One Max Over the Max (CC / Teen) (Complete)

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Midwest Max
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One Max Over the Max (CC / Teen) (Complete)

Post by Midwest Max » Thu Mar 16, 2006 8:27 pm

Winner - Round 11

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Winner - Round 10

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Maria and Max

Winner- Round 9

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Title: One Max Over the Max
Author: Karen
Disclaimer: The characters of "Roswell" belong to Jason Katims, Melinda Metz, WB, and UPN. They are not mine and no infringement is intended.
Pairings/Couples/Category: AA – ALL
Rating: Teen
Summary: What would happen if Future Max got stuck in the Roswell of his past? How would the others deal with having more than one Max?
Author's Note: Yeah, it’s supposed to be fluff. No one dies, no cliff hangers. In other words, a departure for me :lol: This won’t be real long, maybe five parts or so. Suspend the belief that Max couldn’t meet face to face with himself, because that will probably happen eventually. Oh, and the first part has some GZ undertones. No, I won’t remove them. :) Special thanks to LongTimeFan for the beautiful banner, excellent as always!


Part One

Maria Deluca scrubbed the counter with all of her might, putting more concentration on the round coffee stain than she had anything all day. If she focused on the ring, maybe she could ignore that he was looking at her…pleadingly.

But there was no ignoring those eyes. Kicked. Wounded. Pitiful.

Sighing, she dropped the sponge and put a hand to her hip. Of course, he’d been talking the whole time – there’d been no ignoring the mournful tone of his voice, either – but she’d been trying her damnedest to block him out. Not that she needed him to repeat himself. She knew what the problem was. It was always the same problem and she mused that maybe if he could find something else to be sullen about, she wouldn’t mind his presence so much.

“I don’t know what to do,” he finished, staring despondently into his coffee.

Maria drew in a breath and reminded herself that Max was sensitive – she couldn’t just start screaming at him to give Liz some space like she wanted to. In her heart, she really just wanted him to take her advice for a change, instead of making her repeat the same advice over and over and over until she felt frustrated and ready to smack him. Smacking only worked on Michael; if she were to smack Max, there would be years of therapy in his future.

“You could order lunch,” Maria offered with a smile, searching for neutral ground. Any ground, really, that didn’t deal with Liz…or their current “situation.”

No dice. Max looked up with those kicked-dog eyes and frowned. “Like I could eat.”

“Well, everyone’s gotta eat sometime!” she attempted again. “And we make great sundaes!”

Max’s cheeks bulged out slightly and his hand went to his belly. Maria let out a sigh and deflated visibly. As annoying as his brooding could be, she still felt sorry for him. He didn’t ask for any of this. He certainly didn’t ask for the “guest” Liz had hiding out in her bedroom. Or maybe he did. Since it was him, after all. Well, another version of him. Maria shook her head – she’d never get the dynamics straight. It was all too confusing.

Reminding herself that she was supposed to be a supportive friend in times of need, she reached across the counter and put her hand over Max’s. He raised wounded eyes to hers, questioning.

“Being here doesn’t help, you know,” she said gently. She lifted her eyes meaningfully toward the ceiling, toward the Parkers’ apartment.

Max nodded and let out a sigh. “Yeah, I know. I just have a hard time staying away. Even after you’ve told me to give her up.”

Maria glanced sideways to see who might be in earshot, found no one. “Because now you know that you don’t ever give her up?”

He nodded solemnly.

“I have a stupid idea,” she announced, drawing his attention. “Why don’t you go upstairs and ask him?”

Max withdrew slightly, his eyes widening. “Ask him what?”

“Ask him how you won her back.”

He looked a little uncertain. “Isn’t that against the rules or something? I mean, I would be revealing my future to myself.” He paused at the confusion of that statement. “Besides, I’m not sure I want to talk to him.”

“Why not?”

“What if he lies? Just to protect himself or something?”

Maria laughed at the irony. “Well, Max, if you can’t be honest with yourself, then who can you be?”

Max frowned, withdrew his hand and rose to leave. “I don’t want to talk to him. Not yet.”

She let out another sigh, tipped her head in sympathy. Rounding the counter, she reached up and put her arms around him, giving him a tight hug of comfort. His return embrace was less than enthusiastic and Maria knew that Max didn’t want any woman in his arms besides Liz.

“Listen,” she said as she pulled back from him and straightened his jacket. “Give this some time. It’s bound to resolve itself, right?”

Max didn’t look convinced. “What if it never does? What if…he’s here permanently?”

Maria paled, imagining how confusing birthdays would be for the two of them. Would Future Max actually lose years as Present Max gained them? What happened when they finally became the same age? Would they become one person or two really messed up people? And, most importantly, would she be expected to buy presents for both of them?

Max gave a helpless snort, acknowledging the weight of her non-answer. “I’m gonna go.”

“Yeah, sure,” she said, rubbing his arm. “You take care of yourself. Call if you need anything.”

Maria watched him walk away, his shoulders slumped, head hung. Kicked. Wounded. Pitiful.

The bell at the kitchen window dinged and Maria went to retrieve her order. On the other side of the small opening, Michael met her gaze. As normal, he was chewing a toothpick, his expression cocky.

“Having Max troubles?” he said, gesturing with a tip of his head toward the front door.

“Bite me, Michael,” Maria answered as she lifted the plates onto a tray. “I haven’t forgiven you for sucking face with Courtney.”

He blinked, then regrouped, ready for the confrontation. Before he could speak, however, Maria held up her hand.

And for being close enough to peel off her skin. Until you can find some way to make up for that, I won’t hear any of your barbs about Max. End of story.”

She didn’t look back as she moved to deliver her patrons’ order. She didn’t even look toward the window as she reclaimed her spot behind the counter. In fact, she went back to her malicious scrubbing, trying anything to avoid his eyes. Screw Michael and his double-standards. In fact, she hoped he got the wrong idea. She hoped his imagination had given him some nice visions of her and Max together, kissing like porn stars. She hoped he got visions of her with both Maxes.

The evil thought made her grin.

Until a shadow passed her periphery and stopped before her. Without looking up, she knew who it was and her insides deflated.

“Hey,” came a soft voice.

She had no choice but to look up. She found the same eyes – kicked, wounded and pitiful – in an older face. In the days since Future Max had been stranded out of his era, Liz had managed to clean him up a bit. His hair hung loosely to his shoulders instead of being pulled back in that cheesy Tom Cruise Magnolia-esque ponytail, and he’d managed to put on a shirt that had sleeves and wasn’t made of leather.

“I need to talk with you,” he said, that ever-present desperation in his eyes.

Maria let out a sigh and dropped her sponge. “Are you supposed to be down here?”

He looked around, like it was ridiculous she should even ask. “Why not?”

“Because you just left!” she hissed, leaning toward him to deaden her works. “Not two minutes ago!”

He looked toward the door, then back to her. “I did?”

“Not you!” she said, waving her hands in exasperation. “The other you!”

“Well, I guess he can go wherever he wants.” He gave a slight shrug of indifference.

Grunting in disgust, Maria rounded the counter, grabbed him by the arm and ushered him to the break room. She avoided Michael’s stares and tried to ignore the firm bicep beneath her fingers – she would not be distracted by a future hot body.

Once safely in the back room, Maria released him and whirled to face him. “What are you doing downstairs?” she demanded, pointing toward the wooden staircase, her tone that of someone reprimanding a puppy for soiling the carpet.

At that, he cracked a grin and laughed lightly.

“You think it’s funny? What if someone sees you?”

“Maria, will you calm down? People have already seen me. No one has phoned the authorities.”

“Eventually, someone is going to stop buying your story of being Max’s long lost uncle.” As emphasis, she made finger quotes around the last word.

He shrugged. “No one has questioned that yet.”

“And you haven’t run into his – your parents yet!”

The door to the back room swung open as one of the waitresses lugged a pan of dirty dishes toward the kitchen. Maria cut off her words and looked to the floor until the girl had disappeared into the next room. Then she looked up and felt the fight inside of her taking flight. He was looking at her sullenly, like a man who had lost his last friend and on some level Maria believed that to be true. Sure, they were all his friends in this timeline - but in the future, he’d watched all of them die. She couldn’t help but feel a tug of sympathy.

“What was it you wanted to ask me?” she questioned, her tone resigned and a little softer.

“It’s Liz.”

“Of course it is,” Maria sighed. It was always Liz with him, no matter the age.

“She won’t talk to me.”

“How can she not be talking to you? You’re living in her bathroom. She at least has to talk to you to ask you to leave so that she can pee.” A thought hit Maria and she recoiled slightly – unless Liz was comfortable peeing in front of him.

“That’s not what I mean,” he said. “I want to talk to her about us, about what is going to happen.”

Interest sparked inside of Maria and she perked up. “Yes, let’s talk about what’s going to happen,” she agreed eagerly.

He cocked his head to the side and gave her a humorously reprimanding look. “Maria,” he said sternly.

“I’ve got it, Max!” She took a step closer to him, moving into his personal space just enough to make him uncomfortable. “You tell me something and I’ll tell you how to get Liz to talk to you.” She couldn’t believe after all those years of being married to her that he hadn’t figured that out yet.

“You know I can’t tell you anything,” he said in a hushed whisper.

“Why not? From what I can see, the future has already changed, so anything you might tell me probably isn’t going to happen anyway, right?”

“I’m sure changing one thing doesn’t change everything,” he shot back hotly. “And keep your voice down!”

“You’re the one who wanted to talk in public, dude. Just tell me, does Michael remain a jackass? Or does he find some way to redeem himself?”

Finally he took a step back, away from her intruding into his space. His eyes were sorrowful for a moment and she knew that he was reliving Michael dying in the future that he’d changed.

“Forget it,” he said dejectedly. “Forget I asked. I thought you’d help me, but I guess I was wrong.”

All of the spunk rushed out of Maria as she watched him leave silently via the back door. He moved stealthily, like a cat, and she wondered if a lifetime of hiding had honed that skill. Inside, she felt a little overwhelmed. He was right – she should be helping him and she didn’t know why she could be understanding with Present Max but so impatient with Future Max. Then again, how was she supposed to help both Maxes at the same time? It was simply too much to ask of one person.

Letting out a sigh, Maria turned and looked up the wooden stairs that led to the Parkers’ apartment. It was time she and Liz had a talk.


tbc
Last edited by Midwest Max on Sun Apr 23, 2006 6:40 pm, edited 11 times in total.

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Midwest Max
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Post by Midwest Max » Mon Mar 20, 2006 8:32 pm

Part Two

He was staring. Blue eyes, boring holes into the side of his head. He willed himself not to look at him, but there was only so much a guy could take.

Alex jerked, having been non-verbally called on his rudeness. A set of brown eyes, not amused, met his own.

“You’re staring at me,” Max said, frowning slightly.

“Was I?” Alex blurted. “I didn’t mean to.”

“You were. Could you stop it please?”

“Yes, certainly, of course.” Alex made a great show of shuffling his papers, stuffing them into his notebook.

Max sipped his coffee, enjoyed its flavor for a nano-second before he realized he was being observed again. Sighing, he turned his head in his friend’s direction.

“Alex,” he said as a warning.

“Oh, sorry. I know, I know. I’m staring at you again. Not that I’d have any reason to stare. Not me, nope. Weird things happen all the time here in Roswell, why would I have any reason to stare?” He punctuated his nervous rambling with a high-pitched laugh.

Max gave a sigh and put down his cup, looked over his shoulder at the other patrons in the coffee shop. No one was even looking in their direction, but if Alex maintained his manic ranting, they were bound to draw some unwanted attention.

“Listen,” he said in a hushed tone. “You’ve gotta get a grip on yourself.”

Alex tried to act innocent, then his shoulders slumped and he looked more than a little sheepish. “I’m sorry. It’s just that this is weird, ya know?”

“Tell me about it,” Max murmured, sipping his coffee.

“I mean, you look so much like him…”

Max’s brow furrowed and he cast Alex an ironic look. “That’s because I am him, Alex.”

“Oh, right, right.” He looked at the table, at the ceiling, at the windows, at his shoes – making an obvious display of not looking at Max.

“Jesus,” Max mumbled, then turned sideways in his chair so that he could face Alex. “I didn’t say you couldn’t look at me at all, Alex. Just, stop the staring – you’re creeping me out.”

The sheepish look returned to Alex’s young face. “Sorry.” He bounced his fingertips together, then said, “I was wondering –”

“No, you can’t ask me,” Max interrupted.

Alex withdrew. “Wow. How did you know I was going to ask you something? You just had a memory flashback or something, didn’t you? You already knew I was going to ask you a question, didn’t you?” His voice rose in excitement. “You already know everything, don’t you?”

Max let out a tired breath and rose from his chair, folded his newspaper and stuck it under his arm. Alex’s eyes settled on the paper and his eyebrows drew together in confusion.

“Why are you looking at the paper?” he questioned. “This is all in the past for you, isn’t it? Why would you want to read old news?”

“I’m leaving now,” Max said, dropping a tip on the counter for the waitress.

“Wait,” Alex pleaded. “Tell me something – just one thing!”

Max stopped, scratched his face. “One thing?”

“Just one.”

Max knew the one thing Alex really wanted to know was whether he ended up with Isabel or not – it was written all over the poor guy’s face. But that was a significant reveal and there was no way he could let out something that big. So he pretended to contemplate hard, all the while making up something totally fictitious.

“Okay,” he finally said. “One thing.”

Alex looked like he was about to climb out of his skin.

“If I were you,” Max began in a hushed tone, “I’d skip gym class next Thursday.”

He turned on his heel and started to walk away, but not before he saw the look of utter confusion on Alex’s face. He could almost predict the worries now flooding Mr. Whitman’s head – what awful thing was going to happen in gym class? Forgotten jock strap? Dodge ball humiliation? Broken bones? Embarrassment before the girls’ class? Kicked in the nuts? Or some other unspeakable travesty?

Max felt a little spark of glee inside, the first taste of levity he’d had in days. He’d always liked Alex and being able to have a little fun with him was something he’d missed greatly.

“Wait,” he heard Alex call out behind him. “What is that supposed to mean? You can’t go away without telling me what that means!”

* * * * *

Above the Crashdown, Maria paced the floor of Liz’s bedroom while Liz lay curled in a fetal position on the bed.

“Come on, Liz,” Maria begged. “Sit up and talk to me.”

“I don’t want to talk,” Liz said into her pillow, her eyes turned toward the window, the one through which she’d seen Max’s devastated expression when he’d found Kyle in her bed.

“You have to, babe,” Maria said, coming to stop before the window.

Liz looked up at her in slight annoyance at having her view blocked. “I don’t have to, Maria. Please go back to work.”

“Speaking of which.” Maria plopped down beside her friend, causing an indent into the mattress. Liz rolled toward her, then sighed and pushed herself back into her spot. “When are you coming back to work?”

Liz looked at her for a long moment, possibly contemplating that her friend had lost her mind. “I have a job,” she pointed out.

“Working for a dead congresswoman.”

“No one knows she’s dead. I have to stay there to keep up the ruse.”

Maria snorted. “Ruse? New word of the day?”

Liz shot her a look, then folded her hands under her cheek and resumed staring out the window.

Maria pushed herself to her feet and started to pace again. Out of curiosity, she stopped near the bathroom and stole a peek inside. Did Future Max really hang out in there all the time?

“What are you looking for?” Liz asked tiredly, at the end of her patience.

Maria jumped slightly. “Nothing. I was just…um, does he sleep in there?” She made a jabbing motion toward the bathroom with her index finger.

“Yes, Maria. I make the Max of the future sleep in the bathtub.” She let out a sigh of impatience and sat up against the headboard.

Inside, Maria beamed with glee. She knew she was being annoying, but at least Liz was responding. At least she’d sat upright.

“So, where does he sleep?” Maria pressed. Her eyes fell on Liz’s sheets and she raised an eyebrow.

“Maria, no!” Liz protested. “He does not sleep with me.”

“But he did at some point, right? I mean, you were married and I doubt you waited until the end of the world to consummate.”

Liz covered her face with her hand. “I don’t want to talk about that, Maria.”

“Which means he’s probably seen you naked, right?”

Liz dropped her hand and regarded her friend with a threatening look.

“Unless, he’s already seen you naked in this timeline, then it wouldn’t be such a big deal now, would it?” Maria cocked her head to the side, her grin that of the Cheshire cat.

“He sleeps on the balcony,” Liz said flatly.

Maria stopped and looked out the window at Liz’s chaise lounge. Was that why her friend kept looking that way? “Really? Doesn’t it get cold out there?”

Liz shrugged, pulled one of her pillows over her stomach and started picking at the tag.

“Do you ever ask him?” Maria baited.

Liz shook her head.

Maria straightened, feigned surprise. “No?”

Liz looked up at her, her expression sad.

Maria let out a mental sigh and sat down beside her. “You don’t talk to him at all, do you?”

Liz looked down the pillow, shook her head solemnly.

“Babe, you’re going to have to do something.”

“What do you expect me to do?” Liz’s tone was level, but Maria knew she was teetering on the brink of either crying or yelling.

“I don’t know, Liz, but you’ve got to do something. It’s not easy with both of them around, spreading their sulking energy all over the place. I don’t think the world is ready for two of them. It’s like there should be a one Max limit and you’ve got an extra one. You’re one Max over the max!”

Liz rubbed her forehead. “I didn’t ask for this, Maria.”

“Maybe you did.”

“Huh?”

“Do you really think Future Max acted alone?”

Liz’s brow furrowed.

“Don’t you think you were on the other side giving him a nudge, telling him to change what he could in order to set things right again?”

She shrugged. “I guess it’s possible.”

“More than likely. So, maybe you did ask for this.”

“But not me,” Liz clarified, patting her chest as demonstration. “Not this me.”

“Right. And not this Max,” Maria said, pointing to the strip of pictures Liz had on her nightstand. “So why are you punishing him? He didn’t ask for this either.”

“Maria, I wasn’t talking to Max before he came back from the future. I’m not punishing him.”

“It feels that way to him.”

Liz met her friend’s eyes sharply. “You’ve been talking to him.”

Maria sighed. “Yes, I’ve been talking to him. Both of him, actually. That’s why I’m here. I can’t take it anymore, Liz. You don’t know what it’s like to have both of them coming to you begging for help.”

A small victory shined in Liz’s eyes. “And you don’t know what it’s like to have both of them coming to you begging to get back together.”

tbc

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Post by Midwest Max » Thu Mar 30, 2006 7:58 pm

Every fluff needs a little angst ;) (But I promise this fic won't stay there)


Part Three

“What did you find out?”

They were there again, those eyes. Kicked. Wounded. Pitiful.

Maria shifted in her seat on the cold park bench, stuffed her hands inside of her coat pockets. Max didn’t even appear to notice the brisk night air; perhaps he’d become too numb to feel anything.

“Did you talk to her?” he prodded carefully, one eyebrow lifting hopefully.

It was the hope that Maria hated most. For months, she’d been telling Max to give up Liz, and for months he’d stubbornly hung in there, hanging on to a hope that Liz would somehow find her way back to him. It was hope that kept him going, hope that would crush him in the end.

“Yeah, I talked to her, Max,” Maria replied gently, shivering against the damp. “Aren’t you cold?”

He shook his head, seemed almost annoyed that she’d diverted from the topic at hand. “How is she?”

“How is she? Well, she’s got both of you crowding her.” As soon as the words left her mouth, Maria cringed. She hadn’t meant to blurt out the truth so harshly and now she could see another wound opening behind those soulful eyes.

Max looked down at the ground, at a leaf that had blown between his feet. Sitting there, shoulders slumped, he just looked so…lost.

“I didn’t mean it to come out that way,” Maria apologized, laying a hand on his arm. “I’m just trying to say that she’s upset and confused and it doesn’t help to have both of you around all the time, wanting to see her, wanting to be with her. It’s too much, Max.”

He frowned as he looked at her. “Would it be better if he went away?”

Maria shrugged lightly. “I don’t know, maybe. I’m sure he doesn’t really want to be here.”

“Then why doesn’t he just go away?”

She let out a little snort of irony. “You want yourself to take a hike?”

Max shifted in his seat and let out a sigh. “He’s not me,” he said, a tinge of impatience in his tone.

“Yes, he is.”

“Not really.” The fight was gone from his voice, replaced with despondence.

Maria’s head tilted slightly to the side as she regarded her friend. It was entirely possible that Max was disappointed with his future self. Could it be that Max didn’t like the person he’d become?

“Have you spoken with him?” she asked out of curiosity.

Max rolled his eyes. “Only long enough for him to tell me I have a stupid haircut.”

Maria pretended like she was blowing on her hands for warmth, but in truth she was hiding a grin behind them. “When did this happen?”

“Earlier today. I saw him leaving the coffee shop. It would be suspicious if we were to stop and talk to one another, so as he passed me, he made a comment about my hair.” Max frowned again. “I don’t think my haircut is stupid.” He cast a sudden glance at Maria. “Do you?”

Still blowing on her hands, she shook her head, hoped her smile wasn’t reaching her eyes.

“Then, I had to deal with Alex.”

Maria dropped her hands to her lap. “What happened to Alex?”

Max shrugged. “I don’t know, but he came out of the café right after him and was babbling something about gym class. I think he said something to him, something he shouldn’t have.”

“Like what?” Maria held her hands open in question. “Like there’s going to be a dodge ball tournament this week and your team is going to lose?”

“I don’t know. I just know he did something to freak out Alex. It’s not right.”

Maria’s hands fell to her lap again and she cocked her head to the side. “Max. Tell me one time you’ve ever done anything mean to Alex.”

He looked at her wordlessly.

“Exactly my point,” she said in triumph. “I highly doubt that he – you – said anything to upset Alex this morning. I’m sure the whole thing is just freaking him out, you know?” She sighed tiredly.

Max blinked a couple of times, then asked, “Why aren’t you freaked out by this?”

She looked at him in surprise. “What do you mean?”

“There are two of me here, Maria. It’s appropriate that Alex is freaked. It might even be appropriate that Liz is upset and confused. But you don’t seem any of those things. How come you can deal and no one else can?”

She cleared her throat self-consciously and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “Well, it’s just easier…”

Max’s eyebrows rose upward. “Easier than what?”

“Dealing with Michael.” Her cheeks burned lightly with the admission and she immediately began toying with her fingers. “If I think about this, then I don’t have to think about what happened with Courtney. It’s much easier to deal with someone else’s pain than your own.” She gave him a sheepish grin and looked away.

“Oh,” Max replied, no judgment in his tone. After a moment of silence, he added, “Think if I dealt with the Michael/Courtney situation, I wouldn’t feel my pain?”

She thought he was serious, until she looked up and found a slight grin on his face. “I guess you could try,” she said, playing along. “Just please don’t ever refer to it as the ‘Michael/Courtney situation’ again. It sounds like they’re a couple and that very thought makes me want to gag.”

Max grinned a little broader, then kicked at the leaf at his feet. “So, what should I do?” His tone was soft again, a lovesick young man only wanting a happy ending.

“Give her some space, Max,” Maria advised. “Like you said, this situation is pretty messed up and she has a right to be confused about everything. Neither of you asked for this, but the problem is here nonetheless. Let her breathe a little.”

“While he’s there.” There was a bitter finality in his tone and Maria could imagine what it must feel like to be asked to keep a distance while someone else got to be close all the time.

Maria nodded.

“Will you tell him to leave her alone, too?”

She shook her head.

“Why not?” Max’s voice was a mixture of pleading and demanding.

“Because I can’t talk him in or out of anything,” she replied simply. “He’s got his own mind about things.”

“And I don’t?”

“Of course you do, but he’s got fourteen years of history on both of us, Max. He knows things that are going to happen that we don’t. I can’t offer him any good advice because already knows how the cards are going to be played out.” A devilish twinkle shined in her eyes and she couldn’t help but egg him on a little. “Besides, he’s a bit of a jerk.”

Max looked at her like someone had poked him in the ass.

“Kidding,” she laughed. “God, you’re so serious!”

He shook his head and rolled his eyes. “You’re hilarious. So, I just step back and let jerk boy move in with Liz.”

“Jerk boy?” Maria fell into giggles. “Snarkiness fits you, Max! I didn’t know you had it in you!” She wiped at her eyes with sides of her fingers.

“I’ve gotta go,” he sighed and pushed himself to his feet, ready to return to his room to sulk. “Thanks for trying, Maria.”

She stood as well, adjusted her hat over her ears. “I’ll keep trying, Max. Listen, Alex and I were going to see a movie later. Do you want to come?”

He shook his head sadly. “No, that’s sweet. But I think I’d rather just go home.”

And mope, she concluded. “Okay. Well, be good to yourself.” She stepped forward and gave him a hug. “Don’t let any aliens abduct you on the way home.”

He rolled his eyes again, then started across the park. Maria watched him leave and felt the energy drain out of her. She didn’t know how much more of this she could take without losing her sanity.

Once Max had disappeared into the shadows, she turned and started scurrying for her car. Her fingers were numb at the tips and the end of her nose burned from the chill. As she jogged, her breath turned into a misty white cloud in the air. November was definitely here.

When Maria neared her car, she no longer cared about the cold or the dew-soaked grass or the numbness in her hands. Sitting on his bike, parked beside her car, was Michael. He didn’t look amused. His presence both excited and annoyed her. She dropped to a stroll and looked everywhere but directly at him.

“Excuse me,” she said, turning sideways to walk between his bike and the car door. She stuffed the key into the lock and hoped that he couldn’t see her hand shaking.

“Since when do you lock the doors?” he asked.

“Since people wouldn’t quit stealing my car,” she spat back.

“The lock wouldn’t stop me,” he replied arrogantly.

“I doubt that,” she said, already sliding one leg into the vehicle.

“How’s your boyfriend?” Michael asked, his tone level.

She told herself not to rise to the occasion, but as always, when it came to Michael she couldn’t resist gearing up for the battle. She was immediately out of the car and standing nose-to-nose with him.

“You’d like it if that were the truth, wouldn’t you?” she accused.

Michael shrugged, unfazed by her outbursts. “Why would I like that?”

“Because then you wouldn’t be bothered with me anymore.”

“Who said I’m bothered with you now?”

She held her arms out demonstratively. “What are you doing here, Michael?”

“I was just passing by.”

“You’ve been sitting here watching us!”

“Have not.”

“Yes, you have!” Her voice had risen sharply in pitch and she hated that he seemed so unflappable while she seemed the direct opposite. “If you were just passing by, then you would have kept going! Passing by and stopping are two entirely different things!”

“Fine. I saw your car, didn’t see you and decided to wait to see if you showed up.”

“What for?!”

“In case something happened to you.”

His concern momentarily threw her, adding confusion to her mix of emotions. “What would happen to me?”

Another shrug. “It’s dark. There are evil creatures out there.”

Anger displaced the confusion. “Like Skins? Like Courtney?”

He sighed and shook his head. “Do we have to go there?”

“Yes! And I’ll explain something to you, Michael. I’d be lucky if Max were my boyfriend – you want to know why? Because if he saw my car and didn’t see me, and it was dark outside and there were evil creatures, he wouldn’t wait to see if I eventually showed up! He would go looking for me!”

Now Michael’s jaw set in anger. “I’m sorry I stopped.” He lifted his weight from the seat, ready to kick-start the bike.

“So am I,” she snapped.

Without another word, he started the bike and screeched onto the street, disappeared into the night.

Maria fell back against the car, her world pausing for one agonizing second. Then the dam broke and she fell into sobs, her face buried in her hands. In that moment, she realized that the reason she hated Max’s hope so much was because she had the same problem. She hoped – and in the end, that hope was going to ruin her.

tbc

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Post by Midwest Max » Fri Mar 31, 2006 7:48 pm

Part Four

As Max neared the perimeter of the park, he thought about jogging the rest of the way home. It was kind of brisk and he could use the exercise. Behind him, he heard the rumble of a dirt bike roaring down the street that ran on the opposite side of the park. Absently, he mused that it would be a cold night to be out on a bike.

Leaving the darkness of the park, he stepped onto the sidewalk beneath a streetlight and immediately drew to a stop, thoughts of running definitely toward the forefront of his mind. Before him, looking equally stunned, were Kyle and Tess.

For one moment, Kyle looked remorseful before his poker face fell back in place. Tess just looked uncomfortable. Max felt an overwhelming sense of hatred beneath his breastbone and never before had he wanted to pummel someone as badly as he wanted to pummel the sheriff’s son. Without a word, he stepped around them and started walking briskly in the opposite direction.

“Max, wait,” Tess called.

He stopped, pivoted to face them again, his eyes landing on Kyle. “I have nothing to say to you.”

Kyle let out a sigh. “I didn’t do anything, man.”

“You were naked, in bed, with Liz.” Max’s voice was strained, slightly broken on the word ‘naked.’

“I wasn’t naked. I never touched her. I only did what she asked me to do.”

“Why, Kyle?” Max retraced a couple of his steps. “Why on earth would anyone agree to do such a thing?”

Kyle gave a little shrug. “Because she needed me to.”

“And that was good enough for you?!”

“Max,” Tess intercepted him with a hand on the arm as he took another step toward the younger Valenti.

Max shook her off. “Stay out of this, Tess. It has nothing to do with you.”

She gave an ironic laugh. “From what I hear, it has everything to do with me.”

He glanced at her, scowled, then returned his attention to Kyle. “I want an answer to my question.”

Reaching out, Kyle took Tess by the arm and gently pulled her back to his side. He didn’t need anyone fighting his battles for him. “Yes,” he replied. “It was good enough for me.”

Max blew out a disgusted breath and shook his head.

“And it seems to me like the only reason she asked me to do what I did was because you asked her to.”

“I never asked her to sleep with you!”

“And neither did she. She just asked me to make it look that way. Because you asked her to hurt you.”

“I did not!”

Kyle gave another shrug. “You did, in a round about way. But it doesn’t matter, Max. Liz is a friend, she needed my help, I helped. End of story. I have to wonder if the tables were turned, what you would do…”

Max barely covered his surprise. He hadn’t considered that and until Kyle made that comment, maybe he hadn’t really realized what a horrible decision had been placed on Liz to make. Before he could comment, however, Kyle had turned and continued walking.

Tess watched him go, then turned a sympathetic face to Max. “You okay?”

Max nodded numbly, feeling a little selfish and a lot stupid inside.

“I wish you’d come to me,” she said.

His brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“Instead of going through all of this, I wish you would have come to me and told me the truth. I wish you would have just asked me to stay, if I did leave in that other life.”

“Tess, I didn’t know,” he said softly. “Apparently, I didn’t know until before I came back here, fourteen years into the future, that your leaving would be an issue.”

“But once you got back here, why did you let Liz hurt you the way she did? Why didn’t you come to me and tell me that I needed to stay?”

Max scrubbed his face with his hand, frustrated. He couldn’t totally know why his future self had done what he had, but he could guess that the reason he’d gone to Liz and not Tess was a simple one – he trusted Liz and he did not trust Tess. Not entirely.

“I can’t speak for him,” he replied, choosing neutral ground. “I don’t know why he didn’t just come to you. I’m sorry if any of this has hurt you, Tess.” He meant that – he’d never wanted to hurt her feelings.

“It’s okay,” she said, an unconvincing smile on her lips. “I’d better catch up with Kyle before he leaves me.”

Max gave her a weak smile and watched her jog down the sidewalk toward Kyle. He couldn’t help hating him, and he couldn’t help not trusting her. If there were two people he hadn’t really needed to bump into, it was them.

Meanwhile, not far from the park, Liz pulled the covers around her body and looked up at the ceiling. Lately, sleeping had been difficult and she wondered how long it would take her to get there this night. There was a light rapping sound on her door, then a soft voice.

“Liz, are you decent?”

She immediately sat up straight, her head whipping toward the balcony. It was past eleven o’clock and Max should be out there sleeping by now. That could only mean that the present-day Max had somehow made it to her door.

“Liz?”

“Y-yes,” she stammered. What was she going to do? What was she going to say with both of them there? The mother of all awkward situations was heading in her direction.

But when the door opened, she saw that it was her tenant asking to enter, not his much younger self. In his hand, a tea cup. Immediately feeling self-conscious, she pulled her covers up to her armpits. He didn’t miss the action and she didn’t miss the slight hurt in his eyes.

“I thought you were already out there,” she said, glancing toward her outside haven, then at the tea cup. “Did my parents see you?”

He shook his head and kept his voice low as he set the cup on her nightstand. “No, I’ve become good at being invisible over the years. I thought you might like some tea.”

“I do like tea before bed sometimes,” she replied, then her eyes snapped to his. “But you knew that already, didn’t you?”

He gave a sheepish smile.

“Can you, um, really become invisible?” she asked.

“No.” There was an amused twinkle in his eyes. “I’m just really stealthy these days.”

“Oh.” She kept her eyes on him, wide, wary.

Max sighed and ran a hand through his longish hair. He eyed the bed, like he wanted to sit down, but chose to lean against the dresser instead. There were boundaries and he was more than aware of them.

“I’m sorry for all of this, Liz.”

She watched him silently.

“I know you wish I wasn’t here.”

“That’s not true,” she objected, even though his words did have a certain truth to them.

He held up a hand, silencing her. “Maybe not, but I can’t help but feel how confused you are.” He looked at his hands, then back to her. “I can feel you. You know that, right?”

She swallowed hard, her heart beating a little faster in her chest.

“I feel that, too,” he said with a sad smile.

Liz’s cheeks flushed, but she decided not to deny it. “Why can’t I feel you? I really can’t tell what you’re feeling, Max.” In some odd way, she felt cheated.

Max made a motion between the two of them. “Because for you, we haven’t happened yet.”

“But for you, we already have.” There was finality in her tone.

He nodded silently.

Liz let out a sigh and pulled her knees up to her chest, her gaze fixed on the darkened window, a vision of her broken-hearted Max haunting her memories. “And that may never happen for me now, right?”

Max looked at her sitting in that bed, so small, so young still, and felt a tug on his heart strings. Taking a chance, he took cautious steps to her bedside and sat down slowly beside her. Her gaze immediately jerked to him and he saw a momentary flash of panic in her eyes.

“Peace,” he said softly, holding up his hands in the surrender position, to let her know he wasn’t about to put a move on her. His eyes were serious as he spoke, his words slow and well-chosen. “I think that there’s still a good chance that things will work out.”

“How can you say that?” she asked in disbelief. “You didn’t see his face. You didn’t see what I did to him. How can I ever repair that?”

He paused patiently to let her anger weaken. “I say that because I can still feel you, Liz.” He put a hand to his chest, as though she was inside of him somewhere, as if her presence was something tangible. “If you and I never got together, I wouldn’t be able to.”

She wanted to believe it was true. She really did. But she just wasn’t ready yet – she’d meant what she said to him when he’d claimed they’d made love the night of the Gomez concert. Max Evans was truly the only guy she’d ever considered making love with, but not yet, not now.

“I want to go home,” the future version of Max mused. “I want to be with you in the life we’ve created for ourselves.”

“But how can you even know what that is now?” Liz asked, putting thoughts of sleeping with him to the far reaches of her mind.

“I don’t know entirely,” he agreed. “But in majority, we must be the same. I still exist.”

“And the danger to the world still exists?”

He frowned. “I don’t know. I just hope that you’re where I left you. I just hope that you’re safe.” His eyes drifted over her dark hair, traced the gentle curves of her face. “That’s all I’ve ever really wanted.”

Liz felt the sting of tears behind her eyes. She tried to imagine their future world together, tried to picture where they lived, what she looked like fourteen years from now. Survival instincts made her panicky that maybe she was already dead in the future, that what little they’d managed to do in the last few weeks had not been enough.

And for the first time, she felt his loss and his pain. He was not some wicked ogre from the future come to force her into doing things she didn’t want to do. He was desperate, afraid of losing all that was dear to him and yet willing to give up all that was dear to him in order to save the world. He was in a no-win situation.

“Anyway,” he said after the lull in the conversation. “I just wanted to say I was sorry for putting you through this.” He rose to his feet and waved his hand over her cup to warm her tea. “This will help you sleep.” He’d felt her restlessness, too.

Liz watched him push open her window, on his way to that uncomfortable lounge chair for the night, and felt a tug of empathy.

“Max,” she said.

He turned to her.

“We could try to work something out,” she offered, glancing around her room, looking for a place to put him that wouldn’t immediately alarm her parents. “You don’t have to sleep outside.”

His eyes drifted to the bed and lingered there for a moment, then he met her eyes, a smile in his. “Yes, I do.”

tbc

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Post by Midwest Max » Mon Apr 03, 2006 7:19 pm

Part Five

She was beautiful. Her hair was still long, golden, freshly washed and groomed. Her skin was soft and blemish-free, unmarked by the trials of time. Gone was the harshness in her eyes, the cold exterior of someone who had experienced too much life – and too much death. In short, she was the Isabel he’d forgotten ever existed.

There hadn’t been time to grieve for his sister and that fact was hitting home now more than he wanted it to. With her sitting an arm’s length away, alive, healthy and unjaded, he could barely contain the urge to burst into tears. A million “what ifs” raced through his mind, filling him with sadness and regret.

“Why haven’t you asked me?” he asked softly.

“Asked you what?” she replied, a hint of nervousness in her voice.

“You’re the only one who hasn’t asked me about the future.” He looked across the park, at a teenage girl walking a pug; the dog was more interested in jumping in loops than obediently following its master. “Everyone else has wanted to know what happens.”

“Maybe I don’t want to know,” she said quietly, looking down at her hands.

He’d come across her sitting on this park bench, a confused and troubled look on her face. Until that moment, he hadn’t remembered that during this period in her life, she often looked confused and troubled. Now, of course, he knew why – the whole Vilandra thing. She thought she was someone she wasn’t, and she couldn’t bring herself to tell her friends and family that she believed herself a traitor. It hurt him to wonder how many nights’ sleep she’d lost worrying over a lie.

“You’re not even curious?” he baited lightly.

Isabel let out a humorless laugh. “No, Max, I’m not.”

He tilted his head in question.

“You came back alone,” she explained. “Couple that with all of the talk about the end of the world and I think I can figure it out.” Her lips turned downward into a frown. “I don’t want to know what happens to me.”

A memory, so painful that it almost took his breath away, raced through Max’s head – a scream of horror and anger, blood, the smell of burning hair, and the sudden, violent death of his sister. The breath caught in his chest and he closed his eyes against the agony.

Silence weighed heavily until he finally opened his eyes. Isabel was looking at him intently.

“I knew it,” she murmured.

Max shifted in his seat, placed elbows on knees and folded his hands. “The future will be different now,” he said, looking down at the ground. “Things have changed.”

“How are you so sure anything has changed?”

He lifted a smile in her direction. “Because my memories are fading.”

Isabel withdrew. “Why are you happy about that?”

“Because some of them weren’t so good.”

Her brow furrowed as she contemplated that. Finally, she asked, “Aren’t you afraid all of your memories will vanish?”

“They can’t. I’m still here, in this timeline, as a seventeen-year-old. The memories that have been created until now are a part of me. Besides, it’s not like the slate is being wiped clean. Some memories are still remaining.” Like her death. He didn’t like that fact.

“This is all very confusing,” she said, her face wrinkled up. “You’re him but not really him and he’s you but not really you.”

Max nodded. “I know.”

“I don’t know how I’d react to meeting myself from the future.” She was silent for a long moment and he could read the turmoil in her eyes.

“Isabel, look at me.”

She met his gaze, hers uncertain and worried.

“I know your secret.”

She recoiled and nearly got to her feet to flee. Max put out a hand to stop her, motioned for her to sit back down.

“It’s okay,” he said carefully.

“How long have you known?” Panic was distorting her pretty features.

“I can’t say,” he answered apologetically. “But I’m not sure I took the news too well.” His jaw set in regret and shame, which only increased tenfold as she hung her head. “I hope that can be changed. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

She toyed with her bracelet and didn’t lift her head when she spoke. “I’m a bad person, aren’t I?”

Max’s heart nearly broke in two. He’d told himself he wouldn’t allow himself to touch her – there was always the risk of the alien voodoo kicking in and knowledge being transferred to her that shouldn’t be. But he couldn’t help himself. Reaching out, he lifted her chin with his forefinger, forcing her to meet his eyes.

“No,” he said levelly. “You are not a bad person. You’ve never been a bad person, Isabel. In fact, you’re one of the better people I’ve met. What you think and what is true might not be the same thing.”

She cocked her head in curiosity, but he could tell her no more.

“Just know that you were my sister and that I loved you – that’s all that mattered,” he said, then nearly winced at his unintentional use of past tense.

But she didn’t miss it. Her dark eyes grew round and he saw grief in them. His mind whirled, trying to come up with some way to cover his major gaff, but there was no way to mend what he’d just said.

“I have to go,” she said, rising.

He thought he could see her fingers trembling. He couldn’t even apologize for what he’d just said – anything he did was only going to make it worse. As he watched her cross the park, he wished there was some way he could leave this place because it seemed the longer he was here, the more damage he was going to do.

* * * * *

“I thought you were going to try to stay away from here.” Maria had her hand on her hip, an accusatory look on her face.

The younger Max, sheepish, gave her a smile from behind his menu. That was new – smiles on Mr. Evans had been lacking of late. Well, okay, so what if ‘of late’ translated to the last twelve years?

“I wanted a burger,” he said lamely.

“Uh huh,” Maria said, pulling her order pad from her silver alien-face apron. “Are you going to eat this one? Or were you planning on pushing it around the plate until it becomes as hard as a hockey puck waiting for Liz to make an appearance?”

Max flushed slightly, but still managed a small smile. “I was really planning on eating it. Besides, I wanted to see you.”

Maria looked over the order pad, one eyebrow cocked in surprise. “What the hell for?”

“I like you? You’re my friend?”

“I might have inside info on what Liz is up to today?”

“No,” he protested with another laugh. “I’m being serious!”

Maria stuck the pad back into her pocket and leaned forward on the counter. Her silver bobbles nearly bopped Max on the top of the head. “Okay, you can tell me. Was the real Max abducted last night? Did the world start spinning the opposite direction or something? Has black become white?”

Before he could reply, the bell above the door chimed and drew their attention. They watched as Future Max strode through the restaurant, his expression glum, then disappeared into the kitchen.

“Forget it,” Maria said, straightening. “If there are still two of you, then it’s still a normal day.”

Max sighed and closed his menu. He’d promised himself that he’d make an attempt to let Liz be for a while, that he’d concentrate on being young and carefree – not that he’d planned on succeeding in either endeavor, he just hadn’t planned on being thwarted so soon in the day.

“Still want that burger?” Maria asked, some of the playfulness gone from her tone.

Max shrugged, then nodded.

She moved toward the kitchen as she wrote his order. Ripping the sheet from the pad, she clipped it to the carousel and rang the bell for the cook. In less than a second, Michael was there, snatching the paper from its clip. Maria jumped involuntarily, her hand going to her chest; she did manage to check herself and not yell at him however. They exchanged a meaning-filled stare, then silently parted their ways.

Back at the counter, Maria’s demeanor shifted into friendly mode once again as she grabbed a glass and started filling it with cherry Coke. She placed the glass and a straw before Max.

“What’re ya gonna do, cowboy?” she asked him, resting her elbows on the counter.

He glanced up at her, surprised. “About what?”

She rolled her eyes to the ceiling.

“Give up?” he replied slowly, questioningly. “Isn’t that what you said?”

“I did,” she confirmed. “But I’ve been thinking about something, Max. We’re not going to live forever. I mean, why is he here in the first place? We pretty much know that fourteen years from now, everything is kaput, right?”

Max shrugged. “Maybe, unless things have changed. Then maybe it’s longer than fourteen years.”

“Or maybe it’s less than that.”

His head shot up, his eyes round at the possibility.

“I’m just saying that we could all be dead tomorrow. And what is all of this drama for? Why do we make ourselves so miserable?” She looked toward the kitchen, where she could see Michael’s back as he worked at the grill. “I think we have to decide if it’s worth it or not. If it is, then we have to fight for it. If it’s not…well, then we have to move on.”

Max gave her a sympathetic look. He had the feeling there’d been some sort of fall out or confrontation between her and Michael, in addition to the existing Courtney situation. Inside, he felt a little pang of selfishness – all this talk about his problems and never any talk about hers.

“And what did you decide to do?” he asked her softly.

Maria looked like she wanted to say something, but quickly stopped struggling to find the words and replied, “We were talking about you.” Before he could comment further, she gave him a wink and walked away.

tbc

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Post by Midwest Max » Sat Apr 08, 2006 3:15 pm

Thank you to everyone for reading - I will answer fb when I get the chance :D


Part Six

It was the crunching and gulping that annoyed her the most. A carrot stick poised a few inches from her parted lips, Maria looked at Alex with a mixture of wonder and disgust. His face was close to the table and he was rapidly shoveling food into his mouth, as though he anticipated someone sneaking up behind him and stealing it. She had a sudden vision of a dog wolfing down a snack it found before another from the pack could take it.

“Dude,” she finally said, dropping the carrot onto the plastic bag she’d pulled it from, appetite effectively squelched. “You’re making me sick.”

Alex stopped, tilted his head to the side, his cheeks bulging out like a squirrel hiding nuts for winter. “What?” he said around a mouthful of bologna and cheese.

Maria let out a disgusted grunt and gestured to the fall-out that was littering the table –shards of potato chip, splatters of Jell-O pudding. “Look at the mess you’re making. You’re eating like there’s no tomorrow!”

As soon as the words left her mouth, she realized they were the wrong ones. Of course, tomorrow was Thursday – the dreaded gym day.

Alex straightened, his expression showing sudden realization and panic. He chewed his last mouthful of food slowly, swallowed it with difficulty. “That’s it, isn’t it? He told you, didn’t he? I’m going to die in gym class tomorrow!”

With that he held his head in his hands, his blue eyes fixed on the remainder of his lunch.

Maria sighed, her shoulders sagging with the burden of keeping her friends grounded. First Max – both of them – then Liz, and now Alex. Not to mention having to deal with Asshole, whom she hadn’t spoken to in quite a few days.

“Alex,” she began wearily. “You’re not going to die in gym tomorrow.”

He dropped a hand and regarded her with an expression of utter defeat. “What else could he have meant? Why else would he have told me to stay away? Oh, God, I’m going to get hit in the head with a hockey puck or something.”

She rolled her eyes lightly. “Since when do we play hockey? In the desert? Alex, you’re over-reacting.”

“Over-reacting? How can you say that? Oh, I know – because you weren’t warned to stay away from gym class! You don’t know what it’s like…knowing you’re going to die tomorrow.” His words faded and he held his head again.

For the first time ever, Maria wanted to hit him. Hard. Instead, she counted to ten, then asked, “Did you ever consider that he might have been teasing you? You know – joking?”

Alex lifted his head, his brows furrowed together. He blinked a couple of times. “Max doesn’t joke.”

“Maybe he learned to.”

More blinking, more furrowing. “I doubt it.”

Maria sighed and shook her head. She was too tired to deal with this. “Stay home tomorrow, Alex,” she finally said.

Alex sat up straighter, his eyes round. “You’re warning me now, too? You know, don’t you! He told you! I knew it!”

Without another thought, she bridged the gap between them and smacked him across the cheek – not hard enough to hurt him, but hard enough that it startled him into silence.

“Listen to me,” she said, measuring her words. “I have not talked to him. I know nothing about what he said to you. My guess is that you were annoying him and he made something up to shut you up.”

Alex rubbed his face. “As opposed to slapping me?”

“Yes. I doubt anything horrible is going to happen tomorrow, but if you’re worried about it then take his advice and skip gym. Stop worrying about it.”

She grabbed her carrot stick and began chewing on it, her motions a little angrier than she’d intended. Alex sat quietly, looking at the mess he’d created on the table. Without saying anything, he picked up his napkin and started scraping the potato chip pieces into a neat pile.

Maria was about to apologize for hitting him when Isabel caught her eye. Something had been up lately with the Ice Princess, but this week she’d acted more than a little strange. She talked to no one. She looked at her feet when she walked, most times her books clutched to her chest in a show of defensiveness. Maria got the impression that perhaps her much older brother had told her something not so comforting about the future.

Alex caught Maria watching someone and turned to follow her gaze. They watched as Isabel picked a table in the far corner of the quad, tucked herself into the corner chair and started to open her lunch. At the same time, Alex and Maria frowned.

“Now,” Maria said, gesturing toward Isabel with another carrot. “That chick knows something.”

Alex swept the chips into his hand then deposited them into his brown lunch sack, his expression concerned. “What do you mean?”

“Haven’t you noticed? She was skittish before, but now she’s withdrawn and that’s not like her.” Maria cocked her head. “I’m surprised you didn’t notice that.”

Alex flushed lightly as he sipped from his juice box.

“You did notice,” Maria observed triumphantly. “Oh, Alex. You’re still head over heels for her, aren’t you?”

He scratched his face, accepted her gentle ribbing. “No, not me,” he denied lightly. “I just strip and make a public spectacle of myself at anyone’s birthday party who wants me to.”

Maria laughed just remembering Alex and his cheesy, clumsy strip-tease, then his subsequent breakdown when he realized he’d exposed a nipple to Mrs. Evans. It felt good to laugh.

But it was short-lived as Michael entered the quad, didn’t even look in her direction and went back to join Isabel. Maria’s glee flittered away and she began picking absently at the remains of her lunch. When she finally looked up, Alex was looking at her sympathetically.

“Aren’t we a pair?” he asked quietly, flattening his lunch bag into garbage.

Maria nodded silently.

“And what if they’re a pair?” he continued.

She looked toward the aliens sitting in the shadows, watched as Michael leaned close to Isabel to say something in her ear. It wasn’t an action of affection but rather conspiracy, but in Maria’s mind she could easily see Michael leaning in to kiss Isabel. It hurt the most that she could imagine it – if she could see it, then it was possible.

“Then you’ll be heartbroken and I’ll be lucky,” she replied.

Alex cocked his head to the side – he didn’t buy that for one second.

“I’m sorry I hit you,” Maria said, evading the subject.

“I doubt that,” he retorted, though he was grinning.

* * * * *

Liz picked up the warm plate and looked over her shoulder. Around her, the crew of the Crashdown bustled to fill orders, flip burgers and clear tables. She’d chosen a busy time – no one was even looking at her.

Stealthily, she climbed the stairs to the Parkers’ apartment, slid soundlessly through the door. She nearly flipped the plate, however, when she found her father sitting on the couch reading the newspaper; he was supposed to be at the paper supplier this evening.

“Hey, Dad,” she said, trying to act innocent.

“Oh, hey, Lizzie,” he said, folding his paper with a snap. His eyes settled on the plate in her hand and he raised an eyebrow. “You’re not eating with your mom and me tonight?”

“It’s just a snack,” she said, shrugging.

“It’s a Will Smith and a side of Saturn Rings,” he laughed. “That’s three day’s worth of food for you.”

Liz’s mind scrambled to explain herself. “Well, uh, I just –”

Jeff waved her off with and a laugh. “It’s okay, sweetie. If you’d rather have a burger than eat with us tonight, that’s fine.”

Her cheeks blushed a light pink.

“Besides, it’s good for business for people to see the owners eating their own food.” He said it with a laugh and returned to his paper.

Liz breathed a sigh of relief and hurried for her bedroom. That was too close. She really didn’t know how much longer she’d be able to keep this up – she felt like she was pretty much on borrowed time.

In her room, she quietly lifted the window, then climbed onto the roof. The area was lighted with candles, their flames flickering in the night breeze. As he had been for nearly a week, Max was slouched on the chaise, his eyes fixed on the sky.

Clearing her throat, Liz circled his chair and started to set the plate on the table beside him.

“I brought you some dinner,” she said, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “I remembered that you liked the Will Smith. I threw in some Saturn Rings, too.”

His dark eyes followed her hands as she arranged the plate, then reached behind herself and pulled a can of soda from the waist band of her pants.

“That’s sweet,” he said softly.

She gave him a little smile and righted herself. When he didn’t make a move for the food, she raised an eyebrow.

“Aren’t you hungry?” she asked. She knew he had to be. But she also knew that he’d been upset the last couple of days and hadn’t really done anything at all besides shower and sit in that chair.

Max sat up and ran a hand through his shoulder-length hair. “I should have told you. We – I mean I – gave up meat a few years ago.”

“You’re a vegetarian,” she stated, feeling stupid and awkward. How many plates had she brought him that had gone untouched?

Max nodded.

“It’s okay,” she said quickly, reaching for the plate. “I can take this back, get you something else. Though I don’t know what, since we specialize in cow products –”

He reached out to stop her and she felt his warm hand on top of hers. She didn’t like what his touch did to her, didn’t like that she liked it. She stopped in her tracks, turned questioning eyes to him.

“Saturn Rings are made out of onions,” he said, the first spark she’d seen in days in his eyes. “Onions are a vegetable.” He released her hand and dropped his to his side. “Thank you, Liz. Would you stay and talk for a while?”

She could still feel his hand on hers, like a whisper of a breeze tickling her skin. Not trusting herself to speak, she nodded, then went to sit in the chair beside him. They sat in silence for a long time, both looking toward the sky at the stars high above them.

“I should have known that,” she finally said.

He turned his head so he could look at her. “Known what?”

“That we – I mean you – became a vegetarian.”

“How could you know that?”

“Because I should know you.” She looked at him with apology. “I don’t even really know you, do I, Max?”

He nodded his head. “You do, Liz. You know me better than anyone else. Maybe better than I do.”

“But you’ve changed so much.”

“But we changed together,” he pointed out patiently. “You’re not the same in the future as you are now, but I still would know you. In here –” He rubbed a spot in the center of his chest. “In here we’re the same.”

Liz looked at her hands, contemplating that.

“And I have to wonder something, Liz.”

She looked up, saw that he was staring at her with an intensity that made her heart skip.

“Why is it that you can be here, talking with me, and yet you can’t bring yourself to talk to him?”

tbc

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Post by Midwest Max » Tue Apr 11, 2006 8:54 pm

More angst than you can shake a stick at :lol:


Part Seven

His question stayed with her all night and into the next day. During what little sleep she managed to get, she dreamed of stammering over her response, which would have been an improvement on her actual reply, which amounted to nothing but silence.

The most troubling thing was that she didn’t really know why she felt more at ease with the future version of Max. At first, he’d freaked her out to no end and she’d simply wanted him gone. But now that the crisis appeared to have been averted, something about him fascinated her. He knew everything about her, things that the present-day Max had probably only dreamed of.

And maybe that was exactly why she could talk to him. Perhaps others might feel intimidated to be with someone who knew them inside and out, but to Liz, it was a relief. No hiding, no guessing, no posing. She had no secrets from him.

Unable to concentrate on her math test, Liz lifted her head and looked across the room, at her soulful soul mate. His head was lowered, his arm curved over the top of his paper as he scribbled his answers. She followed the muscular lines of his forearm, down to his strong fingers gripping his pencil and she felt an undeniable twinge in her belly, a light flush in her cheeks. Her attraction to him was indisputable.

How he felt about her was the question.

Sure, Future Max was still very much in love with her, but she’d never betrayed him. She’d never set him up, climbed into bed with an ex-boyfriend, just to make him go away so that the world would end. This Max had to hate her, even if it wasn’t readily apparent. Somewhere deep inside, Liz knew that she’d hurt him beyond repair, that maybe he’d never ever forgive her.

Maybe that was another reason she could talk to Future Max. She’d never jabbed him a good one in the gut.

Max’s pencil stopped moving and from her vantage point slightly behind him, Liz could tell he blinked a couple of times. Then he turned and looked at her, a mixture of curiosity and surprise in his eyes. Had he felt her staring at him? Startled, Liz jerked and returned her attention to her paper, her light flush turning something close to crimson.

There was another difference. While Future Max was attractive to her, he didn’t send her blood pumping the way this one did.

* * * * *

Maria leaned closer to the front of the glass hood, her nose wrinkled in what was about to turn to full-fledged disgust. Righting herself, she addressed the lunch lady behind the counter.

“What is that?” she asked, pointing at a gelatinous mixture steaming in a silver warming tray.

“Ground beef gravy,” the woman replied, her voice monotone, her expression neutral.

Maria grimaced and looked back to the vat of grayish-brown sauce. “What do you do with it?”

“Potatoes or biscuits.” Same tone of voice, same attitude of not giving a shit.

Maria put a couple of fingers to her lips, imagining how the lumpy mixture would feel in her mouth. It wasn’t a pleasant thought and she quickly decided to get a salad.

“I’ll take some,” a voice beside her said abruptly as a tray was thrust past her and onto the top of the hood.

Maria stood motionless for a second, her fingers still pressed to her lips. It was the closest she and Michael had stood in a long time. And now he was invading her personal space. He watched as the lunch lady slapped the potatoes and gravy onto his tray, then he turned to Maria with a furrowed brow.

“I’m sorry – did I cut?” he asked.

Maria shook her head, then pushed her tray down the line, her knees trembling beneath her skirt. Her appetite was squelched now. What was he doing in school? He never came to school until lately and now all of a sudden he showed up conveniently behind her in the lunch line?

A tray banged into the side of Maria’s and she gave its owner - Michael – a dirty look.

“Are you going to pay?” he asked, gesturing toward the waiting cashier.

Maria scowled at him, grabbed a salad, plopped it on her tray and pushed it to the register. Trying to ignore him – and the shaking of her fingers – she dug in her purse for some cash. From behind her, an impatient sigh.

It was the last straw.

“Get over yourself, Michael,” she spat so vehemently that the cashier jumped.

The most infuriating part? He was grinning at her. Angered, she slapped a five-dollar bill on the counter and fumed while she waited for her change. Once she had it, she snatched up her tray and hurried for a table on the other side of the cafeteria. If she had any luck at all, he’d go outside to sit with Isabel as usual.

She had no luck. None. Zilch.

As if it was routine, he placed his tray opposite hers and grabbed an orange cafeteria chair to squat on. Maria sat frozen, a look of utter disbelief on her face.

“I’m meeting Alex,” she finally said, watching him pull open his milk carton.

Michael shrugged and took a sip. “I don’t mind if he doesn’t.”

She waited in amazement as he began shoveling potatoes and gravy into his mouth, unconcerned about her increasing anger. She was past feeling nervous and jittery around him – now her knees were trembling with all out rage.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she whispered hotly.

Michael looked up, feigned confusion. “Eating lunch,” he mumbled around a mouthful of food.

“But why here?” she demanded, struggling to keep her voice down. “Why are you bothering me?”

“Bothering you? I just wanted to sit with you.”

“There are plenty of other places to sit.”

Michael sighed and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “Look, the last time we spoke, we didn’t part on good terms.”

“Ya think?”

“Could you please give me two seconds to talk to you without yelling at me?”

“Two seconds? Fine. I’m counting…”

“Maria.”

“Woops! Time’s up!” With that, she angrily pushed herself to her feet and grabbed her tray.

“Wait,” Michael said, reaching out to take her arm.

Maria jerked away, her salad skidding to the other side of her tray. “Don’t you dare touch me,” she said, her voice low and heated. “Don’t you dare do this.”

Michael glanced around, noticed that they had drawn a few peoples’ attention. “No, don’t you do this,” he replied, his jaw set. “Don’t turn me away, Maria.”

For one moment, she wanted to fall into his dark eyes, into the pleading she saw there. But she knew what she knew and there was no getting around it. She’d seen Courtney in a towel, with Michael in her apartment. Alex had seen Courtney in Michael’s apartment. And Michael self-admittedly had been lip-locked with her when he pulled off some of her skin, revealing her as one of the enemy.

Calmly, her anger resolving into icy coolness, she placed her tray on the table and leaned close to him.

“You ask me not to turn you away,” she repeated, her voice level. “And yet you tell me you love me too much to be with me. Isn’t that what you said? So, it seems like you turned me away, Michael. Don’t even think about making me the villain here.”

As she collected her tray and started to move away, Maria realized that what she had said to Liz the night after finding him with Courtney was true – there might be nothing he could ever do to make up to her, she might never be able to forgive him, some hurts run too deep.

Standing before the trash can, ready to throw away her untouched salad, something sparked inside of her. Shortly after she’d made that comment to Liz, Liz had set up the whole scheme to make Max believe she’d slept with Kyle.

Maria was the one who had given Liz that awful idea.

* * * * *

“Hey, Max.”

Max looked up, didn’t see the face he wanted to. On the other side of his locker door, Tess was looking at him expectantly.

“Hi, Tess,” he mumbled, shoving his math book into the locker, pulling out the history book for studying later.

“Have you got a minute?” She sounded hopeful.

“I have to work tonight,” he said, avoiding her gaze.

“Just a minute?”

He tried for a smile, knew it as weak. “Okay.” He thought about asking her to walk to his Jeep with him, but then he might be obligated to give her a ride home. It wasn’t that he disliked Tess. He simply distrusted her.

“I wanted to talk about what happened,” she said, glancing around at the other students passing her in the hallway.

“Here?” Max raised his eyebrows.

“No, not here. Someplace else.”

“I have to work tonight,” he repeated, meaning to put her off. He didn’t want to talk about recent events, mainly because he wasn’t the person who caused them to happen.

“Great. I’ll stop by and see you later,” she said, chipper. As she passed him, she patted him on the arm and defeat washed over him.

Swearing silently to himself, he continued shuffling books in his locker. Tess seemed to have some hurt feelings over the future version of himself coming back to address Liz instead of her. It wasn’t his fault. He didn’t plan any of it. And yet he had the feeling that he’d be brow-beaten when she showed up at the UFO Center that night. He would be trapped because of his work schedule, a captive audience.

“Hey, Max.” The voice this time was less confident, a little softer, painfully familiar.

Heart suddenly thudding in his chest, Max looked around the locker door and found Liz standing before him. Her books were clutched to her chest, her dark eyes wide and cautious. Her timidity nearly broke his heart.

“Hi, Liz,” he replied, offering a small smile of truce.

“I saw you standing here and thought I would stop and say hi,” she said in defense of her presence.

“Oh. Okay.” Another small, awkward smile. “How are things going at the Congresswoman’s office?” Internally, he kicked himself – why did things always have to come back to the fact that he was an alien and in danger?

“Good,” Liz replied, glancing down at her shoes. “No one seems to have noticed yet, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Good,” he echoed, shifted the books in his hands.

An uncomfortable silence ensued, then Liz drew in a breath and looked a little guilt-ridden. “Look, Max. I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?” he repeated.

“For what I did to you.” Self-conscious, she tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “It wasn’t right. I should have found another way.”

Max looked away, down at his books. He couldn’t tell her it was okay, because it wasn’t. The mere fact that she hadn’t simply come to him and asked him to help her find a resolution to the problem cut him to the core. Self-doubts filled his mind – she didn’t trust him, she didn’t care about his feelings, she didn’t love him. There was no way that he could ever tell her he understood what she’d done, because he never would have done the same to her.

“And, um…” Her voice trailed off after he didn’t respond. When she spoke again, the uncertainty had returned to her tone. “I just want us to be okay…again…”

“Okay,” he echoed, though it wasn’t necessarily a response of agreement, more a wistful repeat of the word, as if he’d forgotten what “okay” meant.

“I know this is asking a lot,” she continued, pulling her books tighter to her chest. “But do you think you could come over sometime? So we could talk?”

Deep inside, he wanted to grab her, hug her, kiss her and tell her all was forgiven. The mere fact that she was willing to stop and speak to him had stopped his whole world. But in reality, he knew the damage was there, the wounds were still open, that he was still gun shy. The last time he’d stopped by, he’d found a jock in her bed.

“It’s ballsy of me, I know,” she relented, giving a nervous laugh and starting to step away from him.

“When?” he asked hurriedly, before she could disappear again.

Liz paused, startled into silence for a moment. “Oh. Um…what are you doing later?”

“I get off work at eight. I could swing by after that,” he suggested, a peace offering. Inside, his heart was fluttering and his stomach was on its own personal roller coaster ride.

She allowed herself a smile of relief and nodded. “Okay. The usual place?”

“The usual place.”

Max watched as she walked away, his nerves frayed and his emotions in turmoil. He should hate her, he really should. He just…couldn’t.

As he walked to the parking lot, he realized he was looking forward to seeing her more than he would allow himself. It was exquisite torture, being around her, especially after all that had transpired. The little glimmer of hope he held inside was troubling.

More troubling was the fact that he was also going to have to deal with Tess this evening. He dreaded that immensely, but she did deserve an explanation of what had happened since it was centered on her not leaving Roswell. Max just wasn’t sure he was the one who owed her that explanation.

As Max neared his Jeep, he saw his third female visitor of the afternoon leaning against the fender. Usually Maria was happy to see him, but today she looked distraught and could hardly meet his eyes as he approached.

“Hey, Maria,” he called. “Need a ride?” After all, the Jetta was forever breaking down.

She shook her head quickly and he noticed that she was wringing her hands together.

“Is something wrong?” he asked, tossing his backpack into the rear seat of the old Jeep.

Maria’s eyes flitted away, then her shoulders heaved as she lost the battle with her sobs. Immediately, she covered her face with her hands.

Max’s eyes grew round at her sudden outburst and he put a hand on her shoulder. “Maria?”

She looked up briefly. “I did something bad,” she managed.

He offered a small smile. “Can’t be that bad, can it? Tell me what happened.”

Her eyes filled with tears, but she managed to choke out her confession. “I set you up, dude.”

tbc

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Post by Midwest Max » Thu Apr 13, 2006 10:01 pm

Hey everyone! *wave* I'll answer feedback when I have a chance - rest assured that lighter things are ahead ;)

In the meantime, check out the absolutely wonderful banner LongTimeFan made for me!! :D Isn't it the best!

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Post by Midwest Max » Sat Apr 15, 2006 6:11 pm

Part Eight

At first, her tears had broken his heart. But now, many minutes later, sitting in the Jeep at the rock quarry, Max was trying his best not to break out laughing. At the first twinge of the giggles, he’d wondered if he was somehow becoming insensitive, or if he’d developed a disorder that would make him laugh at inappropriate times. Then he realized that his reaction was normal. Maria, mouth stretched wide-open and wailing, reminded him of an episode of I Love Lucy. The similarities between her and a bawling Lucille Ball were undeniable.

As she continued to cry and mumble incoherently, Max pulled his cell phone from his pocket and dialed the UFO Center. On the second ring, his new boss Brody Davis answered the phone.

“Brody, it’s Max,” he said, eyeing Maria as she hiccupped in a few breaths, then continued to wail. “I’m going to be late. I have a bit of a, um, crisis.”

“No worries,” Brody said. “If you need to, just take the night off. We’re slow and I’m on the verge of a breakthrough, so I’ll probably be here late anyway.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Not at all.”

“Okay, thanks.” Max clicked off his phone and stuffed it into his pocket. Looking at Maria, he worked his mouth, then reached past her and into the glove box. He pulled out a travel packet of Kleenexes and handed them to her.

Maria took the tissues, but didn’t put them to use. Instead, she waved her arms demonstratively, babbling something about cheating and she should have known better. Her eyes were red and swollen, her face tear-streaked. Finally, Max took the tissues from her hand the next time it whizzed past his face and pulled one from the pack. Then he took her by the chin and started to clean her face with it.

She hiccupped a few times, watched him as he gently wiped away her tears. “Don’t be nice to me,” she finally choked out.

“Why not?” he asked, offering a little smile.

“Because I don’t deserve it.” On the last word, her face contorted and she began to sob again.

Max scratched his head, a little lost as to what he should do. Isabel may have cried every now and then, but she never wailed like Maria was. And Liz, if she were upset she’d simply tear up and flee. Max wasn’t sure what to do with a hysterical woman on his hands.

So he hugged her. Which may not have been such a good idea, considering she was now bawling right next to his ear. He made hushing noises and rubbed her back, hoping eventually she’d stop. If not, maybe she’d cry until she passed out or something.

Finally, she pulled away from him and swiped her cheeks with the heels of her hands. “Don’t me nice to me,” she repeated, some of the fight gone from her tone.

Max tilted his head to the side and gave her a sympathetic smile. “Why don’t you tell me why you’re so upset?”

“Who says I’m upset?” she asked rhetorically, giving a laugh of embarrassment as she reached for the tissues.

Max waited patiently while she wiped her nose and cleared her face of her tears.

“All right, here’s the deal,” she said, slumping in her seat. “I did something horrible to you, Max, and I don’t know how I’ll ever make it right.”

He lifted an eyebrow. “I can’t think of anything you’ve done to me, Maria.”

She held up a hand, the nails polished a deep purple. “Let me finish. You know that I found Michael with Courtney, right?”

He nodded.

“Well, I told Liz about that. Then I told her that I didn’t think I could ever forgive him for it.”

She looked at him expectantly, like he was supposed to gasp in realization or something. Which he didn’t. Instead, he blinked, waited, then looked confused when no more information came his way.

“Don’t you get it?” Maria cried. “I made her pretend to sleep with Kyle! It’s all my fault!”

Before she could fall into sobs again, Max put a hand on her arm and shook his head.

“How could you think that?” he asked. “Liz is her own person, Maria. She made that choice, not you.”

“But if I hadn’t said something –”

“She would have thought of something else.”

Maria stopped, her lips parted, considering protesting again, but not coming up with a good reason why Max’s broken heart was on her shoulders.

“You want to tell me what this is really about?” he asked softly.

She looked up quickly, her eyes round. “That was it. Just that,” she answered quickly.

Max shook his head slowly. “I doubt that.”

“So now I’m a liar?” Maybe defensiveness would make him go away – it usually did the trick with Michael.

Max sat back in his seat, calm and very unMichael-like. “Brody said I didn’t have to come to work tonight.”

Maria watched him silently.

“I have to be somewhere at eight. Other than that, I’m pretty much free. How about you and I get out, walk around this quarry, and talk about what’s bothering you?”

“Nothing’s bothering me.” Her denial was weak.

Max gave her a knowing smile, then stepped out of the Jeep. “Then we can just walk. What do you say?”

Maria reluctantly climbed out of her side of the car. She knew that if she started talking about her problems with Michael, she’d never stop. And she wasn’t sure if she was strong enough to bare herself that way.

* * * * *

Alex poked at his fries, glanced around the nearly-empty Crashdown. No Liz. No Maria. Once upon a time, he would have climbed the stairs to the Parkers’ apartment uninvited, but now he had no idea what was going on up there. Liz had enough on her hands without him dropping in unexpectedly.

In the kitchen, Michael was flipping burgers with a vengeance seen only in vendetta killers. Alex watched him for a while, wondering what had put him into such a mood. Then again, Michael was rarely in a good mood these days. Alex sighed. Why was everything so upside down?

Twisting on his barstool, Alex watched Isabel in the back booth. He’d seen her when he’d walked into the café, but she was unapproachable lately and hadn’t even looked up so he could wave at her. On the table before her were spread her school books. Her brow was furrowed in concentration.

Swiveling back around in his seat, a rush of loneliness streaked through him. No Liz. No Maria. Angry Michael. Sad Isabel. An extra Max.

It was the sad Isabel that troubled him the most. He didn’t like seeing his princess unhappy. He turned around again, watched her chewing on the end of her pen, then jumped to his feet before he could stop himself. He reached the table in a few long strides, slid across from her without asking for an invitation.

Isabel raised her head, her face still a mask of concentration, a scowl of learning.

“Hi,” Alex said, chipper.

She sighed. “I have a ton of homework tonight, Alex.”

“Want me to help?”

Another sigh. “No, I can handle it.”

She returned to her work but he didn’t budge. Eventually, her pen stopped moving in her notebook and she pinned him with a stare.

“I won’t keep you,” he said, stammering a bit over his words. “I just wanted to tell you that it’s a great day.”

She frowned. “Why do you say that?”

“Because I didn’t die in gym class,” he announced happily.

She worked her mouth, but the furrow stayed in place. “That’s great, Alex. You know I hear there’s a rash of people dying in gym class, all around the country.”

Yes, she was being a bit of a bitch, but he loved it – it meant that she was coming around a little.

“That’s what I thought,” Alex replied. “After what your brother told me. Well, one of your brothers.”

At the mention of the older Max, Isabel’s entire demeanor seemed to change. Gone was the Ice Princess, in its place the vulnerable Isabel. The transition wasn’t lost on Alex.

“What did he tell you?” she asked warily.

“That something awful was going to happen in gym today. Maria thought he was just kidding and I said Max doesn’t kid. But it looks like he was, huh?”

She nodded and averted her gaze. “Yeah, looks like it.”

Alex picked up her straw wrapper and started twisting it around one of his fingers. “And I have to wonder if maybe he didn’t tell you something as well.”

Isabel looked up but remained silent.

“Maybe something that is upsetting you.”

She bit the corner of her mouth, her eyes filled with sadness.

“And then,” Alex continued, “I was wondering if just maybe you needed some ice cream.”

Her head cocked to the side, not having heard what she expected. “Ice cream?”

“And an impartial ear.” He grinned at her. “What’s the harm? A little walk, a little chocolate mint, maybe a friend to talk to?”

Isabel looked down at her books again, but he was elated that she didn’t readily reject him. He waited patiently while she processed his offer, then gave a nod so barely perceptible he almost missed it.

Then he had to remind himself that he would look like a total dork if he jumped up and shouted “Woo hoo!” like he wanted to.

* * * * *

Max glanced at his watch as he quickly took the corner leading to the Crashdown. It was six minutes after eight and he swore silently under his breath. He’d already been nervous about meeting with Liz, but now he had the extra stress of being late.

Not that he would have made Maria stop talking because she needed to get it all out. Once she’d started, it was hard to stop her. And that was okay, because she had been bottling things up for a long time. No one gave a waterworks display like the one she had without there being some serious shit behind it.

For two and a half hours, she told Max about difficulties living with her hippie mother, disappointment in having her father abandon her, and mostly about wishing things were different with Michael. The problem was that it wasn’t necessarily circumstances with Michael that were the problem – it was Michael himself. She loved him and yet he had so many character flaws that she knew he was never going to get his head out of his ass and be a decent boyfriend.

Max thought perhaps Maria expected too much from Michael but while she spoke he realized that she expected those things because she wanted him to better himself. She wanted him to be the person she knew he could be, not the one his background would dictate.

As soon as she’d mentioned backgrounds and dictated destinies, Max realized that he’d stood up Tess. His actions were unintentional, but he couldn’t honestly say that he wasn’t a bit relieved. Then again, there was no telling what that would lead to.

Time for thinking of Tess was over. Max jerked the Jeep to a stop in a parking spot outside of the Crashdown, then jogged down the alley that lead to Liz’s balcony. He kicked himself for being tardy, hoped that she wasn’t furious with him. In a hurry, he grabbed the fire escape ladder and started to climb. His haste made him careless, however, and his boot slipped on the dew that had condensed on the bottom rung. Loosing his grip, he dropped to the pavement, his forearm striking the ladder on his way down.

Rubbing the sore spot, he looked to see what had made him slip. When he looked up again, he found a familiar face looking down at him.

“Nice going, grace,” the older version of him chided.

Max scowled in reply.

“Well, hurry up and get up here, Mariachi Max. You’re late.”

Max’s scowl deepened. What was he doing here?

tbc
Last edited by Midwest Max on Sat May 06, 2006 3:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Midwest Max » Tue Apr 18, 2006 9:41 pm

Perhaps only one or two more chapters after this one. ;)


Part Nine

Michael scrubbed the grill with all of his might, sweat dripping from his brow. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Maria loitering in the seating area – earlier in the day, he’d overheard her say something about meeting Alex there, but Michael had seen Alex bail hours ago. It was lucky for him that he knew she and Alex were supposed to study that evening, but unlucky for him that Alex had disappeared. Michael had to get out of there before she gave up on Alex and left. If he didn’t, well, then the world might just end. Or at least his world might…

That was why he wasn’t particularly happy to hear the voice behind him.

“Hey, Michael.” There was dejection in her tone and he knew before he even turned around that she would be pouting that no-one-likes-me pout.

So he opted not to turn around, only scrubbed harder. “Tess,” he replied.

“Are you busy?”

“Does it look like it?”

The silence that ensued was so long that Michael assumed she’d walked away. But there was a nagging buzzing in the back of his head, something he always felt when his kind was near. Dropping the scouring pad, he turned to face his visitor, who looked more crest-fallen than pouty, and he felt a tug of empathy in his heart.

“Everything okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, I guess,” she said absently.

Obviously she wanted to talk, but as Michael was about to bluntly ask her what was wrong, he saw three shadows sweep past the plate glass window of the café. Time was running out. Turning, he quickly resumed his scouring.

“Life at the Valenti’s treating you okay?” Small-talk so wasn’t his forte.

“Sure.” Fake enthusiasm laced her tone. She paused, then asked, “Seen Max tonight?”

Michael shrugged. “Which one?”

Tess gave a sigh. “The younger one.”

“Nope.”

“The older one?”

“Him neither.”

There! Finished! Wiping is brow on his shirt sleeve, Michael tossed the scouring pad into the trash and yanked his apron over his head.

“I’ve gotta run,” he said, leaving Tess behind without another thought.

* * * * *

Max didn’t move until he saw Liz’s small hand push the future version of himself away from the ladder. Then he climbed in irritation, no longer nervous about being with her. There was a confrontation waiting at the top of that ladder, one he’d rather not have.

When he reached the roof, he pushed himself over, then cast Liz a meaning-filled, tight-jawed look.

“I asked him to leave,” she explained in a hushed tone. “He wouldn’t go.”

“Did he touch you?” Max demanded. “Because if he did –”

“You’ll what?” Liz asked with an ironic laugh. “Kick your own ass?”

Max looked over to find Future Max crashed on Liz’s lounge chair like he lived there…which, really, he did.

“Don’t worry, by the time you’re twenty you stop shopping at the same stores your father does,” Future Max said

Max looked down at his button-down shirt, conservative for an eighteen-year-old and felt a pang of indignation.

“Sit down, Junior,” Future Max said, waving toward the empty chair beside him.

Max clenched his jaw tighter and refused to move. Liz shifted her weight nervously, played with her hair and glanced from one Max to the other. She was in the middle of it - both figuratively and literally.

“Anyone thirsty?” she offered with a nervous smile.

Max looked at her in exasperation, but Future Max gave her a gentle smile.

“Have a seat, Liz,” he said gently, which only infuriated his younger self.

“You don’t have to do what he says,” Max countered.

Liz looked up at him with wide eyes, then back to her visitor from another time. “Can you guys please stop this?”

“Stop what?” Future Max asked.

“This – the pissing contest.”

“We’re not having a pissing contest, are we, Max?”

Max felt his blood start to boil a little. Who was this person who thought he had the right to come in here and try to change everything? To try to provoke him? With a dead realization, it occurred to Max that he was only doing it to himself.

“Liz asked you to leave,” he said levelly. “All I know is that if you’re really me, then you’d respect her wishes.”

Future Max sat up quickly. “Then I guess you know that if I didn’t respect her wishes, then there must be a pretty good reason, right?”

Max had no come back and some of the fight drained from him. After all, this was the person who had living many more years than he had. This was a person who had seen life and death and the end of the world. Maybe there was a very good reason why he was still here in Liz’s chair.

“I want to talk to you,” Future Max said, his tone very much that of the big brother. “I want to talk to the both of you.” He looked at Liz and Max saw a world of longing and pain in his eyes, his own eyes.

“Why?” Max replied, denying the agony he’d just witnessed. “You want to talk to me about my hair and clothes?”

“Max…” Liz said softly.

“What?” they both replied.

She looked between them, then gave up, going to sit in the chair Future Max had offered his younger self.

Future Max’s eyes were serious as he slowly shook his head. “I don’t want to talk about your appearance. I’m just busting your balls because you’re too uptight. Loosen up, man. Life is going to pass me – I mean you – by if you keep it up. Trust me, I know.”

Max bit the corner of his lip. That statement was loaded with history, with knowledge he didn’t possess yet. That fact both intrigued and terrified him.

“Have a seat,” his future version urged. “We have a lot to talk about.”

* * * * *

Walking to her car, Maria felt a little gloomy inside. It had been a rough day, what with all of the crying and the blaming herself for Max’s broken heart. Then to have Alex stand her up. It was so unlike him that she had to wonder if somehow the world had rotated against her.

She did give herself kudos, however, for not even looking Michael’s way while she’d waited for Alex to show up. She could do this. She could live without him. She could let him be himself and she could live her life not asking him to be something he wasn’t.

As she neared the corner of the building, she rummaged in her purse for her keys and thought she heard the sound of guitars somewhere in the distance. It wasn’t so out of the ordinary, especially since the night was warm and people had their car and house windows open. What was out of the ordinary was that it sounded so live, so close by…

When she rounded the corner, Maria’s mouth fell open and her purse slipped from her hands. Surrounding her pitiful little Jetta were four men in sombreros – three with guitars and one with a grease-stained white T-shirt. The three with guitars were obviously of Latino descent. The greasy one definitely was not. At sight of her, the Mariachis began to sing.

Tres días sin verte, mujer
Tres días llorando tu amor
Tres días que miro el amanecer


They stopped singing and continued to strum, until one of the men knocked Michael in the back with the end of his guitar. Michael jumped, then yanked a piece of paper from his pocket and unfolded it. All the while, the music continued, lyric-less.

He cleared his throat and began singing the words from the paper…or rather, trying to sing them. “No mass tress die-ass yo tee aim….”

Maria, who of course spoke Spanish, stood dumbfounded at her beloved’s butchering of her native tongue. At first, she thought he was simply mumbling in English, only to realize he was trying to speak in Spanish and didn’t have a clue how to pronounce any of the lyrics. Not to mention, his voice was pretty poor and he’d fallen horribly behind the Mariachis accompanying him. And it didn’t help that the guitarists were rolling their eyes to one another.

“Dondy? Dondy estass?” Michael continued.

It was horrible, truly. But in that moment, watching him turn red with embarrassment, seeing him fumble as he flipped over the paper on which he’d scribbled the lyrics, Maria felt a little glow starting beneath her breastbone. He was clumsy and unrefined in his courting of her, but she really didn’t want him any other way. In her heart, she really did love him.

“A-ee a-ee a-ee a-ee a-ee,” he spoke, rather than sang, turning the page toward the light as if he couldn’t read his own writing.

Maria cringed and couldn’t let the humiliation continue. “Michael,” she said, holding up a hand.

He looked up, though the Mariachis behind him continued strumming.

“¿Dónde están mis rosas?” she asked.

“Huh?” Michael’s head titled in confusion.

“I said – where are my roses?”

He looked momentarily thrown and she assumed he’d forgotten that detail. But then he smiled. “They’re back at my apartment. I couldn’t remember which you liked so I bought both white and red.”

Her eyebrows lifted in surprise and her heart thumped a little harder in anticipation of going to his apartment.

“I didn’t bring them with me,” he explained, “because I didn’t want to look like an idiot.”

tbc


Excuse my Spanish :lol: Tres Dias was written by someone else (though I don't know who) and I apologize for butchering the lyrics :lol:

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