for everybody but me,” Kyle sighed. Then a feeling of joy spread through him as his son planted a wet kiss on his cheek. The little face pulled back, hoping to see that he’d made his dad feel better. He had. Kyle felt wonderful.
,” Isabel hissed from the hallway.
Kyle set Alex down and stood, fussing nervously with his cravat, his cufflinks, his boutonniere. Then he felt a hand stilling his own, and looked up to see Liz smiling at him.
“All that matters, Kyle, is that the woman you love is about to come down that aisle to commit herself to you. The rest is show. It’s for everybody else. Not you. Okay?”
Kyle thought again how much he’d come to value Liz’s friendship. They may not have made a great couple, but they made amazing friends. He trusted her more than anyone outside of Serena and his father.
Her words had their effect. Serena’s face appeared in his mind, and he knew Liz was right. The rest didn’t matter.
“I love you, Liz.” He’d never said those words to her, under any circumstances, but they were true. And it was nice to know that Max would understand. That, in itself, was proof how much things had changed over the years.
“I love you, too, Kyle.”
They shared a whisper of a kiss and a long look. He was ready.
Max was a little tall for a ring bearer, but it had been unanimously agreed that Alex should not be trusted to walk up the aisle alone. He was usually pretty well behaved when it came to using his powers, which were developing at a very accelerated rate, but he did have a tendency to forget when he was excited, and 500 pairs of eyes chuckling at his cuteness definitely had him excited. Max walked a pace behind, eyes riveted for any sign that Alex was inclined to give the gallery a show.
With Max’s role decided, Kyle had asked his father to be best man and Michael to be a groomsman. David had sputtered at the small number of attendants, but had acquiesced when Serena pointed out that Liz and Maria were her best friends, and if she opened it up to the crowd of friends she’d left behind from high school, there would be at least seven additional women involved. Choosing to err on the side of at least marginal restraint, David came to terms with the modest number, compensating with a string quartet, a soloist, and an octet of young boys whose voices echoed through the massive Episcopal church like the Vienna Boys Choir.
Kyle watched with a smile as Liz came down the aisle, eyes shining with happiness for him. He winked at her and, to his surprise and amusement, she winked back. Maria came next, keeping her head determinedly forward as whispers swirled through the congregation. Maria was not famous, but she was an up-and-comer with a sizeable group of fans among the surprisingly tight circle of Vegas’s entertainment world, and her presence was worthy of note.
The bridal music began and a small sound escaped Kyle’s throat. His mouth went dry and his eyes grew large. His father’s reassuring hand on the small of his back went unnoticed.
He didn’t know what he was expecting. He knew she would be beautiful. She was always beautiful. But this . . . this dream floating down the aisle toward him was beyond anything he’d ever imagined. Her dress was so simple, it only accentuated her glowing face, her gentle curves. If it were possible to see inner beauty, he knew he was looking at it. His eyes stung, and he blinked hard, afraid to let the world see what she did to him. Afraid to face how vulnerable she made him feel.
And then she was standing only a couple of feet away, and her father lifted her veil and kissed her. When had he stepped in? Surely he had walked Serena down the aisle, but Kyle couldn’t remember seeing him. Serena’s eyes held his until her father replaced the veil and reached for Kyle’s hand. No one could see the brief squeeze David Crawford gave Kyle as their fingers met, but it stopped Kyle cold for just a second. It was a final gesture of acceptance, a token of peace between them, and Kyle looked his father-in-law in the eye and accepted it.
David placed Kyle’s hand on Serena’s, pressed them together, and stepped back. The sheen in his eyes could have been the bittersweet reaction to seeing his daughter step into her new life—and away from him—or it could have been the heart-wrenching knowledge that his wife would have given the world to be a part of this day, but he held himself taut and stepped into the front pew, only an observer from this point on.
There were vows, traditional ones—though Serena had made it abundantly clear that she would, under no circumstances, promise to obey, and Kyle had only shrugged, saying that wasn’t news—and ones they’d written themselves, filled with the promise of dreams they would pursue together. And when they were done, they treated the hushed guests to a kiss—not a ceremonial kiss, but a kiss between two lovers who made no apology.
“Kissin’!” Alex shouted, eliciting a burst of laughter from the onlookers. With a grin, Kyle swept his son into his arms, and the three of them came down the aisle. And soon, thanks to the adoption paperwork that had been drawn up and only awaited their signatures at the reception—courtesy of David’s family attorney—they would officially be a family. Ladies and gentlemen, The Valentis.
Rapt onlookers watched Kyle and Serena dance their first dance as a married couple. A tender smile lit Liz’s face as the bride and groom moved across the floor, alone in the crowded room. Max sat at her side, watching her. She was lovely. Sometimes he was so busy being impressed with the way she could throw herself into her studies, work part-time, and still make time for him . . . for them, that he forgot to just look at her. Every time he did, she took his breath away. Two years they’d been married, and his stomach still rumbled like a newlywed every time he remembered to just look.
His fingers slid into her hair, and she turned to him, a surprised smile on her face. She opened her mouth to say something, but he covered it with his so that the only sound she made was a quiet little moan that made his blood race. Moist and tender, the kiss cradled their lips. There was no urgency, only the joy of discovery, even though they had discovered this same corner of heaven many times before.
Parting, only a breath between them, Liz looked into his eyes, and he felt that warm, familiar feeling of melting.
“You are still my bride,” he told her, and he watched her accept his words without question.
“Sometimes,” she confided in a murmur, her lips humming against his, “I look at you, and I don’t remember you’re my husband. I think you’re still my boyfriend, and I get those butterflies in my stomach all over again. And I can’t wait for the next kiss, or the next touch. I just want you . . . all the time.”
“Are you saying, Mrs. Evans,” he replied in a hurt tone, though his eyes sparkled with humor, “that you get more turned on by illicit sex than you do making love to your husband?”
Her eyes turned dark, and the amusement in his was replaced with a flash of desire. She leaned in to nibble his ear, then breathed her sultry response into it.
“Don’t tell my husband, but what turns me on right now is the idea of getting down and dirty with a dark handsome stranger at a wedding.”
His eyes flew open in shock, but she didn’t see it. He composed his face, then released her.
“Excuse me for a moment.”
He rose with dignity and left the table. He could feel Liz’s troubled eyes follow him from the room, and indulged the smirk that lifted the corners of his mouth. After all, she couldn’t see his face. Let her stew. He’d teach her to start something with him.
He could hear the applause as the newlyweds finished their first dance. When the next song started, he knew the wedding party was expected to pair off and dance. Liz would be looking for him. He plucked a place card from an unused seat at a rear table and carried it toward the front of the room where Liz was scanning the crowd. She spotted him quickly, and he saw her frown as she caught the passive look on his face. She was worried that she had upset him with her fantasy. Little did she know he was a mass of hormones.
“Max, we should . . .”
He reached for her hand and brought it slowly to his lips, bowing. “You are so lovely,” he said, eyes raking her up and down. “I saw you up here, abandoned apparently,” he said with a sweep of his arm at his own empty chair, “and I hoped you would allow me the pleasure of your company. I’m . . .” he glanced again at the card and made a show of pushing his own card aside and replacing it with the new one, “Richard Murdock.”
Her mouth fell open just for an instant, but she took up the game in seconds. “I don’t know, my husband . . .” and she began to search the room.
“. . . doesn’t deserve you,” Max finished for her. “If he truly appreciated how beautiful you are, he would never have left you alone in a room full of men.”
She withdrew her hand from his, stepping forward into his very personal space.
“You have a point, Mr. Murdock.”
“Dance with me.”
He drew her onto the floor, losing his composure briefly when she trembled; “I Shall Believe” had begun to play. She leaned into him then, and he didn’t care what his name was. All that mattered was the feel of her in his arms, and the trusting, open way she molded her body to his. The air smelled only of her light perfume and her body heat, battling to soothe or arouse. Her hands slid up his chest and around his neck where her fingers twisted lazily in the curly wisps at his collar. He was suddenly glad he hadn’t had time for the haircut he’d intended to get; her touch ignited something in him.
Tightening his hold on her, he felt her tease him with a subtle shimmy against his hips, and he smiled at her playfulness. His response, as consistent as time, pressed against her, and he felt her shudder.
“Mmmmm, Max,” she purred, “How will we ever make it until we get home?”
“Oh, I’m Max now? What happened to Richard Murdock?”
He felt her face lift toward him, and he looked down into the welcoming depths of her eyes.
“A useless exercise,” she sighed happily. “I’m already married to the sexiest man on the planet . . . make that any
planet, and I’d be a fool to look elsewhere.”
Moved, in spite of the fact that he knew she felt precisely that way about him, he brushed his lips over hers. Then, in a burst of joy, he spun her, and her laughter lit him from within. Slowing again, he pulled her back into his arms and touched her face.
“Remember our honeymoon?”
She furrowed her brow. “Honeymoon, honeymoon, noooo, I don’t seem to remember . . .”
He squeezed her butt cheek and she squealed, causing at least two other couples to look over at them. Chuckling, he prompted her again, “Remember now?”
“Well, you’re going to have to be more specific. Are we talking about the first night we made love? Or the more formal honeymoon we had here at the hotel? Or was it the Honeymoon Part Deux that you arranged for our first anniversary out in the desert? Or . . .”
How he loved her. As she rattled off more of their most beautiful and erotic adventures, he felt he was the luckiest man . . . hybrid . . . alien . . . it didn’t matter. He was lucky to be him, and he wouldn’t have traded places with anyone on any world.
They fell into an intimate sway, and Max sighed. Over Liz’s shoulder, he saw Alex sandwiched between Michael and Maria, delighted with the rhythm of the dance and the sparkle of the ballroom. Then his eyes fell on his best friend, and he recognized the melancholy that Michael kept carefully hidden behind his gruff and independent exterior. He’d asked Maria to marry him. She’d said yes. And then the momentum had dwindled, and Max knew it wasn’t Michael’s doing.
“Has Maria said anything to you about her and Michael setting a date?”
Liz sighed against his chest where she snuggled and swayed contentedly. “Not recently,” she said. “I think she’s just waiting for him to say he’s ready.”
“She’s waiting for him?
News flash—I think he’s waiting for her.”
That got her attention. “Are you serious?”
“Dead serious. I think he’s worried that her career might make her change her mind.”
“That’s absurd. Michael has been the most important part of her life since the days when they couldn’t stand to be in the same room.” An impish gleam slid into her eyes, and her smile was nothing short of devious. “I think we have some work to do.”
“Liz,” he warned.
“Oh, come on, Max. Don’t you want them to be as happy as we are?”
“Nobody could be as happy as we are,” he countered, only half teasing.
“Well, let’s fix it so they at least have a shot, okay?”
He shook his head, resigned. “Why do I get the feeling you have a plan?”
continued in next post
Posted: Sat Oct 11, 2003 11:12 pm
Epilog 1 continued
Once the formalities were over, the Roswell contingent at the reception gravitated toward one another. Max pulled up several extra chairs to the table where Nate, Taylor, General Christopher, Brody, and their parents were already crowded together. Although Kyle, Serena, and Alex were circulating among the Crawford relatives, they couldn’t stand to put off the latest resort report from Brody.
“So where do we stand?” Michael asked, reflecting the impatience they all felt to know the latest.
Brody wore the same excited expression he’d worn every time they’d seen him since he’d conceived of Space Mountain. He was a man on a mission and enjoying every minute of it.
“Terrific,” he beamed. “The main complex is actually a little ahead of schedule; the buildings are framed in and the electrical inspection is scheduled for next week. Plumbing plans are approved, so the plumbers will be out soon, too. Michael, I’ll need to see some sketches for that lobby mural soon. Are you wanting to paint it yourself or just do the design?”
The question was asked so casually, Michael had to replay it in his mind. His expression was one of dumb shock.
“The lobby mural. You were planning to design it, weren’t you?”
Michael’s eyes flickered to Maria, who had assumed a studied nonchalance. “Are you serious? You want me to do a mural in the lobby?”
“Of course, I do. I thought we’d agreed to that over a year ago.”
“But, I thought that was just talk. Just Maria talk.” He threw her a look somewhere between threat and thanks.
“Look, I need everyone’s talents and time on this project. You will do it, won’t you?”
Michael felt a small thrill run through him at the possibilities, but kept his face as neutral as he could.
“Sure, if you want.”
“Wonderful. Now, are you going to paint it or do you want me to find someone else?”
So many thoughts rushed through his mind as his eyes came back to Maria. Of course he wanted to paint it, but that would mean being months at Space Mountain before they opened, which also meant Maria would still be in Vegas. Time without him but with her fans and her growing popularity. Would she ever join him? Or would that be the last straw that convinced her she would do just fine without him.
“Wow, Brody, it’s a great offer, but I’ve got a lot of responsibilities here. I don’t see how I could handle them both. I guess you’d better get someone else.”
“What?!” Maria rose, outraged. “You would design a mural, pour your creativity and work into it, and then let someone else paint it? Who are you, Michael? I can’t imagine your handing that control over to someone else! That’s like buying a car and letting someone else drive it home. What are you thinking?”
He was thinking that she didn’t want him to stay. And if that’s what she wanted, then that’s what she’d have. Life with her was too complicated anyway. She was all sexy and sweet one minute, then spitfire and venom the next. He didn’t need this shit. He rose, hurling a napkin down on the table.
“You know what, Maria. You’re right! I’ll paint it. And you can just stay here and become a famous diva and . . . and have your life—your unencumbered life—back.”
He stormed from the table and out the side door, barely able to keep from blasting it open. Maria gaped at his retreating figure, missing the meaningful look that Max and Liz exchanged.
“It’s all right, honey,” Amy said, trying to sound more confident than she felt. “You know Michael. It’ll blow over.”
Maria set her own napkin down. “Excuse me. I think I promised Kyle this dance.”
With that volatile exchange hanging in the air, the group grew subdued.
“So what else?” Jeff asked, hoping to steer the conversation back to the point where he could make his big announcement.
“Well,” Brody began, still a little rattled by what he’d started between Michael and Maria. “The surveying is complete on the residential pods and the cabin area. Construction on those should begin in about two months. Which reminds me, you need to submit some plans or you can go through some nice ones I’ve got on file and choose your options.”
“Brody, it sounds wonderful,” Liz said cautiously, “but we’re not really in a position to buy a house just yet. Max still has a year of school, and I’ve got at least two.”
“But we do want to reserve a lot,” Max hurried to explain. “We might be able to give you a few hundred down on that.”
“Max,” Philip said, “your mother and I are fully prepared to help you with that until you’re able to take over.”
“And Liz, we’ll help out as much as we can,” Nancy spoke up.
“Wait a minute,” Brody said, putting up a hand. “Did you think I was going to make you pay up front for these homes?”
“Well . . . “ Max wasn’t sure what to say next. “Yeah, of course.”
Brody laughed as the others looked on in varying degrees of confusion. “Max, there would be no Space Mountain without you and the others. I’m investing in a future here, for you and for our children. I know your position right now. I fully intend to collect my money, but not until you’re working there, earning a respectable income. We’ll build the house you want . . . within reason, of course . . . and figure out the payments when we’re up and running. Same for Michael and Maria. Jesse and Isabel have already made their arrangements, and Kyle’s told me he wants me to use the money from his grandfather toward his.”
“Wow,” Liz said, touched and excited. “Brody, thank you. I . . . I guess we’ll get to work on those plans.”
Max reached over and took her hand, and as they shared a smile and exchanged excited thoughts, they felt their children with them. Two so far, and lately, Liz wondered if she’d felt a third. She couldn’t be sure.
“Our house plans are almost done, Brody,” Jeff said. “The architect will be sending final plans in a few weeks, and I’ll send along my check as soon as the Crashdown sells.”
“What!!!” Liz and Max reacted with almost equal shock.
“Dad! You’re selling the Crashdown?”
Now was his moment. “It’s for sale now, Lizzie,” he said with a smile, apparently enjoying the drama. “Brody has invited me to open a restaurant at the resort. I guess nobody’s better qualified to come up with a space-themed restaurant than I am. With the money from the sale of our business, we’ll buy our home out there, and your mother and I will open the more casual of the two restaurants that’ve been planned.”
“But Dad,” Liz breathed, reeling, “you love that place.”
“I do, Liz,” he said more seriously. “But I love the idea of starting fresh, too, and implementing ideas I never could in our current location. And I love the idea of being near enough to you to enjoy spending time with you and Max and those grandchildren you keep promising us.”
“We’re coming, too,” Jim told them. “When Amy and I got married, we sold her house with this in mind. When mine sells, we’ll be able to pay for our home up there, too. I’ll be running security for the complex, and Amy will bake for the two restaurants—with help, of course,” he said, looking at her with a head over heels expression on his face. “I don’t want her working too hard.” Amy leaned in for kiss.
“That’s great,” Max said, almost afraid to believe how all the pieces were falling into place. “What about you and mom, Dad?”
Philip smiled broadly and looked over at Jesse, who was grinning back. “Jesse and I are going into practice together. His firm in Illinois specializes in contract law, which is perfect for handling cases via computers and the Internet. I’ll be handling most of Brody’s legal business and Jesse will be selling our services to clients who like to deal in a paperless environment. Computer companies do this now almost exclusively, but other companies are getting on board. It’ll be a growing business that we can run from anywhere.”
“What will you do, Isabel?” Liz asked.
Her sister-in-law was almost bouncing with excitement. “I’m almost finished my business degree,” she said. “Only one more semester to go. And I’ve been taking courses, just one at a time, at the local beauty school. I’m going to run the salon and spa,” she said proudly. “I think I’ll be really good at it. And I might even rent one of the boutique spaces in the retail wing and sell high-end casuals.” She watched her brother’s face and Liz realized again how much Max’s opinion still meant to her. “What do you think?”
“I think it’s perfect for you,” he smiled. “Aren’t you worried about doing this with no experience, though?”
“Brody knows a woman who retired from a similar business last year. She’s thinking of moving to the mountains and heard about the project. What’s her name, Brody?”
“Inga Lindstrom. She used to manage a spa in Tahoe. She’s offered to manage the place for a year and teach Isabel the ropes; then she plans to settle in one of the apartments in the high rise. She says she wants ‘urban but with a view,’ like she had in Tahoe.”
Brody seemed very pleased with how well the plans were coordinating to include those for whom this place would be a special home. Not everything was perfect, though.
“We’ve had some trouble with the golf course plans, I’m afraid—I wanted it designed by one of the big names, but they’re awfully pricey; I’m still talking to some people.”
“I might be able to help there,” the general said. “Nate, you remember Nick Faldo, right?”
“Yeah, I used to call him Uncle Nick. Boot camp buddy, right? Oh! He’s the golf institute guy!”
“That he is. He may not have chosen the military for a career, but we’ve stayed in touch. He enjoys getting me out on the course and beating me to a pulp. Let me make a few phone calls.”
“I can’t believe you know Nick Faldo!” Brody exclaimed. “I haven’t even been able to get his people to return my calls.”
“Give me your numbers before you leave,” Eric said. “He’ll call.”
Brody was downright giddy about this turn of events, and finished his update with enthusiasm. “Well, all that’s left to report is that the lake is being dug, and I’ve got about a hundred catalogs to go through, trying to pick out the entertainment and sporting equipment. We’ve got a few new investors, though, so the finances are in good shape.”
“Maria might be able to help choose the audio equipment for the lounges,” Liz suggested.
Brody’s face clouded. “What did I stumble into before with the mural thing? I thought their fighting days were over.”
Max chuckled softly. “I don’t think their fighting days will ever be over. They enjoy it too much—usually. But this . . .”
“Michael and Maria haven’t set a date for the wedding, and we think they each think the other is afraid to move forward with it,” Liz explained. “But Max and I have a plan to get them past that.”
“We have a plan? I don’t even know what it is.”
“And it better include me,” Isabel grinned. “I love a good matchmaking plan.”
“Tell me about it,” Jesse mumbled, rolling his eyes. He ignored his wife’s quick jab.
Amy leaned forward, eyes bright with anticipation. “So what’s the plan?”
“Go! Go! Go! Go!”
The crowd’s chant grew louder and faster as Kyle worked his way up Serena’s leg in search of the lace garter. He was grinning; she was grinning; they were both blushing profusely.
He hit pay dirt only after intentionally skipping over the lace to skim her upper thigh. Serena’s laughter was a little more breathless at that point, but she pushed his hand back down amidst catcalls and whistles. Waving his prize in the air, Kyle waited as the unmarried men in attendance gathered around.
“Michael, get in there,” Max urged.
“Not really my thing,” Michael groused, still in a dark mood.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s your thing or not,” Max reminded him. “This is Kyle’s night and he’s looking over here. You might as well just go.”
Liz left the bandleader and descended the two steps from the stage. Max caught her eye and they exchanged nods. She’d almost laughed at the guy’s reaction when she’d requested the next song. He’d eyed her skeptically and said, “Yeah, I guess,” but still conferred with the others before agreeing. Still, it was an important part of the plan because this was the song that would do it. She hadn’t understood that until Max said Michael was unsure of Maria, but now it was crystal clear.
He’d been listening to the song one day on the radio when she’d come home, and she’d teased him because it was as far from his taste in music as it could get, short of opera. He’d turned it off quickly and made a sarcastic comment, but now, as she worked to remember, she realized he’d been listening. Hard. His hands had been pressed against the kitchen counter, his head hung low. And when she’d surprised him, she’d seen the haunted eyes before he hid them behind walls of aloofness. Now, she was sure, if they could just get them close to each other, the song would trigger the conversation they needed to have.
Michael took his place at the rear of the group, scowling, hands in his pockets. He watched with little interest as Kyle stood on the bandstand, turned his back to the crowd, and tossed the blue and white scrap of lace over his shoulder. From his vantage point on the sidelines, Max rested his elbow on a large speaker. No one noticed a thing when he flexed his wrist, spread his fingers, and smiled as the garter flew over rows of heads and came to rest looped over Michael’s boutonniere. Cheers went up, but Michael only lifted it from around the flower with an even deeper scowl.
Serena took the stage alone next, glowing happily while her friends, cousins, and relatives’ dates crowded the floor in front of her. Unlike Michael, Maria was front and center and looked ready to take on anyone who thought they could out-position her. With a wink at her good friend, Serena turned to the band and lofted the bouquet. It streamed through the air, and Max readied himself to direct its path. He needn’t have bothered. Maria leapt like a receiver into the air and snatched the bouquet before anyone else had fully extended an arm. She landed with a hoot of triumph, then snapped her mouth closed looking mildly embarrassed.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our lucky couple to lead the next dance.”
The band began to play “Unchained Melody,” and Michael physically jumped when he heard the first notes. His stomach flipped, and he wanted to bolt, but he could see Maria scanning the crowd for him. He approached her warily, unsure what his reception might be, but she came into his arms easily, and he wrapped her close to him, wondering again where they were headed. As the singer began to croon the familiar words, Maria hummed softly against Michael’s chest. The vibrations both soothed and unnerved him. She was so alive, so full of energy and ambition. But was that the thing that would take her from him? Had he lost her even before she realized it?
Oh, my love, my darling,
I hunger for your touch, a long, lonely time.
Time goes by so slowly, and time can do so much.
Are you still mine?
Was she still his? Or had that brief flicker of opportunity slipped by him without so much as a hint to identify itself?
He opened his eyes, the uncomfortable feeling of being watched making his skin crawl. First he saw Max and Liz, wrapped in each other but looking at him. Max gave him a subtle nod, but Michael only frowned, not understanding. Then he looked to the right. Valenti and Amy were kissing. Then they turned to look at him, and Jim gave him a fatherly wink. What was happening?
I need your love. I need your love.
God speed your love to me.
Curious and a bit suspicious, Michael turned them on the dance floor. There were Isabel and Jesse, and Nate and Taylor, all looking at him, all giving him an encouraging nod. What the hell . . .?
Lonely rivers flow to the sea, to the sea,
To the open arms of the sea.
Lonely rivers sigh, “Wait for me, wait for me.
I’ll be coming home. Wait for me.”
He’d lost his sense of surprise by the time he found the Parkers and the Evanses dancing close by, too, all eyeing him with a sense of purpose.
Oh, my love, my darling,
I hunger for your touch, a long, lonely time.
Time goes by so slowly, and time can do so much.
Are you still mine?
“Hmmmm?” Maria sighed dreamily, oblivious to the conspiracy that surrounded her.
“Are you still mine?”
Maria lifted her head to look into his soft brown eyes, so filled with the question he’d just asked.
“Am I yours?”
“Of course I am, Michael. When have I ever been anyone else’s but yours?”
His shoulders hitched up in a slight shrug. “I don’t know, Maria. You haven’t mentioned getting married in months. Now you want me to leave for weeks on end to paint that mural while you’re here wowing your fans in a nightclub. I’m wondering if . . . if you’ve had a change of heart.”
“You’re wondering . . . oh my god, Michael. You think I don’t want to marry you anymore?”
His lack of response roared in her ears, but the vulnerability in his eyes kept her own reaction gentle.
“You big idiot,” she said tenderly. “You haven’t mentioned it either. I was just trying to give you space. I wanted you to have time to be sure that this is right for you. I thought I was being uncharacteristically patient, in fact! What have I done to make you think I didn’t want to marry you?”
A glimmer of a smile tugged at his mouth. “You’ve been uncharacteristically patient.”
She couldn’t stop the bubble of laughter that erupted without warning. She pulled his head down to within a breath of her lips and said, “Listen to me. I want you. And I want our babies. Marry me, Spaceboy. The sooner, the better.”
He closed the tiny gap between them and kissed her, relief flooding his body like a tidal wave. She still wanted him. She wanted children. His children. Suddenly the closed doors opened and he could breathe again.
They parted long after the song had changed, and the clapping that surrounded them startled them both from their private world and back into the world of friends and family, eager to share their good news.
“When?” Amy asked, not even pretending she didn’t know what had just happened.
They looked at each other and grinned. Their voices blended into one happy answer.
“The sooner, the better.”
Sex was in the air.
After two years of living in the same cramped apartment, the young couples had learned to turn a deaf ear—or at least pretend they did—to the sexual activity that occurred with frequency and enthusiasm on both sides of the hallway. Tonight, though, the anticipation permeated the very air.
Michael and Maria had been glued to each other for the entire three hours since their dance at the reception; Max and Liz had been more sociable, but had been aware of a sexually charged tension between them since their bout of silliness after dinner. There was no question in anyone’s mind what would be happening now, and there was universal gratitude that Alex was spending the week with Isabel and Jesse while Serena and Kyle honeymooned.
“Congratulations, you two,” Liz said, tossing them a wink over her shoulder as she and Max walked arm and arm down the hall toward their bedroom.
“Thanks,” Maria beamed.
Michael let go of Maria and started toward them, earning looks of surprised wariness from each of them. When he reached them, he held out a hand to Max, who took it firmly. Then he bent down and kissed Liz on the forehead. When he straightened, he held her gaze, and said what he needed to say almost as clearly as if Max had been in her mind. He knew what she’d done. She was the only one who would have known about the day he let that unlikely song get to him.
She gave him a small smile and an imperceptible nod, and watched him return to his soon-to-be-wife. Then she turned to her own husband and used the line from Top Gun that always made him laugh first, and then deliver on her request: “Max, you big stud. Take me to bed or lose me forever.”
She got the chuckle she looked forward to, accompanied by a sly smile. Then, in a heartbeat, the door was slamming closed behind her and she found herself on the receiving end of a passionate kiss. Yes, Max always delivered.
As he adored her body with his, she wondered happily if she would ever stop being amazed by her husband. So smart, so gorgeous, so strong, so sexy, so principled, and best of all, so in love with her. She could appreciate all these traits in one part of her brain as the other part, the part that lived only on sensation, leapt in response to his erotic moves. His hands touched her everywhere; his mouth laved every sensitive spot; he elicited moans and urgent sounds from her that she never made anywhere else. They were only for him.
Some nights, he let her return the favor, reveling in her attention, her exploration, her adventurous creativity. But other nights, like tonight, he seemed to find his pleasure in pleasing her. And he did. Oh, how he did! He’d learned to bring her again and again, until she was only a puddle beneath him, and only then did he slide inside her, sheathed in her liquid welcome to spill himself into her.
He tensed above her, eyes squeezed shut, arms trembling, and pulsed into her. When he came inside her, Liz thought, his face was the most beautiful thing she could ever imagine. He was raw, vulnerable, completely in the moment without reserve or caution. He was hers, and it was enough for him. And so often, like now, knowing that made her cry—her purest expression of joy.
In the moment when his eyes opened again, and he looked at her with such unadulterated love, they felt their children. Yes, they smiled at each other, there was, indeed, a third. The presence joined the others, and Liz couldn’t help but grin at Max’s expression. This one was a boy. After two girls, there would be a boy.
He collapsed onto his wife and rolled, bringing her to rest on top of him.
“You make me happier than I thought it was possible to be,” he told her for the thousandth time. She hoped he never stopped saying it. Her tears were his answer, but they didn’t alarm him. He knew her heart, and in that moment, he knew her thoughts, and all of them brought him peace.
“So what do you think the final tally will be?” she said with a hoarse laugh. Everything about them was laid bare tonight, and the emotion was overwhelming.
“As many or as few as you want, Liz. I’ll love them all, I can promise you that. Just promise me one thing.”
“That we’ll never stop practicing conceiving them.”
“I promise,” she said with a teasing wriggle of hip against hip. She felt the twitch beneath her and smiled. “Max?”
“I wish we could start our family right now.”
“Soon, baby,” he whispered as he nuzzled her neck. “But for now . . .”
He kissed her, and the world disappeared.
Posted: Sat Oct 18, 2003 11:40 pm
Wow. Apparently I left myself with a lot of ends to tie up. I hope this does it!
This is Epilogue 2 of 3, but the last of the "immediate follow-up" scenes. The final epilogue will take us 16 years into the future.
Thanks again, for the support. I see that some people aren't interested in the epilogues, but I think I needed the closure, and perhaps many of you did, too. I appreciate your hanging around.
This one is in three
posts! (I told you I had a lot of loose ends!)
One year later, April 2005
He slid into her, eyes locked on her wide-eyed intensity. Their passion simmered underneath something else tonight—something so wondrous, neither could quite take it in. Tonight, for the very first time, they were trying to conceive. The birth-control pills had gone by the wayside months before, and the stopgap measures they'd used since lay useless in a drawer. This was the beginning, the brink of family, the brink of a new day for The Dream.
"Liz." His breath rode on the air like a wish. He poised above her, wanting to lose himself in her. No, already lost.
"Max." She wanted to fall inside him and never come out. If sheer will could make it happen, it would be tonight.
The rhythm began as a slow, undulating cadence, then spiraled toward a dizzying blur until their connection merged into one consciousness. Swept into the chasm of oneness, they could no longer find themselves, but held fast, willing to see it through and emerge wherever it took them. This was no longer just a sharing of bodies and hearts; it was the creation of something that could only be
because of all that their love had struggled to survive.
When they came, blind and bound in the depths of each other, the warmth surrounded them, and they embraced it. At first, it was only sensation; then consciousness; then realization; then joy. She greeted them with a burst of energy, and they felt the thrill ride through them in a rush. Speechless, they held each other and cried.
Morning came with a sense of peace and awe that kept them hushed beneath their blankets, wrapped in each other's bodies and minds. They hadn't broken the connection all night long, even in sleep, both determined to savor every precious second of their secret. And a secret it would remain for a while. It was too precious and new to share yet. And besides, it was Maria and Michael's wedding day, and they deserved their moment in the spotlight.
It was really Michael’s idea, though he was the only one who knew that. Well, he admitted to himself, Maria must have known it, too, because she was the first to give it voice. Maybe she saw it in his eyes, or heard it in his sigh, or perhaps she read it in the sketches themselves. But one day, she just said it. Out loud. And he knew that she
knew it’s just what he’d been thinking.
“Let’s get married at Space Mountain, Michael. As soon as the mural’s finished. We can get married right in the lobby before the resort opens, right under your masterpiece. It’ll be like you decorated for your own wedding.” Her voice softened along with her eyes. “Like you painted it for me.”
He had turned to her then, afraid to let her see what that meant to him. “But you said ‘The sooner, the better.’ That won’t be for months yet.”
“I know what I said, but if you trust that I’m not just putting you off,” she teased, eyes chastising, “I can’t imagine a more perfect setting to start our official life together. What do you say?”
But she’d known what he’d say. She’d known before she’d even brought it up. So now he stood in Space Mountain’s lobby, two weeks before they were to open, and stared at the result of his months of work. It had been the most torturous, fulfilling, agonizing, joyous project of his life, and he felt like a proud father.
From his vantage point just inside the front doors, his eyes swept upwards into a panorama of space flight, more accurate than any of the guests here would ever know. The Whirlwind Galaxy, with its spectacular array of stars, rings, and heavenly bodies, rushed toward each visitor in a dazzling display of expansive color against a backdrop of infinite night. Michael, like the others, had eventually had vague dream-memories of hurtling through space; Liz had helped sharpen those memories with her own recollections of the flashes. Once the sketches had been completed and approved by an ecstatic Brody, Michael had gotten to work—and he’d never worked harder in his life.
He needed the help of professional painters only to erect a safe scaffolding and apply the black base coat. Electricians came in then and mounted the random spray of small lights that would add points of brighter “stars” throughout the huge domed ceiling. Then Michael got to work—alone and with an intensity he’d never before brought to an earthly goal.
“How’re you holding up?” Max asked, amused when Michael jumped at the sound of his voice. “Little nervous?”
“Nah, not really. I was just sort of zoning a little.” His eyes returned to the ceiling. He couldn’t stop looking at it.
“It’s fantastic, Michael,” Max told him sincerely. “I can’t imagine what it took to get this done.”
Michael stared quietly for a moment. “It took everything.”
Max nodded, understanding, at least in part, what his friend meant. Brody had expected Michael to use his alien powers to paint the mural, or at least to help paint it, but Michael had insisted on doing everything by hand. He’d needed to feel the work, he said, adjust it as he went. He’d needed to make this a personal statement. And bless Maria, she had supported him every step of the way, even when it meant separation or listening to his endless talk as he worked it through in his mind. It had taken everything. And Michael wanted it that way.
“Only about three hours left, Michael,” Max reminded him. “The florist is here and the women are in panic mode. How ‘bout we get outta here.”
Michael took one more long look around the deserted room. In a few hours, it would be filled with light and flowers and people wishing them well. And in a few weeks, it would be bustling with guests eager for a different sort of resort experience. But for now, it was his canvas, his “masterpiece” as Maria had called it, and it was hard to share it.
“I thought it would be so cool to get married here,” he said, his voice hushed. “Now I feel like it’s too personal to share. I almost wish we were doing this somewhere else.”
Max took a long look at his best friend and realized, not for the first time, that there were depths to him Max would never know. But Maria did . . . somehow. And suddenly Max realized how truly good for Michael Maria was. She understood Michael in a way he and Isabel never had. For years, they thought they knew him, thought everything about him was right there on the surface. They’d been wrong. But Maria had seen him,
accepted him, and coaxed him out into the open. Michael was a new man.
“Don’t look at it like that,” Max advised. “Look at it like you’re sharing this part of yourself with Maria and your closest friends before the rest of the world gets to enjoy it. It’s your gift to her. To all of us.”
A smile tugged at the corners of Michael’s mouth. “That’s exactly what Maria said.”
“Then I must be right,” Max chuckled, and the two men turned to leave. “Let’s walk back to the house,” he suggested. “We can use my Dad’s car to come back for the ceremony.”
Michael nodded, and the two friends stepped into the crisp April mountain air. The trees stretched toward the sun, their naked branches just now beginning to glow with new green. It was an apt metaphor, Max thought. New beginnings in so many ways. His thoughts turned to Liz, and he sought her out. She was with him instantly, as was Phoenix. A shudder of excitement rippled through him, and he grinned broadly.
“What?” Michael asked with an answering grin. He, too, was feeling the excitement of the day.
Max sent his family his love and turned back to Michael.
“It’s a great day, my friend.”
“That it is, Maxwell. That it is.”
“I’m never getting married again,” Maria muttered under her breath as she watched the run in her stockings inch up her leg. She ripped off the nylons and hurled them into the trashcan, then looked around wildly. “Where are the spares?”
Liz looked up from her dressing table mirror and sighed in understanding. Rising gracefully, she crossed the room to her friend and pressed both of Maria’s hands between her own.
“Breathe, Maria. That’s it, deep breaths. It’s a beautiful day, your fiancé is dying to marry you, all your friends and family are here, and the setting for your wedding is perfect. There’s nothing to worry about.”
Maria stared intently into her eyes, making a valiant effort to accept her friend’s calm wisdom. “Right.”
“All that being said,” Liz teased, “I do hope you never get married again.”
That got the laugh Liz was hoping for. “Are you kidding? It’s taken me how many years to get him to the altar? I’m not about to waste that investment.”
“That’s my girl,” Liz laughed. At that moment, she felt Max tugging at her mind and opened her thoughts, delighted at the jolt of memory that had been coming to her all day when she forgot for an instant about the new life they had started only hours before. Feeling Max’s joy was as big a thrill as knowing their daughter, so long anticipated, was a reality, if only at the cellular level. He was checking on her. Was she okay? Did she need anything? This, she knew, would go on for the next nine months—or however long it would take to bring a hybrid baby to term—and it would alternately touch her and drive her crazy. But that was Max, and she wouldn’t change him for anything.
“Why the big grin?” Maria asked, catching Liz’s reflection in the mirror.
Liz sent Max her love and looked up to see Maria watching her. “I’m just happy for you.”
It wasn’t a lie. Not in the least. It just wasn’t the whole truth. Maria’s arms came around her suddenly, and they held each other.
“I’m so happy, too, Liz. I love him so much.”
“I know you do, Maria. I think I knew you’d wind up with him from the moment you saw him looking in the Crashdown window and said, ‘That one creeps me out.’”
Maria scrunched her face and pursed her lips. “Really? Because I didn’t. He really did creep me out.”
“I’d never seen you react to anyone so strongly,” Liz reminded her. “You spent all your time talking about him, even if it wasn’t very complimentary. He got to you right from the first.”
“Yeah, well,” she pouted, reluctant to admit the truth, “can I help it if he knew a good thing when he saw it?”
Liz’s grin grew broader. “That’s right. Glad he finally broke you down.”
The girls laughed together and fell into another hug that turned from spontaneous to tender. They had spent a lifetime together—a short but adventurous and unique lifetime—and no one else in the world, except maybe Alex, God rest his soul, could ever understand. Drawing back, Liz looked up into Maria’s face and saw what she knew she would see: blinding happiness, strength, optimism. Funny,
Liz thought. I feel exactly the same way.
Serena, Isabel, and Liz moved gracefully down the white runner that split the rows of chairs. Kyle, Jesse, and Max looked on, each with eyes only for their own bride. True to her independent nature, Maria had opted for a very different sort of wedding, one her mother might have chosen when she married the first time, in fact. But it suited her, and Michael, too, as it turned out.
Flowing, floor-length gowns of gauzy white with empire waists and ruffles at the ends of the three-quarter-length sleeves seemed to add an ethereal quality to the proceedings, almost as if ancient faeries had descended from the starry sky above them. Each had left long hair flowing, adorned only by a wreath of wildflowers, and each carried a single callalilly. The men who awaited them with admiring eyes did not wear tuxes, but rather railroader shirts with banded collars, placket fronts, and very full sleeves atop pleated black dress pants. Pristine and pressed, they looked a little roguish, like modern-day musketeers, and there wasn’t a woman among them who didn’t heat up a little at the sight.
Maria had once told Liz that she thought weddings were backwards, meaning all the color was wasted on the bridesmaids while the bride was limited to a boring white.
“It’s not like there are any virgins getting married, anyway,” she’d argued while Liz laughed at her dear friend and loved her all the more. “When I get married, I’m going to be the colorful one.”
She must have meant it. As the small congregation rose to watch her walk down the aisle, they were treated to another gauzy vision, but this dress, basically identical to her bridesmaids’, was embellished with a colorful bolero jacket trimmed in a Mexican weave of reds, yellows, oranges, and greens, and in her hands, not flowers, but a beautiful hand-painted fan. Michael’s outfit matched his groomsmen’s, but his belt was the same woven material that adorned Maria’s dress. The effect was inspired; it simply was
Michael and Maria.
At three-and-a-half, Alex accomplished his ring-bearer’s job alone this time. Distracted once by Sydney, who had become a favorite with Alex, Max and Kyle both sent telepathic warnings his way. It was anyone’s guess which one had the impact, but he jerked around, wide-eyed, and continued down the aisle without further incident. Only when he reached the front did he find his smile again, which quickly put smiles on the rest of them.
Jim had spent several minutes calming a keyed-up Maria before their trip down the aisle, but once on their way, Maria’s eyes had locked onto Michael’s, and her trembling stopped as an angelic smile lit her face. It was mirrored on Michael’s face. No one doubted they had eyes only for each other.
Pastor Valdez, a retired minister from Roswell whose home was already under construction on the grounds, presided over the vows. He had agreed readily to let the couple write their own vows as long as he could read them first. He’d been touched by the things they wanted to say to each other, struck by the depth of feeling and uncharacteristic wisdom. With a nod, they began.
Michael, I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to spend my life with you. What I didn’t know then was why. No one has ever made me angrier or happier or more frustrated or more alive than you have. No one has ever touched my heart like you have. And I didn’t understand how you did that when so many things about you made me crazy. But then one day, you said you wanted me to see you. You let me in, and I was awestruck. I discovered that day that the flashes of brilliance and caring and love that you so carefully doled out were who you truly were, and that under all that gruffness and temper was a man I could admire . . . and love. You have passion in you, Michael. I see it in your eyes, your heart, and your work every day. We’re standing under your passion right now, and I feel so proud, I could burst.
I take you, Michael Guerin, for better or for worse, and I have no doubt we’ll have plenty of both. You already know I don’t obey very well, so I won’t pretend to promise that here, but I will promise to love and cherish and support your dreams for all of our lives together. Because now, Michael, I know why I love you.
Pastor Valdez smiled a genuine smile. She had altered her words just a little, and he approved whole-heartedly, because that meant her words were from the heart and not from a script. He was touched, and as he turned to look at Michael, he saw with pleasure that her husband-to-be was touched, too. There were tears in his eyes, and he was struggling to find his voice.
Michael listened to Maria say her vows to him, and felt his heart race when he saw those same sentiments reflected in her eyes. He knew she loved him, but to hear her heartfelt promises . . . to remember their times together so vividly . . . got to him in a way he could barely control. At that moment, all he wanted was to be alone with her and show her how he felt about what she’d said. He’d always been better at showing her than telling her, but this wasn’t the time. So instead, he would have to find a way to swallow the golf ball in his throat and get his own hard-won words out.
He glanced at the small paper he had palmed, looking for a way to begin. He’d anticipated freaking in front of this crowd, and had come prepared. But after hearing Maria’s words and seeing the sincerity and love on her face, he slid the paper into his pocket and took her hands.
Maria, there was a time when what I feared most was being with you. I was afraid to want you, and I did everything in my power to make sure you didn’t want me.
He looked away, still battling to keep his emotions under control. Max put a hand on his shoulder, and Michael felt the warmth penetrate—a calming touch. He took a deep breath and continued.
But somewhere along the way, I began to fear
not being with you, and the thought was so terrifying I could hardly breathe. You’ve had to deal with a lot being with me, more than anyone should, but you’ve amazed me every day with your willingness to find our way. You are beautiful, courageous, and more generous than anyone has a right to ask.
You just said that I finally let you see me. But you let me see you from the first. You always said what you thought, gave what you could, and loved like you couldn’t be hurt, even after you were. I can’t believe we’re actually here, making all this official, but wedding or not, Maria, I know we belong together. I want to make some promises, too—that I will never intentionally hurt you again, that I will do everything in my power to protect you and make you proud, and that I will always, always love you.
You’ve always been the only one for me, Maria. I knew it a long time ago. All that’s changing is that everyone else will know it, too.
Against all wedding tradition, Maria threw her arms around Michael and held on, eyes squeezed shut against the tears that threatened. He grabbed her to him and held on, and as the teary-eyed congregation and the beaming Pastor Valdez looked on, they clung to each other. A long, hushed minute later, Pastor Valdez cleared his throat, and they came back to the present reluctantly.
“May I have the rings?”
With a nudge from Kyle, Alex stepped forward and held up his little pillow. The pastor lifted the rings from it with a wink at Alex, who stayed put in spite of Max and Kyle’s attempts to urge him back to them. As Alex grinned up between them, Maria and Michael slid their rings onto each other’s hands. The instant they were done, Alex yelled his instructions.
“Kiss ‘er, Uncle Michael!”
Michael looked down at his favorite little boy and grinned. “Yes, sir.”
He leaned toward his bride and watched as she lifted her smiling face to his. Then, with a start, he thought, Maybe some things really
are destined to be.
Continued in next post
Posted: Sat Oct 18, 2003 11:42 pm
Epilog 2 continued
Jeff and Nancy fluttered nervously around the reception. It was their first working function from the new restaurant site, and a perfect trial run before the resort opened in a month. Amy, in spite of being mother of the bride, had found that Maria left little for her to do, and so she set about creating the most beautiful wedding cake she could. It was a crowd-pleaser.
“Mom,” Maria breathed. “Michael’s not the only one with a masterpiece here today. It’s beautiful. Amazing. Isn’t it, Michael?”
“It’s incredible, Mrs. Valenti. Thank you.”
“Michael, enough. I’ve been asking you to call me Amy, but now you have two choices. It’s Amy or Mom. I won’t answer to anything else.”
Michael stared at her for an uncomfortable moment, and Maria peered up at him, confused. “Don’t just stand there, Michael,” Maria scolded. “It’s not a hard decision.”
Michael looked down at her briefly, then back to Amy. “I . . . I’ve never called anyone Mom before.”
The three of them froze, the implication of Michael’s words hitting hard. He’d never had a mother. He’d never had anyone care about him like a parent. Amy’s offer was not a small thing to him.
Amy recovered first. “Call me, Mom, Michael. I’ve never had a son, either.”
With an embarrassed nod, he accepted, still too shy with it to try it out just yet. He was saved from further embarrassment when Jeff Parker appeared at his elbow with a surprise.
“Did you see who’s here?” he beamed.
Michael turned to see River Dog and Eddie, decked out in their finest and smiling broadly.
“Eddie! River Dog!” he gasped, pulling Eddie’s hand into a hearty handshake while Maria threw her arms around a startled River Dog.
“You didn’t RSVP,” Maria scolded, though her eyes were dancing with pleasure. “We thought you weren’t coming.”
“We didn’t know ourselves until two days ago,” River Dog explained. “I was waiting for a baby to arrive, and wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get away, but Maya has a little brother now, and he and his mother are doing well.”
“I’m so glad! Is Maya here with you?” Maria asked, looking around hopefully.
“We’ll bring her next time. I guess you know her family has elected to stay on the reservation.”
“I know,” Michael nodded. “And I understand. It’s home.”
Maria looked up at him, wondering if he realized that speaking of a home—a real one—was a relatively new phenomenon for him, but even as he said the words, he had reached for her, and she felt such warmth knowing that when Michael said “home,” he meant her.
“I can’t wait to catch up with the others,” Eddie said, scanning the small crowd. “I see Max over there.”
As if on cue, Max raised his head and caught Eddie’s eye. With a word to the group, he led their way across the room and greeted their good friends. After a few hugs and handshakes, he raised his glass as Jesse let out a piercing whistle.
“If I can have everyone’s attention for just a minute,” he called out. The crowd quieted, and Max drew Liz to his side, giving her a private squeeze. “As best man, it’s my job to toast the happy couple, so I’d like to do the honors right now.”
Everyone grabbed a glass and waited. Just the fond way the two men looked at each other brought smiles to their faces.
“We are standing here in this amazing place with our closest family and friends, and at the center of it are two of the most special people I’ve ever been privileged to meet. They say ‘Love conquers all.’ It must be true, because Michael and Maria have been through more than their share of tough times, yet here they are, and I couldn’t be happier for them.
“Michael hasn’t always had it easy, but no matter what, he’s always had my back. He’s a good friend and a good man. When I saw him falling for Maria—which I think I saw even before he did—I hoped it would work out, because he deserves a great woman, and Maria? . . . you are a great woman, not to mention a fabulous singer. You guys give a whole new meaning to ‘working at a relationship,’ but you’ve done it, and it’s a terrific one.
“Michael, you’ve been a royal pain in the ass for 14 long years. Maria, I’m grateful to you for sharing that burden with me now. To our friends, may they live long and prosper.”
Chuckles punctuated the ritual sips. Most of those present understood well what Max was saying. A few just accepted his comments as typical best man hassling. But everyone could feel the closeness between the two men and looked on with satisfaction as they embraced. When they drew apart, someone started the music in the jukebox, and Maria let out a hoot, kicking off her shoes and grabbing Michael.
“Look out, Spaceboy. Tonight, we dance!”
Feeling the fool but hard-pressed to care, Michael grabbed his wife and turned her in tight circles until her feet left the floor. In the midst of her yelp, he kissed her, and she slid happily back to the floor, content to just sway in his arms.
Throughout the next hours, the group exchanged their latest plans. Jesse and Isabel were the first to move into the first completed pod of homes. Isabel, her degree in hand, had been learning quickly under the tutelage of Inga Lindstrom, and was chaffing at the bit for the resort to open. She was convinced, after a whirlwind tour with Inga of other resort sites, that Space Mountain would be offering the most luxurious and varied beauty services anywhere.
Philip was still in the process of packing up his law offices in Roswell, and he and Jesse had begun to expand their list of customers for online legal services. Diane was selling off much of their home’s furniture, having settled on a more rustic look for their soon-to-be finished home. In a difficult decision, they had elected to build in a second pod, allowing the younger couples more privacy from ever-present parents and in-laws. The Parkers agreed with their decision and were building near the Evanses, insisting they would still be available for babysitting and other help when the couples started their families. No one said it out loud, but the cluster of newly married couples was grateful. Close was good . . . but not too close.
The Parkers planned to move in over the summer, since their restaurant had sold . . . to Star! The restaurant she had opened was doing well, but her popularity soon outgrew her little site, so she had bought the Crashdown location. Tyler, Nate’s good friend, had invested his small nest egg in the business, and was beyond excited by her success—for the return on investment, yes, but more for the satisfaction of watching Star reclaim her life. Stationed now in San Francisco, his visits were few and far between, but e-mail and phone had kept him close. They all hoped he would make it to the resort opening next month, and they knew Star was coming, for sure.
Nate and Taylor had had to make do with focusing on the future. For now, Nate was still on rotating duty at Fort Irwin and would only make it home for a few days out of every two months. Taylor had succeeded in getting the assignment as JAG liaison at White Sands, and so was able to come to the mountain more often. Although they had bought a lot on the first pod, they were putting off building, and settled for renting an apartment in the high rise for those times when they could be there together. It would be a few years yet before their military service was behind them. General Christopher, however, had retired and found a new niche in the communications end of the project. His years in the service had educated him on cutting edge satellite and communication systems, and the resort had complex needs in that area. Electing to live in the high-rise where he would be more available, he was working with multiple subcontractors on high-end phone, television, and Internet capabilities. He was also working with Jim Valenti on the security systems. Brody was grateful to have him.
Jim and Amy went with the flow on the “parents’ pod” and built along the same road as the Evanses and the Parkers. Their home contained two kitchens, one for family use and one specialty kitchen for Amy’s baking. She was in heaven with an oversized refrigerator, two large commercial ovens, and countertops that stretched on forever. Those already living at the complex complained about all the weight they were gaining as she tried out a dizzying array of new desserts for the restaurants, but the complaining lost much of its impact since it was mumbled through full mouths.
Serena and Kyle were moving in gradually. Since their wedding a year ago, Kyle had found a Recreations program based on a work-study philosophy. He was taking courses at U of Nevada-Las Vegas, and working with the recreation department at Oasis, for which he earned credit hours. Once the semester was over, he was transferring his internship to Space Mountain and taking his courses online. Serena had graduated the semester before in Hotel Management, and Brody had already brought her on board. Their home was done, but not landscaped. That would be finished in the next couple of weeks and they would move in with little Alex permanently.
Michael and Maria were also partially moved, but in an uncharacteristic show of tradition, they elected not to stay in the house until they were married—a symbol of their new life together. In fact, they were planning to spend their wedding night there. After all, they had an entire resort to enjoy, and there was still work to be done before the opening in two weeks. That night, Maria would sing in the main lounge—her first time as a headliner.
Strangely enough, Max and Liz would be the last to move in. Max still had one semester of school to go, and looked forward to a December graduation. Liz had three semesters left, and although everyone expected her to finish after next year’s summer semester, Max and Liz now knew that Phoenix’s arrival would postpone that by a semester. They’d had no way of knowing how long it would take them to conceive, but since it happened on their very first try, they would have to look into their options for her last year. Neither of them mentioned that tonight, though. They wanted to cherish their secret for a while longer.
Having already become aware of at least three children in their future, they were building a large home at the wide circular end of the housing pod. It seemed fitting, somehow, that they could look out over the whole street and know that one memorable day almost six years ago, when Max set aside his fear of exposure and let his love for Liz rule his actions, he had set in motion this whole amazing future. Couples had married, babies had been and would be born, a new business enterprise had sprung into being, and the course of countless lives had changed forever. It was a heady, overwhelming, incredibly awe-inspiring realization, and it would be a part of their lives forever.
7 ½ months later—December 2005
Kissing her had become more of a project than it used to be, she knew, but he never let her protruding midsection interfere with telling her—and showing her—how much he loved her. At first, he’d been so attentive, so careful, so afraid to make love to her, she had wanted to scream.
“I’m pregnant, not dying!” she remembered crying out one night when she wanted him so desperately, and he was trying so hard to settle for some erotic snuggling. She had seduced him then, wielding the power she knew she held over him until he had yielded to her. It had been one of the most passionate nights of their lives. He’d tried to apologize afterwards, but she’d only seduced him again until he realized it was what she wanted, and it wouldn’t hurt her.
Now, of course, if was more a matter of logistics than anything else, and they’d had to curb their appetite for each other for purely practical reasons. Still, as he kissed her now, she felt the stirrings and pulled him closer.
He tore himself from her with a frustrated sigh. “It’ll be time to go soon, anyway,” he said between ragged breaths. “Graduates have to line up a half-hour early.”
“We have time,” she murmured against his lips, feeling him respond in spite of himself.
“Liz.” She knew he was fighting her, but she also knew he was trying hard to suppress his active libido for her sake. He was keyed up and needed to relax. With everyone coming in for graduation and Christmas looming, they would have precious little time alone before the New Year. January would be her ninth month, and she didn’t know what to expect then.
Pushing him back against the edge of the bed, he sat down suddenly, eyes flying open when she went for his belt buckle.
“No!” he groaned, holding her head away from him at first, but pressing her to him when her will overcame his. “Oh god, Liz,” he whimpered, giving up all pretext of resisting her.
She felt herself getting aroused as he swelled and seeped against her mouth, plunging with abandon toward his final release. Opening her mind to him, she felt the pressure building, and relished the triumph as he came. Much to her shock, his sensation sent her over as well, and he had to coax her from him as her breathing escaped in small gasps. He pulled her up against him, laying them both down on the bed.
“I love you so much, Liz,” he said quietly, stroking her hair and listening to her breathing even out. “I can’t even tell you how much.”
“You tell me every day, Max. In so many ways.”
They lay quietly for a few minutes, enjoying the aftermath of their unexpected loving.
“Phoenix is quiet,” he observed, rubbing his hand idly over Liz’s stomach.
“She has been for a few days,” Liz said, “but everything feels fine, don’t you think?”
For the tenth time in as many days, Max let his hand glow with warmth over his daughter and smiled. “She seems fine to me.”
“Well, then, let’s get going. We have a graduation to go to.”
Liz found the rest of their family and friends in the auditorium lobby and handed out the tickets. She was touched that everyone had made it, in spite of the fact that the successful resort was brimming with guests. Somehow, everyone had made arrangements to be covered for the day, and the general had offered to stay behind to oversee the place. Although many would have to return tonight, some were staying in Vegas for a day or two to take in the sights or see family.
A short while later, Pomp and Circumstance began to play, and the graduates processed down the two aisles leading to the front of the auditorium. Liz smiled with pride as Max walked by, then winced suddenly when a pain struck her, tensing her whole abdomen for a few seconds. Startled, Liz put a hand over the baby and looked up. Max had turned to look at her from further down the room, frowning. She smiled at him and shook her head. It was nothing.
Speeches, singing, more speeches. Liz clamped down hard on the connection she shared with Max. Under no circumstances was she going to distract him from his big day. He’d worked so hard with extra loads, a job, and caring for her; he deserved this recognition. Another contraction sent her muscles rigid, and she concentrated on the breathing techniques they’d been practicing. Nancy looked at her daughter, catching on immediately, but Liz’s face relaxed into a tentative smile.
“It’s okay, Mom,” she whispered. “It’s probably nothing. And even if it is, it’ll be hours, you know that.”
“It’s too soon!” her mother whispered back urgently. “It’s not time!”
“We don’t know what’s normal, Mom. No one’s ever done this before. Max checked her and she’s fine.”
A glance from the people in front of them effectively stopped their conversation, but Nancy reached for her daughter’s hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. After all, she’d been in labor 19 hours with Liz.
The graduates began to cross the stage, a modest number considering the size of the school, but December graduations weren’t as big as spring ones, and Liz was becoming increasingly grateful. Another pain began to grip her, and she let go of her mother’s hand, afraid that she might squeeze it too tightly and start something she didn’t want to.
“James Tomas Estoban, School of Music; Marina Ellen Ettlemeyer, School of Engineering; Paul Howard Euler, School of Computer Sciences; Max Philip Evans, School of Education; Margaret Worthington Farleigh . . .”
She felt the water gush from her, its warm tendrils running down her legs. All thought processes stopped momentarily, and she looked in horror at her mother. She felt his presence in an instant, realizing too late that her shock had forced her guard down. Frozen on the stage and staring right at her stood Max, diploma folder in one hand and his bunched-up robe in the other. Before she even knew what was happening, Max had leapt from the stage to a collective gasp from the crowd and was running down the aisle toward her.
At that moment, she wanted the floor to simply swallow her. Anything was better than having the entire audience gradually home in on her position as they followed Max’s intense gaze. Isabel, having accurately assessed what had happened, reached toward Liz and erased any signs of the water before Max halted on a dime at the end of her row.
Their staccato conversation took place telepathically, and Liz had no choice but to lead a long line of people out of the row. As Liz reached the aisle, Max’s arms were around her in a flash, and those who had the right vantage point saw immediately that the young graduate’s wife was huddled over a pregnant stomach, rubbing nervously. The mystery solved, the level of chatter in the room rose; people smiled and waved at the couple and their entourage as they moved up the aisle and out the back doors. As they left, they could hear spontaneous applause behind them. Only later, as the story was told over dinners and e-mails, were the observers likely to wonder how the young man had realized, all the way from the stage, what was happening.
Max had been studying labor and delivery techniques for months. They had known from the first that Liz couldn’t go to a hospital or even a doctor, and although the parents had been distressed about this, they understood all too well what could happen if she did.
The first thing he did when they reached the car was place Liz in the passenger seat and kneel beside her, using both hands to scan the expanse of her midsection.
“The baby’s strong, she’s fine,” he said, obviously nervous, in spite of his reassuring words. “We’ll go to Serena’s and Kyle’s. It’s closer.”
He rose, kissed her hard on the mouth, and took a deep breath. “I love you.”
“I love you, Max. We’re fine. Let’s go.”
Shouting orders to the group of family and friends watching the exchange, Max sent them to their cars and got behind the wheel, fighting the battle between the urge to speed and the pressing need for caution.
“We shouldn’t have come to graduation,” he muttered to himself. “Too much excitement, too much activity. Should’ve stayed home.”
“Max, you know that’s not true. Activity is good for me, and for the baby, and although I’m incredibly proud of you, I wouldn’t exactly say I’m excited. It’s not like stressful or anything. It’s just time, that’s all.”
“Time?” he exploded. “It’s not time! You have at least six weeks to go. It’s not like we don’t know for sure when she was conceived.”
“We don’t know what’s normal, Max. It’s never been done before, except Tess, and we have no idea what that process was or whether it was affected by being on Antar. You said yourself the baby’s strong.”
He glanced over at Liz. “She is strong, but I’ve felt that from her from the first. That doesn’t tell me if she’s ready or not.”
“She’s ready,” Liz said confidently. “I know it.”
She hoped she’d been convincing, because she knew no such thing. All she did know was that she was about to have a baby, and no amount of discussion was going to stop it.
Another pain assailed her and she couldn’t break their connection in time. Max swerved into another lane, then steadied the car, swearing under his breath.
“Are you okay?”
“Max, I’m fine,” she hissed between breaths. “Don’t worry about me. Just stay on the road.”
He glanced over again, guilty this time. “I’m sorry, Liz. But why does it have to hurt you? I can’t stand to see you suffer!”
She laughed then, knowing he meant it, but amused at how indignant he was about something that was as old as life itself.
“I appreciate the sentiment, my love, but unless you’ve figured out a way to keep a woman from hurting during labor, I think we’ll just have to deal with it.”
His eyes lit up, but he avoided looking at her. Why he hadn’t thought of it before, he didn’t know.
They pulled up into the Oasis private parking area and waited as the cars that had followed them arrived. They couldn’t go anywhere until Kyle or Serena got there with a key. Max turned to Liz and leaned forward to offer a tender kiss this time.
“I won’t let anything happen to either of you, Liz. I promise.”
“I know, Max. I trust you completely.”
Kyle rapped on the window. “Let’s go.”
Max hurried to the passenger side of the car and helped Liz out, ignoring her protest when he swept her into his arms and carried her. Once again, he shouted instructions to the others about what they’d need carried up to the room. Serena hurried ahead to get the elevator; once inside the apartment, she stripped the bed and grabbed clean sheets from the linen closet.
“Wait,” Max said without explanation. With a sweep of his hand, he turned the mattress pad into a sterile rubber sheet, and then, with another flick, sterilized a bedsheet, carefully lowering Liz onto it.
Serena handed him two pillows and watched in amazement as he plumped them, encased them in plastic, and sterilized the cases, all with a few well-placed waves of his arm.
“Wow,” she breathed to Kyle. “I’ve never actually seen him do stuff like that before.”
“It’s somethin’, huh?” Kyle replied, similarly impressed. It had been a while.
The parents crowded into the bedroom and Max turned, his tone controlled.
“You can’t all be in here. Please just wait outside. If I need help, you’ll be the first to know.”
“But . . .,” Nancy objected.
“Mom, it’s okay. If it drags on, you can come give me ice chips and read to me, okay?”
Mollified, the group filed out, leaving Max alone with his wife. With the audience gone, Liz relaxed a little, tensing seconds later when the next contraction began. Max held her, breathing with her face to face until it passed.
As they sat, Liz watched Max pulling baby blankets, baby cleanser, and a little cap from a suitcase they had carried everywhere for weeks. He looked troubled.
Continued in next post
Posted: Sat Oct 18, 2003 11:44 pm
Epilog 2 begins on p. 86; this is the 3rd and concluding part
“Already?” he gasped, hurrying to her.
“No, no, not another contraction. But what’s bothering you?”
“Nothing. Nothing’s bothering me. Why?”
“I know when something’s bothering you, Max. What is it?”
“It’s nothing. Probably. I just . . . Do you think maybe what we did this afternoon, you know, getting you all . . . aroused . . . do you think that brought the labor on?”
Her heart ached with love for him. He was so sweet. And so stupid sometimes.
“Max, I doubt seriously that in the history of the world, labor was ever brought on by an orgasm. Although, I did read that sometimes you can have an orgasm during labor. Did you know that?”
He looked at her with an expression caught between horror and fascination. “No way.”
“Yep. That’s what it said. Wanna try for one?” she teased, laughing as his face flushed with shock.
They didn’t have time to dwell on it. The next contraction took all their concentration, and little beads of perspiration broke out along Liz’s forehead. This time, her eyes dulled with the pain, and Max surreptitiously absorbed some of it, relieved to see her features ease. She looked at him suspiciously, but he managed to look innocent about it. She would be on to him soon enough, but by then, she wouldn’t have the strength to fight him.
“Let’s get you out of your clothes,” Max suggested.
“Oh, so you do want to try for an orgasm,” Liz laughed a little distractedly.
Max couldn’t help but smile as Liz helped him shed her clothes, a mock come-hither look on her face. It was an incongruous picture, and Max was a little ashamed that it was actually turning him on. She was always beautiful to him. Once she was naked from the waist down, he covered her with a sheet and sat on the edge of the bed, assuming a stern expression.
“You’re a mother now, you know. You have to watch your behavior. You can’t go around seducing men whenever you want.”
“That’s what you think,” she crooned, only to be pulled up short by another contraction.
“I guess this won’t take as long as we thought,” Max said, finding himself once again face to face with her, breathing in moderate, controlled breaths. Once again, he filtered her pain, but this time, he couldn’t hide it; as Liz’s face began to relax, his own was twisted with the effort.
“Max, stop it!”
He was too busy feeling her pain to respond, but after several seconds, his shoulders sagged, and he took a deep breath. His lovely wife was shooting daggers at him with her eyes.
“Max, let me do this. I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I need you to do other things right now. I’ll be in labor; you deliver the baby, okay?”
“I just can’t watch you . . .”
“You will watch me do this, Max! That’s been the plan all along. You’ll help me breathe, and when the time comes . . .”
But she never got to finish her sentence. Her eyes flew wide and locked with his. “Oh god, Max! I think I have to push!”
“Push? Push!? Liz, it’s too soon! It’s only been an hour! Are you sure?”
She glared at him. “Of course, I’m sure, Max. It’s my body!”
He stared at her, momentarily panicked. Then, as if on autopilot, he began to follow the steps he’d committed to memory a thousand times. Walking to the door, he opened it a crack and calmly called for Nancy. She hurried in, mouth gaping when she saw Liz sweating and panting in a short shallow rhythm.
“What, already? Max, she’s only been in labor an hour!”
Liz managed another glare before Max stepped in. “We always knew this might be different,” he said with as much authority as he could manage. “We just have to let Liz call the shots.”
Liz relaxed again, sagging back against the pillows. Max used her respite to issue some more instructions.
“There a small baby bathtub with the things you carried in. Go fill it about a third full with water and bring it in.”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll heat it.”
Nancy stopped the question on her lips, remembering that Max could do things she’d never seen or imagined. She decided to take his word for it and left.
Another wave of pain crested and Max held his wife, helping her breathe and agonizing over her contorted face. Maybe he could take just a little . . .
“Don’t . . . even . . . think . . . about it,” she ground out.
Once the worst was over, Max moved to the foot of the bed and bent Liz’s legs at the knee. At that moment, Nancy returned with the small tub, stopping abruptly when she saw Max peering under the sheet. Max turned in time to see her face pass from outrage to acquiescence. He suppressed a smile, realizing how odd it must be for her to come face to face with the fact that her daughter was this intimate with a man. After all, it wasn’t something parents dwelled on, he was sure. Then, with a jolt, his hidden smile vanished, thinking that someday his own daughter would be touched intimately by a man. The idea didn’t set well. Not well at all.
“Here we go! I have to push!” Her words were little more than a throaty whisper, but Max flew into action.
Liz’s mother came through the doorway from the bathroom with a tub of water, sloshing it slightly when she set it down to rush to her daughter’s side. Clasping her hand, she watched Max reach under the sheet.
“I see the head,” he breathed, awestruck. “I can’t believe this is happening so fast. Liz, push until I tell you to stop.”
She was working so hard, Max thought. He wished he could play the role where he held her and comforted her and lent her his courage, but that couldn’t be his role today. He had to guide his daughter into her new world.
“Again!” Liz started to push.
“Lift her a little, Nancy,” Max instructed, fighting to stay calm. Nancy supported her daughter’s back and held her breath right along with Liz. This time, the head began to crown, pressing hard against the ring of muscle that held her in.
The head retreated a little as the contraction eased, and Max looked up to see Liz and her mother exchange a smile—a bond that only two mothers could share. It touched him, even as it made him feel a little left out. That thought must have come through because Liz’s eyes met his a second later, and her thoughts reached out to him. He was her heart. There was no “out” where he was concerned. His heart warmed yet again.
“Oh!” Liz started to lift herself again, and Nancy’s arms reached around her.
“Ohhhh!” Liz must have felt the head emerge because Max’s gasp of joy matched her exclamation exactly. There, cupped in the two hands that had so often cupped her own mother’s face, Phoenix made her first official foray into her parents’ lives. Two pushes later, her whole perfect, tiny body came into the world, and nothing Max could do would stop his tears. Slimy, bluish, scrunched, and natty-haired, she looked at him.
“She’s not crying,” Nancy whispered, panic evident in her voice.
Max realized with a start that she was right. She should be crying! He grabbed her feet, swung her upside down, and smacked her bottom. Nothing. He tried again, still nothing.
He looked up at Liz, whose face was a mask of terror. “Is something wrong with her?”
Max was speechless, trying to get his fear under control. He turned Phoenix around, cradling her in his arms, knowing he still had to cut the cord and deliver the placenta. She was looking at him; she was alive. Why wasn’t she crying?
Alex appeared in the doorway. Nancy leapt to her feet.
“No, Alex, not now. Go wait with Mommy.”
“No,” he said without anger or challenge. Struck by his calm demeanor, she watched as he crossed the room and focused on the new baby. Phoenix and Alex took a long, calm look at each other.
“It’s okay, Uncle Max,” Alex said simply. And without knowing why, Max believed him.
“It is?” He couldn’t imagine why he was willing to take Alex’s word for it, but somehow he did. Alex just nodded at him, then took another look at the baby.
“Yucky,” he said, and left to report to the adults waiting in the next room.
And as quickly and quietly as that, Phoenix Parker Evans greeted her parents.
“Merry Christmas, Max.”
“Merry Christmas, Liz. Merry Christmas, little Phoenix.”
Phoenix grabbed the finger her father extended and gurgled at him. They had done little but adore each other in the two weeks since her birth, and Max had the surreal feeling that he was just dreaming it all.
“I smell coffee,” he said, sniffing appreciatively. “Your mom must be up already. Can I get you some?”
“Maybe later,” Liz smiled, feeling remarkably energized for a new mother.
Max forgot about coffee as he watched Phoenix nurse. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, this intimate bonding between mother and child. These were his girls, his family—or at least the beginning of it, he thought happily.
“Thank you for coming to church last night, Max. It meant a lot to me.”
He leaned over to kiss her softly. “It meant a lot to me, too. I think I have a new perspective on things now. It’s easier to see a plan these days than it used to. Besides, there has to be someone to thank for all the blessings I have.”
The most vocal of his blessings sputtered as too much milk flowed into her mouth. “I think she’s done,” Liz said, shifting her into burping position.
“Let me,” Max said, eagerly taking his daughter into his big hands. He snuggled her to his chest and began to pat her, nuzzling her soft hair against his cheek.
“I think Mom and Dad want to do presents early,” Liz reminded him, so they can get over to the restaurant for a while before dinner at the Valentis.”
“I’ll just go where I’m told,” he said affably, "but I want to give you one of your presents now.”
“Max, I thought we were taking it easy on presents this year to save money.”
“We are,” he assured her. “It wasn’t that expensive, but I wanted to give it to you while we were alone.”
Reaching into a nightstand drawer, he pulled out a small box and handed it to her. Eyes alight with anticipation, Liz lifted the foil-wrapped lid.
“Oh, Max. It’s beautiful!”
Lying nestled in a layer of satin was a pendant made of silver, a contemporary design depicting two parents and a child in a graceful arc. At each link of their arms was a tiny birthstone chip.
“That’s us,” Max told her softly. “That’s who you two are to me—the jewels of my life. Every time I think I can’t get any happier, Liz, you find a way to do it. I love you.”
Liz let the tears fall, unashamed of the overwhelming joy she felt watching her husband caress their baby in his arms.
“I only give you what you give me, Max.”
They kissed, sharing one of life’s most precious moments, and turning it into a memory.
Hours later, they collected the necessary equipment and headed with the Parkers over to the Valentis, who were hosting the big Christmas dinner in their multi-kitchen home. Isabel, Maria, and Diane had been helping for much of the morning, while Jim, Philip, Michael, and Jesse made drinks, set the table, and built a fire. Later, Serena, Kyle, Alex, Nate, Taylor, Eric, Brody, and Sydney arrived, laden with salads, casseroles, and gifts. Even the Morgans were expected; they and their sons, Patrick and Scott, were the latest additions to Space Mountain’s permanent residents, and the boys seemed pleased to be able to interact with the others from the dream plane in a more grounded environment. A sense of peace that these people had rarely enjoyed in the last few years permeated the festivities. Everyone had reason to celebrate.
Gathered around the table, they made their toasts and said a prayer of thanks. Then the feast began with laughter and compliments to the cooks. Well into the dessert, Kyle looked around, a frown on his face.
From his vantage point at the head of the table, Jim spotted him. “He’s over there with Maria. It looks like he’s having a conversation with Phoenix.”
Quietly, everyone turned to watch. Maria was rocking the baby, half asleep in the rocking chair, but Phoenix was wide awake, her full attention on Alex. He was chatting away, and she was gracing him with that long, intense look they all remembered from Alex’s babyhood. He was till prone to doing that, though he seemed to be more subtle with it as he grew. As if aware of the attention, Alex turned to see everyone looking at him.
“I was just telling her about our new baby,” he informed them casually. Stunned silence greeted his words; then, one by one, they all turned to Serena and Kyle, who were looking amazed.
“How did he know that?” Kyle breathed. “Did you tell him?”
Serena just shook her head.
“You’re pregnant?” Amy gasped, her face already breaking into a huge smile.
Serena nodded. “We were going to tell everyone today. Alex must have just . . . known.”
Alex appeared at her side. “I know about the baby, Mommy,” he said, as if explaining something to a small child. “I can feel her.”
“Her? It’s a girl?” Serena was gaping at her son.
“Yeah, but hers is a boy.” He turned to look at Isabel, who dropped her fork with a clatter.
“Yeah, a boy,” Alex said matter-of-factly, walking back toward Phoenix.
“Isabel,” Diane whispered in disbelief. “You never said anything.”
“I . . . I wasn’t sure yet.”
She began to shake, and Jesse pulled her into his arms, a stunned half-smile on his face. They held each other, and the rest felt they were intruding on a private moment.
“Can you imagine what this will be like,” Jeff mused, shaking his head. “Raising these kids is going to be something else.”
“This is our village,” Brody said, his arm around Sydney.
“What’s that mean?” Michael asked, always amused by Brody’s odd way of expressing himself.
“You know the old African proverb: It takes a village to raise a child. This is our village. We’ll raise them together.” His eyes met each person’s around the table. “To our family.”
No one could think of a more meaningful toast. They raised their glasses, and every voice shared the sentiment.
“To our family.”
Posted: Sun Oct 26, 2003 12:36 pm
A final hello. And goodbye. At least for Chameleon
I’m crying right now. So hard that I know it will take me quite a while to post this final chapter in a saga that has held my heart for a year and a half. I already feel the loss, keenly and painfully. In fact, this is posting late because I couldn’t quite let go. I kept tweaking and manipulating it, wanting it to be perfect.
But more than loss, I feel gratitude. And you all are at the top of the list.
Thank you, dear readers, for staying with me, for offering me support, insight, courage, and, in a way, love. You have carried me, very much the “wind beneath my wings.”
Thank you, wonderful fanfic award voters. I gasped with shock and pleasure when I saw Chameleon won the “Best CC Fic” award. I was beyond stunned. Then I went to find the award I secretly dared to hope for. “Best Portrayal of Kyle Valenti,” who I had learned to like and love and respect while writing this story. I yelped with glee when I found it. Please take a few seconds to look at the beautiful banners that I’m privileged to post as a result. (I have to tell you a secret—the first banner they posted for the CC award had a typo! Do you see the irony? For me—an editor! I had to laugh! So they posted a new one that you’ll see below.)
Thank you to the beta readers who helped me when I got so close to the words, I couldn’t see the story anymore, especially Debbi (Breathless), Linda (crazy4roswell), and Mel (who doesn’t visit this board but who is a gifted writer and a good friend—remember “Snowmass”?). These people, and others, who have shared their gifts and their friendship with me, are the best part of my Roswell experience.
And finally, thanks a million times over to those who have left feedback so faithfully. Many of you have given f/b for every chapter; others have let me know when something touched you; many have offered encouragement. You are Chameleon’s heartbeat.
May I ask a favor?
I want to save the feedback for this last chapter. I will cherish it always, I promise you. If you have been a faithful reader, even if you have only lurked, could you leave just a line or two on this thread? It would mean the world to me.
One final note:
This story is dedicated to Jason Behr. Or perhaps, to be fair, to what Jason Behr brought to the character of Max Evans, who stole our hearts and made us believe in magic. I don’t know Jason. I do know Max. And in that spirit, I wrote a poem last year when the muse and Jason/Max were haunting me. I sent it to a list of close Roswell friends, and one of them <waves at Pam in Michigan!> laid my words down on a lovely and haunting picture. I’ve chosen to add the poem at the end of the story as one final nod of appreciation to the gift that is Roswell.
Oh, quick edit here: I was just reminded I could post "Runner-up" awards here, too: Here's the banner:
Runner-up awards were for:
Best Conventional Couples Author
Best Portrayal of Sheriff Valenti
Sex Scene That Made You Go WHOA!
And now, in 3 posts, Epilogue 3
, which takes place 17 years after our last visit with the gang. I have provided a brief timeline, and basic family trees so that the names and relationships are easier to manage. Personally, I had to print the thing out and refer to it as I wrote, so you might have to do the same!
TIMELINE and FAMILY TREES:
Children saved at Christmas 2000 with birthdates:
Patrick Morgan – 1990
Scott Morgan – 1992
Sydney Davis – 1992
Miguel Rodriguez – 1993
Maya Loken – 1994
Changed at Christmas 2001
Samuel Richardson – 1992
Alex (baby Zan) born: January 2002
Graduation: June 2002
Max/Liz married: July 2002
To Vegas: September 2002
Kyle/Serena married: April 2004
Phoenix conceived: April 2005
Phoenix born: December 2005
Patrick/Sydney married: June 2015
Space Mountain Family Trees
(name--mo/yr of birth--age during this epilog):
Phoenix Dec 2005 (17)
Dakota June 2007 (15)
Seth July 2009 (13)
Zeke Oct 2010 (12)
Benjamin Nov 2007 (15)
Erika Jan 2009 (14)
Kelsey Oct 2010 (12)
Blake Sept 2006 (16)
Shelby Sept 2009 (13)
Alex Jan 2002 (21)
Joy Aug 2006 (16)
Dominic March 2008 (15)
Connor Feb 2008 (15)
Dillon April 2010 (13)
Abigail Aug 2020 (2)